Wild at Heart

David Lynch takes us on a road trip with Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern as Sailor Ripley and Lula Fortune, two lovers looking to run away from Fortune’s mother Marietta who’s hired a hitman to find and kill Sailor. Along the way, Sailor and Fortune meet a couple of surreal characters that could only exist in a David Lynch film, such as Willem Dafoe’s Bobby Peru. It’s sweet, it’s violent, and it’s occasionally funny, but how does it stack up against Cage’s filmography? Well, crank up some Powermad and bring your best Elvis impression because we’re cruising down the road that is Wild at Heart.

Cage Performance:

Cage and Lynch only worked together once? That’s a real shame because their personalities make them a perfect match. Roy Sailor is the bad boy with a heart of gold and he’ll do anything for the love of his life Lula even if it involves getting his hands dirty. Cage’s chemistry with Laura Dern is equally sweet as it is sexy and you actively root for the characters to make it through all their predicaments. Cage is delivering a solid performance here, but compared to his later films, he’s not as eccentric as you would expect or want. Wild at Heart has Cage and Dern as two lead performances, but this leans more towards Laura Dern than it does Nic Cage. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a big part of the film, but this is very much Lula’s story from beginning to end. Cage meshes well with the bizarre nature of Wild at Heart, but it’s thankfully not distracting enough to make it meme-worthy.

Most Cage Moment:

The opening sequence where Cage’s Roy Sailor kills a hitman who’s paid by Marietta to kill him is definitely the most violent and unhinged Cage gets in the film. It’s comically violent and over the top and Nicolas Cage gives it his all as he pummels the man’s brains out. The sequence starts out relatively mild with swinger and jazz music playing in the background, but as the hitman provokes Roy, you can tell there’s a real situation brewing and it’s painted all over Roy’s face. Once the hitman makes his move, Roy let’s loose like an untamed animal; metal music is blasting and blood is splattering all over the floor, as Roy beats the man to death with Lula and Marietta watching in absolute horror. The kicker is that once it’s over, the swinger music starts playing again and Roy lights up his cigarette as if nothing happened. This sequence shows that Cage can do crazy and violent.

Good Cage or Bad Cage?

It’s serviceable Cage, but not his best role by a long shot. What makes Nicolas Cage such a compelling onscreen presence is his willingness to get weird and hammy in ways his costars won’t, but since Wild at Heart is a romance film, director David Lynch needs Cage to tone it down in order for the romance between him and Laura Dern to feel genuine. Fortunately, Wild at Heart is already bizarre on its own terms and has an equal amount of bizarre and outlandish characters to help even things out. Willem Dafoe’s Bobby Peru and Diane Ladd’s Marietta Fortune are incredible performances and they easily run home with the entire film. There are still a couple of gems to mine from Cage’s performance, such as his Elvis accent and his sick mosh kicks, but Cage lets his costars ham it up this time around. If we’re judging this based on how crazy Nic Cage gets, you could definitely find crazier, but Wild at Heart works because the chemistry between Cage and Dern is genuine. It’s not a wild performance, but it’s a sweet performance that feels so real in a film that skews toward the surreal.

Matchstick Men

Literally had to look up Alison Lohman’s age in Matchstick Men because it wasn’t matching up for me.

PLOT:

Nicolas Cage plays Roy Waller, a con man who’s pretty good at his job, but it’s apparent that he’s not proud of what he does. On top of that, Waller has tourettes and OCD, so he’s always twitching and having the urge to clean up his house under moments of severe stress. Roy takes medication to keep the tics at bay. On top of all this mental baggage, Roy also finds out that he has a daughter. Now, Roy has to learn to be a father as he preps for one of the biggest cons of his life. As far as Nicolas Cage films go, this is a straightforward character drama directed by one of the most prolific directors of all time. There’s plenty of Nic Cage mannerisms to fill out the film, but it’s done in service of the story as well as the character’s development.

BEST CAGE MOMENT:

There’s a sequence where Roy has run out of his prescription medication and he needs to call his psychiatrist to fill it out, except for one thing: his shrink is out of office! In a state of utter panic, Roy drives to the pharmacy looking to fill out a prescription. This is the point where Nicolas Cage is allowed to let loose as Roy’s tics take full control. The frantic nature of the cinematography and editing also complement the performance really well and it leaves you in a state of unease. Just like a Coke bottle that’s been shaken up, Cage’s performance is just waiting for the cap to be opened, and when it does, it’s an eruption of joy.

Cage-Director Dynamic:

I wish Ridley Scott and Nicolas Cage worked together again, because their collaboration on Matchstick Men is dynamite. Ridley Scott perfectly utilizes Nicolas Cage and keeps him from totally going off the rails. Scott does a great job of writing compelling protagonists and Roy Waller is no exception with all his tics and mannerisms. He’s not a cartoon character, but Scott and Cage are perfectly in sync with each other that they know the right moments to hold back and when to really go for it. There’s a genuine respect and sympathy for the character of Roy and it’s because of Scott’s direction and Cage’s skills as an actor that keep the character from turning into a walking meme.

Good Cage or Bad Cage?

This is some top-tier, gourmet Cage right here! It’s not easy making a con man into a sympathetic character, but because Cage is a legitimately compelling actor, he makes Roy into a layered and sympathetic protagonist. The sweetest moments are between him and Alison Lohman who plays Roy’s daughter, and the father-daughter dynamic is believable because of the strength of both performers. Roy’s just trying to be a good dad, and even when he fumbles, you can tell that he’s genuinely trying to do right by her. If you want a Nicolas Cage film that balances between genuine and hammy, then Matchstick Men is the film for you. Unceasingly entertaining from start to finish, this is a great Nic Cage performance in an equally great movie.

The Seventh Seal

Strawberries and milk? Weird combo, but ok.

What’s It About?

Antonius Block is a knight who’s become wary of the notion of God and faith. One day, Death, played by Bengt Ekerot, comes knock-knock-knockin’ at Antonius’ door. In an effort to postpone his sentence, Antonius challenges Death to a chess match. Along the way, Block and his squire Jons encounter Jof, Mia, a mute, a blacksmith and his wife as they trek through Medieval Europe in the midst of the bubonic plague. If that sounds existentially dreadful to you, don’t worry guys, it absolutely is! That isn’t to say that it’s bleak all the way through, and there are moments that bring much needed levity and optimism to a film that can be quite philosophically stacked.

Who’s In It?

Max von Sydow, who you might know from The Exorcist, Game of Thrones, and his most iconic role, Rush Hour 3, plays Antonius Block, a Knight who represents the uncertainty of whether God exists or not. “I want God to stretch out his hand, uncover his face and speak to me” says Antonius as he confesses his doubts to Death. Years of fighting in the Crusades has exhausted the poor man and he looks for some sort of redemption before Death comes to take him away. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Gunnar Björnstrand as Jöns, Antonius’ squire who doesn’t believe in God or Satan and tries to reason with Antonius that there is nothing after death. “Emptiness in the moonlight” says Jöns to Antonius as they watch a supposed witch being burned alive for coming in contact with Satan himself. The look of terror in her eyes seems to confirm what Jons knew and what Antonius feared: that there is nothing after death…or does it?

Nils Poppe and Bibi Andersson play Jof and Mia, a married couple who work as traveling actors and entertainers. The Seventh Seal brightens up everytime they appear onscreen and their purity and outlook on life even manages to make Antonius forget about his existential dilemma for a brief moment. The strawberries and milk sequence is such a banger because it’s the one time where the film slows down to give the characters a moment of peace. The dialogue between Jof, Mia, and Antonius is poetic and it works in presenting another viewpoint that’s different from the nihilistic tone that’s been present thus far. Even with the threat of the plague and death looming over the film, Jof and Mia are the two people to handle the terror with tranquility. In the end, death comes for us all, but to be able to love is what makes life worth living.

Is It Good?

There’s a reason The Seventh Seal still remains one of the greatest films of all time. The Seventh Seal is an artistic look into the existential questions of faith, death, and what makes life worth living. There are stacks on stacks on stacks of symbolism and allegory that even flew over my head, but director Ingmar Bergman’s use of dialogue and cinematography are more than enough to help get the message across. The Seventh Seal was a daunting task for me considering this was my first Bergman film, but after a rewatch and a bit of reading, I was able to get a better sense of what the film was trying to achieve. For as bleak and nihilistic as The Seventh Seal is, there is a sense of hope that accompanies it. Does God exist or does He not? Who cares? In the end, it’s how we live now that makes life fulfilling.

The Suicide Squad

Idris Elba is Father of the Year!

What’s It About?

Hail, hail, the gang’s all here! Amanda Waller, Harley Quinn, Rick Flagg, and Captain Boomerang are back, but this time, they’re joined up with a new team of misfit toys in order to quell a rebellion in Corto Maltese. It’s pretty straightforward, right? Well, that’s because you’ve seen films like this many times before. It’s a basic action movie premise, but no matter how generic it looks on paper, it’s the execution that matters, and director James Gunn executes it with expert craftsmanship. The Suicide Squad is like a box of chocolates. You never know who’s gonna get their heads blown off!

Who’s In It?

Amanda Waller, Rick Flagg, Harley Quinn, and Captain Boomerang are back, baby! Amanda Waller is so cold-blooded this time around that she makes the Squad look like the Justice League by comparison. Rick Flagg is actually cool now and it’s in no small part due to actor Joel Kinnaman being given much more material to work with. In terms of comedic chops, Harley Quinn still remains the least funny of the bunch, but there’s no denying she’s given the best set piece of the whole film. It’s an impeccably choreographed set piece filled with gunfire, dismembered limbs, flowers, and unicorns. Who would’ve thought killing people could look so cute?

The original cast each get their moment to shine, but Gunn introduces an entirely new batch of characters who are guaranteed to make you fall in love with them. The Peacemaker is equally terrifying as he is hilarious and John Cena is perfect in capturing that big doofus energy of the character; he reminds me of a psychotic Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove. Idris Elba is a classy gent, so it’s nice seeing him being an absolute scumbag and throwing F-bombs left and right. Last, but not least, we have King Shark, who’s an absolute softy who also has a ravenous hunger for human flesh. He elicited most of the biggest laughs from me as well as the biggest emotional reactions. No film truly works without characters to anchor the story down and it’s Gunn’s ability to humanize these characters that makes The Suicide Squad a bloody good time.

Is It Any Good?

The Suicide Squad is astoundingly good, and just like a cool glass of water, it’s a refreshing take on the source material that also washes away the bad taste of the first film. For those of you dreading on rewatching the first film for fear of feeling lost, fret not, because James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad stands on its own without the extra baggage of being a sequel to Suicide Squad. It’s crude, it’s hysterical, and it’s moving in ways the first film wasn’t. James Gunn might be the safe and obvious choice to handle an IP like this, but when he’s able to scoop from the bottom of the barrel to craft a group of likable characters, it’s no wonder every studio wants to snatch him up. The Suicide Squad will make you laugh, cry, scream “ooh” and “aah,” but most importantly, it’ll make you fall in love with the characters.

The Green Knight: A Tale on Chivalry

The feel-good Christmas movie of the year!

What’s It About?

The Green Knight is a medieval fantasy centered on Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur, but unlike his uncle, Gawain has “no story to tell” and has achieved nothing remarkable in his life when compared to Arthur and his knights. However, opportunity comes a-knockin’ on Christmas Day when the Green Knight visits Arthur’s court to challenge one of his knights to a game: should the victor wound the Green Knight, the victor must seek the Green Knight out after one whole year to receive the same wound inflicted on him. Gawain, in a moment of reckless impulse, accepts the challenge and decapitates the Knight. Gawain ultimately takes an “L” because the Green Knight rises up, takes his head, and rides away. Now, Gawain must choose to meet his destiny or run away from it.

Oh, That Sounds Interesting! Is There A Lot of Action?!

Not quite. The most excitement you’ll get is during the first act, but after that, it cruises for the rest of its runtime. The first act is definitely going to be the strongest part for most audiences because it’s a traditional Hero’s Journey setup that effectively sets up the hero’s wants and needs as well as the inciting incident between Gawain and the Green Knight. The real challenge for most audiences will be the rest of the film because it’s deliberately paced, introspective, and full of symbolism. What keeps it from being frustratingly obscure is director David Lowery’s ability to effectively show and not tell. While some things are open to the viewer’s interpretation, the running themes of The Green Knight are pretty straightforward because Lowery lays out enough breadcrumbs to help guide you along.

Who’s In It?

You’ve got Dev Patel who’s perfectly cast as Gawain. One of the themes of the film is appearance over substance and while the character of Gawain has the appearance of a warrior, he’s nothing more than a selfish boy trying to prove himself a man. Dev Patel is able to balance that dichotomy because while he has the look and posture of a knight, Patel still has a youthful appearance underneath the facial hair he sports. The only other Dev Patel movie I’ve ever seen was Lion so I’m not sure how The Green Knight compares to his other performances, but the performance he gives is very moving and it’s a believable journey he takes us on. Most of the other supporting characters are just props for the film’s overall message, but Alicia Vikander is equally great in this film.

Perhaps there’s a bit of a bias because I have a giant crush on her, but it’s been awhile since I’ve seen her give a solid performance. She plays two different characters: Essel, a commoner who is also Gawain’s lover, and she plays the Lady, wife to the Lord and Gawain’s seductress. Much like Ava in Ex Machina, Vikander expertly straddles the line between sweet and innocent and sexy and seductive. It was a genuine surprise to see her in The Green Knight and she also gets to deliver a mesmerizing monologue.

So, Did You Like It?

I didn’t like it…I LOVED it! It’s most definitely not for everyone, so if you were expecting a fantasy epic akin to The Lord of the Rings, then you might want to skip this one, but I’d advise against that because much like Gawain’s journey, the film is a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience. The Green Knight’s deliberate pacing and art house sensibilities can be intimidating at first, but David Lowery’s skills as a director did just enough to keep me invested without totally sacrificing his vision for broader audience appeal, but I had to meet the director halfway and put in the work. The Green Knight isn’t a tale of sweeping battles or grandiose spectacle, but a tale chivalry and how greatness is forged through the decisions we make. The character of Gawain is an unnerving one because of how relatable I found him to be. That being said, amidst the existential dread I felt, the film also left me with a sense of hope that honor is forged through my own volition.

NOLAN AWARDS

IT’S A WONDERFUL NIGHT FOR NOLAN!!!! NOLAN MOVIES!!!!

•••

For the sake of being different, I’m not going to give the win to Ledger’s Joker. Instead, I want to highlight Anne Hathaway’s performance as Catwoman because it’s legitimately one of the most exciting performances in any superhero film. This is an inspired casting choice in the same way Heath Ledger’s Joker was. At face value, it’s a bizarre casting choice, but Anne Hathaway embodies Catwoman’s intelligence, manipulativeness, and sexiness and makes for a delightful femme fatale. It’s an entirely different interpretation when compared to Tim Burton’s Catwoman, but Anne Hathaway really knew how to hook into the character while staying true to Catwoman’s comic book origins.

•••

This one was a little tough because I love Christian Bale, but the performance that Guy Pearce gives as Leonard Shelby is still the best lead performance in Nolan’s filmography. Guy Pearce knows how to draw sympathy for the character, but because of the character’s memory loss, we only know as much information as Leonard does so you’re always questioning whether what he’s telling us is true or not. Much like most of Nolan’s protagonists, Leonard’s smart, organized, and at times vulnerable, but what makes him stand out amongst Nolan’s other protagonists, is that there’s something much more sinister and violent beneath his frail exterior.

•••

The Dark Knight showed me the importance of cinematography to establish mood and setting and it continues to be the template by which I judge every other film’s cinematography. Nolan’s ambitions with The Dark Knight weren’t only reflected within the script, but the collaboration between him and cinematographer Wally Pfister helped to prove that even superhero films could be used for artistic expression. The cinematography isn’t just used to show off the spectacle, but it’s also used to establish the emotions of the characters. From Joker’s mania to Batman’s reserved rage, the cinematography balances each character’s point of view seamlessly.

•••

Inception was Nolan’s passion project, but Dunkirk has Nolan rely on the basic elements of filmmaking to craft a war film that effectively keeps you on edge from beginning to end. The cinematography, score, and script are all in sync and work to establish the tension, urgency, and terror of the events at Dunkirk. This movie is a rollercoaster ride and a cinematic experience I hadn’t seen since Mad Max: Fury Road. It never takes a moment to slow down to let the audience catch up with characters or unnatural exposition; instead, the actions onscreen present all the information required and despite not having a clear protagonist, Dunkirk still has you rooting for everyone to make it out alive.

•••

The Prestige might not be Nolan’s biggest film, but it might be his most accomplished film. It’s a sprawling tale of competition, obsession, and sacrifice that never loses itself with spectacle over character. I know I gave the “Best Actor” award to Guy Pearce, but the runners up were between Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman; these two are Nolan characters done to absolute perfection. Both are professional magicians driven by this obsession to Best the other and it comes at the cost of the lives of those around them. While Nolan’s proceeding films would come across as emotionally distant, The Prestige favors its characters over spectacle. Even after you’ve seen the ending, you’ll constantly be finding little clues left behind on further rewatches. The Prestige is Nolan’s best film not because of how big it can go, but because of how personal it goes with its characters and the layers that Nolan and his cast in crew left behind for the audience to discover.

NOLAN RANKINGS: PART 2

Here we go, now we get to the fun stuff!

•••

I know guys, The Dark Knight is objectively better than Batman Begins, but as a pure Batman movie, Begins is the best! I appreciate how Nolan balances the grounded realism with the fantastical elements of the character while never favoring one over the other. The set design for the Narrows is so dirty and gothic and it still remains my favorite interpretation of Gotham City. Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne is full of layers like an onion and it’s the deepest we’ve ever gotten to know the character. No matter how many would argue for Affleck as the best Batman, he doesn’t hold a candle to Bale’s performance! As a Nolan film, it’s great, but as a Batman film, it’s the perfect live-action interpretation of the character we’ve ever gotten.

•••

Following may have been Nolan’s first film, but Memento officially put Nolan on the map as the director of our generation. The editing of Memento is so disorienting and accurately puts you in the head of Guy Pearce’s Leonard Shelby, who suffers from anterograde amnesia. Because of the character’s amnesia, Guy Pearce’s performance as the unreliable narrator always leaves you guessing, but despite that, he’s able to draw out sympathy for a character who’s ultimately a tragic figure. What might seem like a gimmick at first glance is actually a moving character piece about guilt and the lies we tell ourselves to escape them.

•••

Dunkirk is a pure rollercoaster ride and only deserves to be seen in a theater! From its start to its end, it’s always gripping you by the throat and never let’s you have a moment to breathe. For all of you saying there aren’t any characters to care about, please watch Dunkirk again and observe how each character reacts to the events transpiring around them. There isn’t much in terms of dialogue, but each character has something about them that makes them stand out. Dunkirk is the perfect showcase for Nolan’s range and his proficiency as a filmmaker.

•••

Obsession, lies, and dead women are the driving themes in Nolan’s films and while some would argue that Inception was the culmination of all those themes, I think The Prestige did it better. I don’t know why Nolan and Bale don’t work together more often because their collaborations together are always solid. If you’re due for a rewatch, pay close attention to Bale’s performance because he has so many subtle moments that you’d never notice on first viewing. Hugh Jackman was born for this role because it plays up on all his best features as a charismatic performer. No matter how many times I rewatch The Prestige, I’m always finding something new to admire about it.

•••

I’ve only seen Interstellar twice and even on this recent rewatch, it still gave me the same emotional response that I got the first time I saw it. Best score, best cinematography, best Nolan movie! For such a massive film, this is the most personal Nolan’s ever felt for me and it’s incredible how he brings home the themes of love amidst a sprawling space epic. I can’t get enough of Interstellar and from the moment it starts to the moment it ends, Interstellar will take you on an emotional journey that will leave you feeling emotionally fulfilled.

NOLAN RANKINGS: PART 1

Well, brahs, we’ve made it to the end of a journey filled with dead wives, well-dressed protagonists, and a lot of bats. An exciting journey it was, but now it’s time to say goodbye to Nolan as we rank his films from worst to best, so let’s not stand on ceremony. Let’s rank some Nolan!

•••

A serviceable but forgettable Nolan movie. I’m hesitant in calling this his “directorial debut” because while Following has a few Nolan touches, it still largely feels as if he’s still trying to find his voice. It’s a neat blueprint into the director Nolan would eventually become, but the flat characters and misplaced use of nonlinear storytelling keeps it from being anything more than a serviceable neo noir. Speaking of blueprints, the Cobb we see in Following is definitely an early blueprint for the Cobb we eventually get in Inception. It’s a cute student project, but you could skip this one and not miss out on much.

•••

It really hurt me to rank this so low, but if we’re judging this within the context of all of Nolan’s films, this is probably the laziest work he’s done. There’s nothing wrong with the cast, the action, or the cinematography, so why so low? It’s mostly because of how much plot is crammed in with little time to focus on Bruce Wayne, Jim Gordon, or Alfred, who are sidelined for a large portion of the film. Plot holes aren’t an issue for me, but even for a simple meathead like myself, they’re glaringly obvious. I still think the ending is one of my favorite endings ever, but the steps taken to get there were a little jagged. Shoutout to Bane for motivating me to start lifting weights!

•••

The best thing about Tenet is how much of a better action filmmaker Nolan’s become. I loved all the set pieces, especially the fight sequence between the Protagonist and the reverse version of himself. On a technical level, Tenet is a masterpiece, but it severely lacks in any personal stakes or drama that lets you fully immerse yourself into the action. I admire the ambition, but ambition can only take you so far if you don’t have the other essential pieces to make a film emotionally gripping. If you ever wondered what Nolan’s Bond film would look like, this is the closest you’ll ever get to seeing that.

•••

I love the Inceptions, Mementos, and Interstellars, but it’s nice to know that Nolan can also deliver a simple and straightforward story! I love Insomnia; in fact, I’d probably rewatch it more often than I would Inception or even The Dark Knight and it’s because it doesn’t need a high concept to be exciting. The best part of Insomnia isn’t the mystery, but how the focus is mainly on Al Pacino’s character and how he has to come to terms with his guilty conscience. If you’re ever in the mood for a Nolan movie that doesn’t require you to think too hard, then Insomnia is your best bet.

•••

The movie Nolan’s been waiting his entire career to make, and for the most part, it lived up to the hype! There are a ton of inventive set pieces and the score is iconic at this point. The biggest problem for me however, is that I felt distant from the characters more so than I felt during previous viewings. Inception seems to be the beginning of Nolan taking preference of concepts over character. Even so, DiCaprio and Corillard’s performance provide the bare minimum of narrative tension that helped keep me invested. I also want to thank Inception for introducing me to Tom Hardy, my forever man crush!

•••

The Dark Knight is my favorite collaboration between Christopher Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister. I’ve never seen a superhero film shot so beautifully and with so much purpose. Every shot is used to set the mood of each sequence and even without dialogue, the cinematography manages to effectively capture the thrill, terror, and tension in every sequence. Of course, Ledger’s performance is one for the ages and it was lightning in a bottle that won’t be captured for a very long time. Nolan’s ambitions extended even to the comic book genre and the result was a transcendent genre film that continues to resonate within pop culture even to today.

Universal Soldier: Regeneration: Action Flick Friday

Goddamn, this is one bleak action movie!

CINEMATOGRAPHY:

For a straight-to-video action movie, this one actually looks pretty good. I was scrolling through Google and I learned that the cinematographer was Peter Hyams who directed Running Scared, which is one of the best buddy cop films ever made! The best thing about the cinematography is how unflinching it is in capturing the action. Granted, some of the cuts and edits are a bit much for me, but for the most part, the action is shot in gorgeous wide shots that confidently flaunts the choreography and the actors performing them. When it’s not showing buff dudes beating each other up, it’s showing buff dudes emoting and we get a lot of JCVD looking remorseful and tortured. In fact, it’s not just JCVD who looks morose, but the entire film looks bleak and hopeless with its use of damp lighting and muted colors.

You’d think that an action film starring JCVD and Dolph Lundgren would be light and cheesy but Regeneration is anything but! Instead of the bright and lively colors found in most action films of the 80’s and 90’s, the cinematography opts for something that’s much bleaker and colorless and it falls in line with films like Taken which also had a damp color palette. The cinematography also doesn’t shy away from the brutal carnage that it’s characters leave behind. All of the UniSols are nothing more than collateral damage and the cinematography effectively captures that by unceremoniously showing us their deaths. As someone who isn’t particularly fond of droll colors in cinematography, it legitimately works in setting the tone for Regeneration because it’s not about the hero coming out victorious, it’s about the cost of a person’s humanity in the pursuit of violence.

PERFORMANCES:

Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren aren’t particularly great actors, but that’s totally fine because their actions speak louder than their words The best thing director John Hyams does with both actors is letting their faces do the acting rather than giving them dialogue. You can see the weariness in JCVD’s face and it manages to say more than any line of dialogue ever could. The first hour has JCVD’s Luc Deveraux learning to acclimate to normal life and you can see the caged animal inside aching to come out. Once the third act starts, Deveraux’s finally let out of his cage, but instead of feeling like a moment of triumph, it actually feels much more tragic. Violence is the only thing Deveraux knows and no matter how much he tries to suppress it, it’s in his programming to kill and he knows deep down that he’d rather be shooting goons than living a quiet, peaceful life.

Jean-Claude’s quiet and subtle performance is put to the challenge when once Dolph Lundgren shows up as the physically intimidating and mentally unstable Andrew Scott. I’ve loved Dolph Lundgren since Rocky IV so perhaps there’s a bit of a bias here, but I think he’s the best performance in Regeneration. Don’t get me wrong guys, I love JCVD’s performance, but the way Dolph Lundgren makes this mentally unhinged character somewhat sympathetic is pretty impressive. Unlike the other UniSols, including Luc Deveraux to some extent, Andrew Scott seems to have some sort of sentience outside of his basic programming and he questions his existence as just another mindless soldier built solely for combat. Where Luc Devereaux resigns to his violent nature, Andrew Scott looks to break free from his mental shackles and looks for something beyond his programming, even if he does it through violent means. You know exactly how his story ends, but in a way, you can’t help but feel something for the character and in my opinion, he’s the heart and soul of Regeneration.

ACTION/CHOREOGRAPHY:

This movie is eye candy for action freaks like myself! It’s well shot, it’s hyper violent, and the stunts are performed by actual MMA fighters! I’ve never heard about this Andrei Arlovski fella, but as the big bad of the film, his lack of dialogue and commanding screen presence made him an intimidating adversary. Even as an older fellow, JCVD still proves that he can throw down with the younger guys and his fights with Dolph and Andrei are thrilling sequences with bloody resolutions. The action sequences feel a bit like Brawl in Cell Block 99 where the violence looks genuinely unpleasant but you can’t keep yourself from fully turning away. It’s common for an action film to glorify the violence but Regeneration subtly confronts the viewer by taking the violence and having us look at it in a different perspective.

At the start of the film, the U.S. army sends in a batch of UniSols to retrieve the Ukrainian Prime Minister’s kidnapped children from Andrei Arlovski. As we’re shown at the start of the film, The UniSols are essentially Terminators and are tough to kill, but Arlovski mauls them all down with relative ease. The fights between Arlovski and the UniSols are brutal and raw and we’re shown all the carnage with little in the way of sympathy. Before Dolph comes into the movie, most of the deaths bear little in terms of consequence or emotional resonance, but once we begin to question whether these UniSols have some sort of conscience or sentience, the audience is challenged in whether we should be glorifying the violence or be horrified by it.

KICK-ASS OR ASS KICKED?

This one is without a doubt a “Kick-Ass” action film! I know most of the action flicks I’ve reviewed recently have been slow-burns with only a handful of action sequences, but Regeneration has an endless supply of action sequences all throughout its hour-and-a-half runtime. Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren are giving moody performances as aged and tortured soldiers simply looking for inner peace and despite their constant search for it, Regeneration gives us a dour resolution to both of their stories. Some would view this straight-to-video action flick as a dismissible piece of film trash, but beneath all the head bashing and throat cutting, it’s a sobering look into violence, the damage it does, and if there even is a purpose for a man bred solely for war.

Tenet:

My head hurts.

REPPED:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Nolan handle action any better than he does in Tenet. When it’s not trying to be overtly complicated, Tenet works as an absolutely thrilling action film with some of the best set pieces in Nolan’s career. Once again, Nolan’s collaboration with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema yields tremendous rewards as Hoytema is able to shoot the action in a way that is both cinematic and epic while also being easy for the audience to follow. Remember when Nolan spoke out on his admiration for the Fast and Furious franchise? You best believe he took some notes from those movies because the convoy heist and car chase sequences would fit right in with the best set pieces of the Fast franchise. Those two sequences must have been an absolute chore to shoot, but the final product is exciting, tense, and they always keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s not just the set pieces that have gotten an upgrade, but it’s also the close quarters combat that showed the biggest improvement.

It’s really no surprise that John David Washington was a former athlete because he sells the action. The hand-to-hand combat is great not only because of how well it’s shot, but also because of how able and willing Washington is in performing the action. You could argue about his charisma and screen presence, but when it’s time for him to performa stunt, he’s putting his all into the physical performance. The sequence when Washington’s Protagonist is fighting with his reverse self is about as mental as the hallway fight in Inception, but instead of rotating hallways, it’s a fight where both characters are fighting in different realities. Nolan’s come a long way since the shaky cam in Batman Begins and despite the lack of emotional depth, the action manages to stand on its own as an entertaining part of a largely mediocre whole.

NEGGED:

This is probably the first Nolan movie where I was left feeling cold on the characters. I think John David Washington and Robert Pattinson are very charismatic performers, but their characters don’t have much in the way of backstory, which would have really helped make Tenet feel less emotionally detached. The closest we get to an actual character is Elizabeth Debicki, but she’s not nearly as much of a presence as the film tries to make her out to be. If you’ve been waiting for a Bond film directed by Nolan, then Tenet is the film for you as it has globetrotting espionage, guys in stylish suits, and a comical villain who’s evil just for the sake of being evil. Kenneth Branagh’s Sator is an absolute bastard in this movie and that’s fine, but at least give Branagh some more material to work with to make the character memorable and compelling.

The real stakes of the film don’t really come until the end of act two and by then, Sator is still a one dimensional villain whose motives for world destruction carry little to no weight. The best sequences are between Branagh and Debicki who plays his estranged wife who’s trying to get custody of their son. This could have made for good personal stakes, but their relationship never gets much time to flesh out so the end result is just Sator beating up his wife for the whole film until she decides she’s had enough. For some reason, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is in this movie too, but he’s not even a character and also shows up too late to make a real impact. We’re told not to “think about it, just feel it” but it’s hard not to think about Tenet’s concepts when the characters feel hollow.

FINAL VERDICT:

It’s about as ambitious as Inception was, but unlike Inception, Tenet seems to be more interested in its concepts rather than its characters. There are plenty of surface level thrills with great stunts that are being performed by great actors, but it’s ultimately a hollow venture as Tenet prefers to keep the audience at a distance rather than to invite them in. I would have liked more sequences between Washington, Pattinson, and Debicki, but the scenes they do have together are good stuff. Nolan’s displayed tremendous improvement over the span of 11 films and while his filmmaking style continues to evolve, I fear his ambitions might be taking over his ability to tell an emotional, character-driven story.