Wrath of Man review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast : Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Hartnett, Laz Alonso, Raúl Castillo, Scott Eastwood, Niamh Algar, Rob Delaney, Eddie Marsan, Andy Garcia
Genre: Action/Thriller
Run Time : 119 min
Opens : 29 April 2021
Rating : M18

There’s something exciting about an armoured truck full of cash that filmmakers can’t resist. 2009’s Armoured was a caper centred around an armoured truck crew, and an unrelated film of the same name is set to be produced by Michael Bay. Films like The Heat and The Town have memorable armoured truck-centric set-pieces. Now, Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham take the wheel.

Patrick “H” Hill (Jason Statham) is a mysterious new employee at Fortico Security, an armoured truck company operating in Los Angeles. Every week, Fortico transports millions of dollars around the city. Bullet (Holt McCallany) teaches H the ropes. During an attempted robbery, H showcases formidable skills, indicating he is overqualified for the job. He crosses paths with a gang of ex-military personnel-turned-robbers. H is on a path of vengeance, and soon, the reason for this becomes clear.

Based on the French Film Le convoyeur (Cash Truck), Wrath of Man is a solid, muscular action thriller that makes good use of both director Ritchie and star Statham’s strengths. There are some brutal action sequences, and the production design of the armoured car depot is quite striking. Wrath of Man often feels beefy and substantial, when many mid-budget action movies can feel somewhat lacklustre and pack too little of a punch. The movie manages to build intrigue in its first half; it’s too bad that the trailers give away the reveal of why exactly H is working for Fortico. The ever-dependable Holt McCallany is especially charismatic, threatening to steal the show from Statham at times. Wrath of Man escapes the feeling of being confined to direct-to-streaming and fits well on the big screen.

The movie is oozing with a bit too much machismo for its own good. The screenplay by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies is crammed with dialogue that strains too hard to sound tough and badass, sometimes bordering on self-parody. There doesn’t seem to be much to any of the characters except H. A cameo by Post Malone threatens to pull one out of the movie. Scott Eastwood’s villainous character is also a non-entity, with Eastwood having little screen presence compared to Statham and McCallany. The film is also ultimately generic and attempts to conceal this with some fairly clever structural shuffling. The movie is also divided into chapters, which, together with the title, can’t help but come off as a bit pretentious for what is mostly a meat-and-potatoes action thriller.

Wrath of Man reunites star Statham and director Ritchie, who burst onto the scene in the 90s with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch but haven’t collaborated since 2005’s widely-panned Revolver. This is not one of Ritchie’s more self-indulgent films; his signature combination of “toff guy” (the name of his production company) schtick and self-aware humour is toned down a little here. It seems like Ritchie is channelling Michael Mann, sometimes successfully. Statham isn’t an actor with a lot of range, but he is watchable doing what he does best. The pair will next collaborate on the spy thriller Five Eyes, currently in production.

Summary: Wrath of Man sees Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham doing what they do best. It’s not quite as cool as it thinks it is and sometimes has a whiff of self-importance about it. Overall though, this is a solid, intense action thriller that doesn’t quite feel as disposable as the typical action movies of the week we’ve been getting on streaming.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Nobody review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Ilya Naishuller
Cast : Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, RZA, Christopher Lloyd, Aleksei Serebryakov, Gage Munroe, Paisley Cadorath
Genre: Action/Thriller
Run Time : 92 min
Opens : 22 April 2021
Rating : NC16

What if Bob Odenkirk of Mr Show and Better Call Saul fame were the world’s greatest badass? That’s the premise of this action thriller, and it’s easier to buy than one might think.

Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk) is a mild-mannered family man who works at a construction company owned by his father-in-law – a “nobody”. Hutch lives an ordinary existence with his wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) and their two children, Blake (Gage Munroe) and Sammy (Paisley Cadorath). A home invasion incident in which Hutch appears to fail to protect his family seems to cement his milquetoast status. However, when drunk gangsters threaten a woman on a bus, something within Hutch is unleashed and he takes them on. One of the gangsters is the younger brother of Russian crime lord Yulian (Aleksei Serebryakov), who oversees the Russian mafia’s investments. Hutch suddenly becomes a target of Yulian. Hutch’s half-brother Harry (RZA) and their elderly father David (Christopher Lloyd) also get drawn into the fray. Yulian and his men get more than they bargained for as they tangle with whom they assumed was just a nobody.

Nobody is an excellent action movie. It’s visceral, the action is brutal and well-staged without being overly stylised, there’s an energy and wit to the direction, and it has a leading man with surprise on his side. Director Ilya Naishuller helmed Hardcore Henry; the first feature-length action movie shot entirely from a first-person point of view. Nobody is much more conventional and polished but has just enough of that guerrilla vibe when it counts.

The John Wick connection is heavily played up in the movie’s promotional material, with the first movie’s co-director David Leitch on board as a producer, and all three films’ screenwriter Derek Kolstad on scripting duty. There is enough of a John Wick vibe here, while letting the movie be enough of its own thing. The supporting cast is great, especially when RZA and Christopher Lloyd show up. The movie has a sense of humour without that getting in the way of the action’s impact. “A better version of a direct-to-DVD movie” might seem like a back-handed compliment, but that’s a good description of Nobody. There’s a version of this that could have been completely workmanlike and dull, so it’s a treat that it did not end up that way.

Nobody is mostly riding on the novelty of Odenkirk in the lead. Take that away, and many of its constituent parts are generic. Major components of the movie seem copy/pasted from the first John Wick, especially the villain Yulian. In John Wick, the hero is attacked by a Russian mob boss’ son, while in Nobody, it’s a Russian mob boss’ younger brother. Connie Nielsen gets very little to do, the Becca character relegated to the role of “the wife” as so many similar characters in similar movies have been before. There are perhaps a few too many ironic needle drops, with songs like “What a Wonderful World,” “The Impossible Dream” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” underscoring violent sequences. It’s during these moments that the movie gets a bit too smart alecky.

Nobody is wish fulfilment in the way many action movies of the 80s and 90s were. What if everyone thought you were lame, but you were secretly an awesome tough guy? The movie leans just enough into the initial absurdity of its premise, without winking too hard at the audience. The thing about the action stars of yore were Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme or Dolph Lundgren couldn’t blend into a crowd. Bob Odenkirk could. His performance in this film is a glimpse at what things could’ve been like if Bruce Willis, who also came from a comedy background, still made an effort. The closest analogue to this is the string of late-career Liam Neeson action movies, but even then, he was already known for serious roles. It might seem like a big ask for audiences to accept Saul Goodman as John Wick, but Odenkirk puts in the work. He trained for two years to perform his own stunts, and it pays off.

Summary: Casting an actor who’s not known as an action star as the lead in an action movie is a gamble. In Nobody, it not only pays off, but it makes the action-thriller one of the most entertaining genre entries in recent memory. Genre aficionados will get a good action movie, and on top of that, you get Bob Odenkirk as you’ve never seen him before.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Marksman review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Robert Lorenz
Cast : Liam Neeson, Joe Perez, Katheryn Winnick, Juan Pablo Raba, Teresa Ruiz, Dylan Kenin, Luce Rains
Genre: Action/Thriller/Drama
Run Time : 108 min
Opens : 25 February 2021
Rating : PG13

Some might say comic book movies are the most prevalent genre now, but perhaps “Liam Neeson with a gun” is a close second. Here’s another one to add to the pile, and in case you weren’t sure if Neeson’s character wields a gun, it’s right there in the title.

Jim Hanson (Liam Neeson), not to be confused with the creator of the Muppets whose name is one letter away, is a rancher and retired U.S. Marine. His wife has died of cancer and his farm is about to be foreclosed upon. His property is along the Mexico/US border in Arizona, and he happens upon a woman named Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) and her son Miguel (Joe Perez) trying to cross the border, pursued by cartel members. Joe reluctantly embarks on a mission to get Miguel to family members in Chicago, all the while pursued by the cartel members, who are led by the deadly lieutenant Maurico (Juan Pablo Raba).

This movie makes very good use of Liam Neeson’s talents. He’s outwardly gruff but innately decent, a badass with a heart of gold. Neeson is a perfect fit for the neo-Western genre, and Jim is very easy to root for. The movie is sturdy and straightforward, and young actor Perez is not bad opposite Neeson. The Marksman is predictable but is solidly made and handsomely shot by Director of Photography Mark Patten, who has mostly worked in British TV.

For a movie in which the protagonist is relentlessly pursued, there is a crucial lack of urgency to the proceedings. The Marksman feels considerably longer than its 108 minutes. Director Robert Lorenz seems to be aiming for the stillness of a classic western, but instead it feels like the characters are just waiting around. When the action does happen, it is largely unremarkable.

The Marksman also strains to be apolitical to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, but the issue of people crossing the US/Mexico border illegally is an inherently political one. It wants to be grounded, but also doesn’t want to engage with reality too directly, which is sometimes to the movie’s detriment.

There are moments when Jim and Miguel display glimmers of personality, but the movie is mostly taciturn and doesn’t really let us get to know either character. It also trades in cliches, with Jim having a bog-standard backstory (retired military man whose wife has died). Katheryn Winnick plays Jim’s stepdaughter Sarah, who is ostensibly the female lead but is almost completely a non-entity.

Lorenz, the movie’s director, producer and co-writer, is a long-time producing partner of Clint Eastwood. This feels like something that Eastwood would star in, and perhaps Neeson works better because he is a warmer presence than Eastwood is, especially now. There’s a scene in this movie in which Jim and Miguel watch the Eastwood starrer Hang ‘Em High in a motel room, which Lorenz included as a nod to his mentor.

If you love Liam Neeson’s late-career action work, this is more of the same. It’s not the most exciting or the most compelling, but it does play to all his strengths, and does have an old-fashioned reliability to it.

Summary: A competent if only sporadically engaging neo-western, The Marksman sees Liam Neeson on fine late-career form.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Tenet review

 

Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast : John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Dimple Kapadia, Himesh Patel, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Michael Caine
Genre: Action/Sci-fi/Thriller
Run Time : 2 h 31 min
Opens : 27 August 2020 (Sneaks 26 August)
Rating : PG13

Tenet-poster           One of writer-director Christopher Nolan’s well-known trademarks is the way he plays with time and the perception of time. Memento, Inception and Interstellar all have the perception of time as central themes – even his comparatively straightforward World War II movie Dunkirk was presented in three separate time frames that later converge. Nolan takes his preoccupation with time and how it can be presented onscreen to a new level with Tenet.

John David Washington plays the otherwise-unnamed Protagonist, an elite secret agent. He is roped in to achieve no less than saving the world from destruction. At first, all he has to go on is one word, “Tenet”, and a hand gesture of interlocking fingers. Together with his handler Neil (Robert Pattinson), the Protagonist must unravel an intricate plot that involves a concept called “inversion” – time affects everything in one forward direction, but an unknown person or organization has figured out a way to reverse this effect, imbuing people and objects with the ability to function counter to the normal flow of time. Key to this mystery is the powerful and ruthless Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), whom the Protagonist tries to get to through Sator’s wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), who longs to be free of Sator’s controlling grip. The Protagonist and his allies must cross the world and bend the very fabric of time and space to prevent an unfathomable cataclysm.

Tenet-John-David-Washington-Robert-Pattinson-in-car

Tenet’s reputation as a confusing movie precedes it. Early in the film, one character tells the Protagonist “don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” However, the movie seems to actively want the audience to engage with its ideas and unravel the heady concepts that fuel it. It’s up to each viewer how much effort they want to expend in understanding the movie. Kip Thorne, the theoretical physicist whose work inspired Interstellar, serves as a consultant on this movie too.

Tenet-John-David-Washington-helicopter

It helps to think of Tenet as a Bond movie with all the sci-fi elements layered on top and below that formula. Nolan has made no secret of being a massive 007 fan, with the snow fortress sequence in Inception an obvious homage to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Indeed, Tenet has a somewhat Bond-like protagonist, a Bond villain, something of a Bond girl, globe-trotting action and even a cold open not unlike a classic pre-title sequence in a Bond movie. Tenet almost stubbornly refuses to feel like a generic big studio action movie, even though the promotion for the film included its trailer premiering within the video game Fortnite, and a song by rapper Travis Scott that plays over the end credits, both things one might imagine Nolan baulking at.

Tenet-plane-crash

The action set-pieces are astounding, and all feel satisfying tactile. There is a sequence in which a cargo plane veers off the runway and crashes into a section of an airport which was achieved by crashing an actual plane into a hangar at the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville. The other filming locations include Mumbai, India; Olso, Norway; Tallinn, Estonia and the Amalfi Coast, Italy. A car chase filmed on the Laagna Highway in Tallinn, which involves multiple heavy-duty vehicles including a firetruck, is a lavish, kinetic spectacle. The hydrofoil catamaran race combines glamour and thrills the way the best Bond movies do. This is Nolan’s loudest movie to date, with enough major action-driven moments to make the 151-minute runtime pass by at a decent clip.

Tenet-John-David-Washington-Robert-Pattinson-opposite-sides-of-glass

The film’s visual signature is that of people and objects moving backwards in time, contrary to everything else in a given scene. This isn’t something that is especially new, but just like with the rotating hallway fight sequence in Inception, Nolan has taken something that we might have seen before and amped it up aggressively. There are a few satisfying moments in which the film’s concepts play out visually in grand fashion.

Tenet-John-David-Washington-Robert-Pattinson

Like many of Nolan’s movies, Tenet had the potential to come off as cold, but Washington brings a spirited warmth and a liveliness to the proceedings. He is exceedingly charismatic and acquits himself well during the many complex action sequences. He also has excellent chemistry with Pattinson, who is extremely watchable as the Protagonist’s right-hand man. The Protagonist is deliberately left unnamed and in the hands of another actor, could have been a hollow cipher, but Washington has enough charm and gravitas to transcend that.

Tenet-Elizabeth-Debicki-Kenneth-Branagh

Nolan is not known for writing women especially well. Debicki’s Kat is a better-developed, more interesting character than many others. She still is a damsel in a degree of distress, but gains agency in an interesting way and has a strong hand in moving the plot forward. Branagh, who also featured in Dunkirk, sometimes plays the evil oligarch role a bit too broadly but is often legitimately scary.

Tenet-exploding-opera-house

There’s a scene in Looper in which the Older Joe tells his younger self that he would rather not explain the mechanics of time travel, otherwise they would end up sitting in the diner all day making diagrams out of straws. Tenet sometimes feels like Christopher Nolan making diagrams with straws, but it also benefits from the director’s “blank check” status – after his various successes, he gets a blank check to make whatever kind of movie he wants. Tenet is perhaps just a touch more opaque and headache-inducing than it needs to be, but it is also an invigorating cinematic experience. Just brace yourself for the hundreds of “Tenet explained” videos that will be popping up on YouTube in the coming months.

Summary: The singular vision of an accomplished filmmaker, Tenet is as perplexing as it is visually stunning, something that will leave audiences discussing it even as their heads spin.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Angel Has Fallen review

For inSing

ANGEL HAS FALLEN

Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Cast : Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Danny Huston, Michael Landes, Tim Blake Nelson, Nick Nolte, Piper Perabo, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lance Reddick
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 2 h 1 mins
Opens : 22 August 2019
Rating : NC16

He saved the White House, he saved London, and now, Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) must save himself.

An assassination attempt on President Alan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) leaves his entire Secret Service detail dead – except Banning. Banning is framed for the attack and goes on the run, leaving his wife Leah (Piper Perabo) and their baby daughter in danger. Pursued by Secret Service director David Gentry (Lance Reddick) and FBI Special Agent Helen Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith), Banning turns to an unlikely source for help: his estranged father Clay (Nick Nolte). Banning must clear his name and uncover the conspiracy, before the attacker can finish what they’ve started.

Part of the charm of the Fallen film series is its throwback nature. These are resolutely 90s action movies of the ‘seen it all before’ variety, but perhaps offer a change of pace from the typical mega-blockbuster. Angel Has Fallen is more serious and subdued than the bloated, preposterous and jingoistic London Has Fallen, but that’s not to say it’s anywhere in the realm of plausibility. There are still far-fetched elements to the plot and bombastic action sequences, but there’s a bit more character stuff stuck in between this time. Early information about the film’s plot suggested it would be about a terrorist attack on Air Force One, which was the plot of, uh, Air Force One. Thankfully, while Angel Has Fallen is far from original, it isn’t a rip-off of Air Force One.

True to form as a 90s throwback, Angel Has Fallen is reminiscent of The Fugitive and its spinoff U.S. Marshals. It’s easy to imagine Harrison Ford in the Mike Banning role at some point. Under the direction of former stuntman Ric Roman Waugh, Angel Has Fallen is unsophisticated but muscular. There are lots of old-fashioned action set-pieces, including a jack-knifing semi-truck that flips over. There are also countless explosions that toss hapless henchmen in the air. The action is largely tactile, and Angel Has Fallen largely avoids the clumsy and obvious CGI of its predecessors.

Gerard Butler was certainly overselling the movie when he compared it to Logan in an interview, but to a certain extent, the comparison makes sense. In this film, we see Banning struggle with the physical trauma he has weathered being in the line of fire, having developed an addiction to painkillers. This by no means compromises his ability to be a nigh-superhuman badass in combat, but it’s good to see the film acknowledging its protagonist’s pain.

Morgan Freeman gets more to do than in the previous two movies, during which he was largely confined to the situation room. Here, he is largely confined to a hospital room, but brings the authority and warmth expected of him. 21 years after Deep Impact, he’s presidential as ever.

This is one of those movies in which it’s incredibly obvious who the bad guys are the moment they first appear onscreen. It seems obvious to the point where one would think they must be red herrings, but no, those characters you suspected are indeed the villains.

Nick Nolte adds a great deal of personality as Mike’s dad, giving this movie shades of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Nolte can play crusty and cantankerous in his sleep, but also mines some tragedy from the character and provides the movie with its few authentic beats.

The Leah Banning character gets little to do, but then again, she’s always gotten little to do, to the point where one would be forgiven for not noticing that Radha Mitchell has been replaced by Piper Perabo.

Jada Pinkett Smith’s FBI Agent character is unremarkable, and she seems to over-act to compensate for how purely functional the character is in the plot.

Angel Has Fallen is not an especially smart film, but it offers modest thrills in a relatively entertaining package. Butler gets the job done even though he looks tired and out of it, and the story offers a reason for why he looks tired and out of it. There’s still a place for movies like Angel Has Fallen, with its gunfights, explosions and easily solved plots against the president.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Anna (2019) movie review

ANNA

Director: Luc Besson
Cast : Sasha Luss, Helen Mirren, Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy, Lera Abova, Eric Godon
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1 h 59 mins
Opens : 20 June 2019
Rating : M18

            Luc Besson has always been drawn to lead female characters who make quite the impact, from Mathilda to Joan of Arc and Leeloo to Lucy. Anna now enters the fray, attempting to prove she can take her place in the pantheon of women who have defined Besson’s films.

It is 1990 and Anna Poliatova has become a successful fashion model in Paris and Milan. Anna has a secret double life as an assassin working for the KGB. She reports to Olga (Helen Mirren), who sends her to eliminate whomever the Russian intelligence apparatus deems as a threat. Anna begins a relationship with fellow model Maud (Lera Abova), while having dalliances with Russian intelligence officer Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans) and CIA agent Lenny Miller (Cillian Murphy). The game of international espionage is one with extremely high stakes, but it’s a game that Anna knows her way around.

Anna sees Besson revisiting old territory, in that the film is very much a re-tread of La Femme Nikita, with elements of The Professional incorporated into it. This movie is of a smaller scale than recent Besson projects like 2017’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – there are times when it feels more like something that was made by one of Besson’s stable of apprentices who have gone on to direct their own films, directors like Louis Leterrier, Olivier Megaton and Pierre Morel.

There is nothing wrong with Anna being lower-key than the average James Bond style-spy action movie, but the film is remarkably stupid while thinking it is quite clever. One’s enjoyment of Anna is very much contingent on the threshold of one’s suspension of disbelief. The film’s structure is deliberately annoying, flashing back to earlier points in the film and reframing the events to reveal a new twist multiple times. The spy games depicted in the film feel rudimentary rather than sophisticated, and the dialogue is often terrible. If Besson had gone just a bit further, Anna would’ve become a parody akin to the Austin Powers movies.

Besson is known as a director with an eye for detail, but the period setting of Anna never seems convincing. The film is largely set in 1990, and there are pagers and black-and-white surveillance monitors, but characters transfer data to and from laptops using USB sticks. One character leaves a message for another that looks like it’s been recorded with a remarkably high-resolution webcam. Although Besson’s regular cinematographer Thierry Arbogast ensures Anna never looks cheap, it just feels like something that Besson hasn’t put a lot of effort into at all. It’s also harder to watch a typically male gaze-heavy Besson movie given the recent allegations of sexual misconduct against him (allegations which he has categorically denied and which were dismissed by a Paris prosecutor).

Sasha Luss is a Russian supermodel who previously appeared as an alien princess in the afore-mentioned Valerian. She looks like a supermodel, but is devoid of charisma in a fascinating way, such that she almost seems like an inanimate object that the rest of the film is arranged around. Her line delivery is stilted and her performance in the action scenes makes it difficult to buy her as a highly trained secret agent. It’s still early days for Luss and it’s unfair to say she’ll never make a good leading lady, but especially given the mediocre material, she struggles to hold her own in a role that calls for a bona fide badass.

Luke Evans seems like a standard choice for one of Anna’s love interests, but casting Cillian Murphy as his opposite number seems baffling.

Murphy is known for indie projects and apart from the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, rarely appears in a mainstream action movie. The part doesn’t make full use of his mystique and seems like one that could’ve been given to any number of American actors.

Of all the supporting players, it’s Helen Mirren who knows what’s up. Her severe, curmudgeonly spymaster character seems to be modelled after characters from the earlier Bond movies like Rosa Klebb and Irma Bunt, forbidding and authoritative Russian intelligence officials with a nasty streak. The Oscar-winner has fun with what she knows is a silly role, chain-smoking and swearing angrily at video monitors.

Model Lera Abova lends a bit of brightness to the proceedings as the radiant Maud, but her character seems to exist solely for Anna to lie to, and so the camera can leer at Anna and Maud being intimate with each other.

Anna benefits from its supporting cast and the director’s experience making slick action movies, but it often feels like a throwaway direct-to-video movie one would catch a glimpse of on a hotel TV. The plot feels like someone half-remembered a season of Alias and tried to write it all down. It’s too ridiculous to be taken seriously as a thriller, but also not ridiculous enough to be an all-out, over the top parody.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum review

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM

Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast : Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Ian McShane, Jason Mantzoukas
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 2 h 23 mins
Opens : 16 May 2019
Rating : M18

            There’s a Latin adage that goes “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” – it translates to “If you want peace, prepare for war.” In the third instalment of the John Wick action thriller series, our titular hero finds himself waging all-out war against dangerously powerful forces.

At the end of John Wick: Chapter 2, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) killed Italian mafia boss Santino D’Antonio at the Continental Hotel in New York. Doing this on the hotel grounds was a major breach of the rules, and John was rendered excommunicado. A $14 million bounty is put on his head, and with everyone after him, John has nowhere to turn but to shadowy figures from his past, including the Director (Anjelica Huston), and his former friend Sofia (Halle Berry), now based in Morocco.

John’s relationship with the Continental’s manager Winston (Ian McShane) is tested as the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), a member of the council of crime lords called The High Table, takes Winston to task for giving John a head-start instead of killing him on the spot. Among the many skilled assassins in pursuit of John is Zero (Mark Dacascos), a skilled and vicious swordsman accompanied by his team of Shinobi. John Wick is in the greatest danger he’s ever been, with every lifeline seemingly cut.

The John Wick films have gained the acceptance and respect of action movie aficionados not just for their intricately-choreographed and beautifully-filmed fight sequences, but because of the series’ inner mythology. The secretive, sprawling world of assassins and its arcane customs and rituals provided a backdrop for all the violent gun battles and knife fights to unfold against. Director Chad Stahelski is a veteran stunt performer and choreographer/second unit director, giving him the expertise needed to best present the action onscreen.

For better and for worse, John Wick: Chapter 3 is more of the same. There are a multitude of exceedingly brutal fights punctuated with visceral moments of graphic violence. Some sequences, including one in which John is on horseback and another in which he’s on a motorcycle, are very inventive. However, it can’t help but feel a little repetitive. People are after John, John kills them and narrowly escapes, rinse and repeat. That’s roughly been the same across all three movies, and while the film’s various locations serve to switch things up a bit, there’s more of a sense that the action sequences are strung together by bits of plot than before.

This is the largest-scale John Wick movie yet: Chapter 2 partially took place in Rome, and a section of this one is set in Morocco. Unfortunately, there’s a bit of bloat that comes with the scale. The screenplay is credited to Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Marc Abrams, while Kolstad was the sole credited writer on the first two movies. While the movie delves deeper into the underlying mythos of the series, parts of it are more convoluted than compelling. With its operatic archness, John Wick: Chapter 3 often teeters on the edge of silliness more than its predecessors did, but said archness also sets it apart from your run-of-the-mill action flick.

John Wick has become a new signature role for Keanu Reeves, and it’s easy to see why. The grief-stricken badass is a character type we’ve seen in many action thrillers before, but Reeves’ singular intensity and dedication to performing as much of the stunt work and gunplay himself have contributed to a character who is more memorable than most of his forebears. The movies have given us pieces of John’s back-story, more of which is revealed in this instalment, but the thing that matters most of about him is that he’s awfully good at killing people and does this a lot.

Anjelica Huston is a commanding presence as a character from John’s distant past, while Halle Berry is all gritted teeth as Sofia, who reluctantly helps John in his quest. To preserve the mystique of its characters, the John Wick movies can only provide viewers with shreds of information about them. Depending on the actor, some characters in these movies are more engaging than others, but Huston and Berry are given relatively little to work with.

Mark Dacascos is himself a highly-skilled martial artist who is backed up by Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman of The Raid fame. While he more than holds his own in the fights, there is little more to the Zero character than “wields katana”.

Dillon’s character is more of an administrator than much else, never directly partaking in the action.

Laurence Fishburne has even more fun this time around as the underground crime lord the Bowery King than in the previous movie, and he’s got comedic actor Jason Mantzoukas as his right-hand man here. Both Ian McShane and Lance Reddick are holdovers from the first John Wick and are a comforting presence. It is when John’s personal allegiances are tested that the film is at its liveliest.

The John Wick movies are crafted by filmmakers who prioritise action and care about staging and capturing hard-hitting, mesmerising sequences. John Wick: Chapter 3 delivers on that, but the world-building that once added texture to the movies now seems to begin to bog it down. It’s an entertaining ride and is unlikely to severely disappoint fans of the earlier films, but John Wick: Chapter 3 shows signs of a franchise starting to get tired, with the sequel hook being more worrying than promising.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Cold Pursuit movie review

COLD PURSUIT

Director : Hans Petter Moland
Cast : Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Tom Bateman, Emmy Rossum, William Forsythe, Julia Jones, Domenick Lombardozzi, Raoul Trujillo, Tom Jackson
Genre : Thriller/Crime/Comedy
Run Time : 1 h 59 mins
Opens : 21 February 2019
Rating : M18

           When the 2014 Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance was released, comparisons to Taken were immediately made. It’s only fitting that Liam Neeson star in the American remake of that movie.

Neeson plays Nelson “Nels” Coxman, a snowplough driver in the ski resort town of Kehoe, Colorado. The death of his son Kyle (Micheál Richardson) leads to a rift between Nels and his wife Grace (Laura Dern). Nels grows suspicious of the circumstances surrounding his son’s death, soon convinced it was murder. Nels embarks upon a bloody path of vengeance that will eventually lead him to drug lord Viking (Tom Bateman). Nels calls upon his brother Brock (William Forsythe), who has previously had dealings with underworld figures. Local cop Kim (Emmy Rossum) begins investigating a string of violent occurrences, as Nels unwittingly incites a war between Viking and rival drug lord White Bull (Tom Jackson).

Cold Pursuit is directed by Hans Petter Moland, who also helmed In Order of Disappearance. This is a faithful remake that benefits from preserving the darkly comedic tone of the original. The film’s screenplay by Frank Baldwin also does a fine job of recontextualising the plot, substituting the rival Serbian gang from the Norwegian movie with a Native American one. There are also copious references to Colorado’s legalisation of marijuana and some the race-related humour is irreverent but not wildly offensive.

We’ve become accustomed to seeing Liam Neeson star in gritty revenge thrillers, so the snowy ski resort setting and the tongue-in-cheek tone help to switch things up. Not all the jokes land and the humour is sometimes a little too broad, especially compared with the original, but there’s an admiral tonal consistency. The grim violence is leavened with humour, not entirely unlike how the Coen Brothers or Quentin Tarantino would handle it. While the film’s dark devil-may-care attitude brings a degree of unpredictability to the proceedings, the standard crime movie dealings and double-crosses can be a touch tedious. While the movie isn’t boring, it feels awkwardly-paced at times.

It’s hard to discuss this movie without Liam Neeson’s comments during a promotional interview overshadowing it. Whatever your take on the actor’s shocking admission, it’s fair to say that a promotional interview for a revenge comedy wasn’t the right time or place for that to be aired, but as hurtful as it is to hear those comments, this reviewer also feels the resulting aftermath needs to be viewed in context and not blown out of proportion.

Putting that aside for the moment, Neeson is a great choice for the lead, since he embodies the ‘everyman badass’ type like few other actors can. The movie riffs on his Taken reputation – while it is a black comedy, Neeson plays his role largely straight. There is more than a whiff of ridiculousness to the notion of a snowplough driver-turned avenging angel and nemesis of the criminal underbelly, which the film leans into just enough.

Tom Bateman scowls and sneers his way through the role of drug lord Viking, going the right amount of over-the-top. The supporting characters in Viking’s gang are given tiny bits of personality, Domenick Lombardozzi’s Mustang being the most likeable. Nicholas Holmes is endearing as Viking’s son Ryan, who has the misfortune of having a criminal father.

Emmy Rossum’s detective character isn’t too interesting, and Laura Dern is almost completely wasted in what is almost a non-existent role. Raoul Trujillio is equal parts funny and intimidating – one of the film’s funniest moments is when Thorpe threatens a hotel receptionist with a devastating review on Yelp.

Tom Jackson lends gravitas to White Bull. One of the film’s best scenes has White Bull silently walk through a hotel gift shop selling Native American souvenirs that are really made in China, observing how his culture has been commodified for tourists. The film does tread on somewhat uncomfortable territory with its afore-mentioned racial humour, but it never feels mean-spirited.

Cold Pursuit benefits from a wicked sense of humour and Liam Neeson’s finely-calibrated performance. There’s novelty factor of a director remaking his own foreign-language film in English, like Michael Haneke did with Funny Games or Takashi Shimizu with The Grudge. Audiences who are expecting a non-stop action-oriented movie like some of Neeson’s other late-career efforts might be disappointed, but there will be an audience for this movie’s blend of stark violence and bitter wit.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Peppermint movie review

PEPPERMINT

Director : Pierre Morel
Cast : Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz, Richard Cabral, Annie Ilonzeh, Jeff Hephner, Cailey Fleming
Genre : Action/Drama/Thriller
Run Time : 102 mins
Opens : 6 September 2018
Rating : NC16

In the regrettable Daredevil and the even more regrettable spin-off Elektra, Jennifer Garner played an assassin with vengeance on the mind. Is this action thriller, Garner is once again out to give those who have wronged her what’s coming to them, as kind of a gender-flipped Punisher.

Garner plays Riley North, a banker who lives in suburban L.A. with her husband Chris (Jeff Hephner) and young daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming). Riley’s life is brutally upended when her husband and daughter are murdered in a drive-by shooting. She identifies the shooters as drug cartel members, but the cartel has paid off officials in the courts and law enforcement; those responsible walk free. Riley is enraged, and sets about remaking herself into a one-woman army, hunting down and killing those who murdered her family and those who helped them get away with it. With LAPD officers Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr.) and Moises (John Ortiz) and FBI Agent Inman (Annie Ilonzeh) hot on her trail, Riley must evade the long arm of the law as she deals out her own fiery brand of justice.

Peppermint follows in a long line of revenge thrillers, and shares much in common with Death Wish, often thought of as the codifier of the subgenre. The poor reception garnered by the Bruce Willis-starring Death Wish remake earlier this year showed that as straightforward as movies like this might seem on paper, it takes finesse and savvy to execute them well. Peppermint wants to be a hard-boiled revenge movie like those Hollywood made in the 70s, but times have changed, and movies like this are expected to be more sophisticated in their handling of the themes. The Jodie Foster starrer The Brave One, also about a woman who survives a traumatic event and becomes a vigilante, attempted this but left a lot to be desired in its take on the morality of vigilante justice.

In most vigilante thrillers, we’re meant to root for the protagonist as they take matters into their own hands. To get us there, Peppermint employs emotionally manipulative tactics. The protagonist’s husband and daughter, leaving a carnival with peppermint ice cream in her hand, are gunned down in painful slow-motion, and all the family bonding scenes they share preceding that fateful moment are just set up for the death. We’re supposed to cheer Riley on as she blazes her path of vengeance, even as she acts sadistically. It’s too unpleasant to be much fun, and it seems like it wasn’t meant to be fun at all.

There’s a version of Peppermint that could have been an all-out bloody exploitation movie, enjoyable on a trashy level. Instead, director Pierre Morel, who also helmed Taken, seems intent on making it work on a dramatic level, which he struggles with. As such, while the action in Peppermint is sometimes intense, the movie is altogether grave and joyless, taking itself far too seriously. In both its premise and execution, Peppermint seems to be a movie that wants to be treated like a serious drama, instead of violent entertainment.

Much of the film hinges on Jennifer Garner’s performance, and it is nice to see her back in an action role, years after Alias, the afore-mentioned Daredevil and Elektra, and The Kingdom. Garner has mostly been in family movies as of late, so there’s a degree of satisfaction in seeing her go the full Sarah Connor. We’ve got to buy Riley as someone who transforms from regular career woman and mum to a hardened badass, and Garner puts effort into making that metamorphosis convincing. However, the movie still demands plenty of suspension of disbelief, and Garner’s central performance, strong as it is, is not enough to hold the whole thing together.

The other characters fall neatly into boxes: cop, gang member, husband, daughter, et. al. The movie isn’t too interested in fleshing anyone out, and while the villains of the film are shown committing despicable acts, they’re too nondescript to be compellingly threatening. Ortiz overacts a little as the harried cop, while John Gallagher Jr.’s performance as the cop who’s sympathetic to Riley is at least a little interesting.

Peppermint is an uncomplicated movie about a complicated topic. It wants to give the appearance of considering the implications of what it depicts but doesn’t really. Perhaps the current political climate in the U.S. mirrors that of the 70s to a certain degree, resulting in resentment of the status quo and frustration at the injustices that are a by-product of corruption and complacency. However, if we’re supposed to take a vigilante thriller seriously and really consider the questions it raises, it’s got to be more nuanced and less heavy-handed than Peppermint.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Mile 22 review

MILE 22

Director : Peter Berg
Cast : Mark Wahlberg, Iko Uwais, Lauren Cohan, John Malkovich, Ronda Rousey, Terry Kinney
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 95 mins
Opens : 16 August 2018

Actor Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg have had one of the most fruitful film industry bromances in recent history. They’ve collaborated on Lone Survivor, Patriots Day and Deepwater Horizon, which were all action dramas based on true events. The duo has taken a detour into straight-up fictional action thriller territory with Mile 22.

Wahlberg plays James Silva, an impatient, misanthropic, tortured but brilliant covert operative of the CIA’s ground branch. The paramilitary force is deployed around the world as a last resort when diplomacy and conventional military options fail. James, alongside Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan) and Sam Snow (Ronda Rousey), undertake what should be a routine escort mission.

In a Southeast Asian nation, low-level cop Li Noor (Iko Uwais) has information about an impending terror attack, but will only unlock the USB drive containing the details if he is granted safe passage to the United States. With Bishop (John Malkovich) monitoring the operation from a control centre, James and company take Li to Mile 22, the extraction point. Naturally, multiple obstacles stand in their way, turning Indocarr City into a war zone with the ground branch team at its centre.

Mile 22 sets out to be a no-frills, meat and potatoes action movie. For most of its running time, it’s one protracted chase. It’s kinetic and violent and keeps moving. In a sense, it harks back to something like John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. The problem with Mile 22 is in how it attempts to set itself apart from other action movies. More pressingly, the problem with Mile 22 is how much hinges on Mark Wahlberg.

This reviewer, unlike Berg, is no fan of Wahlberg’s. It’s extremely hard to take him seriously as an intense, hardened paramilitary operator. The film’s screenplay by Lea Carpenter gives James Silva a stock tragic backstory, but also makes him a high-functioning super-genius with no social skills. This means that being horrible to everyone around him is James’ distinguishing trait, and as a result, he’s a bad leader. If you thought it was hard to buy Ben Affleck as a math whiz/trained killer in The Accountant, it is so much harder buying Mark Wahlberg as a character along those lines. It is also baffling that a key plot point turns on a reference to a famous Saturday Night Live sketch lampooning Wahlberg. If you recognise the line, it’ll pull you straight out of the movie.

Mile 22 strains for relevance, to the point of slipping in news footage of the Trump/Kim summit in Singapore in the opening credits montage. There’s talk about election hacking and Russian collusion, but all the topical hot-button chatter feels like window dressing for what should be an efficient, uncomplicated action movie. The authenticity and real-world grounding the film strives for is also undercut by how most of it takes place in a fictional country named Indocarr, in which the main spoken language appears to be Bahasa Indonesia. Bogota, Colombia provides the humid, grey, densely-packed cityscape of Indocarr City.

Mile 22’s biggest asset is Iko Uwais, star of the modern day action masterpiece The Raid. This is a bona fide action star, extremely proficient in silat and demonstrably brilliant at realising and executing intricate fight choreography. Mile 22 gives Uwais his meatiest Hollywood role so far, but his mesmerising stunt work is done a great disservice by breakneck Hollywood action movie editing. The film’s central martial arts sequence, in which Li Noor is handcuffed to a hospital bed and battles a team of enemy agents who have infiltrated the embassy in which he’s being held, should be a dazzling display of fisticuffs. Alas, it seems to have been put in a blender.

There is deliberately very little to the other characters, but what little there is feels melodramatic and extraneous to the action. The chief example of this is Alice’s divorce subplot. Giving the female lead a domestic crisis to deal with in addition to the mission at hand can sometimes shade the character and add a little depth, but here, it’s just distracting.

The film tries to give Cohen and Rousey memorable moments, but because of how frenetic and noisy everything is, anything distinctive about their characters gets lost in the mishmash. John Malkovich stands around the control room yelling into a radio. Anyone looking forward to K-pop star CL’s role should take note that her character Queen amounts to a random techie.

There is something to be said about how propulsive and viscerally violent Mile 22 is, and it’s very clear what kind of movie Berg set out to make. It gets halfway there (Mile 11?), and the elements that wind up working against Mile 22, like the expletive-laden overcooked tough guy dialogue and how grating the lead character is, could have easily been fixed early on. Once the movie gets into gear, it doesn’t pause for nearly all of its 95-minute runtime, so if you can tolerate Wahlberg and some of the tonal weirdness, it is possible to enjoy this action movie.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong