Thursday, 8 June 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) Review

John Wick 2 Movie PosterAfter returning to the criminal underworld to repay a debt, double crossed John Wick discovers that a large bounty has been put on his head and must fight for survival.

Director Chad Stahelski's John Wick 2 is everything a sequel should be, it doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. It's a near perfect high octane sequel, same lead cast - check, great action - check, more visual style and pulse pounding music – check. While the amount of close combat shootings does get tiresome there's enough story building by writer Derek Kolstad who expands the hit man's world and rules to entertain. However, neither Kolstad or Stahelski bog the pace down with unnecessary exposition.

Stahelski's second outing is gorier with a significantly higher body count and even though the fight scenes may not be a slick as it predecessor, it does what it says on the tin. Stahelski's offering benefits from a filmed on location feel which grounds the outlandish action, this is rounded off by a fitting soundtrack and score as Keanu Reeves' Wick battles his way through New York and Rome.

Well executed, pure action entertainment all the way, recommend.

Wonder Woman (2017) Review

Wonder Woman Movie Poster Diana leaves her paradise Island magically hidden from the rest of the world to fight alongside men in a war to end all wars.

Directed by Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman is a pleasing film in a sea of other superhero flicks. What it gets right is a good mix of action and narrative helped by the back drop of The Great War/World War I. While arguably it lags in the final act, mainly due to the seeming obligatory big boss final battle showdown it for the most part swiftly moves along. Part new origin story on the island of Themyscira, home to the Amazons, you see the character honing her powers and becoming Wonder Woman. Later when she helps a spy (Chris Pine) and they journey to Europe circa 1913, she's finds that she is a fish out of water in her new surroundings in searching for the god of war.

Allan Heinberg's screenplay has a few twists and plays with the sexiest elements of the period. Nevertheless, it slightly sells itself out at times with all the tropes of a love story with at times Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman playing second fiddle to Pine's American spy pilot. Thankfully these are few and far between, but it's still an unnecessary dynamic.

There's a top cast full of familiar faces including David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright with the sets and costumes being Oscar worthy. This incarnation supersedes Wonder Woman 1967's pilot, Lynda Carter's TV pop icon version complete with memorable theme and Adrianne Palicki's failed pilot. Gadot may not be everyone's idea of what Diana Prince/Wonder Woman should look like, however, she is great in the role carrying the naive innocence having been on a hidden island almost all of her life with the power and presence that we saw glimpses of in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). There's also some present day scenes that fit nicely with Zack Snyder's outing and Justice League (2017). With plenty fight scenes the new Hans Zimmer & Junkie XL Wonder Woman theme kicks in fittingly and Rupert Gregson-Williams' score captures the atmosphere of the respective settings.

Overall, Wonder Woman is probably one of the most rounded entertaining super hero movies out there with its war themes ironically just as relevant today.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Twin Peaks Season 3 (2017)

Twin Peaks Movie PosterThe David Lynch and Mark Frost revival brings back the show without the restrictions of network television as a single 18-hour movie split into chunks and (I'm currently 4 episodes in) all end with a different band performance. Yes, composer Angelo Badalamenti has returned and the nostalgic Twin Peaks theme is intact with a slightly different credit sequence, the mill replaced with the Red Room's curtains.

Doppelganger Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), must return to the Black Lodge in order for the real FBI agent Dale Cooper to be freed from his 25 year slumber. But things are completed with a third Cooper (also MacLachlan) throw into the mix. While all of this is going on, other events are transpiring in New York guarded building where a mysterious large glass box has sprung to life and killed its watcher. In South Dakota, a severed head and a headless body have been found and all the various narrative threads have yet to come together in any fully coherent matter.

Off the top of my head the majority of the cast return, those actors who have since passed on even show up as manipulated archive footage, notably Major Garland Briggs (Don S. Davis) floating head, David Bowie's Philip Jeffries' character is mentioned. Who knows who else will turn up. Some have passed on since filming the latest series and are acknowledged in the credits including the posthumous appearance of Catherine Coulson's The Log Lady and Miguel Ferrer, who played Albert Rosenfeld. Those who don't return have simply fallen out with Lynch and their reasons are well documented in the press.

Lynch has created something just as fascinating as the various directed predecessor and what is most striking is that quirky tone of the old series is recreated without merely forcefully copying it (as the recent X-files tried too hard to do). Lynch is on form here and it's just as weird as ever. The mix of crime thriller with elements of surrealism, odd humour, soap opera outlandish off beat acting and supernatural horror is as effective as ever. If you're left flummoxed - that's the fun, because you're probably meant to be.

Twin Peaks helped shape much of the modern television landscape and this latest addition is great looking with surprises, thrills and chills - season 3 is an artsy must see.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Alien: Covenant (2017) Review

Alien: Covenant Movie Poster*** This review may contain spoilers ***

On the far side of the galaxy the colony spaceship USCSS Covenant takes a detour and discovers horrors on an uncharted planet.

Opening with a flashback of David being activated by Peter Weyland we are treated to an Alien-style title sequence. After a shocking neutrino burst opening we are then introduced to the characters brought abruptly out of hyper-sleep by Walter a synthetic model. Soon the crew land on a planet and after a series of hostile events meet David, a survivor of the Prometheus mission. David and Walter (Michael Fassbender in dual roles) are put centre stage. To Ridley Scott's special effects team credit the androids are exceptional and you never question the illusion of the two characters being on screen at once.

Whereas Prometheus felt somewhat innovative and charted a different direction to the Alien series if you are a fan be warned, Covenant takes a step back with the Engineers and Shaw's story thread ending abruptly. Aside from Guy Pearce's Weyland's cameo, ties from Prometheus are broken and even Noomi Rapace's Shaw who appeared in Covenant's promotions is substantially cut in the final film. This is in place of a standard three act Alien affair, without the suspense of Alien but all the brashness of Aliens, still director Scott's moody, thoughtful style shines here. Naturally the aesthetics, cinematography, production design are of Scott's high standards and Covenant moves at breakneck speed, from ship, to planet, back to ship à la Alien format borrowing also from Aliens and his own Prometheus and even a line from Blade Runner. In addition, Jed Kurzel's soundtrack takes all the best cues from Jerry Goldsmith's 1979 Alien score and hones a reminiscent hybrid of sorts.

Lead Katherine Waterston's Daniels (terrible hair cut aside), does her best with what she's given. James Franco appears briefly and like Rapace his part aside from body and video footage is left promo material hell. Waterston offers enough emotion to keep Franco's Branson spirit alive throughout and you buy into her loss. Logical straight talking Callie Hernandez's Upworth is notable along with Billy Crudup's to the book Oram and Demián Bichir's tough solider Lope is memorable. Fassbender's dual performance is excellent. However, he unjustly steals the show and his position of prominence takes away what made (certainly David) so interesting as a secondary character in Covenant's predecessor.

The various looking aliens on display are highly aggressive from the outset. The Alien effects are first rate and the introduction to a H. R. Giger style creepy white Neomorph alien (born from spores that grow inside you into a Neomorph Bloodburster) gives Pan's Labyrinth chills. Nevertheless, there's not enough suspense or stalking from the aliens, but plenty of running around. It felt like too many CGI beast shots and not enough practical effects. However, when the Neomorph stood upright in front of David it was quite impressive. When the traditional albeit upgraded version of the Alien turns up it's a joy. There's a missed opportunity to face off the old Xenomorphs Alien with the new Neomorph. Or even solely focus on the Neomorph as there is some interesting communication between David and the Aliens that is never fully explored. There's also the thread that David may or may not have gone stir crazy due to his humanistic characterisations.(Incidentally, the novelisation through various passages and additional dialogue fill in the blanks, e.g. why they leave the landing ship without helmets, what happens to the other Neomorph, Shaw’s cross necklace and many more, it's a shame these moments were either not filmed or cut.)

When things go pear shaped there's plenty of blood and gore, the alien eggs, Chestburster and Facehuggers are finely tuned for screen, Scott also throws in fighting androids and Aliens-like shoot outs - there's plenty to like about Covenant. Waterston along with Danny McBride's pilot Tennessee look comfortable going head to head with the pesky Alien, even if it all feels somewhat rehashed and rushed. However, die-hard Alien fan's will have to buy into facehugger embryos (?!), David creating eggs and incubation times. This is topped of by handful of writers who offer a frustrating ending which teases another follow up.

Overall, Scott plays it safe and delivers a sci-fi horror with a typical series of action setups that is basically there to appease action fans rather than create suspense which was the originals finest quality.

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Void (2016) Review

The Void Movie Poster
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A group of people become trapped in a hospital by a gathering of hooded cultists and discover that the hospital has been taken over by grotesque creatures with a sinister agenda.

Though Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie's writing/directing offering takes reminiscent cues from The Thing, Halloween and Hellraiser to name a few it has enough kicks and story beats to stand on its own two tentacles. With a page of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu The Void befits from convincing practical effects, old school film making and filmatic aesthetics which harks back to the high-end days of horror.

After a shooting a woman is mysteriously set ablaze, Deputy Daniel Carter picks up an injured man in the road and akin to Halloween 2 and Assault on Precinct 13 a group hold up in a remote hospital after encountering creepy, white sheet covered figures offering Wicker Man and The Fog chills. There we become acquainted with the players and things go pear shaped with killings, mistrust shenanigans and gross out mutations. Kostanski and Gillespie effectively couple this with sporadic modernised Fulci visuals (City of the Living Dead) thrown in for good measure, it has its surreal moments. Yes, it oozes John Carpenter in the first half and Clive Barker with a bit of Polanski in the second but that's not a bad thing, it's one of the films strengths as it plays as a homage of sorts.

The acting is first rate, with the edge of De Niro Aaron Poole (Forsaken, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh) as Carter simply shines as the out of his depth officer is thrown into a maze of blood and gore with its darkened corridors and basements. Although Kathleen Munroe's (Survival of the Dead) screen time is limited, she puts in a solid performance as Allison. Notable is Stellan Skarsgård looking Daniel Fathers as the hot head parent who wants to destroy the mysterious cult, pealed skin antagonist and his monsters. Kenneth Welsh (also of Survival of the dead fame) knocks it out of the park as Dr. Richard Powell. Like the supporting actors including Ellen Wong and James Millington, both Munroe and Poole set up a good emotional character rapport and you buy into their plight.

With some twists and as the story takes place over one night it gives it an intense ride feel with a score that adds to the on screen tension. Kostanski and Gillespie give The Void enough symbolism as to not spoon feed the viewer and top it off with some surrealism. It's not some sub-par cheap looking digital addition to the genre, they offer serious suspense with excellent staging and full on displayed visceral practical effects as the characters try to survive the night from the weird shrouded cult and icky biological monsters.

Overall it's a must see sci-fi horror hybrid, The Void is for old school effect house horror fans as well as new comers.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Transsiberian (2008) Review

Transsiberian Movie Poster*** This review may contain spoilers ***

On a Trans-Siberian train journey from China to Moscow an American couple get caught up in a conspiracy of deception and murder when they encounter a mysterious pair of fellow travellers.

With a handful of main characters director Brad Anderson offers an American fish out of water thriller with a meandering off beat story by Will Conroy which helps build the tension, especially cultural throughout. There are some shootings, attempted rape and torture, in addition for a low key drug smuggling yarn there are stunts and an impressive train crash.

Woody Harrelson interestingly plays against wacky type cast as an everyday nice guy husband of Jessie (Emily Mortimer). Mortimer gives a convincing performance and has some depth which helps sell the situations she finds herself in after befriending drug traffickers Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara).

Ben Kingsley is fitting as Grinko, a snooping Russian narcotics officer. Notable is Thomas Kretschmann as Kolzak Yushenkov, Grinko's right-hand man. And Noriega's dodgy Carlos is particularly convincing. While Mortimer steals the show, Mara also well cast as the lead astray out of her depth partner of Carlos.

There's plenty of double cross and simmering character dynamics, imposing quiet Grinko befriending the couple to solve his smuggling case. Abby and Jessie's rivalry and Carlos' sexual tension with Jessie to name a few. The atmosphere is reminiscent of Citizen X (1995) with its snowy cold on location feel.

Anderson creates some grounded fear and suspense as Jessie is put through the mill in this traditional taut thriller with a few twists. Recommend sleeper thriller.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Ghost in the Shell (2017) Review

Image result for ghost in the shell impawards*** This review may contain thermo-optical camouflage spoilers ***

A young woman is brought back to life as a cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier and must stop a terrorist who wants to destroy the Hanka company that created her.

Without drawing too many comparisons to Shirow Masamune's 1989 Manga and Mamoru Oshii's animated 1995 counterpart, director Rupert Sanders' Ghost in the Shell adaption is interesting, if somewhat plodding in places. Scarlett Johansson's Major is devoted to stopping the world's most dangerous criminals but Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger's screenplay never really explores these missions and we are immediately thrown into an origin story of sorts where the missions are intertwined with the main plot of Major discovering the truth about herself.

Heavily Blade Runner influenced, whereas Deckard was a character in a world, Major's world seems to revolve around her which limits Sanders'. That's not to say it's not a full realised world, it looks visually stunning. There's political also business corruption, cyber-drugs, human trafficking and Yakuza activities touched upon. The sets and striking costumes are finely put together. Scarlett Johansson's Major anti tall, skinny Hollywood typecast aesthetically excels and Pilou Asbaek is great as Batou with his cyborg enhanced eyes. Notable are Takeshi Kitano as Aramaki, Majors dirty Harry-like boss and Julia Roberts looking Juliette Binoche as Dr. Ouelet. Michael Pitt as Kuze is sadly given little to do aside from deliver theatrical lines cloaked in distracting, yet, excellent CGI. Also Michael Wincott has an extended cameo and is sorely missed early on.

Edited by Billy Rich and Neil Smith it appears purposely but jarringly choppy in places, who knows possibly to cash in on the younger age rating or a home media extended marketing ploy, either way this hampers what could be a decent if somewhat condensed adaption as Major, a brain in her mechanical body, or shell fights her way through cyber-enhanced foe at times utilising her tantalising thermo-optical camouflage. You'd think though that the screen writers would have the opportunity to deep dive into the themes, rather than dull them down. Also the cumbersome spider tank steals from the closing some much needed tension. There are a few twists and emotional scenes in amongst the handful of action set ups but the premises are material we've seen explored before. Lorne Balfe and Clint Mansell's music is moving and perfectly fitting, to Sanders' credit it has quiet times, Asbaek particularly shines in these moments.

Essentially this incarnation of Ghost in the Shell is a journey of self discovery and one finding themselves, not about Major becoming more. It's reminiscent of Robocop, Strange Days, Aeon Flux, Ultraviolet and countless others and that's the snag with the timing of this live-adaptation, a good movie is (usually) a good movie no matter how original or unoriginal it happens to be but it doesn't feel fresh enough to break the mould.

Overall, it's worth your time if only for the visuals, comic book action and robotics. Now with the origin-like story already told a sequel could be very appealing indeed.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Ibiza Undead (2016) Review

Image result for Ibiza Undead impawardsIn a world where zombies are rumoured and known, a group of youngest head to uninfected Ibiza for the holiday of a lifetime – only it's not as zombie free as they thought.

A low budget comedy yarn, with sex, partying and zombies. It's not in the league of productions values as The Rezort or the likes of Cockney Vs Zombies. Writer/director Andy Edwards offers a watchable rough round the edges undead romp.

Some of the lines are funny but without Ed Kear as wise cracking Big Jim this would have completely fallen flat. Dealer Karl played by Richard Brake, Rhys Ifans-like Matt King is notable and plays a good psycho, but he's too good compared to the rest of the cast and feels out of place. Also UK's Alex Zane cameos as a Club Host in amongst the rubbery makeup and fake blooded zombie extras.

It's not Shaun of the Dead, as a gauge picture a low budget The Inbetweeners Movie (2011) mixed with Kevin & Perry Go Large (2000) versus zombies. With limited production values and a sod's law twist at the end it has its limitations but to Edwards credit, you can't fault his effort as he works with what he has and makes the most of the sun, sea and location.

Teens who want to see some bikinis and a pair of boobs should enjoy but everyone else, well...

Bastille Day a.k.a The Take (2016) Review

Bastille Day Movie Poster *** This review may contain spoilers ***

A young pickpocket and a unorthodox CIA agent find themselves working together to prevent another terrorist attack in France.

Tragic real life terrorist events caused Bastille Day to be renamed The Take in the UK and events sent it somewhat into obscurity with the marketing toned down. Director James Watkins offers a well thought- out action thriller in the vein of Die Hard and the best of Luc Besson.

Watkin's The Take is a surprising piece of entertainment with a few twists thrown in for good measure in what could have been a simple frustrating actioner. Not only are the action fight setups impressive writer Andrew Baldwin's story cleverly gives a broad stroke insight into terrorism, activists and corruption. Even with its shootouts, punch ups and chases it's not action for action sake, it is plot driven.

The characters are shades of grey, packed with screen presence Idris Elba is on fine form as hardened agent Sean Briar. Richard Madden (of Game of Thrones fame) is pickpocket Michael who is at the wrong place at the wrong time and who gets accused of being a bomber gives a solid performance. The array of supporting actors especially the bad guys are quiet developed and add some weight to the story. Notable are memorable José Garcia as Victor and Thierry Godard's Rafi.

It's no Leon or Bourne but it's up in the the action thriller scale of the likes of London has Fallen, From Paris with Love, but the on location feel to the underside of the French capitol to Watkins' credit gives the film its own unique look and down to earth credence compared to the latter. The Take has characters that you can care about tide up in a very compelling yarn.

Overall, it's well filmed and entertaining, hopefully it'll find itself with a sequel as the chemistry dynamic of the selfless subtle two leads works well. Predicable at times but recommended.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017) Review

Extra Large Movie Poster Image for Kong: Skull Island (#7 of 21)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A team of scientists are chaperoned by a war veteran to an uncharted island in the Pacific, however, things go awry and they must fight to escape the primal island.

The effects are impressive and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts skilfully creates a great sense of scale. What's refreshing is that the handful of writers don't rehash the King Kong story of a screaming female, the giant ape falling in love and being taken to civilisation only to die. This take on the 1933 landmark film is reminiscent of Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1960), Jurassic Park: The Lost World (1997) and the 'monster verses' moments of Kong films to name a few.

The period Platoon-like (1986) soundtrack sells the 70's setting along with Henry Jackman's score complimenting the action setups. The cast are adequate including the likes of Tom Hiddleston and John C. Reilly. Samuel L. Jackson looks really infuriated throughout, and rightly so as Kong wipes out the majorly of his team. But to be honest it's a good thing as I'd pay good money to see Jackson's badassery (is that a word?) over CGI monsters any day. Hiddleston is surprising as tracker Conrad especially in his fight driven introduction. Brie Larson as photographer Weaver is sadly given very little to do. There's a little confrontation dynamic between the parties when they find out that Kong is essential in keeping the equilibrium of the Island. Along with Conrad's followers, Hank Marlow (Reilly) who has been stranded on the island since 1944, go against Jackson's hardened vet' Preston Packard who wants Kong dead.

Notable are underused John Goodman and Toby Kebbell as solider Jack. Kebbell no stranger to motion capture (Koba, Planet of the Apes) advises Terry Notary who is excellent as Kong. Regardless of how much is actually Notary's performance, the completed monster design is impressive especially when Kong battles giant ancient creatures. The humour is largely hit and miss due to the dark tone and post Vietnam War backdrop. With hints of Apocalypse Now (1979) it's more visually striking than Godzilla (2014), but it's not as tonally consistent. Skull Island feels one-dimensional in comparison. Vogt-Roberts offers some stage interesting napalm moments, reflecting on sunglasses and exploding silhouette giant beasts. Stay for the after the credits as it teases a showdown with another aforementioned giant monster.

Stripped of effects it's B movie stuff with a A list cast and budget. Most teenagers will no doubt love it, but Kong:Skull Island's mishmash tone may leave others feeling underwhelmed.