Posts Tagged ‘Samuel L. Jackson’

Amsterdam Kill Run

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Director: Patrick Hughes

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Elodie Yung, Joaquim de Almeida, Sam Hazeldine, Rod Hallett, Richard E. Grant

Despite an international cast, director Patrick Hughes stylistically violent action film The Hitman’s Bodyguard becomes a warped buddie movie with Samuel L. Jackson starring as Darius Kincaid a foulmouthed assassin who unwillingly teams up with the executive protection agent Michael Bryce played by Canadian Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds.

After an explosive opening sequence in Manchester, England and then followed by an equally hectic sequence in Coventry, Bryce is tasked with transporting Kincaid intact to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands to testify against evil Belarussian dictator Vladislav Dukhovich played by Oscar nominee Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) complete with dodgy accent.

What was Gary Oldman thinking appearing in such a film?

Then again what was another Oscar nominee Mexican star Salma Hayek (Frida) thinking appearing as the equally foulmouthed Honduran jailbird Sonia Kincaid wife to Darius?

Even the two sequences with Hayek and Jackson are drizzled in bloodshed which is pitiful considering that it detracts from any potential onscreen chemistry.

Clearly all the stars involved in The Hitman’s Bodyguard did not act in this film to further their careers.

Then again, obviously the director of The Expendables 3, Patrick Hughes knows that his audience is not going to take the film too seriously if he packs The Hitman’s Bodyguard with excessive violence that the film becomes stylistically nauseating especially considering the events that are currently happening in 21st century Europe including multiple random acts of terror in every city from London to Barcelona.

The only redeeming feature of The Hitman’s Bodyguard besides the onscreen sparing between Reynolds and Jackson is the multi chase sequence in Amsterdam involving a ski boat, motorcycle and various vehicles along the Dutch canals.

Action fans will be satisfied as basically every city featured in The Hitman’s Bodyguard gets shot at and blown to smithereens from Manchester to Amsterdam to The Hague.

Unlike director Edgar Wright’s excellent Southern crime caper Baby Driver, the action sequences in The Hitman’s Bodyguard is repulsively manufactured and the violence is deliberately pornographic. The story is definitely thin on content which underscores the question why such normally bankable stars including Ryan Reynolds, Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson would consider acting in such an excessively violent film without a pause to think what the real cinematic message conveys: That violence is acceptable internationally?

Even the brief appearances by character actors Richard E. Grant and Portuguese star Joaquim de Almeida as a sinister Interpol agent do not redeem the narrative in any significant way.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and is big on action, violence, bloodshed and a massive body count (mostly of mean looking Belarussians) and low on nuanced content. Entertaining to an extent but way over done.

Where Myths and Science Meet

Kong: Skull Island

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing, Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Richard Jenkins, Thomas Mann

The allusions to Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad’s novel The Heart of Darkness are rife in newcomer director Jordan Vogt-Roberts action packed seventies set adventure film Kong: Skull Island.

Featuring an international cast including British actor Tom Hiddleston, Oscar winner Brie Larson (Room), John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly and Tian Jing (The Great Wall), Kong: Skull Island wastes no time on characterization or dramatic build up but rushes straight into an adrenaline filled action film set at the end of the Vietnam war in 1973.

With a retro seventies soundtrack to match, Bill Randa played by John Goodman and Houston Brooks played by 24: Legacy’s Corey Hawkins get the go ahead from Senator Willis briefly played by Richard Jenkins (Eat, Pray, Love) to assemble a  military team and journey to a mysterious storm ridden island in the South Pacific on an exploratory mission.

The team consists of soldiers hanging for some more action after the American withdrawal from Vietnam including Preston Packard played by Samuel L. Jackson and Cole played by Shea Whigham (American Hustle) along with anti-war photographer Mason Weaver played by Larson and golden boy James Conrad, played by Hiddleston (Thor: The Dark World).

As they approach Skull Island and drop seismic charges on the lush and malignant landscape, the team soon discover that a massive beast is guarding the island from vicious lizards. That beast is King Kong, that giant gorilla last seen on top of the Empire State building with a blond in his palm. Reference Peter Jackson’s 2005 epic King Kong.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts cleverly wastes no time in cutting straight to the action as various teams on the island are separated only to be individually preyed upon by a variety of nefarious creatures including giant spiders. While Packard and his band of mercenary soldiers are keen on annihilating Kong, Mason and James stumble upon Hank Marlow, a crazed but good natured World War II pilot who accidentally landed on Skull Island back in 1944 and never left, even befriending the silent locals who worship Kong as their sole protector.

Marlow is superbly played by character actor John C. Reilly, a role clearly referencing Dennis Hopper’s frenetic photojournalist in Apocalypse Now without the looming intensity of a Mister Kurtz watching over his horrific empire. Reilly brings empathy to the role of Marlow, another clear reference to The Heart of Darkness and advises the more sympathetic team that Kong is not that bad. A fact which is vividly illustrated by Mason Weaver’s wonderful encounter with the gigantic beast.

Brie Larson gives a resilient performance as the only strong female lead in a basically all male film and has the best screen time with Kong, realizing that much like those brave soldiers hunting Kong, they are all as confused about this rapid reversal in the environmental food chain.

Kong: Skull Island is unadulterated adventure, punctuated with cool photographic stills of exotic ethnography to capture a unique and terrifying experience where myth and science meet.

With the help of a groovy seventies soundtrack and a stand out performance by John C. Reilly, Kong Skull Island gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10. Highly recommended viewing.

 

Rebels and Tyrants

XXX: The Return of Xander Cage

Director: D. J. Caruso

Cast: Vin Diesel, Toni Collette, Samuel L. Jackson, Donnie Yen, Ruby Rose, Deepika Padukone, Nina Dobrev, Rory McCann, Ice Cube, Hermione Corfield, Michael Bisping, Tony Jaa, Kris Wu

Franchise star Vin Diesel returns in the third instalment of the XXX series, unimaginatively named XXX: The Return of Xander Cage directed by D. J. Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle Eye and I am Number Four).

Assembling a diverse multinational cast ensures its broader international box office appeal especially in Asia. Joining the cast of XXX: The Return of Xander Cage are Ruby Rose, Danish Bollywood star Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Scottish actor from HBO’s Game of Thrones, Rory McCann (Clash of the Titans), Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and Thai actor Tony Jaa (Furious 7).

As the action moves swiftly from The Dominican Republic to a jungle rave in the Philippines, then onto the final showdown in Detroit, this popcorn film delivers for sheer enjoyment ably assisted by a great supporting cast including Australian actress Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding, Hitchcock) and veteran star Samuel L. Jackson (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Avengers: The Age of Ultron) reprising his role of Augustus Gibbons founder of the covert extreme sports unit XXX.

Whilst there is not enough of the mind blowing stunts that made the original XXX film in 2002 so captivating, there are a fair share including skiing in a jungle (I kid you not), jet skiing off the Philippine coastline and the usual array of car chases, satellites crashing down on major cities to keep audiences thoroughly entertained.

The plot involves a device known as Pandora’s Box which can bring down orbital satellites and hold superpowers to ransom. Naturally, Xander Cage and his team of rebels are asked to retrieve and deliver Pandora’s Box to supposedly safe hands by a blonde haired Jane Marke played by Toni Collette.

The gorgeous Hermoine Corfield (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Mr Holmes) pops up as a sexy hacker in London, making the British capital more sexy than it really is as her opening sequence involves her swimming in a rooftop heated pool.

To make the plot more interesting there is a couple of twists where the real villain is not clearly identified until half way through, but director Caruso approaches the XXX film like a comic book pastiche heavily reliant on CGI and giving audiences exactly what they want: fantastic thrills in exotic locations and enough action to satisfy any adrenaline junkie.

XXX: The Return of Xander Cage is a fun filled action film, which thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously and delivers an enjoyable popcorn thrill ride made all the more amusing by Vin Diesel’s continued smirk on his face and a surprise addition to the cast to link up the franchise into a XXX trilogy. Similar to the hugely successful Fast and Furious franchise, there is bound to be a fourth film in the XXX series now that the producers have received funding from the Shanghai Media Group.

Audiences will enjoy XXX: The Return of Xander Cage for action and laughs but it doesn’t deliver anything more than it’s expected to.

The Exotic and the Brave

The Legend of Tarzan

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Director: David Yates

Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou, Ben Chaplin, Jim Broadbent, Osy Ikhile, Antony Acheampong

British director David Yates who was responsible for Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows returns to the director’s chair headlining a re-imagining of the mythical Tarzan, in the new visually astounding film, The Legend of Tarzan, featuring Swedish hunk Alexander Skarsgard in the titular role.

Tarzan, also known as Lord Greystoke, John Clayton is accompanied by his beautiful and vivacious wife Jane, wonderfully played by Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) and an American emissary George Washington Williams played against type by Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Kingsman: Secret Service). The villain in Legend of Tarzan is played by none other than Austrian Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Spectre, Django Unchained) who portrays the evil and repugnant Leon Rom. The year is 1884 and the colonization of Africa by European powers is gaining rapid and unparalleled momentum.

Set in the beautiful and vast Belgian Congo, when King Leopold was rapaciously raping the Congo of its mineral wealth, particularly diamonds using slave labour and devious means including turning warring local tribes against each other. One such tribe headed by Chief Mbonga muscularly played by Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond) wants Tarzan’s head on a plate and makes an unlikely pact with the unscrupulous Rom, who will stop at nothing to complete his reigning monarch’s ambitious colonial plans.

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John and Jane Clayton are persuaded to leave the comforts of late Victorian England behind and head for the exotic and wild plains of the Belgian Congo, where they soon confront the evil Leon Rom and his multitude of force publique officers who are out to enslave and enforce the will of the Belgian monarch upon the unsuspecting locals.

What really makes The Legend of Tarzan worth seeing is the brilliant incorporation of superb visual effects using performance capture technology for a vivid portrayal of the wildlife featured in the film, mainly the gorillas, lions and hordes of wildebeest. The brilliantly featured gorillas are a highlight. These creatures of the wild, raised baby Tarzan as one of their own, teaching him the laws of the jungle and how important it is to respect the hierarchy of the Animal Kingdom.

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Whilst Skarsgard’s performance of the iconic Tarzan is not perfect, he certainly has the muscular and gorgeous body to pull off this particularly physical role. After all the success of casting a male actor as Tarzan depends entirely on his physique. The well chiselled Skarsgard is naturally born for this role.

Margot Robbie breathes new life into Jane, as a feisty independent American woman who has attitude and her best scenes ironically shine through when played opposite the scheming villain Rom. In terms of dialogue, the best scene is between Robbie and Waltz as they dine precariously together on a steamer travelling down the Congo River, in a visual reference to The Heart of Darkness.

The Legend of Tarzan is better than anticipated, with magnificent visual effects elevating the film out of cinematic parody. It’s a well plotted, action filled and entertaining film, a worthwhile trip to the cinema where audiences can delve into a real adventure story which features the exotic and the brave.

In this version, the shirtless Tarzan swinging in the proverbial jungle should keep many swooning for years to come.

Comic Book Pastiche

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Director: Joss Whedon

Cast: Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr, Don Cheadle, Paul Bettany, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett, Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, James Spader, Cobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell, Stellan Skarsgard, Thomas Kretschmann, Julie Delpy, Andy Serkis, Anthony Mackie.

The Avengers are back in director and writer Joss Whedon’s much anticipated sequel The Avengers: Age of Ultron featuring all the Marvel superheroes and some new ones in a CGI laden special effects extravaganza, which is at times confusing and other times absolutely fascinating. At a running time of two hours and twenty minutes, director Whedon has sufficient screen time to flesh out all the characters individually as well as give nuance to some of their more complicated relationships.

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Like the relationship between The Hulk, aka Bruce Banner wonderfully played by Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) and the Black Widow played by Scarlett Johansson who seems to be the only avenger that can calm the Hulk’s penchant for destructive anger.

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The relationship between goodie two shoes Steve Rogers aka Captain America, played by Chris Evans and Nordic God Thor played by the hunky Chris Hemsworth is also subtly explored considering that the former is a World War two hero and the latter from another dimension.

Robert Downey Jr reprises his role as egotistical Billionaire Tony Stark, aka Iron Man and his irrepressible desire to mould any technological discovery, in this case the power artificial intelligence to his own advantage.

The Age of Ultron refers to the ubiquitous Altron a powerful A.I. force which is hell bent on human destruction and vain enough to realize that he can survive the aftermath, beautifully voiced with an underlying menace by James Spader (Bad Influence, more recently in the hit TV show The Black List).

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The sexy Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton aka Hawkeye ‘s character is fleshed out as a devoting family man which is entirely incongruous with his status as a member of the Avengers, but hey who cares?

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Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson play evil orphaned Eastern European twins Pietro and Maximoff who soon turn on Ultron when they realize his megalomaniac tendencies. Even Lord of the Rings’ Andy Serkis makes an appearance as a South African mercenary Ulysses Klaue and the Johannesburg downtown sequence is truly phenomenal to watch as is the action scene in Seoul, South Korea.

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If audiences get confused with who all the avengers are, there are ample filmic references to each of their own background stories from Thor: The Dark World, including a brief appearance by Idris Elba and also Captain America’s Agent Carter, played by Hayley Atwell. Marvel is indeed expanding their universe exponentially and if The Avengers: Age of Ultron’s audience figures are anything to go by, this will prove to be another superhero box office smash hit.

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The Avengers: Age of Ultron is fun entertainment and definitely aimed at Iron Man, Thor and Captain America cinema fans especially all the witty references and innuendo’s involving lifting Thor’s hammer which are neatly laced into a script which may seem convoluted but then again when it comes to Artificial Intelligence its more an infinite mess which at some point needs to be reined in.

Audiences should look out for brief cameos by Anthony Mackie, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Delpy, Don Cheadle and Thomas Kretschmann. If The Avengers: Age of Ultron appears to be a pastiche of all the previous Marvel films, then director Joss Whedon has certainly achieved the impossible, not to mention making a narrative out of the dangers of artificial intelligence plausible and entertaining.

It’s best for audiences to suspend their disbelief and enjoy The Avengers: The Age of Ultron for what it is: a comic book orgy with a giant budget and loud, awe-inspiring special effects which will be sure to nurture any young adult’s imagination for awhile.

 

 

 

Comic Book Moonraker

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Director: Matthew Vaughn

Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Jack Davenport, Sofia Boutella, Mark Hamill, Lily Travers, Edward Holcroft

X-Men First Class director Matthew Vaughn’s glossy Kingsman: The Secret Service although has some great finishing touching is certainly no diamond in the rough. Although from the outset, the film inspired by a Comic book series and despite the casting of Oscar winners Michael Caine and Colin Firth fails to successfully make fun of the spy genre and its plot falls flat in the face of some glamorous production design, Kingsman actually is not as good as the trailer makes out to be. Which is a pity.

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Whilst the storyline of a youngster, Eggsy played by Taron Egerton is a sort of male version of Pygmalion as he is plucked out of trouble and brought to the finishing school for spies, The Kingsman: The Secret Service with the elegant assistance of Harry Hart wonderfully played by Colin Firth, the overall effect of the film is absurd to the point of making it nothing more than a comic book version of the Bond classic Moonraker. The eloquent Hart’s best line is manners maketh man, otherwise the plot itself is disjointed coming off as a schizophrenic spoof of the usually intriguing spy genre essentially aimed at the teenage market.

The villain is an American tech giant, Richmond Valentine bizarrely played by Samuel L. Jackson (Django Unchained) in one of his least compelling roles. Whilst the storyline follows the classic megalomaniac aiming to take over the world and cull the downtrodden, while only saving a few politically connected elite, Kingsman: The Secret Service follows the traditional spy genre but then at some point during the film subverts this venerated genre, probably the moment when bigots are attacking each in a rural church in Kentucky, making the whole storyline utterly farcical.

Given the production values and the casting of such British acting talents as Michael Caine (The Cider House Rules, The Dark Knight) as Arthur a traditional figurehead of The Secret Service and Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) as a sort of style master to the fatherless ruffian Eggsy, whose own father codenamed Lancelot met a gory end in a snow villa in Argentina, Kingsman: The Secret Service could have been so much slicker, better edited and infinitely smarter than what the finished product is.

Look out for a guest appearance by reclusive actor Mark Hamill who played Luke Skywalker in Star Wars as the mad Professor Arnold.

There are some wonderful moments when Firth takes out a gang of hoodlums in a pub aptly called the Black Prince with a very lethal umbrella, Kingsman: The Secret Service is overly long, with a plot which becomes more ludicrous as the film progresses and eventually does little justice to the original Spy thrillers the film is aiming to emulate: The Bourne Series, the iconic James Bond films and even the action TV show 24.

The action sequences are beyond credible and the first part of the film involving the training of the potential Kingsman has a sort of British upper class Hunger Games feel about it, the rest of the film could have been edited. All the great actors like Caine, Firth and even Mark Strong recently seen in The Imitation Game should stay clear of trying to star in films based on comic books and stick to more serious subject matter where at least their acting talents as actors are properly utilized.

Twenty six year old Welsh actor Taron Egerton is energetic in the role of Gary (Eggsy) Unwin, a juvenile delinquent transformed into a gentleman, yet given a more illuminating script, his true potential as an actor could have shone brighter. Recommended for viewers that enjoyed Get Smart or even some of the earlier X-Men films, but diehard spy fans should keep clear of Kingsman: The Secret Service – as its mainly poppycock!

 

 

 

Freedom versus Fear

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Directors: Anthony & Joe Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie, Emily VanCamp, Sebastian Stan, Frank Grillo

Not quite matching up to the brilliance of the Coen brothers or the technical wizardry of the Wachowski brothers of the Matrix series, directing team and brothers Anthony and Joe Russo who directed You, Me and Depree are at the helm of the new Captain America movie with the expert assistance of Joss Wheldon (The Avengers, Cabin in the Woods). Chris Evans reprises his role as Captain America along with Scarlett Johannsen as wise cracking Natasha Romanoff or The Black Widow along with newcomer Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) as Sam Wilson or known as the Falcon. Emily Van Camp (from the TV series Revenge) makes a welcome big screen appearance as SHIELD agent 13 along with Frank Grillo and Callan Mulvey recently seen in 300: Rise of an Empire who all round off the star studded cast.

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In Captain America: The Winter Soldier the action is firmly rooted in America’s capital Washington DC with the Smithsonian and Virginia as backdrop focusing on the SHIELD headquarters which are duly comprised when an assassination attempt on its leader the aptly named Nick Fury smoothly played by Samuel L. Jackson. The so-called chief of SHIELD Alexander Pierce played by Hollywood veteran Robert Redford appears to have a more sinister agenda.

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Captain America aka Steve Rogers teams up with The Black Widow and Falcon to fight the seemingly invincible Winter Soldier who is an evil Hydra byproduct from the Second World War and played by an unrecognizable Sebastian Stan (Black Swan). Where the first Captain America dwelt firmly on America’s successful involvement in World War II heading up the allies defeat of Nazi Germany and all its equally nefarious covert operations, Captain America: The Winter Soldier thrusts the WWII all American hero firmly in the 21st century where with the aid of the internet Steve Rogers has managed to catch up on the last 50 years of human history.

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There are a couple of references to the original Americana of the first film, but this Captain America sequel takes on a more Transformeresque approach and features lots of brash action sequences clearly initiated by influence from director Joss Wheldon’s big budget blockbuster The Avengers. The only criticism of the film was that with all the explosive action taking place, Captain America: Winter Soldier does not effectively use the medium of 3D and could easily have been viewed in traditional 2D.

The nostalgic glamour of 1940’s America and Europe during a World War is replaced with high-tech gadgetry of a level resembling a more ambitious and implausible sci-fi film set well beyond the 21st century. Naturally the plot takes a couple of fascinating twists but the entire narrative of Captain America: Winter Soldier lacks a uniformity of vision so clearly tangible in the original film, but this sequel is nevertheless entertaining and will surely please all superhero fans.

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Although there is no real love interest like in Captain America – with Hayley Atwell’s character considerably aged, the downside of dating a boyfriend who was kept on ice for 50 years! Captain America: The Winter Soldier is another great superhero action film in the Avengers vein with Marvel studios clearly capitalizing on a hugely successful and ever expanding franchise especially after the success of Iron Man 3.

Not to be over analyzed but simply enjoyed in the perennial battle of freedom versus fear or SHIELD versus Hydra, fans of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man will surely not be disappointed. Note to audiences to wait in the cinema beyond the retro 007 end credits for a sneak peak at potential plot of Captain America 3?

Illusion of Control

RoboCop

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Director: Jose Padilha

Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Abbie Cornish, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jennifer Ehle, Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Earle Haley, Aimee Garcia

Brazilian director Jose Padilha imaginatively captures the essence of Robocop’s moral dilemma in the 21st century reboot of the popular 1987 cult hit Robocop, by blending a human story with that of greedy industrialists, partisan politics and a dash of media saturated parody.

Joel Kinnaman takes on the part of Detroit police Detective Alex Murphy who is blown apart in a car bomb and who is reassembled with the assistance of the sinister Omnicorp robotics corporation, a role that made actor Peter Weller famous in Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s original film. Whilst Kinnaman’s Robocop does not require much acting beyond a couple of confused facial expressions, it’s really the supporting cast of Padilha’s version which do the film justice. Abbie Cornish is oddly cast as the confused yet betrayed wife Clara Murphy, Michael Keaton is brilliant as the greedy industrialist Raymond Sellars who wants to unleash part man part machine cyborgs onto the crime ridden streets of Detroit and then there is Gary Oldman as sympathetic Dr Dennett Norton who reconstructs the almost obliterated Detective Murphy into Robocop who has become more machine than human with the exception of a brain full of fluctuating dopamine levels.

What elevates Robocop from another popcorn sci-fi film are the superb special effects, the crisp editing and Padilha’s emphasis on media parody brilliantly done in the scenes with Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction) as the no nonsense TV presenter who frames the narrative in a series of audacious TV interviews in the ultra sophisticated show The Novak Element – a spoof of Piers Morgan Live and Sky News. Pro-robots TV presenter Pat Novak is wonderful  as a mechanism for blending parody and pastiche in a dystopian society where Omnicorp robots will eventually replace the existing police force of all American cities.

For as Robocop opens The Novak Element goes live to the streets of Tehran where robots are policing the local Iranian population but are not allowed onto American soil due to a political decision known as the Dreyfuss Act, banning robots on American streets. What Robocop is incisively commenting on is America’s controversial use of drones in foreign battlegrounds like Libya, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Michael Kenneth Williams plays Murphy’s partner on the corrupt Detroit police force and assists Robocop in tracking down the real criminals behind his attempted assassination. Like the original film, 2014’s Robocop is set in Detroit the home of motor manufacturing but in recent years also one of the only American cities to file for bankruptcy after the 2008 recession due to corruption, maladministration and urban decay. Yet in this version, Detroit looks like a city on the mend especially with the establishment of the Omnicorp headquarters, which become Robocop’s ultimate nemesis.

As with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where the mad scientist creates a monster who in turn, attacks his creator, there is this thematic twist of an illusion of control. In Robocop, the recreated ruthless part man/part machine turns on the company which created him, especially Sellars who only sees the hybrid cyborg as a money making product to be marketed by Omnicorp to other American cities in the proposed interests of crime prevention despite the ethical protests of Dr Norton, a rather softened Gary Oldman (The Fifth Element).

Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children) plays Omnicorps muscle Rick Mattox who is eager to test Robocop’s combat abilities in a simulated combat environment. Other stars include Jennifer Ehle (Contagion) Jay Baruchel as Omnicorp relentless marketing man and Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Secret and Lies) as Police Chief Karen Dean helping rounding off a solid cast to compliment the purposefully wooden Kinnaman.

What makes the 21st century Robocop so stylish, is Padilha’s slick direction from the aerial shots of a Detroit skyline to the mind blowing special effects to the crime reconstruction sequence by Robocop/Alex Murphy in his suburban driveway. Robocop along with some brilliant action sequences, a cool slate grey body armour suit, becomes an antihero and the films chillingly predictive narrative arc is punctuated by some human conflict in terms of his family and loads of media hype with the parody infused TV show The Novak Element.  As a film, Robocop is an entertaining, provocative and enjoyable sci-fi thriller which points to an impressive and marketable finished product, much like its anti-hero.

Slave to the Rhythm

Django Unchained

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Django Unchained can be compared to a three act Southern Opera and whilst Tarantino’s distinctive style comes through, his real intention is to invert the Cowboy myth so associated with the American Wild West, channeling spaghetti Western Sergio Leone films and tackling a very prickly subject of slavery prior to the American Civil War without much sensitivity.

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Django Unchained, loosely based on the 1966 Sergio Corbucci Western Django, starts off in Texas in 1858, two years before the outbreak of the American Civil War and features the eloquent and unorthodox Dr King Schultz played with superb panache by Christoph Waltz, who won a Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for 2009’s Inglourious Basterds who frees Django from a chain gang as he needs him to identify three brothers which have a mortal bounty on their heads. Jamie Foxx (Collateral, Ray) is wonderfully cast as Django and throughout the two and a half hour film really displays his range as an actor complimenting the always competent Waltz as the German speaking bounty hunter.

Together Schultz and Django go in search of Django’s entrapped and estranged wife, oddly named Broomhilda, as she was bought as a slave by German immigrants. Broomhilda is now the possession of sadistic cotton plantation owner Calvin Candie, played with flourish by Leonardo di Caprio whose Mississippi plantation aptly named Candieland provides the final act in an utterly bizarre and bloody showdown between Django, Schultz and Candie.

For sheer originality, Tarantino’s films are always enjoyable and never dull, but like Inglourious Basterds and his most famous film Pulp Fiction, along with profanity there is a serious dose of vicious bloodshed. Django Unchained lacks some of the brilliance of the first two films, but the startling sound effects, outlandish scenes and revisionist plot is enough to make Django Unchained Oscar worthy especially the two central performances by Waltz and Foxx. Two criticisms’ of the film is the overuse of racist profanity which the plot revolves around especially being set in the Slave trade of the Deep South and also the film’s considerable length.

Django Unchained has some startling scenes but one got the sense that because of Tarantino’s previous successes, Harvey Weinstein has given Tarantino free reign. Free reign on the subject of the America’s Deep South from Texas to Mississippi and their sanctioning of slavery as a form of economically binding both master and slaves into a hideous socio-geograhic relationship of brutal proportions demonstrated in the cotton and tobacco plantations below the Mason-Dixon line.

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Django Unchained has a fantastic musical score and soundtrack along with brilliant sound effects and sound editing especially noticeable in the showdown at Candieland. Tarantino’s old favourite Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction) is wonderfully cast as Calvin Candie’s butler Stephen and look out for Don Johnson as Big Daddy and of course the versatile Kerry Washington (The Last King of Scotland) who undergoes all sorts of torture as enslaved Broomhilda, Django’s estranged wife. Watch out for a brief appearance by Jonah Hill (Moneyball) as part of inadequate group of Ku Klux Klan members.

Warning this film is not for sensitive viewers and Django Unchained could be Tarantino’s most controversial film to date especially as he recasts the mythical American cowboy as a sharp shooting freed slave from Texas. Yet Quentin Tarantino won the 2013 Golden Globe  and BAFTA Awards for Best Original Screenplay for Django Unchained so his talent is definitely acknowledged in both America and Britain.

Military Retro Americana Reigns

Captain America: The First Avenger

From Scrawny to Super Muscular

Joe Johnston’s retro superhero film, Captain America, The First Avenger is a wonderfully evocative 1940s style Americana glamorizing the American involvement in World War II and what better way to achieve this macho propaganda than through the story of Captain America, reluctantly but brilliantly played by Chris Evans who starts the film as an underweight and scrawny all American boy Steve Rogers desperate to enrol in the US Army and contribute to the European theatre of War. A German immigrant scientist, Dr Abraham Erskine played with relish by Stanley Tucci recognizes Rogers ingenuity and enlists him in a top secret research project aimed at fighting the mysterious Nazi supernatural research unit Hydra, headed by the demonic Captain Johann Schmidt, played with sinister pleasure by Hugo Weaving.

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Evans character Rogers through a specially injected serum is transformed into the brawny and muscular Captain America, a super soldier who initially is used as a ridiculous propaganda figure by the US military driving up conscription and bolstering the armies psyche in their fight against the Nazi’s in a glorious cinematic pastiche of Americana complete with showgirls and wartime publicity.

As this is a comic book caper and very far from the actual reality of war, Captain America with the aid of a motley crew of trusted soldiers, an elegant British attache Peggy Carter played by Hayley Atwell of Brideshead Revisited fame and empowered with an arsenal of weapons, military transportation and the like by Howard Stark, Ironman’s father, played by the dashing Dominic Cooper from Mamma Mia, Captain America takes on the crazed Captain Schmidt whose powers derive from some Nordic mythological cube, capable of utter destruction.

Only the Brave and the Strong

Captain America is thrilling, glamorous and a great adventure film with tribute being payed to the Indiana Jones franchise whilst keeping in line with similar styled 1940s themed films from Casablanca to Bugsy. Watch out for a fantastic chase sequence in Brooklyn, a twist at the end and definitely a promise of a sequel. The supporting cast are terrific from Tommy Lee Jones as the no nonsense Colonel Phillips to Hugo Weaving bolstering up Chris Evan’s performance as the ultimate American superhero.

 

 

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