I haven’t been that interested in this 80s action hero revival that began with The Expendables movies (the first one was bad enough) as I felt there was too much of a nudge-nudge wink-wink attitude going on, that seemed to poke fun at the stars I had once adored. However this prison-set actioner looked a bit more serious, and well, what’s not to be appealed by a Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger team up?
Stallone plays a guy who specialises in testing the security of prisons, and has been able to break out of every prison he has been planted in. However when approached by the CIA to test a top-secret facility, Stallone jumps at the chance to truly put his skills to the test. However everything is not quite as it seems, and soon he’s inside a high-tech prison even he is unsure can be escaped from. So he befriends fellow inmate Schwarzenegger who has an agenda of his own.
It’s a fairly complicated set up for what is basically a slightly more tongue-in-cheek ‘Escape from Alcatraz’. We get a shady warden who seems utterly corrupt, a psychotic henchman who takes too much pleasure in beating up inmates (a snarling Vinnie Jones) and a kindly doctor who takes an interest in Stallone & Arnie’s plight (Sam Neil looking a tad bored). The plot gets rather convoluted at times (such as the warden’s evil scheme, something to do with a banker?) – but we’re not here for meaningful characters or absorbing plot. What we do get is plenty of violence, action and intrigue as we watch our heavy-weight heroes devise plan after plan to escape their surroundings. Stallone struggles with the explain-to-the-viewer dialogue due to his almost incomprehensive drawl, and Arnie seems fairly tired and a shadow of his former self … until he gets a moment where he lays waste to a slew of bad guys with a high powered machine gun … complete with a knowing grin.
I had fun with this. It’s clichéd, gets pretty silly at times, but retains an 80s vibe of daft plot, maximum action such movies cut their teeth on back in the day. Entertaining nonsense that’s worth your time if you were ever a fan of these guys.
This is rather unique for me, reviewing a movie where I am particularly familiar with the book it is based on. S J Watson’s taught psychological thriller was a riveting read, and so naturally the prospect of a movie adaptation was quite exciting. Then I learnt of the casting. Not for a second did I picture either Colin Firth, Mark Strong or especially Nicole Kidman in the shoes of characters that were so interesting and well written in the novel. Yet I approached this with an open mind.
Kidman plays Christine Lucas, an amnesiac who every morning she wakes up has to re-learn her life and who her husband is and her she is, before it is wiped again when she goes to sleep. She was in a terrible accident according to her husband Ben (Firth) and it’s not until she receives a morning phone call from a psychiatrist, Dr Nash (Strong) that she starts to piece together her life in the hope of discovering exactly what happened to her.
It’s a good premise, not that original granted but gripping. Sad then that the performances here let the show down, despite the principle leads acting credentials. Lines and scenes are delivered very wooden, especially by an overly sincere Mark Strong and even Kidman who should be able to tackle this material with ease, seems overly pathetic and weak. The movie is also in a hell of a rush to get to it’s conclusion. It covered the major plot points so quickly I found it a challenge to keep up. It jumps from one situation to the next so fast knowing exactly what was happening or feeling much of anything was impossible. The book had time to create mood, explore emotions more deeply and form relationships. The friendship between Christine and her estranged friend Claire is portrayed very matter-of-fact where in the book it was a pivotal part of the story and the bond between the two characters was clear. Also the slightly flirty, will-they-won’t-they relationship between Christine and Dr Nash is very poorly explored and doesn’t come across as convincing either – the scenes where he says they may have feeling for each other, or the hug in his car felt incredibly forced.
With more attention to the little things, perhaps better casting and well, better direction this could have been an excellent thriller – but sadly it’s anything but. Stick with the book.
From the trailer alone this looked like an interesting action thriller with a twist. Even if during the opening credits it’s difficult to judge the tone, with the title appearing ominously as the lead character jogs down a dusty highway, a rural house in the distance. Yet on further inspection it bares more than a passing resemblance to Park Chan-Wook’s excellent Stoker with newcomer Dan Stevens playing David, a mysterious soldier who turns up on the doorstep of the Peterson family, claiming to be a friend of their recently deceased son. Naturally the grieving family welcome the charming and pleasant David into their home, but as days go by a spate of unexplained deaths seem linked to his sudden appearance.
Stevens nails the sinister / charming act really well, befriending the young geeky son who is getting bullied, whilst casting a watchful eye over the rebellious teenage daughter whose friends seem less than ideal. I had a lot of fun watching this nice but clearly highly trained soldier front up and protect the family, especially in one bar room scene that had me almost cheering. Yet as the move hits it’s stride it takes a dramatic turn, and not necessarily for the better. Supporting cast including a weirdly flirtatious Sheila Kelly (why was I expecting her and David to get it on?) as the mother and Maika Monroe (?) as the suitably spunky sister, all do their jobs well. It was also easy to care for these characters as events began to turn deadly. Yet it lacked some of the intelligent character observation of the aforementioned Stoker and what began as a complex portrayal by Stevens as David quickly replaces character for brainless action and bloodshed, as if the writers just ran out of ideas.
For a great initial concept however, a star-making turn by Stevens and some unexpected shocks – I’d still give this my recommendation. I just wish it had maintained it’s brains throughout.
Probably next to that Apes movie, the next most acclaimed summer blockbuster of the year. A welcome return of the mutants headed by Dr Xavier (Patrick Stewart) on a time-bending mission to prevent shape-shifting femme fatale Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing a scientist who brings about a war against mutants. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is called in to send his conscience back to the seventies, with the help of Kitty Pryde (an under-used Ellen Page). There he must recruit the younger Charles Xavier as well as an imprisoned Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to aid him in his mission.
This was a bit of a strange ride….whilst I dig time travel storylines, this was sometimes hard to get into, although the seventies setting with the backdrop of the Vietnam war was welcome and done really well. James McAvoy is again very good as Xavier’s more troubled, younger-self and Hugh Jackman’s grizzled, dead-pan Wolverine is always a joy to watch. The stronger emphasis on Mystique was good too, and well she’s smoking hot strutting her blue-skinned stuff in some stand out acrobatic fight sequences. However with the long history of Magneto generally being an evil megalomaniac, busting him out of a prison quickly proves a bad idea and sitting here I’m still wondering what the point of his involvement was, considering they had Wolverine, Beast and a memorable Quicksilver (Evan Peters from American Horror Story).
Effects were of course top-drawer with a superb ‘let’s rip a football stadium out of the ground’ scene … but much of the plot relied heavily on having a good knowledge of the previous X-Men movies with many small details like nods to Rogue and Jean Gray probably going right over the heads of newcomers. So it felt like I’d come into the show half-way through with the whole Sentinals situation just going on, wiping out Mutants like a continuing part of a TV series. That being said the principle actors all did a decent job (especially Lawrence) with somewhat muddled material .. so no, for me at least … this wasn’t as good as I had heard.
Two things sold me on seeing this … the excellent trailer and actor Jake Gyllenhaal, one of my favourites. Now in recent years he’s slipped into the mainstream with roles like Prince of Persia and Source Code, but his routes are in unusual indie flicks like Donnie Darko. This suits that heritage well and has him playing Louis, a somewhat unhinged loner, seeking out employment but not having much luck until he stumbles upon a highway car accident. There he witnesses a group of freelance guys (headed by Bill Paxton) who rush to crime scenes or accidents in the hope of catching something on video. They then sell it to the news network that will pay the most. A potentially lucrative career opportunity Louis believes and is soon buying a video camera in hope of making a name for himself.
A clever and interesting concept with a brilliant turn by Gyllenhaal, who plays Louis with creepiness and menace beneath a brittle facade of friendly and charismatic. I enjoyed watching him go to extreme lengths to get the sort of footage his rivals wouldn’t dare, and the slow burning uncertainty of what might happen next kept me glued. Paxton is decent but a bit under-used but good to see this 80s / 90s veteran still turning up in things. Better is Rene Russo playing the perfect sultry older-woman. The movie has a strong similarity to Robert DeNiro classic Taxi Driver even if Louis isn’t as appealing as Travis Bickle – but the mood and the isolation from normal society is the same. It also has a killer car-chase towards the end which took my breath away.
The plot does take a bit of time to hit it’s stride, and that ending was anti-climactic, and well, the whole show could have been even darker. For fans of Gyllenhaal however, and if you’re after something a bit different – you can’t go wrong with this.