Tag Archives: action

Parker – Revenge is a dish best served short

Stath of the union - Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez in Parker

Stath of the union – Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez in Parker

With all the (negative) press being dumped on the recent returns of ’80s action heroes Arnie, Stallone and Bruce Willis, spare a little thought for poor Jason Statham. Only 12 years Bruce’s junior, The Stath became the go-to action hero just as Millennials began to tire of macho heroics in favour of CGI nonsense. With the notable exception of his Transporter series, almost all of the films Statham has headed have struggled to recoup their cost in cinemas, despite regularly becoming staples of man-sized DVD collections afterwards.

Parker is likely to do the same. A basic revenge/heist caper in the vein of Point Blank – its tagline, “Payback has a new name”, seems to draw on the disastrous Point Blank remake PaybackParker finds The Stath left for dead by some co-conspirators, and vowing to take them down on their next job. The film is based on the book Flashfire, the nineteenth (!) book in the Parker series by American crime fiction author Donald Westlake, who wrote under the nom de plume Richard Stark. Unsurprisingly, that series also bears the inspiration for Point Blank, although it’s troubling to note that John Boorman’s film was based on a different Parker novel. Do they all begin with Parker being betrayed? Probably.

Dodging mob hitmen, Parker tracks his prey to Palm Beach, Florida, where his former colleagues plan to rip-off some very wealthy retirees. He finds a sidekick in mousy real-estate agent Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), struggling with banking debts (ooh, how contemporary!), and sets about sabotaging the heist.

There is very little more to Parker than this, and yet the film is padded out to a scandalous two-hour run-time. Featuring only three proper action scenes and a confused romantic subplot, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint exactly where the editors should have made cuts, without reducing the film to 70 minutes. While the central fight scene between Parker and a hitman in a plush hotel room is about as visceral a donnybrook as The Stath has ever performed, the good it does is largely undone by the final showdown, wherein the odds have been so teetered in Parker’s favour that tension is nowhere to be found.

Still, despite all its problems, Parker is hardly a disaster. Directed by Taylor Hackford (Ray), it’s never short of competently made. Statham brings his earnest A-game, as always, and fires off one or two chuckle-worthy one-liners. Lopez gets mileage out of recycling her Wedding Planner character, although Patti LuPone steals many of her scenes as her overbearing mother. Michael Chiklis is sufficiently tough and gruff as the villain.

But really it all comes down to its length. Twenty minutes shorter and Parker could have been an easily recommended diversion. As it is, it is just a bit exhausting. It’s not that there are particularly bad scenes in it, but rather far too many unnecessary ones. Wannabe script editors could learn a lot by counting them. That’ll help you make it through the movie.

Don’t expect any of the remaining 23 Parker novels to be made into films any time soon.

2/5

(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Film

Skyfall – Bond’s mid-life crisis overcome

Bond at 50: Skyfalling in love all over again

Skyfall, the 23rd official James Bond film, is only the third in the series (after Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day) to have a title with no connection to the life or works of Ian Fleming. It will surprise viewers therefore that a wholly original Bond movie could be so steeped in the mythos and lore of Agent 007, so much so that it seems implausible that Skyfall is not somehow the direct product of the mind of Fleming.

As much concerned with the nature of Bond (and MI6) as was 2006’s barnstorming reboot Casino Royale, which launched Daniel Craig in the role, Skyfall creates with that film a superb double act concerning the how and why of Bond, while it both paints over and makes up for the problems of Bond’s last outing, the entirely wretched Quantum of Solace.

Tearing the reins from Marc Forster, director of that runt of the Bond litter, is Sam Mendes, the deservedly acclaimed auteur behind American Beauty and Road to Perdition. A filmmaker experienced in tension and quick shoot-outs rather than all-out action sequences, Mendes has brought all his experience to Skyfall and made it very much his own Bond movie. Here he has upped the character drama at the expense of some of the more no-holds-barred action of previous Bond films, but it makes for a far more appealing film experience, if perhaps, for some, a less adrenaline-pumped spy adventure.

However, there’s no shortage of action in Skyfall’s opening sequence, as Bond (Craig) chases a target through the streets of Istanbul, speeds a motorbike across its rooftops (where so recently Liam Neeson was seen limping along in Taken 2), before a classic punch-up atop a hurtling train. It’s the film’s most thrilling sequence, but that is not to say the film peaks early, given the intrigue that comes later.

After an early setback, Bond returns to duty when a cyber-terrorist with vengeance in mind for MI6 boss M (Judi Dench) rears his head. Encouraged by a fearful M and watched with caution by Ralph Fiennes’s somewhat slimy government liaison, Bond heads into the field to track down his enemy in Asia. Halfway through proceedings the villain is revealed to be Raoul Silva, played by a positively flaming Javier Bardem, in a scene that makes the homoerotic torture sequence from Casino Royale look like two men drinking beer and talking about football. In classic Bond style, 007 must stop Silva from extracting his revenge, but there are plenty of unexpected twists along the way.

Gayvier Bardem as Silva

On his third outing as Bond, Craig continues to revel in the role (even in the turgid Quantum of Solace he excused himself well), hitting all the right notes, while still managing to carry the repressed psychological damage that made him so endearing in Casino Royale. Judi Dench, having the biggest part she’s had since The World Is Not Enough, finds something new in the role, a mournful weariness that belies her administrative efficiency.

The expanded role for M comes at the expense of the Bond girls; Casino’s strongest suit. Bérénice Marlohe’s Sévérine could slot into any Bond adventure, despite a weak attempt to give her a tragic backstory. As MI6 field operative Eve, Naomie Harris carries herself with confidence, but the awkward flirty banter between her and Bond is largely forced, and has no pay-off until quite late in the game.

The only Bond girl you’ll ever need

Bardem steals much of the film as Silva, one part Hannibal Lecter, the other part Buffalo Bill. A late appearance by the inimitable Albert Finney (Tom Jones, Big Fish) steals the rest of it, with Finney wielding both a shotgun and the film’s best one-liner.

As the new Q, Perfume star Ben Whishaw is passable, although the late Desmond Llewelyn’s snark is deeply missed. “You were expecting an exploding pen?” Q asks as he gives Bond some simpler, tamer gadgets. It’s hard not to feel Bond’s disappointment, especially given that the one gadget he is given has a very obvious use that plays out exactly as you imagine it will from the moment Bond receives it. Thinking back, was the invisible car all that bad?

Tech support: Ben Whishaw as Q

Despite a running time of 143 minutes, Skyfall never loses its momentum, taking long pauses from the action that are full of rich character development. The script by Bond reboot pairing Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, teamed with regular Martin Scorsese colleague John Logan, bristles with energy in its scenes and dialogue. Only the classic Bond one-liners suffer, with the film’s most unique kill followed by a line so mishandled it doesn’t even deserve a groan. But the drama unfolds so brilliantly that such missteps soon fade from memory, and the film builds towards a climax more about Bond himself than any that has come before. The third act revelation of the meaning of “Skyfall” is perhaps the most exciting surprise in a Bond film since Rosa Klebb revealed a knife in her shoe.

There are plenty of references throughout Skyfall to classic Bond titles, while Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace are only alluded to in Bond’s continued drinking of his Vesper cocktails, rather than his traditional vodka martinis. If it weren’t for that, we could almost forget Quantum of Solace ever happened. A charming reference to the events of Goldfinger does become problematic, as the question arises as to whether Craig’s Bond is somehow the same un-ageing character who battled SPECTRE in the 1960s. It doesn’t distract from the film, but it will become a major talking point amongst Bond fans in bars and internet chatrooms everywhere.

Shot in rich colours by the Coen brothers’ regular cinematographer Roger Deakins, Skyfall looks better than any Bond film to date. Eschewing the frenetic Bourne-esque cutting of the two previous films, Skyfall is clear and bright throughout. One fierce, rapid, hand-to-hand scuffle between Bond and an assassin is shot from a withdrawn distance with the two characters in silhouette, backlit by an enormous video screen pulsating with colour. It conjures the opening credit sequences of Bond films while also showing off the filmmakers’ flair and originality within a franchise that many would accuse of having run out of ideas.

From Craig’s initial strut into focus, through Adele’s soulful title track right up to the film’s thrilling finale, Skyfall proves itself to be one of the finest films the franchise has seen. A fitting entry on the 50th anniversary of the release of Dr. No, Skyfall does not beg a sequel, but its last scene will have fans sweating for one.

4/5

Leave a comment

Filed under Film

This Means War – Review

This Means Photoshop

Remember McG? The barely named director was seen as a Hollywood wunderkind in the early 2000s after his kinetic, girl power nonsense take Charlie’s Angels was released. One intelligence-insulting sequel and a Terminator reboot with more plot holes than six viewings of Inception later, McG has managed to keep himself in the game by producing semi-popular schlock TV, such as The OC and Supernatural.

Now he’s back in the director’s chair with this self-important action comedy. This Means War is a confused film that attempts to be the ultimate date movie, pitting two best friend super-spies against one another for the hand of the girl they both fancy. Dripping in eye candy for women and full of Sex and the City-style “witticisms” about penises while boasting less-than-inspired action, few men are likely to come out of this feeling they got a fair share.

Chris Pine and Tom Hardy play FDR and Tuck, two top CIA agents reduced to deskwork after a mission goes awry. FDR is cocky and up for anything. Tuck wants to settle down and is inexplicably English. One day, at separate times, the pair each meet Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), a feisty, no-nonsense girl who is fed up with disappointing men. Tuck falls head over heels. FDR finds he may want more than just a quickie for the first time ever.

Of course, the friends soon realise they’re dating the same girl, and a high-tech pissing contest soon begins as they use the CIA’s facilities to recon their target, find out what she likes and sabotage each other’s efforts to woo her. It’s entirely as morally inexcusable as it sounds. Not only have they bugged her apartment, but their competitiveness over her reduces Lauren to little more than a sack of meat prize with all spoils going to the victor.

Of course, Lauren is hardly free of blame. Bolstered by her jealous, seemingly miserable married best friend (Chelsea Handler), she proceeds to date two men at once because, sure, guys do it all the time.

This Means Awkward

This Means War really is about as sexist as a film can get these days. Women are portrayed as irrational, self-centred, needy and borderline bipolar. Sure, men get it pretty bad too – they’re portrayed as being aggressive, competitive and insecure – but comparatively these character defects seem hardly as negative. The film is so convinced it is a modern tale about a woman getting to choose between two near-perfect men, but really it’s more conservative than It’s a Wonderful Life and without a fraction of the charm.

And all this might be excusable if it was well made, but it isn’t. The writing is simply abominable, featuring some of the laziest dialogue you will find. The agents’ boss talks like a mission guide between computer game levels. One of Chelsea Handler’s Carrie Bradshaw-est moments, where she compares a man’s penis to a poltergeist, sounds like it was written by picking nouns at random out of a bowl. Determined to ruin the manlier aspects of the film too, the shaky action sequences are shot by a cameraman who appears to have a bee inside trousers. One sequence, a strobe light-heavy shootout in a strip club, seems determined to seek out the person in the audience with epilepsy and give them the seizure of a lifetime.

In fairness to the actors, the three leads are all up for it, and give their portrayals far more effort than the material deserves. Chelsea Handler brings down the tone enormously however, injecting sheer misery into the film as its “comic” relief.

While the sabotage scenes are fun, they’re not enough to save a film so utterly out of touch with its audience that when the villain wants to track down the film’s two heroes, he goes to FDR’s London-based tailor to find out where the owner of his one-of-a-kind suits lives.

Nothing can go wrong when we wear suits this nice...

No one would care about the film being a sexist tale of the sex-lives of the wealthy if the thing were at least entertaining. Realistically the only viewers who could enjoy this film will be those with uncontrollable lust for Messrs Hardy and Pine and pop culture academics revelling in the simmering homoeroticism at the heart of the movie’s bromance.

2/5

(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)

2 Comments

Filed under Film

Satan’s Alley – Review

There is a lot to be said for Satan’s Alley, the new ever-so-slightly over-the-top drama starring Kirk Lazarus. Lazarus is by now notorious for his repeated shots at Oscar fame, and this film is, in a pleasant, crowd-pleasing and pretentiously boundary-pushing manner, the sort of film that does well at award ceremonies around the world.

Filmed in a world of shadows pierced by light, this tale of two infatuated priests in medieval Ireland involves itself in showing how the prejudices in our past still haunt the way we see the world today. The film often borders on the erotic, but always steers clear of it, intent on revealing how religious practices can indeed be more pornographic than any sexual encounter.

The film of course is clearly buying into that “homosexual films for straight people” genre that was popularised first by Brokeback Mountain, and the casting highlights it; Lazarus is the blonde and brooding Australian, Tobey Maguire is the innocent-faced Jake Gyllenhaal lookalike (the two will in fact play brothers in Jim Sheridan’s upcoming film Brothers). The duo have a surprising amount of onscreen chemistry, as the older and more world-weary Father O’Malley (Lazarus) takes the younger under his wing and teaches him things that priests aren’t supposed to know. There hasn’t been this much sin in a monastery since The Name of the Rose

Ok, fine, I’m going to have to stop that there. I am, as many of you will already be aware, reviewing a fake film.

However, there is method to my madness; the above enjoyable diversion was designed to highlight the fact that while some films peak too soon, Tropic Thunder is a film that peaks before it even actually begins.

Tropic Thunder was expected all summer to be a comedy highlight of the year, and it doesn’t quite disappoint. In order to sell to us its would-be mockumentary behind-the-scenes style, it opens with a selection of trailers for fictional films starring Tropic Thunder’s fictional stars. The trailer for Scorcher VI: Global Meltdown presents Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) as a star who, despite the audience having grown up with him, has outlived his own greatest character and now fails to impress. The Fatties: Fart 2 conjures horrific memories Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor sequel, and is by far the weakest of the three trailers, presenting Jeff Portnoy as the sort of actor that shouldn’t be given work. The same could be said for his portrayer, Jack Black.

But as I’ve already highlighted it’s Robert Downey Jr’s Kirk Lazarus’s Satan’s Alley that steals the prologue and indeed the whole film, not just for its inspired innuendo but also for tapping into a very real and evident trend in modern melodrama; it’s ok to be gay provided you’re the underdog – audiences can relate to that.

The actual film itself is a sloppier affair than we might have hoped for. It’s never quite expressed what sort of film Tropic Thunder (that is, the film being made in this film) is supposed to be – its diverse cast (including the “5-time Oscar winner” Lazarus, method acting as a black man on and off camera) would seem to imply a large-budget Hollywood action film, rather than the artistic sort of war movie suggested by its writer and British director. For a film that we’re meant to think is meant to be Apocalypse Now, it never quite stops looking like Michael Bay’s Vietnam. The parody is diluted, if not utterly washed away.

Indeed, the revelation that the author, Vietnam vet Four Leaf, is actually a phoney, is meant to make us laugh at the thought of this farce not being true; but then none of the great Vietnam War movies claim to be based on true events. The audience is left at a loss for who to root for.

Anyways, when the film goes over-budget a more reality TV method is attempted, which in turn goes horribly wrong (in an awfully predictable gag – though a blessing since Steve Coogan hasn’t been this dreadful since Marie Antoinette). The actors are left in actual danger in the jungle and have to remain in character. Some genuine hilarity ensues – the infamous sequence in which the word “retard” is used repeatedly to discuss mentally challenged characters winning Oscars owes a lot to its predecessor in Extras (which had Kate Winslet make the same declaration to Ricky Gervais) but deserves credit, particularly for coining the now essential expression “going full retard”.

But there’s a lot that’s not funny. The one smart character, new-comer Kevin Sandusky (played by Jay Baruchel – getting confused yet?), is repeatedly ignored. Jeff Portnoy wants drugs (and does little else for two whole hours). A panda gets killed for the second time in a comedy in a year – ok, admittedly that was pretty funny this time!

As the film wears on its structure turns into the sort of rescue action picture that we were meant to assume this was not; a Missing in Action instead of a Platoon. There are again inspired moments, Lazarus’s “I’m a lead farmer” is perhaps one of the great one-liners of the decade. Speedman’s “I’m a rooster illusion” is the sort of wonderful non-sequitor that made Will Ferrell famous, but which he can no longer pull off.

What might have been a spectacular moment of comedy, Speedman’s adopted ethnic child (because all celebs must have one!) stabbing him in the neck repeatedly, was pointlessly, and one might argue unethically, spoiled in advertising for the film. Some jokes work a lot better unexpected and in context.

And while all of this is happening in the jungle there’s a whole subplot going on in LA. Tom Cruise, wearing prosthetics and a fat suit, plays Les Grossman, a vicious Hollywood executive and producer of the film-within-the-film. It’s an impressive turn for Cruise, who is surprisingly funny and carries of the grotesque excesses of the Hollywood execs and actually makes Grossman the monster we would expect him to be. But he is no doubt not the film’s highlight, as was assumedly anticipated by Stiller (who by the way co-wrote, co-produced and directed this film). The decision to have Grossman continue his hip-hop dancing throughout the film’s closing credits was a disastrous one that left the audience I saw it with cold and silent, uncertain if they were even supposed to laugh, let alone being tempted to.

There is a lot to like in Tropic Thunder, and it is certainly one of the best American comedies since Zoolander. But too many mistakes have been made. For example, Matthew McConaughey’s character, Speedman’s agent, is so entertaining that we might feel cheated we didn’t get to see the respective agents for Lazarus (assumedly a quivering wreck) and Portnoy (which might have given this waste of space something to do other than moan all film long). It holds together in the end, but only just, and largely because of inspired moments such as Satan’s Alley, Simple Jack and Lazarus (channelling Russell Crowe) and Speedman’s breakdown near the finale. Jon Voight deserves special mention for his brief cameo – he just looks so damned disappointed!

Tropic Thunder is a fun and clever action comedy, but it fails to be the one thing it wanted to be most: a satire. And failing that is the greatest sin of all.

3/5

Leave a comment

Filed under Film

Wanted – Review

There’s nothing like good unclean cinematic fun some times, and Wanted has that in spades. In fact it violently beats you over the head with those spades of fun and then shoots you in the face with a joy bullet from around a corner.

Directed by Russia’s leading action director, Kazakh Timur Bekmambetov, making his Hollywood debut after the visually fascinating though overly complex Night Watch and Day Watch. What those two films certainly had was a truly unpretentious sense of style, an awareness that what was being made was meant to be first-and-foremost fun, art second (or maybe third of fourth, who knows?).

Based loosely on the comics by Mark Millar, Wanted is the tale of an office slave destined to be an ultra-assassin due to his very absent father’s blood. The cowardly and socially disconnected Wesley Gibson, played by increasingly popular Scot James McAvoy, believes that the first flutterings of his natural talents are no more than health issues and anxiety attacks, unaware that his high blood pressure can trigger an adrenaline rush with the potential to make him half Neo from The Matrix, half Crank.

He is swiftly indoctrinated into the ways of the Fraternity, a guild of super assassins with high pain thresholds, knife mastery and the ability to curve the trajectories of bullets – it makes more sense if you try not to think about it. Wesley is trained as one of them and quickly becomes an elite assassin, and is thus sent to kill the man who betrayed the Fraternity and killed his father. But is all as simple as it seems?

Well who cares?! We know better than to analyse the plot of a film whose central construct is an all-powerful loom (yes, a loom. That kind of loom) that requests the deaths of the guilty in English, despite having been built in Eastern Europe circa 900.

This is just a madcap thrill-ride par excellence that manages to be more fun than any of the superhero movies or Will Ferrell comedies of the past few years. Eighteenth century pistols get fired as men jump across buildings. A car flips through the air, crashes into a bus (which falls over on its side), and then drives off the side of it. Rats squeak inquisitively before exploding. There is no sense, there is only violent comedy.

And violent it is. Audiences having forgotten gore due to PG-13 Die Hard films and having been desensitised to it by torture porn may have forgotten just how fun an action film is when stupidly gory things happen (and in colour – I’m looking at you Sin City). But this is old school 1989-style violence, not suitable for children, only suitable to adults with a dark sense of humour. If you don’t find something funny about using a man’s shot out eye cavity as a targeting reticule (allowing his body to double as a human shield), then get you to another film.

The action sequences are truly superb, particularly the first car chase and a battle onboard a train that has undoubtedly the highest death toll of innocent bystanders since 9/11 made it no longer ok for Hollywood films to kill off civilians. The final action spectacle, which amounts to a good 15 minutes or so, is everything that popular oddity Equilibrium wanted from its action scenes and more; lots of running and jumping, weapons get reloaded at speed, stolen, turned upside down. This film will be a bestseller on DVD as every male between 15 and 35 will need a copy to accompany spontaneous beer nights.

Speaking of male interests, Angelina Jolie does look rather scrumptious here as assassin Fox (it’s all in the name). For an actress with an Oscar happily stashed under her belt it is strange how it is action films that she always seems to excel in. Here she brings that same S&M style lust for fun that she brought to her marriage to Billy Bob Thornton. A brief glimpse of her ass as she emerges from a bath (actually hers or a body double’s? Who cares, it’s lovely), reminds one of the days that were before The Matrix revealed it was possible to have a good action film without a flashing of nipples.

One thing that makes Wanted quite special is Morgan Freeman’s performance as Sloan, the Fraternity’s commander-in-chief. Mysterious and slightly mischievous, he delivers absurd lines of dialogue such as “curve the bullet” and “shoot the wings off the flies” with so much conviction that you momentarily accept that these are perfectly logical requests. Indeed, he says the word “mother-fucker” with more potency than Samuel L Jackson has ever managed.

Supporting players are only modestly effective. Chris Pratt is a good choice as Wesley’s uber-obnoxious yuppie best friend. Terence Stamp does his best Malcolm McDowell impression but it only partially pays off. Thomas Kretschmann, the captain from King Kong, once again plays a character we would like to learn more about but don’t. Konstantin Khabensky, whose sole function it seems is to foreshadow, appears to have been included because he’s mates with the director, whether it works or not.

As for McAvoy, though an atypical action star and uttering a questionable American accent, manages to play both beaten-down loser and unstoppable havoc-monger believably in the same two-hour period.

This is good preposterous fun from start to finish, and is in fact cleverer than most other recent action films. As a comic adaptation it has a tendency to over-rely on tedious narration, though not quite like a Frank Miller story. Leaving your brain at the door will help you to ignore the ludicrous physics on display (the final action scene, as a friend put it, would require the use of an elephant gun and a very small black hole) and just enjoy a laugh-out-loud romp.

At the very least, Wanted features the finest use of an ergonomic keyboard anyone will ever likely find. Although I still say it’s not a very good title.

4/5

2 Comments

Filed under Film