Reviews written by registered user
fung0

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187 reviews in total 
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"Travelers" (2016/II)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Consider the Source, 22 July 2017
9/10

I tuned in to Travelers with low expectations. Time travel has rarely made for compelling television. Often, it's just an excuse for moving to a new historical setting each week. (Even Doctor Who stopped doing pure time travel after the first few years and started emphasizing the "relative dimension in space.") Travelers sounded particularly dreary: people from the future taking over humans in the present. Oh, great, a time travel story that lets us glimpse the wonders of... the present.

And yet, Travelers defied all these expectations and turned out to be one of the freshest bits of SF on TV.

It's not a special-effects-heavy show. Instead, it focuses on squeezing every drop of juice out of the slightly off-kilter premise. For a start, "taking over" present-day human hosts kills them. So there's a massive built-in moral dilemma. And it's worked out with painstaking logic. Time travelers try to pick people who were about to die anyway - but this too presents problems. The time travelers need to remain undiscovered, which means seamlessly picking up the threads of their hosts' lives. Time travelers may have motivations of their own, which need to be dealt with in the present. It all meshes beautifully.

I won't give away much more, other than to say each episode expands and twists the basic premise in a new and clever way. The acting is uniformly solid, and the characters are likable in spite of their sometimes glaring faults. The mix of characters has the feel of a really great ensemble, a group you'd really like to follow for a while.

What I didn't realize at first was that Travelers was created by some of the key members of the former Stargate TV team. Of course, two of that show's best writers, Mallozzi and Mullie, are masterminding the entertaining space opera Dark Matter. Meanwhile, Travelers is being put together by former Stargate writer and producer Brad Wright, with directing work by Stargate alumni Martin Wood and Andy Mikita. While Dark Matter is more light-hearted, Travelers carries on the harder-edged side of the Stargate tradition, without losing that show's uncanny addictiveness and entertainment value.

Even if you're not a Stargate fan, you should definitely give Travelers a chance. It's a show that really knows what it's doing. It knows how to tell stories that are morally deep, intellectually clever and emotionally satisfying, all at the same time. We've seen some really good SF on TV lately, but Travelers is the one show that I'm most excited to see more of. A LOT more, hopefully.

A Neglected Classic, 16 July 2017
9/10

Run of the Arrow is a slightly flawed but generally brilliant western, that deserves to be more widely seen. It's got a powerful story, epic battle scenes and some unique perspective on human nature and American history.

The story rarely goes exactly where you expect it to. Along the way, it provides insight into Southern anger at the end of the War Between the States. And it dramatically shows the kind of duplicity that was routinely applied in treatment of Native Americans.

Rod Steiger, never my favorite actor, is well-cast as a Southerner angry with the world. Ralph Meeker depicts extreme villainy deftly enough to somehow remain disconcertingly likable. Brian Keith has a pivotal but rather thankless role, which he handles with his usual aplomb. The biggest surprise is Charles Bronson, remarkably convincing as a Lakota chief.

Despite the casting of Caucasians, Sam Fuller presents an unusually nuanced view of Native American culture, spanning both brutality and honor. And despite an obviously limited budget, Fuller directs brilliantly. The opening scenes are reminiscent of Peckinpah (especially Major Dundee), and the later Indian attacks rival the grandeur of John Ford. Run of the Arrow is a visually-arresting film that deserves high-def restoration.

The flaws are minor. Someone has pointed out Steiger's weird accent. It is explained in the film, and is perhaps intended to establish the character as even more of an outsider. I didn't find it at all distracting. Some of the dialog is a bit awkward, but it always achieves its intended purpose - and actually gives the film more of a unique flavor. Worst of all is the preposterous casting of Jay C. Flippen as an Indian; you just have to accept him and move on.

Run of the Arrow reminds me of other Western 'hidden gems,' such as Only the Valiant, or the films of Bud Boetticher. It's cleverly written and tautly directed, and leaves you with a lot to think about. See it if you get a chance.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Doesn't Deserve the Hate, 16 July 2017
8/10

I took a chance on Suicide Squad despite the non-stop barrage of hate from both fans and critics. And I was pleasantly surprised. No, this isn't a great film, but it is quite an enjoyable one. It lacks the self-importance and obsessive fan service of the more mainstream comics-based movies, which allows it to succeed as a simple bit of entertainment.

The extended 'Dirty Dozen' setup works well, and the interplay between the seriously off-key characters pumps a bit of desperately needed fresh air into the superhero genre. The absence of major comic-book stars is a huge bonus, making the plot slightly less predictable.

Don't view this as belonging to the "DC Universe," or the "Batman canon," or any other tired, anal-retentive fan framework. It's a simple, standalone movie, with cool characters and fast action. It's actually FUN, which is something you can't say about most comics-inspired films any more.

4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Lame and Empty, 10 June 2017
5/10

I really wanted to like this movie. I expected to like it. I actually did like a lot of things about it. But overall, I found it unimaginative, lifeless and boring. "Non-stop action" is simply not very exciting without a proper dramatic underpinning.

The framework is great. The mysterious criminal organization, the neutral zones where no combat is allowed, the gold coins that magically buy just about anything, the marker that forces Wick out of retirement (again), the Italian suit with a Kevlar lining... and, of course, Wick himself, the stone-faced, unkillable James Bond of the underworld.

And there are a few great scenes: the terse conversations between Wick and Ian McShane (who is always a pleasure to watch); the sepulchral confrontation between Wick and the lady mobster; Laurence Fishburn chewing up the scenery and clearly having a ball...

So much for about 15 minutes of the movie. The rest is incredibly tedious action, action, action. Action with no point, very little style and absolutely zero creativity.

The settings do vary, to be sure: a rock concert in an Italian ruin; dusty catacombs; a subway station and subway train; a highly improbable house-of-mirrors museum exhibit... But the action itself is both mindless and unforgivably repetitive. I started ticking off a handful of standard moves: Wick dropping to the floor; Wick grabbing an attacker's arm and using it to shoot another attacker; Wick somersaulting through a hail of bullets and then unerringly pegging an entire wave of attackers...

It IS possible to do a pure action-ballet type of movie - in the Hong Kong, John Woo mode - but the action has to be really, really GOOD. In Wick 2, the action is well-staged, but appallingly choreographed. It's also not rooted in any actual drama, so after a while it's very hard to care about yet another butchered bad guy.

Even the film's opening sequence is all wrong - about ten minutes of pure action with absolutely no dramatic justification. Classic car chases are rooted in characterization: The French Connection, Bullit, The Seven-Ups... What's the point of watching vehicles crash into each other before we even know who's driving them, or why?

Keanu Reaves and the supporting cast are all good. The camera work is fine. But there's no actual movie here. Recommendation: find something else to do with your two hours.

3 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Another Great Paul WS Anderson Thrill-ride, 29 May 2017
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Anyone who has stuck around through the previous films will know, we're not talking subtlety and depth here. The Resident Evil series is a ludicrous brew of non-stop action, terse dialog, fierce martial arts and exaggerated horror tropes. In the course of the Final Chapter, Alice (Milla Jovovich) will:

* do battle with human, canine and airborne zombies

* engage in road chases in both 2- and 4-wheeled vehicles

* fight a siege against an army of human zombies

* jump off a cliff

* fight arch-villain Iain Glen multiple times

* solve the ultimate mysteries of her own existence

* and a lot more

It's almost too much for one movie. Each sequence is a hoot, but the best moments, for me, came as Alice nostalgically recapped some of the very first film, again threading the ridiculously complicated security systems in the Hive. Also, the ending was entirely satisfying, a perfect finale for the series.

A lot of reviews complain about the fast editing. I found it exhilarating. This isn't a Fred Astaire film, where the camera stands still so you can appreciate the actor's moves. (Bear in mind that Milla Jovovich is now in her 40s.) Rather, it's a seamless visual whole - CG effects, pyrotechnics, stunts and editing all blended together. I wouldn't want every movie to be done this way, but I think there's room for a few. Especially when they're done this well. It's a style of movie unique to our times.

And nobody does it better than Paul WS Anderson. I put him in the same pantheon with Luc Besson, Roland Emmerich, Sam Raimi, Jaume Collet-Serra and the granddaddy of them all, Roger Corman - writer/directors who compulsively crank out films (and scripts) at a pace reminiscent of the old Hollywood studio system days. Their work is slick, stylish, entertaining, and never insultingly dumb. They don't force your brain to switch off - they just put it in Neutral, like the cars on any roller-coaster.

The Resident Evil series isn't for all tastes. But it works well, in its own terms. And this Final Chapter is a good one.

Logan (2017)
24 out of 36 people found the following review useful:
Shallow, Tedious and Disappointing, 26 May 2017
4/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The high ratings for this film are based entirely on its sombre tone. That's a great novelty in a 'superhero' movie, to be sure. But it merely masks the film's emptiness - its painful lack of ideas, lack of character development, and total absence of plot.

Jackman's performance? As someone once quipped, his emotional range runs the full gamut... from A to B. He looks grumpy and depressed in every scene. In every shot. Patrick Stewart is somewhat more nuanced, though he too is hamstrung by a script that gives his character the emotional depth of a cartoon. Dafne Keen does a great job as Laura, but her character has only attitude - which incompetent screen writers often mistake for character.

Visually, the film is bland. I hear there's a black-and-white version. It's always a bad sign when a film's creators can't make up their minds on such a key issue. A film is either shot for B&W, or it isn't. (In the case of Logan, the photography lacks the dramatic contrasts and strong composition that might favor a noir-ish B&W presentation.)

Logic holes abound:

* After being raised in a cage, Laura turns out to be a competent driver. What's more, she has no trouble reaching the pedals, presumably on account of some stretching power that's not mentioned elsewhere in the film.

* Laura is mute for half the film, for no apparent reason. Then she can only speak Spanish. Then fluent English. No explanation.

* Laura is often feral, as you'd expect of someone raised in a cage by sadistic scientists. Yet she acts like a normal child most of the time. Ditto for her friends. This quality does not 'develop' as a result of events in the film - it simply materializes when needed.

* Laura drives at random, ends up at a completely out-of-the-way building. And meets all her friends. When was this arranged? How did she learn navigation while locked in a cage?

* Logan and Laura have a cozy evening with a nice family - knowing full well that they're setting them up for slaughter, when their pursuers come along. The audience knows this instantly, characters in the film don't quite get it.

* Logan is dying, we're never told why. Professor X has a brain-cloud, or some such dread condition, also not explained.

Missed opportunities are equally plentiful:

* Laura's feral attacks are mentioned in conversation, but never really discussed. Logan dismisses them with a couple of heavy one-liners, when they could have (and should have) led to an extended rumination on violence. The film doesn't miss a beat when Laura's friends brutally murder the guy with the mechanical hand. This lynch-mob logic should, again, have been a starting point for reflections that never happen in this shallow, trivial film.

* Logan never has a character arc. Wolverine actually has far less emotional range in this film than in the first X-Men movie. His relationship with Laura is essentially the same as the far more developed relationship with Rogue.

* Characters are neither built up, nor revealed. To do that, you have to show them in a range of different circumstances, dealing with emotionally or morally challenging dilemmas. In Logan, the only dilemma is how to keep eluding inexorable pursuit so as to stretch the film out past the two-hour mark. Hence the only character trait that can be revealed is dogged perseverance. We get that in the first scene. After that, nothing.

* Ultimately, the filmmakers resort to having Logan shaved back to his familiar Wolverine muttonchops. You know you're in trouble when you're counting on facial hair to create characterization. (Or fan service.)

* Plot is nonexistent. The film is one long chase. Weak screenwriters often mistake this for plot, but it's a poor substitute: totally linear, predictable, boring. Yes, there have been great 'chase' films (Sam Peckinpah's The Getaway comes to mind.) They take care to incorporate twists and turns, and strong moments of characterization. Logan doesn't. It's just a bunch of stuff that happens.

On top of everything else, I had the creeping suspicion that this film was calculated less as a standalone work, than as a stepping-stone for the X-Men 'franchise.' It disposes of two performers who've stated their intent to depart the roles they created. And it seems to pave the way for the endlessly-discussed New Mutants franchise. Ugh. Replacing the people won't make up for a lack of ideas, and Logan shows very clearly how bereft of creative thinking the X-Men cinematic franchise has become.

I didn't hate Logan as I was watching it. But when it ended I was overcome by a feeling of emptiness and disappointment. This film lacks both entertainment value and deep ideas. The Marvel cinematic universe badly needs a shot of new blood, but sadly, this wasn't it.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Exceeds Expectations, 22 May 2017
8/10

What were people expecting? The Great Wall IS a movie about medieval Chinese soldiers fighting hordes of lizard-like alien creatures. And guess what? It's a pretty good one. I can only assume people are criticizing it either because they don't like the genre itself, or for some misguided political reason.

A few things worth pointing out:

* The set-up, with Matt Damon as a sort of Marco Polo knock-off, is just historically credible enough, and reminiscent of many classic adventure films.

* The top-of-the-wall tactics used by the Chinese - including a primitive bungee jump - are highly inventive, and great fun to watch.

* The CGI lizards are very well presented. They feel real, uniquely Chinese, and very dangerous. Matt Damon's fights with them are fluid and exciting.

* The art design is stupendous, up to some of Yimou Zhang's more obviously 'art' films. The colored armor of the Chinese troops is quite dazzling. The balloon sequence is a hoot, evocative of Jules Verne.

* All the roles are well played. Matt Damon is his usual likable self, and Tian Jing is particularly charismatic as the somewhat conflicted Chinese officer. Dastardly Willem Dafoe (clearly having a ball on his Chinese holiday) adds a nice counterpoint.

* The storyline is just about what you'd expect - which is NOT a bad thing in a genre film. Not when it's handled this expertly, and when it manages to dodge any number of obvious clichés. (For example, possible romantic entanglements do not play out according to the usual formula.)

No, this is certainly not a ground-breaking film in any cinematic sense. But it is a competent one, and a very entertaining one. It stands up well against other films in the 'monster' or 'zombie' genres, which too often suffer from creaky dialog and low-budget staging. And it's vastly better in every way than self-conscious action films like The Expendables - yet currently shows a lower score (6.1 vs 6.5). That's unfair, and misleading to the many fantasy fans who'd really enjoy this film if they gave it a proper chance.

That really is the point: if you enjoy this TYPE of film, you should enjoy The Great Wall. Do not go in expecting an exquisite, meditative classic like Raise the Red Lantern. This is Yimou having some fun, flexing his pure-entertainment muscles, and helping to move the burgeoning Chinese film industry into more direct competition with mainstream Hollywood. Get yourself a big bowl of popcorn (or the Chinese equivalent), and enjoy the ride.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Here's to Powers Boothe - The Only True Marlowe, 18 May 2017
9/10

I've meant to post a review of this ground-breaking series for some time. The untimely passing of Powers Boothe this week has goaded me into action...

To sum up: this series is not just the best adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, it's the *only* adaptation that really manages to to remain true to the letter and the spirit of the books. Amazing, but true.

Humphrey Bogart was charming as Marlowe, of course... but his Big Sleep (especially the best-known edit) is 99% Howard Hawks, and should have a 'may contain traces of Chandler' warning on the label. What's more, Bogey couldn't have been much less like the character described by Chandler. In fact, Chandler's own ideal Marlowe is said to have been Cary Grant, which gives you some idea of just how far off-track Bogart, the geriatric Mitchum, and others have been. (Let us not even speak of Dick Powell.) Robert Montgomery could have been good, but he loused it up with that stupid first-person camera business, which has never worked and never will. Astoundingly, the best Marlowe prior to Boothe was Elliott Gould, in Altman's modernized, revisionist yet nonetheless evocative Long Goodbye. (EDIT: forgot to mention James Garner, who was very good, though a bit more Rockford than Marlowe.)

But Powers Boothe was an even more appropriate choice. He had just the right age, just the right gravitas - the world-weary toughness of a Bogart or Mitchum, but also the class, the energy and the good looks described by Chandler. He also had the advantage of being less familiar. When you looked at Boothe you didn't see a movie star - you saw Marlowe, a hard-working gumshoe, and nobody else.

The Boothe series also marked a rare attempt to include the *most* significant character from Chandler's stories: the city of Los Angeles. (The best previous attempt was, again, Altman's Long Goodbye.) Hawks' Big Sleep is set-bound, and could be taking place in New York as easily as LA. Mitchum's Marlowe was set in England - a travesty! The Powers Boothe series at least attempted to capture some of the gaudy, steamy, crazy city that Chandler created in his writing. Ironically, the series was not filmed in Hollywooed, but in Toronto, which gives you some idea of what can be done with a bit of creative camera work and a few judiciously-chosen locations.

Another very cool thing about this series is that instead of adapting The Big Sleep - YET AGAIN - it adapts some of Chandler's excellent short stories. We get that flavorful dialog, those evocative descriptions, and the dark noir-ish plots - all of them fresh and barely familiar to even the most devoted Marlowe fans.

Obviously, it's hard to beat Bogey and Hawks for sheer entertainment value. Or Altman for quirky, innovative filmmaking. But when it comes to all-out fidelity to the cherished Chandler stories, Powers Boothe in Philip Marlowe Private Eye has no rival.

10 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Top Notch, 1 May 2017
10/10

It's impossible to over-rate this series. Black Sails is pirates done right, at last, putting to shame all other video renditions (especially the over-the-top Disney fantasies).

A few comparisons are in order. For example, Black Sails is highly reminiscent of the series Deadwood: both are dark, violent and based loosely on real people and real events. (In both series, some of the most unbelievable events are the true ones.) There are also similarities to the series Rome, as far as the strong characters, ongoing rivalries, and evocative period detail. But Black Sails out-does these predecessors in several ways.

First, the characters are, without exception, brilliant. Captain Flint, Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, John Silver, Charles Vane - these personalities are truly memorable. Larger than life, yet always credible, always consistent. You probably won't recognize the actors, but they *will* make you forget Errol Flynn and Johnny Depp.

Second, the dialog is amazingly literate, almost Shakespearean. Without seeming artificial. Characters constantly engage in deep, intense discussions that are often more engrossing than the ship-board action.

Third, the intertwining tensions and plot-lines are maintained with absolute logic throughout all four seasons. We see winners, losers and casualties, all utterly believable within the bounds of the show. Power ebbs and flows among the various factions, and the conflicts always feel real.

Fourth, the ending is one of the most satisfying I've seen for any multi-season dramatic series. Everything comes together, as if you'd been watching a single, very long movie. What's more, despite the deaths, the violence, the many defeats that end this story, the series wraps up on an upbeat note and leaves the audience with a big grin.

As a bonus, the historical underpinnings are used cleverly. The show isn't constrained by the facts - it expands on them in a way that's both plausible and enthralling. Black Sails seamlessly blends history and myth, and even finds time to comment on the way they interact.

The staging is impressive, by any standard. The naval battles are believable, and depicted on a grand scale. The inevitable computer graphics look real enough to keep viewers immersed. The hot Caribbean sun permeates every frame of the series.

In short, Black Sails is one of the most thoroughly enjoyable dramatic series ever. It's great adventure, great drama, and by far the best screen representation of the great days of nautical piracy. This is one series you don't want to miss.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Flawed, but Worthwhile, 1 May 2017
8/10

The Discovery is an unusual sort of film. It mostly succeeds, but not always at what it initially sets out to accomplish.

The premise is simple enough: a scientist has demonstrated the existence of some kind of afterlife. This leads to a wave of suicides, as people eagerly move on to what they now surmise will be greener pastures. The scientist's son blames his father's revelation for this result. Heated debate ensues.

Despite the obviously morbid subject matter, the film is remarkably likable. The stars are charming, and the love story develops in a beguiling way. The look of the film is suitably ethereal. There's not much plot, but lots of intelligent discussions about the meaning of life.

On the downside, some of the logic is a bit loose. Redford has proved the existence of some other plane of existence after death, but provided no indication of whether it's a nice place to be. It's hard to see how this limited revelation would make suicide all that much more attractive than before. Later, when Redford starts to peer into the minds of dead people, there's some confusion as to whether he's actually seeing stored memories. This is disproved by looking at detail in the videos - ignoring the well-known fact that detail in memories is completely unreliable.

Also, in the final sequence, there's some convenient confusion between memory, dream and afterlife. This sleight-of-hand allows the ending to be tidily explained, but isn't really supported by what's previously been revealed about the after-death experience. It's emotionally satisfying, but would have benefited from having better groundwork laid earlier.

Despite these minor flaws, The Discovery is quite an interesting film: quiet, sentimental and reasonably thought-provoking. Definitely worth a look, when you're in the mood for a slightly downbeat fantasy.

(By the way, a bit of trivia: it struck me as I watched the film, how much of it echoes concepts from the works of Robert Heinlein. The life-after-death machine, and the need for its destruction, are highly reminiscent of the when-will-you-die machine in Lifeline, with Redford a good stand-in for Hugo Pinero. The idea of shifting among multiple realities parallels the story Elsewhen. The desire to peer 'past' death and prove the existence of an afterlife is central to Beyond This Horizon. Coincidence? Homage? Great minds thinking alike? Who knows...)


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