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Godzilla (2014)
Not much Godzilla for your money
24 March 2018
Visually this version of Godzilla is pretty impressive. And most of the last 25 minutes or so are quite cool. There, that's all I can see that the movie has going for it. Hollywood took 18 years to try again and remake the Japanese classic. Let me say they are still struggling.

It's as if studios were criticized once too often that blockbusters lack characters so now they cram sad excuses for characters into every movie and forget what it was supposed to be about. Think of Transformers which fed viewers the personal life of Sam Witwicky instead of fighting robots (or their characters). Think of Iron Man 3 which was about the personal struggles of Tony Stark instead of, well, Iron Man. This Godzilla is about an American soldier and bomb expert and his relationship with his beautiful wife and little son who miss him a lot because he's away a lot. It's also about his relationship with his father who went a bit cooky after loosing his wife. The movie is also about the US military who are mainly there to look cool and fail heroically. It's furthermore about the Japanese scientist who has been studying Godzilla, has some unexplained motivation and is mainly there to look concerned. Do you realize which character I've been leaving out so far? Yes, it is, of course, Godzilla, the literal father of all "dai kaiju". I am sorry to report that he doesn't appear very much in what's supposed to be his own movie. In fact, you could probably skip to the 90 minute mark and not miss much of him. There is a new kaiju, which vaguely reminds me of Mothra, and it seems to get more screen time than Godzilla.

Another reviewer compares this to old horror films, like Jaws, that (driven also by technical limitations of the time) would tease the viewer with glimpses of the monster until the climatic reveal. I disagree. In Jaws you would not see the shark but it would always make its presence felt - it would kill people. Actually, think of Cloverfield as a kaiju movie in which, I think, both the focus on the people and the monster-teasing worked pretty well. You get some backstory of the characters but from then on the monster's presence drives everything they do.

I'd recommend Shin Gojira instead of this one.
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The Bad Batch (2016)
Film without a point? Couldn't finish.
24 September 2017
What can I say about a film I only watched the first quarter of? It's not my habit to stop a film once I've started watching. With this one, I hit the 30-minute mark and the film was just plodding along. I didn't have the impression that anything important had happened. Don't get me wrong: events had occurred but it didn't feel like there was any weight to any of them. To illustrate my point I've transcribed the beginning of the film. For the above reason you don't need to worry about spoilers.

We're in the middle of the desert, middle of nowhere. A fence runs through it. A voice narrates something about a "bad batch" as two police officers lead a young girl through a gate in the fence and lock up after her. A sign tells us that this is Texas and beyond the fence she's no longer a citizen of the USA and doesn't enjoy any rights. She stares gormlessly after the police car as it leaves. Next scene: she eats her rations. Next scene: she starts walking, even does a little dance and basically seems completely unfazed by her situation. Next scene: she finds a car and sits in it. Not because she feels hot and wants to get out of the sun, not because she wants to try and start it up and have a means of transportation, not because she intends to loot the car, she just sits in it - and applies some make-up. A golf cart comes into view behind her, draws nearer, she notices it but doesn't display any reaction. Next scene: she's running for her life away from the golf cart until one of the occupants pounces on her.

I hope I'm getting across the point that even in these first few minutes our main character does stuff but not because she displays any motivation but just because the script seems to call for them. And this goes on and is also true of the other characters. I found it infuriating to watch a movie in which the characters just do meaningless stuff or stare gormlessly into the middle distance. By the 30-minute mark the movie had failed to properly establish the setting, the characters and the plot. It also took until roughly that time for any spoken dialogue to come up - that wasn't grunting or screaming.

I think I know what they were going for: bleak, grim and brooding. And that didn't work because a) they would have needed to establish some contrast, otherwise it's just bleak against bleak. b) it's hard to come off as bleak when the characters have food, water, shelter, firearms with ammunition, electricity, some form of medical care, body lotion (some guys seem oiled up like it's Mr. Universe) and even entertainment. Since the film makers were obviously going for something like Mad Max or Escape from New York they should have checked out how messed up characters in those movie were - with all their gear cobbled together from spare parts. You could see plainly that they were living in harsh conditions. c) if they were going for brooding and grim they should show the violence and have characters react to it appropriately. Our leading lady doesn't seem traumatised enough considering she should be far from used to the kinds of things that happen to her.

I stopped watching after about the first quarter because I couldn't see the film going anywhere. It was scene after scene of tracking shots of people walking or close-ups of people staring silently. In better films such techniques might have been used for pacing or building atmosphere but here they only come across as pretentious. Maybe I stopped watching before the film gets good but somehow I doubt it and I also don't really care. If the film can't seem to make an effort to engage my interest why should I continue watching it?
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Year One (2009)
Too few clever bits buried under a lot of junk
12 July 2017
This is only the second Jack Black film I've watched apart from School of Rock, which I liked a lot. I wonder which film is more typical of a "Jack-Black film". I hope it's not this one.

Jack Black plays a particularly unlikable version of his slob with big ambitions role that came across to me as a bumbling jerk. The plot follows him and his cliché geek side-kick on a journey through old testament times that is more than a little reminiscent of Life of Brian. In fact, I got the impression that this film really wants to be Life of Brian with its own brand of reluctant chosen one and even some very similar individual scenes. But Life of Brian was absurd, yet sharp-witted, had excellent timing, black humour and a degree of self-awareness that still did not require it to roll its eyes at the camera. Year One has only a few clever moments. I liked the role of Olivia Wilde as the scheming princess and also the way politics played out at the king's court. But that is more the stuff of a serious movie.

Year One is supposed to be a comedy. To quote my favourite reviewer: a comedy has to be judged by whether or not it made you laugh. And again there were a few moments that made me smile like when the two main guys make some iconic biblical scenes happen by bumbling into them. Sadly, it seems for each of these moments there is at least one crude one that drags on to the point where it's not funny any longer or way beyond cringe-worthy. Pee jokes and poop jokes and fart jokes and some middle school level sexual innuendo are drawn out as if the director was trying to ensure that even the dimmest of dim-wits could not miss the point the movie was trying to make. It's as if someone was screaming in your face: "Get it? This right here is supposed to be funny. Have you got it yet? Have you?!"

What I found shocking is that with a slightly different cast you could dismiss a lot of this as an "Adam Sandler movie" but maybe others are picking up this style. I think it goes to show the kind of opinion studios have of their target audience. I honestly don't know who I would recommend this kind of film to. Best not recommend it to anyone.
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Bad on so many levels
1 March 2017
I originally caught this film at the cinema during the height of my enthusiasm for the tabletop game called Dungeons & Dragons that this film shares its title with. The trailers looked interesting and, of course, the marketing made sense since this was probably Newline's build up to Lord of the Rings the following year. Maybe that left no money or creative juice for this film - what ever the reason for the sheer badness of Dungeons & Dragons, I'm profoundly grateful that Newline did not take the same approach to making Lord of the Rings.

Where to start?! The characters are really not characters at all but just archetypes and clichés thrown together. It's a little like the laziest ever roleplaying session: here's a thief, here's a mage, here's a dwarf. What's your thief like? He's black and he steals stuff. What's the mage like? He's evil. They are like cardboard cutouts with no life or chemistry.

The plot is infantile and generic at the same time. Evil wizard wants to rule the world because of his lust for power and the characters (for lack of another word) join forces because they are there and need stuff to do. Again, this reminds me of a lazy roleplaying session. They have no motivation beyond the fact that it says so in the script. So, I was not invested in any of them and could not have cared less if they lived or died.

The acting was awful: Stiff in most cases but, as for Jeremy Irons, completely over the top. I suspect he worked with what he had in terms of script. Still, my award for cringe-worthiness goes to Bruce Payne for playing Damodar as both stiff AND over-the-top.

Considering the breath-taking visuals of Lord of the Rings only a year later, the visual effects of this film are disappointing to say the least. It has dragons even right there in its title but the ones you get to see look more like hand puppets than anything else! Costume and set designs are like cheap Xena-rip offs. Some weapons literally look like plastic toys.

Finally, I was especially unhappy with how the film turned out because I had been looking forward to seeing one of my favourite games come to life. In this film (like in many game adaptations) I see no appreciation of the source material. I'll admit there are dragons and also a few dungeons in a generic high fantasy setting with elves, dwarfs and orcs. That's where any similarity ends. It was at its worst a quick cash grab with the name of a big franchise and at best an attempt to show that Newline could also do fantasy. I assume it left both fans of the game and fans of fantasy films in general dissatisfied. Recently, I found it again on Netflix but after watching some five minutes I remembered how bad it was and stopped. No need to waste another 107 minutes of my life.
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Five Fingers (2006)
Character study that challenges your stereotypes
19 November 2016
I picked this up from the library on a whim but didn't regret it. The story is obviously still very topical. It just manages to do this without resorting to any stereotypes - in fact, it challenges those very stereotypes. The more the story progresses the more you realise as a viewer that there is no clear right and wrong and you have to keep re-evaluating your own opinion on the characters and the situation they are in. For me this was really a movie that made me think. And although the blurb on the DVD case prepares you for a surprise at the end that doesn't mean the film is predictable. There are still some twists and turns that come quite unexpected. Of particular note is of course Fishburne's performance. Worth noting is also that the DVD cover can be deceiving: in Germany it only shows a maimed hand (which reminded me a bit of Saw). But: physical violence is not the focus of this film but rather the tension and verbal struggles between its two main characters. In fact, the film is so dialog-heavy that it's been compared to a play. With all the generic stuff on terrorism that's out there this really stood out to me and I highly recommend it.
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Day of the Dead (2008 Video)
Uninventive remake of a classic
19 November 2016
This film didn't make sense on so many different levels. Now, of course, it's a work of fantasy but I strongly believe that a story can be a completely dreamed up and still make sense in its own set of rules. This one doesn't have any.

A few minor spoilers to illustrate the point: the little town this is set in is literally a dead end - there's only a single road in or out. I'd like to see the topography! All soldiers sent in to quarantine the town are armed, except one, and others even make fun of him. He's essentially this film's Jar Jar Binks. Another soldier is issued a gun but no ammunition - and this is never explained. Said soldier abandons her post, uses a military vehicle to make private house calls and doesn't even get frowned at by her superior officer. The infection takes precisely as long to break out as it needs to - call it "Gandalf". A few zombies retain their personality but only those that make the story more interesting. Add to that a few bland characters that you couldn't care less about and one black character that's so stereotypical it's almost offensive.

On the whole the movie tries and fails to copy from big names of the genre, not only the original Day of the Dead but also 28 Days Later and Resident Evil. Sadly, the result is not even remotely scary nor inventive. It gets a 3 only because the satisfying gory visuals reminded me of what World War Z should have looked like.
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Generic fantasy film seen through the "popular game franchise"-glasses
19 November 2016
I had such high hopes for this film. The computer game it was made after is awesome, so I guess I was expecting something along those lines. But as always films after video games rarely live up to expectations (well, the expectations of gamers anyway). Maybe that is really the problem: you play a game that you really enjoy and you expect the film to be just like that. However, they won't just take story and characters and make them into a film one to one. They want to produce something new. That's how misfortune usually takes its course.

I would even concede that for someone who doesn't know the game this may be a decent film. It has flawless visuals and a high calibre cast. I do strongly disagree with casting Gyllenhaal and Arterton as male and female leads. I know especially Gyllenhaal was a hot name at the time and I know this is common practice in Hollywood - but what would have been wrong with casting young actors from a Middle-Eastern background to be *Persians*?

Casting choice aside there are several things that I miss in the film. These are things that I say in comparison to the game. I do, however, also believe that any viewer (familiar with the game or not) would have benefited from them. The plot is one. In the game the prince feels responsible for unleashing the power of the Sands of Time and he sets about fixing things. In the movie we also get a generic "usurper to the throne" plot line - or was that a hint at the plot of the original Prince of Persia? Next up are the stunts. Why did the sleek parcours style moves from the game not feature much more prominently in the film? The only hint at them is at the very beginning but they are not seen again. That would have made for some epic fights! What else? What about the eerie time monsters that made the game memorable? Were they considered too scary for the target audience? They were certainly not too scary for teenage gamers. Finally, what happened to the game's strong female lead? She could hold her own and even saved the prince more than once while at the same time becoming his love interest part of his motivation to succeed. The relationship felt equal with some funny banter between them. Pretty as Arterton is I don't remember that kind chemistry in the film.

So, if seen as an independent film Prince of Persia is probably an only slightly generic and entertaining enough fantasy epic. But then why even name it after the game if the ties are loose at best? I know the answer, of course: hot, young actors + popular game franchise = $$$.
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Visually great but lacking plot
19 November 2016
Having enjoyed the computer games and artwork of Warhammer 40,000 I was very curious about the new film. I always have mixed feelings when watching game adaptations because in my experience they often turn out to be awful, unfaithful to the game or both. Compared to the likes of Dungeons & Dragons (2000), Doom or Wing Commander I would say this one does all right - but also no more than that.

Visually, I think they have done a great job at capturing the dark, grim and gritty Warhammer 40k universe. The music with its military drums and religious choir pieces supports this very well. The voice cast is impressive although the plot and its characters don't give the actors much room in terms of the emotions they can work with. I did notice that the production didn't seem to have spent much time on the characters' facial animations as if they knew that. From the trailer I saw it seemed there would be non-stop action but as it turned out the movie was often very quiet and slow. And this is, I believe, the major weakness of the film: there's not enough action and there is too little characterisation going on to fill the rest. The tone, mimics and dialogues feel flat and it's hard to connect with any of the characters - even to tell them apart sometimes. Ultimately, I guess your average fierce, grim, zealous space marine does not make for an interesting character: he will rush into combat, die horribly, be corrupted by daemons or survive to do the same thing over.

On the whole the plot is linear and without any surprises. In fact, the whole film seems much like a rendering of a Dawn of War 2 mission. So, I'd say if this is what you're looking for you'll be fine. It's an evening of dark, gritty entertainment. But I'd don't think it's of much interest to anybody not already a fan of the Warhammer 40k universe of narrative.
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Chung oi (2007)
A relationship drama not a horror movie
9 October 2016
I picked this movie up because the cover and synopsis suggest a scary movie and I have great respect for Asian horror films. Having seen it I have to say that this is only horror in the sense that it is horrible to be dying of cancer and it must also be horrible to be in love with somebody who is dying of cancer. The movie brings this across reasonably well. There were a number of scenes that made me feel for the characters, especially once the acting got better after the first third or so - as if actors had to settle into their roles (except for the little sister who is just awful all the way through). The central theme seems to be the love and responsibility the main character feels for his ill girlfriend on one side and on the other side the temptation to go after somebody else and get away from it all. This may be a bit generic but could make for a legitimate drama about a relationship triangle. But then, once in a while, the movie chucks an eerie scene or a cheap jump scare at you as if to make sure everyone is still awake. Sadly, these do not go anywhere and after each one the movie just goes back to being a relationship drama as if nothing had happened. The ending then comes as something fairly predictable. So I suppose what I was missing is a consistent theme or indeed any kind of story arch. After reading the English and Portuguese titles here, the Chinese one ("Cuo Ai": "Wrong Love") still captures best what the film is about. Most posters and the foreign titles, however, feature some sort of eerie imagery, a tone which is not reflected in the actual film. This left me pretty disappointed because it feels like false advertising. Finally, I was very surprised to find out this was directed by Danny Pang who brought us The Eye (the excellent Chinese movie, of course). Unfortunately, this movie doesn't even come close.
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Enough already!
9 June 2016
There are so many things in this film that didn't make sense to me. Characters switching sides. An overly convoluted plot that an intelligent villain would have resolved much more quickly. Russian police not caring that someone, a foreign police officer no less, is shooting up parts of their country. Characters getting killed - or in the case of the main characters - not getting killed a hundred times over despite huge odds. A new member of the MacLane family that has never been mentioned before, yet mystically exists and, like the rest of the family, hates John. I'm sure there is more.

The film does do well at demonstrating a few points, however: Action movie clichés, like the toughness of the hero, have officially gone from unrealistic to ridiculous. In the original Die Hard the character John MacLane kicked ass but was also very vulnerable (I still cringe at the scene with the broken glass). He was made out to be an Average Joe cop who rose to the occasion and that made him relatable. In this movie John MacLane is essentially Willis's character from Unbreakable - that or Deadpool. It's also getting less and less believable that Bruce Willis is not too old for this s**t. It is definitely time to bury the Die Hard franchise. 4.0 was pushing it, now it's officially been milked dry. Finally: flashy, over-the-top action scenes and silly national clichés do not make a movie. Die Hard or not - this was uninspiring crap.
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Drawn out
27 March 2016
What this film does have going for it is two very pretty female leads and a quite erotic love scene between them, which also both feature prominently on the cover. The film itself breezes through this in the first five minutes. Then there's a brief montage of relationship and the viewer gets dumped in the middle of *something* going on. What follows is a series of overacted confrontations between the girls in which they grimace and cry a lot and give the viewer extremely vague exposition. A little more context would have been nice, like who the characters are and why the viewer should care about them. All this is annoyingly intercut with shots of extras doing stuff, fragments of irrelevant dialogue - and bits of a subplot between two other characters that is completely redundant. The director (who also played the director in the film) seems to have self-importantly shoehorned herself into nearly every scene. These other bits then feel like mere padding, as if during pre-production it turned out that writing the real meat of the script, giving the characters context and some genuine conflict or tension, was really, really hard. I find that a shame because show business with its egocentric personas, its gossip and also prejudice should have provided a dramatic enough setting for an emotional story about a lesbian relationship between actresses. I've seen the film described as slow but I feel that word does not capture my feeling. There is slow and then there is drawn out. Room in Rome was slow but offered much more in terms of both eroticism and character focus. Mind you, making an 80 minute film feel drawn out is an achievement in itself. For a real relationship drama, lesbian or otherwise, you'll need to look elsewhere.
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Devil (2010)
Not So Devilish
20 September 2015
I really wanted to see this when it hit cinemas. Now I'm glad I watched it on Netflix at no extra cost. Honestly, is the author of this the same M. Night Shyamalan that brought us The 6th Sense and Unbreakable (both of which I consider very good movies). Surely this must be another step on his descent. It's not Last Airbender level but it was getting there. Maybe he should have concentrated on one of these projects that year. What he serves up here is a crime story, which was at least "inspired" by Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, with the added flavour of pseudo-Christian mumbo-jumbo. Because the Devil alone can make a movie interesting, right? The film also progresses very slowly, I guess to build atmosphere. While this may have worked in The Omen or The Devil's Advocate this film does not build up to anything. There was not enough characterisation of the people the Devil was supposedly after for me to care when things did happen to them. I didn't see enough of the background investigation done by police to get invested in that. Finally, for a horror movie there was not enough horror either. There was no sense of foreboding like in The 6th Sense nor the feeling of confinement like in The Signs. There were not even any jump scares that are so popular in Hollywood. At least, the director did that right. Finally, the "Shyamalan-reveal" would have been predictable if I had remembered the bit about Agatha Christie earlier. I didn't find it the worst of films but it's far from what Shyamalan started from. Considering it has his name all over it, is this what he aims for now?
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Gamer (2009)
A lot of potential wasted on a very simplistic action flick
20 June 2015
Imagine digital entertainment where players dress, equip and control a persona in the game world and interact with a community of other players through these personas. Now replace the digital personas with real, remote controlled human beings and assume that society had evolved to be OK with that. That's this film's basic premise. Then, one step further, take 3rd person shooter games where a player equips and controls a virtual soldier in a combat arena fighting other players' soldiers and, again, replace the virtual combat with the real thing. That's what had me interested. The whole idea of these brutal "games" and a society that accepts them as entertainment strongly reminded me of Rollerball, The Running Man or Death Race 2000. At first, the film sets this up really well: "players" have become detached from the fact that they control other human beings and they overlook the visceral details of the battles they control. Then there's the focus on the protagonist Kable (Geralt Butler) with his mysterious motivation and his player, who is actually just a naive kid. I was expecting the film would focus on this relationship, maybe forcing them into a reluctant partnership. Of course, in the tradition of dystopian future stories, there's also a resistance trying to shut the games down. So, with this number of parties involved I was getting ready for some interesting things to happen. Sadly the film does not deliver what it promises. I think the important questions like who Kable is and what makes him so significant to his opponents were left largely unanswered. The relationship with the actual "gamer" - the player - is never really explored and even the game aspect itself becomes fairly redundant. Ultimately, I felt even The Running Man made its main character more believable - and that's saying a lot. So, this film borrows concepts from other dystopian death game scenarios but it doesn't do much with them except modernize and further dumb down the plot. It's almost as if producers were scared of stepping on corporate toes. Whatever talent or potential the film may have is wasted on a flimsy excuse of a plot to make Geralt Butler's grizzled fighter beat and shoot things up. I found it entertaining for a while and then the convenient coincidences, contrived conclusion and especially the mustache-twirlingly evil villain got on my nerves. From the blurb I was expecting a reasonably complex sci-fi action thriller. Those expectations were clearly the wrong ones.
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Surrogates (2009)
Not very plausible sci-fi mystery
27 March 2015
Science fiction is often used to illustrate current problems. So, this movie seems to be a modern retelling of the story of the land of Cockaigne. And like the medieval stories it heavy-handedly drives home the lesson about the Land of Plenty being a blessing and a curse.

To start with, I liked the visual style, how the Surrogates look all polished and seem to correspond to how people would like to see themselves. I also liked the idea of anonymity, that - like Internet avatars - a Surrogate could be anyone and gives you no clue as to who is operating it. Interesting as these premises may be they quickly fell apart. There are so many things that do not seem to make sense, even within the plot's own world.

Without giving away too much here are a few points that may also occur to you during the early parts of the film.

  • If people depend on their Surrogates for everything, even household tasks, and hardly go out anymore why do their muscles not completely atrophy? Haven't they watched Wall-E?

  • How could this advanced robotic technology and neural interfaces (Surrogates are thought controlled) have been developed within 14 years (as stated in the opening) and have become so cheap that the average Joe or Jane can afford them? And if so why is this technology not used for controlling other machines?

  • Logically, for every new development there are those that oppose it. I thought they would be like everyone else just that they reject Surrogate technology. Why would they look like survivors of an apocalypse, live in abandoned building compounds, seemingly also reject all other technology and also be armed to the teeth and ready to go to war?

  • And why does the main character have to be coping with some family tragedy only to illustrate that using Surrogates is bad for you?

This was the list after about 20% of the film. Sadly it did not get any better. The science fiction setting has not been thought through. The murder mystery tries half-heartedly to be complex but offers few surprises and fails to deliver as little as a plausible motive. Characters just find clues because they do. In the end there is not even enough sci-fi action to support the film since Bruce Willis is not the youngest anymore and also plays a character who is very vulnerable among all the robots. Wait, does that not sound familiar? Actually, quite a number of elements seem to have been lifted straight from I, Robot. The inventor of the robots is even played by the same actor. Maybe that is it: go watch I, Robot instead.
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Yip Man (2008)
Beautifully shot but not much to do with the real Yip Man
2 January 2014
I had very mixed feelings here. The visuals of Yip Man are very beautiful. The use of faded colours to make the film look aged has become really popular. The choreography of the various fight scenes are complex, fast, very fun to watch. I also love the epic music which is a kind of fusion of a classical orchestral score with elements of traditional Chinese music.

This would all make Yip Man a good picture if it wasn't for the plot. Even without reading up on the real Yip Man's biography it's fairly easy to spot that some elements of the film are just bogus. This goes especially the second half's climatic centre piece: fierce competitions between Japanese and Chinese martial artists fighting for a bag of rice. On one side the Chinese are shown as dignified and brave despite their suffering with Yip Man's character standing out almost like a Messiah. The Japanese, on the other hand, are shown as worse than stereotypical. They are positively demonic. Their characters are almost ridiculously evil so that the film can end in the equivalent of a patriotic fanfare blast.

After the very atmospheric first half I found this a bit disappointing. Several years and sequels later I wonder if the real Yip Man has finished turning over in his grave yet.
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Good but could have been so much more
30 December 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I will start with the positive. The visuals are stunning. If you can do catch it in 3D - it is really worth the money. There will not be things coming at you out of the screen but scenes have a depth and clarity that I haven't seen in other films. This is probably also due to the high frame rate. Costumes and sets are beautiful. It is easy to spot John Howe's and Alan Lee's creative hand in the design and Weta Workshop reliably delivered. Smaug is literally a "magnificent" digital character and Benedict Cumberbatch's voice performance gave me goosebumps. In general I think the cast was once again very appropriately chosen. Lee Pace as Thranduil was another highlight for me. These are the reasons why the movie still gets a 7 rating.

However, I find that this is the second time that Peter Jackson has delivered a really memorable first episode to a trilogy but then didn't follow through. This movie could still be so much better than 7. The screenwriters didn't add as much as it may seem. A lot of the stuff Gandalf is shown doing does occur in Tolkien's writing - just not in The Hobbit. Furthermore, the segment of the story Jackson has chosen for Desolation of Smaug ends right before the first climax of the book, so they had to add some sort of epic ending to this episode. Maybe that choice of partitioning the story was the first mistake. There was a lot to cover but they didn't want to make the audience go without a dragon for another episode. At the same time there had to be enough story left for part 3. That makes a few things a bit awkward. I found that the first hour or so felt very rushed: Beorn - check, forest - check, spiders - check, elves - check. Then the movie dwells on an impossible love story that is, worse still, just a recycled plot and scenes from Lord of the Rings. Laketown and Bard, I felt, were then overly complicated. Bard now leads a revolution of one against a government of two, just to add some more conflict. In general I felt that the movie introduced way too much conflict into the plot. Even epic fantasy does not need to be packed full of hack-and-slash action at every possible minute. Finally comes a huge, all-new (see above), slightly bloated and quite implausible climax before the actual climax in part 3. Could a dozen dwarfs, assisted by a hobbit, take on a dragon when a whole army of their forefathers failed? They try and fail, of course, but survive only because of some of the most impossibly lucky circumstances ever. Like the dragon flying right over them and not seeing them!

You could say these are all details (I've even omitted the minor ones) and there's nothing wrong with the plot as a whole. Still, these details add up. They left a slightly bitter taste after leaving the cinema. I don't see a need for every new episode to be a superlative over the previous one. Jackson has shown he can tell a story well. I wish he had focused on that more. There are too many what-were-they-thinking moments. So far Desolation is the weakest of his Tolkien adaptations.
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So much potential ... down the tubes
6 June 2012
What a load of nonsense. Those were 127 almost completely redundant minutes. It doesn't happen often but after about the first third I was considering leaving the cinema and only the ticket price kept me in my seat and the vague hope that something might change. It didn't.

Where to start? There was no build-up, no climax (more of an anti-climax actually) and no development of any sort. There was a bunch of characters that fit together awkwardly at best: imagine Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Aragorn, Luke Skywalker and the guys from Hot Fuzz against the Wicked Witch and the Terminator - that about covers it. There was nothing that made you feel one way or the other about the characters since they all had their reasons for doing what they did and ... since it fit the plot it was fine anyway and they didn't need to change. The whole piece had a plot and general look and feel that couldn't make up its mind if it was going to be Chronicles of Narnia, Joan of Arc or ... Pan's Labyrinth? There were, however, a lot of pointless details that didn't matter to the plot but they were just there - take the queen's background, take the troll bridge, I could go on. There were a lot of over-acted emotions, like the queen screaming at people in slow motion for no apparent reason (both the screaming and the slow motion); and I cannot remember seeing Snow White in any shot in which she did not have tears in her eyes.

I still wonder where they wanted to take this picture. Dark fantasy with sex-appeal and gritty violence might have been a good idea but it seems the writer and production designers were too busy being politically correct to go all the way. There are a few things that I liked, which is why I give the film a 3 but those are just details and would contain spoilers. Like this the film just seems to try and capture as many tastes as possible but delivers nothing really. And then suddenly it's over as if the producer had said: "that's enough now." Maybe that was actually a blessing in disguise. Reading the original fairytale is still more exciting.
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I do hope revenge will come!
27 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This review contains harsh language. There are also a number of spoilers. Neither are avoidable, so if you are offended by either do not read on. I had such high expectations. I was not going to be discouraged by the initial reviews. Sadly, this time I have to agree. Yes, it's big, it's loud, it has dizzyingly impressive visuals and big explosions, and transforming alien robots. The problem is, it's also in this order. The Transformers - the namesakes of this production, for crying out loud - come last. Apart from them the film is more like a big-budget advertising reel for the US army. The only thing missing are directions on where to sign up.

The Transformers seem to be there mainly to provide a reason for America to mobilise against something - and for comic relief. Take the "twins". Take the little "spybot". Take Jetfire (in the source material one of the most powerful Autobots). Take Bumblebee: His character is reduced to a fierce but cute guard doggy for Spike. At the end of the last film he had learnt to speak. Now he's back to making unintelligible but adorable sounds. Even Starscream (my favourite): He was introduced as one of the most dangerous of all Decepticons in the previous film, where he took on several Autobots and armies of human soldiers. Now he's little more than an embarrassingly comical coward.

The first half or so of the movie is actually fairly promising with some clever Decepticon trickery and introducing some of my favourite characters (like Soundwave, Ravage, the Constructicons or Arcee). They even bring back Megatron - which still adds a star to this rating. Then follow some episodes about family, college life and how bloody omni-present the CIA are. In the end, though, most of the big heroics - and most of the screen time - go to US soldiers showing off their impressive equipment and response times. Note that in the beginning China's military takes no action - they wait for the US to save the day. Note also that the Autobots actually live as shiny cars in a US army base and only get hoisted around when they are needed - like extras. Then, when we finally get to the climatic battle I had to sit and watch helplessly as Devastator (in the source the ultimate Decepticon fighting machine) is taken out by some damn US secret weapon and an entire Decepticon army is wiped out by an American air strike. The Autobots, who also take part in the battle, are mainly seen in the background shooting at nothing in particular. The face-off between Optimus Prime and the Fallen then comes almost as an after-though. As in: "oh, yes, we still have to finish off that part of the plot." Now, the source material has always involved the army. It is, after all, about war. That's generally fine. So, in the first film it was tolerable since it also preserved some classic moments. Or so I felt. This one, however, has clearly crossed the line. All I see here is that some great source material has been raped - yes, raped! - so that Americans can once again feel good about their eff-ing army.

I went to see this film to see - well, surprise! - the Transformers. What I got was a story about how America's army is so cool they can even take on alien robots. So, maybe this film should be more appropriately named "USA and the Transformers". After the first film I had tears in my eyes for finally seeing the material come the big screen. After this my eyes almost watered again. Only this time it was tears of disappointment and frustration. This film was obviously only made to make more big money with a big franchise and Megan Fox wearing tight outfits. I'm afraid and sad it may even work. I feel this is an insult to the community that so loves these characters. I hope we can go on as if this hadn't happened. I say it now and I mean it: I will not watch any third instalment if it is still Michael Bay and his creative team producing it.
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Truly D&D - not bad
15 February 2006
Having seen the first part and finding it ridiculous I expected little if anything of Wrath of the Dragon God. So, I was pleasantly surprised at how much had improved on. This time there are no more annoying sidekicks or sadly comical references. It is a good attempt at telling an epic story set in the cosmology of Dungeons & Dragons.

Unfortunately, there is still a great lack of talent among the cast and this drags the whole movie down considerably (otherwise I would have given it 7, maybe 8). All too regularly actors seem to "phase out" between their lines with blank expressions on their faces. Extras stand around appearing completely oblivious or indifferent toward the action. Actors often deliver their lines mechanically with distinct pauses in-between - a bit like school kids reading drama. A lot of situations in the film don't come across as convincingly as they could because the dialogue is delivered in this stiff, awkward and emotionless way.

That said, Wrath of the Dragon God is still a fun piece to watch. The plot is simple, sometimes a bit predictable, but it still has the odd surprising twist. It is the classic role-playing scenario: A ruthless villain uses an ancient artifact to cause death and destruction. A small group of adventurers set out on a dangerous quest to stop him. The action that follows is satisfying - in a hack-and-slash kind of way. Besides that, each of the heroes have their own special talents and abilities and get ample opportunity to show them off.

On a more technical side, the special effects are well done (especially considering the tight budget the production must have been on). Visuals and sound are generally convincing. Make-up and creature design deserve special praise for working closely to the original designs in the rulebooks.

The most refreshing bit, however, is that the game material was taken seriously this time. Attentive viewers will find a number of references to published material. What's more, a lot of attention was paid to including a host of creatures, spells, items and lore straight from the rulebooks. Still, this doesn't mean that the film turns into game of "spot the reference". They all have their place in the larger story while still behaving as would be expected of them.

All in all, if realistic, historic fiction is what you want then better go watch Braveheart or Gladiator. Wrath of the Dragon God is entertaining heroic fantasy where the heroes are noble, the monsters ugly and the villains truly evil. It's a must-see for D&D fans and players, who will get the most out of it. At the same time it's not too cryptic so that it should also appeal to a larger audience. At last, this is truly a film that deserves the title "Dungeons & Dragons".
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