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Wild Card

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wild-card-poster-debutDirector: Simon West

Stars: Anne Heche, Dominik García-Lorido, Hope Davis, Jason Alexander, Jason Statham, Max Casella, Michael Angarano, Milo Ventimiglia, Sofia Vergara, Stanley Tucci

Released: 20th March 2015 (UK)

Wild Card starts off by quickly setting up two intriguing predicaments. One is to show what our main character, Nick Wild (Jason Statham), does for a living while the other is an unspecified woman being dropped off, beaten and battered, at the emergency room. There is no need to understand how the two scenarios might connect as the movie isn’t intent on making a major mystery of anything, but rather Wild Cardis more intent on simply hooking you in hopes that you might stick around to see what scenario the next Statham caricature might be forced to use his martial arts skills to take care of. Giving credit where credit is due, the hook is nicely placed and I’m a fan of Statham so I was willing to go along with what could of course never rise to become more than a mediocre action flick. That is simply what we expect from Statham in his solo outings, but somehow he always manages to bring something more to the table than we ever expect. Whether it be the tone and setting of Homefront, the large amount of sympathy and goodwill contained in his character from Safe, the twists of War, the time period and fellow actors in Killer Elite or even the gritty, grimy style of something like The Mechanic-there is always an aspect of these Statham films that allow them become more than what we bargained for which was a direct to video movie so trashy and standard it is instantly forgettable. Instead, Statham operates on the principles of intriguing character pieces despite him being pegged as playing the same guy over and over again. This is partially true as each of the characters the action star portrays resembles one another in some form or fashion, but their circumstances always paint a different picture and it is this information that informs the state of mind of the character that allows Statham leniency from his British accent and bad boy facade. In Wild Card he is again a kind of bodyguard, but he is a man with an addiction and one that doesn’t derive from drugs or alcohol, but that of one he could make a clean break from if he so chose. It’s the choices that make Statham’s characters different and if anything new comes to light in this otherwise generic film it is why Statham is equally as heralded as he is crapped upon.

In short, Statham’s Wild is a Las Vegas bodyguard with lethal professional skills and a personal gambling problem. The long form of the story though includes Holly (Dominik García-Lorido) the aforementioned beaten and battered woman who comes to Nick seeking his help to exact revenge on the guys who left her for dead outside of the emergency room. There is also Cyrus Kinnick (Michael Angarano) a self-made millionaire who arrives at Nick’s office that he shares with Pinky (Jason Alexander) looking specifically for Nick to show him around Vegas and provide him protection while he gambles. The meat of the story centers on Holly’s task of finding out who the guys are that raped and beat her while getting Nick to commit to helping her. He is hesitant, but unable to resist the urge to set things right. Nick discovers the man responsible for raping Holly is a local gangster known as Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia). Naturally, Nick pays DeMarco and his two lackies a visit, but after trying to speak with DeMarco peacefully the spoiled gangster resorts to calling for his men to treat Nick the same way they did Holly. Things get crazy and it’s officially time to see Statham kick some ass. Nick quickly dismantles the two witless henchman and DeMarco himself, restraining them and inviting Holly into the room to do as she pleases. If you’ve seen the trailer you know where things could possibly go from here, but I don’t care to spoil anything. It is beside the fact that despite what comes of Holly’s visit to DeMarco that Nick is paid handsomely for his services and so he decides to take Cyrus to a casino and gamble his money away.

What’s interesting about the film is that it doesn’t break any kind of mold and in fact settles comfortably into the generalities of what we expect yet it has an edge to it that stems from the seedy underbelly of its atmosphere. As mentioned in reference to Statham’s The Mechanic earlier, Wild Card also has that dirty, grimy texture about it that tells us it’s probably something we shouldn’t see-a side of society that doesn’t care to be exposed, but one that is all the more interesting for those reasons. As directed by Simon West (The Mechanic, The Expendables 2, Con Air) this is something we expect, but what is unexpected is the way in which it layers in its characters on top of the narrative that isn’t as important for its plot points as it is for the mentalities of those we become invested in. Why is Nick Wild both so giving and yet so greedy? Why does there seem to be a history between he and Holly that has yet to be explored, but still decides to go no further than a business relationship? Why is Cyrus not all he initially seems to be and what are his motives for specifically seeking Nick out? What makes both of them so special to one another? The questions become layered and build up a nice amount of intrigue as we watch the physical actions of these characters, sans any metaphors or bigger meanings, go through with not what they seem to want to do, but with what they feel is expected of them. This may all be digging too deep into a movie that simply wants to hit an action beat every half hour so as to give the audience their money’s worth, but as it comes from a novel by William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Princess Bride) and is a re-make of the 1986 Burt Reynolds film, Heat, there is no reason to think there shouldn’t be more depth to the typical-seeming going-ons. Having not read or seen either of these source materials I simply assume there is some weight to them that has been passed on in this latest incarnation for despite Wild Card being another in a line of standard Statham actioners he and all involved are at least clearly putting forth some effort.

What is most disappointing about the film though is the way it under utilizes its rather exceptional supporting cast. Remember when I mentioned that Jason Alexander in the second paragraph? Yea, well that one scene near the beginning of the film is the only time you’ll spot him despite his character being the leads business partner. The same is true of Max Casella (who you may remember from Blue Jasmine) and Sofia Vergara who appear in the opening scene and that, because it is Vergara, you assume will tie back into the bigger plot of the story, but don’t expect to see her returning to the thick of things as most of the faces you’ll recognize here outside of Statham, Angarano and Hope Davis are all but cameo appearances. Why Anne Heche felt the need to show up to play a waitress for less than a handful of scenes speaks more to her current status than anything else as it could have honestly been played by anyone. Stanley Tucci also shows up for a rather terrific scene near the end of the film and the audience is led to assume their is a history between Statham’s character and Tucci’s hotel and casino owner simply referred to as “Baby” but there is no proof of such. This all leads to the bigger issue with the film in that it is too short. I often complain about how if only films knew where to trim the fat we might be blessed with more lean and focused narratives that turn solid films into great ones, but here we come to the conclusion so quickly we wonder how we’ve already arrived at such a point. If there were only a few more scenes sprinkled throughout to fill out some of these underdeveloped supporting characters with great actors playing them we might feel more substance within the arc as I was clearly already invested in the core characters. In that regard, I guess you can say Wild Card leaves one wanting more, but in fact it is simply another one of these Statham films that could have easily been so much more, but will instead be quickly forgotten.

Editor-in-Chief of Movie Marker. Likes: Scorsese, Spielberg and Tarantino Dislikes: The film 'Open Water' I mean, what was that all about?

Movie Reviews

The Little Stranger ★★★★

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to.

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Released: 21st September 2018

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill

Reviewed By: Sinead Beverland

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to. At the helm is Room Director Lenny Abrahamson, with an impressive cast including Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Charlotte Rampling.

Set shortly after the second world war, Doctor Faraday (Gleeson) introduces us to the faded grandeur of Hundreds Hall, a place he envied feverishly as a child. Having belonged to the Ayres family for several generations, the house is now inhabited by just Mrs Ayres (Rampling) and her two adult children, Roderick (Will Poulter) and Caroline (Wilson). When Faraday is called to the house to visit the unwell young housemaid Betty, he recollects his childhood adulation of the place. Remembering the presence of a young girl, he is told that this was Mrs Ayres first daughter, Susan, who had died as a child. It seems the spectre of Susan (affectionately known as Suki) still lays heavily over the house, as housemaid Betty tells Faraday she fears something ‘isn’t right’. As he becomes more entwined with the family and their home, strange events begin to raise concerns and individually threaten members of the family.

From the very outset, the film breeds an unsettling feeling, the house is imposing with long shots conveying the sense that the characters are being observed. The audience follows Faraday in to this fading world of status and money, sensing his childhood desire and starched formality. The family are equally intriguing and unnerving. Roderick, badly injured during the war, is now an invalid struggling to cope and disturbed by the sense that something in the house does not want him there. Matriarch Mrs Ayres seems to be doing her best to keep the past alive and daughter Caroline (the best of the bunch as attested to by a fellow doctor) seems strong yet vulnerable. When Faraday begins an intriguing friendship with Caroline, their relationship evolves to hinge the entire ethereal story together. With fantastic performances all round, the characters all emerge fully formed, conveying depth without the need for swathes of expository back story.

The terror of the film gradually reveals itself, impacting in set scenes that are truly disturbing and realistic. Director Abrahamson has a subtle touch (as seen in the Oscar Nominated Room) and these climactic scenes engulf you, whilst revealing the fate of certain characters. Abrahamson knows how to accentuate the fear for the audience and uses restraint to devastating effect. As the house leaks secrets and the memory of the deceased Susan comes to the forefront, the story is told with an intensity that uses strikingly rich music and extreme close ups to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. However, to reveal too much of the story here, would spoil the experience of discovering for yourself what is happening at Hundreds Hall.

The Little Stranger is a mature and nuanced film, layered in such a way that it address status and class alongside desire and emotion. The period setting is detailed and worn, bridging the gap between transitioning eras in Britain.  This is no straightforward horror or ghost story and the film certainly feels to have done justice to its excellent source material. Rich in theme, characters and style, I would gladly take The Little Stranger home.

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Movie Reviews

Dogman ★★★

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Released: 19th October 2018

Directed By: Matteo Garrone

Starring: Marcello Fonte

Reviewed By: Rhys Handley

Dogman is the anti-Paddington. Antithetical to the marmalade-loving bear’s enduring mantra – “if we are kind and polite, the world will be right” – dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) carves out a life in the dilapidated outskirts of Rome modestly tending to his estate’s canine residents and enjoying the respect of his neighbours.

But Marcello’s submissive, accommodating kindness is pushed closer and closer to its limit by the hulking Simone (a terrifying Edoardo Pesce, surely masked in near-mutant prosthetic), a brutish ex-boxer who stalks the estate terrorising the residents. Unable to say no to a friend, Marcello facilitates Simone’s egregious coke habit to little recompense.

When Simone’s scheme to rob a nearby jeweller’s implicates Marcello and he is apprehended by the police, the Dogman takes the fall himself and goes inside for a year for the sake of the bully who pretends to be his friend. When he comes out, something has changed.

Marcello, diminutive and always sporting a toothy grin, strikes an unimpressive, but likeable figure. He is perfectly happy with his lot as the film opens – a divorced father who takes pride in his work and loves trips to the beach with his daughter. While director Matteo Garrone makes a meal of the grim, filthy aesthetic of the film’s setting, he peppers in moments of levity and blissful tranquility to reinforce the humble satisfaction of Marcello’s daily life.

To see him repeatedly indulge the cruel, selfish whims of Simone quickly becomes a source of frustration, as the brute encourages vices in Marcello that seems entirely at odds with his persona. Marcello is swept away on break-ins and hedonistic strip club nights in jarring scenes more in keeping with Garrone’s work in the gangster canon such as 2008’s Gomorrah.

In these scenes, the toxicity fuelling Marcello reveals itself. Fonte delicately skews the kindly facade when Marcello enters Simone’s world. Behind his courteous smile is a sickening glimmer of delight – Marcello loves the thrill and decadence of life of crime. His latent desires mix with his better nature, to create something more insidious than Simone’s overt depravity.

Dogman stumbles in its closing chapter as Marcello is released from prison, returning to a community who despises him for violating their trust and chasing Simone’s false offers of brotherhood and fortune. Marcello reemerges not exactly changed, but more honest to himself about what he is. Garrone and his co-writers steer this portion of the story with a steady hand, but it is hard to shake comparisons to other established squares-gone-rogue like Walter White.

Marcello’s resolve and vengefulness is convincing thanks to Fonte, but its emergence is sudden and teeters dangerously close to cliche. His push and pull with Simone is rote, which makes its languid pace a little irritating – this has suddenly become a very different film, and it can’t carry the slower moments of contemplation as well as it could before Marcello was locked up.

An inevitable confrontation takes place, bursting with brutality and gore. But rather than a release of tension, it feels like a betrayal of the thoughtful, measured character piece Garrone set up. The violence overreaches for shock value where Garrone had before been satisfied with something more pensive and empathetic.

Luckily, he pulls back in the final moments of the film and dovetails elegantly by concluding what is essentially his thesis on ‘little guy’ psychology. He frames Marcello not as a good man pushed too far, but as someone whose better and worse natures are intrinsically tangled to create a monster very different to the bully who ultimately leads him to snap.

No matter how kind and polite the Dogman might try to be, he cannot deny the malice that festers in his heart – and Garrone artfully distills Marcello’s melancholic final moment of self-realisation in a resonant closing shot that gracefully irons out the kinks in this curious, inconsistent little film.

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Movie Reviews

Superfly ★★

Director X’s flashy remake of the Blaxploitation classic is a thunderingly dull experience

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Director: Director X
Stars:  Trevor Jackson, Jason Mitchell, Michael K. Williams
Released: 14th September 2018 (UK)

Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time, BlackKklansman – it’s proving an impressive year for top-tier studio-driven black cinema. The perfect year, as it happens, to release a remake of seventies Blaxploitation classic Super Fly. Or, at least, it would be, if the determining creative mantra behind this update weren’t presumably anything more than to make an episode of Power with all the stylistic glimmer of a P. Diddy video.

Superfly (neatly bringing the title right up to autocorrect standard by repositioning itself as a single word) sees Grown-ish star Trevor Jackson take on the iconic role of the hustling dealer trying to earn his way out of the game – albeit in a newly millennial take that supplants the character’s own drug use for what appear to be Sherlock-level powers of information gathering on anyone he might need to manipulate, charm, or blindside. He also sports the most incredible head of hair this side of Josh Brolin.

Alex Tse’s screenplay sees no gain in revisiting any of the subversive terrain that made Super Fly the enduring classic it became, his ambitions outright stopping at the point his writing could passably sell a made-for-cable urban crime series (such as – to pick a name out of a hat – Power?). Beyond that it falls to director Director X (of the Toronto Xs) and star Jackson to bring the proverbial funk, and – though X really knows how to sell a music video with all the tonal swagger of John Singleton’s Shaft remake (though, noticeably, none of its darkness or consideration) – Jackson simply isn’t a strong enough presence to sell the supposed gravitas of his lead. It’s a weakness no amount of style or gunfire can distract from, and it sinks Superfly dead.

There’s a top-shelf supporting cast in there, with the likes of Jason Mitchell, Michael K. Williams, and Rick Ross turning up for their two cents and subsequently failing in tandem to elevate this dross to become anything close to worthy of standing in its own brand’s shadow. Expectedly enough, it sports a kickass hip-hop soundtrack – with rapper (and the film’s producer) Future offering up a bevy of atmospherically charging beats to ensure you’re at least bored to music, though there is something faintly amusing (outside of context) about hearing an entire cast prattle on about wanting to wipe out “the Snow Patrol”, like they’re working for the NME in 2005.

Twenty years from now, film historians will likely regard Superfly in the same manner as we currently regard Gus van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho or Stallone’s 2000 remake of Get Carter – that it’s a pointless creation that completely missed the cultural point of its own iconic original – and they’ll be right to do so. Provided they remember that Superfly even existed in the first place – which they, and you, would be decidedly better off not.

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