The Vigilante Diaries (Review)

Ok here’s how dumb this film is; the title is ‘The Vigilante Diaries’, and the film is broken down into chapters that the filmmakers helpfully label as ‘journal entries’.

Wait, shouldn’t they be ‘diary ent-?…’

Ah forget it.

The Vigilante is a guy.

Think Kick-Ass, then think Super, then think Watchmen, then skoll an entire bottle of scotch and bash your forehead against a wall. Whatever you’re capable of retaining, that’s the Vigilante.

Despite that the Vigilante is well liked by all bad criminals, because he kills them and their friends. But he isn’t a lone wolf, more a pack leader, as various DIY superheroes – all with awkward AKA’s – congregate around him, jabbering inanely while Vigilante preens and primps himself on the tallest rock.

When crime gangs of various nationalities threaten… something… probably national security or cute puppies or something in between, our group of muscleheads must don their Gears of War style outfits and prepare a series of God-awful quips, so as to lay waste to the bad guys.

Think of the worst bits of Taken 2 and 3, then the team bonding sequences in Suicide Squad, before recalling how pathetic Smoking Aces was… actually The Vigilante Diaries fits right in with all of these, only with a couple moments that Pulp Fiction should sue for, and a randomly cute Asian chick every 20 minutes or so.

Oh, and Jason Mews is here, which I could have opened the review with to save you having to read 400 words to find out this film sucks.

Most of all, before you settle on crap like this; THINK!

Final Rating – 5 / 10. Like The Mutant Chronicles, The Vigilante Diaries has a stupidly pompous title. And like The Mutant Chronicles, it sets up a sequel that will never come.

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Trespass (Review)

trespassTrespass is more evidence that director Walter Hill often had times when he opted to make ‘something’ rather than waiting for the ‘right thing’.

A paint by numbers siege tale that finds two off duty firemen Vince (Bill Paxton) and Dom (William Sadler) in possession of a literal treasure map that takes them to a run down slum building in the ghetto, on the hunt for long lost gold, Trespass clearly delineates the ‘good vs bad’, but can’t do much beyond having them yell at each other through a wall.
The ‘bad’ in this case is a gang of ‘urban threats’ (black guys) who have the poor timing to waste some sucker punk in front of Vince and Dom.

*sigh* Now we must kill these white fools too.

And that’s about the extent of things. Dom and Vince want out,  King James (Ice T) and his crew (Ice Cube among them) can’t afford to let them out.

It’s the same premise as last year’s far superior Green Room, which made practically the same film, only with far more flair and impact.

This is not nearly as creative. In fact a sure sign of its banality is when the best bit is clearly the aggressive rap song that plays over the credits. When the thing that wakes you up takes place after the story is complete, that’s not good folks.

Final Rating – 6 / 10. With Walter Hill it seems you must sift through the good and the bad, this falls somewhere in between.

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Hacksaw Ridge (Review)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before; a story of courage that permits Mel Gibson to indulge in his most violent sequences, the kind of grotesque imagery that he undoubtedly sees in his dreams that find him waking in an aroused state?

Braveheart right? No. Surely Apocalypto? Did The Passion of the Christ have a sequel?

Ladies and gents, welcome to Hacksaw Ridge.

(And damn it Mel, you’ve done it again.)

Andrew Garfield plays Desmond Doss, a man of sincere religious principle who abhors violence but nonetheless wants to stand up for his country in World War 2.

After enlisting Doss finds his fellow soldiers and superiors highly dubious of his courage and commitment, what with his avowing not to carry or use a weapon of any kind. They give him the worst jobs and when that doesn’t work, the worst beatings, yet still Doss moves forward, fuelled by the strength of his admittedly contradictory convictions.

No one believes in Doss. Not abusive sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn), not dismissive Captain Glover (Sam Worthington), certainly not any of his fellow soldiers who want and deserve a man who will have their back in battle. They doubt he will even be useful as a medic. Openly and often.

Bruised but undeterred, Doss sticks to his (no) guns all the way to the titular Hacksaw Ridge, which begins with a sheer cliff face that must be ascended before even the risk of Japanese rifle fire and artillery threaten to shred these brave men to shreds arrives.
6 times they have tried and failed. Doss and his company arrive on the eve of the seventh assault.

Despite victory being unlikely, the US forces continue to try to take this vital location, with success bringing easier access to avenues of further attack.

The cast is uniformly effective, with Garfield being the obvious centrepiece, adding to an increasingly varied resume that goes well beyond the ill fated webslinging. But it is the battle sequences which are the stars here. And now, director Gibson gets to indulge his inner demons.

The conflict scenes are predictably bloody and intense, a noisy din of explosions and pulverised flesh. While I have previously suggested that such films be released periodically to remind us of the horror of war, I can’t help but feel that Gibson derives some perverse form of satisfaction from eviscerating these hordes of historical brave young men.

Still he does it well.

Throughout the battle and especially in the blood drenched aftermath, Doss must find a way to contribute, and he does, as the filmed testaments that close the film inform us, this was a true story of courage against the nightmare backdrop of war.

Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. Mel Gibson will undoubtedly take a lot of baggage with him into the afterlife, but he is leaving a few worthy films behind at least.

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A Most Violent Year (Review)

New York City. Circa 1980. A city experiencing its highest crime rate on record (hence the title).

Abel (Oscar Isaac) and Anna Morales (Jessica Chastain) run a heating supply delivery business, one that they are striving to build a niche in an aggressive and thou competitive market.

They are both headstrong and determined to succeed, with three young daughters to raise.

Abel and his lawyer Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks) have identified a property purchase that they feel will provide them with a competitive advantage, but with the finances already strained and the banks reluctant to extend further credit, they must consider private financing at high interest and higher stakes.

Exacerbating the tension is the sudden onset of truck-jackings of their oil delivery vehicles, which cost them profit, product and trust from their staff.

The police are little help and their competitors see little reason to intervene seeing as they stand to profit from Abel’s loss. Abel refuses to resort to violence of his own for fear of risking his license to continue in business.

Pressure mounts from all sides, but Abel and Anna only grow more determined to make things work.

Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain ensure that you ride every bump and endure the rising tension alongside them. You feel the pressure and ponder the implications of each new conundrum that confronts them.

It doesn’t sound riveting, but for the most part it is.

Sometimes to be original one must take some risks. The risk A Most Violent Year takes is to be misunderstood as a ‘boring’ film.

But writing this film off as boring would be missing the point. Perhaps the title will mislead those wanting gore, shootouts and explosions, because this film doesn’t overflow with those things, but this is a character driven drama about a young couple during a pivotal time for their business enterprise.

If that doesn’t tempt you – and to be fair it didn’t tempt me for a couple years since this was released – then you’ll continue missing out on a well crafted and meritorious film. Still, if big explosions etc are your only ‘thing’, that fact alone shouldn’t bother you. Maybe stop reading here and go drop some Mentos into a bottle of Coke.

Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. A most violent year? According to stats. A most interesting year? Mostly. A most competent (if not always compelling) film? Yes.

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Blair Witch 2016 (Review)

It must have been hard to justify a remake/reboot whatever of Blair Witch, the first 90s viral property that took a single idea and spun straw into box office gold.

It must have been hard to find someone to rework the plot about young documentary makers searching for the legendary Blair Witch that was said to be haunting the woods near a small town. But they managed it, and here we have a bunch of young documentary makers searching for the young documentary makers who went missing some twenty years ago when searching for the legendary Blair Witch that was said to be haunting the woods near a small town.

It must have been hard to find the right director. Someone who could elevate this beyond a series of toddler craft level omens, confusing forest trails and late night strolls in pitch darkness. But they managed, get ready for more omens, trails and strolls.

It must have been hard to find actors who could bring something new to their performances and not simply replicate the exhaustion, uncertainty and ultimately blind panic of the original trio. But by jingo they did it, with all new trudging, yelling, sniping and screaming.

Well surely it must have been hard to come up with new scares?

Really?

Just more cracks in the darkness? Just more cursing at faulty equipment? Just more running aimlessly and glimpsing movement in the bushes?

REALLY?

It would seem that the only new thing Blair Witch 2016 brings to the table is the tech. They use a drone, GPS and go-pros. Of course one of these help in any meaningful way, as anyone who has seen the Paranormal Activity films would already know.

But BW 2016 isn’t about introducing new things. It’s about reintroducing old things. Legendary things. Things of yore.

It must have been hard justifying a remake that brings nothing new to the table. So hard to try to justify a low budget film with no name actors that rides the coattails of the film that was dollar for dollar the most profitable of all time (it made a quarter BILLION dollars!). So hard to bring credibility to a project when knowing that it only needs a small audience of people too young for the original film to pony up their allowance to be scared in new (and entirely the exact same) ways.

Yep. Real hard.

In saying that, anyone who saw the first film should know that – however unmeritorious this all seems – it’s pretty easy to generate a few scares from innocent people running terrified into the night. Just remember; continued silence = unnerving, and; constant noise = annoying.

Too often this film forgets the former and settles for the latter, but as far as entry level horror goes, well there’s plenty of that nowadays, and still not much reason for this.

Final Rating – 6 / 10. Once more into the dark woods my friends. Let us stumble and scream once more. Filming all the way.

And invariably again in 2018.

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Velvet Goldmine (Review)

velvet_goldmine_ver2At the dawning of a new decade (the 70s) and a new age in music Brian Slade is the Nu King, a flamboyant eccentric who dons non-gender specific attire and sings ultra sexual songs full of innuendo and accompanied by much writhing and suggestion on stage and in the music videos.

This is his story, as investigated and told by meek reporter Arthur Stewart (Christian Bale).

Like Michael Jackson and Prince in the 80s, Madonna and every female singer in the 90s, and Taylor Swift vs everyone in modern times, Brian Slade has a rival *slash* nemesis *slash* muse in Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor), a fearless trailblazer and glam pioneer known for his outrageous behaviour and unforgettable performances. His live concert histrionics are undoubtedly central to whether you will find this film memorable or not.

Frankly I didn’t. The film wooges along like a two hour dream sequence, with Brian and Curt occasionally coming into each other’s trajectory, and miscellaneous agents, girlfriends, wives and boyfriends providing sporadic friction and tension.

I found Velvet Goldmine to be like many famous people’s accounts. Of the 70s; overlong, hard to recall and full of people trying like crazy to stand out, but ultimately all blurring together into one mildly disappointing amalgam of drab humanity.

For a decade I passed over Velvet Goldmine under the assumption that – while it might indeed be very good – it likely wasn’t my thing. I never fawned over Bowie, Culture Club or any of the vaguely androgynous stars of the 70s and 80s, and biopics of characters I don’t find all that interesting rarely wow me.

Now, having watched the film, I can say not only am I still not besotted with the glam era that this film portrays, but that the film itself isn’t nearly as excellent as it was made out to be.

Final Rating – 6.3 / 10. In Glam, the more outrageous you are, the more famous you become, Velvet Goldmine ultimately succumbs to this misguided way of thinking, but it takes more than some frilly outfits and boys kissing to make a masterpiece.

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Arrival (Review)

Without warning they arrived, looking just like a Pink Floyd album cover. Settling near many cities across the globe, these large ‘space bananas’ hovered gently. Motionless. Benign yet ominous, like Kanye West at an awards show.

As the world watched on in fascination and terror, government agencies act decisively, forming a team of specialists to analyse and investigate. To decide upon the true intent of these newcomers.

(As an aside, imagine how long it would take Trump to come to a decision here. Now tell me your first thought wasn’t he would blow them up…)

Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a language specialist. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) is a mathematician. Finding kinship in confusion, they ultimately gain entry to the eggs under watchful eye of Colonal Weber (Forest Whitaker) and attempt to interact and understand.

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The further this went the deeper my brow furrowed. Sure I was engrossed at what I felt must soon unfurl, but simultaneously nervous that the revelations already made public might actually be the extent of it all.

Arrival is well made but thin, and all too reminiscent of similarly perplexing and divisive sci-fi films such as Interstellar and Contact. Director Denis Villeneuve already has amassed an ambitious but flawed collection of movies this decade, with the powerful Prisoners and Sicario balanced out by a misstep with Enemy. Arrival sits somewhere in the middle. If it were made by a rookie we’d be discussing the promise of new talent, instead because of what has come before we hope that this isn’t an M Night Shyamalan like sign of an absence of new ideas.

I have faith in Villeneuve, but hope his Blade Runner reboot validates that faith.

Final Rating – 7 / 10. It’s good, but annoyingly not nearly as good as the director, cast and premise might indicate.

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Lights Out (Review)

It likes the dark. It needs the shadows. It is the dark. It is the shadows.

It took dad from the family several years ago. Now mum (Maria Bello) is left a hollowed shell, reliant on daily medication and barely capable of caring for her young son. Older daughter Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) has gone a different path, avoiding most interaction and keeping her (unbelievably understanding) occasional ‘boyfriend of convenience’ at arm’s length.

With dad gone, mum muttering to herself (?) behind closed doors, and big sis awol, young Martin has every reason to be deathly afraid of the dark, and, as it seems to be targeting him specifically, powerless to evade its shadowy grasp.

Cue eighty minutes of power failures, failing flashlights and dodgy lightbulbs. But like your dignity after a drunken night, once the light arrives, ‘it’ vanishes.

At least Lights Out proffers more than the ‘random ghost’ thing, though it tries in vain to build a plausible backstory for the menace here. An early sequence sets a tone and despite the need for LOUD NOISES! and an over-reliance on BOO SCARES! for the most part this is effective teen-friendly scare-fare.

Final Rating – 7 / 10. A little ‘light’ (tee-hee) for a horror film, but decent enough.

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Michael Clayton (Review)

Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is no longer a lawyer. Now he is a ‘fixer’ of sorts. The man who – like The Wolf in Pulp Fiction – can be introduced to a situation and rapidly assess the best course of action, and the best people to carry said actions out.

Clayton doesn’t get his hands dirty beyond making introductions and suggestions, but his involvement invariably ensures a swifter and less painless outcome.

When former colleague Arthur (Tom Wilkinson) goes off the meds and off the rails, a high profile and pivotal suit against the immense multi-national that Clayton ultimately represents, he is faced with an unenviable choice, sell out his long time friend in a time of need, or risk the wrath of his extremely powerful employer. And with a new CEO Karen (Tilda Swinton) taking particular interest, this might be Clayton’s time to leave an indelible impression. One way or the other.

Two parties that Clayton has allegiance with, but the distinct possibility that the can be only one ‘winner’.

As he investigates further more truths are unveiled and new facts revealed that move Clayton a little nearer the light, though as the saying goes ‘sometimes the light is an oncoming train’.

The cast is excellent. Clooney turns off the smirk for a couple hours and once again proves he is a superior dramatic actor. Tilda Swinton is great regardless of what she is doing, being or saying, and Tom Wilkinson practically steals an unstealable film as Arthur, a pivotal role really given the storyline. I’ve said before that Wilkinson is an actor who plays ‘up’ to a quality script but equally can allow a bad script to have him ‘settle’ for hamming. Rush Hour 2 was settling, Batman Begins was reasonable. Michael Clayton is ‘up’.

Michael Clayton is an ‘adult thriller’ in as much as it demands attention, feeds you no easy fixes, and has an extremely low body count. That said, the lack of boom-booms doesn’t detract one iota from the efficiency of what is an excellent, character driven film, and one that is far more plausible than a thousand Jason Bourne type flicks.

Not that there isn’t room for Mr Bourne either… Just not enough room set aside for great stuff like this.

Final Rating – 8 / 10. What to do when conflicting goals converge?

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Run Lola, Run (Review)

Layout 1:IJ[OneSheet-Keyart]MechIt’s a simple premise; Lola must hurry across town to save her boyfriend Manni from reprisals due to a drug deal gone wrong.

Lola wears green pants, a gray tank top and bright red hair. She has no car and no money, and Manni needs one hundred thousand Marks to bail him out – which I imagine is a lot because I can’t be bothered looking it up…

Yep Lola’s tale is the same as that often told. The difference here is in the telling.

We see no less than three run throughs of the attempted rescue, with each involving the same miscellaneous group of regular oblivious citizens who Lola encounters in different ways, and Lola’s own indifferent father. Same journey, similar encounters, different outcomes.

A pulse drives the action, with Lola perpetually in motion, and quick edits, cutaways and even interspersed cartoons serving to maintain the breakneck pace.

At a lean eighty minutes Run Lola, Run is quick and clever, creative and visceral. It is ultimately a film that doesn’t demand repeat viewings, but the first trip is at least an exciting sprint to the finish line.

Final Rating – 7 / 10. A techno assisted energy drink of a ride.

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