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.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ★★★★
Released: 20th July 2018
Directed By: Ol Parker
Starring: Lily James, Meryl Streep, Cher, Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard
Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths
The iconic Swedish pop group said ‘Thank You For The Music!’. An overjoyed studio said ‘Thank You For The Box Office!’.
Sure. Pierce Brosnan singing ABBA’s SOS had a hint of the Borat (Sorry Sacha!) about it. But the summer of 2008 bared witness to a cinematic juggernaut in ‘Mamma Mia’, a jubilant jukebox musical whose sense of joy and fun proved irresistible for audiences. Considering life’s too short. Ten years on we return to the sumptuous setting of Kalokairi Greece with ‘Here We Go Again’, as the sequel fleshes out the timeline, remaining keen to create more cinematic memories.
Content with her unorthodox triple father situation in Harry (Colin Firth), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Sam (Pierce Brosnan). Sophie’s (Amanda Seyfried) fierce determination to honour her mother Donna’s (Meryl Streep) dream of renovating her surroundings into a lavish hotel, coincides with the severe turbulence she’s enduring in her ongoing relationship with Sky (Dominic Cooper).
Increasingly doubtful of her own capabilities. The dynamo duo of Christine Baranski’s Tanya and Julie Walters’ Rosie look to bolster her confidence by delving into Donna’s past, as Lily James’ enthused younger incarnation of the character guides us through her eventful youth with the dungarees intact, reliving her initial encounters in 1979 with Sophie’s dads (Hugh Skinner/Jeremy Irvine/Josh Dylan).
Previously unapologetic in its ramshackle charm and high camp. Director Ol Parker to much relief resists applying restraint to its energetic, big-hearted song and dance numbers, whilst technically and narratively tightening up the deficiencies that perhaps plagued its 2008 counterpart for the purists, with a sharper focus on emotional engagement. As a result, it may not be as quick to overwhelm us with its blindingly sunny disposition like its predecessor, occasionally labouring in its first half with its time-hopping.
Yet when those glorious highs arrive like a new take on ‘Dancing Queen’ and Cher’s stellar firework-heavy rendition of ‘Fernando’, whose cameo evoked hearty cheers in the screening i was in. They are now armed with a poignant and reflective slant, reinforcing the ingenuity in how these timeless songs are integrated into the framework, in order to offer fresh interpretations.
Lighting up the screen as a young Donna Sheridan. Lily James captures the carefree spirit and mannerisms of the character superbly, proving a solid counterpart to Meryl Streep’s original performance and Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie in the singing stakes. Speaking of Streep, much has been made about her (lack of?) involvement in this follow-up. Without slipping into spoiler territory, her gorgeous screen moments this time around epitomise why many fans deemed her an instant hit in the first film. Elsewhere, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters continue to provide fantastic farce, stealing much of the script’s zingy dialogue whilst Andy Garcia’s enigmatic hotel manager is a disarming and dashing addition.
It may not have been a sequel we were warming up the vocal chords for. Yet in striking a killer balance between emotive and euphoric. ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is a truly wonderful follow-up that brims with sincerity and show-stopping splendour.
Dig out the spandex and unleash your inner ‘Super Trouper’…
Hotel Artemis ★★★
Released: 20th July 2018
Directed By: Drew Pearce
Starring: Jodie Foster, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella
Reviewed By: Van Connor
Iron Man 3 alum Drew Pearce makes his feature directorial debut with this slick future-set actioner – evoking the neon-tinged hyperbolic aesthetic of John Wick and applying it to a more stripped-down set-up akin to Joe Carnahan’s strangely forgotten Smoking Aces. Hotel Artemis sees the eponymous underworld hospital of the future come under siege by forces both outside and in, with a who’s-who of “hey – it’s….!” figures to bring its gleefully vitriolic war well and truly to life.
On Pearce’s part, Hotel Artemis knows its own playbook pretty well – tense action beats are played with coherence but don’t skimp on imagination, and the staging of it all is first rate. Jodie Foster, meanwhile, leads an engaging cast that includes a wonderfully sleazy Charlie Day, the brilliantly deadpan Sterling K. Brown, and an amusingly in-her-comfort-zone Sofia Boutella. It’s best to keep as much of its casting a surprise as possible, but there’s tons of fun to be had via mere cast reveals to keep proceedings engaging.
On the action front, though, it is strange that Hotel Artemis feels as subdued as it does as regards its own sense of internal rage. Whilst far from a bloodless PG-13, Pearce’s film never quite embeds itself as much in the hyperviolence of its world as you’d expect, or, rather, hope. It’s certainly no John Wick in that sense, and, though there is a decent share of world-building to kick things off, it’s quickly evident that this element of restraint is self-imposed by Pearce’s writing, rather than a by-product of now requisite franchise-creation. Hotel Artemis, incidentally, could easily garner itself a cheap and cheerful sequel or two, were there somehow a demand.
On the back of this pretty solid ninety minute actioner, that’s absolutely a consideration. The world it builds is fleshed out enough to intrigue, the cast are game for an intriguing balance of quirk and creepiness, and Pearce steps up to the director’s chair with unbroken confidence and a comic book sensibility that takes him deftly to the finish line. Stoker cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung astonishes as ever, and, while not his showiest work to date, Cliff Martinez’s score fleshes out the bonkers world of Hotel Artemis nicely.
Best aimed at those looking for another round of Smoking Aces-grade action – though, without quite the same singular ferocity – Hotel Artemis is a nice bit of bullet-laden fun with a lively cast and some slick visuals. It’ll never be one of the iconic points on the timeline of action cinema, but it’s a worthy stop-off on the way between the ones that are.
Released: 12th July 2018
Directed By: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell
Reviewed By: Van Connor
Be honest. Sooner or later, you knew The Rock was going to make Die Hard. It was inevitable. As he ascends higher and higher thought the upper echelons of the – increasingly spartan – Hollywood star system, this was always going to be coming. The only question really, was going to be whether or not it was going to be either any good, or even welcome in a world in which even a bonafide Die Hardsequel now typically ranks among the worst of whichever year it’s released in.
Alas, Dwayne Johnson is no Bruce Willis, and that quality control barrier could not be any clearer as Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno – with a dash of The Fugitive – for Skyscraper. Rawson Marshall Thurber’s adrenaline-fuelled ride takes DJ to China as amputee and former FBI tactical agent Will Sawyer, an American tasked with signing off on the security of The Pearl – the tallest building in the world. When terrorists seize The Pearl, however, Sawyer finds himself the subject of a Chinese manhunt and forced to find a way back into the building in order to save his wife and children from not only the terrorists seeking to fulfil their own agenda, but also to the out-of-control blaze that threatens to consume them all.
Johnson’s played in the sort of arena on more than a few occasions now, with Skyscraper arguably skewing closest to San Andreas as regards the sort of tone and polished spectacle you’re in for. There are some offhand nods to more classical genre archetypes – hell, it makes more Die Hard references than Jake Peralta – and there’s the requisite degree of fistbumping and utilisation of the term “brother”, but those still unsure of what to expect can rest easy on the promise of what’s essentially an Irwin Allen movie with a Neal Moritz sensibility. It ain’t clever, it doesn’t want to be, it just wants you to sit on the edge of your seat and then cheer afterwards. Which you will. A lot.
Neve Campbell brings an impressive amount to what’s an already impressively sketched out female supporting character in Sawyer’s wife (take notes, Bedelia – that’s how you handle hostage takers), and Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black) continues to make for an engaging added value element. Roland Møller, meanwhile, makes for a decent enough villain, but lacks the charisma needed to really sell the ludicrously named Kores Botha as much of an evil mastermind. Sure, he was never going to rival Hans Gruber on the scale of action movie villains, but Botha’s so thinly devised as a villain that he’s not up to the grade of Tommy Lee Jones’ Under Siege villain either. And that’s a real detriment when your action hero lead is someone as genuinely charismatic as Dwayne Johnson. Both Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Joe Manganiello took the wrong Rock movie, would be a decent takeaway.
In lieu of a captivating villain, Thurber nonetheless ensures value for money is had with a barrage of spectacle-fuelled set-pieces the likes of which will have you squirming in your seat biting your fist for dear life – IMAX could well inspire a sense of vertigo with this one. It’s a glossy-looking actioner – thanks to some smooth production design and slick visuals from cinematographer and Mission: Impossible alum Robert Elswit – and fight choreographer Allan Poppleton goes above and beyond to stage Johnson’s antics not as the all-powerful action commando, but a credible fighter dwarfed by the spectacle of what’s up against him.
It’s a good time for all. Sure, it’s in no way destined to become an enduring classic of the action genre – though, the spoilerific marketing campaign does well and truly show off what will become one of this summer’s more memorable movie moments – but it’s Die Hard on fire. With The Rock. In 2018. And if there’s an easier sell for a good time at the movies than that, it just means Dwayne Johnson has another movie out. In which case, still see Skyscraper first.
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