Cold Pursuit


Viewed – 03 September 2019. Online rental

This Liam Neeson thriller has gotten swept under the rug it following the actor’s controversial remarks during an American TV interview earlier in the year, which has since relegated this to stumble-upon VOD fodder. Here, Neeson plays a snowplow driver at a ski resort who’s son is murdered in mysterious circumstances.. A simple set up then has Neeson tracking down those responsible. At the same time a war breaks out between rival drug dealers that Neeson uses to his advantage.

Now I thought after a glut of copycat Liam Neeson thrillers that just seemed like weak attempts to cash in on tne success of Taken … a satire of his usual formula was on the cards. However despite such a promise in the trailer, what we actually get is Neeson playing it entirely straight in a movie that tries and mostly fails to a achieve that clever Coens-esque vibe that blends the serious with the comedic (think especially Fargo). Some support characters add flavour, including a rookie cop out to prove herself and a young boy Neeson befriends who’s father just happens to be the main villain. I also enjoyed the villain’s maniacal performance, and the drug gang rivalry stuff was entertaining as they slowly picked each other off. Also on a purely technical basis, the wintery setting and some of the sequences were at least visually arresting.

Yet with a limp story, a cliched lead performance and plot threads that go nowhere – what actually had the son done to get himself killed? Oh and Laura Dern is in this as Neeson’s wife who following their son’s murder, just stops talking and eventually leaves – that’s how this movie explores grief. Yeah, this was a bit of a strange one and I’m afraid, not a movie I can easily recommend.

Verdict: 2.5 /5

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Ralph Breaks the Internet


Viewed – 31 August 2019. DVD

I remember enjoying the first movie. Wreck It Ralph was a great idea, borrowing it must be said, from Pixar’s Monsters Inc yet not quite reaching the potential of its rather brilliant concept. However it delivered first-rate turns from John C Reilly as Donkey Kong inspired video game villain ‘Ralph’ and Sarah Silverman as cute kart racer girl ‘Venelope’. So yeah, I was keen to see what (mis)adventured this likeable duo would get up to next. This brings forth the arrival of wi-fi connectivity to the little arcade that’s home to Ralph, Venelope amongst others (including Pacman, various Street Fighter characters and several more recognisable faces), and after an over-zealous gamer breaks Venelope’s arcade machine steering wheel, a quest to get a new one (from eBay no doubt) is undertaken, with the world wide web ripe for exploration.

I found this built perfectly on the foundations set up in the first movie and delivered exactly what a sequel should … bigger and better. The animation is top-notch and I’ll go as far as to say its sone of the most lush, imaginative and personality-filled CGI I’ve ever witnessed. With the looming shadow of Pixar’s Toy Story 4, any hype for this seemed to get brushed under that carpet at time of release, which is a travesty as in many ways this is the superior movie. Ralph & Venelope are a great double-act and although the story is mostly focused on the plucky racer-girl’s journey of self discovery, Ralph still gets many of the best gags and a brilliant final act (hint…one Ralph is never enough!). The clever mickey-takes and references of the internet and especially of Disney themselves are also well-observed and often laugh out loud funny. The Disney Princesses scene is pure gold.

However the story isn’t exactly all that on paper, but its exploration of a developing friendship is poignantly observed none the less. Yet Disney’s obsession with forcing feminist propaganda into every movie these days raises its head again in the closing moments, but it’s at least more subtle than Avengers: Endgame. Tiny gripes aside though, this was great fun and one of the best animated movies of the year.

Verdict: 4 /5

Us


Viewed – 20 August 2019. Online rental

Director Jordan Peele has made quite a name for himself after the Oscar winning racial-tension thriller Get Out. He’s certainly a bold new voice in a largely stale genre filled with sequels and remakes. In this, his second effort, a woman along with her husband and kids head to a beach community for a holiday, where when she was a child a bizarre incident happened that has haunted her all her life. However after meeting up with some friends, as night draws in a weird group of strangers turn up outside the house who look exactly like them.

Initially I thought this was very much like a copy of The Strangers mixed with Funny Games., but as it progressed it became so much more. Firstly, Peele’s direction is slick, visually interesting and coats the movie in a thick unnerving atmosphere. Moments of humour only slightly eleveate the tension but work well to create a surprisingly relatable tone with characters I quickly grew to care about. One joke involving an Alexa-like device was just brilliant. Performances, especially considering the cast are mostly playing two parts are decent with a special mention going to Lupita Nyong’o who delivers a very layered duel-performance that’s at times quite chilling..

The overall concept is clever on paper, but as the movie drew to a close I felt it got a bit confused, causing an avalanche of questions in my head that begged me to re-evaluate what I had been watching. That can be great but in reflection, I’m not sure if it entirely works. However for such a visually captivating, well acted and often thrilling experience this remains one of the most purely entertaining horrors I’ve seen in a while.

Verdict: 4 /5

Police Story 2


Viewed – 16 August 2019. Blu-ray

I don’t think you can really go wrong with a Jackie Chan movie. Over several decades the kung fu star has perfected his brand of slapstick action-comedy which is showcased well in the long running Police Story series. This 1987 sequel to the now legendary original picks up shortly after the events of that movie and has Chan relegated to traffic duty. However the mobster from the last movie is out of prison on compassionate grounds following a terminal illness diagnosis and goes about harassing Chan and his girlfriend May (the lovely Maggie Cheung). Yet when a bomb scare at a shopping centre brings about a new threat to the city, Chan’s superiors call on him to help out again.

This movie isn’t quite as talked about as the original and it’s fairly clear to see why. It once again gets bogged down in investigative police procedure, mixed with Chan’s often quaint style of comedy which I’ll admit did bring a few chuckles. However this occasionally feels even more long-winded, with the subplot of the mobster seeking revenge needing to be significantly trimmed. Thankfully then when the action comes it’s still superb, lightening-fast, expertly choreographed and amazing to witness – if a bit low key compared to the last movie. Yet the playground fight especially is a stand out. The climax also boasts some impressive stunt work and a great, if brief fight against Hapkido expert Benny Lai.

Chan’s direction overall is slick. The camerawork, especially for its time is stylish and well, he totally understands how to present action in a way Hollywood failed to grasp for years. Just a shame a wafer-thin plot and too much padding stops this just short of another Chan classic.

The recent Blu-ray from Eureka Classics has a decent if slightly soft image quality, but the soundtrack is at least delivered in several options including a dubbed, subtitled mono and and all new subtitled 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio. The movie also gets three cuts, the UK video version, the shorter and I’m guessing better-paced Hong Kong version as well as the full, uncut version I watched. I’d be interested in checking out these other versions I must admit. Extras consist of trailers, an episode of the ‘Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show’ hosted by Jonathan Ross, outtakes, an interview with Benny Lai as well as a commentary by stuntmen Miles Wood and Jude Poyer. The Blu-ray, as part of a deluxe set that also includes Police Story 1, also comes with a detailed booklet. Very impressive treatment overall for a still fun entry in Jackie Chan’s career thats worth checking out.

Verdict:

(the movie). 3 /5

(the Blu-ray). 5 /5

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood


Viewed – 14 August 2019. Cinema

Quentin Tarantino is for the most part probably my favourite director and has had very few missteps in a career that’s spanned over twenty years and so far 9 movies (if you count Kill Bill 1&2 as one movie). So it was with some degree of excitement I sat down to see his latest. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Rick Dalton, a washed up Western actor reaching the end of his career and along with best friend and stunt-double Cliff (Brad Pitt), they attempt to continue working in an ever changing industry. Meanwhile, a religious cult threaten to shatter the glitz and glamour and bring the Hollywood dream and sixties with it, to an abrupt and bloody end.

With knowledge of the real life murders and that of Charles Manson’s cult I thought this was perfect material to get the Tarantino treatment. Imagine my surprise then to discover that that aspect barely fills up even a quarter of this long, drawn out movie’s 160 minute run time. Which would be excusable if what we get otherwise pulled me in at all. Here, Tarantino is at his most self-indulgent and selfishly nostalgic, revelling in a Hollywood I’m guessing many of us won’t even recognise, name dropping tv actors I’d never heard of and even doing a deserving to those I had (Bruce Lee is pretty much relegated to gag-fodder). Margot Robbie turns in an appealing, sexy but otherwise redundant performance as Sharon Tate, wife of director Roman Polanski and the most famous victim of the Manson Family murders. Even the dialogue lacks the usual flow and zip of a Tarantino script, that whilst natural sounding, in a movie that basically has little to no actual plot, it really needed to shine. Also, if your idea of entertainment is to watch Margot Robbie for longer than necessary watching herself in a movie theatre, or countless women show off their bare feet, Brad Pitt drive (and drive) around Los Angeles or feed his dog, and DiCaprio cough a lot … then more power to you. The ending will also divide audiences for sure yet I suppose I get what Tarantino was going for … even if it kind of pissed me off.

So, Tarantino’s apparent ‘love letter’ to late sixties Hollywood somehow does the unfathomable and makes the behind-the-scenes lifestyle of the movies actually look boring, Pitt & DiCaprio are fine, but even they look like they’re only here to do a friend a favour and collect a pay cheque. It’s real redeeming feature then is often impressive camera work, because shock – even the soundtrack gets a bit annoying. Definitely the director’s weakest effort since Death Proof – and at least that was more fun. Disappointing.

Verdict: 2 /5