Death Wish (2018)

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Adding no fresh or riveting spin on the ‘vengeful justice’ wing of the thriller genre, Eli Roth’s newest addition in the ‘Death Wish’ franchise is led by a capable Willis but has many serious problems.

Surgeon Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is celebrating a birthday and his wife and daughters’ individual successes but that’s short-lived, as one night whilst he’s at hospital working, Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) and Jordan (Camila Morrone) are gunned down in a house robbery gone wrong. As Jordan lies in a coma, Paul begins opening his eyes to the world of violence and decides to try and stop it if he can.

I had major issues with this film and it infuriated me the more it kept on going, but I must say that there’s suitable, palpable tension in the book-ended home invasion scenes and tiny moments in the first thirty minutes are entertaining to a point, but this needlessly stitched on sixth addition to the series is loaded with on the nose dialogue stinking of cult movie dreams and less than gritty blood dripped revenge.

Arriving in cinemas at the worst timing possible after the Parkland shootings, severely puts an off taste in the mouth watching this show-boating gun parade, but at any time this would be a film that would wind me up because it seems happy to display Paul Kersey like a necessary angel of death; the slow motion and hip hop backing painting him like a hero because he’s discovered the world of rifles, glocks etc. The film has this whole treatment of gun shops, ammo and hidden weaponry like it’s a joke and not even the poorly acted radio talk show discussions can save the movie. Their chats of Kersey either being good or bad don’t redeem the glorified manner in which he and guns are portrayed.

It just got more irritating as it went on, that I was following someone clearly designed as the hero of the story, yet on multiple occasions he could have notified the police when finding out information. This would have saved his bullet spraying quest and prevented him from becoming a murderer. I lost sympathy in the character and by the end of the film where he ends up facing absolutely no punishment for his crimes I was glad to see the credits finally show up. Just him being horrendously injured, imprisoned or killed would have gifted the film a message that gun wielding vigilantism isn’t a smart choice.

Willis starts in a capacity different to what he’s done of late, showing some emotion to the loss of his wife but he ends up becoming the same ol’ bold bald unsinkable force. The usually fantastic Vincent D’Onofrio is a boring sidelined character here and I have zero clue why he signed on for this release.

This is a baffling movie arriving at a time of major gun violence problems in America and just generally, it suffers massively by trying to get its audience rooting for someone who treads down the same road of using gun violence.

3.5/10

 

 

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Gringo (2018)

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Nash Edgerton, brother of Joel, offers up this misfiring Mexican set crime comedy as his debut film and with an opening that’s bombed hard, he may need to think about going back to the drawing board.

Head honcho of a company, that is heading into a merger is Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) who is a greedy piece of work, as is Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron). The two are laser focused on getting what they want and screwing everyone over, including apparent friend of Rusk; Harold (David Oyelowo) who is left behind in Mexico. Soon he calls through saying he’s been kidnapped and a barrage of heightened moments follow.

I think one of the biggest issues this film has is how messy the plot feels. There’s just a bit too much going on and as more madness ensues down in the heat of Mexico, it gets tiresome and badly handled. This is a great shame because this in fact could have been a nifty movie with surprising turns and cartel-ridden sequences but it falls short of that promising ideal by a big stretch. Another issue lies with the promotion of the film, from the trailer it seems like an oddball comedy and you end up with a crime narrative, which I would have liked had I not expected to be amused along the way.

It’s like I can imagine that Matthew Stone and Anthony Tambakis have written this thinking what they’ve come up with is funny but it either lands horrendously flat or comes across as rude; i.e – Elaine pretending to be deaf. There’s not one moment where I or the few other audience members laughed or even chuckled, I think I smiled once because of the sheer force that is Oyelowo as Harold trying to keep his head afloat on this sinking, stinking ship.

I will admit that some of the kidnap plot is quite engaging. It starts off interestingly and is vaguely entertaining to watch unravel but the folding in of other characters, places and story-lines just began to detract from this quite enjoyable mishap of errors that Harold finds himself in the middle of. On the whole though, this is something I won’t remember come the end of the year, the scenes are mostly forgettable and the majority of characters are insanely unlikable, in a way that I just didn’t care to try and get engrossed into the plot.

As said, a lot of the figures within this film have no redeeming qualities and leading the pack is Joel Edgerton who, to be fair, does encapsulate the arse-hat boss with arrogance and disloyalty worn on his clothes like badges. Charlize Theron is somehow even slimier and nastier than Richard Rusk, and again she plays these characteristics well but it was a role of spite that I didn’t enjoy. David Oyelowo and Amanda Seyfried are the only actors that exit this film with any real dignity intact. Both of their characters feel human, likable and warm, their interactions are some of the more grounded and better parts of this film.

There are some alright scenes that kept me sort of interested to the film and Oyelowo is great, but I was close to feeling bored in an up and down, messily made film that outstays its welcome.

5/10

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2018)

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Heating up the awards season with a tale of anger and conflict, this drama/thriller is one that greatly explores a small scale of America as a whole and the inner motivations of the people within that world.

Driven by the unsolved case of her murdered daughter; Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) decides to rent 3 almost dilapidated billboards, in a call for possible action against the police she sees as unhelpful in their progress. Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is targeted by Hayes and tries to make her realise the death of Angela is a tricky one, but a racist and hot headed officer, by the name of Dixon (Sam Rockwell) plus Mildred’s determined anger may make this whole saga come to blows.

I’ve always loved Martin McDonagh’s work; from his play-writing of dark and fairy tale tinged ‘The Pillowman’ to one of my favourite films…ever, ‘In Bruges’. This new release from the Irish/British writer is just as dark and clever as I expected. The black comedy involved is as sharp as a knife and works expertly against the numerous moments of well placed burning drama. It’s a film that balances tones well and keeps a strong willed, unrelenting female figure at it’s forefront in a quest for justice. This couldn’t be more suitable to the real world at the moment and McDonagh ensures this brutal track of wanting answers is funny and a shocking sucker punch to the gut as well.

There has been a recent surge in people hating on the film, for it’s attitude towards racism and the character that takes a swift turn to good. Though I can see that side of the argument because this shift in Dixon’s behaviour, just because a letter sees them act differently, is a somewhat unexpected and rushed change to make, it doesn’t completely endorse the views they have/or had. They’re still a dumb and corrupt individual just hoping to come good and this whole movie is about hope; the hope of a mother finding justice.

Aside from the midst of backlash it’s facing, there comes some serious weight from the consequences of this red backed billboards which definitely polarise the Ebbing community. The great quality of this film is that is a spiralling descent into violence and anger because of how far a parent will go to seek answers and get some kind of closure. The drive is fiery and thrilling and each and every character has a scene that conjures up either a respite of laughter or a dramatic kick of unexpected tensions.

Frances McDormand is sensational in this and is deserving of every award going. It’s not just the angry vengeance that she effortlessly sells. There is a necessary and believable anguish, pain and emotive guilt to her portrayal of the character that really makes Mildred a three dimensional force to be reckoned with. Woody Harrelson is great in this, handing a sheriff with a bullseye on his head more than just a working cop, he’s a family man, sympathetic to Mildred and his narrative takes some nice and surprising turns. Sam Rockwell is finally getting recognition after a heap of turns in previous films that have almost always been the best quality. The writing of his character may be the most obvious weakness I faced but if anyone can sell it then it’s the talents of Rockwell. Peter Dinklage and Samara Weaving are two almost backseat passengers but they bring a brilliant buzz of humour to the film.

I’d been eagerly awaiting to see ‘Three Billboards…’ for a long while now and I can confidently say I’m not disappointed by it. There may be a slight niggle of a character journey but it doesn’t take away from how dark and beautiful this movie is. McDormand and the film are a thrilling delight.

8/10

Molly’s Game (2017)

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What a whirlwind of a life this movie shows us. This drama based on the memoirs from the real Molly Bloom is one that really sends the dialogue flying with laser focused intensity, wit and even humour at times.

After a freak Olympic skiing accident when she was 20, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) keeps putting off law schooling and finds herself working two very well paid jobs. It’s within these placements that she learns on her feet about the world of poker and its players. Soon she sets up her own games but the FBI want her for crimes and only Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) seems to be the one who can help Bloom in her case.

Aaron Sorkin, of huge writing acclaim and fame, is here as a writer but also as a captain in his debut with directorial capacity. His ‘The West Wing’ and ‘The Social Network’ credentials surely show off his knack for writing flair and excellence in dialogue build up and in this film that’s the case again. The directing side of things may not be as confidently managed with the expected back and forth in time and there’s a few times where the film just feels quite long.

The dialogue is pretty much consistently on point, even if it a lot of that comes from narration….a lot of narration. It’s not annoying but it’s certainly overused and I get we’re hearing the story from Molly’s viewpoint but it does ramble with bursts of narrated information. Aside from these negatives, the delivery and content of the writing is razor sharp, Ferrari fast and absorbing. There’s a lot to take in but if you do listen up and keep attuned, then the story of Molly Bloom is definitely one to engage and surprise.

Jessica Chastain plays the whip smart Bloom with incredible confidence and a convincing electric aura. She’s a fascinating talent who keeps on picking sharply written roles for women and she’s deserving of nominations for this part. Not only does she show the softer and more worried state of what she’s done with emotion but she carries an undeniable sense of strength, smarts and power throughout the 2 hour 20 minute run time. Both Chastain and Idris Elba handle the Sorkin dialogue with dynamic flair. Elba is another convincing talent and brings unflinching determination to his role as the defence lawyer. Kevin Costner flits in and out of the story-line and has a couple of smoothly delivered jokes but also sells us with the serious overbearing pushy father qualities.

There is an almost tiresome incessant thread of speedy voice-over but apart from that, I’d say that it’s well buying in and pulling a chair up to this film. Get ready, go all in and jump into a fast and dangerously glamorous world led by a superb Chastain.

7.5/10

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

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All aboard the murder mystery express! Tickets please. Or maybe not…is this a film worthy of getting a cinema ticket? If you like crimes and the puzzles of solving them, then the answer to that would be a yes but it’s not an out and out success stalling like the snow-struck train from time to time.

Hoping for a break between detecting cases, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) lands a spot on the Orient Express where he meets a whole host of fellow travellers. He wishes to keep himself to himself but a shady passenger on-board by the name of Ratchett (Johnny Depp) only gets himself murdered, meaning Poirot must step up and deduce who the killer is before the train is back on the tracks and at its next station.

I’ll begin with the positives, the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem to set the scene and more importantly the smarts of Poirot was a good introduction even if I worked out who the culprit was before the film revealed so. There’s a beautiful uncut tracking shot that follows the Belgian detective and Bouc through the departure platform, it continues wonderfully alongside the train as Poirot walks through the carriages. Also the characters initially coming together to board the train is a grand introduction and that’s simply because it’s such an incredible cast the film has garnered.

Patrick Doyle’s score bubbles away nicely, providing a suitable unease and tense quality to the entrapping confines of a derailed train. The music is something that builds that sort of perfect comfy Sunday afternoon TV crime drama atmosphere. That’s the general feel throughout, it’s obviously very cinematic at times but the story itself adapted from Agatha Christie’s novel is a safe one, arriving with that old timey classic storytelling that is presented in a way that wouldn’t be amiss on the stage.

Kenneth Branagh directs his one location set cast well, the story keeps chugging along nicely but I never felt a true sense of threat or eagerness to uncover the killer. Also putting himself front and centre is a decision I could have done without, yes he’s a darn fine actor as the mustachioed detective but it would have been interesting to see someone else play the role but I guess he enjoys the power/thrill of being an actor/director darling!

There are a good many mini interviews throughout the journey but because it is such a big cast of players that having all these characters doesn’t help the mystery plot so much. There is a lot to tackle, a lot of personalities and a lot of do they/don’t they motivations. I felt there never was enough time in the movie to really let the audience know enough of anyone to truly make educated assumptions. I just sat back and watched because there wasn’t enough detail scattered amongst the narrative to try and make guesses. Also very near the beginning there’s a brief character conversation that alludes to the true nature of everything anyway.

Amongst the talented cast is Michelle Pfeiffer who has the strongest and largest role out of the ensemble. She is captivating and in a smaller but no less significant way so is Daisy Ridley who gets a bigger chunk of acting scenes than some of the others. Judi Dench and Olivia Colman are almost criminally underused. Josh Gad makes me hate Olaf a little less as his irritating snowman voice is less present and his role of MacQueen is an interesting one to follow. Johnny Depp is that typical smarmy charmy crook, in the same vein as his turn in ‘Into the Woods’ he simmers with a bad taste in the mouth which works for his character. Also underused are Lucy Boynton and Sergei Polunin who have a brilliant scene with Branagh but never do anything else. This can be said with Penelope Cruz and Willem Dafoe who are great actors but don’t get a chance to shine. It’s like the Avengers on a Train which feels apt considering the final moments of the film clearly setting up what I’m coining The ChristieVerse. It seems cinema isn’t safe from everything turning into a sprawling universe of sequels.

A very old fashioned kind of movie, even with the zippy CGI and confident Branagh overseeing proceedings. It’s a shame that the movie with a magnificent cast and potential of intriguing 12 suspects never grabs you and pulls you along like it should.

6/10

2016 Top Ten

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‘We are Number One.’…and two, three and four, five and so on. It’s belated but I’ve finally found time to notch up my favourite 10 movies from last year. Surprisingly this was easier because there weren’t too many great films released in 2016! You could say most were Rotten! Ahaha…moving quickly on then to number 10….

…but quickly before that, here’s a few films that almost made the grade…The Neon Demon, Deadpool, The Witch, Moana, The Invitation, Captain America: Civil War, Eddie the Eagle, Midnight Special, The Girl with all the Gifts, The Danish Girl, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping then The Little Prince and Hush would have been on the list but didn’t gain theatrical releases so sadly, I didn’t include them.

So, in at ten –

10) GREEN ROOM…AND NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

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Enter the Green Room, a nightmarish small space in a neo-Nazi skinhead filled club. This movie brilliantly delivers on unsettling tension and dark turns as a band are menaced and killed. Full Review. Similarly, Tom Ford’s stylish Nocturnal Animals gives tension to the nth degree, the gritty story-within-a-story standing out as the best thing.

9) THE JUNGLE BOOK

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I don’t dislike the original Walt cartoon from yesteryear, but The Jungle Book isn’t my go to animation from them…so I was pleasantly surprised by this movie which looks incredible, the CGI landscape and animals are epic, Sethi as Mowgli blends into the darkly presented story very well and it zips along nicely as a well modernised tale. You wanna read my review-oo-oo? I know you do-oo-oo. Jungle Book

8) ARRIVAL

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Clever, gorgeous, intellectual, timey-wimey, language and love co-exist but with aliens. The story is always engaging, Adams’ performance is natural and affecting in her story that just happens to feature hovering space crafts and circular lingo. Arrive at my review.

7) ZOOTROPOLIS

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Fun but also incredibly on point about the very real politics of stero-typing and racial prejudice, this fluffy family flick is more in depth and smartly told than you’d think. Don’t be a sloth, quickly click on my review for Zootropolis.

6) 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

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Dropped on us from nowhere, the Cloverfield world is expanded with this shift of genre as we get a claustrophobic thriller centered on relationships, mystery and danger instead of the found footage device. It was such a surprise and a fantastic film to boot. Tension kicks into overdrive, music is used so well and Goodman is a scary monster. Cloverfield

5) KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

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Laika have done it again by golly! This is such a rich and awesome stop-motion fantasy that goes over some very interesting and cultural textures whilst still featuring the humour and charm you’d expect. I want to see it again to just admire the work put into making this beautiful film. Kubo.

4) VICTORIA

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I am so so…so glad that I got to see this film. It isn’t just the sheer marvelling feature of shooting the entire movie in one-take but the performances are fascinating and believable, the story is engaging and you connect to the world as Victoria becomes involved more and more.

Well….we’ve reached the golden trio, the three musketeers, the tricycle of brilliance from last year. What’s in at number 3 then??

 

3) SING STREET

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Ah, what a charming and musically gorgeous film. The coming of age story is fun in itself but added with 80’s nostalgia, humour and songs, Sing Street becomes a movie to feel happy watching. I re-watched it recently and still found myself adoring every moment.

2) HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

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Ricky Baker. Ricky Baker. A hero for the ages. This is a gem of a film with bittersweet moments, heartfelt tenderness, sharp comedy, coming of age and bonding adventures, randomness, lush locations and the ever reliable brilliance of Taika Waititi behind it all. Hunt the Wilderpeople down now…it’s so worth it if you haven’t seen it.

It’s here, Bully’s special prize. Iiiiiiin 1 –

 

 

1) THE HATEFUL EIGHT

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It had to be, as a Tarantino fan there was almost no question that this movie would hit the heights but it’d still have to be a good film and gladly it is. Three acts that all soar with incredible cinematic talent both behind and in front of the camera. Morricone on board for the score ensures the sound is perfect. Seeing it in 70mm also helped elevate the special sweeping look of this western blood soaked Quentin extravaganza. Dialogue, violence, humour and details are as crisp as ever and I loved every second. 8

Til next year…maybe…let’s see what 2017 has to give us hey?!

Gone Baby Gone (2007)

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Batman’s….sorry, Ben Affleck’s directorial debut from nearly 10 years ago now, is a fantastically textured noir mystery. The crime and subsequent drama that follows a media centred case is impressive and raises a big social or perhaps an ethical question.

4 year old Amanda has gone missing and though the Boston police are following leads, the girl’s aunt goes to private investigator Patrick (Casey Affleck) and his work/romantic partner Angie (Michelle Monaghan) to help the search. Police captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) ensure the pair are helped/followed by two other detectives from his force as the mystery of Amanda grows more worrying.

Comparisons aren’t always the best or fairest way in reviewing circles but I must say that I found this film much better shot and handled than ‘The Town’. Affleck gives this Boston set drama a great gritty local feel, highlighting the tough working class side of the city. The entire feature is put across in a slow burning way, but not in a yawn inducing manner, it fits the build up of suspicion and what Patrick will do.

Affleck also shares writing duties with Aaron Stockard, together they create a powerful visual to a story by Dennis Lehane. It’s a hard watch at times, never rough or unflinching, just a film that doesn’t shy away from the immoralities of people and what we do in the name of right and wrong. The final dilemma is scripted so well that you do internally debate what choice you might make, I’d say that Patrick does make the right one though.

Casey Affleck must thank his big brother because his role is interesting and gives the fantastic actor plenty to do as he tries reaching the end goal of promising Amanda’s mother the safe return of her daughter. Morgan Freeman as the captain is a good choice, his voice giving authority to the figurehead and gladly he comes back for one crucial scene that works very well. Monaghan isn’t just in the background, she’s bold and knows what should be done, the working relationship between her character and Affleck’s is a trapping one and feels believable. Ed Harris is loud, tenacious and convincing as Remy, an elder cop who has a big hand in this case. Amy Ryan is a standout, her turn as Helene, the drug abusing, unknowing and possibly uncaring mother is engrossing and disgusting. It’s a perfect two sided coin as we see her messy world but realise she has the parental right for Amanda.

There’s no massive crime in this crime drama, it’s executed fantastically with Casey Affleck and Amy Ryan providing excellent performances. Aside from a minor niggle here or there this is a film that looks and sounds on the money.

7.5/10