REVIEW: PAWN

CAST

Nikki Reed (Sleepy Hollow)
Stephen Lang (Don’t Breathe)
Marton Csokas (The Equalizer)
Jessica Szohr (Love Bite)
Forest Whitaker (The Butler)
Michael Chiklis (Gotham)
Sean Faris (The King of Fighters)
Ray Liotta (Killing Them Softly)
Jonathan Benett (Mean Girls)
Common (Wanted)
Max Beesley (Torque)
Jordan Belfi (Surrogates)

An old gangster, with a hard drive containing records of who he paid off, is targeted by a competition between dirty cops, internal affairs, etc. The dirty cops hire a thug to get into the safe (in the back of a diner) at midnight. But he brings his friends and goes too early for the time-release lock. Another crooked cop shows up (for uncertain reasons). The shooting ensues and during hostage negotiations the thug tries to put the blame onto an ex-con who just got out of jail, so that no one notices the real target is the hard drive.Pawn is a low budget crime action thriller, The opening sequence sets the movie up nicely for what later unfolds to be a highly entertaining watch full of deception, conspiracy and twists aplenty. It’s tense and keeps you hooked right through until the closing credits.

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REVIEW: DON’T BREATHE

CAST

Jane Levy (Evil Dead 2013)
Stephen Lang (Avatar)
Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps)
Dabiel Zovatto (It Follows)

Rocky, Alex, and Money are three Detroit delinquents who make a living by breaking into homes secured by Alex’s father’s security company and selling the items they take. However, the person buying the stolen goods from Money doesn’t give them a fair price, and not nearly enough to fund Rocky’s dream of moving to California with her little sister Diddy to escape their neglectful mother and her alcoholic boyfriend. Money receives a tip that an Army veteran living in an abandoned Detroit neighborhood has $300,000 in cash in his house, given as a settlement after a wealthy young woman, Cindy Roberts, killed his daughter in a car accident. The three stake out the house and discover that the man is in fact blind. After some deliberation, they decide to break into the house at night.That night, the three approach the house and drug the Blind Man’s dog. Finding all the entrances locked, Rocky enters the house through a small window and lets the other two in. The group searches the house for the money but are unable to find it; assuming it is behind a locked door, Money shoots the lock. The noise wakes up the Blind Man, who subdues Money and murders him with his own gun. Rocky hides in a closet, where she witnesses the Blind Man open a safe to check on his money. After he leaves, Alex finds Rocky in the closet, and the two open the safe and take the money. Meanwhile, the Blind Man finds Money’s and Rocky’s shoes downstairs, and realizes that Money was not the only intruder.Rocky and Alex evade the Blind Man and find a door leading to the basement. There, they are surprised by a restrained, gagged woman in a homemade padded cell. She shows them a newspaper article mentioning Cindy and the car accident; they realize that she is Cindy, held captive by the Blind Man. They free her and run for the storm cellar door, only to be surprised by the Blind Man, who mistakenly shoots and kills Cindy with Money’s gun. Rocky and Alex flee into the cellar while the Blind Man, enraged at Cindy’s death, shuts off the lights. After a struggle, Alex knocks out the Blind Man, and Rocky follows him back upstairs.After blocking the basement door, they encounter the Blind Man’s Dog, who has recovered from being drugged. Alex and Rocky are unable to unlock the front door in time before the dog attacks them, and so they flee into the upstairs bedroom, where they find themselves trapped by the barred windows. Rocky escapes the room through a ventilation duct, while the dog breaks into the bedroom and attacks Alex, who falls out of a window onto a skylight and briefly falls unconscious. When Alex awakens, the Blind Man shoots out the skylight and later manages to corner Alex in his utility room, where he appears to kill him with a pair of pruning shears. Meanwhile, the dog pursues Rocky through the vents, and she is eventually captured by the Blind Man. She wakes up restrained in the basement, where the Blind Man reveals that Cindy was carrying his child in order to replace the one she killed. He then prepares to artificially inseminate Rocky with a turkey baster, but then it is revealed that the Blind Man accidentally stabbed Money’s corpse with the shears as opposed to his intended victim of a passed out Alex, who has now become conscious and manages to save Rocky and handcuff the Blind Man.Rocky and Alex are unable to call the police, as their blood is all over the house, so they try to leave through the front door, but the Blind Man breaks free and shoots Alex dead. Rocky flees, but is pursued by the dog. She manages to trap the dog in her car trunk, but is recaptured by the Blind Man and dragged back to his house. Inside, Rocky disorients the Blind Man by setting off his house’s loud alarm system, then beats him with a crowbar and knocks him into the basement; he inadvertently shoots himself as he falls. Believing him dead, Rocky escapes before the police arrive.With the money, Rocky prepares to leave Detroit with Diddy on a train to Los Angeles. Before boarding the train, she sees a news report stating that the Blind Man killed two intruders (Alex and Money) in his house and is in stable condition at the hospital, but did not report Rocky or the stolen money.Don’t breathe is a gripping survival – horror which conjures its scares not only with jumpscares but within its atmosphere as well as its villain. The suspense and tension is sure to leave you struggling to breathe.

REVIEW: CONAN THE BARBARIAN (2011)

CAST

Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones)
Stephen Lang (Avatar)
Rachel Nichols (Alias)
Ron Perlman (Hellboy)
Rose McGowan (Planet Terror)
Nonso Anozie (Cinderella)
Said Taghmaoui (American Hustle)

Conan is the son of Corin, chief of a barbarian tribe. The youth is a skilled but violent warrior, who his father believes is not ready to wield his own sword. One day, their village is attacked by the forces of Khalar Zym, a warlord who wishes to reunite the pieces of the Mask of Acheron in order to revive his dead wife and conquer Hyboria. Thousands of years ago, the Mask, crafted by a group of sorcerers and used to subjugate the world, was broken into many pieces, which were scattered among the barbarian tribes. After locating Corin’s piece of the mask, and murdering the entire village, Zym leaves. Conan is the only survivor, and swears revenge.

Years later, Conan has become a pirate, but still seeks revenge. He encounters a slave colony and frees it, killing all of the slave handlers in the process. In the city of Messantia, he encounters Ela-Shan, a thief being chased by a man whom Conan recognizes as Lucius, one of Zym’s soldiers from years before. He allows himself to be captured alongside Ela-Shan. Conan escapes imprisonment, kills several of the guards, and confronts Lucius, forcing him to reveal that Zym seeks a girl, the pure-blood descendant of the sorcerers of Acheron; sacrificing the descendant and using blood from the body of the girl will unleash the mask’s power. Conan helps the rest of the prisoners to escape, and, in gratitude, Ela-Shan tells Conan that, if he ever needs him, Conan will find him at the City of Thieves, Argalon. Lucius is then killed by the prisoners.

Zym and his daughter, the sorceress Marique attack a monastery where they hope to find the pure-blood descendant. Sensing something is wrong, Fassir, an elderly monk, tells one of his students, Tamara, to run away and return to her birthplace. When Fassir refuses to reveal his knowledge of the descendant, Zym kills him. Marique also slays several of the priestesses. Tamara’s carriage is chased by Zym’s men, but Conan rescues her, kills three of her pursuers, and also captures one of Zym’s men, Remo. After forcing him to reveal Tamara’s importance as the pure-blood, Conan catapults Remo into Zym’s nearby camp, killing him.

Zym and Marique confront Conan, who pretends to be interested in exchanging Tamara for gold. Conan attacks Zym, but Marique assists her father by invoking soldiers made of sand, and then poisons Conan with a poison-laced boomerang sword. Tamara rescues him and they return to Conan’s ship, stationed nearby, where his friend Artus helps Conan recover. The boat is attacked by Zym’s men, but although they kill several of Conan’s men, they are defeated. Conan orders Artus to return to Messantia with Tamara and departs to confront Zym in his kingdom. Artus tells Tamara that Conan left a map behind and she follows him, meeting with him in a cave, where they strip naked and copulate. The next day, as she is returning to the boat, Zym’s men and daughter capture her.

Conan learns of Tamara’s capture and departs to Argalon, where he asks Ela-Shan to help him break into Zym’s castle unnoticed. Zym prepares to drain Tamara’s blood, mending the mask. He then plans to use the girl’s body as a vessel for his wife. After confronting an octopus-like monster, the Dweller, that guards the dungeons and killing its four handlers, along with Ukafa, Conan infiltrates Zym’s followers, kills a guard and steals his robe, and watches as Zym puts on the empowered mask. Conan releases Tamara, and she escapes as he battles Zym with the castle falling around them. Marique attacks Tamara, but Conan hears Tamara’s scream and defeats Marique, cutting off her hand. Tamara kicks her into a pit, where her body pierced by a large spike. Zym comes and, finding his daughter’s body impaled by the spike, he swears revenge upon Conan.

Conan and Tamara become trapped on an unstable bridge as Zym attacks them. He uses the mask’s power to call forth the spirit of his deceased wife, Maliva, a powerful sorceress who was executed by the monks from Tamara’s monastery for attempting to unleash occult forces to destroy Hyborea, and Maliva’s spirit begins to possess Tamara’s body. She begs Conan to let her fall, but he refuses, and instead stabs the bridge before jumping to safety with Tamara. The bridge collapses, taking Zym along. The power-hungry ruler falls to the lava below the immense precipice screaming the name of his wife, implying his demise.

Conan and Tamara escape and he returns her to her birthplace, telling her that they’ll meet again. He then returns to Corin’s village and tells the memory of his father that he has avenged his death and recovered the sword Marique stole from him, restoring his honor.

This remake has plenty of action, thankfully so as it takes some of the attention away from the few dubious acting talents & casting decisions on show. As the lead, Jason Momoa is not built quite like Arnie & doesn’t have a whole load of facial expressions, but he is a slightly better actor. Seasoned thespian, Stephen Lang, makes this a bit more worthwhile during the almost 2 hour run time, playing the baddie role very well. Also, Morgan Freeman’s (The Shawshank Redemption) deep rich voice adds some strength to the narration of the opening dialogues.

 

 

 

REVIEW: MANHUNTER

 

CAST

William Petersen (CSI)
Kim Greist (Brazil)
Tom Noonan (Robocop 2)
Dennis Farina (Romeo is Bleeding)
Brian Cox (X-Men 2)
Joan Allen (Pleasantville)
Stephen Lang (Avatar)
Frankie Faison (Luke Cage)
Chris Elliott (Scary Movie 2)
Bill Smitrovich (Ted 1 & 2)
Marshall Bell (Total Recall)

Thomas Harris’ extremely popular “Hannibal Lector” character has appeared in 80% of the author’s novels and five separate feature-length films. Most would find Lector synonymous with 1991’s landmark The Silence of the Lambs, in which Anthony Hopkins turned the soft-spoken cannibal into a cultural icon. The character’s subsequent film appearances are all more exaggerated than the last, so it makes sense that 1986’s Manhunter shows Hannibal at his most…normal? It also serves as director Michael Mann’s third film, but it flopped at the box office and still stands in the shadow of its more popular young brother. Based on Harris’ second novel Red Dragon (and remade in 2002 by Brett Ratner), Manhunter deserved a bigger audience then and still deserves a bigger one today.

Part thriller, part character study and part horror film, this tale of FBI profile expert Will Graham (William Petersen) often crackles with suspense. Having retired to his peaceful family life due to exhaustion, Graham is approached by his former boss Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) after an unknown killer’s quiet rampage has already left two families dead. Hannibal isn’t the culprit, of course: he’s safely behind bars due to Graham’s tireless efforts with the FBI, but he might be personally linked to the killer at large. Fearing another series of murders may be only weeks away, the intensely dedicated Graham decides to pursue the case, using his behavioral knowledge to carve away at the killer’s unknown location.

As in Silence of the Lambs, the character of Hannibal Lector (here spelled “Lecktor”, and portrayed by Brian Cox) only pops up occasionally to offer twisted guidance, but his presence looms heavily over the entire film. Silence’s menacing Buffalo Bill is one-upped, though, by the more sympathetic, layered and quietly intimidating Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan), a lab worker whose dark personal life fuels violent impulses. Working on a lunar cycle, Dollarhyde’s third slaughter grows closer as Graham and Crawford attempt to track him down. Manhunter’s approach to Dollarhyde is extremely effective: the film’s almost half-over before we even catch a glimpse of him, and the slow reveal works wonderfully.Manhunter is arguably the least-known of the “Hannibal Lector” films…and that’s a shame, because it’s easily second best behind Silence of the Lambs. Michael Mann’s solid direction anchors this cat-and-mouse thriller quite well.

REVIEW: AVATAR EXTENDED EDITION

CAST

Sam Worthington (Clash of The Titans)
Zoe Saldana (Star Trek)
Sigourney Weaver (Alien)
Stephen Lang (Public Enemies)
Michelle Rodriguez (THe Breed)
Giovanni Ribisi (Ted)
Joel David Moore (Bones)
CCH Pounder (Orphan)
Wes Studi (Heat)
Kelson Henderson (Ash vs Evil Dead)
Peter Mensah (Sleepy Hollow)
James Gaylyn (Power Rangers RPM)

The extended collector’s edition runs 16 minutes 28 seconds longer than the theatrical cut, and listed below are the major differences.

 

1) The opening scene is different, and starts with Jake in a wheelchair on Earth, in a Blade Runner-esque Earth city. The scene moves to scenes of Jake in his apartment, then taking liquid shots in a bar. Jake’s narration of “I told myself I can pass any test a man can pass” and “They can fix the spinal if you got the money. But not on vet benefits, not in this economy” are inserted during this new opening scene.

Jake beats up a bar patron who is mistreating a woman, and then Jake and wheelchair are unceremoniously thrown outside by bouncers into an alley. While in the alley, Jake meets the two RDA representatives who bring him news of his brother’s untimely death. Then the movie cuts back to the original theatrical cut where Jake sees his brother’s body cremated, then awakes in space.

2) During Jake’s initial flyover of Pandora in his avatar, they witness a herd of Sturmbeasts, buffalo-like creatures.

3) After seeing the Sturmbeasts, Grace, Jake, and Norm stop by Grace’s old English school for the Na’vi. The school is now closed, abandoned, and some walls are riddled with bullet-holes. Norm finds a Dr. Seuss book, “The Lorax”, on the ground. This scene explains how Neytiri knew English so well, and certainly gives some further backstory into Grace Augustine’s character.

Interestingly, The Lorax can be seen as a metaphor for the Pandoran story. Recall that the seemingly simple Seussian book is actually a lesson on the plight of the environment and industrialization.

4) We see some other different Pandoran flora and fauna, particularly with scenes of the luminescent forest floor.

5) Jake’s first dinner with Neytiri is longer and extended, and it’s here that she tells him her full name.

6) When Jake, Grace, and Norm first visit the Hallelujah Mountains on the way to the remote uplink station, Grace explains (in a Jake voiceover) that the mountains are levitated [via the Meissner Effect], because Unobtanium is a superconductor. There’s a pretty spectacular CGI shot as the characters look around in awe at the suspended mountains.

7) Pictures of Grace and Na’vi children at her previously functioning school. Dr. Augustine tells Jake that she previously taught Neytiri and her sister, Sylwanin. However, one day, Sylwanin and some hunters destroyed an RDA bulldozer, and RDA SecOps troopers killed them at the school, which explains why the school walls were previously seen pockmarked with bullet holes.

8) Sturmbeast hunting scene after Jake tames a Banshee. After Jake successfully kills a Sturmbeast with an arrow, he and Neytiri chortle a “Heck yeah!” and whoop.

9) Jake and Neytiri’s love scene comprises them linking braids together. Some kissing, nothing explicit.

10) Tsu’tey leads a war party that destroys the RDA’s autonomous bulldozers, as well as the RDA SecOps squad that was guarding them. Corporal Wainfleet leads the search party that uncovers the evidence, via real-time helmet cam footage. Not sure why they cut this scene from the theatrical cut, as it persuades Selfridge to attack the Home Tree.

11) Attack of Hammerhead Titanotheres on RDA forces has been extended slightly; additional scenes of AMP-Suits getting destroyed.

12) Fight between Colonel Quaritch in AMP Suit and Neytiri on Thanator slightly longer.

13) Tsu’tey’s death scene; in the theatrical cut, he falls off the RDA shuttle’s aft ramp to his death. In the Collector’s Edition, he falls to the forest floor, mortally wounded. He passes on leadership to Jake, and asks Jake to ceremonially kill him e.g. hara-kiri, so that Jake will be the last shadow that Tsu-Tey sees. Jake does so.


I preferred the original Tsu’tey death scene, which was more dramatic. Jake, had afterall, already become the de facto clan leader by that point in the movie, so further formal transfer by Tsu’tey (a minor character) seemed unnecessary. both versions of the movie are excellent and both worth watching.

REVIEW: AVATAR

CAST

Sam Worthington (Clash of The Titans)
Zoe Saldana (Star Trek)
Sigourney Weaver (Alien)
Stephen Lang (Public Enemies)
Michelle Rodriguez (THe Breed)
Giovanni Ribisi (Ted)
Joel David Moore (Bones)
CCH Pounder (Orphan)
Wes Studi (Heat)
Kelson Henderson (Ash vs Evil Dead)
Peter Mensah (Sleepy Hollow)
James Gaylyn (Power Rangers RPM)

The story is an interesting one, set nearly 150 years in the future on a planet called Pandora with the human invaders intent on mining for a resource that sells for incredible prices back on distant Earth. The invaders, having previously tried to do the politically correct thing and show concern for the welfare of the natives, eventually lose patience and a seemingly one-sided and very aggressive battle ensues.

The audience’s sympathies are at all times nudged in favor of the Na’vi who inhabit the planet. Jake, a paraplegic war veteran, is the lead character and avatar, who by way of concepts reminiscent of The Matrix films, is able to be another person in another place – one of the Na’vi – thanks to technology way beyond our 21st-century comprehension. He falls in love with their leader’s daughter.

It’s definitely one of my all time favorite movies.  That’s mainly due to the stunning cinematography, which is of a standard that I didn’t exist before Avatar  and of course why James Cameron couldn’t make it when he came up with the idea several years ago. It is just fabulous, extraordinary and mind-blowing. It almost certainly sets a new benchmark for special effects and is possibly a landmark film too, again because of its unequalled cinematic technology.