A Wilderness of Mirrors

Chief of Station

Director: Jesse V. Johnson

Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Olga Kurylenko, Alex Pettyfer, Chris Petrovski, Nick Moran, Daniel Bernhardt, Laetitia Eldo

Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes

Film Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Aaron Eckhart, Alex Pettyfer and Olga Kurylenko team up in this murky spy thriller, which is very moody and sombre to the point that audiences might be tricked into thinking they are watching a 1980’s Soviet era spy film.

Stuntman turned director Jesse V. Johnson directs Chief of Station about CIA agent Ben Malloy played by Aaron Eckhart whose wife Fallah played by French actress Laetitia Eldo is killed in an explosion at a posh restaurant in Budapest where they were meant to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

Six months later, Ben retraces his steps from Washington DC back to Budapest, Hungary where he confronts a suspected Russian FSB Officer Evgeny Maltsev played with panache by British actor Nick Moran (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels).

Ben discovers that in the deceptive world of espionage, it is truly a wilderness of mirrors as he initially trusts shady Eastern European Chief of Station John Branca played by Alex Pettyfer (Magic Mike, In Time).

As Ben tries to identify who the true villain is, his son Nick played by Macedonian actor Chris Petrovski (Ray Donovan: The Movie) is kidnapped in Croatia by a rogue unit of the CIA.

Ben is trapped on a supposed CIA safehouse, a boat on the river Danube when he is fortunately rescued by his late wife’s colleague Krystyna Kowerski played with cool grit by Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace, Black Widow).

Unfortunately Chief of Station does not live up to expectations as an action spy film, with too many gaping holes in the narrative and a film with bad lighting and a confusing narrative. Even when you think the characters have been killed off in an action scene, they unexpectedly reappear. The storyboard for the films action scenes did not always make sense.

The actors do their best in this substandard action film but the direction is unimaginative and the action scenes are not even thrilling. As a viewer one got the sense that the film ran out of budget before completing filming. The production values are very low budget and generally the stars have very little to work with.

Potentially Chief of Station could have been a much better film, but it just doesn’t take off the ground despite the talents of Aaron Eckhart and Olga Kurylenko, whose agents should know better than put these actors in such a bad film.

A bad script, poor lighting and confusing characters cause this film to get a film rating of 5.5 out of 10. The best thing about the film is the running time.

Machismo isn’t Dead

Bad Boys: Ride or Die

Director: Ardil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah

Cast: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Eric Dane, Paola Nunez, Tasha Smith, Jacob Scipio, Tiffany Haddish, Joe Pantoliano, Ioan Gruffudd

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

Film Rating: 7 out of 10

Belgian director duo Ardil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah return to the Bad Boys in the highly anticipated 4th instalment simply titled Bad Boys: Ride or Die and rest assured in this action packed buddy movie, machismo isn’t dead. In fact it is very much alive and has a strong sense of humour thanks for funny man Martin Lawrence as Mike Lowry’s hilarious partner Marcus Burnett.

In this instalment the dynamic duo investigate the death of their former Miami police chief Captain Howard, played in digital flashbacks by Joe Pantoliano who has consistently appeared in all four bad boys films starting with the original which was made back in 1995.

Consistency is the key to maintaining an entertaining and trustworthy franchise and having the same actors back including Will Smith, Martin Lawrence and Alexander Ludwig all part of the corruption riddled Miami PD. In this respect the Bad Boys franchise has always delivered to its fans.

The adrenalin fuelled franchise has always been flashy complete with fast cars, sleek skyscrapers crowding the Miami skyline, witty repartee and most importantly lots of action. Certainly in Bad Boys: Ride of Die all the elements are there to make a brilliant fourth film and the directing duo do just that exceptionally well.

Ardil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah deliver a slick fast paced action film with great heroes, strong messages of community and an evil villain, McGrath wonderfully played by TV actor Eric Dane, who is suitably menacing and deadly in this role.

Villains are as important in this franchise and luckily Eric Dane nails this part in this Miami set action film about drug deals, escaped convicts including Armando played by British actor Jacob Scipio and crooked politicians.

Audiences should watch out for a vibrant and bitchy cameo by Tiffany Haddish (The Card Counter) as a foul mouthed Florida brothel madam Tabitha.

Screenwriters Chris Bremner and Will Beall deliver a distinctly masculine formulaic action film filled with some brilliant sequences especially the helicopter crash scene in the Florida everglades and the final showdown in a not so abandoned alligator farm. Bad Boys: Ride or Die is an entertaining action film which ignites the American 2024 summer blockbuster season in a sense that George Miller’s Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga didn’t quite achieve. Unfortunately 2024 is still suffering the icy after effects of the Barbieheimer phenomenon which enthralled the 2023 summer blockbuster season.

Bad Boys: Ride or Die is an enjoyable action film serving up two hours of escapism and pure adrenalin that will not disappoint.

Bad Boys: Ride or Die gets a film rating of 7 out of 10. Grab some buddies and watch this action film in cinemas everywhere. Recommended viewing.

Lessons from the Wasteland

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Director: George Miller

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Anya Taylor-Joy, Tom Burke, Alyla Browne, Lachy Hulme, Nathan Jones, Josh Helman, David Field, Charlee Fraser, Angus Sampson

Running time: 2 hours and 28 minutes

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

The 79 year old Australian director George Miller returns to the Mad Max crazy universe in his new film Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga starring Anya Taylor-Joy (The Menu, Emma) as Furiosa starring in her first big budget film. Australian actor Chris Hemsworth (Rush, Thor: Ragnarok) plays Dementus the evil leader of a desert biker gang in a dystopian world characterized by random violence, territorial disputes and scarcity.

Furiosa was kidnapped as a young girl from a utopian area filled with lush greenery and an abundant supply of water. She manages to survive mainly disguising herself as a boy for 15 years until she accompanied Praetorian Jack played by British actor Tom Burke as they travel from Gas Town to Bullet Farm, trying to escape Dementus and his deranged gang of bikers that often attack the rig, a heavy duty truck fitted with all sorts of menacing gadgets to fend off attackers on the wild desert roads.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga had a glittering out of competition film premiere at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival before a general theatrical release in May 2024. The film from the visionary mind that brought audiences all the Mad Max films, is beautifully crafted with an exceptionally fascinating colour palette making use of the contrasting starkness of the Australian outback coupled with gritty production design. The costumes are equally a delight, designed again by Oscar winning costume designer Jenny Beavan who won Oscars for A Room with a View, Mad Max: Fury Road and more recently Cruella.

Despite the bizarre characters with names like the brothers Erictus and Scrotus, the storyline for Furiosa is not brilliantly told and the casting of the film needed some work. Personally I found Chris Hemsworth wrongfully cast as the villain Dementus – it should have had an actor like Tom Hardy to play that role. Hemsworth after playing Thor in the Marvel films doesn’t have the ability to play a hero and a villain successfully. In this film, he looked like a truly demented cult leader clutching onto a teddy bear and barking cognisant orders to his insane group of bikers who follow him like obedient animals.

Anya Taylor-Joy made the most of her role as Furiosa although I also felt she was miscast and they needed a more muscular actress to play this pivotal role. Tom Burke was well cast as the tough truck driver Praetorian Jack who has a fleeting romance with Furiosa before they both get threatened by a turf war between Dementus and The Organic Mechanic played by Angus Sampson from The Lincoln Lawyer series on Netflix.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is saved by the unbelievable action sequences especially in chapter 3 of the film, entitled The Stowaway.

As a dystopian action film, the running time was way too long and could have been edited drastically. If audiences enjoy the Mad Max desert scarred universe, the go and watch Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga at cinemas, it is visually compelling although let down by misinformed casting and a rickety narrative.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is saved by extraordinary production design entirely shot in the Australian outback and gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10. It is a cinematic opera about cruelty, scarcity and tenacity – lessons from a bleak wasteland. See it to believe it but recommended strictly for fans.

Seize Your Identity

Hit Man

Director: Richard Linklater

Cast: Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Austin Amelio, Retta, Sanjay Rao

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

Film Rating: 7 out of 10

Oscar nominee for writing and directing Texan born film director Richard Linklater (Before Sunset, Before Midnight, Boyhood) collaborates with fellow Texan actor Glen Powell in his new film Hit Man about a philosophy lecturer at New Orleans State University Gary Johnson who moonlights for the local police department posing as an actual hitman but using his fake tough guy identity to trap would be potential criminals into planning a possible murder.

Based on a short story about the real life story of Gary Johnson written by Skip Hollandsworth entitled Hit Man which appeared in Texas Monthly, Linklater teams up with Powell to write the screenplay in which Glen Powell excels as the meek and mild Gary Johnson, a loner philosopher professor who tells his students to live dangerously and then does just that by creating a multitude of alter egos, posing as a professional hit man and landing a variety of people in jail when they try and pay him to take out someone significant in their life.

Glen Powell (Top Gun: Maverick, Anyone But You, Hidden Figures) is joined on screen by the gorgeous Mexican actress Adria Arjona (Father of the Bride, Pacific Rim: Uprising) who plays the feisty Madison Masters which proves to be Gary’s undoing as he presents to Madison his sexy alter ego Ron, a hit man which she wants to hire to kill her abusive husband. Once Gary meets Madison things start going horribly wrong as soon a dead body is found.

The trick with Richard Linklater films is to expect a lot of dialogue. All his films and storylines are dialogue and character driven. Linklater has never been a big flashy block buster director although he did prove his worth in his Oscar winning coming of age story Boyhood which earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Patricia Arquette as it skilfully chronicled a life of a young boy from early childhood to college and was shot over a 12 year period from 2002 to 2013.

Hit Man is no exception in terms of characters and dialogue particularly between the two lead actors, whose onscreen chemistry sizzle in this sexy, philosophical comedy about the potential of violence and the ability to create a successful alter ego. Both Glen Powell and Adria Arjona are easy on the eye and their eclectic supporting cast which includes Austin Amelio (Everybody Wants Some!!) as Jasper, Sanjay Rao as police colleague Phil and Retta as the police officer.

Unlike the zany, colourful film poster of Hit Man, this is not an action film but a cleverly written romantic comedy, a possibly true story about one man who decides to seize a new identity which changes his life when he meets the girl of his dreams.

Hit Man’s story line did need some action to increase the pace, but Glen Powell proves his flexible acting ability as the philosophically challenged Gary Johnson in this quirky romantic comedy which gets a film rating of 7 out of 10.

Hit Man is recommended as a quirky contemporary film about love with a dash of humour and a subtle hint of danger.

Stylish Aggression

Challengers

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Cast: Zendaya, Josh O’Connor, Mike Faist

Running Time: 2 hours and 11 minutes

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

To sustain a 2 hour film with just three characters in it is no mean feat. In fact Italian director Luca Gudagnino manages to maintain the pace in his latest youth obsessed film about hot young tennis stars in his new film Challengers starring Zendaya (Dune), Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist (West Side Story).

Set mainly in New Rachelle, New York and containing some flashback scenes in Atlanta, Challengers centres on a sexy ménage a trois between childhood tennis stars Art Donaldson played by Faist and Patrick Zweig superbly played by British actor Josh O’Connor (Mothering Sunday) and the formidably talented and hard edged young American tennis star Tashi Duncan wonderfully played by Zendaya.

Auteur director Luca Gudagnino makes Zendaya the centre of this stylishly aggressive sports love drama as Tashi expertly manipulates the two young men in her life as she comes between their friendship, marries one while deceiving the other.

Challengers is as much about competitive rivalry on the tennis court as it is about lust and manipulation. Zendaya acts brilliantly in a film in which her two male co-stars compliment her stylish aggression and her complex personality that makes up the tennis star Tashi Duncan.

While the location of Challengers could have been more glamourous, it really is the acting that elevates Challengers particularly from Zendaya and Josh O’Connor who plays a McEnroe type down on his luck aspiring tennis star with swagger, cockiness and charm. Josh O’Connor has the acting skills and he is beginning to be noticed as film star to watch. He is riveting in this film.

Challengers is constructed as a tennis match – the entire film follows the match between Art Donaldson and Patrick Zweig at the New Rachelle Challengers match in New York in the summer of 2019, with multiple flashbacks to earlier times in the complex relationship between the three main characters, which involves deception, manipulation and seduction.

There are some utterly superb scenes particularly the car park scene in Atlanta with a blustery gale blowing across the city as Patrick and Tashi argue about their relationship amidst a mixture of desire and animosity.

Challengers is a fascinating character study about sports stars and their ambitions. A niche sports drama about tennis in which the players talk the same language.

My one main issue with the film was the bizarre soundtrack by Oscar winning sound duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network) which was techno music combined with some more sultry tunes. It wasn’t the music so much as the use of it particularly blurring out dialogue in certain pivotal scenes. The film’s original score should add to the narrative and not distract the viewers.

Challengers is a glossy, stylized film about tennis and once again Luca Guadagnino’s director’s gaze focuses on the follies and decadence of youth, not to mention the beauty and the betrayal. Like in his Oscar winning film Call Me By Your Name, the Italian director makes another stylized film about youth but without a brilliantly written screenplay by James Ivory.

Aimed at fans of Zendaya, Challengers gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is recommended viewing for those that enjoy tennis films like Wimbledon and Match Point.

Deep Fake Sydney Style

The Fall Guy

Director: David Leitch

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Hannah Waddingham, Teresa Palmer, Stephanie Hsu, Winston Duke, Ben Knight, Adam Dunn

Running Time: 2 hours and 6 minutes

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Stuntmen never get that much credit. All those car chase sequences and falling out of windows and only the main action star gets his name in lights.

This disparity between film star and stunt man is brilliantly explored with a heavy dose of loud music, lots of stunts and energising entertainment in Bullet Train director David Leitch’s new film The Fall Guy bringing together Barbie star Ryan Gosling and Oppenheimer star Emily Blunt, both of which were Oscar nominated for those films.

Gosling and Blunt make a great onscreen couple all blond hair, blue eyes and perfect teeth but it is really Ryan Gosling who steals the film as the hapless but courageous stunt man Colt Seavers who accidentally stumbles upon a plot to cover up an accidental death on a big budget Hollywood Sci fi film being shot on location in Sydney, Australia.

L to R: Aaron Taylor-Johnson is Tom Ryder and Emily Blunt is Judy Moreno in THE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch

Emily Blunt plays the no-nonsense aspiring film director Jody Moreno who is frantically trying to complete a huge star studded big budget film about a battle between cowboys and aliens. Moreno’s hard edged menacing producer Gail Meyer wonderfully played by Ted Lasso star Hannah Waddingham who is trying to keep the studio off their back while secretly trying to find out where the main action star really is.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson in THE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch

Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals, Kick-Ass, Tenet) plays the macho big action star Tom Ryder, who is basically a poster boy for toxic masculinity, recklessness and an ego gone wild. Ryder and Seavers do not get along, although when both dressed as space cowboys they look identical so kudos to the casting director, who managed to get Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Ryan Gosling together.

Ryan Gosling is Colt Seavers in THE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch

The Fall Guy with its cinematic self-reflexive narrative is filled with lots of noisy action sequences and multiple scenes of Ryan Gosling getting shot at, beaten up or falling off buildings. A notable scene is the garbage truck fight sequence through the pristine streets of Sydney between Gosling and henchman with a man bun Dressler played by Australian actor Ben Knight. Another Australian star Teresa Palmer (Hacksaw Ridge, Point Break) makes a memorable appearance as Tom Ryder’s volatile girlfriend Iggy Star.

While parts of The Fall Guy are very over the top, it is Ryan Gosling’s lovable star persona which saves The Fall Guy from being just another action film as he imbues each scene with a hint of goofy sexiness and almost naiveté. Gosling’s version of Colt Seavers is relatable and funny, mad and mischievous, a remarkable tribute to the stunt men in the film industry as alluded to in the original 1980’s TV series of the same name starring a young Lee Majors.

Ryan Gosling is Colt Seavers in THE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch

Although the storyline is weak, The Fall Guy is recommended viewing as an entertaining popcorn film with some outlandish action scenes cleverly making use of its Australian location, while the film’s hero discovers a deep fake Sydney style.

See The Fall Guy for Gosling, some explosive action sequences and a surprising cameo at the end.

The Fall Guy gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is loud and crazy like Colt Seavers and his outlandish outfits from neon to space cowboy. See it at a cinema near you.

Please note all images used courtesy of Universal Pictures approved images. UPI Media

When the West Fights Back

Civil War

Director: Alex Garland

Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny, Jesse Plemons, Nick Offerman, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jefferson White, Nelson Lee, Evan Lai

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

Film Rating: 7 out of 10

Novelist, writer and director assembles a grim dystopian future in his new film Civil War set in a strife ridden America in which the Western Forces (California and Texas) has waged a secession battle against the United States and what follows is a violent and bloody civil war waged across America leaving cities like New York, sparse and filled with refugees.

Civil War follows a group of war photojournalists lead by the hardened Lee Smith wonderfully played with a steel determination by Oscar Nominee Kirsten Dunst (The Power of the Dog), in a role which she plays brilliantly against type. Kirsten Dunst has often been seen in costume dramas and was a time a darling of the more Avant Garde directors like Sofia Coppola and Lars von Trier. Dunst plays this role perfectly and is the best in the film along with a brief but spine-chilling appearance by her real life husband Jesse Plemons (Killers of the Flower Moon) as a xenophobic militant in what is the best scene in the film.

Unfortunately for Civil War, Alex Garland creates a dystopian future with absolutely no context, it is just this bland violence filled American landscape with no rationale behind it. The only thing that seems to drive the soldiers of the Civil War is violence for the sake of violence. There are mass graves, executions and slaughter on a massive scale.

This level of atrocity seem surreal as Lee and her fellow photojournalists, the young Jessie Cullen wonderfully played by Cailee Spaeny (On the Basis of Sex, Vice) and hardened action man Joel played by Brazilian actor Wagner Moura, who seems to be immune to the bloodshed around him, travel from New York to Washington DC where the Western Forces are closing in on the White House.

The ineffectual President played briefly by Nick Offerman of HBO’s The Last of Us series, has too small a role to play in this film. Jefferson White of Yellowstone fame, also plays another eager photojournalist.

Two things that save Civil War and elevate the film is the superb editing by Oscar nominated editor Jake Roberts (Hell or High Water) and the use of sound in the film.

Civil War asks viewers some complex question about at what stage do journalists actually get involved in the military conflict? Do they take sides? Do they just capture the horror and slaughter? Do they only get involved when one of their own is threatened?

Without a cohesive narrative and lacking any backstory, Civil War has one brilliant scene in it involving the journalists and Jesse Plemons’s militant character, then after that the rest of the film just descends into meaningless violence without any cathartic release. Actors like Nick Offerman , Jefferson White and Jesse Plemons are just wasted in this nihilistic narrative without any moral redemption.

Civil War was too bleak and far too dystopian in a 2024 world in which regional conflicts seem to be growing globally. Despite high production values, Civil War does not reach its full potential as a cinematic story about photojournalists in a war zone. There have been far better films about this topic than this depressing tale. The Oscar winning films The Year of Living Dangerously, and The Killing Fields should be your filmic guide on this morally complex topic.

See this film at your own risk as it makes for grim viewing. Civil War gets a film rating of 7 out of 10, saved only by some crisp editing and stark visual imagery.

This is for Camden Town

Back to Black

Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Cast: Marisa Abela, Jack O’Connell, Eddie Marsan, Lesley Manville, Bronson Webb, Sam Buchanan

Running time: 2 hours and 2 minutes

Film Rating: 8 out of 10

UIP Universal release – Film Preview – Suncoast – Thank to UIP Pictures for the invite to the Preview.

Contemporary biopics are difficult to pull off successfully. Often the artist or pop star is still fresh in the collective cultural memory and the British jazz and soul singer Amy Winehouse is no exception.

Director Sam Taylor-Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) does a sterling job of creating a contemporary cinematic biopic of Amy Winehouse, the legendary and hugely talented singer who become a music sensation with such songs as Rehab, Back to Black and Love is a losing Game in her latest film Back to Black starring British actress Marisa Abela in the title role opposite a superb Jack O’Connell (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Ferrari, Unbroken) as Amy’s low life drug addict boyfriend Blake who proves to be the pop singer’s downfall.

Marisa Abela stars as Amy Winehouse in director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s BACK TO BLACK, a Focus Features release. Credit : Courtesy of Dean Rogers/Focus Features

Set almost entirely in North London, Back to Black has a great supporting cast including Oscar nominee Lesley Manville (The Phantom Thread) as her grandmother Cynthia and Eddie Marsan (Wrath of Man, The Gentleman) as her devoting father Mitch Winehouse.

As Amy’s career takes off thanks to her music manager Nick Shymansky played by Sam Buchanan, the singer’s talent is offset by her unbridled alcoholism and her refusal to play by the rules of traditional music marketing, which could have made her into a superstar.

Marisa Abela stars as Amy Winehouse in director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s BACK TO BLACK, a Focus Features release. Credit : Courtesy of Dean Rogers/Focus Features

At the heart of Back to Black, in which director Sam Taylor-Johnson emphasizes is the immense talent that Amy Winehouse had, whose voice was unbelievable and her soulful husky songs would lead her to win a Grammy Award in 2008 for Best Female Pop Vocal performance.

(L to R) Marisa Abela as Amy Winehouse and Jack O’Connell as Blake Fielder-Civil in director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s BACK TO BLACK, a Focus Features release. Credit : Courtesy of Dean Rogers/Focus Features

Both Marisa Abela and Jack O’Connell are brilliant as the tortured toxic couple Amy and Blake whose crazy drug fuelled romance and brief marriage echoed such similar tragic partnerships as Nirvana’s lead singer Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love and Sex Pistols anarchist frontman Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen.

Back to Black could have been edited in parts, yet the film is saved by Amy Winehouse’s unforgettable music which makes Back to Black worth seeing especially if you are a big fan. Amy’s famous response when she won the Grammy is “This is for Camden Town!”

Unfortunately Amy Winehouse joined the 27 club like Kurt Cobain but her music is what endures and lives on like a flash of brilliance amid the murky years of the early 2000’s in which the director paints London as a dreary city filled with smoky pubs and hardworking North Londoners amidst a British music scene which was recovering from the stupendous Spice Girls hype of the late 1990’s.

As musical biopics go this film is worth watching as a tale about a musical genius whose talent was decimated by her unbridled addiction. The best line in Back to Black is when the police arrest a stark naked Blake, Amy’s husband and asks if there are any drugs in the house? Blake replies “No, we have taken them all.”

Back to Black gets a solid rating of 8 out of 10 and is a commendable musical film from Focus Features who generally never deliver poor quality. Highly recommended viewing.

Struggle and Vengeance

Monkey Man

Director: Dev Patel

Cast: Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Pitobash, Vipin Sharma, Sikander Kher, Adithi Kalkunte, Sobhita Dhulipala, Makarand Deshpande

Running time: 2 hours and 1 minute

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Incorporating Hindu mythology and folklore particularly around the legend of Hanuman, Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel pulls off the difficult task of writer, director and actor in his latest film Monkey Man in which he stars as the John Wick inspired hero Kid, who returns to the fictional Indian city of Yatana to avenge the death of his mother by Rana, a brutal local policeman who destroys local tribal land at the request of sociopathic guru Baba Shakti played by Makarand Deshpande.

Shot on location in Indonesia, which doubles for India, Monkey Man is a gritty action film featuring an extremely muscular Dev Patel who certainly with flamboyant dexterity manages to direct, write and act in a very fascinating film entwined with Hindu mythology, violence, fleeting beauty but significantly telling a story of bloodlust and revenge.

MONKEY MAN

Monkey Man is nothing you will expect as a viewer, with lightning fast editing by the editing trio Joe Galdo, David Jansco and Tim Murrell, who expertly craft Monkey Man into a highly energising action film in the tradition of the early Bruce Lee films (think Enter the Dragon) with influences from Eastern action films from Japan to Korea to Indonesia.

Sharlto Copley in MONKEY MAN, directed by Dev Patel

To add some light relief to an otherwise grim and gritty narrative about Kid taking revenge for his mother on the perpetrators who frequent the lavish men’s club The King’s Club, there is South African actor Sharlto Copley (District 9, Chappie, Maleficent) who is cast complete with a hefty South African accent as the shady emcee Tiger in the underground fight club scenes in which Kid fights fellow wrestlers wearing symbolic animal masks for cash. Hence, Kid’s nickname Monkey Man.

Kid after nearly being killed seeks refuge with an outcast tribe of third gender hijra, where the relentless mother of this mystical sari wearing tribe, Alpha played by Vipin Sharma who urges Kid to gain his strength back and boldly navigate the bloody path of struggle and vengeance against the wealthy rulers of Yatana.

What holds Monkey Man together is the muscular performance of Dev Patel who sheds his type cast polite boy image as seen in such films as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Slumdog Millionaire and The Man who Knew Infinity. Patel recreates his own image as a tough action hero and an actor to be reckoned with as he successfully moulds a fascinating Hindu action film complete with mythology, malevolence and malicious intent.

Monkey Man, despite it’s extreme violence, stands as an energising action film which will keep audiences entertained by some exotic action sequences especially the final show down at the Kings Club in downtown Yitana.

Thanks to Oscar winner Jordan Peele (Get Out) who acts as producer on Monkey Man, he fought for Monkey Man to have a theatrical release, ensuring that Dev Patel’s talent will be seen worldwide in cinemas globally and not lost on some obscure streaming site. A brilliant decision indeed.

Director Dev Patel on the set of his film MONKEY MAN

Monkey Man contains some niche appeal, but as a gritty, bloodletting action film it does not disappoint and Dev Patel proves his worth in Hollywood, who upon his arrival as the star of the Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire in 2008, he was initially treated as an unknown British newcomer, whose talent had to be proven.

Monkey Man through its sheer tenacity and energy, gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is recommended viewing for those that love fast paced action films complete with wrestling, gun fighting and martial arts.

The Skar King of Hollow Earth

Godzilla x Kong The New Empire

Director: Adam Wingard

Cast: Rebecca Hall, Dan Stevens, Brian Tyree Henry, Kaylee Hottle, Alex Ferns, Fala Chen, Rachel House

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

Film Rating: 7 out of 10

In the ambitious sequel to the 2021 monster film Godzilla vs Kong, director Adam Wingard returns as director for the 2024 film titled Godzilla x Kong The New Empire and deftly expands the storyline of Kaylee Hottle’s character Jia whose foster mother Irene Andrews is once again played by British star Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Frost Nixon, The Prestige).

Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens (I am Your Man, Blithe Spirit, Beauty and the Beast) is added to the cast as the goofy Titan veterinarian Trapper, all bravado and hippie vibes as he expertly extracts a broken tooth from an anesthetized King Kong after Kong snapped a front tooth after eating a primordial creature in the Hollow Earth, his natural reclusive playground which appears to contain more subterranean secrets which are revealed later in the film’s sprawling narrative.

Oscar nominee Brian Tyree Henry (Causeway) stars as fanatical Titan podcaster Bernie Hayes who relishes the opportunity to team up with Andrews and Trapper as they have to figure out the strange symbols that Jia has been receiving, which reveals a distress signal from a lost ancient civilization.

While the human interest angle of the narrative fades very quickly in favour of the gigantic monsters, it really is Kong and Godzilla who take centre stage in this CGI effects laden sequel which is truly spectacular as the two beasts lure each other to exotic geographical landmarks like the pyramids outside Cairo and to the Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro. Godzilla after nestling comfortably in the ancient ruins of the Colosseum in Rome is awakened as he senses Kong’s presence but this time it is not for combat but to unite against a far greater threat.

The new threat appears as the Skar King of Hollow Earth, a malicious ape that has a massive following who is planning on using Shimo, an ancient ice powered Titan, Godzilla’s nemesis to threaten the delicately balanced status quo between Monarch’s worlds.

With Jia discovering her natural tribe and the humans trying to survive amidst the gigantic battle between Kong and the Skar King, Godzilla x Kong The New Empire is a stunning, visually exciting special effects feast of monster battles, fantastic creatures and an epic battle of Titans.

While Godzilla is embedded in Japanese cultural mythology cemented recently by the 2024 Oscar win for Best Visual Effects for the Japanese language film Godzilla Minus One, Kong gets amble opportunity to explore his territory and origins as he navigates a Planet of the Apes inspired Hollow Earth environment. In this film, Kong steals the show.

In Godzilla x Kong The New Empire both beasts get ample screen time even with the radioactive Godzilla emerging out of the ocean in Rio with a pink glow. This monster fantasy film definitely has a specific fan base and if you belong to the tribe that loves Godzilla films and Japanese Anime then you will thoroughly enjoy this 2024 sequel which remains tantalizing, exciting and filled with colossal action.

Godzilla x Kong The New Empire gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and definitely see it on the big screen, preferably in Imax 3D.

Recommended viewing as the first big action film, eagerly starting off the 2024 summer blockbuster season.

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