Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Ant Reviews: Taken 2

I’ll admit that when I was much younger I watched the Australian episode of the Simpsons and was offended at the portrayal. I don’t feel that way anymore of course, and upon reflection and reviewing as an adult it’s hard to find something offensive in a portrayal that absurd. But it made me think about what people outside my country thought of my country, and how outsiders would choose to present it. Thoughts like this bring to mind the film Man on Fire (2004), which portrayed Mexico City as a violent, kidnap-filled wasteland, but put a dedication before the credits proclaiming how nice the city was. 
So it was interesting to see Taken 2 with my mate Cemil, who was a regular visitor to the city of Istanbul, in which most of Taken 2 is set. I was wondering how badly Istanbul would be portrayed and how violent and lawless it would be. The plot concerns Bryan (Liam Neeson) and his ex-wife (Famke Janssen, who still looks great) getting kidnapped while on holiday in Istanbul and relying on Kim (Maggie Grace) to rescue them. So, is Istanbul portrayed as a violent cesspit of sleaze?

Taken 2’s portrayal turned out alright, from what I’ve learned from Cemil. Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the landscape shots are nice. The cop cars, however, are anachronistic, and there isn’t as many Mercedes benz cars in Istanbul as the film suggests. There’s also one scene which visually suggests that Albania and Turkey share a border. But it is nice to have someone who can tell you what part of Istanbul they’re in according to what grand mosque is shown in an establishing shot. 

But it’s only in those sweeping establishing shots that the movie looks good. The rest of the cinematography is shaky and indirect, and a visual sense of geography is difficult to obtain. Halls all look the same, each street and bazaar looks like the last. One scene which has Maggie Grace climbing outside her luxury hotel room only offers us a few fleeting shots of the beautiful view. 

The actions scenes fare worse. One Neeson-vs.-three guys fight is so choppy and shaky it ends up as a jumpy collection of shoulders and elbows, with little to no sense of choreography and no indication as to which thug he’s killing and how. I suspect it has something to do with the toned down violence of the film, and perhaps it looks this bad because frames of violence were removed.

That marks the second problem I have with the film. The first film became a cult classic (despite its very obvious flaws in the first act) because of the speed and brutality of the violence and the extremes to which a lanky 60yrold Irishman will go to get his daughter back. This film didn’t share that brutality, which is a shame because, as the rule is with sequels, the things that people loved about the first film are recreated and exaggerated. It was great how Neeson dispatched enemies, and as action movie fan it was great to see a character that ruthless. One scene (referenced in this movie) had him brutally torture a baddie with electrocution, cutting off the typical “you won’t win” lines of dialogue by switching on the voltage. It’s that kind of genre defying that earned the first film so many fans and the sequel feels as if they’ve been neutered to appeal to a wider audience. 

But enough about what I didn’t like, what about what worked? For the one thing the film doesn’t share the kind of misogyny that the first film did. Kim is portrayed as resourceful and brave, despite still being very much a civilian. The ex-wife isn’t portrayed as naive or as stupid as she is in the first one, as well. There still is a bit of that element where Neeson is still determined to keep his daughter a virgin, but the film gives it a bit of context by having her still be a recovering victim from the events of the first film, so a bit of that is forgivable. 

The film is also smarter. There is a scene involving a shoelace and a hand grenade, and Neeson’s very clever way of establishing his position and making contact with Kim despite being blindfolded. There’s some great gunplay and martial arts on display, when visible (Neeson knows his way around a gun and is a very skilled fighter) and there is some very cool counter intelligence/counter kidnapping stuff here, which elevates the film more than I thought it would. 

The villains are the anguished relatives of Albanian white slavers that Neeson fantastically murdered in the first film. There is some good work with Rade Serbedzija as the father of the electrocution victim. You kind of feel for him, and as an action thriller it was interesting to have someone feel sad about the death of a horrible henchman. There was some stuff that I wish they put some more depth into, regarding who Serbedzija is. Neeson informs him that his son was a slaver, who kidnapped girls and turned them into prostitutes, and Serbedzija replies that he doesn’t care (for a scene like this done better, see The Losers (2010)). I wish they teased more emotion out of that scene, as it would have added a lot of depth. Ultimately he wasn’t as interesting as suggested, and is as ruthless a villain as you’d expect in a movie like this. Despite this the film gets points for trying to make him a sympathetic character.

So the film was better than I thought in some respects, lacking in others. I think the DVD contain a lot more violence in it, and again like other films this year I’m annoyed, frustrated and weary that I paid to watch an incomplete cut of a movie in a cinema. The city turned out ok, but I think Cemil and I wished it looked better and we could see things a bit more clearly. The final word on it is that it’s better than most films but still not as good as the original.


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Ant Reviews: Expendables 2

There was a moment that struck me as odd in Expendables 2: Chuck Norris’ character Booker is introduced by Bam-Bam (Sylvester Stallone) to his team: Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Maggie (Nan Yu). It struck me as odd because I didn’t know what Randy Couture’s character was called, and it surprised me that they all had character names. It spoke to the relationship that Expendables 2 has with its cast and its audience. Almost like in Oceans Twelve where Julia Roberts plays a woman who looks like Julia Roberts and impersonates Julia Roberts; we know we’re watching stars, not characters, and in Expendables the conventional elements of plot and character mean very little overall. We’re not here to see what happens to the team and who they rescue or defeat, we’re here to see the biggest stars of our youth clash on screen for our enjoyment, and that’s that. 

I’ve heard Stallone’s second coming described something like this: no big star from the past has ever honoured his fans the way that he has. They wanted another Rambo, they got another Rambo. Another Rocky? Done. An assemblage of all the biggest actions stars in one film all rolled into one? Delivered. It’s that element alone that makes this film something special to me, that this and the first film were some kind of fulfilled promise made to his fans, and there’s something I respect in that.
It must be said: in order to properly judge this film one must eschew all upper levels of intellectualism, and to a certain extent, femininity, from one’s analysis. This film is made for men of a certain age, to engage and excite the more primal instincts one might contain. On this level the film satisfies. 

So instead of analysing more of the complex performance or story nuances, we should instead focus on the action/violence content the film offers. In saying this, the film’s 2nd act is the weakest, the first delivering the amazing custom war machine rescue and the third act of course featuring the amazing airport finale. The 2nd act is too Liam Hemsworth-heavy, full of emotional monologues regarding his distant French love and the horrors of war. As schmaltzy as this is, when one considers that this is a classic action movie trope of setting up a character to kill, a rookie with a future, so that the old vets have a vendetta against their enemy.

I was thinking about the elements of an 80s action movie, and in considering the accepted shittiness of the film’s quality the trope regarding the kid fits, as does the general lack of women and sex. Another old-fashioned move I’ve watched recently, Resident Evil: Redemption 3D, was clearly, like UnderworldAwakening 3D, a movie that was ten years out of date. The thing about movies that were made for me when I was a teen in the early Noughties was that they didn’t shy away from the fact that teen boys liked hot women. That’s one thing Redemption got right: Sienna Guillory and Milla Jovovich running around in sexy, albeit silly, outfits. 

Expendables 2 has Nan Yu, who, while attractive and is the object of affection to both Stallone and Lundgren in the film, isn’t overtly sexualised, nor does she actively pursue a sexual relationship with any of the characters. This is very 80s in that the films had an underlying feeling of homosexuality in proceedings; mainly oiled, muscled men, with the women nowhere to be seen. In this film, Stallone chastises Statham for being too loved up with his cheating girlfriend (Charisma Carpenter) and Hemsworth’s girlfriend is distant and unseen until prior to the credits. In this film it’s all a guy’s world, men doing manly things, no chicks aloud, in a sense. It’s interesting to note the difference between what we liked as kids (80s-90s action movies) and what we liked as teens (00s garbage) comes down to the sexualisation of women. I dare say that as a little boy you not interested in girls, yet as an teen they’re all you think about, and there’s a generation out there who’s actions movies reflected this change to an extent. 

The final sequence of the film, the airport shootout, is pure childhood wish fulfilment, with all the big players swinging fists and slinging lead. As fun as it all was however there was this sense of holding back. It should be over an hour long, everything should have been at least 3 times bigger and better. This is a big movie, meant to be the biggest ever, though at times you get that sense that, quality-wise, it’s only a hair away from being a straight-to-DVD movie. Part of that comes from it being largely filmed in Bulgaria, the new Canada in terms of cheap production values. By that I mean a lot of American shows are filmed in Canada; a lot of straight-to-DVD movies are filmed in Bulgaria. There must be some kind of rebate the country offers, as I know a lot of Steven Segal movies are filmed there, as I’m sure a lot of Van Damme movies are*. I suppose its suiting; as a final resting place for old actions stars, Bulgaria should host the film that brings all of them together.

I admit that I had a good time watching it, and that had something to do with my company, who laughed at all the right places and made the experience fun. I found in all this nostalgic fun a moment of melancholic reflection; Bruce Willis offers Stallone a beat up old plane. “That thing belongs in a museum” Stallone says, to which Schwarzenegger adds “we all do”, before they all smile and disembark. It was a nice moment, an acknowledgment of times past, of growing up and moving on. It’s a mature moment, one that said to me that the guys we looked up to as kids are now old men, as are we who worshiped them. It’s this scene that allows me to forgive Expendables 2’s more glaring faults. It also makes me want to give the film a big smile and a ‘thank you’ for keeping that childhood promise that was too crazy to expect.


*I had watched a bit of a movie called Day of the Dead, a remake of the 80s Romero classic. I thought it was filmed in middle America, where it’s set, or at least in Canada, where, in Smallville they made rural Canada look like Kansas. Nope, the whole thing was filmed in Bulgaria.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Essay: New Dredd, Apartments and Influences

So my friend Josh has been raving about the new Dredd film coming out, with Keith Urban. As cheesy as it was, I still have fond nostalgic thoughts for the original Judge Dredd (1995) so I was have interested, half weary about a new Dredd film, what with this age of remakes and reboots. I was mainly in love with the 90s colourful Blade Runner style environment that was created, as fake as it sometimes looked, and seeing images from the teaser made me suspicious it would turn out to be (what Josh and I call) ‘Lo-Fi Sci-fi’, that is to say, a sci-fi movie that doesn’t transport you to a completely different context, because they film in uninteresting contemporary locations, most probably somewhere in Toronto or Vancouver. Think of the difference between the all encompassing dystopia of Blade Runner and the uneven, real world/crazy futurism dichotomy of Minority Report or The 6th Day. Let’s just say that the old Judge Dredd consisted of completely fabricated sets and environments, while they’re filming parts of the 2012 Dredd in South Africa. 

Admittedly I’ve started to appreciate the location idea: Judge Dredd stories are set in a post-nuclear-war city, why wouldn’t the whole place be sun-drenched? But it wasn’t until the big trailer debut where my doubts really came to the forefront. The plot of Dredd is such: in the future thousands of people live in giant apartment blocks, one such block ruled by Lena Headley, a controller of a powerful drug. The Judges, police with the power of judge, jury and executioner, storm her building, battle to the top and attempt to capture her. 

It was in this trailer where I found there was a huge comparisons to and Gareth Evan’s Serbuan maut (The Raid or The Raid: Redemption) (2012) come about. In both trailers, cops raid an apartment building, only to have the gang boss inform his criminal tenants that they must kill the invading cops. I know both films were created and developed independently of each other, and my friend Josh has insisted that trailers sometimes screw a film up completely. Some early-bird reviews have reassured me that the film is much better than it seems on paper, so while I’m now a little keener to watch the film (pictures like this make me excited) the comparison cannot be ignored. 

But why is such a story so prevelant. As I said, both films developed independently (Dredd is written by the amazing Alex Garland, after all), so how could two completely different sets of moviemakers come up with the same basic story? I thought about some great foreign films I’d watched along the same veign: violent murder and chaos in an apartment building. And you’d be surprised at how many there are. Those films are Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s [●REC] (2007) from Spain, Benjamin Rocher and Yannick Dahan’s La Horde (The Horde) (2009) from France and the aforementioned Serbuan maut (The Raid or The Raid: Redemption) from Indonesia.

Lets start with a movie called The Horde. Oooh boy, is it rough. Imagine a combination of two of my favourite films from the past couple of years, Assault on Precinct 13 (2005) and Dawn of the Dead (2003). In this film, violent, corrupt cops raid a dilapidated apartment building to take out a drug lord (see the theme?). This time it’s over the death of one of their own, and of course, there’s a super race of shark-toothed zombies attacking the building, while Paris burns on the horizon. 

 The characters are what make this for me. Low down and dirty gangsters teaming up with low down and dirty, violent and vengeful corrupt cops. Not a single soft character in the bunch, really, all vicious and all of them violent killers. It makes for some fun moments, there’s no pretty heroine, no handsome hero, just tough guys being tough, none of them sympathetic or relatable, just hard. It really is one of the most badass horror films I’ve seen, and if you’re a dude, like, a DUDE’S DUDE, then you’ll appreciate some of the badassery on display, involving one of the most brutal and heroic sacrifices in a Zombie film, ever. 

 Another zombie apartment building film is Balagueró and Plaza’s [●REC]. In this, a very good looking journalist (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman tail emergency workers, who receive a call about an apartment building. Within they find a situation of escalating terror, where a viral zombie infestation has taken place, of which there is no escape: the police have sealed the place up, and anyone who breaks this quarantine will be killed (which they learn the hard way). This film was also made into an American version called Quarantine (2008), and eventually a crappy straight to DVD sequel. Despite it being a first-person camera perspective film, or found footage film, the Spanish REC films have spawned two very successful sequels and is very popular in that part of the world.

 Oh boy, if The Horde was rough, this was more terrifying than brutal. One of the most adrenaline-inducing films I’ve ever seen, there’s one chase scene toward the end that’s full-on crazy. Though more in the vein of 28 Days Later, with blood spewing, red eyes and running zombies, the films makes great use of the camera conceit and the pace of its vicious antagonists. The night-vision sequence at the end is classic, and the whole film blends terror, dread and creepiness together into a great little package. I remember watching the film on my TV the first time; with the sound down, playing the computer a bit as well so I wouldn’t get too overwhelmed by it, like the pussy that I am. It was so much easier to stomach without the screams, haha. 

 And now we get to The Raid. I stumbled across the trailer once, and showed it to my dad, who is Indonesian. He thought it was great, but I never had any illusions that it would make its way to Australian shores, yet low and behold, it was getting some impressive international buzz and I took my dad out for Mexican and a movie. 

 The story is simple enough: a team of elite police raid a dilapidated apartment block to take out a drug lord. The inhabitants of the building are told they’d live rent-free if they killed a cop, and thus Rama, the plucky rookie, kicks a lot of arse as they battle floor by floor towards the penthouse. That’s about it for the plot. 

 I have to say that the film was delightfully violent. I’m not really big on high violence, unless it’s against bad guys, then I’m ok with that. I know it sounds like a dumb contrast, but if you watch Rambo (2008), for all the violence against enemy soldiers there was, there were scenes of innocent people being machine-gunned and children being bayoneted, which was hard for me to stomach. This also marks the first time I’ve seen people walk out of a cinema because of the violence.
 I’ve read reviews damning the film because of its tissue-paper-thin plot and weak characterisation. It doesn’t really matter to me, not in this film, especially considering the action and the entertainment is of a high quality. When you’re slapping your knee they way I was and laughing as loud as I was (much to my father’s embarrassed chagrin) it doesn’t matter as much as it should. Personally I was pleased at seeing an openly Islamic hero, who prays before a rigorous workout. I mean, yeah it’s a film from an Islamic nation, but in this post-911, post-Osama world, it’s good to see a sympathetic, heroic Islamic character.

 Ultimately the film is very much like a computer game. I’ve always been aware of this when I watched an episode of the now dead ABC program Mondo Thingo, a pop culture program, where tey discussed videogame movies. It wasn’t just that they were making films of Resident Evil and Tomb Raider, but now films are being influenced by video games. To illustrate they simply played a clip from Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003), where a handcuffed Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas swing their way down the side of a building, the whole thing structured like an old Nintendo game. The Raid, however, resembles more a game called Die Hard Arcade, and reminded me a little of Time Crisis in its story as well, but that’s just me. 

 So perhaps that’s the most enduring influence on all these films, the Video Game influence. All films are in apartment buildings, all films have a constant violent antagonistic presence, and all films ultimately involve reaching the very top (or, in The Horde, the very bottom) to achieve some kind of conclusive end and all films have a level-by level structure to them, which explains the apartment building conceit. 

So despite some imagery and plot conceits that both Dredd and The Raid share, idea that both films have their roots in gaming and video game structure has made the comparison a little easier to stomach. The whole situation reminds me of the Coldplay Plagarism case, where Coldplay was accused of stealing a song, though both songs were influenced by old Nintendo the Legend of Zelda theme. There is such a thing as two independent artists coming to the same conclusion. And here I am thinking that all these films were influenced by American pop cinema, when it’s the home entertainment that’s the real culprit.  

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Essay: SpiderMan Fatigue or Enough with the Origin Stories!

[Potential spoilers ahead]

I picked up a graphic novel today that I’ve been waiting for, Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. It told a new modern retelling of the Batman Myth, slightly updated and retooled; Harvey Bullock is a Hollywood celebrity cop, Jim Gordon is a coward, Alfred is a former marine and the sole educator of Bruce in his becoming of the Bat. Ultimately, despite the sharp and neat writing, and the gorgeous art  (Frank has been a personal favourite of mine since his Smart Hulk days), the whole thing was a bore, something of a wasted exercise, at least in my opinion.

I think I can trace this feeling back to The Amazing Spiderman (2012). After a few false starts in watching the film, I managed to watch it twice in cinemas, and again, as fine as the experience was, I was ultimately bored. Yes, the film was well made, and yes, the cast was fine, but I’m bored to death with origin stories.

This might seem like a comic-centric discussion on a movie review blog, but seeing as the current state of popular cinema today, it’s pertinent to talk about comic book films in a thoughtful way, what with the biggest films in cinema history all shaping up to be comic-book films and all.

The reason these days why there are so many adaptions, sequels and remakes is that these films come pre-packaged with an audience: studios are more likely to spend money on something they know for sure a percentage of people will consume. It’s because of this that a lot of these films are boring as hell. Normally, when a film is boring to me it is because I’m a seasoned consumer of crappy media, and I have a seen-it-all attitude to a lot of it. But this is a different kind of boredom, one born out of knowledge of the original content.

…Spider-man is a very special case, what with it being pretty much a remake ten years after the original. There is evidence, however, of the original story being much different, that the script (and the early marketing) suggesting a different origin to Spider-man that the comic book and film going audience was used to. Evidence suggests that Peter got his powers from his parents, and perhaps his father tinkered with his DNA as a child (similar to the Ang Lee Hulk film of 2003.) But they chickened out and played it safe, and what we have is a retelling of a familiar story. Yes, it looks good and the actors are strong, but it’s still the same old story, and as such, after two viewings of the film, it feels like a huge waste of time and money.

Let’s look at Batman: son of murdered parents devoting his life to costumed revenge and justice. His is a story that’s endured for so long, has been so interesting and is so versatile and timeless that it can be played with and recreated in a myriad of interesting ways.  I was fascinated with a villain called Prometheus, created by Grant Morrison on his famous JLA run back in the late 90s. He was the anti-Batman: his parents were thrill-killing, bank-robbing psychopaths, Bonnie and Clyde types and all the danger and sex that implies. Prometheus was just a boy when the police gunned them down, not a mugger. Instead of a war on crime, he wages a war on law and order, and targets cops and the Justice League as a result.

Another great version of the story is Nighthawk, (re)created by J.Michael Straczynski from an average superhero from the 70s Squadron Supreme into literally a black Batman. In Marvel MAX’s adult imprint,  Kyle Richmond watched his rich parents shot down by white supremacists, and devoted his life to a decidedly black form of justice, mainly dealing with crimes that affect the black community in Chicago, either black-on-black crime or white-on-black crime. In fact, he hates white people to the point where, amongst other superheroes, he will only really talk to Blur, a Marvel MAX black version of DC’s Flash. In the brutal trade paperback I read, Nighthawk faces off against Whiteface, a demented poisoner who dresses like a clown, only with a frown carved into his face instead of a smile.

It’s perhaps reading stories like this, where the Myth has been played with so successfully and interestingly that reading a straight, quote-unquote ‘modern’ version of Batman is pretty pedestrian. That’s what made The Dark Knight Rises so satisfying to me: Bruce Wayne’s body was broken from years of combat, and he had a little grey in his hair. Nolan and company didn’t try and make us, the experienced and educated audience, have to pretend we haven’t heard the same old origin story before; instead we were treated to something interesting and complex, a great story with a great character. But perhaps that’s the benefit of it being a sequel.

The other superhero movie I enjoyed just as much this year was Ghost Rider: The Spirit of Vengeance by Neveldine/Taylor. While not a direct sequel (they change a lot, and thankfully ignore much of the first film) you still ended up having the Ghost Rider already formed, and you didn’t need to sit around for 45 mins waiting for the hero to look the way you want him to look, to use his powers and be awesome.

Perhaps I bring this up because of the Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel teaser trailers, and the San Diego Comic Con trailer that was leaked. Thought the teasers especially were made beautifully, featuring voiceovers from Superman’s two fathers played by Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner (!), it also featured young Clark Kent coming to grips with his powers. That was a major problem with the heavily flawed Superman Returns (2006), in that there were scenes of him being young and learning to fly which beared little to no importance to the rest of the film.

So I think we’ll end up seeing a little ship crashing to Earth, where a Kansas couple will find a little alien boy wrapped in a red sheet. Will it stand up to the other versions of the scene? And how long before he puts on the costume in this one, and when he does, will he be a complete man, or only when he defeats the enemy will he truly understand what it means to be a hero? Or will my expectations as both a filmgoer and a comic reader be challenged by something completely crazy and unexpected? Or will it be like with The Amazing Spiderman, where I’ll have to wait at least two-three years for a sequel with a fully formed character that I can enjoy? We’ll have to see.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that: We all know the stories. We know where the characters come from, and we know how they formed into who we all know and love. So why not take the Spirit Of Vengeance route and just have fun with it? It sounds trite and under informed, but its a billion-dollar industry people, do something creative. I know that a lot of this money hinges on the fans, but as a fan I just want to say: it doesn't have to be fan service. I don't have to see something that I read in a comic turned into a real-life thing, you can challenge me once in a while. New stories and completely new interpretations are vastly more interesting than seeing the same old thing shot in a different way. And that's probably the most important thing I learnt from watching The Amazing Spider-man.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Ant Reviews: Contraband (2012)

Marky Mark and the funky bunch smuggle some stuff back into the US. That’s right, it’s time for Contraband

So I was home with Mum and she picked a movie that she thought would be pretty harmless, and Contraband was it. I wasn’t expecting much, in fact, I had ascertained much of the film’s plot from the trailer, and I found that my predictions weren’t that far off. 

The film falls under the ‘one last job’ style of the heist genre, which is to say the common form of that kind of crime film. This whole film, I think one of this film’s major flaws is that it adheres too much to its genre. Normally, ‘genre’ can help classify and group a film, according to indentifying stylistic or plot conventions, like noir films have an anti-hero as a protagonist and romantic comedies have a quirky, unattractive best friend of the main character. Unfortunately, these genre conventions also adhere not only to style but to narrative structure, and as such these films are very predictable. So the film becomes less of a narrative and more of a checklist of genre staples being ticked off one by one, which doesn’t make for interesting viewing. 

Add to that the fact that the film is a alt-title remake of a 2008 Icelandic film called Reykjavík-Rotterdam by Óskar Jónasson. I don’t like English translation adaptations of foreign language films. To me it’s a display of unoriginality; simply give us the original film if it’s that great, let us see what piqued your interest to want to make it again in English. It’s especially bad when it’s not a 100% straight adaption, they change the name and elements of the plot, so it’s less like Fincher’s Girl With A Dragon Tattoo and more like Scorsese’s  The Departed (a film which I disliked for the sole reason that it was an indirect remake). It’s not just the lack of originality that kills me; it’s the lack of faith in Western audiences and the belief that they won’t enjoy specific stories from specific regions around the world. It’s the slight racism that become apparent when every non-American story can somehow be Americanised. 

In this case it’s a slight ‘Bostonization’ of everything, despite the film not being set in Boston. I have to say that the whole South Boston thing is a real dominant force in the works of Mark Wahlberg, and in Hollywood it seems, with movies like The Fighter and with Affleck’s directorial films. My Boston cherry was popped with Eastwood’s Mystic River, and I’ve since grown weary of the in-your-face exaggerated cinematic Bostonians I’ve seen many times now. While this film is set in New Orleans or somewhere the fact it had Wahlberg in it and had such a heavy emphasis on family and being a former criminal, and the fact that all the criminals know Wahlberg’s character and stuff like that give it a real feel of a close-nit Boston Irish suburban community as seen in The Town and Mystic River. That kind of through me off, and scrambled my sense of context when watching the film. 

The script is ok. There were some very clunky, trying-to-make-exposition-seem-natural set ups early on in the piece, but it then turns into a pretty much conventional heist movie, and it moves at a pace which seems detrimental to some of the character moments they’ve set up during the film, and despite the exhausting pace the film does seem quite long. The film is also quite labyrinthine in its plot, with many twists and turns. The problem with this is that we know what the twists and turns are, we know what the endgame is and what the end result will be for each character, along with all the tags, set ups and clues laid throughout. This can be an arduous task in viewing the film, when they’re going to the effort to twist and turn a savvy audience member who knows they’re being fucked with. I can’t stress enough how annoying predicable films are. 

Despite this there are some good moments in this film, good character beats and some scenes that should work, though for some reason they don’t. I don’t know what it is, the cold cinematography, or the performances or the scripting, but I cant engage with some of these scenes, I don’t feel it. I know what they’re going for, and despite what I’ve said I appreciate the effort of putting these kinds of scenes in there, but the sense of character and family that they’re going for doesn’t translate, and the character moments lack appropriate pacing and warmth. 

Elements like villainous Giovanni Ribisi’s character having a cute daughter. One scene in particular annoys me: Banshee from X-men: First Class observes that, while Wahlberg has gotten out of the game and is in a legitimate life, he actually still loves smuggling things. He smiles and tells him not to tell Kate Beckinsale. That was a good moment! That was an interesting twist on the ‘reluctant criminal who returns to a life of crime for one last heist’ film conceit, and if explored it could have added depth to a wooden and predictable character. But it’s mentioned and never addressed again, which is a shame.

Speaking of Ribisi, he was in a movie around ten years ago which was similar in plot to this, a thought I had when I watched the trailer. This film is about an idiot brother in law (Banshee) who screws things up, gets in over his head with a criminal (Ribisi) and his older sibling (Wahlberg) has to return to a life of crime, to work with the villain in order to pay off the idiot brother in law’s debt. Back in 2000 there was a film called Gone in 60 Seconds, where an brother (Ribisi) screws things up, gets in over his head with a criminal (Christopher Ecclestone) and his older sibling (Nic Cage) has to return to a life of crime, to work with the villain in order to pay off the idiot brother’s debt. Another thing this film shared with that film is the idea that sophisticated, expensive tastes in clothes and furnishings implies homosexuality, albeit in Contraband it’s not as overt as 60 Seconds

I suppose the only thing it’s lacking genre-convention-wise is the woman who will screw things up just by being a woman and being a wet blanket, like with that Amy Brennan’s character in Heat and Rebecca Hall and Blake Lively in Affleck’s The Town. This time you’d expect Kate Beckinsale (who is far too glamorous to be a working mother) to put a damper on things, to make Marky Mark be a responsible husband, but that gets straightened out early, and she becomes supportive.  I suppose the one who fucks things up consistently is Banshee. 

So at least one thing breaks from convention and creates a bit of interest. But there is nothing here you haven’t already seen before. I was thinking of writing a review on Reynolds and Washington’s Safehouse, but I found there was nothing I could say about the film, it was good enough but nothing new *. It’s the same deal with this film. It’s entertaining enough, but if you’re a fan of the heist genre then the film will annoy you. I was going to give this movie an extra star for putting at least a modicum of effort into proceedings, but ultimately I was bored by this film and I’m upset that I actually hate it as much as I do right now and wish I had something nicer to say about it.


*(We know the person he considers a friend is the one that’s betraying him! The same thing happens in Contraband! It’s no longer a twist these days, especially if we spot it from the trailer! In fact, the twist would be that the friend ISN'T the one setting him up. FUCK!)