Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Parker and Let's Get Serious About Statham

So Parker opens tonight properly in the US and, for some fans, there is much riding on it because of their love of the books and this being the first, all-important, time that a film-maker is using the character's real name.
The character has been portrayed many times on screen, most famously by Lee Marvin in Point Blank.
If I am honest I can't speak to their fandom or concerns as I have never read the books, I am, however, a fan of Point Blank and Mel Gibson's now, sadly, overlooked film Payback.
When it comes to Taylor Hackford's new take on the character though, I am there for one reason and one reason only and that is Jason Statham. I couldn't exactly or rightly pinpoint when exactly it was I became proudly gaytham for Statham (as my buddy Moe would say) but The Mechanic being a surprisingly good remake and the 1-2-3-4 mega punch of The Expendables, Killer Elite, Safe and The Expendables 2 certainly cemented me as a life long fan.

We'll get onto The Stath in a minute though, let's just quickly give Parker the once over. I will try, where I can, to not spoil anything.

As I did last week for The Last Stand, I caught the 10pm Thursday preview screening of Parker last night in a cinema with the wife, one other couple and a solitary man. A big turn out it was not, sadly.
The film tells the tale of a principled, pleasant enough thief who is double-crossed, left for dead and, of course, given no choice but to wreak long bloody but highly principled revenge.
I will say, up front, that this is not classic Statham. It falls into the not-as-good-as-Safe-but-better-than-Blitz territory, possibly a good double bill with the slightly similar themed Bank Job maybe.
What problems the film has, though, must be planted firmly at the feet of the director, Taylor Hackford and Jennifer Lopez. Parker walks a slightly similar path to Lopez's most successful screen outing, Out of Sight but where her character in that film shines with strength, sizzling sex appeal and satisfying sarcasm, in Parker, while she's putting the effort in, the part doesn't give her much to work with. Also, at a certain point, her character makes one of those decisions that film-characters do in order to heighten a tense scene and that grated ever so slightly with me.
The same can be said for the direction, where Out of Sight employed Soderbergh's usual bag of stylistic and artistic tricks to keep the slower parts of that film visually rich, Parker falters a little and can be just plain bland when it's concerned with character and plot rather than indulging in pleasing bouts of over-the-top, gory ultra-violence. It really needed to be Soderberghed up or to be made more gritty like a Get Carter, sadly, the cinematography at least, winds up being a little on the beige side.
That's about all in terms of niggles though.
Statham is as assured as ever and even a sequence which I was sure was going to be blatantly laughable, when the notoriously-not-very-good-at-accents Stath has to imitate a Texan, turned out to be fine and did the job well. The action is phenomenally well performed and there's lots of claret splashing all over the place, way more than I expected in fact.

To be fair to this film though, much like The Last Stand before it and I suspect Bullet To The Head (coming next week), it has been marketed all wrong. A better campaign would've linked it to slower paced yet strongly violent 70s fare. I know the books are set in the past and Statham's wish was to do it, like Killer Elite and The Bank Job, in the correct period but there wasn't any support for that from the producers. Instead I feel that, while the setting maybe contemporary, they have tried to imbue the film with the colder, slightly grittier feel of a 70s film. It isn't entirely succesful as I have said, it needed more interesting direction and a funky soundtrack but on a second or third viewing I definitely see this growing on me.

Unlike The Last Stand I am not sure this is necessarily going to please hardcore action fans, as there are long sections where nary a nose is broken or a knee dislocated with the butt of a shotgun, and I can't imagine it's the Parker film all the fans of the novels have been waiting for either but for us Stathamites it's a chance to once again bask in the bullet headed Brit's brilliant screen presence as he defies expectations again and tries something a little different.

While James Bond may have run 50 years, having a muscle bound English action hero is something of an extreme rarity. Yes there was Gary Daniels before him and Scott Adkins fast on his heals but both seem to stay firmly in the realms of the straight-to-video world, at least for now. I am not sure I could think of another Englishman who has achieved what Statham has and I am genuinely surprised how often that goes un-noticed on both sides of the pond. Also I am genuinely surprised how often our beloved Stath is dismissed as being one note, always making the same film, not being a good actor or only doing films in which he takes off his shirt.
It's perfectly true to say that Statham makes films within similar genres and it would also be true to say that he is aware that there are certain things expected of him when he makes a film: shirts off for the ladies, a fight scene for the lads and a couple of cheesy one liners but there is definitely more to the cult of Stath than this paltry check list of genre cliches.
Some may have wondered, back in 2010 when they went to see The Expendables, who is this gruff voiced, cockney Bruce Willis sitting next to Stallone in the cockpit of this plane? and others may have wondered that with talent and bigger names like Lundgren, Li and Rourke in the film, what was Jason Statham, a relative young upstart, doing playing Sylvester Stallone's right hand man? but when you examine what Statham has done with his career it doesn't remain a mystery very long.
It also shows that Stallone is an astute observer of talent and the industry as well as a consummate professional film-maker of the highest order.
First of all, due to his love of Bruce Lee and Stallone movies, Jason Statham was dedicated to doing things, as much as he could, for real. He trained and studied martial arts and in his Transporter and Crank series he does almost every single physical stunt seen on screen.
Secondly, much like Stallone and Willis, while aware of his little niche in the industry or 'pigeon hole' if you like, he has tried, wherever possible to make different and interesting choices.
Sometimes the impetus behind the decisions maybe obvious things like working with first time, maverick, guerilla style film-makers on the Crank series or starring in a period heist flick written by two veteran British comedy TV writers and sometimes his reasoning for taking a project might be subtle to the outsider but, gathering what I can from interviews, Statham carefully picks his film roles based on either cast members, director, script or the chance to do something he's not done before.
Now before you say 'wait a minute, isn't that what everyone does? why is that special?' think about how easy it would be for Statham to currently be making The Transporter 7 right now, or Crank 5 or think about how instead of doing a straight to DVD 80s style action film we've seen a million times he chose to take a true-ish spy story with ambiguous characters and make a big-ish budget action film set in drab early 80s Britain with Robert DeNiro and Clive Owen.
I don't care what you say that shows someone who is striving to make things as interesting and as different as possible.

The other thing to note is that what is also rare these days and wonderful to see, is how the industry has allowed him to do it. His box office has not always been strong and yet he continues to get so much funding for different projects that the man can remain as prolific, hard working and challenged as he wants to. Yeah there might be misses, for some audiences the majority of his stuff might not interest them in the slightest but at least he is being given the opportunity to chase a variety of projects because from that model you always get a few cast iron classics. Safe showed him to have some surprising depth in his performance and like Stallone had his Rambo breakdown in First Blood, Rocky's simple but earnest underdog character and his fantastic nuanced performance in Copland, so too will Statham get his chance. I hope.

So while Parker had bits I loved and bits I didn't, it defied my expectations again by simply not being just-another-action-film (not that it would've been bad if it was either) but having a script just as interested with characters and plot as it was with blood spewing fight scenes. It's just a shame it didn't have a director good enough to 100% pull it off.

3.5 out of 5
Review by The Kick Ass Kid

The Last Stand and 2013 A YEAR OF ACTION!

Dr.Action and I have said it time and again recently, 2013 is going to be the year of action and if The Last Stand is anything to go by it is going to be one hell of a ride.

Yes Stallone was back with Rocky 6, Rambo 4 and The Expendables 1 & 2 but in 2013 we get to see him in his first film, by himself, with no previous franchise and no band of super famous friends to back him up, since 2002's lackluster effort, Avenging Angelo. This new film is A Bullet To The Head and it's directed by 80s Action maestro Walter Hill (and there was much rejoicing). As if this wasn't enough we're going to get The Tomb with him and Schwarzenegger somewhere at the beginning of autumn.

The second Planet Hollywood partner, Bruce Willis, who, to be fair, never really went anywhere has GI Joe: Retaliation, the surprisingly entertaining looking RED 2 and, of course, the Valentine's Day return of his most famous creation, John McClane in A Good Day To Die Hard all coming out in 2013!

No-Longer an up and comer to the genre but, after the 1-2 kick of Killer Elite and Safe a bona fide action superstar, Jason Statham is back in 2013 with a vengeance and not 1 but 3 movies! Starting with the insanely silly, fun looking Parker in January and continuing later in the year with the intriguing sounding Homefront, written by none other than Sylvester Stallone.

Which left only Arnie who, after his stint as the Governator, had a grand old time recently parodying himself, to great effect, in The Expendables franchise. Not to be outdone, however, he wasted no time getting back into his fighting trousers with the spectacularly strong looking schedule of The Last Stand, The Tomb with Stallone and Ten. If that doesn't convince you that the Austrian oak ain't going nowhere then let future fair like Unknown Soldier, Captive, Triplets and even the rumour of a Terminator 5 movie convince you.

After The Last Stand however, which I had the pleasure of seeing tonight, January 17th, you won't need anymore convincing. Arnie is well and truly back and I say that without any joke intended. I say it with a passionate fist pump to the air, a hearty, happy chuckle in my gut and my action gland well and truly throbbing with adrenaline. I write this an hour after leaving the cinema and I am still vibrating with the sheer happiness a man gets from watching great action.
The Last Stand IS Arnie's movie. He is absolutely superb and tremendous in the film and with no hint of ironic detachment (because I am not 15 or a hipster dick-bag) his acting is genuinely great, affecting and endlessly watchable. Whenever he is on screen the film is a delight.
That's not to say that when he isn't on screen, during the slightly long and maybe a little slow opening exposition that the film isn't watchable, it's fine but when he appears he knocks it out of the park and into another park 100 miles away where it explodes into a thousand pieces of sheer awesome.

As for the rest of it, well the script, story and direction are all pedestrian enough. It's a perfectly serviceable, if little lazily written and not overly-directed, simple plot with the whole set up being a pleasingly typical, mediocre 80s and even 60s Western throw-back.
Where it succeeds though is that it plays it out as an actual proper film.
Let me explain that.
What I mean is, in The Last Stand, Arnie is playing Sheriff Ray Owens, he's not playing Arnie. Yes there are little mentions of his age etc. and yes he has wacky sidekicks and the odd one liner but the film is a proper action film, with all the humour and exaggeration that implies but without any knowing winks to camera.
In The Expendables films Arnie can get away with playing Arnie and throwing catchphrases and knowing one liners all over the place because part of the joy of those films is seeing one movie contain all of those massive stars having tremendous fun. That stuff belongs in those movies but The Last Stand, to be successful and to put Arnie back on the map where he belongs, as an iconic movie star, it HAD to be played straight. I couldn't be happier typing this to you all now reporting that it IS played straight and is all the better for it.

The violence and action is pleasingly, properly R Rated and bloody. You get car chases, gun play, a fist fight, running, jumping and crashing through windows. Basically everything you want or need from a Schwarzenegger film.
The sidekicks are fine too and the success of the film is through very little character beats you genuinely care about this small border town and its misfit inhabitants. Johnny Knoxville as the town kook isn't too annoying at all and in fact doesn't have anywhere near the screen-time the posters and promotional material would suggest and Luis Guzman is as reliable and fun to watch as ever.
Peter Stormare, as usual, has a tremendous time chewing up the scenery around him like vast gobs of ham and then spitting it out all over the place.

It's interesting as they have surrounded Arnie with some other thick accented fellows, maybe as a way to take some of the attention off his but also, as the head villain is a Mexican heading to the border there are little comments on immigration in the film and that's sort of nice too.

Oh and the women in it are all smoking hot, which is always a BIG plus.

Yes the beginning was on the verge of being too slow and heavy handed, yes Forrest Whitaker is phoning this one in from 1999 and no the plot or the direction didn't exactly blow my mind but it didn't matter because after a little while I was watching the musclebound Austrian dispatching bad guys with a sawn-off shotgun and a ready quip and all was right with the world again.

In the lead up to this film the marketing team seemed to believe that Johnny Knoxville was also a big name and after an initial solo Arnie poster, the rest of the marketing seemed to also hover around Knoxville. This was either because the marketing people believed there was some rich, lucrative vein of as-yet-untapped Knoxville fans hiding out there (probably walloping themselves in the balls with a toaster or whatever) OR there was a slight worry that Arnie, post government and sex-scandal couldn't open a movie anymore.
Well I, for one, hope this movie opens BIG because it seriously deserves to.
How a marketing team can seemingly doubt a man whose whole life has been spent living up to a last name that's so huge it needs two cinema marquees just to contain it and a name so iconic it even appears on my computer's built in spell check is beyond me but then I learnt along time ago that nothing those idiots in marketing do is surprising anymore.
Go see The Last Stand and tell Hollywood you want MORE!

8 out of 10 for the film
15 out of 10 for Arnie!

Review by The Kick Ass Kid