The Card Player (aka Il Cartaio): women in Rome are being kidnapped used as the prize in police Vs ‘serial killer’ online poker matches. For a film made in 2004 about ‘cutting edge technology’ it looks more like something from the early 1990s, especially going by the terminology used. The film boasts such a bizarre portrayal of cyber and counter-culture, with a Luddite’s view of technology, and fumbling awkward police IT techies (who are genuinely credited as “Anti Hackers” WTF R-Gent0!?). It also boasts the standard Euro-pudding bilingual issues: gaps between reactions, re-dubbed lines; back of head shots when people are talking… Every character is also over-worked to the point of becoming surreal: like a drunk Irishman who falls asleep singing Danny Boy (classic) and an inappropriate & unprofessionally touchy-feely flirty cop. It feels like Argento plays this far too broad, as the film awkwardly cuts from wacky things like a tapdancing coroner to a dead body with playing cards stuffed up their innards, and extremely detailed close-ups of rancid corpses. The Card Player offers up a few glimpses of classic Argento but overall, it’s a hammy, pedestrian, and tedious Giallo outing.
Killers (キラーズ, Kirazu): a serial killer who uploads his work to a ‘DeathTube‘ site inspires an everyman to go vigilante. It’s the first time in a while that I’ve seen directors harness everything down to the distributors & funders logos to add to the film’s aesthetic; and with this level of detail from the get go, the film is technically admirable – sound, editing, camerawork etc. The opening 5 minutes really set the mood, with a shocking and ultra-graphic murder: the violence slowly escalates and darkens as the runtime progresses. Unlike The Raid‘s gritty-but-styalised – and even poetic – gore, this film is just plain gritty. One killer is a savvy psychopath fit for Dexter, the other is an everyman pushed over the edge, Falling Down style. Another unique aspect is that it’s a collaborative effort from two directors (The Mo Brothers – not real brothers), filmed in two locations – Japan and Indonesia – with English spoken parts when the two leads interact; it doesn’t hinder the film’s international appeal, although something feels lost in translation story-wise. At 140 minutes it does lose feel rather long-winded and intricate for what is essentially a serial killer movie with a disjointed story and not much in the way of themes or messages. If you like your gore gory, and your films stylish this ticks both boxes – although not a lot else. The main stars of Killers are the directors, who with more focus (shorter runtime and tighter story) could pose a serious threat to Gareth Evans as the king of contemporary Indonesian action.
The Tourist: an American tourist has a bad case of mistaken identity when the police and Russian gangsters believe he’s a wanted criminal. Step back for a second and consider the following: biggest actress in Hollywood; biggest actor in Hollywood; Oscar-winning director; writer of Usual Suspects; re-make of an interesting French film; and Timothy Dalton! On paper this is cinematic gold, however, on celluloid, it’s so far off the mark. To call the casting of the mains ‘stale’ would be an insult to the word – Jolie plays a seductive siren (good English accent though!) and Depp is an eyebrow-wagging bumbling idiot. Both appear to turn up, force themselves through the motions, then laugh to the bank. What’s worse is that the stronger supporting cast all share a handful of short scenes. The slow-paced story uncomfortably meanders towards an unsurprising finale – that doesn’t make any sense in hindsight. Not unlike The American, this is more of a throwback to the classic thriller films (than their trailers would suggest), but where Clooney actually acts the part, a vacant Jolie just stares on as the lens slowly zooms in on high-fashion clad arse, legs and neck – a big indicator of how weak everything else about the film is. On the plus side it’s efficiently shot, classically lit and what you see of Venice looks nice. The final product is OK, and just watchable but if you want to see Jolie frolic with some Russians and a few plot twists, Salt was far better.
Hard Boiled: a classic cops Vs Triads flick by John Woo, arguably at his peak. This is almost always cited as one of the best action films ever made, and with good reason. The bloodshed is so, so stylish and cool: slow-motion, intricate and technical. The action is completely mesmerising in places with explosions, bullets, bodies, weapons and debris all dancing around the frame. This is the closest thing to an action-ballet you’ll see, with long swooping shots, that make the even the most intricate of scenes seem effortless. It also has a real cinematic quality for the most part, with brilliant camera work jumping out in places – peaking with a meticulous 2 1/2 minute single-shot through hospital corridors and lifts, like a shoot-em-up game. The story is pretty standard – fallen colleague, hostage situations and undercover cops – but Woo avoids cliché by putting 90% of the focus on the action. There are some minor downsides to Hard Boiled; the hospital siege goes on for far too long (well over 40 minutes), The 1980s synth soundtrack is incredibly out of date and there’s a bizarro Jazz motif throughout. It’s also the only foreign film I deliberately watch with English dubs because the original audio is in worse synch than the voiceovers. All in, Hard Boiled is the definitive action film that takes all the best parts of a tired genre and makes them great again, and so much more watchable.
The Warrior’s Way: Seriously, $42M spent on a film that has ninjas, cowboys, guns, swords, circus freaks, dynamite… and it’s still this boring? With almost nothing physical to film +85% of the buildings, scenery, props and even people are CGI. Because of this it looks pretty dreadful and feels cheap. The trailer suggests a fun action-fest, yet there’s around an hour of awful character building – this is not the type of film in which I wish to invest in characters!! When the action finally rolls round it’s emotionless, over-styled, plagasised, dull, vague, and edited to within an inch of its life to preserve a 15 certificate. The main guy (Yang Dong-gun) is a total vacuum; with almost no lines he tries his best to convey mystery and enigma but ends up just looking confused. The Leading lady (Kate Bosworth) looked good, but was the human version of Jessie from Toy Story – down to the bad accent. The script is riddled with clichés, there’s corny narration, an unforgivable pseudo-Asian soundtrack, and a heap of ‘cutesy baby’ shots!? I can only
imagine hope this will be Sngmoo Lee’s first and last time behind a camera. I walked in to the cinema yearning to like this but there wasn’t a single scene where I thought “That’s original” or “That’s cool”. 100% stick to The Good, The Bad, The Weird as it’s not an Asian stereotype and actually has story, acting, exciting action, a proper ending, Even Sukiyaki‘s worth your time, but not this – ever…