Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)

aka Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw*

2020 #40
David Leitch | 137 mins | streaming (UHD) | 2.39:1 | USA / English, Samoan & Russian | 12 / PG-13

Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw

In my review of Fast & Furious 8, I singled out the odd-couple double-act of lawman Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and semi-reformed criminal Deckard (Jason Statham) for particular praise. Well, clearly I wasn’t alone in that view, because the pair have become the subject of the first Fast & Furious spinoff. (It’s kind of ridiculous that this is devalued as a spinoff while Tokyo Drift gets to sit there as part of the main series, but that’s a whole other debate.)

Here, despite their mutual antipathy, Hobbs and Shaw are forced to team-up when technologically-augmented super-soldier Brixton Lore (Idris Elba) manages to frame Deckard’s MI6 agent sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) for the theft of a programmable super-virus. Yep, the series that started out as a based-on-a-newspaper-article story of illegal street racers continues to play in more of a James Bond sandpit, albeit with a continued focus on vehicular activity for the action sequences.

If you’ve seen any of the recent Fast & Furious movies (since Fast Five performed that soft reboot into the spy caper genre), you should pretty much know what to expect here: physically-implausible OTT action, with a knowing wink to the audience so we can all share in the ridiculousness. It certainly shares some of the main series’ preoccupations — crazy stunts with cars; the importance of family — but it’s a bit less self-serious whenever the latter is mentioned. Obviously on one level it’s a spinoff because the main characters (Vin Diesel and co) aren’t here, but they’ve used that “not part of the main saga” thing to allow it to cut a little loose with the tone; to have a bit of fun. The FF films aren’t at all averse to ludicrous hijinks, but even they don’t indulge as consistently as Hobbs & Shaw does.

The car's (not) the star

In fact, while not ‘officially’ labelled a Comedy, Hobbs & Shaw borders on being one. Johnson and Statham are both outwardly old-school action stars who’ve demonstrated a surprisingly good acuity for comedy in previous roles, so pairing them up in a buddy-comedy actioner allows them to spark off each other nicely. It’s directed by David Leitch, who demonstrated a fine handling of the balance between action and comedy in Deadpool 2, and brings a similar touch here. The plot is regularly paused to indulge in what are effectively comedy routines, to the extent of bringing in some cameos to basically do a couple of sketches. (No spoilers as to the identity of the cameos, other than to say they have connections to other work by members of the cast and/or crew, which makes them fun little meta-nods.) If you’re looking for a streamlined story or nonstop action, you’re out of luck, and I imagine the funny bits (which sometimes are allowed to run just a little too long) will get on your nerves. It may push the comedy a little further than regular FF films — tonally, it’s almost Deadpool level at times — but I’m all for it being self-consciously funny, rather than trying to remain po-faced while taking the action to cartoonish extremes.

Like its saga brethren, Hobbs & Shaw aims squarely at being a couple of hours of pure entertainment for people who enjoy imaginative, physics-defying action scenes and a bit of a laugh on the side. It’s possibly my favourite Fast & Furious film since Fast Five — and I thought F7 and F8 were a lot of ridiculous fun, so that’s not damning with faint praise. There are some teases that it might spark a sequel, or even series, of its own, and I’m definitely up for that.

4 out of 5

Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw is available on Sky Cinema and Now TV from today.

* I would love to know why Universal continue to insist on slightly retitling these movies for their UK and European releases. At least with, say, The Fate of the Furious I can see they wanted to get the brand name in there properly by officially calling it Fast & Furious 8, but removing Presents from this one? It looks neater, because “Presents” serves no purpose other than to try to suggest this isn’t a ‘real’ Fast & Furious film (and who the fuck cares? Except Vin Diesel, I expect), but, still, why bother to change it? ^

The Meg (2018)

2019 #77
Jon Turteltaub | 113 mins | download (HD+3D) | 2.39:1 | USA & China / English & Mandarin | 12 / PG-13

The Meg

Jason Statham vs. a giant prehistoric shark — what more do you need to know?

Okay, well, despite the obvious pulp-blockbuster nature of this premise, it’s actually based on a novel, which was originally published in 1997 and so I guess arrived in a wave of post-Jurassic Park interest in man vs. prehistoric creatures thrillers. Well, Jurassic Park and the other obvious comparison, Jaws, were also both adapted from novels, so perhaps it’s not so weird after all. I’d never heard of the book before, but apparently it has a dedicated fanbase (there are multiple sequels), who were disappointed with this film because it makes some radical changes to the source material. Clearly, I’m not the right person to make that comparison.

Judged as a film in its own right, then, I thought it was a ton of fun. You know what you’re getting into with that pitch, and doubly so if you’ve watched the trailer. This isn’t some thought-provoking docu-drama about “what if we really discovered a prehistoric creature still lived?” This isn’t even Jaws, a relatively grounded adventure movie about normal people defeating a larger-than-average killer shark. This is a movie about a super-high-tech underwater research facility that accidentally unleashes a prehistoric monster and then all the scientists and submariners and whatnot on board have to track it down and stop it. This is a move about Jason Statham fighting a giant shark.

Stath vs shark

All of that said, some people have criticised the movie for not being quite as daft or out there as they wanted from a B-movie-inspired effects spectacular. I guess that’s a real “your mileage will vary” situation. Personally, I had a lot of fun with it. It keeps things more grounded than the utter batshit craziness of, say, Sharknado, but it’s clearly still allowing itself to have fun with the situations and concepts. It also doesn’t feel too samey, which considering there are only so many ways to interact with a giant shark is some kind of achievement.

Other criticisms I’ve read include that it’s too slow to get going, focusing on undersea rescues rather than getting straight to Stath-on-shark action. Again, this was something I actually liked about the film — that it allowed at least some time to build the Meg up as a mysterious unseen force (and, in the grand scheme of things, not that much time — this isn’t Jaws). It also gave the film a certain scope and scale. It’s not like this shark rocks up and they defeat it in an afternoon — the plot spread out over a couple of days, at least. I don’t know, there’s just something I like about that pacing.

Also, the film is a Chinese co-production, and so features many major and minor Chinese characters, and the climax is set in the vicinity of a Chinese beach. I’ve seen people criticise this aspect of the film because… um… Yeah, not liking that aspect smacks of racism, let’s be honest. I’m not saying everyone who dislikes The Meg is a racist — that would be stupid — but some reviews I’ve seen come with this slightly weird sense that part of the reason they dislike it is because it’s 50% (if that) a Chinese blockbuster.

Who fancies Chinese for dinner?

At the end of the day, I come back to what I said at the start: it’s a movie about a giant prehistoric shark being unleashed and attacking humans, and Jason Statham has to fight it. That’s all. It delivered on that in spades for me and I had a great time with it. And I guess tied to that pulpiness, if you have the option and enjoy the effect, I thought it looked fantastic in 3D.

4 out of 5

The Meg is available on Sky Cinema from today.

Fast & Furious 8 (2017)

aka The Fate of the Furious

2018 #21
F. Gary Gray | 136 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.39:1 | USA, China & Japan / English & Russian | 12 / PG-13

Fast & Furious 8

Anyone who’s watched a Fast & Furious movie will know that the most important thing to our heroes is not fast cars but family. Family, family, family — they don’t half go on about it. But what might make one of the team betray their all-important figurative family? Well, that’s what the series’ eighth instalment sets out to ask, as patriarch Dom (Vin Diesel) is forcibly recruited by terrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron), and government agent Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) counter-recruits Dom’s family to track him down and stop Cipher’s evil plan.

You may remember that, once upon a time, these films were about street racers who occasionally carried out on-the-road heists, all the better to keep the focus on the cars. Those days are long gone, despite an opening sequence here that tries to pretend that’s still part of the game. No, nowadays we’re in the “international spy actioner” genre, and our former street racers have somehow become highly capable agents… whose primary tools/weapons are still vehicles. It’s utterly ridiculous… but, thank goodness, everyone involved seems to know that.

Well, most people do. I reckon Vin Diesel might think it’s a serious movie about the emotional turmoil of being kidnapped by a global cyberterrorist who lives on a plane and can remotely hijack a city-load of cars and is threatening your family unless you help her steal a nuclear submarine. I mean, we’ve all been there, right?

A lot of men would betray their family for Charlize Theron, to be fair

So, yeah, the story is thoroughly daft. But it exists primarily to connect up action sequences, and in a movie like this I’m fine with that — I’m here to watch people do cool shit in cars, hopefully with some funny bits around that action, not to be wowed by an intricate plot or ponder meaningful character development. On the things I expect, then, FF8 more or less delivers. I mean, the series has always been renowned for using CGI to augment its car chases, which is less thrilling than doing stunts for real, but it really blurs the line nowadays: you might think dozens of cars falling from a multi-storey car park is all CGI, but you’d be wrong.

Any time almost anyone besides Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) or Deckard (Jason Statham) has their mouth open, FF8 is pretty dumb; but when those two are talking, especially when they’re bickering with each other, it’s often pretty funny (they’re definitely in on the joke). And when the action’s a-go-go, the film’s either solidly pulse-racing or, actually, being kinda witty — there’s a prison riot, for example, that is, appropriately enough, a riot. Though it’s as nothing to Statham engaging in a protracted gunfight-cum-punch-up against a bunch of goons while carrying a baby.

Bromance

Fast & Furious 8 isn’t strictly a comedy, but a sense of humour is required to enjoy it. There’s no way to take this palaver seriously, and fortunately the filmmakers have embraced that. It’s deliberately OTT, dedicated to being entertaining for almost every minute of its running time. Taken as just that, it’s a lot of fun. Also, probably the series’ best instalment since the fifth.

4 out of 5

Fast & Furious 8 is available on Sky Cinema from today.

The Transporter (2002)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #94

Rules are made to be broken.

Country: France & USA
Language: English, French & Mandarin
Runtime: 92 minutes
BBFC: 15
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 11th October 2002 (USA)
UK Release: 17th January 2003
First Seen: DVD, c.2003

Stars
Jason Statham (Snatch., Crank)
Shu Qi (The Storm Riders, The Assassin)
Matt Schulze (Blade II, Fast Five)
François Berléand (Au Revoir Les Enfants, The Chorus)

Directors
Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk, Now You See Me)
Corey Yuen (The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk, DOA: Dead or Alive)

Screenwriters
Luc Besson (Léon, Lucy)
Robert Mark Kamen (The Karate Kid, Taken)

The Story
Frank Martin is “The Transporter”, a driver for hire who moves people and goods, no questions asked. He never looks inside the package… until, on one job, the package moves. Finding a young woman gagged inside, Frank winds up embroiled in her rescue from some very bad men.

Our Hero
Frank Martin, expert driver (he’s the titular transporter after all) and martial artist, as handy with his fists as he is with a steering wheel. Lives by a simple set of rules… which he breaks, because it’s a movie and it needs a plot.

Our Villain
Darren “Wall Street” Bettencourt, an American gangster who initially hires Frank, then tries to kill him — even though he did a good job! And you thought people who left unnecessarily low feedback on eBay were a pain.

Best Supporting Character
Inspector Tarconi, the local police detective who’s on to Frank but can’t prove anything. Comes through in the end, becoming Frank’s ally in the sequels.

Memorable Quote
“Rule #1: never change the deal.” — Frank

Memorable Scene
Oil everywhere + people wanting to fight = ingeniously slippery combat. Seriously, that one scene is the main reason the entire film is here.

Technical Wizardry
Jason Statham did most of his own stunts, fighting, and driving. That included learning martial arts to supplement his kickboxing abilities and, for one sequence, actually hanging off the bottom of a truck with just a wire up his leg for safety.

Letting the Side Down
The trailer showed Frank deflecting a missile with a tea tray. A missile. With a tea tray. It was removed from the final cut because Statham didn’t think audiences would believe it, but c’mon, this is an action movie, and that’s silly-awesome. I mean, deflecting a missile… with a tea tray!

Making of
The oil in the famous fight scene is actually molasses syrup. Apparently it was very sticky, which is kind of the opposite to its purpose in the film, but that’s movie magic for you.

Next time…
Two direct sequels of typically decreasing quality; a spin-off TV series that ran for two seasons; and a reboot movie last year, which went down badly but I quite enjoyed (for what it was). Plus: a mini-empire of similarly-styled Euro-produced English-language action movies masterminded by Luc Besson, the most famous of which is the Taken series.

What the Critics Said
“Post-Ghosts Of Mars, if anyone had suggested that big, bald, brusque Jase could hold his own as an action hero, they’d have been laughed out of town. And while he doesn’t exactly deliver an acting masterclass (his ‘American’ accent doesn’t quite stand up to the rigours of actually opening his mouth and talking), this is all about kicking ass and taking names. […] The spirit of Hong Kong action movies hangs heavily over The Transporter, most notably in the CG-free fight scenes which, thanks to former fight choreographer Yuen, have enough zing and originality to satisfy even Hong Kong aficionados. […] simultaneously the best (the fight scenes) and worst (everything else) action movie of the year. Destined for drunken Friday night rental heaven.” — William Thomas, Empire

Score: 54%

What the Public Say
The Transporter doesn’t hold up as well on a rewatch as I would have hoped. It’s a bit stop-start and the ending didn’t feel as BIG as it should have been. At the same time, it has a couple of outstanding scenes and no review of this film is complete without a reference to and expression of WTF?! about the now infamous oil-slick fight scene. Truly a marvel of film thinking, then perfectly executed. […] The Transporter is exactly the kind of daft film that Hollywood became ashamed of making — and it really shouldn’t have.” — Steve G @ Letterboxd

Verdict

The Transporter is neither big nor clever. In terms of the former, it’s a relatively small-scale, low-key action movie, not some Hollywood extravaganza; and in terms of the latter, it’s a relatively small-scale, low-key action movie, so of course it’s not been pumped full of brains. Instead it’s pumped full of adrenaline, with a brisk running time that serves up impressively choreographed action at a solid rate, with an amenably light tone in between the combat. It also made an action star of Jason “The Stath” Statham, which I’m sure some people would thank it for. It certainly brought down the average age of participants in The Expendables.

#95 is… indestructible.

Fast & Furious 7 (2015)

aka Furious Seven

2016 #52
James Wan | 132 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA, Japan & China / English | 12 / PG-13

Fast & Furious 7The franchise that can never make up its mind about what each instalment’s called continues with its most outrageously ludicrous entry yet.

Picking up from the events of the last one, this time our ‘family’ of car-racing heisters are targeted by their previous enemy’s brother, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). After Shaw’s first attempt to kill our heroes fails, they’re recruited by covert ops agent Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) to obtain a computer surveillance program, on the promise that, if they’re successful, Nobody will help them deal with Shaw. Because when you’re in charge of a covert ops team, you don’t have your own guys for that kind of thing. Anyway, this leads us on a globe-trotting mission that involves things like parachuting cars into Azerbaijan and using cars to leap between skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi.

So yes, the action is ridiculous and implausible. Even the stuff that doesn’t seem physically impossible is overblown. But it’s so ludicrous that the film can’t possibly be trying to claim it’s real anymore, and therefore it kind of works — they’ve committed to it. Though anyone who started out enjoying this series for its broadly-realistic car-racing thrills must be pretty disappointed in it by this point.

Despite that, the series is beginning to feel increasingly “fans only”. That’s the way of all things these days, I suppose. Long gone are the days when movie series aimed at accessibility, each entry fundamentally a standalone adventure for a popular hero. Serialisation is the new discreteness, and it pays dividends for Marvel and, indeed, for Fast & Furious: in the same year as the return of Star Wars, the return of Jurassic Park, the return of the Avengers, the return of James Bond, and the return to form of Pixar, Furious 7 was still the third highest-grossing film worldwide, and sixth of all time.

But I still find it remarkable how well it did at the box office, because while most of those other films are actually very accessible to newcomers, this is resolutely a film for those well-versed in the franchise. Its story joins the dots between several previous films — as far back as Tokyo Drift, four films and nine years ago — but seems to assume you’ll know what those dots contain, because it only shows the joins. Even as someone who knows what events are being linked (that Tokyo Drift connection has been long-awaited!), it feels a bit disconnected and piecemeal. And it doesn’t help anyone that Tokyo Drift’s Lucas Black looks like he’s aged every single day of the nine years since his last appearance…

Of course, you can’t ignore that part of the reason for the film’s financial success is the death of Paul Walker, particularly as it occurred halfway through production and the filmmakers understandably felt the need to give one of the series’ primary stars a fitting send-off. With seemingly little of his part shot, his performance is mostly faked. It was created with a mixture of techniques, many of them pioneering — while we’ve seen computers being used to generate a performance for a deceased actor for over 15 years now (I believe Gladiator was the first), those tend to be for very short scenes and/or filtered through some other medium (like Laurence Olivier appearing on a videoscreen in Sky Captain), whereas here they’ve attempted to create a co-lead-sized role. Truthfully, the effect is variable. If you’re looking, it’s always obvious (well, I say that — if it was so good that you couldn’t see it, you wouldn’t know you were seeing it). However, if you’re not looking too hard then a lot of it is very well done… though some remains pretty glaring. At the end of the day, you know why they did it, but it still rather draws attention to itself. However, a post-climax finale is a nice send-off for Walker (again, you can’t deny that it’s more about paying tribute to the actor than writing out the character), and represents a moment of catharsis that clearly worked for the cast, crew, and the series’ die-hard fans.

The quality of other elements is rockier. Kurt Russell’s spy is a cool new character, but can’t escape the feeling he’s been introduced to play a bigger role in the inevitable sequels. Jason Statham has clearly been cast for his ability to fight, which he does well enough, but a bit more dialogue-based antagonism might’ve added some flavour. He gets a very cool opening scene, though. And while a coherent story is not likely to be at the forefront of many people’s minds when it comes to these movies, the plot is nonetheless scattered with holes. Like, the gang’s entire motivation to undertake the mission is so they can borrow the software to track down Deckard… but he keeps showing up anyway.

But hey, what does it matter? The point is the big dumb fun of the action sequences, be they well-choreographed and -shot fisticuffs, excellent stunt driving, or computer-generated ridiculousness. Is it okay to just give a movie’s plot a free pass like that? Sometimes, I think it is. Furious 7 is an action movie, in a fairly pure sense of the term, and action it delivers.

4 out of 5

The Bank Job (2008)

2016 #113
Roger Donaldson | 107 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK, USA & Australia / English | 15 / R

The Bank JobInspired by real events (more on that later), The Bank Job sees the British Secret Service covertly enlist a gang of crooks to rob a bank’s vault in order to retrieve some compromising photos of a member of the royal family — not that the robbers know this is what they’re up to. Unfortunately for them, the vault also contains property belonging to an organised crime boss, who isn’t too happy it’s been pilfered.

Inspired by a real 1971 robbery, plus a host of other issues that were in the news around that time, The Bank Job is a rich stew of fact, supposition, and wild imagination. Apparently the filmmakers claimed it was very much based on a true story, including new information from an inside source, though eventually admitted some of it (including a major character) was wholly fiction. One fact boldly stated on screen — that black activist Michael X’s files are sealed until 2054 — sounds entirely plausible, but is completely false.

Accurate or not, it’s a heckuva tale. Unfortunately, its telling leaves something to be desired. Screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais are names most familiar from their TV sitcoms (The Likely Lads, Porridge, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet), but also have an array of surprising credits to their name (a ’90s crime comedy starring Alicia Silverstone and Benicio Del Toro; Julie Taymor’s Beatles jukebox musical; Aardman’s foray into CG animation) — but, most pertinently, solid TV thrillers like Archangel and Spies of Warsaw. Sadly, their work on The Bank Job lives up to none of these. The dialogue is clunky, every declaration on the nose, and the characters have a habit of discussing their secrets loudly in public places — the apparent lack of volume control in every performance is astonishing.

Mostly, it feels like it wants to be a Guy Ritchie movie — obviously there’s the throwback London gangster milieu, but also that it features disparate-but-connected plot threads, and the way it cuts between them, sometimes jumping back & forth in time… it’s all very Lock Stock or Snatch. Obviously the blame for much of this lies at the feet of director Roger Donaldson, who’s had the film shot in a kind of polished version of Ritchie’s style, too — it’s all very clean-looking, without the picturesque grittiness that’s part of Guy’s initial efforts.

Yet for all that derivativeness and almost homogenisation, the story’s a good’un; and if the quality cast can’t exactly elevate the material, they can at least keep it ticking over. Is the narrative good enough to overcome the filmmaking shortcomings? Your mileage may vary. I liked it almost in spite of itself — I suspect there was an even better film to be had out of this exact setup.

3 out of 5

Spy: Extended Cut (2015)

2016 #106
Paul Feig | 125 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15

The cinema was blessed — or, depending on your point of view, blighted — by an abundance of espionage-related movies last year (see: the intro to my initial thoughts on Spectre for more on that), and even writer-director/star team Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy got in on the act with this comedy.

McCarthy is Susan Cooper, a CIA agent who provides desk-bound support for Bond-esque super-spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law). When Fine is killed while investigating the villainous Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), Cooper insists she go into the field to finish what he started. This doesn’t impress experienced agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham), who goes rogue to deal with Boyanov himself.

Technically speaking, Spy is a spy comedy rather than a spy spoof — a perhaps subtle distinction, but one that does inform the kind of comedy you’re getting; i.e. rather than a send-up that relies on you knowing the material being parodied to get the jokes, this is almost a workplace comedy… just one where the workplace is international espionage. Put another way, less Naked Gun or Austin Powers, more Kingsman with the comedy dialled up higher in the mix.

This is perhaps why it’s sporadically amusing rather than regularly hilarious; on the bright side, it only occasionally slides too far into dull toilet/gross-out ‘humour’. Similarly, it means that there are a handful of fun and/or exciting action beats scattered throughout the film, which you might not expect. They’re typically brief, but — even more surprisingly — there’s a fight between McCarthy and a henchwoman in a kitchen which is a genuinely good action sequence. It’s also surprisingly gruesome. Yes, it’s R-rated, but in the world of comedy that usually just means an overabundance of the F-word. Here we have at least one clear headshot, a dissolving throat, a knife through a hand, and more photos of a henchman’s penis than you ever needed to see. (That last one’s only describable as “gruesome” depending on your personal predilections, of course.)

Apparently Feig is a fan of James Bond and developed, wrote, produced, and directed Spy because he knew no one would ever let him do a real Bond movie. I guess that explains why some of it does work passably well as a genuine action/thriller. Composer Theodore Shapiro does an equally good job of evoking Bond’s musical stylings throughout his score. In my experience most comedies don’t show such consistent commitment in their music. Talking of music: as I mentioned in my June monthly update, there’s a random cameo by Verka Serdyuchka, Ukraine’s Eurovision entry from 2007. That gets the film some bonus points in my book.

The quality of the cast’s performances are variable in ways I didn’t expect. Statham almost steals the film, playing essentially himself — but exaggerated, I’m sure. McCarthy is a solid lead, at her best when sparking off Rose Byrne, who makes anything more watchable. Miranda Hart has a large supporting role as McCarthy’s CIA colleague, but I’m not sure that her strengths are wholly played to. I guess if you like her you’ll like her here (and if you don’t…) Peter Serafinowicz’s lecherous Italian is disappointingly overplayed, however, and I’m not sure why you’d cast ever-so-British Jude Law as a James Bond type and then give him an American accent.

The extended (aka unrated) cut contains almost 10 minutes of extra material, detailed here. Reading that list really demonstrates how some bits were tightened up for the theatrical release. I’d even wager that some parts are the result of improvising to find one good line, but in the extended cut they’ve strung half a dozen of the options together. I don’t think any casual viewer would miss much by sticking to the theatrical cut. That said, despite it running to two hours, I didn’t find it to be too long. It still wouldn’t hurt if it was tighter in places, but I didn’t get that “oh dear God why is this longer than 90 minutes?!” feeling you can get from 120-minute comedies.

Amusing rather than hilarious, but with a pleasing commitment to its genre, Spy isn’t going to tap into the zeitgeist in the way Austin Powers did almost 20 years ago(!), but it does provide a largely entertaining couple of hours.

3 out of 5

Feig and McCartney’s latest collaboration, the Ghostbusters reboot, is in UK cinemas from today, and launches around the world over the coming weeks.

Ghosts of Mars (2001)

2016 #76
John Carpenter | 98 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

There are a good number of well-regarded John Carpenter films I’ve not seen that I could spend my time on, but I chose to expend it on this critically-mauled sci-fi-horror-Western from the first year of the current millennium. But sometimes watching poorly-regarded films pays off, because while Ghosts of Mars is no classic, it is actually pretty entertaining.

Set in a future where Mars has been almost completely terraformed, a group of police officers are dispatched to a remote mining outpost to escort a dangerous prisoner. On arrival they find the town mysteriously deserted, but soon discover the inhabitants have been possessed and basically turned into Reavers (…wait, did Joss Whedon just rip off Ghosts of Mars?!) Holed up in the jail, police and criminals must join forces to fend off their attackers. Yes, it’s basically Assault on Space Precinct 13.

It’s not just the plot that recalls older films: although the film was released in 2001, the quality of the acting, photography, sets, and effects are all like something made 15 years earlier. (In these technical aspects it reminded me a lot of Total Recall, and not just because it’s set on Mars.) It’s almost hard to equate it with other films made around the same time, and maybe that’s part of why it was so poorly received on release: it felt dated. Watched with 15 years distance, however, it’s an Old Film, so it’s as easy to mentally lump it in with stuff made 30 years ago as with stuff made 15 years ago. That doesn’t magically wipe out its other faults, but it does make me think about the level of forgiveness people are willing to apply to films based on extra-filmic knowledge of when they were made, etc. If people thought this had been made in the ’80s, would they view it as kindly as they do some ’80s genre-classics that are just as bad and/or dated?

I mean, I’m not saying it stands up to something like The Thing, which by comparison is a classy movie (bet no one in 1982 ever thought The Thing would get called “classy”!), but I don’t think it’s any less accomplished (at least in technical categories) than, say, Big Trouble in Little China. However, it’s swapped out some of the kooky fun of that film for a sci-fi-horror milieu, and maybe that’s why it doesn’t wash as well — it doesn’t have the comicalness to let the weaker aspects slide.

Conversely, if you made it today it would probably be seen as a throwback/homage and everyone would do backflips over it. They’d have a similar reaction to its diverse cast: a female lead hero, a black co-lead who’s also the cast’s biggest name (at the time), a lesbian commanding officer… If they could manage that in a studio picture 15 years ago, why does it seem to be such a big problem nowadays?

Anyway, it’s not “good”, but it is cheesily fun — and I reckon if it had been made 15 years earlier, exactly as it is, it would have a lot more fans.

3 out of 5

Snatch. (2000)

2016 #2
Guy Ritchie | 103 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | UK & USA / English & Russian | 18 / R

Guy Ritchie’s second feature met with relative indifference 16 years ago, consensus deeming it Lock Stock Mk.2 and finding Ritchie needed to branch out if he was to meet his debut’s promise. (It only took a further four films to realise that for himself.) The consensus is very different today: taking IMDb’s Top 250 as a bellwether, Snatch is #94 and Lock Stock is #138.

I thought it was like Pulp Fiction refashioned in the style of Lock Stock, but with more-connected stories that play concurrently.

It was fine. Above average, even.

That’s all I have to say about it.

4 out of 5

Snatch was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2016 project, which you can read more about here.

Hummingbird (2013)

aka Redemption

2015 #67
Steven Knight | 93 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | UK & USA / English | 15 / R

HummingbirdSteven Knight, the writer of Eastern Promises and Peaky Blinders — and, latterly, writer-director of “Tom Hardy driving on the phone” thriller Locke — made his directorial debut with this Jason Statham thriller that isn’t.

The Stath plays Joey, a soldier who did something terrible in Afghanistan that landed him in a mental health unit in London awaiting court martial, from which he escapes into homelessness. Running from some attackers, he stumbles into a plush flat that’s vacant for the summer. Using his ‘borrowed’ wealth, he strikes up a friendship with Cristina (Agata Buzek), the nun who runs his old soup kitchen, gets a job with Chinese gangsters, and sets about finding out what happened to his friend from the street.

Outlined as just a plot, Hummingbird might sound like your standard Statham action-thriller. It really isn’t. Knight’s focus is primarily on the relationship between Joey and Cristina, two people who are both lost, struggling with events from their past, trying to help people, in search of something. It’s a bigger acting challenge than Statham usually has to face. To be honest, he’s probably not wholly up to the task, but he makes a good fist of it. Buzek has a more striking arc, in some respects, and navigates it subtly but successfully. The crime storyline, in particular Joey’s investigations into the fate of his friend, are a frame on which to hang the development of these people.

Sad StathamThe film’s problem, perhaps, is that it slips a little between two stools. It’s certainly not action-packed enough to appeal to a good deal of Statham’s fanbase — the one or two instances of him kicking ass are very much asides. On the flipside, it may not commit to the character drama fully enough to satiate the needs of that kind of viewer. However, for anyone at peace with those two apparently-disparate styles — like, well, me — Hummingbird will be a more satisfying experience.

4 out of 5