Tag Archives: racial insensitivity

Outcast (2014)

"Crusades!"
“Crusades!”

“Legends are Born in Battle”

Directed by Nick Powell
Starring Hayden Christensen, Nicolas Cage, Liu Yifei, Ji Ke Jun Yi, Andy On

During the Crusades – doesn’t really matter which ones – Jacob (Christensen) and his mentor/retainer Gallian (Cage) kill some Saracens; probably, in the final analysis, way too many. Gallian is already thinking of getting out, and three years after a particularly bloody siege we find Jacob following Gallian’s dream to head east, because there’s something that you probably didn’t pick up on from that poster.

Continue reading Outcast (2014)

John Wick (2014)

This looks... weirdly familiar.
This looks… weirdly familiar.

“Don’t set him off”

Directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch
Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane and Wilhem Dafoe

In this touching drama, a recently widowed man (Reeves) receives a final gift from his beloved wife; a puppy to nurture and to help bring him through his dark night of the soul. Then a Russian mob punk named Iosef (Allen) decides to steal the man’s car and kills the dog during the robbery. He goes to a mob chop shop, but the owner won’t deal with the car, explaining to Iosef’s father, kingpin Viggo Tarasov (Nyqvist) that the car belongs to John Wick.

Continue reading John Wick (2014)

Seventh Son (2015)

Now with 100% more dragons, and not in a good way.
Now with 100% more dragons, and not in a good way.

“In the face of evil, claim your destiny”

Directed by Sergei Bodrov
Starring Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes, Julianne Moore and Alicja Vikander

Master Gregory (Bridges), the last survivor of the knightly order known as the Falcons (or colloquially as the Spooks,) seeks out seventh son of a seventh son Tom Ward (Barnes) to be his apprentice. They have a week until the blood moon gives witch queen Mother Malkin (Moore) the power to cover all the lands in a second darkness, or some such thing.

Continue reading Seventh Son (2015)

The Wolfman (2010)

Now I understand... and it's time to leave the woods.
Now I understand… and it’s time to leave the woods.

“The Legend is Alive”

Directed by Joe Johnston
Starring Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving

Actor Lawrence Talbot (del Toro) is summoned to his family home by his brother Ben’s fiancee, Gwen (Blunt) with news of Ben’s death. Ben was killed by some beast in the woods near Talbot House, and Lawrence determines to track and destroy it. His father (Hopkins) seems oddly sanguine about the whole business, while Inspector Aberline (Weaving) of Scotland Yard has his eye on Lawrence.

Continue reading The Wolfman (2010)

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

The protagonist of this film isn't a prince and the actor isn't Persian.
The protagonist of this film isn’t a prince and the actor isn’t Persian.

“Defy the Future”

Directed by Mike Newell
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton and Ben Kingsley

The King of Persia (Ronald Pickup) adopts have-a-go street rat Dastan, who grows up to become the leader of a team of scrappy parkour commandos (Gyllenhaal). An attack on a holy city brings Dastan great honour, a shiny dagger and the captive princess Tamira (Arterton), but when the king is murdered and Dastan blamed, he is forced on the run with the princess.

Continue reading Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

Minotaur (2006)

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“Curse the god. Slay the beast.”

Directed by Jonathan English
Starring Tom Hardy, Rutger Hauer, Ingrid Pitt, Tony Todd

It’s the Iron Age, or maybe the Bronze Age, and the powerful but decadent Minoan civilisation is collecting youths to sacrifice to the Minotaur, a big monster that lives in an underground labyrinth. Humble shepherd Theo (Tom Hardy) is upset because his love interest was sent to be eaten, but his dad (Rutger Hauer) is more worried about protecting him. When the Minoans show up, however, Theo sneaks into the tribute line and is dumped into the labyrinth together with a well-meaning sidekick, a sneering rival who does a predictable face turn, the sneering rival’s love interest, a mouthy girl, a girl who doesn’t talk at all, a crazy girl and a comedy fat guy. And maybe someone else, who knows.

Minoan queen Raphaella takes a fancy to Theo and tries to help him fight the Minotaur. Spoilers: the good guys win.

Continue reading Minotaur (2006)

Dracula Untold (2014)

Who's the dark prince of Wallachia who's a death machine with all the Turks?
Who’s the dark prince of Wallachia who’s a death machine with all the Turks?

“Every Bloodline Has a Beginning” or “The Legend is Born”

Directed by Gary Shaw
Starring Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Sarah Gadon and Charles Dance

After being conscripted to fight in the Ottoman army alongside a thousand other Transylvanian youths, Vlad (Evans), also known as the Impaler and the Son of the Dragon, rules his domain in peace. When Sultan Mehmed (Cooper) demands more boy soldiers for his army, and Vlad’s son as a hostage. For the sake of peace he is prepared to go along with it, but then a Turkish officer calls him a pussy, so he goes to a monstrous being in the mountains (Dance), becomes a vampire and embarks on a rampage of destruction which will ultimately lead him down the road to becoming the legend that is Dracula. Continue reading Dracula Untold (2014)

300 (2006)

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“Prepare for glory”

 

Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West and David Wenham

In 480 BC a small Greek force, lead by 300 Spartans under King Leonidas, held off a far larger Persian force at Thermopylae for seven days, while getting off a variety of good lines while under pressure; when King Leonidas was told that the Persian archers were shooting arrows in such vast quantities that they were blotting out the sun, he allegedly replied ‘won’t it be nice that we have shade to fight in’. In the end they were nearly all killed, but their epic bravery was well recorded by the Greek historians, with accounts in both Plutarch and Herodotus.

Then, probably because Frank Miller loves nothing like he loves testosterone, it was made into a comic in 1998, only with added homophobia, but some very nice artwork. As is the way with Frank Miller.

After that, a film version was almost inevitable. The plot of the film is, by the way, basically, the same as the synopsis I gave of the battle of Thermopylae. It’s a bit like a very well oiled and slightly more homoerotic version of Herodotus.

What’s wrong with it?

OK. There is technically an awful lot wrong with 300. I mean, you start with the history (Spartan soldiers did actually wear more than leather speedos to fight in, King Xerxes of Persia probably wasn’t that into gold body paint, and I’m sure history would have remembered had he, or any classical ruler, actually had their own battle rhino), continue with the racism (brave Americans Greeks yell about democracy before slaughtering deformed foreigners who look like orcs but are apparently Persians), perhaps pause to examine the sexism (no matter how powerful or plot important a female character, it doesn’t mean she can’t be sexually abused at least once), and then amble on through the gratuitous violence, tripping over a plot hole every now and then (why did Theron take bribes in Persian gold he couldn’t spend? Unless there was a secret Spartan bureau de change somewhere…) before finally coming to rest, overwhelmed by the sheer macho nonsensicality of it all.

And yet…

What’s right with it?

 

…Leonidas would have loved it!

No, really. Every time I see this film I can’t help but imagine Leonidas sitting there, in the Elysian Fields, gleaming with pride. Every time he gets off a snappy line (and to be fair, if they were invented, they were invented by enthusiastic ancient Greeks, not enthusiastic Hollywood script writers) I can see him nodding smugly. Every time his enemies flinch, he probably flexes some undead muscles and I am totally and utterly convinced that if you were to show him this film and ask him about the battle rhino he would swear blind that he killed that thing with his own two hands and if you doubted him, well, you weren’t there, man.

In general, one of the hardest things about historical drama is that we, as a society, are not very good at empathizing with people who’s basic understanding of the world and who’s concept of right and wrong was very different to ours. We find it especially hard when it comes to popcorn flicks, where we don’t want to see women who couldn’t leave the house unaccompanied or cheer for heroes who believed absolutely in the divine right of kings, so most film makers tend to end up making their historical heroines feisty and their heroes pro-democracy, and everyone learns to believe in themselves until it’s all OK in the end. But 300 actually doesn’t do that. OK, so I’m not saying Dick Cheney’s fantasy life doesn’t look like this too (well, maybe not quite as many heavily oiled and scantily clad young men, although I don’t want to judge) but I am also pretty certain that this is closer in spirit to the Spartan perspective than any earnest young man with plumes on his helmet, questioning whether the helots really needed to be kept as slaves, before facing a number of conflicted and three dimensional Persian enemies would have been.

Also, Frank Miller’s idea on history is way more like Herodotus than Eric Hobsbawm. I bet Herodotus would have thrown in a battle rhino.

How bad is it really?

I think it depends what you’re looking for. If you want a history lesson, it’s bad. If you want a subtle nuanced portrayal of real men torn apart by the horrors of war, it’s bloody awful. If you object to sexual violence, racism, orientalism, or just strangely narrow cliffs which soldiers have to be pushed off one at a time in dramatic profile, you probably should avoid it.

If, on the other hand, you have a soft spot for Frank Miller style cinematography and can swallow a lot of testosterone with your popcorn, it’s an awful lot of fun and probably the least apologetic depiction of Greek warriors doing appropriately obnoxious yet spectacularly Greek warrior-y things you’ll find outside of the strangely detailed imaginings of a certain kind of classics student.

Best bit (if such there is)?

 

Ooooh….so many quotables, so little time. Do I start with the Persian Ambassador famously being kicked down a well (“This. Is. Sparta!” shouts a strangely Glaswegian Leonidas)? Perhaps Queen Gorgo snarking that “only Spartan women give birth to real men” (another historical quote)? And of course there’s the famous “we will fight in the shade” line.

Plus no matter what you think of Frank Miller’s politics, man, he makes pretty comics, which pretty much gets used as the storyboard for the film. It’s visually stunning.

What’s up with…? 

 

  • So, the traitor Theron sells out Sparta to the Persians for gold, which he conveniently keeps about his person in easy to recognize gold coins, nicely stamped with Xerxes very recognizable face? Why? And also, where? He’s wearing a blanket for most of the film. Man must have had amazing muscle control.
  • I understand that the Spartans were body fascists extraordinaire, but did Leonidas have to kick the earnest little hunchback, Ephialtes, to the kerb quite so firmly? Couldn’t he have given him a bag to carry or something? Or just killed him if he must? Him running off to Xerxes in a fit of pique did seem rather inevitable.
  • I get that battle rhinos improve almost any given story, but could maybe some of Xerxes exciting shock troops (which include Africans, Indians with elephants, and the oft mentioned rhino) have maybe come from the actual Persian Empire?
  • What happened to all the other Greek forces at Thermopylae? According to Herodotus the total number of troops opposing the Persians numbered in the thousands (still massively outnumbered by the Persians who modern historians estimate as being in the tens of thousands) and included troops from Thebes, Arcadia and Corinth amongst others. Did they just…stay home?

Ratings

Production values: Whatever 300’s faults, it’s a very very pretty film and beautifully put together. 4
Dialogue and performances:  I might be being harsh here. There’s not really much for the cast to work with here, and they actually do pretty well with what they’ve got. Gerard Butler is consistently macho and stern. Lena Headey is scornful and imperious. Dominic West oozes whenever he comes on screen (seriously, Sparta, how did you not notice he was evil for so long?) and whoever is played Xerxes is…convincingly pierced. It just isn’t really a film you can perform in. 10
Plot and execution:  I mean, there isn’t a lot of plot to cram in, really. There is a Persian army. They go to war. There are some oracles and a bit of politics along the way, but really, how can you mess up a bunch of dudes stabbing each other with spears now? 8
Randomness: And that was mostly because the film occasionally just throws something totally insane from left field in. 12
Waste of potential: 300 is exactly what it says it is going to be from beginning to end. Madness? No! SPARTA! 2

Overall 36%

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Transformers_dark_of_the_moon_ver5

“Earth goes dark”

Directed by Michael Bay
Starring Shia LaBoeuf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Josh Duhamel, with the voices of Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving and Leonard Nimoy

The Autobots, now instruments of an aggressively interventionist US foreign policy, are bitched at by the Director of National Security (Frances McDormand, for fuck’s sake,) who is a woman and so doesn’t get it. Sam (LaBoeuf) and his new girlfriend (Huntington-Whiteley) stumble on some plot thing and Sentinel Prime (Nimoy) comes back from the moon. Betrayal, exile, explosions, fights, blah, blah, whatever.

God, I hate this movie.

What’s wrong with it?

Remember how I said – and if you don’t, it’s in the post right below this one – that Revenge of the Fallen was all the dumb bits of Transformers, but none of the good stuff? Well, this is the same, but of Revenge of the Fallen. After a bit of narration from Optimus Prime (Cullen,) we start as we mean to go on, with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s arse wiggling in front of the camera for a full minute. This is followed by the same sexist, racist stereotypes that Revenge had, but with some added homophobia (yay!) and getting a few shots in on Asian-Americans and the Dutch.

The plot is more apocalyptic, but don’t let that fool you into thinking we won’t have any crude comedy from Mama and Papa Witwicky, now well into their second childhood, and Agent Simmons and his big, gay (apparently ex-Dutch Special Forces) valet (played by the not-at-all dutch Alan Tudyk.)

Lots of people and Transformers die, and no-one seems to give a shit.

What’s right with it?

The robot fights are still good, just not good enough.

How bad is it really?

Soul-searingly bad.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Pointless Carly actually gets to do something by convincing Megatron to turn on Sentinel Prime. It’s just as shame there was no build up to suggest why Megatron would even listen to her speaking.

What’s up with…?

  • Megatron’s robot hobo schtick and truck form?
  • No-one caring that Ironhide just got glooped?
  • Ken Jeong’s bizarre appearance as a stock Ken Jeong comedy angry Chinese-American.
  • The Wreckers being three Nascar racing cars with British accents and an engineering remit, and not Impactor’s Autobot special forces team at all.
  • Alan Tudyk as ‘Dutch’ (Dutch by name, Dutch by defining character trait)?

Ratings

Production values – Once more, there is little fundamental progression in the effects, and the addition of an all out invasion means that the screen is more cluttered than ever. 12
Dialogue and performances –  Just… bad. The players are game enough – in Ken Jeong’s case, possibly too much so – but the material is poor, poor, poor. 17
Plot and execution – The plot is a paper-thin set up for the apocalyptic climax, and the characters are treated as entirely disposable, not just by the writers, but by each other. 16
Randomness – On the plus side, there’s no sex bot this time, but there is a whole lot more crap, from hobo-Megatron to Dutch to the fact that no-one talks to Sam any more for plot reasons. 15
Waste of potential – After Revenge of the Fallen, I was not expecting to be disappointed. Kudos, Dark of the Moon; I did not expect you to be this bad. 18

Overall 78%

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

TF2SteelPoster

“Revenge is coming”

Directed by Michael Bay
Starring Shia LaBoeuf and Megan Fox, with the voices of Peter Cullen, Tony Todd and Hugo Weaving

Sam Witwicky is off to college and Bumblebee is jealous because freshmen can’t take cars with them! Hilarity ensues when Megatron’s master, the Fallen, tries to destroy the world.

What’s wrong with it?

Revenge of the Fallen takes every good thing about Transformers and jettisons it in favour of something dumb. The comedy scenes are louder and more grating, the people are more front and centre, the characters are little more than collections of stereotypes and much of the joy of the first film is lost. Minority characters – primarily blacks and women, but also the old as Jetfire farts parachutes – are sidelined or reduced to offensive caricatures. John Turturro’s Agent Simmons becomes a pure gag character, and even Megan Fox is downgraded from ‘I’ll drive, you shoot’ to weak support.

What’s right with it?

Aside from the farting, Jetfire is awesome; I am so sad that they killed him off.

How bad is it really?

Revenge of the Fallen is just a mess, with increasingly ludicrous comedy scenes intruding on the action as if a better Transformers film was being accidentally shot on the same sets and at the same time as a bawdy bedroom farce.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Whenever Optimus Prime makes one of his many last stands, the combination of Peter Cullen and a competent composer can’t fail to give a hint of something better than we actually have here.

What’s up with…?

  • Alice, the Decepticon sex bot? Seriously, the fuck?
  • Parachute farts?
  • Tiny Decepticons dry-humping Megan Fox’s leg?
  • The apparently irresistible comedy stylings of Sam’s parents’ descent into dribbling, surreal senility?
  • SEX BOT WTF?
  • The complete failure of the cold and pressure of the Laurentian Abyss to have any effect on Transformers whatsoever? Didn’t they run this plan past the Autobots?

Ratings

Production values – The effects are pretty much the same as in the first film, and two years on are not quite so hot. Moreover, they are even more cluttered and hard to follow. 9
Dialogue and performances –  Everything about the film is dumber than the last one, and that was pretty dumb. Overall, the emphasis on visual splash hits the performances as well, and everyone looks worse here than they did in the last one. 15
Plot and execution – A messy retcon to the ending of the first film is coupled with some almost laughable historical revelations to produce a humdrum treasure hunt story. 13
Randomness – Seriously, this film scores almost full marks right out of the gate for the sex bot, but the disposable extras and horrible comedy intrusions crank it right the way up. 20
Waste of potential – Takes every potential lesson of the first film and throws them away to produce something with all the same problems, just a hundred times worse. 16

Overall 73%