Review: Turbo Kid

Turbo Kid

Turbo Kid is a BMX pedal-powered 1980s throwback, along the lines of Solarbabies or The Salute of the Juggar with a dollop of Brian Trenchard-Smith, set in that particular eras vision of 1997, vector graphic logo, synth score and all. The film has the curious honour of quite possibly the most film-funding logos (by my count, more than 10) up front, that it in a way comically sets a tone before film film even starts.

A Canadian – New Zealand co-production (a rare bird), it has the curious juxtaposition of French stop signs over recognizable New Zealand landscapes. Inside this bizarre (but comfortable) setting, we have a young scavenger who gets caught up in the war for water in the wasteland, and his own past on his own journey becoming the superhero in his favourite comic book. It is a journey that has some trouble smoothly connecting all its set-pieces, but within each scene there is oodles to love, particularly if you are a fan of early period Peter Jackson (Bad Taste, Dead Alive). Saw blades fly, hot pokers singe and arterial sprays soak all corners of the screen.

There is a very self-aware ridiculousness that sees wasteland warriors huffing it on bicycles in football pads and metal masks that is inviting you not to take it seriously, and yet the film finds blessed heart in the form of Laurence Leboeuf, a superstar in Quebecois film circles that is completely unknown outside of the local industry. She plays a Cherry 2000 companion named Apple that has the most childlike enthusiasm towards hand-to-hand combat and touch-tag. Apple continues the ubiquitous 2015 trend of A.I. representations of onscreen along with Ex Machina, Tomorrowland and Chappie (amongst others). Every scene she is on screen the film is better for it.

Would you like to know more…?

DVD Review: The Ang Lee Trilogy

I‘m a big fan of Ang Lee. On top of the modern classics he’s directed like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain, I also like the Oscar winning Life of Pi a lot and I’m even a supporter of his underrated comic book movie, Hulk. In particular, I’ve always been impressed by how diverse his output is. His career didn’t start that way though. His first three features form an unofficial trilogy, often known as the ‘Father Knows Best’ trilogy, due to their thematic similarity. These three low key comedy dramas were quite well regarded on release, but somehow they’ve never been available on DVD in the UK. Thankfully, Altitude Film Distribution have taken it upon themselves to rectify the situation. I set aside some time to watch these three films I’ve waited to see for a long time, to give my verdict.

Would you like to know more…?

Review: American Ultra

Director: Nima Nourizadeh (Project X)
Writer: Max Landis
Producers: Raj Brinder Singh, Britton Rizzio, David Alpert, Anthony Bregman, Kevin Scott Frakes
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 95 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

 


In theaters right now, you can see The End of the Tour, one of the best films of Jesse Eisenberg’s career. You can also see American Ultra, an Eisenberg film that skews much further towards the opposite end of the spectrum. If it weren’t for some unexpected choices of questionable genre fare like Now You See Me and 30 Minutes or Less, it’d be quite hard to figure out what would lead the actor who has starred in such impressive, intelligent projects as The Social Network, Night Moves, and The Squid and the Whale to sign up for something as juvenile and misguided as this. Coming from Nima Nourizadeh, the director of Project X, it’s no surprise that American Ultra is such a haphazard experience, where the most amusing thought is trying to figure out what was going through the mind of someone who puts off the kind of highbrow intellectual persona that Eisenberg does while he was sitting on the set of this stoner action comedy, whose existence would be quickly forgotten if people were even aware that it was released in the first place.

In the film, Eisenberg plays Mike Howell, a convenience store worker and stereotypical pothead who suffers from severe anxiety attacks, one of which gets in the way of a vacation to Hawaii he had planned with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), where he was going to propose to her. As he punishes himself emotionally for not being able to get over his fears and make her happy in the way he desires, CIA agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) discovers that a death order has been put out on the participants of a top secret program she ran which trained elite assassins. This includes Mike, whose memory had been erased after the program had been disbanded, with his anxiety being the government’s way of keeping him under lock and key in the safety of a small West Virginia town. Agent Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) sends his own dangerous recruits to take Mike out, but Lasseter gets to him first and turns the switch on his dormant abilities to allow him to defend himself against the forces moving against him. When the assailants arrive, Mike shoves a spoon into one’s throat and shoots his attackers dead in the parking lot, before reverting back to his regular personality and appropriately freaking out.

Would you like to know more…?

Review: The Tribe

tribe-poster
Director: Miroslav Slaboshpitsky
Writer: Miroslav Slaboshpitsky
Producers: Miroslav Slaboshpitsky
Starring: Grigoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova, Rosa Babiy, Alexander Dsiadevich, Yaroslav Biletskiy
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 132 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found at Film Frontier

 


TThere’ve been a number of films I’ve found challenging to watch over the six years I’ve been writing about film – Amour, The Tree of Life, Only God Forgives, The Last Airbender. But I don’t think I’ve ever struggled with a film as much as I did with the Ukrainian crime drama The Tribe.

Presented entirely in Ukrainian sign language, with no translations, no subtitles, no voiceover, and only ambient noise as a guide, director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s debut feature is a visceral and one-of-a-kind motion picture that deserves to be seen on a large screen, mostly because watching it on any other platform would eliminate most of its impact. Even if you come in mentally ready, nothing will prepare you for the eerie experience of sitting in a theater full of people that remains silent for two hours. The Tribe demands that viewers use their eyes and imaginations to digest the story being projected using only the characters’ facial expressions as a guide. But what’s the point of a brilliant conceit and bravura filmmaking technique if there isn’t an interesting narrative or fleshed-out characters to back it up?

Would you like to know more…?

Carlos’ Review Round-Up

Here’s a quick sampling of my week’s watches. You can find more of my reviews at Always Watch Good Movies.

 

Mistress America (2015)

Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Country: USA

Acclaimed film director Noah Baumbach reunites with Greta Gerwig, once again co-writer and actress after the candid “Frances Ha” in 2012, to deliver one more of those special contemporary American comedies that has been making him a persistent mention in the genre. “Mistress America” embarks in the same spirit of “Frances Ha”, presenting a few true moments of genius when portraying the lively adventures of two women who just met in Manhattan: the lonely college freshman, Tracy (Lola Kirke), and her hyperactive hoped-for stepsister, Brooke (Gerwig). The temperate ‘Baby Tracy’ tries to get acquainted with the city, falls asleep in the classroom, and nourishes feelings for a colleague who let her down when he appears with a comically jealous new girlfriend. Tracy, much less impulsive, becomes totally dazzled, inspired, and influenced by Brooke, who in turn, is a creative ‘New Yorker’, a resident of Times Square, who doesn’t produce as much as she plans. The latter is the one injecting a kinetic force throughout the film that makes it talky, eventful, and accelerated. This different individualities work great in terms of narrative balance, making us look to these two new friends in a distinct manner. Their admiration and availability for each other are not only sweet but also salutary for both of them – just like connecting with real family. The film is packed with hilarious situations, colorfully shaped with both frontal and sarcastic tones, and enveloped with the energy of the city. However, and regardless the huge possibilities, I cannot hide a bit of frustration for not being able to consider it a masterwork. The simple reason is that the climax didn’t work so well for me. The scene when Brooke, at the house of her self-seeker friend Mimi Claire, finds out that her entertaining peculiarities are being used in Tracy’s fictional short story, turning the tables on everyone, was too staged (resembling “Carnage”), failing to convince in a crucial moment of a film that had already conquered me. If Lola Kirke was a revelation, Greta Gerwig was flawless, giving the best performance of her career.


Unexpected (2015)

Directed by: Kris Swanberg
Country: USA

“Unexpected” is a drama of circumstances, set in an inner city of Chicago. It stars Cobie Smulders and Gain Bean, respectively as a high school teacher and student, who coincidentally find out they’re pregnant during critical phases of their lives. The third feature film from Kris Swanberg, wife of the film director Joe Swanberg (“Drinking Buddies”), is fictional, despite the filmmaker is living in Chicago and formerly had been a schoolteacher. The film starts with Sam (Smulders), reading online the top ten symptoms of pregnancy and the description for a job as coordinator in a museum. It’s not difficult to guess that she was pregnant indeed, and the museum was nothing less than her dream job, which she applied without high hopes. More difficult to guess was that one of her most liveliest and promising students, Jasmine (Bean), was also pregnant. Clearly, these women have different realities and options, and in both cases something in their actual lives has to be sacrificed for the sake of the new ones that are coming. Sam has all the support of her boyfriend, John (Anders Holm), and the couple doesn’t hide the happiness when they get married in secret; the only factor still in discussion is if Sam agrees on being a stay-at-home mother. In turn, Jasmine, carrying a tough past on her shoulders, breaks up with her immature boyfriend and ponders giving up college. A true friendship is established between Sam and Jasmine as they offer each other help and support while learning from their differences. “Unexpected” is evenly loaded with realism and familiarity, which are the best and the worst in the film. The direction of Ms. Swanberg is earnest and avoids fluctuations, but the material, treated with indelible comfort, blocked my true emotions, reason why I never felt anxious or worried for the protagonists’ future. The most memorable scene, also nominated as the nastiest of the year, has to do with ‘drinking’ Cheetos.


Mr. Holmes (2015)

Directed by: Bill Condon
Country: UK/USA

“Mr. Holmes” might not ring a bell for the less attentive, but if the name Sherlock was mentioned somewhere in the title, you would instantly guess that the film is about one of the most famous detectives in our planet. However, the year is 1947, and Sherlock Holmes, magnificently played by Sir Ian McKellen, is long-time retired with 93 years old, getting more and more debilitated, forgetful, and a fusion of emotional and a bit grumpy. Regardless these changes, he’s still polite, efficiently assertive when transmitting information, and conscious about his own errors from the past. Returned from a recent trip to Japan that brought him good and bad surprises, Mr. Holmes is happy to be at his farmhouse in the English countryside, where he solely has the company of his devoted housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), and her young son, Roger (Milo Parker). The latter is very clever and shares the same enthusiasm for mystery cases and bees as the detective, who takes pleasure in teaching every detail of beekeeping while stimulates the boy’s perceptiveness about his own writings and those of his ex-partner, Dr. Watson. Nonetheless, not everything is easy, and the old Holmes struggles every single day with his memory and with a particular case that keeps coming to his rusty mind, involving a depressed woman called Anne Kelmot (Hattie Morahan). This is the second collaboration between McKellen and filmmaker Bill Condon, who directs with the same rigor and formalism that he has already accustomed us; the first one was 17 years ago, with the mesmerizing “Gods and Monsters”. Here, the heartfelt story, based on Mitch Cullin’s novel, “A Slight Trick of the Mind”, is more about aging and how to learn from our experiences in life, than really solving a mysterious murder case. For this reason, “Mr. Holmes” might not be a good choice for the ones looking for puzzles and enigmas. It’s not a perfect film, but Mr. McKellen’s performance together with the undaunted message conveyed with gentle, resolute tones, makes it slightly above the average.

 
Would you like to know more…?

Review: Hitman: Agent 47

Director: Aleksander Bach
Writers: Skip Woods, Michael Finch
Producers: Adrian Askarieh, Charles Gordon, Alex Young
Starring: Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto, Ciarán Hinds, Thomas Kretschmann, Angelababy
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 96 min

 

This review is brought to Row Three courtesy of Jeremy Thomas of 411mania.com

 
Hollywood has been trying to figure out how to turn the “Hitman” video game franchise into cinematic gold for over twelve years now. The Eidos Interactive game about a cloned assassin-for-hire has long been a hit for gamers, and seemed like a perfect fit for an action franchise. Unfortunately, the first results were less than stellar. After four years in development, 2007’s Hitman featured a seemingly apt star in Timothy Olyphant but earned the ire of critics and fans alike due to its incoherent plot and sketchy acting.

That didn’t mean Hollywood was going to let go so easy though. Despite the withering reviews from all quarters, Hitman was a box office success thanks to overseas gross that brought it to $100 million worldwide on a $24 million budget. Instead of trying to improve on the franchise with a sequel, Fox decided to put it through the ever-popular reboot treatment. With Homeland star Rupert Friend in front of the camera and feature film newcomer Aleksander Bach behind it, Hitman: Agent 47 tries to find a new level of success for the franchise, but with the same depressing results.

Would you like to know more…?

Review: Queen of Earth

Director: Alex Ross Perry (Impolex, The Color Wheel, Listen Up Phillip)
Writer: Alex Ross Perry
Producers: Elisabeth Moss, Alex Ross Perry, Adam Piotrowicz, Joe Swanberg
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 90 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found HERE

 


Pretend for a moment “Persona” doesn’t exist. This is the lesbian “The Master”.

Am ambivalent about vouching for Queen of Earth as Alex Ross Perry’s fourth and best film, especially after last year’s crackerjack Listen Up Philip — but holy crap, what a piece of work this is, resplendent, euphoric, and surprisingly complete. Does that mean all its ends are tied up? Not exactly. I’ve seen Queen of Earth a grand total of about 2.5 times now and I still can’t figure it out. But don’t go mad — it’s by design. And when it comes to style, Perry alongside cinematographer Sean Price Williams and composer Keegan DeWitt (both “Philip” alumni) keep the irrational tension keen-edged throughout the course of its rigid 90-minute running time.

Elisabeth Moss, reteaming for her second tour with Perry, delivers the so far apex performance of her big-screen career, channeling the passive, starry-eyed minx she so acutely portrayed on “Mad Men” into a woman on the last-gasp verge of a full-blown nervous breakdown. As Catherine, an insomniac wreck since the one-two of her artist father’s suicide and subsequent romantic fallout with boyfriend James (Kentucker Audley), Moss is fearless and terrific, especially in many of the film’s lengthy closeup shots which ask her to do an expressive lot with little.

Right up there with her is Katherine Waterston as Ginny, a trust-fund kid who welcomes Catherine to vacation at her parents’ New York lake house. The past of Catherine and Ginny’s friendship (or something more) is nondescript, but writer-director Perry has a monster’s ball mirroring flashbacks from the summer before with the conflict of the current one.

Like Listen Up Philip, Queen of Earth has an eclectic range of influences, here the artier horror of Roman Polanski (Knife in the Water, Repulsion), David Lynch (Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet), and Bergman while still carrying over “Philip’s” class clash of Noah Baumbach, Whit Stillman and Woody Allen. And yet Queen of Earth, like Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy from last winter, is above all the strident vision of an incoming auteur, lyrical as it is bizarre if you’re willing to look close enough.

I have a theory that Perry, a known feline aficionado, based the perceptive dynamic between Moss and Waterston (the spitfire should-be Oscar nominee for her cagey dream girl in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice) on those of cats guarding territory — wherever one is, the other isn’t lurking far behind. Queen of Earth is a delicious provocation that’s certainly a must for anyone reading this, a mid-August rush of Lars von Trier calamity spiced with Harmony Korine pop conviction, that also amplifies as one of the most multifaceted depictions of depression in a hot minute. It deserves to be remembered as one of 2015’s standout films. Though by then, it might already be too late.

  

Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.


Director: Guy Ritchie (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Sherlock Holmes)
Writers: Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram
Producers: Steve Clark-Hall, John Davis, Jeff Kleeman, Lionel Wigram
Starring: Henry Cavil, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Luca Calvani, Sylvester Groth, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 116 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

 


The year of the spy movie continues with Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a big summer blockbuster based on the ‘60s television series. Focusing on the uneasy collaboration between American special agent Napolean Solo (Henry Cavill) and his former Russian adversary Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), Ritchie takes us back for an origin story, showing us the events that forced these two men to work together against a common enemy, back when relations between the two countries were at their most heated. Working again with writer/producer Lionel Wigram, after the two successfully made a franchise out of Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes six years ago, Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a welcome throwback to early Bond films, loaded with hip action, and always having a tongue planted slightly in cheek. Without ever veering too far into kitsch, the film expertly weaves the fine line between having fun with itself and knowing when things need to get serious. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is loaded with exciting, well-choreographed setpieces from the word go, keeping a spring in its step all the way to the finish line.

Opening with perhaps its finest sequence, Ritchie starts the film off by introducing our two agents on opposite sides, both in pursuit of Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a German scientist who was Adolf Hitler’s top man during the war. Gaby is the key to infiltrating a criminal organization with intentions of the nuclear weapon variety. Solo’s mission is to bring her in. Kuryakin’s is to make sure that doesn’t happen. What ensues is an elaborate chase that establishes both men’s capabilities and conveys the zippy style and pulsing energy that Ritchie maintains for the remainder of the film. It’s a hell of a way to open up a picture, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is only just getting started. Once the players are all set into motion, with the two governments realizing that they need to join forces in order to stop a greater threat, the interplay between the leading men takes over, with Gaby in prime position to be the ace in the hole as the balancing point between the two. Solo’s cocksure swagger and Kuryakin’s arrogant bullishness clash time and again, resulting in a game of one-upmanship, even as they ultimately need to rely on one another to complete their mission.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Videodrome

Director: David Cronenberg
Screenplay: David Cronenberg
Starring: James Woods, Deborah Harry, Sonja Smits
Country: Canada
Running Time: 89 min
Year: 1983
BBFC Certificate: 18


David Cronenberg is a director whose work I’m not as familiar with as I’d like. I’ve seen a fair few of his films, but largely when I was a teenager, so I can’t remember much about them other than the more famous scenes. I’ve not seen a couple of his classics at all in fact and only just got around to seeing his take on The Fly last year. In terms of his later work, I keep missing most of that too. The latest of his films I’ve seen is A History of Violence, which came out ten years ago.

So I’ve been keen to delve into Cronenberg’s career properly now that I’m a more experienced film lover and Arrow answered my call by releasing a ridiculously extensive 4 disc set of Videodrome. It’s one of the films I’d not seen for about 15 years, so was on my list of titles to watch.

It’s hard to sum up the plot of Videodrome as it’s quite a surreal film, particularly in the second half, and part of the pleasure of watching it is getting caught up in its nightmarish world. The first half seems more straight forward though, tricking the audience into thinking they know what they’re signing up for.

James Woods plays Max Renn, a TV executive working for Civic-TV, a cable channel that shows seedy low-rate programmes and films. Max is getting tired of the usual softcore crap that he peddles though. He thinks audiences want harder and more extreme entertainment and thinks he’s found it when a techie associate manages to access a mysterious broadcast called Videodrome. Basically just a series of violent torture scenes, the show grabs hold of Max and won’t let him go. After he gets more obsessed with it, he starts to experience hallucinations and gets drawn ever further into a twisted, bizarre world of sex, violence and television.

Would you like to know more…?