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Viewed – 09 April 2019. Online rental

This came as a surprise. An interesting sounding thriller that has a married couple getting mugged in the wrong neighbourhood that leaves central protagonist ‘Gray’ paralysed and his wife dead. However a billionaire inventor later approaches Gray to offer him a breakthrough microchip that will not only cure him – but also upgrade him.

Set in a not-so-distant future with self driving cars, a.i assistants and drone robots, this tight and energetic movie was like a cross between Ghost in the Shell, RoboCop and Videodrome with heavy influence of body-horror auteur David Cronenberg. Director Leigh Whannell has put together a well narratively-clever genre flick that’s at times very violent and full of action. The relationship between Gray and a disembodied voice named ‘Stem’ coming from his microchip proves the most entertaining aspect and how this new power is used to aid him in an investigation into his wife’s killers is particularly compelling. Add to this some great fight scenes and even if at times the ‘walking like a robot’ aspect looks rather silly, I still found myself invested.

It may lack any recognisable names and it’s all done it seems on a tight budget … but Whannell achieves a lot with very little and that always goes down well with me. Recommended.

Verdict: 4 /5

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Velvet Buzzsaw


Viewed – 26 February 2019  Netflix

I think it can be agreed now that Netflix has become a force to be retconned with and now attracts Hollywood A-list talent to front it’s growing catalogue of original content.  So we come to this rather strange horror thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Toni Collette.  Gyllenhaal plays an art critic who works with various art galleries to put on exhibits.  However he is craving the latest big thing and after a mysterious elderly man dies, an undiscovered collection of weird paintings falls into his lap.  However something is very wrong with these paintings, and the gallery owners, employees and critics are about to discover exactly what.

UNTITLED DAN GILROY FILM

This was a strange one.  Firstly Gyllenhaal is probably my favourite actor, and here he’s playing a rather camp, self-absorbed bi-sexual character who at times comes off like two separate people (when he’s in critic mode, he’s effeminate and flamboyant, otherwise he’s quite serious and masculine). However like many of Gyllenhaal’s characters – he makes it work.  Russo is the rather bitchy gallery owner and not exactly a stretch from the last movie I saw her in, Nightcrawler, of which this is the same director.  Collette is nothing special and an appearance from John Malcovich is forgettable also.  Zawe Ashton as an ambitious gallery employee however, is just awful with robot-like line delivery making me think she was doped up on medication.  However the core idea of cursed artwork and the mystery of the deceased painter is intriguing, just a shame it goes nowhere in favour of a series of (admittedly imaginative) deaths. 

It may feel a bit lightweight and suffers from a TV movie-vibe but with quirky performances and a strong central idea I did have fun with this … but it’s far from essential viewing.  That title has little reference to the movie either. 

Verdict:  3 /5

The Equalizer 2


Viewed – 19 February 2019. online rental

I can’t help but see this sequel and the last movie as Denzel Washington’s answer to Liam Neeson’s Taken, and less as an update of a cult 80’s TV show of the same name. Here Denzel returns as ex-marine-turned-vigilante Robert McCall, who is again on the look out for the next hard luck case and an excuse to crack some skulls. However after a double murder in Belgium attracts the interest of a CIA friend, it’s soon a race to find out what went on whilst the bad guys attempt to cover things up.

Equalizer 2

The movie’s story however largely prefers to focus on said cover up more than giving some compelling answers. This hampers enjoyment which is a shame as Denzel busting bad guy ass never gets old even if his penchant for violence seems over the top at times. Antione Fuqua‘s direction is still slick as is often the case with this guy (he made Training Day). Yet with a cliched villain I guessed early on and a glaring moment of bad guy stupidity towards the end, this sequel was overall only so so.

If you enjoyed the first movie, this has moments of entertainment and has a rather interesting subplot regarding a neighbourhood kid … but that’s not enough to make this a must-see.

Verdict: 2 /5

Alita: Battle Angel


Viewed – 07 January 2019  Cinema

Director James Cameron (Titanic, Terminator 2) had been hoping to helm this adaptation of the popular Japanese manga.  However, his attention these days is focused on the Avatar sequels, and so with a large degree of supervision he passed his passion project onto Robert Rodriguez, a risky move in my opinion as the once celebrated genre film maker hasn’t had a major hit in a while, with Sin City probably being his last movie to make any sort of rumbles. 

Alita

Set in the distant future, this has Christoph Waltz’s cybernetic limb doctor stumble upon the remains of a robotic girl, and goes about bringing her back to life, only to discover she has incredible fighting abilities.  ‘Alita’ you see, has clouded memories of a past that is linked to the hovering city of Zalem, ruled over by omnipresent ruler ‘Nova’.  What was she before?  What do her memories hold secret, and why are thugs seemingly hellbent on capturing her?

Visually stunning and with state of the art technology, this is a fun adventure with a breakout performance by Rosa Salazar as Alita (underneath Avatar-style CGI).  Along with a great Guipetto-like turn from Waltz who always lends presence to each movie he appears in and a story that cracks along at a good pace, I found myself having a great time with this.  Occasionally the CGI over-load reveals some shortcomings with one such scene looking like the actors are not part of the scenery (the rooftop scene), but in many other aspects it’s jaw-dropping (Alita herself bug-eyes and all, and those mutant bad guys).  The movie also falters at being clearly the beginning of a much larger story, with too many questions left unanswered.  Also the love story sub-plot is a tad cheesy, and less said about Jennifer Connelly’s performance the better. 

Yet with solid world-building and some bad-ass action (the bar fight, the motor-ball sequence), not only has Rodriguez found his groove … but Cameron can also be proud to finally realise such a vision.  Roll on part 2!

Verdict:  3.5 /5

The Mule


Viewed – 30 January 2019

The last time I watched legendary actor Clint Eastwood would probably be Gran Torino, a movie which has become one of my favourites.  So sitting down to this was with some anticipation and well, would such an actor put himself back in front of the camera again (considering he’s also a respected director) for anything less that something worthwhile?  Let’s see.

The Mule

Eastwood plays Earl, an elderly man who has spent much of his life missing out on important events with his family in favour of growing his horticulture business.  Yet when he falls on hard times and age seems to be finally taking it’s toll, he attempts to reconnect with his loved ones.  However when attending his granddaughter’s engagement party he is approached by a guy offering him the chance to make some money.  All he has to do is drive – something Earl is very experienced in.

This gently observed and absorbing story is anchored by a wonderfully nuanced performance from Eastwood who turns a self-centred, world-weary character into a loveable, charming man who’s adept at turning even the riskiest situation to his favour.  The way he gets in the good books of ruthless Mexican drug dealers, who go from threatening him to befriending him is just a joy to watch.  Add to this the growing relationship he builds with his estranged family, and I was totally invested in what was going on.  Bradley Cooper is on board as a dedicated DEA agent and Diane Weist (remember her?) plays Eastwood’s ex wife.

One character development later in the movie is a touch cliched and some ideas feel a bit out of place despite the humour intended (Eastwood and some hookers?), yet the story expertly juggles an increasingly deadly scenario with emotional and heart-felt family drama that really got in the feels.  A must watch.

Verdict:  5 /5