Barely Lethal (2015): Hailee Steinfeld High School Assassin (Review)

Hailee Steinfeld as 83 in Barely Lethal

Directed by Kyle Newman and written by John D’Arco “Barely Lethal” is a light trip  down teen action comedy lane with Hailee Steinfeld as Agent 83/Megan Walsh. A teen orphan who has been trained to be a black ops assassin practically from birth. The girl is good at her job, the first to be field ready, but she longs to be a real teenager.  High school, boys, classes on normal subjects and the school prom are all things Megan dreams of.

During a mission to capture the deadly Victoria Knox (Jessica Alba) Megan is almost shot by the arms dealer and escapes by plunging into a river. Hardman (Samuel L Jackson), her handler, tries to contact his best agent. Megan decides to disappear and the leader of Prescot   believes her to  be dead.

Megan, who has been researching teenage life. by watching teen romance films, becomes an exchange student from Canada and picks a family to lodge with so she can experience high school. As can be expected this does not go to plan and becomes a comedy of errors as this trained assassin learns how to be a normal American teenager.

Along the way she dates the school’s rock star heart throb, falls in love and helps to save the day  with her adopted family. (Headed up by the delightful Rachael Harris.) Megan even manages to become a YouTube sensation.

The video brings her to the attention of Hardman who tracks her down and interrogates his agent to see who  she is working for.

The film is amusing and aimed at a younger demographic. Jackson’s character never uses one swear word throughout and Alba is excellent as the arms dealer with an impish attitude toward her capture.  There are a couple of familiar faces that Game of Throne fans will appreciate.

Sophie Turner plays Agent 84/Heather and GoT fans will recognize her as Sansa Stark. Also appearing in a main role is Toby Sebastian who plays rock star Cash Fenton and he is Trystane Martell in GoT.

“Barely Lethal” has very little in the way of bloodshed, but does feature a fair amount of choreographed violence.  There are no underage sex scenes, all the school kids are around 16 years old, there is a tiny bit of underage drinking and kids trained to kill.

Steinfeld is spot on as the dreamy assassin who really does not have a clue what real high school is like.  Alba almost steals the film and another scene stealer is young Jason Ian Drucker (in what was only his second feature) who plays Parker Larson, the ninja obsessed little brother of Liz (Dove Cameron).

Overall a bit of fun along the lines of “Agent Cody Banks” but with a twist and a female protagonist. It is an interesting take. Having a strong female lead follow her childhood dream of being  a normal teenager and having problems from moment one is funny. Her research, watching films like “Mean Girls” to learn about teen life in school, was priceless.

There are gags that work less well. The inept parent of  Roger (Thomas Mann) was an overused trope that is in almost every Disney and teen production made in the last 10 years. So too is the fawning science teacher who plays favorites with Cash.

On a more positive note, Rachael Harris as Mrs. Larson was a cool mum who knew when to step in to offer advice and when to back off.  Unusual to see in any teen film and a sign of intelligent film making. 

With an opening for a sequel it will be interesting to see what, if anything, follows.  There are some comic gems, in terms of “one liners” and Alba’s character gets the best one. When she is appended by Hardman’s crew of teen agents, she looks around and says he is still using  “double oh seven year olds.” Unexpected and quite funny.

Rotten Tomatoes was not overly flattering about the film; citing a confusing target audience and a “scattered script” but over all it is amusing and at just over an hour and a half running length is worth viewing at least once.

“Barely Lethal” comes in as a 3.5 star film.  Not overly intelligent or deep but good for a laugh and some fun performances from Jackson, Alba and Steinfeld. Streaming on Amazon prime at the moment it is well  worth a look.

The Veil (2016) Slow Horror (Review)

Starring Jessica Alba, Lily Rabe and Thomas Jane The Veil is a slow plodding horror film based very transparently, on the 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana. In this tale, written by Robert Ben Garant and directed by Phil Joanou the Jones character is called Jim Jacobs and there is only one survivor; Sarah Hope.

Screen shot from The Veil (Thomas Jane)

Starring Jessica Alba, Lily Rabe and Thomas Jane The Veil is a slow plodding horror film based very transparently, on the 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana. In this tale, written by Robert Ben Garant and directed by Phil Joanou the Jones character is called Jim Jacobs  and there is only one survivor; Sarah Hope. 

Unlike the real event Jacobs and several of the most devout have a darker “God” and no-one drinks “Flavor-aid.”

The charismatic but aggressive Jacobs (Jane) is seen in flashback, through the mind of Hope (Rabe) and via archive camera footage, and a video tape  found at the leader’s special residence on the compound.

The Veil moves at a  snail’s pace.  The documentary film crew, led by Maggie Price (Alba), are lethargic and seemingly uninterested in the mundane task  of searching for clues as to what happened on the day.

Hope was a child when the 900 followers of Jacobs’ cult died and she is the group’s guide.  Jacobs’ “church” feels more of a Spiritualist movement than an actual religion where its followers worship coming back from the dead rather than going to heaven.

Jane’s cult leader is at turns charming, funny, angry and violent. At one point the man beats a follower to death with a hammer. The dead man then arises as Jacobs bellows the   command to return and the followers are convinced of his power.

There are a few scenes that actually scare the viewer, one being a rotting corpse acting very un-corpse like.   The body count is not too high and the there is a lack of overt gore, although there is one scene with Rabe’s character that is impressively gross.

The whole film feels very “Blair Witch” but without the squabbling and found footage aspect. Granted there is the use of “found footage” but it is used as research, not too unlike the 2012 horror film  Sinister.

The Veil is dark, almost sepia colored with an even darker texture to each scene from in the found footage sequences.  The present day scenes feature  more in terms of color but the the lighting is still shadowy and gloomy.

At 93 minutes, the film feels longer. Despite this dragging on affect, it is watchable, if for no other reason than to get to the punchline, or payoff.  The film follows a “And Then There Were None” (the film version of Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians”) motif with the documentary film makers being killed off one by one.

Reincarnation and karma seem to play a factor in the cult’s belief system although the end of the film reveals a more sinister take on their religion.  Jane is mesmerizing and terrifying as the cult leader but there is not nearly enough of the actor to make the film truly scary.

Rabe does her usual job of being convincing no matter what role she plays.

The Veil is Alba’s third horror film. Her last was the western remake of the superlative Pang Bros film The Eye.  The “Sin City” actress underplays her role and while this grounds the film somewhat it also makes the character less empathetic at the end.

Overall the film uses mechanizations from other movies.  It does have, for example,  quite a lot in common with The Skeleton Key in terms of swapping out bodies (the reason that Jacobs wants the children saved is not down to kindness but because he needs their “shells”).

The Veil is a 3.5 star film. It could have been more but the plodding pace killed off much of the suspense.  Thomas Jane chews up the scenery in great chunks while Alba and Rabe underplay their roles. Despite not being the top name on the credit’s list, Jane makes this film his.

Streaming on Netflix at the moment, The Veil  is certainly worth a look but  not two.

‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’ Rodriguez Rocks it (Video)

‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’ Rodriguez Rocks it (Video)

The long awaited Sin City sequel A Dame to Kill For is a pretty satisfying follow up to the original and Robert Rodriguez rocks it without a doubt. Frank Miller’s dark graphic novel never looked so good. In terms of appearance that much is very true. The 3D aspect makes it feel as though the film is being viewed from within.

The Duchess of Cambridge or Kate Middleton, whichever you prefer is thinking of a hypnotic child delivery.

The Duchess of Cambridge or Kate Middleton, whichever you prefer is thinking of a hypnotic child delivery.

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