September 2023 Roundup
Lionsgate // Directed by Scott Waugh // Starring Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, 50 Cent, Megan Fox, Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Levy Tran, Randy Couture, Jacob Scipio, Andy Garcia
A decade on from their last death-defying mission, the team known as the Expendables are back in the ridiculously-monikered Expend4bles to blow things up, race cars, leer at women, and look MANLY whilst doing it. That could also work as the overall synopsis for the latest installment in the (usually) star-studded action franchise, a franchise that should’ve ended back in 2014. Nothing that happens within this movie is original or exciting, and whilst the franchise was built on winking and nodding at the high-octane action flicks of old, this now feels tired and old. It has become the very thing it swore to destroy - it's an overloaded, abysmal action movie, one that knows it’s a bad movie, but knowing doesn’t save the movie. The once-stacked cast has now dwindled to the point where we have 50 Cent, Megan Fox, and Randy Couture as integral members at the forefront of the team, and the movie manages to also waste the considerable talents of Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais to rub further salt into the wound. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here for Citizen Kane, but I was expecting (and hoping for) a fun romp with some cheesy one-liners and competently presented action sequences, but the film fails to deliver on that front to the point where I thought this may all just be a bad joke. The movie's budget is substantial, but the production values are shoddy. It's hard to believe that this movie was resurrected after a decade-long hiatus, only to turn out to be a lazy and abysmal action movie. Maybe it was just an excuse to get some of the band back together and put a stupid wig on Dolph Lundgren? I can imagine this was fun to film, at least. Spending weeks on set pouting, posing, flexing, and pretending to drive fast cars seems like a nice way to earn some bunce and fair play to those who turned up and got their bag, but it would’ve been nice to have had some energy and charisma onscreen too. Stallone and Statham's banter is the only redeeming quality of this movie, but it's not enough to save it. The explosions, revving, and badly edited action led to overall desensitization, and whilst the movie's two-hour runtime is mercifully cut short, it still felt like a slog to get through - when, early on, Statham decided to sprint towards a crashing plane to, assumedly, cushion its fall, I knew this would be dire, and I was correct. If you're looking for a movie with beefy men doing beefy men things, you might enjoy this movie. However, if you're looking for a fun action movie with energy and charisma, this movie is not for you. From the cringe-worthy cliches to the terrible writing, Expend4bles is anything but enjoyable.
Listen to further thoughts over at the Bloody Awesome Movie Podcast - Expend4bles
No One Will Save You
Hulu // Directed by Brian Duffield // Starring Kaitlyn Dever
The streaming era we live in constantly raises the question of “How well would this movie perform in cinemas?” and Brian Duffield’s No One Will Save You fits comfortably into the conundrum. A sci-fi silent movie (well, nearly, silent) encompassing home invasions and extra-terrestrials, No One Will Save You also dabbles in trauma and grief in its snappy ninety-three-minute runtime that, despite its few locations, felt like it belonged on a bigger screen than the standard home television. Now, the movie itself is simply good without threatening to ever be great, but there is plenty to admire throughout, not least Kaitlyn Dever’s committed and compelling performance. Given no more than three words to deliver, Dever relies on physical and facial acting to sell the fear, confusion, and emotion of the situations she faces and is eminently watchable. Dever's character, Brynn, is on her own for 99% of the movie, so she doesn't need to talk, except perhaps to curse the intruders to herself. She spends her time sewing and collecting diorama models to mask and cover the trauma she has suppressed for years. This aspect of the movie is its weakest element, as it feels slightly undercooked and at odds with the invasion story. The story of Brynn's alienation is solid enough to build upon, but it feels cursory in its overall execution. However, a handful of tense, well-conceived set pieces come from it. I only wish that practical effects and makeup had been used for the invaders instead of noticeably apparent CGI - and perhaps the movie would have benefited from keeping the antagonists hidden for a tad longer. The sound design throughout the movie, though, is very strong, especially related to the aliens. Their strange, almost-laughing noises provide an unnerving aural experience when they roam the isolated house where Brynn resides. On a technical level, No One Will Save You is a strong effort, but outside of that, it fails to be overly compelling, save for Dever’s engaging performance.
20th Century Studios // Directed by Gareth Edwards // Starring John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Ken Watanabe, Sturgill Simpson, Allison Janney, Madeleine Yuna Voyles, Ralph Ineson
It has been seven years since Gareth Edwards directed the best Star Wars movie, Rogue One. During these long seven years, he has been leveling up for his next project which has now arrived in the form of The Creator. The story is set in 2065 in a world where AI and humans are at war due to a destructive incident in Los Angeles. The AI have emigrated to New Asia, but the Americans are determined to eliminate every last one of them and send in ex-special forces soldier Joshua (Washington) to kill the AI Creator and the potentially game-changing weapon they have created. However, the weapon turns out to be a child, 'Alphie' (Voyles), leaving Joshua with the dilemma of duty or freedom. What we have is another case of 'Lone Wolf and Cub' as a reluctant, grizzled tough guy ferries a seemingly naive child to a safe destination, a trope that is becoming overused in modern works - see The Mandalorian, Game of Thrones, The Last of Us, and Logan as recent examples. Unfortunately, this isn't the only convention Edwards employs throughout The Creator. Narratively, the plot is fairly thin and not entirely coherent with many aspects and beats being lifted from Rogue One, Blade Runner (and 2049), Apocalypse Now, and every James Cameron flick (amongst others) to the point where the movie began to feel less original with each scene. The Creator starts excellently with an introductory commercial reel that offered intriguing promises and teases for what may come, as did the opening salvo where we meet Joshua and his AI-supporting wife Maya (Chan), but the movie frustratingly never expands upon these. That said, the first half is strong overall, but things begin to fall apart in the second half as the story falls victim to further conventions and tropes leading to an unsatisfying, and emotionally unearned, ending. Washington and Voyles do their best to form a connection, but it lacks real weight until the moments when the writing attempts to manipulate the viewer into feeling something. Washington is simply fine in the lead, while Voyles is very good in her limited role, though both roles suffer from a lack of depth (the less said about Chan and Veronica Ngo's roles the better...) The same can be said for the movie overall as thematically and emotionally this is surface-level science fiction. The topics that are broached are enough to make the audience notice, but top-tier sci-fi goes beyond that through metaphor, philosophy, and allegory, and The Creator just doesn't reach those levels. However, it is visually astounding, and it looks so grounded and appealing on a reported $80m budget, putting many of its contemporaries to shame. It's one of the best-looking genre movies since Blade Runner 2049. The Creator is not a bad movie, but it's disappointing. What could have been profound is instead superficial, and what should have been an emotional journey ended up as a stunning-looking but solid movie hiding behind its influences. The first half is strong enough to ensure this was a positive watch, but oh what could have been?
Lionsgate // Directed by Kevin Greutert // Starring Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Synnøve Macody Lund, Steven Brand, Renata Vaca, Michael Beach
For a good few years, October would bring about a new installment in the Saw franchise - and nearly all of them were average to awful. However, in 2023, the franchise returns with Saw X, the tenth installment that takes place between the first and second movies, with Tobin Bell’s John Kramer very much alive and unwell. Here, Kramer travels to Mexico for a risky and off-the-books procedure that promises to cure his brain cancer. However, when it turns out that the medical operation is a scam…well, you can guess how Kramer responds. Franchise veteran Kevin Greutert valiantly attempts to shake things up here by blending the usual horror elements with a dramatic character study of Kramer, a wise choice given how stale and predictable the franchise has begun. Given he is the focal point of the series, this is really the first time we get to focus on Kramer as a human, and it allows Bell to flex his muscles slightly more than in previous efforts - though, Lund aside, no one else covers themselves in glory here (especially Steven Brand…) The problem is the movie attempts to posit murderous and blood-lusting Kramer as the hero of the story, a sympathetic character that demands our respect and pity - and, unfortunately, that isn't going to happen. The first half of the movie follows the usually-meticulous Kramer chasing a snake oil merchant in Mexico and it plays more like a Lifetime movie than what we’ve come to expect - again, I admire the attempt to pivot and deliver something new. Of course, we know who Kramer is and what he is capable of, and Greutert and co. provide enough winks and nods during these moments that play for humour and work well. Once the expected reveal comes, Saw X thunders back to convention as the traps are revealed and the hapless players in Kramer’s (and Billy the puppets!) game prepare to fight for their lives. Whilst the traps are as inventive as ever, they come with no tension as we know what is about to happen so we are asked to just strap in and absorb the brutality. Add in the fact that we know Kramer survives, and it’s all a bit hollow. It goes without saying that those of a squeamish disposition should avoid this like the plague, Saw X is one of the bloodier installments with a few moments that’ll leave audiences squirming (the audience I saw it with certainly did). As a sidenote, it’s odd to see Kramer (and…other characters) looking far older than he did in Saw and Saw 2 given this movie’s position in the timeline, maybe they should have all word backward baseball caps? Though Greutert attempted to deliver a horror movie with drama and gravitas, Saw X is ultimately much more of the same, and it suffers from an unearned and ill-advised attempt at making the Jigsaw Killer a saviour. Admirable but, in the end, unsatisfying.
Listen to further thoughts over at the Bloody Awesome Movie Podcast - Saw X