Of all the sub-genres in cinema there is one, the revenge thriller, which refuses to go away for any length of time, despite having had nothing new to offer in terms of narrative or character since some time in the late 70s. A mainstay of the exploitation scene throughout the 70s and 80s, and almost single-handedly propping up the DTV catalogue throughout the 90s and early 2000s, the genre somewhat arbitrarily received a high profile transfusion of male empowerment plasma in 2008 when Liam Neeson showed us all his very particular set of skills, most of which seemed to revolve around brutally despatching brown people.
Regardless of whether the popularity of Taken spawned largely from a simmering early 21st century distrust of immigrants (whispers it totally did), it seemed to elevate the revenge movie’s profile sufficiently to once more begin attracting big name talent, and in the instance of Eli Roth’s completely unnecessary recent Death Wish remake that big name is Bruce Willis. Now, I know our Bruce has been slumming it a bit lately, and he and 50 Cent seem to have some sort of tax dodge going on regarding straight to on-demand action movies filmed in Eastern Europe, but his name can still draw some water, and it’s notable that in this point of his career, unlike some of his peers, he seems to have accepted that his action credentials as a terrorist murdering machine are becoming somewhat tenuous.
In the instance of Death Wish, Bruce is Dr Kersey, a mild-mannered Chicago surgeon who deals daily with the city’s currently rampant gun crime and murder rate, and whose wife and daughter are somewhat predictably assaulted during a break-in by violent thieves who scope out his wealth via a crooked car valet. Wife dead, daughter in coma, Kersey begins pursuing his options, most of which seem conveniently caught in the strainer of “overwhelmed police department.”
Upper middle-aged murder machine it is, then!
Internet research (the best kind of research) yields an interesting number of results relating to something called “guns,” though Kersey seems immediately dissuaded by the notion that those need to be registered. Not to worry; his next patient into theatre conveniently drops a Glock on the floor next to his bed.
I’m not kidding.
What follows is a predictable string of events, from training montage (given the modern spin of YouTube tutorials) through clumsy, accident prone first forays into murder (we’ve all been there), terminating quite literally in brazen vigilante massacres of crooked mechanics, far-too-laconic street pushers and at some point the actual people responsible for killing Kersey’s wife. Ahhhh, the male empowerment fantasy is alive and well.
Death Wish‘s crimes against intelligence are many, far too many to list here, but with a name like Roth’s attached to the director’s chair a certain portion of this movie’s audience will be expecting explicit gore to be rolled into the recipe, and the news is that there’s a bit. A little bit, but still quite shocking and cringe-worthy when it happens. Oddly for Roth, however, he seems to refuse to go all-in, and this is one of the movie’s biggest issues. Fence-sitting on whether or not it is a shock vehicle, a thriller, or at times a comedy, Death Wish commits the ultimate sin of being nothing in particular, and whatever message it presumably wants to pretend it has gets lost in an awful lot of disorganised chaos; of all the crimes we must trudge through here Joe Carnahan’s script perhaps deserves the longest sentence.
I’ve read numerous takes since watching the movie, many of which accuse Death Wish of being “the wrong film at the wrong time”, with Jake Cole of Slant magazine offering the observation that, at a time when Americans are being subjected so overtly to police brutality, this movie suggests they are not being brutal enough. I don’t necessarily buy that – when have America’s police departments ever not been accused of disproportionate force? Certainly not since the vigilante revenge movie was popularised – and I prefer to think of it as “the wrong film at any time” if only because it serves no purpose other than to sustain the bizarrely perverted macho fantasy of imagining one’s own family murdered as a gateway to being subsequently legitimised as a murderer one’s self.
There are moments where the movie feels as though it may at least be about to have the good grace to establish a darkly comic tone, something Roth set out as a stall as far back as Cabin Fever, and perhaps one of his few discernible bona fide talents as a director, but there is simply no commitment, and moments such as a bowling ball stored at height braining an antagonist at an otherwise impossible juncture for Kersey just end up looking like ridiculous deus ex machina. It’s an incompetence in keeping with the characters as they’re written. Police following Kersey’s murderous spree seem to stumble on clues like farts in the wind: one of the big breaks comes when Detective Raines, leading the investigation, witnesses some kids in the background of a crime scene, re-enacting Kersey’s shooting. The kid enacting Kersey’s role is using his left hand. HIS LEFT HAND! The guy in that first viral vigilante video was a lefty!
That’s what murder homicide police work looks like in this movie, so in some ways I guess I sympathise with Kersey and his desire to run rampage, at least in the fantastical sense. A shame then the film seems so intent in rooting itself firmly in the here and now, roping in actual Chicago radio DJs to offer such insightful commentary as “vigilante gooooood,” and “vigilante baaaad” in between setpieces in a ridiculously literal effort at social commentary.
In terms of sympathy for the cast, I feel most sorry for Dean Norris, the inept Detective Raines in question, who seems to spend most of his time shrugging at everything rather than detecting anything, but there are other wasted talents for sure, not least of all Elizabeth Shue who portrays Mrs Kersey for all of 10 minutes before coming the cropper. Remember Leaving Las Vegas? Elizabeth probably doesn’t. Even Vincent D’Onofrio deserves better than this. I think.
Anyway, I don’t think society needs or wants this movie right now. Have you ever seen a movie in which an angry old white man shoots bad men because the police won’t? Well then you’ve already seen this done better. Don’t even torrent this.
Unless I’m trying to be funny, I try and avoid the usual movie review clichés. Sequels like Deadpool 2: The Deadpoolening test this most greatly, because, well, it’s so very similar to the original in tone and content that the most useful and concise thing I can say about it is that if you liked the original, you’ll like this, and if you didn’t, I don’t see much in here to change your mind.
However, we have a contractually obligated running time to fill, so I suppose I better bulk this out a bit. Deadpool 2 opens with a montage of what Ryan Reynold’s spandex-clad assassin Wade Wilson has been up to between films, which is, in the main, violently killing people. But they’re bad people. Presumably. So that’s alright. This rather bites him in the ass when, after one of his targets eludes him, said crimelord later visits Wade and fiancée Vanessa (Morena Baccarin)’s flat with some goons and guns, killing Vanessa in the process before being dealt with.
Distraught, Deadpool tries to kill himself, but his mutant healing factor refuses to let him go, with Colossus sweeping up the pieces and taking him back to Xavier’s School for Children That Shoot Lasers From Their Eyes and That. Deadpool agrees to join the X-Men, but his first mission goes off the rails when he realises that the flame spewing young mutant they’ve been sent to reason with, Julian Dennison’s Russell Collins, was being abused by the orphanage’s staff.
He’s restrained before he can kill more than one of the orphanage staff, with Deadpool and Russell slapped with power-nullifying collars and sent to mutant prison. Deadpool seems happy enough to be left to die, but Russell wants out and tries to forge a bond with Wade Wilson, the world’s worst father figure. This is all thrown for a loop when Josh Brolin’s Cable, my favourite Marvel vs. Capcom 2 character, appears from the future with an impressive selection of weaponry and a burning desire to kill the barely teenage Russell to stop some future misdeeds.
Deadpool’s protective instincts kick in, and Deadpool and Cable fight to a standstill, escaping the prison in the process, while Russell befriends unstoppable meathead Juggernaut (sadly not voiced here by Vinny Jones). To shortcut the recap a bit, Deadpool and Cable form an uneasy alliance, Cable giving Deadpool a chance to turn Russell away from a life of murder and villainy, but they’ll also need to go through Juggernaut, with Deadpool enlisting the help of Colossus, Brianna Hildebrand’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Zazie Beetz’s extraordinarily lucky Domino.
Although, maybe I shouldn’t shortcut the recap, as there’s not a lot else to say about Deadpool 2, certainly that wasn’t said about the first outing. It’s again largely based on, for this sort of film at least, outrageous jokes, violence treated for laughs, throwaway references and fourth wall breaking, and a running gag about dubstep. As mentioned earlier, if you liked it before, I’m about 95% confident you’ll like it this time round, and if you didn’t, I’m 100% sure there’s nothing much here that will force a reconsideration.
As Deadpool 2‘s a very heavily comedy skewed action-comedy, there’s not a lot more to be said about it, to be honest. If you find this sort of thing funny, you’ll like it, if not, you won’t, so like any comedy it’s so dependant on your particular comic tastes that it’s tough to say much more than if you think the trailer seems like your sort of thing, it probably is.
There’s some secondary considerations, I suppose. The action sequences are, by comic book standards, as well executed as any of the other X-Men outings, which is to say well enough, but on something of a restrained budget compared to the Marvel outings, and rather more coherent than the bulk of the DC affairs.
I don’t think the acting is stretching anyone’s capabilities, but Brolin is commendably gruff and plays a decent straight man to Reynold’s capering fool, and both Brianna Hildebrand and Zazie Beetz’s more laid back turns provide a satisfying counterpoint. Julian Dennison is also quite empathetic and carries the emotional heart of the film, or what passes for one, quite well.
There’re the usual complaints raised about the whiteness and maleness of the film, which may have some validity but in a film this stupid it’s hard to take them too seriously. I do, however, take some exception to killing off Vanessa as character motivation, not purely because it’s the sort of lazy writing that this film itself tries to lampoon, but because she was one of the most interesting characters in the first film. I see some complaints remain about Karan Soni’s Dopinder, the heavily-accented taxi driver, and if that’s all you reduce the character to I suppose I concede the point, but I’d argue if you listen to what he actually says, he’s quite far from any stereotype. But again, in a film as dumb as this one, it’s not a hill anyone should choose to die on.
So where do we land, after all of this? I found it quite funny, and so I enjoyed it. There you go. That said, even having enjoyed it, I think that this is quite enough of Deadpool, thank you, and the prospect of another film following this game plan so closely is not one I’d welcome at all.
Aliens. Big, bitey, blind aliens, with an incredibly keen sense of hearing, are eating all of the humans. Naughty aliens. Well, naughty probably aliens. Who knows. But A Quiet Place rightly thinks we don’t need to know.
We are dropped into a world where humans are an endangered, hunted, species. A barefoot family moves in silence through an abandoned store, looking for supplies and medicine while trying to avoid making any noise that could attract the toothy and hungry monsters to their location. The daughter of the family has a particular disadvantage: she’s deaf.
After a tragedy strikes the family, we jump forward almost a year to find the family, and a now pregnant Evelyn (Emily Blunt), having created a fairly comfortable, though fragile, life on a farm. But always there is the danger of the nasty beasties, coupled with adolescent angst. Oh, and the great problem of how you raise a baby, not known for being silent, in a world with monsters who hunt by sound. There will be blood.
So, I had problems with this film. And for once, it’s not the excessively loud stabs (or, more accurately, stab) of noise. That, actually, made absolute sense: the sound massively amplified due to the shock it caused, the danger it created and relative to the subdued noise levels of the characters’ surroundings. There is a sound-related issue that I had a problem with, though, and that was that if the survivors truly did have to be quite so careful and silent, almost ludicrously so, then the idea that there is any point at which the creatures wouldn’t be able to hear them when nearby is laughable. I successfully explained this away as them practising good aural hygiene.
There is one moment very early on, though, that threatened to derail the entire thing, yet somehow I made it through. I have a particular dislike (though we all know by dislike I mean deep antipathy) for events in films that rely on a misunderstanding or lack of a simple, obvious, action. But the film’s early drama is caused by a character, who has already been shown to be competent and sensible, acting in a very stupid manner. Simply not giving the batteries along with the toy to her brother would have avoided the entire problem. The screenwriters aren’t new to the game, so it smacks of lazy writing rather than not knowing how to set up that tragedy. (Also, you can call me an evil bastard, but I’m glad the stupid little git got munched. Idiot.)
In a manner most unlike me, however, I managed to forgive that sin, perhaps because the film’s world had pulled me in almost immediately. I find both John Krasinski and Emily Blunt sympathetic and likeable, and the constant dread I felt for Regan, who needed to be quiet to survive yet was at a huge disadvantage in doing so, kept the tension quite high for me throughout (still not actually scary, though, obviously).
I found it thoroughly effective, taut and efficient. My only other thought is that I wish they had gone all-in on the quietness thing and used only diegetic sound. I would have found that thoroughly rewarding, but I guess the film-makers were afraid the audience would dislike a total lack of score.
So, in a moment sure to shock certain listeners, I recommend this.
Another one of those films bedevilled with reshoots and a change of director, in some ways it’s surprising that Solo made its release date, and in some ways, quite obvious how it did. Alden Ehrenreich steps into the Han Solo role, as we’re introduced to him already working for a local Corellian crime syndicate, but planning to escape the grimy underbelly to a better life off-world with girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke).
This soon goes awry, with Han signing up for Imperial flight school but Qi’ra left behind. He vows to make enough money to buy a ship and return for her. Years later, washed out of the pilot programme for his rebellious streak, he’s an infantryman who stumbles on Woody Harrelson’s Beckett and his crew in the middle of a heist, and after some twists, worms his way into their plans, escaping the Imperials along with former prisoner Chewbacca.
They go on to stage a daring raid to nick some valuable fuel supplies, which goes disastrously thanks to some outside interference, leaving Beckett’s former crew dead and reliant on Han and Chewie. He’s also puzzlingly now deemed to be in debt to crime syndicate Crimson Dawn, so is hauled before Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos to explain himself. Beckett and Han, after some prompting, offer up an alternative, much riskier, heist to make good, but they must take one of Vos’ employees along for the trip. This turns out to be Qi’ra. Shockeroonie.
Off they go, but of course they need a ship, hence Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), hence the Millennium Falcon, and unfortunately hence his annoying robot co-pilot L3-37, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and also hence more outside interference, along with some deal-changing and other miscellaneous double-crossing and backstabbing.
Solo appears at an odd time for the Star Wars franchise. A vocal contingent vehemently hated The Last Jedi, which is their prerogative, and claim it was a commercial failure, which is an odd way to think of $1.31 billion box office. I’m not sure quite why this translated into talk of boycotting Solo, a completely different film from two sets of completely different directors, and co-written by the dude responsible for the most beloved instalment, but no-one’s ever accused internet mobs of coherence. With Solo looking like it’ll claw its way to around $360m as it shuffles out of cinemas worldwide, I’m sure they’ll be happy to claim victory in their efforts to… try and kill a franchise they say they love? Sorry, I’m not quite sure what their aim was.
I’d argue, however, that as with most Twitter storms, the wider world did not even hear of this drama, and instead didn’t turn up as it’s sandwiched between more tentpoles than in the usual Christmas window, and, well, it has a fundamental hole in the marketing of the film because no-one really gives a good god damn about the origins of Han Solo. Solo’s lovable rogue character in the original trilogy is straight out of the big book o’ character archetypes, and is entirely self-describing.
Solo, then, is an answer to a question no-one asked. And an answer that’s not particularly satisfying, either. There’s not much difference between the fresh faced young Han we meet at the start of this film and the still fresh faced Han at the film’s end, making his a character arc with very few degrees in it. It’s not like it’s taking any risks at all in the content either, and the things it chooses to flesh out are odd. There’s a throwaway line in the originals about Han winning the ship from Lando in a game of Space Poker. Here we spend ten minutes or so in a scene about Space Poker. It is as exciting as you’d expect watching people play cards to be, assuming you hadn’t seen Casino Royale.
If, however, you can get over the inherent pointlessness of it all (and, bearing in mind this is the Laser Space Wizard franchise we’re talking about here, it’s not like it’s a stranger to inherent pointlessness), Solo feels much closer to the original trilogy than anything that’s come after it. It’s a light, breezy, space opera with broad characters, a general sense of good humour and the odd action set piece. That makes it a breath of fresh air in a series that’s growing increasingly consumed by its own mythology, or if you prefer, spending too much time sniffing its own farts.
Unfortunately the least interesting part of the film is Solo himself. It seems a lot of people blame Ehrenreich for this, which I think is a little unfair. Certainly, he’s in an unwinnable position, either going to be derided for a Harrison Ford impression, or for straying too far from Ford’s take, so he’s doing as well as anyone can here, particularly when there’s just not all that much for him to do.
Qi’ra, or perhaps Emilia Clarke, presents us with a mystery. In a universe where we’ve established there’s a Space Paisley (or was it Renfrew?), such that accents other than received pronunciation are possible, how come on Corellia the grimy underworld characters cut about like they’ve stumbled out of the set of The Crown? I suspect the answer to this is that Clarke has an acting range measured in thousandths of a millimetre. To be scrupulously fair to her, in this film, she is terrible.
Everyone else is pretty decent, though, and it’d be a much more interesting film if it was focussing on everyone that’s not the leads. Donald Glover is eminently watchable, and Woody Harrelson and his crew are, for the short time they have, much more intriguing than our supposed stars. The dialogue is, well, better than the other Star Wars films of late, and despite my repeated misgivings about the lead characters, it still turned out to be a fun little Star Wars outing that gratifyingly doesn’t take itself as seriously as the other Disney-backed outings.
It’s a shame that it’s in the service of a story that’s just not all that important to anyone – even, it turns out, Han Solo himself. It’s an easy watch, and it’s an entertaining two hour diversion, but on reflection it does feel quite pointless and that makes it hard to recommend the bother of dragging the family to see it in a cinema.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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