Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Review: Mechanic - Resurrection





Mechanic: Resurrection
Cert: 15 / 99 mins / Dir. Dennis Gansel / Trailer



In the opening montage of Dennis Gansel's action-sequel, the barometer on The Stath™'s house/boat reads 'fair'. Many other directors would have had it set at 'stormy' and lingered on the shot a microsecond longer. As it turns out though, the prediction is cinematically accurate, as everything which follows is moderately enjoyable and without a single hint of actual drama.

Don't worry if you haven't caught up with the first movie, it isn't even referenced other than a clip played on a character's mobile phone (not even kidding). Reassuringly stupid, Mechanic: Resurrection plays out like an action-movie parody advert for a deodorant or a premium lager. Anything outside of the action sequences and fight-scenes veers between distinctly-substandard and spectacularly bad, but at least the film doesn't rely on the cheap xenophobia that so many of its genre-buddies use in lieu of villain-building.

Two questions come to mind as the viewer ploughs through Mechanic: Resurrection. 1) Jason, is this because they rebooted The Transporter without you? and 2) Jason, did you write this? This troubled yet sensitive yet lethal character who succeeds at everything and doesn't have to change a single iota throughout the film's running-time? As with all the best reluctant heroes, this film sees The Stath™ go into self-imposed hiding before getting back into trouble around four minutes later when he interferes in somebody else's business. Next thing you know, he's blackmailed into doing a series of jobs and all's right with the world. A sort of GTA inspired mission-pickup plot device showcases The Stath's™ assassination techniques as being far more entertaining and inventive*1 than the script could ever hope to be.

The thing which probably bothered me most is that throughout the film, The Stath's™ face-fuzz routinely alternates between 'heavy stubble' and 'short beard'. Back and forth, for the whole damned thing. Although I imagine short facial hair over the course of a feature-length shoot is the bane of film editors everywhere. And to a lesser extent, it didn't go un-noticed that the cut/scabbed lip Jessica Alba arrives with, heals completely and without trace after she goes swimming in the sea ten minutes later. The health benefits of salt-water clearly lost since Victorian times, it appears. Neither of those are deal-breakers, of course, but if I pick up on things like the make-up department's continuity gaffes, it means that the film is singularly failing to hold my attention.

And as the film enters its third act, a third question coincidentally occurs: Has Academy Award winning actor Tommy Lee Jones' dramatic-currency devalued so much that he's prepared to don rose-tinted Lennons and a soul-patch as a second-tier bad guy in what is essentially a straight-to-video action sequel?

Evidently so…

Often terrible, often hilarious, but Mechanic: Resurrection is genuinely more fun than the last Bourne outing…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Jason Statham in that film he did after the Guy Ritchie ones..


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Well as big and loud as the film is, it was clearly designed for the small screen...


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Just about, but its intentions were hardly ground-breaking...


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
No.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
No.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Inexplicably, no.
Perhaps the sound editor wanted to preserve the documentary-level realism of the piece, instead?



Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: The Stath™ was, of course, in Expendables 3, as was Harrison 'Solo' Ford.
All roads lead to Han, today.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Oh, and if there's news report footage from a bystander filming the skyskraper-swimming-pool spiralling water out before it breaks, then there's got to be footage of The Stath™ swinging around underneath it at the same time, as he didn't make his escape until the whole thing shattered. So much for his 'making it look like an accident', which was the very reason he was hired. You had one job, The Stath™. One.


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Review: Nine Lives





Nine Lives (SPOILERS)
Cert: PG / 87 mins / Dir. Barry Sonnenfield / Trailer



Despite being a great devotee of all things cinematic, I don't really keep up with the 'showbiz news' side of the media. Tales of woe come and go, and unless they make it onto the 'actual' news or are scandalous enough to turn up in my Twitter feed, I don't really hear of them. As a result, I cannot imagine what financial apocalypse has occurred around the Academy Award winning actor Kevin Spacey that he'd sign up for this. Christoper Walken and Jennifer Garner's names on the cast list surprise me not one jot (they'd go to the opening of a fridge), but Spacey? That poor, poor man.

And so, the aforementioned trio autopilot their way through a Frankenstein body-swap morality tale, assembled from the disembodied tropes of every other one before it. Kevin Spacey is a slightly mean businessman (not like Ebeneezer Scrooge mean, just a bit grumpy like most middle-aged men tend to be) who is zapped into the body of a cat during a lightning storm after his daughter's wished for a cat, to teach him the error of his ways! And to get him to bring dead mice and birds in from the garden for his family more often. Or something. Naturally, hilarity ensues because cats are inherently comical creatures. Garner plays his unlikely borderline-trophy wife, Walken plays the wise old man in the pet shop (not at all like the old man off of Gremlins), and Malina Weissman plays his daughter: the kid-character in a kids' film who is largely ignored by the screenplay.

The film actually begins passably enough, Spacey playing his role with some amount of pantomime gusto, at least. But once he inhabits the cat's body (the point of the film, remember), the whole thing seems to grind to an embarrassing crawl. Without the facial reactions or physical acting to back it up, Spacey's laconic inner monologue comes off as abject boredom, as even the central premise of man-in-cat isn't mined for any sense of uniqueness or novelty.

One can only assume that the budget for this movie went on the cast and the (relatively well-rendered) CGI cat, because the rest of the film looks like a cheap TV-movie. Which is fine if it happens to be on your TV and you haven't actively paid to watch it. Because that's really all it's good for. Although even kids*1 are more discerning than this.

The most insulting aspect of the whole film is how unconvincing the 'be a better person' schtick is handled. It's not like there isn't a new interpretation of A Christmas Carol every other year; there are plenty of examples out there. If you need (or indeed, get) any kind of guidance from Nine Lives, you're already in a position where no film can save you.

…and the cat dies in the end.

They try and act like it doesn't, but we all know it does.



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
13 Going On 30 and YouTube cat-videos.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
No.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
No.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
No.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
…no.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
No.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film stars Kevin Spacey, who also appeared in 1988's Working Girl alongside Harrison 'Solo' Ford.
All roads lead to Han, today.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 And even as I type that I know I mean "especially kids". You might not like much of what they enjoy, but they're far more choosy consumers of entertainment than adults.


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Review: War Dogs





War Dogs
Cert: 15 / 114 mins / Dir. Todd Phillips / Trailer



No film with UB40 on the soundtrack should be this much fun. I mean, it's only the briefest of audible appearances from R*d R*d W*ne, but it was enough to get my back up straight away. The rest of the soundtrack is nicely eclectic in a way which isn't trying too hard (Suicide Squad, take note), but is also largely unpredictable. And in that respect, it fits the film quite well.

The True Story*1 tale of two unlikely arms dealers sees Jonah Hill and Miles Teller playing their exaggerated roles surprisingly straight (to the credit of both), as they manage to land a legal (if morally questionable) US military weapons-supply contract, which they end up fulfilling without morals or legality. The story is narrated retrospectively by Teller's character, David, so we know that he makes it to the end. For everyone else though, all bets are off.

Without knowing anything of the facts behind the case, I enjoyed it very much. Both of the leads are inherently watchable no matter how obstreperous their characters become, and while you're never completely on their side, you'd much rather see them succeed than fail. The film feels longer than its 114 minutes, but there's little downtime in the tale of escalating danger and administrative oversight. This is also beautifully shot; there are visual nods to Tarantino's early movies, and the Miami setting (when the story is taking place in the US) is deliberately reminiscent of Scarface. Although as the film goes on, it becomes clear that rather than passing a flirtatious note under the desk, writer/director Todd Phillips has penned a flat-out love letter to De Palma's greatest creation (right down to that poster at the top of this review). Hey, I love Scarface too, so it didn't bother me.

Unfortunately, I'm not convinced that War Dogs will get the exposure or recognition it deserves, because it appears to have been marketed largely as a comedy (Hill and Teller are both great comic actors, of course, and director Todd Phillips' Hangover connection has become his default epithet). While there are certainly laugh-out-loud moments in the movie, they arise from the absurdity of situations rather than scripted gags, and it's not really the chortle-fest some audiences might be expecting. Tonally, this is closer to The Wolf Of Wall Street (also fantastically funny in places) than any of the frat pack comedies it's borrowing the principal cast from.

A colourful movie painted entirely from grey-areas, War Dogs is better than you're probably expecting it to be…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
As mentioned above, it's rather like The Wolf Of Wall Street, with maybe just a smattering of American Hustle.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For the cinematography, yes.
The story can be watched at home, though
.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think it just about does, although the film's pacing is often its own worst enemy.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Not quite, but everyone involved with War Dogs should be proud.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I won't.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't, but there are a few boot-shots in there.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Well, Miles Teller was almost Han Solo but that ain't close enough, so let's go for Jonah Hill who appeared in Django Unchained, as did Sam 'Windu' Jackson.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 The words 'based on a true story' are usually a millstone around the neck of any movie, but any eyebrow-raising absurdities in War Dogs feel completely in keeping with the military and governmental organisations the lead duo are dealing with.

DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Review: Swallows And Amazons





Swallows And Amazons
Cert: PG / 97 mins / Dir. Philippa Lowthorpe / Trailer



In a rare display of cinematic synchronicity, we get a Summer-holiday adventure movie which is about an adventure during the Summer-holidays (The Purge, take note). This re-telling of Swallows And Amazons still has its quintessentially English vintage-setting and the earth-tones colour palette to match, but largely manages to avoid the Jolly Hockey-Sticks™ trap many of us were fearing. While there are cultural nods that the younger audience members may need explaining, the core of the story is more about the social interaction between children, making it pretty timeless.

Full disclosure, this was my introduction to Swallows And Amazons. I haven't seen the 1974 film, and if we covered the book(s) in school, I've long since forgotten all about it (although Mrs Blackout has very fond memories of both). This is worth mentioning because Phillippa Lowthorpe's 2016 adaptation features a new 'espionage' aspect which, while it hasn't exactly caused controversy, is the kind of thing that will always concern the purists.

That said I didn't notice the join, and having spies in a children's adventure/drama set three years before the Second World War feels perfectly natural to me. And with the story centering around six youngsters, this is very much A Children's Film. Which brings us to the downside, unfortunately. Let's just say that the talents of performance-delivery are not distributed evenly throughout the young cast, and it occasionally feels a bit like the Children's Film Foundation*1. That never quite derails things, but the screenplay is already torn between wanting to stick to the ethos of a more innocent drama and wanting to bring more edge to the source material, so ropey acting is an unwelcome distraction.

But above such trifling matters, Swallows And Amazons is a difficult film to actively dislike, because it's clearly coming from a place of great affection. While it's by no means perfect, this would have been very easy to get disastrously wrong, and Lowthorpe's vision holds it all together well. Kelly Macdonald, Rafe Spall and Andrew Scott are always great value for money, and Jessica Hynes and Harry Enfield bring a lightness of touch to the background. It's maybe a little televisual, but I'm glad the story has been told as a 90 minute film rather than being split into episodes.

As much as it sounds patronising or reductive to describe Swallows And Amazons as 'a sweet little film', that's precisely what it is. And there's no shame whatsoever in that…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
It's a bit Famous Five of course, but it's also a bit 39 Steps.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
This is a Sunday afternoon movie, and the cinema or your sofa will be fine either way.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Just about, yes.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
No, but it's in the top half of the list.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Nope.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Nope.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film's got Kelly Macdonald in it, who starred in Trainspotting all those years ago alongside Ewan 'Kenobi' McGregor.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 And while I'm not going to be so callous as to name them here, the worst offender in this department is so wooden that the film's outdoor setting meant they needed two fresh applications of creosote throughout production…


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.