While the story of Cambridge Analytica is arguably fascinating regardless of who’s telling it, directors Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim make the wise decision to begin with a profile of David Carroll. Carroll embodies the relentless curiosity THE GREAT HACK seeks to encourage, ultimately suing the firm for failing to disclose what information it had gathered on him. This is cast not only as a simple request, but a basic human right. Subsequently, even people who aren’t tech-savvy will run a full gamut of emotions as the lawsuit progresses towards a bittersweet conclusion. There’s a symbolic victory in the role Carroll played to prove Cambridge Analytica was operating illegally, but it’s hard not to feel like he was screwed over by their bankruptcy filings mere days before a ruling in his favour was reached.
After focusing on Carroll throughout the film’s first half, directors Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim turn their attention to former high-ranking Cambridge Analytica employee Brittany Kaiser in the second. It’s a smart choice which builds viewer investment in personal data rights before presenting the clearest portrait of how these rights are being challenged. By recounting the firm’s origins assisting military and political campaigns, we see a clear evolution from broad guerrilla tactics into targeted ads, customised to individual Facebook users based on data profiles. Most harrowingly, Kaiser herself likens these profiles to psychological warfare.
THE GREAT HACK seems to suggest that because this technology is still relatively new, each of us must actively form an opinion on its boundaries. However, the film doesn’t explicitly deal with this idea enough, which is frustrating since some of its subjects have clearly done so. For instance, Kaiser appears genuinely remorseful for her actions and is unwilling to even reveal her location during some interviews, yet Amer and Noujaim never explore whether her actions, or those of her colleague turned fellow whistle-blower Christopher Wylie, should be considered crimes. If they currently aren’t, is it simply because the law is lagging behind society? Beyond the broad concept of ‘owning one’s data’, there is very little consideration for what actions we must take.
I imagine this film’s shortcomings are the result of trying to handle such a recent event. There’s lots for Amer and Noujaim to balance between factually chronicling the scandal with its subjects’ insights, all of which are handled well notwithstanding their limited scope. For viewers like me who come into THE GREAT HACK without much of an understanding of Cambridge Analytica, it’s a great introduction and addictive viewing in general, even though it won’t fully satisfy your interest on its own.
This franchise panders to action fans who revel in violent far-fetched nonsense, making no apologies for its cheap thrills and explosive gratuity. Where certain cinephiles will dismiss it as trash, others will celebrate its sense of frivolity. Being a sucker for brainless action myself, I definitely fit within its target demographic.
With a significantly smaller budget of $40-million (compared to London's $60-million and Olympus' $70-mill) ANGEL HAS FALLEN's restraints are immediately evident. There is a definite modesty to the new instalment with the big action centrepieces being replaced by a formulaic man-on-the-run synopsis. To counteract the budget cut, Butler's character is written to be a burned-out father whose age and weariness threatens to end his career. He is no longer the actioneer we once knew, and his newly appointed fugitive status allows him to avoid massive fight sequences and high-concept action... for the most part. Of course there IS plenty of action to keep 'em keen, but to a lesser degree.
Some other consequences of the smaller budget include a few poorly executed green screen moments and a dependancy on poor dramatic character arcs, however, with a cache of nifty Bond-esque tropes the film manages to tread water without sinking. A cool drone attack early into the story sets the tone of the film and, while this sequence is admittedly ludicrous, it preps the viewer for a new direction to the series.
Butler is a seasoned pro when it comes to this brand of conservative-leaning action and he relishes every punch with absolute glee. Despite his age affecting his physical limits, he gives all that he's got to make Mike Banning a bonafide action-movie legend. Freeman, who is now 82-years old, returns to the series as the POTUS, replacing Aaron Eckhart from the previous instalments. Whether or not Eckhart was invited back, his absence plays to the movie's strength as Freeman offers greater depth and humanity. Although clearly an old man, Freeman's capabilities on screen are no barrier for his commitment to physicality and sincerity.
New additions to the cast include Danny Houston as Mike's former ranger teammate and owner of a private military contractor, and Nick Nolte as his estranged forrest-dwelling hermit father. Both are welcome newcomers to the series with each of them serving the story with an abundance of cliches and obvious tropes. Jada Pinkett Smith also co-stars as the FBI manhunter hot on the trail of Banning. They are all about as conventional and predictable as it gets... but intentionally so.
When it comes to this brand of movie we expect a good time but not a whole lot of substance or integrity. It is easily the lesser of the three films in terms of quality and bravado, but it's probably the most fun of the lot as far as I'm concerned. There's been three years between each instalment since the first movie arrived in 2013 and whether or not we can expect another one in 2022 remains to be seen. With Banning's body giving up on him, perhaps we'll enter the cyber-bionic phase... or maybe he'll call the shots from mission control... it's a stupid series and anything's possible. Fans of Olympus and London Has Fallen need only apply.
Whichever way you cut it APOCALYPSE NOW is a stroke of genius.
Working on the assumption that you are familiar with either previous cut of the film I will skip the part where I lay out the synopsis, except to say that the film is quite possibly the greatest sentiment of the Vietnam War ever put to film. As any one of the versions attests, it isn't so much a realistic portrayal of the conflict itself (although it feels so) but rather a concise charter of the psychological trauma and the culture surrounding it. It is very much a perpetual descent into madness manifested in a surreal and nightmarish experiment of storytelling.
THE FINAL CUT removes 20 minutes from the Redux cut, making for a trimmer 3-hour narrative with less lag. One - of two major sequences - which Coppola added in 2000 has been removed again; it being a second encounter with the Playboy Bunnies. It was an ineffective addition in the first place and the story benefits without it. The other sequence features a visit to a French plantation whereby Martin Sheen's character, Captain Benjamin Willard, spends an evening with a large family who refuse to leave their acreage, which has been under threat throughout the conflict. The sequence in of itself is fantastic, however within the context of APOCALYPSE NOW it serves as dead weight. The sequence lacks subtlety and feels politically motivated, and it undermines the overall sense of nuance and suggestion that the rest of the film embodies.
Other notable changes include extended sequences involving Robert Duvall's surf-obsessed Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore and longer monologues from Marlon Brando's psychotic Colonel Kurtz. Again, these are fantastic scenes in their own right, but ultimately serve little purpose. Were they to be confined to supplementary material on a home-entertainment release then they would hold immense value, but in terms of serving an 'ultimate cut' they are simply a filmmaker's self-gratification.
Irrespective of my personal grievances, APOCALYPSE NOW: THE FINAL CUT is a sight to behold. It has never looked and sounded better, and it gives cause for audiences to see it again on the big screen. Whether you watch the theatrical version, the Redux or the Final Cut, you will witness one of cinema's finest achievements; an audacious and visionary cinematic masterclass, and an unrivalled visceral experience. A tour de force of music, psychedelia and violence featuring an ensemble of Hollywood titans.
For argument sake lets call it a trilogy... 3 cuts... 3 visions... 3 films.... each being powerful, and each with their own story to unpack. For what it's worth I will always preference the original 147-minute theatrical cut, but I will always watch whichever one you want to offer me.
Based on a comic-book of the same name from the 1930s, THE SHADOW tells the story of an American drug lord in Tibet, who is captured by mystical servants of Tulku - an ancient holy man wizard - and cursed to serve humanity as a force for good. After years of training in a Buddist temple the former criminal earns himself the power to mind-read, hypnotise and distort perception, and conceals his identify with invisibility. Returning to New York City in the 1930s The Shadow (real name Lamont Cranston - Alec Baldwin) serves the city as its lone crusader, ridding the streets of criminals and mob rule. When a former student of Tulku arrives to the city inside the sarcophagus of Genghis Khan, The Shadow must defeat him before a mystical army is raised.
Despite the character's origins and previous 1937 radio incarnation by Orson Welles, the 1994 film marches to the beat of its own drum, owing gratitude to Burton's influence while leaning heavily on the Asian-infused fantasy films of the time. The result is a delicious visceral treat that plays out like a cross between Burton and John Carpenter (Big Trouble in Little China comes to mind).
Director Russell Mulcahy is – in my estimation – one of the most overlooked and underutilised director's in Hollywood. A home-grown talent, he began his career directing some of the biggest music videos in the world (Elton John, Duran Duran etc) before making his impressive feature debut with the cult favourite Razorback. He would go on to make classics such as Highlander, Richochet and The Real McCoy before finding himself assigned to second-rate fodder like Tales of the Mummy and Silent Trigger. Amongst all of that he made THE SHADOW, his boldest and most impressive production to date. And how criminally underrated it is. Boasting a phenomenal production design – shot entirely on studio backlots and sound stages – the film leaps off the screen with it's vivid imagery. Richly textured city street-scapes and immaculate cinematography are accompanied by a sensational musical score by Jerry Goldsmith. The result is a film that eluded its audience upon release but found them throughout the years, earning itself a well-deserved cult status.
The film was written by David Koepp during the most prolific time of his career having penned films like Jurassic Park, Carlito's Way and Mission Impossible within the span of three years. THE SHADOW, it must be said however, is one of his weakest scripts, lacking the depth and character development of some of its contemporaries. Obviously better writing may have elevated it to respectable heights at the time, but the fundamental strength of the film is in its look and aesthetic. As with most of Mulcahy's work, the style IS its substance.
In the film Alec Baldwin makes for an unlikely superhero and delivers a reliable turn, and while there is something not-quite-right about him in the role, his charisma and handsome charm lend an endearing quality to the proceedings. The supporting cast includes Penelope Ann Miller, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Winters, Tim Curry and John Lone (and what Asian-infused adventure movie of the 90s would be complete without the stereotyped character actors James Hong and Al Leong?). It is an impressive cast which retrospectively brings comfort and nostalgia to the film.
Films like THE SHADOW don't get made any more so do yourself the favour and track it down. Relive its delicious production design and feel the energy of Goldsmith's score. It holds up incredibly well and deserves a revisit.
The Shadow is available on Blu Ray & DVD through Umbrella Entertainment.
The first notable problem with ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is that the soundtrack fails to pop the way we have come to expect from a Tarantino film. Of course the soundtrack is very evident and it informs much of the story, however the songs don't feel as carefully selected or as thoughtfully placed. Perhaps this is a symptom of having only seen the film once (maybe a premature judgement on my part). The film is in every sense a reversion to his earlier work, calling upon strong pop cultural references to drive its narrative, which is certainly cut from the same cloth as Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, and where those films boasted an immediately arresting collection of songs, HOLLYWOOD isn't as hit-laden or ear-wiggy.
Other issues include an immodest amount of self-indulgence, unnecessary cameos and grading monologues. With its 1960's Hollywood setting, the scene is set for an eruption of Tarantino-gasms, and we wouldn't expect anything less, however he has indulged himself so much so that the average movie-goer will inevitably disengage from it's endless in-jokes, geeky film-speak and pop cultural intricacies. Suffice to say this is not as accessible as QT's previous work, but....
… it is definitely his BEST work since Jackie Brown. As a filmie with a decent grasp of film history and pop culture, I felt a kinship with the man and appreciated him speaking so deeply to a movie-lover like myself. I admit that I struggled at first. The first act is a slow burn and a meandering series of seemingly trivial encounters had me worried that he might not be able to push through his own hedonism. And then one important scene at the infamous Spahn Movie Ranch flips the story on its head and sends the film barrelling ahead at a million miles per hour, giving retrospective relevance to what had transpired previously.
Inspired by the real life partnership of Burt Reynolds and his stunt double Hal Needham (director of Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run) the film tells the story of Hollywood actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) who find themselves navigating second-rate television guest appearances and lead roles in foreign films. Work is drying up and Dalton's fame is on the decline when a snappy movie producer, Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) offers some sage words of advice and points him in the right direction. Dalton also happens to live next door to world-renowned director Roman Polanski and his actress wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbee) and when Booth's path coincidentally crosses with the Manson Family, the clock starts ticking down towards an inevitable climax on that most infamous night on Ceilo Drive.
This is a film jam-packed with surprises and I wouldn't dare reveal any of those tasty treats for you. What I will say is that Tarantino has captured the 1960's era with precision and filled his frame with absolute nostalgia. DiCaprio and Pitt both deliver what I will argue are the best performances of their respective careers, without any sense of rivalry or competitiveness. Each knows how good the other is and the camaraderie is strong. Robbie is a great addition to the cast as Sharon Tate, giving a mostly muted performance that relies on her character's sense of Hollywood wonderment. She gives a fabulous turn, with one particular scene in a movie-theatre (watching the real Sharon Tate on screen) serving as once of the films stand-out moments.
The cameos, while excessive, are generally good. Few of them grace the screen for longer than a minute but they all fit the bill nevertheless. Pacino does Pacino and Kurt Russell does Kurt Russell, while folks like Bruce Dern, Zoe Bell, Dekota Fanning, Luke Perry and Clifton Collins Jr contribute to a colossal ensemble of blink-and-you'll-miss-em players. Timothy Olyphant and Emile Hirsch are given slightly more screen time and it's great to see Hirsch back in the game following an unfortunate assault charge and subsequent blacklisting from Hollywood.
Some detractors have recently condemned Tarantino's supposed obsession with violence against women, to which needs addressing. I would argue that the number of men brutalised and killed throughout the course of his career far outweighs the number of women, and that those female characters he has subjected to extreme violence (The Bride in Kill Bill, Daisy Domergue in The Hateful 8 and the ladies of Death Proof... not to mention Alabama from True Romance) have turned said violence against their attackers. I would also argue that Tarantino writes strong female characters in his films and that his brand of filmmaking derives from an era of exploitation. We tend not to care when men are pulverised, mutilated and executed in QT's stories, and yet when women are hurt and then empowered it's outrageous and unacceptable. Give me a break! As for the specific violence against the women in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD... it's contextually satisfying and entirely justified. If you disagree then you need to reevaluate your own moral code. To go into specifics would be to ruin the fun and reveal too much...
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is a return to that urban sensibility that put Tarantino on the map. It is also ambitious and gratuitous and all things that make him a cult figure. Were it not for the aforementioned foibles earlier in this review I would be inclined to declare the film an instant classic. It comes damn near close to being a perfect film, and yet misses the mark thanks to self indulgence and a stronger than usual overriding sense of egotism.
This is writer/director Oliver Mann’s feature debut and he proves, right off the bat, that he can not only create a complex and harrowing story populated by emotionally complicated characters, but that he can handle the out-of-order storytelling style he’s opted for in a way that feels like so much more than just a present-day story with a series of flashbacks. The story of older David who escapes his father by moving from New York to LA to have a crack at professional stand-up and the story of younger David who witnesses the domestic violence the father brings down on his family are told in a way where they hold equal weight and continually collide creating the sparks that enliven the movie and provide us with a tale where one-plus-one equals more than two. Likewise, the secondary stories of David’s troubled girlfriend Marcella (Wilma Rivera) and Robert, the friend that tries to help him out only to get him deeper into trouble, provide a depth and texture to the overall narrative that account for an authenticity and grittiness that is, perhaps, surprising for a first feature.
Mann’s work as director is well supported by Sachi Bahra’s strong cinematography and a lilting, sometimes haunting score from Kelli Sae. Performances are strong all ’round with Trigueros a standout in the role of David who navigates his way through the perilous waters of this story and makes a pretty good fist of his comedy club routines. There’s a droll humour to David’s act that might not have them rolling in the aisles but serves the story well in terms of the reflective nature of his humour. As the father, Ashton is believable and frightening, more for the psychological side of his abuse than for the physical. Strang, as the fragile mother trying to hold things together in the face of impossible odds, finds just the right amount of pathos as she loses her grip on reality. And, then, of course, there’s Rivera, with a terrific performance as the damaged Marcella who finds the sweet spot between vulnerable and dangerous that David finds himself drawn to.
The idea that a stand-up comedian’s funny stuff comes from a place of pain and darkness might be a cliché, but Oliver Mann’s screenplay and his realisation of it onto the big screen is anything but cliched in its explorations of his central character’s struggled with the harder sides of life, and his escape through making other people laugh. The dream-like final sequence might not entirely work as a denouement to the complex story (there’s a bit of voice over that suggests a lack of confidence in the imagery to do the job) but it leaves us in no doubt that for all the hope in the world that might bring a story like this to a close, there is still no escaping the dark undercurrents that we bring along with us from the choices we make in our difficult lives.
Making Dave’s teenage self (Brenock O’Connor) the lead is one of the biggest reasons this film pulls off its breezy tone. O’Connor finds just the right balance for depicting Dave’s Bromley-centric worldview, ensuring he conveys the awkwardness of youth without verging into naivete. Rather, his arc is cast as a classic coming-of-age journey, as we watch Dave’s confidence and ability to express himself grow by making friends through the club. Considering most viewers will probably recognise O’Connor from his time on Game of Thrones, it’s a pleasant surprise to see him simply have fun and show his range.
While some of the supporting cast suffer from a lack of material, the few who are given ample opportunity to share scenes with O’Connor are just as entertaining. I was particularly impressed by Jamie Foreman as Bromley owner Charlie McQueen, a character who initially comes across as a one-dimensional villain with no regard for Dave and other fans. McQueen’s perspective is ultimately revealed in the third act, but he’s a welcome presence long before then thanks to Foreman’s exaggerated, flustered delivery and comedic timing. Savannah Baker shows a similar talent as McQueen’s daughter Ruby, though using her primarily for a forced romantic subplot felt like wasted potential. However, this pales in comparison to the underdeveloped roles given to Alan Davies and Martine McCutcheon, two demonstrably funny people, who play Dave’s parents yet are barely seen.
Meanwhile, the film’s 1960s setting is captured perfectly, with the production’s warm and nostalgic approach serving as an ideal complement for the script’s tone. British filmmakers always seem to nail the technical aspects of period pieces and THE BROMLEY BOYS is no exception. From obvious era-appropriate details like the club’s uniforms and equipment, to locations such as the McQueens’ house which are only seen briefly, there’s a sense that the designers look back on the decade with as much fondness as Dave himself. For instance, Dave’s bedroom is filled with Bromley memorabilia both official and handmade, quaint yet specific flourishes emblematic of how easy it is to immerse yourself and simply enjoy the film’s world.
Unfortunately, the film’s story is the only element where it disappoints, struggling to provide an interesting catalyst for the characters and jokes. This is hardly a golden rule for comedy, since there have been plenty of successful films where nothing substantial happens (see Clerks). Yet in the case of THE BROMLEY BOYS, the plot which ultimately emerges is contrived and wafer-thin. Essentially, Dave finds evidence suggesting the club’s best player is being transferred, only for the rumour he inadvertently starts to snowball in unbelievable ways. Likewise, the quasi-twist used to raise the stakes in the third act requires a huge suspension of disbelief and makes Dave look recklessly inconsiderate.
Thankfully, the rest of the film makes such a strong impression that my issues with its story can be overlooked. THE BROMLEY BOYS is plain and simple fun, suitable for anyone who can relate to passionate fandom, or viewers who just want to switch off and laugh.
It’s Halloween and a bunch of people in Halloween costumes are milling around in a party mood at an old railway station with a few old steam trains lined up and ready to go. One of the trains is designated as the ‘Murder Mystery Train’ and out of the steam emerges a different group of characters in period costume all lined up and ready to enjoy a night of role-play and mystery solving... or so it seems. As they prepare to board there’s a strange moment between the group in period costumes and the group in Halloween costumes. But what does it mean? You’ll have to wait for the end of the film to find out.
In the meantime, enter The Host (Frank Lammers) a larger than life character in top hat and mourning coat who chews up the scenery as he welcomes the guests aboard and introduces them one by one with a vaguely threatening overtone revealing truths and secrets about each in turn. Most of our key characters, it seems, don’t really want to be here. Evelyn (Carter Scott) is only here because her friend is one of the actors in the ‘show’. Thomas (Everette Wallin) is only here because he promised his brother he’d come. Eugene (Logan Coffey) is representing his cosmetics company who provide the make-up for the actors. This is his fourteenth time on board and he’s pretty blasé about it. The only one who really wants to be here is young rich kid, Abigail (Shae Smolik) whose parents have sent her along with chaperone, Antonia (Leticia LaBelle) who is the most reluctant participant of all.
The Host has barely finished his introduction when the ‘murder’ takes place. But wait, something’s not right. Turns out it’s a real murder and then, before we know it, there’s a robbery taking place and then, before we’ve got our heads around that, the train takes a bend going too fast and comes off the rails, plunging into a deep river. Now our heroes are stranded in a slowly submerging carriage (looking like a scene from The Titanic) but when one of the show’s characters, Marcus (Daniel O’Reilly) tries to swim to shore, he’s pulled under (like a scene out of Jaws) by some weird looking monster that’s a cross between the double-jawed Alien, the Demogorgon (from Stranger Things) and the Creature From the Black Lagoon. So now it’s a monster movie and our heroes are being picked off one by one.
In theory, there’s no reason why this rapid shift of genres and styles can’t work, and, to a certain extent, there are moments in this film when it works really well. But those moments don’t coalesce into a satisfying whole. Partly it’s a problem of tone. There are moments that feel like the campiness and heightened reality is intentional and that we should be finding this darkly comical if not, at times, hilarious. But there are other moments where it feels like it wants to be a horror film and that we should be on the edge of our seats. The upshot is that D-RAILED sits uncomfortably on the fence between both those possibilities leaving the audience (or, at least, me) feeling quite uncertain about what it is we’re watching.
What keeps it afloat (excuse the pun) are some strong performances, especially by Scott who carries the narrative and is quite compelling on screen. She somehow seems to navigate her way through the story giving us a sense that she knows what this is meant to be, even if we’re not one hundred percent sure. I can’t really talk about the film’s ending, other than to say that there’s quite a twist waiting for us in the final scenes that shifts gears yet again and attempts to provide an explanation for what we’ve been watching for the past eighty or so minutes. For me, the ending is a bit of a let down in terms of how it contextualises the overall story. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of fun to be had along the way if you’re willing to go with the flow and to view the story through something less than a critical eye.