John Wick: after his wife dies thugs steal his car and kill his dog, which forces former assassin and ‘bogeyman’ John Wick to go on a rampage of Archer proportions. No need to worry about the Bechdel Test with this film – as the only two women with dialogue appear as a video recording, and a sassy female hit-woman. No need to worry about the plot either, as it’s based around a hotel where assassins live and party with each other – and gold coins are the preferred payment method. Whilst Keanu isn’t the most watchable of frontmen he handles is action scenes with style, and Nyqvist, McShane, Dafoe fill in any gaps with fun roles. Reminiscent of 90s European / Asian action movies like Taxi, District 13, Hard Boiled etc – this is all about the guns, cars, pounding techo music and hyper styalised violence, of which there is shitloads. The action scenes are second to none: graphic and wild outplay (most villains get ‘double-tapped’ – chest then head), there’s excellent combat which incorporates wrestling holds and slams, and a couple of nifty car chases. One of the directors is a stunt man, which shows as the action scenes are a cut above your standard affair. John Wick is a rarity these days – a no-brainer, balls out, gritty revenge / action film, that sticks to its R-rating and doesn’t claim – or try – to be anything more. It’s the kind of film that Taken 3 wishes it was.
Taken3: when he’s framed for the murder of his wife ‘Dad of the year’ Bryan Mills needs to clear his name, and keep his daughter out of danger. For a blockbuster film the action sequences are frustratingly disappointing – looks like they’d been filmed for a more violent edit, then cut down to get the lowest certificate possible; leaving them disjointed, and Neeson looking like he’s barely trying (Seagal in Russia style). More generally, everything about this is lifted and slightly shifted from the first movie: he meets the wife, but they’re getting on slightly better; there’s a torture scene, but it’s waterboarding instead of electricity; he meets the lads, but they’re golfing instead of BBQ-ing; they have a chase, but instead of a boat, it’s a plane; Kim’s gift it a teddy bear instead of a karaoke machine… There’s too much time spent re-treading overly familiar ground, trying to add depth to one-dimensional (and already established) characters and relationships – at the expanse of time that should have been piling up Eastern-European bodies. Despite being a derivative and inferior shadow of the first movie, Taken 3 is nowhere near as terrible as the 1* reviews would suggest; it’s just that with the first film being so great the sequels taste all the more bitter.
More widely; the Taken trilogy (and Expendables) perfectly sum up the problem with successful “one-hit wonders”. Both were originally Hard-18 blood-and-guts nasty / B-movies, kneecapped to a more timid 15 for the second installment, then a paralysing 12A for the third – removing any semblance of the original films which weren’t actually all that different, but had the edge in terms of violence, and no expectations
FuckYeaPANDA: So long, and thanks for all the dosh
Kung Fury: After being struck by lightning and bitten by a cobra a cop is transformed into a Kung Fu master and swears to protect his city from evil; evil like Adolf Hitler. Not unlike a Zucker brothers comedy, Kung Fury is crammed with a continuous assault of gags – lots hit the mark, some don’t, but the rapid pace doesn’t give you time to dwell on any of them. There are however a couple of big reservations that hit you when watching this: firstly, it all seems overly familiar because the film’s structured like a collage of ‘cool’ scenes, ideas and parodies from lots of great sources – Danger 5 (literally dozens of ideas stolen from this), Iron Sky, Oldboy, MacGruber, Mortal Kombat, ThunderCats, MASK… all of which are welcome, but you’ll have seen elsewhere. Secondly, with the characters being steampunk Nazis, talking animals, Viking babes with machine guns, dinosaurs etc – it feels like box-checking meme-bait: think SuckerPunch distilled into 30 minutes. Aesthetically, it looks beautiful and feels retro – mostly green screen, but all very well done, with seamless editing, and a couple of nostalgic VHS wear / tracking / distortion moments that really play up the 80s setting. There’s no denying that Kung Fury is fun, entertaining, and particularly well-crafted given the CGI-heavy nature – but ultimately it’s let down by a distinct lack of originality content.
You can watch the entire movie on YouTube below
Game of Thrones (Season 1): several noble families with royal ties feud over the right to rule all seven kingdoms in a medieval-ish fantasy epic. One year prior, Spartacus was balls deep in rumpy–pumpy and graphic violence, which felt like it was pushing boundaries; then someone in HBO said had said: “lets take Spartacus as a starting point, then add as much over the top sensational stuff as you can. 3, 2, 1… GO GO GO!” GoT is loaded with full frontal nudity (sausages, chuffs, and udders), blood, gore, prostitutes, lesbians, and as much offensive language as censors allow; not to mention the taboos like breastfeeding and incest being pretty major plot points. Whilst these add to the show’s notoriety, it detracts from the Rome-like inter-weaving political storylines; continually reminding you that it’s actually being pitched at teenage boys. Other than the odd stinker (Arya Stark!!) the cast are generally decent; although different characters giving their roles different levity levels – from scenery chewing (King) to borderline comedic (Bronn). Peter Dinklage is the one actor that really sticks out from the vast ensemble – impressing and entertaining with his larger than life character. Due to the number of characters, families, locations and concurrent plots there’s a lot of dialogue-heavy slapdash whistle-stop history & exposition lectures between characters – some hit the mark better than others, but most are required. While there’s one big “Holy Shit” moment, Season One feels like a 10-hour teaser – promising better things to come; introducing white walkers (zombie-ish creatures), dragons, teeing up a war – but blatantly not following any of it through to anywhere near conclusion.
Winter’s Bone: an old-before-her-time teenager must hunt down her estranged father in order to keep her house, and troubled family together. The general structure of almost any film is: set up, complication(s), and resolution. In Winter’s Bone all three sections consist of Jennifer Lawrence running around in the wilderness looking for her dad, which is so flat and one-dimensional that it tires very quickly. Almost every scene plays out like this – “Is my dad here?” “Can’t tell you child”, “tell me”, “no” – repeat x40. It’s also tear-inducingly bleak in it’s visuals and style – everything greyed out and void of any interest. It’s all a bit Cormac McCarthy-esque, not unlike The Road. Lawrence is decent – in a Hungry–Games style role – but the standout for me is her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) who is absolutely spellbinding. What with all of the plaudits this comes with, you can’t help but feel a bit cheated by it. A very, very solemn version of “Dude, where’s my Dad?”
Se7en (aka Seven, 7, Sept, Siete, Sieben, セブン, 七, 일곱 …) during a veteran detective’s final week a gruesome serial killer surfaces, whose work is based around the seven deadly sins. Despite being released in the mid-90s and framed as ‘modern’ this has a sense of timelessness; it’s puply and Noir to the core – especially Freeman’s character, who’s straight out of the 40s. This is just part of Fincher’s portrait of an extremely nihilistic vision of ‘downtown’ America – a nameless, timeless city characterised by sirens, rain, fear, vice and filthy, dilapidated buildings mirroring their residents. It’s a dingy look, but one that has subsequently influenced a lot of movies and TV (The US Killing as a prime example). Whilst the story takes a while to properly get going once it gains momentum it’s an unstoppable force -right through to the very last scene. It’s also remarkable that 20 years on it’s still effective, and shocking – which is a testament to Fincher’s directorial skill. Despite all of the larger than life blood and guts, Se7en is all about the minor details; everything helps to flesh out the characters and explain their behaviours – allowing you to pick out more details every time you watch it, which is what makes it a classic.
The Factory: when his daughter is taken by a kidnapper who has successfully evaded him for years the clock is ticking faster than ever for a Buffalo detective. Featuring Cusack, and a similar type of story, you may expect something like The Frozen Ground; or a movie like Insomnia, Se7en, Mystic River etc… Unfortunately, this isn’t in the same ball park. The story’s horribly clunky, and the clues/pointers are even worse – in particular a ridiculously bumbling angle about fertility and infertility which would stick out in any dialogue. The film (and detective) flounder from missed clue to missed clue before it throws up a preposterous ending – complete with flashbacks for those at the back not paying attention. The title of the film makes no sense until the last 2 minutes of the movie – which is also distracting. Character-wise you’ve got the clichéd married-to-the-job detective, rookie sidekick, and a kidnapper that should have been demented and scary (Buffalo Bill style), but was played like a comedy redneck character. Despite a promising synopsis and Cusack in the lead is not much more than a bottom of the barrel, bargain bin, by-the-numbers, straight-to-DVD, B-movie with an A-List star and some TV actors (minor characters from Dexter, Good Wife, Arrested Development).