“I Want Revenge. I Want Them To Know That Death Is Coming, And There Is Nothing They Can Do To Stop It…”
Seemingly taking the most out of his latter career surge after impressive performances within the likes of Creed, Creed II and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Sylvester Stallone returns to his second most iconic cinematic role in the form of the rugged Vietnam veteran, John Rambo, for the aptly named, Rambo: Last Blood, an impressively ultra-violent revenge flick which takes the central plot of Taken and attempts to mix it with the rugged, nihilistic and contemplative nature of something like James Mangold’s thoroughly impressive and similarly gruesome, Logan. Co-written by Stallone but directed by Adrian Grunberg, famous so far for directing the Mel Gibson starring, Get the Gringo, alongside credits on the likes of the incredibly memorable, Apocalypto, Last Blood sees Stallone’s retired Rambo now content with seeing out the remainder of his peaceful days on a dusty ranch in the outskirts of Arizona, U.S, until his beloved niece is of course captured by sadistic Mexican human traffickers when she pops across the border in order to catch up with her long lost father, a decision of which her knife-loving Uncle tells her to disregard from the outset.
Whilst I can admit to not seeing every release in the Rambo franchise, let alone remember anything about them, Last Blood doesn’t really “feel” like the typical Rambo film, with the central revenge narrative conforming to every single cliche and stereotype ever created in the history of cinema, and whilst most audience members don’t exactly head into a Rambo movie ready for two hours of heavy contemplations and art-house stylisms, Last Blood does eventually get to the set pieces which action fans will either lap up with gleeful joy or turn their heads at in disgust at how simply sadistic Mr. Rambo’s latest human cull actually is. With more knife-welding murders than most slasher flicks and some overly disturbing kills which I think even John Wick would admit to going slightly too far, First Blood is the most violent big screen film I can remember since Overlord, but with an overly wacky and absurdist sensibility, Stallone’s latest is a good old fashioned carnival of carnage which passes the time nicely and shouldn’t be taken seriously at all in the ilk of the good old fashioned 80’s action flicks of which the character of John Rambo helped build in the first place.
Overall Score: 5/10
“The General Is One Of The Major Importers Of Fentanyl. We’re Going After Him…”
If ever there was a movie which had me sold on the trailer alone, The Informer is exactly that. Presented as a prison crime thriller produced by the gritty minds behind the superb one-two of Denis Villeneuve’s, Sicario, and the action series of the decade, John Wick, The Informer, at least on a production level, definitely had a lot going for it heading in. Helmed by Italian filmmaker, Andrea Di Stefano, an actor turned director responsible so far for the little seen, Escobar: Paradise Lost, starring Benicio Del Toro, and based upon the 2009 novel, Three Seconds, from the Swedish crime-writing team of Anders Roslund and Borg Hellström, The Informer is an English speaking adaptation which sees Joel Kinnaman (Suicide Squad, Altered Carbon) as Pete Koslow, a former decorated war veteran turned criminal who escapes the confines of prison after making a deal with Rosamund Pike’s (Gone Girl) FBI Handler as part of a complicated plot to bring down the renowned Polish drug baron known as “The General”.
With a tonal sensibility which includes as many laughs as a night time funeral, The Informer presents itself upon the darker range of the thriller genre, harbouring a rather depressing nihilistic viewpoint pretty much throughout in a similar vein to the likes of Sicario, albeit a movie without the technical nuance or strange, ambiguous mystery which made the Villeneuve original so damn good. Instead, the central plot involving Koslow, his family and his role within the war between the cops and the drug dealers is too cliched and tacky to come across as anything other than mechanical, resulting in a rather aggravating sense of patting myself on the back when particular plot twists and discoveries brought themselves to the forefront of the plot without any real sense of shock or enjoyment as the entire audience could see such developments walking into the movie. Whilst Kinnaman is his usually reliable self as he plays the “wounded soldier” role which his recent past performances have all seemed to have based upon, the muddled and shallow plot doesn’t allow for anyone else to particularly shine, with the likes of Pike and Clive Owen resorting to bit-part players within a plot that really could have done with a bit more umph, and whilst expectations may have been unjustifiably high heading in, The Informer is well made but boy is it bland.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Mike Banning, You’re Being Charged For The Attempted Murder Of The President Of The United States…”
Declaring himself with a beaming smile as the world’s worst actor come the conclusion of 2016, a year in which film fans across the world were “treated” to the double delight of both Gods of Egypt and London Has Fallen, two films which will forever remain as prime examples of cinematic garbage at its’ most wretched and unbearable, the Scottish cash-grab that is Gerard Butler once again returns to the big screen with yet another entry into the “Has Fallen” film series with Angel Has Fallen, an equally poor attempt at furthering the saga of Butler’s super secret agent, Mike Banning, as we see the raggedy Bruce Willis wannabee framed for the attempted assassination of Morgan Freeman’s (The Dark Knight) peace-loving President of the United States, even after saving the world twice and being declared as a national hero. Plot holes aside, Angel Has Fallen sees Snitch director, Ric Roman Waugh, being handed the reigns for a movie which bears all the worst attributes you would expect from a recent Gerard Butler vehicle, albeit Den of Thieves which was actually very good, as it incinerates, massacres, stabs and blows its’ way through a rather generic action plot with enough brute force to leave you with quite a nasty, elongated headache. We soldier on…
With London Has Fallen not only being a genuinely terrible excuse for a big-screen action movie as it succumbed to a jaw-dropping level of xenophobia and racism I had previously not overly noticed from a blockbuster shoot-a-thon, it does comes as a warm relief to report that Angel Has Fallen stays well clear from such levels of bad taste and instead holds out more so for the utter ridiculous. With the movie executives suddenly realising that Butler himself is no longer the fresh runner bean he may have been in the past, Angel Has Fallen does sort of start in semi-interesting fashion as we come face to face with the inevitable movie baddy in the first ten minutes alongside a focus on Banning himself, whose years of war and murder seem to have finally taken a toll on both his physical and mental capacity. As soon as the explosions occur however, all level of depth is completely dropped in favour of poorly CGI’d destruction, endless, pointless cannon fodder death and a central Taken meets Shooter plot line which doesn’t make any sense whatsoever but still ends in exactly the same way you would expect from a film attempting to reach as wide an audience as possible. Add into the mix a strange cameo role from Jada Pinkett Smith (The Matrix Reloaded) and a laughably bad Nick Nolte (Warrior) and Angel Has Fallen is exactly the type of movie you suckers made possible by paying to see London Has Fallen, albeit one which actually does manage to improve on its’ predecessor ever so slightly.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Grab Your Families, Your Loved Ones, And Get Out. We Won’t Be Able To Come For You…”
With a related trailer which highlights Sam Raimi as a “producer” on Evil Dead and Alexandre Aja as “director” of The Hills Have Eyes, it’s fair to say that whilst such claims from the spin merchants of Crawl are indeed factually accurate, it also reinstates how fundamentally messed up the genre of horror has become thanks to the way in which every classic horror movie has been chopped up and churned out thanks to the wonderful notion of remakes and spin-offs in recent years. With Raimi of course being the mastermind and director of the original, and better, The Evil Dead in 1981, and producer on the 2013 Fede Álvarez directed remake, a film of which I can admit to actually enjoying, to say that Aja is best known for his work on the rehash of The Hills Have Eyes in 2006 is generally rather aggravating, when the mighty Wes Craven, director of the 1977 grindhouse original classic, seems to be the subject of a Stalinesque mind-wipe towards younger audiences who may not even be aware of Craven or his impact on the genre of horror. Moan aside, Aja and Raimi this week team up for a rather familiar B-movie creature-feature in the form of Crawl, an overly generic work of nonsense which in some ways is quite enjoyable due to the sheer fact that it’s the type of movie which seems to be released at least thirty years too late.
With a very basic, genre-literate set-up, Crawl sees Kaya Scodelario (Extremely Wicked…) as Haley, a swimming obsessed student athlete who stupidly returns to her hometown in the heart of Florida in order to check on the welfare of her father after a Category five hurricane begins to make its’ way towards the mainland. Upon arriving at her deserted childhood home, Haley finds father Dave, as played by Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan), unconscious within the crawl space of their home for no immediate apparent reason until soon discovering the amidst decaying childhood homes, a ridiculously overblown natural threat and unnecessary daddy issues, ravenous alligators have decided to take over the house and are happy to eat anything that gets in their way. With Aja beginning his career with the enjoyably nonsensical, Switchblade Romance, and making his way into Hollywood with unnecessary remakes, Crawl does seem like an attempt to appease as mass an audience as possible, and whilst the exploitation violence within the movie is highly enjoyable in places, the screenplay isn’t exactly one to be desired as it attempts to blend into the carnage meaningless narrative tangents such as reserved family issues without any real point to it whatsoever. When it comes to a film such as Crawl, the violence and the silliness should always be the primary focus and be capped off within a harmless eighty minutes, but with Aja’s latest so predictable and lifeless, the lack of threat and lack of bite, pun intended, means Crawl is a glorified bargain bucket B-movie which just happens to be allowed on the big screen for no real apparent reason whatsoever.
Overall Score: 5/10
“It’s Quite The Fairytale You Got Going On Here. From Top Flight Model In Moscow To Rubbing Shoulders With The Elite…”
After successfully managing to hit the grand old age of sixty, French filmmaker, Luc Besson, seems to have become slightly nostalgic in his old age as he returns to the type of feminine-led action flick which made him renowned across the world at the beginning of his career during the early 1990’s. With Besson sort of losing the plot in recent years with the simply awful, Lucy, and the woefully titled, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a film which begins equally as bad but then grew into some sort of guilty pleasure come the final credits, the Frenchman returns to the subject matter he knows best in the form of Anna, a clear modern-day incarnation of Besson’s own 1990 action piece, Nikita, and a movie which sees the relatively unknown Sasha Luss as the titular beauty who shifts from street-living junkie to globe-trotting deadly assassin within the confines of a screenplay which is as aggravating as it is enjoyably ludicrous.
With a narrative structure which jumps back and forth through different time zones more often than Back to the Future, Besson’s movie does begin in interesting fashion, with the opening hour utilising a particularly glossy sheen of smoke and mirrors as it introduces Luss’ titular leading heroine, a top KGB assassin working under the wing of Helen Mirren’s creaky, nicotine loving Olga, as she works her way through a number of high profile assassinations. As the movie soldiers on in a semi-effective, genre-literate fashion, the introduction of both the dodgy accented Luke Evans and cheekbone enthusiast, Cillian Murphy, as opposing geographical ends of a conflicted love triangle is where the film ultimately shows its’ rather annoying hand, utilising flashback after flashback in order to highlight just how clever Besson thinks he is. On the contrary, such diversions from what should be a generic, B-movie storyline ultimately makes it more aggravating the more it goes on, and even with an abundance of decent, John Wick inspired action set pieces, Anna is at least better than similar movies of recent years including Red Sparrow and Atomic Blonde, but too a movie which lacks that sense of cult-heavy wackiness which the early Besson movies stored in abundance.
Overall Score: 6/10
“There’s A Reason I’m Sitting Behind This Desk Running Things. And You’re Out There With A Partner That’s Twenty Years Younger Than You…”
When it comes to discussions regarding the best new filmmakers working out there at this very moment in time, the one-two success of both Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99 has deservedly placed S. Craig Zahler on the watch list for any new release which might come this way. After doing the rounds on the festival circuit, the long wait for the American’s latest, Dragged Across Concrete, finally comes to an end to audiences in the U.K, with Zahler once again returning to the B-movie genre in which he truly admires and loves, a particular dedication both impressive and ballsy considering the now common approach for independent filmmakers to make a couple of little-seen gems and then fancy their chances within the cinematic big leagues. Reuniting with Vince Vaughn after directing him to his best ever work on the big screen in Brawl in Cell Block 99, Zahler’s latest sees Vaughn co-star with Mel Gibson (Blood Father), who reunite themselves after their work together on the Oscar nominated, Hacksaw Ridge, for a movie which makes absolutely no mistake in coming across as one of the most seedy, nihilistic and hard-edged movies of the year so far, a police procedural crime drama with a double-edged twist which sees Gibson and Vaughn as suspended police officers who soon flip in allegiances to the law as they attempt to intercept a bank heist involving Tory Kittles’ (American Heist) recently released ex-con and a merciless band of stone cold murderers.
At just over two and a half hours long, Zahler’s impressive positioning in seemingly having complete control over his respective works and directorial final say means that Dragged Across Concrete does ultimately come across as his most indulgent production yet, a full on Tarantino-esque cinematic sprawl which at times feels overly joyous in attempting to frustrate you with drawn out set pieces, particularly in a first act which does take slightly long to really get going, but as with both of Zahler’s works so far, the testing nature of the pacing is offset with a mature and natural flair for excellent writing, interesting characters and incredibly tense set pieces which in their sense of tonal unease creates an off-kilter vacuum which filmmakers of lesser skill would undoubtedly not be able to handle. Whilst it’s hard to like any of the leading characters at the heart of the drama, with Gibson’s Brett Ridgeman a racist, old-fashioned relic of the past ages whose refusal to adhere to the modern world has resulted in failed promotion bids, a particularly chin-stroking set of character traits when considering the actor’s infamous private life, the fact remains that I still found everything involving his relationship with Vaughn’s Anthony Lurasetti utterly fascinating, ranging from elongated stake-out scenes to their ruthless ability to manage the most hostile of situations. With the final ninety minutes of the drama essentially one big heist set piece, the B-movie style for which Zahler is already renowned for really goes all gun blazes, with the introduction of Jennifer Carpenter’s (Quarantine) return-to-work mother giving birth to one of the most jaw-dropping character arcs I have seen in recent memory, and whilst some will gasp at both the runtime and the darkness at the heart of Dragged Across Concrete, name one other independent filmmaker at this very moment in time who has the cojones to make these kind of movies, a film so gritty and so brilliantly summed up by its’ title that come the end of it, you’ll feel that you’ve been dragged across volcanic ash, let alone concrete. That’s my kind of movie.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You’ve Been Shot Five Times For Your Country And You Can’t Even Afford A New Truck…”
Hot off the heels of winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in the form of the excellent and beautiful Roma, Netflix returns to the land of small screen blockbusters with Triple Frontier, a dramatic blend of action and heist movie with a top notch, a-list cast and helmed by A Most Violent Year and Margin Call director, J. C. Chandor. Featuring a screenplay from both Chandor and Mark Boal, the acclaimed writer behind The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Triple Frontier sees Oscar Isaac (The Last Jedi) as Santiago Garcia, a private military advisor who after being tipped off about the location of a paranoid, cash-rich drug lord, forms a band of merry mercenaries and ventures into the jungle in order to steal what he believes is rightfully his after years of service to war without any just reward. With Chandor previously showcasing his realist cinematic sensibility with A Most Violent Year, Triple Frontier continues the director’s hard-edged approach to filmmaking with a release which attempts to be much more than just a sub-standard testosterone-fuelled action flick, and whilst there is an underlying interesting notion regarding greed and the psychological cost of combat, Chandor’s latest is still a rather generic and slightly overlong cliche which just happens to have a superb cast to push it along nicely.
Glossed with a primary aesthetic which comes across as a hybrid between the dusty, anti-Western feel of Sicario and the militaristic sheen of Michael Mann, Triple Frontier begins with an Ocean’s 11 style team-up as we see Isaac’s Pope journey back into the lives of his previous Army colleagues as he attempts to woo them with an endless supply of cash which is there for the taking from the hands of Reynaldo Gallegos’s drug lord, Lorea. Cue a rather enjoyable opening act in which we are treated to laddish interactions between Pope, Ben Affleck’s (Gone Girl) Redfly, Charlie Hunnam’s (Pacific Rim) Ironhead and Pedro Pascal’s (Narcos) Catfish, as they finally agree to work together, The Expendables style, in order to carry out their unethical and highly illegal mission. Whilst there is no spoilers in saying the initial part of the heist goes without any major issues, Chandor’s primary point of the movie comes into fruition just past the hour mark as we witness our leading band of war-torn killers turn on each other, and whilst I appreciate any movie which attempts to rise above its’ generic conventions, Triple Frontier just becomes way too plodding as we strive through an hour of fairly repetitive set pieces as we witness the group attempt to make their escape. With a full-on level of dedication from the cast however and the likes of Isaac and strangely enough, Hunnam, on top acting form, Chandor’s movie falls into the category of interesting, yet flawed, but does ultimately go down as another success for Netflix. Oh, and Chandor must love Metallica which is always a good note in my book.
Overall Score: 6/10
“There’s Something Not Right With Him Lately. I Can’t Put My Finger On It…”
Directed and co-written by Irish filmmaker, Lee Cronin, The Hole in the Ground is the latest rather well made, independent horror which may take that extra effort in order to seek out in cinemas. Co-written by first time film screenwriter, Stephen Shields, Cronin’s movie follows a very familiar genre set up as we follow Seána Kerslake’s Sarah O’Neill into the heart of the Irish countryside with her son, James Quinn Markey’s Chris, in order to escape a slightly ambiguous previous violent relationship. On arrival to her newly purchased and slightly grotty open-air house however, Sarah nearly collides with the elderly figure of the infamous local crackpot, Kati Outinen’s Noreen Brady, who begins a sudden and strange fascination with Chris, whilst the discovery of a gigantic and rather hypnotic ever-moving sinkhole in the heart of the neighbouring woods results in Sarah soon seeing sudden changes in the behaviour of her son whose move to the countryside seems to have made him a completely different person.
Whilst the movie begins with an a-typical horror narrative, Cronin’s movie manages to sustain from the offset a brooding sense of melancholia and smouldering darkness, personified nicely by the swaying, isolated wilderness of the woods which reside next to Sarah’s new home. Whilst my own personal xylophobia means that every film which ventures into wooded area is guaranteed to creep me out, the best parts of The Hole in the Ground is when the movie embraces its’ inner The Blair Witch Project or The Witch, particularly one set piece in which the camera decides to show a midnight stroll through the eyes of Sarah, with the only source of light coming from her low powered torch. As the movie moves into a third act in which seems to take nods from the likes of The Omen and other paedophobia heavy horrors, the drama does unfortunately become slightly silly, with ambiguity being thrown completely out the window and the narrative instead choosing to go down a more fantastical, mythical route as it reaches a nicely wrapped up conclusion. Whilst not memorable in the slightest or a movie which can safely stand up and say that it offers anything which can be classed as new or original, Cronin’s movie is a fairly enjoyable, low-budget horror which makes the most of a talented cast who embrace the material with open arms, and with a couple of set pieces which made me watch the film through the slits of my fingers, is a movie which is worth seeking out, particular for horror completists.
Overall Score: 6/10
“The First Step Is To Get Her Tied Up And Gagged. She’ll Probably Try To Run…”
Presenting itself as one of the more difficult releases this month to try and seek out amidst flying, glowing superheroes and wide-eared elephants, Nicolas Pesce, director of both The Eyes of My Mother and the upcoming remake of The Grudge, returns for his second big screen feature in the form of Piercing, a scathingly dark adaptation of the 1994 novel of the same name from Ryū Murakami, the Japanese author most famous in the world of cinema for his 1997 novel, Audition, which formed the basis for the unforgettable Takashi Miike directed horror of the same name from 1999. Featuring a joint leading role between Christopher Abbott (First Man) and Mia Wasikowska (Crimson Peak), Piercing sees Abbott take on the role of Reed, a seemingly successful white collar family man with a newborn baby to boot, who after feeling a sudden urge to inflict pain on his ever-crying child with an ice pick, decides to take his murderous impulses elsewhere away from the family home. Cue the introduction of the blonde infused Wasikowska as Jackie, an anxiety ridden but sure footed prostitute who quickly takes up the opportunity for work and makes her way over to the stylish high rise in which Reed awaits for a night with messy consequences.
Whilst any story stamped with the Murakami name upon it is guaranteed from the offset to get you ready for a narrative which won’t exactly be for everyone, let alone mainstream audiences, Pesce’s movie at least attempts to startle and amaze in all its’ B-movie charm as it works its’ way through a splendid eighty minute runtime in which a high proportion of the action is simply Reed and Jackie together in various hotel suites. With strange animated backdrops which look like outtakes from the Anime section in Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 1 and a wicked blend of jet black humour and stomach twisting violence, Piercing is indeed effectively flashy and features an abundance of art-deco inspired style but is also a movie which strangely suffers primarily from being hesitant in its’ depiction of exploitation, resulting in a endpoint which doesn’t seem to go far enough. Whilst there is no denying that the movie features an underlying and unnerving sensibility as you watch two people of similar strangeness come together, the final credits certainly left me gasping for more of a killer, no pun intended, instinct, but with two superb central performances which manage to effectively balance the gap between comedy and horror, Piercing is good enough but by no means on a par with previous adaptations of Murakami.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Say Fate Gave You The Choice: You Can Get The Lady, Or You Could Catch That Tuna That’s In Your Head. Which One Would You Choose..?”
On the one hand, Serenity is thankfully not an attempt to reboot the Firefly live-action spin-off of the same name from 2005, and instead is a movie which this week manages to pull off the contemporary trend of being released both on the big and small screens in a supposed attempt in order to gather an excessive amount of viewers on its’ opening weekend. Backed by the behemoth that is Sky Movies, whose previous endeavors, including the likes of Anon and Final Score, haven’t exactly set the critical underworld alike, Serenity is the latest from Peaky Blinders creator and Locke director, Steven Knight, who returns to the big screen with an absolutely bonkers and unbelievably stupid neo-noir thriller which has already been tipped as the front-runner heading into the next Razzies ceremony. Led by the usually respectable figure of Matthew McConaughey, (Interstellar) Knight’s movie sees the Oscar winning American as Baker Dill, an alcohol ridden, musky small-time fisherman whose quiet life on the island of Plymouth is soon interrupted by the re-emergence of ex-wife, Karen, played in equally over-the-top form by Anne Hathaway, who reunites with McConaughey after their work together on the masterful Interstellar.
With an opening camera swoop which feels like a sub-90’s porno flick as we are swiftly introduced to the glowing sands and seas of the film’s idyllic locale, the tone of the movie is laid faced down almost immediately, with gobsmackingly awful dialogue and monologues about life-chasing tuna one of the many highlights of a piece which you can’t help but stare at in complete shock as you try and piece together how on earth such a raspberry pudding of a movie came to be. With a central narrative which blends together fantastical romance with some sort of supernatural mystery, the opening hour is stuffed with unintentional hilarity as we become subject to some of the most awful, ham-fisted acting performances I have seen for a very long time, typified by McConaughey himself who seems to have taken the material as serious as his work on Dallas Buyers Club and just ends up making a complete and utter turkey of himself as he drunkenly stumbles and screams his way through a performance which gives The Room‘s Tommy Wiseau a run for his money. Awful editing and effects aside, the real talking point of the movie is undoubtedly the final thirty minutes of the piece in which Knight goes full on M. Night Shyamalan with an already infamous and thunderously stupid jack-in-the-box twist, and whilst it’s obvious to class Serenity as a work of complete and utter nonsense, I cannot shy away from the fact that it made me laugh more times than most American comedies, and whilst such comedy is clearly unintentional and stems from Knight’s soon to be sectioned and ludicrous mind, the fact that certain points were actually quite enjoyable means that Serenity isn’t the worst film I’ve ever sat through, but it may indeed just be the silliest. So bad, it’s almost good.