2015 / Director. Crystal Moselle.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
A chance meeting in Manhattan's Lower East Side between documentarian Crystal Moselle and the six brothers that make up The Wolfpack proved to be fruitful. Dressed rather strikingly in black suits and trench coats, with their long black hair and Ray Bans, Moselle commented that the Angulo siblings looked like the Reservoir Dogs.
She was right. In more ways than one - Raised by a hippy mother and an oppressive, over-bearing religious father, the Angulo siblings existed, for almost their entire life, in a four-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, hardly ever being exposed to the world outside their window.
Only having been granted freedom a handful of times in their entire lives the boys only real experience with real-life is through watching Hollywood films like Pulp Fiction, The Dark Knight and Reservoir Dogs, which they also remake in their apartment with themselves as cast and crew. There's joy to be had watching the brothers process in remaking their favorite films; from the pain-staking transcription of dialogue through to prop and costume design, the brothers revel in each step, taking everything very seriously, even the performances.
The documentary itself is as intimate as it is claustrophobic. For the first hour we are locked inside the apartment, the limiting space of high-rise life and the boys personas playing for the camera means when we finally step outside we feel some of the relief with the brothers. We can stretch, untwist and decompress. The boys themselves are remarkably well-adjusted given their odd upbringing. They prove to be articulate, brave and willing. One gets the feeling that a slight nudge this way or that and they very well could have been an apartment full of Mowgli's crawling the walls and completely feral. It's a credit to them, then, that they aren't. There's a deep bond that runs between them all and the picture grasps hold of that an highlights the closeness and the love they feel for each other.
While there's a love that flows between the boys, there is the matter of the father, Oscar, an oppressive presence in the film for the first half. He is rarely seen but always felt, his temper and struggle with alcohol hangs over the film like a toxic cloud. When he finally does appear and speaks he rambles and makes little sense and justifies his treatment of his children by saying he is trying to keep them free from the corruption and impurities of the outside world. Oh, the irony.
While it is compelling viewing (listening to one brother's recap of the day he just walked out is particularly moving) the film doesn't probe as deep as one might hope. Hints of abuse from the father are given but never explored, nor is the boys life post-departure from the apartment save for one of them, but THE WOLFPACK makes up for its flaws by serving the audience a story so macabre and bizarre it has to be seen to be believed.
1998 / Director. Antione Fuqua.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS is a feature film full of firsts.
1998 was the first time Antoine Fuqua had directed a feature film (three years later he'd get Denzel his Best Actor Oscar for TRAINING DAY). It was the first film that legendary house-hold-name-in-China Chow Yun Fat made a film on US soil, it was the first script former police officer Ken Sanzel had produced and it was the first time Oscar winner Mira Sorvino played an action hero.
Let's face it, there was plenty that could go wrong with THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS. As far as first films go, there have been a lot better - however there has also been far worse.
It's a stock-standard, paint-by-numbers plot to be sure. A chinese hitman, John Lee (a stoic, laconic Chow Yun Fat) owes a debt to Los Angeles triad boss Terence Wei, but when his conscience gets in the way of an execution, Wei has to send in Replacement Killers (geddit?) to take care of the problem Lee neglected and take Lee out too. In order to get out of the country, Lee approaches counterfeit artist Meg Coburn (a rather sassy Mira Sorvino) to forge his documents but inadvertently draws Meg into the fold.
Cue 80 minutes of pandemonium. The beats of the story really only serve as partitions to prevent action fatigue, propping up one chaotic set-piece for the next one to come in like a bulldozer being driven by a bull in a China-store. In fact the script doesn't really require more than the back of a matchbox to convey the poster-thin story (John Lee doesn't kill target at bosses behest, boss sends everyone to kill John Lee. Mira Sorvino is also there) but for all it lacks in story, character, depth and nuance, there's no denying THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS is a helluva lot of fun and has aged considerably well.
Fuqua's slick visuals retain their gloss as does Harry Gregson-William's score, echoing shades of an Asian influence while still driving home a thick, bass-heavy beat. Chow Yun Fat retains his famous Gary Cooper-esque cool, doing everything he can with very slight material and Mira Sorvino kicks ass as one of the best, unsung female action stars of the 90's (she don't need no man to kick someone's ass for her, she does it herself) one that gets treated like a man in the company of men. Which is refreshing. Furiosa eat your heart out.
It's plain to see THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS is trying it's darnedest to imitate the heroic bloodshed films it's so clearly influenced by (all the themes are here; revenge, honour, brotherhood, loyalty), and even if it's not entirely successful all the time, it has it's moments. Worth a revisit, even if it's just once. Y'know, for old time's sake.
2015 / Director. Richard Wolstencroft.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
THE SECOND COMING VOLUME 1 is a subversive film that does away with the straightforward narrative and offers the audience a genuinely surreal and eclectic marriage of ideas. It is a story about characters and their entanglements with the occult, and the film follows their exploits with a fragmented and episodic structure.
Director Richard Wolstencroft shot some of the film simultaneously with his previous feature-length documentary THE LAST DAYS OF JOE BLOW and used that project as a sort of stepping-stone to this new experimentation. JOE BLOW’s subject and star, Michael Tierney, re-teams with Wolstencroft as a man on a personal quest to evoke the second coming. We follow him and a handful of other characters as they flirt with mysticism and powers that they cannot entirely comprehend. We begin in a North American desert before being whisked away to Thailand, followed by Europe and Australia as the story hop-scotches its way around the globe.
Describing THE SECOND COMING VOL 1 is not easily done. It’s not a film that you simply watch, but rather, one that you experience. Blending a documentary style aesthetic with a deliberately disjointed narrative Wolstencroft presents a collage of concepts inspired by the work of W.B Yeats and leaves much of the story open to interpretation. Of course being the first volume of two, there is much more to come, and no doubt the individual stories will align and form a comprehensive vision.
The film plays almost like a marriage of ideas from the likes of David Lynch and Richard Stanley, and in fact, Stanley’s film THE SECRET GLORY was in the back of my mind the whole time. My own personal response to THE SECOND COMING VOL 1 was very similar to how I react to Stanley’s work. There’s a deep and dark beauty to what’s on the screen and the incendiary nature of the material is provocative. I walked away from it knowing that I was affected by it but I also needed time to process it. THE SECOND COMING VOL 1 is Richard Wolstencrofts best work to date as far as I'm concerned. With the montaged structure and philosophical expression he allows the audience to take from it what they will. It is a film open to interpretation and audiences will walk away from it in a whole manner of ways. Some will feel as I do while others may respond disagreeably. Nevertheless each and every viewer will have been assaulted by a confronting documentation of black magic, spiritual enlightenment, drug use and other extremities.
2015 / Director. Chris Columbus.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
The world had it in for PIXELS from the get go and the film never stood a chance. People were slamming it before it even opened in cinemas and minds were made up that it was one of the worst movies ever made. Fuck that and fuck those people (talk about audacity).
This is the latest Adam Sandler movie that also stars Kevin James, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad and Michelle Monaghan. When an alien race intercept a signal full of retro 1980's video games, they misinterpret it as a threat and launch a full scale assault on Earth, setting actual giant game characters upon major cities of the world. With the threat of global annihilation at stake, the government has no choice but to engage in some serious game-play and calls in three former world arcade champions and sets about playing the ultimate video game.
Okay, so I'm not going to be one of those cynical, wanky dickheads that tears this one to shreds simply because it's an Adam Sandler movie. I did the logical thing and approached it as, err, an ADAM SANDLER MOVIE! Fans of his are going to lap this one up and gamers ought to get a real kick out of it too. With giant pixelated characters like Pacman, Centipede, Galaga and Donkey Kong stomping their way through city streets the film acts as a showcase for some amazing digital effects and a comedy vehicle for most of the main players. A lot of the humour does falls flat on its face but a lot of it breaks through, too. Sandler goes for the nice-guy persona and proves to be a good, albeit unlikely, hero while Kevin James tones it down a notch and makes no attempt to steal the show or outdo the others. There are some amusing cameos scattered throughout and there's plenty of nostalgic throwbacks in almost every scene.
The best way to describe PIXELS is to mash together THE LEGO MOVIE, INDEPENDENCE DAY and GHOSTBUSTERS and needless to say, it's a hell of a lot of fun. Could it have been better? Yeah sure... could it have been worse? Absolutely! There is no pretension here and the demographic is abundantly clear. It's a family-friendly comedy adventure, pure and simple, and boasts a truly awe inspiring showcase of special effects. I generally opt for 2D over 3D but in this instance I would highly recommend seeing it in 3D. In fact all of the movie's impact would be lost without it.
Go into PIXELS with an open mind, low expectations and a willingness to have fun. Reset your perceptions and let your inner child out to play for a couple of hours.
2015 / Director. Camille Delamarre.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Out with Jason Statham and in with Ed Skrein. That’s like taking away a kids chocolate ice cream and handing him vanilla. It’s still a nice treat, but it’s not nearly as delicious. And that basically sums up TRANSPORTER REFUELED.
Without any direct references to the first three films, this new instalment continues the exploits of Frank Martin, a former special forces operative who now uses his skills as a transport driver. With the difference in age between Statham and Skrein it is uncertain as to whether this is supposed to be a sequel or a prequel, however it doesn't really matter either way. When Frank is asked to transport a woman and her two ‘packages’ he finds himself caught up in a dangerous plot of revenge against the leaders of several prostitution networks.
I am a sucker for almost anything that Luc Besson writes and produces (probably more than the films he directs) and I was a big fan of the first two TRANSPORTER movies. But I wasn't as enamoured with the third one and felt a disconnection from the original. This new reboot movie looks like the TRANSPORTER but it feels even farther removed than that third one.
With Ed Skein still a relatively unknown player in the film biz the only hint of star power in the movie lies with Ray Stevenson, who plays Frank’s father. Stevenson brings a heap of charisma to the screen, which is sorely needed to compensate for Skein’s stoic and uninspired performance. He is certainly no Statham when it comes to magnetism and, were it not for his aptitude with the action, TRANSPORTER REFUELLED would have easily qualified for a direct-to-video release.
And so yes, there’s the action. It’s well handled and easily makes up for a lot of the film’s shortcomings. The story moves at a break-neck pace and rarely slows down to catch its breath. The set-ups are well conceived and mostly creative, and they’re kinetic enough to hold the viewer’s attention. Where the film felt removed from the previous instalments is in its diversions. The action leaves the road and goes off on a bizarre 007 direction, where jet-skis and cliff-top combat heightens the absurdity. By the time the final act was wrapping things up, I was well and truly ready to go home. The film would have benefited from losing 10-15 minutes of its running time and could have done without the multiple endings.
TRANSPORTER REFUELED is the kick-start to a whole new Frank Martin trilogy and that’s where it struggles. It could have been an exciting stand-alone movie to launch an all-new action legacy. I suspect that falling back on a popular property like TRANSPORTER will be a challenge for a lot of fans… particularly Statham fans, and it may have earned more respect with its own identity.
This is a movie that was good fun but could have been great fun…. Vanilla VS Chocolate.
2015 / Director. Joel Edgerton.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
If Joel Edgerton has been trying to crack the American market for the past ten years then his latest film THE GIFT should do the trick. Following THE SQUARE, FELONY and THE ROVER, this new film is his fifth as a writer and marks his directorial début. This man is not to be underestimated because if it weren't enough that he could successfully tell intelligent stories, produce them and perform in them… now he’s directing the bloody things too. Outstanding.
Simon and Robyn Callum are a married couple who move to a new city searching for a fresh start following a rough patch at their previous home. While shopping in town they run in to an old friend of Simon’s, Gordo, who immediately latches on to them and becomes that unwelcome tag-along. Before long his uninvited visits become intrusions and a more sinister manipulation begins to unravel (that’s no spoiler by the way.)
THE GIFT is a belter of a film that had me on edge for most of its duration. It employs classic tropes of the genre and recalls the sort of films that Hitchcock crafted before the likes of DePalma and Haneke fine-tuned. To Edgerton’s credit he followed a tried & true formula and was never overly ambitious. With the strength of a very suspenseful story and three remarkable performances, he has created one of the most gripping films of the year, without a doubt.
All three of the leads are excellent with Edgerton giving one of the most chilling performances I've seen this year. The real stand-out, however, comes from Jason Bateman, who knocks this one out of the park. He is brilliant as the seemingly cool and collected husband whose tolerance for mind games is tested to its limits. His character is so meticulously written that lifting his persona from the page and onto the screen cannot have been an easy feat, and Bateman’s performance is one hell of a thing to watch.
If you recall the psychotic nutter characters from films like THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, FATAL ATTRACTION and PACIFIC HEIGHTS then you will have an immediate idea of what to expect from THE GIFT. It deserves to be in their company and with a deceiving and unpredictable storyline that sets it apart, it is a psychological thriller will be sure to rattle some of the most resilient viewers.
2015 / Director. F Gary Gray.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
John Singleton, once the furthest reaching social commentator (and the youngest, he won his Best Director Oscar at the tender age of 23) of the African-American communities in film, has, of late, been lacklustre to say the least. Seemingly gone is the Singleton that scorched our screens with BOYZ N THE HOOD and BABY BOY and here to stay is the gun-for-hire that's releasing ABDUCTION and 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS.
So with this once golden child fallen by the wayside, the mantle sits vacant. At one time, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON helmer F. Gary Gray seemed like he was the heir-apparent. At 26 he teamed up with Ice Cube and a then unknown Chris Tucker and delivered FRIDAY, a witty satire on the very films Singleton was producing at the time - a subversion of the zeitgeist that was wickedly paced and funny.
Backed up with the 'girls in the hood' action piece SET IT OFF followed by the Kevin Spacey/Sam Jackson powerhouse, THE NEGOTIATOR, Gray, like Singleton looked set to take over the world. Then he signed up for a host of studio films and followed the Singleton route of gun-for-hire before disappearing from view.
With STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON he returns to his roots - the grimy streets of LA, for this, his take on the rise-and-fall of hip-hop super group NWA. 1987 and hip-hop is on the rise. Sick of being harassed and unjustly persecuted, five friends channel their frustrations and anger into a rap group, N.W.A., and take on the law and society's prejudices of their culture head-on. Their song, 'Fuck The Police', becomes a rally-cry for a disenfranchised generation, but makes them unwitting political figures. The in-fighting, back-stabbing, fall-outs, reformations, disputes and trails that follow along the way make up the hefty 150 min running time.
It all sounds a little melodramatic, doesn't it? Ice Cube, however, has publicly declared the events herein to be true and accurate, which is a shame, because if he's telling the truth, that makes STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON two-and-a-half hours in the presence of violent, hypocritical, drug-dealing hip-hop artists who constantly claim to be the victims.
On a couple of occasions NWA are bailed up by the police, searched, questioned for doing little more than standing on a street-corner eating a sandwich - actions that would form the basis of their assault on modern America - being persecuted with no basis in law or humanity then the following scene has them talking about the dope they're slinging or has them thrusting assault rifles in dudes faces in hotel rooms...like criminals do.
Characters are lazily brought on to provide a little conflict when the script requires it and then are forgotten about when the scene finishes (Ice Cube's first partner and child...where did you go? Did Cube actually just abandon his child and his mother?), characters who claim to be full of heart and intellect stick around peers who humiliate and publicly shame strangers with pistols and violence.
The hypocrisy all becomes a little much.
The film verges on being a straight-up hip-hop classic. Matthew Libatiques camera seeks out all the grungy parts of early 90s LA, often shooting the members of NWA with bright lights blinding the screen with lens-flares - these guys, the shot says, were born to be stars - the soundtrack is, needless to say, amazing and, thanks to all the plot going on, the picture moves at a helluva pace and there is a legitimacy to the period. It feels like the 90s without becoming pastiche.
It's too bad the film becomes a visual retread of a wikipedia article. It's a blow-by-blow of the story we all know, in a film that sacrifices character depth and nuance for the sake of making sure ALL the plot gets in there (wait until you see the scene where NWA console Dr Dre after the passing of his brother ... it'll be a hard-call to top the rigidness and hilarity of the performances on show).
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON really could have used an early Singleton, Spike Lee or Gina Prince-bythewood to give a remarkable story some complexity, but as it is it's nothing you couldn't learn on a 40min TV special.
Not terrible, then, but nowhere near deserved of the hype.
2015 / Director. Ken Kwapis.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Naturist walk & talk films about self discovery are becoming commonplace in the modern cinema landscape. Films like INTO THE WILD, THE WAY and WILD have brought a most basic pilgrimage premise into the consciousness of audiences and have boasted an exhilarating window to the world around us. A WALK IN THE WOODS is the latest, based on a memoir by renowned travel writer Bill Bryson.
The film stars Robert Redford as Bryson. His globetrotting days are behind him and he finds himself stuck in a rut. The only work he ever does anymore is contributing forewords to other people’s books and when he is faced with his own mortality (and the realities of age) he acts upon a whim and decides to hike the Appalachian Trail. His wife hates the idea and pleads with him not to go. When she finally reneges, with the one condition that he doesn’t walk alone, Bryson is forced to call in an old acquaintance by the name of Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte). He’s an overweight and slobbish alcoholic whose life never amounted to much. Together they embark on one of the country’s most physically taxing hikes, spanning 2,200 miles.
I have to admit that I am a glutton for this type of film. I am an enthusiastic bush walker and I love exploring nature. And so with good cinematography and a captivating journey promoting the human spirit, I am sucked in very easily to a film like this. I have not read Bryson’s book but I am familiar with his writing and so it was a relief to see that his words translate to the screen very well.
The strength of A WALK IN THE WOODS lies within the two lead performances. Robert Redford and Nick Nolte are the unlikeliest of on-screen pairings and yet they click in a truly hilarious and moving way. Their contradictory lifestyles and polar-opposite personalities make for a very amusing adventure and each (as expected) has the power to motivate the other. They discuss everything from past exploits and experiences to regrets and ‘could-have-beens’. With a gorgeous wilderness environment surrounding them, director Ken Kwapis employs a controlled and breathtaking cinematography that brings the viewer as close to their reality as possible.
In true Bryson fashion, the story is dripping with humour. His character is always wise-cracking and the conversations are consistently amusing. There are times when they could have reined the comedy in ever so slightly to strengthen the drama, and the final act lacks the oomph that many viewers will want. But with that said, A WALK IN THE WOODS remains a fulfilling and endearing dramatic comedy with an inspiring voice. Seeing these two veteran actors pitted against nature makes it a very easy film to like.
I wonder what it is that is drawing audiences to these self-reflective wilderness films? Is it the fact that we’ve become a society dependant on the cyber world, with a reluctance to experience something in person when it can be swiped on a flat-screen? This concept is ever referenced in the film. And perhaps it’s our current state of climate change awareness that is compelling people to embrace nature while we’ve still got it? Hopefully films like this motive people to get out and explore. It’s a whole lot of fun.
2015 / Director. F Gary Gray.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I vividly remember listening to NWA's groundbreaking debut album 'Straight Outta Compton' when it was first released in 1988. I was at a family gathering and my aunty played 'Fuck The Police' to the room. I was nine-years-old and had no comprehension of album's significance or the weight it carried with it. Hell I don't think that the adults in the room even understood it. I can only assume that the notoriety of the album and the headlines it was generating is what compelled her to play it. That's an incredible thing when you think about it. A room full of white Aussies on the opposite side of the globe was responding to the waves generated over twelve thousand kilometres away. Being a kid I was besotted with the obscenity, and it lead the way to my early teen obsession with Public Enemy.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is the long awaited bio-pic chronicling the rise and fall of NWA and the mass hysteria they caused around the world. Starting on the violent streets of Compton the film follows Eazy-E for the most part as he pulls together his friends, forms the group and ignites a lyrical retaliation against the hood life and the corruption of police. With Dr Dre and Ice Cube as the group's creative muscle they become the first successful artist to emerge from the area and would change the face of rap forever.
This is a good film, but it is not a great one and it felt completely rudimental to me. I didn't learn anything new that I didn't already know and, in fact, I often felt like I was watching a live-action adaptation of Wikipedia. NWA's story is a great one and could have been explored with a lot more depth and a lot more detail. Instead it plays into its target audience's hands, which if the screening I attended was any indication, is made up predominantly of wannabe ganstas (my audience was more of the Houso/Wigga persuasion).
All of the film's shortcomings came down to the lacklustre script as far as I am concerned, because the overall direction is good and the casting is brilliant. The ensemble of talent they pooled is sensational. Every single player steps up to the plate and hammers it home. Ice Cube's real life son O'Sheah Jackson Jr is the spitting image of his father and plays the part effortlessly. Corey Hawkins as Dr Dre and Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E are also excellent and all three collectively give an electrifying turn, that does compensate for some of the uninspiring and diluted writing. Paul Giamatti, on the other hand. Geeze, I do love the guy but my patience is running very thin. His performance in STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is the least convincing of all and his hair-piece is unnecessarily distracting. He basically plays the exact same character from the Beach Boys biopic LOVE AND MERCY and dons an equally ridiculous wig.
With all that said, I still enjoyed the film. The accurate recreation of the late 80s and early 90s gave me a sense of nostalgia, which was strangely comforting. It also illustrated how far we've come and yet how little progress has been made in the racial divide. 'Fuck The Police' has never seemed more appropriate than it does right now with unarmed black men being murdered by police in staggering numbers. Perhaps the film will resonate more with younger viewers who don't already know the history and who only know Ice Cube from his movie credits. Come to think of it, that's precisely the case because during a moment in the film where Snoop Dogg is introduced, a young guy sitting behind me said “Snoop Dogg? Is that supposed to be Snoop Lion?” - Oh dear.
I would also like to make the observation that the gangsta rap figures were much better dressed in the 90s. The pants hitched up properly and their shirts were well fitted and ironed. They wore hats properly and kept their bling to a minimum. They rapped about real issues too (what happened to that aspect of rap?). Am I just a cynical ageing honky? Yeah that too.
2008 / Director. Jack Messitt.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
MIDNIGHT MOVIE is a supernatural slasher film that throws back to a simpler time in the genre, and despite knocking on the door of torture-porn it isn’t excessive and it has a real classic feel to it.
The movie takes place inside a run down cinema during a rare midnight screening of a notorious horror film from the 70s. The film in question has only ever been exhibited once before, during which time a massacre took place. With only a handful of people in attendance the film plays and comes to life in a brutal and ludicrous way. The killer is able to leap off the screen and into the real world whenever he senses fear and he drags the victims back into his celluloid world.
This is a dumb movie and there’s no doubt about that, but it works rather well nonetheless. The confines of the cinema setting keep the story contained and it moves along as a breakneck pace. Shot inside a real cinema that hasn’t seen a handyman’s touch in 40 years, the whole atmosphere feels nostalgic and familiar. The killer is also a fantastic creation and has the qualities of a franchised boogieman.
MIDNIGHT MOVIE has many shortcomings and cannot hide from it’s own ridiculous nature. It was shot on a small budget and perhaps with a larger production, the supernatural elements would bare more weight. It was made with a clear love for horror and the violence is handled well. The kills are good, although restrained. There’s a real sense that interfering editorial fingers had too much control in order to receive a respectable theatrical cut. Thankfully there is a director’s cut available on DVD, which I look forward to checking out.
This is a movie that recalls classics like POPCORN and DEMONI, and it pays a less-than-subtle homage to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. It’s a lot of fun for people willing to be generous with it and ought to satisfy those with a penchant for outrageous budget horror.