Sunday, 3 April 2011

UK trailer for Takashi Miike's '13 Assassins'

Earlier this week I mentioned that 13 Assassins (which I've reviewed over at Brutal As Hell) is the most amazing action movie of the year thus far.

Indeed, it may be the most amazing action movie of the decade. This trailer only hints at its power.

May 6th, UK cinemas; available in the home now in the US. SEE IT.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Review - does 'Sucker Punch' punch as hard as it sucks...?

Just before seeing this movie, I voiced my hopes on Twitter; it's the done thing now, you know. "Hoping for nothing less than a live-action Heavy Metal, for better or worse." Thus tweeted Ben.

To an extent, I wish this was just a live-action Heavy Metal; that it was literally nothing more than a series of utterly nonsensical but downright cool sequences of tripped-out sci-fi fantasia, and that the plot device to justify it all was simply that Baby Doll was sniffing the urine of a defensive male cat and revelling in the subsequent psychedelic nirvana.

If Zack Snyder had made that film, it would have felt honest. Sure, he'd have complaints of sexist objectification and anti-intellectualism hurled at him from all corners, but he would have well and truly scratched the principle creative itch that brought this film into being. It would have been crude and sleazy, and bought no favour with high brow critics, but generations of fanboys - and fangirls, for that matter - would have thanked him for it.

However, Snyder clearly had loftier goals in mind with Sucker Punch; to balance the eye candy with a message of female empowerment and the power of imagination. Not since the sequels to The Matrix - also Warners productions, curiously enough - has a megabudget Hollywood production made so bold (or possibly foolish?) an attempt to balance spectacle with philosophy, and in so doing crafted a film as likely to alienate as to enthrall the viewer. Ten minutes after viewing, I thought I hated it and was fully prepared to give it a scathing review. Over 24 hours later, i.e. the time of writing... I'm not so sure.

The nuts and bolts of the story: the girl we come to know as Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is framed by her abusive stepfather for the murder of her little sister, and promptly thrown into an asylum, where corrupt administrator Blue Jones (Oscar Isaacs) quietly arranges to have her lobotomised. However, the caring experimental psychiatrist Dr Gorski (Carla Gugino, sporting an amusingly theatrical Russian accent) encourages the girls to retreat into their imaginations in order to literally combat their personal demons. Baby Doll takes this advice to heart somewhat, as before we know it the asylum is a burlesque house/brothel, the inmates are dancers/sex slaves, Gorski is their choreographer/madam and Blue Jones is a mafioso running the joint. But it doesn't stop there, for Baby Doll soon retreats into a further realm of fantasy within this fantasy; and that's the world the film is really sold on, the steampunk-Tolkein-Manga-Edgar Rice Burroughs dreamworld in which she and her new friends do battle with demonic samurai, robot Nazi stormtroopers and dragons in a bid to win their freedom.

Once again - if Snyder had just gone ahead and made a simple adolescent wish fulfillment movie, which I can't help thinking he really wanted to make, then it would have been fine. We wouldn't have this awkward balancing act between sexploitation and feminism, as the pretty young ladies in their provocative costumes battle male oppression, figuratively and literally. The temptation is there to simply dismiss the whole enterprise as wank fodder, but to do that is to overlook a great deal. Yes, the women are young and attractive and their attire is somewhat fetishistic, but Snyder's camera does not leer; there are no obvious lingering up-skirt or down-blouse shots. Sex appeal is meant to be part of their arsenal in the fight against their captors, as the fantasy battle sequences only occur when Baby Doll dances for a male audience; her dancing, which is notably never shown, is said to make her irresistable to any man. There's no escaping the feeling, then, that Snyder and the film are trying to have their cake and eat it; to invite us to gaze longingly at these female fantasy figures, but then remind us of the ugly realities behind the glamour. It is this perhaps above all else that makes the film uncomfortable to watch, and not necessarily in a good way.

This may go without saying at this point, but all in all Sucker Punch smacks of simply trying too hard. The young leads all feel a bit out of their depth, none of them really ever convincing, and they're not helped by a script full of rather limp dialogue and obvious characterisations. Carla Gugino and Scott Glenn do fine in their respective mentor roles, but the only truly compelling performance comes from Oscar Isaacs, every bit as effective as both the unscrupulous administrator and the cartoonish mobster. Then there's the soundtrack; playing out like a high school mix tape or the set list of an ambitious covers band, we have contemporary renditions of classics from the Beatles, the Pixies, the Stooges, the Smiths and more besides, and although I was not aware of this until after viewing they're all sung by the cast themselves; for, on top of everthing else, it seems Sucker Punch was initially also intended to be a musical, with full song-and-dance routines having been left on the cutting room floor. Clearly, Snyder had no fears of baking a heavily overegged pudding.

I gather that the singing and dancing are not the only things to have been cut from the final movie. Sucker Punch is Snyder's first 12A/PG-13 film, and with its themes of abuse and fairly brutal battle sequences it pushes the envelope pretty far; as such, one feels the spectre of compromise hanging overhead. Much like Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner (and indeed Snyder's Watchmen) before it, there are almost certainly a couple of revised versions of this film waiting to see the light of day on DVD.

Yes, I did just compare this to Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner; and yes, in so doing I implicitly placed Snyder on a pedastal alongside Francis Ford Coppolla and Ridley Scott. I'm no huge fan of any of his work to date, but like it or not Snyder is a modern auteur, his directorial identity clearly recognisable in all his films. But after three adaptations in a row (Dawn of the Dead, 300 and Watchmen, in case you needed reminding), Sucker Punch was the first Snyder film to really stand on its own, able to be judged on its own terms. It may simply be that he was too anxious to craft his own distinct vision, hence the film turned out so heavily overloaded. But all in all, Sucker Punch is neither a film that can be fully embraced nor fully dismissed after a single viewing. It will bewilder and frustrate as much as it thrills and delights, but either way it does stand apart as something different, special and worthy of consideration. And above all, it stands testament to the fact that even in the contemporary mainstream, distinct cinematic voices like Snyder's can still be found, and that in itself is inspiring.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Lazy-arse DVD review round-up

Pardon me getting the violin out, but man... this whole movie review blogger gig can get tiresome. You do your bit. You take a look at whatever comes your way, and do your utmost to give it careful consideration, even though you don't know that your opinion necessarily counts for much in the eyes of many. But now and then, you're faced with films that you really just don't give a toss about. Such is the case here. They're not necessarily the worst films I've ever seen; that would be something. If you really, truly despise a film, you've got just as much to write about as if you truly love it. But these films inspire almost no reaction beyond... meh. Hence I'm dismissing them with a paragraph each, as follows.

Cobra Woman from Odeon Entertainment - in fairness, I didn't dislike this film at all, I just wasn't particularly excited by it and find it hard to imagine many people will be, unless they happened to see it as kids. It's an old-fashioned matinee adventure made by Universal in the 40s. Don't get too excited by the presence of Jack Pierce in the make-up department and Lon Chaney Jr in front of the camera, for there are no monsters to see; the Cobra Woman of the title is the evil high priestess of a snake worshipping cult on a remote tropical island, whose power is threatened by the arrival of her twin sister, both in the not-unappealing form of Maria Montez. There's some nice location photography and jungle adventure antics, but it all feels a bit mundane, small scale and terribly dated; the abundance of casual racism doesn't help in that regard. Oh, and Chaney Jr's role is so small you hardly even notice he's there; barely a whisper in the man's sad downward spiral.

The King Maker from Anchor Bay Entertainment - no, this isn't a biopic of Nick Clegg, nor the second most popular band to come out of Hull in the early 90s (...anyone? Anyone?). Rather, it's a bizarre blend of martial arts movie, historical epic and swashbuckler, apparently based on a true story. However, I'm at a loss as to quite what that story is, for this thing is so badly put together it borders on incoherence. Seemingly a Thai/US co-production but shot in English, its cast are either hopelessly lacking in charisma (leading man Gary Stretch) or struggling to perform in what is clearly not their first language (the largely Thai cast). Or they're John Rhys-Davies and they're just slumming it, because every old British actor does. Melodramatic and silly, this may garner a few so-bad-it's-good giggles here and there, but on the whole it's just tedious.

Primevil from Revolver Entertainment - riddle me this. What looks like a cheap and tacky Predator rip-off with a bit of The Descent thrown in, sounds like a cheap and tacky Predator rip-off with a bit of The Descent thrown in, smells like a cheap and tacky Predator rip-off with a bit of The Descent thrown in, and tastes like a cheap and tacky Predator rip-off with a bit of The Descent thrown in? Nuff said. Revolver: this shit is beneath you. Lance Henriksen: surely you don't need the money that badly...

Universal Squadrons from Kaleidoscope Entertainment - look, no matter how hard anyone tries Iraq just isn't as fertile a breeding ground for soldier movies as Vietnam was. It doesn't carry the phantom of defeat, and the desert just doesn't look as cool in action movies as the jungle does. Okay? Just saying. Anyway, this movie does nothing to help the status of Iraq-related action films, telling of soldier coming home from an uneventful tour of duty only to learn he's been experimented on by the military to be a computer-operated super soldier. Yes, it's as dumb as it sounds. No, I didn't like it at all.

None of this matters because last week I saw the best damn action film of the year so far. It's Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins, and my review is at Brutal As Hell. Make damn sure you catch it when it comes out in May. As for the aformentioned 'meh'-fests... they're all out now on DVD, if you really must. Rather you than me.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Natalie Portman's Arse. Ahem, I mean 'Your Highness' redband trailer.

New trailer for the upcoming sword and sorcery stoner comedy from the director of
The Pineapple Express. It's got Natalie Portman in a thong, plus various bare chested wood nymphs. Why are you still reading this?

Incidentally, my virtual buddy Dustin Hall has seen the film, and his review is here. He was sort of lukewarm on it, but that's not about to deter me. Again - Natalie Portman in a thong.

<a href="" target="_new" title="Exclusive: 'Your Highness' Trailer (Mature Audiences)">Video: Exclusive: 'Your Highness' Trailer (Mature Audiences)</a>

Don't want whitey in 'Akira?' Read on...

Was forwarded this by a Facebook friend.

On March 21st, 2011, reported that eight actors have been solicited for the roles of Tetsuo and Kaneda in AKIRA. All of the actors solicited were white. If not in a film called Akira, for characters named Kaneda and Tetsuo, when will Asian Americans get to star in a Warner Bros film?


Please virtually "attend" this petition event to show your support! It will provide us with a headcount so we know how many people feel strongly about this issue.

We would like to present the numbers from this petition to the studio to show them that all media consumers--not just Akira fans and not just Asian Americans--support casting Asian Americans in the lead roles in AKIRA.


1. You support the casting of an Asian American actors in Akira.

2. You agree that Asian American actors should have the opportunity to play Asian characters in film adaptations like Akira especially since many movie productions choose to cast non-Asian actors instead. (As a result only 1.2% of lead movie roles go to Asian actors!)

We'd already heard Mila Kunis was up for Kay. The first two names mentioned for Kaneda and Tetsuo (going back a couple of years now, I think) were Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The actors named by Deadline: "for Tetsuo, Robert Pattinson, Andrew Garfield and James McAvoy have been given the new script. For the role of Kaneda, the script has been given to Garrett Hedlund, Michael Fassbender, Chris Pine, Justin Timberlake and Joaquin Phoenix. The two leads are expected to come from that group of actors."
So not only are they all too white, they're also way too old. With the possible exception of  R-Patz and Garfield, not one of them could pass for teenagers anymore. This can only mean significant changes have been made to the story.

I'm not one of those who thinks any adaptation must not stray from the source material, nor am I much of an anime fan; of the little I have seen, Akira is the only one to really stay with me, at least in part because I saw it at the cinema aged 10 or 11 (believe it or not, the BBFC originally passed it as a 12!) and was left vaguely traumatised by the experience. But I fail to see how any live action Hollywood version can do justice to that mind-boggling vision of an apocalyptic future, especially when it will almost certainly be toned down for a PG-13. As with any remake, there's the question of why do it in the first place, when the original hasn't aged badly at all. And then there's the small matter of just how tasteful it would seem given what's going on in Japan right now (a dilemma which I imagine will also be facing Garth Edwards' upcoming Godzilla reboot).

But if a live action Akira is going to be made, and it's going to retain its Japanese setting, then surely it makes sense to have an Asian cast.

Show your support here.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Another 'Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End' Trailer

There's every reason to be dubious about Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides. Specifically, there's Dead Man's Chest and At World's End, the painfully overlong, overcomplicated and self-important duo of sequels that opted to ditch the light-heartedness of the original in favour of being 'dark.' They may have wound up being two of the biggest moneymakers in film history, but they were damn near unwatchable.

Yet somehow I'm very optimistic about On Stranger Tides. Maybe it's those three words Jack intones in the earlier trailer: "mermaids... zombies... Blackbeard." Maybe it's Penelope Cruz as a pirate wench. Maybe it's the fountain of youth macguffin. Maybe it's knowing that neither hide nor hair of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley will be seen.

One gets the impression that Bruckheimer and co realise this time around that it would be preferable for a big summer swashbuckler to be, well, fun. Everything I've seen thus far would suggest that, and this trailer is no exception. Feast your eyes and ears below - and keep an eye on Ka-Boomski for more pirate related shenanigans, as in the near future I'll be reading the Tim Powers novel that inspired this film, which all being well should result in the first Ka-Boomski book review. But until then... click play.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

'Red Dawn' remake just got even sillier.

This has to be the most hilarious, jaw-dropping movie news I have heard all year. Were it the first of April, I'd think someone was taking the piss. This shit is worthy of For Your Consideration.

MGM are changing the nationality of the villians in the Red Dawn remake. TWO YEARS AFTER FILMING ENDED.

Honestly, I'm astonished it took that long. LA Times break it down: how China is "the fifth-biggest box office market outside of the United States, with $1.5 billion in revenue," quite apart from the well-reported financial power it has over much of the west. China has long since proven it has no qualms about banning or otherwise censoring anything the government deems derogatory, and I say that from first-hand experience having lived there for a while. During my stay Mission: Impossible III was withheld from release owing, I believe, to images of washing and/or dead chickens hanging outside aparment windows (which, yes, you see everywhere in urban China), and reports on Ang Lee's best director Oscar for Brokeback Mountain championed the win as a coup for China, failing to mention that in his acceptance speech Ang Lee expressed pride in his Taiwanese heritage, and also failing to make any reference to the film itself lest they be seen to endorse homosexuality.

And with that paragraph this blog has now most likely been barred in China.

But, as Dan Mintz of DMG Entertainment is quoted by the LA Times, "the film itself was not a smart move." Boy, is he right. Red Dawn is a great bit of gung-ho action fun, but 100% a product of its time, its anti-Soviet paranoia being fairly absurd even by 80s standards. Its Brat Pack cast makes it even harder to take seriously, particularly as it includes both the leads of Dirty Dancing and a (presumably) saner Charlie Sheen. John Milius may have aimed for a serious war movie, but he turned out a camp classic. To attempt to revisit that concept in a post-9/11 America, where it's tricky to find a comparable adversary to whom the 'red' label is still applicable, the results were invariably going to be awkward at best.

So now begins a process of "digitally erasing Chinese flags and military symbols... substituting dialogue and altering the film to depict much of the invading force as being from North Korea, an isolated country where American media companies have no dollars at stake." And, guaranteed, every single review or feature on the movie will make reference to the fact.

In short, there is no way people aren't going to know. As Ren Brown of CHUD says, the net result of this is "audiences will get to play 'spot the thing that used to be Chinese' the entire movie," much as we all looked out for the doubles/digital simulations of Brandon Lee in The Crow and Oliver Reed in Gladiator. And I shouldn't think I even need to emphasise the inherent racism in the assumption that all Orientals look the same.

That MGM would go to such cynical, some-might-say cowardly lengths is perhaps no surprise given their well documented descent down shit creek minus paddles in recent years. There seems to be a great deal of hope/expectation that post-Thor Chris Hemsworth will be a big enough box office draw to save them, but overall I think the lesson here is simple: just because you can do a remake doesn't mean you should. Alas, I don't think Hollywood is going to learn that lesson anytime soon.

(By the way, the T-shirt above is from 80s Tees - what can I say, I Google image searched Red Dawn and that was the funniest pic I saw.)