The Foreigner

Release: Friday, October 13, 2017

→Theater 

Written by: David Marconi

Directed by: Martin Campbell

Martin Campbell has been behind two of my all-time favorite Bond movies, Casino Royale and Goldeneye (incidentally two films that also saw a changing of the guard amongst the ranks of the 00 elite), and now he’s responsible for one of my favorite Jackie Chan movies ever. The Legend is back, and as The Foreigner he’s kicking ass and taking names in ways we haven’t seen before.

Before going any further, before my bias toward the Kiwi’s new movie renders me a totally unreliable resource, I should point out that this is the same director who made Vertical Limit, the face-palming result of woefully apparent and inadequate research that turned the rock climbing community into the laughingstock of audiences everywhere. The critical and commercial failure that was Green Lantern in 2011 further sullied the good Campbell name. Fortunately those are stains that have come out in the wash. The Foreigner is his first theatrical release since then, and it’s one of his best.

The New Zealand-born filmmaker is arguably an entertainer first and a director second, as not even his lesser output — Vertical frikkin’ Limit included — fail to provide at least some degree of escapism. The Foreigner offers something a little different in that regard. Though the movie does at some point become farcical, the viewer can’t afford to completely detach, much less get comfortable, for it is the gnarly landscape of our present reality over which the narrative cautiously treads. Steeped in the world of dastardly complex politics in an age of global terrorism, the story tells of a retired Vietnam War special forces op named Quan (Chan) who seeks justice for his daughter who is killed in a London department store bombing.

Hong Kong’s biggest action star subverts roughly 30 years of expectation by portraying a father pushed to the brink of sanity, a man who tiptoes the line of morality in his quest to expose the identities of the culprits — a group who call themselves “The Authentic IRA.” In The Foreigner, Chan goes full-on Liam Neeson, a brute force awakened from slumber whose very particular set of skills, shaped by his survival of Vietnamese internment camps as well as a life overflowing with personal tragedy, are called upon when he finally loses everything. So, yeah. Rush Hour this ain’t. Reportedly Campbell had to make two separate trips to China in order to convince Chan this is a role he should take.

Not everything is unfamiliar. At 63, and in post-Lifetime Achievement Award territory, Chan is still risking life and limb for the sake of bona fide performance art. The stunts aren’t as spectacular as they once were, that’s true, but I’ll run that number by you again. He’s 63 and still jumping out of second-floor windows, narrowly avoiding death like a parkour expert in their early 20s. It’s as if death wishes are part of some non-negotiable clause in Chan’s career contract. Separating this role from most, however, is that added edge of emotion that sees that mischievous grin of his traded in for a face twisted in grief and pain.

Chan’s not the only one turning in a surprisingly impactful performance. Quan’s queries, which in the language of these familiar action movies become obsessions, eventually lead him into the office of Irish deputy minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan). He’s an intimidating man with a dark history to match, one made public by his own admission but the true extent to which it remains relevant becomes a mystery only Quan seems prepared (or desperate enough) to investigate. Aging suits Brosnan well, particularly in a more complex role like this where he appears to be bad at keeping the peace — let all The Troubles be forgot — but better at playing the sadistic puppeteer.

As the story unfolds it relies increasingly on these performances. Throughout we become bombarded with subplots detailing the total lack of trust between the Irish and the British, where acts of terrorism are perpetrated in the name of government favors and special interests. There’s a lot of orchestration going on behind the scenes, most memorably highlighted in an intensely heated exchange between Hennessy and a rogue IRA member played by Dermot Crowley. In the end, it’s the cat-and-mouse game between the film’s two stars that gives us reason to invest. The politics may become a bit silly, but these guys really aren’t fucking around. I enjoyed The Foreigner probably more than I should have, for that reason alone.

Recommendation: Fans of The Legend and the James Bond that M once lovingly called “a relic of the Cold War” should have a lot of time for a movie like The Foreigner. As a story it’s familiar, but Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan challenge the assertion that a cliché movie is a bad movie.

Rated: R

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “Politicians and terrorists, they are just two ends of the same snake. What’s the difference?”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

No Escape

Release: Wednesday, August 26, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: John Erick Dowdle; Drew Dowdle

Directed by: John Erick Dowdle

No Escape shouldn’t work as well as it does and yet, strong performances from an unlikely cast make for a taut thriller that plays to the tune of Taken, becoming an often absurd yet emotionally resonant tale of survival.

Owen Wilson finds inspiration in drama once again as family man Jack Dwyer whose recent job change has moved him, his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two daughters Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (nine-year-old actress Claire Geare) to a nondescript Southeast Asian country. Feeling immediately displaced the family bumps into a friendly man named Hammond (Pierce Brosnan, in the ideal post-James Bond cameo) who helps arrange some transportation for them at the airport.

Jack has joined Cardiff, a conglomerate that distributes clean water to third-world nations. He reassures his older daughter that this job will be more stable since this company is much bigger than his old one. The one thing he doesn’t mention is that all they need now is to overcome some culture shock. And then come to terms with the fact that his very presence is about to put all their lives at risk when the city erupts suddenly in a violent and bloody revolt. It quickly becomes clear how unwelcome foreigners like Jack are in this place, as locals set about on a ruthless murdering spree that ends up accounting for three-quarters of the total runtime. Opening lucidly, the dialogue-lite narrative allows precious little time for Wilson and Bell to settle into these decidedly restrained performances as heads of household. But it’s just enough.

No Escape certainly isn’t complicated. This is a contemporary survival film, demanding the bare minimum from viewers in terms of intellectual engagement. In fact it is so plot-less — we watch as a desperate family clings to life bouncing from point A to point B — drama develops emotionally rather than logically, à la Taken. Simply ignore all the (good) changes of fortune this family manages to experience throughout this harrowing adventure. If you are able to mentally block out the fact that in this world Asians are either the ones doing the killing or the ones being killed, you are all the better for it. With a little luck those feelings of resentment, annoyance, maybe even anger born out of the injustices we are forced to watch eventually will subside and yield some sense of relief come the film’s predictable albeit preferable conclusion.

Although I suspect leaving the theater completely satisfied isn’t going to be possible for a few. This isn’t the most pleasant film you’ll watch this year. The violence is brutal and virtually unrelenting from the half-hour mark onward and, as it was in another Owen Wilson-led drama set behind enemy lines, the bloodletting-as-demarcation-between-good-guy-and-bad-guy is ill advised. Nor is it a subtle technique; the Dwyers get so good at dodging bullets you might assume they stepped off the plane and into the matrix rather than an Asian country.

Yet this is hardly the film’s undoing. Where No Escape lacks in sensitivity and subtlety it compensates with a strong family dynamic. Wilson plays one of his most affable and natural characters in years, while Bell turns a new leaf as his loving, trusting wife trying her best to deal with such chaotic circumstances. There’s nary a sign of Bell’s comedic background here. The two children are realized honestly and convincingly, and best of all they aren’t saddled with the cliches that make kids in movies annoying and one-dimensional. Indeed, if there’s a reason to care at all about the film’s politics, it’s that this charming Western family doesn’t deserve to be any sort of target.

The Dowdles — John directed while his brother Drew wrote the story — don’t have the most original thriller in their pockets but their product isn’t false advertising. This is pretty thrilling stuff, even if the sociopolitical commentary is sloppy, and any attempts to immerse us in the culture are half-hearted at best. (Ironically the last thing we want is to be further immersed in this place once those first shots have been fired.) Brosnan bears worth mentioning as well, offering some much-needed grit as an apparent agent of the night, popping in ever so conveniently when the Dwyers seem to have met their fates. Hammond isn’t a well-established character but he’s also too likable to dismiss. Plus, you know, he’s got those skills that come in really handy. And a British accent that gives No Escape the facade of ‘international thriller’ it longs for.

From a strictly entertainment standpoint, the brothers Dowdle extract a consistently engaging journey out of chaos and hostility. The effort reminds us through solid performances and often confronting and pervasive violence, that there are few motivations stronger than a person’s will to survive.

Recommendation: Unquestionably flawed movie delivers the goods in the form of hard-hitting action sequences that go beyond mere visual panache. No Escape is trying to say something with its bloodiness, but unfortunately the script isn’t nearly good enough to warrant much comment on that. If, like me, you’ve been waiting for Wilson to do something different with his talents, then wait no more. His partnership with Brosnan is as entertaining as it seems on paper. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “We’ve got to get ourselves to the American Embassy.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

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After throwing out my back last Thursday, I return from some much-needed time off here on TBT. And you know, even after only one week gone here I feel kinda rusty and couldn’t think of something for the longest time to write about. After filtering through several great suggestions on Facebook I’m here to announce those are going to surface VERY soon because the responses I got were numerous (and I haven’t seen any of them, which is a bonus). In the meantime, I’m sure some are going to be surprised to find out what I’ve chosen for 

Today’s food for thought: The Thomas Crown Affair.

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Getting off on ripping off museums since: August 6, 1999

[DVD]

Undoubtedly, some are going to be surprised to see a lack of a certain Steve McQueen here. I know, and while we are on the subject, I may as well get this off my chest right now rather than let it loom over this review at large. I have not seen the original.

Okay, please stop throwing fruit at me.

Thank you.

Sooner rather than later, this issue is going to be resolved. I’m fairly sure I’ll fall in love with the original cast as much as I have this modern one: I mean, come on — a young Faye Dunaway, who happened to appear in this modern touch-up from John McTiernan as well. She assumed the role of Thomas Crown’s psychologist, seen at the beginning trying to assess the current emotional state of a billionaire playboy finding his interest in being able to purchase (or do) anything he so desires on the wane. And of course, then there was Steve McQueen, doing Pierce’s work in 1968. The mischief, back then, was inherent in the name alone.

I can only assume Pierce had to work for it a little bit more here, though he hardly had to break a sweat. As Thomas Crown, he cranked up the sophistication to 11 and kicked up his feet, relaxing into one of the more casual roles of his career. In the midst of his James Bond fame, Brosnan had to have relished getting to chew scenery in a lighthearted crime-caper/romance flick.

Rene Russo reprised Dunaway’s role as a sumptuous insurance investigator who had become involved in the recovery of a precious Monet painting that was lifted in a seemingly random heist at the New York Metropolitan Museum. (There arose another key difference: rather than a museum heist, the old version hinged on a situation involving a Boston bank.) Her insertion into the scene proved simultaneously an amusing foil for the authorities currently working the case — mostly for Denis Leary as a abrasive but ultimately lonely detective heading up the investigation — as well as a worthy adversary of sorts for the brilliantly evasive Thomas Crown.

Director John McTiernan’s jigsaw puzzle may not be as iconic or even half as witty as what might be accomplished in a match-up between the mighty McQueen and the gorgeous Stun-away; however there’s undeniable charm between Brosnan and Russo who tumble headlong into a passionate romance bound for an uncertain, unsafe future together. Or not?

This place is pretty much spoiler-free, so I won’t put too fine a point on that.

But here’s one I can’t avoid mentioning: The Thomas Crown Affair was a great deal of fun. Still is. Between the exotic locales, damn near tantric-levels of heavy-petting, and an unrelenting sense of freedom cultivated through the performances and fluid direction, this film had all the hallmarks of a guilty pleasure. The only knick in this production is once you’ve experienced it the first time, the magic in the trick slightly dissipates. Still, being able to predict what happens next is merely a byproduct of a film that can be watched over time and again. This deviation, this joyride, is certainly worth its weight in gold.

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3-5Recommendation: The Thomas Crown Affair is a great escape for the crime-thriller lover who is not opposed to a little sappy romance here and there. It features solid performances from Brosnan and Russo, whom this reviewer would personally feel more comfortable with being insured by; as well as a sufficiently engaging mystery/adventure plot to justify an hour and forty minutes’ worth of material. This is a film that entices on more than one level. I highly recommend it to anyone a fan of either actor, though it’s just a little odd the director of things like Die Hard and Predator would say yes to something like this.

Rated: R

Running Time: 113 mins.

TBTrivia: The idea of unusual heat in the museum rendering thermal cameras useless came from McTiernan’s Predator. In that movie, McTiernan’s actual thermal cameras began to fail when the jungle temperature broke 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.fanpop.com; http://www.movieweb.com

The November Man

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Release: Wednesday, August 27, 2014

[Theater]

Careful with that trigger finger, Devereux.

The old adage ‘the more things change the more they stay the same’ is likely to surface in several forms here in my explanation as to why I think Pierce Brosnan doesn’t really owe us an explanation for the mess that is The November Man.

After nearly a decade removed from the spy game, the unapologetically good-looking Irishman may have added some gray whisks to his quaff of brown hair, but at the end of the day he’s still getting a job done that needs getting done. Duly aware that time is getting on, Pierce, also operating in a producer capacity, has turned up the intensity and bid adieu to romance in this considerably more aggressive role as Peter Devereux, a ruthless CIA agent who knows how to deliver physical punishment as well as a compelling reason to watch for his next move, even if everything else surrounding him doesn’t.

His latest escapade, based upon the novel There Are No Spies — the seventh book in a series titled The November Man — opens chaotically, as a botched mission in Montenegro leads to his brief retirement after his partner and agent-in-training, David Mason (Luke Bracey) disobeys direct orders and winds up killing an innocent bystander on the streets in a confrontation unnecessarily made public. Such unprofessionalism draws a divide in the ideals between the old-school agent and wide-eyed trainee eager to prove his skill set.

Following the debacle Devereux swears he’s done and takes off for Switzerland to enjoy a quiet life running a coffee shop. Sorry, but pristine Alpine peaks without any of the parleying is a pipe dream for you, pal.

Don’t forget, old habits die hard, especially when you’re this good at being typecast. Even better, when you know you are this good at being typecast. And Brosnan does. When former boss Peter Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) comes knocking, he hardly balks at the task of finding and protecting a fellow CIA operative whose safety becomes jeopardized after exposing secrets about Russian presidential candidate and former Army General Arkady Federov. When she loses her life in an ensuing sequence of conflicting orders that have Hanley ordering Devereux to protect her and CIA Station Chief Perry Weinstein (Will Patton) dispatching David to take her out, a stark idealogical divide forms between both trigger fingers.

Neither expecting the other at opposite ends of the barrel in the aftermath of this second botched op, they flee in opposite directions and the actual narrative, as it were, finally has a chance to get underway. Devereux’s ultimate assignment is to protect a third innocent from destruction at the hands of another vile man. This will be in the form of an Alice Fornier (Olga Kurylenko).

If, by chance, you have reached this point and find your head spinning, you’re likely not alone. There lies a complex web of characters and relationships to explain and not even the film’s up to the task. It can’t prioritize which relationship is more important. Ultimately, few of them are interesting on their own merits. They are helped by a relatively compelling and violent CIA agent coming into contact with them.

We dip in and out of sun-tinged locales often in exciting bursts of action. Roger Donaldson demonstrates his understanding of shooting chase sequences and tension occasionally rises to nearly unbearable levels owed to some interesting camera angles and quick, anxious cutaways. The film teases palm-sweating good fun but never outright offers it as it spends too much time setting up too many characters when it could have limited its periphery easily. A Russian assassin whose personal mission is to wipe out Alice is only one example. (No, you’re not getting another.)

Somewhere along the way Kurylenko becomes entangled in this convoluted scuffle between American and Russian government agencies via a thankless role as the aforementioned Alice, whose history renders her a very important character but whose personality suggests otherwise. The lovely Kurylenko does the best with what she’s given but the end result of seeing her in The November Man inspires only vague recollections of her involvement with Quantum of Solace.

So I’ll say it again: the more things change, the more Pierce stays the same. Despite his character sporting an attitude more befitting of an anti-hero on more than one occasion, at the core there’s still a palpable sense of the actor relishing what he does for a living. I won’t deny the power of his tougher outfit but I just wish there was a way to explain why the script could not be better here. And no, Devereux doesn’t need to offer up anything.

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3-0Recommendation: Not the best outing for my boy Brosnan by any means, but this doesn’t rank amongst his worst either. He is undoubtedly why this movie’s going to get rented out (if my screening was any indication, there certainly weren’t many keen on checking it out in theatrical form), and perhaps some may recognize the actor-director pairing from Dante’s Peak. That might be worth something as well, but suffice it to say if you’re expecting the script to improve or likewise the characters from that one to this, you’ll be left more shaken than stirred.

Rated: R

Running Time: 108 mins.

Quoted: “Peter Devereux. You are one bleak motherfucker, you know that? You know what we used to call you? The November Man. Because after you passed through, nothing lived.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Goldeneye (1995)

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It’s a brand new month and once again time for a whole new way to dork out on Throwback Thursday. After taking the week off last week I am back and feeling refreshed after sifting through a month of Adam Sandler films. (Speculation is probably going to run high about whether I threw in the towel on that theme or if I just simply got lazy and didn’t do a fifth TBT for the month. . .either way, I ain’t tellin’!) But we’re back and better than ever, and it’s time to look back on some classic action films, and I wish now that this month had more Thursdays because pairing down the canon of James Bond films to just four is going to be some task. But I’m willing to do it, as long as you’re willing to trust me that I know what I’m doing (I don’t). I’m really just going to be making this up as I go along — because how can I honestly up and declare that these four that I select for the month are ‘the best?’ What I will do though, is call these four my favorites, and that they best represent the series based on the actor playing 007 at the time. So let the espionage, back-stabbery and misogyny commence!

Today’s food for thought: Goldeneye

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Status Activate: November 17, 1995

[VHS]

Mission Briefing: 007 is tasked with preventing a nuclear space weapon from firing on London. In order to do this he has no choice but to expose the identity of the terrorist, believed to be a former MI6 agent, confront him and stop him at all costs.

Mission Support: 

  • Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) — to be quite frank, purely emotional support
  • Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) — can be kind of flaky but will show support if necessary
  • Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) — not the kind of support any agent wants or needs; approach with extreme prejudice
  • Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker) — technical back-up
  • Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) — loyalty unquestioned, though a man with serious trust issues
  • General Arkady Grigorovich Ourumov (Gottfried John) — a man supportive of his own ambitions, and considered a traitor to his country; MI6’s top suspect in the attack on Severnaya; approach with extreme prejudice
  • Russian Defense Minister Dmitri Mishkin (Tchéky Karyo) — slightly ambiguous motives; approach with caution

Q Branch: Q (Desmond Llewelyn) strongly advocates the use of several small devices that might help you out of a tight spot, particularly if you have any interest in pursuing this slippery Ourumov fella. A quick rig of your belt buckle and a simple exploding pen should do the trick. Best of luck out there Bond.

Performance Evaluation: Rico Suave, a.k.a. Pierce Brosnan in his first outing gets betrayed by fellow agent — though apparently his inferior, based on his 006 status — Alec Trevelyan when a botched mission in an underground laboratory in Arkhangelsk, Russia leads to the two forming starkly different views on loyalty. . .to the mission, to the Crown, and ultimately to one another. Goldeneye is a rather emotionally charged action adventure that’s inarguably Brosnan’s finest hour in the tux.

Leaping from one ultra-classic action set piece to the next, Goldeneye tries not to slow down and almost forgets to breathe in its own gorgeous scenery though occasional slow moments are injected to ground the drama if only temporarily.

Characters are not only memorable but effective. Look no further than Jack Wade for some nice comic relief in addition to the requisite Q branch scenes, and at the heart of the drama lies the decay of a once sturdy friendship, which has gravity thanks to chemistry between Brosnan and Bean. Villains Ourumov and particularly Onatopp prove to be worthy opponents, and nerdy programmer Boris Grishinko provides yet another comedic thread, whose own fate may be the most suitable and uncanny of them all.

Perhaps it helps that the film was backed up by a quality (and classic, if you ask me) video game — Goldeneye is a serious magnet for nostalgia. Considering that Brosnan turned out to be not among the greatest portrayals, it’s an even more impressive feat that this turns out to leave quite the impression on the cinematic landscape. Ian Fleming would be proud of this one. And even though it’s not Martin Campbell’s best (such a distinction is reserved for his unforgettable Casino Royale), it gives his latest a serious run for it’s money in terms of being memorable.

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Sean Bean about to be set adrift on memory bliss . . .

4-0Recommendation: Anyone who is a fan of the franchise has a soft spot for this gem. Like the Walther PPK or Bond’s signature martini, it’s simply a classic, for lack of a better word. Swift, sexy and (un)subtle, this film is a great load of fun and a definitive staple of the 1990s.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 130 mins.

Quoted: “I AM INVINCIBLE!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com