John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

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John Wick Chapter 2 (2017) 


Directed by Chad Stahelski  • Written by David Kolstad


With Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common, John Leguizamo and Laurence Fishburne


It’s fair to say that 2014’s John Wick took more than few people by surprise. Chad Stahelski’s rapid fire revenge tale of a pissed-off assassin out to avenge his dead puppy wasn’t afraid to poke fun at its own absurdity, helping it stand out from its peers while gaining almost instantaneous cult appeal in the process. Stahelski returns to helm John Wick 2, working again with writer, David Kolstad, and star Keanu Reeves, to deliver a rip-roaring sequel of dazzlingly choreographed violence and nod-wink humour.

We pick up with JW shortly after the events of the first movie, cutting to the action as he brutally dispatches a warehouse of bad guys to reclaim his stolen car. It serves as a firm reminder of the overall tone, quick to re-establish and go one further in its portrayal of an underlying sense of self-deprecation that identifies it as film clear in its intentions to give us a good time, without the distraction of the kind of distorted political subtext we’re fed by the likes of Olympus/London Has Fallen. Before Wick gets chance to put his feet up and enjoy retirement, he’s drawn back into action thanks to a years-old blood oath. Off to Rome he goes to finally settle the score. If only it was that simple.

Everyone involved seems to enjoy their part of the gag, fronted once again by Reeves, who continues his monosyllabic turn between impressive bouts of heightened gun-play and hand-to-hand combat. As a shadowy overseer, the presence of Ian McShane contributes much to a playfully enigmatic underworld of assassins, which extends itself much further this time.

While the choreography of the action is breathtaking to behold, it’s often apparent our exhilaration doesn’t entirely stem from the suspense of the scenes – more a marvel at the organised chaos on show as Wick goes full-sugar Rambo in gunning down an endless production line of brainless henchmen, all seemingly happy to take turns in running directly into his line of fire. Without the wry tone that underpins everything, they wouldn’t get half as much license to indulge themselves in this way.

There’s little in John Wick 2 that we didn’t get in the previous offering, but there’s a lot more of the same, played with understanding by those involved. There’s a glitch in the matrix when Laurence Fishburne shows up for around 15-minutes to spout some wisdom, which slows the pace and plays like an unwanted Neo/Morpheous reunion. Also, the plot goes bonkers at the end and threatens to boil over, yet that carefully woven sense of fun keeps it afloat as the promise of a third chapter looms.

3.5/5

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Lethal Weapon (1987) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

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Lethal Weapon (1987)


Directed by Richard Donner


With Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Mitchell Ryan.


The film that began a series of engaging buddy-cop action-comedies, Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon introduces the sparky pairing of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover – the former a suicidal cop-on-the-edge – the latter an “I’m too old for this shit!” cop with a young family and everything to lose. Thanks to a fertile combination of Shane Black’s witty script, actor repartee and Donner’s overseeing eye, the two-worlds-collide formula is a winning one.

The abiding impression has little to do with plot mechanics – more a general affection for the interplay between the leads as Gibson and Glover quickly form a bond. Buddy-cop movies are often driven by an undercurrent of unspoken love between two male protagonists – Lethal Weapon is no exception.

Between the sounds of Eric Clapton’s electric guitar trilling and David Sanborn’s saxophone flourishes, the movie wears a noir-ish playfulness that is amplified by the performances. That’s not to ignore its hard edges; suicide, torture, prostitution and drug use regularly surface in a film that has a flavorsome blend of fluctuating light and shade.

There are a few character inconsistencies, one in which Glover orders an armed criminal to show his hands, then, in the next moment, looks away and forgets the danger, leaving himself vulnerable. It sounds like nit-picking to flag it up, but it ignores who we’re being told Glover’s character is, and thus, pulls us out of the movie.

There are amusing observations that frame the film in its time: an incidental scene in which Glover and a police colleague opine about 1980’s men being overly sensitive wussies.

Besides a pair of one-note bad guys and a run-of-the-mill plot, you could build a case to say that Lethal Weapon pars with Die Hard as the standout 1980’s cop thriller, certainly in terms of heart and warmth. There’s a satisfying nuance to Richard Donner’s direction; broad, cinematic tones blending seamlessly with playful levity, during which Glover and Gibson spark an honest chemistry that imbues the whole film with an undeniable affability.

4/5

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Star Trek Beyond (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

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Star Trek Beyond (2016) 


Directed by Justin Lin


With Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban and Idris Elba


Fast and Furious director Justin Lin takes the Captain’s chair for Star Trek Beyond, the third installment in the rebooted timeline of Kirk, Spock and co, during which the USS Enterprise is sent on a dangerous search and rescue mission. Co-written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, the film is a hollow, shop-fitted Star Trek experience for a theme park crowd, complete with all the proper ingredients and nothing new in-between.

While Beyond is every bit as slick and action-packed as J.J. Abrams’s incarnations, it’s also locked in their cycle, seeking little originality and worse, insists on telegraphed plot points that are explained with eye-rolling exposition, moments before they occur. While much of the character interplay is fun (Karl Urban being the pick of the bunch), the writing does nothing to make the Trek universe a more interesting place, rather, what should have been a bold leap into the unknown is more akin to jogging on the spot for two forgettable hours in the company of expensive CGI.

After an intriguing opening and a thrilling first act set-piece involving the Enterprise, the film hits a huge middle act slump that it never quite recovers from, as the story increasingly behaves like a bland rehash of a recycled Star Trek TV show. With a one-note baddie in tow, Lin is working with a story that is widely bereft of genuine peril (even when perilous stuff happens) – join-the-dots cinema, playing all the right beats and cues in a way that never challenges and seldom excites. It’s Star Trek by-the-numbers – safe and tidy in its determination to not stray from a certain path. While the idea of Trek playing it safe might be enough to satisfy some, it does nothing for the its future, and ultimately puts a question mark next to the overall health of the series.

If you like your sci-fi fantasy loud and inflated, Star Trek Beyond is a snack that might temporarily fill a hole. Many of the latter action sequences are boring and repetitive as character development is kept to a bare minimum in favour of stuff blowing up and all the things you knew were going to happen…happening. A par for a much loved sci-fi series that has always thrived most on the small screen…and should boldly go there again to find new life.

3/5

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Everybody Wants Some!! (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)


Directed by Richard Linklater • Written by Richard Linklater


With Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin, Ryan Guzman, Wyatt Russell and Glen Powell.


Everybody Wants Some!! introduces us to Jake (Blake Jenner), a carefree college baseball freshman in 1980 sharing lodgings with his team-mates in the days leading up to the beginning of term training and studies. From writer-director Richard Linklater, the film is an unapologetic ode to good times, establishing a raw energy with a scene-setting dose of immature camaraderie as we meet a mad-house over-spilling with testosterone and lust for life.

Linklater’s films often have a formless quality that defy the structure of set plot points. It makes him one of the more interesting American film-makers of his generation, as he seeks to create a homely sense amid an easy-flowing 1970’s indie approach, while dipping his toe into the mainstream by playing us a mix-tape of his favourite records. Everybody Wants Some!! is exactly that film.

There’s an easy simplicity to the structure, which flows organically between scenes, maintaining good vibes as the characters embrace their time. While Blake Jenner’s role (and his blindingly white teeth) is most central, he’s surrounded by a host of enjoyable performances; Glen Powell as the cocksure ladies man, Will Brittain as the unfashionable out-of-towner, Wyatt Russell as the obligatory pot-smoking philosopher…to name but a few.

In some way, Linklater has made an 80’s film that precedes the petulant brat-packs and synth-based power pop of the decade. There’s a diluted boy/girl romance that sits on top of the interchanging bromance that simmers under the surface of the entire piece. Everybody Wants Some!! is a comedy-drama that isn’t front-loaded with jokes or pivotal dramatic moments, nor does it pretend to be anything other than a depiction of young(ish) people having the best time of their lives. Your enjoyment fully rests on how much you’re willing to let it be.

3.5/5

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Café Society (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Café Society (2016)


Directed by Woody Allen • Written by Woody Allen


With Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Corey Stoll and Blake Lively


Woody Allen’s 47th film (his first shot on digital) is a dreamy trip back to grand old Hollywood, which centres on a love triangle between Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart and Steve Carell. Taking place between competing L.A and New York, Café Society is the sort of experience that can remind us why we love the enduring mythical glamour of the silver screen.

While Allen pokes fun at the kiss-ass business that circles movie star culture, he’s also keen to amplify its larger-than-life appeal. More than most, he can be kicked around in critic circles – often for not living up to his former glories or repeating them. But here, he gets a good balance, as his actors slip effectively into their roles as the story gains traction.

Working with Allen for the first time, the legendary Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography is a thing of beauty, evoking a sumptuous, luxurious feel in capturing the dreamlike nature of Hollywood high-life in the 1930’s. Indeed, there at least a dozen shot compositions worthy of framing and hanging.

As the film’s lead character, it’s as if Jesse Eisenberg’s body is being used as a host to channel Woody Allen in his prime, which is established early, in a funny scene he shares with Anna Camp – the latter playing an inexperienced prostitute on her first day. As it occurs, Eisenberg is an excellent fit for Allen’s wittering rhetoric – his sweet-natured nervousness and intelligence giving way to the occasional neurotic outburst. The symbiosis between actor and director is reinforced by Allen’s admittedly wobbly narration.

In their third onscreen pairing, Kristen Stewart’s unorthodox charm continues to lock well with Jesse Eisenberg’s. Add to that another fine performance by Steve Carrel and the film achieves a rounded sense of what it wants to be, as toe-tapping jazz music is piped through almost every scene.

Rather than saying Café Society isn’t Woody Allen’s best work, it’s fairer to point out that it finds him on form and with purpose. There’s a half-baked mafia subplot fizzling away in the background, but the central love triangle keeps our interest while the dipped-in-elegance photography makes it easily worth the ticket.

4/5

 

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Christine (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

 

Christine (2016) 


Directed by Antonio Campos • Written by Craig Shilowich


With Rebecca Hall, Tracy Letts and Michael C. Hall


The true story of 1970’s TV reporter, Christine Chubbuck, Antonio Campos’s biopic chronicles her life in the days leading up to her shocking suicide, which she carried out in front of a live television audience.

There’s an interesting blend of tones and textures, as a battleground of two warring mentalities between Christine’s idealistic optimism and suffocating anxiety is played out through soundtrack choices and an affectionate eye for the period.

In the title role, Rebecca Hall’s performance is utterly fascinating in its complexity – Christine’s inner torment giving way to frantic outbursts in the competitive world of TV news, where appearances come first and weakness is disease. Indeed, it’s a stark reminder of the change in general awareness toward depression. As the story unfolds, Christine’s demeanor fluctuates with increasing regularity, revving into a cycle of fatal inconsistency. Hall is astonishingly good, capturing endless amounts nuance as her downward spiral accelerates. It’s one of those performances that has you questioning how ‘Oscar‘ never came calling.

Hall is supported by a good cast, most notably Michael C. Hall as a supportive colleague and Tracy Letts as the frustrated station chief desperately scouting for the next big story as the Watergate scandal subliminally unfolds in the background. There’s a good sense of irony to that aspect of the narrative, which lends a duality to the layers on which the film operates. In no small sense, as much as Christine is about the tragedy of one woman’s personal demise, it’s also a glance at the dawn of modern media reporting, and the way in which reality television emerged and gained relevance.

4.5/5 

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Solitary Man (2010) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

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Solitary Man (2010) 


Directed by Brian Koppelman & David Levien • Written by Brian Koppelman


With Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Jesse Eisenberg, Mary-Louise Parker, Imogen Poots, Jenna Fischer and Danny DeVito


Halfway into his sixth decade, the sight of Michael Douglas returning to the role of a lothario feels like some kind of comeback. In his most prominent parts, he’s played self-consumed characters in love with money and sex; Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Wall Street – all strongly flavoured films centering on themes of addiction to danger and excess. Indeed, Douglas’s real life woes of sex addiction add a dark credence to this role of Ben Kalmen, a man who when we meet him, is battling to be his younger self in a world that refuses to accommodate his ways.

Co-directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Koppelman wrote the script) – the film provokes dividing thoughts on our outlook on ageing and maturity. It is an intimate story that questions our idea of how a man in his 60’s should behave –  on one hand, we’re willing Douglas’s character to defy age and live his life to the fullest, yet his selfish ways have distracted him to the point of damaging his most meaningful relationships… not to mention his career.

The framing of his character is established in a six years earlier scene, as Douglas consults with a doctor about a health irregularity. It’s this event that flicks a switch in his attitude, sparking an anxiety that births both denial and excess. Douglas is excellent, playing the conflict of his character with a degree of understanding worn across his famous face. In crucial scenes, a simmering Imogen Poots is a tantalising bait for Douglas’s ill-discipline, while Jenna Fischer emits warmth through a curtain of tough love in the role of his disappointed daughter.

Despite strong writing by Brian Koppelman and a notable supporting cast, Solitary Man is largely considered as incidental. It can’t help but meander, at times, yet it remains a solid drama with some real world connotations and Douglas is perfectly placed in a role that evokes ghosts of his past.

3.5/5

 

 

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