Month: August 2015

Southpaw Review

downloadIn the Coen Brothers’ dark comedy masterpiece Barton Fink, John Turturro’s writer character is tasked with scripting a boxing film for a Hollywood studio. He wants the film to be an exploration of the mind and pain. He states ‘there’s no road map for that kinda territory, and exploring it can be painful ‘. However in the climax of the film, Turturro is chastised by the studio head for writing ‘a fruity movie about suffering’ and is essentially banished from Hollywood. I mention this because oddly enough the strongest elements of Southpaw are the moments of ‘fruity suffering’. However, these are only briefly touched upon because the film is more concerned with a more standard tale of an underdog.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope (Hope, get it?), a World Light Heavyweight champion boxer. He has the perfect wife (Rachel McAdams), and daughter (Oona Laurence). He and his wife were raised in social care together and boxing got him through the toughest years of his life. Boxing is a way for Billy to channel his inner fury into something legal and inspiring. However, tragedy strikes and Hope loses everything, his riches, his house, custody of his daughter and his respect and is forced to work his way back to the top from the bottom. The film is slightly different to other rags to riches boxing films such as Rocky, The Fighter or Warrior in the sense that Southpaw is riches to rags to riches. Kurt Sutter’s screenplay at its strongest is the moments in which Hope’s life fall apart. Sutter captures an existential angst and it helps that Gyllenhaal and Laurence’s performances are strong enough to distill this anger. The story was originally conceived with Eminem in mind to star. This makes sense due to the ferocity of his rapping and the well-publicised relationship between himself and his daughter.

There’s a long stretch of Southpaw where there is no boxing and it almost becomes a melodrama. These moments are also very effective. Hope fears his daughter will be raised through the system, just as he was, which adds a nicely cyclical quality to the narrative as well as providing a lot of dramatic tension throughout the film. In order to provide for his daughter, he is forced to find employment training young orphans to box.  However, all this drama (along with logic) go out the window, when Hope is offered the chance to fight for his title back. This doesn’t make sense because Hope’s agent (a bland 50 Cent)  had told him that he was not allowed fight for a year because of a suspension Hope received. However, halfway through the film, Fiddy reappears and states that he knows people who can get Hope’s suspension lifted. Why didn’t he speak up earlier about that? After this point the film loses what made it unique and becomes an enjoyable but generic boxing movie, hitting the same dramatic beats of the countless boxing films before it. Also a sub-plot regarding a child Hope is training is handled woefully. Without going into too much detail, the storyline of the child and his suffering serves only to demonstrate  that Hope can bond with his tough-as-nails trainer (a well-cast Forrest Whittaker). Another bewildering mis-step is that Naomie Harris (28 Days Later, Skyfall) is cast as Hope’s daughter’s social care worker and is given literally nothing to do. Harris is a wonderful actress and to see her wasted like this is disappointing.

Jake-Gyllenhaal-boxing-matchGyllenhall is becoming the new De Niro in the way he physically transforms himself for each role. He looks and sounds utterly convincing as a boxer, which is especially impressive since this film follows his role as Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler – a film where he appears to be just skin and bone. Antione Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) directs the scenes in the ring with great panache, employing every stylistic choice from POV shots to dutch camera angles to slow motion shots in order to convey the chaotic nature of the sport. Rachel McAdams adds real heart, charm and depth to a role whose only real purpose is as a way to sympathise with Hope. I would advise people to avoid trailers for Southpaw as they reveal far too much detail regarding plot and twists.

The bones are there for Southpaw to become the new classic sports movie a la Rocky, perhaps another draft of the script would have caused the film to reach its true potential. As it stands Southpaw is just good, solid entertainment anchored by strong performances by Gyllenhall, McAdams, Whittaker and Laurence. It’s a pity that the film is just not as brilliant as its central lead.

Verdict 3/4

If you’ve seen more than one other boxing film Southpaw will be solid but generic entertainment. If you haven’t this will probably be your new favourite film.

Cop Car Review

downloadAlthough the premise of Cop Car (two young boys steal an unattended police vehicle in order to go on the run from their families) sounds like a coming-of-age road trip movie – the resulting film is an unrelentingly tense watch in the vein of Coen Brothers’ films such as Fargo. Director Jon Watts (tapped to direct the next Spider-Man film) and screenwriter Christopher D. Ford manage to maintain a constant tension throughout the film with unexpected bursts of violence and even more unexpected twists. For instance, why was the cop car abandoned? In any other type of film it would be the ineptitude of a dumb policeman. In Cop Car, it’s because Sheriff Kretzer (executive producer Kevin Bacon) is a dirty cop and he was out in the woods burying a body. Therefore, it’s of extreme importance that he retrieves his car by any means necessary. Although, American films generally spare the life of child characters, Cop Car comes as close to putting it’s young protagonists in true peril by pitting them against the type of character who’d kill someone for looking at him strange, let alone for stealing his car.

0f2f63eb-aa67-438c-a2d9-2208d968c64e_34999082_imageKevin Bacon (one of the most versatile actors in the past twenty years) is utterly convincing playing a desperate, coked out of his head, violent man who is at times more cunning than his original mistake suggests. His manic performance provides a strong counterpart to the protagonist’s childlike euphoria. It only adds to the impending doom because the viewer is all too aware that at one stage these two disparate forces are going to confront each other. There are also some very well-observed uneasy scenes in which the kids play with the guns left in the back seat of Kretzer’s car as if they were toys. If Cop Car, has a flaw it’s that the script at times feels less like a full narrative and more like a series of obstacles in order to fulfill the running time. The film starts strong and although it remains compelling throughout, it never kicks up into a higher gear and the ending fails to match the palpable tension of the opening scenes. However, Watts demonstrates a directorial flair throughout the film – particularly in a latter stand-off which echoes the westerns of Sergio Leone in the sense that waiting for the violence is just as tense to the viewer as the action itself.

Verdict 3/4

Cop Car benefits from strong work by Kevin Bacon and is both efficiently tense and refreshingly nasty.

Mistress America Review

mistress_america_posterMistress America, directed and co-written by Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, The Squid and the Whale) has a unique charm. It revolves around Tracy (Lola Kirke, star of the brilliant Mozart in the Jungle and Gone Girl) a lonely freshman and aspiring writer in New York. Her engaged mother suggests she meet with her early-30s soon-to-be-stepsister, Brooke (co-writer Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha, Baghead). Through Brooke, Tracy begins to feel less alienated as she is introduced to the city life of New York. Brooke becomes a muse for Tracy – the title Mistress America is from the short story Tracy writes about Brooke.

Brooke’s character is a marvellous creation. Although she is self-centred, self-important and at times cruel, Gerwig and Baumbach manage to make her a sympathetic character. She is happy-go-lucky, effervescent and as the film proceeds, we realise that perhaps her unlikeable qualities stem from a lack of confidence in certain aspects of her life. Gerwig relishes the role, delivering Brooke’s ridiculous ramblings with brio and confidence – Gerwig and Baumbach’s collaborations to date evoke memories of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow at their best. The film does owe a debt in some respects to Allen. The scenes in the first half of the film, similarly to the recent Trainwreck, capture the spirit of New York in a way Allen first did with Manhattan. The second half of the film, a road trip to the Connecticut home of Brooke’s former, now-rich boyfriend (Michael Chernus), who is married to Brooke’s nemesis/former best friend (a terrific Heather Lind) is more of a screwball comedy in which various characters shout and talk over each other a la Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy.


Lola Kirke (left) and Greta Gerwig (right)

Although the film references Tinder and Twitter, Mistress America has a unique timelessness. The score is straight-up eighties electronica (a great use of Toto’s Rosanna) and the dialogue and comedic settings in which characters find themselves in suit any era and hark back to even Shakespeare’s comedies. The film benefits from never relying on coarse humour for a cheap laugh and an 84 minute running time – perhaps if the film was any longer, Gerwig’s character could begin to grate. Although Gerwig is gathering all the plaudits for her role, Kirke deserves credit for still shining with a less developed character than Brooke. She injects the role of Tracy with both charisma and an appropriate sense of confusion during the latter screwball-esque scenes. It’s also great to see a comedy in which the central characters are women but the drive of the narrative has very little to do with their love-lives.

Verdict: 3.5/4

One of the best comedies of the year, Mistress America benefits from a hilarious script and two charismatic central leads. Essential for fans of Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach or even Wes Anderson.

Sinister 2 Review

download (2)Sinister was a surprise hit in 2012. It came out during a period in which the majority of American horror was either the tired found-footage genre (Paranormal Activity 4, The Devil Inside, VHS) or creepy but non-violent haunted house films (Insidious, The Pact). Sinister combined the two in a way which appealed to the mass demographic. It revolved around a washed-up true-crime writer, who after moving his family into a home which was the setting for an unsolved murder, discovered a box of home-made ‘snuff’ films in his attic. The murders depicted on the films were of families and in each case one child was never found. It was an intriguing premise as it served as a mystery, a horror and at times, a domestic drama. It also benefitted from a great central performance by Ethan Hawke, a dark ending and a nasty streak of disturbing, but always palatable, violence and imagery which lingered in the mind for days after viewing. On a budget of three million, the film made just under eighty million back and thus, a sequel was required. This time the plot revolves around a mother, (Shannyn Sossamon, Wayward Pines, A Knight’s Tale), on the run with her two sons from an abusive husband. They move into a new house marked by the same evil as the home in the first. Meanwhile, the only recurring character of the first film, Detective So & So (character actor and Spike Lee/David Simon regular James Ransone), is still searching for answers and a way to stop the carnage.

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Directed by Ciaran Foy (director of the excellent Irish horror Citadel), this sequel falls into traps associated with other horror retreads of recent years. It tries to provide the viewer with more of what made the original great. However often, especially with horror, less is definitely more. For instance, there are expository scenes in which we learn about the past of the demon Bagul. The problem is the more we learn about Bagul, the less sense everything makes. In Ringu we never learn why Sadako uses a videotape as a way to curse people, she just does and it’s scary. In Sinister, we only discover Bagul towards the end of the film and it never seemed to matter why he used Super-8 footage to record his victim’s death. However, fans of Sinister were very attracted by the idea of a demonic figure using these old-school methods so in the sequel we see Bagul use ham radios and vinyl in order to lure victims. The more we see these contraptions, the more one begins to question the plausibility. We never learn why Bagul just doesn’t force the family members to kill each other if he really wants to get his kicks, or why he just doesn’t do it himself. Also, in Sinister we only saw glimpses of Bagul. The unseen demon hidden in the shadows, not knowing what was around every corner – that was what drove the creeping sense of paranoia. However, we see Bagul’s face a lot in this film and it just looks like a man in make-up, thus there is lack of sustained threat in Sinister 2.

Don’t read any further if you haven’t seen Sinister.

As anyone who remembers the twist at the end of the first knows – the child that is never found after each murder is the murderer, led astray under the influence of Bagul. In this film, we see how Bagul entices the children to middling results. The children from the previous murders urge our young protagonists into killing, in a way which feels like a sub par Sixth Sense. Also some of these souls look dead and are wearing very tattered and damaged clothes while one in particular looks very much alive and wears a snazzy cardigan and shirt for no particular reason. After processing the twist ending in Sinister, one imagines how Bagul could possibly convince a child to commit such acts of atrocity. Although these scenes are unsettling in Sinister 2, they never come close to the fear that one was left to chew upon after the first film’s denouement. Explicitly showing an action often isn’t as powerful as leaving it to the viewer’s imagination.

However, the film is far from a disaster. Foy’s direction is excellent. His use of dutch camera angles in order to capture the instability of his characters is a nice touch. The film’s final set-piece is also very tense and atmospheric. C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson’s script has more substance than the majority of American horror films. There are links made between the supernatural torture of Bagul and the real-life domestic abuse of the children’s father. Bagul can be read as a supernatural manifestation of the pain inflicted by the abusive father onto his family. Although underdeveloped in the script, there is an assumption that one of the children may be inherently evil due to the way in which he and his father share aggressive characteristics. This reminded me of the excellent drama We Need to Talk About Kevin, in which a mother fears that her son may be malevolent and malign. It’s a pity Sinister 2 never expanded upon this notion. Both the bad child and the weaker but kinder son vie for Bagul’s attention which is a quite a dark notion in the sense that it suggests evil is a pattern that can never be broken – the bad stay bad and the weak can be corrupted by darkness.


Shannyn Sossamon and James Ransone

The performances by the two leads are very engaging. Sossamon’s natural warmth and likeability makes it easy for the viewer to relate and root for her. Ransone, the comic relief in the first film, is lovingly goofy here and injects some interesting quirks and line delivery into his performance which adds a depth to his character which is perhaps not in the script. There is an element of enjoyment that comes from just watching this kooky character just get further and further in over his head amidst the chaos. The Super-8 films themselves veer between very creepy (Christmas Morning and Kitchen Remodel) to torture porn-esque (Sunday Service and Dentist Appointment). Sunday Service feels like something that would appear in one of the later films in the Saw franchise (not a compliment). Also the very ending of the film is generic. After a thrilling final set-piece, it feels the need to jolt the audience once again a la the original Carrie. However, while that type of scare may have been fresh in the seventies, it’s now as bland as the title Sinister 2. There are also jump-scares in the film which only make one jump because the volume is suddenly turned up to the maximum. It’s the movie equivalent of being shouted ‘Boo!’ at which is not truly scary just annoying.

Verdict: 2.5/4

Sinister 2 attempts to deviate from the original with middling results. The performances and directing is of the highest standard but the film suffers from the pitfalls of horror sequels e.g. explaining the origin of the monster, negating what was so interesting in the first place.


Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation Review

download (1)The Mission Impossible franchise has always managed to sustain itself on style alone. Although they lack the depth of superior spy films such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, A Most Wanted Man, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind or even Bond’s last outing in Skyfall, they are often the perfect summer blockbusters. They provide action, laughs, state of the art F/X, exotic locations and, above all, thrills and I’m pleased to report that the fifth outing MI: Rogue Nation is no exception. The story this time is that legendary IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is forced to go off the grid in order to track down the Syndicate, essentially an anti-IMF, led by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). However he can’t do this alone and can only survive with the help of his crew, Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and new to the franchise Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).

The film, like Mad Max: Fury Road, definitely benefits from the practical stunt-work. The problem with the over use of CGI is that even the best of it can cause objects to feel weightless or light, a problem which both Furious 7 and Avengers: Age of Ultron suffered from. The highly advertised opening scene of MI:5 in which Tom Cruise hangs off the side of an airplane as it takes off is genuinely breathtaking. There are also other phenomenal action scenes such as a fight on a railing above an opera stage or a car/motorcycle chase on the dirt roads of Casablanca where, although minimal, CGI is used in order to remove safety harnesses and wires, the practical effects add a heft to the proceedings unparalleled in many recent blockbusters. The film’s running time of 130 minutes flies by as a result of these long but always kinetic and never boring scenes in which our protagonists come as close as they ever could realistically to true peril.

Rebecca Ferguson

Rebecca Ferguson

The story by Drew Pearce (who co-wrote the wonderful Iron Man 3 script) and long time Cruise collaborator writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow) is very witty as it knowingly pokes fun at the shadowy nature of spy antics. The cast is uniformly terrific. Cruise, five movies in, has never felt more comfortable in the shoes of Ethan Hunt. Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner provide great comedic support and it’s a joy to see Ving Rhames have a more extended role than his cameo in Ghost Protocol. However, newcomer Rebecca Ferguson steals the movie from under the previously mentioned. As Ilsa Faust she is the perfect femme fatale. Playing a smart, driven and sexy role (McQuarrie deserves credit for never falling into the Michael Bay trap of sexualising her), she has the natural charisma of a classic movie star such as her look-alike Ingrid Bergman. It’s no surprise that her character is named Ilsa (Bergman’s character in Casablanca) and that part of the film takes place in the city. Simon McBurney is also wonderfully slimy as Ilsa’s MI6 handler and Tom Hollander (Riot Club, In the Loop – born to play politicians) is well cast as the British Prime Minister.

However, there are a few minor flaws. Tom Cruise manages to dispense of many muscle-bound 6ft 7ich henchmen despite being 52 years of age and a lot smaller than them – Cruise does look fantastic though so credit where it’s due. Also director Christopher McQuarrie, although efficient, lacks an auteurish stamp that the previous helmers of the franchise provided (Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J Abrams and Brad Bird). Instead of putting his own unique spin on the film, he orchestrates, with gusto but without originality, various set-pieces homaging earlier films, most notably of which the finale of Hitchcock’s spy classic The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Verdict: 3/4

Although lacking in depth and substance, Rogue Nation is fun and stylish. It will definitely not disappoint fans of the previous films and will certainly appeal to newcomers of the franchise.

The Spoils Before Dying Review

spoils_before_dyingThe spin-off to Spoils of Babylon, The Spoils Before Dying is as equally strange as it’s predecessor. Aired on IFC over three nights, it’s a six-part homage/spoof to the noir films of 40s and 50s. Directed and co-written by Matt Piedmont (Casa de mi Padre), each episode begins like Babylon with author and director Eric Jonrosh (Will Farrell channelling Orson Welles – fat-suit included) introducing his ‘lost masterpiece’, The Spoils Before Dying (the running gag being it was lost because it was terrible). The film of the title revolves around jazz-musician Rock Banyon (Michael K. Williams, Boardwalk Empire, The Wire) who is accused of murdering his girlfriend, Fresno Foxglove (Maya Rudolph, Inherent Vice). Given three days to clear his name by the police, he aims to find the killer with the help of old flame, Delores O’Dell (Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids) and the visions of his dead lover. There’s a recurring gag, which sets the tone for the show, in which Fresno appears to Rock in dreams and gives him clues to solve her murder. When Rock asks why she can’t just tell him who killed her she replies, ‘Cos I’m dead’, in the same vein as Ron Burgundy’s ‘I’m blind!’ from Anchorman 2.

willferrell-spoilsofbabylon-bookThe set-up allows Piedmont (who directed all six episodes) to essentially create a terrible film on purpose, filled with intentionally fake backdrops and pulpy dialogue that not even Nic Pizzolatto would write. It’s a funny set-up and there are many laughs among the way, particularly if one is a fan of the noir in which the show is spoofing. Jonrosh being a terrible writer, who in one intro states, ‘the film was made in the stage of my career in which I was interested in boring the audience’, is a great catalyst for the show to indulge in some Naked Gun-esque humour. Rock Banyon’s narration over-explains every situation to the audience. Examples include when the cops ask Rock to go downtown, he states usefully Downtown’ was cheapo police talk for the police station’, as if Jonrosh didn’t think the audience would fully understand. Every episode includes scenes in which a comically fake looking train set or model building is used as an exterior shot. Jonrosh states that he funded his film completely out of his own pocket using the money from product placement. During dramatic scenes actors randomly advertise items such as ‘Bagpipes O’Toole Brand Whisky with easy-open can. Perfect for driving”.


Emily Ratajkowski

The cast, for such a quirky show, is surprisingly star-studded with Michael Sheen, Jimmy Fallon, Peter Coyote, Ted Levine, Tim Robbins, Emily Ratajkowski, Bernice Marlohe and Haley Joel Osmond all making appearances. Sheen, flexing his comedic chops once again after playing Wesley Snipes in 30 Rock, is hilarious playing a jumpy closeted homosexual. In one scene while preparing a cocktail, he drops the shaker, stares at the cameraman, and then continues the scene – another example of the terrible directing of Jonrosh. Emily Ratajkowski is surprisingly funny in a minor role as a femme fatale delivering lines such as “You still haven’t answered either part of my two-part original question”. Osmond appears to be having a great time as Banyon’s British agent Alistair St. Barnaby-Bixby-Jones and the two cops, played by Steve Tom and Marc Evan Jackson, look and sound exactly like the type of police that frequently appear in noir films such as Touch of Evil or Kiss Me Deadly. Out of the supporting cast, they are the most hilariously deadpan with interactions like ‘The next time you black out, it might be permanent.’ ‘A first-class dirt nap.”A free ride in the pine box derby.”Yeah, you’ll get a… be dead! Sorry, don’t have it.’

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Kristen Wiig (left) and Michael K. Williams (right)

Occasionally the show loses the focus of a noir-spoof and settles for gags in which characters just do dumb things for no reason. The show is only twenty minutes an episode and these gags, which usually last a few minutes, cause the show to slow in pace. Thankfully Kristen Wiig is such a great comedienne that she can almost single-handedly salvage a bad gag. The humour is best at the times in which it is multi-layered. Jonrosh claims that he was exiled from America because his writing was seen as too controversial for the politicians of the time. Later on, Farrell appears as an overly camp and evil J. Edgar Hoover, implying that although Jonrosh was indeed a terrible writer and director, he did have satirical bite. It must be noted that there’s more to the show than just intentional awfulness. Williams lends gravitas to Banyon’s character that makes one think that he would have actually been great as a 50’s noir lead. With his top-hat, glasses and saxophone he looks iconic as he grunts and drinks his way through the mystery. The visuals at times are also quite nifty particularly during montage scenes or scenes in which characters are under the effect of hallucinogens. Peter Coyote voicing a stuffed cat which talks to Banyon about the virtue of jazz while he is tripping is one of the season’s more surreal moments. The last episode drops a hint that there may be another ‘Spoils’ film on the way, which I for one would welcome with open arms.

Verdict 3/4

For fans of noir or meta-television shows like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Before Dying is essential viewing. However, I feel that those who enter it cold may be but off by the surreal and odd humour that relies upon knowledge of film history.

From Dusk Till Dawn S02E01 ‘Opening Night’ Review

imagesAnyone reading I’m sure is well aware that this show is based upon the modern classic vampire film From Dusk Till Dawn, directed by Robert Rodriguez and written by (and starring) Quentin Tarantino.  It revolves around two criminal brothers Seth (suave) and Ritchie (psychopathic) Gecko who after fleeing to Mexico discover a local bar, ‘The Titty Twister’, is inhabited by vampires. The show, created by Rodriguez, expands upon the mythology of the vampires along with adding new back story and characters, at times successfully and at other times not so much. While I enjoyed the majority of the first season, in particular the dialogue, the lead performances by D.J Cotrona and Zane Holtz and the setting, I felt the season ran out of steam during the final two episodes which strayed the furthest from the original film – Seth and Ritchie, in order to appease the vampires,  take part in a ‘survival test’ – wherein they reenact the robbery that led to Seth’s imprisonment. The reason for this test made very little sense and at the time hugely detracted from my enjoyment of the overall season. However, the interesting aspect of season two is that the creators have already covered the whole original film in the first season, meaning that everything that occurs from now is new and original. Does this season suffer from the same problems that were caused from deviating from the source in the first series? Based on the first episode, not at all.

Zane Holtz (left) and D.J Cotrona (right)

Zane Holtz (left) and D.J Cotrona (right)

I am glad to report that the first episode of series two was forty-five minutes of fun and excitement which felt a lot more confident than the previous season. While season one really hit its stride during the middle five episodes in which they enter ‘The Titty Twister’, the early episodes, although entertaining, were essentially entire episodes dedicated to set pieces that were fairly brief in the original film. For instance, the pilot takes forty minutes to re-do the stand-off which takes place within the first five minutes of the original film. I feel as though season two is benefiting from not having such a well-loved and exceptionally well-told story looming over it. The season takes place a few months after the events of season one with both brothers separated and on the run. Richie (now a vampire) is accompanied by Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek in the original film, now Eiza Gonzalez) and Seth is on the lam with Kate Fuller (previously Juliette Lewis, now Madision Davenport). The episode written by Carlos Coto, captures the witty banter between the characters that made the first season and the film so much fun. Ritchie (Zane Holtz who steals every scene) gets to deliver a monologue so well written, revolving around John Frankenheimer’s The Train starring Burt Lancaster, that Tarantino would be proud. The action within the episode is inventive, particularly a slayed vampire’s corpse burning to ash. Also, we get a glimpse of Danny Trejo, playing a completely new character dubbed ‘The Regulator’ who seems, at the risk of sounding like a fanboy, insanely cool.


Creator and director Robert Rodriguez

The episode was directed by Robert Rodriguez, an auteur who through films like Sin City and Desperado managed to blur the lines between art and entertainment. He appears to be someone who clearly loves his characters and directs with a panache that is evidence of this. The show, shot-on-location looks gorgeous and is well-performed by ensemble, which is all the more impressive considering the performances stand up when compared to the actors in the original film such as George Clooney. I will write another review when the season finishes it’s ten episode run (consider this a pre-review), however I feel as though this season has the potential to be a blast and perhaps rival Guillermo del Toro’s vampire show The Strain.

Trainwreck Review

downloadTrainwreck, Judd Apatow’s fifth film, is the first which he has not written. That honour instead goes to comedian Amy Schumer who also stars. She plays Amy Townsend, a men’s magazine journalist in NYC whose notion of the perfect life (one-night stands and boozing) is reevaluated as she begins a relationship with Aaron Conners (Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins), a sports doctor who she is writing a profile on. Although Trainwreck was not written by Apatow, it still bares many of his previous films’ flaws e.g mistaking vulgarity for hilarity, an over reliance on celebrity cameos and an overly long running time. However, despite these problems I rather enjoyed Trainwreck.

Schumer’s script is the possible reason for this. While Apatow’s last two films felt aimless and meandering, this feels a lot tighter. It is too long in length but this is due to the amount of plot the film speeds through, which is a refreshing change than just the usual staple of his films – talented actors improvising and riffing their way through scenes. The script also contains some very astute satire on celebrity culture and how society perceives notions of beauty – the funniest of which being the scene where Schumer and her work colleagues played, pitch-perfectly by Randall Park (The Interview) and Jon Glaser (Girls) discuss the titles for their new articles, ‘Ugliest celebrity babies under six’ or ‘He’s not gay, she’s boring’. The entire cast is outstanding, however praise in particular must be given to Tilda Swinton and John Cena for not only playing against type but also for being the most comic in a film full of comedians. Swinton (Amy’s boss), unrecognisable under layers of bronzer and dyed hair, relishes the chance to play such an abrasive and crude person, delivering lines such as ‘I like you, Amy. You’re clever but you’re not too brainy. You’re prettyish but you’re not too gorgeous. You’re approachable’ with panache. Cena is oddly sweet, playing her kind but needy, gym-addict ex-boyfriend – the type of guy who, while at the cinema, would reach into his significant other’s pocket, take out her phone and put it on silent.

Jon-Glaser-Vanessa-Bayer-Randall-ParkSchumer, up until the ending, has fun subverting the conventions of romantic comedies and films set in New York. For instance, although Trainwreck does feature the obligatory shot of the Manhattan bridge a la Woody Allen’s Manhattan, Schumer’s narration shatters this homage by delivering a witty joke aimed at Allen’s controversial home life. Also, unlike a film such as Bridget Jones’ Diary, the characters are not divided into stereotypes. Both Aaron and Amy come across as three-dimensional people. The scenes with Amy, her father (an excellent Colin Quinn) and her sister (Brie Larson), add a depth to Amy’s character which is unparalleled in the majority of modern U.S comedy. However, like most U.S comedy, the ending succumbs to the tiredness of the genre it appears to mock, with Amy having to shed her natural beauty and succumb to society standards of beauty in order to enter a relationship. However, perhaps I am over thinking things. As a comedy it delivers on the laughs and is oddly moving at times. However, one can’t help but feel Schumer may have had to tone down her edginess in order to appeal to the mass demographic.

Verdict 3/4

A return to form for Judd Apatow. Trainwreck is perhaps Schumer’s Play it Again, Sam – the film a great comedian writes before they direct and write more edgy and hilarious work.

Child 44 Review

child44poster_330Child 44, directed by Daniel Espinosa (Easy Money, Safe House) is an epic which revolves around the hunt for a serial killer within 50’s Soviet Union under Stalin’s reign. At the time, murder was seen as something that was a direct product of capitalist society and therefore could not exist in Russia. The recurring statement echoed by various MGB agents throughout the film is “There is no murder in paradise.” However, when war hero and MGB agent Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) begins to suggest that his colleague’s son may have been murdered, he and his wife (Noomi Rapace) are exiled to the industrial town of Volsk, Once more children are found dead, he and his new superior (an underused Gary Oldman) resolve to find the culprit.

At 137 minutes, Child 44 feels stuffed with unnecessary scenes and plot strands which, although paint a broader canvas of the Soviet Union at the time, detract from the intriguing idea at the centre of the film e.g how do you solve a murder in a place where doing so is outlawed. For instance, the opening twenty or thirty minutes depict Demidov’s rise from orphan to war-hero and then spends a great deal of focus on a plot line in which a character, played by Jason Clarke, is persecuted for rallying against Stalin. Although, the point of these scenes is to depict how brutal the regime is, the audience from history and other media are already aware of this, which makes these scenes feel redundant. It also doesn’t help that this plot line helps to serve a tacked on denouement which also feels very unnecessary.

download (1)However, despite these criticisms the film is filled with great  performances and an impressively gloomy and dark atmosphere. Tom Hardy, once again proves that he is a master of accents (as evident in 
The Drop or Locke). He manages to  portray Demidov as a downtrodden, powerless man but in a way which makes you instantly warm to his character, perhaps through the way in which he delivers his lines and his pauses and stutters in between them. Noomi Rapace is also fantastic, playing a very fully rounded female character. Unlike the wives in most murder mysteries such as Zodiac, her character has agency and is actively involved in the investigation. She has far greater purpose than just the person who worries about the protagonist’s safety while she stays home and minds the children. Joel Kinnaman (The Killing, Easy Money) is appropriately nasty in a villainous turn and Vincent Cassel and Paddy Considine provide strong support. Phillipe Rousellot’s cinematography, through a strong use of grey and black, evokes with gusto the grime and grit of the industrialised town in which our protagonists are exiled. Daniel Espinosa, as evident in his brilliant first feature Easy Money, directs action scenes with a strong frenetic style which is employed well during certain scenes in Child 44, most notably of which a knife-fight on a train. It is during the action scenes that Child 44 truly comes alive and is tense and gripping. It’s a pity that Espinosa felt the need to tackle the political situation of the time more than he needed to, causing the film to become baggy and sluggish at points.

Verdict 2.5/4

Worth watching for the cast and the engaging story at the heart of the drama, however Child 44 does fall prey to sluggish pacing and unnecessary plot strands.

Residue Series 1 Review

1252062046571494799Residue is a new Sci-Fi released by Netflix last April. Although there was some online buzz regarding it’s release, it went largely unseen, perhaps lost among Netflix’s other major releases such as Daredevil, Bloodline and the Wet Hot American Summer prequel. The low-budget three-episode season takes place in futuristic London. An explosion in a nightclub on New Year’s Eve claims the lives of hundreds. The explosion is blamed on a nuclear disaster in a government facility located underground. Due to risks of radiation, most of the city is a evacuated. Months after the accident and once the city as been announced by the Government as being safe to return to, mysterious deaths start to occur as a strange black residue begins to form on the walls of the victims houses. Is the government lying about the accident? Is the city safe to live in again? What is the black residue seeping into the homes on the periphery of the disaster zone? That’s what our three lead characters, a journalist, her husband (a high-ranking Government official) and a cop whose daughter died in the explosion, are trying to find out.

downloadThe show benefits from sleek production design and directing by Alex Garcia Lopez (Utopia, Misfits). Although the effects can look slightly fake during big action set-pieces, the scenes in where characters converse over futuristic phones and laptops reminded me of the French cyber-punk films of the mid-2000’s like Chrysalis or Immortal. The cityscape is drenched in bright and neon lights which tip their hats to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The show also draws upon the themes of the American conspiracy thrillers of 1970’s such as The Parallax View. Through meetings with shady government officials, strange orgies in dingy nightclubs orchestrated to classical music and the fact that we discover details along with our protagonist reporter (Natalie Tena, You Instead, Game of Thrones), Residue effectively captures a creeping sense of paranoia. Like The Parallax View, we never (at least in these three episodes) discover the truth behind the mysteries. This provides an excellent groundwork for future seasons should the show be renewed (there has been talk of a ten-episode second season but that has not been confirmed).The fact that Residue was initially shot as a film but re-edited into a show is a strong advantage as it retains the urgent pace of a movie.

Natalia Tena

Natalia Tena

The performances are surprisingly strong for a show of this budget. Tena is always a likeable screen presence. Iwon Rheon (Misfits, Game of Thrones) is very good as a man torn between his relationship and his job. Humans alumni Tom Goodman-Hill and Danny Webb appear to be having great fun in their roles, the former being a mysterious and threatening high-ranking government official and the latter being a gangster who may have been involved in the conspiracy. However, there are flaws. The character of the troubled cop plagued by the demons of his past is horrifically clichéd and borders on parody. Also each episode opens and ends with Tena’s character thinking aloud and then writing down her thoughts that we have just listened to on her laptop. For some reason, there is always a close-up on the screen of what she’s written, but the thoughts aren’t important enough to warrant the audience needing to both see and hear them. They are usually very generic statements along the lines of “I can’t be crazy… this is real!”. Despite these minor flaws, Residue deserves credit for building a new, vibrant world on a limited budget and creating a story which draws upon ideas seen in other films but presents them in a way which feels fresh and invigorating.

Verdict 3/4