Everly (2015)

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Grimy and bloody, this character motivated action thriller is slim on plot pickings and only stays watchable because of the charisma in Salma Hayek and certain fine moments of style within the main frame of the movie.

Everly (Salma Hayek); a prostitute working for criminal nasty Taiko (Hiroyuki Watanabe) finds herself holed up in her apartment after a misery of sex and torture. Trying to escape to see her mother and daughter, Everly finds her route out of the building a tough ask as all forces come to try and kill her and take the hit money hanging over her head.

In some ways, perhaps a skewed version of what I hoped it could be, this movie appears in style and simplicity like ‘The Raid.’ Of course, not anywhere as near as fun or stylish but it has leaps of flair from time to time and the basic plot structure is reminiscent of Rama’s journey through dull battle torn buildings. This film however does seem even more stripped of interest and therefore the story becomes thin and the bloody nature of the action surfaces in a more exploitative way than necessary.

Joe Lynch does a neat thing with his direction, the shadows and explosive aftermath of Everly’s deteriorating home are seen in cool frames or lighting and even some snappy Edgar Wright like edits come to fruition for Lynch’s vision of making the movie more pacy and blood pumping. The end starts weakening but on the whole he’s a director that knows how to shoot these kind of all out barmy yet simple action fests. Oh and also, check out his Venom/Brock short called ‘Truth in Journalism’, I saw it a couple of years ago and it’s marvellous.

The entire film seems to squander excitement by getting stuck in one place. At first I liked the idea of it being centered on the entrapping nature of Everly’s predicament but by the end, the apartment is a place you’d never hope to see again and utterly get sick of. At least ‘The Raid’ has movement and ‘Rope’ has the one shot take wonder going for them, this feature doesn’t fall back on any cool tricks.

Yale Hannon’s screenplay is gimmicky, with arguing call girls, shady Asians and a feisty capable strong woman somehow knowing how to combat even the SWAT team drag this film quite very nearly into the swirling abyss. There isn’t much great dialogue to listen to, for an action film of this calibre you want action but it’d be nice to have some believable character process to and all of Everly’s lines are pithy even with Hayek doing her best.

Salma Hayek is a brutal feminine warrior who won’t back down and she portrays this scared yet ready female with sheer conviction. I honestly think the film survives because of utilising on a dependent heroine. Hayek gives both emotion and gritty kick ass skills. I liked Akie Kotabe’s Dead Man, who for a small-ish role is actually interestingly nice for the story and stands out. Watanabe doesn’t really power through, appearing for the final piece of the film as the big bad, he’s believably calm and violent but nothing outstanding for the evil menace manipulating Everly’s life until that point.

It doesn’t feel brutally silly just brutal and in that this movie becomes a bloody mess of something you keep watching but don’t want to see again. It has a few peaks of directing style and enigmatic fierceness in Hayek but they’re two points that don’t save it from feeling VHS nasty.

5/10

Pressure (2015)

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Plummeting to predictable depths, ‘Pressure’ does build on some well set pieces but also runs out of air quite a way before the end, leaving you as an audience member waiting and wanting the obvious finale to arrive.

In the Indian Ocean, an oil ship sends four deep sea saturation divers down to check on its’ pipelines. 650 feet down to be exact, the four men end up stranded as their diving bell is damaged and disconnected from the ship. They may not get on but they’ll have to try to as the oxygen decreases and the pressure mounts.

I saw ‘Black Sea’ starring Jude Law earlier in the year and they share similar premises, one with oil and one with gold, both under the sea and both in confined dramatic situations. The Law outing survives better with more gripping suspense helping the thriller. This one does offer some tense moments to a degree but there’s nothing special in these four characters fight to stay alive. I think ‘Black Sea’ had cultural stand offs and interesting arcs to help it whereas this film has little in the way of character momentum, or if it tries to it becomes wholly bland and expected.

Ron Scalpello directs a deep sea thriller as you’d expect it to look, so in that sense it’s not bad. The diving bell itself is a fine location, blinking lights and intense framing piles on the cabin fever and it is actually a demonstration of nicely making you feel claustrophobic watching the plot play out. The constant far shots of the bell shining on the bottom of the ocean are annoyingly repetitive and Engel’s pithy backstory to aid his grumpy no hoper attitude are shot in a dismally ethereal way like most A Level flashbacks would be done. Though the bloody underwater dream sequence is stylish and cool for the film, standing out in being a little different from what has come before.

Alan McKenna and Paul Staheli are the writers and they come up with some alright scary moments for the divers to tackle, the whole underwater idea frightens me anyway, so the tasks they face are dealt with well and written in a pacy enough manner to justify the title of the movie. It’s in terms of the characters that they crumble, Engel has his past, Mitchell has his faith, Hurst has his addictions and demons and Jones has his youth and expecting partner. They’re so clichéd that it hurts, it’s clear who’ll survive from the time you meet each person and it’s obvious what obstructions each character will provide.

Danny Huston plays Engel well, the grouchy nature of his experienced diver filling the diving bell twice over. He has the face for that lived in down in the dumps behaviour but with Huston you end up rooting for him too, knowing that he’s right in what he knows. Joe Cole is the cocky yet growing anxiously youth with little experience and a pregnant missus at home, he’s good with the thinly drawn character if that’s all I can say. Matthew Goode has a knack for acting there’s no denying, he’s good in everything I’ve seen him in, the emotive eyes he has and the dramatic wavering in his delivery help him in this film as the hopeful Mitchell. Alan McKenna doesn’t have too much to do but convinces as the troublesome Hurst.

It’s a short movie with satisfying bubbles of intensity and longer stretches of dwindling potential. This is certainly not terrible but so much more could have come from this deep sea threat of human life and death.

5/10

Absolutely Anything (2015)

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Just more than slightly silly, this movie by one fourth of brilliant British comedy giants, The Monty Python crew is predictable, mostly unfunny and something I actually wouldn’t recommend. It’s up there in intergalactic space ready to be demolished by aliens for being so bad.

Down in the dumps and poxy teacher Neil Clarke (Simon Pegg) happens to one day receive powers that lets him do absolutely anything. This is down to a group of aliens who challenge Earth’s survival to the good or evil actions taken by one human with the gift. Neil becomes power happy and tries using it to win the attentions of neighbour Catherine (Kate Beckinsale).

The film, from the trailer at least, seemed like something to me that I’d enjoy. However banal and overdone a concept it is, I was intrigued by the tomfoolery of it all and the special voice casting. Sadly this is overshadowed by a flat script and general weariness throughout. It’s got no style and feels like a Nickelodeon show at times, in terms of how it looks. Even with a comedic director at the helm it suffers, as if Terry Jones is working from the frazzled dumb part of his brain. It could have had heart and easily could have been both dumb and clever humour, but it most assuredly is not.

Terry Jones and Gavin Scott join heads as writers, though apart from maybe a couple of smirk inducing qualities, it never feels as if a script has been put together. The entire movie comes across sadly pathetic. It sparks me off thinking that a child would come up with this idea and run with it, loving its mad course of action. Jones, I feel, even with the stupid side of Python comedy, should know better. It’s truly a stinker and though it runs at less than 90 minutes and I saw it for free at the cinema, I would have rather been absolutely anywhere else.

Sci-fi angles, British school set ups and romantic threads come together and fray before they even manifest as healthy plot lines. The characters are one dimensional and the graphics overload of the surreal alien race are where most of the time and budget clearly went to. I admit a couple of moments regarding the things Neil does with the power are quite alright but that doesn’t suffice for the rest of the drivel either side.

Simon Pegg stars, proving he’s happy to go in most films and that’s why he’s nearly everywhere these days on the silver screen. He’s giving Benedict Cumberbatch a run for his overflowing money. Pegg plays Pegg and does nothing different in a role so dull and tame that I don’t see how you really find him likable as Catherine states. Kate Beckinsale as aforementioned Catherine is okay, but has nothing outstanding to do or nothing funny to demonstrate potential comedy chops she may have. The excitement I had for the Python reunion (kind of) is short lived as their parts are reduced to daft squabbles and naff numerical jokes. Robin Williams can’t even grace the film with his talent, though his doggy voiced scenes are good, they pale to the canine in ‘The Voices’. It’s only a sliver of the improv genius Williams clearly had.

Showing like a dead eyed ‘Bruce Almighty’, this film begs you to wonder why. Just why, seriously, even expecting a daft movie won’t prepare you for the disengaging, unfunny terror that is involved.

2.5/10

The Man from U.N.C.L.E (2015)

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Blistering with stylish 60’s sounds and fashions, this movie based on an American TV show, is energetic, fun and sky high with a sizzling over the top series of set pieces. If anything can be taken from this film is that it’s an example of style over substance, but when it looks this damn good then I’m happy with it.

CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is tasked with helping Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander) escape East Berlin from the Russians including super human-like KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Solo and Kuryakin soon find out they’re being paired up in a battle against the arms race to find important data and stop beautiful and deadly Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) from utilising bomb technology.

Guy Ritchie directs with his trademark of barmy violence and fast paced madness. The style of period set locations aids the visuals of the action also. Ritchie seems to revel in shadowy scenes and this film is no different, with darkness playing a key trait in both look and tension of character drama in Russia versus America. He likes his almost indestructible characters too with KGB Illya standing out as the clear winner of that prize. It’s a feast of quick set pieces and 60’s lush style to whet the appetite and Guy Ritchie gifts the movie a glitzy yet gritty touch.

I’ll go with the action first of all which is the style of the movie, from hand to hand combat, boat dramas and dune buggy/motorbike chases, this film just about has it all. It’s shot well and Ritchie’s influence of top speed photography for the explosive moments never shies away. It’s topped off with brilliant split screen sections that ramps the pace even higher and darts your eyes all over the shop which can be distracting but forgiven for working in building up the sense of urgent action.

Daniel Pemberton’s score is exquisite, rising to peaks for the aforementioned action sequences and trickling to a gentile set of sounds for the softer moments in between the mad house cinematic thrills and spills. His score is rounded off with a gorgeous soundtrack of music from the time that helps the film sound truly fantastic and places the audience as if you’re in that decade.

The story itself may not be wholly outstanding, it’s gripping to a degree and has a couple of slightly good twists but it’s a script that unravels and gets lost as it goes on. It’s far from weak, it’s just not strong. I guess it’s a hard juggle between style and substance and this film almost neglects the latter with the plot being quite basic and just there to give an excuse for fun banter, high octane action and 60’s pizzazz.

Production crew, mostly aiming here at the lovely team of costume designers should take a bow or two for their work. The suave suits of Solo made my face tinge with envy, the shadiness of Illya worked from just the cap alone. Victoria’s sass is on point as she jangles with jewelry and sashays in extravagant fashionable dresses. Gabby’s wardrobe is ever changing but chic and relevant to the period with a cool funky and elegant aura about what she wears. As you can most likely tell, I’m not used to writing about the costuming of movies.

Armie Hammer had to my ears an unshakable Russian twang and a brick-house persona to match his mysterious angry KGB background. Henry Cavill is much more interesting here than his dull Clark Kent routine. Solo is smooth but arrogant and Cavill responds to the brilliant back and forth of the script really well, his and Hammer’s attempts at bettering one another are sublime. Alicia Vikander can do no wrong, jumping firmly into one of my favourite actresses, she is enigmatic as Gabby with her full brown eyes drawing you in and leaving you wondering what she’s all about. Elizabeth Debicki is sheer bliss as the calculating yet fun femme fatale villain, I only wish she had a bit more to do. Hugh Grant appears and does enough with some comedic lines but can’t hide from it being a Hugh Grant type of role.

Like a Matthew Vaughn film, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E is bright and breezy with plenty of action and style to enjoy. The story is somewhat blurred over or scripted simply but I won’t complain because it’s a treat with no expectations.

7/10

The Escort (2015)

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Hardly racy but very cheesy, this 2015 movie about sex, addiction and relationships is tame on every level and though it doesn’t harm the senses to watch, it isn’t exactly a thrilling one to sit through either. It has some relatively funny moments in it and the two main stars pull off their pained characters with a sly wink that makes it alright.

Late twenties Mitch (Michael Doneger) lives alone, becomes out of work and is super keen on a Tinder like sex app. He crosses paths with high end escort Victoria/Natalie (Lyndsy Fonseca) who becomes a muse of his as he tries to gain a new journalist position. She too finds use in him as a helpful presence in case her clients turn on her, through this their connection grows.

For a movie squarely honed in on sex and addictive behaviour, this movie is more than fairly weak. I know it doesn’t need to be hardcore or explicit but even the story itself about chasing women over a mobile dating app and escort servicing is done limply. It’s not even saved by being at the other end of the spectrum and appearing classy. It’s just slap bang in the middle and all rather pedestrian with cheesy plot elements leading the way.

Written by main actor Doneger and Brandon A. Cohen, this screenplay slides along nicely and has some funny moments but it’s all so predictable. It fills the romantic genre criteria so easily and doesn’t even seem to try and be bold or different. It’s an easy watch, it’s engaging to a degree and the comedic elements do help it in places but apart from that it’s an underwhelming movie that could have been something to get your teeth into. I know it’s romantic but having a darker line blurring into the plot may have aided the film more.

Kyle Klutz captures some shots with finesse within the movie, the wall where they meet at a car park is shot with a wide lens and far away giving it decorative scope that jumped out as a cool frame. The nighttime scenes are neat also. Director Will Slocombe doesn’t really tackle the subject matter of the film, it’s filmed nicely and each scenes fits well in the place it arrives but there’s no fantastic touch to his directing.

The comedy touches save the film from being something that you’d hope to never see. From intruding bathroom attendants to pot smoking dads, the movie has a sarcastic and dry edge to it at times that does raise a smile even if the serious side of proceedings does little more than follow a basic step by step guide of movie rules. It’s most definitely formulaic but at least it doesn’t fail at following rules otherwise that would be hilariously awful.

Lyndsy Fonseca is a delight to watch, assured, ballsy and fun when she needs to be, she does light up the screen as the confident yet slightly cracked escort. It is a character you can buy into as no doubt there’s thousands of women just like her that would behave in the same way. Fonseca 100% sells the self selling Natalie. Michael Doneger is a likable enough lead and has enough vulnerability to his wayward ways that you don’t hate him. I prefer the interest of Natalie’s story to his though. Bruce Campbell rocks up as astrological believing dad to Michael and steals the scenes with the fact it’s Bruce Campbell!

This is a movie that I wouldn’t recommend but I wouldn’t flick away if it happened to come on a distant TV channel on a rainy day. It’s easy to watch and has some interesting characters sold really well by good actors.

5.5/10

The Gift (2015)

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Neatly packaged with a pristine bow on top, this movie is a gift of a psychological story. It may be sent with tags from Blumhouse Productions but apart from ‘Whiplash’ this film is far removed from its horror brother and sisters, taking a more suspenseful route in building up unease.

Moving to California, Simon Callen (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) set up houses in a lush new pad and as they begin buying homeware goods, Simon runs into an old school acquaintance. Gordon or Gordo (Joel Edgerton) becomes a constant presence around the Callen home, dropping off gifts or turning up when Robyn is alone. As he grows in mystery so too does the reasoning of why Gordon is doing what he is and it will all boil down to Simon’s childhood past.

This is a clever little movie, with characters upended and ideas subverted along the way. It’s not so much a film with twists or shocks but one with teeny little surprises and motives that create the near 100% tension rate. The main theme is redemption and laying with that is the notion of bullying. It’s a perfect ground to construct the movie on and with it comes playful darkness in Gordon’s actions. Though by the end things of course change and a fractured finale comes to a deserving figure.

I had no idea until the credits rolled that Joel Edgerton wrote and directed also. As directorial debut he’s surely proud of this chilling thriller, because it doesn’t jump on that Blumhouse horror trend. Yes there are scares but only one or two that make you rise out of your seat a smidge, the rest is all based on dramatic tension and worrying character interaction. The smoothness to a majority of Edgerton’s directing helps lull you into the movie and he does a fine job in keeping up the unnerving pace.

The ending section drifts slightly into more frenetic territory as more standard horror tropes segway in from numbered presents, creepy videotapes and masks but it doesn’t take away from the smarter moments before. It’s there in a kind of playful manner to really hit home to a character what they’ve put themselves in for. The ending question itself is an open one, though one I surely believe has just one true answer as from all this you do still gauge what Gordo is like deep down, so it doesn’t work brilliantly as a mysterious interpretation but closes the chapter in Simon’s and Gordo’s life with a perfect burn.

Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans double up for music duties and craft a wonderful score that compliments the smooth sweeping unease of the movie well. It builds when it needs to with harsher sounds pulling it back into the horror genre or no sounds at all when aiming to make the audience jump at a certain point. It’s a film that looks good, sounds good and does good in psychologically moulding a rich set of open expectations.

Jason Bateman gets top grades here for being an ick with a capital D in front. It’s no spoiler (unless you’ve missed the trailer) that something Bateman’s character has done is why Gordon is so ever present with presents. Even from the outset he seems smarmy but little things he does or says make you come to realise more about him so by the time the reveal is….well, revealed, you don’t find it a hard thing to swallow. Rebecca Hall is divine in this, her performance is top notch with her role being the biggest as she comes to terms with her own sad past, her mysteriously uncaring husband and a new socially awkward guest. She’s the one stuck in the middle and Hall plays this broken and emotional wife really well. Joel Edgerton as Gordo the weirdo is weird but in a cool way where you do feel for him. There’s a vulnerable glint in his eye that changes to become something more menacing at times which with his smirk, Edgerton gifts Gordo that on edge antagonist.

Though there’s only really one victim amongst all this gift wrapped drama and by the end every one comes away from the events in totally different circumstances which makes this a brilliantly executed movie with filmic studying of characters running alongside excellent tension. More of these types of movies please Blumhouse.

7.5/10

Hot Pursuit (2015)

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What could have been a good platform to highlight the power of women in film and utilise on an odd couple pair up, this film kicks that to the curb and instead uses slapstick, predictability and general minimal laughs to stitch a half-arsed film together.

Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) grows up adoring her cop father and getting acclimatized to police activity, so it’s no surprise she becomes a member of the force though little more than a glorified secretary Cooper lands her big chance when escorting a witness’ wife to Dallas. Danielle Riva (Sofia Vergara) is a challenge for Cooper though and getting her safely to the courthouse becomes fraught with hurdles.

Let’s just put it out there from the get go, this film isn’t awful, stinking or rotten. It’s watchable and that’s perhaps as good as it can get. It never made me laugh out loud or even chuckle that much, perhaps apart from the running gag of their ages/height or the women’s problems scenario in the back of a cop car but these are hardly genius breakthroughs in comedy. It’s a weak script to start with, all these sort of testifying/police/criminal chase movies are obvious and the ‘twists’ in the film don’t really feel as such.

Anne Fletcher directs as most buddy road trip movies look, it’s not stylish but generic. So it might not stand out but it at least looks like the genre of film it is. It could have had more flair, the action moments could have been stepped up and that seriously may have helped the film out a tad. I think I’m let down with Fletcher because I’ve found out she’s on course to direct ‘Enchanted 2’ and after this and her other films I’m worried because I do love the first ‘Enchanted’!

There aren’t many ballsy moments or engaging sequences, a love interest is thrown into the mix about two thirds of the way in and a final stand off is as for from being tense as Mickey Mouse jollily whistling on his steamboat. Unless you find that old cartoon tense then please forgive me. I never saw ‘The Heat’ but from friends and reviews it seemed that it was a film that got the female dynamics right, got action and comedy in perfect unison and now I want to watch it just to see how a good police odd couple style movie should be.

Reese Witherspoon bombs from brave and broken in ‘Wild’ to this slack jawed yokel routine as obsessive police woman Cooper. From quoting police codes to failing hard at her job she plays the role well with that Texas twang aiding some resemblance of humour but it’s a poor character with nothing to get her talented teeth into. Sofia Vergara is a genuinely funny lady but is shafted with more of her expected screechy materialistic fodder becoming Gloria 2.0 in this story. Even where her arc goes cannot save Vergara from the pigeonhole she’s become wedged in.

It’s not truly an odd couple movie because Cooper and Danielle don’t hold any chemistry, it appears blandly right at the end of the movie and can’t save the flatness we’ve already witnessed. A quick pace is what keeps the film ticking along nicely but sadly it’s maybe a film that shouldn’t be ticking along at all.

3.5/10