The texture of finding balance in a good action film while balancing the spirit of the times can be a tall order. Recently starting with “Mad Max: Fury Road” and then with “Atomic Blonde”, Charlize Theron has upped the game while still understanding the inherent acting needed to convince the audience of her character’s plight. With her new film “The Old Guard” premiering on Netflix, she finds a balance but is able to maintain the theatrical feel. While the freedom allowed in the storytelling might be tricky in theatrical, it has undoubted effectiveness here. Like her film “Aeon Flux”, this kind of picture fills the mid range that many studios gave up years ago. These more practical-based action pictures became the stuff of legends because of what they were able to do. What is interesting her is the diversity of characters, how they work and how the characterizations allow them to both be human and bad ass. The charge of the course needs to be led by Theron and she provides that amply without overtaking the contributions of the others.
This works diametrically very well especially with Matthias Schoenaerts who has done very interesting work since he first came on the scene years ago (his performance in “Rust & Bone” — see our interview here) showed power with vulnerability. There is an interesting parallel here between him and Tom Hardy. Hardy seemed to get ore bulky as his career progressed while Matthias has leaned out which works well for the characters he has been playing. He brings that here as well and it is that balance which is the balance of the film. The movie doesn’t slide into tropes though it pays homage to it. With some flashbacks, there are some hints of Xena for sure. While this might have worked as a high end series for Netflix, doing it this way still retains that movie feel without restricting the talent. The base boards have been laid so the inherent concept works.
Adding to the balance is Kiki Layne who goes toe to toe with Charlize especially in one sequence. Theron is gracious enough to allow sharing the screen like this but also hired Gina Prince-Bythewood who is an interesting and yet wholly suitable choice for this story. Granted the supernatural in a way plays into it but is done more grounded than say something like “Highlander”. The film works well but the imagery is fairly straightforward and not overwhelming in style like say a “Mission Impossible” or even “Atomic Blonde” but that might be a truly conscious choice. “The Old Guard” is effective, lean and powerful in many of the ideas it presents while also keying into cool genre concept and hard hitting visceral action.
By Tim Wassberg
The texture of a film like “Hostel” takes place on the assumption that the journey could be one of adventure and slight mystery before turning it into a cage of horrors. “Yummy”, a Midnighter that was supposed to play SxSW 2020 this year and was acquired by Shudder, has some interesting ideas. It starts off with a bang almost guaranteeing a rock n’ roll splatter fest set in a plastic surgery hospital gone wrong on the back roads of Eastern Europe’s crumbling facade. The humor initially has possibilities especially with the pre-credit sequence but just a simple path of that black comedy is not enough since it keys into a straighter line as the film goes on. The film by trying to be tongue in cheek takes itself almost too seriously. The plot follows a man and his girlfriend as well as her mother who are going to this “cheap” hospital to get some work done. The girlfriend is getting a breast reduction which the film tries to turn into the running joke of the piece. The boyfriend is a med school drop out who is awkward and gets sick at the sight of blood. The girls in the hospital are all beautiful but in a plastic way which is an interesting paradox whether this is just where the film was shot or it was a play on the beauty myth overall. It is never quite clear though this idea seems part of it. The aspect of beauty against the decay is striking.
The story devolves into a more simple approach with the reality of the “virus” per se which is vague in so many ways. Of course the flash point is caused by those from outside which begs the question why it would have never happened before. The characters are unique enough in their idiosyncrasies (like maybe a backwards “Poseidon”). The orderly plays to a trope but turns out to be more diabolical which is not altogether unexpected. The actual side effects of what is going on to the people seems to change over the course of the film. Shots at many times are done more for the fact they look cool or at least passable. One scene that functions like the “Jurassic Park” inlay in the cooler works well for what the viewer thinks will happen. The rabbit hole it goes down slaps back at slick fantasy horror scenarios. While not unique per se, it definitely would have gotten cheers at the Lamar in Austin. The eventual resolution works beautifully because it is just that direct. While the idea of what might be befall this world of the movie is insulated, the intelligence of the characters as well as their losing of limbs and digits regularly makes one feel that their fates were sealed long before.
By Tim Wassberg