Sunday, July 30, 2017

THE ANIMALS is worth a look!

THE ANIMALS tells a cautionary tale of four friends who succumb to the temptation of easy money through breaking and entering burglary to solve their financial troubles.  This is a straight forward character driven drama about the disastrous results of believing the ends justifies the means.  Director Sam Mason Bell has given us a simple but compelling tale that comes together rather nicely through expert cinematography and down to earth actors who bring a true sense of realism to this indie film.  What is really great is that you can watch the whole thing for free at Streamnowtv.com.  Who doesn't like free?  The characters in this movie certainly do.  But unlike watching the free shows on Streamnowtv.com, their idea of free comes with a price.  Guilt.  Watch it here instead of reading my review.  I think you are going to like this one.  Here is the link.  Go on now because the rest of my review is going to be rather spoilerific.

Unable to get a job to provide a better life for his girlfriend, George (Ross Doney) decides create a small trusted crew to rob houses for easy cash.  This crew consists of Simon (Rishi Ghosh), Perry (Ben James Archer), and Bill (Jackson Davies).  All are friends from childhood.  During their more rebellious years they had taken up burglary to a small extent with little consequence.  Now that they are adults they figure they can dip their toes into the grimy waters of crime and leave whenever they want.  They learn the hard way that they can't.  Though their crime sprees are successful with no interference from the law none of the four seem to be happy with their success.  George still can't find himself a job and always has to resume his career in burglary.  With each break-in the chances of something bad happening increases.  They never seem to realize that until it is too late.

THE ANIMALS is an intimate look into this circle of friends.  Each man has their own reason for joining the crew.  George needs money.  Perry sees a life of crime as a real career choice. Bill thinks its fun.  Simon who may be the most tragic character of all is up front with his reluctance but chooses to go along with his mates out of loyalty.  In the end they have to face the consequences on their own as individuals.

When caught red handed by the person whose house our misguided heroes were burglarizing a death occurs.  It turns out that Bill is a  Wild Card and goes into a fit of rage and murders the home owner.  From then on the consequences of their actions weighs heavily on their conscious.  This is where the film really gets uncomfortable in a good way.  These men have to return to their loved ones and try to pretend that everything is normal.  You can see the guilt wrap around each character like an invisible snake choking them to death and bringing about the destruction of their personal lives and relationships.

I cannot stress how spot on the acting has to be to make a film like this work.  There are no car chases, explosions or action scenes to distract the audience.  If the actors are unbelievable then the whole film falls apart no matter how good the cinematography looks.  Every actor and actress needs to be commended for their excellent performances.  The main characters are doing bad things but you sympathize with them.  That is hard to do.  I personally can relate to George wanting to provide a better life for his girlfriend but finding closed doors everywhere he turns.  The hot headed Perry makes you hate him at first but as the world of crime becomes more and more unpredictable you can't help but feel sorry for the guy.  When you learn that Bill is unstable unaware of his violent rages and see how these fits destroy his life you will feel sad.  Simon, who is the level headed one in this group loses the love of his life when he is compelled out of guilt to confess to his boyfriend that he participated in robberies that lead to murder.  His boyfriend wants him to turn himself to the police but Simon cannot do that.  The guilt reveals their inner character.  Have they become animals themselves?

I have only watched the film once but I keep going back in my mind replaying the events of this film appreciating the films intimacy and character arcs more and more.  This is an excellent little movie that needs to be seen.  The writing, acting and direction gives the audience many levels of the art of film to appreciate.  I think for the modern you audience looking into film and wanting to make a crime story THE ANIMALS can be and revelation.  You don't need to be 'Tarantinoesque' or bomb the screen with explosions and car chases to make a great crime film.  THE ANIMALS is proof of that.  See it for yourself and decide.  Remember it is free thanks to Streamnowtv.com.

Jason

Sunday, January 29, 2017

TRAIN TO BUSAN is a thrill ride you need to catch!

The zombie genre is a funny thing.  The concept of the dead coming to life to feast on the living has been done to redundancy.  Every possible idea has been thoroughly explored on the big and small screen.  Ever since the first RESIDENT EVIL movie came out back in the olden days of 2002 there has been a nonstop wave of zombie films of all ranges of quality.  Some good.  Most bad.  Just when you think the genre is being laid to rest, another clever, well made movie or show comes out and inspires a whole new generation of movie makers to go out and make their own cheap knock-off.  SHAUN OF THE DEAD or THE WALKING DEAD are great examples of this phenomenon.  Now the WALKING DEAD's ratings are slipping. All the newly made zombie films are not getting bought up in film markets.  If they are lucky they might end up on Chiller T.V. or the SYFY Channel.  Yet just when you think the movement is over, here comes TRAIN TO BUSAN to reanimate the whole genre once again.  I don't care.  I like zombie movies and I really liked TRAIN TO BUSAN.  Even though I am a die hard fan of zombie movies, I think even the most casual fan of horror or movies in general will like this movie.  It is a bit unique.

The movie is about a father who is taking his daughter to visit his mother via the train to Busan.  He is a man consumed with work which has resulted in a failed marriage and a daughter who can't stand to be with him.  After getting on the train, however. zombies happen and now he is fighting along with the other passengers to survive and make it to Busan, possibly the only city on the route that is safe.

With its sharp focused shots, smooth camera movement and brightly lit and colorful cinematography TRAIN TO BUSAN stomps the trend of ugly and bland looking horror movies.  The subject matter might be grim but the film doesn't have to look it.  The result is that TRAIN is energized with life.  The film moves fast from scary moment to scary moment.  The characters are alive revealing who they are through their actions throughout the film.  The zombie thrills are spontaneous making it almost impossible to predict when the next attack will happen.  It is an exciting film through and through bolstered by the audience fear that their favorite characters might die.  You are going to care and have the 'feels' for these people.  Everyone is motivated by something whether it is the fear of dying or fear of the one you love meeting the horrible fate of being a chew toy for the undead.

The movie feels more like a disaster movie than a straight up horror film.  It is more about the characters surviving a cataclysmic event more than showing a bunch of gore and gross stuff usually associated with the genre.  The zombies are treated more like a natural disaster reserving them for the road blocks that our heroes need to either run from or come up with some desperate way to get past.  The movie is about surviving, not figuring what happened and trying to stop it.

TRAIN TO BUSAN's zombies are of the WORLD WAR Z variety.  They are fast moving, with the ability to jump somewhat, and seem to be motivated by the desire to spread the zombie plague rather than eat people for their flesh or brains.  People are treated like chew toys spit out before they can be torn apart allowing them to become fast moving double jointed zombies too.  It is rather mesmerizing to watch a character turn.  They kind of do some erratic Break Dance moves complete with the cracking sound of bones before going all grey eyed as they succumb to Zombitis.  They are scary screaming freaks that swarm like army ants.  Also it doesn't help that nobody has any guns.  That means when you are on a train full of undead crazies you are going to have to punch, kick, wrestle and use anything you can find to fend off the attackers.  They make killing zombies look so easy in THE WALKING DEAD, don't they?

Let me tell you my favorite part of the movie.  It is near the very beginning before all Armageddon breaks loose.  We are introduced to the real world troubles of a father trying to ineptly form a bond with his daughter who wants nothing to do with him.  When he is driving her to the train mentioned in the movie's title it is completely uneventful.  The quiet of a sleeping city is broken by the sounds of roaring sirens heading to a building on fire out in the distance.  We, as the audience, know that all hell is breaking loose all around them but the chaos has not yet broken their little bubble of what is left of their former lives.  They are unaware that they are running in a race of life and death as slowly as possible.  Even when boarding the train all the passengers do not realize the danger biting at their heals.  The tension is immense.  You just want everyone to get on that train as fast as possible and get the heck out of there!  Move, people!  Really great zombie movies have these wonderful calm before the storm moments.

TRAIN TO BUSAN isn't SNAKES ON A PLANE.  This is a zombie movie that you can't help but get emotionally involved.  It's funny at times.  It is heartbreaking at times but always exciting.  If this movie was made in America it would be treated as just another exploitation movie and given the obvious title of ZOMBIES ON THE TRAIN or LOCOMOTIVE OF THE DEAD or some other stupid title that is just a knock-off of a much more successful franchise in the genre.  No doubt there will be a North American remake starring Mark Wahlberg.  Ugh....


Jason

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016) When is a remake not a remake?

Well they did it, didn't they?  They finally did it.  The Hollywood Remake machine has finally claimed another American classic.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed they would have the tenacity to attempt to redo a nearly perfect classic film.  How much more taboo can you be?  The film that I am talking about of course is WORLD GONE WILD.  The post apocalyptic action western starring Bruce Dern is about a hippie from the sixties living in a world ravaged by nuclear warfare.  He lives in a small settlement of peaceful pioneers in the desert who find themselves under threat of Adam Ant and his cult of followers.  Out gunned Bruce Dern goes out and recruits about five other tough guys who manage to fight back and save the town from the weirdo attackers.  Of course the most memorable moment in the film is when Bruce Dern kills a bad guy by flipping a hub cap into his throat with the flick of a stick.  Oscar worthy and totally possible in real life I am sure.

Of course I am being silly.  Yes, WORLD GONE WILD is a remake (or homage) of the classic western, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, which was a remake of the classic samurai film, THE SEVEN SAMURAI, directed by Akira Kurosawa.  But we are here to review the new Denzel Washington film directed by Antoine Fuqua.  I bring up WORLD GONE WILD to make a point.  WGW has the spirit of the original as well as some lines of dialogue and some visual cues as well.  THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN 2016 only has a few lines of dialogue from the original.  The spirit of the original is completely absent from the new film.  The new MAGNIFICENT SEVEN barely even qualifies as a remake.  I would argue that it is not a remake at all, but just another "Men on a Mission" movie.  However, the idea that this is not a remake does not make the new movie better.  There is no fresh or new approach to the material.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN from 2016 is about a gunfighter named Sam (Not Chris!) who accepts a request from a recently widowed woman to help save her town from an evil rich guy and his army of bearded, duster wearing, professional gunmen.  Of course along the way Sam (The Denzel) recruits Chris Pratt and five other cohorts to lead the revolt against the army of TOMBSTONE movie enthusiasts.

I was shocked to see according to IMDB that the new MAGNIFICENT SEVEN was two hours and thirteen minutes long.  That is five minutes longer than the 1960's version!  How can the longer film have less story?  The new movie has gutted the story and replaced it all with guns, guns and more guns.  The movie becomes more of a standard revenge Western than an epic tale of men of questionable character deciding to fight for a noble cause with little chance of winning.  Yes, that is right I said "revenge Western."  Spoiler!!!!  At the end it is revealed that the rich bad guy, Bartholomew, had murdered Sam's family.  That revelation undercuts the whole point to the story.  The story narrative is incredibly important.  The filmmakers didn't trust the audiences to understand a motivation that wasn't revenge or getting gold and stuff.  The concept of fighting because it is the right thing to do seems to be too much of an abstract concept nowadays.  When Sam says the line from the original "I have been offered a lot, but never everything" it now suddenly has no meaning because he is only joining the cause for revenge.  Contrast that with Yul Brynner's character, Chris, who is moved by the gesture of poor farmers scraping together everything they have just to hire him to fight.  Which movie has more depth of character?  Which movie is going to move you more on an emotional level?

Akira Kurosawa's film was called THE SEVEN SAMURAI.  It is about seven samurai.  The 1960's MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is about seven gunfighters.  The new movie's cast of characters have different occupations.  You have Sam and the Mexican as gunfighters, a knife expert, a former Confederate who is now a sharp shooter, a Native American who joins for no reason, a mountain man and a gambler.  The diversity of their occupations doesn't hurt the modern film because there is no attempt to bring a connection between our protagonists and our super rich and super mean antagonist.  There is no time for character development despite the longer run time.  Longer run time means longer gun fights at the end.  1960's MAGNIFICENT had a cast of nothing but wandering gunfighters just like the wandering samurai from the source material.  These seven gunfighters are fighting a large band of outlaws who are also gunfighters.  They have similar job occupations.  Eli Wallachi leads the gang of outlaws who steals from the poor defenseless farmers.  Near the end he out smarts the heroes and takes over the small village but he doesn't kill them.  He respects them.  He sees himself as one of them even though he doesn't understand why they are fighting for some pathetic farmers.  The new movie has a stereotypical wealthy bad guy.  Only at the end is there an attempt to establish any connection our heroes and villain and it is only the deflating revelation that the bad guy killed Sam's family back in the day.  Standard stuff you would find in any Western.  That is why I really don't consider this a remake.  It is too far gone from the source material.  It is in name only that this is a remake.

Location.  Location.  Location.  The location is so important to both versions of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.  For the original it helps emphasize the thoughtful nature of our heroes.  They choose to fight the odds in a foreign land far away from anyone who will ever know their sacrifice.  There is no reward for what they are doing.  No one will remember them except for the farmers and villagers they help save.  They are alien to the Mexican culture.  Through the course of the film, however, the gunfighters envy the farmers for having a life worth living full of family and friends.  The farmers and the gunfighters learn from each other and develop a kinship.  Also the village is in the middle of nowhere far from any form of law enforcement which is ideal for Calvera and his men to take as they please.  The villagers are so desperate to hire men that are good with guns that they scrounge all of their most valuable possessions together making themselves even more poor than they were before.

The location of the remake takes place in the United States.  The townsfolk are not poor when compared to the farmers of the original.  The townsfolk gathering up their possessions to pay for their own Magnificent Seven isn't as meaningful.  They probably have more wealth where that came from.  Just look at how prosperous their town looks.   These people have jobs.  It feels disingenuous.  Being in the United States means there is some kind of government law somewhere about.  I know the film gives the classic cliche that the evil rich guy owns the law but if you are going to seek help from an army of bad guys, you don't buy gunfighters.  You go to a nearby fort and find the United States Army and ask them to help for free.  Does the bad guy own the Army too?  Not bloody likely.  Maybe there is some kind of HEAVEN'S GATE situation going on the movie doesn't mention.

Calvera played by Eli Wallachi is bombastic, deadly and a true threat.  He is a bandit, a killer, a man who has lived the life of adventure.  He lives outside of the law just like our heroes.  Contrast that to Bartholomew Bogue the wealthy murdering businessman.  Peter Sarsgaard is a great actor and he does his job well playing the antagonist but his diminutive size and stature does not present much of a menace to our stalwart band of larger than life heroes.  Being a man raised in great privilege makes him look soft having armed guards do his dirty work.

So what are we left with?  A descent action western and not much else.  Its not great but it is entertaining for the most part.  All the actors are great in their respected roles.  Denzel is always good.  You can never accuse the guy of giving a bad performance.  Chris Pratt is pretty much an early relative of STARLORD but that is a good thing for this film.  The Seven do have some good chemistry between them all that musters some attachment from the audience.  I like Byung-hun Lee as Billy Rocks the knife expert and his partner Goodnight Robicheaux the sharpshooter.  These two have an fun and sympathetic friendship where Billy keeps Goodnight in check from completely falling apart from his past experience in the Civil War.  If they had survived the movie they should have had a spin-off movie exploiting their further adventures.  Oops!  Spoilers!  Antoine Fuqua is a really good action director and he brings his "A Game" for this one.  There is a ton of glorious six gun blasting action in this movie and it's well staged and easy to follow.  No busy editing to distract form the action.  I particularly like all the horse stunt work Denzel does shooting bad guys from atop his magnificent black steed.  He is like a gymnast on a pommel horse.  Don't worry, folks.  The horse survives.  With all the shootings, stabbings and other major impalement issues I am surprised that this film managed to squeak out a PG-13.

Its funny.  Antoine Fuqua made another actioner that came out back in the old days of 2003.  It was TEARS OF THE SUN.  It starred Bruce Willis as a Special-Ops commander who leads a small group of soldiers who are sent into Africa to retrieve a doctor played by Monica Bellucci but find themselves ignoring orders to save a bunch of refugees fleeing a murderous army that seeks to kill them all.  Its an okay movie.  Tom Skerritt pops up in the film as an added bonus.  TEARS is way more closer to a MAGNIFICENT SEVEN remake than the Denzel movie.  Men in a foreign land who fight against a much larger army to save some people they have no apparent commonality with.  Sure it doesn't take place in the same time period and it lacks the memorable dialogue of the original but it does have the same core concept of few against many for the lives of strangers and the greater good.  See it for yourself.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN has more in common with any generic action movie (WORLD GONE WILD) concerning men recruited to undertake a dangerous mission than it does with the classic Western the movie steals it's title from.  Still the new movie is enjoyable with it's colorful cast and impressive amount of shoot'em up fun.  It is just too bad they didn't approach the material as an epic rather than just another BANG-BANG action movie.

Jason

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS (What if) STORY!

Just like THE EWOK ADVENTURE and EWOKS: THE BATTLE FOR ENDOR, ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY is a stand alone film that takes place in the STAR WARS universe only without Ewoks.  The film is about Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) being recruited by the Rebellion to locate her father who was taken from her when she was a child to work on weaponizing the Death Star.  Eventually this quest leads her and some new allies on the path to steal the plans for the Death Star and get them to the Rebellion.  The story is serviced by a forgettable music score, some breath-taking visuals and horrible horrible fan service.  If you like STAR WARS for it's explosions, lazers and spaceships then ROGUE ONE is the greatest movie of them all.  If you like STAR WARS for its endearing timeless story and memorable characters then you will be disappointed.

When I first saw the trailer for ROGUE ONE I was immediately impressed by the character of Jyn Erso.  The trailer portrays her as a Snake Plissken type character.  My favorite line from the trailer is when she says "This is a rebellion, isn't it? I rebel."  That's a great line.  Unfortunately that line was cut out as well as any other possible scene or moment that would make her a strong or even memorable character.  Instead she comes across as a scared little girl forced into a situation she never would have put herself in.  Yeah, the film makes it a point to show her beat up a bunch of storm troopers but that doesn't make her a strong character.  She is just an action figure.  Jyn has no good moments.  She gives a couple of speeches that come across as out of step with her character.  Jyn is a non-character in her own story.  She has not earned the right to be the biggest character on the movie poster.  She never really seems to be a part of the Rebellion even though she has experienced personal loss at the hands of the Empire.  You would think she would have been in the Rebellion from day one.  I'm not even sure what she was doing before being rescued/captured by the Rebellion and setting her on the mission to find her father.

Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna is a spy for the Rebellion.  His character has a little more of an arch.  We see him having to kill one of his own as to not let him fall into the hands of the Empire.  He has had to do a lot of bad things for the sake of the Rebellion  Bad things not wrong things I will point out.  He can't escape the guilt that he has from doing those things.  That guilt actually interferes with his secret mission which is to kill Jyn's father.  When given the chance he cannot bring himself to pull the trigger.  Wanting to make up for the bad things he has done he joins Jyn on the mission to steal the Death Star plans.  You would think he would be an interesting character but he is also kind of forgettable.  He is rather bland.  Him and Jyn are the perfect couple.  They both fail to bring an emotional attachment to the film.  That is why so many people view the first hour or so as kind of boring while the action packed third act impresses.  If we cared about the characters then the beginning of ROGUE ONE would just as entertaining.

Is ROGUE ONE a war story?  Nope.  ROGUE ONE is no different than A NEW HOPE or RETURN OF THE JEDI.  Essentially ROGUE is an adventure film about a woman and a small crew who go to find her father but by the third act find themselves in a large scale battle with the Empire.  Its really no different or more grittier than A NEW HOPE or RETURN OF THE JEDI.  Heck, they even show the cutesy lovable Ewoks getting killed in JEDI.  I don't remember seeing any gory severed arms in ROGUE ONE either.


Darth Vader Force chokes Director Krennic for no reason except for fan service.  Director Krennic did nothing wrong except show his ambition to show off for the Emperor.  He didn't insult Vader for his sad devotion to an ancient religion nor made huge incompetent strategic errors that cost the Empire huge victories against the Rebellion.  This is an example of writing a character and not knowing who that character is but knowing the character actions in previous stories.  Vader has become the guy who Force chokes and uses a red light saber.  He even makes hand into a weird hook shape to let the audience know that he is using the Force to Force choke Krennic.  Its dumb as well as the line Vader says about not choking on your own ambitions.  It made no sense.  The dirty little secret for making ROGUE ONE is not to tell the story of those who sacrificed their lives to steal the plans to the Death Star.  No.  This movie was just an excuse to show Darth Vader (going against character) charging down a hallway like a Force sensitive Jason Vorhees slaughtering Rebel soldiers like they were made of paper.  The general audience just wants Vader killing people with the Dark Side of the Force and using his cool looking red light saber.  Don't be surprised if we get a stand alone Darth Vader film.  Hopefully the next time we see Vader he isn't voiced by James Earl Jones.  He just sounds too tired now.  The fire is gone.  Also hopefully we get a better body double that can match David Prowse's imposing presence.  We really owe David Prowse a debt of gratitude for bring Darth Vader to life in the physical sense.  Oh, yea and give Vader some better dialogue too.  In fact never make a movie with Vader in it.

The biggest problem of the film is its need to bridge the ROGUE ONE directly into A NEW HOPE.  The makers didn't pay attention to what was going on at the beginning of A NEW HOPE.  For them it was just two spaceships shooting lazers at each other followed by storm troopers boarding and shooting lazers at the escort soldiers.  On a side note why didn't Vader just storm in by himself and mow everyone down with his red rocket light saber?  Maybe he was just too tired from doing it five minutes ago because he is old and stuff.  It is the small details that paint a bigger picture to what is going on.  When Vader boards he chokes a soldier for information.  The soldier says that this is a counselors ship on a diplomatic mission.  Why would he say that if they had just escaped from Vader during a large scale attack against the Empire?  They know that Vader personally witnessed their ship escape.  Then when Princess Leia meets Vader she says that only he would be sold bold to attack a diplomatic ship and that the Imperial Senate will hear about this.  Why would she say that if she just escaped from a major battle against the Empire again right in front of Vader himself?  According to Princess Leia she is part of the Imperial Senate.  When she is going on these diplomatic missions for the Empire she is secretly working for the Rebellion.  Secretly means she isn't partaking in full blown military excursions.  Vader attacks the ship because he knows that the plans to the Death Star were beamed directly to that ship by rebel spies via several transmissions.  That tells me that the spies are still alive too by the way.  The only way Vader knows that Leia  is a spy is by those transmissions.  Capturing her is done in secret because it may generate sympathy for the rebellion.  This also shows that the Empire doesn't have full control of the universe  Only when the Death Star is complete do we have the Emperor disbanding the Imperial Senate.  On the surface level what happened in A NEW HOPE is that a diplomatic ship flying through the universe is attacked by an Imperial Star Destroyer.  In reality Princess Leia was using her diplomatic status to fly out and retrieve the plans via transmissions from Rebel spies as well as bringing back Obi-Wan Kenobi.  After retrieving the plans she races home only to be pursued and captured by Vader.  If ROGUE ONE is to be accepted everything that happens at the beginning of  A NEW HOPE makes no sense.  

I didn't hate the film however.  Despite things getting stupid at the very end I did like seeing Grand Moff Tarkin return via some impressive C.G.I.  The actor they imposed the C.G.I. on to bring Peter Cushing back to life also did the voice.  Even though it sounded slightly different it still felt genuinely like how the character would sound as oppose to Vader.  Another surprise seeing Red Leader and Gold Leader brought back via footage from A NEW HOPE.  I like seeing the cannon fodder from A NEW HOPE given more life.  I also loved how the beginning of the film looked like an Akira Kurosawa film with wide stretches of empty skyline with imposing figures decorating  the horizon of an open field.  I like that kind of nod to the franchises inspiration.

Ultimately it is the supporting cast that puts some actual emotion in the film.  Donnie Yen as Chirrut the blind Jedi wannabe and his best friend Baze Malbus played by Wen Jiang give some much need personality to the film.  Their brotherhood is the only relationship that comes across as genuine.  Alan Tudyk provides most of the comedy as the voice of K-2SO, a former Imperial droid that now serves as a badass C-3PO.  These three characters are the best thing about ROGUE ONE besides the grand and awe inspiring visuals.  You care for them and feel a sense of loss when they die.

I was hoping for something different but by the end we got another regular STAR WARS adventure film.  The only difference is that all the main characters die at the end.  The fan service ("I have a bad feeling about"..."No!") makes this film no better than films like TERMINATOR GENISYS.  An enjoyable film but not worthy of its original predecessors.  Yes it is the best prequel but that isn't saying much.  I would say about 80% of ROGUE ONE is terrific but that 20% of bad really hurts the film and the franchise as a whole.  The continuity is ruined again.  It is because of it failings to fit into the STAR WARS continuity without taking away from the originals is why ROGUE ONE is only a "What If" story and not true canon.

Jason

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A TASTE OF KILLING needs a re-release!

Tonino Valerii has directed about five Spaghetti Westerns in his day.  DAY OF ANGER aka GUNLAW is probably his best with the help of the two main stars Lee Van Cleef and Giuliano Gemma.  His most famous is MY NAME IS NOBODY which stars Henry Fonda and Terence Hill and may have been co-directed by Sergio Leone.  It is terrible and boring.  The ending is good but it belongs in a better film.  The movie as a whole is bad which is why I find it strange that so many critics familiar with Italian Westerns would often have it ranked somewhere in their top ten lists.  I guess they need to see more Spaghetti Westerns.  If they had then maybe they would have seen the far more satisfying A TASTE OF KILLING.

The film stars Craig Hill (A sort of cross between Eastwood and Bronson) as Lanky, a bounty hunter who has been tasked to protect a shipment of gold locked in the town's bank vault from a small army of bandits.  The leader of the bandits, Gus Kennebeck (George Martin) also just happens to be the man who killed Lanky's brother back in the day.  Time for some payback, right?  Well sort of.  Lanky may not be the hero we have been so accustomed to in other Westerns from Italy.

At the beginning of this tale of bloodshed and greed, Lanky is traveling on horseback watching a column of cavalry soldiers escort a shipment of gold through a valley in the desert.  From atop the valley Lanky has a birds eye view of the escort.  Through the scope of his rifle, he sees bandits waiting to attack.  Lanky sets his sights on the first leader of the bandits, Sanchez, played by Fernando Sancho.  Character actor Fernando Sancho always plays bandit leaders in Spaghetti Westerns.  I will just assume he dies in all of them.  With his sights set on Sanchez, Lanky waits.  Then the bandits begin shooting.  Lanky does nothing.  All the soldiers are murdered mercilessly and the gold is stolen along with some money.  This moment tells us everything we need to know about Lanky.  He is in it for the money.  Lanky's motivations are dictated by his plan to get more money.  He is just like Franco Nero's Django.  The only difference is that at the end Django redeems himself while Lanky continues in his amoral ways.

Before there was Quigly Down Under there was Lanky.  Lanky likes using a scope on his rifle to scout from atop and kill from a distance.  That doesn't mean he always kills from a distance and not adversed to shooting someone in the back.  Sanchez and two of his goons found out early on that Lanky is fast and deadly with a pistol too.  The scoped rifle is a symbol of Lanky being distant from humanity.  He kills bad guys but he lets innocent soldiers die too when he could have easily helped out.  Lanky is only interested in money.  I don't think this makes him one dimensional though.  His distance stems from his experience with loss.  Well at least I think so.  We learn that Gus, the new and more dangerous leader of the bandits, murdered Lanky's brother.  Lanky states that he would kill him for free even though he can wait while the bounty on Gus's head keeps going up.  Lanky is a man of simple motives.  He wants money and keeping things simple.  Surprisingly he is illiterate but he can read the amounts of money for bounties on wanted posters.  Reading is only important enough to read dollar signs.

The characteristics of a hero's story are dispersed to other characters in the film.  This makes the movie's characters a little more intriguing.  Just a little.  Gus has more noble intentions than Lanky does.  Gus wants to steal the towns gold so he can provide a better life for his wife who struggles raising their son in the criminal lifestyle.  The movie doesn't make us like him much though because every so often he gets upset and starts slapping the wife around.  I think the movie would have been stronger if Gus was actually more identifiable and sympathetic.  Being too interested in financial gain Lanky does not have a love story.  That story goes to a bandit who is in love with the wife of a former bandit who has changed his ways and now works for the bank protecting the gold.  Yeah, it's kind of confusing with all the subplots that form to stretch out the run time.  I don't even remember who any of these people are.

All the subplots and the stupid plan of Lanky's hiding the gold as the front steps of the bank to fool the bandits don't really take away from the film.  The movie is full of enough gun play to keep everyone entertained.  In fact I think this might be the first movie where someone is shot in the eye while they are looking through the scope of a rifle similar to what happened in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and HEROES SHED NO TEARS.  My favorite moment in A TASTE FOR KILLING is at the end when Gus tries to shoot Lanky with his own scope rifle.  Lanky shoots him through the scope with his pistol killing Gus instantly.  Then Lanky picks up the now broken and grimaces.  Its a quick and funny moment.  Lanky showed more emotion over his ruined rifle scoped than he did for the dozens of soldiers left behind to become vulture meet.  At the end Lanky follows the gold he just rescued and once again watches from a distance as another band of outlaws gun down the new cavalry detail and begins to steal the gold.  Lanky's true intentions are revealed.  He makes money chasing gold shipments. That is when you realize he let all those soldiers die on purpose at the beginning of the film and he let it happen again so he can make some money.  You have to wonder how Lanky gets his own hero theme song.

A TASTE OF KILLING needs to be better known.  Its good.  Maybe it's not as great as I think it is but with lots of bad guys to shoot and some good dialogue from time to time the movie never gets boring.  I like Craig Hill.  He is a great alternative to Eastwood or Bronson without coming across as generic.  Despite some choppy editing this is a pretty slick film with a story that doesn't follow the typical 'Stranger comes to town and starts trouble' formula.  Usually it is the rich bankers and business men that the hero fights.  In this movie the hero works for them and they are played by Franco Ressel and Piero Lulli!  These two actors always play the main bad guys in Spaghetti Westerns and they always die by the end.  In A TASTE FOR KILLING they don't suffer a scratch.  Its rather refreshing.  If this film was made a few years later Lanky and Gus would team up to take on the greedy bankers and rich land owners.

Unfortunately the DVD is out of print and rather expensive to buy.  I can only hope that someone out there puts this movie that plays to a different beat out on Blu-ray soon.  PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE!  I am not above begging.  If you are in to Italian Westerns this is a must watch especially if you are looking for something outside of Leone.  Director Tonino Valerii was a student of sorts under Leone if that peaks your interest.  This was Valerii's first film in the director's chair.  Also Lanky's theme song by Nico Fedinco is catchy.  I need the soundtrack which is probably out of print too.  Ugh!.

Jason

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER (1974)

SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER sounds more like a title for a Spaghetti Western than a modern day Eurocrime.  I'm sure this film has many different titles and translations depending on what market of the world it was distributed to.  Director Fernando Di Leo has made an excellent entry into the genre.  The first thirty minutes or so I wasn't very impressed.  The film is kind of ordinary in it's initial appearance.  Most likely the film was quickly shot.  There isn't any well thought out creative camera angles and compositions to make the film any different from all the other hastily made Dirty Harry knock offs from seventies Italy.  I can't even remember the music.  However, if you wait you will be rewarded with a simple but very compelling story about the consequences of police corruption.  Its the story that makes SHOOT FIRST worth a watch.  The ending is great too which I will be spoiling completely in this review because I love it!

SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER opens with a large bow tied mafia boss named Pascal having a bunch of local drug dealers shot in the legs for doing business behind his back.  Later an eccentric old man tries to leave his house to get milk for his cat but his gate has been blocked by a couple of cars to where he can't get out.  This prompts the old man to file a police report.  Meanwhile police officer, Domenico (Luc Merenda) busts some gun runners.  After being glorified for busting them Domenico gets word to show up to a meeting.  That meeting ends up being with Pascal.  Domenico is actually working for the mob!  They inform Domenico that there was a report filed involving the parked cars that links Pascal to a recent murder.  Domenico is to get rid of that report.  The problem is that with the escalation of the murder investigation everyone involved with filing that report is now a witness and Domenico knows it.  The police officer who wrote down and filed that report just happens to be Domenico's father.

Domenico is a carefree kind of cop.  He busts the bad guys, gets into high speed car chases through the crowded streets of Milan and at the end of the day goes to his girlfriend Sandra's apartment to make sweet sweet love.  He does all of this and helps out the mob with their coffee and tobacco trade.  For Domenico and his partner Garrito (Rosario Borelli) this is small time harmless crime and easy money.  They see no wrong in it.  He doesn't realize that the Mafia are expanding their trade into guns and drugs until Domenico busts two Portuguese gun runners that are dealing with Pascal.  Domenico learns the hard way that working for the mob is not harmless fun and the only thing he needs to buy with his ill gotten gains is a fancy new casket.

What a great movie!  The first thirty minutes sets up the true drama that comes later almost unassumingly.  The movie comes across as just another silly tough guy movie but the moment you see that Domenico is corrupt everything changes.  There is an invisible noose around Domenico's neck that tightens with every passing scene as he tries to get that report out of the hands of his father.  We see that his father is very proud of him.  When Domenico has to reveal to his father that he is working for the mob it breaks his father's heart.  His father reluctantly brings Domenico the report breaking the law and making his father corrupt too.  His father never forgives him and he isn't given time to do so because he is murdered after giving the report to Domenico.  This propels Domenico into going after Pascal but doing so costs him everything.  

SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER is about the price one pays for being corrupt.  Though he doesn't realize it, Domenico has lost his soul.  Our protagonist is not any better than the bad guys he gets revenge on.  One of the best and most revealing moments of the film is when Domenico, Garrito and another cop who we see early on is not part of the police corruption go to Sandra's apartment to save her from some hitmen.  After pulling up to the apartment Domenico sends the innocent cop to the front door to ring the bell.  Domenico just watches and waits as if he already knows what is about to happen next.  BOOM!  The cop dies from a rigged explosive after ringing the door bell.  Domenico shows no concern as he charges into the apartment only to find his girlfriend dead on the bed.  He sent the cop to die and it didn't bother him.  Domenico is truly lost to the world of sin.

Throughout the film Domenico tries to stay ahead of the mob.  He avoids their traps and bullets.  Finally he strikes a deal with Pascal's lawyer and second in command, Mazzanti played Richard Conti.  A meeting is set up where Domenico meets with Pascal face to face.  Pascal offers his hand to end all the trouble but Domenico shoots him in the face.  Mazzanti and his men leave but Garrito walks up behind Domenico and shoots him in the head.  And that is how the film ends.  You can never truly escape the consequences of corruption.  Its a cruel and unforgiving ending.  Garrito was a trusted friend. At the funeral for Domenico's father Garrito is the only one with tears in his eyes.  After going back and watching the movie again I have to wonder if he is crying for Domenico's loss or is he upset that he has already been tasked to kill his best friend?  Will Garrito have a similar fate in the future?

SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER has some good tough guy moments to help pass the run time but it is the story that makes this a definite must watch.  Luc Merenda as Domenico is a surprise.  At the beginning I dismissed him as just another tough guy actor but his acting chops shine through in the scenes involving drama between him and his father.  You feel for him as he tries to persuade his father that what he did wasn't all that bad.

The Italians know how to have a good surprise ending.  They have to for having so many similar films produced at the same time.  I like the endings where at the end when all is said and done our hero still manages to get themselves perished at the hands of a friend or random thug.  BIG GUNS has a similar ending.  If you feel like you have seen everything then let me recommend the horror and Eurocrime films from Italy.  You never know what you are going to get.  Over the years I have become a reluctant fan and now embrace them looking for the next surprise.  The search never gets old.

Jason

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

DOCTOR STRANGE is Magically Delicious!

I have to admit that I didn't expect a lot from DOCTOR STRANGE.  ANOTHER ORIGIN STORY?!!!  Is it really necessary to do another story about the beginnings of another super hero?  I know next to nothing about Doctor Strange but I don't feel the need to have my hand held and explained how he came to be even with all the magic mumbo-jumbo.  I have seen enough to know how this whole super hero thing works.  The whole movie looked like it was going to be some kind of INCEPTION knock-off.  Now that I have seen the movie I can say that I was wrong.  Not only is DOCTOR STRANGE good, it's one of Marvel's best!

Dr. Strange is one of the best surgeons in the world.  He is a man of great arrogance fully aware of how much smarter he is than everyone else around him.  Not a bad guy but he has a couple of large character flaws.  After a car wreck of his own doing, Strange finds himself no longer able to be a surgeon due to the crippling of his hands.  Humbled in body but not in mind, Strange's desperation to get his former life back leads him to look into possible magic remedies.  This journey leads him to the discovery that there is real magic in the universe and there are unseen threats that will use magic to bring destruction to our world.

DOCTOR STRANGE opens our minds to the Cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  There is not just other countless universes but other dimensions and realms too.  All of it is connected.  Dr. Strange who considered himself the biggest man in the world, is shown that he is just a small part of a much larger reality.  That doesn't make him and his existence meaningless but it does mean that everyone has value.  Everyone is important and worth fighting for.  Overtime Dr. Strange learns to use magic of the universe to help others instead of himself.  He becomes a Master of magic but insists that you still call him Doctor.

The film only gets better and better.  At no point does the story get bogged down with boring exposition or a pointless love story that will not last into the certain sequel.  This is an origin story after all.  We know how origin stories progress.   We know that we will see set ups to future films in the franchise.  We should be bored but we are most definitely not.  Part of that reason is Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect as the title character.  Dr. Strange is rich, smart and arrogant like Tony Stark only not as funny or likable.  There is some deep complexity to his character.  He loves himself more than anyone and this blinds him to why he can't build a strong relationships with others.  He does care for his patients but he likes the glory a bit more.  You can't help but get involved of his story as the prideful doctor the humbled but super powered super hero.

A big positive to this film and all Marvel films is that DOCTOR is part of a much larger story.  While watching DOCTOR STRANGE you have to wonder where this is happening in the MCU.  How are they going to use this character in the Infinite War?  Are any Avengers going to show up?  What is going on in the MCU while this story is going on?  The idea of all these movies sharing the same universe helps boost interest even in the most lackluster Marvel movie.

Magic gives more room for imagination.  The fight scenes are more creative because magic is being used in a creative way.  There isn't just a bunch of shooting and punching.  In fact there is an almost subversive nature with the use of magic in the fights.  At the end the bad guys had pretty much won but thanks to Dr. Strange's willingness to break the rules of magic he is able to rewind time with the Time Stone and save everyone and defeat the bad guys while time reverses all around them.  There is time travel and dimension bending and out of body experiences that are used in the battles between good and evil.  Imagination is used the right way.  In the Marvel Cinematic Universe we haven't seen these things before except for the Quantum Realm in ANT-MAN.  You do see the Quantum Realm briefly in DOCTOR STRANGE.

DOCTOR STRANGE is a fast paced eye opening experience.  It is a welcome addition to the MCU and a course correction from the BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE ripoff CAPTAIN AMERICA; CIVIL WAR which was somewhat of a disappointment.  Hopefully DOCTOR is the last of these origin stories.  The formula needs to be changed to tell a story of a newly introduced character.  PUNISHER: WAR ZONE is the best example of that.  My only real complaint for DOCTOR is that the some of the fight scenes are too heavily edited at times.  Other than that this movie will surpass the most highest expectations.  Go see it and be amazed!

Jason