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I haven't reviewed a film in two years, but I came here because I needed to say that this was the worst piece of shit to come out in 2018 so far.
A few moments of decent action overshadowed by terribly frantic pacing, no dramatic depth, an excess of tedious character archetypes, forced attempts at humour which all fell flat, rushed and confusing scientific logic and unnecessary 3D effects.
Though hardly a fan of any blockbuster featuring Kristen Stewart, Snow White and the Huntsman's possibility of big budget action sounded enough like a potential guilty pleasure.
Snow White and the Huntsman's actual story was not one which I expected to be interesting at all. It's just another film in the contemporary trend of rebooting stories popularised by Disney animations to be converted into live-action fantasy adventures with war as a key undertone. Such examples of this include Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010) and The Legend of Tarzan (2016), neither of which have made any major impression with critics. Perhaps the worst example of all these is actually The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016) which is actually the spin-off of Snow White and the Huntsman. In attempting to capitalise on its predecessor while stealing story elements from Frozen (2013) and giving its title the theme of Captain America: Civil War (2016), the genre managed to show its absolute worst side. Though it wouldn't be fair to judge Snow White and the Huntsman on the basis of its inferior sequel, it's certainly appropriate to know what low standard of filmmaking to expect when going in to the experience.
The mistake I made was hoping that I could hold Snow White and the Huntsman to a higher standard than its lacklustre spin-off. With slightly higher expectations, my disappointment remained all the same as both films proved insistent on carrying many of the same basic narrative flaws. The central difference is that The Huntsman: Winter's War was doomed from the start, yet Snow White and the Huntsman actually had potential. But from the instant the film begins, so does trouble.
The film's entire intro feels like it could not have anything less to do with the story of Snow White. By giving the formerly nameless Queen the identity of a remorseless sorceress who usurps the throne through the power of the Dark Army, suddenly the story becomes more of a dark fantasy version of William Shakespeare's Hamlet than anything Snow White-related. It could not make any sense why Queen Ravenna would lead the destruction on a kingdom and then expect to be considered "the fairest" in any sense, but that's just one of the ridiculous pieces of disbelief that audiences must sacrifice if they are to enjoy Snow White and the Huntsman. And before the intro is even over, any slight relevance that Snow White ever had to being a princess of any sort is destroyed so that she may be reinvented as an action hero. In doing so, Snow White and the Huntsman completely erases all traces of the Snow White mythology. And ultimately, director Rupert Sanders fails to compensate for this with even a mildly interesting action-adventure.
Snow White and the Huntsman is about two underdeveloped archetypes running across a repetitive fantasy landscape as audiences are briefly introduced to elements of fantasy mythology. These include trolls and dwarves, but the story doesn't care enough to stop and explore them at all. They are just token story elements which develop nowhere against the backdrop of a story which does the same with every other dynamic. The story does so little that the pace of the film drags on, and this is problematic given that the film already runs for beyond two hours. The film plays out on an array of convincing scenery and strong production design with occasionally brief moments of visual effects panache thanks to Rupert Sanders' keen eye for imagery, but they are ultimately too short and arbitrary to rescue the narrative. And the action scenes are always too brief and repetitive even though the film focuses its narrative around a war in the land. There is no drama to the war, and any attempt for there to be is as thoroughly cliche as the film's condemnation of love. The choreography is decent and the visuals really could have done something, but the action scenes are ultimately as underdeveloped as the characters and extremely few.
But despite all its heavy shortcomings, the cast in Snow White and the Huntsman manage to deliver some decent performances.
Kristen Stewart's leading performance as Snow White is not as bad as you might expect. The actress barely even says a word for the first 40 minutes of the film, spending the majority of the time simply running from one point to another while conveying terror in her facial expressions. Her physical engagement in the role is very committed, but it just serves to ensure there is no sense of characterisation in the part whatsoever. Out of the blue she finds herself a character of extreme physical strength, though it is never really all that believable. Put simply, Kristen Stewart is not a convincing hero. This is not in fact her fault at all, but rather because the story desperately wants to reinvent the classic fairy tale character as a re-imagining of Joan of Arc. When Kristen Stewart attempts to seize control over the character there is a clear intensity in her charisma which makes the role slightly more credible, but the lacklustre writing and lack of character development pay not help to the potential of her impressing audiences. She makes every effort she can during the sporadic moment that the film stops working against her, but it's overall the script is not one she can fully conquer. Kristen Stewart reveals potential in her role which is just worn down by the terrible story.
Chris Hemsworth is the real hero of the story though. Portraying the titular Huntsman straight off the back of his success in Thor (2011), Chris Hemsworth once again shines with a powerful sense of anger. He is far less glamourous in Snow White and the Huntsman and grittier, capturing a more savage side to the character. The film tries to make him a more charming hero with its lacklustre dialogue, but it's the more savage side of Chris Hemsworth that really shines. Chris Hemsworth conveys an angry obsession in the character of Eric, revealing a real weakness in his anger over the loss of his wife and giving him greater dimension in the face of a screenplay which works against it. Chris Hemsworth may be a cliche fairy tale hero, but he plays the role with a solid heroism and subtle elements of grit which makes him a welcome lead.
And Charlize Theron actually has very little screen time in Snow White and the Huntsman. Despite being touted as the central villain in the story, she actually drops in and out of the screen since her significance is spoken of by the other characters more often than it is shown. In actuality, she plays a glorified cameo in the film which betrays all expectation and proves disappointing. Yet the quality of her performance does not fail. In attempting to capture the obsessive vanity of the character, Charlize Theron equips two central states of mind for the characterisation of Queen Ravenna: Angry and Weak. When embracing the former, Charlize Theron unleashes a powerfully over-the-top performance which cries out the desperation of her character's villainy with psychotic melodrama, while in her weaker state she manages to convey a real sense of vulnerability in the character. Queen Ravenna is an insecure and obsessive woman who is overcome by a sadistic vanity, and Charlize Theron is electrifying in capturing it with a twisted melodrama. It's rather like Faye Dunaway's effort in Mommie Dearest (1981), but actually a good performance. Charlize Theron is a solid if diminutive villain in Snow White and the Huntsman, working the film to her credibility when it's clearly such difficult material can.
Bob Hoskins is also a welcome presence as with any feature, though I can see why he'd want to retire after doing a film like this.
Snow White and the Huntsman has moments of visual flair and a fairly talented cast, but its awkwardly misguided screenplay leaves audiences with a generic story of uninspired heroism, a lack of characters and a major shortage of action.
With a ridiculous title and the Monster Pictures label to back it up, Australiens sounded like a real piece of Australian dumb fun.
The standard for acting and scripting in Australiens is immediately asserted within the first minute of the film. With pretentiously untalented child actors delivering heavily hokey dialogue, the film's status as an intentionally so-bad-it's-good doesn't even give audiences a second to adjust to it before it begins hitting them over the head with its ridiculous nature. And soon enough, it goes into utter excess with this. There is a line for how stupid a film can intentionally be before it becomes pretentiously bad. Australiens is a film which crosses this line at every conceivable opportunity and endlessly hits viewers over the head with its utter stupidity to the point that it very much sweats it. The film is so determined to be the stupidest possible B-movie it can relies on the writing style and production values of a really silly YouTube-grade comedy sketch, but this is not enough of a hook to last a feature length running time.
The premise in Australiens is very simple and the story itself is never really a problem, but the dialogue itself is merciless in its bad sense of humour while the characters are very annoying. I wasn't sure if the cast was terrible or if they were just portraying the awkward stereotypes as explicitly as possible, but they are so loud and abrasive about it that it's fairly unbearable at times. If the characters aren't obsessively self-centered and egotistical, they're awkwardly silent and make things worse every time they speak. This makes them flat-out annoying and unlikable, and the small cast of the film ensures that they are essentially all we get for the film's entirety. They grow tiresome very fast, and as a result their sense of humour fails to land all that well. Australiens would be funnier if the cast was a lot faster with their delivery, a fact which I learned by fast forwarding the film in an attempt to enjoy it more. This actually worked because it cut through all the awkward pauses between lame dialogue of the characters while speeding up the fact that they take every joke one sentence too far. But since director Joe Bauer did not see the sensibility in how to appropriately pace his overbearing sense of humour, I ultimately didn't even laugh once. I don't know why the director chose to be so abundant with this theme, but it didn't work the first time nor did it work the following hundreds of times over the following 112 minutes. Australiens felt like it had gone on for too long with just a few minutes of the film over, so attempting to deal with it for close to two hours is clearly not going to create a result which is any more satisfying.
As well as that, there is little about Australiens to capitalise on the fact that it is an Australian film. The title of the film suggested there would be more of a patriotic self-parodying sense of humour to the film, but it is extremely rare throughout the film. The feature could have utilised better Australian stereotypes such as bogans and drongos in their war against Aliens, but the feature instead attempts to replicate that which has been long-established by Hollywood narratives. This betrays the film's potential to utilise the originality suggested by its title, and frankly there is too little about the film to signify that it is all that Australian in any way. I know you can't expect every Australian film to hit viewers over the head with its cultural background, but when the potential is right there and the title suggests that the film is going to work off of this theme, the arbitrary result can prove really dissatisfying.
It's also obvious how amateur the production's technical department is. Even though the film aims to be ridiculously bad, poor audio dubbing and bad sound recording is concerning just as generally bad filmmaking. It may be an arbitrary element in a film which aims to be intentionally bad in so many departments, but slack sound editing is just a work of general cinematic incompetence.
The cinematography itself is rather inconsistent because Australiens is relatively tame in its visual quality and presentation yet sometimes it proves to be appropriately moody with the way in which it's cut together. There's nothing particularly special about how it's all filmed, but at least the editing ensures that none of the shots really linger on for too long.
The one production value I will voice a mild appreciation for is the visual effects. I expected that the visual effects in Australiens would be very intentionally bad, as in the kind of quality you'd get out of a film distributed The Asylum. But actually I enjoyed them. Most of the time they were obviously visual effects, but the kind you'd find on a good old fashioned Saturday morning camp TV show. They make the experience fun and pay solid credibility to the filmmakers, while also hinting that the film could have succeeded if it went in a different direction with the story. There's the added benefit of how they are used in the action scenes; despite there being no major cinematic grace to the action sequences, they are cut together nicely and utilise the best of the film's production values well enough to create momentary visual spectacles at sporadic points throughout the film.
The musical score is also very well composed. Rather than just being a repetitive and simplistic background theme, the musical score in Australiens actually carries a classical alien feeling to it which reinforces the science fiction nature of the film. It is also very energetic which helps keep the mood of the film consistently progressing forward, so there is at least some consistent life in the film. It's so effective that the moments of extended dialogue which are bereft of music feel lifeless by comparison; but I suppose that was bound to happen either way with such a ridiculous screenplay.
Australiens has the best intentions and a strong use of campy visuals and music, but its overbearingly repetitive sense of humour and annoying characters shift away from sensible satire and parody into straight-up juvenile territory.
Pinning Ben Affleck in the role of an action hero under the direction of Gavin O'Connor, The Accountant sounded like a decent guilty pleasure.
The introduction to The Accountant immediately shows that there are problems with the script. Though the film deals with autistic characters, the approach taken by the parents of the autistic child at the centre of the story is far too one-dimensional. Christian "Chris" Wolff's mother refers to her son being a "problem" as opposed to the challenge, while his father insists he be forced into a life of loud noises and flashing lights to counter his fear of both. Neither of these characters have any sensible understanding of the pitfalls of autism, and this leads to two insufficient story arcs: one is that the mother abandons the family because she cannot deal with her own child, while the other is the father who is determined to force the condition out of his son with masculine-enforced training. Though this is also used for cheap and underdeveloped sentimentality at sporadic points in the film that continuously make the narrative seem more pathetic, it also epitomises the problem with how The Accountant approaches its subject matter. The titular character has potential to be a well-developed and interesting character, but any potential for actually exploring him is forsaken in favour of his autistic status being used as an excuse to turn him into a Gary Stu. He is a ridiculously overpowered action hero whose autism provides him no foreseeable difficulties at anything in life. The Accountant is so safe with its subject matter that it glamourises autism without exploring the harsh struggles of its reality.
Yet the main character is not the only problematic one. Following the film's intro, out of nowhere we are introduced to two unfamiliar characters played by J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson. We have no idea who either of these characters are or why they matter. Yet somehow they link the protagonist to a violent conspiracy where he reveals himself to be an assassin or something like it. I think it links to the intro scene that comes before the flashback to Chris' childhood but I can't be too sure. This just epitomises the long-running convolution that exists in the narrative of The Accountant. For a film about a protagonist who is a genius in remembering so many slight details, the less-intelligent audiences will struggle to piece together the story as he may be able to. I would expect this to fall under the category of the majority, so the general confusion in The Accountant is likely to afflict a higher percentage of viewers. I was one of them, and quickly realised that if I am to enjoy the film I must stop trying to make sense of the story. And when one has to do that, it shows a severe problem with the filmmaking at hand. When the film finally attempts to make an explanatory link between the characters not only is it difficult to understand, but the audience will find it hard to care anymore by this point.
Partially, this is due to the fact that none of the characters in the film are interesting. Outside of the underdeveloped protagonist, none of the other characters are interesting either. Although the titular character has potential, as his condition is used simply as an arbitrary plot point to turn him into a Gary Stu while the deeper elements of his character are given no exploration. He becomes paired with a female companion who has her own irrelevance and uninteresting backstory that she feels compelled to share with us. Then there's the characters who play a role in the tediously sentimental flashbacks and the others who make up the wider faction of the story, all who get little to no characterisation or heart. There are so many characters but so few that audiences can feel anything for, so the feature ends up a very shallow and dehumanised experience.
On top of that, there is no narrative flow. The Accountant oscillates back and forth between being a seriously talkative and character-driven drama one minute with a barrage of stylish action scenes in another, despite failing to provide a narrative which allow a strong transition between the different content of each scene. The action scenes in The Accountant are the highlight of the film because they serve as a reminder of Gavin O'Connor's competence as a visionary director, and the strong mix of practical choreography, solid cinematography, appropriately-timed editing and minimised use of visual effects all credit this. The sound editing and subtle musical score also help to keep the mood stable.
And Ben Affleck clearly plays a strong role in carrying the film. Though not always the finest actor in a leading role and stuck in a poorly handled and underdeveloped role, Ben Affleck does everything he can to present Chris Wolff as a competent hero. Ben Affleck is able to channel the intelligent nature of the character and speak with a sophisticated confidence in his words, yet he also limits the amount of emotional investment in the dialogue as to touch upon the character's struggles to match the emotional state of those around him. While this performance may come off as hollow in another film, it hits the nail on the head in The Accountant and once again offers Ben Affleck the chance to be the best part of an overall lacklustre action film following Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). His physical efforts in the action scene are also a powerful tool to the film's credibility, so at least The Accountant has a solid lead.
John Lithgow and J.K. Simmons make a pair of respectably sophisticated veterans who deliver their dialogue sharply.
However, Anna Kendrick doesn't have much of a purpose for being present. Her performance isn't particularly bad, but her character's sole purpose is to be the generic romantic interest of the protagonist which is rendered even dumber by the fact that the story reveals him not to understand or care about romance for any reason. As a result she just ends up falling back on her natural persona which is honestly rather irritating in such a pretentious dramatic story. She just feels too out of place and miscast, so it's not one of her finer efforts.
The Accountant benefits from Gavin O'Connor's visual style and Ben Affleck's solid leading performance, but the overly convoluted story, tedious narrative structure and underdeveloped characters result in an overlong and slow thriller which is full of pointless dialogue but short on competent action sequences.
With Divergent (2014) being flat out one of the worst movies of recent years and Insurgent (2015) being entertaining solely for being laughably stupid and cliche, Allegiant's savage critical reception enticed me into seeing just how low the series could sink this time.
Allegiant is a film which goes above and beyond the concept of being doomed from the start. Not only is it the successor to two extremely poor calibre films, but it comes out in an era where the obsession with Young Adult films has completely died down. With The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (2015) being a deeply unsatisfactory conclusion to the series, any personal interest I had in the genre has essentially gone with it as well. The Divergent series has stood out to me as the worst example of these Young Adult stories, and Allegiant took every chance to make sure this prophecy remained fulfilled.
The film opens depicting the Divergent universe caught up in the political turmoil established by the preceding films. The stories of these films were ridiculously poor; Divergent was a repetitive series of lifeless training sequences with no established context whatsoever while Insurgent told a generic conspiracy story packed with uninspired and predictable plot twists. It's difficult to decipher what story Allegiant is telling from there onwards. Not so much because the story is confusing, but because it hasn't been worth keeping up with the Divergent story by this point and so I hadn't bothered. Instead I just looked at the turmoil and thought of the conflict between the Districts and The Capitol from The Hunger Games films (2012-2015). Soon after the characters are running across a dead wasteland which serves as a reminder of The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015). So by the point in Allegiant, it's clear that the film series has lost none of its derivative elements. But I was expecting it by this point. From here on, the story descends into an endless repetition of formulaic melodrama and lifeless characters. There is little worth critiquing in the script because the story is generic, uninspired, repetitive, predictable, derivative and many other negative adjectives that I couldn't care to waste my time on coming up with. The dialogue matches the story in this context and bombards audiences with underdeveloped stock characters and archetypes. Admittedly the film isn't as cringe-worthy as its predecessor, but that is actually more of a downfall for Allegiant because it counters the potential for it to be so bad that it's good.
Allegiant is not a film for thinkers, so audiences who appreciate the virtue of thinking need not apply. Audiences who seek anything outside of a stylish experience should not be looking towards this film, but the mindless might get mild kicks out of how Allegiant looks. I'll admit that the production values for the film are pretty good and the universe building continues with the improvement in this area that Insurgent showed over Divergent, but we've seen this exact same kind of universe in every other Young Adult franchise series that was released during the genre's heyday. The presence of Robert Schwentke as a returning director certainly does provide a mild benefit to this film because some of the set pieces and cinematography offers appealing imagery to audiences, but the visual effects are a little bit lower in quality this time around. But the sound editing and musical score is decent, even though the latter is a little repetitive. If Robert Schwentke wasn't working with such a sadly pedestrian script, then maybe he could have created an entertaining summer blockbuster. Alas, we all must wait for him to recapture the height of glory he reached when directing Red (2010).
Despite the production values of the film Allegiant has no sense of how to utilize them. Most of the film is overly talkative and plays out in generic science-fiction designed rooms which are more interesting than the topics that the characters are discussing. There is absolutely minimal action in the film with two uninspired action scenes in the first hour and little else. The story leads up to some kind of big battle which is supposed to take place in the final film, but I have no expectation that it will be at the scale we could hope for or that it will be entertaining to watch. Given that the overall production of the film is in development hell right now, there is no telling if it is even ever going to happen. Allegiant's visual elements wear thin when the story can't find anything to do with them, so it's just another area in which the film falters.
Shailene Woodley's performances in Divergent and Insurgent were the only consistently redeeming parts of the films. But by this point it seems like she doesn't care anymore. Her line delivery is consistently flat and uninspired in Allegiant, and the character Beatrice "Tris" Prior doesn't have anything compelling to do anymore. If you actually took her out of the story in Allegiant then it essentially wouldn't make any difference because she has no sense of identity whatsoever, and Shailene Woodley seems no longer inspired to pretend as if she does. I don't blame her for giving a half-assed effort, but when she did so well the first two times despite dealing with some heavily lacklustre material it is a sheer disappointment that she cannot be bothered putting even an iota of charisma into the part this time. Allegiant presents audiences with the sad fact that Shailene Woodley has given up on the series despite being the only consistently good thing about it.
Miles Teller is slightly better this time around because he seems more intense than pretentious, and Octavia Spencer is always a likable presence. But so many talented actors are reduced to playing the same standard for lifeless stock characters as the extras around them, and when people like Jeff Daniels are included in that list it is all the more disappointing.
Allegiant isn't as bereft of narrative as Divergent or as cringe-worthy as Insurgent, but it is nevertheless just as derivative, predictable and uninspired as its generic source material will allow it to be.
Being the most contemporary film directed by Academy Award-winner William Friedkin, Killer Joe sounded like a thrilling experience.
The high point of William Friedkin's career came from the 1970's with inconsistent results in the following decades, but given the popular reception of Killer Joe and the man's ability to build a strongly intense atmosphere in The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973), I figured that perhaps Killer Joe would serve as a return to form for the director. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case.
Killer Joe plays out much like a stage production. There is a shortage of atmosphere because the reliance falls entirely upon the extended periods of dialogue rather than any particular technique in the cinematography or use of music. I can forgive a film like that if it has interesting characters, but Killer Joe carries no such thing. Killer Joe's story focuses around the titular character's planned murder of Adele, the matriarch of the Smith family. Much of the dialogue focuses upon clarifying the complicated relationship between the members of the family as they find themselves getting involved in the murder and the titular Joe Cooper begins to involve himself with the young Dottie Smith. The structure of the family relationship is familiar and there isn't much time to develop any of the characters beyond the archetypes they are, meaning that it is left to the cast to save the film. Killer Joe has some impeccably talented actors, but they're not enough to assist a production that just won't support them on any level.
Killer Joe is a steadily-paced film, but there is rarely anything that actually happens in the film. The murder conspiracy at the heart of the narrative has a neo-noir element to it as does the dark colour scheme in the night time sequences and slow burning atmosphere, but rather than putting any major development into the characters there are characters who are presented as being equally relevant and arbitrary to each other. Everyone in the story is simply a McGuffin to move the narrative rather than any kind of actual character. The most developed characters are Joe Cooper and Dottie Smith, and yet Joe Cooper is kept too elusive and mysterious to understand all that much of while Dottie Smith is much of a background archetype. Since the characters are all relatively meaningless and few of them are all that likable for any reason, there is little reason to care about any of them. Ultimately, audiences are left with a slow film full of uninteresting and unlikable characters where essentially nothing happens, and what does happen is effectively cliche and lifeless. This is the experience that is Killer Joe, and as a result there is no atmospheric engagement to draw in audiences who have seen it all before or are desensitized to the mildly explicit use of blood.
But I will give some credit to some of the stylish elements in Killer Joe. Despite its budgetary limitations, William Friedkin's eye for imagery helps to make the Southern Gothic nature of the story into a reality. The scenery is dilapidated and the colour scheme is very dry in the day and a dark shade of blue in the night, making the story feel grim. The actors prove themselves able to embrace this tone, even if the lack of character development stands in the way of allowing any major impact to take effect.
Dottie Smith is the only majorly interesting character of the film since she is the one really innocent character in the narrative. Despite supporting the notion of her mother being murdered, this simply stems from the violence in Southern social norms which she has accepted as natural, yet she still finds a way to maintain her innocence in the process. Juno Temple captures this complicated mindset with such a sweet and innocent demeanour which becomes more fragile as Joe Cooper becomes more involved in her life. Juno Temple captures this with a very restrained and emotionally withdrawn nature, yet she intensifies it profusely when she is confronted with very personal insecurities and uncertainty. Juno Temple perfectly captures the nature of Dottie Smith's shattered innocence with the most soul of any character in the film, making herself the most consistently engaging presence
Matthew McConaughey is also in solid form. Though the story is far too subtle with the nature of "Killer" Joe Cooper to be fully embraced, Matthew McConaughey works to keep him elusive and very professional about his job as a contract killer, showing his darker side only at selective moments in the film. There isn't enough screen time for him to really captivate audiences as he should, but the actor shows an inherently dark nature which is very unlike that of his more stereotypical persona from his better-known films from the turn of the decade. Matthew McConaughey shows a more twisted dramatic flair than ever before in Killer Joe, taking a step closer to the dramatic charisma that would lead him to Academy Award recognition in later years.
Emile Hirsch delivers a deeply engaged an intense performance. Though his character is a very familiar one, Emile Hirsch manages to keep consistently in touch with the character Chris Smith by consistently conveying his constant sense of fear and insecurity. He is constantly under threat by the enforcers out to get him and the family he has brought his issues to, and he is constantly physical with his expression of frustration. He also shares a powerful chemistry with Thomas Hayden Church who too is a predictably powerful presence in a role empowered by the way he says so much through the use of very few words. Gina Gershon also delivers a strong performance in one of the best efforts of her career. She plays Sharla Smith as the sheer epitome of white trash and sleaze within the Smith household with a careless and self-indulgent nature which is as bleak as the world around her.
Killer Joe wrings some strong performances out of its inherently talented cast, but due to its unlikable characters and slow pace, audiences are left with a atmospherically-bereft story in which so little happens.
Being one of the more notorious titles released under the Monster Pictures label, Charlie's Farm sounded like an entertaining thrill ride.
When the screenplay gets the characters to the point of actual dialogue, my first thought was that the writing had to be satirical. The language is so ridiculous that the actors don't even pretend to be serious about it as they force the hammy dialogue upon audiences to reinforce the ridiculous pace of the film's intro. It might take a while for audiences to figure out if Charlie's Farm is a poorly written horror film or an intentionally bad movie. Ultimately, it walks the line somewhere between the two. The film intentionally follows a horror movie formula with all the stock characters, cliche dialogue and predictable plot points that naturally come with it. Yet ultimately the satirical element is not all that rich so instead the film ends up being largely just another formulaic horror film. It's obviously self-aware and very competently made, but it's never clear just what kind of angle Chris Sun wants to take with it. The mood of the film shifts back and forth between trying to be legitimately horrific and just poking fun at the situation the story is presenting. Either way, the film is never funny enough to embrace its satirical elements. The humour in the film is just lazy because it mostly comes from intentionally poor dialogue with the added twist of Australian lingo as well as the nature of the titular character Charlie. But nothing really hits. Charlie's Farm could have been a straightforward horror film, but the attempts to add humour into the experience in a cheap attempt to innovative a clearly conventional narrative never really works.
Most of the time it's easy to enjoy a formulaic horror film if it professionally constructed. Charlie's Farm certainly has the credibility of some solid production values and stylish direction from Chris Sun, but as a writer he is yet to produce any results worthy of a recommendation. His story is predictable in every sense of the word and the dialogue just serves to hit viewers over the head with a reminder of this again and again, yet it doesn't really do any good. If Charlie's Farm spent less time emphasizing its cliche plot points and shifted a greater focus on building atmosphere then it may have been a more powerful experience. Unfortunately, we are instead left with a story that spends so much time fretting over its stock characters despite the fact that there is nothing interesting about any of them. The film is way too talkative and slowly paced with few scenes depicting any kind of horror whatsoever, and this is all made worse by the fact that the actual horror sequences are the best moments in the film. Chris Sun clearly knows how to build an intense horror atmosphere and use mediated blood and gore, but he doesn't use it enough. Charlie's Farm has a perfectly convincing setting which is captured with strong cinematography and given further atmospheric support by a strong musical score, but the actual horror in the film ends up being way too sporadic and so audiences will find themselves waiting around a lot of the time. And when the horror does finally rear its head, it's over in an instant. Just when you think Charlie's Farm has found its footing, the film comes to an abrupt and unsatisfactory ending. Chris Sun knows how to work style into his film which suggests that he may have greater potential if he tries again in the future, but for the time being Charlie's Farm serves as a stylishly constructed piece of misguided ambitions.
On top of it all, the standard for acting in Charlie's Farm is fairly minimal. Character development is not an intended high point of the film just as scripting isn't, and so the cast make a conscious effort to half-ass it throughout the film. They're completely aware of what they're doing and take a carefree approach which may appeal to audiences who find the supposed humourous edge of Charlie's Farm to be effective, but there isn't any kind of major impression that comes from it. Sam Coward contributes a heavily stereotypical Australian archetype with an idiocy intended to make him one of the major sources of comic relief and occasionally his energy has sparks of entertainment, but everyone else fails to make much of an impact. If anything, it's much of a distraction that washed-up Hollywood actress Tara Reid plays such a major role in an Australian film. I don't know what vibe was intended to be established with her casting, but I was all-too often distracted by the high definition focus on her cosmetic surgery-retouched face. It's a rather shallow criticism to make, but as she is naturally an actress who fits the low standard of acting in the film there is little she can do about it. And since she appears to spend so much of the production bored with herself, audiences are most likely to share her opinion.
Bill Moseley is the cast member to look out for in Charlie's Farm. Hardcore horror movie fans will already be doing that given that the actor has a cinematic legacy for his work with Rob Zombie and iconic effort as Chop Top in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), but he is also the only majorly interesting character. While everyone else is walking a pretentious line between serious and satire, Bill Moseley just plays his role as a straight-up hick. His presence is obviously fan service, but he also sinks so naturally into the character that he manages to fit into the film really easily. Bill Moseley's presence is brief but nonetheless enjoyable. The same audience should appreciate the presence of Kane Hodder, even if his role is just as brief yet more arbitrary.
Nathan Jones also makes a decent effort. His character is a purely physical one whose redeeming factors include his creepy makeup and tall stature, but Nathan Jones knows how to act through it all. He stands tall with his gigantic stature and restrains his movements like a statue at times before unleashing himself into swift acts of violence at others. He seems to have fun with his character's insane taste for violence and senseless sadism, and he is a genuinely intimidating presence. Nathan Jones' portrays a character who is underdeveloped and receives way too little screentime, but he is an assured highlight anytime audiences get the chance to see him.
Charlie's Farm has impressive production values and the best intentions, but the imbalance of horror and comedy in the tone combined with slow pacing and a shortage of thrills makes for an unsatisfying experience.
With a high profile Japanese horror filmmaker at the helm, 7500 sounded like an engaging thrill ride.
After an intro of repetitive shaking and cuts to black, the film cuts to a shot of the plane which is so obviously CGI that it is painful. It's hard to figure out what's more ridiculous; the fact that someone actually thought it would be convincing or the fact that Takashi Shimizu couldn't even acquire a piece of stock footage depicting an airplane sitting on the runway. Perhaps it is just in preparation for the fact that none of the other CGI in the film ends up looking any better. The production design may fit that of an airplane, but when it's this obvious that there is no actual flight process happening it becomes more difficult to believe. If 7500 actually had no exterior shots of the plane, it would be all the more convincing. Alas, that is not the case.
Soon after the poor production values of 7500 become apparent, a collection of countless stock characters begin to board the plane. Interestingly enough, there is an odd selection of names in the cast. Among the more notorious are Scout Taylor-Compton who portrayed Laurie Strode in Rob Zombie's Halloween films (2007, 2009) and Jerry Ferrara who portrayed Turtle in Entourage (2004-2011). Jamie Chung from Sucker Punch (2011) joins the journey, and audiences may also remember Alex Frost for the time that he shot up a high school in Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003). YouTube sensation Ryan Higa even gets a cameo. But perhaps the most memorable cast member in 7500 is Nicky Whelan who for a second time in the one year appears in a low-rent film about a flight disaster with the other being the Golden Raspberry-award nominated Left Behind (2014). She is memorable because she portrays a one-dimensional character so repetitive and frustrating that the annoyance becomes ingrained in the memories of anyone paying attention to the film. This is the "ensemble" cast of the film, none of whom have any interesting characters to play and none of whom manage to act above the low-rent television movie standards that 7500 manages to continuously adhere to. I just couldn't help but be reminded of the popular disaster movie Airport (1970) and how the standard for casting in that film was recognized by the Academy Awards. 7500 simply borrows the formula and camp nature of Airport and transfers it into the modern day with no production values or care for the actors.
But the most frustrating thing about 7500 is that it's so difficult to tell where the source of the horror actually comes from. If audiences can handle the cheapness and thin characters of the film, then the story is bound to be its downfall. The entire tale adheres to a conventional formula, yet it has no idea how to justify itself being a disaster film. With a meticulous pace, audiences have to watch the actors hardly even pretend to care about their characters as they drone on and on with expectedly terrible screenwriting. Throughout this entire experience, it becomes difficult to remember that audiences are watching a horror film. It's not until past halfway into the film that anything horror-related in 7500 begins to become apparent. Audiences are likely to spend so much time trying to understand the source of the horror that they will find themselves bored and confused in an experience which should be scary above all else. And then out of nowhere we are given the realization that it is Japanese horror mythology causing everything. Like a deux ex machina plot device in a fantasy story where everything is restored to peace and harmony by the ways of a wizard, 7500 expects its audiences to simply accept out of the blue that some kind of mysterious Japanese force is creating death and smoke on the set of a plane. Perhaps audiences are expected to accept this because Takashi Shimizu is the director, but given that the film is little more than a stock standard American TV movie there is no point in pretending that one minor aspect of the story being Japanese-influenced makes any difference whatsoever. Nothing is actually done with this plot point because even though it is an arbitrary attempt to stir up mystery, it ends up having essentially nothing to do with the rest of the film. There's a half-assed connection in there somewhere, but there's nothing about the film strong enough to inspire viewers to try and make any sense of it.
Soon after this plot point presents itself, we actually do experience a deux ex machina. Without giving it away, 7500 manages to cram in a plot twist which explains the lacklustre plotting and thin scripting that lead up to the conclusion. It doesn't justify it, it just explains it. 7500 has the kind of plot twist that could have been really iconic and powerful if it played out in a film which actually had any dramatic grounding or characters worth caring about. Instead, it just got wasted on a directionless melodrama which builds up to nothing and ends up with a disjointed execution. The ending to 7500 seems to exist independently from the rest of the narrative, as if the creators spent their entire time putting together a series of horror movie cliches in a disaster film, got past the first hour and then suddenly realized that the film actually had to have some kind of ending. They seem to have turned to M.. Night Shyamalan in this case who reached into his mysterious bag of twist endings and forwarded one to Craig Rosenberg to tack it onto his script. It is strapped to the script without any coherence or sensibility before descending into an even more confusing epilogue. 7500 is simply a senseless twist ending with no story behind it, and it is so bereft of any other redeemable qualities that it might as well have been Kirk Cameron's next star vehicle because at least that way it would be more enjoying to mock.
With a formulaic yet senselessly convoluted narrative surrounded by one-dimensional characters, a slow pace and an obvious lack of thrills, 7500 is a flight that never takes off in the first place.
Capturing the story of a young John Lennon, Nowhere Boy sounded like a strong opportunity to delve into the story of John Lennon.
We don't really get any understanding of who John Lennon is or what the basis of his relationship with his uncle George Smith is before the man dies. No character building has happened by this point, so the film immediately begins to feel rushed before it makes it past the 6 minute mark. And then in the blink of an eye, the tone shifts to an overly optimistic one where we see John Lennon building a relationship with his mother Mimi Lennon over a montage of carnival activities with an overly optimistic tone. Nowhere Boy fails to get itself off to a solid start, but it establishes itself once it actively figures out who John Lennon is.
The film slows down after a while and begins to focus on John Lennon discovering his love of rock n'roll and the influence of Elvis Presley. As this happens, we begin to see the real side of John Lennon beneath his public image as a member of The Beatles. In actual fact, director Sam Taylor-Wood remains so focused on embroiling the story in its characters that it becomes a powerful portrait of an individual. I went into Nowhere Boy expecting a story about The Beatles, but I ended up experiencing a powerful biopic about a boy I never knew. Nowhere Boys plays over a period of five early years in the life of John Lennon and chronicles his time around the beginning of the formation of The Beatles, telling a story I never could have imagined and one that I vastly enjoyed.
Nowhere Boy has a very small-scaled story and plays out at a slow pace which may irritate some viewers just as the heavy focus on sentimentality may deter others, but all contributes to telling an emotionally rich story. Nowhere Boy is a film which rests its focus among the characters and the complicated relationships they all get twisted up in. There's a powerful tale of the conflicting influences in the life of John Lennon with his adoptive aunt prioritizing etiquette and proper conduct while his mother supports free spirit and artistic expression. These all contribute to building a strong backstory to John Lennon, exploring the heart of a musician who had an Elvis Presley-influenced love of rock but a strong sophistication at the same time. Sam Taylor-Wood captures the heart of the material with a restrained direction which lets the cast naturally work their magic. Her film is a very low-key one which remains focused on character development above all else, and while she lets this develop naturally she keeps the setting of the story convincing with beautiful scenery and nostalgic production design.
But given the restrained nature of the direction in Nowhere Boy, the cast are the ones responsible for really making it shine. And it's hard to deny that audiences will walk away from Nowhere Boy having experienced the talents of a truly brilliant cast.
Aaron Taylor delivers one of the best performances of his career in Nowhere Boy. In the breakthrough role which propelled him to stardom, Aaron Taylor steps into the shoes of one of music's most iconic historical figures and delivers some fine justice to the role. He perfectly captures the iconic voice of the music legend and the angry spirit that saw him grow from a boy into a man, and as we see him become more in touch with artistic side over the course of the film we see Aaron Taylor grow more passionate about the character. Aaron Taylor's charm wins audiences over just as his dramatic charisma catches them off guard, and so even at his most subtle he is an engaging presence. Aaron Taylor takes audiences on John Lennon's journey to becoming The Beatle he would be forever immortalized as and graces us all with a strong exploration of his many emotional struggles along the way. And the pinnacle of his talent is emphasized in the film's climactic scenes when he finally lets his emotions completely loose with the full extent of his intensity on display. Nowhere Boy proves to be the perfect front for Aaron Taylor's remarkable charisma, and he pays a great tribute to John Lennon with the brilliance of his performance.
Anne-Marie Duff also delivers an unforgettable effort. With the beauty and loving charm of Susan Sarandon, Anne-Marie Duff easily wins the love of audiences over. Though she is an elusive figure until the climactic confrontation toward the end of the film, Anne-Marie Duff consistently contributes a caring and supportive attitude towards Aaron Taylor which contrasts to the more emotionally distant nature of Kristin Scott Thomas. She has a very free-spirited nature to her which gives the film a light atmosphere and an enjoyable energy. Anne-Marie Duff perfectly captures an appropriate motherly spirit in her interactions with Aaron Taylor and keeps the story full of positive vibes.
Kristin Scott Thomas is also a powerful presence. She is very direct with her character approach, being strict with Aaron Johnson and ensuring that the important element of class remains in the story. She maintains a very strong will which borders upon cold at times yet always maintains a caring element as to emphasize the intense nature of the relationship shared between John Lennon and Mimi Smith. There is a very meticulous relationship between the two, but both Kristin Scott Thomas and Aaron Taylor work with each other on a very professional level which ensures there are plenty of powerful interactions between them. Kristin Scott Thomas brings an understated yet rich presence to Nowhere Boy and just adds further credibility to the perfection in casting.
Thomas Brodie-Sangster also makes a memorable albeit brief presence as Paul McCartney, sharing some memorable scenes with Aaron Johnson and using the chance to show off his own natural charisma.
Nowhere Boy may be a slow burning and heavily sentimental film, but with Sam Taylor-Wood's rich exploration of characters and a perfect array of performances from a distinguished cast, it ends up being a powerful insight into the early days of the man behind The Beatles.
Hailed as one of Jackie Chan's most notable films, Police Story sounded like a grand experience.
Police Story is a combination of what fans have come to love about his films and also a step in a different direction for him. Rather than being your typical martial arts fare, Police Story shows Jackie Chan stepping into more conventional action film territory while bringing his distinctive flair along with him. It takes a while for the film to get into the swing of things because it takes a while for the story to wade through its serious material and establish the sense of humour it desires. Once it gets there audiences can sit back and enjoy the typical Jackie Chan fare in a different genre.
Unlike many Jackie Chan films, Police Story actually has a plot to it. It's a conventional one nonetheless, but there is still the presence of an actual story and characters this time around. However, it isn't always that entertaining. The good thing about this is it allows Jackie Chan to play a character with greater dimension this time around, but this doesn't become relevant until the end of the film. Up until then it's the same comedic formula which means it's difficult to take him seriously at any other point. But this doesn't prevent the story from fretting over extensive periods of police procedural dialogue and subplots the entire time. There is obviously a greater narrative ambition in Police Story, but it all centres around one character and never goes anywhere. Police Story aims to have more dimensions than its narrative grasp will allow, and as a result the half-assed development ends up just complicating things a lot of the time. Part of the humour in Police Story seems to be the fact that the film takes an over-the-top satirical angle with the police procedural aspect of the story, as if to parody a television soap opera with its comedic melodrama. As a result, the film is ultimately weighed down by an excess of dialogue and slapstick. Jackie Chan's sense of humour and physical dedication to his performance is certainly rich in comical pacing, but the gimmicks can get tiring since they go on for so long. Police Story puts top priority on trying to tell a somewhat tedious story and cramming in as much humour as it can, ultimately forgetting that Jackie Chan's greatest skill lies in his roots as a martial artist. Police Story is a comedy first and a police drama second, but the action element of the film ends up being an afterthought.
Even when the action does rear its head in Police Story, there aren't all that many fight scenes. Many of the action scenes just prove to be another front for the slapstick humour of the film. When everything in the film is so silly it becomes tiring and the action scenes prove to be among the few moments of relief from it all. But even then, Jackie Chan seems to insist on making them all into a joke. Police Story has a decent variety of action sequences and a director of photography who knows how to capture the action with a sense of visual grace, but Jackie Chan doesn't implement all that much into the film or ensure that it is taken to the full extent of its entertaining potential. Nevertheless, they still remain the most entertaining scenes in the film. The production values are high and Jackie Chan's choreography is rich and long-lasting, meaning that all the fight scenes end up being cool to look at. Of course, it's the director efforts of Jackie Chan on screen that really carry the film.
Everything in Police Story falls upon the efforts of Jackie Chan. As the writer, director and star of the film, the man puts a lot of weight upon his own shoulders and makes the story heavily reliant on just how far he is willing to go. He really gives the role his all, but the success of it all depends largely upon how much audience members can end up tolerating all his silly antics at feature length. As a strong fan of his I appreciated all his ambitions and seemingly endless energy, but I also found a limit to how much I was able to enjoy his ridiculously silly antics. Police Story really pushes the limits on Jackie Chan's charms because it pushes him into delivering some of the most ridiculously slapstick he can come up with. Unfortunately, it doesn't always compensate for the shortage of action or the thin nature of the story. The highlight of his performance ultimately comes from towards the end of the film when "Kevin" Chan Ka-Kui ends up confronting his superintendent with the fact that he has never had experience the same threat as Kevin since earning promotion to a desk job. Jackie Chan lets all his emotions loose in this scene and delivers a sheer force of raw anger to his role. The comic tone of the film isn't completely absent, but it is heavily toned down at this moment so that audiences can appreciate the full extent of Jackie Chan's serious performance. The actor clearly has a lot more talent to him than just slapstick comedy and martial arts skills, and though most of Police Story fails to capitalize on this it is nevertheless worthy of appreciation during the moment in the end of the film. So in essence, Jackie Chan finds strong grounding with his dramatic talents at times just as he goes into overdrive with an excess of cheap slapstick humour at others. And he never forgets to kick plenty of ass when called upon to fight, so his performance is certainly memorable both for better and for worse.
Police Story's success rests entirely on the shoulders of Jackie Chan's large ambitions; he maintains a strong eye for imagery and fight choreography and delivers a dedicated energetic performance to match it all, but the story ambitions exceed his narrative grasp and the abundance of slapstick comedy fails to compensate for the shortage of action.
Being Terry Gilliam's first feature as a solo director, Jabberwocky sounded like a solid chance to see his fantastical mind in early form.
Jabberwocky captures Terry Gilliam's transition period between his work with Monty Python and a career as a director of fantasy narratives. The entire feature is abundant in transitional difficulty because it meanders between the tones of Terry Gilliam's earlier works and his later works.
Jabberwocky seems to be unable to decide whether it wants to be a serious fantasy film or a parody of one. The film is ripe with sporadic jokes, but the tone of the feature is very serious as are many of the themes. As a result I didn't know whether to laugh or take the film as a serious social criticism, ultimately doing neither. Mostly, the entire film like it was a pretentious mimicry of British sitcom The Black Adder (1983) as it follows a kind-hearted but submissive and ignorant man with a bowl-cut in a medieval setting. However, The Black Adder was clearly a sitcom while Jabberwocky seems unable to determine its tone. Elements of Monty Python still make their way into the film through sporadic jokes and ridiculously silly situations, but it feels far too numb by a film which is genuinely not funny. Jabberwocky is not a funny film, and it has none of the intellectual brilliance of Terry Gilliam's later features. There is no character development to assist anything along the way, nor is there a complete acknowledgement of just how ridiculous the film's concept is.
It's hard to tell what the real expectation should be for a film like Jabberwocky, but it just feels like an awkward and directionless series of sketches which have no consistent narrative to tie them together. It seems as if there is an attempt at universe building present in the film to connect everything, but everything is scattershot and uninteresting. And one of the most memorable issues with the film is the fact that the actual relevance of the titular Jabberwocky is inert. It is a creature mentioned sporadically throughout the story without playing any essential role in it, and then it presents itself out of the blue at the end of the film as an oversized marionette puppet whose appearance is difficult to discern from how it is presented on the film's poster. Audiences familiar with the Jabberwocky's relevance in Lewis Carroll narratives are likely to expect something more significant from the fantasy mind of the man who gave the world such marvels as Time Bandits (1981) and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). Admittedly it is only his first film and much smaller in budget, but Terry Gilliam has worked wonders with small sums in the past. With Jabberwocky, he simply uses the mythological creature as a token hook to draw audiences into a lacklustre echo of his days in Monty Python.
As far as being a stylish experience, Jabberwocky feels far too low budget to gain any real credibility. Maybe some audiences will find amusement in the fact that the director is able to create a rather medieval setting without spending all that much, but this was already done previously with Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) which he also co-directed. The similarities are undeniable, and I spent the majority of the film in belief that Terry Gilliam had simply recycled the leftover set pieces from his previous work so that he may churn out another film in the same manner Roger Corman did with The Little Shop of Horrors (1960). However, the cinematography really burdens the film. With everything being shot up way too close with rather murky colour scheme, the film ultimately feels to small in scale to achieve its fantasy ambitions. There is also an abundance of shake in the camera; not in the same manner that contemporary action films suffer from, but the camera is constantly moving without any smooth tilts. As a result, there is a constant feeling on instability in the mood. I can certainly admit that I believed the universe in the film and had an appreciation for the scenery, set pieces and costume design. But given that neither the story nor the cinematography knows how to utilise these in any kind of effective manner.
Ultimatel, it's hard to tell whether Jabberwocky is meant to be a film that retreats from Terry Gilliam's Monty Python roots or embraces them, because it seems to do both and ends up in an awkward limbo as a result. You'd think that with fellow Monty Python alumni Michael Palin in the leading role there would be at least some sense of effective humour in the film, but this was not the case. This is heavily due to the fact that almost every other character in Jabberwocky outside of the protagonist just comes and goes on random occasion with no consistent relevance to the story. They don't develop anywhere or do anything aside from making a lame attempt at random jokes, and none of them have any landing. Jabberwocky really never had the chance of being a serious narrative, so if it went alongside the Monty Python theme a lot more then perhaps it would have landed some credible success. But despite all of Michael Palin's efforts, it couldn't.
But Michael Palin really does give it his all. Despite the script's lack of development for his character, he really captures the innocent and lovable nature of Dennis Cooper. He carries a very sweet nature to him without being excessive in conveying the character's vulnerabilities, displaying the potential for dramatic material to function in Jabberwocky. He is very smooth and consistent with his line delivery and has strong chemistry with every fellow actor, as well as engaging with the universe around him in a very consistent manner. He makes a believable character in a film where he is surrounded by one-dimensional others
Despite Michael Palin's good-intentioned leading performance, Jabberwocky is an awkward misfire from Terry Gilliam with several awkward attempts at the comic nature of his earlier work and none of the intellectual brilliance from his later films.
With promises of a badass Scarlett Johansson and exciting visuals, Ghost in the Shell sounded like a fun sci-fi action pleasure.
Before watching Rupert Sanders' film, I had to see the original anime Ghost in the Shell (1995) twice. Yet neither times did I enjoy it. As much as I loved the animation and the central character, I found that there was far little action and too much uninvolved discussion. Even at 82 minutes I found the film to run for too long. If anything, I appreciated the film's potential and some of its concepts. But I also found that they were explored far better in countless other science fiction narratives, even in some that Ghost in the Shell actually inspired. But I figured that above all, Rupert Sanders' visual expertise would equip the film to be a treat for the eyes.
Rupert Sanders' direction will cause viewers to reflect heavily on his work on Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), but less on the visuals and more on the fact that he has no sense in how to make a story interesting in the slightest. Ghost in the Shell is a serious wake up call to the fact that Hollywood is running out of ideas. The entire film feels just like a watered-down version of the remake of Robocop (2014, but with a pretentious attempt at a Blade Runner (1982) aesthetic and both the titular character and a actress who portrayed her in Lucy (2014). Both films touch upon the cybernetic enhancement of a human for the sake of authoritarian weaponisation, and both films are set in a society where cynernetic enhancement has become a possibility. There are many thematic similarities, but the central difference is that the remake of RoboCop didn't suck. Despite lacking the innovation of the Paul Verhoeven original, Jose Padilla's RoboCop had some mildly intelligent political undertones and semi-decent characterization. Ghost in the Shell has none of this, and will leave audiences bored and thinking of times when other films did a much better job with the themes Rupert Sanders couldn't understand. The film maintains some of the problems I had with the original in that it echoed themes from better films without being that entertaining with them, but for Rupert Sanders to repeat the same mistake in such a dull and lifeless manner all over again 22 years later makes me wonder what the point of him adapting the story was in the first place.
The film is problematic from the very intro. After a dreamlike beginning which depicts the creation of Major Mira Killian's bodily form, we are immediately presented with the worst two characters in the entire form. Cutter is the film's obvious villain as clarified by the ridiculously cliche dialogue that stipulates his perspective on Killian as seeing her only as a weapon, and the monotonous efforts of Peter Ferdinando set up a consistently lacklustre path he remains on for the rest of the film. Dr. Ouelet is the generic mother figure of the film whose feminine nature allows her to feel more humanity when approaching the character, and she is played by Juliette Binoche in perhaps the worst performance I've seen from anyone so far in 2017. On top of being just a glimpse of the abundance of monotonous formulaic drama that Ghost in the Shell fails to escape for the rest of the film, it also betrays the mysterious nature of the original film. Where the live-action film begins, the original Ghost in the Shell anime began immediately when Killian's non-whitewashed anime equivalent entered into her assault mission and left audiences mezmerized by the mystery of the character. With the live-action version giving an established identity to the cyborg character, she is no longer elusive. We know what kind of character she is, so when we see her "naked" form there is no longer any surprise to it. We also see signs that the film has wildly mischaracterized the protagonist with an excess of humanization. The remainder of the scene shows of the film's potential as an action film since it displays Rupert Sanders' visual expertise and his ability to create frames that closely mimic the visual marvel of the original anime adaptation. But despite the stylish elements of this action scene, it is underwhelming due to a focus on showing off visual style more than actual cool stunts and choreography. And in the blink of an eye, it is over and we are brought back to a lacklustre story. The film isn't even ten minutes over, and already my hopes had become reduced to the low standard which it ultimately lived up to.
Ghost in the Shell does nothing with its themes. It is just another Hollywood blockbuster about the idea ethics in cybernetics, even though the idea almost never comes up. The theme of cybernetic enhancement and robotic sentience is never embraced either; both elements just dissolve against the backdrop of a story about another oppressive government regime pretending to be achieving heroic acts but using criminal behaviour to construct this facade. This is an overly recycled plot point in countless science fiction/action films, and the age of the source material behind Ghost in the Shell does not render it forgivable when there is a distinctive lack of innovation in every facet. Ghost in the Shell uses recycled plot points and archetypes to tell a story nobody is interested in hearing, and even the film's visuals cannot even rescue it. Like the original film there are extremely few action scenes, all of which are underwhelming due to an excess of reliance on visual effects over choreography as well as short running time and lacklustre lighting. There are extremely few of these over the 106 minute running time which makes the subpar storytelling unable to hide behind them. Even the extensively-designed universe is difficult to appreciate as the film doesn't alllow audiences any time to stop and smell the roses, rather having the characters rush through it so fast that there is never time to appreciate it for its entirety. This is a shame because it limits the scale of the narrative solely to a few characters who spend all their time talking their way through cliche screenplay. The lack of philosophy in the script, shortage of action and overall feeling of emptiness ensure that Ghost in the Shell lives up to its title as the ghost of better stories in the shell of an overblown production. And even though the film has an anime feelign at times, it is just another sign that the Western universe cannot make good live-action narratives based on anime. It's a job for the South Koreans.
Even the cast is a massive letdown, particularly Scarlett Johansson. Aside from the whitewashing controversy surrounding the character and the pathetic way that the re-written narrative attempts to retcon the bad studio decisions, Scarlett Johansson finds other ways to prove herself miscast. There is a certain robotocism which comes with anime characters that served as a major benefit to the anime adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, but it's not something so easily captured by any human actor. Despite her many talents, Scarlett Johansson cannot capture the correct balance of robot and human for her performance. There is often too much emotion in her facial expressions where it should be blank, but there is too much character for the character to relate at all to the titular "shell". Scarlett Johansson puts too much humanity into a character which needs less, and she pretends to have emotion when the character is given no emotional depth by the screenplay. As a result, her effort is a monotonous and awkward one. Physically she may look the part well enough while she certainly manages to put up a fight in the action scenes, but she ultimately ends up as a black-haired and monotonously talkative recreation of the same female action archetype she portrayed in Lucy. Scarlett Johansson is miscast for reasons far more significant than just her ethnicity, and it's quite disappointing in many areas.
But it's Juliette Binoche who is really terrible. Her character is meaningless and too dull to sympathise with, and her line delivery is even more monotonous than Scarlett Johansson. But what's really annoying is her accent. Juliette Binoche gives her character a pretentious lack of spirit or any real emotion and makes it worse with an accent that makes her words occasionally indecipherable. Her accent is just a distraction from everything, but underneath it is a truly dull and lifeless performance where she proves unable to elicit chemistry with absolutely anyone. Juliette Binoche gets little screen time which is the major relief of her performance, but the fact that she is cast at all is a major detriment to Ghost in the Shell.
Peter Ferdinando isn't worth any positive feedback either. The actor clarifies from the first moment that he is here to portray Cutter as a lifeless and cliche villain with no real feeling of threat. It comes as no surprise when he does this for the film's entirety, and his line delivery is as full as the rest of the films around him. Peter Ferdinando exhibits little more than a pretentious disinterest in the role, and it's easy to forget his character is ever there in the first place.
Pilou Asbaek is slightly more interesting because he looks perfectly like Batou from the anime film while also maintaining a confident action hero demeanour. And Michael Pitt has a modicum of elusive charm to him. But Takeshi Kitano is the one actor to give a brilliant performance in Ghost in the Shell. Despite being a simple supporting character, Chief Daisuke Aramaki is a man of restrained strength who takes charge when the time is right. He is subversive and unexpected with his character, consistently keeping audiences guessing about his next actions. And he does it by disguising all his actions underneath a consistently strong line delivery which stays singular in tone while he finds other ways to convey his character's state of mind. Takeshi Kitano doesn't have to put much effort in simply because he is naturally a brilliant talent, and he's the only person you can say that about with Ghost in the Shell.
Ghost in the Shell is a stunningly hollow and misguided Hollywood misfire which maintains the irritating pacing and limited narrative of the original anime but none of the character development or actual originality.
As a popular Australian film with promises of talented acting and nudity, Sirens sounded like a solid experience.
When Reverend Anthony Campion and his wife Estella arrive at their train station and discover the conundrum of communicating with local Australians, audiences immediately get a taste for the humorous nature of the material they're in for. Unfortunately, it can prove misleading in the long run because the sporadic use of humourous Australian stereotypes plays second fiddle to the higher class British elements of the narrative. The latter dominates the film so heavily that it becomes easy to forget that the film is Australian, with the dialogue of the supporting characters being the only essential reminder of this factor. Nevertheless, Sirens is focused predominantly on its two British characters and their journey through an awakening in a different culture. It's a journey through a romanticized vision of Australia which enters fantasy territory frequently, offering an experience which may prove magical to some viewers while seeming indulgent to others. I found a middle ground between the two through appreciating the stylish nature of the film, but ultimately it was the lack of substance and originality which deters me from recommending Sirens.
Sirens ends up playing out as a literal cinematic interpretation of the meanings and messages intended by Norman Lindsay's actual paintings. It is a film which is pretty to look at and rather charming with its classical vibes while enticing with its nudity, but nothing actually happens. The actions of the characters reflect the symbolism in Norman Lindsay's works in that they are free spirited in nature and sexuality. But nothing actually happens in the story. I had no idea who Norman Lindsay was prior to seeing the film, and after seeing it all I know is that he was a man who painted naked women. The deeper elements of his character are forgone by a narrative which reduces him to an elusive supporting figure while the story struggles to establish who is more important out of the two British protagonists. With character development being inconsistent throughout a narrative in which nothing really happens, there is little compelling audiences to care about anything except the next moment in which characters will get naked. Though the is potential for Sirens to open up discussion about the changing social norms and their conflict with conservative ideals of religion and gender roles, this is an afterthought in a story which plays it all off in favour of a tongue-in-cheek approach. Any insight that audiences find in the film pertaining to its discussion of sexual awakening or contemporary social norms has already been covered before in superior narratives of greater insight. While Sirens' more lighthearted nature may allow audiences to absorb its ideals in an easy viewing experience, those in search of a genuinely thought provoking narrative need not apply. Sirens is short on narrative and slowly paced with only minor support from its stylish features.
Nevertheless, Sirens is certainty a beauty to look at. The scenery is remarkable and highlights some of Australia's most lush locations. Everything is always rich in colour and emphasized with a keen eye for detail, reinforced all the more by the exquisite production design and costumes. Sirens almost borders upon being a costume drama at times, though it lacks the melodramatic edge to be defined as one. Furthermore, the musical score is delightful because it has such a rich composition to it that the feeling is very classical yet it is also very lighthearted. This is one of the first things audiences will note when viewing Sirens, and it remains consistent in keeping the film atmospheric without being used too heavily.
Sirens is also worth commending for the way it uses nudity. The way that nudity is played off so artistically and naturally puts a positive vibe around the film's sexual awakening elements. Nudity is presented as a thing of beauty, much like the stunning scenery in the film. It is never explicit or exploitive, even when the cinematography occasionally takes on a voyeuristic perspective. Even though it is primarily women who appear nude in the film, women are still the main characters which highlights the importance of their role in the film beyond just being attractive to look at. It's certainly not developed to the depth that I would certify as innovative, but the good intentions are clear.
And there is also a lot of charm brought into Sirens on the backbone of a talented cast.
Hugh Grant offers a solid leading performance. Though I'm not one to be particularly fond of Hugh Grant, I found his role in Sirens to be a strong sign of his recognized appeal. Through the absence of thesis perceived pompous edge from films such as Bridget Jones' Diary (2001), he presents someone who struggled to understand Australian culture but doesn't remove himself from it. He gently engages with the ideals his character learns of as he discovers the world of Norman Lindsay, and his open-mindedness brings a welcoming likability to the character. Hugh Grant is a leading man with restrained charm whose talent overshadows the lack of general development in his character, and it makes Sirens more enjoyable.
Unfortunately, Tara Fitzgerald doesn't play that much of an interesting character. Despite coming from the same context as Hugh Grant's character, the majority of her genuine development is a one-dimensional "discovery" of her sexual identity where she remains resistant to the culture around her until essentially the last minute of the film. She puts up a dull shell for much of the film and displays too few emotions to be all that captivating, even though she is the central character for the film. Tara Fitzgerald isn't particularly bad in the role, but she doesn't have any distinctive charm to warrant making her the key character.
Sam Neill is certainly a good presence though. The presence of Norman Lindsay as a character in Sirens is fairly wasteful since he's a real-life iconic figure who is reduced to being an abstract one in Sirens, but Sam Neill has no problem capturing the sophisticated intelligence and wit of the man. He entices audiences with his genuine charisma, and you could expect nothing less from him.
Elle Macpherson and Kate Fischer play an enjoyable role in Sirens, particularly because they spend much of the film naked. And the presence of a younger Portia de Rossi and Ben Mendelsohn is nostalgic.
Sirens is an easygoing and stylish piece of cinema, but it's overtly slow pace and lack of originality or story development makes it less intellectually stimulating.
With a distinguished cast, an interesting premise and Academy Award recognition, Hidden Figures sounded like a solid story.
Hidden Figures is more or less exactly as good as one might expect. It's a film with an intelligible premise and a talented group of actors who make it accessible and dramatic, yet it is very talkative in the process. This is the exact expectation I had going into the film, though it did surprise me in certain areas. I expected that the film would be more dramatic with its civil rights themes, but it actually presented this element very much as a subplot. There is a feeling that the film may play it too safe with its racial issues at times, but it also allows the film to have a more easygoing light atmosphere. Hidden Figures remains focused predominantly on the scientific achievements of its characters in the groundbreaking discoveries that strove toward many space launches for NASA. Because the material doesn't focus too heavily on the race or gender of the characters, the focus is more on the genuine brilliance of the characters rather than the fact that they made these achievements against everyone's expectations. The central three characters face discrimination for race and gender, but rather than going into melodramatic rants that hit audiences over the head with their political messages they take it all on board and keep going. They aren't one-dimensional figures of victimhood, they are strong characters determined not to be held down by an oppressive system. And as a result, the message is far more powerful.
Hidden Figures is a film with some very strong scripting. The characters
are well-developed enough for audiences to see their personal lives and their professional ones with a proper balance, and it adds a very personal touch to their achievements. And despite a very scientific narrative, the language is coherent enough for most audiences to understand. The science is explained clearly while the more complicated theories are kept brief enough not to isolate audiences. The issue of civil rights is presented in a more subtle fashion as it simply weaves its way into casual bursts of the plot and dialogue to match the normalization of such a prejudice which was common at the time of the story. One flaw in the story is that with three central characters facing similar struggles as African-American there is a feeling that the material could have gone a bit deeper which can be disappointing. But more disappointingly the story struggles to sufficiently keep up with the stories of all three characters which reduces Dorothy Vaughan to being a simple subplot while Mary Jackson is left as an afterthought. There is obviously a much bigger story in Hidden Figures than Theodore Melfi ends up exploring, but he is nevertheless brilliant in capturing the story of Katherine Goble Johnson.
Hidden Figures rises on the strength of its protagonist. Set in the early 1960's with brilliant scenery, costumes and production design to capture the nostalgia of the time period, Hidden Figures captures a time when racial segregation had become a naturalized part of workplace life. It wasn't an aggressive subject, it was just the unfortunate social norm. But Katherine Goble Johnson proved herself a humble and noble woman with a brilliant mind and took all for the sake of scientific achievement. It's only when the stress of working in such an intense environment coupled with racial and sexist oppression piles on top of her that she reacts in any way. This plays out in a brilliant sequence in which she is condemned by her boss Al Harrison for failing to be present at her work desk at the proper time. While trying to maintain he sophisticated and professional nature, she progressively breaks down as she goes into an intense monologue outlining her sheer frustration with unfair workplace demands, a tedious uniform policy and a the ridiculous rules of racial segregation. This is the most powerful moment in the film, and after it concludes with her anger over having to survive off a pot of coffee which her Caucasian workmates refuse to consume, she returns to work. A the entire room goes silent, Al Harrison walks across the room and peels the label off the pot which assigns it to people of colour. he does it so silently without any struggle, and the ever so slight gesture of peeling off a sticker immediately ends the ridiculous coffee segregation in the workplace. This scene emphasises just how ludicrous racism is and how sometimes the solution can be through a gesture as minor as simply sharing a pot of coffee; it's a resolution which occurs so easily after a climax which has been so affecting on one of the characters, and one who is so essential to the NASA missions. This is the greatest moment in the film, and while it is a powerful credit to the script and direction of the film it is Taraji P. Henson who deserves the most acclaim for empowering it.
Taraji P. Henson's performance is undoubtably one of the finest of 2016. At the film's beginning she falls into the crowd of struggling African-American women while struggling to assert herself in the workplace environment. But as the material begins to emphasize the importance of Katherine Goble Johnson more and more, she progressively gains a louder voice. The more this happens, the stronger Taraji P.Henson grows as her charisma erupts. The actress brilliantly feeds audiences scientific jargon with a tenacious understanding for all the concepts, and she shares both that and the bare bones of her soul with everyone. We see the full extent of Katherine Goble Johnson's brilliance and the heart within her, and she captures both the love and admiration of audiences. She commands the screen as a powerful presence and the centre of the story, and she justifies this with the greatest performance of her career to date. Taraji P. Henson delivers. Performance worth nothing short of an Academy Award nomination, and her effort is the definitive reason to watch the film.
Octavia Spencer is a predictably delightful presence. Widely recognized for her rich warm nature and succinct one delivery, Octavia Spencer brings all that to the same story while adding brilliant scientific expertise to the character. She maintains her humble nature and uses it to work her way through the conflict sequences in the story to add gentle humor and drama to it all. Though her character's story has inconsistent development, Octavia Spencer carries it all with sheer charm.
Janelle Monae is also a strong presence. Though she only entered the field of live-action cinema in the same year as Hidden Figures, she h such a natural charisma to her that you would think she had years of experience. She speaks with such sophisticated passion and beauty that the audience cannot help but feel tantalized by her, and the fact that she breezes through the drama with such a kind-spirited ambition really warms the audience to Mary Jackson even when the story around her doesn't fully grasp the full extent of her powerful story. Janelle Monae is a remarkable addition to the high standard of talent in Hidden Figures.
Kevin Costner also plays a solid role. In one of the best efforts of his recent career resurgence, Kevin Costner portrays Al Harrison, a man so passionate about his work at NASA that his adherence to conservative social norms loses any sensibility. Though he is not the central hero of the story, he maintains a strong attitude throughout the film where his focus always lies on pushing for greater scientific achievements while racist ideals become pushed to the back of his mind. While this reflects the normalization of such abhorrent social norms, it also points out how arbitrary it is in the face of human progress. Kevin Costner perfectly captures the restrained nature of the character with a gentle yet passionately knowledgable line delivery. While the actor is largely known for his rich patriotic energy and larger-than-life heroism, he is far more subtle in Hidden Figures and evokes a strong positive energy as well as powerful chemistry with Taraji P. Henson. Kevin Costner brings nostalgia to Hidden Figures and adds respectability to his resurgent credibility.
Jim Parsons is an interesting presence. It takes some adjusting to see him in a role outside of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory (2007-present), particularly when he's playing another uptight scientist with a conservative nature. But as he tones down the comedic nature and obsessive elements of that popularized his sitcom career, it becomes easier to accept him as Paul Stafford. The man's restrained line delivery and clear understanding of the language in the script really complements the character and makes him an effective presence.
Kirsten Dunst also brings a strong maturity to her role, and Glen Powell's sheer positive energy makes the experience more enjoyable.
Hidden Figures is very talkative and may be a little light with some of its subject matter, but it's a powerful tale of human achievement in science and civil rights supports by a brilliant leading performance from Taraji P. Henson
With a critically acclaimed performance from Jonah Hill, War Dogs sounded like an entertaining chance to see him in top form.
Having been directed by Todd Phillips with Jonah Hill in the lead, War Dogs had a clear risk of turning into your standard American comedy film. However, even though it does have a light-hearted nature to it there is no mistaking the fact that Todd Phillips appreciates the serious nature of the subject matter in the film. Unfortunately, it doesn't mean he knows how to handle dramatic material just yet.
War Dogs doesn't go deep into the depth of its characters are they are presented very much as standard business archetypes meaning that it comes up short on depth, and its sense of the complicated politics at the root of the war and arms dealing comes up short. Eventually, the narrative path becomes very much by-the-numbers as we follow the two arms dealers through their many business proceedings without ever gaining an insight into who they actually are. We know that David Packouz struggles to balance his career with his home life as we see a generic and boring subplot about the difficulties of his relationship with his girlfriend Iz, but this is the same dramatic subplot from literally every movie ever. It's no more compelling this time than it was in any other film, especially because it's just another throwaway plotline with no lasting relevance to the story. The story in War Dogs is not just formulaic, but it is also heavily fictionalized meaning that there is no consistent real-world relevance with the events being depicted in the film. In the long run, there proves to be no social commentary or genuine meaning anywhere within War Dogs, and the potential to satirize the weapons industry by proving how two young Americans were able to reign supreme within it goes completely over the head of the director who has established quite a credible career in making comedy films. It seems that unless the material is crude, Todd Phillips is not up to the challenge of stringing it together into a feature length film.
War Dogs doesn't even go into the deeper nature of the relationship between David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, meaning that even the buddy element of the film fails to come to any realization. There is no humanity whatsoever in War Dogs, meaning that the characters end up as hollow and lifeless as the weapons they are dealing. The drama is therefore one-dimensional, and since War Dogs doesn't explore the political undercurrent of the gun trade, its wider relevance to the real world or nature of the people involved in it, it proves to be a film with nothing to say. Frankly, War Dogs just serves as a reminder of when the industry was explored with far more edge and character in Andrew Niccol's Lord of War (2005), which was a Nicolas Cage film. Among the few memorable things about War Dogs are the on-location scenery which helps to convincingly convey the scale of events as being effectively large with some convincing visual appeal and the cinematography that captures it all. Of course in a hollow drama film, this can only go so far. And visual style is not one of the major ambitions of the project.
The one truly solid aspect of War Dogs is the leading performance of Jonah Hill. While not as groundbreaking or award worthy as I was expecting, it is nevertheless another credible addition to his acting legacy. Jonah Hill began as a young comedic actor in Superbad (2007) before rising through the ranks on the basis of his natural charisma and versatility. It's easy to spot it in War Dogs because there are times when Jonah Hill's attitude is intimidating, and yet if he presented them in a comedy film they could come off as a humourous. It just goes to show that the actor has a natural flair for both drama and comedy. He commands the screen in War Dogs because he presents his own natural charisma to the role and lets it flow naturally. The first major scene in the film shows him being stiffed by a group of pseudo drug dealers. Refusing to react in any melodramatic manner, he walks away and comes back with an automatic weapon he fires into the air without a change in emotional expression. He lets out a subtle laugh after this. This moment epitomizes the fact that Jonah Hill knows just how powerful the character is, and he chooses to display it without any so much as saying anything. He exuberates a lot of confidence in the role and commands a strong understanding of the character and surrounding subject matter. Though there are many times when he presents Efraim Diveroli as a sleazeball, he never pretends to be anything else or relies on stereotyping to convey the character's nature. Jonah Hill is perfectly consistent with his character because he is very restrained with his emotion yet not shy about letting it loose in the times when it's really appropriate. The actor makes himself the direct centre of attention in War Dogs by transcending the lacklustre screenplay and actively making himself interesting in a film which doesn't really have anything to say.
Miles Teller doesn't have the same level of success. The actor is just fine in the role because he maintains a sophisticated demeanour and delivers his lines with serious charisma, but there is nothing interesting about his character. The only interesting thing about David Packouz is the fact that in his interactions with Efraim Diveroli we get a chance to see Jonah Hill do something interesting. Miles Teller is a fine actor who deserves far better than the material in War Dogs because the resulting performance is far from interesting. A cameo from Bradley Cooper proves fairly interesting because it utilizes the actor's intense sophistication, but it is ultimately too small to have any significant impact on the film. It's just lucky that Todd Phillips helped propel the actor to stardom in The Hangover (2009) and was therefore able to get him back for War Dogs.
War Dogs serves as a strong addition to Jonah Hill's filmography due to both his strong dramatic charisma and the fact that nothing else in the film is interesting enough to compete with him.
As with any action film headlined by Scott Adkins, Hard Target 2 sounded like an exciting thrill ride.
The general existence of Hard Target 2 takes me by surprise. The first Hard Target (1993) remains one of the greatest films in Jean-Claude Van Damme's career, a man who remains one of my all-time favourite action stars. But why someone would give the film a direct-to-DVD spin-off 23 years after the original is beyond me. The concept for the film is cool enough to explore again, but there is little chance that a home media sequel can live up to the spectacle of John Woo's cinematic action classic. Given the change of director, the odds of transcendence are exceedingly minimal. However, the presence of legendary martial artist Scott Adkins as the lead gives a huge boost of credibility to Hard Target 2. The man has worked with Jean-Claude Van Damme on multiple occasions as well as starring in the two direct-to-DVD sequels to Undisputed (2002) which both triumphed the original. He did the same thing as the lead of Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012) which was the best of the series, so all in all this film really had a fair amount of potential.
The first plot error in Hard Target 2 is the fact that in Wes Baylor's fight with Tim Sutherland, there is a clear moment where he has defeated his foe before delivering an execution kick to him. Though suspension of belief is acceptable in this situation, we learn soon after that the two are actually best friends. This pushes the story into farfetched territory as it's hard to believe that anyone could be as merciless against an opponent they are so close with. It's hard to honestly believe this relationship due to the aggressive nature of Wes Baylor. This is clearly thinking too much into the plot of a film which has a low standard of story. It is part of the formula to reveal the background of the protagonist's quest for redemption in an action film, but it is more of a challenge to tolerate when the drama is mishandled like this. And even though Hard Target hardly had much of a plot to it, the film still commented on the fact that America was poor in its treatment of war veterans and homeless people which gave a greater sympathetic edge to the film. In Hard Target 2, the Western domination of Eastern cultures is a plot point which has been used in heavy surplus from countless other films and just lacks the same interesting hero or villain to make up for it this time. In essence, Hard Target 2 maintains the same interesting concept as its predecessor
However, amid the awkward display of storytelling in the intro to Hard Target 2 is also a display of the film's action potential. We get to see Scott Adkins doing what he does best as he dolls out the harshness against Troy Honeysett and foreshadows a feature length film of him kicking ass at every turn. But as far as the action ultimately goes, Hard Target 2 is a film with mixed results. The film isn't a perfect fit for the talents of Scott Adkins as he spends the majority of the film running from his enemies more than combatting them. And when he does fight, the film is inconsistent in utilizing the man's fighting skills. There are many moments which make a clear display of his magnificent physical capabilities as a martial artist, but they tend to be very brief bursts of action followed by more extended periods of him running. You can see that Roel Reine has made an active effort to maintain some of the John Woo elements in his sequel such as the elements of slow motion, while the use of motorcycles and many jump kicks help to reinforce the nostalgia. But the glory of the original only receives a modicum of replication in Hard Target 2. The choreography is good, but the cinematography sometimes captures the fight up too close for audiences to take the entirety of the fight in. The mediated touch of slow motion is effective, but it still doesn't glorify the action with any significance. The film aims to have a variety of action with shootouts and chases including themselves in the mix, but it nevertheless appears too briefly to make a major impact on the film.
Still, the film does deserve credit for its slick production values. Given that the setting for the film is characterized as a hundred square miles of jungle, the scenery does a powerful job in reinforcing this with the cinematography utilizing tracking shots to capture the scale of the jungle. Given that the sights include waterfalls and elephants, there is quite a versatile setting to enjoy. The absence of an urban setting means that there are less explosive set pieces, but it nevertheless means the film is a relatively colourful experience.
And Scott Adkins definitely deals justice in the lead. The man is essentially a flawless martial artist, and while Hard Target 2 may not capture this in its entirety there is nevertheless an amazing burning passion for fighting that he puts on display with his ferocious jump kicks and quick punches. Despite some awkward plotting and thin characterization, he still manages to make a relatively compelling lead with a restrained anger in his line delivery. In his silence, he manages to humanize the character through the subtle expression of vulnerability in his facial expressions. We really gather that he has regrets in his past which contrast with the raw display of aggression displayed in his more intense fight scenes. The film is clearly more of a physical effort than anything else as much of the film is shots of him running through the jungle, but his sheer athleticism keeps him going throughout the entire journey while his versatile displays of flexibility remind audiences why he's so popular in the first place. Scott Adkins manages to deliver as best as he can with the material given to him in Hard Target 2.
Hard Target 2 has some nice scenery as the backdrop for Scott Adkins' natural ass-kicking abilities, but the story is less powerful the second time around while the action scenes are often too brief and inconsistently captured.
Headlined by Jet Li, The One sounded like a potentially entertaining action piece.
With its ridiculously fast pace, it takes no time before everything wrong with The One forces itself onto viewers. The entire Multiverse concept of the plot seems thrown in there so that The One can seem a lot more intelligent than it actually is whereas ultimately it is nothing more than an underdeveloped token plot point. The film misuses a science fiction concept with some strong potential by exploiting it as the subtext to an extremely generic action film which quickly descends into an endless series of meaningless chases and bad fight sequences. The premise in The One is ultimately both too dumb to transcend any generic action movie standards yet also too confusing to be enjoyable as a mindless guilty pleasure, and this imbalance damages the entire experience. I'm not sure if The One is a film which wants to pretend it encourages thinking or is shameless in its stupidity, but the plot is so senseless and bereft of logic or actual exploration of its concept that it becomes memorably stupid. It's clear that the mix of martial arts and science fiction is some desperate attempt to capitalize on the massive success of The Matrix (1999), but there is hardly an intelligent thought on board with the story to The One. The dialogue is every form of cliche and there are no characters worth caring about, and anyone who dares to try and keep up with the story's sheer convolution will find that the excessive pace of the story makes it too difficult to pay attention to. So in essence, the plot is exactly as ludicrous and poorly handled as you would expect from director James Wong.
As far as production values go, The One uses very cheap tactics to tell its story on such a low budget. The unconvincing visual effects are already a problem, but the story takes the path that Cannon Films took on Masters of the Universe (1987) by shifting its story to a contemporary American setting and having everything play out in city streets and generic interiors. The scale of the story is thus way too small for it to reach its larger science fiction ambitions and the film feels way too cheap to be anything more than a standard action film. The film ends up being a series of shots with people talking endlessly, running to or from someone and then getting into aforementioned poorly conceived fight scenes. To make matters worse, The One also utilizes a heavily generic early 2000's soundtrack. Admittedly I like some of the songs that made it to the soundtrack, but the fact that there was such an abundance of the same basic style of song again and again quickly became difficult to tolerate. Any film that lacks a sensible understanding of how to use Disturbed's "Down With the Sickness" is one in clear need of better editors. But with everything else in the film faltering, the soundtrack was bound to follow.
The presence of Jet Li is the major attraction for The One and should be the high point of the film. But despite his best attempts to show off his capabilities, James Wong seems being on absolutely destroying everything he goes for. The first action scene in the film is a mix of stale choreography, obvious strings and CGI where the most minor movements from Jet Li result in characters getting thrown all over the place by obvious visual effects. I hoped that at the least audiences would get to see a modicum of work on behalf of Jet Li, but despite some minor sparks here and there no consistency ever reveals itself. Among the many people that Jet Li fights in The One are another version of himself and action hero Jason Statham, so there really should be some kind of excitement somewhere within the film. But James Wong seems essentially bent on fighting the man every step of the way and leaves audiences with some of the least entertaining action scenes to ever come out of a Jet Li film. To make matters worse, the fact that the film carries a pretentiously serious narrative poses a struggle for Jet Li to bring out the best in his acting skills. The man's transition into English-language films was still in its early stages around the time of The One, and the film leaves too much of a burden on him with its nonsensical narrative and poor characterization. Jet Li is left to actually portray two characters who are in a constant battle to have less dimensions and more generic motivations, and as the actor struggles to find a grounded consistency with his line delivery in either of them. It's clearly a struggle for Jet Li to assert his tenacity of the English language, and yet he is forced to keep churning out terrible dialogue without being able to hide it behind his fight skills this time around. The One is a film which expects way too much from Jet Li and refuses to back him up with any reasonable support, resulting in one of his lesser performances from his earlier Hollywood days.
Jason Statham should be a lot more entertaining to watch than he ends up being in The One, but James Wong refuses to let that happen. Fans of his may get a kick out of his general presence and his first of several collaborations with Jet Li, but he is reduced to portraying a background stock characters with no central gimmicks to elevate him to the attention of audiences. He may possess the capabilities to put up a good fight, but The One is not a film which makes any use of them whatsoever. Jason Statham similarly finds himself caught in a low point of his transition to Hollywood stardom.
And Carla Gugino gets pushed into playing the standard wife of the hero before becoming a woman in the fridge with no impression being made along the way.
The One smothers Jet Li's potential talent underneath a reliance on poor editing and lacklustre CGI with a rushed pace and wooden dialogue to further burden an already convoluted and underdeveloped story.
With such extensive Academy Award recognition to its name, The Last Emperor sounded like Bernardo Bertolucci's true masterpiece.
Bernardo Bertolucci is the kind of filmmaker who has proven that even in times when he cannot craft the most interesting story, he knowns how to create a visionary experience. As Stealing Beauty (1996) and The Dreamers (2003) are the only two films of his I have seen which have both lived up to this prophecy, I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised when The Last Emperor did as well. It was just more disappointing this time around due to the higher level of critical acclaim this film held over the director's other works.
I wasn't all that familiar with the political history of China before going in to The Last Emperor so I had hoped that it would provide me some kind of historical understanding of the country. In actual fact, the audience gets as much of a sheltered perspective of the political context as the titular character. The same way that Puyi is hidden from the world in the Forbidden City in Beijing. As a result we are able to see the world through the eyes of the protagonist yet blinded to the mass amounts of history that he is missing. The fact that the story maintains such a narrow focus over such a lengthy period of time makes it an epic which is actually rather small in scale. When considering that, it just makes the film seem like an oxymoron.
It's clear that The Last Emperor has such a great story to it, but Bernardo Bertolucci insists on keeping the focus so minimal without knowing precisely what makes the story interesting. The beginning of the film is focused so heavily on Puyi growing up as a child granted the title of the next Emperor that essentially nothing happens for the entire first hour. The film is nice to look at for the duration of this, but the lack of actual story dynamics grows increasingly frustrated. Eventually we begin to see some things happening, but the slow pace of the film is maintained the entire time and so the sparks of intrigue are not turned into flames at any major point in the film. We are expected to just looking at the pretty pictures while little else happens until around halfway through the film, and by that point the damage is already done. Even when the story does finally begin to explore more engaging territory, the unsatisfactory build-up and continuously slow pace keep the film from making any kind of emotional impact.
During this extensive waiting period, the character development doesn't prove to justify the small scale of the film. Rather than emphasizing who Puyi was as a person, the film simply presents his life as an emperor. Obviously this needed to be a key story factor in a film called The Last Emperor, but we never gain any understanding of who he truly was as a person. The film begins by showing Puyi's childhood in which we see the traditional manner a child is raised in the Forbidden City as the story intertwines this with his contemporary experiences as a prisoner of Fushun. Trying to keep up with both these time periods while the context of them is so elusive proves to just make the experience thoroughly confusing, and the already boring nature of the film makes it a chore to have to follow along with. So ultimately, The Last Emperor has a story which is too poorly focused, too confusing, too slow and too long for its own good.
But as with any Bernardo Bertolucci film, The Last Emperor is pretty to look at. Given that the production of the film marked the first time a European filmmaker had been granted access to film in the Forbidden City of Beijing, it's quite a momentous production. And the director has no fear for showing off as much of the land as he can. The scenery is therefore picture perfect and makes the story seamlessly believable while the added production design and costumes just help to reinforce it. The film is a magnificent spectacle of imagery which is captured with perfectly gentle cinematography that always grasps the scale of the setting it deals with, and the beautiful musical score helps to compliment the visuals by reinforcing the film's cultural grace and atmospheric strength.
And even if the characters aren't magnificent, the cast in The Last Emperor make a solid effort.
John Lone proves perfectly sophisticated as Puyi. He only comes into the film during the later years of the story, but he enters during the most character-focused segments of the story and manages to capture the sophistication and genuine political concern of China's last emperor. He is also assisted by Joan Chen whose natural charisma helps to spark a strong chemistry between the two when the story makes them interact. Both John Lone and Joan Chen make a memorable presence in The Last Emperor.
Of course, it is the legendary actor Peter O'Toole who stands out in The Last Emperor. Assisted by the fact that he plays the only role in the film whose relevance to the story is explicit, Peter O'Toole's delightful charm helps to give energy to the film when it plods along at a tediously slow rate much of the time. The actor presents a naturally intelligent character who interacts with Puyi by showing some actual heart and transcending the background that all the other characters fade into. The man's natural charisma just lights up the screen and his friendly nature really pushes the film out of the bleak tone it finds itself trapped in for much of the time. Peter O'Toole's supporting effort in The Last Emperor really proves to be one of the most enjoyable assets to the film.
The presence of popular 80's Asian actors Victor Wong and Dennis Dun is also entertaining after their prior collaborations on Year of the Dragon (1985) and Big Trouble in Little China (1986). And as a fan of B-movie action cinema, I'm always happy to spot Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa.
The Last Emperor boasts Bernardo Bertolucci's magnificent eye for imagery and Peter O'Toole's finely-tuned charm, but the epic political story behind the narrative is forsaken for a one-dimensional depiction of an identity-ridden narrative stretched on for too long by a tedious pace.
With the Monster Pictures label as its distribution company, Yakuza Weapon sounded like an entertainingly violent cult experience.
The visual style of Yakuza Weapon is very troublesome. And given that the film is one which focuses more on style than narrative, this is problematic. It's clear from the beginning that visuals will be an issue because the film opens with an action scene full of potential with only meandering success. The fight choreography appears to be all solid and the use of cheap explosion effects matches the film's sense of humour, but the impression is still not that strong. First of all, the colour scheme seems all wrong because the film is far too bright to be a convincingly gritty film. It's obvious the film doesn't attempt to go for the most sophisticated detail since it is obviously cheap in many areas for comic effect, but it just feels lazy in the intro. A slightly grimmer colour scheme could have made the film a lot more convincing, but that's not the ultimate result. However, the greater issue in the film is the endless abundance of shakycam. The film kicks off with an action scene which is shot not only far too close to capture everything, but with far too many shakes for its own good. You can still pick on the fact that the actors are putting in a strong effort with the stunt choreography, but with all the shaking going on it is difficult to appreciate it in its full potential. Add this to the fact that the camera minimizes the focus to a very small portion of the actors with an excess of zoom and you've got a director of photography who is certified in the art of mediocrity. There are some occasional shots where the technique aims for greater ambition such as the long single-take fight scene from later on down the track, but when the film kicks off with poor camera work which it cannot shake throughout nearly any of the scenes that should be exciting, it becomes a challenge to enjoy the film to the full extent of its ambitions.
This technique continues on into the scenes where the characters are just sitting around and talking. The dialogue is supposed to be characterizing the events and building up intensity before the next action scene, but the entire mood is distracted by the constant shaking with the camera. Scenes like this should be stable so that there is greater focus on the characters and a more naturally occurring tension, but since the camera shakes everywhere it becomes too much of a distraction which disables the atmospheric potential of the sequence. It's annoying enough that the camera has to interfere with the most exciting moments in the film, but when it continues to make the mistakes in every other moment it just becomes clear that the director of photography is too amateur. In the case of Yakuza Weapon, all the entertainment in the experience boils down to the action scenes because the film uses an intentionally generic plot and one-dimensional characters simple as an excuse to pull together a cast of talented choreographers and bargain-bin visual effects for a cheap exploitation experience. The generic dialogue can be dull when the characters get talkative, but the film is back to delivering the action in no time. And given that the choreography in the film is clearly decent, there needs to be greater appreciation of it by the directors Tak Sakaguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi. Instead, they leave Masakazu Oka to handle the cinematography and leave some unmistakable damage on the film. It honestly doesn't make sense because the film goes for a B-movie style of exploitation yet shakycam is not a technique implemented into such a film all that much. In fact, it is the technique which is ensuring that Hollywood action cinema is going into a rapid decline due to the abysmal result of travesties such as Taken 2 (2012) and A Good Day to Die Hard (2013). With Yakuza Weapon succumbing to the same technical errors yet lacking any of the superior production values to disguise itself, it fails to make any much of an impression.
However, I will give a modicum of praise to the film. Despite its technical faults, the film is not one to be held to the same standard of the larger-budget films it parodies because it doesn't realy care. It is just bent on having a fun time with a ridiculous plot, and it pursues this with an endless flurry of action scenes. The camera may be annoying, but it is still possible to look past it fairly often simply to appreciate the cheap thrills of the film. You can see that an effort is really made with the choreography even if they have to rush it at times, and the cheap visual effects provide some appropriately laughable explosions and blood to hit the screen. The film certainly has a sense of humour about itself which it isn't shy about showing off with its visual style, and the actors are appropriately over the top with their relentlessly stereotypical performances. Though there are no real characters to come with them, the cast nevertheless remain insanely dedicated to taking on the story with such intensity that they help to bring it to life. Even though Yakuza Weapon is a film which was shot in a period of only 12 days, everyone has clearly made a dedicated effort to bring out the best they can. And even though Masakazu Oka needs to find a better job than being a director of photography, he doesn't prevent everyone else's efforts from at least being recognizable.
Yakuza Weapon's sense of humour, cheap visual effects and decent stunt choreography give it a handful of decent action scenes, but the viewer must resists some extremely poor cinematography if they are to embrace the best part of a film which offers nothing else in terms of character development or story originality.
As with any film adopting the Monster Pictures label, Backcountry sounded like a creative horror film.
Aside from the distribution label, the central thing drawing me into Backcountry was the fact that it sounded like such a simple film. The idea of a horror thriller shot entirely on-location with a reliance on setting and atmosphere to build its tension sounded like a strong chance to learn about some tricks to low-budget filmmaking. In his debut as a director, Adam MacDonald manages to achieve exactly that.
Backcountry clarifies that its horror content through its poster, but if you didn't know anything about it going in then you'd have no idea what the source of the horror was. Though the film's genre is signified by the manner in which the title appears on screen, the actual source of the threat to the main characters is not made explicit until about halfway through the film. The majority of the film's beginning focuses on the dynamic between main characters Jenn and Alex as we begin to understand the relationship between them. The distrust between the two is a source of drama which develops the characters beyond simple archetypes without wasting too much time on them, leading to a confrontation when they encounter a somewhat seedy campy who hints that he could be a threat to them. The characters soon find themselves lost in the woods much like in The Blair Witch Project (1999), raising the potential dangers in the story to an all new level. This all proceeds into the story at a gentle place while the acting manages to carry the rest of the drama. This all remains consistent over the course of the film, meaning that Backcountry sets a standard from the beginning and never sinks out of it.
The sheer simplicity of the plot is obviously its central limitation because the film revolves around this concept without trying to complicate things or overreach its narrative grasp. But it followed the exact narrative path I had expected without being too predictable, all while using its stylish virtues to really make an effective film. There is only so long you can spend looking at characters marching through the woods before it becomes repetitive, but Backcountry manages to counter that notion most of the time through building a strong atmosphere and by managing to keep me guessing. Clearly a low-budget production, Adam MacDonald refuses to let funds hold him back and puts his full potential into the project. It's all worth it in the end because the film is packed with impeccable imagery, proving that one does not need to spend copious amounts of money to make a visionary feature.
There are two essential assets to making Backcountry function. The first is the on-location scenery which is picture perfect. While it provides a stunning backdrop for the characters to go camping in and has such an inherent natural beauty about it, it is also a grim and unforgiving land which stretches on for miles. It convincingly gives a feeling to the story which is both open world and drastically confined, offering a perfectly convincing setting for the world. The scenery is amazing, and when the bear from the poster enters the fray, the film becomes very much like Jaws (1975) with a bear instead of a shark. Though this was a concept already taken upon by Grizzly (1976), it is not as much of a cheap gimmick as the bear attacks in a far more realistic fashion. Admittedly the bear is not as prevalent a threat as one might assume based on the poster which is a shame given that it was utilized with such realism that it made the experience extremely intense and could have enhanced the film all the more if it was a more long-lasting threat, but the tension in the film is maintained nonetheless. The bear is not the dominant force in the film as it is nature in general that poses such a threat to the human characters who must fight to survive. In that sense the film is very much like Adam Green's horror film Frozen (2010), only with a much higher standard for acting and more versatility in the imagery.
The cinematography of Backcountry is a true highlight of the film. Due to Adam MacDonald's expert eye for imagery, the cinematography in Backcountry not only grasps the full beauty of the the forest land but provides a strong perspective on the struggles of the character. With all the little details it focuses on with its extreme close-ups, tracking shots and long shots, we get the full spectacle of the experience while embracing the film's intensely atmospheric technique. Even the use of shakycam is good because it is moderated heavily and only used during the most intense moments of the film without disguising the climactic nature of the events or the blood and gore. Backcountry builds its mood almost entirely off the use of cinematography with some added assistance from the sound editing that creates a striking effect during the heavy use of silence in the film. The occasional touch of a subtle musical score is also handy.
And on top of it all, Backcountry gains major credibility for utilizing an actually talented cast.
Missy Peregrym is a perfectly solid lead in Backcountry. Without adhering to the generic stereotypes of women in horror films or relying on nudity to carry her, Missy Peregrym makes an actual character out of the simplistic role she is presented with and captures the sympathies of viewers. She is strong-willed and determined yet very humanized, the latter of which gets broken down more and more as the terrors imposes themselves on the story and we see the intense vulnerabilities of her. Missy Peregrym makes the threats in Backcountry seem all the more real by relying more on her genuine human spirit than any arbitrary attempts at character building, putting all her emotions into top gear and forcing them into the emotional spirit of the film. Missy Peregrym leads Backcountry brilliantly.
Jeff Roop also does a great job. He portrays a very flawed character who is insecure and threatened by anything that steps in the way of his egotism, but at the same time he has a gentle spirit to him which makes him likable. As a result he too is a very human character, and his interactions with Missy Peregrym are appropriately gentle for the subtle moments of the film and intense during its more climactic sequences. The two work extremely well together by bouncing emotions off each other, adding an effective human drama to the film to keep the spirit of the atmosphere alive during its less horrific moments.
Backcountry is as simple with its plotting as you would expect, but with Adam MacDonald's expert eye for imagery and a strong pair of performances from Missy Peregrym and Jeff Roop, it is a perfectly convincing and intense horror film.