Enemy At The Gates: Stalingrad is being attacked by the Nazis, and after a Russian sniper terrorises the Germans, they send their top marksman from a Berlin Sniper School in for an epic sharpshooting duel. How could a film about a sniper battle be so boring? There’s only a handful of kills and the rest is hammy, over-sentimental, schmaltzy war boringness and distracting “human element” side-story shite. The cast are confusing as shit too: there’s English people with cockney accents playing Russians, American’s doing German “Vith and Ak-scent”, and Ron Perlman (American) trying an English accent in order to fit in with ‘team Russia’ – accent-mageddon. I’m also pretty sure that no Russian ever spoke about “tea and a biscuit”. The look, feel and tone of the movie all reek of something from the 1950s – including bad acting, a poor script, the worst / most awkward love scene of the 2000’s, and a terrible “classic cinema” score that tells you exactly when you should be excited, crying etc. This is a film that starts off like Private Ryan on a budget and goes downhill from there. Utter war-pants.
The Raid 2: Berandal (aka The Raid: Thug): following on directly from events in The Raid… after his brother is murdered the rookie SWAT member goes undercover in order to flush out the city’s dirty cops. It feels like director Gareth Evans is “doing a Tarantino” here, drawing from a lot of established Asian movie elements: the story is essentially Infernal Affairs; the themes feel like those of a fairly standard Japanese – notably Takashi Miike – gangster flick (internal power struggles, territorial battles, OTT Violence, honour, betrayal, black humour); and the visuals feel like you’re watching a modern Korean movie – e.g. Park Chan Wook – as it’s loaded with rich imagery and patterns (like the art deco ballroom and bar, sterile kitchen, snow fight) and some cartoonishly menacing enemies (‘Hammer Girl’, and the ridiculous side-combed, cane-wielding baddie) – there’s also a shitload of nods to A Bittersweet Life, from the Car/Warehouse fight to the impeccably dressed mobsters. The action scenes remain unbelievably entertaining, expertly choreographed and jaw-droppingly inventive – although shaky cam is used a lot more in this one. You never get tired watching Iko Uwais play human pinball with dozens of henchmen, exploiting the various locations, and through most of the big fights you can’t help but grab your equivalent body part that has just been mangled on-screen and shout “fuuuuck!”, every 20 seconds. Once again, there’s a good peppering of ultra-black humour to provide a little relief from the action. At 150 minutes there’s a lot that could have been cut out and not missed – from developing minor characters through to shots of nails, water, snow – although it is rigidly punctuated with big set-pieces so you never get the chance to nod off. The Raid was a powerful, gritty, relentless and raw 90-minute virtually dialoge-free history-making fight-fest that raised the bar for all action movies – and although I can understand why Evans didn’t want to just do the same again, in ‘beefing up’ The Raid 2 he has leaned a little too heavily on other director’s works, taking the edges off – and diluting – the 90-minute, 10/10 movie that’s contained in here. Niggles aside, the film is still packed with genre-defining action, cutting edge fight-choreography, and more hard-18-rated violence than you could shake a poorly-aimed shotgun at.
Sound City: tells the story of the greatest music studio that ever existed – IRGDGHO (In Rock God Dave Grohl’s Honest Opinion). And what a story it is, plenty of ups and downs to make an interesting and entertaining documentary. Not unlike Side by Side’s knockout movie cast, some of the musicians that pop up in here are jaw-droppingly famous: Stevie Nix, Neil Young, Trent Reznor, Josh Homme, Rick Springfield… the list is endless. The film covers standard ground like the rise-and-fall of raw / live recording several times through, 80s over-production and the dominance of pro tools a decade later. The first 70 minutes is a great documentary, however the final 25 or so really let the film down as star after star is invited to jam with Dave and the Foo Fighters, creating (average) songs in a couple of hours “old school style” – in what’s essentially an advert for the soundtrack, and a rather unnecessary addition to the runtime. Even as a massive Foo Fighters fan, it’s just a bit too much back-slapping. Weirdly, the film gives drum sound it’s own section but doesn’t bother with bass, guitar, vocals… Dave you cheeky drum monkey!! Overall, this is a good rock-dock, but I preferred hanging out with the rock stars and hearing their stories over seeing their (surprisingly boring) “creative process” in the studio.
Shaolin Soccer (少林足球, Siu lam juk kau): a has-been footballer (soccer player) convinces a struggling Kung-Fu master to form a football (soccer) team with his equally gifted ragamuffin friends. It’s so silly, bawdy, theatrical and over-the-top that it feels like it’s based on a manga series – apparently it isn’t! The story’s a bit stupid, but the film finds some form during the wire-work and CGI heavy ‘football’ (‘soccer) matches. Even by bad Asian standard the acting – although probably closer to mincing – is fairly shoddy, and it’s difficult to know if the actors were hired for their martial arts skills because most of the action is entirely green screen. Shaolin Soccer is entertaining enough, but behind the SFX it’s quite a formulaic sports film that’s too erratic to properly enjoy, and not particularly funny or dramatic enough to be noteworthy. All-in, I can’t understand why there’s so much love for this – definitely not one for proper football (soccer) fans.
Arrested Development (Season 3): Michael Bluth is still trying to keep his dysfunctional family together – and they’re doing their best to screw everything up. This series coasts a little more on the established gags like the Bluth lessons (why you should always leave a note!), rather than creating new ones; some old plot-lines and characters are also written back in to beef up the story. Because it was the last scheduled season, the final few episodes felt obligated to tie-up the loose ends like the Iraq “light treason” court case, cousin love etc – which was good to see, but feels more forced than the usual completely unrelated antics. Once again the two stars of the show are the cast and the writers – you just don’t get it this good on both sides very often. As you’d expect, Season 3 is still great TV, but it doesn’t feel as fresh or funny as the first two series – the episodes aren’t quite as tight, or packed with jokes, and some of the bigger laughs stoop down to things like rude language (pussy/fags) and retards; which previous seasons didn’t need to fall back on. However, those niggles are minor, and Season 3 ensures that the show remains one of the greatest comedies of all time.
Arrested Development Season 1 Review
Arrested Development Season 2 Review
Air Doll (空気人形): a lonely singleton falls in love with the blow-up doll that has replaced his girlfriend; and one day she comes to life (this could only be Japanese). The first five minutes are an explosive combination of funny, creepy, peculiar and entertaining. The remaining two hours however is essentially a grating portrayal of childhood innocence, but here’s the kicker: it’s played through the eyes of a sex doll!omfg!! The moment you notice this is the moment this film bursts. It’s full of ludicrously whimsical and increasingly pretentious ‘life lessons’ about what makes humans human, played through a handful of seriously irrelevant stories and sub-minor characters (which I guess is to beef up the runtime). It also features one of my biggest pet hates: the doll gets a job in a DVD rental store so the director can crowbar in a bunch of his favourites / influences / kewl moviez. Worst. Trope. Ever. There are a couple of funny-ish cultural confusion moments, but they’re balanced out by several close-up shots of a removable rubber vagina being washed in a sink: can you say “shock value”? In fact, the only saving grace is the lead actress Bae Doona who does a great job and for the most part doesn’t feel the slightest bit human. Other than the first five minutes this is literally – and figuratively – as exciting as spending almost two hours watching something slowly deflating in front of you. Air Doll comes off the rails far too quickly, never picks back up.
The Lego Movie: Emmet Brickowski is a follow-the-manual kind of guy, but when he bumps in to a master builder his life changes forever. Anyone that’s ever played with Lego can relate to the film’s settings, and it’s good fun just trying to spot old and quirky pieces like the glow-in-the-dark ghost. The entire film looks brilliant, vibrant and ridiculously detailed – characters even have slight thumbprints. There’s a grade-A voice cast, with a lot of distinguishable and entertaining character actors in the mix. It’s also one of the few films that is universally funny; covering the slapstick / physical gags but including a layer of smart ‘adult’ satire and running gags for the duration – it’s consistently funny. There are a few stumbling blocks though: the bigger action scenes are too fast/shaky/blurry to keep up with; the split realities at the end knocks the wind out of the finale’s sail; some of the Lego franchises feel shoe-horned in; and for a film that preaches “use your imagination” to everyone, it’s literally a scene-for-scene re-telling of The Matrix… which is a touch disappointing and hypocritical. However, all things considered, The Lego Movie is a damn fine kids film, and even a damn fine film by normal standards. Highly entertaining and uplifting, if unapologetically unoriginal, family BLOCK-buster.