And so finally – almost 25 years since the series debut – the third theatrical release is upon us, the first of which to be given a legitimate, big budget Hollywood treatment. And before I give my verdict it's important to put this review into context (something that most respected film critics will fail to do). It isn't about what adults think of this new movie, but rather what its target audience think. How does POWER RANGERS play to kids, and does it succeed? The answer – YOU BET IT DOES!
The film, set in contemporary America, serves as an origin story as a means to completely reboot the franchise. It wisely ignores the expanded Power Rangers universe as established in the cluster of spin-off shows and returns to the original (and best) series of the early '90s. We are reintroduced to the original characters as ordinary, albeit troubled, teenagers who find themselves stumbling onto an ancient Alien spaceship buried beneath a mountain and being recruited by the mystical powers. The ship's occupants are an interdimensional general named Zordon who is trapped inside a super-computer, and his robot assistant Alpha-5 who have been in hibernation for millions of years following their capture of the evil sorceress Rita Repulsa. When Rita is released following the Power Rangers' recruitment, the five teens must accept their destiny and become The Power Rangers, a tight-knit band of superheroes whose powers are strengthened by their solidarity.
Aside from the original backstory of Zordon and Rita's arrival on Earth being changed, POWER RANGERS remains true to the source material, and with the benefit of modern technology has been amplified for the big screen in the best way possible. The classic cheesiness of the TV-series has been preserved, with deliberately stilted dialogue and outrageous Manga-inspired action sequences. As soon as the initial character development is established the film kicks into overdrive and pummels the screen with the sort of nonsensical battles and ludicrous setups that made the show such an enduring and beloved franchise. Fans of the series ought to lap this one up.
The casting of POWER RANGERS feels right. Each of the teen characters have been chosen carefully and represent the sort of diversity that should satisfy modern social expectations. In fact Alpha-5 even declares “Five coloured children. Five children of colour!” as a non-too-subtle double entendre. We also have one of the rangers representing the LGBT community and another identifying as autistic. Neither of these details detract from the concept and, if anything, they add a little more flavour to the ensemble. Bryan Cranston plays Zordon and his presence gives the movie a big fat dose of credibility. Cranston had an uncredited role in the first season of the original tv-series and it's only fitting that he would return to the franchise. His performance is great and there's a sense that he relished every moment. The evil Rita Repulsa is played by Elizabeth Banks, who also has fun with the material, and her character benefits from a total makeover. She is now much more malevolent with a lot less exaggeration, and Bank's performance is at times sinister while at other times frivolous. Alpha-5 has also been given a much needed make-over to keep the subterranean sequences lively.
POWER RANGERS is mostly praise from me. Aside from some really lucid and distracting cinematography, the movie delivers on its promise. It is a fun, exciting and action-packed movie for kids that reignites an old flame and never overstays its welcome. I saw it with an audience of enthusiastic nerds (of young and old) and when they erupted into a cheer at the sound of “Go Go Power Rangers” it was very clear that film criticism of such a movie seems almost irrelevant.
If the synopsis seems vaguely familiar it is because BEAUTIFUL DEVILS is a contemporary adaptation of William Shakespeare's OTHELLO, as directed by James Marquand - the son of director Richard Marquand (director of RETURN OF THE JEDI and JAGGED EDGE) - and I have to confess that I struggle with Shakespeare. Fortunately, for me, in this instance the classic Shakespearian language is ignored and the emphasis is placed on adapting the story-arc into a relevant present-day environment. The result is unexpected.
Marquand has crafted a surprisingly effective drama that boasts an impressive production design, as well as sound design, which accompanies his strong ensemble of performers. The modern London setting lends the story an urban grunge aesthetic, as the cinematography captures the energy of the city's music culture in a raw and stylised way. Add the reliable story of OTHELLO at the heart of the film and there's no doubt that BEAUTIFUL DEVILS delivers a product that's far more impressive than it's modest budget ought to offer.
The cast features a company of seasoned performers, each of whom have extensive film & television credits to their name. They include Osy Ikhile (THE LEGEND OF TARZA, IN THE HEART OF THE SEA), Rachel Hurd-Wood (DORIAN GRAY, PERFUME), Steven Waddington (THE TUDORS, THE IMMITATION GAME) and Iain Glen (GAME OF THRONES, EYE IN THE SKY). Ikhile and Hurd-Wood are particularly impressive as the lovers whose lives are infected by a manipulative and jealous foe. Their on-screen presence is strong and their dynamic is tangible, and they handle the dramatic escalation brilliantly. Ikhile's descent into madness is very effective indeed.
The performance, however, that stands apart from the rest and deserves a mention of its own, belongs to Elliot James Langridge as the treacherous Ivan. His performance is both understated and audacious, and with his “evil” switched on from the very first act, he delivers every moment of maleficence with relish. While his credentials aren't as extensive as his fellow cast mates he compensates with a show-stealing performance that is horrifying to watch and earns him a rightful place at the table of classic evil motherfuckers!
I am always reluctant to draw attention to the flaws of low-budget independent films, as I feel it's more important to focus on the positives while respecting the confines and restraints that the filmmakers are dealt with. Nevertheless BEAUTIFUL DEVILS is bookended with an unnecessary scene featuring Ivan in an interrogation room. It's a pointless and miscalculated indulgence that tries to give Ivan a 'Norman Bates' air of badness where it's not warranted. He is also given a cringe-worthy throwaway line at the end that strives to cap the film off with an important social commentary, but ultimately fails to hold weight. Should the powers that be decide to remove this scene they would be doing their film a huge service. The story is powerful enough without it.
James Marquand's BEAUTIFUL DEVILS is a provocative reimagining of a classic narrative that uses it's contemporary landscape with dramatic effect and delivers a strong character-driven story. With an energetic rock n' roll soundtrack and a bang-for-buck production value, it is sure to impress its unsuspecting audience.
Needless to say that BITE is one for the gore-hounds. Body-horror is that particular sub-genre of horror that places all of its emphasis on anatomical depravity and requires a particular mindset when viewed. No film of this kind has ever surpassed David Cronenberg's THE FLY, and probably never will, and so whenever new attempts are made it is impossible to ignore the comparisons. BITE blatantly replicates some of Cronenberg's most iconic moments and moulds its story with a obvious self-awareness. Director Chad Archibald makes no apologies for his concept-theft, and he is, consequently, able to keep the viewer on side. The result is a demonstration of style over substance that also happens to be a nice little treat.
The script and its character-arc is decent enough, relying on tropes and cliches, however the dialogue is stilted and unconvincing. And so it comes as a relief to know that most of the film is atmospheric and muted. Confined to an apartment, the production design goes above and beyond in creating an interesting atmosphere that is intricately textured and as viscerally appealing as it is repulsive. The makeup and FX are brilliantly conceived along with a smorgasbord of nauseating creations. The screen is gradually overcome by a thick layer of filth that includes gelatinous body fluids, slimy pupae and decomposing human remains... it is certainly a feast for the eyes!
Forget about the story because it's irrelevant. BITE delivers the gore and proves to be a grotty and odious delight. For those looking to be grossed out it offers an entertaining 88-minutes of fun.
BITE is now available to rent or buy from Umbrella Entertainment.
We spend a day in the life of Les (John Brumpton), a pawn shop owner in the suburb of Footscray, whose customers provide a glimpse into the diversity that surrounds his small place in the world. His shop-assistant is Danny (Damiel Hill) a reserved and reticent guy who has a crush on a local book store employee. Customers come and go as Les and Danny sit behind the counter, and through their eyes we see the best and worst in people. At times heartwarming, and at times heartbreaking, the film takes on a range of influences and presents uniquely Australian portrait.
Because the film's structure is so heavily inspired, comparisons to other films are inevitable. It is a compliment to reference films like SMOKE, CLERKS and DO THE RIGHT THING, and there is no criticism when pointing out the similarities. All good art is influenced and when it comes to PAWNO, it lends from the best for maximum impact. The in-store musing about life (SMOKE), the flagrant disregard for customer service (CLERKS) and the exploration of social complexities (DO THE RIGHT THING) are all combined fluently to bring the various unrelated stories together with a common link... the pawn store.
Brumpton and Hill lead the film perfectly and share a rapport that shines through the material. Their on-screen chemistry is rock-solid and incredibly sincere, with a relationship arc that finishes miles from where it began. The supporting ensemble features Meave Dermody, Kerry Armstrong, Tony Rickards and Mark Silveira (amongst others) who all give heartfelt performances, each with their own unique emotional hit. The film's well placed comic relief comes from Malcolm Kennard and Mark Coles Smith as two street loiterers who discuss global topics that are far beyond their comprehension. Their 'Jay & Silent Bob'-eque character's are well placed throughout the film to help facilitate smooth transitions between the stories. Their hopeless existence may be familiar to any viewer who's walked the city streets, and what PAWNO does is to remove some of the stigma that homeless vagrants have, and gives them a likeable rapport.
Actor Damian Hill wrote the screenplay with Paul Ireland directing. Both men come from theatrical backgrounds and spent years developing the film which included a crowd-funding campaign. Their talent is undeniable, and the strength of the material is irrefutable, and it maddens me that filmmakers like them would need to plough the fields so feverishly without the government assistance they so clearly deserve. Nevertheless it is to their credit that they made the film and got it released to much acclaim.
Kudos to Hill and Ireland for working around the system and creating one of the best Australian films of the year. Like so many other incredible local films in recent times, they have shown a tenacity (and heart) that flips a proverbial finger to the mainstream funding-bodies and proves to up-and-coming filmmakers that what truly matters is a good idea and the brawn to make it happen.
Set in the not-too-distant future – 2029 to be exact – the film takes place in a world where mutants are on their way to extinction. There hasn't been a newborn mutant in over 20-years and those who remain live in seclusion. We catch up with Logan (aka Wolverine) as an aged and down-trodden man who is resided to an impoverished life. He drives a limousine to make ends meet while he supports a frail and diseased Charles Xavier (aka Professor X). When a young girl named Laura walks into his life Logan finds himself in a race against time to reach the Canadian border as a convoy of special-ops close in, intent to capture Laura and return her to a top-secret research facility. She is a mutant-child in search of a rumoured safe-haven where other gifted children are said to live.
Everything about LOGAN is different to the universe of the X-MEN that we have come to love. It is a gritty, dust-covered film that presents a harsh and brutal world. The characters who previously saved the day in the moderately family-friendly instalments now occupy a place where the violence is severe and gratuitous. Logan's vocabulary relies heavily on F-bombs, and to my surprise so does Xavier's. Hearing Professor X drop casual “Fucks” was a disorienting experience at first and I wasn't sure that I was prepared to except such a cultured character talking so crudely, however the rhythm of the story becomes all-consuming and eventually nothing feels out of the ordinary.
Hugh Jackman has assured his fans that LOGAN will be his final performance as Wolverine. It is a character that put him on the world stage and afforded him an A-list Hollywood status. His ongoing devotion to the role has been that of cinematic legend with him having appeared in 9 out of 10 instalments over the past 16-years. It has been an enduring legacy that has well and truly earned him a reprieve, and as his final turn LOGAN could not be more fitting. It is also his best performance within the series, which packs an emotion punch as well as being a physically demanding one. He is incredible in the role, with a clear affinity for the character, and he delivers a fierce performance that commands every since scene from beginning to end.
His supporting cast is strong with Patrick Steward relishing the opportunity to push the envelope. He shares the same loyalty to the franchise that Jackman does and together they make LOGAN a credible and poignant epilogue. Newcomer Dafne Keen comes to the film with a strong presence and a physical tenacity that sees her slaughter bad guys with a ferociousness that equals Jackman's. Most of her screen time is silent and she is able to convey most of her performance through expression and demeanour. Other players include Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook and Richard E Grant. They comprise a respectable ensemble that further strengthens the film's integrity.
With a 137-minute running time LOGAN stumbles towards the final act and what began as a fast-paced, fever-pitched action film soon dwindled into a sluggish and meandering drama. Fortunately the narrative reinvigorates itself before storming into an outstanding climax and we are treated to some of the most outstanding action and choreography put to screen for some time (at least in comic-book movie standards).
LOGAN will play well wherever it is seen, however I recommend catching it on the big screen. It is a spectacle that deserves that level of respect, and it is all the more glorious when seen with an audience. Hugh Jackman has served the series well and he has given audiences over 15-years of dedication to the character. A laudable effort if ever there was one.
It is astonishing that despite so many lives having been ruined by the heinous government policy so very few stories from the Stolen Generation have been told through the medium of cinema. Feature-films such as RABBIT PROOF FENCE and AUSTRALIA are the only two notable exceptions that come to mind, as well as documentaries like THE STOLEN GENERATION and FIRST AUSTRALIANS. And so any new attempt to examine this particular moment in history - in a properly considered manner – can only be a good thing.
Director Steven McGregor and writer/producer Mitchell Stanley take a first-person approach to the material and allow the five featured women to tell their stories in their own way. Each of them discuss their lives in a chronological manner as they recall the moment they were snatched from their parents (while unaware) and placed in the cruel care of the state. They candidly discuss the extend of the abuse inflicted upon them, including heartbreaking accounts of assault and rape, and do so with the upmost dignity. Their openness and candour provides an emotive and tangible connection for the audience to hold on to, and helps to break down the barrier that might have prevented outsiders form a greater understanding. McGregor also employs a welcome inclusion of recreations and rarely seen archival photographs, which elevate the recollections and make them easier to process.
SERVANT OR SLAVE is not a technical achievement, nor is it cinematic. It is, however, a raw and emotional account of five survivors who speak on behalf of the countless others who suffered. It avoids being overtly political and choses a course for unity over one of division, which in turn provides an easier point of entry for the rest of us. It is impossible to hear the women's stories and not be affected, and the pain in their faces speaks volumes where words cannot.
White Australia's biggest problem when it comes to understanding the Stolen Generation is that it assumes to know the full extent of it. What SERVANT OR SLAVE shows us is that we cannot possibly comprehend the severity and repercussions which the policy had on an entire race of people. It gives us another point of discussion, if even for quiet contemplation, and it provides another layer of information for us to absorb. It celebrates the courage and strength of these brave women, who in turn represent so many others like them.
SERVANT OR SLAVE is available on DVD at Umbrella Entertainment.
Never mind the fact that some “creative” thought that a second instalment was even necessary, it seems more concerning to me that Australian money has been invested in such a stagnant and arduous mess when so many deserved filmmakers are begging for funding. I guess there is some solace in the fact that a percentage of the money came from the UK.
CLICK HERE TO READ FULL REVIEW.
20-years have passed and director Danny Boyle decided that the time was right to return to the story that put him on the map and he chose to ignore Welsh's literary sequel. Instead he has created a new story that takes fragments from the book and splices them with an all new - alternative - direction for the characters. Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie (Franco) are back and it's an interesting reunion.
Once I overcame the incredible sense of joy from seeing these characters again I remembered to take stock of the moment and considered whether or not it was a reunion worth having... it was. T2: TRAINSPOTTING is an accomplished and worthy epilogue that avoids mimicry and declares itself to be a legitimate companion with its own worth.
Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh 20-years after the events of the first film and faces up to the friends he stole £12,000 from. Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) is a professional blackmailer and Begbie has escaped from prison – blinded with rage, while Spud (Ewan Bremner) has been tragically stuck in the same vicious cycle of addiction for two decades. Renton looks the pillar of health while the other three have become the victims of time, ravaged from the years of living rough. And so begins a new story that sees them hatching up new schemes with hopes of living large.
The first striking quality about T2: TRAINSPOTTING is the pace. Where the first film was a highly energised experiment in debauchery this new instalment is a much slower ride. Just as the characters have matured, so to has the filmmaking. Employing new – yet equally kinetic – methods of the craft, Danny Boyle has created a sequel that looks back on the previous experience with a nostalgic affection. He places less-than-subtle cues throughout the film that reflect the past events and he teases us with tiny moments of replication, which he retracts in a cheeky tease.
The character developments are tangible and Boyle has put them at the precise place in life where we might have expected them to be. All of the leads step back into character with ease, as though it were yesterday they last wore their shoes. McGregor's Renton might be a new man but his traits and mannerisms are just as we remember. Meanwhile Sick Boy and Spud are exactly the same. They're stuck in the same shit-hole and are incapable of escape. Miller and Bremner embody these characters with a sincerity and earnestness that was absent last time. Bremner's performance is particularly powerful and provides the film an emotional anchor. And then – of course – there's Begbie (now referred to as Franco). Robert Carlyle not only recaptures the insanity of his character but also turns him into absolutely psychopathic lunatic. There are moments where it feels as though he's pushing the vulgarity too far, and yet it feels comfortably placed at the same time. Other side-characters also return such as Kelly MacDonald and Shirley Henderson, although their presence does feel like an cheap piece of tokenism.
Boyle's soundtrack is another standout quality and he has, again, refused to recycle the same formula. It's a new soundtrack with a new style and gone are the 90's pop hits. The energy of the former soundscape has been retained in a new and modern string of songs which suit the new tone, while flecks of familiar riffs are strewn throughout to remind us of a time gone by.
Suffice to say, nostalgia is the key to T2: TRAINSPOTTING's success. Whether or not the new tones and rhythms of the film will sit well with people is another story. Some will embrace the sentiment and appreciate the film's reluctance to rehash old tropes, while others will be disappointed that it strolls it's way to the finish line. Either way, it is a divisive piece of filmmaking that holds its own.
Forget about Keanu Reeves... there's a new guy on the scene! At least that's what the studio was counting on the audience to think. How desperate they were, and naïve to think that it was Sandra Bullock who made the first movie bankable. Her presence in this ludicrous sequel makes it astronomically far fetched, even more so than it's flimsy premise. In turning down SPEED 2 Keanu Reeves went on to become one of Hollywood's most enduring action stars while Jason Patric – in accepting the role - endured a lacklustre career playing second fiddle in forgettable films and mediocre DTV titles. As for Sandra Bullock... it was sheer luck that she prevailed to the heights of Hollywood, because she is fucking atrocious in this stupid sequel.
The first movie was described as “Die Hard on a bus”, and I can imagine the creatives behind SPEED 2 brainstorming the new synopsis in a half-witted think-tank. In my mind some smartass jested “Die Hard on a boat!” only to have the execs declare “Brilliant! We already have an abandoned script for Die Hard 3, lets use that." (true). I guess they forgot about the Steven Seagal movie UNDER SEIGE, which had already exploited that idea. Needless to say there isn't a shred of originality in SPEED 2, and the entire movie relies on cliché, plagiarism and audience gullibility.
That makes me gullible. Very gullible... because I really like SPEED 2. There, I said it. I like SPEED 2. It's true. The problem with the movie is that it's SPEED 2. The studio would have been smarter to have made it a stand-alone action flick with no reliance on past glory. Sure it would have attracted criticism and comparisons, but having it stand alone would have removed much of its absurdness.
Bullock's character goes on a cruise ship vacation in the Caribbean with her new boyfriend (another special ops cop) only to find themselves at the mercy of a crazed madman who takes the ship hostage and threatens to blow the whole damn thing up. We've seen it all before, but what makes SPEED 2 appealing (at least to me) is its fanciful nature and its strange ensemble of players.
Willem Dafoe steps into Dennis Hopper's shoes as the crazed bad guy with his finger on the trigger. Dafoe's casting is a real head-scratcher and his calibre of talent is miles beyond this sort of fluff. But then again, he is only human after all and the allure of a hefty pay check would have been too good to refuse. At the very least he brings credibility to the proceedings, which is invaluable when you consider the pitiful assortment of support actors. They include Colleen Camp, Victoria Jackson, Tim Conway and Glenn Plummer... YES, Glenn Plummer from the first SPEED... as in that black guy whose car is destroyed on the freeway. He returns to have the exact same thing happen again (how clever). There are also a few respectable figures scattered about, such as Tamuera Morrison and Bo Stevenson, but their placement amongst the rabble is strange and pointless.
Wow, I really am heaping the shit on SPEED 2 rather thickly... best I mention why I like it. Despite Sandra Bullock's atrocious performance and regardless of the script being a patchwork of countless other films, the movie is balls-to-the-wall fun. It's dumb and it's action-packed. Renowned action practitioner Jan de Bont returns to this sequel and turns the dials up to eleven. The stupidity of the movie wasn't lost on him and so he chose to make it as brazen as possible. The scene that perhaps reflects his intentions best is when the ship runs aground in the final act. Not content to simply crash the cruise-liner into the sore, de Bont went nuts and drove in to a crowded marina... and then into all of the shops.... and then into the surrounding village... and then into the jungle.... and further still. The fucking thing just keeps going and going. It is hilarious and it is AWESOME!!!
SPEED 2 is twenty-years old and it remains one of the most highly ridiculed movies of all time. It was such a colossal failure that it reserves a pathetic 3% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and it killed any chance of an ongoing franchise. But my God... if it isn't a shitload of fun.
Those who are plucky enough to watch the film will find themselves at the mercy of a keen and audacious political thriller that plays heavily on the drama. It tells the story of a successful Washington lobbyist, Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), who risks her reputation and career by taking on the country’s most powerful political group, the American gun lobby. She is an unscrupulous woman, with no regard for ethical lines, who lives for the challenge and stops at nothing to win.
CLICK HERE TO READ FULL REVIEW.
The film has several names depending on the territory. Some people know it as FLYING KILLERS while others know it as THE SPAWINING but we'll just consider it to be PIRANHA 2. Made in 1981 the film shifts its attention to a beach-front community in the Caribbean and tries a lot harder to replicate the tone of JAWS. With Lance Henriksen playing the local sheriff, in a role that obviously imitates Roy Scheider's Brody character, the overall story-arch and darker tone goes for the horror rather than pitching for laughs, although it is still very tongue in cheek (it has to be).
Being a tacky B-movie many would argue that playing it straight was the film's undoing and while there is no question that the film is hugely flawed, I also think that it's massively underrated. People at the time misunderstood it and critics took it far too seriously. As if the original film wasn't comical enough to prepare folk for the sequel it would seem that even the concept of flying fish launching airborne attacks on beach-goers wasn't enough to calm people's reactions. The opening scene is hilarious as we follow two divers swimming amongst a ship wreck. The woman takes off all of her clothes, pulls out a knife and cuts the guy's speedo's off. Their raunchy and gratuitous fuck-session is rudely interrupted by a frenzied school of killer piranhas. The film suddenly cuts to a very cool Hitchcockian credit sequence and the mood of the movie is well established.
Anyone reading this should have a mind for B-movies and would probably know that PIRANAH 2 is credited as James Cameron's first feature film. Obviously embarrassed by the movie, he continues to deny it as his debut and remains adamant that TERMINATOR is his first film. His reasoning for disowning PIRANHA 2 is that he was fired after only a week's worth of shooting and was replaced. His story is widely disputed and most agree that he did, in fact, complete the shoot but was denied any involvement in the editing process. A famous Hollywood legend has it that he snuck into the edit room and re-cut the film, only to be caught and the film then re-cut back to it's previous form. It's difficult to get a clear story of the production and with his embarrassment of it, the production history is rich with tall-tales and contradictions. Nevertheless James Cameron did co-write the script (using a pseudonym), he did work on the visual FX and he did shoot the film. Whether or not he was present for other aspects is irrelevant and his involvement was enough to warrant the director's credit. Cameron continues to be quizzed about PIRANHA 2 and years of prodding have forced him to concede some liability. He famously joked that “I believe that The Spawning was the finest flying piranha movie ever made”.
Technically the film is good. Considering its genre, budget and era it holds up surprisingly well thanks to Cameron's competent direction. Most of the shots are framed well and the underwater sequences are top notch (foreshadowing his fascination with underwater filmmaking). Where the film flounders (sorry, I had to) is in it's editing. The story is stretched out beyond what is necessary and too many scenes overstay their welcome. Most of the action scenes are chopped up as to conceal the hokey effects, and consequently the narrative is stifled. But heck, its so much damn fun regardless.
PIRANHA 2 might not live up to Joe Dante's original film but it does have its own charm and it dared to be more outrageous than it's predecessor. 30+ years on and people still watch it with a cultish enthusiasm and it continues to hold its place as a trashy b-movie classic. A worthy Number Two!
Originally written for Optic Intake Magazine.