Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Mechanic: Resurrection

Cast: Jason Statham, Jessica Alba, Tommy Lee Jones, Michelle Yeoh, and Sam Hazeldine

Director: Dennis Gansel

98 minutes (15) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Lions Gate blu-ray region B

Rating: 6/10
Review by Rob Marshall

The original ‘Mechanic’ was Charles Bronson, star of Michael Winner’s cult crime thriller The Mechanic (aka: Killer Of Killers, 1972). Bronson’s portrayal of hit-man Arthur Bishop was one of his best performances, a cold-blooded calculating assassin who made people die in accidents. Simon West’s remake The Mechanic (2011) was a much slicker affair, a vehicle for Jason Statham to maintain his usual screen persona as martial artist but also rise above the simplistic hard-man attitudes of his familiar Frank Martin role in the trilogy of Transporter actioners, but also refrain from the outright craziness of antihero Chev in a couple of Crank flicks. As a remake, Statham’s Mechanic was, at least, a better drama than Gary McKendry’s rather tired and tiresomely dull Killer Elite (2011), which recycled the title of Sam Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite (1975), but chose an entirely different novel as its source material.      


Mechanic: Resurrection is a more than competent sequel. When he is forced to flee his hideaway in Brazil, Bishop decamps to a beachfront in Thailand where he contacts Mei (Michelle Yeoh), but the clever bad guys find him there, too. Bishop’s new girlfriend Gina (Jessica Alba) is taken hostage in order to force Bishop into killing off the kidnapper’s equally crooked rivals. Statham proves he is a better action movie star than just playing Stallone’s younger sidekick in The Expendables trilogy. Here, Statham is like a one-man ‘Mission: Impossible’ team. His targets are the top-dog convict in a Malaysian prison, an Australian billionaire in a fortress penthouse, and Bond-style super-villain Max (Tommy Lee Jones).


There’s a fair bit of romantic drama between the shoot ‘em ups and inevitable explosions, and Bishop is very sneaky when it comes to causing ‘accidents’ yet formidable in combat, with or without weapons. Mechanic: Resurrection is a perfect antidote to all the mindless action blockbusters (starring Stallone or Cruise) that are nothing more than shamelessly noisy wallpaper for popcorn feasts. Statham’s Bishop is not the same as Bronson’s. He is a standard antihero, but one with redeeming features. In the end, his escape from the killing business is a happy conclusion that doesn't seem too clich├ęd. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The Guyver

Out on dual format - Monday 19th December


PART HUMAN. PART ALIEN. PURE SUPERPOWER.

Having been smuggled out of the mysterious Chronos Corporation by one of its researchers, a bio-weapon known as the “Guyver” unit – which transforms its holder into a lethal super-being – ends up in the hands of Sean, a young martial arts student. Sean soon finds himself in the sights of the Chronos Corporation and its mutant henchmen, who’ll stop at nothing to retrieve the weapon.

Produced by Brian Yuzna (Society, Bride Of Re-Animator) and co-directed by special-effects masters Screaming Mad George and Steve Wang, The Guyver is an FX-laden extravaganza featuring a plethora of familiar genre faces such as Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes) and David Gale (Re-Animator).

Mark Hamill (Star Wars) and the team behind horror classic Re-Animator join forces for this electrifying live-action adaptation of Yoshiki Takaya’s celebrated manga series!

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
Brand new digital transfer of the Director’s Cut
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
Original uncompressed audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Brand new interview with producer Brian Yuzna
Trailer
Image Gallery
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nick Percival
First pressing only: Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film


Friday, 9 December 2016

12 Monkeys - Season 2

Cast: Aaron Stanford, Amanda Schull, Kirk Acevedo, Barbara Sukowa, and Emily Hampshire

Developed for TV by Travis Fickett and Terry Matalas

546 minutes (15) 2016
Widescreen ratio 16:9
Universal DVD Region 2

Rating: 8/10
Review by Steven Hampton

“Do you believe in fate?” Intriguing sci-fi series 12 Monkeys wraps the timeline crises of TV shows like Continuum, and the TimeCop movie franchise, around the portable enigma of Terry Gilliam’s puzzler Twelve Monkeys (1995). Its curious pedigree includes riffs and references to Chris Marker’s experimental production, La Jetee (1962), an over-praised art-house movie with very little actually motion because it’s basically just a montage of still photos. As if the paradox of time-travel is not enough of a tangled plot, this drama weaves a layered conspiracy in the century-spanning mystery of what or who caused the apocalypse.

Dr Cassie Railly (Amanda Schull) wants to warn the world and plan for a global pandemic, especially after she is told that in the near-future a terrible plague wipes out most of the population. The origin of the virus is traced to secret experiments in bio-labs called the Night Room. The controller of time-travel in 2043, German scientist Jones (Barbara Sukowa) scours news archives for clues about suspected terrorists known only as the 12 Monkeys.


The debut episode of season one borrows the ‘long second’ time-freeze from low-budget classic Trancers (1984). Other episodes include homage scenes to Terminator movies. A cascade of wrong place and wrong time mistakes put bold traveller Cole (Aaron Standford) in North Korea, 2006. Thankfully, all the splintering and slingshots eventually get our hero exactly where and when he needs to be, or not to be. Will he do everything for nothing, so that his own life can be erased from the future?

The plot-line and main players are rightly paranoid about many paradoxical changes that might invalidate cause and effect. Tick-tock is not always progressive here. When a solution to the main monkey business is to rewrite history, “I told you so” is not an option. Conflicts arise when a time-travel mission is opposed by another group trying to find a cure with quarantine camps under martial control, instead of preventing the original outbreak. It becomes a worthy case of preserving hope versus taking radical action for salvation.

“The dark time must be sacrificed to restore a brighter one.”


Somewhat perversely, season one’s climactic sequence happens further in the past than anything else, when pivotal events affecting Cole and his buddy Ramse occur in a Tokyo nightclub in 1987. After much toing and froing the drip-feed of clues solve part of the big mystery conspiracy that unfolds in layers, just like a 24 plot. And, like Jack Bauer in 24, Cole is forced to live and re-live the worst days of his life, with irony that is occasionally reminiscent of Groundhog Day (1993).


Madhouse maiden Jennifer (Emily Hampshire) conceals her emotional fragility beneath her noisy mask of crazy-bitch banter. “Maybe your always and my always are not the same.” There are plenty more fascinating twists as timeline detailing is revealed like a top secrets plot. Or, perhaps, unravelled like a faulty scheme or a flawed master-plan. The blonde heroine’s overly possessive boyfriend Aaron Marker (the franchise’s notable name-check) keeps on promising to save Cassie from herself, whether she wants his help or not.

“You cannot run from fate.” Season Two goes back and forth again, with Cole stuck in 2016, Budapest, while Cassie is held captive in 2043, where Dr Jones fails to stop the religious cult of Messengers from taking control of her time machine. This eventually results in her shifting over to another timeline: “You were not part of my original reality,” she tells her new husband.


In New York, crazy Jennifer tries suicidal speed-dating, because ‘being single is not the end of the world,’ although it is the Chinese calendar’s new year of the monkey. Ninja gang, the Daughters, led by the aged Jennifer in 2045, demand the return of Cole to their time. On another narrative track, it’s destination 1944: where a revised scheme for the original plotters who just wanna turn the world red occurs, while taking advantage of primary victims willing, or not, to die for their mysterious cause.


Like in Sliders (1995 - 2000), a hotel is the frequently used rendezvous point in several time-zones and eras. There’s also a magical house in the red-tinged surreality of a red forest dream-scape that’s a link to an even stranger puzzle of time-stream consciousness and the much-talked-about Witness, who seems like a muse for some but is a menace to others. The time-fractured house is a building with a similar narrative function as unusual character, like the barn in TV series Haven (2010-5).


A mission to 1975 has our heroes prevent a murder they were not supposed to, and so doing something good seems just as likely to disrupt timelines as doing something nasty. This avoids the spoofy appeal of Life On Mars (2006-7), and/ or Ashes To Ashes (2008-10). With its dooms-days plot and 'Witness' antagonist, borrowings from the classic movie Timescape (aka: Grand Tour: Disaster In Time, 1992) are inevitable.

Changeable alliances and variable motivations mean that some characters act like loyal sidekicks and eccentric stereotypes, but often reveal far greater depths - and not just a revenge for any betrayal - than we imagined when they appear or re-appear in different timeline plot-twists. With prodigal sons and resurrected daughters, awkward silences and tragic shoot-outs are happening now, soon, or back then, as the plot-line extends to span a hundred years of discontinuity.


This season, Jennifer is especially good fun whenever she’s quoting (sometimes cheesy) movie dialogues to hilariously motivational effect. Prompted by Madeleine Stowe’s guest appearance, Cole quits his rural idyll with pregnant Cassie in 1959 for a trippy pilgrimage through decades (like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five, 1972). Of course, there is yet another cliff-hanger ending, tantalising us with possibilities for season three. “The Witness has spoken.”

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Cohen And Tate

Cast: Roy Scheider, Adam Baldwin, Harley Cross, Cooper Huckabee, and Suzanne Savoy

Director: Eric Red

86 minutes (15) 1988
Widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Arrow blu-ray region B

Rating: 7/10
Review by Christopher Geary

“This job is bad.”

Cool but not heartless Cohen (Roy Scheider), a 30 year veteran of the murder business is reluctantly teamed-up with sulky novice, Tate (Adam Baldwin), a gum-chewing hot-head for 350 miles worth of road movie, en route to a meeting with mobsters in Houston. They have kidnapped a young boy, Travis (Harley Cross, who later appeared in The Believers, The Boy Who Cried Bitch, and Perdita Durango), from a rural safe house guarded by FBI agents.

Cohen And Tate is a cult low-budget crime thriller that quickly becomes a slow-burning character study of the differences between a world-weary mercenary and a death-hungry psychopath. Like director Eric Red’s earlier screenplay for Robert Harmon’s classic movie The Hitcher (1986), and following Stephen Frears’ under-valued The Hit (1984), this is a stylish melodrama in which every cigarette smoked seems like it might be a lit fuse-wire, primed for an explosive climax.


The cunning kid provokes antagonism shared by his captors into a violent confrontation, as they drive through a world of nocturnal indifference, on interstate highways and back roads towards a bloody hell, just as dawn and the simmering tension breaks. There are a number of witty plot twists, all evenly matched by the movie’s oppressive and ultimately tragic intensity.


The movie looks marvellous in this hi-def transfer, and the soundtrack crackles with eerie moments. As another vague adaptation of O. Henry’s celebrated short story, The Ransom Of Red Chief (1907), Cohen And Tate applies its ironic tone with exquisite care, taking no chances that might undermine the grim and gritty aspects of an underworld kidnap case. It is a newly minted cinematic version of the familiar tale, and benefits from its decidedly formal composition of many shots and scenes.    

“How about that?”


Disc extras:
An audio commentary by writer-director Eric Red
A Look Back at Cohen & Tate, a retrospective documentary featuring Eric Red, cinematographer Victor J. Kemper, editor Edward Abroms, and co-stars Kenneth McCabe and Harley Cross
Red’s original storyboards for the farmhouse shoot-out
Original uncut versions of the farmhouse and oilfield shoot-outs
Original theatrical trailer
Extensive stills gallery


Saturday, 3 December 2016

Oblivion

Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, and Melissa Leo

Director: Joseph Kosinski

124 minutes (12) 2013
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Universal DVD Region 2 

Rating: 7/10 review by Andrew Darlington

As far as big mainstream post-apocalypse CGI blockbusters go, this is a pretty smart movie. But not quite as smart as it thinks it is. The central gimmick is the familiar Philip K. Dick false-memory thing; the everything-you-think-you-know is a lie syndrome. And Tom Cruise - unhooking his cruise-control mode, confronts the role with genuine gravitas, to salvage it with some dignity. Director Joseph Kosinski (ex-Tron: Legacy, 2010) originally envisaged the plot as a graphic novel, so the visual content is accordingly dramatic.

It’s 14th March 2077, a half-century since the alien Scavengers destroyed the Moon, creating global catastrophe. And Jack Harper, Tech-49 (Cruise), flies his bubble-ship over vast desolations strewn with stranded cargo ships, submarines, and the land-locked Golden Gate Bridge. The Lincoln Monument is skewed at 45 degrees to serve the iconic purpose that the Statue of Liberty did in the original Planet Of The Apes (1968). And there are some striking perspectives of black silhouette figures against the amber cloud-scapes of Harper’s airborne Tower, although the full visual potential of the asteroidal fragments of the shattered Moon is under-realised, as it’s only fleetingly glimpsed in the corner of the sky.


Co-ordinated by on-screen Sally (Melissa Leo) aboard the giant wedge-shaped Tet space fortress, it’s Harper’s task - with his lover-partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), to mop-up stray Scav parties - “we won the war, but lost the planet,” and to protect the huge Hydro-Rigs that convert seawater into fusion energy for a new refuge-colony on Titan. But Harper is troubled by black-and-white memory sequences of New York - and a girl he met beside the Empire State Building viewing platform, before the war, before he was born.

This presents an obvious paradox, complicated further by his five-year memory-wipe that’s mandatory because we “can’t have your precious memories falling into the wrong hands.” Tracking a malfunctioning drone into a sinkhole replete with carpets and chandeliers, he finds a poetry book, Thomas Babington Macaulay’s narrative epic Lays Of Ancient Rome (1842), telling how heroic Horatius held the bridge against the Etruscan army, and ‘how can man die better, than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers’. It strikes a chord.


He squirrels the book away in a slim library at his idyllic lakeside cabin hidden by the ‘radiation zones’, where he also keeps his stash of vinyl albums - Duran Duran, Blue Oyster Cult, Exiles On Main Street (1972), and from where the stylus cues into Ramble On from Led Zeppelin II (1969), blasting out from his solar-powered turntable. If the Scavs arrived in 2017, this must still be considered a fashionably retro collection. And maybe the quizzical viewer will wonder; if such pockets of perfection still exist on Earth, why survivors are supposedly in the process of migrating to inhospitable Titan - Saturn’s largest moon and a freezing poisonous world, using the Tet as a staging point? Needless to stay, gum-chewing Harper wishes to stay here, while Victoria wants to leave by the two-week deadline, “we’ve done our job. It’s time to go.” She strengthens her argument with sweet soft-focus aquatic sex in their tower. Does she know more than she lets on?

Straddling his two-wheel speed-bike, his ‘cool’ Ray-Bans also act as part of his memory-prompts. But things begin to go seriously off-kilter when a surface beam triggered by the so-far unseen Scavs directs Harper to the crash-site of NASA deep-spaceship ‘The Odyssey’. Within the delta-sleep life-pods rescued from the wreck is Julia (Olga Kurylenko), the girl from his memory-vision, his wife. As far as big mainstream post-apocalypse CGI blockbusters go, this is a pretty smart movie. But not quite as smart as it thinks it is. And this is the start of the everything-you-think-you-know is a lie unravelling. Victoria is predictably hostile – protesting “we don’t know who she is, or what she is,” before she’s conveniently zapped and killed in a drone-attack.


“You are not who you think you are,” Julia tells him. Before they’re promptly captured by the Scavs, who – beneath their Mad Max style regalia, turn out not to be alien at all, but human survivors led by a wise Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman) who quotes Lays Of Ancient Rome back at him. Harper uses his Top Gun skills in aerial dog-fights with rogue drones coded to his DNA and tasked with chasing him down, with requisite explosions and hazards, he deliberately flies into an electrical storm to confuse them, and then employs the old hiding-behind-the-waterfall ploy. There’s a 'Death Star' canyon pursuit, after which he crash-lands in the rad-wastes to confront - and fight... himself! The real ‘he’ is identifiable only by the cut on the bridge of his nose. Accessing Tech-52’s Tower for a med-kit he finds the dead Victoria alive and well.

He takes Julia to his secret lakeside retreat where the somnolent organ-tones of Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale unfurl in unexpected juxtaposition, and she tells him “you always loved this song.” His memory-sequences now come in colour, telling him that the original crew of ‘The Odyssey’ – including Victoria, Harper himself and wife Julia, encountered an alien object – the Tet, while en route for Saturn. The real Sally was the original NASA controller. Taken over, thousands of cloned and memory-wiped versions of Harper were then programmed to mop-up – not predatory aliens, but human survivors after the Moon-smash. There is no Titan colony. The hydro-rigs are sucking the planet dry.


Strike-back time. In a patchwork of mix-match part-theft part-homage images, there are 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) slo-mo spacecraft turning bits. There are Independence Day (1996) moments as Harper with the delta-sleep pod supposedly containing Julia approaches the Tet, and even Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) flashbacks as they navigate within the immense structure, with glimpses of honeycomb-cells of preserved figures. Harper and Victoria clones? It’s as though sci-fi has become less about conceptual shocks and more concerned with re-combinations of reassuringly familiar tropes. Until, like Horatius, Harper holds the bridge alone. Well, except for the subterfuge of Beech, replacing Julia in the stasis-cabinet. “I created you Jack, I am your god,” protests Sally. As they trigger the detonation and destroy the ‘object’.

Three years later, Julia enjoys a hippie back-to-nature lifestyle with Harper’s daughter in the idyllic lakeside cabin, where other survivors gather - joined of course... by another Jack, the memory-restored Tech-52. You can’t kill Tom Cruise for long!