Bullet to the Head
IT is odd that Walter Hill, one of the premier action directors of the '80s (48 HRS, Extreme Prejudice), and Sylvester Stallone, one of the main action stars of the '80s (First Blood, Cobra), never worked together.
Late in their respective games, Hill and Stallone try to amend that oversight with this quirky, violent comedy/thriller made in the sparring-cop-and-crook-buddy template of 48 HRS.
Stallone is Jimmy Bobo, a hitman out for revenge after his employers attempt to stiff him for a hit on an ex-cop and leave his partner dead. The victim's ex-partner (Sung Kang of the Fast & Furious franchise) hits New Orleans looking for answers, teaming up with Jimmy for an unconventional investigation in which anyone who gets questioned is likely to end up dead. The trail leads to a particularly deadly henchman named Keegan (Jason Momoa of the recent Conan the Barbarian remake), who figures out the best Bobo insurance is to kidnap the killer's estranged tattoo-artist daughter (Sarah Shahi).
As a deliberate throwback to '80s cinema, this is a more palatable offering than Stallone's bloated, jokey Expendables movies on the strength of its hard-boiled dialogue and some harder-boiled violence.
But the story, based on a French graphic novel, is a tad too predictable and insipid. Also, the partner dynamics leave Kang out in the cold. In an attempt to reproduce the racial tension between Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in 48 HRS, Stallone gets to be both the tough older guy and the criminal loose cannon, which doesn't leave Kang much to do except stoically endure Asian-driver jokes.
Still, it's a small pleasure to see Hill doing his glossy noir thing, and even employing music by Steve Mazzaro that sounds a lot like Hill's Ry Cooder collaborations of old. 'Ö'Ö 1/2
IF the quality of a horror movie is judged by its production values, its performances, its script and its visual effects, then this remake is, in all departments, better than the 1981 original movie The Evil Dead.
Let's face it, as a vehicle of terror, the original film was a bit of a clunker. Its director, Sam Raimi, was a college student, and he made the film with willing (some would say masochistic) friends on a ridiculously low budget under tortuous conditions. The special effects included crude stop-motion animation, prosthetic goop and gallons of fake blood. The cast was amateurish.
And yet... the movie had an undeniable magic. Raimi essentially re-invented the horror movie as a relentless assault on the senses. He employed inventive camera work depicting the low-flying point of view of a forest demon. He distorted sound so that even his amateurish cast sounded unsettlingly fiendish. The editing (by Raimi and Joel Coen) achieved maximum shock value. In 1981, the movie so impressed horrormeister Stephen King, he bestowed a single poster blurb that doubtless earned it millions: "The most ferociously original horror film of the year."
The remade Evil Dead, directed by first-time feature director Fede Alvarez, could never be called "ferociously original," but it at least delivers on the ferocity as well as a more-than-skeletal plot.
Mia (Jane Levy) ends up in the requisite cabin in the woods with her estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and three other friends in a last-ditch attempt to help Mia kick her drug addiction.
But as we see in the movie's grisly prelude, the cabin has a past. It houses a book of Satanic origin. The bookish Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) is unable to resist the flesh-bound tome and reads a few select words aloud.
That's never a good idea.
Meanwhile, Mia, in an abortive escape attempt, runs through the forest and finds herself reliving the original film's notorious raped-by-the-woods sequence. Demonic possession follows. Mia, now possessed of eerily demonic eyes, promises her fellow cabin-mates they will all die.
Not to give anything away, but some damage is definitely done to the five-person populace. If Mia's presence in the cabin was intended as a makeshift 12-step program, suffice it to say that seven of those 12 steps include a crowbar, a mirror shard, a nail gun, a syringe, a shotgun, an electric carving knife and, of course, a chainsaw.
Raimi's film was not all that original in concept. It certainly owed debts to films that came before, such as The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was the way Raimi blended those ingredients that made the recipe something fresh and unprecedented.
Alvarez cooks up something here that presents well enough, but lacks any inventive magic. Evil Dead is inspired by the 1981 movie in everything but inspiration. 'Ö'Ö'Ö
ONE day in 1946, Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey decided to opt out of the so-called "gentleman's agreement" that non-white baseball players would not be permitted to play with white players.
42 tells the story of what happened afterwards. Rickey, played by Harrison Ford in crusty-coot mode, bestowed the honour of major league status on Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), a star in the segregated Negro Leagues. But the honour was fraught with unfathomable pressure. Rickey essentially made Robinson promise to refrain from striking back at the legions of bigots and mental defectives who would line up to protest his breaking of the major league colour bar.
Director Brian Helgeland tells the story of Robinson's first year in the pressure cooker and more often than not gets stuck in the tropes of the old-fashioned sports biopic.
That said, old-fashioned production values serve well enough in the film's timeline, which sees Robinson prevented from playing outright in Florida at the insistence of an archetypal cracker sheriff. He endures the constant threat of violence. And many of his own teammates petition to have him removed from the team.
Robinson's obligation to suffer silently did not come naturally to him. He had been unsuccessfully court-martialed for insubordination while in the army, owing to his unwillingness to sit at the back of a military bus. (This was 11 years before Rosa Parks took a similar stand.)
Boseman offers up a nuanced performance, exposing the layers beneath Robinson's stoicism, including seething rage, yes, but also an almost mischievous approach to baseball itself. Solid supporting work helps, including the usually comic Alan Tudyk as a particularly virulent racist team manager, and Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese, the southerner shortstop who became a better man as Robinson's teammate. Reese's act of putting his arm around Robinson in a game against Cincinnati may have struck a formidable blow against racism on its own, as a key scene implies.
The scene simultaneously demonstrates the weakness/strength of 42, a movie with zero subtlety but miles of conviction, safely touching all the bases and getting that legendary number up on the board. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2