25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: GANGSTER SQUAD

CAST

Sean Penn (Mystic River)
Josh Borlin (Men In Black 3)
Ryan Gosling (Drive)
Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-man 1 & 2)
Holt McCallany (The Losers)
Wade Williams (The Dark Knight Rises)
Lucy Davenport (Alice In Wonderland)
Nick Nolte (Cape fear)
Robert Patrick (Terminator 2)
Michael Pena (American Hustle)
Giovanni Ribisi (Some Girl)
Anthony Mackie (Captain America 2)

John Aylward (Armageddon)
Michael Papajohn (Spider-Man)
Jack McGee (The Fighter)
Mireille Enos (Hanna TV)
Jack Conley (Angel)
Josh Pence (The Dark Knight Rises)
Jon Polito (The Crow)
Lance Barber (Young Sheldon)
Michael Bacall (Death Proof)
Anthony De Longis (Masters of The Universe)
Derek Mears (The Flash)
Frank Grillo (Mother’s Day)

In 1949 Los Angeles, gangster Mickey Cohen wants to control all organized crime and argues with local mobster Jack Dragna that they should not allow the East coast mafia to run the town. Meanwhile, LAPD Detective Sergeant John “Sarge” O’Mara raids a Cohen-owned brothel to save a woman from being raped, gaining the attention of Police Chief Bill Parker. Parker believes that more drastic measures need to be taken against men like Cohen, and tasks O’Mara to begin waging a guerrilla campaign against the mobsters. He tells O’Mara (a former OSS commando during World War II) to use his special operations training, learned at Camp X during World War II, and to select a small team that will work without badges or official support from the police.
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O’Mara’s pregnant wife Connie suggests choosing unorthodox veterans like himself, as young high-performers would likely already be on Cohen’s payroll. With Connie’s help, O’Mara selects a small squad of cops: black street officer Coleman Harris, wiretap expert Conwell Keeler, gunslinger and sharpshooter Max Kennard, and Kennard’s Hispanic partner Navidad “Christmas” Ramirez. O’Mara also attempts to recruit his partner Sergeant Jerry Wooters, but Wooters has become lazy and complacent in his job and refuses. Wooters keeps in touch with childhood friend Jack Whalen, who provides him with information on Cohen. Wooters also meets and begins a secret relationship with Cohen’s etiquette tutor Grace Faraday.
gangster-squad
The squad’s first mission is to bust up an illegal Cohen casino in Burbank, California, but things quickly go bad as O’Mara and Harris are captured by corrupt Burbank police who were guarding the casino. Wooters has a change of heart after witnessing the death of a young boy he had been helping out and attempts to shoot Cohen. Whalen stops him and tells him that O’Mara is going to be turned over to Cohen, prompting Wooters to rescue the men from the Burbank jail. Deciding that they need more information on Cohen’s operations, Wooters and Keeler break into Cohen’s house and place an illegal wiretap inside his TV. The men are seen sneaking out by Grace, who agrees to keep their secret. Using the information from the wiretap, the group conducts several successful raids on Cohen operations. After a particularly violent raid on a Cohen drug shipment, Keeler begins to question what they are doing but is re-assured by O’Mara. The media begins referring to the men as “The Gangster Squad”, and Cohen pushes his men to find out who they are. Keeler deduces that Cohen is building a large wire gambling business somewhere in town, and warns O’Mara that if they don’t take it out before it becomes operational Cohen will become too big for even them to stop. Keeler uses wire transmissions to locate the building, and the squad wipes it out. An enraged Cohen realizes that the Gangster Squad must be honest cops when he discovers that none of his money was stolen.
Sean Penn, Holt McCallany, Jon Polito, and Emma Stone in Gangster Squad (2013)
Cohen suspects that his house is bugged and begins searching for the tap. Grace overhears Cohen and fears that he knows about her relationship with Wooters. With the help of a maid, Grace escapes Cohen’s house and meets Wooters, who takes her to Whalen and tasks him with getting her out of town. Cohen finds the bug and begins feeding false information to Keeler. Cohen lures the Gangster Squad into a trap in Chinatown, but Wooters arrives in time to alert the men to the trap. While the men are distracted in Chinatown, Cohen hits several targets himself. Cohen’s bodyguard Karl Lockwood finds Keeler’s listening post and kills him while Cohen goes to Whalen’s looking for Grace. Cohen murders Whalen in front of Grace, who hides from him. O’Mara’s house is hit by a drive-by shooting, the stress of which causes Connie to give birth to their son in their bathtub.
Grace agrees to testify against Cohen for the murder of Whalen, and O’Mara uses her testimony to get a warrant for Cohen’s arrest. The squad arrives at Cohen’s hotel to arrest him and an intense firefight breaks out. Wooters and Kennard are wounded, while Cohen and Lockwood escape. O’Mara pursues them down the block, assisted by a mortally wounded Kennard and his sharpshooting skill. Kennard, with Ramirez’ help, shoots Lockwood just before he dies and O’Mara and Cohen engage in a brutal fistfight that ends with O’Mara eventually beating Cohen to his knees. As a crowd gathers, a bloodied O’Mara walks away and Cohen is arrested for Whalen’s murder.
Sean Penn and Josh Brolin in Gangster Squad (2013)
As Chief Parker had told them, the Gangster Squad is never credited in taking down Cohen. Grace’s testimony ensures Cohen is sentenced to 25 to life at Alcatraz, where he is welcomed violently by Whalen’s friends. Grace and Wooters stay together and he stays on the force, while Ramirez and Harris become partners on the beat. Ramirez is shown patrolling with Kennard’s signature Colt Single Action Army on his hip. O’Mara quits to live a quiet life in Los Angeles with Connie and their son.
Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, and Josh Pence in Gangster Squad (2013)
This is great fun, it isn’t the greatest film ever made, the most original or anything like that but it doesn’t waste a second and that’s the way I like it.

HALLOWEEN OF HORROR REVIEW: WORLD WAR Z

CAST

Brad Pitt (Fight Club)
Mirelle Enos (The Killing)
Daniella Kertesz (AfterDeath)
James Badge Dale (Iron Man 3)
Ludi Boeken (Train of Life)
Matthew Fox (Lost)
David Morse (Contact)
Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who)
Ruth Negga (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D)
David Andrews (Terminator 3)
Ann Ogbomo (Krypton)
Elyes Gabel (Game of Thrones)
Michiel Huisman (Treme)

 

Former UN employee Gerry Lane, his wife Karin and their two daughters are in heavy Philadelphia traffic when the city is attacked by zombies. As chaos spreads, the Lanes escape to Newark, New Jersey and take refuge in an apartment, home to a couple with a young son, Tommy. UN Deputy Secretary-General Thierry Umutoni—an old friend of Gerry’s—sends a helicopter that extracts the Lanes and Tommy to a U.S. Navy vessel in the Atlantic where scientists and military personnel are analyzing the worldwide outbreaks. Dr. Andrew Fassbach posits that the plague is a virus, and that development of a vaccine depends on finding the origin. Gerry reluctantly agrees to help Fassbach find the outbreak’s source after it is made clear that he and his family will be removed from the ship if he does not.Gerry and Fassbach fly to Camp Humphreys, a military base in South Korea, where they are attacked on arrival by zombies. Turning to re-enter the aircraft, Fassbach slips, falls and accidentally discharges his gun, killing himself. After being rescued by the base’s surviving personnel, led by Captain Speke, Gerry learns that the infection was introduced to the base by its doctor, who was ultimately incinerated by a soldier with a lame leg who the infected ignored. A former CIA operative, imprisoned at the base, tells Gerry to go to Jerusalem, where he says a safe zone has been maintained by the Israeli Mossad since before the outbreak’s official acknowledgement. As Gerry and his team bike back to their aircraft, zombies attack, kill several soldiers and infect Captain Speke, who commits suicide to prevent himself from turning. Gerry and his pilot escape.In Jerusalem, Gerry meets Mossad chief Jurgen Warmbrunn, who explains that months earlier, the Mossad had intercepted an Indian military message claiming that Indian troops were fighting the rakshasa, or “dead spirits”. Israel had thereupon quarantined Jerusalem, erecting huge walls around it. Just as Jurgen shows Gerry that Israel is allowing survivors to take refuge in the city, loud celebratory singing from refugees prompts zombies to scale the walls and attack. Jurgen orders some Israeli soldiers to escort Gerry back to his plane. On the way, Gerry notices zombies ignoring an emaciated boy. Soon after, one of Gerry’s escorts, a soldier who identifies herself only as “Segen”, is bitten in the hand, which Gerry quickly amputates to stop her turning. Gerry and Segen escape on a commercial airliner as Jerusalem is overrun, and Israel seeks to protect its remaining borders.Gerry contacts Thierry, and the airliner is diverted to a World Health Organization (WHO) facility outside Cardiff, Wales. When a stowaway zombie attacks in mid-air, Gerry uses a grenade to blow the infected out of the aircraft, but this also causes them to crash. Gerry is injured, but both he and Segen survive. They proceed to the WHO facility, where Gerry loses consciousness. He awakens three days later and explains to the remaining WHO staff a theory he has, based on the people he has seen the zombies ignore: the infected do not bite the seriously injured or terminally ill, since they would be unsuitable hosts for viral reproduction. He suggests that they test this by deliberately infecting somebody with a pathogen from the facility, but the pathogens are stored in a wing already overrun by zombies. Gerry, Segen and the lead WHO doctor go to get a pathogen. As they fight their way through, they are separated; Gerry continues to the pathogen vault while Segen and the doctor return to the main building. A zombie corners Gerry inside the vault, prompting him to inject himself with an unknown bacteria and open the vault, thereby testing his theory. The zombie ignores him, as do those he encounters while returning to the main building. Everybody rejoices at Gerry’s success.Gerry and his family are reunited in a safe zone at Freeport, Nova Scotia. A “vaccine”, derived from deadly pathogens, is developed and issued to troops battling the infected, acting as a kind of camouflage. The vaccine also helps survivors to reach quarantine zones. Human offensives begin against the zombies, and hope is restored. “This isn’t the end,” Gerry comments, “Not even close. Our war has just begun.” This is one of those films that gets better the more you watch it.  Brad Pitt was good as always and with a possible sequel in the making this may not be the last we see of this War.

REVIEW: GOOD OMENS

Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens (2019)

Starring

David Tennant (Mary Queen of Scots)
Michael Sheen (Passengers)
Anna Maxwell Martin (Motherland)
Jon Hamm (Baby Driver)
Josie Lawrence (Humans)
Lourdes Faberes (Knightfall)
Adria Arjona (Life of The Party)
Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap)
Jack Whitehall (Bad Education)
Miranda Richardson (Sleepy Hollow)
Mireille Enos (Hanna TV)
Yusuf Gatewood (The Originals)
Brian Cox (Rise of TPOA)
Reece Shearsmith (Stag)
Nina Sosanya (Marcella)
Ned Dennehy (Peaky Blinders)
Ariyon Bakare (Rogue One)
Frances McDormand (Fargo)
Derek Jacobi (Gladiator)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Grinch)
Steve Pemberton (Psychoville)
Mark Gatiss (Game of Thrones)
Nick Offerman (The Lego Movie 2)
Daniel Mays (The Bank Job)
Sian Brooke (Sherlock)
Simon Merrells (Legends of Tomorrow)
Susan Brown (Game of Thrones)
Paul Kaye (Anna and the Apocalypse)
David Morrissey (The Walking Dead)

Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens (2019)Once upon a time, Good Omens was considered unadaptable. Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s sprawling, 400-page fantasy novel was notorious within the film and TV industries. Screenwriters turned their noses up at the project, and various attempts over the years to bring page to screen ended in disappointment. However, an adaptation of the unadaptable proved to be Pratchett’s last request to his co-author before he died in 2015, and Gaiman set about writing the screenplay for what would become an epic six-part BBC/Amazon co-production.Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens (2019)So first things first: was the unadaptable, well, adaptable, after all? The short answer is, yes. Gaiman — also showrunner on the series — has pulled off a colourful, quirky, funny, poignant (although not entirely flawless) feat. One might even suspect there’s been a spot of divine (or devilish) intervention… The true triumph is the casting. Michael Sheen shines (quite literally, in some scenes) as the angel Aziraphale, a celestial field agent who teams up with his opposite number, the stylish demon Crowley — played with a Bill Nighy-esque swagger by David Tennant — in order to prevent Armageddon.Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens (2019)It’s this pairing that proves to be the beating heart of the series. Crowley and Aziraphale have been on Earth since the very beginning, and in their own ways they’ve both “gone native”. Aziraphale owns a Soho bookshop, and likes gravlax salmon with dill sauce. Crowley drives a pristine 1926 Bentley and listens to Queen. They’ve formed a professional agreement not to meddle in each other’s affairs, and in their spare time they’ve enjoyed a series of rather nice clandestine lunches. Every time either actor appears onscreen, you can almost hear the costume department’s (and fandom’s) squeals of joy. David Tennant in snakeskin boots! Michael Sheen with artfully tousled bleached hair! A tartan bow tie! Tennant also sports appropriately flame-red hair (not in the books, but worth it for Doctor Who fans’ realisation that the Tenth Doctor finally got his wish) that frequently changes style. In one particularly memorable moment during episode one, Crowley disguises himself as a bobbed-haired nanny, a Satanic crossover between Nanny McPhee and Mrs Doubtfire.good-omensHe and Aziraphale have a teasing, love/hate relationship that fans of the book have shipped for almost two decades. Gaiman has since promised that “the TV series gets deeper into Crowley and Aziraphale’s relationship,” and some viewers will be hoping that that will translate into a burgeoning romance. Certainly in episode one, Aziraphale seems rather overexcited at the prospect of he and Crowley becoming joint “godfathers” to the infant Antichrist, whose arrival on Earth threatens to catalyse the apocalypse. Gabriel has bright purple irises in the series, a nod to Elizabeth Taylor’s legendary lilac eyes according to the show’s companion book, The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion. However, as anyone who’s worn thick coloured lenses for Halloween and lived to tell the tale will know, the effect is rather distracting and painful to look at, as are Crowley’s reptilian yellow eyes (thankfully hidden away under trendy shades for much of the show). Gabriel barely appears in the book, and he’s a welcome and much-needed addition to the series: someone to put the proverbial heat on Aziraphale.Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens (2019)Various sets are also new for the TV show: Heaven is now a vast corporate headquarters, while Hell resembles an overcrowded basement office. A rather gloomier version of The IT Crowd, if you will. Some of the show’s special effects can feel a bit hammy (think Russell T Davies-era Doctor Who with a couple of rubber frogs thrown in), but the scene depicting the entrances to both Heaven and Hell features a pretty cool bit of cinematography, including a mirror effect and an upside-down Tennant. However, despite the addition of characters like Gabriel, much of the show remains doggedly faithful to the books. Reams of dialogue are almost word-for-word during episode one, to the extent that there are certain moments and scenes where one feels that the show’s pace has been sacrificed in favour of preserving the ‘voice’ of the book. Of course, it’s understandable given the circumstances — Gaiman has spoken about the pressure to protect Pratchett’s narrative creations in his absence. For example, he made sure that one of Pratchett’s characters, the 17th century witch Agnes Nutter, remained in the show despite calls to replace her (and an expensive, explosive period shoot) with a series of woodcuts.good-omens-key-art-600x314In Agnes’s case, it makes sense to preserve her: her spookily accurate prophecies drive much of the plot and predict the present-day apocalypse. But there are chunks of God’s narration (voiced by Oscar-winner Frances McDormand) that feel a bit laboured. Some sections, like the bit about demons’ talents for “lurking” around graveyards, must have read well on the page in that distinctive Terry/Neil voice, but in reality they fall rather flat — much like a certain angel’s misguided attempts to pull a rabbit out of a top hat at a children’s birthday party. At the end of the day, however (and according to Agnes Nutter, there aren’t many more days left), the series is a love letter to the book, combining Gaiman and Pratchett’s brilliant characterisation and quippy jokes with vivid, gorgeous sets and memorable costumes.

 

 

REVIEW: HANNA – SEASON 1

Esme Creed-Miles in Hanna (2019)

Starring

Esme Creed-Miles (Mister Lonely)
Mireille Enos (World War Z)
Joel Kinnaman (Suicide Squad)

Esme Creed-Miles in Hanna (2019)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Joanna Kulig (Cold War)
Lyndsey Marshal (The Hours)
Phaldut Sharma (Gravity)
Andy Nyman (The Commuter)
Katharina Heyer (Volt)
Benno Fürmann (Babylon Berlin)
Narges Rashidi (Aeon Flux)
Justin Salinger (Everest)
Félicien Juttner (Ben)
Rhianne Barreto (Dixi)
Noah Taylor (Game of Thrones)

Joel Kinnaman in Hanna (2019)Over the past 5 years, there has been an influx of TV shows based on popular films: FX’s pulpy Fargo, YouTube’s hilarious Cobra Kai, and A&E’s creepy Bates Motel. All of the previously mentioned series are entertaining and worth checking out, but before you do, consider binging all eight episodes of Hanna on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, March 29. The streaming provider’s gamble to develop this show based on the 2011 film of the same name definitely paid off. Helmed by the film’s co-writer – David Farr – Hanna on Amazon is more laser-focused than its predecessor, allowing for deeper character development and extra thrilling action sequences – which is always a good thing. Hanna is a genetically (we think) modified ass-kicking teenager who lives in the woods with her special-operative father, Eric (Joel Kinnaman), after he rescued her from a clandestine government facility when she was was a baby.Joel Kinnaman and Esme Creed-Miles in Hanna (2019)The show’s frenetic pacing (the total runtime is under 8 hours) doesn’t allow for much on-screen time with daughter and father early on in the season – which is a shame, because they’re a dynamic pair to watch. At its narrative core, Hanna is a coming-of-age story with way more violence and tragedy than your typical teenage fare – just imagine Hanna in Mean Girls or The Perks of Being a Wallflower… Ouch!Joel Kinnaman and Esme Creed-Miles in Hanna (2019)Even with all of the enhanced abilities and her training in the deadly arts, Hanna’s character remains grounded. Showrunner Farr accomplishes this by taking her out of the woods and away from her father, so she can interact with other teenagers. Watching Esme Creed-Miles’ Hanna awkwardly flirting with boys at nightclubs and struggling to adapt to suburban life is very charming. Her insatiable curiosity about the world outside of the woods she was raised in is palpable.Esme Creed-Miles in Hanna (2019)When Hanna isn’t running around killing the government agents sent to capture her, she’s usually spending time with her newfound bestie, Sophie (played by newcomer Rhianne Barreto). Sophie is an important character because she is that teenage girl you expect to see in this kind of coming-of-age story, and it’s enjoyable to watch Barreto and Creed-Miles interact: laughing, fighting, and crying over boys and controlling parents. There are moments in Hanna when you forget that she’s being hunted by a sinister government agency.Esme Creed-Miles in Hanna (2019)Speaking of the baddies… Hanna boasts an imposing villain in Marissa Wiegler (portrayed by Kinnaman’s The Killing co-star Mireille Enos). Unlike Cate Blanchett’s interpretation of the character in the film version, Enos brings a welcome bit of nuance. While she’s not a “good guy,” per se, she’s definitely less overtly evil this time around. Wiegler is the figure behind many of the mysteries surrounding Hanna’s birth and unique abilities, and even though she’s the primary antagonist, it’s easy to get the sense that there’s a bigger threat just looming around the corner. There are plenty of stories left to tell if Amazon gives Farr more seasons to play with.Whenever Wiegler’s henchmen attempt to apprehend Hanna, the fight choreography on display is impressive. To their credit, Farr and his team use the fights for more than just showing off – they’re also telling a story with kicks and punches. Kinnaman’s Eric uses brute force to cripple or kill his opponents. Hanna, on the other hand, utilizes her speed and agility to compensate for her size. Together, they make an efficient killing duo. And while it’s nice to see them spending some quality time together, Farr never lets you forget the tragedy of it all. When some teenagers’ biggest worries are social media and high school dances, Hanna’s concerns are far more imminent and deadly. Hanna’s showrunner David Farr effectively expands the movie he co-wrote back in 2011 with engaging character development and thrilling action. Esme Creed-Miles and Joel Kinnaman excel in their respective roles, making this short, but compelling 8-hour journey a must see on Amazon Prime Video.