Movie Review – xXx: Return of Xander Cage

Director :  DJ Caruso
Year Of Release :   2017
Principal Cast :  Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Kris Wu, Deepika Padukone, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Rory McCain, Toni Collette, Samuel L Jackson.
Approx Running Time :   116 Minutes
Synopsis:

******

 And so Vin Diesel’s search for a non-Furious franchise continues. Shoehorned into position as one of cinemas most indecipherable action stars, beefcake actor Vin Diesel’s famous decision to not appear in 2 Fast 2 Furious and take on the xXx character with director Rob Cohen, was (in hindsight) a misstep. Audiences didn’t exactly embrace Diesel’s heavily tattooed adrenaline junkie persona, at least not critically. Diesel, also heavily invested in his third franchise involving Riddick, has failed to crack the blockbuster realm outside of fast cars and insane physics, although it’s a fair bet that Return of Xander Cage, the third of the xXx films, is as close as he’s come yet. This, of course, disregards his work as the voice of sentient tree Groot in Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy franchise. The original xXx film was by and large indistinguishable action junk, given heft by Rob Cohen’s concussive direction, and the less said about Diesel-free sequel State Of The Union the better. So can Return of Xander Cage deliver Diesel a viable non-Furious franchise to intersperse his career with?

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Movie Review – Colossal

Director :   Nacho Vigalondo
Year Of Release :   2017
Principal Cast :  Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson.
Approx Running Time :   110 Minutes
Synopsis:  Gloria is an out-of-work party girl forced to leave her life in NY and move back home. When reports surface that a giant creature is destroying Seoul, she gradually comes to the realisation that she is somehow connected to this phenomenon.

*******

This review does contain spoilers for Colossal. Do not read on if you wish to remain unspoiled!

Colossal isn’t the film you think it is. If you’ve caught any of the marketing for this flick, you’ll know it’s about Anne Hathaway inexplicably controlling a giant kaiju monster terrorising Seoul, in Korea, via some kind of telepathic link. Colossal is indeed that film, but it’s a whole drawer of something else entirely as well; Jason Sudeikis’ lead role ventures into territory I was actually surprised with, considering the initial tone of Colossal’s whimsy and black humour, and although I felt the juxtaposition of the creature’s antics and the dark nature of the central plot (no, the monster isn’t the central plot of Colossal) didn’t quite mix as well as I’d have liked to make this an enjoyable film in the true sense, there’s enough within Colossal’s wry narrative and winking-at-the-audience aesthetic to make it something of an underground cult classic.

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Movie Review – Aftermath

Director :   Elliot Lester
Year Of Release :   2017
Principal Cast :  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Scoot McNairy, Maggie Grace, Martin Donovan, Hannah Ware, Mariana Klaveno, Kevin Zegers, Larry Sullivan, Teri Clark Linden.
Approx Running Time :   94 Minutes
Synopsis:  Two strangers’ lives become inextricably bound together after a devastating plane crash.

*******

Since his return from governing the state of California, the Austrian Oak’s film resume has resembled a schizophrenic approach to latter-day projects, most obviously represented in the legendary action star’s appearance in the Expendables movies, to say nothing about Escape Plan and The Last Stand. In keeping with his more restrained on-screen persona these days, Arnie has also embarked upon a series of more dramatic projects, stretching himself as an actor rather than a gun-totin’ hulk slaying all before him. Maggie, for example, is an attempt at a more mellow, emotional portrayal for Arnie, while David Ayer’s fumbling Sabotage tried to being humanity to an otherwise unlikeable character. Aftermath is another attempt to bring dramatic width to Arnie’s late stage career, a story based off a real-life tragedy occurring in 2002, and grafted onto Schwarzenegger’s particular brand of screen charisma. While it doesn’t always work, Aftermath’s entrenched sombre human story is soul-destroying on so many levels, and affects the viewer in any number of ways.

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Movie Review – Mine (2016)

Director :   Fabio Guaglione + Fabio Resinaro
Year Of Release :   2016
Principal Cast :  Armie Hammer, Annabelle Wallis, Tom Cullen, Clint Dyer, Geoff Bell, Juliet Aubrey, Ines Pinar Mille, Luka Peros, Daniel Sandoval.
Approx Running Time :   106 Minutes
Synopsis:  After a failed assassination attempt during a mission in North Africa, US soldier Mike Stevens finds himself trapped on a land mine. If he moves, the mine will explode. Exposed to the desert elements, he must survive the dangers of the desert and battle the psychological and physical toll of the treacherous conditions, remaining motionless for two days waiting for help.

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If only Don LaFontaine was alive to voice the trailer for Mine. It’s right up inside his wheelhouse: “In a world where every step could be your last, one man’s foothold on life hangs by a bootlace.” I giggle just thinking about it. One thing I can’t giggle about is Mine, a war film of a different kind hidden beneath a survival story wrapped up around Armie Hammer’s dependable, stoic performance as stranded soldier Mike Stevens, about as bland a nomenclature as you could hope for for this good ol’ ‘Murican boy standing in a desert with one foot on a landmine. Mine occupies similar territory to other Man Alone ventures, including Cast Away, Ryan Reynolds’ Buried, Tom Hardy’s Locke and in some manner, Hitchcock’s Rear Window: the story revolves around the central character’s lack of movement within a specific landscape – here, the sand-blown vistas of some random Middle Eastern country – and the emotional toll both his environment and mental anxiety places upon him.

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Movie Review – Modesty Blaise (1966)

Director :  Joseph Losey
Year Of Release :  1966
Principal Cast :  Monica Vitti, Terence Stamp, Dirk Bogarde, Harry Andrews, Michael Craig, Clive Revill, Alexander Knox, Rosella Falk, Scilla Gabel, Michael Chow, Joe Melia, Saro Urzi.
Approx Running Time :   120 Minutes
Synopsis:  A spy spoof in the 60s tradition featuring the comic book heroine Modesty Blaise set in the Italian Mediterranean.

******

Astonishingly incomprehensible twaddle: that’s the best thing I can say about Modesty Blaise’s 1966 cinematic outing, the obvious result of too many drugs and not enough common sense. Regarded today as a “camp classic”, the film has the hallmarks of mid-60’s garish style, and weird, surreal characters and plotting, but it offers neither charm not any sense of enjoyment. Coming at the height of the spy-thriller genre, with James Bond leading the charge, Modesty leaps from the comic strip bearing her name and into the technicolour vibrancy of the silver screen, although comes crashing to earth with a disappointing thud.

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Movie Review – Foreign Correspondent

Director :  Alfred Hitchcock
Year Of Release :   1940
Principal Cast :  Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, Albert Bassermann, Robert Benchley, Edmund Gwenn, Eduardo Ciannelli, Harry Davenport, Martin Kosleck, Frances Carson, Ian Wolfe, Edward Conrad, Charles Halton, Barbara Pepper. 
Approx Running Time :   120 Minutes
Synopsis:  On the eve of World War II, a young American reporter tries to expose enemy agents in London.

******

A hugely entertaining wartime caper, Foreign Correspondent is superbly Hitchcockian in the best of all possible ways. Set on the cusp of World War II, the film’s continent-spanning narrative and terrifically flippant dialogue – it sparkles, it truly does – make for evocative and semi-ironic melancholy nostalgia, with Joel McCrea making for a solid leading man, and then teenager Laraine Day a stunning leading lady. The film snagged a Best Picture Oscar nomination, while co-star Albert Bassermann, a highly regarded German actor who spoke nary a word of English, grabbed a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work here; subterfuge, espionage, old fashioned reporting, and the grey clouds of impending war combine in crisp cinematic thrills.

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Movie Review – Tabu: A Story of The South Seas (1931)

Director :   FW Murnau
Year Of Release :   1931
Principal Cast :  Matahi, Anne Chevalier, Bill Bambridge, Hitu.
Approx Running Time :   86 Minutes
Synopsis:  On the South Pacific island of Bora Bora, a young couple’s love is threatened when the tribal chief declares the girl a sacred virgin.

******

Although it might ostensibly be a fairly light, fluffy docufiction film, there’s a darkness to Tabu that resonates with director FW Murnau’s cinematic sensibilities. If you’ve seen Nosferatu, or even Sunrise, you can appreciate just how dark Murnau works with his subject matter, and while Tabu begins with a flourish of native Tahitian life (including a smattering of pre-code nudity, zoiks!) and a sense of euphoric freedom, things quickly turn bleak for the film’s primary subjects, lovers Matahi and Riri, as their love contravenes local law and custom. There’s a vague whiff of Romeo & Juliet about Tabu’s descent into tragedy, and although a noticeably weaker film from Murnau, there’s enough within the story to bring a sense of lament and melancholy to an age now far behind us.

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Movie Review – Patriots Day

Director :   Peter Berg
Year Of Release :   2016
Principal Cast :   Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, JK Simmons, Vincent Curatola, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Michael Beach, James Colby, Jimmy O Yang, Rachel Brosnahan, Christopher O’Shea, Melissa Benoist, Khandi Alexander, Jake Picking, David Ortiz.
Approx Running Time :   133 Minutes
Synopsis:  The story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists responsible.

*******

When he’s not making dopey alien invasion films, Peter Berg’s focus appears to be on real-world tragedy, particularly Lone Survivor (with Mark Wahlberg), Gulf Of Mexico disaster-flick Deepwater Horizon (again, with Mark Wahlberg), and here with one of America’s recent terrorist attacks, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing – dear Lord, it’s America’s cinematic saviour, Mark Wahlberg. Patriots Day solemnifies the events of that awful day – a day we all watched play out in real time, followed by the city-wide manhunt for the perpetrators – and Berg’s direction wisely eschews overt chest-beating and maintains an air of truth and heart to the story, told through the eyes of Wahlberg’s BPD Sergeant Tommy Sanders. Compelling, heartbreaking, and honestly rather visceral, Patriots Day deserves more attention than it received with its lacklustre box-office.

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Movie Review – Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Director :   Paul WS Anderson
Year Of Release :   2017
Principal Cast :  Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Shawn Roberts, Ruby Rose, Eoin Macken, William Levy, Iain Glen, Lee Joon-gi, Fraser James, Rola, Ever Gabo Anderson, Matthew Santoro.
Approx Running Time :   108 Minutes
Synopsis:  Alice returns to where the nightmare began: The Hive in Raccoon City, where the Umbrella Corporation is gathering its forces for a final strike against the only remaining survivors of the apocalypse.

*******

Stupefyingly awful, the gazillionth and final Resident Evil film desperately clings to its own past despite offering nothing close to resembling the original film’s tone and visceral horror thrills. Paul WS Anderson’s concluding chapter in his increasingly terrible franchise is numbing on multiple levels, from its incomprehensible plot, risible acting and brain-melting editing, to its utter inadequacy in forming a complete thought. Whereas the original Resident Evil was a taut, compact, hugely entertaining B-movie that delivered what it said on the box, The Final Chapter (indeed we can only hope it is) is sloppy, creatively vacuous and utterly irredeemable as a piece of cinema.

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Movie Review – Cavalcade (1933)

Director :  Frank Lloyd
Year Of Release :   1933
Principal Cast :  Diana Wynyard, Clive Brook, Una O’Connor, Herbert Mundin, Beryl Mercer, Irene Brown, Tempe Pigott, Merle Tottenham, Frank Lawton, Ursula Jeans, Margaret Lindsay, John Warburton.
Approx Running Time :   150 Minutes
Synopsis:  A cavalcade of English life from New Year’s Eve 1899 until 1933 seen through the eyes of well-to-do Londoners Jane and Robert Marryot. Amongst events touching their family are the Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic and the Great War.

******

Lengthy, episodic melodrama plays like a grand epic but flounders due to a lack of focus: Cavalcade was the winner of Best Picture for 1933 up against the likes of 42nd Street, A Farewell To Arms and Little Women, all superior films I might add, and aside from its obvious fervent patriotism for the “good old days” of British imperialism, there’s little particularly special about the film’s overwrought dramatic mawkishness and overly simplified depiction of life during the early part of the 20th Century. Hugely successful in its day, it’s fair to say Cavalcade hasn’t aged well in terms of narrative, but remains an interesting watch thanks to director Frank Lloyd’s often jarring, solemnified mix of tragedy and pathos.

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