3 Days to Kill

3 Days to Kill, film

DIR: McG • WRI: Adi Hasak, Luc Besson • PRO: Luc Besson, Adi Hasak, Ryan Kavanaugh, Virginie Silla • ED: Audrey Simonaud • DOP: Jeremy Cassells, Sébastien Inizan • MUS: Guillaume Roussel • CAST: Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld

Occasionally it happens that a film is sold as being one type of movie, and indeed might even initially seem to be that type of film, but gradually as you watch it, the layers peel back and you realise that while you thought you were watching another generic, post-Taken, older-actor-does-some-violence film, you are in fact watching a full-fledged action-comedy that would have starred Arnold Schwarzenegger had it been made twenty years ago.

We open with Vivi (Heard), a very plain-looking CIA operative being tasked with capturing The Wolf (Sammel); a by-the-numbers terrorist/arms-dealer who you know is bad because he has a vague yet menacing Soviet accent and no characterisation beyond that. Cue Ethan Renner (Costner), one of the best and longest-serving agents the CIA has, tasked with doing the busy work on Vivi’s operation. Shootouts ensue, the job goes bad and the bad guy gets away because Ethan collapses at a vital moment. Turns out he has cancer and only a few months to live. So he’s off to Paris to try and reconcile with his estranged wife and daughter before he croaks. But, as is always the case with these things, just when he thinks he’s out, they pull him back in. The Wolf might be in Paris and Vivi wants Ethan to finish the job he started. Vivi who, incidentally, appears to have undergone a personality and design overhaul during the opening credits and is now channelling the dead-eyed lovechild of Catwoman and Black Widow for no other reason than; bossy women with guns, driving fast cars and dressed like high-class prostitutes are so in this season.

Tempting him back into the game with an experimental super-drug (in an over-sized syringe, naturally) that could extend his life (but can also lead to plot-convenient hallucinations unless he drinks vodka), Vivi convinces Ethan to take this last job. And so Ethan’s adventure across Paris begins where: he’ll get into fights in delis without any setup, kidnap and beat up every racial stereotype you can imagine, deal with the wacky hijinks of his (also racially stereotyped) squatters complete with pregnant daughter and high-fiving child, and make appointments with his own daughter but show up late because he was off torturing people. With the big prom looming can Ethan stop the bad guys, save the day and teach his daughter to waltz in time for the big dance? No, you haven’t read that wrong, that is genuinely (some) of the grab-bag muddle of things-that-happen which passes for a plot in this film.

It’s tempting to not even properly review this film and instead just list a variety of the absurd things that happen in it, question how it ever got made and then tell everyone to go see it. As the plot summary demonstrates, there are just so many disparate elements at play in the story that it becomes a tonally jarring mess but one that almost seems to be intentional. There’s one scene where our hero has captured (through a neat little action scene it must be said) one of the film’s many walking stereotypes, this one Sicilian, and is about to begin torturing him for information about the big, bag terrorist, when his daughter calls him asking if he knows any good recipes for pasta sauce as she’s trying to cook a romantic dinner for her boyfriend. He’s about to say no and hang up when he realises the man he’s kidnapped might have a traditional family recipe for pasta sauce, what with him being Sicilian and all. So he asks him. And he does! And suddenly we’re in a scene being played completely for laughs as he threatens this man with a gun while the Sicilian nervously tells Ethan’s daughter how to make his Mamma’s special recipe. Once he’s done, we’re straight back to (off-screen) torture! Absolute nonsense.

Yet, despite the untenable amount of needless additional plot elements, the wildly schizophrenic tone (often over the course of a single scene) and really, the fact the entire film feels like an on-going parody of itself; despite all this it just works somehow. That everyone involved appears to be increasingly in on the joke means it morphs from inadvertent self-parody to weirdly compelling ’80s-throwback, action-comedy. Costner is a perfectly fine addition to the over-50s action-hero stable that the current cinematic landscape has been so obsessed with ever since Liam Neeson murdered his way across Paris. He’s also an excellent comedic presence, delivering all the deadpan humour with clear glee. You need an actor of Costner’s calibre to be able to play both the believable action-hero and the comedy-dad character while somehow finding a coherent through line from within the miasma of inconsistent, contradictory and head-crushing stupidity that the rest of the film is built around.

McG has never been a director destined to set the film-world on fire but he’s a decent action director and this may be one of his better films by quite some margin. The, admittedly inventive, action sequences are numerous enough, but more vitality, short enough that the equally numerous comedy scenes (intentional or otherwise) neatly complement them and hide the director’s many shortcomings that are more evident in his ‘serious’ action films like Terminator Salvation.

It’s difficult to say if this film is ‘good’ because it is, without question, a mess of such proportions that the mind boggles as to how it got made and subsequently released. However, this is also a film that features French characters that all sound like John Cleese in Holy Grail and speak in accents so overly-caricatured that there is a scene where their dialogue is subtitled because, despite speaking in English, their outrageous French accents are so thick that someone editing this film was clearly worried that you wouldn’t be able to understand what they were saying. And that’s pretty incredible.

Thoroughly, whole-heartedly recommended.

Richard Drumm

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
134 mins

3 Days to Kill is released on 20th June 2014

3 Days to Kill – Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbXfZlD2eNk&feature=kp

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Cinema Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

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DIR: Kenneth Branagh WRI: Adam Cozad, David Koepp PRO: David Barron, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mace Neufeld, Mark Vahradian DOP: Haris Zambarloukos  ED: Martin Walsh MUS: Patrick Doyle  DES: Andrew Laws  Cast: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh

I imagine writers of espionage thrillers must miss the Cold War terribly. A collective baddie of such implied menace as the socialism-wielding mother-Russians that ambled behind the Iron Curtain for the better part of fifty years last century has not been since. In such a manner may the Kenneth Branagh (helmed and starring) Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, the latest in a series of attempts to kick-start Tom Clancy’s CIA analyst’s adventures as a franchise ongoing since his 1984 inception, be called a work of nostalgia; There is no shortage of big bad Russians or the sort of non-cynical plot structuring and exposition that was kicked unceremoniously to the curb by a certain Bourne lad a little over a decade ago.

The set-up and plot are nothing awe-inspiring to wow at. Jack Ryan (Chris Pine taking most of his cues from the highly watchable Harrison Ford outings) falls in love with his doctor (a surprisingly endearing Keira Knightley) moments before being recruited by a shady CIA operative (the always excellent Kevin Costner) to keep an eye on Wall Street for terrorism funding. Skip ten years and meet Branagh’s forgettable big bad who’s been doing something with stocks and bombs and looks like he may be trouble and we’re revving to go.

What is most surprising in this film is the places it soars and fails. The hidden career tension between Knightley’s Cathy and Ryan is surprisingly engaging but anything else occurring on American soil falls relatively flat. In fact, any credit this film is due is earned, for the most part, from the moment Ryan’s plane touches down in Russia.

Branagh’s camera has fun swooping around the city, through opulent hotel lobbies and shiny bank offices. Well over half the decor of each interior gleams a potentially offensive red and brings one to mind of Tony Monatana’s office. There is a sense in the scale of the city that Ryan is truly alone there and this is nicely helped along by the sheer lack of Russia on-screen in most Western cinema. It is an excellent spot for some rough-and-tumble and Branagh delivers this in spades.

There is a one-on-one hotel bathroom fight that barges on screens and drags our bums to the edge of their seat a moment or two, very much the aesthetic descendant of Casino Royal’s opening and Torn Curtain’s midway murder, which Hitchcock famously shot with a mind to show how difficult it is to take life, an ideal ably communicated here. The remainder of Ryan’s Russian holiday is nicely decorated by a talky restaurant scene that might be a heist and a genuinely thrilling car chase. The Americans thankfully depart moments before it becomes clear we’re watching Mr and Miss American Pie vs. The Russian Stereotype, though this is a taint that lingers on the edge of every frame shot in Moscow.

The finale is constructed with all the surprise and intrigue of an actual Tom Clancy novel, which is to say there is not a great deal; it manages to abruptly pull the punch from what shaped up to be a rather rollicking second act and thus defuses the film’s purpose.

In making Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, esteemed Shakespeare guru Kenneth Branagh, as he did with Thor, has stepped out of his comfort zone and into that of commercial movie marketing. As the unsolicited offspring of James Bond and Ethan Hunt it barely succeeds, as a fun action romp it has as many hits as misses but as a film in general it brings nothing new to the table and may aptly be counted as Branagh’s least interesting work to date.

Donnchadh Tiernan

12A (See IFCO for details)
105 mins
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is released on 24th January 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Man of Steel

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Emmet O’Brien takes on Superman.

DIR: Zack Snyder • WRI: David S. Goyer • PRO: Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Emma Thomas • DOP: Amir Mokri • ED: David Brenner • DES: Alex McDowell • Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe

With 75 years of stories and countless versions of the character the essence of Superman can be a very hard thing to capture. It can’t be bottled like a shrunken Kryptonian city. The essential beats will always remain, doomed planet, last son, the hope and the blue streak careening across the sky. There is an old complaint about the character that he is too hard to write for, too unrelatable. This has always felt off to me. Within the Superman myth you have so much scope for how to approach it. You could play up a poignant sense of alienation or ramp up the sci- fi elements, play the sparky Daily Planet set up or instead go global with him solving problems all over the world. Love triangles technically between just two people, alien prison dimensions, mad scientists, giant robots, a colourful rogues gallery and if so inclined you can go for biblical allusions and an earned uncynical sentimentality. The world of the Man of Steel is a blessing for imagination and we’ve only barely scratched the surface of that S-Shield.

In 1978 an indelible version of the story was crafted, featuring a generation defining slant on the character. Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of a nerdy bumbling Clark Kent contrasted by the cool and assured Superman characterisation casts a shadow as big as Krypton’s destruction on Kal-El. While I adore the performance in the Donner films, I’m not as beholden to them as full films as other people seem to be. They were of their time. Parts have badly dated and certain plot elements for me seem utterly out of place in retrospect but what you can’t fault those films on was the amount of charm they had.  Superman was dryly funny and had a calming confidence to himself that radiated the inherent virtue of the character. The arc of his life, if paced a bit too slowly, was brilliantly conveyed over the first half of that film.

Following the Bryan Singer Donner-aping Superman Returns which I would label an interesting misfire, too slavishly indebted to an older sensibility but still thoughtful enough to at least demand respect rather than love, it was clear the slate needed to be swept clean. The architects of this new take is a triumvirate of fluctuating talent. Christopher Nolan, the dry and serious creative force behind the Dark Knight Trilogy, a riveting and mature if occasionally ponderous exercise in grounding the fantastical elements of Superhero films, Zack Snyder a hyperactive man child whose filmography is a flashy but very often hollow example of style over substance, of effect over empathy and finally the hit and miss scripting duties of David Goyer. For every hit Batman Begins, we have something risible in Blade Trinity. Fans were aghast at Snyder’s choosing initially but believed that these three, working in unison, could cancel out any weaknesses and instead unite and create something truly special. For all of Snyder’s weaknesses he has an eye for action sequence, Nolan could ground the excess and Goyer could provide a solid foundation marrying the outlandish with the ordinary.

They come so close to succeeding. Man of Steel is a vibrant re-imagining, the opening Krypton prologue may be heavily indebted to Avatar and the Star Wars prequels but no matter. It is a bracing introduction and for someone who loves the crazier sci-fi elements of the property, seeing an alien world so teeming with strangeness proved a refreshing opening. How the tone of this could ever fit in with the world of the Dark Knight films is beyond me but it isn’t soon before literally and figuratively the film crashes down to Earth and gives us a more recognisable world. The film is sly with its chronology giving us Man of Steel action much faster than I assumed it would, the inevitable scenes of young Clark being flashbacks elegantly woven across the films narrative. I was very happy it eschewed a straight ahead progression in favour of a more interesting approach. Spectacle wise the film has some dazzling sequences and the last hour or so of straight ahead Kryptonian action is a bruising set piece, blurring figures barreling through more buildings and landmarks than you can count. I’ll admit a certain fan boy glee in finally getting an intense action scene in a Superman film. Cinematically Superman has always struggled in this area, the threat never seeming big enough, the action never that important.  There is an energy to the fight scenes that can go along way to making this a distinct entry for the character but alas it’s just not enough.

For me, the best Superman story would mix such high-octane thrills with something a bit more thoughtful. The potential to do that was here. All the talk of ideals and inspiration, which I think is the single most important aspect of the character are present but oddly muted in the actual film. It feels more like characters are telling us that rather than we are seeing something inspiring on screen. It might have to do with how they approach Superman as a character here. Obviously this is his first adventure and they seed in certain doubts and insecurities but despite extensive flashbacks it amounts to very little character wise. We see events and lessons learned but Superman is still essentially half sketched. It’s hard to know why exactly but we never get to see him in his moral fortitude before those morals are challenged by the films villain, General Zod.

Throughout the whole film, relationships are barely defined, scenes are more exposition join up points than characters talking. After two brief scenes between Lois and Clark a dynamic is set up that I don’t think the film has earned. Within the story it is clear why a certain level of trust has been established but it’s happened off screen, in between more disjointed scenes. Snyder can handle the big moments but it’s the basic moments that strengthen a narrative that seems to be lacking. The producers make a big point that they had to pretend no other Superman film had ever been made before this. Now I’m well aware the tropes of the material are embedded in pop culture but if this was a fresh take on new characters I’d never feel like I’d gotten to know these people to care enough.

This is felt with various characters, the Kents are underused, in particular Jonathan Kent as played by Kevin Costner. His scenes are important for the arc but he feels more like a mouthpiece for a view point rather than as a real people. Despite being a similar presence Jonathan was always more of a character than say, Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben. But we don’t get that here.

Oddly enough the most explored character throughout the film is Jor-El, Superman’s birth father. While Kal remains a little aloof Jor-El gets meatier moments than what we should expect and provides the film with a clear through-line. Russell Crowe does seem an awkward fit at times but he largely succeeds.

And that’s how I’d view the film overall. Making Zod more morally complex gives Michael Shannon stuff to work with and Cavill as the Man of Steel has a quiet dignity. I can easily imagine him growing into the role over time and becoming the wiser Superman of various stories. Amy Adams’ Lois is a fine version of the character, nothing too different there. Although an early  scene where lazy shorthand is used to make her a tough cookie in the face of arrogant male characters felt very easy and half hearted. In the end there are flaws and missteps but nothing that is Kryptonite to a big blockbuster film. Most are forgivable in the service of a brand new take and some may even be necessary for modern audiences to embrace the character but it still seems like another draft away from being the truly great Superman film I was hoping for. A dark moment in the third act is troubling too and seems to be setting us on an angst ridden road that I think has been well trod by the citizens of Gotham these last few years. I don’t want my Superman moping around, I want him to soar majestically.

By no means a failure and nothing to be cast into the Phantom Zone any time soon, I still think that for it to have truly worked it needed to be that bit more thoughtful and fully rounded from a character perspective. Superman is my favourite superhero and he is all about heart and hope, not just whizz bang pyrotechnics. Kent we have it all next time around?

Emmet O’Brien

12A (see IFCO website for details)

142 mins
Man of Steel is released on 14th June 2013

Man of Steel  – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwYatpwrs8s

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