Film Review: Running with the Devil

Jason Cabell’s solo directorial debut Running with the Devil is refreshing in its commitment to harsh realities over cheap thrills, for the most part. Unfortunately this doesn’t make the film particularly memorable. 

The head of a drug cartel sends two of his trusted assistants to investigate why a batch of cocaine went missing on its way from Mexico to Canada. The pair need to go through the chain to identify the problem…

An early shot of Running with the Devil is reminiscent of the very famous tracking shot from Goodfellas. Writer-director Jason Cabell uses this to set up a sharp contrast between the glamour of recreational drug use, and the brutality of the growing and supply industry. 

This contrast returns time and time again in Cabell’s film. The Colombian family existence is a world away from The Cook’s comfortable lifestyle. The narrative begins to pick up pace at around twenty minutes in. The film is sufficiently engaging, although it is relatively silly situation which propels the story.  

Given the nature of the film, Running with the Devil is not as tense as it could be. There are some heightened moments, but the film is a little flat for a thriller. The tracking of the cocaine and its steadily increasing price is a good device to emphasise the length and danger of the journey. The complete lack of character names is an odd stylistic decision. 

The use of dialogue is restrained; exposition is takes prominence in practically every conversation. There is not a lot of character building in the film, which is fine for the purposes of the story, but does not help with the generating of tension. A few key moments lack the gravitas they should have had. Cabell may have felt he needed a wild ending, but the twist  is unearned and rather disappointing. 

Performances in Running with the Devil are perfectly fine. None of the cast members really excel. Nicolas Cage is more restrained than normal, Leslie Bibb and Laurence Fishburne are not stretched by the film. The score tries its best to add tension, but is sometimes intrusive. The editing is abrupt on occasion. 

Running with the Devil is a case of execution not quite matching ambition. 

Running with the Devil will be available on Digital Download from 4th November 2019, and can be pre-ordered here

Previews: Long Shot Clip, Rocketman, Dark Phoenix, More!

Plenty in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including a new Long Shot clip, Rocketman, Dark Phoenix and more…

Long Shot Clip

Here is a brand new Long Shot clip. The film is about a journalist who reunites with his childhood babysitter as she is about to make a presidential run. Directed by Jonathan Levine, the film stars Charlize Theron, Seth Rogan, and O’Shea Jackson Jr. Long Shot will hit UK cinemas on 3rd May 2019.

Rocketman Featurette

This featurette looks at Elton John’s involvement with biopic Rocketman. The film, featuring the music of John, stars Taron Egerton as the musician early in his career. Directed by Dexter Fletcher, Rocketman will screen at the Cannes Film Festival before being released in UK cinemas on 22nd May 2019.

Fast & Furious: Hobbes & Shaw Trailer

A spin-off of the hugely successful Fast & Furious franchise, Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw focuses on two of the favourite characters from later films. The two former enemies partner up to bring down a threat to humanity. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, and Vanessa Kirby, Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw is scheduled for release on 2nd August 2019.

Dark Phoenix Trailer

Above is the latest trailer for Dark Phoenix. A continuation of the latest X-Men series, Dark Phoenix concentrates on Jean Grey as she evolves in Phoenix. Regulars Sophie Turner, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and James McAvoy return for the sequel. They are joined by newcomer Jessica Chastain. Dark Phoenix will hit UK screens on 5th June 2019.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum Clip

Here is a new clip from John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. In this latest episode, assassin Wick has a hefty price tag on his head. Director Chad Stahelski (John Wick and John Wick: Chapter Two) returns for the film, and is joined by Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane, and Angelica Huston. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be released in UK cinemas on 15th May 2019.

Playmobil: The Movie Trailer

Here is the first trailer for Playmobil: The Movie. The film is based on the toy line of the same name. The film is about a sister who must rescue her younger brother when he disappears into the Playmobil universe. Featuring Anya Taylor-Joy, Jim Gaffigan, and Daniel Radcliffe, Playmobil: The Movie is set for release in UK cinemas on 9th August 2019.

Film Review: Last Flag Flying

On paper, Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying looks like a winner. However, the actual film is a hit and miss affair, despite the talent involved.

Thirty years after they served in Vietnam together, Doc seeks out his old army buddies Sal and Richard. As they reunite, Doc tells his old friends the reason he looked them up. Doc needs their support for a difficult task…

Written by Richard Linklater and Darryl Ponicsan (based on Ponicsan’s novel), Last Flag Flying is drama about grief and friendship, set on the background of war and military service. Linklater’s film features a number of the director’s hallmarks. Last Flag Flying is dialogue-driven, and is filmed in his unobtrusive style.

The narrative focuses on the reuniting of the trio and the task of taking a body home for burial. There is plenty of room to chew the fat on this journey, and Linklater uses this to pontificate more than to develop. Doc, Sal, and Richard are presented as archetypes; they are given distinct personalities but there is no real development beyond what viewers first see. The film’s dialogue is natural, and there is a level of intimacy which is very effective at times. Linklater successfully conveys both grief and futility in one of the film’s key sequences.

At other times, however, Last Flag Flying flails instead of enthralling its viewers. There are some scenes which offer little in terms of plot or character development. This makes the film feel longer than it should. Furthermore, there are attempts to introduce more narrative elements as the film progresses. These are hit and miss; the colonel and his orders seem an unnecessary addition to the final third of the film. Performances from Steve Carrel, Laurence Fishburne, and Bryan Cranston are great.

Last Flag Flying offers decent dialogue and blends drama and comedy well overall. But ultimately, the film lacks sharpness. This would have been welcome in both narrative and thematic terms.

Film Review: John Wick: Chapter Two

With John Wick: Chapter Two,  director Chad Stahelski returns with a sequel that is more successful than its progenitor.

After winding up some final business, John Wick wants to retire back to his quiet life. However, a face from the past demands John Wick pays his debt in the form of an assassination job…

John Wick: Chapter Two begins with a bang, and rarely lets up. It is a tour de force of ultraviolent action. The film surpasses the 2014 original, in terms of pacing, style and overall entertainment. Whereas John Wick offered an enticing revenge movie, the sequel finesses this formula.

The film is an onslaught of frenzied action which occupies the vast majority of the two-hour running time. The brief respites mostly work to provide exposition and background to the world of John Wick. There is an entertaining montage sequence which shows exactly how Wick gets his gadgets and intel. The stylish tics from the first film reemerge here, and are executed to a greater degree. Lighting is key in several of the action sequences, from the neon lights in Rome to the the futuristic gauze of the subway station.

Action sequences are choreographed exceptionally well. The film is undoubtedly graphic in its violence. However, it is so unrelenting, that it does not have the same impact as a more sparing use of graphic violence. Rather, the film’s action sequences emphasises the movement and flow of combatant figures. Stahelski directs these sequences with a grace more akin to dance choreography.

Keanu Reeves is not stretched in reprising this muted action hero. Ian McShane is more fun as hotel owner Winston, whilst Riccardo Scamarcio plays up his antagonist role. Laurence Fishburne, likewise, seems to enjoy his role. Littered throughout the film are self-deprecating takes, and Fishburne appears to relish in his part of these.

John Wick: Chapter Two is a must-see for action movie fans. This sequel completes the rare task of outperforming the original film. With an opening for a third film, it will be interesting to see whether Stahelski can continue this form.

Previews: Blade Runner 2049 trailer, Dunkirk, More!

Previews of upcoming attractions include the new Blade Runner 2049 trailer, John Wick: Chapter Two, The White King, and more…

Blade Runner 2049 Trailer

Here is the first Blade Runner 2049 trailer. The film sees the return of Harrison Ford as Dekard. He is joined by Ryan Gosling, who plays a new blade runner. Set thirty years after the events of the original film, Blade Runner 2049 is set for release on 6th October 2017.

John Wick: Chapter Two Trailer

Following the success of 2014’s John Wick, sequel John Wick: Chapter Two is coming next year. Keanu Reeves returns as the title character, and is joined by Laurence Fishburne, Ruby Rose, and Common. John Wick: Chapter Two will be released in UK cinemas on 17th February 2017.

Personal Shopper Trailer

After screening at a number of film festivals this year, Oliver Assayas’ Personal Shopper gets a UK cinema release next year. The film stars Kirsten Stewart as a personal shopper and a spiritual medium who tries to make contact with a deceased relative. Personal Shopper will be released in cinemas on 17th March 2017.

Jackie Poster

Jackie Poster

Here is the poster for Jackie. The film stars Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy, and focuses on the assassination and aftermath as seen through her eyes. With awards buzz around the central performance, Jackie will be released in UK cinemas on 20th January 2017.

The White King Clip

Based on the novel of the same name, The White King is a dystopian drama set during a fictitious dictatorship. The film stars Jonathan Pryce, Agyness Deyn, and Olivia Williams as this creepy robot. The White King will be released in UK cinemas on 27th January 2017, and on DVD on 30th January.

Dunkirk Trailer

Here is the first proper look at Dunkirk. Director Christopher Nolan has fared well with science fiction, mysteries, thrillers, and comic book movies, and now turns his hand to the war film. The film stars Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, and Cillian Murphy. Dunkirk will be released in 2017.

Previews: Denial trailer, Hacksaw Ridge and More!

Plenty of trailers, images, and features this week, including the Denial trailer, Hacksaw Ridge, Wonder Woman and more…

Denial Trailer

Here is the new Denial trailer. The film is based on the legal battle over Holocaust denial. Rachel Weisz plays Deborah E. Lipstadt who is accused of libel by David Irving (Timothy Spall). Also starring Tom Wilkinson, Denial is set for release on 27th January 2017.

Fences Poster

Fences Quad Poster

Here is the latest poster for Denzel Washington’s Fences. Washington directs and stars in the film, based on August Wilson’s play. Wilson also writes the screenplay for the film. Also starring Viola Davis, Fences is out in UK cinemas in early 2017.

Hacksaw Ridge Clip

This is a clip from the upcoming Hacksaw Ridge. Directed by Mel Gibson, the film is based on the true story of Desmond Doss, who saved many soldiers without firing a weapon in a World War II battle. Starring Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, and Teresa Palmer, Hacksaw Ridge will be released on 27th January 2017.

Darkest Hour Image

Darkest Hour Image

The first image from Darkest Hour is striking to say the least. Gary Oldman has form as a chameleon, and proves his transformation skills once again playing Winston Churchill. Director Joe Wright’s film is about the tense time the former British Prime Minister faces trying to negotiate a peace treaty with Nazi Germany. Darkest Hour is scheduled for release on 29th December 2017.

The LEGO Batman Movie Trailer

A spin-off from the wonderful The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie focuses on one of the best characters from the original film. This trailer reveals more about the plot, as well as the range of franchise characters we can expect. Featuring the voices of Will Arnett, Ralph Fiennes, and Michael Cera, The LEGO Batman Movie will hit UK screens on 10th February 2017.

Passengers Poster

Passengers Poster

Here is the latest poster for Passengers. Starring America’s current sweethearts Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, the film is about to passengers on a spacecraft transporting them to a different planet. Also starring Michael Sheen and Laurence Fishburne, Passengers is out in UK cinemas on 21st December 2016.

Wonder Woman Trailer

The second trailer for Wonder Woman reveals more about the narrative and the main characters. Set during World War II, the film tells the story behind the photograph seen in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, and Connie Nielsen, Wonder Woman hits UK screens on 2nd June 2017.

Sully: Miracle on the Hudson Poster

Sully Poster

Sully: Miracle on the Hudson tells the story of the pilot who landed a passenger plane on the Hudson River. The film, directed by Clint Eastwood, focuses on the heroic act and the investigation that followed. Sully: Miracle on the Hudson jets onto UK screens on 2nd December 2016.

Film Review: Contagion

Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion is a disturbingly plausible experiment. The film is successful because it is able to sustain a sense of tension throughout.

A woman returns from Hong Kong via Chicago feeling ill with flu-like symptoms. A man collapses on a bus in Tokyo, and a young model is found dead in her London hotel. These three and other people are displaying similar symptoms of a deadly illness that is spreading throughout the world. The CDC sends doctors across the globe to try and contain the outbreak…

Contagion is very timely in its release. After the various outbreaks in the last few years, Soderbergh’s film explores the potential outcomes if such an illness did spread globally. Although people have died from outbreaks such as swine flu, these have been contained to certain areas and casualties have been relatively low in number. What Contagion does is amplify fears of the worse case scenarios in these type of cases.

The film takes place in various different locations, reflecting just how global a crisis it is. The different stories work well overall, with writer Scott Z. Burns attempting to exhibit different aspects to such an outbreak. Contagion works on the personal civilian level, with stories such as Mitch and his family, as well as on a wide scale, focusing on one of the CDC’s main players. Some of these strands are given more depth and duration than others, which is a necessary format. All the stories appear realistic, even the blogger’s strand is plausible given the freedom and power of the internet.

The tone of Contagion is almost unrelentingly serious. This is necessary in order to sustain tension. There are a couple of moments in the film which are rather soppy, but Contagion delivers a stark atmosphere more generally. There are moments in the film which are chilling; the automated telephone options being the most memorable of these.

Contagion boasts an excellent cast, and performances are solid for the most part. Laurence Fishburne is well cast as Dr Cheever, while Matt Damon is believable as Mitch. Jude Law is rather hammy as blogger Alan, but others such as Marion Cotillard and Jennifer Ehle deliver strong performances.

With the themes of the film being matched by the sober palette, Soderbergh’s film has a distinctive feel. Contagion is a very competent film, even if it is likely to bring out Howard Hughes tendencies in viewers.