Now, in the final days of 2017 his latest, Netflix’s first bona fide blockbuster original film, BRIGHT has launched. With teaser trailers peppering the internet and social media platforms 6-months in advance, Netflix are putting everything they have behind the project. As well they should. Netflix wont release the numbers to their films but the estimates are that BRIGHT has a price-tag of $90-million. Considerable, to say the least, especially when the film will never see the inside of a multiplex.
Lord knows Ayer needs something to drag him out of the quagmire that Suicide Squad put him in, and Will Smith, once golden child of Hollywood, hasn’t had a decent hit in an age.
So along comes Max Landis’ script, a genre mash-up of tough, street-smart LA cops and the mythical, fantastic beasts they live side-by-side with. That’s right, Orcs, fairies and Goblins now live out in the open, holding down regular jobs, shopping, paying taxes and breaking laws. In comes Will Smith as LA boy-in-blue Daryl Ward, a no-nonsense cop who has been assigned a new partner, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton) who also happens to be the first Orc on the LAPD.
With such a diverse melting-pot of races and cultures, tensions begin to rise. During their regular day-to-day they stumble across an ancient prophecy about a magic wand which, should it fall into the hands of a ‘bright’ will release the Dark Lord.
The catch is that the wand and the prophecy serve as McGuffins, giving the framework for the exploration of this world's complex social structure and the responsibilities each race has therein. Elves - the elite - sit right at the top. Teflon and untouchable. Humans come just below, utilitarian and the masses, then below them the Orc race, the street level gangsters and societies punch-bags.
Max Landis’ script (for which Netflix gave him $3.5million) has his fingerprints all over it. The wunderkind has a voice so unique it’s easy to feel it’s a Landis story. It’s a mix of the fantastical and the whimsical. Of violence and love. It’s a lesson on tolerance and acceptance, of assimilation and individualism and, unlike most mega-budget flicks these days, those themes are clear and concise and present. Although lets having said that, the concepts explored are not unlike the 1988 film Alien Nation.
Landis’ script isn’t the only drawcard for BRIGHT though. Much like Ayer’s previous, END OF WATCH, a great deal of BRIGHT’s success is as a result of the charm and chemistry of the Smith/Edgerton partnership. There’s an ease and familiarity between them that serves as an easy portal for the viewer to step over the threshold into this new world.
Edgerton in particular, as the vulnerable Orc, is fantastic. A victim of casual racism and bigotry even though his heart is always in the right place. Smith does his usual Smith schtick; too cool for school with a wise-crack for everything.
BRIGHT isn’t going to be for everyone but in a world where tent-pole blockbusters are dumbed down and homogenised to play it safe, BRIGHT is the kind of tentpole we need. It’s brave and exciting, it looks amazing and it's rewatchable. We don't need less risks. We need more risks.
Over the last 2-years he has had no less than 3 films drop, ranging from an obscure $4-million straight-to-dvd outing starring Kevin Bacon (The Darkness) to this quiet Screen Australia, Daniel Radcliffe survivalist endeavour (and the largely ignored THE BELKO EXPERIMENT in between) with none of them coming close to matching Wolf Creek's popularity or impact.
In JUNGLE, Radcliffe leads a pack of adventure-seeking travelers in the early 80s who mount an expedition into the heart of the Bolivian jungle with an Austrian geologist, Karl (Thomas Kretcmann) who promises the 3-man crew the glory of lost tribes and a fortune in Incan gold.
Along the way the trio (rounded out by Alex Russell and Joel Jackson) discover their arrogant traveller attitudes and adventure-seeking ways don’t amount to much and Mother Nature can be a complete bitch as the Bolivian jungle kicks their arses up and down the river until they look like roadkill.
It isn’t long before group in-fighting, starvation, river-rapids and jaguar attacks yank the group dynamic hither and thither, testing each weary traveler’s resolve and mental stability as they trek deeper into the bush in order to find humanity before Radcliffe’s Ginsberg is separated and tasked with navigating the dense jungle on his lonesome.
A solid drama should have 3 worlds of conflict; man vs. man, man vs. nature and man vs. self, and Ginsberg’s true story manages to tick all the boxes. That’s probably why his memoir of the events has sold a million copies.
Radcliffe does well as the wide-eyed traveller, forced to face his own failings and hubris while mustering the courage to keep going no matter what gets thrown at him as well as deal with the inadequacies of his bizarre tour leader (made all the more bizarre by a curious post-script just before the final credits) and co-travelers.
As his part-time co-travelers Russell and Jackson are likable and vulnerable in equal measure. Flawed and conflicted but never given much to do except play stereotypes before they vanish from the film leaving the heavy lifting to a solo Radcliffe.
The biggest problem JUNGLE faces isn’t the fire-ants or the quicksand, but McLean himself. The extreme situation Ginsberg finds himself in is never matched by McLean’s grip on the situation. His direction feels a little too loose on what is the most challenging scenario a person can find themselves in. The gaps between the most horrific events (hello parasitic head-worm) and the moments of crushing self reflection are too drawn out to make us feel as panicked as we ought to. Indeed, it’s almost an hour into the film before the drama really starts to unfold. From then it’s a hurtling cascade of beasties and creepy-crawlies and narrowly-missed rescue attempts. At 115-minutes one can’t help but feel JUNGLE would have been better served if McLean trimmed off 15-minutes. As a result the tension is never given a chance to develop, let-alone maintain, and the whole thing lacks the gut-punch it deserves.
With the Queensland bush doubling for Bolivia, cinematographer Stefan Duscio has a great time lensing some of the thickest jungle put on screen since Arnie took on the Predator. Few times in recent memory has a jungle felt this authentic and real, even when it’s just a collection of cliches.
However, in the end, as authentic as it feels, JUNGLE is too limp and loose to leave any real impact. Were it not for Radcliffe’s workman-like turn and the spectacular setting it would have been washed away and left to die somewhere.
Some of these films have fared better than others; ILL MANORS, SHIFTY and THE FOOTBALL FACTORY are ranked in the upper echelons, as well as Menhaj Huda's 2006 film KIDULTHOOD, a neo-realist take on the lives of west London 15 year olds over the course of one day. Penned by Noel Clarke, it was successful enough to warrant a sequel, ADULTHOOD in 2008, this time written and directed by Clarke himself, a continuation of the lives of the first films characters while they try and make amends for their past transgressions.
So now, 9 years later, comes the final instalment of the 'HOOD' trilogy, BROTHERHOOD, penned and directed by Clarke once again, following his creation Sam as he moves into handling the responsibilities and pressures that come with moving on from a troublesome past while trying to protect and provide for his young family.
When Sam's brother, an up-and-coming soul singer in London is shot, it drags Sam back into the life he's tried so hard to evolve from. Trouble is, the streets have also evolved since Sam's time; new faces, new lingo, new antagonists. Now Sam has to dig deep to find his dark core and find out who tried to have his brother killed.
One of the most appealing things about The Hood trilogy is the fact we have grown up with the characters over the last dozen years. Almost in real time, no less, we watch Sam grow as he navigates one tragedy after another. While KIDULTHOOD and ADULTHOOD were grim expeditions into London youth's problems, BROTHERHOOD balances a razor edge of grim drama and black comedy and it doesn't always come off well.
Antagonists Daley and Uncle Curtis (the latter returning from the first instalment) are either caricatures or misjudged, cracking wise and undermining a good deal of solid drama efforts by Clarke and crew or, in Curtis' case, feeling like they've stumbled in from another film entirely. That being said this is Clarke's show and the familiar territory doesn't pose too much of a challenge for him. They've always been good, solid films without ever dipping their toes into greatness.
As writer, director and star, he juggles his duties with confidence, never allowing that confidence to get the better of him, nor letting the 'bigger, badder, better' sequel-trap get the better of him.
It's a shame that this is the final instalment of the series. Whenever a new chapter lands it's like catching up with old friends and hoping they've grown up a bit and evolved. It's nice to see them learning lessons the hard way, even if sometimes it becomes a bit fanciful. Here's hoping Clarke's next film as writer-director ups the ante, taking the lessons he's learned from The Hood and making something truly great.
BROTHERHOOD IS RELEASED ON DVD ON 20/12/2017
THROUGH EAGLE ENTERTAINMENT.
BRICK, Rian Johnson’s feature length debut as writer and director, is brazenly old-fashioned in its storytelling, but first garnered my interest by exploring noir in the unfamiliar setting of a typical American high school.
Student and would-be gumshoe Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) regularly spouts the cynical, dense dialogue you might expect from a grizzled P.I. played by Humphrey Bogart. Brendan is a walking contradiction and fascinating to watch, at times seeming to willingly cast himself as an outsider, while later using his connections with peers to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend (Emilie de Ravin). Likewise, at first Gordon-Levitt appears weedy behind a mop of hair, glasses, and oversized shirts, but Brendan is surprisingly capable in a fight. Literally and figuratively, the kid is a mess. We glean that his confused emotional state is likely due to the relatively fresh breakup, yet Johnson subverts expectations by not using this hardship to parody the troubled pasts that haunted the hard-boiled antiheroes of Dashiell Hammett novels. Rather, Brendan’s pain is treated as legitimate and informs his desire to pursue the truth regardless of the consequences, earnestly channelling touchstones like Sam Spade. Further uses of noir conventions, from the femme fatale to the double-cross, build on this parallel and present an astute observation; that is, teenagers treat every situation with a healthy dose of melodrama.
Brendan’s complex characterisation exemplifies BRICK’s obsession with style and tone; even if you haven’t necessarily followed the plot in every scene, the attention to detail in Johnson’s evocations of old-school noir makes it easy to understand his intentions. The film is brimming with curiosity, from its quirky score, to bare locations that beg viewers to speculatively fill in details. Indeed, the opening minutes alone feel littered with places and names that you should recognise, and propel a desire to uncover secrets and context. As a result, it can perhaps be expected that the specific plot developments are less of a priority, given that their familiarity allows so much exploration of how to convey genre. Anyone who prefers stories with constant and fresh surprises might struggle at first, but Johnson’s script ultimately succeeds at providing just enough information while leaving room for interpretation.
BRICK is above all a film about how it feels to solve a mystery, and its ambitions are impressively well realised despite its miniscule budget. It’s easy to see how the premise could’ve led to a parody, or twist on a high school movie, but thankfully the film resists employing what would arguably be easier methods of forming a distinct identity. By instead delivering an affectionate homage to noir films twice his age, Johnson demonstrates that familiar ideas can be given a renewed purpose and impact with a few simple changes to their presentation. As an exercise in style and genre, and an important breakthrough in the career of a brilliant 21 st century filmmaker, it’s undeniably worth revisiting.
In expected Florentine fashion, the fisticuffs are where the film comes alive, although to his credit, the heart-swelling moments don't fare too badly either, thanks to ageing star, Banderas - even if they’re not that heart-swelly.
But, we don’t watch Florentine’s film for the way they pull our heart-strings. It’s a fact that nobody shoots hand-to-hand combat like the Israeli helmer, particularly in the DTV realm, and it’s the bone-crunching, teeth-gnashing, dizzying displays of combat that set his films apart.
Fight choreographer Tim Man (Ong Bak 2 and Ninja: Shadow of The Tear) gets the most out of the films star, Banderas, who is more than holding his own in a realm dominated by the martial arts pros like Scott Adkins and Michael Jai White. In fact, the Latin heart-throb looks like a seasoned veteran, moving with an unbelievable amount of fluidity and confidence in an arena he’s never stepped in to before. He’s convincing, to say the least, and Florentine’s style leaves no room for wannabes or body doubles (step aside, Seagal) so when Banderas looks at the lens after a flurry of movement and action and it’s actually him, you can’t help but want to pat him on the back.
When the story's culprit is finally realised it is, in an unexpected twist, justified behaviour. The best bad guys are always doing it for the right reasons; they never think they are evil, but too often lazy scribes let banality and the route of less resistance take its course and deliver one-dimensional baddies, rubbing their hands with glee in the shadows. ACTS OF VENGEANCE, thanks to Matt Venne’s tight, if unremarkable and surprise-free, script, gives its culprit an extra, appreciated layer.
As good as anything Florentine has done and a little more refined around the edges, ACTS OF VIOLENCE continues his upward trajectory, further cementing him as, arguably, the best action director in the DTV world right now.
Fun without being essential, by any stretch.
Following an obnoxiously simplistic set-up with some of the most laughably wooden dialogue this year, 47... follows two sisters (Mandy Moore and Claire Holt) on a bonding vaykay to Mexico. While there they embark on an illegal cage-dive expedition, run off the books by some sketchy locals brothers, where, during the dive with 25-foot great white sharks, their safety cable malfunctions, leaving the sisters at the bottom of the ocean trapped in a cage.
Simple set-up. If only the characters were as strong as the scenario.
You’ll get nothing from the atom-thin characters, Claire Holt, particularly, getting the shortest end of the development stick. Moore, on the other hand, has a little more something to hold on to as the scaredy-cat sister learning to test her mettle in the most extreme of extreme situations.
Thankfully 47 METERS DOWN's script is so high-concept the scenario does most of the lifting, propping up some horrendously bad dialogue, loud montages backed by this summers biggest hits and cash-in appearances (*ahem* Matthew Modine).
This is Roberts' show, however, as both writer and director, he’s much more comfortable with his actors under the ocean than on top. Never falling prey to showing the monsters too often, and, when he does, keeping them very much on this side of plausible, his grip on the rhythm of tension is admirable, using the murky deep-sea waters to hide the predators like a pro.
47 METERS DOWN ends up being a satisfying 85-minute diversion. More fanciful than OPEN WATER but more grounded than THE SHALLOWS it’s popcorn entertainment, pure and simple, and none the worse for it.
In 13 SINS (and its source material), the challenges are much more Faustian than John McClane being coerced into thwarting a bomb threat. By contrast, Elliot (Mark Webber), a newly unemployed salesman, is under no obligation to become a contestant on the sinister gameshow pitched to him through phone calls from a lively mystery man (an unseen but brilliant George Coe). Most of the film’s first twenty minutes are devoted to Elliot’s rapidly growing list of financial woes: a wedding; a baby on the way; a mentally handicapped brother; a recently evicted father; yet playing the game is emphatically how he chooses to improve his situation. As a result, the subsequent events are cast as an allegory for addiction to power, with the meek Elliot learning to take pleasure in abandoning his inhibitions. The transformation isn’t subtle, and Webber's tendency to overact makes it seem overly fast, but there’s a wicked delight in seeing him complete the escalating challenges regardless. Sticking to the beats of a familiar idea also allows moments where 13 SINS subverts expectations to shine; without spoiling too much, the film manages to pull off several twists, and they’re made more effective by its prior adherence to a recognisable formula.
However, Stamm also mostly replaces 13 Beloved’s darkly comedic tone with that of a thriller, a decision which riddles his film with missed opportunities, since above all, Elliot isn’t a smart character. As mentioned above, the mystery man doesn’t force him to begin playing, and so the stakes of his doing so are significantly lowered. Continuing the film as a black comedy from this point would add nuance to the story and increase its allegorical power, as well as giving Webber more to do than simply react as the game spirals out of his control. Indeed, it’s hardly surprising to discover that Elliot has merely been granted the illusion of power, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with having a lead that fails to consider every consequence, but the film would have benefited from at least a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement that he brought most of the plot upon himself. Meanwhile, two of the challenges are absurd and specific enough to be naturally amusing, which the direction of their respective scenes smartly takes advantage of, yet this unfortunately clashes with the rest of the film. Finally, Ron Perlman plays a small role as a detective following the connections between Elliot’s crimes and the larger conspiracy behind the mystery man, and giving him greater freedom to exercise his dry wit likely would have helped make this subplot more memorable, since it doesn’t quite deliver a satisfying conclusion.
Although the changes 13 SINS makes to its formula are understandable given Stamm’s horror background, they ultimately work against it achieving a lasting impact. It’s an easy to watch and entertaining enough film, but it’s unfortunate that its strongest points are typically when it adheres most closely to familiar ideas.
13 SINS IS AVAILABLE THROUGH EAGLE ENTERTAINMENT ON 20/12/17.
For instance, we learn early on that the heist at the core of the film is being conducted to benefit Michael (Scott Haze), one of the would-be thieves, who has “pissed off the wrong people”. The brains of the operation are his sisters Leah (Francesca Eastwood) and Vee (Taryn Manning), who frequently clash due to Leah abandoning her siblings in the past. The ideas of family and repaying debt are commonly seen in heist films (see Hell or High Water for the former, Baby Driver for the latter), and there’s no inherent problem with THE VAULT reusing these conventions. However, Bush and his co-writer Conal Byrne never fully commit to exploring them, which often reduces their inclusion to a mere tool for exposition. At one point, Michael temporarily unties a hostage, and I assumed the scene would lead to the latter escaping, or calling for help, as you might expect in a heist film. Instead, he reveals the motivation behind the heist because he can.
The supernatural elements of the film clearly received greater levels of thought, which isn’t surprising given Bush’s filmography largely consists of horror. Some of the directorial choices and plot developments here will feel familiar, but without spoiling too much, the general emphasis on atmosphere over gore should please genre fans (although when they are used, the VFX and make-up are fine). It’s possible that this approach was influenced by a small budget, but I think overall Bush and Byrne simply recognised, as this review did earlier, that the strongest connection between heists and horror is their careful use of suspense. Indeed, capturing the feel of an escalating threat is what THE VAULT does best, as almost every scene in the film’s second half is permeated by another idea typical of both genres: something always goes wrong. Building on this, it seems like Bush’s goal here was to create a thriller in the most literal sense. As a result, the story is kept minimal and streamlined to maintain a tight pace. This was refreshing and even subversive at times, but often confusing; for instance, I could’ve used a deeper understanding of the bank layout in order to keep track of character movements.
Despite that issue, the cast are used effectively to convey the desired tension, especially Eastwood and Manning as the leads, even though their role in most later scenes is simply to react to their surroundings. Any casual viewer who has seen a trailer or poster for THE VAULT will likely only recognise James Franco, but thankfully, the film resists verging into 2014 Godzilla territory and framing its biggest star as its central attraction. Rather, fans of Franco will likely agree that his casting was a perfect choice, and his role suitably limited but critical (to say more would verge on spoiler territory). THE VAULT’s premise faces the dilemma of not belonging definitively to either of the genres it draws from. While this unusual combination is innately suspenseful, the film frequently seems to jettison the development of ideas in favour of coasting on tension. It’s quick and easy viewing that thriller fans will appreciate, but an unwillingness to fully engage with genre limits any wider appeal.
THE VAULT is now available through Eagle Entertainment.