Nightcrawler


Viewed – 06 November 2014  Cinema

Two things sold me on seeing this … the excellent trailer and actor Jake Gyllenhaal, one of my favourites.  Now in recent years he’s slipped into the mainstream with roles like Prince of Persia and Source Code, but his routes are in unusual indie flicks like Donnie Darko.  This suits that heritage well and has him playing Louis, a somewhat unhinged loner, seeking out employment but not having much luck until he stumbles upon a highway car accident.  There he witnesses a group of freelance guys (headed by Bill Paxton) who rush to crime scenes or accidents in the hope of catching something on video.  They then sell it to the news network that will pay the most.  A potentially lucrative career opportunity Louis believes and is soon buying a video camera  in hope of making a name for himself.

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A clever and interesting concept with a brilliant turn by Gyllenhaal, who plays Louis with creepiness and menace beneath a brittle facade of friendly and charismatic.  I enjoyed watching him go to extreme lengths to get the sort of footage his rivals wouldn’t dare, and the slow burning uncertainty of what might happen next kept me glued.  Paxton is decent but a bit under-used but good to see this 80s / 90s veteran still turning up in things.  Better is Rene Russo playing the perfect sultry older-woman.  The movie has a strong similarity to Robert DeNiro classic Taxi Driver even if Louis isn’t as appealing as Travis Bickle – but the mood and the isolation from normal society is the same.  It also has a killer car-chase towards the end which took my breath away.

The plot does take a bit of time to hit it’s stride, and that ending was anti-climactic, and well, the whole show could have been even darker.  For fans of Gyllenhaal however, and if you’re after something a bit different – you can’t go wrong with this.

Verdict:  4 /5

Edge of Tomorrow


Viewed – 21 October 2014  Blu-ray

There’s something about Tom Cruise’s latest foray into blockbuster territory that feels like it’s late to the party.  Mech-suits – didn’t Avatar or Elysium do this already?  And don’t get me started on the Groundhog Day plot.  But I digress.  This has Cruise as a Major in the army who reports on the war against an alien race that has invaded earth.  On a routine visit to report on the latest onslaught, he suddenly gets shoehorned into battle against his will.  Only thing is once on the battlefield and seriously outnumbered by the enemy, Cruise (or Cage as his character is named) discovers that getting killed is only the start of the longest day of his life.  Along the way he meets up with war hero Emily Blunt who may just know why he’s repeating his day over and over again.

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Cruise is decent in not a particularly demanding role…he gets to shoot aliens a lot and look sort of awkward in his mechanised suit, but surrounded by a group of clichéd ‘grunts’ he stands out (despite an entertaining Bill Paxton).  Better is Blunt, one of the more interesting and has to be said bad-ass of the current female acting crop and her presence means this movie had echoes of Looper what with it’s time-paradox storyline.  It’s not as clever as that movie though and lacks any real depth to the characters or especially the aliens who just look like throwbacks to The Matrix’s sentinels.  More interesting is the repeating day plot-device which director Doug Liman plays with wonderfully and at times the getting-it-wrong moments are quite funny (Cruise daringly rolls under a passing tuck … with a resulting splat). 

I would have liked more of a love story-angle to Cruise & Blunt’s partnership (it’s certainly hinted at) and maybe some more detail on the aliens … and just why the day is repeating all the time left me saying … er, what was that again?   However, the movie makes up for such shortcomings with several superb action sequences (the beach stuff is like a futuristic Saving Private Ryan) and on a decent set up, with a big screen and surround sound…this packed a punch.  Just a shame it’s fairly basic characterisation and copy-cat ideas prevent it from being a classic.

Verdict:  3.5 / 5

2 Guns


Viewed – 14 January 2014  Blu-ray

The trailer to this movie pretty much sums up the whole experience.  Mark Wahlberg & Denzel Washington, plenty of arguing, one-liners, attitude and lots of shooting .. no bad thing I hear you say and for the most part it isn’t.  This is a fun romp, with double-crosses a plenty and a nippy script that doesn’t worry to much about a cohesive narrative or characters with much depth.

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Apparently based on a comic book series by Steven Grant, we also get Bill Paxton turning up as a sneering bank owner who’s feathers are ruffled after Wahlberg & Washington steal $42 million from it, unaware that its all mob money.  As the trailer revealed, the two leads are actually under cover agents, even if at first they don’t realise the other is … which is an interesting spin and Wahlberg & Washington give it their all.  Denzel of course could do this sort of role in his sleep but is still very watchable, and the increasingly enjoyable Mark Wahlberg manages to make an arrogant womaniser just as likable.  Token babe Paula Patton is on hand to be the eye candy, basically to give the guys something to look at amongst the ample-dose of machismo.

So what we have here is a stylish and energetic caper, making for a light, fun ride with a likable cast … but sadly little else to shout about.

Verdict:  3 /5

Apollo 13


Viewed – 04 May 2010  Blu-ray

15th Anniversary Edition

During a career high for Tom Hanks in the nineties where he scored big with Forrest Gump, Philadelphia and Saving Private Ryan, this was another one of those big name movies that garnered plenty of attention.  Telling the true story of the troubled Apollo 13 moon expedition, following in the footsteps of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Hanks plays Jim Lovell, heading a band of three astronauts as they journey into space.  Along for the ride is Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton, and with acclaimed director Ron Howard at the helm, this was a recipe made in heaven.

Although on paper this should be boring, the movie allows what is primarily a two setting show between the space capsule & mission control in Houston, to still be utterly gripping, as the astronauts attempt to rectify an accident that threatens the whole mission, whilst the experts on earth attempt to figure out how to get their boys home.  With stunning attention to detail (the zero gravity is a joy to behold) and solid performances, especially from Hanks who carries the movie and gives a very human, likable performance, and Ed Harris as Mission Control’s chief who commands every line he’s given with convincing authority.  Paxton and Bacon fair a little worse, given little to do but point fingers at each other and squabble, and the scenes involving the families whilst believable are not that fully fleshed out – with only Hanks’ family getting much screen time. 

Ron Howard’s direction has always felt like Spielberg in my opinion, with a similar love of family values, big special effects and americana – but this remains one of his best efforts to date.  The authentic sets (and some incredible work from Digital Domain), makes this a crowd pleasing experience, even if at times it drags, and the ending is never in question, taking away some of the tension.   Yet the story is still something that needed to be told and should leave you humbled by just how much risk mankind will take to reach new horizons.

The Blu-ray is packed with features, with archive footage of the Apollo 13 mission, picture-in-picture historical and technical information, an invaluable commentary from Ron Howard aswell as another from astronaut Jim Lovell and his wife, and plenty of behind the scenes stuff.  The picture is eye-catching but suffers a little from what looks like ringing or edge enhancement, and the colours seem a little overblown.  But overall the detail is high and sound-wise this packs a punch with the launch especially shaking the room. 

Verdict:  4 /5

Aliens


Viewed – 30 July 2008  DVD

Special edition

Having not watched this movie in a long while, and actually not having seen the extended special edition at all; with the recent purchase of the Alien Quadrilogy box set, I thought I’d give it a look.

James (Terminator 2, Titanic, True Lies) Cameron’s 1986 sci-fi action movie is the follow up to Ridley Scott’s seminal Alien, and turns a slow-burning horror movie into a gung-ho marines in space testosterone-fest.  Sigourney Weaver’s iconic heroin Ellen Ripley wakes up 57 years after the first film, only to discover that a colony of settlers on the same planet that the alien was discovered originally, have ceased communication.  Knowing that something may have gone horribly wrong, she leads a band of tough, cocky Marines on a search and rescue mission, only to come face to face with a  nest of the deadly, vicious xenomorphs – and a battle for survival commences.

What makes this such a memorable movie is a great cast, with Weaver joined by Cameron regulars Michael Biehn & Bill Paxton, as well as a stand-out Lance Henrickson as android ‘Bishop’.  Now compared to much sci-fi or any action movie of the time, this is all played VERY seriously, with a gruelling 2hr 35 minute run time, but the story and the atmosphere is solid stuff and I personally never got bored.  Ok, it takes a while for the action to kick in, but by this time we’re already hooked by the characters and their situation, and the pyrotechnics are just the icing on the cake.  This extended version adds some back story to little girl ‘Newt’ and some references to Ripley’s daughter, but don’t really make for a radically different film so if you’ve only seen the theatrical cut…you’re still seeing the best this movie has to offer – and the ending is stuff of cinematic legend.

Verdict: 4 /5