“Someone On This Train Does Not Belong. All You Have To Do Is Find Them…”
Whilst many took to the idea that Liam Neeson had adhered to his word of refusing to star in any future action movies, something of which which he stated profoundly across media lines last year, it comes at no surprise that this week audiences are treated to The Commuter, the latest from Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, whose reunion with Neeson follows on from their previous work together on Non-Stop and Run All Night, with the word of the Irish actor much more uncertain and dishonest since he laughed off the possibility of Taken 3 in 2013, a sequel which was then swiftly released only two years later. Whilst the obvious similarities to previous action movies are inevitable for a movie starring an actor recently renowned for jumped-up, high octane nonsense, Neeson’s latest is a movie both ridiculous and enjoyable in equal measure, a laughably absurd ideas thriller which although suffers from a wide range of clearly defined issues, is indeed up there with the better Neeson action movies to be released since his turn as the revenge seeking killer in Pierre Morel’s 2008 cult classic, Taken, a movie which launched a latter-stage chapter of the actor’s career to ridiculous levels of newly found action hero fame.
Approached by the mysterious Vera Farmiga during his daily commute, Neeson’s Michael MacCauley is tasked with attempting to hunt down a particular unknown fellow passenger without truly understanding the reasoning behind such, aside from the offer of excessive monetary reward. Jumping in and out of the shadow of previous film ideas as swift as the film’s chaotic editing, The Commuter is the type of movie which evokes so many previous stories that the film almost becomes a entertaining ferris wheel of bingo in which you tick off every film that comes to mind as the carnage unravels in the loudest and silliest way possible. Switching from Red Eye to Source Code to Under Siege 2 as quickly as possible within a completely manic first act which does manage to contain a rigid element of threat and mystery rather entertainingly, The Commuter then concludes with a amalgamation of Unstoppable and 16 Blocks with added predictability and cheesiness, and whilst Neeson’s latest is obviously not as smart or original as it may think it is, the action is decent enough and the tone is welcoming and undeniably crowd pleasing, and for a man who may have given up on action movies for good, you can’t deny Neeson does look like he’s enjoying himself. As are we.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Welcome to Jumanji!”
Despite the fact that the Robin Williams starring, 1995 adventure romp Jumanji was somewhat dismissed by many critics when first released despite it being a somewhat successful item at the box office, the cult status and underground following of the movie since has subversively led to both a re-examination of its’ qualities by many and as per the norm of many cinematic releases in the current climate, a unwarranted sequel. Directed by comedy staple, Jake Kasdan and featuring a script co-written by Chris McKenna, whose previous credits include the likes of The Lego Batman Movie and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a functional if rather predictable and laborious adventure romp which utilises the star power of its’ cast to shrug off the many, many weaknesses which encompass its’ existence, and whilst many will be swept up in the wisecracking humour and electric editing pace, Kasdan’s movie is the epitome of a release which can be crammed into the genre of “not exactly my cup of tea”.
With the titular gaming sensation transforming its’ form to keep up with the popular trends of the twenty first century, our leading four youthful heroes are sucked into the jungle of Jumanji where complete control of their gaming avatars forces them to play the game and defeat the threat of Bobby Cannavale’s power hungry, insect ridden villain. With Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan taking over for the majority of the movie therefore, the narrative mixes the absurd nature of our heroes’ surroundings with ongoing banter style comedic quips, most of which ironically do make an appearance in the film’s trailer, and although the chemistry between the leading quartet is undeniable, the film never really progresses from its’ opening gag, resulting in endless penis and body transformation jokes which do end up becoming increasingly grating amidst one of the most self-aggrandizing performances from Johnson ever in his on-screen career. With Cannavale’s pedigree as a villain well known after his turn on Boardwalk Empire, his character is ultimately completely wasted in favour of numerous CGI-ridden action, and whilst Kasdan and the crew are obviously having a superb time, the fun only resonates for a short spate of time, and for a film which runs on for two hours, well, you can do the math.
Overall Score: 4/10
“No Matter What You Hear Or What’s Going On, Stay Together…”
Directed by American filmmaker Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion), Only the Brave tells the dramatic and heartbreaking tale of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite team of firefighters who in their attempts in thwarting the Yarnell Hill Fire in June of 2013 became American heroes and the subject of Sean Flynn’s GQ article “No Exit” of which Kosinski’s movie is based upon, and whilst the American’s previous forays into the world of science fiction cinema have been somewhat laboured, the same cannot be said for his ability in the genre of biographical dramas, with Only the Brave being a slow-burning, character-driven tale of heroism and bravery which follows in the footsteps of Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day by being effectively crafted without ever falling into the realms of schmaltziness or cliche. Working with an ensemble cast which includes a reunion with Jeff Bridges and the likes of Josh Brolin and Miles Teller, Kosinski uses the ultimate conclusion of the tale to full emotive effect by using the bulk of the movie to develop meaningful relationships and characteristics, ranging from Miles Teller’s Brendan’s evolution from junkie to father to Josh Brolin’s “Supe” who uses the thrill of his occupation to fill the gap left behind by a previous illegal pastime.
Whilst the movie does suffer slightly from being twenty minutes too long and sometimes not using the likes of Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connelly to full effect considering their pedigree as actors, Only the Brave chooses instead to focus primarily on Josh Brolin and Miles Teller’s characters, particularly in regards to their respective personal issues and familial ties, and whilst this sometimes leaves other members of the team to come across as simply window dressing, the performances of both hold the key to the film’s successes, with the contrasting final arc of their tale bringing the previous development together to a nicely cropped end which will leave even the most thick skinned audiences gasping with a sense of awe and shock, particularly in one of the film’s final shots when we see our heroes’ family members waiting together in a staggering state of uncertainty. Mixed together with a soundtrack which ticks all the boxes in terms of greatness, with the likes of Pearl Jam, AC/DC and Metallica all making a welcome appearance, Kosinski’s movie manages to be both an excellent homage to the true heroes of the tale and a menacing thrill ride at the same time and with central performances at the top of their game, Only the Brave is an excellent piece of biographical cinema.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Are A Man Of Principle. You Know The Difference Between Right and Wrong…”
Although the thought of seeing the latest Vince Vaughn movie doesn’t exactly fill me with mountainous levels of excitement, the real drawing power of Brawl in Cell Block 99 is of course director S. Craig Zahler, the American filmmaker behind one of last year’s most surprisingly violent and impressively crafted movies in the form of Bone Tomahawk, who in Tarantino-esque form, managed to create a dark and overly twisted Western which not only had a growling, moustache wearing Kurt Russell on top form, but placed Zahler front and centre amidst the many impressive underground filmmakers out there today. Swapping the Western horror genre for a modern-day based crime thriller, Zahler more than effectively continues the successes of Bone Tomahawk with his latest release, creating a movie which simultaneously emphasises the director’s love of exploitation cinema and midnight movie B-releases, alongside showcasing a redefined Vince Vaughn in a superbly crafted, unrecognisable fashion, and whilst Vaughn has flirted with dramatic roles in the past, with True Detective and Hacksaw Ridge being the most recent examples, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is the type of movie which could inevitably end up giving the American actor his very own mcconaissance, and whilst Vaughn is only the tip of the iceberg for a film which has so many positive elements, the real plaudits undeniably belongs to the film’s commander in chief, with Zahler continuing to prove why so many cinema loving audiences have began to become truly interested in his work.
Fired from his job and sucked back into a previously departed life of criminality, Vaughn’s Bradley Thomas quickly finds himself in the confines of a cell after a drug deal gone sour, and with the welfare of his wife and unborn child at risk, Bradley is forced to meet the demands of a high ranking Mexican gangster in order to pay the astronomical debt caused by Bradley’s sudden incarceration. Using a similar narrative technique to that of Bone Tomahawk, Zahler’s latest is a movie which understands the balance between character based substance and exploitation style violence, utilising the film’s two hour plus runtime to examine a character who bounces back and forth between a charming, family oriented man of the people and a brooding, merciless, violent thug, and with Vaughn using his natural, bulky physique as an essential part of the character’s appearance, Brawl is arguably the first film to really showcase to what Vaughn’s strength’s truly are as an actor. Of course, with the exploitation style violence inevitable for a man who shocked the world with Bone Tomahawk, the scenes in which we witness Bradley rip apart fellow criminals with his bare hands are undeniably shocking and squeal-inducing, but to the film’s credit, always have an undeniable air of B-movie fun within them, and for a film as violent as this, Brawl in Cell Block 99 manages to blend seamlessly the mix between violence, drama and guilty pleasure to a wholly entertaining extent. With brilliant cameo performances from the likes of Jennifer Carpenter and the charisma covered Don Johnson, the best course of action is to remember the name, with S. Craig Zahler slowly becoming the most interesting director working out there today.
Overall Score: 8/10
“We Were Warned And We Did Not Listen…”
Although hailed as some form of guaranteed audience grabber, Gerard Butler’s most recent backlog of film appearances isn’t exactly the greatest run from the growling, wide-chinned Scot, with the likes of Gods of Egypt and London Has Fallen being two of the worst cinema releases in recent history, and whilst there is always hope for redemption, the release of the CGI-fuelled Geostorm brings with it a heavy sense of, “here we go again!”, particularly after months and months of trailers hyping up a movie which on the face of it, might give Independance Day: Resurgence a run for its’ money as worst big-budget science-fiction disaster movie of the past few years. Directed by American debutant Dean Devlin, whose past producing credits ironically include the likes of Resurgence and erm, Eight Legged Freaks, the latest movie to showcase how much destruction can be created from the screen of a computer in the form of Geostorm is unsurprisingly a gag-inducing barrel of garbage, one which takes the cliched notion of leaving your brain at the foyer to a whole new level of unparalleled literalness and too a movie which just makes you question why and how it ever made it past the cutting room floor.
With Butler showcasing the limited amount of range he has as an actor, portraying a supposed super intelligent science engineer with all the efficiency of a leather based raincoat, Geostorm is the type of movie which doesn’t even begin to offer credible reasons for making the audience believe any events which depict on screen are even capable of actually occurring, and whilst end of the world, disaster movies fundamentally require a minimal level of audience open-minded participation, the mind-boggling and headache inducingly bad narrative at the heart of Geostorm leads to a movie which although features scenes of tidal waves, gigantic laser beams and gargantuan explosions, is undeniably boring from beginning to end. With plot turns aplenty all resulting in a synchronised round of sighs from the audience and a tacky, saccharin sweet family narrative thread acting as the film’s through line, Geostorm is trash unrefined, and whilst Devlin’s CGI-based load of hogwash isn’t exactly the worst film of the year, it is undeniably the stupidest.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Manners. Maketh. Man. Let Me Translate That For You..”
Arguably being the director responsible for the rise of Daniel Craig as the world’s greatest British secret agent due to his successes with Layer Cake back in 2004, Matthew Vaughn’s successful trip with the Kingsman series returns this week with The Golden Circle, a star-studded action sequel which follows on from the fanfare of the first by being a film fundamentally addicted with the Bond series and all its’ many pleasures, but too a sequel which is primarily focused on the excesses evident within arguably the worst Bond films in the canon, releases which chose CGI surfing and invisible cars over any form of substance, and whilst The Golden Circle does boast a returning Colin Firth, Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges, there is too few elements to enjoy within the space of a two hour-plus movie which follows the common trends of the sequel by being not at all in the realm of critical greatness as its’ predecessor. Whilst the first film did have a variety of flaws, including a crass, laddish undertone which attempted to derail the film completely, The Golden Circle goes one further in mediocrity and suffers fundamentally from elements which so easily could have been avoided, particularly when admiring the previous works of director, Matthew Vaughn.
Of the many elements which do not work, the chauvinistic, sexist portrayal of female characters which began slightly in The Secret Service continues to an extent within The Golden Circle, a particular flaw which makes Roger Moore’s treatment of women in his respective Bond films seem gentlemanly beyond belief. Whether it be a completely twisted and jarring scene of sexual spy implementation rape in a Glastonbury tent or the total lack of substance for characters portrayed by the likes of Halle Berry and Sophie Cookson, The Golden Circle is ran by a script which simply doesn’t care for its’ characters whatsoever, and with the return of Colin Firth after his death in the previous movie, the film suffers too from a complete lack of peril or fear due to the notion that a bullet wound to the head can simply be fixed by magical glue. With fight scenes a-plenty which are just CGI-fueled mania, Julianne Moore arguably giving her worst performance ever and Elton John popping up to add humour to proceedings, The Golden Circle is an absolute mess of a movie, but one which is somewhat redeemed by flashy editing, a cucumber cool soundtrack and a solid leading performance from Taron Egerton but ultimately a sequel which still manages to be the lesser body of work when compared to its’ predecessor. Shame.
Overall Score: 4/10
“I Like Your Agenda. I Know Exactly What To Do With You…”
Based upon Vince Flynn’s 2010 novel of the same name, American Assassin presents itself within the realm of 21st century spy thrillers which take on both the ethos of the Bourne franchise and the direction of Paul Greengrass, with the filmmaking tactics deployed in The Bourne Supremacy onwards having a widespread influence on a vast spectrum of cinema ranging from the gargantuan Bond series to the more B-Movie approach of the Taken franchise. Brought to the big screen by Kill the Messenger director Michael Cuesta, this first entry into an anticipated string of Flynn-based releases features Dylan O’Brien as civilian-turned-killer Mitch Rapp and Michael Keaton as veteran training agent Stan Hurley, and whilst many audiences fall under the spell of money-grabbing action cash-ins due to a underlying love of anything with extravagant explosions and expletive-ridden dialogue, American Assassin is a prime example of an action movie so lazy and plodding in its’ creation, it is actually harder to comprehend its’ existence than it is to actually enjoy it.
With a lifeless, growling and utterly dull leading performance from O’Brien as the titular stone-cold killer, one who uses the cranked in and wholly exploitative plot point of a particular death as reasoning for murderous rampaging, American Assassin falls under the old chestnut of simply not being clever or eager enough to add any sense of depth to proceedings, resulting in a vacuum of space where the utter lack of either sympathy or empathy resides and is replaced by a severe level of tedium which in turn results in a much more enjoyable sleep-induced coma which the audience falls into in order to pass the time. Slapped with an 18 certificate, American Assassin contains a simply undeserved level of sadistic, awkward violence which has no reasoning for its inclusion and just results in a total sense of alienation from characters who are hard to distinguish between friend and foe, and with a conclusion which ranks up there with the most jump-the-shark scenes I have ever seen, Cuesta’s movie is the sort of tripe which brings absolutely nothing new to the overpopulated realm of action movies and is simply there for monetary issues. On this evidence, I can’t see that being a winner either.
Overall Score: 3/10
“I Can Assure You, We Are More Than Prepared For Any Assault…”
Samuel L. Jackson is unfortunately the type of actor who nowadays more often than not falls into the category of “picking up the cheque” when it comes to movie role choices, and whilst I’m game for most things with Jackson in some form of leading role, with recent releases including The Hateful Eight proving that Jackson still has the capacity to show off his acting chops, there comes a time when there can only be so many films in the ilk of xXx: The Return of Xander Cage that you begin to question your fundamental allegiances. With The Hitman’s Bodyguard however, the latest from Australian director Patrick Hughes, a filmmaker who came to big budget fame with The Expendables 3 back in 2014, Jackson teams up with Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds, Daredevil‘s Élodie Yung and Gary Oldman in order to create arguably the most retrograde action comedy of the past few years. Whilst B-Movie nonsense is a genre of movies which sometimes can be overly charming and irresistible even with the fundamental flaws at the heart of it, The Hitman’s Bodyguard manages to fail at every hurdle it attempts to maneuver, utilising nonsensical elements to a somewhat cynical effect and testing the patience of its’ audience from pretty much the outset.
After being demoted from his role as a triple A rated security agent due to the extraordinary death of a client, Bryce (Reynolds) is brought back to the spotlight by ex-partner and Interpol agent Roussel (Yung) in order to protect the life of contract killer Darius Kincaid (Jackson) who is set to give evidence against the evil dictatorship of Belarusian leader, Vladislav Dukhovich (Oldman). Cue retrograde treatment of all female characters, unnecessary levels of violence and jarring usage of profanity, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the type of movie which features phoned-in performances from the entirety of its’ leading cast, who in their attempt to swivel around the cliched and idiotic plot, scream, shout and swear their way through two hours of absolute nonsense. Reynolds is unbearable, Oldman is worse, and Jackson seems to mixing his performance as Jules from Pulp Fiction with his character from Snakes on a Plane, just without the cool and sophisticated characterisation of the former. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the type of movie which makes Bad Boys II look like a masterpiece. Avoid.
Overall Score: 3/10
“You Can’t Stop What’s Coming. Death Always Wins…”
Growing up with Stephen King books going as far back as I can remember, the cinematic accessibility of the American’s many novels has resulted in a variety of classic movies over the course of nearly half a decade, and whilst The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me are arguably the standout examples, even when Kubrick’s famous horror barely resembles the source material, The Dark Tower series has seemingly been in production hell since the first whispers of a possible adaptation came to the floor at the turn of the 21st century. With previously attached filmmakers J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard both passing on the project, the task has fallen into the hands of Danish director Nikolaj Arcel, who along with King’s own blessings and Howard’s descent into a production role, has finally managed to create a live-action adaptation of King’s monstrous fantasy epic. Being an avid reader of all things King, The Dark Tower series is indeed a collection of novels which I have enjoyably devoured, and whilst King’s own notion of such a series being a cross between The Lord of the Rings and Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, the novels do have weaknesses, particularly within the concluding three releases, and whilst many have bulked at particular high profile changes which have occurred in the transition from paper to screen, Arcel’s adaptation is a release I have been eagerly awaiting since the first trailer was announced and with the fundamental and historical issues some stories have when making the jump to the big screen, the question on everyone’s lips is; was it worth the wait?
In a nutshell? Not quite, and whilst Arcel’s adaptation of King’s novels suffers from a wide range of basic filmmaking issues, The Dark Tower was a movie in which I was never bored, never lost in the rapid overlapping of plots and crucially, never bothered by the gargantuan and radical differences that have occurred between the process from paper to screen, and because of this, the movie was a rare case of a film which seemed to be rather enjoyable even when the weaknesses are so apparent on screen. In my own view, my ability to overlook such downfalls such as awful editing, ear-scraping dialogue and cheesy special effects, is ultimately down to my affinity to the source material and although the convoluted plot will undoubtedly seem incoherent and completely bonkers to an audience coming to the film with no previous knowledge of the characters or the setting, Arcel’s movie is so obviously an adaptation made solely for the readers of the series, and for that alone, I applaud the ballsy approach to create such. With obvious production problems at the heart of the finished article, The Dark Tower is a movie which worked more than it failed, and whilst the rafter of negative reviews and poor box office numbers will unfortunately class the film as a failure, Arcel’s adaptation will no doubt be the beginning of a series which is destined to be explored much, much more either on the big screen or the small.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I’m My Own Bitch Now…”
If ever there was someone in Hollywood who is the epitome of kick-ass action, Charlize Theron undoubtedly takes that prestigious award all the way home, with recent releases such as Mad Max: Fury Road and The Fate of the Furious in particular showcasing that it’s not just the male fraternity of actors that should get all the explosive fun when sometimes their female counterparts can do it so much better. With Atomic Blonde therefore, the latest release from John Wick director (albeit strangely uncredited) David Leitch, a filmmaker renowned primarily for stunt work on a wide range of cinematic releases including the likes of V for Vendetta and The Bourne Ultimatum, it comes at no surprise that many could simply regard Theron’s latest as somewhat of a John Wick-infused cash-in, yet with a cast which features the likes of Eddie Marsan, James McAvoy, Toby Jones and John Goodman, Atomic Blonde on paper has the groundwork to be it’s own beautiful beast. Unfortunately, this is most definitely not the case, with Leitch’s latest suffering way too heavily from fundamental script issues and mind-bashing plot twists to be classed as a film in which I could safely say I enjoyed from beginning to end, and whilst there are certain elements which are delicious in their execution, for the most part, Atomic Blonde is a vicious let down.
Whilst the late 1980’s, fall of the Berlin era is effectively flashy enough, the underpinning of a narrative which hinges on flashbacks is fundamentally at the heart of the problem of the film, one which uses a script which comes across stinking of a seeping air of sanctimony in it’s belief regarding how clever and slick it is, and too a picture which revels in the exploitative use of undeserved levels of profanity and violence which comes across much too jarring and distracting throughout pretty much the entirety of the film. With the back and forth nature of the story much too convoluted for anyone to really care what is actually going on, the film isn’t helped either by Atomic Blonde having arguably the worst plot twists since the stupidity of Now You See Me 2, and whilst Theron makes the most of what she has handed, style alone in the form of costume design and makeup doesn’t form a memorable character, resulting in a heavy heart when realising I forgot the lead character’s name as soon as I exited the foyer, something of which doesn’t normally happen when the film has truly engaged me. Jarring more than enjoyable, Atomic Blonde is mediocrity incarnated and too not the first film to use stairways as the backdrop to a decent fight scene. DAREDEVIL DAMMIT.