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In the trailer for xXx: Return of Xander Cage, one thing stands out: that pretty much all the action beats we see, involve, or are performed by, everyone with the exception of Vin Diesel (aside from one leg swipe and an elbow to the neck). So straight away this seems less of a movie about the return of Xander Cage, and more of a movie where the star of the Fast & Furious franchise reinvigorates another, minor franchise by inserting his character into a storyline Cage didn’t originally feature in. If that’s so, then Diesel and director D.J. Caruso have an uphill battle on their hands to make Cage a still-relevant action hero at a time when Jason Bourne is back on our screens, and the best action movies are being made by a little outfit called Marvel. But if this really is a brand new outing designed and written specifically for Cage, and is intended to restart the franchise with Diesel firmly in place this time, then on first glance, it’s not looking too good. And it’ll be interesting to see where Tony Jaa fits into the scrapping order (first Paul Walker, now Diesel – who’s next? Michelle Rodriguez?). Let’s hope the two have a thumping good fight scene together, and one that doesn’t rely on the kind of editing that makes you wonder if their stunt doubles should be sharing top billing.

 

Real violence is on display in Hands of Stone, the story of boxer Roberto Durán’s rise from the poverty-stricken streets of Guarare in Panama, to glory in the ring, and two historic fights with Sugar Ray Leonard. The trailer makes it look as if Durán’s story is being told from the perspective of legendary trainer Ray Arcel, so it may be that the movie carries a degree of objectivity in its approach, and isn’t out to simply lionise Durán’s achievements. The boxer had his demons, and though the trailer touches on these, it’s hard to tell how much time will be spent on the man outside the ring instead of or rather than, the man inside it. Ramirez seems an obvious choice to play Durán (and he may be hoping to erase moviegoers’ memories of his performance in the Point Break remake), but he’s not an actor who’s really proven himself to date. De Niro has proven himself (many times) but the trailer doesn’t make it look as if he’s really trying, so let’s hope he’s more engaged than he’s been in recent years. And let’s hope the fight sequences are more Raging Bull (1980) than Grudge Match (2013).

 

Ti West is an indie movie maker in the best sense: he writes and directs his own movies, and he has a intriguing visual style that means you’re never sure where he’s going to take you next. Sometimes, as in The Sacrament (2013), he can surprise you just by getting the camera to turn a corner; other times, as in The Innkeepers (2011), he can surprise you by not surprising you (you’ll have to see the movie to know what that’s like). In a Valley of Violence has been on West’s to-do list for some time, and now that the first trailer is here we can see that it’s been well worth the wait. There are few trailers that can adequately instill a sense of foreboding from its assembly of clips, but this is one of those trailers. The lone stranger in town isn’t exactly a new twist on the Western genre, but under West’s stewardship, this looks like meaty, thrilling stuff indeed. With a great cast that includes Ethan Hawke, John Travolta (let’s hope it’s the kind of role he can do real justice to), James Ransone, Karen Gillan and indie favourite Larry Fessenden, this should be a rousing treat come the end of the year.

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