Review: Ninja Shadow Of  A Tear (DVD/BR – Import)

Review: Ninja Shadow Of A Tear (DVD/BR – Import)

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The Review: Guess what? The 80’s called and they want their action film back! No… that’s dig but probably one of the highest compliments I could pay this DTV Ninja action film starring the Expendable UniSol Scott Adkins, as every pore of the film harks back to a time when action films weren’t afraid to put men in Ninja suits and use throwing star as a weapon.

The story? Ninjitsu master Casey is back and out for revenge when his pregnant wife is murdered. And that, well that’s pretty much it. What that means is Adkins has excuse after excuse to bust some serious arse kicking movies against an endless stream of well trained but never quite good enough bad guys until the inedible fight to the death showdown with the big bad.

If you grew up, as I did, on a staple diet of American Ninja films with a dash of Cynthia Rothrock, a touch of Loren Avedon and more than a dollop of Perfect Weapons, then this is the film you’v been waiting for since action films grew up in the 90’s, got serious and started starring Nicolas Cage.

It’s by far the best DTV action film of 2013. It’s amazing that whilst Hollywood continues to spend hundreds of millions trying to thrill and excite cinema goers (often to varying degrees of success), Scott Adkins along with his director de jour Isacc Florentine and always reliable studio Millennium Films have been doing it smarter and better and for a fraction of the cost. Every Dollar, whatever the budget actually was (the web chatter has it at $10 million USD but I d probably say less) is up on screen in what is probably the best martial arts action committed to film outside of Eastern cinema, benefiting from fights more reminiscent of The Raid’s hardcore style than Florentine’s previous films. But with added sword play, Ninja stars and the A-Z of movie Ninjutsu weaponry!

Eventually you’d assume that both Florentine and Adkins will be tempted away from these smaller DTV films and more regally towards movies with bigger budgets. Let’s hope not. Both deliver spectacularly at this level, using the obvious budgetary restrictions to focus on what really counts… ass kicking martial arts action at it’s best.

Add in fan pleasing appearances by Kane ‘Son on Sho’ Kosugi, a always charismatic lead in Adkins and a script that knows what it has to do and just get’s on with it, and Ninja! Actual Ninjas! And what you are left with is a film that becomes essential viewing for action & martial arts fans

Reviewed By: Phil Hobden

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Riddick: A Quick Capsule Review

Riddick: A Quick Capsule Review

Quick Review

Phil’s Quick Capsule Review:
So depending on what you thought of the previous Riddick films will very much decide where you sit with this one.  If like me you loved Pitch Black but hated Chronicles, then Riddick will be mostly meh retread of the much better first film.  If you loved Chronicles then chances are you are so brain dead already that this will just feel like the best film ever as it veers from seriously misjudged to occasionally interesting.  Visually it’s nice to look at but there’s little else when that wears off…

Best Bit: Picking your jaw up off the floor after THAT line as you realise that sometimes hollywood just has no idea.

Rent, Borrow, Buy, Stream: Borrow. If you REALLY have to.

IMDB Rating: 

If you liked this try: Pitch Black (8/10); Fast 6 (8/10); Chronicles Of Riddick (4/10)

You’re Next: A Quick Capsule Review

You’re Next: A Quick Capsule Review

Quick Review

Phil’s Quick Capsule Review:
You’re Next is a revelation and for sure my favourite horror film of 2013.  Hard edged blood and gore (something rare in a horror these days) combined with a wicked sense of humour and a kick arse lead, You;re Next treads familiar ground but adds it’s own, most needed spin.  To think this was on the shelf since 2011… a must see for horror fans

Best Bit: The Kills

Rent, Borrow, Buy, Stream: Buy

IMDB Rating: 

If you liked this try: Last House On The Left (8/10); Red Eye (7/10); I Spit On Your Grave (5/10)

Review: Upsteam Colour (DVD/BR)

Review: Upsteam Colour (DVD/BR)

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The Review: Okay, hold your braces for this one; it’s going to be a tough one. This is Shane Carruth’s second feature. You may remember ‘Primer’, his first, being somewhat unpalatable and requiring several viewings simply to comprehend what the hell was going on. This time around in Upstream Colour, the events make those in Primer seem positively straightforward and easy to comprehend. Actually, not quite: it’s neither. Yet it’s both.

Broadly speaking, this is about a young woman is zapped with a tazer by an unnamed Lyle Lovett lookalike (Carruth) and forced to undergo what seems to be an experiment in recitation of a book by Walden. She’s forced to write out pages at a time and string the paper together, and is rewarded by having sips of water; no solids whatsoever. The guy manages to get her to freely pass over the majority of the deeds to her apartment to him. Once back on solids, gently, she comes to – to find she has no memory of what happened. So far so straightforward.

Okay, then there’s a pig farmer who’s experimenting with sounds on his pigs. A year or so later, the woman meets a guy called Jeff – a blacklisted broker who got fired for moving money around. Then a strange kinship occurs between the two – somewhat telekinetic, and eventually a weird symbiosis melds them together. Paranoia sets in, and a very strange journey will lead them, apparently, to the truth of what happened to the blue dust his orchids were emitting, and why the farmer bundled the new born piglets into a bag and drown them in a river, causing their blood to make the orchids grow blue.

Reading this you’re probably thinking “Hold on, what rating did you give American Ninja VII: The Revenge, again?” – but stay with me on this. Films, in my view, are as vague and different as you allow them to be. I firmly believe that in Primer we discovered a genuine talent in Shane Carruth; after all, he did everything but provide the craft service on that movie and, here, he more or less does the same but with a touch more budget. It’d be feeble to suggest he makes films that appease the sensibilities of an audience accustomed to a more linear mode; God knows we have enough of those cretins making a tidy living doing that already.

In a weird sort of way – in a perfect world, every film would be made by Shane Carruth. There dots are not joined, but left floating to piece together by the viewer. It’s almost a moot point to suggest that anyone who views Upstream Colour gets any section of it wrong, as it’s sort of a hodgepodge of a DIY 10,000,000 piece jigsaw – you arrive at wherever you arrive at. What this means, in effect, is that at the very worst you have an unsolved puzzle and may require tackling again later. But at its nadir, you have – literally – an endlessly re-watchable ‘slight’ narrative; the components of which are irrefutably hostile and vapored, and merit a rewatching later. Carruth has pulled this off twice, now.

Upstream Colour is at once both maddening and hypnotic. The central performance of the ‘hostage’, Kris, belongs to the little heard of Amy Seimetz. She’s the lovechild of Naomi Watts and Keira Knightley – neither stunning nor dumpy, but always believable. It’s a strange oddity of a movie, if you allow it to be.

If you’ve genuinely read this far, then I advise you to give this a go – especially if you’re a fan of Terence Malick; this is The Tree of Life on a shoestring budget. It just goes to show, really, doesn’t it – it matters not how big your budget. All the matters are the idea, the script and *how* it’s done. Upstream Colour is so ball-achingly convinced of its confidence that it simply beggars belief. I gather, also, from an interview with Carruth that the reason for the eight year gap between this and his first movie was simply so he could subsist and make this one. The guy’s turning into a Kubrick/Malick wet dream, and he’s only just turned forty.

You hear that, Michael Bay et al? Make one film for sod all, and if it makes money, you get a second shot. Mr. Carruth – you may be breaking new ground here, and there’s no denying you’re doing an expert job of extolling the virtues of leveling it. Upstream Colour is simply the most imaginative picture of the year, and one of the year’s best.

Reviewed By: Andrew MacKay

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5U9KmAlrEXU

Alan Partridge Alpha Papa : A Quick Capsule Review

Alan Partridge Alpha Papa : A Quick Capsule Review

Quick Review

Phil’s Quick Capsule Review:
I was never a massive fan of Partridge.  I laughed for sure when I watched the Tv show but it never was the cultural zeitgeist for me that it was for others.  So coming into this critically well received comedy I expected more of the same.  To like but not love.  How wrong I was.  Alan Partridge Alpha Papa ends up being the comedy of the year for me, funny, charming and, well, really funny it’s by far open of the most pleasant film watching experiences of the year.  Finally a TV show that works on the big screen.

Best Bit: The window escape.  Priceless.

Rent, Borrow, Buy, Stream: Buy

IMDB Rating: 

If you liked this try: In The Loop (8/10); Borat (8/10); Keith Lemmon (2/10)

The Iceman: A Quick Capsule Review

The Iceman: A Quick Capsule Review

Quick Review

Phil’s Quick Capsule Review:
A true life crime story almost more fanciful that something Hollywood could create allows the always scary Michael Shannon to once again deliver the kind of performance that will one day see him Oscar bound.  A capable supporting cast (not least Chris Evans) and some striking visuals, the only thing that stops this being a modern classic is a sense of familiarity that comes with the crime genre.  The iceman may be real but everything he does we’ve seen before. Well worth a watch.

Best Bit: Shannon is superb.

Rent, Borrow, Buy, Stream: Buy

IMDB Rating: 

If you liked this try: Goodfellas (10/10) Carlitos Way (10/10); Scarface (9/10)

The Lone Ranger: A Quick Capsule Review

The Lone Ranger: A Quick Capsule Review

Quick Review

Phil’s Quick Capsule Review:
So one of the biggest critical and commercial flops of the year, sop it must be bad right ?  Like terrible?  Er no.  Actually it was rather fun, in fact probably Bruckheimer’s most enjoyable Disney film since the original Pirates.  Silly and far too long for it’s own good, but I was never bored and when the action comes it’s done well. Ignore the haters, this one’s worth seeing!

Best Bit: The final train action sequence.  Barking.

Rent, Borrow, Buy, Stream: Rent

IMDB Rating: 

If you liked this try: Pirates Of The Caribbean (8/10); Pirates Of The Caribbean Dead Mans Chest (5/10); Pirates Of The Caribbean On Stranger Tides (4/10)

Review: The Way Way Back (DVD/BR)

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The Review: Every so often a film comes along… where most of the main cast resemble UK TV comedians. More on this in a later paragraph.

Liam James plays Duncan who’s dragged along on a summer getaway with his mum, her boyfriend, and his daughter. They end up in a summer shack next door to Allison Janey and her daughter. As you’d expect, the fourteen year-old Duncan occupies that strange vortex of being out of childhood, but not quite old enough to enjoy the true fun stuff. As you’d also expect, he’s pretty quiet and spends his time moping around feeling sorry for himself, vacuuming all the joy out of everyone’s time. Elder half sister isn’t much better, and Steve Carrel is the douchebag father with the five o’clock shadow.

Trying to while away the days, Duncan sparks up a friendship with Owen, played by Sam Rockwell. He owns Water Wizz – a water park where all the fun-lovin’ kids hang out, and secures a job there. Colette and Carrell have their own thing going on, and barely notice Duncan’s absence. During the course of the movie, Duncan emerges from out of his shell and son and so forth.

The Way Way Back is from writer director team Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who are no strangers to comedy. Faxon himself dons the role of one of the pervy waterslide operators. The film is played out all so sweetly and coming-of-age that it hurts.
Duncan for all the world looks like Harry Enfield in his younger days. Steve Carrel bizarrely looks like a despectacled David Baddiel. I’m not sure why that’s pertinent to the review, but it’s certainly something that I noticed.

And as for the film? Well, it’s a relatively pleasant way to kill 100 minutes, I suppose. What really pangs throughout is just how middle class, white and spoiled everyone comes across as. There’s no doubt where everything will eventually lead to. There’s a hint of a far more interesting story dwelling with the Carrell character popping off behind the caravan with Amanda Peet every so often, and the wet-towel Colette character not having the balls to stand up to him. It’s a shame that wasn’t pursued more.

The entire movie, thankfully, is saved by a brilliant performance by Rockwell as Owen. Rockwell is gifted in taking this unusual role and making it as believable as possible, without having to call in the social services to intervene. It’s fairly refreshing, then, that because the film is so twee – with the requisite spots of indie musical score – that we don’t have to delve into the real squalor of a real-world scenario, here. A couple of beats downward, and we may have entered Ken Loach territory set in a water park.

And so, what we’re left with, is We Hot American Summer Part II meets Vacation. Heck, even the National Lampoon Vacation Buick makes an appearance in the very first scene! There’s another scene involving pot, and the grand finale takes place in a theme park. If I were Harold Ramis, I’d consider suing. But – gosh darn it – I doubt he’d have the heart because the players are so gosh darned nice – which, now that I think about it – is a bit like how Mr. Walley felt at the end of the first Vacation movie.

 

Reviewed By: Andrew MacKay

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Review: Pain & Gain (DVD/BR)

Review: Pain & Gain (DVD/BR)

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The Review: These three criminals are to the successful heist what Michael Bay is to storytelling; totally superfluous and completely skin deep. Miami bodybuilder Daniel (Mark Whalberg) is fed up with his humdrum gym trainer job. He’s “spotting” people day in, day out – until an eccentric asshole millionaire (Tony Shalhoub) jobs the club and Daniel gets an idea; he’ll convince two fellow bodybuilders to kidnap him and extract all his money, split it three ways and live the life of Riley.

In essence, Pain & Gain is Fargo for dickheads. If Michael Bay had directed any of the Coen Bros. material, it’d look like this.

And how does it look? Well, it looks lush as you’d expect. With a modest $25m budget, pain & Gain looks a hell of a lot more expensive than it actually is. The usual Bay traits are here; insurmountable very low-angle slo-mo shots and extremely superfluous direction accentuating the most basic onscreen activity – and most of it is Whalberg shouting at people, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson off his tits on cocaine, disappearing behind walls to take the odd key hit. Anthony Mackie plays the third genius in the gang.

Unbelievably – or somewhat unsurprisingly, considering this is set in dumbfuck Miami – this is all a true story. Yeah, these tales of utter stupidity usually are. Some of the events and altercations, dressed up as plot twist, did in fact happen. It’s based on a fairly well-known case – so if you’d rather not know how this gob-smacking endeavour actually ends, then don’t go doing any research.

Bay’s last movie that didn’t feature robots was 2005’s The Island, and it is refreshing to see him tackling a completely different subject – but still, Bay demonstrated here that storytelling is not his forte. Sure, he can use the camera and get rudimentary performances from his actors, but at an agonizing two hours, Pain & Gain does feel forced. The real offense, however, is the continual use of voice over narrative – a very lazy expository technique employed by virtually every character – even Ed Harris gets a shot about an hour in – which tells you everything you need to know; tell, but very little show. Very unlike Michael Bay.

There’s no denying that Pain & Gain has a somewhat idiotic charm. The characters are unlikeable, and deeply confused. It’s hard to side with anyone. It’s hard to see why we’d care that three imbeciles should get away with their crimes. It’s set in Miami and concerns bodybuilders and thieves and crooks, and really fit, scantily-clad BayBait – and none of this is stuff I can really relate to, and yet the massively overplayed sense of style renders this as one of Bay’s best movies. But as we all know, this isn’t really saying very much.

What struck me most on the way out was just how little action there was in the film and, all told, just how little story there actually is to tell. What’s the story here, anyway? That if you’re thick you shouldn’t get involved in crime? That you should appreciate what you have because if you aspire down a dodgy cut-corner path, you’ll lose everything?

Pull the other one, Bay… it’s got dumb bells on.

 

Reviewed By: Andrew MacKay

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Review: The Act Of Killing (DVD/BR)

Review: The Act Of Killing (DVD/BR)

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The Review: To my mind there are two Westerners who have migrated to Indonesia to make their visionary movies: Gareth Evans and now Joshua Oppenheimer. In my view, only one of them has been truly successful in creating a film that thrills, excites, appalls and shatters the soul. And here’s a clue: the sequel to the one I’m thinking of isn’t named Berandal. In actual fact, the one I’m thinking of and writing about here is so good and so unique that it doesn’t merit a sequel. You need to see this film.

Relative newcomer Joshua Oppenheimer, true to his namesake, surrounds himself with those who literally “am become death” in this utterly fascinating and ground breaking documentary which follows a handful of elite military death squad activists who traverse old haunts where they enacted their brutal slayings. During the 1965-66 military overthrow of the government, the revolutionaries took over, set up shop and mercilessly round up any communists they could find and murdered them.

Anwar Congo was one such executioner. At the time, in his twenties, along with Adi and a large Melissa McCarthy stunt-double named Herman, they bandied together and dragged the commies kicking and screaming into secluded areas and came up with new uses for table legs and cheese wire. Barbaric as it all certainly was, they felt they were the good guys. And now, on the other end of the age spectrum, they still believe the same.

We learn during the opening moments of the film that everything we’re about to see; the set-ups, the arguments and the resulting reactions are all real and allowed to play out naturally. Oppenheimer, a regular visitor to Indonesia, is stunned by the blasé attitude these “gangsters” (who marvelled and scalped tickets outside cinemas back in the day; a real money spinner!) had and currently still have toward their actions. And so, Oppenheimer trumps Evans with his idea; he’ll feed the showmanship inside these ex-killers and allow them to “recreate” and stage their executions in any cinematic style of their choice.

Adi – the JT Walsh of the group who’s sleeping well at night despite his genocidal past – seems to elect 50s film noir. Anwar goes for a traditional detective stage set up. Herman, who’s probably hiding a lot more than a propensity for murder, lands on a musical number. But curiously, as is the wont for any decent documentary, as the 160 minute length unfurls…. Something weird is happening to at least two of them during this process.

To say precisely what is happening would be to shine a spotlight on the reason you must see this film. For us, the re-enactments are fake, and someone yells “cut” at the end. The real story ended a lot messier. As the re-enactments continue, we realise why this opportunity to take advantage of their inner-showman is starting to take the effect that it does. I’m saying nothing apart from the fact that an opening explanation by one executioner at the beginning of the film is once again revisited at the end with the same man – but what happened to the apathetic, slightly proud man who reveled in his work the first time around? It seems Oppenheimer knows what he’s doing.

Sure, The Act of Killing is a slow burn – and rightfully slow. This film doesn’t need to be snappily edited as if the scissor owner was paid by the cut. Here, we take our time and truly get to know one another. You go in blind (and some may say ignorance is bliss; I’m sure Anwar would second that!) and wonder when it’ll all kick off. And then a curious thing happens. Around about an hour in, you’ve realised that it all kicked off ages ago and we’re in the thick of it. But unlike say, The Raid, at around the half way mark – you realise exactly what you’re watching; a wanton, irreversible and systemic dismantling of three Eastern murders’ psyches by one, young Western filmmaking genius. Neither party can back down at the 90 minute mark.

And then – BAM! – there’s that final twenty minute stretch. It’s hard enough to write a twist or character arc the likes of which we see in Fight Club and The Usual Suspects. But it’s rare we see it for real, unfurling unexpectedly in a real-life documentary. Don’t misunderstand the sentiment there – the mechanics in this (one of the year’s best pictures) are not that of a conjuror; it’s far less flashy than those two examples, but the lasting effect is far more damaging.

 

Reviewed By: Andrew MacKay

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