Tag Archives: Unacceptable pretensions

Lucy (2014)

Based on my limited understanding of neuroscience, what she could do is 'have a massive stroke', that being the definition of all of your brain firing at once.
Based on my limited understanding of neuroscience, what she could do is ‘have a massive stroke’, that being the definition of all of your brain firing at once.

“The average person uses 10% of their brain capacity. Imagine what she could do with 100%.”

Directed by Luc Besson
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik, Amr Waked

Lucy (Johansson), an American student in Taipei, falls foul of her loser boyfriend’s murderous contacts in the Korean mob and finds herself forced to act as a drug mule by Mr Jang (Min-sik). A packet of experimental nootropic drugs is sewn into her abdomen and ruptured when a particularly stupid mob soldier decides that hitting on the mule and then kicking her repeatedly in the stomach is a good plan. Seriously, for an all-powerful drug lord, Jang needs better help.

Continue reading Lucy (2014)

Black Swan (2010)

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Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder

Amid the fierce competition to secure the prized dual role of the Swan Queen and her double the Black Swan, soloist Nina Sayers (Portman) clashes with demanding auteur director Thomas (Cassel) and ambitious rising star Lily (Kunis), as well as her demanding and overprotective mother (Hershey) and unstable former principal Beth (Ryder).

Continue reading Black Swan (2010)

Crimson Throne (2013) aka Crimson Winter

Okay; so this cover is somewhat misleading.
Okay; so this cover is somewhat misleading.

“Princes and Vampires Rise Together… Now it’s Time for Blood.”

Directed by Brian Ferriter
Starring Brian Ferriter, Nick Milodragovic and Kailey Michael Portsmouth

Elric (Ferriter), a prince among vampires, chooses to fight alongside his fellow Frenchmen in the Crusades, and later in the Hundred Years War, seeking to fulfill an animal-based prophecy about a lion, a wolf and a falcon that will bring peace between vampires and humans… And then some students (primarily Milodragovic and Portsmouth as engaged couple Dylan and Roxanne) head into rural Montana to do some research into elk mortality.

Continue reading Crimson Throne (2013) aka Crimson Winter

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

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Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Starring Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianikis, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Edward Norton

Riggan Thompson (Keaton) is an aging Hollywood star who longs to be taken seriously as an actor, but is instead remembered for his role in the Birdman series of superhero movies. He is seeking to put on his own theatrical adaptation of Raymond Carver’s ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’, while the voice of the character Birdman speaks to him and he believes that he is developing powers of levitation and telekinesis.

Continue reading Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

The Tomb (2008, or possibly 2009)

This one is going to hurt, isn't it?
This one is going to hurt, isn’t it?

“Death comes to all… but one.”

Directed by Michael Staininger
Starring Wes Bentley, Sofya Skya, Michael Madsen and Eric Roberts

The Story

So, I lined this one up for The Summer of Lovecraft, but it turns out this one isn’t based on Lovecraft’s ‘The Tomb’, but on, well…

This title is far more helpful
This title is far more helpful

The nameless narrator’s marriage to the beautiful, intelligent Ligeia ends with her tragic death. Sometime later, he marries the beautiful Lady Rowena, who also dies, then returns to life, but as Ligeia, who once told her husband that will could overcome death.

The Film

Jonathan Merrick (Bentley) is one of those independently wealthy English lit professors, with a beautiful fiancee named Rowena (Kaitlin Doubleday) and a promising career. But then in walks Ligeia (Skya), a sexy Ukrainian grad student researching the existence of the soul.

Continue reading The Tomb (2008, or possibly 2009)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

In addition to president and vampire hunter, Lincoln pursued a successful hip-hop career under the name 'Father ov da Nation'.
In addition to president and vampire hunter, Lincoln pursued a successful hip-hop career under the name ‘Father ov da Nation’.

“President by day. Hunter by night.”

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
Starring Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell

Young Abraham Lincoln’s (Walker) mother is murdered, and the pursuit of vengeance leads him into the world of vampires who stalk the night (and also the day, thanks to the liberal application of sunscreen) and rule the south. Trained by the enigmatic Henry Sturges (Cooper), he hunts monsters in the town of Springfield while becoming a lawyer and politician. Attracting the attention of the vampire leader Adam (Sewell), he moves up to taking on the vampires’ great prop – slavery – as President. Continue reading Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

Nazi Zombie Death Tales (2012)

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“Sex! Zombies! War!”

(aka Battlefield Death Tales, aka Angry Nazi Zombies)

Directed by James Eaves, pat Higgins and Alan Ronald

This film is actually an anthology of three short films. As a result, I’m going to deviate from our usual system in order to take on each film separately. This is especially important because the films are highly variable in terms of their quality.

Continue reading Nazi Zombie Death Tales (2012)

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

 

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“The Fairy Tale is Over” (possibly; it doesn’t seem to appear on any posters)

Directed by Rupert Sanders,
Starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron and Sam Claflin

A beautiful queen wishes for a beautiful daughter, but the queen dies, the king remarries, and the new Queen (Theron) carries the kingdom in a coup d’etat, locking the princess – Snow White (Stewart, eventually), whom everyone adores for her beauty, dauntless spirit and pathological kindness to vermin – in a tower because reasons. Ten years later, the Queen’s powers – which appear to be fuelled by either youth or beauty, depending on whom you ask and when – are waning, and only Snow White’s oh so fucking perfect heart can save her.

Snow escapes, and is later aided by the Huntsman (Hemsworth), her childhood chum William (Claflin) and a band of semi-mystical British character actors CGId onto the bodies of little people, as well as a village of Amazon archers, and a horde of faeries who will basically never show up again after a scene apiece. Returning to the castle, Snow leads a bloody stupid charge that somehow works, kills the Queen and saves the world.

Hoorah!

What’s wrong with it?

Snow White and the Huntsman is a film that is replete with symbolism, but doesn’t actually seem to know what much of it means, or which bits of it are important beyond the visual moment. Snow White is purity, she is life, she is fire; she is innocence, she is inspiration, she is a warrior, she is a weapon. She is almost worn down with despair when her horse is pulled into the Swamp of Sadness (in a blatant knock-off of The Neverending Story). She is kissed by both of her love interests when ‘dead’, but neither is given any symbolic weight in her waking, instead being pointless gestures kept in because the film doesn’t seem to realise that they don’t matter without that weighting.

It also doesn’t seem to know how to build to a climax. It foreshadows the village of self-scarred bow-women, the faeries and the trolls, hinting at a climactic battle in which all of those whose lives have been touched by Snow will come together and defeat the Queen’s army together, but in the end that doesn’t happen at all. The archers who could have been so useful on the cliffs above the castle? Not there. The trolls that could have smashed the gates while the dwarves took on the catapults? Nowhere to be seen. After pitching Snow as a pseudo-mystical force of supernatural vitality, her gambit for the final battle was commando dwarves opening the gates for a cavalry charge against a defended fortress across more than a mile of open beach into a surrounded courtyard.

Kristen Stewart is not a terrible actress, but she is utterly incapable of delivering the sort of stirring speech she is given in this film.

William is entirely pointless, and basically seems to be present to fulfill some contractual  obligation that Stewart must have a love triangle.

The actors seem to be being whipped into some manner of frenzy by the director, and the end result is an almost theatrical over-exaggeration of facial expressions. Theron is the worst, apparently trying to swallow the world with every line. Meanwhile the Queen’s brother (Sam Spruell) just looks completely baffled by her choice of outfits.

The dwarves in this film (who caused upset among the pressure group Little People of America for the casting of full-sized, British actors) are quasi-magical healers from an otherworldly place, which in this instance appears to have been a much less po-faced film, with a rough, scatological approach to humour.

What’s right with it?

As you’d expect from a film on this level, the production values are top notch, and the design – especially of the Dark Forest and the Sanctuary – is impeccable.

Chris Hemsworth has tortured soul down to a tee, even with that accent he’s doing, and underused as he is, Claflin plays his role – essentially a poor man’s Legolas – to the hilt.

How bad is it really?

Oh boy, is it bad; laughably. In a cheaper, more cheerful movie a lot of its flaws could be forgiven, but this stinkburger cost real money and involved some pretty serious talent.

Speaking of cheaper, more cheerful movies, this came out around the same time as Mirror, Mirror, another Snow White movie which featured broad comedy throughout and ended on a Bollywood-style dance number. From the trailers, it looked as though Snow White and the Huntsman would be the better movie, but Mirror, Mirror is the one without a review here.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The Sanctuary scene is almost mesmerisingly beautiful, although it loses some impact on the smaller screen.

What’s up with…?

  • The eye-shrooms of Sanctuary? For the magical land of lovely, they’re actually kind of creepy. Mind you, so are the fairies who meld into the flesh of animals and control them like puppets, even if you don’t stop to realise that they were guiding poor Atax II into the Swamp of Sadness.
  • Stewart’s final expression? Seriously, is she trying to look like a woman who has just figured out that power is fun? When she looks in the mirror a scene earlier, is she supposed to be being tempted? Is this a downer ending? Actually, that might be much better…
  • The source of Queen Ravenna’s power? Is it youth? Beauty? She talks about stealing youth, but the Amazon village scar their daughters to protect them and it seems to have worked.
  • The whole ‘she is life’ bit? Whatever became of the faeries after that?
  • The glass warriors? This would make way more sense if the mirror were glass instead of burnished bronze.
  • Snow White’s inspirational speech? The whole thing is basically a meaningless jumble of words and trite aphorisms which sounds like the kind of thing someone might offer as an inspirational speech if they were really, really high. I like to imagine that the word ‘like’ or ‘man’ is inserted into every sentence.
  • Geography and travel in this land? It takes days to get Snow to Duke Hammond’s castle, but William can apparently flit across the land as if by magic.

Ratings

Production values – I can’t take this one away from them, it is pretty beautiful. 5
Dialogue and performances –  Note for future reference: Kristen Stewart should not be given inspiring speeches, and Charlize Theron needs to turn it down a notch. The rest turn in solid performances, but the script is doing them no favours. 14
Plot and execution – Convoluted, weighed down with symbolic scenes which have no pay-off or purpose beyond being there, the plot is also heavily dependent on expounded backstory rather than what we actually see on the screen. 17
Randomness – Random Amazons, random faeries, random dwarfish poo jokes. 15
Waste of potential – So much money, so much talent, so much waste! Lighten up, for crying out loud; it’s a fairy tale picture16

Overall 67%

The Black Ninja (2003)

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“Justice by Day. Payback by Night.”

Directed by Clayton Pierce
Starring Clayton Pierce, Carla Brothers, Nicky DeMatteo, Yuki Matsuzaki, Heather Hunter

High-powered lawyer Matt Murdock Malik Ali (Pierce) defends the worst scum in the city of Philadelphia by day — but by night, as the mysterious Black Ninja, he hunts them down and delivers the punishment the courts won’t provide. Undertaking the task of protecting a witness in a mob trial (Brothers), Ali finds himself falling for her — and when the mob boss (DeMatteo) hires the assassin who killed Ali’s family (Matsuzaki) to abduct her, he must confront blah blah blah blah.

What’s wrong with it?

The Black Ninja was paid for mainly out of writer/director/star Pierce’s own pocket and filmed in two weeks — and it looks like it. The cinematography and lighting are either bland or incompetent, the plot is derivative, the sound is awful (it’s frequently hard to hear what people are saying), the dialogue is trite, the political theme is sophomoric and there are some directorial choices … well, we’ll come to those in a minute.

What’s right with it?

Pierce and Brothers aren’t bad actors. Everyone else, with one notable exception, isn’t great, but only a few of them are terrible. Many are obviously not really actors. And Matsuzaki as the rival Red Ninja is hilarious. Possibly even intentionally.

How bad is it really?

It’s atrocious. If it were capably made, it would be a tiresome, clumsy, derivative blaxploitation martial arts movie with some deeply weird and offensive choices. As it is, it’s all that, plus so crappy in its execution that it’s hard to watch.

Also, the fights are almost uniformly terrible — and when they do get in someone who knows some martial arts, the only real effect is to highlight Pierce’s lack of fight choreography.

And the soundtrack is diabolical. There are a lot of songs — including a theme song where Pierce raps — and they’re often introduced at completely inappropriate moments, including smoove R&B during the hero’s big slo-mo-NOOOOO moment.

Anyway, see for yourself:

Best bit (if such there is)?

OK, this isn’t good but it’s a sufficiently bold choice that it has to be in here. The Black Ninja corners the mob boss in his home while he’s taking a dump and paralyses him with acupuncture needles so that he’ll never move again. But he’s in the middle of taking a crap, so while Pierce delivers this hard-ass monologue about how now he’s in prison in his own body, the SFX play a series of farting, squelching, splashing poop-sounds. It sounds ridiculous, and it completely undercuts the scene, but at least it’s a decision.

Oh, also, when Black Ninja is talking to a guy in Tagalog, his Tagalog is really halting and awkward, which makes sense — but sounds ridiculous.

What’s up with…?

  • The series of mid-film fights where Ali fights a bunch of random hoodlums? They do absolutely nothing to add to the story, and the characters are never seen again.
  • Ali’s outfits? It’s 2003, but he looks like he was just in a Boyz II Men video. I guess he is from Philadelphia.
  • The slow-motion three-peat of about half the punches and kicks in the movie? I don’t mean especially exciting ones. There aren’t really any of those.
  • 90s porn star Heather Hunter’s cameo as Ali’s dead wife? I mean, nothing wrong with moving into the legitimate thyutuh, but she has like two lines.
  • The Red Ninja (Matsuzaki)? He’s so charmingly over the top, but it’s really weird in a movie that is 90% pretty restrained in its performances. At one point he just gives someone the maniac stare-grin and holds it for about 30 seconds.
  • Black Ninja’s investigative technique? At one point, he says he’s going to “check out the Johnson Street area.” Apparently, this is the Stickup District, because we cut to him beating up like four gangs of crooks in awkwardly staged fights.
  • The Black Ninja training montage, in which he does some situps, pedals furiously on an exercise bicycle, and does some curls with the kind of weights I have in my cupboard? I mean, Pierce looks like he’s in good shape, but it’s hardly Rambo stuff.

Ratings

Production values: this looks like the movies my brother and I used to make with our mum’s video camera – 18
Dialogue and performances: acting students and people they just met – 12
Plot and execution: a million Punisher comics and an entire bottle of NyQuil – 16
Randomness: doing OK until the poop scene – 16
Waste of potential: the blaxploitation vigilante flick is a proud tradition – 14

Overall 78%

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)

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“Fantasy Becomes Reality” (or the one on the poster)

Directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi
Starring (voice cast) Ming-Na Wen, Alec Baldwin, Donald Sutherland and James Woods

Following a meteor strike, the people of the world are under constant attack by the Phantoms, invisible alien beings that kill with a touch and can infect a person with their ‘energy’, forcing the surviving population into barrier cities, defended by energy shields. Two solutions are on the table to end this stalemate: General Hein (Woods), who wears a lot of black, scowls a lot and occasionally justifies his actions with a tragic back story, wants to blast the meteor crater with an orbital laser cannon; Dr Aki Ross (Wen), a young and attractive scientist with soulful eyes and perfect hair, and her mentor Dr Sid (Sutherland), a wise old man who combines science and benevolent mysticism, have proposed a plan to assemble a psychic waveform, a spirit, based on the collected bioplasmic  signatures of eight essentially random lifeforms.

Spoilers! They are right, Hein is wrong, and they have to team up with elite military squad the Deep Eyes – Captain Gray (Baldwin), big sergeant Ryan (Ving Rhames), tough lady soldier Jane (Peri Gilpin) and comic relief guy Neil (Steve Buschemi) – to complete the spirit and heal the Phantoms before Hein accidentally shanks the spirit of Earth.

What’s wrong with it?

The film was an incredibly expensive piece of animation, and still looked kind of uncanny valley in places. More confusingly, Gray has the voice of Alec Baldwin, but the face of Ben Affleck (seriously, there are many webpages discussing this likeness, so it’s not just me).

Some complain that it isn’t in keeping with the Final Fantasy games, and it doesn’t really fit their usual themes of a wildly magical-yet-technologically advanced world full of ludicrous waprons like the gun-blade, but it does have an insanely complex plot explained in dialogue which is presented as if what the people are saying were entirely self-evident and only a fool could argue with it. The fact that it does this in the space of a movie doesn’t help, where normally it would be developed through a dozen or more hours of stumbling around getting into fights with fucking houses and pissing around with subplots about cross-dressing or party music and a hopelessly awkward romance!

Okay, I may have some issues.

The film fails to develop sympathy or tension properly, largely because for all the effort put into the animation, there is something slightly distancing about the almost-real faces; or perhaps with Ben Affleck using Alec Baldwin’s voice.

What’s right with it?

The animation may not be quite true to life, just close enough to be a little eerie, but it is also beautiful.

How bad is it really?

The Spirits Within is less of a movie than a spectacular tech demonstration.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The deaths of the supporting Deep Eyes, picked off one at a time prepping the escape ship for the leads, manage to develop some of the only real emotional resonance in the film.

What’s up with…?

  • The Deep Eyes referring to each other by their first names, regardless of rank? It violates one of the cardinal rules of both the real and conventional fictional militaries.
  • The alien war? Maybe it’s supposed to be symbolic, but the two alien forces wear no uniform or insignia to differentiate one from another. Brother vs brother?

Ratings

Production values – Oh, it is magnificent. I can not take that away from them. Even after thirteen years it’s still impressive. 2
Dialogue and performances – I can’t fault the performances either. The cast are solid pro thesps and deliver the goods, but much of what they are saying is pure bollocks, either maintaining the Final Fantasy tradition of stilted romance or expounding the film’s super-literal Gaia theory. 12
Plot and execution – The plot is overly complicated, but still in places rather dull. 17
Randomness – The whole thing is pretty random, being a search for some lifeforms or other, but it doesn’t go mad once it gets there. 10
Waste of potential – This is the most expensive video game movie ever made; it has little excuse for being so dull. 17

Overall 58%