My Days of Mercy Review

The Plot

Two young women from opposite sides of fierce protests over the death penalty meet on the picket lines outside prisons and form an unlikely friendship. While both deal with their respective personal issues they grow ever closer, leading to dramatic personal revelations, passion and life changing romance.

The Good

My Days Of Mercy is a compelling romantic drama that avoids being merely an issue film. While its death row setting and LGBT themes are important facets in each character’s journey, the film never feels like being only about either ‘issue’. The film also adeptly tackles universal themes of family, unlikely romance and overcoming traumatic grief.

The film makes a very deliberate choice to avoid explicitly endorsing any particular opinions about the death penalty, instead the film does a brilliant job of depicting the true human cost and emotional pain of both sides of the debate. The issue serves as a compelling backdrop for the journey of both central characters, providing contrast and context for their own specific inner turmoil’s. In particular Ellen Page’s character and her resilient family unit serves as a very dramatic illustration of just how emotionally complex and intense the reality of death row is.

Ellen Page and Kate Mara make for an utterly compelling on screen couple, expertly portraying the tension and raw passion that comes from opposites attracting. Page’s character is vulnerably fragile and endearingly shy, while Mara’s bleached blonde upper class character exudes both confidence and a surprising kindness. It’s a testament to the acting talents of both actresses that they are able to pack constant subtext and emotional nuance into even the film’s quieter moments. It’s also worth noting that when the embers of their unlikely romance do finally explode into full on flames their on screen passion is convincingly raw and real.

My Days Of Mercy is a tender and thoughtful piece of cinema that benefits from a well-crafted combination of indie soundtrack and lush cinematography. The film has a calm and compassionate tone that does a great job of treating abstract moral issues as merely one component of character’s lives. Grounding the story and each character in a believable reality allows the film to explore love and loss without resorting to heavy handed melodramatics.

The Bad

Although the film is set against the constant backdrop of the fiercely contested death penalty debate in truth it remains fairly neutral on the issue, focusing primarily on its central love story rather than wading too deeply into direct moral debate. That may slightly disappoint those with strong opinions on the subject who would rather see their views more explicitly endorsed on screen. But it’s a deliberate storytelling choice and in truth the film has little ambition to suffocate audiences with heavy handed moralising.

Likewise while the film’s quiet moments and casual pacing gives it a thoughtful tone and leaves plenty of room for some brilliant acting performances, some people may find this sedate quality less attention grabbing.

The Ugly Truth

My Days of Mercy was a successful addition to TIFF and is now a very fitting opening film for the BFI LGBTQ+ Flare Film Festival. Emotionally compelling subject matter and achingly sincere performances form Ellen Page and Kate Mara makes My Days Of Mercy a memorably passionate and thoughtful love story.

Review by Russell Nelson

Ready Player One Writer Adapts ROM

Writer Zak Penn provided the screenplay adaptation of Ernest Cline’s 1980s inspired Ready Player One for Steven Spielberg and now he’s apparently at work adapting another vintage cult classic for Paramount and Hasbro.

ROM was a toy released in 1979 in response to the amazing success of Star Wars and it’s successful tie in toy collections. Though the toy wasn’t quite as much of an intergalactic success story  it did spawn a series of Marvel comics that saw ROM Spaceknight from the utopian planet Galador do battle with the Dire Wraiths across the cosmos, including on earth.

Penn has also been recently working on a Matrix movie spin-off, though that project still seems quite a long way from starting production.

Captain Marvel Film Cast Grows

Filming has now officially started on Captain Marvel the 1990s set comic book adventure staring Brie Larson as one of marvel most powerful heroes. The cast was already confirmed to include Ben Mendelsohn, Gemma Chan, McKenna Grace, Jude Law and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Now the cast has been confirmed to also include a number of other familiar faces for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Clark Gregg will bring Agent Phil Coulson back to the big screen, taking time out from his continuing small screen adventures with Agents of SHIELD. Likewise Guardians of the Galaxy villains Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace) and Korath The Pursuer (Djimon Hounsou) will also make a welcome return. That news is perhaps less surprising given the fact that the Captain marvel film will focus on the Kree empire and its eons long war with the Skrulls.

Captain Marvel is directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck with a release date of 8th March 2019.

Pacific Rim Uprising Review

The Plot

10 years after the people of earth defeated the giant monster Kaiju with their own towering Jaeger machines, the son of one of the heroes that saved the world finds himself reluctantly brought back into the fight, uniting with a new generation of Jaeger pilots to face a deadly a mysterious new threat.

The Good

John Boyega continues his meteoric rise once again in increasingly comfortable sci-fi fantasy territory. He delivers arguably his most well rounded and charismatic performance to date as roguish Jaeger pilot Jake Pentecost. Sparring well on screen with co-stars Scott Eastwood and Cailee Spaeny, Boyega is genuinely heroic in ways he largely hasn’t been in his very high profile Star Wars role. After The Last Jedi it’s particularly nice to see the young star showcase the full range of his talents as a legitimate leading man, rather than see him stranded in unnecessary subplots.

Fans familiar with the first film will welcome the return of original stars Charlie Day, Burn Gornan and Rinko Kikichi . Their presence and the film’s careful adherence to the distinctive look of Del Toro’s world helps tie the franchise together into a coherent continuation.

Those that found Del Toro’s original film to be occasionally slow moving and more preoccupied with human melodrama than non-stop monster fighting will welcome a sequel that unashamedly focuses on more frequent action. Similar critics of the most recent Godzilla reboot will be pleased to see a film which places the giant monsters and their mechanical fighting partners on full glorious display throughout. Its cartoonish fun but on the grandest scale possible, giving fans exactly what they want, a giant guilty pleasure.

While the film’s plot is at times a little predictable, this is perhaps less of an issue given the heavy focus on fun and action. Uprising is also fairly accessible to those who have yet to see the first film, but many of the subplots and character relationships may require at least a basic knowledge of the first film to fully enjoy.

The Bad

Del Toro’s Pacific Rim was beautifully crafted fun, born out of his own evident passion for the giant monster genre. By contrast this is a sequel seemingly more born out of a studio desire to repeat the modest international box office success of the first film. Del Toro’s original was a largely self-contained story that left audiences with a satisfying and seemingly definitive climax. So this sequel’s efforts to integrate new characters and plot points into the original story feel at times a little forced and distracting.

While John Boyega’s character being the son of Idris Elba’s heroic leader Stacker Pentecost may serve the narrative of this new chapter, it’s awkwardly inconsistent with the fact that he was never referenced in the first film, much of which dwelt so extensively on the relationship between Stacker and his adoptive daughter Mako.

While much of the surviving cast of the first film make a welcome on screen return, it is difficult to ignore the unexplained absence of leading man Charlie Hunnam’s character Raleigh Beckett. Director Steven S. DeKnight apparently made a conscious choice to leave his fate uncertain, keeping options open for his hopeful return in a third film. But it’s another example of a messy loose thread left by attempts to tie the two films together.

While visually the film does a fine job of matching the well-established look of Del Toro’s world,  faster paced action and less memorable monsters does at times give the film a more generic ‘Transformers’ quality. The Kaiju in the new film are far less distinctive and aside from their newfound ability to ‘combine’ (heavily showcase in all film’s promotional material) they offer little to improve on Del Toro’s eccentric creature creations.

The Ugly Truth

Pacific Rim Uprising will be a welcomed treat for fans of the original film who were left eager for more giant monster sized fun. Uprising boasts a talent young cast alongside it’s scattering of familiar faces, eagerly injecting fresh life into the potential franchise. Overall Uprising does a fine job of replicating Del Toro’s impressive visuals while adapting the franchise into something perhaps more widely appealing for generic blockbuster crowds.

Review by Russell Nelson


Killing Gunther Review

The Plot

An assassin assembles a madcap team of killers with the purpose of taking out the world’s most elusive and notorious hitman ‘Gunther’, allowing him to take his place as the world’s best killer and settle a personal score in the process. In order to ensure they have proof of their accomplishment the team force a documentary crew to follow them at all times. But things don’t quite go to plan as the cameras keep rolling.

The Good

Killing Gunther follows the well-established mockumentary template, following a team of delusional and inept killers on an increasingly disastrous series of misadventures. While much of what happens is equally predicable and silly, there’s certainly no lack of screwball enthusiasm from the cast.

Writer, director and leading man Taram Killam clearly has passion for the project. His performance as chain smoking hitman Blake lurches violently between cool guy swagger and pathetic, with fairly amusing consequence. The film is populated by a fairly familiar host of villainous assassins with an eager cast doing their best to work frequent laughs out of their murderous misfortunes.

If you enjoyed John Cusack and Dan Aykroyd’s 90’s hitman caper Grosse Pointe Blank then it’s a fairly good indicator that you’ll enjoy the silly macabre tone of Killing Gunther. It’s easy to see how Killam’s emotionally fragile smartly dressed hitman, pining over his ex-girlfriend while doing battle with rival killers may well have been directly inspired by Cusack’s memorable performance.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the kind of iconic big screen star that can elevate any film instantly into something far more entertaining and fun than it really has any right to be. While his recent work has veered in more serious and subtle directions since his return to acting, fans will welcome seeing him cut loose in a bonkers comedy role for a change. Whether he’s butchering country and western music or shamelessly parading famous one liners and silly outfits,  he’s clearly having plenty of fun. Even if it is mostly at his own expense.

The Bad

Arnold Schwarzenegger fans may feel disappointed that while the action megastar does play the titular ‘Gunther’, his actual presence on screen is limited to such an extent that it almost amounts to just an ‘extended cameo’. In addition to being noticeably brief it’s also arguably one of Schwarzenegger’s most unashamedly silly performances, quite a feat in a career that has included playing a pregnant man. While some will enjoy this performance as self-aware comedy gold others might make the case it’s just authentically awful. Either way it’s certainly not the triumphant action hero return many fans are forlornly yearning for.

Aside from Schwarzenegger’s odd turn the film goes through the motions of a fairly generic mockumentary. By now audiences may be a little overly familiar with the predictable punchlines and the film never rises to the high standards of memorable cult classics like Spinal Tap or Drop Dead Gorgeous. The film lacks the quotable genius and quirky originality of those films, even if it does have more splashes of action mayhem.

The Ugly Truth

Killing Gunther should appeal to fans of screwball black comedy and dedicated Arnie addicts. Schwarzenegger’s unashamedly self-deprecating turn and healthy bursts of black comedy keep this cinematic oddity watchable. An undeniably acquired taste with an evidently modest budget, Killing Gunther is the epitome of quirky cult filmmaking.

Review by Russell Nelson