Stars: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte le Bon, Kelly Reilly
Release date: April 22nd, 2016
Distributor: Focus Features
Running time: 92 minutes
Best part: Idris Elba.
Worst part: The convoluted plot.
Action-thriller Bastille Day follows formula to the letter. Indeed, the process of watching the movie provides a strong sense of deja vu. However, in coming out on the heels of overbearing superhero flicks and fantasy-adventures, it stands out as a good chunk of ol’ fashioned thrills.
Bastille Day, set on the eve of the titular French commemoration/public holiday, follows grizzly CIA operative Briar(Idris Elba)’s dealings in Paris. Briar – kicking down doors/punching/shooting/grimacing first, asking questions later – seeks to redeem himself after botching a previous mission. Meanwhile, a group of euro terrorists/undercover SWAT officers plan to blow up a political landmark to ignite tensions between the police, activists, and Muslim community. The scheme backfires when pickpocket Mason (Richard Madden) inadvertently steals the bomb bag from Zoe (Charlotte le Bon) and dumps it in a public area seconds before detonation.
The movie, predictably, then turns into a simplistic cross between your average man-on-the-run thriller and somewhat light-hearted buddy-actioner. The plot is certainly cliched, jumping between clues and suspects before the goodies and baddies violently cross paths. With Briar and Mason forced to work together, every twist and turns relies on the former’s brute strength and the latter’s guile and skillset. The movie only briefly touches on the duo’s backstories, intent on sticking with their energetic dynamic. Despite its blissful simplicity, the third act delivers several ludicrous plot twists.
Like similar Luc Besson-helmed/euro-american flicks, Bastille Day‘s tone lurches awkwardly between blissful thrills and confronting sociopolitical discussion. Release mere months after the Paris terror attacks, the movie brazenly depicts the police force, Muslim community, and youthful revolutionary groups as angry hornets nests quick to cause all-out rebellion. Siding with the American lead characters over everyone else, its political edge may rub viewers the wrong way. Elba makes a strong case for being the next James Bond – handling the action sequences, dramatic moments, and humour with aplomb. Madden, known as Game of Thrones‘ protagonist Robb Stark, provides an charismatic yin to Elba’s yang.
Director James Watkins (Eden Lake, The Woman in Black) and writer Andrew Baldwin create an entertaining 90-minute distraction. Fit for a lazy Saturday, Bastille Day skates by on Elba’s charm, bruising action, and solid pacing.
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe
Release date: October 30th, 2014
Distributors: Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment, Entertainment One, Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 101 minutes
Best part: The hyper-violent action.
Worst part: The ethical issues.
What do the Matrix trilogy, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Dangerous Liaisons, and The Lake House have in common? Yes, they’re all destructive in various ways. They’re also led by one of modern Hollywood’s most polarising and ripe-for-parody performers. Actor/director/producer Keanu Reeves was one of the 1990s’ biggest names. His star power – raking in millions for some of the decade’s biggest actioners, dramedies, and horror-thrillers – seemed destined for eternal prowess. However, after 2008 mega-flop The Day the Earth Stood Still, his leading-man status fizzled out. So, how does one make a successful Tinseltown comeback? By completing multiple projects simultaneously.
Keanu Reeves kicking ass!
Blood-drenched actioner John Wick is one piece of a career-saving puzzle. Fresh off renowned documentary Side by Side and Martial arts extravaganza Man of Tai-chi, Reeves returns to studio-driven schlock. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. Plenty of big stars (Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington) are riding this wave. Hoping to attract audiences and boost box-office numbers, Reeves has learned from these no-nonsense veteran stars. Similarly to Taken and Man on Fire, John Wick excels thanks to its lead character. Wick (Reeves), pulled through his wife Helen(Bridget Moynahan)’s cancerous death, feels completely lost. Struggling to get out of bed, his empty existence brings out the worst. Shortly after the funeral, he receives a package containing a Beagle puppy. Being his wife’s last gift, Wick learns to cherish his new four-legged friend. Two nights later, Wick is attacked in his home by three Russian criminals. Led by Losef (Alfie Allen), the gang kills the dog before stealing his ’69 Mustang. Losef, son of notorious New York mobster Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), messed with the wrong guy! Reaching out to veteran hitman/mentor Marcus (Willem Dafoe), Wick reaches into his blood-soaked past to destroy Viggo’s syndicate.
Michael Nyqvist & Alfie Allen.
Seriously, what was the last interesting and re-watchable action flick? Shrouded in stupidity and budget-related shortcuts, the genre is typically defined by disasters like A Good Day to Die Hard and Taken 2. If the genre was city, hacks like Luc Besson and McG would be the mafia dons talking down to us average folk. John Wick, dispelling the Expendables franchise’s ‘winning’ formula, is a glorious and engaging return to form. In fact, it’s a return to form for its actors, Hollywood action, and the genre. Giddily so, it gives everyone something to do and the filmmakers a chance to prove themselves. Stunt coordinators turned storytellers David Leitch and Chad Stahelski have worked tirelessly for decades. Known for boosting Reeves’ physicality and Hugo Weaving’s prowess in the Matrix trilogy, our dynamic duo utilise everything at their disposal. Handed a simplistic screenplay and tiresome premise, Leitch and Stahelski come close to polishing a turd. Dealing with retribution and deep-seeded emotion, the premise explores several intriguing and well-intentioned concepts. However, the script merely skims over them before distracting itself with action and chaos. Forced into small slithers, its greater themes are hissed out through monologues. Despite the simple-yet-effective plot, the movie doesn’t notice its own disturbing undertones. Letting Wick off the leash, the movie wholeheartedly supports his psychopathic nature. In the 1980s action-hero era, this would be awesome. Today, with gun control a major issue, it’s wholly insensitive.
“John Wick isn’t the Boogeyman. He’s the man you send to kill the f*cking Boogeyman!” (Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), John Wick).
Fetishising guns, grenades, and guts, John Wick almost becomes ethically repugnant. Like most action flicks, overt masculinity, raw power, and lethal skills define its characters. Taking away Wick’s wife, muscle car, and dog in quick succession, the plot charts its leads’ journey from existential angst to full-blooded justice/vengeance/psychotic breakdown. Similarly to Dolph Lundgren/Steven Seagal/Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicles, budget and style clash throughout. Despite the strong action and hyper-kinetic style, this actioner works best within humble locations and small spaces. Taking the fight to nightclubs, hotels, houses, and car parks, John Wick utilizes everything within its world. As experienced badasses, Leith and Stahelski understand filmmaking’s complexities. Released in the Post-Raid era, John Wick – creating an immense body count – casts a huge shadow over Hollywood. Whipping Reeves and co. around one another, the choreography and cinematography illuminate its fantasy aura. Taking on Besson, John Woo, and the Wachowski siblings, their direction kicks the plot into overdrive. Wick, shooting almost every victim in the head at point-blank range, cements his status as: “the man you send to kill the f*cking boogeyman”. Throughout this hyper-kinetic bloodbath, Reeves establishes his simple-yet-effective merits. Speaking through gritted teeth and a peculiar accent, the 50-year-old A-lister crafts a charismatic glow. The supporting cast, including esteemed character-actors Nyqvist, Allen, Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Dean Winters, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, and Lance Reddick, does valuable work.
Pulling Reeves back into the spotlight, John Wick is one of 2014’s biggest surprises. Leith and Stahelski, boosting their and Reeves’ careers, elevate its silly premise with zany flourishes and ballsy action. Despite the ethical conundrums, the movie crafts wholeheartedly divide reality and fantasy. Released in the post-Summer/pre-Oscar season void, this action-thriller should satisfy most audiences. Hopefully, Reeves can now forget the horrific 47 Ronin.
Stars: Jack O’Connell, Sean Harris, Sam Reid, Paul Anderson
Release date: October 10th, 2014
Distributors: StudioCanal, Roadside Attractions
Running time: 99 minutes
Best part: Jack O’Connell.
Worst part: The generic villains.
Each cinema industry has its share of touchy topics used to puzzle history buffs, attract film buffs, and educate mass audiences. These subjects – marked by historical events and/or societal, cultural, political, and economic issues – make for haunting stories. Vying for Oscar contention, Hollywood’s offerings depict shocking accounts of harrowing stories. Utilising their resources, other countries – no matter which side of the western/eastern hemisphere their on – seek to primarily inform viewers.
Surprisingly, groundbreaking British feature ’71, despite the controversial road taken, never focuses specifically on its subject. Despite the inconceivable issues effecting Northern Ireland, the movie side-steps anything remotely distressing or subjective. Overlooking the anger, tyranny, and sadness, the movie instead tackles action-thriller tropes to tell a simple yet effective tale. This 1971-set feature, presenting itself like prime film-festival material, starts off like most military dramas. Training for warfare, British soldier Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) believes he can help change war-torn Northern Ireland. Shifting comfortably between tests, the heroic grunt is chosen for a dangerous and life-altering mission. The soldier follows orders and delivers impressive results without breaking a sweat. Beyond this, Hook continually visits his former children’s home to see his younger brother – and remaining loved one – Derren (Henry Verity). One day, as his base is transported to Belfast, the conflict reaches its most vicious and distressing point yet. Arriving the night before, the unit’s optimistic leader, Lt. Armitage (Sam Reid), expects absolute perfection from his fresh-faced recruits. However, as the unit descends upon Falls Road, their inclusion is met with urine-and-faeces-filled balloons and bags thrown by local youths. Conducting house-by-house incursions, the unit is met with angry residents and hostile rioters.
O’Connell in action.
Of course, nothing goes according to plan. As the riot reaches breaking point, Hook and another soldier, Thommo (Jack Lowden), become from the group and left for dead during the retreat. From the first action sequence onwards, ’71, set one year before Bloody Sunday, depicts a vacuous war zone between several motivated, honour-starved factions. Like Hook, the narrative runs rampant through action clichés, visual metaphors, and tough characters. Unlike most IRA/Troubles movies, designed to discuss specific events in detail (Bloody Sunday, Hidden Agenda), the movie throws the geo-political/ethno-nationalist conflict into the background. Some may see ’71 as a gross misjudgment. Across the kinetic 99-minute run-time, whilst dodging the “too soon” argument, we follow our able-bodied lead throughout the worst day of his life. At first, he’s a confident soldier embracing the campaign’s many challenges. Lacking political or social viewpoints, the movie rests squarely on Hook’s shoulders. Focusing on rebellious children and adolescent soldiers, this action-thriller crafts a refreshing and prescient take on its resonant subject matter. Presenting hidden truths and notable viewpoints, ’71 objectively depicts each relevant faction. Delivering vital information through exposition, it depicts the Catholic Nationalists, Protestant Loyalists, Irish Republican Army, Military Reaction Force, and Royal Ulster Constabulary carefully and considerately.
Aiming for ‘grey’, its realistic take depicts eery streets lit by torched cars and molotov cocktails. Stepping around bad blood and cruel motivations, ’71 becomes a survival-action flick similar to The Raid: Redemption, Assault on Precinct 13, and Die Hard. Unlike most copy-cats, it embraces each trope whilst elevating the tempo. Avoiding Behind Enemy Lines‘ jingoistic aftertaste, it balances style and substance succinctly. TV director Yann Demange handles his first feature’s £5 million budget effectively. Experimenting with unique camera, lighting, and sound techniques, his style fits the narrative like a uniform. Utilising shaky-cam and quick cuts, the chase sequences ratchet up the tension. As our factions track Hook down, Yemange heightens the grit and stakes. After locals Brigid (Charlie Murphy) and Eamon (Richard Dormer) rescue our hero, the last act turns their apartment block into a labyrinthine maze. Despite the thrills, its contrivances and implausibles spoil the fun. In addition, the over-the-top antagonists distort the narrative. However, the movie’s stellar performances outweigh the negatives. O’Connell – hitting the big-time in 2014 with this, 300: Rise of an Empire, Starred Up, and Unbroken – is revelatory as the out-of-his depth antagonist. Conveying a plethora of emotions, his performance bolsters the adrenaline-charged, man-against-the-world role. In addition, Sean Harris and Paul Anderson excel as two MRF officers teetering on the edge. Meanwhile, David Wilmot delivers several laughs as a slimy rebel leader.
Tackling this harrowing conflict with style and gusto, ’71 is a great first effort and brilliant slice of escapism. The movie – switching between war-drama, political-thriller, and hardcore action flick – is an exercise in controlled chaos. Refusing to take sides, this action-thriller never bogs itself down in Left or Right viewpoints. In fact, this modest and invigorating effort is summed up by one line: “Posh cnts telling thick cnts to kill poor c*nts”.
Verdict: A potent and intensifying action-thriller.
Stars: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, Melissa Leo
Release date: September 26th, 2014
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 132 minutes
Best part: Washington’s aura.
Worst part: The inexcusable run-time.
Nowadays, with franchises controlling Hollywood’s back account, star power and name recognition don’t mean sh*t! Craving attention from studios, critics, and fans, A-list actors walk an ever-so-skinny tight rope between eternal success and straight-to-DVD hell. One man, becoming a shining example of big-screen staying power, has become a role model for aspiring actors the world over. Winning Best Actor back in 2001, mega-star Denzel Washington has since made the most of his immense prowess.
Denzel Washington doin’ his thing!
If nothing else, his new actioner, The Equalizer, exists solely to honour one of this generation’s most inspiring performers. Having spent his early career delivering heart-breaking performances in docudramas like Malcolm X and Glory, Washington has steered his post-Oscar career in a wholly different direction. Carrying many action-thrillers across the line, the veteran actor’s staggering range and charisma continually draw people back to the cinema. In fact, The Equalizerhas already been slated to make big bucks over its opening weekend. Nowadays, Washington-led actioners and early-morning iPhone launches are the only two things guaranteed to deliver significant profit margins. Once again, the 59-year-old plays a badass on a mission dictated by God, the Devil, and the local mafia. Washington plays Robert McCall, a middle-aged simpleton working at the local Walmart rip-off. A hit with his co-workers, McCall leads a charmed life guided by a specific routine. His life – consisting of work, friends, reading, and the local diner – is hearteningly succinct. Obviously, this isn’t how he used to live. Being a former intelligence offer (for an unnamed organisation), McCall’s skills outmatch those of everyone in and around Boston. After befriending underage prostitute Teri (Chloe Crace Moretz), McCall begins to move on from his wife’s death. After Teri is brutally beaten by her pimp, he goes on a monstrous rampage through the Russian mob, the police, and the government.
Chloe Grace Moretz in a bland role.
Before I lambast The Equalizer for its many flaws, I’ll commend it for establishing Washington as Hollywood’s most alluring A-lister. Like Liam Neeson and Kevin Costner, the star pulls his movies through thick and thin. However, even he can’t save this action-thriller from the critical doldrums. Sadly, the movie has no idea what it wants to be or do. The movie – for the first 40 minutes, in particular – skulks aimlessly like a restless former spy. Some scenes – depicting him helping his friend lose weight, making the winning catch in a baseball game, or completing his household chores – serve little purpose. Dragging its wafer-thin story for 132 minutes, this action-thriller delivers several false starts and bum notes. Sadly, the first half hurriedly drifts from the consciousness. Throwing in more-than-enough genre tropes, plot-threads, comic reliefs, and minor twists, the character-study-esque first third – despite our lead’s intriguing behaviour and vague backstory – will make viewers pine for silly fist-fights, shoot-outs, and explosions. Eventually, well past the point of no return, McCall goes Old Testament on pimps, gangsters, corrupt cops, and senior mobsters. Washington – displaying his undeniable presence within the movie’s many daring scenarios – crafts a ferocious, pseudo-Christian saviour worth supporting. Unfortunately, in melding the bland first third with the action-and-exposition-heavy second and last thirds, the movie becomes a mess not even our all-powerful anti-hero can fix!
“I am offering you a chance to do the right thing. Take it.” (Robert McCall (Denzel Washington), The Equalizer).
Marton Csokas getting some well-deserved recognition.
Despite the confused tone and inconsistent pacing, The Equalizer never forgets to have fun. As the movie switches from suburban drama-thriller to balls-out action extravaganza, our lead character becomes increasingly more interesting. Timing himself with a stop-watch to refine his routine, Washington’s anti-hero bares several neat traits. Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen) revels in McCall’s super-human abilities. Flaunting McCall’s martial arts macho, intelligence, and DIY skills, Fuqua’s style yearns for our approval. His action – though marred by quick cuts, dimly-lit settings, and shaking cameras – delivers more-than-enough chills, tension, and “Ouch!” moments. The climactic action sequence – set in McCall’s workplace – becomes an ultra-visceral, Home Alone-esque thrill-ride. Based loosely on a 1980s TV series, Fuqua and screenwriter Richard Wenk’s adaptation picks up and drops several signature characteristics without warning. McCall, despite suffering slight shades of Obsessive compulsive disorder, never develops beyond the tragic-vigilante archetype. Despite this, Washington’s insatiable talent kicks the movie into overdrive. Using every line, facial expression, and mannerism to his advantage, the A-lister cements his tough-guy status here. Kiwi character-actor Marton Csokas almost steals the show as Russian freelance hitman, Teddy. Described by Melissa Leo’s character as a: “sociopath with a business card”, his slimy, adept antagonist becomes a fun sparring partner. Sadly, commendable actors including Moretz, Bill Pullman, and David Harbour are left stranded in shallow roles.
It’s not simply that The Equalizer is a bad movie, it’s that there’s nothing special about it. Though far from the 2014’s worst action flick, this one forgets to connect with with audiences and critics. Certainly, everyone gets a kick out of seeing Washington eviscerate five mobsters, in under 20 seconds, without breaking a sweat. However, everything else about this revenge-thriller screams trouble. Despite Washington’s immense charms, his latest schlocker tries too hard to be Man on Fire. Unfortunately, Fuqua ain’t no Tony Scott!
Verdict: A disarming yet by-the-numbers action-thriller.
Stars: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman
Release date: April 24th, 2014
Distributors: Warner Bros. Entertainment, Summit Entertainment
Running time: 119 minutes
Best part: The unique visuals.
Worst part: Johnny Depp.
Sci-fi blockbuster Transcendence had the perfect ingredients to deliver a thrilling and enjoyable addition to this ever-lasting genre. With an intriguing first-time director, starry cast, and interesting ideas at the helm, this movie had enough potential to be something truly…transcendent (the word does indeed suit this situation). In fact, this computer-charged techno-thriller could’ve become the antivirus for the ever-growing trend of superhero/explosion-fuelled extravaganzas. However, as you can tell from my judgemental tone, the final product hurriedly short circuits.
When judging this flick objectively, it’s difficult not to turn against this disappointing and bizarre creation. As yet another case of “interesting premise spoiled by poor execution”, Transcendencepromises significantly more than it can possibly hope to deliver. Not only does it promise too much, but the very few answers it does deliver are bafflingly silly and superficial. Before I delve into this sci-fi actioner’s flaws, I’ll attempt to describe its patchy and cumbersome plot. Similarly to our unfortunate lead characters’ actions, unlocking its labyrinthine code could unleash dire consequences! We start off in the not-too-distant future as renowned researcher Max Waters (Paul Bettany) trudges through a post-apocalyptic Earth. The story then jumps back five years, and prolific researcher Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) and his wife/fellow scientist Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) are close to developing the first machine to be driven by sentience and collective intelligence. Aiming to “unlock the most fundamental secrets of the universe”, Will and his team, supported by his mentor Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman), are willing enough to present their PINN project to the world. Examining the First World’s reliance on technology, the limitlessness of Artificial Intelligence, Biocentrism, nanotechnology, the Singularity, and the analog/digital debate, Transcendence almost seems intent on questioning romantic-drama Her‘s viewpoints. Most importantly, Depp being everywhere at once is a terrifying prospect! Unfortunately, Depp’s miscasting jumpstarts Transcendence‘s horrifying descent.
Paul Bettany & Rebecca Hall.
Nowadays, sci-fi extravaganzas like Prometheus and Elysium are criticised for touching on valuable ideas without examining them. However, unlike Transcendence, those projects are salvaged by action sequences, intense moments, and powerful visuals. I’ll admit the movie’s set-up appears entertaining…on paper. Sadly, with Transcendence drifting away from paper in all respects, the narrative’s technological side overshadows anything resembling believability, entertainment value, intelligence, or empathy. A radical extremist group called Revolutionary Independence from Technology (RIFT), led by Bree (Kate Mara), ruins Will’s life and projects immediately after his Earth-shattering presentation. Within the first third, director Wally Pfister (Oscar-winning cinematographer for such Christopher Nolan features as the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception) uploads tension and promising characters into the narrative’s perplexing database. With Nolan as an executive producer, Pfister strives for Nolan’s all-encompassing vision and direct touch. The first third is fuelled with convincing moments and momentous concepts. However, after Will’s consciousness is uploaded into PINN’s systems, the narrative becomes as exciting and naturalistic as watching lines of code zoom across a screen (spoiler: it’s dull!). Telegraphing predicable and aimless events, the story’s all-important concepts are picked up and dropped faster than Will’s internet access. In addition, Transcendence jumps from one bizarre and illogical plot-point to another. Will, hacking into the world’s governmental and financial structures, carries out logistically and ethically questionable actions without consequence. Jumping two years into the future, twists, turns, and character motivations contradict one another. Worse still, the final third’s absurd revelations and climactic moments undermine everything laid out within the first-two thirds.
Sadly, Pfister, despite being one of Hollywood’s most talented figures, has succumb to Hollywood’s worst virus: studio interference. However, despite the directorial failings, the blame rests with Jack Paglen’s incessant and simplistic screenplay. Despite being influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris, Paglen’s work is nowhere near as insightful or purposeful as it thinks it is. At one point, FBI agent Donald Buchanan (Cillian Murphy), one of several underdeveloped characters, compares Will’s Deity-like existence to Y2K. This scene outlines the narrative’s most crippling flaw. Transcendence, aiming for the blockbuster and romantic-drama crowds, doesn’t draw the line between technobabble and valuable exposition. Its convoluted answers will confuse anyone lacking an intrinsic understanding of Computer Science. However, those studying this subject will laugh at the movie’s monumental factual errors and plot-holes. Its viewers can, at the very least, settle for its splendid visuals. Pfister, thanks to his immense background in cinematography, can bolster even the most unappealing of locations. With everything at his disposal, Pfister’s style makes decrepit warehouses, desert-set towns, and laboratories look immaculately picturesque. The action sequences, though nonsensical, do elevate this otherwise tiresome and dour sci-fi drama. Throwing in explosions, car chases, and shootouts, these more enlightening moments overshadow the meandering mid-section. Sadly, by this point, the narrative’s top-heavy structure has delivered a messy, nonsensical, and forgettable effort.
Powered by a top-notch cast, riveting director, and memorable subject matter, Transcendence could, and should, have been an instant classic. Ambitiously, it’s over-arching reach explores concepts many big-name directors and writers are afraid of. But why are they afraid? Is it a primal fear of what they don’t understand? Or are they waiting for someone else to grapple them? Either way, Transcendence is the perfect example of filmmakers, and characters, delving into all the wrong places. This potentially creative and impactful sci-fi yarn ends up being as laughable, frustrating, and nonsensical as Windows Vista.
Celebrated Irish actor Liam Neeson has had a whirlwind career. Predicting his career trajectory has been, and still is, like predicting a hurricane’s turbulent path. The theatre actor’s life soared after his Oscar nominated turn in Schindler’s List. However, with Taken becoming a sleeper hit back in 2008, his recent career choices have spoken for themselves. Neeson’s jarring predicament, considering his recent script choices, is seemingly a harsh reality. His new blockbuster, Non-Stop, is part of a significant problem. The movie, despite its broadly entertaining moments, is a bafflingly idiotic action-thriller.
Soaring to the top of the US box office immediately after its release, the movie will push studios to throw Neeson into similar fare. Fortunately, for Neeson at least, he stands head-and-shoulders above his movie. Along with being one of Hollywood’s tallest actors, his might stems from raw power. Admittedly, with Neeson being one of tinsel town’s most popular actors, I could spend this entire review simply praising his existence. Here, like with previous efforts, he plays an all-encompassing badass with a point to prove. US federal air marshal Bill Marks (Neeson), from the opening scene, is presented as a danger to himself and others. Forced to watch over British Aqualantic Flight 10 journey from New York to London, his steely edge pushes him through air travel’s vacuous processes. Pushing past the security gate and multiple passengers, Marks, obviously, bears a disturbingly dark past. Burdened by his daughter’s death to Leukaemia, the alcoholic divorcee’s brash nature is about to get significantly worse. During the flight, after introducing himself to sensitive passenger Jen Summers (Julianne Moore), Marks is sent text messages from a mysterious source. The culprit, identified him/herself as one of the passengers/crew, threatens the disgruntled air marshal. Soon enough, the passenger threatens to kill someone every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred into a specialised account. Upon discovering the suspect’s true intentions, Marks finds himself on a knife’s edge. Beyond the ensuing fist-fights, speeches, and gun shots, the post-911/Transport Security Authority commentary is the movie’s biggest obstacle. Arguably, the movie’s degrading messages should’ve been left on the tarmac.
Marks, one to hit first and ask questions later, becomes the real target of the suspect’s diabolical plan. Admittedly, to people coming into Non-Stop cold, the premise might seem promising. In addition, despite the gargantuan flaws, this is nowhere near Neeson’s worst effort. Sitting on the Neeson-o-meter between his enjoyably frantic action-dramas (Taken, The Grey) and drearily unwatchable blockbusters (Taken 2, the Clash of the Titans series), Non-Stop could and should have been more interesting. Obviously, the movie rests entirely on Neeson’s star power. In every frame, Neeson’s character pieces together this egregious puzzle. Unfortunately, neither he nor director Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously worked together on Unknown, can save this preposterous and uneasy narrative. With several clues peppered around the aircraft, the screenplay’s in-your-face attitude delivers a stupefying and nonsensical answer for each intriguing question. The suspect’s plan, though intense at first, becomes steadily unconscionable. From the first murder onward, the story’s implausible sequence of events relinquishes Non-Stop of tangibility, tension and genuine chills. Threatening to topple over at any moment, the debilitating narrative kicks into overdrive long after the 45-minute mark. Despite Collet-Serra’s commendable efforts, the discomforting tonal shifts highlight Non-Stop‘s greatest inconsistencies and plot holes. Starting off as a nail-biting drama-thriller, the movie’s first half heads in the right direction. However, after the premise is examined and explained, the second half becomes a tedious and laughable action flick. Despite the Speed-like premise, this thriller transitions into Red Eye‘s inferior relation. Essentially, this is what happens when Strangers on a Train meets Snakes on a Plane.
“I’m not hijacking this plane. I’m trying to save it!” (Bill Marks (Liam Neeson), Non-Stop).
The supporting travellers.
On top of its tonal issues, Non-Stop sports an overabundance of tiresome cliches, plot contrivances, and irritating characters. Containing more red herrings than a Scandinavian fish market, this action flick spends its first half charting stereotypes and over-the-top moments. Remember, it only get worse from there. With twists and turns hastily thrown into each scene, the final third’s revelations aren’t worth mentioning. Yes, they are that ridiculous! Despite these issues, some credit should go to Collet-Serra for the first half. Saving otherwise abominable material, his attention to detail and unique visual flourishes become bursts of fresh air within this blatantly preposterous adventure. Aware of the claustrophobic setting, Collet-Serra’s style puts the “thrill” in “xenophobic and forgettable action-thriller” (the screenwriters add everything else). The director adds a cold, distant tinge to this straight-laced thrill-ride. Toning each colour pattern down to a bleak shade of grey, Collet-Serra strives for an intense aura. Aiming for reality (within the first two-thirds, at least), he illuminates the setting’s more unsettling aspects. Outdoing himself, his camera techniques loop, pan, and whirl around characters. The action sequences definitely aren’t for the faint hearted. With turbulence and cramped areas becoming major obstacles, the Bourne-like fist fights are worthwhile. Unfortunately, the final third’s CGI-fuelled roller-coaster ride is deftly unsatisfactory. Beyond Neeson and Moore’s acting talents, there’s little to enjoy. The supporting characters – played by Corey Stoll (House of Cards), Scoot McNairy (Argo), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) – are silly hindrances.
Thankfully, damning Non-Stop with faint praise, this action flick lives up to its title’s promise. This gritty but irritating thrill-ride is chock-a-block with potentially mesmerising moments and charming actors. Unfortunately, before its confusing denouement, Neeson’s latest effort descends into hokey territory. Neeson, at the very least, should think before choosing his next project. Schindler’s List and Kinsey now seem like distant memories.
Verdict: A stupefying and mildly distasteful action-thriller.
Stars: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods
Release date: June 28th, 2013
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 131 minutes
Best part: Tatum and Foxx’ chemistry.
Worst part: The dodgy CGI.
Hollywood has become an industry that will recycle any concept for a quick profit. I know I’m repeating myself when I state this claim, but, for some reason, studios have no problem blatantly copying one another. Famous Hollywood double-ups such as Deep Impact/Armageddon, Dante’s Peak/Volcano and Mirror Mirror/Snow White and the Huntsman are frequently mentioned whenever someone goes on a tirade against big-budget movies. This year, Olympus has Fallen and White House Down have formed the paranoia inducing and jingoistic double-up to end them all.
These blockbusters have stretched the bonds of societal comfort and plausibility by destroying one of the world’s most important landmarks. White House Down may cause fatigue, primarily because it was released after Olympus has Fallen, but it’s a popcorn flick with brawn, laughs, and gusto. This extravaganza starts out with a comparison between two commendable and ambitious characters. Washington D.C. Capitol officer and single father John Cale (Channing Tatum) achingly wants to impress his precocious, politically motivated, tech-savvy daughter Emily (Joey King). Taking her on a White House tour, Cale hopes his corresponding job interview with the Secret Service will go as smoothly. Meanwhile, US President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) is pushing world leaders to sign a peace treaty which could pull all troops out of the Middle East. This controversial plan runs into resistance from Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins), the military, and the media. While these events take place, suspicious figures, led by Stenz (Jason Clarke), waltz around the White House and Capitol Building dressed as janitors. These figures, of course, turn out to be psychopathic mercenaries with a reckless distain for Sawyer’s time in office.
You can pretty much guess what happens next. In fact, this entire movie is based around plot-points, character arcs, and clichés from other, more inventive, action-dramas. Its ‘Die Hard in the White House’ premise has been trodden on tirelessly throughout modern action movie history. Thankfully, this mash up of Air Force One, The Rock, The Siege, and Taken is nowhere near as bad as it sounds. Despite the tired narrative, White House Down‘s many zippy and unique aspects make for an enjoyable explosion fest. Director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012), gladly, avoids the tropes and ticks that make several of his previous efforts nigh unwatchable (God knows how both he and Michel Bay made tolerable movies within the same year!). Known for blowing up monuments and wiping out large populations on screen, Emmerich’s work is normally drowned in cartoonish humour and nonsensical plot strands. Here, despite the film’s exhaustive run-time and cheesiness, he applies a more subtle yet enrapturing approach to silly material. It was baffling to see the first 30 minutes of an Emmerich film being based around witty banter and noticeable character development. I was enjoying each interaction and plot strand before the inevitable shoot outs and explosions kicked in. To begin the necessary comparisons with Olympus has Fallen, I’ll state that the Gerard Butler-led action flick works better as a whole. However, White House Down does contain many awe inspiring and applaudable moments. Thanks to the brisk pace and baffling twists, this slightly satirical and excessive action flick is one of 2013’s biggest surprises (ironic, given its disappointing box office performance).
Emmerich, however, doesn’t pull back from making preposterously stupid links between the plot and the heavy-handed messages. It’s right wing, fascist agenda is glaringly obvious and beyond inappropriate. Despite the shout outs to republican craziness, NRA, military injustice, Government conspiracies and preachy journalists, Emmerich can’t pull anything together to say something meaningful. Thankfully, the terrorists aren’t defined by race or ‘religious’ creeds. I know I’m asking too much of an action-disaster flick, but Emmerich should’ve stuck to the courage of his convictions. Where he does excel, however, is in the explosive action set pieces. From destroying New York with a mutant lizard (Godzilla) to obliterating Earth with freak winds and intelligent tornados (The Day After Tomorrow), Emmerich continually puts the pedal to the metal. His video game-esque apocalyptic-disaster movies push the boundaries of believability and filmmaking technology. Here, we go room by room as the world’s safest residence is torn apart. He finds inventive and baffling ways to tare chunks out of famous buildings and American ideals. Though lacking the grit and intensity of Olympus has Fallen’s invasion sequence, the White House takeover here is gleefully swift. The camera moves from one kill to the next as the punchy and kinetic action set pieces thrill and spill. Emmerich delivers one stupefying moment after another. I threw my hands up when Cale and Sawyer pulled donuts on the White House lawn with the President’s suped-up limo (aptly titled ‘Ground Force One’).
“Can you not hit me in the head with rocket launcher when I’m trying to drive?” (John Cale (Channing Tatum), White House Down).
James Vanderbilt(Zodiac)’s screenplay elevates a movie packed with tension inducing set pieces and brutal murders. The hilarious dialogue and zany winks and nudges come thick and fast. A White House tour turns into a pacy back-and-fourth between several wacky individuals. These moments, gladly, boost the archetypal characters. Cale, fit with a white singlet and point to prove, is a pretty yet emotionally damaged John McClane clone. Despite the laughably predictable plot and character turns, Cale comes off as a sympathetic and courageous hero. Butler may be a more charismatic presence, but Tatum still establishes himself as a charming and beguiling action star. His physicality and snappy delivery push him through each set piece and conquering speech. His rapport with Foxx highlights the sheer talent flowing between these popular performers. Foxx, though miscast, delivers an enjoyable and intriguing turn. Whilst bringing out his inner Barack Obama, Foxx urbanises the all important Leader-of-the-Free-World role. With his can-do attitude and Air Jordans in tow, Sawyer is a Political character by way of youth marketing and focus groups. Unfortunately, the supporting cast members, though talented, are stuck in bland, two dimensional roles. Gyllenhaal, though effective in her early scenes with Tatum, is left to simply yell orders over the phone and look mildly concerned. Jenkins can only draw a mild shade of life from his tiresome role. Meanwhile, Clarke, James Woods, and Jimmi Simpson go overboard as the sociopathic and vengeful villains.
With its talented cast and punchy action set pieces, White House Down is a surprisingly engaging action flick. Emmerich, thankfully, has crated a ludicrous, explosive, and funny extravaganza. I’m now trying to figure out what the next blockbuster double-up will be. ‘Taken on a cargo ship’, anyone?
Verdict: A fun, noisy and excessive action-disaster movie.
Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris
Release date: September 7th, 2012
Distributors: Entertainment Film Distribution, Lionsgate
Countries: UK, South Africa
Running time: 95 minutes
Best part: The hyper-stylised visuals.
Worst part: Several cheesy one liners.
Before this film, most people were unaware of the vigilante comic book character known as Judge Dredd. Despite the existence of the 1995 Sylvester Stallone version, the character desperately needed a reboot to bring him back into the spotlight. This new adaptation of the 2000 AD comics character is one of the year’s biggest surprises, providing an entertaining and visceral action flick unlike any other in recent memory. Derivative yet fun, Dredd provides a lot more than just a simple minded actioner aimed squarely at teenage boys.
Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) begins this story by describing the problems with protecting the innocent civilians of dystopian district Mega City One; a major part of the ruin of the old world. He is judge, jury and executioner in the city’s run down streets; dishing out violence unapologetically to anyone on the opposite side of the law. His cold persona conflicts with his evaluation of newcomer Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), taking her on tour around the city while testing her limits to the maximum. Their first investigation together leads to the lock down of a giant apartment complex known as ‘Peach Trees’; Ruled over by vicious gangster and drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). The assault against Dredd and Anderson leads them to cut down anyone in their path and stop the new outbreak of super drug Slo-mo; known to slow the conscious mind down to 1% its normal speed.
This adaptation of Judge Dredd is much like Urban’s take on the character; its lean, mean and moves as briskly as possible. Director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) proves he can borrow from his influences while still creating a truly unique and enjoyable work of cinematic mayhem. The ‘Blade Runner meetsRobocop‘ style ofDreddis indicative of classic 80’s era sci-fi action films, known for creating influential production designs, shocking violence and gore sequences, and memorable characters. Travis’ clear affection for the apparently disgustingly dark source material has paid off, creating an action flick so gritty and vile to watch that each murder affects you to the core. Mega City One is a rich plethora of concrete landscapes and blood and graffiti stained settings. The film also effectively captures a sickly claustrophobic feel for the city’s most prominent housing complex and gangster hideout. The city appears to be nothing but a crumbling economy and setting for gangland warfare, and so Dredd’s devotion to cleaning up the severely decaying streets proves to be one man brutally fighting a losing battle. Following a story similar to the revelatory 2012 Indonesian action flick The Raid, Dreddovercomes its unoriginal premise to create an impressively staged sci-fi action flick filled with charismatic characters. Working with a somewhat conventional screenplay by Alex Garland (28 Days Later), Travis creates several lasting images and affecting action set pieces, thankfully moving this simple story at a breakneck pace. John Woo’s explosive and gory action style is used to create one impressively staged hallway shoot out after another.
“Negotiation’s over. The sentence is death.” (Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), Dredd).
While the added incentive of exploding heads, gorgeous slow motion murders and brutal fist fights provides an action film unafraid of breaking the norms of modern ‘Hollywood’ action cinema. Paul Verhoeven(Total Recall, Robocop)’s style is also a clear influence here, providing a pulpy edge for every blood splatter and decapitation on display. The slo-mo gun fights convey a comic strip feel for each bullet ripping straight through Dredd’s victims, in the vein of Frank Miller(Sin City)’s dirty comic-book style. Despite simple dialogue and more than a few unfunny comedic moments, Karl Urban still proceeds to maintain his likeable presence on screen, becoming arguably the next Clint Eastwood. Much like Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Urban delivers a fun performance despite having his face covered throughout the entire film. His dedication to the Judge Dredd comic series has paid off, creating a threatening mix of Dirty Harry and Denzel Washington’s character Alonzo from Training Day. Acting only with his jaw and fang-like teeth, the Lord of the Rings and Star Trek actor has once again earned serious contention for A-list status. Also providing a solid turn in an unlikely role is Olivia Thirlby (Ellen Page’s best friend in Juno) as the nervous yet determined Judge Anderson. Performing the cliché rookie role with both sensitivity and naivety, her partnership with Urban works wonders for their awkward dialogue sequences together. Put through gunfire, fist fights and scary hallucinations, her character provides the human touch needed in this already tough as nails sci-fi action extravaganza.
Certainly, Dredd is packed with stylistic and story elements known to sink similar movies. However, in the midst of it all, the final product pulls everything together to creative an enjoyable blockbuster. Judge Dredd lays down the law!
Verdict: A surprisingly inventive and enjoyable action flick.
Writers: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy (screenplay), Robert Ludlum (books)
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach
Release date: August 10th, 2012
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running time: 135 minutes
Best part: Jeremy Renner.
Worst part: The wavering pace.
It’s hard to believe that four years ago Jeremy Renner was a character actor working through small roles, trying desperately to achieve A-list status. His career post-Oscar nomination for The Hurt Locker has deservedly paid off; now with his first blockbuster lead role in action thriller The Bourne Legacy. His talent however far succeeds the material here as this latest instalment in the Bourne franchise is a missed opportunity.
Continuing the dislodging of covert operations Treadstone and Blackbriar at the conclusion of The Bourne Ultimatum, Jason Bourne’s actions have set off a deadly turn of events for everyone involved in the programs. The CIA however fails to stop Aaron Cross (Renner) from acquiring the strength, agility and intelligence needed to escape his handlers while covering his tracks. His actions collide with Dr. Martha Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a scientist with knowledge of his much needed resources. The unlocking of his genetic biology will hopefully find them an escape from the special forces hunting them across the globe. Along the way, as Cross and Shearing run across the world together, we become trapped the clutches of CIA dark-horse Eric Byer (Edward Norton), US Navy admiral Mark Turso (Stacy Keach), and agency director Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn).
This instalment shares many flaws with the similarly underwhelming and overrated original, The Bourne Identity. Tony Gilroy (co-writer of the original trilogy, director of Duplicity and Michael Clayton) replaces action with political intrigue; removing the distinct thrills and tight pacing of The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum. The loss of Paul Greengrass’ kinetic, claustrophobic style loses the quick pacing, energetic action-set pieces tension filled story-telling needed for a post-9/11 thrill ride. Legacy is unevenly paced, with a dull narrative and multiple elements unimaginatively taken from previous instalments. The film skirts between reality and implausibility, with tracking from CIA and FBI headquarters stretching credibility and interest, while scarcely providing a threatening antagonist. Action is sparse here, with time spent mostly on the blowout from Jason Bourne’s controversial actions. Unfortunately, this provides nothing but confusing exposition and small appearances from characters important to the original trilogy. It’s an unnecessary instalment, only expanding this universe of covert agents around the globe to a small extent. Knowledge of the previous trilogy is important, with the Bourne scandal uncleanly presented in this story of political betrayal in the face of a post-9/11 media-based democracy.
“Now, I’ve got a plan, and it’s just not that complicated. What I’m going to do is wait for the next person to show up to kill you. Maybe they can help me.” (Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), The Bourne Legacy).
When the action does kick in, it delivers a much needed boost to Legacy‘s proceedings. the quick cuts, brutal hand-to-hand fight sequences and motorcycle chases, though derivative of previous instalments, establish the importance of this series in the genre. While the science lab shootout is chillingly effective for this gritty survival story. The heavily debated issue was how Renner was going to successfully take over the series without Matt Damon or the titular character. He continues his impressive string of performances here with the same intensity brought to similar roles in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Avengers. Having already proven his worth with both action and drama, his dialogue sequences with the likes of Oscar Isaac and Norton, as determined USAF handler Eric Byer, are electric, as his charisma, along with physical presence and agility in his many fist fights and rooftop chases, creates an impressionable lead actor. Rachel Weisz also succeeds as the sympathetic victim and Cross’ contact/aid, thankfully sporting a character with greater depth than the other female characters in this series and providing some much needed emotional force for this toned down instalment.
Undoubtedly, the Bourne franchise set the bar for modern action-thrillers and film franchises. Sadly, however, this series now appears to be cannibalising itself. Despite Gilroy’s efforts, this franchise seems outgunned and outmanned without its titular hero.
Verdict: An occasionally thrilling yet underwhelming fourth instalment.
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard
Release date: February 15th, 2012
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running time: 115 minutes
Best part: The South African settings.
Worst part: The generic plot.
With popular actor Denzel Washington playing a hardened protagonist in this violent action thriller, you may feel a sense of deja vu. Films such as Training Day and Man on Fire prove that Washington still has what it takes to adapt to any genre. His latest effort however, will leave you wanting more from his earlier, distinguished work as Safe House surprisingly fails to spark any real excitement from its intriguing premise.
This time, Washington plays Tobin Frost, an ex-CIA operative who went rogue 10 years earlier and is believed to be a traitor. His search for answers within the agency leads him straight into trouble with the CIA and a band of African rebels; both already watching his every move. On the other side of the coin, Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), a rookie operative struggling to find his sense of belonging in the agency, is forced to look after a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. Frost is brought to the safe house and brutally interrogated after his run in with authorities. Almost immediately, the safe house is attacked and Matt, quickly forced to prove himself, extracts Frost to the next safe location. Their varying ideologies of trust and protocol are changed drastically as they question their responsibilities, emotional attachments and the inner workings of the CIA.
The conventional plot, dialogue and characters don’t lift this thriller above the standard Hollywood action film structure, however convincing and thought provoking performances from Washington and Reynolds manage to keep Safe House together. Their electrifying chemistry accentuates their largely differing personalities. Scenes early in the film of Reynolds’ character boxing, walking lazily through the hallways of the safe house, and bouncing a ball against a wall for hours on end, define his strong desire to prove himself beyond controlling one secure location. This is compared to Washington meeting with a buyer and brutally taking down and escaping from Agents and rebels, illustrating his vastly different skill set and level of experience when compared to Reynolds’ character while defining their yin and yang relationship. Reynolds’ performance is strongly defined by his facial expressions. His naturalistic reactions when forced either to kill someone or explain his situation to his girlfriend, illustrate his strong emotional shift when discovering the crushing depths his new life has led him to. This also proves that Reynolds is vastly becoming one of the most dynamic young actors consistently working.
“You practice anything a long time, you get good at it. You tell a hundred lies a day, is sounds like the truth. Everyone betrays everyone.” (Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), Safe House).
Washington’s character is unfortunately given short shrift. Not only have we seen several, more developed, variations of his version of the anti-hero before, but the plot revolving around his search for answers becomes increasingly uninteresting as the film goes on. Also given nothing but basic characterisations are Sam Shepard, Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson. These talented, veteran actors are wasted in their small roles that serve little for the story. The style of this film distracts from the clear and simplistic exposition given. First time Hollywood director Daniel Espinosa takes many leaves out of Tony Scott’s book while choosing to film South Africa as if through the eye of the follower. The cinematography, involving shaky hand held camera work and very low lighting, serve a purpose in conveying a sense of realism, but severely detract from the film’s unique appearance. This becomes abundantly clear in the many action scenes peppered throughout. Though the action is well choreographed and shockingly violent, quick cuts and problematic cinematography keep them from either being creative for even understandable. The settings and colour patterns of Safe House are presented effectively, delivering a gritty representation of both the African desert landscapes and decrepit Cape Town settings. While also serving a perfect reflection of this story of dirt under the fingernails of the CIA and the murderous extremes people will go to.
Ultimately, Safe House is an action packed yet forgettable thriller. Serving a message about the free world’s view of its governments and security, and the treatment of prisoners in US government controlled interrogations, may be convincingly handled, but the poorly handled cinematography and conventional story and character elements keep it from being the relevant and entertaining action flick it deserves to be.
Verdict: A star-studded yet underwhelming action-thriller.