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Lazer Team

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In the run up to an alien invasion by a deadly race known as the Worg, mankind’s only line of defence – an extra-terrestrial suit of power – is accidently broken up and discovered by four losers: an alcoholic (Colton Dunn), a cop (Burnie Burns), a horny teenager (Michael Jones), and a slow witted redneck (Gavin Free). With each man becoming fused to their own part, they must overcome their differences and work together to save the planet. And they might even learn something about each other along the way.

The fact that that none of the men are played Adam Sandler or Kevin James may come as a complete surprise, as the plot synopsis alone suggests Pixels-type shenanigans. Instead, Lazer Team’s hapless quartet are played by US comedy troupe, Rooster Teeth, who funded the film through Indiegogo. There’s actually an element of The World’s End about the proceedings, as the men squabble amongst themselves, bringing up petty arguments whilst the Earth threatens to burn up around them. They may not be the most mature people in the world, but they’re enjoyable enough to hang out with.

These scenes make Lazer Team worth a shot thanks to the chemistry of its four leads, who are clearly in complete sync with each other. Additionally, there are well-crafted action scenes that belie the film’s limited budget. That said, the film’s length is a little excessive, with the narrative spread too thinly over its near two-hour running time. But you can’t fault the team for their ambition; for a debut, it shows promise, and there’s certainly a lot to look forward to from Rooster Teeth in the future.

 
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Andron

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It doesn’t take long into Andron before it feels like you’ve seen this kind of film before. A group of people wake up trapped in the confines of a large maze, with no idea of how they got there, or distressingly, who they are. Outside of the maze, it’s the year 2154 and society has crumbled into poverty whilst “The Nine Corporations” continue to prosper. As a way to distract the great unwashed from the unfairness of their situation, the elite have created “The Redemption Games” (no, really), which are beamed daily directly into people’s homes. If our amnesiac leads escape the maze, they get to live, but only one can do so! Cue lots of puzzle solving, back biting, and even an attempted coup led by Skunk Anansi’s lead singer, Skin.

Andron is as derivative as it sounds, cherry-picking from The Hunger Games and Maze Runner to name but just two. Whilst the film at least throws adult characters into its scenario to duke it out, instead of the usual late teens that we’ve become accustomed to, there’s nothing much here to distinguish it from any other dystopian movie that’s been released in the last five years. There’s even a corrupt politician and dubious TV executive in the forms of Danny Glover and Alec Baldwin, respectively. The former mostly grumbles whilst the latter talks seemingly only in catchphrases that feel like they too have been cribbed from elsewhere. “Now the real game begins,” Baldwin can be heard to murmur at one point.

Sluggishly paced and sometimes incomprehensible, audiences are too switched on to accept this kind of home brand knock-off. And whilst a sequel is forcibly suggested by the rather unsubtle mention of there being a “Level 2”, it’s perhaps best that further instalments of this game are given a bit more thought.

 
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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (Preview)

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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is the long-awaited follow-up to 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Despite five years passing in the real world, Mankind Divided is set just two years after the events of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, in the aftermath of the “Aug incident”, where a whole lot of augmented humans went bat-shit crazy and attacked the unaugmented populace.

Human Revolution was something of a revelation in 2011. A first and third person cyberpunk-themed, story-driven RPG, it was compelling and original. But in the years between then and now, we’ve had titles like Dishonored and MGSV: The Phantom Pain to raise the bar in stealthy, action RPGs. Can Deus Ex: Mankind Divided bring enough to the genre to make a case for itself half a decade later?

Plugging into the three-hour demo of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, FilmInk’s first thought was, “Wow, this looks a lot like Human Revolution.” This is both a good and bad thing, as it’s fun to be back in the big boots of gravel-voiced, robotic-sunglass-eyed protagonist, Adam Jensen, but on the other hand, the game looks a little last gen. That’s perhaps not a fair observation to be making about unfinished code, but Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’s graphics and animations lack a certain polish, and some of the controls, particularly the cover system, feel a little dated and clunky.

The story, however, is just as heady and thought-provoking as Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Augmented humans are now part of a despised underclass, and Jensen, himself augmented to the tits, straddles the line between outcast and saviour. Which of these two roles will be his legacy, remains up to the player’s actions. And there’s the real appeal of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – the sense of agency and choice – where you get to decide the outcome of society in the year 2029.

Despite the niggles mentioned earlier, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is still high on the list of games that we’re excited for, and you’d better believe that we’ll be delivering a review soon after the August 23 release date.

 
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Restoration

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In the very near future, people can have their memories digitised and backed up as proof against death or mental disability – the old memories are simply uploaded into a new clone body. It’s a procedure normally reserved for the very wealthy or the very valuable – like lawyer Oliver Klein (Grant Cartwright) who, following a memory-recording session, wakes up to find a month had fallen off the calendar, indicating that his last backup has been activated. That’d be bad enough, except he’s also in a completely different body (Stephen Carracher). Oliver needs to unravel what’s happened to him and why, all the while dealing with the knowledge that he’s no longer the only Oliver running around.

This short Australian SF feature owes a lot to Philip K. Dick – in terms of cinema, Total Recall comes immediately to mind – but given that, so does every second sci-fi film that comes down the pike these days; that’s no bad thing. Restoration is bolder than most, grappling with the notions of identity, personality and actual personhood that come with the whole idea of memory recording: Are we our body or our mind? Is a copy of our mind us, or another person, or just an echo of ourselves? And what if there are multiple copies?

It’s a low budget affair (it looks like most of the money went on one-scene-wonder Craig McLachlan) that is predicated more on ideas than action, and even at only 50 minutes it could stand to be either a bit shorter or more incident-filled, but it’s a solid effort that’ll appeal to fans of cerebral genre works.

 
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The Huntsman: Winter’s War

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Is there a term for a sequel that’s also a prequel? Because that’s what we’re presented with here in The Huntsman: Winter’s War, the follow on from Snow White And The Huntsman. Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is dead, and her magic mirror has been stolen. Queen Snow White (played by stock footage from the first film and a body double due to Kristen Stewart’s absence) calls upon Eric The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to retrieve it. But before all that, The Huntsman’s first act is largely taken up with exposition about Eric previously being a child soldier for the Snow Queen Freya (Emily Blunt) – who also just happens to be Ravenna’s sister – and once being in love with fellow fighter, Sara (Jessica Chastain).

It’s not hard to believe that Disney’s hit film, Frozen, had more than a passing influence here, with Freya shown discovering her powers and promptly taking herself off to the mountains to create her own snowy kingdom. She’s not the only one under the influence either, for Chastain’s Sara with her archer skills and Scottish brogue smells distinctly of Pixar’s Brave. Moving all that to one side to focus on the film itself leads the audience to ask who this film is really for. Gorgeous in scope, if not originality, this is a fairy tale that most parents might feel uncomfortable watching with the kids, due to its salty language and obsession with sex. Want to know how dwarves reproduce? This film will tell you.

The film’s trailers give away the fact that Ravenna is behind everything, and as Eric and Sara take on the sisters in lacklustre style, it all becomes apparent that The Huntsman as a franchise, two films in, already feels tired. That said, it wins back some good will with Rob Brydon, Nick Frost, Sheridan Smith, and Alexandra Roach playing a quartet of foulmouthed dwarfs.

 
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A Bigger Splash

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Midway through A Bigger Splash, producer, Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes), whacks on some Rolling Stones and dances around the Italian villa of rock star, Marion Lane (Tilda Swinton), all gyration and flailing arms, like it’s his own personal dancefloor. It’s a perfect example of the whirlwind that he brings into Marion’s life, whilst she is trying to relax with her boyfriend, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), and recuperate from throat surgery. Harry bursting onto the tranquil scene, with daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) in tow, is like Don Logan in Sexy Beast, shattering the calm and bringing with him memories best forgotten.

Directed by Luca Guadagnino, who has worked with Swinton previously on I Am Love, A Bigger Splash is concerned with sex and communication, and how this quartet appear to have the former in abundance but struggle with the latter. Marion is virtually mute because of her surgery; Harry tries to coax Paul into talking about his suicide attempt and financial problems to no avail, whilst Penelope languishes by the pool, observing all. It’s clear from the moment that he opens his mouth that Harry has his eyes set on Marion, rekindling a romance that we watch die in brief flashbacks. Perhaps sensing that she is falling into a form of domesticity with Paul, Marion isn’t completely standoffish. Meanwhile, Paul, perhaps the least realised of the characters, trades glances with the young Penelope.

There is a misstep in the form of a strange reflection on immigration, which is unnecessary and distracting, but achieves nothing too detrimental. That aside, as things escalate (surprisingly politely as noted when Harry is heard to calmly ask, “Are we fighting now, is that what we’re doing?’), the film contains wonderful performances that highlight the idea that these are fascinating people to watch interact, but you would never truly want to be trapped with them.

 
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Eye In The Sky

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Tonj Hessen Schei’s documentary, Drone, captured the ambiguity of drone warfare. Yes, there are less troops on the ground, but the distance between soldier and target can create a kind of desensitisation of the task in hand. In some ways, the political thriller, Eye In The Sky, serves as a companion piece to Schei’s argument.

In Nairobi, an Al-Shabaab safe house is under close scrutiny from Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), who is leading a capture mission of a radicalised westerner staying there. When evidence emerges that a terrorist attack is being planned, Powell upgrades from “capture” to “kill.” Director, Gavin Hood (Ender’s Game), and writer, Guy Hibbert (Complicit, Five Minutes of Heaven), use escalation as the springboard from which we can bounce around the world as various levels of the military food chain debate the ethics of the proposed drone attack. As Powell barks for blood, her ferocity is recalled by the calmer Lieutenant General Benson (Alan Rickman) back to members of the parliament sipping coffee in a boardroom. In Las Vegas, a drone pilot (Aaron Paul) patiently awaits his orders, whilst the British Foreign Secretary (Iain Glen) phones in from Singapore to debate collateral damage.

Once the pieces are in place, Eye In The Sky develops into an incredibly tense thriller that’s equally frustrating, as the high command debate office politics and who can blame who after the fallout. President Harry S. Truman famously once said, “The buck stops here”, but no one on screen wants to be the one who decides where “here” is. When a young girl sets up a stall outside the safe house, the ensuing dialogue has her go from being described as a person to an object; a variable in the way of a clean kill. Impossible to tear your eyes away from, the final gut punch of Eye In The Sky is how quickly normality resumes after all the chest beating.

 
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Hardcore Henry

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Russian musician, Ilya Naishuller’s band, Biting Elbows, became a viral hit a few years back with their video for “Bad Motherfucker”, a succinct five-minute action movie, directed by Naishuller, and filmed entirely in POV with a GoPro camera. It’s a slick piece of work, and it certainly highlighted the potential for a first person action movie. And here we are with Naishuller’s Hardcore Henry, which takes the charm of the music video and stretches it almost to breaking point in a 90-minute feature.

The plot is simple. Henry (played by various stunt performers) wakes up in a lab with no idea of who he is and missing a couple of limbs. His scientist wife, Estelle (Hayley Bennett), straps on some cyborg attachments and warns him that telekinetic madman, Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), is out to steal all her research, including his new body parts. Akan turns up, and we’re in pursuit mode for the rest of the film, with only the slim possibility of respite.

There’s no denying Hardcore Henry’s technical accomplishments as it strings together various action scenes with almost no interruption. Henry falls out of planes, jumps off buildings, and gets into sword fights in brothels; it’s high energy stuff and yet, strangely, by putting the audience in Henry’s shoes, the film loses something in the process. At times, it becomes extremely difficult to keep track of where we are in any one scene, distancing us in the process. It’s the equivalent of watching your friend playing a computer game and waiting for that turn that they keep promising. Thank goodness then for Sharlto Copley, the real strength of the film, playing a group of disparate men called Jimmy, leading to the finest rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” you never knew you needed.

 
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Beyond The Brick: A Lego Brickumentary

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Walk the aisles of any toy store and you’ll see that Lego is big business. Starting off in 1932 as wooden blocks, created by Ole Kirk Christiensen, Lego has expanded into computer games, licensed tie-ins, and, of course, movies. With the puntasticly titled documentary, Beyond The Brick: A Lego Brickumentary, filmmakers, Daniel Junge (Being Evil) and Kief Davidson (Open Heart), cast an eye over how the company has managed to become one of the most recognisable brands today.

Right from the beginning, it’s clear that Beyond The Brick is trading on some of the goodwill collected from 2014’s The Lego Movie. Our host for the film is a pocket sized Lego man voiced by Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman, who bounces around the screen between interviews with various stakeholders and fans of the product. The usage of the term stakeholders is not to be read lightly. As cheerful as Bateman’s plastic counterpart is, Beyond The Brick has the air of a promotional film to be played out in the lobby of Lego’s head office.

The word “genius” is thrown around a bit too liberally to be considered a balanced portrait of the company. Even when Beyond The Brick touches upon Lego’s economic concerns in the early 2000s, it’s dealt with swiftly, so the film can return to celebrities like Ed Sheeran and South Park’s Trey Parker talking about the wonder of the brick. When a female Lego fan notes that it’s rare for women to be into the toy, the film never picks up on that thread and continues down the road of interviewing all the men that it can find. There’s nothing wrong per se with a company blowing its own trumpet, but the film never feels like we’re getting anywhere. It’s like listening to a greatest hits compilation when you want the deep cuts.

 
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Emelie

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Desperately seeking a babysitter when theirs fails to turn up for duty, a couple end up exposing their children to something much worse than an early bedtime in this atmospheric thriller from director, Michael Thelin.

Played by Irish actor, Sarah Bolger (The Tudors), babysitter Anna appears to be everything the parents want. She’s pleasant to the point of distraction for the father, and she’s keen to ensure that the children follow mother’s rules in her absence. The children, including eldest, Jacob (Joshua Rush), warm to her instantly; she lets them eat food that they’re not supposed to, she encourages their imagination, and she’s not against computer games. Perfect! But things begin to go awry when she starts to fixate on the youngest child, Christopher (Thomas Bair), reaching such heights of favouritism that she lets him feed his big sister’s hamster to his brother’s snake (an animal combo that was surely only going to end up in disaster at some point).

As the reasons for Anna’s less than ethical behaviour become apparent, Emelie unfortunately loses steam and falls toward the pit of pantomime. The fact that it doesn’t is because of the sum of its parts. Bolger is perfect as the devious babysitter, whilst the film’s aesthetic, under Thelin’s helm, turns a middle class suburban dream into a gothic nightmare. Equally impressive are Bolger’s young co-stars, who have to tackle heavy emotions and ideas, including Jacob being dropped into a very uncomfortable and creepily sexual conversation about tampons with Anna. As home invasion movies go, this is a strong contender, and certainly shares a number of traits with Curtis Hanson’s The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. Creepy, claustrophobic and unnerving, this is the perfect warning against hiring anybody you find off Facebook.