Archive for March, 2018

Vanilla Sky (No spoilers)

Posted: March 30, 2018 in Movies
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Vanilla Sky hit cinema screens SIXTEEN! (!) :O years ago. Bloody hell. It does not feel like that much time has passed. I went the cinema to see it and let me tell you it’s a beautifully weird movie. How best to describe it? It’s a hybrid. A rom-com. Don’t come at me because some of the film is romance driven and it’s funny in places. It’s also not shy of throwing a veil of darkness over the whole narrative and going a little sci-fi. How and why is best left for you the viewer to experience. So in this look back at the 2002 flick I shall not be revealing any twists or turns. The downside (or plus if you dislike my stuff haha) is this will probably be a short review.

Okay. The important stuff first. Tom Cruise plays David Aames. David is wealthy, has the best job, lives in NYC and basically has his pick of any woman in his field of vision. He’s a smooth operator and truth be told a bit of a self involved git. He means well and THINKS he treats people well but actually his actions and how he treats his ‘friends’ is pretty lousy. He’s not an awful person but he needs to work on some character flaws. There’s an ‘incident’ and Davey is forced to take a hard look at his life. I ain’t going no further with the plot except to say other stuff happens that will hopefully hit you over the head (in the best way) like it did to me when I first saw this movie.

Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous) directs. The film is a remake of a European movie which happens to star Penelope Cruz, who in a twist of fate, also stars in this remake! I don’t know if this is relavent or not but I haven’t seen the original. Not sure I want to either because I just like this film as is. An excellent tripple shot of Cameron Diaz, Kurt Russell and Jason Lee co-star in strong supporting roles but the film’s heart and drive very much comes from Cruz and Cruise!

The way Crowe directs is intersting. A lot of shots are extremely specific in the way they are staged and framed. The result is several stunningly beautiful shots in a film that overall looks equally beautiful and errie. The reasons behind those choices lean very much into spoiler town though so I don’t want to get into all of that. Once it all makes sense though (and believe me you’ll get it when it does ’cause the film hits you over the head with it!) you’ll hopefully be impressed. I shudder to think what the trailers would have been like for Vanilla Sky had it come out this decade. No doubt the reveals would have be documented blow by blow in the marketing before the film even hit screens.

The film’s soundtrack plays a vital role too. Crowe is know for having these amaze soundtracks for his movies and loves music. Almost Famous (which is boss) is a total love letter to music and probably Crowe’s most well known film to date. How music is used in Vanilla Sky is important and the facts it’s all ace is a bonus.

Yes this is a film that plays out like a puzzle. There are twists and turns but none of that stuff would matter if the story and the characters were flat. Thankfully that’s not the case. This is cool film and sort of like the anti rom-com or, no, an alternate rom-com is probably a better way to describe this movie. Check it out. It’s well worth it.

 

The Karate Kid

Posted: March 28, 2018 in Movies
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Aw man what can I say about The Karate Kid? I love this film. It was one of those flicks I watched again and again as a kid and still today. It’s aged great and thanks to a great screenplay, solid direction and likeable cast it has lost none of it’s charm. Released in 1984, directed by John Avildsen and written by Robert Mark Kamen the movie would go on to prove a hit and become a fave of any kid who was a product of the 1980’s.

The story is simple. A young kid from New Jersey is forced to uproot to The Valley in California. Daniel ain’t rich and he’s not popular but he’s likeable and relatable. That’s a key point because had actor Ralph Macchio not been so good in the role the whole film wouldn’t have worked. Back to the plot, Daniel becomes the target of a group of arsehole bullies, after some beatings he finds help in the form of Mr Miyagi (an excellent Pat Morita), a kind hearted older guy, who takes Daniel on as a student in the art of karate! But mixed in with the karate stuff, the reason I think the film stands out, is a story about friendship and love. That sounds so corny but it’s true.

Oh let me count the reasons why I love this film. It’s so 80’s in the best way and a true way. The soundtrack is brilliant, the fashion is pure of the decade (check out the red leather jackets!) and the messages of the film aren’t full of irony, snark or shade. It’s a pure film, one that sadly is very much of it’s decade and you don’t see enough of today. The Valley, set just outside of Hollywood, was a fixture for me growing up too, from some of the books I read to the shows and the movies I watched. The whole film is a snapshot of a time that has passed by but must have been such a cool point in history to come of age.

Okay enough of all that. Back to the karate. The fights in the film are done well. It’s bad when Daniel gets his ass kicked. Not because he’s likeable but because it’s bullying and in any form that shouldn’t be downplayed nor made light of and it’s to the films credit that it doesn’t. What hammers the point home is a class angle which I found interesting as I watched the film as a adult. Daniel and his working mum aren’t exactly rich. It’s the rich kids who are the bullies. The privalged. Cobra Kai, the town dojo who head bully Johnny and his buddies are a part of, is run by a nutcase by the name of Kreese (Martin Kove). Kreese’s encouragement of Johnny and his buddies bullying of Daniel is awful and his “no mercy” attitude goes on to explain just why Johnny and his goons behave the way they do.

The characterisation is great in this. As I’ve said Daniel is likeable and you root for him but it’s the other great characters and strong actors who bring them to life that really works in the films favour. Elisabeth Shue (Adventures in Babysitting) plays Ali, the subject of Daniel’s affections and Johnny’s ex. What could have been a throwaway role is, thanks to the excellent Shue and good writing, a great character who brings a lot the film. Even Johnny gets moments of depth that show he’s not a total moron but a kid who needs better role models. The film ends in such an interesting way I always felt it was a missed oppertunity the relationship between Johnny and Daniel wasn’t explored in later films. And of course Mr Miyagi. The heart of the movie and I am convinced Pat Morita would have gained great acclaim for his layered role had The Karate Kid came out today. Miyagi ain’t just the wise old man. He’s a guy who has lived a life, some of it sadly shaped by tragedy, who like Daniel just wants to keep his head down and live a full life free of crap. His friendship with Daniel makes the movie.

Three more films would follow the original in this franchise but I don’t think any of them are as good as the original. It’s no use me recomending this film because you’ve no doubt seen and love it. I haven’t seen the remake nor plan to. I will say keep an eye out for Cobra Kai. It’s a new series debuting soon on You Tube as part of their original programing. The series follows on from this movie and is set thirty odd years later. The Karate Kid is a great movie and maybe you should give it another watch if it’s been some time just to remind yourself how great it is.

 

The Evil Dead

Posted: March 26, 2018 in Movies
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The Evil Dead is famous among horror fans. If you know horror chances are high you have seen and no doubt own the movie. It hit theatres in 1981. Director Sam Raimi was only 22 years old when the film had its premiere in the United States. This low budget horror was the template for the ‘cabin in the woods’ sub genre that is still copied and celebrated in horror to this day. It grossed out audiences, got banned in the United Kingdom (!) for some time, introduced a horror icon in the form of it’s hero Ash (Bruce Campbell) and is considered a classic of the horror genre. Not bad for a group of friends who decided to go off and make a movie together. Thirty seven years on from the release of The Evil Dead and the series is still adored by horror fans and going strong on the small screen with Ash vs. Evil Dead which is now on it’s third season.

Ash (Campbell), his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker), sister Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) and couple Scott and Shelly ( Richard DeManincor & Theresa Tilly) are off on a weekend get away. The plan is to have some fun at a secluded cabin located deep in the woods. What actually happens is a nightmare come to life. In a stroke of awful luck for the ladies Ash and Scott come across some occult stuff stored in the cabin’s basement. Being young and dumb they decide to mess around with it (instead of burning it immediatley!) and end up unleashing demons and all out chaos onto what was supposed to be a lovely break in the country! Things get pretty bad from that point on and don’t let up until the credits roll.

It’s a good story. It’s one of the reasons I think the film and it’s universe sill hold up. The special effects aren’t as solid and yeah some of the film is on the camp side but The Evil Dead is great fun. What’s interesting about this first entry in the saga of the Evil Dead and Ash is, I think, the intention to deliver a straight up horror film. The effects, especially if you see this one for the first time in 2018, work against that agenda. The plot of the film is scary sure and some scenes are a bit spooky (disembodied demonic voices in the woods? No thank you) but once the demons come on the scene the make up and how dated it is kind of eliminate the fear factor. On the flip side knowing how the series would morph into a horror comedy the film’s more glaring camp components work in it’s favour.

The true star of this film is Raimi’s direction. The style the young filmmaker employed in this film and his techniques would end up becoming staples of his career. Raimi used this film to let Hollywood know he was out there and Hollywood paid attention. Raimi is one of the most diverse and interesting directors working today. Moving from horror to comic book blockbusters and thrillers with ease. A Simple Plan, a thriller from the director, is fantastic but what is so cool is how Raimi clearly has not nor looks to ever forget his horror roots. From Spider-Man 2 to Oz The Great and Powerful you can clearly recognize shots and camera tricks the director first employed with The Evil Dead and it’s sequels.

This first film in the series is probably notable for being the only time in the series that it’s hero Ash has come across as a more serious guy just trying to stay alive. As the films continued Ash transformed into a hero who was his own worse enemy and fans loved it. It’s hard now to imagine Ash as anything other than a clown, although a good natured one at heart! I don’t know about other fans (a lot of ’em consider Evil Dead 2 the best in the series) but I have a lot of time for the more straight up horror approach the first film goes for. It may not have been a home run in that regard looking back now but either way you look at it The Evil Dead is an important movie in the history of horror and a fun one that never gets old.

 

 

 

This is cool. You Tube Red, which I know almost nothing about beyond it being the site’s paid streaming service, will debut Cobra Kai this May. What looks so cool about this is that it acts as a direct sequel to the original Karate Kid movie and picks up the rivalry between Daniel and Johnny thirty odd years later.

Original stars Ralph Macchio and William Zabka both return to their iconic roles and in a neat twist the series will be told from Zabka’s characters point of view. I love that.

Yes Johnny was a arsehole in the original movie but the film wouldn’t have worked as well as it did if it wasn’t for the strong performances and characters. It looks like Johnny’s life hasn’t gone according to plan, until a chance encounter offers him a chance of redemption but without loosing his style! Going off the trailer it looks like it’s Daniel who has turned into a not so nice guy this time out. So this series defo looks right up my street as a big fan of the original movie.  It also looks very funny.

Cobra Kai, created by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, will launch early May in the United States via You Tube Red. In the U.K. and Ireland it looks like you’ll have to purchase or rent (?) each episode as You Tube Red is not available here. OR you could be like me and just wait and hope the series gets an eventual DVD release!

Beyond Skyline

Posted: March 21, 2018 in Movies
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It’s fair to say that when Skyline (2010) came out it was not a big hit with audiences or critics. Cut to a confused me when almost a decade later I saw a sequel was on the way. The sequel, Beyond Skyline, stood out for two reasons when it was announced. It had a unknown director and a great cast. I was interested. It slipped out onto DVD earlier this year and – get this – the reaction was not just warm but outright glowing. Having rented it recently I can see why. Beyond Skyline is the sequel nobody wanted that just keeps on giving. It’s very good.

Taking place in and around the same time of the alien invasion of the original this sequel focuses on a new set of characters. There are refrences to the original movie but you can enjoy this without feeling lost. Our new heros have to face the alien menace and stay alive in order to work out a way to fight back against their other worldly conqueres on equal terms! The characters are much better. You connect with them and you root for them. That’s due to a better script and a great cast led by Frank Grillo (The Purge: Anarchy) and featuring great support from Bojana Novakovic (Drag Me To Hell) and The Raid stars Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian and you better believe those guys were hired for a reason. I’ll leave it at that.

I’m shocked this sequel never got a theatrical release. It looks great and the special effects are not cheap looking. The story is solid. It’s funny because despite feeling like the aliens in the first movie looked cool I didn’t give much of a thought as to the ‘why’ of the invasion. In this sequel the mythology gets explored in a big way that not only makes sense but is really cool. It’s big science fiction presented in a (and this is a compliment) true old school B movie vibe. It’s very gory too. The action in Beyond Skyline is head and shoulders over the original and the liberal approach to the carnage and bloodshed was most welcome except for one quite gashtly scene. It’s unpredictable and has one hell of a last act that you have to see to believe.

Director Liam O’Donnell makes his directorial debut with Beyond Skyline. The young director has a visual effects background (Iron Man 2, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem) and wrote the original Skyline as well as this sequel. His effects background could have played a role in why the sequel’s effects look so good despite what must have been a limited budget. O’Donnell clearly saw somthing in the Skyline world and perhaps it was a gamble to go back to but it has paid off. I look forward to seeing what O’Donnell comes out with next as a writer/director.

Beyond Skyline is a must see for science fiction fans. It’s so great. It has everything. Great characters, an interesting plot, boss effects and smashing action scenes. There’s tons of great moments in here that I’d hate to ruin. Just give this one a shot. I know the first movie wasn’t that great but forget it and go into this with a open mind. I hope we get a Skyline 3 sooner rather than later. I can’t say I thought I’d ever be writing that!

 

 

This is without a doubt the golden age for comic book movies and a huge reason for this is the quality and the care Marvel puts into their productions. Arriving next month is Avengers: Infinity War. The film is set up to act as a final chapter to each proceeding film that has come before up until now. Marvel bosses have been very clear in stating that come the finale of the Infinity War two movie saga the MCU will be a very different place.

Contracts are up which means we may well see the last of some of our favourite heroes come the end of Infinity War. Of course contracts can be renewed and no one stays dead for long in Marvel comics. I’d be shocked if any of the big deaths stick but what do I know? I reckon Cap, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow and yes even Iron Man are safe. I just don’t think Marvel has the guts to get rid of ’em! Maria Hill, War Machine, Nick Fury and Scarlet Witch? Sure. I could see one of those sadly departing the MCU but time will tell.

Anyway! Enough of speculation. What matters is the film delivers. Who lives and who dies isn’t as important as the film being great. The Russo brothers have had one heck of a task bringing a film of this scale to life. I think they’ve pulled it off. We’ll find out in a few weeks!

Full Metal Jacket

Posted: March 16, 2018 in Movies
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When I saw Full Metal Jacket for the first time I was too young. I didn’t understand it (beyond it being a war movie) nor could I graps the big themes and political climate about that time in history. Recently I saw the film again. In a way for the first time because now I am older and have a better understanding of the Vietnam war and the various points of view about it. I am not an expert on it. I won’t be looking at Full Metal Jacket as if I am.

The Vietnam war was a horrible war for both sides. Whatever your opinion on the conflict there is no denying that the consequences of the war and the massive loss of life on both sides were horrific. Director Stanley Kubrick directs a contained war movie, different from Oliver Stones Platoon and Apocalypse Now, that focuses on a small group of soldiers. The plot follows them fthrough training and into the conflict itself.

The film boasts a solid cast that includes a terrifying, tragic and unforgettable performence from Vincent D’Onofrio (Jurassic World, Adventures in Babysitting) and a early role for Firefly star Adam Baldwin. The lead of the film is played by Matthew Modine. He plays Pvt.Joker who is a army approved reporter. I don’t know if this was deliberate or not but I did not like the character. I found the supporting cast and characters more compelling. R. Lee Ermey as the troops drill instructor Gny. Sgt. Hartman is what I imagine the army to be at it’s worse. A bully, who may mean well, yet his actions and ‘motivation’ has deadly consequences for his platoon before they even reach the battlefield.

Full Metal Jacket tackles several themes beyond institutional bullying. I guess the most obvious and important is the way some of troops on the ground are being mentally effected by the war. Is it a fair portrayl of American troops during Vietnam? I can’t say. Sadly I’m sure many troops did sadly loose their minds during the conflict and carried out unspeakable acts but surely there must have been those whose intentions were good and did the right thing. If the later is the case, as it must have been, this film doesn’t really focus on that as much. This is a dark look at a dark time in history. There’s a sense of tragedy and loss both of life and of minds on both sides.

Stanley Kubrick directs like one of a kind. The detail on display in the frame leaves you feeling like you’re not watching a movie from 1987 but a live report on TV. Not because the film is presented in a documentary style but because of the care and attention that went into recreating the war torn conflicts throughout Vietnam. A lot of war films don’t shy away from hardcore violence. Given the subject matter this one isn’t as graphic as Hacksaw Ridge or Saving Private Ryan. If that sort of violence is too heavy for you I don’t believe this movie would prove a hard watch in that respect, although it does clearly contain burts of violence and some upsetting scenes that stay with you beyond the film.

I feel woefully underqualifed to take a look at a film such as this but I know its reputation as a vital film in how it looked back on the Vietnam war and I wanted to see it. I appreciate the effort that went into the making of Full Metal Jacket and I’m glad that I went back to it. It’s a hard watch at times but these films need to be because Hollywood and co. owe it to history to not shy away from the harsh reality of the past.

 

Annihilation (No spoilers)

Posted: March 14, 2018 in Movies, Uncategorized
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The Southern Reach trilogy of books from author Jeff VanderMeer are heavy science fiction in the best way. Otherworldly but with enough of the familiar the reader doesn’t feel lost. Despite exploring mind blowing ideas and horrors the books also maintain a sense of humour so don’t come off as pretentious. After I read the trilogy, with the knowledge a film was on the way, my intital reaction was “Good luck adapting this tale” because I felt it was unfilmable. Now Annihilation, the first of the books, is here as a movie and director/writer Alex Garland has managed to pull it off big time. Rather than stick to what VanderMeer put on the page Garland has took his own approach to the material, which given the subect matter is fitting.

The story focuses on a female team of scientists and soldiers who venture into ‘Area X’ This mysterious landmass is situated on the American coast and appears to be growing. The fear being that should it spread it may bring forth unkown threats into not just major American citites but the whole world. Each team that had previously gone into investigate has not returned. Except for one. A soldier, whose wife, played by Natalie Portman, takes it upon herself to venture into Area X as part of the female team to find out just what happened to her husband. What awaits them is a landscape similar to our own yet different in breath taking and deadly ways.

It is a pitty Annihilation debuted on Netflix outside of America. The film warranted a big screen debut. On the plus side it’s available right now on Netflix. So there’s that. Garland frames the film in a way I liked, it’s full of lucid and dream like imagery that I think does the book justice and gives it a identity all its own. However some choices, such as Portman’s biologist recounting her expedition, takes away a part of the suspense. That’s not a spoiler as it’s right from the get go once the film begins more or less. Even though I’ve read the book, so I had an idea of what was going to go down (I still came away surprised BTW fellow Southern Reach trilogy readers), I found this choice weird. It’s tricky to talk about the plot with this one so I’ll wrap it up here.

What is cool and safer to talk about is how each of the team play a vital role and all of the actresses do tremendous work. Portman, as the world knows, is a fantastic actress and she anchors the movie. Jennifer Jason Leigh is a total mystery as Dr. Ventress, a character whom you’re never quite sure of what her ultimate agenda is. Tuva Novotny and Tessa Thompson do good work in strong support roles but it’s Gina Rodriguez who shines brightest. She manages to make a compelling character out of what could have easily become a one note ‘tough lady’ role, due to her talent and Garland’s writing. Oscar Isaac impresses in his limited screen time but this ain’t his character’s movie. It’s very much female driven and the better for it.

Normally with a movie based on a book you loose some stuff in the adaptation process. Normally character centric stuff but I think Garland’s writing actually brought quite a bit to the characters the book was not able to explore. These characters aren’t any less fleshed out in the book it’s just the film presents different shades. On the other hand, as is the case with adaptations, Garland changed some stuff in the narrative. Which is totally fine. For example the book felt like it had a bigger tale to explore, as proved to be the case with two further books, yet the movie manages to be not only it’s own version of Annihilation but one that feels complete. Like I said it must have been tricky working out how to adapt the book and when you see what Garland managed to pull off it’s all the more impresive.

Annihilation has been met with universal acclaim. A modern classic. It may be. For me I found it to be a great movie and one I look forward to seeing again. It won’t be for everyone and that’s understandable. It’s not action packed and it takes its time telling it’s tale. It kept me engaged, surprised me and shocked me on more than one occassion. Give it a go. It may not be for you or you may love it but one thing I’m pretty sure of is you won’t forget it soon.

 

The Big Sleep (No Spoilers)

Posted: March 12, 2018 in Movies
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Right from the start, with it’s two leads (Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall) smoking in silhouette, The Big Sleep oozes cool and class. This film noir classic was directed by Howard Hawks, adapted from the short story Killer in the Rain by Raymond Chandler and follows Private detective Phillip Marlowe (Bogart) into a dark web of murder, missing persons and blackmail. Set against the backdrop of 1940’s Hollywood, the film not only looks fantastic but is full of excellent dialogue, outstanding characters and a serious noir atmosphere.

Film Noir is a tricky genre to pull off. Ever notice how you don’t seen that many of them in todays movie climate? It is a forgotten art. Thankfully due to history there is whole host of excellent films that still resonate and thrill decades after their initial release and The Big Sleep is one such film.

The film has a dense plot and you need to pay attention but that commitment is rewarded by the time the credits roll. Marlowe is asked to look into a blackmailing/missing persons case by the wealthy General Sternwood. His aid, who was like a son to him, has gone missing. General Sternwood wants to know what’s happened to him and why he is being blackmailed. His two daughters, Vivian (Bacall) and Carmen (Martha Vickers) are not helping matters. In their fathers eyes neither one is up to no good and trouble never seems far from either. So Marlowe sets off to get to the bottom of the case. What follows is a thrilling ride from start to finish.

Bogart’s Philip Marlowe is one of the coolest characters in cinema. You don’t get guys like this nowadays leading films. He’s all charisma and wise to the workings of the world and it’s darker trappings. An everyday guy who has probably seen the worse of people and the world yet still manages to get up each day and do his bit to make the world better. Lauren Becall, as femme fatale Vivian Rutledge, is excellent. Her character’s motivations are shrouded in mystery throughout the film and as a viewer you are never quite sure if Vivian is a complicated gal who means well via questionable actions or a villain! Indeed this sense of unknowing regarding the wide array of the films characters and their true motivations is what makes the experience so exciting.

There are a few reasons why I love this film. From Marlowe and Vivian Rutledge’s verbal sparring (nothing I have seen to date on film has come close) to Marlowe’s many memorable encounters with strangers during his investigation, some of whom prove to be allies while others are deadly. The Big Sleep is like a puzzle that you and its lead character unravel together. It’s a great ride. The film’s tone and style set a standard in some ways, the taxi ride in Pulp Fiction a uncanny homage to one Marlowe takes in this. It’s clear The Big Sleep has played a massive role in shaping writers and filmmakers over the years. The music by Max Steiner does a boss job setting the tone throughout the film. Seriously everything about this film is really well crafted. I know there are excellent films getting made today but back in the golden age of Hollywood it just comes off like everyone cared that little bit more about the quality of what it was the studios were putting out.

If you ain’t seen The Big Sleep then do so. It’s a fantastic film and a brilliant slice of noir that will not only make you a fan (hopefully) of that genre but set you on a path of searching out some other golden oldies from this classical Hollywood era.

 

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Mackenzie Davis (Blade Runner 2049, Halt and Catch Fire) has landed the lead role in the brand new Terminator movie. The film, to be directed by Deadpool’s Tim Miller and with story input from series creator James Cameron, is set to shoot this June. Davis joins the already announced Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton who will both reprise their iconic The Terminator roles.

What’s so special about this Terminator? Okay well how about Cameron himself stating that this is, for all intents and purposes, the true sequel to T2: Judgement Day. This movie will mark the first time Cameron has been involved in a creative capacity in the series since his original movies. Oh and did I mention Tim Miller is directing?

Mackenzie Davis is a great choice. A great actor and I am very happy to see her land such a role. Personally I was rooting for Callie Hernandez (Blair Witch, La La Land, Alien: Covenant) to score the role but I’m just as happy with Davis. The new movie starts shooting in June and will be out in theatres summer 2019!