Captain America: The Winter Soldier


Viewed – 05 September 2014  Blu-ray

I thought the last Captain America movie was the better of the several origin tales leading up to Marvel Avengers Assemble.  The World War II setting, the fact Steve Rogers goes from a wimpy rookie to a super soldier (and the special effect used to fool us…) as well as a great turn from Hugo Weaving as Red Skull all made for a top class piece of entertainment.  So you ask, where to go now ol’ cap is in the modern world?  Well how about an attack on s.h.i.e.l.d and a conspiracy where the agency he trusted suddenly turns on him?

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Scarlett Johansson is here as the sultry, bad-ass Black Widow and well, kicks all sorts of ass, despite a dodgy fake tan.  Oh and this time we get a lot more screen time with Samuel L. Jackson’s cool-as-ice Nick Fury, who gets his own actions scenes for a change.  Villainy is in the form of The Winter Soldier, a tough as nails enemy with a metal arm (!) who is every bit the match for Chris Evans’ increasingly llikeable Captain.  What follows are a series of bombastic encounters, a stand-out showdown on a freeway, very impressive effects, surprisingly vicious hand-to-hand combat (with some martial arts thrown in), and a keep you guessing plot.  Robert Redford plays one of the senior guys of s.h.i.e.l.d. but is looking his age, and Anthony Mackie is pretty cool as Falcon, even if he seems to come out of nowhere.

As a follow-up this packed quite punch in the action stakes and gave us some good character development with Captain America facing his past, and Nick Fury questioning his allegiance.  Chris Evans is still perfect and handles the action well, as does Johansson (prrr…).  A quality sequel, and made me thirsty for the next Avengers – surprising considering all this comic book stuff was starting to get a bit tired.

Verdict:  4 /5

The Raid 2


Viewed – 21 August 2014  Blu-ray

The first Raid movie was an eye-opener of an action-flick.  A raw, uncompromising and unflinching martial arts explosion in a very claustrophobic setting.  Impeccably choreographed and made a name for it’s star Iko Uwais, as well as director Gareth Evans – a Welshman, believe it or not.  This follow-up has rookie cop Rama being persuaded to go undercover against the mob organisation he roughed up (to put it mildly) in the first movie.  Soon he’s befriending the son of a local kingpin, whilst everyone begins to double cross one another, with Rama struggling to stay alive and not get his cover blown.

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The story is over-complicated and takes a bit of time to get going, but is filled with some interesting characters, especially the conflicted, power-hungry Uco (Arifin Putra).  But we’re not here for deep and meaningful characterisation, despite the scripts best efforts – we’re here for the action … and what can I say?  This is filled with some of the most violent and bone-crunching fights I have ever seen … big brawls featuring hammers to the jugular, baseball bats embedded in faces and goons being thrown, having their legs snapped and faces smashed left right and centre.  It’s very fast, and superbly filmed, edited and choreographed.  Gareth Evans certainly knows how to bleed every ounce of intensity and impact from every punch, kick and stabbing – and it’s pretty incredible.  Add to this stand-out sequences involving a duel hammer wielding girl on a subway train, and a brilliantly fast and brutal car chase – and this almost had it all.

The reliance on a twisting plot takes some of the energy away that the first movie had in spades, and every time it stopped to explain something or for more developments, I was just itching for the next confrontation.  Perhaps in it’s native language and with a lot of subtitles, I missed some of the finer details, which can happen … so I’ll let it off for the most part.  However as a full-on example of martial arts and well, action cinema without any boundaries (or subtlety) this once again nails it.  A great sequel.

Verdict:  4 /5

Bound


Viewed – 18 August 2014  Blu-ray

In the nineties, I remember this being one of my favourite thrillers.  A gangster’s mol plots to steal $2 million from her mobster boyfriend after hooking up with the alluring ex-con in the apartment next door, who just so happens to be a lesbian.  This atmosphere-heavy and stylish movie was heralded at it’s time for it’s arty approach to a lesbian storyline and it’s cool twisty-turny narrative, helped immeasurably by great turns from it’s three main stars; Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon and Joe Pantoliano.

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The 1996 debut movie from The Wackowskis, who went on to craft The Matrix movies amongst others, their obvious skill is aided by superb work from cinematographer Bill Pope who makes the camera as much of a character as the people in the story.  At it’s heart this is simply a sexy thriller (with a killer lesbian sex scene), two attractive, albeit stereotyped females (could Gershon’s character be any more clichéd?) and an unhinged mobster straight out of the mobster handbook.  That being said the script is full of clever structuring and interesting developments (the plotting of the stealing of the money is shown at the same time as it’s being executed).  Although dialogue that perhaps initially sounded cool, now years later comes off rather corny (“I have this image of you – inside of me – like a part of me” – groan).  Also Tilly’s Betty Boop voice grates quickly.  Thankfully then this is so rich in style and tension, much of that doesn’t matter as I enjoyed watching these girls get one over on the mob.  Towards the end, I’d have liked a final twist, as it seemed to conclude too ‘safely’ given the knowing awareness of the rest of the movie.  It’s been compared to the more serious works of The Coen Brothers such as Blood Simple, although I’d call it closer to the noir thrillers of John Dahl, as in The Last Seduction.  Still one of the cooler movies of the nineties.

The recently released Blu-ray from Arrow video is above average.  The movie itself is in good shape.  It’s subdued look, mostly consisting of greys and whites doesn’t dazzle in high def but there’s decent clarity during dark scenes and acceptable close up detail.  The music and dialogue on the other hand are both delivered affectively in a choice of DTS 5.1 or Dolby 2.0.  Extras-wise this is quite impressive, with several featurettes covering interviews with the cast as well as the crew.  Most valuable is an audio commentary, again from cast & crew, shedding plenty of light on the production.  Concluding this package is reversible sleeve artwork as well as a booklet and the movie on DVD as well.   Not too shabby!

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

Machete Kills


Viewed – 06 August 2014  Netflix

I’m a little concerned.  Robert Rodriguez, that indie wonder kid, best buds with Quentin Tarantino and director of such classics as Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn and Sin City, has been making more of a name for himself lately as the poster boy for the grindhouse genre.  Tarantino was wise to just dip his toe in it before delivering the double whammy of Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained.  Yet the imminent arrival of the hotly anticipated Sin City: A Dame To Kill For has been slightly wilted by Rodriguez’s z-grade obsession … which going by the reviews, got old very quickly.

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This follow-up to the movie inspired by a trailer in the middle of that Grindhouse double feature calamity, finds hulking Mexican for hire Danny Trejo as bounty hunter and former marshal ‘Machete’ who gets hired by the President of the United States (Charlie Sheen … er, yes) to bring down a crime lord who is threatening to send a missile to nuke Washington.  Yeah it’s stupid and it’s the sort of plot you’d find in an 80’s TV show or some movie in a flea pit of a cinema that had run out of porn … but it’s a concept, played fully tongue-in-cheek that makes for highly entertaining tosh.

Rodriguez clearly loves the material and although it lacks some of the sucker-punch moments of the previous one it still had enough comical ideas (the speeder from Star Wars, ‘Machete don’t tweet’…) that bored is not something I could be.  Co-starring a cast you almost have to read twice to believe, yes Sheen as well as Cuba Gooding Jnr, Michelle Rodriguez, Lady GaGa (!) and even Mel Gibson – this could have been a riot.  Yet due to that intentional grindhouse style, its all done badly; the acting is only passable (although Gibson is great) and the effects, stunts and even the gore are amateurish (with a surprising lack of nudity).  Yeah I get it, it’s all part of the joke … but does detract from some of the movie’s bigger moments. 

One to watch with beer, friends and your brain on auto-pilot.  Is it wrong I actually want to see ‘Machete Kills again – in space’ ??

Verdict:  3 /5

Non-Stop


Viewed – 05 July 2014 Pay-per-view

Liam Neeson has become quite the go-to guy for action thriller’s of late, following his superb turn in ‘Taken’.  We won’t mention the sequel… So I generally find sitting down to his latest hard-as-nails agent in a difficult situation thriller an easy prospect.  He plays a U.S. Air Marshall boarding a plane as the hired security.  All seems well until he receives a text from a fellow passenger saying someone on the plane will be killed every twenty minutes, unless $150 million is transferred into an account.

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A good concept and a claustrophobic setting make for a very interesting twist on the usual terrorist plot-device.  Neeson is great as always, and the fact the terrorist makes Neeson look like he’s the guy hi-jacking the plane adds bags of tension.  Along the way various suspects turn up for who the texter may be and you’ll surely have your theories, which makes for fun guess-who shenanigans as Neeson tries every trick in the book to unmasks his tormentor.  Julianne Moore plays a passenger Neeson befriends but adds little considering her name, and much of the supporting cast, the pilot, various passengers etc just make up the numbers.  So have no doubt this is Neeson’s gig all the way.

Towards the end the final unmasking felt a little ‘er.. what?’ with the motives somewhat confusing, but throughout there was enough tension and red herrings thrown about to keep this viewer gripped.  Neeson may still be trying to reclaim the brilliance of Taken, and this still falls short, but overall I came away suitably entertained.

Verdict:  3 /5