The Belko Experiment Review

It seems to me that grind-house films are having a bit of a renaissance at the moment. And in a way, I suppose that it was inevitable.

Because with the the ‘super blockbuster’ dominating the silver screen, it only make sense that the alternative is to go tiny. It can also be a good way for directors and actors to unwind after making a huge film. After all, if a 5 million dollar film flops in the woods, does anyone hear it?

Which brings me to today’s nasty little beast, The Belko Experiment, a blending of Battle Royale with corporate America, written by James Gunn (The director of both Guardians of the Galaxy films) and believe you me, it is a very nasty little piece of work.

One seemingly ordinary day,  80 Americans are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia and are ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed.

Alliances are made and broken, people are driven to the edge of madness and beyond heads explode with gleeful abandon and it’s a pretty good, gory time.

The people react like people forced into this nightmare of a situation, some try to become better, some cower and others become monsters. It’s just a shame it all feels so empty.

I mean here was a golden opportunity to satirize cooperate dog-eat-dog mentality exporting workers around the world to save a buck, platitudes designed to hide gruesome truths and this film plays it straight for no real reason that I can work out.

I mean yes, its a good, gory ‘what would you do?’ film. Please don’t get me wrong on that point but I was hoping for something a little bit meatier. And also, for a tight, claustrophobic film I felt like it would have been better served to have been shot in real time, increasing the unrelenting tension and could have been done without very, very easily.

I would also have like the space to shrink over time. Again, this could have easily been done and could have lead to a tenser and more exciting film as the participants are forced to chose between suicide and fighting to the death.

But for what it was? Yeah, it passed 88 minutes harmlessly enough. I could have done with an extra ten minutes added to it and a bit more time developing the characters but it’s another good one to throw on the telly when you’ve got your friends over and you’ve had a few beers.

My Score- See It 

Whats going to go wrong with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets?

So far in this series, I have waited for the films to be released into the cold, hard, unforgiving world for their brief moment in the light before dissecting their still warm corpses to see what lessons we can learn but for this one, I’ve got enough evidence to say that there’s no need to wait.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is going to bomb and it is going to bomb bigly. The only question is how much it will bomb by and how many careers will be destroyed by it.

Now, on paper, Valerian seems like a pretty safe bet. Based off of Valérian and Laureline a French science fiction comics series, created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières. First published in Pilote magazine in 1967, the final installment was published in 2010. So plenty of source material to work from, the fact that the series has been sold all over the world implies that there is some sort of market out there.

Legendary French director Luc Besson has allegedly been given 209 million dollars to play with and had assembled a cast of stars including Cara Delevingne, Dane DeHaan, Ethan Hawke, Rihanna, Clive Owen and John Goodman.

So, a legendary (in France anyway) series of graphic novels comes to Hollywood for its moment on the silver screen. Wheres the issues?

Eveywhere.

Valerian didn’t come to Hollywood to play. It stayed in France. This is France’s highest budget film…. ever. And it’s not close in any way shape or form.  The closest contender is a French movie called Asterix at the Olympic Games, which cost $82 million to make. Now, with the budget for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets reportedly coming in at a staggering $209 million, that puts it at almost triple the budget of the previous record holder. Now, most Marvel films don’t have budgets of 200 million dollars and they’re as safe as films can get. This is an untried, untested franchise that has very little, if any name recognition outside of its native France.

But, thinks you Luc Besson is directing it! He directed The Fifth Element! That he did, 20 years ago. And it’s been dividing audiences ever since. I feel that I should also point out that nothing he has done in intervening two decades has come anywhere close to the scale of this project. Yes, Besson has done Stopmotion, CGI  and action films but none of them have had budgets anywhere near a hundred million dollars, let alone 209 million! And he’s not consistent in the quality of his films either. For every Lucy he’s made, there’s a Taken 2 or 3. I don’t he’s ever made a flop, but he’s no Spielberg.

But leaving all that aside, you then have the issue that we are currently experiencing something of a glut of blockbusters at the moment. At least Jupiter Ascending (the last time anyone tried to do a new space opera franchise) had the good sense to be released in the wasteland of January, a time when there was very little to compete with because to my mind, even if Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets had no direct competition it would be a tough sell, but the week before Fox is releasing War for the Planet of the Apes and Christopher Nolan’s WWII epic Dunkirk will be competing with it directly. Not to mention that Spider-Man: Homecoming will still be hanging around for its third weekend at the box office. With so many tried and true franchises out there, why would you sped your hard earned money on anything else?

And then we move on to star power.

There isn’t any really.

I’m not saying that Cara Delvigne isn’t a star, but she’s a new one and she has never headlined a major film before. Her role in Suicide Squad was little more than a glorified cameo and as for Dane DeHaan, his highest profile role was as Harry Obsbourne in the Incredible SpiderMan 2. I’ve seen him in a few films and whilst he never disgraces himself, he’s never looked like leading man material to me. Especially when according to Wikipedia his character can be described as “as a typical square-jawed hero figure, who is strong and dependable”

Even looking at two comparable films Enders Game and Jupiter Ascending, you find nothing to cheer about. Enders Game had a budget of 110–115 million but made only
125.5 million,  As of January 2014, Lionsgate was waiting to make a decision on a sequel film, and was also considering a television series. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Jupiter Ascending on the other hand had a budget of $176 million and made a mere
184 million with any talk of a sequel being met with hysterical laughter. Hell, even The Wachowskis have claimed that it’s pretty much killed their career as far as high budget blockbusters go.

So there you go, all the reasons why, as far as i’m concerned,  Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets will be one of, if not the biggest bombs of the year.

But what do you think?

 

The Fate Of The Furious Review

Back in 2001, a low budget film called The Fast and the Furious was released onto a mostly indifferent public. It wasn’t a sequel or remake to either the 1939  mystery comedy film directed by Busby Berkeley.  Nor was it a sequel to  the 1955 American film noir starring John Ireland and Dorothy Malone. It was instead such a pallet swapped carbon copy of the 1991 cult classic Point Break that I’ve always been slightly confused as to why the lawyers never got involved.

The series pottered on for a few unremarkable sequels and then, one dark evening and probably after a small amount of ‘Columbian inspiration powder’ some executive somewhere Frankensteined this nearly extinct car franchise with Michael Bay and Several series of Top Gear, threw in a cast of varying genders, ethnicities and levels of acting ability, laughed madly as the lightning flashed and the (at time of writing) 9th highest grossing franchise of all time lurched from the table and out into the world.

Back to the 8th film in the franchise (numbers nine and ten are due to be released in  2019 and 2021 respectively) I paid my money, deactivated the parts of my brain that like developed charterers, logic, the laws of physics, gravity, the amount of damage the human body can take as we currently understand them, plots that make sense and why on Earth Dame Helen Mirren would be told to do her best Barbara Windsor impersonation. Or why Snake Plisken would be wasted as chief exposition and plot mover instead of as an actual character. And so hyped on on coke and popcorn I was…..

Slightly bored.

Lets start with the big issues, all of the big WOW moments in the film were spoiled in the trailers, meaning that when I did see them I was waiting to see what else the film had up it’s sleeve instead of enjoying the carnage on screen (According to insurance company InsuretheGap.com, the damage done onscreen through the stunts of the franchise would total more than $514 million across the first seven films.)

And when the film does have a fun car chase shot so competently that at times I could almost tell what was happening, the film would slow down for a dialogue scene giving the audiences time to catch their breath which sadly also means that we can start thinking at which point this film falls apart. This franchise works best when the audience is so drunk on spectacle and sugar highs that they can’t question almost every aspect of the film and leave with a good feeling. And that just doesn’t happen here.

It also doesn’t help that I could have removed every car chase/race out of this car racing racing franchise and it wouldn’t have impacted the film in the slightest.  It would have trimmed the run-time down from 136 minutes to maybe 120 but that’s no great loss.

Mind you, I did like the fight scenes and laughed more at the frankly ridiculous dialogue and characters moments than I have in some comedies. But the film never quite came together for me. It felt like a spy film with a few chases in rather than a car racing franchises.

Speaking of which,  Charlize Theron plays an amazing villain in Cypher a computer hacker who can do everything with computers that scriptwriters from 1994 thought that you could do with computers. She’s cool, calm, collected and is probably the best villain James Bond has never fought. She’s completely wrong for this franchise but she’s a really good villain in her own right.

Is Furious 8 a good film? Not really. It has too many slow moments, trying to develop characters that we don’t really care about who spout terrible dialogue whilst struggling to act. Its stunts have been seen too many times in trailers to be impressive. And even then, this franchise has done better It’s too long and despite a budget of 250 million feels like it somehow needed more.

My Score- Skip It. 

Ghost In The Shell Review

Ghost In The Shell is based on one of the most influential manga of all time (which I’ve never read) and one of the greatest anime films of all time (which I’ve never seen) and bearing that in mind, I have to ask- Do both of them resemble an uninspired remake of 1987 film classic Robocop?

I’m deadly serious- in a world where the government has either collapsed or become completely irrelevant, a person who was converted into a cyborg against their will fights systematic corruption inside their own corporation whilst under constant threat of being shut down or having their memories wipes whilst trying to work out where the machine ends and the human begins.

Hell there’s even a boss battle at the end against what might as well be ED-209.

But there’s none of the satire that made Robocop a classic, none of the epic violence that made this film stand out hell, there’s hardly any violence at all. The films 110 million dollar budget condemned it to a 12a rating which has limited what I imagine could have been several very exciting action scenes.

And as for the philosophical underpinnings about morality, memories defining us, what does it mean to be human and was the whitewashing controversy overblown? All the dialogue is so on the nose that I was quite surprised to find out that Christopher Nolan hadn’t ‘borrowed’ the script. Instead it turns out that Spielberg had the rights since 2008 and has resisted the urge to drown it in his trademark sugar.

The film is literally dark though- I think someone forgot to hire a lighting guy or decided to spend the lighting money on instead hiring the sides of more London busses.

They certainly spent money hiring a legendary director though- getting the one, the only… Rupert Sanders! Who has directed such timeless classics as Snow White and the Huntsman and… erm… literally nothing else. Good move there Dreamworks.

And naturally, for a film set in Japan, based off of Japanese source material  but with seemingly no Japanese involvement in either the writing, producing or cinematography, the whole thing seems to have been filmed in New Zealand. Which, did mean that the geishas featured in many of the films trailers wore physical full-head masks, created by Weta Workshop, modeled after Japanese actress Rila Fukushima. Even the opening or ‘exploding’ of the geishas’ heads was handled mechanically rather than by using CGI. Which would normally get a gold star from me but since they feature for about 10 seconds and everything else is bad CGI, I was just left wondering why they bothered putting so much effort into something that barely mattered.

There are some good things, the film has some gorgeous shots but since the film is based off of a manga i’m just going to assume that they were direct lifts rather from the source material rather than from originals from the Directors mind so no points from me there.

The characters are all stock and underdeveloped, with Scarlett putting in an amazing performance despite the inevitable whitewashing controversy that has followed this film around.But, in the words of   Mamoru Oshii (director of the original films) “The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name ‘Motoko Kusanagi’ and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her. Even if her original body (presuming such a thing existed) were a Japanese one, that would still apply … I can only sense a political motive from the people opposing it, and I believe artistic expression must be free from politics.”

Also, A female Japanese American writer, Yoshida, has written extensively about the transmutability of Major Kusanagi’s identity, and about the “racial mystery zone” that so much anime, including Ghost in the Shell, occupies. “Japanese audiences, unlike American audiences, don’t understand Motoko to be a Japanese character,” Yoshida writes. “Of course, it’s a different issue for Japanese Americans, who grew up forced to think about identity in a much more tactile way”.

According to Yoshida, “Japan is a nation of people who are almost 100% ethnically Japanese. Accordingly, the average Japanese citizen’s outlook on diversity is much less influenced by pluralism than the outlooks of many Asian Americans, who live in a country where popular culture rarely represents them well, if at all. Hence, many Japanese Americans may find Johansson’s casting in a Ghost in the Shell movie distressing, while native Japanese observers make nothing of it”

Because when asked Japanese  fans were surprised that the casting had caused controversy, as they had assumed that a Hollywood production would choose a white actress. They felt the appearance of the protagonist was immaterial due to the franchise’s themes of self-identity and the blurring of artificial and natural bodies.

Ghost In The Shell is a dull predictable 106 minute long slog with a few good performances and visual shots failing to save it from stagnation and being forgotten immediately. I have no idea why it was made or who it was made for and neither does anyone else from the state of the box office receipts.

My Score- Skip It 

Free Fire Review

A low budget film with a very, very simple plot: After a deal goes south a group of gangsters wind up in an abandoned warehouse shooting each other and trading snappy dialogue.

Why does that sound so familiar?

I’m sure it’ll come to me in a second. I mean it’s not like the answer would be number 75 on IMDB’s top 250! That would be stupid.

But unlike other low budget films with similar pretentions towards becoming cult classics *coughTheAssignmen/Tomboycough* this one’s actually going to pull it off. Because it works. It’s not perfect, but it works.

I mean for the first time since…. Hell, Deep Rising back in 1998 where there is no ‘good’ character. None of these people are undercover cops or journalists, no vigilante has turned up to stop an arm deal and started trading bullets. Every single one of these people is a criminal with terrible aim and seemingly unlimited supplies of ammunition, and to be honest the human race is better off without almost all of them. It’s kind of refreshing in a sick, twisted way.

The dialogue snaps back and forth as these characters make and break deal with each other, set up truces that break almost immediately it’s a blast of nihilism.

It’s not perfect though. Like I said, none of these characters is fighting for truth, justice and the American way so it’s kind of hard to empathise with any of them. And after a while it’s kind of hard to tell which bloody, swearing dirty mess is on which team and I couldn’t quite get a handle on the layout of the warehouse meaning that most of the time I couldn’t really tell you what was going on.

But it was funny, my God was it funny in a sick, black humour kind of way. Aside from one person behind me who alternated between sleeping and kicking the back of my seat someone in my screening was laughing about every thirty seconds or so.

All of the cast seem to be having fun with their characters from Arnie Hammer (for once almost coming close to acting) as a consummate professional to Sharlto Copley as an idiot gun runner to Brie Larson as an out for herself kind of girl, every single character has good lines and moments (as well as several bullets in places where they would rather not have bullets)

I don’t want to fall into the trap of overthinking this because it’s not supposed to be some deep think piece on the human condition, it’s a ten million dollar film set completely in a warehouse in 1978 Boston but filmed completely in Brighton of all places and I loved it.

I would have liked each character to have a distinctive item of clothing so I knew what team they were on and it did take a about five to ten minutes too long to get going, and there was just something about the film that didn’t quite click with me but this is a film that’s going to be just about perfect for when you’ve had your mates over and had a few beers.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to work out why ‘Stuck in the middle with you’ is stuck in my head.

My Score- See It

 

 

Power Rangers Review

Power Rangers, released in the United Kingdom on the 24th of March 2017 will go down in history. Not for box office reasons or Oscars or Razzies won, but because Power Rangers of all things, not Marvel, not DC, became the first super-hero film in history to feature not just an autistic superhero in R.J. Cyler’s Blue Ranger Billy but also to feature an openly and explicitly gay character in Becky G’s. Yellow Ranger Trini. Sadly, these milestones seem to have gone completely unnoticed in the inexplicable feeding frenzy over the character of LeFou in Beauty and the Beast.

And to be honest, that was pretty much the only positive thing that I expected to say about this film. Despite being a massive Power Rangers fan in my youth, not only does the show seems to have aged about as well as the mullet, the song Simon Cowell released in 1994 made it only to number 3 in the UK charts and both previous films have spent significant amounts of time in IMDB’s bottom one hundred.

And then you get to this film, which had all the signs of being this years Fan4stic. A dark and gritty reboot of something previously bright and colorful. No real names other than Bryan Cranston who’s basically playing a cameo as a face in a wall, a budget that ballooned from a cheek punt of 35 million dollars to over 100 million , as well as being origionally scheduled for release on July 22, 2016, Lionsgate delayed the release to January 2017 to allow the film “room to grow.” The date was pushed again to March 24, 2017.

So, in I went with a heavy heart to watch a film that I was certain would be a unwatchable, bloated mess.

And I have never been so happy to be proven wrong.

Watching the zords charge across the screen to the soundtrack screaming GO GO POWER RANGERS! Before a battle with Goldar that almost but not quite lives up to Pacific Rim  is everything my inner ten year old wanted. It truly did feel like an episode of Mighty Morphing Power Rangers.

In that it was twenty five minutes long.

Because to get to that scene you have to slog through an hour and a half of an unholy blending of Green Lantern and The Breakfast Club. With far too much of one and not enough of the other.

Yeah, a film that should be a short and punchy ninety minutes is instead a bloated two hours for no real reason that I could see. And it’s also a 12a in the same way that The Dark Knight was a 12a with some scenes far too scary for the young people seated directly behind me. With some removed by very unimpressed looking parents.

But get through the sludge and you do get the Power Rangers fight you always wanted. Fortunately though, the originally limited budget seems to have meant that there was no money to hire a lighting guy so about half the scenes are pretty much pitch dark and for the half that aren’t the camera guy seems obsessed with spinning the camera around like he’s on  a roundabout.

And it’s nice when films open with jokes about bestiality. Makes the dad’s feel they made the right choice over Beauty and the Beast. 

Get through the first ninety minutes and you’ll get the power rangers film you always wanted. The cast have good chemistry and are more developed than the rangers of my youth but trimming 30 minutes wouldn’t have hurt. Bear in mind that the film is 12a for a reason and you’ll have a good time.

My Score- SEE It 

Beauty and the Beast Review

And so, in the year 2017, in the most expensive musical ever made with a budget of 160 million dollars, starring Emma Watson and… some guy off of Downtown Abbey,  all the debate surrounding the classic tale of a young girl coming to grips with her inner furry via the time honored medium of Stockholm Syndrome has been about the character of LeFou who is the first ever officially gay character in a Disney film.

And I do mean all the debate, In Russia,Duma member Vitaly Milonov (who has previously compared homosexuality to bestiality) agitated the culture minister for banning of the film, but instead it was given a 16+ rating (children under the age of 16 can only be admitted to see it in theaters with accompanying adults). Additionally, a theater in Henagar, Alabama will not screen the film because of the subplot In Malaysia, the Film Censorship Board insisted the “gay moment” scene be cut, prompting an indefinite postponement of its release by Disney, followed by their decision to withdraw it completely if it could not be released uncensored. The studio moved the release date to March 30, to allow more time for Malaysia’s censor board to make a decision on whether or not to release the film without changes and will be released on the said date with a PG-13 rating but with no cuts. In the end, the Malaysian Censorship Board decided not to ban the film.

But what shocked me the most though, was that China who usually have a ‘no gays ever, under any circumstances’  policy on films . And that’s probably because there’s not really anything there. I mean I wasn’t exactly expecting him to stomp around the set waving a rainbow flag and I did find him a bit too Smithers’y for my taste but there was no line or moment that I haven’t seen before in a Disney film. The charterer of Hades from Hercules comes to mind.

But in a way i’m glad for this pointless controversy because what else is there to say? Have you seen the original? Good, stop there and save yourself the hassle because you have seen this film. And the singing is better. And it’s a mere 81 minutes instead of a bloated 129 minutes and the servants actually look kind of cute instead of horrifying nightmare fuel.

I did like that a plot aspect from the Broadway show – that the servants are becoming more mechanical with every petal that falls, the songs that apparently come with it? Not so much. Just because a song works within the limitations of a stage doesn’t mean it’s going to work in a film adaptation!

Beauty and the Beast is the latest in the baffling live-action adaptation faze that Disney seems to be going through. It passed the time well enough but it’s bland, forgettable and in dire need of the editors scissors.

My Score- If Nothing Else