My Top 10 Films of 2013

Okay, this is how it works- they either had to be released this year or I saw them in the cinema in the last twelve months, so if they were released in December 2012 but I only caught them in January they’re allowed on the list. Anyway, here we go.

Honourable mentions- World War Z, The World’s End.

10. Side Effects

A gripping thriller taking place against the background of America’s drug culture and boasting great performances from Jude Law and Rooney Mara, along with a brittle, cold turn from Catherine Zeta Jones. Gripping and interesting, with a few nice twists towards the end. Review.

9. Man of Steel

Henry Cavill impresses as Superman and Amy Adams is wonderful as Lois Lane in this enjoyable superhero adventure. The final fight is a bit overlong, but there’s plenty to enjoy here, and Kevin Costner is fantastically cast as Jonathan Kent. More than makes up for the woeful Superman Returns. Full review here.

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8. Flight

Centred around a typically charismatic performance from Denzel Washington, this is a rather entertaining thriller which leaves you in two minds, partly rooting for the hero to get away with it but knowing he needs to mend his ways. It’s a tad predictable in places, but Washington holds the attention and there’s enough humour to keep it fizzing. Review.

7. Warm Bodies

A pleasantly sweet and endearing romantic comedy with zombies, I really dug this movie and it appealed to both my soppy liking for romance and love of the undead. My thoughts here.

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6. Star Trek Into Darkness

JJ Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek franchise moves ahead with the second installment, and ups the tension. For newcomers there are plenty of thrills and for old fans like me a few nice riffs on the old universe. The big reveal of who Benedict Cumberbatch’s character wasn’t a massive surprise, but it’s still a great fun watch and expands the Kirk-Spock relationship, although I hope we get more of Karl Urban’s McCoy in later films. Review here.

5. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

As with the books the second part of the story builds on the first, expanding Suzanne Collins’ fictional world and upping the stakes. Jennifer Lawrence continues to impress in the lead role. Full review.

catching fire poster

4. Pitch Perfect

Hilarious comedy with some nice musical numbers and a brilliant lead in the wonderfully charming Anna Kendrick, even though she has the whole film stolen from under her by the fantastic Rebel Wilson. Review.

Scene stealing- Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy

Scene stealing- Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy

3. Django Unchained

Tarantino’s long anticipated Western finally arrived and was superb, gloriously OTT but with a darker, more emotional edge. Much is played for laughs, but the violence against the slaves is done in such a way that shows it’s callous brutality in painful terms. The script has the trademark QT edge and the performances from Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and particularly Samuel L Jackson. And the “hoods scene” remains one of the year’s funniest moments. More.

2. Iron Man 3

Shane Black takes over the reins and guides it to new heights, with this hugely entertaining superhero romp which cements Robert Downey Jr as possibly the best cast superhero in movies. Deals with the fallout from Avengers and shows us a more fragile Stark. Review here.

1. Argo

Ben Affleck continues to impress behind the camera and his execution of this historical thriller is sublime. Managing to capture the edgy tension of the hostages in Iran and the humour in the CIA’s unorthodox plan to extract them, swinging between belly laughs and nail chewing suspense. Review.

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Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Disclaimer: Okay, this is the sequel to an earlier movie, so there will be spoilers of the first movie included in this.

I really dug the first movie in this series, and loved the books. One of the film’s major strengths was Jennifer Lawrence’s great performance as Katniss Everdeen, so I was looking forward to seeing her back in action again.

catching fire poster

The movie kicks off shortly after the first, with Katniss having returned to District 12, where she and fellow victor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have moved into their fancy new houses, but with Peeta having realized that Katniss was pretending to love him in the Games a distance has grown between them. Katniss has also grown closer to old friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth). They’re set to perform the victory tour, but President Snow (Donald Sutherland) isn’t happy. The way Katniss and Peeta beat the system has become regarded as an act of defiance, and unrest is growing, with Katniss as the symbol of the revolution.

Snow tells Katniss she needs to play up the love angle and toe the line, threatening those she cares about. Despite her best efforts on the tour, Snow is unconvinced and by playing puppet for the Capitol, Katniss feels guiltier than ever, as well as for having to mess with Peeta’s feelings.

Snow and new game master Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) have a plan to crack down hard to instill fear in the Districts, while also pushing Katniss’ forthcoming wedding to drive a gap between her and the rebellion. The crack down hits District 12 hard, and then the announcement of the 75th Hunger Games comes. As part of the anniversary Quarter Quell, the games have a new spin, and it is that the tributes must be chosen from existing victors. Katniss, as the only female is guaranteed to return, and hopes that her former mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) will join her, but Peeta volunteers.

Deja Vu: Peeta and Katniss stand with Effie as they prepare to return to the Games

Deja Vu: Peeta and Katniss stand with Effie as they prepare to return to the Games

Haymitch warns them that they will be facing popular, hardened killers this time and the Games will be harder than ever. Back in the Capitol they must try to form alliances with the eccentric and damaged former champions, none of whom Katniss trusts. All of the tributes are unhappy that the rules have changed and do their best to turn the crowd and stop the games, but they go ahead.

Can Katniss and Peeta beat the odds again? Who can they trust in the arena? And what does the new arena hold for them.

I freaking loved this movie.

As with the books it builds on the simple first part and expands the world around Katniss, there’s more intrigue and back ground machinations in the real world and an even greater sense of danger in the arena.

Lawrence is on fine form once again, capturing Katniss’ determination and grit, along with the scars she carries from the first games and guilt over what her actions have inspired. But best of all is that Lawrence never loses sight of the fact that at the heart of the character is a teenager out of their depth and forced into a horrible situation.

Lawrence also manages, in Katniss’ faltering awkwardness during the tour, to capture the unease at being a symbol and the growing awareness of life beyond her District and the decadence of the Capitol. Also while training for her return to the arena she must deal with how easily and comfortable she is as a fighter, while also seeing her potential future in the messed up former winners.

These are another of the film’s great strengths because while a few slip into the background, they are far more interesting than the first movie’s anonymous cannon fodder. From the two nervy drug addicts who have fried their head to the posturing, aggressive career tributes, all give credence to Haymitch’s claims that there are no “winners” in the Games.

Among the most interesting is the swaggering Finnick Odair played by Sam Claflin, who’s early appearances show him as a smooth talking cocky ladies man, but who reveals a softer, more compassionate side within the arena, and a great help to Katniss.

Sam Claflin as Finnick

Sam Claflin as Finnick

The others are interesting, reflecting the differences in their respective Districts and their different approaches to the games- the clever, the sneaky and the vicious.

Katniss, Peeta and some of their allies in the arena, who can they trust?

Katniss, Peeta and some of their allies in the arena, who can they trust?

Their approaches vary, but all are fighting for their survival, but is there more at stake, why are so many seeming to be committed to working with Katniss and Peeta?

My personal favourite was Jena Malone as the fiery Johanna Mason, a ball of anger and fury who Katniss dislikes almost instantly but who’s unpredictable, rebellious nature makes her extremely entertaining and she was one of my favourite characters in the books. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve got a bit of a crush on Malone.

Jena Malone as Johanna Mason

Jena Malone as Johanna Mason

Another step up is the new arena, which is a collection of nightmarish obstacles and mutated animals, which are genuinely terrifying and ramp up the sense of peril. There’s also one which just shows how messed up the Capitol is and is a horrific example of psychological warfare which targets the already fragile victors.

The threat is amplified by giving us more of Donald Sutherland as the menacing Snow and the Capitol’s show of strength, which sees them try to stamp down any attempt of rebellion.

Gale (Hemsworth) in trouble

Gale (Hemsworth) in trouble

It also benefits from a change in director with Gary Ross replaced by Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend), who seems more confident behind the camera, handling the action sequences while also showing a great knack for the more quiet, touching moments, including a couple of deaths in the arena.

There’s also an added depth to the characters from the Capitol, with the crowds showing genuine affection for the victors and best of all through Elizabeth Banks’ Effie, who shows more depth here and the beginning of disillusionment and doubt in the system. The scene where she draws the names and finds herself next to Katniss and Peeta again is awful, with the previously campy comedy character showing cracks and real pain at the chance of them having to compete again.

As mentioned, Lawrence shoots the action sequences well and best of all has abandoned Ross’ constant shaky cam, which was one of the few things I actively disliked in the original.

Like all the best sequels it builds and expands on the first movie and surpasses it. The ending lacks clout, but this is the second part of a trilogy and so that’s to be expected and does leave you eager for the next part.

Verdict: A step up from the original as the scope widens, and Lawrence continues to impress in the lead. Wonderfully executed and a great thriller, with a more interesting supporting cast and left me looking forward to the next movie and happy with how the books are translating to the screen. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: Les Miserables

I like musicals, but for some reason I’ve never seen Les Miserables all the way through before. My sister owned a copy on VHS when we were kids, having seen it live, and I remember watching some of it a few times, but it’s a bit of an epic and I don’t think I ever made it to the end without wandering off to play football or pretend to be a Ghostbuster.

I remember a few of the songs and that it was rather bleaker than my favourites in the genre (Singin’ in the Rain, The Sound of Music, The King and I and Grease), but the movie released earlier this year stoked my interest- it looked suitably epic in tone and execution and boasted a pretty good cast, however, I missed it on the big screen and have only just got round to watching it on DVD, so I thought I’d write a little review.

les mis poster

Plot break down is going to be a bit tricky, but I’ll try to get through it quickly- France, the early 1800s, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has just ended a 19 year prison for stealing bread under the watchful eye of unforgiving and tough officer Javert (Russell Crowe).

Jean Valjean (Jackman) working on the chain gang

Jean Valjean (Jackman) working on the chain gang

Valjean is allowed out on parole but soon breaks this and starts to try and live a good life. Years later he is a respectable man who runs a factory and is mayor.

One of the workers in his factory is Fantine (Anne Hathaway), who works to send money to her young daughter. Fantine’s fellow workers don’t like her and get her fired, down on her luck Fantine has to sell her hair and some teeth and eventually resort to prostitution. After she injures an abusive customer Javert wants to arrest her but Valjean intervenes and takes her to hospital. Valjean promises to look after her daughter and Fantine dies. Valjean’s cover is blown when another man is mistakenly thought to be him and arrested. Valjean rushes to the court and reveals his true identity before fleeing.

Valjean finds Fantine’s daughter, Cosette and takes her from the dubious care of unscrupulous landlord Thenadier (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his wife (Helena Bonham Carter). He clears Fantine’s deaths and they leave, with him promising to raise Cosette as if she was his own daughter. Javert discovers this and vows to track him down.

Several years later and Valjean and the grown up Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) live in Paris. At the same time a group of students plan revolution, one of their number, Marius (Eddie Redmayne) sees Cosette and falls for her. He is friends with Eponine (Samantha Barks), Thenadier’s daughter, who is in love with Marius and who recognizes Cosette. Cosette and Marius meet and exchange letters, but Thenadier plans to claim the reward for Valjean and they must flee. Cosette’s note to her love is found and hidden by Eponine.

The students start there revolution and hope the public will join them, but aid is not forthcoming and they find themselves trapped behind their barricades with soldiers surrounding them and resolve to fight to the death. Eponine is killed saving Marius and gives him Cosette’s letter, and he sends a note to her. Valjean intercepts it and goes to the barricades to protect Marius. Meanwhile, Javert is also at the barricades having been exposed attempting to spy on them and taken prisoner.

Will the rebellion work? Can Valjean finally free himself from Javert’s pursuit? Will Marius be reunited with Cosette?

I dug this movie, although knowing the vague story I knew what the ending was going to be like, but I think that was easy to guess anyway, because an air of doom hangs over the whole film. Tom Hooper directs it all with a down and dirty style and his decision to film the performers singing live on set works wonders in grounding it. It also helps that it’s more of an opera than a standard musical, with people singing all the way through meaning there are no awkward transitions from chatting to crooning.

The songs are magnificent as well, the standout is probably the rabble rousing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” which is a beautiful, anthemic call to arms. It’s the song I remember from seeing it as a kid, and Hooper shoots it beautifully, with it building throughout and feeling like a proper protest song.

Performance wise it’s a real treat, Hugh Jackman is the standout as the noble Valjean, who’s survival instinct constantly clashes with his sense of morality. Jackman is also a great singer having done the Broadway thing in the past, and he has real talent in conveying raw emotion through his singing. Having only seen Jackman as Wolverine and a few duff movies (Swordfish and Kate & Leopold) I was pleasantly surprised by his performance.

The other standout is Anne Hathaway in her Oscar winning supporting role as Fantine. Hathaway has this heartbreaking frailty as the woman who falls from grace in a truly distressing sequence. And her version of “I Dreamed a Dream” is beautifully heartfelt and sad.

Hathaway as Fantine: Heartbreaking

Hathaway as Fantine: Heartbreaking

The rest of the cast do well with their roles. I heard a lot of criticism of Crowe’s singing, and while he’s not up there with the rest of the cast I didn’t think he was that bad. In fact, I think in a way his more reserved performance and stiff mannerisms works for the character of the rigid and disciplined Javert. Crowe should also be applauded for the way he allows the character’s obsession to bleed in and starts to fray around the edges.

I also liked that the character isn’t a complete bastard and there are flashes of humanity throughout, and Crowe does a brilliant job as Javert starts to doubt himself and his pursuit of Valjean.

Crowe as Javert

Crowe as Javert

There are problems though, Redmayne and Seyfried are both pretty good, but their love story progresses extremely quickly. Even Verona’s star crossed lovers would consider it hasty the way they fall for each other after less than a handful of meetings. Because of this it never quite engages and Eponine’s unrequited feelings for Marius are sketched a little too shallow for any serious resonance.

Seyfried and Redmayne as the lovers Cosette and Marius.

Seyfried and Redmayne as the lovers Cosette and Marius.

Another problem I had was that the street urchin who joins the revolutionaries, Gavroche, played by Daniel Huttlestone sounds like he’s wandered off from the Oliver! set and his heavily cockney accent was just offputting.

Also, the tone is continuously grim, with HBC and SBC’s scheming scumbags providing the film it’s only levity and their bawdy antics make a nice change from the gloom and moping of the others.

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thenadiers are the only fun part of the movie.

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thenadiers are the only fun part of the movie.

Hooper directs wonderfully and it tugs at the heartstrings well enough, but for me it was all a bit glum and hard going in places.

Verdict: A well executed and moving musical, but it’s unremitting bleakness is a bit draining, and a few good songs can’t quite salvage it . 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: The World’s End

I love Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s work together, from their awesome sitcom Spaced through their big screen collaborations Shaun of The Dead and Hot Fuzz. These two movies formed parts 1 and 2 of the Cornetto trilogy, and this movie is the third installment.

The reason the movies work is because they have incredibly funny, clever scripts with lots of little gags and callbacks layered in and a sense that it’s all been very well thought out before hand. There’s also a real British feel to them, from Shaun’s blundering adventures against the undead to the incongruous action set pieces taking place in a quiet village street.

Having taken on the zombie horror and buddy cop action genres, here they turn towards science fiction.

theworldsend

In the early ’90s five teenage friends from Newton Haven set out to complete the local pub crawl, “the Golden Mile”, which took in all 12 pubs in the town. They failed to make the last pub, The World’s End.

Now as adults, all have moved on into worlds of working, marriage and responsibility, all save the group’s leader, Gary King (Pegg), who sees the pub crawl as the best night of his life, and is still stuck in the past, dressing and acting like his teenage self. Not finishing does bother him and he decides to reunite his old friends and try again, despite not having seen them in years.

The friends are less enthusiastic about it but he manages to convince Peter (Eddie Marsan), Steven (Paddy Considine) and Oliver (Martin Freeman) to come along, although all are skeptical about his chances of convincing his former best friend Andy (Nick Frost), to come along, with a rift having formed between them. The teetotal Andy reluctantly agrees and they head for their old hometown.

The gang together again (l-r: Freeman, Considine, Pegg, Frost and Marsden)

The gang together again (l-r: Freeman, Considine, Pegg, Frost and Marsan)

They start out on the crawl, his friends by turns amused and irritated by Gary’s antics, his selective memory and the way he acts as though they’re still teenagers. The situation is made tenser by the arrival of Oliver’s sister, Sam (Rosamund Pike), who Gary hooked up with in the past, and who Steven always carried a torch for.

Following an argument about Gary’s insensitivity, Gary ends up in a fight with a local youth. During the scrap, the boy’s head comes off and it’s revealed he’s a robot. The others arrive and fight other robots. With Andy having fallen off the wagon they’re all too drunk to drive home, and they have to follow Gary’s plan- continuing on the crawl so that the others don’t figure out they know something’s up and then leaving in the morning.

How far does the robot invasion go and to what purpose? Who can they trust? Can they evade detection? Can the wounds of the past heal and allow them to rebuild their friendships? And can five older blokes really finish a pub crawl that was too much for their 18 year old selves?

I quite liked this movie, although it doesn’t quite match Shaun or Fuzz, but then again, those two films benefit from repeated viewings allowing you to notice more things and get gags you missed the first time around, so maybe rewatching this will help it grow in my estimation.

That’s not to say it’s not a belting movie and there are some great laugh out loud moments, and the script is smart and witty.

What it benefits most from is a sensational performance from Simon Pegg. In the earlier films he’s played more of the straight man to Nick Frost, but here their roles are reversed. It’s a brave decision to tinker with the formula, but it works because in Gary King they’ve created a brilliant character.

Gary’s a bit of a tool. He’s arrogant, insensitive, kinda dumb and self centred, but Pegg manages to make him likable despite all this and really captures the kind of tragic vibe of the character. This is a man who at 18 had the world at his feet, he was popular, cool and had his mates. In the flashback to the first pub crawl, despite failing on the crawl there’s still a sense of optimism in Gary as he watches the sun come up.

Sadly, since then life hasn’t panned out the way he thought. Troubled and unable to move with the times, he’s stalled in a depressing version of his 18 year old self- he dresses the same way, drives his old car and plays his old music (giving the movie a great soundtrack). He still acts like the cocky cool kid, but now his friends regard him with annoyance, pity and mocking rather than their former respect.

Pegg as Gary, a rather sad figure

Pegg as Gary, a rather sad figure

It’s clear from the start that there’s more to Gary’s troubles than just regretting not making the end of the mile. What Pegg does extremely well is that he manages to capture Gary’s obnoxious side while also subtly showing the character’s sadness. It’s a brilliant performance, with Pegg handling the shifts in tone well and managing to make a swaggering, oafish man-child into a character the audience empathizes and grudgingly likes.

Pegg’s regular on-screen partner, Nick Frost does a great job too. Usually playing the louder, funnier characters he does a great job as the quiet, increasingly fed up Andy. There’s a real gentle touch in the way he hints at the rift between his character and Gary, and towards the film’s close the two really tug the heartstrings as they’re forced to confront their differences. Frost is brilliant, and especially good is the way that when the brown stuff hits the fan, the old drunken brawling rugby player emerges again.

Andy (Frost) cuts loose

Andy (Frost) cuts loose

The rest of the five give good performances, with Eddie Marsan in particular being rather endearing as the group’s weakling, who’s the first to start falling back into old roles around Gary. Paddy Considine also does well in the role of Steven, who was always second fiddle to Gary, but has grown up to be more confident and secure than his former friend.

Martin Freeman is one of a handful who appear in all three movies, with Bill Nighy, Rafe Spall and Julia Deakin all cropping up during the movie too.

I think what makes the movie stumble a bit is the sci-fi set up, with the whole replaced people being a nice idea and some nice touches, but there’s something less cinematic about it than in the other films. Shaun always felt like a side story from a big zombie apocalypse movie, and Fuzz’s shootouts are shot like any OTT Jerry Bruckheimer movie, but this movie doesn’t feel like a big movie, it just feels like a particularly funny, risque and well done episode of Doctor Who.

Edgar Wright does do a great job, and the script is layered and well constructed, and visually it fizzes with his typically great framing and editing, but it still falls slightly short.

But I guess like the other films the genre isn’t really the point- Shaun was about a man sorting his life out and growing up, Fuzz was about a dude learning to relax and his friendship with his new partner, and this movie is really about the danger of staying in the past, friendship and the sad but necessary process of change.

Also it has a very well done ending and the movie’s Cornetto moment is ace.

Verdict: It’s the weaker of the three movies, but that’s a pretty high bar and it’s still good for several laughs and boasts a great performance from Pegg. Still a damn sight better than your average comedy flick, although be warned it might make you want to try a pub crawl. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: Riddick

Recently I wrote of my love for the first outing of space criminal Richard B Riddick (the B surely standing for “badass”), Pitch Black. It was a fun, low key sci-fi action flick about an anti-hero convict played by Vin Diesel leading a group of survivors against some nasty critters. The movie was a big success and a sequel was made but The Chronicles of Riddick, was a bit of a misstep, trading the simple thrills for an overreaching plot about intergalactic empires and whatnot. It wasn’t well received, although isn’t as bad on repeat viewings just rather daft.

Now, Diesel gets the shiny eyes out of retirement for this third installment, which takes a step back to the character’s more simple roots.

riddick pos

We catch up with Riddick left for dead on a seemingly desolate world, and a flashback reveals that the Necromongers who had installed him as their leader betrayed him and he wound up there. The planet seems uninhabited save for a variety of nasty creatures- reptilian vulture things, jackals on steroids, creepy looking eels and some nasty, poisonous scorpion like things, aka Mud Demons, that live under water. Riddick is injured but soon starts relying on his wits once more, deciding that he needs to make up for letting himself go soft and making the mistake of getting civilized.

He snatches one of the space coyote pups and trains it, and works out a way to make himself immune to the Mud Demon stings. Then he escapes the desert into a more lush valley where he discovers an abandoned mercenary station. He raids it for supplies and then sees an approaching rain storm, which allows the MDs to come out.

Riddick activates the station’s beacon which scans his face, planning on attracting bounty hunters who’s ship he can nick. Two ships respond to the signal, the first being Santana’s (Jordi Molla) crew of rough around the edges bounty hunters (including former WWE star David Bautista), shortly followed by a smaller but more polished and professional crew led by Johns (Matt Nable), the father of the merc who’d captured Riddick in the first movie. He wants answers about what happened to his son, and offers to help, but Santana rejects it.

Riddick picks off a few of Santana’s crew and the teams join forces under Johns’ leadership, with his second in command Dahl (Katee Sackhoff) clashing with the unstable Santana.

Riddick pinches power cells from both ships and offers a deal- he’ll give them one so they can leave and take the other ship for himself, warning them that something more dangerous is coming. Riddick is taken down and wakes up just before the rainstorm hits, bringing the Mud Demons out in force.

Many of these characters will not see the end credits.

Many of these characters will not see the end credits.

Can they all work together to get off the planet? Can Riddick trust the bounty hunters, and can they trust him?

I really dug this movie, but then as a Riddick fan I was already in the zone. It’s a definite step back towards the first movie in terms of scale and plot- a fairly tight, no frills sci-fi action flick. It quickly gets Riddick off the throne and back down in the mud and then after he slowly gets back into the zone the action kicks in and it doesn’t let up.

Diesel is allowed to have some fun with Riddick again, the wolfish grin and swaggering badassery is back in a big way, and his sarky narration helps things along at the start, and allowing him to be by himself for the first section of the movie allows the film to build up his aura of ingenuity and resilience. He starts the movie with his shin bone poking out through the skin and employs some Rambo-style rudimentary first aid.

Swaggering badassery- Diesel as Riddick

Swaggering badassery- Diesel as Riddick

When the mercs show up he’s clearly having fun taunting and outsmarting them and they use the Pitch Black trick of having him skulking unnoticed within feet of his pursuers. Vin Diesel has the muscular charisma to pull it off and is in his comfort zone, with easy toughness and nailing the anti-hero likability from the off.

He’s given good support from the actors playing the two team leaders, Molla and Nable. Nable doesn’t look old or grizzled enough to have been Cole Hauser’s dad a decade ago as the movie suggests, but he does a good job nonetheless as the tough leader of the pro hunters and his relaxed confidence himself was quite cool, and he exuded natural authority.

Molla is clearly having a ball as the nasty Santana, who’s a caricature scumbag villain- he shoots a woman in the back, harasses and attacks Dahl, and is generally unhinged, you’re in panto hissable villain territory. My one problem with the character was that he never seemed a genuine threat to Riddick- physically he was kinda small, but also he was way out of his depth. I know this was deliberate, with his crew being distinctly bush league and aiming too high going after Riddick, but he was a little too inept, at times seeming almost willfully stupid.

The rest of the bounty hunters are largely unremarkable cannon fodder, with the only three standing out being Sackhoff, Bautista and Nolan Gerard Funk (cool name) as the religious kid on Santana’s crew, with everyone else being generic tough guy types.

Bautista only really stood out because of his hulking size, dodgy mohawk and the fact I’m a WWE fan. He does alright as the heavy, but disappointingly doesn’t do much for most of the movie, and when he does finally throw down against Diesel their fight is rather short and a little lame. Why hire someone with such physical presence and not let him use it?

Underused- David Bautista

Underused- David Bautista

Katee Sackhoff as the only female on the planet does well enough with a hugely cliched role as the “badass chick”, to be fair she does both parts of this genre trope well enough- she’s hot and she actually looks like she can handle herself in a scrap.  I know that sounds sexist, but this film is definitely in the teenage boy market and as a former teenage boy I can confirm that there are few things sexier than an attractive woman who could kick your ass.

Sackhoff in action- badass but a poorly handled character

Sackhoff in action- badass but a poorly handled character

But the character and the treatment of her is also one of the most problematic They make it plain she’s a lesbian early on, but then she has an odd flirty relationship with Riddick. I say “flirty” but some of our slapheaded hero’s dialogue to her is seriously creepy- I doubt complimenting anyone on their toenail polish and comparing it to the colour of their nipples which you saw while perving on them in the shower would ever go down well.

I’ve seen that a few other people have been irritated by this and it was rather disappointing and a misstep for the movie, although I personally think that Riddick’s coarse dialogue with her was deliberate as part of his MO in trying to throw people off their game. Still, it was a bit suspect and the fact she was flirting back at the end was dodgy (I assume she was flirting back, I couldn’t make out her last line to him). There was gratuitous nudity as well, with her showering but I missed this because I’d stupidly necked two bottles and a coffee before going into the movie.

The lesbian being won over by the hero’s manliness wasn’t cool back when Fleming had Pussy Galore fall for Bond, and it’s definitely not legit in the 21st century, however, I liked that they didn’t consummate the relationship and hope that her flirting back was intended as her being tongue in cheek and slightly mocking of his cockiness, which is how I initally read it. She seemed to treat his claims that they’d end up shagging with amused irritation more than anything. Whatever, it wasn’t necessary- either make her a lesbian and ditch the flirty stuff, or make her straight and a proper love interest, you can’t have it both ways and I can understand why lesbian viewers and female audiences in general might not like the way the character was handled. It just smacked of teenage boy fantasy.

Also, calling her Dahl was a mistake as I thought they were calling her “Doll” throughout the movie.

It really is a shame as Sackhoff was quite badass in the role and did banter well with Diesel and hold her own around the others, but these scenes did leave a nasty taste in the mouth.

Other than this the film is executed well enough, David Twohy knows how to shoot a decent action sequence, and while it lacks the “dying light” tension of the original the critters are still quite creepy and it’s a fun, entertaining sci-fi flick. The script is cliched in places but there are a few decent lines and nice touches throughout (one character berating another for jinxing them, one of the kills that Riddick predicts before he does it, etc.)

Verdict: Diesel is on fine form and the simpler plot suits the character better, it’s generally very good fun even if the treatment of the female characters does cause a few problems. A step in the right direction, but if Riddick gets another outing maybe give him a decent human foe and better supporting players. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: Pain & Gain

There’s a moment in Con Air when Nicolas Cage’s character sees that the plane is towing a car through the air and drawls “On any other day, that might seem strange” and I found myself thinking about that line after this movie. It’s one of those stranger than fiction true crime stories which is played for black, surreal humour, the problem is, because the movie is so relentlessly unhinged from the beginning the more surreal flourishes don’t have the shock they should have.

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We’re deep in Michael Bay territory here with lots of hyperactive cutting, leery camerawork and characters strutting and posturing. All this means it very quickly stops resembling real life and you can’t help but feel that a more delicate touch behind the camera would have been more suited to the plot, although there are a few flourishes I did like.

The movie tells of the mid 90s criminal gang of bodybuilders operating in Miami who engaged in a short run of kidnapping and theft, culminating in a double murder. The head of the gang is personal trainer Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), who grows tired of being a working stiff and seeing other people living large. He wants his share of the American dream.

His chance appears in the form of a new client, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) an obnoxious rich dude who treats Lugo badly and flaunts his wealth. Lugo’s plan is simple, to kidnap Kershaw and extort his wealth and possessions. Lugo quickly recruits his best friend Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), a fellow worker at the gym. Adrian needs cash because his obsession with bulking up has led him to use steroids and he needs an injection to cure his impotence, and also to live more comfortably.

The duo need a third man and find it in the shape of hulking ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), who is reluctant to join up with them having found religion in the joint. Paul eventually gives in and joins Lugo’s scheme after reassurance that nobody will get hurt. Of course, it doesn’t pan out this way.

Lugo (Wahlberg) and his hostage Kershaw (Shalhoub)

Lugo (Wahlberg) and his hostage Kershaw (Shalhoub)

They fleece Kershaw, and try to bump him off, but he survives. The police don’t believe his far-fetched tale but retired cop turned PI Ed DuBois (Ed Harris) does and decides to dig deeper, warning his former colleagues that the gang will get hungry again and people will get hurt.

How will the three muscle bound criminals deal with their new wealth? How long will their haul last? And can they really get lucky twice?

Okay, as you’ve probably already guessed the film wasn’t a massive hit with me, but apparently I liked it more than most critics. What I dug about the movie was that it employs several narrators over the course of the film, allowing us to see how differently the characters read things. The best use of this is when Lugo is laying out a plan and the dimwitted Paul regards him as a genius while Adrian has clocked that his friend is making it up as he goes.

It also means that we get an insight into Kershaw’s mind, and discover that he’s actually worked hard to get where he is and isn’t the entitled douche you initially thought. Admittedly he does remain something of an annoying, unpleasant character and you can’t help but feel that this is Bay’s way of trying to get us to still sympathize with the protagonists.

Part of the reason I really wanted to see this flick is because I’m a massive fan of both Wahlberg and Johnson, and was keen to see how they worked together, and I’ve always found both to be likable screen presences. Wahlberg starts the film as the down on his luck personal trainer and does a good job of getting the audience to understand where he’s coming from- he doesn’t want more than anybody else, just more than he has now.

There’s a certain awkwardness to the character which is endearing- he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, and I felt for him when he got shot down by a sexy client and treated like dirty by Kershaw. The problem is, that as they go into action I started to lose a lot of sympathy for the character. And, as the main character, that’s a bad thing.

Wahlberg is good in the role, and should be applauded for being brave enough to play a character who becomes increasingly unlikable. At the first the slightly dim witted jock type is strangely endearing in the bungling way he puts together his plan and the way things go wrong. And his mix of gym wisdom, self help platitudes and American dream philosophy makes him a but it brings another side of Lugo to the surface- manipulative, ruthless and slightly cruel. He insults his friends and begins to show the same sense of entitlement that irked him in Kershaw.

The gang are seriously flawed individuals, but I guess that’s the type of person who’d be lured into kidnapping and to a lesser extent, bodybuilding in general. Anthony Mackie’s Adrian exemplifies this the most- his cocky flexing in the mirror and use of steroids exposing the feeling of inadequacy that cripples the character. There’s a feeling that even with the money and his new wife, played by Rebel Wilson (more on her later), he will never truly be pleased with his life, regardless of how buff he gets, because his problems are rooted within.

The gang of flawed criminals (Johnson, Wahlberg and Mackie)

The gang of flawed criminals (Johnson, Wahlberg and Mackie)

Johnson, the largest of the trio actually gives the best performance of the three, with his portrayal of the born again Christian who slides back into crime being oddly moving. He’s a tragi-comic figure, a hulking man mountain with a knack for violence who wants to move away from this.

Johnson gets a lot of the film’s laughs as the thickest of the trio, gullible and foolish, he gets played by his allies and enemies alike. It’s a new kinda role for the artist formerly known as the Rock, with him not being his usual cool, powerful on screen presence. He also manages to capture the sadder aspect of the character, with the cash leading Paul into a downward spiral of drugs and poor decisions. It’s played for laughs, as everything seems to be, but it struck me as rather tragic.

I’m not a religious man, but Paul’s fall from grace and guilt over his actions could/should have been handled with more delicacy and depth, but it’s one of several things lost in the frantic pace of Bay’s vision. I was distinctly uncomfortable with how the character was treated throughout and the way his faith was ridiculed. Still, solid work from Johnson and nice to see him stretching himself a bit, even if he should find better projects in future.

Bay’s sense of humour in several of his films has been questionable, with parts of Bad Boys II being in poor taste, and worryingly this is the second film where a dead woman’s enhanced breast is felt up, which is kinda messed up to include in one movie, let alone two. Granted, the implants actually turn out to be integral to the plot later on, but still, it’s dodgy, dude.

And Bay’s pervy camerawork is again on display, taking a long time lingering over strippers and the female clientele of the gym, and I’m a Russ Meyer fan, so if I’m calling it as pervy you know it’s pervy. It’s this kind of thing and the casual approach to some of the violence that makes it a rather unpleasant film in many respects, and not the knock about comedy I was hoping for.

That’s not to say there aren’t a few laughs along the way and a couple of shocking moments which raised a chuckle, and there are some great lines sprinkled throughout, but it’s a little too seedy for it’s own good, and the characters just aren’t likable enough.

The supporting cast do their best- Shalhoub is smarmy as their victim and Ed Harris can pretty much sleepwalk this kind of terse crusader of justice. The biggest disappointment was Rebel Wilson, who aside from a couple of small gags is horribly underused.

Wilson- Underused

Wilson- Underused

The film made me think a lot of other films, and generally the comparison’s weren’t good- it reminded me of the worst parts of Bad Boys II and Bay’s decision to use different types of footage throughout (shaky POV, some grainy scenes) made me feel like I watching a particularly weak Tony Scott movie.

Verdict: An interesting story and a few genuine laughs, coupled with decent performances from Johnson and Wahlberg aren’t enough to rescue a film which just feels mishandled and mean-spirited. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: Flight

Denzel Washington is a phenomenal actor, capable of playing incredibly flawed character with such powerful charisma and gravitas that whatever they do you still stay on side with them (see American Gangster’s ruthless Frank Lucas or the corrupt police chief he portrayed in Out of Time). There are few who can match Washington when it comes to playing dodgy but mesmerizing, engaging on-screen presences. It what won him an Oscar for 2001’s Training Day and saw him nominated for this movie, although he would ultimately  lose out to Daniel Day Lewis’ work in Lincoln.

It’s not hard to see why he got the nod for this film, because the entire movie hangs on his character and performance.

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From the moment we’re introduced to his character, Whip Whitaker, we know we’re in familiar “dodgy” territory and this is a guy in need of redemption. Whip is seen waking up in a hotel room, hungover with a naked young lady, Trina (Nadine Velasquez, of My Name is Earl fame), for company. After an argument on the phone with his ex-wife about his son who won’t talk to him. In a rush, he rolls out of bed, does a line of coke to even himself out and heads off to work.

As an airline pilot.

Whip’s in charge of a flight from Orlando to Atlanta, and despite seeming to be rough as ten bears, he manages to get the flight through some heavy turbulence and a smoother flight. Trying to shake his lack of sleep and hangover he doses up on coffee and Aspirin and then uses three Vodka miniatures to provide some hair of the dog, before dozing off as autopilot takes the strain.

Whip wakes up just before it all goes to hell, and the film is sent into a perilous nose dive. Whip then corrects this with an incredibly risky and highly unorthodox maneuver, but has to crash the plane.

Waking up in hospital he discovers that he’s being hailed as a hero, having saved 96 of the 102 people on board, although Trina, who was one of the stewardesses hasn’t made it. His union rep, Charlie (Bruce Greenwood) an old friend is on hand to offer support and a lawyer, Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), has been hired to defend him in case the airline or manufacturer try to blame him for the crash. Lang’s already shot down a blood test taken which would reveal Whip’s intoxication. Lang is confident of their chances but urges Whip to keep his nose clean until the hearing a few weeks down the way.

Charlie, Lang and Whip (Greenwood, Cheadle and Washington) on their way to the hearing.

Charlie, Lang and Whip (Greenwood, Cheadle and Washington) on their way to the hearing.

Whip escapes the hospital with the aid of his larger than life friend/dealer Harling (John Goodman) who takes him to hide out at his father’s old farm. Whip approaches the survivors of the crew to investigate what they’ve told the authorities and hides out, although he does develop a tentative relationship with Nicole (Kelly Reilly), who he met in the hospital after she suffered a heroin overdose and he helps her get a job and invites her to move in with him.

However, Whip’s self destructive side soon starts to cause problems. The tension builds as the film progresses as the evidence against Whip mounts. Can he avoid prison for his actions, and more importantly, should he?

I kinda dug this movie, you can sort of see where it’s going, but Washington’s performance is so utterly captivating that you get caught up in the ride. He makes Whip an extremely flawed and damaged character, who you can’t help but warm to despite him frequently testing the patience and sympathy of the other characters and the audience.

Washington on fine anti-hero form.

Washington on fine anti-hero form.

Washington plays the character in a fairly low-key way for much of the film, with Whip being a quiet schemer who’s trying to save his own ass, but he does enough to suggest that at some level, despite his protestations there is some lurking conscience and that he does feel some responsibility for his actions. However, he’s on a downward spiral he can’t pull out of and doesn’t seem capable of

The movie does a great job in splitting what the audience wants from the denouement, because part of you wants Whip to get away with it because you don’t want to see the guy in trouble, especially as there’s a nagging doubt that he only pulled off the daring move on the plane because he was too loaded to feel afraid. But as the movie progresses you can’t help that think he needs his comeuppance in order to force him to deal with his issues and get himself together.

With it being such a character driven piece, and with Washington in blistering form, the rest of the cast have very little to do aside from giving him someone to bounce off. That being said, Greenwood and Cheadle do a good job of capturing the frustration of the guys quickly losing patience with Whip’s decisions.

The stand out in the supporting cast is a scene-stealing John Goodman as the swaggering, motor-mouthed drug dealer. From his strutting, Rolling Stones soundtracked entrance on he’s a breath of whirling fresh air into the flick and gets a few laughs along the way.

Goodman as the larger than life Harling

Goodman as the larger than life Harling

The other cast member deserving a mention is Kelly Reilly as Nicole, she does a sensational job in conveying this really tragic fragility and loss of hope in the addict character. She’s extremely endearing in the part and has great scenes with Washington, and the moments when she starts to realize that Whip has his own problems and isn’t the road to happier life that she was hoping for are genuinely moving, and Reilly should be applauded for delivering a performance which never slips into junkie cliche.

Reilly as Nicole, a revelation

Reilly as Nicole, a revelation 

Robert Zemeckis is an accomplished director and is on fine form, with the crash being extremely unsettling especially for nervous flyers like myself and he shoots it with verve and keeps the pace moving, while also doing a good job of handling the changes in tone well enough and there are even a few laughs along the way.

Verdict: Worth seeing for Washington’s amazing central performance. Few surprises, but an accomplished character drama about addiction and redemption. The supporting cast do their jobs well too, even if all are overshadowed. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: RED 2

I have to say I quite enjoyed the first RED movie, where Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich played a bunch of old spies (classified as RED- Retired, Extremely Dangerous) who found themselves back in the firing line and on the run. It was a over the top action romp with a decent cast and a real sense of fun, so I decided I’d check out the follow up.

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The movie finds Frank Moses (Willis) trying to live the quiet life with his lady, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), who seems a little bored by this. Back into their life comes Frank’s former colleague and friend, the deranged and paranoid Marvin (Malkovich) who warns him of imminent danger. Frank ignores these but soon finds himself being taken in and questioned about something called “Nightshade”.

The facility is attacked and Frank is confronted by Jack Horton (Neal McDonough) and his men who threaten Sarah’s safety and want to know the score. Frank escapes and he, Marvin and Sarah go on the lam. They find out that they’re being blamed for the Nightshade operation in a leaked file, the operation being that a nuclear bomb was smuggled into Russia during the Cold War piece by piece and assembled. The current whereabouts of the bomb being unknown.

Sarah, Frank and Marvin ready for action

Sarah, Frank and Marvin ready for action

Tracing the file’s origin to Paris, and suspecting the file to have come from The Frog (David Thewlis), an ex-spy who now sells secrets. They also receive a phone call from their old friend Victoria (Mirren) telling them that she has been tasked to kill them, as has an old enemy of Frank’s, Han (Lee Byung-Hun), the world’s best contract killer.

Han (Byung Hun) is on their trail

Han (Byung-hun) is on their trail

Travelling to Paris they go after the Frog, and run into a Russian agent, Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), an old flame of Frank’s who still seems attracted to him and whom Marvin describes as “Frank’s Kryptonite”. This causes problems between Frank and Sarah, who becomes jealous of Katja’s smooth ways.

The gang follow the evidence to England, where they discover that the only people who will know where the bomb is in Russia is another old associate, Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), a genius scientist who’s been incarcerated for over 30 years in an asylum for the criminally insane.

The plan is to bust Bailey out, go to Moscow, recover the bomb and clear their names. Bailey however, seems to have lost his marbles. Will he remember where the bomb is? And how was a bomb of that power smuggled into the Russian capital unnoticed?

Can they clear their names and work out who’s stitched them up? And can they do it before Horton or Han catches up with them? Where do Victoria’s life? Who can they trust? And will Frank and Sarah’s relationship survive?

Similar to the first flick this is a cartoony, tongue in cheek romp filled with wise cracking and OTT action sequences. And as with the first film it’s jolly good fun.

Part of the enjoyment comes from the sense that the cast appear to be enjoying themselves, particularly Mirren, who takes to her role as the sophisticated assassin with easy charm and verve. Mirren is clearly having a ball cracking skulls and shooting guns, and it translates onto the screen. It also helps that even at 68 Mirren makes a believable agent- tough talking, no nonsense and extremely foxy.

Mirren- Still got it

Mirren- Still got it

I was also pleased to see the return of Brian Cox as the Russian official completely smitten with her, as the two have a kind of cute, sweet relationship going on.

It’s familiar territory for Willis, although Frank is a little more tight lipped than his usual wiseass heroes, with the character being a man of few words, which causes problems in his relationship with Sarah. While he throws out a couple of one liners, here Willis is more of a silent badass, blazing his way through the action sequences as the almost indestructible Frank.

This is the best I’ve seen Willis in a straightfoward action flick for a while, and he nails the character stuff too, the discomfort he has talking about his feelings to Sarah, his genuine concern and affection for her and best of all, how utterly disarmed and off his game the presence of Katja makes him.

The rest of the cast do their roles well enough- Malkovich does the crazed Marvin brilliantly and steals the show in places getting the lion’s share of the laughs, and as the adventure craving Sarah, Mary-Louise Parker is a delight, effortlessly charming and rather sweet. Parker manages to convey her enthusiasm and excitement, while still giving glimpses of how out of her depth and disconnected she is to the spy game. Also, her storyline with Frank is nicely handled, the two struggling with his past and her feeling controlled and molly coddled.

McDonough and Byung-hun make good villains, both convincingly ruthless and badass to be a genuine threat.

The two Welsh performers handle their roles well too, CZJ can do sexy easily enough and is extremely foxy here, hinting at a tougher edge but still attracted to Frank.

Katya (Zeta-Jones) causes problems for the group

Katja (Zeta-Jones) causes problems for the group

 

Anthony Hopkins plays the eccentric scientist broad and for laughs, but there are a few subtle little touches thrown in and he gets a few laughs.

The plot is simple enough, and while there are a couple of twists in the tale, none are completely staggering, although they are handled extremely well.

The action sequences are well done, and director Dean Parisot wisely keeps it light and relatively bloodless. The car chases are executed beautifully and he handles the climax to great effect. While he does borrow from the first film’s bag of tricks, namely the spinning cars and impossible moments (in the first movie Frank steps casually from a moving car, here he slides into the driving seat of a swerving car as though taking a seat on the couch) it does lack some of the cartoonish excess of it’s predecessor, which I see as a flaw.

All in all though it’s a big, entertaining popcorn movie that never takes itself too seriously and keeps the audience hooked with a lot of laughs and some fun set pieces.

Verdict: The cast seem to have had fun making it and this translates into a fun, entertaining flick for audiences. It might not match the original film’s gleefully ridiculous tone, but it’s still a wonderful tongue in cheek action comedy. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: The Last Stand

10 years.

That’s how long Arnold Schwarzenegger went between films where he played the lead. After 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, he left our screens and became the Governator. Sure, there were cameos along the way to keep us Arnie fans going (Welcome to the Jungle aka The Rundown, Around the World in 80 Days, the Expendables films) so now he’s back, just like he always said he would be.

But would his return be a welcome one?

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Here Schwarzenegger stars as Ray Owens, the sheriff of a small town in Arizona, Sommerton Junction , near the Mexican border. With most of the staff away supporting the high school football team, Ray plans a nice relaxing day off.

Ray’s team includes Mike (Luiz Guzman) his right hand man who’s lazy and bored by the slow pace in town, Jerry (Zach Gilford) a young guy who craves excitement and Sarah (Jaimie Alexander), the most on-the-ball of his crew. Sarah however, does have a problem in that her ex, former marine Frank (Rodrigo Santoro) is in the local jail and who’s life after leaving the military is sliding out of control.

Of course, that isn’t going to happen and heading his way after a daring prison break is Cartel boss Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) who’s escaped justice in a souped up super car which is capable of ridiculous speeds. FBI agent Bannister (Forest Whitaker), is in pursuit and knows he must stop Cortez before he crosses the border and disappears, a situation made worse by the fact Cortez has snatched a female agent, Ellen Richards (Genesis Rodriguez) as a hostage.

The Feds alert the border towns, but discount Sommerton as the only way to cross is a massive gorge.

Ray becomes suspicious of Burrell (Peter Stormare), a shifty stranger in town and on his day off two of his deputies head off to a local farm after the milk doesn’t show up. They discover the farmer dead and that Burrell and his crew have been constructing a bridge over the canyon. During a shoot out, one of the crew is killed.

Ray decides to try and stop Cortez and Burrell’s men, but is told by Bannister that support won’t arrive in time. Ray deputizes Frank and Lewis (Johnny Knoxville), the village idiot who runs a gun museum, and they tool up to try and block the path.

Sarah (Alexander) and Frank (Santoro) prepare for the fight

Sarah (Alexander) and Frank (Santoro) prepare for the fight

Can they beat Burrell’s men in a shoot out and stop Cortez crossing the border?

As the synopsis tells you, we’re in standard genre country on this one. There’s a strong Western vibe to proceedings with the sheriff having to defend his town from the black hats. Arnie is well inside his comfort zone as the lawman facing unfair odds, and despite looking a bit more weathered than in his last outing, he’s still got the physical presence to pull it off and knows what he’s doing.

It’s hard to review an Arnold Schwarzenegger performance, because aside from the Terminator, every role is pretty much the same. The jobs and names change, but it’s the usual mix of physical power and cheesy one liners, and he delivers both here, even if it does feel a little watered down than previous efforts. The shootouts and fights are CGI-enhanced and the one liners aren’t as memorable or as funny as in other Arnie flicks (this is no Commando or Predator).

Arnie can do this in his sleep, and as a big fan of the Austrian Oak, it worked for me.

"I'm the sheriff" Arnie as Ray

“I’m the sheriff” Arnie as Ray

As with all the 80s action heroes’ recent work there are a couple of references to his advancing years, but it’s only hinted at a couple of times and for much of the film Arnie smashes through windows and trading punches in the same way he always did.

The film is quite good fun, it’s simplicity part of it’s appeal. The good guys are good and likable, the bad guys are evil, hissable cartoon figures. Subtlety is not the order of the day.

Noriega makes a good villain, hamming it up to great effect and ensuring that his cartel boss is thoroughly unlikable and scummy. He’s got the cocky swagger of a man who believes he is above the law, and exudes this cold, ruthless aura and suggests that he can be a ruthless enemy. It’s this cold blooded, vicious aura that means that while physically he’s no match for Arnie when they throw down, this edge, coupled with his quickness means that he’s a realistic threat when the two finally throw down.

Noriega as Cortez

Noriega as Cortez

Stormare does his sleazy, slightly crazy schtick again and is rather entertaining. Forest Whitaker is underused and mainly serves as exposition- giving the audience the info on how bad Cortez is and filling in Ray’s background as a tough LAPD officer.

The rest of the cast are alright with what they’re given, with Guzman and Knoxville on fine form as comic relief. I know Knoxville isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I quite like his turn as the town’s resident nut, and his goofy character amused me.

Knoxville in action

Knoxville in action

It’s all painted in broad strokes, and the action sequences have a cartoonish quality to them, bodies fly backwards, blood spurts up in the air and seemingly mortal wounds to our heroes are walked off with a slight wince followed by a half hearted gag.

Arnie’s done better, but then again he’s done a lot worse, and while it won’t change your life it’s a decent enough action movie and the kind of movie I’ll probably end up watching with my feet up when it’s repeated frequently on ITV4.

Verdict: It’s far from Arnie’s best work, and there are few surprises along the way, but it’s still a fairly fun, dumb action movie and nice to see Schwarzenegger back on the screen. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Reviews: The Wolverine

Back in 2009 one of my favourite Marvel characters got a solo outing on the big screen, and I was pretty excited to see X-Men Origins: Wolverine, unfortunately the film sucked. Despite some good casting (Liev Schreiber made a pretty good psycopathic Sabretooth and Ryan Reynolds would be perfect as Deadpool given a decent script) the whole thing felt watered down and lame, especially as it wasted some of the X-Men’s best characters (Deadpool, Gambit, Emma Frost).

You’d have thought that I’d have learnt my lesson, but no, when another solo adventure for Weapon X was mooted I found myself getting all caught up in excitement, especially as it became clear that it wasn’t going to be a direct sequel to the last one and that it would be set in Japan. Meaning it would involve ninjas, samurai and yakuza (oh my!). This is something they actually did in the comic books, with Wolverine having spent time in Japan learning to fight and trying to use the samurai teachings to control his anger.

So, I was pretty excited to check out The Wolverine yesterday.

wolv pos

Opening with a scene in World War II where Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a POW in Nagasaki when the bomb drops and saves the life of a young Japanese officer Yashida, from the blast by hiding in a prison pit and covering him with metal. Yashida witnesses Logan’s powers of regeneration.

In the present, following the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Logan has withdrawn into the mountains and is haunted by having had to kill the woman he loved, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who appears in his dreams. Trying to avoid violence and his former ways, he nonetheless gets involved in a bar brawl with illegal hunters, but is aided by Yukio (Rila Fukushima) a mysterious Japanese girl who has been following him. She informs him that Yashida is dying and wants to say goodbye, and reluctantly Logan goes with her to Tokyo.

Yashida has become a rich man, head of a powerful business empire. Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) but is at death’s door. He believes he can offer Logan a deal- that he can take Logan’s healing factor and “immortality” so he can live on and that Logan can finally live a normal life and die and be at peace. Dubious of this, Logan refuses and is suspicious of Yashida’s shady Western doctor (played by Svetlana Khodchenkova).

Icy blonde doctor? I'm sure she'll prove to be trustworthy

Icy blonde doctor? I’m sure she’ll prove to be trustworthy

While staying at Yashida’s complex Logan sees the problems and tensions within the Yashida family, and is drawn to Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who appears to be controlled and trapped by her father and her strict sense of honour. After Yashida dies and Logan experiences bizarre dreams involving the doctor. At the funeral Mariko is attacked by yakuza heavies and Logan protects her, they escape thanks to the aid of a mysterious bowman who turns out to be Mariko’s ex, Harada (Will Yun Lee).

Logan and Mariko go on the run, but Logan realizes that something has been done to him and he is no longer healing as before. Weaker and more vulnerable, Logan still decides to protect Mariko and in hiding the two bond and try to unravel why someone is after Mariko and what’s happened to Logan.

Can they get to the bottom of things? Will Logan recover his powers and if he doesn’t how will he manage? And is the Wolverine side of his character really gone or does he need that savagery to win the day.

First of all, this movie is a vast improvement on Origins, but that’s faint praise. This movie is definitely more fun and while it doesn’t quite match up with the comic book character’s Japanese connections, it’s still an interesting spin. Wolverine is out of his comfort zone and struggles with some of the Japanese customs, and this, along with the loss of his healing powers ensures that the character is more vulnerable than before.

This is a nice move because his near-indestructible nature can strip some of the peril from his adventures. Here we see the character stripped of this and forced to adapt. Jackman does a great job capturing the surprise and confusion the character experiences throughout the film, while still being a total badass. It’s interesting because it highlights one of Wolverine’s flaws, he fights like someone who can’t be hurt and so wades in recklessly, which is usually fine and dandy, but here puts him at a disadvantage.

That’s not to say that the Canadian mutant can’t handle himself, and some of the fights are wonderfully choreographed, with him slashing, hacking and brawling through martial artists. I quite like that his fighting style reflects his character and that they didn’t just make him a kung fu master. Unfortunately, while there are feral about him we’re still yet to see the character fully unleash the berserker rage comic fans are familiar with. But I guess, they’re never going to make a 15 movie and lose a massive chunk of their audience.

Jackman, is as ever, superb in the title role. While some of the films he’s appeared in have been a little shaky, the actor always does a good job with the character, and here he manages to convey the conflict and changes the character experiences. From his haunted, despairing first appearances right through the film as Wolverine starts to live again. The growing passion and dedication bleeds into the character slowly, and is one of the character’s lasting traits- despite his protestations of being a loner and cynicism, Logan is still a hero and is unable to sit on the sidelines when he sees injustice going on. That being said, he does have a nice line in sarky quips.

It also has to be said that Jackman looks sensational, he’s insanely ripped and carries himself with this understated confidence which gives the impression that he is a man not to be trifled with.

There's plenty of topless Jackman action for the ladies (and some of the fellas)

There’s plenty of topless Jackman action for the ladies (and some of the fellas)

The rest of the cast do alright too, especially Rila Fukushima as the young Japanese girl sent to collect Wolverine, she bosses him about, declares that she’s his bodyguard and brings a wonderful streak of humour to proceedings, and the two characters have genuine chemistry. Her own mutant power is handled well, and brings a touch of sadness to the character. Also, she’s never overly sexualised and something of a badass when she gets fighting, and I found myself really warming to the character.

Yukio in action

Yukio in action

As the love interest Mariko, Okamoto does well enough and is rather sweet and decent, but despite them making her know a bit of karate and be a skilled knife thrower, she does slip into “damsel in distress” mode a bit too much. And the whole Japanese honour thing is a little forced in places.

Famke Janssen’s dream appearances as Jean Grey are quite well done, giving insight into Logan’s turmoil, but with Jean also being rather nasty to the poor dude in places, showing how his subconscious is torturing him.

One of the flaws is there’s lack of any real villain until the end stages. The yakuza and ninjas are good heavies, but you know that as soon as Wolverine sorts out getting his powers back they won’t be much of a challenge. Svetlana Khodchenkova’s snakelike mutant is quite good fun, but underused.

And when the big bad does finally rock up it’ssomething of a disappointment, and looks kinda dumb.

There are a few nice touches of humour, and some good one-liners, and the script is rather well done, and manages to handle some of the dafter plot aspects well enough.

All in all it’s a thoroughly entertaining superhero romp, but compared to the Marvel Universe films this is lagging behind. Jackman’s performance is good and the action sequences are well done, and the ending is encouraging for further adventures where Wolverine won’t be quite as mopey,

Verdict: In terms of the X-movies this is one of the better installments and great fun, with Jackman continuing his great work as the cigar chomping mutant. He’s far and away the film’s greatest strengths. It’s a little daft in places, but pulls through, however it suffers from lack of a decent villain and in comparison to the Avengers movie universe it looks shakier. 7/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.