Rating: The Ugly – 64.5 Genre: Thriller Duration: 99 mins Director: Tom Holland Stars: Timothy Hutton, Lara Flynn Boyle, Faye Dunaway
Daft as a brush but forgivably sardonic, Tom Holland’s The Temp is a fast and loose thriller about an executive’s beautiful but sinister assistant whose recent arrival coincides with a number of accidents that move both her and her increasingly suspicious boss up the ladder. Timothy Hutton is the beleaguered exec, Laura Flynn Boyle, his self-appointed but apparently unstable cat’s paw while Faye Dunaway and Oliver Platt play their cut throat co-workers. With its unpredictable plot and outlandish progression, The Temp scores for its sheer uniqueness but with the writer-director of the quirky Fright Night pulling the strings, it’s also a riot of rather well disguised black comedy too. Contrasting dark tones of paranoia with over the top villainy, there’s barely a scene that won’t elicit a crooked smile. However, so unorthodox is its execution that the sarcasm is perhaps too well disguised. As often as not, the movie comes across as a tad unsure of itself and even erratic. In these moments, it can let the audience slip through its fingers despite the best efforts of Hutton and co. In the end, it all unravels rather resoundingly but, at the very least, it maintains its eccentricity.
Rating: The Ugly – 64.5 Genre: Science Fiction, Action Duration: 101 mins Director: Paul W.S. Anderson Stars: Sanaa Lathan, Lance Henriksen, Raoul Bova
Sanaa Lathan stars as a crack mountain climber who agrees to shepherd Lance Henriksen’s “Mr. Weyland” and his team of scientists to a desolate corner of Antarctica to investigate a newly discovered pyramid. As they move deeper into the recesses of the structure, they trigger an age-old battle between the two seminal sci-fi monsters (a rivalry that first arose in a comic and then playfully alluded to in Predator 2). It may be considered sacrilege to fans of both the Alien and Predator franchises and the sight of Lathan and a fierce predator exploding into the night air on a shared sled may just be one of the silliest sci-fi images ever committed to screen. However, *if* you can forgive those indiscretions, AvP can be cracking fun. At its core, the movie was sold on the idea that an AvP showdown would be a cool thing to see and, in fairness to that other Paul “middle initial” Anderson, he achieves that goal in style. The battles, a series of impressive and slickly conceived duels between the heavyweight bad guys, are as epic as they deserve to be and as rousing as the best action sequences from either of their franchises. They’re bolstered by some superb creature effects too (not counting those lumbering, out of shape predators) and, to their periphery, is a decent array of reasonably fleshed out support characters. Lathan proves a worthy action heroine and carries the movie’s final act largely between her and her predatory comrade. But best of all, the movie is replete with some really nice touches such as the Predators’ disgust for the Aliens not to mention the oblique reveals of the former’s culture. Of course, the premise is the weak point. Though fine for a stand alone sci-fi, in the context of the two mythologies, it veers unavoidably towards the ridiculous. Sure, it’s exciting fun but it ultimately takes the sheen off both mythologies.
Rating: The Ugly – 66 Genre: Action Duration: 92 mins Director: Louis Leterrier, Corey Yuen Stars: Jason Statham, Qi Shu, Matt Schulze
A meticulous driver and all-action bad-ass in the form of Jason Statham transports illicit cargo around the French countryside but gets sucked into a people trafficking racket when he breaks his own rules and looks inside the package. Written and produced by Luc Besson but directed by Louis Leterrier, The Transporter still bears all the hallmarks of the legendary director’s most enjoyable work. An action comedy with a quirky energy that flirts with the laws of physics and slaps a couple of charming characters right in the centre. Statham delivers the goods in more ways than one with his usual mixture of suave wise-cracks and kickboxing acrobatics and Qi Shu makes for a worthy co-star as his endearing yet unintended sidekick. The plot is daft as a brush and you may even struggle to recall what the whole thing was about but with two strong leads, a considered screenplay, and more breathless car-chases, bullets and grenades, and kicks and punches than you can keep up with, The Transporter will race into the good graces of even the most cynical of movie fans.
Rating: The Ugly – 66.5 Genre: Action Duration: 112 mins Director: Renny Harlin Stars: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker
A truly awful screenplay meets some of the hammiest acting straight on in this entertaining action romp about a group of mercenaries who co-opt a couple of mountain climbers into their attempt to locate briefcases full of money lost in a mountain wilderness. John Lithgow adds yet another impossibly over the top turn to his catalogue as the merciless leader of the bad guys, Stallone is actually a little better than usual as the burly yet modest climbing expert, Michael Rooker offers sound presence to the mix but Janine Turner is much too bland to matter. Where Cliffhanger succeeds is in giving us a veritable kaleidoscope of nastiness in the bad guy department. From Rex Linn’s crooked treasury agent and 24 carat asshole to Caroline Goodall’s murderous vixen and with a couple/three very punchable faces thrown in between, these guys are the best bunch of venom spitting henchmen since Die Hard. Alas, without much of a script to harness the interesting personalities which the actors bring to the party, that’s all they remain and whatever fun there is to be had, is at watching these world class bastards get their well deserved comeuppances.
Rating: The Ugly – 60 Genre: Action, Crime Duration: 109 mins Director: Baltasar Kormákur Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster
The modern thriller is a tired animal indeed what with the scarcity of original plots and mind numbing dialogue that, instead of building character, is simply a vehicle for tying scenes together and abiding by an MTV archetype of cool. However, if you must turn one of these scripts into a movie then a watchable cast and able director are bare minimum prerequisites. Contraband just about pulls this off with Ben Foster and an always enjoyable Mark Wahlberg starring as a couple of drug smugglers and Giovani Ribisi as a slightly deranged wannabe tough guy attempting to pull their strings along the way. Yes, the plot swings between predictable and confused and, yes, it’s bloated with the contradictory ideas of a script writing committee but there’s some fine gunplay and car chasing to complement the cast’s chemistry. If you’re stuck for something to watch, this one will fill the void adequately.
Rating: The Ugly – 63.1 Genre: Horror Duration: 186 mins Director: Jeff Bleckner Stars: William Petersen, Karen Sillas, Charles Martin Smith
It’s one of the most overploughed terrains in B-movie cinema but, when the mood strikes, you could do worse than this TV adapted version of Peter Benchley’s “Beast”. William Peterson plays an old school fisherman trying to make a living in fished out waters who begins to suspect that a giant squid with a taste for people has staked a claim off his peaceful island. Joining up with local coast guard lieutenant Karen Sillas, he sets about proving it but a local business man in the form of Charles Martin Smith thinks he sees a profit to be made. As was often the case for a TV miniseries back in the 1990’s, the production values are low and so any thrills The Beast delivers are largely a function of Benchley’s concept which, on the scale of marine monsters, features quite highly. The cast are solid so, beyond the production quality, you won’t be constantly reminded that you’re in the “bargain basement” of movies and with an always watchable and safe pair of hands in the lead, there’s even a bit of charm there too. There are some originally conceived action sequences that director Jeff Bleckner takes his time to buildup and J.B. White’s teleplay contextualises the entire thing with some modestly engaging sub plots. Sure, a lack of expertise behind the camera ensures that the movie isn’t the sleek thrill-delivering device that Jaws was (despite borrowing heavily from its tool-shed), or even Jaws 2 for that matter, but it chugs its way comfortably over the finish line. As is often the case, there are a few versions of this movie floating around on DVD so be sure to get the full extended version rather than the abridged one as a significant amount of good stuff has been omitted in the truncated cuts.
Rating: The Ugly – 61.8 Genre: Horror Duration: 118 mins Director: Scott Derrickson Stars: Eric Bana, Édgar Ramírez, Olivia Munn
Laudable effort at a modern possession story starring Eric Bana as a New York cop who gets involved in a case that has spiritual and demonic overtones. As his life begins to crumble around him, he teams up with an atypical priest (Édgar Ramírez) in the attempt to get his head around the evidence. There’s not much in the way of originality here but Bana always adds a level of class to his movies and together with some deft touches from its writer-director Scott Derrickson along the way, Deliver Us From Evil should keep you invested despite the overall familiarity. One of these involved the decision to avoid explicit demonstrations of the supernatural for longer than most, and it elevates the intrigue substantially. However, like most genre films these days, Derrickson gets so bogged down in the premise that he forgets to make (or at least wasn’t interested in making) a movie out of it. The movie rarely strays from the straight line of the plot and so the most important factors in any horror movie, the context and the story, aren’t afforded the opportunity to flourish. There’s little for the premise to be at odds with, little to colour it real, and therefore little to remember it for. Save for Bana’s more than decent turn that is.
Rating: The Ugly – 67.4 Genre: Action, Sport Duration: 107 mins Director: Tony Scott Stars: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Robert Duvall
Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer take the Top Gun formula and apply it to the racetrack in what turns out to be a surprisingly enjoyable piece of fluff. Tom Cruise top lines as the hot shot speedster laden with daddy issues who, after rocketing to stardom, develops a crisis of confidence after he barely survives a crash. It’s the Top Gun story right down to the grinning nemesis (Cary Elwes as opposed to Kilmer) but a tad less maudlin and with two special additions. First is presence of Robert Duvall, the seasoned mechanic who reluctantly takes the Cruiser under his wing. It’s his nous that lifts the entire drama by lacing the movie with grizzled sentiment and wise humour. Second is the drafting of Robert Towne to write the screenplay which gives the characters and their dialogue the kind of traction that rarely grace such hot air storytelling. Nicole Kidman offers strong support in an equally capable female role and though it resulted in one of modern Hollywood’s more atypical romances, she and Tom share a rather solid chemistry as the driver and his doctor girlfriend. In a nice twist on the intimidating rival trope, Michael Rooker scores terrifically as the older driver who, after being knocked off his pedestal by the cheeky Cruise, forms a tentative friendship with him – their wheelchair race alone makes this dramatic tangent worthwhile. As you’d expect from Scott, the driving sequences are wisecrack funneled and testosterone charged but thy’re shot and cut with a more coherent style than his films often exhibited. A suitably rousing rock anthem soundtrack wraps them up into neat little action package and though you may feel a tad guilty for falling for the director’s unabashed heavy handedness, you’ll find yourself amusingly entertained all the same.
Rating: The Ugly – 61.7 Genre: Thriller Duration: 128 mins Director: Mick Jackson Stars: Kevin Costner, Whitney Houston, Gary Kemp
Stoic protector Kevin Costner is hired to mind diva movie star Whitney Houston when her life is threatened by an anonymous maniac. With his client growing increasingly unhappy with the new restrictions on her life and everything happening in the midst of an entourage, the methodical minder gets more than he bargained for, especially when he inevitably falls for the women he’s supposed to be protecting. Nauseatingly hyped on its release, The Bodyguard is one of those movies which the world seemed happy to forget in recent decades. However, as a straight up thriller, we’ve seen a lot worse than a relatively original premise being executed with enough twists and turns to keep its audience guessing. The problem lies in the romantic angle which, at all times, seems at odds with characters who are written fit for purpose with the movie’s plot. Writer Lawrence Kasdan needed to raise the sophistication of his characters if he wanted to provide a tenser platform for the mushy stuff but, as it is, their bog-standardness ensure they can’t support anything other than the most basic drama. Fine for a straight thriller, not so fine for a romantic drama. Not surprisingly, therefore, Costner has frequently been better but even at half speed he manages to cut a decent lead. Houston is a little more mixed in her performance. In what could of been an interestingly reflexive role, the actual singer come movie star Houston escapes any acting acrobatics by simply playing herself. And though there are shades of charisma here and there, she spends most of the film belting out one painfully plain song after another before she makes her way to the then showstopping cover of Dolly Parton’s country classic. It’s a whiny turn by virtue of Kasdan’s lack of character ambitions not to mention her limitations as an actress but she nonetheless succeeds in giving us some brief moments of chemistry between her and most of her co-stars. Unfortunately, Costner isn’t one of them and so whenever the movie is shoved into its romantic gear, it labours to keep moving.
Rating: The Ugly – 60 Genre: Action, War Duration: 121 mins Director: Peter Berg Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch
Highly dramatised account of a Navy SEAL team’s desperate attempt to escape dozens of Taliban during a compromised mission in Afghanistan. Peter Berg is a curious director. A glance at his CV and he could look like simply another journeyman director. But every now and then he pops up with a film that seems uniquely his. The fact that Lone Survivor counts as one such movie is both good and bad for Berg. Good because we have a movie with its own personality but bad because the cheesiness and fundamental idiocy of the plot must therefore reflect largely on him. Far from being an unashamed propaganda movie, Lone Survivor is a crudely veiled one. It doesn’t focus on the skill of the soldiers as a more straight up propaganda piece would. Instead, it’s an attempt to appeal to the emotional bonds that exist between the them. By placing them in a hopeless situation and having them shepherd each other to safety, bullet-ridden and broken… but never beaten. Of course, most propaganda films will play on the audience’s heartstrings aiming for emotional resonance. But Berg doesn’t simply play on them. He bounces on them – trampoline style. Some action fans will forgive this. Many won’t – and the truly awful dialogue during these gut wrenching moments won’t help them to in the slightest.
But for those who can forgive it’s more ridiculous qualities, there are rich rewards to be had in the action department. For Lone Survivor is a relentless shrapnel cloud of an action film, more visceral than most. The final hour is an excruciating embellishment on the levels of pain and punishment these men supposedly volunteer for and, as the opening scene alludes to, even crave. Sure, we recently had a rather complex analysis of this peculiar personality in the The Hurt Locker and, in contrast, Berg’s more exaggerated and fallow depiction of war addiction seems all the more disrespectful to the actual men and women of combat. However, what it lacks in subtlety and insight it makes up for in thump by putting us right in the middle of his imagined experience. An experience that amounts to a discombobulation of close quarter hillside combat interspersed with bone crunching mountain tumbling and lung bursting falls.
If the film is let down by a lack of believability in the action stakes, it’s not making up any ground in its character development. The four SEALS are introduced briefly in the beginning but any notion of building on that gets lost once the bullets start flying. And when two of those guys are played by Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch, it’s an unforgivable waste. Needless to say, the bad guys, to specify, the Taliban, are even more one dimensional. Strangely bedecked with ‘Ming the Merciless’ inspired makeup (just in case their slaughter of unarmed civilians didn’t make them seem mean enough), the story would’ve been made at least somewhat substantial if they were given even a modicum of personality. So extreme are they in their badness that the inclusion of a village of kind Afghans towards the end seems all the more conspicuous and, worse, tokenistic. A painful coda dedicated to their real life contribution to the SEAL’s escape only compounds this.
Where Berg truly fails however is in confusing his audience with respect to how he frames his heroes. We’re asked to sit in awe of their dedication, skill, and courage yet the tactical ineptitude that these supposed elite soldiers demonstrate is mind boggling. Their decision making, rationale, and professional comportment appear rather sloppy even to the layman. In the absence of any commentary on this supposed true event, we are left scratching our heads as to how this could’ve happened. Who knows how much liberty was taken in the adaptation but Hollywood is usually guilty of overplaying their heroes not underplaying them let alone leave the audience uncertain as to how much respect they deserve. What is for certain is that we miss much of the action as we ruminate on it. Given that the action is the solitary virtue of this movie, that’s all the more unfortunate.
Rating: The Ugly – 66.1 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 124 mins Director: Joseph Kosinski Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough
Take Moon, 2001, Omega Man, Silent Running, The Matrix, Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run, Star Wars, and practically any other science fiction movie of the last 50 years, mix and match their plot points, add a bold yet rather pretty score and you get Oblivion. Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough play a couple of technicians entrusted to maintain the drones and water harvesters of a post-apocalyptic Earth so that the remnants of the human race can build a new life on the moon Titan. When the Cruiser happens across (literally) the woman from his dreams one day, he begins to suspect that all is not what it seems with his life and incurs the wrath of who or whatever has been issuing him his orders these last few years. To accuse Joseph Kosinski’s movie or his own graphic novel that it’s based on of being derivative is kind of redundant for so overt is the derivation that, structurally, it seems more akin to an exhaustive homage to the great science fiction of cinema. That it doesn’t function like a homage but a strange exercise in script construction is where the problem lies. So familiar are all the elements to the plot and premise that those source movies veritably intrude on Oblivion’s own attempt at a narrative to the point that we find ourselves struggling to feel engaged. Kosinski has certainly made a beautiful looking film though, a crisp fusion of old school cinematography and CGI punctuated with wide angle moments of grandeur worthy of the writer-director’s overall ambition. But while Riseborough manages to make her character work with a wonderfully creepy turn as Cruise’s paramour, the antiseptic nature of his character gives him little room to shine. Thus, we miss the presence he normally brings to his movies leaving Oblivion a rather cold movie to behold. For sci-fi fans, there’s much in the way of interest here but just noting to get our teeth into.
Rating: The Ugly – 63.4 Genre: Crime, Action, Martial Arts Duration: 150 mins Director: Gareth Evans Stars: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra
After escaping the infamous apartment block of The Raid: Redemption, police officer Rama is manipulated into a deep cover assignment designed to expose corruption at the highest level of the Indonesian underworld. But as he gets close to the son of a powerful gangster he finds himself fending largely for himself amid a gang war. The Raid 2 counts as a mildly enjoyable sequel to the surprise Indonesian hit of 2011 that in the absence of a similarly neat premise suffers under some pretentious efforts at compensation.
It’s a familiar problem:- failing to replicate the priceless energy of the first film, the director invests greater attention on the technical side to the production. Thus, The Raid 2 looks wonderfully polished, and individually there are some striking scenes but, overall, it doesn’t work as a package. The lavish production design and overly self conscious cinematography begin to smack of pretension as they intrude repeatedly on the plot’s rational progression which, on a whole other level, struggles to facilitate the same level of action that it’s predecessor dished out. With The Raid: Redemption, there was a streamlined plot which didn’t simply allow carnage to happen naturally, it demanded it! Under pressure to up the ante but without that same bespoke pretext, The Raid 2 contrives one sequence after another until we’re left with a complicated story that lacks the integrity of one solid motivation. This is borne out most clearly in how Rama drifts in and out of the movie despite being the principle character not to mention the only one who links the two films. The other side to this issue is that the action fails to hit the critical momentum of the first film which was a veritable masterclass in that respect.
That said, Iko Uwais makes for a solid lead yet again finding that perfect balance between fresh faced charm and a flurry of fists and feet. The movie always picks up with his presence and the fight sequences are at their most balletic when he’s at their centre. So it’s more the pity they didn’t build the entire show around him. More often than not it seems, we traipsing after the gangsters and their enforcers of which there are just too many littered about. The “colourful bad guy” is a staple of the great action film and the one or two that tend to populate them should be pillars of the movie’s personality. With so many popping up and disappearing through the course of this movie, they fade into nondescript references of the script’s confusing allegiances.
Though letting himself down on his script writing duties, Gareth Evans still manages to prove himself an able director with an eye for scene composition. But he needs to learn discipline so he can tell when to hold back with the visuals and when to deliver them with punch. With too many striking set ups and bold colour contrasts, it all just whites out after a while. He’s shown he can handle action, and then some, and he’s given us glimpses of more but he didn’t properly deliver it with The Raid 2.