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.
The Hunt (aka Jagten): a nursery teacher’s life is pulled from beneath him when one of his very young students falsely accuses him of a sexual act. The film has a highly naturalistic, almost documentary-style (think Dogme 95) which creates a very realistic world and really gives you the impression that this could be any guy in this position. Being in almost every frame, the film puts a lot of stock in to Mads, but it pays off as he delivers an absolute powerhouse performance – he’s an everyman, but not like the other men around, and we see enough of him to empathise with his new fate. The middle act is particularly moving & emotional, and feels like a critique of the “guilty until proven innocent” society we live in at the moment. It’s even more interesting re-watching this through the 2017 ‘scandal of the week’ lens in this post-Weinstein abuse era. There are some very tough scenes like child counselor meeting and Lucas trying in vain to reason with his closest family and friends. Raw, emotional and affecting, The Hunt is a modern classic, and will no doubt be one of Mikkelsen and Vinterberg’s career highlights, no matter what else they go on to do.
Contraband: a struggling ex-con must secure his family’s safety by doing one final smuggling run. Being a re-make of Rekjavik-Rotterdam, Hollywood does what it does best and strips out a lot of the smaller background stories, characters, undertones, and relationships that thickened up the original plot, and raised the stakes a little more. Wahlberg‘s steady, but disappointingly typecast as the everyman, and costume-wise, could be from any previous film. This is all minor compared to Giovanni Ribisi, what the fuck is he doing!? His lines were delivered in the most ridiculous accent I’ve heard in years. The rest of the supporting cast really do keep the film propped up, although nobody’s particularly stretched. It’s well-directed, with the urgency maximised and lots of nice shots that play with focusing – it feels quite European / independent. There’s a decent gunfight in the middle (audio is immense) and in true modern heist fashion lots of loose ends are tied up in the final 15 mins. Unfortunately, New Orleans felt like an excuse for decent music, and nothing more. As expected, this is pretty much a cut-down, edges-smoothed, version of the original. It’s decent, but I’d suggest seeking out the original instead.
Misfits (Season 3): 8 Episodes: with a whole new bunch of powers and a line-up change, the gang are re-booted and re-established. It takes around 1/2 the season, but once the new guy – ‘split personality’ Rudy – is properly established his comic timing, screen presence and character far outdo Nathan, which isn’t an easy feat. The rest of the cast keep up with their characters well and the dealer gets a bigger role than before. A critical problem with Season 3 is that the writing is all over the place, I’ve never seen a series with such variation in quality between episodes; some are among the best and most clever to date, yet others are barely watchable or deadly boring, and the rest are average at best. To finger out a couple, the Nazi time travel and gender bending episodes are just boring, boring and boring – however the super STD episode is comedy gold and the zombie cheerleaders is nothing short of pure cult. Slow burning, with individual episodes ranging between 1/10 and 8/10, Misfits Season 3 asks a lot more of its audience than previous outings, and although it’s still daring, dark and outrageous it only gets its shit together in the final couple of episodes. It’s definitely lacking the clever writing that made the first two seasons special – Season 4 will be a tough sell for me.
Black Rain: a NYPD officer escorts a known Yakuza back to Japan; when the criminal escapes the mulleted cop must find him to prove his innocence, and serve up some justice-flavoured sushi! First off, this is a visual fantasy / offensively stereotypical Japan; there’s neon signs, neon trucks, neon clubs, neon everything (in Osaka there’s only a handful of streets lit like this), doesn’t matter though, it looks great. I’m also sure that not everyone in Japan is efficient with a katana, is a gangster, writes Kanji, wears traditional robes, or sings karaoke… but I’ll let that slide too. For the sake of equality Garcia plays a dumb, loud New York schmuck stereotype. Being a Ridley Scott flick, there’s a lot of manliness in every frame; motorbike races, fighting, broody man hero, all culminating in a laughable / ludicrous fight at the end. The one woman in the film is there purely to be lured at. Technically it’s good to watch, poppy/distracting visuals, despite ageing quite badly, but there are a few ill-judged scenes like the Garcia karaoke debacle. If you want a Japanese culture on steroids, ‘man film’, with motorbikes and a whole lotta mullet – this is the film for you! For being so highly regarded Black Rain is just feels like another terminally cheesy, typical 1980s, cop-out-of-water action flick – with a bit more budget than most.
Sukiyaki Western Django: Takashi Miike’s Japanese take on the spaghetti western & samurai films of yesteryear. Most confusingly all dialogue is English, but it still requires subs because the Japanese actors (naturally) struggle to deliver the Americanized lines – everyone’s acting totally suffers because of this huge distraction. All of the action is good to watch, from the quick draws through to Gatling Gun mayhem and the action-packed showdown is pretty immense. The gang costumes are flamboyant and seeing the red & white colours constantly jumping out is a real treat on the eyes. Miike does a fantastic job of keeping it stylish throughout, whilst minimising his trademark ‘weirdness’ – although the sheriff character was truly pants. You can’t help but think that if he focused on perfecting one or two films a year instead of 5-6 he’d be one of the best directors on the planet. Overall there’s no denying this is a bunch of tried themes, concepts and characters tied neatly together and packaged as homage. Still, this one’s worth a watch if you like foreign and offbeat movies.