I didn’t know anything about Proud Mary when I watched it this week. I genuinely don’t think I’ve heard anything about it but it sounded like the kind of thing that could be quite fun. As much as I’d like to use my cinema viewing as a chance to make a stand against gun violence given the current climate in American, I’m a bit of a sucker for a good action movie. My inner 12-year-old boy comes out every time there’s a decent gunfight or car chase. It’s the only reason I continue to watch all of the godawful Transformers movies. Robots, check; guns, check; fast cars, check. It’s got it all but a decent script and a good cast. In spite of everything, there will always be a part of me that thinks that movie characters who are super handy with a gun are cool. It’s like smoking. On screen it looks totally badass but, in reality, it’s really harmful and awful. Gun control is a real issue and I do believe that Hollywood has a need to be careful with how they portray guns but, at the same time, I really love a good gunfight. Which is the very reason that I actually watched Proud Mary despite knowing nothing about it. Well, that and the fact that Taraji P. Henson is an absolute legend.
Okay, let’s get the awkwardness out of the way as soon possible, shall we? Charlize Theron is fucking perfect. It’s entirely possible that the only reason I had any interest in this film in the first place was because of this perfection. However, I grew to really want to see the film for itself. It looked liked everything great about the Bourne and Bond franchises but with a female lead and 80s soundtrack. I mean if anything’s guaranteed to get me excited then it’s that. Despite appearances, I’m a huge fan of great action films. Anyone shooting their way out of a situation or beating people close to death gets me super excited. Not in anyway that anyone needs to worry about. I mean I’m not repressing my secret urges to start my own fight club or anything. I just like watching actors fight other actors in screen. Before I saw the film, I watched a behind the scenes video concerning one of the films major action sequences. I’ll be honest, it made me feel things that previously only the sight of Tom Hiddleston’s face had been capable of. Watching Charlize Theron performing her own stunts is now the greatest thing I’ll ever see. If I ever have a near-death experience I want to see that video flash before my eyes instead of my life. She’s a fucking badass. In my mental list of top female badasses, Theron is now competing with my beloved Gwendoline Christie for top spot. Now that’s a fight I’d love to see.
Getting into the spirit of things, I’m listening to ‘Blue Monday’ as I write this review. After all, Atomic Blonde is so wonderfully 80s that you could genuinly believe that you were watching a classic music video. Well, if it wasn’t for all of the super realistic violence. Director David Leitch has gone with a seedy and dark neon aesthetic that really shouldn’t work as well as it does. It’s a sign that this film is, when all is said and done, more about style over substance. Don’t get me wrong, this is a super cool and great looking film but I can’t say that I was overly blown away by the plot. Leitch, after all, is a former stunt coordinator so it is the action sequences that really stand out here. Everything in between just feels like filler. I found myself dozing off a bit every time Charlize Theron and co. got all talky and less punchy.
I’m of an age that means I remember the 2003 music video that paved the way for Edgar Wright’s current hit movie. I’m not bragging: the song is pretty shit and the I can’t imagine that anyone’s missed the band that much. Still, the video is amazing. Not only does is feature The Mighty Boosh (Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt), Nick Frost and Michael Smiley but it’s just great fun. For those of you that haven’t had the pleasure Noel Fielding plays the getaway driver who can only tell the time through track lengths. Whilst waiting for his fellow criminals to rob the bank, he rocks out to the song so he knows when they’ll be done. It’s a great premise that I always felt could have been taken further. Thankfully, so did Edgar Wright and he gave the world Baby Driver. Before we go into the review I want to take a minute to talk about the name. If I hadn’t known this film was connected to Wright then I doubt I’d have seen it. The title gives the impression that it’s going to be nothing more than a sequel to last years’ lousy looking animation Boss Baby and nobody needed that. On the face of it, Baby Driver is a film with a lousy title that stars the kid who died of cancer in The Fault in our Stars. It’s a huge testament to Edgar Wright that it managed to look so fucking cool.
You can tell Baby Driver is going to blow you away from the opening sequence. It is a 6 minute sequence of pure awesome as our mysterious getaway driver rocks out in his car as he waits for his cohorts to rob a bank. Then, in time with the song, the coolest car chase you will have seen for a while kicks in. It’s an exciting sequence that is not only soundtracked by a kickass song but carefully laid on top of it to create something supremely cinematic. All of the tracks in the Baby Driver soundtrack have been carefully chosen so that everything works in harmony to produce something that is more akin to ballet than it is a typical action film. This ain’t no Fast and Furious wannabe. This is nearer to an art form. Yes, that is both a melodramatic and kind of pretentious statement but it is also true, goddammit. Edgar Wright hasn’t made the kind of car chase films that are good because they are so over-the-top and ridiculous. Baby Driver is car chase film that’s good because it’s, you know, good. I defy anyone to watch it and not love it.
Well, except for the title obviously. Something that comes from the getaway driver himself, Baby (Ansel Elgort) and not from any weird connection with Alec Baldwin animated films. Baby is a young man whose poor judgement has lead to him getting caught up in a life of crime. Owing crime boss Duke (Kevin Spacey), Baby becomes his go-to driver for all of his big scores. He’s something of a lucky charm and, boy, can he drive. He constantly listens to music to drown out the incessant ringing in his ears that he sustained in a childhood accident that killed his mother and father. It soon becomes clear that Baby is not going to be able to leave his life of crime once his debt is repaid, which is unfortunate because he has dreams of driving off into the sunset with the young beautiful waitress he barely knows. Deborah (Lily James) is the light at the end of Baby’s seedy crime tunnel and the start of his road to redemption. If he can just get through one final score.
Which looks tricky thanks to the team he is paired with. The supporting cast that the director has brought together is nothing short of fabulous. Kevin Spacey is the perfect mix of menacing and matey towards Baby and is an imposing figure over the entire narrative. Jamie Foxx is at his most unrestrained as the dangerous and paranoid thief Bats. Finally, the insanely handsome Jon Hamm moves Buddy from loveable rogue to deadly criminal without any difficulty. This is a far cry from Mad Men and it’s bloody great! The only let down is Lily James but that really has little to do with her. The focus here is on Buddy so Deborah never gets the chance to be anything but the perfect girl Baby needs her to be. She has no depth or context. She’s basically a blank slate on which Baby can project his feelings about his past.
If I absolutely had to find a flaw with Baby Driver then I would say it is the narrative. It’s chock-full of every action cliche in the book. From Baby’s tragic backstory to Deborah’s lack of one, it is hardly the most original or exciting plots. There are few moments at the end that seem like weak attempts to tie off loose ends and I could have done without Kevin Spacey’s final act U-turn. But that’s just me forcing myself to be objective. There is nothing about Baby Driver that ruin the over all appeal and excitement. This is a film that isn’t based around a script but around the songs that knit-together to create a brilliant canvas to build on. The film flies when it’s just Baby behind the wheel with music pumping into his ears. Anyone who can not enjoy the moments when gunfire expertly syncs up with drum beats is simply crazy. It is only in the hands of a director like Edgar Wright that a young criminal with hearing problems and mommy issues can work. He makes you care about him and showcases his charms. He makes the business of emotive, high-octane action seem effortless. This is kind of film that countless people will try and copy in years to come but none of them will ever compare to this. I’m going to be so bold and say it’s the film of the year.
One of my biggest fears before watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 last week was the change in Peter’s parentage. In the comics, Quill is the son of the Spartoi J’son. He’s a complicated character who eventually becomes a villain who puts a bounty on his son’s head. I can see why Marvel and James Gunn wanted to find an easier solution. That solution, as we now know, was to introduce Ego to the MCU. It initially like a bit of a risk but Kurt Russell’s character quickly became the most memorable Marvel villain in years. He revealed a super dark and sinister side and rocked Pete’s world for ever. Kurt Russell is fantastic in the role and it only got me keen to rewatch some of his classics. Now, it’s not like I have the greatest knowledge of all of Russell’s career but I know what I like. And what I like is Snake Plissken. He’s the gruff, rough anti-hero who rocked an eye-patch way before Samuel L. got in on the act. It might not be Russell’s finest hour but the two Escape films are some of the greatest films I’ve ever seen.
The 1981 film, Escape from New York is one of John Carpenter’s best films. It’s a weird mess of an action film set in a futuristic New York city. It’s a fantastic watch and is brilliantly headed up by Kurt Russell as wanted criminal Snake Plissken. It’s writer/director teamed up with the actor to write a sequel that was released 15 years later. It’s safe to say that the sequel didn’t quite live up to the first film and audiences were left feeling disappointed. And I can kind of see why. On the face of it, Escape from LA is nowhere near as good as it’s predecessor. However, it just happens to be one of the best pulpy type parodies of all time.
For his return, Snake Plissken goes on a very similar journey to his last one but, this time, he’s in LA not New York. Genius. At the film opens, we learn that an Earthquake has left part of Los Angeles covered in water and the rest has been cut off so the worst members of society can be shipped off and left to their own devices. The rest of America is controlled by a Theocrat who believes it was God’s will to forsake the people of LA. When his daughter hijacks Air Force 3 and steals the codes to a series of satellites that can control and destroy every country in the world’s power supply. She then heads to island to meet her lover, its de facto ruler Cuervo Jones. Snake is charged with getting the codes back without worrying about the president’s daughter. If he doesn’t, the criminals stuck on the island will revolt and destroy the world. Oh, and the deadly virus that has been injected into Snake’s system will kill him.
So, it’s kind of the same story but with some slight changes. However, the film had a larger budget than the first film and is full of all sorts of CGI wizardry. Obviously that looks dated now but, even by 90s standards, it was always falling a bit short. This is much less of a problem than most seem to believe, though. Surely, it’s part of the point? This film doesn’t claim to be the best action film of all time. It’s a film that is determined to have fun with that premise and make it as loud, obnoxious and preposterous as possible. And that’s what is is. It’s not a clever or original film but it’s a film that you can’t help but enjoy. The plot is thin to allow Carpenter to have as much fun in the big set-pieces as possible. Why bother having a complicated plot when you could just watch Snake play basketball for his life? Who needs depth when you can watch Kurt Russell and co. descend over LA in gliders and shooting automatics at the people below?
Although, there is a certain amount of depth to this film. It asks important questions about morality and government that, certainly in this day and age, seem quite prescient. I mean, we’re dealing with a psychopathic autocrat who wants to get rid of the people he doesn’t see as truly American by building a massive wall and stationing guards all the way along it. Anyone who says this film doesn’t have depth or point is a moron. It’s just that every interesting and clever thing this film has to say is hidden behind the cheap tricks and attempt to push the genre to the limits. It’s all wrapped up in garish and fun packaging but this film really is something.
Everyone knows the score when it comes to buddy cop movies. We’ll be introduced to two police officers and will quickly discover that, unfortunately yet hilariously, the pair are polar opposites of each other. No matter where the difference comes from it will create tension as the pair try to come together to bring down the bad guy. It feels like we’ve seen the set-up in every fucking way possible by this point. It’s a timeless classic that writers will continue to come back to. And who should we blame for this? Well, the idea of the odd couple is an incredibly old one but it was the 80s and 90s that really saw the whole buddy cop thing take off. As we all know, one of the greatest uses of the formula comes in a film that just so happens to be celebrating it’s 30th anniversary this year. It’s also a fucking classic film that I really just wanted to excuse to see after watching The Nice Guys. After all, there’s no such thing as too much Shane Black.
On Tuesday I discussed the fact that, for whatever reason, I can’t seem to distinguish between Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson in my head. I know I’m not a big fan of one of them but always forget which one it is. I think the confusion comes from my love of 80s movies. After all, Mel Gibson is the star of some of my favourite action films so I guess I assume he’s the one I love. He isn’t. He’s just the kind of crazy, anti-Semitic guy who rants about everything these days. Yet, once upon a time, he was the unhinged super cop grieving for his dead wife. Along with Danny Glover and thanks to a sharp script from Shane Black, Mel Gibson has become forever linked with the buddy cop genre. 1987’s Lethal Weapon quickly became the template for modern examples of these types of films and was the first in a long line of great scripts from Black. It’s an important movie in film history but, more importantly, it’s also a really good one.
Even though I’ve never been completely comfortable with the opening. Now I’m not talking about the death of a young woman as she falls from her top floor hotel balcony. No, I’m talking about the moment when Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is surprised by his family whilst he’s taking a bath. It’s so fucking weird. I get that it’s his birthday and they want to celebrate but give the man some privacy. Who wants their kids to sing happy birthday as their dad’s dick is on full show? What kind of kid would be okay with that scenario? It’s never sat right with me and it will always make me cringe.
Still, the moments passes and we quickly learn that Murtaugh is nearing retirement age and is looking for a quiet life. Obviously, that all changes when he’s partnered with Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) who, rumour has it, is either crazy or hoping to get sick pay by acting crazy. You see, Riggs has seen shit. He was an expert marksmen during the Vietnam War and is still haunted by his past. To top it all off, his beloved wife has died meaning he’s living alone in an RV. He’s got something of a death wish but fails to finish the job himself. It gives Mel Gibson plenty of chances to stare wildly into people’s eyes and there are several weird and ugly close-ups of his unblinking, crazy expressions. So, why, I hear you ask, is this unhinged man allowed to continue working in law enforcement? Well, he’s just that good a detective, goddammit.
The pair take on the case of the dead girl and discover that the apparent suicide is actually something much darker. The find themselves running from drugs barons and blonde henchmen. Really, the plot isn’t really important. It’s just a generic reason for getting the pair into situations where they must shoot or fight there way out. There’s very little actual detective work but plenty of kidnappings, shoot outs, and terrible martial arts to make up for that. The thing that really matters with Lethal Weapon is Shane Black’s script. He, once again, created a strong and sharp premise that includes plenty of great back and forth between the main pair. It became the staple for the film’s to follow in its footsteps and pushed Black along the path to greatness. There’s action a plenty but this film is also funny and tender. It’s the kind of thing that, in the wrong hands, would just come across as absurd and stupid but, for some reason, it comes together. There is enough energy and drive from all corners that you can’t help but get swept away in the excitement. It’s a fucking classic.
One week ago, whilst the world was only just getting used to the idea that David Bowie had died, it was announced that Alan Rickman had died at the age of 69. I was at work when I read the news and I was, once again, legitimately devastated. Despite what I may have said about his character in Love Actually, I loved Alan Rickman. He was one of Britain’s best actors and had such a superb presence whenever he was on screen. The first time I remember him was, really bizarrely, from Truly, Madly, Deeply; a film I’m sure I’ve never watched again nor do I remember why I would have seen it then. Still, until the release of The Philosopher’s Stone in 2001 Alan Rickman was always the cellist from TMD to me. Of course, since his death people have been paying their respects online and mostly referencing his two most well-known performances. The first being his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series and the second his first ever film appearance. The role that cemented him as one of the greatest villains of all times in the minds of many cinema fans.
Die Hard has become the action movie against which other action films are judged. It set the precedent for every renegade cop who finds himself single-handedly bringing down the bad guy and getting the girl. John McClane became the guy all other action heroes had to prove themselves. The guy who paved the way for every wisecracking, foul-mouthed badass that came after. It’s no wonder both the film and the character are constantly being named in the top 10 movies/characters of all time lists. Die Hard is the fucking bomb.
Obviously, the many attempts to build off Die Hard‘s winning formula haven’t worked out as well as the original. The film boasts great casting in both Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman and enough excitement and action to keep everyone on the edge of their seat. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it by now but it never gets any less exciting. My heart still pounds as I worry about McClane’s ability to get out of the situation he’s landed in. It’s a film experience that is as full of joy on the first watch to the last.
Still, there are parts of it that are slightly dodgy. The plot tends to get caught up in a few subplots and spends too long on terrible supporting characters. The film isn’t just all one-note and, between the chaotic explosions and gunfire, there is plenty of breathing space for the main characters to get to the fore. However, in order to have more of this downtime, there are plenty of minor characters that get more time on screen than they really deserve. The underdeveloped and tiresome limo driver, the coked-up businessman and the fucking stupid police chief are all given more screen time than they needed.
Thankfully though director John McTiernan knows what the audience wants and keeps the main plot a fairly standard affair. John McClane (Bruce Willis) has made his way from New York to LA for Christmas in the hopes of reconciling with his ex-wife. He meets her at her office party only for it to be taken over by a group calling themselves terrorists, headed up by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). John manages to keep hidden from the guys with machine guns and starts to fuck up their plans as best he can. A frantic game of cat and mouse ensues.
The intricacies of the plot are neither here nor there really. It doesn’t matter why Gruber and co have taken control of Nakatomi Plaza or what’s happening between John and his wife. All that matters is McClane finding himself having to defend innocent people from a group of ruthless thieves. It does the job. Nothing else is needed but a few blond Germans with a desire to kill and some explosives. Yes, there could have been more but there is enough of the good stuff to ensure the bad doesn’t taint it too much.
Die Hard is the film that made Bruce Willis a star and he certainly flourished in the role. John McClane is a tough guy that always knows the right thing to say. He’s sassy and brilliant. Although, what is a great hero without a great villain. This is McClane’s time to shine but Hans Gruber is the one who comes out as most memorable here. His witty asides and most quotable lines lack the sweary passion of McClane but are still just as wonderful. “Mr Takagi won’t be joining us for the rest of his life.” Fucking classic. Alan Rickman is fucking sensational here and plays the character so simply. Yes, a lot of the dialogue is fucking awful but Gruber is enough of a professional to make it work.
Alan Rickman will be remembered for this role and it is quite right too. He is a great actor that was dropped into a fucking crazy narrative. It works on so many levels and Rickman has been left with a legacy as a villain that he himself didn’t appreciate. The actor had so many facets to him but, because he was so good, he managed to create lasting characters that will never leave people. It was a truly sad day when his death was announced and watching this film every Christmas will always be fairly bittersweet now. Happy trails, Han.
It’s been 30 years since Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was released and the continuation of the franchise has been brewing for a fucking long time. George Miller first had the idea for a fourth instalment in 1998 but it has taken 17 years for that seed to grow into the bat-shit crazy tree that is Mad Max: Fury Road. With Tom Hardy taking over from Mel Gibson, Fury Roadhas more in common with the second film than the third. During the final moments of The Road Warrior, our hero is pursued by a violent gang whilst driving an oil tanker to safety. In his update, Miller has stretched that concept to a full-length film and if that sounds like a flimsy premise then fear not.
Yann Demange offers up a fantastic debut with ’71, a film set just before the most brutal year of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Taking place in the year preceding Bloody Sunday, it’s safe to say the tension is rife: there are rifts between the British and Irish; the Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Loyalists; and between the different factions on each side.