• Film reviews

    #612 – 24 Hours to Live (2017)

    24 Hours to Live (2017)

    Film review #612

    Director: Brian Smrz

    SYNOPSIS: Travis, an Assassin working for a powerful agency is killed while on the job, but is brought back to life with an experimental drug to get information that died with him. Attempting to kill him when this is done, Travis escapes and teams up with Lin, the Interpol agent who killed him, to get revenge on his former employers…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: 24 hours to Live is a 2017 science-fiction action film. Travis is an assassin who is roped into a job to take out an informant before he delivers evidence that will bring down the agency he works for. When he is killed by the Interpol agent protecting the informant, the agency resurrects him with an experimental procedure to get the information for him, but try to kill him again when he gives it them. On the run from the agency that hired him, he engages on a mission of revenge, by teaming up with the Interpol agent that killed him. Made by the producers of John Wick, the film clearly makes use of their previous experience on that film, as it is primarily an action-fest, full of shooting, running, fighting, and the sort. It does differ from John Wick though, as there is actually space in between action scenes, and there’s more of a static camera in place of the close-up, shaky shots that immerse you in the action and never let you go. As such, the film falls into very standard action film territory, with not much to distinguish it. The film does have a story, but as always with action films, it is not the most important aspect of the film. It serves its purpose for the most part, but there’s some elements that don’t really need to be there. There’s sometimes a bit too much padding between the action scenes with bits of story, but on the whole it’s not too distracting.

    Ethan Hawke in the lead brings enough grit and energy to the role to keep the film entertaining, backed by a familiar backstory of having his family killed, you’ll recognise all the twists and turns the film throws at you. The setting of South Africa provides something a little bit different, but not too much. Overall, 24 Hours to Live is a one-time watch that has enough action and entertainment to see you through to the end. Relying on typical story points that won’t leave much of an impact, there’s still plenty of energy in the action that will distract you throughout the runtime.

  • Film reviews

    #602 – Geostorm (2017)

    Geostorm (2017)

    Film review #602

    Director: Dean Devlin

    SYNOPSIS: In the future, a global satellite network controls the Earth’s weather to prevent it from developing into extreme storms that would cause mass destruction. When the satellite starts to malfunction, the scientist who developed the system is called back to investigate and fix it, he finds that the malfunctions may actually be sabotage…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Geostorm is a 2017 sci-fi film. The film starts off with a narration that could probably have served as a film in itself: Earth is plagued by extreme storms that threaten mass destruction, and to counter this, scientists led by Jake Dawson develop a satellite network codenamed “Dutch Boy” to disperse these storms. Jake is removed from the project after he activates Dutch Boy without approval to disperse a storm over Shanghai. A year later, his brother, working for the U.S. government, persuades Jake to return to investigate a malfunction onboard Dutch Boy, which he suspects is sabotage, leading to a whodunnit scenario before more disaster. All of these elements are very formulaic, and offer no originality. Being primarily a disaster movie, the story is secondary in favour of the big destructive scenes of cities being laid to waste against the force of nature, but weak CGI dilutes this aspect too, leaving a film is very little going for it. There’s a little bit of mystery, disaster, and drama, but nothing is developed strongly enough to serve as the film’s backbone, thus leaving a bit of disconnected mess.

    Despite all this, it’s certainly not an unwatchable film: it’s entertaining enough, as long as long as you don’t over think it. Character development is sorely lacking, so you’re never really getting a sense of peril for the situations they are in. The overarching mystery does try and lead you astray, but the actual solution isn’t really all that exciting to present that much of a twist. It’s a bad film, mired by poor effects and an obvious inexperience on the part of Dean Devlin in his directorial debut, but it’s non-offensive, and you can sit through it if you switch off your sense of reason off for an hour and forty minutes.

  • Film reviews

    #541 – Bong of the Living Dead (2017)

    Bong of the living Dead (2017)

    Film review #541

    Director: Max Groah

    SYNOPSIS: a group of friends obsessed with zombies and getting high find their fantasies have come true and the zombie apocalypse is here. Unfortunately, their fantasy about fighting in the zombie apocalypse falls short of their expectations…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Bong of the Living Dead is a 2017 zombie film, and is not related to the previously reviewed 2010 Bong of the Dead (there just happens to be a “budding” market for films about zombies and weed apparently). The film mostly centres on a group of childhood friends who grew up imagining what to do in the zombie apocalypse, and have now grown up to smoke weed and talk about the zombie apocalypse. The group finally gets their wish though, as zombies start appearing and they can start preparing their plan for survival…or just get high. I don’t know. The film tries to do quite a lot in terms of it’s story and genre: it’s a stoner comedy film, but also a meta-zombie apocalypse film that riffs on the tropes of the genre, but also takes a dark and dramatic turn for the last twenty minutes when the reality of the situation catches up to the cast. A such, it feels like it’s trying to do too many things at once, and there’s no core around which the film coheres. A lot of the film does involve the characters just getting high, which I guess would be the dominant theme, but the comedy just isn’t there to make it a simple stoner flick: as mentioned, it tries to go for a meta-take on the zombie apocalypse, but this commentary is loosely scattered through the film, and doesn’t take root. It feels like it wants to do a Shaun of the Dead-esque approach in this regard, but also a bunch of other things too.

    The characters each have their own personalities and set themselves apart, but most of them don’t really come across a likable. The wobbly acting is perhaps intentional for the most part as it attempts to in-part parody low-budget zombie movies, but the actors do a decent job of handling the more emotional and dramatic scenes at the end; however, it is still a bit jarring when you have spent the film not taking them seriously. I’m not quite sure about the setting of the film: one of the main characters runs a DVD rental store, which doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would actually exist in 2017, and there’s no mobile phones anywhere, which makes me think that maybe it’s set in the early 2000s, but there’s no reference to the timeframe, so again, it’s another element that seems a bit unclear. This is certainly an indie film, but definitely not a one-man show created nearly entirely by one person: this has a full crew attached, as evidenced by the near-full credits that roll about twenty minutes in with the title card. I’m not opposed to the idea of having credits at the start of a film (this is the way they were originally presented), but to have them show up as the first act of the film ends and bring it to a stand still for nearly five minutes is pretty disruptive for the film’s pacing.

    In terms of the film’s production, there’s a decent amount of competence with regards to how it’s filmed; nothing too special, but it works. The makeup on the zombies looks good, and there’s a decent amount of gore when there needs to be, but the film seems to refuse to capture anything violent on film, and any physical violence on the zombies cuts away just as it happens, or is partially obscured. I’m guessing this is either to do with trying to secure the film’s rating, or having no way of making it look convincing without hurting the actors. Either way, it is a noticeable hole in the film. Overall, it feels like Bong of the Living Dead wants to both be a stoner zombie movie, while also being a commentary on the stoner movie…while also adding a serious side to the stoner zombie movie. You’ve got a lot of sitting around smoking weed, some nudity, and some zombie whacking, while the plot point about the characters being zombie movie buffs setting up a meta-narrative doesn’t really go anywhere. The last act switching to a much darker tone as the events of the film start to take their toll on the cast does have some emotional weight to it eventually, but when you’ve been watching these people just smoke weed and base their personality on one-dimensional comedy traits, then trying to make you care for them in the last twenty minutes is a huge uphill climb that the film makes for itself, made worse by the way some of these characters act just makes them downright unlikeable. Credit to the film for trying to do something a little different, it just tries to do too many things a little different…

  • Film reviews

    #431 – Evil Bong 666 (2017)

    Evil Bong 666 (2017)

    Film review #431

    Director: Charles Band

    SYNOPSIS: Having bought Ebee’s weed shop from Rabbit, Lucy Furr intends to sacrifice unsuspecting customers in order to open up a portal to “Sexy Hell.” However, Ebee, the evil bong herself, has her own plans for the shop, and intends to once again conquer the world by selling her own weed products…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSISEvil Bong 666 is a 2017 comedy horror film and the sixth film in the Evil Bong film series. Picking up from end of the previous film, in which the cast is banished to “sexy hell.” Meanwhile, Lucy Furr has bought Ebee’s weed shop from Rabbit, and when she learns of the existence of sexy hell from Ebee the evil bong, who has escaped from there, she decides to open up a portal to go there herself by sacrificing customers that come to the shop. There isn’t really much of a story here other than Lucy Furr selling weed to customers coming into the shop, and most of the scenes just consist of standing around and talking. This has been the mantra of the last three of these films, but with the others, the characters were at least trying to be funny. The film is severely lacking in comedy or horror, and instead just focuses on some crude humour and nudity which itself is just forced and without any real effort or connection to anything. There’s a sub-plot with a “Faux Betty Boop” character, but I honestly couldn’t work out what was going on there. The previous films were hardly a masterwork of cinema, but they at least tried to deliver some humourous lines or characters. Here, it just seems nobody is trying.

    In keeping with the evil bong continuity (which is a thing I guess), a number of the characters from the previous films return. The evil bong Ebee herself obviously returns, as does Rabbit, who is the only character to have appeared in every film. The character of Larnell, who was in every other film until this point, is missing, and without him the film loses it’s focus, opting instead for making Lucy Furr the lead, who just doesn’t have the presence or character to make it work. The gingerdead man returns as well, but his character has been pretty meaningless for a while. Some other minor characters return, but they’re also barely worth mentioning, and when Ebee or Rabbit aren’t on screen, you get the feeling that nothing of importance is happening (that can also be said when they are on screen too, but slightly less so).

    When the portal to sexy hell is opened, the cast find themselves confronted with “Beelzebud,” because this series loves weed-based puns. The climax of the film is a mish-mash of world domination ploys and bickering, which again isn’t interesting. The film once again only has two locations: the weed shop and “sexy hell” which is adorned by CGI of floating cleavage and other monstrosities that I don’t need to remember. In it’s defence, this is obviously a low-budget film, but that cannot excuse the lack of humour or interesting story. Overall, Evil Bong 666 is a mess that doesn’t really do anything: if it wants to be a comedy, it doesn’t make an effort to have any funny jokes or setups, and if it’s meant to be a horror, there’s no suspense, scares, deaths or gore to invoke any sense of fear or dread. It’s just sixty-five minutes of minor characters bickering without any direction or motivation. As with the rest of the film’s in the series, this is obviously meant to be a film you watch when you’re high and not really focused on the intricacies of the story of evil drug paraphernalia, but there’s nothing visually interesting or funny to enjoy in that state. It’s probably not much worse than the other films, but it’s definitely not better than them, as it barely registers a laugh, and the weed puns have long since been exhausted.

  • Film reviews

    #383 – Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)

    Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)

    Film review #383

    Director: John McPhail

    SYNOPSIS: Anna is about to finish high school and plans to travel for a year before going to university, much to her dad’s disapproval. However, a zombie outbreak and the onset of the apocalypse have altered her plans somewhat, and Anna and her school friends must find a way to survive the end of the world…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSISAnna and the Apocalypse is a 2017 comedy/horror musical. The film starts off introducing Anna, a high school student who is planning on having a gap year before starting university, much to her Dad’s dismay. Anna and her friends also have plenty of problems at school including the new authoritarian headteacher and the usual teenage trouble. All of these issues are bypassed however, when a zombie outbreak occurs and Anna must find a way to survive with her friends and find her father. The story is fairly standard and doesn’t offer a deep lore-filed story. It’s a zombie outbreak like every other zombie outbreak, and it isn’t integral to the story to go into detail with regards to its origins. What makes the film stand out is that it is also a musical, ending up as a musical.comedy/horror hybrid, the film takes on a lot of different tones, but for the most part I think it does a good job of handling the variety well.

    The characters are well defined, and each of the students has their own personality and reacts to the apocalypse differently, which is the sort of diversity you would expect from a group of teenagers. The musical numbers also help in this regard, as each of the main characters has at least a song in which they express their emotions and opinions in a unique way.The songs aren’t so memorable that you’ll remember them after the film has ended, but they are catchy and enjoyable so that a wide range of people will enjoy them. They also help in allowing the viewer to invest in the characters and their emotions, which leaves more of an impact when they die…and they do die, because this film does get quite dark in places and makes you feel the weight of their sacrifices.

    Anna and the Apocalypse is not a big production affair, but it doesn’t need to be, as it keeps its focus on the characters and small-scale scenes that feel very personal. I suppose it also counts as a Christmas movie, although it’s definitely not very festive. I can’t find much to criticise in this film: it works within its boundaries and creates a simple story crossing genres, with a diverse cast and personal interactions augmented by serviceable performances and music. It’s not rewriting the genre, but it’s more than entertaining enough to sit through as an alternative Christmas movie.

  • Film reviews

    #361 – Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

    Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

    Film review #361

    Director: Matthew Vaughn

    SYNOPSIS: When an attack on the secret agency Kingsman leaves the entire organisation in ruins and agent Galahad (Eggsy) and Merlin as the only survivors, they enact the doomsday protocol and head out to Kentucky to seek out assistance. They discover the Statesmen, a secret agency like their own, and the two must join forces to stop a mysterious organisation known as the “Golden Circle”, which is holding the world hostage by infecting drugs with a disease that can only be cured with the antidote being held by them…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSISKingsman: The Golden Circle is a 2017 spy film and the sequel to the 2014 Kingsman film. The film starts off re-introducing Eggsy, the protagonist of the first film, and throwing him straight into an action sequence involving a high speed fight scene through the streets of London. It is a strong start that delivers precisely what you would expect from the film, as well as setting up the plot of the rest of the film. Everything changes however, when an attack targeting all of the Kingsman agents and assets leaves the entire agency wiped with Eggsy and intelligence asset Merlin as the only survivors. The film starts off re-introducing all the familiar concepts and characters, and to destroy them all in the blink of an eye certainly raises the stakes, but in doing so leaves no room for the agency to develop or for us to learn more about it. The plot on the whole is fairly straightforward and follows the typical structure of a spy film, but blends in some contemporary twists and comedy as did its predecessor to freshen up the genre. Unfortunately, the problems that the first film had still persists in the sequel: namely the inconsistency of tone and a wayward idea of what the film wants to be. Whether a serious spy film, a spoof of said films, or something else, it oscillates between these objectives and as a result feels a little disjointed. However, I think it improves on these issues compared to its predecessor, and the more over-the-top characters and story help reinforce the notion that the film is essentially a bit of not-so-serious entertainment.

    After Kingsman is essentially wiped out, Merlin and Galahad/Eggsy learn that the agency’s “doomsday protocol” involves an American whiskey brewer in some way. They travel out to Kentucky where they find it is the home of the “Statesmen”: the U.S. equivalent of Kingsman, They agree to work together to find who was behind the attack; a group calling themselves the “Golden Circle.” But that’s not all. It turns out they also rescued Harry, the Kingsman agent who was shot and seemingly killed in the first film. However, he has lost his memory, and part of the film revolves around trying to reclaim it. There’s actually quite a lot of story going on in The Golden Circle, and it equates to a film with a runtime of nearly two and a half hours. I think this could have been reduced to make it run a bit more smoothly, as there a lot of elements that aren’t too necessary for the story. The new characters barely make any impact on the film, and as the film’s aim is to expand the world with this new agency, this failure is rather significant. On the other hand, there’s some good roles for the villains, and the bizarre role that Elton John has helps spice things up a little.

    The Golden Circle retains the style of the original in terms of the action sequences, with the over-the-top and entertaining fights and chases that not only are in keeping with the original, but make them even more ambitious and over-the-top. The original had this element of a normal young man being brought into this extraordinary world and all the conflicts that arose from it, whereas this sequel starts off in the latter and never really comes down from it, creating a different feeling. In fact, the film builds on this and makes things even more over-the-top, introducing robot guards and dogs for the agents to fight. The effects however, are pretty consistent, and give the visuals a definite flair and impact that compliment the excessive and silly setups without them looking cheap or tacky. Overall, Kingsman: The Golden Circle keeps the mix of comedy and action that made the first film successful, while also doubling down on the more over-the-top elements. The returning characters and ideas are worked through more thoroughly quite well, but the new characters and elements are often overshadowed and play an ever-diminishing role. It still suffers from an inconsistent tone with regards to what it is aiming to be, but makes some strides to improve on it. It’s more silly action and entertainment, with an occasional and clever swipe at American culture that all adds up to another worthwhile bit of entertainment.

  • Film reviews

    #347 – Power Rangers (2017)

    Power Rangers (2017)

    Film review #347

    Director: David Israelite

    SYNOPSIS: 65 million years ago, Rita Repulsa attempted to take the powerful Zeo crystal from Earth and destroy all life on the planet. She was sealed away by Zordon, leader of the Power Rangers, who are the guardians of life. In the present day, Rita is released from her prison, and the powers of the the rangers find their way into five new teenagers. They learn that Rita will destroy their hometown of Angel Grove in search of the Zeo crystal, and must find a way to overcome their personal troubles and learn to work as a team and unlock the full might of the Power Rangers.

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSISPower Rangers is a 2017 sci-fi film that is a re-imagining or reboot of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers franchise. The film starts off 65 million years ago, with the Power Rangers defeated and their leader, Zordon, deciding to seal away their powers along with Rita Repulsa to stop her getting her hands on the Zeo crystal and destroying all life on Earth. In the present day, we see high school student Jason and his friends pulling a prank that goes wrong, leading to Jason crashing his car (also, the opening joke with the cow just feels completely out of place). Cut to a few weeks later and Jason is now tagged after being arrested, his car is ruined, and his dreams of getting a scholarship are over. He starts going to detention where he meets Billy and Kimberley, who are also stuck there. After Jason stops a bully from picking on Billy, he offers to hack his tag so he can stay out after curfew. Billy then makes him an offer for him to drive him to a local mine in return for using his van, to which Jason agrees. They arrive at the mine and Jason leaves Billy to go and do whatever he came to do. Jason also runs into Kimberley and some other teenagers who are hanging around the mine, as Billy uses some explosives to blast some strange rocks out of a wall. Each of them takes one of the stones and escape the mine with security in pursuit. The opening of the film really focuses on exploring the different origins and personalities of the five teenagers, and how they start off from not knowing each other to developing a common bond. It’s a little slow to start off with, and you don’t see much of the typical Power Rangers action, but there’s enough to keep things interesting, with each of the characters making a unique mark on the film. There’s also a decent amount of effort taken to provide more of a backstory and make it more clear, such as the Zords forms being taken from the dominant lifeforms on the planet 65 million years ago, and Zordon being the previous red ranger and their leader, with Rita also being a power ranger that betrayed them.

    The original premise of the Power Rangers was that they were five “teenagers with attitude”, but given that it was a children’s show, that “attitude” was rather muted and ineffectual. This film changes that, by allowing the teens to act like teens, and to have the sorts of issues and difficulties that teenagers have. Each of them has a unique problem in their life, and everyone can probably relate to at least one of them. Their characters are based on the original series, but there’s enough difference to make it feel fresh and different. When the group finds Zordon and Alpha 5, they learn they must learn to work together to unlock their full potential as Power Rangers, and try to figure out what they are missing. In the camp fire scene, which is probably one of the highlights of the film, they all share their secrets and despite they are all messed up in their own individual ways, they can still support each other and work together to protect what is important to them. Again, this is something you don’t expect from a film based off a kid’s TV series: the film takes nothing and turns into something, and that is an accomplishment. Perhaps the direction it goes in turning it into a teen drama would not appeal to some people, but it had to do something different to hold the film together and justify its existence. The rest of the characters, such as  Zordon, Alpha 5 and Rita Repulsa all have a familiar look and feel to them, but also are different enough to offer a fresh take on their characters, with Zordon previously being the red ranger and getting his team killed, he displays regret, but also has his own motives, which makes him a much more dynamic character rather than just the benevolent overlord of the original. Alpha 5, who was arguably the most annoying character in the series, is toned down, and feels more like an exasperated administrator rather than the squealing worrier he was. Rita’s character too is toned down, and is a lot more menacing, while still having enough of the dramatic deliveries that made her so iconic. Sadly, the characters of Bulk and Skull, the school bullies aren’t present in this film, probably because they were so slapstick and silly that it would have been out of place, and bullies really don’t go around wearing leather jackets and pulling pranks anymore (although the bully that goes after Billy does wear a leather jacket, probably as an homage to the two).

    Eventually, the power rangers are able to morph into their iconic suits, and it certainly takes a long time to get to it. As a consequence, there isn’t much time to showcase them fighting, but at this point you’ll be too invested in the characters to be concerned about it. It is a shame we don’t get to see more of the suits and Zords fighting, but one of the mistakes the previous films did was prolonging the fights to the point that made them boring to sit through, and drew attention to the fact that there was little substance underneath it all. This is quite a long film, coming in at just over two hours, and overall I think it does justify that screen-time through the way it develops its characters and backstory. The build-up to the final battle and the fight itself goes through all the stages you’d expect, so there’s no big surprises, but it keeps to the power rangers formula and gives you what you would want to see. In particular, the scene with the Zords rushing into battle and the original TV theme accompanying it exactly what you would want to see.

    So who is this film aimed at? The focus on teenage drama obviously points to an older audience than the TV series, and that is further supported by the language and some of the jokes being a little more adult-oriented. For people who grew up watching the TV series as a kid this would be a decent nostalgia trip, while also being fairly entertaining. Kids who are also on the cusp of getting too old for the TV series might find this film would appeal to them, but I’m not sure if someone who had never seen anything power rangers related before would appreciate it as much. Again, the characters are very well developed, and stand on their own so you can invest in their stories no matter how much you know about the power rangers, but fans of the franchise will definitely appreciate some of the details thrown in. One such detail is how Rita seems to use a green power stone, which presumably means she was once the green ranger, a character which was a big part of the original series as it went on, and the mid-credits sequence hints that Tommy Oliver, the green ranger will show up in a sequel. I certainly hope that a sequel would get made: there’s a lot of investment in setting up these characters, and I would be interested in where they could be taken. The issue is Power Rangers is being released into the cinematic medium where superhero films are prevalent and all-consuming, and there’s really no room for something like the power rangers anymore, and so is going to struggle to offer anything exceptional in the genre.

    Overall, I enjoyed Power Rangers more than I thought I would. I’m not a huge fan of the franchise, but I do remember watching the original series as a kid, and there’s enough nostalgia in here to make things familiar and also to overlook some of the nonsensical story elements in keeping with it. Giving the main characters a lot more depth and their own individual problems and dilemmas is the film’s main strong point, and creates some surprisingly emotional moments. I wouldn’t say they were groundbreaking, but they were very good. Even though it takes a large portion of the film to get to the power rangers morphing, the film fills its runtime with plenty of drama and story that means it’s never really boring. Some of the jokes are a bit out-of-place or just fall flat, and the effects are not overly special (although fairly decent), but I think the film overall retains enough entertainment, fun and drama to make it worthwhile to watch. It’s never going to compare to the vast library of superhero films it has to compete with nowadays, but it’s a fun nostalgia trip and one that gives the source material much more of an edge than one might expect.