Movie Review ~ Last Looks

The Facts:

Synopsis: A disgraced ex-cop seeks solace by moving to the woods, but his quiet life comes to an end when a private eye recruits him to investigate a murder

Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Mel Gibson, Morena Baccarin, Rupert Friend, Lucy Fry, Clancy Brown, Dominic Monaghan, Cliff “Method Man” Smith

Director: Tim Kirkby

Rated: R

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:   Last Looks is a movie very much after its time.  Now, before you scroll past this review thinking this should be taken as a bad thing, let me explain.  Last Looks is the type of picture that would have played like gangbusters back in the mid to late ‘90s and will remind viewers of Hollywood insider crime romps like 1995’s Get Shorty.  True, even watching the original trailer for Last Looks (which I find to be quite bizarre, so…skip it) left me convinced it was another in the long line of adaptations of Elmore Leonard novels that explored organized crime infiltrating Tinsel Town.  Instead, this is based on the first of two books by television writer Howard Michael Gould, and he’s adapted his 2018 work as a star vehicle for Charlie Hunnam. 

As inferred above, a glance over the disjointed trailer didn’t inspire much hope for this one, and the opening moments might make you question if you’re even in the correct movie.  Hunnam (Pacific Rim) is former LAPD Charlie Waldo living a barebones lifestyle in Idlewild after leaving the force due to a botched investigation of a former case.  With a wild beard, un-showered appearance, and Zen attitude, he’s a man that appears content to be off the grid and solitary.  When former flame Lorena Nascimento (Morena Baccarin, Greenland) blazes in with her flashy car and proposition of an easy payday assignment back in Hollywood, which he politely declines, it invites a whole host of surly players into Waldo’s humble life who think he’s involved with either Lorena or the case.

All but forced to travel to Hollywood and clear up any confusion, it’s here that Last Looks catches its stride and sinks its hooks into viewers.  Famous actor Alastair Pinch (Mel Gibson, Boss Level) is the star of a popular television show and stands accused of murdering his wife. While it’s a boon in ratings the slimy studio executive (Rupert Friend, A Simple Favor) enjoys, no one wants to see the popular star thrown in jail for a crime he (maybe?) didn’t commit.  The trouble is, Pinch is a notorious temperamental boozer, and the live wire isn’t the easiest to warm to.  At first, Waldo is resolute against taking the case, but after meeting Pinch’s daughter and taking stock of the evidence against him, he’s inclined to stick around town and see what he can do to prove the innocence of his constantly inebriated client. 

Saying more about Waldo’s investigation or elaborating further on the various colorful people he encounters would muck up far too much of the enjoyment to be had in Last Looks.  Director Tim Kirkby is primarily a TV director, with episodes of Fleabag and Veep in his pocket, though he’s also credited with the 2018 Johnny Knoxville film Action Point.  That eclectic mix of style and mediums helps immeasurably in the timing of scenes (dialogue is fast, action sequences are swift but controlled) and keeping Last Looks light on its feet.  It’s often highly entertaining and connects the dots of its crisscrossing plot as it goes.  I’m always up for an insider-y look at Hollywood, and Gould inserts just enough gossipy talk into his efficient screenplay to satiate the cinephile needing a solid fix.

Even the best scripts and strong direction need a cast that can deliver, and Hunnam makes for a terrific leading man, and it’s a role he could parlay into an ongoing character (this is the first of two novels, after all) if he chooses.  I sure hope he’d be interested in continuing with Waldo because you can easily see a niche movie franchise or, better yet, a streaming TV series being crafted around the character.  The charisma factor is off the charts, and Hunnam is the kind of star who makes everyone around him look better, even the hard-to-write about Gibson.  It’s tough to know how to critique Gibson at this point because off-screen, he’s beating the same troublesome drum as ever, yet it’s impossible to deny how magnetic he is.  Like Hunnam, Gibson plays well with others (onscreen), and you crave more of him when he’s not there, and to be fair, his screen time in Last Looks is brief. 

Clever casting in the supporting roles gives Kirkby more room to score points with viewers.  Clancy Brown (Promising Young Woman) has a few nice scenes as Waldo’s former colleague, while Dominic Monaghan’s (Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker) tiny cameo is well-executed.  Playing one of the shady sort more interested in Waldo’s ex than the murder case, Jacob Scipio (Bad Boys for Life) steals several scenes from his more notable co-stars, while Friend channels studio mogul Robert Evans just by donning a pair of oversized specs and questionably fashionable suits.  My nostalgia meter pinged seeing Robin Givens as a high-powered attorney defending Gibson’s character, and although Baccarin displays some nice heat with Hunnam, I’m glad her character is sidelined so Waldo can focus on the case.  The only bit of slightly akimbo casting might be Lucy Fry (Night Teeth), a little off-center as a schoolteacher who may know more than she’s letting on.  Perhaps it’s the Australian accent she’s working hard to cover up.

Back to what I said at the start, about how Last Looks is after its time.  I was recently remarking in a previous review how sad I was that the typical mid-budget film of an era long ago has seemed to vanish into the ether, replaced by either the franchise tentpole or quick glorified television movie.  Along comes Last Looks and restores my faith that there are filmmakers and studios out there fighting the good fight and delivering entertaining yarns reminding us how each ticket we buy doesn’t have to be for an established package.  It’s tremendous fun, the kind of film that for once actually deserves a sequel, and I think it would do quite well via word-of-mouth if enough people spread the news.

Movie Review ~ Boss Level

1


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A retired special forces officer is trapped in a never-ending time loop on the day of his death.

Stars: Frank Grillo, Mel Gibson, Naomi Watts, Will Sasso, Annabelle Wallis, Sheaun McKinney, Selina Lo, Michelle Yeoh, Ken Jeong, Meadow Williams, Mathilde Ollivier, Rob Gronkowski

Director: Joe Carnahan

Rated: NR

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  Quick!  Tell me the last time you were able to watch a Mel Gibson movie (any Mel Gibson movie) and not think about all the crazy way his career took a bizarre twist around 2006.  Clearly under the influence, Gibson was caught on tape ranting about all sorts of unfortunate things, not the least of which were anti-Semitic comments that cast the once sure-fire hit actor as an unhinged looney toon-a-tic.  For a while, it looked as if Gibson’s career was going to be another one undone by an actor’s inability to reconcile with their own internal demons.  Relegated to low-profile cameos in films by his friends or throwing himself into passion projects, Gibson’s been largely out of the public eye for almost fifteen years and only lately has started to turn up in higher profile endeavors where he’s not bearing the weight of the entire production on his shoulders.

That’s good news for Frank Grillo, star of the new Hulu action film Boss Level because had this film been made at the height of Gibson’s stardom, not only would Gibson’s villain role been moved to more of a central figure but it’s likely Gibson himself might have taken on Grillo’s leading man role himself.  It’s especially good news for us because both actors are perfectly cast where they are in a movie that looks like it would be just a hyperactive, bloodier version of the streaming service’s own small wonder hit Palm Springs but is actually just as creative and breathlessly fun and funny as that late summer romp.  More than anything, it’s exciting to see Grillo, who has paid his dues for years in Hollywood as a second or third banana in major studio fare or as the heavy in indie productions that aren’t at his level, finally get a significant chance to move up a pay grade.

Roy Pulver (Grillo, Homefront) has been having a bad morning for a few hundred days by the time we meet him.  Rudely woken up by a machete-wielding assassin, Roy has only moments to dispatch of him, dress and get out of the way of the helicopter hovering outside his windows with a gunman hanging off ready to take aim.  The first killers of the day seem like small potatoes compared to the deadly female sharpshooters, backwoods bumpkin with a crossbow, little person with a big bomb, self-name-checking swordswoman, and doppelgänger slayer (among others) that have been sent to off Roy in a variety of ways before he can make it to lunchtime.  Yet each time he gets shot, run over, blown up, decapitated, sliced and diced, or eviscerated he wakes up to the same machete-wielding assassin and has to go through it all again.

Why is this happening to Roy, a former special forces guy that can take a beating and keep on going in the best of circumstances but is getting tired of dying day in and day out?  Does it have anything to do with the visit he paid yesterday to his former flame Jemma (Naomi Watts, Luce) who has been working on a top-secret project for a mysterious industrial company run by Colonel Clive Ventor (Gibson, Mad Max).  Various clues in a prolonged flashback sequence point to yes but screenwriters Chris Borey, Eddie Borey, & Joe Carnahan (who also directed) don’t let all the secrets out too early on and that’s wise because Boss Level wouldn’t work as well as it does in keeping us engaged if we saw where things were headed.

Instead, Carnahan (The Grey) keeps giving us information the same time Roy gets it and that acts as definite amplifiers of energy right about the time the movie seems to be losing some steam.  The first jolt happens right about when Ken Jeong (Scoob!) appears and threatens to derail the zip of the opening with his staler than stale comedy but then Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians) enters as a champion sword fighter and suddenly we’re back on track.  The bursts of energy continue from there and you may even think the movie is coming to a close and ending on a somber note, but check your watch because there’s more than enough time for Carnahan, Grillo, and co. to stage a satisfying finale.  With ample amounts of wink-wink comedy and a willingness to go a little broad (Selina Lo’s deadly Guan Yin never misses a chance to drop her catchphrase as a magically appearing wind blows through her hair), Boss Level parallels Palm Springs not just in the time loop set-up but in the sneaky way that it burrows into our good graces.

Grillo’s been working his way through the film industry for some time and always manages to acquit himself in even the dreariest of releases (see the droopy Body Brokers, released just a few weeks ago for proof) so it’s nice Boss Level has come his way.  He deserves a flashy movie like this that I think will be well received with good replay value.  If we’re being honest, Gibson’s role feels like a favor from Carnahan because he’s not required to do much, and I’d wager the actor completed his work in no more than three or four days.  A star’s a star though and Gibson, for all his troubles, can play both the hero and the villain.  It’s nice to see Watts in her second role in as many months where she’s not taking herself so seriously.  While Penguin Bloom for Netflix was a real-life drama about a woman learning to live as a paraplegic and befriending a magpie, it was a rare opportunity for Watts to be a little looser in her acting and a fresher performance emerged because of it.  Same goes for her work in Boss Level.  She’s tasked with some inane scientific dialogue around time travel that might sound totally implausible with another actress, but she’s got just enough gravitas to make it not sound totally beyond reason.  If there’s one person I would have urged Carnahan to rethink (aside from Jeong who really is long past his sell-by date), it’s not any of the diverse group of assassins but Will Sasso (Irresistible) as Gibson’s right-hand goon.  Either the writers completely lost interest in this character early in the writing process or Sasso didn’t sell it right but it’s such a bland role that could have been a lot more energized with some sort of gimmick that made it memorable.

The film is far too digitized to be called handsomely rendered yet the action sequences do have a gentle thrill to them.  I would have taken less of the showier large scale set pieces that were completely computer generated in favor of more one on one interactions.  It’s these scenes between Roy/Grillo and the other assassins/actors that are arguably more entertaining to watch, even from a visual standpoint.  Boss Level moves so fast and furious, though, that you hardly have time to catch your breath before you’re shot like a cannon into the next foe (or starting again from the beginning) so things are in constant motion.  I keep saying I’m over these time loop movies but if they keep getting done as well as Palm Springs and Boss Level, why stop now?

Down From the Shelf ~ Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

mad_max_beyond_thunderdome_ver1

The Facts:

Synopsis: A former Australian policeman is rescued by a tribe of children when he is banished from a desert town and sent into the desert to die by the desert town’s evil queen.

Stars: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Bruce Spence, Angry Anderson

Director: George Miller & George Ogilvie

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: It’s interesting to look back at Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and realize that it arrived in theaters before Mel Gibson ever took up with Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon films.  Though the actor had increased his street cred with roles in dramatic films, he wasn’t yet a household name as an action star…but he sure was on his way when the third film in the Mad Max series was released in 1985.

Some have turned up their noses at director George Miller’s second sequel to Mad Max, his landmark film of 1979.  While Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior had done good business in 1981, it had a shiny little R rating to keep the violence high and make it a more enticing option for teens to sneak into.  With the arrival of the PG-13 rating in 1984, studios realized the value in a movie that could be given the stamp of approval as more than a tame family film but less than an adults-only affair.  So Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was shot with a PG-13 rating in mind…and while certain fans scoffed at Miller going soft with his mythological hero Max Rockatansky, I found this to be the best of the Mad Max films starring Mel Gibson.

Admittedly, the film is probably the most dated of all with its synth score (from Maurice Jarre, taking over for Brian May) and cineplex friendly three act structure.  While Mad Max had the most story to tell, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior eschewed most plot contrivances and just became a locomotive of action scenes and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome falls somewhere in the middle.  It’s been said that Miller was less focused on this film after the tragic death of longtime friend and producing partner Byron Kennedy and it shows.  The overall effect of the film feels handled with less care than its predecessors, though it still advances the legend of the cop turned seeker of vengeance.  Miller actually shares directorial responsibilities with George Ogilvie who helmed the action-less scenes, freeing up Miller to add his flair to the over the top chase sequences that had at that point become the calling card for his Mad Max adventures.

The first half of the film is arguably better than the latter, with Max entering into Barter Town and meeting up with Aunt Entity (a marvelously game Tina Turner) who enlists his help in regaining control over rogues that threaten her rule.  When the deal goes south and Max takes a spin inside the death match of the Thunderdome, it sets the stage for an unexpected detour into a tale that involves a lost band of children who see Max as their champion (inspiring Turner’s closing credit jingle We Don’t Need Another Hero, one of two good sound tunes she contributes to the proceedings).

Though the film stumbles a bit on the way to its soft ending, I still found myself engaged more than ever with Gibson (The Expendables 3) and the plot cooked up by Miller.  It may be rather typical fare, especially considering the era, and it’s too long but it’s an enjoyable example of the mid ‘80’s summer blockbuster offerings.  Plus, it has a fabulous poster…the last one created by legendary artist Richard Amsel.

Down From the Shelf ~ Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

mad_max_two_the_road_warrior_ver4

The Facts:

Synopsis: In the post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland, a cynical drifter agrees to help a small, gasoline rich, community escape a band of bandits.

Stars: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston

Director: George Miller

Rated: R

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: With 1979’s Ozploitation epic Mad Max being made on the cheap and going on to become the highest grossing film in Australia, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that a sequel would find its way to cinemas Down Under…but what about the United States?  The original had a release that was famously bungled by its indie studio so when Mad Max 2 made its way stateside Warner Brothers was ready to snap it up.  They had a problem though…how do you give a profitable wide-release to Mad Max 2 when most audiences hadn’t heard of Mad Max?  The answer, rename the film The Road Warrior.

When I was young and started browsing the video store shelves, I never could remember which came first, Mad Max or The Road Warrior but the differences between the two films is totally clear.  Where Mad Max was a revenge tale (a genre popular with the Death Wish-heavy 1970s) The Road Warrior cantered on the fine line between car chase action and apocalyptic sci-fi.  Also, with the central character of Max (Mel Gibson, The Expendables 3) getting his revenge at the end of the first film (sorry, was that spoiler?) screenwriter and director George Miller chooses to bring Max forward as less of a man and more of a myth-based savior for a band of rebels fighting to protect their stash of the now-rare gasoline from a band of outlandish psychopathic thieves.

It’s 94 minutes of near non-stop action, with Miller using his added budget and resources to focus on creating death machines that race through a dystopian Australian Outback where no one is safe.  There’s precious little in the way of dialogue (Gibson has about 20 lines) or special effects, a formula Miller would use on all of his Mad Max tales.  While the central bad-guys may lack a little of the terrifying nearness of Mad Max’s Toecutter, it’s a muscle-bound lot of crazies that bring purposeful color to Miller’s barren wasteland.  Ending with a whopper of a chase, The Road Warrior is what Aliens was to Alien…a film that takes a valuable character and enriches them.

Check out my review of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome!

mad_max_two_the_road_warrior

Down From the Shelf ~ Mad Max

mad_max_ver2

The Facts:

Synopsis: A vengeful Australian policeman sets out to avenge his partner, his wife and his son.

Stars: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh-Keays-Byrne

Director: George Miller

Rated: R

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Ozploitation: a type of low budget horror, comedy and action films made in Australia after the introduction of the R rating in 1971.

Released in 1979, Mad Max is one of those rags to riches indie film success stories that film historians love to cite as a high water mark of its era, with good cause.  The highest grossing film in Australia for that year, it became a cult classic in the U.S. in spite of the fact that its distributor screwed up its release and relegated it to mostly drive-in theaters.  Though the film would really take off with the release of its 1981 sequel (Max Mad 2 AKA The Road Warrior) there were the dedicated audiences that got the word out on this little engine that could of an Ozzie mini masterpiece.

It’s hard to view the film today without comparing it to its admittedly superior sequels but if you’re truly able to separate it from what came after, there’s a heck of a fun ride that awaits you.  Having recently seen all of the Mad Max movies in quick succession, what I appreciated most about the one that started it all were the quieter, more humane moments that are largely absent from subsequent installments.  I say humane because it’s only in this film that we see the family of policeman Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson, The Expendables III) and come to understand why and how he becomes the force of vengeance that will stop at nothing in his quest for retribution.

Though the next films in the series increasingly paint Max as more myth than man, director George Miller and Gibson give the character some necessary nuance that allows the audience to be on his side, even when he’s committing acts of violence.  Of course it helps that Miller has created such disgustingly evil villains (the main baddie is called Toecutter for pete’s sake!) for Max to feast upon.

With chase scenes that were revolutionary in 1979 and still look dangerous now, Mad Max may be pushing 40 but it works like a charm.  It’s not my favorite overall of the bunch, but it scores highest on the drama quotient which helps movie-goers appreciate what’s up next.

Check out my review of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior &  Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome!

Movie Review ~ The Expendables 3

expendables_three_ver18

The Facts:

Synopsis: Barney augments his team with new blood for a personal battle: to take down Conrad Stonebanks, the Expendables co-founder and notorious arms trader who is hell bent on wiping out Barney and every single one of his associates.

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Victor Ortiz, Glen Powell, Kelsey Grammer

Director: Patrick Hughes

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 126 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: I believe that part of being a balanced critic is to a) see most every film that comes your way and not just the latest blockbuster and b) being able to view a film for what it is and try to put yourself in the place of its intended audience. As a child of the 80s that grew up with action films featuring the headliners of these films, I was amped to hear they’d be brought together for The Expendables. When I finally saw the much-hyped film in 2010 I was awed by how ugly a film it was and how its one-joke premise stalled out before the first reel was done. Though 2012’s The Expendables 2 showed signs of improvement, it too faltered when it came to being more than the sum of its muscly, scar-tissued parts. It would be great to report back that the third film of the franchise finally knocked it out of the park but it’s actually a step backward, proving that logic, decent effects, and convincing performances are the true expendables on display.

Clocking it at an astounding 126 minutes and devoid of the CGI blood that pushed the first two entries into silly R-rated territory, The Expendables 3 feels neutered into a PG-13. Nothing much happens and nothing is truly at stake for our rag-tag bunch of mercenaries and certainly not for audiences. At least its predecessors had a little bit of loss to overcome…here the overstuffed script just puts everyone through the motions while making sure that every one of the hardly recognizable yet oddly familiar action star faces gets at least one zinger in.

Stallone (Escape Plan, and looking like he’s getting into character to play the title role for a live-action Droopey Dog) is as mush mouth as ever as the leader of The Expendables who are found as the film opens racing alongside a prison train to free Doc (Wesley Snipes). It’s one of the least exciting openers of any action film I’ve seen, though director Patrick Hughes tries to flash it up with a lot of flying fists, kicking legs, and a whopper of an explosion.

Hurtling into another mission that puts the crew face to face with a turncoat from their past (Mel Gibson, gleefully camping it up, whether you like it or not), Stallone and his men spend the rest of the film waxing nostalgic about the past, lamenting the fact that they’re getting older, and taking to task some new whippersnappers that are the next generation of Expendables…all the while being fired at by thousands of armed men that continually miss their shots.

Shot in Bulgaria (and numerous cockpit sets that appear lifted from a mall arcade), the film isn’t as dreadful to look at as the first film but achieves a new dullness thanks to lame green screen effects (I’m positive several of the big name stars weren’t in the same room when they filmed their scenes) and a non-existent visual style that renders the film almost black and white. Everything on screen feels cheap, from the cardboard sets to the CGI effects…leading me to believe that most of the budget went to the star salaries.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t have a few things that keep it from being total crud. Snipes is a refreshing addition to the cast and he gets a nice moment of self-mockery that you’ll see coming but still enjoy. While it may have been a coup for Stallone to land Gibson and Harrison Ford (Working Girl), their presence is more of a curiosity to see than anything really exceptional. Speaking of exceptional, Antonio Banderas (Haywire) should get substantial credit for nearly walking away with the film as a hilariously eager strong-arm for hire. The rest of the gang and especially the new recruits are better left unmentioned, lest they take it as encouragement to continue in their acting careers.

With a built-in audience I expect we haven’t seen the last of The Expendables…and as the film dragged on I started to think of names that could be tossed around to star in future installments. I’ll keep those to myself so I can check off my own personal list, but if the goal is to continue to feature faded names from the past…Stallone is just getting started.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Expendables 3

the-expendables-3-official-trailer

Synopsis: The third installment of the action-adventure franchise that follows the exploits of Barney Ross, Lee Christmas, and their associates.

Release Date: August 14, 2014

Thoughts: I can’t tell you how nice it is to actually see a true teaser trailer pop up.  As I’ve lamented recently (check here for an example), the art of the teaser trailer appears to be totally lost with most previews clocking in at a spoiler heavy 2:30.  So it’s nice to see the latest entry in the profitable The Expendables franchise giving audiences a whet whistle before the final hours of 2013 tick away.  Though it’s not releasing until halfway through 2014, this is a nice way to announce the return of a series of films that have worked almost in spite of their BDL (big, dumb, loud) origins.  And you have to hand it to Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables 2); he sure knows how to rally the troops to get a cast that continues to makes 80’s/early 90’s action movie nerds salivate.  The Expendables 3 features a huge roster of stars: Stallone, Jason Statham (Homefront), Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Last Stand), Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas (Haywire), Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford (Working Girl), Kellan Lutz (The Legend of Hercules), Robert Davi (Licence to Kill) and Kelsey Grammer

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Machete Kills

machete_kills_ver5

Synopsis: The U.S. government recruits Machete to battle his way through Mexico in order to take down an arms dealer who looks to launch a weapon into space

Release Date:  September 13, 2013

Thoughts: Though 2010’s Machete was far from a blockbuster, director Robert Rodriguez is bringing the character back that was first introduced in a faux trailer attached to his Grindhouse collaboration with Quentin Tarantino.  I found the first film to be typical Rodriguez: messy, over-the-top, and exactly the kind of film that it was advertised to be.  This sequel looks to be more of the same with craggy faced Danny Trejo being surrounded by busty babes (including Sofia Vergara, Amber Heard, and Lady Gaga in her film debut) and lots and lots of weapons of physical destruction.  Its grimy feel fits right into the throwback movement that Rodriguez and Tarantino have such an affinity for so expect another small win for the loopy duo.