Saturday, June 1, 2019

THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT. Great Title Equals Great Film!

THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT (MHB from here on out, folks.) is a film that needs to be appreciated and admired for what it is and thanked for what it is not.  While the title pretty much tells you what happens in the film it does not tell you what the film is really about.  I believe you will be pleasantly surprised to find a slower paced and emotionally layered film instead of a zany hodgepodge of craziness the title may lead some to imagine.  No, this is not some kind of stupid nonsense created to surf the wave of shocking success the SHARKNADO movies created.  MHB could have 'LOL'd itself into obscurity along with so many other absurd titles meant to achieve quick easy views based on how extremely crazy the names are such as SHARKTOPUS, FRANKENFISH, 3-HEADED SHARK ATTACK, 5-HEADED SHARK ATTACK, 6-HEADED SHARK ATTACK.  You get the idea.  Its all stupid.  MHB is the opposite of all that jazz.  This is a film that not only earns it's title but your respect too.

Sam Elliot was meant for this lead role as Calvin Barr a man that lives his life in quiet sad obscurity carrying the unseen burden of remembering the past. No one knows that back in the day that he killed Hitler.  Calvin never speaks of it except for once in a moment of weakness to his brother the barber played by the wonderful Larry Miller who usually plays sarcastic jerk characters.  Calvin only mentions that he killed a man in the war still keeping the secret of the man's identity.  Being a man of great intelligence and skill during World War II made Calvin the prime candidate to hunt down and kill Hitler behind enemy lines.  But killing Hitler brought him no peace or pride nor fame.  The war didn't end.  Nothing was accomplished.  Instead Calvin suffered loss.  He lost the opportunity to live the life he wanted with the woman he loved.  Now he just gets by still living in the past never having the motivation to move on.  When the government shows up to ask him to hunt Bigfoot down before it spreads a deadly disease to the world Calvin reluctantly accepts the mission.

MHB is mostly a touching and somber film about living an unintended life.  It's focus is on emotion not exploitation. Would anyone expect such emphasis from the title?  Calvin is a man about life and love but he finds himself being defined by death having to kill an evil man and eventually an innocent one of a kind creature.  Throughout the film we are treated to flashbacks of Calvin's younger self showing us how this chum became so glum.  We see him with his girlfriend as they date and fall in love.  Calvin tries to find the right time to ask for her hand in marriage but that perfect time never happens.  Instead World War II happened.  Trying to win the war cost him the life he was truly meant to live.  How do you continue with the empty life you were never meant to live?  How do you go on without the person you were meant to be with?  How can you?  You just do, I suppose. I don't know. I'm still trying to figure that one out myself.

After hearing the title and that Sam Elliot was the lead I figured this was going to be an exploitation tongue-THROUGH-cheek, over the top, action comedy similar to what the disappointing MACHETE films ended being.  Was Sam Elliot going to punch an armored tank or something stupid?  I figured it would be more along the lines of a crazy SyFy channel original movie that would ripoff the movie GRINDHOUSE with the film purposely made to look old and scratched up with cringy and tired REEL MISSING gags popping up throughout the film. Instead we are given a low key but epic film full of thought and imagination.  There are more moments of quiet reflection and human emotions that build upon Calvin and his personal struggles to find meaning in his life. I love the pebble in the shoe that slightly plagues Calvin throughout the film.  He tries to get it out but it seems to be lost in his shoe forever.  At the end he is able to accept his past and move on.  Then like magic the troublesome pebble falls out no longer an irritant.  That is where the real imagination is. It is in the smaller moments that have bigger meanings and make this a special kind of film.

Nazis, wildfires, government officials in bio-suits entering menacing giant bio-domes, cursed shaving, and a diseased zombie looking Bigfoot populate the film but they do not overshadow the core meaning of the film. That is thanks to a single vision brought to the screen by writer/director Robert D. Krzyowski.  He manages to give us a lot visually with a smaller budget without major distracting influences of a studio committee trying to market the film to the masses and their expectations. Life, love, loss and regret are the real focus of the story,  When the story switches over to hunting the Bigfoot those themes are not lost.  There is a strange relationship that forms between Calvin and the Bigfoot during their battle.  They are the same.  The last of their kind both try to live in an ugly unforgiving world yet only one of them can continue to live.  In a way hunting Bigfoot is his way of dealing with his past.  He doesn't want to kill an innocent creature. The ugly thing is even a vegetarian.  But fate has deemed him to have to die and that sad duty falls into the hands of our man Calvin.  It seems that killing an evil man couldn't save the world but sacrificing an innocent creature will.  Bad things happen to the good. That is the way of things.  Calvin comes to some kind of personal resolution and appreciation for the life he does have.  Though his past is still a part of him he can continue with hope of a brighter future.

If  you ever lost love due to pursuing a career then I would suggest you give MHB a try.  You might reach some kind of catharsis by the story of Calvin Barr and how he lives his life of regret.  The movie has a bit of gore but not much to remember so if you are looking for that kind of thing only then I still highly recommend it.  I think most monster movie lovers who give this drama with its eccentric name some attention will discover an engaging story that has never been done before. A rare achievement. Thank you, Mr. Krzyowski for taking risks and delivering an entertaining film that highlights what an incredible actor Sam Elliot is.  He deserves important more mature films like this. Give it a watch and see for yourself.


Jason

Thursday, January 25, 2018

PUNISHER: THE NETFLIX SERIES is very "Bourne-ing."

Let me tell you something, folks.  I am a huge fan of the Punisher.  I have the character's first appearance in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #129.  I have just about every issue of every volume of the Punisher's main run of comics as well as a ton of his appearances in other characters' comics.  I think he is just the tops!  Superheroes are often the outsiders of society.  If that is so then Frank Castle is the outsider of outsiders.  He cannot rely on his superpowers to save the day because he has none!  What a fascinating hero in a world of super powered superheroes. I tell you all of this to assure you that this review is not going to be one of those "It sucks because the show isn't like the comics" kind of reviews.  I promise.  I will say, however, that Netflix's THE PUNISHER is terrible for so many other reasons.  Yea, that's right.  I didn't care too much for this show.  Everyone else seems to love it but I found the show to be a 13 hour endurance test of boring.  It's a thin unimaginative story populated with a bunch of characters that serve as oversize luggage that drag down and get in the way of anything interesting happening.  Oh, and the show is nothing whatsoever like the comics!

The story is another origin story!  Can you believe it?  How ballzy do you have to be to put out another origin story of the same version of the character?  It is like the creators of this show don't know what to do with this guy or are too afraid to write stories that concern what the Punisher actually does.  So in DAREDEVIL season 2 we are introduced to Frank Castle who is hunting down those who murdered his family.  By the end of the show he gets them all.  Now for his new show he discovers that there was one more person left and he spends the entire 13 episodes trying to find out who he is and kill him.  You can rest assure that season 2 of the PUNISHER will feature yet another character tied to the death of Frank's family that he will have to go after for another 13 episodes.

The show starts off with Frank Castle played by Jon Bernthal running around killing the little fish that were tied to the death of his family.  He is wearing the white punishment death skull prominently on his bulletproof vest so I took that as a good sign.  I thought all that stuff with his family was over.  The show can move on into new territory.  But then after he kills them all in the first five minutes of the first episode he burns the vest and retires to hitting concrete walls with a hammer.  What is he going to do for the rest of the season?  Oh, he is going to go around and yet again uncover the conspiracy that got his family made not alive anymore with the help of his new friend and computer whiz, Micro.  Fun?

Jon Bernthal really isn't playing the Punisher.  He is playing a character that should have been called the Revenger.  His motivation is based only on getting revenge on those that wronged him.  The Thomas Jane movie of the same name also made the same mistake.  Once the Punisher has dealt with those who murdered his family what is left for Franky to do?  What would motivate him to go on and wage war on bad guys?  It feels wrong for him to go on killing unless he is unstable mentally which this show insinuates with his apparent PTSD.  If there was any doubt that Frank Castle is not the Punisher the scene where Frank has a gun to the head of Turk, the gun runner who also helped traffic people in the slave trade.  Turk is kind of a running gag always popping up in the previous Netflix Marvel shows like DAREDEVIL and LUKE CAGE.  What was funny about his character is that you knew that he would show up in the PUNISHER show and that he was going to die because Daredevil and Luke Cage don't kill but the Punisher does.  We knew it was too good not to happen but it didn't.  After finding Turk with all his weapons ready to be sold to the city's bad element Netflix's Punisher just knocks him out.  That is when you know that this is not the Punisher.  He is the Revenger.  Turk had nothing to do with the death of his family so Frank had no reason to kill him.

When you see Punisher fan art you usually see Frank Castle armed to the teeth carrying two big guns with two rows of grenades strapped criss-crossed to his vest and ammo magazines protruding from every possible pocket stitched to his clothing with all that weight doing nothing from disrupting his aim as he, with his face frozen in a warriors scream, blasts away at the unseen baddies that most likely lay dead in a hail of gunfire.  This is how we sum up what the Punisher does and how we want to see him do it.  The Netflix seems embarrassed by this character.  Frank doesn't go after drug dealers and rapists.  No, he instead meets and gets involved with Micro's family or dreams of his dead wife over and over again with additional flashback sequences to constantly remind us that he misses his family.  Micro too has his own flashback sequences with his family too.  How many times do we see Micro looking at a computer monitor watching his family on camera?  How many times does Frank dreams or flashbacks to his family?  The show creators can't seem to think of anything interesting to put on the screen.  But they sure do make it a priority to stop any possible momentum the story may have made with these family moments

The name of this show should have been titled THE JASON BOURNE SHOW.  What we have here is an uninspired remake of the Bourne films.  The bad guys are all CIA, FBI or politicians in suits who did bad things during the war.  Now they have to kill the rogue soldier because he knows too much.  Now he has to run from the authorities, beat up two cops then jump down a stairwell and get into unimpressive car chases while killing former military henchmen.  There is nothing in this show that we haven't seen before.  Its a typical American action film in episodic form.

The Netflix original THE PUNISHER simply tells the wrong kind of story.  It should be an action show about a one man war against crime.  This show is more of a family drama wrapped up in a police procedural.  Bernthal could be a good Punisher but his portrayal as a PTSD ridden homeless guy is just sad.  He doesn't emote badassery.  He just cries sometimes or comes across as an upset dock worker.  It should be simple not a bunch of conspiracy nonsense with the usual twists and turns.  The Punisher show should break the formula of telling one long story arch over 13 episodes.  Every episode should be about him tracking down a killer of killers and killing them like a monster of the week kind of thing.  DEXTER did it on occassion. 

So what will happen in season 2?  I predict that he will once again go after another former military bad guy that is revealed to be involved with the death of Frank's family that will also be involved with a bunch of White Supremacists.  Expect more dream sequences and flashbacks of Frank's family too.  I am surprised about how many people who are Punisher fans love this show.  I just don't get it.  I never read or watched a single negative review of it. I'm sure there are some out there but I didn't look very hard.  I figure they are caught up in the Disney/Marvel hype unwilling to accept the fact that the show does not deliver the most basic motivations of the character. The PUNISHER never moves forward always stopping to look at the past developing a character that was already developed in DAREDEVIL season 2.  Just like Frank at the beginning of the first episode hitting walls over and over again with a hammer the show accomplishes nothing and bores the audience with redundancy.  Next time, Netflix let me write the dang show.


Jason



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