Ground and Pound

Bruised

by Hope Madden

It isn’t exactly Michelle Rosenfarb’s writing you’ll remember after viewing the MMA drama Bruised. The story itself offers a rehash of sports cliches that make the film anything but memorable. Still, there is something about it that sticks.

Part of that is the way director Halle Berry embraces the bleakness beneath the underdog sports story. Berry stars as Jackie Justice, one-time octagon phenom who lost it all and found herself drunk and cleaning toilets post-stardom.

Here’s where Berry — both behind the camera and in front — digs into something we did not get with Rocky Balboa or Maggie Fitzgerald or any of the other earnest, down-on-their-luck prizefighters in cinema. There is no scrappy optimism, no unquenchable ambition, no romantic dream.

And Justice only gets back in the game for the money.

It’s a risky move, giving us a less-than-likable protagonist and still asking for us to root for her, but Berry’s up to the task as a performer. She convinces. Justice is weary, angry, vacant and just one step ahead of all the trauma that made her fighting mad in the first place.

Here, again, is where the writing lets Berry down. Random scenes of exposition are wedged in periodically where none is needed, while other information remains weirdly—though sometimes intriguingly—vague. But certain scenes are brilliant, charged with emotion and brutality, and sometimes tenderness.

Bruised also contains a slew of really strong performances, the most interesting of which is delivered by Sheila Atim as the sage mentor/manager. Adriane Lenox, Adan Canto and Shamier Anderson also shine in supporting turns, as does Danny Boyd Jr., who has the unenviable task of creating a character out of a shameless trope. He manages.

There are workout montages. There are emotional subplots. There is backsliding and heartbreak. It wouldn’t be an underdog sports film without them. But every so often, Berry gives us something raw and surprising. The performance makes you realize her range is wider than we may have expected. The film points out that her talent is greater than expected, too.   

Rules & Consequences

John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum

by Hope Madden

John F. Wick.

You have to tip your hat to a filmmaker who understands his strengths and plays to them. For Chad Stahelski, I think you just have to take the hat off entirely.

Kickboxer turned stunt man turned stunt coordinator turned helmsman of a phenomenon, Stahelski returns for his third tour with Keanu Reeves as dog-loving assassin widower John Wick for Chapter 3—Parabellum.

The great thing about chapters is that no one expects them to tell a whole story, and since storytelling and acting are not the strongest suits in this franchise, Stahelski wisely sharpens his focus on what is: action.

A breathless Act 1 (with a truly inspired use of the New York Public Library) picks up the moment John Wick 2 ends, mercifully dispensing with the need for exposition. In its stead, balletic mayhem.

The plot of sorts: Wick is in trouble with the guardians of the world’s assassin guild, approximately every third human in NYC is a hired killer, and there is a $14 million bounty on his head. Where can he go? What can he do?

These are questions Stahelski and his army of writers have fun answering with ludicrous, violent, exhausting, carnage-strewn glee.

Inside of 10 minutes it was clear that this is the best film of the trilogy.

Welcome new faces Anjelica Huston and Asia Kate Dillon cut impressive figures, though Halle Berry feels out of her depth and a clear sound stage representation of Morocco is the only clunky set piece in the movie.

Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and Laurence Fishburne return. Wisely, Stahelski lets these guys mete out most of the dialog. I’d wager Reeves utters fewer than 30 lines total.

Again, play to your strengths.

Dan Lausten’s camera ensures that you know when Reeves does his own action, most of which is choreographed and captured in long, fluid, serpentine shots with a lot of broken glass. Man, their easy-shatter glass budget must have been through the roof!

The Fast and Furious franchise didn’t become tolerable until it embraced the fact that it was a superhero series, abandoning all reason and logic and just jumping cars from the 100th floor of one building to the 100th floor of another. Luckily, it didn’t take John Wick six films to take flight.

Whisky Dicks

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

by Matt Weiner

There was a fleeting moment early in Kingsman: The Golden Circle when I thought that the new film might be atoning for the biggest misfire in the first one. One hour and one novel use of an inside-the-body POV shot later, I realized I should have known better.

Just like first movie, Kingsman: The Golden Circle (again directed by Matthew Vaughn, and written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman) delights in its attempts to set up the familiar contours of a spy movie and then gleefully take the piss out of them, to hell with audience expectations.

Unfortunately, the film also doubles down on everything—the good, the bad and the truly repulsive—from the first one.

We barely have time to be reunited with Eggsy aka “Galahad” (Taron Egerton), Merlin (Mark Strong) and the rest of Kingsman before the two men find themselves all alone against a worldwide threat yet again. (This would be a good time to point out that for a super-secret highly trained spy agency, it sure seems easy to wipe them out every few years.) Following the only lifeline they’ve got, Galahad and Merlin head to America to revive a special relationship with Statesman, their booze-swilling, Southern-drawling counterparts.

The Statesman universe is an American funhouse of Kingsman, complete with a lone Q-type (Halle Berry) somehow serving the entire agency. While the Statesman introduction gets in a few digs at us bumpkins across the pond, it’s hard not to sense that the main purpose is to tease some big names for future installments. That, and also—spoiler—to explain the resurrection of Eggsy’s mentor, Harry Hart (Colin Firth).

Working together, Kingsman and Statesman cut, shoot and lasso a swath of carnage across the globe in pursuit of drug lord and big-time Elton John fan Poppy (Julianne Moore) attempting to murder hundreds of millions.

I want to like the world of Kingsman. I really do. The first film was fresh, briskly shot and gave its characters enough room and heart to make you overlook the script’s shortcomings. And despite the runtime bloat in The Golden Circle, the kinetic violence and over-the-top parody keeps the action moving.

But for a pastiche that has no reservations transcending its source material when it comes to sending up action and plotting, it’s impossible to ignore how the same can’t be said for the movie’s treatment of women.

This is, after all, a film where dogs play a more emotional role in the narrative arc than most of the female leads, and a running bit about reluctant anal sex is no longer the grossest punchline in the franchise. So congrats on that distinction, I guess.

But that’s not cheeky. It’s just dull. And it’s unforgivable in any film—but especially in one that so desperately wants to be seen as clever.





Tenacious M

Kidnap

by Hope Madden

Let me admit this from the start – I may have liked Kidnap better than I should have. Why? Well, I saw it immediately after The Dark Tower, and it is Citizen Kane compared to that festering pile.

In this film, Haley Berry plays Liam Neeson. It’s her second time in the role, actually.

Back in ’08, Neeson – with help from the pen of Luc Besson – revolutionized film with the (wildly over-appreciated) genre flick Taken. Mid-budget “I have a particular set of skills” thrillers have littered the cinematic landscape since, wreaking righteous vengeance and prolonging the careers of middle aged actors everywhere.

In 2013, Berry made The Call, which was not a bad B-movie thriller and her first turn as Liam Neeson. Kidnap sees the Oscar winner playing a loving mother whose 6-year-old (a very sweet Sage Correa) is nabbed from a busy park. Mom sees the napper shoving her son into a car, she jumps in her minivan and the pursuit begins.

The film amounts to a 90-minute car chase with one unreasonably attractive mom behind the wheel. Several of the action sequences are interesting and flashy (for a film with this level of budget – do not go into this hoping for Fast and the Furious: Minivans).

Writer Knate Lee can’t really justify the lack of cell phone or police presence, but he does what he can. Meanwhile, director Luis Prieto ably assembles car chases and panicked driver close ups, then competently shifts tone for a final act that toes the line between thriller and horror.

There’s nothing exceptional about Kidnap. Not one thing. You’ll forget it existed as quickly as you forgot The Call was ever made. But for a getting-the-phone-bill-paid flick, it’s not too bad.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-Ht8VRPRvU

 





Kevin Likes a Big Room

Kevin Hart: What Now?

by George Wolf

Maybe you’ve heard the claim that, back in the 80s, pop balladeers Air Supply could in fact “make all the stadiums rock.”

But did they really?

Hard to say, as we never got that live footage which may have provided the elusive evidence of the Supply, a stadium and that aforementioned rocking.

Such unanswered questions will not haunt Kevin Hart. What Now? takes us to Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, where in August of last year Hart sold out his hometown stadium for a standup routine featuring rock concert ambitions. A football stadium sold out for a comedy show. Impressive, and though Hart’s third concert film takes a little time to hit its stride, it eventually delivers steady and sometimes gut-busting laughs.

As with 2011’s Laugh at My Pain and 2013’s Let Me Explain, What Now? buffers the standup with additional footage directed by Hart favorite Tim Story (Think Like a Man, both Ride Along films). The opening checks in with Hart some three hours before showtime and mixes parodies of both 007 and The Equalizer (Denzel version) that rate more clever than funny, earning bonus entertainment points courtesy of cameos from Halle Berry, Don Cheadle and Ed Helms.

Once Hart trades his tux for leather and hits the stage, Leslie Small takes the director’s chair, leaning a bit too heavily on quick cuts and overly manipulative audience reaction shots. I get it, there’s only one performer to frame and you’d like to avoid ninety minutes of Chris Rock-style stage stalking, but letting Hart’s set, adorned as it is with jumbo video screens and changing backgrounds, breath a bit would better feed an in-the-moment atmosphere.

The film, like its star, is always likeable, consistently funny and sometimes hilarious. Now that Kevin Hart has rocked a stadium harder than Air Supply, What Now? answers one question while it’s asking another.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 

 





Heady Business for Your Queue

Out this week on DVD and Blu Ray is the surprisingly watchable Cloud Atlas – a challenging yet accessible sci-fi fantasy. Nesting six stories inside each other, Atlas connects human souls over generations, from a 19th Century shipwrecked notary to a clone awaiting execution in a dystopian future and onward. The large cast is anchored by solid performances from Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Jim Sturgess, all playing multiple roles as settings quickly move across time and space.

Viewed individually, some of the segments do struggle to keep silliness at bay, making the nearly three hour running time feel a bit bloated. As a whole, though, Cloud Atlas is ambitious, often visually stunning, and constantly fascinating.

For an even stronger existential dream across time and space, check out Terrence Malick’s glorious 2011 effort, The Tree of Life. As gorgeous a film as you’ll find, Malick’s rumination on innocence lost boasts magnificent performances from Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain. It’s a masterpiece of a film, as big an effort as anything Malick or any other director has tackled. Talk about ambitious!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXRYA1dxP_0





Call Me Pleasantly Surprised

by George Wolf

THE CALL

Let’s be honest, The Call is a pretty weak movie title. And, if you’ve seen the film’s preview trailer, odds are that didn’t knock you out either.

So, surprise! The movie itself is pretty engaging.

Halle Berry, sporting a bad hairdo to make her look more “average”, plays L.A. 911 operator Jordan Turner. While on the line with a young girl who is trying to avoid a kidnapper, Jordan has a slight lapse in judgment that ends up having tragic consequences.

Months later, Jordan is handed a call from Casey, (Abigail Breslin) another young victim who has managed to call 911 from the trunk of her kidnapper’s car.  Finding that they are both Capricorns, Jordan tells Casey that, as born “fighters,” they are going to help each other fight back against the attacker.

When The Call succeeds, it is mainly a result of good directing trumping bad writing. Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian) has a solid grasp on the action, often filming in extreme, shaky closeup to aid the feel of disorientation. When passing motorists or helpful gas station attendants try to come to Casey’s aid, Anderson pulls back, letting events unfold with proper tension.

Too often, though, these effective segments are interrupted by momentum-killing scenes full of stilted, implausible dialogue, such as when Jordan is training new employees on the 911 system. After a speech that overly educates the audience, Jordan is asked why she isn’t actually taking the calls anymore. Cue dramatic flashback…just before she’s called back into action!

As Casey’s situation grows more desperate, The Call wanders into the horror neighborhood, and Anderson gets caught up giving too many homages to one particular horror classic. To avoid spoilers, I won’t mention the film, but if you’re a horror fan, there’s little question you’ll miss the references.

Berry, as is the case with too many Oscar winners, has had trouble following her Monster’s Ball win in 2001 with solid roles in good films. The Call, while certainly not award-worthy, is a well-paced and effective crowd-pleaser that should generate enough positive word-of-mouth to make it a hit.

3 stars (out of 5)