Millennium consistently churn out star-studded films that neither live up to the caliber of talent they attract, nor the skill of the directors behind the lens; Olympus Has Fallen, The Iceman, 88 Minutes, etc. Alas, you could count the good Millennium films with three fingers, however, now thanks to Aussie helmer Partick Hughes' THE HITMANS BODYGUARD, you'll be giving your whole hand a stretch.
The movie is essentially another retread of DeNiro's 1988 caper Midnight Run (with a dash of Millennium's previous Richard Donner effort 16 Blocks thrown in for good measure) and much like Martin Brest's screwy chums-on-the-run caper, a great deal of HITMAN'S success is directly due to Samuel L Jackson and Ryan Reynolds' buoyant chemistry.
Reynolds is Michael Bryce, the AAA Rated executive bodyguard assigned to escort Sam Jackson's hitman, Darius Kincaid, to The International Court of Justice at The Hague in order to testify against Gary Oldman's dictator Vladislav Dukhovich and the war crimes he has committed. Bryce and Kincaid are in London and they need to be in The Netherlands within 36-hours by any means necessary.
It's high-concept enough that it practically writes itself. We've seen it before, no doubt, but rarely has the genre been this much fun. THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD is fun, god damn it.
Sam Jackson (much like Nicholas Cage, Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts) just can't seem to say 'no' to a script that lands on his desk these days, so it's refreshing to see him look like he sincerely cares about the outcome of a project he takes on. Hughes seems to have taken off Jackson's leash and let him run riot, giving him free reign with the script allowing him to bounce off a counterpart, showcasing his adeptness at wise-cracks, comic timing and fisticuffs.
Reynolds, in his second Millennium outing following last years woeful Kevin Costner-starring Criminal, does what he does best; sharp, quick-witted and scathing sarcasm packaged in one, neat and tidy six-pack but also touching when it comes to the lovey-dovey, doe-eyed scenes when it's required.
It's not just those in front of the lens having a blast, Hughes seems like he's having a wild time. Following The Expendables 3 (with some reports of a tumultuous time behind-the-scenes) it's nice to see the home-made lad stretch his wings into territory he seems completely comfortable in. He's wise enough to handle the blitzing action sequences with a deft hand and tight control yet savvy enough to simply place the camera in front of Reynolds and Jackson and let them do the heavy lifting when they're on a roll.
Throw in a fiery extended cameo from a sultry Salma Hayek (more of her biting comedy next time please), an Eastern-European Gary Oldman (kinda sounds like Vlad The Impaler but looks like Commissioner Gordon), a globe-trotting plot (hello Amsterdam, Netherlands and London) and you round out one of the biggest surprises of the year.
The movie ain't perfect though. It overstays its welcome, giving us not one but three finales, meaning you can't help but feel Hughes & co knew they were on to a good thing and didn't know when to call it a night. It's an odd thing to say but THB has more false-endings than LORD OF THE RINGS. Seriously, and it's a shame such a good ride should have such a sore point at the close of its 120-minute running time, leaving the viewer with action-fatigue and a wish that it had tie up its plot-lines a little more efficiently.
Nevertheless, even with 10 to 15-minutes of extra padding at the end, THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD does amounts to one of the best buddy-action-comedies in recent memory.
Diane Keaton stars as Emily, a widow whose upperclass life has spiralled to the brink of poverty when her husband's death left her with a trail of debt. She is surrounded by snobby housewives and sleazy lawyers and seems incapable of moving forward... that is until she meets Donald, a local hermit who lives in a small shack across the road from her apartment. He lives on private property, in the wooded grounds of an abandoned hospital and is faced with the prospect of being evicted when big developers propose building a large apartment complex. Emily befriends Donald and together they fight for his right to the land. The rest... well, you can probably assume how it goes.
Much like THE LADY IN THE VAN and THE BEST MARIGOLD HOTEL, HAMPSTEAD is a film pitched to a middle-aged to elderly audience and for all intensive purposes it is a well crafted and fulfilling tale. It's nicely shot and delightfully acted. Diane Keaton is lovely, and while she seems incapable of breaking “type” in recent years she has her style toned down for a much more subtle and endearing delivery. Brendan Gleeson is the film's centrepiece and he gives a wonderful performance as the grumpy antisocial hermit who wants to be left alone. His character arc from prickly to sensitive is fun to watch and his dynamic with Keaton works well.
To be critical about HAMPSTEAD would mean pointing to all of the stupid idiocies, such as Keaton sporting an extravagant wardrobe despite being on the cusp of poverty, or her unrealistic debt-free outcome (no further spoilers)... but who gives a stuff about any of that? At the end of the day we're dealing with a lovely movie that will strike a chord with its target audience and who am I to piss on that?
Following his HBO-produced film Behind The Candelabra, he stated for the record that he was done with filmmaking. It was a declaration that came with a grain of salt, and if my memory serves me well he's made similar sweeping statements previously. It's hogwash and I'll put these knee-jerk comments down to frustration and corporate mind-games (with a modest amount of ego for good measure). Nevertheless he's an important cinematic voice and any film that he makes immediately earns itself a level of anticipation.
His latest film is LOGAN LUCKY, and it sees him treading familiar ground. He personally describes it as “an anti-glam version of Oceans Eleven” and I am glad to know that he sees it as such, because watching the movie stirred up instant comparisons. Having directed three instalments of the Oceans series (with a 4th all-female instalment on the way) he is clearly standing on home soil and is comfortable with the genre... the result is a thoroughly entertaining heist movie that is as funny as it is gritty.
Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) and Clyde Logan (Adam Driver) are two down-trodden brothers who believe that their family is cursed. Jimmy can't hold a job and Clyde had his arm blown off during his military service. When Jimmy is fired from his construction job at local Nascar speedway he schemes a plan to stage an elaborate heist during one of the venue's biggest race days. Enlisting the help of a renowned safe-cracker, a prisoner named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) they set about breaking him out of jail, robbing the venue and busting him back into jail again. It's a hair-brained plan that sees the three rednecks – along with Joe's two simple minded brothers and the Logan's sister – attempting a robbery that is, seemingly, too sophisticated for nobodies like them.
LOGAN LUCKY has Soderbergh's stamp all over it and his director's credit isn't necessary for discerning film geeks to recognise his style from the get-go. Shot with a modest touch, he captures the simple life of his West Virginian characters authentically. Their environment and circumstances are presented honestly, and despite their underprivileged surroundings there's an abundance of humour and affection invested in their existence. The character's lifestyles are never ridiculed yet their approach to life and their code of conduct is treated with humour and endearment.
The structure of the heist itself is lifted straight out of the book of Oceans, and the familiarity brings the audience into the fold without having to rely on an elaborate set-up or back story.
The cast is exceptional with Tatum, Driver and Craig giving equally brilliant performances. LOGAN LUCKY marks Tatum's fourth collaboration with Soderbergh following Haywire, Magic Mike and Side Effects and their rapport is obvious. I would expect that Tatum shook off his critics years ago, having notched up an impressive and respectable post-Step Up filmography, and I would hope that his performance in LOGAN LUCKY expelled whatever naysayers remained. His on-screen presence is captivating and he's just so damn likeable. Driver gives a wonderful turn as the simple-minded amputee brother, and his performance is my favourite of his to date. The less his character says, the more he emotes. He manages to say a lot with the simplest of expressions and his deliberately heavy-handed Virginian accent puts an added comic touch to an already comical story... and of course there's Craig. A show-stealing display to say the least. He twists his gruff and steely demeanour into a farcical dimwitted buffoon with such ease that it's almost impossible to imagine that he's also the guy who plays James Bond.
LOGAN LUCKY is certainly not Soderbergh's best film (my money is on Out Of Sight) but it's definitely not his worst either.. far from it (Oceans Twelve gets my vote). It's a praise-worthy comedy-thriller that comes at a time when car-themed crime films are commanding screens and dominating the box office. And to this, LOGAN LUCKY serves a greater purpose. It is Soderbergh's attempt to shake up the Hollywood system so that mid-budgeted films can see a greater return go towards the creatives, rather than the studio. Despite having spent his career skirting around the system, he's inevitably conceded to it with acclaimed films like Traffic and Erin Brockovich, and following his pre-maturely announced retirement he has returned with a business model that puts less emphasis on marketing and more focus on distribution. Whether or not his plan will pay off or, indeed, influence change remains to be seen... but his intensions are noble and he should be congratulated for taking the lead. LOGAN LUCKY is as good an example as any.
The Iraq war is over and American troops remain on the ground as part of a post-war withdraw strategy. THE WALL follows two US army snipers who have been sent to investigate a pipeline construction site, which has suffered multiple casualties. The two men observe the site for 22-hours before declaring the area to be safe and secure from enemy presence. When they abandon their position to gain a closer perspective they are fired upon by an unknown assailant. Staff Sergeant Shane Matthews (John Cena) is critically injured - possibly dead - while Sergeant Allen Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) suffers a life-threatening gunshot to his knee. Trapped in a no-man's land, protected only by a decrepit wall, Isaac is stranded and without help. When the enemy sniper makes contact through their soldier-to-soldier radio-comm he sets in motion a game of cat & mouse and taunts the his American foe with a series of mind-games. Unable to call for backup, and desperately low on provisions, Isaac must rely on his own ingenuity and will-power to survive.
THE WALL is a smart Hitchockian thriller which serves as a shining example to Hollywood that big budgets do not necessarily equate to quality and that good action-packed movies are entirely obtainable at a fraction of the cost of the average blockbuster. In fact THE WALL's entire budget would be less than equivalent to a typical Hollywood movie's catering expenses.
Liman's clever production design keeps the entire story restricted to the one location, which in turn gives the film a strong focus, freeing it from unnecessary sub-plotting. His camera makes brilliant use of the setting as it weaves in and out of the predicament without imposing on the drama. At times we are up close and personal with Isaac, while at other times we watch from afar, and with a mostly score-free sound design the intensity of the situation is raw... the urgency tangible.
The performances are excellent. Aaron Taylor-Johnson gives an emotionally driven turn as Sergeant Isaac, and he commands the entire film almost single-handedly. His ability to switch between wounded agony to and adrenaline-fuelled bravado, before collapsing into exhaustion and defeat is something to behold. He is essentially given a place to sit with the brief of “surviving” and he uses every frame to his advantage. Working from a taught script and Liman's skilled direction it is a tour-de-force performance from one of Hollywood's most underrated rising stars. Kudos are owed to John Cena, too, whose performance sees him stepping out of the WWE shadow and into respectable dramatic territory. Despite his role being limited to 20-minutes of screen time his presence is felt through the entire film and his screen time is well measured and grounded.
THE WALL's terse running time of 87-minutes helps shape it into a concise thriller, the sort of which we rarely see in today's world of mass-produced, special-effect driven hogwash. My mind drew comparisons to other one-location films such as 127 HOURS and PHONE BOOTH, while reflecting on the type of psychological trickery that Hitchcock to gleefully exploited. Fans of war films will lap this one up, as will fans of the thriller genre, and one needn't like the other to engage with this clever post war tale of survival and smarts.
Ghost in The Shell's global success outside Japan was well deserved. It was a thinking man's science fiction that happened to be animated; one with big ideas and a bigger scale, designed with meticulous detail and boasting a story that was eerily current. It was a razor-edge ballet of stylish violence and cerebral plotting and it's no surprise that it has been remade as live-action Hollywood spectacle. What is surprising, however, is that it's taken 22-years to get here.
The good news is that the intervening decades have done nothing to dull the film's prescience. If anything it's more relevant now than it was then. That's how flabbergastingly ahead of the curve it was. The 2017 remake wisely takes the best set-pieces of the original (the waterways fisticuffs and the Spider-tank finale) and recreates them in accurate, thrilling detail, but thanks to Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger's screenplay, the '17 version isn't slavish to Kazunori Ito's original, convoluted and cryptic plotting. Instead the story is far more palatable and penetrable without sacrificing the potency of the original's dense and well-explored thematics of 'what is it to be human?' and 'where is the human soul?'.
Ghost In The Shell is Rupert Sanders' second outing as director - following Snow White And The Huntsman (2012) - and much like his handsome debut, it is undeniably one of the most beautiful mainstream American films of recent memory. It's a vivid and fantastically detailed reproduction of its source without being slavishly dependent on it.
Set in the near future it has Scarlet Johansson as Major, an advanced cybernetic law enforcement agent who uses her shell (her cyborg body) to hunt a nefarious hacker-terrorist, Kuze (formerly known as The Puppet Master in '95 played by Michael Pitt) who is invading those with enhancements and using them to commit unspeakable acts of murder and destruction. Through her investigations she discovers truths about her own past and sets out to find those who can answer her questions and finally discover who she really is.
To explain too much of the plot would be a disservice to the film; suffice it to say the slightly expanded-upon story delves into unexpectedly emotional terrain, giving Johansson and Pitt some of the more emotionally penetrating scenes to chew on.
For as fine a performance that Scarlet and Pitt deliver (this is the most physically-detailed role she's delivered, though not too far removed from her delivery in Under The Skin) playing Major with a constant rigidness in her limbs and mental detachment it is cinematographer Jess Hall, treating on the same ground he was occupying for Wally Fister's Transcendence, who is the real star of the show.
His world is a cross between modern-day Ho-Chi-Min City, Hong Kong and LA and even if he wears his influences on his sleeve (A.I., Bladerunner, etc) his vision of a future Los Angeles is a neon nightmare metropolis of considerable marvel rendered scarily precise by his team of VFX artists.
More so, the technology-bastardized future-world has remained the most faithful. It's a mish-mash of cutting-edge and neon-gloss where high-end computers and holographs sit alongside decay and rubble in a chaotic, off-kilter disharmony like a tactile representation of Major's psyche.
Underpinning Hall's breathtaking visual carnival is Clint Mansell and Lorne Blafi's ominous electronic score which is slightly reminiscent of Daft Punk's outing for Tron. Their brooding, pulsing sonic landscape is one of the few disappointments of the film; derivative and obvious and nowhere near as interesting as either maestro is capable of.
In the end it's interesting to speculate why the $110-million remake failed as poorly as it did at the box office. All the ingredients are there for a solid night of popcorn-munching, regardless of whether we've seen a lot of it before.
This is the world William Gibson conceived when he first penned Neuromancer in 1984; a cross-culture, bilingual merging of man and machine, of retro and futurism, of skies the colour of a television, tuned to a dead channel. This is cyberpunk finally come fully into itself.
To everyone’s surprise, what they cooked up was the excellent Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Supported by a great performance by Andy Serkis and some wonderfully realistic CGI, Rise cleverly explained the sudden leap in ape intelligence and the rapid decline in human population which would eventually create the future Earth on which Charlton Heston would eventually bellow, “Damn you all to hell!”
Like Batman Begins, this smart origin tale spawned a fantastic trilogy and thankfully the often difficult third act is every bit as good as the previous two instalments. With Dawn director Matt Reeves returning to the director’s chair, War for the Planet of the Apes continues the story of Caesar’s attempts to live in peace, free of human interaction and conflict. But we know that isn’t going to last long, and a new villain enters to eradicate Caesar and his kind for good. Contrary to the film’s title, what ensues is actually more of a revenge/prison drama than a war film. But nonetheless there is action a-plenty, it packs a good emotional punch and neatly wraps up the series whilst setting up the promise of another to come. Those who loved Rise and Dawn will most certainly enjoy War, and to his credit Reeves has kept the tone consistent and satisfying, delivering what could actually be the crown jewel of the series and a career-best film.
War is definitely the darkest outing of the three, with some of the cruelty on display echoing a Holocaust movie – which is clearly the point. This is a bleak and cruel world and one cannot help but draw comparisons to Schindler’s List. However, in a film where talking Gorillas and Orang-utans wield assault rifles and ride horses, the impact of those comparisons is somewhat lessened. There were also moments the filmmakers could’ve pushed the boundaries a little further for greater impact, but instead they played it safe, especially with the morality of our central hero.
War continues its cautionary tale of not meddling with nature and the importance of extending mercy toward your enemies. One cannot help but feel for the sorrowful plight of Caesar, a laboratory animal cursed with great power which leads to a life of immense personal suffering. Woody Harrelson’s villainous Colonel is a standard bad guy, though he is given one poignant moment to explain what motivates his ruthlessness. It also provides another plot point that edges us closer to the Apes world that Charlton Heston will one day arrive upon; it’s a simple yet effective piece of reverse-engineer screenwriting that is quite commendable. In addition, Steve Zahn’s ‘Bad Ape’ character is a breath of levity in this sombre tale, injecting some much needed vocal personality into an ensemble of primates that mostly communicate with hand signals and hoots.
Like the previous films, the computer-generated apes in War are a wonder to behold. Most impressive are the extreme close-ups, which are so photo-realistic you simply cannot see the digital seams no matter how hard to try. Reeves wisely treats the apes as characters instead of visual effects, and Serkis again proves himself the master of motion capture performance. The only negative aspects of the film could have been addressed easily; an overuse of lingering reaction shots clutter the second-half and cheapen the emotional impact of otherwise powerful moments, and witnessing a horse effortlessly support the crushing weight of a Silverback did push the limits of my disbelief.
Perhaps my biggest surprise with War is the overblown critical response to it, throwing out phrases such as “an important film”, a “must see” and “a masterpiece”. While there is much to commend about War, it ultimately plays out like the formulaic Hollywood blockbuster it is, albeit one made with creative integrity and technical brilliance. But by no means does it give us anything we haven’t seen before nor are its revelations unexpected, so it couldn’t quite live up to the hype.
But regardless of expectations, this is a rare studio franchise with smarts and big-budget filmmaking at its best. It’s simply a damn good time at the movies, ticking all the right boxes for a satisfying big-screen adventure with an even bigger heart. What more could you ask for in a post-apocalyptic fantasy about talking monkeys?
But the promise of a gun-blazing Western was too hard to resist, even with Costner calling the shots. After all, I still respected that this was the guy who made the magnificent Dances With Wolves. So when it hit the DVD shelves I bravely took a $6.00 punt, but with one finger firmly on the eject button, ready to fling the disc out the window. Over two hours later I found myself lamenting that the film was over and asking myself “Had I had just seen one of the best Westerns ever made?”
Although Open Range is one of the best modern Western’s ever made, it is for the patient and mature viewer: those who prescribe to Michael Bay’s sensibilities of cinema need not bother. From the Western perspective, Open Range does not reinvent the wheel: instead it dives right in and bravely embraces the genre in all its glory. This is a film that - on paper - should’ve failed dismally. But instead, it works like magic.
It follows a conventional ‘good guys versus bad guys’ plot, with Costner and Duvall playing two cowboys pitted against a greedy and violent rancher and his posse of thugs. But there’s no winking at the audience here. Open Range takes its premise seriously, despite the characters all being familiar archetypes. We have the salty old cattleman, the grisly gunslinger, a crooked sheriff, a dastardly rancher and a weathered, apron-wearing frontier woman. The film’s towering achievement is that it makes these archetypes so wonderfully three-dimensional and human. Robert Duvall is a joy to watch, and his character provides the moral anchor for Costner’s brooding anti-hero. Every performance is engaging and real, never tipping over into Little House on the Prairie territory despite skating dangerously close to the edge.
But the most impressive aspect of Open Range is how truly bold it is from a storytelling perspective. It does the one thing that most films would not dare in this day and age: it is virtually void of action for the first two hours, opting instead for character driven drama. It saves its hard-boiled, gun-blazing antics for the climactic showdown - and boy, does it work a treat. After two hours of flirting and foreplay, when the moment finally comes it is all the more satisfying and well-earned earned. Costner rewards us with one of the most wonderfully staged and intense gunfights in Western cinema history. Forget gun-twirling acrobatics and over-the-top stunts; this is a gritty, realistic man-to-man fight where bullets do not kill straight away and the good guys also get hit. For once, I was on the edge of my seat during a movie gunfight asking “how is this possible”?
Instead of a slew of skirmishes and violence throughout, Open Range opts to withhold and build character and tension instead. When the inevitable gunfight arrives, we are as invested in its outcome as those involved. As the hour draws closer, you’re not even sure you want to go through with it for fear that our heroes may not make it out alive. Over the last two hours we have fallen in love with them and we understand what they’re up against. The anticipation has been wracked up to breaking point, and when the guns start blazing their impact is truly felt. By God, we want our heroes to succeed, but we know it won’t be easy for them to get that result.
It’s not without some niggling faults; some of Costner’s direction is a little heavy-handed at times and the score by the late Michael Kamen is often ‘on the nose’. But these momentary bits of cheese are easily forgiven in light of its overwhelming strengths. Instead of racing through the drama, Costner bravely holds us captive in character moments and remains there, allowing us to intimately learn what makes our heroes tick and most importantly, why we should care about them. When a movie can move you emotionally by a cowboy buying a china tea-set for a woman he fancies, you know the drama is working. Open Range almost throws the movie-making rulebook out the window, and against all the odds it’s better for it.
Open Range feels a filmmaker crafting a story he loves without impatient studio heads asking him to hack it to pieces. It is a true shame that Costner’s reputation hampered its release, despite it being well received critically. The film is well respected by fans of the genre but unfortunately it remains widely unknown by the general public, and deserves far more recognition than it ever got. For me, the cinema sins of Costner’s past were swept away by Open Range. If he ever returns to the genre again, next time I will be there on opening weekend with my popcorn and high expectations.
The film begins with the iconic 1960's Spider-man theme song, which is enough to send tingles up the spine's of long-serving fans. There’s plenty of fun to be had watching this wet-behind-the-ears Spider-Man bumble around the city trying to prove to himself - and Tony Stark - that he is worthy of being an Avenger. Although one does wonder how Tom Holland’s interpretation of Spidey ever held his own against Captain America, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier in ‘Civil War’ when he clearly has trouble fending off four regular thugs holding up an ATM.
Holland is hands-down the most appealing Spider-Man/Peter Parker to date, avoiding the stuttering of Andrew Garfield and the sulking of Tobey McGuire. As per Marvel Studios standard, the visual effects are world-class, the performances strong across the board and the direction is very assured, which is what we expect from a studio working at the top of their game. Critics and audiences alike have given the film a big thumbs up, but one can’t help but feel it’s because this is simply the best Spider-Man film to date, and not because it’s a truly fantastic film in and of itself.
The largest flaw with Spider-Man: Homecoming is its lacking in the emotional stakes. The movie is always reminding us that Peter Parker is ‘just a kid’, and for better or worse it often plays out like a sweet, self-aware, coming-of-age comedy. It certainly delivers in spades for its target demographic (and no doubt Spidey fans), but mature viewers may find it too immature to satisfy. I compare the film to the giant Lego Death Star owned by Peter Parker’s best friend: it’s an impressive toy to the child or Lego enthusiast, but adults whose Lego days are far behind them might find it hard to get excited. Centred around high-school teens “struggling” with their middling first-world problems, it’s as dramatically juvenile and shallow as its onscreen characters and it can be hard to get emotionally invested for its lengthy run time.
Adding to the problem is Spidey and co. constantly throwing out quirky quips during death-defying situations; the tension is immediately dissolved and you never feel that anyone is in mortal danger. For example, Spidey rescuing a group of people from a falling elevator doesn’t generate an ounce of the tension created by a similar scene from 1994’s ‘Speed’. But to its eternal credit, Spider-Man: Homecoming does keep the action snappy and the inevitable B.D.E (Big Dumb Ending) is quite contained by the usual Marvel standards.
The original Spider-Man trilogy significantly triumphed in the music department, and Danny Elfman’s original theme was always going to be hard to top. Sadly Michael Giacchino’s efforts do not compare. Like the characters, the new signature theme is rather shallow and becomes downright grating towards the end, which is surprising considering how dependable Giacchino has proved himself to be in the past.
But these are minor quibbles and as a whole, Spider-Man: Homecoming delivers what it promises. It is a great start to a new incarnation that was sorely needed after Sony’s last three strikes, and hopefully one that will stick around for many years to come. It will be satisfying to see this character mature and the emotional stakes rise. Whilst we don’t want the brooding angst of the DC Universe, a healthy dose of true human conflict would be the shot in the arm that will take Marvel’s Spider-Man from good to great.
The problematic aspect to this review is that a plot description is inevitable, and so for those choosing to go in blind – this is where I leave you. Of course, nothing I write will ruin the film, but its impact is all the more powerful with little knowledge of the story.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL REVIEW.
Nolan has reached a point where he is afforded autonomy with is work, and his name has become reliable and, more importantly, bankable by whichever studio backs him. Had any other filmmaker taken the concept of this film to the studio big-wigs there's almost no chance they would have received the green light to go ahead.
As the title states the film chronicles the evacuation of Dunkirk, a despairing chapter in England's WWII campaign which saw the rescue of over 300,000 stranded Allied troops on the shores of Dunkirk. With the German army surrounding the city there is no chance of a military rescue and so the British Navy enlist the service of regular countrymen and commandeer civilian boats to sail across the channel and into the heart of war. What unfolded was an astonishing story of survival that defied all odds and cemented a place in the history books.
The Dunkirk story has been adapted to the screen several times before (most recently in 2007's ATONEMENT) but it has never been told like this. Nolan rejects all romanticism in favour of realism and tells his story by way of observation. He chooses three perspectives and alternates between them in a non-lineal fashion. We see the evacuation from the points of view of fighter pilots, ground troops and civilians... whose actions occasionally intertwine, but are mostly centred as focal points for their respective time on screen.
Nolan shot the film on IMAX 65mm and 65mm large film format and he devotes over 60% of the film's running time to the full IMAX format. That's an amazing undertaking that will excite all film enthusiasts, and for the laymen who aren't familiar with cinematic presentation it means that Dunkirk is about as BIG as movies get! While the film will look incredible on regular cinema screens it looks absolutely phenomenal on the IMAX screen, and I would urge everyone to catch it at IMAX for the full emersion.
I am hard pressed to find fault with DUNKIRK, and much like MAD MAX FURY ROAD the film predominantly employs practical craftsmanship, with most of the action being shot with real actors, real stunts and real explosions. And, again, like FURY ROAD the storytelling is unconventional and all-consuming. The film hits the ground running and doesn't relent until the end credits roll. Fighter planes criss-cross the skyline while troops on the ground flee for their lives, dodging enemy fire. Light sea vessels punt across the English channel beneath a sky-borne war, while men fight for survival in oil-spilled seas. It is a non-stop spectacle that barely gives the audience time to breathe, and despite its intensity there's barely a drop of blood spilled on screen. The pure ferocity of the film is driven by an equally relentless score from the legendary Hans Zimmer, whose music not only drives the film but also remains suspended in an unsettling sense of escalation. Zimmer's presence dominates every single frame of the film and, in my opinion, he deserves the lead billing... “DUNKIRK starring Hans Zimmer”.
The cast is exceptional and all players give strong and invested performances, and despite Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance taking the top billing, the story prevents them from stealing a central role. All of the characters are pivotal to the narrative and Nolan refuses to hone his focus on just one. And it is with this concentration on the story at hand that he has successfully crafted one of the greatest war films of all time.
DUNKIRK is magnificent. It is an assault on the senses and possesses a flagrant disregard for convention. It is a stunning marriage of action and music, and most importantly it is a refreshing, compelling and all-consuming movie going experience.... the likes of which we are rarely afforded anymore.
ROUGH STUFF is a treasure hunt movie that infuses its adventure with a heavy amount of grunt and a revved up dose of braun. With its contemporary setting the film puts its characters inside a convoy of heavy duty four-wheel-drive vehicles and has them tackling some of the roughest terrain in the country. It tells the story of Buzz and Abe, two Rovers roaming the land far from the traps of city life, who agree to escort a group of foreign environmental activists through the treacherous Mamuya Valley. The leader of the activists has a map which, he claims, leads to the legendary “Strays Gold” - a lost treasure believed to be myth. The activists seek passage to the far side of a big mining operation, which is scheduled to begin a blasting operation within days, and with both party's having different vested interests in the trip the scene is set for an adventure full of conflict and mayhem.
The whole 'treasure hunt' genre is an under-explored brand of filmmaking in Australia, and very few titles have temped it with the sort of frivolity and heightened adventure that we've come to expect from Hollywood. And so when a movie like ROUGH STUFF gives it a red hot go there is an immediate sense of excitement that comes with it.
The movie opens with a rugged 4X4 race sequence as two all-terrain vehicles tear through the bush at breakneck speeds, bouncing over boulders and scaling ridiculous ravines. It is a thrilling set-up that reassures the viewer that ROUGH STUFF is not some cheap-ass local DIY movie, but rather a well crafted spectacle with a skilled creative team behind the scenes. The camera flirts with the action and we are treated to a showcase of impressive off-road driving that has vehicles doing what most average drivers would consider to be impossible. Of course the film's major financiers were 4X4 companies, and so the attention to skilful driving also serves as a glowing endorsement for their brands, and the industry they promote. At times the branding is blatant and, perhaps, overdone... but it is thrilling nevertheless and offers an alternative spectacle to the saturation of street-racing we're inundated with from Hollywood.
Unfortunately the film suffers from a contrived and bloated script, which lacks substance and is impeded by a series of hidden agendas and twisted subplots. Had the story kept its focus on the basic premise of the treasure hunt then we might have been contending with one of the best Australian movies of the year. At 120-minutes the running time is also a major hindrance. 2-hours is just too long for this type of movie and it would have benefited from a tighter cut. In fact I would go so far as to suggest that trimming at least 40-minutes would have served it well. Sadly long running times is a common thing amongst independent Australian films and it's a gripe that I find myself repeating time and again. Filmmakers are (understandably) precious about their films and being ruthless in the edit is heartbreaking. When a filmmaker has nurtured their vision and come so far, it's difficult for them to seperate their creative mind from their consumer's mind. And so an unnecessarily long running time is a concession I will – again – afford.
Negative bullshit aside, ROUGH STUFF is a little belter, and a movie that deserves to be seen. Director Jonathan Adams has plunged head first into an untapped genre and is an audacious filmmaker for doing so. His film is a visual feast for the eyes that infuses testosterone-driven action, balls-to-the-wall mayhem and a glorious cinematography. From sweeping arial shots to extreme muddy close ups, the camera interacts with the action and delivers the audience a thrilling escapade. The positives of the movie outweigh the negatives, and it is important for viewers to understand (and appreciate) the restrictions, which independent filmmakers face. Try making a movie... it's bloody hard. Try making one that looks this good... it's tough. And try making one that would make the most avid off-road drivers hold their breath.... bet ya can't!
Yet for all of his old-fashioned ways, David Stratton has been a vocal opponent to censorship and has famously launched scathing attacks against the Australian classification board, most notably in relation to Larry Clark’s film Ken Park, which was denied classification and subsequently banned in Australia.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL REVIEW AT THE REEL WORD.
This conspiracy-laden mess sees a beautiful couple, Gabe & Brinn Howarth (Cam Gigandet and Brit Shaw) - the owners of a small down diner - suffering in the grips of Gabe's seizure-inducing dreams, which blur the lines between reality and fantasy.
In his dreams, the mild-mannered Gabe is a hitman who murders everyone he encounters. Enter psychiatrist Dr Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a leading expert in the study of waking dreams, who treats Gabe (barely saying 'hello' before prescribing handfuls of medication) and tries to put a stop to the nightmares.
To nobody's surprise Gabe begins recognising the faces from his visions as those of real people being murdered in the newspapers and it isn't long before Gabe suspects that dreams are actually reality.... Or not. Cue local law enforcement, Sheriff Hodge (a grisly Michael Beihn), who steps in to investigate, and just like everyone else in the film, may or may not have an inkling as to what's going on.
THE SHADOW EFFECT is the third feature from brothers Obin and Amariah Olson and it is a ham-fisted concoction, peppered with shonky CGI and uninspired direction that takes cues from a dozen other better films. This is surprising considering that the writers, Chad and Evan Law (minor powerhouses in the DTV actioneer realm), have a CV littered with quality scripts that belie their budgets.
THE SHADOW EFFECT is the weakest chink in their armour. It's is a mixed bag of hackneyed concepts and lacklustre acting, leaving the viewer with a minimally engaging 90-minutes of nonsense and sense that we've seen it all before. Indeed, the film steals from just about similarly themed title, not least of all THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, THE BOURNE IDENTITY and SOURCE CODE. And believe me it surely lacks the flair, conviction and originality of them all.
In fact, it's a film so self-aware and rigid that almost every move made by anyone on screen is forced and contrived. The big-boys of the cast, Meyers and Beihn do what they can with a limited scope. Beihn can do this kind of stuff in his sleep, but it's Meyers that surprise the most, not because his face is plastered all over the poster (though his screen time amounts to about 6-minutes), but because the good-will he amassed from a half-way decent performance on TVs VIKINGS, ROOTS and THE TUDORS is squandered on one throw-away role that does him no favours.
Shame. There's nothing wrong with a derivative story, but couple it with a DOA production and it's a recipe for failure. Thank God, then, for Michael Beihn.