Friday, 13 July 2018

Skyscraper - review


Dwayne Johnson, the most electrifying man at the box office, returns to the big screen this week with Skyscraper. It is not a film adaptation of Demi Levato’s musical banger but a movie that finds Dwayne stuck between The Rock and a Die Hard place.
Johnson proves for the second time in 2018 that age or background is no obstacle to a late career change as he moves from FBI agent to security consultant. In Rampage, he went from Special Forces to Primatologist. Never let anyone tell you you can’t dare to dream!
On a job in Hong Kong, he has been tasked with analysing the security of The Pearl. The world’s tallest building. To do that, he has been living in the residential area of the complex with his wife (Neve Campbell) and two children.
Just before the building is signed off for opening, Will Sawyer (Johnson) is framed for a fire that starts to rise through the Pearl, trapping his family.
He stops at nothing to get back into the building to save them. However the fire is a mere distraction because the real purpose of the event is to allow a group of criminals to steal a valuable object from the Pearl’s owner Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han).
At this point I know what you are thinking. Burning building, criminals, tall building, man needing to save his family.
All you would need is for The Rock to be barefoot and this would be Die Hard. Well actually, The Rock only has one foot and an artificial leg in this due to his backstory!
The filmmakers are well aware that this film is essentially a modern blend of two classics.
It wears its influences not on its sleeve but plastered to the outside of a very tall building. It is a throwback to the dumb, can-be-described-in-one-line, action movies of the 80s and 90s that works on many levels… 220 levels to be exact.
Any film that emulated the Die Hard concept could be described as “Die Hard on a boat” (Under Siege), “Die Hard on a Plane” (Air Force One), etc. So Skyscraper is “Die Hard in the Towering Inferno”.
So much in fact, that Johnson released these two posters before the film’s release, heading off any potential criticism…

Rather than focusing on a disaster movie style film with thousands of people trying to evacuate a burning building, Skyscraper jettisons 220 storeys to focus on just one. The good old Harrison Ford-esque “I just want my family back” and it is the role that Johnson is born to play (and has played for many, many films).
The first third of the movie sets up this story of Will and his family in the building, along with the main players (owner, former colleague-turned-boss, slimy insurance agent, etc) and anyone who has seen any of these films will be able to spot a wrong-un straight away. It also mentions lots of plot points about the building in that Aliens-style way that will come back later e.g. oh Ripley can drive a power loader, wonder if that will be important come the finale? Like the giant indoor room that features reflective computer panels that can replicate multiple versions of whoever is inside? Hmmm.
Once the building is on fire, Sawyer escapes the clutches of the police to climb a Super Crane in order to jump into a burning building.

The initial poster image was the source of some ridicule with mathematicians speculating on the angle and trajectory of the jump but it works much better in the context of the film and feels “just about” believable but hey, this is the movies. It is the kind of big punch-the-air moment that Hollywood is famed for and even if the audience in the cinema don’t cheer, the huge crowd of people gathered in Hong Kong watching the action unfold on giant plasma screens certainly do.
Once back inside, the final act becomes Die Hard with a vengeance as Johnson simultaneously tries to rescue his family and take down the criminals who are led by one with a European accent.
Rolland Moller (excellent in the Oscar nominated Land of Mine) is a charismatic and physical threat but sadly no one can ever come close to Hans Gruber as this type of villain.
Elsewhere there are several direct nods to the Bruce Willis classic that include hanging out of windows tethered to heavy objects and improvised uses of duct tape (one that would actually put Tom Cruise in Ghost Protocol to shame).
What Skyscraper does lack in comparison to Die Hard is the humour and one liners. This film is played fairly straight. Almost in an Airplane style but it really could have benefited from allowing The Rock to lay down some one liners on these criminal Jabronies as well as the physical smack down.
What was heartening to see however was the development and characterisation of Sawyer’s wife played by Neve Campbell. In most films of this type, she would be nothing more than a damsel in distress but she, as a former soldier and combat medic, is capable of handling herself against the bad guys and actually proves herself just as heroic as The Rock, particularly in one moment that will have fans of The I.T. Crowd giving a standing ovation.
Skyscraper might be skyscraping the barrel in terms of inspiration but Johnson once again proves he can carry a cheesy, summer blockbuster like this on his Atlas-like shoulders.

3 stars

Sunday, 8 July 2018

The First Purge - review


Who knew that five years ago when The Purge was released, a high concept horror about a vision of America where all the violence and hatred was released in one night, that it would go on to become the most socially relevant and prescient franchise of the last decade?
Shockingly, what started out as a film listed as "Science Fiction" on Imdb.com, the concept and events witnessed in the four movies have become increasingly plausible and realistic.
As the franchise has grown and evolved, any pretence of being influenced by real world events has disappeared. While The Purge was self-contained and The Purge Anarchy broadened the scope of the action, in 2016's The Purge: Election Year had a female presidential candidate under attack from right wing Purge fanatics wanting to preserve their way of life.
In The First Purge, we witness the very first iteration of the experiment that would define a nation. It is localised to Staten Island and offers citizens $5000 to remain on the island during the experiment, along with higher incentives for active participation.
Much of the action is focused on one of the "Projects" and the African-Americans who live there. They are the ones that need the money most but what the Government don't count on is the sense of community within these areas. They would rather stay together in churches or host street parties dancing to "This Is America" than participate (okay, maybe not quite).
Yes, these people are angry. But not at each other, at the government.
When participation is deemed too low. The New Founding Fathers Association (NFFA) send in groups of white mercenaries disguised as the KKK and other racist organisations to wipe out large swaths of the population.
Only when their livelihood and lives are threatened, the community decides to fight back. Ending in a third act that sees a drug dealer D'Mitri (hey, drug dealers can be good people to) strip down to a white vest and go all John McClane in an apartment block.
I mean, it makes sense. Can't sell drugs to the community if there is no one left in the community!
Jokes aside, given everything that has happened (and is happening) in these communities in America over the last few years, this film feels chillingly real and that is what is truly scary.
"Just remember all the good the Purge does" i.e. makes perfectly adequate action/horror movies with a disturbingly authentic political subtext.

3 stars

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Top Ten Films of 2018 (so far)

We have reached the halfway point of the year and now is as good a time as any to reflect back on the films that have stood out as we patiently wait for Ant-Man and the Wasp to be released here in the UK.
As always the list will only feature films which have had a UK theatrical or Netflix release by 30th June 2018. Hence why many of the films viewed at the Edinburgh & Glasgow Film Festivals, and Incredibles 2 are not on the list.
So without further adieu...

Annihilation


While there will be some people who just don't get it, there will be some who find it akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey in its themes and messages about humanity. They will spread the word and build up its cult status for years to come. Potentially even organising underground guerrilla screenings.
It's legacy on the science fiction genre certainly won't be annihilated. If anything, this is just the beginning!
Read the full review here.

Hereditary


Exiting the cinema in a complete daze, utterly shell-shocked by what one has just seen, don't lose your head. Just keep repeating "It's only a 5 star movie, it's only a 5 star movie, it's only a 5 star movie".
Read the full review here.



In A Quiet Place, silence is not only golden, it's survival. However it is safe to say that audiences and critics won't stay silent after watching it and this will turn into the breakout horror film of the year.
Read the full review here.


Avengers: Infinity War


Just like someone holding a complete Infinity Gauntlet, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is virtually unstoppable at this point and Avengers Infinity War is their finest hour so far... but one expects, as a time stone would tell, the best is yet to come.

Isle of Dogs


Deftly walking the tightrope of Eastern and Western influences, Anderson has bred a film of the highest pedigree that must already be one of the favourites to win the Best Animated Film at next year’s Oscars.
Read the full review here.

The Shape of Water

Grinding Nemo is one of the most beautiful, stunning, moving fairy tales ever to grace the silver screen and it is deserving of so many superlatives that, just as the lead character, one struggles to find the words to describe how fantastic it truly is.
Read the full review here.

You Were Never Really Here


Joe is a tortured anti-hero, at times literally hammering the point home, and his relationship with Nina mirrors that of Travis and Iris in Taxi Driver, hinting that an escape and redemption might be possible for both of them. Yet like Bickle, it is left open to interpretation as to whether he is the rain that washes the scum of the streets or is ultimately another one of the animals that come out at night.
Read the full review here.

Lady Bird


With her debut feature film as writer-director, Greta Gerwig proves that a beautiful Lady Bird is just waiting to emerge from the cocoon of the cover girl for manic, hipster pixie girls.
Read the full review here.

This is Scottish, and indeed, world filmmaking of the highest calibre. Read the full review here.

Secret Cinema Presents Blade Runner - The Final Cut



To be honest, I went back and forth on this final entry. Ultimately I struggled to come up with ten films that would make the cut so decided to go for a slice of Event Cinema to fill the final slot. Sorry Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman Sing-A-Long was very close but this just pipped it.
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. I've watched a sea of people dancing under umbrellas in the Los Angeles acid rain. I watched Roy Batty take down a squad of Blade Runners without breaking a sweat. Without being able to take photos at Secret Cinema, all these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain..."
Read the full review here.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Ext. New York City - On Location


Four years ago I spent 3 days in July walking around New York City with my dad, taking photos of over 100 filming locations. In total, we walked 84 miles. The equivalent of a marathon every day.


The reason and result was my first book; Ext. New York City - Discover The Reel New York On Location. A guide to some of the most iconic locations in the Big Apple to have featured on the silver screen. Plus it detailed my Top Ten films set in NYC, along with the history of film making in Manhattan.


Read an interview about my experience on Onthesetofnewyork.com here.

Read a review of the book on Onthesetofnewyork.com here.

Finally, if you want to buy a copy of Ext. New York City, you can get it on paperback or eBook from Amazon.

Dead In A Week (Or Your Money Back) - EIFF review


Dead In A Week (Or Your Money Back) is the blackest of black comedies that attempts to prove that suicide is painless… or at the very least, very, very funny.
Yes, there may be some audiences that are horrified by the idea of a film making jokes about a very difficult, emotional and topical subject matter. However those people probably haven’t actually watched it because the film manages to walk the fine line to handle the issue of ending one's life with sensitivity, care, humour and also how at the darkest moments in life, there is a chance to turn everything around. With the help of the right people.
One night struggling writer William, played by Aneurin Barnard (Dunkirk), attempts to end his life by jumping off a bridge. As he stands there hesitating, he is approached by a mysterious shadowy figure who offers him some assistance.
After the attempt fails (it turns out this is his ninth - if you include the cries for help), William meets with Leslie (Tom Wilkinson) who explains that he is a hitman and will be able to take the stress out of ending one's life for a small fee.
After signing on the dotted line, William receives interest in his book about suicide from a publisher and editor Ellie (Freya Mayor). Turns out he might have a couple of reasons to live for now but will Leslie be happy to cancel the contract?
What sells the film is the fully realised world that writer/director Tom Edmunds has created. Leslie works for a company of assassins and hitmen that present themselves as a legitimate business. They have brochures, away days for training and quotas to meet. It's like a British branch of the assassin's guild from John Wick.
Wilkinson's character is getting on a bit and faces retirement if he is unable to meet his quota for the year and William's contract is all that stands in his way.
Edmunds balances the two storylines perfectly; a young man wanting to end it all while an older man faces the end of his own life as he knows it. The performances from Barnard and Wilkinson are exceptional and pitched perfectly to sell the concept and make the audience empathise with both men.
There is also excellent support from Marion Bailey as Leslie's wife Penny and a scene-stealing cameo from Christopher Eccleston as Leslie's boss Harvey. Yes, he might be doing the standard British-thespian-as-a-gangster role which means doing their own take on Ben Kingsley's Sexy Beast performance (see also Ralph Fiennes in In Bruges) but who cares when it is this hilarious?
Dead In A Week should lead a long, happy life in cinemas, on DVD and streaming and is one film that won't have you asking for your money back.

4 stars

Listen to interviews with Tom Edmunds and Freya Mayor from the Edinburgh International Film Festival on the Filibuster podcast here at The Nerd Party.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Patrick - review


Patrick is a complete dog's dinner of a film.
A quintessentially "British" comedy which consists of around 1/3 of Beattie Edmondson's Sarah gurning and stomping her feet at how awful her life is; 1/3 laughing at Sarah's attempts to run and 1/3 Sarah shouting "Patrick!" and pug reaction shots where he tilts his head.
The story of a Bridget Jones-esque character having to deal with an unwanted dog, a new job, dysfunctional love life, etc, etc is so formulaic and predictable that if it was a Choose Your Own Adventure book, there would only be one option per page because every single audience member could correctly predict how the plot will unfold scene to scene.
Also the movie seems to be one 96 minute long infomercial for singer Amy McDonald's new album as the soundtrack consists of around nine of her songs which relate to the plot.
How to sum up the experience of watching Patrick? Pitiful, Unfunny, Ghastly, Lazy and Yawn-inducing. So that would be P, U, G, L, Y, you ain't go no alibi, you Pugly!

1 star

Sicario 2: Day Of The Soldado - review


Following the breakout success of Denis Vileneuve's Sicario, Soldado looks to continue the story. Expanding on the battle for the US/Mexico border, the focus of the saga moves from Emily Blunt's character (missing from this film) to Josh Brolin's Matt Graver and Benicio Del Toro's lawyer-turned-assassin Alejandro.
Following a bombing perpetrated by terrorists smuggled across the border, the US government classifies the Mexican cartels as terrorist organisations. Allowing Graver carte blanche to instigate a war between the cartels to try and take them all down.
But a bungled kidnapping puts the two former allies at odds that could put this fragile alliance to the ultimate test.
Taking over directorial duties, Stefano Sollima (director of Italian crime dramas such as Gomorrah, Romanzo Criminale and Suburra) is initially able to recreate that incredible feeling of tension and unease that the original film had. A film that felt like a coiled snake ready to strike at any moment.
This is particularly evident in a sequence where the US team attempt to transport a kidnapping victim back across the Mexican border only to be attacked by the police. This is equivalent of the border crossing sequence in the first film and just as effective.
What is less effective is the dawning realisation of just how right-wing the film (and saga) is in terms of its politics. The issue of the US/Mexico border and separation of families is obviously a very tender subject at the moment and the film is not particularly balanced in announcing which side of "the wall" it stands on. Following the initial bombing of a Costco on US soil, the government manage to frame the narrative in a way to allow them to wage war with the Mexican cartels, even though they were not the ones who physically carried out the bombings.
This is potentially why a large proportion of time is spent attempting to humanise the characters of Brolin and Del Toro. Particularly Alejandro as he develops a paternal bond with Isabella, the kidnapped daughter of a cartel boss. Del Toro is unsurprisingly excellent in the role. However the issue is that based on their actions in the first film, these people are already way beyond redemption.
Which is what this film is.
For it is difficult to remember a film in recent memory that has capitulated so fast in the final act.
Honestly, there is a particular moment from which point the entire film deflates faster than an undercooked souffle that you are left questioning just what the filmmakers were thinking.
There was a huge amount of excitement and potential for this sequel. Unfortunately Sicario 2 is less Day of the Soldado and more Day of the Sol-dud-o.

2 stars