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.