Tag Archives: Drama

Review of Capone (1975)

18 Mar

caponeCapone (1975) is a crime/drama/biographical film, loosely based on the life of Al Capone.

Directed by Steve Carver (Lone Wolf McQuade (1983), Big Bad Mama (1974)).

Written by Howard Browne (The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967), Mission: Impossible (1966 TV)).

Starring: Ben Gazzara, Susan Blakely, Harry Guardino, Sylvester Stallone, Harry Guardino, John Cassavetes and others.

So here’s a Roger Corman produced Al Capone biopic. It is about as accurate as Death Race 2000 was a prediction of the year 2000.

Doesn’t happen so often with American movies, I was pleasantly surprised to see Vilis Lapenieks, a director of photography from my small home country, Latvia, appear in the opening credits. Had it been the closing credits, I would be unpleasantly surprised, because the movie excels at looking totally bland.

In the first scene I noticed that the sound editing was not so great, often the background noise cuts with the shots, it is a bit jarring, but it either improved later or I got used to it, so I wasn’t that bothered by it. It’s far from Birdemic levels of sound direction incompetence.

It sort of is a biopic, but it explores Al Capone’s life as much as the original Scarface. I would have liked if they had spent a little time developing and showing more Capone’s backstory and character, instead of instantly throwing him in to rapidly climb the mobster career ladder by punching and shooting select people.

Also there’s very little sense of passing time because they don’t really manage to make Ben Gazzara look much younger in the earlier scenes.That is not to say Gazzara is bad here. For this larger than life portrayal of the person he is ok. He achieves a convincingly menacing performance, selling the simmering anger even when he is smiling and being polite. Since he’s not provided with any redeeming qualities, he serves not as a complex anti-hero, but a one-note villain pushed into the protagonist’s position.

At times he seems to be drifting through the movie only to engage in instances of outbursts of rage, otherwise taking a step back to various mob dealings, that I failed to care about. Some of the scenes are delivered just as plot progressions being explained, leaving the viewer uninterested and distanced.

If you, like me, decide to watch this because Sylvester Stallone is in it, be aware, he appears pretty late into the movie and is not featured as prominently as you might imagine. He briefly manages to breathe some life into the movies, but it’s pretty much a lost cause.

"Wow, Stallone playing Al Capone? That should be interesting!"

“Wow, Stallone playing Al Capone? That should be interesting!”

 

However this is not at all surprising because it is after all a Corman movie and could be classified as exploitation (mobsploitation, if you will), than an actual historical retelling. But the problem is that it takes itself too seriously, no doubt inspired by The Godfather films.

So it’s not cheesy enough to be entertaining as a B-grade gangster flick. I kept tuning out during the dull dialogue scenes and not getting excited at the repetitive drive-by shootouts. At some points even using footage from another movie, which is of obviously lower, both sound and image quality.

Overall, this is a shitty gangster flick, that except for Sly being in it, fails to have anything remarkable about it to make it worth watching. Not recommended.

"That's right, smile, Ben. One day, I'm going to be the reason people watch this movie."

“That’s right, smile, Ben. One day, I’m going to be the reason people watch this movie.”

Review of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (2012)

20 Nov

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (2012) is a fantasy/romance/adventure film, the fifth film in the Twilight film franchise based on the series of novels by Stephenie Meyer.

Directed by Bill Condon (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (2011), Dreamgirls (2006)).

Written by Melissa Rosenberg (Twilight (2008), Step Up (2006)).

Starring: Michael Sheen, Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Maggie Grace and a shitload of other good-looking people.

Here we are again. Thankfully, for the last time. Please, even if they decide to do some shitty spin-off, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. Unless it is about Aro. I want to see a movie about him.

I don’t know where to start talking about this, because I don’t want to. The series as a whole has been an incredible journey through bad female role models, bad acting, bad effects and bad filmmaking in every other way. A year ago we saw the first part of the adaptation of the fourth novel. It was one of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen Heaven’s Gate, Titanic and Alexander‘s final cut. It dragged like shit. If you pressed your ass against the floor, had some diarrhea explosion and then tried to blow it along the floor, using your mouth, it would be a more or less acurate representation of watching that movie.

To be fair this movie was way less boring. I still got bored, but I could see the simple-minded fans, who like the blank characters, enjoying the ethnical stereotypes, idiotic plot and the horrendous special effects.

We start off with Bela Lugosi waking up as a vampire chick now, all her senses have heightened, so she hugs Squidward with her Hulk-strength and then decides to go hunting for deer, doing weird faces and feral noises. She almost kills some cliff-climber, who doesn’t look down to see her jump away in a humourously frozen position doing an arc over a canyon, one of the many special effects in the movie done by a 5-year-old with Down’s Syndrome. Just donate the money, don’t make them work for it.

Then she remembers her baby, which is the most fucking creepy thing I’ve ever seen. Now she’s kind of pissed that Sixpack has ‘implanted’ her baby, so he’s destined to bang her. Him saying „It’s not like that!”, when it is exactly like that doesn’t sit well with Bela Lugosi, so Kirsten Stuart tries to do something she hasn’t done before. Emotions. Sorry K-Stu, A for effort, but F for looking like you’re face and voice doesn’t understand the concept.

After this, Sixpack goes to show his six-pack to Bela Lugosi’s dad, Charlie Movember. Sixpack for some reason thinks that taking off his clothes and turning into a cartoon-wolf would somehow explain his daughter’s absence. It doesn’t. Like at all. Charlie Tom Selleck is the saddest character ever. Every scene is him saying „Fuck it, no one is telling me shit, there’s no reason for me to be in this movie, I’m just going to grow my fucking moustache until someone decides to actually give me something to do.”

So basically Eddie Van Paleface and Bella Van Blankface have their horribly deformed child. It seems she’s ok, except for Sixpack’s  pedophile curse, being half-vampire and having this disgusting CG face. It’s uncanny beyond the valley of death. I wanted to turn away every time I saw it. 10 actresses play their daughter. So they all (or at least 9?) have CG faces. It is insane.

And that is not the only awful effect they have. They’re all rubbish. Almost every scene takes place on a set. There’s a shitload of blurry matte paintings, green screen as shitty as they get. Having people wave their arms in front of a green screen, and then replacing the background with a sped-up footage of a forest is not an effect I should see in a 100+ million dollar movie.

The movie starts as an unfunny fish-out-of-water comedy with Bella Lugosi discovering her abilities, having PG-13 extreme close-up sex and ironically having to learn to act human. Then it transforms into a superhero team forming movie, where vampires from all over the world are gathered. They all have various superpowers and represent stereotypes, eurotrash Russian guys, red-haired Irish ones, an Egyptian (might as well be Indian) who is the last airbender, yet conveniently forgets to use his abilities during the final battle and even some Amazonians and later Brazilians dressed in loin-clothes and face-paint.

They need to gather this team of vampire X-men, to protect them from Volturi, the evil vampires, who want to kill Squidward and Bela’s daughter Jailbait, because they think it’s a full vampire and not a half-ling that will look like a full-grown woman at the age of 7, when Jacob is going to fuck the living shit out of her unstable pre-school psyche. For some reason they manage to gather this team from every corner of the earth during a couple of months or something, while the Volturi are travelling from Italy. What is taking them so long? Are they taking the bus?

The plot they devise to protect the little CG-creep is so stupid and involves so much unnecessary details, which does not make sense when they have a chick, who can tell the future. I guess these vampires don’t get wiser as they get older. Just like the wolves keep looking completely awful as the movies go on.

I do have some good things to say. Since the love triangle is resolved, the movie is a lot less annoying, since characters actually have some motivation. The actors seem more comfortable. Chicken-Stu attempts emotions, Bobby Patterson at times seems to enjoy himself and Squidward laughs when Betty is kicking the mexican’s ass. And the mexican gypsy is somewhat likable, since he’s moved on and is saving his sixpack for Charlie Brown Moustache and his 8-year-old granddaughter.

Another thing I loved was Michael fucking Sheen. He acts so over-the-top flamboyantly gay, I almost felt like being prison-raped and loving it. I think he knew exactly what he was doing and joyously screeching at the sight of the abomination that is the little half-vamp Renesmut, is something he did specially for me the desperate anti-fan, who somehow failed to feel the tone of scenes despite the constant bombardment soft rock and score telling me what to feel.

So yes, the ending that involved the most decapitations you’ll ever see in a movie, Michael Sheen’s constant mugging, mincing and overacting, while masturbating in his pocket and leaving the unconvincing love-triangle in the dust made the movie barely, but bearable. Despite the ending introducing a cop-out twist, some deus-ex machina and Beige saying „No one’s ever loved anyone as much as I love you, Squidward.”, which is an outright lie. Turning it into a B-movie was the right choice.

Overall, it was better than the previous Twilight movies, but that’s like saying a kick in the balls is better than a paper cut on the tip of your penis. Some might disagree, but most will agree that both are pretty bad. I would never recommend this movie to any sane person. But let’s rejoice, it’s over.

“Oh my, Carlisle, you’ve been working out, haven’t you? And that neckerchief, a feast for eyes, you are.”

Review of Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)

25 Oct

C’era una volta il West also known as Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) is an Italian western/adventure film, about a mysterious harmonica player protecting a widow of a farmer.

Directed by Sergio Leone (The Colossus of Rome (1961), Once Upon a Time in America (1984)).

Written by Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars (1964), A Fistful of Dynamite (1971)), Sergio Donati (The Sicilian Girl (2008), The Big Gundown (1966)), Dario Argento (Giallo (2009), Dracula 3D (2012)) and Bernardo Bertolucci (The Triumph of Love (2001), The Conformist (1970)).

Starring: Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, Gabriele Ferzetti, Keenan Wynn, Lionel Stander and others.

We start off with a blast to the cinematic nerves in our eyes. There’s one iconic image after another. A cowboy standing in the door-frame, with his coat flailing in the wind. Two of his associates come inside, they take over a railway station without uttering a word. They just wait for a train to arrive, doing pointless and minute things, that don’t serve any other purpose than guide us into their characters. It’s pure cinema, we enjoy what we are seeing as it is happening. We live in the moment on screen, because a few moments later the lifeless bodies of the bandits will fall to the ground and we realise, there was no tangible reason for these characters to be introduced.

The train arrives. It leaves. A man is left standing there, playing a harmonica. They watch each other, a classic suspense building excercise in westerns. The leader of the bandit speaks and soon after that they meet their sorry fates. Now maybe all the posturing wasn’t so pointless after all. If we saw these, distinct in their own bad-ass ways, bandits fall from the gunhand of this harmonica player it means something. It means he’s pretty damn bad-ass himself. I mean, it’s Charles Bronson after all.

Sergio Leone is known for his almost B-movie like, fast-paced and in some ways mocking westerns, but there’s always been something that elevated them way over some classic American westerns, with his iconoclastic approach, while developing his own style and showing incredible potential as a filmmaker. Now here we see Leone fully embracing the iconic wild west, slow pacing, almost Shakespearean themes, Tonino Delli Colli’s absurdly beautiful cinematography, Morricone’s score (now involving some wild electric guitar work), turning this in a full on spaghetti western epic.

A fact that can’t go unmentioned is Henry Fonda as Frank, the villain of the film. He shoots a man and his three kids and then shoots us with his piercing blue eyes, leaving us trembling and asking ourselves how this good guy of American cinema can now be this ruthless bastard.

Charles Bronson plays the main character named Harmonica. I guess, because he plays that harmonica so much. Although, I wouldn’t call him a good player, since he keeps playing the same bit over and over, it’s a cool sounding one, but really it’s not that hard. It’s like his own little theme song. Every hero should have one, but not so often they are played by themselves. Kind of pretentious.

I would by no means call myself an expert on westerns, my familiarity with the genre mostly comes down to Leone’s work and general knowledge of movie history. But including Leone’s films, the few other westerns I’ve seen and clips in documentaries on films, this is the most visually impressive one I’ve seen. I don’t want to constrain it to just westerns, it’s arguably among the best looking movies ever made.

The slow pace at times gets tiring, but it’s not because Leone failed to make an action movie, it certainly wasn’t his intention. He has made a tribute to westerns and that’s what makes it so cool. It’s a compilation, a distillation of the best western imagery. It’s in a way a ‘best of’. But as it sometimes happens when you try to list examples that represent the best of something, you might find it hard to stop, to know where to draw the line of what to keep in. It really is more about the silence before the storm than the storm itself. There’s these sudden bursts of violence, but each preceded by a long, suspenseful game of waiting for the exact right moment. It’s that period in a revolver duel stand-off, where two characters sweat and grimace. A lot of skill is necessary not to cut short or extend to boredom this period. If anyone can pull it off, Leone is the man.

Overall, I loved this movie. How can you not love a movie that has a line like “How can I trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders? The man can’t even trust his own pants.”? Maybe not the best introduction to the genre, but definitely worth watching after gaining some experience in the western/spaghetti western genres. Recommended.

“Hey, have you heard this one?”
“Yes, I’ve fucking heard it, you’ve been playing it like non-stop since we met! If you’ll play it again, I’ll jam that harmonica down your throat, you repetitive fuck.”

Review of Looper (2012)

17 Oct

Looper (2012) is a sci-fi/action/drama film, set in the future, where time travel is illegal and used only by criminal organisations.

Directed by Rian Johnson (The Brothers Bloom (2008), Breaking Bad (2008 TV)).

Written by Rian Johnson (Brick (2005), Evil Demon Golfball from Hell!!! (1996 Short)).

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon, Paul Dano, Noah Segan and others.

This is another one of those cases, where I feel like saying anything is almost spoiling too much, but I have to say something, so I won’t reveal anything, that the trailers didn’t already show.

So the movie takes place in the future, 2040’s, time travel isn’t invented yet. But it will be invented in 3 decades. There’s these people – loopers, who work for a criminal organisation, that wait for people who are sent back from 2070’s and kill them. Our „hero” is one of these guys. He kills people and gets a shitload of silver for it.

But in the future-future there’s this bad guy The Rainmaker, who decides that the loopers should be sent back in time and be executed by their own younger selves. This is where our „hero”, 30 years older, comes in.

First of all you’re introduced to this future world, which is very realistic, it’s not some over-the-top dystopia, it’s mostly different by having more advanced technology and different trends, it does not like Blade Runner, but it does have that feel of it, There are these people controlling stuff and our hero isn’t sure of his loyalty to those people, also dipping into film noir quite heavily, starting with voice over, multi-dimensional characters with huge flaws and the clothing. And considering Rian Johnson made a modern-day true film noir film with Brick, I bet this was very intentional.

Both Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe and Bruce Willis’ Joe are not the best people, they are anti-heroes to the point they drop the hero’s part, especially older Joe. They act in their own best interests, ready to do the most awful things if they find it necessary.  Both actors are just brilliant. Levitt is becoming one of the most convincing actors of his generation and in combination with the phenomenal make-up work mimics Willis with such precision you forgot it’s even him. And it doesn’t feel cheap, like making him look like Willis early in his career and doing an impression of him. You’re convinced this guy could get older and look and act like the older character played by Willis.

The performances by supporting actors are also excellent. Jeff Daniels is charismatic as the young Joe’s boss, who would usually be this stereotypical villain, here he is a mildly evil used car salesman with a lot of power. Paul Dano is Joe’s friend, it’s a pretty small role, but memorable, Dano is a young actor, who has been mostly excellent for the last decade, Emily Blunt is good as a vulnerable single mother with a tough exterior. And the 5 year-old Pierce Gagnon actually might have delivered the best child performance of quite a long time now. He totally sold it and I wasn’t annoyed by him as I am usually with child actors (Jake Lloyd?).

The time travel aspect is actually really well thought out and no wonder, since Shane Carruth, who made Primer consulted Rian Johnson and if there’s one person in Hollywood (read ‘sort of making movies’) that understands how hypothetical time travel might work, it’s Shane Carruth. But Johnson’s brilliant writing makes it so it’s not a cold examination of time travel paradoxes, but actually makes it a moving, human story, which happens to have awesome sci-fi concepts in it.

Overall, it’s nice to see an intelligent, entertaining, well-made, original and emotionally moving film, that’s a fucking R-rated sci-fi action piece. So far this is probably my favourite movie of the year. Definitely recommended.

“Hey, young me! I will shoot that midget if you don’t let me ass-fuck you! What are you worried about? If you think about it, it’s just some good ol’ masturbation!”

Review of Ginger Snaps (2000)

3 Oct

Ginger Snaps (2000) is a Canadian horror/comedy/drama film, following the Fitzgerald sisters and their collision with the world of lycanthropy.

Directed by John Fawcett (The Boys Club (1997), The Dark (2005)).

Written by Karen Walton (The Listener (2009 TV), Flashpoint (2008 TV))  and John Fawcett (Half Nelson (1992)).

Starring: Emily Perkins, Katharine Isabelle, Kris Lemche, Mimi Rogers, Jesse Moss, Peter Keleghan, Danielle Hampton and others.

When I started watching this, I wasn’t actually aware that I had seen it before. But I had seen it like some five years ago late at night on TV, just turning it on during the opening titles and missing the title itself. I remembered thinking it was quite decent back then, but it seems I had missed more than just what it’s called.

We follow two teenage sisters, who are social outcasts and mostly just hang out together and have a very close relationship. Ginger (yes, the one who snaps) is somewhat more extrovert than her sister Brigitte. And I have to be honest, I have a thing for redheads, so I find Katherine Isabelle incredibly attractive.

Contributing to their social outcast is the fact that for a school project they take photos of each other portraying them dead in various ways very realistically. I’m not sure what was the project supposed to show from an educational standpoint, but it sure made for an excellent opening title montage.

The hook is that finally (because they’re like 15-16 years old) one of them starts menstruating and one evening a mysterious wolf-like beast attacks the sisters. Soon after that menstruating isn’t the only thing happening to the girl’s body.

The movie has a great deal of dark humor, while not parodying the werewolf genre. The humor is reminiscent of Heathers, even the male „lead” (or closest to it) Kris Lemche resembling young Christian Slater. Sadly, though, when the horror aspects of the movie kick in, the humor takes a step back. There’s still funny moments, but they are only for those with a messed up sense of humor. Thankfully, that’s the one I got.

It’s most interesting aspect and asset is the movie serving as an allegory for young women going through changes,  maturing, discovering their sexuality and the frustration that comes with it. However, one might argue that the film explores these themes not quite to the extent that one might hope or expect. So it might come off more like a sarcastic remark, than actually having something really genuine to say.

Both lead actresses deliver pretty great and convincing performances, embodying their characters. The other stand-out performance is the mother of the sisters, who is just hilariously peppy, oblivious and upbeat in comparison to her morbid daughters.

The movie is of this cycle of post-scream somewhat self-aware horror movies featuring teenagers, similar in both its themes and style to The Faculty, only the horror hook is werewolves instead of aliens.

Of course, the movie has its shortcomings, but I pretty much loved the movie and would definitely place it somewhere in my top 10 werewolf movies of all time. Somehow the transformations have become the main criteria by which to judge a werewolf movie, but here it is excellent in entirely different way, because it’s done gradually, we don’t see a special effects bonanza like in the not less excellent An American Werewolf in London, but it’s horrifying nonetheless, much like in The Fly, although in that case I have to admit The Fly is no less a showing off of special effects than An American Werewolf in London.

What I ultimately want to give the movie credit for is not forcing anything, they don’t force the comedy (tongue-in-cheek or otherwise), the transformation, a happily ever after ending and even the whole puberty/feminist message doesn’t come across as forced.

Overall, I enjoyed it a lot, I cared for the characters, it had more substance than is common for horror movies and it was suspenseful and entertaining. Definitely recommended, even for people not that into horror. And girls should be especially interesting in checking it out.

“Had they not gone into the whole wolfman business, they could’ve had great portfolio work when looking for a job as special effects artists.”

Review of Collateral Damage (2002)

18 Sep

Collateral Damage (2002) is an action/thriller/revenge film, following a Los Angeles fireman on a quest to enact his revenge upon Colombian terrorists.

Directed by Andrew Davis (The Guardian (2006), Code of Silence (1985)).

Written by Ronald Roose (The Hessen Affair (2009)) and David Griffiths (The Hunted (2003)).

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elias Koteas, John Leguizamo, John Turturro, Francesca Neri, Cliff Curtis and others.

This movie only came out when I was getting over my Arnie-fandom, so I didn’t even bother seeing it and knew nothing about until I actually sat down and watched it recently. After seeing it, I can say that I still know almost nothing about it. The movie is so stripped off any personality, that you can easily not realise you’ve been watching a movie and not a past-his-prime Schwarzenegger-flick.

In this movie Arnold Schwarzenegger is a fireman with a thick Austrian accent. In all his movies Arnold is somebody (insert any macho profession) with an Austrian accent. You are introduced to his family, but after a few minutes with them you get from the somber tone, that they are going to die. Or something. They die. Fuck spoilers, it happens in like the next scene, anyway.

This murder of his family is just thrown in there to have a reason for Arnold to be pissed off and start kicking ass. You don’t feel anything as his family dies and even though, Arnold tries to show us his wacky interpretation of method acting, it is a lot less believable or emotional than, for example, in Commando, where his relationship with Alicia Milano is established a lot better.

I don’t blame Arnold for any of this movie’s flaws, though. There are some other factors, like the script being total shit and feeling like it’s been written back in the early 90’s, but then updated a bit. Also the pacing is crap, since it tries to have some serious political message about terrorism, it layers on a ton of unnecessary exposition, only to become a mindless action B-movie later on. It’s 25 minutes in, when shit finally starts going down.

Also Arnold feels like a horrible anachronism in this. He doesn’t make as many weird faces, has almost no one-liners and tries to dial down his broad-stroke(victim)-acting. We are now faced with the fact, that Arnold has no place in the 2000’s, we feel weird, when people don’t give him suspicious looks, because he’s a god damned 6’2’’, huge Austrian man.

About half-way into the movie John Leguizamo appears, starting to steal his scenes and breathing some fresh air into the movie, but guess what, he’s only there for a couple of scenes and we’re back to the draggy dumb turd-fest, we were enjoying before. Closest we get to one-liners is when the villain says „What’s the difference between you and I?” and Arnold replies „The difference is, I’m just going to kill you!”, sure, it’s kind of clunky and no „See you at the party, Richter!”, but it has to do.

The film is simple-minded enough to seem like a fun action movie, yet stubborn enough to keep jamming internal conflicts down Arnie’s throat, who in addition to never being a good actor, seems to have lost his screen presence. It all amounts to probably one of the worst movies of his career and one of the last leading parts for him. We’ll have to see what he does in The Last Stand. The movie is somewhat summed up by the odd end twist, that you probably won’t see coming, but just because you won’t care enough.

Overall, a very bland and unentertaining movie from one of, if not the biggest action star ever. That’s a big fall, if you ask me. Not recommended.

“So, yeah, mister unsuspicious mechanic guy, go right that way and wait with your back turned to that guy with the gun.”
“I’ll be back!”
“Sure, you will.”

Review of Shutter Island (2010)

15 Sep

Shutter Island (2010) is a thriller/mystery/horror movie, based on a the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane.

Directed by Martin Scorcese (Hugo (2011), I Call First (1967)).

Written by Laeta Kalogridis (Pathfinder (2007), Alexander (2004)).

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley, Michelle Williams, Elias Koteas, Patricia Clarkson and others.

We start with Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio on a ship. They are obviously in front of a green screen, an effect used more than once in the movie. But it actually works, because it invokes the feeling of rear projection, which looks both fake and charming.

Another aspect that plays into the 40’s thriller mood is the awesome score, compiled from various modern classical musical pieces, that are really kind of over-the-top and used in a very tongue-in-cheek way. These are all basically gimmicks, but I don’t mind it, because they’re not spoofing Golden Age Hollywood, they’re creating the atmosphere those movies bring.

I don’t really remember when was the last time I saw cinematography this amazing and beautiful in a horror/thriller picture, The Shining comes to mind, that was a long time ago. To be fair, both The Shining and this are quite the high-budget productions. Shutter Island is essentialy a B-movie on an A-budget. But the money put aside, this is obviously the work of a master filmmaker, who knows how to make a movie just „flow”.

The acting is also great, Ruffalo in the few last years has done some really solid work and this is one of those times, DiCaprio is as always solid, Ben Kingsley, who has a habit of appearing in not-so-great movies as a generic villain, actually is great here, maybe the best performance in the movie.

So Ruffalo and Di Caprio are detectives sent to an asylum to investigate a disappearance of a patient and as the investigation goes on, less and less becomes clear. DiCaprio’s state of mind also becomes less certain. He has creepy dreams, which have some cool and weird imagery.

The movie has its problems, though.  Around the middle, the movie starts becoming a bit too chaotic and muddled. The biggest problem might be that the movie is quite predictable, we’ve seen this story done before, but this is the best version of it. It’s done so masterfully, that you’re more interested in the execution of the story, the way the build-up is constructed, than its rather obvious conclusion. So if you watched the trailer and thought „I know exactly what’s going to happen,” give it a try anyway, the ride is more enjoyable than just waiting for the destination.

Since it feels so much like a late 40’s film noir, I almost wish that it was shot in soft black & white, but on the other hand, the cinematography is so colorful and beautiful, you don’t want to take that away from this movie. I have to mention that among other great shots, there’s an amazing tracking shot, I won’t reveal what exactly that is, because it would be a spoiler, but the great thing about it is, that it’s not just a technical showcase, it actually works to the movie’s dramatic benefit.

Overall, a great thriller, might be more eye-candy and less an interesting and intricate plot, but for me it didn’t matter. Recommended .

“Shhh, don’t talk so loud, anything more than a loud whisper might make my body to crumble to pieces… Also, have you met my son? His name is Gollum.”

Review of Dragon Fist (1979)

4 Sep

Dragon Fist aka Long Quan (1979) is a Hong Kong martial arts/action/drama film.

Directed by Lo Wei (The Shadow Whip (1971), Slaughter in San Francisco (1974)).

Written by Wang Chung-Ping (Seven Promises (1979)).

Starring: Jackie Chan, Nora Miao, James Tien, Lin Yin-Ju, Chiang Kao, Yen Si-Kuan, Sha-fei Ouyang, Hsia Hsu and others.

I am not a huge fan of Jackie’s Lo Wei directed movies and I’m glad he succeeded in leaving his studio later on, which wasn’t that easy, it even resulted in such rubbish as Fearless Hyena 2, but I’ll get to that in some later review. However, this doesn’t mean that Jackie didn’t make any decent movies during this period. It’s a gamble, it might be bad like Magnificent Bodyguards or the previously mentioned Fearless Hyena 2, it might be good like…  and then there are movies like this, mediocre, which is arguably worse than bad, since you don’t feel passionately either way and soon forget them.

The movie opens with a fight between two men. One of them being Chan’s master wins. But then there’s another fight between the master and some evil master, who kicks Jackie’s master’s ass so hard, he soon dies. Jackie gets really pissed and vows revenge. Later on it is revealed that the bad master killed Jackie’s master because he had had an affair with his wife 18 (oddly specific) years ago. Somebody has been watching too many soap operas. And now his wife hangs herself out of guilt or sorrow. This shit just got dark.

Then some years pass and Jackie has gotten way better at his kung fu and now is ready to kick the one ass he couldn’t previously, the not-so-evil-master’s ass. Jackie comes to the guy, ready to exact his revenge, but the master asks for three more days. Jackie being the nice guy agrees and goes away. San Thye’s (the good/dead master) wife is poisoned so it opens up a new plotline with getting medication for her. Three days go by and [Spoilers!] the master has cut off his fucking leg and keeps it in a box. Surely Jackie won’t fight him now. [Spoilers end]

Jackie has to work for a drug gang to get the medicine for the widow. And overall, the plot of the movie is pretty interesting, not too predictable, has some twists. Compared to some other kung fu flicks, that seemed to have noodles to string together the fight scenes, here we get something more involving. The execution is a whole different thing, Lo Wei manages to make it kind of bland and forgettable.

The fight scenes are pretty good, but lack the inventiveness of later Chan’s work or other Chan’s work of the time for that matter, specifically with Yuen Woo-Ping.

Overall, a quite decent Chan flick, but not exactly what you would expect from him, it’s not that fun or funny, it’s just ok. It won’t make you a Jackie Chan fan, but if you’re already one, than, sure, check it out. Recommended.

“Hey, back away, you won’t touch these women!”
“Oh really? Says who?”
“Says I!”
“Who are you?”
“They call me Dragon Fist, because I dragon-fist assholes of assholes like you so hard that it’ll feel like you’re shitting lava after.”
“Geez, man, you… you really didn’t have to take it this far. Ok, we’re leaving, you sociopath.”

Review of Harry Brown (2009)

30 Aug

Harry Brown (2009) is a thriller/drama/crime film, following a Royal Marines veteran,  living on a housing estate that is rapidly descending into youth crime.

Directed by Daniel Barber (The Tonto Woman (2008 Short)).

Written by Gary Young (The Tournament (2009), The Last Drop (2006)).

Starring: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, David Bradley, Iain Glen, Ben Drew, Jack O’Connell, Sean Harris, Charlie Creed-Miles and others.

The first three minutes of the film are probably the most shocking part of the movie. I’m not saying it as a compliment or a put-down to the rest of the movie, it’s just that a few teenagers on motorbikes and drugs shoot at a woman with a baby, while filming it on a cellphone is a disturbingly realistic portrayal of modern senseless violence.

Then we see Michael Caine, whose life doesn’t get better from the point we are introduced to him. His wife is in a catatonic state in the hospital and soon passes away, from his window he can see young people dealing drugs and beating people up. His friend is pretty sick of the scum and tries to stand up to them and gets killed. Caine gets pretty pissed off about all this shit.

I liked that while the justice system is depicted as totally broken and retarded, the police isn’t portrayed as a bunch of incompetent donut eating morons.

Of course, there’s a breaking point, when Caine’s character Harry Brown decides to be a vigilante. He goes to a creepy drug dealer/junkie guy, who has a whole plantation of marijuana in his apartment. The junkies and violent kids are portrayed very realistically, so it’s kind of disgusting to watch and not only on a moral level.

It’s a lot like Death Wish, if the Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey character was older, only Harry exhibits more emotions, while doing these acts of vigilantism. It’s about an hour into the movie, when Harry actually starts being bad-ass. Yeah, you can say that this is a more thoughtful movie than Death Wish, but I don’t think there is that much of a difference. There’s even a scene where Harry is going after a guy and some shots on him chasing him on some stairs by a bridge, that are very similar to a scene in Death Wish. The elderly ex-soldier, who is sick of young violent kids is a theme that showed up in Gran Torino as well.

It’s interesting to put this movie in opposition to Attack the Block, which had a very similar setting, yet the juvenile delinquents were shown in a much more positive light. I’m not from UK, but the lower class occupied living apartment blocks are quite common where I live and the way the aggressive youth is portrayed in this movie, from my experience, seems a lot more accurate.

It is fitting that my last review was of Hobo With a Shotgun, a very different kind of movie, yet having the very same theme. It’s an interesting contrast, Harry Brown is less violent, while more disturbing, which is good, that this movie makes someone think, while Hobo is just dumb entertainment. On the other hand, Harry Brown never seemed to find the right balance of being an examination of youth violence and a bad-ass vigilante-thriller.  It might not be important to most people, but Harry Brown used CG blood effects, which always sort of detract from a movie for me personally.

Overall, nothing groundbreaking, a solid revenge/vigilante crime drama/thriller threading very familiar territory, but rests firmly on the always reliable Michael Caine. Recommended.

“You know I’m buying this gun to shoot scum like you?”
“All I know is that you look like Michael Caine. Where I’m from, you don’t argue with someone who looks like Michael Caine.”

Review of Insidious (2010)

25 Aug

Insidious (2010) is a horror/thriller/drama film, focusing on a boy entering a comatose state to become a vessel for beings from an astral dimension.

Directed by James Wan (Saw (2004), Death Sentence (2007)).

Written by Leigh Whannell (Dead Silence (2007), Saw II (2005)).

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Leigh Whannell, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson, Barbara Hershey, Andrew Astor and others.

This is an interesting movie, it plays on clichés, at first it seems like the most generic horror flick involving a creepy kid and like the most usual family ever, but throughout the movie I kept guessing what is going to happen and most of the times I was wrong. We start out with this normal family living their normal lives in a fairly normal house. Some subtle creepy stuff happens and one of the two kids goes into coma. I thought he’s going to come out of it and be different, but no.

We switch to 3 months later, now the son is in coma at home. And then some seriously creepy shit starts happening, like someone starts speaking through the baby monitor, the way it is done is insanely effective. The movie is very well shot, like it changes from the completely static shots when the characters are out of the house or someone else is in the house to this handheld slightly zooming style when they’re alone in the house and spooky things happen. This adds so much to the mood and a lot of times there are cool continuous shots, following the characters.

Probably best scene of the movie is a “fuck you!” to all the haunted house movies. Soon after all the weird shit starts, the wife says that the house is freaking her out and they have to leave. Cut to: they’ve moved out. It’s almost funny how sudden that is. However, despite the characters thinking so, it’s not the house that’s haunted, as it soon turns out, it’s the kid.

Patrick Wilson in my opinion is a perfect everyman actor, who seems like this very normal guy, but has more to him, so he’s not bland. His character is the one, who has to pull back the movie to earth, after things, like an old woman delivering a speech about demons, happen. He really doesn’t go for all the crazy ghost talk, because he hasn’t seen much, but Wilson plays it so that he doesn’t seem like an unsupportive asshole.

The things the wife sees soon stop being corner-of-the-eye sort of stuff and become full on plain sight shit, like people coming at her or a kid running around the house. I usually don’t like jump-scares and this movie has them in spades, but they’re executed really well and aren’t false, when they happen, they startle the characters and are real scary things and not a douchebag friend sneaking up on you or a cat running across the hall.

The last half hour of the movie has sort of an A Nightmare On Elm Street feel to it and ends on a cliffhanger, but I doubt if we’ll ever see a sequel, not that I want it. The whole movie feels like a very dark fairy tale. In an age of forgettable, bland horror movies, this is actually fairly original and stylish and not afraid to be kind of ridiculous.

Overall, a really cool, suspenseful and at times legitimately scary movie. One of the best horror flicks, you’ll find in the PG-13 section of the genre. If you can have your horror without gratuitous violence, nudity and exploitation, recommended.

“Honey, look what our son drew. Do you think there’s something wrong with him?”
“You’re damn right, there’s something wrong with him, he’s a fucking artist!”
“No, I mean, do you think he needs therapy or something?”
“Military school is what he needs, woman!”