47 Ronin [mild spoilers]: follows a group of disgraced samurai as they set out to avenge their murdered master. As it’s a Hollywood film it obviously contains every single ‘western portrayal of Asia’ pitfall imaginable – everyone speaking ‘Engrish’, exotic mystique, ninjas/samurai everywhere, forbidden gaijin romance, cherry blossom, western warrior, kanji writing, tradition, tradition, tradition… Because of this – and given the foul reviews this received – I was expecting something woeful, but this is pleasantly surprising. The visuals are fantastic: it is a touch over-styalised – some parts feel like Sucker Punch set in feudal Japan – but the costumes, textures, sets, CGI backgrounds are all eye-poppingly sumptuous: it’s up there with The Fall’s immaculate design. Story-wise, other than a few swashbuckling & sword fighting action set pieces, this is definitely more of a drama than you expect: the story arcs are all fairly standard until the ‘happy’ ending – a mass samurai suicide instead of a mass criminal hanging – yay! The biggest complaint you hear about this is that it’s nothing like the original story: WTF?! This is a blockbuster movie… and there are so many fictionalized accounts of this tale that there’s a specific entire genre term for it – Chūshingura! The weirdest thing about 47 Ronin is that it plays to two wildly different audiences – it’s half respectful and traditional samurai movie; and half Game of Thrones style middle-earth mayhem (battles, questing, magic & mythology). Overall, it’s an interesting, and beautiful, oddity that could have been great, but is by no means a terrible movie.
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 gunplay (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.
Side by Side: documentary explaining the different ways in which digital and film reel images make their way from the director’s lens and on to cinema screens. It’s a film made specifically for film nerds, about the technical aspects of the end-to-end process of film-making – yet it’s all very high-level, with simplistic explanations that only really cover the basics – parts remind you of school educational videos. Still, it’s a great excuse to sit down with the cream of Hollywood directors, editors, DPs & various industry names, and hear their professional opinions on it: cast list below. It’s also packed with some of the greatest shots from over 100 years of Cinema – starting with ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ through to Avatar. As an interviewer, Keanu is quite good (although we only ever see short sections) but he gets surprisingly blunt and animated with big Hollywood figures: he also pulls off every look imaginable from genuine tramp, through to rockstar and everything in between. The most interesting part was seeing how the digital switch moves the emphasis away from the DP (director of photography) and towards editors and colour timers. Side by Side is a good look at the Analogue Vs Digital debate; however, it’s a fight that’s been raging on for well over 15 years now, and one that digital has all but won – as the new shooting and projecting standards. Because of this, it doesn’t really shed much more light on the subject. Lucas and Cameron championing digital Vs Nolan and Pfister who are unsympathetically anti-digital – anyone interested in cinema will already know this. Still, it’s worth watching, if only to see your favourite directors with the gloves off, hammering into the format they don’t like.
Robert Rodriguez and Salma Hayek discussing Once Upon a Time…
Interviews include: Keanu Reeves, George Lucas, Steven Soderbergh, James Cameron, David Lynch, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Martin Scorsese, Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, Christopher Nolan, Walter Pfister, David Fincher, Lars von Trier, John Malkovich, Danny Boyle, Joel Schumacher, FULL CAST HERE
The Matrix: Action. Adventure. Sci-Fi. Technology. Love story. Tragedy. Mythology. Drama. Explosions. Chases. Fighting. Guns. Lots of Guns. Style. Homage. Technological Advances. Solid acting. Vision. Betrayal. Great characters. Fantastic Soundtrack & OST. Tight script. Mouth-watering visuals. Slick editing. Stunning concept… Absolutely everything about The Matrix is pitch perfect, right down to Reeves’ vacant, and emotionally retarded acting – it just fits the film so well! (Will Smith/Nicholas Cage were first choices for Neo!) Hugo weaving is also brilliant as the borderline pantomime baddie. The fight scenes are outstanding, especially given that none of the actors are martial artists. Unlike 99% of films out there The Matrix is absolutely all killer – every single scene has a purpose. It’s been a career-defining film for everybody involved, and rightly so: cast, directors, tech teams etc. Even over ten years on everything about this is still so, so, so cool. It’s a modern Alice in Wonderland, but where Alice cartwheels while firing a machine gun and bends some spoons with her mind! The film also raised the bar for action / sci-fi and special effects, and the wider cultural impact is enormous. Despite an unhealthy number of viewings over the years (guessing at least 40) this film never gets boring and never loses the awe-factor. I’m struggling to find a single fault in it!
My Own Private Idaho: story about a junkie-hustler-prostitute desperately searching for his mother. The Biggest bombshell was Keanu Reeves, who just didn’t act at all, coming across so one-dimensional that it was both painful and hilarious to watch. Phoenix makes up for this, but it must have been near impossible with such one-sided ‘chemistry’. Huge chunks of the script had Shakespearean dialogue and acting, making it unnecessarily difficult to watch and understand. The visuals were bizarre and dreamy, but full of needlessly inane symbolism like salmon jumping upstream and strange fetishes being acted out. I kept losing interest but forced myself to finish it. River Phoenix was the only redeeming aspect of this movie, which should have been emotional and engrossing but ended up being pretentious, and not very watchable. Interestingly, very few films have made me feel this apathetic and mildly angry – another is Elephant, so at least Van Saint’s consistent! It just left me baffled as to why it’s generated such a cult status and acclaim. Great idea, atrociously executed.