Remember when Gerard Butler was going to be Hollywood’s next leading man? He was in a few memorable titles in the early 2000s, exploded out of the gate with 300 in 2007, landed himself in a few action hero and rom-com flicks, and then coasted along on the most random mix of basically every genre you can think of. Witness his output from 2013-2016 – a bit part as a “Leprechaun” in the ludicrous Movie 43, the lead in the “Die Hard in the White House” thriller Olympus Has Fallen, the voice of Jay Baruchel’s Dad in How to Train Your Dragon 2, a villainous Egyptian god (which, hilarious) in Gods of Egypt, the sequel London Has Fallen and a dramatic role in A Family Man, which premiered at TIFF in 2016. I have absolutely zero recollection of its existence. I am not sure if that list shows the man’s range, his eclectic taste in roles or is a literal manifestation of Hollywood not having any idea what to do with this guy.
I am still somewhat aghast when it comes to The Sadness. I watched it more than two weeks ago and no amount of cold showers can wash away the shockingly vicious images that have seared into my mind. I know that sounds like hyperbole and that just about every other super gory horror movie has struck a similar nerve in the film going community over the past decade or two. I am a fan of many of those films and watched many others strictly because I pride myself on my tolerance for films that more squeamish people would run away screaming from. Yet despite some of those titles being substantially more mortifying than The Sadness, the film still has a way of leaving you shaken and uneasy. Have you ever watched a movie and breathed a sigh of relief when it does not go as far as you thought it would? Well, The Sadness does the opposite – it goes well past the threshold of “too far” and into a realm of depravity few films have ever journeyed into.
And just so you know Writer/Director Rob Jabbaz (originally from Mississauga!) is not playing around, he makes that depraved journey multiple times. And each time is more fucked up than the last.
Akemi (musician MASUMI) is a Japanese orphan living in São Paulo, Brazil. She has had extensive fight training since she was a little girl, but has very little idea about her past. When her grandfather is murdered and mysterious stranger Shirô (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) saves her life with an ancient sword, Akemi quickly discovers she is the heiress to half of the Yakuza crime syndicate in Okinawa. And the other half happens to want her dead.
For a film called Yakuza Princess, you might expect a non-stop action thriller with that kind of synopsis. And while there is certainly some action and thrills scattered throughout the film, it is actually more of a slow moving drama about a young woman discovering her past and coming to terms with the destiny in front of her. There is a lot of exposition, even more backstory and a whole lot going on between characters in Okinawa and São Paulo (which houses the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan). It gets a bit overwhelming at times, and some moments have a languished pacing that can be trying even at the most exciting of times.
Casi (John Boyega) is an idealistic public defender in New York City. He wants to believe in the system, even though he knows it will keep failing him and his clients. On the verge of being disbarred, he takes on the case of Lea (Olivia Cooke), a former client and someone Casi happens to have a crush on. She has gotten mixed up in a scheme to steal an impounded car that is stashed with heroin and has her own motivations for wanting to be involved. As Casi begins seeing signs of impending universal destruction, he decides to get involved too.
Beckett (John David Washington) is an American tourist traveling through Northern Greece. After a tragic car accident, he finds himself on the run from the police and embroiled in the middle of a political conspiracy. With a language barrier and no one to turn to, Beckett must rely on himself and the kindness of strangers in order to survive.
Beckett may sound interesting on paper, but after the initial prologue, it very much devolves into watching Washington run through Northern Greece for nearly 2 hours and not much else. It takes a few turns and drops in a few thrilling moments (along with some gorgeous outdoor vistas and visuals), but it fails to keep your interest and never really feels like a cohesive picture. The conspiracy driving the film is more of a MacGuffin than anything else, and we never really get to know any of the characters or their motivations beyond the surface level. The film moves slowly, yet never stops to deliver any sense of introspection or depth. It just keeps focusing on Washington either getting injured, running or struggling to avoid dying.
Every time I see or hear the name Jean-Claude Van Damme, I chuckle to myself. I did not gravitate to his work nearly as much as I should have growing up in the 90s, but the work of his I did watch (specifically the ludicrous Die Hard riff, Sudden Death) was a whole lot of fun. Although he was a total blast to watch in more recent fare like JCVD and The Expendables 2 — where he hammed it up as the lead villain — he has not been nearly as prevalent or visible in the ensuing years trying his best to remain relevant. The same cannot be said for a few of his 90s competitors, but then the ‘Muscles from Brussels’ was never as wildly popular as some of those guys.
Which is a shame, since he’s an actual fighter and could probably kick the shit out of all of them (or at least look super cool doing the splits during the fight in a way literally no other man on Earth can). And he has one of the best last names for an actor ever.
I mention all of this because The Last Mercenary is not so much a return to form as much as it is a deliberately over-the-top play on those ridiculous 90s action thrillers. Even in saying that, it’s more of a parody of those kinds of movies than an actual proper entry in the genre. Van Damme plays Richard Brumère (aka ‘The Mist’), a legendary secret service operative who vanished into thin air nearly three decades ago. When his son Archi (Samir Decazza) is falsely accused of being an arms dealer and drug trafficker, Brumère comes out of hiding to protect him and help clear his name, all while evading the French authorities who desperately want to take him into custody.
After an extended prologue, we flashback to Elias (Carl Anton Koch) checking himself and his mother Nadja (Peri Baumeister) in for an overnight flight from Frankfurt to New York. She is sick and not with him; instead taking heavy drugs in her hotel room and prepping for an experimental treatment in the US. Shortly after getting in the air, terrorists seize control of the plane and start making demands and taking hostages. Nadja gets caught in some crossfire and is believed dead — that is, until she reveals herself to be a vampire hellbent on protecting her son from harm.
Yes, you read that right. Nadja is a vampire and she is stuck on a transatlantic flight filled with mostly innocent passengers turned hostages and a batch of deadly terrorists, including the enigmatic Eightball (Alexander Scheer), who seems to have it out for her. What could possibly go wrong?
Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) has just been accepted to film school. She is positively ecstatic at the thought of moving away from home and bonding with “her people”. Most of her family is excited too. Her father Rick (Danny McBride) however, just does not get it. They had a great relationship when she was younger, but now it is strained, and only gets worse when Rick insists he drives her and the rest of the family from Michigan to California in time for the first day of school.
Then a robot uprising happens – and humanity’s last hope suddenly lies with the Mitchell family.
That sounds like a wild description and The Mitchells vs. The Machines somehow becomes even wilder than that before the end credits roll. In some instances, it becomes downright chaotic and completely unhinged. And I loved every single minute of it.
A group of supervillains dubbed the “Miscreants” has been terrorizing the world since the 1980s and Emily Stanton (Octavia Spencer) has devoted her life’s work to developing a formula to create superheroes to fight against them. She has just finished perfecting a treatment – only to have her former best friend Lydia (Melissa McCarthy) accidentally inject herself with it. Now the pair must learn to come together again in order to save Chicago from the group.
I am not sure what I expected from Thunder Force, the fifth collaboration between McCarthy and her Writer/Director husband Ben Falcone. This film has a higher concept hook than their previous films, yet somehow is about what you expect it to be – a lame superhero movie with a few fun moments and a whole lot of world building nonsense. It takes a bit too long to really get moving (blame the endless training montages), but fans of McCarthy’s work will likely enjoy her commitment to every pratfall and asinine moment Falcone asks of her. Should it do well, I have no doubt Netflix will spin the film into a franchise that digs a whole lot deeper into the mythos behind the Miscreants and likely brings new superheroes into the mix to fight alongside McCarthy and Spencer.
I had the opportunity to watch 6 Underground in the theatre last week, and tried my best to start writing the review on the train ride home. But with every word I typed, the more I got distracted. My pounding headache did not help, nor did the burning smell in the train car I was sitting in. It was so awful, so putrid that I could taste it. While it was not ideal conditions to write a review, I feel like it was an apt comparison to watching a Michael Bay film. Especially one like 6 Underground.
It is not that I dislike Bay as a filmmaker. Yes, I hate
the very existence of the majority of the Transformers movies (and was
so burnt out seeing the first four in theatres that I still have not even
bothered to watch Transformers: The Last Knight, or Bumblebee for
that matter), but I really dug Pain & Gain, have a special spot in
my heart for Bad Boys II and absolutely adore The Rock. For me,
that specific film is one of the best the 1990s have to offer – and it remains
one of my absolute most favourite action movies ever. The cast, the score, the
editing, the pulse pounding thrills. Literally everything in that movie is
working on overdrive, and I feel like Bay has not been nearly as precise,
nearly as dialed back nor as in tune with the macho-action bullshit as he was
when he was making The Rock back in 1996. Everything since has just been
so excessive and overdone. I admire his tenacity, but the majority of his films
have become the punchline in a bad joke.
And I mention this all in a long-winded preamble to say
that I actually really wanted to like 6 Underground. The trailer was
slick, the action looked suitably ridiculous, and my feelings on Ryan Reynolds
as an actor have been in constant flux since Deadpool.
So why is it that watching the film felt so exhausting? Why did this film, clocking in at 2 hours and 7 minutes, feel substantially longer and more drawn out than Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, which clocks in at 3 hours and 29 minutes? How can that possibly happen?