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Posts Tagged ‘Jessica Alba’

Gratifying though it has been to see the great Mr Jason Statham become much more a fixture of major studio movies, with his appearances in the Fast & Furious franchise, the Expendables series, and even a Melissa McCarthy comedy, there has been a definite downside to this – namely that vehicles headlined by Mr Statham himself have become that much thinner on the ground. The fact that the last couple of these didn’t even shown at my multiplex of choice doesn’t help much either – well, at least Netflix loves Jason, even if the Odeon doesn’t.

One victim of Odeon’s Stathamophobia was last year’s Mechanic: Resurrection, which is ostensibly a sequel to 2011’s The Mechanic. To be honest, though, it could really be a sequel to almost any Jason Statham film you care to mention, inasmuch as he is (as usual) playing the Jason Statham Character – which is to say, a tough, taciturn professional whose lethal skills are offset by a strict code of honour.

Rather amusingly, Mechanic: Resurrection‘s director, Dennis Gansel, has opted for the possessive credit (i.e., ‘A film by…’), which is more sensibly reserved for films with a distinctive artistic vision and aspirations to be high art. None of these things is true of a normal Jason Statham movie, and they’re especially not true of this one.

Mr Statham plays Bishop, a retired assassin who specialised in making his handiwork look like an accident. These days he is living the life of Riley in Brazil on his lovely yacht, but, wouldn’t you just know it, his past is about to catch up with him. A young woman turns up and refuses to let Mr Statham’s clever attempts to pretend to be Brazilian fool her. ‘You can’t even get the accent right,’ she observes, which (given Jason Statham’s notoriously variable attempts to sound American) is about as close as the film gets to actual wit. Anyway, she is in the employ of one of Mr Statham’s old acquaintances, Crane (Sam Hazeldine), who has unfinished business with him. Not that it really matters much, but apparently both Bishop and Crane were effectively sold into slavery as children and trained as child soldiers by a gangster. This might make more sense if they didn’t both have London accents, but I digress. Anyway, Crane wants Bishop to carry out three looking-like-an-accident assassinations, or it will go the worse for him.

After a second or so’s consideration, Mr Statham refuses the young lady’s offer in the traditional courteous fashion, by hitting her over the head with a table. Pausing only to beat up all of her bodyguards, he departs (by hurling himself atop a passing hang-glider) and clears off to Thailand and the beach resort of his old friend Mei (Michelle Yeoh, soon to go where no Hong Kong action star has gone before).

Here he meets Gina (Jessica Alba), a young woman who appears to be having trouble with an abusive girlfriend. At Mei’s prompting, Mr Statham intervenes (he’s very ready to sit in judgement on men who are violent to women, given only five minutes earlier he was hitting girls with tables), and the man with a legendary skill when it comes to premeditatedly killing folk and making it look accidental, accidentally kills the dude but makes it look rather like a murder. Hey, everyone has a bad day once in a while, I guess.

It turns out that Gina is also in the employ of Crane, the plan being that she will get it on with him and then allow herself to be kidnapped, thus giving Crane leverage over our man. She is still basically a good sort, though, as she is ex-US Army and also runs an orphanage in Cambodia. Not entirely surprisingly, the two of them get it on anyway, at which point Crane’s goons indeed turn up and kidnap her. Slow off the mark, there, Mr S.

Well, Mr Statham has to go off and do the three assassinations after all, but luckily they are horrible people so his conscience stays fairly clear. I suppose you could call these sequences little vignettes – Bishop has to get himself in and out of a maximum security Thai prison, which involves exploding chewing gum and a fake facial tattoo (done in biro from the look of things), and then does his human fly impression up the side of an Australian skyscraper to flush a human trafficker out of the bottom of his own swimming pool. Then it’s off to Bulgaria for his date with his final target, an American arms dealer (Tommy Lee Jones).

The presence of a relatively substantial performer like Jones, along with that of a high-profile leading lady like Jessica Alba, might lead you to conclude that this is a more serious and credible Jason Statham movie. You would be entirely wrong, I am afraid, for this is a Jason Statham movie in the classic vein, even – if I may be so bold – an especially preposterous one. (In case you were wondering, Tommy Lee Jones basically contributes an extended cameo, while Jessica Alba is, perhaps not for the first time in her career, essentially just ornamental flesh.)

The cinematography is quite nice, I suppose, and the various scenes of Jason Statham doing intricate, determined things in the course of his assassinations are well managed. This is one of those films where Mr Statham spends most of his time scowling intensely, with perhaps a touch of wistfulness now and then – he’s perfectly good at this, and also in the numerous action sequences. For some reason he spends quite a lot of the film in a wetsuit this time, but this is far from the oddest thing about it.

The problems mainly lie with the script, which is hackneyed, has nothing new to offer, and oscillates between deep predictability and moments of the utterly absurd – at one point the villains’ yacht leaves Sydney harbour, and then seemingly only a few hours later is cruising in the Black Sea. Now, I do like a touch of the outlandish and crazy in my Jason Statham movies – it’s the contrast between Statham’s completely deadpan approach to the material and its frequent barking silliness which gives them their distinctive tone – but somehow here it all feels just a bit perfunctory, not even remotely grounded in reality.

The opening section of the film is fairly engaging, but once Mr Statham sets off about his various assassinations, it rapidly becomes – dare I say it – completely mechanical, with very little in the way of characterisation or intentional humour. By the time the final act arrived, with a succession of uninspired shoot-ups and obvious plot twists, I actually found it a genuine struggle to stay focused on the movie and not start thinking about something else. Long-term readers will know that this is something that is very rarely the case with a Statham movie.

I really don’t know. I am, obviously, a fan of Jason Statham, and have sat and watched nearly all his movies and mostly enjoyed them – and while this one does have a few bits and pieces in it to divert the attention and reward the faithful, at the same time it too often feels formulaic and poorly thought through. I really like Jason Statham because he is usually a front man whose presence is the indicator of a Good Bad Movie. Mechanic: Resurrection, unfortunately, is just a Bad Movie.

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Step back in time with me, back, back, beyond the borders of the familiar world we know and understand, back to a strange new realm of different priorities and peculiar truths. Let the comforting certainties of the 2010s tumble away as we are whisked back to a place and a time undreamed of. I cannot guarantee your safety, but the wonders you will see will be their own reward.

Well, probably not, as we’re only going back to 2007, the year which gave the world the third Pirates of the Caribbean film (gee, thanks) and the first Transformers (you know, you really honestly shouldn’t have bothered). So far, so exactly the same, you may be thinking – and up to a point you may be right. Nevertheless, as inhabitants of a world which has grown accustomed to Marvel superhero movies crossing over with each other and making $1.2 billion in record time, this is in some ways an odd year for us.

Marvel Studios is, as yet, still only an untried name without a single blockbuster hit to its credit. Marvel comics characters are still being leased out to other studios, such as the makers of the X-Men and Spider-Man series. Both of these have had critical wobbles recently. This is as nothing, however, to the mauling doled out to Tim Story’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, a further movie based on the seminal comic, starring… hang on, isn’t that the guy out of The Avengers?

fantastic-four-rise-of-the-silver-surfer-original

Yes, it’s time for another round of Is It Really As Bad As All That? Let us examine the case for the prosecution: a quick sampling of internet opinion reveals Rise of the Silver Surfer to be ‘an awful, tedious drudge’, a ‘tedious, incoherent bore’, ‘relentlessly dull’, ‘existentially and aesthetically unnecessary’, a ‘plotless, brainless, witless bore’, and ‘drearier than corn dying in the Iowa sun’. Yowser. (Even so, many people, even while sticking it to this movie, cheerfully acknowledged it was much better than the original film).

Hmmm. As the movie opens, our elementally-powered quartet (Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis) are getting on with their lives as celebrity superheroes. Top of the current agenda is Reed and Sue’s impeding wedding, plans for which keep getting disrupted by international crises, invasions from the Negative Zone, paparazzi, etc, etc. However, an equally serious problem appears with the arrival on Earth of a mysterious blob of space energy, which criss-crosses the globe causing all sorts of strange CGI effects shots. The space energy also wakes up the dormant Doctor Doom (Julian McMahon) in his Latverian castle, no doubt causing a ripple of apprehension on the audience’s part: not because he’s a terrifying villain, but because the handling of the character was so fundamentally botched in the first movie.

The US Army insists that Mr Fantastic do his bit in tracking the intruder from space, though juggling this with the wedding arrangements is a challenge even for a man with rubber fingers. Nevertheless, both projects proceed apace and come to fruition at the same moment. It’s just the rottenest of luck that the space blob objects to being tracked and crashes the wedding to fry Reed’s  gear, transforming into a silver dude on a surfboard in the process (the reasons for this are never really dwelt upon, but as Jack Kirby’s reasoning behind the character’s look basically boiled down to ‘I’m bored of drawing spaceships’, you can kind of understand why).

It eventually transpires that the Silver Surfer (Doug Jones and Laurence Fishburne) is the advance scout for a world-devouring alien superbeing, Galactus, who is already en route to Earth. The Four have to persuade the Surfer to help them repel this threat, always assuming they can put to one side Reed and Sue’s romantic issues. And a problem the Torch has picked up where he keeps swapping powers with the others. Oh, and Doctor Doom quite fancies getting his gauntleted hands on the Surfer’s power, too…

Now, I quite liked the 2005 movie about these characters. While it made a right royal mess of one of comics’ greatest heavies by completely reimagining Doom’s background and powers, it was pacy, looked good, and got at least half of the feel of the Fantastic Four comics pretty much bang-on. By this I mean that the book itself gains much of its flavour and entertainment value from the sparks generated when a tongue-in-cheek family sitcom rubs up against grandiose cosmic spectacle and psychedelic weirdness. The first film got the sitcom right but fluffed the spectacle.

If there’s a real problem with Rise of the Silver Surfer, it’s that this time the situation is reversed. In this film the globe-trotting adventure is well-mounted, with some really effective sequences – the Torch’s aerial pursuit of the Surfer through New York City being just about precisely what you’d want to see in a Fantastic Four movie – but the character interaction and comedy is, for the most part, completely inert when it isn’t actually slightly painful to watch. An authentic Fantastic Four movie would be much sharper, more intelligent, and – crucially – much funnier than this one ever manages to be. Family-friendly it may be, but it’s the enemy of your grey cells.

That said, it’s not actually as boring as its critics seem to think – the story rattles along pacily enough courtesy of the multi-stranded plot and does its best to tick as many demographic boxes as it can – knockabout action for the kids, so-so jokes for the adults, comics in-jokes for the fanboys and some tasteful T&A from Jessica Alba for the benefit of internet film bloggers. It just never quite convinces as a serious movie, mainly because of the jokey tone of the opening. At one point there’s a sequence about the US Army torturing the captive Surfer for information, which in a darker film might have been quite effective – but here, it just seems incongruous and a real misjudgement.

I suppose Julian McMahon was already under contract as Doom, so they had to put him in the movie, and you can see the logic behind having a go at adapting the classic story from issues #57-60 where Doom usurps the Surfer’s Power Cosmic, but once again the good Doctor is one of the weak points of the film. Neither script nor performance ever really come close to doing Doctor Doom justice, although – once again – the final tussle between him and a rather Super-Skrull-esque Human Torch ticks all the right boxes in terms of property damage and digital virtuosity.

But then that really feels like this movie all over – the production values are excellent, the story (just about) hangs together, and the actors playing the title roles have nothing to be ashamed of. (Nevertheless, the toxic wake of this film seems to have effectively destroyed Ioan Gruffudd’s career as a leading man in major movies.) It’s just that the characters seem to have no depth and interact with each other in the most mechanical way, which is bad news for drama, but absolutely grim tidings for anything with ambitions to be light and/or amusing. The main problem with Rise of the Silver Surfer is not that it doesn’t work as a superhero movie, but that it fails as a comedy and a drama.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 14th June 2005:

Hello again, everyone, and welcome to the column that believes it’s better to be adored by a few than read by anyone. This week we cruise the mean streets of Sin City, our helpful guides being Robert Rodriguez (whom you may recall as the director of the Mariachi and Spy Kids trilogies, not to mention From Dusk Till Dawn) and Frank Miller (who’s partly to blame for the script of Robocop 2 and got stabbed in the head with a pen by Colin Farrell in Daredevil).

However, the well-read amongst you will be aware that while Miller’s record at the cinema ain’t exactly gilt-edged, his track record when it comes writing and drawing comics is peerless – for one thing, the imminently blockbusterous Batman Begins owes a significant debt to Miller’s Year One, while he made Daredevil famous and actually created Elektra. Away from the spandex crowd, Miller is probably best known for his painfully stylish series of Sin City graphic novels – and its these that the new movie is based upon.

The film is set on the streets of Basin City (geddit), capital of the state of total moral collapse, where the police, the politicians, and the church seemingly strive to outdo each other when it comes to venality and decadence, and the blood flows like tippex every night. Locked in perpetual darkness, every single inhabitant seems to be either mad, bad, or sad, but at least this means they all have quite interesting stories to relate. And the film follows three of them – jaded cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis) battles to protect an innocent young girl (Jessica Alba, an actress whose visibility is about to rocket – ho ho ho) from a gnome-like pervert (Nick Stahl). Enigmatic loner Dwight (Clive Owen) tries to help the hookers of Sin City (all of whom seem to be heavily-armed killing machines, obviously) maintain their truce with the police department in the face of interference by the mob. And borderline-superhuman nutcase Marv (Mickey Rourke) sets out to avenge a prostitute (Jaime King) who was kind to him before she was murdered by a kung-fu fighting cannibal serial killer (Elijah Wood. No, really).

This probably isn’t the best choice of movie to take your sweet old grandma to, unless she really gets off on dismemberment, torture, immorality, generally astounding levels of violence and ickiness, and a really special scene where Bruce Willis rips someone’s knob off with his bare hands. (Betcha that doesn’t get picked as a ‘highlight of the movie year’ come the December review shows.) As you may or may not recall, it normally takes a lot to convince me that this level of really extreme violence is justified, but in Sin City‘s case it probably is, given that the film does try to say things about morality and the gore isn’t actually played for laughs. And it has to be said that it does form part of one of the most distinctive visions to be brought to the cinema in some time – a virtually perfect recreation of the original Sin City strips, with individual panels being imitated. The central irony, that stories with a morality consisting solely of varying shades of grey are told largely in black and white, survives. It looks fantastic, luminous monochrome deep-focus cinematography creating a world both utterly fantastical yet grimily realistic.

But solid performances from an impressive ensemble cast keep your attention on the stories, for the most part. The common theme of the three stories is one of dodgy alpha-males finding a sort of redemption through their relationships with women they idealise. Their willingness to do anything for their girls borders on the masochistic, if we’re honest, but to be honest it’s all that separates them from the scum they do battle with. In a funny sort of way Sin City‘s thoroughly unreconstructed gender politics mark it out as one of the most romantic films of recent months – admittedly Bruce Willis shooting somebody in the nuts (yes, this happens too) isn’t everyone’s idea of romance but there you go.

Hang on a mo’ though! A hardboiled, pulpy noiry sort of thriller? With a sort of anthology structure? Where the internal chronology is a bit fishy? And a lot of violence? And Bruce Willis, giving a pretty good performance? Yes, you guessed it, Quentin Tarantino pops up as a ‘special guest director’ (though he thankfully resists the temptation to appear in front of the camera). To be honest I’m not sure why he bothered as the sequence he’s responsible for isn’t particularly long nor distinguished. Presumably Bob Rodriguez doesn’t like being pestered any more than anyone. This movie certainly shouldn’t need Tarantino’s name plastered on it in order to be successful. It’s skilfully put together, memorable in all sorts of ways, and combines arthouse aesthetics with a charnel house sensibility in a manner guaranteed to meet with the approval of a good many cinemagoers. Not one I’d recommend without serious qualifications, but still one of the outstanding movies of the year so far.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published August 4th 2005:

It’s getting so that summer at the movies isn’t summer at the movies without a movie with Stan Lee’s name on it having a massive day-and-date release. With the exception of 2001, every year so far this century has seen Stan The Man and his numerous fictitious progeny enjoying extended stays near the top of the cinema charts. We’ve had the X-Men, the Hulk, and Spider-Man (plus considerably less successful out-of-season appearances by Daredevil, Elektra, and the Punisher), but now Lee’s first and arguably most important creations get their moment in the spotlight – yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the Fantastic Four, in a film by Tim Storey.

The film opens with the world’s most brilliant scientist Reed Richards (Yowain Griffiths1) and his sidekick Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) trying to get funding for his latest space mission. As NASA are understandably preoccupied with another attempt at inventing a double-sided sticky tape that works on thermal tiles, they are forced to seek help from billionaire tycoon Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon). Yes, Reed may be a scientific genius but he still can’t recognise someone who might as well have ‘destined to become a supervillain’ stencilled across his forehead. Anyway, Reed, Ben and Doom pop up to the latter’s private space station in the company of Reed’s ex-girlfriend Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) and her slightly annoying younger brother Johnny (Chris Evans – no, not that one, another one).

Before you can say ‘this is one superhero origin story that hasn’t aged especially well’ the station gets hit by a cloud of cosmic energy and all the inhabitants duly find themselves Fantasticised on their return to Earth. Ben is permanently transformed into a colossally strong being of living rock! Johnny can set fire to himself (this is more use than it sounds)! Sue can turn invisible and project invisible energy fields! And Reed can go a bit stretchy. Three out of four ain’t bad, I suppose. Of course, Doom also finds himself a changed man, although unfortunately the evil megalomaniac component of his personality is wholly unaltered…

A film of the FF has been a long time coming for the simple reason that until quite recently it would have impossibly expensive to do – back in the 60s, even a cartoon of the Four needed the Human Torch removing in order for it not to be impossible expensive to do! Now, of course, technology has caught up, and CGI is able to bring Mr Fantastic’s elasticated limbs and the Torch’s fiery sheath to the screen in fine style. Interestingly, the film opts not to create the Thing digitally, but rather through the old-fashioned method of putting Michael Chiklis inside what must have been a gruelling prosthetic make-up job. The result is not entirely authentic – Chiklis just isn’t big or rocky enough to pass for the classic comics Thing – but it does allow Chiklis to give a genuine, and actually rather affecting performance. Just as well, because this is a film built around performances rather than big set pieces.

What may surprise people used to the rather dour tone most comic book adaptations have adopted since Tim Burton’s first Batman is how light and breezy most of this movie is. With the exception of Ben, whose life is understandably messed up by his new circumstances, the Four have a rather jolly time, not bothering with tedious things like secret identities and spending most of their time in their spacious skyscraper HQ amiably squabbling. The film’s faithfulness to the source material is, up to a point, impressive and successful. This is a genuinely funny character-based film that touches most of the bases Lee and Jack Kirby covered in the comic – the characterisations of the Four are pretty much spot on, even down to Reed and Sue’s romance being a bit passionless and unconvincing.

However, the greatness of the classic Fantastic Four books came from the way they mixed wise-cracking sitcom characterisations (Lee’s forte, one suspects) with mind-boggling kitsch cosmic grandeur (Kirby’s stock in trade). Storey’s film has the former in spades but virtually none of the latter (it’ll be interesting to see how the planned sequel handles Galactus’ assault on Earth). This really leads to the film’s only weak link, namely its presentation of Doctor Doom. Bereft of his original origin (oh, good grief), powers, background, and (for most of the film) appearance, this is a very poor showing for a character who deserved much better (the comics Doom was a horribly maimed scientist-sorcerer, traumatised by the death of his mother, who chose to encase himself in armour and embark on a ruthless quest for power – it’s a miracle George Lucas didn’t get sued by Marvel). As it is Doom comes across as a poor amalgam of Magneto and the Green Goblin, who appears to go bad simply so the Fantastic Four can fight someone in the last reel.

But anyway, this is very solid stuff, at least as good as the first X-Men movie. Thoroughly enjoyable and a nice change of pace from most of the summer’s other movies, this isn’t quite the absolute delight it could have been, but it’s still well worth a look for comics fans and normal people alike.

(Another one for the ‘over-generously reviewed’  file, no doubt…)

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