Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Riddick; Ghandi; The Hunter; Appleseed (2004); Pride


A sort of back to basics after the critical mauling that Chronicles of Riddick received, Riddick is stranded on a planet with deadly wildlife. His only means of escape is to reach a mercenary outpost, call out for mercenaries to come and collect his bounty, then kill them and take their ship.

The first act is decent, with Riddick putting survival skills into practice to find food and water and fend off the planet’s predators. An extended sequence of him taming a canine type whilst working out the weakness of some sort of immense aquatic scorpion is particularly good.
Once Riddick reaches the outpost and humans arrive it gets a little more formulaic, though with some nice touches.

Two merc crews land – one relatively clean cut and organized, whilst the other is a lot more rough and ready. The greasy leader is a sleazeball type who keeps trying to sexually assault the other crew’s female member (Katee Sackhoff), though each time he receives a worse battering from her.
The gritty slapdash crew is picked off one by one, but then the efficient crew don’t fare much better, surviving long enough to discover why Riddick was eager to get off world - a monsoon is sweeping the face of the planet, heading their way, and bringing with it a massive tide of the aquatic scorpions.

A better effort than the sprawling but messy Chronicles of Riddick, but despite a tighter focus a more generic second half lets it down when compared to Pitch Black.


Epic in size and scope, Richard Attenborough’s biography of Mahatma Ghandi doesn’t shy away from the struggles his wife and family faced and the exasperation of friends and colleagues at his continued insistence on peaceful protest, even while laying bare the exploitation and inherent racism of British Colonialism, culminating in a terrible scene recreating the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919.
In all honesty there is little I can say that would do the film justice. While in part it feels quite dated and stale, it is also moving and majestic, one of those films ‘they don’t make any more’.

 The Hunter

Atmospheric and beautiful with the sweeping scenery of Tasmania giving a good deal to the film.

Dafoe is excellent as a man wrestling with his conscious as a professional assassin, uneasy with the conflict between proving how good his skills as a hunter are, and the grief and empty horror of extinction as he undertakes a contract to capture DNA from the rumoured last Tasmanian Tiger.

Very good but: bleak.

 Appleseed (2004)

A new millennium updated adaptation of the Masumune Shirow (of Ghost in the Shell fame) manga, Appleseed finds itself lost in the uncanny valley that Final Fantasy: Spirits Within disappeared into 5 years before.

In this case Appleseed tries to avoid unfavourable comparisons with live action film by keeping its characters as caricatures, with a little bit of cel-shading edging to give it a comic book feel, but the CGI scenery lets it down with big, boxy backdrops evoking the feel of movieland virtual reality rather than a living, breathing environment.

Despite a few fairly kinetic action sequences (with lots of trendy slo-mo 5 years after the Matrix made it cool) the movie is mainly a slog as the characters attempt to cram too many scenes with exposition, attempting to explain the intricate back-story of the original manga within a movie’s running time.
Further comparisons with the source text cast the anime in a dim light – Shirow’s attention to detail, brilliant characterisation and dense plotting are only skimmed here, and whilst most novel adaptations inevitably lose complexity and character development in the translation, they still strive to produce something whole.

Unlike Ghost in the Shell, most of Ghibli’s output or other critically successful anime, Appleseed shuns an engaging plot and fully fleshed characters, content to choose the route of an empty actioner configured for a Western market, with the barest of nods toward the original plot and making the mistake of concentrating on its cutting edge CGI visuals when the impact of them would inevitably fade with time.


On the surface Pride looks like yet another entry in a procession of true story, ensemble cast, slightly anti-authoritarian feel good British dramadies, in the tradition of The Full Monty, Billy Elliot, Calendar Girls etc.
However, this story of the gays helping out the miners in Thatcher’s Britain is genuinely heartwarming and tear-jerking in a way that many films are purported to be. 
From Paddy Considine’s speech of thanks to a gay club to the scenes of bonding at the Welsh miner’s union, right to the finale at Gay Pride in London, the film consistently hits its targets and rings true with a genuine affection for the struggles against authority that the marginalized communities in the 80s struggled through, with little rose tinting to soften the harsh reality.

The backbone of the story is supposed to be that of George MacKay’s Joe, known as ‘Bromley’, who is a student in the closet that travels to London to experience the gay scene and gets caught up in the lives of a group of friends who hang around outside a gay bookshop, in between fighting for LGBT rights.
As the straight man Joe doesn’t stand out much, especially against the more confident and flamboyant characters in the story, so it does seem that his character is mainly there to service as the ‘in’ for the audience.
Happily the rest of the cast are quick to establish themselves and we are quickly swept up in the proceedings, alongside Joe. Ben Schnetzer’s Mark pushes the rest of the gang to support the miners as he realises that the reason the gays are having an easier time of it is because most of the police have been ferried out to mining towns around the country, to do battle with Thatcher’s hated mining unionists.

By the end, once you’ve experienced the parties, awkwardness, dancing, marches, homophobia, Welsh choirs, gay clubs and iconic 80s tunes, you’ll find yourself in awe of the solidarity these disparate groups achieved 30 years ago in the face of adversity.

Despite the film’s intentions I experienced it with a bit of a downer throughout simply because the tale it tells is already written – the miners lost the fight and some of those communities are now effectively dead – but the film still gave me hope that people can still band together to stand against the latest incarnation of the Torys and their attacks on the poor and marginalized.


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