Tag Archives: Ron Pearlman

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!

The Book Of Life

Exquisitely gorgeous, full of heart and refreshingly free of pop-culture gags, The Book Of Life is only kept from excellency by rushing its finale.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

book of life 3I am not going to waste any time or beat around any bushes, so let’s get straight to the point: it’s good.  It’s really good.  I went into The Book Of Life with unreasonable expectations, as anyone who follows my Twitter will more than know, and yet this film managed to fulfil them near-totally for so much of its runtime.  It is incredibly beautiful, in both the visual and metaphorical sense as the film’s sublimely wonderful visuals are complimented at every turn by strong characters in a story whose formulaic beats are spruced up and justified by said strong character work and that Mexican aesthetic influencing a lot of the film, not just visually.

I’ll get to my one issue in a short while.  For now: our plot, related to us by a museum tour guide (Christina Applegate) looking after detention kids, tells the tale of three childhood friends: heartfelt and peaceful wannabe singer Manolo (Diego Luna), swashbuckling Joaquín (Channing Tatum), and the girl they are both also openly in love with, María (Zoe Saldana).  They end up becoming the participants in a bet made between the rulers of the festive and wonderful Land Of The Remembered, in La Muerte’s (Kate del Castillo) case, and the desolate and rotting Land Of The Forgotten, in her husband Xibalba’s (Ron Pearlman) case; a bet over which boy will end up marrying María and with control over each ruler’s respective lands and the ability to meddle in the affairs of humans on the line.

Said bet ends up lasting a good decade after María is forcibly sent off to a boarding school in Spain.  During their time apart, Manolo is forced by his father to take up the family tradition and become a bullfighter, albeit one who morally objects to killing the bull.  Joaquín, meanwhile, has become a well-renowned defender of the people throughout Mexico, thanks to a special medal that Xibalba gave him at the outset of the bet that makes the wearer invulnerable, in a desperate attempt to live up to his famous father.  The return of María also heralds the return of Joaquín to their village and the re-igniting of the relatively friendly competition to win the hand of their childhood sweetheart, with the situation being complicated by María’s father attempting to forcefully arrange a marriage between his daughter and Joaquín, in an attempt to keep the latter around to defend the town from bandits, and the fact that Xibalba is a very poor sportsman.

Now, yes, this set-up does carry worrying overtones that we should be rooting for María to get with The Right Man, seeing as there are worrying stakes at hand if she picks wrong.  Fortunately, although it doesn’t do so overtly, The Book Of Life cuts off any such unfortunate implications by making all involved participants well-drawn and consistent characters and keeping Xibalba as a trickster and overly competitive entity who has no actual malicious plans for The Land Of The Remembered.  So whilst the central tenant of the film is in hoping that Manolo ends up with María, it comes from Manolo and María being right for one another, chemistry and all that.

That is not to say, however, that the film demonises Joaquín.  There is a point where it seems like it will go that way, there’s a reunion dinner with María where Joaquín accidentally comes off as a sexist pig (don’t worry, the film is aware of this fact), but it keeps these moments in moderation.  Joaquín is flawed, but not horrible.  He’s a little ego-centric and macho, but he also has deep-seated insecurity issues and is still fundamentally a good person, still remaining friends with Manolo deep-down even when their battle for María’s affections overrides common sense, and really not buying into the whole arranged marriage deal.  Again: flawed, not horrible.

The main trio are all extremely well-rounded and well-defined characters whose bond is believeable and whose personality traits are consistent and well-conveyed – a small early scene of them as kids trying to stylishly get to the bottom of some street steps has María slide down the railing, Joaquín jump from the top step to the bottom step in one fluid flip motion, and Manolo trips and falls flat on his face but doesn’t let his failed attempt at being cool get him down.  And that’s what drive the story, the characters.  Admittedly, María doesn’t get quite the level of development that Manolo and Joaquín do – most likely caused by the film’s big problem that we’ll get to in due course – whilst Xibalba and La Muerte’s marriage isn’t quite fleshed out enough for my liking, but these didn’t start becoming an issue for me until after the credits had rolled.

There’s real heart bleeding out of every facet of this film, which is what makes its more formulaic moments easier to accept and swallow.  The standard plot beats are occasionally hit, with the frequency of said hitting going up as the film progresses, but the film is so sincere in its deployment of them – not once does it feel like they’re being hit because that’s how successful animated films are supposed to go – that they work.  More than nearly any other animated film that I have seen this year, The Book Of Life feels like a labour of love.  Practically everything in this film is done because its main creative force, first-time feature-film director Jorge R. Gutiérrez (best known as the co-creator of the short-lived and criminally underrated Nickelodeon cartoon El Tigre: The Adventures Of Manny Rivera), wished it so.  Or, at least, that’s the impression I got.

Especially from the jokes.  Now, disregard what other critics have said, the film’s jokes are not heavily steeped in pop culture.  When they say that, they are likely referring to the film’s soundtrack and one particular scene that takes its cues from said soundtrack.  See, the film’s soundtrack primarily consists of Mexican-style covers of songs from non-Mexican countries and one scene involves Manolo’s friends trying to help him romantically serenade María, but the friends keep playing songs that are decidedly un-romantic, like Biz Markie.  Now, admittedly, on one level, the joke is “we all know that Biz Markie song!”  But the joke goes deeper than that, instead also working to show that Manolo’s friends (who disappear from the film shortly after this scene, endemic of a larger pacing problem I’ll get to soon) have no concept of romance and no real understanding of the songs they’re singing.  It’s a pop culture joke rooted in character work.

It’s also practically the only time that pop culture gags invade the film, or at least to such a blatant degree.  Most of the jokes are of the fast-paced physical humour variety, with plenty of sight gags, one-liners and facial reactions thrown in for good measure.  The film’s best gags, though, compliment the mood without overpowering it.  As an example, an otherwise sad scene caused by Manolo’s public refusal to kill a bull has a quick cut to the bull itself shaking its head disapprovingly at him before slinking off.  Whilst the film’s most unquestionably heart-breaking scene gets two cuts back to the kids being told the story reacting with the exact kind of “This story is messed up, we’re kids!” reaction that I imagine a lot of younger audience members might be going through.  Neither one ruins the intended mood, they instead enhance it, providing a counterbalance without coming off as obnoxious or ill-fitting.

Going back to the soundtrack, there is a full-on score by Gustavo Santaolalla, but it’s relatively generic and fades into the background.  The pop songs will be what sticks out, be they original (which are fine, but rather unmemorable), or covers.  Both are highly influenced or re-worked to have a distinct Mexican flavour.  For example, Mumford & Sons.’ plodding, coldly-calculated-for-radio-and-festival-playing “I Will Wait” is transformed into a cheery, bouncy number just bursting with knowingly cheesy energy, whilst “Creep” by Radiohead is played as straight as humanly possible with a near-total lack of awareness to the actual meaning of “Creep”’s lyrics that almost works.  Also, a very minor remix of “The Ecstasy Of Gold” backs Manolo’s bullfight and that song can make pretty much anything amazing.  I dug the soundtrack, even the out-of-place, but not-unwelcome, deployment of Le Tigre at the very beginning.

As for the animation…  the only words that I feel get close to my thoughts on it can be arranged in an order that reads “best looking animated film all year”.  It’s all down to the outstanding art direction and character designs.  Almost every shot practically bursts with colour and little individual details that once again demonstrate the sheer amount of heart put into the film.  It’s a distinct visual palette that genuinely looks like nothing else on the animated market right now and lets the film get away with the occasional cost-cutting measure, like making a foregrounded crowd that our heroes ride past at a very high speed a dark blob that resembles a foreground prop in a puppet show, because it absolutely fits the storybook aesthetic of the film.

Speaking of, the story that the kids are told is illustrated in their world with little wooden figurines, which is also how that part of the story is presented to us viewers, wooden figurines whose joints, boxy edges and paint lines are clearly visible – I may have even seen some scuff marks at points, too – and the effect is just delightful.  It’s unique in the most wonderful way, a look that takes full advantage of the visual treats that animation can provide, and I haven’t even described how cold and desolate The Land Of The Forgotten is in comparison to the you-need-to-see-it-for-yourself Land Of The Remembered.  This is one of the best looking animated films that I have ever seen, almost all thanks to outstanding visual design, and I wish I had a Blu-Ray of the film right now so’s I can appreciate its beauty in all of its majestic glory on my terms.

In fact, just feast your eyes upon the character design for La Muerte and the sheer detail that went into it.  Yes, that is skin designed to resemble sugar, representing the candy skulls synonymous with the Day Of The Dead.  Study it real hard.  The whole film looks that outstanding.

book of life

So, it’s funny, it’s heartfelt, exquisitely and unfathomably gorgeous, and full of characters with depth and personality.  Where’s the kicker?  I’ve been building up through this review that The Book Of Life has one central overriding problem that keeps it from excellency and it’s about time to reveal it.  See, by the time we get to The Land Of The Remembered, an aspect that a lot of the marketing has been based around (understandable, the place is stunningly beautiful), the film is about 50 minutes to an hour done.  The film runs a strict 95 minutes, and that includes credits.  I think you already know where I’m headed with this.

It’s not that those first 50 or so are too slow or anything – if anything, they are absolutely perfectly paced – it’s that the remaining 45 are way too fast.  As soon as we enter The Land Of The Remembered, the film screams its way through plot point and character and beat after plot point and character and beat with pretty much no breathing room.  You know those pauses in a well-paced film, where the action slows down and lets the viewer get their bearings on events and deepen characters before the next big segment happens?  Those are present in the first 50 or so minutes, but they are pretty much gone in that last third.

Consequently, many scenes are robbed of much of the impact that they would have had – most jarring of which is a reunion that should have been emotionally devastating, but instead carries zero weight because the film screeches past any of that potential weight, as if it looked at the clock and realised how little time it has left.  It’s the equivalent of taking a drive to the supermarket in your dependable low-cost Corsa only for it to, at the two-thirds mark, suddenly switch into a Lamborghini without warning and your steady peddle work now translates to 200MPH all the time.

It doesn’t feel like a creative decision, either; I got the impression that this part of the film was edited to hell and back, as if studio interference from upon high decreed that “animated films rarely last longer than 90 minutes, so we’re cutting your mics in 30, OK?”  Maybe the budget ran out, maybe there are significant half-finished scenes on the cutting room floor waiting for a release on home media, maybe it really was a creative decision designed to get us just as confused and “taking it all in at once” as the character we’re following – I don’t know.  What I do know is that the film needed to be longer.  It needed those gaps, those pauses, and it could have gotten them if the film were longer, even if it were just by 5 or 10 minutes.

There’s also the relatively minor issue of Chakal, the film’s true Big Bad.  Yes, there actually is one and the reason I forgot to mention this is because he feels nearly-completely ancillary to the film.  Oh, sure, his reputation and presence in the world are necessary, but his actual appearance in the finale and the way the film deals with him, as well as the complete and total lack of any character other than his name, feels… pointless?  It does give a very good pay off to everyone’s arcs and little plot teases set up at various points, but his actual turning up carries pretty much no weight.  It could have just been a horde of his bandit minions and the effect would have been the same.  Instead, he turns up presumably because these films need a Final Boss and, as mentioned, Xibalba isn’t truly evil, so he fits the bill.  Again, his total lack of character is what hurts him; I remember exactly zero things about him as I type these words.

So it doesn’t quite stick the landing as well as it should, but otherwise The Book Of Life is a full-on triumph.  Considering the fact that I had such unreasonable expectations for the thing prior to its release, the fact that I am 80% satisfied with it could probably and not unfairly be considered a goddamn miracle.  But I am.  I am very much satisfied and happy with The Book Of Life.  If its last third weren’t so rushed, this would be the best animated film of the year.  As it stands, though, “very funny, indescribably beautiful, and bursting with heart” is still an opinion-summing up to be very proud of.  I hope Jorge R. Gutiérrez has many more animated features planned for further down the pipeline because his creative voice, as also proven by his co-creating work on El Tigre, is one that this medium needs to hear more of as soon as possible.

Callum Petch is a gasoline gut with a Vaseline mind.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!