Quantum of Solace was lousy

June 20, 2011

I’m always interested when I hear directors or actors admit that a film project they’ve been involved with was crap. Not that I take great joy in their failure, but I actually like when they admit it, as it shows that these people don’t see themselves as perfect Gods and that not everything they put out is going to be solid. Previously, it was Transformers 2 with Michael Bay (who should be apologizing for his entire filmography outside the one Meat Loaf video he did).

Now, noted Kiwi director Martin Campbell who made some of the better day Bond movies such as GoldenEye and Casino Royale can add his name to the list of confessions.

If you didn’t know what Martin Campbell looked like before, you do now.

That’s all well and good. But I think his most recent turkey is going to require more apologies in the near future.

The flying scenes in this look worse than Superman III. Yes, really!

I’d write more about Green Lantern, but I’m sure there are a dozen other blogs, news article and review sites that will gladly repeat what I would write here.



Hobo With a Shotgun Review

June 17, 2011

Hobo With a Shotgun is a Canadian genre film. I have a general rule that unless your name is David Cronenberg or Guy Maddin, you should generally find the Canadian genre film to be pretty weak. To catch anyone up to speed on Canadian cinema, modern Canuck films fall into two camps, they are either French-language arty dramas made in Quebec or hard to stomach films that should’ve been made-for-tv such as Bon Cop, Bad Cop or Gunless. A unique third category are what I call the secretly Canadian, which includes films like Splice and Resident Evil: Extinction that are part Canadian part French and German productions respectively. But these films aren’t usually directed by Canadians nor do they prominently star Canadian casts so I don’t count them.

Having the Canadian tag attached to it, I walked into Hobo With a Shotgun with some hesitation. At first, all my worst fears came true. Camera work looked shoddy, the main villains in the film do not inspire me to hate the characters, but the actors portraying them. I was ready to slump uncomfortably in my chair when all of a sudden, something rare happened. It’s unusual for my opinion on a film to change midway through, but as soon as Rutger Hauer picks up his weapon of choice, my attitude towards the film took a total flip. The film felt tighter, and Hauer character lept into basass territory making watching the film a much easier experience. On top of Hauer, we have his sidekick Abby played by Molly Dunsworth who has minimal dialouge and screentime, but shines brightly in her role. The obnoxious villains get also get a backseat to a duo of robotic soldiers known as The Plague. They aren’t super interesting, but they also don’t talk making them infinitely superior to the other duo. Here’s a handy chart to hear what I’m all about.

Hobo With a Shotgun Molly and Rutger

Hobo does not avoid the Canuck trait of showcasing how Canadian it really is. I usually find these home country elements a bit forced, but there are some good injokes in Hobo. Let’s get the bad ones out of the way first with George Stroumboulopoulos, a former MuchMusic VJ and current CBC host making a cameo as a newscaster. This wouldn’t bother me so much if people didn’t cheer when they saw him in on the screen at the Mayfair. Next we have gratuitous use of hockey skates in the film. Oi. Do we have to fill in every Bob & Doug McKenzie stereotype? Doesn’t do it for me. Now let’s get to the better Canadian tropes.

First we have a obscure choice with this automobile:

Yes! A Bricklin! This retro-futuristic car fits perfectly with the tone of the film with it’s gull doors and a design that I only thought was only used on my Hot Wheels when I was 5! The car is a Canadian model and is used prominently throughout the film. The next Canadian reference hit me like a brick wall of nostalgia. It’s a total surprise if you are a Canadian of a certain age to hear this song playing in the background. It was such a weird surprise to me that I don’t want to spoil the song here. If you must know what it is, click here.

Despite the jump in quality in the middle of the film, there are still things that I should bring up. Hobo With a Shotgun‘s retro-aesthetic may strive for a John Carpenter and The Warriors style, but it comes off slightly miscalculated feeling more like a Troma film than Escape From New York with it’s over the top splatter and robotic villains. Some scenes in the film also make no sense and I can’t be sure if this was done purposely or not. One example is during a montage when the Hobo is taking revenge on the deadbeats in town. This scene involves Rutger entering a room with the shotgun barrell pointing in his mouth. He starts laughing. The villains start laughing. Then he pulls out the gun and shoots them. But what was going on? How did this work? What!? I’m not even going to mention the octopus tentacles.

Hobo With a Shotgun won’t change anyone’s mind on these retro-themed films. Cinematically, it’s a basic low-budget revenge plot that contains acting and filmmaking of wildly uneven quality. Perhaps even feeling a bit like a film made by University students who managed to get a hold of Rutger Hauer. I had more fun with this film than the bg budgeted Drive Angry, but I’d recommend it mostly to anyone who either love Rutger Hauer, or was born in Canada between the years ’75 and ’85. As for myself, I’m more curious than excited to see what Jason Eisener is planning next.


Hanna Review

May 22, 2011

When I first realized it was romance-film director Joe Wright who made Atonement and Pride & Prejudice was making an action revenge film, I was expecting something like this:

Joe Wright Hanna Poster

For a man who claims most action films are “misogynistic, rightwing and fairly vile” and and cites the Jason Bourne series of films as an inspiration, I was not expecting much from Hanna. Surprise surprise, it’s not a perfect action film, but it’s one of the few new action films this year that I would happily recommend.

Hanna for the most part is a revenge film, and we’ve had several similar female-fronted revenge films in the past years that have names as their title: Leon, Kill Bill and Nikita, so it follows suit. What keeps this film interesting is that the plot has a gripping mysterious flair which I will not try and spoil too much. The character of Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a teenage assassin being trained by Erik (Eric Bana…so I assume he is playing himself) raised in remote location in Finland who has spent her life preparing for a single mission. As soon as Hanna feels ready to tackle this mission, she pushes a button in her home activating GPS system which allows the CIA to know where Erik and her are. Hanna is taken in from the CIA where a high up agent named Marissa (Cate Blanchett) takes a strong interest in her. Hanna manages to escape the CIA interrogation and seeks out her father while being pursued by Marissa.

Cate Blanchett Runs in High Heels
People who work in the CIA are notably trained to run in all forms of footwear.

What grabs my interest throughout the whole film is that Hanna’s training and mission are left ambiguous for a large portion of the film. As soon as Hanna manages to escape to Morocco, the chase plot retains a good level of intensity as it remains increasingly uneasy to see if we should be rooting for Erik or Marissa getting a hold of Hanna first. Not to mention that if they get close to her, will they even be able to handle her as Hanna manages to be ahead of the competition at every turn.

The film is predominately a thriller, but it has several strong action sequences. Scenes involving Hanna escaping the CIA compound, Erik escaping the clutches of the CIA in a train station, and Hanna’s location based fights (such as a train yard and amusement park) are all dynamite film-making. It’s good too see a film not skimp on such scenes while other films like Iron Man 2 and Thor have about one or two action scenes throughout. These action scenes were choreographed by Jeff Imada who also did the action scenes in The Bourne films. Thankfully, we are free of excessive shakey-cam here, so you get to wince at every punch to the face and bullet to the chest without getting a headache.

Actually, you still might get a headache. Hanna is scored by The Chemical Brothers who’s music seems to still be stuck in the big beat era of the late 90s. We get rave sirens blaring and dumb guitar tracks kicking in throughout the action scenes that make me wish we Hanna had a more traditional score. We aren’t assaulted with the duo’s hit songs like “Block Rockin’ Beats” so we are at least getting new music instead of a music video advertisement for the group. My only other problem with Hanna is that the relationship that Hanna develops with Sophie (Jessica Barden) does not come off as entirely convincing. Hanna may want friends, but I don’t find that there is much chemistry between these characters. I’m not sure if this is because Hanna is purposely robotic throughout the film but having her bond with almost anyone seems unlikely. I don’t think it’s the script fault as it manages not keep up the pace with all the best things in the film.

M.I.A. reference in Hanna 2011
Everyone will be confused by the M.I.A. reference in Hanna in time.

Despite two annoyances, Hanna is easy to recommend as a slightly Euro-flavored action film. All the actors are strong (Cate Blanchett is particularly strong as a hiss-able CIA member), the action works, and the script is quite good and does not insult your intelligence. I can easily see Hanna creeping into my list of the top action films of the year.


Karate-Robo Zaborgar Review

May 17, 2011

Noboru Iguchi is a funny guy. With his partner in crime Yoshihiro Nishimura, the duo have made films like Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police which push the levels of humorous perversion, nudity and gore to absurd levels. I’m not sure how they manage to make money off these films as I’ve always felt that their film trailers are more popular than the films themselves. Someone at Nikkatsu must have seen some hope for them, as Iguchi was hired to make this film which is his highest budgeted yet. Working with Nikkatsu has put limits on him, as it forced Iguchi to lower the levels of nudity and gore to a minimum. Has he gone soft? Sort of. This image should give you the idea of what playing it family friendly is for Iguchi.

Karate Robo-Zaborgar's Diarrhea Monster
He hasn’t gone that soft. The name does not represent the monster thankfully.

So yeah, less serious than the average Tokusatsu looking film, but that’s what I expected from these filmmakers. The original television series was not a terribly popular television series in the first place. It ran for one season and this television show hereshows an audience who are not familiar with it and just seem to laugh at it (which is totally understandable).

Popular or not, Iguchi seems to be a big enough fan to not deviate from the original series in too many ways. The film is about Daimon (Yasuhisa Furuhara) who uses his robot-motorcycle Zaborgar to battle Team Sigma led by Dr. Akunomiya (Akira Emoto) who is trying to develop a Jumbo Cyborg using the DNA from politicians around Japan. To accomplish his plan, Dr. Akunomiya’s cyborg assistant, Miss Borg (Mami Yamasaki) invades Japan with various robots and monsters to accomplish his goal. After several encounters, Miss Borg and Daimon begin to fall for each other which leads Daimon to question his own motives against Team Sigma.

Silly, but nothing too special, and it’s all littered with childish humor ranging from Zaborgar knowing Muay Thai to heads rocketing off shoulders and flying around to dragons shooting out of characters breasts and arses. The action scenes in the film are what I’ve come to expect from the Sushi Typhoon films, with lots of fake looking CG explosions and CG ricocheted bullet shots. I understand that the film is low budget, but a lack of pyrotechnics does make me less excited about the action as they distract my attention away from really getting into a fight scene. Outside a brief scene involving Zaborgar fighting the Bulldog truck, the action scenes spark little excitement.

Iguchi replaces the American football players found
in the original series with AV stars such as Asami.

My problem with this film is the same problem I have with most of Iguchi’s films. They start out alright with their goofy immature humor which at first makes me forgive a silly and fairly weak script, but towards the second half of the picture this kind of amusement begins to dry up. Despite having characters who talk on cellphones which make characters heads explode, we are also swamped with melodrama in the second half when we encounter Daimon’s family troubles. These characters are introduced far too quickly making it very hard to feel any sympathy for them at all. Not to mention that these plot elements feel really out of place in this kind of film. I’m not sure how audiences will react to Zaborgar as it lacks of the ultra-violence of his previous films and still has all the same problems that I bothered me in his other features. If you are fan of the goofy humor in the previous films then by all means explore this as it will be quite satisfying. If you demand more nudity and gore than there is still good news! Iguchi has announced a director’s cut involving more gore and even a sex scene between Miss Borg and Daimon. For me however, I hope that Iguchi and and Yoshihiro take a break from releasing two films a year to work on a script to match their crazy visual perversions. If they can accomplish this, then they might be able to make a film in the same league as Paul Verhoeven’s better works.


Three Theatrical Hong Kong Films in 2011

March 18, 2011

Three Hong Kong action films are receiving a theatrical distribution in North America this year. I’m surprised they are pushing these titles over some others (cough cough Reign of Assassins) but I suppose someone thinks these have some potential to make a buck. The films in question are The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsmen, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, and Yuen Woo-Ping’s True Legend. First let’s look at Legend of the Fist.

I’m sold! I hope it attracts some attention outside the already converted Hong Kong fan base. I’m giving brownie points to oddly named distributor (Well Go USA) for promoting the film as uncut and undubbed as well. They aren’t pulling a Weinstein or Miramax on us.

This lack of cuts could hurt the film’s reception however as if it’s anything like the other Chen Zhen films, then it will come off as insanely nationalistic. The xenophobic nature towards the Japanese in these films can only leave a bad taste in my mouth considering. These goes double considering the tsunami and power plant disasters in Japan. I’ll see how much I can stomach in this one. The trailer promotes itself as being from the director of Infernal Affairs but I think it should also mention the Andrew Lau’s other credentials.

Legend of the Fist Trailer Andrew Lau

Way more accurate. Politics aside, I’m still a sucker for how the whole thing looks. Having Donnie Yen and Anthony Wong doing their thing doesn’t hurt either. I’ll be paying top dollar for it when/if it swings into my town. Next is The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsmen which is coming out tomorrow! It hasn’t even been released in Hong Kong yet!

There’s not a lot of hype about this movie. It’s an anthology film partially funded by Fox making it a Chinese-Hong-Kong-US production. If three production countries aren’t enough for you, it has five screenwriters! Multiple-writers syndrome usually ruins a film for me, as it often becomes a pretzel-based plot that’s unsure of it’s own direction and tone. The only multi-writer exceptions I can think of are Children of Men and 48 Hrs. which make it through several writers without a scratch of confusion.

I’m baffled by the poster’s statement on Doug Liman presenting this film. I had to look him up as I was drawing blanks on why his name would mean anything on the poster would mean anything to anyone. Turns out he made Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Jumper and that Bourne film that wasn’t made by Paul Greengrass.


I guess he had his hand in the release of this? Liman has little to no following and it’s almost as jarring as reading critical acclaim from Brett Rhatner on my Jackie Chan DVDs. Let’s hope the gamble pays to release this pays off. Film Business Asia gave the film a good review, but also seemed to praise something described as “a whorehouse rap number”. Hmm. Unless this comes to a theater near me, I’ll pass.

Lastly, we have True Legend. It does not have an American trailer yet, but it’s got Yuen Woo-Ping directing and features Michelle Yeoh. Woo-Ping hasn’t directed a film since 1996 as he’s been busy making everyone else look good in The Matrix, Kill Bill, and Kung Fu Hustle. Why the huge break? I guess doing action scenes for top directors pays more than doing you own films but you’d think he’d get the directing bug again sooner. Speaking of AWOL directors, what’s been keeping Ringo Lam busy these days? Did Ringo give up everything after overdosing on Van Damme or was working on Triangle with Johnnie To and Tsui Hark the only work he could get?

Either way, it’ll be great to see something that says “Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping” on the screen again, so I’m ready for it. Let’s see how it’s being promoted. There’s tons of angles to approach this at, so what have you got for me poster?

True Legend American Poster Yuen Woo Ping

Aw, c’mon. What a weak teaser. This is typical “no faith in the film” poster making where the production company even hides the fact that it’s an Asian film. They could at least boast something about his American work but here there is nothing! Instead, we have a fist which is…leaking on a wall? I’m lost. That’s clearly black ink splashed around it but the fist is cracking the wall. Lamest graffiti inspired poster ever! Let’s hope that when it’s get closer to it’s premiere we’ll have something nicer to look at.