Red Notice (2021)

rednoteThere’s two ways of considering this film, and its rather like a Rorschach test for film fans. Either you see it as a harmless bit of mindless, leave-your-brain-in-the-kitchen bit of fun to while away a Friday night via Netflix, or you see it as an annoyingly typical, horribly insulting waste of $200 million that only further exemplifies the current state of the entertainment industry and film as an artform. 

Where do you think I sit on either side of that fence? Have a guess.

Somehow this stupid film cost more than Villeneuve’s Dune? How is this even possible? Well, maybe a lot of that has to do with the three stars allegedly each pocketing an absurd $20 million, that’s $60 million gone straight away. Hey, score one for diversity, at least the girl has gotten paid as much as the boys, and as far as screen-time is goes, she’s actually gotten paid more than them as regards a dollar-per-minute ratio is concerned, so hey, go girl. But none of the three is actually making any effort in this- its almost a distressingly cynical effort from all concerned (does effort go out the window whenever one learns that Netflix is footing the bill? Or was this picture actually destined to be a normal theatrical release at one point?). Ryan Reynolds plays Ryan Reynolds, Dwayne Johnson plays Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot plays Wonder Woman sorry Gal Gadot. There’s no acting in this. Mind you, in their defence, its possibly true there’s no characterisation actually fleshed out in the script which any of them could have worked with, but all the same, they are phoning all this in in the grandest Bruce Willis tradition. They turn up, look gorgeous, speak their lines, and move on. The attention to craft of someone like, say, Robert De Niro when he appeared in Taxi Driver or Raging Bull etc seems like a lifetime away. 

It exemplifies all the very worse of Netflix. The platform does some good stuff, as does Amazon etc but really, if Netflix finances/buys this kind of rubbish simply to compete with the big boys or pretend its a player like any of the Hollywood major studios, its missing the point of playing the game. Or maybe it isn’t, maybe I’m fooling myself. Netflix’s biggest issue is that it doesn’t really care how good anything it puts up streaming on its service actually is (a second season of Another Life is proof enough of that), it just cares about subscriber numbers. And the brutal truth about subscriber numbers is that, as Disney is possibly learning, they don’t actually have anything to do with the quality of what you are streaming, its more about just having new content streaming and the perception of the service having a steady flow of something new to watch on a Friday night.

In my depressed moments, I’m resigned to the fact that as far as the mass average of Joe Public that is Out There in suburbia, nobody actually cares whether something is any good or not. None of this stuff is even going to be remembered in five or ten years time, and hell, at some point probably the streamers will start pulling content because what is the point having it there hidden away behind all the algorithm’s of the service front end if only two or three people watch any of it, never mind all of it, during January 20th 2027? Films are disposable, just like streaming music and television shows etc. its all a passing distraction for people numbed by the banality/pressures of life in the 21st Century. 

What any of this has to do with Red Notice, I’m not sure. Or maybe it has EVERYTHING to do with Red Notice. In any case, I’ve wasted far too much time writing about this nonsense already. I only wish I’d bought that 4K box of the Indiana Jones films, I’d love to be able to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark tonight in glorious 4K to remind myself of the good old days when even a fairly modest love letter to simple b-movie matinees of old could turn into a classic for the ages. Films like Red Notice may pretend to be ‘homages’ to adventure flicks like Raiders but really, they are kidding themselves, they are nothing like. Raiders is 40 years old now and still a film I love to re-watch; who on Earth will be re-watching Red Notice in 40 years time? Who will even remember it exists?

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021)

 

hitmans wifeThe Hitman’s Bodyguard was one of my guilty favourites a few years back (a rare digital rental that got me buying it on 4K disc a few months later when it dropped in price). It was one of those films where you just know you’re being had, that its not a great film, but there was something in the cast, the chemistry between them, that just clicked for me. Really, how could you go wrong with a cheesy action flick with Ryan Reynolds cracking jokes and Samuel Jackson blasting expletives? They even had Gary Oldman chewing up the scenery as an Eastern European megalomaniac villain (if there’s such a thing as an Eastern European megalomaniac hero, let me know).

The law of diminishing returns proves inevitable with the sequel, but its the cast which again largely saves the day. I get such a kick out of these characters, and the film really benefits from Salma Hayek having a much larger role, not so much chewing the scenery but rather simply demolishing it. To be clear, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is not a very good film (its arguably awful trash), and it is clearly inferior to the first, but I still got that guilty kick out of it.

I couldn’t even tell you what its about- some vague plot about a Greek billionaire (Antonio Banderas) seeking revenge on the European Union by infecting it with some war-grade virus in order to destroy European Civilization. Somehow our three crazy misfits get caught up in it, there’s something about a briefcase, Frank Grillo wants to get back to Boston, mostly its a lot of loud swearing and even louder action: there’s violent deaths, and lots of them. I don’t know what the body count is of the other night’s Kate and this one, but I perhaps need to chill with some sedate contemplative romantic comedy now these two have assaulted my senses.

The one thing that particularly irritated me this time around, was the editing. This thing is edited down to within an inch of its life, so much so that its almost rendered impossible to make sense of (hence my bemusement regards the plot). Its possibly because they had little confidence with the script carrying the film, which is a pity because it renders the pacing so relentless it almost breaks the film entirely. Transitions are perfunctory at best as we leap from one location (and another action sequence) to the next, characters noisily come and go, its hard to make sense of it all. Consequently the film loses something that the original had- there’s fewer character beats (and hell, the original was never Shakespeare), as if the film-makers have decided we don’t want characters, we just wants stunts and explosions and Ryan Reynolds thrown all over the place. Its much like a cartoon.

Its the cast that saves it. Hayek in particular is in great form, a foul-mouthed tramp with a heart whose, er, physicality becomes a visual gag all the way through. Samuel Jackson of course is just doing Samuel Jackson; he’s one of those actors whose presence alone can light up a scene even on autopilot. I suppose the same is true of Morgan Freeman, but he’s largely wasted here, one of the few actors not given free rein to let loose (although his casting gives the film one of its better jokes, perhaps Harrison Ford would have been a better choice). Likewise Frank Grillo isn’t allowed to break into action- seems a wasted opportunity burying him in what is a minor role when his physical prowess could have been better utilised; maybe he’s being set-up for a larger role in a possible sequel. Antonio Banderas has an unlikely crack at playing a Bond villain- he’s perhaps too charming, and not as nasty and cold as he needs to be: some guys just make better heroes than they do villains. 

There’s a fantastic drinking-game with this film; have a drink whenever Hayek breaks into a foul-mouthed tirade. Pretty sure I’ll never manage it through to the end of the movie, but I might have fun giving it a try. Maybe the plot will make better sense in spite of the toxic inebriation, some films just work that way.

6 Underground

6under1Oh my fragile senses. What horror that Netflix and Michael Bay just wreaked upon me; I rather feel like I’ve just been somehow assaulted by my television. I’m in something of a stunned daze. I don’t think my eyes or ears are still working and I’m finding it as difficult to string words together into cogent sentences as it does for most of the characters in this fraking movie (“Not the puppies!”/”She’s lost a shit ton of blood”/”Nobody is going to save the world. But we can make it a little less shitty, you know?”).

I’m such a stupid schmuck.  I watched another Michael Bay movie. Oh, I knew what I was doing, I knew the risks, but I knew nothing about this film and as its a Netflix Original, I just thought, well, its going to be a much smaller budget than he’s used to,  it’ll be slower, quieter, more intimate, maybe have a plot even. Wrong. I’m such an idiot.

6 Underground is a $150 million dollar Michael Bay blockbuster with him let absolutely totally loose without a studio bothering to rein him  in or anything, its like anything goes, the ultimate Michael Bay frakfest extravaganza, Welcome to Michael Bay Film School. Its an orgy of exploding cars, exploding people, blood spurting in slow motion, long slow lingering pans over hot women’s bodies, its gun-porn, chase-porn, explosion-porn, bullet-porn, impossible stunts-porn… really, this thing is the very definition of the worst a Mission: Impossible movie could possibly be. I hadn’t realised just how mundane and restrained those Tom Cruise/Christopher McQuarrie arthouse spy flicks were. This film begins with a fifteen/twenty minute car chase through Florence, Italy in which civilians are run over by the good guys, or gunned down by bad guys, streets are wrecked, puppies and babies endangered, cars get ripped in two and bodies are blown apart, impaled, smashed, burned, ripped….

I’ve now reached some kind of epiphany: all those years, when Michael Bay was going around making films like The Rock and those Transformers films, Pearl Harbor or the Bad Boys films, I thought he was just making silly loud blockbusters but really he was perfecting some whole new kind of movie-making, a whole new art-form hitherto undreamed of by any Film School known to man. This thing is the new 3D or the new Imax. This is The Future. Some day all films will be as loud and fast and stupid as this. Yeah, you THINK most films are loud, fast and stupid, but you ain’t seen this, you ain’t seen NOTHING.

So. Lets see if I can stretch what this film excuses for a plot into a paragraph. The 6 Underground are six ‘dead’ people, they are ‘ghosts’ who have faked their own deaths (or had them faked for them) in order to go all A-Team and beat the biggest Bad Guys from beyond the grave- unknowable, untouchable, utterly expendable; these six beautiful people (Ryan Reynolds,  Mélanie Laurent, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Adria Arjona, Corey Hawkins, Ben Hardy and Dave Franco, yeah that’s right I named seven, its a Michael Bay movie) in beautiful places turning murder and mayhem into a work of art. Ryan Reynolds is the leader, ‘Number One’, a genius tech-billionaire with a conscience (yes there is such a thing, that’s the magic of Hollywood), who has recruited a team of ex-CIA/ex-assassin/ex-underworld experts (‘Number Two’, ‘Number Three’ etc etc) in order to right the wrongs that our lousy untrustworthy Governments refuse to because obviously everyone is corrupt other than our ‘ghosts’. Hence today’s mission is sorting out the dastardly dictator of poor Turgistan (I kid you not), first by killing his Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse/Generals while they are vacationing in Las Vegas at a Chemical Warfare convention (or something), and then freeing his brother who has been terrifyingly imprisoned in the Penthouse Suite of the most mindbogglingly lavish billionaire apartment in a city ‘somewhere exotic’  before crashing the dictators state-run television network and then a party on his billionaire yacht.

Naturally doing this involves killing lots and lots and lots of people and blowing up all kinds of shit. Its some kind of brilliant genius, to be sure. At this point in his career, and running utterly amok as he is thanks to those depraved bastards at Netflix, Bay has this down to some kind of relentless, terrifyingly efficient machine, a film posing as Terminator. Its horrible and beautiful and brilliant and bloody awful. Even now, I cannot quite believe it. Did I see it? Did I hear it?

I feel a little like dear old Charlton Heston on the beach: “Those crazy bastards (Netflix). They did it. They really did it. They gave Bay $150 million and Final Cut. Those crazy bastards.” Cue falling to my knees in despair, fists clenched towards my shamed OLED. The End.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)

hit1I really enjoyed this, much to my surprise. I knew nothing about it, other than some of the cast. I guess it could be criticized for being little more than its parts and not really stretching itself but as an action comedy it’s great- Ryan Reynolds is Deadpool in all but costume, and Samuel Jackson is as foul-mouthed and wise-cracking as you’d expect. Neither actor is really being pushed or expected to do anything unusual or out of the box, as it were. But the film is competently handled, with a great plot, decent thrills and action, some great laughs and some interesting turns. It has a pretty great soundtrack, too. Yeah, maybe I should bitch more about how by-the-numbers this really is, but hell, it was fun.

I particularly enjoyed Salma Hayek as a Latino Hellcat muse for Jackson’s hitman. They really fizzled together onscreen  and I’d love to see a sequel that takes them together somewhere. Will we get a sequel? I have no idea how popular this film was or what the box-office was. But I think I’d like to see a sequel, there’s all sorts of possibilities in this cast and characters.

Essentially this is one of those buddy road movies, owing a lot to earlier films like Midnight Run, and I’d expect anyone who enjoyed that film to find something worthwhile in this. Any film that can leap from Coventry (!) to the Hague has to be doing something right. Indeed there is something really perversely weird about this rather European-flavored film, despite its American cast and deliberately Western-genre sensibilities. There is certainly something going on, but at any rate, taken as a simple action comedy (albeit the bodycount would like make Stallone blush, to be honest) its perfectly fine, leave your brain at the door material.

Besides, Samuel Jackson in this kind of stuff (he can do this in his sleep, surely, by now) is just a real joy to watch. Pity Marvel can’t put him in an R-rated Nick Fury movie. Now that would be something worth watching.

It’s alive!!!

life12017.41: Life (2017)

I always overthink movies. I know I do- especially those misfires that frustrate or are nearly great. Case in point: Life, a sci-fi thriller about scientists trapped on the ISS with an alien. Crikey, even that summary makes it sound bad- to be clear though, Life isn’t as bad as you might have heard. Admittedly it doesn’t need the A-list acting talent involved -indeed a cast of unknowns might even have been better- but that’s likely partly how the film and budget got greenlit anyway (studios love ‘names’ attached to give the  marketing boys a hand). At anyrate, the good cast (Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada) being under-utilised by an undercooked script is not really what scuppers the film.

The best way to approach this film is as a b-movie with excellent production values, and as such it is a pretty solid, albeit partly frustrating sci-fi adventure. What I do like about it is how it functions in much the same way as those 1950s b-movies inspired by fears of radiation and Cold War-terror of alien menace and nuclear war. This film in thirty years will likely inform historians of modern anxieties regards our place in the universe and alien life.

The problem with this film is that it is far too easy -and lazy- to just summarise it as being another poor-man’s Alien. Yes, it does rather degenerate into that but here’s the thing about this film- it’s such a wasted opportunity; it could have been much more, particularly with this cast.  It should have been titled ‘The Fermi Paradox‘ (yeah I know, tough sell at the multiplex) because what it suggests and portrays is an answer to one of the biggest questions facing us today, but instead this film never even mentions it. Midway through the movie I thought- I know where this film is going, and they are going to say it soon…. but they don’t. It just needs one scene, one exchange of dialogue, and it could have made it a better, more profound movie. Instead the opportunity sales right by as if the scriptwriters never saw it coming.

The Fermi paradox is simply this- the universe is vast, and with all we learn about the tenacity of life in the harshest regions of the Earth, and the discoveries of so many worlds orbiting alien stars increasing the statistical probability of other habitable worlds and with that the likelihood of other  lifeforms and intelligences in the universe the question becomes not so much is there life out there but rather where is everybody?

In a weird way, this film offers up a solution to that question.

life3

The premise itself is intriguing. A robotic probe is returning from Mars with soil samples that are to be tested for signs of life on the ISS. It isn’t really explained (and this is one of my issues with the script) but I would imagine that back on Mars the robot probe detected something or the samples are particularly promising, because the ISS has been modified to be a safe laboratory to test the samples without risk of bringing the samples/organism to Earth. It could, after all, turn out to be as deadly as anthrax if let loose in the terran environment. The ISS crew and the station mission has been wholly redesigned for this duty over years of planning. Of course there is indeed more to the sample than originally hoped/feared, but it wouldn’t be a movie without that. This isn’t just ‘life’ – it is a particularly dangerous critter that will wipe out everything alive on Earth if it gets down from orbit- every human, every animal, every plant…. everything.

Here is the solution to the Fermi paradox in a nutshell. Life evolves. Life-forms develop and die out, destroyed by changes in environment or replaced by or out-evolved by other subsequent life-forms. In the film the scientists postulate that the creature brought back from Mars has lain dormant for thousands, perhaps millions of years. It can survive ultraviolet radiation, the intense cold of space and the harshest, slimmest of atmospheres. But they don’t raise the next possibility- what if it was not indigenous to Mars? What if it was extrasolar, brought to our solar system, and Mars, on cosmic winds, carried by dust or on a meteorite. What if it is a life-form that has existed millions of years, a life-form that like a virus is spread through space destroying other life forms and civilizations in its wake? What if the answer to the Fermi paradox is simply that there is nobody there anymore, because this thing destroyed it. And we are next. Alas, this film raises speculation about alien life but never rises the Fermi paradox or how what they have found informs a possible cautionary answer.

life5

Life looks pretty spectacular in places, and is always convincing in how it depicts the hardware, and the creature is horribly fascinating when it is onscreen – indeed it’s a notably successful alien creature most of the time- very nasty. On the whole this is a very successfully mounted film, particularly considering its not too-excessive budget (something around $60 million I think- certainly not as high as it might have been). It really is a case of a film having the cast, the budget and honest intent to be worthwhile, but let down by the script. It is so frustrating to think how good, how profound, this film could have been had it been as well-scripted as, say, Arrival was last year. There is a tantalising feeling that this film needed more time in gestation, it needed to evolve into a better script.

I guess this failing is easily noted from the start, with a wholly awkward set piece from the outset in which the returning probe has been hit by space debris and is off course and needs an action/effects sequence of the ISS changing its orbital path in order for an astronaut spacewalker to capture the hurtling probe with the ISS service arm. Its an unnecessary and unwieldy sequence that was there because the film-makers evidently thought thats how to get audience attention from the start; some big ‘event’/action sequence. But it’s not properly handled and  I think it lacks proper context- we can’t really feel any tension because we don’t know the crew/characters or the mission yet, which is partly handled via some clunky voiceover dialogue/exposition that doesn’t work at all. Better to have just calmy started the film with an explanation of the mission, the characters and calmly depict the probe docking and the samples transferred to the lab. Establish the setting, the mission parameters, the characters. Then let the shit hit the fan. And maybe, maybe midway when the scientists (who don’t really for a moment convince as scientists, that’s another problem) realise what they have on their hands, have one of them suggest, even in an offhand manner, that maybe they have stumbled on why SETI has never detected intelligent civilizations in space. Offer the tantalising -and scary- possibility that we really are the only ones listening, that there is no-one else. That we are really special. And yes, really in danger.

Alas, it seems that Life does not aspire to be the serious sci-fi flick that I think it could have been; indeed, perhaps a modern-day version of Alien is really all that was intended, and I’m simply over thinking a shallow movie. But it is certainly no disaster and certainly worth a rental.

 

 

Deadpool (2016)

dead12016.15: Deadpool (Cinema)

A deliberately subversive take on the super-hero genre, Deadpool is on the one hand great fun and on the other rather disturbing. Of course the humour (most of which is predicated on the deliberate breaking of the ‘fourth wall’) and the hyper-violent action constitute most of the fun of the film. There is something delicious in seeing/hearing so many tropes of recent Marvel and DC super-hero films being sent-up and ridiculed (affectionately or not). Its also rather risky, as the ‘traditional’ superhero film series are all destined to continue those tropes in subsequent films, and it’s debatable how casual audiences might react to that having seen them sent-up by Deadpool.

Of course the riskiest aspect of Deadpool is its R-rating in America and all that violence. R-rated movies have historically had a hard time recouping their budgets, something that only gets harder with the higher budgets typical of super-hero films, so most Marvel and DC films veer to the ‘safer’ domain of the PG-13 rating.  Notable exceptions are the R-rated Watchmen (that cost $130 million, box office $185 million) and Dredd (that cost $50 million, box office $35 million). In comparison to those two, Deadpool‘s success has been pretty extraordinary- it cost a relatively conservative $58 million and has so far managed $530 million in just a few weeks. Clearly the audience likes their R-rated superhero flicks lighthearted and irreverent, which neither Watchmen or Dredd were.

For the record, I positively adore both Watchmen and Dredd. Still, there’s no accounting for taste as from those box-office figures it looks like nobody else does.

In all fairness, Deadpool is very good at what it does. It is also very funny. Its also clearly in love with everything it is poking fun at. And it is deliriously violent. But beyond the wit and action, there doesn’t seem to be much wisdom. Think of it as Ted with spandex and guns. Should it be making some commentary on what it is doing, about the nature of the black and white world of superheroes and the credo of might equals right (its a bad world, lets beat the shit out of the bad guys and then everything will be alright)? Because this film was ideally placed to do that. Clearly however this isn’t that kind of movie and to be honest while I was watching it, that didn’t bother me. But afterwards whilst thinking about it, the film left something of a bitter aftertaste. This may be R-rated and it has lots of violence and sex and bad language but it isn’t really at all adult- its wholly adolescent.

Our hero is Wade. He is, from the start, one of ‘us’- he’s witty and he’s a geek, only in a devastatingly charming and handsome, Ryan Reynolds kind-of-way, so in fact the film is lying and he’s nothing like 99% of us. But we don’t care, because he beats up bad guys and cracks great jokes and is fantastic in bed. He’s the kind of guy James Bond would be if he read comics and played videogames.

dead2He is exactly who geeks watching the film would want to be, especially when Wade meets the love of his life, the drop-dead gorgeous Vanessa, played by geek-favourite Morena Baccarin of V, Firefly, and Gotham fame (an actress with her geek credentials clearly sorted). Now Vanessa is the very definition of a teenage geeks wet dream. Not only does she love the same movies we love (she corrects Wade when he mixes up his Star Wars films- “Empire” she corrects him, to the sound of millions of male geeks falling in love if they haven’t already), and she loves our hero for all his geekness and thinks he is cool (and therefore us too), but best of all she’s an absolute slut in bed. Wade tries to propose and she assumes he’s working his way to suggesting they try anal (she might even be disappointed a little when she sees the ring). I mean, I know it’s just a movie, but what does this whole set up have to say about 51% of the films audience (which is a conservative estimate as clearly well-adjusted women are much smarter than this and I doubt they make up 49% of the films audience). Its an adolescent’s fantasy. It doesn’t feel real. Its a teenagers ideal of a woman and what sex is like.

Compare this to Watchmen, in which one of the heroes is impotent and can only get it up if he dons his superhero costume and beats the shit out of some bad guys. There’s all sorts of stuff in Watchmen, a real R-rated superhero film with something to say. Deadpool doesn’t seem interested in having anything to say.  I don’t know. Maybe it’s a big joke: is the joke on us? It just feels a bit disturbing, about what the film-makers think a comic-book reading audience is or what it assumes that audience wants. Its wish-fulfillment on an almost Biblical scale. Its just too nuts for words. But maybe its okay, because there’s an incredible amount of blood and explosions and dick jokes to make it easy to forget/ignore what feels like manipulation. And regards that violence, there’s an awful lot of posturing, isn’t-this-cool kind of glorification of that violence. Bodyparts are flying everywhere. Without the humour, how would that look/feel? I have to wonder. Deadpool seems to be saying Violence Is Cool. Violence Is The Answer. Violence Is Funny. Oh, and here’s another dick joke.

Which is weird, because one of the things I loved about Blade Runner way back in 1982 was that it seemed to be saying violence hurts, as it showed Harrison Ford all bruised and cut and aching after every fight (most of which he seemed to lose, too). Back then I thought that was quite refreshing and sophisticated and I thought maybe genre films were growing up. It didn’t have any dick jokes either.

Maybe I’m taking this all far too seriously. This is clearly a movie to watch whilst drinking beers. And I’m far too sober right now. But if its R-rated movies from now on, then the one I’d really like to see is an R-rated Howard The Duck. Because Howard would at least have something to say.