Category Archives: 2010s

A Quiet Place (2018)

*. I enjoyed A Quiet Place, but was a bit mystified by the critical response. It is not a particularly inventive or original horror film.
*. It looked and felt to me like several other movies that had come out just a year or two earlier. The conceit of the hunted protagonists having to stay absolutely silent was used in Don’t Breathe. The survivalist family sitting out the apocalypse in a remote home was used in It Comes by Night. And the basic idea of the group bunkered down, again in a remote location, while groups of alien predators who have basically taken over the world roam outside was 10 Cloverfield Lane.
*. Indeed, the set-up here was so similar to 10 Cloverfield Lane that the studio originally intended to present the story as part of the Cloverfield universe. But it was deemed to be strong enough to stand on its own.
*. Added to this is the fact that the premise here isn’t very well developed. I was constantly asking questions. Shouldn’t the aliens, which look a lot like Pumpkinhead, be rather easy to foil? Can’t they just be distracted by sounds and blown away? It’s not like they have any tech of their own. They’re just bugs.
*. Some questions I had were later answered, in ways that made the original question even more puzzling. I figured, for example, that most of the animal life had been slaughtered off. Then we see a pair of raccoons being killed by an alien. How on earth did those raccoons survive so long? What about other forest creatures? I wondered why they hadn’t set the house up with a safe/panic room that was soundproofed that Evelyn could run to when the alien attacked. Then we later see that there is such a room set up in the basement. So why didn’t she go down there? I thought that the aliens had armour that protected them from being shot, but then we see one being blasted by a shotgun. If it was that easy, where was the army? If the monsters are so easily distracted by loud noises, why doesn’t the family make use of this more often? How can the aliens not hear the humans running, or even breathing for that matter?
*. I could go on and on about things like this. Or question who was growing all that corn over a year after contact (corn doesn’t plant itself). Or where all that water was coming from that flooded the basement. I mean, that was a lot of water. Or why Lee and Evelyn were having a baby. Couldn’t they have picked up some condoms at the pharmacy?

*. I know in every movie like this there are questions that pop up, but A Quiet Place seems to have a lot of them. So many that it starts to become a distraction. Despite being so tight a package, it doesn’t make much sense and I just didn’t think the script was all that well thought out.
*. Even the theme of the family in distress (writer-director-star John Krasinski thought the film primarily “an allegory or metaphor for parenthood”) is simplistic and presented in a fairly mechanical way. There is a tragic incident. This leads to conflict between the father and his daughter. They are reconciled.
*. The thing that impressed people the most was the fact that there were only around thirty lines of dialogue in the whole movie, along with some sign language that runs with subtitles. Originally I think the plan was not to show subtitles, and I think that would have been better. We know what’s being communicated.
*. What I find interesting about this is how much it underlines the fact that in many such action-thrillers the dialogue is almost wholly superfluous anyway. What information does it impart? It reminds me of the time I was on a plane once and the in-flight movie was Armageddon and the person sitting beside me watched the whole thing, rapt, without earphones. This struck me as weird at first, but then I figured that hearing any of the dialogue in that film wouldn’t have made any difference to your enjoyment of it.
*. I guess I’ve sounded rather negative here. But as I began by saying, I thought A Quiet Place was good entertainment. The cast performs well. The second half has a number of decent suspense sequences, though they start to become predictable because they all play out the same way (someone is threatened until a noise is made that distracts the alien).
*. A horror classic it isn’t. It needed to be tightened up considerably. But as a creepy creature feature it’s definitely above average and worth checking out.

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It Comes by Night (2017)

*. According to writer-director Trey Edward Shults the inspiration for this film lay in his reuniting with his dying father, a scene which is gruesomely re-enacted in the pre-title sequence here and which is then inverted at the end to provide a depressing frame. This business of saying good-bye was considered by Shults to be “the essence of what the movie was getting at.”
*. It’s a powerful personal theme to explore, but I think it loses something in being bolted on to such a conventional thriller plot. This is standard post-apocalyptic fare, of the kind that doesn’t bother with much fleshing out. A plague has wiped out most of humanity, leaving small groups of survivors scavenging for food and water. I don’t know why water should be such a precious commodity. Aren’t there still streams and springs? One gets the sense Shults didn’t think a lot of this through. He had the germ of the film in the opening scene and then just fell back on a standard bunker plot.
*. The title is another example of this same process of building up around images and ideas that aren’t well developed. The “it” has no clear meaning or referent. I’ve heard that it may refer to Travis’s dreams, but then shouldn’t it be “they” come at night? I’ve also heard that “it” may refer to the family’s fear, but then it seems to be present during the day as well. Shults’s own explanation is that the title came to him early on in the writing process and it just stuck in his head. He also said it might mean the need to rest, which comes at night.
*. This may be nit-picking. And it may not be, since the germ of a story and the title of the film are not nothing.
*. As for the film itself, it struck me as typical of a lot of the minimalist (low-budget) horror of this period, which seems intent on seeing how much it can squeeze out of extreme constraints, like setting most of the movie inside a single house. Think of the Paranormal Activity movies, or Don’t Breathe. These movies are all about the atmosphere.
*. The set-up is also pretty typical. The boarded-up house suggests the siege archetype, though it’s interesting that nothing is really done with this. Aside from the other family that shows up, there are no immediate external threats. This may be deliberately done to underline the ironic theme that the real enemy is within, or it may just be another example of a part of the movie that doesn’t really go anywhere or mean anything.
*. I think it does mean something, though mainly on a symbolic level. I’ve called this a bunker film, which is a sort of sub-genre of the siege movie. Unlike the traditional siege movie, a bunker plot has a small group isolated in a structure that they plan on living in for quite a while. It’s a survivalist fantasy along the lines of 10 Cloverfield Lane and other such films.
*. The other thing about bunker films is that they place an emphasis on the family, or of parodies of the family (A Quiet Place was next up). This is the essential human social unit that has to survive the apocalypse so such movies usually play up this angle in various ways. Of course, in this film it’s absolutely central. One can see the social anxiety being highlighted, with the nuclear family in need of something like a nuclear bomb shelter in order to survive in the twenty-first century.
*. The bunker seems an allegory for a lot of different things, but primarily of a world beset by troubles that is forced to turn on itself. The family that shows up on the doorstep might be terrorists or immigrants, but in the end it doesn’t even matter. However innocent, they are still the Other, a force of chaos and disorder, violators of the sanctuary, carriers of the disease of modernity.
*. On the one hand this seems pretty simple, but in the end I don’t think a whole lot is done with it. I keep coming back to the sense I had that Shults hadn’t thought everything through, or perhaps that he wasn’t that interested in following up on all the ideas he introduced. I’ve mentioned some examples of this already, but another example might be the vagueness of what happens to Stanley (the dog). What does happen to Stanley? I don’t mind a bit of mystery — I’m fine, for example, with not knowing what Stanley went chasing after in the woods — but how Stanley got back in the house and how he was killed just struck me as pointlessly enigmatic.
*. I think leaving this unexplained was intentional, but I don’t know how intentional. On the DVD commentary Shults says he never explains who opened the door, so he was at least aware of the blanks in the story. But he seems not to have been much bothered by it and what I don’t know is if he had a purpose in not saying what was going on. It seems a major point to me. Who would have killed the dog and why? Strangers? Someone in the house? Should the crisis that ends the film, the falling out between the two families, be brought on by a misunderstanding that has no explanation that makes any sense?
*. It’s a good looking movie that works up its few suspense sequences well. The ending packs an emotional punch that was unexpected. The small cast do their job. Despite all this, however, I didn’t come away from it thinking it was much more than was advertised. I wanted to read more into it, but didn’t get very far.

Devil’s Knot (2013)

*. I’m not sure what the point was. I’d read Mara Leveritt’s book of the same name on the West Memphis Three, and I’d seen the documentary trilogy of Paradise Lost films that Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky made on the case and its fallout, as well as the 2012 Amy Berg documentary West of Memphis. It’s a hell of a story, but did it need to be made into a dramatic film?
*. It’s not like there was anything new to say. We still don’t know who was the responsible for the murder of the three boys. Much suspicion has been directed at Terry Hobbs, but the film can’t do anything more than continue to give him the side eye. Even Pamela Hobbs (Reese Witherspoon) is shown as having had her doubts about him all along.
*. I can see the attraction it may have held for Atom Egoyan. He’s been fascinated by these stories of murky guilt and the loss of innocence for a while. But his signature restraint seems an ill fit here.
*. In particular, I don’t know what it is with Egoyan and actors. Does he want them to play so stiff? The script is heavy enough with solemn and overly earnest dialogue. It’s like the cast only have a chance to appear human or natural when they’re not speaking, leaving Witherspoon to take over a couple of scenes just with her eyes. The effect is to bleed the film of almost any sense of tension or suspense, outrage or concern.
*. There’s not much else to say here. Colin Firth is miscast and never seems that comfortable in his role. The action moves at a sedate pace, but there’s so much information to get through that the larger story remains unclear in places even to those familiar with it. And finally we’re left unsure of where the film’s focus is ulimately being directed. When I asked what the point of this film was I didn’t just mean that it’s a story that’s already been told. I mean why tell this story in this way? Egoyan must have seemed an obvious choice, but at the end of the day I really don’t think he was the right guy for the job.

West of Memphis (2012)

*. Right around the halfway point of West of Memphis, a feature documentary dealing with the case of the West Memphis Three, producer Fran Walsh remarks how “this crime was not nearly as convoluted nor so twisted as the public were led to believe.”
*. On the particular point of the crime itself this may be true. A closer look at the evidence suggests that the murder of the three boys probably wasn’t a sex killing, or a case of Satanic ritual abuse, but rather just an act of rage. However, the case did become convoluted and twisted. Hence much of the fascination it has had.
*. Of course if you ask whether the imagination dwells the most on a crime solved or a crime unsolved the answer is going to be the latter. The hold on our imagination of cases running from Jack the Ripper to JonBenet Ramsey won’t let go because they are mysteries that have never been explained. There had already been a three-part documentary made on this case (the third part of which came out just before this film), and Atom Egoyan would make a dramatic feature out of it a year later. This is the sort of thing that happens when there’s no closure.
*. It seems to me that West of Memphis is really two movies that don’t always fit that well together. The first is the story of the three young men who were accused of the crime and their long legal struggle for freedom. The second is an invesitgation into the murders and who might have been responsible.
*. The first story I didn’t find that well handled. There’s too much emphasis placed on Demian Echols and his wife Lorri Davis. Echols was actually a co-producer on the film. The other two members of the WM3, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin, are only briefly heard from at the end. In sum, I didn’t think there was anything new here, and while I have all the sympathy in the world for Echols, who ironically comes across as one of the most normal people we meet in the film, I didn’t find any of this material that interesting.
*. The second story is more complicated, being the unsolved mystery I mentioned earlier. Basically, the case is made for Terry Hobbs being the killer, and some of this made me a bit uncomfortable. There is evidence presented that Hobbs was a bad person, and I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if he were responsible. I don’t want to seem like I’m defending him. On the other hand, there’s nothing like a rock-solid case against him and a lot of the evidence is circumstantial or hearsay. A film about the miscarriage of justice in a rush to judgment shouldn’t be this quick to point fingers. At the end of the day Hobbs is still only a person of interest.
*. What I found most interesting about West of Memphis is that it’s a story of guilt and innocence, but not in the expected way. It’s the system that is being judged and the guilt is on the part of the authorities who not only did nothing to pump the brakes on this (literal) witch hunt but who actively encouraged it. It’s depressing how we see all the minor players in the drama recanting their testimony and confessing their sins but none of the men who actually had any power over what was going on. This is, sadly, how it often works. Admitting to anything leads to liability, and that’s something no one wants to risk.
*. While I’m in broad agreement with the stance that’s taken, judged as a documentary I think West of Memphis is only just fair. It tells a complex, convoluted story and I found the movie had a tendency to track that story’s wanderings, slipping in and out of focus as it moved about. Still, as a record of an infamous case and its injustices it’s an important film with a message for all of us.

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

*. I would never want to deny that Joel and Ethan Coen are a pair of talented filmmakers, and they work with some of the best in the business, but doesn’t that make a bit of fluff like Hail, Caesar! even worse? What the hell was the point of this movie?
*. It’s a love letter to Hollywood’s ever-golden age, and there’s nothing Hollywood loves as much as it loves loving itself. Since critics are part of the same perpetual circle jerk, they mostly climbed on board as well. Audiences, however, were less enthused.
*. I didn’t hate Hail, Caesar! It’s a very hard movie to hate. The photography by Roger Deakins is sensational in a glossy, artificial manner, and the cast is polished to the point where they even manage to inject subtlety into what are caricatures. But I have no idea why the Coen brothers made this movie at this point in their careers. It’s a comedy but there’s nothing at all funny going on. And heaven knows the film biz has been sent up countless times before. Does going from Billy Wilder to this count as progress? Or going from Barton Fink to this?
*. There are a bunch of skits to go along with the filming of a biblical epic, some aquatic follies, a Western, a sophisticated drawing-room drama, and a musical. None of these has any authentic period feel (they are twenty-first century parodies), and the only slightly amusing one has Ralph Fiennes trying to teach a cowboy actor (Alden Ehrenreich) how to say his lines. I don’t think any of the others even qualifies as droll.
*. Tying all this together is a flimsy plot full of in-jokes that has star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) being kidnapped by a society of communist screenwriters. Studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) has to somehow keep everything going. He does. Can we get a happy ending? We can.
*. At one point I was wondering just how much real story there was in this film. I figured maybe 20 minutes worth. The rest is cameos (despite star billing, they’re really cameos) and filler.
*. Does Hail, Caesar! have anything new or interesting to say about the movie business? About politics? About faith? I came up with nothing. I guess the Coen brothers found something amusing in all of it, but I couldn’t help feeling I wasn’t in on the joke.

Logan Lucky (2017)

*. Logan Lucky is one of the least interesting movies I’ve seen in a while.
*. That probably sounds worse than what I mean. Critics often use the word “interesting” as a throwaway when they can’t think of any other faint praise to give to a book or a movie that they didn’t much care for. Being interesting thus becomes a sort of baseline, the bare minimum hurdle that any work of art has to clear just to be worth sticking with till the end. But a movie that’s uninteresting isn’t necessarily a bad movie. I didn’t find Logan Lucky dull. Parts of it are even entertaining. But none of it is interesting.
*. It’s a heist picture by Steven Soderbergh, over which, by some creative maneuvering, he had complete creative control. He used that control to make Ocean’s Fourteen. Except instead of the twenty-first century Rat Pack we have a bunch of white trash losers looking to rob a NASCAR speedway. In other words, what Soderbergh himself called an “anti-glam version of an Ocean‘s movie . . . a version of an Ocean‘s movie that’s up on blocks in your front yard.” Is that more or less interesting than the sexy boys taking down yet another Vegas casino? I’d say about the same, which is to say not very interesting at all.
*. So Hollywood’s slickest director goes rough. That might have been interesting if he’d chosen to film Logan Lucky in a rougher style, but this looks every inch a Soderbergh film. It was amusing to see Daniel Craig playing a redneck, but Joe Bang isn’t an interesting character so the role sort of fizzles when the novelty of the look and accent wears off.
*. The plot proceeds in a formulaic way, with a by-now standard long unwinding in the denouement that manages to give things a bit of a twist. But there are no big surprises. Again, this doesn’t make it dull. You know what to expect in terms of the story’s structure but some of the specific elements are different.
*. Some. Not all. It’s still the good ol’ boys sticking it to the Man. The burglars may be a grab-bag of misfits, but the authorities are incompetent boobs. There’s still a cool soundtrack that kicks in whenever we get a montage without any dialogue. There’s still a happy ending.
*. The line they highlighted in all the ads has Joe Bang complaining about wearing a prison onesie. But does he? The prison uniforms all seem to consist of pants and tops.

*. Channing Tatum and Adam Driver are determinedly understated as the Logan brothers, providing the quiet eye of the cyclone of eccentrics. Hilary Swank has a fun turn as an FBI agent. Daniel Craig’s platinum ‘do steals every scene he’s in but I didn’t buy him for a moment as Joe Bang. What really puzzled me however was the British toff Max Chilblain (Seth MacFarlane). What purpose did he serve? I still can’t figure why they felt they needed him. Anthony Lane thought the film “delights in superfluities,” but I took no delight in Chilblain and I don’t think any part of a film should ever be a superfluity.
*. I guess the nagging question I had concerns Soderbergh’s attitude toward the brothers. Yes, they’re comic figures, only slightly less bizarre than the Bang siblings. But are they being mocked? Is this a movie that is sending up redneck culture, with its kiddie beauty pageants and NASCAR races, or does it view that culture sympathetically? I can’t help feeling that Soderbergh despises these people, and things like the little girl getting the crowd to sing along with “Take Me Home, Country Roads” don’t really change this. This isn’t anything I take personally, but it did leave me with a bad taste in my mouth.
*. So, yeah. A polished entertainment, but uninteresting. Also nearly half an hour too long. You’d think that with creative control Soderbergh might have tried something a bit different aside from just working different distribution channels. But then the financing might have made him even more risk averse. In any event, Logan Lucky only kills the time.

CHIPS (2017)

*. I never saw a single episode of the television show CHiPs, which ran from 1977 to 1983. I don’t know if that’s because I wasn’t interested or because it was never on at a time when it was convenient. As a result, I have no opinion on how faithful this movie –whose title is CHIPS, not CHiPs — is to its source, or how effective a parody it is. I knew enough to recognize Erik Estrada in his cameo at the end, but aside from that I went in to it cold.
*. I don’t think it makes any difference as this seems to be a very free adaptation, more along the lines of the comic send-ups of television series that became popular after Starsky and Hutch. Think The A-Team, 21 Jump Street and Baywatch. None of these original series were comedies, but the movies were. It was the age of irony and hipster humour, which was fine because there was nothing about the originals that was worth treating as sacred anyway.
*. The results have been disappointing. CHIPS isn’t quite as bad as critics made it out to be — I personally enjoyed it more than Baywatch — but it’s not very good either. I got a couple of chuckles out of the two crudest moments: the face-crotch collision and when Baxter gets a face full of kitty litter. Aside from these I didn’t get any laughs, but I didn’t find it a desperately un-funny movie or offensive. Michael Peña is fine as Ponch and some of the material at least had potential. I liked the arguing between the two leads using the language of therapy, for example. No laughs there either, but it was kind of fun.
*. That is, however, all I can say that this movie has going for it. The rest of it is limp. Most of the blame has to placed at the feet of Dax Shepard. Shepard has a goofy appearance but he’s not a funny guy, and since he wrote, directed and plays one of the leads here that’s a problem.
*. In addition to not being funny the story struck me as being impossible to follow. Who was the gang robbing? Who all was in on it? Why introduce the business about buying modern art as a way to move the cash? Nothing is done with this later.
*. I have nothing against crude comedy, and as I say I didn’t find anything offensive about CHIPS. Some people found it homophobic but I thought all that stuff was just a joke. What I did find disconcerting though was how violent and indeed downright sadistic a movie it is. One gang member is decapitated. Ponch has three of his fingers severed. A group of paparazzi are struck by a rampaging RV. All of this is played for laughs, which is a serious misjudgment. Again, there’s nothing offensive about it, but it isn’t funny either, even in a shock-humour sort of way.
*. That’s the best I can do. It’s not a good movie but it’s not worth getting upset about either. It will soon be forgotten, if it hasn’t been already.

Baywatch (2017)

*. You know that saying, “I knew it was going to be bad, but I didn’t think it was going to be that bad”? Well . . .
*. I’d seen the reviews and I knew Baywatch was going to be shit. But I thought it might be fun shit. Or perhaps be so bad that it would be kind of good (though that’s rarely the case even with very bad movies).
*. No such luck. Baywatch is garbage all the way through.
*. I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie this stupid. Of course the plot is just nonsense. Something about an evil real estate developer who is also a drug runner who has plans to privatize beautiful Emerald Bay (which, to my surprise, turned out to be in Florida). That sort of stupidity was a given. But then there’s all the rest of it. Despite the Baywatch team being the elite of the elite lifeguards they hire this poor schlub who is only brought onboard for comic relief (except he isn’t funny). Then all the new hires are immediately put in positions of responsibility despite not appearing to even know the basics of the job.
*. Well, you may say, it’s Baywatch. It’s supposed to be silly. But this movie isn’t silly, it’s stupid. Nothing is thought out. There’s a cop (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who actually seems as if he might be funny if given a chance) who literally has no function at all in the plot. Then David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson are given cameos that are so pointless as to actually be confusing. I was shaking my head after both their appearances. What?
*. Worst of all, however, is the fact that none of this made me laugh. Mark Kermode counted five laughs. I counted none. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood. But here’s the thing, I did laugh a couple of times at CHIPS, the other totally dreadful TV series-turned-into-a-movie that came out around the same time. So I can laugh at this shit. It’s just that there’s nothing funny going on here. Two of the biggest gags are as follows: (1) the loser kid gets an erection when one of the hot chicks gives him a Heimlich. In trying to hide it, he gets his junk caught in the slats of a beach chair. (2) when the team go to the morgue to do some detective work, the stud (Dwayne Johnson) gets the pretty-boy moron (Zac Efron) to inspect the area under a corpse’s scrotum.
*. I’m not being prudish here, but Baywatch was a big budget movie with a pair of big stars and a franchise name behind it. So in what comic universe are these gags considered “A” material? And they’re not even well delivered! The timing is off throughout and even the editing and continuity sucks. At least half a dozen cuts in the film didn’t line up and struck me as jarring.
*. When I say this movie is terrible I don’t mean I hate it. There’s nothing here to hate. Anthony Lane asked “Can a movie ironize itself to death, snipping away at its own reasons for existence until there is nothing left?” I think Baywatch does more than run this risk. It’s just garbage, all the way through. I can’t believe I’m even wasting my time writing this.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

*. Another movie looking to cash in on a television series and launch a new franchise. Only this time it’s a bit odd because unlike say Baywatch or CHIPS, there can’t have been a big audience out there for fans of this show, which ran for a few years in the mid-1960s. It’s not like the studio was looking to to piggy-back on a popular brand.
*. Anthony Lane’s guess is as good as any: that the success of Mission: Impossible gave hope that “there is no straw, however flimsy or antique, that cannot be spun into gold.”
*. One big difference being that the Mission: Impossible movies updated their plotlines to the present day and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. proudly wears its vintage stripes. A good call? I approve. I’ve seen a twenty-first century Bond, and Jason Bourne, and Ethan Hunt. Plus, the whole set-up here is grounded in the Cold War. I don’t know how the relationship between Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin would play in a film actually set in 2015.
*. What really makes this blown-up-from-the-small-screen entry in the franchise sweepstakes different is its cool tone. They could have played it as slapstick, with lots of gags. They could certainly have gone to town with more Starsky and Hutch-style nudging and winking about the relationship between the two male-model leads. But while there are some jokes, and some winks at the homoerotic overtones, nothing is overplayed.
*. The movie’s final shot sums this tone up nicely. The three main characters are presented to us standing formally on a balcony, with Gaby (Alicia Vikander) wearing a pair of comic sunglasses. But the scene doesn’t play it broad. If it’s all a gag, and it is, it’s played perfectly straight, which I think makes it even funnier. This isn’t Austin Powers.
*. I liked this restraint. And in Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer I thought they cast the perfect pair of stiffs for the parts, turning defects into virtues. But in Hollywood’s way of accounting these things The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a bomb. Though a sequel was obviously part of the plan (they leave it until the end to even mention U.N.C.L.E., and never explain what it actually stands for), we may have to wait a while.
*. By the way, in case you were wondering, U.N.C.L.E. stands for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. Talk about a labored acronym.
*. Perhaps audiences wanted more humour. But I think more than that what they wanted was a better plot, more spectacular action scenes, and better villains.
*. The bad guys really let us down here. There’s an evil blonde who I couldn’t understand at all, and Gaby’s sadistic uncle, who is given a pointless and disturbing photo-album back story. In movies like this we have to love, or love to hate, the villains. A lot of the time they’re more interesting than the heroes. In this movie that would have been both easy and necessary given the blankness of Solo and Kuraykin, but it doesn’t happen.
*. Still, there was a lot more here that I liked than I didn’t like. I’d rate it head and shoulders above most of the other TV series adaptations that were coming out around this time. If that’s faint praise, it’s still something to give it credit for.

The A-Team (2010)

*. The A-Team was an obvious big-screen project, having been a popular action-comedy TV series in the 1980s with strong name recognition. But in fact it roiled in development hell for years. As so often happens in such cases, the result was not a polished gem of a script but an unholy mess.
*. What makes this all the more depressing is that they wasted a good cast. Liam Neeson was settling nicely into his new role as a greying action hero and Bradley Cooper as Face is intelligent beefcake (I didn’t think he needed to be quite so buff, but I guess in our time a great face has to have a great body). They rolled the dice on Sharlto Copley as Murdock and MMA fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as B.A. Baracus but I thought they both performed very well. Jessica Biel is always easy to look at, even if she’s just being easy to look at. Patrick Wilson is good as the CIA weasel.
*. Unfortunately, despite (or because of) all that time in development they never managed to come up with a script. You know those action movies that seem like they have no story at all but are just an excuse to hang a bunch of action sequences on? You know that overused word “incoherent” for such movies? Well, I have to use it again here.
*. I think Kirk Honeycutt, writing in the Hollywood Reporter, sums it up well: “The film seems nearly writer-free. Absolutely no time gets wasted on story, character development or logic.” Basically the “story” revolves around the team stealing a set of plates for printing American currency back from some bad guys, but the plates are then stolen from them, which is something they get framed for, somehow, but they are then released from prison to steal the plates back (again) by one of the guys who I thought stole them in the first place. Whatever. There are gunfights and explosions and a tank that falls out of a plane. All presented by way of a lot of ho-hum CGI.
*. I don’t recall B.A. being against violence, or at least murder, in the series. Did they add that? And if so, why?
*. Not that his conversion to satyagraha lasts very long. Even before he takes care of Pike he blows up all the mooks on the deck of the freighter. From director Joe Carnahan’s DVD commentary: “People did not die in the A-Team television show, [but] they die in this one. Because the kids demand it.” I wonder. You don’t see many people being killed in the Marvel superhero movies, and that’s the closest analog to this I can think of. These aren’t movies for grown-ups.
*. There’s not much to say here. One thing that did impress me was how the entire film was shot in the Vancouver area. That Mexican desert was apparently Kamloops and Iraq was near Burnaby. Movie magic. It can do anything.
*. It’s neither funny nor thrilling. I guess if you’re young enough you might enjoy it without knowing the original series. If you do remember the show I don’t think you’ll feel betrayed, though you may be let down.
*. I liked the series well enough at the time, but nothing about it has lasted. I don’t think anything about this film will last either. As with any franchise a sequel was planned but the box office didn’t justify it. In a way that’s too bad, as it might have been interesting to see what they could have done with a better script. For whatever reason a lot of these movies made out of old TV shows bombed because of garbage scripts (I’m looking at Baywatch and CHIPS here). You’d think that would be the easiest thing to get right. Apparently not. Oh well.