Darke Reviews | The Foreigner (2017)

One of two reviews tonight, so apologies if they are both not as in depth as others tend to be. While I don’t sleep *much* even Undead Princesses need some rest prior to putting on her guise of a normal mostly functional human being to obtain income. I first came across the trailer for The Foreigner a month or so ago and was delighted to see Jackie Chan in a role as a heavy against Pierce Brosnan. There was just something in the trailer beyond what looked to be a fantastic performance from Chan that grabbed my attention and apparently others as well. If you aren’t familiar. Here you go:

Looks interesting right? Good action and of course you know Jackie does his own stunts when he can.

So should you see it?

Based on a book titled “The Chinaman” by Stephen Leather, and converted to a screenplay by David Marconi. Now Marconi is best known for his story of Die Hard 4 (Live Free or Die Hard) and Enemy of the State; which puts him in solid political thriller territory as a writer. Considering how LFDH looks, I would say he wrote a story and the other producers  shoved John McClain down it’s throat rather than it originally being a Die Hard movie. After a quick check to the Wiki, turns out that was a correct theory. Huh. With that sort of pedigree he does seem appropriate to adapt this story.

I want to talk about Leather for a moment. When I write these reviews I do some *very cursory* research to tell you about who they are and other things they’ve done. Something in Leather’s IMDB profile caught my eye. A story/TV movie called the Bombmaker; which has this as the story: “A former IRA bombmaker is forced to resume her craft when her daughter is kidnapped.” Now what are the odds of a writer having two books about the IRA and bombs? Turns out Stephen is from Manchester and worked as a journalist during the time the IRA was active and roughly around the time they bombed Harrods in ’83. I suppose this would inspire me as well to have a perspective and want to write about it.

Write he did, the story of a former special forces soldier from South East asia (Vietnam in the book, China in the movie) whose daughter is killed in an explosion. He then travels to Ireland to seek revenge on the killers.

Straight forward plot, so to make it something we need a director. For this task we gain Martin Campbell, who brought us Casino Royale, Mask of Zorro and Golden Eye (Yay!); but also brought us Legend of Zorro and Green Lantern (ugh). Ignoring the latter half of that list, let’s look at Casino Royale. Ostensibly an intense spy thriller with twists, turns, and solid action. The camera work and acting were well done and the movie revitalized a franchise that had been on life support for a few years.  The question was of course, at this point, could a director like this direct Jackie Chan?

I am happy to report yes. Yes he can. While on a technical side, I wasn’t a fan of a few of the camera angles and shots overall it was well crafted and spent a lot of time making sure to show what could be shown and hide what needed to be. Face it dear readers, Jackie Chan is 63 and he is amazing but he is not going to pull Rumble in the Bronx stunts anymore. Especially when his trademark use anything style isn’t in the forefront of the movie, though don’t worry you do get some of it. What amazed me most though is his choices involving Jackie and the amount of pain that was expressed through acting and camera. It takes no time at all for me to nearly be in tears just from how Jackie performed the scene immediately after the bombing and how it was all shot to bring it together and deliver the required weight.  I liked what action there was and it felt plausible for each of the characters involved and their backgrounds and associated skills.

From a performance, I cannot gush enough on Mr. Chan. His performance is so consistent and weighty throughout. He feels and looks like an elder man who is broken by too much weight of loss on his shoulders. The way he shuffles with each step plays so well when matched against his action sequences. It all stays within the realm of character and capability and knowing the actor you know what is in camera is him; which makes it even better. Brosnan finally gets to use his birth accent. The Irish born, UK Raised actor really delivers here. While not as convincing or powerful as his films nemesis he is standout and believable in his role. Game of Thrones fans will be delighted to see Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton) in a supporting role in the film. The only other actor that stands out is Rory Fleck Byrne. There is something about him rather than anything specific in his performance that made him quite riveting during his scenes. I promise you it has nothing to do with him being in Vampire Academy. I find nothing good coming out of that movie.

TL;DR?

The Foreigner is a good film. I liked it. I can recommend it, but with some warnings. It is not an action movie, it is more of a political thriller with action set pieces, like something Clancy would have given us in the 90s. I am not nearly familiar enough with the troubles between Ireland and England beyond some surface knowledge of the IRA, northern/southern Ireland, and that the IRA typically would warn people before setting off an explosion to minimize casualties.  This relationship between the countries features heavily in this story and almost as much screen time is devoted to it as there is the revenge story. This is a non spoiler warning that is worth mentioning as it sets proper expectations.

Should you see it?

If the trailer intrigued you and you haven’t seen Blade Runner 2049 yet? Yes. This is a well made movie with good action, a solid and understandable plot; which has characters you can understand the motivations of.

Will you buy it?

The odds are in this movies favor of it being added to the collection.

Anything else?

I hope I can move as well as Jackie Chan when I am his age. It was impressive to watch.

Advertisements

Darke Reviews | American Assassin (2017)

I seriously am starting to wonder if people don’t realize they should shut the frak up when a movie is going. There are a whopping 18 people in the theatre which can house 9 times that easy. Old couple in front of me, wife keeps talking to the husband. Two women at the end of the row to my right I had to look across the 6 seats separating us to tell them their voice carries. Three rows behind me, there’s another elderly gentlemen explaining the movie and all the trailers to whomever he is with in stage whispers. This did not start off my movie going experience tonight on the right foot. It’s been a rather stressful time of late and I was hoping for a nice quiet theatre and a mediocre action movie to forget the world for awhile. Which movie? A lot never heard of it, but here’s the trailer:

I suppose the real question now is

Did I forget the world or should the world forget this movie?

In traditional Vampire Princess fashion, I have not read the book by Vince Flynn. The trailer tells me it is a #1 NYT Best Seller. Ok. Sure. So per usual I have no point of reference and get to judge this as a movie. The first thing worth noticing is the early September slot. If August is were movies go to die by the studios, September is where they are buried, and we do not speak of what happens with January movies. It is just…just ..no we do not speak of it.

Seriously the timing of the movie is an indicator of a studios faith. The movie immediately violates my three writer rule, bringing in the work of Marshall Herskovitz (Last Samurai, Great Wall) and Edward Zwick (same credits), Michael Finch (November Man, Predators), and finally Stephen Schiff (The Americans – tv series, True Crime, Lolita). With no research on this whatsoever, my guess is we have Michael Finch adapting another spy novel with passing success like his last work, possibly working with Stephen Schiff who has done some very good things, based on word of mouth, for the Americans series. Herskovitz and Zwick are brought in either before or after Schiff for additional work. My parsing on this is based on the fact the story is fairly solid, but has some leaps of logic only a spy novel can bring, with a final act McGuffin that strains credulity. The characters are only inches away from being mere shadows of a character rather than something more. The character arcs and subplots exist, but the movie doesn’t seem to know what to do with them to tie the bow or tacitly confirm that there is an arc. You can read a lot into a few of the characters motivations once all the pieces are together, but you will doubt if the movie did it on purpose or not.

Beyond the base structure, the movie is your standard spy thriller from the point of inception of a new asset. It dips its toes into xXx territory with the recruitment of a civilian into the life who handles himself as well as multi year trained military. This is part of the movies internal logic you must accept, once you do, the ride is passable. If you can’t accept it you will have issues.

Director Michael Cuesta (TV only, some Dexter, some Homeland) doesn’t do anything new or inventive. That may be to his credit as I don’t think the movie could survive on more. He keeps the camera work and the direction simple. There are of course, unfortunately, quick cuts during some of the hand to hand fight sequences which detracts from the actors weight in the moments but I don’t know if he had a say in that or not. If so shame. If not, well still shame. He doesn’t give me a lot to discuss except for his execution of act three which mostly comes down to ideas bigger than your budget and capabilities. It’s just a solid…huh.

The actors on the other hand own this movie. The camera or the script do them no real favors, with one scene giving Sanaa Lathan’s (AVP, Blade) Irene Kennedy and Dylan O’Brien’s (Teen Wolf, Maze Runner) Mitch Rapp get a full 180 camera flip with each line of dialogue rather than a single medium shot to show them sitting across the table from each other. If you didn’t know better they wouldn’t have had to be in the same room. Thankfully, both of them command what the camera gives them and turn out very strong performances. Unlike Maze Runner though O’Brien doesn’t need to carry the movie on his all too adept shoulders. He gets Lathan and most importantly gets Michael Keaton. We all had the joy of seeing him in Spider-man Homecoming this year as our bad guy. Once again he gets to be a heavy, but on the side of subjective good.  You do not doubt who he is or his character for a moment. His relationship with O’Brien and their on screen presence, physical and charisma, are what drive this movie forward more than the plot. It makes me feel like I am watching a ‘sanctioned’ version of the Mechanic (Bronson version tyvm) and this is a good thing.  Taylor Kitsch (John Carter, Battleship, Wolverine) is in this. He doesn’t do badly.  He doesn’t get enough screen time to really break the curse that his been his career thus far. The last actor to absolutely make their presence known is Shiva Negar as Annika. She reminds me of how Sofia Boutella stole the screen (and our hearts) in Kingsman. She had physicality, charisma of her own and with her co stars, and sold her arc well. I would like to see more of her here in the states.

TL;DR?

This is pleasant pop corn fare. American Assassin spends just the right amount of time on its tap dance of being more than mediocre but not quite being something I could call “Good”. It’s solid, it had me invested. It avoid’s a ‘Murica F*** yeah trope I thought it would hit, but doesn’t get too preachy on the other side. Design or accident I can’t tell. The actors are solid, the story is passable. American Assassin won’t change anyone’s cinematic going world, it won’t win any awards; but it does maintain a very modern approach to the spy genre.

It definitely deserves better than it is getting in the box office, but who could have expected IT to dominate. I think of movies like Columbiana, Hanna, 3 Days to Kill, and it deserves better than these got. Though it could be argued those movies are what killed this genre. It ranks up there with Point of No Return / La Femme Nikita, and the Mechanic with a touch of greats such as Spy Game.

American Assassin could have been better, but I promise you it could have been far far worse than it was. It stays within the guardrails and though it tries once or twice to be more it doesn’t do damage to the genre in it’s effort.

I enjoyed my time with it and at the end of the night isn’t that what movies like this are for? Enjoyment.

Should you see it?

If you were curious yes. I think you will get your monies worth. I think I did.

Will you see it again?

Truth be told, not in theatres, but that is mostly due to other things coming out and limitations of budget and time.

Are you going to buy it?

Yeah I think I am

What’s coming this week we should look for?

Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Predictions?

A rushed sequel for a movie far better than anyone could have anticipated? If Kingsman was Smokin’ Aces, I think Golden Circle will fare better than the others sequel; but I am not sure it will resonate nearly as well. I am hoping I am wrong though and I fall out of my chair laughing again.

Darke Reviews | Atomic Blonde (2017)

I have been eager for this movie since the trailer first premiered a few months back. It looked like it had energy, charm, and was a riff on a female John Wick. How could it go wrong? The music was amazing and the plot was veiled in the trailer; which told us only as much as we needed to know. Then the video came out showing Ms Theron doing her combat training and so much of her own stunts (well as much as the insurance company allows); and sure it’s a promo video designed to spark interest but there is a lot in camera showing the work. Imperator Furiosa is no stranger to action, with one of her earliest roles being in the often forgotten Aeon Flux. She’s played hero, she’s played the lover, she’s played the monster, she’s played the beauty to the beast but –

Can she also play the Spy?

Based on the Oni Press graphic Novel series “The Coldest City” (writers Antony Johnston, Sam Hart), it was adapted for the screen by Kurt Johnstad. It seems Johnstad has a knack for adaptation as he had previously worked on 300 and 300: Rise of An Empire; as well as 2012’s Act of Valor. I am not familiar with the original property yet, but the movie intrigues me enough to pick it up. It’s a beautiful end of the cold war spy thriller with all the twists and turns you want. I said when I did my review for The Man from U.N.C.L.E that perhaps it is time to lay the spy thriller to rest, that it is dead in film.

I’m with Spock on this one

I do like spy movies, always have and always will. We have been Bourned to death and I stand by Bond and Mission Impossible working because they are larger than life. What I didn’t know at the time is you can go small with someone who is just a bit larger than life and it can work. If you let them be human, but still something to aspire to (or desire) beyond the norm it can work and the movie does that. I know! I was as surprised as anyone how quickly I found myself getting wrapped into the story.

Part of that has to go to director David Leitch. Not familiar with his work? I referenced John Wick earlier. Turns out there is good reason as he was an uncredited director on it, that I called out in the review. He has 82 stunt, stunt coordinator, or action coordinator credits to his name. I said it with John Wick and I will say it again – these guys make *good* directors. Give them a solid script to work from, good talent who isn’t afraid of action or getting themselves dirty in the process and you have a film. In this case a good one. Between the director and camera work by Jonathan Cela (John Wick) they framed almost every shot perfectly. There’s some really great camera movement I haven’t seen outside of Asian films such as The Raid, The Raid 2, or the Protector which really added to the visceral nature of the action sequences and kept so much in camera that you feel a lot of the hits. Quick cuts are eschewed for a steady rolling camera motion that follows the action and actors as it needs with great sweeps and pans as it moves.

I would be remiss to not speak the praises of Charlize Theron as our lead Lorraine Broughton. She nails the spy, the action heroine, the intelligent heroine, the femme-fatale, and vulnerable all at once and sometimes within the same scene. The camera treats her well and as a protagonist not a piece of meat to be ogled. While the scene with Sofia Boutella hinted at in the trailers does obviously get a longer cut; it is not gratuitous and not shot entirely for the pleasure of the male gaze. Not entirely – I will give credit there is a lot of framing on their faces during it which many other sequences of its ilk fail to do. In short though Theron nails it. Sofia Boutella, who sadly was in The Mummy, and not so sadly was in The Kingsman really does well and I want to see more of her acting as this film should do well and land her more roles. Kingsman showed she had physicality, Mummy tried to show menace, and this showed more acting than we got in either. James McAvoy (X-Men Days of Future Past, Victor Frankenstein) gives us his usual manic but not performance teetering on the edge of some kind of psychosis; and I love him for it since it flips on and off like a lightswitch. There are other solid performances from known actors, but what is beautifully pleasing is how much of the cast is made up of stuntmen – which allows the action to be seamless as you move from a full face shot to action to drama back to action without having to hide the person playing the part. This is yet another benefit of the movie and the director.

I talked technicality a bit with the camera work and it is solid. There’s a fight sequence I would put on the same list as Daredevil (Hallway fight) and They Live. Yeah it’s that kind of fight. Is it up there with those? Maybe maybe not, but it is in good company at least. The most striking thing, beyond the punches, in the movie is the music. Tyler Bates score is vaguely reminiscent of Marilyn Manson’s work on the first Resident Evil movie without the eerie tones. Which upon further research after writing that sentence makes sense since there is a song on the soundtrack by them both. Heavy doses of old school synthwave and pop absolutely riddled his score and work entirely within the framing and context of the narrative; which then leads us to the soundtrack. Bowie’s Cat People, Nena’s 99 Luft Balooons (in german), Siousixe and the Banshees, The Clash , Blue Monday. It’s perfect and floats in and out of both being diagetic and non diagetic sound. Part of the movie and part of the storytelling component. If this had come out much later after Baby Driver, I would say someone was being influenced by Edgar Wright’s styles and this is a good thing. The music simply adds to the energy with one odd musical queue at around the half way mark that had me smiling as the German discotheque pop faded into some familiar piano keys.

TL;DR?

I am still on an adrenaline high from how happy this movie made me. The movie itself has beautiful pumps and doses of adrenaline, but the overall effect of story, camera, 80’s nostalgic music appropriate for the story, acting, and action just combined into an exceedingly good film. If it has any real failings there are some scene cuts and edits that cause some pacing issues here and there but otherwise the camera work is stellar with a Director and DP who know what they are doing.

Theron is perfect and honestly I can best compare her to the original John McClane in how she progresses physically through the movie. It lands equally in the territory with treatment Die Hard gave it’s protagonist and it serves to benefit the movie. Granted she is still the highly trained spy vs the beat cop, but the physicality of it all sells.

Should you see it?

Yes. We’ve had few months since John Wick 2. Now it’s time for the ladies to take a turn and with Proud Mary on the way (I am excited for that too) it’s good to see us women get our shot at high octane, well shot, well done action.

Ok you like it, but will you watch it again?

Full price. No question.

Are you going to bu..?

Yes. I am going to buy it. Probably the soundtrack too.

Wow, you haven’t been this hyped in awhile.

I know right? I just really do love this movie. It gave me a lot I didn’t know I wanted or needed and handed it to me with a bow.

So do you think next week’s movie will be the same?

I am not as attached to the Dark Tower as some, but it looks solid. I am hoping for the best. Meanwhile this lived up to and exceeded my expectations.

Warning: After the Dark Tower, I may be on Hiatus. There is absolutely nothing else coming out for the month of August I have any desire to see.

Darke Reviews | The November Man (2014)

What? Didn’t hear about this one? Not many did. This is the result of studios dumping films they don’t anticipate will be successful at the end of August. It’s why Guardians of the Galaxy continues to do so well, it has no competition. It also helps that it is good. Schools are coming back into session (or already are…Arizona is weird), final family vacations, etc all contribute to lower box office in this time. The weekend before labor day is particularly notorious for well – studio garbage.

Let’s look at last year this time: One Direction: This is Us, Instructions Not Include, and Getaway. The prior week had The Worlds End and You’re Next, both of which barely eeked into the top 10 on labor day weekend. The total for the top 10 last year was only ~$26 million. That – to Hollywood – isn’t good and not worth investing in. This year doesn’t look to be shaping up much better with The November Man, As Above So Below being the only two new openings in wide release with Ghostbusters (30th anniversary) coming back to theatres. I love my Ghostbusters, you should too. It will be sad, however, if it dominates the weekend – which it might!

So that bit of info understood – should you spend money on November Man this weekend?

I have to admit, the trailers failed this one. I thought I was getting a poor version of the Mechanic (either version, but Bronson/Jan Michael Vincent’s is better). At best it seemed to be a watered down version of Bourne or Spy Game. I’d like to say I was pleasantly disappointed.

The movie is based on the November Man book series by Bill Granger, specifically book 7 “There Are No Spies”. Based on a quick read of the synopsis the words based on are used liberally here. Adapting the novel was Michael Finch (Predators, Agent 47) and Karl Gajdusek (Oblivion and the quickly cancelled Last Resort series). They don’t have a lot of work under their belt and quite honestly it shows. The plot is kind of a muddy mess. It feels like they didn’t know which story elements they wanted to use and took it to a 5 year old to cut and paste as a kindergarten project. This isn’t to say what they wrote was bad, but that when watching it as a whole it is a bit of a sloppy mess.

The movie gives us a familiar story of an over the hill spy (Pierce Brosnan) retired from the game, but pulled back in for one final mission by his old boss. In a world of Spy vs Spy he must outwit his own protege (Luke Bracey) and save a high value target (Olga Kurylenko) who is the key to information that is useful to all sides in this.

Not original I know. It actually feels very cold war, for those that remember it, even if it is referencing more modern conflicts such as the Chechen-Russian war. They don’t ever quite bring me to care if anyone lives or dies. Succeeds or fails. So for a spy thriller they failed in the tension department.

That might fall on director Roger Donaldson, who had previously tried his hand at spies in 2003’s The Recruit (which bombed). He is also familiar with Brosnan from their work on Dante’s Peak in 97 – which also failed. He does have an appropriate bit of flair so while the story falls flat and fails to bring me to care; I find myself enjoying it and the shots he picked. Even the performances he got from his actors, well most of them.

Brosnan does well as Devereaux, our retired spy. He has the certain ennui required for it. He also has the damage and baggage. A few actors could have done it, but I think perhaps a Bond actor does it better than most. Even his action beats are good and the fatigue coming out of them. Relative new comer Luke Bracey (GI Joe: Retaliation, The Best of Me) plays the protege. He’s just ok. I think the role doesn’t give him a lot to work with and he mostly stares his way through the film. There might be something there, but it did not show up here. It’s worth noting he is currently slated to be the new Keanu in the Point Break remake.

The female leads in the film are actually noteworthy. Olga Kurlyenko, whom I adore, from Oblivion and Centurion plays the prize. She isn’t completely helpless though! She has fire in her. She’s a survivor and they let it show. There is also a female assassin in the film Amila Terzimehic who has both good and bad going for her. The good is she is an intelligent, kick butt assassin who uses her brain as things play out. The bad is they don’t use her nearly enough in the film, though based on her IMDB page material was cut that had her in it.

From a technical standpoint, the movie doesn’t do much particularly new but also doesn’t fall to the Greengrass sins of shaky cam. I found myself enjoying the action beats when they occured and the overall pacing was pretty good. The movie doesn’t feel like it’s two hour running time.

TL;DR?

So at the end of the night, I enjoyed this movie. It isn’t great. It isn’t new or original. It exists quietly in the spy thriller genre and won’t make any waves and has no real weight to it. It just is.

Yet, I still enjoyed it. I still smiled a few times and looked over to the friend I was watching it with who was enjoying it as well.

So if you have nothing better to do this weekend and want a bit of Spy vs Spy action – give this a shot. Otherwise, go see Ghostbusters (which I am going to do a review of as well)!

This is a three review weekend folks….so one down, two to come.