Tag Archives: Chris Hemsworth

Stunning Action, Garbled Heart — “Extraction”

An action movie tells its story through the overcoming of obstacles – that usually translates into the killing of other humans. It doesn’t stop us from watching. The violence itself can be cathartic. A few action movies get to have their cake and eat it, too. They thrill us with their violence while also pointing out how violent cycles are reinforced. This veers into some meta and self-critical territory. After all, by thrilling in an action movie like “Extraction”, we’re partaking in the violence ourselves.

Does having an outlet allow it to escape, or by subscribing to the excitement of it, are we also reinforcing its lessons? Probably a bit of both. Yet action movies rarely find a place to exist within this. It’s easier and often more fulfilling of our expectations to just see the action unfold. The tropes and cliches within these movies help give them structure, but we rarely examine them.

“Extraction” does a bit of this through its writing and Chris Hemsworth’s leading performance. His charm and comedic timing would seem not to come into play for a role as dramatic and dour as this one. Tyler Rake is a mercenary who takes risky assignments in the hope he’ll die on one of them. He still pursues them responsibly, with training, a tactical mind, and a sense of self-preservation. His suicidal desires form one of those structural cliches, a plot shortcut to communicate to audiences a movie’s desperate tone – except “Extraction” pushes this a little bit further at intervals throughout the movie.

The assignment he takes is to find a kidnapped boy in Bangladesh. The boy, Ovi, is the son of India’s biggest drug dealer. The kidnappers work for Bangladesh’s biggest drug dealer. A positive view of South Asian culture this isn’t. Of course, what starts as a relatively smooth operation soon goes off the rails. Rake and Ovi find themselves trapped in the city, being chased by both gangs and a corrupt police force.

First, the good: “Extraction” regularly presents dialogue, sequences, and visual motifs of how cycles of violence are reborn and perpetuated. It doesn’t exactly deep dive into it; but these things are bubbling near the surface every time the action relents for a moment. Hemsworth has the ability (and not one I would have guessed at) to use his smile and charm in extremely subtle ways here. I’m confident he’s one of the best comedic actors working, but what it’s sometimes easy to forget is how much those same skills can lend themselves to drama. What we see in Rake is someone who’s depressed and performs brief moments of being OK for the people around him. This is only needed in a few scenes, but it’s enough for Hemsworth to establish a surprisingly full character who feels real. He does a lot with little room for it, and that’s to Hemsworth’s credit. Nothing in what the film pursues here is revolutionary or turns the tropes it uses on their heads, but what is here is effective in making the characters we follow feel substantial.

The action scenes are the standout here. They’re the reason for coming, and they can range from good to exquisite. Expect quick, brutal fistfights, and elongated, roving shootouts. “Extraction” is anchored on a 12-minute one-take in the middle of the movie. What starts as a car chase ranges through fistfights, a tenement foot chase, rooftop parkour, and a street fight, all without a single apparent edit. It’s all one camera shot. Of course, a number of digital edits are cleverly hidden throughout, but the effect is that of one long, unbroken camera shot. The sense of it is audacious.

There’s a lot owed in this kind of filmmaking to Indonesian and Thai action filmmaking. The two “Raid” movies and Kim Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto’s “Headshot” come to mind throughout “Extraction”. While tonally very different, there’s also a lot owed to how Thai films like “The Protector” and “Chocolate” developed a sense of action cinema language that could veer from one-take insurance nightmares to rapid-edit broken bone ballets in the space of a scene.

That said, those films have a sense of coming from their own cultures. Even when Welshman Gareth Evans was directing “The Raid” films, the majority of those involved were Indonesian and there was a sense of care placed into its criticisms of government corruption. The franchise presented a disturbing and demented hyper-reality built around the manipulation and abuse of those in poverty at the hands of those with money and power. Even the most lowly henchperson might deserve a cinematic moment of pain and tragedy at their loss, at an alternate story suggested and now disappeared. There were at times operatic moments of loss in those films, particularly in the second one, “The Raid 2: Berandal”. “Extraction” lacks any of this. The people who live in Bangladesh in this film exist either to be shot or to run away and not be seen.

“Headshot”, another Iko Uwais starrer, is brutally violent, realistic enough in physical trauma that it began to go far past its sense of violence as entertainment. While an inherently problematic damsel-in-distress movie, it also might be the best of these ever made, posing a sickening level of violence and cycles of repetition against choices of non-violence and escaping those cycles. It had a point, and nothing was going to stop it from making that point.

In Thai cinema, “The Protector” and “Chocolate” (and “Ong-Bak”, “Raging Phoenix”, “The Kick”, the list goes on) are all about protecting something – a loved one, a sacred artifact, a disappearing culture. They’re also squarely some of the most bluntly anti-colonialist popular cinema out there. They’re films about sacrifice.

“Extraction” poses Tyler Rake as having lost his own son. Even after the mission’s a wash, he decides to protect Ovi and get them both out of the city – but it’s not a sacrifice. It’s a coping mechanism. Ovi’s purpose is chiefly to offer Rake redemption – both in his own eyes and ours. How is Rake going to get this Indian boy out of Bangladesh? By killing a lot of Bangladeshis. The film never makes anything more out of this, and it’s an idiotic and cowardly choice to cover the faces of nearly all the Bangladeshi police. By having no face, they seem inhuman, in a film built from disposing of them as if their humanity is inconsequential.

This lacks a certain consistency, and responsibilities both to viewers to its own characters. If Rake is an anti-hero, let him be one. If he’s telling Ovi that he’s not a hero and that he’s done bad things, too, I’m going to believe him. So let us see it, warts and all. Don’t just tell the audience that and expect us to disbelieve it because Chris Hemsworth is playing him. If you’re going to tell us he does bad things, then don’t pretend this isn’t in certain ways one of them.

One of the most overlooked elements of “The Raid” movies is that they afforded a heartbreaking humanity to even the most random, disposable henchpeople. They weren’t always bad people, they were often just people trying to live, who took a paycheck from the corrupt employer our protagonist was fighting instead of the corrupt employer our protagonist took his paycheck from. That element of those films stunned. It gave them gravitas that most action films don’t even think about.

And while yes, “Extraction” is a successfully built action movie with terrific action scenes, it’s also one that wants to be more. It wants to have David Harbour monologue about moments of innocence lost minutes before we witness one. It wants to have Chris Hemsworth attempt to talk about PTSD and violence as a coward’s choice in between the audience going, “Wow, look at that awesome violence”. It wants to show how embarrassment helps draft a young man into the thrall of a drug lord.

That it never follows through enough on these doesn’t stop me from enjoying the action scenes, but it does undermine the movie as a whole. It makes me wish “Extraction” had explored the humanity it wants to discuss more. It makes me wish the film remembered that others beyond the one white dude also possess that humanity. When it does so, it’s well written and well acted, but without more of it, it lacks the supporting infrastructure to stand. The action becomes good action instead of something that exists as amazing action and commentary that each elevate the other.

And while it may be unfair to compare “Extraction” to some of Southeast Asia’s best films, if you want to take up that cinematic language and use it, you’ve got to be compared to it, too. Those cinematic evolutions serve a purpose, and that purpose is very often to fight colonialism, imperialism, and hyper-capitalism. To simply adapt that cinematic language shorn of its meanings and stripped of the reasons it exists fails to adapt that cinematic language at all.

This might all sound like I dislike “Extraction”. I did enjoy it. I’d like to see it again at some point. Hemsworth is particularly good. The action and technical elements are sometimes a marvel. And while it may be damning with faint praise, I also have to recognize that most action movies have very similar problems. Yet that doesn’t change that “Extraction” is deeply problematic and somewhat emptier than the performances within it deserve. “Extraction” is a really good diorama for action movie violence, but it lacks depth and breadth that could have made it more – a more that it seems fleetingly interested in exploring.

“Extraction” wants to have its cake and eat it, too. It wants to be an action movie that also examines cycles of violence. It gets a few steps in the right direction. It could have gone much further without sacrificing its action elements – and perhaps even elevating them. It only gets halfway there because it ultimately isn’t about corruption, or PTSD, or preserving an endangered culture. It misuses the cinematic art of Southeast Asian action because it ditches what that cinema was developed to address in order to focus on a much more Western concept of everything revolving around the protagonist.

In the end, only one character really exists or matters in this, and that’s Rake. Ovi exists to be saved as a fill-in for Rake’s lost son, and for his redemption in the eyes of the audience. Golshifteh Farahani’s Nik Khan, who’s Rake’s handler, exists essentially to worry about him. Bangladeshis in the film exist essentially to commit atrocities, sneer, be corrupt, or get shot.

“Extraction” takes so much of what makes Southeast Asian action cinema profound, but replaces the movie DNA that makes it so revolutionary in the first place with a Western conceit that doesn’t fit or serve it. The technical elements of both are there. The deeper meanings of both are there. The only problem is that those technical elements serve the deeper intent of the film, and “Extraction” is trying to fuse a Western character conceit that Southeast Asian action developed in part around criticizing and opposing.

It carves out a core meaning of Southeast Asian action cinema in order to supplant it with a storytelling focus this action cinema grew and developed around rejecting. No matter how good everything else in “Extraction” is, it’s build around this core inconsistency. That fundamental fracture splinters throughout what they build on top of it – something that may be a problematic fave, but is ultimately not anywhere near what it could have been and what it momentarily wants to be.

Does it Pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

This section uses the Bechdel-Wallace Test as a foundation to discuss the representation of women in film.

1. Does “Extraction” have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Golshifteh Farahani plays Nik Khan. Neha Mahajan plays Neysa.

2. Do they talk to each other?

No. Rayna Campbell is also listed, and may’ve been part of Nik Khan’s handling team, but if she spoke, it was only a line or two. Nik Khan and Neysa never meet.

3. About something other than a man?

Nope. Since the women never meet, they can’t really talk, let alone about anything other than Rake (Hemsworth). Again, Rayna Campbell’s character may’ve had a line or two that I can’t remember, but in the spirit of the questions, two and three should be understood as “No” answers.

The most that can be said about the representation of women in this movie is that Farahani has some badass moments as Nik Khan. She’s Rake’s handler, and she engages in several modes of combat at one point in the film. Nonetheless, her primary role in “Extraction” is to revolve around Rake and worry about him. It’s faintly suggested in that amorphously referenced kind of way that they may have been romantically involved at one point or other.

Neysa is the wife of the Indian gangster’s head henchman, and exists to have her life threatened if he doesn’t get Ovi back.

This film flunks this test in specifics and in spirit.

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AC: Why “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is a Complete Disaster

Well, technically I phrase it why it’s “impressive, fun, and a complete disaster,” but chiefly it’s about the complete disaster part. And the film’s weird obsession with slow-motion cleavage shots. It’s like Joss Whedon suddenly turned into Michael Bay.

Here’s my review over on AC.


Trailers of the Week — True Stories

Nov. 14

Steve Carell’s often hinted at some deeper pathos in his comedy. It’s what makes characters like Michael Scott on The Office compelling. His asinine comedian of a boss spoke to Scott’s lack of confidence, his social maladjustment. He tried to correct this through behaving, through women, through spending every cent he had, and found in every iteration, he found no real comfort.

It was only when he started to grow up and become comfortable with himself that others became comfortable around him, started rooting for him rather than against him. That Carell may deliver one of the better performances of the year in Foxcatcher isn’t a surprise. It’s that it took so long for someone to put him in a dramatic role like this, playing an historical character, that’s the real surprise.

(This isn’t really the first trailer. It’s about the 7 millionth, but it is the first “official” trailer.)

Out in select markets, expanding soon

Whiplash has been engineering one of those frustrating holiday releasing strategies. Is it in limited markets? In previews? Expanding? Yes, yes, and is molasses a releasing strategy? Technically, it’s already out, but it better start expanding far more if it wants to capitalize on the buzz that’s been going around about it. All I know is it looks brilliant. I know a very few folks who have seen it already and describe it as the defining role of J.K. Simmons’s exceptional career.

March 13

I’m not sold on Chris Hemsworth yet. He’s fun to watch as Thor, but his other projects really haven’t launched.

I should be sold on director Ron Howard by now, but I always have reservations going into his movies. With the exception of Apollo 13, his films that aren’t designed to be hits (The Missing, Frost/Nixon, Rush) tend to be better than the ones that are (Ransom, A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code).

It’s ironic that Rush is one of Howard’s better films. Hemsworth was fine in it, but the role wasn’t exactly a stretch for him. He played it in very broad strokes and it never felt like he reached the level of his costars. Personally, I’d rather see his Rush-costar Daniel Bruhl in a role like this.

It also makes me wary that this isn’t a Moby Dick adaptation. It’s based on the “true events” that inspired Moby Dick. In fact, a youthful Herman Melville is one of the characters here, played by Ben Whishaw. That’s always dangerous territory. It’s also off-putting that the whale in the trailer is some flame breath or an EMP-burst away from being a Pacific Rim kaiju.

Actually, Ron Howard’s “Pacific Rim: Colonial Edition”…I’m beginning to get the Chris Hemsworth casting now.

Do I have a whole host of worries about In the Heart of the Sea? Absolutely. Does it look good anyway. Yep.

Dec. 26

This isn’t Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, but for the vast majority of viewers, it will be. That alone leaves me rooting for it. Since most women filmmakers don’t enjoy the ability to step into a fully-financed studio film, if she’s successful, she may change Hollywood’s minds on backing female directors.

All of that is immaterial to the film itself, however, and the film looks damn good. All its trailers have come across as a bit schmaltzy, but coming out in the holiday season, that’s how they’ve got to appeal. It doesn’t look like the film itself will subscribe to that. Instead, this looks like an old-fashioned, rousing, biographical picture. That’s exactly my cup of tea. It is based on a true story, and is probably going to stick to the facts of that story a little more closely than Ron Howard’s Whaleformers above.

Needless to say, I’m rooting for Unbroken for a lot of reasons.

No date set

Yakuza send-up gone mad, Why Don’t You Play in Hell? follows a gangster who wants his gang war revenge on film, starring his daughter, and done before his wife gets out of prison. Because why not?

Japan might have the best film industry in terms of skewering its own genre standards. That’s a fancy way of saying they make the best comedies. This doesn’t mean every one is a hit, but I’ve heard good things about Why Don’t You Play in Hell? and the trailer hints at a movie that knows precisely the overbloodied gangster movie tropes it wants to lampoon.

December 5

When you click on a trailer with Nicolas Cage’s name attached, you’re already thinking “Worst Trailer of the Week.” And Dying of the Light certainly starts out with that potential. As it develops, though, you start to see where it could go and it’s another Nicolas (Nicolas Winding Refn, in this case) that makes me view the trailer through another filter. The writer-director of Drive and Only God Forgives is producing, with hit-or-miss writer-director Paul Schrader, well, writing and directing this time out.

His last film was the execrable The Canyons, a movie so wretched I broke out the word ‘execrable’ to describe it. A Bret Easton Ellis performance art project starring Lindsay Lohan, porn star James Deen, and in which the movie itself was secondary, Schrader was the hapless director used in a Producers-like plot to create the perfect modern train wreck. Ellis’s success was contingent on Schrader’s failure, but that doesn’t mean Schrader should be forgiven his directorial decisions on The Canyons.

All this is a way of saying Dying of the Light is a high-risk, moderate-reward kind of venture. I have more confidence in Winding Refn to get something good out of Schrader than Ellis, and the trailer surprised me by looking like something I’d watch. Given the amount of crap I give Nicolas Cage (despite honestly liking him in many roles), it’s nice to highlight a performance of his with true potential.

Worst Trailer of the Week:

Haley Joel Osment! Jokes about this Internet thing! Crappy comedies about lazy-ass guys whose lazy-assitude is rewarded with beautiful women just because that’s the way the world works, right?

It’s like the early 2000s all over again.

He gets drunk and throws up on someone! I’ve never seen that before! Look, when even Steve Zahn moved past this stuff, it really should’ve signaled the end, guys. Please don’t make Haley Joel Osment our new Steve Zahn.

Here’s some Chris Hemsworth to wash the taste of whatever that was out. I might start pretending he’s really Thor stripped of his powers in every film. It already makes Red Dawn a much better film.

Chris Hemsworth In the Heart of the Sea

Trailers of the Week — What Else Would It Be?

Inherent Vice

by Gabriel Valdez

First off, there were so many good trailers from Australia and New Zealand this past week that there will be a special edition of Trailers of the Week tomorrow, focusing exclusively on movies made Down Under.

Now, for the most obvious Trailer of the Week in our brief history:

Debut Trailer

Where to even start on Paul Thomas Anderson’s 70s crime comedy? Joaquin Phoenix is unrecognizable, and we haven’t exactly ever seen him as a pratfalling comedian before this.

Last year’s American Hustle played up the East Coast glitz and glam of the 70s. Inherent Vice looks like it’s playing up the seedier, Hollywood habits of the decade. What astounds me about Anderson are those little touches that cheap 70s movies have – when Phoenix clambers to his feet in a stairwell, the sound is horrible. His shoes clap the floor with every step. And it’s not that Anderson lets this detail pass – it’s that this is a detail he consciously seeks out in the first place.

I can picture him in the editing bay, insisting, “No, Joaquin’s shoes need to be louder, louder even than the dialogue, louder even than the gunshot!” I assume that’s how PT Anderson talks. It’s the attention to detail Anderson’s taken to both drama and horror; I’m excited to see him tackle a period comedy from a period Hollywood has chosen to forget.

Debut Trailer

Michael Mann was unstoppable a decade ago. He’d added The Insider, Ali, Collateral, and the movie adaptation of Miami Vice to a resume that already boasted Manhunter, The Last of the Mohicans, and Heat.

And then he disappeared. Well, not really. He’s still been producing. But as a director, the only movie he’s helmed since 2006 is Public Enemies, the middling Johnny Depp-as-John Dillinger film you probably forgot about.

So it’s big news when Mann returns to directing, confident again in his grainy-yet-sumptuous digital video style that feels like a brand of hard-boiled, 80s crime television that never actually existed. The cast? Chris Hemsworth, who has yet to prove himself outside of Thor; Viola Davis, who has proven herself in so many roles I wouldn’t blink twice if she was recast as Thor; and Wei Tang, an Ang Lee alum who showed her dramatic chops in Lust, Caution.

U.S. Trailer #1

The style of this film still enchants me, and that soundtrack is so evocative it can send chills up your spine inside a few seconds flat, let alone two minutes.

If we hadn’t declared an earlier clip Trailer of the Week a month ago, this would probably be up top, but I like to vary it up.

U.S. Trailer #3

This was intended to come out last year, but the Wachowskis delayed it so they could perfect the effects work (or the studio got cold feet, depending on which reporter you believe).

Either way, it looks like those extra months payed off. When Jupiter Ascending trailered last summer, it had awe-inspiring vistas and moments of spectacle, but the person-to-person action (especially Channing Tatum’s anti-grav boots) just didn’t look right. That appears to have been fixed in this most recent-trailer.

There’s not enough good sci-fi out today, especially featuring women. Mila Kunis wouldn’t normally be my first choice to anchor an effects-heavy sci-fi epic, but that was once true of Keanu Reeves as well. The truth is, the Wachowskis need lead actors with comic ability and easygoing charm to make their occasionally too self-serious mix of anime and opera influences more palatable.

I just hope she’s not always the damsel in distress and, like Keanu, gets to kick a little ass by the end of the movie as well. Maybe she takes the place of Sean Bean when he inevitably buys it.

U.K. Trailer #1

I’m just going to harp about the cast here: Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Sam Rockwell. They could all read the phonebook together, and I’d pay to go see that. I’m actually not a huge fan of the premise, but you can’t buy the kind of comedic timing Knightley and Rockwell possess.

We sometimes lament the days when Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn would command the silver screen, or when Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks teamed together for a romantic comedy. We still have those kinds of talents, and this is a pair that can pull it off. My favorite comedic duo of the year already contains Rockwell (that’s Rockwell and Olivia Wilde in the one-less-cameo away from being perfect Better Living Through Chemistry), and if you’re looking for the reason Pirates worked so well, I hope you’re not thinking it’s Orlando Bloom’s timing with Johnny Depp that did it. It was Knightley’s, and any time you have two comedic powerhouses like these two joining together, it’s a must-watch.

I’ve now said that in approximately six different ways. I’m excited for Laggies.

Debut Trailer

This is the kind of heartwarming I’m wary of, but I also have a weird kind of faith in Reese Witherspoon. I don’t know why, since I’ve never actually liked her in any of her roles, but at the same time I trust her reputation as a cutthroat exec who only does projects she feels are worth her time.

So I have faith in her, but don’t get me wrong – if the two of us were trapped in the Andes after a plane crash, I wouldn’t willingly fall asleep for fear I’d never wake up again. I mean, I had to sit through Sweet Home, Alabama one whole time. How do you trust after that?

Anyway, this movie could be something honest and heartfelt, helping to educate and expand viewpoints, or it could be “watch the white person save the foreign people” feelgood schlock. There’s no way to tell at this point.

Worst Trailer of the Week:
Debut Trailer

“Slutcam games!” Girls in lingerie! Torturing naked women! Good job, Gavin Michael Booth, you’ve made Hostel for Dummies, and Hostel already was Hostel for Dummies.

This column has a rule – we’ll never rag on indie or amateur films for looking cheap or lacking the budget for effects or award-winning actors. Some of my favorite films are amateur, made for a nickel, and contain whatever friends and family the director could scrounge up.

That’s why Worst Trailer of the Week is never an indie film. But this week, in the words of Denzel, “I’ll make an exception.”

Look, I get exploitation, I like a lot of self-aware exploitation films that understand their genre – warts and all. I even like some exploitation films that don’t understand their genre at all, much for the same reason people slow down to look at car wrecks.

But The Scarehouse? This is one more bolt in the framework of posing women as victims and sluts and getting off on watching them helpless and tortured. We get enough of that in the damn real world; I hardly think we need this tripe to reinforce it.