Captain Phillips Review – O Captain! My Captain!


Director: Paul Greengrass

Writer: Billy Ray (screenplay), Richard Phillips, Stephan Talty (book)

Stars: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Catherine Keener, Max Martini


Release date: October 11th, 2013

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 134 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Hanks’ potent performance.

Worst part: The one dimensional villains.

They say that: “truth is stranger than fiction”. The aforementioned saying specifically applies to extraordinary events that re-shape the world. People judge reality by comparing what they see in real life to what they see on the big screen. Thankfully, docudramas break down societal barriers and provide explicit accounts of history’s most delicate and harrowing moments. Subjectively re-creating historical events, docudramas are, nowadays, as informative and engaging as news bulletins. Captain Phillips, thanks to its compelling material and talent, becomes one such powerful and revealing docudrama.

Tom Hanks.

Thrilling and intense docudrama surges along whilst developing an attentive re-creation of one of the past decade’s most enthralling sagas. The story, based on Captain Richard Phillips’ book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea, documents Phillips’ terrifying ordeal and the contrast between men of vastly different cultures. Set in 2009, the plot kicks off with a beguiling insight into a small aspect of Phillips’ existence. Chatting to his wife Andrea (Catherine Keener) shortly before travelling overseas on business, Phillips discovers a monumental rift between his work and home lives. This latest adventure involves captaining the MV Maersk Alabama cargo ship from Oman, through the Gulf of Aden, to Mombasa. The perilous journey, from one port/safe haven to another, will test Phillips’ multifaceted role as the ship’s leader, negotiator, and protector. Meanwhile, on Somalia’s golden, sweltering coastline, fisherman and pirate Muse (Barkhad Abdi) is sent by his leaders to attain a sustainable bounty drifting out at sea. Taking control of his life-threatening mission, Muse takes several Somali pirates with him to board and hijack the Maersk Alabama. Using machine guns and tenacity, the pirates quickly head for the ship. Both crews’ captains push themselves, even before saying a single word to one another. Taking over the ship, Muse puts a gun to Phillips’ head and yells into the intercom to kickstart this chilling hostage situation. However, Phillips refuses to give up without a fight.

Barkhad Abdi.

Despite being hyper-aware of the true story’s outcome, I was immediately hurled into this emotionally affecting and intense thrill-ride. The story, altered to maintain the movie’s intensity throughout its exhaustive 2+ hour run-time, has been debated by historians and witnesses since the movie’s release. Despite understanding their points of view, I support the movie’s presentation of Phillips’ guile and bravery during his nightmarish ordeal. Director Paul Greengrass (United 93, BourneSupremacy and Ultimatum) is one the most influential directors currently working. His style, treading the line between realism’s limitations and cinema’s overwhelming potential, builds recognisable and fear-inducing worlds. Here, Greengrass ably compares Phillips’ home life to his pressuring career and its life-threatening side effects. The story, with its intensity and urgency escalating throughout, uses a limited amount of dialogue to convey Captain Phillips‘ ingenious and heart-aching messages. In the movie’s opening scenes, Phillips and Muse are depicted as determined and peculiar beings willing to die for what they are paid to protect. Greengrass’ attention to detail and staggering scope develop a 21st century hostage saga with consequences and thought-provoking morals. Greengrass, efficiently re-creating the intricacies of this life-changing ordeal, never lets the viewer forget about the story’s thematic and historic relevance. The movie’s gritty and profound depiction of this saga reminds us of the First and Third Worlds’ gargantuan differences. The contrast between Phillips and Muse’s existences defines Captain Phillips‘ emotional and psychological impact. However, unlike many docudramas, the movie is neither pro-America nor anti-globalisation. Greengrass sticks to his strengths to deliver a hostage-thriller about fathers, sons, leaders, and honour codes.

The unending crisis.

Captain Phillips, despite its gripping realism and frightening narrative, follows an understandable hostage-drama narrative. This moving and grounded action-drama is bolstered by Billy Ray(Shattered Glass)’s clever dialogue. Standing out within this hostage-thriller’s numerous tension-fuelled sequences, several quips and phrases define this movie’s purpose. With Phillips and Muse staring each other down, Ray’s dynamic screenplay hurriedly explains how one wrong word can lead to a bullet in the head. Of course, the audience, despite the movie’s emotional core, will turn out for the kinetic visuals and all-important hostage crisis. Greengrass’ masterful and affecting direction has been aimlessly copied by action-thriller directors throughout the past decade. After The Bourne Supremacy wowed audiences with visceral fight scenes and stomach-churning camera-work, Greengrass was labelled one of Hollywood’s most intriguing visionaries. Captain Phillips is the third Greengrass helmed Hollywood hit, following United 93 and Green Zone, to tackle a horrifying true story. Mixing realistic situations with electrifying visuals, Captain Phillips, from the first pirate siege sequence onward, becomes edge-of-your-seat entertainment. The attack sequences, illuminating Greengrass’ grainy and pulsating style, highlight the characters’ bold motivations. This survival tale of high seas terrorism would have suffered without Greengrass’ theatrics. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd throws us directly into this nightmarish ordeal. The quick cuts, shaking cameras, close ups, and rush zooms may turn people away, but it’s their loss for avoiding this confronting docudrama. Switching from the expansive cargo ship to the claustrophobic lifeboat, the relentless hostage crisis amicably kicks off a disarming whirlwind adventure.

“It was supposed to be easy. I take ship…ransom…nobody get hurt.” (Muse (Barkhad Abdi), Captain Phillips).

The initial attack.

Though Captain Philips contains brutal violence and engaging action set-pieces, the cat-and-mouse battle of wits is worth the admission cost. Comparing Phillips’ familial issues to Muse’s on-going fight for respect and survival, Captain Phillips subtly transitions into a movie about fathers, leaders, privileges, and consequences. The story-lines, though delicate, contain hard-hitting similarities that define the movie’s all-important themes. The contrasting story-lines are, thankfully, elevated by the characters. Representing the ‘working man’s hero’, Phillips becomes an avatar for the average film-goer. These unique individuals, despite their commendable ideologies and work ethics, are presented with a limited amount of dialogue. Searching the ship and crew for weaknesses, Phillips becomes a tough-as-nails leader with the best intentions. Captain Phillips treats its titular character with respect, but never presents him as a multipurpose action hero. Despite the Die Hard-esque ‘wrong place, wrong time’ premise, Phillips is a restrained man who uses words instead of weapons. We all love seeing Hanks portraying larger-than-life personalities in such classics as Forrest Gump and Toy Story. However, he also excels at playing scarily moody and straight-faced heroes. Here, Hanks garners a scraggly grey beard and thick Boston-Irish accent to develop an intriguing portrait of this courageous individual. Taking on hard-hitting scenes with raw passion, Hanks proves he is one of Hollywood’s greatest treasures. Former limo driver Abdi delivers a nuanced and enlightening performance as the pirate leader. Fleetingly transitioning from purposeful villain to sensitive soul, Muse is a fascinating baddie. Juggling Phillips’ tricks and his crew members’ wavering emotions, he is a fascinating force whose moral compass guides him. Unfortunately, his crew members are defined by archetypal character traits. The quiet, mysterious, and loud-mouth pirate characters become annoying follies.

Not for the faint-hearted, Captain Phillips excels thanks to its attention to detail, solid performances, and tension-inducing thrills. It’s exceedingly commendable that big-name directors can become invested in heart-breaking and engaging historical events. Here, Greengrass evolves into a cinematic newscaster – throwing us into a true story that immediately enthrals.

Verdict: An intense, powerful, and gritty docu-drama.

Machete Kills Review – A Bloody Mess


Director: Robert Rodriguez

Writer: Kyle Ward

Stars: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Mel Gibson, Carlos “Charlie Sheen” Estevez


Release date: October 11th, 2013

Distributor: Open Road Films

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minute


 

1½/5

Best part: The energetic performances.

Worst part: Rodriguez’ direction.

Every so often, big-name directors churn out critically and commercially panned movies, and, because they are stuck in the spotlight, they become ridiculed beyond belief. It may not be fair, but it’s inevitable. It proves that even Hollywood’s greatest figures make mistakes. However, I wish to point out a much worse scenario – when an auteur all but gives up on their grand vision. Mexican director Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, From Dusk till Dawn) has fallen into this trap. Judging by his latest action flick, Machete Kills, this director should go back to the drawing board. It has it’s moments, but, sadly, that’s the highest praise I can give it. Unfortunately, this zany homage becomes a schizophrenic miasma of stereotypes, actors collecting pay-checks, and dull sub-plots.

Danny Trejo & Michelle Rodriguez.

Rodriguez’ abhorrent laziness and lack of subtlety stand out in Machete Kills. There are not enough words to describe how schlocky, bland, and convoluted this exploitation flick becomes during its exhaustive 108 minute run-time. Bafflingly, describing this uninspired action flick’s plot requires a lot of energy and patience. Left for dead after a drug bust gone horribly wrong, leading to Sartana Rivera(Jessica Alba)’s murder, Machete (Danny Trejo) must reel from his lover’s death whilst being threatened by Sheriff Doakes (William Sadler). Thankfully, during his execution, he is summoned by US President Rathcock (Carlos Estevez aka Charlie Sheen) to save the USA and Mexico. Teamed up with feisty beauty queen and informant Blanca Vasquez (Amber Heard) and one-eyed senorita Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), Machete tracks down wanted revolutionary Marcos Mendez (Demian Bichir) before he can obliterate Washington DC. However, Mendez’ abduction doesn’t bode well for Mexico’s future. Mendez hurriedly places a $10 million bounty on himself to be saved from his tough-as-nails captor. This sets off a chain reaction, as brothel owner Madame Desdemona (Sofia Vergara), arms dealer Luther Voz (Mel Gibson), and infamous assassin El Camaleon (Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding jr., Antonio Banderas, Walton Goggins) poke their heads out from the Mexican desert to track down the mysterious anti-hero and his personality-shifting captee. Machete, considered a legendary badass and skilled lover, could use his remarkable talents to decapitate pure evil itself!

Carlos “Charlie Sheen” Estevez.

Honestly, despite researching this inferior sequel’s numerous arcs and twists, I can’t seem to recall anything about this movie. Rodriguez, convinced he is Mexico’s greatest visionary director, is now playing a one note banjo. This talented yet misguided filmmaker has underwhelmed since his debut feature El Mariachi took the low-budget film-making world by storm. That $7,000 gem placed one man in a frightening situation and pushed him to the edge. Machete Kills, with a budget probably 10 000x that of his first movie, should have relished in its opportunities to enthral filmgoers. Sadly, Rodriguez’ style and attention to detail have steadily declined in quality. Despite Sin City‘s understated success, movies like Spy Kids and Planet Terror failed to impress despite their overwhelming potential. Despite his Mexi-can-do attitude, Rodriguez’ talents are sorely wasted on Machete Kills. Though the original wasn’t exactly high art, it contained the grit and guts needed for this type of nostalgic romp. With Machete spawning from a fake trailer featured in 2007’s Grindhouse flop, Rodriguez’ senseless pride, bloated ego, and misguided optimism have proven costly. With its poor box-office receipts, the Machete series can assuredly be labelled the ‘headless chicken’ of franchises (not too dissimilar to the headless beings scattered throughout Rodriguez’ previous efforts). Surprisingly, Rodriguez had the audacity and guile to credit screenwriter Kyle Ward. Machete Kills, planting an array of exploitation-fantasy tropes into its confused narrative, lacks the punchy dialogue and unique characters Quentin Tarantino can craft from scratch. Jumping from Tex-Mex action flick to sci-fi extravaganza, Rodriguez’ ambitiousness flails as this ode to 70s exploitation cinema fizzles out before the half-way point. His purposefully derivative direction is, in itself, ageing dreadfully. With Rodriguez’s reach exceeding his grasp, Machete Kills proves that Rodriguez’ mid-life crisis is now becoming tiresome.

“I just gotta say that you are one genuine article, Genghis Khan, high-caliber, f*cker-people-upper.” (Voz (Mel Gibson), Machete Kills).

Sofia Vergara.

Rodriguez’ wink-and-nudge visual style, still as pulpy and outrageous as it was in the 90s, rages throughout Machete Kills. Stuck in Tarantino’s shadow, Rodriguez can’t help himself when it comes to filling every frame with gratuitous and wacky imagery. Kicking off Machete Kills with a goofy trailer for the threequel, Machete Kills Again…in Space, he douses the camera in elaborate costumes and unconvincing CGI. Despite the gag casting of Justin Bieber and Leonardo DiCaprio in the fake trailer, it proves the Machete character shouldn’t have left that 2-3 minute marketing realm. Replicating the kooky and laughable visuals reminiscent of direct-to-DVD and 60s sci-fi action flicks, Rodriguez’ kitsch aesthetic has become alarmingly discomforting. Here, the CGI backgrounds, blood splatters, and muzzle flashes overshadow the enjoyable and exhaustive action sequences. Despite consistently delivering his movies on time and under-budget (admittedly, a commendable feat), his style lacks the dynamic punch, satirical edge, and necessary thrills that could’ve made Machete Kills a bonafide hit. Here, tacky settings and cheap practical effects highlight Machete Kills‘ datedness. Fortunately, the bevy of B/C-list actors and Hollywood’s most deplorable celebrities lift the audience’s spirits. Clearly, these actors know more about B-movies than Rodriguez thinks he does. Trejo, a direct-to-DVD king himself, is a wondrous and engaging screen presence. Growling and slashing in every scene, he elevates several sorely unimaginative set-pieces. The titular legendary figure becomes a Mexican Roger-Moore-James-Bond-esque hero. Meanwhile, Vergara, Estevez, Gibson and Heard deliver sumptuous turns in underwhelming roles. Also, in Machete Kills‘ least interesting subplot, the El Camaleon becomes a breeding ground of unique celebrities and outrageous performances.

Unfortunately, Machete Kills‘ few shining moments become bursts of oxygen escaping a overwhelmingly toxic environment. Rodriguez’ penchant for making terrible movies on purpose has turned him into an obsessive and alienating director. Someone should tell Hollywood this ’emperor’ has no clothes.

Verdict: A clumsy and pointless hack-and-slash flick.

Prisoners Review – Pitch (Perfect) Black


Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Aaron Guzikowski

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Paul Dano 


Release date: September 20th, 2013

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 153 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Roger Deakins’ cinematography.

Worst part: The overt religious symbolism.

The 2013/14 Oscar season is chock-a-block with alluring crime-thrillers, docudramas, and fantasy-action romps. With crime flicks including The Counselor and Captain Phillips on the horizon, these big guns may, unfortunately, overshadow Prisoners. Despite the been-there-done-that premise, this detective-thriller contains many noteworthy aspects. With its dynamic performances, chilling moments, and ingenious visuals, this movie should, at least, be placed among each year’s seemingly hundreds of Best Picture nominees.

Hugh Jackman.

With many big-name directors and actors attached to this material during its time in Hollywood’s ‘blacklist’, this engaging and discomforting movie should’ve arrived earlier in this underwhelming year of celluloid. As a potent cure for a blockbuster season hangover, this expansive crime-thriller carries its weight whilst delivering a thought-provoking narrative. This procedural drama begins with a conservative look at the quaint middle-class American lifestyle many strive for. Carpenter and small business owner Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) leads a meticulous and peaceful existence. Teaching his children in the ways of his strict honour code, Dover runs a tight ship within his picturesque household. When Dover and his family, rounded out by wife Grace (Maria Bello), visit the Birch family, led by Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy (Viola Davis), for thanksgiving, they rejoice in the thrills of their enviable lives. However, everything hurriedly turns sour when the two families’ youngest members, Anna and Joy, go missing. One excruciating day passes after another, and Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), along with Pennsylvania’s finest, thoroughly search the state for the two children. With lead suspect Alex Jones (Paul Dano) continually being released from custody, Dover takes the law into his own hands. Running into Alex’s aunt Molly (Melissa Leo), Dover and Loki butt heads while vital clues remain scattered throughout the sleepy town.

Jake Gyllenhaal.

Despite the trailers’ brave attempts to spoil this well-crafted crime-thriller, the marketing, thankfully, leaves out the movie’s many disturbing twists and turns. Comparing this detective-thriller to such TV dramas as Law and Order and The Killing does not do it justice. Prisoners is significantly greater than a by-the-numbers crime-drama because it focuses on its most accessible and intriguing aspects. The A-list cast and crew lend their talents to this darkly sickening thriller to deliver a blood-curdling and tension-filled Oscar contender. Prisoners taps into the First World and dismantles it from its core. Over the course of its exhaustive two and a half hour run-time, the movie’s media-and-law-abiding setting, establishing the familiar traits of the Dover and Birch households, is thoroughly examined. Prisoners bravely emphasises the things that force people to turn against one another. Within the opening scenes, the families enjoy a sumptuous and comforting time together – playing popular tunes, laughing heartily, and holding one another tightly. However, once the first rain storm hits, the narrative sends the characters and audience into an emotional tailspin. Prisoners boldly attempts to determine who, out of the criminals lurking the dour streets or victims who overturn the law, are the real ‘prisoners’ within this movie’s naturalistic yet troubling populous. Containing similar plot-points and themes to Mystic River and Gone Baby GonePrisoners lands its punches similarly to those influential and moody kidnap-dramas. Similarly to Denis Lehane and Cormac McCarthy’s seminal works, Prisoners presents a tabloid media-like situation in meticulous and graphic detail. Despite the overt messages and graphic nature, this crime-drama delivers on its many audacious promises.

Viola Davis & Terence Howard.

Despite its conquering story and gripping sequences, Prisoners falls flat whenever it relays its fear-inducing messages. Aiming to explore the First World’s obsession with anti-heroes, paranoia, and the media, the movie’s themes land with a heavy thud. As each character switches from good to bad and vice versa, the movie’s unsettling religion vs. atheism debate lingers unnecessarily. Frequently discussing religion’s power over large groups, the movie’s Bible-thumping nature soon becomes cringe-worthy. Prisoners also continually emphasises the angels and demons scrounging throughout the maze-like labyrinth. Comparing several of the Bible’s influential verses to the characters’ shocking actions and consequential decisions, Prisoners occasionally struggles to depict its profound shades of grey. Thankfully, the movie’s powerful visual style smooths over the narrative’s crevasses. Director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) effectively unleashes the story and setting’s grittiness upon the audience. Beyond the town’s recognisable layout, the landscape’s seedy underbelly, illustrated by dirt-covered vistas and rain-soaked streets, becomes a villainous character in itself. This subtle yet powerful visual style succeeds during the torture sequences. The dilapidated interiors and bone-crunching violence heighten the movie’s tension-inducing moments. Let’s not forget that Prisoners‘ visual style largely comes to life because of Roger Deakins’ punishing and controlled cinematography. Lending each rainstorm, snow-covered setting, and sparsely lit area a profound purpose, Deakins develops an immaculate stronghold over every scene. Zooms and pans elevate even the movie’s most sombre moments. Despite the movie’s wavering pace and bizarre quirks, the distinct sound design and purposeful editing pushes the audience into this emotionally bruising and visceral roller-coaster ride.

“He’s not a person anymore. No, he stopped being a person when he took our daughters.” (Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), Prisoners).

Melissa Leo & Paul Dano.

Any discussion of Prisoners should include coverage of the ambiguous and amoral characters. These people, though likeable in some respects, are scummy and refuse to admit fault. Despite some characters’ absurd characteristics, many of them hauntingly transition from humans to animalistic cretins. As the movie progresses, the characters’ intriguing tendencies switch from fascinating to horrifying to justifiable. Carrying the movie’s religious symbolism, the contrasting story-lines, revolving around Dover and Loki, boost this intricate crime-thriller. Dover is a force of nature unafraid to fight for his ‘tribe’. He, transitioning from stern father to malicious avenger, resembles many of modern entertainment’s most masculine and vicious characters. Embracing crucial anti-hero characteristics, Jackman delivers an Oscar-worthy performance. Throwing his nice-guy persona aside for this polarising character, Jackman’s purposeful mannerisms and thundering cries illuminate the character’s emotional torment. After his career-defining turn in Les Miserables, his performance here should garner him a second successive Oscar nomination. As the other side of the same battered coin, Loki’s unsettling interior is replicated on the outside. With slick hair, religious tattoos, and a sketchy persona, the symbolism is, literally and figuratively, worn on his sleeve. As the befuddled yet determined cop on the challenging case, Loki’s slight arrogance and by-the-book methodologies land him in trouble with outrageous cops and criminals. Gyllenhaal’s courageous turn elevates this disturbed character’s journey. Dano and Howard deliver brave performances in small turns. Unfortunately, Bello and Davis are under-utilised in silly and irritating roles.

As a haunting drama-thriller that throws the audience into a moral black hole, Prisoners made me ask myself the question: “What would I do if I were in their position?”. This intriguing movie lurches into polarising areas to deliver a confronting yet entertaining examination of humanity in its darkest hour.

Verdict: A confronting, raw, and engaging crime-thriller. 

2 Guns Review – Straight Shot


Director: Baltasar Kormakur

Writers: Blake Masters (screenplay), Blake Masters (graphic novel)

Stars: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton


Release date: August 2nd, 2013

Distributors: Universal Pictures, Entertainment One, Foresight Unlimited, TriStar Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 109 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Washington and Wahlberg’s chemistry.

Worst part: The excessive number of characters.

Have you ever heard the saying: “don’t judge a book by its cover”? Unfortunately, despite being a convincing resolution, it’s still exceedingly tempting to do so. However, something we could be so brashly judging may just catch us by surprise if we delved deeper. With a poster featuring two big-name actors, guns, helicopters, and flaming currency, it’s believable that 2 Guns could’ve turned out to be a forgettable, by-the-numbers action flick. Thankfully, it provides many effective kills and thrills along the way.

Denzel Washington & Mark Wahlberg.

Elevated by an enthusiastic cast, ingenious action sequences, and crackling dialogue, 2 Guns may become 2013’s biggest surprise hit. In a year filled with sci-fi blockbusters, comic-book extravaganzas, and ultra-popular ensemble comedies, a standalone action-comedy like this is infinitely refreshing. It may not bring the buddy-cop genre back into the spotlight, but it’s an enjoyable example of what these movies can accomplish with the right resources. Similarly to our plucky heroes, this movie, unfortunately, may be overlooked in favour of significant financial rewards elsewhere. In typical action-comedy fashion, slo-mo, cheesy one-liners, and masculine characters kick-start the narrative. Burning down a diner to cover their infamous tracks, Michael ‘Stig’ Stigman (Mark Wahlberg) and Robert ‘Bobby’ Trench (Denzel Washington) believe they have set up the ultimate heist for the bank across the street. After getting close to grimy Mexican mobster Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos), the wisecracking duo pull off the robbery with seemingly flawless execution. However, their antics reel them into the CIA, DEA, and NCIS’ lines of fire. After each discovering their true identities and allegiances, Stig and Bobby must reluctantly work together to discover who their dangerous $43 million haul belongs to, while treading lightly to avoid Naval Intelligence commanding officer Harold Quince (James Marsden), DEA handler Deb (Paula Patton), and vicious badass Earl (Bill Paxton).

Paula Patton.

Since the late 80s and early 90s, buddy-cop movies and Quentin Tarantino knock-offs have come thick and fast. Aiming to be as memorable and entertaining as their influences, many crime-capers fail to deliver the emotional depth and visceral sensations required. Screenwriter Blake Masters, adapting Steven Grant’s Boom! Studios comic book, has delivered an appropriate and engaging mix of character development and wittily bombastic comedy. From the opening sequence, the movie delves into this convoluted plot and attempts to unravel its many intriguing strands. Here, the cards are dealt and played at opportune moments to keep audiences engaged. In this topsy-turvy narrative, our characters come across multiple twists and turns that throw them, and the audience, for a loop. In spite of its charms, the story wears out its welcome by the end of the second act. By then, too many characters, factions, and codes of honour have been set up and moved around the movie’s hostile environment. Despite the engaging personalities, each motivation and betrayal becomes increasingly silly and uninteresting. Also, despite its lightheartedness, 2 Guns takes an aggressive stab at government agencies. Depicting the CIA to be as despicable as the Galactic Empire, the movie’s message awkwardly fits into this otherwise diverting experience. Here, director Baltasar Kormakur (Contraband) takes leaves out of many books. Fans of men-on-a-mission movies like The Losers and The A-Team will savour 2 Guns‘ wavering logic and overt masculinity. Kormakur is also immensely infatuated with, and borrows ideas from, seminal action-comedies like Lethal Weapon and 48 Hours. Fortunately, the movie sizzles whenever the dialogue flows. Similarly to William Monahan and David Mamet’s material, each expletive-filled insult and intriguing anecdote efficiently sums up each scene’s value. Thanks to the kinetic rat-a-tat dialogue on display, lines like: “you never heard the saying: “don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in 3 counties”?” become spun gold.

“You never heard the saying: “never rob a bank across from a diner with the best donuts in three counties?”” (Bobby (Denzel Washington), 2 Guns).

Bill Paxton.

Despite the third act’s excessive reliance on action set-pieces and stupefying plot-twists, the movie assuredly maintains an appropriate tone and solid pacing. Throughout this amusing buddy-cop movie, Kormakur throws everything he can at the screen. If you didn’t know this was a comic book movie, the slo-mo, tough-guy posturing, and distinctive character types will immediately fill you in on the details. Thanks to the punchy action sequences, 2 Guns adds up to the sum of its parts. Each set-piece ratchets up the much-needed tension and excitement. Before the last bullet is fired, Kormakur increasingly ups the ante with each gun-fight, explosion, brawl, car crash, and Mexican stand-off. In particular, the Point Break-esque bank heist sequence is enjoyable and climactic. Within this scene, the anticipation builds as one obstacle after another is encountered and conquered. Also, the car chase, in which Stig and Bobby frantically wrestle for control over one another, is pulsating and amusing. When it comes to the colourful and violent characters, the cast elevates this sorely conventional material. Like Tarantino’s array of seductive yet scummy anti-heroes, 2 Guns‘ characters sport many distinctive aesthetic and internal qualities. Definitively, the movie’s comic book-like cartoonishness comes from its wild personalities and frenetic stylishness. Washington’s hardened DEA agent role doesn’t stretch the actor’s immense talents, but his energetic screen presence still elevates the character. He brings his own pizzazz and charm to the role – sporting gold teeth, funky fedoras and a can-do attitude. Similarly, Wahlberg’s charisma boosts his been-there-done-that role. His character’s foul-mouthed/trigger finger persona provides many big laughs. Patton is stranded in a ball-busting (in more ways than one) yet two-dimensional role, and Paxton is enjoyably slimy as the amoral freewheeling villain.

From the snappy, insult-fuelled dialogue to the wacky action sequences, 2 Guns is significantly more intelligible and entertaining than exploitation-king Robert Rodriguez’ recent efforts. Washington and Wahlberg develop a substantial amount of chemistry despite the conventional material. There is one thing I can confirm without spoilers: there are way more than two guns in 2 Guns.

Verdict: A hilarious, enjoyable yet convoluted action-comedy.

Runner Runner Review – A Costly Gamble


Director: Brad Furman

Writer: Brian Koppelman, David Levien 

Stars: Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie


Release date: October 4th, 2013

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 91 minutes


 

 

 

Best part: Ben Affleck. 

Worst part: The laboured pace.

Review: Runner Runner

Verdict: A gorgeous yet by-the-numbers corporate/techno-thriller.

Rush Review – Speed of Life


Director: Ron Howard

Writer: Peter Morgan 

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara


Release date: September 13th, 2013

Distributors: Universal Pictures, Entertainment One, StudioCanal, Universum Film AG

Countries: UK, Germany, USA

Running time: 122 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Hemsworth and Bruhl.

Worst part: The under-developed female characters.

To a certain extent, sport is instilled in everyone’s flesh and blood. In an instant, it can send people into dizzying highs or crushing lows. It can represent an entire country’s strengths and weaknesses, and can turn hard working men and women into enviable role models. A sport built on an excess of prestige and power is Formula 1 racing. This enrapturing event is captured seamlessly in Rush – a movie about taking names, becoming a champion, and rolling with the punches.

Chris Hemsworth.

Built on top of piles of money and will-power, Formula 1 is one of sporting history’s greatest accomplishments. This popular sport, as Rush is concerned, attracts people thanks to thrills, chills, and spills. Documenting the search for glory and recognition, Rush presents a brutally honest yet beguiling analysis of this dangerous competitive sport. This pulsating and emotionally powerful sports drama chronicles two drivers pushing themselves to breaking point. Money and power hungry playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) lives for the many highs of his debaucherous lifestyle. Sleeping around first and winning Formula 3 races later, his immense talents are a match for the punishing Formula 1 circuit. His leap from Hesketh racing to Mclaren sets him up for success. Meanwhile, irritable and socially inept Austrian driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), after turning down his father’s offer to become an accountant, takes it upon himself to reach his near untouchable goals. His intensity and overblown persona push him from low-level team BRM into Formula 1 powerhouse Ferrari’s line of sight. With both drivers reaching the prestigious event by 1975, their troubling Formula 3 rivalry spills over into their first Formula 1 season. From then on, the opposing forces stare each other down whilst speeding along tracks across the world. Off the track, Hunt’s enviable yet questionable antics hurl him into several regrettable decisions, including a rushed marriage to supermodel Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde). Meanwhile, Lauda’s relationship with the ever understandable Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara) will force Lauda into deciding where his priorities lie.

Daniel Bruhl.

Whether Steve McQueen is lighting up the track in Le Mans or Lightning McQueen is zipping through an animated universe in Pixar’s Cars, car races/chases are welcome on the big screen. Tapping into modern sporting culture thanks to Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull Racing quarrels, Rush illustrates that sportsmanship is just as important as landing a spot on the podium. Unlike today’s Formula 1 competition, the 70s era relied entirely on sleaze, slickness, style, technological advancements, and greed. It was an era in which Cigarette sponsorship and chauvinistic personalities were far more important than teamwork and determination. Its cultural impact rang true with people escaping their lives to watch celebrity sportsmen glide around a track at breakneck speeds of up to 300km/h. Director Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) potently relays these seminal themes. Known for jumping between genres and extraordinary stories, Howard’s directorial style achieves a sensory and psychological stranglehold over multiple demographics. From crime-thrillers (RansomThe Da Vinci Code),to Westerns (The Missing), and family-friendly adventure flicks (The Grinch), Howard’s film-making dexterity, attention to detail, and persistence continually shine through. Like with Cinderella Man, Howard is unafraid to present the realistic and fantastical elements of this inspirational story. He is brave enough to utilise advantageous sports movie tropes and an efficient docudrama structure. Like his other biopics, Rush highlights the lead characters’ historical importance by presenting a memorable and valuable part of their lives. Despite having not been interested in Formula 1 racing before, I was instantly swept up in Rush‘s subtleties and frenetic narrative. Thankfully, the energetic pacing establishes the thrills and visceral nature of Hunt and Lauda’s bitter rivalry.

The thrill of the race!

The greatest sports movies leave the most alienating aspects of each sport on the sidelines. They swing for the fences to highlight the symbolic intricacies and emotional moments. Like Moneyball and Warrior, Rush focuses on the intense physical, mental, and spiritual training these athletes undertake. The movie’s tension-inducing spectacle, of cars circling round tracks and livelihoods spiralling out of control, delivers a rush in itself. Before it reaches the checkered flag, the movie depicts a sensitive yet dense examination of manliness, egotism, and humility. The lead characters embark upon parallel journeys that strengthen the narrative. Throughout the snarky battle of brains, braun, wits and raw talent, Howard leaves no stone unturned. This invigorating drama lives by the phrase uttered pensively by Lauda: ”A wise man learns more from his enemies than a fool from his friends”. It captures the soaring highs and crushing lows of these characters’ existences. Pushing themselves tirelessly to achieve perfection, their breaking points are expressed in startlingly different ways – Hunt’s through pleasure and Lauda’s through searing pain. Like with Frost/Nixon, Howard crafts a metaphorical boxing match, on and off the track, between two understated professionals. Howard creates a detailed timeline of applaudable life achievements, from the gleeful Formula 3 race to the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix, and gently hits the breaks during the tender moments. It’s a tale of sportsmen driven by obsession, manipulation, oneupsmanship, and envy. These men would rather complain to the authorities about petty insults and slight miscalculations than accept defeat. Despite this, these unlikable yet lauded figures transition into empathetic individuals. With explosive arguments spiced up by punchy, profound dialogue, Peter Morgan’s impeccable screenplay is whistled through commendable accents and mannerisms.

“A wise man can learn more from his enemies than a fool from his friends.” (Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), Rush).

Olivia Wilde.

Rush‘s pulpy visual style, thanks to Howard’s succinct direction and Anthony Dodd Mantle’s kinetic cinematography, punches it into overdrive. Their attention to detail and engaging visual styles capture the era’s bold aesthetic. Mantle’s monumental camerawork tingles the senses and lends this obscure story a bubbly personality. Howard gleefully toys with historical events. Eye-catching montages emphasise the distinct intricacies of the characters’ lives and ostentatious Formula 1 season. Rush gleefully displays every bright, enthralling facet of this valuable and chauvinistic era. Archival footage is spliced seamlessly into certain sequences to emphasise the story’s importance. Howard relentlessly splatters the screen with a vibrant and eye-catching re-creation of the sexy 70s. The immaculate costumes, set designs, practical effects and CGI vistas fuel the movie’s verisimilitude. If that wasn’t enough, Howard’s auteur touch even makes sure the wacky hairstyles, bloated egos/personas, and roaring crowds all put in 110%. The ladies may turn out for Hemsworth’s staggering physique (on display throughout), but everyone will enjoy the kinetic and meticulous race sequences. These tension-inducing set-pieces move blindingly fast and illustrate why 25 drivers risk their lives to compete each year. Mantle puts the pedal to the metal in these sequences, emphasising each joyous and disastrous moment with immersive tracking shots and first-person photography. Crashes and tailspins cap off each race with flawless technical precision, depicting the competition’s baffling cruelty. This is edge-of-your seat entertainment, hitting the audience with car crash-like force. Flashy title cards, freeze frames, and Hans Zimmer’s thundering score rev-up each race and illuminate Rush‘s sweeping scope. The movie accurately presents the cars, pit crew gear and tracks from this memorable era. Shots showcasing oil hurriedly pouring into engines, flames bursting out of exhausts, and intense rumbles continually build to captivating climaxes.

Man and machine!

Despite it’s glorious positives, Rush pulls some awkward skids along the way. Howard’s heavy handed messages are needlessly explained. Philosophical moments, clunky speeches, and metaphors dent this otherwise enjoyable experience. As with most docudramas, the celebrity characters attract large audiences. Formula 1 nuts, in particular, will be pleased to see Hunt and Lauda being treated with respect. Rush‘s objective insight focuses on the well-known wheelings and dealings of Formula 1. Lauda is a fascinating and frustrating character. Ordering a pit crew to stay over night to fix his car, Lauda is a man who, for better or worse, always has his mind on the job. Believing that Formula 1 is, by far, the greatest thing on Earth, this socially awkward character embraces his persistence and rat-like persona. Insults fly left and right when he meticulously inspects other drivers’, managers’ and mechanics’ efforts. Bruhl delivers a captivating and intense performance as, arguably, Formula 1’s greatest machine. His romantic sub-plot develops this multi-dimensional character. On the other hand, Hunt is a god-like enigma and confused, childish celebrity who continually pushes himself to the limit. A spoiled brat fascinated by life’s most pleasurable facets, victory, money, women, drugs, and alcohol may push him to the edge. Hemsworth delivers a dynamic and touching performance as this alluring yet tragic figure, capturing Hunt’s sense of humour and boyish charm. Rush‘s most powerful moments involve conflicts between opposing individuals e.g. Hunt’s violent run-in with an obnoxious journalist. Unfortunately, the sub-plot between Hunt and Miller lacks lasting impact and is only touched upon in three potent scenes.

Faster than a Ferrari, smoother than an Aston Martin, and grander than a Rolls-Royce, Rush is a modern action-drama without the excess, bloat or predictability. With its immaculate attention to detail, kinetic visuals, and powerhouse performances, the movie ultimately suggests that nothing is more exhilarating than the speed of life.

Verdict: A tense, thought-provoking, and emotionally resonant sports-drama.

Riddick Review – Diesel Injection


Director: David Twohy 

Writer: David Twohy

Stars: Vin Diesel, Matt Nable, Katie Sackhoff, Jordi Molla


Release date:  September 6th, 2013

Distributors: Universal Pictures, Entertainment One

Countries: USA, UK

Running time: 119 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: Vin Diesel.

Worst part: The irritating supporting characters.

For the past decade, Hollywood has failed to decide who should be the next big-name action star. When studios aren’t looking at international talent like Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais, they put British and Australian actors in iconic spandex outfits to fight for truth, justice and the American way. Despite this, Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson have fought tooth and nail to become tinsel town’s biggest tough guys. Judging by their efforts this year, I’d take Johnson’s magnetism over Diesel’s gruff persona any day.

Vin Diesel.

Having said that, Diesel’s screen presence saves Riddick from being a forgettable and puzzling disaster. It’s not simply that this third instalment is unintentionally laughable and uninspired, it’s that there is nothing special here to separate it from other similarly derivative sci-fi action flicks. Unfortunately, this instalment won’t draw any new converts to this inexplicably popular series. This by-the-numbers thriller begins with stern narration and the titular character being thrown into a harsh wasteland and left for dead. Richard B. Riddick (Diesel) travels across the desert looking for any sign of life. Fixing his broken bones whist adapting to his peculiar surroundings, Riddick must regain his immaculate strength and agility. Setting off a distress beacon, he waits patiently for his ‘saviours’ to arrive. Two ships head to the planet with intent to find the Furyan criminal. Looking to obtain a significant bounty, Santana (Jordi Molla) and his crew want nothing more than to put Riddick’s head in a box. The other ship, captained by Johns (Matt Nable), is searching for answers relating to Riddick’s shadowy past. Everyone quickly realises that, on this planet, the hunters can quickly become the hunted.

The monsters of “Not Furya”.

What follows is a contrived and over-the-top action flick devoid of emotional resonance or suspense. The wafer-thin plot can be seen in far greater sci-fi action movies that deliver greatly on what they promise. Diesel bought the rights to his beloved character when he scorched the screen with his cameo in The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift. The charismatic actor’s love for this series’ bizarre universe has turned it into a warped Dungeons and Dragons rip-off (ironic, given Diesel’s love for the game). His influence overshadows this instalment’s slight potential. With Pitch Black launching his career, it’s understandable why he is infatuated with his muscle-bound creation. However, the preposterous and lacklustre sequel The Chronicles of Riddick almost killed Diesel’s once promising critical and commercial prowess. For this third instalment, series director David Twohy has left behind the ridiculous warring factions, video game-like action sequences, and uninteresting characters (sorry, Judi Dench) that plagued the second instalment. Despite his commendable intentions, there is a definitive lack of subtly in this subdued instalment. Riddick kick-starts by looking back on the convoluted Necromonger plot-line from the second instalment. Thankfully, this is only touched upon within the first 20 minutes before Riddick embarks on his next adventure. Despite a brief appearance by Karl Urban, the opening’s overt cheesiness and erratic exposition quickly stall proceedings. Diesel may understand this peculiar backstory, but many viewers will be left scratching their heads. As viciously as Riddick’s attacks, this movie hurriedly throws the one-two punch of repetitiousness and predicability. Following this series’ tradition of deriving from such sci-fi dramas as Mad Max and Blade Runner, this instalment divides itself into three uninspired acts. Scenes and concepts are blatantly copied and pasted from I Am Legend, Predator, and Aliens. A compelling ode to 80s and 90s action/exploitation movies this is not. in fact, nowadays, this type of action movie is ripe for parody.

Katie Sackhoff.

Despite the noticeable plot holes and cliches, jarring tonal shifts, and wavering pace, Riddick is saved by its unique and visceral visual style. The first 25 minutes, in particular, showcase the decrepit landscape this titular anti-hero is stranded on. As soon as Riddick wakes up, everything is irritated by his presence. The Hyena-like wolves and vicious scorpion-like monsters prove to be more cunning adversaries than the gun-toting mercenaries. The cinematography spiritedly captures the sun-scorched nature of this dangerous world and the surrounding planets. Described by Riddick as “Not Furya”, each horizon is peppered with mountainous natural structures, bright yellow and red hues, and bubbling pools. One scene, in which Riddick must hold his breath in a steaming lagoon to escape trouble, emphasises his pressing situation. Coming off of yet another Fast and Furious instalment, Diesel has proven his love for inventive and engaging action sequences. Here, though the hit-and-miss CGI becomes distracting, each set-piece is controlled, shockingly violent, and showcases Riddick’s jaw-dropping talents. Despite stealing visual flourishes from Predator (in particular, the purple-tinged night vision), this movie contains many thrilling sequences. Riddick’s fight atop a mountain, lit by lightning strikes, display shades of the conquering action flick buried underneath this underwhelming final product. The movie’s reach exceeds its grasp in multiple aspects. The production design was obviously battered by the movie’s low budget. Some scenes deliver impressive CGI vistas, while others only deliver cheap, inferior sets. The unconvincing mix of practical effects and CGI illustrate the movie’s rushed production schedule and generic execution. Thankfully, the rumbling score and sound design led tension to this otherwise predictable affair. Since the story and characters are unconvincing, the jump scares and gun-fights are relied upon to deliver the goods.

“Don’t know how many times I’ve been crossed off the list and left for dead.” (Riddick (Vin Diesel), Riddick).

Diesel vs. the rest!

Despite Diesel’s commitment to this flailing franchise, this instalment doesn’t give you a lot of new or exciting information about Riddick himself. The movie wants to have it both ways – presenting a gritty survival story and an ultra-stylish actioner. The movie’s wavering tone affects the character development. At one point, Riddick inexplicably nurses a dying puppy dog back to health – contradicting continual reminders of Riddick’s alarming reputation. Despite Diesel’s charms, this odd-couple friendship is overtly familiar. Having said all that, Diesel’s intriguing performance bolsters the movie despite it taking several silly and confusing turns. Despite the first third’s irritating and useless narration, the gravely voice, charisma and physical presence define his applaudable involvement with the pivotal role. It feels as if we are re-visiting an old friend when the bright blue contact lenses and black goggles are re-introduced. Turning tough guys into kittens as he hauntingly stalks his prey, it’s refreshing to see Riddick toy with his foul-mouthed, over-compensating victims. His murderous methods illustrate that he is as an intense physical and mental force. His clever traps, witty one-liners, and soccer/machete skills establish his an effective and honourable anti-hero status. Unfortunately, the supporting characters are overly macho and offensive to the point of being laughable, and do nothing but become gooey cannon fodder. The baby-oil soaked mercenaries are defined simplistically by threatening poses, impeccable physiques, and silly costumes – turning this instalment into a two-hour pissing contest. The preposterous dialogue doesn’t help. Some characters come off as laughable idiots rather than skilled mercenaries. It’s a problem when the planet’s creepy-crawlies are far more interesting than the humans. Nable and Molla are energetic in conventional roles. Meanwhile, TV icon Katie Sackhoff has her moments as the universe’s toughest female.

Despite its ingenious visuals and solid performances, the ludicrousness of both the premise and execution becomes crystal clear. Plot and character inconsistencies prevent this manic instalment from being the pulsating hyper-kinetic action flick it should have been. The movie is so silly it’s ‘Riddick-ulous’.

Verdict: A sumptuous yet problematic sci-fi action flick.