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?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Jason Bourne review


I loved the first Bourne movie. It wasn't a big movie, but it was tight one. The action was fast, clever, and somehow personal. The plot was interesting and kept your attention; you might have a pretty good guess about what the big secret was, but you still wanted to know for sure. Bourne was likeable, and had actual human interactions with other important cast members.

I think I've talked about this before, but I would say that there's three basic approaches to making sequels. The first is to try to do something different, the second is to do the exact same thing again, and the third is to do the exact same thing again but to make it bigger and better. Well, to make it bigger anyway; the thinking seems to be that making it bigger automatically makes it better. I don't believe that is inherently the case though.

The Bourne series chose the third approach. Every sequel had less of what I liked about the first and more of the kind of generic big Hollywood action set-pieces that don't really do much for me. What's more, I feel that there was less of a sense of danger after the first; they made a big point of lionizing Bourne (one of the big lines from the Bourne Supremacy trailer was "They don't make mistakes"), meaning that you no longer really wondered if he would fail or not, you just knew he wouldn't - he was Jason Bourne after all, and he was basically super-human.

Consequently, I enjoyed each sequel less and less. But I still enjoyed them. Unfortunately this latest one is the first that I didn't enjoy at all. Why? Well, the biggest reason is the scourge of modern cinematography: super-quick cuts and constant shaky cam. I'm not even exaggerating when I say that I'm quite certain the camera never stopped shaking. No matter how little was happening, no matter how quiet the scene, the camera was shaking. It actually gave me a headache at times.

I could never see what was happening in any of the action scenes. By the end I had given up; as Bourne was engaging in what I think was a big car chase and the final boss fight, I could not see a single thing and was just waiting for it to end. I no longer cared; I was done.

Also, the plot is the most basic version of the Bourne sequel pattern: he gets pulled back in from hiding, there's some kind of secret about his past that he wants to discover, a government agency led by a corrupt old dude hunts him while one woman on the inside inexplicable decides that he's not the bad guy and decides to secretly help him (oops, spoiler warning? Bleh, who cares, it's not really a surprise and not worth caring about). There's really nothing at all new here, and the old stuff isn't even well fleshed out.

The details holding the different scenes together didn't even amount to much in my view; most scenes basically just start with "the magic computer box says Bourne is here, go get him". Tracing hackers, facial recognition, whatever; it's all very lazy: people in a room stare at a computer and declare that person X is in location Y and a chase scene happens. Rinse and repeat.

What's more, this Bourne has zero personality. He has almost no dialogue, no emotions to express, and to be honest not much reason to even be there. Oh, there's a secret about his dad or something, but it is easily the weakest motivation they've come up with for him to be... I dunno, running around kidnapping old dudes or whatever. And there's straight-up no payoff at the end; the secret is so inconsequential that nobody really cared, not even Bourne as far as I can tell.


You know, I think I'm going to have to score this as a 4/10. This is probably the lowest score I've ever given in a review; I've certainly seen worse movies (usually not all the way through...), but I don't usually feel the need to review them. And even movies that I hate far more than this one I usually end up rating higher because I can at least see that they do some things well even if I don't like them. But I just don't think Jason Bourne has any real redeeming features: the plot was weak, the action was terrible, the characters were boring... I just never saw anything about it that was ever anything more than sub-standard. It's just... it's just bad. That's all.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Legend of Tarzan review

There's probably some unique challenges involved in writing a movie based on source material as old as Tarzan. Times change after all, and in trying to adapt the story to appeal to modern sensibilities you might lose something essential to the original piece. I don't know if that's what happened here, but I did not find this movie to be very enjoyable.


The plot was not bad, but the movie was very slow to get started: it took a while for anything to really happen. The first half was heavy with flashbacks filling us in on Tarzan's history, but I found these to have little impact, perhaps due to their short fragmented nature. It never really managed to make me care about the characters, and overall I just wasn't drawn into it.


Perhaps the biggest problem is that Tarzan himself is just plain boring. He has almost no character or personality, he never comes across as more than just a dour set of muscles. Neither his expression nor his voice ever really changed no matter what the situation.

Jane was more expressive and had some scenes that fleshed out her character a little bit, but it wasn't really enough, and it was dramatically obvious right from the start that she was just going to get kidnapped and Tarzan would have to rescue her. Hell, we even saw it in the trailer; her whole character was undermined before we even set foot in the cinema. But what made it worse is that Tarzan told her not to come but she insisted: the film-makers want us to believe that it's her fault that she was kidnapped, if she had just quietly stayed at home like (what I assume they believe is) a "good wife" then Tarzan wouldn't have had to rescue her. What's up with that?

Now she did have, like, one single scene where she was arguably actually useful, but it was far too little. I mean, at one point she actually had to be rescued in a flashback; she really never did amount to anything more than just a damsel in distress. What makes it really sad - apart from how clichéd and generally insulting that kind of writing is - is that even by being kidnapped and needing rescuing, she really didn't contribute very much to the plot. Ugh, I'd better leave this topic to the spoiler section actually.

I loved Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds, and I felt that his character in this movie borrowed heavily from that performance. Unfortunately the character was never really allowed to be very menacing or impressive, and as a result it just didn't work; Leon Rohm just wasn't a very impressive villain in the end.

There were a number of scenes in this movie that I did enjoy, and every single one of them featured Samuel L.M.Fing Jackson. He was genuinely the best thing about this film; his character was entertaining, relatable, and had a little more depth than I had been expecting. In fact, I found his back-story, delivered in a two-minute monologue, more intriguing than all of Tarzan's flashbacks.


The action was nothing special, with some potentially decent scenes let down by the now-standard Hollywood quick-cut shaky cam. The VFX wasn't quite good enough to bring some of the ambitious scenes to life; generally it was OK but there were a few moments troublesome enough to bring me out of the movie - but to be fair, I might be a little bit more sensitive to this kind of thing than most people.


Overall I'm going to give it a 6/10. There isn't really anything bad about it, there's just nothing particularly good about it either.




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

I mentioned that Jane being kidnapped wasn't even important, and that's because several members of the village were also kidnapped, and Rohm just generally needed to be stopped, so Tarzan was going to chase him down either way. So yeah, not only was it a tired cliché, it was also ultimately superfluous.


The film had some minor sub-plots that were probably intended to add depth, but really didn't amount to very much. Initially Tarzan seems to hate Africa, probably because of how much he suffered and how much family he lost there; I believe at one point he called it a "wretched place". But when he goes back... he gets repeatedly beaten up, his old friend gets killed, and his wife gets kidnapped and they both almost die. After this, he... stays there? What part of all that made him hate Africa any less?

Also, there's some brief hints that they want to have a baby, but no explanation why they haven't. Then at the end they have one. I assume that's supposed to be a happy ending, but they really didn't give me any reason to care, them having a baby at the end just didn't carry any weight.


Tarzan sure did get his bee-hind handed to him a whole lot this movie. I mean, out of several fights that he got into, he only really won one of them. The bit at the end where he finally faces off against Leon Rohm was particularly disappointing.

Speaking of Leon Rohm, him apparently falling for Jane just undermined his character, it didn't strengthen hers. I don't really understand the rationale behind it, other than perhaps to try to crib the scene from Inglorious where Hans Landa is having dessert with Shosanna Dreyfus.


By the way, near the end of the movie we finally hear Tarzan's roar, but I don't recall ever seeing him making it? Slightly strange that they didn't show him actually producing it, but I guess that would have required Tarzan to actually display energy or emotion, which they didn't seem to want for some reason.


The movie keeps going on about how big a deal Tarzan is; he's "Africa's favourite son", villages sing songs of his legend. And what legend is that exactly? All we see in the flashbacks is a wild boy lead a group of apes to hunt down and murder some typical tribesmen, and then get beaten up by another ape and need to be rescued by some white people. What part of that made him a famous legend that eveyone loves?


One issue I had was that I found the film's portrayal of animals to be somewhat inconsistent. The apes (which it claimed were not gorillas but something else?) were vicious bloodthirsty beasts. Hippos sped towards distant humans in water like they were planning to eat them, while lions nuzzle people affectionately (they seemed to have far more affection for Tarzan than the apes that were his family) and herds of elephants stop their nocturnal migrations (is this a real thing? Nocturnal elephants?) to have extended telepathic conversations (sort of) with strange humans. He was able to communicate well enough with apes and lions to get them to herd oxen, but not enough to say to his brother "Hey bro, don't mind us, just passing through". I dunno, I wish the film had been a bit more straight about saying something like "most herbivores won't go out of their way to attack you, but they will protect their territory", rather than "Not-gorilla apes will kill you, hippos will kill you, elephants are cool though" or whatever.

Also, whatever those apes were supposed to be, I had no sympathy for them. I'm surprised that the film seemed to expect us to at times. They were brutal and violent creatures that killed humans on sight, completely unlike my understanding of actual gorillas. By the way, why the hell was Jane wandering alone two steps away from their territory at one point?


I really liked the scene where Doctor Williams is sewing up Tarzan's wound using ants. That was pretty cool. Also, that man knew his guns!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Suicide Squad review


Suicide Squad was not exactly what I had been expecting. The trailers had led me to believe it was something of a dark comedy, but the actual movie was more of a straight-up action flick. Pretty much all of the jokes in the movie are in the trailer, and I actually thought they worked a little better there. I'm not sure why exactly, something about the timing or the tone of the surrounding scenes or something.

What's more, after seeing the bright colours and and characterful costumes in the movie posters, I was a little surprised at how generic most of the film was visually. While there were some moments with visual flair, most of the movie's settings are kind of bland; dark prison cells and dead-standard city architecture (usually at night) - we don't even see any interesting buildings, just typical square skyscrapers. While the "main" villains were pretty cool, the "grunts" that fill most of the action scenes were just boring, and it was usually so dark that they were little more than just moving black blobs. Mild spoiler warning for the rest of the paragraph: the big doomsday device was just a beam of light shooting into the sky, same as we've seen in Avengers and Man of Steel; again, generic at this point.

Having said that, it was a pretty good action movie with pretty entertaining characters who are given enough depth for us to care about (some of) them even though they are "bad guys". While the basic set-up is not complicated, the plot does have a few cool twists; there's enough parties working against each other that I was never quite sure how things were going to turn out.

There's some enjoyable acting here; it was pretty obvious from the trailers that Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn was going to steal the movie (which she did), but I was personally impressed with Viola Davis' turn as Amanda Waller. Cara Delevingne had some stand-out moments as Enchantress; she had some really great body language that made the character feel so alien. Will Smith was fine as Deadshot, but the character - while strong - was a little bland next to the rest of the crew, so his acting was never going to stand out as much as some of the others. Jared Leto's Joker... didn't really work for me. While he definitely pulled off the "crazy", "unpredictable", and "dangerous" aspects that are vital to a good Joker, I never really felt as if he was having fun, which is kind of a big part of the character to me. Jay Hernandez was great as Diablo, I would have liked to see more from him. The rest of the cast did well but didn't really get enough screen time or juicy material for me to be able to say very much more than that.


In the end I'm going to give it a 7/10; it's a good action movie with an engaging plot and entertaining characters.




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

Let's have a quick look at my earlier wishlist for Suicide Squad. I said that I wanted:

1. For characters to betray each other.
This I got. Enchantress turned out to be the main villain, Boomerang goaded Slipknot into making a break for it so that he could test whether the explosives were real, and Harley ditched the team and ran.

2. For important characters to die.
Kind of. Several characters died, but the only one we actually cared about was Diablo, and that was a heroic sacrifice right at the end. They killed Slipknot, but he'd only had about three seconds of screentime until that point, and the only thing we had seen him do was punch a woman for talking, thereby making damn sure we didn't like him and didn't care about his death. Enchantress died, but then she was the villain, that's not the kind of thing I was talking about, and in fact June Moone survived (something that I felt was just too convenient). Overall the effect that I wanted, that is for them to create the feeling that any character could die at any time, even ones that we like, did not happen.

3. For them to remember that these are actually bad guys and not to just have them turn into heroes at the end.
Yeah, they totally went heroic at the end. Stood together as a family and strode forwards into near-certain death and everything, when they could have turned around and walked away. I mean, sure, it's all great cinema and everything, just a little, you know, clichéd. Plus, it creates a situation where you can't really tell the difference between the heroes and the villains in the DC cinematic universe: both kill without remorse and both save the day at the end, just the "villains" have a little more fun doing it (and they don't whine as much).

So overall I felt that they tried to stay true to the source material but ultimately made the concessions that you would expect for a movie aimed at attracting as large an audience as possible. I guess I can't blame them for that. To be honest the only time that I really felt they did something that I would consider "not true to the comics" was when Harley came back after escaping.

That's probably my biggest complaint actually. Why did she come back? If she believed that the Joker was dead, wouldn't she go on a killing spree, murdering everyone she thinks might be even remotely responsible for his death? And why did everyone, both military and criminal, just accept her back with hardly a word despite the fact that she had betrayed them and ran away? This is after her friends opened fire on everyone with heavy weaponry and stole the helicopter that they were going to use to get out of the city by the way.

Although there is one interpretation of the movie where it makes sense. One thing we've been discussing is just how much of the movie was actually just happening in Harley's head. The bit at the end where Joker suddenly just busts in and rescues her? Clearly just a delusional fantasy. But what about the rest? I mean, think about it, what's easier to believe? That the U.S. government would pick a normal human with no military training who's only notable for being an insane and uncontrollable killer (a flashy one at that) to be part of a covert team assembled to fight superhumans, then send her into battle armed only with a baseball bat and an archaic pistol to fight against a pair of resurrected deities building a floating lightning machine that will destroy the world? Or that an insane person is having a weird dream? Plus it explains how no-one objects when she just rejoins the team after betraying them, or how Enchantress is willing to accept her as a servant even though she was a party to killing Enchantress' brother, and how she was personally able to trick the ancient deity with such an obvious ruse to save the day.


I rather wish they hadn't tried to tie this movie to the Justice League stuff they've got going on as the less I'm reminded of the B.S. movie the better, but they did, and so I have to ask: if Enchantress spent three days building this doomsday machine of hers (as is mentioned at one point), then where were all the superheroes that we know exist in this world the whole time? Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash; these are all established superheroes at this point, yet we don't hear a whisper from them. Don't tell me they didn't hear anything about half a city being evacuated while a giant magical storm hovers in clear sight. At the very least Batman should have caught wind of something; he's supposed be to be fairly plugged in, right? Well, it's always possible they'll retro-actively explain it in a future movie: "Huh, looks like something weird happened while I was busy fighting parademons on Apokolips, oh well" or something like that.


As usual I do have a few nit-picks, but I'm not going to bother writing them out as I don't think any of them are important enough to matter really, I'm just going to ask one last question. With the death of Diablo, they don't really have any actual superhumans left on the team other than Killer Crock, who isn't really that big a powerhouse. And the most popular character, Harley, has escaped (maybe). So... what are they going to do for the inevitable sequel? I guess the obvious answer is "introduce a whole lot of new characters". They just have to balance doing that with keeping the old guys relevant I guess.