GRINGO (2018)

March 8, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. In a perfect cinematic world, great acting elevates a terrific script. However, the best case scenario for a weak script, or in this case a messy one, is that it can be offset by acting. Fortunately for director Nash Edgerton (it’s been 10 years since his underappreciated THE SQUARE), he has assembled such a quality cast that what amounts to little more than organized chaos is mostly watchable – even if it’s not consistently entertaining.

The cast is loaded with international talent from Australia, England, South Africa and Latin America. David Oyelowo, far removed from his Martin Luther King role in SELMA, stars as Harold/Harry, a Nigerian immigrant just trying to do his job and live his life according the morals and work ethic instilled by his father. Harold is the trusting type who believes that his free-spending wife is faithful and that his boss is his friend. That boss is Richard Rusk (we should call him Dick) played by Joel Edgerton (the director’s brother), and together with Charlize Theron as his Executive VP Elaine, combine to exemplify modern day douche-baggery.

The story revolves around the formula for a medicinal marijuana pill that their company is making, and the secretive proposed merger being ironed out. To clean up the books for the audit, Richard and Elaine travel to Mexico to convince their supplier to stop the illicit sales to a local drug lord. They bring the unaware Harold along for his contacts. The turmoil that follows includes a faked kidnapping and staged ransom phone call, two local hotelier brothers scheming for a big take, an American tourist couple with conflicting reasons for their trip, DEA involvement, a grown-up tantrum, an un-retired mercenary on a mission, and an ongoing argument over the best Beatles’ album. And you wonder why I described it as messy?

Of course, rarely if ever does staging one’s own kidnapping go well, so we know Oyelowo’s Harold is in for a rough and tumble ride. Multiple car chases turn into multiple car crashes, guns are fired, tequila is consumed, and backs are stabbed – in the proverbial sense. Oyelowo seems to be enjoying his trip outside of movie drama, and Edgerton and Theron do their best to create savage jerks. Sadly, Ms. Theron’s character sets the women’s movement back a few years with her sexual boardroom viper approach. On top of that are the stream of fat and ethnic jokes that would make Archie Bunker cringe.

Co-writers Matthew Stone (muck like BIG TROUBLE, MAN OF THE HOUSE) and Anthony Tambakis (the compelling WARRIOR) are responsible for delivering a script that tries so hard to be too many things: action, comedy, satire, white collar crime, and an expose of greed and lack of integrity. The deep cast also includes Thandie Newton (as Harold’s wife), Melonie Diaz (as Rusk’s receptionist), Amanda Seyfried as the aptly named Sunny and Harry Treadaway as her misguided boyfriend, Diego Catano and Rodrigo Corea as the brothers running the motel, Yul Vasquez as Angel, Alan Ruck as the schmuck who falls for Elaine’s wiles, Carlos Corona as the drug lord Black Panther (talk about bad timing!), Michael’s daughter Paris Jackson in her film debut, and a standout as always, Sharlto Copley as the brother-mercenary-humanitarian. As is often said, it’s better to be good at one thing, and though this one brings a few laughs and some creative moments, it’s mostly an overblown mess that aims to high – or at too many targets.

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FREE FIRE (2017)

April 19, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. Searching back through more than a decade of film reviews, I can confirm that the phrase “slapstick shootout” has not previously been part of my movie lexicon … which is a relief since it could never be more accurately placed than in description of this latest from the husband and wife filmmaking team of director Ben Wheatley and writer Amy Jump (prior works include High-Rise, Kill List and a few others). The zingers are plentiful – both in bullets and dialogue. It’s unlikely you’ve ever laughed as much during such a violent/gory/graphic assault on the senses (especially auditory).

Set in 1978 Boston, which allows for added humor via music, attire, hairstyles and vehicles, the basic premise is a meet-up for the deal between an IRA faction and a gun-dealer, with the brokers and “muscle” of each side along for the ride. When cases of AR70’s are presented instead of the ordered M16’s, the deal gets a bit shaky until cooler heads prevail. That is until one of the gun-runners recognizes an IRA guy as the one who disrespected his 17 year old cousin the night before. It’s at this point that the film cranks to a frenzy that would make the Mayhem commercial guy proud. It’s the visual definition of a cluster.

A stand-off and shootout occurs (with side deals and betrayals) over the next hour and yet the early comical dialogue somehow becomes next level great despite bullets whizzing through a terrific setting in an abandoned umbrella warehouse. Unlike in some movies, these bullets inflict pain (and the subsequent cries and wails). The characters continue to banter and threaten one another, all while dragging their lead-induced injuries across the dusty floor between various forms of protective shields strewn about the warehouse.

Normally I would concentrate on the major characters, but most everyone involved in the deal-gone-bad has at least a couple of memorable lines and moments. The gun-runners are led by Sharlto Copley as Vernon, a cocky, mouthy South African whose dialect sounds an awful like New Zealander Murray in the classic TV gem “Flight of the Conchords”. In a movie that seems impossible to steal, Copley comes the closest and his Vernon would make a perfect Halloween costume and annoying party guest. His cohorts are Marion (Babou Cesay), Gordan (Noah Taylor, Max 2002) and Harry (Jack Reynor, Sing Street, 2016). The IRA group is led by uptight Chris (Cillian Murphy), Stevo (a hilarious Sam Riley, Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Frank (Michael Smiley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti). The two deal brokers are the ultra-debonair Ord (Armie Hammer) and the lone female Justine (Brie Larson). It’s a terrific cast having a ridiculously good time with a creative and rollicking script.

Know going in that the film is a very hard R-rating for violence, drug use (in the middle of the shootout), and a bounty of flowing F-words. It’s neither for the faint of heart nor those who take their standoffs too seriously. Director Wheatley employs a vast array of unusual camera angles to ensure the action never looks boring, and his use of secondary and tertiary sound (especially with dialogue) is expert and dizzying at times. Don’t expect too many layers or sub-plots. It’s simply a shoot ‘em up romp capitalizing on black comedy to the nth degree. John Denver might not have approved of the use of his song, and just remember, “We can’t all be nice girls”.

CAUTION: this is the RED BAND trailer and is NSFW or Kids:

 

 


THE HOLLARS (2016)

September 8, 2016

the-hollars Greetings again from the darkness. John Krasinski’s second film as a director mines the all too familiar territory of dysfunctional family life … only the script from Jim Strouse takes it a step further by burdening each character with their own special form of advanced personal dysfunction. The saving grace here is the always dependable Margo Martindale who anchors the gaggle of struggling men in her life.

Richard Jenkins plays Margo’s husband – a husband quick to cry and slow to recognize most any situation. Sharlto Copley plays their oldest son who is living in their basement and going through life rudderless ever since his divorce. Lastly there is John Krasinski who relocated from their Midwest hometown to NYC pursuing his dream of making it as a graphic novelist.

One morning Margo collapses and is diagnosed with an advanced brain tumor. Krasinski rushes to her bedside to discover that Dad has recently fired the oldest son from the family business that is rapidly approaching bankruptcy. Additionally, big brother is super jealous of his ex-wife’s (Ashley Dyke) new relationship (Josh Groban) and takes to stalking and bad-mouthing. Of course, Krasinski is toting his own baggage. He is whiny and depressed about his job, and has cold feet towards marrying his 8 months pregnant girlfriend (Anna Kendrick).

The film is loaded with familiar faces and talented actors. Charlie Day shows up as Margo’s nurse and Krasinski’s insecure former high school nemesis who is now married to Mary Elizabeth Winstead … oh yes, she still has the hots for her high school sweetheart (Krasinski). Randall Park is Margot’s doctor, and Mary Kay Place has a (very) brief role as Jenkins’ sister and employee.

Unfortunately the familiarity extends beyond the faces and into the clichéd characters and story lines. Most of the conversations are predictable, though there are plenty of laughs throughout. It may be the only film to feature punchlines utilizing Jenny Craig, Rod Steiger and Indigo Girls. It’s also interesting to see how all three of the lead male characters are wandering aimlessly when the women aren’t guiding them. This is a theme that could have been better explored and helped set the film apart from so many similar type films.

Despite the negatives, any movie that offers up a few laughs to go along with Margo Martindale at its core, does have some value.

watch the trailer:

 

 


ELYSIUM (2013)

August 11, 2013

elysium1 Greetings again from the darkness. Social commentary does not automatically make a movie “smart”. In fact, commentary done poorly could be labeled the exact opposite. Writer/Director Neil Blomkamp‘s critically acclaimed sci-fi feature District 9 was creative in its approach to social issues. Unfortunately, his follow-up is a sloppy, big budget mess with too many writing shortcuts and what may be the worst performances of Jodie Foster‘s career.

Earth in the year 2154 is an over-populated, polluted, ecological disaster that looks like what we saw in Wall-E, only with people. Earth is so bad, it has been evacuated by the ultra-rich … an obvious statement on the “one percenters”. The poor and downtrodden earthlings spend their lives dreaming of getting to Elysium, the space station paradise that houses the elite and is only a 19 minute shuttle ride away. On Elysium, the houses are stunning and the elysium2lawns perfectly manicured. Oh, and technology has re-imagined tanning booths into a medical marvel that can cure anything from zits to cancer. This advancement is the main reason earthlings risk everything to reach Elysium. See those poor folks have only shoddy hospitals … an obvious statement on universal healthcare.

After an industrial accident, Max (Matt Damon) is desperate to reach Elysium so he can save his own life. As expected, his selfishness evolves into focused heroism after he runs into his childhood crush Frey (Alice Braga) and her leukemia-stricken daughter. Getting yourself to Elysium is not so easy thanks to the protective nature of Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster). She is working with greedy businessman William Fichtner and earth-based mercenary Sharlto Copley to plot her political coup on Elysium … just in case you forgot that the rich are really bad people.  Copley is by far the most entertaining aspect of this movie.  Even though we can’t understand half his dialogue, it’s much easier to take elysium3than whatever the heck that accent is that Ms. Foster is throwing at us.

There is a data theft plot that, in the right hands, could open up the Elysium advantages to the entire population … an obvious statement on open immigration. In between all of the political statements Blomkamp does throw in plenty of explosions, gun fights, aggressive robots and enough CGI effects to keep any sci-fi fan entertained. There is even a battle of exoskeleton suits between Copley and Damon. Where Arnold once said “Get your a** to Mars“, I can’t in good faith say the same thing about Elysium.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are addicted to Sci-Fi and don’t even mind if it’s poorly imagined … fisticuffs in an era of immediate medical healings??

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer your Sci-Fi on the cerebral side rather than political

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ha6zWw5saGY


THE A-TEAM (2010)

June 13, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Plenty of hating going on by the real film critics for this update of the 80’s TV series. What I saw was a fun, over-the-top action film designed to explode with entertainment value. There are plenty of things that prevent this from being a great movie, but nothing that prevents it from being a good ol’ time at the local cinema.

Writer/Director Joe Carnahan makes some of the same mistakes he made in Smokin’ Aces, but overall, he lets the bigger than life characters control the film … well, except when the sometimes-ridiculous action sequences take over. His casting choices are interesting: Liam Neeson as Hannibal (originally played by George Peppard), Bradley Cooper as pretty boy charmer “Face” (Dirk Benedict on the series), District 9 actor Sharlto Copley as scene-stealing daredevil Murdock (was Dwight Schultz) and UFC bad boy Quinton “Rampage” Jackson replacing the iconic Mr. T as B.A. Baracus.

Neeson handles the Hannibal role with an all-knowing smirk, a Cuban cigar and the knowledge that he is mostly the straight man here. Cooper relishes the chance to remove his shirt and flash his dimples and blue eyes. Copley provides much hope for his acting future since he pretty much takes over the screen in all of his scenes. Jackson, on the other hand, really should consider going back to the UFC world – his acting skills are responsible for some of the weakest moments in the film.

I purposefully chose “some of the weakest moments” so as to make a real point in regards to the deflater of the film. The deflater is the one who causes the film to go flat (the air from the balloon) every time he/she is on screen. Without question, the A-Team deflater is Jessica Biel. Apparently straight from the Elizabeth Berkley school of acting, Biel continues to land gigs because producers find her attractive. The attribute of “attractiveness” is only effective for photographs if not teamed with some type of acting ability. When Ms. Biel holds a gun, emotes or reads a line, the viewer feels nothing but letdown. Despite the carnage reaped by the boys, she out-kills them with her screen time.

The good news is that there are some really funny lines and moments despite the fantastical nature of the action sequences. Also Carnahan and co-writer Brian Bloom (who also plays bad guy Pike) have done an admirable job of paying tribute to the original series. Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz have cameos and a brief scene post-credits. Mr. T reportedly rejected a chance to appear and, of course, George Peppard passed many years ago. We even get a tribute (albeit a quick one) to the A-Team van … and it’s nice to hear the familiar sounds of the theme song and series opening.