Andy Oliver

American Assassin

 

 

(BBFC18 1Hr 51Mins)


Unlike Mother! the last movie I reviewed, if you want to celebrate toxic masculinity then American Assassin is the movie for you, my friend. A film so rampantly stupid that it doesn’t have the intelligence to recognise just how rampantly stupid it is. If movies wore hats, American Assassin would proudly be donning a red #MAGA baseball cap.

Mitch Rapp (The Maze Runner’s Dylan O’Brien) is on holiday in Europe with his girlfriend when a Tunisia style beach attack by Islamic terrorists leaves her and many other sun worshippers horribly murdered. Rapp then goes rogue in an attempt to track down the killers. His minor league successes eventually bring him to the attention of CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) who quickly recruits him for some kind of black ops unit or other under the auspices and training of Gulf War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). Cue training montages and a plethora of blink-and-you-miss-them glamorous locations which are basically pretty backdrops for a lot of punching and shooting and murdering (mostly of young and attractive women). The second half of the movie seems completely at odds with the first half as Rapp is put on the trail of arch-villain “Ghost” (Taylor Kitsch), a former pupil of Hurley’s (a point, at which, I placed my head in my hands and felt like weeping). It’s all very “Seen it all before”, ho-hum, Jack Ryan/Jason Bourne/Jack Reacher-lite (if any of those movies were rooted in Alt-Right sensibilities, which thankfully they weren’t).

I watched American Assassin with a mixture of dismay, anger, disappointment, confusion, embarrassment and more than once had to bite my tongue to stop myself from shouting at the screen. Did the film-makers have no idea about the irony of America recruiting disenfranchised young men to go kill their enemies? It’s a movie that disgustingly bends over backwards to either humiliate or murder its female characters. It doesn’t have the backbone to stand by its own convictions, heinous as they are, its “White Saviour” storyline morphing into the worst kind of Star Wars Obi-Wan/Darth Vader/Luke rip-off. Even the action sequences can’t save it from ignominy, poorly choreographed, limp and lifeless.

It is an awful, awful movie. Casually racist and misogynistic, it definitely has an audience in mind, probably the kind that carries Tiki torches to rallies, hide behind anime avatars on social media and I think we all know which way they vote in US Presidential elections. Please avoid this movie or they’ll make more.

Andy Oliver

Mother!

Anywhere between

 

and

 

(BBFC 18 2Hrs 1Min)


If you were anticipating my review of Mother! I’m afraid I have to disappoint: Although I tried many times to write a spoiler-free review, I have failed miserably. All I offer here is a kind of steer, a warning to the unwary, a softly whispered piece of advice in the ear of the hopelessly intrigued. In fact, I’m not sure this movie is even reviewable, it is possible to read it on so many levels, all of them right, most of them wrong, very few of them unworthy of friendship destroying argument.

Nominally, Mother! concerns a couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) renovating the man’s childhood home (none of the characters have names, by the way, so this might get confusing), when a stranger (Ed Harris) appears on their doorstep, closely followed by his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer). Bardem’s character invites the strangers in and Lawrence’s character begins to doubt her sanity (and their relationship) as more and more people come to the house and Bardem welcomes them all in and offers them free lodging. Where it goes from here is all spoiler territory into which I shall not tread, suffice it to say that the plot spirals into ever more horrific psychological and, eventually, physically violent acts which are not sexual but definitely gender-specific.

Be aware that if you’re handing over your hard-earned money for a ticket it may well be for something you will absolutely hate, I suspect more people will loathe Mother! than love it. It is one of the most divisive movies I’ve ever seen. I’m talking Anti-Christ/Eternal Sunshine/Only God Forgives/Spring Breakers/ Neon Demon level divisiveness. If you think you’re going to see a horror movie, you’re wrong. If you think you’re going to see a marital drama, you’re wrong. If you think everything will be wrapped up with a neat bow or Shyamalan-esque twist, guess what? You’re wrong.

Is it a thesis on toxic masculinity and misogyny? A religious parable? A satire in the mould of Luis Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel (albeit one with a 180⁰ shift)? A damning critique of celebrity relationships? An environmental warning? A puzzle akin to Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad? An anthropological study of solitude versus tribal responsibilities? It’s all these things and more… or some of these things and less… or all of these things and none of them. Listen, how you respond to Mother! will depend exclusively upon you and what you take from it and how much you’re willing to put into it.

Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Noah, Black Swan), everything about Mother! is next level: beautifully shot, designed and lit; incredible performances from everyone in the cast, Lawrence remarkably manages to up her already “A” game and Bardem, Harris and Pfeiffer are nothing if not magnetic, to mention but four of this astonishing ensemble.

I’ve tried to help here but, honestly, nothing can prepare you for Mother! You will love it or you will hate it with venom. Caveat Emptor, my friends, Caveat Emptor. Maybe ask yourself would you watch this if it wasn’t a Jennifer Lawrence movie?

Me? Predictably, I loved it.

Andy Oliver

Captain America: Civil War

It’s been a great week for Colchester 101’s movie critic Andy Oliver at Colchester’s Odeon cinema. Not only did he love The Jungle Book but Captain America: Civil War had exceeded all his expectations.

 

Captain America: Civil War (BBFC 12A)

Captain America

Captain America: Civil War is stuffed.

Stuffed full of action, suspense, great characters, wit, surprises and intelligence. It’s the cinematic equivalent of Christmas dinner: A plate brimming with so many diverse and tasty ingredients that you’re not quite sure it will all fit in your stomach, but satisfyingly does and, a couple of hours of rest later, you’ll want to eat it all over again. It’s everything that Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice wasn’t, thankfully, and it might just be the best Marvel movie yet.

Civil War is the culmination of many of the major climactic moments of the Marvel cinematic universe, all those huge ships crashing into the Earth, cities destroyed and innocent lives lost (see Avengers Assemble, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron specifically, but the entire back catalogue – with the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy – in one way or another). The movie kicks off with The Avengers in conflict with bad guy Crossbones and his mercenary force who are attempting to steal a bio-weapon from a scientific facility, a conflict that ends with an explosion that kills dozens of innocents and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) is indirectly responsible.

For the United Nations, this is the final straw, The Avengers may be saving the world but at what cost? The UN passes a framework motion, The Sokovia Accord, which will see the super team no longer be a private group but rather a UN sanctioned task force. Schisms start to appear in the team as ideological differences begin to appear, first with an argument, then a scuffle, a fight and then all-out war.

Captain America

I don’t want to give away any more of the plot than that. Part of the joy of Civil War is watching the plot develop logically and organically. Everything has its place and every character is serviced by and, in turn, services the story in satisfyingly intelligent fashion. Something you’d be hard-pushed to claim about Zack Snyder’s hero versus hero smack-down, Batman V Superman, you’ll be pleased to know that there are no Jolly Rancher sweeties or jars of pee on show here.

Civil War skilfully demonstrates the long game Marvel has been playing throughout their movies, this is long-form storytelling not only in plotlines but in character arcs, also. Characters make decisions which are not based solely on the situations they are presented with in this movie but in all their previous appearances. Marvel is not resetting these characters at the beginning of each new movie, what went before really matters.

Captain America

Before you begin to think this is just another Avengers movie snuck under a Captain America banner, this is absolutely a Captain America movie. Everything that happens in Civil War revolves around the emotional, intellectual and philosophical hub that is Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), it is his relationship with Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) that provides the heart of the movie. Cap has always seen the world in black and white, but now shades of grey enter his world and he finds himself taking actions that are maybe not right, that are maybe selfish(?). It’s an interesting shade for Chris Evans to play, a new level of self-doubt, a Captain America who allows his emotions to obscure his moral compass.

With his revelation, way back in 2008, that he was Iron Man, it is obvious which side of the ideological argument Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) comes down on and this is what brings him into conflict with Cap. Iron Man made Downey Jr. a bona fide movie star, but in Civil War he reminds us that before that he was a respected, if troubled, actor and turns in one of the most genuinely nuanced and raw performances of his career. There are new levels of guilt and grief to Tony Stark and Downey Jr. sinks his teeth into the role with zeal and gusto rarely seen in any movie, let alone in a genre viewed by many as throwaway.

Captain America

One of the great triumphs of Civil War is that all of the characters involved are given the time and space to explore their decisions on which side of the divide they will fall. Not only that, but they actually grow. We get to understand more about them and find that they are more than just two-dimensional cut-outs in colourful costumes. From The Vision’s (Paul Bettany) attempts to understand humanity and his part in it to Scarlet Witch exploring her guilt and trying to find a place to belong. The remarkable thing is that not a single character feels superfluous.

Which brings me to the geeky bit: The new introductions to the Marvel Universe, Black Panther and Spider-Man. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is T’Challa, ruler of the African kingdom of Wakanda, location of Iron Man and The Hulk’s battle in Age of Ultron, raised to don the Panther mask as protector of his people. Boseman plays him with not only the innate regal dignity of royalty but with all the grace and poise of the predatory big cat he bears the name of. It’s a great introduction and leaves you eagerly awaiting director Ryan (Creed, Fruitvale Station) Coogler’s Black Panther solo movie next year. Black Panther is a character you’ll definitely want to see more of.

Captain America

Technically, although being a Marvel Comics mainstay and titular character of five movies so far this century, this is Spider-Man’s first appearance in the MCU. Previous iterations of the character (played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield) were produced under license by Sony Films and you may feel you know what to expect from him. This is an all new Spider-Man (played by Tom Holland), he’s a lot younger than you have seen so far, he’s a kid finding his way in a very grown up world. By the time he shows up you may worry that he’ll be one character too many, but Holland plays Spidey/Peter Parker to perfection and you’ll be glad he’s there, he’s a lot of fun and provides some great moments.

Captain America

In other hands Civil War could easily fall apart due to the always impending risk of bloat, but in the hands of directors the Russo brothers and writers Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeeley moves along at perfect pace and without an ounce of unwanted fat. Some feat that, even at a running time close to two and a half hours, you’ll not feel it has outstayed its welcome (there was no after credits scene in the press screening I attended, Marvel saves these moments for the fans. I know. I sat there for ages waiting for one). Civil War is a spectacle that takes the time to ponder the meaning of responsibility, loyalty, honour, the cost of revenge and the subtle betrayal of opposing ideologies. The action is exhilarating, from the awesome opening that sees the Avengers as a lean, co-operative fighting machine to the grandly operatic airport conflict, which pitches the heroes against one another in a battle-royale that is the closest you’ll come to one of those incredible double page spreads that coloured your childhood.

Captain America: Civil War is a triumph, a truly great action movie that raises the bar for everything that follows and actually manages to make everything that came before even better.

Andy Oliver

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andy Oliver