Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Equalizer: Movie Review

The Equalizer: Movie Review

Cast: Denzel Washington, Martin Csokas, Chloe Grace-Moretz, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo
Director: Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen)

It's the one man might of America versus multiple Russian gangsters in this latest hell-hath-no-fury-like-Denzel-scorned outing that feels like something from the 1980s.

Reuniting Denzel with his Training Day director Antoine Fuqua, the duo set out on updating an 80s gritty UK crime series that starred Edward Woodward as an avenging angel.

Washington is McCall, whose life is a measured calm and precision, and whose past is a mystery. Working in a DIY store and living his evenings reading books at a local diner, he forms a friendship with child prostitute Teri (Grace-Moretz) who's under the control of Russian gangsters. When she's beaten to a pulp, he decides to exact vengeance. But his brutal act of revenge stirs up a hornet's nest and soon, bigger sharks are circling.

The Equalizer is in parts brutal, but a solid thriller, that skimps a little too readily on the action in favour of ponderous build up and stylish slow-mo shots aimed at looking cool more than anything else.

Denzel goes for measured and zen-like calm as he trots out an intensely brooding version of his Man On Fire routine, with each take down he enacts being characterised by a gloomy stare as he visualises how it'll all go down and an over-reliance on choreographed slow-mo shots. Choosing to spend time dispensing healthy living advice to a colleague who wants to be a security guard, advice to Teri on a singing career and sucking on his jaw to demonstrate when he's really ticked off, there's little call for Washington to be anything other than emotionless and completely invincible throughout; with the exception of a handful of scenes which see him soften and open up when his back story is hinted at about two thirds of the way through the film.

Predictably, the story follows a very well-trodden, if somewhat ambling path, with Grace-Moretz's damsel merely book-ending proceedings, and Fuqua choosing to drag out the film for as far as it can be stretched as McCall takes on the one-note villainous Russians - who aside from Martin Csokas's snakelike Fixer barely register.

Short, sharp bursts of brutality punctuate the at times sedentary proceedings as the one-on-one talking ends in bone-crunching agony for those opposed to McCall (and with a final showdown in McCall's DIY store offering up plenty of OSH related issues and conveniently placed weapons). Fuqua chooses to rely on those to provide some life in among the beautiful cinematography and endless grey dusky cityscapes.

City vistas glisten in the dark with a brooding gritty underbelly and Fuqua's framed some wonderfully evocative shots - from fans all whirring in the DIY store to alleyway take downs - but it doesn't distract from the pace of the film which really never feels like it's fully kicking in or building to an emotionally invested climax, given how invincible McCall appears to be - and how outclassed the Russians are when facing him.

All in all, The Equalizer doesn't do subtle - even from allegories and allusions to the books he's reading - the tension is relatively non-existent and the game of cat-and-mouse somewhat lacking in suspense, but yet I couldn't help but entertained in this vengeance tale that's all style and very little substance.

Whether that's grounds enough for a sequel and an unending franchise is debatable, but, as with the TV series which ran for 4 years, you wouldn't bet against McCall.


Monday, 22 September 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive: Blu Ray Review

Only Lovers Left Alive: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Madman Home Ent

Jim Jarmusch's latest, Only Lovers Left Alive, is the (slight) story of vampire lovers Adam (Tom Hiddleston channeling lounge lizard and Iggy) and Eve (a more animated Tilda Swinton than I've seen in years).

The duo have been together for years and have seen it all - but are currently living apart. She in Tangier, he in Detroit. He's become a recluse within the walls of his mansion, bitter at how the "zombies" have taken over the world, playing music and having Anton Yelchin's Ian running errands for him - including sourcing old guitars from rock history. 

She, on the other hand, also leads the solitary life, getting blood from Christopher Marlowe (a wizened John Hurt). When she calls Adam one day, she decides to head to Detroit to be with him, amid concerns over his mental health.

Adam's elated to see her but things take a turn for the chaotic when Eve's sister Ava, a wild child (Mia Wasikowska) shows up and throws everything into turmoil.

Only Lovers Left Alive is an impeccably cool piece of cinema, with a playful tone at its heart.

Admittedly nothing really substantial happens within this tome as it unspools; deadpan comments over knowing and influencing famous people are made by the duo and that's about as exciting as it ever gets.

But it's just Jarmusch being a bit playful throughout - he evocatively manages to conjure up the worlds they live in; Hiddleston's Adam, surrounded by wires and useless technology, lives in a world of clutter. His only interactions are with Anton Yelchin's hanger-on Ian andJeffrey Wright's doctorfrom whom he sources blood.

There's dry humour aplenty in the piece as well - from visual gags such as Hiddleston's dressed up doctor wearing shades in a hospital and causing his supplier to jump to verbal jousting and acidly goofy one-liners which come out of nowhere, (the doctors in the blood bank are Dr Faust, Dr Calgari and Dr Watson) the screenplay carefully mixes cool with audience pleasing moments.

Visually impressive, moodily sombre in tone in places yet deliciously deadpan in others and with little going on outside of the atmospherics, you could be forgiven for not diving into Jarmusch's take on the vampire world in Only Lovers Left Alive..

However, it's due to the leads that it largely succeeds: Hiddleston's introspective and almost suicidal Adam, with half of his face covered with lank dark black hair and Swinton's animated, platinum blond locked Eve are eminently watchable thanks to some real onscreen chemistry. Which is just as well, because occasionally the film meanders and appears to have no overall plot or point.

All in all, Only Lovers Left Alive is a mischievous yet laid back movie, a vampire film with a more satirical than scary bite.

Extras: Behind the scenes doco, deleted scenes, trailers

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Enemy: Blu Ray Review

Enemy: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Madman Home Ent

In Denis Villeneuve's Enemy, the Incendies director takes Jake Gyllenhaal and doubles him up. One Gyllenhaal is Adam Bell, a college lecturer whose world is a pattern that repeats itself as he drifts from one lecture to the next, and spends time with his girlfriend (Melanie Laurent). 

One day, he's recommended a movie by a colleague and appearing to see himself in the film, his world completely changes as he tries to track down the actor (played by a second Gyllenhaal, who subtly shifts traits). Initially reticent to get involved, Bell becomes obsessed in tracing this doppelganger...

Enemy is adapted from The Double by Jose Saramago and is as suspenseful a watch as it is baffling. Opening at an erotic dance club with a woman squashing a spider and ending with a real "What the?" moment, it's devoid of definitive answers as it spins its tantalising web.

Villeneuve's scattered clues throughout this Lynchian style piece and it clearly would benefit from a second screening as you try to take in all of what appears to be going on under the surface. What part do the spiders play? Why is there an exact double with a version of a similar girlfriend attached to each? Why is there a shot of a spider with ginormous legs stalking over the cityscape that Adam lives in? Is any of it real or is the duality happening within his own mind a la Tyler Durden? So many questions, so much endless discussion - and yet, Enemy is as thrilling a watch as it is indecipherable.

Beginning with a quote that "Chaos is order yet undeciphered" the hook pulls you in as the monotony of life, repetition of routine and the menace of the score begin to bite and inveigle their way into you, burrowing deep inside your subconscious. Themes of escape, conformity, oppression and philandering are all buried within and given life by the subtlest of performances.

Unsettling and disturbing, with plenty of food for thought, Enemy is a fascinating and compelling watch as the slow pans and swoops through a bleak yellow landscape seal you in their web. 

See it at least twice to work out what's what in this creepy mind game that's one hell of a trip.

Extras: Interviews, trailer


ZB Review: Sin City 2, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

ZB Review: Sin City 2, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

This week on Jack Tame, I was talking the return of Turtle Power and Sin City's long awaited sequel.


Saturday, 20 September 2014

Planes: Fire and Rescue: Movie Review

Planes: Fire and Rescue: Movie Review

Vocal cast: Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen
Director: Roberts Gannaway

It's back to the skies for the second outing for the franchise Planes.

In this latest, which is dedicated to the work done by firefighters all around the world, Dane Cook returns as Dusty Crophopper.

After winning the round the world race from the first film, life's looking good for ole Dusty. But on learning that his gearbox is on the way out if he continues to race, he's forced into an early retirement and his rise to fame is grounded before it's really begun.

However, rather than accept retirement, Dusty heads into the world of aerial firefighting after starting a major blaze and causing the airfield to close down. But Dusty faces a rough ride as he tries to persuade the leader of the unit Blade Ranger (Ed Harris) that he's good enough for the job...

Planes: Fire And Rescue is a depressingly dull piece of formulaic computer animation that seems to have been put together by committee rather than with passion, vim and vigour.

The whole thing feels flat, lacks any real oomph and fails to remotely get off the ground, even though the creators are obsessed with using as many shots of the characters hurtling through the air to a piece of middle of the road music.

Despite throwing in a few corny puns here and there (quick gags about a boat superstar called Boat Reynolds being one of the more memorable), there's not enough to really grab hold of; and there are certainly not enough memorable characters to resonate with the kids long after the movie's done.

DisneyToons has certainly fired enough different kinds of creations to populate this world - from fire trucks, to daredevil young firefighters to a loving old RV couple - but it's stopped short of breathing any real life into them and injecting any kind of character, which proves to be the piece's fatal flaw.

Outside of some truly beautiful firefighting sequences within the National Park as Dusty's training, there's very little to satiate the eyes or the brain which is a real shame. Once again, the message of self-belief and pushing yourself get a look in, but the 3D in the piece feels largely wasted and redundant - both in the visuals and also in the characters themselves. It's hard to believe that this is executive produced by John Lassetter of Pixar because there's hardly any real heart within or anything to lift into life high above the skies.

The very younger end of the spectrum may enjoy parts of Planes: Fire and Rescue, and it's certainly good intentioned (although the dedication to the firefighters would have been better served up at the end), but it's just that this movie isn't cleared for lift off on the runway before it's even begun to taxi.


Friday, 19 September 2014

Destiny: PS4 Review

Destiny: PS4 Review

Released by Bungie / Activision
Platform: PS4

I've been playing Destiny for over a week now, and I still don't think I'm yet in a position to fully review it, given how much it keeps changing.

Because of the sheer fact that a large percentage of the game isn't the same each time I throw on the PS4 and fire up my weapons. But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

In case you've been living under a rock, Destiny is the sci-fi first person shooter cum multiplayer that's already shifted a half billion worldwide and has got many raving.  In it, you are a mythical Guardian in a post apocalyptic world that's seen the human race spread out across the stars. But the good times have ended, a Traveller orb is now protecting you and the planet you inhabit. And despite promises of the light, the Darkness is coming and it's up to you to try and stop it. With the help of a floating cuboid robot called a Ghost (voiced by Game of Thrones' Peter Dinklage), you set out on various missions to try and fend off the forces of evil and set nature back in balance.

Blending the mythic with the multiplayer, I have to admit Destiny is the first game of its ilk that I've actually found sat well within my gaming prowess (I've never played Halo, though I'm aware of some of its similarities with this title).

Through various missions, various power ups and a lot of ammo and baddies, this FPS is the first game that actually felt like it improved the further through the rankings you go. Beginning with the early missions and lower end weapons, your Guardian is pretty much muddling about trying to survive, but with careful progressions and accuracy, more weapons and gadgets open up for use as you begin to level up. The Destiny I started playing is not the same Destiny I'm playing now - which is a fascinating concept in many ways as the game adapts and changes.

Choosing either Warlock, Hunter or Titans, once you've customised your player, it's into the foray of the worlds you go. And make no mistake, Destiny is beautifully recreated; landscapes and vistas feel so beautifully put together, a mix of the epic and the painted, there's no denying the look of this game in any shape or form. That beauty translates to the action as well, with foes seeming well-defined, crystal clear and free from blockiness when they're part of a mass hoard charging toward you with the intention of ripping you apart. Equally the cut scenes (complete with their sci-fi pompous language and po-faced mythology) are truly impressive, with some great voice work and a feeling of epic

But not all of Destiny is smooth sailing. There have been moments when the servers at Bungie's end have just dropped out (which is extremely frustrating during a mission to drop all that XP and found goodies); and occasionally, the repetitive nature of the missions starts to drag a little - go to this planet, find something, defend it from the bad guys, head to end of level for more shooting - and there's an inability to fully interact at the Tower level (the so-called social hub) which bustles with life, but curiously very little sound - short of dancing and waving to others, there's no way that I've yet found to engage with the other players.

But it's in the multi-player that Destiny starts to come alive in a real social sense.

As well as public events which crop up in the middle of the game and give you a chance to compete for XP or weaponry, there's the destination of the Crucible which is where your opportunity to flex your muscles against others becomes reality.

It's here that the game gives you a degree of fun and frustration - 3 on 3 events, 6 on 6 events see you pitted against others; usually, they have a higher rating than you which makes it occasionally difficult when you're shot to pieces before you've even started, but it's in the team element that Destiny starts to rise above its frustrations as working together to steal a flag or simply shoot each other proves utterly addictive.

With other challenges opening up after you hit a certain level and with Bungie creating new missions to those who rise to the challenge (a new batch of hostiles has just dropped this week), it's clear that Destiny is set to continue growing and will prove to be an enduring title. Having already scooped a half-billion worldwide in sales, there's no denying its power. And while parts of the game feel familiar, the accessibility of this FPS title and the rewards it offers now and in the future go a long way to making this Destiny feel inevitable.


Minecraft: XBox One Review

Minecraft: XBox One Review

Platform: XBox One

Minecraft is phenomenally popular and its arrival on the next gen on XBox One should come as no surprise to anyone.

It's the formula you're used to as world building, exploration and blocky graphics all come to the fore. But it's all about your imagination and your desire to explore and wile away the hours that will prove your major interest in the game. Random worlds present all manner of tasks and trials - from creatures wanting to get you during the night time after the sun's gone down on all you've created, to crafting tools, homes and watching over animals, every opportunity is here for you to explore.

Factoring in split screening for others to join the creativity gives it all a boost that it socially needs and given that the Minecraft world is a fun one to share, it's a logical assumption to improve that side of it all.

Crafting, creating, burrowing and building all have their fun sides, and if you've played this before, you won't find yourself too troubled by it. The blockiness looks impressive on the XBox One (if that's not a misnomer) but it's the fact they are next gen machines which allows them to live on larger environments that will be the pull for so many fans of the game.

Deeply immersive and thoroughly enjoyable, Minecraft is a boon for so many. Dive in now and enjoy it at its highest quality.