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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

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ★★★★

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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’…

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Featured Review

Hotel Artemis ★★★

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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.

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Movie Reviews

Skyscraper ★★★★

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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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