Friday, 18 August 2017

Big Game



Title: Big Game
Director: Jalmari Helander
Released: 2014
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Felicity Huffman, Victor Garber, Ted Levine, Jim Broadbent, Ray Stevenson

Plot: When Air Force One is shot down by terrorists President Moore (Jackson) his only hope of survival lies with the 13 year old Oskari (Tommila) who is on a hunting mission to prove his maturity to his kinsfolk, only not to find himself instead aiding the President to escape the terrorists now hunting them.


Review: After giving the world a truly unique take on the Father Christmas mythos with his debut film “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” which itself built on his short films “Rare Exports Inc.” and “The Official Rare Exports Inc. Safety Instructions” Finnish director Jalmari Helander shared with the world his unique world view were Santa was less the jolly fat man but rather a horned beast incased in a block of ice, while his elves were a bunch of naked old guys. Now four years after his memorable debut he takes a stab at the action genre while still carrying across many of the traits which made his debut so memorable.

The most expensive film to be produced in Finland with a budget of $10 million this is a film which for whatever reason seemed to disappear as quick as it appear on the release radar leaving me entering into this film with a sense of trepidation, especially when compared to “Rare Exports” which it seemed the blogging community were keen to discuss unlike this film which no one seemed to be talking about. Thankfully I shouldn’t have worried as Helander once again has delivered a film which is similar to “Rare Exports” in so many ways as Helander gives us his take on the action genre.

In much the same way that his take on Christmas was unique the same could be said for his take on the action genre which not only gives nods the action / adventure movies of the 80’s and early 90’s which arguably shot through what almost feels like the lens of a family film, alas one with terrorists and gunfights. Still thanks to a committed cast which see’s him bringing back cast members from “Rare Exports” aswell as casting American actors like Jackson who arn’t afraid to work with more unique material like this.

Opening to Oskari as he stands before the hunter wall of fame, showcasing the boys who’ve take the same right of passage he’s about to embark on were 13 year old boys from the village are sent into the Finnish wilderness to hunt by themselves, the photos all showing his predessorts all proudly posing with their kills including his father he idolises. Oskari on the other hand is not quite the hunter as we soon discover as he struggles to pull back on his bow a worrying sign when the trail is designed as a test of proving a young boys maturity into manhood. This kind of tough upbringing we saw in his previous film and once again its the same relationship we see between the gruff father figure who hides a softer side and his son which might be off putting to some, but this is the enviroment in which Oskari is growing up were life is tough and childhood fleeting as young boys are expected to be able to hunt skills the trial is designed to test.

It’s certainly far from your usual setup for this film, especially when you consider that featuring kids is usually the kiss of death for most action fans enthusiasm, but perhaps because of how Oskari is introduced its certainly less of an issue here even though Oskari still gives us a few moments of being a wise ass kid, using a cup and string phone to initially talk to Moore in a scene which actually was pretty charming and no doubt equally has a lot to do with Jackson’s ability to commit to the most random of material as highlighted by the 174 credits he currently has on IMDB at the time of writing this review.
Jackson’s Moore himself is an interesting character racked with concerns over his declining popularity, let alone his own concerns over being able to perform as a president and while his character might have benefited from more development the charisma of Jackson once more carries the character across. At the same time he’s played off against Secret Service agent Morris (Stevenson) along with the pychotic and insanely rich Hazar (Kurtulus) whose schemes are less about holding the President hostage and in keeping with his personality is more focused on hunting Moore for sport with the intention of having him stuffed and mounted as the ultimate hunting trophy.

While you might expect to know the direction the film will be heading, throughout the brisk run time Helander constantly manages to catch the audience off guard, which might be slightly disapointing to those who saw the trailer and went into the film expecting more of action fest, when here the action comes more in bursts with the focus being largely on the friendship between Moore and Oskari, while the frequent switches between humour and drama happen so often it can be hard to really latch onto any one mood for the film. The action scenes we do get though are enjoyably outlandish including a refrigerator escape sequence which makes the much lauded one from Crystal Skull seem quite plausible in comparison as we watch Oskari and Moore tumbling down the mountainside following the exciting chase through the woods as Hazar attempts to transport his prize off the mountain side inside said refrigerator. The ending though only up the ante further with Helander ending on a huge setpiece involving an ejector seat, a bow and arrow and an exploding lake!

While the action might be kept to the most part to the mountain side we do get the obligatory cuts to the pentagon crisis room were an enjoyable Victor Garber does a lot of hand wringing as the vice president and Jim Broadbent basically steals every scene he’s in as the head of the Terrorist Intel Unit while somehow managing to make a sandwich last the whole film, let alone showing a rare darker side we haven’t seen since “Art School Confidential” and one I would love to see more of. Yes at time these scenes can feel like throw away exposition but thankfully they do lead up to something bigger by the finale in a rather shocking twist that comes seemingly out of nowhere.

As with “Rare Exports” its hard to say who exactly the audience is for this film and with such a strange family adventure vibe running throughout the film, combined with Helander’s general refusal to commit to any one tone I’ve found myself refering to this as a “Starter Action Movie”. The kind of movie you could show the kids as a gateway into the genre before you show them the Schwarzenegger / Stallone / Van Damme classics. More so when this film is free of the usual bad language and ultra-violence you might not want to expose the kids to, still if we can have starter horror movies why not the same for action movies?

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Symbol

Title: Symbol
Director: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Released: 2009
Starring: Hitoshi Matsumoto, David Quintero, Luis Accinelli, Lilian Tapia, Adriana Fricke, Carlos C. Torres, Ivana Wong, Arkangel De La Muerte, Matcho Panpu, Dick Togo, Salam Diagne

Plot: A Japanese man wakes up in a plain white room covered with phallus like switches which cause random events to happen within the room, while I attempts to find a way out. At the same a Mexican luchadore called Escargot Man prepares for his match despite being concerned that the fact his opponent is much younger than him. At the same time the worlds of these two men are surprisingly connected.

Review: Director Hitoshi Matsumoto might be a director whose work I never intend to seek out and yet our paths for some reason keep crossing, first with the Kaiju parody “Big Man Japan” and later the delightfully perverted “R100”. This time though its a lighter tone that Matsumoto brings to this film of two randomly interconnected tales even though from the start they couldn’t seem to be further part.

Of course surreal worlds have always been one of the trademarks of the comedian turned director and here that’s certainly the case for at least one half of this film as Matsumoto plays the unnamed man who wakes up in the plain room devoid of any colour bar his garish poka-dot pajamas. He has no idea how he got there or why he’s there and certainly by the end of the film we are arguably none the wiser, but it certainly doesn’t stop it being fun to see him being put through the slapstick ringer like your watching “Saw” with jokes.

The main humour of the film comes from him trying to figure out his new surrounding which seem to have designed to purposely test him at all times. The main one of these challenges being the phallus like switches which at one point turn into cherubs which emerge from the wall before disappearing again. Each switch causes something to happen or appear in the room, be it a plate of sushi, a pair of chopsticks or even cause a Zulu warrior to run through the room and this is the challenge which he is faced with let alone the fact that they all look identical.

Just seeing Matsumoto try and find a solution of each problem as he encounters is facinating to watch and his background in comedy only helps further sell even the simplest of jokes such as counsuming a small pile of sushi after resigning himself to the fact that there is no soy sauce only for the next switch he presses to produce the much desired soy sauce. Often these problem solving sections are presented with comic book storyboards while he stares at the viewer just clicking his fingers and the trail and error of the situation is designed so that you want to see him succeed yet at the same time the pay off for each failed plan is so amusing your equally wanting to see him crash and burn aswell.

The second story involving our ageing masked Mexican wrester is a much gentler far and works well running parallel to Matsumoto’s tale. Escargot Man loves his craft as a wrester yet at the same time he’s worried that his age is meaning that he is almost out of the game, especially when faced with competing against a pair of wrestlers half his age. Seeing him permanently wearing his mask regardless of if he is wrestling or not felt like a fun throw back to the likes of “Santo” while at the same time keeping in with the traditions of Lucha Libre. Over the course of his story we see the impact it has on family, including his son who is see defending his father’s in ring ability when two of his classmates make fun of Escargot Man.

Compared to my previous encounters with Matsumoto’s work this one surprisingly didn’t have a darker edge to it, or even go anywhere remotely downbeat in its tone. True instead the finale is a random mish-mash of ideas which includes a Kiss tribute act, ascension and a rather unique ending to Escargot Man’s match. True by the end of the film I might not have been any the wiser as to what I was watching than I was at the start but the ride is so unquestionably fun you really don’t care, while for those willing to take a few risks with their movie watching then this is certainly worth checking out, especially as a more gentle introduction to Matsumoto’s work.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

A.C. Film Club #4 - Chungking Express



On this latest episode myself and Stephen (Gweilo Ramblings / Eastern Kicks) take a look at Wong Kai-Wai's "Chungking Express", a film comprised of two rather untraditional love stories as Takeshi Kaneshiro plays a cop who finds himself caught up Brigitte Lin's mysterious drug smuggler. At the same time Tony Leung (also playing a cop) who in attempting to get over the loss of his girlfriend (Valerie Chow) attracts the interest of the quirky snack bar worker Faye (Faye Wong) who has become determined to improve his situation

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We also share our Asian cinema shames as we take a cue from the "Cinema Shame" project and reveal the films they perhaps should have seen but for whatever reason have yet to, while also taking a look at the films of Kim Ki-duk

Further Watching


 

 








Fallen Angels
3-Iron
Samaritan Girl

A full list of films covered on the show can be found here

Monday, 24 July 2017

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children



Title: Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children
Director: Tim Burton
Released: 2016
Starring: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell, Judi Dench, Samuel L. Jackson

Plot: When his grandfather is mysteriously murdered Jake (Butterfield) travels to an island off Wales in search of answers only to find a time loop which hides a school for extraordinary children who he is destined to protect from the evil Hollowgasts.


Review: It’s been a rocky road for the last decade or so with “Sleepy Hollow” marking the end of what we could consider his golden period as he instead went off to play around in the studio system, remaking his childhood favourites. However with the release of “Frankenweenie” and the overlooked “Big Eyes” it would seem that cinema’s weird kid is keen to get back to his roots.

Adapted from the novel by Ransom Riggs who constructed the story around unusual photographs he had collected with the end result playing in many ways like a 1940’s set version of the “X-men” and making it all the more fitting that the script was written by Jane Goldman who previously worked on both “X-Men: First Class” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past”. Of course this story is seemingly written with Burton in mind as it celebrates the abnormal and bizarre to create a “Freaks” like family.

A pipe smoking Eva Green (something we didn’t know we wanted to see until now) plays a Ymbryne here which basically means she has the ability to change into a peregrine falcon aswell as minipulate time which might be one of the more unusual combinations of powers we have seen, but it does enable her to hide the home in a continual time loop of September 3, 1943. Here she is essentially a Burton vision of what “Mary Poppins” might have turned out in his hands and here heads up this unusual children home which brings together children of exceptional abilities.

The so called “Peculiar children” are unquestionably the real draw here as they all come with their own unique powers ranging from the aerokinetic Emma (Purnell) who is forced to stomp around in lead shoes to stop her from floating away, the super strong little girl Bronwyn (Davies) and the invisible boy Millard (King). At the same time we also have the kids who might have come from the mind of Burton had this not been an adapation with the human beehive Hugh (Parker), a pair of masked twins and Enoch who can resurrect both the dead and inanimate object all come with an air of classic Burton to them. The only one who didn’t work was Horace (Keeler-Stone) whose ability of being able to project his dreams like a human projector ends up coming off kind of pointless and more whimsical than anything close to an essential character.

While this was sold a family fare, there is certainly a dark vein which runs throughout the film be it Enoch using his powers to orchestrate his own fights to the death between his twisted doll creations or the Hollowgasts who are the twisted mutant forms of the evil wrights who battle their mutation by consuming the eyes of Peculiars a grotesque spin on the book which saw them consuming the souls of the children. As such in many ways it feels like the kind of family movies of the 80’s and early 90’s such as “The Dark Crystal” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark” which weren't afraid to throw in some darkness in with the fun.

Another aspect of the film which stands out is with the design work for the characters and locations throughout which sadly loses a lot of its charm during the modern day segments with those set in the 1940’s being packed with interesting details especially the Wrights whose flashback to the experiments which caused their mutation dripping in steampunk fantasy while Samuel L. Jackson clearly is having a blast as Mr, Barronthe leader of the Wrights. Of course this is a world were the kids can take a sunken ship and magically make seaworthy by combining their abilities and as such works best when your not questioning the fantastical logic it runs on.

The downside to the film though comes when we get into the modern day which are painfully bland and uninteresting compared to those set in the more colourful and generally more interesting 1940’s sections. Even when we get into the final showdown which see’s an army of skeletons battling the Hollowgasts in modern day Blackpool, the best parts are filmed in Blackpool tower whose styling makes it also seem like the 40’s setting despite being modern day, but then as someone who spent their childhood summers in Blackpool I can confirm that this is no doubt pretty accurate considering how they love nostalgia and why the place hasn’t really changed in the last 30 years.

A fun ride throughout despite the departure of Eva Green earlier than I would have liked, the pace is kept brisk throughout while for the fans of Burton’s earlier movies, this will no doubt feel like him getting back to making the films we’ve been wanting to see from him. I can only hope that he comes back for a sequel as there is clearly more to explore in this world and with the books currently set to be joined by a forth novel in the series it would seem that there is still plenty of material to draw inspiration from still.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

A.C Film Club #3 - Tears of the Black Tiger



Stephen (Gweilo Ramblings / Eastern Kicks) and myself head to Thailand for the latest instalment of our introduction to Asian cinema which on this episode looks at possibly the most fabulous western ever "Tears of the Black Tiger".
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An Eastern Western which combines elements of romantic melodrama with John Woo style heroic gunplay and a Sam Peckinpah western to create something truly original 

We also take a look at the career of Meiko Kaji as well as the live action spectacle that is “Kaiju Big Battel” and their upcoming video game from “Super Walrus Games

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Resident Evil: Retribution



Title: Resident Evil: Retribution
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Released: 2012
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Kevin Durand, Sienna Guillory, Shawn Roberts, Aryana Engineer, Oded Fehr, Colin Salmon, Johann Urb, Boris Kodjoe, Li Bingbing

Plot: Picking up directly after the end of “Resident Evil: Afterlife” Alice (Jovovich) now finds herself captured by the Umbrella Corperation and placed in an underwater facility which also doubles as a demonstration ground for the effects of the T-Virus. Now Alice must team up with the mysterious Ada Wong to escape the facility which is now under the control of a recently reactivated “Red Queen”.


Review: Its staggering to think at this point in the series that we are five films deep in the franchise which at this point has also gone on its own very unique path from the source material as we continue to follow the journey of Alice in her battle against the Umbrella Corporation and of course the zombie hordes created by the T-Virus. Still just when we thought the series had already gone way off the deep end Director Paul W. S. Anderson somehow manages to find a way to top it.

Seeing how the previous film ended on the fantastic cliffhanger of Alice on the deck of of the Umbrella Tanker Arcadia as she stared down a squadron of Umbrella Tiltrotors. Now half expecting the film to open with Alice being captured what Anderson gives us instead is actually something pretty special as we get to the events which transpired played out in reverse slow motion which honestly only serves to make it all the more impactful than if we’d seen it played out normally.

One of the strengths of the series has always been Jovovich’s performance as Alice a role she truly has made more and more her own with each film even designing Alice’s outfits through her own fashion line. Here though we get to see a new side to Alice as she finds herself waking up in a suburban dream life complete with husband and deaf daughter Becky (Engineer) only for dream to quickly turn into the same sort of zombie nightmare we saw at the start of Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake. Here in lies the kicker for this instalment as Alice finds herself in a facility made up of large scale remakes of various cities such as Tokyo and New York which originally had been designed as a way of selling the T-virus to various countries replicating the rival country at the facility. This of course really is just an excuse for Anderson to craft a series of large scale and flamboyant action sequences as the film itself feels like one long shoot out, especially with the plot moving at such a fast pace.

The action throughout is great to look and while this entry perhaps features more heroic gunplay than previous entries with the introduction of Ada Wong here played note perfect by Li Bingbing whose performance was surprisingly dubbed well by Sall Cahill but watching the film I couldn’t tell . Ada as a character though is finally a character able to stand toe to toe with Alice and to see them working together in the film really was a thrill. Afterall why have one kickass lady when you can have two.

Each of the settings are unique enough to stand out and provides a decent change from another round of post-apocalyptic wastelands or the sterile facilities of the umbrella corporation. True none of it is shot with seemingly the slightest concern for what is realistic or not but its really hard to complain when its so much fun to have scenes such as a high speed chase through a simulated Moscow or an army of zombie soldiers. These scenes only being added to by Anderson’s visual style which here once again works really well.

This facility setting for the film also means we get to see the return of several characters such as James (Salmon) and Rain (Rodriguez) who get to return to the series as clones. Rodriguez in perticular getting to play two versions of herself as we see her playing her Strike team persona from the first film sent to hunt Alice and Ada aswell as the suburban version who plays like the complete opposite as she acts openly shocked at the idea of using guns. Yes I could have done without seeing Colin Salmon again, but then I can pretty much do without seeing him in most things., Rodriguez meanwhile is enjoyable as always and getting to see the super powered version at the end was only an added treat.

For some reason Anderson here also chooses to saddle Alice with a Deaf daughter, who its explained early on is infact a clone from the suburban simulation created to play her daughter. Of course knowing this Alice still shows a mothers devotion to the child perhaps because Anderson couldn’t find a way to morally justify dumping the kid without turning her into a zombie kid. Maybe this was just another way of working his obsession with James Cameron’s “Aliens” into the film and creating his own version of Ripley and Newt. At the same time you could also see the different settings the group travel through as being a nod to “Westworld” which was also reportedly another source of inspiration for the film.

Ending on another tantalising cliffhanger with Alice having her superhuman abilities restored and the sight of humanity making its last stand from the grounds of the fortified White House. Say what you will about Anderson as a director he really knows how to make an audience crave that next instalment.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The Crow: City of Angels



Title: The Crow: City of Angels
Director: Tim Pope
Released: 1996
Starring: Vincent Perez, Mia Kirshner, Richard Brooks, Thuy Trang, Iggy Pop, Thomas Jane, Vincent Castellanos, Eric Acosta, Beverley Mitchell, Ian Dury

Plot: When mechanic Ashe (Perez) and his son are murdered under the orders of Los Angeles drug kingpin Judah Earl (Brooks) after they accidently witness a murder being carried out by his followers. Resurrected as the Crow Ashe now sets out to seek his revenge.

 

Review: It was always going to be a difficult task to follow on from the cult original film but believing that they could make a franchise out of the idea, the Weinstein’s offered the job to Music video director Tim Pope for his feature film debut. They also brought in David S. Goyer to write the script who at this point was yet to really make a name for himself having previously written the scripts for “Death Warrant” and “Demonic Toys” with this film sitting on the cusp of his mainstream success as he also working the scripts for “Dark City” and “Blade” at the same time he was writing this script.

Moving the story from Detroit to Los Angeles the look of the cityscape is still pretty much the same landscape of seemingly eternal darkness and urban decay. Despite this similarity Pope and Goyer had initially wanted to make a film which was different from the first film especially out of respect to Brandon Lee. who only for the Weinstein’s in their usual misguided wisdom to make demands for the film to be recut so that it was similar to original as possibly ultimately leading to both Pope and Goyer disowning the film as it no longer represented their vision. Goyer was especially dismayed by the changes having fought to cut out the resurrection of villains Top Dollar and Grange from the first film.

One character who does return from the first film as well as admittedly older is Sarah who is no longer the skateboarding tomboy of the first film but here is all grown up and working in the city as a tattoo artist and painter. Here she serves to fill in the mythology when required as she helps Ashe on his quest for vengeance. One of the potential scripts for the film had her returning as the female Crow, which while certainly a cool idea is one I was glad they didn’t go with for the film and even though Sarah returning wasn’t anywhere on the list of things I’d want to see from a sequel here it still works and her appearance also means we get to see Ian Dury showing surprising acting ability as her boss Noah.

Equally surprising in their acting ability is Iggy Pop whose acting C.V. is surprisingly more extensive than his brief appearances in “Tank Girl” and “Hardware” and here as one of Judah’s thugs “Curve” he makes up for turning down the role of “Funboy” in the original film and turns out to be one of the better aspects of the film and really gives us one of the more odious villains of the film and arguably the real villain of the piece had they choose to cut out the theatrical antics of Judah. It equally be noted that the amount of musicians appearing in the film would have been increased has the casting gone differently with Jon Bon Jovi originally being interested in playing the lead while Tori Amos was considered for the role of Sarah only for her to turn down the role.

The role of the Crow as played by Perez is thankfully not a rehash of the Eric Draven version of The Crow and even though the make up makes little sense that he would share the same dark Jester design. True Perez overplays the theatrical moments as seen during the scene he stalks Spider Monkey (Castellanos) which just comes off as deranged than intimidating. Still seeing him stalk his foes with his Spirit crow on his shoulder looks fantastic much like the scenes of him riding through the streets on his motorcycle. It’s just a shame that he’s not given anything to do which makes him any more than your usual action hero, only pulling out the one creative kill through the film and certainly giving us none of the themed kills while the Crow outlines often end up feeling forced.

The villains we get this time round are far from as defined as they were in the original film and ultimately come off as something of a mixed bag of undeveloped characters who like so many aspects of the film you can’t help but feel would have been much more effective had their characters been given chance to breathe. Sure they all have their own vices (drugs, voyeurism etc) but with the exception of the sole female member Kali (Trang) they are nearly all interchangeable. Worst of all is out supposed big villain Judah who is just a mess of theatricality and mystic nonsense. Perhaps Michael Wincott set the bar too high as “Top Dollar” in the first film but here everything about Judah feels like a poor imitation.

While the mythology of “The Crow” was kept simple in the original film here the film attempts to expand upon things so that its no longer the case that Ashe has his powers while the crow is alive, but also that its a power which can be transferred which feels like one of those ideas which might have worked in the script but only serves to take away from the film which in its final quarter ends up descending into mythical nonsense including Ashe being able to command a murder of crows which really add nothing to the film.

When I originally saw this film I honestly didn’t care for it, but now rewatching it and knowing what to expect it feels more frustrating to see glimpses of what could have been had it not been ultimately another casualty of Weinstein meddling. What it did give the franchise though was the potential to go anywhere it wanted essentially as no longer was “The Crow” just Eric Draven but essentially any person who was wronged and in the films / novels / comics which followed we have seen that principle creatively used aswell as the series “Stairway to Heaven” which ran for one season before being axed on a cliffhanger. In the scheme of the franchise this might not be the worst, but its a far cry from the best and as such provides little than a passing distraction for fans of the series and little really for anyone else.
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