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.

Pacific Rim and My Own Personal Movie Theater

I have been hoping that Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, Pacific Rim, would rescue me from the summer doldrums. This year’s crop of blockbusters has been disappointing, ranging from the silly, mediocre, or problematic (Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger) to the downright awful, boring, or misconceived (Man of Steel, The Fast & The Furious 6, The Great Gatsby). I enjoyed Monsters University but not as much as Monsters, Inc., Star Trek: Into Darkness but not as much as Star Trek, World War Z but not as much as the book.

Pacific RimNormally I go to my beloved Carolina Cinemas but I was free on Wednesday morning with a $12 voucher ticket from Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Regal Cinema’s Biltmore Grande has a RPX (Regal Premium Experience – basically a not quite Imax) theater and was showing Pacific Rim at 10 a.m. Matinee price for a 2D RPX ticket is $12. There was a line in front of me at the box office but they were all there to see the $1 children’s movie.

RPX emptyApparently no one wants to spend $12 at 10 in the morning. I had the entire RPX auditorium to myself for Pacific Rim. Woohoo! Using the $12 voucher in combination with my Regal card netted me a FREE popcorn (saving it for this weekend’s Despicable Me 2 family trip). I also grabbed two FREE Pacific Rim posters on my way out for the movie room.

Pacific Rim (2013) – Rated PG-13

“As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.”

One Line Review: If you like giant monsters or robots, then go see this on a giant screen!

Pacific Rim on a RPX screen was just what the doctor ordered. It is not a masterpiece like Pan’s Labyrinth. The dialogue is very cheesy, particularly the speeches Idris Elba is asked to give. The visuals are very dark at times and as such may have difficulty transferring to the small screen.

Acting is definitely a weak point. Charlie Day and Burn (Torchwood) Gorman show personality as scientists but are often annoying in their mannerisms. Charlie Hunnam is bland as Raleigh Becket. Idris Elba is good but is saddled with the worst dialogue. Rinko Kikuchi isn’t given enough to do and Ron Perlman hams it up.

The visuals are magnificent in general but occasionally are murky enough to make it difficult to tell what is happening. The kaiju (monsters) are of course the highlight of the film. There are several long wonderful fight scenes between the kaiju and the jaeger (giant robots) as well as several smaller scenes involving each. Sound effects are marvelous (seat shaking in RPX).

Dramatically this movie is very cliched, particularly in the last act. Dialogue is corny and wooden but only serves to be reminiscent of the movies Guillermo del Toro is paying homage to. This is obviously a labor of love for him.

If you want to see giant monsters and giant robots beat up on each other and destroy cities, then go see Pacific Rim. If not, then there isn’t much reason to recommend it.

Aliens Attack! Thor Edition

After several terrible Thor ripoff movies, the real Thor arrives on instant Netflix.

Thor (2011) – Rated PG-13

“In this Marvel Comics-inspired action flick, thunder god Thor finds himself banished by his father, Odin, and forced to live among humans on Earth to learn humility. Can Thor regain his powers and return home?”

In the Marvel comics, they obviously couldn’t have Thor speaking a Norse language. Instead, in order to set him apart, they have Thor and the other Asgardians speaking a form of high English, basically someone’s idea of a cross between courtly manners and dumbed-down Shakespeare.

What could be more fitting for Shakespearean dialogue than to hire as director the man most known for Shakespeare, Kenneth Branagh?

Presumably to appease fans, they have shoehorned as many characters as possible into the movie. Besides the obvious Thor, Loki and Jane Foster, we also have Odin, Frigga, Heimdall, Lady Sif, Fandral, Volstagg, Hogun the Grim and The Destroyer.

Although this movie flips back and forth, it can clearly be separated into two parts: those that take place in Asgard and those that take place on Earth.

The Asgard portions are very serious and special effects heavy. They have all the ingredients of Shakespearean tragedy: a noble ruler, an arrogant ungrateful heir to the throne, and a treacherous brother who is second in line to the throne.

In contrast, the Earth portions are light-hearted and poke a lot of fun at Thor. I really liked Kat Dennings as Darcy. She plays the comic relief quite well but some of my friends found her to be abrasive. There is a very nice cameo setting up Hawkeye for The Avengers movie.

Both portions involve a lot of battle action for Thor but this is not a nonstop action fest. The action is good but not especially memorable so it is well that the focus is on Thor himself. Thor is played by the bulked-up and very good looking Chris Hemsworth. Hemsworth is not required to show much range here but he is charming, athletic, heroic, and funny.

Tom Hiddleston really nailed the role of the villainous Loki. With this role, he moved from British television to Hollywood. He has since played F. Scott Fitzgerald in the magnificent Midnight in Paris and Captain Nicholls in War Horse. His Loki was so well-received that he played him again in The Avengers and is slated to return in Thor 2 next year.

He is backed up on Earth by Natalie Portman as love interest Jane Foster, Clark Gregg as the ever-present Agent Coulson and Stellan Skarsgard as Erik Selvig. Asgard is overrun by noted thespians: Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Rene Russo (Frigga), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Colm Feore (King Laufey), and Ray Stevenson as Volstagg.

All in all Thor is what it should be – a fun comic book movie.

Don’t Forget: All the Avengers movies have a teaser scene after the credits. Thor’s scene sets up this year’s The Avengers just as the scene after Iron Man 2 teased Thor. As usual look for Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Comic book fans can keep an eye out during Thor for the Cask of Ancient Winters, a reference to Donald Blake, the Cosmic Cube (aka the Tesseract), and more.

Aliens Attack! Prometheus Edition

Prometheus infuriates me. The more I think about this movie, the madder I get.

Prometheus (2012) – Rated R

“A team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race. “

First off let me state that I will keep most plot points as vague as possible since much of the enjoyment of this movie is from how it unfolds.

Swedish actress Noomi Rapace (the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is the nominal star here as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. She does a fine job and has a good physicality as our Sigourney Weaver replacement.

She is overshadowed at every turn by the real star of the film. Michael Fassbender has an incredibly playful turn as our resident android, David. Every time I see Fassbender, his performance is completely different from the last movie and makes me look forward to his next gig. Equally impressive was Charlize Theron as corporate boss Meredith Vickers. She was tough, in charge, and yet made you question her motives.

The rest of the cast is good but largely wasted. Guy Pearce is Peter Weyland, the head of Weyland-Yutani, hidden under much age makeup. Idris Elba is Captain Yanek who has a small but integral role. Both actors clearly have scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor.

The acting is probably the only aspect of this film that I didn’t have quibbles with.

Ridley Scott directed two of the greatest science fiction films ever made: Alien and Blade Runner. Both created vibrant, realistic worlds where it was clear that the story being told was just one of many that could be told. He also recreated, to marvelous effect, the worlds of ancient Rome (Gladiator) and the Middle East during the Crusades (Kingdom of Heaven) as well as the greatest film ever made on modern combat, Black Hawk Down.

I was ecstatic when I heard that he was finally returning to the world of science fiction, and that it would be an Alien prequel no less. Next to Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, Prometheus was the film I was most looking forward to this year.

Prometheus has many great scenes but it has an equal number of clunky ones. The first hour is a fairly effective science fiction epic. Here are a number of things that bothered me to distraction:

* As Neil DeGrasse Tyson pointed out, Meredith Vickers (Theron) states in the film that they are a half billion miles from Earth, which would only put them just past Jupiter.

* A minor character comes to Dr. Shaw and has a major expository speech to sum up and move the plot forward. The problem with this is that that character not only has no knowledge of what he’s saying but also has no particular reason to be saying it to Dr. Shaw. More than one scene must have been cut.

* The first scene in the film is completely superfluous and doesn’t make sense in the larger narrative as the information is reused later. I can only think they used it because it looked cool.

* The final twenty seconds of film are absolutely shameless and again have no context within the narrative. It actually smacks of post-production tampering.

* Either the screenwriting was terrible or a heap of scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. Never mind, the answer must actually be both. Characters act with knowledge that they don’t appear to have and then ignore really important information that is right in front of them.

* After a particularly devastating attack, there is no discussion among the remaining crew and no real handling of it. It seemed as if the scene was spliced in from another movie.

* Characters consistently make decisions dictated by the script rather than reality.

* Lots more but it would involve spoilers

In spite of all of the above, the movie is definitely worth seeing. It is just infuriating because it could easily have been a masterpiece. Acting is fine (Rapace, Elba) – great (Fassbender, Theron), the special effects and scenery are amazing, and the plot is pretty decent.

People Watch: Look for Patrick Wilson in a brief cameo as Dr. Shaw’s father.