Tag Archives: Aaron Taylor-Johnson

Man On Fire

The Fall Guy

by Hope Madden

From the first notes of the Kiss classic playing behind a montage of stunt moments across cinema’s recent history, The Fall Guy defines itself as a love story. This movie loves stunt performers.

And why not?

It’s pretty clever in getting audiences on board by casting maybe the most lovable movie star working today, Ryan Gosling, as Colt Seavers, hapless stuntman. (Yes, that is the same name used by Lee Majors in the kitschy 80s TV detective show, but mercifully the PI angle is dropped for the feature.)

Colt, longtime stunt double for megastar Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is smitten with the camera operator on his latest film. But an accident takes him out of the stunt game and out of Jody’s (Emily Blunt) life. That is, until producer Gail (Hannah Waddingham) comes calling: Ryder’s missing and Colt must fill in on set or Jody’s first film as a director, Metalstorm, will go bust.

When David Leitch made his feature directing debut in 2017 with Atomic Blonde, his decades in stunt work and stunt coordination showed. His instinct was not just to string together one fascinating piece of stunt choreography after another (though he did do that). He took advantage of his cast’s natural physical abilities to help sell the action.

And where Charlize Theron is grace, strength and ability, Gosling and Blunt are goofy and adorable. That’s the vibe from start to finish. The leads share a sweet, infectious chemistry. Winston Duke is underused but fun as Metalstorm’s stunt coordinator and Colt’s bestie, and Taylor-Johnson’s full-blown McConaughey riff is a riot.

The film has some glaring problems, though. The Fall Guy’s heart is not really in its plot, and that’s fine. But at a full and noticeable 2  hours, the film needed to prune. The opening third of the film could easily lose 15 minutes because the sheer chemistry between Blunt and Gosling carries the love story without the heavy and lengthy exposition.

It’s too long and it feels it, but there’s still much to be delighted by. The set pieces are fun, funny, practical and quite impressive. And they lead to a climax that lets a full cast of stunt performers and technicians just go to town.

The Fall Guy is not the most memorable way to spend two hours and 9 minutes (you will want to stick it out through the credits, BTW), but it is mindless—if overlong—fun.

Station to Station

Bullet Train

by Hope Madden & George Wolf

It took us decades to embrace it, but Brad Pitt is really funny. We all saw those acceptance speeches, right? Burn After Reading? And he was easily the funniest thing about the Sandra Bullock/Channing Tatum romance adventure The Lost City.

But those were acceptance speeches and supporting turns. Pitt’s comedic stylings are front and center in David Leitch’s highly advertised Bullet Train.

He’s not alone. There are about 100 other people on this train, most of them for the same reason.

Hitman twins Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are on a job for the mysterious Japanese gang lord known as White Death. Prince (Joey King) is a young woman with more plans for the trip than just finishing her book. Kimura (Andrew Koji) will do whatever it takes to keep his kidnapped son alive, and Wolf (Benito A Martínez Ocasio aka Bad Bunny) just wants to settle an old score with Ladybug.

Pitt would be Ladybug, an adorable code name given to him by his handler (Sandra Bullock). His first job back from sabbatical is a quick, easy one: grab a briefcase off a train and then get off that train. But there are so many other stories and bandits and snakes and whatnot, and that automatic door just keeps closing station after station before Ladybug can make his exit.

Leitch can stage action. You’ve seen Atomic Blonde, right? And since the director’s official 2017 feature debut (he gets an uncredited nod for the original John Wick), his focus has been on slight, action-heavy comedies: Deadpool 2 and Hobbs & Shaw.

His Bullet Train continues that tradition: it’s slight, action-packed, silly fun. He and screenwriter Zak Olkewicz adapt Kôtarô Isaka’s novel via a mishmash of styles, blending a spoonful of Edgar Wright with a heaping helping of Guy Ritchie and a smidge of Tarantino. It’s bloody and hyperactive with witty banter and surprise dot connecting, all trying their best to distract you from the lack of tension and bloated run time.

The cast sure seems to be having a blast with it, especially Pitt. He makes Ladybug an endearing mix of daily affirmations and lethal force (with an unusual interest in lavatory facilities).

Throw in a couple other big star cameos, and Bullet Train is a stylish concoction that never finds the right balance of hip action and self-aware absurdity. It’s clever but not really funny, full of high gloss stuck in economy class. The ride may seem fun while it lasts, just don’t expect anything memorable waiting at the destination.

Come Out at Night

Nocturnal Animals

by Hope Madden

Style, elegance and crippling loneliness – though Tom Ford’s two films seem to be wildly different beasts, the same solitude and heartbreak inform both.

Like George (Colin Firth) in Ford’s incandescent 2009 feature debut A Single Man, Susan (Amy Adams) is at a crossroads in life with a future that looks unbearably grim.

Nocturnal Animals follows present-day Susan, a successful gallery owner struggling to keep up appearances in her marriage and finances, who’s surprised to receive a manuscript written by her first husband, Edward. Alone in her austere LA home, she reads through the night.

We flash occasionally to the Susan of 20 years ago (also played by Adams), just settling into a nurturing romance with Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) – the sensitive writer dubbed “too weak” by Susan’s mother (played with bitter relish by Laura Linney).

But most of the film is dedicated to Edward’s novel, Nocturnal Animals.

Unlike the over-the-top style of the film’s “real world,” the novel-come-to-life has its own aesthetic – dusty, sunburnt and chaotic. As the novel’s hero Tony – also played by Gyllenhaal – drives through West Texas with his wife and daughter, he runs afoul of three not-so-good-old-boys.

Adams-lookalike Isla Fisher plays Tony’s wife, which hints at the themes driving the ex-husband’s work. The internal narrative plays like an arthouse twist on a traditional testosterone-laden revenge fable – and the film itself is about revenge, to a degree, just not the kind you might find in Charles Bronson’s Death Wish.

The world Ford creates inside the novel is its own surprising destination, playing with preconceived notions and haunting us with one startling image after another. The always wonderful Michael Shannon, along with a freakishly believable Aaron Taylor-Johnson, give the novel’s screen time a current of authenticity and terror.

Gyllenhaal and Adams – two of the strongest actors in film today – work wonders. Playing the same character caught twenty years apart, Adams reflects both the change the decades have left on Susan, as well as those elements of her personality that remain with her.

Gyllenhaal is likewise nuanced and powerful. While his two characters are separate entities, they are, in many respects, the same person. The strength across the film – and also its weakness – is the way the internal narrative informs and is informed by the real world of the characters.

The structure, the style, the sound – every aesthetic choice – is meticulous, but there’s a tidiness in the manufacturing of the movie that makes the way themes play out feel too orderly.

It’s a minor flaw, but it’s enough to keep Nocturnal Animals from reaching noir/pulp/arthouse mash-up heights of Blue Velvet or Drive. It’s not enough to keep it – particularly its many award-worthy performances – from being remembered at the end of the year, though.

Verdict-4-0-Stars





Oh No! There Goes Tokyo!

Godzilla

by Hope Madden

Movies love to depict our fear of science, a trend that dates back to Edison’s 1910 rendition of Frankenstein. But the real frenzy came with the onset of the atomic age.

Among the countless “creature features” spawned by our global fear of the destruction science had wrought, Godzilla reigned supreme. Ishiro Honda’s Hiroshima analogy simultaneously entertained and terrified as it tapped our horrified fascination with the destruction, once unthinkable, that was suddenly an ever-present danger.

Back in 2010, visual effects maestro Gareth Edwards tread similar ground of societal guilt, dread and terror with his underseen alien flick Monsters. More than anything, though, that film clarified his aptitude for creature action, a talent that serves him well for his Godzilla reboot.

He’s assembled a phenomenal cast for the monster mash up, though I’m not sure why. Award-winning actors Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Juliette Binoche and Aaron Taylor-Johnson appear onscreen (and do little else) as we wait for the epic battle between Godzilla and two new creatures with a taste for radiation.

Taylor-Johnson is a military bomb defusing expert who leaves his wife (Olsen) and their son behind in San Francisco to fly to Japan to bail his crazy scientist/grieving widower father (Cranston) out of jail. He’d been caught trespassing on a site quarantined for 14 years – ever since the nuclear reactor disaster that killed his wife.

Well, there’s more to that story than meets the eye.

The talent-laden cast doesn’t get the opportunity to flesh out their characters, so there’s little human drama to cling to as chaos approaches. Perhaps even more damaging, Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham’s screenplay fails to truly lay blame for this behemoth blood match on mankind.

Flaws aside, Godzilla delivers the creature feature goods. Few summer blockbusters contain such gloriously realized action sequences, gorgeously framed images of disarray, or thrillingly articulated beasts.

Edwards never hides his inspiration (the lead’s name is Brody, for God’s sake).  While he draws from Jaws, Aliens, Close Encounters, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and any number of previous Godzilla efforts, the amalgam is purely his own.

This is an easy franchise to take in the wrong direction. Who remembers Godzuki? But Edwards brings a competent hand and reverent tone to breathe new life into the old dinosaur.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 





Where’s Crazy Nic Cage When You Need Him?

 

by George Wolf

 

Well, consider the party that was Kick-Ass officially pooped upon.

It’s too bad, because three years ago that film emerged as a violent blast of tongue in cheek fun.  This time around, Kick-Ass 2 provides plenty of violence, but the tongue is far from the cheek, leaving fun in very short supply.

The heroic duo of “Kick-Ass” Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and “Hit-Girl” Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz) is back,  joined in crime fighting by a group of other homemade heroes, including Colonel Stars and Stripes (an uber-macho Jim Carrey).

In response, Kick-Ass’s friend-turned-foe Chris/”Red Mist,” (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) rebrands himself as super villain “The Motherfucker.” Hungry to take revenge on Kick-Ass for killing his father,  The MFer recruits a team of super evil friends to take on the do- gooders.

Director/co-writer Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down) just doesn’t seem to understand what made the original Kick-Ass so appealing. As violent as it was, it was never mean-spirited, but K-A2 is permeated by a nasty streak that meanders between uncomfortable and downright distasteful. Regardless of what they did or didn’t do in the source comic book, a film is a different animal, and this one is not at all playful.

Jim Carrey made headlines by refusing to promote K-A2, apparently moved by the Sandy Hook shootings to reconsider the film’s tone. You can see now he has a point, though it’s a bit curious why it wasn’t apparent from the start.

Taylor-Johnson and Moretz are effective, both still able to showcase some sweet vulnerability in their respective characters. The script saddles Moretz with the tougher assignment, as Hit-Girl struggles with the transition from sidekick to major player.

The framed picture she keeps of “Big Daddy” (Nicolas Cage) provides a sobering reminder of how much he’s missed in part two. Cage’s hilarious Adam West parody kept the original Kick-Ass grounded in smart mischief, while the new installment plays it much too straight.

The kicking of asses was never the point of Kick-Ass, a point that’s obviously lost on Kick-Ass 2.

Dammit.

Verdict-2-5-Stars