Film review

Cobra (1986) movie review

 
‘Cobra’ poster, 1986

‘Cobra’ poster, 1986

 
A tough-on-crime street cop must protect the only surviving witness to a strange murderous cult with far reaching plans.
— imdb
 

In 1980s Sylvester Stallone was arguably the biggest star in Hollywood at the time. After a string of box office successes he appeared to have the Midas touch. Signed to originally star in the Beverly Hills cop movie, Stallone utilising a clause in his contract rewrote the screenplay making it more action orientated and changing the main character’s last name to Cobretti. Stallone would later leave the project after Paramount Pictures balked at the increase in budget from Stallone’s rewrite.

Based loosely upon Paula Gosling’s Novel ‘A running Duck’ Stallone wrote ‘Cobra’ about a nihilistic cop who will do anything to take down the bad guys. Directed by George P. Cosmatos, who collaborated with Stallone on ‘Rambo first blood part two’. It is worth noting here that it is rumoured that Stallone ghost directed ‘Cobra’ and ‘Rambo first blood part two’. It would later emerge that ‘Cosmatos’ next picture ‘Tombstone’ was ghost directed by Kurt Russel. Cosmatos being known as a guy who could be used for these services Kurt Russel would later say (about Tombstone) ‘I’d go to George’s room, give him the shot list for the next day, that was the deal. While you’re alive George, I won’t say a goddamn thing.’

‘Cobra’ was green lit with a budget of twenty five million dollars. Produced by Golan and Globus who in the 80s and 90s would shoot out lots of low budget B-movies with varying degrees of success.

Cobra setting is a seedy nihilistic Los Angeles where a ‘new world order’ biker gang is terrorising the general public. The ‘night slasher’, a sadistic serial killer trawls the streets in search of his next quarry. When we join the movie he is about to murder his sixteenth victim, mutilating her body using a razor sharp knife. Cue ‘Cobra’ a tough detective heading the ‘Zombie squad’, an extreme splinter group of the LAPD who shoot first and ask questions later, is tasked with finding and eliminating the ‘night slasher’.

When Ingrid played by Brigitte Nielsen is brutally attacked on her way home from a fashion shoot she comes under the protective watch of ‘Cobra’. That is essentially the movie plot wise.

Viewed now over thirty years later, Cobra is extremely dated. Filled with cheesy one-liners and choppy editing. It is, however, fast paced coming in at a lean 87 minutes. There is a great performance by Brian Thompson who plays the ‘night slasher’. He is a sadistic and menacing presence. The attack on ‘Ingrid’ in an LA hospital a particular highlight.

The original cut of the movie was rumored to be two hours ten minutes long featuring lots of bloody violence. Cut down to a more reasonable 90 minutes and the MPAA insisted that more cuts happen to secure a coveted ‘R’ rating and not the proposed ‘X’ rating. It is definitely a movie that suffers badly from being overly edited. Scenes are haphazardly put together with a lot of sudden cuts when anything violent appears on screen. Continuity errors are frequent and puzzling. Coherency sabotaged for run-time and the misguided belief that being an hour and a half will ensure more cinema viewings.

Some of the action scenes were interesting but again they suffer from poor editing decisions, haphazardly chopping away at any potential coherency and tension. Which is a shame as it could have been another type of ‘Mad max’. You can easily see that movie as being an inspiration for the finale and the subsequent biker gang chase.

In the end it becomes rinse and repeat with biker gangs dying theatrical deaths in very similar ways. ‘Cobra’ using his ‘Jeti-Mati’ automatic weapon slicing down one gang member after the next. I would argue that a cut with more of the violence intact would have made for a better viewing experience. As it stands the movie is part slasher movie part action movie with a tiny bit of romance tacked on to it.

Stallone for the most part revels in this persona delivering a cool, cold performance. It is clearly his movie, front and centre like Dirty Harry. Every other character is thrown into the background, which given some of the poor dialogue isn’t necessarily a bad idea. It’s a shame Warner Brothers didn’t accept the b-Grade aesthetics and embrace more of the violent, sleazy elements.

Still, for a movie which garnered six Razzie awards it did quite well taking in an estimated $160 million at the box office. For a while a sequel was planned but this was abandoned. Stallone recently hinted at a reemergence so maybe an older ‘Cobra’ may eventually hits the screens in future.

 
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We need to talk about Kevin movie review

 
we_need_to_talk_about_kevin.jpg
 

Kevin’s mother struggles to love her strange child, despite the increasingly dangerous things he says and does as he grows up. But Kevin is just getting started, and his final act will be beyond anything anyone imagined.
— Imdb

We need to talk about Kevin is a strange movie. At times engaging, effective and dramatic and others drifting aimlessly almost dream-like in structure. How far you are willing to suspend your disbelief will ultimately determine what you get out of the movie. There was a poignant, moving story to be told which is only partially delivered.

Directed by Lynne Ramsey (you were never really here) in a split time narrative, choosing to dole out what in real terms is a very straight forward simplistic plot line in bite sized chunks spanning 18 years. This fractured timeline hops into random slots of time deliberately trying to add weight to the story. This approach doesn't always work, favouring lingering looks into the drawn face of Eva (Tilda Swinton), a (apparently) famous travel writer and stressed mother of Kevin who really didn't want him in the first place. His presence a burden to her life, she tries desperately to cling to the past refusing to properly engage with her infant. Brilliantly illustrated by the scene where Eva walks to a construction site to try to mask her son's incessant crying with Jack hammers and drilling.

She senses, as does the audience, that there is something very wrong with Kevin. Only when he gets older do we realise by how much. It’s obvious that Kevin is intelligent, manipulative even. A willful little child who deliberately refuses potty training insisting on nappies until he is nearly six or seven (It is never expressly said in the movie). Understandably this would ware on any parent. Eva cracks and throws her child against a wall, breaking his arm. At this point you could easily start to disbelieve that any parent would allow a child to manipulate them in this way without seeking help from professional services.

There is a sense sometimes of the movie being more style over substance. The deliberate use of red and yellow. There is barely a scene in the movie that doesn’t feature either colour prominently or as a feature within the frame. Some instances are very in your face. when Eva - in the present time before the incident - is shopping and she sees a parent that she doesn’t want to see her she scurries around an aisle standing fearful in front of endless rows of red labelled Campbell soup. It is a mechanism to suggest death and foreboding of things to come. Indeed the opening sequence features Eva surrounded by a sea of red, writhing bodies while on one of her ‘adventures’.

It is a little bit of subterfuge as there is scant meat on the bones, only scratching at the surface implying lots but saying very little. There was plenty of opportunities to delve into the mindset of Eva or Kevin but we only get surface details. Indeed it is perhaps missing a scene that the title suggests ‘we need to talk about Kevin’ which never happens not even between Eva and her feckless Husband Franklin (John C Reilly). The surrounding characters are there just to fill a scene or react to Eva’s machinations about Kevin.

In this regard the reactions of both parents are reckless and misjudged. No more fitting than when Kevin buys twenty bike locks ‘online’. Not once did they question it. Not even the cynical Eva. Which plays absurdly unrealistic given what had occurred previously - her second child losses an eye and the hamster squeezed into a trash compacter at the hands of Kevin. As played in the movie, Eva is a very hard character to be sympathetic to even though she is a tragic character; the steely androgenic gaze off putting and stern. Her actions personifying that not all people should be parents.

When the final tragic incident occurs it is shown off-screen - indeed the director has opted to not show any violence onscreen - I would argue that the scene would have been more powerful had we witnessed this in greater detail as it stands it is shown in muted flashback as Kevin draws his arrows to fire.

While an interesting subject matter, ultimately the movie is more concerned in delivering pretentious notions than hard hitting drama. It could have been a sucker punch to the gut. In the end it only slightly delivers on that score.

*** out of *****

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Ad Astra movie review

 
Ad astra poster.jpg
 

Astronaut Roy McBride undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.
— Imdb
 

Where do I begin with reviewing the movie Ad Astra? In terms of plot it is quite simplistic. Roy Mc Bride (Brad Pitt), a troubled yet stern Astronaut must embark on a mission to find his father, who thirty years previously, set out into space to find other sources of life on distant planets. The ‘Lima Project’, a top secret mission pioneered by H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), the golden boy of the space programme, long thought to be dead until mysterious energy fields begin destroying life on earth.

It’s an interesting premise hampered somewhat by unnecessary ‘on point’ voice over, messy plot contrivances and an unconvincing world. Undoubtedly the core underlying meaning of the movie is about the damaged son chasing after the neglectful father in the hopes that they can reunite after thirty years of absence, to seek answers from him to why he chose to abandon him. In this you also see that the son is doomed to repeat the mistakes of his father if he continues down this road. The other being the chase for something better ‘out there’ and in the process taking everything for granted including our loved ones at the cost of our humanity. It is a nice sentiment and one the world definitely needs right now.

But it is hidden within a messy plot where you never really get on board with what’s happening on screen or fully grasp the world created. It’s intentionally sterile to the point where it literally sucks the tension out of the movie. There was potential for the movie to be exciting and engaging as well as tell a meaningful story. But it misses the mark. Personally, I felt the voice over for the most part didn’t work. It was very on point telling you, the audience, what exactly was happening on screen. In one instance Brad Pitt actually says ‘I’m on my way to Jupiter’ just in case you missed that plot point. Not that Brad Pitt is bad in it, far from it, he is excellent. A really understated performance. But he is really the only character that stands out, the supporting cast is completely secondary coming across as one dimensional ciphers just so Pitt has ‘something’ to react to.

The other niggling aspect was some of Brad Pitts dialogue which hammered home, quite literally, how the character was feeling telling us at one point, travelling for 80 plus days to reach Jupiter ‘I’m so alone’ - just in case the subtext was lost on the viewer his chosen hermetic workaholic lifestyle has created a ‘loner’ separating himself from his loved ones - it is reinforced with flashbacks to him and his wife drifting apart. I would argue the audience would have gotten that idea without the inclusion of this clunky dialogue.

One of the aspects I found interesting was the trip to the moon and the fact that there is a ‘war’ raging on it where Pirates are ravaging resources for their own personal gain. This is never really explored at all which is a shame as it was one of the more fascinating ideas in the movie. Not to say that it fits into the story. It doesn’t. Sticking out like most of the action scenes. Perhaps studio interference responsible to try to punch up the story.

It is probably worth mentioning about the messy/implausible physics displayed in most of the movie. I could get on board with most of it bar three glaringly bad scenes: 1. The race to catch a rocket to Jupiter where Brad Pitt with ten seconds to launch manages to climb onto the rocket and somehow hold on as the rocket is propelled at 18,000 miles per hour climbing into a hatch at the base of the rocket. 2. Brad Pitt ‘surfing’ on a piece of metal trying to get back to his rocket near the end of the movie blasting through a debris field of rocks without being thrown off trajectory in the slightest. 3. Stopping for SOS call in space. Again the rocket was traveling at a tremendous speed so stopping without any reference on a whim seems very unrealistic. It’s worth pointing out that the rockets seemed like they we’re from our time and not in any way modernised/updated.

It is these implausible plot points that really let the movie down such as Tommy Lee Jones who is a very fine actor but I could never, not for one instant, believe he would be capable of surviving space flight - he looked old in his thirties never mind now in his seventies. Not withstanding that the movie is in long stretches actually quite boring. There was potential there but it is sterile, working in service of pretentious notions in love with the idea of meaning, to the detriment of story, character and an engaging plot.

Overall it was disappointing, I really wanted to like the movie and I could see the potential in it but it fell short.

** & 1/2 out of *****

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GhostBusters 2016 review

 

GHOSTBUSTERS 2016 REVIEW

Ghostbusters 2016 teaser logo

Ghostbusters 2016 teaser logo

 
I ain’t afraid of no ghost
— Ray Parker Jr
‘Following a ghost invasion of Manhattan, paranormal enthusiasts Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann, and subway worker Patty Tolan band together to stop the otherworldly threat.’  
— imdb
 

 

                                   

When I first read about the 'Reboot' to the 1980s movie 'Ghostbusters' I was more than a little apprehensive. To say that I'd had my fill of uninspired reboots would be an understatement.

When they released the first pictures for the main cast of the all female lead ghost busters, I at least thought maybe it might be funny. With the talent assembled here there was at least potential for comedy.

 
 

Then I watched the movie. Very few laughs were to be had. It felt more like 'throw as many jokes at the screen as possible and see what sticks' formula. And unfortunately not many did.

The movie follows a very similar set up of the original 'Ghostbusters', only deviating very slightly in story and set up. It should work. There should be moments of laugh out loud comedy but there isn't. There's a strain of comedy on display that, to me at least, isn't very funny. It seems the magic improvising potion got lost in translation resulting in a flat rendition of one liners that just don't really hit.

The actors themselves didn't seem to really know how to play with the characters and instead clutch at comedy straws that aren't really based upon character, instead wholly on props. A recurring 'joke' about wantons falls flat every time its used and its used a lot.

I'm not saying the original Ghostbusters movie was perfect, its not. But what it did get right was character. I engaged with them. I found them annoyingly like-able. And for the most part the comedy worked. 

So apart from the comedy was it an interesting movie to watch? Well, yes and no. I thought visually the hyper colourful images were very nice and the renders of the ghosts were nicely captured. At times, though, the actors seemed to be slightly confused in the CGI environment especially in the beginning of the movie at the haunted house.

Chris Hemsworth was probably the funniest actor in the movie, he plays an engagingly stupid receptionist called Kevin. You could tell he had fun with the role and the other actors bounced off him including Wiig who unashamedly undresses him with her eyes at every opportunity.

 
 

Kate Mc kinnon plays scientist Jillian Holtzman as an Egon lite character with a crazy edge. Her brand of humour didn't hit for me. Her one-liners falling flat and missing nearly every time. The expectation was clearly high as they cut to her character repeatedly for a one line zinger that doesn't quite work for the scene.

Which brings us nicely onto the movies Cameos featuring some of the original cast members. This and the constant call backs to the original movie were one of the movies biggest weaknesses. For me, they felt lazy, shoe horned into the movie without thought or conviction. Bill Murray sleep walks through his cameo seemingly uninterested in what's happening. And how he ends.. ahem spoiler alert is quite badly put together almost like the editor ran out of usable footage to complete the scene properly. One of a number of strange edit decisions in the movie. This admittedly, could be the result of scenes which were ad-libbed for comedy. 

When the finale rolls around, it becomes a CGI rampage with Ghouls and ghosts circulating downtown Manhattan. There is a big call back of sorts to the stay puff marsh mellow man from the original which did get a chuckle but ultimately the ending just came and went. It was a forgettable piece that wasn't really satisfying and deserved better. You could say that for most of the action scenes in the movie. They were nothing memorable and just ok. This seems to be the calling card of this movie and its lasting impression: nothing memorable.

1 and 1/2 * out of 5*