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Rating History

War on Everyone
19 hours ago via Movies on iPhone
½

After two brilliant outings with The Guard and Calvary, all eyes were on Irish writer/director John Michael McDonagh's third feature. There's a problem though, and that problem is the same one that plagued his brother Martin when he delivered the woefully misjudged Seven Psychopaths after his successful debut, In Bruges. Martin's problem was heading straight for Hollywood while forgetting to take a coherent script with him and this film has a similar sense of deja vu.

Plot: Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob Bolaño (Michael Peña) are two cops who are just as corrupt as the criminals they arrest. However, when they try and shake down a strip club owner, they stumble on an even bigger crime lord.

Leaving behind the idyllic coasts of Ireland, McDonagh's third outing focuses on the sun kissed streets of L.A. where he delivers a generic buddy/cop story. He attempts to play with conventions a little by throwing in some one liners that are sure to cause offence with some minority or other but the jokes are strained and few, if any, work at all. You might think that if the humour doesn't fly then you'll find something else to grab your interest but there isn't anything. The story lacks drive and there's nothing here that we haven't seen before. In fact, most recently Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe tread the same ground with The Nice Guys with much more entertaining results.

I actually felt sorry for Skarsgård and Peña; they are two gifted actors but there's no material here to work with and, together, they simply lack chemistry. There's also no attempt, whatsoever, to craft a three dimensional villain. What we get in this respect is strictly a stereotype with Theo James' upper-class, nasty attitude and posh English accent. Some vibrancy is attempted with the introduction of Caleb Landry Jones' flamboyant strip-club owner but the only colour he injects is his bright yellow socks. It's actually hard to believe that this was the same person who wrote and directed the sublime Calvary - one of my favourite films of 2014.

An absolutely pointless and messy endeavour that suffers horrendously from a lazy script In fact, to quote the film itself, "it starts and ends with the script. If you ain't got a good script, you ain't got shit". Wise words but it's just a shame that McDonagh didn't pay heed to them.

Mark Walker

Coherence
Coherence (2014)
2 days ago via Movies on iPhone

Much has been said about Karyn Kusuma's dark mystery The Invitation in 2015. It became the dinner party thriller that people were talking about yet James Ward Byrkit's Coherence (which was first released two years earlier) went largely unnoticed. It did gather some positive word-of-mouth around the festival circuit but this film was more dynamic and much more deserving of a wider audience.

Plot: A group of friends meet for an evening of chow and chat on the night that a passing comet flies close to the earth's atmosphere. It's an event that hasn't happened for decades but also has the possibilities of some strange events occurring. The friends soon discover that they might be living in an alternate reality as fear and paranoia creep into their increasingly fraught and tension filled dinner party.

Shot on an impressive shoestring budget of $50,000 in one location and with an entirely unknown cast that improvised most of their lines. With this in mind, Coherence has a very strong chance of being an absolute disaster and a word of warning to all budding filmmakers in what not to do. However, it's quite the opposite. Byrkit shows what the possibilities are when the writing is strong and you have a confidence in your approach. He has a fine and steady hand with his direction and delivers a taught, intelligent and hugely involving mystery in his feature debut. Coherence really has no right in being as good as it is but it absolutely works. It's strengths lie in treating the audience with respect and you're left in a position where you have to return the favour. It earns it as it demands your attention to keep up with the twisted and, sometimes confusing, plot developments. That said, Byrkit doesn't want to leave any of his audience behind, so he does take the time to explain his scientific and philosophical theories but he never loses sight of the film's brisk pace and he doesn't forget that the film is essentially a complex puzzle. And a very good one at that.

There are some minor plot discrepancies here and there but these do not overshadow the sheer brilliance and execution of its genuis science fiction concept. A remarkably assured debut from a promising new directorial talent.

Mark Walker

Hell or High Water
9 days ago via Movies on iPhone
½

Scottish director David Mackenzie has steadily been making a name for himself over the years with some strong, low-key work in his native Scotland; Hallam Foe, Young Adam and, especially, Perfect Sense showcased his obvious abilities. It would seem that it was his superb prison drama Starred Up in 2013 that caught everyone's eye, though. Hell or High Water now sees him taking his first venture onto American soil but it doesn't hinder his abilities in the slightest. If anything, it has proven that Mackenzie is a director of genuine quality.

Plot: Needing to pay off the reverse mortgage on their recently deceased Mother's ranche, brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) target several branches of the Texas Midland Bank to raise the money. This invites the attention of Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) who is doggedly determined in tracking them down and putting an end to their spate of robberies.

It doesn't take long to realise that Hell or High Water is a very different type of western. It's one that, for obvious reasons, has been labelled as a "neo-western" but it's contemporary nature is the very angle in which it's able to fully explore its themes. The west has changed and the end of its way of life is fast approaching the characters of Taylor Sheridan's dense script. He makes regular mention of the passage of time, ever changing landscapes and epoch's; if it wasn't the white settlers taking the land from the natives then it's the banks foreclosing on it, forcing families into debt and desperation.

This is ultimately the motivation that drives the antagonists as other subtle hints on the state of the American economy are delivered under the guise of a crime/heist film. What we see on the surface of Hell or High Water doesn't begin to describe the many layers underneath. And that's ultimately what sets it apart from most other films of the genre.

As mentioned, Sheridan's script is multilayered and he also incorporates the themes of brotherly love, loss, family responsibility and ownership which are demonstrated through crisp dialogue and genuinely dramatic (and sometimes darkly humorous) exchanges between the mismatched characters.

Speaking of which, the characters are authentically drawn while also excellently played by the three leads; Pine exudes a brooding intensity while Foster is allowed more room to explore the unhinged sociopath. Now that Bridges is getting older, he has pretty much mastered the surly old-codger routine and does so again with great authority and panache.

There's a deliberate pace to the film, so those expecting tension filled bank robberies and high speed chases will have to be patient. These moments are provided but they come at the cost of investing your time in the characters. And it's an investment that pays off.

It also helps that's its beautifully shot by Giles Nuttgens and Mackenzie makes good use of the photography and employs a meditative approach to the proceedings while showing an assured confidence in his direction.

A rich and rewarding western crime story that delivers on many levels. It's broad strokes signify a maturity and that maturity is tied up with a very satisfying conclusion.

Mark Walker

Hunt for the Wilderpeople
14 days ago via Movies on iPhone
½

After the hilarious vampire comedy, What We Do In The Shadows in 2014, there was much anticipation for Taika Waititi's next film. Hunt For a the Wilderpeople has now arrived and arrived to yet more critical acclaim. The positivity surrounding it, however, has also been its slight undoing for me. It's an admirable little adventure but it didn't quite strike the chord that I was expecting.

Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a young delinquent sent to live with his Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Uncle Hec (Sam Neill) on their remote farm. But when his aunt passes away, child welfare want to relocate Ricky. This forces him and his Uncle to go on the run throughout the New Zealand bush as a national manhunt is ordered to capture them.

Despite the dark edge to What We Do In The Shadows, Waititi's deftness was in finding a lighter tone and cleverly tapping into vampire folklore to provide the laughs. It was a playful and kind-hearted satire that hit all the right notes. With Hunt For the Wilderpeople, he, once again, displays a kind hearted nature and taps into the angle of a pair of mis-matched misfits on a journey of self-discovery. Amiable as it is, though, it just doesn't have the laughs that made his previous film so successful.

That's not to say, that this film isn't an enjoyable experience. It has plenty going for it.
For a start, the two leads in Sam Neill and young Julian Dennison are an absolute treat. Their camaraderie and wit is infectious and they both embrace their characters with a genuine sentimentality. Neill's surly old codger and Dennison's haiku writing, wannabe rapper are a joy to watch and they're given fine support in the early part of the film by the hugely enjoyable Rima Te Wiata (Housebound).

It's the characters and their quirky humour that Waititi captures very well but it's was, sadly, the narrative (based on Barry Crump's novel) that I didn't find as engaging as it could've been. It's a pleasant journey with a fine balance of humour and pathos but, to be quite honest, I found it became rather lethargic and overstayed its welcome. Waititi tries to inject a quicker pace with some action in the final third - which is unashamedly reminiscent of Thelma & Louise - but it feels misjudged and out of place. However, fans of the Thor franchise might take some positivity from Waititi being selected for the next instalment as he showcases his ability to stage bigger scenes.

Without question, though, Waititi's film looks beautiful and his picturesque New Zealand locations are quite stunning and he makes fitting use of music throughout. In a different frame of mind, I think I could've enjoyed Hunt For the Wilderpeople more than I did. It's one of those films were my expectations were so high, that it was always going to be a stretch to meet my demands.

There's some impressive work on show but, ultimately, this is
nothing more than a delightful little adventure that encourages a mild chuckle rather than belly laughs.

Mark Walker

Captain Fantastic
3 months ago via Movies on iPhone

In a year vastly consisting of the superhero (take your pick), the sequel (Independence Day: Resurgence), the reboot (Ghostbusters) and the disappointing (Hail, Caeser!), 2016 was beginning to have a very underwhelming vibe and lack of originality. Leave it then to the indie circuit to take a firm hold of the fading year and offer the best film so far. It's with absolute conviction that I can say that, actor turned director, Matt Ross has finally delivered a film that satisfies and resonates. Admittedly, there has been the occasional delight in 2016 but none more delightful than Captain Fantastic.

Plot: Distant from the constructs of societal pressures, Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) dedicates his life to teaching his six children how to become well-rounded and intelligent individuals while living in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. However, when a family tragedy strikes, Ben and his brood are forced to leave their self-sustainable home and experience the outside world which brings new experiences and challenges for the reclusive family.

It's often said that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but in the case of Captain Fantastic I had already done so. Last year, I came across a still from the film and the photo spoke volumes to me. After hearing some positive word-of-mouth, I had an underlying feeling that this was a film I would really enjoy. A film that looked like it had something to say. I awaited its arrival with great anticipation and I can now confirm that it was worth the wait.

It's not unlike Wes Anderson's work in its look and it's approach. It shares similarities with the dysfunctional family of The Royal Tenenbaums or the cross-country, brotherly relations of The Darjeeling Limited. It's as vibrant in its colourful pallet and as deep in it's characterisation and commentary on achieving a meaningful existence.

It's no surprise to hear that this is a biographical account of director Matt Ross' own experiences. It feels authentic and his affection and understanding of the characters, and their moral standpoint, shines through.

There's a political edge and intelligence to the film. The unorthodox family live their lives by the philosophy of Plato's The Republic and have regular
discourses on dialectical materialism. Mortensen's Ben talks with his oldest son, Bo (George McKay), about whether he's expressing Marxist or Trotskyist views and encourages his other children in the works of Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. They embrace Buddhism as a philosophy and reject any form of organised religion. At one point they even question why they should celebrate Christmas, preferring instead to celebrate "Noam Chomsky Day" where each child receives a gift on the birthday of the intellectual historian and political activist.

Needles to say that this is a family who reject capitalism and the consumerist construct that it has birthed. They prefer their off-grid, nonconformist living and struggle to adapt to society when they are finally forced to confront it.

What's interesting, though, is that Ross doesn't play this entirely one sided. He does actually question Ben's motivation and his responsibilities as a parent. He pairs him with a very different patriarch in Frank Langella's wealthy, capitalist father-in-law who obviously doesn't approve of Ben's freedom of expression or alternative parental views.

The theme of the film is about striking a balance in life and that's exactly what Ross achieves in the structure of his film; it's about the intellectual and the cultural, awareness and ignorance and he manages to bring an emotional sensitivity to the proceedings without being overly sentimental.

As mentioned it has a distinct Wes Anderson flavour but it's also a reminder of the same misfits of Little Miss Sunshine. Where that film created its characters to be dysfunctionally comedic, Captain Fantastic's feel more authentic and three-dimensional.

Spearheading them is an absolutely outstanding Viggo Mortensen. There's a subtlety and depth to his performance and he captures the nuisances of being a strong-minded and arrogant individual while also affording a tender and loving fatherly figure to shine through. It's not flashy and there's no grandstanding involved. Mortensen's too wise and too good an actor to even have to do that and it's in his subtlety that he allows the space for his young co-stars to have their moment too. It's a confident but very unselfish performance that anchors the entire film.

A poignant social commentary that benefits greatly from all its little quirks and attention to detail that capture the essence of life itself. It's funny, heartbreaking and uplifting all in equal measure and (like Mortensen's sublime lead performance) Matt Ross delivers it with both hard truths and a loving affection. A beautiful film.

Mark Walker