Cinema-Maniac: Extraordinary Mission (2017) Action Crime Movie Review

Extraordinary Mission follows undercover police officer Lin Kain (played by Xuan Huang) who attempts to take down a drug trafficking syndicate from the inside. The first half of Extraordinary Mission is standard undercover cop happenings; main character is in too deep in his current assignment, deal goes wrong escalating the undercover job, rising up the ranking earning the big boss trust, collusion in the police force, and other familiar territory. It’s these familiar traits while well executed thanks to pacing do make the viewer wonder for an hour if it’ll lead anywhere rewarding. Another drawback is the main character Lin Kain isn’t as compelling compare to the supporting characters. Lin Kain is simply the hero of the film with the position of an outsider put into a situation with characters whom all have a history with each other. Supporting characters are fleshed out, have clear motivations, and a rounded arc that is completed by the end of the film. These developments come in slowly, though do pay up in favor of the narrative. For example, the film’s main villain, Eagle (played by Yihong Duan), is surprisingly given more depth to him than initially introduced. Not only that, but his backstory makes him somewhat sympathetic in the story. Somewhat because you know he’s still in the drug selling business.

Lin Kain, as implied earlier, is the protagonist who has the least going for him out of the major characters. His backstory, and reason for becoming a cop is looked into, but not a whole lot to make him a fleshed out character. One flashback with just one tragic event doesn’t do enough to convey Lin Kain much as a character. He simply comes across as a nearly flawless hero with a strong sense of duty. An attempt to give him a flaw is made by making him addicted to drugs. However, it’s a plot thread is simply mentioned in passing in dialogue after a certain point. Seeing Lin attempting to overcome drug addiction is something that helps the viewer bridge a stronger connection with him, but it’s simply making something come across more significant than it actually is in practice.

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Still from a good scene introducing to the film’s villain in the movie.

Regardless how good the film turned out in the end both fans of crime films, and action cinema will find the flick overall polarizing in its narrative. An action junkie will find it to have too little action spread out through the film with a lead whose underdeveloped, and crime film fans would find it familiarity meandering to sit through. What the script writing does accomplish with ease is blending action cinema, and crime drama into a singular vision. The sillier aspect of the action side of Extraordinary Mission, like a seemingly unkillable villain who can take multiple gunshots does not contrast strongly against the crime drama vision. Expertly using crime drama familiarity to as an excuse to eventually provide good characterization, and using action cinema setups to provided the entertaining set pieces. In tangent of that, it operates on action cinema logic hence no mention of the passage of time in the film, and the resiliency of the heroes bodies despite what they endure during the climax. While also using the crime drama aspects of it writing to keep the story moving forward at a good pace. In spite of its major writing issues, Extraordinary Mission is clearly written by a person who knows how to work well in different genres, and know how to best combine them to their strength.

Xuan Huang takes on the leading role of Lin Kain delivering a very good performance despite some of his characters limitation. Huang excels in humanizing Lin Kain more than the script does playing off the cool, and collected side of Kain with ease. Another positive is Huang has a plenty of range as an actor so not only is he convincing while performing his action sequences, but is versatile in portraying Lin Kain more vulnerable side convincingly. Huang does such a good job as a leading man it makes it that much easier accept the same character you see struggling not to take drug is also the same character easily killing dozen of henchman in the climax.

The standout performance of the film is Yihong Duan as the film’s villain Eagle. Much like Xuan Huang, Duan delivers a good performance making a great flick duo on screen. He’s on par with Huang in the acting department; however, is able to crafts a carefully balanced character. Never going into the melodramatic Duan provides the sympathy his character demands. His mannerism differs greatly from the rest of his co-star typically speaking in a calmly, collected gesture regardless of context. Another appreciated aspect of Duan performance is never entering into the over the top. Much like Huang who would have been for to solely play a tough hero, Duan also doesn’t take it easy solely coming across as evil in his portrayal.

Only other noteworthy supporting actor is Jiadong Xing who plays Li Jianguo who does a good job who brings thing around in terms of creating a good actor trio. Jiadong holds his own fine with the two leads sharing convincing chemistry with them. While the silent Yueting Lang gets a thankless role. She remains silent for virtually the entire film, and her character ends up going nowhere. Lastly, the actor Ding Yongdai whom plays Zhang Haitao is the only other noteworthy character. His role is small, but well acted. Though, not enough to believe he can shot a gun flawlessly for being imprisoned as long as he has.

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The climax just make Xaun Huang look like a badass.

Action choreography is handled by Chung Chi Li whom over the top nature in action is kept in line thanks to director Alan Mak. The action in this film, for the most part, aims for realism while the physical feats of its performers have no limitations. Creativity is very high in the two action sequences in the beginning of the movie. Starting up with a single man drug bust before going into a car chase. There’s also a brief gunfight involving Xuan Huang meant to display his proficiency with a gun compare to the criminals. After this shootout, it pretty remain inactive on the action front until you get a flashback of a particular event in the story.

Finally, the film biggest selling point to casual viewers is the action climax which makes up around the last 25 minutes of the film. In this climatic actions sequence proficiency is made very clear between the heroes, and the villains. Despite their enemies larger numbers, our heroes use less bullets firing their weapons, and using cover constantly to avoid getting shot. The professionalism is obvious as the criminals are constantly moving around making up for their lack of skills for fire power. It’s a strange thing to compliment since many action movies do the same of proficient heroes vs sloppy evil henchman, but it’s rarely taken into account when it comes to choreography as much as it is here.

The climax is constantly moving from one area to another not just on foot, but eventually on vehicle which offer some cool moments. Either be it a cool shot of Xuan Huang on a motorcycle with a explosion behind him, Xuan Huang on top of a vehicle dodging bullets while taking out some henchman, or one cool looking car crash. It doesn’t try to constantly up the antics during climax, but slowly escalate into cooler, and cooler moments making the final impression the film have you be a positive one. Only drawback is notable usage of CGI, but they are rare in their usage in this sequence. Lastly, Alan Mak direction is fantastic in the movie blending two genre together for a visually coherent film through, and through. There’s only one jarring moment in the film that happens in the film which involves drawings coming to life into, but aside from that one moment Mak direction work fine.

Extraordinary Mission tackles very familiar territory for half of it run, but eventually is able to turn it around to make it a far more interesting character driven story, and displaying some exciting action in a very lengthy climax to end things on a high note. Genre fans of both crime, and action cinema will find individual aspects polarizing. However, anyone who likes both genre equally will witness a film that does a fine job of combining the two.

8/10

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CINEMA-MANIAC: ELIMINATORS (2016) ACTION MOVIE REVIEW

There was a time when going straight to home video was considered a death sentence for anyone working in the film industry. However, ever since the popularity of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and many others the image of it has turned around. Now more than ever it’s more common to find a surprisingly profitable home video market, especially in the action genre as it’s more unlikely to be saturated with CGI action, or incompetent handling of action sequences which tend to be the common complaints from action fans about major action film productions. While most of these straight to video action movies are of bad quality. From my experience, you can come across some that are worthwhile as Ninja 2: Shadow of A Tear, and Close Range as brainless entertainment. As unlikely as it to come across the solid straight to home video movie the name Scott Adkin is one you can be assured to contain good action sequences, but quality films isn’t one thing he specializes in.

Eliminators plot is so bare bones, much like its characters, that any sort of attempted exploration, same with a simple synopsis, can be classified as a spoiler. A majority of the movie is basically Scott Adkin getting chased by Stuart Barrett (who is best known for his WWE in ring name Wade Barrett), and looking for his daughter. However, there is so little to the story that I struggle to write anything about it besides simply stating it’s thin, has flat characters, and can go for several minutes of nothing significant happening. For example, when Scott Adkin enters a child services building from the moment Wade Barrett begins to chase after Scott Adkin it stays on this single chase sequence for around 14 minutes of screen time. In this very prolong chase the only piece of information that is gathered is Scott Adkin obtain the location of his daughter right at the beginning of this chase sequence. After that, it’s simply playing a game of avoiding Bad News Barrett’s bullets. This sequence also contains a continuity error as it begins in day time when Scott Adkin enters the child services building, and then becomes night time when both Adkin, and Barrett leaves the building. Implying that yes, this whole portion in the child services building possibly lasted hours, even though only a couple of minutes just passes for the audiences.

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I’ve got around 7 bullets of bad news to deliver to you.

The reason movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, and Ninja 2: Shadow of A Tear work in spite of their slim story is they know how to have the action scenes to drive further engagement. In Fury Road, it’s a constant ongoing spectacle with gorgeous visuals that is upping the antics, and Ninja 2: Shadow of A Tear crams as much well choreographed action scenes as possible while it briefly makes work of its very generic story. In these two films, while the writing were weak they attempted to fill the void by having events in the films play out so it wouldn’t be a chore to view when there isn’t action on screen. Eliminators takes the structure of these two bare bone story movies, and decides to have even less story, and prolong action sequences.

So now comes the question if the story, and characters are bare bones does the action sequences make up for them, and the answer is simply no. With little to invest in it became difficult to care about the action scenes the more frequently they came up. The first fight scene has Scott Adkins fighting against two hooded robber with bats attacking him. It’s a amusing short fight, and the subsequent fights aren’t quite as fun to watch since Adkins make quick work of everyone else. That is until Stu Bennett appears in the film, and participate in the best action sequences with Mr. Scott Adkins.

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One of two highlight scenes from Eliminators

The two fight sequences between Scott Adkins, and Stu Bennett are actually pretty good. A surprise given one is an martial artist, and the other is a pro-wrestler. There’s also a large height difference as Stu Bennett simply towers over Adkins. However, with both actors being professional in choreographed fights, Tim Man (the film’s credited fight choreographer) takes both men backgrounds incorporating their fights. Stu Bennett is very commendable for keeping up with Scott Adkins during their fight sequences, and visibly takes enjoyment in no selling the many Scott Adkins kicks he takes. During their first encounter Adkins, and Bennett don’t do any complex reversals, or complex techniques it’s still a good fight both men pull off. Basically ending up just being a showcase how much of a beating both man can endure in long takes, yet still continues performing the more of the action sequence.

Thankfully, Adkins, and Stu Bennett fights are enjoyable because they are the only while action sequences in the film. Whatever action the rest of the film has to offer isn’t quite as exciting, nor impressive to see. In particular a very lazy gunfight between Adkins, Daniel Caltagirone (whose character is forgettable), and Bennett in a single place. All that occurs in this gunfight is both men firing, missing hitting each other, one takes cover while the other does more shooting, and repeat the process for the rest of the sequence. Gunfights in Eliminators usually lack urgency since you know the main participants in them won’t get hurt. Sure, that’s same criticism can be applied to other action movies, but in Eliminators when your two top stars have to participate in all the action sequences it’s more noticeable neither will get taken out. Editing in them are fine, but the lack of interesting cinematography choices. Especially the last gunfight in the film where Adkins despite having the disadvantage of carrying a shotgun, and fighting against two goons whom have AK-47 (appearance wise at least) makes quick work of them. It’s their stupidity that gets them axe. One of them definitely deserves if they unload an entire clip of bullets onto a scarecrow.

In terms of acting Stu Bennett (a former WWE Wrestler) comes away the best in the film. Despite being asked to hardly deliver any dialogue Stu Bennett did the best he could. Without much to bite into his character Bennett visually sold his role of Bishop well coming across as a viable threat to the almighty Scott Adkins. Remaining silent for most of the movie, and given what his purpose of the film he’s easily the best actor. Scott Adkins is again is a reliable man of action, and his performance in this is a nice departure from his usual tough guy shtick he sticks with. He’s in a slightly more vulnerable state constantly seeing him either partially retreat in a action sequence, or seeing Bennett giving him a good beating does wonder for an actor who seemingly appears invincible in his movies. The supporting cast, same with the music, are forgettable addition to the flick. It’s simply better to look up clips of Scott Adkins, and Stu Bennett fight scenes, and not put yourself through a bare bones movie just for those scenes.

Eliminators is a bare bone action film that is unable to sustain its momentum through its entire run time. Thin characters, and a very basic story without much substance can’t be save by action sequences alone, especially when one of its major actor has to be kept alive in order for their to be someone competent for the hero to fight. It provides the goods in terms of action, but even with your brain turned off there isn’t enough here that warrants your visit.

2/10

 

Cinema-Maniac: City Kids (Ren hai gu hong) (1989) Crime Drama Movie Review

One of the many joys, and misfortunes of seeking out lesser discussed anything is the experience of it. From witnessing a very cool action climax in The Dragon Family (1988) to finding a surprisingly great movie in Return Engagement (1990) make going through the slough of bad films worth the endeavor. City Kids (Ren hai gu hong) from director Michael Mak is one film that sadly is another name on the increasing list of forgotten films not worth digging up.

City Kids attempts to tell a story about delinquency in youth Third Lam/Chor-san (played by Max Mok) as a refugee from China fleeing to Hong Kong, and the tragedy of his life. The film’s story is done no favor by the editing, but before getting to that whole fiasco, in terms of writing the film does too much in to little time. It wants to cover a life, and a significant portion of it just comes across as a cliff notes version of events. For example, Third Lam doesn’t have a good relationship with his cousin, but only in one very brief scene do they ever exchange dialogue showcasing their trouble relationship. Another example would be the lack of a father figure in Third Lam’s life. In the story, the closest person to fitting that bill would be Big Skin Chuen (played by Shing Fui-On), but once Big Skin Chuen purpose in the story is served there’s no time spent reflecting on his influence on Third Lam’s life. Instead, the film immediately moves on to the next important event in Third Lam life. By not providing anything substantial there’s no one to relate to as a character. Third Lam is simply representing delinquency with a rough upbringing on a purely surface level, and just using that background to tell its viewer anyone can turn over a new leaf no matter how far you’ve fallen in life. A well intended message that likely won’t impact its viewers because of how shallow it characters feel.

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I must have misremember The Karate Kid.

With Third Lam suffering from a cumbersome collection of undercook ideas this also works against the more stable emotional core of the story. Throughout the film, Third Lam best friend Sas (played by Andy Lau) is shown to have significantly impacted his life in the worse ways possible. However, the film never portrays Sas friendship as one of pure negativity, nor one of an over controlling figure. The writing perfectly balances Sas as being his own individual, and not placing blame solely on him for the course that Third Lam’s life took. Sas is simply an individual struggling through the same ordeals as Third Lam, but tackles delinquency in a different manner. Fulfilling his role as a contrast to Third Lam in its exploration of delinquency.

The purpose Sas serves in the story works well, what deteriorate Sas positive contribution is the melodramatic writing in the heavier scenes involving Sas, and Third Lam. In the middle of the film, Sas, and Third Lam are force to fight each other in prison to settle a gang dispute. Portraying the fight as a tragic moment being the only time these two ever harmed each other in their entire life. However, before this scene the film shows two times how Sas action inadvertently forced Third Lam to be in the situation he’s placed in. Making whatever beating Third Lam gives to Sas to be unintentionally justified. It works against the intention of the sceneas neither character harbor bad will towards each other after the fight. Rendering whatever dramatic weight it was meant to have mute.

In City Kids it’s not just the larger picture that fail to deliver any dramatic weight, but also what should make up the smaller human moments. For example, Third Lam romantic subplot is one that could have been delved deeper into, but after a while is unable to flesh it out further pass the halfway point. For as sloppy as the romantic subplot is handle it’s nowhere near as bad when regards to Third Lam family members, and his issues that surround them. At least with the romantic subplot there were efforts to develop it. Thanks to a large part of Sas acting differently towards women in contrast to Third Lam allowing enough material to come full circle making the sequence where both discuss about their love life work dramatically. Third Lam family issues, much like the rest of the film, is in its own inability to develop good material with its lead by himself. The largest offense is the plot twist revealing who’s Third Lam father is, and it happens fifteen minutes before the movie ends. Not only is the reveal pointless, but nothing poignant can be done with the little remaining time it does have.

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Um, who are you again?

The only time the film had any good moments were when it slow down in the final ten minutes of the movie. I would like to discuss the final moments of the film, but they’re significant plot points, and that would spoil the only worthwhile moments in the film as a drama. In particular the final two minutes before the credits started rolling I found effective. Despite the rush nature to explore Third Lam life, finally seeing him think about his actions while possibly choosing to continue his downward spiral in his life I found engaging. There was conflict, there was reflection on it, and it wasn’t rushed which is why I was engaged. There wasn’t any sort of time allotted to other important events within the story that captured my attention, and sadly there’s no fixing them. It was simply rushed with too many undercooked story elements to be an effective crime/drama about delinquency.

When it comes to acting, same with the score by Richard Lo, it’s simply modest. There isn’t any performance in the film that stands out in any negative, or positive manner. The best bit of acting comes at the end of the film when Max Mok displays an eruption of several of pent up rage, and sorrow in the final moments. It’s also the only time I felt music, acting, and cinematography complemented each other wonderfully.

Max Mok as Third Lam is serviceable as a leading man. He’s capable when it comes to the lighthearted scenes with natural charisma, but when it comes to the dramatic scenes he’s struggle to be convincing. Unable determine in part of a scene should he deliver an emotional response. For example, when Max Mok character finally meets his ex-lover in prison to learn about what happens to the baby. What Max Mok was attempting to get across in this brief scene is uncertain. His line delivery doesn’t suggest sadness, and his body language can be misread as confusion, or plain juvenile. Mok other dramatic scenes also suffer similar issues in terms of how Mok chooses to deliver the material, but improvements are visible the longer the film goes on.

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My typical reaction when this movie attempted drama.

Max Mok co-star, Andy Lau who plays Sas, fairs a bit better overall, but both really shine with their onscreen chemistry. Given that a majority of the film they spent together both are able to make lackluster material believable. Unlike the screenplay, when both Mok, and Lau are on screen regardless of the scene tone both portrayal comes off as genuine. It’s the elements that surround their scenes that hold them back from.

In a crime/drama film about delinquency it would serve the story well if it completely disregarded the three short choreographed action sequences it has in the final act. The choreography in them are fine, but when the rest film attempts to be realistic without any over the top elements it stylistically conflicts with each other.

Finally, the biggest detriment to City Kids is hands down the editing by Hung Choi. Typically when it comes to movies regardless of quality a majority of the time I don’t even pay attention to the editing. The few times that I do it’s either because of its seamless flow enhancing the viewing experience (like Blade Runner 2049), or when masterful editing is absolutely integral to the film success (like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk) does editing in film ever register with me. However, the same doesn’t apply to bad movies as it’s rare that I contribute an entire film problems to the way it was edit. As you know, I then suddenly saw this film which now I can use as a future example on how not to edit a movie.

The most obvious issue in the film editing is there are times in the film where a cut won’t simply just transition to a new scene in progress. On a few occasion Hung Choi (the film’s editor) for who knows what baffling reason would pause the current scene, slide in the new scene paused, and after a couple of seconds resume the new scene. It was jarring to see such an issue not get fixed, and yes, this editing mess up is even on the film’s own DVD release which I own a copy of. Another thing Hung Choi does too frequently is cut away from a scene too quickly. I mentioned a scene earlier with Max Mok, and how he is uncertain to act in a scene where he learns unsettling news about his child. A reason why the scene doesn’t work is because Hung Choi fades into another scene very quickly instead of lingering on Max Mok performance for a bit longer to let the scene properly finish. In return, it makes Max Mok clumsy performance of the scene more noticeable.

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Not a good sign if there’s this many prisoners in the showers.

Another is that early on in the film Choi splices in too many significant sequences together making it story’s intention muddle to the viewer. Hung Choi lack of knowing when to begin, and when to end a scene is consistent throughout the film. For example, Choi decides that instead of letting a scene of two best friends force to fight each other just play out without any theatrics he feels cheesy music, slow down footage, and splicing in scenes from earlier in the movie would add dramatic weight to the film. Obviously it didn’t work out how he wanted. Finally, the biggest drawback to his editing is the inconsistency of scenes length in the film. Granted, what film is going to have every scene be the same length, but in City Kids it’s very noticeable seeing minutes be kept on characters picking up girls while only allocating seconds to dramatically significant scenes. Choi simply doesn’t understand in this film when his influence is required.

City Kids fails as a drama with a unclear direction on how to properly explore youth delinquency. A rush pacing prevents Third Lam from feeling like a fleshed out character while side characters in the story don’t offer much to the story beyond their introduction to the story. Another facet to its negative quality is the editing by Hung Choi really bringing it down despite the best efforts of Max Mok, and Andy Lau to bring out the best quality of a lackluster screenplay. As hard as Max Mok, and Andy Lau might try they can’t overcome rush pacing, and bad editing. Michael Mak’s City Kids gives the impression that it should have been more than what it ended up being.

3/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Dragon Family (1988) Chinese Movie Review

In 1986, in China that is, a little film known as A Better Tomorrow by John Woo was released. The influence the film had in its region film industry is an understatement, and often credited as setting the template for the heroic bloodshed genre. Due to its unpredescant success due to having virtually no advertisement at the time marking its influence on several films, and filmmakers at the same time to capture the same gold. Thus, today’s film in question is one of those films that is heavily influenced by A Better Tomorrow. Like many other films at the time, many try to capture the magic of the film that inspired them, but couldn’t duplicate the critical, or financial success. However, in spite of its heavy influence The Dragon Family (1988), unlike other films of a similar nature, is able to stand as a good film outside of A Better Tomorrow’s shadow.

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So, this is how the movie got funded.

The Dragon Family follows the leader of a group of 4 triad families on their decision go straight and stop dealing in drugs, 3 of the 4 follow suit, but the 4th decides to continue with their illegal dealings, and frame the son of the boss to climb up the ranks. During my viewing of the film it became very evident that this film’s premise wasn’t going to live up to its full potential as I would have hoped it would. The groundwork is laid here for a gripping, and compelling crime epic with a few action scenes thrown in for a good measure of thrills. However, due to its run time of 90 minutes everything from characters, story, and themes come off as cookie cutter. For example, you get the usual blood brothers (A Better Tomorrow), followed by a betrayal by someone high ranking in the triad (Flaming Brothers), death of a loved one orchestrated by traitor triad (Tragic Hero), and an explosive finale involving the traitor (A Better Tomorrow again). This outline is simple to follow, and its formula is predictable for those familiar with these kind of Hong Kong action films post the release of A Better Tomorrow. 

Same thing applies for the characters as you have the wise old veteran whom everyone looks up to as a father, the young hot headed trouble maker who can’t go straight, the youngest member who has bright future ahead of him coming back into the criminal fold, the loving collected mother, and so forth. Sadly, almost all of the characters don’t have much to them beyond these descriptions. Only a few characters whom survived past the sixty minute mark receive any added characterization, but even then it leaves much to be desired.

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Cameraman: “You’re joking right? This ain’t your entire family?”

Fortunately, everything else that is streamlined is in favor of the film, and the viewing experience. Much like the vein of a similar movie I recently reviewed, City War (Yi dan hong chun), it starts out like crime drama at first for around fifty minutes of its runtime. However, the difference is plain as day; the pacing is brisk, and scenes are to the point not prolonging any obvious plot points. Spending the first half entirely setting up events, and characters before its goes in the realm of a action revenge flick. Cookie cutter characters are sympathetic in their cause as well as not reaching higher than it knows it can actually achieve in its length. Something that’s quite baffling since Eddie Chan Shu-Chi, and Yuen are credited for the screenplay, and the story are credited to Lau Kar-wing, Clarence Yip, and Wong Jing making the total of five writers who worked on this. In its modesty, you’ll also find a film that actually tries to add some depth to the topic of vengeance. It doesn’t end up going anywhere meaningful, but the characters history in the field of crime, and some of them attempting to achieve a better life gives it some worth.

The cast listing for the film is ridiculously long, and they include Alan Tam, Andy Lau, Max Mok Siu Chung, Ken Tong Chun Yip, Norman Chu Siu Keung, Michael Miu Kiu Wai, William Ho Ka Kui, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Stanley Fung, Kent Cheng, Ku Feng, Lau Kar Wing, Shing Fui On, Philip Ko Fei, Wayne Archer, Charlie Cho Cha Lei, Kara Hui Ying Hung, Blacky Ko Sau Leung, Nick Masters, O Chun Hung, Pak Man Biu, and Sin Ho Ying. Yeah, that’s quite the cast, and especially attention grabbing for anyone who explores Hong Kong action cinema. In spite of the large cast it’s surprisingly easy to summarize the quality of acting within the film. The older the actor is the better the performances turn out. Granted someone like Shing Fui-On whose villain like appearance lend itself to Fui-On smooth portray a criminal wouldn’t find it difficult to disappear into his small role. Same with O Chun-Hung who portrays a father like figure to the younger generation could easily sell viewer on his portrayal thanks to his appearance as well. However, with the two examples given you wouldn’t be far off in thinking the older cast members make good out of general onenote roles.

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Younger actors like Andy Lau, Max Mok/Mok Siu-Chung, and Alan Tam completely take the lead once the film gets over the halfway mark. Before then, these three actors are still in the film, but the film attempts to give equal screen time for other actors to get in their stuff in a good move that, especially if you go in blind, will make you wonder the outcome of characters throughout the film once the action hits. Out of Andy Lau, Max Mok, and Alan Tam the best performance is easily given by Alan Tam. Unlike a majority of his co-stars, he’s given more range to portray a more dynamic character who can at least allow him to come off as responsible, caring, and eventually brave. Andy Lau, and Max Mok portrayals follow largely the same trajectory. However, all three actors can equally share praise in performing their action scenes, along with some of their other cast members. Lau especially whom puts his body through quite the endeavor for the audience amusement. What saves this film from others A Better Tomorrow wannabe is Lau Kar-wing fine direction as never once throughout the film is he, or any of his crew ever confused on what type of film they are making, and when in the story they are making such a film.

The action choreography is handled by Chia-Liang Liu who won an Golden Horse (Taiwan/China equivalent to the Academy Awards) for Jackie Chan’s The Legend of Drunken Master (1994) renowned for its famous final fight sequence. It’s a factoid that will go largely ignored for the average movie viewer, but won’t be ignored is Chia-Liang Lui craftsmanship of action sequences. Lui first action sequence, which doesn’t appear until the second act, ensures to reward the audience, in particular action junkies, patience with a good shoot out. In this sequence, in a small room dozen of people are simply massacre heighten by tension thanks careful craftsmanship of seeing attempt after attempt of people trying to escape, or survive fail one after another. This first set piece does an excellent job displaying how harsh the criminal world can be.

The second action sequence, in vein of the first one, is also centered around survival/escaping from setting where the sequence takes place. Taking place at night, the choreography, and cinematography keeps the action at a distance, but also capturing the helplessness of the situation as the characters you follow struggle to stay alive. Showing in true desperation using household objects around them to fight off goons. Unlike the first action sequence, this one is more reliant on fight choreography, though is one sided for this sequence.

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Yep, don’t like criminals at all.

Without a doubt, the standout sequence in this entire movie is easily the finale of the film. Combining gunplay, and several uniquely choreographed fight scenes together all in one sequence. Unlike the previous two sequence, the climatic action sequence is a all, or nothing setup. The gunfight it starts off with isn’t just cover, and shoot, but constantly moving around. Despite the constant movement of the gunfight the cinematography never loses sight of the action, and editing makes it all flow seamlessly. It’s quite an exciting sight seeing a gunfight that while quick has a lot going on in it besides ducking, and shooting. Once the guns are finally scrapped the fight sequences take over, and this time fights are even. Requiring the actors to take some serious painful falls, and throws through some rough objects to demonstrate the rough confrontation. Succeeding in truly ending the film on a high note.

The Dragon Family is the kind of film that makes you wish it was more fleshed out in its writing on all fronts, but in the end turns out to be a fine way to spend 90 minutes on. The few action sequences it offers are the true standout of the film while everything else does enough to not drag down the experience. Those familiar with Hong Kong action cinema post A Better Tomorrow will find familiarity in the material it threads on, but also find an enjoyable action flick. It won’t ever surpass the film that inspired it, but unlike many other imitators, The Dragon Family won’t remain the shadow of its inspiration.

Final Rating: 7/10

Random Factoid

I didn’t know where to place this random factoid, but if you look up posters for The Dragon Family (1988) you’ll notice Andy Lau headlines the movie. No surprise since even now Andy Lau is still a big name. However, what you likely didn’t know is that within the year 1988 Andy Lau headline 10 movies! The reason I didn’t put this random fact into the review itself is because I felt it ruined the flow of the review, and distracted from it.

Cinema-Maniac: City War (Yi dan hong chun) (1988) Chinese Heroic Bloodshed Movie Review

City War (Yi dan hong chun) follows two buddy cops; the calm, and collected Dick Lee (played by Chow Yun-Fat), and the hot-headed Ken Chow (played by Ti Lung) in their everyday life when drug lord Ted Yiu (played by Norman Chu) is released from prison seeking vengeance. Despite the classification on numerous film sites calling City War (Yi dan hong chun in Chinese) an action film it doesn’t offer much in terms of action. It’s two-third crime drama sprinkled with comedy with the final act switching gear to an action driven resolution. To a certain degree, anyone familiar with Korean action cinema will feel familiar this type of structure for an action film. However, in this is an instance where the film stumbles in being a drama having no pay off for your patience. It knows what it wants to be, and what it needs to do to pull off its own story, but not how to get there. Having a jarring jump between Dick Lee more comedic centric scenes to contrast Ken Chow more dramatic scenes. There’s nothing like the smooth transition of seeing Chow Yun Fat going on a date to smoothly transition into Ti Lung arresting a criminal with grim music playing. Unfortunately, for the film the dramatic scenes usually incorporate one detrimental flaw each differently preventing these scenes from having the full effects they should.

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The officer is just as confused as I am with Ti Lung clothing.

For example, half of the motivation for Ted Yiu (the film’s villain) vengeance is that his balls were shot off. I would like to be joking, but since the film is subtitled there’s no mistaking what I (and other viewers) have read. The serious delivery of this revelation comes off as unintentionally silly since balls being shot off is held to the same significance as someone important in Ted Yiu’s life getting killed. This plot point could have been taken seriously if there was more added to it. Only once does the film do anything with this plot point, and it ain’t much. Ted Yiu, while having sex, with his girlfriend suddenly reminds him of that incident, and that’s it. Something like Ted Yiu possibly wanting kids in the future would have made this silly motivation easier to embraced. This whole “shot off my balls” motive undercuts the other half of Ted Yiu motive for vengeance which is enough to maintain the serious tone of the story. You can also probably make an accurate guess on what Ted Yiu other motivation is if you’re familiar with Hong Kong action flicks when it comes to cops vs. crooks.

A major hindrance in the film is the lack restraint on the film’s listed three writers. Portions of City War will have scenes that feel like they go on far longer than they actually should. For example, a scene where Dick Lee goes on a blind date, and shows him joyously interact with his blind date. The intention of the awkwardly comedic scene is clear, but lingers what feels like minutes of Dick Lee interacting with a character who doesn’t make another appearance in the film. For a while, it forgets it’s mostly a crime drama becoming a romantic comedy in the second act before returning to crime drama without ease. Given the film had three writers it certainly comes across that the film didn’t have a unifying vision, nor cohesion in combining several ideas together.

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Hm, I wonder if these are the bad guys?

There’s also the in your face subtlety of some its dialogue that attempt to provide some sort of commentary about law enforcement. There are three instances where the film characters would simply say something along the line of (paraphrasing) “More regulations are making it harder for good police officers to capture criminals”. Now imagine that, but put even more bluntly because the film will sprinkle these odd dialogue at random moments. When this happens, the film comes to a complete halt just to make sure you, the audience, like this sentence, get the point of what is being said to you. It would have been less damaging if the film actually bothered showing the consequences of going against these regulations instead of just ending abruptly like it did. Another reason this commentary does not work is everything within the story goes of it way to justify going against these regulations. Without a balance depiction the commentary comes off tacked on. Yes, it also contains a strictly follow the rules, promotion seeking lieutenant as a bonus whose only purpose is shove the film’s point about laws preventing cops from capturing criminals.

City War final act is where the action finally comes into place, but lacking the emotional resonant intended. A major reason for this is Ken Chow is hardly shown doing anything else besides police work. Ken Chow is meant to serve as the film emotional center given the events that transpired; however, Ken Chow is hardly shown interacting with anyone else besides Dick Lee when it’s not job related so the importance of anyone else in his life does not come into fruition. Ken Chow lost is meant to be sad just because it’s meant to be sad. Ringing a hollow feeling when he decides to take justice into his own hands. Another issue is regarding his attitude towards anyone giving him any kind of opposition. Certainly doesn’t help him, along with everyone else, naturally act impulsively stupid in order to force itself to tell the story it wants.

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A rare still of unscripted laughter of both Chow Yun-Fat (left), and Ti Lung (right) when reading about the film’s commentary on police regulations.

The ending is something that just happens abruptly. Granted the main conflict is resolved, but it makes the instances of characters bluntly talking about how difficult it is for police officers to do their job seem pointless. Another downside to the abrupt ending is the absence of weight. Due to the final act being action driven from scenes of tragic loss; character reflection would have been acceptable to linger on are glossed over. Making two acts worth of character building go to an immediate waste in favor of showing people getting blasted with bullets.

Chow Yun-Fat, and Ti Lung performances are easily the best part of an otherwise misguided film. These two actors, whom worked together in John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow (1986) basically play the reversal of their characters from that film. Yun-Fat plays the calm, and collected Dick Lee while Ti Lung plays the hot headed Ken Chow. Ti Lung is given the heavy lifting duty of carrying the film drama almost entirely himself. Being able to make a character that lacks depth sympathetic through his performance. He never over states, or over deliver in any of his scenes. Chow Yun Fat is varied in his performance, but is given some bad comedy to work with. He’s able to make some of the jokes passable while at other times you just want him to shut up. Despite the stupidity of Chow Yun Fat, and Ti Lung characters both actors are able to prevent them from becoming hateable. When on screen together both Chow Yun Fat, and Ti Lung raises the quality of the film, even if it is briefly.

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Coming soon…no wait this man has no balls.

 

Norman Chau whom plays the villain Ted Yiu plays his part with a straight face. Only once in the film is he allowed to humanize his character, and it’s when he’s outside of prison for the first time in ten years. After that point, he’s just straight evil leaving his performance on auto pilot. His mannerisms, facial expression, and dialogue delivery remains the same throughout its entire runtime.

In terms of action for what little there is the choreography is fine. The first action sequence at Ti Lung character’s house has a goon tearing up Lung’s house with a barrage of bullets before it eventually becomes a somewhat grounded fight scene. Hand to hand combat is mostly one sided with Lung character barely being able to hold his own. There’s no complex fighting of any kind done in this scuffle as the most elaborate it gets is Ti Lung kicking the villain goon, and while he’s falling the goon shoots some glass. Despite the small apartment the stunt work is commendable as the two actors bodies aren’t afraid to get tossed around. As typical of 80s, and 90s action flicks glass anything is not spared from destruction.

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Can’t blame these two for not liking the turns of events.

Finally, the climax where the remainder of the violence finally unfolds is somewhat interesting. Chow Yun Fat goes to interrupt a deal at a bus terminal starting off with Chow Yun Fat being a one man army against an entire gang. In fashion of other movies of this era, Chow Yun Fat can run into a barrage of bullets without getting hit, nearly always hitting the goons trying to kill him, and just barely dodging bullets when the action choreography is going into a new part of its staging. Unlike in nearly all of John Woo films, when Chow Yun Fat actually gets shot in this film working it way into the action choreography without adding much to it. Instead of intensifying the climax seeing Chow Yun Fat in a wounded state fight for his life. Chow Yun Fat just limps for a couple of seconds, and that’s all. Same thing also applies to actor Ti Lung who in spite of receiving a direct hit with an axe to his body moments later is able to swing that same axe with ease to kill a person seconds later. A couple of more seconds later, does a some very brief fighting making the axe wound pointless. When it comes to the final confrontation it feels empty overall due to the lack of rising action. Also, the lack of applying injury to the action choreography certainly adds to that problem too. Finally, the score of the movie works just fine when it’s needed. Nothing that’ll stick with you (especially for me) once the film has ended.

City War (1988) is unable to fashion a compelling crime drama for two-thirds of its total time to columinate into an explosion of bullets filled emotions in its final act like intended. The pacing is an hindrance either lingering on scenes longer than it should have, or rushing moments that should have been significant. The action sequences that are packed at the end of the film start off well before making whatever action it does have feel hollow no matter how much the film wants to emphasize the emotion that you should be feeling. It’s a sloppily made film that had the potential to draw in crime film, and action fans. Instead, it’s a film that is unable to function cohesively enough for either type of viewer to like.

Rating: 4/10

Post Review Note:

Also, if you do plan on seeing City War regardless of my negative review I strongly recommend you avoid looking up any trailers since it spoils the biggest turning point in the film, and sets up unrealistic expectation it’s going to be an action heavy film instead of the drama it is for the majority of its run.

Belated New Years Post

What’s sup, and yes I am still alive despite being inactive for over a year. First of all, happy belated new years. Second, my job really killed my motivation to write last year. Going month after month working seven days a week, and at most getting two days off made relaxing more alluring than writing anything. There were also days on rare occasion I simply knocked out as soon as I laid down on my bed. Yep, offline job didn’t make it any easy for me to sustain my creativity, or energy to do anything. Finally, it was a busy year in general. Even without the whole job working me to the bones I still had offline drama to deal with, and I frankly had enough of it.

2018 started off well for me, but then, yep, something happened yesterday, and I’m trying to resolve it. Oh boy, 2018 is off to a good start, and I’m not going to bore you with the rest of my life’s detail cause it’ll take three more paragraphs to do so.

So why do I keep coming back? Simple, I just can’t let it go. Despite spending over a year of not posting anything I just simply can’t stop thinking things I watched, nor stop discussing them among my offline friends. There was also the bonus of 2017, and the many, many films that I was completely enthralled in viewing. I kid you not, there were so many films in 2017 I could gush about to the point that for a week I could write about films that I would award perfect ratings too. Some of them, if you still remember what I wrote back in my more active days comes as no surprise movies like Baby Driver, Logan, War for the Planet of the Apes, and The Lego Batman I would give perfect marks too. As well as some surprises like Blade Runner: 2049, and Dunkirk especially receiving a perfect rating from me even though war movies in general don’t impress. Plus, as an action junkie, 2017 was easily the best year for action movie since 1992 with the likes of Wolf Warrior 2, SPL: Paradox, Baby Driver, Extraordinary Mission, The Villainess, as well as others not as great action films (looking at you John Wick: Chapter 2) made it quite stellar time for action cinema enthusiasts.

Needless to say I love 2017 in terms of what I saw. Granted it helped I wasn’t writing for a blog, or site so I didn’t see any atrocious pieces of cinema like I usually would. Same with anime, I rewatched the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime for the first time in years, and it got me back into watching anime. I got reminded why the original Fullmetal Alchemist is my second favorite anime series of all time, and a little bit of help from the first two Selector Wixoss seasons, and both seasons of Noragami didn’t hurt either. However, the biggest surprise for me in terms of anime watching was none other than watching Cardcaptor Sakura for the first time, and man what a magical experience it was. I ended up liking Cardcaptor Sakura a lot more than I thought I would, and is now a personal favorite of mine. It simply put a smile my face, and the characters are so endearing to me.

With that brief summarization of events out of the way the reason I wanted to write this blog post is because I didn’t want the first piece of the new year to be negative. Yes, the first movie review I write in who knows how many months, and it’s a negative review for a Chow Yun Fat movie you likely never heard off, and even less likely seen. At the moment, I’m working on the details on juggling my personal time with this blog/site. I already set myself a quota of how many reviews I want to post this month, as well as made specific selections between must complete, and optional written reviews. For example, a review I must/want to complete this month is for Return Engagement (1990), and a optional one is The Long Good Friday (1980). The optional movies I’ve chosen ahead of time are simply there for extras if I want to exceed my intended quota. I can’t say I’m back for certain, but we’ll see, and I implore you to wait on welcoming me back (assuming you intended too, you did right) until March where I’m currently debating dedicating the month mostly reviewing art house cinema. Why, so I can finally work out my thoughts on art house cinema besides saying Takeshi Kitano is the biggest enjoyment I’ll ever get from art house films.

Until the end of the month, take of care yourself, and (hopefully) see you around if my job don’t kill me first. Happy 2018!

Cinema-Maniac: Boxing Helena (1993) Review

Boxing Helena (1993) is an extremely divisive film with very little discussion surrounding it. In the realm of controversial films such titles like I Spit On Your Graves (1978), Cannibal Holocaust (1980), Natural Born Killers (1994), A Clockwork Orange (1971), and other such films draw plenty of film lovers (and sometime an uninformed outsider) sharing conflicting viewpoints, and sometime ideology gets thrown into the fold. These are the kind of films that make you ask if a film can go too far. Obviously the answer is yes they can go too far. I draw this conclusion with my experience with the 2012 Ron Morales film’s Graceland which briefly had full frontal nudity of minors. However, such cases are extremely rare as I go years without even thinking a film has gone too far with its material. You might be wondering where exactly Boxing Helena stands in terms of controversy? If we’re purely talking about the content in the film than it’s nothing special. It’s simply an experimental indie film that went to the mainstream public with a traditional Hollywood studio treatment resulting in extreme divided reaction towards the film.

Boxing Helena tells the story of an Atlanta surgeon Nick Cavanaugh (played by Julian Sands) dangerous obsession with Helena (played by Sherilyn Fenn), a woman he had a one night stand with. This is the kind of film where knowing specific parts of the story will spoil the experience on first time viewing. That sounds like a no brainer, but you’ll be amazed how many reviews for Boxing Helena from paid professionals, and amateur reviewers online basically give away 42 minutes worth material. This plot point is usually given away in synopsis (if the review has one) when the film is reviewed. That’s not even including the possible hundreds of film sites that also give away a major plot point that should be have been a surprise instead of just given away in a synopsis. Before hand, I of course went on IMDb to check what the film premise was about, and unintentionally spoiled something that should have been shocking, but instead I didn’t expect for the film to take 1/3 to get to that point. I read about the film Boxing Helena before going on IMDb when checking up a list of controversial films (I occasionally like a challenge in discussing a film) so that’s what sold me on it. However, I advise anyone who has an interest in seeing this film to be cautious when reading reviews on this film. If it sounds like a synopsis, just skip it, and read whatever left in the written review. Best advice I could give to go into this as blindly as possible.

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Hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk to you again.

On to the actual meat of discussion in Boxing Helena story. The story is slow moving while introducing interesting concepts in the first act. Nick Cavanaugh is shown being neglected by his mother at a party, and not being affected much by his mother death as an adult by leaving his mother funeral early. Raising a question of what kind of relationship Nick had with his mother? To bad the film almost immediately stopped poking around with the idea. Last time Nick mother has anything to do with the story is a hallucination where Nick sees his naked mother in an attempt to imply they had an unhealthy relationship, but how far it went is uncertain. It’s a “connect the loose dot” form of writing done badly when there’s little foundation to connect concrete information given to the viewer. What’s concrete is Nick had a trouble relationship with his mother, but everything else in association to that is kept vague. There isn’t enough to make the connection between Nick relationship with his mother, and the type of woman he’s attracted to come off as viable. At best, it’s imaginative speculation, but at worse making something significant out of something that ain’t there to be found.

In terms of characters they’re just plot devices. To an extent all characters can be considered plot devices, but there are capable writers who are able to masked this. Jennifer Lynch was not able too. I wouldn’t need to count on my hand the amount of characters that were fleshed in this movie because they don’t exist. All supporting characters are basically one trait exacerbated too inconvenient Nick. In the film, Nick has a girlfriend, Anne Garett (played by Betsy Clark) whom he just has a relationship with. If the film dabble a bit on Nick obsession perhaps being greater than his love for Anne there would have been a point to Anne in the film. Anne, much like the implications of Nick troublesome relationship with his mother, provides little in the way of something concrete to confirm themes, and ideas. In one of the very few scene Anne is in she treats Nick in a motherly way. As mentioned before, there’s speculation to be had that Nick might have a thing for women that remind him of his mother, but there’s not enough established about the characters to make it more than mere speculation.

The loose dots could have been remedied halfway with Dr. Lawrence Augustine who is played by Art Garfunkel…I don’t know why he just is in the movie. It’s mentioned briefly that Lawrence helped with Nick on his obsession with Helena, the woman Nick had a one stand with, but to what extent is kept vague. All the viewer is told about Nick mother is that she’s neglectful, and in one instance of the film Nick see’s an image of his mother when Helena is choking him. Does that mean that Nick had an abusive, or perhaps had sexual relation with his mother? The viewer will never know since there is nothing much to Nick’s mother, nor does Dr. Lawrence provide much insight as a friend of Nick. You think Art Garfunkel, of all people to have been cast, would have imparted on Nick some wisdom about relationship, but that’s the sound of silence.

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Julian Sands: “Got breast milk?”

 

Another plot device comes in the form of Ray O’Malley played by Bill Paxton. Ray O’Malley is more of a possessive friend with benefits who loves having sex with Helena. Ray contribute slightly to the film’s story, but then there’s the ending which undoes virtually all his contribution in the film. For Helena who is the other main character on the other hand, throughout the film she does speak about how almost every man she comes across only love her for her looks. Helena is played by Sherilyn Fenn who is stunning in the film which makes such an idea easy to swallow. Her personality on the other hand has little to dig into as for most of the film she’s verbally, and physically fighting against Nick possessive nature over her. This mostly due to the fact that the film’s ending once again undoing what development, and characterization the viewer thought there was in the film. So Helena fears to commit to a relationship through her arc means nothing in the end. In particular, if Helena arc did mean something than it would require an incredible amount of disbelief that two people experience the same exact thing while unconscious.

The ending to Boxing Helena is single handedly the most polarizing aspect about it. It’s so fundamental to how viewers perceive their overall view on the film it’ll change your perspective into an extreme. On one hand it could simply be viewed as a cautionary tale of an obsessed doctor psyche. However, since the ending rewrites the rules it makes it come off as clueless writing when scenes not involving Nick Cavanaugh are shown to the viewers. The twist ending, despite how much it undoes still retains Nick Cavanaugh characterization, and can still be viewed as cautionary tale of being incapable to overcome his obsession. A character in the film, due to this ending, basically stroke Nick Cavanaugh ego as being a superior man holds some weight. However, because of the ending many of the implied themes, and ideas have even less of a foundation to be more than mere speculation. As you can probably tell by this review the film’s ending makes a non-spoiler review challenging to write around.

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Not the first time both of these get wet in this film.

Julian Sands stars in the film to good, and bad degree of acting. The good being Julian Sands is able to make his character come off as a truly pathetic person, and the bad being the material doesn’t make his character sympathetic. Another good in Julian Sands performance are some of the heavier dramatic scene that requires a burst of anger, or subdue emotion he pulls off. There’s a scene of Julian Sands with Sherilyn Fenn out on the porch in heavy rain. Sands yells at Fenn character to scream out for help, but also in the same scene he’s still comes across as vulnerable despite having power over Fenn character. A bad side to some of Sands dialogue delivery is he’s unintentionally hilarious. One moment that stands out in goofy delivery is when Sands says Helena as desperately as he can before Helena experience an accident. On the whole, Sands performance could be considered positive with occasional mishaps along the way.

Sherilyn Fenn also stars opposite of Julian Sands for a majority of the film. While the film does rely heavily on her looks, and pulls of creating a sorta seductive aura around her. Fenn comes off convincingly in later scenes too that rely less on her looks. Unlike the rest of the cast, Fenn is slowly given limitation to her performance preventing her from being as expressive as the other cast. Yet, she’s still able to be convincing in her role coming off as vulnerable, and strong. A downside to this is most of the time she’s constantly screaming her lines, and doesn’t have as many vulnerable scenes compared to Sands. It doesn’t help either that there isn’t much to Fenn character either so Fenn gradually changing into a different person sadly go to waste due to context of the film.

The only other noteworthy performance comes from Bill Paxton who dress up like a dated, 90s greaser in the film. Aside from his silly appearances, Bill Paxton only appears in four scenes, and is silly in all of them. He hams it up in his short screen time, and makes an impression. The other supporting actors in the film are fully onenote. Art Garfunkel doesn’t do much in terms of range, Betsy Clark doesn’t do much either with her time, and Kurtwood Smith despite playing his small part well won’t stay with you because once again, very limited screen time. Also, since it’s wholly a serious movie the whole supporting cast performances eventually mesh with each other being indistinguishable from one another.

 

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Game over man. Game over.

Jennifer Lynch direction is fine for a first a time director. There are certain shots that are questionable in the way they’re frame. For example, there’s a scene of Julian Sands looking out at the front of his Mansion garden, and is unable to see a clearly visible crouching Bill Paxton behind some branches. It makes you wonder how Sands wasn’t able to see Bill Paxton when he’s as visible as he is. Another bad shot is when Helena is hit by a car, and lingering on it for too long exposes the bad effects used in the moment. Jennifer Lynch was both subtle, and heavy handed with some of her imagery. Heavy handed when cutting to a bird in cage whenever Fenn is failing to escape the grasp of Julian Sands. The subtle imagery comes in how very selective shots are framed to make it appear it’s actor are stuck in boxes. As for anything else I would say the selection of music is fitting, but none of the original music stands out. A lot of the music choices are orchestrated pieces with rare inclusion of insert tracks. The only piece of music that stands out is a cover of Bonnie Raitt “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Venice. To Lynch credit, it fits perfectly into what she was trying to get across in her film.

This would usually be the end of the review with me posting my closing thoughts, but there’s still one other thing left to talk about, and that’s the ludicrous statement that this film is sexist towards women. The criticism came from the 90s when it was release, but as of the moment of this review being posted it’s as relevant as ever. Labeling this a male power fantasy is silly since Helena is constantly fighting back against her captor for the entire film. Helena wants nothing to do with Nick, even when holds her captive, and Nick is doing anything to prevent her from escaping. If anything, it’s actually against power fantasies since Helena fight every chance she gets. Nick isn’t rewarded for his action which is proven by the film’s ending.  Another thing that disproves the film so call “sexism” is Nick does not enjoy obsessing over a woman he had a night stand with. In his own words regarding his obsession, “I’m still haunted for my love for her”. Even if I take into account the way the film is shot it’s still part of Nick character whose otherworldly attraction to Helena is presented by those images, and having seen the film entirely Nick does not enjoy seeing Helena the way he does. It’s negative for his mindset, and negative in his life. Just imagine if the film were to be release in 2016, and it would have caused a far greater riot. I clearly don’t think highly of Boxing Helena, but there’s one thing that Jennifer Lynch didn’t come across when directing her film, and that was sexist.

Boxing Helena I see as a lost opportunity. Beneath the many faults I do feel if handled by a more experience director could have been great. By a first time director, Jennifer Lynch lacked the experience she needed to pull off such an experimental project, and couldn’t reach the high mark she set for herself. None of this is further evident with the ending, and scenes that go against the notion of the ending. Much like its title character, the film itself is trapped in a metaphorical box, but instead of going outside of the box, and sticking to it guns with an ending that would have garner it some respect, even among some detractors. It’s ending plays it safe which goes along with abstract theme of society putting people in boxes, but at the cost of giving the impression Boxing Helena is not worth taking out of its box, even among the more “artsy” film lovers.

3/10

Side Stuff: Casting Controversy

There’s also the controversy of casting when it comes to this film. I read one review that made a joke out of it for a closing statement. Granted I wanted to do the same, but someone else beat me to the punch. Originally Madonna was meant to play the part of Helena, but dropped out due to unexplained reasons. Afterwards, Kim Basinger was set to star, but once again stepped down from the role. Unlike Madonna, Kim Basinger exit from the film caused her to go to court, and file for bankruptcy. Her exit from the film cost to pay around, allegedly, $9 million dollars to the film’s producer. Given that Kim Basinger would win best supporting actress four years in 1997 L.A. Confidential I doubt Kim Basinger regret passing up on Boxing Helena.

Sources (this side content):

LA Times: http://articles.latimes.com/1993-08-29/entertainment/ca-29280_1_david-lynch

EW.com: http://www.ew.com/article/1993/04/09/boxing-helenas-controversies

Backup Link for source: https://web.archive.org/web/20160906193722/http://www.ew.com/article/1993/04/09/boxing-helenas-controversies

Anime-Breakdown: Ajin Part 1: Shoudou (2015) Recap Movie Review

Polygon Pictures is the name of the studio behind this film, and the anime series Sidonia no Kishi/Knights of Sidonia. I bring them up because despite only having seen one completed series from Polygon Pictures (at the time of this review being posted) it was enough for me to make them my most hated anime studio. This hatred is derived from Knights of Sidonia, or as I refer to it Sci-Fi: The Anime since it’s biggest piece of sci-fi trite I have ever seen in any form of media. Every single plot point was predictable, it didn’t put a new spin on any established sci-fi formula nor strayed from any common modern anime writing conventions, and it’s also the only piece of science fiction, and animation to ever put me to sleep. So before even starting the film, and Ajin anime series there was already the hurdle of low expectations. The only way Ajin couldn’t meet those low expectation would be if it turned out worse than Knights of Sidonia. Ajin went so below the bar of low expectations I could make a top ten list of the worst Ajin episodes in great detail by how much incompetence there is in each individual episode.

This film is basically a recap splicing together the first six episodes of the anime series Ajin. You might be wondering what’s the purpose of this recap movie if there’s no noticeable alteration between the anime series, and film. Both use the same footage with the same dialogue rendering it rather pointless to seek out the other product depending on what you decide to check out. As negative as I was towards the recap movie, Sword Art Online: Extra Edition, A1 Pictures did the logical in creating new material exclusive to it. Ajin Part 1: Shoudou only major difference with the anime series are scenes not having Izumi Shimomura (Tosaki’s secretary) cheeks turning red when blushing in two episodes of the anime series. I would like to point out this film came out in late November of 2015, and between that time all the way to mid January of 2016 when the anime aired. Someone, or several individuals at Polygon Pictures felt it was important to slightly alter moments of embarrassment by having Izumi cheeks turn red when she’s blushing instead bumping up the framerate to not make the animation look like it is always lagging. Just like the anime series, this recap film purpose is to simply be dead air. The metaphorical coaster of anime so to say.

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Sup! I’m Porcupine.

Ajin takes the classic premise of the “Human Parasite” (as I call it) trope where the focus is on a main character who becomes something he/she, or the world hates. If you read, or seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers (my go to association with this premise) you know for a fact this premise under right hands holds infinite possibilities. Especially horror since it could thrive on creating psychological fear of these creatures that easily blend into our world. However, Ajin doesn’t understand the basics of storytelling so when it tried to reach higher than possible never once does it bother to set up the building blocks for a stable story.

First issue for the film is simple; bad world building combine with bad context for exposition. In Ajin, it’s establish the entire world know the existence of Ajins, yet in a later scene in the movie a police officer is surprise there’s an Non Lethal Drug Gun specifically design to capture Ajins. Before you could be bother to ask what sense does it make that this weapon isn’t mandatory for all policemen to have in case of an emergency it throws another bad plot point at you. One being how high school students managed to find a leaked video of a Ajin being experimented on, and there being no mention of it in any news media outlet. The flimsy excuse of a student saying it could be fake cannot be assumed to apply to everyone else in the world which requires higher suspension of disbelief that does not come with the premise. In the anime series, the news media eventually discover this leaked video, but in the film the news media does not. Creating more plot holes that in sequel films Polygon Pictures will have to cover up instead of focusing on telling a story (not a good one at that).

We also have the Elephant in the room to address in that paranoia, hatred, disgust, or any feelings towards the public views on Ajin goes without setup. Aside from the first discover Ajin being a gun for hire in Africa, and if Ajin are turned in you’ll be rewarded there is nothing much to grasp from the Ajins presence in this world. The film even brings up the fact other Ajins were discovered, but mentions nothing if the other Ajins are commonly violent toward humans. If that was the case, than it would make sense for Kei Nagai (our teenage protagonist) not to trust anyone in his surroundings. However, if the story didn’t establish the public mindset on Ajins existence than the idea of them being turned in for a reward could still be a reasonable source of distrust for Kei Nagai. A simple, and not hard to shoe in solution for this issue is someone mentioning an Ajin who got betrayed by his friends for money. If this was done than you could have a less inferior reason for Kei Nagai not to trust his friends in the beginning of the film. It’s even brought up the reward could be just a rumor, but even if the reward is just a rumor than Kei Nagai fearing being betrayed by his friends from a story he heard would make a bit more sense. My solution sucks, but it could hold itself together much better compared to betrayal for rumored reward Kei Nagai just recently discovered imply by the film.

Reason number two this film is bad is because of main character Kei Nagai. I personally refer to him as Sam Blanderton since he has no personality, the writing pretends he’s a smart character, and has the plot armor of immortality. His younger sister describes Kei Nagai as a cold person so Vanilla Ice is also a suitable nickname for the protagonist. Jokes aside, you would also find Kei Nagai in that piles of jokes. Despite being told he’s a smart character, and studying to be a doctor he’s no smarter than the rest of the cast in Ajin that can’t phantom the idea of multiple people wearing hats. Having never gone to medical school I can tell you it is possible to knock someone out unconsciously with your fists. I bring this up since Kei Nagai can summon a Black Ghost which are basically an invisible humanlike manifestation Ajins can use. For some reason, when Kei is being tortured about an hour into the film, Kei seems to have forgotten everything he learned. This is a character who the audience is told wants to be a doctor. In a scene where Kei is being tortured he is also pressured into killing scientists, which you would expect someone who has been studying to be a doctor to do the logical, and knock out whoever is torturing him in order to intimidate anyone who wants to torture him in the future. Not wanting to kill is one thing, but if you have the power to knock someone out unconsciously like Kei Nagai has with his Black Ghost where’s the conflict in the situation. Kei doesn’t have to kill anyone when he’s being tortured, yet he seems content that he could only kill despite the fact he’s been studying to become a doctor. Good to know that knowledge goes to waste.

Kei Nagai acts however the plot demands him to without a consistent personality trait. In the film, Kei meets face to face with an old man who kidnapped his sister, but is okay with it since she wasn’t harm. (Tear out hair in anger). Yet, he is more concern with the idea of this same old man wanting to kill scientists who have been torturing him (Kei) for days none of whom he knows. Showing concern for their very livelihood despite torturing him. Just, huh? What makes this infuriating for me is Kei Nagai brings up the idea to handicapped those scientists while begging for them not to be murdered. So the series (along with this film) is telling me Kei Nagai gives a rat ass his sister got kidnapped who he known for basically his entire life, and shows more concern for saving people who tortured him for several days  to the point he’ll bargain to handicapped them to make sure they live. However, this completely goes against the established trait of Kei Nagai being a cold, but intelligent character which does not go well when you see this same intelligent character wear nothing to hide his face when out in public. This is never an issue since Polygon Pictures is too lazy to have background characters which is why there is hardly ever crowds of people in the film. What this means is that Kei Nagai is not a cold character since he bother saving random strangers who tortured him several days, and is not intelligent since he doesn’t use his medical knowledge in his situations to protect himself. There’s no moment of competency from this character since Kei Nagai either gets lucky by discovering a new ability to save himself when convenient, or needs to be save by another person.

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Glasses guy takes his groping seriously.

Finally, the reason the film is terrible, and the anime series itself is also terrible is pretty much everything else. Characters are one dimensional in the film with the only character using his head is Satou who is presented as the villain. Satou is refer by others as The Man in the Hat (even in the English dub for who knows why) because he wears a hat. Apparently, in Ajin, Satou is the only person in the entire world who wears a hat. This is proven whenever Satou is brought up simply mentioning someone is wearing a hat. Characters will immediately bring up Satou. Details like this makes it impossible to take Ajin seriously. What it tells me is a race of immortal beings is easily accepted in this world, but multiple people wearing hats is an entirely alien to concept those same people. Satou character also suffers the same issue, in this film, of having little character development, but compare to every other character he’s written the best. Satou is the only character who has a goal, and a motivation for what he does to a certain character. As you can assume, one character who’s passable doesn’t excuse an entire cast that’s disposable. Kei Nagai does virtually nothing to advance the plot, Kaito/Porcupine (Kei’s best friend) disappears after the second act without explanation, Eriko Nagai (Kei’s sister) is practically pointless contributing nothing to the narrative, and a slew of other unimportant characters amount to either explaining things characters in the world should already know, or just disappear after a while.

Pacing is a mess rushing through everything. This issue applies to the anime series too, but in movie format it’s boils down to throwing set pieces at the audience face without substance. There’s nothing of value to gain from constantly seeing the main characters in danger if there is no reason to care for them. No tension, no stakes, and no investment in the characters will have you constantly looking at the time wondering how long this train wreck is going to last.

On a technical level Polygon Pictures 3D animation is dated, even by 1990s 3D television standards. It’s embarrassing that the Donkey Kong Country 3D animated series from the late 90s has more expressive facial animation, and a better framerate. Donkey Kong Country can make the simple action of Gorillas walking, and dancing for that matter move smoothly. In Ajin Part 1: Shoudou, in the beginning of the film, Polygon Picture can not make the simple action of walking move smoothly. Through the film (and the anime series) it seems like characters are moving in slow motion. Polygon Pictures is capable of fixing of this, but are too lazy to do anything about it. There are two sequences in the film where two Black Ghosts are fighting against each other using the technique of slowing things down briefly then speeding things up. This simple demonstration of being able to change the speed of motion freely should also apply to the frame rate. It’s done deliberately so Polygon Picture have the technology not make to their anime series, and films look like they’re lagging at all times. Polygon Picture is so lazy the film closing credits is the opening sequence to the anime series with just longer credits. Bravo Polygon Picture.

Ajin Part 1: Shoudou needed to be story boarded, and drafted at least once before ever entering production. If this was done than Polygon Pictures would have realize they have no motivation for people to hate Ajins which would have save them from a number of issues if it was addressed. However, even if Ajin did give a good reason for why Ajins are hated it wouldn’t do away with the idiotic plot filled with shallow characters, and a very lazy production. You could find better looking 3D animation from the late 90s than this film which came out in 2015 which is embarrassing. Whatever way you view Ajin in either film, or tv format it is an embarrassment display of Japanese animation, an embarrassment to 3D animation, and an embarrassment to storytelling.

1/10

So, where have I been? (An Update)

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Lets begin with I’m sorry for not having posted anything in March. I probably should have written this blog post sooner to keep you informed on what is going on behind the scenes.I am writing this spontaneously as a I take a break from packing my luggage. So, here’s a quick overview of events.

First off, what happened?

For over a month I’ve been unemployed. Thankfully I haven’t been starving thanks to family members who also live in California helping me out. Financially, I’m not making any money, but my family help makes sure I’m not living on the street. This helped me significantly as I actively searched for a job to support myself. However, weeks after weeks of being rejected by multiple employers from fast food restaurants to office work at stores no one been hiring me.Seeing my bank account decrease out of necessity for food is demoralizing. I’m someone in my family who likes taking pride of being a responsible adult. Ever since I was little I told my parents how much I wanted my own home, and my own place. I’m not oppose to accepting help, but I much prefer being able to sustain myself than be entirely reliant on another person.

Second, trouble getting sleep.

Something I’ve been having trouble doing around the second week of March is sleeping. At first I’ve thought nothing of it since on a regular basis I have trouble sleeping. This time is different as I could go on for days 52 hours, 38 hours, and so forth without sleeping. Problems with my body went unnoticed for the first 18 hours, but past that I notice extreme emotional mood swings. In a instant I went from being grateful that my helped me out in my hour of need to becoming hate fill, delusional that they were taking pity on me. I talked out my feelings with my family about me being dissatisfied in my current position (at the time) not being to provide for myself, and my fear of possibly nothing being in my bank accounts.

This should have relief some fears from me, but it didn’t. It continued up until two days where I was finally able to get a good night sleep. It could be a result of false memories which can cause a lack of oxygen from reaching the brain. Now I do think I cause my own issues with false memories. I’ve read some pages on the Lost Media Wiki on real life events, and some of the incidents I’ve read about stayed in my head. There’s also the increase fascination with the Deep Web I’ve taken an interest in. I would like to use something like the existence of the Deep Web for a fictional story so the more I learned how twisted it can be the more I wanted to know. So, me reading for writing inspiration from the real world prevented some sleep. I still don’t know the cause of momentary sleep deprivation, but for the mean time it hasn’t returned for now.

Lastly, I’ve got to cut this short.

Sorry this blog entry is rather short. I return to regularly posting in April once I land in Kansas. Another factor into a lack of posting also comes from intensively playing video games, and not trying to be too demoralized. Video games help feel accomplished for a short while before returning to the real world to realize I’ve been unable to find another job for over a month. I find it best to be comedic in lifting my spirits, but if I fail in my time in Kansas looking for a job than I got to get my complex issues with Pittsburgh University in Kansas to resolve. Besides my credits, we got bad history with a college university black mailing me for money.

I might go over what happened in that incident in another blog post once I land in Kansas, but in the mean time I’ll get ready, and work for a better livelihood that I can reach, and maintain to the best of my ability. I’m sorry I posted next to nothing this entire month. I’m hoping to make up for it by making sure the same thing does not happen for the remainder of the year. Also, seriously f@#k cancer. I had trouble accepting a friend sudden death from cancer cause he kept it from me, but I’m grateful he allowed me to treat him like any other friend, and received no special treatment from me for it. It’s a different experience knowing your friend cancer, and could possibly die from it compare to it just being sudden. Either way, I deal with my personal life best I can, and everyone reading this you also do the same in your own personal life. Next time I post, I’ll be in Kansas. Laters!

Cinema-Maniac: Brooklyn (2015) Review

Simplicity isn’t something I demand when it comes to films. One reason being I prefer films that offer plenty for me to analyze either on a technical, or narrative level. Another reason being when it comes down to it simple stories, and simple characters are easy to fully comprehend on one viewing. Leaving very little to ponder once the film ends. Sometimes offering no reasons to rewatch a simple film in the future if I understood everything I wanted on a single viewing. At the same time it’s a necessity to have simplicity in films because not every great story, and masterpiece needs complexity. I would much rather have films like Whiplash which while not an amazing viewing experience soars in accomplishing its single minded goal as opposed to something that collapsed under its own weight. Brooklyn I would place alongside with a film like Whiplash; both films didn’t provide anything amazing of an experience from the reception they received, but they accomplished what they set out to do with little to no hiccups.

Brooklyn is about an Irish immigrant, Ellis (Saoirse Ronan), who lands in 1950s Brooklyn, where she quickly falls into a romance with a local while being torn up between two countries she loves. The film is a simple mixture of coming age, and romance that doesn’t get elaborate. It follows a simple three act structure, and is linear as a film can traditionally get. What differentiate it from a traditional romance film is nothing in the film is overly dramatize. Conversations feel natural with dinner scenes serving to get across the passage of time without directly stating it. These dinner scenes also provide the films with most of the jokes as well as some insight into some it characters. Everything in the film is written to get across the most amount of information with simple dialogue. Working wondrously for the film.

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Oh, been wondering what happened to Carrot Top.

The romance isn’t the main focus of the film, but rather use as a narrative tool to show growth in Ellis life. Showing Ellis as young timid girl to eventually becoming an adult woman. Her interaction with her love interest, Tony (Emory Cohen), changes her as a person, and seeing those changes is what makes the romance effective. Much like Ellis, Tony feels like an actual person expressing the kind of life he desires with Ellis. In his own understated way contributes more to the film than just being a love interest. Another appealing aspect of the romance is how it portrayed. There’s no flair to any of it. One example of this is when Tony confesses to Ellis he loves her, and the scene is neither accompanied by music, nor characters making a big deal out of it. Simply being treated as another part of the relationship. Granted a love confession in serious relationship is significant, but the way it written it intently wants the audience to know every moment between these two is significant no matter the context.

As a coming of age film it has the message of growing up is filled with hardship, but an added bonus is actually seeing the character growth in the film. It does not end when Ellis experience a life altering event by moving to 1950s America. The film instead uses the opportunity of Ellis growing to make her face a serious dilemma. Viewing the conflict she face with in a new light as oppose in the beginning of the film where she viewed it like a young adult simply going along with what everyone else wanted. It’s also very clever how it uses a one off character within the first act of the film to be a fulfilling showcase of far of a person Ellis came in her journey. In terms of a tone it plays out a bit like a fantasy before the third act where reality comes crashing down. While there is the issue of living in an entire country feeling homesick, and trouble socializing it never overcomes Ellis life. She is simply able to deal with her problems directly. If not, then she’ll asks her friends, or family for advice.

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Creed: With arms with open.

If there is any serious issue with the film writing it would be the climax of the film. Once Ellis has to decide to live in Ireland with a newfound purpose, or go back to the US to a life that helped her transition into adulthood. The catalyst, or motive that determines Ellis decision feels tacked on plain, and simple. Throughout the film, it makes an attempt to make both 1950’s America, and Ireland as desirable places to live without any serious problems that is too much to handle. However, after a conversation with someone Ellis didn’t like in her past it reminds her of everything she hated that particular country. Here lies the simple problem of the audience not knowing what Ellis specifically means. This film starts out with Ellis spending her last day in Ireland before going to America, and that’s honestly all the viewer is given on Ireland. She experience similar events in both the US, and Ireland. Viewers only gain a full understanding of how much the US means to her as oppose to Ireland where it comes across as a repeat of what Ellis experienced in America. However, like the rest of the film, this is an understated moment that does not dramatize the climax “movie moment” kind of way. The same applies to the ending. While subtle in showing how much Ellis grew as a person it is also understated. Everything about the is simple to comprehend, and in a understated execution succeeds in what it tackles.

Much like the screenplay by Nick Hornby, the acting is once again understated, but for simple reasons. None of the performances are powerhouses, though they’re all fine because of the film’s direction. Saoirse Ronan takes leading the role as Ellis portraying in one of her most challenging role. She comes off as awkward, naive, sincere, funny, and other shades of her character. What is best about this performance is how steadily she transition into becoming an adult. It’s a steady change that retains her character established traits with a new boost of confidence. She expresses through her performance how much she matured, and her facial expressions gets it across vividly. There is a not a scene in the film where you’ll be impressed by her acting since the entire film is subdue in emotion. Taking a timid woman at the start of the film, and convinces viewers she’s now a strong individual. Still, it’s another noteworthy performance from Saoirse Ronan who doesn’t have to put up a fake American in this film which is another plus.

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I’ll take any opportunity to post a image of Saoirse Ronan. What? I like her.

The other performances are overshadowed by Saoirse Ronan. Of course it’s because she the leading actress, but there’s rarely a scene where she’s not present. Only Emory Cohen gets the most of amount of screen time of the supporting cast. His performance is also sincere, and very believable in his performance. The moments he shares with Saoirse Ronan are sweet. They’re both good onscreen together. Acting veterans like Jim Broadbent, and Julie Walters aren’t utilize much in the films. Walters can deliver a funny line, but with the exception of one scene she’s mostly spent her time in the dinner scenes with some kind of reference to god. Jim Broadbent is in the film less so since his only purpose seems to be to deliver a plot point to get the story rolling. He doesn’t get to do much in the film, but doesn’t takes it seriously nonetheless to not be a distraction. Then there’s Domhnall Gleeson who only appears in the third act. His chemistry with Saoirse Ronan makes it possible to believe why Ronan character can like him, even if they spent less time together. 

Supporting actors like Hugh Gormley, Brid Brennan, Maeve McGrath, Emma Lowe, Barbara Drennan, Fiona Glascott, Jane Brennan, Eileen O’Higgins play typical characters. Being used mostly to portray the nice old lady, the woman who has trouble maintaining relationship, the depressed mother, the irritable old woman, and other archetypes. As you might have imagined none of these archetype are exaggerating the personality. Director John Crowley doesn’t miss anything when it comes to details in the costumes, and showing visually showing good distinction between two countries. Yves Belanger cinematography is visually the most interesting part of the film. Offering some standard wide shots, but it’s at it best when it comes to showing the most out of its actors performances. Music is composed by Michael Brook offering a classic sounding soundtrack to the film, and having some Irish music. John Crowley is smart enough to know when to place music, and when not too.

Brooklyn is a film that will leave viewers conflicted at the raving reception it received. While in no way close to resembling a bad film it’ll nonetheless contribute to disappointment by its many raving reviews that it receives. This will make some viewers expect something grander than what they will actually see. On the contrary, if you want a coming of age, and romance that is more down to earth than Brooklyn is the film for you. It’s has sweet moments of romance without being sugarcoated. Has the ability to gripping without over dramatizing any events. By all, it’s a simple film that knows how to tell a simple tale without many layers on it, and when it works nearly this flawlessly it doesn’t have to be more than it is.

9/10