The Mechanic

The Mechanic is, sadly, not as nifty as the previews promise. It lumbers along trying to make the conflicts and fight scenes meaningful, but it doesn’t take the time to think the relationships through and this weakens the entire movie.

Even the always-accessible and charming Jason Statham can’t elevate this flick beyond something of a clinical, joyless actioner.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released January 28, 2011

Written by Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino

Directed by Simon West

Starring Mini Anden, Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland, and Tony Goldwyn

Rated: R

*     *     *     *      *

Story

Arthur Bishop (Statham) is a professional, slick, cold assassin who can be relied on to do his hit jobs flawlessly- making them look accidental as needed or anything else the client requires. After he is deceived and does a job he regrets, he finds motivation to go after the people who had his mentor (Sutherland) killed.

But in the meantime, his mentor’s son, Steve (Foster) is a lackadaisical no-good punk who doesn’t seem to have any reason to feel sentimental about his dad. Nonetheless, he wants revenge and he convinces Bishop to train him as an assassin. Steve finds direction in this path and it turns out he isn’t bad at it, but his lack of polish, control, and focus dooms him to not being anywhere near as good as Bishop.

The two work together to do jobs here and there, and having Steve around throws Bishop’s routine off. Add to this the totally forgettable dalliances that Bishop has with Sarah, who it appears is a high-priced prostitute who has feelings for Bishop and for whom, if he had the ability to do so, Bishop my have feelings as well.

Soon Steve and Bishop home in on Dean (Goldwyn) as the big baddie. Dean is also the boss of the network that Bishop has been working for, so the guy has a lot of resources to dedicate to stopping Bishop and his protege.

This all leads to bullets flying, clever maneuvering, nifty fights, and the question of whether the servant has become the master.

Critique

The only things that The Mechanic has going for it are three good actors doing as best they can and some fun action scenes. But even those action scenes can’t top the opening sequence wherein Bishop assassinates a very bad man.

Statham is wonderful at the slow burn and we want to see his righteous rage burning in the set of his stubbled jaw and square chin, but there’s not enough emotional weight to the conflicts in The Mechanic, so Statham never really gets to slow burn. He does what he can, and Foster is great as a wily, vindictive punk, but the writers didn’t think nearly enough about what would drive these characters and how their relationships really would work. Goldwyn does a workaday job as a villain. It would be nice if he could find another role, though.

Despite some fairly solid action sequences and plenty of attempts to make the viewer care about what’s going on, those attempts fall flat because we are just never given a reason to root for, or hate, anyone. Thus, this is a flat action flick that only really engages when the fights get going.

Content warnings: salty language, some sexuality and nudity, plenty of heavy violence

Writing: 2.5          Acting: 4          Overall: 2.5

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Immortals

Immortals is not a good movie, despite a game effort by Henry Cavill and Luke Evans. This is partly because Mickey Rourke made no effort and was terribly cast.

Avoid this movie, no matter how intriguing it may seem.

Here’s a trailer (with apologies for the incoherence of the trailer; the film isn’t much different):


The deets:

Released November 11, 2011

Written by Charley Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides

Directed by Tarsem Singh

Starring Freida Pinto, Anne Day-Jones, Isabel Lucas, Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Luke Evans, Steven Dorff, John Hurt, and Kellan Lutz

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Gonna give this a go, but the film is so poorly thought-out that putting the plot into a coherent summary will be difficult.

Here goes.

Eons ago, there was a war. The victors proclaimed themselves gods over the people of Earth and the losers were called titans and were trapped in a cage in a mountain with rebar in their mouths. This is Greek stuff, so the gods are Zeus (Evans), Athena (Lucas) etc.

Today, there is a mad, powerful king called Hyperion (Rourke) who is laying waste to all of the civilized world in a bid to gain power over a mighty bow that he can use to free the titans and then kill the gods. Ostensibly so he can rule the world he is destroying.

A peasant named Theseus (Cavill) lives in a strange village carved into a rock shelf in a cliff near the ocean. He lives with his mother (Day-Jones) and has been guided and trained by an old man (Hurt), who may or may not be Zeus in human form. How Zeus selected Theseus as a protege- we don’t know.

Theseus is an impressive fighter and has no fear; his only loyalty is to his mother. And then Hyperion kills Theseus’ mother and now Theseus, who previously had no desire to fight, is out for blood.

So Theseus goes on a roundabout quest to catch up to Hyperion and/or the Greek armies. This quest carries him into brief slavery, where he luckily finds a beautiful virgin (for not much longer) oracle (Pinto), who tries to guide Theseus toward his destiny. Theseus also inspires a mercenary-type group of slaves to join him, chief among them being Stavros (Dorff).

Then, for some reason, Theseus is in a maze-like place and is set upon by a huge man dressed as a minotaur. A battle ensues and Theseus wins, of course, and finds the powerful bow that Hyperion wants.

In the background of all this, a Greek traitor is for some reason helping Hyperion and they come into possession of the bow after some tribulation.

Then we’re with the Greek armies as they try to keep Hyperion from making his way into the mountain where the titans are captive. Theseus is somehow leading the Greek armies and he has to stop Hyperion. But the titans are freed and the gods descend to fight the titans and then there’s a lot of dying.

Blood splatters throughout, at great length.

Critique

Let’s start with the incoherent plot. For much of the film, we are unsure of what Theseus is trying to do. We’re also confused by gods who are clearly capricious and are likely the worst beings in the universe. Seriously, why didn’t the victors, who made themselves gods, just kill all the titans long ago, since they’re clearly willing to do so now? What was the point of trapping them? These gods certainly have no compunction about slaying them when the mythology hits the fan later in the in movie.

Hyperion is also a complete waste of character. He’s stupidly cruel and is leaving a world that isn’t worth ruling in his wake. There is no apparent reason for much of the awful stuff that he does. What’s more, Rourke clearly has no clue what is going on and essentially dozes throughout the movie.

Then there’s the oracle. She goes from mystical conduit of universal wisdom who must remain pure to exhibitionist lover pretty darn fast. And then she’s forgotten.

Don’t forget that the rulers of the Greek people are conveniently stupid and don’t act like any actual person with sense– so that Theseus can assume the reins of power and lead the army to victory.

Now add the splattering blood, graphic cruelty, at times too-slow-motion action, and all of this done with no style.

What we have here is a bunch of plot contrivances pasted onto Henry Cavill’s extraordinary torso and jaw and a wing and a prayer. Henry Cavill does his best, but nobody could save this flick.

And the movie was ‘successful.’

Don’t watch this movie.

Content warnings: Some sexuality and nudity along with a lot of splattery violence

Writing: 1          Acting: 2.5         Overall: 1.5

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Paul

Paul gets a few things right, a few things wrong, and is overall somewhat enjoyable because it knows how to mine a single joke for all of its humor.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released March 18, 2011

Written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost

Directed by Greg Mottola

Starring Kristen Wiig, Sigourney Weaver, Mia Stallard, Jane Lynch, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, David Koechner, Jesse Plemons, Jeffrey Tambor, and Seth Rogen’s voice

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Paul opens with a scene of a girl (Stallard) with her dog having a close encounter. Then we fast forward many years and find Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) on tour in America. They’re British bachelors who love science fiction and they have attended a great conference in Las Vegas and are now driving a rented RV around the west, visiting all the important sites involved in alien visitations.

Graeme and Clive encounter some bullies (Koechner and Plemons), and then encounter Paul (Rogen), an alien who has escaped from the government after some 50 years of custody. Paul knows more about American culture than do these Britons and he has assimilated into American culture and language well, despite being obviously an alien.

So Graeme and Clive go on the run with Paul, and are chased by Zoil (Bateman), who appears to be a stone-cold killer and his underlings Haggard (Hader) and O’Reilly (Truglio). But that’s not all. Graeme and Clive meet a born again religionist named Ruth (Wiig), who is blind in one eye and whose religious doctrine precludes any chance at extra-terrestrial life.

Now all are on the madcap, sometimes droll, sometimes actually entertaining journey of their lives.

Critique

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost know how to set up a joke and deliver multiple punchlines for it. There is plenty of that going on, although some of the jokes strain the audience’s tolerance, particularly in the area of Ruth, whose extreme ‘Christianity’ is made fun of at length. This particularly line of jokes is intermittently funny, but too often the humor feels like commentary of some sort, and the jokes are going after easy, lame targets.

The twist with Paul’s character is that while he is an alien, he is crass, has a healthy libido, and is totally irreverent– and is thus not very ‘alien.’ This results in quite a few funny moments, but also gets a little old, until the movie starts allowing Paul to have an arc along with arc his new chauffeurs/companions experience.

One of the major winners for this movie is the pacing and the presence of a wide array of fun characters. Hader is particularly a joy as Haggard, the underling with ambition and who might just end up being too smart for anyone’s good– especially his.

We get treated to Sigourney Weaver’s voice, as she is the boss running Zoil’s efforts to track down Paul. We also get treated to David Koechner’s great comedic timing, as well as Wiig’s remarkable fearlessness.

So, setting aside some of the too-easy targets for humor and a bit too much crass humor, Paul mostly delivers a good time. Pegg and Frost have great chemistry and the effects are totally non-distracting. It’s a pretty good movie, but it won’t appeal to a very wide audience. To enjoy it, you’d have to be a fan of Pegg and Frost, as well as a bit of a science fiction geek.

Content warnings: Lots of very salty language, some sexual references and the like.

Writing: 4          Acting: 4          Overall: 3.5

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The Eagle

The Eagle seems to be billed as an action-packed near-thriller. Instead, it is a fairly slow-moving look at how a young man’s idea of honor is tempered by the realities of the world around him. And it’s pretty good, too.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released February 11, 2011

Written by Jeremy Brock, based on the novel by Rosemary Sutcliff

Directed by Kevin Macdonald

Starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, and Denis O’Hare

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Marcus Flavius Aquila (Tatum) is determined to win back the honor lost by his father. His father was the leader of the Ninth legion of the Roman Empire, whose standard was a golden eagle, and which legion was completely lost/destroyed somewhere north of Hadrian’s wall.

That’s right: the year is 140 AD and Rome runs most of the world.

So Marcus has risen in the ranks of centurions and has just received a new commission in Britain, where he is in charge of a garrison and its fort. He leads his men in an impressive rout of attacking natives, being badly injured in the process. Due to the injury, Marcus has the opportunity to travel north and find the lost eagle standard, whereupon he would win back the honor to his family name. He convinces his uncle (Sutherland) to let him go, and that his slave, Esca (Bell), will not stab him on the journey.

So Marcus and Esca head north, with Esca having pledged his honor to Marcus due to a debt Esca feels he owes. Adventures ensue as Marcus has his ideas about honor challenged and he starts to find reason to break from the Roman party line regarding how honor is won. At the same time, the relationship between Esca and Marcus is explored as duty gives way to respect and friendship.

Critique

The Eagle is, again, not an action-packed thrill ride. It’s also not too concerned with accents, accuracy, and geography. But this film gets a few things right.

First off, the writing and direction allows for extended, character-building scenes, wherein multiple conflicts help the audience see what the characters are truly made of. Furthermore, there are some solid surprises that come from characters’ decisions and there are plenty of opportunities for characters to redeem themselves.

Secondly, the movie is well cast. Given that the film is not really a dramatic actioner but is instead a sometimes dramatic, sometimes stolid, sometimes tense, exploration of friendship and honor and loyalty, it is nice that the actors are young and can convincingly demonstrate a real arc. This arc shows the young men going from somewhat naive to a more grounded outlook on life.

The film is also beautifully shot and very well paced. The Eagle might not satisfy action film fans’ bloodlust and desire for colorful explosions, but it delivers an almost gentle resolution for Marcus, wherein he realizes his life is his own to live and honor is an every day thing.

Issues that don’t allow The Eagle to truly take off include a somewhat stolid pace and not quite enough effort from Tatum. It’s kind of slow at times and Tatum is very serious here. It might have been nice to explore a little more humor.

Content warnings: Some somewhat bloody violence.  

Writing: 4          Acting: 3.5          Overall: 3.5

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