Rating : 51/100 103 Min
Fairly ill-conceived thriller set in a fictitious country, one which also borders Vietnam and has a major river crossing that border, which kind of makes it Cambodia really (they also create a fake flag which seems to be an amalgam of one from the north of South America crossed with Bhutan’s for some reason). Owen Wilson, who is actually one of the film’s saving graces, takes his entire family to live with him in a foreign land he knows nothing about, all because his position within a large water company (which he apparently also doesn’t know much about) demands it of him.
Unfortunately, there is a military insurrection against evil Westerners the very next day and armed militia wander around the streets ethnically cleansing the entire city of white people, and anyone else who gets in their way. Lake Bell plays the wife and my goodness is her performance annoying in this, as neither she nor her admittedly cute but slow witted daughters click that their life is in danger and they are going to have to make a significant effort to survive. Initially, when the blood splattered shit hits the fan, things look set to deliver a really intense thriller, but it’s quickly ruined – firstly by adding traditional crummy music telling us to be excited where before there’d been more of a realist approach, and then secondly the basics of the story just become thicker and thicker slices of well matured action movie cheese. They even camp out on a lit, open-air roof that can be seen from all directions at one point. Mince. With Pierce Brosnan in support.
Rating : 75/100 100 Min
I LOVE this film. Roger Moore gives a fantastic performance, in fact it’s the best I’ve ever seen him deliver, as an unashamedly misogynistic, whiskey-toting, iconoclastic, ex-navy, freelance, anti-terrorist trainer operating out of Scotland when he and his men are called upon to try and neutralise a hostage situation in the North Sea which threatens several of the oil rigs there – a crises masterminded by a decidedly unhinged Anthony Perkins (not that he was typecast or anything), with James Mason’s far from convinced navy admiral overseeing the unorthodox counterplay.
From veteran director Andrew V. McLaglen (son of early Academy Award winner Victor McLaglen – who took home the best actor Oscar for John Ford’s 1935 classic ‘The Informer’) and penned by prolific writer Jack Davies as his last ever cinematic screenplay, fittingly adapted from his own novel ‘Esther, Ruth and Jennifer’ (also released in 1979).
This is by no stretch of the imagination a well known film nowadays but it has the unique talent of getting the comedy value spot on (listening to Moore flip out whenever a woman is mentioned is very amusing) and also creating an incredibly decent story out of something that, given the low-key look of the film and its under-the-radar status, certainly primes low expectations (often a significant boon). Indeed, it’s amazing how well the story is written from a number of angles, and if people are looking for a film to rework in light of the success of ‘Captain Phillips‘ then this is absolutely perfect – just so long as they stick to the writing and delivery that give the film its charm, an injection of the kind of tension the likes of Paul Greengrass can deliver would be perfect.
Definitely still one to search out and become a disciple of as it stands though!
“You see, I, together with my five elder sisters, was raised by an maiden aunt – both my parents died tragically in childbirth. Until the age of ten, I was forced to wear my sisters’ hand-me-downs. Then when I married I discovered, to my horror, that my wife also had five sisters. All unmarried. And all expecting my support. I find cats a far superior breed. Just on the off chance, I have made a will – I’ve left everything to my cats. I want it testified that I’m sound of body and mind. Well go on!” Roger Moore/Rufus Excalibur ffolkes
Rating : 69/100 90 Min
Documentary from genre veteran, director Patricio Guzmán, exploring, or rather interweaving, the desolate beauty of the Atacama desert in Chile, inclusive of some of the world’s most sophisticated telescopes and observatories (La Silla Observatory, Paranal Observatory, the immense ALMA radio telescope array), with the harrowing and continuous search of that area by the mothers of the Chilean disappeared, the victims of general Pinochet’s brutal regime who were buried in the desert: indeed they were dug up from their original points of execution and secreted in the desert specifically in the hope they would never be found.
The film is very successful in generating a haunting feel throughout. It’s calm, and slow-paced with some beautiful shots of landscape and the night sky, leaving plenty of room for contemplation as parallels are drawn between those looking to the Heavens, and thus looking back in time at light travelling toward us from the distant universe, and the archaeologists studying the area who are also looking to understand the past, whilst they mention a collective national attempt to do the opposite regarding Chile’s more modern history and its atrocities.
Where the film does let itself down though is with the details, which it is very light on. We never see any maps of the desert, nor do we get much about Pinochet and his regime within a historical context for those not in the know, and there is a moment where we watch astronomers as they look for calcium spectral lines from distant stars to make the quite profound connection between that and the bones being searched for in the desert around them, but they don’t explicitly explain that calcium is one of many primary elements forged by nuclear processes at the heart of stars and then disseminated throughout the universe when those stars eventually go supernova. The observatories featured were founded there of course because of the lack of light pollution and atmospheric interference in the area, but to be fair a lot of the stills of galaxies and the night sky used to exhibit the wonder of the cosmos are amongst the most famous of images, and indeed some of the interlinking effects used seem perhaps a little overtly basic.
Nevertheless, a film that is successful in its primary goal of putting our lives and existence a little under the microscope and making us reflect purposefully on the value of not only remembering the past, but also understanding and coming to terms with it – all driven home with deeply emotional interviews from survivors of brutality and people who have been relentlessly searching for the remains of their loved ones for many, many years.
Rating : 62/100 98 Min
This is essentially completely identical to parts one and two of the ‘Night at the Museum’ franchise, which began way back in 2006 although it seems like just yesterday. The majority of the characters return for this instalment, including the protagonist Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck), Jed (Owen Wilson), Octavius (Steve Coogan), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek) and the late Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt, together with new faces Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens), La (also Stiller) and security guard Tilly (Rebel Wilson) as well as some great cameos. A very loose thread throughout explores Larry’s relationship with his son Nick (Skyler Gisondo) who is determined to take a year out before college to basically chill out in Ibiza, much to the chagrin of his concerned father, but can Nick convince Larry that he’s mature enough to make his own decisions?
The main story arc follows the somewhat mouldy decline of the golden tablet that brings all the exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan to life at night, and just as the previous film took everyone on a trip to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., this time the British Museum in London is where they hope to find answers to the imminent cessation of all their nocturnal activities. The film works as a really great advert for the museum and the not too distant Trafalgar Square area – indeed, these are two of The Red Dragon’s favourite places to visit in London (although usually I am paying more attention to potential new slaves than exhibits, I once met a rather charming girl called Mona Lisa in the National Gallery (no joke) and indeed was similarly distracted in the British Museum and thoroughly enjoyed the visit along with the hieroglyphics merchandise from the shop, until I remembered the Rosetta stone is there and I had neglected to see it. Pesky human females). The film is perfectly in keeping with Stiller’s usual zany, light and family friendly comedy adventures and for precisely that reason this delivers exactly what you would expect – a film that’s easy to watch with colourful performances and the occasional laugh but nothing to make it stand out and overall somewhat banal, with an ending designed to finish the series rather than really make much sense.
Rating : 74/100 117 Min
This is a great film driven home relentlessly by a powerful and quite thought provoking central performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s the directorial debut of screenwriter Dan Gilroy (‘The Bourne Legacy‘, ‘Real Steel’ 11), who interestingly enough is the brother of screenwriter Tony Gilroy – most famous for penning the original Bourne films and who also created a very well received thriller with ‘Michael Clayton’ (07) in his own first attempt behind the camera. Gyllenhaal evokes perfectly his utterly determined to be successful ‘nightcrawler’ who starts his own business enterprise filming late night news events worthy of the big networks’ interest, the bloodier the better, and selling the footage to the ever eager outlets. All the while it’s obvious the wheels of his mind are turning as fast as they can, but in their frenetic activity he is completely unaware there is a large central cog entirely missing. A psychopath certainly, and yet a lot of what he does and says has a cold logic to it – there are many morally reprehensible moments but there exists not only an inevitability to them, given the scenarios he creates and which others force him into, but their combination with the sinister and corporate bottom-line world of mass media is completely perfect, opening our eyes just a little more to what we already witness, and are aware of, every day. Arguably good enough to see nominations coming Gyllenhaal’s way and perhaps for Gilroy too. The other main support comes from Rene Russo who is more than up to the challenge, although some of the smaller roles aren’t quite so well executed. For more along a similar vein watch ‘Network’ (76) and ‘Wag the Dog’ (97).
Rating : 77/100 97 Min
Documentary following the exploits of the American Samoa national football team, against the beautiful backdrop of their capital Pago Pago, as they attempt to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. America Samoa is a part of the Samoan archipelago which also includes the independent nation of Samoa in the Pacific Ocean and, unsurprisingly given its name, it is one of the foreign territories that are a part of the United States, much like Guam and the American Virgin Islands. With a population of just around 56, 000 we learn the nation’s team are currently residing at the bottom of the FIFA international rankings, and they also have the dubious honour of having suffered the greatest ever defeat in the history of international football – 31 nil by Australia in 2001.
Action, it seems, must be taken, and so the powers that be hire Dutch coach Thomas Rongen to try and lift the team from the doldrums, but will his expertise be enough and how will he react to a different culture at the other side of the world?
The film is divided in good measure between following the action in the games and following the reaction from the players and the coach, and we feel like we are getting to know a few of them quite well, which is of course necessary for the human element to work. We learn, for instance, that Rongen’s daughter tragically died in a car accident and that he and his wife are able to find a degree of spiritual healing in a sense from the island community, the same community that fully embraces Jaiyah Saelua, the transgender player on the team, who also proves gutsy and, ahem, ballsy enough to become one of the team’s greatest assets.
It’s a really wonderful film that perfectly sums up just what sport can mean to people and how much it can move everyone involved with it, from the players and their families to the supporters they are representing. There were more than one or two people sniffling in the audience before the end. Highly recommended.
Rating : 73/100 138 Min
I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy this, after all who doesn’t know the story? There seemed little point in exploring the biblical/mythical flood, a story that is found in many ancient texts not just those of the old testament, and so it was a very pleasant surprise to find that the film was not only visually interesting, but quite entertaining to boot, which is absolutely the creative stamp of the director, Darren Aronofsky, who fought a long, hard, and ultimately successful battle against his producers to have his final edit of the movie be the one shown in cinemas.
Russell Crowe plays the titular Noah and he is on top form here, carrying the film in no small measure, whilst Jennifer Connelly plays his wife and Logan Lerman and Douglas Booth his two sons, with Emma Watson along for the ride as a random girl they pick up on their journey to meet Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), from whom they hope to gain wisdom and guidance after Noah has a vision presaging the great flood. There is allegory of our modern day world, as we see clear signs of metallurgy that would be more fitting in today’s time frame, and the film plays very heavily on all things done in the name of religion without thought to their simple and distinct morality, which I think was a perfectly legitimate path to go down, especially since it’s not like we’re dealing with matters of historical record here – interestingly, a long proposed geological theory explaining the myth is that the stories may have originated after the Bosphorus broke, flooding the Black Sea with the waters of the Mediterranean and submerging the civilisations there. This is also one of the prime candidates for the Atlantis myth, although there are many others, the ancient volcanic eruption on the island of Thera, as another example.
The somewhat ridiculous nature of the story in that one family are supposed to repopulate the Earth is played on too, with one of Noah’s sons complaining that he will have no female companion (the eldest having already claimed Watson who is barren anyway) and demanding that Noah go and get him one. If only Ray Winstone, who plays the villainous leader of the mob who want the Ark for themselves, had explained it to him in his distinctive Cockney accent : ‘You will have to fuck your fucking muva boy’.
Losing a little to melodrama, and lacking in the acting department with the fresher faced members of the cast, this is still worth going to see as an enjoyable spectacle with generous helpings of morality to chew over.
Rating : 34/100 132 Min
Adapted from the computer game of the same name – a fact alone that sounds a fairly deafening alarm bell, and sure enough we witness a concept that is fine on a console but does not work at all on the big-screen. It was always going to be a dubious attempt with the Fast and Furious franchise already well established within the niche market of motorhead fuel injected action, and doubtless the makers here were hopeful of a franchise of their own, with only bad acting, poor scriptwriting and tensionless directing standing in their way.
The central character is Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) who is of course the most talented driver ever to have lived but for some reason is working in a garage in financial arrears, forcing him into the sphere of influence of bad guy Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), who despite being evil to the core is remarkably successful and is the reigning driving champion, but deep down he suspects Tobey could beat him. Inevitably juvenile egos clash and a street race takes place between the two and Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), one of Tobey’s good guy buddies, and we see them dodging oncoming traffic at a million miles per hour in flashy sports cars as they heedlessly drive down the wrong side of the road until bad guy Dino commits a dastardly deed and sends Little Pete careering off to a spectacular crash and immediate cremation. GOOD RIDDANCE. If they are going to drive like madmen in public and put the lives of hundreds of innocent people at risk then, frankly, they all deserve to die as far as I’m concerned and the intention to gain the audiences sympathy at this point is woefully misplaced, plus Lil Pete was so completely artless and innocent it was entirely obvious he was about to splattered all over the place anyway.
Bad guy Dino pegs it when he realises he might have made a boo-boo, leaving Tobey to take the blame and go to jail as unfortunately for him it seems his lawyer was too lazy to interview the many countless witnesses they almost killed who could testify to there being three cars, and they were going too fast for any cameras on their journey to have recorded them. Eventually he gets out and so begins his long and very tedious journey to right this wrong as well as try and win a highly secretive race that’s in fact so secretive all the security forces and police know exactly where it is and try to stop it, just so he can rub it in bad guy Dino’s face that yes, he is in fact the better driver as well as being the innocent guy (though he also deserves to die) who will somehow prove his innocence. Oh, and bad guy Dino is banging Tobey’s ex-girlfriend, because they obviously felt they didn’t have enough clichés in there already.
The action isn’t completely dire, but it’s very run of the mill and the way the camera continually cuts from a first person view to a shot of the driver from around the gear stick, constantly destroys any real involvement or tension in the driving scenes. Morally bankrupt central character behaviour continues to the point of lunacy, the supporting characters are tragic and poorly delivered, Aaron Paul acts throughout like a grown angry baby, and really the only things of any value in the entire film are Michael Keaton’s supporting role as a radio disc jockey and race organiser, and Imogen Poots with her infectious smile and a stunt that she is obviously performing herself. Alas, neither of these two actors are enough to give this any appeal other than to perhaps undiscerning teenage boys with nothing better to do.
Rating : 73/100 106 Min
Liam Neeson continues his winning streak of action films, following in the successful footsteps of the likes of his ‘Taken’ (08), ‘Unknown’ (11) and ‘The Grey’ (11), and this is another taught and very enjoyable thriller, predominantly sold by a trademark commanding performance from the leading man himself, here playing an alcoholic air marshal who begins to receive mysterious threats to his passenger’s lives whilst in mid-air. He knows that someone onboard is sending them, but who? The plot thickens when the instigator’s demanded money is requested to be transferred to Neeson’s own bank account …
The tension is held throughout, and, all in all, it’s a satisfyingly involving mystery.
Rating : 71/100 115 Min
The latest film from director Alexander Payne (‘Sideways’ 04, ‘The Descendants’ 11) stars Bruce Dern as Woody Grant, whom we initially see determinedly walking down a Montana highway trying to march his way to Lincoln Nebraska (that state’s capital) before being picked up by a state trooper and his worried family informed. His wife Kate (June Squibb) and sons David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk) try to convince him that the marketing voucher he’s received saying he may have won a million dollars to be collected in Lincoln isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, but eventually David takes Woody on a road trip in order to satisfy him and spend some time with his father, stopping off in the small town where Woody and Kate first met along the way.
The entire film is shot in black and white, which looks great (they used Arri Alexa digital cameras, which would definitely be The Red Dragon’s weapon of choice too), and has elements of both a personal journey – the sort of thing where you one day decide I am absolutely going to do this one thing, even though that one thing may not make a great deal of sense, may not be at all practical, and may not have even existed as a thought a mere second ago, but then as the story progresses it becomes a much more reflective piece looking at the father son relationship, and the lives of the family in general. The same slow burn but involving nature from Payne’s previous work turns this into something endearing – helped along by good performances from everyone on the way. Bob Nelson wrote the screenplay, making this the first of Payne’s feature films not to have him appear on the writing credits.