The Heir Apparent – Largo Winch: when a billionaire tycoon is murdered his secretly adopted son has to prove he’s the true heir to the business empire, while fighting off an aggressive takeover attempt. It’s an easy film to engage with for several reasons: firstly, it’s not a completely dead by-the-numbers affair – the story is interesting and is split between the eponymous Largo discovering his roots, and getting tangled up in action-based situations. Secondly; it looks great – sometimes even Besson–esque. Thirdly; it’s full of familiar spy/espionage aspects like frenetic action and chase scenes, global locations, femme fatales and everything else you’d expect from a James Bond type film – minus the budget. Think Bruce Wayne in an indie Bourne film and you’re almost there. LW also aims high with blatant global aspirations: it’s primarily English and French, with a decent ‘World’ Cast, and worldwide filming (Brazil, Hong Kong, Baltic States). There’s something for everyone in here: action, politics, drama, family, business, espionage, rumpy pumpy – but the only real problem is that large parts of backgrounding made it feel more like an ‘origins’ story, setting up a larger franchise. Having not heard of it, and with a wildly international scope and graphic novel roots, I was expecting a total euro-pudding; but with a charismatic lead, interesting story, and solid action Largo Winch is a fun, albeit lightweight, film.
Shaolin Soccer (少林足球, Siu lam juk kau): a has-been footballer (soccer player) convinces a struggling Kung-Fu master to form a football (soccer) team with his equally gifted ragamuffin friends. It’s so silly, bawdy, theatrical and over-the-top that it feels like it’s based on a manga series – apparently it isn’t! The story’s a bit stupid, but the film finds some form during the wire-work and CGI heavy ‘football’ (‘soccer) matches. Even by bad Asian standard the acting – although probably closer to mincing – is fairly shoddy, and it’s difficult to know if the actors were hired for their martial arts skills because most of the action is entirely green screen. Shaolin Soccer is entertaining enough, but behind the SFX it’s quite a formulaic sports film that’s too erratic to properly enjoy, and not particularly funny or dramatic enough to be noteworthy. All-in, I can’t understand why there’s so much love for this – definitely not one for proper football (soccer) fans.
As part of JAPANORAMA I am inviting fellow movie sites to join in. This post is a guest review from Nostra over at My Film Views, a talented reviewer and feature-writer that has both English (My Film Views) and Dutch (FilmKijker) movie blogs. I’m also looking forward to participating in the site’s 5 Obstructions Blogathon soon, based on the Lars Von Trier movie of the same name. You can follow Nostra on Twitter @MyFilmViews, and there’s an extended review of the movie on Nostra’s site HERE.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (時をかける少女, Toki o Kakeru Shōjo): is a time travel movie set at a Japanese high school. It is the story of Makoto Konno, who discovers she is able to travel through time. She initially uses her power to travel back and set some things straight, but quickly finds out that even though her life might be better, the lives of others have been impacted by her choices. Like in Back to the Future she finds out that there are consequences to time travel and she has to see how she can make it all alright again. Teenage love is also a subject that’s explored. Visually the movie might not blow your mind, but the concept is very entertaining. A movie which is well worth watching.
Brotherhood of the Wolf: a French knight and NATIVE AMERICAN WARRIOR (!!) investigate reportings of a murderous wolf-like beast in 1700s France. I can best describe this as a 1980s fantasy fanboy political aristocratic period drama ‘horror‘; with werewolves, camp comedy, bawdy action, and token European tits. Trying to cover this much ground, it’s simply far too weird and ridiculous for its own good. The acting is theatre at best, the plot is nothing short of batshit mental, there’s also lots of hammy slow mo, rubbish CGI, and a laughable bone-sword. The beautiful Monica Bellucci can’t even save this, as a tracking shot of her naked body morphs into a CGI woman-shaped mountain-scape… really!?!?! The film’s like a wholesale sized can of industrial strength WTF, focus grouped by the biggest nerds in the world – and I love geeky films.
I endured 45 minutes then skipped through the rest of the film, stopping at the action scenes only.
Alternative Plans: sat in the corner of my room – confused, angry and disoriented – bashing head against the wall, thinking why… why… why… why…
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: essentially an English language, scene for scene, character for character and detail for detail re-make of the Swedish original film adaptation. The over-stylised James Bond-esque opening credits paired with NIN industrial techno Led Zep remix are fantastic, and promise something fresh/new; unfortunately the rest of the film fails to deliver as it copies almost everything from the original. Most annoyingly, it’s still set in Sweden and full of Europeans talking in ‘svee-deesh’ – it’s like watching a professional dubbing of the original. Character-wise, Daniel Craig is good, but Nyqvist has the edge as the flawed idealist journalist; Rooney Mara is very watchable as Lisbeth Salander, but it feels like a good imitation of Rapace’s portrayal. In all honesty, both pairs of boots were almost impossible to fill. The rest of the cast deliver, but again, have very little room to put any new stamp on the characters. As a stand-alone film, it is good (although it would have been hard to mess up sticking to the original). All is not lost though, as the 2nd/3rd Swedish films weren’t perfect, and have far more room for improvement. As someone who saw and loved the original, this lacks any of the impact that the modern twist on the classic murder mystery had – this just feels redundant and unimaginative. Expected a something better from a director of David Fincher‘s calibre.
Review of the original
Stake Land: when his mum, dad and baby sibling get their shit ruined, Martin is taken under the wing of a Vampire Hunter, and they make their way north to a vampire-free sanctuary. It’s easy to forget that this is a B-movie; no stars, no big sets, ton of gore, no-name production company… yet it’s well filmed, looks great an doesn’t just rely on schlock or clichés. in fact, it’s because this is a B-movie that this packs more of a punch; there’s not much character sentimentality, and several pretty rough scenes to watch. The story’s great, and keeps you intrigued, even with a distinct lack of dialogue, ridiculous cult, and almost no character backstory. The creatures are somewhat of a Zombie/Vampire mish-mash, that land somewhere between Romero, Rami and a manga adaptation. Breathing new life in to busy, but rapidly boring genre, Stake Land is a solid entry, proving that vampires don’t have to suck, and that the horror genre can step up it’s game now and again.
The Hangover Part II: Take my review of the first film – change mentions of ‘Vegas to Bangkok and it’s a job well done! Realising that the one-man wolf pack and Leslie Chow (the only two that pull off ‘funny’) were the best things about The Hangover, these two characters get even more screen time and gags than before. Once again, the humour is very Lad / Frat friendly and doesn’t appeal to everyone. Not much else to say other than it’s even more crass and offensive than the first, and seemed to have longer periods where nothing amazingly funny was happening. It’s good, but definitely more of an expansion pack than a new addition. Kudos to the people responsible for taking Hangovers for from a low-budget comedy to the biggest comedy of all time in 2 films!
Win Win: A lawyer-cum-wrestling coach gets more than he bargained for when assuming custody of an elderly client. From the very first scene this is clearly an Indie Flick, but you can also tell straight away that it has more potential than most. The casting is very strong: Giamatti‘s looking a bit jowly but does his everyman thing; the main kid actor (Shaffer – first film role) is very watchable – great presence already; not-quite-Billy-Zane/Andy-Garcia (Cannavale) also plays a blinder with an amazingly dark undertone. Although it’s a textbook underdog / misunderstood intentions story it’s very watchable, and the family aspect in particular is compelling. More than anything else, Win Win is subtly funny, and enjoyable to watch.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: (Blu Ray) Film adaptation of the eponymous novel – follows an investigative journalist and a computer hacker as they investigate a 40 year old disappearance, which in turn unearths much bigger crimes. The one thing that grabs you for the duration is the performances offered up by the cast, particularly the two mains: Rapace is great at portraying an enigmatic character, who is strong and smart, yet damaged and vulnerable; Nyqvist on the other hand effortlessly portrays a determined journalist and dedicated researcher with incorruptible morals. Mains aside, nobody else really drops the ball either and the strong cast definitely make the film more believable, engaging and gripping. As for the story, you’ve seen it a thousand times before, but never done like this: it’s essentially a Miss Marple ‘whodunnit’ murder mystery served up with a huge wedge of modernity – metro setting, bit of snuff, bit of action, bit of romance, and lots of graphic scenes & descriptions of terrible crimes – add to this a bunch of critiques (violence against women, corrupt big business, modern Sweden…) and you have a very busy film. My favourite aspect of Dragon Tattoo is how the story’s told – it obviously helps to have great source material – but the direction is outstanding, and no matter how hard it gets to watch, or how long it goes on for, you simply can’t stop watching. My only major nitpick was the constant flashbacks as everything else about the film batted a lot higher. The BD picture is decent enough but typical Scandinavian washed out bleak pallet means that nothing really jumps out – sound again is alright, but nothing special. The final product is a modern facelift of the classic murder mystery that continually makes you wince, yet keeps you hooked through to the very last scene
Stranger than fiction: (Blu Ray) It feels like a watch advert to begin with, then turns into an outlandish narrator hostage situation – won’t give the story away, but it’s pretty original. What’s most interesting is that you’re not used to seeing WIll Ferrel play the serious everyman, which he does a decent job at despite being out of his comfort zone. Someone also needs to stop casting Queen Latifah as motivational!! Maggie Gyllenhaal balanced it out by rocking my loins for the entire film. The picture’s crisp but there’s nothing really worth seeing here, the sound mix is dull, but the original audio is great. Similar themes and story to Eternal Sunshine / Being John Malkovich / Adaptation so check it out if you like those. I guess the main thing this film has over others is the fresh twist on life and who’s in control of it. It’s quite witty and intelligent, with a fantastic idea but I just can’t put my finger on what was missing.