Run All Night from the Gunman

Yay! After not going to the movies for weeks, I’ve seen four movies in three days. I got to see the delightful revival of Rear Window with my wife, Cinderella with my girls, and a day by myself with Run All Night and The Gunman.

Yay for the return of the R-rated action thriller! It’s not that PG or PG-13 is bad but it often seems like PG-13 films are shoehorned into a tight box. The filmmakers are either constrained by how much they can put in or have to cut out to maintain that rating.

Run All Night

 

Run All Night (2015) – Rated R

Mobster and hit man Jimmy Conlon has one night to figure out where his loyalties lie: with his estranged son, Mike, whose life is in danger, or his longtime best friend, mob boss Shawn Maguire, who wants Mike to pay for the death of his own son.”

You wouldn’t know it from any of the trailers but Liam Neeson starts the movie as a burned out, alcoholic loser. The trailers, of course, highlight Neeson as a tough guy, just like every other one of his movies. The problem with the trailers is that they are fairly indistinguishable from each other.

Run All Night is not great but is miles better than the crapfest that was Taken 3. It is also better than The Gunman. It is very story involved a la The Grey and Walk Among the Tombstones but the script doesn’t quite measure up. Still there is an enjoyable time to be had.

The Gunman

 

The Gunman (2015) – Rated R

A sniper on a mercenary assassination team, kills the minister of mines of the Congo. Terrier’s successful kill shot forces him into hiding. Returning to the Congo years later, he becomes the target of a hit squad himself.

Way back in 2004, Pierre Morel made his directorial debut with the outrageous District B13. District 13 brought parkour to the big screen and the stunts were incredible. It is still an enjoyable romp and is available on instant Netflix so go watch it! It was remade in 2014 as Brick Mansions but skip that very dumbed down and shaky cammed version.

In 2008, Morel followed District 13 up with the original Taken. This was yet another wonderful action film and reinvented Liam Neeson as an action star. After that was the amusing but deeply flawed From Paris With Love. It failed to reignite Travolta’s career.

The Gunman is Morel’s fourth feature film in the directors seat. This one seems tailor-made to reinvent Sean Penn as an action star, though that does not work. Since Penn is restrained by Morel, Morel allows Javier Bardem to egregiously overact. Our love interest is Annie, played by Italian actress Jasmine Trinca.

Supporting them are Ray Winstone as Terrier (Penn)’s friend, Stanley and Idris Elba as an enigmatic Interpol agent named DuPont. The only other actor of note is Mark Rylance as Cox.

Unfortunately there is no real artistry on display here. The Gunman is just fine if you need an action fix but not anything more. It all seems a paint-by-numbers globetrotting, professional seeks revenge for betrayal setup. The cast is good but not well used. Elba only has a few minutes of screen time. Somebody get that man a good role.

Snowpiercer and the Korean Invasion

I recently had the opportunity to catch a few movies in the theater. Snowpiercer is currently in theaters.

Snowpiercer

 

Snowpiercer (2013) – Rated R

Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system emerges.”

I have really enjoyed a lot of Korean cinema over the last decade. My favorites have been “The Host”, “The Good, The Bad, The Weird”, “I Saw the Devil”, and “Mother”.

I Saw the Devil” and “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” were directed by Kim Jee-woon. The former is a wonderfully dark and twisted tale of revenge and a serial killer. The latter is an epic Eastern Western. Both are currently available on instant Netflix. Obviously the success of these films caught the attention of Hollywood.

As with many successful Asian directors, Kim Jee-woon was brought over to direct a Hollywood picture – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback, The Last Stand. While there are some nice visual flourishes, The Last Stand is not very good and not just because of Johnny Knoxville.

The Host” (2006) and “Mother” were directed by Joon-ho Bong. The former is a wonderful horror tale about a pollution monster with some oddball humor. The latter is a dark movie about a mother’s efforts to clear her son of murder charges. The Host is currently available on instant Netflix.

Joon-ho Bong chose the more independent route of making an international picture, neither Korean nor American. Snowpiercer is an English-language film starring Chris Evans, John Hurt, and Tilda Swinton. It also features some Korean sequences with Kang-ho Song, star of “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” and Ah-sung Ko, star of “The Host”.

The ever fickle Weinstein Company chose a new strategy for this release. Two weeks after the theatrical premiere, Snowpiercer was made available on Video on Demand. Since it takes about two weeks for independent films to trickle down to Asheville, this meant an almost simultaneous release here. While it may mean less revenue for them theatrically, Weinstein gets a much larger share of the profits from the VOD end.

I applaud whatever arrangements allow Joon-ho Bong and other directors to realize their visions without the obvious compromises caused by the Hollywood corporatization. Here I feel it results in the difference between The Last Stand and Snowpiercer, just as decades ago it resulted in the difference between John Woo’s The Killers and Hard-Boiled and his Hollywood movies like Windtalkers and the aptly named Paycheck.

Snowpiercer is a fantastic science fiction masterpiece. Every scene is wonderfully crafted. Each car on the train serves a different societal purpose. Special effects are omnipresent yet are understated and serve the story rather than detracting from it.

The movie has a lot of interesting things to say about the (inevitable) class system that develops but never becomes pedantic. It also has quite a number of interesting revelations along the way. I really enjoyed the power of self-delusion shown in several of the characters.

Acting is wonderful from the ensemble cast. They make Chris Evans quite scruffy and tone down his charisma so fits right in. Jaime Bell makes an earnest second-in-command for the revolution. John Hurt is a charmer and a scene stealer as is Tilda Swinton though she is perhaps a bit over the top. The aforementioned Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko are great as well despite speaking in Korean without subtitles (for the most part).

Snowpiercer is the second best film I have seen this year, behind only The Grand Budapest Hotel. Catch it in theaters if you can. If not, it is available through Amazon and other VOD services.

Phantom – This Means War! week

Phantom is currently available on instant Netflix.

Phantom

 

Phantom (2013) – Rated R

A Cold War Soviet submarine captain struggles with a rogue KGB group trying to seize control of the ship’s nuclear missile. Meanwhile, he secretly suffers from seizures that affect his grip on reality.

One Line Review: Exciting though dated premise makes for a surprisingly lifeless movie.

Todd Robinson is writer, director, and producer on this film so this is clearly a labor of love for him. I like submarine movies and I love submarine movies that are filmed on an actual submarine. Phantom is filmed aboard an actual decommissioned sub and the setting is great, showing off the cramped quarters.

Ed Harris is always a welcome presence and he does a good job here as Demi, in spite of the ludicrous pro-U.S. speech he has to give in the movie. Wonderful character actor William Fichtner is his second-in-command Alex. Lance Henriksen has a vital, if minor, role as Markov. All three of them do the best they can with the material. David Duchovny is less successful as a Spetsnaz commando with an agenda. None of the rest of the cast are particularly memorable.

We have three good actors in a submarine film based on a real life or death incident that could bring about the end of the world and it’s all filmed in a real submarine. So what went wrong? Apparently everything else.

The real life incident took place in 1968 but the film gives us no feel at all for the time that it is set in (except obviously prior to the fall of the Soviet Union). The Hunt for Red October handled a different situation aboard a Soviet submarine with quite a bit of flair. More recently (2002), K-19 Widowmaker was released dealing with a potential calamity aboard a Soviet submarine.

The real problem is that Phantom commits a cardinal sin: it is actually boring. There is no sense of tension in the movie, in spite of several incidents that were ripe for suspense. Nothing is handled artfully and everything is as predictable as possible. All the life is sucked out of the film. The only exception is the end sequence which will have you scratching your head in befuddlement.

Stephen King’s The Stand

Stephen King’s The Stand (1994) – Not rated

“When a super-flu decimates most — but not all — of the human race, the lonely survivors divide into two civilizations which are destined to clash. Based on the best-selling novel by Stephen King.”

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” – Yeats but quoted by Ed Harris in the show

Stephen King’s The Stand runs for six hours and still feels a little rushed in the storytelling department. I have no idea how they originally planned to make it into just a movie. It is also currently being thought of for a reboot because apparently American memories were wiped during Y2K. That said be aware that this is a long haul (albeit with a good payoff).

Mick Garris has made a good living from Stephen King. He directed 1992’s trashy but fun Sleepwalkers and somehow became the go-to guy for Stephen King adaptations. Perhaps this is because he is one of the few directors to have actually read the books but that is just speculation on my part. After The Stand, Mick would go on to direct The Shining mini-series, Quicksilver Highway (which adapts King’s “Chattery Teeth”), Riding the Bullet, Desperation, and the just aired Bag of Bones. He also wrote the screenplays for Quicksilver Highway and Riding the Bullet.

Stephen King wrote the screenplay based on his own magnum opus so this is a pretty faithful adaptation of the novel. He does an excellent job of juggling a huge and disparate cast of characters. King can’t resist appearing in his films and here he plays Teddy Weizak in the last two episodes.

Gary Sinise is fantastic as Stu “Country don’t mean dumb” Redman. Also excellent are Ray Walston (Glen Bateman), Ossie Davis (Judge Farris) and Ruby Dee as Mother Abigail. They are ably backed by Molly Ringwald, Rob Lowe, Miguel Ferrer, Jamey Sheridan and a host of others. Regrettably a few of the actors are not so good, either too over-the-top (Matt Frewer as Trashcan Man, Rick Aviles as Rat Man) or just plain off the wall (Laura san Giacomo’s Nadine is not exactly a model of sanity so I suppose I should cut her some slack).

The episodes break down into fairly neat story arcs. The first episode is the best movie/TV depiction I’ve seen of an apocalyptic outbreak (until this year’s Contagion anyway). The second episode is all about the journeys of various characters after the apocalyptic events. The third episode is about community and the fourth is all about faith. It doesn’t break down perfectly but pretty close.

People Watch: Look for Ed Harris and Kathy Bates in uncredited cameos as a General and radio jock respectively. Yes that is former NBA superstar Kareem Abdul Jabbar as the doomsayer. The cane used by a character in the fourth episode is the same cane from Storm of the Century.

Creepshow

Okay while normally I never miss cable, especially since I never run out of things to watch, this week I would have liked to have seen Mick Garris’ adaptation of Bag of Bones. Still it will be on Netflix eventually and Netflix does have plenty of Stephen King to go around.

Creepshow (1982) – Rated R

“Based on the E.C. comic books of the 1950s, this horror anthology includes radioactive meteorites, a creepy Father’s Day party, a monster in a crate and thousands of cockroaches. Venerable horror director George Romero (Night of the Living Dead) and screenwriter Stephen King are responsible for the creepfest, which features performances by Leslie Nielsen, Hal Holbrook, Ted Danson, Adrienne Barbeau, Ed Harris, E.G. Marshall and even King himself.”

“This is going to be extremely painful Mr. Verrill!”

I love portmanteau (anthology) films even if far too many of them have the same wraparound story (Omigosh they were all dead to begin with! I never would have guessed that!). Some of them are direct adaptations of EC Comics (Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror) but none of them captured the actual feel of those comics until Creepshow.

Obviously much of the credit has to go to the wonderful tongue-in-cheek screenplay from author Stephen King. He captures the spirit of the Tales from the Crypt comics much better than the Amicus films or the HBO TV series ever did. The stories are all fun with a good punchline that may have you groaning.

Unlike his brief cameos in other films, King actually carries one of the segments of the film (“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”). His acting is atrocious but fits in well with his segment. Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son, plays the young boy in the wraparound segments.

George Romero does an excellent job of directing here. He gets great over-the-top performances from a good cast of actors. Hal Holbrook and Leslie Nielsen are particularly good here. Much of the film is done as comic book panels with bright primary colors and backgrounds. Because of the nature of the portmanteau film, none of the stories overstays its welcome.

Romero regular Tom Savini handled the special makeup effects and this film features some of his best work. Savini also has a cameo as one of the garbagemen.

Two final notes: If you don’t enjoy tongue-in-cheek or campy material then you are unlikely to enjoy this film. If cockroaches bother you unduly then do not watch the last segment of this film – you have been warned! Even on repeat viewings, I often skip the last segment. It’s great but boy does it give me the heebie-jeebies.