2015 / Director. J.J. Abrams.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
The Force has well and truly awakened and within the blink of an eye, the blemish of George Lucas's widely ridiculed prequel trilogy has been appeased. With the legacy now in Disney's hands STAR WARS has bound back on to the screen and with Episode 7 comes a renewed energy and the nostalgia fans were praying for.
THE FORCE AWAKENS has been a long time coming and will, no doubt, become the biggest opening film in box office history. Fans of all ages have been clambering to cast their eyes on it with the anticipation of a whole new adventure. In fact the world is so caught up in the hysteria right now that reviewing the film seems pointless. STAR WARS transcends professional criticism and rests its fate in the hands of the fans. Their verdict is the only one that matters.
If the midnight screening I attended is any indication then case dismissed. There is no cause for concern here. Director J.J. Abrams has taken the monumental task of reviving the series in his stride and, in turn, delivered a truly stunning film that taps into the original trilogy and recaptures the atmosphere and aesthetic that made those first three films so special.
What stands out above all else is the wealth of practical effects that compliment the digital design and ultimately outclass it. Gone are those outrageously flawed CGI production designs from Lucas's ill-fated prequel saga and back are the intricately detailed environments. From character designs to otherworldly landscapes, and the machinery that binds them, THE FORCE AWAKENS is a demonstration of skill and a respect for the artistry that paved the way some three decades earlier.
From the opening title shot to the reintroduction of beloved characters, this new chapter is packed with nostalgic moments that will evoke eruptions of cheers from its audience and melt the hearts of nerds everywhere (fanboys/girls is the PC term). Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher step back into their roles as though RETURN OF THE JEDI were yesterday. They are, albeit, aged by the ravages of time and much wiser. With several other endearing characters also returning, THE FORCE AWAKENS insistently reminds us that this is a brand new adventure and with the familiarity comes a fresh array of new characters, creatures and droids.
By attending the midnight screening I felt like a big kid at Christmas (er, that's exactly what I am) and I was overcome with that hyped up elation that non-STAR WARS fans can never understand. This thing goes beyond just being a movie. This is a culture, and when packed into a theatre full of likeminded people, it becomes a community. As if figuratively connected by The Force we all united for the one common purpose... to watch space ships go ballistic and laser guns “pew-pew” all over the screen.
STAR WARS EPISODE 7 – Next please!
2008 / Director. Charles Martin Smith.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Who would have thought it would be an American filmmaker to tell a significant and culturally important story about Scotland's heritage, let alone the director of AIR BUD and DOLPHIN TALE. That man would be Charles Martin Smith, who you would also recognise as a respected actor (NEVER CRY WOLF, THE UNTOUCHABLES) and the film is STONE OF DESTINY.
It depicts the true story of four young Scottish nationalists who stage a brazen heist and steal the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey in London in 1950. The stone was stolen by King Edward I in 1296 and placed beneath a throne at Westminster. Its resting place was a point of contention for centuries with the Scots believing it to be a symbol of their freedom from the British. The story takes place at a time when Scotland was still referred to as North Britain and relations with England were on a knife's edge. Community sentiment was at a breaking point and so when one young anarchist conceived a plan to take it back he enlisted the help of three others as well as support from a high profile nationalist politician.
The first thing that struck me was how well the 1950's era was represented. The production design captures the drab pastel colour scheme that has become synonymous with good celtic cinema and the cinematography showcases the stunning landscapes that are sprawled between the two nations. The production boasts impressive locations with certain scenes suggesting that a lot of influence was relied on to shut down areas of London, so that the period could be captured without any modern details creeping in. Charles Martin Smith demonstrates his clear aptitude for directing, which ought to have been obvious to people who saw beyond the family-friendly nature of his previous films and gave credence to their structural and technical merits. If you were to watch STONE OF DESTINY without knowledge of his nationality you would swear that the film was made by a proud Scot.
The cast includes Robert Carlyle, Kate Mara, Billy Boyd and Brenda Fricker (amongst others), all of which give solid turns. Kate Mara, an American actress, had an impressive grasp of the Scottish accent and plays alongside actual Scots with ease. Another interesting point of casting is the legendary Christopher Lee who was cast as the aged narrator, bookending the film with his reflections of the story. His scenes were ultimately dropped from the final cut and Lee ultimately plays no part in the film. This says a lot about Martin Smith as a director. To loose such a significant player from the project, despite him being a big drawcard, for the sake of cohesion, testifies to the purity and dedication of the story and Martin Smith's commitment.
STONE OF DESTINY is an exciting and patriotic drama that puts Scotland's pride on show, and while it does exploit a lot of tropes, it avoids becoming overly melodramatic or contrived. I also like that it plays in a family-friendly manner. It could have been a much more mature feature, but resisted the urge and ultimately presents an important story that will enlighten the younger generation.
It's a thrilling film. It's an amusing film. And it's a good looking film.... and it's hard to argue with that.
2014 / Director. Samantha Lang.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
THE KILLING FIELD has stretched my ability to suspend disbelief to its limits. Here is a film that attempts to be Australia's answer to TRUE DETECTIVE and yet despite all attempts at realism it's strung together with so many absurdities that it ends up being a frustrating trial of the audience's tolerance.
The film follows a team of city homicide detectives stuck in a small rural community, racing against the clock to catch a suspected serial killer. With five shallow graves side by side with decomposed bodies spanning multiple timelines and the disappearance of a local girl, they collect a short list of suspects and pick away at the details to identify the killer before the missing girl dies.
Upon appearance THE KILLING FIELD is a solid film. It looks fantastic with strong cinematography and an effective small town production. The depiction of small-town mentality is captured really well and will ring true to anyone who's been fortunate (or unfortunate) to have lived in one. The cast is great with Rebecca Gibney and Peter O'Brien leading the charge and the story itself is well conceived with the makings of a great thriller.
Unfortunately a strong story is redundant without a good script, and the script for this film is awful. There's nothing wrong with the dialogue, however, the procedural details and conduct of the seasoned detectives is incomprehensible and defies belief. At almost every step in their investigation they abandon common sense and break, what I would consider to be, basic fundamental rules of the job. They openly discuss the crime in-front of bystanders, including several of the suspects themselves. They break new leads to each other at the pub at the top of their voice and they accuse a suspect (without arrest) in front of an angry mob of locals. These are serious breaks from reality that are both unnecessary and detrimental to the quality of the film.
I really wanted to like this one, but it lost me to it's incompetence. The good news is that the film spawned a 6-episode spin-off series, WINTER, which follows Gibney's character as she works on a new case. With a longer format I am hoping that it provides more intricate narrative with more attention to detail.
2015 / Director. Frank Coraci.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Let's face it. We all knew that THE RIDICULOUS 6 was going to suck. The only question was just HOW MUCH it was going to suck. The answer to that is; not at much as I had anticipated. It is the first of a four-picture deal that Adam Sandler has with Netflix and it has been released in a timely fashion to pre-empt Tarantino's upcoming THE HATEFUL EIGHT.
Set in the wild west at a time when the likes of Wyatt Earp roamed the land, THE RIDICULOUS 6 are a band of brothers who unite to save their long-lost father (Nick Nolte) who has been kidnapped by bandits. The 6 brothers embark on a robbery spree, stealing money from bad guys, to secure the release of their old man. The brothers are comprised of Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, Terry Crews, Taylor Lautner, Luke Wilson and Jorge Garcia, and their exploits see them entangled in a series of escapades that range from the hilarious to the pitiful.
The first thing that struck me was the production design. A lot of detail has been put into re-creating a classic wild-west atmosphere and there's no doubt that it's a good looking film. The cinematography is INSANELY good and much too sophisticated to a film of this sort. The guy behind the camera is non-other than the legendary Dean Semler, whose work includes: MAD MAX 2, MALEFICENT, RAZORBACK, LAST ACTION HERO, WATERWORLD, APOCALYPTO and DEAD CALM (amongst so many more). He makes THE RIDICULOUS 6 look like THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.
The second thing that struck me was how awful the script was. The opening scene sets things off to a very bad start and immediately instils that sense of apprehension. It is a contrived and humourless scene that instantly plays for cheap laughs. It's poorly written, poorly directed and falls flat on its arse. Fortunately the movie begins to build some momentum and turns itself into a passable comedy with enough going for it to hold your attention until the end (well, mine anyway).
The ensemble of support players is incredible and such a brilliant showcase of talent makes THE RIDICULOUS 6 worth watching for them alone. They include: Harvey Keitel, Danny Trejo, Steve Zahn, David Spade, Steve Buscemi, Will Forte, Jon Lovitz, John Tuturro, Nick Swardson, Blake Shelton and a micro appearance from Norm MacDonald. The credit roll also listed Dan Aykroyd amongst them, but I failed to spot him... OH and it would be remiss of me to forget Vanilla Ice, in a performance that just about steals the show.
To be honest with you, there's a hell of a lot to cringe about in THE RIDICULOUS 6, however there's plenty to laugh about too. Whether it's a camp-fire sing-along that feels like a vague homage to THE THREE AMIGOS, or a daft execution (hanging) scene... and perhaps an amazing piano solo from Terry Crews. When the jokes work, they really hit the spot. John Tuturro's appearance is actually one of the funniest things I've seen in a while and his performance, and complete comprehension of the comedy, is sublime.
The production of the film caused a stir when it was reported that Native-American actors walked off the set due to the depiction of their culture, and while this incident is true, it was also grossly exaggerated by the media. The fact is that more indigenous people stayed on and embraced the satire than those who didn't. And so heed no attention to that bloated rumour. THE RIDICULOUS 6 is ridiculous by name and it's ridiculous by nature. Sure the natives were lampooned (She Who Wears No Bra) but so was everyone and everything depicted in the film. It's a send up of the classic westerns of old and it plays for the cliches, conventions and tropes.
And so lets sit back and watch the flood of criticism and hate flow forth. I'm sure that IMDb, social media and message board are about to be pummelled with hate. Such is the fate of any Adam Sandler movie... but Adam can rest easy knowing that he's more talented than most of his naysayers, he's smarter and a fuck-load richer. You can be better than those peeps. Take THE RIDICULOUS 6 with a grain of salt. Accept that it's a shit movie and then loosen up and enjoy it for what it is.
2015 / Directors. Anouk Whissell, François Simard, Yoann-Karl Whissell
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
TURBO KID is a film made by kids of the 80s for kids of the 80s. I too am a kid from the 80s, which makes me an adult who loves everything about my youth. Sure, I might now be in my mid 30s but the inner child in me is alive and well. So to the kids of today, SCREW YOU! This is a movie for my generation... but if you're nice, we might let you watch it.
Set in a post-apocalyptic 1997 wasteland, it tells the story of a kid who roams the land alone. He survives by scavenging and bartering in a nearby nomad community and he lives in an underground bunker. When a girl comes along and makes herself his companion, they quickly finds themselves exposed to the villainous and sadistic leader of the wasteland. The girl is captured and the kid must pluck up the guts to rescue her and take on the pack of marauding henchmen. When he stumbles across a mysterious military-style wreckage he suddenly becomes the bearer of a super-power turbo-charged glove that obliterates anything or one within it's path. And what ensues is a highly charged sci-fi action adventure packed to the brim with ultra-violence, BMX bicycles and a shit-tonne of amazing practical FX.
The 1980's era of adventure cinema alive and well at the moment with a heap of exciting up-and coming young filmmakers. The nostalgia of that time is providing inspiration for a whole lot of young directors who are crafting all sorts of great throwback movies. Astron-6 have given us a stack of incredible treats like FATHER'S DAY and MANBORG, while other like-minded titles include KUNG FURY, SUPER-8 and now TURBO KID.
The project began as a short film called T IS FOR TURBO, which was contender for the first ABC'S OF DEATH film. With the short not making the final cut of the completed film the three directors (Francois Simard, Amouk Whissell and Yoren-Karl Whissell) went ahead and began to develop their concept into a feature film. With the assistance of funding bodies stretching as far as New Zealand, they managed to make a film that bursts onto the screen with an exuberance and joy that only a child of the 80s can truly appreciate to the fullest.
The production design is wonderful and draws its influence from the countless post-apocalyptic films of that decade. From the obvious (MAD MAX) to the obscure (SALUTE THE JUGGER) and everything in between. The characters and their costume designs are also derived from some of the weirder and eccentric movies and I would like to think that some of the inspiration was taken from the stunning creations of Albert Pyun during that time (RADIOACTIVE DREAMS, CYBORG). The cinematography, the score and the colour grading are all deliberately imitative and their effectiveness is unmistakable.
Most impressive of all is the abundance of practical special FX. It is a film oozing with splattered blood and gooey guts. Characters are killed in the most deliciously grotesque ways and the prosthetics are absolutely awesome. Heads are sliced in ways you could scarcely imagine, bodies parts are removed in barbaric fashion and entrails are extracted in a way that engineers would applaud. Suffice to say that TURBO KID is not for the squeamish, but it sure as hell IS for anyone looking for a bloody good time and a reason to rejoice. I am sure there are a few elements of CGI hidden amongst it all, but wherever they lie they are subtle and used strictly to compliment the real stuff.
The cast is comprised mostly of newcomers, with the two lead actors recognisable from Canadian television but new to most international audiences. They are both perfectly cast and share a great on screen chemistry. They're joined by Aaron Jeffery, an Aussie actor know for his Logie winning performance on McLeod's Daughters and he plays an outback anti-hero. He brings a rugged, international flavour to the wasteland landscape that helps bring the western-genre elements to the fore. And then there's Michael Ironside as the evil leader. Suddenly the guy looks a lot like Paul Sorvino and his aged and stocky appearance is honestly surprising at first. But who else plays a bad guy as well as him? He strides into the film with a blissful confidence that suggests he was having a ball. With a character and performance reminiscent of The Toe Cutter from MAD MAX and The Deacon from WATERWORLD (not 80s, I know) he preaches a merciless sermon with a take-no-prisoners attitude as he sadistically maims his detractors in cruel and uncompromising ways.
The best thing about TURBO KID is that it's a kids movie that kids can't watch. Its very aesthetic is one that tweens will gravitate towards, and yet the movie is so extreme in its violence that any respectable parent would forbid it. Of course when I was a kid I would have found away (fuck what mum & dad thought) BUT I would NEVER* suggest that kids of today find a sneaky way of watching it. That would be irresponsible**.
**AH FUCK IT!
1980 / Director. Lewis Jackson.
Review by Glenn Cochrane
Before the notorious Christmas horror film SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT drove parent-groups into a frenzy of moral outrage and spawned a slew of clone movies, there was CHRISTMAS EVIL, the 1980 slasher film that underwhelmed, raised very few eyebrows and fell into obscurity. It was too smart for teenage audiences with most of its energies focused on the character development, with a kill rate that was relatively low and very drawn out.
(Of course Bob Clarke's 1974 film BLACK CHRISTMAS came first and started the whole holiday-horror sub-genre. But its promotional drive was ambiguous and gave no reason for objection. And the 1972 TALES FROM THE CRYPT film gave us our first homicidal Santa Claus, however that was a sequence within an anthology and hit theatres without a single parental-twitch.)
Time has been kind to CHRISTMAS EVIL. This little gem of a film resonates more now than ever before. Having picked up a large cult following over the past thirty years the film presents a nightmarish psychological horror that tells the story of a mild-mannered man with a strong ethical and moral code. His childhood memories of Christmas are marred with traumatising visions of his mother and Santa Claus being... “a-hem”.... naughty... and he has grown up feeling obligated to carry out Santa's work. He adores Children and values good-will amongst man, but when it comes to those who are naughty, he keeps a very long list that he always checks twice. Slowly over the course of the festive season he slips into a state of psychosis and becomes a homicidal murderer with a neighbourhood lynch mob on his trail.
John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN (1979) made the slasher a bankable genre and the makers of CHRISTMAS EVIL capitalised on the “holiday” concept. They shifted the narrative to Christmas time and played down the violent gratuity in favour of exploring the character's obsession and descent into madness. Brandon Maggart's performance in the film is exceptional and his commitment is undeniable. There are moments that echo films like TAXI DRIVER and PSYCHO, and in retrospect he gave cinema one of its most undervalued, eccentric and affective killers. What makes the film so great is how endearing this lunatic is. His plight is entirely sympathetic and he grounds this horror film with a dramatic arc that most other similarly-themed movies lack.
The cinematography is great and the production design is surprisingly timeless. Somehow, whether intentional or not, they avoided most of the obvious references to the era and the film's aesthetic feels quite modern. Slow tracking shots of murdered bodies laid in the snow and tight close ups of knives in eyeballs bring the story to its final act, where the deliberately slow pace of the narrative culminates in a finale full of classic tropes and unexpected delights.
CHRISTMAS EVIL is finally enjoying the attention and praise that it always deserved, and when stacked up against the other killer Santa movies, it ought to sit proudly at the top of your Christmas viewing list.
For Australian audiences CHRISTMAS EVIL has been released on blu-ray this year through Glass Doll Films, who have put a lot of time and devotion into making it an item worth collecting. The 4K transfer of the film itself is stunning. It looks incredible. The case-art by local designer Matt O'Neill is absolutely gorgeous and its design is exclusive to this release. The special features include interviews with Lewis Jackson and Brandon Maggart, as well as two audio commentaries, one of which features John Waters (Pink Flamingos) who professes to be the film's "#1 Fan". His thoughts on the film are hilarious and his insistence of turning every reference into some kind of gay symbolism is hysterical. In addition to the digital content there is also an impressive booklet with an in depth exploration of the film and its influence, which also includes photos and alternative poster art from various territories.
2015 / Director. R.D. Braunstein.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
The I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE franchise was always gonna' be a tough watch. A rape-revenge film set in the lawless backwoods and backroads of America had a premise which was inherently controversial to the core. Regardless of its boundary-pushing content it always felt like a missed opportunity. Instead of exploring the depths of rape attacks and the psychological effects on the victim it instead focussed on simple bloody, violent retribution. Shock tactics and graphic violence with next to no point.
The idea that the 2010 gorenography remake was so successful it has spawned two sequels is a curiosity. The first instalment's necessity was questionable at best so by the time part three rolls around one can't help but wonder what new point of view the threequel may be presenting? -- The answer is nothing. There's nothing new here.
Sarah Butler returns to the part of Jennifer Hills and she is, understandably, still quite tormented by the beyond-brutal sexual assault she endured at the hands of a group of backwater hicks in the series' first instalment. She's changed her identity, moved cities and at the behest of her psychologist joined a support group where she begins to piece together a new life. But when her new friend's murderer goes free and she hears tales of a serial child rapist she mercilessly hunts down the men she believes to be responsible (with nary a shred of ACTUAL evidence) and does what she believes the system won't.
We'll leave it to your imagination to conjure the scenarios Jennifer gets involved in, then reassure you your imagination is only one-tenth of the brutality you'll watch unfold. Much like its two predecessors, ISOYG3 is a gruelling tidal wave of hatred with no balance and next to no redeeming features. It's viscous, acidic and vitriolic and when all its nonsense, hate-fuelled bullshit reasoning is said and done it is still, 35 years after its first incarnation, right-wing vigilante nonsense which loses potency with each new instalment.
The biggest issue, believe it or not, isn't the horrendous violence, but instead lies with the inept sexism the film(s) present. Every man in the feature's ninety minute running time is a predator, a sexual fiend, a rapist, a potential rapist, a violent offender, a pedophile or a psychological terrorist. If a man poses no threat to a woman then he is completely incompetent and ignorant (this character also happens to be a policeman... so it's a slant on the judicial system as well as the entire male gender). Another male is a victim by proxy and aligns himself with the vigilante violence and her abhorrent behaviour. There is only one genuinely nice guy in the film and he's treated like dirt every time he appears on screen.
On the other side of the spectrum, however, there are no ordinary women in the film either, and the ones that are present are all victims of men and their violent tendencies and when these women retaliate with grievous bodily harm on their male victims they laugh and giggle about it afterwards like innocent schoolgirls. Of course there is the point to be made that perhaps the film exists in a space of complete hyperbole to help drill a point home but we don't need to be hit in the face with a hammer to understand how to to use a nail.
See it if you hate all men and like watching them suffer but if you have a shred of understanding of the world give this one a wide berth.
2015 / Director. Jonathan Levine.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
With the incumbent release of festive films this year comes THE NIGHT BEFORE, a comedy that is essentially SUPERBAD meets IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogan reunite with their 50/50 director Jonathan Levine, with Anthony Mackie along for the ride, and they deliver an expected dose of puerility that plays for cheap laughs.
Levine's previous film was WARM BODIES and he was also responsible for THE WACKNESS and ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE, and so with the calibre of those titles (plus the aforementioned 50/50) it's fair to say that THE NIGHT BEFORE is an unexpected departure for a filmmaker of his calibre. But rather than criticise him for turning to such low-brow malarky, I would rather shake his hand and offer him kudos for stepping out and tempting something new.
THE NIGHT BEFORE is dumb... but it works. Rogen and Gordon-Levitt carry their rapport into the movie effectively and their relationship on-screen feels sincere, much like Rogen and James Franco's does in their numerous outings together. Their chemistry is legitimate and that makes the lunacy much easier to buy into. Anthony Mackie completes the circle and the bond that the three share gives the film an dramatic anchor that may have been hard to recognise had the characters been miscast.
They play three best friends who made a pact fourteen years ago, that they would spend every Christmas Eve together, getting wasted and letting loose. It was all for the sake of Levitt's character whose parents were killed in a car accident. With age and adult responsibilities becoming a reality, the three of them decide that it's time to move on and so this is to be the last Xmas bash they would ever have. Rogen spends the entire film pinging from an assortment of drugs, Mackie is desperate to find his major-league teammates so he can impress them and Levitt pines for his ex-girlfriend. Honestly? There's very little to the story and each scene is basically a new opportunity for gags. Some gags miss their mark, while others hit the spot. And when they hit... they hit with a bang. There are enough belly-laugh moments to keep this sucker floating and despite being ten to fifteen minutes too long, it holds itself together.
THE NIGHT BEFORE is crass, blasphemous and will probably offend some people... but it's got a lot of heart and spreads the festive message of peace, love and togetherness in a cheesy, yet emotive way. I wouldn't be surprised if it picks up a stronger following as the years roll by and I know that it's one I will return to every few years or so.
2015 / Director. Gregory Hatanaka.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
SAMURAI COP was among the wave of martial arts movies during the early-nineties and despite being one the worst of them all it had no pretensions. It revelled in its own awfulness and rightfully earned itself a loyal cult following over the twenty-four years that followed. It was a film that certainly didn't deserve a sequel and yet here we are...
SAMURAI COP 2: DEADLY VENGEANCE is the long-awaited follow-up that sees Matt Hannon & Mark Frazer reprising their roles and kicking ass as though their last exploits were only yesterday. The film is the result of a dedicated crow-funding campaign and the devotion of director Gregory Hatanaka. Fans owe him a lot of gratitude because the film is an outstanding combination of nostalgia, action, satire and self-awareness.
Frazer's detective character is still punching the clock and finds himself investigating a string of Yukuza assassinations. He tracks down his old partner, Harron, who has been off the grid for two decades and the two of them team up to take down a ruthless organisation of cliched samurai killers.
Honestly? The storyline is irrelevant. SAMURAI COP 2 is an intentionally contrived throwback film that recreates the aesthetic of the original with a full comprehension of what made that film so bad, as well as an understanding of precisely what fans loved about it. Having Hannon and Frazer reprise their roles solidifies the intended sarcasm and lends the movie a constant hilarity.
Harron and Frazer are fantastic. In a case of life imitating art Harron had fallen off the grid prior to the production. He had changed his name and left the industry and it was only when he was tracked down and discovered at the last minute that the script was re-written for his return. He steps back into the game as though he never left. He commands the screen and delivers a hysterical performance that makes it hard to imagine the original script without him. Frazer is great too. He had also stepped away from the camera many years ago and seeing the two of them kick ass again is so fucking good.
The script is smart and the production values are fantastic. It is a much more controlled and artistic film than the original with strong textures and well handled cinematography. In fact it couldn't have come at a better time with creatives such as Astron-6 already laying the way for this particular brand of self-referential nostalgia. Gregory Hatanaka has proven to be a savvy filmmaker with a clear vision and comprehension of the genre. His handling of the action and use of night serves as a clever contrast to the first film, which was shot entirely in daylight with underwhelming action sequences.
Enjoying SAMURAI COP 2 doesn't require your knowledge of the original, but I would stress that it cannot be truly appreciated without seeing it. This is a movie packed with throw-back references, as well as countless nuances that serve as a wink to the audience, and newcomers wont recognise the elements at the very heart of the film. Track down the original. Watch it and then enjoy this wonderful sequel that deserves an even bigger cult status!
2015 / Director. Tarsem Singh.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
Sometimes a film can have all the ingredients to make something special but ends up being undercooked, such is the case with SELF/LESS.
The recipe, on paper, is a winner. Take a visionary director and give him a genre that seems purpose-built for his aesthetic, throw in some thespian royalty, a dash of one of the hottest actors on the planet and then season it with a decent budget and it should have been fine dining for the mind, but instead it ends up a $15 Parma special at the local.
Ben 'I Was Ghandi Forchristsake' Kingsley plays cancer-riddled New York real estate mogul Damian. Knocking on death's door, he stumbles across the process of 'Shedding', a $250million procedure performed by a shady company that transfers your consciousness into a new, purpose built body essentially allowing the dying party to achieve immortality. Everything goes to pot, however, when process doesn't go according to plan and it turns that the tycoon's mind is now inhabiting a murder victim an not the latest top-of-the-line model body.
Lots of running and gunning and sweaty, panty exchanges in beautiful locations to uncover the truth follows. Sounds daft? It is, but at least it's pretty.
Once again director Tarsem Singh's eye for composition is the best draw-card the film has. Much like his debut, the Jennifer Lopez serial killer thriller THE CELL, his visuals trump just about every other aspect of the production. Set design, costume and cinematography all work together in a perfect synergy. His slick, gun-metal grey symmetrical, geometric frames dazzle and distract from a narrative that falls apart when you think about it for longer than a heartbeat.
When the film does eventually give up on the 'serious' sci-fi approach after about the first 30mins (even if it is almost a remake of Frankenheimer's Seconds) Ryan Reynolds spends the next 75 minutess in what feels like a retread of Bourne and Taken without the originality of Damon nor the xenophobia of Neeson. A host of unrealised deadly skill-sets kick in and he takes on all the trained killers in Louisiana.
Reynolds has proven he can handle this acting malarkey when he's got the right material but doesn't get much latitude to explore any great character depths but he does handle the physical stuff well. Kingsley's presence is perhaps the most inexplicable part of SELF/LESS (other than all those cooking metaphors at the beginning of this review), presumably rent was due that month, and Singh's usual, striking visual flair get stifled in lieu of gun-play and fisticuffs.
SELF/LESS isn't an embarrassment for anyone involved, just a misfire that will be forgotten about in a year or so, and that's a shame, because the seed of something good is here and it's completely untapped.
2007 / Director. Menno Meyjes.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
MARTIAN CHILD is far from a perfect film and the studio’s handling of the adaptation from its source material raises a lot of questions, but nevertheless it feels like a passion project for John Cusack, who has been known to dismiss his own work in the past.
Inspired by true events and based on a biographical novel, the film tells the story of a widower, David, who decides to adopt a traumatised child who has completely withdrawn from the world and lives in constant state of fantasy. He believes that he comes from Mars and that his mission is drawing to a close. When David exhausts all methods of reaching out to the boy he finds himself in a race against time to make a substantial connection before Child Services intervene and return the kid to the custody of the state.
We’ve seen these stories countless times before, and the whole concept is a tried and true formula, but where MARTIAN CHILD sets itself apart is in its depiction of the fantasy while balancing the drama. The boy’s disconnection is maintained throughout the film, which proves to be both frustrating and refreshing, and John Cusack’s commitment to his character makes it one of his best performances in years. He presents us with a fragile persona that is immediately sympathetic and he refrains from the indulgences of being too sappy.
MARTIAN CHILD has the appearance of a family film, but while it is definitely suitable for all ages, its appeal will favour the adults. I imagine that most kids will struggle with the dramatic arc of the story and there probably isn’t enough in it to keep them engaged.
The disappointing of the film’s adaptation, as I alluded to, lies within its depiction of the lead character. In the novel (and in reality) David’s character was a single gay man who adopted a boy. The fact that the studio chose to make him straight and went the extra mile to imply a love interest suggests an ingrained fear amongst the decision-makers. The story is powerful and to rewrite David’s sexuality seems like a missed opportunity to me. And if fear of dividing the audience was a factor then his sexuality could have just as easily been ambiguous without affecting the emotional tug of the story. It is concerning that an entire re-write of the character plus the addition of a female love-interest seemed necessary to them.
With that said, MARTIAN CHILD still has a lot of merit. It’s core themes of abandonment and dissociation are well-handled and John Cusack is exceptional. Joan Cusack offers her obligatory support nicely and Amanda Peet delivers her performance with subtly and sincerity… even if her character is that concerning deviation. Considering that this is a film that flew under the radar and garnered very little fan-fare, I would consider it an obscurity worthy of your consideration.
2015 / Director. Roel Reiné.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
Anybody familiar with Randy Orton's previous leading-man vehicle 12 ROUNDS: RELOADED will know that he has the acting capability of a wet sock. Assuming we are gluttons for punishment WWE Films have once again crowbarred the wrestling star into another one of their direct-to-video features, this time, a sequel to Scott Wiper's THE CONDEMNED (2007).
As far as DTV actioneers go, Wiper's original was, and remains, one of the best of the bunch; an action movie starring meatheads that, at the very least, went to great efforts to make you sympathise with its hulking lead-men and touched on (albeit well-tread) current social issues. Coupled with Wiper's astute understanding of the action genre, it was a sure-fire, visceral recipe for success.
For the follow-up, Wiper has stepped off and has been replaced by the insanely prolific Dutch helmer Roel Reiné. Teaming up with Orton again (after directing him in 12 ROUNDS 2) he has the wrestler starring as bounty hunter Will Tanner, an elite urban soldier on the run from all his killer-mates as part of The Condemned tournament, an online gambling syndicate in which criminals are forced to fight each other to the death as part of a game that's broadcast to the paying public over the web.
Reiné has directed more films this year than you have read books and he shot them all to boot. The man's busy. Real busy. There's no doubt he knows how to shoot a pretty picture. Whenever he gets behind the camera he delivers possibly the most handsome DTV flicks on the shelf. Crisp, clean and oh-so-pretty. He is not, however, an actors director. Performance and depth are just two pesky things in the way of the next smattering of fisticuffs, but even they suffer.
Like most of Reiné's output he could have used a heavier hand in the edit, particularly during his action sequences - which is saying something given the film's lean running time of 89 minutess. Fatigue sets in quickly during almost every cartoonishly violent encounter Tanner has, even if Reiné pulls all the obvious tricks to keep them interesting; changing the landscapes between encounters, changing combat styles, changing weapons. Yawn. Clunky choreography and ham-fisted dialogue that raises the occasional eyebrow with a pretty explosion or slick slo-mo.
Throw in an unexplained cameo from Wes Studi and an extended cameo from Eric Roberts (in his 36th feature film appearance for 2015 ... No bullshit) and you have a pretty, dull and uninspired outing from a studio that has produced better. Perhaps THE CONDEMNED 2 is worth a butchers if you're a WWE fan or a die-hard action junkie but anybody else would do well to stay away.
2015 / Director. Jesse Nelson.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Another page is torn from the calendar and so begins December, and with it comes the onslaught of Christmas viewing. My first festive film of the year is LOVE THE COOPERS, a new obligatory ensemble piece from I AM SAM director Jesse Nelson.
I went into this one blindly. With barely any pre-conceived expectations, aside from the fact that the cast was impressive and the poster was comical, I suspected a farcical comedy of errors but knew nothing of its story, production or reception...
Following a fairly patchy set-up that indicated it would lean towards the comedy, the film began to take a serious direction and as each of the characters was introduced it was clear that LOVE THE COOPERS had a lot more to offer. It follows the Coopers on Christmas Eve as the four generations of the family negotiate their way home for the holidays. With the help of a narrator (Steve Martin) we follow each of them individually as they each struggle with their own issues while putting on a facade for the sake of family unity. Several of them pick up the company of strangers along the way before arriving home and settling in to the unavoidable collision of personalities and expectations.
This one definitely took me off guard and it struck a chord more than it probably should have. The characters are likeable and their situations are relatable. Each of the players presents them with a subtly that avoids the excessive tropes of eccentricity and levity, and their individual plights are sincere and easy to associate with. Diane Keaton and John Goodman play the parents who are hiding their pending separation while desperate to enjoy one final Christmas together. Alan Arkin is the grandfather who has little time for bickering, while Olivier Wilde plays the spirited daughter with relationship issues. Ed Helms is the recently unemployed and divorced son who struggles to cope but can't reach out for help and Marisa Tomei is single aunty who can't figure out where her life went wrong. Throw in Amanda Seyfried, Alex Borstein, Jack Lacy & Anthony Mackie and you have the ingredients for a really nice film that never quite reaches the greatness it strives for.
It plays out with a similar structure to other well-regarded Christmas films like LOVE ACTUALLY and NOEL, and it may very well secure itself a position of holiday films that we hold in regard in years to come. The narrative uses affective fantasy sequences, which occupy fleeting moments of screen time and reflect the character's inner thoughts. Flashbacks to past memories and happier times are handled nicely and never send the film over that kitschy edge, and the various resolutions and confessions are thankfully restrained.
There are a few cheesy moments within the final act that are overly-sentimental and speak more to the American audience than they will the greater international one. But this IS an American film telling an American story and when it comes to Christmas films they love to pump 'em full of sentiment and good-will. I like that, and I think that it's charming... but there will be those who wont and they may need a strong whiskey to wash down the sugary sweetness.
LOVE THE COOPERS is a nice holiday film that offers more drama than comedy and resists the urge to wrap up character arcs in a nice little bow. It has an end scene that made me cringe but up until that point it won me over, pure and simple.