Wild Card (2015): Jason Statham Vs Milo Ventimiglia (Review)

Jason Statham in Wild Card Poster

“Wild Card” is a remake of the 1986 Burt Reynolds film “Heat”. Scribed by one of the most prolific and award winning screenwriters in Hollywood, William Goldman, the first film suffered from a fractious atmosphere on set and a so-so reception from the public and critics alike.  Director Dick Richards and Reynolds had a falling out on the movie and Burt broke Dick’s jaw before firing the director.

Jason Statham worked on adapting the film into “Wild Card” over a long period and drafted Brit director Simon West into helming the project. The collaborative effort paid off with an entertaining re-imaging of  Burt’s original film.

There are a number of familiar faces in the movie – Anne Heche, Hope Davis, Stanley Tucci, Sofia Vergara and Michael Angarano to name a few. But it is Milo Ventimiglia who Statham’s  character goes up against who almost steals the show. While the actor from Derbyshire, England may be the star, there is no denying that Ventimiglia “gives good bad guy.”

On the small screen Milo is cast, more often than not, as the hero. In “The Whispers” he was the pilot who shrugged off the alien influence to help save his son and in “Heroes” he was the guy who wanted to save mankind.

Big screen Ventimiglia makes great villains. In the 2008 film “Pathology” Milo was not the nicest chap in the world and he is a real piece of work in “Wild Card.”

Statham is Nick Wild, living in Las Vegas and hiring out as a bodyguard, shill and good all rounder, the jack of all trades and soldier of fortune is a tough nut who will take a fall for the right sort of money.  A friend; Holly (Dominik García-Lorido) is picked up by Danny DeMarco (Ventimiglia) and his two bodyguards. She is sexually abused and beaten severely. She wants Nick to help her get some payback. 

Meanwhile Cyrus Kinnick (Michael Angarano) breezes into town and wants Nick to show him around the casinos and keep a protective eye on him.  Nick does some sniffing around and learns who Danny is and agrees to help Holly. He also starts to do the Cyrus job but then backs out. 

As per usual with any Statham film, the movie tough guy has some great choreographed fight scenes and easily lives up to the audiences expectations in terms of stunt fights and action.  But despite the crowd pleasing athletics, there really is nothing new here.

A performance that, apart from the stunts, could have been phoned in detracts from the overall entertainment value of the film . Most of the action takes place around Fremont Street (the old strip) and focusses on The Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino. A number of second unit shots establish that Statham is driving around Vegas, with other newer casino’s visible in the background, as well as the famous Caesar’s Palace.

It is Ventimiglia’s mafia sleaze that makes the film. He is slimy, despicable and not above lying to save himself, but not his bodyguards.  All smarmy overconfidence and snotty attitude the actor makes a brilliant villain that the audience feels free to dislike from scene one.

Stanley Tucci plays “Baby” a local “made man” who officiates over Vegas squabbles and makes the most out of a small cameo.  Angarano does well with his role of the rich guy looking for some intestinal fortitude and Davis; as the dealer Cassandra,  does more with her eyes than most actors can with their entire bodies.

While nothing to write home about, it after all just another remake, “Wild Card,” aka “Joker,” is a firm 3.5 out of 5 stars in the entertainment department.  With just enough of Las Vegas to make it sell but perhaps too little of Statham doing his action man routine, the film fails to pull in a higher entertainment factor.  Available on Amazon at the moment it will satisfy Statham fans and is well worth the time spent watching it.

Life in the Real Desert: Westerns and Old Movies

Town sign outside of Burger King
My life in the real desert thus far has consisted of much more than personal injury and the shock of having no television. It includes the reading of old western favorites and movies that remain in the collection. Split into blu-ray, NTSC, Region 0 and Pal, the DVDs are spread out between RV and 5th wheel. In terms of stimulation, the tales by Louis L’Amour are hard to beat. Each story a sort of male romance novel built around rugged and hard men who must either fight, solve a mystery or puzzle, or defeat a villain who has designs on the girl of the protagonist’s dreams.

It took me awhile to figure out that these adventure stories of the old west were, in fact, the male answer to Harlequin Romance. These gunfighters, gamblers, cowboys, miners, lawmen, soldiers and so on are all just men searching for something. In the books it is either home, land, destiny and/or a woman. Each hero is an individual who yearns to put down roots, eventually for some and sooner for others, and they are tired of being a lone traveller.

The best thing about the heroes in L’Amour’s books is that the partner they seek is not a helpless and timid female. These men want strong women who will be an equal partner in the relationship. In that sense the author, through his protagonists, was an early feminist supporter way before it became fashionable. Considering L’Amour wrote during the 1950s and 60s he was ahead of his time.

While hanging the title of feminist around the neck of this self-educated wandering man may feel awkward, it is worth remembering that L’Amour himself was a strong character. A man who struck out to explore the world and all it had to teach him in his early teens. There is little doubt that his own strength moved him to admire the trait in anyone else who possessed it and this is reflected in his writing.

Each of the many books written by the late author are “page-turners,” and impossible to put down until the tale is finished. Many of his stories have been made into films or, in the case of the Sackett sagas, made for TV programs starring Sam Elliott and Tom Selleck as two of the many brothers in the large clan.

Perhaps it is the location I’m in that makes the reading of these books seem a necessity. While L’Amour’s writing about the West took in all of the frontier, many of his characters crossed not only the plains but the deserts of the southwest. Some died from attacks by indigenous tribes of the region and others for lack of water in a dry and barren land. Still more were victims of a slow draw or died as the result of poor judgement.

The area where I live, like others that have been home in the US, feels like a land “out of time” and if one suddenly came across a calvary patrol, dusty, tired and sweat stained from their efforts it would not be surprising. The people who populate the country now are just as fiercely independent as the settlers, nesters, ranchers, cowboys and pioneers that L’Amour writes of in his stories. All that is missing, when one goes to town, is the sound of spurs jangling on a boarded sidewalk.

deserted house in the desert

Rather interestingly, out of all the films in my collection, Westerns have not been viewed very often. Possibly because most of the ones on hand were filmed in either Mexico (Durango) or some other “standard” setting favored by the studios, like Death Valley et al. Although that may not be the case at all.

It could well be that this part of the “old West” is new to me. From Hi Jolly’s grave to the infamous Yuma state (territorial) prison miles down the road, all the local history, from Tyson Wells stage stop to the army presence here in this part of the desert, is waiting patiently for me to discover it. It is all, except for Hi Jolly, new to me.

Once the dust has settled from my move, a lot of research into the area will be done. I have already read about the camel experiment and a short book about Arizona Rangers has provided a wealth of information about the times and, rather interestingly, about news coverage of events back then.

The small stage stop museum is only open part time and once my injuries clear up completely, I will be seeking information on the old way of living in the real desert. A lifestyle that is only remembered, it seems, in western books and movies.

14 April 2015

‘The Interview’ Coming to a Theatre Near You…Maybe

‘The Interview’ Coming to a Theatre Near You…Maybe

The latest news in the world of cyber terrorism is that Sony, with the aid of a few non chain type theatres, are thumbing their noses at North Korea and airing The Interview, which should be coming to a cinema near you…maybe. It should not be forgotten that Sony Entertainment held out till the very last moment to cave under the terror attack against their company. Foolishly allowing theatre chains the option of not showing the Seth Rogen and James Franco political comedy after the threats of 9/11 type violence were made against film lovers who attended the Christmas Day open. Now, the corporation are allow the art house theatres to show the film, unlike their initial reaction to the terrorist’s promise of destruction.

Justin Lin to Make Star Trek Three Fast & Furious?

Justin Lin to Make Star Trek Three Fast & Furious?

Following the somewhat disturbing news that Paramount want the next installment of Star Trek, number three to be exact, to be more like Guardians of the Galaxy the latest development has Fast & Furious helmsman Justin Lin now sitting in the driver’s seat. There appears to be a story that J.J. Abrams replacement Roberto Orci walked after rumors that the studios got over excited at the relationship of Groot “I am Groot” and Rocket in the Marvel space picture. Apparently they looked at Scotty’s little hairy sidekick, Keenser and want to feature the “cutesy” little alien a lot more, “I am Keenser!”

Sony Hack: The Interview Cancelled After Enforced North Korean Censorship

Sony Hack: The Interview Cancelled After Enforced North Korean Censorship

The Sony hack has disrupted the apple cart and destroyed the status quo of not only Hollywood, but every large cinema distribution chain in America, Variety reports that Sony Pictures have cancelled The Interview after enforced Internet terrorist censorship from North Korea. It should be pointed out that Kim Jong-un and the North Korean government have steadfastly denied that they are responsible for the Sony corporation hack or the threats of 9/11 type death and destruction if the film aired on Christmas Day, 2014.