A master thief has to elude a master detective.
Directed by Michael Mann
Starring Robert de Niro and Al Pacino
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
Michael Mann is a director who cares about process. His debut, Thief, spent minutes watching James Caan crack open a safe from start to finish. With Manhunter, Mann founded a genre by dissecting crime scenes and murderous psychology. If one needs to know how to lay siege to a 18th century colonial fort, The Last of the Mohicans contains a handy manual. Mann’s attention to detail is as meticulous as the characters he puts onscreen, and that’s certainly true in Heat, his modern masterpiece (as opposed to Mohicans, his period masterpiece. The man’s multi-masterpieced). The director cares about competency, and he creates characters who share in that admiration even when the fruits of their practiced labors are diametrically opposed. Heat is at the pinnacle of this kind of film, wherein talented character are believably sculpted, spun up, and let loose to do their thing.
Only apple pie and John Denver come close to being as quintessentially American as guns, and “Free Fire” gives us plenty of two out of three. The night before watching “FF” I watched the first “John Wick” (because I’m often late to some parties); a highly stylized action movie with plenty of action and gun violence. I enjoyed it very much. But the violence in “Wick” was so coordinated and scripted, as it should be, that it left no illusions that it was comic book fantasy. Two shots to the gut, one to the head. Bam. That’s the assassin’s signature in movies and books.
After 14 long years and sequels to “Toy Story (fine),” “Finding Nemo (sure),” “Monsters Inc. (ehh…)”, and a double-dose of “Cars (WHAT?!),” Pixar finally gives us the one movie that actually went out of its way to set up a sequel in “Incredibles 2.” The original, “The Incredibles,” holds up today as one of Pixar’s less-weighty and joyful movies in their catalog. Did the sequel do the same? Indeed it did, and maybe a little too closely.
Having directed the groundbreaking action flick John Wick together in 2014, stuntmen-turned-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch parted ways three years later. With each releasing their own films in 2017, Stahelski and Leitch invited a friendly contest between them. Stahelski’s John Wick sequel was more of the same, stylish but drained of the emotional throughline that made the original’s high body count somewhat meaningful instead of outright exhausting. With Atomic Blonde, Leitch appears to be uninterested in repeating himself outside of capturing more visceral, bone-crunching action. His film trades the criminal underworld for Cold War espionage, casts a far-better actor in the lead, and retains a passable amount of resonance, all combining to demonstrate that he’s the more talented director of the two.
Zhang Yimou’s first English-language film sparked a lot of misguided controversy about the presence of Matt Damon in a fantasy film fought along The Great Wall of China. Here’s another white savior who’ll bring technology and advanced tactics to a non-white civilization while hundreds of Chinese extras are killed just out of frame. Those that prematurely complained should have done their homework, because Yimou’s reputation is that of the Chinese equivalent of Michael Bay. While both are sometimes blisteringly critical of their respective governments, they still work hand in hand with the seats of power. Just as Bay needs Pentagon approval to include all that authentic gear in his militaristic films, Yimou needs the approval of the Chinese government to get his films released in Chinese theaters. The Politburo’s not about to sign off on a film that devalues their ancient nation’s culture and innovation. Viewed through the lens of a Bay-sian exercise in nationalism, The Great Wall isn’t as easily dismissed. If the USA can have their jingoistic action romps and export them around the world, why can’t China?
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.