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The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Review 2)

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Patrick Hughes

Stars: Elodie Yung, Gary Oldman, Joaquim de Almeida, Michael Gor, Richard E. Grant, Ryan Reynolds, Salma Hayek, Samuel L. Jackson, Tine Joustra, Yuri Kolokolnikov

Released: August 18th, 2017

Director Patrick Hughes has three directorial credits to his name; one I’ve never seen, another the watered down third installment in the Expendablesfranchise, and a third in this late-in-the-summer entry cleverly titled The Hitman’s Bodyguard that seems intent on capitalizing on the penchant of its two stars for choosing cheap and easy over challenging and risky. Such choices typically provide audiences a few laughs and producers failed financial returns so why Lionsgate thought this might be the exception to the rule is uncertain. Whether it be Ryan Reynolds in disasters like R.I.P.D.or the mildly intriguing but woefully undercooked Self/less to that of Samuel L. Jackson in any number of the projects he tends to choose in between Tarantino and Marvel flicks (think The Man or Formula 51) the fact of the matter is it seemed pretty obvious what we were getting into from the moment the first trailer for The Hitman’s Bodyguard was released no matter how much of a surprise it might have felt like it could potentially be. Sure, the premise is cute, but sole screenwriter Tom O’Connor (Fire to Fire AKA one of those direct to DVD Bruce Willis actioners) does little to nothing with the main idea and mostly puts the naturally charismatic personas of Jackson and Reynolds into tired buddy cop scenarios that result in a stale story and a bland experience that is neither consistently funny enough for us to excuse it’s formulaic narrative or dark enough to challenge us in unexpected ways. This brings to light the real issue going on within The Hitman’s Bodyguard in that it doesn’t have a real idea of what it wants to be. Rather, Hughes pulls O’Connor’s obviously uneven script in so many different directions that it ultimately fails to succeed in any one of the many genres and/or styles it attempts. I’d like to imagine that Hughes really thought he was pulling off something special and legitimately fun by getting back to the kind of balls to the wall, abundance of blood, unafraid to show death in spades-type action movies that Steven Seagal, Nicolas Cage, or even Harrison Ford might have made twenty some odd years ago, but while Hughes shows us these tendencies time and time again they are either executed so poorly they render themselves empty or they don’t lean far enough into any one genre so as to play to the strengths of the tropes of that genre-remaining somewhere in the middle of all these things it wants to be without actually being any of those things. Honestly, it will be a wonder if the film leaves any impression on viewers other than how its use of soundtrack rivals that of last year’s summer movie season closer, Suicide Squad. That’s the only thing I’m still laughing about; its blatant disregard for how such tools are supposed to be utilized which, coincidentally, effectively summarizes the root cause of everything that goes wrong in this movie.

The film begins by informing us Reynolds’ Michael Bryce, a triple A rated executive protection agent, is very good at his job until he’s not. An opening montage treats us to Bryce saying farewell to an Asian arms dealer-believing he has successfully completed his job-only to see that status come crumbling down in the blink of an eye. Cut to two years later and Bryce is serving as protection for coked out attorneys who have him driving around in cars that smell like ass and blaming his ex-girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Daredevil‘s Elodie Yung), for his steep decline in credibility as he believes it was her who gave out the information it was he who was protecting the highly sought after Asian arms dealer. While Bryce is drowning himself in his tears of misery (and probably warm apple juice as well) Amelia is out kicking butt and taking names or, in other words, doing what she can to climb the ladder at Interpol the only way she knows how which, one would think would seemingly be through hard work, determination, and all that jazz. Amelia is getting the opportunity of a lifetime where she might display her aptitude for such work when Interpol director Jean Foucher (Joaquim de Almeida) places her in charge of transporting Darius Kincaid (Jackson), a well-known hitman whose reputation precedes him, from his holding cell to a court hearing where he is set to testify against an evil Eastern European dictator named Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). Kincaid has agreed to testify against Dukhovich only on the terms that his wrongfully accused wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek), will be set free to which Foucher and his Interpol superior, Renata Casoria (Tine Joustra), agree to. As these things go though, Amelia’s caravan is hijacked by a gaggle of assassins that seemingly only know where Kincaid is due to an inside man on the Interpol side of things. Narrowly escaping the ambush Amelia and Kincaid flee to a safe house where, due to the fact her agency has been infiltrated, Amelia swallows her pride and contacts an outsider in the form of ex-boyfriend Bryce in hopes that he might agree to finish escorting Kincaid from the United Kingdom to the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands. Bryce agrees on the condition Amelia restore his triple A rating and thus we’re off where laughs and action should ensue. If you know the drill you can probably guess how this thing plays out.

There is something the movie tries to get at concerning how we see ourselves as the hero or as the villain as both Reynolds and Jackson’s characters see themselves equally sharing the hero spotlight, but who view each other as an archetypal antagonist to their honorable intentions. In this effort, neither of the marquee stars do anything that make their efforts shine above the other-in fact, Reynolds and Jackson are very much on the same wavelength about what type of movie they are in and how they are cultivating the obvious arc their two characters will follow, but Jackson gets more of the genuine laughs whereas Reynolds is asked to play Bryce as this uptight, by the book-type of bodyguard that is essentially a control freak. In playing up this angle of Bryce’s personality Reynolds is then kind of forced into this persona that isn’t inherently funny or sarcastic which is where the actor’s strengths lie (and this is the kind of movie that should play to everyone’s strengths), but more Reynolds is supposed to be the guy who does funny things on accident or is funny because the audience is laughing at his ridiculous tendencies and not because the character himself is actually a funny guy. This relegates Reynolds to something of an awkward balance for the majority of the film while Jackson is allowed to play the free-wheeling, dirty-mouthed, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants renegade anyone purchasing a ticket to this movie expects him to be. Jackson, being the kind of indestructible smartass as well as the more senior member of the duo, has the upper hand in the relationship and thus lands more of the laughs due to little more than him finding a handful of different ways to emphasize the words we’ve all come to love to hear the man say. Jackson also gets some solid scenes with Hayek who plays somewhat against type in the film as Kincaid’s equally potty-mouthed wife who is sitting in prison with a poor excuse of a cellmate that she tortures despite the fact we’re to believe she is innocent of whatever crimes she has been charged with. And while it is fun to see both Hayek and Jackson let themselves go it is a pity Reynolds wasn’t given better material to work with based on the traits imposed on him. Also criminally wasted here is Oldman who, as the true villain of the piece, is barely utilized and asked to do little more than put on a fake Russian accent and be as ruthless as one can imagine for a few scenes so that we have a third act conflict our two leads can agree needs to be finished in the same fashion. If you’ve seen a movie, any movie really, in the last few decades or so you’ll know where The Hitman’s Bodyguard is headed, but this is mildly disappointing due only to the fact it seems O’Connor began with the intent of using a tried and true template to say something interesting about perspective and how a hero to some might not be a hero to all, but rather than thinking too hard about how to explore those more complex ideas in an action flick he decided to instead take the easy way out and adhere to what has come before.

In essence, The Hitman’s Bodyguard could be equated to semi-flavorful junk food that revels in its abundance of f-bombs and bloody, bloody violence. The movie also looks terrible as most of it seems to have been shot on a green screen where the lighting is blown out in hopes of hiding any discretions between the actors and the background. This is not without exception as there are two bonkers action scenes near the end of the film including a boat chase and a single shot hand-to-hand combat scene that would have worked to the films advantage were it to explore those previously mentioned themes, but again-the movie takes the easy way out. Of course, it’s not totally the easy way because, as stated, the movie tries to have it both ways-dare I even say three ways, but it doesn’t exceed in any particular facet. The movie wants to be this ballistic action film while on the other hand it has ties to being a dark comedy and while it certainly goes to some dark places it is never funny enough to make us feel comfortable to laugh at the situations it presents. Also it’s just not that funny. There are a few inspired moments courtesy of the chemistry between Reynolds and Jackson but mostly this is an excuse for Lionsgate to show off how many music rights they can put it in one film and how they can make all that money back plus some with a generic actioner in the middle of August that stars Deadpool. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is one of those movies where you’re happy people were paid and got jobs on a film of such scale, but at the same time wish the studio might have spent the money on something a little more worthwhile; a little more substantial or at the very least a little more entertaining. Add to the dark comedy/bloody action thriller aspects the fact the film tries to also throw in a little genuine heart, but instead of offering a way in which this weird hybrid might actually work this too only plays as false as we are never genuinely made to care about any of these characters. The worst part of trying to cram so much into a rather flat presentation is that it feels like it overstays its welcome. There is literally no need for the movie to feature the final action sequence it does because all it does is undo the momentum the previously, well-executed action scene provided. Hughes can’t seem but to take advantage of his top notch cast and egregious green screen for a few more minutes though, as he allows Jackson to toss out a few more expletives as well as deal a death wish that I still can’t tell whether it was meant to be as intentionally cheesy-looking as it did or not. It’s evident from about the time Jackson shows up that this is not going to be a quality cinematic experience, but rather one that we’ll soon forget if not because there aren’t glimpses of the movie trying to do something with its fun premise, but because it is largely executed so poorly.

I love movies, simple as that. I watch them with an intent to write about them and have always enjoyed discussing the latest news and releases with others. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Mass Communications/Digital Filmmaking and combined those interests when I began writing about cinema. Hope you enjoy the reviews, Happy reading!

Movie Reviews

LFF Review 2018 – Madeline’s Madeline ★★★★

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Madelines Madeline Movie Marker

Director: Josephine Decker

Stars: Miranda July, Molly Parker, Helena Howard

Released: London Film Festival

Indie favourite actress/director, Josephine Decker premiered her third feature, Madeline’s Madeline at Sundance earlier this year where she received praise for her unconventional take on mental illness.

16 years old Madeline suffers from unspecified mental health problems which have created a wedge between her and her slightly over bearing mother (Miranda July). Spending most of her time alone, she finds comfort when joining an experimental theatre troupe and even develops a strong bond with its ambitious director, Evangeline (the psychotic Molly Parker). When Evangeline starts to use Madeline’s delicate mental state and personal issues with her mother as part of her play, the line between reality and illusion quickly starts to blur.

‘The emotions you are having are not your own. They are someone else’s. You are not the cat – you are inside the cat’. So begins 15 minutes of blurred and beautifully shot sequence that immediately puts the audience in a state of daze. When we are officially introduced to Madeline, we find an energetic young woman who would much rather disappear behind wild animals in theatre rehearsals than have any serious discussion with her mother. Sharing the screen is the interesting Evangeline, who is as passionate as inspiring but whose play doesn’t seem to make much sense to anyone, including herself.

The film’s stand out is the acting and nothing ever feels rehearsed. Helena Howard as Madeline is terrific and easily switches between the disturbed teenager, the cat, the seductress, the turtle and the actress, always bursting with energy and vulnerability.

The film has its witty moments, particularly when during an acting exercise Madeline decides to punish Evangeline for using her personal confessions by simulating a painful childbirth, in the hopes of terrifying the freshly pregnant teacher.

Decker also explores the interesting duality of the role of the artist. Often torn between the idea that creating is disappearing behind someone’s else story or on the contrary it is all about using real experiences to bring depth and authenticity, Decker seems to suggest it is a little of both and that both extremes could end up with either an artificial or violating result. No one understands what Evangeline’s play is about at first and when she finally finds substance that speaks to others (Madeline’s personal issues), she chooses to entirely focus on it instead of adding her own substance and ends up being kicked out by the troupe.

Madeline’s Madeline is visually stunning thanks to Ashley Connor ‘s imaginative cinematography and both Howard and Decker bring to life a condition that is still misunderstood and dismissed. The storyline does takes its time to emerge and the daze occasionally mixes with confusion. Howard keeps the audience in her mental maze throughout the film. It is messy, unusual and dense and maybe that was the whole point.

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LFF 2018 Review – A Private War ★★★

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Director: Matthew Heineman

Stars: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hollander

Released: London Film Festival 2018

‘ I see it so you don’t have to!’ Rosamund Pike, as war correspondent Marie Colvin, spits out at her Sunday Times editor Sean Ryan (Tom Hollander) towards the end of A Private War  as they argue on the banks of the Thames which rolls serenely past. She means the atrocities of war which she is compelled to return to time and again to report on despite hating her own compulsion. She does it, she believes, to give a voice to the ordinary men, women and children who are fodder for the military and political ambitions of dictators and leaders themselves safe in their palaces, well, until the mob gets to them and takes selfies with their mutilated corpse as we see later in the film.

Marie Colvin was a much celebrated war reporter who was killed in Syria in 2012 along with her interpreter/guide. She achieved fame in her lifetime for her fearless, uncompromising journalism but also for the black eye patch she wore after losing an eye in Sri Lanka when reporting on the Tamil Tigers in 2001. Her death will still be fresh in the minds of those who follow current affairs as will her extraordinary persona.

It’s a testament then to the tremendous power of Rosamund Pike’s performance that minutes into A Private War she becomes Colvin. The deep gravelly voice, the Long Island accent, the no nonsense, blunt manner of speaking are not only completely captured but taken possession of by the very English rose Pike.

She embodies Colvin with a natural ease which exposes the private vulnerabilities of a woman who could have been simplistically portrayed as a one of those annoying ‘strong, uncompromising women’ that Hollywood seems to think raises the female profile but real women find unbearable. Pike is not afraid to make the chain smoking, heavy drinking, conflicted Colvin unlikable at times. But it’s in the quiet, reflective moments of Colvin’s life when she is alone with her ravaged eye and light desire for the normal suburban life she rejected that Pike is at her most effective. This is a film about the psychological damage of seeing what the rest of us don’t have to as much as it is about the grotesque mess of war on the battlefield.

Colvin wants a child and considers it with the man (Greg Wise) she’s already divorced a couple of times despite having suffered two miscarriages. She may or may not be prone to seeking connection through other convenient liaisons. Her friend tells her she’s an alcoholic and she thinks about convincing a psychiatrist she’s sane so she can leave a rehab clinic she’s an inpatient in before she’s really up to it. She’s plagued by flashbacks and nightmares.
We learn all this about her but, like her, don’t have time to fully process any of it before she and we are whisked off to Iraq. There she meets a freelance photographer, Paul Conroy, (Jamie Dornan – Fifty Shades Freed) and the two quickly form a professional partnership with Colvin very much in the driving seat as to where they go and what risks they take. In one case this involves her confidently flashing a gym membership card to get through a heavily armed checkpoint. The friendship which builds between the two is not explored enough and Dornan is not given enough to do but when the inevitable danger which is foreshadowed throughout the film befalls them it’s intense and a swallow-hard moment.

Even though we know her death is coming , when it actually does, there’s a real sense of loss, largely due to Pike having brought Colvin to life so brilliantly beforehand. I predict we’ll be seeing a lot of Rosamund Pike during awards season for this timely film produced by Charlize Theron about a very modern heroine.

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LFF 2018 Review – Assassination Nation ★★★★

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Assassination Nation Movie Marker

Director: Sam Levinson

Stars: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse

Released: London Film Festival 2018

When Director, Sam Levinson started writing Assassination Nation over two years ago, he probably had no idea how shockingly relevant this dark comedy would be today. Written as his wife was about to give birth, he credits his fear of raising his child in an increasingly brutal country as the main inspiration behind this vivid satire, depicting the disastrous consequences of living online.

The city of Salem, Massachusetts is about to delve into chaos when a data hacker starts exposing highly porn-ified secrets of its population. Internet search history, digital photos and texts conversations are published. Political careers and marriages end. The hack reaches Salem’s high school whose principal is also targeted and forced to resign, despite claiming his innocence. In need of a scapegoat, the town’s authority (macho detective and police man) finds it in high school head girl, Lily (Odessa Young), whose affair with a married man,  just leaked. Lily and her friends must face the town’s growing hysteria that quickly turns into a blood bath of sexism and brutality.

The film’s core storyline revolves around Lily, who with her friends make up the popular clique of Salem’s High School. The 1990’s had their mysterious virgin nymphs (“Virgin Suicide”) and the 2000s, their bullying princesses (“Mean Girl”) but in 2018, the popular girls are fun, clever and most of all, nasty. Born in a comfortable middle class family, Lily has good grades and a cheeky talent for drawing. What Lily and her friend lack is a reliable grown up figure to look up to. Surrounded by threatening boyfriends and denigrating parents, the only grown-up who pays her some attention is her principal but even he cannot completely give in when she makes a clever accusation of the sexism of internet and social media while defending her pornographic art work.

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There is thin line between victim and executioner in Assassination Nation and Levinson strategically jumps from teasing to threats as if one didn’t exist without the other. Levinson seems less interested in exposing the already well established outcomes of the digital age than exploring the hypocrisy and shaming young people, and particularly young woman, face on a daily basis.

Half way between  Little Red Riding Hood and Nikita, and far from victims, these girls fight back with whatever they are threaten with, usually guns but at times razors and even a shovel. Full of extreme close-ups, the camera is intrusive, and if this closeness can be difficult at first, it quickly helps creates a real connection with those girls.  Surrounded by obvious and familiar characters (naïve head cheerleader, immature boyfriend, cheating husband…), and lifted by invigorating performances by Hari Nef (Bex) and Odessa Young (Lily), these girls can only shine in authenticity and it is hard not to root for them.

Salem’s utter obliviousness takes final form in the slushy sipping little brother, revealed as the hacker. Youngest and quiet, he seemed like a harmless addition to the dinner table and yet could bring a nation to its knee. The warning signs were there, adults chose to ignore them. The film ends with a public letter to a certain president of a certain powerful nation and a feminist call to action against any form of violence and misogyny.

The film will most likely not affect every generation in the same way and will probably swing between anti-sexist fantasy revenge to painfully relevant. Yet there is nothing in this film that can’t be traced back to a recent newspaper headline or twitter feed, regrouped to create a bloody picture of the modern America, kids are made to grow up in.

“Don’t take your anger out on me, I just got here.”

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