AF Diary #9
THE OLD GUARD
Based on the Greg Rucka comic book this adaptation for Netflix has a tremendous premise. Charlize Theron plays Andy a warrior who’s lived for hundreds of years and is immortal. Her crew has been assembled over the years but the harmony is disrupted when a pharmaceutical company tries to get their hands on immortality.
The first act of Old Guard reminds me of Interview with the Vampire. The newbie being introduced to a new world of violence and living on the outside of society. KiKi Layne plays Nile Freeman, a US Marine stationed in Afghanistan, who discovers she cannot die. Nile is then recruited by Andy who plays her mentor. All this is fine. There are good supporting characters, Matthias Schoenaerts in particular, but the wheels come off Old Guard a bit.
At two hours there simply isn’t enough content to keep me interested and enthused and worse still an entire subplot feels designed to set up a sequel. Theron is excellent as both an action hero and can handle the meatier talky scenes but there’s not enough meat on the bones of the script. It feels like the opening salvo of a series rather than a stand-alone film. Or a pilot for a TV show where they haven’t quite ironed out the kinks. KiKi Layne hasn’t fully grown into the character yet and, in all honesty, it might benefit from being turned into a trilogy.
The concept is interesting enough to get me in the door and it’s competently directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood (Love & Basketball). As an outsider coming in Nile is the character we relate to but her introduction is surprisingly short and we hardly get to know her. Instead beset with flashbacks and stories about Andy and her crew. How can I relate to someone that I don’t really know? **1/2
Liam Neeson has developed quite the reputation as an action hero in his old age. In his mid 60s, playing 60 in the film, he punches his way through The Commuter like Clint Eastwood in one of his many aging cop films. This has been sat on my shelf for at least two years. My interest in Neeson’s action features slowly wearing off after a blistering start with the likes of Taken and A Walk Among the Tombstones.
Jaume Collet-Serra has directed Neeson in two previous action efforts; Non-Stop and Unknown. Both were middling features that paled in comparison to his better work. The Commuter is more of the same. Despite an intriguing set up (Neeson’s commuter character being given the opportunity to locate a mysterious stranger on board his usual commuter train) the film quickly descends into nonsense. Shadowy groups who operate outside the law and a ‘don’t trust anyone’ motif.
It probably doesn’t help that I guessed the identity of “Prin” long before Neeson figures it out for himself. With many useless twists and turns the films meanders off the tracks around the hour mark and with far too many similarities to Non-Stop it’s simply not worth 106 minutes of your time. To his credit Neeson is, as always, a capable lead. Patrick Wilson is far less interesting in support and only feels like a cardboard cut-out and Sam Neill has virtually nothing to do. **
THE RANKING: LIAM NEESON OLD AGE ACTION HERO
- Batman Begins *****
- A Walk Among the Tombstones ****
- Taken ***1/2
- Seraphim Falls ***1/2
- The Grey ***1/2
- The A Team ***
- Non-Stop ***
- Unknown ***
- Run All Night **1/2
- Kingdom of Heaven **1/2
- The Commuter **
- Clash of the Titans **
- Men In Black: International *1/2
- Taken 2 *1/2
- Taken 3 *1/2
- Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace *
- Battleship *
PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING
Part of me respects what Steven S. DeKnight attempted with Pacific Rim: Uprising. It’s a film that wants you see the action. Everything takes place in bright daylight. From the opening encounter between Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) and Amara (Cailee Spaeny) until the Tokyo flattening conclusion. Only one big fight scene is at night. Everything else is gloriously visible and the camera hardly shakes at all. It’s how I’ve been begging films to be shot for years. The action sequences in this are pretty damn good.
The bigger problem with Pacific Rim: Uprising comes from the intent behind everything else. It doesn’t know what it wants to be. A coming of age drama? A redemption story? A comedy? A big old clusterfuck? A Charlie Day vehicle? It’s a mess. The first act is nice and clear too. Pentecost and Amara are both outsiders, brought into a battle against evil kaiju and both have what appears to be well designed storyline arcs.
The waters are muddied, unnecessarily, by an overabundance of useless supporting characters and crap subplots. Turning comedic side turns by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman into essential plot points. They try like hell to squeeze everything they possibly can in here and it’s a film that would have benefitted strongly from more time for the two leads. Boyega is easily the best thing about the human side of Pacific Rim: Uprising. Spaeny the second best, by a distance. It lacks that Idris Elba level performance above the leads and at no point was the apocalypse cancelled. Merely delayed. The hint at yet another sequel in the epilogue will be gleefully ignored. More action films where I can see what’s happening though. A major plus! Oh, and it’s miles better than every Transformers film apart from Bumblebee. ***
BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN)
Margot Robbie was easily the best thing about Suicide Squad. Her Harley Quinn was on a par with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine for landing a superhero right out of the gate, even when things around that character didn’t quite work. DC’s scattershot approach to building a universe has been intriguing, honestly. You never know what you’re going to get. There’s no big plan, like with Marvel, and with that comes a degree of freedom.
Birds of Prey isn’t the badass girl group movie I was expecting either as the film revolves around Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) and his desire to recapture a MacGuffin (a diamond, the history of which is vague). Everyone else merely comes together because of that. Robbie’s Quinn is the narrator and does a good job of keeping the viewer enthralled with some wacky behaviour and occasional fourth wall breaking that reminds me of Deadpool.
The action is brisk and it doesn’t feel like a 109 minutes at the movies. An assortment of memorable scenes help matters highlighted by Harley Quinn’s Terminator-esque storming of a police station. “I’d like to report a terrible crime” replacing “I’ll be back”. Glitter and paintballs replacing the bullets of Arnie. Jurnee Smollett does a fine job with Black Canary and while Rosie Perez and Mary Elizabeth Winstead have less to do they’re also fine in support.
My major issues with Birds of Prey stem from the script, which is all over the place. In a way that’s fine because it reflects the narrator, who’s crazy, but there are just too many holes. My favoured police station scene is littered with problems. Only one cop seems to have a gun, it takes Harley too long to re-load, the security system for the cells is bizarre, the bad guys break into the station’s evidence locker with incredible ease etc. Is this just Harley’s imagination? It’s hard to say but as a narrator she’s not reliable and does that excuse the broken narrative? Maybe? Please make more Harley Quinn vehicles though. Milk that cash cow. ***
I played out the season. Barcelona won the league and cup double. Cup wasn’t as easy as expected thanks to it going to extra time but my boy Aniol Barbera (who scored 51 goals this season) popped up with a winner in 116 minutes. Aside from a tired team, competing 3 days after a major Champion’s League game, getting spanked 4-1 by Real Madrid they went unbeaten in domestic football. A solid year. I said I’d only stay on at Barca if they won the Champions League though and sadly Man City took them out in the semis. Another 4-1 in the first leg before a dramatic comeback was stifled by Chinese superstar Fu Xingchen netting. 3-1. 5-4 to City overall and a tad unlucky considering how good City are.
Dortmund had an even more dramatic finish to the season. After a meandering league campaign saw them come in a distant second, easily bested by a dominant Bayern, there was the DFB Pokal.
Greatest comeback of all time. Bayern all over poor Dortmund and 2-0 up early doors. Dortmund slammed that door shut with an epic defensive performance, and zero shots on target, until I stuck another striker on with 20 minutes left and holy shit, what a game. I know it’s only a video game but I was still buzzing an hour after this happened.
With the season over I decided to leave Barcelona. Any European goals I still have (Champion’s League, World Clubs Cup etc) could be achieved elsewhere if things go right. While I was sad I was also aware it would kick off a managerial merry-go-round, exasperated by Marcello Gallardo’s bizarre decision to quit Man City for Leipzig (??) on the back of a CL win and four straight Premier Leagues. Maybe he felt he’d done all he could there. Tata Martino (Benfica) retired and BHL was quickly offered an interview at Dynamo Kiev. I took the interview and they offered to delay the appointment until after the World Cup. That’s next year lads. This didn’t stop them pestering me with job offers in the middle of the Confederation’s Cup.
Speaking of which, BHL’s Argentina won the Confederation’s Cup. That’s another one knocked off the list. There was a degree of good fortune. Argentina had to play France in the group stage and just about beat them, therefore facing Jamaica in the semis. Won that game 3-0, despite having never beaten Jamaica in a competitive International before. They’re a bit of a bogey team.
The final was a strange one. Holland (who won the Euros in 2032) managed to get their starting left back sent off 30 seconds into the game and spent the rest of it trying to prevent Argentina from spanking them. It was only 1-0 but Argentina add more silverware. World Cup next year. Can BHL make it 3/3 (Copa America, Confed Cup, WC) in consecutive summers?
Out of work BHL returns to club action with three job offers. Dynamo Kiev, Benfica and Bayern Munich. Well, that’s a no-brainer isn’t it? Bayern won the Bundesliga by a country mile and are the second best team in the world. One small problem; BHL goes in and Jimmy Football has to go at Dortmund.
Where does Jimmy go? Tune in next time to find out!
Incidentally Benfica refused to talk to him because he took too long. I had no faith in the process readers, no faith at all!