“When I Saw Him, It Was Like I Was Seeing A Ghost. Like Every Trigger I’ve Ever Pulled…”
When it comes to my own personal opinion of Ang Lee, a director who still seems to be riding off of the critical success of the multi award winning and completely overrated, Life of Pi, the Chinese born filmmaker never really settles on a steady production line of impressive body of cinematic works, with his best work, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain, sandwiched between the disastrous, Hulk, highlighting that whilst Lee isn’t afraid to push new boundaries in the world of film, not every decision seems to be one which works to a successful degree. With no one on the planet managing to catch up with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Lee returns to the world of mainstream blockbusters in the form of Gemini Man, a ridiculously preposterous science fiction action flick which sees Will Smith (Suicide Squad) as Henry Brogan, a highly skilled government assassin who upon hitting the ripe age of his early fifties, decides that retirement is the best way forward after a life full of murder finally takes its toll.
As per the spoiler-heavy nature of trailers nowadays, the main crux of the narrative then focuses on a very out-there government conspiracy to eradicate Brogan after he is determined to be a threat to natural security, resulting in the discovery of Brogan’s clone, a younger, more agile and apparently less emotional version of himself who is sent to hunt his elder counterpart down by the slick-haired figure of Clive Owen (The Informer). Part Looper, The Matrix and every other science fiction classic known to man, Lee’s movie is inherently messy, stupid and unengaging, one which features a screenplay from Game of Thrones creator, David Benioff, and the type of straight-to-DVD B-movie which makes you wonder how on earth films like this manage to get widespread release when films like Dragged Across Concrete and Burning are harder to find than the Bermuda Triangle. Want an answer? Will Smith, and whilst the Fresh Prince tries his hardest to put some meat on the bones of a very stagnant plot, the truth is that Lee’s baffling love of all things technical means that Gemini Man looks absolutely terrible, with the de-aging effect used on Smith creating a very disturbing uncanny valley vortex which makes half the movie look like a third-rate video game, and whilst Lee’s latest isn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen, it is clearly his weakest film to date and proves that some filmmakers only have one or two good films in them for the entirety of their careers.
Overall Score: 4/10
“I Want Revenge. I Want Them To Know That Death Is Coming, And There Is Nothing They Can Do To Stop It…”
Seemingly taking the most out of his latter career surge after impressive performances within the likes of Creed, Creed II and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Sylvester Stallone returns to his second most iconic cinematic role in the form of the rugged Vietnam veteran, John Rambo, for the aptly named, Rambo: Last Blood, an impressively ultra-violent revenge flick which takes the central plot of Taken and attempts to mix it with the rugged, nihilistic and contemplative nature of something like James Mangold’s thoroughly impressive and similarly gruesome, Logan. Co-written by Stallone but directed by Adrian Grunberg, famous so far for directing the Mel Gibson starring, Get the Gringo, alongside credits on the likes of the incredibly memorable, Apocalypto, Last Blood sees Stallone’s retired Rambo now content with seeing out the remainder of his peaceful days on a dusty ranch in the outskirts of Arizona, U.S, until his beloved niece is of course captured by sadistic Mexican human traffickers when she pops across the border in order to catch up with her long lost father, a decision of which her knife-loving Uncle tells her to disregard from the outset.
Whilst I can admit to not seeing every release in the Rambo franchise, let alone remember anything about them, Last Blood doesn’t really “feel” like the typical Rambo film, with the central revenge narrative conforming to every single cliche and stereotype ever created in the history of cinema, and whilst most audience members don’t exactly head into a Rambo movie ready for two hours of heavy contemplations and art-house stylisms, Last Blood does eventually get to the set pieces which action fans will either lap up with gleeful joy or turn their heads at in disgust at how simply sadistic Mr. Rambo’s latest human cull actually is. With more knife-welding murders than most slasher flicks and some overly disturbing kills which I think even John Wick would admit to going slightly too far, First Blood is the most violent big screen film I can remember since Overlord, but with an overly wacky and absurdist sensibility, Stallone’s latest is a good old fashioned carnival of carnage which passes the time nicely and shouldn’t be taken seriously at all in the ilk of the good old fashioned 80’s action flicks of which the character of John Rambo helped build in the first place.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Mike Banning, You’re Being Charged For The Attempted Murder Of The President Of The United States…”
Declaring himself with a beaming smile as the world’s worst actor come the conclusion of 2016, a year in which film fans across the world were “treated” to the double delight of both Gods of Egypt and London Has Fallen, two films which will forever remain as prime examples of cinematic garbage at its’ most wretched and unbearable, the Scottish cash-grab that is Gerard Butler once again returns to the big screen with yet another entry into the “Has Fallen” film series with Angel Has Fallen, an equally poor attempt at furthering the saga of Butler’s super secret agent, Mike Banning, as we see the raggedy Bruce Willis wannabee framed for the attempted assassination of Morgan Freeman’s (The Dark Knight) peace-loving President of the United States, even after saving the world twice and being declared as a national hero. Plot holes aside, Angel Has Fallen sees Snitch director, Ric Roman Waugh, being handed the reigns for a movie which bears all the worst attributes you would expect from a recent Gerard Butler vehicle, albeit Den of Thieves which was actually very good, as it incinerates, massacres, stabs and blows its’ way through a rather generic action plot with enough brute force to leave you with quite a nasty, elongated headache. We soldier on…
With London Has Fallen not only being a genuinely terrible excuse for a big-screen action movie as it succumbed to a jaw-dropping level of xenophobia and racism I had previously not overly noticed from a blockbuster shoot-a-thon, it does comes as a warm relief to report that Angel Has Fallen stays well clear from such levels of bad taste and instead holds out more so for the utter ridiculous. With the movie executives suddenly realising that Butler himself is no longer the fresh runner bean he may have been in the past, Angel Has Fallen does sort of start in semi-interesting fashion as we come face to face with the inevitable movie baddy in the first ten minutes alongside a focus on Banning himself, whose years of war and murder seem to have finally taken a toll on both his physical and mental capacity. As soon as the explosions occur however, all level of depth is completely dropped in favour of poorly CGI’d destruction, endless, pointless cannon fodder death and a central Taken meets Shooter plot line which doesn’t make any sense whatsoever but still ends in exactly the same way you would expect from a film attempting to reach as wide an audience as possible. Add into the mix a strange cameo role from Jada Pinkett Smith (The Matrix Reloaded) and a laughably bad Nick Nolte (Warrior) and Angel Has Fallen is exactly the type of movie you suckers made possible by paying to see London Has Fallen, albeit one which actually does manage to improve on its’ predecessor ever so slightly.
Overall Score: 4/10
“I’m Dealing With The Future Of The Planet. I’m The Necessary Shock To The System. I Am Human Evolutionary Change…”
After a rather petulant, if supposed, high-profile, on-set fall out, the hotly reported, rather extended and overly silly “feud” between the muscle-headed duo of both Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Vin Diesel results in the release of Hobbs and Shaw this week, a similarly stupid, bloated and mind-numbingly dull spin-off from the jaw-droppingly successful Fast and Furious franchise, a blockbuster series which staggeringly continues to make shed loads of money even when the quality chops and changes more often than the leader of the Conservative party. Whilst the Furious franchise has become less about fast cars and more about fuel-injected explosions over the course of nearly two decades, Hobbs and Shaw is the first to overtly discount any notion of similarity from the set up of the series’ first couple of movies and fall more into the bracket of full-on, high-octane, science fiction oriented action, one which sees The Rock and Jason Statham pretty much play themselves as they happily accept bundles of cash in order to reprise the titular roles of Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw respectively in order to prevent a catastrophic, world-ending, overly cliched bad thing from occurring. Whilst I am all for silly, hot-headed nonsense from time to time, Hobbs and Shaw is the type of action movie which is so painfully sterile and cheap, you long for the craftsmanship of 1990’s era Michael Bay to come in and at least churn out a decent level of enjoyment, but with excess for the sake of excess and an annoying scent of self-congratulating sprayed upon it, the Furious franchise’s first spin-off makes you long for the return of Vin Diesel.
Let’s start with the stars of the movie themselves. Take The Rock for instance, a dramatically effective action superstar with enormous physicality to boot who when placed in semi-decent, B-movie esque action romps in the ilk of Skyscraper can be thoroughly enjoyable to observe, but for too long now seems to be continually placed in simply awful works of cinema including the likes of San Andreas, Rampage and Jumanji, all of which unsurprisingly then proceed to take millions upon millions of dollars resulting in the cycle of bang-average movies continuing forevermore. In the case of Hobbs and Shaw, the addition of the always likeable Statham and Idris Elba should indeed be a trio made in heaven, but thanks to a quite awful screenplay, one full of genre-literate cliches and dodgy accents, eclectic editing which literally made me cheer inside once a shot held still for more than thirty seconds, and digital effects which take you completely out of the action due to their sheer cheap and tacky sensibility, Hobbs and Shaw is a real cause for concern regarding the way in which summer blockbusters seem to be heading, particularly when you look at the other examples this year alone in the ilk of Godzilla and Men in Black, but with the movie guaranteed to be a box office marvel as it provides certain types of audiences with enough to keep them coming, I for one can only speak the truth, and in the case of Hobbs and Shaw, it really is quite crap.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Please Be A Five Star Ride…”
Holy moses, look at the weather. With beaming sun rays and over-zealous holidaymakers itching for the feel of sand running through their shoes and into their nicely ironed socks, the British six week summer holidays are finally here, a particular calendar event which always guarantees two things; improved ice-cream sales and trashy action movies. Whilst particular percentage of the populous would snigger at the opportunity to waste good tanning time in favour of popping into the nicely cooled darkness of your local multiplex, films in the ilk of Stuber are the type of time wasting pastimes which instead offer crucial opportunities to catch up on lost nap time, and whilst I am usually pretty fair game for semi-entertaining, B-movie shlock from time to time, it’s fair to say that Stuber is the type of movie which makes you yearn for Liam Neeson and his growly knack for kicking the hell out of kidnapping criminals. As you might be able to tell by this review so far, Stuber is the type of movie which doesn’t exactly inspire much to say about it, resulting in a hopeless attempt to write as much waffle as possible in order to swiftly blurt out some form of comment. Stay with me.
Directed by Canadian filmmaker, Michael Dowse, whose previous works include the likes of It’s All Gone Pete Tong, a rather fitting title considering the works that followed, and featuring a screenplay from the relatively unknown, Tripper Clancy, Dowse’s movie is an awfully directed hybrid of Taxi and Collateral, one which sees Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Short) as Stu, an annoyingly compulsive Uber driver who falls into the lap of Dave Bautista’s (Guardians of the Galaxy) grizzly, visually impaired, LAPD detective, Vic, as the former attempts to bring to justice a one dimensional, badly designed criminal played by the highly talented but woefully handled, Iko Uwais, of The Raid fame. With a film which thanks its’ trailer for wrapping the entire narrative through line into a nicely rounded two minute clip, Stuber is the type of movie I thought Hollywood would have left behind by now, an American action comedy without any decent choreographed action or deftly timed comedy, and leadings stars that we know can simply do better, with Nanjiani seemingly going more and more downhill since his excellent work on The Big Sick, Bautista surely getting better offers than this after expanding his work into the likes of the MCU and Bond, and Uwais once again completely wasted by Western movie makers when we know how much of a gifted, physical actor the guy is. Stuber? More like poober. He he.
Overall Score: 3/10
“It’s Quite The Fairytale You Got Going On Here. From Top Flight Model In Moscow To Rubbing Shoulders With The Elite…”
After successfully managing to hit the grand old age of sixty, French filmmaker, Luc Besson, seems to have become slightly nostalgic in his old age as he returns to the type of feminine-led action flick which made him renowned across the world at the beginning of his career during the early 1990’s. With Besson sort of losing the plot in recent years with the simply awful, Lucy, and the woefully titled, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a film which begins equally as bad but then grew into some sort of guilty pleasure come the final credits, the Frenchman returns to the subject matter he knows best in the form of Anna, a clear modern-day incarnation of Besson’s own 1990 action piece, Nikita, and a movie which sees the relatively unknown Sasha Luss as the titular beauty who shifts from street-living junkie to globe-trotting deadly assassin within the confines of a screenplay which is as aggravating as it is enjoyably ludicrous.
With a narrative structure which jumps back and forth through different time zones more often than Back to the Future, Besson’s movie does begin in interesting fashion, with the opening hour utilising a particularly glossy sheen of smoke and mirrors as it introduces Luss’ titular leading heroine, a top KGB assassin working under the wing of Helen Mirren’s creaky, nicotine loving Olga, as she works her way through a number of high profile assassinations. As the movie soldiers on in a semi-effective, genre-literate fashion, the introduction of both the dodgy accented Luke Evans and cheekbone enthusiast, Cillian Murphy, as opposing geographical ends of a conflicted love triangle is where the film ultimately shows its’ rather annoying hand, utilising flashback after flashback in order to highlight just how clever Besson thinks he is. On the contrary, such diversions from what should be a generic, B-movie storyline ultimately makes it more aggravating the more it goes on, and even with an abundance of decent, John Wick inspired action set pieces, Anna is at least better than similar movies of recent years including Red Sparrow and Atomic Blonde, but too a movie which lacks that sense of cult-heavy wackiness which the early Besson movies stored in abundance.
Overall Score: 6/10
“A Fourteen Million Dollar Bounty On His Head, And Everyone In The City Wants A Piece Of It? I’d Say The Odds Are About Even…”
Beginning life in 2015 as a self-assured, no holds barred, overly knowing B-movie, John Wick not only felt comfortable in bringing back well executed, genre influenced action to a Westernised audience who had been bored to tears with the same old generic blockbusters, but also a surprising cult hit which reasserted Keanu Reeves as the cinematic hero we all deserve after locating the action appeal labelled upon him during the 1990’s which then somewhat vanished come the turn of the twentieth century. Wooing audiences and critics alike with his return in John Wick: Chapter Two, a second installment which expanded both the universe and the loire of Wick’s rather unhinged world, the suit wearing dog lover takes centre stage once again in Parabellum, a suitably exhausting and over-the-top maniacal second sequel which picks up in a true Quantum of Solace style fashion by arriving directly after the conclusion of its’ predecessor, in which Wick’s decision to murder Santino D’Antonio, the antagonist of Chapter Two and a leading member of the sprawling and ethically shady, high table, on the grounds of the Continental Hotel results in him quickly becoming excommunicado from all privileges previously offered alongside a sweet fourteen million dollar bounty being placed on his shaggy-dog haired head, resulting in every hitman from across the globe suddenly hoping to catch the man of little words in their sights in order to claim such an illustrious prize.
Helmed once again by stuntman turned director, Chad Stahelski, Parabellum takes no time whatsoever in laying down its’ cards with a screenplay which expects its’ audience to already be well up to speed with proceedings involving Reeves’ Wick, and whilst there is a slight offering of exposition regarding the position such a character finds himself in, I clocked my watch at just over seven minutes before the film got to the sort of set piece every one heading into a John Wick movie expects from the get-go. Whether it be library books, an assortment of decorative knives or throwing axes, the opening segment of Parabellum turns the carnage and action up to eleven and never really slows down, and even when the movie attempts to expand Wick’s ambiguous childhood and background by introducing the likes of Anjelica Huston (The Witches) and Halle Berry (X-Men: Days of Future Past) in supporting roles, the primary goal of the movie is undeniably to exhaust an audience expecting oodles of superbly orchestrated madness, and whilst I thought the likes of The Raid 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road could never be matched in terms of sheer cinematic outlandishness so soon, Stahelski’s movie gleefully squeezes into such a pedigree level of action movie. With memorable scene after memorable scene, including one stand out section involving attack dogs which will leave you speechless as you attempt to work out how on earth such impracticalities were captured on film, Parabellum has somehow managed to make a beloved franchise even better and with Reeves seemingly not slowing down anytime soon as he hits his mid fifties, I’m up for as many Wick movies as time can allow.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You’ve Been Shot Five Times For Your Country And You Can’t Even Afford A New Truck…”
Hot off the heels of winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in the form of the excellent and beautiful Roma, Netflix returns to the land of small screen blockbusters with Triple Frontier, a dramatic blend of action and heist movie with a top notch, a-list cast and helmed by A Most Violent Year and Margin Call director, J. C. Chandor. Featuring a screenplay from both Chandor and Mark Boal, the acclaimed writer behind The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Triple Frontier sees Oscar Isaac (The Last Jedi) as Santiago Garcia, a private military advisor who after being tipped off about the location of a paranoid, cash-rich drug lord, forms a band of merry mercenaries and ventures into the jungle in order to steal what he believes is rightfully his after years of service to war without any just reward. With Chandor previously showcasing his realist cinematic sensibility with A Most Violent Year, Triple Frontier continues the director’s hard-edged approach to filmmaking with a release which attempts to be much more than just a sub-standard testosterone-fuelled action flick, and whilst there is an underlying interesting notion regarding greed and the psychological cost of combat, Chandor’s latest is still a rather generic and slightly overlong cliche which just happens to have a superb cast to push it along nicely.
Glossed with a primary aesthetic which comes across as a hybrid between the dusty, anti-Western feel of Sicario and the militaristic sheen of Michael Mann, Triple Frontier begins with an Ocean’s 11 style team-up as we see Isaac’s Pope journey back into the lives of his previous Army colleagues as he attempts to woo them with an endless supply of cash which is there for the taking from the hands of Reynaldo Gallegos’s drug lord, Lorea. Cue a rather enjoyable opening act in which we are treated to laddish interactions between Pope, Ben Affleck’s (Gone Girl) Redfly, Charlie Hunnam’s (Pacific Rim) Ironhead and Pedro Pascal’s (Narcos) Catfish, as they finally agree to work together, The Expendables style, in order to carry out their unethical and highly illegal mission. Whilst there is no spoilers in saying the initial part of the heist goes without any major issues, Chandor’s primary point of the movie comes into fruition just past the hour mark as we witness our leading band of war-torn killers turn on each other, and whilst I appreciate any movie which attempts to rise above its’ generic conventions, Triple Frontier just becomes way too plodding as we strive through an hour of fairly repetitive set pieces as we witness the group attempt to make their escape. With a full-on level of dedication from the cast however and the likes of Isaac and strangely enough, Hunnam, on top acting form, Chandor’s movie falls into the category of interesting, yet flawed, but does ultimately go down as another success for Netflix. Oh, and Chandor must love Metallica which is always a good note in my book.
Overall Score: 6/10
“When You Drive The Same Road Day After Day, It’s Easy To Think About The Road Not Taken…”
Making the headlines recently for some rather interesting and Twitter inciting comments, Liam Neeson returns to the big screen once again in Cold Pursuit, an interesting, off-beat and knowingly extravagant crime drama which sees Neeson resorting back to the sort of role audiences have come to expect from him ever since the successful release of Taken back in 2008. With Steve McQueen’s, Widows, last year marking a slight return to top dramatic form for the actor, Neeson’s latest doesn’t exactly manage to fall into the same level of cinematic greatness, but with a particularly strange, genre-crossing blend of Coen style black comedy and at times, the rather jerking cinematic sensibility of Yorgos Lanthimos, Cold Pursuit is still a rather enjoyable, if overly pointless, B-movie revenge flick. Acting as a direct American remake of the 2014 Swedish flick, In Order of Disappearance, starring the one and only Stellan Skarsgård, the director of the original, Hans Peter Molland, follows in the footsteps of Michael Haneke by choosing to take charge of the English speaking version by himself as we drop into the life of Neeson’s Nelson Coxman, the recently awarded “Citizen of the Year” from the ski and tourism heavy locale of Kehoe, who suddenly chooses to take sweet and merciless revenge against a local gang organisation after his son is found dead.
Whilst the set up is the a-typical Liam Neeson cinematic vehicle many have come to expect from an actor who has seemed to have revelled in a latter day shift into action flicks, Cold Pursuit boldly attempts to stick out from the likes of Taken, The Commuter or Run All Night by subverting the rather serious tones prevalent in Neeson’s previous and almost coming across as a cheeky, overly knowing micky take. With Neeson’s Coxman shifting from ordinary everyman to cold hearted hitman in the space of about thirty seconds, it’s fair to say that character development isn’t exactly the top priority for Molland, whose decision to play the drama as an uncanny blend of Fargo and Death Wish works rather effectively for the opening hour as we are introduced to the varied strands of character groups including the local police department and the raging war between Tom Bateman’s (Murder on the Orient Express) mentally unstable drug lord, Viking, and Tom Jackson’s Native American crime boss, White Bull. Whilst the sensibility of the film is fun enough to sort of hold together, the film is ironically personified by a recurring motif in which after every character death is an on-screen epitaph to the respected fallen, a particularly odd element which on the first couple of uses are rather giggle-inducing, yet after the fifty eighth time, does become slightly tiresome, a phrase which come the end of almost two hours of pointless violence and murder, pretty much sums up the film rather nicely, and whilst Cold Pursuit isn’t the worst latter life Neeson flick, see Taken 3 for reference point, it sure ain’t no Taken. Although I’m still not sure who’s driving the boat.
Overall Score: 6/10
“There’s Been Whispers Of A Thief. He’s Got Our Commoner’s Looking Up, Seeing Hope…”
With the unintentional hilarity which ensued during last year’s dire attempt to recreate one British legend in the form of Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, in which a cameo from David Beckham was one of the better aspects of the movie, Hollywood’s obsession with re-hashing well versed tales of adventure and heroism continues with yet another adaptation of Robin Hood, succeeding Ridley Scott’s mediocre 2010 version as the most contemporary telling and one which utilises the talents of Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Golden Circle) in the titular role. Directed by Otto Bathurst, a British filmmaker famous so far for his acclaimed work on the likes of Black Mirror and Peaky Blinders, and based on a debut script from Ben Chandler and David James Kelly, Robin Hood circa 2018 somehow manages to leapfrog in front of Guy Ritchie’s work of nonsensical silliness with relative ease in terms of cinematic woefulness, channelling an off-kilter tonal mix between Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and Monty Python and the Holy Grail as it attempts to redefine the age-old tale with a strange stylistic decision which seems to cater particularly for audiences who are simply after a slice of mindless fun. Unfortunately for Bathurst and co, Robin Hood isn’t a movie which can be branded with such positivity, bordering instead more on the edge of being totally irredeemable as it slogs its’ way through a two hour incoherent mess featuring awfully slim characters, a laughably bad script and feeling that once again a supposed future cinematic franchise dies spectacularly with its’ first attempt. Whoops.
Opening with a cockney-geezer voice-over which instructs its’ awaiting audience to forget everything they know about the tale of Robin of Loxley and be amazed at a fresh new take of the historic legend, hilariously, such a statement is ultimately completely contradicted almost immediately thanks to one of the most lazily constructed and cliched scripts not only this year but in living memory. Introducing our central hero as a toffee-nosed, obnoxious ruling class beefcake who quickly chooses to swap allegiances after four years of war, Egerton is charming to an extent but ultimately feels wickedly miscast as he is simply directed to portray a hooded version of his character from Kingsman, awful accent and all, and therefore loses all sense of belief in a performance which at times crossed into the realm of on-screen pantomime. Joining him on this list of miscastings, Jamie Foxx’s (Baby Driver) role as a dodgily accented prisoner of war turned teacher is the American’s worst on-screen appearance in recent history, whilst joining in on the pantomime sensibility of the film is surprisingly Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One), an actor who aside from slowly being typecast as the turn-to Hollywood sneering villain, pulls off the most OTT and overly camp lead villain performance since Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending. With woefully directed action set pieces which include a jaw-droppingly misjudged opening scene set in a Iraqi inspired third-world war zone, automatic crossbows and all, and a penchant for utilising the “art” of slow-motion to paint over the pants choreography which seems directly inspired from similar tactics used in King Arthur, the latest version of Robin Hood isn’t just bad, it’s a lazy, pointless and amateurish so-called “blockbuster” which makes Guy Ritchie look like the reincarnation of Stanley Kubrick. Avoid like a CGI arrow to the chest.