2103: The Deadly Wake strives to stand out from the B-movie masses by giving turning it’s straightforward sci-fi concept somewhat on its head. It’s set in the very distant future, in which earth’s oceans have become so contaminated that they have all taken a gaseous form, with corporations sending forth spaceship type vessels that deliver goods and wage warfare. They resemble submarines basically sailing through colored fog, and it’s one of the neatest and adorably ambitious futuristic settings I’ve seen. Malcolm McDowell is damn excellent in a rare hero role as Captain Sean Murdock, a salty old sea dog who lost a ship years before and is somewhat disgraced. Forlorn and fed up, he’s in a slump when hired to transport a massive ship across the ocean, with a mysterious cargo that’s guarded by a sinister mercenary and security expert (Michael Paré). Usually in this type of thing it’s Paré as the hero and Mcdowell as the villain (which has actually happened in Roland Emmerich’s Moon 44), but here they pull a Tarantino and switch up the type casting which is wonderful to see and makes for a fresh vibe. Paré works for the sultry, sleazy (Heidi Von Palleske), the company CEO who wants an eye kept on the cargo hold. Paré and Mcdowell bit heads, there’s murky conflict and the ship’s Artificial Intelligence engine is called B.A.B.Y. and is quite literally a fetus in a big gooey tank with wires attached to its brain. If that isn’t worthy of a medal in the ambition department I don’t know what is. Theres an odd sort of climactic fight scene that plays like a dream and doesnt involve fighting at all really, more like just a laser show with strange dialogue. Despite it being set in the future there’s a nifty retro style, with soldier uniforms and the darkly poetic tone almost calling forth the sensibility of the 40’s. I was reminded of Titanic in scenes, but that could be my weird cinematic free association. This one’s a keeper for fans of off kilter, under the radar oddities.
Sinners And Saints is a very adeptly made New Orleans set cop thriller that pays homage to tough archetypes of yore such as Lethal Weapon, Dirty Harry and Bad Boys. It’s far more serious and sinewy than those movies though, sucking the humour off its own bones and leaving a grim tale of one man ditching the force and going rogue in an attempt to hunt down some extremely bad people. Johnny Strong, a formidable, mscular guy, plays Detective Sean Riley, trying to sort through the post-Katrina chaos of the city whilst internally dealing with the loss of his wife and infant son. Strong is known for The Fast And The Furious as well as Black Hawk Down, quickly making it his calling card to play tough outsiders who get shit done with a fiery knack for not always playing by the rules. As it turns out, New Orleans is rife with psychopathic criminals up to no good, starting with evil mercenary Raymond Crowe (a badass, hateable Costas Mandylor), leading a crew of paramilitary scumbags into some very nefarious deeds. Riley discovers that his old army buddy Colin (the blonde half of the Boondock Saints, Sean Patrick Flanery, getting some nice, quiet moments of introspect before the firefights) is involved somehow, spurring him further into action. His commanding officer Trahan (Tom Berenger, stoically reminiscing about the youthful days in which he headlined flicks like these), worries that the path he’s headed down is too dark and similar to the men he is hunting. He’s paired with an unseasoned rookie (Kevin Philips), and an inevitable bond is forged in between and during bouts of gunfire. The action is wickedly staged, rising above the ineptitude that usually brands direct to video efforts like this. No, these filmmakers know exactly what they are doing and how to raise a pulse, demonstrating care and passion in creating their battle scenes. The cast is stacked high as can be as well. A boisterous Kim Coates has a fleeting scene to kick off the film. Resident baddie Jurgen Prochnow shows up a few times as malicious arch villain Mr. Rhykin, pulling strings which we are never fully privy to (I’ve heard rumblings about a sequel, hopefully with answers regarding his character). The other Mandylor brother Louis plays a bleach blond Australian mercenary and is beyond priceless. UFC legend Bas Rutten plays Dekker, a frightengingly nasty dude who proves a tough obstacle for Riley. Rapper Method Man even rears his head as a bad tempered, disfigured street thug who has his part to play in the whole cluster fuck. I watch countless direct to video action flicks that try their absolute adorable best to emulate the films they admire, often very lazily and without adding any new flavors. Can’t say that about this one. It fires up such a wicked, visceral punch while maintaining it’s own solid gold originality that it can scarcely even be called a B movie save for the fact that it wasn’t released theatrically. It’s pure, first class action, and demands a watch from anyone who says they’re a completist of the genre, before that claim can be validated.
Matthieu Kassovitz’s underrated chiller Gothika is thick with a horror atmosphere that goes straight for the jugular in terms of scares, a psychological ghost story that actually raises hairs a frightens, or at least did for me. It sometimes sacrifices logic for style, but what style it’s got! Any horror flick set in an asylum just has to to be cloaked in workable atmosphere to be effective, and this one is positively dripping with it, hence the evocative title. Halle Berry plays a laid back psychiatrist who wakes up one day in the asylum she works at, only now a patient. She’s told she brutally murdered her husband (Charles S. Dutton) yet has no memory of the act. As if that weren’t a terrifying enough situation for her to be in, she starts having waking nightmares, haunted by a gnarly ghost of a girl (Kathleen Mackey) with mysterious ties to the facility’s past. Her colleague and friend (Robert Downey Jr. gives the dour proceedings his usual chipper pep) seems unable to help her. A guard (John Carroll Lynch) is hostile towards her, angry at the loss of her husband who was his friend. An erratic fellow patient (a de-glammed Penelope Cruz) seems to know more than her vacuous babbling would suggest. The asylum Director (Bernard Hill, excellent) is perplexed by the whole situation. It’s a twisty funhouse of a plot that probably piles on one stark plot turn too many, they’re nevertheless fun to be left aghast by as the rattle by with little regard for plausibility. Berry is convincing in her tormenting position, radiating desperation and resilience that claws at the cobwebs of insanity. Kassovitz piles on the gothic atmosphere relentlessly, and it really works, until we have a visual palette that looks like the dark underside of Tim Burton’s unconscious mind. The ghostly scenes have a threatening, intense edge to them and feel unnervingly realistic, putting us right in the hot seat with wide eyed Berry. Style over substance? Maybe. Okay, probably. But I care not. If the style, composition and palette are enough to draw me into a story, I can roll with it. This one imprints troubling negatives on the celluloid which latch themselves onto your psyche. Maybe it works well because it’s got a European director, and they’re more in tune with the supernatural in general. Maybe it just does a nice job at being effective horror. Either way, I enjoyed.
Despite its impressive box office returns, Ocean’s Twelve (2004) was considered something of a disappointment by its director Steven Soderbergh who felt that the plot was too complicated. While not quite as fun as Ocean’s Eleven (2001), it was a fine film in its own right – one that had a more satisfying emotional pay-off and doesn’t deserve the lousy reputation that it seems to have. Ocean’s Thirteen (2007) was seen as a return to the fun, breezy vibe of the first film by bringing it back to Las Vegas with style. The result was a very satisfying conclusion to the Ocean’s films.
As the revenge picture cliché goes, this time it’s personal. When Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) is muscled out of a business deal by slick businessman Willy Bank (Al Pacino), resulting in a heart attack, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his crew reunite for one last job: to ruin the opening night of Bank’s casino, The Bank, by making sure he loses a huge amount of money, which involves rigging all the games and slot machines. Bank wants the Five Diamond Award – the top accolade for hotels and will do anything to get it. Danny and the boys use this as a way to get at Bank. To this end, they devise an elaborate plan with the help of their arch-nemesis Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) who bankrolls the operation. They also bring in Roman Nagel (Eddie Izzard) from Ocean’s Twelve to crack a state-of-the-art artificial intelligence security system.
Soderbergh kicks things off rather stylishly as we get a beautiful shot of Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) walking across a runaway tarmac to an awaiting plane at dusk with the sky an impossibly deep dark blue that, accompanied by David Holmes’ groovy score, is absolutely breathtaking. Once again, the director shoots the hell out of the film by employing all sorts of zoom ins and outs, pans and split-screens that, along with a saturated color scheme, keeps things visually interesting.
This time out, Matt Damon gets a juicy subplot where he goes undercover as Lenny Pepperidge, the assistant to a Mr. Weng (Shaobo Qin as The Amazing Yen, also undercover), a very high roller, in order to get close to Bank’s lovely assistant, Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin). Part of his disguise involves wearing a ridiculous fake long nose – a sly fuck you to Harvey Weinstein who wouldn’t let Damon wear said nose for his character in Terry Gilliam’s The Brother’s Grimm (2005) because he felt it would obscure the actor’s good looks and hurt the film’s box office potential. Well, it didn’t hurt Ocean’s Thirteen box office as the film went on to gross a very respectable $311 million worldwide.
It is also a lot of fun to see Ellen Barkin reunited with her Sea of Love (1989) co-star Al Pacino. She appears to be having a good time playing a confident businesswoman succumbing to Damon’s “seductive” charms. It is also fun to see Pacino go off autopilot for a change and sink his teeth into a juicy bad guy role. Who else could Soderbergh get to pose as a credible threat to the likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt but someone of the legendary star caliber like Pacino? He plays Bank like the offspring of his take on Ricky Roma from Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) and Gordon Gekko from Wall Street (1987) – a smooth-talking unscrupulous bastard. In another nice bit of casting, the inventor of the artificial intelligence security system is played by none other than Julian Sands, an actor whose big break through came in A Room with A View (1985), but whose career settled into mostly direct-to-home video fare so it was a pleasant surprise to see him appear in a big mainstream film like Ocean’s Thirteen.
Another amusing subplot involves Virgil Malloy (Casey Affleck, sporting a ridiculous-looking mustache) organizing a revolution/strike among the workers at a dice-making factory in Mexico. He goes from complaining about a lack of air conditioning to tossing Molotov cocktails on the strike lines. At one point, he and his fellow co-workers drown their sorrows at a local bar and Virgil asks them, “Have all of you forgotten Zapata?” He goes on to offer inspirational words that fire them up. How this whole subplot plays out is quite funny. In another nice twist, Terry Benedict is helping Danny out albeit with all kinds of conditions. After all, he resents Bank’s lack of taste and the competition he represents. There can only be on top dog in Vegas and Benedict clearly feels that he is the one. Andy Garcia looks like he relished the opportunity to be in on the joke instead of being the target as he was in the last two films.
While working on Ocean’s Twelve, Steven Soderbergh began thinking about Ocean’s Thirteen. He thought about how fun it would be to set it back in Las Vegas. The motivation to make the film was a desire to work with everyone again but all eleven cast members had to want to do it. Producer Jerry Weintraub contacted them 18 months before hand and told them filming would take place during the summer of 2006 and to clear their schedules. He was able to find a way to juggle all these movie stars’ busy lives and add Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin into the mix.
For the film’s story, Soderbergh felt that Danny and his crew weren’t driven entirely by money and that they would reunite for friendship and revenge. The director came up with the notion of Reuben being betrayed and his friends helping him out. Weintraub hired Brian Koppelman and David Levien to write the screenplay. They had written the script for Rounders (1998) and created the gambling television cable show Tilt, and so they were familiar with the world of con men and gamblers. Soderbergh and Weintraub were both big admirers of Rounders and the director met with the screenwriters in New York City over lunch. They talked about great con movies, the nature of heists, and how the characters had evolved since Ocean’s Eleven. Within minutes, Soderbergh knew they were who he wanted to write the script and were working on it within minutes: “There was not a long list of people that we thought could step into this specific universe and pick up the language and the sense of humor.”
Koppelman and Levien had spent years exploring Vegas culture and the gambling lifestyle. They had every book they could find about con artists and thieves. Early on, Soderbergh told them that he wanted the film’s focus to be on the friendship between Danny and his crew. They understood that getting revenge on Willy Bank was what drove the entire story of Ocean’s Thirteen. They also wanted to “’flip’ the casino so that the patrons would win every time, which would spell disaster for Bank.” Soderbergh also told them that the bad guy should be a casino owner and they imagined Al Pacino and wrote Bank with him in mind. George Clooney also offered some ideas, mostly things to do with the revenge scheme that reunited the crew.
Some exterior scenes were shot in Las Vegas, but the casino interiors were mostly shot on one of the largest soundstages on the Warner Bros. lot in Los Angeles because it would have taken too long to film in actual casinos as they had done with Ocean’s Eleven. Soderbergh said, “In order to get the shots that I wanted, I needed to completely control the environment.” He instructed production designer Philip Messina to build a hotel and casino that would reflect Bank and his huge ego. Messina decided to go with a quasi-Asian theme and make it visually overwhelming. He purposely broke the rules in Vegas by designing a multi-level gaming floor because the production didn’t have a lot of horizontal space to work with.
Like Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Thirteen pays tribute to the classic era of Vegas as Danny and co. restore Reuben’s honor. He’s an old school player who still believes in following a code and prides himself in being part of a select group of insiders that got to shake Frank Sinatra’s hand back in the day. Like Benedict, Bank represents the current corporate mentality of making money over the personal touch that the Mob-run casinos used to provide. If the first two films were about Danny and Rusty’s respective relationships with the loves of their lives, then Ocean’s Thirteen is about their friendship with Reuben. He mentored them when they were just starting out and taught them about respecting history as well as those who came before them. Like with the previous films, going after the bad guy is a matter of personal honor and hitting them where it hurts – in Bank’s case it’s his monster ego. Ocean’s Thirteen ends much like Ocean’s Eleven did thus bringing the trilogy full circle and with a truly satisfying conclusion as the bad guy gets what’s coming to him and Reuben’s honor is restored. Likewise, the film did very well at the box office and garnered fairly positive reviews going out on a well-deserved high note. It serves as an example of a star-studded big budget Hollywood film that entertains without insulting your intelligence.
Tony Scott’s The Last Boy Scout is pure stylistic grime, an exercise in early 90’s action with the blackest of humour. The tone is set with a square jaw early on: a star quarterback for a hotshot NFL team is under a lot of underground pressure to make that perfect play and in turn please the loan sharks. He buckles under the heat, ends up pulling a gun on the field and murdering a score of opponents before turning the gun on himself. Now horrifying as that is, if you have a sick sense of humor like me it conjures a dark chuckle of the most guilty variety, because.. well, it’s funny! Albeit in the darkest way possible, which is the arena this one skates in, love it or leave it. Upon closer examination of the script we discover it’s penned by that wonderful man Shane Black, who gave us Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the upcoming The Nice Guys. No one can produce such heinous mayhem with a cavalier attitude and actually get away with it as well as Black does. The guy is a prodigy of dark humour, and who better to embody his protagonist here than a sheepish Bruce Willis as Joe Hallenbeck, a jaded ex detective who is so sullen and cynical he’s almost comatose. He’s paired with equally slummy former quarterback Jimmy Six (Damon Wayons), lazily trying g to solve a case involving the murderous quarterback and some shady politicians. Along the way that’s paved with many a sarcastic, beleaguered exchange they cross seedy paths with shady villains (Taylor Negron, RIP, and a youthful Kim Coates), a beautiful working girl with ties to the case (Halle Berry) and Willis’s spitfire of a dysfunctional daughter (Danielle Harris). There’s a wonderfully bloated supporting cast including Noble Willingham, Chelsea Field, Joe Santos, Bruce McGill and more. It’s got a bite that stings, mainly thanks to Black’s frighteningly stinging screenplay which give the film it’s sardonic, put – upon aesthetic. This meshes together nicely with Scott’s trademark sun soaked, pulpy, picturesque tone and provides one hell of an action movie rode. Nasty in all the right places, funny when the story begs for it, and build to last.
Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice. Wow. Where to even start. What a symphony of scorched earth heroics, a two and a half hour maelstrom of thundering action, introspective gloom and very current vibes of apocalyptic dread. I’m not sure if I was watching an entirely different film from some of these bitter bottomed critics who are maiming it with inaccurately nasty reviews. Balls to them. Zach Snyder should be proud of this achievment, for in the face of both ruthless odds and rabid fans who would make any one of us piss down our legs at the thought of ‘getting it right’, he has mounted a titanic epic of a superhero flick, hitting all the right notes and fuelling both casual moviegoers and salivating super fans with a rekindled love for comic book films. A much welcomed grit and violent edge creeps into the proceedings here, a tone which Snyder has a passion for and is incredibly deft with. We begin with a visually arresting opening credit sequence, which Snyder previously perfected to hair raising brilliance in Watchmen, a ten minute opus set to Bob Dylan. Here he inter cuts shots of young Bruce Wayne, both discovering the prophetic swarm of bats and on the fateful night of his parents murder, a sequence done over a thousand times in film, but never quite with the inventive flair used here. We then arrive with adult Bruce (Ben Affleck) in Metropolis right as it’s being ripped to shreds by the Def Jam smackdown match of Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod (Michael Shannon). There’s eerie shades of 9/11 as Bruce darts through the ashen rubble, attempting to save the employees in one of his towers. One senses the fear and rage in Wayne right off the bat (pun intended). He glowers in seething fury at the man of steel, primally threatened and haunted all over again by loved ones he couldn’t save a second time around. This film addresses the ludicrous amount of destruction that Superman wrought upon Metropolis in several ways. Political nerve endings are fried as Senate and State alike get hostile towards the god in the red cape. No one is more aggressive than Batman, though. This brings me to Affleck as Batman. Without a doubt my favourite cinematic incarnation of the caped crusader, and his debonair counterpart to date. Yes, even more so than Bale. Nolan’s The Dark Knight is still tops for me, but the portrayal of Batman by Bale didn’t strike as harmonious a chord with me as Affleck. It just didn’t feel like pure Batman, it was real world Batman. Affleck feels much more rooted in the comics, and God damn it all if he isn’t the most savage, violent Bats to come our way, well… ever. I’ve always been bothered by the nagging fact that Batman refuses to kill. Even in in a beatdown he could easily inadvertently cause death, so why bother trying? Here, he doesn’t go out of his way to deliberatly kill, but he sure has no problem brutally breaking bones and stabbing his adversaries without an iota of faux-noble hesitation. That’s the kind of Batman I want to see. Fuming, fired up and full of rage demons that erupt into fantastic action scenes. One sequence involving a room full of thugs is just jaw dropping and probably my favourite sequence of the film, even over the titular smackdown with Superman. There’s an earthy, simplistic take to him as well, with a modest suit that gives nods to Frank Miller and even Batman: The Animated Series. He is by far the elemental force that the character should be, and the part of the film that I connected with most. I hope he gets his standalone film real soon. Henry Cavill has grace and intuition as Superman, and a surprisingly earthly aura as Clark Kent, in a fit about Batman’s vigilante tactics. He’s the outsider here, an orphaned deity truly trying to do his best in a world that often shuns him in fear. He was never my favourite superhero, or even on the list, but Cavill combined with Snyder make him a force to be reckoned with, and a hero I can get behind. The two eventually meet in a remarkably choreographed clash of the titans, a duel that really only lasts a few minutes and isn’t central theme, which raises questions in my head about the first part of that title. Their fight is composed of Batman’s hard hitting, blunt force physicality pitted against Superman’s fluid, elegent invincibility which is satisfyingly put to the test by the appearance of a certain green mineral we all know about. The James Cameron-esque suit Batman wears for the fight is a grinding wonder that looks like it weighs a metric ton and could level buildings alongside the man of steel. The combat feels urgent, from the gut and roars into action perfectly. Of course, that isn’t where the fireworks stop, but I ain’t sayin any more than that. Gal Gadot is truly wonderful as Wonder Woman, I also can’t wait for her solo outing, and wish she’d been in the film more. Her much talked about entrance is the definition of crowd pleasing, and will make you cheer in approval, which I did out loud. She’s endlessly gorgeous, and has the toughness to go along with it, a great casting decision by anyone’s tally. Jesse Eisenberg wowed me as a young, jittery Lex Luthor, in what is probably the most clinically insane portrayal thus far. Forget bumbling Gene Hackman and hammy Kevin Spacey, this guy seals it for me. There’s a true madness to his Lex, which when given enough money and resources can have cataclysmic results. It’s a villain to remember, and Eisenberg exudes palpable danger from every pore, his psychopathic sheen of logic barely shrouding the mania beneath. Jeremy Irons is a more restrained, jaded Alfred who is still unconditionally supportive of Wayne, but is reaching the end of his rope which is tethered to pure world weariness. He gets some of the only humerous bits of the film, albeit of dry, brittle variety. Amy Adams is reliably terrific, her eyes pools of perception that mirror the horror and spectacle of the events through the mind of a human, with every ounce of nerve and courage as those around her that have superpowers, or expensive toys. Diane Lane is weathered wisdom and maternal compassion as Martha Kent, nailing her scenes with the small town, kindhearted patience that a film this noisy deserves, tipping the scales to provide occasional serenity in the eye of the hurricane. Kevin Costner makes a brief appearance in one of the films numerous and often confusing dream sequences. He was a highlight in Man Of Steel, and brings the same baleful, gruff adoration here, in a wonderful but brief scene with Clark. Laurence Fishburne is another source of rare humour as the perpetually exasperated Perry, CEO of the Daily Planet. Aggravated and cheeky, he commands every frame he’s in and had me chuckling no end. Holly Hunter has forged a career of playing no nonsense hard asses, here a ballbreaking US Senator here who shares a moment of distilled intensity with Luthor proving that Superhero films can have some of the best written dialogue. Harry Lennix makes great use of said writing too as the steely Secretary Of Defense. Callan Mulvey and Scoot McNairy are memorable in supporting turns. Listen hard for Patrick Wilson and Carla Gugino, and look for a certain ocean dwelling dude in the briefest of moments. Jeffrey Dean Morgan also has a cameo that’s almost too good to be true. Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, who was so top notch with Mad Max: Fury Road, combine efforts for a score that knocks it out of the park and several miles further. Batman has a soul rousing battle cry of an overture, with subtle shades of Zimmer’s work on the Nolan films, built upon to give us something truly unique and fitting for the character. Lex Luthor is accompanied by a fitful cacophony of strings that sound like the Arkham Asylum charity orchestra having a collectively unnerving seizure. My favourite riff though I think is for Wonder Woman, a deviously disarming jaunt that strays from the grandiose, baroque theme and feels wickedly subversive, getting you just so pumped for her character. Zimmer’s work on Interstellar made it my top score of 2014, because he leapt out of the box of his usual tricks and gave us something we’d never heard from him before. Here he shreds that box with ingenuity and creative output, a varied, explosive piece that assaults your ears splendidly. My one concern with the film was a dream sequence midway through concerning Batman, and anyone who’s seen the film knows what I’m talking about. I’m sure comic book fans have some point of reference or context regarding it, but the casual viewer doesn’t, and a little more explaining would have been nice. I will say though it showcases Batman in an entirely new light which took me off guard nicely. This is what a superhero movie should be, plain and simple. Big, bold, audacious, stirring and full of high flying action, dastardly villains, conflicted heroes clashing like the ocean tides and a sense of pure adventure. Forget what the critics are saying, this one comes up aces in all categories and is a perfectly wonderful start to the stories of a group of characters that I look forward to seeing in many a film to come. Especially Affleck’s Batman.
Ever briefly get stuck in an elevator thats messing with you, malfunctioning and seems to almost have a mischievous mind of its own? That’s the premise of Down, also known as The Shaft. It concerns an elevator in a huge residential/office building that has gone homicidally haywire. It traps, drops and tricks people no end, raising and lowering the interior temperature to dangerous effect and generally just being a great big meanie. No one seems so know what’s going on with it though, especially the mechanic who installed it (Twin Peak’s James Marshall). The incidents accumulate, attracting a perky tabloid reporter (Naomi Watts having a ball) who makes up all kinds of tall tales to explain the situation in sensationalistic terms. This infuriates the CEO of the elevator company (now there’s a job title) played by a snarky Ron Perlman who gets a rant towards Marshall that walked in from a way better script (which leads me to believe it was the spawn of Perlman’s legendary improv skills). There’s also a cop played by Dan Hedeya who can’t seem to figure it out wither. The truth is a lot more interesting than you might expect and has nothing to do with ghosts or spirits at all, but centers around a deranged research scientist (Michael Ironside, whacked out to kingdom come). It’s not the least bit scary, but it’s worth a watch simply for the fact that it’s a movie about a fucking elevator that kills people lol. Cujo and Christine ain’t got nothing on this bitch. The scene where a gaggle of pregnant ladies enter the thing is just priceless in its blatantly gross out manner. Fun, fun stuff and great research to embarrass Watts with sometime down the road if you ever find yourself interviewing her on the red carpet hehe.