The Gateway – Film Review

Director: Michele Civetta

Writer: Alexander Felix Bendaña, Michael Civetta and Andrew Levitas

Starring: Shea Whigham, Olivia Munn, Bruce Dern, Frank Grillo, Taryn Manning, Mark Boone Junior and Keith David

Rating: ★★★

The main plot of The Gateway is something we’ve seen before, but there’s something about the film that makes it better. A small time criminal is released from prison, promises his family that he’s going to look after them and then instantly returns to his life of crime with everything getting messed up in the process. What could have been a fairly standard crime thriller turns into something more thanks to the central character Parker (Shea Whigham, Fast & Furious).

The film starts with Parker, who is a social worker, going about his job. Trying to look after the children he is assigned to and at the same time struggling with his own vices. He has a drinking problem, a drug problem and a tragic past of his own that he can’t quite escape. He cares way too much about the children he is assigned to, getting heavily invested in their lives. When he gets a phone call from Ashley, whose mother isn’t home to drive her to school, he picks her up himself without thinking twice. You can see how much the job was weighed down on him over the years and how life hasn’t been kind to him. Whigham gives a power performance brining Parker to life. He’s an interesting character and the film is focused on him trying to help Ashley’s family after her dad comes home from prison. It makes a standard crime story that much more interesting and if the crime side of it was more interesting then it would be a great film.

One of the more interesting things about Parker is his history, it’s slowly revealed through the film. It’s not just told in a straightforward fashion and one line from the always fantastic Keith David makes you question everything you’ve seen so far. He is haunted by his past and it hangs over him for the entire film. His dad, Marcus (Bruce Dern, Silent Running), wasn’t a role model growing up and has his own tragic story. It feels that the film wants to be two things at once, one the broken relationship between father and son, which is a lot more interesting and a fairly predictable and cliched crime story.

The film isn’t very long, under ninety minutes, and doesn’t feel slow at any point. It’s an entertaining crime story with great characters that really make it stand out from the crowd. There’s a lot of shooting at points and the action is well directed with what feels like one long shot, with clever cuts. The film is definitely gripping while it’s on. The Gateway is a fantastic character study hidden within a standard crime story.

Signature Entertainment presents The Gateway on Digital Platforms 27th September & DVD 5th October

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09C6MPP5K/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_Q77Q543DRAQAGE5M7F82

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Prisoners of the Ghostland – Film Review

Director: Sion Sono

Writers: Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai

Staring: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Bill Moseley, Nick Cassavetes and Tak Sakaguchi

Rating: ★★★★½

Sion Sono is a unique and interesting director and it’s no surprise that Nicolas Cage would end up working with him in his first English-spoken film, Prisoners of the Ghostland. Cage has described the film as ‘the wildest movie I’ve ever made’ and that’s a large claim for the star of Mandy, Vampire’s Kiss and Willy’s Wonderland.

Prisoners of the Ghostland is like Mad Max on acid. It’s a bizarre post-apocalyptic samurai, wild west, neon infused world with characters that would feel at home in Twin Peaks. It’s an intense thrill-ride with strange moments of comedy and blood that steams out of people’s necks like confetti. This is a film where Nicolas Cage, who plays a character simply named Hero, can shout ‘testicle’ at the top of his lungs and somehow be one of the more normal characters in the film. The villain, The Governor (Bill Moseley, House of 1000 Corpses), wears a pristine white suit and has a fan club that just chants his name over and over. He feels closer to Colonel Sanders than a cult leader.

Cage is great, as usual, and is keeping up his string of great films after a decade of mediocre to terrible. Since Mandy he has been on a winning streak and hopefully that won’t end anytime soon. It’s hard to tell if he’s at his craziest here, the world around him is surely stranger, but he is intense in an often quiet kind of way. We’re introduced to Hero when he is robbing a bank at gunpoint. You’re instantly told that he’s the bad guy, but you can’t help but root for him. He spends a large part of the middle of the film asleep and dreaming about the world around him. It’s through the dreams that we get the world explained to us and it’s fitting that the dreams are more straight forward than the waking world.

The action is strange and unique. There is a lot of sword fighting, where it’s clear that the sword doesn’t connect, there’s no blood, and then lots of streaming fountains of blood elsewhere. It’s a strange odd mix of too little and too much to be realistic but more than enough to keep it entertaining. The fighting is entertaining and the whole film passes along at a quick pace. It’s a little over ninety minutes, but doesn’t feel like it. The world it creates, feels that this should be the first episode of a show or the introduction to a sprawling Fallout style game.

There is a lot to unpack outside of the story. Lots of images and moments that feel significant, from the banners promoting tax in the background, to the posters advertising ‘make this country great again’ with a mushroom cloud. It’s a film that definitely feels like a blend of American and Japanese culture and is dealing with the strong influence the American occupation had over Japan after the Second World War. There’s a theme of time and looking back, and how our past haunts us. A recurring image is the boy who died in the bank robbery at the beginning. Prisoners of the Ghostland gives you enough to think about and unpack while at its core it’s an action packed adventure of Hero saving Bernice (Sofia Boutella, The Mummy). It sums up this film that he first finds her trapped inside pieces of mannequins. 

The aesthetic in this film is completely beautiful. From the opening scene with the bright coloured gumballs and bold clashing colours the customers in the bank are wearing that Sono knows how to make something look cinematic. It’s reminiscent of Tokyo Drifter with colours clashing with the largely white background. The world beyond the bank is fascinating to look at as well, with bright neon lights clashing with the muted colours of the post-apocalyptic world. The score is also fantastic a mix of loud and epic sweeping music and softer synth moments.

Prisoners of the Ghostland is completely bonkers. It’s not hard to get into in the same way that Aronofsky’s Mother, or David Lynch’s stranger outings are. It’s completely accessible and enjoyable as a strange goofy film and when you peel back some of the layers there is something more to discover.

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Gunpowder Milkshake – Film Review

Director: Navot Papushado

Writers: Navot Papushado and Ehud Lavski

Starring: Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Carla Gugino, Chloe Coleman, Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett and Paul Giamatti

Rating: ★★★½

Originally announced in 2018 Gunpowder Milkshake is a female led action film about a hitman, Sam (Karen Gillan, Doctor Who) who goes rogue and ends up seeking the help of her estranged mother, Scarlet (Lena Headey, Game of Thrones). Together they try to take down The Firm, and survive the onslaught of violence and carnage.

This film is full of style. The bright neon colours, the milkshakes, the gun library. It feels like a comic book that’s been brought to the big screen. It’s over the top in the best way possible and the action is simply fantastic. This is a stylised film, from start to finish. When Karen Gillan first walks on screen in a trench coat, hat and cloaked by shadows with a voice over introducing you to the world, it feels like a 1940s noir film. It then gets bloody and almost instantly switches to a bright neon filled diner serving milkshakes. The whole film feels out of time, like it’s set in a parallel universe. When Lena Headey says she’s ordered an Uber, it’s a shock that Uber exists in the world.

The diner has a no guns policy, the library has guns hidden in classic books and the hospital has a giant chest, shaped like a tooth, to store guns in. Similarly, to the first John Wick film there is an entire universe that is being built up slowly in Gunpowder Milkshake and it doesn’t explain everything straight away. The film perfectly gives you enough to understand the story, but not too much to make it boring. At the end you still feel like there is a lot to explore and with confirmation of a sequel on the way, that’s a great feeling to end on.

The action is fantastic. Director Navot Papushado knows how to direct action sequences. The choreography in the fighting is superb and the gun-fu is awesome and entertaining to watch. There is a sequence late in the film where the camera glides alongside the action in slow motion, with blood flying everywhere and a lot of characters moving about on screen, it’s just a joy to watch. There are so many exciting and over the top moments, including a fight where Gillan’s arms are paralysed so she must swing her body around to shoot people. It’s silly and fun.

Sadly, the film does outstay its welcome. The action is always fun, but the characters aren’t interesting enough to justify the film being almost two hours. If they trimmed it down to 90 minutes this would be an almost perfect manic and energetic action film. There’s just too much of it. It does pick up again towards the end, but it does feel like it should be shorter, if the characters were better developed then it could get away with it, but they’re not so it doesn’t.

Gunpowder Milkshake is a stylish and fresh explosion of action and violence. It’s wonderfully shot, with brilliant set pieces and funny moments. The world is interesting and strange and hopefully the sequel will bring only good things.

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Top 50 Films – Part 10 – Numbers 5-1

So here we are at the final week of my top 50 films. If you haven’t already, you can catch up here:

PART 1PART 2PART 3PART 4PART 5PART 6 PART 7 PART 8PART 9

It’s taken a long time to get to the end of the list and now we have the final 5 films. It was very hard ordering these and it has changed several times over the weeks. Let me know in the comments what you think and what your top 5 films are.

Number 5 – Blade Runner

Specifically The Final Cut version of Blade Runner. This is a quintessential sci-fi film. It’s an excellent story with great music. And the visuals are simply stunning. The world feels real and set a template that every cyberpunk story has followed since. The story is also fantastic, and doesn’t treat you like an idiot. It lets you follow the clues alongside Deckard and slowly reveals everything to you. The final speech from Rutger Hauer, which was part improvised is stunning. This is a perfect film and I love it.

The first time I watched it, I didn’t really get it. I enjoyed it, but that was it. We then watched it at university. I was older, had more patience and about half way through it just clicked and I was incredibly invested in it. I’ve seen it many times since then and find more things to like every time.

The sequel 2048, is also really good. I prefer the original, but the sequel is still something special. I remember when that came out a lot of people said it was hard to follow. I just think it expects you to pay attention. Both films are fantastic and if you haven’t already, watch them. There are a few different versions of the original, go for The Final Cut, it removes the voice over leaves the ending more ambiguous and is the definitive version of the film.

Number 4 – Rocky

Last week I mentioned that I think Stallone is a great writer and that is something people don’t give him enough credit for. I remember a lot of eye rolling when it was revealed he was writing Creed 2, which turned out fantastic. The second film he wrote was the original Rocky, which is a perfect story. It has literally everything you could want from a story and it’s just fantastic from the opening minute to the credits. The dialogue in this film is just fantastic. Stallone is brilliant in it.

I also love the sequels, but chose the original for the list. I even like number 5 and I honestly don’t understand the hate it gets. It’s better than 4. It’s a series that has never given up. The 6th one is fantastic and a good ending, but the Creed series has breathed new life into it.

Rocky is just a great character. He’s relatable, lovable and someone you just want to win. His relationship with Adrian is iconic. There isn’t a bad thing about Rocky. It doesn’t matter if you care about boxing these are perfect films.  

Number 3 – Star Wars

I’m sure everyone who knows me personally knew that Star Wars was going to be very high (low?) on this list. I’m a massive Star Wars fan. I love everything about it. For number 3, I’m putting the entire Skywalker Saga. All 9 episodes. I know they are not perfect films, they all have flaws, but I can’t help but love them all. It is the only series that I can completely ignore anything bad about it. I have watched and rewatched these over and over. I’m not old enough to have seen the originals in the cinema, but saw the prequels growing up and have seen every film since Force Awakens at least twice in the cinema and then a lot more at home. I never get bored of them.

The music is fantastic, the characters are legendary, the story is a classic tragedy. The world it creates is amazing. I’ve seen all the films, countless times, read a lot of the books and most of the comics.

I’m thinking of doing another post about what I think about each one, going into more detail without it being a full-blown review, I might do that at some point. Star Wars means a hell of a lot to me, I just wish the fanbase wasn’t so toxic online. I love it, but it is still a children’s series about space wizards with laser swords. Seeing some people’s tweets, comments and YouTube videos does sour things a little.

Number 2 – Alien

This could have been number 1 and if you ask me on a different day it probably would be. Alien is a gothic slasher set in space. It literally combines 3 of my favourite genres and combines them into one story. I’m not as big on the sequels/prequels, so I’m only including the original on this list. I know a lot of people thing Aliens is better, but it isn’t. The first film is a slow-burn horror that builds the atmosphere perfectly. It takes the time to set the scene at the start and draw you in and is a chilling film. Sigourney Weaver is fantastic. The sets and designs are excellent. I love the world that the films build and enjoyed the prequels in the way they expand on that, but they’re not a touch on the first one. There is so much mystery, so much horror and terror and so many iconic moments.

It’s a film all about atmosphere and it builds everything perfectly. It’s almost a vampire story, with the crew going down to the wrecked ship as a substitute for a wrecked castle, one of them gets infected and brings a monster onboard the main ship. The monster breaks free and kills them one by one. It also has a Gothic vibe to the story and the visuals are dark and oppressive.

H.R. Giger who was behind most of the visuals and designs of Alien is a genius. The ship looks fantastic and the design of the Xenomorph is years ahead of its time and hasn’t aged at all. The alien is still terrifying.  I really want to see this on the big screen and hopefully one day there will be a screening near me.

Number 1 – Scott Pilgrim

My number 1 purely depends on whether I want to watch a comedy or a horror. You can interchange Alien for Scott Pilgrim. Until last week these were the other way around, but Scott Pilgrim just feels fitting to be number 1 of my top 50 films of all time. I read the comics before the film came out and then saw this at the earliest showing the day it came out. It didn’t disappoint. I showed it to both my mum and dad when it came out on DVD who both enjoyed it, I think. I’ve watched it a fair few times and the soundtrack regularly appears on my playlist. There was a recent 10 year anniversary release of the soundtrack which includes Brie Larson’s version of Black Sheep, and that must be in my top 10 songs on Spotify by now.

This film is full of style. It feels like a video game, it looks like a comic and it’s funny as hell. Scott is an excellent character who is played perfectly by Michael Cera. The whole cast are great and there are just so many people in this film. The cast is just perfect.

I think Scott Pilgrim is one of those films that just gets better every time I watch it. Just thinking about it makes me want to watch it again. When it first came out it felt like a film that was made just for me and it didn’t get the attention it deserved back in 2010. I went to see it again at the 10th anniversary screening which was more packed than the first time round, despite the pandemic. Over the years it’s found a loyal following and it truly deserves it.

Well that’s everything. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride and let me know what your thoughts on these films are and what your favourite film is in the comments. Next week I’m going to be doing the reverse and talking about my 5 most hated films. Until this year I only had 3 hated films, and now I have 5. I think there will be a few surprises for people.

Thanks for reading and until next time,

Ashley

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Nightbooks – Film Review

Director: David Yarovesky

Writers: Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis

Starring: Winslow Fegley, Lidya Jewett and Krysten Ritter

Rating: ★★★½

Based on the children’s horror book by J.A. White Nightbooks is the latest Netflix original. A family friendly horror/fantasy story that is a modern retelling of the classic fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. Alex is a young boy who is obsessed with horror. He loves horror films and wants to write his own stories. He is lured into a strange apartment with the promise of pie and The Lost Boys and ends up being captured by a witch. She wants him to read stories to her each night and if he doesn’t, she will kill him. During the day he is supposed to be writing but spends more time trying to escape the witch’s house.  

This is a good family horror film. There isn’t anything spectacular or ground-breaking, but it’s a really solid and entertaining film. It never feels boring or too predictable. It’s enjoyable for people of all ages. Winslow Fegley as Alex and Lidya Jewett as Yazmin are both great. They work well together when trying to survive in the witch’s house. Alex is an interesting and relatable character and it is interesting to see him uncover the secrets in the library of the witch’s house.

Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones) is excellent as the witch. She’s sinister and a brilliant every time that she’s on screen. Her reactions to the stories that Alex is telling, switching from enjoying them to hating them are sudden and unpredictable. She’s a scary character who will leave a lasting impression.  

While the CGI leaves a lot to be desired there are a lot of great visuals and stylish moments in Nightbooks. The stories that Alex tells the witch are always shown to us with beautiful storybook visuals. The backgrounds look handmade and drawn, the colours pop off screen and the image stutters as if the stories are old films that have been discovered years later with missing frames. It’s really gorgeous to look at.

The sets are also stunning. The house looks like an endless labyrinth and there is one location later in the story, which would be a spoiler to speak about, but it looks great. The whole film looks like it could have been lifted from drawings in a children’s book.

With quite a few references to old horror films, especially The Lost Boys there is enough to keep horror fans happy while keeping children entertained at the same time. It’s a love letter to horror films while also a good story in itself that has some genuinely creepy moments but isn’t going to be to scary for the children it’s made for.

Nightbooks is a great family friendly horror film. The visuals are great, the cast are great, the CGI is a little lacking, but it’s made up for with some brilliant visuals during the story sequences. The story isn’t doing anything spectacular but It’s still a joy to watch.

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