Friday, 27 February 2015

Expendables 2; Miss Bala; Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn; Starship Troopers: Invasion; Captain Harlock Space Pirate

Expendables 2 
The Expendables films (though I’ve not seen the 3rd yet) seem to exist in a weird parallel universe where crappy action films don’t exist, despite the fact that this series only came about because said films launched and sustained the careers of a number of the cast.
If you like seeing pumped up old men shooting CGI blood out of vaguely Eastern European thugs (and East Asian in the opening sequence) then this is for you.

However, there’s little flair and finesse despite the decades of effort trying to depict men hitting and shooting at each other in new and interesting ways – there don’t seem to be any lessons learned from any stand out action moments, whether 80s Hong Kong Action cinema or the shake-up that was the Bourne series.
Instead you get tired nods to the likes of Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger as they are literally shoehorned into the film with the main characters themselves saying “Where did they come from?”.
The jokey-jokey tone of most of it renders attempts at drama very flat –Liam Hemsworth plays a young new addition to the team who is promptly captured and murdered by the baddies (they’re sort of Satanists in case you wanted their badness glaringly signposted). His murder is the spur for the Expendables to go and get revenge, so essentially a plot point but they do try and get Stallone to be a bit mopey about it so he can get angry when he faces off against Jean Claude Van Damme!

JCVD plays the head of the Satanist baddies and is mister ruthless. He wears shades most of the time, because his eyes are so old they remind you of the Emperor from Star Wars. Still, he enjoys the chance to play a ridiculously silly bad guy, so he’s fun to watch.
Equally fun is Dolph Lundgren, back again to play a weird adolescent suddenly grown into an aging, lethal mountain.

Ultimately the Expendables 2 is less satisfying than most of the work the cast did to get famous decades ago – the action is a little pedestrian, the jokes aren’t funny and obviously the acting is minimal, so there’s no strong element to hold the others up.

 Miss Bala

Brilliantly shot composing of a lot of static cameras panning with the action, tightly focused tracking shots and still moments where the camera remains trained on our heroine as events (usually violent) unfold off screen. The only music used is ambient, and these techniques along with fantastic performance by the lead make this film all the more harrowing.

Laura Guerrero wants to enter the local beauty pageant, but after going to a club to find her friend a group of cartel soldiers turns up to attack the police partying at the club. She escapes and the next day tries to find out what happened to her friend by asking a cop, but he's paid by the cartel, and a nightmare begins where she finds herself embroiled in Mexico's drug war.

From the point of view of a civilian, where we only see and hear what she does, a lot of the events are left for the audience to deduce, a refreshing change from the usual films involving the drug trade that tend to spend a lot of time setting the scene.


 Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn

Boring, pointless exercise, cashing in on a very successful game franchise which has a deep, if generic, back story.
The acting is perfunctory, the focus on the trials of cadets regurgitates many tropes of the military training scenes found in countless lumps of movies and TV shows and the glimpses of the alien threat of the Covenant, whilst suitably menacing from a human perspective, somehow doesn’t have the heft of Neil Blokampf’s short based in the same franchise.
Whilst the film feels like an extended pilot to a TV show that never was, it’s actually comprised of 15 minute segments stitched together with a little extra footage added to paper the cracks. It’s not surprising that Microsoft soon gave up on any studio ambitions.

Not good enough to keep fans of the franchise attentive let alone sci-fi fans drifting in blind. 

 Starship Troopers: Invasion

Shinji Aramaki’s animated entry into the ailing franchise which has suffered since the first sequel appeared.
This take on the universe uses well worn sci-fi tropes of marines sent to a base that has mysteriously gone quiet, an alien intelligence taking over computer systems, betrayal from secretive and/or high levels of authority, a grizzled soldier know for his survival and killing abilities but haunted etc. etc.
The animation is just poor.

 Captain Harlock Space Pirate

Korean-produced anime saga about an immortal space pirate who aims to return to a forbidden Earth, cut off from a future space-faring humanity after it burns through the colony planets and promptly starts a war with itself on its return home.

The plot is forgettable, as are the CGI visuals despite their improvement in the years since Shinji Aramaki directed the 2004 adaptation of Appleseed.

Friday, 13 February 2015

The Lego Movie; The Act Of Killing; Parents; Berbarian Sound Studio; Filth; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Lego Movie

Thanks to the brilliant team behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, what could have been a crass marketing exercise becomes a fun and heartfelt adventure which questions Western culture’s obsession with both conformity and individuality, aiming for the lesson that an extreme of anything is rarely good.

The filming technique is brilliant, giving it a stop-motion feel as little is done that couldn’t be achieved by using real Lego pieces, and the film in general whips along at a decent pace. Much was made of it being the best film ever because it makes you feel, but the twist ending didn’t do it for me. I can see how blokes of a certain age (many of whom would be the critics writing the reviews) may see parallels in their own change from play to responsibility - it’s all a boy’s imagination in his dad’s elaborate basement set-up, with dad (Will Ferrell, also Lord Business) scolding his son for playing with his carefully constructed models, when all the kid sees is a toy. They reconcile, the dad finds his inner child, they play together, so happy! Yes it’s a nice message but that doesn’t make it the best thing ever.

That said, it is very good with not only the more obvious hits of using an arrogant version of Batman and Matrix tropes to keep the adults on board, but the brilliant way of incorporating Lego sets to bring to life the various settings that the adventure whisks through, spiking nostalgia when you see old sets and pieces perfectly realized, such as with Benny’s spaceship.

Good times.

The Act of Killing

Horrific, sickening and depressing, and yet I highly recommend watching it.

The Act of Killing sees director Joshua Oppenheimer track down some of the gangsters and paramilitaries that headed Indonesian death squads after the military coup in 1965, and invites them to re-enact their murders in the style of their favourite films.
Through interviews with them as they build up to the planning and filming of these scenes, we find them proud of their past, with little remorse and often rewarded with status and comfortable lives. There is a clear glee from some of them as they talk of becoming actors and movie stars.

It’s disturbing seeing people who committed such horrible acts not only free but lauded, with few answers of how a state whose foundations are on the violence of the recent past can provide any safe home for the relatives of the dead.


Parents is an odd little late 80s horror featuring a boy whose parents are cannibals. Set in a stereotypical 50s suburb, this slice of twisted Americana focuses on the interplay between the boy and the parents he doesn’t trust. Apart from a couple of gory moments the cannibalism aspect is quite mild, instead building the threat from the situation where the son feels an outsider in his own family as the penny slowly drops.

Randy Quaid is good as the uptight father, whilst Mary Beth Hurt as the mother plays it a little more subtly. Brian Madorsky starred in his first and last film as the son, Michael, and he plays it similar to a spaced out version of wholesome American sit-com boys - think the Wonder Years.

Not particularly memorable but it has a sensibility that raises it above a lot of the straight to video horror schlock that the 80s produced.

 Berbarian Sound Studio

Atmospheric moody character study of a sound artist from England employed in an Italian studio in the 70s to head up the sound – music, foley effects and voice dubs – for a horror film.
As the film plays out odd interludes crop up more frequently, mainly in his flat as he listens to his old work but there are also time slips and other inconsistencies that hint at a break with reality. Is he experiencing a nervous breakdown partly due the stress of his new job, or is the job itself a delusion?
The film doesn’t give any answers, instead weaving a mystery with the aid of Toby Jones’ acting chops as the sound engineer Gilderoy.

Pretty much sold everywhere as a horror film, it’s really more of a mystery as it creates an air of menace, but doesn’t scare.


Whilst a lot was made of the usual nice boy McAvoy being a horrible sweary man, this film adaptation doesn’t have quite the same amount of despicable muckiness as Irvine Welsh’s novel. Whilst the drugs, sex, blackmail and corruption are there, it’s still only a shadow of the original character, though I imagine concessions were made for it to go into production at all. The character is more sympathetic than the book as he seems to have more redemptive features, but the film’s okay.

 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Better than the first film in the Hobbit trilogy, if only for the lack of songs, there are still moments that don’t quite gel – Stephen Fry basically being himself with a comb-over, Smaug seeming a little stupid, 'elf lady' and 'tall dwarf' mooning over each other. Also a lot of the CGI work in the action scenes still leaves a lot to be desired – Legolas makes an appearance here and has a lot of orc killing to do, but whilst the action scenes are quite exhilarating the CGI is glaring - when he starts using orcs as sledges for example. It reminds me of the scene from one of the Lord of the Rings films where he jumps onto his horse from underneath with some shockingly bad CGI.

The sets and scenery are still good, Ian McKellan is always a joy to watch as Gandalf and Martin Freeman is coming into his own as Bilbo, with some nice moments centering around the One Ring and its growing hold on him.

It will be interesting to see how Jackson ties this all up with the third film, but as many have said the book doesn’t really support an epic trilogy.