Tag Archives: action movies

SXSW: Baby Driver

Is this the absolute coolest movie ever?

Honestly, I think I’d pay my $12 just to see that opening scene again.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver, the best in the biz despite his young age, according to his boss, Doc (Kevin Spacey). But Baby has a glitch: he wears ear buds constantly to fight tinnitus. So to him, the whole world is a soundtrack. And you’re about to enter his world.

Doc never works with the same crew twice, so we see a rotation of criminals including MV5BMzk0NzMyNzcyN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTYwNDU5MDI@._V1_Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), Griff (Jon Bernthal), Buddy (Jon Hamm), and my personal favourite, Bats (Jamie Foxx), personal motto: “I’m the one with mental problems in the group. Position taken.” GUYS, HE’S NOT KIDDING.

But don’t get attached to any of those fellows. This is Baby’s movie. He’s being coerced into this life of crime, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good at it. He is, however, trying to get out, and nothing is as inspiring as the love of a good woman. So when Deborah (Lily James) soft shoes into his life, he’s got a boner for the open road. But wait – you didn’t think getting out would be that easy, did you?

This is a film by Edgar Wright, whom I love, unreservedly. This is a very different sort of film from him, but he’s already thrust himself to the top of the game. When you catch your breath at the end of the film, you’ll have to answer me truly: have you ever seen action to equal it? Ansel Elgort’s character Baby is obsessed with two things: music, and cars. And so is the film; car chases and music both turned WAY up to 11. Anything that gets between them is incidental.

MV5BMTEyMzQxMTI0ODZeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDQ2MDQ1OTAy._V1_Wright is a phenomenal writer, and Baby Driver is just as quippy and quotable as any other in his oeuvre. The music jangles, sometimes wildly incongruous to what’s developing on screen, sometimes deliciously ironic, but it stitches the film together between Wright’s explosive action sequences. Wright’s films are always kinetic. His own exuberance for film making comes across on the screen, is barely contained by it, in fact.

If Ryan Gosling from La La Land fucked Ryan Gosling from Drive, Baby Driver is what you’d get. On paper, this isn’t the kind of movie I normally care about, or for, but on the screen it sang to me, I fuck-yeahed in the dark of the theatre, and I can’t wait until August when I can see it again.

 

 

 

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Incidentally, I have a mini poster signed by Edgar Wright himself. If you’re interested in winning it, Follow us on Twitter (@AssholeMovies), and retweet the relevant post. Comments here are worth extra entries. Good luck!

 

 

Also: super DUPER bonus: check out the comments section for ROBERT RODRIGUEZ doing a Q&A with Edgar Wright and stars Eiza Gonzalez, Ansel Elgort & Jon Hamm.

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SXSW: Atomic Blonde

I was sitting on the floor of the Austin Convention Center, waiting to get into the SXSW conversation between Nick Offerman and Nick Kroll when I got the news: Stella was gone. Out for a walk in the mountains near her Zurich home with her husband and her beloved Boxer, Odin, she slipped in some snow and fell 40m to her death. Just like that, one of the most vibrant women I’ve ever known, gone forever. Unfortunately I’ve had some experience with losing people unexpectedly, but that doesn’t make it easier. It’s unreal, incomprehensible. Sean held me tight as I fell apart in the middle of hundreds or thousands of happy festival-goers. I think Sean’s first thought was to get my soppy self back to the hotel room where I could grieve less publicly, but instead I found myself being filtered into the Nick Offerman thing, and then following my rigorous SXSW schedule, one thing after another: Bob Odenkirk and Fred Armisen, followed by Lemon, followed by Atomic Blonde. But it just so happens that the screening for Atomic Blonde ran late, and as I sat in an increasingly crowded theatre listening to a DJ spin some danceable 80s music, I had too much time to think, and my thoughts were filled with Stella, my own Atomic Blonde. This review is inadequately dedicated to her memory.

Atomic Blonde is a cross between James Bond and John Wick, except its protagonist, Lorraine (Charlize Theron), could kick both their asses without smudging her lipstick. Charlize made a splash as a kick-ass hero in Mad Max: Fury Road but this movie is pure Id, all sex and violence, with some 80s fashion and music thrown in for your hedonistic pleasure. Lorraine is an undercover MI6 agent sent to Berlin in the days before the Wall comes down to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a important list containing the names of double agents.

James McAvoy plays David, a fellow agent who’s been in Berlin a little too long. Berlin is, of course, in a state of chaos. Everything is changing, everything is moving fast. Lorraine has basically been sent into an impossible situation, and she’s going to have to fight like hell just to survive, let alone fulfill her mission.

The fight choreography on this film is amazing. Full stop incredible. Director David Leitch co-directed the first John Wick (uncredited) and will direct the second Deadpool, but he got his start in stunt work in films like Blade, Fight Club, Daredevil, and The Matrix films. His action sequences, which are perhaps 80% of Atomic Blonde, are faultless but relentless. The actors are BRUTALIZED.  Charlize Theron had 8 trainers to prepare her for the role, and she trained alongside Keanu Reeves as he got ready for John Wick 2. Theron is fearless and dauntless. The violence is graphic and unending. The story, however, isn’t quite equal to it.

The story is retold during an investigation conducted by an MI6 officer (Toby Jones) and a CIA executive (John Goodman). They’re an odd couple good for a couple well-needed laughs, but it drags you out of the action and out of Lorraine’s flashy world where her slick 80s ensembles (big props to Cindy Evans for creating so many memorable looks) are an interesting juxtaposition to Berlin’s crumbling dumpster fire of a city. And the thing is, with a premise that’s almost silly in its duplicity, the action is really the justification for this movie’s existence. With long cuts and mind-numbing body counts, the fight design won’t disappoint action purists. But anyone requiring a satisfying story should maybe look elsewhere.

SXSW: Small Town Crime

small-town-crime-F68309No matter how hard you try, you can’t see everything at a festival like SXSW. To prepare for these big festivals, we study the schedule like our lives depend on it, read the synopses repeatedly, and try to see as many of our favourite artists as possible.  All that prep work helps a lot, but sometimes a tight schedule makes a choice for us. That happened today with Small Town Crime and we were better off for it. Put simply, Small Town Crime is an indie gem that is one of the best films I’ve seen in 2017.

Featuring too many compelling, well-written characters to count, and matched by great performances from pros like John Hawkes, Octavia Spencer, and Robert Forster, Small Town Crime sparkles.  We are introduced right away to Hawkes’ suitably pathetic, yet undeniably charming, alcoholic ex-cop. He’s got a few skeletons too many in his closet, so he needs some breakfast beers in order to get underway each afternoon. But he is determined not to let that disease keep him from solving a mystery that falls right into his lap.

ian-nelms-F68309Functioning both as a whodunnit and an offbeat action-comedy, Small Town Crime is consistently good, especially when Hawkes’ character shares the screen with Forster’s concerned grandfather and Clifton Collins Jr.’s refreshingly self-aware pimp.  Writer-directors Eshom and Ian Nelms clearly recognized what they had and give those three characters a hefty share of screen time. That must have been particularly difficult here since the cast is extremely deep. Even with the focus on that trio, I was left wanting to see more of them. I’d be first in line for a sequel (or a television series) showcasing more of their adventures.

In addition to its fantastic characters, Small Town Crime also delivers great action scenes and showcases a wide array of memorable vehicles (the Nelms brothers are self-professed car nuts). Small Town Crime is a fantastic film that shoots right to the top of the list of must-see indie movies. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

If you’re at SXSW, you still have two more chances to see Small Town Crime on March 12 and 17, and otherwise, you should cross your fingers for this film to get a well-deserved wide release.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

jackreacher2-tomcruise-carwindow-gunpointMovies like Jack Reacher: Never Go Back make John Wick: Chapter 2 look like John Wick: Chapter 1.  I really enjoyed the first John Wick for its simplicity, tight action scenes, and original feel.  I criticized John Wick: Chapter 2 for its overly repetitive fight scenes but despite its flaws, it was still an enjoyable film.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is not enjoyable.  It feels old and tired, a cliché of a cliché.  The only fun I had while watching was making fun of all the things that Tom Cruise’s character could never go back to (and there’s a lot because he’s essentially a hobo who seems to piss off everyone he interacts with).

Basically, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is the most generic Tom Cruise action film you can imagine.  He runs really fast as always, though here a woman keeps pace with him somehow so she must have had superpowers.  Despite not winning the race, Cruise’s character redeems himself by being smarter than everyone, persisting in the face of slight facial injuries that show us he’s up against impossible odds, and drawing on the legal skills he learned during A reacherFew Good Men to avoid incriminating himself in one particularly Tom-Cruise-y scene (as you may have deduced, while watching this film I decided to treat Tom Cruise’s filmography as if he has literally been playing the same character this whole time, because figuratively he has been doing exactly that for the last 35 years).

I skipped the first Jack Reacher and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back made me really glad I did.  If only I had been smart enough to skip this one.  If you’re a fan of Mission: Impossible then you may get some minor enjoyment out of this one, but it’s a pale imitation (incidentally, when I saw the trailer I thought it was a new M:I movie so that’s an indication of how generic this movie really is).  Also, if you’ve seen the trailer you have already seen what might be Cruise’s best sequence in the movie.  Basically, there’s no need to buy this cow especially when the free milk being given away isn’t even fresh.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back gets a score of 4 unhandleable truths out of ten, because a film this mediocre and generic does not deserve any original wordplay.

John Wick: Chapter 2

wickbarI lagged way behind and only saw the first John Wick a few weeks ago when it popped up on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, and like action movies, it’s a good one (definitely good enough to warrant a sequel). And that sequel is now upon us.

John Wick: Chapter 2 is faithful to the first chapter’s formula, almost to a fault. That fault is repetitiveness, in a somewhat strange way. You see, one of the things I liked about John Wick (both the first movie and the character) is that he bleeds. He makes mistakes and the bad guys capitalize. He wins in the end through sheer force of will.

The same basic formula plays out in John Wick: Chapter 2 but since it’s a sequel, everything has to be tougher for our protagonist Jonathan (note to Ian McShane: emphasizing that this hit man’s full name is “Jonathan” is weird; please stop).  The problem is the way the difficulty is ratched up. Wick is not given tougher bad guys to face. He’s just given more of them, which makes the extended fight scenes a tedious series of guys running at Wick and Wick then shooting them twice in the body and one in the head.john-wick-chapter-2-keanu-reeves-419484-jpg-r_1920_1080-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx

Or, if two guys (or more) run at him at once (a SERIOUS violation of movie bad guy etiquette) he puts one in an MMA- style hold, shoots the other(s) in the body then head, then gives a head shot to the guy he wrestled down and has probably been using as a human shield while dealing with the other(s). Keanu Reeves obviously practiced this move particularly hard and good on him for still being credible as an action hero, but a little variety would have been nice in order to continue the first movie’s realistic feel.

(Don’t even get me started on the part where Wick is specifically given a gun with limited ammo and then immediately gets a magic movie gun from the first bad guy he kills that shoots about 30 times before he has to cock it again. Or the fact that in this film every second person in Central Park is an assassin.)

There’s more good and bad, and more good than bad in John Wick: Chapter 2. But when this movie’s ending set us up for the third instalment, I immediately thought of Jason Bourne, which I seriously considered turning off on a plane. That is a bad road for John Wick to be headed down.

John Wick: Chapter 2 gets a score of six smashed-up classic Mustangs out of ten. Essentially, the opening car-smashing sequence was a metaphor, in which Wick was this movie and my goodwill toward the first movie was the car. That it was such a nice car to begin with is the most disappointing part.

 

True Memoirs of an International Assassin

truememoirsinternationalassassin-kevinjames-gunContinuing the “proud” tradition of Paul Blart: Mall Cop, True Memoirs of an International Assassin is a movie that is so uninspired, it will make you search for other ways to pass the time.  After about five minutes, Jay started cleaning out our closet and is now showing me shirts I had forgotten I owned.  It turns out I have a lot of nice clothes!

True Memoirs of an International Assassin is not exactly a terrible movie.  It’s just a totally predictable and generic one to the point that it will drive you to housecleaning.  I think there was an attempt at a plot but it just felt like a blend of twenty other better movies, and even those “better” movies weren’t all that great.  This is another tale of South American dictators and guerrillas and druglords and corrupt CIA agents and one man standing up to them for the greater good.  When that one man is Kevin James, it is for some reason harder to swallow than when a fifty-something Harrison Ford did basically the same thing in Clear and Present Danger.  All the imaginary fight sequences in the world couldn’t make me believe that Kevin James could take anyone in a fight.

This movie might have been tolerable if Kevin James had delivered some comedy, of any kind.  Spoiler alert: he doesn’t.  This is not a comedy or a spoof.  It is an action movie starring a comedian which delivers mediocre and forgettable action from start to finish.  There is punching and shooting and jumping out of helicopters and it all feels flat and staged, but since there’s no satire to be found my only option was to try and enjoy the action for what it was.  I didn’t.  Again, it’s just stuff that we’ve all seen in a bunch of other movies, only not as good.

We are now back to rewatching Gilmore Girls in preparation for the reunion shows.  And even though by now I find all the Gilmores completely unbearable (we’re well into season six), at least they are making me laugh.  That’s all I expected from True Memoirs of an International Assassin and I was left wanting.  Don’t bother with this one.

Hacksaw Ridge

hacksaw-ridge-2016-andrew-garfieldThere are two main takeaways from Hacksaw Ridge: (1) even American acting jobs are now going overseas, as aside from Vince Vaughn every American soldier in this movie seems to be played by an Australian (included in that tally is Andrew Garfield, who I have since learned is British, not Australian, but still…); and (2) if the Japanese had just prayed harder they might have won the Second World War.

The Australian angle is natural since this movie is brought to you by “the director of Braveheart”. A similar thing is happening right now to Ben Affleck, now known as the artist who formerly directed Argo and the Town. Is this going to be a thing? Because I find it annoying that their actual names aren’t mentioned in the promotion of these movies at all. If the reference to their past movies means anything to you then you know who’s being referred to, so let’s say their name already and move on! Conversely, if the reference to the movie doesn’t mean anything to you then it’s unlikely to be a selling point. Either way, it’s wasted trailer time that could be better spent on spoiling more of the plot.

hacksaw_ridgeIncidentally, if the intent behind not putting Mel Gibson’s name up front in the marketing was to create some separation from those all-too-frequent racist comments in Mel’s past, it might also have been a good idea to cast at least one non-white guy. Just saying.

The prayer angle refers to Desmond Doss, a devout Seventh Day Adventist who was the first American conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor. Doss doesn’t want to kill anyone or even hold a gun, but he still enlists during WWII to serve his country as a medic. In typically American fashion, his refusal to carry a gun while training to march into a hail of bullets is viewed as a sign of cowardice rather than bravery (or insanity, or a mix of both). His objection is based on religious grounds as well as a bad childhood, and due to his objection every soldier he comes across in basic training looks down on him and tries to force him out. Fortunately for them,hacksaw-ridge-2016-ryan-corr-vince-vaughn he doesn’t hold a grudge, and hauls 75 of them off the Okinawa battlefield even after they made his life so rough.

Doss’ story is an incredible one and Mel Gibson’s direction does it justice. It’s a bit over the top at times, and you may get tired of the battleground shots being blurred or showing just the barrel of a firing gun or being in slow motion complete with matching audio. Despite that, the movie shines at the important moments, naturally displaying Doss winning over his detractors and putting the audience at Doss’ side as he sneaks through enemy territory looking for one more wounded soldier to save. Though the characters are largely one-dimensional, the cast led by Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington deliver quite a few memorable moments, including some well-timed humour amongst the horrors of war.

Hacksaw Ridge is cheesy and over-the-top in a mostly good way, and the sum of its parts is enough to overcome some significant flaws. Its unusual perspective and celebration of a dogged outlier makes it a worthy addition to the bloated catalogue of WWII movies.  Hacksaw Ridge earns a score of eight cringe-inducing battle wounds out of ten.

The Accountant

What if Batman was a bean counter? Okay, that’s not exactly what The Accountant is trying to do, but it’s close, closer probably than it intended.

Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff (not his real name: alter ego), a mild-mannered, socially awkward accountant. And when he whips his glasses off, he becomes a vigilante crime fighter. Sort of. Okay, what actually happens is he keeps his glasses on in order to “uncook” the books for various crime syndicates. Like, for the worst and dirtiest people. But if they break his moral code, he either calls in the commissioner – excuse me – treasury agent (played ben-affleck-first-look-at-the-accountant-socialby JK Simmons, who will indeed play Commissioner Gordon in Affleck’s upcoming The Batman) or goes ballistic on their ass. But not crazy ballistic: he remains very cold and very calm in order to diligently murder everyone in his path. So autism becomes a super power and The Accountant is just Batman without a cowl. Although admittedly when I saw Ben Affleck marking up a window, I immediately though of the role as a little more Good Will Hunting meets Jason Bourne – Matt Damon’s territory, in other words.

In order to play autistic, Ben goes affectless and Affleckless. He turns off the charm and the smirk and the simmering rage but doesn’t quite know what he’s left with. It doesn’t help that The Accountant suffers from its own identity crisis, sometimes darting into the phone booth as an action flick b3dd1dc8b235f1a14730dc81f5cffdfba6e4eae050f66447637fa4e75242f350complete with stalky sniper Jon Bernthal (from Daredevil, just not THAT Daredevil) as the villain, only to emerge as a drama or worse yet, a quirkie indie romance with Anna Kendrick as the Mary Jane, I mean, the damsel in distress\love interest. And if this all sounds like a lot to keep track of, don’t worry, there’s a portion in the middle that’s perfect for taking a 20 minute nap and waking up feeling like you’ve missed nothing at all.

But for all that, I enjoyed The Accountant. It’s not going to make my top 10 this year, and maybe not even my top 10 this week (that’s not a hard knock, I’m just on my way to a film festival), but it was entertaining and fun, even if Gavin O’Connor’s direction is a bit uninspired. Plus, it’s kind of great to see autism as an asset rather than a setback. Affleck manages not to overplay his cards although the story does require us to equate a neurodevelopmental disorder with superior morality – superior even to the law, which has Viola Davis’s voice ringing in my ears – what if the next Superman is an accountant?

 

 

Doctor Strange: IMAX 3D Sneak Peek

Last night I got to see what amounted to an extended trailer for Doctor Strange, in IMAX 3D.  At one time not too long ago, 3D movies were a real draw to me.  I remember dragging Jay to several 3D re-releases of movies we’d seen a million times before (but only in boring old 2D).  After intensive therapy (mainly arm punches from Jay), I’m mostly over that phase.

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Nowadays, I usually see movies without the dopey extra glasses, but after last night’s sneak peek I am convinced that I should see Doctor Strange in 3D, punching be damned.  The visuals are trippy enough to live up to Steve Ditko’s acid trip 60s backgrounds, depicting all the crazy dimensions that Doctor Strange passed through on his adventures, and that’s a high bar!

The preview’s centrepiece was an absolutely incredible city chase sequence, with gravity changing constantly, New York City collapsing onto itself, and destruction raining down on all sides as copies of buildings collide with each other.   Other scenes included nightmare dimensions full of grabby baby hands, fractal patterns expanding and contracting as Doctor Strange plummets through them, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t even begin to describe.  doctor-strange-comic

Marvel has done a great job of translating its characters to the screen while retaining the soul of the comic, particularly for second tier characters (with Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy being the best examples).  Doctor Strange seems set to follow that same path and with those other movies having paved the way, seems destined to depart at least a bit from the tried and true formula that we have seen way too often.

Whether the movie actually ends up being worthwhile is yet to be determined, but with a stellar cast (including Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mads Mikkelson), an hour of IMAX-specific footage, the report that Marvel had to adapt the visuals to make the 2D version make sense, and the amazing effects in the preview, IMAX 3D is the clear platform of choice to view Doctor Strange’s adventures when the film opens November 4th.

 

The Wave

We tried to see this at the Whistler Film Festival but they had both technical and organizational difficulties that meant the movie just didn’t play at our intended screening, and they weren’t able to get us into any other.

the-wave-movie-imageThe good news is, it’s on Netflix now, and you can satisfy your curiosity  as to how Norwegians handle disaster flicks. The easy answer: a lot like us. Sure they sound a bit like the Swedish Chef (yes I really am this ignorant!), but they’re privy to all the same tropes that we are:

 

  1. One guy knows the disaster is coming. No one will listen to him.
  2. His family is split up. Can he save his wife and son?
  3. His son is of course not paying attention. Doesn’t hear warnings. Impedes escape.
  4. Outrunning the disaster. Usually unsuccessful for most.
  5. Since the disaster is never enough, there has to be a superficial villain, and his or her karmic death.
  6. One word title. You may think the The in The Wave negates this, but it’s just Bølgen in its language of origin.

Kristian (Kristoffer Joner, in a weird combination of Hillary Clinton haircut and ginger pedo mustache) is athe-wave-2015-1080p-bluray-ac3-x264-norwegian-etrg-mkv0109 geologist who knows what’s coming, only no one will believe him. Classic case of ignored scientist syndrome. His wife  Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) and son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) are at a resort hotel in town. He and his young daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande) are of course elsewhere so of course when the alarm finally does sound, it’s too late for most, and this family will have to further test the odds by dividing them.

The disaster: an avalanche causes a rock slide which causes a violent tsunami. And it was such a picturesque fjord up until then. Everyone starts driving  in an up direction, which of course causes deadlock. They abandon cars to run. Some are so stupid you’ll hope to see them die (everyone else screams at this idiot too, right? Like, fuck, your stuffed bunny from the carnival where you had your 3rd best date isn’t literally to die for you motherfucker!!!) But the end for some will be so horrible you’ll take it all back, forgive them all their dumb mistakes. More or less.

There are fewer special effects scenes in this movie, which they make up for with more character, and that’s refreshing in a tired genre. In fact, this setting being relatively unknown is a nice change of pace. There’s no White House explosion or underwater Statue of Liberty. It’s new to my eyes, and likely to yours. Director Roar Uthaug gives us gritty rather than slick but it went down just as easily.