His latest film is EXTRACTION and it is…well - it’s a lot of things - but original isn’t one of them.
When a terrorist group kidnaps retired CIA spook, Turner (Bruce Willis), his devastatingly handsome but charisma-free son, Harry (Kellan Lutz), a pencil-pusher who isn’t suitable for field service (he failed the test 4 times), launches his own unsanctioned rescue operation to get his Dad back. Harry teams up with ex-lover and the operative assigned to bring him in, Victoria Fair (ex-MMA fighter Gina Carano in a remarkably wooden performance - surely she should be getting better at this acting malarkey by now?) to find dear papa and make the world right again.
That’s it. That’s the plot. Honestly. And it feels stretched at 75-minutes. EXTRACTION is literally scene-after-scene, cobbled together by cliche-after-cliche. If you can think of a trite seen-it-a-million-times-before scenario, you can bet your bottom dollar, it’s here. To say Willis is phoning it in is an understatement. This is the kind of nonsense he can do in his sleep, which begs the question why? Easy money? Rent due? Needs a new vinyl player? ... We expect this tosh from Steven Seagal, but not Bruce.
If there is something positive to take away from EXTRACTION it's how good it looks and how quickly it’s paced. Much like his previous film, SILENT NIGHT, Miller keeps the film rattling along with super-slick visuals (even if they are colour-graded to hell) and a relentless velocity, which helps mask the fact that the plot is atom-thin and the characters are of cookie-cutter standard. A fight in a bathroom (yep, there’s one of those too) proves to be an interesting two-minute diversion, but that’s as good as it gets.
If writers Max Adams and Umair Aleem spent as much time on a second draft as Willis spent on set, EXTRACTION may have been a little straight-to-DVD gem perfect for a Friday night with the boys, but as it stands it’s just not up to scratch. Not by a long way.
With poster art that promises a noir-ish excursion into Michael Mann crime territory (a beat-to-hell Elijah Wood sporting a pistol and Cage with his 70s hard-man moustache) and a tag-line that reads "Bad Cops Make The Best Criminals" you're pretty much set for gritty professionals doing professional things in the neon-soaked night-sprawl of Las Vegas.
Imagine the surprise when THE TRUST turns out to be something very different indeed. Imagine THE BLING RING meets OCEANS 11 - Wes Anderson directing a heist film, if you will.
In it Cage plays Vegas PD officer Stone, a neurotic middle-aged guy still living with his dad, who stumbles upon a crime syndicate and their hidden loot. He convinces his underling and friend Waters (Elijah Wood), a man who hates his job as a forensic evidence logger so much he laughs hysterically at crime scenes, to join him in breaking into a hidden vault.
We've seen it all before, sure, but not necessarily through the prism of indie-cinema quirkiness. The first 2/3 of THE TRUST is a black-comedy carried almost entirely by the leads talent; Cage's goofy, Dad-joke charm and Wood's likeable nervous energy. It's a two-hander that gives the stars room to breathe without the machinations of yet another heist-planning film.
It's good to see Cage back with material that doesn't require him to take himself too seriously, we're not in CON-AIR territory but we are still given the same measured amount of tongue in cheek. It's curious, then, when the final act takes such a sudden turn. While not as severe, nor as alienating as say Kevin Smith's third act of TUSK, THE TRUST does delve into some pitch-black territory where the characters become two very small fish dropped into a very large shark tank. When the gravity of their actions and the possible repercussions begin to set in the story does away with the black humour in lieu of something much darker, a Treasure of Sierra Madre-esque tale of greed and punishment. It's a far cry from the acute, left of field humour the first hour keep us bopping along with.
Sure, it's never fall-out-of-your-chair hilarious to begin with but it's off-beat and quirky enough to be engaging, so when the paranoia sets in and the tension escalates to boiling point it feels all the more savage when it finally bubbles over.
Given both Cage and Wood's efforts of late, a couple more films like THE TRUST wouldn't go astray. A couple more films like FACE/OFF and LORD OF THE RINGS, however, would be very welcome, just to remind us what these guys are capable of. In the mean time, THE TRUST will do.
The set-up goes like this: vulnerable girl all alone on Halloween-night fends off attacks from unknown predators at her door until she discovers the truth about the scenario. Sound familiar? It should. We've seen it all before. All of it. A thousand times. To his credit, MacDonald approaches HELLIONS - in all likelihood - knowing this and injects some avant-grade stylings into an otherwise tiresome premise.
The trouble is by doing so McDonald makes HELLIONS a horribly muddled affair. On one hand there's a schmaltzy teen pregnancy drama which takes a 180 turn to serve up some Poltergeist-esque supernatural shenanigans. It never feels like McDonald is committing to any one particular idea, or thesis, and as a result the film is entirely unsatisfying.
Throw in a score that sounds so reminiscent of John Carpenter he that deserves a 'thank you' note, and you round-off a film that should have been much better than it was. McDonald has a sure hand, though, and directs with confidence. If only writer Pascal Trottier had the same confidence when he was sitting at the typewriter then HELLIONS might have been something to write home about.
For the most part he has the ability to elevate stock-standard, run-of-the-mill productions with his grizzly, rugged charm, often giving a smudge of credence to otherwise lackluster affairs. Thankfully director Adam Alleca's stylish debut STANDOFF is up to a standard that gives Jane something to work with - a little bit of scenery to chew on - even if only just.
In it he plays Carter, a war veteran with his own tortured past, who winds up protecting a 12-year-old girl, Bird, from an assassin (Laurence Fishburne) after she witnesses him murdering just about everyone in sight at a funeral. Left holding a shotgun with just a single shell, and sporting a newly acquired gunshot wound, he engages in physical and psychological warfare with the killer in a battle of endurance and wit for the girl's life.
For the most part STAND OFF plays out in real time. It's an efficient 85-minute cat-and-mouse thriller between hero and killer, the former at the top of a stairwell, the latter at the foot - like a deranged Romeo And Juliette. An all but abandoned farmhouse sets the scene for a contained, microcosm version of RIO BRAVO or ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13; a wooden building that becomes a powder keg of chaos and misery.
It's a wordy, sometimes overly verbose film, but thankfully it's never boring.
Alleca's script has its moments of intelligence and nifty characterizations, more than you'd expect from a direct-to-DVD release, but for all of its tough-guy talk and posturing, it smacks of been-there-seen-that antics, and becomes a cynical two-hander between two opposing forces with plenty of spanners thrown into the works. Fortunately there is more than enough happening to keep it lively and to stop you thinking about the proceedings too hard.
Freed from his shackles of combustible restraint in TV's HANNIBAL, Fishbourne cuts loose as the assassin, Sade, having some fun with the words of the ex-special forces hitman; slightly cartoonish but full of venom & vinegar and Jane brings the swagger.
It's not all success, however. The film oscillates uneasily between trite cliche and moments of genuinely inspired direction, and if nothing else it promises a career for Alleca behind the lens.
STANDOFF is a modest film that, with lesser stars and a less capable first-time director, could have turned out terrible, instead it just clears watchable.
Firstly, it's a Garry Marshall rom-com; therefore the average critic's response was never going to be great. Secondly, $3M for an actress of Julia Robert's calibre is not out of the ordinary. I mean heck, Christopher Lambert took $2M for 2-days work on MEAN GUNS in 1997 (most of the film's budget). So if people relaxed a little and took the movie for what it's worth, then perhaps it might fair well.
The story follows a group of characters in the days leading up to Mother's Day and, much like the other two movies, it entwines their stories. A grieving husband, a successful entrepreneur, two progressive sisters, a girlfriend with cold feet and a single mother... if you're a rom-com connoisseur then you'll be able to piece it all together together from that information alone, and the rest of you will get there eventually long before the film is over. So it's formulaic, predictable and incredibly schmaltzy... but to its credit it never presumes to be anything else.
Garry Marshall has been making romantic comedies for over thirty years and he knows the genre like the back of his hand. He's had his fair share of duds over the years (EXIT TO EDEN, RUNAWAY BRIDE) and he's had his triumphs (BEACHES, PRETTY WOMAN). MOTHER'S DAY is neither - although it is the best of his holiday trilogy. The film hasn't any pretensions and the material is, for the most part, suitability mawkish and deceptively endearing. Marshall is 81-years old and for him to deliver a movie at all is no mean feat, let alone one that has socially progressive undertones and references to technology that his generation would struggle to comprehend. Maybe I'm being agist, but I find that incredible.
The cast are all good, with the notable standout being Jack Whitehall as an amateur comedian - his scenes are wonderful. Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis and Kate Hudson offer competent performances that never overshadow one another. Hector Elizondo does what he does best, which is appearing in his best-mate's film to lend words of wisdom when they are needed most. The Marshall/Elizondo partnership is a thing of beauty and they'll always have my attention. Some other appearances include Timothy Olyphant, Jennifer Garner, Jon Lovitz and Larry Miller... plus a stack of other familiar faces.
MOTHER'S DAY is not a masterpiece, but it is a likeable and pleasing movie. If they'd removed a few poorly-conceived set-pieces, trimmed the running time by 10-minutes and removed Penny Marshall's HIDEOUS opening narration, then I'd be declaring this one “great”. But hey, I can settle for “really good”. Take your mum to see it. Go on.... “she raised you, bro!”*
*lame joke reference for frequent Aussie movie-goers.
Director Corin Hardy uses the mythology as a spring-board to explore a kaleidoscope of influences, and presents a grim fairytale that relies heavily on suspense and anticipation. The story follows a young couple and their infant son, who have recently moved to a remote homestead in the middle of a forested landscape. The husband is a conservationist and his presence in the woods has upset the locals. Ignoring their warnings to leave, the couple soon find themselves at the mercy of a malevolent entity and before they're able to comprehend what is happening to them, their home is consumed by evil.
The film's influences are obvious with notable homage paid to titles like THE EVIL DEAD, PUMPKINHEAD and SHIVERS (amongst others), and yet despite all of its nostalgia, the film feels fresh and original. Thanks to a savvy production design and amazing practical creature-effects, everything we see feels organic. Whether it's monsters lurking in the shadows or gratuitous gore-riddled mayhem, THE HALLOW is a horror movie with substance.
What sets is above others is its tenacity. It taps into a primal horror, which exploits maternal fears, and it doesn't hold back. Very rarely do we receive a film that puts infants in true danger and in most cases, despite tumultuous situations, we know that the baby will be alright in the end. In THE HALLOW, there is no such reassurance and the result is a courageous horror film that flirts with the viewer's expectations.
This is a smart and unexpected chiller that might just creep under the skin of unsusceptible movie-goers. It is stylish and eerie, and the atmosphere is rich with texture... and above all else, it's damn scary! THE HALLOW makes for an unpredictable and thoroughly absorbing experience.