Category Archives: 3 Star

The Belko Experiment – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

The Belko Experiment30

From James Gunn, the writer and director of Guardians of the Galaxy (Volumes One and Two!) comes the twisted social experiment known as The Belko Experiment.  Eighty employees of the Belko company arrive for work one morning, and are locked in their office building.  An anonymous voice comes over the PA system telling them that they have to kill thirty of their co-workers in an hour, and if they don’t sixty of them will be killed instead.  Some of the workers try to hide, some try to escape, and some turn violent.  Factions are formed, leaders are chosen, and people die.  When some of the workers try to make contact with the outside world one of their heads is remotely blown up, proving this experiment is not just a game.

The Belko Experiment was graphic, violent, suspenseful but also repetitive. Was it realistic though? Were these the reactions people would have in this admittedly absurd situation?  Yeah, it was probably pretty accurate.  James Gunn apparently came up with the idea for the script in a dream, and if this is what his dreams are made of, I’m worried about the possibilities in his nightmares.  He did a great job on the characters and there were a lot of recognizable actors involved with the project.  You liked some of them and you hated some of them. John C. McGinley was especially rotten in the movie, and it was great to see his character die. Gunn’s brother Sean has a nice little role, as does fellow Guardians of the Galaxy “Reaver”, Michael Rooker.  Tony Goldwyn was the boss in the film, and even though he could have been considered the bad guy, the cleverness of the script makes you wonder, as he was doing everything he did for his own survival.

My only complaint about The Belko Experiment was that it was a little slow because of the great character development.  I would almost have preferred it just went to the crazy action right away. The action when it did happen was pretty crazy, and the effects were quite good for what is clearly an elevated indie film.  The final scene was pretty predictable, from who would be the sole survivor, to how they would deal with their captors.  Still, it was quite entertaining and a nice release.  When I first heard of The Belko Experiment I was told it was going to be like Battle Royale meets Office Space, which I immediately made me think of the movie Operation: Endgame.  In that film a team of spies have to kill each other in their own office building, using whatever they have around them, I was very glad that Belko wasn’t just another film like that.  It was thought out very well, and was a lot more intelligent than you would think.  Dark beyond belief, it won’t be for everyone, but I did enjoy it.

Bottom Line:  I was very surprised to see Belko was put out by Orion Pictures, I had no idea that name was still around!

Lego Batman Movie – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

Lego Batman Movie30

I loved The Lego Movie.  This wasn’t The Lego Movie.  The Lego Batman Movie was written for kids, but didn’t have enough “adult humour” to hold my attention like The Lego Movie did.  Sure there were lots (and lots) of references to other Batman properties and a horde of other pop culture sources, but the humour wasn’t very clever in my opinion, in fact I thought it was pretty juvenile.  It didn’t make Batman cool, or funny, I thought it really just made the character look silly at the end of it all.  Sure there was humour, and I did laugh, but this one is definitely more aimed at kids.

It’s funny that I say it’s aimed at kids because there were a lot of inside jokes and nods to the audience that I don’t think kids would get.  Maybe the film is aimed at everyone, but the humour is just for the kids?  I guess I did appreciate a lot of the inside jokes.  You’ve got Billy Dee Williams voicing Two-Face, which is great because he was the original Harvey Dent in the first Michael Keaton/Tim Burton Batman movie back in 1989, and Harvey Dent become Two-Face.  The airplane at the beginning of the movie is the “McGuffin 1138”, referencing both THX-1138 and cleverly mixing in “McGuffin” which of course is the theatrical term for an something which is important to the characters but is actually immaterial to the plot.  They even brought in the “Bat Shark Repellent” from the 1966 Batman movie, and they even show clips of ’66s Adam West Batman.  Early on, The Joker says that his plan is not like the “two boats” plan or “the parade with the Prince music” which refers to The Dark Knight where he hijacks two boats and threatens to blow them up, and to Burton’s Batman, where the Joker has a parade to distract Gotham from his schemes.

Will Arnett who plays Batman and Michael Cera who voices Robin also played uncle and nephew (respectively) in Arrested Development, and Rosario Dawson voices Barbara Gordon/Batgirl.  I’m not sure why they had Eddie Izzard voice Voldemort when Ralph Fiennes was in the film as Alfred, and he actually played Voldemort in the Harry Potter films.  Why not have Izzard voice Alfred instead of Fiennes?  You can definitely tell that Arnett loves the role as he does put everything he’s got into his Lego Batman performances.  From the bonus features of the Blu Ray, you could see that the other cast members were also excited to be immortalized in 1 ½” of Lego plastic.

At the end of it all the movie was enjoyable, but I don’t think it will become a “classic”.

Bottom Line:  Lego Batman Movie didn’t make me want to play with LEGOs like The Lego Movie did.

Brand New Testament – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

Brand New Testament

God exists, and he lives in Belgium.  And he’s a bit of a jerk… God also has a family, we know his son (J.C.), but he also has a wife (Yolande Moreau) and a daughter Ea (Pili Groyne).  This story focuses on Ea, who has become increasingly upset with the way her father treats mankind.  God sits in his office making up new rules on his computer (when you get into a bath, the phone will ring; when you’re in line, the other line will move faster) solely to torment the world.  One day when God has fallen asleep on the couch watching the hockey game (is this a Belgian film or a Canadian one?) Ea takes his keys, breaks into his office, and locks him out of his computer, but before she locks it, she releases the predetermined “death dates” to everyone on Earth to frustrate her father.  To avoid her father’s wrath, or I guess to avoid the “Wrath of God” she escapes to Earth from Heaven (which is a rundown apartment) via the spin cycle of their washing machine…

Once on Earth, Ea sets out with a homeless man as her scribe to find six disciples to add to her big brother’s twelve.  With twelve, the disciples were a hockey team (her father’s favourite sport), but now with eighteen, they’re a baseball team which is her mother’s favourite sport.  The scribe will write a Brand New Testament and it will be based on the lives of ordinary people.  Now that everyone knows when they will die, their lives and how they choose to live the rest of them are drastically altered.  Some for better, some for worse.  Some sadly, and some humourously.  Risks that would never be taken are risked, and friendships that would never have been made are made.  Some of them, for life.

Okay, it was good, but it was very French.  If you don’t like films like Amélie then you probably won’t like Brand New Testament.  The camera work, the lighting, the quirkiness of the characters, the cynicism and the absurdity, all ooze off the screen in a very European way.  Along the way we get touching stories about the chosen disciples that go from humourous to darkly sad in a few short frames.  Good performances from everyone with touching moments along the way, but the individual stories weren’t quite long enough for me.  Overall, it was entertaining, but I think it lacked focus and it wasn’t as carefree as I hoped.

Bottom Line: What would you do if you knew exactly how much time you had left to live?

Gridlocked – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review


Since I missed seeing John Wick Chapter 2 in theatres and it was still a while until it came to Blu Ray, I was in the mood for a good action movie.  I saw the trailer for Gridlocked and it looked interesting enough.  Maybe an action packed update of Hollywood Homicide or Showtime where you have a real cop with an actor on a ride along to learn how to be a cop for their upcoming movie.  Well, this was kind of like that.  Cody Hackman plays Brody Walker, an actor who gets in trouble with the law one time too many, and is forced to ride along with a cop (Dominic Purcell) who is rehabbing after being wounded in the line of duty, but eager to rejoin his old SWAT team.  David Hendrix (Purcell) brings Walker to his old, top secret, high security training facility one night, but he picked the night that a team of mercenaries are breaking into the facility to steal seized criminal assets held as evidence.

The trailer made the action look pretty decent, and it was.  Completely over the top and full of cliches, it was an exciting film, but not overly original or surprising.  The lead criminal is a former SWAT agent himself?  You don’t say.  Hendrix used to be on the same team as the bad guy?  Really?  Someone on the current team is probably in league with the bad guys?  I never would have guessed it.  Oh, wait.  I did guess it.  And I guessed who it was, and I guessed how the good guys got the bonds away from the bad guys.  I guess it wasn’t really that bad, but I just managed to predict everything that happened.  The action and the stunts were fun, the characters were probably a little underdeveloped, and for the most part the acting was good.  I’d definitely call this a B-movie action film, but they still managed to get a decent cast.  Dominic Purcell carried the story as the lead, but it was nice to see Danny Glover who was effectively in an extended cameo role, as well as action staple Vinnie Jones and former WWE wrestler Trish Stratus.

It seems that most of the action movies in recent years have the same style of action, and Gridlocked was no different.  Sure it was exciting, but you knew the fist fights would be MMA inspired, and the shootouts would be what they always have been.  It may have been a fairly simple, fairly mindless popcorn action flick, but it was still entertaining.

Bottom Line:  Danny Glover’s been too old for this shit for thirty years now…That’s right, Lethal Weapon came out in 1987. Let that sink in.

War on Everyone – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

War on Everyone30

From the writer and director of The Guard and Calvary, comes War On Everyone, a story about two cops (Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña) who are lazy, drunk, disorderly, and corrupt.  They like to take any shortcuts they can, such as using ex-cons to do their work for them, and of course they’re out to make some money on the side all while living under the protection of their badges.  When they learn of a plot to steal a million dollars from a local racetrack, they figure they can swoop in and pickup the spoils of the crime for themselves while making the arrest, but criminals are criminals and someone beats them to the punch taking the money before them.  Really short on cash, the pair are on the trail of the money, but so is the original criminal who wants the money he stole back, and he may be more dangerous than they anticipated.

Watching the trailer, there were some very funny bits that made me really want to see War On Everyone, also I really enjoyed John Michael McDonagh’s previous films, unfortunately the best bits were in the trailer and the film did not live up to McDonagh’s The Guard and Calvary.  It was funny, quite darkly funny, and I did enjoy the humour, but it just didn’t seem to “turn the corner” and deliver what I expected.  There were minor redemption moments for the leads, but not enough to make this a better film, and not enough to really make me care.  The plot was clever at times, but then quickly returned to insult humour rather than continuing to build upon itself.  The action was pretty good, but a little uneven at times drawing on maybe too many tropes of 1970s cop movies and TV shows.  The acting was good, but the characters were quite undeveloped.  We never learn why Skarsgård and Peña‘s Terry Monroe and Bob Bolaño were corrupt or what led them down the paths they’re on.

At the end of it all, there didn’t really seem to be a point which was the biggest disappointment.  I don’t know if the lack of a point itself may have been the point, but I think that hurt the overall film.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but if it interests you, I wouldn’t discourage it either.  There was a fair bit of entertainment value, but it just needed a little bit more to turn it into a really good film.

Bottom Line:  At least the dishonest cops are brutally honest in the film.  They say what they mean and follow through on it.

The Take – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

The Take30

Idris Elba stars as Sean Briar, a CIA agent in Paris who pushes the limits and doesn’t “play well with others”.  Michael Mason (Richard Madden) is a professional pickpocket who steals a bag belonging to Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon) and drops it with the garbage in front of a small apartment building after taking anything of value from it only to have the bag blow up moments later.  Now on the run as a suspected terrorist bomber, Mason finds himself being hunted by Briar.  Briar does capture Mason and eventually believes him to be innocent of the bombing, but he uses the thief to help him track down Zoe and the bomb makers who are threatening to detonate more bombs.  As the Mason and Briar inch closer to Zoe and the truth, they discover cover-ups and corruption and the real reasons the French people have been antagonized to riot in their own streets.

I was in the mood for a good action film, and Idris Elba impressed me so much in the BBC’s Luther, that I gave The Take a chance.  The plot takes place on the days leading up to Bastille Day, which was the film’s European title, I assume they switched it to The Take for North American audiences because they assumed the majority of audiences wouldn’t know what Bastille Day was, kind of like they assumed American Harry Potter audiences wouldn’t know what a Philosopher’s Stone was…  The Take was a fairly low budget and relatively unknown film but I rather liked it.  It started off a little slow and I thought it was going to be quite predictable, but they threw a few original twists and ideas in that I wasn’t expecting.  Those things really paid off in my mind, and allowed me to enjoy what could have been a very formulaic and hum-drum action flick.  The action kept me entertained throughout, and the performances were solid.  The cast had good chemistry together, and the cinematography was top notch.  An enjoyable film that avoided many of the clichés of the genre.

Bottom Line:  Idris Elba wrote and performed (with Fatboy Slim) the song The Road Less Travelled which plays over the closing credits.

The Meddler – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

The Meddler3.0 Stars

Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, who also did Seeking a Friend For The End of the World (which I quite enjoyed) comes The Meddler, a story based on her own life.  In the film however we are treated to Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne in a mother/daughter story that was very very real.  Sarandon plays Marnie who is recently widowed and moves from New York to Los Angeles to be near her screenwriter/director daughter, Lori.  When she can’t fit herself into her daughter’s life, she pushes her way into the lives of her daughter’s friends and other people she meets in L.A., such as the young man working as an Apple genius.  There was a lot of Apple product placement in this film, it almost seemed like a commercial at times when I was told how to zoom in on an iPhone, how much memory to get on my phone or tablet….  Oh well, product placement is what helps finance projects right?   Eventually Marnie does develop a life of her own, but feels guilty for it when her daughter is having a hard time with both her own personal life and while still dealing with the death of her father.

The story was well acted, and well presented, but I felt that there were maybe a few too many storylines going on at once.  I guess that Marnie really is a meddler, she babysits for Lori’s friends, she plans a lesbian wedding, she helps a kid get through his college exams, she dates a retired motorcycle cop named Zipper (J.K. Simmons), she sits in on the set when her daughter’s tv show is being filmed, she tries to set her daughter up with a guy, she meets up with her old New York friends and family….phew, how do you fit the daughter’s story in there too?  Somehow they managed it though, and I think that the skill of the cast is what made it what it was: fairly enjoyable, but not earth shattering.  I think the film (and the performances) were very realistic, maybe a little sensationalized but still grounded in something that we can relate to.

Bottom Line: Hey, this had two of my favourite actors in it; J.K. Simmons and Lucy Punch!

The Bronze – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

The Bronze3.0 Stars

A very foul mouthed, but still kind of funny comedy, The Bronze was an enjoyable ride, even if it was kind of standard and predictable.   Melissa Rauch definitely sheds her image from The Big Bang Theory as Hope, an Olympic gymnast who rose to fame by winning the bronze medal despite an injury.  Returning to her hometown she’s accepted as a hero, and she lazily tries to coast off her win for the rest of her life.  Expecting free lunches, parking in handicap spots, and treating the townsfolk like subjects is a way of life for Hope, until another up and coming gymnast arrives on the scene.  Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson) is a happy, naive, and potentially more talented gymnast than Hope, and a lot is expected of her.  When Maggie’s coach (who happened to be Hope’s old coach) dies, Hope is approached to take over and guide the next generation of Olympian.  Hope reacts with jealousy and anger as she sees the girl who could unseat her as the town’s favourite daughter.  Eventually though Hope is lured back to coach Maggie with the dangling carrot of a large cash payment.  Along the way she crosses paths with an Olympic gold medallist and former flame (Sebastian Stan) who holds a grudge that Hope’s bronze medal win took the attention away from his wins; her father (Gary Cole) who is struggling to make ends meet and keep his spoiled daughter happy; and with an instructor (Thomas Middleditch) at the local gym that she has belittled, picked on and taken for granted since childhood who has always been in love with her.

Yes, it was a fairly predictable ending as we see Hope fall and rise and fall again only to pick herself up in the final act, but it was still pretty funny at times.  A lot of the jokes were quite rude making this a movie that is “not for everyone”, but with a healthy dose of satire and black comedy, I laughed quite often.

Bottom Line: oh no, there’s graphic nudity in this film!  Sorry folks, if you were hoping to see Melissa Rauch naked those scenes use a body double.

Hardcore Henry – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

Hardcore Henry3.0 Stars

Filmed entirely from a first person point of view Hardcore Henry was really just an extended experiment to see if it could be done.  Basically, could they turn the action scenes from a video game into an hour and a half long movie?  Well, they did; whether they should have or not is another question.  With an intro clip starring Tim Roth, and the story carried by Sharlto Copley filling the role of a “non player character” in a video game cut scene, we watch Henry fight through wave after wave of bad guys.

Henry (played by presumably a series of faceless stuntmen) is a genetically altered, technologically augmented, formerly dead soldier with no memory who has to save his wife (Haley Bennett) from a telekinetic warlord (Danila Kozlovsky) who has plans to bio-engineer super soldiers.   The whole movie played out like a video game, and was incredibly violent, often brutal, but not really gory or disturbing.  Lots of shooting, lots of swearing, lots of fighting, lots of car chases and car crashes, and quite a bit of humour and fun too.  It really was just an experiment though.  Can a film “work” without ever showing the face of the main character?  Keep in mind also that the main character never speaks in the entire movie either, so can you develop a character that is never really seen, and you never hear?  Can the technology of filmmaking keep up with the action?  I think it succeeded, even if I didn’t love the film.  The plot was paper thin (and again the “twist” at the end was fairly predictable), but the stunts and achievement effectively made up for that.  Still, this won’t be for everybody, but action and adrenaline junkies will likely love every minute of it.  Fun, but I don’t know if this sort of film-making will (or should) take off.

Bottom Line: I can’t play first person shooter video games, they give me a headache.  Watching Hardcore Henry I started getting a headache too even though the film was fairly stable, there was just too much first person action for me.  So I watched a bit of the film in fast forward since there really wasn’t much dialogue or character development to miss out on…

The Dresser – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

Film Title3.0 Stars

The Dresser was originally a play, and then a film in 1983 starring Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay, and now a TV movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellen.  “Sir” (Hopkins) is the aging star of a theatrical company who is clearly suffering from some sort of dementia.  He was found running half naked through the streets by Norman (McKellen), his “dresser”, the man who preps him for the performances by doing his makeup, getting the costumes ready, and covering up for his employer’s indiscretions.  Now, even though they’re in the middle of the blitz, the motto is that “the show must go on”, but how can it if the star can’t be found, and even if he can, will he be able to perform?  Norman struggles to keep the troupe equally on track and in the dark as to Sir’s situation and the fate of the night’s production of King Lear.

The Dresser was good, but rather slow.  It was very dramatic, and a great representation of stage actors, and probably of actors in general.  The loyalty of the dresser to the star was admirable though it is hinted that their relationship was not as altruistic as it would seem but did parallel the relationship between Shakespeare’s Lear and The Fool.  While the film did focus mainly on the friendship between the two, it also featured the ailing Sir reconciling his relationships with the rest of the cast.  From those who love him such as Her Ladyship (Emily Watson) to those who wish to replace him like Oxenby (Tom Brooke) all appear before Sir and Norman.  What stood out as the high point for me was Edward Fox (A Bridge Too Far) as Thornton who played the Fool in the play, giving a wonderful, heartwarming speech to Sir near the close of the film.  Ironically Fox was in the 1983 version of The Dresser as Oxenby, completely opposite of the gracious Thornton character.

The box stated that “The Dresser is a wickedly funny and deeply moving story of friendship and loyalty”, but it was not “wickedly funny”, it did have some subtle laughs, but was really all drama, and that is what disappointed me.  Not being familiar with either the play or the original film, I was half expecting some sort of theatrical shenanigans to take place, but they didn’t.  Ah well, it was still enjoyable enough, though not what I expected.

Bottom Line: Naturally both Hopkins and McKellen gave excellent performances and made the film worth watching.

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