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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Dead Battery

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday September 3, 05:16 pm
Who knew we’d be pining for Jason Statham?

 The Transporter: Refueled

Cineplex

1/5

In a perverse way, you have to hand it to Luc Besson: The number of mediocre action flicks (the Taken saga, Colombiana, Three Days to Kill…) he’s somehow convinced studios to let him make over the last few years is impressive — paper-thin plots, repetitive car chases and terrible dialogue be damned. The man is still coasting on The Professional and The Fifth Element (movies that in hindsight seem directed by someone else) and thanks to the box office take of 2014’s Lucy, it looks like we’re stuck with him for at least a few more years.

But even for Besson’s insanely low standards, The Transporter: Refueled is bottom of the barrel. The fourth entry in the saga doesn’t even have Jason Statham, who starred in the previous chapters (or, for that matter, the guy from the TV spinoff). It seems even Statham can recognize a thoroughly dead horse when he sees one — and this is a guy that keeps appearing in The Expendables series.

The replacement is relative newcomer Ed Skrein (the first Daario Naharis in Game of Thrones). Instead of making the character his own, Skrein chooses to frown consistently and lower his voice for an hour and a half. The result? Let’s just say it becomes clear that Statham brought more to the role than his most obvious traits.

The plot, if you can call it that, is as follows: Four prostitutes decide to get back at the Russian mafioso who “employs” them by stealing from him and his lieutenants. Predictably, they hire Frank “The Transporter” Martin to drive them around as they execute their plan in the most impractical ways imaginable (goofy, sexy costumes and complicated schemes that fall apart at the first bump).

Frank threatens to walk due to the harebrained quality of the heist, but the girls hold Transporter Sr. (Ray Stevenson) captive, threatening to kill him unless Frank holds up his end of the bargain. Bad one-liners and vehicular mayhem ensue. As movies featuring well-dressed sociopaths go, even Hitman: Agent 47 is slightly better than this, which should give you an idea of the dreck you’re in for here.

How bereft of ideas is Refueled, you ask? Well, Frank’s dad gets kidnapped TWICE to advance the plot. Thankfully, Stevenson strikes the right mood and provides some levity to this idiotic enterprise. And at times, the rampant mediocrity becomes camp and provides at least a smidge of entertainment: The opening scene features the aforementioned gangsters gunning down a group of pimps, taking over their business, “hiring” their girls and driving away in less than five minutes. (They may not even have moved the bodies.)

Besson (he’s not officially the director here, but his fingerprints are all over the thing) has an interesting approach to female characters: He condemns exploitation of women while parading around models in skimpy clothes solely for the lads’ enjoyment. More than an exception, it’s his modus operandi.

The ending is phenomenally tone-deaf, and the whole exercise is a waste of time.

 

The Wolfpack

Broadway

3.5/5

The winner of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize offers up the truly strange story of the Angulo family — and specifically, the seven siblings who were holed up in a Lower East Side apartment in Manhattan for almost their entire childhoods.

The teens (six boys and one girl) have rarely seen the outside world. Their dad prevented them from leaving their small apartment while they were growing up, so their only experience of society has been through movies — thousands of them, in fact. In spite of their circumstances, they do their best to achieve normalcy by recreating those films.

Superhero flicks and crime dramas are the brothers’ favourite subgenres, mostly since the large number of male characters they involve allows a role for every one of them. But a cute setup (the brothers re-enacting Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs) gives way to a much darker reality: While the teens are pleasant, home-schooled and oddly well-adjusted, their perception of life outside is understandably warped, enough that we fear for their future.

Director Crystal Moselle (who ran into the boys during one of their rare outings) shot the Angulo family for over four years. During this period, the siblings — tentatively at first, but with growing resolve — conquer the fear that clouded their development. The doc understands that the pursuit of freedom is instinctive: While consistently taught to fear the outside, the teens can’t wait to experience it.

The Wolfpack never comes across as patronizing. For the most part the filmmaker treats the kids as peers and, in turn, the Angulos reward Moselle with endearing openness. Here’s a director who’s clearly aware of the golden rule of documentary filmmaking: If you have good subjects, let them do the talking.

 

Mistress America

Roxy (coming soon)

3.5/5

It’s almost impossible to overstate how much good Greta Gerwig has done for director Noah Baumbach’s career. Before the seminal Frances Ha (an important movie disguised as an indie), Baumbach was seething in his own bitterness. Margot at the Wedding and Greenberg were such angry films that they were hard to sit through.

But with Gerwig on board, Baumbach has found a niche: Smart, capable groups of millennials addled by too many stimuli and too few opportunities.

Mistress America focuses on two Gen-Y specimens: The know-it-all college freshman and the scatterbrained young adult coming to the realization that her lifestyle isn’t sustainable. Tracy (Lola Kirke) can’t find her place in school and struggles to find likeminded people, so she reaches out to her would-be stepsister, Brooke (Gerwig), a free spirit who seems to have thousands of projects but no capacity for follow-up. Tracy sees Brooke for what she is, but also realizes that she’s both energetic and pleasant enough to hang out with.

Here, the film takes an unexpected turn. Tracy uses Brooke as the central figure of a (somewhat critical) short story, which allows her to gain some attention on campus. But her ruthless abstraction, we learn, doesn’t begin to cover the complexity of the real Brooke: She’s an actual, relatable person, and Tracy only captures the stereotype.

While slighter than Frances Ha (in the final half-hour, the film becomes a Frasier-like farce), Mistress America takes a stand against generational oversimplifications. As good times at the movies go, Mistress America provides them in spades, with enough of an edge to leave an impression.

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