Elektra (Review)

elektra_ver2A ninja assassin for hire. An expert at stealth and killing silently. A master of remaining undetected, despite her attire of choice being a bright red leather sports bra with matching tight pants, that must have squeaked like buggery while her katanas (I think – little swords anyway) make that *shing* sound as they slice nothing but air…

Look on the basis of Daredevil I find it amazing that anyone found reason for this indescribably dull spin off. A film that somehow finds itself marginally better than its predecessor ‘thanks’ to being unfathomably lazy.

It is when Elektra (Jennifer Garner) is asked to kill a precocious teen girl and her father that some naughty ninjas called The Hand become upset with her. And here I thought all ninjas were nice and they all got along with no problems.

Among The Hand’s crew are a giant, a shape-changer, a woman with the touch of death, no a bunch of randoms even less memorable; remarkable given I totally forgot about the first three until I just went through my notes. If that isn’t enough, the randoms are so very inconsequential that their very deaths leave no remains, instead they simply explode into clouds of green dust when struck a mortal blow.

Ridiculous. And not even good ridiculous. Funny ridiculous. The funny ridiculous of a competent spoof or even the inadvertent ridiculous of B movies that are funny because of their inadequacies.

This is just regular, boring ridiculous, as Elektra inevitably decides to protect the girl and make goo goo eyebrows at the dad as the evil ninjas pursue them inexorably and fight this red leather clad firebrand quite ineffectually.

There isn’t an instant of excitement, nor a moment of exhilaration to be found. Just contrived and clumsy messages and badly faked tension.

Oh and I forgot the bad guy who sends a stream of CGI generated snakes, hawks and wolves at Elektra, all of them borne of his many tattoos. I forgot to tell you that because I forgot he existed, and frankly I am slightly saddened at the recollection that he in fact does.

Final Rating – 5.5 / 10. Elektra the film is like the red leather outfit; shiny, ill fitting and ill conceived. This is indeed a worthy companion piece to the equally execrable DareDevil, with the two pack DVD undoubtedly sold in the gift shops of Hell.

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Six Degrees of Separation (Review)

6_degrees_A pair of pretentious well to do New Yorkers Flan (Donald Sutherland) and Ouisa Kittridge want to tell you the story of how Paul (Will Smith) came into their lives. It would behoove you to find someone else at the party to talk to.

It was late. I was tired. There was nothing else on. I wish there was.

Paul arrived unannounced on the Kittridge’s doorstep, fresh faced and loquacious, despite recently having been mugged. As he recovers Paul unexpectedly charms the Kittridge’s and their dinner guest with tales of a rich life full of experiences. It seems he also knows their children, as well as much about history, art, cooking and literature.

What a delight! What pith! Such repartee! How clipped the delivery! How relevant the references!

It all becomes clearer with the revelation that Paul is Sidney Poitier’s son. Of course. He is so erudite, thoughtful and witty. It all makes sense.

Actually no it doesn’t. When the ruse comes to light, all I could do was wonder why someone would put so much time into learning so very much just to fool others, instead of utilising the very obvious learning capacity to create something original of their own, or to earn vast sums working for others.

The film directly references Henry Higgins, but it actually has far more in common with The Talented Mr Ripley.

The problem is that once you wonder how this is all so frightfully compelling, that you realise that everything is too forced, too fabricated, too artificial to warrant real emotion, either from the characters themselves or the viewer. This is a film where the characters cry wolf for so long you have wish that the real wolf would show up and tear them apart.

Final Rating – 6 / 10. Will Smith proves his effortless charisma, something that now seems so very contrived and forced.

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Blood Father (Review)

When certain actors play against type it just doesn’t work. When Jackie Chan is anything but an effervescent an energetic ball of positivity, it ain’t right. When Robert Downey Jr. shelves the quips and winks, things are amiss. So it is so very apt that since Mel Gibson was outed as a hate spewing scumbag, that the only films I can believe him in portray him as unlikeable and ornery, with the underrated Payback being the best.

In the formulaic but efficient Blood Father Mel is John, a self pitying broken man living in self imposed squalor, giving tattoos from a trailer that looks like it hasn’t been cleaned or updated since he used it in Lethal Weapon 2.

John has a tough life, but an uncomplicated one. Then, out of the blue and after many years of silence, his daughter Lydia calls.

Lydia alternates every plea for help with a dismissive comment belittling her father. She also does neither herself nor John any favours with her ‘whatever’ attitude and the 17 year old need to be liked.

No surprises then, that it was a case of ‘wrong place, wrong people, wrong time’ that lead to some especially dangerous guys wanting Lydia, and by association John, very much dead.

John must call in favours from long lost friends and those from his past that are no longer friends (played by William Macy and Michael Parks etc). Other dangerous people. Nasty types. In doing so John proves that he himself was, and again is, a dangerous man in his own right.

Blood Father is grimy and gritty. It wisely stays in its lane and doesn’t try to be flashy or clever. It bludgeons its way to almost worthiness, but can’t quite get over the hump, mainly because it is almost too simple, then asks for too large a logic leap in order to get to the climax of the film. (Also, I know Lydia is an annoying teen, but surely this annoying is too annoying?)

Still, grumpy Mel is the only Mel I can accept now. There can be no carefree and irreverent Mel. If that leads to more films like Blood Father, then I can handle that.

Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. The kind of film that keeps Netflix in business… and Mel Gibson from absolute anonymity.

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Focus (Review)

focusWhen lifelong multi-threat conman Nicky ‘Mellow’ Spurgeon tells aspiring Jess (Margot Robbie) that the secret of ‘focus’ requires having the ‘mark’ concentrate on one thing while you lift something from somewhere else, he might as well be looking directly at the audience and winking derisively.

You see, for a film glamorising the light fingered and underhanded, Focus has three key scenes in which our photogenic anti-heroes ply their trade, and the first of these seems efficient and plausible enough for us to suspend our disbelief at the ridiculous stuff that follows.

Almost.

For while we can admire the flawless bone structure and immaculate attire of the two leads, I personally could only be distracted for so long, before my tired and tiny brain got to thinking, causing all sorts of plot holes and inconsistencies to fly out.

First, in a scene – the most effective scene by the way – where Nicky’s crew trawl up and down a busy New Orleans street lifting wallets and purses with nary a flutter from the gormless victims, they almost always distract with some physical contact somewhere, while another set of light fingers lifts the valuable before flicking it to yet a third person, thereby instantly providing separation from potential accusation (“hey I don’t got your wallet!”). The innocent prey have no hope.

But what of the hundreds of other passers by? People who couldn’t fail to see wallets and purses hurtling through the air? Not one of them says anything? Puhleeze.

This sequence is meant to establish the bona fides of the crew. The fact is that the other two primary cons are grander in scale and have less to do with quick hands and far more to do with entirely implausible coincidences and random luck. Let’s just say that NFL security is apparently far more sloppy than I could possibly have ever imagined, and Formula One racing teams are stocked full of idiots.

But perhaps the biggest sleight of hand pulled by the film was having us believe that Will Smith is still a box office draw, when in his own film he is overshadowed by Lil Ms Everywhere Margot Robbie, an Australian who has taken her ‘Joy from My Name is Earl’s cousin from one town over’ thing all the way to the top in no time at all. Yet even her role is ridiculous, I mean why would a woman with Robbie’s ‘attributes’ spend countless hours and imperil herself daily for money when she could bat her lashes and marry half of the NBA, or a team owner for that matter.

Yes Focus is the movie version of a Nigerian scam email. All too predictable, and yet like an all too trusting pensioner I fell for it yet again. Thankfully it was only $4.

Final Rating – 6 / 10. I just hope Will Smith doesn’t use my $4 to bribe Hollywood to keep his kids famous…

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Lady in the Water (Review)

lady_in_the_water_ver2So get this; there are beings that live in the water. Friendly beings. Beings who were once good friends with humans. Then, probably distracted by the release of a new iPhone, humanity fell out of touch with these beings. Sad emogies for all.

So when the building superintendent Cleveland Heap (Paul Giamatti), a man with sadness behind his eyes caused by personal tragedy and the fact that his parents sought to name him ‘Cleveland Heap’, finds a pale, naked, wide eyed red haired woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the complex pool, he assumes that he has found another escapee from Jared Leto’s basement. That or she is a fairy tale character who requires an unbelievably complicated array of tasks and unlikely characters to work in unison in order to save her from certain death.

Now you tell me which is more plausible?

This swiftly grows more and more incomprehensible. Aside come the building chock full of insane nutbags, we have scrunts and guardians and prophets and saviours. Also a little old Asian lady who – as luck and the script would have it – knows the entire fable backstory, causing Cleveland to treat her like his own personal ‘Ctrl F’ cheat code.

The story tries hard to be magical, even attempts a knowing wink or two at the audience, but suffice to say Pan’s Labyrinth this ain’t.

Even by starting the story at the end point and working back, The Lady in the Water forces itself into corners in cannot come back from with any credibility or plausibility. It is contrived and convoluted, and above all patently ridiculous and worthy of mockery.
Apparently M Night Shyamalan wrote this as a fable. A bedtime story to tell his kids. Poor kids. They must be staring up at the ceiling all get wondering what the hell Dad was crapping on about.

Final Rating – 4.5 / 10. M Night Shyamalan might have gone on to make more movies in Hollywood, but this represents the point that they took the keys off him.

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Miami Blues (Review)

miami_bluesThanks Miami Blues. Prior to this film I foolishly allowed myself to become bored by ridiculous plots and dull action. Somewhere during the drab 97 minute running time I started wondering if this was all so stale because it was based on a true story and restricted the story.

Ninety seconds of sleepy eyed research couldn’t tell me if this was based upon a true story, but for the time I remained unsure I found myself being more forgiving if the tedium.

So that’s now a thing; if nothing is happening you can generate more understanding by telling yourself that ‘it must be a true story’.

Still, some true stories – even probable fictions like this one – needn’t be told.

Alec Baldwin plays a guy who for most of the film uses a pseudonym but those closest call him just ‘Junior’. As a small time crim and full time dick, Junior opens the film punching a Hare Krishna at an airport. It is when said Hare Krishna dies unexpectedly that he attracts the attention of the law, namely homicide detective Mosely (Fred Ward).

Primary plot established right? Wrong. The vaguely interesting opening ten minutes are betrayed by a lack of cohesion.

Junior speed-courts a hooker named Susie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and mistreats his way into her heart somehow, before dabbling in a little identity theft and becoming a douche-vigilante, the least likeable Robin Hood in cinematic history.

It’s a jumbled and unfunny mess with a couple moments that hint at black comedy without success, and other moments that hint at end goals of quirkiness, only without a single likeable or even bearable character. It was several years before Alec Baldwin proved to all what a genuine douche he is, but you don’t have to look had to see the signs here.

Final Rating – 5 / 10.  I truly cannot even guess at what they were trying to do here. Whatever their aim was, they missed…

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Train to Busan (Review)

Busy important businessmen don’t have time for silliness and frivolity. They don’t have time to waste present shopping, even for their only daughter. Certainly not time to check back on what they purchased in last year’s last minute rush. And most definitely not enough time to take a train – even a bullet train – across Korea to try to make things right with his estranged wife in an attempt to reunite the family.

The fact that a virus has rendered half the population fast moving bloodthirsty zombies is just a further impediment.

This daddy-daughter day just got even more hectic.

Aboard a train filled with zombies that viciously assault any living thing they see, Train to Busan plays out like (the far superior) Snowpiercer, with the few survivors (businessman and daughter, the young pregnant couple, the teenage lovebirds etc) having to navigate along the train and each new carriage seeming to represent a new zombie infested puzzle that they must solve before they can be permitted to risk their lives in a different way.

There is much blood but no gore, so none of the jaw dropping nastiness of exploding corpses or gross kills – of either living or undead. It is occasionally amusing but never funny. It is fast moving but never exhilarating, with the pivotal moments more reminiscent of World War Z, another film that dulled the blood and attempted to use movement to generate the threat, also with a slightly underwhelming outcome.

It plays out as it sounds, like a series of The Walking Dead shorts, only without any signature scenes or moments that seek to maximise all of the traits of the zombie genre. And while I am pretty much done with The Walking Dead (but I’ve been saying that for three years now) I would probably rather watch that than board this rather routine train to Busan again.

Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. Occasionally fun but ultimately toothless zombie flick.

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Hyena (Review)

hyenaMichael is a London cop who like a beer and a laugh despite living neck deep in violence and depravity. He knows that boys will be boys, and in the Turkish district he polices a little crime is expected.

But you must know when to draw the line, and that line seems to be drawn for anyone who profits while refusing to give Michael a taste. Hyenas are scavengers living off the efforts of others after all…

Still, the tenuous relationship between known criminals and alleged lawkeepers is maintained well, until that is, the Albanians move in to both the district and the world of illicit activities.

With David his new boss eager to impose his will on Michael – with whom he has a past – and the small police team, and the Albanians making astonishingly violent inroads into the local crime loop, Michael is faced with some difficult decisions: will he continue to abide and occasionally profit from the women trafficking, drugs and general standover stuff, or will he make a stand.

Hyena could have gone in many directions. It chose perhaps the most uncompromising. This is as far from Liam Neeson in Taken or Denzel in The Equalizer as you can imagine.
Some of the acts of violence that punctuate the film are as, frankly, gross and unsettling, as they are sudden. The fact that they seem so casual and matter of fact as opposed to flamboyant acts of bravado is legitimately troubling. These criminals will end a life to send a message the same way you might casually shake your head at the driver in the next lane who gets too close to yours.

Then they’ll chuckle while they dismember your corpse so that they can remove the evidence more efficiently.

Yes Hyena is an especially adult – and especially powerful – drama. It shouldn’t be viewed by the young and impressionable. This isn’t ‘Schwarzenegger in Commando Rated R’, this is another level. But it wouldn’t be nearly as efficient without the cast and the stylish direction. Peter Ferdinando as Michael is an obvious standout, and on the basis of this alone he deserves to break out just like Tom Hardy did with Bronson, though he seems a bit older and perhaps a little less photogenic than Bane.

It is with hesitation that I endorse Hyena. While I admire its commitment to tone and the competence with which it achieves its aims, I always worry that the acolytes of Nicolas Winding Refn and Gaspar Noe will take this stuff too seriously…

Or maybe it bothers me that this is so accurate and true to life, and that somewhere on the planet there are those that treat human life with such disdain and a lack of care.

Yes. Undoubtedly. There is certainly that also.

Final Rating – 7 / 10. Hyena is a fine film about an element of society that I hope we can move beyond.

(Also: I can’t believe that ten minutes ago I finished writing about Sausage Party.)

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Apt Pupil (Review)

apt_pupil_ver2Some kids memorise sports stats from the back of trading cards. Some know the abilities and weaknesses of every superhero. In 1984 Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) was a huge fan of World War 2, with the Nazi’s being his specialty. More troublingly was his admiration of their beliefs and methods.

Despite there being nearly four decades elapsing since the close of WW2, Todd recognises Dussander (Ian McKellen) on a bus near his American home. After more research than any teen on record, Todd approaches the elderly German man at his home and lays out a laundry list of Dussander’s reprehensible achievements during wartime, before professing his fandom and abruptly blackmailing him into an awkward friendship with threats of unveiling him publicly.

Dussander eventually comes to trust the boy’s evilness, eventually recounting tales of vileness while Todd looks on in awe, almost envy. But the stories aren’t enough for this troubled boy…

Apt Pupil garnered solid reviews upon release, I would venture due to the fact that Nazi’s automatically demand a modicum of awe as subject matter lest they be deemed insensitive. But for mine Apt Pupil is flawed and clumsy, and reliant on coincidences that go far beyond ‘boy recognising Nazi from 40 year old picture on his local bus’. And this is before a ridiculous ending that kills all momentum and shreds credibility in a film that was already asking us to pick a winner from two file and disgusting candidates.

Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. Apt Pupil might be a decent enough student when dealing exclusively with its special subject, but ultimately though as an overall work this  ‘teacher’s’ comment would be ‘Needs Improvement’.

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Southern Comfort (Review)

southern_comfortThe Louisiana home guard head into the swamps for a march in full kit through rough and uncharted terrain.

A quick short cut to save time sees the nine men run afoul of a small settlement of Cajun trappers. While the initial incident is deeply unfortunate and borne of a moment of soldier idiocy, the events that further escalate the situation are even more unforgivable.

With no map, only a few bullets and no home ground advantage, the odds are somehow against these semi-trained soldiers, who continue to do themselves no favours. At times it seems as if the soldiers are taking turns at doing dumb, inflammatory shit.

With the pressure increasing the tension rises and infighting begins.  Similarly damaging is the lack of a central figure within the troops, though Fred Ward, Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe all take their shots.

The film shows traces of becoming first a Deliverance style drama and then a First Blood type action piece, but like the soldiers lacks the discipline and the ability. The tacked on finale only seems to provide the formerly faceless bad guys with some minor screen time.

Final Rating – 6 / 10. Walter Hill directed many fine films in the 70s and 80s, Southern Comfort is not one of them.

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