Bio: Travis grew up on the west coast of South Australia and has been interested in film since seeing Jurassic Park and Predator for the first time in the mid-nineties. Particularly fond of the action and thriller genres, he met his long-time idol, Jean Claude Van Damme, in 2016, talking with 'the muscles from Brussels' about his upcoming films and the hurdles he has faced in the entertainment industry. Some of his favourite films include Jurassic Park, The Salton Sea, Apt Pupil and Any Given Sunday. Travis loves the way a film can make people feel such a diverse range of emotions, from excitement and happiness to fear and sadness. He believes that creativity is what helps the world evolve and that the arts, is the centre of creativity.
Posts by Travis:
The Predator, written and directed by (the usually unbelievably talented) Shane Black (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, The Nice Guys) is a complete shambles. In fact, so much so that I sat in the cinema until the credits finished rolling wondering what the hell I had just watched. Another group of lads also stayed and were still in their seats when I left. I can only assume they were in mourning.
The film is based around a Predator that has gone rogue from his species. The opening scene consists of his spaceship dodging laser bullets from another, larger spaceship before jumping into hyper drive and getting out of there as quickly as possible. Upon arriving in Earth’s atmosphere, the ship collides with a satellite before crashing. The Predator is then taken captive, only to escape later and go on the look out for some of his tech that was stolen by a soldier named McKenna.
Boyd Holbrook stars as Quinn McKenna, an army ranger sniper who is on mission when the alien space ship coincidentally crash lands almost right on top of him. He has a quick encounter with The Predator before pinching some of the alien’s tech for proof of his encounter. He mails the tech to his wife’s (Yvonne Strahovski) house, but his young autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), whom is home alone, receives the package and opens it up immediately. Rory’s autism coincidentally allows him to instantly understand the alien technology.
Sterling K. Brown is along for the ride as Traeger, the leader of a military unit dedicated to studying the Predator species. Traeger is a ruthless man and kills pretty much everyone who gets in his way. Olivia Munn also gets involved as Casey Bracket – a scientist that Traeger brings in to study the extra-terrestrial. Coincidentally, when things get sticky, Casey is also a weapons expert and endurance athlete. Trevante Rhodes, Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, Alfie Allen and Augusto Aguilera all star as the ‘loonies’. A group of combat vets that McKenna ends up with.
To start with the good – the loonies, Thomas Jane especially, are the only reason to go and watch this film, they are absolutely hilarious. Holbrook does what he can with the b-grade script but given the loonies were given all the juicy humour, there is nothing for him to really sink his teeth into.
Munn, whom is normally great, is a bore – her character is also poorly written and completely unbelievable. It makes no sense that she is a scientist that, as soon as the proverbial shit hits the fan, knows how to use any and every weapon that falls in front of her – alien tech included. In another sequence, she is left behind as a craft flies at least 5km or more away but as soon as the craft crashes back to the forest floor – she has somehow kept up and is waiting below. Sterling K. Brown is also a bore, his character just laughs his way through every incident with McKenna and encounter with the Predator – he’s confident if nothing else though.
The film has plenty of action, there is no denying that. Sadly the bad of it is that most of it is McKenna and his guys fighting amongst themselves or against Traeger and his guys. The Predator is almost an afterthought in the film with very little use of heat vision and almost no use of the invisibility cloak, and almost no hunting. McKenna, Traeger and an ultimate Predator spend more time tracking the Predator than the Predator does doing any hunting. It was quite dissatisfying.
The ugly mutha of it is that any hunting by a Predator is done in the last 15 minutes of the film – where he uses a translator to speak English and tell McKenna and Traeger that they have a 7 minute “time advantage” before he will begin to hunt them. It was still rather boring, as almost every death was predictable – even if they were gory.
Another terrible scene was the sequence featuring the Predator dogs. One is killed instantly and the other is injured straight away also. Once injured it seems to drop all of its aggression and fighting instincts and starts to play fetch on command like it had been doing it for years. It was completely ridiculous.
Major Spoiler ahead…
We later find out that the reason the Predator went rogue and risked his life to get to earth was to – give us technology that will save us from future Predator attacks. He spent his first 5 minutes on Earth slaying humans and another 10 minutes killing scientists and soldiers in a laboratory to then give us tech that can save us from Predators. It is actually as stupid as it sounds.
A while back, after the first trailer for The Predator was released, I tweeted director Shane Black to say I wasn’t too impressed, but I trusted the impressive Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang director to kill it – and indeed he did. He killed it. He killed the franchise so badly that I will probably not waste another bit of my well-earned salary on another Predator movie ever again.
Director: Shane Black
Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown
Writer: Fred Dekker, Shane Black (Based on characters by John Thomas and Jim Thomas)
In the mid 1990’s I spent the weekend at my dad’s house. I can’t remember the exact year, I can’t remember my exact age – probably a little too young – but one thing I do remember is Bill Duke’s head getting splattered all over the screen. Carl Weathers arm getting blown off. Jesse Ventura speaking but not understanding a word – what the hell is an Alabama tick? Arnie backing up to the roots covered in mud. And the Predator! I surely remember that ugly mutha. My dad wasn’t the strictest guy around. He’d let me wander over to the supermarket by myself and book up whatever I wanted. I went to the pub to play two-up (thanks for the radio, bartender), and he even once paid me $20 an hour to be quiet while he was having some drinks with mates – I was pretty happy to walk away over $100 dollars richer – and he let me watch all the movies I wanted.
Or didn’t want. I really wasn’t too keen on Candyman back then. Actually, the one movie he didn’t let me watch, was Jurassic Park. I’d seen it at least 5 times by then and he was really sick of it. But then I started crying in the middle of the video shop – so he got it for me. It’s where I get my love of movies. Action in particular – I always watched action movies with my old man, he’s gone now, and sitting down and watching and old school action movie reminds me of him. Predator is the first action movie I remember watching – so in anticipation of “Shane Black’s The Predator” – I have decided to revisit the film that started it all – and its current sequels.
Directed by John McTiernan (Die Hard), Predator was released in 1987 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dutch, Carl Weathers as Dillon, Bill Duke as Mac, Jesse Ventura as Blain and ironically Shane Black as Hawkins. Kevin Peter Hall, after taking over from Jean Claude Van Damme, stars as the Predator.
The film is about a team of Commandos – led by Dutch – that are given a mission by CIA agent Dillon to retrieve hostages from the Central American jungle, but instead find themselves hunted by an extra-terrestrial warrior. The premise for the film is simple. So simple. Nowadays there’s so many complicated twists and turns in action movies you can’t keep up and by the time you find out who the bad guy is you really don’t care any way. Gone are the days where Commandos just blow shit up and maybe think about asking questions later. Movies like the 1999 Cuba Gooding Jr. and Skeet Ulrich starrer Chill Factor and the 1998 Morgan Freeman and Christian Slater vehicle Hard Rain marked the end of such films – for me at least. I’m not saying at all that I don’t like The Bourne Identity – but after that film, action movies were changed forever. Just like super hero films after Batman Begins.
The performances in Predator were great. Arnold, as always, is on point and got the best one liners – from “stick around” right after nailing a guy to a timber post with a huge knife to the extremely famous line “if it bleeds, we can kill it”. There’s also a great moment when Dutch first see’s old friend Dillon and they shake hands for the first time. The old who-can-grip-who-tighter-and-for-how-long game reveals two massive biceps, of course Arnie’s is bigger and wins the contest. From that moment on the testosterone levels run high, fuelling the non-stop action. Carl Weathers as Dillon is also great. Given the shape Weathers is in it is almost hard to imagine that not even ten years after Predator, Weathers plays and old man in Happy Gilmore. Overall, this is a perfectly cast film.
Director John McTiernan outdoes himself here. Predator is the pinnacle of late 80’s/early 90’s action. It didn’t become the pinnacle by accident though, McTiernan’s skilled direction helped make it happen. The scene where Arnie falls down the waterfall, surfaces and then covers himself with mud is as amazing as it is iconic. As is the moment where Arnie is silently lying in the trees, waiting for the predator fall into his trap, only to have the alien crawl right over top of him is equally great. McTiernan manages to build up tension almost from beginning to end, with the moment the team discovers Hopper and his teams bodies creating a mood that sets the characters on edge.
The next part of the film that is amazing is the location. The jungle is the perfect location for this film. It looks hot, miserable, thick, and horrid. Trekking through the jungle in intense heat, holding big guns, and lugging heavy back packs around is bad enough. But when you then have to defend yourself against an invisible enemy in a thick jungle – things can get really bad.
The Predator does not let up, not once. This is a perfect example of fast paced science fiction action. If you like action movies, you’ll love Predator. It’s as simple as that.
Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke
Writers: Jim Thomas, John Thomas
Predator 2, however, takes a different path. Directed by Stephen Hopkins (The Ghost and the Darkness, The Reaping and Lost in Space) and starring Danny Glover (we all know who he is) Predator 2 was released in 1990, and oddly set in 1997 in gang war-torn Los Angeles.
Danny Glover plays Lt. Mike Harrigan, a cop in one of the roughest parts of Los Angeles. His team is made up of three others – Leona (Maria Conchito Alonso), Danny (Ruben Blades), and fast-talking young gun Jerry (an entertaining Bill Paxton). Harrigan and his team are out every day fighting the gangs, but they start to notice that the gang members are beginning to wind up dead in some extremely uncivilized ways. While at first appearing to be a new rival gang, Harrigan quickly realises that something else is on the loose after his team starts to get picked off. Rather than sit back and wait for his entire team to fall, Harrigan picks himself up and takes the fight to what he soon finds out to be an extra-terrestrial. A Predator. Enter F.B.I. Agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey) and a huge showdown gets underway.
Danny Glover manages the role quite well, he’s clearly not too old for this shit – whoops, wrong franchise. He plays Harrigan with ease. As we all know, hot weather can bring out a bit of craziness and this is surely true, as 1997 Los Angeles is very hot. Harrigan is in a craze to find out who is hunting his team as well as annihilating gang members left, right and dead centre. Glover portrays this intent and rage well, nothing is going to stand in his way. Not even a Predator. Alonso and Blades provide some great backup but neither have real stand out moments. The real scene stealer is Bill Paxton with his loud, quirky accent, quick wit and dirty humour. I was rather upset when his character had his spine ripped out of his body. Gary Busey as Keyes is well…Gary Busey – I feel that sort of explains it enough.
Jamaican born and Australian raised Stephen Hopkins clearly has a rough time directing the film. To begin with, the film seems very low budget, although according to IMDb it had a budget of $35 million, which I would assume is pretty big for when it was filmed. The sets are very basic – old buildings, alley ways and subways are about the gist of it. The editing and continuity is often poor, for example in one scene, the Predator throws his spear at Harrigan and it flies past him into the building. Harrigan then runs to get the spear which is in a different spot to where it was thrown.
In saying that, Predator 2 was not a terrible film, but it was only half as good as its predecessor. The pacing of the film was quite good, there was action throughout the entire film, there were plenty of guns and a lot of violence. It was actually quite relentless. The subway scene was easily the best scene in the film though, unfortunately it resulted in the death of the best character.
It also made no sense to set the film seven years into the future. Nothing about LA looked futuristic, the weapons weren’t any different. The cars, the buildings – nothing. Maybe the film was just predicting climate change by setting it so hot in the future. The urban setting also let it down. One of the major drawer cards, in my opinion, for the first Predator, was the jungle setting. Having to use the terrain and the surroundings to defeat the alien really brought the location into the movie. A decaying, urban jungle, Los Angeles really had nothing to offer.
After all is said and done though, Predator 2 is an ok movie. The best thing about the simplistic action movies of yesteryear is that you can have all of these little continuity issues, budgetary constraints and acting flaws and it really doesn’t take that much away from the movie. Because all anyone cared about was blood, guts, guns and explosions.
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Cast: Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Bill Paxton
Writers: Jim Thomas, John Thomas
2010’s Predators takes it back to the jungle setting. Just on an entirely different planet. It’s directed by Nimrod Antal who brought us the 2007 unflinching escape room thriller Vacancy, which starred Kate Beckinsale. Predators is a completely different kettle of fish though. In it, a group of Predators have abducted an entirely diverse group of eight human killing machines to hunt on a planet referred to as a “game preserve” by an extremely, and I know how unlikely this sounds, buffed up Adrian Brody.
Brody plays Royce, an ex-military man and current mercenary. He is joined by Isabelle (Alice Braga), Sniper and likely CIA agent, Medical Dr. Edwin (Topher Grace), death row inmate Stans (Walton Goggins), and a few other random soldiers from different parts of Earth.
I loved Brody as Royce, I thought his casting was absolutely perfect. He was able to bring a bit of coldness to the role, a bit of swagger and again, as unlikely as it sounds, after putting on 11.33 kg of muscle, a bit of toughness. While he didn’t get any great comedic one liners, his delivery of “I’m not, but I’m fast” was amazing – you wont get what I mean by reading this, but if you watch the scene, it was cool. Braga was also great in her role, she is tough and smart, but as is so often with female characters, not heartless. While Royce is willing to leave everything and everyone to survive, Isabelle would much rather save lives – I would have preferred that she was just as ruthless. She did remind me in parts of Ripley from Alien though – perhaps because of her characters fearlessness.
Topher Grace’s character is a little less appealing – in fact, he’s down right annoying. I really don’t believe his character made any sense whatsoever. While he is, I’m assuming, a serial killer on earth, he clearly isn’t the type that goes around with guns etc, how would the predators know to take him? His character was a waste of time and space and was only put in to add a little twist at the end, which almost any other, better written character could have done. Another standout cast member though is Walton Goggins, he is a fantastic actor, as witnessed by his Boyd Crowder character in Justified which was amazing. I’ve never seen him turn in a bad performance. My only issue was (and I’m assuming he didn’t plan these lines) the jokes about rape that his character made. I am not a big fan of making light about that subject. Laurence Fishburne also makes an appearance as Noland, a survivor of previous hunts. He’s adapted to his surroundings and is able to provide a temporary shelter to the group. His performance is pretty good, especially as he’s a bit loopy after spending two years as an alien on an unfamiliar planet, making the conversations that he has with himself great.
I really liked that the film was set on another planet, we get to see different examples of the Predators technology and different tactics that they use although throughout the film they seemingly mimic tactics from Earth, which was a bit uninventive. The Predators in the film looked really good too. They’ve looked good in all of the films, thanks to Stan Winston’s great creature design, but with evolving technology, skills, and experiences, 20 years after Predator 2, they look even more amazing. We were also introduced to another two species, another alien species that was being hunted – which is designed similar to the original suit that Jean-Claude Van Damme wore before exiting the first Predator film in 1987. And a type of hunting dog that the Predators used to split up the humans and bag their first prey. They were really cool, although underused.
Predators is well paced, but a touch slower than the previous two films. Even with a little less action, it was still quite good. Not as good as Predator but definitely a step up from Predator 2. Royce’s showdown with the final Predator at the end was a great, so it ended on a high. It was great to see such a diverse cast used as well. Predators is a well paced action film which fits well with the franchise and certainly leaves it open for many more other world adventures.
Director: Nimród Antal
Cast: Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga
Writers: Alex Litvak, Nimród Antal
Stunts, Stunts and – Stunts. The only way to begin a review about this film, in my opinion, is with those three simple words.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the latest insertion in the Mission: Impossible series and is directed by Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Jack Reacher, and the brilliant The Way of the Gun) – the first return director for the series – and stars the never-slowing-down-no-matter-how-old-he-is Tom Cruise as series hero Ethan Hunt. Fallout follows Hunt and the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) team and some other allies as they attempt to track down a mysterious villain known only as John Lark.
Fallout is an action movie fans wet dream – jam packed with guns – and not just any guns: small guns, big guns and huge guns. It has fights – with even IMF director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) getting in on the action. It has chases – in fact the single best motorcycle/car chase ever put to film in my opinion.
And it has stunts. Tom Cruise is notorious for performing his own stunts and here is no exception. In the previously mentioned motorcycle/car chase he rode against traffic in Paris without the safety of a helmet. He spent an entire year practising a HALO (High Altitude, Low Opening) skydive. He jumped across buildings (and broke an ankle in the process), as well as piloting a helicopter during another chase. If that is not dedication I don’t know what is. Cruise may get the short end of the stick when it comes to the media, but he really knows how to entertain. Not only is Cruise a great entertainer, he is a brilliant actor – you only need to look at his early films such as Risky Business, Born on the Fourth of July and Rain Man to see his versatility as an actor.
Along for the ride is Ving Rhames – the only other actor to appear in all 6 films – as Luthor Stickell. Rhames is a great actor and does not drop the ball here. He brings emotion to the film, while also displaying the urgency the action and his character require. He is fantastic. As is Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn –the second-best performance behind Cruise himself. He not only has the ability to deliver some serious work, but he has some of the best comic timing in the business. Pegg was so invested in the film that he even hit the gym to great effect – his on set nickname was Eight-pack Peggles. Rebecca Ferguson makes an appearance as Ilsa Faust and her performance to begin with is, generally speaking, a bit weak. But as the film goes and her characters motivations seem to evolve she gets stronger in her performance.
Henry Cavill is the newcomer here as CIA agent August Walker. Walker’s involvement is due to a dispute between the CIA and the as to who gets John Lark when he is captured. Unfortunately, Cavill is the (performance wise) weak link in the film. His DC role as Superman does not require for him to provide much other than a sculpted physique and the end result of those films have seen a bland and expressionless performance. The same can be said here. He is more tank than man, but that isn’t everything. Granted there wasn’t too many scenes where he needed to show anything other than a stone-cold stare but a bit more sentiment and tone would have been great. Cruise is always able to display emotion through the simplest or the grandest of gestures. His experience is telling. Hopefully, with time, Cavill will grow as an actor and be able to match his on-screen counterpart.
In my notes for the film I wrote “action at is finest, plot at its worst”. The story, as it unfolds is completely ridiculous. The Impossible Mission Force is one of the unluckiest (or luckiest) organizations ever conceived – depending on how you look at it. Ethan and the team have experienced so many things go wrong since the first film to this film that it is amazing that Ethan Hunt hasn’t kicked the bucket…oh wait, he did that in number 3 and number before being revived but somehow, they always seem to get the chicken dinner.
In Fallout one thing after another goes wrong. The worst occurring right at the outset – Hunt and Dunn are trading money for plutonium, but things go against plan. They find themselves pinned down outside a tunnel entrance by an unseen enemy and are told “you’ve got nowhere to go, leave the plutonium and walk away”. Things get worse as Luthor is taken hostage. After some tech mastery from Benji, Ethan drops the plutonium and Dunn and Hunt go in to save Luthor. The enemy has mysteriously disappeared and the plutonium (which they left just behind them) is also nowhere to be found. The absolute worst part of the scene is that the entire IMF team is ripe for the taking and the enemy (an utterly ruthless terrorist group) just leave. Why would this unseen foe simply not just kill them? It makes zero narrative sense at all and is completely frustrating. The scene was terribly written, as it was obviously going to go wrong. Things not going Hunt’s way have become a little tired at this stage, but let’s not forget what this film series is – it’s Mission Impossible. It’s getting in a tough spot and pulling off the impossible. If it went well, then, it wouldn’t be impossible.
Christopher McQuarrie, who also wrote the film, does a great job with the direction. He has produced a fast paced, high octane action film that doesn’t let up until the end credits. The stunt team (Tom Cruise included) should also stand up and take a bow, they will surely be acknowledged at whatever stunt awards there are out there, as well as add to the conversation that stunt teams should have their own category at the Oscars.
Aside from the opening sequence, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is one of the best action films to have ever been put together. Do like Tom Cruise – run to see this .
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie
Director Antoine Fuqua, who blessed us with such actioners like The Replacement Killers, Bait, Shooter, Training Day (which helped secure Fuqua regular Denzel Washington a Best Actor Oscar), and The Equalizer returns with his first sequel. The Equalizer 2 stars Fuqua’s dependable Denzel Washington (also in his first sequel) as the military trained good Samaritan Robert McCall.
When McCall’s only friend and one of two people that even know whom he really is (a highly lethal Ex-CIA Operative whom now helps people in need), Susan Plummer (the fabulous Melissa Leo), is murdered while on an investigation in Turkey, it is left up to McCall to fight for justice, or more like revenge. McCall reveals himself to former army buddy and Susan’s partner at the time of her death, Dave York (Pedro Pascal), and together they team up to investigate the crime.
An interesting, and thoughtful, side plot is that McCall is also helping an older Jewish gentleman by the name of Sam (Orson Bean) to retrieve a painting, which was stolen when he was separated from his sister during World War 2. Ever the good Samaritan, McCall also helps a young African-American man named Miles (Ashton Sanders) stay away from the gang life.
Denzel Washington is one of the finest actors to have ever lived. He always nails a role, and Robert McCall is no exception, displaying charisma from beginning to end. If you don’t like Denzel, you don’t like film, it is as simple as that. Melissa Leo is also great as Susan, she may be aging but is still tough. The fight scene before her death showcased not her ability as an actress but also the toughness of her character.
Bill Pullman as Susan’s husband Brian is also great, he has a certain sadness about him and is as a dependable actor as anyone. Pedro Pascal as Dave York does not fare so well as he is almost out of his league acting alongside Denzel Washington. While Pedro was amazing as Oberyn Martell in Game of Thrones, in one particular scene I felt I could almost see Pascal struggling to show emotion. In the moment where he discovers that McCall is alive, it almost impossible to see any emotional range, Pascal’s face appears to be full of Botox which may have been the issue.
All of Fuqua’s films contain great action sequences, he is a fantastic director and reminds me of F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job, The Negotiator, A Man Apart). The film begins well, it starts with McCall in action, helping the needy and rescuing the helpless. The fight scenes are well choreographed, well edited and well-paced. Fuqua has worked with Washington on four films, he has surely learnt the best way to get the most out Denzel’s ability. One of my favourite parts of both of The Equalizer films is how McCall times himself with his watch as he eliminates his enemies, showing his efficiency with his well-honed skillset. Unfortunately, once the film enters the second act it really begins to lack pacing and emotional connection. We get to know Sam and Miles during the first act, what McCall is willing to do for them, and we understand why. I connected with and cared about them. However, once it becomes about McCall’s revenge I lost interest. I found myself wondering if after all is said and done, will Sam get his painting back.
The climax was also over all too quickly. It seemed like from the second act onward there was 45 minutes of nothing, wrapping up all too quickly with 10 minutes of action. It was really good action, but not so good that I forgot how long I had to wait for it.
The Equalizer was a great action film. The Equalizer 2 however was a boring film with some great action. Good performances, periodically solid action, and some interesting side characters but that does not make up for the overall bland feeling.
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Melissa Leo
Writer: Richard Wenk (based on the TV series by Michael Sloan & Richard Lindheim)
In writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s Skyscraper, Dwayne Johnson (working with Thurber for a second time after Central Intelligence) goes to heightened lengths to save his family from a scorching skyscraper – all the while facing off against a group of organised criminals.
Johnson plays amputee Will Sawyer, a retired FBI hostage retrieval specialist whom, after a failed mission has spent the last ten years assessing the safety and security of buildings and structures. Through his friend and former FBI colleague, Ben (Pablo Schreiber), Will is invited to assess the safety and security of Zhao Long Ji’s (Chin Han) skyscraper, The Pearl – an architectural masterpiece. Will’s wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell), and twins Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell), have also been invited to experience the residential suites before they are opened to the public.
Unbeknownst to Will, Zhao is the target of Kores Botha (Rolland Moller), who will do anything to retrieve a mysterious object from Zhao. Noah Taylor makes an appearance as Mr. Pierce, a snivelling and ruthless insurance agent.
Johnson does well as Sawyer, after all, he’s had enough practice to nail this role without even trying. Just throw in a fight scene here, a stunt there and his work is done. He really can do no wrong with these types of roles. Neve Campbell was a stand out for me. She kicks ass, and would have made a great lead. It would have brought an unexpected dynamic to the film and a tough female lead is always great to see.
Roland Møller is also great as the villainous Kores. He is tough, scary and a great match for Johnson. Bit part actor Matt O’Leary is also worth a mention as a genius tech hacker (as per IMDb, his characters name is ‘Skinny Hacker’) – but not in a good way. O’Leary puts on some weird accent, in turn sounding completely ridiculous. Noah Taylor is putrid as Mr. Pierce, (think Bradley Whitfords evil CEO wannabe from Billy Madison, but worse and more serious), so much so that [spoiler alert] his demise brings a lot of satisfaction.
One thing I really enjoyed about the plot was why the villains were there in the first place. I was assuming that Zhao would turn out to somehow be some devious criminal, but I was wrong. He is just a businessman forced into an unfortunate situation. In that way, Zhao is similar to Will Sawyer, although Sawyer seems to have a lot of bad luck as well as being the victim of some extreme coincidences.
Another part of the film that made me think, whether it was intentional or not was the use of camera phones by the crowd surrounding the burning building. These devices are now entrenched in our society so much that recently in India, a crowd of people preferred to take video and selfies of three boys who had been hit by a school bus, rather than offer them assistance. All three died in pain while a crowd snapped up whatever vision they could.
Thurber himself has directed the film well, it has some great stunts and fight scenes. Most impressively though, I learned on extremely valuable lesson: Never run out of duct tape.
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber
Writer: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Between the Rock and a hard place, Dwayne still saves the day.
Well, he helps at least. Video game movie Rampage is the latest output from Brad Peyton and star Dwayne Johnson whom previously worked together on San Andreas and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.
After a failed experiment, three animals become mutated in size and characteristics, leading to catastrophic damage being caused. One of the animals, George, an albino Gorilla is the friend of Primatologist Davis Okoye (Johnson). So naturally, when the shit hits the fan, Davis goes after George to try and stop the authorities from putting him down. A little out of his depth, Davis teams up with a geneticist, Dr Cate Caldwell (played by the elegant Naomie Harris) and the shifty government agent/cowboy Harvey Russel (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
Malin Akerman plays Claire Wyden, the evil corporation boss who conspires to make a fortune off of the death and destruction that these mutated monsters are wreaking across America. Her brother, Brett, played by Jake Lacy is the dumb, snivelling jock type who we all cannot wait to see die. Joe Manganiello gets a small mention as the scar faced bad-ass Burke. I was looking forward to seeing him battle the animals in opposition to the former three. However, I was left bitterly disappointed with his role.
This is a standard but fun action comedy. As just that, you will enjoy this film while munching down a bucket popcorn. Try to find anything more in it than that and you will end up wasting your time.
The best part of the film is George (performed via motion capture by Jason Liles). The cheeky Gorilla has a killer sense of humour and his chemistry with Davis Okoye is great. Johnson did very well conversing and signing to a CGI gorilla. In fact the special effects and arts departments all deserve a round of applause. When movies are comprised of so much CGI, it makes an incredible experience when the computer imagery is both beautiful, and legible.
As for the direction, Brad Peyton is just there, doing what he does. He gets Johnson, Harris and Morgan to just do what they do – execute their roles just fine. Johnson is fast becoming, if not already, the biggest action star in Hollywood. If he was in action films in the late 80’s and early 90’s I am not sure that the great Jean-Claude Van Damme would be my man crush. Johnson can act, he has great comedic timing, and he is massive. Why shouldn’t he be an action superstar? I have enjoyed his films since 2003’s Welcome to the Jungle, which is a great action comedy. Aside from the Manganiello debacle, I have zero complaints about Rampage, but I also won’t be going to the pub or to work and tell my mates to go watch it either.
The story does stray from the video game a little, which isn’t a huge deal. But it is a scary feeling when video game films come out and change aspects of the original plot. As a film it will either go one way or the other. Brad Peyton’s next film, Just Cause, is another video game movie which I played on my PlayStation 2 for hours on end as a kid. I hope he can follow suite and keep it fun and entertaining.
Director: Brad Peyton
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Writers: Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykiel
The Endless is a low budget film. You can just tell. From the (at times) poor acting to the poor lighting and the average special effects. However monetary constraints do not stop Aaron Moorhead (Co-Director) and Justin Benson (Writer and Co-Director) from creating a film that is vividly enjoyable. A film that keeps you intrigued. A film that makes you ask questions. A film that, despite everything it lacks, has everything you need.
The Endless follows two brothers Aaron (Aaron Moorhead) and Justin (Justin Benson) that are finding it hard to readjust to normal life after escaping what they believed to be a suicidal cult. After receiving a strange video from the cult in the mail, Aaron convinces Justin to return the group for a visit. Upon arrival everything seems normal, however as their visit continues, more questions are raised, and the brothers begin to discover the terrifying reality of where they are and what they are caught up in.
Moorhead and Benson have given themselves the main gigs, most likely due to the low budget of the film. In the beginning both of their performances are pretty shaky, but as the film goes on the writer/directors clean up their act (pun intended) and become somewhat convincing. The rest of the cast are relatively unknown but are worthy support, the stand out of the lot though was James Jordon as “Shitty Carl”.
Now I have to say, any time I see an indie film in which the writer/director uses their own name as their characters name, alarm bells start to ring. If they can’t even give their character an original name, then what does that say about the film? But with The Endless all is forgiven, this film is so mind-bending, so original and just so intriguing that I doubt Moorhead or Benson had any brain power left to think of original names after developing such an amazing concept.
I must point out again, that this film is original. In a world of remakes, spin offs, ‘based-on’s’ and sequels, the filmmakers have actually come up with an original idea. It is easy to say that there are a number of films that in a way incorporate some of the concepts used in The Endless but not in the way that Justin Benson has written them. I even googled “mind bending films” to try and find anything that I felt was remotely similar to compare it to. I couldn’t. Having said that, the film exists in the same universe as their first work of art, Resolution, but only as far as using some of the same characters.
The Endless is not a blockbuster with an advertising campaign that will have you salivating at the release of the first teaser. You won’t be camping overnight for theatre tickets and there won’t even be a line up at the counter. It is a smart and masterful independent sci-fi thriller and I urge you to give it a go. You will be surprised.
Directors: Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson
Cast: Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson, Emily Montague
Writer: Justin Benson
Back in 2013, after short film festival Tropfest, Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling offered the short film Cargo to the world. The YouTube release went off and the film currently holds over 14 million views. Luckily for the film makers it was such a hit that it has transitioned into a feature film starring Martin Freeman (TV’s Sherlock Holmes, Black Panther), David Gulpilil (Walkabout, The Proposition), Natasha Wanganeen (Rabbit Proof Fence), Anthony Hayes (The Slap and pretty much every other Aussie production), and a glowing performance from newcomer Simone Landers.
Cargo follows Martin Freeman’s character, Andy, who through some unfortunate events has become infected with a virus and will turn into a thoughtless and ravenous ‘Viral’ in 48 hours. He has exactly this amount of time to find a safe place for his young daughter Rosie (Lillee-Anne and Marlee Jane McPherson-Dobbins). Throughout his search for a sanctuary he comes across various characters in the outback, some good and some bad but nowhere appropriate for his daughter. His luck changes when he encounters young First Nation’s girl Thoomi (Simone Landers) who promises to lead him to a safe place after he helps her free Cleverman Daku (David Gulpilil) from the clutches of the obligatory villain Vic (Anthony Hayes).
Martin Freeman is a great actor, I have been a fan of his for a long time, but he really outdoes himself in this film. As a father who would do anything for his children, I really felt for his character. Andy was relatable, believable, honest and kind. He wasn’t a hero – he was simply human. Freeman brought this to the screen in a way I can’t imagine anyone else could have. He was perfectly cast. His relationship with Rosie also shone, as did the relationship he develops on screen with Thoomi.
Simone Landers, whom had never acted a day in her life before being cast in the film is an absolute delight to watch on screen. Her performance is mesmerizing, and again, the right person was chosen to perform he role. If Australian television and cinema decide to cast more First Nations people in productions then she has a bright future in the industry.
Natasha Wanganeen, in a predominately non speaking, but very dominant performance, plays Thoomi’s mother and Warrior. She is out searching for her daughter while also slaying virals with the rest of her mob – she is something of a – as Natasha herself described it during the Q and A – ‘Black Xena’. Hopefully Martin Freeman can hook her up with a role alongside Black Panther, as the role of a warrior suits her well ,and I believe she could hold her own alongside Chadwick Boseman. There is nothing I can say about David Gulpilil, he is wonderous in every one of his performances and has graced our screens for such a long time that we all know he is a house hold name. The same can be said for Anthony Hayes, constantly on our screens, maybe not quite as graceful but always reliable.
The score in the film is amazing, produced by Daniel Rankine (also known as Trials from A.B. Original and The Funkoars) adds so much to the film. Daniel has stamped his musical ingenuity into many Australian hip hop productions across the nation and his experience here is telling.
Filmed in South Australia, the cinematography by Geoffrey Simpson is also stunning. Simpson’s experience really shines with the use of aerial shots of the Murray River and the Flinders Ranges that help you grasp the desperation that Andy is experiencing.
Director’s Yolanda Ramke, whom is also the screen writer and Ben Howling have done a wonderful job on this film, I was engaged from the opening scene all the way through until the credits started rolling. Cargo is to drama and horror as Shaun of the Dead is to comedy and horror – a perfect genre mix.
My question from the Q and A
I attended a screening of the film which included a Q and A with directors, Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling along with star Natasha Wanganeen.
Q: Being a proud Wongatha man, I asked Yolanda and Ben what inspired them, as white filmmakers, to include Aboriginal culture in not only such a pivotal way, but such a positive way.
A: Yolanda and Ben explained that they really tried to open their minds and think about how Australia may be in the event of a viral outbreak. They decided that as Aboriginal culture is the oldest living culture in the world, that it would make sense that it would not only survive once more, but flourish under such circumstances, so including that in the film was an easy was choice.
Directors: Yolanda Ramke, Ben Howling
Cast: Martin Freeman, Natasha Wanganeen, Simone Landers
Writer: Yolanda Ramke
I am generally an optimist. I try to find around a way around the negatives by focusing on the positives, but, as most of you would probably know, that is not always possible. Having said that, the first thing I need to say about the film I Kill Giants is – It pissed me off.
I love fantasy films. Lord of the Rings for me was amazing. John Carter was great. The Labyrinth was awesome and the one Tim Burton movie I like – Sleepy Hollow – is one of my favourites. So, having no knowledge of the graphic novel (I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and Ken Niimura), when I laid eyes on an action packed trailer about a little girl who slays giants to protect her town, I was naturally excited. It looked great and I couldn’t wait. But after watching the film I realised that everything the trailer had made me feel, was false. The movie was not what the trailer had made it appear to be, which is so often the case with trailers, really annoyed me. It’s similar to when you watch a comedy because the trailer was hilarious, but they just put all of the funny bits in the trailer and the rest of it was boring.
That was about the only negative of I Kill Giants and for me it was a pretty big one. If the film had been marketed correctly I maybe would have enjoyed the feature more than I did. Here I was expecting an action fantasy film but that was definitely not what I got.
The film itself is about a young girl named Barbara (Madison Wolfe). Barbara has no real friends, she is bullied at school because of her behaviour, she lives at home with her older sister (Imogen Poots), and has an interesting secret. She Kills Giants. She gradually makes a friend in the schools new girl Sophia (Sydney Wade) and is constantly hassled by Mrs. Molle (Zoe Saldana), the school councillor. As a danger lurks nearer, tensions rise and Barbara’s relationships are tested.
Madison Wolfe does a great job in portraying Barbara. She has a kind of awkward quirkiness that she brings to the role and it works wonderfully. She is tough, fragile and sad all at once, and it comes across on screen with ease. Imogen Poots as Barbara’s sister Karen also does an amazing job. Karen struggles to help raise her young sister, managing to balance work and her own life, yet also making it look easy. Zoe Saldana is also equally impressive. I have followed her career since her role in Drumline and she hasn’t skipped a beat in this film. Sydney Wade as Barbara’s only friend is also excellent. She is curious and excitable with her characters new surroundings but also frightened at what she begins to learn about Barbara.
The film is not what you expect it to be and in its own way is a good movie. It’s well written by Joe Kelly, competently directed by Anders Walter and acted superbly.
Director: Anders Walter
Cast: Madison Wolfe, Zoe Saldana, Imogen Poots
Writer: Joe Kelly
The Commuter centres on Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson), an ex-cop turned insurance salesman who has spent the last 10 years riding the same train to and from work. One day he is confronted by a woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga) who asks MacCauley a “hypothetical” question that quickly becomes very real and extremely deadly.
Jaume Callet-Serra’s latest opens with a perfectly sequenced montage to establish late-career action star, Liam Neeson. As a family man, I feel an instant connection to who he is, and what he is about, but that’s where the connection stops. This is star and directors fourth collaboration and there is no doubt they work well together. Callet-Serra’s competent direction coupled with Neeson’s everlasting reliability is something you cannot go wrong with, but, only if you have the ability to switch off and just enjoy it as pure entertainment.
Like Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night before it, The Commuter offers a fun ride and Neeson breezes his way through the part with ease – a part that he has played consistently for the last decade. The train setting also suits the aging action hero, confined spaces mean his age doesn’t really factor into it when fighting for his life. The action sequences are well choreographed and were thoroughly enjoyable, though there is not too much in the way of fighting, it’s certainly no Under Siege 2: Dark Territory which is something we should be thankful for. In saying that we should also be thankful that Neeson is no Steven Segal. The Commuter relies more on thrills than kills and I must admit I was, occasionally, on the edge of my seat.
Patrick Wilson tags along for the ride as MacCauley’s old partner and best mate – Alex Murphy. I am a fan of Patrick Wilson and have been since The Alamo, Hard Candy and more recently The Hollow Point and he doesn’t let me down here. As per usual, he offers some good support work trying to help MacCauley from the other end of a phone line. Farmiga also offers great support in her role of Joanna though she only a voice for the most part. Sam Neill also climbs aboard to play the seemingly untrustworthy Captain Hawthorne and he plays the role perfectly. It is a shame that Neill is not in more blockbuster films as he still has a lot to offer.
The film still has its fair share of plot holes, adding to the plots questionable elements. Without giving away any spoilers, I felt that the entire plan that the antagonists had for MacCauley was unnecessary and that such ruthless enemies would have been more ruthless to begin with – but at least they didn’t put snakes on the train, that would make a terrible movie. Asking what they were asking of MacCauley was a huge stretch, after all, his former line of work (police officer) should have told them this from the get go, no matter how many carrots they dangle in front of him. This was a point of frustration throughout the film, but that was really the only issue.
If you have the ability to just switch off then The Commuter is an enjoyable action thriller. If you have liked any of Neeson’s films since Taken then you know exactly what you’re in for. Just sit down and enjoy the ride.
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson
Writers: Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, Ryan Engle