Being a died in the wool film junkie with a demanding job, sometimes its hard to fit in every movie and tv show I want to watch. And sometimes I miss the big and/or important movies as they flash across the cinema screens. So, what happens to these films on my radar that slip through my surveillance net, weight til they land on DVD or Blu-Ray and pounce.
And that is what I’m here for today, to give you my opinion of eight movies I missed at the cinema and recently caught up on in a blinding marathon full of popcorn and coke (the beverage, not the drug).
The Fate of the Furious (2017) Dir. F. Gary Gray.
The latest addition in the Fast and Furious franchise, the 8th so far, is the first in the franchise since the death of one of the franchises main stars, Paul Walker. Vin Diesel’s mumble growl baritone is back as Dom Toretto, as is the rest of his colour gang/family in the ridiculously fun action flick.
The filmmakers do their best to turn the narrative on its head as Dom is turned against his family by evil hacker master mind Cipher (Charlize Theron) holding old flame Elena and their baby hostage, forcing Dom into working as her henchman. And in case you haven’t guested just yet, shit goes down and the good guys win. Duh, what where you expecting?
Dom’s Girlfriend/Wife (what is there relationship anyway?) Letty takes over the team with the help and guidance of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and newcomer Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). While Michelle Rodriguez is an exceptional actor, she doesn’t really rise above scowling sexpot.
Stand outs in the cast are Kristofer Hivju of Game of Thrones fames playing Cipher second in command Rhodes. Unlike fan favourite Tormund on GOT, Hivju places the icy badass perfectly and I had to muffle a cheer when he met his end. Another great pairing is Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Deckard. Statham’s Deckard was a villain in previous instalments but is brought into the team by Mr. Nobody. Hobbs and Deckard’s interaction, first as revivals in federal prison (An action sequence executed perfectly) then as bickering alleys, they are a double act that should have the bubby cop movie together. Pure cinematic gold.
But ultimately, this cartoon for adults, while fun with its willingness to ignore physics for a sweet visual (the chase sequence with cars versus a submarine for example), doesn’t match up to the other chapters in the franchise, the 7th stamped in people minds after Walker’s death would always be hard to top. But in the end this is a popcorn tent pole film of the highest order. It is winning no awards, but it fun and its well worth it to see Dame Helen Mirren playing Statham’s mum.
XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2017) Dir. D.J. Caruso
From one Vin Diesel lead visual circus to another. Now, while this film franchise started a year after the FF franchise, it currently only has three instalments, with the second featuring a different lead in Ice Cube. But Vin Diesel being big again he returns to the franchise.
The film series XXX is, like FF, full of reality bending action that gives the middle finger to physics and this recently chapter could even be another FF movie with a team of misfits lead by Diesel is at its core. And because of this it is quite forgettable compared to the colourful security the FF franchise.
Now, let me be clear, I enjoyed this movie. But one of the reasons I wanted to watch this piece of fluff (that being Samuel L. Jackson) was hardly in the film at all, his role resided to a glorified cameo. But the other reason did deliver in spades. That of martial arts super star Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa. These two actors are extraordinary athletes seem to perform amazing feats while reality has its back turn, and while their action sequence they performed are nowhere as good as film shoot in the naïve country’s film industry, they are still a highlight. Another Game of Thrones actor, Rory McCann (who plays the Hound) almost steals the show with his sheer presence proving the casting agent for the HBO show are actually good at their job.
At the end of the day I’m glad I watched XXX: Return of Xander Cage but now that I have watched it, I think I can live the rest of my life without having to view this piece of candy again. I’m on a diet after all.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) Dir. Andre Ovredal
This is the only horror movie on this list. Not because there weren’t many horror movies released this year, but because this is the only one I missed on its first release. And one of the few good ones.
I read some very promising reviews for this film which sparked my interest. Not the least of which was the director Andre Ovredal who directed the amazing Troll Hunter in 2010 and the two male leads in Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch. And I wasn’t disappointed by the time I sat down on the couch in the dark with a big bowl of popcorn.
The story revolves around father and son coroners/funeral home owners as they take on a last-minute autopsy of a young woman from the sheriff. And as the autopsy goes on through the night, the puzzle of Jane Doe gets weirder and weirder and the supernatural rears its ugly head. Questions of ‘who was this woman’ become a maybe ‘who is this woman’, the two men start to crack.
What is surprising about this film, is that so much is done with so little. A lot of the unease of the piece is down to subtle changes in sound and score, the framing of the action and lighting. And the oddly magnetic performance for Olwen Catherine Kelly as Jane Doe who doesn’t move the entire film and yet she is all over this film. Andre Ovredal creates an atmosphere that becomes more and more intriguing and its 86-minute running time seems to pass very quickly and considering the action takes place primarily in one location with three actors, one playing the dead body Jane Doe, that is an impressing achievement in a cinematic landscape that contains so many films that are all flash and no substance. This film holds your attention and slowly amps up to a finale that I loved.
I don’t want to give away too much in the way of story or spoilers, but if a horror movie that will stay in my brain pan for days after you watch it, then please watch this film. And then go back and watch Troll Hunter and you’ll see a film maker that has a firm grip on the horror genre.
Kong: Skull Island (2017) Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts
From horror movie to monster movie. When you think of monster movies, and even the sub-genre of giant monster movies, King Kong is the granddaddy of them all. And the story has been retold many times. So, it was refreshing to see them not do the same old story with Kong. This flick has more in common with Pacific Rim than Peter Jackson’s recent King Kong remake. This movie is a audio visual ride akin to you being on a flaming roller coaster and loving every turn.
Set in the 1970s, the film follows a mysterious American government agency called Monarch as it embarks on a expedition to a yet uncharted island in the south pacific at a time when the Vietnam war is winding down. Lead by Monarch’s top dog Bill Randa (John Goodman) as he puts his team together of mercenaries, scientists, a photo journalist, and U.S. soldiers as they converge on the primal Eden on this lost island.
Upon arrival, they drop charges from helicopters to take seismic reading of the island to better map the area. This unleashes the fury Kong, the islands protector, who shows the interlopers who’s boss. The survivors, with the help of a marooned World War II pilot Hank Marlow, must navigate through the ‘lost world’ with all its surprises to get to the extraction point on the other side of the island.
Giant guerrilla, giant spiders, giant buffalo/yak things, giant lizard creatures are aplenty in this film. Our heroes are completely out matched and ‘out gunned’ and the WWE giant monster smackdown are freaking sweet.
With a cast featuring the aforementioned John Goodman as well as Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, John Ortiz, Toby Kebbell, Terry Notary, Australia’s Robert Taylor and a cameo by Oscar winner Richard Jenkins, this amazing all-star cast could have been hired to distract from am awful script. But how surprised was I when I found it wasn’t the case. Character or character type, has their moment to shine. And the Director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who hasn’t before this directed a massive film like this before, show his has got to chops to become a great genre director.
John C. Reilly steals the show as marooned pilot Marlow, being the film’s conscious as well as its comic relief, a structural double act that could have fallen flat but in Reilly’s expert hands helps elevate the story. And a special nod to the two actors playing Kong, Terry Notary and Toby Kebbell (doing double duty as the human character Jack Chapman as well as Kong). These two actors have worked on previous Planet of the Apes movies with MoCap king Andy Serkis play various apes characters, where perfect casting to tackle the unique character of Kong.
I give this film four and a half out of five helicopter explosions.
And if you have time, jump onto YouTube and check out the Honest Trailer for Kong: Skull Island in which the director Jordan Vogt-Roberts help criticize and lampoon his own film. Priceless.
Power Rangers (2017) Dir. Dean Israelite
What can I say about this movie? I’d like to say, since I was never a fan of the original Mighty Morphing Power Rangers, that this movie is a deformed aborted foetus of a film and that the filmmakers are a bunch of money hungry twits who forced on the unwitting public such a tragedy chasing the almighty nostalgia dollar.
But I can’t. SERIOUSLY!
This movie surprised even me. And that doesn’t happen often.
From Dead Israelite, the director of Project Almanac and the writer of Real Steal and Flight, John Gatins, the project was in good, if not interesting hands, considering the simple and cheesy nature of the original television show and the terrible film from the mid-1990s.
For the main characters in the film, this is a perfect coming of age and a wonderful superhero origin story. The usual character types one usually finds in these kinds of film actually gives way to decent characterisation. I describe this film as The Breakfast Club get superpowers. You have the bad boy Zak (Ludi Lin), the misunderstood jock Jason (Dacre Montgomery), the nerd/brain Billy (RJ Cyler), the crazy girl Trini (Becky G.), and the popular girl with emotional problems Kimberly (Naomi Scott). And to those of you who are old enough to have watched The Breakfast Club, do you remember what they called themselves in the written essay revealed to us in voice over? The end of the piece goes, “…each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.” Sound familiar?
And the similarities don’t stop there. The Powers Rangers, before getting their powers, are thrown together in detention, just like TBC. Likewise, they have similar histories, much of which comes out in a ‘round table’ confessional around a campfire, that echoes the scene in TBC on then landing in detention.
But the similarities to The Breakfast Club aren’t distracting or blatant in anyway, but actually help the audience invest in the characters and grounds the more fantastic elements of the film in a ‘reality’ that never seems out of place.
The film also stars Bryan Cranston as Zordon, adding a little class to the film in front of the camera, as does Bill Hader’s vocal stylings as the robot Alpha 5 adding comic relief. But out of all the actors in the film, it is Elizabeth Banks, playing the evil Rita Replusa, who has the most fun on screen. She portrays Rita with the right combination of ego driven swagger, destructive glee, and ‘moustache-twirling’ laughter, and a little slice of ham. So may think an actress like Banks is wasted in a film like this, but come on, who doesn’t want to play a villain? And in this kind of movie, she excels, and except for Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, Banks does more with her characters than the villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Baby, it’s Morphin’ Time.
John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) Dir. Chad Stahelski.
Keanu Reeves is back as chiselled hitman John Wick in this sequel to the 2014 film. After the events of the first film are wrapped up at the beginning of the second chapter (JW getting his car back), John and his new dog return home to settle into the normal life his recently passed wife wanted for him.
But the actions of the first film have attracted the attention of an old colleague, the very mob kingpin who helped him leave the world of contract assassination behind him all those years ago. Santino D’Antonio (played by Riccardo Scamarcio) comes to John to cash in the favour John owes him. Something that is prized about money and honour in the world of this film. John refuses, and D’Antonio blows up John’s house and destroys the last connection with his late wife. John takes the job, that of killing D’Antonio’s sister (Claudia Gerini) to avoid a price on his head from the underground community he is a part of. But he gets one anyway and the fun ensues.
Ian McShane and Lance Riddick return as Winston and Charon respectively, owner and concierge of the protected hotel/club/hide-out of the underworld types. John Leguizamo also returns in a glorified cameo, wasted as he was in the first film, but like McShane and Riddick, he adds stability to the story. The film also adds Common as a revival assassin/bodyguard, the great Laurence Fishburne and the Bowery King and Ruby Rose, covering up the fact she can’t act by playing a character who can’t speak.
This is a film that you can’t help but compare to the original, a film that came out too little fanfare and blow the box-office away. But the release of this film in Australia was delayed. The February 2017 release date was pushed back to July 2017, about the same time the film was released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the USA. Nice going Australia!
Apart from the delayed release, the film was quite good. But, and this is where the comparing to the original comes into play, didn’t have the same visceral impact the original film had. Its like the strange phenom of a band’s follow up to an amazing first album. Good, even great by normal standards, but is missing that one element to elevate the sequel to the level of the original. And with John Wick: Chapter 2, I couldn’t really tell you what it is it’s missing. I mean, then action is there in all its forms. Car chases, gun battles, hand to hand combat and tense stand-offs.
Maybe it is just down to the director Chad Stahelski, a former stuntman turned director. Stahelski directed JWC2 by himself, whereas he co-directed the first film with David Leitch, who’s recent film Atomic Blonde did what the first John Wick film did. So maybe Chad Stahelski, while a competent action director, is the weaker of the two. Or maybe the writer of the two films, Derek Kolstad, just churned out the contractual sequel to keep the studio happy.
Fun, but like so many other sequels, no new ground was covered. And we still have Chapter 3 to look forward too. Yay?!?
Ghost in the Shell. (2017) Dir. Rupert Sanders
Live action remakes of animation is popular right now. One just has to look at the Disney rooster to see they are planning more of them after the surprise hits of Maleficent in 2014, Cinderella in 2015, The Jungle Book in 2016, and Beauty and the Beast in 2017. Well, made surprise hits was going too far.
Live action versions of anime films have usually been in the purview of the Japanese film industry, as Hollywood’s attempts have been pretty awful. But then there was Ghost in the Shell.
Now I was very trepidations when I heard they where making this film. And then there was the ‘white washing debate’ about Scarlett Johansson’s casting as Major and the poor critics response to the film before release, and of course the internet trolls. But while I took all this in, I wouldn’t make any judgements until I saw the film. Because I loved the original, I was willing to give the live action film the benefit of the doubt.
Now everything people loved about the original is present in this version. All the characters are in attendance including a new character in Major’s team, Major’s ‘creator’ gender swapped into a woman and the main antagonist is a character mixed from elements from then original Ghost in the Shell, it’s sequel Innocence and the series Stand Alone Complex. And surprisingly enough, these changes blend neatly into the frame work of the story.
It only downside, as I have already mentioned in this article about other films, the film doesn’t cover new ground. It is quite happy to tread over the old boards of the anime without adding anything new. This is faithful to the source material and is in no way a shot for shot remake like Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, but it seems to me a Japanese live action film might have been the way to go. But this film is by no means bad in anyway and I know filmmakers can have a tough time adapting a much-loved property. I was just hoping for a bit my bang for my buck.
The academic qualities of the film are many, from notions of self and personality in the face of emerging technologies like cybernetics and medical advances, what is it to be human, the notion of soul over hardware. The list will go on.
I suggest, everyone watch this film and make up there own mind.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. (2017) Dir. Guy Richie.
Guy Richie has had a great run in the last ten years. Re-inventing Sherlock Holmes a great deal of humour, style and swashbuckling bravado being the most popular. His take on the 1960s super spy series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was equal, if no more so, to his take on the great detective on Barker Street.
So when the new came down the entertainment news pipeline that Ritchie’s next film with be a big budget re-invention of the King Arthur story, Britain’s greatest fairy-tale of honour and valour, fan boys and cinephiles around the world sat at their desks in front of their computer screens and channelled Mr Burns with a ‘Excellent’ slipping past their lips in barely contained joy.
We all know the story King Arthur and the Knights of the round tables and a re-telling of the Arthur/Camelot myth is not a new one. There have been romantic versions, action version, fantasy version, animated versions and even a musical version. So why should we care.
A massive and talented cast, great direction, decent script, top notch editing and a wonderful musical score, everything was in place. The trailer hit and like a dealer offering the first taste free, we the customers, we’re hooked. And then the film was released. And that is when the trouble started.
The critics seems to attack the film for its short comings while other more ridiculous films got away Scott free. Audience seems to ignore the film, well in Australia away, and the film only lasted a few weeks on cinema screen in the land of Oz. Which is a shame, because this is such a fun film.
Okay, so its not going to win any Oscars. These kinds of films rarely do, Lords of the Rings aside. But who cares. That shouldn’t be the mark of a good film. This is ‘popcorn’ entertainment. If its fun and you, the audience member, enjoys themselves, then you have a good movie.
I’m saddened, more than any other film on this list, that I missed this film at the cinema. I’ve watched it a few times since I bought it, and it hasn’t let me down with repeat viewings. And why wouldn’t it. The film is a perfect blend of Harry Potter, Games of Thrones and the sword and sorcery films of the 1980s like Conan and Beastmaster, with a little God of War thrown in. And as you would except, the visual effects realise the story elements perfectly.
And if you still don’t think its something you want to lay down you hard earned for, the cast itself is worth a look. SOA star Charlie Hunnam is the titular character, rounding out another great character to the already growing list. Joining him is Jude Law, Astrio Berges-Frisby, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen (GOT’s Littlefinger playing a likeable good guy), Geoff Bell, and Eric Bana as Uther Pendragon.
I is a pity that that this film wasn’t more widely successful than is was. But, apart from David Beckam’s cameo, hopefully this film will be a cult classic it deserves to be in later years. Fingers crossed.