Review Roundup - Clash of the titans


I like Guillermo Del Toro. His work generally has a nice feeling to it, that mix of horror and beauty - a creepy magic that fills the stories with a certain atmosphere of melancholy and brings a little more to the stock genres of fairy tales, vampires or ghosts than you might expect. He also does films in English sometimes. I don't mean to be harsh, as the enthusiasm for crafting this stuff is clearly on show, and they are pretty good - but something gets lost when you move from Pan's Labyrinth to Hellboy. I really enjoy the trade paperbacks you can get of Mike Mignola's anti-hero, the art and writing seems simple at first but has a lot of depth, and the characters are done well with a subtle sense of humour. On film it becomes a teen drama about girlfriend issues, the implications of bearing the weight of doomsday are swapped out for hollywood cliches and corny lines. So you understand I went into Pacific Rim with some anxiety.

I will say it's an enjoyable ride, even if it's ironically light weight. The Kaiju genre is rarely something that can be taken seriously outside the original Godzilla's anti war themes, and this doesn't change that. So while the works of Honda and Harryhausen are openly credited, it doesn't try and provide much in the way of depth. It's all very underwritten, which isn't helped by the leads being so flat and the supporting cast being a mix of military leader archetypes and what are basically cartoon characters. At times I wished that the main characters were swapped out for the father and daughter-esque story to be at the centre instead of the typical overcoming the odds stuff. It's a strange mixture at times, I'd have liked some real charisma to off set the giant battle sequences.

Those scenes are well handled with little in the way of flash cutting and shaky cam so you can see the impact of punches and focus on things, though the effects are not as impressive as you'd expect. I mentioned Hellboy before; it's sequel had more eye poppings moments including practical creatures that were more exciting. It's not helped that the monster fights are a little samey after a while - lots of night time, lots of sea water. A flashback showing what was effectively a child running from a gigantic crustacean hinted at something different in tone but was cut short. Similarly, daytime battles are seen in news footage and not given a proper showing off. Also the action peaks too early during the mid movie battle as the underdogs get their first victory and the inventiveness of the fighting increases rapidly. Makeshift weapons are used and new creature tactics are introduced - but the finale isn't as fun and feels slower and less creative. It's also weird that slow firing weapons are used so much instead of the super effective bladed ones, or that no military forces support the Jaeger pilots.

My closing thoughts were that it needed to be darker. The two people required to control each half of a huge robot brain is interesting, but the effects of damage to the pilot and the impact of being in someone elses head simply isn't explored enough. It's also set in a world of war propaganda and post apocalyptic scenery, as it's set decades after the first creatures arrived - but only small glimpses are shown. Perhaps a sequel can bring this to the table? It's not clear if that will even happen. I think this comes off as overly critical, and after all it's refreshing to see something like this done with some passion. It's very lacking in certain areas, but honestly it's fun enough and refreshingly lacks the sleaze of Michael Bay, which is a big plus.


Review Roundup - Knives out


So X-Men Origins: Wolverine is... a low point both on the series and movies in general to me. After so much focus on the character during the previous X-films, finally they could get down to business and show all that troubled history. Surely a gold mine of interesting stuff? Instead what happened is like a straight to video trainwreck of poor CG, poor characters and all round cartoon nonsense. I seriously expected it to kill the franchise at the time. As it happens, they appeared to scrap the "origins" tag and re-purposed their Magneto movie into First Class which was pretty entertaining if not up to the standards of the original two. At least it bettered the third installment. Could they do the same with Huge Action's solo outings? Is it a good time or another mess? Well kind of both I guess.

Firstly, as a comic spectacle movie the set pieces are entertaining enough. There's a funeral shoot out, a train top scene, a sword fight, and a really stupid robot showdown. Irritatingly, there's a trailer sequence that has been cut (ha) involving ninjas which means paying extra for the extended 3D home release if you want to see it. As is stands though, the action is all fairly well done and never feels stale with Wolvie's one trick powers. Outside the expected amount of stabbing and punching though things fare less well. It falls into travelogue territory on a few occasions - Oh look Pachinko! Love hotels! Which I guess might be novel to some but feels a little unnecessary even if I didn't mind it that much as they wheel out the Bullet Train and tattooed Yakuza thugs. The characterisation isn't too bad for this kind of thing and at least they took some time to include a few quieter moments, despite referencing The Last Stand once too often. The supporting cast are a mixed bag, so while sidekick Yukio is fun she gets sidelined a lot so we can have a (weak and forced) romantic interest that doesn't work, several side characters working for / against the villians whose intentions are unclear, and worst of all a mutant called Viper who serves no purpose they couldn't have just given to anyone else, besides looking extra stupid in the third act. She should just have been dropped from the script.

On that subject, the plot is the weakest aspect here. Early on there was a chance for the bad guys to get exactly what they wanted while Logan slept at their house and instead of course let him walk off and go on the rampage for the next hour of film. It should have been rethought or at least have them make a failed attempt to explain it. I understand it's a critical error by most villains, but it stands out here as they do a predictable reveal in the finale. The objectives of the bad guys and their methods are pretty ridiculous, and as I mentioned the minor characters aren't explained enough either. There are some other things here and there such as Logan being able to remember the 1940s just because the plot needed a flashback, and the idea of his powers being weakened or removed doesn't seem like a technology that would ever be one-off in this world. Still I was entertained enough and didn't get a headache so it gets a pass, even when it's not the best at what it does.


Review Roundup - Dying Inside


Die Hard still stands as a solid example of raising the material of an 80s action flick to something a little higher, showing a little more humanity and character than is usually brought to the screen in those days. It's also one of those films that probably should never have had any sequels. The second is probably more entertaining than I should admit but is not a great movie by anyone's standards, and the third is pretty solid despite still having weak plot devices and too many messy third act moments. The last entry was pretty basic modern day thriller stuff... it hit enough of the right notes to keep me interested at the time but isn't really much of anything on rewatching now. It's made well enough to be inoffensive overall, but it's very forgettable. So... if the last one represents the impotent, slightly hard of hearing stage in the series life cycle then this has got to be the incontinent, mentally questionable part. 

It blunders its way through poorly done teal and orange action set pieces to ridiculous Chernobyl conspiracy nonsense in just over 90 minutes; and almost every aspect feels lacking. The opening car chase is so overblown with distracting levels of collateral damage (vehicle collisions look mis-timed and practical stunts are cartoonish). But at the same time this is the high point, as later shoot outs with one dimensional goons in the place of proper villains just feel noisy and flat. 

It gets worse as CG helicopters and slow motion glass breaking sequences are added in place of real style or excitement by a film maker without any apparent skill whatsoever. It's poor on basically every level, right down to the basics. Even the standard Die Hard double crossing bait and switch moment feels so inconsequential when the players are so thinly drawn and the motivations of every character seem to be missing key elements. Nothing has any weight as nearly ever actor looks uninterested and bored, much like myself. There are a couple of Father - Son exchanges shoe horned in but they fail to have any impact when everything going on is so incoherent and frustrating. Don't even get me started on how stupid the finale is when disused nuclear reactors get wheeled out in some misguided attempt to bring gravity to the storyline.

Bruce Willis here looks and sounds tired, and despite admitting as much when talking about his film choices recently, he keeps appearing in brainless movies like this and the Expendables series. I'm guessing it has to be a quick buck to keep things ticking over but I'd prefer to see more of him in the likes of Looper and Moonrise Kingdom where there was some depth and personality to be mined. There's definitely some energy left there but it's not to be found in this franchise. They'd better call the next one Die Hardest, or preferably just not come back at all.