Premium Rush (2012)

David Koepp has been the brains behind some of Hollywood’s smartest action thrillers, having scripted everything from Jurassic Park and Mission: Impossible to Spider-Man and Panic Room. Premium Rush is the scribe’s fifth directing gig and a departure from his brainiest tension-ekers – as the film’s title suggests, Rush is less about the grey matter and more about the intoxicating adrenaline kick.

Set entirely on the streets of New York, Rush follows bike messenger Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he takes on a job delivering a package for Nima (Jamie Chung). When he’s accosted by Bobby (Michael Shannon), Wilee begins to suspect he’s carrying something very important – a suspicion that’s confirmed when Bobby turns out to be a crooked cop who’ll stop at nothing to get his hands on Wilee’s package (so to speak).

Zipping through the Big Apple on his two-wheeler, Gordon-Levitt is a likeably unconventional action hero. It’s not the kind of role JGL’s best known for, but the one-time Third Rock From The Sun actor has star quality to spare, and he turns the wattage up considerably for a role that’s as lean as the film itself.

Behind the camera, Koepp generally knows what he’s doing, too. The visuals are sleek and inventive, with tongue-in-cheek ‘hazard prediction’ sequences recalling Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films. Taking its cue from other NY-lover /Spider-Man/, Rush looks gorgeous and its sun-soaked streets vibrate with a fist-pumping soundtrack that includes The Who and My Chemical Romance.

You’ll want to leave your brain at the door, though – Rush’s attempts at a city-wide conspiracy are ambitious at best, convoluted at worst. When it comes to humour and breathless action, though, it generally delivers the goods. Fittingly, Koepp’s film is not unlike a sugar rush – it’s fun while it lasts, but it’s pretty forgettable once it’s over.  3/5

Via Out In The City

The Raid (2011)

Sometimes a little film comes along that’s so uniquely affecting, unapologetically brutal, and fearlessly executed that it can’t help but take the world by storm, no matter how humble its beginnings. The Raid is one of those films. An Indonesian actioner written and directed by Welshman Gareth Evans, it’s already blazed through the festival circuit (it premiered in Toronto in September 2011, where it won the Midnight Madness award), and is so bruising an experience it’ll leave you in need of a good lie down.

The titular raid takes up the bulk of the running time as an elite police team break into a derelict Jakarta apartment block. This hive-like warren of grungy corridors is home to a dangerous drug lord and his crew of pushers/protectors, all of whom are prepared for anything the police might throw at them. Among the cops is rookie SWAT Rama (Iko Uwais). He’s got his own ulterior motive for taking part in the raid – somebody he knows is living in the high rise, and he’s determined to rescue them, or die trying.

As our underdog hero, Uwais is both likable and easy on the eye. He’s also more than up to Evans’ rigorous demands. The director dreamt The Raid up as a gnarly showcase for martial art form Pencak Silat, and his film succeeds as an exhausting sequence of innovative fights that will have you variously twisting yourself into knots, screaming with delight and laughing your head off. That’s in no small part thanks to Uwais, who smashes his way enigmatically through more fights than Mohammad Ali. The Raid is raw, dangerous and exhilarating. This won’t be the last you’ll hear of it, either. An Indonesian sequel and a Hollywood remake are already on the way. Don’t miss out on the madness. 3/5

Via Out In The City

Salt (2010)

Beaten, bruised and bleeding, Angelina Jolie proves she’s made of tough stuff in Salt’s rib-bashing opening scene. As the eponymous CIA agent Evelyn Salt, she’s been kidnapped by North Korean forces, who torture her in ways that only members of a country led by Kim Jong-Il possibly can. Freed from that sticky situation, she’s quickly hurled into a cat-and-mouse game of international espionage when a mysterious Russian apparently outs her as a Russian spy.

Salt really wants to be a female Bourne Identity. With its never-ending running scenes (does Salt ever sleep?), inscrutable lead, and DIY heroics (love the sanitary towel bit), there’s a reason it’s been dubbed ‘Bourne with boobs’.

Sadly, Salt isn’t as good as that, falling more into the Mission: Impossible camp – camp being the operative word, with polished action set-pieces failing to push the peril, meaning we never really fear for our anti-heroine’s safety. Silliness case in point: a moment in which Jolie does a gender bender and dons a silly rubber mask echoes that daft bit in Mission: Impossible II when Tom Cruise makes himself look like Dougray Scott.

To her credit, Jolie’s as gung-ho as you’d expect her to be. If you’re going to bet on any woman being able to beat a grown man twice her body weight to a pulp, your cash is safe with her. And yes, somewhere amid the (non-stop) double crosses, shoot-outs and face-offs, Salt is a decent movie.

It’s just a shame it never manages to follow through on that ‘female Bourne’ mission statement. Though the focus rarely splits away from our lippy lovely, Salt’s afforded little genuine depth, meaning we’re as in the dark about her as the Americans she’s evading. Yes, that’s partly the point, but a more skilful script would have found ways to weave the enigmatic with the obvious in better ways.

Thanks to decent box office returns, a Salt 2 is on the way. With this first sporadically entertaining actioner having laid the groundwork, here’s hoping a sequel can finally fulfil that promise of Bourne-like thrills. 3/5

Hanna (2011)

Why would the director of an impeccably polished period tragedy like Atonement choose to make an action movie? Well, why not? And if Hanna’s anything to go by, it’d be no crime against cinema for Joe Wright to spend the rest of his career crafting action movies. In fact, many might demand it of him.

Not that Hanna is just any old action picture. Brit director Wright takes what could easily have been a by rote, gunfire-stacked Hit Girl-like cash-in and executes the material with the same devil-in-the-details approach that made Atonement so wrenching. Wright isn’t just concerned with making a ball-cracking actioner (though he definitely succeeds there); he puts value in a surfeit of old school moviemaking rules that few take the time to acknowledge nowadays.

For example, the slow burn. When we’re introduced to Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), she’s clad in animal furs, hunting a reindeer in a desolate, frost-bitten landscape. In a seamless blend of style and substance, she’s treated to a fantastic title card moment of pure iconic clout – before Wright winds things down so we can get to know our strange little heroine.

She’s 16, we learn, and living in the wilds of Finland with her ex-CIA father Erik (Eric Bana). He’s trained her from birth to be strong, resourceful, smart. And when he feels that she’s ready, Erik will let her flip a switch that will alert their whereabouts to his ex-colleague Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). Armed with that knowledge, Marissa will make it her mission to kill both Hanna and her father.

Ghostly and attentive, Hanna makes for a bewitchingly unconventional lead. Perfectly captured by Ronan (who worked with Wright on Atonement), she presents Hanna as a fascinating enigma; quirky and serious and one heck of a grappler. The joy and humanity in Wright’s film comes from seeing Hanna unceremoniously exposed to the outside world, adrift from everything she’s ever known, then watching as her cheeks gradually fill with the colour of life.

Though continually turning tricks, blending sly storytelling with some remarkable set pieces, Wright never lets things get too bogged down in plot. While the Bourne films are an intricate labyrinth of false turns and laundered lies (and that’s how we like them), Wright and screenwriters David Farr and Seth Lochlead keep Hanna simple. They understand that Hanna’s journey – both internally and externally – is the real story, not the MacGuffin of her origins or her supposed purpose in a CIA game plan (which any comic book fan could easily predict).

Further polishing Hanna is a killer soundtrack courtesy of the Chemical Brothers. In an era when movie scores are gaining much renewed acclaim thanks to big name authorship (Trent Reznor with The Social Network, Daft Punk and, uh, Tron: Legacy), the Chemical Brothers don’t miss a beat in their hollering, atmospheric soundscapes, adding heft and wallop to Wright’s already-stellar moving images.

Talking of images, Hanna’s packed with bold visual design. Blanchett, on fantastic form as the drawling Texan CIA agent, appears in Hanna’s most brilliantly orchestrated shot, emerging from the shadows inside the gaping, razor-fanged maw of a giant funhouse wolf. Meanwhile, Bana gets his own iconic moment in the form of an underground skirmish, while he convinces as an attentive father at the film’s opening.

Where Hanna stumbles is in its final act. As it seeks to find a satisfactory conclusion, it suddenly realises that its lightweight plotting hasn’t really set itself up for one. There’s no massively devastatingly twist (though there is a twist, to be sure), so instead we’re subjected to scene after scene of running and yelling, as confrontations turn into chases that lead to further confrontations and chases. Meanwhile, the film’s final line, while clearly linking up to its opening scene, feels horribly overcooked.

If Hanna succeeds in anything above all else, it’s in further establishing Saoirse Ronan as a young actress going places. Adeptly navigating both Hanna’s emotional and physical currents, she blows this starmaker of a role out of the water. Here, also, is proof that Wright can handle more than sumptuous costume dramas – his first foray into full-blown action territory results in a pacy, stylish revenge thriller. 4/5

30 Awesome Movie Dads

Die Hard (1988)

The Dad: John McClane

The Awesome: John may have fallen out with his wife, but he’s going to do everthing he damn well can to get home in time to celebrate Christmas with his family. Yes, even if that means single-handedly stopping a crew of cunning terrorists who’ve taken over an LA high-rise.

If He Was Bad: He’d yell “Yippee-kay-aye motherfucker” while shoving his wife’s head into the oven.

The Making Of Thor

When you’re drawing up a list of potential directors for a big, nay, massive sci-fi action adventure film, Kenneth Branagh – better known for his period romps – is probably not the first person on your list. He’s probably not even in the top 50.

But then, that’s what makes Marvel Studios so unique. Having taken the producing reins on the movie adaptations of their prized stable of comic book heroes, they’ve consistently paired odd-choice directors with their properties to thrilling effect.

Jon Favreau and Iron Man. Louis Leterrier and The Incredible Hulk. Both courageous couplings reaped surprising, entertaining results. And now Marvel wanted to do the same with one of their most high profile characters – Norse god Thor. So who did they call? Well, Kenneth Branagh, of course…

Seeing Red

A retired action man who spent much of his life cutting a bloody swathe through the corrupt heart of North America… Sound familiar? “There are things [in this] that I haven’t done for a long time,” admits Bruce Willis. “I get thrown through the air, smashed through windows, things like that.”

As the weathered lead in comic adap Red, directed by Flightplan’s Robert Schwentke, Sir Willis of the white vest is getting tooth-cracking mean for the first time since 2007’s Planet Terror. And by all accounts he’s loved every second of it. “It was like recess. People talk about it as if it’s just an action film, but I thought of it as a romantic comedy,” he deadpans.

Not that there isn’t the requisite window dressing on display. As Willis goes black ops to take down his former employers in an ‘it’s me or them’ final mission, he crosses paths with Weeds funnygirl Mary-Louise Parker and the ever-delightful Helen Mirren (milf or gilf? We can’t decide), the latter as a fellow assassin.

“The most difficult thing about shooting a gun on film is not to pull a silly face while the gun’s going off,” reveals Mirren. “Because it can be a bit of a shock.” Parker’s advice? “Just look like you constantly have to pee if you’re in danger.” Helpful. Meanwhile, John Malkovich pitches up as a demented Scotsman, and Morgan Freeman Frank’s assassin ally. But it’s Willis the crowds will turn out for. Yes, Brucie’s back – and he’s got two fists to bruise!

Via Total Film