YOF#7-9 | Spartan, We Are Marshall, Sabotage

Year of Film # | 7
Title | Spartan
Release| March 2004 (USA), August 2004 (UK)
Format Viewed | DVD 

Spartan is a neat little thriller that flopped at the box office. It stars Val Kilmer as a cold-hearted, but loyal, special forces operative who is drafted in when a prominent politician’s daughter is kidnapped. After a little digging, he believes she has been taken by a white slavery ring, who don’t realise who they have. Knowing they’ll likely kill her when they find out, they have a race against time to track her down and rescue her.

Kilmer is pretty good in the lead role, and he is ably supported – mainly by Derek Luke. There are some nice lesser supporting roles/cameos too, from the likes of William H. Macy, Kristen Bell,  Clark Gregg (Agents of Shield), Ed O’Neill (Married with ChildrenModern Family), Geoff Pierson (24DexterCastle), and a memorable walk-on for Mark Pellegrino (LostSupernatural).

One nice touch – the film is showing almost exclusively from Kilmer’s POV. There’s no cutting to the antagonists to give away plot points. It works quite well.

The story itself is pretty simple, but it flows nicely for the most part. The pacing is a little off towards the back end of the film, and it does feel like a potentially rejected script for a series of 24. However, Kilmer et al help make this a very enjoyable film, worth watching at least once. [3.5]

Year of Film # | 8
Title | We Are Marshall
Release| December 2006 (USA), Unknown(UK)
Format Viewed | DVD

We Are Marshall is based on the true story of a University that experienced a terrible tragedy in 1970 – a plane carrying the majority of the football team, staff, friends and family members crashes,  killing all on board.

Matthew McConaughey stars as Jack Lengyel, the man tasked with putting together the new team, to try and honour the memory of the team.

I found We Are Marshall to be a little saccharine in its delivery, though it is understandable given the background events. The all star cast (McConaughey is joined by Matthew Fox, Anthony Mackie, David Strathairn, Ian McShane, Kate Mara and January Jones) helps to elevate this above its otherwise passable level.

Probably not worth going out of your way to see, but you could certainly do worse. It’s fine.  [3]

Year of Film # | 9
Title | Sabotage
Release| March 2014 (USA), May 2014 (UK)
Format Viewed | DVD

Sabotage is heist thriller turned murder mystery that could have been so much better than it ended up.

The cast is pretty impressive. In addition to Arnie, we have Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Terrence Howard, Max Martini, Olivia Williams, Harold Perrineau and Mireille Enos.

Worthington, Manganiello, Howard, Martini, Enos and Kevin Vance are part of Arnie’s crack drug busting hard guys. In the opening act, they attempt to rip of a drug cartel that they are carrying out a bust on. However, when they return to the hiding spot for the money, they discover it has been stolen. Given the unique situation, they know that one of their close knit group has likely stolen from the rest of the group.

The majority of the film takes place some months later. Internal Affairs drop the case they have open on the team, due to lack of evidence. However, shortly after getting back in the field, a member of the team is murdered. It quickly becomes apparent that someone is slowly picking them all off. Is it the cartel they ripped off? Or is it one of their own?

Sabotage‘s strongest period is it’s middle third, at full throttle in ‘whodunnit’ mode. In fact, it threatens to become a pretty darn good film. However, the final third (particularly the limp reveal) is almost an entire let down. There’s also a sort of epilogue that the audience will struggle to care about, considering what has been revealed moments before.

Predictably, Olivia Williams is the strong point of the film. Along with Perrineau, she is tasked with investigating the murders that punctuate the middle third. A pointless romance angle threatens to derail her character, but some genuine camaraderie with her partner helps make the whole thing feel more realistic.

It’s difficult to say more without spoiling major plot points. In short, a poorly executed final third and reveal pretty much ruin an otherwise decent whodunit thriller [2.5].

YOF#4-6 | Pride and Glory, Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View

Some quick takes for the next few… 

Year of Film # | 4
Title | Pride and Glory
Release| October 2008 (USA), November 2008 (UK)
Format Viewed | Blu-Ray 

A surprisingly great crime drama that went relatively unloved by the critics. Jon Voight heads a police family that includes his sons (played by Ed Norton and Noah Emmerich) and a son-in-law (Colin Farrell). Noah’s character is the head of a unit, four of whom are killed during a call out gone bad. Ed’s character has to investigate, and the deeper he gets, the murkier the waters become. 

All of the principle cast are on top form, the story is decent and well played out. If you like gritty cop stories, then definitely check it out. [4]

 

The next pair are older films that I turned up as the result of search into quality conspiracy films. 

 

Year of Film # | 5
Title | Three Days of the Condor
Released | September 1975 (USA), Unknown (UK)
Format Viewed | DVD

Robert Redford plays a CIA Analyst. He’s part of a team it is to ‘read every book ever published’ to look for secret communiques between clandestine groups. He goes out to lunch one day, only to return to find all his colleagues murdered. Alive only by a stroke of luck, he goes on the run while trying to work out who killed his friends and co-workers. 

Mid 1970’s Redford is about as safe as you are going to get for a leading man, and he puts in a solid turn here. Aspects of the story make little sense (Faye Dunaway’s character falling for his minimal charms despite having a boyfriend herself is a bit naff), but otherwise this is a well paced intrigue. Plus, it has Max von Sydow as a master assassin. [3.5]

 

Year of Film # | 6
Title | The Parallax View
Released | June 1974 (USA), October 1974 (UK)
Format Viewed | DVD

The opening scene sees a presidential candidate assassinated while at a public gathering. The gunman falls to his death when chased across the top of a building. Fast forward three years, and it appears that people who witnessed the murder are themselves being bumped off (except, they’ve all been made to look like accidents). 

Beatty plays a newspaper journalist that was present that day. He only believes the conspiracy theory when a friend dies in similar circumstances. This leads to him going undercover to find out who was behind the killings. He is really good in the lead role, and helps make it a better film than it is. 

Despite being shorter than 3 Days… by about 15 minutes, it feels longer. I think this is because so much stuff is crammed into its runtime it can almost feel overwhelming (only from volume though, this isn’t the most complex of films).

One thing bugs me about the whole thing. Beatty only gets involved because of the multiple murders. These only seem to happen to cover the fact that there was more than one gunman in building and the antagonists aren’t taking any chances with the witnesses. Except, nothing is actually coming of it – they are overreacting. There’s a brief mention of newspaper sensationalism, but nothing with any substance or evidence, nor anything involving those witnesses. 

Either way, Beatty’s performance helps make this a good-but-not-great flick. It would probably work better as a six or eight part drama with the amount that they cram in!  [3]

YOF #3 | One & Two

One & Two posterYear of Film # | 3
Title | One & Two

Released (Country of Origin) | August 2015 (USA)
Released (UK) | January 2016
Format Viewed | Blu-Ray via LoveFilm

Eva (Kiernan Shipka, Mad Men) and Zac (Timothee Chalamet, Homeland) are siblings with a secret – they can teleport short distances seemingly at will. Their protective parents Elizabeth (Elizabeth Reaser, The Twilight Saga) and Daniel (Grant Bowler, SyFy’s Defiance) have walled the family off from the outside world, living on 18th century style farmland. When Elizabeth becomes ill, events unfold that change all of their lives forever. 

One & Two is a film of two distinct halves. The first half is full of mystery and intrigue and, while its far from flawless, it is pretty good. Unfortunately the back half fails to live up to expectations. Instead of a potentially pulsating finale, we’re left with a poorly paced, cliched denouement. 

Shipka puts in the consistently strongest performance in her role as nominal lead, though only Chalamet really misses the mark occasionally. Without being outstanding, Bowler shows flashes of what made him such a great lead on Defiance

The film is gorgeously framed and shot – this is a beautiful picture; film and media students should study this as a great example of how attention to detail can lead an otherwise ordinary scene to becoming something more. 

Despite the decent performances and the exquisite cinematography, One & Two is ultimately a let down. It is merely watchable when it should and could have been great [3].

Trailer |

YOF#2 | Triple 9

Triple 9 posterYear of Film # | 2
Title | Triple 9
Year | 2016
Format Viewed | Cinema

The assembled cast is staggeringly impressive: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet… the list goes on. Yet, despite this interesting and undoubtedly talented group, Triple 9 feels little more than a decent late night cop/heist/conspiracy thriller than the 1990’s seemed to be littered with. 

*Some spoilers to follow*

Essentially, there’s the possibility for two pretty good feature films here. The first is a heist movie focussing on a group of bank robbers that hit a big score, but get screwed over with payment and forced into doing a second job. Added to that is the fact that the group leader’s son is effectively kidnapped, and you have the seeds for an interesting story. Hell, the ‘triple 9’ aspect (the idea that they need to kill a policeman to distract the force while they hit a highly secured facility) could have led to a moralistic conflict – particularly with some of their number being dirty cops themselves. The second potential story involves a relatively young detective, recently transferred from a department with little credibility. As he struggles to get out of the shadow of his legendary (but over-the-hill and substance abusing) uncle, he investigates a spate of robberies done by a professional looking squad – a squad that attempts to kill him to for their advantage.

Handled correctly, either of the above scenario could have made for a cracking story. Unfortunately, the sort of halfway house of each doesn’t really work. Any sympathy for the heist team is eradicated with how easily they all go along with the triple 9 idea. Now, because we know who makes up the squad, we lose all the potential paranoia that could be generated when Casey Affleck’s character finally puts the pieces together and realises that their are dirty cops on the team. 

As for the rest of the film, the directing and cinematography are fine, but the editing together of events leads to greater disappointment the deeper into it we go. 

There are some plus points.  A small handful of scenes standout – these include the opening heist, a scene where Affleck’s team chase down a gunman in the cramped corridors of a housing complex, the ‘triple 9’ scene, and the very last few minutes of the film. Couple these with decent acting and you have a film that is… okay. You could watch once and it’ll be fine, but I highly doubt this will be on anyone’s repeat viewing list. The most disappointing thing I’ve seen so far this year. [3]

Trailer | 

YOF#1 | At Any Price

At_Any_Price_posterYear of Film # | 1
Title | At Any Price
Year | 2013 (though only released here this year)
Format Viewed | DVD via Lovefilm

My first entry here will be a little sparse, as I’ve already written a full review over at Fake Geeks.

However,  I will say that this slow-burn agricultural Americana drama is more miss than hit, and more dull than daring.  [2.5]

Trailer |
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCejqfqoQZA

Third time’s a charm.

Let’s face it, my DVD Marathon really didn’t take off. Hell, it’s been nearly a year since I posted my review of Gremlins! So, while I’m not going to scrap the idea, I’m going to put it to one side. I hope to dip in and out of it throughout the year, working my way through all the DVD/Blu-rays I have been bought or have had lended to me.

I am going to change my main focus for this blog/site – well, at least for now  Inspired by Mike’s attempt at watching 150 films in a year, I am going to document all the feature films (at the cinema, home or elsewhere) for at least a year. I want to do this, partly to see how many I actually watch, but also to give me an excuse to get back into writing on a more frequent basis.

I’m not going to set a target, as I want to see how it comes out in the shake (I expect it will be around the 100 mark, with around 40-50 being cinema/DVD releases from the coming year).

So… let’s see how many I get through from now until 5th March 2017!