After a week-long hiatus, Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are back with a new episode and a slightly less conventional format than usual. With the premiere of Sharknado 5: Global Swarming airing on the SyFy Channel at the same time as the pair sat down to record, we cover the usual movie chat whilst dipping in and out of the Asylum’s unfathomably popular franchise.
“We all know how humans work. They’re so predictable.”
In what could be argued as being the first popcorn fuelled summer blockbuster of the year – at least the first that doesn’t have a Marvel or DC title card – Valerian seemed doomed to fail from the second it opened in the US to seemingly poor reviews. Undeterred, we sent Brooker off to see if Luc Besson’s latest is as bad as everyone seems to think.
The content of this post is courtesy of @LionsgateUK. Continue reading Origin Wars and the Best Original Sci-fi of 2017
“Y’all jokers must be crazy.”
February. Awards month. This second diary entry starts with a list of Oscar nominated films I would love to get through before the awards ceremony on the last Sunday of the month. Try as I might, I don’t have the time nor energy to travel up and down the country to obscure little picturehouses to watch three hour French films about the government’s war on Brussels sprouts (I don’t know what any of these films are about. Call that an educated guess) so that pipe dream was never going to be doable.
Maybe that’s a tick list for next year. One challenge at a time. Maybe next year will be the year I watch every single nominated film. For now, it’s all about these 365 films I have to watch. So…
The first week felt pretty busy when it came to films. More blind luck than organisation, the month started by knocking another film of the blu-ray pile of shame; The Martian‘s extended cut burned through our evening on day one. I honestly forgot how good that film was.
The three year old’s journey through the MCU continued with Iron Man 2 on the same night we bought foreign film Oscar nom A Man Called Ove. The Saturday of the Failed Critics Pubcast gave me train time for a first watch of 1984’s Bad Taste and a repeat visit to Luc Besson’s Lucy. A family trip for the excellent Lego Batman Movie, followed by the pretty rubbish Gold was how that Sunday started. Rounded it off with the traditional yearly watch of Any Given Sunday.
Early February ended a bit of a mixed bag. The hopefully final but surprisingly fun Resident Evil movie was certainly better than the first Schumacher Batman that I somehow ended up watching. But with the last films of the week being the great Hidden Figures and the sublime Gone Baby Gone, things were looking up.
In my misguided attempt to watch all the Oscar nominated films, I forced myself through a couple of horrendous films to start week two. Michael Bay’s Stars and Stripes masturbatory fantasy that is 13 Hours may be one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. Followed by the promising, but overall sleep inducing Passengers felt like the worst way to continue this challenge. Luckily, the newly released “Definitive Directors Cut” of Heat was enough to cleanse the palette.
The next few days was a mix of first watches and old favourites. John Wick and Training Day filling the quota of films we’d seen before; while new films were covered by The Girl With All The Gifts and Fences. All superb choices, if I do say so myself. The bizarre documentary Beware the Slenderman was our Saturday night viewing this week. Four films on the Sunday filled in my numbers nicely, I finished off the weekend with the beautiful, boner inducing “Black and Chrome” cut of Mad Max: Fury Road.
Luckily, work was quiet as this week carried on. An empty office and a stack of paperwork meant iTunes films to pass the time. A couple of films at work, the original Jungle Book with the kid when I got home and I ended the week with an early contender for film of the year, John Wick: Chapter 2.
More films at work mean that by the time we are watching Leon that evening – another from the Pile of Shame – I’ve added three more to the list. Revisiting last year’s War on Everyone, along with an impromptu Paranorman watch and rewatching Antoine Fuqua’s Shooter meant my list had a diverse selection being added.
Excellent espionage thriller/comic book film Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Founder clocked in at numbers 98 and 99 on my spreadsheet. Leaving space for something special for the next milestone. Film 100 was the first watch of this year, the seventeenth since the film came out almost a year ago to the day. Film 100 was the one, the only, Deadpool.
A couple of animated films, that included the surreal but fun A Cat in Paris brought up the rear for the most part this week. I also managed to get my sticky hands on a review screener for the latest film from one of my favourite directors to end this week. If you ever get the chance, you should definitely watch James Cullen Bressack’s Bethany.
The month begins to come to a close. The original cut of Mad Max: Fury Road kicks things off (yes, a different cut is a different film. My challenge, my rules). Peter Berg’s Patriots Day and Gore Verbinski’s A Cure For Wellness meant the week had an up and down middle section. You can hear me wax lyrical about both on the Oscar fallout podcast. This week also saw us dig into one of the worst films we have ever seen; Nude Nuns with Big Guns is just as award worthy as you think it is.
Loads of films with the kid this week, too. On request, we saw three, THREE, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies. The two recent ones and the original 1990 version. Creepy, rapey Michelangelo aside, they ain’t the worst movies in the world. And she loved them, that’s all that matters. It’s the same reason I sat through the Angry Birds Movie again! Luckily, she didn’t watch our final one of that weekend, we watched the dug in to The Greasy Strangler. Just… wow.
Finally, after weeks of joking around about how ridiculous it is that we could live in a world where Suicide Squad won an academy award, it actually happened. So a rewatch of the film I loved that everyone else despised; the Oscar winning Suicide Squad. Then, as I write this, I’m in my seat at the local IMAX waiting for the premiere of Logan to begin. And thanks to Fox’s brilliant marketing ploy to show it at 10.23pm, it still counts as a February film. And much like last month, the second I turn this in, it’s onto writing the review.
This is getting tiring. But at this point, I’ve done more than half of the number I totalled last year. That can’t be bad.
Two months in the bag. Only ten to go.
Films seen this month: 54
Current count, as of 28th of February: 114 of 365.
Ding dong, merrily on high – Steve’s pants are wet and minging.
Don’t worry. He just got a bit over-excited on last week’s Star Wars podcast. But before Steve worked himself up into that state, you can listen to his usual mildly-subdued-self as he hosted our Christmas special podcast, recorded the week before he exploded in a fit of fan-geekery over The Force Awakens.
Joining him in our festive celebrations during this most unholy Winterval and non-religion-specific season are Owen Hughes, Andrew Brooker and Brian Plank. As is tradition, we start off with a Christmassy quiz – quite possibly the worst quiz we’ve had on the podcast all year. Possibly ever. But moods are soon lifted as the team run through which Christmas movies they’ve been watching over the holiday period.
In lieu of any main releases to talk about, we have a special triple bill where each member of the crew pick their films of Christmas past (favourite first watch of a non-2015 film during this year), Christmas present (favourite 2015 release) and Christmas future (which movie they’re most looking forward to in 2016). It really isn’t as confusing as I’ve made it sound.
There’s still one more podcast to go this year – our Failed Critics Awards end of year wrap up (deadline for votes is 27th Dec) – so you can join us again later this month. Until then, Merry Christmas from all of us here at Failed Critics!
by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
Now I don’t know about you, but the thought of recasting a role that I love always leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth. When it happens, there’s never really a middle ground where the film or TV show is just okay; you almost always find your self at one of the extremes of the spectrum where the result is fantastic, or utter toilet. We’ve seen it a hundred times; from James Bond and Hannibal Lecter to John and Sarah Connor, so last year when news hit that Jason Statham was walking away from The Transporter Refueled and letting someone else take on the role of Frank Martin, I was horrified. Now, after a couple of release date shifts, we have a fresh faced Ed Skrein – a man I only know from his short stint on Game of Thrones before his role of Daario Naharis was handed to someone else – taking on the role of the contract transporter and looking to reboot the franchise.
But the question is, can he replace Statham as The Transporter? And if he can, can he make the role his own and bring enough to fulfil the new trilogy that Luc Besson’s Europacorp are hoping for?
As Frank Martin adds his name to a list of great characters to whom shit just seems to keep happening, the fourth instalment in the Transporter series sees Martin back behind the driver’s seat in France, doing shady things for shady people and getting paid well for it. This time around, he finds himself quickly embroiled in a revenge plot against Eastern European human traffickers a decade and a half in the making; as a handful of women who have managed to escape the clutches of greasy pimp in a nice suit Karasov, the women set about robbing the man and his associates and start in motion a chain of events that they hope will bring down the entire filthy operation.
Hiring Frank as a getaway driver for a bank robbery, the former sex workers make it personal by kidnapping Martin’s retired father – personal favourite actor Ray Stevenson – and threatening his life to force Frank’s hand and make him hang around long past the point of his contract being finished. Unwittingly and unwillingly, the father and son duo are now part of the team taking on this nasty prostitution ring and trying to keep the girls, and themselves, alive; a feat that they find pretty difficult when shit hits the fan and they start pissing off some scary guys who aren’t backwards in coming forwards and punching you in the face. If Frank and his dad, a man who has a few of his own skeletons in his closet, can come out of this in one piece, it’ll be nothing sort of a miracle.
The thing with the Transporter franchise as a whole, is that while in reality it isn’t anything special and it certainly isn’t flawless, it’s an absolute arse full of fun and they are surprisingly well made for a low budget bunch of films about a guy that drives really fast. I went in to The Transporter Refueled expecting all the fun and quality to be gone. With the stories of Jason Statham leaving the franchise because producers didn’t want to pay him and that they were going into production without a proper script, my this-is-gonna-be-shit-o-meter was going nuts as I sat in my seat this afternoon.
But to my complete surprise, I was completely wrong. Transporter Refueled is everything I’ve come to expect from the series. Great action, superb fighting and amazing car chases all strung together with a story put together at the last minute and just kind of thrown at the people acting it out on screen the day before it was being shot. I mean, the whole Eastern European sex worker story is starting to wear thin, with Liam Neeson recently taking three movies to eradicate it with the Taken series, we are seeing it come back with The Transporter, with all the rubbish stereotypes in tow. Not to worry, Ed Skrein is here to wipe them all out again and the guy is pretty damn convincing in Jason Statham’s shoes, and man does he know how to drive that car! Mmmmm. That car. An erection inducing Audi S8 that roars to life with a tap to the accelerator and just leaves me drooling like an imbecile at every rev. Forget Fast and Furious, ladies and gentlemen; this is the kind of car porn I like and boy is it good.
Mmmmmm. Cars. Mmmmm Audis. I feel like I’ve been subliminally pushed into buying an Audi by the last couple of films I’ve watched. I can’t afford a bloody Audi, you bastards! Anyways… Yeah, where was I? Oh right.
The story, and the film as a whole takes a little while to kick into a good gear while it lays the groundwork for the story and introduces us to the new Frank Martin. It’s definitely a bit of a slog to get through the first twenty minutes or so because as much as I tried to look past it, I couldn’t help but miss Jason Statham on the screen and kind of pined for him for a bit. But, by the end of the first fight, the first car chase and the first bit of back and forth with his old man, the story has ramped up and I’ve all but forgotten The Stath and accepted The Skrein as the new Frank Martin. Camille Delamarre, long time editor to Luc Besson, is on director duties and does a pretty good job in keeping the film running at a good pace and at a little over an hour and a half, has kept the film down to a run time that even those burning out on daft action films like this won’t be sat long enough to get bored.
At the end of the day, if you’ve stuck with The Transporter long enough to be going to see the fourth film, then you know exactly what you’re going to get and you’re sure to enjoy it. A new star and a slightly different direction aren’t going to stop The Transporter Refueled from being a shit load of fun and a welcome return for a Frank Martin.
In addition to telling us about the five worst video-game movies last week, Andrew Brooker is back again to take a look at the other side of the coin and reveal of the best.
by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
Next Week! Hitman: Agent 47 arrives next week. As I type this I’m watching the booking pages for my local cinemas refresh hoping for a decent show so I can get a nice early screening and get my fill of video game stupidness. As the days go on I’m getting a little more excited for this movie and I’m hoping and praying that it isn’t complete wank. I’m not looking for award winning cinema; I’m looking to disengage my brain for a couple of hours and just enjoy my time with Agent 47.
So, as my own rebuttal to last week’s Worst Video Game Movies; my super-duper scientific research continues in making the list I’m hoping 47’s latest entry makes it to. Here’s my five favourite video game movies.
5] Silent Hill (2006)
Budget: $50 Million
Box Office: 97.6 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 29%
Now, I refuse to care about the Rotten Tomatoes score for this film; or any film for that matter. The thing that gets Silent Hill onto my list is the atmosphere. The original Silent Hill is one of the creepiest games ever made; using the restrictions of the old technology it was made on to it’s advantage and filling the entire game with a thick fog that hid just how slowly the game was being rendered in the background; but as far as creepy atmosphere is concerned the town of Silent Hill is best in show and the film does a fantastic job in replicating it.
Granted, the story takes a mental left turn away from the lore towards the end, something I have lambasted game and book adaptations for in the past, but with enough fan service and actual scares to keep your average fan happy, I can heartily recommend Silent Hill.
4] Mortal Kombat (1995)
Budget: $18 Million
Box Office: $122.1 Million
Rotten Tomatoes: 33%
Come on! COME ON! It’s Mortal Kombat! The mother of all fighting games turned into one of the most fun video game movies ever made. How can I not put it on the list? I am writing this on the 20th anniversary of the film’s original release for crying out loud, I can’t NOT talk about it.
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (the not-entirely-shit Uwe Boll), MK‘s legacy speaks completely for itself (spawning a bloody awful sequel that almost made my previous list) The story of Christopher Lambert’s lightning god Raiden, dragging the worlds best fighters into another realm to fight in a tournament to decide the fate of both worlds. Silly fights and rubbish special effects fill the screen as the Alien Vs. Predator director squeezed as many of the game’s dumbass story elements as humanly possible into a 100 minute definition of “junk food for the brain”.
3] Dead Rising: Watchtower (2015)
Box Office: Unknown
Rotten Tomatoes: None
Dead Rising: Watchtower is a bit of an anomaly. No theatrical release at all; debuted on the United States’ free video service Crackle and went straight to Blu-Ray in the UK. Released in March this year, the film adaptation of one of the silliest zombie game franchises is easily one of my favourite films this year.For those that haven’t played the games, each one follows a new protagonist as they fight through hoards of zombies in a world where the zombie infection is accepted and controlled with medication, but things have gone horribly wrong. What makes the games something a little special is the stupidity involved in them. The only way to survive in Dead Rising is to find two weapons and weld them together to make bigger weapons. Until you’ve played it, you’ll never understand how I lost hours running around the map with a mate laughing my childish arse off firing masses of rubber cocks across the screen using my dildo launcher and poking my buddy with a giant foam finger gun!
The film sticks to this level of stupidity. It’s gross, it’s violent, but it’s completely fucking stupid and it knows it. Only really for fans, but it’s one of the best ways to waste two hours in recent memory.
2] Resident Evil (2002)
Budget: $35 Million
Box Office: $102.4 Million
Rotten Tomatoes: 33%
This is a strange one for me. Considering how pissed I got at Doom for taking more than a few liberties with that iconic game’s story, to laud the first Resi film as my second favourite in this list when it’s pretty much universally hated by fans of the game for the same thing is pretty hypocritical of me. Luckily for me, I don’t care.
Resident Evil kicked off a franchise of some of the most fun action films to grace my blu-ray collection. Substituting the horror of the early games for an action thriller feel with an amnesiac, combat ready, Milla Jovovich taking on an underground lab filled with zombies as her and a special forces team try to stop an outbreak and escape the subterranean complex and the mansion that’s hiding it. Sure there’s a stinker in the six film long franchise; and the quality only really dropped with the most recent (but not quite final) instalment; but there’s no stopping this series and with Paul W. S. Anderson getting the last chapter made as you read this and promising a worthwhile end to (not an actual RE character) Alice’s saga, I have nothing but faith that we are in for a treat when it comes out next year.
1] Hitman (2007)
Budget: $24 Million
Box Office: $100 Million
Rotten Tomatoes: 13%
Agent 47’s first trip to the big screen is, without a doubt, my top video game movie of all time; and one of my favourite junk food, sick day kind of movies. Now, I made Owen watch this back on the 150th podcast just because I wanted him to give it a butcher’s and he really didn’t like it. I’m sorry to say, that Owen is wrong and we’re no longer on speaking terms!
One thing our esteemed leader did get right though, was describing it as a wannabe Luc Besson film and I’m absolutely alright with that description. The always awesome Timothy Olyphant dons 47’s iconic suit and tie and brings all the ham-fisted action of Besson’s finest work. Maybe without the finesse that the legendary filmmaker does, but no film based on a video game was ever going to get that level of director involved in it.
Hitman does an excellent job with what it has. Another film on this list that sacrifices the game’s lore to make sure that we aren’t bored to death by the film’s pace. Agent 47’s story is far too long and complicated for a 100 minute movie, so we get the bare bones of the legend on screen and are left to either remember, guess, or simply not care about the parts that we aren’t told. Whichever option you choose, I can absolutely recommend Hitman to any game fan, any action film fan, or anyone that just fancies seeing good old Mr. Olyphant in a suit and tie killing people in an ultra cool, ultra slick fashion.
If Hitman: Agent 47 is half as fun as this telling of the suited assassin’s story, I’ll be coming out of the cinema a happy man next week.
Honourable Mention – Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
While not in any way a video game movie; it is, in EVERY way, a video game movie. Even the most casual of gamers can see that the film’s tagline, and adopted subtitle, “Live. Die. Repeat” is absolutely endemic of the trial and error nature of video games and playing them. Who of us hasn’t spent hours endlessly playing the same sections of a game over and over again hoping to just get it right this time?
The film, which arguably belongs to Emily Blunt and not her stuntman co-star, took on even more of the video game world when it was released the same year as shooter powerhouse Call of Duty introduced exo-suits to its players; making us all look like the rows and rows of suited soldiers from the battlefields of Edge of Tomorrow.
A movie that is absolutely about video game checkpoint abuse, I can’t not mention Edge of Tomorrow in this little list of mine.
Returning for his first appearance since the end of year awards episode is James Diamond, ready to demolish you with his reviews of Whiplash and all things Luc Besson. Joining James is horror-fanatic and best mates with ‘Scream Queen’ Jessica Cameron; it’s Mike Shawcross finally making his long overdue debut with American Sniper, Testament of Youth and 80’s b-movie creature feature Alligator in his sights.
Among a hefty discussion on the Academy Awards and Razzie nominations, Owen explains why not even Steven Soderbergh puts giant space baby in the corner* with his cut of 2001: A Space Odyssey, whilst Steve struggles to get his head around the popularity of Disney’s mammoth hit, Frozen. Let it go, Steve! Let it goooo…
Join us next week for reviews of Mortdecai, Ex Machina and Kingsman!
*credit to @naanbab for the (quite frankly amazing) pun
A predictable but acceptable plot, with the always reliable modern action film icon Neeson performing well enough, belied by some dodgy direction decisions and insufferable action set pieces.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Does anyone still remember 2012? It wasn’t that long ago. Back when times were simpler. Well, they were simpler for me anyway. Back then, James was still the site editor and I was just a lowly Brummie who accidentally joined his fledgling film entertainment podcast after covering for an incapacitated Gerry.
Nevertheless, it also happened to be around August of that year that I watched the original Taken film for the first time, almost two months prior to the release of its sequel. Like a lot of other people, I too loved it, as much of a latecomer as I was. As a throwback to classic Stallone-era action thrillers with its outright evil bad guy, cannon fodder in every scene and an escalating sense of dread, it was immensely entertaining. Not only that, but the European location, fast pace, brutal execution scenes and anti-hero character of Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), a former CIA Agent hunting down the nasty non-American’s in Paris who’ve taken his daughter (Maggie Grace), it also meant it was the contemporary thriller for a new generation. It left behind the steroid-enhanced pectorals and biceps of the 80’s, the hair gel and smirking faces of the 90’s, and went instead for simply an ordinary looking (yet highly skilled) father tracking down his abducted daughter.
Each decade has its own action movies that defines it. Whether through the real blossoming of the genre in the 60’s in Where Eagles Dare, or a James Cameron blockbuster such as True Lies in the 90’s. There’s always at least one movie that seems recognisably “of its time”, yet still produces enormous amounts of satisfaction even today. I believe that the genre during the 2000’s is defined by three movies. Most notably, The Bourne Identity, Casino Royale and Taken. Not necessarily my favourites, but they’re the Die Hard‘s of their decade; the Rambo‘s of their time. At a push, in the first half of this decade, I suppose you could state that the defining action films so far would probably be The Raid and/or the comic book adventure actioners like Avengers Assemble; though there’s still plenty of time left for someone to pull a new classic out of the bag! Maybe this will finally be the decade that belongs to Van Damme? I can but hope.
As for Taken‘s sequels, they’re not quite so iconic or game changing. I’m not going to discuss Taken 2 in great detail. James made a stance back in 2012, and it seems only fair to continue to honour it. However, Taken 3 (or Tak3n as it is called by people trying to save a couple of characters in their Tweets) is fair game as far as I’m concerned.
It’s the first in the franchise to be set entirely in the USA. Immediately, that is cause for some concern. Part of what made Taken so distinguishable was that overriding Luc Besson European influence. The plot to Tak3n sees Bryan set up for the murder of his ex-wife. Using his very particular skills acquired over a long career, he is on the run from the law (led by Forest Whitaker making his debut in the series) whilst trying to get the person responsible… before they get to his daughter!
To say the previous film was great would be a lie. It isn’t. At all. The PG-13 (12A) rating held back on some of the violence and bad language, but it still had a grim ferocity underlining it. Murder was committed not in the name of justice, but revenge; and you were still somehow rooting for the guy doing it. The problem I had is that although the severity may not be as toned down as the majority of 12A movies, in most cases the more extreme moments are implied or happen off screen (which somehow makes it more acceptable to younger audiences?)
With Taken 3, this is still a problem. It too is a 12A in order to reach as wide an audience as possible, despite not actually changing the message of the film. It just has no blood and very little swearing, which suddenly means it’s fine for those under 12 to watch. Odd that, isn’t it? Best not to corrupt their mind with too many “fuck”‘s or “shit”‘s, eh? But let’s have this guy shoot someone in the face, that’s all dandy.
Sorry, went off on a bit of a tangent then. Anyway, it’s the use of jump-cuts during the action sequences that is absolutely horrendous to look at rather than the level of violence. It’s a bloody action film that, first of all, hides most of the action. If that’s not bad enough, the relentless jump-cutting during absolutely everything intended to be thrilling does little more than induce fits of nausea. I counted along with the more elaborate action scenes to see how long each shot was on screen for before it flicked to the next. Literally (literally literally, not figuratively literally) one second per shot. Whether it was Bryan first evading the police after finding Leonore’s (Famke Janssen) lifeless body in his apartment, or chasing down an aeroplane in a Porsche, there was barely any time to even register what you were seeing, nevermind make sense of it all. Bourne is often credited with originating this in the modern actioner. As per a discussion I had on Twitter recently, the word “frenetic” used to describe “a mess” instead of inferring “energy” in a scene can probably be attributed to the way the swarm of Doug Liman/Paul Greengrass copycats failed to emulate the Bourne films. But this really is a mess. Director Olivier Megaton apparently doesn’t even like action movies, yet was convinced to direct the series because he was told he was good at shooting them. Whoever told him that needs shooting.
That’s not to say the the film is entirely bad. The plot is quite a simple one, but then that’s always worked in Taken‘s favour. It’s an action-come-revenge thriller series. It has a few twists and reveals, a change of character here, an unexpected death there. It’s just that of the three so far, this is the most predictable. I don’t care what you think, nobody could’ve predicted using grenades as an impromptu sat-nav in Taken 2.
It’s not even the characters that let it down; Forest Whitaker’s introduction and dodgy police work was absolutely fine, all things considered. As were all of Neeson’s former CIA buddies, come to mention it, who I personally would’ve liked to have seen more of. Sure, the baddies are slightly generic, with their faux non-specific Eastern European accents, but they more than fulfill their role in the plot.
Liam Neeson is always watchable in these films (when you can see him in between the psychedelic jump cuts, that is). Whether it’s Unknown, The Grey or last year’s Non-Stop and A Walk Among the Tombstones, 7 or 8 years ago it would seem bizarre to say it, but he is now the archetypal modern action hero and that, ladies and gentlemen, is a good thing. It’s just a shame that Taken 3 is not a better platform for him to perform in.
The end of the film does suggest a Taken 4 (or T4ken) and that should be no surprise to anyone. The runaway success of the original, initially thought to be little more than a DVD-earner, suggests they will continue to make these movies until Neeson quits or Besson stops making a profit on them. With a better director, an improved script and (dare I say it) an 18 rating, there is still potential left in the series. Somewhere. Probably.
Taken 3 is in cinemas right now and you can hear Owen talk about it on the next episode of the Failed Critics podcast.
With the James-era officially ending with our previous podcast, we begin anew with two new release reviews. We did consider making you wait nine years for us to get back together, inspired by Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, but we just couldn’t wait that long to tell you about it. We also found time to review Luc Besson’s latest sci-fi thriller Lucy – and we didn’t need to reach 100% brain capacity in order to do it either.
The team also find time to talk about a selection of films shown at last weekend’s FrightFest (including The Den, All Cheerleaders Die and Doc of the Dead), Icelandic penis museum documentary The Final Member, utterly terrible Disney movie Condorman and the, er, dire Danny Dyer movie Run For Your Wife.
Join us next week for more reviews and less Danny Dyer chat (probably?)
Although there’s little here if you’ve seen District 13, Brick Mansions still sufficiently justifies its existence with fun lead turns and a rejiggered finale.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
Films like Brick Mansions primarily exist because studios (depressingly rightly, I must add) believe that people from English-speaking countries don’t want to watch perfectly serviceable and exciting action films in foreign languages. As a result, any time that such a film is released and does reasonably well, a countdown clock practically appears above its head to the inevitable English-language remake; oftentimes ridiculously similar to the original to boot because “Hey, it’s not like anybody except snobby film students will have seen the original, right? It’s not like they’re going to notice!” That’s not to say that they’re always bad films, after all they are often ripping straight from great damn movies, but it does mean that they often fail to justify their own existences.
Some of those films, however, decide to alter the source material in certain ways. Sometimes that involves Americanising the product to supposedly make it more palatable to audiences, sometimes it involves altering certain plot twists and plot points in an attempt to “out-do” the original. Usually, all this serves to do is lower the resulting product; yeah, it now has a reason for existing but it’s also kinda lost what made the source material entertaining in the first place. Brick Mansions, a remake of a 2004 French action film by the name of District 13,tries both, applying American action film techniques to the original’s parkour-focussed setpieces and futzing about with what was a perfectly great and usable final half hour. The result, yes, does make the film inferior to the original but it still copies, and leaves well enough alone, enough of the things that made District 13 work to make a very fun action film for people who may not have seen the original.
So, the year is 2018 and Detroit has been classed as the single most dangerous and crime-ridden city in America (people from Detroit, feel free to crack your self-deprecatory jokes about the ludicrousness of this premise now, we’ll wait). In response, the city’s authorities walled off a particularly troublesome section of the city, rechristened it Brick Mansions and left it to its own devices. Well, until the leader of the area’s drug trade, Tremaine (RZA, who will henceforth be referred to in this review by a different one of his many aliases each time he comes up), somehow acquires a nuclear bomb that will detonate in 12 hours and blow Brick Mansions off the face of the Earth. Enter undercover detective Damien Collier (the late Paul Walker) who is assigned the task of breaking into Brick Mansions in order to disarm the bomb, along with his own personal mission of getting revenge on Tremaine, who killed his father. He’s paired with Leno (David Belle in the exact same role he played in the original), seemingly the only honest citizen in Brick Mansions, and who also holds a grudge against Tremaine for kidnapping his ex-girlfriend (Catalina Denis).
As those who have seen the original will already be able to tell, this is pretty much the same set-up as that for District 13 and, for about the first hour, events progress as they did in that film with little deviation. Tremaine is still quick to kill anybody who proves themselves to be the slightest bit useless, Leno and Damien still have a slow-burn burgeoning respect for one another and the pre-plot prologue for Leno is pretty much the exact same as before. The time-span has been considerably shrunken down (there’s no six month time-skip in addition to that reduced detonation timer), K2’s (here named Big Cecil) role has been down-sized to the point of near-irrelevance with the majority of his material instead being given over to a new, possibly-lesbian female bodyguard by the name of Rayza (it’s that kind of film, folks, get with the program), Lola (the new name for Leno’s ex-girlfriend) is more pro-active in trying to escape seeing as she’s no longer a junkie and there’s Damien’s reason for wanting Tremaine to go down, but other than that it’s basically the same first hour, plot-wise.
Yes, I do realise that I basically just spent an entire paragraph listing a whole bunch of changes. They’re incidental to the main story, the same beats are still hit by both films, so my point still stands.
The biggest change to how the film feels comes when it’s time for action scenes to happen which, this being a 90 minute on-the-dot action film, tends to happen quite a fair bit. District 13 shot its action scenes clearly, lots of wide-angles with longer takes and more distant shots in order to set up a good sense of scale and to better display what its actors are doing. Brick Mansions is an American film, however, and so most of the action scenes are shot in handheld shaky-cam with very conspicuously cheap CG, quick takes and lots of close-ups; not enough to be incomprehensible but enough to clearly stifle the impact of most of the sequences like Leno’s opening escape from Tremaine’s men. Perhaps to compensate for this, most of the parkour has been stripped out of the film. Instead, there’s a bit more variety with more fight scenes and a car chase or two thrown into the equation. The suffocating shooting and editing keep them from becoming memorably great but they’re all fun, they’re all well-paced and they’re mostly exciting.
In fact, fun is what I would most characterise Brick Mansions. Much like District 13, this is a film that knows just how silly it is and never fails to embrace that silliness. Even though the propulsive French electro score that backed the original has been jettisoned for Generic Hollywood Action Thriller Score #173, every action scene is paced and filled with beats designed more to make you laugh and feel like you’re having a good time than to be played serious. An early action scene for Damien involves him chasing down Morris O’Brien from 24 by clinging onto the back of his car as it speeds through downtown traffic late at night, for example. Dialogue, meanwhile, is very knowingly silly and trashy, all quippy one-liners and tenuously linked villainous monologues and having certain characters angrily proclaim that somebody has “gone soft” when they “pussy out” on something. We’re not operating at Fast & Furious levels of fun camp here, even if, again, the main crux of the plot involves the disarming of a nuclear bomb, but it’s got that kind of breezy and easy-to-get-swept-up-in easy-going nature which is nice to see in an action film, nowadays.
In that respect, Paul Walker was a very canny casting choice for the lead role. He brings the same natural charm and laidback charisma that he brought to the Fast & Furious franchise by, basically, playing the straight man to the mayhem around him. David Belle gets to be the cool badass capable of ridiculous feats, Bobby Digital needs to be a hammy old-school Bond villain, Morris @’Brien from 24 has to be a really hammy old-school Bond villain and Aylia Issa as Rayza pretty much just plays psycho-lesbian, so Walker is kinda forced into Straight Man by default. He is great, though; the man knew how to time his quips or how to adequately express his disbelief at events unfolding with a non-verbal rolling of the eyes or terrified “OH CRAP!” facial reaction and he puts them to good use, as well as striking up a very natural chemistry with Belle. If this was going to be Walker’s career trajectory after Fast & Furious wound down, then it’s an extra shame that we lost him, really, because he is a very good fit for this kind of film.
That’s not to say this is totally Walker’s show, though. Even with a very noticeably dubbed-in voice, Belle is a capable enough co-lead. He never flubs any line readings, there’s the aforementioned chemistry with Walker and he’s got a good screen presence. Carlo Rota (who I keep unprofessionally referring to as Morris O’Brien from 24 because I’m horrible like that) makes a very good impression with his short screen time, getting the chance to indulge in all of his hammiest impulses. And as for The King Ruler Zig-Zag-Zig Allah? Yeah, he’s pretty great. The film futzes with its last half hour in a way that really shouldn’t work but Rzarector manages to force it into working by sheer willpower and charisma. But even before that comes around, Prince Rakeem still puts in good fun work, he even manages to make a clunky shoehorning in of a reference to one of the Wu-Tang Clan’s most notable hits come off… not as horrifically awkward as it could have.
Speaking of Bobby Boulders, there is a reason why I keep noting that the first hour is mostly the same as that of District 13’s. See, Brick Mansions decides that the outcome of District 13 is not good enough for it and rejiggers a lot of the last half hour. Anybody who has seen District 13 will probably have all the alarm bells going off, right now, cos I know I did when it started happening but I should note that, weirdly, it kinda works. Again, this is primarily thanks to the work of The Razor but it’s also because it still sticks to the tone of both the film up to that point and the original film it’s based on. That non-cynical, ridiculous yet charming and feel-good ending still exists, but the path to get there is altered and waylaid in order to get the message (which District 13 did have but mostly left content to bubble under the surface) across in a much louder and more obvious context. More cynical viewers will instead see it as the film trying to shoot down any possible claims of it being racist (this is a film in which two white guys beat their way across a neighbourhood of villains who happen to be predominately black) and it reeeeally stretches past the point of believability, but it somehow worked because the tone stayed consistent and some anvils need dropping every now and again.
That being said, Brick Mansions is not some kind of masterwork, it’s not some super important movie and it’s nowhere near being better than the original, mainly down to the action scenes being filmed in that one bad way that Hollywood knows how to shoot action scenes and which we really should stop encouraging by this point. What it is, though, is a fast, light and fun action romp that doesn’t have a bad bone in its body and a very good set of lead performances. If you have seen District 13, there’s little for you here unless you’re dying to see the futzed around-with-finale. If you haven’t and you don’t want to because subtitles, or you have and you just want a fun way to kill 90 minutes, than Brick Mansions really is worth your time. It just about justifies its existence.