Tag Archives: Casino Royale

Not a Fitting End for Paul Walker — “Brick Mansions”

Brick Mansions lead

If you’ve seen the trailer for Brick Mansions, you should be expecting three things from the film. One, the late, great Paul Walker, who exuded enough casual charm and quiet heart to keep the Fast and Furious franchise going through some pretty rough days. Two, a showcase of Parkour, the French free-running style that allows expert practitioners to leap rooftop-to-rooftop at full sprint, or scale 10-story buildings faster than you or I could climb the stairs. Three, a cogent story involving a gangster who’s hijacked a weapon of mass destruction and threatens to destroy Detroit with it, and the cop and felon who have to team up in order to disarm it.

Well, at least it has Paul Walker, who plays the police officer, Damien. Before his untimely death in a traffic accident, Walker’s claim to fame wasn’t being a terribly dynamic actor, although he did do some nice work in Flags of Our Fathers. Instead, what he offered was perhaps the hardest thing for an actor to convey – earnestness. It’s the same reason we once bought Kevin Costner as Robin Hood – as an audience, we simply trusted him. The same went for Walker – he wasn’t a great actor, but his bright-eyed enthusiasm always made a film better. It’s a shame he won’t get to bring that charm to other films, and it’s a shame that Brick Mansions, the last film he fully completed shooting, doesn’t give us a quiet character moment or two with Damien in which to consider and appreciate that earnestness.

Not many have seen District B13, the French movie on which Brick Mansions is based. Both films involve a ghetto that’s been walled off from the rest of the city. Both involve politicians who excuse creating this lawless, artificial prison as a way to make the rest of the city safer. Both realize that, in historical terms, ghettos are something the politically powerful create only to contain those who most threaten to take away that power.

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They’re both Parkour movies. Parkour’s most famous moment occurred when Daniel Craig took over the Bond franchise in Casino Royale. Where his quarry expertly climbed girders and leaped through tiny windows, Bond famously improvised an elevator and smashed through the door. If you’re still not familiar with Parkour, it’s very worth looking it up on YouTube.

Brick Mansions has some rather good Parkour, featuring co-founder of the art, David Belle. Belle plays the felon, Lino, but over-editing makes his Parkour unrecognizable. A single jump might be edited into three or four different shots. We don’t see the full choreography of any leap, and it’s the full picture – the difficulty, the twisting of anatomy, the physics-bending “how did he do that?” of Parkour that’s utterly butchered here.

As for story, I ought to be fair: the original District B13 didn’t have a very functional story either. Brick Mansions is a beat-for-beat remake, so I wouldn’t expect it to fare much better. How Mansions fails, however, is by removing any sense of real threat. There may be a neutron bomb on a rocket aimed straight at downtown Detroit, but…these gangsters are woeful. Auctioning the bomb back off to the police, gang boss Tremaine (rapper RZA) asks for $30 million. I know it’s Detroit and all, but I still felt like he needed to have the same conversation Dr. Evil had with Scott Evil about monetary inflation in Austin Powers.

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Moreover, the gangsters have countless numbers of henchmen ready to give chase, but they only ever guard their most valuable assets (prisoners, the rocket itself) with a single lackey. Have the rest of the henchmen unionized? Are they on a mandated lunch break? Is Tremaine trying to save costs – is it a Sunday and he doesn’t want to pay them overtime? Why is the rocket halfway across the city anyway; why not just put it on Tremaine’s own roof, where his hundreds of henchmen are?

Is Brick Mansions good? Not really. Is it watchable? Imagine me shrugging noncommittally in response. It does have Paul Walker, though, and that really does count for something. See it if you’re a fan, but otherwise rent a Fast and Furious movie for Walker or District B13 for the Parkour. And if you’re really looking for a martial arts gangster epic, The Raid 2 might still be playing somewhere.

Brick Mansions is the scavenger’s quest of PG-13 qualifications – gunplay, action, violence, language, and some pretty needless and ham-handed sexual menace.

Watch these. They’ll ease the pain. You do any of this at home, you’re an idiot:


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Parkour, like any movement style or martial art, is for everyone:


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And leave it to the Russians to turn it into a meditation on facing death:

Store Brand Spy — “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the sort of spy movie that features two attractive, young actors meant to get audiences into the theater and two older, established actors meant to give the scenario at play its gravitas. Jack Ryan is played by Chris Pine, best known for his Captain Kirk in the Star Trek reboot. We never get enough of a quiet moment for Pine to communicate who Ryan really is. The closest we get is a scene in which he meets with his handler in Moscow, Harper (Kevin Costner). Ryan’s just survived an attempt on his life, he’s being followed, and he’s shaken. Pine is good, but one of Costner’s talents is that he automatically carries an audience’s goodwill into any movie. It’s surprising when he becomes dull so quickly.

Luckily, Shadow Recruit boasts Shakespearian heavyweight Kenneth Branagh. As Cherevin, the Russian baddie with a plan to collapse the United States, however, he fails to feel intimidating or scary. That’s two “howevers” in the first two paragraphs. That’s never a good sign. Instead, the two older actors feel like they’re just collecting paychecks, which is strange considering Branagh directed the movie.

Chris Pine and Keira Knightley, as Ryan’s girlfriend Cathy, exude the energy their elders lack. Pine himself is an excellent mimic. You can see him channel the other actors who’ve played Ryan before him – Alec Baldwin, who launched the character from book to film in The Hunt for Red October, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck. Pine adopts Ford’s jaded tics and habits during the action, but plays his cover identity as a Wall Street compliance officer more like Baldwin and Affleck. When Ryan pretends to be drunk, Pine even infuses him with some William Shatner. It’s the wrong franchise, but I’m sure you can imagine it works anyway. At some point, a director’s going to realize Pine has talent that exceeds his leading man looks and give him something more challenging.

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT

Cathy is the sort of thankless, supporting role in which Knightley excels. We’ve seen her in so many breathy, period roles (Pirates of the Caribbean, Anna Karenina) that it’s difficult to remember she plays modern parts with a great deal of expression and exuberance. That’s the biggest problem. When Ryan and Cherevin are sitting opposite each other at dinner, each knowing who the other is, we shouldn’t feel as if Cathy – accidentally roped into a dangerous situation – commands the room.

The reasons most see a spy movie are for the tense spycraft, jigsaw plot mechanics, and exciting action. As for spycraft, Shadow Recruit has all of one scene – Ryan breaks into a secure building the exact same way you’ve seen in a dozen other spy movies and every other Hawaii Five-O episode.

The plot itself concerns Cherevin’s attempts to create a terror attack on U.S. soil and dump trillions of investments in the aftermath, crashing America’s economy. Rather than dealing with any real details as to how this works, Harper keeps on telling Ryan that it’s just too complicated for him to understand, so could Ryan deal with it instead? Nevermind that this means an entire spy agency is risking war on a lowly analyst’s unconfirmed hunch.

There are three action setpieces. The first is a brawl in a bathroom that is a nearly exact replica of the prologue in Casino Royale. The second and third are both car chases that lack any sense of clarity. At one point, a villain you believe has been ditched suddenly reappears in the back of a van, trying to wire a bomb. How’d he get back inside the speeding vehicle? By the power of bad editing. (Come to think of it, that would be a great power for a superhero.) If this film made anything clear, it’s that Branagh cannot direct a car chase.

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Pine and Knightley both deserve another chance at these characters, but with a better script and a new director. Shadow Recruit wants to be one of Daniel Craig’s Bond films or a Matt Damon Bourne movie, but those two franchises repeatedly took storytelling risks to be successful. Shadow Recruit shies away from risk, doesn’t trust its characters with a plot, and trips over its own action. Worst of all, as the film’s established anchors, Costner and Branagh just feel like they’re running lines until the studio comes to its senses and hires Gary Oldman.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is rated PG-13 for violence and brief language.