“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.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Out Here, You Either Survive Or You Surrender…”
Although first brought to my attention as the short lived Deputy Hale in FX’s Sons of Anarchy, Taylor Sheridan has effectively reinvented himself as one of the most effective and reliable scriptwriters Hollywood has to offer over the course of just two years, with the Denis Villeneuve directed Sicario and last year’s ballsy heist drama Hell or High Water, two of the most hard edged, grit fuelled thrillers to brace the big screen in quite a while, and too films which although featured extensive action set pieces and white-knuckle levels of tension, understood that in order to make a film of such an ilk be more than just surface, development and characterisation of the leading players is ultimately key and the true basis of any decent film’s narrative. Whether it be the battle between morality and revenge in the likes of Sicario or the double-edged sword of family and justice in Hell or High Water, Sheridan’s writing has so far always brilliantly balanced audience-pleasing drama with enough substance to make them much more than your average run-of-the-mill crime tale. Taking the jump this week onto directorial as well as scriptwriting duties, Sheridan’s latest release comes in the form of Wind River, a Scandi-inflicted crime drama set in the heart of the titular Indian Reservation in Wyoming, U.S, and a film which continues rather enjoyably the success rate of Sheridan, a filmmaker who is starting to earn a reputation as an auteur of modern day crime drama.
After the body of a deceased 18 year old female is found by local Wildlife Sevice Agent, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) in the scarce, bitter landscapes of the snow-covered plains of Wyoming, rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is flown in to assist with the investigation in order to establish both a cause of death and whether a murderer is hiding within the vicious cold of the out-dated, unforgiving mountainous American state. Akin more to the likes of Hell or High Water than Sicario, Wind River is once again the character driven drama audiences have come to expect from the writings of Sheridan, and whilst there is indeed explosive action set pieces and a frighteningly executed concluding chapter, the film spends most of its’ time layering substance upon substance on the key players within the base of the narrative, particularly Renner’s Lambert, a practical, unflinching hunter who through a past trauma has more reason than most to attempt to solve the mystery which unravels trepidatiously throughout the course of the movie. With sweeping cinematography from DP Ben Richardson and a haunting, whispering score from Nick Cave, Wind River is the most low-key of the Sheridan back-catalogue to date, but with sparking leading performances and a nail-biting final movement, Sheridan’s latest is an absorbing, brilliantly written crime thriller. Who would expect anything less?
Overall Score: 8/10
“Forgive Me, Father, For I Am About To Sin…”
Of all the contemporary horror franchises currently still running, The Conjuring universe is one which although isn’t as groundbreaking as many believe it is within the horror genre, still manages to succeed in some regard, primarily because of how much fun they are, with there always being enough effective jump-scares and spooky children to please the most mediocre of horror fans even when the plot lines are so strikingly familiar to horror enthusiasts. Whilst the cattle-prod approach of jump scare cinema isn’t at all what I deem as ingredients for a decent horror movie, the trope is becoming so well-worn in the current cinematic climate that to see horror films take any other approach is somewhat of a miracle, and whilst Annabelle: Creation isn’t exactly breaking the mould of what we have come to expect from the James Wan-led staple, the addition of Lights Out director David F. Sandberg alongside some enjoyably camp set pieces, the prequel/sequel to 2014’s Annabelle is good enough to warrant its’ existence, even when the narrative swings and overall themes don’t hold the tension and fear factor you expect from a classic horror.
With Sandberg in charge after his high-profile success with Lights Out, Creation is a movie which focuses extensively on the quintessential notion that darkness and the absence of light results completely in absorbing the audience into a state of fear, and whilst the spooky factor begins well for the first half of the movie, as soon as the movie shows it’s hand and reveals the rather clunky demonic presence at the heart of the movie, the tension does inevitably fall apart. With endless shots of lightbulbs either exploding or magically decreasing in strength, Sandberg’s abnormal obsession with such basic horror tropes does become rather grating come the ramped-up final act, yet for the first hour or so, the haunted house formula and multiple usage of camera angles which focus on either ambiguous presences or the rounded, creepy face of the titular porcelain doll are solid enough to keep the interest held, even when questionable decisions from our leading characters puts such comforts at some sort of risk. Creation isn’t a masterpiece, but I can safely say I was never bored and for the time it was on screen, Sandberg’s big budget debut passed the time nicely.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I’m My Own Bitch Now…”
If ever there was someone in Hollywood who is the epitome of kick-ass action, Charlize Theron undoubtedly takes that prestigious award all the way home, with recent releases such as Mad Max: Fury Road and The Fate of the Furious in particular showcasing that it’s not just the male fraternity of actors that should get all the explosive fun when sometimes their female counterparts can do it so much better. With Atomic Blonde therefore, the latest release from John Wick director (albeit strangely uncredited) David Leitch, a filmmaker renowned primarily for stunt work on a wide range of cinematic releases including the likes of V for Vendetta and The Bourne Ultimatum, it comes at no surprise that many could simply regard Theron’s latest as somewhat of a John Wick-infused cash-in, yet with a cast which features the likes of Eddie Marsan, James McAvoy, Toby Jones and John Goodman, Atomic Blonde on paper has the groundwork to be it’s own beautiful beast. Unfortunately, this is most definitely not the case, with Leitch’s latest suffering way too heavily from fundamental script issues and mind-bashing plot twists to be classed as a film in which I could safely say I enjoyed from beginning to end, and whilst there are certain elements which are delicious in their execution, for the most part, Atomic Blonde is a vicious let down.
Whilst the late 1980’s, fall of the Berlin era is effectively flashy enough, the underpinning of a narrative which hinges on flashbacks is fundamentally at the heart of the problem of the film, one which uses a script which comes across stinking of a seeping air of sanctimony in it’s belief regarding how clever and slick it is, and too a picture which revels in the exploitative use of undeserved levels of profanity and violence which comes across much too jarring and distracting throughout pretty much the entirety of the film. With the back and forth nature of the story much too convoluted for anyone to really care what is actually going on, the film isn’t helped either by Atomic Blonde having arguably the worst plot twists since the stupidity of Now You See Me 2, and whilst Theron makes the most of what she has handed, style alone in the form of costume design and makeup doesn’t form a memorable character, resulting in a heavy heart when realising I forgot the lead character’s name as soon as I exited the foyer, something of which doesn’t normally happen when the film has truly engaged me. Jarring more than enjoyable, Atomic Blonde is mediocrity incarnated and too not the first film to use stairways as the backdrop to a decent fight scene. DAREDEVIL DAMMIT.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Your Mum Was Tough At First. And Then We Had Our First Kiss, And I Understood…”
Whilst not the most delightful of subject matters, the notion of cannibalism has been rife within horror cinema ever since the exploitation days of the mid-to-late 20th century when films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust highlighted the cinematic pleasure of watching controversial subject matter erupt on the big screen and blow raspberries at many who believed such stories simply could not be classed as any form of legitimate entertainment. Whilst the days of video nasties have thankfully been and gone, the idea of cannibalism still remains to this day, and with the release of Raw, a French-Belgian production directed by Julia Ducournau, cannibalism has never been presented so ripe or ridiculously enjoyable, with the movie blending seamlessly elements of comedy, romance and shock-tastic body horror, culminating in an experience which is not only effective in its’ sheer willingness to exploit the squeamish nature of its’ audience but one which lives long in the memory or quite possibly, your nightmares.
Dropped off by her parents in order to start her education at veterinary school, dedicated vegetarian, Justine (Garance Marillier) is swiftly integrated into the dedicated rituals of the school’s “elders”, of which her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is already an integral part of. After being forced to surrender her will and consume a raw rabbit kidney as part of the school’s initiation, Justine begins to experience a dramatic change in both body and mind, resulting in a realisation regarding not only herself but others around her. Whilst the shock-tactic set pieces within the movie are the elements which are bound to either disgust or delight the movie’s audience, the underlying black comedy within the both the narrative and direction place Raw in completely its’ own category, and whilst the film obviously owes a debt to the jet-black seriousness of We Are What We Are and its’ subsequent American remake, traits of the likes of The Neon Demon, Let the Right One In and even Black Swan are all visible in the movie’s genetic makeup even when it is undoubtedly an original release in its’ own right.
In the leading role, Garance Marillier is absolutely superb in attempting to portray a conflicted youth struggling to contain her inevitable and violent change, and with the aid of some juicy and flawless practical effects and brilliant sound design, particular set pieces including a nightmarish desire for scratching and a shaving incident gone terribly wrong, are as wonderful in their sheer execution as they are joyously terrible to observe. Not for a long time has a film been so outlandish in its’ sense of exploitation greatness that I have resorted to covering my eyes in fear of scaring my mind and although some may even regard such sequences as overtly stupid and seemingly searching for the cheapest of thrills, my response to such was one of utmost bliss even when admiring it through partially closed fingers. If exploitation horror is simply what you want from a particular movie, Raw is a much bigger and better beast than simply just that, and when contemplating the likes of The Handmaiden and Elle, Ducournau’s big-screen debut continues to prove that foreign language exploits are sometimes leagues above the likes of their English-speaking counterparts, particularly when it comes to horror.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Asked Me How Far I Would Go To Protect My Country. Whatever It Takes…”
It comes across wholly ironic that in a week in which we see the big budget release of Alien: Covenant, the sequel to 2012’s Prometheus and a sequel in which does not include the wholly reliable face of Noomi Rapace who declined to participate, that the Swedish born actress turns up in Unlocked, an action-packed spy thriller directed by Michael Apted, perhaps most famous for the Pierce Brosnan led The World is Not Enough, and the type of movie which belongs entirely within the realms of straight-to-DVD mediocrity. Of course, the coincidental notion of these two films being released side by side might not mean anything whatsoever, but in terms of further advancing the career of Rapace, it doesn’t exactly compute why such an esteemed actress chose Apted’s laughably poor action raspberry of a movie rather than the Ridley Scott led sci-fi epic, a movie which although is nowhere near a masterpiece in its’ own right, when put up against Unlocked comes across as some kind of 21st century work of art. With a cast which indeed includes the likes of Rapace, John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Michael Douglas and Orlando Bloom, yes, Orlando Bloom, Unlocked does boast an incredibly strong payroll but with a narrative which is woeful as it is unintentionally hilarious, Apted’s latest is perhaps the least enjoyable time I’ve had with an action flick since, well, last week’s Sleepless. Not exactly a strong week for films.
After stumbling into a double crossing, trust bending, terrorism plot, Noomi Rapace’s shock-filled London based CIA agent is thrown violently back into the fold, shooting her way through building after building in order to establish the real play-makers behind a massive biological threat. Cue exposition galore, over-dramatic cameo performances and plot strands which edge of the side of cinematic malpractice, Apted’s real ace in the hole comes in the form of Orlando Bloom who appears half way through the action, conveying the tattooed, grungy, untrustworthy ex-jarhead who enters with a gold pass into the hall of worst cockney accents ever alongside Don Cheadle and Dick Van Dyke who are there to keep him company in the ways of mastering the voice of the East-End. Not only does Bloom win the award for worst cameo of the year so far, his character ultimately is entirely inconsequential to the extent that his existence is some form of contractual agreement to allow Bloom to garner a quick pay check after seemingly disappearing into thin air over the past few years. Unlocked is obviously awful, and although the narrative does threaten to entertain around the twenty minute mark, Apted fails to hold such attentive themes and constructs an action flick so poor that you pray for the likes of Gareth Evans to direct every action movie ever from now on.