Movie Review ~ Wrath of Man


The Facts
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Synopsis: A mysterious and wild-eyed new cash truck security guard surprises his coworkers during a heist in which he unexpectedly unleashes precision skills. The crew is left wondering who he is and where he came from. Soon, the marksman’s ultimate motive becomes clear as he takes dramatic and irrevocable steps to settle a score.

Stars: Jason Statham, Josh Hartnett, Scott Eastwood, Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Laz Alonso, DeObia Oparei, Niamh Algar, Eddie Marsan, Rob Delaney

Director: Guy Ritchie

Rated: R

Running Length: 118 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Ever since his smash bang debut feature Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was released in 1998 and made him a hot ticket in Hollywood (not to mention catching the eye of future ex-wife Madonna), director Guy Ritchie has gone through various stages of an identity crisis.  While his follow-up two years later, Snatch, delivered the goods with a bigger budget and the star power of Brad Pitt, he stumbled hard teaming up with his then-wife for the messy vanity project Swept Away before firing off two other crime capers seen as pale imitations of his earlier work.  Finally giving himself over to the studio machine, he was behind the monumentally successful (but strangely forgettable) Sherlock Holmes films and the less seen but far better update of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Things were looking grim after his King Arthur movie tanked and even a surprising foray into Disney musicals with the Aladdin remake was also met with middling reviews and marginal box office.  Then, in 2019 it seemed like the Ritchie that showed such a knack for knotty narratives was back (not to mention his eye for luxe style) with The Gentlemen, an impressive but slight crimedy (crime+comedy…did I create a new genre?).  Though not exactly up to pace, it at least showed Ritchie was limbering up to get back in the race with material he obviously displayed a greater interest in spending time with.

I find that I get a little tense when approaching American remakes of foreign films, especially by established directors that have their choice of unproduced screenplays by new writers.  Why take the time to re-do the work of another artist?  You’re just asking to be compared to that earlier work.  Seeing that Ritchie’s newest was a remake of the 2004 French thriller Le Convoyeur, I wondered if Ritchie was stepping back into old habits.  As it turns out, Wrath of Man is Ritchie’s best film in ages, a lean, (very) mean, muscled grunt of a revenge thriller that will have audiences on the edge of their seats.

Before its moody opening credits sequence (oh, how I love a title sequence!), Wrath of Man opens on the robbery of an armored truck gone wrong, a scene viewers see played out from a static position that limits what we can take in.  It’s the first of many ways Ritchie and his co-screenwriters Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson (adapting the original script from Nicolas Boukhrief and Éric Besnard) work with cinematographer Alan Stewart (Mary Poppins Returns) to point us in the direction they want us to go, which may not always tell the whole truth.  It’s not cheating, mind you, but it’s a form of misdirection for the moment that helps keep the larger secrets of the film hidden longer. 

Sometime later, a man (Jason Statham, The Meg) arrives as the Fortico armored truck company to apply for an open position as a driver/guard for the cash deliveries and deposits across the Los Angeles area.  This is the same company who had the guards held up in the prologue and are still on high alert after the guards wound up dead.  Needing to fill an empty space on their roster, hiring manager Terry (Eddie Marsan, The Virtuoso) appears to think the new recruit is perfect for the job, but we can tell he isn’t entirely convinced he’s the one to hire.  Passing all the background checks and meeting the requirements for the job, he joins the elite squad anyway and is paired with Bullet (Holt McCallany, Greenland) a senior guard with the company.  All the guards are gifted their own nicknames and soon the quiet new employee earns the moniker, H, “as in Jesus H.” 

H isn’t on the job long before a routine run with Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later) turns into a tense stand-off between the two men and an array of armed men wanting their deposits.  H’s response to this situation (spoiler alert: he’s a man of hidden talents) impresses the higher ups at Fortico but raises suspicion within the team that there’s more to H than meets the eye.  Everyone has a right to be somewhat concerned because H is there for more than a paycheck and through a series of detours in the narrative that folds the movie around like a pretzel it becomes brutally clear he’s shown up for something no money can buy…payback. 

To say more would spoil that pretzel plot which is baked to near perfection by Ritchie and his rough and tumble gang of amped up actors.  While the pieces start to naturally fall into place with a casual meter, they never present themselves as a workmanlike schedule of beats to hit.  There are some genuine surprises throughout the film and even if the biggest one is almost shockingly delivered as a throwaway line, I found that to almost be kind of amazing, too, because the film clearly thinks it has something better up its sleeves…and it does.

Continuing their decades long working relationship, Statham and Ritchie make a great team and if this represents Ritchie’s best work in years it’s also Statham’s most mature acting on screen to date.  Affording him the opportunity to remain an action heavy while showing range simultaneously, it’s a perfect role for the actor that has been known to make a trove of films that seem interchangeable playing characters indistinguishable from the next.  He receives some nice back-up from the always underrated McCallany as his guide into Fortico and while I’m not entirely persuaded with Hartnett turning up as a gruff and rough big-talker, I was convinced he’d go pale when faced with real life danger.  I’ll opt out of saying how they figure into the plot, but Andy Garcia (Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar), Jeffrey Donovan (Lucy in the Sky) and Scott Eastwood (Texas Chainsaw 3D), round out the top-notch supporting cast.  Mostly a male-dominated roster, the few women in the picture are wives that float into the frame to kiss their husbands goodbye on their way to work or cry over the loss of a loved one, but the lone female working at Fortico (Niamh Algar, The Shadow of Violence) is shown as just one of the guys but hops into bed with H after he barely blinks at her.  Strong female roles have never been Ritchie’s most dependable suit and that’s one of the film’s blatant weaknesses.

Now working on a television adaptation of The Gentlemen (smart move), another thriller with Hartnett, Aubrey Plaza, and Hugh Grant (interesting), and a likely sequel to Aladdin (please, no), Ritchie seems to be back in the groove of things.  Films like Wrath of Man are exactly the tone and temperament he excels at and knows when to pull back on.  There were a number of times I noticed acts of violence that could have been shown in greater detail were either omitted or quickly cut away from, giving the viewer the general idea because he’s engineered the film to paint that picture already in our mind.  Combine that with Statham’s blistering performance and Ritchie’s typically interesting song selections and you have a brawler bit of entertainment.

Movie Review ~ The Virtuoso

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Danger, deception, and murder descend upon a sleepy country town when a professional assassin accepts a new assignment from his enigmatic mentor and boss, given only a cryptic clue to identify his mysterious mark from among several possible targets.

Stars: Anson Mount, Abbie Cornish, Anthony Hopkins, Eddie Marsan, David Morse

Director: Nick Stagliano

Rated: R

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Wow, do you think the producers and distributors of The Virtuoso went to bed this past Oscar Sunday a little more excited for the prospects of their small thriller?  Prior to that day they had an Oscar winning star listed above the title but thanks to his unforgettable performance in The Father star Anthony Hopkins earned himself another one and under some fairly high-profile circumstances.  That will surely get people a little more interested in his next project and while The Virtuoso isn’t top tier stuff (I’m not sure it ever quite makes it to second shelf status, actually) it’s good for a little distraction in our post-Oscar palette cleanse.

It’s really not even fair to say Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) has much of a role in the film; ads show him as much more involved in the action than the 83-year-old actually is or would probably want to be.  Instead, Hopkins’ scenes are largely contained within one room and constitute one half of phone conversations between himself and The Virtuoso (Anson Mount, Non-Stop), a nameless assassin.  As The Mentor, he’s there to provide The Virtuoso with information on his next assignment and stay out of the way, which seems to be the perfect fit for the distinguished actor as well as the natty gentlemen he’s playing. 

Opening with a nifty bang, things go south for the hitman when he bungles an assignment that leaves an unfortunate instance of collateral damage.  He’s trained not to care about such blips but something about this moment shakes him, sending The Mentor in for a face-to-face meeting to check on his viability moving forward.  Cleared for his next task, The Mentor sends him to a quiet township in the middle of nowhere important with the vaguest of clues provided by their contact.  With two words, White Rivers, his only cue to go off of and a rendezvous location named, The Virtuoso arrives in town to find he isn’t the only one to show up with a mission to kill. 

There’s some good stuff to be found in the basic premise of the script from James C. Wolf, even if it annoyingly tends to favor voiceover to get us inside The Virtuoso’s head.  Narrating the film to give us outsiders his inside take on every situation and angle of defense, The Virtuoso isn’t exactly the most engaging of narrators thanks to his occupational hazard of removing emotion from his business.  In Mount’s hands, or voice rather, it does begin to drone on and sound like an adult character from Peanuts after a while.  You wish Wolf or director Nick Stagliano would have found an easier way to crack the surface and allow some sort of sentiment or personality into The Virtuoso’s hemisphere.  Where the voiceover comes in handy is when he’s sizing up who has also appeared at the same time he’s arrived, and his rundown of the suspects is one of the first ways the movie sends us down a tricky path that isn’t always what it appears to be. Even with our leading character serving as narrator, don’t trust everything you’re hearing.

The list of suspects fills out the remainder of the cast.  There’s The Waitress (Abbie Cornish, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) who catches The Virtuoso’s eye just out of town and winds up being a happy accident run-in later on.  Still…was their meeting by chance or a carefully plotted bit of intrigue?  Or what about The Loner (Eddie Marsan, Atomic Blonde) or Handsome Johnnie (Richard Brake, Spy) or even The Deputy (David Morse, Concussion) who The Waitress doesn’t remember seeing before today.  All provide their own contributions to the puzzle we’re putting together at the same time The Virtuoso is and I don’t know if I wasn’t paying attention or what but the solution to it all is truly there from the beginning.  Careful viewers could catch it if they are looking at the right time.

As far as blank stares go, Mount has it down so his casting likely is perfect though I’d wonder what an actor able to convey greater range with such little outward dialogue could have done.  Cornish earns points for committing to a gratuitous nude scene but scores the most in the way she’s able to keep a poker face far longer than we might expect from the character. How much his recent Oscar win will get people to check this one out is anyone’s guess but if they do, they’ll be treated to an all-in Hopkins performance and not merely a quick money grab like a number of his peers are starting to sign up for (I’m looking at you, Morgan Freeman and Vanquish from a few weeks back.)  Hopkins delivers the single best scene in the entire film and it’s a doozy of a monologue.  If you haven’t already, follow The Virtuoso up with The Father and watch his masterful skill really go to town. 

Movie Review ~ Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Lawman Luke Hobbs and outcast Deckard Shaw form an unlikely alliance when a cyber-genetically enhanced villain threatens the future of humanity.

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Eddie Marsan, Helen Mirren, Eiza González

Director: David Leitch

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 135 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: To their credit, Hollywood studios have been actively trying to elevate the summer movie to being more than just a two-hour mélange of special effects and explosions in a cookie cutter plot about world domination. For example, the sophistication of where Avengers: Endgame wound up is a far cry from the early days of the first Iron Man. Audiences have shown (in most cases) to have ever evolving and distinctively discerning tastes and the same old action movie just won’t do any more. Sometimes, though, there’s nothing wrong with a little cinematic comfort food and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw is the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese of summer blockbuster entertainment.

With each installment growing in popularity and box office returns, it was a natural next step for the producers of The Fast and The Furious franchise to think about the future of the series and how to keep their product going. While the main series could keep speeding forward thanks to a seemingly never-ending roster of characters that rotate in and out, were there any fan favorites that could anchor their own film? When Dwayne Johnson (Rampage) joined the group in 2011’s Fast Five, Special Agent Luke Hobbs quickly stood out thanks to Johnson’s natural charisma and the way the writers worked his character from law-man adversary to comrade over the next three films. Jason Statham (The Meg) made the biggest change, with his Deckard Shaw starting as the revenge-seeking villain in 2015’s Furious 7, eventually switching sides and joining the crew…though he never did take a liking to Hobbs.

Even before The Fate of the Furious came out in 2017, this spin-off was already in the works and, depending on who you ask, it came at the right time. Some of the stars not involved were, um, furious that the next installment was going to be delayed while producers were focused on this stand-alone film and there is reportedly bad blood between Johnson and Vin Diesel regarding professional behavior on set. Best to let their biceps cool down on opposite sides of the world. That freed Johnson and Statham to team up with original The Fast and the Furious writer Chris Morgan and Atomic Blonde director David Leitch for a new adventure and it’s clear this is the beginning of a beautiful partnership.

In London, an MI6 agent (Vanessa Kirby, Me Before You) ingests a deadly virus rather than let it fall into the hands of a genetically enhanced legionnaire (Idris Elba, Zootopia) sent by a mystery figure to retrieve it. Now on the run with a ticking time bomb flowing through her veins, her best hope is to rely on Hobbs and Shaw to help her find the scientist that created the virus and is the only one who knows the way to get it out of her safely. Adding to the complexity is a history Shaw has with the super-soldier unyielding in his pursuit and the fact the MI6 agent is his estranged sister. Together, the trio evade continue to evade capture in increasingly impressive action extravaganzas while Hobbs & Shaw learn to work as a team and put aside their beef.

Truth be told, the first half an hour or so of Hobbs & Shaw is a bit of a rocky ride. The set-up of these films is usually the weakest part and that’s the case here, not to mention the film having to juggle re-introducing two main characters sufficiently before they can bring them together. There’s frankly too much time spent getting the guys in the same frame and that feels like wasted energy for a movie that thrives on pure adrenaline. A useless cameo by Ryan Reynolds (Life) as an annoying co-worker of Hobbs grows tiresome almost the moment it begins, though I could have easily spent more time with Shaw visiting his cheeky mum (Helen Mirren, Eye in the Sky) in prison. It’s when the two meet up for the first time when the movie kicks into gear.

With Statham and Johnson doing what they do best, it’s no huge news bulletin to note they are both extremely watchable and have terrific chemistry. They have a nice yin and yang sparring about them that never goes too far and never falls in favor of either man. Though the film throws in some nice surprises along the way (including one great cameo I wouldn’t dare spoil) it remains focused on its two leads while leaving space for others like Elba and Kirby to shine. Speaking of Elba, his next-gen soldier might be a bit far-fetched and not fully explored but he doesn’t oversell the advanced tech power he possesses. As with most of his performances, Elba looks like he’s having a great time and that energy is infectious. As the lone female leading presence, (though there are several females in power positions besting their male counterparts, a nice touch) Kirby holds her own impressively both in the dramatic scenes and in the physical stunts and fights she’s involved with. Kirby’s star is definitely on the rise and her performance here only cements that ascent.

With an edge of your seat finale set in beautiful Samoa, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw is an out and out audience pleaser that elicited the first mid-movie applause I’ve heard in quite some time. Even clocking in at 135 minutes (including multiple post-credit sequences… completists will need to sit through a lengthy credit crawl for a final scene) the movie justifies its length by giving you every bang for your hard-earned buck. Sure, it’s a silly ride at times but it’s an exciting one all the same.

Movie Review ~ Atomic Blonde


The Facts
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Synopsis: An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.

Stars: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Attila Árpa, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson

Director: David Leitch

Rated: R

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  Pity the fool that crosses MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton and pity any audience member that second guesses the Oscar winner that plays her.  Producer and star Charlize Theron (Prometheus) has fashioned a whopper of a role for herself and assembled a crack team of players to go along for the arse-kicking adrenaline-fueled ride.  Even if Atomic Blonde doesn’t necessarily turn the Cold War spy thriller on its head, it sure gives it a helluva decent set of stylish somersaults.

Based on The Coldest City, a 2012 graphic novel written by Anthony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart, Atomic Blonde is set in November 1989 during the days leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.  This is no history lesson, though, as is pointed out at the beginning of the pretzel-like plot in the center of the action film.  A MI6 agent stationed in Germany has been tasked with retrieving a watch with a list of double agents that could out several spies.  When he’s killed in action, his old flame/colleague (Theron) is been sent behind enemy lines to finish the job and find a double agent plaguing the agency.

Lorraine is barely out of the airport before she’s battling KGB agents aiming to take her out, sparring with a MI6 superior (James McAvoy, Split) who may be harboring rogue notions, and rendezvous-ing with a French beauty (Sofia Boutella, The Mummy) with secrets of her own.  All is not what is seems, however, as the twists start to come fast and furious during the final half of the picture.  Told in flashback by a battered and bruised Lorraine to two high-ranking officials (Toby Jones, Muppets Most Wanted and John Goodman, Patriots Day), Kurt Johnstad’s screenplay sometimes zigs when it should zag but overall it packs the requisite punch.

Speaking of punches…whoa.  Theron’s action sequences are of the intensely old-school rock ‘em and sock ‘em variety and they are downright thrilling.  Early toussels in a car winding through a tunnel, an apartment complex, and a stylishly cinematic brawl staged in a, well, a cinema are mere appetizing morsels for the extended battle royale grand feast.  Following Lorraine as she attempts to keep a key witness alive, director David Leitch (John Wick) makes the rumble in the East Berlin jungle  look like it was shot in one long take by cleverly disguising his cuts.  It’s not a showcase only for the filmmaker, though, as Theron smashingly bashes her way through a bunch of hapless goons down staircases and through abandoned rooms to a pulsing soundtrack of mid to late ‘80s classics.  Taking her licking, she keeps on ticking and gets believably shell-shocked, bloodied, and winded along the way.  Theron trained intensely for this role and it shows with every punch landed and every powerful kick to the chest she delivers, so much so that it’s hard to see when her stunt double steps in.

Were Theron not a producer of Atomic Blonde, I may have questioned some of the more risqué elements to the film as a product of some male ADHD fantasy featuring women in low cut blouses, high cut lingerie, or nothing at all.  However, it doesn’t feel wholly exploitative but likely in line with the source material and period setting…but on the other hand a little Theron on Boutella action has an sizable erotic charge in even its most chaste moments.

While we’re on the subject, poor Boutella is in her second summer film of 2017 that fails to capitalize on her engaging appeal.  After her mummy character played second banana to Tom Cruise in June she ends July without getting much to do but bed Theron and provide some necessary expository dialogue.  I kept waiting for her to pop in to help Theron out but, alas, the only one that seems to show up is McAvoy and his over-the-top shenanigans.

In films such as these where it’s essential for key plot points to be manipulated throughout so the twists, when revealed, have a greater “gotcha” vibe there never seems to be a satisfying resolution.  Thankfully, though Atomic Blonde has two endings too many the one it does close up shop on is a solid rounding off of any rough edges that remained.  A prequel graphic novel was released in 2016 so should this one detonate positively with audiences, it’s possible we’ll see Theron back in action in no time.  I’d welcome the return sooner rather than later.

Movie Review ~ The World’s End

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind’s only hope for survival.

Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike

Director: Edgar Wright

Rated: R

Running Length: 109 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: This summer has seen a lot of super heroes pass by the silver screens of your local cinema.  May started the season strong with Iron Man 3 only to see a very small part of my future hopes get dashed with a disappointing Man of Steel in June.  I liked July’s The Wolverine more than most but was wondering what would be the highlight of August.  Turns out that the true blue superheroes of the summer arrived in the second to last weekend…and they weren’t even wearing fancy costumes.

Simon Pegg (Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness) and Nick Frost (Snow White and the Huntsman) lead the cast of The World’s End, the final installment of the The Cornetto Trilogy (each film is connected to a flavor of Cornetto ice cream) after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.  Though in all three films Pegg and Frost play different characters, there are running gags in each that the dedicated viewer will pick up on easily…The World’s End being no exception.  Once again working with director Edgar Wright, the trio has wrapped up their trilogy on the highest of high notes.  It’s a fast, funny, incredibly entertaining film that plays to the strengths of everyone involved.

As the boozy mid-life loser who can’t get his life together, Pegg decides that returning to his hometown and completing a failed pub crawl from 20 years prior with his four best mates will somehow jump start the next chapter in his life.  Trouble is that he hasn’t been home in years and his chums want nothing to do with him.  Rounding them up isn’t easy but it is funny as Pegg frantically lies and cheats to get the men together.  Arriving in their small English hamlet, it appears that the tiny town hasn’t changed a bit.  We as viewers can see that the idyllic (and idyllically named) Newton Haven isn’t quite right, but the men waste no time in kicking off their journey from pub to pub on their way to the final destination…The World’s End.

The film is economic as it unspools, with nary a frame wasted or line thrown away.  In fact, the jokes come so fast and furious that a second or third viewing is nearly required to make sure you catch all that Wright and Pegg have weaved into their tight script.  Even the clever pub names like The Old Familiar, The Famous Cock, The Two-Headed Dog, and The Beehive get some laugh mileage due to the simplicity in which they are delivered.

The film is more similar to Hot Fuzz than Shaun of the Dead, though all three films involve Pegg and Frost stumbling into (sometimes literally) the heart of a sinister plot.  Like Hot Fuzz, the first half of the film is a strong set-up to a sharp left turn at the halfway mark that Pegg and Wright already have you buckled up for.

While the previews have given away/hinted at what’s really going on in Newton Haven, I won’t spoil more details because that’s for you to uncover for yourselves.  Even though this plot twist midway through figures heavily into the remaining minutes of the film, it carefully remains a secondary storyline to the main narrative of Pegg’s journey from aimless drunkard to heroic figure.  Starting off nearly unredeemable in his service to self, it says something that the script makes the character not only likeable but relatable by the end credits.

Aside from Pegg and Frost, there’s a whole troop of fantastic actors that fill in the rest of the sharply written roles.  As the three other members of the group, Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), Paddy Considine (In America), and Eddie Marsan (Jack the Giant Slayer) each offer a distinctive flavor to the parts they are undertaking.  Even better is that Pegg and Wright have given all five men enough backstory to help us tune in to these men without much exposition.  As the only notable female, Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day, Jack Reacher) mixes well but just happens to be the least interesting character in the group…there’s always one.

As the film with the biggest budget of the trilogy, The World’s End has an excellent production design by Marcus Rowland that’s filmed well by Bill Pope (Men in Black III).  Add to that impressive special effects that don’t get in the way of the action or comedy and Wright’s trademark stylish directing choices and you have a film that feels like the full package of move entertainment.  Easily (and strongly) recommended…especially if you’ve enjoyed the previous films.

The Silver Bullet ~ The World’s End

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Synopsis: Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind’s only hope for survival.

Release Date:  August 23, 2013

Thoughts:  While I wasn’t as over the moon about Shaun of the Dead as some were, I did enjoy the two leads (Simon Pegg, Star Trek / Star Trek: Into Darkness and Nick Frost) because you could tell the two really played off of eachother well.  Their second collaboration, Hot Fuzz, wasn’t as big of a hit but I quite enjoyed the hammy over-the-top comedy for what it was.  After the slightly disappointing Paul, I’m happy to report that their newest film The World’s End looks like a return to fine comedic form for the duo.  Reuniting with their Shaun and Fuzz director Edgar Wright (who also showed fine visual flair with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), I expect Pegg and Frost to guide The World’s End to a modest late summer last hurrah hit.