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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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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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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.