R.I.P.D. (2013)

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Directed by: Robert Schwentke

If ‘Men in Black’ never existed, and Jeff Bridges hadn’t been in ‘True Grit’ then ‘R.I.P.D.’ might have had the several ounces of originality which could have made it a break out box office hit.

Instead ‘R.I.P.D.’ flopped.

The problems of ‘R.I.P.D.’ stand mostly in the casting of Ryan Reynolds, and to an extent the future version of Ryan Reynolds Kevin Bacon. Reynolds brings the charm, Bacon backs it up with smarm. But yuck, there is something that prevents Ryan Reynolds from connecting with cinema audiences. Ever since ‘National Lampoon’s Van Wilder’ he has been talked about in certain circles as being charismatic and wise cracking, but there is also a far more damning and consistent theme with Reynolds work, in that he is a franchise killer. Think ‘The Green Lantern’, think ‘Blade: Trinity’. Even in this film, which ends with the most blatant sequel set-up ever, you think to yourself – I really don’t think ‘R.I.P.D. 2’ will be made because of Ryan bloody Reynolds.

‘R.I.P.D.’ is no dafter than ‘Men in Black’, ‘Wild Wild West’ or ‘Ghostbusters’, but the trouble is that those films got there first decades before. The story of ‘R.I.P.D.’ goes like this… Boston PD detective Nick Walker (Reynolds) is double crossed by his partner Bobby Hayes (Bacon). Hayes kills Walker and Walker goes to Police purgatory, the Rest in Peace Department, a place for dead cops who have some unfinished business back in the land of the living. The dead cops are responsible for tracking down deados, crooked monsters whose souls have not gone to the afterlife. So their job is to travel back to earth and try and capture the deados. In order to remain undetected by those they have left behind the dead cops are given unique avatars that have no connection to their previous selves.

Nick Walker is partnered with Civil War era U.S. Marshal Roycephus aka Roy Pulsipher. Like any good buddy cop movie the unlikely partners bicker and squabble their way through several scenes before coming together at the end to crack the big case. That case gives Walker the chance to gain vengeance against the man who screwed him over. Most of the laughs come from Jeff Bridges, but Reynolds cracks a few of those darn one liners he is so well known for causing stress lines to flicker on my enraged forehead.

There are some good parts of ‘R.I.P.D’. Mary-Louise Parker excels as the stern Police Chief Proctor, and living avatars of Roy and Nick are an elderly Chinese man and a stunningly attractive catwalk model (Marissa Miller) provide several ha ha ha’s. But because ‘R.I.P.D’ is a film composed from bits and pieces of other films, and the source material of these other films is just too strong and too beloved, it seems almost a crime to steal from them.

– RJW

5/10

R.I.P.D. on IMDB

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The Mourning (2015)

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Directed by: Mark Clebanoff

File this one under “Films which are good for the first forty five minutes and then completely fall apart”. ‘The Mourning’ is a brooding slow paced sci-fi drama which has that Thursday afternoon Channel 5 feel about it.

The film begins when a naked man, who looks awfully grubby, wakes up in the middle of some woodland. The man staggers into a small town, and is able to rummage some rather garish tartan trousers from a bin. He then wanders into the home of an elderly couple. The couple, fearing the man is a burglar, or worse yet a pervert, call the police. When they arrive the local sheriff (Louis Mandylor) recognises the now half naked man as his long lost brother-in-law who disappeared in the Gulf War twenty years ago.

We discover the man’s name is Aaron, and his sudden return startles his sister, and the rest of the town folk. Michael Rene Walton does a sterling job for the first half of the film, as Adam is mute, and unable to explain his disappearance. Walton’s perplexed and confused facial expressions are convincing. ‘The Mourning’ falters when Aaron opens his mouth. This moment happens when Aaron’s brother-in-law gets his old acoustic guitar out and invites Adam to play the bongo drums. Aaron sings.

Obviously the film tries to present the after effects of PTSD for war veterans. How former servicemen and women are unable to articulate the horrors that they have witnessed. Both Aaron and his brother-in-law served overseas are metaphorical and literal representations of this. The sheriff turned to the bottle to try and dull the pain.

The most annoying character is The Suited Woman (Dominique Swain) who appears to represent some kind of vigilante investigation group. She arrives out of nowhere and follows Aaron about. Her presence is supposed to be threatening, but she just stinks up the film whenever she is on screen.

‘The Mourning’ is a case of a movie playing its hand way too early. The suspense lies in Aaron’s silence and when that is broken the film falls apart. The film after the jam scene plods along as a kitchen sink Americana drama, with everyone looking gloomy. This is perhaps best represented when Aaron’s childhood sweetheart from twenty years ago called Lucey (Sally McDonald) tries to get to grips with Aaron’s return. In this role McDonald emotes like she’s got a dozen sherbet lemons in her mouth

– RJW

5/10

The Mourning on IMDB

Pernicious (2015)

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Directed by: James Cullen Bressack

I was thinking of the best way to describe Pernicious. It’s not really a slasher flick, and though it contains some gore, and indeed some sadism, it’s not really nu-torture porn, a child of Saw and Hostel. What the story reminded me of was Nickelodeon’s ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’; a programme I used to watch avidly as a kid. So is director James Cullen Bressack dabbling in Nickelodeon Extremism?

Like most modern Horror’s, pick any horror film out of a hat, you will find a cast of attractive people in their early twenties lined up as lambs for slaughter. ‘Pernicious’ is no different; you have three attractive young women who have gone out to Thailand for a month to teach Children. The friends Julia (Emily O’Brien), Alex (Ciara Hanna) and Rachel (Jackie Moore) stay in a rather nice old riverside house. Inside the house they uncover a golden statue of a little girl, which gives off some right creepy vibes.

What follows is unpredictable in the sense that the film is a real slow burner. The women head off into town and bump into a trio of lecherous leary Brits, lads on tour if you will. Rachel, the stereotypical dumb blonde flirts up a storm and the group end up back at the girl’s house; it is here where one of the Brits pulls out a bottle of laced liquor and something rather untoward happens.

Just when you think the blokes take advantage of the women things take a blood curdling about turn. The women end up butchering the blokes. When the ladies wake the next morning they think it’s all been a horrible dream, as the lads have vanished and the golden statue has disappeared. For some reason the girls care what has happened to the statue and try to track it down.

The rest of the movie is a treasure hunt, as the women discover the story behind the statue from a gravelly ill old man, and end up on a bit of a wild goose chase cum evil spirit story. It’s this curious second half of the movie, which is rather non-eventful but at the same time really engrossing. I can’t really put my finger on why this is, because aside from Jackie Moore, who adds quite a bit of humour as the ditzy Rachel, there is no real stand out scream queens or OTT acting performances. It just seems that the story works because it is frugal throat slashing throwaway film candy.

– RJW

7/10

Pernicious on IMDB

They Live (1988)

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Directed by: John Carpenter

In recent years many professional wrestlers have tried to branch out into acting, and aside from Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson few have succeeded. An indicator for potential success of a wrestler transitioning into acting is to look back at the promo work of a wrestler during the in-ring career. Good talkers, those who are able to sell a wrestling feud are likely to be able to transition into the world of acting. Charisma counts. Which is why bulky charisma vacuums like John Cena, Randy Orton and Ted DiBiase Jr., who all have been used in the dire ‘Marine’ franchise, have flopped, and been unable to build any kind of career outside the squared circle.

So when Rowdy Roddy Piper popped up in John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’ I had reasonably high hopes. Piper’s manic ‘Pipers Pit’ segments were memorable before WWF became WWE, and if any professional wrestler could be the lead actor in a film about sticking it to the man than Roddy piper would be that guy. In ‘They Live’ Piper plays the unnamed loner who in the credits is identified as Nada.

Basically John Carpenter offers up an unsubtle sci-fi critique on consumer culture and corporate greed in the eighties. Carpenter reflects what was going on under the government of Ronald Reagan, as American tried to puff out its chest and reassert itself as a major player after the torrid seventies.

Nada uncovers that the bankers, cops, and upper crust who control the city are aliens. He notices that after putting on a cheap looking pair of magical sunglasses (oh, gosh I’m affected by consumerism enough to bash Nada’s shades) which reveal subliminal messages on billboards and who the aliens are. Business picks up when Nada kills two policemen, who are aliens, nicks their guns and goes on the run.

In the early part of the film Nada does some hard labouring for a low wage, he becomes buddies with another construction worker called Frank (Keith David), a noble worker bee who just wants to keep his head down and earn money for his family. There’s a wonderfully long fight scene between Nada and Frank midway through the movie down some grim alleyway, as Nada tries to get Frank to look through the sunglasses and see the truth. The fight feels endless, a real tiring slog. At one stage Roddy Piper executes a beautiful back body drop.

As a cultural commentary ‘They Live’ is relevant today. Last week it got a mention in Charlie Brooker’s ‘Weekly Wipe’ show on the Beeb. When you think about the financial crisis, the recession, the snoopy spying of GCHQ and the already forgotten Occupy movement; you could argue that in true cinema fashion it’s due for a remake to reflect these dystopian times. There’s certainly an almost hypnotic quality to YouTube Vloggers dropping products to their millions of followers and people being pacified by a steady stream of distractions, all brought to us as we stare blankly at our electronic devices, continuing to buy buy buy.

But what ‘They Live’ teaches us is that though one may become enlightened; trying to convince other people about the so called ‘truth’ is almost impossible. Carpenter spins an entertaining yarn, and Roddy Piper surprises everyone by being a strong lead who drops a several quotable one liners.

– RJW

7/10

They Live on IMDB

He Died with a Falafel in His Hand (2001)

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Directed by: Richard Lowenstein

What a cool fucking soundtrack this film has, opening with the timeless ‘Golden Brown’ by The Stranglers, peppered with a regular scattering of Nick Cave. It’s almost too cool for its own good. Judging by the soundtrack alone ‘He Died with a Felafel in His Hand’ feels like it might’ve been a cult film for a certain age group of Australians in the early noughties, just how ‘Human Traffic’ became such a significant film for me and my friends. Nowadays people know Danny Dyer as the landlord of the Queen Vic, I still remember him fondly as Moff.

Noah Taylor (a recognizable character actor you see in many quirky films) plays Danny, a struggling writer who lives in a ramshackle shared house with a group of oddballs and weirdos.  Adapted from the book ‘He Died with a Felafel in His Hand’ the film  version resonates with anyone who has had the misfortune to live in a shared house with a group of people that they have nothing in common with.

Falafel is split into three acts, or shall we say three houses. Act one begins, as all the acts do, with Danny strumming ‘California Dreamin’’ on his guitar. We see his fellow housemates having a discussion about the homoerotic undertones of ‘Reservoir Dogs’. Danny lives with Flip, the pale junkie, who moonbathes (tries to catch the rays of the full moon at night), Taylor, a military fixated tough guy, and Milo and Otis, two lads. The testosterone fuelled atmosphere is broken by an English lass named Sam, the lone voice of common sense. There are also other folk who dwell in the property.

Danny has a serious case of writers block, and sits empty minded in front of his typewriter, dreaming of writing something publishable. As a writer he seems oblivious to the rich material that keeps him up at night.

Act one changes pace when an enigmatic existential Frenchwoman named Anya arrives. We then meet the other people in the house. A fat man seemingly growing into his sofa chair named Jabba and a bank clerk who lives in a tent, alongside another late arrival, a lost looking Japanese backpacker. Anya revels in the power of seduction, and all the blokes try and get her into bed. After Anya moves into a house which is literally falling apart, athe film goes into ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ territory as events get more and more surreal with Pagan rituals and Nazi skinhead invaders.

The second act sags majorly, Danny moves in with a socialist; Taylor and Flip turn up, then Sam. It features an out of the blue suicide attempt which mirrors a similar scene from another 2001 film, Wes Anderson’s ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’; and a point blank murder involving a dodgy cop. The dramatically shocking moments seem a bit shoehorned in and after taking the time to introduce us to an interesting bunch of folk we end up in bizarre melodrama.

Act three is especially manic and more akin to act one. Danny moves in with a narcissistic struggling actor, a repressed homosexual fella and another chap who appears to be vaguely Scandinavian. Oh, and Taylor’s there as well. Then a few more of his former housemates drop by, like Sam and Anya, who at this point in the movie have a thing going on. Flip turns up, and goes out for a Falafel; I don’t need to tell you what happens after that.

Certainly ‘He Died with a Falafel in His Hand’ is a film of its time, it hasn’t aged all that well. Noah Taylor is pretty ok in the leading role, but you can see why he hasn’t gone on to star in many films because he just kinda flits around, raising his eyebrows, looking generally bemused about the world.

– RJW

6/10

He Died with a Falafel in his Hand on IMDB

Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2005)

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Directed by: Jim Sheridan

I’m going to argue in this review that ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’’ is a nine out of ten movie, and should be critically reappraised. The criticisms aimed at this film in 2005 suggested  50 Cent was copying former stablemate Eminem by starring in an autobiographical film based upon his early life, and that it was hardly a stretch for 50 Cent to essentially act as himself. But let’s not ignore the great Roger Ebert, a lone voice who rated this movie. I’m going to go beyond even Ebert’s critical opinion and shower the film with a whole heap of praise.

Yesterday was my second viewing of ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’​’. My first impressions, if I recall correctly was that it was an alright film and nothing more. Second time around I was stunned. This film is brilliant. Whether this is to do with the direction of acclaimed auteur Jim Sheridan, or that 50 Cent was working with a host of talented actors including Terrence Howard, Bill Duke and Viola Davis, perhaps, but the itself story is marvellous, somehow combining a gangster narrative that rivals the rags to riches tales of ‘Scarface’ and ‘Goodfellas’, with a believable account of hip hop mixtape hype building that recalls the underdog story of Stallone’s ‘Rocky’.

The film stars 50 Cent and more rational folk would say – How is it possible that 50 could act? Judging him on his underwhelming musical contributions. Well 50 is a charming leading man. He shows a wide range, and brings authenticity to the role. This isn’t some Eton educated luvvie trying to play it rough. 50 Cent lived this life, and portrays the realness of the situation he overcome.

The film starts with a flashback to when 50 Cent, who plays a version of himself named Marcus Greer aka Young Caesar, is shot nine times. The scene is harrowing. The hooded shooter cowardly sneaks upon Greer, shoots him in the back and then hunts Greer down, shooting him several more times before finishing the job.

We then move to back further to Greer’s eventful childhood. After his crack dealing Mother is murdered, Greer lives with his Grandparents in a crowded home. The childhood struggle is touching, as a naïve Greer is exposed to sex through explicit lyrics and initially sees drug dealing as a way to buy nice trainers.

Marcus Greer becomes a man when he is taken under the wing by Majestic (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who I suppose, to try and draw a pop culture comparison, is close to Stringer Bell from ‘The Wire’, only a bit more psychotic. Majestic is the man under the man, but he has an eye on taking the throne from the current king. Majestic puts together a group of young and hungry worker bees, but Marcus, with entrepreneurial flair, out hustles all the other kids on the corner.

It isn’t until Marcus gets busted and spends some time in jail that he meets Bama (Terrence Howard). The jail scenes are actually spellbinding. Bama saves Marcus from a knife attack in the showers (an equally scary scene to the bloody bath scene in ‘Eastern Promises’) and the two fond a close bond. In solitary Marcus chooses rather than to kill himself (a razor blade is pushed through the cell door), to carve lyrics on the wall. As time goes on Marcus realises the power of hip hop and turns his back on the drug trade, infuriating Majestic. Bama becomes his manager and tries to guide Young Caeser to the top.

The film goes back to the start at halfway, and shows the aftermath of the shooting. Marcus fights for his life, and undergoes a gruelling rehabilitation process backed by his loyal wife Charlene (Joy Bryant) and his crew.

Sure, the last fifteen minutes of the film ain’t perfect, but ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin ’​’ is a fine film, a leading light in the hip hop movie genre.

– RJW

9/10

Get Rich or Die Tryin ’​ on IMDB

St. Vincent (2014)

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Directed by: Theodore Melfi

 St. Vincent made me cry. I seldom cry at films, and if I think long and hard, I can’t think of many films off the top of my head which have made me shed a tear. Perhaps ‘Homeward Bound’, that is the most obvious one I recall. But what was it about St. Vincent? Maybe it was Bill Murray’s marvellous performance. Murray for me is an actor on equal footing with the late Robin Williams, an actor who has always been there throughout my film watching life.

I suppose St. Vincent slots into Murray’s melancholic late renaissance. ‘St. Vincent’ stands next to ‘Broken Flowers’, ‘Lost in Translation’ and ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’. Murray plays Vincent, an alcoholic, foul tempered Vietnam veteran. The character reminded me a lot of Charles Bukowski, only without Buk’s ability to write about his painful existence.

Vincent at first appears to have few redeeming qualities. He sleeps with a pregnant Eastern European slipper, has run up a host of gambling debts and snarls at anyone who crosses his path. The power of Murray’s performance is that he can make that kind of character likeable, even before we begin to see the good qualities of Vincent.

There are a few troubling things about this movie that will divide opinion, and I suppose one is quite a big part of the film which I’m reluctantly to give away, so let’s get on to Naomi Watts’ performance as Daka, the Eastern European prostitute. Watts puts on the kind of ‘Russian-ish’ accent that your best friend would do after knocking back several shots of cheap vodka. I really have no idea if she’s brilliant or terrible in St. Vincent. It’s a real marmite performance. This continues a strange, but exciting period for Watts, in that she appears to be deliberately acting terribly in really good films. See also her overwrought role in ‘Birdman’.

The supporting cast in ‘St. Vincent’ really bounce off Murray; one of the big surprises is Melissa McCarthy who plays Vincent’s new neighbour. McCarthy has perhaps unfairly received a whole host of shit for being cast in the ‘Ghostbusters’ reboot, but her role in this film is a fine rebuttal to all the haters. This isn’t your usual brash and crass McCarthy performance; she tones it down several notches and convinces as Maggie, the struggling single Mother. Her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) is also excellent, as the kid who melts Vincent’s icey exterior.

Yes, ‘St. Vincent’ is sentimental, but it’s an old fashioned feel good movie that’s really been lacking of late. It reminded me of classic films like ‘Uncle Buck’ or ‘As Good as it Gets’, a rogue’s redemption story.

– RJW

8/10

 

St. Vincent on IMDB

 

Man of Tai Chi (2013)

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Directed by: Keanu Reeves

Lineage in Martial Arts is important. If you’re a black belt in Brazilian Ju Jitsu for example, then that black belt means more if you can trace it back to the Gracie Family. Tiger Chen, star of ‘Man of Tai Chi’ is a protégé of the world renowned Martial Arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, a legend in the Martial Arts world who was behind the set-pieces of some of Jackie Chan’s early work, films like ‘Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow’ and ‘Drunken Master’. Woo-ping would later work on genre defining movies like ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘The Matrix’, which is probably how Tiger Chen crossed paths with Keanu Reeves.

Tiger Chen was given a starring role by Keanu Reeves, in ‘Man of Tai Chi’, Reeves first directorial effort. Chen plays an awkward courier who trains in Tai Chi under the wise Master Yang. Chen is a little frustrated by the passivity of Tai Chi, a Martial Art which traditionally has been viewed as more akin to spirituality and meditation than spinning kicks and rapid fire punches. In many ways Tai Chi is a cousin to Capoeira, the Brazilian Martial Art, in that it appears more for show as opposed to an effective form of self-defence. I remember a few years ago when I was practicing Wing Chun, a traditional Martial Art, that occasionally we would dabble in Tai Chi, only the very basics I might add, but what I noticed was that it was a great way of staying calm, moving freely and controlling energy. There was certainly something mystical about Tai Chi.

Anyway, Chen enters in a local Martial Arts tournament and represents the new generation of Tai Chi. Master Yang doubts Chen and believes him to be ill-disciplined and weak minded, he also doesn’t want Tai Chi to be dishonoured in crude fights. Chen convincingly wins his first round tournament contest and is head hunted by Donaka Mark (Reeves), the wealthy head of a private Hong Kong Security Firm. Mark waves a fistful of dollars at Chen and Chen signs up to sign up for an underground fighting tournament which is beamed out to a worldwide pay per view audience. Chen racks up the wins and makes plenty of money, but begins to lose his soul and integrity.

‘Man of Tai Chi’ is odd in some ways, because it is a unique English and Chinese effort. Basically whenever Reeves is on screen everybody speaks English, and when Tiger Chen is running about everyone speaks Chinese.  At first this is a little annoying, and I say this as somebody who loves reading subtitles, but eventually you get used to it.

Reeves as director serves up a classic underdog story, the tournament form of the film brings this video game quality to the movie. The side story involving a plucky Hong Kong detective investigating Donaka Mark perhaps seems a little unnecessary, but it doesn’t detract so much from what is ultimately a vehicle for the Martial Arts talent of Tiger Chen.

– RJW

7/10

Man of Tai Chi on IMDB