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Very, very average in most ways (but cool robots!), 20 May 2015

STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning

In a futuristic world, powerful corporations have taken over South East Asia and use it as a stomping ground to experiment their new ideas. Their latest failure has seen a deadly viral outbreak break out that has turned most of the population in to crazed, blood-thirsty zombies. Max Gatling (Dolph Lundgren) is a mercenary, hired by the head of the corporation responsible, to track down his wayward missing daughter Jude (Melanie Zanetti.) However, he's about to get dragged in to a whole lot more.

Dolph does 28 Days Later! Has a certain zany appeal to it. But in the heat of it all, you have to remember, it's still a Dolph film, and as such can't get carried away with itself. And by the end, this off the beaten track little entry in to his back catalogue has become a most jumbled mix of horror, action and sci-fi that's a hell of a lot to keep up with in a film not even ninety minutes long. Opening in the action, the film feels like a continuation of something that went before, without establishing itself as much of a film in it's own right, and playing out more like some pre-played video game than much in the way of a film. So, we open with Dolph in the action, battling zombies that aren't very scary and you don't really take much notice of, and the camera's too bloody close up for you to enjoy any of it anyway.

After that, the big Swede tracks down the missing daughter, a whiny, stuck up little madam who leads him to some others, making her just one of a group of annoying people, including her geeky boyfriend Reese (Matt Doran), eccentric old ham Duke (David Field), who seems to be in charge of it all, and Chinese, martial artist pair Elvis and Lynn. All of this just goes on for a while, but, then, out of nowhere, come the things that make the film...robots! Cool robots, the coolest you'll have seen in ages. Slashing, dicing, fighting robots, too, until Dolph breaks them down and gets them to show their gentle side. They're what this film is all about and they're more interesting 'characters' than any of these cardboard cut outs stranded with Dolph.

A rather superficial recommendation for a film, then, but anything to get a cut above. ** and a half

Skin Trade (2014)
Dolph is back with a bang in this superior, conscientious action thriller, 19 May 2015

STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning

Nick (Dolph Lundgren) is assigned to a task force, dedicated to stamping out human trafficking networks, and his latest assignment involves one run by Russian mobster Viktor (Ron Perlman.) During a shoot out, Nick shoots Viktor's son dead, making him a marked man. When his family are killed in retaliation, Nick goes on an international manhunt for Viktor seeking revenge, taking him all the way to the East, where he crosses paths with Vitayakul (Tony Jaa), a similarly unorthodox cop who thinks Nick killed his partner and wants revenge. Nick must convince him of the truth and bring them together to track down the real criminals.

Having enjoyed a little more publicity than your average Dolph Lundgren action vehicle (including Dolph's notable live IMDb chat with fans!) Skin Trade does indeed have slicker production values and has more hype surrounding it's release than usual. With a lively supporting cast, including Perlman, Michael Jai White, Peter Weller and Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, and a timely, relevant social message at it's core, it's far from a perfect offering, but it's a huge cut above what you'd usually get.

The film matches the dark, heavy themes of it's story (murder, revenge and betrayal) with an equally raw, unflinching delivery of it's action, with it's lead stars going at it hammer and tongs in a collection of brutal, hard hitting martial arts showdowns and action sequences (including a bike chase sequences down the back passages of an Asian market!) While the story's heavy themes are matched by it's clichés, it's no less solid and effective, shining a light on a modern day blight on our world in the shape of human trafficking. It's all the more impressive from Dolph, who may be on the wrong side of fifty now, but is no less a convincing action presence. Likewise, Perlman (a.k.a. Hellboy!) is an impressive villain, with a fine Russian accent. But, leaping and flying around with deranged determination, it's Jaa again who steals the show, the martial arts dynamo simply mesmerizing doing what he does.

It's a touch clichéd, and the story doesn't quite flow with the lucidity to make it great, but it's still a superior, explosive thriller with a social heart. ****

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Somewhat over-whelming, but still a pretty spectacular ride, 12 May 2015

STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning

Opening in the action, the Avengers have been sent to rescue some people from a mad doctor in the Alps, who wants to experiment on them. Among them are a brother and sister pair, who possess special powers of their own, but who hold a grudge against Tony Stark, as they remember seeing a weapon made by his company lying in the rubble, after their parents were killed in the war torn country they are from. But after the mission's success, Stark becomes the spanner in the works again, when he talks fellow scientist Bruce Banner in to meddling with nature and opening the peacekeeping program Ultron to secure harmony in the world. Big mistake, as Ultron forms a life of it's own, and decides to try and wipe out the human race and replace it with his own kind.

Having unthinkably missed the original Avengers spectacle on the big screen three years ago, no way was I going to miss Joss Whedon's inevitable sequel, which promised to be bigger, badder and balsier than the last one, as they always do. This may be the case, but it hardly makes it better, as such. And, as grand and outside the box as it may be, that is the case. The follow up, like it's main antagonist Stark, is a victim of it's own blind ambition, a relentless, none stop roller coaster ride that bombards you with flash all the way to the end, and just leaves you over-whelmed. With Stark being the main character, and Robert Downey Jr. being the biggest star, it falls to reason that most of the attention falls on them, with even the publicity before the film's release (notably Jr's unfortunate walk-out interview with Tristram Guru Murphy or whatever his name is) maybe tying in with the hype.

At nearly three hours, the film is just too over-loaded and over ambitious, getting carried away with itself and just leaving the viewer feeling deflated by the end as a result. It would be one thing if there were some exciting bits throughout, but there's too many long stretches where nothing exciting happens that make it even more too much. Going on this long, it stands to reason that too much must be going on with the plot, which just gets a little over-complicated and at times none coherent.

Like the predecessor, however, it wisely keeps it's tongue in it's cheek, and the gang (especially, as ever, Stark) are always at their wise cracking best, it's still a dazzlingly colourful spectacle with, at times, jaw dropping action and visual effects and, again, it works better with them all as one than as separate entities on their own. The original, however, wisely kept it all at an endurable running time, so you could appreciate these qualities more, while this follow up goes overboard and, for all it's strengths, is just a little too much as a result. ***

Eastwood applies his usual polished touch to this re-creation of one of the great pop bands, 10 May 2015

STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning

Frankie Casstalucio (John Lloyd Young) is a young man in New Jersey, who ekes out a living as a hair-dresser, but who possesses an incredible, falsetto voice that reduces grown men (such as local mobster Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken)) to tears. Stuck with two bit hustler friends, headed by local loudmouth Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), he has the option to follow their example and head in and out of prison all the time, or really make something of his life. Which, thankfully, he did, and the film charts his triumphs, tragedies and adventures as part of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Of all the iconic bands, that were part of the 'golden age' of music, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were easily the most 'marmite' of the lot of them (you loved them or hated them.) Either Valli's shrieking, ear-piercing falsetto voice is music to your ears, or the sort of thing they should use at Guantanamo Bay. Personally, given it was all music well before my time, they must have been something special to really stand out and have so many songs that I loved. And it seems others think the same way, since the hit Broadway musical this is based on has been such an astronomical success, and still enjoys tours nationally to this day (not to mention the up-coming tour Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons themselves will be doing this summer, even in their eighties, probably on the back of all that.). And so, Clint Eastwood, no less, has seen fit to adapt it into this film presentation.

Adapting it from a musical is a risky strategy, though. As a result, the pace of the story-telling rubs off on the screen, and some of the character's (most notably Piazza's Tommy DeVito) come off somewhat larger than life, which affects the tone of the drama. That's not to say it's any less affecting, when it wants to be, and that the young cast don't do a great job of re-creating the young men in their prime. Eastwood has shown typical shrewdness by casting a group of unknowns, so that the legend of Valli and his cohorts aren't over shadowed by the presence of any modern day hunks.

For those that prefer the story captured on screen rather than stage, Eastwood, who maybe had an affection for the band nobody ever knew about, has applied his usual deft touch and delivered something that gets it just right. ****

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A curious mess of a film, with right wing leanings, 7 May 2015

STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning

Miss Meadows (Katie Holmes) is a gentle mannered, affable young woman who lives on a quiet suburban American street, and minds her business as best she can. That is, when she's not doling out brutal vigilante justice to those the law won't touch. But then she shakes her life up a bit by starting a relationship with the town sheriff, and when she falls pregnant, it unlocks a chain of events from her past that sets her on a collision course with a convicted child molester who's been sent to live in the area.

Once in a while, there comes the odd off-beat film that no one quite knows what to do with or make of, and that seems to be the case with Miss Meadows, Karen Leigh Hopkins's first theatrical feature in over fifteen years. Tonally unsure, it can't seem to decide whether it wants to play out as a high concept but straight out action thriller, or as a tongue in cheek weird sort of send up of this type of movie. Either way, the result's a misfire. The script and dialogue are written very literally, and none of it plays out in a very realistic or affecting way. It's also laced with an unmistakable pinch of right wing propaganda, with Holmes serving as a modern day female Dirty Harry, showcasing the unmistakable evil in society and the only real solution.

It's blissfully short, and there is a certain quirky charm to it at times, but overall it's just a curious mess of a film with no firm, solid structure or aim to it. **

Relevant, fairly riveting suspense thriller, which stumbles a little along the way, 3 May 2015

STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning

After the 9/11 terror attacks were plotted there in 2001, Hamburg, Germany, has been one of the most alert cities in the world and takes no prisoners in the war on terror. So when Issa Karpov (Grigorly Dobrygin), an illegal Chechen Muslim immigrant arrives there, claiming to be fleeing from persecution, Gunther Bachmann (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) the head of a secret task force, dispatches his team to keep tabs on him and his actions. When it becomes clear that Karpov has claim to his share of a large fortune, speculation falls on whether he will keep it and what he will use it for if he does. But Bachmann is using cynical methods of his own to ensure that whoever is guilty is caught, while trying to stay one step ahead of the Americans who are also on Karpov's trail.

With the rise of ISIS and their seemingly daily atrocities hitting the headlines none stop, the thorny issue of Muslim extremism is one that shows no signs of abating in the public consciousness, and it provides a backdrop for no end of modern, contemporary thrillers, such as this offering from hot new director Anton Corbijn. In the lead, we have one of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman's last ever performances, a little disconcerting as he sports a (fine) German accent, one of the thicker, more throatier ones that must be the Hamburg dialect. It's an assured, if not exactly electrifying, performance, that suits the material just well enough to work.

John La Carre's screenplay requires the utmost attention, jetting along with red herrings, twists and turns galore. Sadly, it comes at the expense of a truly nail-biting pace, which occasionally allows the material to drag, and not prevail at it's peak. It can only be matched by Corbijn's direction, which is maybe at that point in his feature length making career that it just requires a little fine tuning. Aside from Hoffman, the only other real big name in the cast is Willem Dafoe in a supporting role, whose character background makes him a little too old to be suited to his role, but who no less gives it aplomb.

Overall, then, probably not the work Hoffman will forever be defined by, but still a fairly solid and well made thriller, which takes a stab at a critical modern situation. ***

Explores the concept in a different style, with hit and miss results, 30 April 2015

STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning

The annual 'purge' night in America has rolled round again, and this time we find a mother and daughter on the run after their home was invaded and their grand-father offered himself up as a sacrificial lamb, as well as a couple whose car has broken down on Purge night. These two parties are joined together by a vengeful man out to find the man who killed his child, and together they must struggle to survive the night, as dark forces close in.

There are actually three certainties in life, death, taxes and sequels to critically acclaimed, financially successful and cult forming films that explored new and exciting formulas. And so The Purge: Anarchy has rolled around. This time, the concept is explored from an agoraphobic, rather than a claustrophobic setting, removed from the confines of a house to the wide, urban arena of the outside world. This setting, at least at the beginning, is used to great effect, with the eerie atmosphere of the outside world being deserted and the ominous 'purge siren' ringing through the air, after the 'public broadcast' message before it.

There seems to be more of a stab at social commentary here, with the Purge phenomenon being explored as a tool being used by the rich and powerful as a means of population control, and surging up sales in firearms. The first film was an intelligent idea in itself, and explored it's themes and ideas in a far more succinct way that kept the audience engaged. While the new Purge film is not a bad effort, it suffers from pacing problems, and fails to consistently keep up the momentum required to keep the audiences attention. That's not to say it isn't effective and doesn't have moments that work very well, it's just not as astute and on the ball as it's predecessor.

As sequels go, though, and with so many of them around, this is still one of the better ones, proving that horror thrillers with a stab at anti-establishment zeitgeist must do better second time round than comedies. ***

Succinct, satisfying examination of a notable hip hop icon, 22 April 2015

STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning

To mark the twentieth anniversary of it's release last year, Nas's Illmatic was re-released for a new generation of hip hop fans to discover. Having recognised Nas as one of my more favoured hip hop performers, I brought a copy myself, and it's not hard to see why it put the musical genre on the map quite as much as it did. He's definitely one of mine, and it would seem many other, people's favourite rap performers, and coinciding with the album, it seems this equally timely and more revealing documentary was also released, delving in to the history of Nas and how his musical influences probably dated back further even than his birth, with his father an accomplished jazz performer, providing him with an inspiration that would propel him away from an almost predestined life of crime to a positive, outspoken role model to millions of fans.

Although he was another rapper who grew up in 'the projects', surrounded by crime in Queensbridge, New York, we learn that Nas enjoyed a more cultured, educated living environment at home than probably the vast majority of those around him did, with access to literature and poetry books from his teacher mother, to the point where his own father supported him in his decision to drop out of school early, feeling unchallenged and uncared for in the education system. Then an unforeseen tragic event propelled him to put everything in to his ambition as a hip hop artist, and by his late teens, he'd wowed the right people, made the right connections and before he knew it, his titular album was on the shelves. As the driving force of the documentary, we delve in to the social significance and emotional resonance behind each of the tracks, gaining insight in to what made the album such an enduring masterpiece.

It's all wrapped up nice and smoothly, at just over seventy minutes, cramming a lot of interesting information in to such a short time frame. It's no less a labour of love, a revealing insight in to one of the more articulate, intriguing, hard hitting and distinctive icons of the hip hop genre. ****

2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Inevitable, but also inevitably well below the standards of the first film, 21 April 2015

STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning

Having exploited their knowledge of the future to their own benefit after the first film, Lou (Rob Corddry) has founded his own internet company (Lougle) and achieved status as a rock demi-god, while Nick (Craig Robinson) has used his smooth, soulful voice to hijack romantic ballads that would have been sung by other artists. Jacob (Clark Duke), Lou's son, meanwhile, continues to serve as his father's dogsbody, until his obnoxiousness finds him shot in the knackers one night. Luckily, he's kept the tub time machine from the first film in tact, and from here, this time they all find themselves thrown in to the future to get to the bottom of who was behind it.

The original Hot Tub Time Machine has proved, at least among some, to be one of the more enduring comedies out of the spate or so of them that have been released over the last few or so years. But while it served as a spin off from the highly successful Hangover, it got by just as much on the '80's nostalgia it was driven on, than the buddy-buddy dynamics of the main characters. And so this sequel, that's finally, inevitably come around, with it's travelling in to the FUTURE plot doesn't hold quite the same appeal. And it promises no more than it can give, quite simply a big mess of a film that gets a few laughs in, but has no smooth flowing system to guide them.

Getting a big name actor like John Cusack involved in the first film must have been a stretch in itself, but that luck hasn't extended to this inferior follow up, with the big man only making a fleeting appearance at the very end. Naturally, he played a big part in making the first film what it was, and without him, it's problems only stack up. The idea of a lame duck sequel just couldn't have appealed to him, and if he'd read the script he'd have been rightfully cautious, a collection of predictable, laboured gags, woven in to a convoluted, incoherent plot, that all the energy and verve of the three remaining stars can't cover up.

Well, that's not completely true, they manage some laughs, but overall this was just a bad idea for a sequel, a concept that completely misjudges the appeal of the first film and couldn't stand to be stretched out to this point. **

Chappie (2015)
6 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Not the most original thing you'll ever see, but done with enough care and depth to wash over this, 4 April 2015

STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning

In a futuristic South Africa, crime has spiralled out of control, and robotic police-droids have been dispatched to the streets to keep things under control. But a scientist named Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) has developed a droid seemingly capable of human emotion and feeling, who comes to be called Chappie. When Wilson finds himself and his project kidnapped by a gang of renegades with their own agenda, they come to see Chappie as a means to their own ends, while he further develops his own thoughts and feelings. But things all come to a head when embittered soldier Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) tries to use his own monstrous super-droid to eliminate Chappie when he's set up for crimes he did not do.

The concept of a machine developing feelings has been a theme explored many times before, but one which never loses it's ability to have an impact on the audience, and to make them care about the story and the characters more than they might have. With this, his latest project, South African director Neill Blomkamp re-ignites the formula again, giving it a more modern edge in more unstable times. In an unseen role, Sharlito Copley manages to elicit this effect from the android in this film, stirring the emotions and giving the film it's more dynamic, driving edge, despite being pretty average in most other ways.

As adequate as the film was, I still felt a little short changed by judging a book by it's cover, as the poster to this seemed to promise something absolutely breath-taking, a throw-back to some of the great monster mash up robot films from years ago, and while it's not without it's fair share of exciting action scenes, it still came off as a little under-whelming compared to what could have been. Some other flaws include lead star Patel, who looks a little too young for the role, not to mention some logic/implausibility flaws present.

Yes, it's a mish mash of other films that have gone before it, Short Circuit and Robocop springing to mind, but it's all done with just enough flair and heart, despite the flaws, to pass muster. ***

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