John Wick: after his wife dies thugs steal his car and kill his dog, which forces former assassin and ‘bogeyman’ John Wick to go on a rampage of Archer proportions. No need to worry about the Bechdel Test with this film – as the only two women with dialogue appear as a video recording, and a sassy female hit-woman. No need to worry about the plot either, as it’s based around a hotel where assassins live and party with each other – and gold coins are the preferred payment method. Whilst Keanu isn’t the most watchable of frontmen he handles is action scenes with style, and Nyqvist, McShane, Dafoe fill in any gaps with fun roles. Reminiscent of 90s European / Asian action movies like Taxi, District 13, Hard Boiled etc – this is all about the guns, cars, pounding techo music and hyper styalised violence, of which there is shitloads. The action scenes are second to none: graphic and wild gunplay (most villains get ‘double-tapped’ – chest then head), there’s excellent combat which incorporates wrestling holds and slams, and a couple of nifty car chases. One of the directors is a stunt man, which shows as the action scenes are a cut above your standard affair. John Wick is a rarity these days – a no-brainer, balls out, gritty revenge / action film, that sticks to its R-rating and doesn’t claim – or try – to be anything more. It’s the kind of film that Taken 3 wishes it was.
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 Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest: final part of the Millennium trilogy, following on from the Dragon Tattoo and Played with Fire. Continuing the downward trend, this looks and feels as bland as most TV movies – 0% cinematic and very little excitement or tension. The plot slowly meanders down two paths: a rehabilitation / courtroom saga for Lisbeth and yet another investigation for Mikael. It’s far, far too long (147 mins) given how little the plot progresses and how pedestrian the story is. While the acting’s still great and there’s a tiny bit of steam left, the focus here is entirely on wrapping up the 2nd film; which was already well below the brilliant stand-alone whodunnit, Dragon Tattoo. Most telling, even when walking out of the cinema I could only recall a handful of good scenes. Fire and Hornet could probably be edited together, cutting out all of the bloated story & characterisation and focusing on the excitement and drama that’s been so diluted in these behemoth instalments. The Fincher re-makes will have trouble competing with the first film, but the other two are his for the taking. A dreadful final chapter, and for closing up a tale that’s over 7 hours long the ending was such an anti-climactic disappointment.
The Girl Who Played with Fire: Lisbeth heads back to Sweden after becoming the number one suspect in a treble murder – she tries to get to the bottom of the set-up while Mikael is out to prove her innocence. The writing is a lot sloppier than Dragon Tattoo with a few cheap characters written in for no reason other than making the story a bit more interesting – particularly the real-life boxer guy and two biker goons. In saying this, the story is still decent, even if it is all geared at backgrounding Lisbeth. Once again the two leads carry the story with enviable ease, Rapace in particular gets a lot of time to shine; the smaller presence of Nyqvist lets the film down a little. It also feels a lot more fictitious, with Mikael main guy out-foxing the police at every turn and Salander’s espionage / fighting super-skills. With a different director behind the camera the tone of the second film is worlds apart from the Dragon Tattoo; couple this with the weaker story and it’s nowhere near as gripping or memorable, as it unfolds somewhat predictably. As a stand alone film this would have been a good effort but after Dragon Tattoo this just seems so much more tamer and safer. Despite this review sounding hella negative Played with Fire is a good film, and does a solid job of keeping the trilogy going, while setting up the third installment.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: (Blu Ray) Film adaptation of the eponymous novel – follows an investigative journalist and a computer hacker as they investigate a 40 year old disappearance, which in turn unearths much bigger crimes. The one thing that grabs you for the duration is the performances offered up by the cast, particularly the two mains: Rapace is great at portraying an enigmatic character, who is strong and smart, yet damaged and vulnerable; Nyqvist on the other hand effortlessly portrays a determined journalist and dedicated researcher with incorruptible morals. Mains aside, nobody else really drops the ball either and the strong cast definitely make the film more believable, engaging and gripping. As for the story, you’ve seen it a thousand times before, but never done like this: it’s essentially a Miss Marple ‘whodunnit’ murder mystery served up with a huge wedge of modernity – metro setting, bit of snuff, bit of action, bit of romance, and lots of graphic scenes & descriptions of terrible crimes – add to this a bunch of critiques (violence against women, corrupt big business, modern Sweden…) and you have a very busy film. My favourite aspect of Dragon Tattoo is how the story’s told – it obviously helps to have great source material – but the direction is outstanding, and no matter how hard it gets to watch, or how long it goes on for, you simply can’t stop watching. My only major nitpick was the constant flashbacks as everything else about the film batted a lot higher. The BD picture is decent enough but typical Scandinavian washed out bleak pallet means that nothing really jumps out – sound again is alright, but nothing special. The final product is a modern facelift of the classic murder mystery that continually makes you wince, yet keeps you hooked through to the very last scene
Together: set back in 1975, it documents the make ups and break ups of a crowded hippy commune in Stockholm – doesn’t sound great but this is one of the best drama films out there, easily. Other than a few zooms there are no fancy tricks to this film, leaving everything to come from the characters; vegetarians, homosexuals, hippies, confused teenagers and alcoholics under one roof – it’s basically a scrip-writer’s wet dream. There are no main roles, just an ensemble of credible characters that you can relate to – from the uneasy teen to the textbook socialist – which makes the story very absorbing. There’s some nice subtle and awkward comedy hidden there too. It may be a tad slow for some but has one of the best endings that I can remember. All in, it’s a simple feel good tale about the ups and downs of living with people. This is was only Moodysson’s 2nd film, and between this, Fucking Amal and Lilja-4-ever he definitely started his career with a bang. We’re better together.