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Entries in Jason Momoa (2)

Saturday
May122018

BRAVEN

Stars: Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Jill Wagner, Garrett Dillahunt, Sasha Rossof, Brendan Fletcher, Zahn McClarnon, Sala Baker, Teach Grant, Fraser Aitcheson, James Harvey Ward and Steve O’Connell.
Writers: Michael Nilon and Thomas Pa'a Sibbett.
Director: Lin Oeding.

Rating: 3.5/5

Stuntman-turned-director Lin Oeding skilfully conjures A-grade thrills out of B-movie beats in Braven, an alpha-male actioner that melds drug-deal-gone-bad tropes with wilderness survival struggles. Another satisfying step on the road to Rock-like crossover acceptance for leading he-man Jason Momoa (pictured, above), this Canadian production stays entirely within its genre parameters but does so wholeheartedly, delivering a lean, mean dose of tension, violence and sentimentality.

Biding time until his star soars post-Aquaman, Momoa plays logging company boss Joe Braven, a hardy working class type, loving husband to Stephanie (Jill Wagner, reteaming with Momoa after 2014’s Road to Paloma) and best-friend/dad to pre-teen Charlotte (Sasha Rossof). The one strain on their otherwise lovely domesticity is Joe’s ageing father Linden (Stephen Lang, God’s gift to movies like Braven; pictured, below), whose wandering memory and cantankerous moods are proving troublesome; Joe is called out late at night when his father starts a bar brawl, convinced his long-dead wife is talking to other men.

Meanwhile, one of Joe’s employees, young trucker Weston (Brendan Fletcher) has compromised himself and his boss by taking on board seething baddie Hallett (Zahn McClarnon, giving an in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound performance) and a hollowed log filled with lots of drugs. When the truck crashes, the pair stash the contraband in Joe’s remote cabin, forcing trafficker Kassan (Garrett Dillahunt, his demeanour as icy as the mountainous locale) and his personality-free henchmen to go bush and reclaim it. Thing is, Joe, Linden and Charlotte are already on-site…

One of Hollywood’s most respected fall guys (his credits as stunt co-ordinator include Olympus Has Fallen, Oblivion and The Equalizer), Oeding delivers action with a choreographer’s eye for fluidity and detail. Gun battles, fist fights and, most importantly, the unpleasant consequences associated with same are nailed with convincing realism within a geography that is well established. First-time scripters Michael Nilon and Thomas Pa'a Sibbett allow the occasional incongruity to seep into their structure, but never so that the tense momentum derails.

No specifics are offered as to Joe Braven’s back story; when he starts to ‘Home Alone’ the bad guys, using whatever he can find in his cabin to keep the fight going, one has to assume he’s had some survival and/or combat training, so dexterous is he at hurling a hatchet or manufacturing a bow-and-arrow. Momoa’s take on the heart-of-gold everyman with a killer’s instinct is so engaging, however, such details seem perfunctory.

Braven is as solid a throwback to the ‘80s action movie template as we’ve seen in some time, pleasingly free of the irony that would have spun the film off into wink-wink self-awareness. Its belief in itself inspires the audience to place a similar faith in its characters and narrative; like its star, it is characterised by its broad-shoulders and unshakeable integrity.

 

Thursday
Aug172017

ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE

Stars: Bruce Willis, John Goodman, Thomas Middleditch, Jason Momoa, Famke Janssen, Emily Robinson, Jessica Gomes, Kaleti Williams and Adam Goldberg.
Writers: Mark Cullen, Robb Cullen.
Director: Mark Cullen.

Rating: 3/5

As the afternoon orange bathes California’s Venice Beach neighbourhood, imagine Hudson Hawk barrelling along Abbot Kinney Boulevard, collecting John Wick as he enters from Brooks Avenue, before both are rammed by the Inherent Vice bus on Main. The resulting tangled mass in the middle of the intersection would be Mark and Robb Cullen’s Once Upon a Time in Venice.

Conjured as a free-spirited vehicle for the charms of their leading man in his wisecracking heyday, the brothers Cullen reteam with Bruce Willis to try to right the wrong that was 2010’s Cop Out, the Kevin Smith-directed travesty that put a handbrake on Tracy Morgan’s film momentum. Mark’s directing debut is equal parts crime thriller, family drama and Cal-noir detective story, complete with some tone-deaf stereotyping and cute dog moments. The goofy, off-kilter riff on LA sleaze fits within a genre highlighted by better films like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Thomas Pinchon adaptation, The Coen’s The Big Lebowski or Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (Renny Harlin’s The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, too, but whether that was superior is a maybe).

Like the traditional fairy tales from which the film takes its title, Once Upon a Time in Venice has a storyteller, in the form of John (Thomas Middleditch), a nerdy intern/protégé for ex-LAPD cop Steve Ford (Willis), a not-very-successful private-eye sliding further into the underworld morass he mostly frequents. The film opens with a patently ridiculous sequence in which Ford, having bedded his client’s daughter Nola (Australian supermodel Jessica Gomes), escapes her family thugs by fleeing naked into the night on a skateboard. The entire gag takes a long while to play out (the money shot - close-up on a set of buttocks most definitely not those of the 62 year-old Willis), though it is infused with the kind of nutty energy that Willis last exhibited in his 1991 megaflop, Hudson Hawk (a film that has since acquired an army of ‘guilty pleasure’ defenders, including yours truly).

Things get personal for our hero after heavies working for local drug kingpin Spyder (a very funny Jason Momoa), rough up the family home of Ford’s sister, Katey (Famke Janssen, deserving of better) and niece, Taylor (Emily Robinson). When they dog-nap the beloved pet, Buddy, the PI undertakes a series of schemes and capers that land him deeper in the mess he has created. All the while, a frantic Ford is working a case involving land developer ‘Lew the Jew’ (Adam Goldberg), whose deal is being scuppered by a mysterious graffiti artist painting X-rated murals of the real estate tycoon (a subplot as puerile as it sounds, though undeniably funny in parts).    

Filling out the ‘old chum’ role here that Danny Aiello played in …Hawk is John Goodman, bringing some welcome comedic skill as Dave, an ageing holdover from 70’s Venice hippy/surfie culture on the verge of losing everything (including his mind) in a messy divorce. He is one of several known names who front up for bit parts, probably because they all live within blocks of the production’s West coast locations; among them are Elisabeth Rohm, Kal Penn, Adrian Martinez, Christopher McDonald and, for a few utterly bizarre seconds, David Arquette.

Only occasionally exhibiting the advance of time, Bruce Willis clearly enjoys an all-too-rare opportunity to flex his brand of on-screen comedic skill. One can see the smooth charm of Moonlighting’s ‘David Addison’, the slapstick energy of Blind Date’s Walter Davis and the scummy antihero of Bonfire of The Vanities ‘Peter Fallow’ in Ford. You may find yourself muttering, “He’s still got it,” if only because, not for the first time in his career, he elevates what could have been misguided chaos into something entirely watchable, even likable.