Tag: bruce willis

Glass


Glass (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

Although not short on ambition or ideas, it is a great frustration that M. Night’s Shyamalan’s “Glass” isn’t a stronger film. Part of the reason is for a closer of a trilogy (started by “Unbreakable” in 2000 and preceded by “Split” in 2017), the work is expository for the most part. Aside from an exciting opening minutes in which David Dunn (Bruce Willis), equipped with superhuman strength and psychic ability, is shown what he’s been up to, along with his now adult son (Spencer Treat Clark), since we last saw them, the material begins to move at a snail’s pace once the story shifts inside a psychiatric hospital. Initially curious, it gets duller by the minute. There is plenty of dialogue and monologuing, but these do not reveal anything particularly new or exciting.

The screenplay wishes to explore a grounded comic book universe which is full of potential because our culture now, especially the movies, is inundated with the commercialism of superheroes, products on a conveyor belt that we eat up right from the twenty-second teaser trailers. There is a stark difference between superhero pictures of today and superhero films before “Unbreakable” was released, for better or worse. This would have been a far more interesting avenue to drill into: 1) To show why relatively humble superhero movies should still be made despite the fact that several multimillion-dollar juggernauts are released annually and 2) To introduce an exciting discussion about superheroes in general and why they continue to be a staple in popular culture.

Instead, we get only crumbs of the more compelling themes until the third act—which does not work. We get the impression that the writer-director wishes so badly to surprise the viewer that the ideas that do end up on the platter are severely undercooked at best, thoroughly forced and unconvincing at its worst. Cue the flashbacks and would-be brilliant throwaway shots that the audience should have noticed all along. (I caught them all.) Perhaps it might have been better if the surprise is that there is no surprise, just a strong, well-ironed storytelling.

It is not entertaining enough—a head-scratcher because Shyamalan knows how to execute and shoot an action scene. For instance, When Dunn and The Beast, the latter being one of the twenty-four personalities (James McAvoy), must face-off in an abandoned factory, there is a real sense of excitement: the location is moody and dark, blows to the body are shown and actually felt due to the elevated sound effects, and stakes are high because we get the impression that the two are well-matched. Even when the action is shot in broad daylight, the director remains willing to play with the camera, showing us different perspectives of the sequence just because he can. The confidence is apparent when it comes to images. On paper, far less.

The title of the picture refers to Mr. Glass or Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a genius mass murderer born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder characterized by brittle bones, but we do not get enough moments with the character in order to have an appreciation of him. The charade of catatonia lasts for too long and it is quite boring. And when he does begin to speak, move around, and carry out his plans, not one thing he does is particularly clever or compelling—at least not one I wouldn’t have thought of doing myself. When the antagonist is this thinly drawn, it is without question that the screenplay requires further revisions. The work feels rushed.

Red 2


Red 2 (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Though Frank (Bruce Willis) and Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) are attempting to live a life of normalcy by playing everything safe, both of them are not exactly happy with where their relationship is heading. Sarah wants a bit of adventure and Frank has not killed anybody in months. It is most opportune that Marvin (John Malkovich) appears at a Costco aisle and informs Frank that an international ruckus is about to occur. It involves Nightingale, a project they had been involved in back in ’79. Sarah is thrilled to join the elite CIA operatives but Frank would rather have her stay in a safe house.

Based on the screenplay by Jon and Erich Hoeber, “Red 2” accomplishes very little despite its characters gallivanting across the world while being hunted by assassins. While it retains some of the charm of the predecessor, the story needs to be cleaned up a bit. Perhaps it would have been better if one less city was visited or two supporting characters were written out. Make room for more or extended friendly banters or show more serious moments to suggest there is something more to the characters than being good at wielding weapons. Since it fails to go behind its skeletal framework, the twists and turns end up disorganized and unfocused rather than being genuinely surprising.

The revolving doors of several characters’ loyalties grate the nerves. Since it occurs too often, every time our protagonists are pushed to a corner, it becomes near impossible to feel like they are in any sort of real danger. While light entertainment is the film’s main purpose, changing the tone once in a while would have done it good—especially since it is a sequel and many of us already know what to expect. Its unwillingness to take a risk or try something new is a problem.

I still adored watching Helen Mirren fire guns and beat men into unconsciousness. She does it with so much verve and charisma. She commits to the character without being cartoonish. The right decision would have been to give her character, Victoria, and Ivan (Brian Cox) more substance. The older couple could have been an interesting contrast to Sarah and Frank—which feels too much like two teenagers falling in love or what they consider to be love. We get only a glimpse of the potential sounding board and it is played too cute.

The chases are visually stimulating but standard as a whole. On foot, guns are used too often but there is an entertaining sequence involving Frank being stuck in a file room. Though using a gun from an enemy becomes available eventually, he becomes resourceful in disarming those who wish to capture him.

“Red 2” is an unnecessary but harmless sequel. It offers nothing special but it is nice to see seasoned performers clearly enjoying themselves. Anthony Hopkins, playing a patient in a mental institution, stands out because he does not create a character around the lightness of the material. Bailey has his share of quirks but he is not defined by them.

Looper


Looper (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) does not mean for him, his future self, to get away, a momentary hesitation that allows Old Joe (Bruce Willis), sent from year 2074 by a criminal organization using a time machine to be executed and disposed of in 2044, to escape which prompts the boss (Jeff Daniels) to initiate a hunt to kill the two. It is the only way to minimize further changes in the future. The problem is Joe wishes to live a full life even though he already knows that being a looper, an assassin of the present assigned to murder people sent from the future, comes with an expiration date of age thirty. Meanwhile, Old Joe hopes to alter the past by killing a person called The Rainmaker in order to undo the death of his wife.

Written and directed by Rian Johnson, “Looper” explores a handful of interesting and intertwining ideas about the people affected by time travel, outlawed by the government upon its discovery, and avoids many details and technicalities of the concept itself. There is a difference and it is an important one because by focusing on the former, the writer-director constructs a story that we can, first and foremost, invest in or care about and, secondly, appreciate a fictionalized world of flying motorcycles and people with the ability to move objects using their minds due to a genetic mutation that affects ten percent of the population.

I enjoyed that the interactions between current and future Joe are kept to a minimum. Their one conversation set in a diner is imbued with an electric dialogue that is ironic and funny but serious and intelligent, too. This scene is not only a stand out because of the script. It is the point when we can observe how alike–or different–the actors are with respect to them playing, essentially, the same person. One is able to match the other not simply in terms of quirks but, for example, how one delivers a calculating gaze to a threatening or curious figure. The way in which they place stresses on particular words are also fun to pick up on.

Though it was easy for me to divorce between actor and makeup, I would have preferred that Gordon-Levitt was not given prosthetics so that he would look more like Willis. Since the picture functions on a relatively high level of imagination, it would have made sense for the filmmakers to assume that we had the initiative and the capacity to imagine the two actors, given that their performances complement each other well, playing a variation of one character.

What works less effectively is that the script does not give enough details about the organization led by Abe (Daniels). Is its goal more related to business like running a drug cartel and strip joints or is its objective more concerned about the bodies that come from the future? Furthermore, while Abe is nicely played by Daniels because he tends to choose quiet over hyperbolic menace, we do not see the character do much other than give orders. For someone who is supposed to be the leader, he does an awful lot of waiting for everyone else to do their jobs right. Ultimately, watching him does not feel like we are being engaged with a character who has much purpose underneath the archetype of a mob boss of some sort.

“Looper” may be and is faulted for its irregular pacing particularly when the story takes a detour on a farm. I respected this change of pace because it ties in to the idea that the picture is not just a sci-fi action film padded by chases and bullets flying. It takes a risk worth noting. It gives itself a chance to turn its attention toward one or two moral questions by setting aside almost half of its entertainment value. This approach is not common but it sure is admirable.

The Expendables 2


The Expendables 2 (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Right after a successful mission in Nepal, Church (Bruce Willis) approaches and informs Barney (Sylvester Stallone) of a mission, one that cannot be refused because he and his team have stolen five million dollars from the man who works for a secret but influential organization. Barney, his group of mercenaries (Jason Statham, Dolph Lungren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Scott Adkins), and Maggie (Nan Yu), specifically chosen by Church, head to the mountains of Albania to retrieve an item from a case in a plane crash. On what is supposed to be a clear-cut assignment turns complicated when the Sangs, gangsters within the area, appear from the fog and demand that the item of interest be handed over.

“The Expendables 2,” directed by Simon West, is a mostly fun, exciting, and transporting ruckus that set the bar so high during its first scene–tackling land, air, and water in a span of fifteen minutes–that it is unable to rise above it. The rescue mission of a Chinese billionaire in Nepal should have been the blueprint of the picture in that it makes no pretense about being an action picture with former and current major action stars at the helm: tanks demolishing supposed lines of the defenses erected by the enemy, guns of various shapes and sizes being fired at will, making no discrimination as to who or what is hit, rocket launchers extirpating balconies when another weapon would have sufficed, utter chaos and overkill abound.

There is certain poetry, a highly satisfying comedic ridiculousness, not just in the images of deaths and destruction unfolding on screen but also in the use of rousing music and energetic–but never dizzying–editing. The synergy among the techniques employed shows how excellent a Hollywood mainstream picture can be given that the proper elements are carefully measured and executed.

Unfortunately, nothing as thrilling happens up until just about after the halfway point. When the characters converse via joking around and teasing one another, there is a deadness in the dialogue. At times the exchange of words feels forced which, I suppose, can be taken as campy most of the time but the sour notes are certainly there.

However, there is one lighthearted scene that works quite well. That is, when Hale Ceasar (Crews) asks his team what they would like to have as their last meal given that they were to die the next day. I wished the scene had gone a little bit longer because a sense of camaraderie, one that felt natural, is finally put on screen.

Furthermore, the picture could have benefited from a more interesting villain. Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), the leader of the Sangs who wishes to gather an astonishing amount of plutonium in an abandoned mine, is a bit boring to deserve our hatred. We learn nothing special about him outside of the fact that he likes to wear sunglasses indoors. The writing is mostly to blame but Van Damme could have done more to make his character stand out by perhaps injecting a quirk or holding a secret about his character in his own mind to make us more curious about Vilain.

“The Expendables 2,” based on the screenplay by Richard Wenk and Sylvester Stallone, shows promise by rising above mediocrity but only in unpredictable convulsions. If there is going to be a third one, which I believe is the right avenue, I’m excited at the prospect of it getting every single thing right.

Moonrise Kingdom


Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) expects it to be just another day of camping, leading, and teaching his fellow Khaki Scouts in Camp Ivanhoe. During breakfast, however, he notices that one of his students is missing from the table, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), the least popular among his peers. A letter of resignation is found in his tent, leaving everyone at a loss as to why he’s done such a thing. With a storm rapidly approaching, expected to arrive in three days, a search party is formed to get Sam to safety.

“Moonrise Kingdom,” written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, offers a distinctive style and vision, its images cutely retro, appropriately dyed with a golden yellowish tinge, so fitting considering its 1965 milieu. And while it is an absolute pleasure to look at because of the vintage clothing, old school gadgets, and its loving attention to nature, it has a voyeuristic element about it that at times it feels like looking into a personal memory of a boy experiencing his first romance with a girl named Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), his perfect, at least for the time being, other half in that both have their share of imperfections, weirdness, and awkwardness.

When the picture focuses on the duo’s excursions around the beautiful island of New Penzance, it is at its most engaging. The script, as should be expected from a Wes Anderson film, has its own rhythm, sometimes a bit obfuscated in that it challenges our minds to drill into exactly what is being communicated. The lack of range in terms of evoking precise emotions between Gilman and Hayward work because a case can be made that Sam and Suzy are still trying to figure out who they are. Sometimes I wondered if their idea of romance is a reflection of pop culture at the time which supports their mindset of running away together and living happily ever after. Their youth has a potent spark, fueled by their need to connect with someone willing to listen and embrace because they feel like outcasts in their respective worlds.

Unfortunately, the film entertains far too many subplots and each one is not given sufficient time to be nurtured. The only strand that works involves Laura (Frances McDormand) and Walt (Bill Murray), Suzy’s parents, who tolerate a near passionless marriage, deciding to stay together for the sake of their children. Their one scene in the bedroom, occupying different beds, communicates a sadness with an underlying air of apathy—an emotion that holds more bite than hatred—that it dares the viewers to wish they would lash out on one another. At least then they may not have to guess what the other is thinking. Despite their current unhappiness, we can accept the possibility that they were probably very much in love when they were young which directly ties back to the Khaki Scout and his pen pal.

What does not work at all is the affair between Laura and a Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), the cop who leads the search. Their interactions are supposed to be comic but I found them boring and lacking in energy. Perhaps this might be attributed to the Captain’s Sharp’s story—which is too broad, not containing enough specific details to warrant belief that he is a beacon of hope even though he has had his share of problems.

Further, when the storm arrives in the back half of the picture, the chaos that ensues is only mildly interesting. It is off-putting that the balance between visuals and heart is thrown out the window, heavily relying on the strength of the former while the latter is slowly reduced to a footnote until it is convenient to wring out syrupy emotions for the audience. Director Wes Anderson has a habit of doing this to his projects and it is a great frustration.

12 Monkeys


12 Monkeys (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★

After a disease killed ninety-nine percent of the world’s population and forced the survivors to live underground, James Cole (Bruce Willis), a convict with a tough mind and knack for observation, was chosen by a group of scientists to “volunteer” in an experiment. If he decided to take on the project, he would receive a full pardon for his crimes. The assignment involved time travel and tracing the precise path of the virus’ introduction to the population. He was supposed to be sent to 1996 but actually ended up in 1990 where he was immediately apprehended by the police and sent to a mental institution. What made “Twelve Monkeys,” based on the screenplay by David Webb Peoples and Janet Peoples, more than a standard time travel film was its ambition to eventually ask the audience which reality was “real” after it had actively blurred the lines among past, present, and future. Although we didn’t spend plenty of time to explore the ravaged future, it provided enough haunting images, from an abandoned metropolis covered in ice where wild animals roamed to the dismal jail where convicts awaited their destinies. The scientists of various specializations were of suspect characters. There was a general feeling that the experiment in question was not really what they claimed. Meanwhile, the present seemed equally unforgiving in aesthetics. The bright but claustrophobic mental institution was crowded by men and women under the influence of drugs, the deceptive calm often interrupted by a very colorful madman named Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt). James and Jeffrey eventually became allies after the former unveiled his mission to the latter. I enjoyed that while the duo were given a chance to bond, the atmosphere of paranoia aimed to convince our gut from truly trusting Jeffrey even if his actions proved otherwise. Like the worlds that James jumped in and out of, his relationship with Jeffrey was equally full of questions and uncertainties. This was the reason why Cole’s relationship with his psychiatrist, Kathryn (Madeleine Stowe), turned out to be of utmost importance. It couldn’t be denied that Kathryn cared for her patient immensely. Stowe did a wonderful job in showing us her character’s struggle between professional and personal, between wanting to help James and being with him. The eventual romance didn’t feel like a distraction because it remained true to the theme of duality. For instance, James was a criminal and a potential savior; Kathryn was a pragmatist and a believer. However, the pacing was not always consistent. The kidnapping situation between James and Kathryn felt too contrived and contained very transparent seeds that would later move the plot forward. More importantly, we were never given a chance to really understand the mind of the person responsible for unleashing the virus. Therefore, its final scenes were not as impactful as they could have been given that we only appreciated the complexities of one side. “12 Monkeys,” inspired by Chris Marker’s “La jetée” and directed by Terry Gilliam, astutely diluted its bleak and gloomy environments with bright energy and questions that held weight. As a result, it was worth looking back and analyzing if we had mistaken certain red herrings for truths, vice-versa, which was a brilliant way of putting us in James’ shoes all over again.

Red


Red (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Retired agent of the CIA, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) began to flirt with Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) over the phone. The pair seemed to make a genuine connection. But when assassins came sneaking into Frank’s home, after disarming them with relative ease, he had no choice but to meet Sarah in person because he believed that they were after her, too. Reluctant at first, she eventually realized that maybe this was the kind of excitement and danger she needed–feelings she only encountered in books she so often enjoyed reading. “Red,” which was actually an acronymn for “Retired: Extremely Dangerous,” was a slick action picture that made the smart decision to not reveal its aces too early in the game. Frank and Sarah traveled across America but we, like the dynamic duo, didn’t exactly know why they were being hunted by the CIA which was led by a young agent with a blind ambition and a nice haircut (Karl Urban). The action sequences offered nothing particularly new but they were inspired because the filmmakers and the actors injected a certain hyperkinetic energy to such scenes. I noticed that during the intense violence, the film would often cut to Parker’s brilliantly executed bewildered and sometimes utterly confused expressions. She may not be able to fight but she was charming and we always knew why she was perfect for Frank. We were supposed to relate to her because she represented ordinary folks plucked from the mundane and thrown into extraordinary events. The film benefited from strong and very colorful, to say the least, supporting characters. John Malkovich was excellent as the paranoid former agent with a penchant for hilarious sneak attacks. Morgan Freeman was sublime as the gentle aging man but could easily kill men half his age when pushed to a corner. Helen Mirren was fantastic as the British lady who enjoyed overkill. I’m used to seeing her play roles where she had to be soft and elegant so it was refreshing to see her wield gigantic machine guns. They had individual spark but the real magic was in their interactions. However, the weakest part of the film was how the revelation of the mystery was handled in the end. Questions involving the hit list and the cover-up were answered, but it wasn’t perfectly clear how that was related to a certain politician. The last-minute twist about the identity of the real “big bad” felt forced and unnecessary. Nevertheless, “Red,” directed by Robert Schwentke, was highly enjoyable because it had a balance of suspense, action, comedy, and wit. Similar movies with a younger cast fall on the wayside because the actors either lacked chemistry or the filmmmakers attempted to do too much. Those movies could learn a thing or two from here.