God’s Own Country presents a bleak, yet earnest, portrait of the rural life and follows its characters from an observational point of view. The first act has the audience watching from afar, like a fly on the wall, as Johnny’s circumstances are established. The camera holds its focus and allows the day-to-day farming routines to flow naturally, while the extent of his alcoholism is captured in all of its repulsive ugliness. It isn’t until the arrival of Gheorghe that the film begins to hone in on the true emotional toll that his unwanted life is taking, at which point an unexpected romance begins to overwhelm him.
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Scott plays Jake VanDorn, a successful, Christian business owner and father whose underage daughter goes missing during a school outing. She turns up in a short, hardcore pornographic 8mm film a few months later which, needless to say, crushes VanDorn. He hires a sleezy P.I., Andy Mast (a wonderfully world-weary Peter Doyle) to look into it when the police won't but Mast is as useless as the police and before too long Jake has had enough.
Once he mounts his own investigation into the case he drops into a world of sleaze, exploitation and violence which challenges his conservative world view.
Its powerful stuff, even now, regardless of its age, and Scott is fantastic as usual but it's Paul Schrader's show. His second outing as director, following Blue Collar, continues his penchant for an uncanny knack of unveiling the darkest aspects of the human condition.
The script never panders to simplicity. It's lean and mean and smart and better yet it treats its audience as smart.
All this underpinned by Jack Nitzche's ominous, grueling score and Michael Chapman's neon-slicked cinematography (he would get nominated for an Oscar for his work on Raging Bull the following year). Hardcore is a minor, unsung gem from the late 70s that's well worth a viewing.
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.