RED 2 / 2 Guns

120px-Film-stripOne sequel, one film with a “2” in the name that isn’t, and a very sore tummy from eating a landfill-engulfing quantity of jalapeños for dinner.

RED 2

“What happens in the Kremlin stays in the Kremlin!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: the good guys from the first film are targeted by the nastiest hired killers on the planet because they apparently have some information that they don’t

See it if you like: spy thrillers with a nice edge of humour

You may recall such recent reviews as Kick-Ass 2 and Despicable Me 2. Well, RED 2 can join the list of sequels which don’t try to be the first film all over again, and which are better for it.

Whereas the original RED had some exceptionally comic book-esque scenes (the sequence in the shipping yard being the prime example), these are generally lacking in this sequel which goes more for chop-socky fast-paced combat and over-the-top scenes with guns instead. The good thing is that it doesn’t suffer as a result.

All of the central original cast are there, and this time joined by some other big names. Anthony Hopkins turns up at one point, but I can’t go into detail as it may be spoiler-some. Suffice to say he’s brilliant and shows an impressive range with a very entertaining character.

Also appearing is one of my favourite unsung actors, Neal McDonough. Since seeing him in Boomtown (a superb series which should never have been cancelled), I’d always looked forward to seeing him in things and he is spot on in this. He plays a very determined, no holds barred, whatever it takes to get what he wants operative.

Add to this Catherine Zeta-Jones who has more slap on than three women working at the Boots make-up counter, David Thewlis as a hard-to-catch seller of secrets and Byung-hun Lee as the world’s most dangerous contract killer and you have a very good cast indeed.

The story is also good, and the dialogue fizzes. In particular, and as in the first film, Willis and Malkovich play incredibly well off each other.

There’s everything a decent spy story needs. Guns, women, explosions, tension, backstabbing, cars, guns, more explosions, poison gas, things blowing up… All with a decent number of laughs thrown in.

Yup, this one’s good.

2 Guns

“Are we people?”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Uncovered undercover DEA agent his patsy find themselves hunted for stealing the wrong person’s money

See it if you like: gun-thirsty action thrillers which still make you think

Second up was this nice twist on the buddy story starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. Without giving too much away (no more than the trailer does, anyway), the two are drug-running and robbing places left, right and centre… but unknown to Stigman (Wahlberg), Washington’s character Bobby is an undercover DEA agent.

Thing is, despite this little fact coming to life at an inopportune time, the two end up thrown together in a bid to keep themselves alive and get revenge on various parties who’ve wronged them.

It’s pretty violent, but like RED 2, has some very humorous moments. The dialogue and chemistry between the two leads is great to watch with some fast-paced verbal jousting that’s either the result of a lot of rehearsal or a natural link. Either way, it makes many scenes very entertaining indeed.

Importantly, the story is good as well although it’s a little bit easy to guess who the overall bad guy is. This doesn’t steal any of the story’s thunder, though, and it rides well until a suitably chaotic and blood-soaked finalé.

 

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Thor

Just the one film and an early weekend one at that. It’s been previewing since Monday and we opted for the cornea-friendly 2D version of…

Thor

“Did it work?”

See it if you like: superhero films with more pathos and romance than humour and action. Think Hulk rather than Iron Man.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Origin story of a Norse god who becomes a mortal on earth in the modern day, and set-up for a team-up movie due next year.

I’ll generally go to see any superhero film that comes out and the majority these days seem to come from Marvel Comics. DC seem to have stuck with churning out more Batman ones, and failing to release new Superman episodes. Marvel, on the other hand, seems content to churn out as many films as it can based on every major character it holds, regardless of quality. Sometimes hit, sometimes miss.

Thor, for me, fell into the latter category. Despite a reasonable cast, it just seemed like a big, gaudy mess. Chris Hemsworth is excellent in the role of Thor himself (but since when did he have a beard? The guy from the comics I remember was clean-shaven) and Anthony Hopkins is fine as Odin. Brian Blessed was apparently considered and I’m glad they didn’t go with him otherwise the whole thing would have looked even more like Flash Gordon.

Natalie Portman seems to be popping up in a lot recently and performs passably as some scientist whose name I can’t be bothered to look up who goes all doey-eyed at Mr Muscles.

The biggest surprise was seeing Shakespearian legend Kenneth Branagh attached as director. Given the kind of story the films tells, it’s perhaps not a bad choice. It is operatic and dramatic, so it does suit him. However, I just found the whole thing completely overblown in its use of effects.

The halls of Asgard look like an overgrown church organ and the Rainbow Bridge seems to have been made by gluing together several million “Ziggy” handsets from early episodes of Quantum Leap.

If there’s a highlight it’s the Destroyer – a genuinely scary and fearsome-looking opponent with a rather spine-chilling sound every time it’s about to shoot fire. Having said that, the battle sequence it features in is just kind of “OK”. Having said that, its appearance on earth leads to possibly the best line in the film.

In response to the quote heading this review, uttered by the wonderful Stan Lee in his expected cameo, I have to say “Sorry, fella. No. It didn’t.”

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I Am Number Four / The Rite

A very late night on Friday to fit both of these in. A good job the latter was so bloody boring I managed to rest my eyes during a lot of it.

I Am Number Four

“A place is only as good as the people you know in it.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Weird kid with secret tries to fit in with outcast kids at school while being chased by aliens. As you do.

I didn’t realise until I walked past Waterstone’s today that this film is based on a book by one Pittacus Lore (actually a pseudonym for two people: Jobie Hughes and James Frey). What’s scary is that the book didn’t come 0ut until last August, and the option to it was bought a year prior. This means that Warner Bros were sinking a huge sum of cash into, and filming, a movie based on a book that hadn’t even been published. Wow.

The trailers and spiel made it out to be along the lines of the passable Push and the not-all-that-bad Jumper. It is in that it’s about a kid with abilities who’s being chased by forces unknown. It’s much better than both of them, though.

Imagine a mix of the above with the grouping together of characters which made the likes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer so good. It doesn’t start particularly well, with the acting seeming somewhat shonky but that improves as things go on. It was pleasing to see that the backstory was dealt with very quickly so that we could concentrate on what’s happening to our main character (John, played by Alex Pettyfer) and his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant).

Basically, he and a few other children are the last to escape a planet which is destroyed by the marauding Mogadorians. Once they come of age, they will develop powers which will help them defeat the evil nasties (who remind me of the black-clad aliens from Critters, if memory serves). Simple enough plot and one that focuses on John being unable to settle, constantly being on the move and starting to come of age – rebelling against Henri and trying to do his own thing despite the risks. Ideal teen fodder.

Thing is, it all works very well. Far better than the trailer would have you believe. The effects are excellent, the monsters scary, the bad guys evil and the violence pretty graphic for a 12A. OK, so it’s a little predictable in places (how obvious could the torn shirt cloth plot device have been made?), but it does keep throwing new things into the mix which you simply aren’t expecting.

The final battle scene, complete with ducking into doorways and firing huge laser guns around, is nothing short of a great homage to the original Star Wars in my eyes.

Really rather good. Hopefully, unlike with the excellent Vampire’s Assistant, it’ll rake in enough to warrant a sequel or two. Good stuff.

The Rite

“ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A priest is railroaded into becoming an exorcist and sends the male half of the audience to sleep.

Even the usually-excellent Anthony Hopkins couldn’t save this turkey. It’s as linear as a set of railroad tracks, has no twists or turns and the only good bit is at the end when you know you can go home.

Gill seemed to think that women would prefer it and the comments I overheard as we left would perhaps bear this out. Female voices made attempts to find good things in it while several men branded it variously as “*****”, “pish” and “******* awful”.

While it does have a story, it just doesn’t have a good one. It isn’t a horror. Nor is it something that would tear the Catholic church apart in a fit of conspiracy theories. It’s not a thriller and there’s no mystery to it. It’s most definitely not a comedy.

It starts well enough, with Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) deciding to become a priest. Given the alternative is to take over at his father’s mortuary, this isn’t perhaps understandable. He aces all his exams except theology, which he flops as he has no faith. In a bid to get him to believe (or something), he’s packed off to Rome to study to become an exorcist.

Here, it could have got interesting. Perhaps he could have battled with his faith and the church, argued intelligently with great minds over the existence and non-existence of Satan. But, no. They palm him off on some old guy who’s casting demons out and… well… I fell asleep. Even Gill, who stayed awake, admitted that nothing happened. She just enjoyed the journey to nowhere that I snored through.

I recently had a comment on the Facebook rendering of this blog asking if I ever saw films I didn’t like. Well, it doesn’t happen that often, but I guess that comment tempted fate.

This was ****.

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The Wolfman

Plot-in-a-nutshell: It’s a werewolf film. What more do you need? Look at the flipping title!

The Wolfman is how you do a remake of a classic horror. Lon Chaney Jr would be proud as the traditional old tale has been given a modern-day budget, but thankfully is still set in Olde Englande.

Benicio del Toro plays a young (ish – he’s starting to get a bit wrinkly) man, summoned back to England from America when his brother’s body is found dead in a ditch. Rumours abound that the killing was done by a wild beast, the third in recent months. Blame falls partly on a group of gypsies (it’s not politically incorrect if it’s the 19th century) and then on the Talbot family.

The film has all you need for a romp of that era: pitchfork wielding locals, a screaming priest, a policeman from London town (Hugo Weaving – superb) who doesn’t fit in with the country folk… I also have to mention Anthony Hopkins just because he’s fantastic.

Oh, and great effects. American Werewolf in London can still hold its head high for the makeup and animatronics they used, but The Wolfman is the modern equivalent. The transformations are seemless and bloody, suitably horrific.

Some of the images that stick in the mind really hark back to the old Universal films, such as the werewolf clad in torn period clothing. A real homage without being a simple remake.

There’s a good mixture of tense, jumpy moments with outright hack and slash horror, too. It’s a fairly simple story, well told and fitting its running length perfectly.

If you like a “proper” horror movie, then this is definitely recommended.

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