When his daughter is killed in a bombing that a rogue part of the IRA takes responsibility for, Ngoc Minh Quan (Jackie Chan) goes after the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland (Pierce Brosnan) to learn who the terrorists are. Former Bond director Martin Campbell reunites with Brosnan from GoldenEye (1995) for this action-thriller, and the star is a good choice to play the former IRA terrorist turned peacemaker who has to navigate rough waters. But the real star of the movie is Chan who’s given a meatier role than we’re used to as the grieving Vietnam War veteran. Far from believable but too engaging to dismiss, with good action scenes.
2017-Britain-China. 113 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Martin Campbell. Novel: Stephen Leather (”The Chinaman”). Cast: Jackie Chan (Ngoc Minh Quan), Pierce Brosnan (Liam Hennessy), Michael McElhatton (Jim Kavanagh), Liu Tao, Charlie Murphy, Orla Brady.
Trivia: Co-produced by Chan. Nick Cassavetes was allegedly considered for directing duties.
After being imprisoned by a fire demon, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) learns that Asgard is about to be destroyed and the one responsible will be his sister, Odin’s firstborn, Hela (Cate Blanchett). The third film in the franchise has Thor and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) colliding on a faraway planet and then teaming up to save Asgard; this is what they were up to while Captain America and Tony Stark battled it out in Captain America: Civil War (2016). A completely bonkers Marvel film in 3D, the funniest one to date, with great tongue-in-cheek performances by Hemsworth, Ruffalo and especially Jeff Goldblum as the most Goldblum-esque of supervillains. Admirably colorful attempt to shake up the formula.
2017-U.S. 130 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Kevin Feige. Directed by Taika Waititi. Screenplay: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost. Music: Mark Mothersbaugh. Cast: Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Cate Blanchett (Hela), Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson… Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Stevenson, Benedict Cumberbatch. Cameos: Sam Neill, Luke Hemsworth, Matt Damon, Stan Lee.
Last word: “I put together a sizzle reel, and that was basically… because there was no storyline, or anything… I don’t really know what I’m going for, so I’ll just get shots from movies I think are cool [laughs] and put together sort of a tone reel. For like, the energy and the colour and sort of what might look cool for this film that no one has any idea about a story for. And so, I did that, and I put ‘Immigrant Song‘ over the top of it, and then played it for them. And they were like, ‘Oh that’s really cool. That’s a cool song. What’s that?’ I was like, [deadpan] ‘It’s ‘Immigrant Song’, Led Zeppelin, one of the most famous songs of all time.’ They were like, ‘Oh cool, never heard it before, very cool.'” (Waititi, Den of Geek)
When the North Korean military, assisted by the Russians, invade the United States, a group of teenagers and twentysomethings flee into the Washington woods and organize resistance. A remake of the 1984 original that is even harder to believe; the invaders were originally supposed to have been Chinese, which would have been somewhat easier to buy. Most of the set-up is familiar from the first movie and effectively staged; the action compensates for the story’s many lulls. Unfortunately, the characters remain anonymous.
2012-U.S. 93 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Dan Bradley. Cast: Chris Hemsworth (Jed Eckert), Josh Peck (Matt Eckert), Josh Hutcherson (Robert Kitner), Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Adrianne Palicki, Connor Cruise.
1,700 YEARS TO BUILD. 5,500 MILES LONG. WHAT WERE THEY TRYING TO KEEP OUT?
During the 11th century, two Western mercenaries (Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal) are looking for the secret of gunpowder in China when they’re attacked by a monster; stumbling upon the Great Wall, they become involved in the battle against the taotie… Another adventurous epic from Zhang Yimou, clearly aimed for both American and Chinese audiences, but still making sure that Chinese mythology is at the heart of the movie. As expected from this filmmaker, the battles are colorful (in 3D) but the design of the monsters isn’t terribly inventive. The characters also remain rather hollow.
2016-China-U.S. 103 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Zhang Yimou. Cast: Matt Damon (William Garin), Jing Tian (Lin Mae), Pedro Pascal (Pero Tovar), Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Zhang Hanyu.
Trivia: At one point, Edward Zwick was reportedly considered for directing duties; Bryan Cranston for Dafoe’s role.
The Treasury Department is looking into a mysterious man called ”the Accountant” (Ben Affleck) who was responsible for murdering several mobsters; at the same time, he’s hired to audit a robotics firm… An odd idea for an action-thriller, although it does begin to vaguely resemble a Batman story in disguise as it moves along. There are a few clever touches in this movie, which reveals ”the Accountant’s” dark past piece by piece. A little confusing at first, and overall far from convincing, but surprisingly engaging nevertheless. Affleck is fun to watch as the autistic hit man who’s learned to control his affliction.
2016-U.S. 128 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Gavin O’Connor. Cast: Ben Affleck (Christian Wolff), Anna Kendrick (Dana Cummings), J.K. Simmons (Ray King), Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, Cynthia Addai-Robinson… John Lithgow.
EVERYONE’S OUT TO GET THEM… IF THEY DON’T KILL EACH OTHER FIRST.
Down-on-his-luck but still professional bodyguard Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is drawn into the big league again when he ends up escorting a hitman (Samuel L. Jackson) to the Hague where he’s to testify against a former Belarusian dictator (Gary Oldman). This action-comedy seemed like a natural choice for Reynolds after his Deadpool success, and those fans are likely to enjoy this violent, foul-mouthed and fast-paced movie. He and Jackson are fun as the antagonistic couple who have more in common than they realize at first. The longer it goes on though, the more needlessly preposterous it gets.
2017-U.S. 118 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Patrick Hughes. Cast: Ryan Reynolds (Michael Bryce), Samuel L. Jackson (Darius Kincaid), Gary Oldman (Vladislav Dukhovich), Élodie Yung, Salma Hayek, Joaquim de Almeida… Richard E. Grant.
Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage), who’s about to be released from prison, is transported on an airplane carrying some of the nation’s worst criminals; in midair, the plane is hijacked by a group of them. Another bombastic action movie that attracted huge audiences just like The Rock (1996). This one doesn’t have the same visual appeal, but balls considering how confidently its ridiculous ingredients are executed. John Malkovich and Steve Buscemi are having fun as ”the worst of the worst”, but all characters are strictly cardboard and the final showdowns utterly moronic.
1997-U.S. 115 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Directed by Simon West. Song: ”How Do I Live” (Diane Warren). Cast: Nicolas Cage (Cameron Poe), John Cusack (Vince Larkin), John Malkovich (Cyrus ”Cyrus the Virus” Grissom), Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Colm Meaney… Danny Trejo, Dave Chappelle, Monica Potter.
Trivia: Also released in a 122-min. version. Robert Downey, Jr., Charlie Sheen and Matthew Broderick were allegedly considered for the part of Larkin.
Razzie: Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Property.
ALCATRAZ. ONLY ONE MAN HAS EVER BROKEN OUT. NOW FIVE MILLION LIVES DEPEND ON TWO MEN BREAKING IN.
When a group of rogue Marines threatens to attack San Francisco from Alcatraz with chemical weapons, the FBI puts the only man who ever broke out of the prison and survived in charge of a Navy SEAL team. Michael Bay followed up Bad Boys (1995) with this hugely successful action thriller that is gorgeous to look at and has a crazy, engaging first half. But after a while the protracted story and overblown attitude begin to drag the movie down, even though Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery are fun. The music score has become a classic in the genre.
1996-U.S. 136 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Michael Bay. Music: Hans Zimmer, Nick Glennie-Smith. Cast: Sean Connery (John Mason), Nicolas Cage (Stanley Goodspeed), Ed Harris (Frank Hummel), Michael Biehn, William Forsythe, David Morse… John Spencer, John C. McGinley, Tony Todd, Claire Forlani, Jim Caviezel.
Trivia: Co-executive produced by Connery. Arnold Schwarzenegger was allegedly considered for one of the leads. Quentin Tarantino and Aaron Sorkin worked on the script.
Frank Martin (Ed Skrein) is hired by Anna (Loan Chabanol) and her accomplices, all runaway sex slaves, to get back at a human trafficker; to make sure everything goes smoothly, they’re also holding Frank’s father (Ray Stevenson) hostage. The fourth film in the series became a reboot that introduced a younger actor in the lead and also made the transporter’s suave dad part of the story. Stevenson works his charm like he’s Roger Moore, but Skrein lacks Jason Statham’s charisma and the action is equally unimaginative.
2015-France. 96 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Camille Delamarre. Screenplay: Luc Besson, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage. Cast: Ed Skrein (Frank Martin), Ray Stevenson (Frank Martin, Sr.), Loan Chabanol (Anna), Gabriella Wright, Tatjana Pajkovic, Yu Wenxia.
Trivia: Statham was allegedly first offered to play Martin again.
In 2032, violent criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) is thawed from his cryogenic sleep for a parole hearing, but escapes; desperate for help, the police also thaw John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone), Phoenix’s arch-nemesis, a cop sentenced for manslaughter. A futuristic action movie with a sense of humor, even if it is depicting a dystopia where a new high-tech but deeply moralistic and autocratic society has emerged after a major earthquake in California. Having two 1990s antagonists clash in this world is a fun idea, but the movie is undermined by a thin script and formulaic showdowns.
1993-U.S. 115 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Marco Brambilla. Cast: Sylvester Stallone (John Spartan), Wesley Snipes (Simon Phoenix), Sandra Bullock (Lenina Huxley), Nigel Hawthorne, Benjamin Bratt, Bob Gunton… Denis Leary, Jack Black, Jesse Ventura, Rob Schneider.
Trivia: Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Jackie Chan were allegedly considered for the lead roles. Lori Petty was first cast as Huxley, but later replaced by Bullock.
Director Edgar Wright had been thinking about making this movie for two decades before it finally happened. Those who know their Wright oeuvre might recognize the basic idea from a music video he made in 2003, ”Blue Song” for Mint Royale, featuring the British comedian Noel Fielding as a getaway driver who loves music. After skipping Ant-Man (2015), Wright decided that Baby Driver would be his next movie. The final results is a pop culture feast, but the film that inspired Wright in particular was Walter Hill’s The Driver (1978), a script he ended up reading because he needed to learn how to write car chases.
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a young getaway driver in Atlanta, Georgia. Working for a criminal organization led by the cool Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby is exceptionally good at what he does but frequently fails to earn the trust of the robbers Doc employs for his heists. After all, why would these people trust a kid who wears shades all the time and always seems disconnected from his surroundings, listening to music on his old iPod? Still, he has earned Doc’s trust and that makes all the difference. Baby has been working off a debt he owes Doc and makes the mistake of thinking that the last job is the end of their relationship…
A kid in over his head
Edgar Wright has been making good movies for 15 years now, entertaining us with his Cornetto trilogy where he took three different genres (zombie movies, cop movies, sci-fi movies) and turned them into clever and funny comedies. One persistent theme throughout has been what he calls in a 2014 Toronto Star interview ”the dangers of perpetual adolescence”. Perhaps we can sense more of the same in this movie, as Baby is essentially a kid who’s in over his head but finds a way out of the mess. When we first meet Baby, in the thrilling opening sequence, he’s an instantly charming and infuriating character. A criminal who’s very good at helping his robbers get away from the police, but as one of his partners tells him, there has to come a time when he actually gets blood on his hands. We in the audience need to to see that happen, because Baby deserves to be rocked out of his iPod bubble and experience some of the hurt that he inadvertently inflicts on others. Once he does, our sympathies lie entirely with him. The film explores a cute love story between Baby and a waitress, Debora (Lily James); the relationship between Baby and Doc’s criminal enterprise is initially amusing before it takes a more serious turn and becomes increasingly dangerous and action-packed. The film is very well cast, with Elgort getting a role of a lifetime. He’s great in the tinnitus-stricken lead role and superbly assisted by Spacey as the authoritative gang leader and Hamm and Foxx as two charismatic but lethal robbers. The supporting cast is also filled with notable artists; apart from Flea and Paul Williams, there are several rappers. That’s to be expected from a movie that puts music front and center of the story; Baby’s iPod becomes an eclectic Tarantino-esque soundtrack. Cinematographer Bill Pope keeps the film moving in an awe-inspiring way; that’s true of the wonderful, long sequence that introduces us to Baby in his neighborhood, but also the pulse-pounding action scenes and car chases where the kid’s talents are severely tested.
You might say that Edgar Wright reinvented zombie movies with Shaun of the Dead (2004) and heist movies with this one. He knows how to make something old and stale look fun and cool again. I can’t wait to see what he’ll bring back to life next.
Baby Driver 2017-Britain-U.S. 112 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Nira Park. Written and directed by Edgar Wright. Cinematography: Bill Pope. Cast: Ansel Elgort (Baby), Kevin Spacey (Doc), Lily James (Debora), Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Jamie Foxx… Flea, Paul Williams. Voice of Walter Hill.
Trivia: Emma Stone was allegedly considered for the role of Debora; Michael Douglas as Doc.
Last word: “Within things like ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Scott Pilgrim’ and ‘The World’s End’, I had done more and more of these music-y set pieces, action set pieces that are set to music or have music performed in them. I always liked doing them, like the ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ scene in ‘Shaun of the Dead’, where they’re beating up the zombies to Queen. It’s a joy to film that. With ‘Baby Driver’, I got the idea for the script and what the story is and who the character is and it’s like ‘Can I do that for an entire movie?’ Can that be the movie? It’s entirely diegetic and the songs are playing in every scene, on some device or another, whether they’re in his ears or on the stereo or in a store. That became the intention, of doing an entire movie that was set to music.” (Wright, Slash Film)
As the Berlin Wall is about to fall in 1989, MI6 spy Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is sent to the city to cooperate with the station chief (James McAvoy) after the murder of an agent. Former stuntman turned director David Leitch worked on John Wick (2014) and this action thriller has similar ingredients. It is an improvement though, thanks to its stylish Berlin setting, a predictable yet engaging soundtrack, well varied action (unlike the mechanic John Wick movies) and an icy but badass performance by Theron as the British spy agency’s deadliest asset. Convoluted and uneven story, but the movie always has another trick up its sleeve.
2017-U.S. 115 min. Color. Directed by David Leitch. Graphic Novel: Antony Johnston, Sam Hart (”The Coldest City”). Cast: Charlize Theron (Lorraine Broughton), James McAvoy (David Percival), Toby Jones (Gray), John Goodman, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan… Bill Skarsgård, Til Schweiger.
A few years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), the war between apes and humans is growing bloodier and Caesar finds a personal enemy in the ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson). The third film in this series borrows from Westerns and POW movies for a relentlessly grim (with the exception of a new ape, played by Steve Zahn, who’s been on his own too long) adventure. Drags a bit in the middle, but on the whole this is a gripping, action-filled clash between civilizations, with mankind in decline. Awe-inspiring views of forests and wintry landscapes, outstanding motion capture work and visual effects, all aided by a multifaceted score.
2017-U.S. 140 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver. Directed by Matt Reeves. Screenplay: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves. Cinematography: Michael Seresin. Music: Michael Giacchino. Cast: Andy Serkis (Caesar), Woody Harrelson (The Colonel), Karin Konoval (Maurice), Terry Notary, Steve Zahn, Ty Olsson… Judy Greer.
Last word: “I wanted the movie to be, like, a widescreen movie like a David Lean movie, or a Leone movie, and see the apes against the landscape of the planet. What I’ve been excited about from the beginning was the idea of taking cutting edge technology and mirroring that with traditional forms, with the idea of myth, and a really classical story. So you’d have this odd experience of seeing something that felt very rooted, a kind of timeless story, and yet the uncanny aspect of there being these apes that are playing out that drama. And so on this one, I wanted it to be a very epic-scale movie, but still very intimate.” (Reeves, Den of Geek)