Tag Archives: Anthony Mackie

Triple 9 (2016)

triple9

Every now and then you get a movie with a cast that’s out of this world, and yet the movie itself doesn’t get much buzz. This raises two questions: one, why did so many big stars attach themselves to this project, and two, why didn’t the movie get more buzz? Triple 9 is one such movie.

The answer to the first question is probably director John Hillcoat, the master Aussie filmmaker who gave us The Proposition, The Road, and most recently Lawless. Although a bunch of actors such as Shia La Beouf, Charlie Hunnam, Cate Blanchett and Christoph Waltz dropped out due to scheduling conflicts, Triple 9 still ended up with a ridiculous ensemble cast featuring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Kate Winslet, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelslon, Aaron Paul, Gal Gadot, Norman Reedus and Teresa Palmer.

The answer to the second question is that the film, while finely made, doesn’t quite live up to the cast. It’s barely made back its US$20 million budget on paper (which means a loss in real terms), and that’s because it got neither much advertising nor hype through word of mouth.

Set in the summer heat of Atlanta, Georgia, Triple 9 is a fairly standard crime thriller/drama about a bunch of crooks and corrupt police officers who pull off a heist. Things start to unravel when the crime boss they work for, played by Kate Winslet in an uneven Russian accent, forces them into one final job, while a newly transferred police officer (Casey Affleck) starts to suspect there might be more to things than meets the eye.

In typical Hillcoat style, Triple 9 is bleak, uncompromising and gritty. There’s brutal violence and scary depictions of gang life and police corruption. It’s intense stuff, but really, it’s also nothing we haven’t seen before — and arguably done better — in films like The Town, End of Watch, Training Day and so forth.

I don’t think it’s really Hillcoat’s fault — the issue is the unspectacular script by Matt Cook, which offers nothing truly fresh or intriguing. There aren’t many twists and turns, and the only surprises are from seeing all these big-name actors dying one by one in matter-of-fact fashion. But on the other hand, all these deaths mean there’s no real central protagonist. We know who the good guys and bad guys are, but we don’t really get a chance to genuinely care about any of them. Casey Affleck is supposed to be that guy, but he splits so much screen time with the rest of the cast that you never get the sense that he’s the lead.

On the whole, Triple 9 is a solid crime film due to Hillcoat’s skills and bolstered by a brilliant cast and strong performances all round. However, the boilerplate storyline — that does nothing to differentiate itself from other thrillers in the genre –severely limits how good the movie can be. It’s more of a good rental than a film you feel like you need to see at the cinema.

3 stars out of 5

Our Brand Is Crisis (2015)

ourbrandiscrisissmall

I thought I was done with 2015 movies, but I was on a short flight today and Our Brand Is Crisis turned out the be the only movie I hadn’t yet seen, so I thought, “Why not?”

I had very little interest in this movie when I saw the poster and trailer for it. Basically, Sandra Bullock plays a crazy political fixer who will do whatever it takes to help her candidate win. She’s apparently “the best”, but for some reason she has stepped away from the game for years and lives out in the middle of nowhere.

So when two American campaigners played by the fantastic Ann Dowd (from Compliance) and Falcon (ie, Anthony Mackie) are hired by a Bolivian candidate (Joaquim de Almeida) for a struggling presidential campaign, they decide to entice Bullock out of retirement so she can go up against her arch nemesis, a skeletal, sleazy SOB by the name of Candy (played by Billy Bob Thornton). Joining the team are the marketing guru (played by the guy who recently lost his legs to Superman, ie, Scoot McNairy) and a miraculously good investigator who can also speak Spanish (Zoe Kazan).

And so begins a battle of wits between the two fixers, who continue to raise the stakes and become more relentless in their pursuit of victory at any cost. It’s a film set on the campaign trail, tackling one sneaky tactic at a time, and with periodic updates of poll numbers to let us know how far away we are from the climax.

So I’ll just come out and say it: Our Brand Is Crisis is a weird film. First of all, it’s a fictionalized account of a true story and actually shares the same name as a 2005 documentary. In other words, pretty much everything is fiction except for the broad premise of an American campaign team working on a Bolivian election. So it’s kind of real but not real, and the film is kind of a drama, kind of a comedy and kind of satire, but it’s not really any of those either. It doesn’t really know what it wants to be. The film begins with a serious vibe, making me think that we were going down the route of something like say The Ides of March or Primary Colors. But then it goes all goofy and jokey, with fairly standard gags and slapstick humour. There’s even the impassioned (campy) speech by Bullock’s character that made me feel like I was watching Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal. And then at the end, political commentary competently takes over and tries to convince you that it’s deeper and more meaningful than it really is.

Secondly, as the film is set in Bolivia, you have the politicians and locals speaking Spanish, while the American campaigners speak English. I’m sure that’s what actually happened in real life as well, but it just seems like a lot of work for everyone involved, including the audience.

Thirdly, Billy Bob’s Candy is a weird antagonist. He starts off as a caricature, and you only get more and more surface with him, but never any depth. He’s kind of just there to irk and egg on Bullock, because by the end of it all you still don’t really know what to think about the guy.

Having said that, the film is passable from a entertainment perspective. Bullock does her usual thing and it works to a degree, though her character isn’t likable enough for you to want to genuinely root for her. Her team is actually where the fun is at, but unfortunately there’s not enough screen time to go around for everybody. They all get a nice little intro but then get shoved to the side and basically forgotten. Scoot McNairy was a lot of fun but doesn’t get much to do, which also goes for Dowd and Kazan. Mackie, in particular, is under-utilised and you never get a proper picture of who he is.

Instead, much of the story is spent on a wide-eyed Bolivian youngster who is a fervent supporter and works as a campaign assistant simply because of a brush with the candidate as a child. We’ve seen the “enthusiastic young man gets disillusioned with politics” angle countless times in movies like this, and while this one wasn’t badly done, it just felt like time could have been better served on what makes the movie different, rather than the same.

In all, Our Brand Is Crisis is a shade-above-average politics film that never ends up as intriguing, funny or profound as it wants to be. It’s watchable for a flight film, but that’s about as far as I’ll go.

2.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Pain & Gain (2013)

pain_and_gain_ver3_xlg

I had no idea Pain & Gain was a Michael Bay film until the credits started rolling at the end. I was surprised, because the film was, for the most part, perfectly adequate. Even fun.

Supposedly based on a true story from the 90s, Pain & Gain follows three dimwitted body builders — Marky Mark Wahlberg, The Rock and Anthony Mackie — who kidnap their dickwad of a wealthy client (Tony Shalhoub from Monk) and try to steal everything he owns. Naturally, being nitwits, their plan goes all kinds of wrong, especially as a private detective (Ed Harris) starts looking into the case. It’s a cautionary tale about how the American Dream can become the American Nightmare — if you are a moron.

It’s one of those “so crazy it’s gotta be true” stories. Being a rather violent kidnapping film, Bay could have tackled Pain & Gain as a really sharp dark comedy in the vein of say Fargo, though he decided to make a straight-up crime goofy comedy. The problem is that in taking this route, Bay had to make our protagonists likable — albeit immensely stupid — dudes, even though from their motivations and actions we can tell they are clearly some nasty people. Misguided and naive, perhaps, but still difficult to root for. Just because you find their stupidity amusing doesn’t mean you have to like them. Sure, their victim is a twat, but there’s only so much a director and good actors can do to make this trio affable. The rest is up to the audience’s disposition and tolerance.

Marky Mark, The Rock and Anthony Mackie are, under ordinary circumstances, a fun trio to be around. The Rock, in particular, stands out as a thick-headed and tick-bodied lost soul trying to balance his violent temper with his desire to please God. Marky Mark, on the other hand, shows a bit more of a mean streak as the ringleader, while Mackie kind of fades to the side a little more, getting overshadowed even by his own love interest, played by the always-brilliant Aussie gem Rebel Wilson. The other female role, a semi-retarded Russian bimbo (played by Bar Paly) is also a hoot, though neither female character does much to improve the perception of how Bay treats women in his movies. (Also gotta mention Ken Jeong, who does his best Ken Jeong impersonation in a small role as a motivation speaker.)

That said, for a Michael Bay film, Pain & Gain is actually pretty good. It’s fairly funny, especially in the first hour or so, and the satirical bite had a surprisingly strong edge to it. The mood was light despite the violence, though the further the film progressed the more serious — and less compelling — it got. At 129 minutes, it was also far too long, and my interest waned dramatically as the film stumbled to a predictable conclusion. However, on the whole, and by Michael Bay standards, I’d still call Pain & Gain a relative success.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Hurt Locker (2009)

The Hurt Locker isn’t a film that jumps out at you as a front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar while you are watching it.  It has the feel of a small-scale film, focused on a specific subject in a specific setting, with largely unknowns in the lead roles.  But don’t let that put you off.  It is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year.

I would call The Hurt Locker an American war suspense-action-thriller.  Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (K-19: The Widowmaker, Point Break – yes, that’s right!  Point Break!), it tells the story of an United States EOD (Explosives Ordnance Disposal) team in post US-invaded Iraq.  To many viewers, it will be a world that is as foreign as Pandora from James Cameron’s Avatar.

The Hurt Locker a cut above most other post-911 war movies for several reasons.

First of all, it is probably the most suspenseful film in recent memory.  The thrills come in waves, but when it comes, the tension is so unbelievably high that it made me forget how to breathe.  Full credit must go to Bigelow, who combines life-and-death situations with documentary-style shooting to create an atmosphere that makes the audience feel like they are right there in the pressure cooker with the EOD team members.

Second, the script by Mark Boal is outstanding.  Boal is a freelance journalist who actually spent time with a bomb squad in Iraq.  This experience, coupled with his ability to create intriguing, well-developed characters, makes The Hurt Locker the most authentic-feeling Iraq war movie to date.

Third, the acting is first class.  The three main leads (Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty) are considered relative no-names in Hollywood, but all deliver performances that bring their respective characters to life.  Renner (28 Weeks Later) is particularly excellent and is well-deserving of his Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.  He brings a brooding arrogance and obsessive quality to Sergeant First Class William James that makes the already-tense environment even more explosive.  Renner’s face reminds me of a pudgier Jason Bateman, but his screen presence (according to a friend) is reminiscent of a young Mel Gibson (before he went off the rails, of course).

Lastly, I really enjoyed the subtlety of The Hurt Locker.  It may be an anti-war movie at heart, but it doesn’t ram any political messages down your throat.  There’s no American hero bravado or that ‘Americans are evil’ sentiment.  There’s a telling image here and there, but for the most part, you can simply enjoy the movie for its intense action and ignore the underlying message.

Having raved about the film, it isn’t quite perfect.  At 131 minutes, The Hurt Locker is probably 15-20 minutes too long, and partly because of this, the last third of the film isn’t quite as exhiliarating as the first two-thirds.  However, these are only minor complaints in an otherwise superb film.  The only thing really preventing The Hurt Locker from getting full marks from me is that I simply don’t think it is memorable enough.  It may be one of the best films of the year, but it’s unlikely to be one of those classics people will easily recall years down the track.

4.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: I now think The Hurt Locker has a pretty good chance of beating Avatar for Best Picture because of this new preferential voting system.  That said, I’m sticking with my prediction of Avatar for Best Picture.  The one with the bigger chance of an upset could be Bigelow over her ex-husband James Cameron for Best Director.  This is one of those years where voters seem to rally around a cause, and this year the stars may be aligned for the first ever female director to take the prize.]