Tag Archives: Homage

Cinema-Maniac: Homicycle (2014) Review

When determining what films to see, and review I welcome taking a “risk” once in awhile. By “risk” I mean going blind into a film that is not discuss in professional reviewing outlets, or among bloggers. What makes these “risks” satisfying is discovering a great film, and giving it exposure no matter the size of your contribution, or readership. Every review on an obscure title praising a good unknown anything will give it a better opportunity to grow. This is one aspect of the internet I embrace than no matter how I end up feeling about a finish product I get expose to all sorts of media I probably wouldn’t have checked out my limited knowledge. Of course there are films like Homicycle that make me question if the word standards is like a myth to certain filmmakers. Sometime there are bad films I encourage seeing either for building standards, or to find entertainment in a way that wasn’t intended. However, Homicycle is filled with so much deadweight I advise you not to see it to save your time on something better. As of this very moment, this is the worst film I’ve seen that has cycle in its titled. Yes, it’s even worse than the time I saw I Bought A Vampire Motorcycle.

Homicycle is about the titled character who dispenses vigilante justice against a criminal organization. It sounds cool, but that didn’t translate into a product that resembles entertainment, or even competency by bad filmmaking standards. For starter, the film quality of writing along the line of one of those kind of films that just has a single thin idea stretched out. In Homicycle, if we removed the filler material of the film than the actual meat of the film is 50 minutes long. With the filler, it’s only 70 minutes, yet feels allot longer than it actually is. The film has little essence of substance even on a surface level as neither story, or characters are expanded on beyond the basics. Scenes just go into random scenes disconnected from any semblance of progress. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the film self aware tone is what kills the film. It knows the setup is right up a traditional 80s B movie throwing in a simple story, odd characters, and some occasionally awful dialogue. However, intentionally making a bad film does not translate into an unintentional comedy. Since it knows what kind of trashy film it is making it impossible to enjoy to enjoy from a so bad it’s good perspective.

As for the actual story itself it’s one of vengeance. The film never confirms the of identity of Homicycle, but the single clue the film gives to the audience leaves little to the imagination who it can be. A character connected to the vigilante spells it out to the viewers by saying his name. Removing any possible mysterious aura from him. Another aspect about Homicycle is the lack of confirmation of what exactly he is. In one scene, he punches through a guy guts in order to kill him, but within the same scene get beaten by a normal man. Then there’s the fact the film suggests a character in the story, Eddie (Mac Dale), came back from the dead to seek vengeance. Having already explained the film doesn’t go beyond the basics. What kind of force made him come back to life isn’t surrounded by concrete material. If it was something supernatural it wouldn’t fit since nothing otherworldly is mentioned in the film. However, it doesn’t work the in the “realistic” vein either since it means Eddie survives a shot to the head at point blank, his wife buried him in her backyard, and been buried for who knows how long in better condition than he was alive. A film can’t just assume it audience will accept anything at face value if they did nothing to earn that trust.

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Public Service Announcement: Don’t jerk

What follows Homicycle around is a string of bad jokes escalating to sheer boredom. It place randomly with toilet humor, or innuendos jokes. When jokes are used to pad out the running it’s quite sad. Characters relationship don’t go beyond the basics. You’ll have to assume what archetype characters fall into. For instance, the villain of the film Brock (Peter Whittaker) is the best developed character in the film. He dresses up as a pirate, has odd fetishes, and is a criminal lord. That’s it. Nothing about why he acts the way he does, dresses the way he does, or what his goals are is shown. Picture the rest of the film characters being less developed than Brock. Filling the screen with characters that just mesh with one another in a forgettable manner. Having no personality of any kind.

The filler material consist of a sleazy producer talking about how scary the film apparently is. This is your introduction into the film. So, this sleazy film producer claims the film is so scary there’s sexy nurses are in the lobby ready to dispatch to help if the film causes you health problems. If I was watching this introduction in a film theater it makes since, but at home it simply tells me the filmmakers were to lazy to write the exact same scene simply changing two words to make it work when viewing it at home. Also, if you happened to die during the viewing of the film your family will immediately inherit 1 million dollars according to the sleazy producer. If that wasn’t pointless than the film inclusion of a bikini contest certainly will be. Sometimes when filmmakers know they’re losing their audience they’ll throw in some sex appeal to keep viewers awake. This bikini contest adds nothing of value to the film. The contestants names are Candy, Mandy, Brandy, and Sandy. Why all the contestants have Andy in their names I can’t tell you. Probably it was meant to be a joke, but that would be giving the film too much credit if I acknowledge it had any idea of what comedy is.

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For the last time. I’m not a Vampire. They suck.

 

The biggest waste of time in the film, besides the whole thing, is an intermission with ads for concession food. Homicycle, if we’re being generous, is 70 minutes long so an intermission is not needed. Besides being insulting that the filmmakers believe viewers can’t sit through a 70 minute long movie. This intermission is also pointless. Another pointless addition in the film is a concert that you might have guessed by now adds nothing of value to the film. These filler moments of the film break pacing as it brings things to a sudden stop. Another point of filler are repeating two scenes. A flashback showing Eddie death is shown twice in the film. Though, the biggest middle finger is the film opening sequence when is the same scene used to end the film. No variation as it plays the same opening sequence in its entirety for its ending. So when taking it all in, the film went in circles, and accomplished nothing pass the starting point.

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From a filmmaking point of view there’s also no passion shown in its production. The most amount of effort put into the film was copying the grainy image of a 80s B movie, and duplicating shots from that era. However, the visuals don’t improve the story, nor is able to hide the horrendous acting. Director Brett Kelly couldn’t be bother fixing easy mistakes. One of them was showing an actor firing a nail gun, and no nail being visually shown coming out of the nail gun. He lingers on special effect shots too long you can see the hose where fake blood is coming out when a person’s head is decapitated. Another trait of Brett Kelly is his sheer ability to add random things in post production. For instance, there’s a shot that last for a few seconds, and in the background the sky is purple. No reason why, it’s just there just because Brett Kelly can.

The one scene in the film that showcases Brett Kelly lack of understanding as a director is the film shootout in a warehouse. Brett Kelly made his fake gun muzzle effect, and fake splatter very noticeable in this sequence. The slow motion in the scene makes the poor special effect very noticeable. Apparently in the same scene, Kelly felt it was necessary to place render images of blood splatter in the background, yet whenever there’s a cut the blood splatter that was in the background is longer there. So Brett Kelly went out of his way to ensure there these special effects are in the film, but didn’t care enough to maintain continuity which defeats the purpose of adding special effects in the scene. He also forgets to place fake muzzle effects when a background actor is shown shooting at Homicycle. Another inconsistency are the CG bullets that come out of Homicycle automatic guns. Then for some reason Brett Kelly doesn’t bother placing CG bullets coming out the guns even though the rest of sequence he had them there before. Within the same sequence, Brett Kelly forget to show certain goons getting killed on screen, and absolutely forgets bullet holes despite the fact he chose to add fake blood splatter in post production. Also, the goon despite not being obstructed by anything all missed shooting Homicycle. This is the worst shootout I’ve seen in a homage film.

The acting much like everything else is awful. Only actor Peter Whittaker is noteworthy because of his over the top performance, and fake eyebrows. He puts effort into his performance attempting to make badly written scene funny. However, he’s unable to make jokes work because his co stars don’t bother putting effort into their performance. Peter Whittaker isn’t talented enough to make a joke work on his own. Brett Kelly not caring about producing anything of value spread to his actors which is why they phone it in. Special effects are cheap looking when they’re lingered on too much, and every single practical effect is badly executed. Music is forgettable, and the cinematography while good visually duplicating 80s B movie imagery is enough to hide the many issues of the film. If anything, I want to spotlight Trevor Payer, Jennifer Mulligan, and David A. Lloyd who are all given writing credits. Between three minds they couldn’t come with enough material to create a feature length film. That’s embarrassing.

Homicycle is the worst kind of film that doesn’t offer anything worth of value. When negatively dissecting the film, the self aware tone tells you the filmmakers made an intentionally bad movie so there’s not much to learn from it. There’s not much to dissect either as it’s dead air through it 70 minutes run, and 20 of those minutes are filler material that could have been out. In the end, you’re left with a film that is worthless. If the filmmakers didn’t put any effort to create a film of any value viewers shouldn’t put any effort themselves in seeing this garbage either.

0/10

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Cinema-Maniac: Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (2014)

Expectations of Martial Art films have changed significantly over the decades. The days of getting cheesy English dubs for live action Martial Art movies are gone now with most home video releases of offering people to see them in their original language. Even when the films do receives English dub they are not as silly as what was release in the 70s. Another thing that also changed over time was the fight choreography implementing the environment as part in the fight during the 70s, and then pushing martial artists body limits during the 80s. An era which created plentiful of Martial Art classic films giving rise to legends Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, and Sammo Hung Kam-Bo. Then came the 90s where some Chinese talent went oversea to find success in Hollywood. While the quantity of great martial films wasn’t as high as in the 80s the quality of them improved with some offering more complex plot lines. However, while there is more to the history of the subgenre than my broad generalization there’s no mistaking during the 2000s that China dominance over the Martial Arts subgenre dwindle as legendary talents were aging, and therefore not perform like they use too. Once Upon A Time In Shanghai wants to be a one of those classics from the subgenre heydays in a time where characters were kept simple, and emphasis on fight choreography was the norm. While it is an homage to those kind of films martial art films of the past. Once Upon A Time In Shanghai doesn’t ignite the same kind of feelings of those earlier films it loves.

Once Upon A Time In Shanghai tells the story of a laborer who moves to Shanghai in the hope of becoming rich. From that synopsis, if you’re familiar with crime films that contain an immigrant as the protagonist there’s no need tell readers what to expect. While it is a classic story to tell in the crime genre of immigrant hoping to make it big in foreign land it’s also been told countless of times. It’s telegraphed from the overly strong, naive country-bumpkin protagonist Ma Yongzhen (Philip Ng), the young ambitious new criminal on the block Long Qi (Andy On), the father whose disapprove of the criminal lifestyle Master Tie (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo), the young woman who eventually falls in love for the naive protagonist Tie Mei (Luxia Jiang), and a few singular purpose background characters. Making these characters arcs more predictable is adding martial arts replacing gun wielding gangsters for fists, and axes. Instead of touching on the subject of family there are few discussions about honor, and fighting. Retaining the classic story of beat of crime families uniting to eliminate a great threat that could overthrow them in power. So forth is the nature of the film to ooze old fashion cinema on everything. What this ends up creating is a typical story that aims to pay homage without changing anything. If you’re not familiar with these kind of stories the undercooked plot beats won’t make it engaging. Containing the moments you would expect from hero Ma Yongzhen becoming good friends with Long Qi after a fight, the two new friends talking about dreams on a bridge at night looking at the stars, and Ma Yongzhen given the option to run away when things become chaotic. The scenes are in place for creating good material, but the rush nature of a script that had too many ideas don’t allow time to develop them to their fullest effect.

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The silent fart. Philip Ng deadliest technique.

The first signs of trouble in the script appears before the title card does. There’s text that (paraphrasing) says that Shanghai is a city of dreams for the people of China, and hard work can get you the life you want, but the thousand of youths coming into Shanghai are tempted to take the easy way out to by becoming gangsters. This text is delivered while dramatic music plays in the background, the film grayish color filter to show some harshness in the situation, and showing the viewers a crowded deck filled with immigrants with their head held down. This sets up the idea it’ll be touching on the realistic issues dealt with achieving the “American Dream” (well, in this case the “Shanghai Dream”) with martial arts as a bonus. Then it shows a grown man taking away a Potato from a starving girl which naturally makes one wonder how the immediate harsh tone will be followed up with. PUNCH! Out of nowhere a single punch is all it take to conflict with the tone established leading into a heavily edited fight scene. A fight scene where our main character kicks two baddies several feet from the ground is an odd contrast after seeing a deck of depressing looking immigrants. Now there was a better way to transition into the fight scene. Some simple dialogue of the grown man rudely stating he’s still hungry with our hero telling him to give it back to the little girl. When the grown man says no giving the signal to his buddy to prepare for a fight would have allowed the filmmakers to keep the fight scene, and transition into fight scene more smoothly. However, this opening never bothers bringing up why the grown man stole the Potato simply assuming the viewer will make assumption this immigrant is bad for stealing food from a little girl. Though, without context given in the scenario it could easily be interpreted as a grown man getting back food stolen from him.

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I’m guessing Andy On paycheck is the reason the film has a grayish color filter.

The rest of the film follows a similar pattern of issues. There’s a scene early in the film where our hero helps an old man who stole opium from a gang, but the old man the protagonist helps goes nowhere. Then, there’s the romance aspect of the film which is underdeveloped. Our protagonist spends more time with his boss than he does his love interest. Also, there’s a subplot of our hero meeting up with his brother which disappears as it goes on. If a plot point is not underdeveloped it’s either forgotten about. The only aspect of the writing that works to any degree is Ma Yongzhen bracelet. His bracelet was given to him by his mother, and was given words of wisdom that would remind of Ma Yongzhen not to kill. It’s a simple motive where the outcome of the bracelet is telegraphed, but it was executed just fine. It’s just a shame there’s not much depth in it usage. A simple solution to the writing would have been to make the story longer, though given it wanted to be an homage script writer Jing Wong probably felt being derivative was the best bet. To his credit, the movie does progress naturally, and knows the classical story beats of old fashioned cinema to mirror classic martial art films from the era. However, by simply placing those classical story beats into the film his lack of understanding shows when he has no idea what made them work in the first place. While the film is superficially reminiscent of some classic martial art films with similar stories like Bruce Lee’s The Big Boss (1971), and Shaw Brother’s Boxer from Shantung (1972) it doesn’t build on its inspiration. It just ends up being typical in how it unfolds, and average as an homage that doesn’t illustrate what made its source of inspiration classic films in the sub genre.

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Philip Ng seen here channeling his inner Bruce Lee.

Philip Ng takes center stage portraying Ma Yongzhen in a role that is more demanding of his looks than his acting skills. Appearances wise, Philip Ng nails the expressions of a country bumpkin in his naivete optimism. Switching between badass martial artist, and your average joe seamlessly. Another aspect of his look that works to his advantage is fitting the bill of coming across the average joe. Sporting a look that is reminiscent of Bruce Lee from The Big Boss, and Jackie Chan from Battle Creek Brawl. When he performs in the fight scenes he’s convincing, though not impressive for his lack of speed in performing the fights. What Ng doesn’t share among the likes of Bruce Lee, and Jackie Chan are the charisma of those actors. Try as he might, but Ng simply comes across as trying to hard to look cool, especially in the end of the film. In terms of line delivery he’s okay. He doesn’t have the timing to be funny, nor the lack of understanding to ruin a joke. Ng doesn’t come across as someone threatening when he fights, but is alright in the moments he’s not need in combat. For the role Ng is in it’s adequate, even if lacking star power.

Next up is Andy On who plays Long Qi. His performance is also adequate. On doesn’t demonstrate very difficult emotions as scenes don’t linger much on complex emotions. However, he has style, and doesn’t phone in his acting. Much like Ng, Andy On fighting is convincing in the few times he fights. He also has good chemistry with Philip Ng making what scenes they share together the film best offering in terms of acting. It’s where the best moments come from as the two really sell their friendship, even if the writing is not up to par. Both actress Michelle Hu, and Luxia Jiang don’t get much to do in the film beside looking pretty. They’re both the love interests to perspective characters caring for their lover, and showing concerns. Not much to discuss. There’s also no well known legends in the west martial art film stars Kuan Tai Chen, and Hark-On Fung whom presence in the film are not noticeable unless you know your martial art films. Now if you’re exciting to see well known martial art legend Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, who gets top billing, he is barely in the film. Hung Kam-Bo doesn’t get to show much of his acting, and fighting prowess’s in the film as he fights only briefly in one scene. Unless you’re a fan of martial art films the lack of screen presence from Tai Chen, Hark-On, and Sammo Hung Kam-Bo will seem insignificant, but for those who do know them will make their inclusion in film lackluster of wasted talent.

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I used to be a magnificent butcher, but now I just cook food. 

The fight choreography is done by Yuen Woo-Ping whom name would be selling a point to fans of martial art films. Unfortunately in this instance a master of fight choreography isn’t at his best. A reason for this being with the exception for two, all the fight scenes are one sighted leaving no opportunity for counter moves, or complex maneuver to perform for the actors. Another aspects of the fights that take away from the fight choreography is them being overly edited. All the fight scenes have tempered speed which tends to ruin the flow of a fight scene when switching between fast, slow, and back to regular motion frequently. Applied with quick editing that changes up shots the editing doesn’t play to the fight scenes strength. If the speed of the fights weren’t tampered with Philip Ng (who performs in most of them) isn’t a quick a performer. Usage of wires are noticeable in some instances as one might take notice that defying physics, and taking yourself seriously don’t go hand in hand.

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Noticed I didn’t put any stills of fighting. Here’s one.

There’s a fight in the film that is done in one take which sounds impressive until I tell you the post production work that ruined it. The one take fight scene is sped up while typical for the film is more noticeable in this sequence. If performed well, and on time than the sequence wouldn’t need alteration. Then, there’s not framing half of the sequence correctly as there is moment where it does not show Philip Ng fighting against actors. The camera gets to close barely capturing some of Philip Ng blows as it continuously spins around until the fight scene ends. Before the fight scene occurs there are only three people visible ready to fight, but as soon as Philip Ng attacks, and the camera spins around more actors are suddenly in frame. This also creates a continuity error, though that isn’t anything unexpected for action scenes. Everything else in the film is adequate. For a film paying homage you’ll get the shots you expect, and the same applies to the music. Not much to be surprised by as director Ching Po Wong made generally safe choices. His only truly questionable is making the entire film gray instead of black & white. In few scenes there’s some semblance of color so it’s jarring why Po Wong simply didn’t choose to filter the film in black & white.

Once Upon A Time In Shanghai is wholly average as a movie, an average showcase of martial arts, and average anything you could think off. It takes the classic ideas associated with the “American Dream” in a crime a story along with the classic imagery one would expect from this kind of story. All without throwing its own flare to familiar ideas. As an homage it doesn’t disrespect old fashion cinema, but at the same time does nothing to represent the best elements of old fashioned cinema. Having too much on its plate, and not enough time to make all the ideas it has be put to good use. If you only want to see it for the action the fight scenes are edited heavily with motion of speed being played with in all of them, and virtually every fight being one sided in the favor of what the story demands. Choreography wise it’s okay with a few making little use of what’s in the environment, but the actors performing them aren’t as skillful as the stars they pay homage to. This movie doesn’t falter seriously, but neither excel in anything at the same time either.

5/10