The Foreigner (2017): Taut and Entertaining Version of “The Chinaman” (Trailer)

The Foreigner (2017): Taut and Entertaining Version of "The Chinaman"

The Foreigner, directed by Martin Campbell from a screenplay by David Marconi, is the big screen version of Stephen Leather’s taut and very entertaining novel “The Chinaman.” Jackie Chan plays the lead character and he faces up against Pierce Brosnan and a group of “new” IRA members who are hell bent on starting up the old campaign of terror anew.

Fans of Leather’s work will no doubt notice a few changes, with the title change being the first as well as the character’s nationality change, but this does not affect the story at all.  Overall, the tale’s message is the same and it is very easy to get caught up in Quan Ngoc Minh’s personal vendetta against those responsible for his daughter’s death.

The Foreigner is all about Minh’s search for justice after his daughter is killed by a bomb blast in a small clothes shop.(In the book it is Minh’s daughter and wife who die.) Minh visits the police everyday in order to get the names of those responsible. He even offers to pay for the names but the police, despite not operating that way, do not know who is in this new IRA cell.

Brosnan is Liam Hennessy, an Irish deputy minister with a few too many irons in the fire, who offers to help the British government find the new cell and stop them. He also has a lot more going on than is immediately evident. Minh goes to meet with Hennessy and soon the two men are locked in battle.

The Foreigner, like “The Chinaman” offers a main character who is much more than he appears. Minh may well be the owner of a Chinese takeaway/restaurant but he is the sum of his past experiences. These turn out to be all too deadly as Hennessy soon learns to his chagrin.

The pacing is spot on, like the novel it is based upon, and it feels like a splendid throwback to gritty films like the 1980 Bob Hoskins Helen Mirren gangster movie The Long Good Friday(A film that features a very young Pierce Brosnan as a young IRA assassin and one that also deals with bombings.) It has a touch of “Who Dares Wins” to it and features solid performances from all the players.

Campbell manages to keep things moving at a cracking pace and Chan proves that he is adept outside the action/comedy roles that have made him an icon in the industry. The film looks brilliant with everything meshing together perfectly.

The locations, the film is mainly set in London, are spot on and all lack the glamorous appearance of the capital city in films like “The Kingsman 1 and 2.” The action in The Foreigner steadily increases and while the timeline has been “moved up” to fit the present, the tale loses nothing in this shift.

Anyone who has read the book will find that the film delivers Leather’s story well and one has no problem getting behind Minh in his quest for vengeance and his own personal closure.

This is a full five star film that has been, somewhat strangely, given a limited release. (In the cinema where we viewed it The Foreigner was showing in only one theater cubicle.) There is some cursing (the worst being the “C” word), a tiny amount of vague nudity and a lot of violence.

The Foreigner is playing in cinemas now and is well worth the price of admission. Check it out.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017): Comic Book Genius

Co-written by director Matthew Vaughn (who shares authorship with Jane Goldman) and based, again, on the comic series written by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbon, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the remake that Kick-Ass 2 should have been.

In short it is catchy, uber-violent, on-point and, despite the brilliant wire-work violence and gun play, damned funny. It is, of course, somewhat topical in places but it works for all that.

Vaughn cheekily has two of his leads, Merlin (Mark Strong) and Eggsy (Taron Egerton) make a joke so topical that unless you are English you won’t get it.  After the organization is blown to smithereens by baddie Julianne Moore (who plays Poppie) Merlin and Eggsy perform the “Doomsday Protocol.” 

This involves drinking almost an entire bottle of Kentucky bourbon. Eggsy realizes that the bottle itself is a clue and tells a sozzled Merlin that they will have journey to Kentucky. Merlin replies “Kentucky? I love fried chicken!”

It was, in the ’80’s anyway, the way the local denizens referred to the Colonel’s eatery, aka KFC in the UK. “You fancy a Kentucky?” was how one suggested eating Kentucky Fried Chicken, “back in the day.”

This “in-joke” set up the rest of the film beautifully and Vaughn managed to include stereotypical jokes about Americans, aka “Yanks” and the English “stiff upper lipped-ness” along with other bits of irreverent humor. The comedic moments mixed nicely with the oh so over the top violence and “Bond-ian”gadgets that filled the movie.

Anyone who has seen the trailers already knows that Colin Firth is back as the original “Galahad” and Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry and Narcos star Pedro Pascal, who manages to look a bit like Burt Reynolds and sound like Nathan Fillion, all make up the American Contingent. 

Strong reprises his role as Merlin, Roxy “Lancelot” reappears, albeit briefly and the brilliant Michael Gambon is Michael Caine’s replacement for a short while.

Kingman: The Golden Circle is adrenaline pumped, glorious escapism at its finest. Like “Kick-Ass” (Vaughn’s first uber-violent film based on a comic.) this sequel combines the best of all worlds. A certain grim humour combined with spectacular wire-work, cracking CG and stunts that match almost anything done on a real Bond film.

Sir Elton John has a splendid cameo and proves that, given the right conditions, he can act his little cotton socks off.  Moore makes a better villain than Samuel L. Jackson’s weak-stomached bad-guy, who actually seemed to kill Galahad in the first film.

(Sadly, this film marks the last appearance of the excellent Swedish actor Björn Granath.)

The cinematography by George Richmond, who worked on the first film, is seamless and practically perfect.  Everything snaps, crackles and pops in the fast paced sequel and it nearly takes your breath away with a pace that makes the two hour and 21 minute film speed by.

(On a side note: The keen eyed viewer will notice something very familiar about the Kingsman tailor flag outside the shop. Think Kick-Ass and you will get it immediately.)

Halle Berry makes a great American counterpart to Strong’s Merlin and it was nice to see Eggsy’s mum, played by Samantha Womack turn up again. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is enough of a treat that one can forgive his miscalculation with Kick-Ass 2. All is forgiven Mr. Vaughn and we await a third installment in this franchise.

“Kingsman 2” is a full five star bit of entertainment that enthralls and captivates throughout. It is well worth sitting through and proves that Vaughn’s films are fun and clever.

As the film is rated ‘R’ the language is a tad coarse as is some of the humour. We strongly urge you to see this in the cinema, although it is a bit loud, to get the full impact of this outstanding sequel.

Is This Now (2017) Social Drama With a Bite (Review)

John Altman and Sabrina Dickens

Anyone who has read Mike’s Film Talk at all knows that we love Independent Films, Asian cinema and British film full stop. “Is This Now” is the latest offering from the stellar actress Sabrina Dickens and was written and directed by Joe Scott; this is Scott’s fourth film and his second time working with Dickens.

(The Bristol actress pulled in the Best Actress Award in the 2017 WMIFF. If one watches the film it becomes easy to see why.)

“Is This Now” follows the day to day happenings of Ingrid (played brilliantly by Dickens); a council estate orphan raised in the social services system. The film starts with Ingrid sitting in a toilet. She is naked and her legs carry the scars of self harm that many young women commit in order to handle stress.

Ingrid is singing but without listening to the song (one of the many penned by singer/song writer Kaya Herstead Carney) we know already that the system has let this young woman down. Later we learn of sexual abuse at the hands of the men in her life and how it has affected her.

Anu Hasan is Ms. Murray,  the social services worker who looks after Ingrid and Brigid Shine is Jade; another young woman who becomes a part of the abused woman’s life. John Altman (best known for playing “nasty” Nick Cotton on Eastenders) is Johnny, a band manager for JOANoVArc (the members of the band play themselves), who is, perhaps, the first male figure in her life who does not abuse her.

The young woman is in that vicious circle that abused survivors often find themselves in: In trouble with the police and unsure of how to react to anything “normal.” “Is This Now” follows two story lines with the same protagonist starting both.

Murray (played compassionately by Hasan who is another Eastenders alumni) tries to find justice for Ingrid within the system while the young woman herself undergoes a journey of discovery. On a trip to France she meets up with Jade and discovers a young man who manages to break through that thick and angry wall just a bit.

Dion (Fabien Ara) lives with his aunt who has a great huge mansion and a delightfully eccentric outlook on life. As things progress, it seems that Ingrid is slowly overcoming the hurdles that life has put in her way…Or has she?

The film itself looks brilliant. Filmed, in part, in Wales and parts of Liverpool, everything looks as it should. The Council office look spot on and the streets, as well as the shops and, in fact, all the sets feel perfect. Anyone who has ever gone to deal with Social Services or the Job Centre will recognize the surroundings.

Scott helms this drama very well. The theme, as well as the overall feel of the film, is as English as a “cuppa” tea and just as authentic. The music, the dialogue of the young people and the professionals around them – Murray and the bureaucrats she deals with – are all presented with a sure and certain ring of truth.

The story hides a surprising sting that is as satisfying as it is disturbing. It offers the viewer something with a bit of bite and is does not disappoint.

All the performers knock it out of the park and Altman is a delight as the band manager with a heart of gold. Scottish actress Ruth Millar is wonderfully eclectic as the aunt who dispenses more than a little advice to Ingrid when she really needs it.

(Altman also sings a bit and it is surprisingly good. It takes him far away from the nasty bit of work he played in Eastenders for so many years and is yet another indication of what a capable actor he really is.)

Dickens kills it as the council estate girl who is wrung through the wringer by life and her own demons. This is an almost addictive drama and her performance, along with Scott’s writing and direction, compels the viewer to stick around for the end.

“Is This Now” is an award winning film (Scott won Best Narrative Feature and the movie has pulled in two other awards.) that features very little violence, a touch of nudity and some brutal yet socially aware themes; i.e. the sexual abuse of children.

It is a film that focuses on the human condition and not on gratuitous violence. It is currently running the festival circuit and it is highly recommended that film fans keep an eye out for its theatrical release.

“Is This Now” is a full 4.5 star film that does not fail to make one think about life’s victims and their struggle to cope with it all.  We care about Ingrid, Murray and all the friends that the damaged young people interact with throughout the film. This one is a winner.

Sabrina Dickens

The Brothers Grimsby, aka Grimsby (2016): Utter Rubbish (Review)

Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong

One can only surmise that 2016 has been a rough year for Mark Strong and Penélope Cruz The proof in the pudding is their participation in this debacle masquerading as a comedy film. The Brothers Grimsby, aka Grimsby is complete and utter rubbish from start to finish. The fact that the only real laugh comes at the very end of the film speaks volumes for this complete waste of celluloid.

Written by Sacha Baron CohenPhil Johnston and Peter Baynham; directed by Louis Leterrier and starring, personal favorite, Mark Strong, Cohen and his wife Isla Fisher, Aussie actress Rebel Wilson and a few familiar faces to British television audiences in the form of cameos by Johnny Vegas and Ricky Tomlinson, The Brothers Grimsby is an assault on the senses of such catastrophic poor taste that one feels the need to have a shower and a colonic cleanse after viewing. 

The film is, essentially, a classic Cohen satire/parody of the northern city and its inhabitants. Former Grimsby denizen Sebastian Graves (Strong) is an agent for MI6, sports a contact lens which records his every deadly move while on missions and he is a bald “007.”

His long lost brother, Nobby (Cohen) is a lazy, piss artist and football mad Grimsby native who picks out a mattress by shagging a “bird” on the thing in the shop.  At least Cohen’s script never rises above genitalia, ejaculatory and bottom jokes, which run throughout the film.

Cruz plays master criminal Rhonda George. The villain masquerades as a charity head who plans to release a virus that will kill all the common folk of England. This means, of course, that every Grimsby citizen is doomed.

Scott Adkins is the violent assassin who has targeted Graves, and he also works for George, who has the thankless job of being the only other “straight” character in the film. 

The movie starts as it means to finish and never deviates from the persistent toilet humor and bad taste jokes that fill each and every scene. Just as it seems that Cohen has managed to hit heretofore unheard of depths of bad taste, he manages to top himself.

It really is a tie between the “sucking out the poison” gag and the “hiding in an elephant’s vagina” schtick, complete with Strong and Cohen being assaulted by giant elephant penii and both men being covered in a white viscous substance, as to which is really the most offensive.

Other jokes are aimed at Donald Trump, no real crime committed there as the real Trump is beyond deplorable; so no harm, no foul, charities and the film really is a massive leg pull of the lower working classes.

The real crime here, beyond the consistent bad taste of the film’s “comedy” is that this could have been funny. Mark Strong is a skilled performer who has massive comedic chops. (Anyone who has seen his performance in Kick-Ass can attest to his comedy skills.)

Granted, Cohen is an acquired taste.  Fans of his brand of comedy, Ali G Indahouse and Borat may well find the film hysterically funny.  Anyone  over the age of 11 will find the film a complete waste of time.

Even the action scenes with Strong’s character are diminished by the toilet humour on offer.  It has to be said that the one redeeming thing about the film was the “first person shooter” gaming POV aspect of Graves’ action scenes.  There was a touch of Kingsman, a’la FPS that could have been the film’s highpoint since the comedy was so dire.

Sadly the movie never moves past its dire start and the sight of Cohen with long Liam Gallagher sideburns and fake teeth.

This is one to avoid. A shaky 2 out of 5 stars only for the presence of Strong. Cruz looks as though she has wound up on the wrong filmset and even severe re-editing could not save this stinker.  It takes a lot for this reviewer to savage a film, but The Brothers Grimsby has rightly earned its drubbing.

The Call Up (2016): Universally Hated (Review)

Still from The Call UP

Written and directed by Charles Barker (His second time in the big chair and his first feature length film.) The Call Up stars a number of relatively unknown Brit actors and a plot that is three parts CoD and one part Existenz. For whatever reason, this film is almost universally hated by gamers and film audiences alike. 

In a many ways The Call Up is also reminiscent of Gantz, a 2004 Japanese anime where players enter a virtual reality world to battle creatures and monsters. These gamers also died, but to gain entrance, the player had to have died in real life first.

Unlike Gantz, this film’s plot is quite straight forward.

A group of seven online gamers have been recruited to take part in a virtual reality trial run of a new gaming experience.  The participants don special suits and gear to play.

As the game progresses, the volunteers learn that this virtual reality game play  can be deadly. The players love the experience initially but as the game progresses and they begin to die, the whole experience becomes a fight for survival.

Part of the problem may have something to do with the film’s faint resemblance to the Ubisoft video game Haze.  The 2008 video game was roundly panned by critics on both sides of the pond.

The Call Up is not that bad, it may rely on stereotypes to a certain degree but to be fair, the film is not a Shakespearean tragedy. The premise is that the players who enter the game via the virtual reality helmets and gear will die if not given  a media-pen injection in time.

Complaints include the musical score of the film and the acting, which is actually pretty decent considering the actors are all British and affecting American accents.

Critics have been more accepting of the film while gamers, on sites like IMDb, have almost unanimously panned the movie full stop. UK newspaper The Guardian actually quite liked the film, calling it cheap and cheerful.

All the action takes place in one location and if there could be any complaints at all it would be with the A. I. sergeant who barks orders at the players. (The thing actually interacts physically with the gamers as well, beating one and breaking the leg of another.)

The sergeant has a slightly robotic sound as it directs and instructs the gamers on what they should do. It an annoyance to have that sort of character in the game. First person shooters (FPS) have characters which sound quire realistic, actors like Tony Todd, for example, have lent their talents to games like Call of Duty (CoD).

CG in The Call Up is good enough that it carries the storyline well and provides enough believability that the viewer can get caught up in the action. The players who enter this virtual reality world may seem a tad two dimensional but once again this is an action/adventure FPS film, not high art.

There are no “names” in the film and this adds to the action.  The director does a good job carrying the film’s momentum forward and there are no bits that drag.  The Call Up runs for 90 minutes and not once does the film get off track.

In terms of endings the final few moments of the film can be termed an anticlimax.  The Call Up  is a solid 3.5 star film. The concept is entertaining as is the film itself. Streaming on Netflix at the moment the film  is definitely worth a look or two.

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