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The Old Guard

The Old Guard

They're not that old, this is blatant false advertising

dir: Gina Prince-Bythewood

2020

The Old Guard. It was okay.

If only I was able to restrict myself to a few words, think of all the electrons and storage space I could save. But, when you’re an introvert, the temptation is to never if ever say anything, so if I go with that unhelpful impulse, nary a review would ever get written.

And what a tremendous shame that would be.

Old Guard may be based on a comic book by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez, but it’s entirely within the action franchise wheelhouse we all seem to be comfortable with where an unkillable badass kills a whole bunch of people wearing masks and helmets in sometimes inventive ways. John Wick didn’t invent violent action cinema, but it crystalised something, since which every gun action flick draws from the same well.

But it’s not as if Charlize Theron is any slouch in the killfest stakes anyway. She has more than established her action bona fides with Fury Road, and even more so with Atomic Blonde. At this stage seeing her in a film where she doesn’t artfully kill dozens of people seems unnatural.

She is the leader of a group of special people. They are special because they don’t die, or are very hard to kill, until they die or are killed. Andromache of Scythia, as she is known to the scholars, goes by Andy (Theron) these days. She never says outright how old she is, but it’s implied she is many thousands of years old. She doesn’t drink blood or Dior perfume in order to stay ageless, she can’t fly or turn into a turnip – she and her peeps mostly just don’t die when someone tries to kill them. Alternately, they do die, but it doesn’t usually take.

Until it does. For immortals, they mostly mope about wondering what the point of immortality is, though it seems like they did some stuff in the past. The film’s point seems to be if you were an immortal who couldn’t die in combat, naturally, if you met a few others like you, you would devote your life to fighting people where it would usually take an army to do it. But Andy is tired of doing this, after having done it for literal centuries, and not seeing the world be any the better for it.

The chaps who follow her are mostly in the same boat, except one of them, Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), is even more depressed than she is. The two other chaps, Joey and Nicky (Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli) may have immortality, but they also love each other, so they don’t feel as alone and pointless as the other two.

The initial set-up, as unpromising as it is, almost looks like the “one last job” bullshit that a lot of movies start with, but isn’t quite.

A CIA jerk called Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) tells them there’s a school full of kids that’s been kidnapped in South Sudan, and only Andy and her crew of special soldiers can save them. Save me, Andromache of Scythia, you’re my only hope. The shocking thing is, the job isn’t what it seems, the crew are all killed in an ambush, and even if it’s only a quarter of an hour into the film, you’d be forgiven for thinking the story could just end there.

Rating:

The Predator

The Predator 2018

Yes, it's evolved, into Something Even Dumber!

dir: Shane Black

2018

So. What with all the plague happening everywhere, I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately, far more so than usual. It has been pretty much the only positive to arise out of this dreadful crisis that has killed so many people and revealed the stupidity and selfishness of so many who profit from the labour of us lower order types and the minimum wage expendable / “essential” services provided by those who have no other choice anyway.

Lest you think I lump myself into that group, oh no, it’s not true. My services to the world are very inessential, which is why I can happily work from home, sip lattes, watch movies and then pontificate about them for no money and to no end other than my own amusement / bemusement.

In that spirit, the films I’ve been watching lately have been great. Thoughtful, intelligent, well-made, reminding us of the links between people across this world and through time; the elements that unite us, the dangers we face, the aches we all feel.

I’ve had enough. I can’t take it any more. I need a break, emotionally and intellectually.

In the same way that we take a break from preparing and eating food that’s nurturing and healthy for us and the people in our lives, and seek the convenience of food that’s not only crap but is actively bad for us, I need to occasionally watch shitty movies in order to have some perspective, and also to replenish my store of tears. Not only did I gorge on cinematic junk food, but it involved a buffet of two recentish movies that stand as squalid sequels to action franchises that started in the 1980s: The Predator and Terminator: Dark Fate, for the people playing at home. Both peaked a long time ago; both keep being resurrected to increasingly diminished returns.

The Predator does not inspire tears, it does not provoke emotions other than whatever emotions scorn and contempt are most aligned with, and it has nothing to do with my favourite Ice Cube album of all time of the same name. It is the hackneyed work of people who don’t give a shit about anything but love pretending they’re having fun, so we should too.

When Predator came out in 1987, it was a minor hit. It sustained the upward trajectory of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action movie career, and never resulted in another movie that really justified its existence as a franchise. One of the people in the original movie, as a soon-killed army jerk called Hawkins, was Shane Black. Literally the only thing Hawkins does in the movie is tell a horribly misogynistic joke and then die.

Rating:

Underwater

Underwater

Streamlined for maximum speed at the bottom of the ocean

dir: William Eubank

2020

It’s…hmm. So, well, people put a bunch of money together and thought that making an updated version of Aliens without having to pay whoever owns that franchise any money was a good idea.

And, it’s fine, I mean, as an idea, it’s fine. They also set this deep underwater on our actual planet, which means everything basically functions the same than as if they were in outer space or on some inhospitable planet: go outside the walls or outside of your suit, and you’re dead.

And they got Kristen Stewart to essentially play Ripley, but, it’s Kristen Stewart, so it’s her playing Kristen Stewart playing Ripley, with a shaved blonde head an all. She is quite striking, admittedly, and yet the hardest ask is us believing that she is an engineer. They never show her binge-drinking, not once.

An engineer, mind you, located in a facility 6 miles underwater in the Mariana Trench, literally the deepest point known of any part of the planet. I can believe the engineer bit, but the other bit is too fanciful, even for a sci-fi movie. There’s a massive main facility, and a bunch of other ones as well, all having been constructed with concrete and metal and stuff, and you just think: How? The pressure at those depths would crush almost any materials of any thickness like a hand crushing a can, and yet for this story to work we have to believe that somehow a bunch of people in high-vis built all this stuff just so our heroes can run around and die, one after the other.

It's an environment so dangerous that tiny flaws in equipment will implode people with a second’s notice. The survival of the bunch of people we see is so unlikely that they have to indulge in way riskier activities in order to go from a slim chance of survival to a slight chance of survival. And Norah (Kristen Stewart) is along for the ride, using her working-around skills whenever she can to find solutions to the cascade of errors going on around her.

But this isn’t enough. I mean, if the remaining crew can’t get to yadda yadda before a deadline, then they’re all going to die, if they stay in place, the facility will be destroyed and kill them, and there’s no safe way to get to the surface without using escape pods because of the bends etc. And yet all these dangers aren’t enough.

Rating:

Extraction

Extraction

What gets blood out of shagpile carpets again?

dir: Sam Hargrave

2020

Extraction. It’s like John Wick, except in Bangladesh, and with a Hemsworth, not a Keanu.

And it’s the good Hemsworth (not Larry), as in, one of the biggest current film stars in the world.

When you’re a star of his magnitude, people don’t watch a film you’re in because of the character you play or because of the premise: they are watching you because you’re in it.

So it must have been the easiest of all sells for Netflix to greenlight this, especially now when the cinemas are closed and the Netflixes are open 24 hours a day.

Like most action movies, this is constructed from the most cliché components that have comprised "action movies" for at least the last 40 years. The lead character is suicidal and an alcoholic because of something that happened in their past (check). He’s willing to do any job that pays well, because he doesn’t care if he lives or dies (check). Though he seems like a complete psychopath, he’ll build a connection with someone (child or dog) that keeps him connected to humanity but also justifies killing thousands of people (check).

Arnie did it for 20 or so films. Keanu as John Wick killed more people in New York than the coronavirus over 3 films. And the Chrisest of Chrises, Chris Hemsworth, kills most of Bangladesh here, all justified, because a young Indian kid called Ovi reminds him of the son he lost to lymphoma several years ago.

Wait, does that constitute a spoiler in this day and age? Surely you jest. I cannot recall the last time I watched a violent action flick where the death of someone close to the protagonist, child or otherwise, wasn’t the pretext for going on a kill crazy rampage against some nebulous enemy.

Rating:

Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey and Other Opportunities Wasted Incorporated

dir: Cathy Yan

2020

Let’s not sleep on the whole title: Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn. If you saw that on a poster and had never heard of The Birds of Prey or Harley Quinn, would it induce you to brave a virus-filled world and venture forth into a cinema to watch it?

In a Simpsons episode from what feels like a century ago, Hollywood has-been Troy McClure has a brief renaissance professionally when he pretends to be heteronormative for a while by dint of marrying Marge’s sister Selma. When the sham falls apart, despite the best efforts of Troy’s agent MacArthur Parker, instead of going with the part of McBain’s sidekick in McBain IV: Fatal Discharge, he elects to star in The Contrabulous Fabtraption of Professor Horatio Hufnagel. Perhaps only time will tell which would have been the better choice.

Every time I saw mention made of Birds of Prey and the Contrabulous Fabtraption of Harley Hufnagel, I wondered what the fuck they were thinking. To me it seems like less a failure of ambition and more a failure of marketing – they didn’t have enough confidence that people would go see a flick with the Birds of Prey without a playfully shoehorned reference to the actual main character, one Harleen Quinzel. But then why not call it Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey without the other semi-embarrassed bullshit in between?

Now I’m all for Emancipation, whether it’s from slavery or from toxic relationships with genocidal maniacs, but the flick is, and this hurts to say, a mess, regardless of whether anyone gets emancipated or not.

It’s a fucking mess. At its core it has good intentions, but then they say the Good Intentions Paving Company also does its best building those roads that lead straight to hell.

Rating:

Hobbs & Shaw

Hobbs & Shaw

There may be a more boring movie poster out there, but I
haven't found it yet

dir: David Leitch

2019

This is a gloriously stupid movie, and yet somehow that didn’t decrease my enjoyment of it not one whit.

If there are net negatives it’s that there is a certain amount of laziness involved in all the dick squeezing competitiveness of the two leads, one of whom is built like the proverbial brick shithouse, and the other being built like a pre-verbal shit brickhouse, only on a different scale, and yet much of the flick is watching them slap their metaphorical machismo all over each other in order to feel like the bigger man.

And there’s never a winner in those kinds of contests, except for the viewer in theory(?)

There’s a market for that, I guess. A lot of people like seeing men do manly things to each other. I’m not sure that’s the market this flick is aiming for, but it probably doesn’t hurt either.

Throw into the mix the self-titled Black Superman Idris Elba as the villain, with the unlikely name of Brixton Lore, and you have a very unlikely story about some people with very unlikely names doing very unlikely things that rarely involves cars. And it’s…okay.

It’s okay if you’re watching a flick with a premise whereby a baddie of some kind wants to release some kind of virus onto the world that will kill much of humanity. That bit seems a bit too close to home at the moment, but let’s ignore the fact that humanity is currently struggling with a virus, and all the efforts of The Rock, Jason Statham and Stringer Bell ain’t going to do diddly squat to help us, we’re on our own.

The last film, which I think had the even dumber name of Fate of the Furious in order to be able to incorporate an eight into its title, completed the trajectory of these films that started off being about, I kid you not, illegal drag racing, into now being sharper, shinier James Bond flicks. And for this one, the producers thought “those other characters are shit, people only care about the other people with shiny heads that aren’t Vin Diesel”, so they got rid of the plethora of C-list nobodies (no-one misses you Tyrese), and pared it down to an almost manageable amount of scenery chewers and people who yell stuff for expository reasons.

Rating:

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-Man Far From Home

Night Monkey Goes Bananas, as a title, could have brought
more boys to the yard, it's Marketing 101

dir: Jon Watts

2019

Finally. An unambiguously mediocre, exceedingly average Marvel movie.

It’s a relief, honestly. It’s about bloody time.

The steady stream of undifferentiated product has finally pumped out something that is significantly sub-standard compared to the previous 20+ instalments, and that’s okay. It’s good. It’s good to be shitty, sometimes. It takes the pressure off.

Of course opinions and enjoyment are subjective. Of course I don’t think my opinion on this is in any way definitive, or that it’s even a commonly held opinion. I have no idea. I speak to like five people in this world with any frequency, and they have better things to do that argue about Star Wars Trek Marvel DC et al.

And the thing is, I really like Tom Holland as this Spider-Man. I love Zendaya as MJ, and the action looks okay, and the settings aren’t terrible to look at.

But it’s just a fucking shemozzle. It’s a dog’s breakfast, as if dogs care what their breakfasts look like, the villain makes no sense; the villain has to know a bunch of stuff they couldn’t know in order to plan ahead, and all the characters around Spider-Man have to be fucking dense as shit in order to sell the silliness.

It also doesn’t help that this standalone Spider-Man movie comes on the heels not of Avengers: Endgame, but after Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which was just so on point, and so makes a mockery of all this folderol and foofaraw.

So, young Peter Parker is still emotional after the death of his supposed mentor Tony Stark, who only ever treated him terribly, the way you would treat a redheaded stepchild who did more drugs than you. The world, apparently, is crying out for someone to take up the mantle of Genius Billionaire Playboy Philanthropist, at the very least in order to make sense of stuff they couldn’t possibly make sense of.

The five year gap in which half of all life in the universe disappeared, and then reappeared without having aged, is referred to as The Blip, and people seem to have accepted it without question.

Sure. Life returned exactly back to normal, and the average pleb goes about their day doing the same things they were trying to do five years ago. Really? Wouldn’t this have fundamentally changed everything, everyone’s approach to reality and religion and life and all that shit? I mean, it’s not as if the average pleb in these films knows about Thanos, or presumably, anything, but surely it would fuck with their heads?

Rating:

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Dark Phoenix

These posters are all starting to look pretty much the same

dir: Simon Kinberg

2019

Almost everyone that liked the first two X-Men films really hated the 3rd one directed by one of the worst directors in the business, being the appalling Brett Ratner who I hope never gets to direct again. That 3rd flick, The Last Stand, was pretty hateable. In it the character of Jean Grey goes fucking crazy and wants to destroy the world, for some reason.

Bryan Singer, who directed the first two flicks, did not get to direct the third one, and was so offended by it that when he got the chance in X-Men: Days of Future Past, he made it so the earlier film never existed. Would that we all had such power to undo the actions of the past. If Bryan Singer actually possessed such power, perhaps he could travel back in time and undo the sexual assault and harassment he’s been accused of. I hope neither he, nor Ratner, ever work again, because both of them are pieces of shit and neither deserves forgiveness.

So, one of the people who wrote the third film, being Simon Kinberg, decided it was shit too, and thought “maybe I can do the same story properly, and people will like it, and like me too, maybe?” So he decided to direct a version of the Dark Phoenix storyline where Jean Grey gets even more powerful and threatens to – something – the world. I dunno, she kills a few people unintentionally, and probably had some impact on property values.

Former allies and enemies join hands and either try to save Jean or kill her, depending on how they feel at any given moment, but ultimately the story is pretty much the same as in the Last Stand. If I wrote the script on one film, and it turned out to be shit, and then a studio gave me even more money, told me to write it again pretty much the same way and also to direct it, I would consider myself the luckiest motherfucker on the planet.

I have had arguments with people in the past about Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones, in terms of whether she was a decent actor or not. I thought she was great in Game of Thrones, and only got better as the character improved over time. All of my defences of her acting fall apart here. She is, as are most other people in this flick, pretty dull. The combined effort of all these British people putting on American accents pretty much leaves them with nothing left in the tank for the “basic talking or acting” scenes.

Rating:

John Wick Chapter 3 Parabellum

John Wick 3

This poster furthers the impression that he's Gun Jesus, and I have
no problem with that

dir: Chad Stahelski

2019

Lots of thirsty people may disagree, and disagree strongly, but there is really no reason for this flick to exist. There’s no need for it.

If you like watching Keanu Reeves get repeatedly beaten up, stabbed and shot beyond the point where even a cyborg would pack it in, and also like watching him kill thousands of people, there are already two John Wick flicks in which all that happens. The singular attraction has to be one, or the other, or both, I guess. In this Chapter 3, even more people try to kill John Wick, and that’s about as complicated as it gets. All the story that was ever going to be told was told in the first one, where an idiot attacks a man, steals his car, kills his dog, only to realise when it’s too late that the person he wronged was the world’s most lethal assassin. That would make any man slap his forehead and utter a hearty “D’oh!”

The second one has a scumbag force John Wick to kill someone which then results in him having to kill hundreds of other people. And there’s a dog, but this time it survives. Yay doggo!

The third one has two more dogs but also the whole world wanting to kill the unkillable John Wick, who somehow keeps surviving because none of these super assassins ever thought to maybe just shoot him from a distance with a sniper rifle. Every super assassin just keeps wandering up to him, patiently waiting for their turn to die.

Oh, there’s no doubt they take their pound of flesh from Wick in exchange for violently being sent to their eternal reward, because he never changes his outfit, or his appearance, which is usually blood-soaked, or his carefully manicured beard. In fact, he does nothing to be less recognisable. It’s almost like he wants to get spotted so he can kill more people. But otherwise, he just keeps on keeping on.

Rating:

Avengers: Endgame

Avengers Endgame

You've got to wonder what the hell they're all looking at

dirs: Joe and Anthony Russo

2019

It’s finally over. Now we can all stop watching Marvel movies. They’ve got all our money; they’re richer than the gods now, so there’s no need to keep putting out movies. The heroes won, the baddies are gone, and now we can all rest easy in peace or in pieces, as the case may be.

It’s about bloody time. We could all do with a rest, don’t you think? We’ve earned it, they’ve earned it, we’re all good.

But… we can’t. Just can’t let it go. They can’t, we can’t. We knew it was only a matter of time. Marvel, and by Marvel I mean Disney, are addicted to money. It’s sad, but it’s true. They’ve got so much already, you think, they’ve taken so much for so long, but past actions, past performance doesn’t stop them from wanting more in the future. It’s the unfortunate way of the world.

When people talk about the death of cinema, or declining audiences etc, some, usually pretentious wankers, complain that it’s because the amount of decent films being put out is ever decreasing; more flicks are going straight to streaming versus the multiplex, piracy and more people spending time gaming or whatever else we occupy our time with in between tormenting strangers online via social media.

Disney sees this. Disney hears this. Disney’s plan of action is: however many or few eyeballs exist to glare at screens, we will own them all. Marvel’s ascent is just a part of the same rise that sees every massive franchise now under their one banner. Ultimately, they’re not going to care about how many or how few people are still going to the movies, because however many it is, wherever it is being watched, the ‘product’ they’re watching, in most cases, will be Disney product.

That’s the shame about all of this, but there are also benefits in these films now being the biggest movies in the world. One of them, I guess, is that maybe this is the natural peak, the pinnacle, the ne plus ultra, after which maybe, just maybe, we can start focusing on something else other than these monstrosities.

I don’t really think I’m ever going to sit through another 3+ hour film in the cinemas. I just find it increasingly hard to justify the time constraint of being forced to sit in a specific place at a specific time in order to see something soon enough such that we’re not exposed to too many spoilers. That’s the only real driver to seeing it near opening day: a fear both of missing out and of having others lord it over you that they saw it first.

Rating:

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