Tag Archives: violent

Hard Sun

[3 stars]

Assumption: The only thing that holds society generally, and people specifically, in check is the expectation of a future.

Experiment: Take away that future…what happens?

It isn’t a new idea, nor is it even the best tackle of that idea (Children of Men, probably tops that list). However, when the creator and writer of Luther, Neil Cross, wanted to tackle this idea and deliver something a bit more speculative in genre, it was something I wanted to check out. The dark, violent sensibilities of Luther are put into a new frame where the world itself could be ending. The concept and effects are an interesting study, and sad admission, about human nature.

The two detectives who lead the 6-part serial, Jim Sturgess (Geostorm) and Agyness Deyn (Clash of the Titans), are an uncomfortable  pair with complex lives. Splitting the focus between two leads challenges the show at times, but watching them work through their relationship and through the chaos of the world is instantly intriguing. The give and take doesn’t always feel quite real, but Deyn is a kick-ass fighter while Sturgess is an onion of strange psychology that never really comes completely into focus.

Nikki Amuka-Bird (Luther), a wonderful and prolific actor, adds an element of menace, but without a great deal of character. Perhaps that is fair in what is clearly intended to be a 5 series story. However, it doesn’t do her any favors in believability in this first installment. Derek Riddell (Happy Valley), another well-known face from many British series, is likewise incomplete in his character, but with the talent to make the thin meat on his bones work and leave it open to build on if it continues.

Also not helping the credibility of the show are some really, really dumb choices around mental health treatment and police procedure. More than once I found myself gritting my teeth through short-cuts and outright ridiculous choices. All very surprising given Cross’s ability and background.

Overall, there is enough here to keep you intrigued and wondering what will come next. It combines apocalyptic fiction with the standard British police procedural in an interesting, if sometimes clumsy, way.  What is most interesting is the final moments that are visually stunning, but probably lost and confusing to a general audience. Hopefully, though, it is enough to get the rest of the series made, because it definitely leaves you hanging and with a whole lot of potential going forward. Seek it out on Hulu in the States.


Red Sparrow

[3.5 stars]

Red Sparrow is a surprisingly taut, female-lead spy drama that is Atomic Blonde by way of A Most Wanted Man.  Definitely Jennifer Lawrence’s (mother!) best turn in a long while, to my mind. Her character is fiercely intelligent, capable, and emotionally strong while being able to remain human. She finds a nugget of herself to hold onto until the bitter end.

As the men both caught in, and weaving Lawrence’s web, Joel Edgerton (Bright) and Matthias Schoenaerts (Far From the Madding Crowd) are both solid. The joy of this film is that everyone thinks they know what the others are doing, including the audience. But even when you are sure of what is to come, there is enough of a thread of doubt to keep the tension high and your curiosity peaked.

In two smaller roles, Joely Richardson (Emerald City) and Jeremy Irons (Assassin’s Creed) do some nice work. More so Richardson, to be honest, who’s existence is the MacGuffin for Lawrence’s entire set of actions. She doesn’t overplay it, nor does she disappear.

The weakest performance, frankly, was a surprise. Charlotte Rampling (Assassin’s Creed) just did’t fit in this production. Her accent was so wrong that even though her energy and demeanor were great it threw me straight out of the movie.

Director Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games) embraced the dark of writer Haythe’s (A Cure for Wellness) script and didn’t try to apologize for it. It isn’t overly brutal, but it implies a great deal of human darkness and pain. In fact, he makes it feel like there is much more on screen than there actually is, which is another nod back to the old days of movies; he allowed our imaginations to work for him.

This may not have been a film on your list for any number of reasons, but if you enjoy solid spy dramas, this will fit the bill nicely.

Red Sparrow

Blade of the Immortal (Mugen no jûnin)

[3 stars]

Violence? Check. Dark comedy? Check? Crazy choreography? Check? Bizarre story? Check.

Blade is a manga adaptation (not to mention anime), and the dark humor and violent sensibility of that form are very present; right in director Takashi Miike’s (The Happiness of the Katakuris) wheelhouse. Blade adds another notch in his fluid and prolific opus.

This movie is never going to be a classic, nor is it something I need to see again, but if you enjoy the genre it is a pretty good romp. In some ways it feels like a riff on Kurosawa’s classic re-conceived as The Seven Anti-Samurai.

For a variety of reasons, I had to watch the dubbed version, which was unfortunate. The voices are off and mixed poorly (not unusual). But it is also a workable option once you settle into the story if you don’t want to get whiplash reading the rapid subtitles.

And there is a story, if a somewhat unexplained and unresolved one; it is essentially 2.5 hours of carnage and fighting. Despite the thin veneer, Miike does manage to take all his main characters and explain their actions; at least a little. Morality isn’t nearly as black and white as you think when it starts. But neither is there any really deep musing on the choices or philosophical meaning explored. But did you really expect there to be?

Blade of the Immortal

Altered Carbon

[4 stars]

Altered Carbon is solid science fiction. This also means it has struggled to find an audience. If you want real science fiction set in worlds that have been thought through and, sure, with plenty of violence and skin, you need to see and support it, or we’ll lose another opportunity.

This series was ably adapted for Netflix by Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island, Terminator: Genisys), based on Morgan’s award winning book. The world has some holes and gaps, but it is a believable society based on how the tech affected it. The show also has some incredibly complex plotlines going through it. In fact, probably a bit too complicated at times…the last couple of episodes have to rush to the end with a lot of rapid exposition to fill in the answers that are being revealed.

Driving the action, Joel Kinnaman (Suicide Squad) puts in one of his better performances. Alongside him is a kickass detective played by Martha Higareda (Royal Pains). A slew of great minor characters are around them, but it is their show through and through. Worth calling out, though, are Chris Conner’s delightfully weird and fun Poe and Dichen Lachman’s (Dollhouse) powerful and complex Reileen.

Adult science fiction is rare off the big screen (and not particularly prevalent on the big screen either). Typically, what is offered is something between Star Trek and Game of Thrones. In other words, something that may tackle tough issues, but usually in watered down or palatable ways without actually working through the true implications of the world that was created or the consequences of actions. Flash and action often substitute for actual logic and plot.

There are some exceptions. Humans is a current show that tries to tackle and deal with the implications of AI. Sense8, as well, took on a world altered by the possibility of gestalt entities. Farscape tackled an empire structured society with significant biotech. But, more often than not, you end up with something more like Stargate, Orphan Black, or The Walking Dead, all highly entertaining, but not good science fiction.

So, if you want the real stuff (with a bit of HBOness to it, without the HBO) jump on Altered Carbon so we can get another season. Even if we don’t, this 10 ep run is self-contained enough to not leave you hanging, but there is so much more to explore if they’re given the time to do so.

Altered Carbon

The Snowman

[2.5 stars]

Tomas Alfredson (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Let the Right One In) would have seemed a perfect director for a mystery suspense out of Norway. But the result is something less than I hoped for.  In fact, it comes across more as a bit of TV drama than it does a feature film due to its pacing and plot cheats. Frankly, the result is odd given the collection of actors Alfredson landed for the film.

Michael Fassbender (Alien: Covenant), while admittedly too young and handsome for the part, can do the brooding, damaged adult just fine. However, age here was really against him. Hole is supposed to be well established, revered even, despite his penchant for drink and cowboy mentality toward work. The character just never came together and never really had any stakes in his life or in the story.

Rebecca Ferguson (The Greatest Showman) had a greatly complex character and is Hole’s protege, or should be. Their relationship never fully gels either in respect nor in cooperation.

In three supporting roles, Charlotte Gainsbourg (Nymphomaniac), Jonas Karlsson (Strings), and J.K. Simmons (The Accountant) each bring some potential to screen. None of that potential is ever fully realized, again thanks to the script and lack of filling out the plot. But they do their best with what they’ve got and it certainly helps flesh out the world.

In addition, there are two small roles worth mentioning. David Dencik (Top of the Lake: China Girl, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) creates a wonderfully creepy doctor who, again, sort of just exists in the story, but doesn’t really connect in it. And, in an almost total throw-away role, Val Kilmer (Song to Song), gives us a great character and history for the suspense tale. One last actor in this film is inanimate: the landscape of Norway. The location shots are stark and cruel and gorgeous, capturing a good sense of the book and the mentality of the characters. It is the one aspect of the movie that works very well, but not enough to overcome the other weaknesses.

Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series is deep, dark, and complex. This film, which drops us in the middle of that sequence, veers from book so radically as to destroy any chance of a faithful depiction, let alone a continuing series. It isn’t a bad evening in front of the TV, but it isn’t a great movie. Such a shame to squander a well of material that is that deep and interesting on what amounts to a forgettable throw-away.

The Snowman

The Foreigner

[3.5 stars]

You don’t typically go into an action film expecting to be affected emotionally. The better ones have emotional threads and, certainly, fantastic catharsis, but rarely do you have fully realized characters that act in ways you fully understand, even if they do it with skills that few have mastered.

Director Martin Campbell, who rebooted Bond with Casino Royale, (but who also brought us Green Lantern), puts himself back on the map with this film. The story slowly reveals itself in bits and pieces while Jackie Chan (Kung Fu Panda 3) incrementally escalates the pressure that accompanies his demands. Pierce Brosnan (Survivor), the focus of those demands, does a great job of playing the reformed soldier/terrorist (depending on who you ask). The dance between these two is intense and, in its weird way, great fun. They are also surrounded by an incredible collection of supporting characters, all great, but frankly incidental.

Another aspect that sets this story apart is that no one comes out of this movie unchanged or unscathed, Chan included. His tale is both energizing and heartbreaking because there is no good result, only closure. But it is closure definitely worth making time for. Chan has always had a sense of reality to his parts, but this is the first time he’s combined some serious acting chops with his action efforts. It is a part that will hopefully see Chan in even more challenging roles in the years to come; he can clearly handle them.

The Foreigner


[3.5 stars]

Dunkirk is a testament to Christopher Nolan’s (Interstellar) ability to control his vision. It is a terrible beauty of a film that makes war about as personal as it can get and still show you the big picture. But it isn’t an easy film to discuss because Nolan employs a dozen points of view, laying out multiple time lines; it has almost no script and, to top it off, no real resolution. The film is practically Cubist in its design, offering us a whole via all the points of view from land, sea, and air with no single character providing the through-line. This approach leaves no real focus other than the titular event itself; the event of Dunkirk is the only real character. Basically, it is more a beautiful piece of art than a great story.  If you are looking for more of the story to understand the war, the English people, and what led to that day, see The Darkest Hour in close proximity to this movie which give more of a homefront view.

But it deserves notice that there are not many filmmakers who could have pulled off looking at a critical moment in WWII this way without sensationalizing or romanticizing it. Nolan even makes a crashed Allied plane a symbol of triumph rather than disaster…and not wanting that be the final word, he pulls back to make it personal and to make us consider some horror as to the cost of it all for the final moment. That final frame changes the filter for the film, a feat only a very few directors have ever pulled off.

Because of these aspects, this is a movie whose biggest triumph is the craft behind it rather than what we would view as a traditional story. You can see the love and careful effort Nolan put into setting up his frames and editing sequences. Heck, the sound design alone is worth the time to experience this film. It is a subliminal drive of a beating heart that keeps you on edge and engaged, dropping back just enough at times to keep you from being exhausted or numb. Again, few films achieve that level of perfect manipulation; the original Alien is one of the few that ever has. The performances are all good, but they aren’t what makes it work. They are incidental, in many ways, to the story of Dunkirk, and war, itself.

I missed this on the big screen it deserved; it does deserve a huge screen. But with a large screen or not, it is worth experiencing at least once for its impact and craft. After you’ve seen it once, then worry about the debate of it as a movie or simply an animated diorama.


Atomic Blonde

[3 stars]

From the outset, you know this is going to be a brutal spy film that doesn’t take it easy on any of its characters. The fights are harsh and the consequences mostly real…OK, kinda real. Charlize Theron (The Fate of the Furious) doesn’t just walk away from fights unscathed, she spends most of the film bruised and battered. It is reminiscent of Casino Royale, but the pain lasts a lot longer for her than it ever did for Bond and she wears those marks proudly. Theron will also make you believe that 4″ heels can be sensible footwear as a pugilist.

Opposite her, James McAvoy (Split) is entertaining, though we don’t get to see much new from him in this role. But he makes a nice counterpoint to Theron and fits well into the late 80s Berlin vibe. Having the fall of the wall as background for the story is interesting, and the soundtrack for this film is a huge nostalgia rush of tunes across the spectrum, used to varying degrees of effect.

There are also a number of important and interesting smaller roles. Primarily Eddie Marsan (Their Finest), Toby Jones (Sherlock), and John Goodman (Matinee) fill in integral aspects of the mystery and interplay. Marsan stood out best in this grouping, managing to be utterly unpresupposing and yet completely necessary.

It should be no surprise that this movie was directed by a stunt man. David Leitch has had his hands in John Wick and the upcoming Deadpool sequel. The creativity of the fights are part of what makes this movie sing; and there are a lot of them. That action augments a very spare, but intriguing, script by Kurt Johnstad (300 and its sequel). The result gives solid nods to its graphic novel roots, but manages to forge its own sensibility as well.

Given the setting for this initial film, and the resolution, it is hard to see where they might go with it as a franchise. It came a little late in a crowded field, and it is a lot more violent than a broad audience will tend to support. At the same time, it was clever and felt fresh. Perhaps that was just because it was Theron kicking butt and taking names, but in the year of Wonder Woman, it worked. So strap in for this one, when you make time for it.

Atomic Blonde

Wind River

[3.5 stars]

Earlier this year, Wind River was seen as a hands-down awards winner.  Taylor Sheridan, writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water, also gets behind the camera for this film. He delivers another intense script of a murder on an Indian reservation.

Jeremy Renner (Arrival) dials back his action-boy push to return back to his Hurt Locker roots. He is focused, quiet, and emotionally primed, but kept in check as he pursues his goals. Elizabeth Olsen (Avengers: Age of Ultron) also gives a great performance of a young FBI officer, not incompetent, but certainly unseasoned. Gil Birmingham (The Lone Ranger) is the other impactful surprise in the story. As a bereaved father, and mirror for Renner, he swings between strength and devastation in heart-breaking ways.

Wind River did capture a number of earlier festivals. But it has hit some bumps in the road having released so early in the year and with a number of other great films just starting to screen. It also is bucking the trend of naturalism I’ve been seeing on the screen. Wind River is very well crafted, but it feels that way too, especially by the final act. That doesn’t make it bad, by any means. It has incredible impact, though it does feel like Sheridan lost a little bit of his careful control during the climax of the film. But its competitors are large ideas and impact in smaller packages; more real life than screen life. What makes Wind River swim comfortably with these other films is the quality of its writing, acting, cinematography, and the reality that it is based on the truth. That last bit will leave you feeling hollow and ashamed by the final credits, and it should.

Wind River

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

[3.5 stars]

Ryan Reynolds (Life) and Samuel L. Jackson (Kong: Skull Island) are two of the smartest mouths currently in the biz and, together in this film, join the best of buddy match-ups, like Rush Hour or Lethal Weapon. Reynolds and Jackson get to use all their signature moves of comedy and all their impact as tough-ass fighters.

As their counterparts, Elodie Yung (Daredevil) and Salma Hayek (Beatriz at Dinner) are solid action characters as well. And Hayek is particularly fun and surprising from the first moment we meet her on screen.

Of course, no action/comedy is complete without a big bad to fight against. Gary Oldman (The Space Between Us) is a cold as nails criminal. Terrifyingly so. Oldman’s Dukhovich is incredibly disturbing and worthy of the horror and anger his character elicits from the world around him. His character alone is almost worth watching the movie for, even if he has very little screen time.

The weakness of this movie is that, in many ways, it relies only on the leads well-known moves. We don’t really see anything new from them, just a lot of their greatest hits; I don’t think the film would have worked without them. It creates a hollow feeling in the film. Even with some truly great moments, particularly Jackson and Hayek’s first meeting scene, it just feels like there is something missing.

And yet, even with that gap, it’s a great ride and a lot of fun. However, despite hints at something better, it is only that, not the classic it aspired to be (and almost reached), even with the chemistry of Reynolds and Jackson. The set up of O’Connor’s script is a bit of a stretch in terms of the practical aspects of the conflict, even if Hughes direction of it keeps you moving too fast and with tons of fantastic stunts to examine it too closely. I really want to see what they come up with next; there is some serious potential there given how early it is in both their careers.

Give this an evening with a bowl of popcorn and someone you like. You will laugh and enjoy it together.  Whether you come back to it again over time, I’m not as sure.

The Hitman