Al my movie reviews under one roof - part 5
Still milking this shit with reductive results with each new instalment
You're right - you should have killed me when you had the chance! But it's harder to kill than even YOU might have thought. Isn't it? So on with my angry, angry reviews!
Starship Troopers 3 - August 2014
So Starship Troopers 3 - a significant jump in quality on part 2, returning to the satirical tone of the original but without the intelligent, punkish direction ( it's directed and written by Ed Neumeier ) or clever plotting of same. The return of original grunt Johnny Rico ( Casper Van Dien ) brings about a search, rescue, and destroy plot completely at odds with the tone and themes. This time around the satirical laughs are tempered by a spectacular bitterness towards religion that takes hamfisted and generalised potshots at the cross-over of religion and the military without really taking the time to hone the satire into sharp points. It's a better film than two, still with the same budgetary restrains meaning the same three sets are recycled over and over from different angles, and adds points for silly humour while detracting them for it's mean-spirited and under-researched attacks on hot topic religion. Terrible acting and awful sound-mix means everything sounds like dirt. It's a fun retake on the monster flick but misses a lot in comparison with the original. Worth a look though for the final summation, which should be a chilling indictment on the use of religion to justify war, but personally just made me laugh at left-wing propaganda.
Coriolanus - August 2014
So watched Ralph Fiennes directorial debut, the hugely disappointing “Coriolanus” today.
A grim, joyless, grey and blank faced film version of one of Shakespeare's lesser read, bloodier plays, Fiennes has made the decision to set the Rome-based play in some indiscriminate Gulf-War era meaning that all the war footage has the over-familiar shakey-cam quality and look of a Hurt Locker or a Green Zone, instantly feeling second hand and outmoded.
Following Fiennes' single-minded returning war-hero general Martius as he is forced into joining with his sworn enemy Tullus ( the ever-thrilling Gerard Butler ) by the rioting people and corrupt politicians of a “Rome” that closer resembles the Gaza strip than any part of Italy I've ever seen, Fiennes admirably allows his cast to deliver Shakespeare in a naturalistic, unshowy way but this quickly becomes dull as dishwater as everyone ends up speaking in a completely unnatural whisper in order to seem “real,” even in the back of cars, crowds, or battle.
Much like “Robocop,” Fiennes uses the device of television news to split the “action” with discourse and exposition, but rather than utilising Robos cartoon-satire to poke angry fun, this only serves to take away from the intensity of the play, adds a slightly patronising tone that makes the audience feel like Fiennes doesn't trust you to understand what's going on without being spoon-fed, and hands you the hilariously awful sight of Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow “acting” Shakespeare.
Yet, conversely there's a strange lack of give in the way the script presents the dialogue, especially at the beginning – traditionally the five or ten minutes it takes for an audience to get up to speed with the rhythm and poetry of the dialogue. Instead we're given splashes of dialogue interspersed with silent moments of handheld camera-shot soldiers running around film-soldier gesturing and shooting in close-up, never allowing the audience to get into the flow. Meaning it's a good twenty minutes before the viewer can get used to the dialogue and style and therefore taking another twenty to figure out who the hell everyone is.
There is the feel of the “luvvie” all through this film, and the seriousness with which Fiennes and his cast undertakes to present this excellent and angry play becomes increasingly hilarious with each squinted “acting” face and directorial touch Fiennes adds to make this Shakespearean adaptation feel relevant and documentary like. From the characters who smoke purely to show we're modern, to the reining of exploding shells that cease suddenly when the main characters have finished having their wee fight, to the babbling crowd sound ADR slapped over clearly silent rabbles listening intently to the whispering dialogue at the front.
If you think you're saying something by invoking the Gulf War then you've lost touch with reality, it's an easy catch-all that makes you look a lot less clever than you think. Why not set the movie during the Troubles? It may not be relevant but it'd be a brave move. Hell, you already have James Nesbitt in there. He played Ivan Cooper and everything.
Fiennes shoots almost everything in close or mid to favour the actors, ironically staging-up his shakey-cam movie, while the action and fight scenes feel like seen-it-all-before re-runs of far more successful war movies. But on stage. There's a hilarious moment during Martius' explosion at the people he served as they banish him for his thuggishness, when the camera – in one take - wibble wobbles, zoomy zooms, dutch angles and rights itself and ultimately defocusses all but Fiennes in case the audience doesn't get that he is vewy, vewy angwy. It completely robs the moment of power and the dialogue of meaning because as a viewer your focus is now elsewhere.
The acting is strong, but one-note ( perhaps not surprisingly given the singular drive of the play ) and Fiennes makes the classic Branagh mistake of casting internationally, meaning accents fly all over the shop ( he makes the leaders of the dissent Italian, an obvous sop to “the people” ) which often makes it difficult to understand what is being said, or what is going on. Honours go to Gerard Butler for his grit, anger and soul; to Brian Cox for being another variation of Brian Cox in a movie; and to Jessica Chastain for being completely and utterly and hilariously out of place with her shallow performance and lisping fake rada accent.
I love Shakespeare. I love when film adaptations do it right, as so few do. When done right you get Gandalf's “Richard the third” and Hamlet's “Henry V.” When done wrong you get the hideously over-wrought and disco-club camp of Baz Luhrman's “Romeo + Juliet.”
At their worst, like here, Will adaptations fail to get across to a movie audience why theatre actors and directors are so in love with him. One reason I will always stand behind and defend “Shakespeare in Love” is that it got this across, it got the joy, and sorrow, and passion of a Shakespeare play. It was intelligent and foolish, fun and melancholic. Most film adaptations singularly fail in this, preferring instead to insularly spout the dialogue in an actorly way and set it somewhere modern.
Technically, there is nothing too wrong with this film, the editing is crisp, the lensing strong if grey and repetitive, the music driving if a little mickey mouse from time to time ( I understand he's sad, movie, because by framing him at a distance on his lonesome in the one wide shot this film can afford, gets this across. ) But by shooting everything so close with a wobbling camera it feels like a student exercise, or worse like a play rehearsal being shot on camcorder. It may serve the actors but serves only to frustrate the audience, especially when the desperation of actors “doing Shakespeare justice” comes across so strongly.
To quote Gerard Butler : “thou hast a grim appearance.”
Oh yeah – and guns aren't swords. Stop thinking you're being clever and just change the word “sword” to “gun.” Shakespeare won't mind. He's already rolling in his grave.
Locke – August 2014
Locke” then – an interesting idea made slightly dull by stagey writing and a montagey directing style that never allows the image to settle, and as such robs the strong concept of tension and the claustrophobia it desperately requires.
Tom Hardy essentially gives a one-man show as a slowly unravelling Welsh cement-pumper(!) making the snap decision to travel to the birth of the illicit child of a one-night stand. The film takes place in real-time in and around his car as he travels to London.
The idea is a sound one, and Tom Hardy gives a restrained, genuinely charismatic and human performance, fielding phone-calls from his increasingly angry wife, a drunk co-worker he is talking through a big cement-pumping job(!) and the woman who is having his child. He is a compelling actor but it's a struggle to watch a film where much of the dialogue is made up of cement-pumping instructions and quandaries, and distracting that he is needlessly Welsh.
Writer and director Stephen Knight struggles to maintain tension with various contrivances, from Hardy unrealistically monologuing to himself when he's not on the phone ( why not employ silence to add tension ), to convenient problems with the birth, and far too many over the top situations all taking place over phone-calls from actors who sound like they're in a recording studio ( my favourite being the councillor in the obviously completely empty restaurant. )
Nothing feels real, partly because of Knight's editing and shooting style, all too often shooting from outside the car which robs the film of it's intended claustrophobia and employing fades to edit the film that make it feel like we're watching a montage as opposed to a real-time movie, while his writing is massively stagey and spends much of it's time justifying itself ( why does Hardy's character have to be the BEST cement-pumper(!) in the world instead of just another cement-pumper? Why do people keep telling him this is just not like him or that he runs a tight ship? WHY does the Irish guy have to be drunk on the job? Why do no one speak like real people?) There is also no actual progression, with the same four scenarios playing out like a revolving wheel, never really going anywhere except where the plot wants them to go.
It should be the anti-Gravity ( ha! ) with silences and gently winding lo-fi tensions compelling the viewer. Instead, too much is going on but with little of actual interest. Don't care about cement pumping. Don't care about a birth that is occurring off screen. Don't care about football. Don't care about the breakdown of a marriage we never see. The characters don't feel real, they feel like contrivances to compel the plot.
Tom Hardy is excellent in the movie, conveying genuine-feeling emotions even when he's being forced to deliver stupid speeches to an empty passenger seat, so watch it for him. The writing is good for a stage play ( though it would be hard to see how to do this on stage, so it's a bit of a catch 22. ) The direction and editing are too gimmicky to allow for any kind of tension ( That's not to say that it's bad, incidentally, just that it doesn't achieve what it intends - the photography, presumably digital, is gorgeous but mundane. )
And the title is just bloody pretentious. “Locke.” Why not just call the character Mr Trapped.
The Raid 2 : Raid Harder - August 2014
The Raid 2 : Raid Harder! Well, it's long. It's very, very long. One could even say, for what it is - an ambitiously plotted martial arts thriller - it's OVER long.
Befitting it's history, this is a film of two VERY different styles - writer director editor and welsh man Gareth Evans initially intended this to be his first movie, but budget constraints meant he had to produce The Raid first; when THAT was one of the most over-hyped yet successful action movies of the last five years, it meant he had the clout not only to produce his much more ambitious gangster war flick, but use the hype of his successful debut to sell it as The Raid 2, even though technically it isn't, with Evans tacking on a rather silly and underused undercover cop plot hanging over from The Raid, to his already written Asian gangster war flick.
Like The Raid, this has been massively overhyped. It's not a bad movie, not at all, but as others have pointed out a lot of the flaws, I'll try and concentrate on it's positives by way of a riposte.
First off the fights - they're excellent, and unlike The Raid don't form the entirety of the running time. They are far more organically placed within the plot, are tough, cartoonish, yet brutal - almost depressingly so. Whereas in The Raid, star Iko Uwais' sudden, completely un-introduced ability to smash everyone's face in came from nowhere, in this film it has been established and is developed into far better placed sequences which come from the circumstances of the story as opposed to The Raid's almost pornographic need to shove a fight scene in every five minutes.
I'm not convinced that fight fans will be put off by the plot - if they've sat through some of the Seagal, Van Damme, and Norris films I've sat through they'll WELCOME the storyline. Not everyone who watches fight movies fast forward through the talking scenes. Most people who watch this movie WON'T be looking for the Godfather, they'll have seen The Raid, will be aware of it's myriad narrative and plotting flaws, and will know what to expect going in. What they'll get is an unexpectedly ambitious, and relatively successful - if standard - martial arts thriller.
To decry a martial arts movie for having a plot is strange; for me, the plot was no different, or worse than ANY other Asian martial arts or two-fist-gun-fight movie and in fact was a step up by virtue of it's ambition. It was confused and confusing, and very very messy, but at least it was there and like many Asian martial arts flicks was trying to cram as much in as possible, alongside the awesome fight scenes.
The addition of new antagonists such as Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man was welcome but very underused - their individual fight scenes technically excellent but somewhat devoid of emotion. They could have easily been cut, or placed anywhere in the film.
HOWEVER - whether or not the hammer scene in Oldboy is superior, doesn't mean they shouldn't be allowed to do it in other movies - in fact this scene, hammer and baseball bat, is homaging the Vengeance trilogy completely, and in the same way as horror movie directors often reference their peers or masters while trying to one-up them ( see Wes Craven and Sam Raimi ) this scene is simply sending a little love-letter to Chan Wook Park. And why not?
The use of Yayan Ruhain ( Mad-dog in the first Raid ) as a new character in this presented no problems to the film, or to me. Sergio Leone was fond of reusing actors in his Dollars trilogy, and Tarantino homaged this by using Michael Parks as two characters in Kill Bill one and two, so I see no problem with Evans going ahead and doing that here. I believe he was one of the fight choreographers on these movies too. So he was already on set. Why not stick him in there?
Overall, I enjoyed this movie a lot. It has flaws in tone and plotting, and is FAR too long but to be honest in a world where people spend entire weekends watching Breaking Bad boxsets and call that long form narrative, I'm not so sure this is a bad thing in a film. It's musical score is mimimalistic and doesn't hold the surface thrill of Mike Shinoda's hip-hop inspired original. The main character disappears for long stretches in favour of a seen-it-all before Asian warlords plot. And the two plot strands rarely come together.
However, the fight sequences are excellent, well placed, don't over-run the film, the action overall is VERY well directed and edited, the acting is pretty good given the nature of the movie. This is a very good action movie. I'm not sure what else anyone going into it might be expecting.
Sure, it's no Taken. But then what is?
The Muppets Sequel - August 2014
Wow! After the huge disappointments that were the massively over-hyped and entirely unworthy bullshit and morally confusing product placement that was "The Lego Movie," and the dull, smug, and hilariously middle aged dad that was "Calvary," of all things it is the Muppets Most Wanted that finally cracked a smile in my corpse-like face.
Silly, funny, properly The Muppets after the cop out that was the first movie, the songs don't sound like Conchords knock offs ( with a few exceptions ), the Muppets feel like Muppets, the plot compels, the cameos genuinely funny, and NOTHING will beat the sight of Henry Hill, Machete, and Jermaine Clement singing and dancing "I hope I get it" from a chorus line. Brilliantly funny. Tina Fey was as shite as ever but hell, you can't have everything. Oh and Ricky Gervais gave the straightest and most sincere performance opposite a muppet since Michael Caine. Just great.
Well friends, enemys, frenemys, and fuck-tuts, let's end this one on a high note!
Join me next time when I mock Plesantville for being a good movie, and widdle on Marvel. All on it's face.
See you next time, and thanks for reading.