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Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
A bit dull really - includes SPOILERS
***************** SPOILER WARNING ******************
I came away very disappointed with the ending of Kill Bill V2. The first three-quarters of the film had me captivated, but it completely lost me once the Bride got to Mexico. Half an hour of predictable and uninteresting talk and then a criminally short end fight. After sitting through four hours of KB, I had at least expected a spectacular ending, but instead we saw a very short and amazingly predictable fight. Some of the acting in KB2 is awful. Michael Madsen, although very charismatic on screen is one of the worst actors I have ever seen, and seems lost unless he is doing the one emotion he has mastered, menace.
Many people have been raving over David Carradine, and to be fair his performance when judged by his usual standards was pretty good, but when judged against a decent actor, would only appear mediocre. Fortunately, Uma Thurman, Daryl Hannah and Gordon Liu are all awesome, so the film isn't all bad.
I'd give it 6/10.
The Foreigner (2003)
Steven Seagal's films of late have not exactly been good, but this is by far the worst since The Patriot. The plot makes no sense what so ever; it is never clear in what the relationships between the characters are, who works for who or who is double crossing who. The film is completely disjointed, each scene seems to confuse the story further rather than carry it forward. Even the action sequences are uninspired and hard to follow. Most of the blame must lie at the director's feet for not even understanding the basics of film making, but Seagal does not get off lightly, as one of the producers of this film, he must also share the blame. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned how awful the acting is, even by Seagal standards. Even as straight to video fodder, this is not worth a view even for Seagal fans. Give it a wide berth!
Not really as good as the first film
I enjoyed X-Men 2, but I can't help thinking that it isn't as good as everyone is saying it is and it certainly isn't as good as the first film. Sure, there are great effects and lots of action, but there are too many characters - some of whom have absolutely nothing to do - and the plot is overcomplicated and the film too long. X2 lacks the characterisation and relationships that set the first film apart from others of the genre. None of the characters has been developed, and the relationships that were so strongly built in the first film are sacrificed to give the action more screen time. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan are both wonderful as always, the rest of the cast have little to do beyond flex their super powers.
A better war film than a horror film
This film is suffers from one major flaw and that is that the genuine horror of being at war and living in a trench is far more frightening than any ghosts or monsters. This would have been a better film if it had lost the supernatural element and had the characters going mad because of the fear of dying and the living conditions they had to cope with. But don't get me wrong, I liked this film, I just feel there is an even better one waiting to be made.
Dead or Alive: Final (2002)
More of the same, but Ichi it aint!
The final installment sees Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi (looking cooler than ever in his reversible overcoat!) pitched against each other for one last battle, this time in the future. The plot owes a lot to Blade Runner, but done in Takashi Miike's low budget, frenetic, comic style. I did feel that it was the weakest of the three DOA films, and although the ending was still outrageous, it lacked the shock value of the previous two. Compared to the likes of Ichi the Killer and Visitor Q, DOA:Final is nowhere near as extreme, but is faithful to the other two films in the trilogy. That said, fans of the first two (and fans of Miike) will get a lot from this as it ties all three films together and gives a final explanation of the relationship between the two protagonists.
The Ring (2002)
Don't waste your money, see the original instead!
Once again Hollywood takes an excellent foreign film and produces a bland, uninteresting copy with no merit of its own. Gone is the creepy atmosphere of Ringu, the urban legend theme that gave the original its believability is barely touched on and cheap shocks (which don't generally work) replace the genuine horror of the Japanese version. This is basically a cynical exercise in film making by numbers, cashing in on the original's notoriety. I challenge anyone to come up with a Hollywood remake that even comes close to a foreign original. Do yourself a favour and see Ringu instead.
Koroshiya 1 (2001)
Over the top and extreme
This is not a film for the faint hearted. If you thought Audition was extreme, well, in the words of the song, you just ain't seen nothing yet. This is by far Takashi Miike's most violent and goriest film, but it is also the funniest. Although some of the violence is shockingly realistic, particularly in the opening sequence, Miike draws once again on his Anime influences to produce a fast paced comic strip journey into the mind set which Audition only touched on, one of sadism, pain and torture.
It will be interesting to see if this film is granted a release anywhere in the west and in what format; this is definitely not the type of film that gets made in the UK or US and is refreshing because of it.
A moving and unusual view of the Samurai
This is an unusual and moving film that deals with the subject of homosexuality amongst the Samurai of the Shinsengumi militia at the end of the Samurai period of the 1860s. The arrival of a young and beautiful trainee Samurai played by newcomer Ryuhei Matsuda sparks off a tale of jealousy and murder where everyone begins to suspect everyone else of the homosexual taboo. Both sides of the subject are explored in depth, Director Nagisa Oshima (best known for the infamous Ai No Corrida) deftly handles both the homophobic and homoerotic themes without resorting to any graphic or cliched images.
The acting is superb throughout, but once again it is the star, Beat Takeshi, who really shines. For once he plays a very likeable and fatherly character, second in command of their unit. Instead of the frightening intensity that he brings to the cops and criminals that he is best known for, here we see a different side of him; his character is caring and kind and with a sense of humour.
Whilst no Samurai film would be complete without some swordplay, this is not an action film. There are some scenes of training with Shinai (bamboo swords) and one brief battle scene against a rival clan. But what there is, is dynamic and fast and concentrates on realism. Even Beat Takeshi gets to wield a sword and acquits himself admirably, once again showing his versatility as an actor. Whilst this film may not be to everyone's taste, Beat Takeshi fans will get a great deal from his performance.
Exit Wounds (2001)
Closer to form after recent lame efforts
Well, I enjoyed it. It's as good as the Glimmer Man, but not in the same league as Out for Justice, and far, far better than his recent lame offerings Fire Down Below and The Patriot. It is incredibly violent. As far as I know it was uncut in the UK, and looks it, there are a couple of extremely OTT deaths that would never have got passed James Ferman and one scene where Seagal starts punching people with a chain wrapped round his fist, and the most arm breaking since Out For Justice. Stylistically, it looks a lot like Romeo Must Die, (surprise, surprise) and Seagal looks completely out of place in some of the slow motion and Matrix type shots. The plot makes very little sense and I felt there was a sense of deus ex machina in the dénouement. The main set pieces, especially the opening action scene, are pretty exciting and well done, but unfortunately, Andrzej Bartkowiak seems to have learnt nothing from the criticisms made by the fight fans about Romeo Must Die; the fights are shot in extreme close up with far too much fast cutting, so you can't see clearly what is going on. On the whole I came away satisfied; the pace is fast, the comic relief characters Tom Arnold and Anthony Anderson weren't too irritating (I even laughed a couple of times), pretty good supporting cast including Isaiah Washington, DMX, and action stalwart Bill Duke and for anyone who wants to know what Michael Jai White has been up to recently, he seems to have spent most of his time in the gym. Seagal fans will enjoy this, action fans will get something out of it, but martial arts fans will probably be as disappointed as they were after Romeo Must Die.
Well handled, cross-cultural relationships.
Takeshi Kitano's latest work is not as good as some of his others, such as Hana Bi, and is certainly his most violent film to date. It has a very high body count, and the violence is very brutal and not done in the John Woo comic strip style that people have become familiar with recently. No doubt this is part of reason that the film has not received the critical acclaim that many of his others have, but I also thought that thematically it was more heavy handed than his previous outings. The theme of Yakuza honour, which is central to much of Kitano's work is translated so literally (even used in the films title) that I found myself wishing for a bit of subtlety. Kitano's wicked sense of black humour is in there too, so the film manipulates your emotions constantly; one moment you're laughing your head off, the next aghast as someone else's is blown off! The supporting cast is pretty good too; it was a pleasure to see Ryo Ishibashi (recently seen in Audition) getting back into more familiar territory. Most importantly, the interaction between the English speaking cast and the Japanese is well handled; it never degenerates into the usual comedy of misunderstanding that has been done to death in most movies where the main characters don't speak each others language or understand each others culture. This for me was the most satisfying aspect of the film.
Dung fong tuk ying (1987)
The Dirty Dozen - Hong Kong Style
This movie throws everything at you. Frenetic fights, explosions and gun play all with the usual smattering of comedy. The cast list reads like a who's who of HK cinema, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Lam Ching Ying, Yuen Wah, Joyce Godenzi and even famed action choreographer Yuen Woo Ping in an acting role. All are streatched to their limits in a non stop action feast.
The martial arts sequences are superb, as you would expect given the talented cast. But for me the star is Yuen Wah who plays what is for me the greatest villain in cinema history. His unbelievable arrays of kicks and almost contortionist like suppleness shows that he has got to be one of the most underused talents in Hong Kong. If there is a downside to the flick it is that because it is a war film rather than a straight martial arts film, it can get a bit lost, unsure what it is that it really wants to be. The gun fights and explosions don't always gel with the fights and those fans that don't like war films may find those elements detract from the rest of the picture.
Wo hu cang long (2000)
Do you remember the feeling you had when you first saw Once Upon a Time in China? You knew you'd just watched something pretty special. I felt the same about CTHD. I'm going to write this without including any spoilers, so apologies if something doesn't make sense. It will do when you see the film!
Firstly, this is a film that breaks a lot of conventions. Just when you think you know what is going to happen, it does something different. Characteristically of director Ang Lee, it is the female characters who are the strongest. Michelle Yeoh is, as you would expect from her, excellent both in terms of acting performance and her martial arts. But the star of the film is Zhang Zi Yi who I regret I know nothing about, who shows amazing speed and agility and takes her role suitably seriously especially in some of the sequences that are direct homages to genre cliches. And she's cute too! Chow Yun Fat once again puts in a sterling performance, given that he is not a martial artist, he didn't look out of place wielding a sword, although I thought one or two shots might have been over cranked. In a couple of his previous films he has looked a bit out of place when it comes to fight scenes, but here he was fine. Shows what a versatile actor he really is.
The fight choreography is by Yuen Woo Ping, so you know it's going to be good. Most of the fights are fairly stylised, lots of large sweeping moves and stances and all incredibly fast. There is a lot of wire work of which I'm not a fan, but it's used to give the fights more of a ballet type feel and didn't detract from them at all. The film has a steady sense of humour and keeps it up all the way through, which included interrupting one of the fight sequences with one of the best gags in the picture.
Downsides? Well a couple. Stylistically, the film can't decide whether to be shot in a Western of Chinese style, so there is a bit of both which seemed to me like a compromise. Whilst most of the fights are done in wide shot, there were some sequences done in close up which was even more annoying than usual because they were back to back with the wide shots. I also thought the exposition in the middle giving Zhang Zi Yi some back story was too long, the point this was making could have been done in a far shorter time.
I must say a word about the extras. One of the things I always love about some of the old Shaw Brothers films is the fantastic faces you get on some of the extras. CTHD has some of the best extras I have ever seen. Loads of big, mean looking thugs with strange beards or moustaches carrying huge, weird and wonderful weapons. It really adds a great deal to the character of the film.
The audience I was with loved the film, cheering and clapping during the fight scenes and in all the right places. There were unfortunately a couple of bits of unintentional laughter but I suppose that is to be expected. Because this film was made for a Western audience as well as an Eastern one, the subtitling is excellent, always clear and readable and making complete sense. Those of you who haven't seen this film are in for a real treat. I just can't wait for a chance to see it again.
Don't believe the hype!
Now don't get me wrong, Gladiator is not a bad film, it simply isn't as good as everyone seems to be saying it is. For some reason it has captured the imagination of what I call the James Bond audience, the people who only go to the movies once or twice a year and this has artificially inflated it's rating. There are plenty of other people writing about how good the film is, so I'm going to concentrate on it's flaws.
Firstly, it is far too long. Clearly the producers wanted to make an epic like in the old days, but they seemed to have assumed that epic means length. Wrong! I'm sure a half-decent producer could have taken at least half and hour out of the film. It takes far too long to get going. After the inital battle, which for me was the high-point of the film, there is no action for about 45 mins. This is the point where the plot takes place. The problem is, the characters are all so cardboard that the audience can easily work out what the plot is about, and five minutes here would have been more than ample.
The fight scenes were some of the worst I have ever seen. You would think Ridley Scott (or his second unit director) would have seen The Matrix, a Jackie Chan film, or at least one Martial Arts film. That is how to direct an interesting fight; long, stationary shots showing off the skills of the stuntmen, not close-ups and constant irritating cutting on movement. It was impossible to work out what was going on in most of the fight scenes.
Thirdly, there is far too much CGI. Yes it was impressive to recreate the Coliseum, but then they ruin the effect with overkill. And the CGI tigers were absolutely awful. Surely real tigers would have been cheaper and far more impressive.
Fourthly, historical accuracy... oh we don't need to bother with this, after all, it's only a movie...
And don't forget the wonderful array of accents!
I can't help comparing the film to Ben Hur or Spartacus and I'm afraid that Gladiator comes a poor second in terms of story and spectacle.
Out for Justice (1991)
Seagal's best film
This is without doubt Steven Seagal's best film. It is hard, very gritty, very violent, frighteningly realistic at times and at one point I even started to believe Seagal could act (but that soon wore off). The fight scene in the pool hall is superb and the end fight is truely shocking. Great supporting roles from William Forsythe (a really under-rated actor and one of the nastiest villains of all time) Gina Gershon and loads of those faces you recognise but can't name as the Mafia dons. It is a real shame that Seagal has gone on to make uninspired big-budget action movies as Out for Justice is definately what he does best. And watch out for the character called "Rusty"!