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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.

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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.

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.

Categories: Films Tags: , , , , ,

Spy (2015)

September 15, 2015 Leave a comment

Spy (2015) PosterWritten and directed by Paul Feig Spy is about a CIA assistant who gets placed in the field in an effort to stop the sale of a nuclear device.  From the poster the film looked like it would be a dull, unfunny and generally unremarkable film. On watching though this cynical assumption turned out to be entirely untrue and I am pleased that I was wrong.

As seems to be the flavour at the moment Spy is a spoof spy film, paying homage to tropes that have becomes synomomous with spy films from the start of the 00’s and earlier, before they became gritty like Casino Royale (2006) and the Bourne films (2002 onwards). There are fights, gadgets, quips and explosions but they are mostly tongue in cheek. It is nice that the film does not mock the genre to the point it becomes a farce ala Austin Powers International Man of Mystery (1997), instead it leaves some elements where the comedy is dialed back and some well acted scenes are allowed to come to the forefront. This is often the action scenes which serve as pleasant palette cleansers between story advancement and moments of more brevity and light-heartness.

In the action scenes the film seems to have drawn influence from Jackie Chan films, featuring physical comedy in physical combat, placing a frying pan on her head to deflect a knife stab while pulling a slight face is an example of such. The comedy is also brought from the excellent casting of Jason Statham who plays a caricature of himself, a gruff agent who is self assured, confident but whom is not quite as good as he would imagine himself and combined with his blue language drew laughter on multiple occasions. [Also any film that references Face/Off (1997) gets some early appreciation from me.]

The casting of the film is also one which raised a few eyebrows as they were announced, while Jude Law as a super smooth covert operative is not surprising or shocking the British cast who made it into the film was. Miranda Hart and Peter Serafinowicz both took fabulous roles and helped lift the film as the friend and very hands-on Itialian agent respectively. It is pleasing to see strong performances by Brits in American films without them being type-cast. [It is possible that there are some other Brits I have failed to notice but, C’est la vie.] Mellissa McCarthy taking the titular role as the Spy fitted it brilliantly, her timing was great and when she had to appear crest-fallen she pulled it off with great poise though she has many moments of mirth in the film.

The film is not a particularly complex one, but it does not set out to be one, it is entertaining though and one which could be re-visited at a later date. While it may lack the star power of Kingsmam: The Secret Service (2014) the film is more restrained in its asperations, aping the level of threat of Mission: Impossible (1996) opposed to GoldenEye (1995), with a more modest and real level of danger the movie seems to laughing with its source material rather than at it.

It is funny, has some good bits of action and does not take it self too seriously. If you are after an action film and want something light and a bit different pick up Spy and have a watch.

[The music for the film also featured a performance from the 2007 Ukraine Eurovision Song Contest, causing me great amusement and led to me playing the song on a trip I took to Edinburgh.]

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Snowpiercer (2013)

October 5, 2014 1 comment

snowpiercer-international-posterEarth has frozen, everyone is dead and the world is a white barren place, well almost.  There is a small number of people left aboard a perpetual motion train that circles the globe.  This train has a class system, closer to the back the lower the Caste System, with the more affluent passengers riding closer to the front of the train where the inventor of the train Wilford (Ed Harris) has been raised to the status of a living deity.  The plot of the film focuses around the revolution that the tail passengers start in an effort to gain control over the locomotion engine.

—Possible Spoilers Below—

The film has a vibe of Terry Gilliam in some of the characters who contrast heavily with the main cast.  The tail passengers (those at the end of the train) all have a very grubby and grunge aesthetic with comparisons to the Matrix characters once they’ve jacked out of the machine being apt.  The antagonists however are wearing bright livery with a design that seems to borrow heavily from 1950’s high fashion with long coats and fur.  This clash of cultures works to show how different the living conditions are for those at either end of the train.

Once the revolution starts it works it way through the train and we are treated to some brisk action scenes that remind me of the raid in that the action is brutal but doesn’t seem to revel in itself the way something like hostel does, its utilitarianism in the damage doing enough to convey the destruction and primal energy but stopping short of becoming indulgent or pornographic.  The camera work varies through several unusual shots for the film including a first person sequence which acts as a pleasant palate cleanser.

The film does at points seem to be heavy with its message but that doesn’t prevent the film from being enjoyable and there are sufficient hooks in the plot to keep you asking what is happening and just how far down does the rabbit hole go in the film.  Once your shown the squalor that those in the tail live in you are then shown a rather unpleasant representative or two of the head of the train and from that point you know exactly who you’re rooting for.

The film is enjoyable, it keeps the main plot moving and throws enough surprises in to keep you from becoming bored but the run time does seem excessive and near the end the film does seem to slow before the climax but these are forgivable in a surprising film that for me at least came from nowhere.  If you get the chance to see it I’d tell you to take that opportunity.

Categories: Films, Geekery Tags: , ,

3 Days to Kill (2014)

3 days to kill posterCIA agent falls ill on a mission, discovers that he has terminal cancer and goes to spend his last days with his estranged daughter and wife.  While in Paris he is contacted by a CIA handler who wants him to finish his last mission, in exchange for some sort of miracle/experimental drug.  The film then follows Ethan (Kevin Costner) as he attempts to mend his relationship with his daughter while hunting down The Wolf.

Now, when I saw trailers for this film I was given the impression that this was an action movie, some thing along the lines of a retired cop coming back for one last mission, with gun fights, action, explosions, car chases and one liners. This film instead decides to spend more time showing Ethan rebuilding his bond with Zooey, his daughter.  Now while I’m not against this type of drama being in an action film I don’t really want the central part of the film to be eaten up with it, nor did I really need to see Ethan kick a bunch of youths who are about to do unspeakable things to his drugged up daughter only to be told that she didn’t remember what was happening in the toilets.  The film seems to be two distinct parts, the CIA work parts, shooting and violence with some interesting quips along with some wired strip-tease theatre and the family man trying to make up for lost time with his daughter and wife.  Now either part on their own would have been okay and I guess I’m more upset that the film didn’t make it clearer to me that this wasn’t Taken or it could have been an attempt to describe the work life balance that these agents have and the fact that you can’t take this work home with you but it didn’t feel like a cohesive film to me.  It had the feel of two scripts mashed together to make an overly long film with some scenes that felt entirely out of place.

Lets talk about the action, once again the film feels disjointed here with some scenes showing highly efficient and blunt action, men getting shot once, going down and staying down, but then the film, for no reason other than plot reasons, will have characters escape from a situation that should have killed them, or at the very least resulted in them having some injury, being left unscathed.  This breaks immersion for me, I am happy for your characters in a film to be tough enough to hit by squarely by a speeding car, fall of a bridge onto a paved floor and be fine, but only if this is consistent with what I’ve previously seen.  Don’t allow your characters to do this after everyone else is incapacitated by a light punch, it seems cheap and feels it as well.

On the note of cheap, lets mention the product placement that is rampant in this film.  You’d have to be blind not to notice it and it, like the note on violence above, breaks my immersion in the film, it’s okay that no one says, “Peugeot” but you have Ethan drive one of their cars, buy his daughter one of their bikes and stick a giant poster on the walls of the Metro for the scene.  It’s the same as the way that Ethan’s Samsung phone keeps being in shot in a manner that just doesn’t feel natural.  The S4 or S5 is a common phone and it is great but the way it’s being held just looks like an advert which irks me because it doesn’t seem in character.  As Ethan collapses due to his brain cancer he pulls out his phone, and I think uses some voice command to dial his handler.  It just doesn’t seem in character, he could have used the just dialled list as she was the last person to ring him but no they use some ham-fisted move to place in a subtle pump for Samsung.

As we approach the end of this, another issue I had with the film is they dangle death just in front of Ethan simply so he can be persuaded to work for the CIA again. Ethan in one scene is being told he has a few months and will not see Christmas, well that doctor needs to hang his head in shame as some syringe with a mysterious liquid seems to keep Ethan alive, it’s probably stem-cell research combined with babies blood and unicorn saliva, hell it’ll probably let him see another millennia if that’s what the plot required.  The medicine existing is not my reason for being upset, it’s a mcguffin that keeps the story moving and gives Ethan a reason to work for the CIA again, my grievance is that once again it comes off as uninspired, it is used to give this happy ending to a man who should be terminal ill and instead because of this drug he is as healthy as a spring chick.

The scenery was generally good, I mean it’s Paris, the European equivalent of New York it seems, if some thing is going down over in Europe it’s probably going to be in Paris, it looked nice and there was good contrast between Ethan’s apartment and that of his partner, who it seems never got a divorce of had anything going on as she stayed married to this man despite moving across the world, a contrast of basic items and luxury, we didn’t get treated to an extended tour of Paris which is a change but no one used the Louvre as a ramp which is a negative in my mind.

Luc Besson has come a long way and while I often like his films this time I feel it missed it’s mark.  The plot as a whole is disjointed, the action mismatched and the characters for the most part not all that likeable, Ethan does have development but it honestly feels forced and rushed.  The side characters are interesting and provide some light relief, in fact the jokes made by the support cast are quite good, Besson shows his talent when you get moments like the French police being unhelpful and screaming while watching a football match on an old CRT.  These moments though are not enough to carry the film and it ultimately feels like it missed the mark and overstayed its welcome by about half an hour.

As a sub point the director is simply McG, who after looking up is a great producer, but as a director, I think he has room to develop.