Josh Brolin has been doing the interview circuit for what seems like an age since the release of Deadpool 2 earlier this year. And in pretty much every sit down with every reporter and journalist he’s taken part in, he’s been congratulated on his work on that movie and two others, Avengers: Infinity War, and Sicario 2: Soldado. And yes, that’s an impressive trio of movies to have released within a short space of time. Funny then, how no one has mentioned The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter (now showing on Netflix). Now why would that be exactly…?
Action, Adam Robitel, Air Hawks, Alanna Forte, Albert S. Rogell, Alden Ehrenreich, Alex Richanbach, Alex Skarlatos, Andy Milligan, Animation, Aviation, Bath house, Beatrix Potter, Bedelia, Bernard Charnacé, Betsy-Blue English, CGI, Clint Eastwood, Comedy, David Leitch, Deadpool 2, DJ, Domhnall Gleeson, Don Michael Paul, Drama, Emilia Clarke, Enemies Closer, From Hell to the Wild West, Gabrielle Haugh, Gerard Jacuzzo, Gillian Jacobs, Graboids, Han Solo, Homosexuality, Horror, Ian Hunter, Ibiza, Insidious: The Last Key, Jack the Ripper, James Corden, James Stewart, Jamie Kennedy, Jean Rollin, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jeepers Creepers 3, Jesse V. Johnson, Josh Brolin, Lance Comfort, Lin Shaye, Louis Mandylor, Maggie Grace, Margaret Lockwood, Marvel, Michael Gross, Murder, Mutants, Mystery, Navy Blue and Gold, Newhaven Fort, Peter Hyams, Peter Rabbit, Prankz., Prequel, Ralph Bellamy, Rene Perez, Reviews, Robert Dahdah, Robert Kovacs, Robert Young, Romance, Ron Howard, Rose Byrne, Russell Peters, Ryan Reynolds, Sam Wood, Sci-fi, Scott Adkins, Sequel, Simone Rollin, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Spencer Stone, Stan Shaw, Supercon, Superhero, Tala Birell, The 15:17 to Paris, The Creeper, The Debt Collector, The Mask of Medusa, Thriller, Tom Everett Scott, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell, True story, Vapors, Victor Salva, Warren Dudley, Will Gluck, Zak Knutson
Enemies Closer (2013) / D: Peter Hyams / 85m
Cast: Tom Everett Scott, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Orlando Jones, Linzey Cocker, Christopher Robbie, Zachary Baharov, Dimo Alexiev, Kris Van Damme
Rating: 5/10 – when a plane carrying drugs crash lands in the waters off King’s Island it’s up to ranger (and ex-Navy Seal) Henry Taylor (Scott) to stop mercenary Xander (Van Damme) and his men from retrieving the cargo; a bone-headed action movie with a flamboyant performance from Van Damme, Enemies Closer is saved from complete disaster by Hyams’ confident direction and cinematography, a script that often seems aware of how silly it all is, and an earnest turn from Scott that eschews the usual macho heroics expected from something that, in essence, is Die Hard on a Small Island.
From Hell to the Wild West (2017) / D: Rene Perez / 77m
Cast: Robert Kovacs, Alanna Forte, Charlie Glackin, Karin Brauns, Robert Bronzi, Sammy Durrani
Rating: 3/10 – a masked serial killer sets up home in a ghost town in California, until a Marshall (Kovacs) and a bounty hunter (Bronzi) team up to end his reign of terror; a low budget horror with an interesting premise, From Hell to the Wild West is let down by poor production values, terrible acting, the kind of Easter eggs that stick out like a sore thumb (Bronzi was a stunt double for Charles Bronson, and his character name is Buchinski), a threadbare plot, and occasional stabs at direction by Perez – all of which make it yet another horror movie that’s a chore to sit through.
Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell (2018) / D: Don Michael Paul / 98m
Cast: Michael Gross, Jamie Kennedy, Tanya van Graan, Jamie-Lee Money, Kiroshan Naidoo, Keeno Lee Hector, Rob van Vuuren, Adrienne Pearce, Francesco Nassimbeni, Paul de Toit
Rating: 4/10 – Burt Gummer (Gross) and his son, Travis (Kennedy), are called in when Graboid activity is discovered in the Canadian tundra, and threatens a research facility; number six in the series, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell marks a serious downturn in quality thanks to dreary plotting, cardboard characters, and absentee suspense, and supports the notion that the franchise should be put to bed (even though there’s a TV series on the horizon), something that not even the continued presence of Gross can mitigate against, or the producers.
The Debt Collector (2018) / D: Jesse V. Johnson / 96m
Cast: Scott Adkins, Louis Mandylor, Vladimir Kulich, Michael Paré, Tony Todd, Rachel Brann, Esteban Cueto, Jack Lowe
Rating: 5/10 – a financially strapped martial arts instructor, French (Adkins), takes on a job as a debt collector for a local gangster, and finds himself elbow deep in unexpected violence and the search for someone who may or may not have swindled one of the debtors on his list; though breezy and easy-going, and replete with fight scenes designed to show off Adkins prowess as an action hero, The Debt Collector gets bogged down by its neo-noir-style script, and a plethora of supporting characters that come and go without making an impact, or contributing much to the story.
Air Hawks (1935) / D: Albert S. Rogell / 68m
Cast: Ralph Bellamy, Tala Birell, Wiley Post, Douglass Dumbrille, Robert Allen, Billie Seward, Victor Kilian, Robert Middlemass, Geneva Mitchell, Wyrley Birch, Edward Van Sloan
Rating: 6/10 – a small-time independent airline finds itself being sabotaged by a rival airline in its attempts to win a transcontinental contract from the government; a mash-up of aviation drama and sci-fi elements (Van Sloan’s character operates a “death ray” from the back of a truck), Air Hawks is the kind of sincerely acted and directed nonsense that Hollywood churned out by the dozens during the Thirties, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless, with eager performances from Bellamy and Kilian, nightclub scenes that don’t feel out of place at all(!), and a knowing sense of how silly it all is.
Supercon (2018) / D: Zak Knutson / 100m
Cast: Russell Peters, Maggie Grace, Ryan Kwanten, Brooks Braselman, Clancy Brown, John Malkovich, Mike Epps, Caroline Fourmy
Rating: 3/10 – at a TV/artists/superhero convention, a group of friends decide to rob the promoter and at the same time, stick it to an overbearing TV icon (Brown) as payback for the way they’ve been treated; somewhere – though buried deep – inside the mess that is Supercon is a great idea for a movie set at a fantasy convention centre, but this dire, uninspired comedy isn’t it, lacking as it does real laughs, any conviction, and consistent direction, all things that seemed to have been “refused entry” at the earliest stages of production.
The 15:17 to Paris (2018) / D: Clint Eastwood / 94m
Cast: Spencer Stone, Alex Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, Ray Corasani, P.J. Byrne, Thomas Lennon, William Jennings, Bryce Gheisar, Paul-Mikél Williams
Rating: 6/10 – the true story of how three friends, two of whom (Stone, Skarlatos) were American servicemen, tackled and overcame a gun-toting terrorist on a train bound for Paris from Amsterdam in August 2015; with the terrorist incident being dealt with in a matter of minutes, The 15:17 to Paris has to pad out its running time, and does so by showing how the three friends met and grew up, and their progress through Europe until that fateful train ride, a decision that works well in introducing the trio, but which makes this in some ways more of a rites of passage-cum-travelogue movie than the incisive thriller it wants to be.
The Mask of Medusa (2009) / D: Jean Rollin / 73m
Original title: Le masque de la Méduse
Cast: Simone Rollin, Bernard Charnacé, Sabine Lenoël, Thomas Smith, Marlène Delcambre
Rating: 5/10 – a retelling of the classical story of the Gorgon presented in two parts; Rollin’s final project, The Mask of Medusa is much more of an experimental movie than you’ll find amongst his usual work, but it has a starkly defined approach that allows the largely idiosyncratic dialogue room to work, and the austere nature of the visuals has an unnerving effect that works well at times with the narrative, but it’s also an experience that offers little in the way of intellectual or emotional reward for the viewer, which makes this something of a disappointment as Rollin’s last movie.
Jeepers Creepers 3 (2017) / D: Victor Salva / 101m
Cast: Stan Shaw, Gabrielle Haugh, Brandon Smith, Meg Foster, Jordan Salloum, Chester Rushing, Jason Bayle, Ryan Moore, Jonathan Breck
Rating: 3/10 – the Creeper targets anyone who comes near the truck he collects his victims in, as well as the members of a family he terrorised originally twenty-three years before; set between the first and second movies, Jeepers Creepers 3 suffers from tortuous sequelitis, with Salva stretching the franchise’s time frame out of whack, and failing to provide viewers with the scares and thrills seen in the original movie, something that, though predictable, doesn’t bode well for the already in gestation Part Four.
Navy Blue and Gold (1937) / D: Sam Wood / 94m
Cast: Robert Young, James Stewart, Florence Rice, Billie Burke, Lionel Barrymore, Tom Brown, Samuel S. Hinds, Paul Kelly, Barnett Parker, Frank Albertson
Rating: 7/10 – three new recruits to the United States Naval Academy (Young, Stewart, Brown) battle their own individual problems, as well as trying to make the grade; a patriotic flag waver of a movie, and cinematic recruitment drive for the US Navy, Navy Blue and Gold features likeable performances from all three “cadets”, the usual soap opera elements to help keep the plot ticking over, and Barrymore doing yet another variation on his crusty old man persona, all of which, along with Wood’s erstwhile direction, ensure the movie is pleasant if undemanding.
Bedelia (1946) / D: Lance Comfort / 90m
Cast: Margaret Lockwood, Ian Hunter, Barry K. Barnes, Anne Crawford, Beatrice Varley, Louise Hampton, Jill Esmond
Rating: 7/10 – a woman (Lockwood), married for the second time, comes under the suspicion of an artist (Barnes) who believes her husband (Hunter) is likely to end up dead – just as her first husband did; a clever piece of melodrama from the novel by Vera Caspary, Bedelia doesn’t quite ratchet up the suspense as it goes along, but it does offer a fine performance from Lockwood as a femme with the emphasis on fatale, and occasional psychological details that help keep Bedelia herself from appearing evil for evil’s sake.
Peter Rabbit (2018) / D: Will Gluck / 95m
Cast: James Corden, Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Sam Neill, Elizabeth Debicki, Daisy Ridley, Sia, Colin Moody
Rating: 7/10 – when the farmer (Neill) who continually tries to stop Peter Rabbit (Corden) and his friends stealing from his vegetable garden drops dead, so begins a war of attrition with his grandnephew (Gleeson); as a modern updating of Beatrix Potter’s beloved characters, purists might want to stay away from Peter Rabbit, but this is a colourful, immensely charming (if occasionally cynical) tale that is both funny and sweet, and which falls just the right side of being overwhelmingly saccharine.
Insidious: The Last Key (2018) / D: Adam Robitel / 103m
Cast: Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Kirk Acevedo, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, Josh Stewart, Tessa Ferrer, Bruce Davison, Javier Botet
Rating: 6/10 – Elise Rainier (Shaye) is forced to come face to face with a demon from her childhood, as it targets members of her brother’s family; another trip into the Further reveals signs of the franchise beginning to cannibalise itself in the search for newer, scarier installments, though at least Insidious: The Last Key has the ever reliable Shaye to add a layer of sincerity to the usual hokey paranormal goings on, and one or two scares that do actually hit the mark, but this should be more way more effective than it actually is.
Deadpool 2 (2018) / D: David Leitch / 119m
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, T.J. Miller, Leslie Uggams, Karan Soni, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapicic, Eddie Marsan, Rob Delaney, Lewis Tan, Bill Skarsgård, Terry Crews
Rating: 8/10 – everyone’s favourite Merc with a Mouth is called upon to protect a teenage mutant (Dennison) with pyro abilities from a time-travelling half-man, half-cyborg called Cable (Brolin); any worries about Deadpool 2 not living up to the hype and being a letdown are dispensed with by more meta jokes than you can shake a pair of baby legs at, the same extreme levels of bloody violence as the first movie, and the opening title sequence, which gleefully advertises the fact that it’s directed by “one of the directors who killed the dog in John Wick”.
Vapors (1965) / D: Andy Milligan / 32m
Cast: Robert Dahdah, Gerard Jacuzzo, Hal Sherwood, Hal Borske, Richard Goldberger, Larry Ree
Rating: 7/10 – set in a bath house for homosexuals, first-timer Thomas (Jacuzzo) ends up sharing a room with married man, Mr Jaffee (Dahdah), who in between interruptions by some of the other patrons, tells him a disturbing personal story; an absorbing insight into both the freedom of expression afforded gay men by the confines of a bath house, as well as the personal stories that often have a tragic nature to them, Vapors is a redolent and pungent exploration of a milieu that few of us will have any experience of, and which contains content that is still relevant today.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) / D: Ron Howard / 135m
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany, Joonas Suotamo, Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Thandie Newton, Jon Favreau, Linda Hunt
Rating: 6/10 – Han Solo (Ehrenreich), a pilot for the Imperial Empire, breaks away from the Empire to work with smuggler Tobias Beckett (Harrelson) in an attempt to rescue his lover Qi’ra (Clarke) from their home planet – but it’s not as easy as it first seems; a movie that spends too much time reminding audiences that its main character has a chequered history, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a series of admittedly entertaining action sequences in search of a coherent story to wrap around them, but hamstrung by a bland lead performance, and another round of secondary characters you can’t connect with.
Prankz. (2017) / D: Warren Dudley / 71m
Cast: Betsy-Blue English, Elliot Windsor, Ray d James, Isabelle Rayner, Sharon Drain
Rating: 3/10 – six vlogs, two of which were never uploaded, show a footballer (Windsor), his girlfriend (English), and his best friend (James), playing pranks on each other, until a planned prank backfires with horrific consequences; an object lesson in how not to make a found footage horror movie, Prankz. is low budget awfulness personified, and as far from entertaining, or scary, or credible, or worth your time as it’s possible to be, which is the only achievement this dire movie is able to claim.
Ibiza (2018) / D: Alex Richanbach / 94m
Cast: Gillian Jacobs, Vanessa Bayer, Phoebe Robinson, Michaela Watkins, Richard Madden, Nelson Dante, Anjela Nedyalkova, Jordi Mollá
Rating: 3/10 – tasked with clinching a business deal in Barcelona, Harper (Jacobs) not only takes along her two best friends (Bayer, Robinson), but falls for a DJ (Madden) whose next gig is in Ibiza – where she determines to find him, even if it puts the deal in jeopardy; a romantic comedy that is neither romantic or funny – desperate is a more appropriate description – Ibiza is so bad that it’s yet another Netflix movie that you can’t believe was ever given a green light, or that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay stayed on board as producers once they saw the script (or what passes for one).
D: Joseph Kosinski / 134m
Cast: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Andie MacDowell, Geoff Stults, Alex Russell, Thad Luckinbill, Natalie Hall
What to say, and how to say it…
Only the Brave tells the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of firefighters who were part of the Prescott, Arizona fire department. They attained elite hotshot status in 2008, only six years after they were first formed. A hotshot crew can be called upon to fight large, high priority fires in any part of the US, and due to the training they receive, are often required to work for long periods of time, in remote areas, and with little in the way of logistical support. They are quite simply, the best at what they do. And until 30 June 2013 and the Yarnell Hill fire, so were the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Led by their superintendent, Eric Marsh (Brolin), nineteen of the twenty Hotshots found themselves cut off from their escape route and having to deploy their fire shelters as the blaze swept towards them. It was not enough. All nineteen men perished.
In telling their story, Only the Brave does what a lot of biographical dramas do, and that’s focus on the good points of all concerned, tell their individual stories (well, some of them at least) with a good deal of easy-going charm, and paint a picture of deep-rooted camaraderie allied to unwavering support from their families and friends. Oh, and the rest of the Prescott townsfolk are similarly unwavering in their support. With everyone on the same page or side – as it were – the movie has to overcome the minor problem of where to find the drama it needs to tell the Hotshots’ story, and effectively. It’s a peculiar bind for a true life drama to find itself in, and it’s one that Joseph Kosinski’s direction, from a script by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer (itself based on the GQ article No Exit by Sean Flynn), finds it difficult to overcome. In truth, the Hotshots’ tale is one full of drama and excitement, but here, it’s all a little too tepid for comfort, and a little too restrained in terms of any urgency. These are firefighters, operating in some of the most challenging conditions known to man, and yet – and yet – even when they’re in mortal danger, the movie fails to convince the viewer that they’re anywhere even near mortal danger.
Part of the problem with the narrative, and the wider material as a whole, is that it lacks urgency in its firefighting sequences, and its homebound elements are moribund and unappealing. Away from the forest fires, the movie maintains two distinct subplots, both of which involve children, albeit for different reasons. Marsh is staunchly against having kids, but his wife, Amanda (Connelly), is becoming less and less agreeable to this, and wants to start a family. Meanwhile, rookie firefighter and junkie trying to go straight Brendan McDonough (Teller), has just become a father even though at first, Natalie (Hall), the young woman who has given him a daughter, wants nothing to do with him. But while Brendan tries to be a good father, Eric ensures he avoids any discussion with Amanda about having kids. These storylines are meant to provide texture and depth to the proceedings, and to help the viewer get to know these characters as real people, with real lives and real feelings. But these storylines exist in a vacuum, wheeled out between scenes of firefighting in order to give the cast something more to do than trudge around New Mexico (where the movie was shot).
There’s more than a faint whiff of soap opera about these scenes, with Brendan unable to connect with his infant daughter because firefighting keeps him away from home for long stretches, and Amanda driving home one night and falling asleep at the wheel (the car’s a write-off but she walks away with barely a scratch). Minor incidents like these come and go, but these too exist in a kind of vacuum, introduced by the script and then quickly abandoned because their dramatic potential is limited. Even when Brendan is bitten by a rattlesnake, what could have been a nerve-shredding race against time to get him to a hospital is glossed over in a matter of minutes, and has all the impact of watching an infomercial. There’s bags of potential in the Hotshots’ story and their tragic demise, but it’s all wasted thanks to the tepid nature of the script and the distant nature of Kosinski’s direction. There are long periods where the movie feels flat and lifeless, as if it’s going through the motions, and even the CGI-augmented forest fires lack a true sense of their enormity and the devastation they must have caused. And if the depiction of raging, out of control fire isn’t gripping, then how is anything else in the movie going to work anywhere near as effectively?
While the ball is dropped dramatically and often, leaving the viewer to wonder why this movie was made in the first place – this is, after all, another US movie that celebrates failure by calling it heroism – the above calibre cast do their best, but aren’t helped by some redundant dialogue (“I’ll probably be home by lunchtime,” says Eric on the day of the Yarnell Hill fire), or paper-thin characterisations (Bridges’ role as a supporter of the Hotshots is remarkable for his not being given a reason for being so). Brolin gives a solid but unspectacular performance, Teller does the same, all of which leaves it to Connelly to inject some much needed energy into the often dull, often banal proceedings. (Kudos though to the casting team of Jo Edna Boldin and Ronna Kress for hiring an actor called Forrest Fyre to play the Prescott mayor.)
As a tribute to the fallen firefighters of the Granite Mountain Hotshots – Brandon was the group’s only survivor – Only the Brave defaults towards being trite and devoid of meaning on too many occasions for the movie to be anywhere near successful. This is hammered home by a scene where Amanda puts aside her grief to help prop up Brandon and disavow his (understandable) sense of guilt at being alive. It’s a scene that screams Hollywood! at the top of its voice, so lacking in subtlety and credibility is it. Sadly, the movie also coasts along for much of its running time as well, and by the end, you’ll be wondering if any of this will have been worth it. The firefighters’ story could have been an exciting, terrifying tale of extreme bravery and making the ultimate sacrifice. Instead, any bravery is smoothed aside, and as for an ultimate sacrifice, it’s a shame that the firefighters’ sacrifice has led to this turgid and shallow exercise in hagiography being made in the first place.
Rating: 4/10 – top heavy with dramatic clichés, and enough soap opera dialogue to stun the fiery bear Marsh sees in his dreams, Only the Brave is a disappointing addition to the “men in peril” sub-genre of true stories; with Kosinski unable to connect with the material, neither can the viewer, making this an uneasy recreation of a group’s tragic, and unwanted, claim to fame.
"The Future", Actors, Alden Ehrenreich, Capitol Pictures, Comedy, Communists, Drama, Ethan Coen, George Clooney, Hollywood, Joel Coen, Josh Brolin, Kidnapping, Musical number, Religion, Review, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton
D: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen / 106m
Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, Veronica Osorio, Heather Goldenhersh, Alison Pill, Max Baker, Ian Blackman, Christopher Lambert, Clancy Brown, Michael Gambon
Hollywood, 1951. Eddie Mannix (Brolin) is the head of production at Capitol Pictures; he’s also the studio “fixer’, the man who keeps all the stars in line and out of the gossip columns. It’s an average day for Eddie: one of his stars, unmarried DeeAnna Moran (Johansson), reveals she’s pregnant, his boss back in New York wants to take a young Western actor called Hobie Doyle (Ehrenreich) and put him in a period drama directed by European emigre Laurence Laurentz (Fiennes), he’s being headhunted by the Lockheed Company with the promise of a ten-year contract and early retirement, and by lunchtime he’s aware that the star of Capitol’s latest, prestige picture, Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ, Baird Whitlock (Clooney) is missing.
Hail, Caesar! is an important movie for the studio, and Eddie is keen to ensure that nothing goes wrong with its production. When he receives a note from “The Future”, the group claiming responsibility for Whitlock’s disappearance, his day is further complicated by rival gossip columnists (and twin sisters) Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both Swinton) who are planning to run stories about Whitlock and want to interview him that afternoon. Eddie fends them off, promising them both exclusive access to Whitlock the next day. Meanwhile, Hobie Doyle’s portrayal of a dapper gentleman in Laurentz’s latest movie, Merrily We Sing, is proving to be disastrous. Laurentz wants Hobie off the picture, while Hobie thinks he’s not doing so well in the role. Eddie tells both of them that there will be no changes.
A ransom call from “The Future” has Eddie placing $100,000 of the studio’s money in a valise that he can’t close properly. Doyle, who is meeting with Eddie when the call comes through, lends him his belt to keep it shut, and Eddie hides it in one of the sound stages. Later, after attending the premiere of his latest movie, Hobie sees the valise in the possession of song and dance star Burt Gurney (Tatum). Hobie decides to follow him. Back on the lot, Eddie has to make a final decision about the Lockheed offer, while also finding a solution to the problem of DeeAnna’s pregnancy. And as midnight ushers in another twenty-four hours, it’s still another average day for Eddie.
First touted back in 1999, though originally to be set in the Twenties and focusing on a troupe of actors performing a play set in Ancient Rome, the Coen Brothers’ latest has sat on the shelf for a while now, but what was originally a “thought experiment” has developed into a deceptively simple, endlessly endearing movie about the frivolous nature of entertainment and the serious efforts that go into making all that frivolity seem important. There’s also a political element in the form of “The Future”, the group of Communist screenwriters who kidnap Whitlock, and enough affectionate pastiches of Fifties movie making to keep fans of the period more than happy (a song and dance number called No Dames! and featuring Channing Tatum is a particular highlight).
But look closely and you’ll also find a number of religious references, from DeeAnna’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy and need for a husband reminiscent of the Virgin Mary’s situation, to the Lockheed Company’s pursuit of Eddie being a clear ringer for Satan tempting Jesus in the desert. Contentious? Probably, but the symbolism is there, and the Coens have a lot of fun with it, adding unexpected layers to a movie that appears quite lightweight on the surface. But then there are the clever Hitchcock references as well, the idea of good versus evil, sinning and redemption, and suddenly Hail, Caesar! is more than the fluffy confection that it looks and sounds like.
And yet it is also determinedly simplistic in its approach, almost offhandedly so. Eddie faces each problem with an equanimity that seems out of place given the potential for career-ending disaster that faces him at every turn, but then there’s that Lockheed offer he can fall back on if he needs to, so why should he be worried all the time. (It’s actually really simple: he’s that good at his job.) Whitlock embraces the Communist rhetoric of “The Future” because he’s an idiot, an empty vessel who soaks up their ideas in the same way that he soaks up the lines of dialogue in a script – and then parrots them verbatim. It’s no wonder he’s unfazed by his having been kidnapped; like Eddie he lives in a protected bubble: along as he does what he’s supposed to, everything will be all right.
Brolin and Clooney both give wonderful performances but in different ways. Brolin displays a gift for understated comedy he doesn’t get the chance to show too often, while Clooney channels the ghost of Cary Grant with every double take and concerted bit of mugging he can squeeze in (“Squint at the grandeur. It’s blinding! It’s blinding!”). Not far behind them is Swinton as the warring gossip twins, exasperated and credulous, while the likes of Johansson, Hill, Tatum, and Lambert are given small but lovingly crafted supporting turns. As the dramatically talent-free Hobie, Ehrenreich is angel-faced yet crafty, and Fiennes is perfectly cast as the despairing Laurentz. The two share a scene devoted to having Hobie say the line, “Would that it were so simple” that is a marvel of linguistic dexterity and comic timing; it’s one of the movie’s many comic highlights.
Bolstered by gorgeous cinematography courtesy of DoP Roger Deakins, and allied to the kind of pin-sharp recreation of the period that the Coens are so good at providing, Hail, Caesar! – like a lot of their work – isn’t as straightforward as it seems, and rewards on all kinds of different levels. It seems to be common practice with their movies, to only look at what’s going on on the surface, and dismiss the notion that there’s more going on underneath, as if the Coens were journeyman movie makers, or new to the industry. But this is yet another movie of theirs that is clever throughout and cleverly constructed for maximum effect and enjoyment.
Rating: 9/10 – it may appear slight and lacking in depth, but Hail, Caesar! is a movie that never lets up in its desire to entertain by poking gentle fun at the movies of a bygone era; with a great script and winning performances, the Coen brothers have shown once again that when it comes to their own unique way of movie making, what you see is just the tip of what you get… and it’s damn funny too.
You’ve got to hand it to the Coen Brothers, they sure know how to make a period movie shine. Watching the trailer for their latest movie is like opening a window onto an older but seemingly more vibrant time, with the colour design and the lighting making the whole thing look lit up from within. Even if the story isn’t up to much – and who am I kidding? – Hail, Caesar! looks certain to be one of 2016’s most beautifully lensed movies (thanks to the estimable Roger Deakins), uproariously funny, and with its affectionate recreation of Hollywood in the 1950’s, looks certain to be in the running for an Oscar or two come 2017. And if you think the cast highlighted in the trailer is pretty good, that’s without Dolph Lundgren, David Krumholtz, Clancy Brown, Christopher Lambert, Fred Melamed, and Robert Picardo being included as well.
Adventure Consultants, Baltasar Kormákur, Climbing, Drama, Emily Watson, Himalayas, Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightley, May 1996, Mountain Madness, Review, Rob Hall, Scott Fischer, Storm, True story
D: Baltasar Kormákur / 121m
Cast: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Emily Watson, Robin Wright, Keira Knightley, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sam Worthington, Michael Kelly, Martin Henderson, Thomas M. Wright, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Naoko Mori, Elizabeth Debicki
The brainchild of New Zealand mountaineer Rob Hall (Clarke), Adventure Consultants is a company that takes people to the summit of Mount Everest. In April 1996, Rob and his team, led by base camp manager Helen Wilton (Watson), plan to take eight clients to the summit. Among them are Texan climber Beck Weathers (Brolin) and Doug Hansen (Hawkes), a postman seeking to inspire the pupils at an elementary school where he lives, and Jon Krakauer (Kelly), a journalist from Outside magazine that Hall has persuaded to write an article about them in return for a gratis trip. When they arrive at base camp, Hall regales them with the necessary rules and warns them all of the dangers of ascending to a height where their bodies will literally begin to die.
The group make three acclimatisation climbs before starting off for the summit on the morning of May 10. They are joined by a group led by Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal) of the rival company Mountain Madness. Together they aid each other in climbing the mountain, making it to each Camp in good time. The camaraderie between the climbers helps them to keep going the further up they climb, but after they leave Camp IV, they begin to encounter problems. Fischer becomes unwell and starts to struggle, while Weathers develops an eyesight problem that causes him to remain on the side of the mountain until the other climbers come back down. As they near the summit, they reach the Balcony and find there are no fixed ropes; and again when they reach the Hillary Step. With time being eaten away by these delays the strain of the climb begins to tell on more and more of the climbers, including Hansen who lags behind everyone else.
The two groups persevere though and the first person to reach the summit – from Fischer’s group – gets there around 1pm. With everyone needing to start back down by 2pm in order to make it back to Camp IV, Hall finds himself ignoring his own rules and helping Hansen reach the summit. Now over an hour late in leaving, and with Hansen getting weaker and weaker due to a lack of oxygen, Hall is faced with an even worse problem: a terrible storm rushing in from the southwest. With the blizzard making the effort to descend even harder, Hall and Hansen make it back to the Hillary Step, while Fischer’s group and the rest of Hall’s group find themselves battling the blizzard and struggling to stay alive. With no help available from the base camp, all anyone can do is hope that the storm abates soon, and gives them all a chance to get back down.
Based on a true story, and with a script by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy that’s been collated from various sources, Everest is a disaster movie that highlights the natural beauty of the Himalayas, and the ever-present danger that lies hidden and waiting for the unwary (or even the experienced). It’s an intelligent, cleverly constructed and judiciously maintained tale of unexpected tragedy that is also unexpectedly moving. And thanks to the decision to film as much of the movie on location as possible, it allows the viewer to become embroiled in the effort to reach the summit and then to stay alive against the odds.
Much will be made of Everest‘s stunning vistas and gasp-inducing scenery, and while this is entirely appropriate, they’re still the backdrop for a tragic endeavour that was doomed from the moment that the groups found that there were no fixed ropes in two sections where they were needed. With the climb having gone so well up til then, this presentiment of doom adds a chill to events that augments the sub-zero temperatures, and makes the rest of the movie dreadful and fascinating to watch at the same time.
As the resulting tragedy unfolds, it becomes an agonising experience as the various climbers we’ve come to know and empathise with, face terrible hardships brought on by the brutal weather, and find the limits of their endurance pushed beyond measure. The inclusion of Hall’s partner, Jan (Knightley), and Beck’s wife, Peach (Wright), both removed from the action but still linked to their men by tremendous love and commitment, allows the movie to show how the events on Everest had a wider consequence. Jan is pregnant with hers and Rob’s first child, while Peach moves heaven and earth to ensure her husband has a chance of returning home. Their fears and concerns add an extra layer of tragic drama to proceedings, and in the capable hands of Knightley and Wright, both women show fear, strength, determination and sadness with admirable clarity. And they’re matched by Watson, who puts in yet another faultless performance.
Amongst the men, Clarke plays Hall as an altruistic, methodical leader whose love of climbing defines him the most. When Hall decides to help Hansen reach the summit, his thoughts are writ clearly on his face: it’s the wrong decision, and Clarke shows Hall’s understanding of this with such resignation that it heightens the impending tragedy, and makes their twin fates all the more affecting. Hawkes gives another low-key yet determined performance as the most unlikely climber in the group, while Brolin’s cocky, bullish attitude soon reveals a deeper layer of insecurity that Weathers would rather keep hidden. Gyllenhaal and Worthington have minor roles in comparison and we don’t get to know their characters as well, but with so many to keep track of, it would be unfair for the script to try and focus on too many at one time.
Making his most complete and effective movie to date, Kormákur ratchets up the tension as the storm hits and survival becomes everything. But he never loses sight of the human will to overcome and conquer adversity, and as the treacherous descent is begun, most viewers are likely to have at least one character they’ll want to see reach Camp IV. Whether they do or not is another matter, and it would be fair to say that billing is no guarantee of survival, but again Kormákur keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat as to just who will make it and who won’t, and each death carries with it its own devastating emotional “punch”.
The production is handsomely mounted and is supported by Salvatore Totino’s superb photography, Dario Marianelli’s subtle, non-intrusive score, and Mick Audsley’s fine-tuned editing. With only a few dodgy green screen shots to break the illusion, and some confusion as to what’s happening to whom once the blizzard hits, Everest remains a compelling, gripping account of an unfortunate, avoidable tragedy.
Rating: 8/10 – whatever your views on the mistakes made on May 10 1996, there’s no doubting the courage shown by all those on the mountain that day, and Everest is a tribute to all those who perished, and the survivors as well; with an emotional core that steals up on the viewer, it’s a movie that reaffirms the risks of climbing “the most dangerous place on Earth”, and the sense of profound achievement that it provides.
Action, Basin City, Corruption, Drama, Frank Miller, Guns, Jessica Alba, Joseph-Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, Kadie's Bar, Marv, Mickey Rourke, Murder, Old Town, Review, Robert Rodriguez, Senator Roark, Sequel, Swords
D: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller / 102m
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Lloyd, Jaime King, Juno Temple, Stacy Keach, Marton Csokas, Jude Ciccolella, Jamie Chung, Julia Garner
Basin City, night. Marv (Rourke) is having trouble remembering what’s happened to him as he surveys the wreckage of two cars and the bodies of two young men lying in the road. As the night’s events become clearer, he remembers an encounter with four young men, and being shot by one of them. Heading for the Projects, two of the young men attempt to ambush Marv but they’re stopped by unseen assailants. Marv kills them both and chases the other two down, bringing his memory full circle.
At Kadie’s Bar, a poker game in a back room is presided over by Senator Roark (Boothe). Johnny (Gordon-Levitt), a drifter, invites himself into the game and wins big, earning the enmity of the Senator. Later, Johnny has the fingers of his lucky hand broken by the Senator, and is shot in the leg as well. Johnny swears revenge but Roark is dismissive of the threat, believing himself invincible because of the power he wields.
Elsewhere in Basin City, private eye Dwight (Brolin) receives a phone call from someone he’d hoped he’d never hear from again, old flame Ava (Green). They meet, and she reveals she is in an abusive marriage, and is fearful for her life. When she’s forced to leave by Manute (Haysbert), who works for her husband, Dwight decides to find out more. He goes to Ava’s home but is caught by Manute and viciously beaten up. Back at his apartment, Dwight receives another visit from Ava and they have sex, but again Manute arrives and takes her away. Enlisting Marv’s help, Dwight returns to Ava’s home, where he kills her husband, Damien (Csokas), but soon realises he’s been set up by Ava who shoots him. Marv (who’s blinded Manute in a vicious fight between the two) rescues Dwight and they get away to Old Town. Helped by old friend Gail (Dawson), Dwight recovers and enlists her help in seeking revenge on Ava. They return to Ava’s home to settle matters once and for all.
Johnny finds a doctor (Lloyd) to help him with his injuries and he returns to the poker game where once again he beats Roark. His victory is short-lived as Roark turns the tables on him once more. While Roark reclaims his standing, Nancy (Alba), a stripper at Kadie’s, plots to kill him in revenge for the death of Hartigan (Willis), a cop she cared about. But Nancy drinks too much and hasn’t the courage to act on her anger. In a fit of rage, she disfigures herself, which leads Marv to offer his help. Together they make their way to Roark’s estate, where Nancy comes face to face with the Senator.
Arriving nine years after its predecessor, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For retains many of the earlier movie’s characters, the same visual approach, hard-boiled dialogue and non-linear storytelling, and extreme bouts of violence. As a companion piece, the movie works well, but there’s something missing from the experience: anything new.
The first movie worked precisely because it was new. The mixture of live action and CGI, allied to heavily stylised violence and Frank Miller’s nihilistic characters, was, in its own way, a refreshing change from other violent dramas (and thankfully proved hard to duplicate). The problem here is that Miller and Rodriguez have stuck too closely to the original formula, leaving Sin City: A Dame to Kill For looking and feeling like a greatest hits version of the first movie, rather than a bona fide sequel. It’s disquieting to realise as you watch the movie that everything’s the same, and with that realisation it also becomes clear that this outing is going to lack the verve and complexity of Miller and Rodriguez’s first collaboration. The tone is the same and there’s no variation.
Worse still is the lack of investment in certain characters, notably Johnny who we don’t really care about, despite his opposition to Senator Roark, and Nancy, whose bitter reluctance to act against the Senator seems forced rather than natural. Twice she has him in her sights while performing a routine, and both times she fails to pull the trigger. Credible? No; and nor is Marv appearing in each storyline, and helping out in the same fashion on two separate occasions (it’s also problematical that he died in the first movie – why is he in this one?) Hartigan returns as a ghost but makes almost no impact on Nancy’s story, while Gail and her team of female assassins are treated like bystanders.
Even the cast can’t raise this one from its slumbers, though Green makes the biggest impression, making Ava one of the most deceitful and alluring femme fatales to be seen for some time (she’s naked quite a lot as well, and shot in a fetishistic fashion that is reserved only for her). Brolin subs for Clive Owen, and Boothe steps out from behind Rutger Hauer to play the movie’s main villain with aggressive panache.
Ultimately, the stories aren’t strong enough, or interesting enough, to resonate beyond a first viewing, and by the end, even the violence has lost its charm, becoming repetitive and – sadly – unexciting. What’s left is an uneven mix that doesn’t know how to straighten itself out or make itself more coherent.
Rating: 5/10 – below par in pretty much every department with just enough being done to make the movie look better than it actually is, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a sequel that tries hard to recreate the magic of its forerunner, but never really succeeds; if a further entry is planned, Messrs Miller and Rodriguez will need to spend more time at the drawing board before committing anything to film.
D: Spike Lee / 104m
Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli, Pom Klementieff, James Ransone, Max Casella, Linda Emond
There are times when you just know that the phrase “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” is going to apply to an upcoming remake or sequel, and that what will eventually hit cinemas – if the movie’s that lucky (or has enough money behind it) – is going to be as disappointing as sunbathing during an eclipse. It’s a very rare remake indeed that comes out as well as the original, and that’s mostly because those originals are lightning-in-a-bottle moments. From Gus Van Sant’s ill-advised and unexpectedly dull shot-for-shot remake of Psycho (1998) to the current vogue for remaking what seems like every horror movie from the Eighties, remakes are the lazy filmmaker’s way of keeping busy. And so it proves with Oldboy, Spike Lee’s remake of Chan-wook Park’s modern classic.
Even with Lee and writer Mark Protosevich saying they’ve gone back to the original manga that Park based his movie on, this version still fails on so many levels. The main character, Joe Doucett (played with his usual intensity by Brolin) is unlikeable from the start, so any sympathy we might have for him is dispensed with before he’s even held captive. There’s a cartoonish performance from Samuel L. Jackson as chief gaoler Chaney that comes complete with blond ponytail and which sits at odds with the rest of the performances, and the tone of the movie as a whole. When Joe meets Marie (Olsen) she gives him her number almost straight away in case he needs any help; yes, she’s an aid worker but would she really do that (but then how would the rest of the movie develop if she didn’t)?
The villain of the piece is played with pantomime bravura by Copley, and the only thing that’s missing from his performance is a bit of moustache-twirling (his vocal styling is quite irritating too). The sequence where Joe takes on Chaney’s goons with just a hammer now looks over-rehearsed and lacks any visceral quality. And the revelation of why Joe has been released is given a mock-opera makeover that resists any emotional engagement by the viewer because, in the set up, it appears that Copley’s character is able to install surveillance equipment wherever Joe goes and in advance of his knowing he’s going there.
In short, the movie relies on contrivance after contrivance and gives the viewer nothing to connect with. As a reinterpretation (which sounds more like prevarication than anything else), Oldboy ends up being like a mime interpreting a song: you wonder what was the point.
Rating: 5/10 – proficient on a technical level with excellent photography courtesy of Sean Bobbitt, Oldboy strips away the cultural depth of Chan’s version and gives us nothing in return; even judged on its own merits it’s still a movie that doesn’t work.