Black Water (2018)

Apparently the fifth collaboration between the mighty Dolph Lundgren and the muscles from Brussels…kinda. K I’ll be honest with you here, don’t expect too much with this OK.

The Plot: Holy shit there is some double cross in this picture, I’m still not really sure what the goal was here but lets go. Scott Wheeler (JCVD) is a deep cover agent who trying to identify a leak within the CIA with his female partner. His partner has a USB drive which contains an algorithm to activate secret agents (what?) whilst Wheeler has the activation key. Naturally Wheeler’s partner is killed resulting in him being captured under suspicion of going rogue. Wheeler awakens on-board a CIA blacksite located on a submarine. On-board are various CIA agents, some are genuine and of course some are not. What follows is a convoluted mess as Wheeler and some remaining goodie agents try to escape the sub with the drive.

Again I honesty had no real clue what the hell was happening whilst watching this because it is a real mess. The plot is all over the show and never really makes much sense. I still don’t really get what this USB drive could actually do. Activate secret agents? How do you mean? Reveal their locations? Are they under some sort of mental control? I’m not even sure how activating these agents would be of any use, unless they’re super agents or something. In the end it doesn’t really matter because the drive and its purpose are more of a mcguffin than anything. Its just an object for the various jacked-up agents to fight over.

Oh yeah, speaking of being jacked-up (rather muscular), literally everyone in this movie is jacked-up. Every single agent looks like they’ve been on a four course meal of steroids for the last six months. Oh and most have cropped hair with tattoo sleeves and long beards, because having a long beard is the thing now apparently. I believe its what you call being a hipster? Only with big muscles.

Anyway the entire movie is set inside this submarine which of course isn’t really a submarine but a very very bad selection of sets. Now when I say bad I mean bad. They generally consist of grey painted corridors and rooms with some control panels and every shot being lit in either red or green (because all subs are lit with red and green bulbs you see). Everything is dark of course to hide the bad sets where ever possible, hence the red and green lighting. Every now and then we might get a shot which seems to have been filmed on location, most probably inside a naval ship of some kind, but these are sparse.

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All the action is pretty terrible. All the shoots outs are laughable because everyone misses the good guys every time, often at point blank range. If any good guy does get shot its usually in the shoulder, unless they’re expendable. I also had to ask myself, surely with all these shoot outs the sub would be in danger of getting damaged badly, maybe springing a leak perhaps. Nah, they just keep blasting at each other and hitting the walls or pipes or whatever, no worries. In between any gun fights Van Damme of course manages to kick some bad guys in the face at close quarters. I say close quarters but in reality these sets are nice and wide so Van Damme is able to perform his usual repertoire of kickassery, because realism.

Oh Christ I nearly forgot about old Dolph. Well clearly the director nearly forgot about old Dolph too because he’s hardly in this. He obviously gets top billing on the poster alongside Van Damme to obviously attract the hardcore fans; but its pretty blatant false advertising on said poster (a poster which sees Van Damme blatantly de-aged). Dolph plays another prisoner on-board the sub who is eventually released by Wheeler for help. He then kicks a little butt and literally disappears for the rest of the movie. That is until the very end where we get a completely pointless final scene with him.

The acting is generally bad all round because they’ve seemingly hired body builders with no experience in acting. The main characters are a tad better but not much. Most are unknown to me but I guess the best of the bunch goes to Al Sapienza who plays one of the main CIA heads who may or may not be Wheeler’s friend (intrigued much?). But apparently they only wanted good looking sexy people to aide Van Damme’s character. Special mention to Jasmine Waltz and her plastic doll-like face and body (obvious surgery).

The poster does look good for this I can’t deny but alas its utter crap my friends. Shoddy all round, very fake looking, poor acting, poor everything! I think this has to be the first really bad straight to DVD type movie I’ve seen with both Dolph and Van Damme. I know they have made some lower budget things in the past but this really takes the cake.

2/10

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Death Wish (2018)

Did we ever need a remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson classic? (itself an adaptation of a novel). The simple story of outright vigilantism which was actually condemned in the original novel but virtually championed and celebrated in the movie adaptation. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good revenge story, heck there are many Hollywood movies featuring various action stars that centre on revenge against a specific villain or group. But a tale of urban vigilantism against common criminals? A job best left for the police. A man declaring himself judge jury and executioner? Clearly it drags up moral questions. Clearly its gonna be controversial, but surely that makes it more exciting…no?

Now this is an Eli Roth directed movie, so its pretty obvious from the start to not expect anything overly deep (not that the original was either). But that’s not to say he didn’t have a bloody good go at sticking in some relevant political commentary. Yes believe it or not this isn’t a love letter to conservative gun nuts across the American south (not too much anyway). I’m still not too sure why he felt the need to cast Bruce Willis in the lead role though. Surely there are plenty of middle aged blokes you could of cast that don’t look quite so fed up with life? No not flippin’ Liam Neeson again (good grief!), but this was a good chance to maybe go against cast with someone methinks.

The movie itself does hark back to all those adult action thrillers of the 80’s and early 90’s that would pop up outta nowhere, sometimes good sometimes bad. A basic revenge thriller with plenty of violence, blood, a menacing bunch of villains, and a man of little words anti-hero type. Of course its more grounded urban setting will cause people to reflect more upon our current society; but at the end of the day I really don’t see that as anything overly negative. No more so than many other violent action flicks I’ve seen over the course of my lifetime.

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As for the plot, whilst surgeon Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is talking about going out on a specific night, the car valet overhears and gets their home address from the cars navi system. On said night whilst Paul is working late three men break into their house. Unfortunately Paul’s wife and daughter come home and are attacked leaving his wife dead and daughter in a coma. Over time Paul becomes frustrated with the police and their slow progress so he decides to take matters into his own hands.

Political Commentary: Paul Kersey buys a gun. Kersey enters a gun store to buy a weapon after getting a minor beating from two street punks/thugs/hoodlums/underrepresented (whatever is politically correct to say these days). The interior is of course like a candy store for anyone interested in guns and killing. The employee behind the counter is a young sexy blonde with big bewbs (to draw in males like moths to a flame). When Kersey starts to talk about permits, licenses, waiting times etc…the young sexy employee merely mocks the idea of it all, casually suggesting special deals for fast access. The entire sequence is literal gun porn both visually and audibly. Deliberately over the top and in your face. Now one could say that Roth is pointing out the real need for gun control here because even though this is a farcical scene, its also dangerously close to reality? On the other hand maybe he’s mocking the perceived anti-gun notion of how pro-gun folk look and behave.

Then there are the scenes where Kersey is shown learning how to clean a gun, look after it, unload, load, and of course fire a gun…all via the internet. This obviously showcases how easy it can be for anyone to get online and learn how to use a deadly weapon, even to the point of using it proficiently. This harks back to all the You-Tube trouble recently with all kinds of videos being taken down or demonitised for showcasing gun content.

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Then there is the scene where Kersey is at his wife’s funeral with her parents. Driving back to the family home Kersey’s father-in-law pulls over and shoots at some poachers on his land. I’m guessing this is an epiphany moment for Kersey when he realises that maybe he should take matters into his own hands. Maybe he should get a gun and start to hunt for his wife’s killers himself. Of course this is wrong and he really shouldn’t be thinking (or doing) that; but on the other hand you can understand his emotions.

The inevitable montage where different people react to the ever increasing vigilante incidents in the city. The internet is alive with grim reaper (the nickname the public christen him) fever as Kersey’s hits go viral. Naturally many people in the city are somewhat pleased someone is standing up for the common people, standing up against the rotten element. On the other hand many are fearful, they don’t like a lone man handing out his own brand of justice on the streets. Will this increase violence? Will it encourage racial/targeted attacks? What are the police doing about it?

But then there are the typical Hollywoodisms that even a movie like this just can’t help but include. Kersey becomes a successful vigilante known as the grim reaper because of his all black attire and hoodie. But he wears this every time, even when he goes to a nightclub looking for the main villain. Surely a lone male dressed in all black with a hoodie, going into a club at night, might raise some suspicion (all things considered). Then the duo eventually end up having a shoot out in the bogs where the bad guy misses Kersey at near point blank range…ugh!! Then at the end of all this carnage, with all the club patrons screaming and running for their lives, Kersey strolls out still wearing his black hoodie! Because that doesn’t look highly suspicious does it…geez!

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Alas the gun action and general violence does go somewhat over the top towards the end also. The stories violent encounters start off in a suitably grounded fashion which works well for the most part. But as things progress the gun fights and violence becomes more outlandish with more moments of deus ex machina rendering the realism as defunct. Its also very clear that Roth is unable to keep his gore fetish under control as he injects this into certain scenes which just feels so misplaced (maybe he should of put more effort into Willis’ suffering character). Kersey captures one of the main villains at one point and tortures him, but not before he sticks him into this elaborate death trap ala Saw which ends up crushing his head. A sense of rightful vengeance? I guess so, but it just feels way too over the top because no one would go to those lengths, would also be quite time consuming. Most people would simply get the info and then shoot them.

So yeah, is this a controversial movie? No not really. Is this an irresponsible movie? No not really. Was the release bad timing? In America when is good timing?? Is this a bad movie? Actually no it isn’t. Is this a good movie? Well its not great but its perfectly acceptable as an action thriller that does exactly what it says on the tin. You know what you’re going for here, you know what to expect, and you get it. And in all honesty, apart from the silly gore in places, the silly Hollywoodisms, and the off casting of Willis (who does actually show some decent form here and there), this is generally engaging and OK. Yeah its a tale as old as time but no one complained when Neeson did it about five times on the trot…am I right? Course I am.

6.5/10 

Falling Down (1993)

There was a period during the late 80’s and early 90’s when director Joel Schumacher was hitting home runs. A string of hits that ranged from brat pack movies, to horror, to thrillers, to court room dramas, and eventually culminating with a certain comicbook character. This was to be his bump in the road. But in between all that there was this gritty urban thriller/dark comedy which you’d be forgiven for not realising was a Schumacher movie.

The plot is a simple one. Divorced and recently unemployed defence contractor William Foster is a hot tempered man, he has a short fuse. It is this reason that he is divorced and his wife has a restraining order against him (to keep him from their young daughter). As Foster sits in heavy traffic during a typical hot humid day in LA, he snaps. The presumed combination of the heat, the drudgery of his life, the little annoyances of life, and the current situation with his ex-wife and child all lead him to lose the plot. He therefore leaves his car on the highway and begins to walk through LA to reach his ex-wife’s residence in time for his daughters birthday.

Now this was a controversial film even back in the day. Apart from the fact it was filmed during the infamous LA riots back in 1992, it also sparked debate surrounding race relations, race representations, stereotypes, urban violence, vigilantism etc…Back in the early 90’s LA was known for its gang culture, the street crime and violence. An ever growing melting pot of people in a hot steamy city at a time of recession. Temperatures were high in both senses of the word. Then set against that is this working class white male who seems to represent the average male of middle America from the 50’s. Its almost as if he’s stepped out of a time machine and has waded into a new world full of new cultures, trends and attitudes. A world where he feels he no longer belongs or fits in, an America he no longer recognises.

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So essentially the film could be seen as a white male (or aging out of touch white male) lashing out against an ever increasing multicultural society. That is certainly one angle to take as the movie does indeed hint at that at various points. On the other hand you could say this character is supposed to be you the viewer, at least with certain everyday experiences. I think the main crux of this movie is basically to showcase all the things that may have annoyed, frustrated, and pissed off generally all people of all backgrounds at one point or another. I think most people will see specific scenes in this movie and relate to them on a basic level. Or they will agree with the narrative, or they know they have thought the same thing at some point. Because after all we’re all human and many of these emotions and reactions are simply part and parcel of our make-up (whether people want to admit that or not).

So lets look at some of the incidents in this film. Right from the offset the first sequence I’m sure most people can relate to. Foster sitting in his car, in heavy traffic, going nowhere fast, on a clearly sweltering day, and his air con has ceased to function. I’m very sure many people have been in a similar situation and just wanted to get out and walk away. Probably the same in the work place too.

At the convenience store. This is one of the scenes which does indeed show Foster being somewhat offensive towards the Korean immigrant store owner. He becomes angry at the man because of his accent and says he should try to learn English seeing as he has come to an English speaking country. Now behaving in that way towards someone is of course wrong, but there is much talk in many countries these days about immigrants needing to integrate better into the societies they move into. So that social commentary is indeed relevant today. Then again the violent tirade Foster throws at the Korean man over his store prices is obviously totally wrong, criminal. Yet how many people can relate to going into a small private store/grocery/newsagent where the prices are simply exorbitant. In London this is well known.

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The gangsters. This was the first scene that initially set Foster on the right track for possibly being the hero of the movie, the common man’s hero at least. Foster is minding his own business simply taking a rest on a lone chunk of concrete debris, when he’s approached by two young gangsters (both of a Latino background). They try to mug Foster claiming he is trespassing on their land. Using the bat he stole from the Korean grocery store Foster successfully beats and scares off the young thugs. This is clearly supposed to be an upbeat moment for the audience; the everyday law abiding citizen standing up against the criminal element.

At the Whammy Burger. Firstly I love how Foster just misses out on the breakfast meal option by about five minutes or so. I can’t recall exactly how many minutes but it was close. Admittedly I haven’t been into a fast food burger joint since I was a teenager so I have no clue if things still work like this nowadays. Secondly I adore how the young manager who speaks with Foster has this idiotic smile plastered across his face at all times (even when he’s clearly annoyed) because that’s obviously the company policy. Thirdly, after Foster has whipped out his gun and finished his tirade, he calmly asks for his breakfast meal. The terrified manager asks the cashier to grab him a breakfast meal. She calmly turns around and picks up the breakfast meal which was literally right there at the front of the rack; so in other words they could have given him a breakfast meal quite easily all along.

The main relatable point from the Whammy Burger scene was of course the fact that when Foster opens up his meal and takes a look at his burger, he’s instantly disgruntled with what he sees. A flat, lifeless, messy, squashed looking burger that looks nothing like the fat juicy burgers advertised in the restaurant. Even to this day I’ll bet anything that this is still the case. It certainly was back in the day when I was a kid. The burgers never looked like the pictures you saw on advertisements.

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The army surplus store. Now this scene is clearly one of the darkest in the film and offers up a glimpse of real heroism for Foster who, up until this point, is clearly an anti-hero on a rollercoaster. Said surplus store is owned by Nick (Frederic Forrest), a neo Nazi/white supremacist vet (a white skinhead, the biggest stereotype going). Now this guy was a real class act creep, superbly performed by Forrest I might add. We get the picture straight away when he verbally abuses a gay couple in his store. He then covers for Foster when Detective Torres (Rachel Ticotin) comes in. Nick recognises Foster from police reports on his radio and is thrilled to see him. Nick sees Foster as a white vigilante who is targeting minorities, which he agrees with.

Now I have to point out that despite Nick being an avowed racist and truly nasty character, you’re not entirely sure if Foster is actually gonna side with him or not. Because after all…Nick did help him. Still Foster is clearly unsure about this guy. But its not really until Nick shows him his private collection of military antiques (that includes various Nazi memorabilia), his continued harsh language against various groups of people, and the breakage of a birthday present for his daughter, that Foster makes his decision. On one hand Foster seems to do something right by taking out this ugly character. On the other hand I kinda get the impression he only did so because the present he bought for his daughter was smashed by Nick. So at the end of the day, which was it?

The golf course. This was another scene which was basically setting up Foster as the common mans hero. A large plush golf course used exclusively by rich elderly (white) males. As Foster points out in yet another tirade, you could have playgrounds for kids here, you could have a park for families. So when he again whips out his weapon and gives one of the old geezers a heart attack by shooting his little electric golf cart, its easy to cheer for Foster whilst laughing at the gallows humour of it all. Like many of the things that happen in this movie Foster does have a legitimate point with some of his rants, but you simply can’t go around doing the things he is doing. Even if in some cases those actions do seem completely appropriate.

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The road works. Again another scenario where most viewers would agree and cheer Foster on. How many times have you come across road works that have seemingly popped up out of nowhere? How many times have road works made your journey an absolute misery? How many minutes and hours have you lost being stuck in traffic caused by road works? How many times have you been late for something because of road works? I’m sure everyone can relate to this, UK dwellers especially. So when Foster gets a construction worker to admit there was nothing wrong with the road and they’re only doing it to justify their budget, you feel a sense of satisfaction that the film is addressing this, backing you up. Thing is, did the construction worker only admit this because he saw Foster’s gun?

Still it was amusing to watch the young African American boy talk Foster through using the bazooka. Another cute little dig at the possible ease of which kids were able to find out about dangerous violent things through various forms of media at the time.

In the end Schumacher seemingly can’t decide what message he really wants to send with this movie. Is Foster a hero for the common man? Is he an anti-hero? Is he in fact the villain of the piece? I really don’t know as the message swings like a pendulum. Some scenes clearly show Foster as a man standing up for the little people. Some scenes merely show him cementing little frustrations we have all encountered throughout our lives at some point. But then there are some scenes where he is clearly in the wrong, he goes too far and takes the law into his own hands.

Take the short sequence where a black man (Vondie Curtis-Hall) is peacefully protesting in front of his bank because they have recently deemed him ‘not economically viable’. The cops show up and haul him away (peacefully without force) as Foster looks on. What exactly is Schumacher saying here? Is he actually admitting that Foster has ‘white privilege’ in the fact that he himself hasn’t yet been hauled away by the cops? That an African American man cannot peacefully (and politely) speak his mind in the street without being arrested? Maybe Foster doesn’t have it as bad as certain minorities? Or is it simply because he was disturbing the peace outside of a place of business? Because some of these notions would kinda undermine Schumacher’s main aim for his protagonist, the basis of the film.

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What’s more we discover in bits that Foster’s wife is actually scared of him. She is scared for her safety and the safety of her daughter because Foster has a bad temper (hence the restraining order). We see small snippets from the past via a VHS recording that shows Foster losing his patience with his wife; getting angry when things aren’t going the way he wants with a previous birthday for his daughter. Then towards the finale his wife flees their house with her daughter because she knows he’s nearby. So we know Foster is a genuinely unstable man, he has issues and could be a legitimate threat to his family.

I can’t deny the ending is a very downbeat and sad affair. Schumacher gives this character one last chance to redeem himself, one last scene for the viewers to understand and maybe forgive this character. And to a point that works because you do feel for him, whilst at the same time you do feel for Sgt. Prendergast (Robert Duvall) who has been put in the situation of kill or be killed on his last day on the force (often people don’t think about the trauma cops suffer). Essentially Foster commits suicide by cop and escapes repercussions for his actions leaving his daughter fatherless. So even though you can’t help but feel sorry for the man (the score is typically moving) and you side with him on many of his actions, he was still wrong and a douchebag.

With all that being said this is still a (surprisingly) powerful film from Schumacher with a top notch performance from Douglas. It is obviously very 90’s visually but I love how Schumacher gives everything a yellow/orange hue to really highlight the muggy stifling heat in the city. Almost everyone has a sweaty brow or face on closeups. I have to be honest and say the film does slow down when its not following the character of Foster. Everything to do with his wife and kid is generally boring apart from the finale. And everything to do with the cops and Robert Duvall’s character just seemed kinda generic really (almost Lethal Weapon-ish in some scenes). It is a tad stupid how it takes the police so long to catch up with Foster, seeing as he’s easily identifiable and simply walking around casually with a sports bag full of guns, but anyway.

Most definitely thought provoking, most definitely an enjoyable engaging ride; unfortunately its full of mixed signals which will be inevitably problematic for different people.

7.5/10

Firefox (1982)

So we all know Clint for his westerns, but you should also know him for his political thrillers. ‘Firefox’ was one of his first political thrillers in the midst of some tough cop/crime action flicks and stupid crap involving an orangutan. Naturally it was based on a novel of the same name which I’ve never heard of or read, so I am unable to compare the two.

The plot: Put simply, Major Mitchell Gant (Clint) is a Nam veteran who can fly anything and can also speak Russian (thanks to his Russian mother). He is brought back into action on a joint Anglo-American mission to steal a highly advanced Russian jet fighter (code name Firefox) which can hit mach 6, is invisible to radar, and can fire missiles controlled by the pilots mind. He is dropped into Russia undercover. He must reach and secure the jet fighter with the help of Russian dissidents. However, the KGB are aware of his presence and are hot on his heels. Yep, its a fictional cold war thriller.

The film is kinda split into two halves really, the first part follows Gant as he enters the Soviet Union, meets up with Soviet dissidents, and moves from place to place trying to stay one step ahead of the KGB. The second part follows Gant piloting the Firefox jet as he tries to evade Russian attempts to bring him down whilst trying to flee Russian airspace.

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For the most part the first half of the film in Russia is slow moving but with solid tension. The film wasn’t actually shot in Russia due to actual American-Russian cold war unease so Austria stood in for locations. This is made abundantly clear in a shot showing Gant walking past Red Square in Moscow; its a horrendously obvious and amusing bluescreen shot. It is also kinda amusing watching Clint in this role because if anyone stood out from the crowd as a possible US spy in Moscow, it would be Gant. The man is clearly on the ropes every time he speaks to an official. He’s twitchy, sweating, his eyes are darting about the place, he just looks worried as feck. Its so stupid how no Russian official ever pulls him in for further questioning.

I can’t deny it is quite exciting to watch Gant evade the KGB one scene after another. The sequence where Gant is trying to leave a subway station quickly before a killed guard is discovered is very good. The Russian dissidents were slightly over the top though I thought, a bit too gruff and merciless, but well acted. They also came across as too obvious for my liking, basically everyone looks so damn guilty in this film. At times it did feel like you were watching a film set in Nazi Germany, but I’m assuming its relatively accurate for the period. Seems very odd that people had to show their ID papers constantly, almost everywhere, but hey it was effective.

I do think the film would have been even more effective if all Russian characters had spoken in Russian with English subs, ditto for the Americans. Although listening to Clint speak Russian did sound rather off, an understandably difficult task. I’m still not entirely sure if Gant was supposed to be talking Russian (when speaking English) when communicating with various Russian dissidents at certain points in the film. Don’t think so but its possible.

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The second half of the movie sees Gant stealing the Firefox jet from within a Bond-esque Russian military base complete with white coat scientists who get brutally gunned down after exposing themselves as dissidents. The whole sequence isn’t quite as thrilling as Bond but instead quite dark and sobering. The jet itself is a very impressive full scale model which looks a bit like the Lockheed Blackbird aircraft. Whilst the air suit Gant wears is a very cool sexy and futuristic all black affair with slick helmet and visor. All the interior cockpit shots and sequences do look very authentic and of course very cool. The constant light and cloud reflections zipping off Gant’s visor (along with the cockpit interior) does sell the illusion perfectly.

The exterior sequences for the aircraft (and dogfight sequence) were filmed using a new technique from John Dykstra called ‘reverse bluescreen’. This essentially enabled the shiny black model aircraft to appear to be flying against clear blue skies and glimmering white snow without bluescreen leakage on the model. This does work but naturally things have moved on somewhat since 1982 so by today’s standards it still all looks a bit hokey. Some shots do look good, the flyby effect on land and sea is quite nice as the jet zooms overhead. The odd model shot does look pretty sweet but in all honesty a lot of it looks very fake. The more elaborate the aerial manoeuvre, the more fake looking unfortunately.

All in all this is definitely a movie of two halves (have I mentioned that?). The first half is a far more serious affair of infiltration and espionage. Its dark tense and engaging despite how simplistic it all is. On the other hand the second half becomes much more of an action movie with a more jingoistic vibe. Eastwood certainly seems to feel more at home when in the cockpit of an ultra cool armoured killing machine being an all American action hero (who somehow forgets about rear firing missiles despite being the best of the best). Yes in all honesty Eastwood probably wasn’t the best choice for the main role here (I know he gave himself the role). He’s as wooden as a very wrinkled narrow piece of wood and is clearly outdone by his Russian dissident costar (Warren Clarke), and pretty much all of the Russian military cast.

A good solid reliable Eastwood film which ironically would probably have been much better if Eastwood wasn’t in the leading role. He is easily the weakest element in his own movie.

6.5/10

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The Cowboy Way (1994)

This movie was pretty much the epitome of cloning or ripping off another movies concept, and then see it go straight to video (in the UK at least). Back in the day you’d find many of these random comedies on the videoshop shelves. Movies you’d never seen or heard of before but had really good casts; its like they just popped up outta nowhere (‘Celtic Pride’ for example). You had no idea if they were any good but you’d usually rent them because of the cast, and sometimes the neat movie poster on the box.

The plot centres around two cowboys in New Mexico (Woody Harrelson and Kiefer Sutherland) who must travel east to New York in order to find their Cuban friend Nacho (who went to find his daughter). Turns out Nacho owed money to a gang for bringing his daughter into the US from Cuba. In the meantime the gang keeps his daughter in sweat shop slavery. So the butch stetson wearing duo must find Nacho and his daughter.

In short this is a very weak rip-off of ‘Crocodile Dundee’ but minus everything that made that movie a classic. I’m sure you know exactly what to expect when I say that. Both protagonists are your absolute cowboys. They both wear stetsons, jeans and cowboy boots all the time. They both have various stereotypical cowboy skills which come in handy throughout. And they are both displayed to be rather butch and sexy over dem city folk. The only real difference is Sutherland’s character is the more sensible, straight laced cowboy with morals. Where as Harrelson’s cowboy is the wildcard who loves loose women, drinking and getting into trouble. Pretty predictable stuff really.

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Most of the action we see if also your predictable guff (oh my the stunt doubles!!) which was done way better in that 1986 Aussie comedy. Being cowboys these guys are of course out of their natural habitat in downtown New York/Manhattan. They dress funny, they talk funny, and they act all gruff; its all just so…funny. Somehow they manage to waltz into the Waldorf Astoria unchallenged and then manage to get into the dinning area for a snack to eat. Oh the hilarity that ensues as Harrelson’s Pepper character acts all uncouth (ahem).

Later on Pepper gets himself into a posh yuppy-esque party for catwalk models (some middle aged woman takes a fancy to him). So this is the part where Pepper acts a bit homophobic because cowboys are real men, grrr! As the plot progresses they meet mounted police office Ernie Hudson who tickets them for camping out in Central Park (you know because they’re cowboys and that’s what cowboys do). Ernie’s character seems to fall under a bit of a man/hero crush with these cowboys and starts helping them on their quest. By helping them I mean completely violating his jobs procedures and acting like a wild cowboy. This includes riding all over New York on his police horse waving his gun around. And allowing Pepper to drive his truck full speed into a local bar owned by the gang (his truck seemingly suffers no damage and apparently no one gets killed or injured).

As the trio chase after the main villain (a snarling, scenery chewing Dylan McDermott who dies quite horribly in the end) they basically end up riding horseback all over places which you simply wouldn’t expect to see a horse being ridden. This is of course the movies main hook, having cowboys running amok in Manhattan. They make a point to ride past many landmarks, because of course they do. I can’t deny it was interesting to see these scenes of cowboys galloping down main streets, bridges, railway stations, the port areas etc…

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In the end this is a cheeky little number that solely relies on the then star ‘brat pack’ power of Kiefer Sutherland (which he retained for quite sometime); and that period in time when Woody Harrelson was considered a bit of a heartthrob. It also relies heavily on the overly used concept of lower class rough types clashing with posh types, and the tired culture clash formula. The weathered, seemingly backwards type character/s entering the fast-paced modern world.

Its totally as you would expect all the way. A silly comedy with Harrelson in his brazen undisciplined period, and Sutherland just doing what he always kinda did…look stoic (whilst also looking like he stepped out of a Marlboro advert here). Its reasonable but there are much better similar action comedy flicks from this era.

6/10

Killing Gunther (2017)

So this movie came outta nowhere for me. Apparently it was released straight to video on demand, and later got a limited theatrical release. Heck even the films poster looks like a fan job. Little bit misleading too I think, seeing as the titular Schwarzenegger isn’t really in the film until the very end.

So what we have here is essentially an action comedy but with a mockumentary twist. A group of assassins led by Blake (Taran Killam) wants to eliminate the top assassin in the business, Gunther (Schwarzenegger). Each assassin has their own reasons for this but Blake simply wants to be the top assassin in the biz. Because Blake is somewhat eccentric and narcissistic he hires a documentary team to follow and document his team in their mission to kill Gunther. Put plainly, in my humble view, this is ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ but with assassins instead of vampires, concept wise. Although there is a musical score playing throughout, which makes no sense but whatever.

Admittedly at first I was getting a bit sceptical about the whole idea mainly because it instantly comes across like a clone of said New Zealand horror comedy. But the introduction of the over the top, stereotypical characters won me over. Firstly the leader Blake is the Bond-esque/Kingsman-esque gentleman type who dresses in a suit with a dapper hairstyle. Next is Donnie (Bobby Moynihan), an over enthusiastic, overweight, bumbling all-American trying his best to showcase himself as a good assassin. He often mugs to the camera. Next we have the token sexy femme fatale of the group, Sanaa (Hannah Simone). The daughter of a legendary Muslim assassin who is possibly the most skilled team member, but can’t shake off her overprotective father.

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Yong (Aaron Yoo) is a Chinese (I think) assassin with a penchant for poisons, but not guns or blood. Gabe (Paul Brittain) is the youngest on the team, merely a teenager by the looks of it. He is the tech expert, anything computers, or so he says. Izzat (Amir Talai) used to be an Islamic extremist but has since moved away from that and is now wanting to earn a reputation as an assassin. His other specialty is the fact he has a robotic arm that can crush pretty much anything. He lost it helping another extremist with his suicide bomb. And lastly Mia and Barold (Allison Tolman and Ryan Gaul), Russian siblings and thugs.

Now despite the mockumentary premise being old hat these days, it never fails to raise a smile (I think). If you think of all mockumentaries, in general they’re all pretty good, if not classics. So essentially you kinda know what to expect comedy wise from the outset, but its still admittedly funny. Obviously with this movie its all gonna be send-ups of the espionage/action genre. I’m sure you know what movies I’m referring to.

Whilst all the humour isn’t brilliant there are some nuggets of goodness to be found. After an encounter with Gunther the team review the footage that was captured by Blake’s documentary team (yes the documentary team are also involved in this). Gabe the tech guy hooks it all up and they scan the footage. They find a shot of Gunther and pause it, Blake orders Gabe to enhance the image. Gabe looks at Blake puzzled and says he can’t do that, computers don’t do that. What follows is an argument about how everyone has seen that done on TV and in films so it must be a thing.

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When the team goes to collect weapons from a secret arms dealer, the guy turns out to be this really nice, almost camp chap who just happens to look like a butch biker. Cliched and unoriginal but the whole scene works nicely. Then there are lots of little moments such as watching Donnie trying to slide over the top of a cars bonnet only to fall on his face. ‘Just erase that’ he says to the camera after climbing off the car. Donnie is probably the funniest guy in the film for me with his physique and mannerisms. He’s always trying to be cool, like a character from an action movie. When he’s gonna flick the switch to blow some dynamite he looks into the camera and says ‘boom goes the dynamite’ with a smug wink and grin. Of course the bomb fails to go off. Then you’ve also got Yong who carries tiny bottles of poison around with him…and throws them at people…in gun fights.

This actually felt more like I was watching an action packed episode of ‘The Office’ more than anything. The movie has all those exact beats, tropes and cliches. The movie does have a nice twist of sorts in the latter half as we find out that Gunther is doing exactly the same thing as Blake (with a documentary team); but he’s doing it to expose how inept Blake and his team are. Everything that happened during the movie was all setup by Gunther; although much suspension of disbelief is required for that. Nothing is genuinely explained properly, its all very tongue and cheek. Just run with it, type of thing.

I think the movies biggest issue is the fact that there are too many characters and not all get enough time to shine. You could of easily left out a few of them, like the Russian siblings. The other issue is none of them grow as characters, they all remain the same stereotypical doofuses as they started out. Although I thought Donnie having to convert to Islam in order to marry Sanaa (under threat of death from her overprotective father) was quite funny. But by the end the plot gets more contrived and stupid as they quickly try to wrap things up neatly. The fact that Gunther apparently doesn’t die is also something of an ugh! moment.

I liked the found footage style of the movie, I think its works surprisingly well here. Its not the best mockumentary there is but I thought it was a solid comedy with much to offer. Certainly a much appreciated slightly new angle for the now overcrowded espionage genre. Yes its all very dumb, not very sophisticated, hardly subtle, and very meta. But after a slow and uncertain start, I got into this.

7/10

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Baby Driver (2017)

Stupid name for a heist movie, unless that movie is a kids comedy all about a bloke having to drive babies around during a heist. Or maybe an adult who drives like a baby or some shit like that. Why hasn’t anyone made a comedy about learner drivers yet? You could call it ‘Learner Driver’, hey that’s not a bad idea (copyrighted).

So this is a heist movie. In this movie a mysterious kingpin (?) called Doc (Kevin Spacey) uses various people to pull off various daring jobs, but he always uses the same driver. This driver is a young man called Baby or Miles (Ansel Elgort). Apparently Doc caught Baby breaking into his car many years prior and was so impressed with his skills that he decided to use him for his heists. Naturally Baby had to comply or face the obvious consequences. Now for a long time every heist has gone well for Doc, but clearly that doesn’t last and that’s the main crux here.

So straight away there are various questions here. Firstly, who is Doc exactly? What is this guys deal? Where does he come from? How is he so powerful? What does he do? Nothing is explained about this character and its kinda frustrating because he simply doesn’t come across like a bad guy (especially with Spacey’s performance). The fact he also makes such glaring mistakes with his decisions also raises questions about how he’s managed to gain so much power. Doc uses Baby as a getaway driver despite the fact he’s literally only a teenager, or at least in his early 20’s. Yeah OK Baby is a good driver, but is that still a good decision? To use such a young person as your heist getaway driver?? I can think of many problems that might arise with that.

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Doc also claims to never use the same people for each heist, but he does! He also uses Baby for every heist so what is he talking about. Then at one point when the gang suspects Baby of being an informant, and the fact he’s being telling his foster father all about their deeds; Doc and co still allow him to carry on being their getaway driver! These are what you call eye rolling movie decisions.

Now lets look at Baby, why is he called Baby? Dunno. This young man has tinnitus from an accident as a child (which killed his parents). Since then he’s been raised by a black man who is deaf. Is it me or does that sound both unnecessarily pc and kinda counter productive? Would a deaf (apparently single?) man be the right choice to raise a child with tinnitus? I honesty don’t know, it just seems like an odd decision, but hey what do I know. So Baby is a good driver, again we don’t know how this is, it just is. He’s a good driver don’t question it. Baby is also very much into his music, mainly because of the tinnitus. He listens to music virtually all the time and uses it to help him concentrate, even on heist jobs. The weird part is he often records people (without consent) and uses snippets of their speech to make mix tapes. Its a very odd part of his character and really doesn’t make any sense, or it didn’t to me.

So things all go wrong for Doc when he uses a team consisting of a couple of crooks who are in love, Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza González), and the violent Bats (Jamie Foxx). Of course the highly predictable outcomes are all a result of the highly predictable out of control character Bats. Because a trigger-happy, tattooed, ghetto lunatic is what you need in your specialised heist team, what could go wrong? The other two don’t really do much other than smooch, although Buddy does stick up for Baby at times leading you to think he’s a good guy. All the while Doc is supposed to be intimidating…but really isn’t.

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What follows is a bog standard turn of events that see the plot holes get bigger and bigger. At one point after discovering one of Baby’s mix tapes Bats and Buddy decide to go back to his place to get the rest of his stash, and question his foster father. Bats proceeds to knock Baby out…but how did they then manage to find Baby’s place?? When the heist goes wrong and the police react, I don’t believe any of the cops actually saw Baby involved in any way. Yet Baby runs off, and continues running even when in the clear, which would obviously cause the police to follow out of suspicion (as they would in reality, if you run you’ve got something to hide). Baby continues to escape by then carjacking and driving like a lunatic…which again will always make you stick out like a sore thumb. Why do characters in movies never get this?? You wanna blend into a crowd of people or traffic, act or drive normally, don’t run or drive like a nut.

Anywho the movie is formulaic right down to the last moment where Buddy keeps popping up despite Baby shooting him point blank (in the shoulder?? How did he fuck that up??). The only thing that got me was the fact Baby didn’t go down in a blaze of glory, or escape fully. But then we get this dreadful soppy ending which is even worse so…I find myself baffled by the reaction to this movie, once again I just don’t get it. It didn’t offer anything much in terms of originality, except for the main protagonist having hearing issues; and everything action wise was terribly average. I think the thing that disappointed me the most was the trailer giving me the impression that Baby drove a Subaru Impreza for the whole movie, which he didn’t.

5/10