Arrival: when aliens make contact in twelve different countries the race is on to find out why they are here. The main themes and purpose of the movie is revealed very slowly, in tiny pieces that don’t slot together at all until the very end, where – if you’re still paying attention – it should hit you like a ton of bricks. Because of this, it’s the type of film that I imagine would be more rewarding on the second viewing, knowing how it plays out and fits together from the start. There’s a lot of nice details & observations about language; and Villeneuve’s recurring themes of repetition, circularity, loops, and significant numbers (12!!). Other than the director, as mentioned everywhere else Amy Adams puts in a great shift; although I’m not so sure she’ll be taking home an Oscar as there’s a lot of CGI reaction shots, and not many big acting ‘moments’. With the critical praise, box-office hype, and an alien–invasion trailer I felt that arrival suffers from the ‘Sicario Effect’ in that it’s smarter, lower key, and more nuanced than the film it’s been sold as; with absolutely massive ideas and questions thrown at the audience, played though one character’s story and experience. Is Arrival intelligent? Yes. Interesting? Yes. Thought provoking? Yes. Compelling? … Somewhat. A ‘great’ film? I don’t think so. For me it feels like Villeneuve spends too much time setting up his ideas instead of telling a grand story.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. The IMF gets shut down, leaving Ethan Hunt on the run from the CIA whilst trying to take down an organized crime group called ‘The Syndicate’. More than in the past few movies this feels like it’s completely merged into the Bourne/Bond universes – it’s particularly Skyfall-y. IMF is outdated and up for debate (like the 00 program), ‘The Syndicate’ are a collective that trigger world events (hello SPECTRE!), and the main villain is pretty much Raoul Silva (Bardem) from Skyfall, but with no development beyond ‘he’s villainously European and wears turtlenecks’. True to the franchise the big action set-pieces are fantastic (Plane opening, Motorbikes, Opera Fight) but it digresses into foot chases and pistol fights, which are ten-a-penny these days. The opening half is everything you’d expect from an M.I. film, but the second part loses momentum with twist after twist after twist, which leaves the story feeling bloated and stretched: it’s 2hrs 10 long! A big problem for this movie is that Ethan “the living manifestation of destiny” Hunt is never on the back foot and has an air of invisibility – worse still Tom Cruise is an action star that can act, but he’s wasted here, coasting as the cocksure and invincible agent. The main female (Ferguson) – an equally kick-ass, deadly, and capable agent in her own right – is presented as a strong heroine, yet made to prance about in leggy frocks, bikinis, and even topless (from the back) for no real reason. When you think of the best scenes in the Mission Impossible franchise and I bet they’re wringing out tension and suspense during the ‘impossible’ missions – hence the name – but Rogue Nation gets tangled up with simple thrills and a flabby, tortuous plot.
Mission: Impossible II
Mission: Impossible III
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
The Avengers (AKA Avengers Assemble): ensemble super-cast of characters (and actors) have to save the world from Loki and his army of robo-alien minions. Everything about this flick aims to please: it does a good job of linking Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and a few other superheroes together; we get to see superheroes take on bad guys, superheroes brakin’ up monsters, and superheroes fighting each other; Black window is even thrown in as the gratuitous hottie – no complaints. There’s a solid streak of humour, with a bunch of surprisingly funny lines that had the entire cinema laughing. Also, why do people still live in Manhattan when it gets attacked this often? After years of buildup, drip-fed snippets, extended trailers and bags o’ hype, the final product is better than the cynic in me was dreading. The Avengers is a summer blockbuster in every sense of the word: big cast, big budget, big story, big spectacle, big runtime, big characters, big laughs, big noises… BIG FUN! Directed by Joss Whedon, this is a well made, lovingly crafted, humourous mega-buster.
S.W.A.T. – a drug kingpin offers $100M to anyone that will bust him out of prison; a special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team is assigned to make sure he checks in to the big house. Most evidently, this bad boy has every single cop film cliché you could find in the ‘big book of cop film clichés‘. The unit’s best hot-shot is a maverick that gets results, but he’s bounced off the team (because of his ill-tempered partner) by pencil pushers; another wildcard officer sees potential and puts both their careers on the line reinstating him – would you like some more platitude sauce with your hackneyed sammich sir? Not content with having a copy/paste story, every sloppy racial / cultural / actor stereotype is also present; Samuel L. is very angry-with-attitude, Renner has a short fuse, macho man Michelle Rodriguez pops up in her white vest, everything’s too familiar, right down to the ‘uncool vegan loser’ and ‘big fat black mama’ that shouts “mmmmmmmm hhhmmmmmmm”. The action is big, loud and decent, if a little ridiculous – like a Die Hard / Michael Bay movie. It’s all so ridiculous that it couldn’t possibly be anything other than a cheesy, tongue in cheek satire of the genre? Surprisingly enough, despite not having an ounce of originality, S.W.A.T. is super-strength, all too watchable, well-executed, cheese-tastic, guilty pleasure action material.
Take: A parent and a gambling addict are linked by a life-changing event, and years later they each have to face their demons. Depending on how you feel, the film’s fragmented narrative will make or break this for you – it combines two completely different filming styles (indie/arthouse & power-drama) and there’s four different stories playing over two timelines – so it takes a while to properly tune in. When it’s indie/arty, the film gets a little cold and isolating but when the drama kicks in it more than makes up for this – playing the long-game with a slow-burning, dramatic, poignant, gritty story that comes to a head in an intense 15 minutes near the end. This was one of Renner‘s last films before – and undoubtedly a huge factor in his casting for – the Hurt Locker: he does really well with his repenting scumbag character. I’ve never been a big believer of Minnie, but she delivers plenty of clout here – hats off to by both leads. It could do with being a little shorter and punchier – cutting the clunky religious scenes with pastor, and lots of long, heavily-filtered arty shots – but it there’s also some lovely/striking lomo-style ‘Americana’ visuals to be found. If you can handle a non-linear story, and like your drama fairly hefty, Take is well worth the effort.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol: the IMF’s best agent Ethan Hunt is back again; his team go off the grid as they’re blamed for bombing the Kremlin – they must also stop an unfolding global Nuclear War – instigated by a madman! This film sticks to what the franchise does best; action and tension. The tension is wrung out and maximised like a boss; the Kremlin corridor and double-meeting in particular are proper edge-of-your-seat scenes. The action is also well above par, bone-crunching fist-fights and well-handled/edited camera work (other than the sloppy sandstorm chase). This story is typical of the other three films, with more newfangled espionage in various hyper-photogenic locations. Pegg comes out on top of the cast, providing a bit more comic relief than usual, but avoids becoming the clown – everyone else is solid. There’s some awesome gadgets and technical details for your inner-geek, the fastest-booting servers in the world and an onslaught of Apple products. On the downside, it definitely needed more Ving Rhames quips & ass-kicking, and Nyqvist as the ‘main’ bad guy could have done with more screen time and evil development. M:I-4 is another slick instalment of the winning James Bond formula cranked up to 11.
The Town [Blu Ray]: while befriending a ‘kidnapee’ (why not?) from his last heist, a bank robber juggles escaping his lifestyle, one last big job and the FBI chasing his tail. I really wish that people wouldn’t do another Irish-American / Boston film as it’s genuinely the worst possible combo for accent suicide – I swear Affleck settled in Jewsh Grandparent territory. To top off the ear-grinding vocals, the dialogue itself is beyond cornball: the script is laden with cheesy and clichéd lines. Fortunately, the story is very good and the action is executed as any of the Hollywood masters would – intense and impressive – particularly the penultimate heist car chase and final shootout. Cast-wise, Glen Childs (Welliver) and Don Draper (Hamm, who I didn’t rate until this) both turned decent performances. Unfortunately, Ben is terrible, wooden and has clearly written himself in as the super-uber dude who can evade the law, mastermind heists, juggle girls and be as cool as possible – quite the little vanity project, and it ruins the central character for me because you just can’t empathise with such a massive, boring douche. The Blu Ray picture and sound are solid – fantastic sweeping shots of Boston and action that challenges the speakers; don’t be tempted by the extended cut though – it’s beyond overlong and filled with boring/ridiculous back-story (not necessary when characters are all this flat-pack). Despite having a decent cast and all the makings & style of a true heist classic the final product is disappointingly average; and I really wanted to like it more.
The Hurt Locker: (Blu Ray) Disappointing. First off, despite being 130 minutes long no characters develop beyond superficial stock figures: ‘badass old-timer’, ‘young suicidal kid’ and the ‘hot-shot maverick that will get everyone killed’ – it’s also hard to feel anything, let alone sympathy, for someone so reckless and that goes AWOL as often as Will James. The plot’s essentially 5 near-identical bomb situations separated by limp character-building that never really covers new ground. On the other hand, it is well-shot throughout and the tension of each action / bomb-scare does come through in parts; the sniper battle was done well, definitely the highlight of the film. The acting’s also pretty good given how flat the characters were, but it was definitely amplified by the documentary feel. The picture’s alright, but the sound is phenomenal, creating a war-like chaos with the constant background noises – brilliant when coupled with the visual style – worth the upgrade. Overall it was too melodramatic and full of pro-American and pro-army tones for me to begin enjoying it: rock ‘n’ roll loving party-hard soldier turns his back on his family to keep saving the day in Iraq… really? It’s clearly a bit edgy (intimate & gruesome bomb scenes), contemporary (Iraq) and overcomes adversity (female director), hence it’s scooping awards, but for me, it just doesn’t cut the mustard. Look out for Guy Pearce and Ralph Feinnes before they get blown to bits. Is it the ‘best war film in years’? Probably, but with competition like jarhead and The Kingdom it that really saying something?