Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Review: Punch drunk


Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz (screenplay), Lee Child (novel)

Stars: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh
cqlurvqumaatri2


Release date: October 20th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Cruise’s charisma.

Worst part: The daughter subplot.

A-list megastar Tom Cruise has had a career most actors could only dream of. He has led some of the 20th and 21st century’s most compelling films, delivered multiple killer one-liners and lifted forgettable material. The man puts 110% into every role and production. However, his off-screen antics -Scientology, failed marriages etc. – have made him a polarising figure.

Since his last marriage’s decline, he has turned his attention to the silver screen. Almost every year since, he has delivered one critically and commercially viable actioner after another. 2013’s Jack Reacher, based on Lee Child’s seminal book series, delivered whip-smart dialogue and gritty drama. Sadly, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is merely a serviceable action-adventure. It begins with our titular character (Cruise) on the lam. Shifting between assignments, he finds solace in his and Major Susan Turner(Cobie Smulders)’s phone calls. He heads to Washington DC to take her on a date. However, Turner is arrested for espionage after botched military dealings in Afghanistan. Predictably so, he takes the case to uncover the truth.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back has little to do with the original. The events of that film are not even thought about here. Instead, like Child’s books, this is a pure standalone adventure. Sequel and blockbuster fatigue set in like rot. From the get-go, the story delivers limited stakes or tension. The opening scene defines Reacher: a superhuman with nothing to fear or even be mildly miffed about. The screenplay provides broad, simplistic characters and plot points. Reacher switches clunkily between personalities. As the plot kicks in, and more baddies show up, he becomes more powerful and stoic. On the other hand, after meeting his potential daughter (Samantha (Danika Yarosh)), he turns into a wise-cracking buddy-cop archetype. The mystery plot-line is infinitely less interesting, defined only by rushed flashbacks and exposition.

Director Edward Zwick once excelled with action sequences and tight story-telling. Many of his works – from crime-thrillers (The Siege, Blood Diamond) to historical-epics (Glory, The Last Samurai) – are compelling. The original set the bar for deftly handled fist-fights and shoot-outs. However, despite having worked with Cruise before, Zwick brings nothing new to the table here. The sequel’s set-pieces are few and far between. Worse still, it commits to quick-cut, shaky-cam hand-to-hand combat. The movie’s biggest flaws rest on the villain’s ultra-white shoulders. The movie delivers an even-blander Jai Courtney clone (The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger)) and nondescript military/government figures. Thankfully, Cruise and Smulders elevate said woeful material. Their back-and-forth sparring is suitable. Meanwhile, Yarosh is stuck with an idiotic, unlikable character.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, like most of 2016’s blockbusters, is forgettable but not terrible. Cruise’s raw intensity turns a tough-guy cliché into a fun lead badass. However, Zwick and co. drop the ball. The movie’s bland action, story and characters make for another disappointing sequel.

Verdict: A serviceable action-thriller.

Joe Cinque’s Consolation Review: Basic Instinct


Director: Sotiris Dounoukos

Writer: Sotiris Dounoukos, Matt Rubinstein (screenplay), Helen Garner (book)

Stars: Maggie Naouri, Jerome Meyer, Sacha Joseph, Gia Carides

joe-cinque-poster


Release date: October 13th, 2016

Distributor: Titan View

Country: Australia

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

 Review: Joe Cinque’s Consolation

 

Don’t Breathe Review: Dance in the Dark


Director: Fede Alvarez

Writers: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues

Stars: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang

dontbreathelarge


Release date: September 1st, 2016

Distributors: Screen Gems, Stage 6 Films

Country: USA

Running time: 88 minutes


4/5

Best part: The cinematography.

Worst part: Daniel Zovatto’s character.

2016 is the year of bottle-film/horror-thrillers. Movies like 10 Cloverfield Lane, Green Room and Don’t Breathe feature helpless people, trapped in small spaces by complete psychopaths. Of course, the drama relies on their repeated attempts to escape. This peculiar resurgence delivers the goods. Don’t Breathe, although not the best of them, makes for an exhilarating 88 minutes.

Don’t Breathe is more thrilling and fun than most of 2016’s blockbusters. Maybe, the lack of expectations helps smaller-budget/independent features become more fulfilling experiences. This horror-thriller kicks off with three criminals – Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto). The trio burgle high-end residences secured by Alex’s father’s security company. Saving up to leave Detroit for Los Angeles, they get word of a one-last-heist opportunity. The three track down a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) said to have $300,000 in his home in an abandoned neighbourhood. The man, whose daughter died in a car accident, was supposedly paid off by the culprit’s family. Obviously, the mission does not go smoothly. Upon entering the house, they discover the blind man’s taste for murder.

Writer/director Fede Alvarez (the Evil Dead remake) delivers a gruelling and tightly wound horror-thriller from frame one. Don’t Breathe subverts every overplayed horror-thriller trope. The blind man’s house, although filled with darkened crevasses, features minimal jump scares. He and cinematographer Pedro Luque veer away from shaking cameras or gratuitous clichés. Its set pieces throw young, spritely protagonists against a formidable villain and a vicious rottweiler. The infra-red sequence provides plenty of edge-of-your-seat thrills. Like Panic Room, the situation, characters and plot collide without excessive violence or gore. However, due to the second half’s disturbing plot twists, it turns from David Fincher thriller to Park Chan Wook stomach-churner.

He, alongside screenwriter Rodo Sayagues, focuses on character and story depth. Although similar to many anti-heroes, its three leads are fully developed from the opening scene. In reality, they are purely despicable. Here, their code of ethics and goals make sense. The first heist sequence, with limited dialogue, establishes their rules (not stealing over $10,000, making it look authentic etc.). After entering the blind man’s realm, the movie’s tension and stakes spike drastically. Although depicted in the trailer, Money’s brutal death makes for a crucial scene. The cast throw themselves into ostensibly schlocky material. Levy and Minnette are two of Hollywood’s most dynamic young actors. Lang, known as Avatar‘s scarred-up baddie, is a force of nature. Sadly, Zovatto’s gangbanger stereotype does not work.

Don’t Breathe – beyond creating #turkeybaster – is one of 2016’s most visceral cinematic experiences. Alvarez deserves the leap from indies to blockbusters. His relentless style and screenwriting touches flip genres on their heads.

Verdict: A tight horror-thriller.

Free State of Jones Review: Captain Confederacy – Civil War


Director: Gary Ross

Writer: Gary Ross

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Keri Russell

b18e7009b4e57486dccc9adbaebcf7d3


Release date: August 25th, 2016

Distributor: STX Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 140 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Matthew McConaughey.

Worst part: The courtroom-drama sub-plot.

No other Hollywood A-lister has experienced more critical and commercial ebbs and flows than Matthew McConaughey. The man’s man went from dumb action flick/romantic-comedy lead to crime-drama superstar. True Detective Season 1, Killer Joe, Magic Mike, Wolf of Wall Street and Dallas Buyers Club showcase his range and commitment. Free State of Jones continues the McConnaissance’s post-Oscar run.

Like Interstellar and Sea of Trees, Free State of Jones is sure to divide critics. Based on an inspiring true story, it’s another docudrama more necessary than worthwhile. The plot chronicles the timeline of events in Jones County, Mississippi during the American Civil War and following years. As a Confederate Army battlefield medic during the 1862 Battle of Corinth, Newton Knight (McConaughey) becomes desensitised by bloodshed and chaos. The former farmer snaps after his nephew Daniel’s death. He defects and returns to his homestead and wife Serena (Keri Russell) before befriending slave girl Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).

The best docudramas explore one part of a famous person’s life, expanding upon their social and cultural relevance. The worst ones, however, stretch from birth to death. The latter approach makes Free State of Jones one of 2016’s biggest disappointments. Based on two major texts, its reach well exceeds its grasp. Sure, writer-director Gary Ross’s pet project has good intentions. Stories about Civil War history, important historical figures, slavery in America and American politics resonate with wide audiences. This one is a high school student’s ultimate cure for insomnia. Ross captures enough material for a HBO mini-series. The plot takes multiple turns after Knight’s return home. He, seeing poor men fighting a rich man’s conflict, plans revenge on his former army. He, fellow defectors and runaway slaves take down Confederacy taxation agents and give back to local farmers. As a mix of Defiance and Glory, the first half is peaks the interest levels.

However, the second half features several underdeveloped subplots ripe for parody. The three-way romance – between Knight, the slave, and his frustrated wife – is worth its own movie. Worse still, the courtroom scenes – chronicling Knight’s ancestor fighting for rights in the 1950s – adds nothing to the narrative. The Ross packs in an exorbitant array of dot points including the Ku Klux Klan’s formation, freedom and voting rights for slaves, the Census etc. His stylistic choices merely pad out the running time. Title cards, delivered every 10 minutes, halt proceedings to display real-life footage and paragraphs’ worth of text. However, the battle scenes unleash an eye for period detail and unflinching violence. The performances also shine. McConaughey, bouncing off quality character-actors, is a charismatic force.

Free State of Jones is an example of potential ruined by execution. Stuck between gargantuan historical epic and TV mini-series, it contains too much and too little. McConaughey still gets away Scot-free. 

Verdict: Disappointing but worth watching.

Suicide Squad Review: Not-so-supervillains


Director: David Ayer

Writers: David Ayer

Stars: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman

12489243_1674589672821667_4430624289856009994_o


Release date: August 4th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Will Smith and Margot Robbie.

Worst part: Jared Leto’s Joker.

Nothing in modern cinema is more divisive and distressing than the DC Extended Universe. Man of Steel divided critics and audiences but made enough coin to kick off the franchise. However, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was a laughable misfire and fundamental misunderstanding of the genre. The series relied on Suicide Squad to pick up the ball and continue running. Sadly, it hits the ground with a deafening thud.

Suicide Squad is a prime example of overwhelming potential obliterated by underwhelming execution. Writer/director David Ayer, despite being given 6 weeks for the screenplay, had reportedly made a cracking flick. However, after BvS’s disastrous critical response, the studio went into overdrive with reshoots and marketing schemes. DC’s latest misfire sees Ballbuster Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) dusting off a unique idea to combat the Metahuman threat kick started by Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman etc. Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Katana (Karen Fukuhara) task supervillains/Belle Reve Penitentiary inmates including hit man Deadshot (Will Smith), deranged chick Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), pyrotechnic ex-gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Aussie thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), monster Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and mercenary Slipknot (Adam Beach) with completing a deadly, government-sanctioned mission in Midway City.

Suicide Squad begins with several interesting concepts and fun moments. Ayer – whose previous efforts include WWII-thriller Fury and LA-gangland movies like End of Watch – is suited to its team-up premise. The movie hits a rollicking pace during the first third. Kooky character bios, flashbacks, narration and music cues deliver thrills and funnies. However, studio meddling quickly overruns Ayer’s lean-and-mean vision. Attempting Guardians of the Galaxy-style action-comedy, it’s light, breezy tone undercuts the ugly narrative and themes. The story jumps between past and present, warping an otherwise straightforward men-on-a-mission story. The tone lurches wildly from black comedy to action-thriller without relevance between scenes. Endless montages – Waller’s character introductions, getting the team together etc. – delay the mission itself. The mission, however, boils down to generic plot twists, a thin story structure, and an underwhelming villain. Dr June Moone/Enchantress(Cara Delevingne)’s plan, to resurrect her deity brother Incubus to take over the world, makes her 2016’s most uninspired antagonist.

Suicide Squad also disappoints fans of the Joker and DC’s broad range of superheroes. The famous antagonist appears randomly in flashbacks and action sequences. His and Quinn’s nasty relationship, worthy of its own feature, is wedged in. Jared Leto’s portrayal compares poorly to Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson’s. The broad, irritating mannerisms and ghetto bling/gangbanger style are baffling. Ben Affleck’s Batman and Ezra Miller’s Flash appear briefly to connect instalments. Ayer’s tough, brawny direction extends to the visual style; cramming fluoro colours, grimy exteriors and wacky costuming into every space. Ayer shoots and choreographs the action with textbook precision. His creation is partly salvaged by its actors’ raw enthusiasm. Robbie conquers Quinn’s first cinematic appearance. Smith, after several bland performances, is back to his charismatic best. Meanwhile, Davis, Courtney and Kinnaman succeed in underdeveloped roles.

Suicide Squad represents everything good, bad and ugly with Hollywood. The talented cast and filmmaker put 110% into every wild and wacky second. However, studio meddling and lack of depth make it one of 2016’s many ‘dark and gritty’ blockbuster disappointments.

Verdict: An ambitious misfire.

Jason Bourne Review: Blunt Instrument


Director: Paul Greengrass

Writers: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse

Stars: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel

Jason_Bourne_Poster_1


Release date: July 28th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2½/5

Best part: The action sequences.

Worst part: The heavy-handed messages.

The Bourne franchise has powered through several fits and starts. The first three – Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum – set the bar for modern action cinema. The meme-worthy franchise is praised for its story-lines, visual style, and iconic elements. Many people cannot tell the difference between them. However, everyone knows the Jeremy Renner-starring Bourne Legacy is a waste of time and energy. Sadly, Jason Bourne doesn’t re-kindle the flame.

Jason Bourne is easily the least impressive of the four Matt Damon-starring Bourne flicks. This slice kicks off with a disgruntled Bourne (Damon) living off the grid, after discovering the truth behind his past 9 years ago. He feels lost within our bright, shiny world. However, in this post-Snowden and post-post-privacy era, the former psychogenic, amnesiac assassin is watched by agency spooks. He is brought back into the war by former CIA operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). Parsons, after hacking into CIA secure files and stealing Black Ops secrets, uncovers new details about Bourne’s role in shady outfit Treadstone. Bourne’s latest mission leads to revelations about those chasing him and his father’s involvement.

Damon and writer/director Paul Greengrass (Supremacy and Ultimatum) refused to return unless a strong vision was presented. Bourne birthed – and continually utilises – specific plot-points, iconographic elements and character types. Each flick follows a familiar pattern – Bourne goes on the run, discovers strands of his back story, is tracked by CIA reps, defeats a shady border-hopping agent, and exposes an older agency representative as the real villain. This one is a bland, uninspired retread of the four preceding entries. The miasma of mysterious settings, Bourne’s reserved demeanour, quiet female characters and shady CIA dealings feels all too familiar. However, the introduction is still intriguing. Bourne’s one-to-four punch fighting style is glorious. Despite minimal dialogue and plot development, his first few scenes develop a fascinating character study. However, Bourne’s involvement leads to several underwhelming revelations. Like with Legacy, the questions are given silly answers.

Jason Bourne is hampered by Greengrass and co-screenwriter Christopher Rouse’s laughable depiction of the 21st century. Their vision delivers a fear-inducing, out-of-touch view of surveillance states. The CIA sequences are truly baffling. The CIA crew – led by CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), cyber head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), and an asset (Vincent Cassel) – look at a screen, perform Machiavellian feats with GPS/identification technology and become hyper-aware. Their God-like powers continually lower the stakes. Whereas previous entries created enthralling cat-and-mouse missions grounded in reality, this one is stranded in a sci-fi realm. The social-media subplot, featuring app-founder Aaron Kalloor’s dealings with the CIA, is given little development. Like the other entries, the action is top-notch. Two set pieces – the bike chase through Syntagma Square and the car chase/fist fight in Las Vegas – deliver Greengrass’ enthralling quick cut-shaky cam style.

Despite glorious action sequences and locations, Jason Bourne turns a tried-and-true formula into bland mush. Damon and Greengrass coast on goodwill, leaving the remaining cast and crew in the dust. This installment, like its lead character, resembles a tired, haggard and pale shadow of its former self.

Verdict: A disappointing installment.

Sing Street Review: High Note


Director: John Carney

Writer: John Carney

Stars: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen

thumb_1508


Release date: July 21st, 2016

Distributor: The Weinstein Company, Lionsgate

Country: Ireland, USA, UK

Running time: 105 minutes


4/5

Best part: The musical numbers.

Worst part: The parents’ subplot.

Two of cinema’s most polarising genres are the musical and the dramedy. Both tug at specific parts of the brain and heart, they relish the freedom of fantasy and, most importantly, they light up the screen and our lives. However, their high-on-life energy and emotional-rollercoaster stories repel people. Sing Street is a very rare gem – bringing both genres together with class and textbook precision.

Sing Street is 2016’s beacon of hope for independent cinema in the big, wide world of movies. Film buffs everywhere are praying it receives the attention it deserves. Come awards time, it could be this year’s Brooklyn. This Irish musical-dramedy takes us to south inner-city Dublin in 1985. The Lalor family, lead  by Robert (Aiden Gillen) and Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy), is falling apart. The film’s protagonist, youngest son Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), is thrown from private school into a rough public institution. Sister Ann (Kelly Thornton) eldest brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) are difficult to connect with. Worse still, Synge Street CBS is the new hell. Conor’s run-ins with bullies, rules and mean catholic headmasters play out before he, Darren (Ben Carolan), instrumentalist Eamon (Mark McKenna) and several other rip-roaring youngsters form a rock-pop school band.

Writer/director John Carney has had an interesting career; Once gave the indie-drama a new face lift. However, Begin Again was a mushy, middling dramedy saved by its cracking cast and soundtrack. Make no mistake, Carney refuses to stray from convention here. His script follows similar plot, character and emotional beats as his previous efforts. Like the aforementioned flicks, Sing Street sees a white man struggling with his psyche and emotions, meets a pretty girl (Raphina (Lucy Boynton)), creates some music before getting his groove back. His focus on words over action recalls the early days of Woody Allen and Cameron Crowe,  without leaning too heavily on them. Its subplots and side characters elevate it above similar musicals and dramedies. Conor’s interactions with Raphina have a refreshing, bittersweet glow. However, he and Brendan deliver the movie’s most light-hearted and witty chunks.

Carney’s frenetic and captivating style overwhelms the screen. Every rhythm, beat and flourish highlights his palpable affection for music. The drama leaps effortlessly between the band’s rise to prominence and the family’s swift decline. Lingering sequences move through every aspect of songwriting, recording, music video producing and touring. However, his dialogue is a little too on the nose – prophesising like a hippie at Woodstock. References to Duran, Duran, Spandau Ballet and everyone in between showcase his  glowing sense of nostalgia. In fairness, the period detail, settings and costumes light up every frame. The young cast members also add to the movie’s gripping comedic timing and pure enthusiasm.

Sing Street is, from go to woe, is a comfortable, optimistic jaunt between two genres. Carney, for better or worse, has a style and philosophy worth considering. His latest effort delivers a stack of youthful performers, luscious visual flourishes and 80s numbers.

Verdict: A boisterous musical-dramedy.