“You Are Not Yakuza. You Are A Gaijin. An Outsider…”
With Bright, Mute and The Cloverfield Paradox a trio of big budget movies which have used Netflix as the chosen platform for their respective release over the course of the past six months or so, it’s fair to say that so far, critical consensus has been, let’s just say, less than positive for anything with the Netflix branding tainted on it, aside from the likes of Okja and Annihilation which have seemingly broken the bog awful standard set so thus far. Another week, another small screen offering however, with Netflix turning to Jared Leto this time in The Outsider, a generic, yet overly functional, crime thriller which utilises the much commentated approach of placing the American in the heart of post-war Japan as he rises up the ranks of the Yakuza after saving the life of Tadanobu Asano’s (Silence) long-serving crime boss, Kiyoshi, in prison. With a nihilistic, unnerving tone and both underwritten characters and subplots, director Martin Zandvliet’s approach to handling the inclusion of Leto’s wandering military ghost figure, Nick Lowell, is not exactly justified, with the narrative more focused on handling a whistle stop tour of violent deeds and double crossing than ever coming up with a valid reason for his inclusion in a primarily Japanese cast, but with enough style to at least hold your attention whilst it works its’ way from A to B, The Outsider is just about good enough to warrant two hours of your in-home small screen.
With attention obviously centred around the fundamental plot hole regarding whether a titular “outsider”, or in the words of the Japanese themselves, a “gaijin”, would ever be allowed into the strict ruling of the Yakuza traditions, the idea itself is one of interesting possibilities, but with a narrative starved of substance and an overripe, unnecessary violent streak, The Outsider is strangely unimaginative, utilising generic tropes of in-house familial power struggles to carve out a strangely tacked-on ending after we witness Leto’s Nick progress from messy haired prisoner to sharply dressed gangster with added cheekbones. Whilst the performance of Leto himself is similar to attempting Ryan Gosling’s performance in Drive without half the acting ability or talent, his fundamental dullness is entirely down to the writing, where although the primary focus of the movie is seemingly meant to infiltrate the ways of the Yakuza through the eyes of a Westernised psychopath, the audience is instead left with an empty vessel which violently acts out whenever he feels the audience may be starting to lose patience. Whilst The Outsider is undeniably messy therefore and full of ludicrous implausibilities, Martin Zandvliet’s latest still managed to keep me interested however, and for a film which manages to have so many weaknesses and still hold me until the end, something somewhere ultimately worked.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I Love You So Much Leo, But You Don’t Know Me…”
Engaging with and including myself within the small minority who can actually stand up proudly and state that 2016’s Warcraft was actually better than most critics gave the movie credit for, Duncan Jones’ career has drifted from contemplative low-budget success story (Moon) to big budget science fiction spectacular (Source Code) in a reasonably swift amount of time, and with the release of Mute this week as the latest Netflix original after years of development hell, Jones’ long-term project, one deemed as the “spiritual sequel” to 2009’s Moon, is finally brought to life, if only on the small screen. Following Alexander Skarsgård’s (The Legend of Tarzan) Leo, the titular mute barkeep who attempts to solve the mystery of Seyneb Saleh’s Naadirah’s sudden disapearance within the heart of a future-world Berlin, Jones’ latest is unfortunately a cliched and utterly soulless Blade Runner rip-off, one which attempts to sew together a noir-esque primary plot thread amidst stereotypical Russian gangsters, The Fifth Element style campness and eerily ill-judged set pieces which are as ridiculous as they are jaw-droppingly stupid, resulting in Mute conforming to the fate of The Cloverfield Paradox by being yet another Netflix funded let down.
With Sally Hawkins managing to convey both rigorous emotion and heartwarming depth to a character of similar ilk in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, the inclusion of Skarsgård’s Leo, the speech-free central character of the piece, is somewhat gimmicky and undeniably underwritten, with Hawkins’ character necessary in furthering the audience’s understanding of the relationship between herself and Doug Jones’ aquatic monster, a level of narrative depth which is completely absent from the entirety of Jones’ screenplay, resulting in Skarsgård’s performance coming off as nothing more than a growling, angst-ridden puppet which is used to facilitate the furthering of plot when necessary. Whilst the opening forty five minutes of the piece is somewhat interesting, even with a heavy handed dose of exposition which explains absolutely everything in a excruciatingly painful paint-by-numbers fashion, the film really turns after a showdown between Leo and Dominic Monaghan’s sex facilitator on a bed next to a staggeringly imaginative pleasure doll which resulted in one of the biggest unintentional laughs I will have this year, and with the emergence of the similarly awful Paul Rudd (Ant Man) as the least threatening villain of the year so far and Justin Theroux’s (Mulholland Drive) overly misjudged paedophilic sidekick, Mute turns overly wacky and staggeringly dull rather quickly and with a conclusion which doesn’t entirely make up for the wait, Jones’ latest is annoyingly his weakest work to date, and for a project which took more than a decade to bring to the screen, one could have argued it should have stayed on the cutting room floor.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Do You Ever Feel Life Is Pushing Us Towards A Greater Purpose…?”
Renowned for a distrust in the works of finesse and instead obeying the rule of one take, one hit when it comes to his particular brand of film-making, Hollywood stalwart, Clint Eastwood, returns after 2016’s Sully, with The 15:17 to Paris, a somewhat similar tale of heroism and the remarkable workings of the human spirit, and a movie which features as its’ seat-selling trump card, a trio of leading stars who each portray themselves in attempting to re-tell the widely covered events which occurred upon the titular train on 21 August, 2015. Whilst not exactly the type of character movie executives would tend to disagree with when it comes to the creation of a particular cinematic vision, Eastwood’s bold and brave decision to allow the real heroes of the story to re-enact their own history is one of interesting possibilities, and whilst the tale at the heart of the movie is one of staggering bravery in the face of mindless destruction, The 15:17 to Paris is unfortunately a wildly misjudged mess, a movie which attempts to landfill its’ runtime with elements of backstory and cliched character arcs without any degree of success, and even with a concluding set piece which is undeniably well executed, Eastwood’s latest is a strange case which begs the question whether it was really needed in the first place.
Based on The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers, a true account of events by each of the famous heroes and Jeffrey E. Stern, the movie begins with a somewhat swift and overly jarring diversion into Boyhood-esque territory in which we see the childhood lives of Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler intertwine through tales of school-time shenanigans and dreams of joining the US Military. Whilst the narrative decision to give backstory to each of the heroes may have seemed crucial in understanding at a deeper level the events which take place, the first hour is instead utterly pointless, with the acting abilities and on-screen charisma of both Skarlatos and Sadler completely devoid of any positivity whatsoever, a outcome rather unsurprising when considering the lack of acting experience between them. With this in mind, the obvious decision to allow Stone to be the leading figure of the film does allow some form of success, with his likeable and openly flawed demeanour the main access point for audience involvement, but when the movie does eventually come to its’ taut and tense concluding set piece which brings together each strands of the story set in place, it is unfortunately too late, and for a movie to have only ten minutes of greatness within a runtime of just over ninety minutes, the wait really isn’t worth it at all.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Someone On This Train Does Not Belong. All You Have To Do Is Find Them…”
Whilst many took to the idea that Liam Neeson had adhered to his word of refusing to star in any future action movies, something of which which he stated profoundly across media lines last year, it comes at no surprise that this week audiences are treated to The Commuter, the latest from Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, whose reunion with Neeson follows on from their previous work together on Non-Stop and Run All Night, with the word of the Irish actor much more uncertain and dishonest since he laughed off the possibility of Taken 3 in 2013, a sequel which was then swiftly released only two years later. Whilst the obvious similarities to previous action movies are inevitable for a movie starring an actor recently renowned for jumped-up, high octane nonsense, Neeson’s latest is a movie both ridiculous and enjoyable in equal measure, a laughably absurd ideas thriller which although suffers from a wide range of clearly defined issues, is indeed up there with the better Neeson action movies to be released since his turn as the revenge seeking killer in Pierre Morel’s 2008 cult classic, Taken, a movie which launched a latter-stage chapter of the actor’s career to ridiculous levels of newly found action hero fame.
Approached by the mysterious Vera Farmiga during his daily commute, Neeson’s Michael MacCauley is tasked with attempting to hunt down a particular unknown fellow passenger without truly understanding the reasoning behind such, aside from the offer of excessive monetary reward. Jumping in and out of the shadow of previous film ideas as swift as the film’s chaotic editing, The Commuter is the type of movie which evokes so many previous stories that the film almost becomes a entertaining ferris wheel of bingo in which you tick off every film that comes to mind as the carnage unravels in the loudest and silliest way possible. Switching from Red Eye to Source Code to Under Siege 2 as quickly as possible within a completely manic first act which does manage to contain a rigid element of threat and mystery rather entertainingly, The Commuter then concludes with a amalgamation of Unstoppable and 16 Blocks with added predictability and cheesiness, and whilst Neeson’s latest is obviously not as smart or original as it may think it is, the action is decent enough and the tone is welcoming and undeniably crowd pleasing, and for a man who may have given up on action movies for good, you can’t deny Neeson does look like he’s enjoying himself. As are we.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I Hired You To Do Things That Other People Can’t Or Won’t Do…”
Whilst last year’s Alien: Covenant offered up a pretty solid attempt at dragging the reputation of its’ respective franchise through the gutter, the return of director Ridley Scott still manages to incite a cool sense of fangirl-esque anticipation, particularly when Alien and Blade Runner still remain undisputed masterpieces of cinema, and even though the American still hasn’t hit the high notes his reputation is built on since perhaps American Gangster, the residual feeling of hope for his next classic still remains. Hampered in post production due to the widely publicised sexual harassment claims made against leading star at the time, Kevin Spacey, Scott’s latest, All The Money In The World adds an extra layer of interest to its’ release due to Scott’s decision to recast Spacey’s role as oil magnate, Jean Paul Getty, weeks before its’ slated release. With Christopher Plummer willingly taking up the mantle left by the departed Spacey, Scott’s nine day reshoots with the actor offers up fundamental questions of the quality of the final product, and whilst there is no doubting the manner in which Scott manages to carve out some decent performances from his trio of leading stars, All The Money In The World is a staggeringly underwhelming and mediocre affair, one which suffers from a wildly paced opening first half and a movie which once again reignites the issue of Scott’s dedication of quantity over quality.
With the movie assuming the audience has previous knowledge of the key players involved in the drama which occurs on-screen, David Scarpa’s screenplay, based upon John Pearson’s 1995 book, “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty”, essentially offers no fitting backstory or character development for any of the movie’s leading players, with the first hour of the film a jaw-droppingly dull affair, unaided by amateurish editing which moves the action back and forth between a rafter of time settings in a manner both nauseating and convoluted that you begin to lose track and interest almost immediately on what the overall message and narrative endgame the film is attempting to convey. When the movie does finally settle down heading into the second hour however, the emergence of Plummer’s brilliantly cold and inhumane performance as Getty and the back and forth presentation of hostage and hostage negotiator does becoming an interesting affair, but with the sloggish journey it takes you on to get there, Scott’s movie doesn’t have the sharpness or the nuance to be any more than just a mediocre examination of a story which in other hands may have been much more rewarding, and when a movie utilises the cliched usage of The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” to represent the hippy free feel of the 1970’s, you know it’s going to be a rather laborious affair.
Overall Score: 5/10
“You Are A Man Of Principle. You Know The Difference Between Right and Wrong…”
Although the thought of seeing the latest Vince Vaughn movie doesn’t exactly fill me with mountainous levels of excitement, the real drawing power of Brawl in Cell Block 99 is of course director S. Craig Zahler, the American filmmaker behind one of last year’s most surprisingly violent and impressively crafted movies in the form of Bone Tomahawk, who in Tarantino-esque form, managed to create a dark and overly twisted Western which not only had a growling, moustache wearing Kurt Russell on top form, but placed Zahler front and centre amidst the many impressive underground filmmakers out there today. Swapping the Western horror genre for a modern-day based crime thriller, Zahler more than effectively continues the successes of Bone Tomahawk with his latest release, creating a movie which simultaneously emphasises the director’s love of exploitation cinema and midnight movie B-releases, alongside showcasing a redefined Vince Vaughn in a superbly crafted, unrecognisable fashion, and whilst Vaughn has flirted with dramatic roles in the past, with True Detective and Hacksaw Ridge being the most recent examples, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is the type of movie which could inevitably end up giving the American actor his very own mcconaissance, and whilst Vaughn is only the tip of the iceberg for a film which has so many positive elements, the real plaudits undeniably belongs to the film’s commander in chief, with Zahler continuing to prove why so many cinema loving audiences have began to become truly interested in his work.
Fired from his job and sucked back into a previously departed life of criminality, Vaughn’s Bradley Thomas quickly finds himself in the confines of a cell after a drug deal gone sour, and with the welfare of his wife and unborn child at risk, Bradley is forced to meet the demands of a high ranking Mexican gangster in order to pay the astronomical debt caused by Bradley’s sudden incarceration. Using a similar narrative technique to that of Bone Tomahawk, Zahler’s latest is a movie which understands the balance between character based substance and exploitation style violence, utilising the film’s two hour plus runtime to examine a character who bounces back and forth between a charming, family oriented man of the people and a brooding, merciless, violent thug, and with Vaughn using his natural, bulky physique as an essential part of the character’s appearance, Brawl is arguably the first film to really showcase to what Vaughn’s strength’s truly are as an actor. Of course, with the exploitation style violence inevitable for a man who shocked the world with Bone Tomahawk, the scenes in which we witness Bradley rip apart fellow criminals with his bare hands are undeniably shocking and squeal-inducing, but to the film’s credit, always have an undeniable air of B-movie fun within them, and for a film as violent as this, Brawl in Cell Block 99 manages to blend seamlessly the mix between violence, drama and guilty pleasure to a wholly entertaining extent. With brilliant cameo performances from the likes of Jennifer Carpenter and the charisma covered Don Johnson, the best course of action is to remember the name, with S. Craig Zahler slowly becoming the most interesting director working out there today.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Could Save Them You Know. I Gave You All The Clues And Everything…”
Tackling a subject matter light years apart from the similarly titled Raymond Briggs written animation, The Snowman, a cinematic adaptation of Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø’s best selling novel, marks the highly anticipated return of Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, whose decision to adapt his fellow Scandinavians’ work from page to screen makes some sort of sense considering the dark, twisty tones of his previous work, and whilst Nesbø’s novel is the seventh in a series based around the trials and tribulations of Michael Fassbender’s leading character, Harry Hole, Alfredson’s movie is the first attempt in bringing the author’s famous detective to some sort of cinematic fruition. With good omens behind it therefore, it comes at a complete surprise to report that Alfredson’s latest is unfortunately nothing more than a shockingly dire and unintentionally woeful, manufactured work of disillusioned trash, one which seems to have faltered primarily at a pre-production stage and ultimately released just for the sake of it, and when considering the talent behind it, with a cast which mirrors the impressive ensemble within Alfredson’s previous, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Snowman is undoubtedly one of the most infuriatingly contrived let downs in recent Hollywood history.
Suffering from a handful of flaws which range from sloppy unprofessionalism to sinful laziness, The Snowman seems to be the spawn of awful judgement primarily from a production standpoint, with the film’s narrative lacking any meaningful level of threat, coherence or substance in complete contrast to previous Scandinavian thrillers such as The Killing and the Millennium franchise, and whilst the absence of threat results in the bulk of the movie being replaced with utter tedium, the film is worsened by the bizarre comedic tendency it seems to evoke each and every time the movie slips into supposed dark territory, with awfully designed murder clips and the scene of a snowman’s head being planted on the top of a deceased body resulting in a combination of sniggers rather than the nail-biting thrills I believe the novels were famous for. With editing which verges on the point of insanity and scenes which move from one to another without any sort of meaningful connectivity, The Snowman is a incomprehensible mess of a movie, and whilst the likes of Fassbender and even Alfredson to some extent can’t be entirely to blame, the first entry of a supposed Jo Nesbø based franchise is a complete and utter stinker.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Okay, Now’s The Point When You Say It’s All A Joke…”
Remake. Reimagining. Reboot. Whatever. Of all the many psychological horror one-off’s in the world, Joel Schumacher’s 1990 cult flick, Flatliners, is indeed a movie devoid of all reasoning for such a continuation, and whilst the original had interesting ideas and a youthful, enthusiastic cast including the likes of Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts and Kevin Bacon, the jury still remains out on why exactly a sequel is needed at all. With The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo director Niels Arden Oplev helming the similarly titled sequel this week, which from trailers alone, comes across as the bare-bones, cheap money cash-in many would expect it to be, at least there is some reason to be slightly excited, particularly with Oplev helming the likes of Mr. Robot and the somewhat mediocre, if stylish Colin Farrell starring, Dead Man Down since his success with the first of the Swedish-based Millennium series. Whilst it’s almost lazy to tarnish Oplev’s latest with all the obvious cliched quips, it is startling how much Flatliners is completely dead on arrival, with the latest Hollywood sequel lacking both pulse and heart as it only manages to succeed in making the original look like a forgotten cinematic classic.
Using the narrative of the first film to almost pinpoint exactness albeit for minor, lacklustre tweaks, Flatlines suffers fundamentally from the age old issue with sequels with it being a film which doesn’t attempt to build on the successes of its’ predecessor but simply decides to rehash the exact same ideas, and whilst there is an idea at the heart of Schumacher’s original movie which could be made into a thrilling exercise of science fiction, screenwriter Ben Ripley resorts to creating a sequel which attempts to be more Final Destination-esque in tone than the Black Mirror style of story the underlying narrative brings to mind. Whilst Ellen Page tries her best in the leading role, her untimely conclusion creates a vacuum of dullness in the film’s second half, one which utilises tiresome jump scares aplenty and hopeless horror to carry the story to its’ overstayed conclusion, and without a sense of threat and the element of mystery to hold the audience’s attention until the very end, Oplev’s movie is unfortunately a remake than simply cannot be revived no matter how much adrenaline charged substances can be shoved into its’ veins.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Here We Are, Again..!”
Based upon the 1994 novel “Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem” by English author Peter Ackroyd, American director Juan Carlos Medina hits the big time this week after a string of independent, low-key releases with The Limehouse Golem, a British murdery mystery featuring the enigmatic figure of Bill Nighy in the leading role of Inspector John Kildare and a supporting cast which features the ever-reliable figures of Olivia Cooke, Daniel Mays and Eddie Marsan. Adapted from novel to screen by writer Jane Goldman, whose previous successes include Kick-Ass and the jet-black gothic horror of the worlds scariest 12A rated movie, The Woman In Black, Medina’s movie is unfortunately a slog of predictability, one which forces through style over substance and shock tactics over story, resulting in a televisual murder mystery which ultimately feels rather too silly to be taken seriously even with some eye-catching performances from its’ leading cast and effective gritty, murky cinematography from the film’s DP.
Put onto the case of the “Limehouse Golem” after a string of grisly, violent murders in Victorian-era London, Bill Nighy’s Inspector Kildare’s high profile history and attachment to former stage actor Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke) is placed onto the local spotlight. With Cree on trial for the supposed murder of her husband, Kildare balances his attempt to prove her innocence along with revealing the identity of the crowd-pleasing vicious killer, one who has striked both fear and excitement from the bloodthirsty London audience. With the violence ridiculous, the dialogue cliched and the final twist so obvious even a half-asleep audience would have got there eventually, The Limehouse Golem doesn’t quite manage to live up to the retro, murder thriller vibe it so obviously wants to excrete on-screen, and whilst Nighy, Cooke and Douglas Booth give it their best go, Medina’s big-screen debut is B-movie fluff of which memorability isn’t exactly its’ leading trait.
Overall Score: 5/10
“I Like Your Agenda. I Know Exactly What To Do With You…”
Based upon Vince Flynn’s 2010 novel of the same name, American Assassin presents itself within the realm of 21st century spy thrillers which take on both the ethos of the Bourne franchise and the direction of Paul Greengrass, with the filmmaking tactics deployed in The Bourne Supremacy onwards having a widespread influence on a vast spectrum of cinema ranging from the gargantuan Bond series to the more B-Movie approach of the Taken franchise. Brought to the big screen by Kill the Messenger director Michael Cuesta, this first entry into an anticipated string of Flynn-based releases features Dylan O’Brien as civilian-turned-killer Mitch Rapp and Michael Keaton as veteran training agent Stan Hurley, and whilst many audiences fall under the spell of money-grabbing action cash-ins due to a underlying love of anything with extravagant explosions and expletive-ridden dialogue, American Assassin is a prime example of an action movie so lazy and plodding in its’ creation, it is actually harder to comprehend its’ existence than it is to actually enjoy it.
With a lifeless, growling and utterly dull leading performance from O’Brien as the titular stone-cold killer, one who uses the cranked in and wholly exploitative plot point of a particular death as reasoning for murderous rampaging, American Assassin falls under the old chestnut of simply not being clever or eager enough to add any sense of depth to proceedings, resulting in a vacuum of space where the utter lack of either sympathy or empathy resides and is replaced by a severe level of tedium which in turn results in a much more enjoyable sleep-induced coma which the audience falls into in order to pass the time. Slapped with an 18 certificate, American Assassin contains a simply undeserved level of sadistic, awkward violence which has no reasoning for its inclusion and just results in a total sense of alienation from characters who are hard to distinguish between friend and foe, and with a conclusion which ranks up there with the most jump-the-shark scenes I have ever seen, Cuesta’s movie is the sort of tripe which brings absolutely nothing new to the overpopulated realm of action movies and is simply there for monetary issues. On this evidence, I can’t see that being a winner either.