Talking Movies

February 15, 2018

Ecuador plots daring escape for Julian Assange

A drunken Ambassador who is shamelessly junketing in South Korea to support Ecuador’s sole entrant in the Winter Olympics has accidentally let slip an elaborate long-term plan to get Wikileaks founder Julian Assange out of their London embassy without being arrested by the Met, writes B. Bradley Bradlee from Pyeongchang.

Julian Assange met with Noam Chomsky to discuss the ethics of selling the movie rights to his forthcoming escape. Mr Chomsky insisted he be played only by philosopher Sam Harris.

Hugo de Bradias, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed over his seventeenth tequila that the Ecuadorean embassy in London had had enough. “You think we really had a package delivered of mysterious white powder last week? Mystery white powder?! We were just, testing, hiccup, the response time of the Met. All our white powder comes from the Bolivian embassy’s chauffeur. Don’t print that. I’ll deeeny I shaid shit.” Ambassador de Bradias then flourished a piece of paper which was headed ‘Julian Assange Escape Plan’ ™. When pressed on why it was trademarked he mumbled about various copyright infringements, and ‘out-chutzpah’.

The document, which will no doubt be of especial interest to London’s Metropolitan Police, details an elaborate escape plan for Julian Assange – to take place on Hallowe’en night 2018. Ambassador de Bradias laughed so hard he fell off his barstool explaining that the final version of the plan had come together after Assange had gone to bed for the night and the embassy staff stayed up and watched recent episodes of Longmire and Blindspot after Olly Murs had caused chaos on Twitter by implying Oxford Street’s Selfridges had become Nakatomi Plaza with Murs himself as an all-singing all-dancing John McClane.

The plan involves a huge amount of simultaneous Tube platform altercations and minor vandalism on busy shopping streets to divert police resources all over London. The Ecuadorean embassy will be hosting a masked ball for some 10,000 partygoers, flooding the building and grounds. Assange will make a speech from his usual balcony, and get a coughing fit mid-tedious tirade. He will duck inside to get a glass of water, a light bulb will blow, but he will soldier on, giving the speech in half-light. But, and Ambassador de Bradias hooted with glee – this will not be the real Assange.

The real Assange will have disappeared when he went for his glass of water, replaced by a double. At this moment of subterfuge all 10,000 partygoers will flood out of the Ecuadorean embassy; and the mask that everyone is wearing will be revealed to be the face of – Julian Assange. The real Assange escapes because the Met are stretched too thin from all the mayhem to search so many civilians without probable cause. That at least is the plan. Obviously such a massive subterfuge, requiring so much materiel and so many personnel, and, strictly confidential, an outlay for a fake party and gunbattle in Harrods to inspire panicked tweets from an influential useful idiot like Kim Kardashian, would be hugely costly for troubled Ecuador.

When pressed on how the embassy would pay for all this Ambassador de Bradias tapped his nose and alluded to the presence in Pyeongchang of Kim Jong-Un’s diabolical sister, the Livia of North Korea. He was more forthcoming on the plan’s urgency, “This man, Assange, he must go. At first, yay, stick it to the Americans. Now, no. Now he pain in ass. BBC 2 make sitcom about him. What do we get? Nada. We try to interest Aaron Sorkin. Hey, come do research, make movie, Assange he is like Man who come to dinner, no? No. Sorkin, no.” When asked if he was not concerned that Assange, a digital Tom Paine, could end up being beaten with sticks about the kidneys in a floating black site not unlike the prison in Stallone/Schwarzenegger vehicle Escape Plan, the Ambassador gave me a withering look and called for more Ferrero Rocher.

B. Bradley Bradlee is fictional editor emeritus of The New York Times. He is currently covering the Winter Olympics for the German weekly Die Emmerich-Zeitung.

August 13, 2014

The Expendables 3

Sylvester Stallone and his band of arthritic action heroes return for a surprisingly decent third instalment in this underwhelming franchise.

The-Expendables-3-wallpaper

Barney Ross (Stallone) and his mercenary crew; Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews; use a helicopter to rescue long-imprisoned Expendable Doc (Wesley Snipes) from a prison train. Their CIA contact Drummer (Harrison Ford) then dispatches the team to Somalia to capture an arms-dealer, but faulty intelligence fails to identify the target as another former Expendable: the extremely dangerous Stonebanks (Mel Gibson). A broken Stallone recruits a new, much younger team – a tech specialist; Thorn (Glen Powell); some muscle; Mars (Victor Ortiz), Luna (Ronda Rousey); and a tactician Smilee (Kellan Lutz). They go up against Stonebanks in Eastern Europe with a foolproof plan. And then a shattered Stallone recruits demented Spaniard Galgo (Antonio Banderas) for another go round at Stonebanks… At this rate he may well need Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Yin (Jet Li) to selflessly help him out.

The Expendables franchise isn’t nearly as funny and knowing as it thinks it is. Its idea of meta-comedy is for actors to make obvious references to their lives and quote past roles without any jokes attached. Indeed its funniest meta-moments are unintentional, the obvious cutaways and wide-angles disguising creaking bones in fight scenes. As a PG-13 movie the CGI blood that bedevilled the last movie is mercifully absent, but instead we have the hilarity of people not being bisected by a steel wire on a fast-moving train in the opening sequence; whose cartoonish climax flags a problem for the whole film – outrageously bad CGI. If, per Nolan and Pfister, cinema is about capturing live-action on film, it makes no sense at all for an action film to stage an elaborate live-action build-up only for the pay-off to be a screensaver.

The outsize cast barely fits on the poster, so predictably most make no impression whatsoever; except MMA fighter Ronda Rousey whose face registers amusement or annoyance – and nothing else… Stallone’s screenplay has been worked over by Olympus Has Fallen scribes Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, but they only manage to make Banderas a live-action Puss in Boots while failing to deliver any good quips. Kelsey Grammer as a fixer gives the impression of ad-libbing the funniest moments of his ‘putting the heist together’ scenes, as does Gibson whose charisma veritably leaps off the screen in this company. There is a quantum leap in directorial competence as Patrick Hughes (the brutal and atmospheric Red Hill) showily stages the extraction at an art gallery with some panache, but even he can’t save the over-extended warzone finale and its ludicrously motivated boss fight.

The Expendables 3 isn’t a genuinely good movie, but as the best instalment so far it legitimately makes this question seriously tantalising – what could this franchise be with Robert Rodriguez or Roland Emmerich onboard?

2.5/5

October 17, 2013

Escape Plan

Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger finally properly co-star together, and the result is a superior slice of prison break nonsense.

THE TOMB

Ray Breslin (Stallone) begins the film getting sent to solitary in a federal prison in Colorado for shanking a vengeful fellow prisoner. He promptly escapes with the help of an explosive diversion outside. And then explains to the warden how he did it, because that’s Ray’s job. Aided by his colleagues Abigail (Amy Ryan) and Hush (Curtis Jackson), Ray is sent to prisons by his business partner Lester (Vincent D’Onofrio) to compromise their security, so that weak-points can be eliminated. However, when CIA agent Miller (Monaghan’s Caitriona Balfe) employs Ray to test a new black site things go sideways. Victimised by vicious guard Drake (Vinne Jones), Stallone finds the warden Hobbes (Jim Caviziel) is not his contact, but his nemesis. Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), an associate of a master financial hacker, is Ray’s only chance of escaping from Hobbes’ unbreakable The Tomb.

Director Mikael Hafstrom is obviously aware of the silliness of proceedings. The first appearance of Schwarzenegger is accompanied by a deliriously knowing camera swoop to reveal his face. And then a later slow-mo extreme close up on Arnie’s eyes accompanies an appropriately massive gun finally being given to him. The dialogue at times creaks under the weight of expectation for good one-liners that it can’t quite deliver. But there is so much to love in this film. Arnie freaking out in German in an extended sequence in which he recites the entire ‘Our Father’ as well as riffing on Nietzsche’s Gay Science is oddly glorious. And Stallone’s emphasis on brains over brawn is a pleasing acknowledgment of his age: his strength is his tactical nous in assessing how structural weak points best combine with the blind moments in guards’ routines.

Hobbes beautifully uses Ray’s very life work against him. If you’d read one of Cosmo Landesman’s more ridiculous rants you’d note that Caviziel’s wearing of a waistcoat, fastidious dusting of his tie, and studious hobby of pinning butterflies resemble Christopher Eccleston’s alleged coders of homosexuality in Gone in 60 Seconds. Landesman’s quite odd sometimes… Far more interesting is noting Republican Schwarzenegger’s involvement in such a politically subversive script. Hobbes dispenses with the niceties of water-boarding to simply insert a hose in Rottmayer’s mouth and let rip. Faran Tahir’s Javed becomes an integral and sympathetic part of the escape, so that suddenly either we’re rooting for a mujihadeen to get back to business or accepting that the CIA quite frequently renditions the wrong man. Escape Plan is also a needlessly star-studded film. Sam Neill gets very little to do as the sympathetic prison doctor, while the great Ryan is similarly underused.

Escape Plan, excepting some expansive pull-outs, prioritises physical sets and choreography over CGI, and is the escapist fun The Expendables franchise fails to deliver.

4/5

January 30, 2013

Bullet to the Head

I am not a Walter Hill fan… I venerate The Driver, but was nonplussed by The Warriors, and a recent viewing of the execrable Streets of Fire left me too enraged to review this film reasonably so my sometime co-scriptwriter John Healy, a man who actually likes The Warriors, writes:

Walter Hill fans can rejoice at a return to form, while Stallone fans continue to enjoy the veteran action star’s Indian summer, in this entertaining variation on the buddy-cop formula.

bullet_to_the_head

 

Jimmy Bobo (Stallone) is a hitman whose latest employer considers him a loose end and tries to have him killed. Taylor Kwan (Sung Kang, Fast Five) plays a New York cop after the man who had his corrupt former partner executed. Thrown together, they tear around New Orleans, chasing down powerful criminals (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and the evergreen Christian Slater) who are protected by a team of elite mercenaries headed up by the apparently unstoppable Keegan (Jason Momoa, Game of Thrones). They agree on the target, but not on the tactics.

Fans of Hill’s work will recognise all the old familiar pieces: the unconventional pairing of cop and criminal (48 Hours), the cop in an unfamiliar city (Red Heat), the exploding cabin in the bayou (Southern Comfort), the standoff with unconventional weapons (Streets of Fire), and the man with an unconventional moral code (pretty much everything he’s ever made). Yes, he’s repeating himself, but Hill is at his best working on variations of his favourite themes, and this is no exception. The references don’t stop there either – anyone who’s seen Once Upon a Time in the West can’t help but see something familiar in the relationship between Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s crippled, money-obsessed kingpin and Momoa’s muscle who cares more about honour. The familiarity is forgiven, however, as the plot ticks along nicely from each well-choreographed action set piece to the next. I’ve never seen New Orleans look better on film. Lloyd Ahern, Hill’s cinematographer of choice for the past 20 years, delivers a crisp, slick look – this is a modern action movie, not a relic of the 1980s. Stallone is comfortable in a role that wouldn’t fit a younger man, and the supporting cast are uniformly good; particularly Momoa, who shows some variation from the near-mute brutes he has made his name playing.

We move then to the negatives. Perhaps the film suffers from one villain too many; as good as Slater is, I’m not sure his character was necessary. Sarah Shahi’s role as Bobo’s daughter is transparently there for three things: romance with Kwan leading to tension between him and Bobo, a late kidnapping to up the stakes, and eye candy for the audience. Each element is executed well, but I resented being introduced to a character whose entire role was so predictable. The violence is a little excessive; not quite to the degree that Tarantino indulges himself, but certainly enough to be distracting at times. To say the dialogue can be expository is to downplay the fact that Kwan’s phone is literally used as an expository device. And, while we’re on dialogue, Bobo’s racist banter with Kwan never comes off quite as well as the same trick did in 48 Hours. I’m not sure if it’s used more, or the delivery just isn’t as good, but it feels a little off at times.

On the whole this is a perfectly good dumb action movie, a notch above most of the dreck dumped in the post-Oscar slots, which can be recommended as a solid 90 minutes’ entertainment. Three stars, with bonus half stars for fans of action movies, Stallone and Hill.

3/5

August 15, 2012

The Expendables 2

66 year-old Sylvester Stallone regrettably returns for the second outing in this postmodern tongue-in-cheek action franchise made by people who don’t know what postmodernism means and don’t have their tongues-in-cheeks.

The Expendables 2 begins with Stallone’s soldiers of fortune rampaging around Nepal, saving a hostage or two, before making their covert getaway in the world’s most conspicuous plane. The film continues in this vein; thunderously loud, with much posturing like 1980s action heroes by the aged cast of 1980s action heroes. Groanworthy references are made from time to time as hundreds of enemies on various continents are dispatched with explosions of CGI blood so ridiculous that they resemble the zombies/water balloons of Planet Terror. But, when Bruce Willis sends Stallone and Jason Statham to Albania to retrieve a Maguffin with the help of Jet Li’s replacement Nan Yu, they (and their loyal crew of Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, and Liam Hemsworth) meet their match in the villainous Jean-Claude Van Damme… But some familiar faces might balance the odds.

It’s hard not to wish that Robert Rodriguez at the top of his game was in charge of this franchise. You might think that losing Stallone as a director might improve this franchise but, aside from the script, the real shock of this movie is that Simon Con Air West doesn’t bring much visual panache to this nonsense. Instead it’s only slightly better directed than the lensing of Dolph Lundgren’s inert 2004 directorial debut The Defender, and the opening sequence in particular bafflingly shares Lundgren’s utter inability to convey basic action geography. The unrelenting autumnal colour palette employed by West quickly becomes quite dreary. The best moments are Jet Li fighting with pots and pans, the State using a censer as a mace, and Nan Yu letting rip on some goons; to wit the actors young enough for action movies.

Van Damme proved in JCVD that he’s still in shape and can actually act when pushed, but JCVD had a level of playfulness in its writing that is simply beyond The Expendables. Arnold Schwarzenegger saying “I’m back” before a couple of notes of his Terminator motif play isn’t that funny a touch. Chuck Norris delivering the punch-line of a Chuck Norris joke after Stallone feeds him the set-up might be hilarious, if he hadn’t delivered about 5 of them in a row on Jay Leno’s show a few years ago. These touches, which are few and far between, are meant to disguise the fact that this is a veritable computer-generated basic cable action script, worked on by many different writers, that could just as easily have been directed by Dolph Lundgren on a miniscule budget and gone straight to DVD.

For a genuine tongue-in-cheek see Robert Rodriguez or Alexandre Aja because this is just a bad movie shamelessly masquerading as a gleefully bad movie.

1/5

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