Skip to content

Tag: action

HBO’s ‘Barry’ Has Balls

It’s rare that I come across a piece of entertainment that I love. I am hyper-critical and as such I’ve decided to slow my posts. I’m not interested in putting more negativity out there. The Internet’s already over-flowing with it. So going forward, I’ll only be sharing things I really enjoy. Let’s get to it.

Barry PosterHBO’s series Barry, starring Bill Hader, is the best new show on TV. It’s about a emotionally distant hitman in search of inner purpose and meaning. When a contract takes him to Los Angeles, it inadvertently leads him to an acting class where he gets bit by the acting bug. A conflict ensues as Barry tries to balance his job as a hitman with his newfound passion. The show feels a bit like Breaking Bad – it’s about gangsters and assassins in suburban environments. While that show was about a man at the end of his rope – desperate enough to turn to crime – this one is the reverse. Barry doesn’t want to be a killer. He tries to justify his job by saying he only takes out the bad guys. When he stumbles across Gene Cousineau’s (Henry Winkler) acting class, he finds a girl who captures his interest and a new way to express the emotions that are bubbling within.

It’s Three Genres in One.

The show is a deft balance of comedy, action and drama. All three elements are in play, in balance, and working perfectly. The scripts are funny, emotionally engaging and at times shocking. Barry is written as realistically as can be for such a tale. This is not a Will Ferrell comedy. The stakes are real and so are the characters’ choices. Hader’s Barry is always true to character and his motivations lead to interesting plot turns. Most comedies don’t have the balls to upset the audience emotionally. Barry doesn’t care. It’s not here to please everyone – it’s true to itself. The protagonist is three-dimensional and he makes choices you wouldn’t. The situation is played for laughs, drama and action, but it never denigrates it’s main character.

It’s a Showcase for New Directing Talent

While the show is not an action show per se – the scattered moments are standout and would suffice in any quality action film. In particular, episodes 5 & 6 step up the mix of visuals and sound into true action-artistry. Keep your eyes on the Director, Hiro Murai, he’s gonna be huge. He even directed a music video that you might have heard of – Childish Gambino’s This is America. It should also be noted that series star Bill Hader co-created the show and wrote and directed three episodes. I think we’ve just barely glimpsed his true talent. He’s elevated himself above silly comedian and I can’t wait to see what comes next from him.

The Actor’s are Enjoying Themselves.

The performances are all wonderful as well, with Henry Winkler in particular standing out. This is his best role since he was the Fonz. Really. I loved every minute that he was onscreen. Bill Hader is strong. Sarah Goldberg as his love interest does an amazing job as a self-obsessed ingenue and love interest. And Anthony Carrigan as Chechnyan gangster, Noho Hank, provides much of the comedic relief with his fascinating line readings.

It Doesn’t Overstay It’s Welcome.

The show is paced right with eight, thirty minute episodes. I watched it all the way through twice. I wish other shows would take a page from this playbook and stop dumping thirteen hours per season. It diminishes the entertainment value. You can binge this sucker in four hours. HBO has already renewed it for season two. If you’re looking for something to replace that crime-in-suburbia vibe that Breaking Bad gave you – this is it. Watch it now or wait for it to sweep the Emmy’s. I don’t think diversity pandering can steal the prize this time. Barry is too fucking good at it’s job.

‘Upgrade’ is B Movie Bliss

UpgradeUpgrade is rousing, low-brow, sci-fi trash. It plays dumb, dazzles the viewer with gruesome violence, but delivers the goods in the end. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a good cyborg film. This is a cheaply made release from Blumhouse, but the lack of funds has lead to structural ingenuity in the writing. Here the upgrade is just a computer chip. It interfaces between hero, Grey Trace’s brain stem, and broken back. He can talk to it. Conversation between man and machine is the hook.

It takes you on a ride.

The fresh approach in this film is the way the upgrade supplements Grey Trace’s confidence and ambitions. It allows us to sympathize with a thinly drawn character because the protagonist himself is only a passenger in his body. The machine, known as STEM is a physical middleman and assistant to his host, played by Logan Marshall-Green. This concept makes for some wildly original action scenes that are motivated purely by STEM’s character. A word of warning – this is a hard edged action film with intense violence. It is not whimiscal, it is not for kids. It will make grown-men gasp.

Get ready for Déjá Vu Again.

You may know Marshall-Green as that asshole from Prometheus who looks like Tom Hardy. Strangely, Hardy will be in Venom later this year giving a similar “action-hero-passenger” performance. From the look of the trailers we have a fantasy/sci-fi theme-battle shaping up. I haven’t seen the likes of this since Dark City and The Matrix told the same story in two different genres. I’m willing to place my bet on Upgrade being the better film. For fans of b-movies and cyborgs – this one is a MUST WATCH.

[adinserter name=”Upgrade”]

‘The Foreigner’ is a Bore for Chan Fans

The Foreigner PosterThe Foreigner is Jackie Chan’s first return to U.S. theaters since 2010’s remake of The Karate Kid. I’ve been a fan of the clown prince of kung-fu since the mid-90’s when I saw Drunken Master 2 for the first time. That film opened my eyes to a level of martial arts choreography that I didn’t know was possible. I’ve been watching his action-comedies ever since. I was even a founding member of his USA fan club. (Enjoy this time capsule.) So this movie came out of left field for me.

Old sad Jackie? Was he taking up the broken hero in search of vengeance routine? Yep. Pretty much. The only twist here is that the film is so solidly put together that it’s hard to critique. Director Martin Campbell, manages to take a rather mediocre script and film the hell out of it. He plays the beats in ways that defy our expectations. It’s all things, small and large – like which weapon will Jackie use? Who’s really bad and who’s really in control? It’s really quite a professional job, but it’s not enough to save the uninspired story.

Who’s the star of this film?

After sitting through enough title cards to ask, “just how many production companies does it take to make a Jackie Chan film?” I got my answer. None. This isn’t a Jackie Chan film. It plays like a pseudo-political, action-thriller. The Foreigner featured an attention getting opening and then proceeded to bore me with conversation. After about 35mins, Jackie finally took action and the film picked up in pace. Surprisingly, it morphed into a Pierce Brosnan picture co-staring Jackie. Brosnan is quite good as a UK Government representative with ties to the Irish Republican Army. In fact, he seems to be from another film entirely. Clearly, he was hired because of his working relationship with this director on the Bond films. He adds class to a movie in which none was expected.

Chan as character actor.

As we progress, Jackie becomes a Rambo/Macgyver boogieman rather than the usual action hero. He even plays it sorta crazy. It’s a different kind of performance for him. He’s covered in soot and riding the line between righteous hero and deranged stalker. His acting is on point, but is that what we want from him? He manages to mix it up in a few fights with acrobatics and kung-fu, but it’s dialed back in this Western feeling production. The realism is such that people who get punched fall down. They don’t spring back up for five minutes of fight choreography. That can be refreshing to see, but I wanted the man’s specialty – humorous fight scenes.

Why so serious?

Ultimately, the ending is unsatisfying because we haven’t spent enough time with Jackie’s character. Meanwhile, Brosnan gets a fully developed arc. The film is a competent affair. However, there’s nothing new being tried and the movie wastes the world’s most talented physical comedian in a role better suited to Bruce Willis. That’s the cardinal sin here. There’s no humor at all in the film. Jackie is never funny. Neither is anybody or anything else. That absence coupled with the general predictability of the outcome makes it a dud. While the film is far better made than one would asume, it’s not going to make anyone’s top ten list.

‘Baby Driver’ is Edgar Wright’s iPod commercial

Baby Driver, the latest film from writer/director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) is a caper movie set to punchy music. The humor is subdued by comparison to the director’s previous works. He’s created something more dramatic, though it maintains a heavy style and a dependence on over-the-top characters. Like Pulp Fiction, this film makes nods to pop-culture, but the references are mostly musical. The eponymous Baby, as played by Ansel Elgort is a getaway driver who can’t perform without his earbuds. His tunes create a musical backdrop for the film. Ansel’s performance is relaxed and compelling. I wish he’d been given more chance to emote. Instead he’s often a passive participant despite his character’s gift behind the wheel. This forces the story to depend largely on its antagonists to drive the plot forward.

It’s slow on the straightways, fast on the curves.

Despite an energizing opening, the action drags in spots. There’s a quirky love interest for our lead and a subplot about a deaf man who needs tending. These scenes were the least gratifying. Baby doesn’t seem to want much and so the pace can wander. The momentum depends largely on his reactions to the other characters. This is so pronounced that the middle of the film almost ran out of gas. Eventually the obstacles return when Jamie Foxx shows up to insert some tension back into the film. He’s helped by Jon Hamm (who’s talent is wearing a suit) and the always engaging Kevin Spacey.

It devolves into 80’s action tropes.

The last third of the film maintains a dependence on rotating music tracks, but otherwise starts to lose its charm and take on the feel of an action genre film. The goals of the protagonist finally manifest. Ironically, I found Baby more interesting when we first met him, before he’d decided he wanted to take charge. The film was on point during the chases, but no entertainment bars were raised. Your mileage may vary. If you’re in your early 20’s there’s a good chance you’ll identify with the main character. He’s a mid-2000’s time capsule. Similarly, if you’re a music geek who likes car chases and cheesy crime films then this one’s for you.

‘Killing Gunther’ Assassinated 90 Minutes of My Life

Killing Gunther is a mockumentary send-up of assassin films. It plays more like an SNL skit than a movie. A camera crew follows around a team of hitmen who seek to kill another hitman. The humor mostly falls flat although these actors have been funny in other things. Better luck to Taran Killiam on his second directorial outing. It’s on Amazon Prime now so you can fast forward to Arnold Schwarzenegger or wait it out like I did. He only shows up in the last half hour. The film tries to make his appearance a surprise, but the whole marketing campaign was built on his involvement. In fact, the trailer makes him look like he’s the star of the film. Mostly he’s discussed but not seen. If you have a penchant for killers being followed by camera crews, absurd violence and Arnold you will definitely be disappointed by this film. If none of those things interest you you will claw your eyes out.

A better mockumentary.


Now onto something awesome – Man Bites Dog (1992). Equivalent schtick, this time a camera crew follows around a serial killer. If you want to watch a great mockumentary this 90’s Belgian film is the way to go. Unlike with Killing Gunther the filmmakers are in command of the medium – nothing falls flat. It feels like a film, rather than an expanded skit with a lack of characterization. Here’s the catch – can you get along with subtitles? Do you enjoy black & white photography? If you can handle those two things and you have a morbid sense of humor you’ll love it.

© 2024 by Maximilian Gray