Trying to produce a successful sequel to a groundbreaking film nearly a decade later is always going to be a hurdle in every way from preserving originality to breaking new ground to keeping the magic alive. Robert Rodriguez faced quite the task in picking up the reins of Sin City: A Dame To Kill so many years after his original film revolutionized aspects of filmmaking, and this was never going to feel as fresh or innovative as the first, but I still love it, it’s still firmly rooted in the gorgeous and terrifying world of ‘hyper-noir’ lifted from the pages of Frank Miller’s comics and the stories here, although quite different from the first, are just as brutal and poetic. However, whether or not you are a fan of this film overall there is one indisputable factor that makes it amazing, perhaps even more so than the first and her name is Eva Fucking Green. Casting Basin City’s scariest, sexiest femme fatale was always going to be a hurdle and I remember everyone from Rachel Weisz to Angelina Jolie being considered. Green is an actress of unreasonable talent, intimidating presence and staggering sex appeal and she is devilishly divine as Ava Lord, the black widow spider in human form, a psychopathic bitch who ruins the lives of anyone who gets close to her, most notably Josh Brolin’s square-jawed incarnation of Dwight. This is the film’s most effective story mostly because of her and because it’s an OG Sin City yarn whereas the other two are brand new material Miller dreamed up for this film. Other vignettes include Joseph Gordon Levitt as a hard luck gambling man looking for retribution and Jessica Alba’s now borderline maniacal Nancy, out for bloodiest revenge against mega-villain Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) for the death of her guardian angel Hartigan (Bruce Willis in ghostly visions). The other strongest point of the film is Boothe, who had one quick but deadly scene in the first film, Rodriguez expands his role into full fledged, cigar chomping, homicidal scene stealing frenzy here and he’s gotta be one of the craziest, over the hill comic book villains ever put to film. I will concede that this film doesn’t have the propulsive, elemental momentum of the first. There’s a staccato, circus sideshow vibe that’s different from the fluidity of the first’s narrative, which was more well oiled than every humming automobile under its hood and had this organic flow that was almost intangible. But the visual beauty, playfulness in colour vs black & white, cheerful brutality and startling nihilism, everything else that made it special are all still at play here and I refuse to see it get written off as some dud sequel, because it’s far better than that. Not to mention that Rodriguez once again assembles an absolute bonkers cast including Mickey Rourke once again playing that big lug Marv, Ray Liotta, Juno Temple, Julia Garner, Dennis Haysbert stepping in for the late Michael Clarke Duncan, Marton Csokas, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Jaime King, Alexa Vega, Jamie Chung, Lady Gaga as a friendly truck-stop waitress, Christopher Lloyd as some freaky doctor who can only operate after a shot of smack and Stacy Keach in a bizarre cameo as basically Jabba the Hut in a fancy suit. Try shaking a stick at that lineup. It’s true this doesn’t have the same monochrome lightning in a bottle magic of the first but it’s still more than worth the attention of anyone who enjoys spending time in this world and appreciates gorgeous looking, star studded, unforgiving things dark pulp artistic cinema. Plus it deserves a watch just for Eva Green as probably my favourite femme fatale ever committed to celluloid, she’s that good.
Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is an odd one, a film that I enjoyed for the fact that it somewhat cuts ties to the biblical tale it bases itself on and does it’s own thing. The style and tone are so out of place and out of time that one could almost imagine this being set sometime far, far in the future instead of the distant past. Aronofsky introduced a very earthy, tactile and nature based aesthetic with his film The Fountain (which is my favourite film ever made), and he explores it further here, with time-lapse photography of plants growing, barren landscapes that suggest either a very young planet earth or a very old one and simple, elemental costumes that could be of both ancient ilk or post apocalyptic fashion. The story is quite literally as old as time, and given new life by a fantastic cast of actors starting with Russell Crowe as Noah, a man jaded by humanity and conflicted by forces beyond his own understanding. Jennifer Connelly, Douglas Booth, Logan Lerman and others play his family, one of whom knocks up Emma Watson, causing quite the controversy when the almighty creator commands Noah to build that ark before the monsoons come. Anthony Hopkins is the prophet Methuselah, and Ray Winstone’s Tubal Cain a rough hewn archetype of all of our worst qualities as a race. Coolest of all might are Frank Langhella, Mark Margolis, Frank Oz and Nick Nolte as some ancient looking stone golems who are actually angels sent down by the creator to shepherd humans when needed. It’s funny because Nolte is so grizzled and rugged in his old age these days he probably could have just played the role in person instead of voiceover, but as it stands the special effects used to bring them to life are spectacular, a standard that holds throughout the film from landscapes, props, wildlife and general visual mood. Now, I can never get behind Christian films or take them seriously, so it’s a good thing that Aronofsky remains at arm’s length from the religious stuff and takes a more mythological approach to the story in the sense that this could be happening in any world or universe, and isn’t tied down to one theology. Not a perfect film, but the arresting visuals, fantastic cast and overarching message of love and reverence for life in all forms make it something special.
Serial killer biopics and character studies have been all the rage since their inception in the early 90’s, but rarely do they get as earnest or serious as David Grieco’s Evilenko, an intense look at Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo (renamed Evilenko here), a heinous child murderer that took advantage of loopholes in the post war soviet region and preyed on youngsters for years. Malcolm McDowell is harrowing in the role and gives the character human depth and dimensions beyond just lurking, killing, evading capture and awaiting trial. I saw a documentary once on his career and apparently he turned this role down several times, which is interesting because he’s absolutely dynamic and almost unrecognizable as the guy, quite the piece of work. Martin Csokas plays the inspector on his case with his usual well spoken gravitas, hunting the man down but taking so many years to nab him that the body count went well above fifty victims. The crimes are shown with a disassociation and removed coldness, blunt but never exploitive. There’s two other film versions of this true story, an HBO original film called Citizen X that takes the police procedural route and Child 44, a recent one with Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman that was a melodramatic, unfocused mess. This one is an intimate look into the killer’s psyche, a definite cut above most serial murderer films and anchored tightly by McDowell’s committed performance. Disturbing stuff.
If you compare Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer to the original tv series from back in the 80’s, it’s almost comical how little they have to do with each other, besides the vague theme of vigilantism. All good though because the film amps up the creaky old serial into a maniacally pulpy, hard R rated, ultraviolent, near B movie that’s given some real class by Denzel Washington, whose gravity makes all the wanton violence seem somehow rational. Fuqua is an intense filmmaker though and he firmly stamps his stylistic brand of kinetic mayhem onto this film so hard that by the time the bombastic warehouse set finale rolls around, it seems hella over the top. Denzel is Robert McCall, a quiet, cultured fellow who just happens to be a scary, highly skilled ex government spook with a heart of gold. When a troubled young prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz) gets in deep with the reliably psychotic Russian mob, he sees something in her that makes him step up to the occasion and quite literally lay waste to their entire organization with every means of his disposable. It’s kind of like what he did to get Dakota Fanning out of the crosshairs in Tony Scott’s Man On Fire, except less fire and more Bourne-esque hand to hand combat and tactical ingenuity. He’s basically invincible to the point where even a terrifying Vor lieutenant (Marton Csokas knowingly dialing up the camp dial) can’t even put a stop to his righteous rampage. There’s a bond between him and Moretz that needs to be there to soften the blow of the extremes he goes to, and the two actors have a great chemistry in their scenes. David Harbour steals scenes as a sheepishly corrupt Boston cop who get amusingly exasperated when McCall puts the hurt on him and the whole operation. Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo have painfully brief cameos as government officials from his past, Justified’s Johnny Neumier is nasty as the abusive russkie pimp who is the first of many tough guys to fall under his hand, and Johnny Messner has a short lived cameo as a thug who grossly underestimates him. This is kind of a ridiculous film at its core, the earnest elements hilariously clashing with a hyper violent pulse that at times reaches Hobo With A Shotgun style heights. But Denzel is ever the actor’s actor and sells the flourish with his grim resolve. A fun ass flick for what it is, and I’m curious to check out the sequel this year. Oh, and there’s a cameo from that Insta-idiot Dan Bilzerian too that almost cements a tongue in cheek self aware vibe on the film’s part.
Imagine the potential for a concept like Dream House, and then look at how badly, how royally they fucked up the script and eventual film that came after. It’s like someone had a really cool idea for a thriller that could have been something great in the vein of Shyamalan or Hitchcock and it just ended up a flat, lifeless, boring exercise in.. well… not much. Sadder still is the talented, first rate cast stuck in it, and when you consider the director has a heavily Oscar nominated film from back in the day under his belt, it boggles the mind. Okay, maybe the last two points are unfair, artists sometimes don’t have control over what projects cross their desk, but I would have jumped ship at the premiere if I were them, paycheque in hand. The premise is certainly interesting: a publisher from New York (Daniel Craig) moves with his wife (Rachel Weisz) and two young daughters to a quaint manor in quiet New England to get away from it all. The house, naturally, has a troubled past and is sorta kinda haunted, in one of those twisty roundabout ways I can’t say without spoiling the whole deal (*cough* The Others). Craig has to solve the mystery of a brutal crime that took place in his new home, avoid freaky stalkers that seem to follow his family, and with the help of a kind, benevolent neighbour (Naomi Watts), figure out just what’s going on. There is a twist, that shows up midway through the film instead of near the end and because of that feels entirely like a silly gimmick once we know, a misjudged pacing decision if there ever was one. The thing that sucks is there are well done aspects; the acting from everyone is great, the cinematography and production design beautifully done, it’s just story that takes a nose dive, and almost right off the bat, too. The payoff and resolution for such an ‘out there’ setup just feels dry and voided of the mysticism and otherworldly spookiness that the film set you up with, and the result is you just feel cheated. Not even capable actors like Elias Koteas as a shady hitman and Marton Csokas as an even shadier businessman can bring antagonists with enough life into the fold, and their thankless presence is wasted. After this film I kind of wish I watched it again without any sound or subtitles on like a silent version, because the imagery and visual element is too good to be wasted on a script as badly drawn and executed as this.
What can I say about Kangaroo Jack. It’s… a movie. Someone was on something at the board meeting where this thing was greenlit, and it somehow got made. It’s one of the most oddly conceived, shit-tastic, bizarre comedies to have ever been produced, and it’s a wonder some of the actors held it together with a modicum of a straight face. I expect this kind of thing from silly people like Anthony Anderson and Jerry O’Connell, but…. Michael Shannon? Christopher Walken? Really?! Weirder still is that this wanton pile of dung topped the box office charts for a few weeks. I guess moviegoers were on the same stuff as the guy in that board meeting. O’Connell and Anderson play two childish idiots who travel to Australia to deliver some mob cash after a run in with freaky gangster Walken and his freakier henchman Shannon, both looking like they’d rather eat tide pods than have their names in the credits. En route, the film takes a nosedive into Wtf-ville as a terribly CGI’d kangaroo steals their money (coz that’s what kangaroos do) and starts fucking with them and holds up their task at every turn. What a random idea for a movie. The script has the attention span of a Looney Toons yarn, the special effects are so bad they’d make 90’s era Crash Bandicoot cringe, and the humour is… well, you get the idea. There’s usually some morbid merit to films as bad as this, like watching someone get hit by a car and being unable to look away through sheer fascination, but this one can’t even muster up a self aware thrill or two of that ilk. Oh, and it suffers from Snow Dogs syndrome too: trailers showed a sentient kangaroo talking, but that only happens in one brief, super lame dream sequence. If Steve Irwin’s ghost had a kid with Mel Brooks and that kid had a nightmare, it might look something like this, but a lot less awesome than that would have you think. This kangaroo should be put down.
Pawn is another gift from the assembly line of slightly muddled second tier crime dramas, cobbled together with elements of greats from yesteryear, and barely held together at the seam by acting titans who have fallen on hard times chasing that almighty paycheque. That’s not to say it’s bad (although plenty of its breed are woeful), but simply inconsequential and forgettable. Starting off with a simple diner robbery that will inevitably spiral beyond control, we meet a band of clueless petty thieves lead by Michael Chiklis, doing his utter best with a silly cockney accent that has no reason to exist here. Little do these geniuses know, the diner they picked to lift happens to be a front for the Russian mob, setting off a chaotic chain of events that could end in all their deaths. The mob panics, and brings in everyone they can to clutter things up. Two corrupt cops show up, one inside the diner, played by Forest Whitaker, looking like he had some trouble understanding his portion of the script, and one outside, played by Marton Csokas who is underused a lot it seems. Common shows up as a hostage negotiator of all things, which made me chuckle. Stephen Lang is dangerously quiet as the restaurant owner and strong arm of the Russians. He hires a chatty Ray Liotta to hold one of the thieves wives (Nikki Reed) hostage and appear vaguely menacing until everything blows over. So we have scenes of him talking to her in cyclical metaphors interspersed with all the intrigue going down at the diner, and it all amounts to… what, exactly? Well, you’ll have to take a look for yourself, but the while thing seemed rather pointless to me.
It’s nearly impossible for me to pick a favourite from the original Bourne trilogy, but I suppose if you held a gun to my head I would have to go for the breathless, breakneck Bourne Supremacy. It’s the first one I ever saw and one of the very first big summer movie experiences of my youth, so I have a burning nostalgia. I wouldn’t base my decision solely on that, though. No, I’ve thought a lot about it, and Supremacy just has every element in pitch perfect place, every second of pacing hurtling by on full throttle and Matt Damon taking names like he never did before. I love the fact that Bourne has something driving him other than a need to know who and what he is this time around. He has revenge for the death of someone he loved, which is never something you want to provoke when you have someone like him gunning for you. Life is quiet for Jason and Marie (Franka Potente 😍) for about five seconds at the beginning of the film, until a highly skilled assassin (a capable, relentless Karl Urban) explodes into their lives, sends their jeep careening off a bridge, resulting in Marie’s death. This pisses Jason off and then some, prompting a global excursion to find out who Urban works for and take them down. Also on his trail is CIA bigwig Pamela Landy (Joan Allen, excellent) and the severely morally misguided Ward Abbott (Brian Cox takes slimy to a whole new level in this outing). There’s also scheming Russian oil magnate Gretkov (a relaxed Karel Roden) with his own reasons for wanting Bourne. As is always the case, Jason is the smartest guy in the room, more so even than those that trained him, and he out thinks, out shoots and outruns them all every step of the way that takes him nearer to his goal. He isn’t simply running scared and confused with no outlet or idea how to use his talents anymore. He’s a lethal asset with emotion and forethought on his side, and he takes no prisoners. Damon is just ridiculously badass, especially in the several furious hand to hand combat scenes he dances through, doling out the smackdown faster than anyone’s reflexes can react. There’s also a humanity to him, burgeoning regret when he learns what Treadstone made him do, and the yearning to set it right, or at least make himself known to the daughter (Oksana Akinshina) of a Russian couple he once murdered. People complain about all the shaky cam, but whatever man, it sure fires up an action sequence and places you right there amid the mayhem of a rattling jeep chase through a Berlin tunnel, a bone splintering man to man with an ex Treadstone operative (Marton Csokas) and more. Julia Stiles is terrifically intense as a girl who used to do the psych evaluations for agents, Chris Cooper briefly returns as Conklin, the devious founder of the program, and watch for Tomas Arana, Corey Johnson, Gabriel Mann and Michelle Monaghan too. Like I said it’s a tricky task to pick a favourite, and on any given day I’d just say I love all three equally. This one just has a bit of an edge on the others in certain spots, and never feels like it bears the curse of the middle chapter. It’s a tightly wound coil of a film that springs into kinetic motion with the force of a piston. I’m curious to see how the new Bourne flick does, but I doubt it’ll come close to the first three, let alone this platinum classic. Cue Moby’s Extreme Ways to play out my review.
I really enjoyed Richard Donner’s Timeline, despite some bad reviews and an awful reputation. It’s based on a book by the great Michael Crichton, and centers around what is one of the most fascinating and enjoyable premises out there: time travel. There’s nothing like a time travel flick, in any way, shape or form. I’m a sucker for them. This one starts off with an archeological dig somewhere in England, leading to the abrupt discovery of forces that allow a wormhole in time to be used, sending people back to the middle ages. Paul Walker discovers that his researcher father (Billy Connolly) has made the leap back in time, and may be in trouble. Along with his sort of girlfriend (Frances O Connor) and his father’s friend (Gerard Butler) they venture back to find him, and of course everything goes wrong. They land smack in the middle of a skirmish between a poncy English lord (Michael Sheen) and the leader of the French faction (Lambert Wilson), with no identities, nothing to defend themselves with and not a clue what to do. Back home in our time (or, rather, 2003. Time flies, don’t it?), the head of the program responsible for harnessing the wormhole’s power (a slimy David Thewlis) is a greedy prick who can’t really be trusted with the technology, prompting the suspicion of his assistant (Matt Craven). Walker, Butler and company are now faced with a full on castle siege that’s quite the dandy set piece, forced to take up arms and fight for their lives as well as a way home. Walker is amusingly out of place in a medieval setting but it works considering the plot. Butler is terrific, bringing his old world style to a character arc that is lovely to see play out. Connolly, although not in the film that much, lights up the screen with his genial kindness and likability that he brings to every film. Neal McDonough, Anna Friel and Marton Csokas also costar. It’s simply an adventure piece that doesn’t think logistics too much, and in turn doesn’t require you to do so either. Underrated stuff.