Those Who Wish Me Dead
Like two other big studio films released this year, “The Little Things” and “The Marksman”, “Those Who Wish Me Dead” might seem more at home in the mid ‘90s – when unsophisticated slick-looking action-thrillers, usually headlined by A-listers, were all the rage.
Based on the Michael Koryta book of the same name, though baring little resemblance to it, “Wish Me Dead” offers Angelina Jolie an easy payday, as a reckless smoke jumper who inadvertently finds herself shielding a young boy from assassins (Aiden Gillen, Nicholas Hoult) in the Montana wilderness. As the bad guys make their way around town, offloading ammo and igniting fires, the feisty jumper and her understandably anxious charge attempt to steer clear of firepower and… fire.
Fans of writer-director Taylor Sheridan (“Wind River”, “Yellowstone”) will likely be slightly disappointed by how slapdash and pulpy “Those Who Wish Me Dead” is but those hankering for a an hour-and-a-half of undemanding entertainment, with some beautiful scenery and a plucky heroine, will find this lean, highly-entertaining star vehicle hits the spot.
Wrath of Man
A time-flipping neo-noir crime tale, “Wrath of Man” is a remake of a 2004 film – “Cash Truck” by Nicolas Boukhrief – about a newly-employed security guard for a cash truck that catches the eye of his colleagues, and upper management, with his precision skills during a heist. This time, it’s bulky Brit Jason Statham protecting the dough.
And as ‘H’s crew tries to figure out where the tight-lipped stranger has come from, and furthermore, what he’s up to, the man inches closer to the score he plans to settle.
Two old friends meet in the middle here. While “Wrath of Man” might be one of director Guy Ritchie’s more straight-forward and less complex creations (at least compared to his earlier work), it’s unarguably one of Statham’s classier, more complex offerings in quite some time (maybe since he last worked with Ritchie?).
Criminally underutilized by Hollywood, Statham plays a far more interesting character here than he has in recent years – see “Fast & Furious”, “The Meg”, “The Expendables” – a clever and interesting “chap” who uses the brain over brain, smartly besting the crooks of the pic (Scott Eastwood makes for a good rogue) with each turn.
Ritchie’s contribution, too, is evident, taking what’s an otherwise fairly standard story and expunging most of the predictability, cliches and fluff from it. The result? A sort-of diet “Departed” by way of classic Clint Eastwood – “Pale Rider” and “High Plains Drifter” immediately coming to mind.
One of the few films screening exclusively on the big screen right now, “Wrath of Man” is well worth the price of admission.
“Spiral”, the producers want to drill into our heads, is set in the same universe as the long-running, blood-churning horror franchise “Saw” but isn’t technically part of the series.
The film-not-known-as-Saw-9, then, might be viewed as both a starring vehicle for Chris Rock (in a rare dramatic turn) and spin-off of a horror series that, let’s admit it, was starting to suffer from a ghastly case of crusty crack. But is it really that different from “Saw”, and it’s seven sequels, that it needed to be separated from its parent?
Like Fincher’s “Se7en”, the pic fixes on a couple of cops (Rock, Max Minghella) who are investigating a series of grisly murders that resemble creative killings of the past.
Despite the insistence to bill as a standalone, director Darren Lynn Bousman and writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger sensibly retain the tried-and-true elements that made the “Saw” films as successful as they’ve been. The iconic villain of those films mightn’t be anywhere in view, and there’s no direct connection to any of the eight films in the series either but those clever, grotesque traps, the twisty final act, and misleading character arcs that we’ve become to expect from the make a bloody, bold return.
While it’s the only film in the ‘franchise’ to be built upon its stars – markedly, Rock, who also reportedly came up with the idea for the film but also Samuel L.Jackson, playing second fiddle as the copper’s pop – “Spiral” isn’t as dissimilar and disconnected to “Saw” as the producers want us to believe.
Where “Spiral” feels like the others is in its in ability to both disturb and delight horror fans in its wonderfully executed traps. Almost obligatory, the fleshy, bloody kill sequences – complete with mysterious host and creepy puppet – fill the frame for at least 40 of the film’s 95-minute runtime.
On the other hand, “Spiral” is also a police procedural drama. As interested in those traps as it is in the aftermath, investigation and motive, the film looks and plays like a gritty, Clinton-era serial killer thriller – most markedly, “Se7en”.
Much of the credit goes to Rock, whose passion and investment in the character and source material, serves as much of the glue.
It’s immediately evident Rock wanted to make a horror movie that also has a message. The social commentary here plays loud and clear, and it’s a smart move – even if the screenplay isn’t quite the match for the logline.
You see, though more sophisticated, and offering up something “different” to the “Saw” films, Stolberg and Goldfinger’s script is also guilty of underestimating the intelligence of its audience. If you don’t guess the outcome of the film within the first 30 minutes, you’re not a big movie watcher.
Small beef aside, “Spiral” still runs rings around most other horror films of late.