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Applesauce

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Let it be known that actor/director, Onur Tukal, doesn’t invite you to like his characters. His last multitasking effort, Summer Of Blood, saw him shake up vampire mythology by playing a man on who the powers of immortality are wholly wasted. In the equally nihilistic Applesauce, Tukal’s tale blossoms on a hotbed of marital indifference, hypocrisy, and body parts.

When high school teacher, Ron (Tukal), confesses to his wife, Nicki (Triese Kelly Dunn), and friends, Kate (Jennifer Prediger) and Les (Max Casella), that he once accidently cut the fingers off someone in college, his tale sparks off a series of confessions that culminates with one of infidelity that reverberates through the group. Soon afterwards, someone starts sending Ron severed fingers in the mail.

Perhaps not surprisingly if you’ve seen Tukal’s previous work, the cast-offs from a cadavre play second fiddle to the group’s cynicism and hysteria. If Ron is the hero of the piece, then it’s only because we spend more time with his self-righteousness. He waxes lyrical to his students about the need for empathy, before failing to give Nicki any wiggle room when she burps out her latest confession. Their inability to listen to each other and talk things through means that they doom themselves to ever-increasing acts of one-upmanship and tit for tat, where no one learns their lesson. Their world is so insular that a severed penis found in a portion of chow mein isn’t enough for them to miss a step as they point the finger. Pun not intended. Applesauce is an uncomfortable watch that is blisteringly funny. It’s Seinfeld, a show that revelled in its nothingness, brought to its natural conclusion. Its emphasis on the group’s fighting shows that you don’t need a social network account to highlight your own narcissism.

 
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Some Kind Of Hate

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Lincoln (Ronen Rubinstein) is a disaffected youth, tormented by his drunk father and bullied by his peers at high school. When he finally defends himself against the school bully, he’s packed off to a boot camp for wayward teens. There he finds that the hierarchy of torment is no different from school, and he comes under attack from his fellow campers. Making an oath to no one in particular, Lincoln inadvertently summons up the vengeful spirit of Moira (Sierra McCormick), a young girl who killed herself at the camp. Moira falls for Lincoln and begins to despatch his tormenters. Having neither asked for this kind of violence or endorsing it in any way, Lincoln seeks the help of another camper, Kaitlin (Grace Phipps).

As horror movies go, Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Some Kind of Hate isn’t going out to deliberately offend. In fact, within its blood-saturated cocoon, there’s an anti-bullying message ready to burst forth. However, there’s a good chance that someone might take umbrage with it. In her previous life, Moira was a self-harmer and, seemingly as a result, her supernatural powers are focussed around this trait. Sporting a necklace made of razorblades, the pain that she unleashes upon herself is visited upon her victims; she hacks at her arms and they bleed to death. Visually, it is striking, but the idea teeters on the edge of tastelessness. A self-harm scene mixed with a resemblance of sexual pleasure is equally eyebrow raising.

That aside, as a feature debutante, Mortimer presents a confident grasp of the genre, and Some Kind Of Hate bristles with the kind of energy that makes you sit up and take notice. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do with a larger studio backing him.

 
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No Escape

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John Erick Dowdle is best known for helming Quarantine, the disposable US remake of REC, as well as the overwhelmingly bleak The Poughkeepsie Tapes. In No Escape, co-written with his brother Drew, Dowdle attempts to reshape Owen Wilson, comic actor and best mate of Wes Anderson, into a middle-aged action hero along the lines of Liam Neeson. And he almost achieves it.

Wilson plays Jack, an engineer taking his family, including wife Annie (Lake Bell), overseas to start a new life. Their destination is never officially named, but it’s evidently somewhere in South East Asia. Before they’ve even made it into their second day, any semblance of this new life is shattered when the country’s prime minister is assassinated and a political coup tears its way through the city. Stick around for a cameo by Pierce Brosnan as a seedy ex-pat.

From this point, No Escape doesn’t let up as Jack tries to get his family to safety. There are genuine moments of tension to be reaped from the film as Jack has to constantly think on his feet with each attempt for sanctuary torn away from him. Whilst Wilson doesn’t convince as an action star, he at least reflects a realistic idea of someone clearly out of their depth. Bell, however, is wasted in a role that sees her doing nothing more than cry and be sexually assaulted by the locals. Yes, whilst on that subject: during its initial release, criticisms of racism were fired at No Escape. Whilst this certainly isn’t the intent of the film, it doesn’t help itself by having the locals portrayed as either violent rapists or ineffectual gun fodder. Perhaps if a local was along for the ride, it would stop the film from at times feeling like Xenophobia: The Movie.

 
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Review: Daredevil: Season 2

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Daredevil season 2 – released in its entirety by Netflix on Friday – belongs there, and nowhere else. Following Daredevil’s highly acclaimed first season, Charlie Cox returns as Matthew Murdock, the blind, masked vigilante – attorney by day, and The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen by night. As the series begins, he is confronted by two new players who also don’t mind taking the law into their own hands…though they do things a little differently. Neither hardened war vet, Frank Castle aka The Punisher, nor Murdoch’s ex-girlfriend/martial arts master, Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung), mind rendering the bad guys unconscious…they just don’t want them to get up again.

Revitalising the Daredevil brand following the justly lambasted 2003 film, the TV show has similarly succeeded in giving two of the comic series’ most iconic villains/anti-heroes the calibre of adaptation and screen-time that they’ve long deserved, following more than one ill-advised outing. Allowing the scope and space for in-depth exchanges that hinge the characterisation and development of a character on more than sound-bites or one-liners, as is too often the case with many film adaptations, key characters are given time to delve into their motives and intent, with a detailed-filled night of action taking place over the course of a few episodes instead of a few minutes.

Of all the dimensions to be unpacked in Daredevil’s latest season, nothing features so strongly as the exploration of the moral dimension of Matthew’s actions, depicted explicitly and thoughtfully through a prolonged courtroom drama where our hero, confronted with an adversary, is forced to grapple with the rights and wrongs of his own vigilantism. Challenging the moral compass of its protagonist through battle with a seemingly insurmountable foe, Daredevil has gone down the path of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, with the second series drawing many less than casual allusions to the blockbuster.

Having rid the city of organised crime elements in his first outing, and maintaining an amicable if strained relationship with the police force, those inspired by Daredevil similarly take the path of vigilante justice. Emboldened by Daredevil’s disregard for the law, an unhinged gunman wreaks havoc on organised crime and anyone who gets in his way. Able to emerge only as a result of Daredevil’s actions, The Punisher challenges Daredevil’s moral self-righteousness, and – as The Joker does – vehemently denies that he is deranged, justifying his rampage and all but proclaiming, “I’m not a monster, I’m just ahead of the curve.”

Towards the later stages of the season, Daredevil reasons, as Batman did before him, to forgo his moral code in order to defeat the bad guy and safeguard the very values and way of life that he knowingly forsakes. Ninjas abound, a district attorney is not only a central figure but a key target, an assault on a hospital takes place, and the penultimate sequence includes of all things a night-time raid on an empty building site where innocent civilians are being held. Thrilling if not overtly recognisable, Daredevil explores greater facets of its vigilante’s struggle over the course of 13 episodes than The Dark Knight ever could over its two-and-a-half-hour runtime.

Reflecting the long-term planning and investment exemplified by The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s gradual build-up to The Avengers, the frequent and now more obvious tie-ins to last year’s Jessica Jones will delight fans waiting for a much anticipated crossover; it’s inevitable in a collection of series where shrewdly-drawn storylines and adversaries mercifully and thrillingly stretch over years and into each other instead of being cut short by a perfunctory season conclusion.

As accomplished as it is, Daredevil is by no means perfect. Unlike Jessica Jones, which also underlies its key protagonist and villains with a great deal of thought, the treatment of Daredevil’s supporting, non-heroic characters ranges from the dull to the overly distracting. When Matthew isn’t on screen, and either Foggy (Elden Henson) or Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) are running the show, the dialogue and minor storylines are neither as compelling nor emotive. Foggy’s scenes are a collection of the show’s worst moments, heralded by an actor visibly less capable than his co-stars, leading to many of the show’s crucial sequences between Matthew and his oldest friend falling flat.

Moreover, Daredevil’s Hell’s Kitchen does not embrace the modern age and technology as well as Jessica Jones’ titular private eye. Set currently, despite the frequent need for communication, the show’s characters seem to have very little use for mobile phones, which rarely appear: Matthew receives a phone message from a restaurant maître d; everyone gets their news from the paper; and for research, the crew pore over newspaper clippings instead of their browsers. The show, featuring a semi-fictionalised setting espousing the classic image of Hell’s Kitchen, could just have easily been set in a different decade, and may as well have been. Depicting its neighbourhood as at the mercy of rival gangs, and fraught with unstoppable rage and violence, today’s Hell’s Kitchen adjoins highly-frequented business and entertainment districts including Broadway, and caters widely to the upper-end of the housing market.

By no means detracting from the overall quality of the show, Daredevil’s lack of regard for its context and modern advancements in technology, while in one sense a hark-back to the original comics and iterations that made it so successful, is in this day and age needlessly distracting. Regardless, Daredevil is one of the only examples of an adaptation of a successful comic series with the breadth and wherewithal to do real justice to its subject matter which, thankfully, has again been championed by showrunners responsible for taking a chance and delivering a second thrilling season.

Daredevil: Seasons 1 & 2 and Jessica Jones are currently streaming on Netflix.

 

 
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Close Range

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Brit hard-man, Scott Adkins, stars as an Iraq veteran turned deserter coming to the rescue in this low budget actioner from genre director, Isaac Florentine. In the film, Colton (Adkins) has to defend his sister’s farm when her husband’s dealings with a drug cartel places them all in danger. Throw in a crooked sheriff, Colton’s mysterious military past and huge muscular frame, and this is a Jack Reacher adventure in all but name.

Adkins and Florentine have previously worked together on the frivolous but fun Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear. And whilst Close Range doesn’t reach the same dizzying heights of B-movie madness, there’s still a lot of fun to be had. Getting down to brass tacks, the plot is slim, but the action is big. Adkins and numerous, almost infinite, stunt actors throw themselves at each other in a ballet of violence and bone snapping. Like Arnie did in Commando, Colton punches through one cartel member after another in pursuit of the final big bad, Fernando Garcia (Tony Perez). Unintentionally amusing is the film’s attempts to humanise these fleshy punching bags by giving them an introduction by title cards that gives each member a name that will soon be forgotten come the inevitable smack down.

And whilst the fight choreography is, at times, brutal, it’s not enough to hide the film’s problems. The acting is a mixed bag with lines delivered flatly as if read for the first time. Though to be fair, even the most award winning performance couldn’t hide the plot holes and clichés that make up the film’s script. Yet, the dialogue is mere window dressing to what Close Range really wants to show you: one man, at peak physical fitness, throwing other men through walls.

 
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Viral

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The directors of Catfish and Paranormal Activity 3 & 4, Henry Joost and Ariel Schuman, take the helm of this body horror flick aimed squarely at the teen demographic? The result? The Walking Dead meet Degrassi High.

Sofia Black-D’Elia and Analeigh Tipton play sisters, Emma and Stacey, respectively. Emma, the youngest sister, is shy and studious, whilst Stacy, the eldest, is the kind of girl who will dye her hair blue and party all night if she has to. On a side note, it’s unclear if the directors were deliberately trying to make them look like Kendall and Kylie Jenner. When a viral outbreak sees the sisters quarantined in their hometown and separated from their parents, they have to put aside their differences in order to survive; particularly as symptoms of the virus include vomiting blood and biting your fellow neighbours. Like Barry Levinson’s The Bay, this is the direct cause of parasites burrowing their way into their host’s brains.

Despite its violence and gore, Viral never really hits it out of the park as a body horror flick. Even in a film that sees brain worms pouring out of their victims’ mouths, this is all relatively safe territory. In fact, it’s merely a backdrop to the high running emotions of the siblings as they’re thrown together under extremely taxing circumstances. In fact, outside of a few set pieces that see the girls and their boyfriends running from the infected, this may as well be a high school drama. Take for example, a superfluous subplot that sees Stacy keeping a large secret from Emma regarding their parents. With all this soul-searching and sisterly love, Viral never really gets to grips with what it wants to be, and shuffles along like one of its own infected.

 
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Standoff

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Writer/director, Adam Alleca, clearly doesn’t like wasting time. In his debut feature, Standoff, Alleca has all his pieces in place plot wise within the first ten minutes. A young girl is a witness to an assassination attempt at a funeral by Laurence Fishburne’s Sade. With his face seen, Sade chases the young girl into the home of ex-military man, Carter (Thomas Jane). Within moments, Carter has taken her under his wing and, after a swift gunfight with Sade in which both are injured, finds himself in a standoff in his own home. Downstairs awaits Sade with a fair arsenal, whilst Carter hides upstairs with only a shotgun and one cartridge. As the day drags on, both men exchange words instead of bullets, as Sade tries to convince Carter that the girl must die.

Standoff starts off fast, and whilst the pace certainly drops once Sade has crossed Carter’s threshold, the film doesn’t suffer from doing so. Fishburne and Jane bristle off each wonderfully in a script that sees them trading insults and backstory whilst a little girl’s life hangs in the balance.

Expectations for any kind of subtlety should certainly be checked at the door as Alleca tries, perhaps a little too hard, to emphasise that these men are two sides of the same coin. He literally all but has Fishburne cry, “We’re quite alike, you and I.” But histrionics aside, Standoff still has a lot to offer, with Thomas Jane giving a grounded performance to clash with Laurence Fishburne’s own over the top one. A special note must be made of Ella Ballentine as the young girl caught up in the centre of all this machismo and bravado, who has to deal with some mature emotional responses.

 
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Intruders

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Home invasion films run a fairly predictable and tight schedule. Nice family/person have their home life interrupted by not so nice person/people. Horrible things happen till credits, and then home for tea. See The Strangers, Knock Knock, and perhaps the daddy of them all, Funny Games.

Intruders’ nice person is Anna (Beth Riesgraf), a woman with such extreme agoraphobia that she can’t even attend the funeral of the brother that she’s been caring for. An utter recluse, with her sibling dead, her only friend is Rory Culkin’s Dan, the meals-on-wheels guy who visits. During her brother’s funeral, Anna is visited by burly men looking to rob her house. Unable to leave her home for fear of the outside, Anna has to fight off her intruders. And this is where Intruders turns left instead of right, for Anna appears pretty well equipped to deal with them. This turning of tables gives Intruders that little something extra for its audience to stick around for. Unfortunately, this feature length debut by Adam Schindler doesn’t know when enough is enough.

Midway through proceedings, a revelation raises its head that, whilst interesting, taints the plot as a whole; it’s like adding a tablespoon of hot sauce to a light soup. The curtain is pulled back on Anna and, as her secrets lie exposed belly up, Intruders starts to feel a bit cheap, cashing in suspenseful storytelling for garish sensationalism. It’s as if writers, T.J. Cimfel and David White, weren’t confident enough to leave Anna’s particular backstory under a veil. A little less exposition and a little more mystery would certainly have worked wonders. Intruders at least tries to do something different, and it does manage to keep things ticking over smoothly enough before ending everything on a literal bang.

 
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Fear The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season

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When it was officially announced that Fear The Walking Dead would be a prequel to the incredibly popular The Walking Dead, set before the zombie uprising, tongues started to wag about what this could possibly involve. After all, what’s the point of The Walking Dead if it doesn’t have any dead? Walking or otherwise. Those fears are, to a certain extent, mitigated upon viewing this six-part first series.

Set in the first few days before society’s collapse, the series follows high school counsellor, Madison (Kim Dickens), her boyfriend, Travis (Cliff Curtis), and their children from previous marriages: Madison’s drug addict son, Nick (Frank Dillane); her perfect daughter, Alicia (Australian actress, Alycia Debnam-Carey); and Travis’ resentful son, Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie).

After a skilfully crafted opening that reintroduces the audience to the idea of cities being populated with colour and living, breathing people, the wheels of the show spin as this blended family separately pick up on unrest in their community. The opening is unjustifiably an hour long, presumably to flesh out the characters, though it mainly just stirs a desire to shout, “Get on with it!” Things certainly pick up, however, once the military come to clear up the infected, and everyone finds themselves prisoners in their own homes. This armed presence gives the series its antagonist, as the family take on roles outside of their comfort zone in order to make sense of the insanity.

As troubled Nick, Frank Dillane certainly stands out, refusing to let a zombie apocalypse get in the way of his addiction. Reminiscent of a young Johnny Depp, circa Dead Man, Dillane is continually watchable throughout. Fear The Walking Dead might not be everything that the fans could wish for, but it works not only as a companion to its parent series, but as a standalone work about real family struggles in surreal circumstances.

 

 
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Survivor

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V For Vendetta director, James McTeigue, helms this spy thriller which sees Milla Jovovich as Kate Abbott, a Security Agent working for the US embassy in London, who becomes the target of a terrorist known as The Watchman (Pierce Brosnan). Having brought in stricter vetting processes, Kate is wanted by shadowy ne’er-do-wells who would like to see her six feet under…which is where The Watchmaker enters, setting up a bomb in a local restaurant that Kate is frequenting.

Surviving that initial blast, mainly through gratuitous good luck, Kate has to then make her way through the city to a secret rendezvous point set up by her agency for just such an occasion. Along the way, she uncovers a terrorist plot, which may involve members of her team. All the while, The Watchmaker closes in on her in an attempt to tidy up his loose ends.

More Salt than Bourne, Milla Jovovich is game enough as the story becomes crushed under its own logic. It’s Brosnan who has the most fun though, lapping up the opportunity to play the bad guy as he stalks Kate through the backstreets of London. Despite pitching its tent in a stoic post 9/11 landscape, Survivor is an absurd film that would have done better by not taking itself so seriously. Having survived the initial bombing, and following protocol that is reiterated several times by her colleagues to be the right thing to do, Kate is strangely eyed-up as a potential dirty agent. It’s the kind of premise that falls apart quickly when you realise that one phone call to say that she’s alright could solve all her problems. Where Survivor does pick up points is through not falling back on the stock stereotypes of all Middle Eastern people being terrorists. That doesn’t justify everything else though.