Skip to main content

You shouldn’t have asked about Dubai.

Survivor
(2015)

If James McTeigue’s sub-Salt agent-on-the-run thriller had a self-awareness and sense of humour about its unbridled idiocy, it might feasibly have become really good fun. Instead, it’s left to Pierce Brosnan’s assassin, “the best operative in the business” to bring the entertainment value. He thunders through the proceedings as if a permanent bad smell is lingering just under his nose, while Milla Jovovich’s titular Survivor is left wearing a permanent startled expression, the only one her rictus face seems able to convey.


Presumably no one thought much of Survivor’s box office prospects as it went to video on demand in the US, accompanied by a few grudging (probably contractual) cinema screenings. McTeigue only seems capable of delivering when he has the Wachowski siblings to mentor him, which may explain why he ended up plumping for this cheapie shot entirely in London and Bulgaria (despite a Times Square finale on New Year’s Eve). His action occasionally passes muster when it features Brosnan’s Nash (aka The Watchmaker) pursuing his quarry, but it’s more often often choppy and uninspired. Indeed, once Jovovich’s Kate Abbott manages to elude Nash and gets herself on a plane heading for the big climax, any semblance of suspense has departed with her.


If Philip Shelby’s screenplay wasn’t so roundly implausible and full of holes, one might take its nominal role as a propaganda piece seriously. It finishes with an onscreen caption announcing “ Since 9/11 American law enforcement has stopped 53 terrorist attacks in New York City alone”, although one wonders how many of these alleged potentialities were actually enabled by ever-loving undercover FBI operatives. Earlier, the picture’s thrall to combating the all-consuming threat of terrorism is announced by Kate having a flashback to the Twin Towers and the announcement that “She lost some of her best friends on 9/11”. I suppose its an achievement that in 14 years we’ve reached a point where its fair play to use the event as cheap emotional shorthand, rather than expunging it from screens lest it be deemed to upsetting (Zoolander).


9/11 also comes into play with the plan of the bad guys. It turns out these aren’t passionate zealots, intent on striking at the heart of America (well, apart from Roger Rees, in his final role, as the bomb maker fuelled by the desire for revenge against a corrupt state that… refused his dying wife’s Visa application. Of all the things he might have got upset about. The bastards.) For a movie so sucking up to the security services, it curiously decides to echo one of the conspiratorial loose ends of 9/11 previously referenced in Casino Royale; the Watchmaker notes that, when the New York exchanges opened after 9/11 “people who bet against the market made a fortune”. 


For Pavlou (Benno Furmann) this isn’t an act of terror or a bold political move, “it’s just about making money”; post the bombing he plans to make $100bn from similar short selling activity. Perhaps the picture is subversively suggesting that all such terrorism has a money motive somewhere at its core but, given its apology for a plot, I suspect it just plain isn’t aware of how incoherent its content is.


Kate, employed by the US Embassy in London, has been rooting out dodgy Visa applications, much to the ire of Ambassador Crane (Angela Bassett, bringing forth her best hard-nosed bitch), who doesn’t wish to cause any ruffled feathers with anyone. Colleague Bill Talbot (Robert Forster), working for the enemy under duress, reports this to his overlords who duly despatch Brosnan, “one of the most wanted assassins in the world” (talk about bigging someone up) to take her out. 


This is one of those pictures where everyone needs to be bloody-minded above and beyond the call of duty, from Crane to James D’Arcy’s police inspector (“The longer she lives, the more people die!”), where the protagonist can’t seem to twig why her would-be assassin is always on her tail despite her carrying around an ID card with a tracking chip in it, and who seems to think that donning a pair of spectacles will get her most wanted mug through airport security (hey, it works!)


Lest you think all is lost, though, there’s Pierce, roaming around London stabbing people in the neck (“You shouldn’t have asked about Dubai” he tells an overly chatty computer hacker) and destroying blocks of flats with a single bullet. He’s an unstoppable killing machine, until he isn’t. One of the great unintentionally funny lines in the picture finds Kate’s devoted colleague Sam (Dylan McDermott, who is to be commended for appearing in nothing but B movies) describing this uber-asssassin; “He’s had so much reconstructive surgery, no one knows what the hell he looks like”.


For one with such a towering reputation, the Watchmaker doesn’t especially show it; Brosnan donning a fake moustache is about the extent of his skills as a master of disguise. He also seems to send easily traceable courier services from his home address (quite what is going on with that elaborate bomb in a restaurant ruse is beyond me), and proves completely inept at accomplishing his task.


Either that or no one counted on Kate being so handy, as she hacks, slashes and generally scarpers from each successive encounter and explosion. It’s a shame she doesn’t cook as well, as she might have given Steven Seagal in his prime a run for his money. The Watchmaker’s inadequacies are never more evident than in the finale, where his plan to detonate the bomb is interrupted by resourceful Kate. She even quips “Time’s up” as he plummets to his death on the stroke of midnight. Alas, Milla’s never been one for comedy.


Kate, who earlier expressed doubts about her chosen career, is now convinced of the value of her role, the one where she fights terrorists all over the globe and generally snoops on everyone she possibly can, as we all should be; she saved over a million lives on New Year’s Eve, “So I guess this is what we’re doing with our lives”. Perhaps the most bizarre consequence of this budget-conscious affair is the casting of Frances de la Tour as Kate’s confidante within the US Embassy HQ. I think Miss Jones is supposed to be American, but I’m still not entirely sure.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, broadcast by the BBC on the centenary of Armistice Day, is "sold" on the attraction and curiosity value of restored, colourised and frame rate-enhanced footage. On that level, this World War I documentary, utilising a misquote from Laurence Binyon's poem for its title, is frequently an eye-opener, transforming the stuttering, blurry visuals that have hitherto informed subsequent generations' relationship with the War. However, that's only half the story; the other is the use of archive interviews with veterans to provide a narrative, exerting an effect often more impacting for what isn't said than for what is.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
(SPOILERS) Some of the reactions to Spectre would have you believe it undoes all the “good” work cementing Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond in Skyfall. If you didn’t see that picture as the second coming of the franchise (I didn’t) your response to the latest may not be so harsh, despite its less successful choices (Blofeld among them). And it isn’t as if one step, forward two steps back are anything new in perceptions of the series (or indeed hugely divisive views on what even constitutes a decent Bond movie). After the raves greeting Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan suffered a decidedly tepid response to his second outing, Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit it was less eviscerated than Craig’s sophomore Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow’s reputation disguises many strong points, although it has to be admitted that a Moore-era style finale and a floundering attempt to package in a halcyon villain aren’t among them.

The Bond series’ flirtations with contemporary relevance have a…

It seemed as if I had missed something.

Room 237 (2012)
Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous, obsessive approach towards filmmaking was renowned, so perhaps it should be no surprise to find comparable traits reflected in a section of his worshippers. Legends about the director have taken root (some of them with a factual basis, others bunkum), while the air of secrecy that enshrouded his life and work has duly fostered a range of conspiracy theories. A few of these are aired in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, which indulges five variably coherent advocates of five variably tenuous theories relating to just what The Shining is really all about. Beyond Jack Nicholson turning the crazy up to 11, that is. Ascher has hit on a fascinating subject, one that exposes our capacity to interpret any given information wildly differently according to our disposition. But his execution, which both underlines and undermines the theses of these devotees, leaves something to be desired.

Part of the problem is simply one of production values. The audio tra…

You stole my car, and you killed my dog!

John Wick (2014)
(SPOILERS) For their directorial debut, ex-stunt guys Chad Stahelski and David Leitch plump for the old reliable “hit man comes out of retirement” plotline, courtesy of screenwriter Derek Kolstad, and throw caution to the wind. The result, John Wick, is one of last year’s geek and critical favourites, a fired up actioner that revels in its genre tropes and captures that elusive lightning in a bottle; a Keanu Reeves movie in which he is perfectly cast.

That said, some of the raves have probably gone slightly overboard. This is effective, silly, and enormous fun in its own hyper-violent way, but Stahelski and Leitch haven’t announced themselves stylistically so much as plastered the screen with ultra-violence and precision choreography. They have a bit of a way to go before they’re masters of their domain, and they most definitely need to stint on their seemingly insatiable appetite for a metalhead soundtrack. This kind of bludgeoning choice serves to undercut the action a…