SPY (2015)

June 24, 2015

spy Greetings again from the darkness. Melissa McCarthy and writer/director Paul Feig are back together in hopes of recapturing their Bridesmaids comedy and box office magic. They are also re-teaming for next year’s all-female Ghostbusters remake.

This time it’s a parody of James Bond films … right down to the elaborate and creative opening credit sequence. Recognizing that combining action and comedy can be a bit challenging, Feig enlists the help of Jason Statham and Jude Law. Statham parodies his well known uber-intense characters with a running dialogue of his bravery and heroism, while Law is clearly having a blast as the ultra-smooth agent Bradley Fine (think Pierce Brosnan’s Bond).

In spite of the gentlemen, this is Ms. McCarthy’s film and she is believable as the frumpy CIA analyst who is the “voice in the ear” of super agent Fine (Law). He maneuvers the front line of dangerous assignments as she provides life-saving high-tech guidance from the relative safety of the vermin-infested basement CIA lab. Of course, we know McCarthy’s agent will end up in the field in her attempts to avenge a mission gone wrong.

It’s McCarthy in the field that will either make or break the film for you. Her scenes with Rose Byrne and Peter Serafinowicz worked best for me, while her Jackie Chan-style kitchen fight scene and her chase scenes were a bit more difficult to buy off on. It can be confusing as a viewer when we are constantly bombarded with PC rules, and then Feig and McCarthy don’t hesitate to use her heft for laughs.

Other supporting work is provided by British comedienne Miranda Hunt, another fish out of water agent; Morena Baccarin as a strutting super agent at the level of Statham; Bobby Cannavale as a would-be terrorist; and Allison Janney as the CIA Supervisor. While each have their moments, it’s McCarthy’s visit to the spy gadget department that provides the best laughs.

The Action-Comedy-Spy Thriller genre is pretty sparse, and as you may expect, comedy is the priority for most scenes. McCarthy does well in her first true film lead, though my prediction is that her value as an actress will ultimately come from playing characters who are more “real” – like her role in last year’s St. Vincent.

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FURIOUS 7 (2015)

April 5, 2015

 

furious 7 Greetings again from the darkness. “For Paul”. A touching tribute to the late Paul Walker provides an emotional end to the most high-octane (sorry about that) F&F episode yet … and the perfect victory lap (sorry again) for the franchise. Of course, we know that it won’t be the last, if for no other reason than easy box office money.

The franchise began in 2001, and the familiar faces are back: Vin Diesel as Dom, Paul Walker as Brian, Jordana Brewster as Brian’s wife Mia, Michelle Rodriguez as amnesiac Letty, Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludicrous” Bridges as comic relief Roman and Tej, respectively, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Agent Hobbs. New to the scene are Djimon Honsou as a terrorist, Ronda Rousey and Tony Jaa as elite henchmen (henchpersons?), Nathalie Emmanuel as super-hacker Ramsey, and Kurt Russell as the shadowy government-type cutting shady deals for fuzzy reasons. The biggest add is of course, Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw, the Black Ops big brother to Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) – silenced villain from the previous film (in which Statham made a brief appearance foreshadowing this story line).

Achieving remarkable success for what started as a fun little street racing cult film, this series thrives on its familiar characters, simple plot lines, staggering lineup of dream cars, and ever-louder and larger stunts, fights and set pieces. One of the earliest scenes features a fight scene that would be the climax of most action movies: The Rock vs Jason Statham. Rather than end or solve anything, this fight merely serves as a set-up for one of the film’s punchlines – involving The Rock and a plaster arm cast (pay no attention to that leg cast). In the middle, we get a too brief clash between Michelle Rodriguez and Ronda Rousey, but the real finale is a rooftop battle between Vin Diesel and Jason Statham that has such an extended cut-away, we almost forget they are going at each other.

In between those colossal fights, we get Paul Walker sprinting up the side of a bus that is sliding off a cliff, a wicked and armed drone, car chases galore – including one with a stealth chopper, synchronized10,000 foot car drops from an airplane, and most impressively, car jumps between the Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi. That last one is not just any car, but a stunning red Lykan Hypersport … one with little resale value after its final trip.

Michelle Rodriguez’ character is fighting her amnesia, Ludacris and Tyrese play off each other like Laurel and Hardy, while Dom does his best Yoda impression, and Statham comes off like a revenge-seeking
missile from a Terminator movie. Every character gets their fair share of posing, preening, strutting and smirking. It would be an insult to call this over-the-top because that would imply we have previously seen
the top. This is high-speed, high-altitude mayhem that plays directly to a large fan base.

Personally, I’m not a devout F&F follower, and have seen only the first entry prior to this latest. My attendance for Furious 7 was driven (get it?) by my interest in seeing the tribute to Walker, and my personal code of seeing every Kurt Russell movie (don’t ask). However, I do understand the mass appeal, and I believe the followers will appreciate the approach of director James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring), who replaces 3 time series director Justin Lin.

watch the trailer:

 


WILD CARD (2015)

February 8, 2015

wild card Greetings again from the darkness. Most of us know what to expect when we hear “it’s a Jason Statham movie”. However, when you add to that “written by two-time Oscar winner William Goldman”, it generates a bit more excitement and higher expectations than normal. This becomes slightly complicated when the Jason Statham part stretches his acting, but it’s the script that is essentially a letdown.

The film is a remake of the 1986 film HEAT with Burt Reynolds, and both movie versions are based on Goldman’s novel of that title. This time it’s Jason Statham as Las Vegas security expert Nick Wild, who possesses a particular set of skills … to go along with a drinking and gambling problem. Known for such films as CON AIR (1997), THE MECHANIC (also with Statham, 2011), and THE EXPENDABLES 2 (also with Statham, 2012), director Simon West is no stranger to action sequences and cool guys with baggage. There are a couple of outstanding fight scenes that capitalize on Nick Wild’s preference for non-traditional weapons, including a huge finale at The Silver Spoon Diner where he utilizes, well, silver spoons.

Statham gets an opportunity to do something besides fight and drive, as he is cast as the emotionally handicapped warrior with a big heart. He protects his friends and does favors for those who are weaker. In fact, the banter between he and Michael Angarano (as Cyrus) is some of the best work of Statham’s career. The noir-speak dialogue allows Statham to have some fun with vocabulary words, but the script never really lets him connect with anyone other than Cyrus. Instead we get too many scenes of guzzling vodka and an extended blackjack scene that is so predictable, it’s actually kind of annoying to watch.

The biggest downside to the film is the steady stream of recognizable and pretty well-known actors who pop up for only a brief scene or two. The list includes Sophia Vergara sporting a sweater that flaunts her assets, Max Casella as her conniving boyfriend, Jason Alexander as an office-sharing attorney, Hope Davis as a blackjack dealer, Dominik Garcia-Lorido (Andy Garcia’s daughter) as Nick’s call girl friend in need, Milo Ventimiglia as bad guy Danny DeMarco, Anne Heche as the supportive diner waitress, and a wonderful, but all too brief, Stanley Tucci as a hotel/casino owner modeled on a few real life owners and mobsters.

Although the film skips the traditional Statham car chases and love-making, we do get many flashy shots of him driving a classic Pontiac GT. The old school Vegas setting is a welcome diversion from the glitzy new Vegas we more often see in movies. Keeping with the retro feel is Dean Martin crooning “Blue Christmas” in the opening moments, and other classic songs carefully coordinated throughout the story. Statham’s struggles with alcohol and gambling, and his stated intent to leave Vegas forever provide the film with an incredibly disjointed and lightweight story from the pen of someone as decorated as William Goldman.  It’s nice to see Statham sport a bit of emotional depth, but the film likely doesn’t offer enough fight scenes for his true fans. The dark and humorous moments provide enough entertainment to encourage those fans to give it a shot, but please be careful with those spoons.

watch the trailer:

 


THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014)

August 18, 2014

expendables3 Greetings again from the darkness. Whether you saw the first two in this series will directly correlate to whether you head to the theatre for this third entry. The filmmakers’ attempt at attracting a younger audience by adding a “new” crew and dropping to a PG-13 rating backfires, and will not provide the legs this franchise needed for more installments.

The regular old geezers are back: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Jet Li (briefly), and Arnold Schwarzenneger. In addition, we get new “old” blood in the form of Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammar, Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, and the dominating presence of Mel Gibson as the bad guy. The young blood comes in the form of Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, boxer Victor Ortiz, and MMA superstar Ronda Rousey. The blandness of the newbies simply steals valuable screen time for the old folks, and the movie suffers because of it.

The film’s biggest flaw, however, comes courtesy of the all-time champion screen hog: Mr. Stallone. We understand that this  franchise is his baby, but why field an all-star team if you won’t let them play? Stallone gets a ridiculous number of close-ups and probably three times the dialogue of the runner-up. Snipes gets some time early in the film, replete with a reference to his real life prison sentence for tax evasion, and Ford and Arnold get in a few shots, but the only savior here is Mel Gibson. It’s a reminder of just how good he can be on screen … if we could only forget what a horrible person he can be off screen.

There is no need to go into detail on the plot or describe any of the characters. You know what you are getting if you buy a ticket. It’s just a shame the film’s direction and script aren’t at the level deserving of a cast that includes: Rambo, Mad Max, Blade, Conan, Han Solo, Hercules, Zorro, The Transporter, He-Man, and even … Sideshow Bob!

**NOTE: while Bruce Willis demanded too much money and does not appear this time, there is a Die Hard reference with the “other” Special Agent Johnson (Robert Davi)

watch the trailer:

 

 


PARKER (2013)

January 27, 2013

parker2 Greetings again from the darkness. By now, we know what to expect from a Jason Statham movie: bone-crunching fist fights, big guns, fast cars, pretty girls, and wise cracks. Hope and expectations were a bit higher for this one since it’s a John J. McLaughlin (Black Swan) screenplay of a Donald E Westlake novel, and it’s directed by Taylor Hackford (Oscar nominated for Ray).

Statham plays Parker, a masterful thief with a straightforward code that he isn’t shy about sharing. His partner/mentor is played by Nick Nolte and Parker finds himself knocking off the Ohio State Fair with a group of guys led by Michael Chiklis. Things don’t go well and Parker finds himself left for dead.

It starts as a heist film and transitions into a revenge flick. Of course, there are some Statham style romantic elements included. Emma Booth plays Nolte’s daughter and Statham’s love interest. Then, we get Jennifer Lopez as a down on her luck Realtor who lives with her mom (Patti Lupone), but somehow manages to figure out that Statham’s character is not as he appears.

parker3 Lopez and her hyper over-acting don’t play well with the stoic Statham. She does, however, get to flash her best known ASSet. Nolte’s character gets lost in the shuffle, which is a shame. More scenes with Nolte and Statham could have proved interesting. Also, there is an odd story line with Bobby Cannavale as a Sheriff who has the hots for Lopez. With the exception of a brief interlude, this promising story line just disappears. Lastly, the film’s big Palm Beach heist really pushes the envelope of believability (scuba?  Chiklis isn’t exactly James Bond) and taints what sliver of reasonableness that might have existed.

Basically, Statham is the best thing about this Statham movie. The rest is pretty messy and disappointing … especially considering the DNA that this one offers (Hackford, McLaughlin, Nolte).

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a big Jason Statham fan

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer your heist and/or revenge movies to have some level of suspense

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJ4Nsu2tXTk


THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012)

August 19, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. As we get older, we expect to learn from our experiences. That’s exactly what happened here. It’s been almost two years to the day since The Expendables hit theatres. That first entry was directed, produced, written by, and starred Sylvester Stallone. This time around Sly sticks to acting and a script credit. Con Air director Simon West is now at the helm and the film clearly benefits from better action, improved characters and especially MUCH more humor … the key reason it works.  However, fear not, Stallone’s face is still on screen the majority of the running time.

Most of the familiar faces are back. Stallone as Barney, the leader of this pack of mercenaries; Jason Statham as Christmas; Dolph Lundgren as Gunner; Terry Crews as Hale Caesar; Randy Couture as Toll Road; and Jet Li as Yin Yang, though he is unfortunately only in the fantastic pre-opening credits sequence. Also back, after brief but funny cameos in the first, are Bruce Willis as Church, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Trench. If somehow that’s not enough testosterone for you, the second installment also provides Liam Hemsworth as Billy the Kid, Jean-Claude Van Damme as Vilain (pronounced vi-LANE, get it?), martial arts expert Scott Adkins, and 72 year old Chuck Norris as Booker … the “Lone Wolf” soldier.

 For what passes in balance in this world, the female lead is played by Nan Yu as Maggie. She is a brilliant fighter, speaks multiple languages, yet unfortunate enough to fall for Stallone (guessing that was his contribution to the script). While the story is necessarily simple, her role is vital in that she softens some scenes, while at the same time holding her own with the sea of steroid and botox stars.  This time around, love plays into the story a bit more.  In addition to the beautiful, intelligent, 30 + years younger character falling for his Barney, Statham’s romance picks back up, and a true love story featuring Hemsworth takes place (no, it’s not with Miley Cyrus).

 A couple of sequences are noteworthy.  Even though it’s in the trailer, the scene with Willis and Arnold in the SMART car driving inside the airport terminal is quite entertaining.  Also, the chaotic opening rescue scene finds Stallone getting shot twice, yet somehow he is immediately healed and never again bothered by something so minor. Something I found quite funny, was watching JCVD leave his sunglasses on even while filming his scenes underground in the plutonium storage facility. And, like the first one, the music seems picked to purposefully be a punchline … oh, and Frank Stallone (Sly’s brother) once again manages to gain a musical credit, right there along side Little Richard.  

 This version is extremely likable and filled with tongue-in-cheek humor, sarcasm and wit. Sure, it’s quite cheesy and some of the one-liners are obvious and telegraphed, but it’s fun to have references to The Terminator, Die Hard and Rambo, among others.  The guys are not hesitant about poking fun at themselves or each other … all the while surrounded by nearly non-stop action, gun play, missile firing and other forms of over-the-top violence and action. The body count is impossible to track, which goes right along with the extreme ammunition usage. In other words, it’s exactly what we hoped it would be!

** Note: Rumor has it that Harrison Ford may join for the next sequel

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for some cheesy fun provided by nostalgia, wrapped in an over-the-top action film stocked with stars from the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Where else are you going to get that?

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer your action movies to be more intense and reality based like “Bourne” or “Mission: Impossible”.

watch the trailer:


THE MECHANIC (2011)

December 26, 2011

(Video review)

 Greetings again from the darkness. This one delivers everything we have come to expect from a Jason Statham movie … plenty of action, fight scenes, gun play, and a man wronged by the system and on a mission for vengeance. It is a remake of the 1972 film starring Charles Bronson and Jan Michael Vincent, and written by Lewis John Carlino.

As in the original, a master hit-man (Statham) takes an apprentice under his wing. Here, it’s played by Ben Foster, who was so good in 3:10 to Yuma. Foster brings energy and intensity to his role, and a playfulness that Statham’s character doesn’t always appreciate. The two have pretty good chemistry, but face it, the only real reason to watch this movie is for action scenes and violence.

Donald Sutherland has a fairly brief role as Statham’s mentor and the film definitely misses him once he’s gone. The bad guy is played by Tony Goldwyn, who just doesn’t have the screen presence to play a big time baddie. Goldwyn is an excellent TV director and seems much better suited behind the camera. He has been typecast as the bad guy ever since Ghost and his presence often evokes groans from the audience.

The director is Simon West.  His best film is from 1997 … Con Air.  No surprises in this one, which is fine. With Statham movies … we want what we expect. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.

watch the trailer: