After writing the superb Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan moves back into the director's chair for this thriller, which mixes a real-life issue with a compelling procedural mystery. It's a gorgeously shot film with especially well-developed characters who bring intensity and emotion to every scene. And they're expertly played by Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen.
It's set on the Wind River native American reservation in Wyoming, a spectacular mountain landscape under a blanket of winter snow. An 18-year-old woman (Kelsey Asbille in flashbacks) has been found murdered in the wilderness, and FBI agent Jane (Olsen) has arrived to investigate. With no experience in this kind of situation, she gets help from local Fish & Wildlife officer Cory (Renner) as well as the reservation sheriff Ben (Graham Greene). But Cory is finding this case very difficult, as the victim was the best friend of his daughter, who was killed two years ago. This gives Cory a special desire to solve the case, no matter where it leads.
Without ever getting flashy, the plot grinds along with a variety of revelations that continually add more detail to the case, characters and, most intriguingly, community. Local customs and practices continually add unexpected wrinkles, all of which guides the very specific journeys Cory and Jane are taking through this situation. So in addition to a pointed comment on the situation of native Americans in US society, the film is also a powerfully introspective drama about two people travelling their own paths through this terrain.
Continue reading: Wind River Review
Keanu Reeves picks up his supremely efficient hitman immediately where the 2015 original left him: regrouping with his new, as-yet-unnamed dog after taking down the New York mob that he used to work for. Director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad have created another unusually satisfying action thriller, with sharply developed characters and a plot that holds more water than most of these kinds of movies. Obviously, it can't be as fresh as the first film, but it's thoroughly entertaining.
Reeves' John still just wants to be left alone, but after taking care of one loose end, he is contacted by Italian mafioso Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio), who calls in a blood oath. Unable to refuse, John heads to Rome to carry out a hit he knows will make his life exponentially more precarious, especially as it puts him into conflict with his old friend Cassian (Common). Sure enough, he now has an army of goons chasing him, led by mute thug Ares (Ruby Rose). So he returns to New York and gets in contact with an underground guru (Laurence Fishburne) who might be able to offer some respite from the hordes trying to kill him. And manager Winston (Ian McShane) is also willing to help John, as long as he abides by the rules of the criminal underworld.
The film is another superb mix of cool imagery and coherent action that moves briskly from one brutal encounter to the next. Vicious gunfights and car chases abound in this movie, and all are staged with bracing energy and a heightened sense of realism. Through all of this, Reeves maintains a sense of weary dignity in finely tailored suits that are refreshed after each messy encounter. How he keeps walking and fighting after each bruising fight is another question.
Continue reading: John Wick: Chapter 2 Review
With a massive scale and a digital cast of thousands, this ancient Egyptian romp tries to be both a new version of those 1950s Biblical toga epics and a generous dose of camp silliness. The result will be a guilty pleasure for some in the audience, especially those who enjoy watching grown men leap around in short skirts. The actors are sometimes lost in the overwhelming animation, and the casting of Westerners as North Africans is more than a little dubious. But the script is smarter than it looks, and director Alex Proyas is clearly in a playful mood.
The premise conflates the golden age of the Pharaohs with the ancient world of Egyptian gods. And things kick off when the bitter god Set (Gerard Butler) launches a reign of terror by killing his brother, blinding his nephew Horus (Nokolaj Coster-Waldau) and taking over the mortal world, enslaving all humans. Horus' greatest fan is the muscly slave Bek (Brenton Thwaites) who, encouraged by his glamorous girlfriend Zaya (Courtney Eaton), sneaks into Set's palace and steals one of Horus' eyes. He then strikes a deal to help Horus assume his rightful throne. But this means travelling into the sky to confront his grandfather Ra (Geoffrey Rush), then teaming up with sneering god of wisdom Thoth (Chadwick Boseman) and duplicitous Hathor (Yung) to take on Set.
All of this is so ridiculous that it's difficult to stop giggling. And that seems to be part of the idea, as Proyas merrily cranks up the snarky wit in every scene, especially as he indulges in a series of ludicrous set-pieces that feel like videogames populated by toy action figures. The digital effects continually engulf the characters, transforming the gods inexplicably into animal-headed metallic robots. But they also create some genuinely gorgeous moments of spectacle, with sprawling landscapes and whooshing action. Basically, the actors have little choice but to hang on for the ride along with the audience.
Continue reading: Gods Of Egypt Review
A rare film that adds up to much more than the sum of its parts, this works as both a dramatic character study and a tense thriller. The title is Mexican slang for "hitman". And with fierce direction, razor-sharp writing and breathtakingly layered performances, this is one of the most involving, thrilling movies of the year. It also has something urgent to say about the political world we live in.
Kate (Emily Blunt) is the leader of an FBI unit in Phoenix, and is taken aback when offbeat Homeland Security agent Matt (Josh Brolin) asks her to join his team tracking a Mexican drug cartel kingpin. She brings her partner (Daniel Kaluuya) along, and they struggle to make sense of their new mission, especially the shady operative Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) who's working alongside them. The question is which organisation is actually running this operation, and what the real goal is. Clearly international laws are being bent at every step, and Kate is worried that she might also be compromising her moral and ethical principles. Meanwhile over the border, a local cop (Maximiliano Hernandez) is involved in activities that may cause trouble for his family and community.
Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) keeps this story tightly under control, taking the audience along on Kate's odyssey into the dark side of international law enforcement, which has little regard for the law. Blunt brings a remarkable authenticity to her role as a steely, smart leader who is always on-edge, trying to find a way through an unpredictable situation. As she quietly reveals Kate's thought processes, the audience is able to identify with her at every step. Which makes every scene both riveting and emotionally wrenching. Opposite her, both Brolin and Del Toro are on top form, infusing the film with quirky details, black humour and challenging ideas. There's also an astonishing role for Jon Bernthal as a cowboy who flirts with Kate, and then some.
Continue reading: Sicario Review
There have been so many awful revenge thrillers lately that we've almost forgotten that it's possible to make a good one, and this is a rare example of striking the right balance of exhilarating action and dark emotion. Yes, there's a high body count, but this isn't a mow-them-down romp: there's a real sense of pain at all of the senseless bloodshed caused by one idiot's inability to conceive that his actions might have repercussions.
The film also gives Keanu Reeves yet another chance to cleverly reinvent himself on-screen as John Wick, a still-feared former mob hitman who left his job to have a happy life with his wife (Bridget Moynahan). But her untimely illness and death have left him a broken man. His only glimmer of hope is her deathbed gift of an adorable puppy to keep him company. Then even this is taken from him, when cocky Russian thug Iosef (Alfie Allen) steals his vintage Mustang and kills the puppy. In need of closure, John resurrects his past, which is a problem because his ex-boss Viggo (Michael Nyqvist) is Iosef's dad, and he knows that John is unstoppable. So Viggo reluctantly offers a massive bounty on John's head, taken up by John's former fellow assassin pals (Willem Dafoe and Adrianne Palicki). But it's doubtful that anyone can stop the legendary John Wick from bringing down the entire Russian mafia.
Intriguingly, everyone in the film knows this legend except the dim-witted moron Iosef, who blithely keeps on carousing while everyone around him prepares for Armageddon. Writer Derek Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski set the story in a fantastical criminal underworld that uses solid gold coins as currency in shimmering underground nightclubs, lavish spas and a mob hotel in which "business" is strictly prohibited. All of this is fiendishly inventive, with a striking visual atmosphere and an even stronger moody tone. At the centre, Reeves gives John a jagged sense of humour as he braces himself wearily for the inevitable carnage, all while trying to control his much deeper emotional pain.
Continue reading: John Wick Review
Barney (Stallone) and his team of ageing mercenaries are coerced by Church (Willis) into heading into hostile territory to retrieve a top secret electronic gadget. Most shocking is the fact that Church insists that a woman, Maggie (Yu), joins them. And when things go wrong, Barney leads the gang on a grisly revenge mission against a nasty villain (Van Damme) who's callously putting humanity in peril. Along the way they're joined by Church and Trench (Schwarzenegger), and get help from lone-wolf Booker (Norris).
Continue reading: The Expendables 2 Review
While this sequel is just as loud and chaotic as 2010's Clash of the Titans remake, it's also considerably more fun due to some exhilarating action and a refreshing sense of humour. It also looks amazing in 3D on an Imax screen.
Years later, the now-widowed hero Perseus (Worthington) is trying to live as an anonymous fisherman with his pre-teen son Helius (Bell). Then he hears about stirrings of a coming calamity. Indeed, his father Zeus (Neeson) has been kidnapped by Hades (Fiennes) and Ares (Ramirez) as pat of a plan to release Zeus and Hades' evil father Kronos from the underworld. So Perseus teams up with Queen Andromeda (Pike) and rogue demigod Agenor (Kebbell), son of Poseidon (Huston), to rescue his father and stop his brother, uncle and grandfather.
Yes, this is one seriously dysfunctional family, as four generations of men set out to either destroy the world or save it. To be honest, it's never clear why Hades and Ares are so hellbent, as it were, on cataclysmic destruction, but at least this also allows for changing alliances as the story progresses. Not that there's much story, really, as the plot essentially just links a series of action set-pieces.
Fortunately, most of these sequences are entertaining enough to keep us gripped. Highlights include a rather fabulous dragon attack and a desperate, full-on fight with cyclops-giants in a forest. Less convincing are a convoluted underworld rescue-battle and the climactic assault on the volcano-sized Kronos, who rains down fire and destruction rather selectively. (There's also the problem of how the filmmakers can top Kronos in the probable sequel.)
Along the way, there are some refreshing moments of deranged humour, mainly in Kebbell's snarky dialog, Pike's sharp glances and a particularly colourful turn by Nighy (as super-spear smelter Hephaestus). But as the story progresses, there's more than a whiff of Lord of the Rings (the fires of Mount Doom, plus some pointless two-torsoed Orc-a-likes), Harry Potter (the three-pronged Deathly Hallows) and even Star Wars (all that father-son angst). But filmmaker Liebesman keeps things moving briskly, wowing us with so much eye-candy that we just sit back and enjoy the rickety ride for what it is.
Perseus (Worthington) is a demigod who has been raised by humans and now finds himself at the centre of a war between man and the gods Zeus (Neeson), Hades (Fiennes) and Poseidon (a blink-and-you'll-miss-him Danny Huston). Accompanied by a handful of plucky warriors from Argos (including Mikkelsen, Cunningham, Hoult and Matheson) and his spirit-guide Io (Arterton), he heads off to find the secret to defeat Hades' feared Kraken so he can save Princess Andromeda (Davalos).
Continue reading: Clash Of The Titans Review
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