Tag Archives: Movie Review

THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN (2018)

Written and Directed by: David Lowery

Produced by: James D. Stern, Dawn Ostroff, Jeremy Steckler, Anthony Mastromauro, Bill Holderman, Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, Robert Redford

Based on: The Old Man and the Gun (article) by David Grann

Starring: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Tika Sumpter, Tom Waits, Sissy Spacek

Music by: Daniel Hart

Cinematography: Joe Anderson

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**


Forrest Tucker was a career criminal destined to die in jail. His life in between was one of many bank robberies, incarcerations and successful and unsuccessful prison breakouts. The morality of his actions must be condemned as the man was a recidivist addicted to the thrill of crime, making money and also the chase. While I’m not a fan of banks, who themselves are bigger criminals than the robbers, I rarely find myself rooting for such characters, unless there are mitigating circumstances for their actions.

Indeed, Tucker’s illegal acts would have left the authorities drained chasing him across America, and prevent them from protecting other people. Moreover, by holding a gun in people’s faces and demanding money Tucker would have most likely scared a good number too.  Tucker would go on to rob banks well into his late seventies but he never fired his gun; and was often described as a gentleman by his victims. Yet, despite his wrong-doings, the film of his life in the hands of acting legend Robert Redford and director David Lowery is well worth a watch.



It’s a pretty simple story based on a New Yorker article by David Grann and Lowery adapts with warmth and empathy towards Tucker’s aging bank robber. The casting of Redford is also a masterstroke. As he has throughout his career he exudes a mercurial class and poise.  There’s some wonderful usage of stock photos of Redford from earlier in his career, supplanted to the character of Tucker. This nostalgic trip down memory lane both serves the story and reminds us what a great movie star Redford has always been. It’s a shame that Redford has decided to retire from acting, as reported in August 2018, but this is a fine film to bow out on.

Lowery, whose last film was the amazing A Ghost Story (2017), changes tack with a more conventional character study here; however, he invests lots of imaginative touches in the presentation. He also gets a memorable performance from Sissy Spacek who sparkles as Redford’s romantic interest. It’s beautifully and hazily shot by Joe Anderson on Super 16mm and contains a misty-eyed halcyonic feel to it. I felt like I was watching a film from the 1970s even though it was set in or around the 1990s. So, despite my inherent dislike of the man and the crimes he committed, I very much enjoyed this excellent drama about a fascinating, if misguided, character.                                        

Mark: 8 out of 11

IN DEFENCE OF #2: VENOM (2018): MOVIE REVIEW

IN DEFENCE OF #2: VENOM (2018): MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer

Produced by:  Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach, Amy Pascal, Marvel Entertainment

Written by: Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel

Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Reid Scott

Music by: Ludwig Goransson

Cinematography: Matthew Libatique

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As with the failed franchise blockbuster The Mummy (2017) I have once again been to the cinema and watched, not a great film or work of art, but rather a decent bit of popcorn entertainment that has seemingly been critically mauled, not necessarily unfairly, but out of context from the kind of film it is. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of Venom (2018) which doesn’t work and the film has a couple of serious plot holes, however, if you watch it as the darkly, comedic action film it is intended to be then it has a lot to offer.

I mean, superhero films, over the years, have got – Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Marvel’s generally witty one-liner littered scripts aside – very serious at times. Most recently, Black Panther (2018) was rooted in familial revenge and of course, Marvel’s Infinity War (2018), ended with an apocalyptic disaster for the Avengers and Earth. While there are serious themes in Venom, the director Ruben Fleischer has gone for more crazed humour rather than serious analysis of the psyche. As such for all its faults Venom actually felt more like an actual comic book or cartoon on screen. So, I get that people may not like the movie for being a bit lacking I think they need to lighten up. Thus, in my second instalment of my occasional series In Defence of:,  I’d like to say why I actually found it very watchable genre entertainment.

Standing alone, at the time of the action, from the Marvel ‘Universe’ and the recent Spiderman: Homecoming (2017) movie, Venom features the stupendously committed performance of Tom Hardy as crime reporter Eddie Brock. Eddie’s latest case is to delve deeper into uncovering the interplanetary research of Elon Musk-type uber-scientist and corporate mogul, Carlton Drake.  Of course, he goes too deep trying to uncover the deadly experimentation and finds himself infected with a space being that Drake has brought back. Drake, compared to the delirious character rendered by Hardy, is a bit flat and another long line of corporate bad guys which Marvel employs and he deserved some better dialogue to justify his megalomaniacal plans. But Riz Ahmed is a great actor and does his best with an under-written role.

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What works more though is the connection between Brock and his extra-terrestrial host. Perhaps, given this is a Jekyll and Hyde story it should have been a lot more intense. The psychological horror of being absorbed by another being is something David Cronenberg, would have knocked out of the park. Yet here it’s turned into something of a comedy double act; albeit with Venom biting the heads off bad guys in between the insane banter. Tom Hardy’s rat-a-tat spats with his ‘other-half’ are very funny and reminded of another recent film called Upgrade (2018), which combined even more bloody violence within a hosted protagonist narrative.

With the cool persona of Michelle Williams, an actor of high artistry, clearly enjoying playing for laughs within the straight romantic lead, there is at least some level-headedness to counter Hardy’s facials ticks and roars. Moreover, despite glaring holes in the narrative including: the very generic alien invasion plot; clichéd corporate mercenaries providing body fodder and a severe lack of legal consequences to Brock’s ‘Venomous’ attacks, the smart comedy, pacey action, the monster-effects of Venom itself and fighting scenes, keep entertainment stakes high.

Ultimately, while much more could have been done to explore the dark side of their symbiotic relationship it was unlikely with this director. Indeed, as Fleischer showed with Zombieland (2009) and direction of suburban zombie show Santa Clarita Diet (2017), he favours mixing dark matter with black humour. Lastly, with Tom Hardy as a more than willing ally Fleischer and his army of writers have delivered an admittedly flawed comic-book narrative that remains full of parasitic punch and energy.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11 

 

 

UPGRADE (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW – a tremendous B-movie-sci-fi-cult-classic!

UPGRADE (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Leigh Whannell

Produced by: Jason Blum, Kylie Du Fresne, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones

Written by: Leigh Whannell

Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson

Music by: Jed Palmer

Cinematography: Stefan Duscio

Edited by: Andy Canny

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For me Australian filmmaker Leigh Whannell is one of the best screenwriters out there. He has been involved in the writing of TWO fantastic horror originals: Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010). Furthermore, he has written and directed a brilliant sci-fi-horror-B-Movie in Upgrade. He is a great writer because he brings conceptual invention with strong style and tight economy. What he shows is that you don’t need billions of dollars to make an entertaining film but rather a decent script with focussed ideas and great twists at the end.

I watched his latest film Upgrade (2018) at a Fright Fest 2018 preview and its blend of science fiction, body horror and bloody gore was lapped up by the packed crowd. The director, Leigh Whannell, did a Q & A afterwards and spoke of his desire evoke the spirit of the 1980s low budget films like The Terminator (1984) and he certainly achieved that in my view. His budget of $5 million dollars was stretched by incentives from the Australian government and what it lacks in scale, the movie more than makes up in a look and style which echoes that of those 1980s sci-fi classics.

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Upgrade’s story is very simple and similar in some ways to Death Wish (1974) and also the recent assassin shoot-em-up-actioner John Wick (2014). But the joy is not so much in the plot but in the exceptionally well devised character arc our hero, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green), goes through. Left a depressed, suicidal and a quadriplegic by a vicious robbery he is given the opportunity to revitalise his body by a computer genius, Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson). Hell-bent on finding the killers of his wife he agrees to surgery which will implant an artificially intelligent programme into his body and enable him to walk again. After which the story moves at some pace as he first comes to terms with the new technology, before his descent into the criminal underworld really gathers speed.

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STEM itself is a fine supporting character too. There is much humour in Logan Marshall-Green’s performance and his interaction with the “HAL9000-like” computer in his head. Marshall-Green also excels physically during the brutal and fantastically choreographed fight scenes. Indeed, the bloody violence is a joy and I actually wanted more gore as less definitely WAS NOT more. But, overall, this is a fantastically enjoyable B-movie mash-up with an incredible look for such a low budget film. Shadow, fluorescent light, darkness, blood, metal and strobes all co-mingle to startling effect. The score by Jed Palmer is a brooding classic and some of the technological concepts relating to bionic and Nano-technology were very inventive. Above all else, it’s Whannell’s lean and mean machine of a script that wins the day; he certainly deserves to work on a bigger scale no doubt!

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

BLACKKKLANSMAN (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW – Spike Lee delivers one of the best films of 2018!

BLACKKKLANSMAN (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Spike Lee

Produced by: Jason Blum, Spike Lee, Raymond Mansfield, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele, Shaun Redick, Jordan Peele

Written by: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee

Based on: Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth

Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace

Music by: Terence Blanchard

Cinematography: Chayse Irvin

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Let’s just say right off the bat that films like Black Klansman (2018) are the reason I still go to the cinema. Even from the trailer I’m like wow: a black police officer goes undercover and infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan!!  That is a story I need to know about!  How the hell did he do that?  What follows then is the how, who, why and what-the-fuck-happened story of Ron Stallworth and how he managed to get between the “sheets”, as it were, of one of the nastiest clubs every to deface the fabric of society.

Racism or prejudice of any fashion is deplorable. There is no place for any oppression within a civilised society. Rising up out of the poisonous embers of defeated Confederate army members, in or around the 1860s, the Ku Klux Klan has sought to manifest hatred and bile since then. Murder, violence, vandalism, hangings and burning crosses became its’ nefarious stock and trade as it sought to make toxic the societal waters. In more recent decades, from the 1950s on, the Klan found a politicised voice seeking power through government. It is here that the story of the Black Klansman (2018) joins. It is 1979 and the civil rights movement continues seeking justice and equality for all. The Ku Klux Klan does not agree. They want purification. They are hatred.

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Already a trailblazer as the first black detective in Colorado Springs, Ron Stallworth proves he is an intelligent and reliable undercover officer. Then having seen an advert in the local newspaper for the KKK’s desire to recruit new members, he, rather incredibly, calls to make an appointment. From then on his unbelievable scheme gathers pace and a team is assigned to infiltrate the Klan. These include Flip Zimmerman, a Jewish cop, portrayed with his usual laidback brilliance by Adam Driver; and it is Zimmerman who provides the physical version of Ron Stallworth to the Klan members. Indeed, Driver and John David Washington, as the real Stallworth, form a great double-act during the operation. While Zimmerman takes his life in his hands spying on the fascistic group, Stallworth himself builds relationships on the phone with the head of the Klan Charter, David Duke. Duke is the political arm and portrayed with efficient zeal by Topher Grace.

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Black Klansman (2018) is a complex film which expertly mixes many genres and tones. The humour of Stallworth’s phone calls to the KKK members are hilariously delivered by the charismatic Washington; while the horrific language of the Klan and danger Zimmerman finds himself in levies this humour, creating a flux of emotions. Moreover, Spike Lee, a tremendously confident director, infuses musical, thriller, Blaxploitation and documentary genre styles within the film, making it a joy to experience. One could argue the romantic subplot doesn’t quite flourish amidst the main plots but Laura Harrier gives a fine performance nonetheless within a great ensemble cast. Plus, I must not forget the killer soundtrack which bleeds soul and verve into every shot.

Spike Lee has never been afraid of experimenting with cinematic style and with this film his alchemy perfectly combines form and content. Overall, this is one of the best films I have seen in 2018, both entertaining and thought-provoking; as the final reels of news footage demonstrate that fascism is still among us and as dangerous as ever. Yet, this film is never preachy for the sake of it and uses humour most often as a weapon to undermine the senseless ideologies of the KKK. Indeed, in ridicule there is hope they may eventually be side-lined to the shadows of history.

(Mark: 10 out of 11)

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Produced by: Kevin Feige

Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Based on: The Avengers by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby

Starring:  Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista,  Zoe Saldana. Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt etc.

**SPOILER FREE**

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The reward for Marvel fans and cinemagoers committed to watching every single film – from Iron Man (2008) to Black Panther (2018) – is a gigantic, breath-taking, explosive, colourful, dark, epic, fantastical end-game blockbuster. Unless you have been stuck on a desert island or on a digital detox, Infinity War (2018) is the culmination of decades of comic-book and cinema storytelling coming to a head in one incredible feat of spectacle and super-hero conflict.

The film opens pretty much immediately after the end of Thor: Ragnarok (2017). The Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) has hunted down Thor, Loki and the Hulk in order to obtain the Tesseract and the Infinity Stone within it. In fact, he is after all six Infinity Stones in order to gain twisted, yet in his mind, logical control over the Universe by killing half its inhabitants. Thanos’ characterization as a villain is given the most narrative power throughout and via him we get some nuance and subtext.

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While brilliantly rendered, in look, by the army of special effects, and performance by Brolin, I kind of felt we were missing an element of mania and a committed statement of intent. I knew why Thanos was doing what he was doing but aside from an opening speech about destiny his mission lacked the political or social context compared to say that of Hydra from The Winter Soldier (2014) or Erik Killmonger from Black Panther (2018).  Nonetheless, lack of political context is a mild gripe because spectacle in terms of power and storytelling is what Infinity War is all about.

Thanos’ quest for domination was still a pretty decent structure to hang the story beats on and the writers should be applauded for trying to create a rounded super-villain. Because, allied with the incredible set-pieces and locations across the various galaxies, a major strength of Infinity War’s screenplay was the pace, power and interplay between the multiverse of characters and plot strands which were fantastically juggled by the directorial and editorial teams. This was epic storytelling, not just in length, but in scope. As we cut between Dr Strange, Iron Man and Spiderman on their particularly deadly mission; we also cut between Thor, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Vision, Wanda the Scarlet Witch, Captain America and their respective advnetures. There are so many different elements at play there is little breathing space, yet with a whip-smart script full of one-liners any plot deficiencies are masked expertly with perpetual motion and punchlines.

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Visually, the film is also extremely strong with bright funky new suits for the Hulk, Tony Stark and Peter Parker. Moreover, the locations in space and on Earth from the dark lands of Vormir to the verdant pastures of Wakanda are rendered beautifully on the screen. All manner of magical weapons, space-ships and military hardware explode and destroy and whizz-bang throughout. There is SO much crammed into the film that it’s a major coup that it worked so well. At one point I felt like I was watching three films in one echoing the great ensemble films I grew up with such as The Great Escape (1963). While the now obligatory end-game battle sequence echoed the likes of: Spartacus (1960), Braveheart (1995), The Return of the Jedi (1985) and more recently HBO’s epic Game of Thrones (2011 – )

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In terms of performance it’s difficult to pick out any one stand-out as the ensemble cast were uniformly impressive. My particular favourites were Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Strange, Chris Pratt as Peter Quill and Zoe Saldana as Gamora, all giving memorable performances. Saldana’s Gamora arguably had the most powerful moments of stillness and pathos especially in her tragic backstory. Drax (Dave Bautista) and Tom Holland’s Peter Parker nailed their comedic patter too; the former’s deadpan literalism raising many laughs throughout. I also thought the details in look and voice given to Thanos’ Black Order stood out; notably the wonderfully named Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon) and Corvus Glaive (Michael John Shaw).

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In conclusion, Avengers: Infinity War (2018) overall was spectacular blockbuster filmmaking which entertained me thoroughly for over two-and-a-half-hours. It could be argued that the army of special effects technicians, plethora of Disney and Marvel executives, array of Hollywood acting and filmmaking talent and the obscene amount of money spent has churned out YET another soulless super-hero film but wow didn’t they do it in style!!

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

INGRID GOES WEST (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

INGRID GOES WEST (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

DIRECTOR:            Matt Spicer 

WRITERS:              Matt Spicer, David Branson-Smith

CAST:                    Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, Billy Magnussen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Pom Klementieff,

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**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

Grief is something which we will, or have already experienced, and given the dramatic possibilities, death and overcoming the death of a loved one propels many narratives in the cinema, literature and music etc. Ingrid Knows Best is one such narrative and while much is made of the plague that is social media and Instagram culture, this is ultimately a story of how our anti-hero deals with the loss of her mother and, in some ways, her own identity. In short: she doesn’t handle it very well, but rather disassociates her grief and fixates on so-called on-line celebrities in order to distract herself and escape the pain.

Aubrey Plaza is brilliant as Ingrid and she is fast becoming one of my favourite actors. I loved her in Office-influenced sitcom, Parks and Recreation and the brilliant lo-fi-sci-fi-rom-com Safety Not Guaranteed (2012). However, in this film and the mind-bending science fiction series Legion (2017), she completely owns the show. Plaza has a rare skill for vulnerable insanity where she does crazy stuff but at the same time you really empathise with her character.

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In the opening scene she commits an act of pretty despicable revenge but once you see her living arrangements and family situation you really gain understanding of her character.  Even when Ingrid heads west and begins stalking her next obsession, Plaza’s doe-eyed-butter-wouldn’t-melt façade and crumbling inner humanity ensure you never lose empathy for her. The writing is excellent as the script creates humour, drama and skilful satire of the facile, narcissistic and selfie-obsessed culture we live in today. Elizabeth Olsen too is impressive as the “Instagram Queen” and object of Ingrid’s obsession.

Overall, this was just #brilliant #dark #funny #sad!  I was really satisfied with this film and while the slightly off-kilter crime-plot-turn near the end slightly unhinged the character study, the touching and thematically perfect ending was a brilliant pay-off for Ingrid’s character. Plaza though is the shining light of the film as she imbues Ingrid with not only the pathos of a zeitgeist Travis Bickle, but also a comedic mania which really brings the satire home.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

MOVIE REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN (2017)

MOVIE REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN (2017)

DIRECTOR: Patty Jenkins 

WRITERS: Created by: William Moulton Marston,
Screenplay: Allan Heinberg
Story: Allan Heinberg, Jason Fuchs, Zach Snyder

CAST: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen

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**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

The need for super women and men to rise and protect us against the foes of everyday existence has never been more requisite. Governments, politicians, military commanders, corporate greed, religious leaders and humanity’s capacity for evil and destructive behaviour means people are under threat from violence and death on a daily basis. It’s the world we live in and one we have always lived in. Life is a gift which we continue to throw away because of a difference in beliefs, thoughts, race, gender and language. It is insane but I doubt it will ever stop. So, one must except it and be grateful for all the good people and for every day one is alive. But how do you escape from this terror that lurks in the world and the fear that comes with it? Well, we have the fantasies on film and TV screens and in comic books that convince us we can be saved; that the bad people in league with the devil can be put to the sword of justice. This month we have the Amazonian powerhouse that is Wonder Woman!!

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The DC comic-book-cinema-world has taken a critical pasting and much of this can be put at the door of the attention-deficit-director Zach Snyder and of course the studios themselves who have, in my humble opinion, ignored the basics of storytelling and genre in a bombastic attempt to out-do Marvel’s slick and productive Universe. Indeed, there were great films somewhere in the over-stuffed crusts of Man of Steel (2013), Suicide Squad (2016) and the incomprehensible Batman v. Superman (2016); brilliant characters, actors, special effects, action, set-pieces, music in all of them. However, they were ultimately let down by the structure and storytelling. Not so with Wonder Woman, which goes back to basics and takes its time to establish our heroine’s origins and, unlike the other DC films, builds character and empathy prior to launching into a feast of amped-up-to-eleven fight sequences and wondrous leaps of derring-do.

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At the centre of all the action is the athletic Gal Gadot as Diana, Princess of Themyscira, who as a girl, desires to join her Aunt Antiope (scene-stealing Robin Wright) as a great warrior, but is forbidden by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen.) The first act is full of powerful mythology, imagery and characters and to be honest I could have watched a film about their lives on the beautiful secret island. Yet when their peace is unsettled by the appearance of Chris Pine’s American spy and the German Navy pursuing him we get an almighty beach battle between the modern-day Teutonic troops and the Amazonian warriors. This sets the tone of the mythological past juxtaposing with the modern era (albeit circa 1914-1918) and this theme remains one of the strengths of the film.

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With the introduction of the charismatic and handsome Steve Trevor (Pine), Diana is galvanized to fight for the Allies in World War One, and thus truly begins the heroine’s journey. The pace and turns in the narrative are handled extremely well by director Patty Jenkins. She gives as much importance to the scenes between Diana and Steve, notably the witty exchanges on the boat and during Diana’s first encounter with the big city. This ensures we are committed to their relationship and the romance had echoes of Indiana Jones and Marian Ravenwood’s from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Conversely, everyone’s favourite baddies, the Germans, provide a solid nemesis which to root against as Danny Huston’s General and his more interesting assistant, Doctor Maru (Elena Anaya), develop a heinous gas with which to defeat the Allies.

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I think I liked the film so much mainly because it was simple in structure, well directed, and yet retained much of the magical fantasy and mythology of the comic books. Moreover, it contained some kick-ass slow-motion action sequences and the sight of a warrior Princess using a mighty sword and golden rope while taking out Germans and huge tanks was nothing less than breath-taking. The cast, especially Gadot and Pine commit wonderfully to their characters and the story. Minor criticisms are the slightly over-long running time and the cardboard cut-out nature of the secondary German characters. Nonetheless, as superhero films go Wonder Woman is right up there with some of Marvel’s best movies.

Essentially a traditional origins story, Wonder Woman may follow the well-worn formula of establishing our heroine, her strengths and her commitment to peace through powerful means, but it does it with verve, heart and compassion. I cared about these characters and while it may be a simple notion that love can conquer all, it is a universal emotion that I can definitely get behind. Because there is a lot of hatred on Earth and it needs all the heroes and heroines it can find; even if they are merely fantasy.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)