Author Topic: Random Reviews  (Read 188344 times)

random axe

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Re: Random Reviews
« Reply #3435 on: February 11, 2018, 04:45:42 PM »
Train to Busan, which is basically a South Korean cross between Snowpiercer and World War Z, except it doesn't suck.  It's much smarter, more inventive, and more visually impressive than most zombie movies.  Also, the photography, acting, direction . . . as seems usual with Korean films, they're so good that it makes most US films of the genre seem stuck on some lower level.

Plus, like almost any good horror movie, it's basically an adventure film.  Being Korean, it's also much more emotional and heartfelt.  If you like zombie movies, you probably want to see this one.

The same director made an animated companion film, Seoul Station, which the internet variously tells me is a prequel or sequel.  I'd like to see it, regardless.

random axe

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Re: Random Reviews
« Reply #3436 on: February 14, 2018, 11:19:55 AM »
Spectral, a military SF film from a couple of years ago.  It's sort of a smooth combination of Aliens, Final Fantasy: Spirits Within, Assault on Precincts 13-30, and The Darkest Hour.

Nutshell:  A top engineer at DARPA gets sent to Eastern Europe to troubleshoot multispectral military goggles he designed.  The problem turns out to be apparently supernatural, and very hard to fight, and then they gotta figure out how to deal with that.

The first hour and a quarter of the film are almost pitch-perfect.  Nothing fully original, but the execution is way better than average.  Cast is better than it needs to be, if you know what I mean.  The FX aren't bad.  The military stuff is spot on, distilled from the better bits of a lot of other films.  It doesn't belabor the awkward bits, and even a lot of the inevitable technobabble exposition is handled with dignity.

Then there's an amusing but pretty rapid A-Team Assembles The Equipment bit where they make new weapons.

After that . . . the film comes unglued, a bit.  The action scenes aren't framed as well as they should be, and the climactic discoveries are handled a bit oddly . . . and with an uneven flow . . . and some of the dramatic cheese clunks.  Basically, the last half hour gets awkward and steps on itself a bit.

Overall, I still thought it was a lot better than, say, Prometheus or Avatar, not to single out a particular director.  It's better than the later Alien or Predator movies in general, or the later Terminator ones, and so on.  Could've been improved, but it was better than I expected.  It's just a shame that the weakest bit is the last half hour.

random axe

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Re: Random Reviews
« Reply #3437 on: February 16, 2018, 05:56:43 PM »
The Ritual, an oddly named horror film from last year that was written and directed by David Bruckner, whose work . . . I really like.  He was also one of the people who did The Signal and V/H/S.

The Ritual isn't meant to be a revolutionary new horror film.  It's about a bunch of guys who go hiking in Sweden on holiday, take a shortcut through a forest, and learn that a forest in a foreign country can be a terrible mistake.

Done before?  Sure.  But generally not like this.  To be honest, The Ritual starts with a slow burn and hints that you may be disappointed, including character drama that may not be entirely gripping and some arty touches that may be worrisome.  When our merry band (fighting amongst themselves, as happens) first finds an ominous cabin in the woods, nothing unusual has happened yet -- although what has happened has been done well.

Then some atmospherically strange and forboding things begin to occur in earnest, and the details are a trifle fresher than average.  Also, more creative, more insane.  Bruckner's work is sort of characterized by taking things up to the next notch.  And while there are things that you might wish the film gave you a better look at, it doesn't dwell tiresomely on gore, and it does deliver some creepy and exciting moments -- and it does eventually give you good looks at something very odd indeed.

It left me wanting a sequel, in fact.  A thoughtful one that goes from Alien to Aliens, if you will, not just a rehash of this film, which doesn't need rehasing.  But it's rare that a horror movie has enough moxie to leave me wanting more of the same brew.

random axe

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Re: Random Reviews
« Reply #3438 on: February 18, 2018, 03:20:35 PM »
Oh, I saw a noir suspense film from 2012 called either The Samaritan or Fury, depending on the distributor, which stars Samuel L. Jackson.

Mostly very well done . . . but it ends badly, and, honestly, I can't remember ever seeing a film that so very, very, very much needed its ending re-written.

The basic story is that Jackson is a complex-con grifter who gets out of prison after 25 years.  He was in for shooting his former partner.  Once he's out, he's pursued by the former's partner's son, a wealthy criminal who works for a fearsome crime lord.  Naturally, the kid is trying to lure Jackson into running a con, and no one is quite doing what they claim they're doing, and it's all quite tense.  You'll be tempted to guess at what's really going on and what people are planning.

Unfortunately, the climax doesn't make any sense, once you think about it.  The clever scheming characters turn stupid and generally not to have made any plans, all in order to allow for an ending that's deeply unsatisfying.  :nonplused: 

It's a shame, because the cast is good, the story is uncomfortable, and the setup wants something clever to happen.  Tom Wilkinson plays the crime boss with relish, Luke Kirby perfectly plays the most punchable face in a long time, and Ruth Negga plays a character who surely isn't who she seems.  Gil Bellows shows up as a bartender, and Deborah Kara Unger as a tired veteran of the con game.  The direction's good, the music's good . . .

But, boy, that ending.  Alas.

random axe

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Re: Random Reviews
« Reply #3439 on: February 20, 2018, 11:12:13 AM »
Also saw an odd little film called Puncture Wounds, aka A Certain Justice, a 2014 low-budget action film that . . . is of interest to people interested in this subgenre.  It's surprisingly gritty, despite generally not lingering on the violence, and it's the kind of B movie that's full of touches meant to suggest that the cast and crew could and would like to move up to something better.  At the same time, it has A listers who are moonlighting for fun or as a favor or something.

The result is uneven, but not bad, and often better than expected.  And quite weird.

Former MMA champ Cung Le plays the usual antihero -- a discharged Green Beret with PTSD who gets into trouble with gangsters while trying to do the right thing, and who's then given reasons to seek revenge on the bad guys.  He even has a wounded Army buddy who's kind of given up on life and gets dragged back into the action and finds redemption there.

Vinnie Jones plays an amusing tough-guy gangster who might not be such a bad guy.  Considering.  And Dolph Lundgren turns in a surprising performance as not merely an antagonist but an out-and-out scumbag bad guy in a way I hadn't seen from him before.

Then you have Briana Evigan in a better-than-necessary performance as a Hooker With A Heart of Gold, Gianni Capaldi in a better-than-necessary performance as an Underling Developing a Conscience, Eddie Rouse in a startling performance as Hard-Luck Scumbag Junkie Pedophile, Jake Jacobson as Sketchy Police Partner, and certainly not least James C. Burns as the Quiet Hero Cop.

The story arcs of some of the minor characters are weirdly well-developed, just as the characters themselves are.  Burns's Quiet Cop is a veteran detective who has a wife dying of cancer, an element that could've been ill-advised, pointless, or unfortunately groan-worthy.  But it's played totally straight, totally serious, with dignity. 

In fact, everything here that calls back to an 80s Clint Eastwood or Burt Reynolds or Mel Gibson or Sylvester Stallone movie is entirely self-aware.  Sometimes the film simply indicates the trope it's using, shows it, and moves on, not wasting your time.  Sometimes it plays it wryly, for laughs.  The editing is quick, sometimes skipping ahead in short bursts, and the film moves right along.  Some of the flunkies are mere caricatures, but they're mooks -- they're just there to lose fights.

The fight scenes aren't bad but aren't spectacular.  They're generally oddly realistic for the genre, being short and painful, and also oddly brutal.  Le's character is a trained killer with a tendency to overdo it, and he kills a lotta bad guys here, but the film doesn't revel in it.  It's just what happens during his quest to find the top bad guy.  There's no emphasis on it -- when people get stabbed, the movie just makes it clear that they got stabbed.  There's no gore.

The whole film is pretty brutal and gritty, though.  More than expected.  At the same time, there are some surprising survivors.  The story's overall curve is a little flat, and this is no kung fu extravaganza.  It's more of an opportunity to show off character writing and acting, atmosphere, cinematography, editing, and so on.  It's almost like a demo reel.

Puncture Wounds was also apparently shot in just seventeen days, which is pretty quick for an action film with a high body count, explosions, gunfire galore, and so on.  Cung Le might not be well-suited to a starring role in a film with less hand-to-hand combat than this, but he's fine here.  Still, this is aimed at a narrow audience.

I did find it amusing that Gianni Capaldi's gangster-lieutenant comes across as a Scots-Irish version of Ross, from Friends, as a thug.

random axe

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Re: Random Reviews
« Reply #3440 on: February 21, 2018, 11:16:02 AM »
Speaking of Ben Kingsley being typecast as a villain, Netflix really, really wanted me to watch Security, a very confused action film from last year that should've been called Paolo Blarto, Mall Commando.

The basic plot:  Antonio "Why Can't I Get Better Roles?" Banderas plays a discharged Army captain who can't get a job because he can't pass his psych evals.  He takes a job as a night security guard at a mall in the middle of nowhere.  MEANWHILE, a twelve-year-old girl who's a terribly important federal witness is being hunted by Ben Kingsley and his army of mercenaries, and she winds up escaping to the mall one night.  The other guards at the mall are a fairly colorful bunch of amateurs.

So you see where this is going.  And as a goofy action film premise, that's fine.  And this film is purley parody.  Unfortunately, it doesn't know it, and consequently it's awful, although the cast sure tries hard.

Overall, this film has a lower level of realism than, say, Deadpool, but it seems to think it's Die Hard.  It's not.  The characters in this movie behave in stupid ways that benefit the plot, such as it is, not as any human would.  This is especially true of the cartoonish mercenaries, who, for instance, charitably break into the mall . . . and then retreat for an hour or so to give the defenders a chance to set up.  Like you do.

The mercenaries seem to belong to some kind of raincoat-based cult.  Their training seems to mostly be in Menacing, not, you know, shooting or so on.  The mall could easily be broken into by a single determined teenager, especially with boltcutters, but the mercs drive an SUV into the doors at high speed, and then a Road Warrior lunatic with one of those 'tactical tomahawk' things runs up, jumps onto the roof ( ! ) of the SUV, and jumps above the doors to use the tomahawk to rapidly climb up the concrete exterior wall.  For no apparent reason.  Also, he doesn't actually go into the mall . . . he just leaves again after climbing like fifteen feet up.

What the hell is that?  But the whole movie is like that.  There's a sinister shaved-head merc who carries two Japanese swords and a bunch of knives like he wandered in from a Mortal Kombat film, and no one noticed.  And there's a scene where a sniper with a bolt-action single-shot fifty-caliber rifle fires two rounds every time he works the bolt.  The gun and action stuff doesn't even make sense.  There's no continuity.  It's just . . . it doesn't do its thing.

There are a ton of minor problems, like how it's clearly not an American mall, what with no escalators or elevators but tons of staircases.  Whatever.

Banderas has an appropriately weary look, here, and Kingsley hams it up as a good sport should.  The other security guard actors are really trying and have moments, and there's an IKEA sort of store in the mall whose kitchen goods are labeled SMEG.  People made an effort. 

And if the film were funny, it could skate.  But it's trying to be serious.  The cast deserves better, man.  I quit halfway through.

random axe

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Re: Random Reviews
« Reply #3441 on: February 21, 2018, 07:05:18 PM »
I watched His Majesty O'Keefe while I was doing some chores, and . . . it's a product of its time.  Burt Lancaster plays the title character in a fictionalized account of a guy who actually Would Be King of a little cluster of islands that are now part of Micronesia.  The natives there are famous for using large round stones as money, which is about as interesting as the rest of the story.

Lancaster and company try hard, but the problem here is that there's little plot.  O'Keefe discovers the island and wants to harvest its coconuts, but the natives aren't interested; they only care about the stone coins.  Meanwhile, the German and Spanish colonial powers would like the coconut if anyone can get it harvested, and pirates will enslave the natives if no one stops them, and O'Keefe falls in love with a half-anglo native girl (from another island), and his disruption of local politics causes various problems.

The whole thing is underwritten, and not by Lloyd's of London.  There's nothing wrong with the cast, except for the inevitability of non-native actors playing natives, but the story drags.  Joan Rice is pretty stunning as the half-native girl.  Seems like she should've been a bigger star.

The film was directed by Byron Haskin, and it's not his best work -- he also did Treasure Island, the George Pal War of the Worlds, Charlton Heston vs The Ants in The Naked Jungle, George Hamilton and Suzanne Pleshette in The Power (basically Scanners twelve years earlier), not to mention the excellent / bad Robinson Crusoe on Mars.  But they can't all be somethin' else.

mo

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Re: Random Reviews
« Reply #3442 on: February 22, 2018, 10:47:26 AM »
Burt took a lot of shitty roles. I'd love to see more of his work, but there really isn't a lot, just a handful of gems and a sackful of rocks.
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vox8

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Re: Random Reviews
« Reply #3443 on: February 25, 2018, 08:30:15 PM »
This year we decided to get each of us a Movie Pass and are planning on taking full advantage of it. So far I've seen Three Billboards and Black Panther using the pass. Since I've had it less than a month I count that as one movie I paid for and one that was free. We figure as long as we use it once a month we are winning.

I am making a list of things I want to see this year - so far the thing I am most excited about is Isle of Dogs.
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random axe

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Re: Random Reviews
« Reply #3444 on: February 26, 2018, 10:16:06 AM »
I gradually saw a horror film called Nightworld, from last year.

Basically, an American ex-cop living in Bulgaria is hired to be the security guard at a mysterious building that has an extra-mysterious basement by extra-extra-mysterious employers.  Also, he's haunted by dreams and visions of his wife, who committed suicide a couple of years earlier.  Also, he meets an extremely attractive younger barista at the cafe across the street.

OK, nothing exactly new there.  The first hour of the film is almost excellent, though.  After a slow intro, it moves into an unhurried but not slow setup.  This isn't one of those films where the audience knows something's up but the characters don't -- our hero's introduction to the job is tres peculiar.  The elevator to the basement takes a very long time, and down there is a bank of strange computer video equipment, and a Forbidden Door, and he receives strange instructions.

Although not much happens in the first hour, it's strangely compelling.  There are missteps, but not many.  Atmosphere's good, acting is good.  It's got you waiting for the reveal.  Ben Englund appears in a role seemingly from another movie, but it's only mildly jarring.

Unfortunately, the third act is also from another movie, a bad movie that doesn't make sense.  There's nothing interesting behind the Forbidden Door, and what follows isn't even internally logical, or vaguely original, or interesting.  Just for instance: a magic weapon is introduced, then forgotten, and it doesn't show up again.

The director speaks Spanish, and the film was made in Bulgaria, and the budget can't have been much.  But this is another case of people who like horror films wanting to make a horror film despite not, you know, having a horror film to make. 

It's like throwing a surprise birthday party, but -- surprise! -- there's no food, and also these gift boxes are empty.  Such a shame.

random axe

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Re: Random Reviews
« Reply #3445 on: February 28, 2018, 02:12:51 PM »
Boys in the Trees, a remarkable Australian film from 2016 that's gonna be excellent to some people and just won't work for others.  It's sort of like if Ray Bradbury and Stephen King had written Something Wicked This Way Comes where the evil wasn't a Mr Dark bringing his carnival in from outside but adolescence bringing it in the form of Golding's Lord of the Flies and Robert Frost's Nothing Gold Can Stay

And then directed by Terry Gilliam or maybe Richard Kelly, who did Donnie Darko.

The story basically revolves around a kid who's about to leave high school and is realizing that his friends are immature assholes, whereas he abandoned his unpopular childhood friend years earlier.  Kid can't decide if becoming an adult is the best or worst thing ever.  Almost everything takes place during a single impossible Halloween night, and it ventures well into the surreal.

The broad concept has been done many times, of course, but the specific treatment here is well above average and has a lot more depth than usual.  The atmosphere and effects are terrific, especially for such a low-budget film, and the soundtrack is pretty great, with a good score and tracks from The Presidents of the United States of America, Garbage, Bush, Rammstein, and Yoko Ono, among others.

The film wanders broadly, and it's sometimes slow or feels long, and some critics complained,  but I think this is exactly the kind of film for which that format is exactly right.  And I think it earns it.  Some of the ending, you'll guess at far in advance, which people also complained about, but I kind of think you're supposed to figure it out.  It's dramatic irony -- the audience guesses long before the characters do, and that's largely because the characters don't want to.

The cast of young performers is very strong, and the bullies aren't just bullies, and the sarcastic dark girl isn't just dark, and so on.  The film's a little indulgent, but I think that's because it's deeply felt, and it's one of the better films I've seen in at least a year.

random axe

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Re: Random Reviews
« Reply #3446 on: March 07, 2018, 06:19:36 PM »
Netflix was constantly recommending a Spanish horror movie it calls Demon Inside, starring Paz Vega, and so, what the hell.  It claims the film is about a psychic who hides in her new apartment, unaware that there are demonic forces in there with her.

The film is actually titled Spectre, and it contains no demons.  Instead, Vega plays a psychic who becomes a shut-in after being brutally raped.  In her new apartment, she deals with psychotic neighbors (who may or may not be real), becomes increasingly paranoid, and sees an alarming spectre she can't understand.

Most of the film is quite slow, and the plot elements are mostly only hinted at.  Some of them don't entirely make sense, but, then, we're meant to be unsure if she's imagining them.  At the end of the film, I wasn't sure if some were red herrings to distract the audience or if, in fact, she was imagining them.  Or if the film just doesn't entirely make sense.

This is mostly a story of suspense . . . with occasional moments of gruesome brutality.  Most of the suspense is so-so, and, I mean, it takes thirty minutes just for the apartment premise to be established, and then it's still mostly a slow crawl.  The overall tone is purely grim in a way that's a little surprising and makes you wonder what the point was, and several things are left unresolved.

The final twists aren't terrible and isn't common, and the film does a reasonable job of not telegraphing them.  On the other hand, they aren't startling, either, and I didn't feel they were worth the wait or the misery on the screen.

The concepts here aren't bad, but they could be structured a lot better, and then the ending wants at least one more clever twist of some kind to bring us to a different resolution.  Still, the film is serious and competently made.  Just not . . . fun.

random axe

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Re: Random Reviews
« Reply #3447 on: March 08, 2018, 01:00:05 PM »
Netflix did finally send me Wonder Woman, and I'm still thinking about it.  It was better than I feared and not as good as I hoped, but certainly it's the best live-action DC-major-character film since 1978.

Gadot and Pine are both terrific in what are really very, very tricky roles, and I think they deserve all the praise they've gotten for this film.  Every role in the movie is awfully tricky, in fact, for a variety of reasons, including that the film is so busy constantly establishing and introducing elements that all development is incidental.  The whole cast does well, but they're not equally successful.

The plot is . . . not the greatest.  It's really just sort of a Good Enough framework to hang the character on, and it often doesn't really convince or make a lot of sense.  I think the It's All A Movie computer and green room effects underscore this in a clever way -- like Hippolyta's animated illustration that she uses to tell little Diana the story of the Amazons, it's intentionally stylized and doesn't need to be fully realistic.

The film has a lot of trouble establishing scope, which is one of the major problems in film today -- and is unfortunately, since CGI makes gigantic wide-scale tableaus much simpler than they used to be.  Consequently, there's often no strong feeling of location, or how the locations relate to one another; the characters float from set piece to set piece purely to set up the next piece.

The action is adequately satisfying, and Gadot sells the role completely, but the physics of the superhero stuff is too far from passing for it to feel like it's really happening.  It slips from grit to cartoon and back in a way that doesn't fall to incompetent or failure but just kept reminding me that it could have been even better.

Still, there was a ton that could easily have gone wrong, here, and didn't.  It's pretty easy to guess who the bad guy actually is, but then Ares and his battle with Diana is much better than most directors would have managed.  Gadot looks gorgeous as Wonder Woman, but she's genuinely not sexualized, and the film even draws attention to the outdated provincialism of thinking her outfit must be fetishwear.

The story feels like the script's rewriting process was a little traumatic, but this is a case where I'm inclined to give the benefit of the doubt and assume that's because earlier versions were much more problematic.  At the end of the film, it feels like not that much has happened, but it feels like not that much has happened . . . yet.  It's not a film I'd rewatch often, but I'd be looking forward to the next one.

So.  Not nearly as sure of itself or all-cylinders as, say, Crisis on Two Earths, not quite as successful as, say, Captain America.  But enormously better than the recent live-action Batman and Superman films.  I don't think Wonder Woman should have been pulled into Batman and Superman films, but, as this one hinted, they should have been drawn into her films, instead.

mo

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Re: Random Reviews
« Reply #3448 on: March 08, 2018, 07:18:29 PM »
I finally got a netflix account and Wonder Woman isn't available. Is it a dvd only, or maybe you added it back when it was available?

Not that I especially want to see it, I'm just trying to figure out how this works.
It's symbolic of our struggle against reality.

vox8

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Re: Random Reviews
« Reply #3449 on: March 09, 2018, 09:28:47 AM »
Gadot looks gorgeous as Wonder Woman, but she's genuinely not sexualized, and the film even draws attention to the outdated provincialism of thinking her outfit must be fetishwear.

One of the things that made me love the film is that, as a woman, it was astounding to see a film that was resolutely not shot for the male gaze. It has become so much the default of things that having something that treated the main character as an actual human being as opposed to a sex object was a revelation.

I had a hard time making Roger understand what I was talking about so I was able to narrow it down to one specific scene that I feel illustrates it. When Diana decides that regardless of what is being mansplained to her she can in fact do something about the no-mans-land standoff she decides to climb out of the trench and onto the field. You see her turn and start up the ladder and then the POV switches to the battle field so that we see her rise determinedly onto the level of the danger. Even though I have no vested interest in superheros or Wonder Woman, it took my breath away and I actually got choked up.

Had this film been made by a male director the POV would have remained with the Chris Pine character and we would have watched her ass climb up that ladder with a gratuitous up skirt shot.
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