Haywire Directed by: Steven Soderbergh Written by: Lem Dobbs (screenplay) Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender and Michael Douglas
Like a virus that won’t go away, Mallory (Gina Carano) jumps around the globe, slowing down or killing anything that gets in her path. That is largely where the narrative similarities between her story and the one from director Steven Soderbergh’s last film, Contagion, end though.
Haywire is curious when placed with the rest of his catalog in that it focuses on a single individual but also contains a large ensemble cast. Usually his films are one (Erin Brockovich) or the other (Traffic). At the center of this semi-departure is MMA fighter Gina Carano, who Soderbergh saw fighting on TV and decided to build a movie around. Carano’s ferociously physical performance as Mallory is by far the movie’s greatest asset. Soderbergh films most of the action sequences in confined areas, letting her utilize the environment in astonishing and brutal ways.
Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol Directed by: Brad Bird Written by: Josh Applebaum & André Nemec (screenplay) Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton and Simon Pegg
Tom Cruise commits his body completely to a role, often at the expense of character. Many of his most iconic performances, including this long-running gig as Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible series, have him performing all the major action hero duties at a break neck pace.
In this latest installment, tacked with “Ghost Protocol” instead of the number 4, Cruise performs the biggest stunts of the series yet. Brad Bird, director of Pixar films like The Incredibles and Ratatouille as well as lesser known ones like The Iron Giant, makes his live action debut and is tasked with controlling this chaos.
It turns out the man behind the gruesome yet oddly beautiful Japanese horror film Audition has the blood for hard-boiled samurai action. 13 Assassins has perhaps the most gloriously choreographed battle sequence since Helm’s Deep from Lord of the Rings. Yes, it is that good.
Outside of that nearly 45 minute slice of cinematic glory is a fairly standard if beautifully shot good vs. evil story. The aging samurai Shinzaemon (Kôji Yakusho) is taken from his quiet days of fishing and secretly tasked by an official in the Japanese Shogun regime to kill the tyrant Naritsugu (Garô Inagaki), who will take a spot on the council and inevitably disrupt the peace with his war-craving lunacy.
X-Men: First Class Directed by: Matthew Vaughn Written by: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, & Matthew Vaughn Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Kevin Bacon
Following up his post-modern polarizer Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn has decided to make an actual superhero movie. Not only that, but he also decides to make an origin story. It’s hard not to doubt his sincerity, because he had such gleeful fun deconstructing the genre in his blood-splattered last feature.
X-Men: First Class is nowhere near as bleak and melancholy as the original two films directed by Bryan Singer. It takes place in the 60s at the height of the Cold War, with its groovy suits and groovier language. James McAvoy seems to be the only one equipped with that vocabulary, though. Waltzing onto the university scene as a physics professor who also takes shots in the bar with his students, this isn’t the dry, wheelchair-confined Professor Xavier that you’re used to.
Hanna Directed by: Joe Wright Written by: Seth Lochhead & David Farr (screenplay) Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, and Olivia Williams
Looking at a DNA report that concludes the subject is “Abnormal,” is probably the last thing a teenager needs to see. Though when said teenager has just finished disposing a handful of government agents like life were on the “Easy” setting, it may be the least of her worries. But Hanna (Saorise Ronan) still looks slightly wounded when looking at that piece of paper. It’s one of the few moments director Joe Wright stops to smell the emotion in this thrilling exercise in kinetic action.
Hanna begins in the arctic wilderness, where her father (Eric Bana) has kept and trained her since he went rogue from the CIA. She was bred for tactical assassinations, something he infuses with his own agenda. Hanna is tasked with taking down Marissa (Cate Blanchett) the woman he claims has killed her mother. Wright never lingers in loss or death in this film, putting Hanna in constant motion throughout. It is a vision of what last year’s Kick-Ass would’ve looked like had the subject been only focused on Hit-Girl and her father.
The Tourist Directed by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck Written by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie, & Julian Fellowes (screenplay) Starring: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, and Timothy Dalton
Slicing through the frame with vintage glamor and movie star sensibility, Angelina Jolie always captures the gaze of her audience. Whether she be in a feature film like this one or in Africa with her family, we follow her.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, we follow a man who’s been mistaken for someone else on a cross-country journey of suspense with swerving trains, diving planes, and classic automobiles. Cary Grant, as big a movie star as there ever was, plays that man. Here it’s Johnny Depp, but you can’t help but keep your eyes on Ms. Jolie.
Unstoppable Directed by: Tony Scott Written by: Mark Bomback Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, and Kevin Dunn
If you explain the basic concept of this movie (man v. physics) or any of the countless others it borrows from, people may think it sounds dull. In the movies, time is one of the biggest perpetuaters of suspense and conflict. Diffuse the bomb, rescue the falling citizen, stop the train- we’ve seen it all and then some when it comes to race against the clock movies. In the hands of a Hitchcock it can be a deadly, precise cinematic weapon. Tony Scott also knows how to utilize it with his series of fast cuts and unnerving suspense, and his characters are always racing against some kind of clock, but I don’t need to say that he’s no Hitchcock.
Here, Denzel Washington (returning from Scott’s only just-forgotten The Taking of Pelham 123) plays Frank, a 28-year blue collar railway veteran getting ready to endure a forced retirement. By his side is newbie Will (Chris Pine), a typically spunky up-and-comer who got this job because of who he knows at the top. Time makes another appearance here in this attempted generational conflict. Mediating this conflict in a command center is Connie (Rosario Dawson), who helps Will and Frank against the orders from her corporate masters.
Red Directed by: Robert Schwentke Written by: Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber (screenplay), Warren Ellis & Cully Hammer (graphic novel) Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary Louise-Parker, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren
How do you confront aging? Many don’t, avoiding the fact that they’re retired with hobbies, community service, or a condo in Florida. The aging agents of Red charge straight ahead with guns blazing.
If this movie were to be described in one way, it would have to be an adolescent revenge fantasy aimed at Baby Boomers. It’s for every mid-life-crisis-stricken adrenaline junkie who wants to make the whipper-snappers pay for looking at them like they’re unhip. Of course, since this is a big-budget Hollywood action film with A-list names, there’s something everyone will enjoy, even if none of it is anything new or even good.
Salt Directed by: Phillip Noyce Written by: Kurt Wimmer Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofer, and Daniel Olbrychski
In the age of the 3D cash-in, Hollywood has been lax on its movie stars. Unless you call Sam Worthington, “star” of Avatar and Clash of the Titans, one, you don’t actually find many legitimate celebrities inhabiting these movies for more than a cameo. You can say what you want about explosions and gun shots flying at you in 3D, but if you don’t have star power behind it, your movie will just be replaced by the next quick sell.
Predators Directed by: Nimród Antal Written by: Alex Litvak & Michael Finch (screenplay) Starring: Adrian Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, and Laurence Fishburne
If someone had told me at the beginning of the year that Adrian Brody would be the sci-fi star of 2010, I would’ve either chuckled or responded with “Yeah, so?” With his performance in Splice as a genetic engineer he gave us an emotional core, and with Predators he returns to the King Kong action hero he surprised us with in 2005.
Predators is another franchise reboot, and it’s not too bad. For the action-junkies out there looking to avoid Despicable Me or any of the other 3D cash-ins of the week, here is a semi-intelligent, well-made thriller. It borrows from The Most Dangerous Game, which in its original form is a demented guy who brings people to his island so he can hunt them. Here, it’s high-tech aliens.