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xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

“Welcome to the moment.”

Oh for fuck’s sake!

When I said that I like popcorn flavoured junk food movies, what I MEANT was that I like fun films that don’t necessarily have something big or important to say. Daft action flicks that don’t take themselves too seriously.

It’s how I can watch the early Fast & Furious films without rolling my eyes to the point of agony. It’s how I can watch The Expendables without feeling the urge to push a biro through my ear. It’s how I can watch films like 2002’s xXx and 2005’s xXx: State of the Union and see them for the beer and pizza films they are and forget about them ten minutes after I’ve had a blast watching them.

I’m sitting down three nights after I saw Xander Cage return to write this review. I’m still furious at the insult to my intelligence I paid to sit and watch.

Years and years after Ice Cube saved the world, the Triple-X program is no longer a clandestine agency. It’s a full strength government funded organisation taking the most extreme people with the most fearless attitudes towards danger and turning them into super spies.

While on a recruiting missing, Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), the agency’s founder and leader is killed when a bad guy, with a weapon that drops satellites out of orbit, drops one on him. Not long afterwards, a team of highly trained agents (that includes legendary martial artists Tony Jaa and Donnie Yen and British Cage fighter Michael Bisping) break into a government meeting being led by big wig Jane Marke (Toni Collette) and steal the device.

Going straight to their last resort, the program hunts out and re-recruits the long thought dead Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) and send him and his team of reprobates to find the device and save the day.

So, yeah. I repeat: For fuck’s sake!

This film has two very clear, very distinct sides to it. Its first part is the cast. This is the part worth focusing on if you’re going to sit through this two hour cabbage fart. It’s the part where you see Donnie Yen kicking ass in spectacular fashion. It’s the part where Tony Jaa continues his amazing life-long audition to be the next Jackie Chan. Honestly, it’s even the part where Michael Bisping doesn’t make himself look like a complete tit and puts on a half decent show.

It’s these moments where the guys on screen are clearly having fun, and you get to have fun. For want of a shittier, more overused term: All those on screen have a chemistry that really shows when you watch them. Action stars doing action star things and having a damn good time doing it. Jaa and Bisping have an on screen bromance similar to Lundgren and Li in The Expendables, while Vin Diesel, the man that has become a Tesco Value Dwayne Johnson with this film, has a blinding time with relative newcomer Ruby Rose. This is absolutely because she is the one and only woman in the film he doesn’t awkwardly flirt with like a dog with three cocks; and these moments are much better for it. Even the surprise cameo that isn’t a surprise by the time it happens is a reason to grin like a fool.

Unfortunately these genuinely fun parts don’t make up for the shit show that is part two.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is so insulting to its audience, so unwilling to admit that those of us happy to watch them and give them the benefit of the doubt have more than two brain cells to rub together. In the space of less than two hours, this film managed to drop so far in my estimation that words simply cannot describe how insulted I felt as a fan of the series and how angry I was at how stupid it made me look. I’m willing to give most films a chance and I try so very hard to see them for what they are and enjoy them as such. But this film with its unforgivable jumps in logic and its inane, dried up dog shit excuse for a story take swings at my good nature every. Single. Second. It pretends to have something interesting to say.

As the thoroughly embarrassed Toni Collette tries her best to persuade herself of the legitimacy of the script she’s wasted valuable brain space memorising, she does nothing but put across the same brave face you’d expect to see on a kidnapped journalist trying to blink her way into a rescue, shitting herself as her captors threaten to end her but keeping a stern, straight face the whole time.

The film as a whole displays a level of stupidity that I simply can’t comprehend. Super-duper signal jammers find themselves a prime location in the film’s plot. Yet, every time one of them is switched on, everyone’s phone still fucking works. The latest recruit to the program is apparently a real life soccer star, so desperate are these people for soldiers that they stole a dude who can kick a ball in a straight line. But, it turns out, this was after they recruited a DJ in an Assassin’s Creed hood and an imbecile that likes to crash cars into things for a laugh. I mean… a super spy disc jockey? Really? What is he gonna do? Drop the bass on the twats with guns? Just please stop treating me like a fucking moron and put a little fucking effort into your film.

I was fully prepared to watch a mildly rubbish film, come out and review it saying it was fun but it’s one that’s to be watched with friends and beers and not taken too seriously. Having seen it, my tone has changed dramatically. There is no need to watch this film at all; I can’t recommend it to anyone, at all. I wouldn’t wish it in my worst enemy. It should be cast into the bowls of hell, along with La La Land and The Absolutely Fabulous Movie and forgotten about entirely, only ever to be brought up if you meet director D J Caruso as the reason you punch him in the dick.

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The Accountant

accountant_09413

“You have to choose. Are you going to be a victim?”

So it seems my hopeful search for a great thriller in 2016 is over. The last of the high profile cinematic rollercoasters has hit the screens and now we must prepare ourselves of the onslaught of Christmas ensemble movies that are incoming.

Luckily, whilst most of this year’s thrillers have barely been able to hit average in my books – only really thrilling in the same way that paying £15 for a ticket to the latest churned out Halloween nonsense can be called horrifying – The Accountant at least has a decent stab at dragging us to the edges of our seats. And while it isn’t always successful in its endeavours, it’s a damn sight better than a lot of its recent competition.

Ben Affleck is Christian Wolff, a man who has grown up with a few factors that decided his fate early on. First, he suffers from what appears to be Asperger’s Syndrome; an inability to communicate with the majority of the world, as well as a few other telling issues that we get to see as the film goes on. Christian has a difficult life ahead of him. A life made worse by point number two: Left with his tough-as-nails military father after his mother decides she can’t cope and leaves, Wolff’s traumatic childhood is made harder when his old man tries to teach him about the world his own way.

Fast forward a few decades and Wolff has made the very best of his situation. He’s become an accountant with the uncanny ability to unravel even the most complicated books around. This makes him an invaluable asset to everyone from the locals doing their returns, to crime bosses looking for skimmed cash. When a run-of-the-mill job for a corporation uncovers more than it should have, Wolff and the company accountant Dana (Anna Kendrick) find themselves on the receiving end of an awful lot of guns-for-hire looking to take them out. All the while, he’s being investigated by a treasury agent (the always splendid JK Simmons) with a bit of a thing against our main character.

The Accountant is another one of these films that no one seems to know how to market. Delayed to let the market react to Batfleck earlier this year, it’s advertised as this strange action thriller hybrid and doesn’t really fully check either of those boxes. But whilst most of what I want to say about the film is complimentary, it doesn’t feel like it when I say that it’s played out better than most of its ilk this year.

But I do want to be positive and complimentary. There’s plenty of good stuff to say about The Accountant. For starters, Affleck’s portrayal of Wolff and his issues is nothing short of brilliant. The film goes to some considerable length to not name our main character’s affliction, yet Affleck does a wonderful job of convincing us that, even as an adult, he has issues leaving work unfinished or maintaining eye contact; all tell tale signs of his lifelong struggle with his condition.

Likewise, the way the film makes you feel hatred for Wolff’s father for the way he treats his son is beautifully offset when you realise that the accountant has essentially used his upbringing to turn what would possibly cripple some into something close to a superpower. When you see that Christian is really an accountant/lethal killing machine, you are almost impressed by what his old man did, whether or not it was cruel at the time.

With a superb cast supporting him, Affleck really does shine in his role, as do Simmons and Kendrick, with John Lithgow and John Bernthal doing a decent job bringing up the rear. Although, with such a cast, you may end up (as I did) wanting just a little more from the guys we got on screen.

And that’s something that can be said about a lot of the film. You’re left wanting just a bit more, and a bit more, and a bit more. Director Gavin O’Connor – the man behind films like Pride and Glory and Warrior, (favourites of mine) – seems to lose his way in the middle of his two hour math-a-thon. Our introduction to Christian Wolff goes very well, and the flashbacks to his childhood are interesting. I’m enthralled once the final act begins and we get to see Wolff the super killing machine, but the middle, say, thirty minutes, seem to sag. Not knowing how to push the story forward and get us to the reveal we all knew was coming, it just seems to stutter a bit trying to get to its last section. A real shame for a film with so much going for it.

But don’t be disheartened. I thoroughly enjoyed The Accountant. I just wanted it to be ever so slightly tighter than it turned out to be.

Deepwater Horizon

“Hope isn’t a tactic.”

Besides an awareness that the events of Deepwater Horizon are set some time after that oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico, I knew absolutely nothing about the true inspiration for Deepwater Horizon. What I did know is that Peter Berg made it – a prospect I was somewhat interested in – and that he didn’t spoil his film this time with its damn title, just like he did with Lone Survivor.

Sadly, at about 40 seconds into the movie, the spoilers come thick and fast as you realise the audio playing over the titles is of Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) speaking at a hearing in the aftermath of the disaster we are about to watch.

At this point, my expectations were drastically lowered, anticipating that there would be no fear factor, no worry, not even a little “moderate threat” when it comes to the safety of our lead character. Berg virtually announced that Wahlberg is going to be A-OK.

But, there’s this moment about twenty minutes before the credits roll, where you forget all of that and you’re actually worried for Williams and his crew. You’re terrified that our hero isn’t going to make it to the end. It’s at that point that you realise that not only are you invested in this film and its characters, but that Peter Berg is actually a pretty good filmmaker when he wants to be.

Starting mere hours before an explosion that crippled and eventually destroyed the Deepwater Horizon, we see Williams and the other members of his crew – most importantly Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez and Ethan Suplee – board the floating oil rig while the owners of the company, and the rig, are playing fast and loose with safety guidelines to try and get the rig’s timetable back on track.

When the company force the crew to ignore warnings and get to drilling, things go really wrong, really quickly. As an explosion rocks through the drilling platform, leaving literal towers of flame in its wake. It’s every man for himself as they run for lifeboats and safety. This leaves Wahlberg and a couple of others to drag survivors out to the safety of the escape platform and hopefully save themselves too.

Forget all those worldwide Roland Emmerich disaster films we’ve been rolling our eyes at for God knows how long; Deepwater Horizon is, in my honest opinion, the best pure disaster movie we’ve seen in the last fifteen years.

We spend as much time getting to know about the team on the doomed rig as we do with the fire that destroyed it. Each of the important (and not so important) characters in this tragedy are given a fair share of time for us to know a little about them. We see their lives off the rig, their motivations and, most importantly, we get to see them being one of those makeshift families you kind of expect those groups to be in a place like that. It’s enough to get you to give slightly more than a passing shit about these guys, but not so much as to make you think this is going to be some severely underpaced melodrama instead of the action packed disaster piece we were promised.

Once we’re done meeting everyone, the tension is ramped up as we watch and wait for the inevitable to happen. The rig buckles under the strain and we feel the dread in the guys on the drilling floor before all hell breaks loose. We’re worried, but once things start to go completely tits up, we’re terrified for the guys we’ve just gotten to know.

The final act is a thing of beauty. Reportedly one of the biggest stages ever built for a film is burned and broken from every angle imaginable. As fire engulfs absolutely everything, including the sea surrounding the rig, your arse is on the edge of your seat as these men and women clamber for safety in any direction they can. The rig and the flames are the real standout of this show. It’s weirdly beautiful to watch and at the same time absolutely terrifying.

To not mention Mark Wahlberg’s performance would be a little mean. Watching the actor be an actual hero was outstanding; his usual repertoire of larger than life characters doesn’t compare to watching him play Joe Average in an anything-but-average situation and play it well. This is especially true towards the end of the film when more than one scene leaves you with a knot in your stomach and a lump in your throat. Whilst half of that is down to the situation, a lesser actor would have screwed it up completely. Needless to say, I love Wahlberg a little bit more after this one – and I’ve forgiven him Transformers 4.

Deepwater Horizon was a surprising film. Much better than I expected it to be and a much more heroic tale than I thought it was going to get when I swiped my Unlimited Card. An astonishing addition to an ever growing list of great films in 2016.

Blood Father

“You trying to tell me we’re being chased by realtors?”

It seems that Mel Gibson has finally passed through that awkward “no one will work with me” phase onto the next stage of his Hollywood forgiveness story. “You can have this straight to VOD flick of you want it.”

So now that Jean-François Richet (the director behind Mesrine and the Assault on Precinct 13 remake) has got himself a little action thriller about a grizzly old ex-con getting a second shot, Gibson seems the perfect fit.

After his daughter Lydia accidentally kills the cartel higher up she’s been shacking up with, Mel Gibson’s Link (not the tiny dude from the Zelda franchise) finds himself on the bad side of a seemingly endless number of cartel hitmen when he takes in his long estranged kid. An AA attending, down-and-out, ex-con biker, living out of a caravan that doubles as his tattoo workshop; not only is this fucking guy a trope-laden stereotypical mess, but he’s the perfect guy to have looking after you if you’ve got a heavy (or forty) chasing you.

Racing across the state, hiding out in biker bars, seedy motels and dodgy warehouses, the tropes come thick and fast as the father/daughter team try to stay alive long enough to make sure the people chasing them aren’t.

Blood Father is a perfect Saturday night flick. Good for a few beers, a few mates and take out because you can literally not pay attention for half hour and still know exactly what is going on. It doesn’t really have a point outside of letting Mr Gibson swear a lot and look like a pumped up bad ass in a vest. But it’s something he does so well, you can forgive the shallowness of the rest of the film and just enjoy 90 minutes of quips and gunfights.

Okay, it gives the one-time superstar the chance to plead to the screen and implore to the audience to believe him when he says over and over again that he’s clean and sober and has been for ages. But honestly, this dumbass film is enough fun that you just can’t let it ruin your time with the film.

Basically taking all the over-used bits from every redemption themed action film ever, adding a few Sons of Anarchy rip-offs and the word “Sicario” a few times just to make themselves seem relevant now the world knows what that word means, Blood Father is a greatest hits compilation tape of all the straight-to-DVD films you have ever seen, with old Martin Riggs sporting a pretty cool beard dropped in the middle. Really fucking stupid name for a film though.

But you can’t take anything away from Mad Mel. He pours his heart and soul into this film and it’s much better for it. He’s trying so very hard to give a good performance and make a good film that he actually makes even the worst parts of this film watchable.

It’s never gonna win any of the good awards, and pretty much the only reason it’ll avoid the Razzies is the supreme amount of shit that has been released this year. But, that doesn’t stop it from being the perfect film to give you the chance to switch off your brain and watch a little mindless stupidity.

Independence Day: Resurgence

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Perhaps there was a modicum of irony in seeing a film titled ‘Independence Day’ on the day when the UK ‘Brexited’ the European Union, but on Friday, with the future of the human race (ok, European politics) in the balance, I went to watch the long awaited sequel to the 1996 blockbuster hit.

Resurgence takes place 20 years after the events of the original in an alternate timeline where the victory over the alien invaders has unified humanity and led to 20 years of peace on Earf, an advancement in technology and improved Earf defence as a return from the bad guys is expected.

Will Smith’s character, Captain Steven Hiller, does not return, killed off in some promo material for the film, but Jeff Goldblum is back as genius science ‘boffin’ David Levinson. He is joined by the returning Bill Pullman as ex-president Whitmore, as well as Judd Hirsch and Brent Spiner – and also Vivica Fox, whose character has had one hell of an upwards career trajectory.

Joining the heroes from the war of ’96 are Independence Day: The New Class, with Liam Hemsworth playing rebellious pilot Jake Morrison, Jessie Usher as Dylan ‘son of Smith’ Hiller, Maika Monroe as Whitmore’s daughter, as well as some others that we aren’t given the chance to care about.

And therein lies the biggest problem. The new cast are just so bland and boring. Now, they are not helped by a script that never gives us time to get to know them or know about them and some clunky as hell dialogue.

I suppose Hemsworth ‘the Lesser’ is fine. I think I may prefer him in this to the Hunger Games, but the other two new leads are just terrible. I mean out of this world bad. Usher as Hiller Jr is void of charm of charisma and is just wooden. Will Smith, who played his step-dad 20 years ago, with his personality and the way he can revel in this type of film, would have improved the movie. Instead we are left with someone who is meant to rally the troops and the audience but can barely muster a modicum of excitement.

Monroe as Whitmore’s daughter, the Whitmore who stirred the world with his rousing speech to send the human race to victory and freedom, is just as bad as Usher.

And the forced rapport between characters is terrible. Hemsworth and Monroe’s characters are an item. Before the aliens return, in a brief scene where we are meant to begin caring about these people, they mention buying a house but she shows little interest. Then amidst the destruction, she brings up the houses, for no reason, to which Hemsworth replies ‘if it’s still there’. Just… horrible.

However, this is not the worst line of the film. That goes to the new president who, when aliens find her hidden base/hole in the mountain, she declares, stoically: ‘There will be no peace.’

Which was obvious when the aliens destroyed half of Earf without even a hello.

While the dialogue is poor, perhaps getting the audience on board with the characters could have been improved by getting rid of some of the guff and replacing it with more time with the main cast.

For example, we could cut all the nonsense with Judd Hirsch’s Levinson snr, anything with Vivica Fox would have not taken away anything from the film, and probably even improved it.

It sounds like I hated the film doesn’t it? After all I’ve spent the whole review slagging it off. However, I still had fun.

Goldblum is good as Levinson, just as he was 20 years ago. Pullman was also on form as the troubled ex-president, as was Brent Spiner as the presumed dead Area 51 Scientist. If anything almost saves the film, it is the returning cast.

I also liked and appreciated the world building, and the way in which director Roland Emmerich – a man whose name is synonymous with modern disaster films – has chosen to explain to us what exactly has happened between the events of the first movie and this; such as the fact that there were still some aliens on Earf. It was interesting – and could have done with more of it.

It is not perfect by any means, and in some places is just really stupid. But providing you are not some kind of snob who looks down on this kind of film and can switch your brain off for 120 minutes, you will spend it not being bored (in spite of the films many issues) and at the end of the day, is that not what you want from a sequel 20 years in the making about an alien invasion?

Although, the setup for the threequel is just… mind bogglingly stupid.

Captain America: Civil War

Civil War

“Sorry” might always seem to be hardest word, Elton, but “accountability” might be the most unsexy. Particularly so if you’re trying to build a 147 minute long action movie around such a concept.

Let’s chuck in a few more terms, shall we? How about “legislation”, “treaty” and “U.N.-Accord”?

Captain America: Civil War could easily have suffered from dry, phlegmatic, po-faced earnestness, wallowing in miserableness as a collection of dumbfounded superheroes sit on the naughty step and think about what they’ve done.

Instead, fresh from the Sokovia fallout of the dreary misstepping Avengers: Age of Ultron, our eclectic band of merry super-powered chums begin the third instalment of Marvel’s Captain America trilogy with a skirmish in Lagos. As perpetually happens around these unregulated vigilantes / brave protectors (delete as applicable), chaos, destruction and collateral damage is never too far behind.

Just as they were after the hundreds of deaths from the New York alien-attack in Avengers Assemble, the crashing helicarriers in Washington DC during The Winter Soldier, and of course the omni-shambles of Age of Ultron‘s Sokovia rescue, it’s the Avengers who are held responsible for the loss of innocents’ lives in Nigeria. Thus begins a slow dissection of the role played by a group existing outside of the law, punctuated by enormous and often exceptionally well paced inter-fighting punch-ups.

Policing the planet as they see fit in this fantasy world of magic crystals, impenetrable metals and super soldiers, it takes no time at all for General Secretary of State Ross (William Hurt) to step in on behalf of a world scared half to death by a rogue, unregulated group of suited, walking, fighting nuclear bombs, tick-tocking their way towards a potential armageddon.

Although in name this is a Captain America sequel, it certainly feels much more comfortable as the Avengers follow-up many hoped for last year. Returning after a successful stint helming The Winter Soldier, directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s wizardry with a camera has thankfully kept consistency in tone with the franchise, as Civil War continues to be a hard-hitting, politically-charged commentary with genre-defining action sequences and equally solid performances from a cast slotting back into place like a well-worn suit made of iron with a robot friend called Friday inside of it.

Friends and ideologies clash frequently during the blockbuster – and only some of the time by using their words and not their vibranium inventions. OK, most of the time the hullabaloo breaks out into bouts of armour-clad blows, rather than democratic discussions. But it’s still much more “talky” for a blockbuster than perhaps one is used to. And, crucially, it just isn’t boring. It’s full of engaging and often thought-provoking dialogue. Quips and visual gags worm their way into some of the more serious conversations, but it still attempts to raise some tough topics.

Just as Mark Millar’s 2006 comicbook series (upon which this film is loosely based) dealt with a post-9/11 society, fearing a self-appointed world-police, too powerful to stop – or even if stopping them was the right or wrong thing to do – so too does the Russo’s version relate events to the real world. Civil War could quite passably be an analogy for gun control in the US, amongst other things.

For example, on one side, there’s Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr) position as the man doing his best to negotiate a fair deal for his pals, arguing that the best way to arm is to disarm and sign the UN’s proposed Sokovia Accord (akin to the “superhero registration act” in the comics). On the opposite side is Steve Rogers’s (Chris Evans) team who feel it’s their duty to step-up whenever they need to, operating without the bias of any government agendas.

It could be argued that one side represents the regulation and control of firearms, with the other in support of the people’s right to bear arms (albeit briefly). The moment that the two teams clash in an epic showdown – the likes of which we haven’t seen performed as accomplished as this since Whedon’s Phase One concluding team-up some four years and six movies ago – puts paid to this exact notion from that point onwards. But there’s still a lot to be read into this movie. Prepare for more astute observations crossing your path in the weeks and months to come from thousands of other bloggers and writers.

Anyway, let’s take a quick look at the teams on either side of the scrap:

Team Cap
Against the idea of becoming United Nations controlled agents, restricted to fighting only the causes upon which they determine suitable

  • Captain America / Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) – Leader of the movement and the main protaganist for whom the film’s perspective is mainly viewed from. Evans appears to be having a blast and his enthusiasm is infectious – but my God those are some seriously intimidatingly large muscles.
  • Falcon / Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) – Cap’s best friend and winged companion has an increased role in Civil War and benefits greatly from it. The first time that Falcon has been more than a bit-part character and Mackie handles the responsibility with aplomb. He actually appears to have a purpose on the team rather than being Cap’s fluffer.
  • Winter Soldier / Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) – Previously the ex-Hydra assassin was a feared villain, but Stan’s portrayal of the man, turned into a complex and emotionally fragile victim with an edge of danger, sees him sit comfortably alongside his former buddy in Rogers’ motley crew.
  • Scarlet Witch / Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) – The only Sokovian in the Avengers; traumatised and emotionally scarred by the events in her home country and those in Lagos, Wanda adds an extra dimension to the story, even if it is somewhat unrealised potential.
  • Hawkeye / Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) – Thank Christ there’s no longer any weak attempts to puff out Hawkeye’s background with side-plots about his family that go nowhere and add nothing. He’s about as close to writer Matt Fraction’s version of the character that we’ve had so far and, although brief, is Renner’s best turn as Hawkguy yet.
  • Ant Man / Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) – Continuing to surprise, despite only a small (excuse the pun) part to play in Civil War, what Rudd does, Rudd does well. Fantastically well, even. He’s a highlight in what was already the best scene in the entire movie.

Team Iron Man
In favour of the UN’s Sokovia Accord, ensuring the Avengers are regulated by defence experts in order to limit the civilian casualties from their endeavours to save mankind

  •  Iron Man / Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) – For all intents and purposes, RDJ might as well share equal billing. It’s as much Iron Man 4 as it is Captain America 3. His role shows just how much the former weapons manufacturer has developed since first outing himself as a superhero in 2008’s Iron Man, bringing things full circle.
  • War Machine / James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) – If Falcon plays the role of Captain America’s sidekick, then War Machine fits as Iron Man’s. Provides the logos to the debate relative to Falcon’s pathos. But man, Don Cheadle is looking old.
  • Black Widow / Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) – The cynical may say Black Widow is only on this side of the fence to balance the teams’ female quotas. Nevertheless, the role she plays provides a contrarian narrative and further develops her relationship with Rogers from The Winter Soldier.
  • Vision (Paul Bettany) – The suave-voiced red-skinned being is reduced to the role of babysitter for much of his screentime, but twice Bettany gets to show off his acting talents with moments of profundity that keep the near God-like being grounded and relatable.
  • Black Panther / T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) – Making his debut, the Prince of fictional African country Wakanda is forced to pick a side in his pursuit of vengeance. Boseman’s suitably unplaceable accent aside, he makes as much of an impact as one could hope for (if not more) in such a role. Bring on his solo film in 2018!
  • Spider-Man / Peter Parker (Tom Holland) – Yes. Yes, yes, yes. This is how to do Spider-Man. It’s only taken 14 years, but this is it. Holland is perfect as the web-slinging wall-crawler in a larger role than perhaps expected. Currently in pre-production ahead of release next year, Homecoming looks set to be the fun adventure that the character deserves, if Civil War is any evidence to go by.

Regardless of the fact that we already have twelve characters squished into the two-and-a-half-hour long film, some people might be wondering where the other chaps are. Where’s Thor, Hulk, Fury, Maria Hill, Phil Coulson (still) – heck, why are Ant Man and Spider-Man being invited to the big leagues but Daredevil, Jessica Jones, et al left un-namechecked?

It’d be pure speculation to suggest answers. It could have been a creative decision made by the Russo brothers or writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, with Thor and Hulk especially deemed too over-powered for a film like this.

It could have been Marvel big cheese Kevin Feige laying down the law. Ruffalo and Hemsworth might have been too busy with other projects. Who really knows? The same principle applies as it always does in these situations: It really doesn’t matter. These are the characters selected. This is all you’re getting. Deal with it, as the meme goes.

The biggest issue lies not with who isn’t in it, but with who it does include. Incorporating Daniel Brühl as Baron Zemo (an arch-nemesis of Captain America’s in the comics) structurally speaking makes a lot of sense when you lay out a blueprint for the entire movie.

However, the motivations behind his actions are at best understandable and at worst weak, predictable and a disservice to the character’s history. Also, he doesn’t wear purple pyiamas. What’s up with that?

Oh, right, yeah. It’s a bit naff.

Realistically, Zemo is somewhere in between the two, languishing around the “ordinary” mark. Hats off to Brühl for a competent account of himself as an actor, but Zemo is far from necessary in a film already overstuffed with characters. He adds nothing that couldn’t have been done equally well with, say, the returning Frank Grillo in a beefed up role as Crossbones.

Either way, it’s irrelevant as Captain America: Civil War is still very much worthy of your time. With a larger cast than any previous Marvel film, it somehow manages to balance screen time to an extraordinarily even degree, putting much of Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to shame.

Yes, it may gradually escalate towards a big climactic fight scene, as happens in every Marvel superhero comic book action film ever, but the route it takes to get there combined with the rationale behind it makes the deciding brawl more meaningful than your average crash-bang-wallop finale.

Civil War is interesting, exciting, often fun and slightly unconventional. It goes straight into the top tier of the studio’s output and will doubtless only improve on future rewatches.

Hardcore Henry

hardcore-henry

“It is our duty to ensure no harm comes to the cripple.”

There are two types of people in the world. The first saw the trailer for Hardcore Henry and knew straight away that it wasn’t for them and they wouldn’t bother watching it. The second, like me, saw the trailer and instantly saw flashes of the awesomeness of films like Crank and Shoot ’em Up and wanted more of that, please.

If you don’t know which group you are in, watch the trailer below and come back. It’s just one of those films that there’s no real sense of “ehh, maybe” to it. You will know whether or not you’re watching this film at the end of that two minutes. If you fall into that first group, there’s nothing for you here. There’d be no point in watching Hardcore Henry – nor would I try to convince you. For the second group, read on.

Shot entirely from a first-person perspective, we are Hardcore Henry; a man with almost no memory of who he is after he wakes up in a high-tech bath missing a leg and half of his arm. But fear not, the people that dropped him into the bath have prepared some robo-replacements for his missing appendages and quickly screw them into his stumps. Henry and his wife (Haley Bennett), the doctor who kept him alive/gave him a shiny new left arm, are quickly attacked by psychopathic warlord wannabe Akan (Russian Unknown Danila Kozlovsky) and are forced to get creative to get away. Narrowly escaping with their lives, Henry loses sight of his betrothed for a split second allowing her to be stuffed into the back of a van and taken away.

Rescued from a gunfight he is sure to lose by crazy Brit Jimmy (the always magnificent Sharlto Copely), Henry finds himself with a partner in his soon-to-be very bloody mission to rescue his wife and stop his insane nemesis from raising a cyborg army and destroying the world.

So now, only that second group, those that were going to watch this either way, is still with me and I want to split them into two more little groups for the purpose of this review. The first group will know exactly what I mean when I say the words “All Ghillied Up“; and the second will raise an eyebrow wondering what the fuck I am talking about.

A review for the second group first, I reckon. Hardcore Henry is an hour and a half adrenaline-fuelled insanity that – assuming you can manage the running time without feeling dizzy and nauseated – will overload your senses with enough high octane action to satisfy even the most thirsty 80’s action junky.

Filmed like someone sellotaped a Go Pro camera on to the face of Crank’s Chev Chelios and set him lose in the middle of Russia, Hardcore Henry‘s point-of-view style could certainly seem pretty jarring and more than a little headache inducing. But stick with it and what you get is an explosive 95 minutes of extreme violence as our silent protagonist cuts a bloody trail through cities, armies, and at one point bits of himself that will leave you feeling battered by the time the credits roll.

Sadly, I fall into the former. The Call of Duty loving crowd. And as part of that crowd, Hardcore Henry is an insulting slap in the face to a hobby that I have loved for as long as I’ve loved watching films. On the surface, this film looks like it’s paying homage to those games and respect to those of us that love them; but scratch the surface just a little bit and you’ll find a film that isn’t really trying to make friends with gamers, it is mocking them.

From the opening shots, the movie basically steals its main character from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (or Black Ops 3 – whichever you prefer) as our amputated hero gets himself some bionic body parts and cracks on cracking skulls. Within a couple of minutes, after the obligatory walk around tutorial, we get a high speed airdrop – a la Advanced Warfare or Crysis 2 – and a high action gunfight with a just-in-time rescue that is typical of pretty much every modern shooter.

We are treated to ripped scenes and – for want of a better term – mechanics from dozens of popular video games without a moments thought that we might spot it. Far Cry‘s healing mechanic of snapping bones in your hand back in place may be one of the most ludicrous; but I can almost forgive the trope of an almost unlimited supply of ammunition in every gun Henry gets his hand on.

One of the more obvious and flagrant moments sees the red and white aesthetic from cult-favourite Mirror’s Edge copy/pasted into a large chunk of the film. Not to mention the obvious parkour style the game is famous for. It’s a jarring early moment that those that don’t know the game wouldn’t know, but those of us that have even a passing acquaintance with it can’t not see. On-rails turret sections and car chases that are only missing the QuickTime events just add insult to the injury.

But the most heinous crime this film has perpetrated against us gamers goes back to that phrase I mentioned earlier. For those that don’t know what I’m talking about, “All Ghillied Up” is a mission from the critically acclaimed, near legendary Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and is widely regarded as one of the greatest missions ever put to disc. The mission sees you and your commanding officer sneaking through the woods and fields of Chernobyl in a ghillie suit (a camouflage suit designed to look like you’re covered in foliage, essentially you’re a giant walking bush). You navigate through a half demolished building to get a good vantage point for a sniper shot, things happen, and you’re forced to run for your life carrying an injured man that can’t walk or run for himself. All of this, and more – including the obligatory timed “defend the thingy” mission ripped from the game’s storyboards and implanted here – just leaves you cold and angry.

I’d be ok with all of these if there was some hint that it was first time director Ilya Naishuller (a man with a WRITING CREDIT for multiplayer only video game Payday 2 – a red flag if ever there was one) or one time favourite producer of mine Timur Bekmambetov (Director of Nightwatch and Wanted) had made some form of effort to show me they were trying to honour and respect these games that so many of us have played. Anything would have done, a quick interview with them, an article covering their love of games, anything. But without that it feels like all these parts have been lifted from one of my favourite hobbies and they just hope no one will notice.

The film isn’t particularly subtle in its disdain for gamers, or the games it’s ripping off. Every time one of these scenes flashes across the screen without care or thought for its bastardised source material you can feel the ambiguity towards us felt by the director. The theft is so blatant, in fact, that it is obvious those behind the camera haven’t been able to see past the antiquated view of game players from early nineties nerdy sitcoms. A view that lends people the chance to think we all still live in our parent’s basements never letting go of the controller; and there’s just no way that one of us would venture far enough away from our internet connections to see this film or have the energy to be angry about what we just saw if we did.

Sure, there are still a few of us around like that, but to pigeon hole an entire community and think none of us would notice the frame-for-frame copy of some of these games is more than just staggeringly narrow minded and amazingly stupid. It’s an insult to the intelligence of a large portion of your audience. Furthermore, to mask your lack of creativity and originality by stealing these scenes, pretending like it’s some kind of homage and calling them your own insults more than just gamers, it slaps the face of every person that lays down money for your product.

On paper, Hardcore Henry looks to be a fun waste of an hour and a half. It should be Action Film – The Game: The Movie. What should have been a perfect splatter filled distraction for my Saturday evening, was instead an unwanted lesson in just how much a film can piss me off. Do yourself a favour and skip this one, you’ll get a much more satisfying time booting up your favourite Call of Duty game and sticking Neveldine/Taylor’s Gamer on the TV.

10 Cloverfield Lane

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Preamble warning: I’m not going to include any direct spoilers, but this 10 Cloverfield Lane review may give away some minor plot details. Consider yourself warned.

If the 2008 monster movie, Cloverfield, also produced by JJ Abrams, is an allegory for the end of the Bush regime in the US – as Callum Petch eloquently explained on the latest episode of the Failed Critics Podcast – then it stands to reason that this thematic sequel would be a metaphor for Obama’s reign as President of the largest super-power in the world.

Like almost all good creature-features, there is some semblance of truth in that suggestion. Whether we consider Godzilla and the Pacific ocean atom bomb tests, or I Am Legend for communism (well the novel was at least), District 9 for apartheid or even Ed Wood’s notorious b-movie Plan 9 From Outer Space and the nuclear bomb threat; these sci-fi thrillers are very rarely just about giant monsters, vampire-zombie things or alien invaders. Cloverfield was no different – and neither is Dan Trachtenberg’s directorial debut.

Taken unconscious from the wreckage of a car accident by Howard (John Goodman), Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakens to find herself chained to the wall of a concrete room. Howard explains that he has saved her life, as the world outside of his underground survival bunker has been destroyed by an unknown force – possibly not even one of human origin. After meeting another survivor down in Howard’s bunker, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), Michelle becomes even more suspicious of Howard’s apocalyptic claims.

“Where are the creatures?” I don’t hear you cry, but imagine you are thinking to yourself. Well, actually, forget about the fact that I compared this to a bunch of creature-features. It’s still a post-apocalyptic sci-fi of sorts, with three people holed up in one small fallout shelter with what may or may not be the end of the world. One of whom may or may not be slightly unhinged. And with what may or may not be a metaphor for burying your head in the sand, looking out for only yourself and the consequences of ignoring the world around you. Thanks, Obama.

Sure, all of that can be read into 10 Cloverfield Lane if you look for it. Should you find some extra comfort from observing a meta-text within this evenly structured, well paced and incredibly tense psychological thriller, then bully for you.

I don’t intend to sneer at anyone who can’t or didn’t see the parallels with the political state of the world; it’s entirely plausible that I’ve read too much into the plot considering the comments that I read and heard prior to sitting down in my cinema seat on Friday evening.

It’s quite likely that there may be some form of underlying thread running through the plot, and that it is about a transformational President’s attempts to change America, but that I’ve simply misinterpreted what that message is.

Hell, to be quite honest, it doesn’t even matter if there is or isn’t a subtext, or if you’re aware of unaware of it. What is most impressive about this “blood relative” (to quote JJ Abrams) of the original Cloverfield, is that it stands on its own two feet as a solid, atmospheric, borderline-great modern thriller. You don’t even need to have seen the original film to enjoy this. The two films are only as linked with each other as one episode of Black Mirror or the Twilight Zone is linked to another. Take it as a straight-up one-off story about a potential doomsday scenario if you’d prefer, and you will still enjoy it as much as the next guy. It really doesn’t matter.

On the surface, it seems as though the plot has been done a million times before, but I really can’t think of a film that it most closely resembles. Try and imagine Room mixed with that bit in War of the Worlds and melded with the paranoia of The Thing and I suppose you’re halfway there. Yet the beats are often unexpected and startling. John Goodman is fierce and pretty goddamn bonkers, a combination that serves to enhance the unpredictability of the plot. You are never quite convinced of the truth, but are constantly led to believe he’s both a firmly sincere gentleman and a downright liar.

Coupled with Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s resourcefulness and A-Team-esque skills, alongside John Gallagher Jr (who does take a little time for you to warm up to), it’s a very strong cast whose individual character traits perfectly compliment one anothers’ excellent performances. The only thing you’re certain of is that they are all trapped in there together, whether intentionally or by circumstance, and it makes for some rather gripping drama.

Cube! It’s also a bit like the fantastic little science fiction b-movie Cube.

Sorry, got slightly sidetracked there.

To sum up, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not an action-packed thriller full of Kurt Russell one-liners, but neither is it a dull, slow burning, contemplative chore. The action sequences, much like the tension, escalate to the point that the finale is as big a showdown (probably bigger) than one might expect from a film set almost entirely within one small bunker. Whilst acknowledging that dropping the found-footage angle does mean that a piece of what gave Cloverfield its distinctive quality is noticeably lacking – it really does feel like it’s all been seen before – nevertheless, it’s still unlike 90% of generic sounding, run of the mill blockbusters that are due out this summer and for that it deserves your attention.

Deadpool

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“Whose balls did I have to fondle to get my very own movie?”

Let’s get this out the way quick and easy; I don’t read comic books, I don’t care about comic books and I certainly couldn’t care less about how faithful comic book films are to their source material. I just want a good film out of whatever I’m paying to see this week. That being said, no matter how aggressively average X-Men Origins: Wolverine was, its depiction of Deadpool may have been one of the worst things I have ever seen put to film. Ryan Reynolds’ Wade Wilson was funny, but the Deadpool character he was mutated to, played by Scott Adkins – an entirely different actor – was just fucking awful.

Thankfully, after years of threatening to give fans exactly what they wanted with a real, true to the comics, Deadpool; Reynolds and first-time director/long-time video game effects producer Tim Miller have vowed to do us all proud and brought the “Merc with a mouth” to the big screen in not just the best comic book film that Fox has put out, ever; but maybe a challenger for my favourite comic book film ever.

Chasing after the man that left Wilson a scarred, deformed mess under his red spandex, Deadpool sees our hero cutting a path through anyone that gets between him and his new worst enemy; a man who has made a career creating mutants from desperate people. Having offered Wade Wilson escape from the multiple cancers that riddle his body, his cure comes at far too high a price for ‘Pool who loses far more than he gains from his “treatment”.

Story wise? That’s pretty much all you need. Deadpool isn’t a film that lives and dies on its story telling. It is a film whose sole existence is to make you laugh harder than you’ve laughed at any comedy in the last year or so. Making no bones about the fact that this film isn’t supposed to exist, Deadpool is a beautifully self aware film that shows far more genius than anyone expected. Within a couple of minutes of the opening titles, the fourth wall is broken as the red-suited nutter addresses his audience and drags us kicking and screaming into a world that so many of us thought we would never get to enjoy.

The real surprise with this flick, though, is the emotion at its centre. Most of Deadpool’s motivation comes via the girlfriend he proposed to just before his cancer diagnosis; Morena Baccarin’s Vanessa is the perfect emotional core for a film that I wasn’t expecting to have one. They bring us some weighty, heartfelt moments that serve not only to help us connect with the pre-mutated Wade Wilson; but they also amplify the already pretty out there, balls to the wall comedy to insane levels.

The laughs and the action are where Deadpool‘s greatest strengths lie. Razor sharp humour that takes aim at some of the most unexpected targets with a few politically incorrect and just flat out wrong digs at some that clearly wronged the writers in a past life. Genuine laugh-out-loud moments that had me wishing I could pause the film to wipe the tears from my eyes before the next joke came along. With action scenes as sharp as its humour; every fight, every explosion, every set piece looks absolutely gorgeous and feels bone-crunching. When your film’s fights include people with super-powers, the only way to go is completely ridiculous and that, is Deadpool‘s bread and butter.

With impressive and surprisingly good support from his bad guys, Deadpool has as much fun with its bad guys as its hero. With fun turns from Ed Skrein, a man who has finally embraced his budget price Statham image and enjoyed his time with it; and the always fun to watch Gina Carano in as his henchman (henchwoman? Henchperson?) doing all his heavy lifting. We’ve had a couple of X-Men imported into our film but even when the over the top Colossus and the delightfully stupid Teenage Warhead come on screen, nothing feels out of place or overpowered. Everyone compliments everyone else and at no point, even when we are eyeballs deep in insane superhero jousting tournaments, do any of these characters feel stupid or out of place.

Everything about this film screams that it’ll be filled with in-jokes and meta humour that will quickly become irrelevant and in a couple of years simply won’t we worth watching anymore. Thankfully, that’s nothing like what we get here. On its surface, Deadpool is a childish, silly flick for those looking to giggle their way through a couple of hours. But in reality, its sharp humour, superb cast and great action make this a film that not only blows away most of what Marvel have been putting out over recent years, but will still be fun to watch without losing any edge for years to come. In his fifth comic book movie appearance, Ryan Reynolds has finally given us an almost perfect film and an almost perfect performance. I can’t recommend it enough.

Point Break

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“This is my path. Let me follow it.”

We’ve all said these words haven’t we?

“Why does Hollywood keep remaking stuff. Just come up with something original.”

Back in 1991, when Kathryn Bigelow made the original Point Break is was just that, original. A young, newly transferred FBI agent reluctantly goes undercover on the beaches of Los Angeles when a hair-brained theory emerges that a string of unsolvable bank robberies are being perpetrated by surfers. Pretty unique, if you ask me.

So, in the latest move from Hollywood’s remake machine – the churn-em-out-o-matic 3000 – we get a dulled down, 12 rated cop “thriller” based around the world of extreme sport. Ladies and gentlemen, Point Break.

After tragedy hits extreme sports star and Monster energy drink peddler Johnny Utah, while working on his most insane YouTube video, the motocross star hangs up his helmet and works to join the FBI. In his last days at the academy, Utah and his class are introduced to a daredevil band of thieves who defeat impossible odds to make their score and make their getaway. With a willingness to go further than the police are to chase them, the bandits seem unstoppable as they dare to ride motorbikes out of a 100 storey window and parachute to safety.

But Utah knows this world. Quickly figuring out that these thieves are trying to complete the “Ozaki Eight”; a series of trials and ordeals that a person must go through to become one with the Earth. The robberies they commit are the groups way of taking from the rich and the corrupt and returning it to those that need it – like Robin Hood, but on surfboards, and bikes, and snowboards, and without the pansy green tights – Utah convinces his superiors he can bring these guys to justice and is sent to the location of the next trial to meet up with his new partner, Pappas, and sets about infiltrating the group. Insanity ensues as the extreme sportsman proves himself to the daring robbers and attempts to put an end to their crimes, and their journey of enlightenment.

I refuse to be completely negative about this flick, so I’ll start with the one good bit Point Break has; its sports action scenes look great. They are filmed well and look absolutely gorgeous. Sadly, that’s the only good thing I can say about this two hour farce of a movie.

Right, let’s get down to this. Point Break fails miserably as a remake of what is a great cop thriller. The entire, err, point, of the original is that Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Utah spends the movie gaining enlightenment where the men he’s chasing have already achieved what they we’re searching for. Here, Utah (a nickname in the remake, he mentioned his real name once but I forgot/couldn’t be bothered to remember it) is trying to stop these guys seeking nirvana. He makes no personal growth, no feeling that he might not be doing the right thing, there’s no struggle for this former peddler of energy drinks outside of having to live with the bloody awful hairstyle the FBI have apparently let him keep.

Moving on, for those that haven’t seen the original; Bodie and his crew of “Ex-Presidents” – another detail missing from this abomination – are bank robbers. Not murderers. It’s not their way, it’s not what they’re about and it damn sure isn’t the best way to keep yourself out of prison; with the first death at one of their robberies being where things start to go horribly wrong. New Bodie – or Bro-die, as I will now be calling him – however, seems to be perfectly content leaving bodies everywhere he goes. It doesn’t just miss the point of the original, it’s in direct contradiction to the idea of “giving back to the earth” and “finding nirvana and enlightenment” that this waste of film tries to convince us is the point to the groups existence.

This abomination of a film, with almost no redeeming value as entertainment, is a completely lifeless waste of your time. To call it macho is to give it far too much credit and its actors far too much praise. Point Break only really serves to show us what imbeciles these guys look like as they potter around, using stupid made-up words like poly-athlete and pretending to be doing good and giving back as they take sponsorship from a rich Arab dude who lives vicariously through these idiots. Bodie and Utah, the charismatic pair with genuine love and admiration for each other in the original have been turned into a couple of brofisting cocks with all the personality and charisma of an old condom found on the beach. The not-very-dynamic duo spend the almost two hour runtime throwing cups full of old hangover piss over the memory of arguably one of the best cop films of the early nineties.

I can’t imagine this film, which is nothing more than a twat filled douche canoe, populated with very bad tattoos and topknots on cardboard cutouts of unlikeable bellends, having anything for audiences that have never seen the classic Point Break outside of some very nice snowboarding footage – which, to be honest, comes part of a much more enjoyable film if you can sit through xXx – but for fans of the original, this will have you rummaging through your pockets for anything you can push through your eyes, just to make the pain of what you’re watching end. To call this remake pointless and unnecessary is more than stating the obvious at this point, it’s an awful experience that serves no purpose other than to take up screen space where a decent film could have been shown.

Yakuza Apocalypse

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“Taste of my blood. And walk as a Yakuza vampire.”

So yeah, after all these Oscar-bait movies we’ve been, err, treated to lately, what I needed for a bit of a break was a decent palette cleanser. Something truly stupid that I didn’t have to concentrate on and could switch off and enjoy for a bit. A good silly film.

I should have been careful what I wished for.

The latest cinematic entry from legendary director Takashi Miike – the nutter behind classics like Audition and Ichi the Killer – has found its way into a whole three cinemas in the country (or VOD in a butt load of other territories) so I headed off to find myself a little indie picture house to get myself a piece of the latest bit of Miike craziness.

Akira Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara) is a young member of the local Yakuza, still learning the ropes and finding his place in the world. A turf war with a rival gang leads to his boss being killed in the street and his head being twisted off and left for Kageyama to retrieve. But while apologising to the disembodied head, it comes back to life and insists that he drink blood from the manky, torn apart neck of the old gang leader. Before Akira has a chance to question the dead head, it leaps from his hands and takes a bite from his neck, turning the man into a vampire!

Stay with me…

Kageyama’s instant transformation from man to vampire and his bloodlust mean that once he gets up off his arse, he’s heading around and biting the throats of anyone he can find and turning them into… wait for it… Yakuza vampires! Yep. Yakuza Vampires! Insanity ensues as the town fills with vampires horribly fast and as each one believes they are also a part of the Yakuza, they chase down other Yakuza to kill too!

Now, those of you that haven’t seen a Takashi Miike film before, I should tell you now that the guy is twisted! You’ll never read a synopsis of one of his films and have an idea of what you’re letting yourself in for; this is most true with his very bizarre definition of the word “Comedy”! In reality, Yakuza Apocalypse is two hours of the goofy director’s brain spewed across the screen in many and varied wonderful colours. Starting off very straight and almost serious, Yakuza Apocalypse quickly descends into bat-shit crazy territory as a weird dude dressed up like a cowboy priest, including spurs on his damn boots, takes out the boss with his partner, an unnamed bloke who would just look like a tourist in his glasses, high waisted jeans and plaid shirt if it wasn’t for the fact that you can easily spot The Raid‘s Yayan Ruhian under those glasses.

Talking heads quickly appear to be the most sane thing to be coming from the screen as we are treated to a room filled with men chained to tables all knitting scarves as their captor – for reasons best known to himself – walks around in massive wooden sandals stomping on the sewing circle’s feet. Kageyama is taught how to be a vampire via an old man with pre-prepared chalk boards and blank pieces of paper; and brains exploding out of people’s ears like a giant zit being popped!

But the ultimate moment of what-the-fuckery, the dude in a giant furry frog suit, wandering around karate chopping the shit out of the Yakuza! No explanation, no dialogue; just some dodgy mind controlling eyes, some time with a baseball bat and a shit load of Karate! To explain the frog further would ruin him, but suffice to say that by the time he’s explained, you know what’s coming, but that doesn’t stop it from being completely ridiculous and chuckle inducing.

Yakuza Apocalypse makes no apologies for what it is. It is a completely bonkers horror comedy that is horrendously bloody, but equally as funny. The comedy bounces brazenly between hilarious and eyebrow raising weirdness and while it’s not the greatest flick you’re going to watch, it’s got more moments that’ll leave you going “what the FUCK?” than any other film I’ve seen recently. Would I say you must watch it? No, absolutely not. But I would say that it’s worth taking a look at if the idea of furries beating the shit out of vampire yakuza is one that makes you smile.

It’s that kind of weird-funny that you get when you are deliriously tired and find everything just absolutely hilarious. I wasn’t sure what I was letting myself in for; Takashi is definitely a bit of an acquired taste and I much prefer his darker films; but I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Yakuza Apocalypse.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame © 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved..

My love affair with Star Wars began in 1997 when they were re-released in to cinemas for the 20th anniversary of A New Hope hitting the silver screen. I was 10 or 11 and had not seen them on television before – or at least not to my recollection.

Sure, I’d seen other big action films before. I had certainly seen Jaws and Jurassic Park – and I am sure that I had seen Apollo 13 too. All great, but nothing blew me away quite like Star Wars.

When ‘A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away’ hit the screen, followed by the fanfare, opening crawl and shots of spaceships in battle, I was overawed and in love straight away.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m no geek or nerd, and you won’t find me at Comic-Con or bidding on eBay for the mint condition collectable of ‘second alien from the right in the Mos Eisley Cantina’. But if there are two things I’m obsessed with, then it’s football and Star Wars. That’s in spite of the prequels trying to dampen my love for them.

So, when Disney bought the rights from George Lucas and announced a new trilogy plus spinoffs, bidding to build a Star Wars version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, my excitement was tempered by trepidation. Would this be another Gungan filled Phantom Menace, or a return to form?

I’m happy to say it was the latter; a fun film that just felt like Star Wars. There were no trade disputes or convoluted issues in the senate hall. It was fun, it was exciting, it was intriguing, it was emotional, it was laugh out loud funny and it was dark.

Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2D2, C3PO and The Millennium Falcon all return to the franchise along with a number of background and secondary characters, giving call backs to the original trilogy (not much, if anything, from the prequels found its way to this to this corner of the galaxy) making certain that you are in Star Wars territory.

In fact, Han and Chewie are their usual, roguish, all-action selves. You can’t help but love the pair and feel a twinge of joy and nostalgia most of the time that they are on the screen.

However, it’s the new cast members that steal the show. This was John Boyega and Daisy Ridley’s big screen debut – arguably Adam Driver’s as well – and they perform admirably. Certainly adapting to and growing into their roles, as the reluctant heroes Finn and Rey, and the villainous Kylo Ren.

Kylo Ren is dark. Really dark. Darker than the darkside dark; conflicted and irrational. You get this real sense of menace from him. Although Snokes (his ‘boss’) lacked that and one of the downsides was his CGI appearance – not to give too much away, as I’m sure there’s more to come.

The Tarkin, to Ren’s Vader, was played by Domhall Gleeson. A small role performed well – again, hopefully there’s more to come in subsequent films.

It was as though Ridley and Boyega had to come out of this on top. One minor gripe from me: Their thick British and American accents respectively did grate a little bit.

Other than that though, they were both excellent. Especially when you consider it was two relative unknowns taking over the reins in cinema’s biggest franchise. I’ve no doubt big things await the pair.

Finally, Oscar Isaac was great in the limited role he was given as an X-Wing pilot and modern-day Han Solo, Poe Dameron. Charming, funny and adventurous; it will be good to see an expanded role for the Resistance’s best pilot in future films.

The action was as you would expect: Fast paced and fun, with jokes aplenty (more than any of the originals). Whereas the comedy in the prequels fell flat, this hit all of the right notes. And, of course, John Williams scores the film perfectly.

JJ Abrams has proven that he was the right choice for director. He rebooted Star Trek well enough for the big screen – although Into Darkness had its problems – and was trusted with this. He put the right team around him and successfully pulled it off.

I’m sure the film has its faults. Maybe once I calm down I’ll notice them? Still, it was a joy to watch and left me with a smile on my face, but still wanting more.

It’s not the best Star Wars film, but it is better than any of the prequels by some way and I think it is as good as Return of the Jedi, if not better.

SPECTRE

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Sam Mendes is back in the hand-stitched, luxurious leather driving seat of the 007 series as the next instalment of British espionage kills and thrills reaches the US shores this weekend.

by Owen Hughes @ohughes86

Celebrating fifty years of James Bond, Eon’s twenty third film in the series, Skyfall, was released back in October 2012 and became an enormous runaway success. Accolade after accolade was poured over it – and rightly so, as it was a thoroughly entertaining action film. Our readers and listeners certainly thought very highly of it, voting it above the likes of Amour, The Intouchables, Argo and The Dark Knight Rises back in 2012’s Failed Critics Awards.

It might be fair to say then that the weight of expectation on SPECTRE couldn’t have been higher. Skyfall ably dealt with the notion that James Bond, the suave British super spy, just wasn’t suited to the modern world. That he was too old. Too outdated. Much like Casino Royale did in 2006, it found a way to make him relevant again.

Surely then, SPECTRE wasn’t going to go over the same old ground, right?

Well, not exactly.

Facing a new Orwellian threat that takes Bond across Europe to track down a secret organisation, whilst also under pressure back home with MI6 under scrutiny for its actions, it crosses almost every box on the 007 checklist. Trains, snow, Bond-girls and Aston Martins; if you’re planning on playing a drinking game with SPECTRE, you will be inebriated within half an hour, having your stomach pumped before you’re even half way through the enormous 148 minute run time, and dead before the film has finished.

But it’s not just regular tropes of the series that make a re-appearance. Again, the idea that the secret agent is an outdated practice is continued from the previous movie. Whilst Skyfall focussed primarily on James Bond being too old, this time around it’s expanded to examine the methods employed by MI6 as a whole.

Although SPECTRE is mostly entertaining, one of its biggest problems is that by asking you to consider a world where we have surveillance drones, billions of mobile devices and CCTV cameras on every corner, why do we persist with a man in a tuxedo sneaking into a party to seduce the crime-bosses wife for tidbits of information. The ultimate conclusion is of course a combination of “the old ways are the best” and “nobody does it better”, but unless the audience are well read on their 1984’s and Brave New World’s, what exactly is the problem with information gathering in the way that’s proposed? Why is it so menacing? Is your freedom more valuable than your safety? Whatever your opinion, SPECTRE never fully addresses the issues with this “newer” method beyond showing you that the guy collecting the information is evil.

Speaking of the bad-guy, Christoph Waltz plays the latest Bond villain with relish. His softly spoken, quietly sinister performance is easily the best in this modern era against Daniel Craig’s all action hero. I’m a big fan of Mads Mikkelsen and Javier Bardem (let’s just pretend Quantum of Solace doesn’t exist, as SPECTRE seems to do as well) and they both bring something different to the series, but Oberhauser is perhaps the most nuanced opposite to James Bond thus far. It’s the age-old battle of brains and exploding-gadget-and-fast-cars-braun.

Craig may be getting sick of playing the role, with this possibly being his last appearance as Bond, but he once again seems entirely comfortable at being the rugged interpretation of Ian Flemming’s character. One who doesn’t mind getting his shoes scuffed and suit ruffled in the pursuit of his nemesis. Just watch him during the absolutely incredible opening scene set in Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival. He has the swagger, the charisma and perfect timing to please fans of the series, no matter who your favourite version of the character is. Prefer the goofy Roger Moore take? Craig is more then able to match the comic timing Moore offers. Enjoyed Pierce Brosnan’s confidence and cheekyness? Bingo. It’s all there in that opening 15 minutes.

The support cast are all decent enough too. Léa Seydoux as Madeleine – the closest the film gets to having the staple Bond-girl – does a good job at modernising the role. She’s not a floozie there only to fall under the charms of 007 and provide the audience with a bit of eye candy. One scene in particular on a train journey draws us back into the narrative of old-versus-new as she shows she doesn’t need Bond to show her how to use a gun. It’s a subtle development of a role that in the past has been reduced to little more than a damsel in distress that needs the big rugged man to come and save her.

Ralph Fiennes adds his own take on M, whose relationship to Bond has a lot more animosity and begrudging respect than when Judi Dench was in the role previously. Q (Ben Wishaw) is also given a lot more exposure this time around. His quirkiness will either annoy you or feel like a welcome break in the pace of relentless, non-stop action scenes and (£24m worth of) exploding vehicles. Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), C (Andrew Scott), Hinx (Dave Bautista) and Lucia (Monica Belluci) are reduced to minor supporting roles which seems a shame, but they all do well with what they’re given.

Overall, for such a long film, it doesn’t ever feel boring or stretched. It suffers from a Skyfall hangover as it will constantly be compared to its predecessor, and in that regard, it is the lesser film. The way it retrofits itself onto the rest of the rebooted franchise is contrived at best and just nonsensical at worst, but it doesn’t detract too much from its own plot. Effectively, it hinges on the relationship between Craig, Seydoux and Waltz (whose appearance really could have come sooner on in the movie) which is well developed across the course of the film, but is not quite enough to elevate it to the delirious heights of Mendes’ last feature.

So no, I don’t expect the Bond revival to die with SPECTRE. Bond (James Bond) is bigger than one film, but as to where I see the film heading next? I honestly have no idea – but I am excited to find out.

You can listen to Owen, Steve Norman, Tony Black and Brian Plank review SPECTRE as well as induct James Bond into our Corridor of Praise on the podcast released back in October.

Owen’s 2015 in Film: Part 9 – September Refuelled

As yet another month passes in 2015, it’s time for the next entry to Owen’s year in review series, looking at a selection of the films that he’s been watching throughout September. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

everest-base-camp-movieNormally in this series I’d pick whichever movie that I happened to fancy writing about. Be it the one I found the most interesting, the one I loved most, one that I hated, etc. It typically changes with each new entry.

However, having taken a look back through the whole month, it appears that I’ve seen at least one new release in each week of September. Therefore, I’m going to do something slightly different for this month’s article, I think. After all, it’s been a month of new starts for me personally, beginning life as a full time University student.

I’ve learnt a lot over the past five weeks; how to be a better writer, the essence of what being a journalist actually means – and just how much I missed going to work. Seriously. I spent just over one solitary week unemployed, having left employment on Friday 11th September before enrolling at University on Thursday 24th. It was horrible. My expectations were that it would feel like a holiday. A nice, albeit short break before my life completely changed.

Wrong.

It was a tedious, slow, excruciating week of sitting around doing nothing, getting more and more anxious about whether or not I’d done the right thing. I do not envy anybody who has to spend longer than that out of work. But at least it did give me a chance to reflect a little. Some time to think about the decisions I’d made; about what I had let myself in for.

Contrary to the seemingly popular opinion that student life is all about causing queue congestion by paying for everything with a cheque, staying in bed until 2pm and eating Pot Noodles for breakfast, it’s been bloody hard work. Rewarding and exciting. But hard.

It’s certainly threatening to scupper my plans to resurrect my Horrorble Month sequel, the project I completed last October where I watched a horror movie every day in the lead up to Halloween. It’s actually where I conceived the idea of doing this as a more regular thing.

Although, back in September, I did still manage to actually get through a decent number of movies. Starting with…


Week 1 – Tuesday 1 – Sunday 6 September 2015

Tuesday – Star*Men (2015), Welcome to Leith (2015), No Tears For The Dead (2014); Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of A Window And Disappeared (2014); Saturday – Area 51 (2015), Blood Lake (2014); Sunday – THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED (2015)

transporterI know it’s weird how I constantly feel the need to defend my preference for action movies; quite frankly, it shouldn’t be an issue. Taste is a subjective thing, of course. However, there is a stigma attached to the genre that suggests those who enjoy mindless action on camera are morons. Personally, I don’t subscribe to that opinion. People are entitled to enjoy whatever the hell they want and it’s not necessarily a reflection on your level of intelligence. Laugh at Adam Sandler if you want, cry whilst watching My Little Pony, ponder the nature of existence during the three hours of motorway footage you found on YouTube. It’s your choice. That said, what an absolutely enormous waste of everybody’s time the latest entry to the Transporter franchise is. From its tacky opening scenes trying (and failing) to revive the swagger that the original Luc Besson movie had in swathes, to its boring and overdue conclusion; I had no fun watching this whatsoever. The only thing more annoying than Ed Skrein’s Statham impersonation is the missing ‘L’ in the movie title. I love the original movie as much as anyone should, but the sequels have been subpar. Even The Stath agrees, given his comments in an interview with Sabotage Times about working with Ben Foster:

“…for me to be able to work opposite someone like that and not some hairdresser cast off the street – which is what happened with Transporter 3 – well, it was fantastic.”

At least The Transporter Refueled wasn’t quite that bad, I suppose. Also in its favour is that it did introduce the always watchable Ray Stevenson as the father of the notorious getaway driver Frank Martin. The plot too is acceptable (if badly structured) for this sort of film, with the delivery package this time being four women enacting their revenge. But it was in essence a dull, unexciting and incredibly stupid crapfest.


Week 2 – Monday 7 – Sunday 13 September 2015

Monday – Tabloid (2010)Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002); Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – SONS OF BEN (2015)Sunday – The Hunted (2003)

sons of benOrdinarily I wouldn’t cover a film in this series that I’d already written a review for on the website and talked about on the podcast. Nevertheless, it: a) fits the criteria I set out in the introduction; and b) is an indie documentary that deserves a bit of extra publicity. As such, here are a few snippets from my original review to give you an overview:

“What happens when you’re a fan of the beautiful game in a country where football is not even close to being in the top three most popular sports on the continent, never mind without half a dozen teams a stones throw from your bedroom window? Well, if you’re in Philadelphia, then of course the only viable solution is to set up a supporters club called the Sons of Ben for a team that doesn’t yet exist. That’s exactly what Bryan James, Andrew Dillon, and David Flagler did in January 2007 hoping that one day a Major League Soccer franchise would open in their beloved home town.

“Director Jeffrey C. Bell tells the entire unbelievable story of this passionate community of soccer fans coming together to support a non-existent team, from its humble beginnings as a conversation at a bar, through to its surprising conclusion.

You can purchase Sons of Ben: The Movie on DVD directly from their website. They have other outlets such as streaming and digital download planned to happen soon so keep an eye on their Twitter and Facebook pages for updates. In the meantime, check out the trailer below.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqAFIAHox6w]

Week 3 – Monday 14 – Sunday 20 September 2015

Monday – L’eclisse (1962)Tuesday – Mortal Kombat (1995), Legend (2015)Wednesday – Starry Eyes (2014); Thursday – Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994)Friday – Class of Nuke ’em High (1986), Pernicious (2015)Saturday – Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)Sunday – EVEREST (2015)

60ea71a0-dcbf-4e43-92f6-415984fbdbd6-1020x612To borrow an often used football cliché, director Baltasar Kormákur‘s Everest is a film of two halves. The first hour of this adventure-turned-disaster movie is mind numbingly slow. It drags. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the characters involved in this 1990’s expedition to the summit of Mount Everest, led by Jason Clarke as real-life New Zealander Rob Hall. I understand why the film is purposefully designed to be this slow, as it builds up enough backstory to make you care about the characters involved, hoping that you’ll be bothered by them if something were to happen. Perhaps the reason that this drudges on so tamely is because there are too many characters, each with their own stories to tell. This may be a very slight spoiler, so apologies in advance, but once they finally got to the top of the treacherous mountain, it did occur to me that surely there wasn’t much of the 120 minute run time left. And yet! I was wrong. I glanced at my watch and there was still somehow an hour to go. But what an hour of cinema it was. I was surprised by just how invested I became in these people given the fact that I was certain that up to that point, I’d been bored. I’d have liked to have seen a little more about what Rob Hall’s wife (Keira Knightley) was going through back home but otherwise it was a very emotional 60 minutes. It’s probably the first movie for years that has caused me to well up in the cinema whilst watching. Apparently a lot of the footage was actually taken at camp one on the real mountain too. The film looks amazing for it and between the visuals and the latter half of the story, it’s definitely a film worth seeing and makes up for a tepid opening half.


Week 4 – Monday 21 – Sunday 27 September 2015

Monday – Bride of Re-animator (1989); Tuesday – Dawn of the Dead (1978)Wednesday – Day of the Dead (1985), Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015), Sicario (2015); Thursday – Day of the Triffids (1962), From Beyond (1986)Friday – Invaders From Mars (1986), Return to Oz (1985); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – THE MARTIAN (2015)

maxresdefault-3I’m going to spare your eyes from going even more square whilst staring at your computer screen for any longer and suggest you click the link below and instead listen to my review of Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi movie:

FAILED CRITICS PODCAST: THE INTERN, THE MARTIAN & SICARIO (29 Sep 2015)

Alternatively, read on below if you’d rather.

There appear to be two types of ‘Ridley Scott’ in this world. There’s the Ridley Scott who makes ambitious, misunderstood or sometimes simply just plain bad movies such as American Gangster, Exodus: Gods & Kings, Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven (the theatrical cut at least) and The Counsellor, to name but a few. Then there also appears to be a Ridley Scott who makes exciting, intelligent and often influential science fiction movies with an enticing premise and wondrous, imagination-capturing special effects and plots. Think Blade Runner, Alien and (yes, even) Prometheus. Where that leaves The Martian is definitely more towards that of a studio-led film than a recognisably Ridley Scott movie. There’s very little character in the picture; you certainly wouldn’t guess from looking that it was Ridley Scott rather than, say, Steven Speilberg, Robert Zemeckis, Ron Howard etc. Not that this is necessarily a problem. The lack of identity in respect to its director is moot considering just how enjoyable The Martian is. Adapted from the Andy Weir novel of the same name, the plot revolves around wise-cracking astronaut and botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who is stranded on the planet Mars where his crew have abandoned him, assuming him dead. Although there’s a large support cast of talented actors (Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benny Wong(!) etc) the majority of the run time is carried by Damon, whose antics and humour make his time on the red planet seem all too brief. Even though the final third descends into Gravity with pop tunes sound tracking it, the biggest compliment I can think to pay The Martian is that I wish it were a biopic simply so I could spend more time learning about this fascinating and epic adventure.


Week 5 – Monday 28 – Wednesday 30 September 2015

Monday – Vamp (1986); Tuesday – Wolf Cop (2014); Wednesday – SKIN TRADE (2015)

skintradeheaderAh, Netflix. From time to time, you throw up some real gems that I would otherwise have overlooked. Usually they’re films starring Scott Adkins or Donnie Yen. On this occasion, Skin Trade lured me in by plastering martial arts movie icon Tony Jaa’s name all over it. If that wasn’t tempting enough, they only went and got Dolph Lundgren involved too. What the double team that is, eh? But wait! Ron Pearlman, as well? Well, blow me down with a feather (or flaming flying kick – Onk Bak, anyone?). The truth is, Skin Trade is complete and utter tosh. Quelle surprise, right? Maybe that’s a bit unfair as for at least 10 minutes, it’s OK. It’s alright. It’s not horrendous. Dolph plays a NYC cop who teams up with a Thai detective (Tony Jaa) to stop the Serbian crime boss (Ron Pearlman) and his human trafficking gig. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; I’d even stretch that a bit further and say Jaa’s first action scene in a small room was impressively well choreographed and set the bar too high too early. You can see he’s clearly still got it in him to pull out some fantastic moves on screen. Unfortunately, it just gets progressively worse from then on. Its great cast are left to scrape together something resembling a cohesive plot but without fully capitalising on the potential of its concept. I will keep my fingers crossed in the hope that Tony Jaa gets another crack at the lead role in an American movie, Skin Trade somewhat remarkably being his first. He definitely proved he’s capable enough during his cameo role in Furious 7.


And that’s it for another month. Join me again roughly this time in November for part two of my “horrorble month” lists, where once again I aim to watch at least one horror film every day through October. Until then, feel free to comment below on any of my reviews – or send me a tweet!

Failed Critics Podcast: Sharman & Other Filth

american_ultra_2015-1366x768Welcome to another edition of the Failed Critics podcast. This week, hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by Paul Field (making his first appearance since the Corridor of Praise: Danny Dyer episode) and Phil Sharman, one third of the award nominated comedy podcast Wikishuffle.

On top of the news about Danny Boyle confirming production will begin on Trainspotting 2, there are two new release films reviewed by the team this week; Nima Nourizadeh’s stoner comedy American Ultra, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, and the Statham-less Statham-vehicle Transp4ter (…no? AKA The Transporter Refueled.) As well as the new releases, Owen discusses the documentary Welcome to Leith (which is screening this week at the Cambridge Film Festival) with Paul, who also reviews Fort Tilden. Phil rewatches a recent favourite in The Adjustment Bureau and Steve follows up on a discussion from last week’s FrightFest summary by checking out Australian pre-post-apocalyptic thriller These Final Hours.

Fans of our classic debates will also be in for a treat as plenty of our most popular topics were brought up for discussion at various points! A conversation about the Netflix series Narcos somehow ends up as a rambling stream of thought about the BBC and future of broadcasting. The Transp4ter review leads into another rant about film classification. We even manage to squeeze in a quick chat on the merits of found footage horrors, American remakes of English language movies and a short quiz complete with dodgy fake accents.

Steve will be on holiday next week but you can join Owen and Phil again, who will be ably assisted by Jack Stewart and Andrew Brooker to review Legend, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and The Visit.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK