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Dragon Blade (2015)

Dragon Blade (2015) PosterIt may have been an enjoyable film but that is not to say it was good. Any attempt to summarise the plot will be woefully inadequate, much like describing the Mona Lisa as, “a picture of a person.” Never the less, despite the injustice that may be done the film, an attempt will be made.  

Huo An (Jackie Chan) is sent to a far piece of land for a crime that he did not commit, he encounters Lucius (John Cusack) a Roman who has fled with a gravely ill heir. They eventually become fast friends but once Tiberius (Adrienne Brody) arrives, battle breaks out as he seeks to kill the heir and become leader of Rome. (It was not clear if this was for control of the entirety of Rome or just a province.)

The action is very good, even if the cuts are a bit quick in places, this is likely to help hide any issues with some of the less experienced martial artists. Though most of the cast seemed very proficient and with Jackie Chan helping in the action, that is not surprising at all. The style of fighting employed seems to draw and be based very much on that employed in eastern cinema. While not historically accurate it does make for a better visual feast.

Also worthy of praise is the music, there is a blend of eastern and western, with music that could easily be separated into either camp, and while it did seem to be slightly cliche, throwing in a lamenting single singer over minimal accompaniment does make for a moving mood at sad points. Being a bit of a sucker for invigorating operatic numbers, the sprinkling of these throughout were also enjoyed. 

The style of acting that seems to have been requested was, over the top. Having been raised going to pantomimes exaggerated performances are nothing new, however Dragon Blade seems to have gone to pains to ensure that there is no risk of subtly. There was no real questions as to the motivations or drives of characters, the few whom we are really introduced to. This did mean the film was easy to follow and could have been watched without subtitles. While this larger this life style of acting undoubtably has a place, it did not feel natural in this film.

Anything claiming to be, “based on” or, “inspired by” true events does tend to obtain an automatic eye roll as inevitably the question is raised as to how far the film strays from the original and even if the records bare any resemblance to the final article. The inspiration for Dragon Blade, it is suggested, very loosely relied upon as the way things come together with an almost serendipitious manner casts this far beyond the realms of believable. There were points where ludicrous suggestions were thrown out, “I would not be surprised if they started singing now.” “It’s like Lord of the Rings, the Eagles are going to come and save the day.” “They’re going to have a pissing match about who can train the best.”  

It was a film that dreamed too big. There were numerous flashbacks to earlier moments in the film. To the point where it was highly noticeable and felt like the 127 minute run time was being further padded for no reason. The closest film that really seems apt to compare this to is the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, maybe not in sense of scale but the numerous characters, the back story that wanted to be shown and threads that the film wanted us to follow. Unfortunately this film appeared unable to fill its own run time without repeating so who knows what two films or even three, would have looked like.  

Maybe a directors cut could help this film, trim it down and remove some of the ancillary elements. An example of story line which could be cut without any loss is the one which book marks the actual tale of Huo An, some people out looking for this lost city in the middle of a snow storm in some BMWs. This felt like it was added in solely so that some money from BMW could be obtained.  It added nothing and just dragged out the film.

Really, if you want a film you can watch, laugh at (maybe with, they have to of been in on the joke) then Dragon Blade will do. However, if you are after anything particularly serious. Look for something else. It’s not going to win any oscars and if you miss it, no great loss.


Free Fire (2017)

Free Fire PosterFree Fire is a low scale crime-comedy-drama from Ben Wheatley who is probably best known for High Rise (2015) though I know him more from the black comedy Sightseers (2012).

The premise is simple, a deal for guns goes wrong and the film follows the immediate fall out. The action takes place mostly in an old warehouse where the deal is struck between the Irish and South African led others. The warehouse itself is mostly open with some barriers between the groups, often in the form of pillars or bags of what appear to be rubble. The set certainly has the look of an old and disused dock area.

The cast is a varied ensemble Sharlto Copley taking the role of Vernon and playing the unlikable but funny South African. His performance is brilliant getting most of the laughs from his selfish drive and self preservation. Almost as great is the suit that Copley is sporting, a brilliant 70s number with wide lapels and in a colour so obnoxious it probably deserves a credit of its own.

Counter to Copley is Brie Larson (“Justine”) who seemed to have set up the deal, Armie Hammer (“Ord”) who fills the role of middleman and Cillian Murphy (“Chris”) who is the muscle for the Irish. While these three are good in the roles, the dry wit of Hammer being a fantastic foil to Copley, they do seem to never quite have the force required to wrestle a scene away from Copley. That is in no way to suggest these are weak performances and the interplay between the characters help fill in the relationships and goals without them having to be explicitly told to the audience through dialogue.

On a weaker note the action was chaotic and difficult to follow. On my return from the cinema it did cross my mind that this could be done deliberately to mirror the confusion created from the maelstrom of bullets whizzing around, but as an audience member watching, it was difficult to keep track of all the characters in the location. This is disappointing as the set was so large, maybe some more wide shots to help keep track. As the film progressed this confusion diffused somewhat as multiple shots allowed the positions to become clearer but at the start, confusion reigned.  

The film introduces the main characters quickly but there are also several further characters whom are not given sufficient time to really fix themselves in the film before the first obstacle is introduced and while some of them are fleshed out further, it is not before there was some confusion over who was who and what they’re drives were.

Moving onto the music though, from “Annie’s Song” by John Denver through to the original score the soundtrack helped fix the film in the 70’s and keep it there. Free-style jazz coming in helped add to the baffled-action and kept the tension going as scenes progressed.

It may not get a wide release nor a long one, niche films like this do not often get a long run at large multiplex cinemas, often they will be shown more respect at local independent establishments. If you get the chance though go see it. The dialogue is witty and the humour both dark and slapstick. It is definitely one to catch.

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The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

February 5, 2017 1 comment

The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)For a kids film being shown in a complex filled with bars and starting at 21:45, this film actually had a surprising number of people in the sreening, that being more than just me.

The films plot is simple, Joker wants to be acknowledged by Batman and recruits some more villainous associates than his usual cohorts from the Batman source material. In this world Voldemort from Harry Potter, Sauron from The Lord of The Rings, King Kong, Godzilla and others are all in the Phantom Zone, a prison that Superman uses to house Zod. The Joker releases all the inmates and they take over Gotham, Batman teams up with Alfred, Robin and Barbra Gordon to stop the criminals and save Gotham.

The plot is not complex, but it is not expected to be. The film is based on Lego and comics, this is not high brow literature. What it is though is funny enough to keep you entertained. There are plenty of jokes and nods to comics and pop culture. Some of these are obvious, some more subtle and there are probably a whole host that need either an in depth knowledge of DC comics or multiple viewings to really appreciate.

The film pages homage to the many iterations of Batman in both modern media, the Christopher Nolan films, through to the Adam West TV show and beyond to the original Detective Comic No. 27. There are also a lot of fourth wall breaks during the film which mostly work.

The cast that have been assembled has a lot of talent and Will Arnett as Batman was fantastic. Ralph Fiennes as Alfred is equally outstanding, though why he does not also voice Voldemort, a character he has already played is a question I would like to know the answer to. Having reviewed the credits, the names that are filling in small roles are surprising, people like: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Mariah Carey, Billy Dee Williams.

While a lot of the casting choices were great Zach Galifianakis as the Joker left me wanting more. This could be because this is a role which has had some great people step into it, Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger both doing outstanding jobs as the nefarious clown, it could also be due to the way the character is written for the film.  

The visuals on the movie are great, the animation is smooth and flows well considering they are working with Lego bricks. Artistically it is very similar to the kind of ideas kids have, only translated to the big screen. The amount of Apple products in the film did seem odd, to the point where the computer assistant is voiced by Siri.  

The LEGO Batman Movie was a fun experience and one that could hold up with repeat viewings. Its a good film but not the best version of the cowled vigilante, then again, it never pretends to be with its glib comments and target audience.

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Nocturnal Animals (2016)

January 30, 2017 1 comment

Nocturnal Animals (2016)With Tom Ford at the wheel you know you’re going to be in for a stylish film if nothing else.  

Nocturnal Animals (2016) boils down to an ex-wife reading a book and taking baths. Susan (Amy Adams) receives a manuscript from ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) and reads it while her current husband is away, ostensibly on business but also, it seems, for pleasure.

In the script Adams places Gyllenhaal in the main role (as she knows he only writes about himself) and herself and her daughter in supporting roles, which suffer grisly ends. Gyllenhaal then with the assistance of local cop Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) track down the perpetrators.

The book within the film (very much a play within a play) is Gyllenhaal’s way of showing the damage that Adams has done to him when she left and how his family has been destroyed while he was powerless to prevent it. The highly stylised manner that these sequences are presented make sense as we view the world through the eyes of Adams who portrays a gallery owner, which explains why things are presented in such a manner. There are subtle references to the end of the relationship which is also being remembered by Adams. The couch which she critiques the early work of Gyllenhaal on, is the same couch which her corpse is displayed on. The GTO which Gyllenhaal stands next to as she walks away is the car that the attackers ride in. The references are subtle but work well.

The roles taken by Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who plays psychotic killer Ray Marcus) really shine in the film. The support they offer to Gyllenhaal, and in the case of Taylor-Johnson Adams, really helps elevate the film. Taylor-Johnson takes a character who could have been either over the top, or underplayed and makes him an excellent villain. His ability to convey messages with his eyes means that shots where his face fills the screen are effective. The drawling law man of Shannon gives you a strong figure to root for, and while his moral compass may be somewhat askew, his desire for justice and world weary attitude prevent him from being a stereotype.

While Adams is not in the flashbacks her world feels no more real than the novel she is imagining. What is interesting with the design of her character is the high contrast she has to the other people she interacts with. It may simply be her red hair and porcelain white skin compared to the sable, tan and peroxide that seem to be the world she lives in but it makes her stand out from the other women she interacts with. Adams plays a sad character who, like is prophesied, turns into her mother. Adams ends up desiring the material items she claims to have no interest in, but her character develops, realises what is important and by the end of the film stops needing the trappings that society demands and embraces herself. This rebellion against the norm can be seen within Adams from the start, though it is unknown to her. The gallery opening she has is naked women who do not conform to what is considered currently, to be beautiful, but whom are happy with themselves. It is this that Adams finds during the film through the journey that she goes on in the writings of Gyllenhaal.

The film is uncomfortable at times, but is beautiful on the eyes, has great acting and a score which knows that silence is sometimes, more powerful. Not for everyone but worth watching.

Hacksaw Ridge (2017)

January 29, 2017 Leave a comment

Hacksaw Ridge PosterHacksaw Ridge does not shy away from the violence. You’re treated to an explicit display of gore in the opening minutes of the movie. It seemed to go on longer than was necessary, becoming either boring or macabre, depending on your mindset.

Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) plays a conscientious objector who signs up post Pearl Harbour to be a medic as long as he does not have to handle a gun. This being set in 1940’s America after they’ve been attacked, well that isn’t a really popular idea with the Army. Eventually Doss is permitted to go up Hacksaw Ridge with his squad and the viewer is again treated to some over extended beautifully shot, traditional, war action. The American’s take the ridge but are expelled the next morning. Doss remains atop the ridge and starts to recover and lower injuries soldiers down. His brave actions are recognised by the men who formerly shunned him, he’s viewed as a lucky charm, and his bravery is noted by him willing to go up again.

The stand out actors in the film are Andrew Garfield, who plays a character whom is more relatable than in Scorsese’s Silence. Hugo Weaving whom shines in the role of conflicted father (Tom Dross). And Vince Vaughn (Sgt Howell) who as the Sargent and Drill Instructor got a few laughs from the audience. 

The film is shot beautifully, the colours in America pop and it’s all quite twill and Americana, the palette becomes more muted and earthy during the action which helps the blood seem much more vibrant. The orchestral pieces really do help build tension and fit in well as a juxtaposition to the unorganised chaotic display of war.

While it was based on true events the backstory of Desmond Doss did not need to be as drawn out. We are treated to an extended childhood where he was more of a hell raiser and nearly kills his own brother (who disappears halfway through the film), his father is a drunk who beats his children and his wife. Skipping ahead to adulthood Desmond falls in love with one girl, Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer) whom is highly likeable as her character, a whirlwind romance followed by a proposal once Desmond has signed up to the Army (Dorothy essentially asking, “Well, are you going to propose then?”)

The barracks scenes where Vince Vaughn berates the new members was amusing but felt shoehorned in. He did not have the magic of R Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket. Of course Desmond gets beaten for not wanting to handle a gun and the army is trying to force him out, It’s not explained to my liking why he refuses to handle a gun at all, there’s some attempt at explaining it later and while logic isn’t going to be bandied around that much, surely cars can kill? Morphine which he dispenses frequently can kill? Why not just handle the gun and get through the rifle tasks? My pondering on the rational behind the refusal to even touch a gun did not really remove me from the movie, this was more a thought on my walk back.

Were the extended and highly graphic war sequences meant to show the horrible nature of war? They felt gratuitous and over long, as if they were seeking to top films such as Saving Private Ryan or the as yet unseen Dunkirk. The extended nature of these gory elects also resulted in the viewer starting to become desensitised to the horrors that were being played out before their eyes. Perhaps that was the plan?

The films has some good moments and the shooting of the action conveys the unorganised nature of war but even with some strong actors the film failed to leave a great impression on me. I’d watch it at the cinema only so that it could be enjoyed on a big screen with great sound reproduction.

When Marnie Was There (2015)

Omiode_no_Marnie_posterAnna is sent to the country after suffering an asthma attack while there she becomes intrigued with the house on the marsh and the mysterious girl who lives there.

The latest picture by Studio Ghibli this film based on a novel displays the style and aesthetics that the Studio is renowned for, and this makes up for a story which feels rather plain.  While the supporting cast feel believable the main character Anna comes across as slightly unhinged which could be how young girls are in real life, I would not know.

The plot itself feels predictable and the story does not take any surprising turns, maybe because I was not gripped from the start I spent most of the film looking at where it was going and the meandering plot did not go anywhere unexpected.  This is not to say that it the story was unpleasant, far from it and the emotional ups and downs are effective and the mix of depression, angst and joy that comes from Anna is palpable.

Without doubt the best part of the film is the visuals, if you enjoy the style of the film and want an enjoyable but beautiful film, this could well be the one.

I watched this with the Japanese audio and English subtitles, I enjoyed it and did not feel it detracted from the film, it also means I can not comment on the English dub.

Categories: Films

The Nice Guys (2016)

Directed by Shane Black and starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, the film focuses around two private eye type characters trying to locate a missing girl.  
The casting through the film seemed really well thought out with Crowe performing admirably in his role as enforcer seeking validation though Gosling as an occasionally simple private investigator was without an equal, and even though at times her character seemed to be there purely for plot development Angourie Rice managed to hold her own in scenes with very large while the acting was good, the script held some nuggets of brilliance, “You know who else was just following orders? Hitler.” Lines like that, along with some of the physical comedy of Gosling had our cinema erupting in laughter.
What was nice about the film was the lack of jump cuts, in the action scenes you could follow what was happening, a rare treat in action films nowadays which seem to think these help convey a sense of speed though in my expirence remove me from the film and leave me feeling annoyed at what is perceived as a lack of coreography. 
Having seen only the posters I was pleasantly surprised by the film and while at times the pacing was a bit off and the plot a little contrived it was enjoyable. I can’t see it going down as a seminal piece for the year but it was breath of fresh air after having seen so many superhero and ensemble movies over the last few months, with even more coming out later on.

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