Sunday, May 6, 2018

Happy Death Day review


I'm not usually much of a fan of horror or slasher films; watching people get killed or seeing scary stuff just for it's own sake doesn't hold that much appeal to me. However, I have enjoyed such films when they had other things going for them, or when they were just solid films overall that didn't rely on the horror or gore aspects to carry them. Or when they were just silly tongue-in-cheek fun (coughJasonXcough). So when I saw the trailer for Happy Death Day, I thought it looked to be worth a shot.

Let me warn you: while this film fits the general horror mold in some ways, it's not particularly scary and there's not much blood or guts, so if you're looking for a gory slasher or terrifying horror film, you might not enjoy this one. I loved it.

Obviously "not having stuff" doesn't get me to love a movie. No, I loved it because it was fun, had great characters with decent depth, and a nice story. If you like Groundhog Day you'll probably enjoy this movie. Not because it borrows the central gimmick, but because it's also a story about growth and change. This isn't just a surface-level imitation of Groundhog Day, it's a loving homage that's not afraid to openly admit it's inspiration.

Sometimes when watching a "scary" scene I feel scared, sometimes I'm not scared but I'm tensely riveted to the screen, watching to see what happens. The rest of the time I'm usually just waiting for the scene to end so we can move on. It's very rare that I'm neither scared nor tense but I genuinely empathize with the character's own fear; this film managed it. I take that as a testament to Jessica Rothe's performance, which I was very impressed by. At times she was hateable, others she was likeable, pitiable, or relatable as the script called for. I don't think the film would have worked half as well with a lesser actress.

While no-one else in the film had nearly as much screentime, every member of the cast did their job just fine. Ruby Modine deserves mention for her performance as the kind roommate trying to connect with the difficult friend. I liked Broussard, I thought he managed to communicate his character's archetype without slipping into one-note stereotype territory; he felt real is what I'm trying to say. Plus I thought he had good chemistry with Rothe.


I think Happy Death Day deserves an 8/10: it's a good movie that looks a bit like a slasher, but isn't really.




#####SPOILER WARNING#####

I could understand if some people end up feeling disappointed by the killer's relatively mundane identity; there's an expectation that the time-loop is the killer's doing, in order to torment Tree. Personally I was not disappointed, I thought the reveal worked well, even if Lori wasn't a very intimidating killer.

So what's up with the time loop then? Is it a bad thing that it's never explained? I don't think so; while having a solid reason for a time loop can certainly work well, I think it lends itself better to less grounded movies; things like Edge Of Tomorrow where it's less about the characters and more about the situation. Happy Death Day, like Groundhog Day, is a story about personal growth, and like Groundhog Day it doesn't try to shoehorn an explanation in, which would just distract from the important stuff anyway.

However, if we are to discuss possible reasons, I can think of two. First off there's simple divine intervention; a "Christmas Carol" sort of chance for the character to mend their ways. Second, there's superpowers: unlike Groundhog Day, Tree only ever went back in time after dying. So perhaps she just has the superpower of going back in time if she dies? It basically fits. This could become more relevant seeing as they've announced a sequel; I feel like it there would be more pressure to come up with an explanation if it is to happen a second time.


While seeing Tree fall for Carter works, especially since he's about the only person there supporting her and she has the opportunity to see that he is a good person, the romance was less developed from his side. I mean, he helps out this completely wasted girl, she starts babbling something and runs off, pushes someone out of a window then later tells him some crazy story about time travel. I'm not really seeing a strong reason for him to  want to bond with her. Of course it's perfectly reasonable to assume that he was interested in her before - I would say the way he treats her when she first wakes up suggests so - and like I said, they had good chemistry, so overall it doesn't bother me too much.


Seeing as the killer didn't have any supernatural powers, it raises the question of how she was always able to find and kill Tree. I feel like I'd have to watch this film more than once in order to fully parse exactly how things worked out and how much sense it really makes. For now I'm giving them a pass since I don't think any potential forced contrivances in this area would detract much from the strength of the film; I'm willing to accept that, as her roommate who also worked in the hospital, she knew enough about Tree's location to be able to track her down. Perhaps I'll come back and write more on this topic in the future.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War impressions

I just saw Avengers: Infinity War. I'm not writing a full review as the film seems to be a "part 1" kind of deal (something that I didn't know because I avoided ALL information going in: I went in about as blind as it's possible to, for something that they've been building up to for ten years). Instead here's some general impressions. BTW: there will be spoilers, this isn't for someone who hasn't seen the movie and intends to or is thinking about doing so.


I loved Thor 3, so I was turned off by Infinity War starting off by ripping apart the "pre-credits" ending of that movie. As the film went on it continued to undo everything that was done in Ragnarok. In Ragnarok, Thor made new friends, lost an eye, lost his legendary hammer but learned that he didn't need it, and saved the last of his people, leading them into space in the search for a new home. Infinity War starts with the last of his people being slaughtered and his new friends being killed or disappearing, then as the film goes on he gets a new eye and a new legendary weapon. Plus we never once see a single spark (or him flying) until he gets his new axe. Also we saw him defeat Hulk without Mjiolnir before, but now Hulk puts up far more of a fight than he does against Thanos pre-Stormbreaker (I get that he had already been defeated and was weakened, but still, his attacks had zero effect). Also, why did Heimdall send Hulk to Earth without/instead of Thor or Loki?

I was expecting Doctor Strange to display more magical skill by this point. He pretty much does nothing but the two main "beginner spells" we'd seen him learn first for most of the film. Later, when he's solo-ing Thanos we get a few seconds of him being awesome, but until that point he was really underperforming, even earlier in the same fight when the others were still up and they actually had a chance to win. Now, he mentions that "this was the only way", I have to assume he's playing a long game and knew that they were going to lose, so maybe he was throwing the fight on purpose. But that raises another question: if he saw only one way to win out of some fourteen million (I think) different possibilities, then what was different about all the other ways? I mean, they fought him, lost, and he got the stone and walked away. How would things have been different in the millions of other fights they could have had with him? Did they win all those others, or at least not give him the stone, and that was a loss in the long game? And exactly how much of what happened in that fight did he direct/have planned? I have a strange feeling that this issue will not be addressed to my satisfaction, but perhaps that's not fair as Marvel often surprises me by being better than I expected. On a related note, the scenes with Strange then Ironman going against Thanos solo were brief but enjoyable, especially Ironman; the ways he shifted tech around and generated weapons on the fly were creating and visually interesting.

I haven't seen Spiderman Homecoming, so this was the most of Marvel's cinematic Spiderman I'd seen in a while. He's not what I expected of him; he's very awkward and seems to lack self-confidence, even when he's web-slinging. Perhaps it's early days for him and he'll change, but... well, I haven't warmed to him yet.

Vision didn't do very much. I get that it's because he was injured right off the bat, and I don't care for Vision very much in the comics, but I love Paul Bettany so I would have been happy for him to be a bit more active here. He actually got more screen time than many others such as Rogers, but he less of an active participant and more of a McGuffin in many of those scenes. And now he's dead. They might bring him back as a different Vision (it's happened in the comics, more than once I think). I'm not sure if they'd bring back Paul Bettany for that and if the character would be interesting or not, but I'm always up for more Paul Bettany as long as he's doing something interesting.

The film was somehow more chaotic than I expected, but it did a great job of having so many characters without feeling messy. I'm actually very impressed by how well it weaved them them all in (well most of them: a few faces are missing in action, but that's totally understandable). Seriously, VERY impressed. They didn't all have very big roles, but that's understandable too. Thor, Ultron, and the Guardians of the Galaxy probably had the most screen time, which made a lot of sense narratively since they've been the most involved with the Inifinity Stones overall (and since this film picks up right off the tail of Ragnarok).

Another thing that impressed me was how much depth and humanity Thanos himself displayed. It was a pleasant surprise, and ended up being vital I would say due to how much of the screen time he dominates - especially seeing as he's a CG character. Heh, Marvel probably has the best track record in the world of making us forget that characters are CG and just accepting them as part of the story. Great work from Josh Brolin and of course the entire crew that animated Thanos.

One small thing that I'm still wondering about Thanos mentioning "a grateful galaxy" (iirc) after he has achieved his goal. This makes me question his motives, and his grasp of reality: when has anyone ever displayed gratitude to him for killing off half their planet? Does he somehow think things will be different this time, or did he slip and reveal what he really desires? There may be more depth to the character that I haven't grasped yet... or maybe the line was poorly written, but I doubt that considering how most of the rest of the dialogue was such a perfect representation of each character.

While they did a fantastic job of establishing Thanos as a tremendously powerful threat, I felt this was undermined slightly by there being just too many times that he was almost defeated, only to succeed thanks to our heroes making bad decisions. If the Guardians hadn't split up, he wouldn't have gotten his hands on the Soul Stone. If Starlord hadn't screwed up, they would have gotten the gauntlet off. If Strange hadn't allowed himself to be taken and handed over the stone, or Ironman had taken (or found a way to take) them back to Earth they would have fought alongside the Avengers and probably defeated Thanos. Even if they hadn't, without the time stone they would have been able to destroy the mind stone and he wouldn't have been able to bring it back. Plus at that point he would have been fighting them three stones down and they would have had far more to bring against him. If Thor had aimed for the head, or followed up his initial strike rather than stand around talking, Thanos wouldn't have had the chance to snap his fingers. Look, the point is that their decisions worked in his favour many times, and that bothered me. It probably shouldn't because, well, real life works that way sometimes, but it did. Now, at the same time this did have the significant benefit of leading to several battles where the stakes felt real: where it felt as if the heroes had a genuine chance of stopping him. Without that, the film would not have worked nearly as well, so I certainly can't fault them, it's just something that turned me off personally.

That was a gutsy way to end the film. I didn't realise that this was "part 1" until afterwards, but still, I didn't personally buy into the end actually sticking, so it didn't really have an impact on me. I understand that other people did not have this problem.

It was just fun watching characters that we've known forever meeting  up for the first time and forming connections. Thor and the Defenders was very notable here.

So where were Wakanda's attack rhinos and fighter aircraft? Considering the level of tech they'd displayed in the past I was surprised that the fight ended up being a bunch of infantry hitting each other in melee over an open plain. Oh, and if there was a Hulkbuster suit for Banner, then wasn't there any other Ironman tech lying around for the Avengers to use? Like, where was Cap's shield, that they gave him those Wakanda spike-things?

Who exactly set up the test for the soul stone? It couldn't be the stone itself could it? There's no mention of any kind of authority or entity in charge of the stones - if that was the case I would have expected tests in place for the other stones as well. What exactly was it testing? In my opinion it was no test of morality, but it was a test of the depth of conviction... or desire. Who was it who thought that was the attribute that should allow access to the soul stone?

It was bit strange how every single place our heroes went, Thanos was either there, had just left, or was about to arrive, especially considering how many of them there were running around. He was one hell of a busy bee, eh?

There were less moments where the character's personalities shined through, but they were appreciated; Thor ribbing Cap about his beard, Starlord reacting to Thor, Drax being Drax... I think it was Thor and the Defenders who got the most screen time, but also they are the funniest characters (who most often communicate their personalities traits and current states through humor), which I think meant it was easiest to slip a bit of personality in to their scenes.

There was a bit too much "oh fine, I'll give you the stone to save one life even though I know that half the universe will die if I give it to you, very probably including myself and the very person I wish to save". Also, there was a whole lot of Thanos leaving people alive. Now that's fine on it's own: we can accept that he's basically merciful or honourable or too focused on his goal to stop to crush bugs or something, but then we find out that he killed all the dwarves even after they gave him what he wanted, so suddenly it just doesn't work as well.

I felt like Thanos was all over the place power-wise. One minute he's controlling reality itself, the next minute he's trading punches, then he's waving people away with telekinesis, then he's trading punches again... I don't know, it just felt like his power-level/fighting style fluctuated randomly. Makes for more visually interesting fights, but also makes it hard to get a handle on what the stakes are/what the chances are of achieving them... I dunno, I didn't feel grounded? Like, movies have to establish "rules" then stick to them for us to be able to follow, you know?

We talked it over and our conclusion is that the Gauntlet is damaged, but the gems are still fine, meaning that Thanos can't snap his fingers again and possibly can't use the gems together but he can still use them individually? I guess we'll see. But still, if he can't snap his fingers again and he killed the dwarves so they can't make a new gauntlet... then how is he going to bring populations under control when they grow too large again? Or does he somehow think that only happens once? Nevermind; while his motivations did raise some interesting questions about morality, his actual methodology (or at least what we know of it), and especially his big plan for using the infinity gems, was far too simplistic to stand up to real scrutiny and discussion, so I'm not going to bother.

This is actually a fairly dark movie; it starts with genocide and ends with the biggest mass murder ever. The tone doesn't entirely dwell in darkness as there's plenty of lighter moments, but overall the darkness is there for most of the runtime. I find this slightly interesting: there's been a suggestion that DC has been sticking to "dark and broody" partly because Marvel was generally being bright and colourful, either to differentiate their product or because Marvel had already cornered that market. But now Marvel is showing that they can do dark too if they want to; it could be interpreted as a shot across the bow towards DC? That's probably reading too much into it, but still: DC doesn't have the monopoly on dark superhero movies anymore. Maybe just the monopoly on bad ones? Heh, I jest: plenty of people have made bad dark superhero films, including Marvel.


Basically, the film is very strong, there isn't really anything I can think of that I think they did "wrong", however some elements didn't work for me personally. So yeah, it's a good movie (especially considering what it is: the first part of a story that has been built up in a way that has never been done before in the history of cinema). In fact, given how often Hollywood has screwed up big films about properties that people were invested in and cared about, it's kind of a miracle that this ended up half as good as it actually did. But despite that, I didn't enjoy it that much. Of course this is only half the story; I withhold final judgment until it's over.



EDIT 07/05/2018:
The more I think about the film and discuss it with others the more I appreciate the small touches of character work. For example, Thor using the wrong names for everyone. I feel like ever since Thor first came to Earth he's been perpetually surrounded with things he doesn't understand. By this point he's just gotten used to it and he rolls with it the best he can; calling Rocket "rabbit" and the others "morons" just because that's what Rocket called them. In Dark World we see him imitating people, hanging Mjolnir on a coat rack and later grabbing the handrail on a train just because everyone else is. The thing is, it makes sense not only because he's been spending a lot of time in vastly different worlds, but also because we know that he cares about Earth and wants (or at least wanted back when things were simpler) to stay there and fight alongside the Avengers. He's basically a tourist who's fascinated with the local habits and culture.

Groot spends the entire film playing on a (surprisingly crappy) video game, ignoring everything that's happening. But then when he sees Thor literally dying to achieve his goals, Groot is actually inspired. We don't see the videogame again, instead we see him throwing himself into battle, yelling his heart out. It's actually quite a nice bit of character development, especially considering how little time was spent on the character and how much else was going on.

Starlord and Gamora are having a really dark conversation about needing to kill each other to save the galaxy, only for the film to transition into a gag where a grown man is convinced that he's invisible because he's moving so slowly. I feel like that kind of sudden tonal shift into something completely ridiculous should fall flat on it's face, and yet here it works brilliantly. That's not something that just anyone can pull off.

I mentioned earlier that Thanos' plan doesn't make any sense. To be clear, I don't see that as a flaw of the film: he's the Mad Titan. His plan is insane, but it sounds just good enough on the surface for a someone with issues to devote themselves to; it might not stand up to scrutiny, but he doesn't WANT to scrutinize it. He WANTS to believe that it will work, that it will allow him to become the saviour of the galaxy. I feel like that's far more realistic than we might want to believe. I still hope we'll get to see what's really going on with him; as I mentioned before his "grateful galaxy" comment makes me think there's more there.

I asked where Cap's shield was before. I was since reminded that Tony took it at the end of Civil War. Some people have suggested online that there will be a scene in the next one with Tony returning it to Cap, and that this scene could be very powerful as it displays their reconciliation. That sounds good to me! I wonder if they planned this when they wrote Civil War?

I've been thinking: Thanos had the mind gem originally, and I think he knew of the location of some of the others? So why is he moving now? The way I see it, the trigger was the capture of Nebula and discovering that Gamora knew where the final stone was. It's not exactly clear how he knows where all the others are, but he does have a lot of resources and Infinity Gems aren't exactly subtle when they're activated. So now that he knows where they all are or who can lead him to them, he finally makes his move. Another possible factor is the destruction of Asgard? We were told in previous films that Asgard keeps the peace amongst "the nine realms"; regardless of what that means we can take it that they are very powerful. Perhaps too powerful for Thanos to try to take the Tesseract from them?

Marvel films have not been very consistent when it comes to space travel. In the first Avengers film Thanos' armies rely on the Tesseract to reach Earth, but here they just fly over quite easily? The ship with Tony on it reaches Thanos' home planet quite quickly even without anyone piloting it. Rocket and Yondu went through some "jumps" to get to Ego, and ended up going through too many, but we never see any mention of "jumps" here? Overall the plot of the first Avengers doesn't hold up with how things worked here; I don't hold it against the first one because it worked there, I just feel like they made space travel too easy here (and perhaps in Guardians 2?), which retroactively makes the older movies not quite work as well.

Speaking of, if it's so easy why doesn't Starlord ever go back to Earth? I always assumed it was because it was really hard for some reason; like Earth isn't really far away and hard to get to, or maybe it's really hard to find because, well, maybe there isn't a really easy to use map with "Earth" written on it? Like, every spacefaring race has their own star map (of various levels of details and completeness) with stars and planets marked differently, and Earth is so unimportant that no-one actually has it named "Earth" (at best it would be "star387503planet0003" or something, assuming it's even on the map at all). But now, seeing how trivial star travel was portrayed here, I'm not sure anymore. Maybe he was too scared? Like, he doesn't know anyone, he doesn't know how the planet has changed, he doesn't know what they would do if he returned, all he knows is that Earth doesn't know about aliens and have tons of movies about fighting them, so showing up in a spaceship might not evoke a warm reaction. Maybe he wants to preserve his memories of it as they are? Maybe it's just too painful to be reminded of his mother? I dunno, point is there may be more there than I originally thought.

Did Thor's new axe have a two-piece head? That sounds like a terrible design! I've never seen an axe with two separate pieces that bolt onto the handle. Also, the new axe just doesn't look as cool as Mjolnir. Which is fine, I'm just saying: I don't think the inevitable toy will sell as well. Hmm, I wonder if they'll ever introduce Captain Britain wielding Excalibur?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Valerian review


I think it's fair to say that a lot of science fiction has a great deal in common with traditional sword-and-sorcery style fantasy; the classic story of a collection of brave heroes crusading through fantastical environments to save the world/s works wether they are swinging swords at trolls in stone castles or firing lasers at aliens in glowing spaceships.

I might be wrong about this, but for some reason I feel as if this was a more common genre for films, especially the sci-fi version, a couple of decades ago than it is now. So for me at least, that type of "fantasy sci-fi" movie evokes a certain sense of nostalgia.


Well, at any rate I personally felt a twinge of nostalgia watching Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets; the term "good old-fashioned adventure" comes to mind. The protagonists might be plain ol' humans (and white as it gets btw), but the characters they interact with and environments they travel through are interesting and creative, and occasionally beautiful.

Luckily the film puts a respectable amount of time and effort into organically introducing us to these fantastical worlds... one or two rushed exposition-dumps aside. These aren't just big CG-fests that simply serve as backgrounds to the plot, but well thought-out worlds that tie in to the narrative and in some cases justify fairly creative action sequences.

Speaking of the narrative, I really liked this movie's sense of positivity and optimism. A great deal of sci-fi is inherently xenophobic, centered around terrifying alien entities here to kill us. Basically, "fear of the unknown" is kind of a major theme. This film is different. I'll save the details for the spoiler section, but basically this is a movie about putting aside our differences, forgiving each other, and moving forwards together. I think that's not only a nice change, but just a good message, especially in these times. Honestly, I'm starting to think there's just too much negativity in media these days; I believe we could use more upbeat movies like this.


Sadly the movie does have it's problems. I think my biggest issue was the way the two main characters were written; specifically the truly awful romance subplot that represents the majority of their character development. Again, I'll try to give more details in the spoilers section, but at the end of the day I don't have much more to say than the fact that it was just bad.

One possible contributing factor might be the casting issues. Valerian is played by Dane DeHaan; while I applaud the decision to cast someone who isn't a square-jawed Chris (Hemsworth, Evans, Pratt, Pine, whatever), DeHaan just doesn't fit the role the way it was written. With apologies to Mr. Dane, in this movie Valerian looks like a sleep-deprived teen, but sounds like a seven foot man who's been smoking his whole life, while acting like a cocky little brat who's trying to score at a cheap club. It's... off-putting and did not endear him to me.

To be clear I place the blame for most of these problems on the writing rather than the acting. Cara Delavingne's Laureline isn't as bad, but that's partly because her character is more reactive overall. That's not say she isn't a fairly strong character; yes, she needed to be rescued once, but arguably so did Valerian once or twice, so she doesn't come across as a "damsel in distress" as much as a partner, the two saving each other as needed. But it's Valerian who takes in the initiative in their personal conversations, with Laureline reduced to fending off his advances (or not), leaving her less opportunities to get across her own personality; as a result she comes across a bit flat and uninteresting. Having said all that, I thought Cara Delavingne did a good job with what she had, bringing the character across as strong-willed and grounded, but with a slight mischievous streak.

Commander Filitt was a bit of a cartoony villain in some ways, and Clive Owen played him as such. Personally I would have preferred for Filitt to act a bit less... obvious in his behaviour and actions - there might as well have been a neon "Bad Guy" sign flashing above his head. Despite this I thought his motivations were actually very believable: he chose to do what was best for his race, no matter what the cost to others. I just wish he behaved a bit more... human, I guess. If he'd displayed some empathy, perhaps some doubts or regrets for his actions, while still maintaining that he was in the right... well, I think it would have worked a little better overall.

The rest of the cast was generally solid. Rihanna played a brief but... interesting role. Well, the VFX were interesting anyway; Rihanna herself was fine, but not exactly essential to the role. Ethan Hawke's contribution was brief but colourful. Sam Spruell's General Okto-Bar (I feel like there's a Star Wars joke in there somewhere) was actually my favourite character despite being a smallish part.


While I've praised the whole "adventure in a fantasy land" element of the film, it was unfortunately undermined somewhat by the situation. While the City of a Thousand Planets is a fantastic creation, it somehow came across as being reasonably orderly and organized: perhaps it's the overall level of technology at play, or the way that the authorities were able to track characters through the entire city (complete with detailed 3D maps), but it lacked the sense of danger, of the wild unknown. What's more, the characters themselves were quite familiar with their surroundings, largely moving around without comment; without an audience-surrogate character to bask in wonder of his surroundings, the actual audience doesn't enjoy as strong a feeling of wonder themselves.

Plus, Valerian and Laureline are highly ranked officers of the governing body of the city, with powerful weapons and equipment at their disposal. Even though there's long stretches of time when they are theoretically unable to call for backup, overall there just isn't as much of a sense of danger or adventure as you might expect. What's more, the easy access to fast transport and compressed time frames made some of the busy work, the "side quests" if you will, feel a little out of place; they seemed to break the flow more than similar things would in a traditional fantasy story.


A small note about viewing this movie in 3D: I've seen films that I thought were subtly improved by being viewed in 3D, and some that I thought were made slightly worse. It depends on the nature of the film and the quality of the 3D effect. In this case, I was completely indifferent to it, despite my gut feeling that this kind of film can benefit from being in 3D.


Despite my criticism I did enjoy the movie, so I'm giving it a 7/10: a flawed yet fun and up-beat sci-fi adventure.




#####SPOILER WARNING#####

According to IMDB, Rutger Hauer plays "the President of the World State Federation"? How did I miss that? Was he wearing alien make-up? I love Rutger Hauer ever since I saw first saw Blade Runner (which was decades ago), but I somehow didn't realise he was in this, and I can't even find a photo of him from the movie online. I'm halfway tempted to get the blu-ray just so I can find a shot of him.


As mentioned, I enjoyed the positivity of this film. It's about different races getting along despite their differences. There are no inherently evil species, even if some have values that don't jive with our own. The villain does what he believes is best for his race, even if it means destroying an inhabited planet and wiping out an entire sentient species, because he believes in putting his own people first. Meanwhile the heroes fight for everyone. The Pearls even forgive Humanity for destroying their planet. I really liked that story element; it might be hard to accept because it would be very hard for any of us to get over a blow like that, but I think the idea is somewhat inspirational. Honestly, I just think this movie is full of good messages.


What I did not discover until later is that the movie was based on a comic book. I have slightly mixed feelings about this: while as a general rule I wish we had more original screenplays and less adaptations of existing material, there's obviously nothing inherently wrong with adapting a good story to a different medium.

There is one issue worth mentioning about the adaptation though: it seems the original comic was simply called "Valerian and Laureline". Dropping Laureline's name from the title was not cool, and unfortunately the movie itself does cast her in slightly less of a equal role as well. While she came across to me as an equal partner in plot and dialogue, the action scenes were generally a bit more focused on Valerian's heroics, and the romance angle especially struck me as decided male-driven in it's viewpoint and execution. Valerian is chasing Laureline, and eventually he "wins" her. She's... well, an object, a prize. I never saw any hint that she was interested in him; she simply listed off the reasons that she wasn't, and once those were "resolved": boom, she falls into his waiting arms. As if being "his" was the default state somehow, and it's only a few minor negative character traits that kept her away.

Having said all that, I can understand some of the reasons that might have contributed to it's renaming: "Valerian and Laureline" doesn't tell you much about the movie, while "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" is much more descriptive and evocative. Perhaps it would have been better if they just called it "The City of a Thousand Planets"; it doesn't have as much of that pulp adventure flavour that I think they might have been going for, and they might have wanted it to sound like one chapter of a series instead of a stand-alone adventure (think "Indiana Jones and the X of Y" for both points), but at least it would be more fair.


It's a bit strange that the film is set in "the City of a Thousand Planets", yet it's so lacking in diversity. Quite apart from how human-centric it all is (the ruling body of the city seems to be all human, and it's mostly humans and the almost-human "Pearls" that drive the story), even amongst the humans there is very little diversity. By which I mean: almost every human in the movie is white. I think there was one Asian officer, who had no (or almost no) dialogue? About the only touch of colour in the cast  (not counting purely voice roles) is Rihanna, but funnily enough she actually plays a shapeshifting alien... I don't know what to make of the fact that the only non-white on-screen cast member is not actually playing a human at all, but it ain't good.


By the way, I have to wonder how humans ended up in such a central position in this peaceful interplanetary collective. I mean, we don't exactly have the best track record for "getting along with people who are different", do we. What is it about our history that caused all these different alien species to pick Earth (or rather a satellite in Earth's orbit, but whatever) as a good place to gather up and pitch their tents? Had we achieved world peace, ending all human suffering and conflict, by this time?

I'm not complaining, just wondering; it's a very optimistic view of the future, which is not a bad thing - yes, it's natural to cynically assume that it could never happen, but sometimes a bit of optimism is a nice thing to balance out all the pessimistic stories that so dominate media these days.


This movie does not feature a reluctant hero. No brooding or feet-dragging here: Valerian willingly and enthusiastically does his job to the best of his abilities without whining about how he "never asked for this" or it's "not his fight". It's like a breath of fresh air. Thank you, Luc Besson!


The movie opened with a montage that showed how the City of a Thousand Planets came to be. Then we were taken to the planet of the Pearls, observing their planet, lifestyle, and fate. After this we were introduced to the inter-dimensional bazaar (which I loved by the way; what a creative concept!), learning how it all worked naturally as we watched the protagonists doing their job.

All of this world-building felt very smooth and natural to me. So it was very jarring when it was followed by the film suddenly dropping a poorly-excused info-dump explaining a bunch of stuff we are already knew or could have easily guess about the City. It was just a really weird and clumsy moment that didn't need to be there; what little info we needed to know could have been worked in to the movie much more organically.


I found it somewhat confusing that the alien race where called Pearls, when there were also actual pearls in the movie that were used in the plot. That... was a bad naming decision in my opinion; I sometimes had trouble figuring out what the characters where talking about. Also, there was a macguffin simply called a "Converter"; apart from how generic the name is, it's actually a creature that replicates stuff and not, as you might expect, a machine part that converts stuff.

Don't even get me started on how nonsensical the whole Converter thing was to begin with. Or the Pearl's dependence on pearls to power their tech even though they learnt everything they know about science and technology from the City, which did not depend on the pearls in any way.


One thing that I found strange was the sub-plot with the Pearl's soul. While I didn't think it was inherently a bad story beat, I didn't feel it fit here. It's just a bit too out-of-place, and doesn't add anything to the story or plot (other than I suppose providing an excuse to see the planet of the Pearls early in the movie then transition to Valerian and Laureline; personally I don't think that an excuse was really needed though). What's more, I felt it was just brushed off a bit too matter-of-factly considering there was no other indication anywhere in the movie that spirituality or belief in souls is a sufficiently common-place thing for the main characters (or for that matter the audience) to easily process or accept the knowledge that one of them has been housing the soul of an alien being that died years ago on a distant planet. Honestly, I think just making it a "psychic echo" or something would have fit better, if it was really necessary at all.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Jupiter Ascending review


I kinda wanted this movie to be good. Maybe it was because of how it rare it is these days to get something that isn't a sequel, remake, or comic book adaptation. Or perhaps it's because the few snippets I saw gave me a subtle 80's sci-fi vibe without actually crutching on nostalgia. Or it could just be because I like epic, visually-stunning sci-fi movies.

But there were a couple of problems: the two leads. I don't think much of Channing Tatum or Mila Kunis. No offence intended, I just don't usually see anything from them that impresses me. So the knowledge that these two were going to be starring together did not fill me with hope.


Well, I finally got to watch the movie. Since we've already brought up the cast, let's start with the acting: this movie was easily the worst performance I've seen from either of the two stars. Of course the writing and directing are factors, but I just didn't find either character to be particularly likeable or relateable, and I felt absolutely no chemistry between them at all. Like, none. The most lasting impression I have of the two of them is a strange detached emotionlessness.

I didn't really feel that the rest of the cast was particularly good or bad either way. Sean Bean was alright, Eddie Redmayne was... well, he didn't hold back, I'll give him that, but I can't say it was a good performance. Or at least, he didn't really make a very scary villain. I actually thought Douglas Booth was very good, easily my favourite performance in this film.

The story is a bit of a mixed bag. I think some of the concepts that the story is based on are quite interesting - more so than I had been expecting in fact - but much of the actually plot is quite weak. There's some rather terrible clichés here, first and perhaps foremost is one of the worst cases of "the chosen one" I've ever seen. Overall I feel the story was a bit of a let-down.

Luckily the action is good. Nothing ground-breaking, but the "worst" parts are perfectly serviceable, and the best are very cool and visually stunning. Channing Tatum handles action just fine; coupled with some interesting visual designs and spectacular special effects, this movie is great to watch on a big screen.

Speaking of the special effects, they are brilliant. Some of the alien vehicles were really cool, parts constantly shifting as they cut through the air. The aliens always felt like they were actually there, even when physically interacting with the actors. There were a couple of creature designs that worked very well, with the "grey" aliens being particularly disturbing. Some of the alien environments were quite stunning; probably some of my favourite parts of the movie, I only wish it had spent more time exploring such vistas and less time on cramped spaceships and boring old Earth.


Overall I'm going to give it a 6/10. Your eyes will enjoy this film, though your brain probably won't.




#####SPOILER WARNING#####

I really liked the plot about Earth being essentially a farm. It's an interesting concept; the desire for life is one of the most fundamental forces that drive all living things, just how far would you go to hold off death? If it's natural to kill and consume animals to live, then is it really evil to kill other humans to extend your own life? It's a moral debate that the movie touched upon, I actually wish it had spent a bit more time exploring it.

What's more, the setup actually solves a lot of problems that tend to occur in typical sci-fi. How come the universe is full of humanoid creatures? Because it turns out they all come from the same source; they are in fact all human. Why would anyone bother threatening our planet, really? What could we possibly have that any space-faring race needs and couldn't get somewhere closer to home with less resistance? Well, as it turns out, us. Not to be used as slaves or anything, but because we are, well, livestock. It's... kind of elegant actually.

It's a shame it's let down by a Chosen One, a Special who, for some reason, can control bees. Seriously, what's up with the bees? You're telling me bees can not only instantly analyse a person's entire DNA sequence without even touching them, they can also compare it to "royalty"? What does "royalty" mean in this context, is it a special "royal" gene or do they somehow have records of all the DNA profiles royalty has even had (and if so where the hell do they store what amounts to thousands of times more DNA than a bee's cell is supposed to contain)? Bleh, nevermind, it's far too stupid to be worth even thinking about.

Having said that, I actually thought the "genetic reincarnation" thing was a rather interesting concept. I can think of a few reasons why it probably doesn't actually hold up in the real world, but conceptually speaking, in the vastness of a space full of human-occupied planets, who's to say that the exact genetic sequence cannot occur more than once by pure coincidence? Unfortunately while I think it's an interesting little idea, I don't think it's strong enough to anchor the movie around. What's more, I don't really think it fits the rest of the setting. We have no indication that the population of the galaxy at large are particularly inclined to spirituality or superstition, that would lead them to care if someone else happened to show up with their exact DNA. Far from it; these people are so pragmatic that they will not only farm humans like themselves just to reap their... whatever it is that they actually take from them, they will even make a business out of it. I dunno, they just didn't strike me as a society that would put much faith in any sort of reincarnation. Not saying it didn't make sense or anything, only that it felt a bit contradictory.

Plus, even though it was a novel way of making Jupiter Jones (such a stupid name) a Chosen One, the fact is she's still a Chosen One. I mean, if the Lego Movie was mature enough to get past the whole "The Special One" nonsense, why can't "grown up" Hollywood manage it? Have I mentioned that I'm sick to death of Chosen Ones?

Funnily enough, that might not even have been the worst cliché in the movie. Personally, I give that honor to the "stop the wedding!" nonsense. Apart from being a terrible trope to begin with, this is absolutely not the right movie for that crap. Especially since the romance sub-plot was so poorly handled to begin with. Jupiter basically spent the whole movie with her life in constant danger; I don't think she had five minutes without someone kidnapping her or trying to kill her, and yet she decides now is the time to try to put the moves on an alien who has never once smiled at her (and who she herself never once smiled at)? No offense, but I kinda feel like she's got other things to worry about.

I guess that what grated on me the most, though, is how big of a helpless victim Jupiter was the whole time. She just had no agency; she made no decisions, she did nothing to drive the plot, she just did what she was told for pretty much the entire movie. She's talked into selling her eggs, she's dragged around, kidnapped multiple times, rescued multiple times, agrees to take ownership of Earth, agrees to marry some guy she's just met and has to be saved from the wedding, agrees to go alone with the big bad guy to his lair of doom... the one and only time she actually made a decision for herself is right at the very end when she decided not to hand over Earth. I mean, thank God she didn't need to be rescued from that (I mean, she needed to be rescued, but at least it wasn't "quickly, we have to get there before she dooms the Earth" the same way as the whole "quickly, we have to get there before she gets married" thing). It was just too little too late though. She is just such a weak character; a complete victim at every step of the way. It actually surprised me; while I don't particularly like Mila Kunis, I at least know that she's good at playing assertive characters, so I wasn't expecting her to be so passive here.


BTW, what makes Earth so special that it's the "shining jewel of the Abrasax inheritance"? I guess they spliced human DNA with primate DNA to get Earthlings? I don't think it's explicitly stated, but it does fit. It would explain the missing link and all that, right? But if she has primate DNA in her, how is she an exact genetic match for a human who does not have primate DNA? And why do Earthlings look exactly like the "standard" human, when we see several with slightly different features (mainly ears, for some reason)? Or maybe Earthlings are "pure" human, because Earth is hospitable enough that they didn't need to change anything? Maybe that's what makes it so special?


Jupiter's dad died for a telescope? When he had a child on the way? Seriously? What a colossal idiot. Sorry, I got no sympathy for that level of stupidity.


If Caine's tiny little wristband shield-projector can protect him from the attacks from the Greys in their attack ships, then why didn't his own ship have some kind of shielding? Did he need to drop it to use the super-slow tractor beam? Why? Clearly they can control the shape of an energy shield, as evidenced by the one on his arm. Plus I'm pretty sure they got right up to the Aegis ship at the end, even though it had it's shields up.


I quite liked the Aegis captain, though I question why she was acting like the head of Jupiter's security rather than like a police officer. I mean, wouldn't it make more sense to, I don't know, "take her back to head-quarters and sort things out"? I guess Aegis captains are very independent. Good for them. Still, I can't help but wonder if Jupiter now owes them money or something, after how much time and effort they spent helping her. Plus they're going to need to repair that ship. Jupiter doesn't have any money. Can she, like, sell just a few humans, just to pay the bills? You know, for the good of the planet as a whole? Or how about, like, taxes? If the Aegis are police then that means they're funded by by taxes, right? How is she going to pay for that?

So is Caine going to stay on earth? Maybe the Aegis assigned him there to protect her? Why would they do that if Jupiter doesn't pay taxes?

What happens to Balem's holdings? Are they split amongst his siblings? Does Jupiter get a share? Legally she's his mother, so how does intergalactic inheritance law deal with that? Perhaps that's how she's paying the Aegis? Or does the Aegis just seize everything as "evidence" then, you know, just keep it/auction it off?

Speaking of, I kinda figure she probably should have married Titus... then Caine could have just shot him. The Aegis knew that Titus was planning to kill her, so Caine would have gotten off scot-free, right? And she would then own Titus' holdings, apparently including several other planets that need protecting. Think how many lives would have been saved if he'd been just a few seconds slower in saving her...


How come no-one ever took away Caine's boots when they took him prisoner, even though they can apparently melt metal?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Magnificent Seven review

Another remake? Sigh. OK, let's get started.

I've seen the 1960 original several times, but not recently, so it's not fresh enough in my memory to really compare the two properly. What I will say is that I feel this new version is true to the overall story but doesn't feel chained to the details, and the result is a film that echoes the original without being an exact carbon copy. That seems to me to be a reasonable approach to making a remake.

Is it good? I think so. Is it as good as the original? I don't really know, I think there's definitely ways in which it's better and ways in which it's worse; I can only really say that overall I personally didn't like it as much.

Look, it's a big modern movie, the cinematography and action scenes were pretty much always going to be better. The characters are more culturally varied, which is something that I personally like to see. I feel that the Seven were more unique and had a little more personality than the originals, though I didn't feel as if they had more depth.

But there is one area where I felt this one had problems, and that was in the characters' motivations. I'll go into a bit more detail in the spoilers section, but I just didn't feel as if we were given convincing motivations for most of the characters to be there. This is an area where I feel the original was stronger.


I don't really have much else to say about it; for me it was a 7/10 (hmm, irony?): it's a fun western action movie.




#####SPOILER WARNING#####

In the original Magnificent Seven, the seven gunmen signed up with the belief that all they had to do was present a show of force to scare a group of bandits away; they weren't signing up for a suicide mission. When they realised that it wouldn't be that easy, they debated what to do. In the end they decided to stick it out; they'd started it, they would finish it.

But in this one, they pretty much all know right from the start that they will be fighting against impossible odds for people they don't know, and none of them even gives it a second thought. That I could not buy into. We're not really told how much money they are being paid, but there's no indication that it's very much; I seriously doubt it was enough to walk into near certain death for. So I guess right from the start, they are all doing it out of the goodness of their hearts?

Except that the main character, Chisolm, isn't. We find out at the end that he's doing it all for, wait for it, you'll never guess, really original stuff this: revenge! Sigh. <sarcasm>Never seen that before</sarcasm>.

Personally I'm not a fan of the desire writers seem to have to forcibly insert a deeply personal and selfish reason for the protagonist to fight the antagonist into stories where there isn't a reason for there to be one. I get that normally it makes sense to give the protagonist a strong motivation, usually something personal, because it makes the conflict feel more meaningful; if the protagonist is more emotionally invested that makes us more emotionally invested. But you don't always have to force it in, and why does it always have to be something self-centred? Do you think the audience can't accept someone doing the right thing simply because it's the right thing? Is that what writers think of us, or is that just something that doesn't make sense to the writers themselves, and if so then what does that say about them?

The problem here though is that, because we don't find out about Chisolm's desire for revenge until after it's all over, it doesn't actually fulfil the normal purpose of such a plot device; we aren't watching the film eagerly wondering if he will / waiting for him to get his revenge. It doesn't increase our emotional investment. We only find out that it is in fact revenge after the fighting is over, at which point all it does is retroactively rob his actions thus far of their nobility. It suddenly transforms him into the most selfish of the Seven; the rest all stayed to fight for the people, while he manipulated everyone just to get his revenge. His own friends died for it in fact.

What's more, the scene where he finally reveals his history with Bart really annoyed me. I always remember a line from a Discworld novel:
"... if a man has you entirely at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power, power over people, and they want to see you in fear. They want you to know you're going to die. So they'll talk. They'll gloat. They'll watch you squirm. They'll put off the moment of murder like another man will put off a good cigar. So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word."  - Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms.

Chisolm could have killed Bart right away, but he didn't. He wanted to torture him. He put off the moment so long that Bart almost managed to turn the tables. This is not "good guy" behaviour. This is the thing that Bond villains do, that allows Bond to escape. Chisolm is not a good man.


Even though I've already asked about why they are all there to begin with, I have more questions concerning character motivation. For one thing, if Chisolm wanted revenge against Bart so badly that he was willing to risk his life (nevermind the lives of a whole bunch of other people), why didn't he do anything about it earlier? Surely a man with his skills could have found an opportunity to kill Bart if he put his mind to it.

Why did Goodnight join them in the first place if he was too scared to fire a single shot? And why didn't Billy follow him when he left? And what exactly changed his mind and brought him back; did he catch sight of the gatling gun and decide he had to warn everyone?

Why were those hired guns still running around trying to kill people when their own side was strafing the whole town with lead? At what point do they decide it isn't worth it anymore? How come we didn't see any of them get hit when they were out in the open, while all the townsfolk who were in cover were getting shot up? I still don't get why nobody fired at the group manning the gun even though they were out in the open; the Gatling gun has a fast rate of fire but it doesn't out-range normal rifles. Also, where exactly were the children hiding? I though it was underground, so why did they feel the need to relocate them?

Why did Bart decide to mosey on into town after his entire army had been completely wiped out? Did he really think those last two guys he had left would were enough? Was he just assuming that everyone was dead by then? Just... he had no reason to do it, other than because some guy he never met called him a coward. That's kindergarten logic right there. Ah well, I'm pretty sure the guy was on opiates or something.


This might be a weird thing to say, but I felt that there was too little internal conflict in the group. Now this all took place when racism was kind of a thing, and the Seven were very varied in their backgrounds. Two characters fought on opposites sides of the civil war, two mention that their grandfathers fought on opposites sides of the Alamo (there's even a line that goes somethign like: "Hey, maybe my grandfather was the one who killed yours!"), one scalped Native Americans for a living and another is a Native American, and of course Faraday is just constantly make fun of the others.

Despite all this, nothing really comes of it; they keep insulting each other and they all just let it slide. We never get a scene with a real argument, no-one ever has to say "Come on guys, we're one the same side here, save it for the enemy" or whatever. Now these are fighting men; the first we see of many of these characters is them killing someone. They are used to solving problems with violence is what I'm saying. So how is it they are all so congenial and easy-going about being insulted? Especially when they must be under so much stress, you would expect them to be on edge. It's not like these are old comrades, they literally just met. It was all just too easy, and what's more it was a missed opportunity to give them a little depth.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Kickboxer: Vengeance review


I saw the original Kickboxer decades ago, and probably rewatched it once or twice since. I remember it as a fun martial arts movie, and one of Van Damme's more memorable roles. Normally it's not the kind of movie that I would expect too much out of a sequel for, but... Van Damme, Dave Bautista, and Gina Carano? Yeah, I allowed myself to be optimistic about this one. That was a mistake.


This is a martial-arts movie, so let's talk action first. This movie was yet another victim of modern Hollywood crappy camera work; all quick-cuts and excessive close-ups. Now it wasn't nearly as big a problem here as it has been in some other movies - nowhere near as bad as Jason Bourne for example - but it was occasionally bad enough that I didn't really enjoy some of the big fight scenes.

It's a shame because all the actors handled themselves quite well in the action scenes, with better camera work I think I could have enjoyed this movie a lot more. There were actually some fights that I did like quite a bit, but ironically these were the "smaller" ones; it felt as if the more important the fight was the more they tried to make it feel fast and hard-hitting by speeding up the camera work, which sadly just made fights harder to follow and robbed them of their impact.

Unfortunately the last fight was the probably worst one, which is a problem because it's pretty much the last impression the movie makes on you and ends up being what colours your opinion of the whole thing the most.


Outside of the action scenes the acting was a different story. To be honest few of the cast had that much to do outside of the fights, and what dialogue they did get was generally not very good. Bautista might have had the worst of it; he felt as if he was sleep-walking most of the time. I feel as if he was directed to act aloof and unreachable, to try and make him seem like a more imposing villain? I dunno, it just made him seem uninterested.

At least Bautista probably a had few decent lines (the scene where his character first meets Kurt was not bad), Van Damme might have had even less to work with. He was great physically, and that includes some small elements of physical humour, but he never had any dialogue that allowed him to do anything more than that. I mean, he's not exactly known as a great actor, but I know he's better than this. Actually the abysmal dialogue his character had during some scenes was a big problem; literally the most meaningful line he had during the final fight, when you expect him to impart some wise words of wisdom or encouragement to his student, was "coconut". Spoken twice, by the way. I mean, coconut? What the hell?

They might have been the lucky ones though; at least they had some screen time. Gina Carano had hardly any dialogue, almost no impact on the plot, and didn't even get a single action scene. Seriously, why would you hire Gina Carano, put her name on the poster, then not give her anything at all to do? Again, what the hell?

Alain Moussi was OK. He didn't do anything acting-wise that impressed me, but as you might have guessed by now it's not like he had much to work with. Again, he handled the action scenes just fine, no complaints there. I didn't like Sara Malakul Lane in this movie; again, it could just be the material - her character was just so weak - but... I don't know, I didn't like her. At least Georges St-Pierre was mildly amusing. Sam Medina was just annoying.


The reason why the cast had so little to do other than hit each other was that the plot was pretty much as simple and straight-forwards as it gets; not a good thing when it's literally exactly the same story as the movie that it is a sequel to. Yes, there's a subplot about corrupt cops or something, but it really doesn't matter except for providing a bit of busy work and a couple of extra fight scenes.

The real problem though wasn't just the simplicity of the plot, but the complete lack of character and relationship development. The characters were given very little to flesh them out, to make them feel human, and what's more there was just... there was no chemistry between anyone. Other than Kurt's anger towards Tong Po and Liu's weird obsession with Kurt, I never got a sense that any of the characters felt anything towards each other. I don't know if this was caused by or a cause of the fact that I often didn't understand why the characters did certain things that I couldn't see a reason for them to do.

As a result I found it increasingly hard to care about the events and characters; coupled with my problems with the camera work, I was feeling pretty indifferent by the end. Which is a shame, because I wanted this one to be good.


Overall I'm giving it a 5/10; there are some good fight scenes and some that are not so good; everything else is sub-standard.




#####SPOILER WARNING#####

So why exactly didn't Kurt kill Po when he had the gun pointed at him? We aren't really given an explanation, other than maybe it was cowardly so he didn't do it, cos he's the hero so he would never do something cowardly? I guess we are just supposed to be on board with the idea that shooting someone is cold-blooded murder, but deliberately and intentionally beating them to death in a fight is somehow just fine?

While I can accept that a fair fight is somehow more noble than killing someone in their sleep, I don't accept that it's somehow right while the other is wrong: if a person should be killed, then the quick, painless, reliable method is not worse than the slow, painful, low-probability-of-success method. But what's worse perhaps is that even if we believe that it is, that still doesn't explain why he didn't do it.

I feel that this is important enough that his reasons really should have been made clear, rather than just assuming we're already on board. I mean, he's developing this relationship with the cop, and she keeps telling him not to go after Po, why not have a scene where they actually talk about it? Instead of her just saying "you're not allowed to go after him" and walking off, why not have her ask "If you're so determined to go after him, why didn't you kill him when you had the chance?". Then he talks about what was going through his head, etc. It helps us sympathise with the character and his goals, and also makes their relationship far more believable. Two birds with one stone! I really think that a little scene like that would have made the whole movie much better. In fact, a part of me hopes that such as scene was actually shot, but got cut from the version I saw for some reason. Who knows, it could have happened.

As it was, the relationship between Kurt and Liu was by far the least developed romance I have ever seen. We pretty much never see them talking, then in the middle of a training montage there's suddenly a scene of the two taking each other's clothes off. I genuinely didn't even know it was her; I was literally sitting there asking myself "Who is that? Did his girlfriend follow him from America? Wait, did he even have a girlfriend? I don't remember them introducing one."

It just doesn't make any sense. He's both a felon and a witness to an important investigation that she is risking her life and her career to follow, they have nothing in common and never had a chance to bond, then suddenly boom, she's jeopardizing the case and her job. I guess it could be argued that he had just saved her life or something, but a) she's a cop, she's probably a little bit more accustomed to having her life endangered than the average movie token female, and b) her life wouldn't have been in danger in the first place if it wasn't for him.

Is sleeping with a witness illegal, or just against regulations? Speaking of ways she broke the law, why didn't she take him to the police station after arresting him? Instead she, let's call it "leaves him in the custody", of a civilian that we didn't really have any reason to believe she even knew (she knew of him, that doesn't mean she knew him well enough to ask him to harbour a fugitive). And why didn't she break up the fight at the end? She was never behind his quest for revenge, why was the sight of him battered and bleeding, his life in serious peril, enough for her to decide to break the law and just stand around watching? Even when Po was inches away from killing Kurt, she just stood there and watched.

And why didn't she arrest him later (and why did none of the other cops with her say anything either)? He had just killed a man in an illegal fight; something that she was trying to arrest Po for earlier. Why is OK for Kurt but not for Po? Let's face it, she's just as corrupt as the guy she was trying to take down.


Speaking of poorly developed relationships, the movie really should have worked harder to develop the one between Kurt and his brother. As it is, we see one scene with his brother talking about how Kurt takes good care of him, then the very next scene he's yelling at Kurt for holding him back, then he dies. That's pretty much it. Talk about inconsistent and ungrateful. And we're supposed to care about this guy? It's not exactly lending weight to Kurt's quest for revenge when we don't really believe that the two had a good relationship.

What's more, it's this weird victim-blaming situation; Eric should have known better than to go get himself killed, the hero told him not to do it but he didn't listen, etc. Basically, it's his own fault he died, but the hero is going to avenge him anyway. I really don't see how this helps us to care about the Kurt's motivation; if the death had been in some small way his fault (maybe if he encouraged his brother to take the fight rather than the opposite) then we could understand his motivation a bit better. It would be a bit deeper anyway; it would be about a little more than just revenge - which is such a stupid and lazy protagonist motivation. There's nothing noble about it, nothing good about it, it's just a desire to cause pain.

Remember the first Mortal Kombat movie? Liu Kang wanted revenge, but it was more than that: his brother had died trying to shoulder the responsibilities that he had run away from. He felt guilt and shame as well as grief, and seeking revenge was his way of dealing with that. And while that alone is nothing new, the point of the movie was that revenge was a terrible motivation; by the end he had learned that it wasn't all about him and his pain. When he defeated Shang Tsung it wasn't because he had murder in his heart, it was because it was the right thing to do, it was what people were relying on him to do. Kickboxer: Vengeance does not have any of that. And that was videogame movie!


So... Gina Carano doesn't get to fight; in fact she has almost no screen time at all. Not sure why they bothered to get a reasonably famous actress known for her action skills, and put her name on the poster, only for her to do nothing at all. They actually seemed to be trying to set her up as some sort of a villain, but it was so underdeveloped and unimportant, that they might as well have not bothered. I mean, why would this random American fight promoter be some kind of underground big-shot in Thailand, who even has the police chief on her payroll? And if she was so important in Thailand, why would she go and ask some random American fighter to join in person, especially knowing that he didn't actually trust her (and therefore that she'd have a better chance of getting him to agree if he didn't know she was involved)? If so many people are getting killed in these underground fights that the police are trying to break up, why would she go to the police station to pay her respects to Eric's corpse in person? We know she had some kind of relationship with him, but if she cared about him why did she sign him up for a death fight (we know that she's working with Po and we know that Po has killed a large number of fighters in just the past year)? In fact, why did Eric even agree to an underground fight?

Plus, she kinda starts acting cartoonishly evil near the end, and she clearly has a deal going on with Po. If that's the case, why did she arrange for the best kickboxing trainer in Thailand (as she puts it) to train Eric? Unless of course that was a lie and Durand isn't atually anything special, he's just some washed-up old has-been. Which would make sense since his only other student is some old guy doing Tai-Chi or something.


What the hell was that lame assassination attempt on the cop? Earlier on that promoter guy gives a vague "make sure she doesn't get where she's going", and five minutes later there's a dozen guys ambushing a car with elephants. But when they have actual time to plan and prepare, there's just one guy with a gun and no plan? And he waits until they reach the only cover in an empty warehouse before opening fire? It was literally the worst "set-up" I've ever seen.


It's kind of weird that in his first fight after the first training montage, Kurt gets his behind handed to him, the Durand walks up and easily takes out the other fighter, but then we never see Kurt go back and defeat that guy or some other fighter who we can accepts as being of equal or greater calibre, so there's no reason to believe that he's ready now when he wasn't before.


The last fight was probably the worst in the movie. Partly this was probably the camera work, but also it wasn't fun because it was so one-sided for most of the fight that the actual combat just wasn't interesting, then suddenly it flipped and became completely one-sided in the other direction (there really wasn't much middle ground), which again wasn't interesting and also wasn't very believable (especially not with the beating Kurt had taken by that point). And the way he kills Po at the end? I can accept Kurt somehow beating Po in a test of skill, but he just straight up overpowered him. How the hell does that make any sense? We clearly see over and over again how much stronger Po is, so how does Kurt suddenly out-muscle him in the end(again, especially after the beating he'd taken up to that point)?


So why did Kurt hold up the amulet he ripped off Po's corpse at the end? Was he fighting to earn some sort of symbol of status? Here I thought this was about avenging his brother! There was no reason for him to care about that amulet. I guess you could say the it was some way of insulting Po, of taking away from him that which he held dear, but it really didn't feel like the was the cause, not the way he was holding it up like a trophy. Plus, he'd already taken away his life, wasn't that enough? The simple act of picking it up actually weakened the impact of his victory because it further divorced his actions from his supposed motivation. Yes, I know it seems like a small thing, but it actually really bothers me.


Typically the wise old trainer is expected to provide some meaningful advice and/or moral support to his student in the last fight, but we really didn't get that from Durand. I mean, the best thing they could think of for him to say was "coconut"? This right in the middle of the dramatic climax of the last fight? Sigh. That was just such a terrible decision. He didn't do much the rest of the fight either; no advice, not even a "believe in yourself" or "remember your training" or something safe like that, just a "you're doing fine" (when Kurt was getting seventeen shades of sugar beaten out of him) and a shoulder rub for some reason. It was just terribly written. Well, the whole character was quite terribly written to be honest.


I mentioned in my Mechanic: Resurrection review that I really liked some of their establishing shots; I thought they did a great job of showing off the beauty of some of the locations. Kickboxer had a couple of establishing shots where we saw forests and interesting architecture, but it never managed to make them look particularly appealing. Which is a shame because I understand Thailand is a very interesting place. This is not the sort of thing that I would normally notice or think about, but I saw Kickboxer so soon after Mechanic that the difference stuck in my mind.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Mechanic: Resurrection review


I do like Jason Statham, but ever since the Crank series I'm a little bit wary of his movies - amusing as the concept was, those were a little too nonsensical for me - and as a result several of his recent movies passed me by. What I'm saying is, I haven't seen the first Mechanic movie.

That didn't stop me from enjoying this one though; while I might be missing a little backstory, Resurrection doesn't seem to lean too heavily on the character's history. That's not to say that the plot is bad or anything, personally I thought it did a decent job of setting up the action and the stakes without overstaying it's welcome; we're here to see Jason Statham punch people in the face after all, I don't think anyone went in to this hoping for a deep story.

The film does take a little time to explain the characters' motivations and let us see them interact and form relationships, but personally I felt that part was little rushed. It was handled better than some movies I've seen recently though, so I'm going to give it a pass on that count.


The acting was sufficient; no-one is going to be winning any awards, but personally I think Jason Statham does just fine as a tough-guy with a soft center. Jessica Alba didn't get very much to do other than sit around looking worried most of the movie, but I thought she had some good moments in the early scenes when her character is bonding with Jason's. Sam Hazeldine was OK, but his character wasn't a particularly intimidating villain - he didn't do anything impressive or even particularly evil, he just talked a bit and gave some orders - so I don't think he really had enough to work with.

It was nice to see Michelle Yeoh; it would have been nicer to see her kicking people in the head, but oh well; she did a great job of bringing a lot of warmth to her character. Tommy Lee Jones didn't have much screen time, but he was entertaining in his few scenes - funnily enough I can't remember the last time he looked like he was enjoying himself as much as he did here.


But of course, this movie was all about the action, and on that front it delivered. The film alternated between intense fist-fights, fast-paced gunfights, and more methodical assassination scenes. Jason Statham is one of the few Western actors who seems to deliver really good fights, and that's exactly what he did here. Jessica Alba only had a few short action scenes, but she handled those well too.

I rarely find Hollywood punch-ups very impressive, especially now that it has been infected by the insidious disease of the quick-cut shaky-cam, but I really liked the fights in Mechanic: Resurrection. They were fast, intense, and a little bit clever.

To be honest, typical gunfights don't tend to interest me very much as they tend to be a whole lot of static shots of people just standing or kneeling, waving guns around missing everything. While there wasn't all that much gunplay here, what we got was some of the better stuff; again, these scenes were fast paced and a little bit smart, and I enjoyed them.

The assassinations scenes were like miniature heist movies, with a bit of suspense and a quick pay-off. They weren't great to be honest, but I thought they were fun and they did a good job of changing up the pace, which of course helped keep the faster action scenes from getting monotonous. Plus they added to the intelligence quotient of the whole endeavour; this is an action movie, but at least it's not a dumb action movie - well, at least the action isn't dumb.

While I've complained a great deal about quick camera work ruining action scenes in movies these day, the camera work here was definitely more Hollywood than Hong Kong, and yet it worked. I couldn't tell you what the difference was between the camera work in this movie and in Jason Bourne, but this one worked while that one fell flat on it's face. This is why cinema is an art I suppose.


Talking about the cinematography, there were some beautiful establishing shots that genuinely made me wish I could see those locations in person. That's not really something I can about a lot of movies. It was a nice touch.


Overall I'm rating this one an 8/10: objectively this is the kinda movie I normally would rate around a 7, but I enjoyed the action so much that I have to give it a bit more credit than that. So yeah, a good action movie.




#####SPOILER WARNING#####

Despite his age, Jason Statham is in great shape; I know because he took of his shirt a lot in this movie. Like, a LOT.

Jessica's character turning out to be bait rather than a damsel in distress was a nice touch, or it would have been if she didn't immediately transform into a damsel in distress. Somehow her role was still better than Jane in Tarzan.

There were a few times when important character details were narrated, when I think it might have had more impact if they gave us something visual to go along with the narration. I dunno, show don't tell right?

It's a small thing, but the villain's second-in-command died too easily; I was expecting him to put up more of a fight. You know: the second-to-last boss fight, sort of thing? We didn't even see him die. Hmm, perhaps he didn't; perhaps he'll be the villain in the next one? Naaah.


That first assassination was a bit too convenient I thought. I loved the second one though; that pool looked amazing, and the kill was entertaining. Unfortunately the last one felt extremely rushed; yes, it wasn't actually an assassination, but still, it really felt like Bishop was just teleporting around wherever he wanted for that one.

About the only time that I was having trouble following the film was the part when Bishop was bonding with Gina. Bishop knew that he'd been followed and was being watched, but his plan was... to just wait and let himself get captured? He was talking about smuggling Gina to safety, but that didn't happen: was he lying to her or did the bad guys make their move too soon? I dunno, it all just felt excessively passive for Bishop considering the action scene we'd just witnessed - they'd established him as a man of action who always has a plan a moment ago, only to have him sit around and wait for the bad guys to capture him with no plan of escape. Well, that quiet time was necessary for character development, so I understand why it was there, it just didn't quite fit thematically I guess?