Tuesday, 17 July 2018

The Real Problem: Tokarev


***Contains Spoilers for Tokarev (aka Rage in some territories)***

Nicolas Cage vehicle Tokarev is a 2014 DTV action thriller. The synopsis, as is, states "When the daughter of a reformed criminal is kidnapped, he rounds up his old crew and seeks his own brand of justice."

Now don't get me wrong. I love this type of mindless action thriller. I like them when they star Cage, Willis, Van Damme, hey, even squishy-mush-face Steven Seagal. They are what they are. Generally the plot revolves around something gone wrong, whether a military incursion, a robbery, it doesn't matter. Quite often our "star" is some sort of misunderstood anti-hero (except Seagal - he seems to insist on being the all American hero, but usually a bit, well, sexual predator-y), guns blaze - the girl is got - yadda yadda yadda.

Happy ending.

So what happened with Tokarev?


The Basic Beats of the Film


Cage is Paul Maguire - reformed mob enforcer type - happily married with a teen daughter and a thriving business.

One night he and his wife attend a dinner party, leaving his daughter and her friends at home.

He is informed mid-dinner that his daughter has been violently kidnapped and her friends hurt.

Maguire gets his old team back together and starts shaking down local hoods for answers.

His daughter turns up dead - shot with a Russian Tokarev pistol.

Maguire and his team start a war with the local Russian mafia.



So this is all pretty reasonable, right? Mis-understood anti-hero? Check. Guns blaze? Check.


Cast and Crew


Cast wise, you have a pretty impressive line up. Heading up is Cage with support from Rachel Nichols (Alex Cross), Peter Stormare (Bad Milo), Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon), and Aubrey Peeples (Sharknado). So a good pedigree of players. It was directed by Paco Cabezas (Penny Dreadful) and written by Jim Agnew (Game of Death). It's all quite notable.

So what makes it such an abomination?




It's the ending.

Most films these days tend to stuff a twist ending in, because M. Night Shyamalan did it once and it worked really well and that's how you become a revered director, until you do it too many times and Mark Wahlberg is talking to plants. But you have to try, right?

Well, you know that trick where a skilled performance artist pulls a table cloth from a heavily glass laden table and nothing topples and everyone claps? Well. It's that. Except instead of a skilled performer it's a cow, and instead of nothing toppling everything breaks, and instead of everyone clapping the movie takes a giant shit on the audience.

So, after the basic beats of the film have set up the expected ending we're here: Maguire's team is dead. Most everyone is dead. Maguire is ready to face off (pun intended) against the incoming Russian mafia with little to no chance of survival, except plot armor in that he's the hero. And then BOOM - Maguire's daughter's friends admit that none of this is true. In fact, at the beginning of the film while Maguire and wife were at the dinner party the three friends were PLAYING WITH GUNS and one went off and oh shit I just shot Nicolas Cage's daughter in the face.

Best pretend it was the mob.

Yes, Maguire's daughter's friend, Mike (Max Fowler - Wolf Hall) shot her in the face with Maguire's own Tokarev pistol.

This culminates in Maguire sort of saying, Welp. Of course when the Russians arrive he puts up no defense and is killed.

PLOT TWIST.

A clever twist should involve the story cleverly misdirecting the watcher. Subtle hints should be in play. It should be, and here is the big one, hiding in plain sight. Rewatched The Sixth Sense? Spent the whole movie muttering to yourself how you should have seen that coming a mile off? Wasn't it obvious (in hindsight)?

Tokarev doesn't challenge the viewers, it just lies to them. It drops a bomb that is impossible to see coming, killing any favor it may have gained from the viewer, and leaves you cold. It's ending serves only to undermine the rest of the story, rendering it...

...utterly pointless. 

   

Monday, 16 July 2018

30 Second Reviews: Tokarev


A rather unusual addition to the 30 Second Review archive, today. We may have a breakdown of communication. 






Friday, 13 July 2018

The 13th Unit (2014)





Synopsis

Seven strangers find themselves trapped in an underground storage facility, struggling to survive while being hunted by a supernatural beast that resides inside the mysterious 13th unit.

Review

Without doubt, this is micro-budget film making, and the synopsis pretty much tells you all you need to know about the plot. Several groups of people are visiting/working late in an underground storage facility when all hell breaks loose. The film is largely contained in the single location of the facility, and the people there trying to first, work out what is going on, the then second, survive. So plot wise, there is little meat. But that's not a bad thing, is it? How is that different from Carpenter's The Thing?

I'm sure budgetary constraints have much to do with the location. But the location almost feels like a character. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the corridors. The exits that seem to move. The locked doors. Strange signs. By the end of it, I have firmly decided that any storage unit I'm renting will be above ground.

That is where writer / director Theophilus Lacey shines. Without buckets of blood, gore, or special effects, he manages to create something truly creepy.




Low budget efforts generally stutter with some of the players inexperience, but that also seemed to have been dodged here. It's quite the ensemble piece, so it's hard to justify pointing at a protagonist, but some of the stand out performances go to Robbie Daymond (Spider-Man TV Series), Lance Aaron (Da' Wild Boyz of Kilco), and Rocki DuCharme (Say When).

A wise choice is to also avoid trying to bring any sort of "monster" to the screen. Sometimes (especially when working on a tight cash flow) it's best the bad be left to the imagination.

The only real issue I have with the film was the need it felt to address why all the characters were there in the first place. This culminates with a weird hodge podge of flash backs and fowards at the beginning of the film, and it left me somewhat confused as to who, where, and why. I guess there was a need for introductions, but to much back and forth made the opening twenty minutes a little hard.

The film wraps nicely - a little sequel bait, of course - but a satisfying ending, that left me on a high note.

Sure, this is low budget indie horror, but there is worse out there. It does a lot with a little and is worth watching on a Friday night with the lights out.





Wednesday, 11 July 2018

For the Love of Shorts: WAKTUNYA TIDUR (2018)



Proof that sound is everything - Indonesian horror this week with Waktunya Tidur. Starring Filo Sebastian, I watched this with my headphones on and found myself staring at the wall to my right constantly.

It's amazing what you can do with little.






Friday, 6 July 2018

Containment (2015)





Synopsis

What happens when a epidemic breaks out, but you're kept in the dark? Anything can happen. Slowly the residents realize that they will all die unless they come together.

Review

Director Neil Mcenery-West opens 2015's Containment with Mark - a run down artist, who is late for his court hearing. But Mark awakens to a tower block on lock down. The opening of Containment is pretty fresh. Not only is the tower block in quarantine, as are the adjacent blocks, but the apartments are all sealed from the outside.

Unlike other films of a similar ilk (The Divide / REC / Right At Your Door) Containment has no setup. The action is on from minute one. With the residents of the building breaking through walls, and eventually doors, a small group is formed.




Mark very much takes the lead, with other (fairly trope) types in the group - the youngster, the elderly woman, antagonist / anti-hero, coward, etc. - adding little to the setup. Sadly, we've seen them all before. That said, the cast is pretty strong, as is the screen writing, so things even out well enough.

Lead, Mark, is played by Lee Ross (EastEnders) - someone whom I had followed since the days of Press Gang - and I was pleasantly surprised at how well he ran the gauntlet with such a powerful role. Thuggish neighbor Sergei (Andrew Leung - Dirk Gently) offers up a strong arm anti-hero well, and elderly chain smoker Enid (Sheila Reid - Brazil) steals the show.

With a small budget the tension is, well, taut, and the relatively short running time means that the film never has time to slow the pace. The film is largely set during the day, and there is little to no budget for SFX, but at no point do you miss them. With people running around in hazmat suits the whole time, it's the writing that gives the film its energy.

The bad guys aren't who you would think.

As with most of these quarantine films, there is of course a neat twist, and although I saw some of it coming, not all of it. Nice treat.

All round, it's an interesting indie Britflick with a strong cast, good direction, and nice writing. Highly recommended.

  



Wednesday, 4 July 2018

For the Love of Shorts: Coffer (2014)


From the team behind Lights Out, this week's featured short is Coffer. Staring Lotta Losten (Lights Out) and directed by David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation), you can see why these talented individuals are where they are today.




Friday, 29 June 2018

The Last Showing (2014)





Synopsis

A couple trapped in a cinema are manipulated into becoming unwilling actors in a film being captured by CCTV cameras.

Review

Stuart is clearly a psychopath. Working in the movie theater for too long perhaps, Stuart decides to make a film himself, using midnight matinee customers and other members of staff as an unwilling cast. He drugs and kidnaps patron Allie, and records the CCTV footage of her lover, Martin, as he tries to get her back, and escape the theater.





Although the antagonist, Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street) steals the show here, portraying a chuckling nut, with a well thought out plan. It's nice to see Englund having a substantial part, too, as with icons like himself in lower budget movies, walk-ons and cameos abound. Usually enough to justify a front cover billing. Unwilling participants Martin (Finn Jones - Iron Fist) and Allie (Emily Berrington - Humans) are joined by Night Manager Clive (Malachi Kirby - Eastenders). All do a solid job in the frantic situation.

There's little in the way or SFX here, but Director Phil Hawkins (The Four Warriors) pulls enough tension to make a movie theater (a VUE in the UK, actually) scary.

More on the plot - including spoilers between the showers:


THE SPOILER SHOWER

Having tricked Martin into killing Manager Clive - believing him to be Allie's kidnapper - Stuart cat and mouses both Martin and Allie. He persuades Allie that it was Martin who drugged her, and has, perhaps, raped her. He convinces her to then call the police on Martin, and cobbles the CCTV footage together to implicate Martin to them.

It's all very clever, and is only pulled off because of Englund's talent as an actor.

In the finale, Martin is waving a gun around and is gunned down by the police - Stuart is last seen recording the one officer who suspects something more happened than Martin going crazy.

Sure it's sequel baiting, but to be honest, I would watch it.


THE SECOND SPOILER SHOWER

Character actor Keith Allen (Shallow Grave) pops up at the end as lead D.I. for the third act, which adds a nice gravitas to the proceeding.

With what the film could have been, it's surprisingly fresh. Held together with strong performances and good direction, a neat twist ending, and a deranged villain, The Last Showing is a nice not-too-scary horror/thriller for a Friday night.