Kickboxer: Retaliation – a year after killing Tong Po to avenge his brother’s murder, MMA champ Kurt Sloan is kidnapped and forced to fight a new underground deathmatch champion. After a dubious opening Bond-lite salsa dance / train fight, the film is rigidly punctuated with some outstanding action set pieces. The choreography in a couple of the fights is jaw-dropping, especially the single takes at the jailhouse (3 mins uninterrupted), and riverside rumble (inexplicably set to the Surfaris ‘Wipe Out’). The ‘Final Boss’ fight against Game of Thrones’ “The Mountain” is 20 minutes of bone-crunching savagery that reaches previously uncharted levels of OMGWTF twists and turns. Outside of the fights however, the film doesn’t feel particularly well put-together: the direction is weaker than the previous outing – jerking between various scenes, locations, filler Thailand Tourist Board type shots… and there’s no attempt at updating anything about the generic 80s action plot. Cast-wise, almost everything else is in the shadow of Moussi’s physicality and technical ability: Bjornsson is an intimidating force (when he’s not strumming an acoustic guitar for no reason!); JCVD’s charisma brightens up his scenes; Tyson hams it up and gets some laughs; but disappointingly, Christopher Lambert has nothing more to do than growl some threats and react to big hits (away from everyone else). What it lacks in originality and direction, Kickboxer Retaliation makes up by leaving no stuntman unscathed and no prop unsmashed; the fight scenes are top-drawer, and it makes you wish that Alain Moussi would get the chance to go toe to toe with the likes of Iko Uwais and Donnie Yen.
As part of JAPANORAMA I have been inviting my movie-reviewing peers to join in. This post is from Brikhaus over at the fantastic Awesomely Shitty. I love the site because it’s not afraid to stick the boot in and dissect anything and everything that the masses are generally scrambling over each other to fawn over – from Django to the Academy. Today Awesomely Shitty takes on Versus, a low-budget cult zombie flick. You can see the full review here, and follow on twitter @awesomelyshitty.
Versus (-ヴァーサス- Vāsasu): Versus is a bizarre, nonsensical movie. It’s a super low-budget cult film featuring cops, gangsters, shootouts, samurai, zombies, martial arts, karate zombies, sword fighting, and demons. It’s like the director grabbed a list of “cool shit” from the internet, and mixed it all together, hoping it would work. And depending on your point of view, it either totally works, or is a complete fucking mess. The movie has an odd tone somewhere between serious and wacky. I suppose if Versus had played it straight, nothing would work. The whole thing is just too goddamn crazy. The closest thing I can compare it to is Evil Dead II. The zombies are a mix of traditional lumbering zombies, and other zombies who can shoot guns and know karate. I can’t think of any other movie where you can see zombies shooting machine guns, or humans roundhouse kicking zombie heads off. At least it earned a few points for originality. At 2 hours and 10 minutes, Versus definitely overstays its welcome. Some of the fight scenes seem endless, and when they aren’t fighting, the movie sucks so hard you wish they were back to fighting again. It’s an endless cycle of shit. Versus is a hard movie to rate. I enjoyed the karate zombies and weird sense of humor. I also enjoyed the well-choreographed fight scenes. However, the movie drags at times, and it way too long for its own good. I’d say it rounds out to be an average watch. Good to watch drunk, but not otherwise.
An old review of Versus from this site can be found here.
Prometheus: a team of crack scientists travel to a distant planet to discover humanity’s beginnings, however, what they find could finish us all off! The opening aerial shots of breathetaking, sweeping landscapes are geography porn, it’s so beautiful that it’s worth the entrance fee alone. The rest of the film looks just as great, with sumptuous visuals, well-designed costumes & sets, and totally seamless impressive CGI. To match this, the acting roster’s impressive, although it’s absolutely owned by Fassbender‘s portrayal of David the android; he’s efficient, calculating, and believably robotic – surprisingly, he’s also by far the most interesting character, and the film’s biggest driving force. Charlize Theron’s role disappointingly amounts to nothing more than “hottie in a cat suit”. Frustraitingly, the film spends most of the runtime raising, contemplating and flirting with massive questions & themes – religion, evolution, why are we here, meeting our makers… – It’s just a shame that it spends next to no time resolving or answering any. As for being an Alien prequel, it feels intentionally distanced, with not much more than a fleeting post-script that is clunkily added-on. All in, I think Ridley’s hoping that the big loud grand spectacle will serve as a distraction from the fact that the story is neither strong, nor particularly original – which is epitomised best in Fassbender’s time in the fancy, flashy galaxy simulator thingmy-bob.
127 Hours: true story of a climber who got an arm pinned between a boulder and rockface, and did the unthinkable in order to survive. I first heard about Ralston way back here, but never, ever thought it would become a movie (well, at least not the factual part). For being 75 minutes of a man who can’t move, Boyle is superb – utilising every trick and effect in the book to keep the story moving, interesting and avoid reparative profile shots again and again… you’d never think someone stuck in one place could be this cinematic. Franco is great; and gets to cover every kind of acting there is – overacting, subtlety, madness, super-cool, heroic and desperate… it’s all there, and it’s great to watch. Surprisingly, he’s not the only major thing in this; it may sound stupid but he could share the credits with his arm, video recorder the boulder, water, sweat – which are all personified to perfection and play pretty pivotal roles in the story. My only real problem was a lack of empathy; mostly because the situation would be totally avoidable if you were sensible and cautious! 127 Hours is a great interpretation of an unfilmable story, Franco is fantastico and every second feels like it genuinely counts.
The North Face: follows several climbing teams in a 1936 race to tackle the The Eiger’s deadliest ascent (literally nicknamed “murder wall” in German). Even on a TV shots of the Eiger render you speechless – when you see the sheer, menacing vertical monster of a cliff face, and picture anyone trying to climb it, it’s nothing short of madness. The historic setting is done well, and packs an additional punch when you see the basic clothing and equipment climbers used back in the day. With this setting and a ‘proper’ orchestrated soundtrack (+ cabaret piano songs!) it’s got a sorely missed ‘classic film’ vibe that you rarely see these days. The film takes about one hour of average backstory to properly get going, but once the ascent has begun the second hour is nothing short of nail-biting superbity. It would have done well to focus solely on the climbing, and leave the journalism side-story out of the picture – the leading female seems happy to risk two life-long best friends for a minor career advancement… just gives that story a silly vibe. Despite being a tad on the long side, The North Face is a great watch, and a fascinating / unbelievable true story.
Beast Cops: A bunch so-called ‘policemen’ (how they’re remained gainfully employed was the biggest plot hole) get a new boss that tries to shake things up a bit. Unfortunately this one takes about 50 minutes of 1-dimensional character-building before anything interesting happens; we got it after 5 minutes – there’s no honour among thieves in Hong Kong! The acting’s very hit-or-miss, ranging from subtly great to parodic overacting, and at times the script makes it feel like a sexual awareness campaign. Other than the lame credits the style’s quite slick and does a great job in distracting you from the plain story, however the main actors break the fourth wall several times, which is strange and unnecessary. The last fight is a pretty epic and brutal affair, and generally everyone in this film ends up getting a machete lodged in their neck at some point. To sum up, this is the epitome of a bog-standard Asian cop flick with a twist of ‘gritty street’ thrown in for good measure. Talks the talk all over the DVD box but fails to walk the walk.
Bangkok Dagerous: (2008 Remake) The best hitman in the world goes on one last big job before retirement but breaks all his own rules and ends up in a whole bunch of trouble. Unfortunately this isn’t Cage’s finest hour, or hair cut, and although coming across as emotionally retarded generally works for hitmen he ends up looking super goofy in scenes that require any feeling. Even in the voiceover parts sound affected. I was bamboozled as to why almost everything about this re-make was so true to the original it turns out it was the same directors are behind this, which is no bad thing. Barring both deaf aspects this is shockingly faithful, even down to the rough, grainy and washed out look. It was a bit weird that Cage was the only white guy in a ‘westernised’ re-make, almost made it pointless, but I guess big names put the bums on seats. The 5.1 audio track is great, particularly in the action scenes. Not a bad film by any means but if possible, definitely check out the original.
Taken: (Extended ‘Harder’ Cut) a stupid girl runs off to Europe to follow a U2 tour, and if that doesn’t warrant getting kidnapped I don’t know what does! Naturally, her badass daddy (conveniently ex CIA covert / black ops) has to sort it all out. My favourite thing about Taken is that it has an amazing mix of action, drama and a no-brain story. It’s very realistic; the fighting’s well-choreographed but never really over-the-top, there’s also a great – no holds barred – authenticity on the human trafficking story. Despite seeing this a few times my heart still ends up in the stomach when Kim gets kidnapped. Above all that, Laim Neeson’s on top form, showing his acting and action abilities in equal measure. I guess the downside is that it doesn’t exactly make you want to visit Paris in a rush. Unashamedly in the same vein as Bourne, 24, Man on Fire-type movies but other than that, you can’t fault this much!
Watchmen: (Blu Ray) A gang of retired vigilantes squeeze back into their costumes to figure out who’s trying to kill them off. The story itself is a near perfect blend of action and dystopian Noir mystery, although it’s no Sin City rip off. Picture and surround sound are both absolutely stunning and could easily be used as test/demo material. All aspects of the visuals are totally slick, and bone-splitting graphic violence has never looked this good. The run time may put some off, at 2:45, but it’s all about the characters past and present. A few streaks of hardcore physics to melt your mind, and older viewers will remember the constant fear of a potential nuclear holocaust. On a downside the soundtrack’s very dominating, trendy and generic for such an original story, and it’s never good seeing a huge blue wang, ever. Haven’t read the graphic novel so can’t compare them, but as a stand alone film this is certainly a great achievement. Plain awesome viewing.
A Bittersweet Life: follows a loyal and solitary badass as one mistake throws his life into bedlam. My favourite aspect of this film is how almost every single shot reveals something new about the story or a character, adding depth with unmistakably brilliant direction. The entire cast are great, the main in particular is nothing short of fantastic. The long fight scene is one of the best, and most emotive of any I’ve seen, and all of the action set pieces are choreographed and pulled off effortlessly: although the violence may be rough for some. Comically dumb gangsters provide just enough humour to ensure that the film doesn’t become overbearing and no Asian movie would be complete without some generic ancient proverbs about pride, honour, tradition and morals. This film looks great and is stylish to the max – just like the characters. Unfortunately, this is often compared to Oldboy and although they share some themes, A Bittersweet Life can most definitely speak itself. Korean Masterpiece.
Versus: a criminal and mystic are hunted down by yakuza, who are being chased by zombies! How do you make a film with more action than the matrix? Easy, just add gallons of blood, swords, knifes, massive guns, a ton of zombies and have as many fights as you can get away with. It’s (surprisingly) directed by the same guy that did Midnight Meat Train, but don’t hold that against him as this a good effort. He did well with a low-budget: the effects very gory and good, the sound’s not bad despite being re-dubbed in a studio and the camerawork’s admirable, although 360 shots are overused. The story’s pretty thin, and the ‘big twist’ is so bad it’s good. Some of the dialogue and action is very corny, making it feel like a live-action manga adaptation. Quite looking forward to the re-make/sequel that’s being rumored at the moment. Ridiculously OTT live-action-packed ultra-stylish no-brainer hack-fest of a cult zombie flick.