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Saturday, 11 July 2020 16:41

Never say die – ‘The Old Guard’

It takes a special kind of performer to headline an action franchise. Gone are the days when all it took was a willingness to bulk up, shoot guns and spout catchphrases; today’s action offerings trend toward the high-concept, particularly when looking to create or continue a series. And a different sort of action requires a different sort of actor.

To be honest, I wouldn’t have pegged someone like Charlize Theron as a likely action star, but following recent turns in films like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Atomic Blonde,” it is abundantly clear that she has all the requisite chops to handle her business.

Her latest entry into that realm is “The Old Guard,” currently streaming on Netflix. It’s a sharp and sometimes surprising sci-fi action offering, one clearly intended to kick off a franchise for the streamer. There’s a thoughtfulness to the film that you don’t always see in this sort of offering, along with a willingness to allow breathing room for character development (although the action set pieces are high in both quality and quantity).

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood from a screenplay that Greg Rucka adapted from his own graphic novel series of the same name, “The Old Guard” is a film whose strengths are consistently complementary, finding the perfect blend of action-packed excitement and character engagement – one left wide open for future installments.

Published in Movies

As someone who considers himself a bit of an action movie connoisseur, I’ve got a special place in my heart for high-concept action. I enjoy the broad strokes and tropes of the genre, but I particularly dig it when there’s an interesting idea serving as the framework.

Obviously, when I hear tell of a film with just such a framework, I look forward to seeing it. I have certain expectations, of course, but they are expectations I believe to be quite reasonable. My bar in terms of pure enjoyment is relatively low … and yet some films still manage to undershoot it by a frankly astonishing degree.

So it is with “The Last Days of American Crime,” a film that limbos so far beneath my reasonable expectations as to bury itself in a not-so-shallow grave. The film – directed by Olivier Megaton and currently streaming on Netflix – commits egregious cinematic sins almost too numerous to name, working its way through what almost seems like a deliberate checklist of poor choices and worse execution.

Seriously – this movie is a bad time. It is staggeringly overlong, yet still manages to feel dull and uneventful. The dialogue is laughable, the performances are wooden and/or off-kilter and the character motivations are either nonsensical or nonexistent. The action sequences feel rote and uninspired and it is shockingly tone deaf in spots. Just … not good.

Published in Movies

Everyone has their particular tastes when it comes to movies. Even those of us whose job it is to offer up opinions regarding films have our personal preferences. And while we strive for objectivity, we also recognize that when it comes down to it, we like what we like. Taste matters.

Take action movies, for instance. There are those out there who find action movies to be generally lacking in appeal, who think that watching bullets and/or fists flying simply doesn’t make for good cinema. They are entitled to their opinion.

Their wrong, wrong, wrong opinion.

“Extraction,” the latest Netflix original offering to hit the streaming service, isn’t the greatest or most original action movie you’ll see … and that’s OK. See, it’s driven by some excellent set pieces and a strong lead performance from Chris Hemsworth, which means that it’s plenty good enough. It isn’t necessary to innovate when you’re willing to embrace the essence of what has always worked.

Adapted by Joe Russo from his own graphic novel “Ciudad” and directed by longtime stunt coordinator and first-time feature director Sam Hargrave, “Extraction” adheres pretty closely to standard action tropes. However, by executing at a high level, the film manages to largely transcend formula, offering viewers a thrilling and exciting two hours of escapist action.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 18 March 2020 12:18

‘Bloodshot’ a complete misfire

One of the things that we’ve learned as various studios try to construct their own cinematic universes in the wake of the massive success of the MCU? It’s hard to do – much harder than Marvel makes it look.

That doesn’t mean folks are going to stop trying.

The Vin Diesel vehicle “Bloodshot” is intended to serve as the jumping-off point for yet another cinematic universe – this one built on the IP of Valiant Comics. It’s a rich source of material, albeit one far less familiar to the layperson than the works of either Marvel or DC; Sony is counting on a better outcome than what they got with their efforts to make Spider-Man a going concern.

Alas, it’s not looking good.

Leaving aside the very real logistical issues that have sprung from the global situation with the coronavirus, the truth is that this movie just isn’t very good. There’s a lack of energy to the proceedings that undercuts any effort to excite the viewer about the movie they are watching, let alone future films that might come along. With iffy effects work, sloppy screenwriting, pedestrian direction and a particularly leaden performance from Diesel, “Bloodshot” simply misses the mark.

Published in Movies

Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese. John Wayne and John Ford. Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott. Alfred Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart. Johnny Depp and Tim Burton. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. Kurt Russell and John Carpenter. Jack Lemmon and Billy Wilder.

The history of Hollywood is littered with actor/director pairings that became ongoing, marriages between filmmaker and star that led to long-term cinematic relationships. These pairings often – but definitely not always – lead to exceptional and memorable projects.

While the partnership between Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg might not have the same legendary heft carried by the names on that previous list, it’s tough to argue that they haven’t been both prolific and successful (commercially, anyway – critically is a different story).

Their latest collaboration is “Spenser Confidential,” a Netflix original film loosely based on the novel “Wonderland” by Ace Atkins and the 1980s TV show “Spencer: For Hire,” both featuring characters created by Robert B. Parker. Wahlberg plays the titular Spenser, an ex-cop and ex-con looking to get his life back together, only to get swept up into a vast conspiracy.

It’s a throwback movie, one reminiscent of the Reagan-era action thrillers from which it draws its inspiration. While the plot is thin and convoluted and most of the characters are more accurately described as caricatures, that nostalgia vibe is enough to make the movie a mildly enjoyable experience – though no one is going to mistake it as “good,” per se.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 11 February 2020 11:57

‘Birds of Prey’ offers high-flying fun

It’s fair to say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has far outpaced its DC counterpart. One of the biggest reasons for the difference in levels of success has been tone – the MCU has always found ways to make its films fun, while DC has largely produced movies weighed down by a sense of bleak, gray self-seriousness.

Recently, however, the DCEU has started finding its way out of that grimdarkness. Films like “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman” have done a better job of finding the fun. And their latest offering – full title “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” – continues in that vein, producing a piece of candy-colored weirdness that is as enjoyable to watch as any film in the franchise thus far.

It’s worth noting that this film is female-driven – not just in front of the camera, but behind it, with Cathy Yan directing from a script by Christina Hodson – in an organic fashion that never comes off as forced or pandering.

It’s not a perfect film – the narrative is a bit haphazard and the structure is all over the place – but by and large, it’s pretty darned good and entertaining as hell. The performances are strong and there are some killer action sequences, along with a few solid gags. Put it all together and you get one of the better DCEU outings.

Published in Movies

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come … back … for you?

That’s the question some might have been asking themselves upon hearing that there would be a third installment in the Will Smith-Martin Lawrence buddy cop action comedy “Bad Boys” series. With 17 years having elapsed since the last entry, would this latest offering work? Would the high-octane rapid-fire profane chemistry of the two leads hold up? What about the new directing team of Adil and Bilall? Would they be able to fill the explosion-and-bikini-filled shoes of action auteur Michael Bay?

Do we need another “Bad Boys” movie?

Ultimately, the answer is “no” – and that’s OK. We don’t need another “Fast & Furious” movie. We don’t need another Marvel/DC movie. We don’t need another cartoon musical. But they’re still fun, and that’s what “BBFL” is. It’s fun. A lot more fun than it has any right to be, in fact.

This film is a throwback to a different era of action movie, one anchored and elevated by the still-strong comedic dynamic between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. It somehow manages to simultaneously acknowledge and ignore the passage of time, a look at two guys coming to terms with the realities of aging while ALSO still clearly being far and away the coolest dudes in the room. It’s ridiculous and sublime and unexpectedly honest, close to the best-case scenario for a story that’s been gathering dust for nearly two decades.

Published in Movies

With Netflix out here throwing blank checks at cinematic auteurs, asking nothing of these filmmakers but for them to be themselves, there’s no disputing that we’re seeing some pretty incredible things spring forth from that creative freedom.

Martin Scorsese gave us “The Irishman,” a late-career masterpiece that many might not have expected Marty had left in him. Alfonso Cuaron made the beautiful and haunting semi-autobiography that was “Roma,” Noah Baumbach got to Baumbach in front of exponentially more eyeballs than ever before with “Marriage Story.” The list goes on.

However, “incredible” doesn’t always mean “good.”

This brings us to “6 Underground,” the film that is what happens when the auteur with the blank check is noted explosion fetishist Michael Bay. It is a loud, smug, barely comprehensible wad of action movie; the vibe is as though the entire thing was conceptualized on a cocktail napkin at whatever place exists on the spectrum between a Hooters and a strip club. Oh, and the lead is Ryan Reynolds playing Ryan Reynolds.

In this case, “incredible” basically means “I do not find it credible that such a movie like this exists.” By that definition, holy crap is this movie incredible.

Published in Movies

When “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” came out a couple of years ago, I was as surprised as anyone when it turned out to actually be pretty good. Who’d have thought a two-decades-later sort-of-sequel to a mid-90s kids movie would turn out to be both entertaining and WILDLY lucrative?

Well, having the Rock doesn’t hurt.

After that film did just shy of a billion dollars at the global box office, it was obviously going to get a sequel of its own. That sequel has arrived, as “Jumanji: The Next Level” has hit theaters.

And guess what? This one’s pretty good too. Not as good as the last one, perhaps, but solid. One assumes it will also make hundreds of millions of dollars.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 27 November 2019 11:37

A bridge too far – ’21 Bridges’

Sometimes, it is abundantly clear why a movie doesn’t work. Perhaps a director is out of their element. Perhaps a lead role is woefully miscast. Perhaps the story lacks depth or displays an unfortunate tone-deafness. Sometimes, it’s more than one of these things.

Other times, it isn’t quite so cut-and-dried. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the whole is simply less than the sum of its parts.

The latter description suits the new cop thriller “21 Bridges.” It’s a competently made film with some legitimate star power, featuring some solid action and dramatic tension. The pieces are all there for a good movie … but “21 Bridges” never quite figures out how to put them together.

Now, that’s not to say that this is a bad movie. It isn’t. What it is, unfortunately, is forgettable. And honestly, considering what’s being brought to the table in terms of talent, that’s almost more damning.

Published in Movies
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