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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

"Street Kings 2: Motor City" Review

"Street Kings" is an interesting movie because it appears to be the only occasion on record in which Terry Crews has worn Sleeves for the whole time he was in a film:

"Yo Ludlow - What is this shit covering my arms, man? I gotta let these guns BREATHE, son."

It is also a clever police thriller, with a lot of twists, and some really decent action. It makes you think, and also contains some really well written characters: some of them just cool, and some with whom you can really empathize. Street Kings was the first movie I saw Chris Evans in and thought he was half decent (so well behind the curve of that one: should have watched "Sunshine" when it came out, really, since the Ads ruined it on TV anyway), and despite the ending being a slight let-down, the story up to that point is solid, with every new twist being as exciting as the last, and the audience never knowing what is going to happen next. It had its moments of retardation: the scene in which Reeves and Evans kit themselves up with shotguns, which then disappear completely in the next scene so they only have handguns when they get into a firefight is just ridiculous. But all in all, it was a very entertaining movie.

Not to mention the poster is fantastic for trolling. I mean, come on, there's a guy in it named "Common".

Not only this, but Street Kings finally allowed me to crack "The Keanu Code". You see, a lot of people complain that Keanu Reeves can't act: he's very wooden, has a monotone voice, and doesn't seem to be very expressive. However, after watching Street Kings, I finally realized why this is. It's not because he is a bad actor: it's because he is typecast in the kind of movies where the character would have these traits. Think about it: In "Street Kings" he is an overly-paranoid alcoholic cop. In "Constantine" he is a depressed addict who has actually seen hell. In "The Matrix" he is an anti-social hacker who works a job he hates and probably has autism, who becomes unsure of whether or not he is living in the real world. And in "The Devil's Advocate", he plays a Southerner. In every one of these films, it makes sense that the character wouldn't show any real feelings, and Street Kings therefore proved to me that Keanu Reeves can, in fact, act: just only in very specific roles.


Street Kings was also nice in that it appeared to have been made by a fellow "House" addict. When Hugh Laurie (who plays the captain of the IA team investigating Forrest Whittaker's outfit) is introduced, he is in a hospital, and spends the entire scene sitting in a chair - you know, because of his limp. And whilst Liotta's character being shot in the leg and developing a limp in "Street Kings 2" may have been an homage to this (if you squint) - it just didn't have the same epic feel as the original.

Or the obvious sexual tension. Speaking of which, aren't they remaking Top Gun?

The main problem Street Kings 2 has is that it shares its name with "Street Kings". Unfortunately, this inevitably leads to you comparing it to the original movie the whole time you are watching it, even though it was almost certainly written as a completely  independant movie, and simply had the "Street Kings" name tagged on the front of its actual title, "Motor City" in order to sell more copies. And whilst this will result in people like me buying it because they enjoyed the first Street Kings, it also is gonna result in a lot of disappointment, because quite predicatbly, it does not live up to the hype which the title creates.

"Street Kings 2: Motor City" starts just terribly, with a necessary but badly shot and badly set-up scene at the start in which we see Liotta getting shot in the leg, then proceeds to get even worse. We see Liotta teaching a group of schoolchildren about police work whilst dressed in a dog suit, and it feels as though we are already straying into "Big Mommas House 2" territory only 3 minutes into the film. As Liotta meets his new partner, the stereotypical young go-getter cop who makes fun of the old ways, we start to worry about just how cliched and dull this movie is going to be, and when the murders and suspicion around which the rest of the movie revolves begin to unfold, the audience is left bored to tears - literally nothing interesting happens in the first half hour or so of this film.

Things get a little more interesting, however, when during the murder of the third cop involved in the deep cover narcotics team we open on, is murdered. The reason things become more interesting is that we see his killer: Ray Liotta. Now, this may have been fairly predictable, and I had a hunch that Liotta was going to turn out to be the killer in the end. However, revealing him as the killer so early on in the film changes the dynamic of things, and the movie is then allowed to unfold in a far more interesting fashion than if it had focussed entirely on the solving of the case, with the killer's identity being the big ending "twist". From this point on, the movie certainly becomes more interesting, as we learn more and more about Liotta's plot to get rid of the cops he thought were going to rat him out to Internal Affairs, and take revenge on the dealer who got away at the start by framing him for these murders. However, this story arc too is ultimately fairly cliched and predictable, and whilst far more enjoyable than the first quarter of the movie, still does not manage to save it.

Don't get me wrong - this film has some absolutley golden moments in, which were well worthy of the "Street Kings" branding. The discussion between Liotta and Sullivan (our hero for most of the movie) in front of the captain when the two are first paired together has one of the most inspired pieces of dialogue to come out of a straight-to-DVD release in a long time:

Kingston: I worked homicide for one year and in that time I put away more criminals than you have in your whole life!

Sullivan: I've only been on the force 9 months.

Kingston: Exactly.

And the scene on the train in which the criminal who Liotta has framed for the murders is cornered, and then taped by a passenger, is incredibly well done, and was very enjoyable. And yet, this movie is lacklustre at best in the end, and didn't seem to reward the viewer with much. Whilst "Street Kings" had a plot which unfolded like an intricate web, with twists and turns being thrown in constantly, and the audience always being left in suspence right up until the finale, "Motor City" has just the one twist, and not an overly complex plot to help back it up. And whilst it is decent for a movie obviously shot on hand cameras with a very low budget, it really shouldn't have aligned itself to a much better made movie, because the comparisons just kill it.

Just like Terry Crews, amirite?

There were other things that bothered me about "Motor City" besides the plot and Cinematography as well. The acting is fairly hit-and-miss at the best of times, and Armand Benoit, who plays Sullivan (Liotta's new partner, and the main hero of the piece) doesn't seem to be able to get into character properly - he is very clearly trying to act, rather than trying to portray a person. The head cock he does with his one liner in the closing scene is probably the worst example of this, but there are other moments throughout the film where he does this as well. Of course, he has his moments too: such as when he is in the hospital waiting room after his wife is blown up by a car bomb - but for the most parts he really doesn't seem convincing. Plus, it's fairly distracting that he looks just like a fat Shia LaBeouff.

According to Wikipedia, he played Nicholas Cage's partner in "The Bad Lieutenant", which is odd, because I'm fairly certain Val Kilmer was Cage's partner in that film - unless he has multiple partners in that film, though I must admit, I don't recall Benoit being in it. Hell, if you had just told me that Benoit was in "Bad Lieutenant" and asked me to guess who he played, I probably would have thought he was the guy who was drowning in his cell near the start, and who we see working in a hotel at the end, not Cage's partner. You know, that or I would have said he was the wrestler who killed his family and then hanged himself from his weights rack.

the awkward moment when you realize a guy nicknamed "The Crippler" might have anger issues...

The ending, as well, just seemed really poor to me. Not only was the car exploding ridiculous and over-the-top (which I can live with, since I loved "The Long Good Friday", and that contains the most retarded vehicle explosion in motion picture history: a stock car blowing up when it crashes into another. You know, a car from that sport in which the vehicles are designed to crash into one another), and the fact that Sullivan somehow got out without us seeing was just as bad, but the ultimate climax of the film where he and Liotta face off was just disappointing as well. It was supposed to be a powerful emotional scene, clearly. And yet, it still didn't feel like a big deal. Not only that, but having just seen "10 to Midnight", I have a fairly good idea in my brain of what a scene involving a cop shooting an unarmed suspect who is trying to talk him out of it in full view of a bunch of other officers should look like, and the ending to "Motor City" didn't come close to that ending.

"You want to use the ending from one of my films? No dice..."

All in all, a poor effort, and a real step-down for Liotta. I don't mind him starring in no-budget films - "Cop Land" was great - but this movie just didn't do it for me. And whilst it was bearable enough for me to sit through the entire thing, and not just turn it straight off and watch "Neds" instead (which I also picked up today, but decided to save on the assumption it will be the better of the two films), it had nothing on "Street Kings", or any other half-decent cop movies for that matter. It is relatively fun, with the occassional interesting or dramatic moment, but overall is a giant let-down. Hell, even the pimp-tastic car wasn't as cool as Denzel's in Training Day...



2 stars

Not an awful movie, but I wouldn't exactly recommend it either. It has its moments, but just not enough of them to keep you entertained throughout. There is a nice reversal in the style of storytelling part way through, and some of the scenes unfold nicely, but that's about all I can say for it. It is a fairly clever movie in some ways, but doesn't live up to many of its competitors in the same genre. Maybe pick this one up if you see it in a bargain bin or something, but don't spend £5 on it like I did (I got "Hard Boiled" and "The Killer" for less than that combined!). Definitely stick with the original Street Kings if you're going to watch one of them.


Monday, 16 January 2012

Why the Ending of "The One" is Actually Depressing...

Last Night, I watched the Jet Li film "The One" for the first time in over 4 years. Of course, the last time I watched it wasn't the first, and as a teenager this had been one of my favourite action films. Sure it was made by the guys who effectively killed Millennium in Season 2, and the story isn't all that impressive, but it is still an enjoyable sci-fi action romp, and introduced me to both Jet Li and Jason Statham. There is one thing I had never noticed before, however, which really bothered me on this recent watch: well, 2 things, actually. The first is that Jason Statham had to look at Gabe's wedding band to know which of the pair he was when he had just seen him throw off his flaming shirt, while Yulaw still had his tied around his waist. But the most disturbing thing by far was the supposedly happy ending:

You see, at the end, Gabe has lost his wife, and is wanted for her murder, as well as the murders of several police officers. If he returns to his own world, he will be put in prison for the rest of his life which, given he was a cop, probably won't be a very long one. Funsch decides that he owes Gabe more than this, so breaks procedure to send him to a different world: one in which there is clean energy, and his wife is still alive. Whilst on the face of it this seems like a fairly happy ending for Gabe, all things considered, when you really think about it, this ending is pretty horrifying.

Ok, horrifying is a relative term...

For starters: As we are informed earlier in the film, things are completely different in each universe. As Funsch explains to Gabe: "In this Universe, you exist. In another you don't exist. In another, you're married to the same woman. In another, you're married to a different woman. In another, you're married to a man." - literally everything could be different. Gabe appears to have been dropped into a nicer version of his own Universe, about 3 years prior to the point his world has reached, because he has been dropped at the exact place and time he initially met his wife. His dog gets its paw run over by a car, and Gabe takes him into the vets, where T.K. (or, her alternate universe equivalent) is working, and Gabe realizes that this is how they met in the first place, and they can fall in love all over again.

But here's the problem: for starters, we don't know what's different in this Universe. She could be a Lesbian, or already have a boyfriend or husband. Hell, she may just straight up dislike the idea of dating a Chinese dude. Her personality will be completely different. And that's important - because even if she is a very similar person to T.K., and she and Gabe do end up getting together, it's going to be impossible for that relationship to last when he already has an idea of what his wife is like in his head before, as far as she's concerned, he ever meets her. I've never watched 500 Days of Summer, but I've been informed that it revolves around a guy who starts dating a girl named Summer, and falls in love with the idea of who she could turn out to be, as created in his head. When she doesn't live up to these fantasies, the relationship inevitably breaks down, because it's not really her that he's in love with, but some fictional concept of who she could have been. The same thing applies here: No matter how similar the woman in this universe may be to Gabe's wife, she is not Gabe's wife, and this will inevitably lead to their relationship, if they ever form one, falling apart. Not to mention the fact that even if they are completely identical to one another (something Yulaw's list of kills at the start tells us she won't be), she's gonna find it pretty creepy how fast he wants to go with her, and how much he knows about her in so little time, and might just break it off due to pressure. But even if, somehow, their relationship does hold under all these problems: There's still the fact that Gabe watches his wife being murdered in front of him only an hour before meeting this woman, and hasn't had time to get over it - which will fuck him up.

No matter how much of his anger he vents on innocent lamp posts...

I've never really lost anyone, so I'm pretty well just going off the opening episodes of House season 5 here, but as far as I can tell it is extremely painful, and just thinking about it should be enough to cause Gabe to collapse to the floor crying and not be heard from for days. Now, imagine that, but with a constant reminder in your face every single day of exactly what your wife looked like, and exactly the kind of life you could have led together had she not been murdered, and Gabe is almost a dead cert for suicide. Hell, he even says earlier in the film that he doesn't care if he dies now that she is gone - is it really a good idea to give him a reminder of her just when he seems like he might be able to cope?

House tells me the only way he will be able to cope is by taking a road trip with his best friend to a funeral, and throwing a bottle through a stained-glass window...

Even if he doesn't kill himself (I assume Yulaw has to kill him to become The One, otherwise it would have happened by coincidence before now, so he won't refrain from doing it just to protect the multiverse), Gabe is still going to be a mess around this new version of T.K. for several months at least, if he ever recovers - and it's not as if he'll ever be able to talk about what happened, except in the very broadest sense: "I was married to a woman who was murdered by a man who wanted me dead" "why did he want you dead?" "uh... because I was a cop?" - Gabe is going to be one seriously fucked up guy who no amount of counselling will help, and who is gonna need to knock back 40mg of Valium to sleep at night.

Too soon?

But wait - perhaps becoming stronger has made him more tolerant to poisons? It would certainly make sense, given that it is possible to build tolerances to Benzoes, Opiates and other drugs - so perhaps Gabe will need enough tranquilizer to kill an Elephant just to sleep at night - and how the fuck is he gonna get that prescribed? He's not, which means either he has to man up and get over his wife's death (which he won't, being constantly reminded of her), or he's going to have to go out and score ridiculous amounts of drugs illegally. Either way, he's fucked.

And we all know Jet Li's track record with Junkies...

And then we get onto the question of whether he has existed before in that Universe or not. As we know, there is a possibilty there was another Gabe in that Universe before him, and whilst there is no chance of him running into the alternate version of himself, since we know he and Yulaw are the only 2 left, there is always the chance of this alternate Gabe's history catching up with Gabe.

Where's that Chinese Manservant of mine gone? It's shower time!

Think about it: at the start, we see another alternate Jet Li, Lawless, being transferred from prison to a courthouse cell, because he is going to give testimony against some mobsters. Imagine if something along these lines had gone on in this universe. Maybe the alternate Gabe had been in protective custody when Yulaw killed him. Now, what's to stop someone from seeing Gabe and recognizing him as the alternate Gabe, and killing him for this, just as Tony Soprano did to that guy he saw whilst driving his daughter around colleges in the first season?

Being Choked to death with electrical wire isn't normal.
But when Snitching it is...

And even if the alternate Gabe wasn't a criminal, Gabe had better hope that no-one has heard of him. If he lived in the same area, or was an at all known figure, then Gabe's fucked. But you know what? That doesn't really matter - because Gabe is fucked anyway. And you know why?

No, I mean seriously.

He is a Chinese man with no form of identification, no home, and no money, who has been dropped into a town centre in the United States. Even in the most Liberal interpretation of the modern world possible (which one presumes this apparent Utopia is, given everyone drives an electric powered car and there's no smog in Hollywood), that's not going to end well. Gabe is essentially (scratch that: is) an illegal immigrant. He has no family, nobody knows him - he is going to have to fend for himself. He was a cop his whole life, but with no history, he cannot possibly become a police officer in this Universe. So what can he do? Well, he can either hope that this alternate Universe is more socialist and that T.K.'s job will be enough to support them both comfortably, and that he can get her to marry him without her finding him too creepy or him wanting to commit suicide because of his wife's murder, or he can live like an illegal immigrant in modern America: working a shitty job for fuck all money and being constantly abused because he essentially has no rights. Hell, one of the best case scenarios would play out with him becoming a delivery boy for a Chinese restaurant, and even then there's a chance someone mistaking him for a Jap might pull him off his bike and slash his throat before he has a chance to defend himself. You know, that or he would be bored shitless and resent his new life, causing his new wife to grow tired of him and leave him. To be honest, it looks as though there is really only one solution for Gabe at this point:

That's right - join the triads. Think about it: he's super smart, extremely capable, and ridiculously strong. He managed to beat down the most powerful man in the Universe: in any Universe. When I was a kid, they told us we could either be cops, or criminals. What I'm saying to you is: when you're an illegal immigrant who's gonna get deported if he tries to become a cop, which option are you going to take?

3rd choice...

But ok, Gabe's too moral to become a triad, even if he knows there's a chance the police will turn him and he can work for them after all. He's not going to become a Mercenary either, so what does that leave us with? There's really only one option left if he wants to earn a decent living doing something he's good at:

That's right - he has to become a cage fighter, working in seedy underground clubs, beating the shit out of anyone who faces him until one day some guy who lost big time betting against him blows him away with a Mac 10 as he walks out the back of a nightclub. His life cut tragically short.

Mel Gibson finds the idea of a Chinaman dying hilarious, whereas Danny Glover is screaming because Gibson is crushing his hand for "being too black".

Or, you know, he could become a professional sportsman or actor or some shit. But then, that wouldn't fit in with the point I'm trying to make here. And that point is, even if things seem rosy, and Gabe's new home looks like paradise, chances are things are still pretty fucked, and he'll no doubt spend the rest of his life wishing he had killed Yulaw, on the assumption that he would either rather be dead than keep on keeping on, or there was a possibility he could have become Doctor Manhattan when he was the last one left alive (I mean, his wife was Silk Spectre, afterall).

Oh, you thought I was kidding?

In fact, the only person for whom this ending is happy is - you guessed it - Yulaw.


Don't worry - Chinese New Year will be over soon enough, then I can get back to discussing topics which have nothing to do with the Chinese...

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

'10 to Midnight' Review

My brother received this movie from one of our uncles as a gift for Christmas, but not being an awfully big fan of Charles Bronson or vigilante action movies, he gave it straight to me. I went into this film expecting something along the lines of Deathwish, but with only one villain. Instead what I got was the obvious precurser to American Psycho, and plenty of the shots used in this film were clearly in Harron's mind when she directed that film, if not in Brett Easton Ellis's when he wrote the novel.

Although a psychadelic version of this picture would probably give you a more accurate representation of what goes on in Ellis's head... 

This movie came out 3 years after Ted Bundy was incarcerated for multiple homicides, and was clearly written as a reaction to that case. It also includes elements of Richard Speck's killing spree - though that will be discussed later. I have to say, however, I was incredibly impressed by this portrayal of a serial killer.

Right from the off, we see a lot of Patrick Bateman in our killer, Warren Stacy. He is played by a young Gene Davis, who looks to be about Bateman's age - 26, or possibly a little younger. Perhaps having seen American Psycho and loving it means I'm going to give this movie a little more credit than I should for showing us a similar character some 17 years beforehand, but really, the similarities are astonishing. Stacy is seen very early on walking through his apartment in his underwear, showing off a very muscular but lean physique. The character takes his time styling his hair, and applying moisturizer or aftershave to his face, before selecting the clothes he is going to wear. Every element of this scene screams "Blue Collar Patrick Bateman", and the similarities were far from over then. Not only is Stacey shown to be a film buff like Bateman (though, his music tastes are never discussed, so who knows if he has the new 'Genesis'?), but Stacy is also seen committing several murders throughout the movie, and always commits them completely naked. The shots usually focus on his back or face, with many of the shots being incredibly similar to those used in American Psycho. Hell, in the climax, when he grabs the girl he is after and she burns his face with a hair curler or some similar iron-like equipment, I was almost expecting him to shout "Not the face! You bitch! Not the fucking face, you piece of bitch trash!" - and when he then proceeds to chase her outside, running down the street completely naked and coated in blood whilst carrying a knife. Well, it was almost identical to Christie's escape attempt in American Psycho.

Lots of man-arse and blood, with some shadow-covered crotch thrown in to boot.

Stacey is also shown to be a very intelligent killer, and definitely a ladies man. We see him setting up his alibi for the first murder by going into a cinema and sitting with two girls, hitting on them blatantly, and offering them popcorn. When the more attractive of the two, who he is seated directly next to, decides he's a creep and drags her friend (who is gasping for it, naturally) away from him to another row, Stacey waits a few moments until they are settled, before sneaking out to the cinema's bathroom, where he climbs out the window, and proceeds to drive to the scene of his crime. After the murder, we see the lights come up in the theatre, and the two girls walking out - and of course Stacey is sitting there, cool as anything, and gets up to chat with them on his way out. He sets up his alibi like a rock, and then when the more interested of the two girls starts showing an interest in him when he no longer needs them, he blows her off and goes home. He is arrogant, ingeniously obnoxious, and one hell of a charmer. A real Ted Bundy (or Pat Bateman). These two factors are really important in propelling the story along, as Stacey's intelligence forces Bronson's character to move further and further outside of the law to try and pin something on him, which eventually culminates in Bronson's having to leave the force after he is found to have planted evidence. Stacey is incredibly intelligent, and leaves no trace behind - and this intelligence and planning is what helps the climax of the movie to unfold in such a dramatic fashion.

Uh, not that type of climax, Charlie.

Towards the end, Bronson's character is tailing Stacey, trying to get something he can pin on him, or else look for some excuse to take him out; whilst Stacey is out for revenge for Bronson's meddling in his murder spree, and has his sights set on killing Bronson's daughter. In order to lose Bronson, Stacey makes it appear as though he is going to kill a prostitute to satisfy his needs, then as Bronson attempts to follow him to the hotel he takes her to in order to catch him in the act, Stacey slips out the back and drives over to the nursing college where Bronson's daughter lives, and re-enacts Richard Speck's infamous killing spree, leading to that climactic running scene in the street. Everything about the character of Stacey is so unbelievably well thought out and accurate, that I wouldn't be surprised if Bundy had written the film himself. Hell, Stacey even drives a Volkswagon Beetle - the only difference is he repairs typewriters for a living, rather than being some fancy fucker with a law degree...

Unlike this tubby bastard. Who is straight out of Compton, I might add...

The moments of clear insanity Stacey seems to have are fantastic as well - the way he finds girls being turned on by him to be a massive turn-off, his Mexican alter-ego Padro, and the way he snaps and goes into a fit of rage at just the wrong word, when maintaining such a cool, calm, collected persona the rest of the time, is also classic Bateman. Ok, we can't imagine Stacey shoving a fifty in the hand of a crack dealer, then eating all five vials as he is handed them. Nor can we imagine Stacey actually hallucinating he has bile-dripping fangs and eyes that roll back in his head, but which no-one notices - but the crazy dark side underlying the cool, handsome exterior is still definitely there, and underplaying it as the film version of "American Psycho" did with Bateman leaves us with the sense that we have a killer who, whilst obviously insane, is still completely in control of his actions, and still one hell of a guy.

I fucking love this guy. He's a total bro, bro. 

The other characters in the piece are fairly dull, with Bronson being the typical old-school cop who will do anything to get his conviction, who is lumbered with a partner who wants to play by the rules. There are a few touches added to make things more interesting, such as the new partner becoming involved with Bronson's daughter, and the fact that the first girl murdered was a friend of the daughter, so Bronson knows the family, but it's all pretty standard stuff. The only really different moment comes right at the end of the film, and you know I'm about to spoil it, so watch out if you really want this to be a surprise. After the scene where Stacey chases Bronson's daughter from the nursing college down the road whilst naked, Bronson catches up in time, and grabs a hold of his daughter, gun pointed at Stacey. The police back-up he called for arrives, and Bronson hands his daughter off to his ex-partner, still keeping the gun trained on Stacey. At this point, Stacey starts to tell Bronson that the most recent murders were all his fault, for putting the pressure on him that he did, and tells him that he hears voices telling him to kill, and is sick. Bronson sees that he will clearly get off with the insanity plea he is trying to establish, and earlier in the film we hear Bronson's story of another man he arrested who was found insane and let out of hospital after six months, only to kill his parole officer the next day, so Bronson just does what Charlie does best, and shoots Stacey through the head in full view of a dozen police officers whilst he is posing no immediate danger to anyone. And this, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how the film ends. Bronson takes his shot, and his daughter screams "Dad! Noooo!", we then show a wide-shot of the scene, and crane upwards as the credits start to roll. Charlie will be blamed for all three of the murders committed since he planted the evidence, and will no doubt receive life for killing Stacey himself, but goes away knowing that he managed to stop a psychopath, and that his daughter will be in safe hands with his ex-partner.

And I mean, come on, Bronson's not gonna go through an entire movie without using his gun once He knows what the people paid to see...

This movie, then, completely exceeded my expectations in every way. The violence is very disappointing, with no actual gore being shown - every time Stacey kills someone it is with a quick stab to the stomach, and they drop down dead instantly. However, this can be chalked up to the fact that it's a movie about a serial killer from 1983 and already includes plenty of nudity, and there is still a lot of blood, even if there isn't any actual gore. Whilst this overly-tame level of violence detracts from the film in a way by making it less realistic, it at least means it doesn't feel like a slasher flick, with none of the violence being overly gratuitous, or seemingly being the point of the movie, which is great. Hell, it's nice to see a movie where a guy can chase a naked girl and stab her to death which isn't designed for twisted loners to jack off to, and the way the killing are handled, although far less graphic in their nature, again are the obvious precursor to American Psycho (let us not forget that Harron decided to let Al die from a couple of stabs to the stomach, rather than have his eyes cut out, his lower abdomen stabbed countless tines, and the brige of his nose cut to pieces, because you don't need a film to be overly violent to appreciate it, even when violence is one of the main themes). Or hell, they could even be seen as an homage to the original Psycho, in which we never actually see a blade stick in anyone, but know exactly what has happened.

Her daughter made a living in the exact same way. Weird that...

The way the movie is told both from Stacey and Bronson's perspective is also pretty cool, and although nothing new, is certainly new with two characters of these types. The story is incredibly well written, and for the most part is very well acted (Stacey's boss was particularly awful, and Bronson just played himself, but what do you expect?). Some of the dialogue is absolutely brilliant, such as the following conversation as Stacey and his legal team exit the court after the pre-trial hearing for his murder charge:

Defence Attorney: And furthermore, we intend to show that the police evidence is false, and fabricated.

Journalist: What do you mean, "fabricated"?

Defence Attorney: You want a Dictionary?

The music is also pretty good, just sitting in the background for the most part, apart from in the opening title scene, where the intro music is heart-pumping, and really gets you ready for the film. As for the direction and cinematography, were you not here when I said the ending scene looks just like the Chainsaw scene from American Psycho?

I was gonna post it here, but all American Psycho videos on YouTube have embedding disabled.



4 Stars

I'm probably being overly biased here, seeing a lot of American Psycho in this film is making me rate it higher because I love seeing where Harron took her influences from. However, it is a solid serial killer movie, one of the best, and is certainly worth a watch. This far outstips the low-budget horror adaptations of real killers, from 'Gacy' to "Edmund Kemper: The Coed Killer" (which, incidentally, had almost nothing to do with Ed Kemper and was set in 2000-something rather than the 70s, revolving around the manhunt for this killer by his best friend, a cop, when in real life Kemper was caught when he called the police and confessed), and is even better than the movie "Bundy", based on the life of Al Green. Wait. Ted Bundy. Of course, these were all low budget pieces, and can't be expected to live up to a proper studio movie. However, with a budget of 4 and a half million dollars and made in 1983, you'll notice that this film was cheaper than Escape From New York, which is often credited as being an "ultra-low piece" (and fucking awesome) and came out 2 years later, so wasn't exactly well-funded either. Hell, I imagine this film was the precursor to all those straight-to-DVD action films where they pay the star $5 Million and only spend $2 million on the film itself, with Bronson probably being paid the majority of the $4.5 Million just because they knew his name would sell the film. And hell, it worked, because I watched it, which I wouldn't have had it not had Bronson in (since that's almost certainly the ground on which my uncle bought it). So, great film, very enjoyable, and probably the 3rd best Serial killer film out there (After American Psycho and Silence of the Lambs. Both also based on Bundy, interestingly enough). Of course, I'm not including the fantastic Television series "MillenniuM" in that statement, but nevertheless it's still one hell of an accolade - and I'm going to be sure to recommend this movie to everyone I know who enjoyed American Psycho, even if the antagonist of the piece doesn't have a penchant for Valentino Couture Suits and Oliver People's Glasses (non-prescription).


P.S. - Shit, was I really THAT fat? God damn!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Hard Boiled Review

When I was looking for cool pictures to use in my review of "The Killer", I kept coming across awesome images of Chow Yun Fat John-Wooing up the Place, but was unable to use them because they were all screenshots from Hard Boiled. So, I'm gonna add this as Part 2 of my review of Hong Kong Legends DVDs, and let you all know what I thought of Hard Boiled. Whilst breaking the monotony of text with pictures like this:

Hard Boiled is a completely over-the-top action flick from John Woo in which Chow Yun Fat wields a shotgun capable of blowing up a car with a single round (not by blowing up the fuel tank - we're talking grenade-sized explosions going off on the shell of a car here), and whilst this alone would undoubtedly make the movie worth watching, it has plenty of other merits too.

Such as Chow Yun Fat jumping through the air with a pistol in each hand...

The first half of the film focuses on Chow Yun Fat's Inspector Tequila trying to find info on a large-scale Triad arms-importation business, which is intercut with the story of Long, a Triad soldier who finds himself working his way up the ranks, until he betrays his former boss to the heavy hitter handling the arms Tequila is searching for. Whilst the action is pretty insane, and the scenes outside of the action either camp and light, as on Tequila's side, or dark and foreboding, as on Long's side, the story is pretty well a run of the mill tale of Cop vs Criminal. Right up until Tequila raids the storage building one of the Triad shipments is being held in, and all hell breaks loose.

As the Triads flee (or, in most cases, get shot to death), Tequila is left facing off with two of the top shooters, Mad Dog, and Long. After popping smoke to get free of Mad Dog, Tequila rounds on long with a revolver in his hand, and squeezes the trigger. Click. Long takes a good look at Tequila, then uncocks his weapon, and we suddenly realize what is amiss. Long, of course, is a cop. From this point on, the story focusses on the work of the pair to bring down the triads, one from the outside, one from the inside, with the dramatic climax taking up damn near the whole second half of the movie. In terms of sheer scale, Hard Boiled is one of the boldest action films ever created - staging what is effectively an entire war in a hospital for the second half, as the pair discover that this is the main deposit for the triad weapons they have been tracking.

Elements of the story are incredibly well written, and certainly on a par with The Killer. The scene when Tequila first visits Long after discovering he is an undercover cop is very powerful, as we get an insight into Long's world. Tequila asks Long why he has so many paper cranes hanging from the ceiling, and Long responds that he hates them, and so forces himself to make one every time he kills a person. It may sound cheesy taken out of context like that, but it is actually an incredibly insightful and moving scene. This, combined with the other scenes offering insight into Long's life as an undercover - such as the scene where he forgets it's his birthday until the Chief Inspector running him reminds him, or the scene where he tells Tequila that someday he hopes to leave it all behind and move to Antartica, where it is light 24 hours a day in the summer and he can finally come out of the dark - create a very strong character in Long, and it is probably the best insight into the life of a deep undercover cop prior to the release of The Departed. The bond which forms between the two is believable, and whilst they do have their ridiculous moments, the chemistry between the pair feel real. They actually seem to care about one another by the end. Yun Fat's early reaction to his partner's death in the opening Teahouse scene also helps set up the type of character he will be playing - and whilst he still has the air of "The Killer" about him, in many ways Tequila is the opposite side of the spectrum to Ah Jong. Both are arrogant, and both are caring of the people they love. But Tequila seems to want to have fun, and is in his job for the thrill - which makes a weird juxtaposition with the very early death of his partner, and the seriousness with which the bond between him and Long is shown to grow. In essence, Woo has once again given us the story of two men from different background but who have very similar personalities - it's just the twist this time is they're both cops.

Cops who like pointing guns at each other.

Hard Boiled also contains some other fantastic moments, right through from Yun-Fat's impressive takedown of the triad who killed his partner near the beginning:

Say you don't like cocaine again motherfucker, I dare you. I double dare you.

To the incredible two minute corridor shootout scene as we near the finale of the film:

And this scene I wish to discuss in a bit more depth before I move on, because it is just so impressive. When I was reviewing 'Unknown' a few days ago, I made a few passing comments relating to how I liked the movie 'Children of Men'. The great thing about this movie, of course, being the long tracking shots, in which we follow the characters through an incredible amount of dramatic action without the camera ever cutting - all just filmed as a single take. I'm a huge fan of this style of shot (hell, I even bought 'Snake Eyes', simply on the strength of being told it opens with a 15 minute steadicam shot), and love seeing them in any movie, but Children of Men is especially famous for them, because it has so many, and they are so action-packed it is almost unbelievable. The scale of some of these shots is incredible, particularly the one in Bexhill in which we follow Clive Owen down the street in the middle of a warzone as tanks fire on militants, and he struggles to make it into a tower block without being shot. As far as I can tell, there will never be a tracking shot in cinema history which will match that (though time will tell). However, the budget of Children of Men was a whopping $76 million, and whilst the work of the actors, film crew, and director is still very impressive regardless of how much the film cost, the fact that Hard Boiled could do a scene like the one above on a mere 4 and a half Million speaks volumes for the dedication of the crew - especially when you realize that there were no visual effects added in post production as there were with Children of Men. In Hard Boiled, what we're seeing is what's actually happening in front of the camera. Every gunshot is real (well, a real blank), every piece of glass which shatters and every squib which goes off is happening on the set, in real-time. What's crazier still is the fact that in the sequence they don't actually go to another floor on the elevator - the set crew just changed the layout and stuck in some new glass frames whilst the doors were shut. Aside from how impressive the shot is from a logistical and artistic perspective, it is also one of the best scenes of the film in terms of the emotional heights reached by the actors - with Tony Leung's stunned, disbelieving  reaction to accidentally shooting a cop being followed straightaway by Yun Fat's stubborn, angry denials, as he tries to convince Long to focus on the job in hand, and not dwell on what he may just have done. This is one of John Woo's best scenes - and is easily on a par with even the best moments in The Killer. Unfortunately, however, the same cannot be said for much of the rest of the movie.

Whilst the ultra-stylish, ultra-violent action is incredible at times, it is a severe step-down from The Killer, with scenes where the heroes should have been killed not playing out well because the characters are smart, or skillful, but because the enemies are bad shots, or incompetent. In The Killer, we always felt that Ah Jong was one step ahead of everyone else, he was a highly skilled assassin, and he survived the various shootouts of the film because of his skills. In Hard Boiled, when Long and Tequila break into the safe under the hospital which contains the arms they have been searching for, the only reason they survive is because Mad Dog greets them with a single-shot pistol, and apparently no longer has any depth perception.

Granted, it does make sense for him to be a bad shot after losing an eye, but since there were AKs and AR15s lying in crates next to him, that hardly mattered...

Whislt the Teahouse scene is awesome, both for the incredible action, and the moment when Tequila loses his partner, and the Chief Superintendant gives him shit for what he has done, when it transpires later that the man who killed Tequila's partner was another undercover cop, that whole sequence suddenly doesn't make a whole lot of sense any more. We see Long killing other Triads and informants against his will, and we see him suffering for it. We can even believe that he would kill a cop if it absolutely came to it in order to maintain his cover. What he would not do, however, is shoot a wholebunch of innocent people in a Teahouse with an automatic, and then rather than escape when given the opportunity, use another civilian as a human shield, then attempt to kill two cops (and succeed in killing one of them). It just doesn't make sense for him to be a cop, no matter how much it does for the story that Tequila killed an undercover. it would have been far better if the undercover cop had been one of the others killed in the gunfight - as with Punisher: War Zone - the punisher kills the undercover agent in Rosotti's docks before he gets a chance to even draw his weapon, and this is far more convincing than a cop who mows down civilians with a sub-machinegun and shoots another cop to death. Still, the action in that sequence is pretty cool when you watch it without knowing it's another cop Tequila's fighting, so that kind of helps you forgive that mistake...

Other shortcomings in the film include Tequila and 'Madam's interactions all feeling very forced, and his acting out in the police station being too comedic, and not really fitting in with the dark tone of some of the other scenes. Whilst the killer placed over-the-top action in a serious movie, Hard Boiled seems to have fallen back on the Jackie Chan method of Hong Kong film making, intercutting ridiculous action with ridiculous comedy, which really takes the edge off the much darker undertones of scenes like the one in which Long kills the cop, and so makes the whole film feel a bit stupider. Whilst again, most of the action does not suffer from being unrealistic - not in the same way as The Killer, in which his inability to run out of bullets seemed to portray the film from his point of view, as if representing the memories of those involved, whereas in Hard Boiled it seems more to be indicative of the invulnerability of the unstoppable Tequila, plus doesn't really matter since so much of the film is ridiculous and over-the-top - some of the action scenes still felt a bit off. For example, the scenes in which the triads open fire on civilians trying to escape the hospital were very dark, and made for some gruelling watching - but the way that every single time the cops try and get the babies out the hospital some new triad would appear at the windows with a machinegun, and shoot the cops performing the same action as before, just felt a bit much. Not in that it was too dark - but in the sense that it was too unbelievable the same thing could keep on happening and keep catching them out, and they would just keep going at it.

"Shit, Team 4's down. 5 you're up, take their place and do exactly what they were doing"

"Shouldn't we try and give them some more cover, maybe find a better way of doing this?"

"Fuck you, Johnson. If doing the same thing over and over til the job's done doesn't work, I might as well quit now..."

So, parts of the film are incredible, and areas of it are less than impressive. Occasionally it seems to drag (though usually in the scenes which don't include Tequila or Long) and it felt as though John Woo wasn't taking the film quite a seriously as he had The Killer, which is a true masterpiece. This film has its moments, but it had just too many silly elements as well. Whilst at times, these could be cool, such as Chow Yun Fat's bannister slide, or some of the dialogue ("If you obstruct me again, I'll castrate you" perhaps being the most quotable line), the stupidity of scenes like the baby rescue, and the overly light nature of the scenes in the police station, both involving Tequila and the scenes involving Madam and the Chief Inspector, just really felt out of place, and gave the whole movie a campy feel which it really didn't need. And whilst the action was incredible, and the pacing of the film awesome (not to mention the actual story being great), it just really suffered from these flaws.

Though possibly not as much as the guys on the receiving end of Tequila's bullets. Amirite?

Before I sum up, however, I would just like to discuss the ending, because there is some debate around what happened. You see, both times I viewed the film, I came away with the same impression at the end. We see Long take a shot in the stomach, before Tequila shoots Johnny Wong through the eye. We then see Long on the ground, unmoving, before seeing a spinning shot of him on the ground moving slowly outwards. We get audio flashbacks to scenes of him saying about what he'll do when he gets out, and what it has been like being undercover, and we see his file being burned by the chief inspector, using Long's lighter. We then cut to the very last shot, which is of Long on his boat, out at sea and alone, throwing the paper cranes which represent everyone he has killed overboard. Both times I watched this film, I was certain he died. Everything about the ending makes me think he died, and the vision we see of him after is merely symbolic of him having finally cleared his hands of the deaths he is responsible for, and finally being free of the dark world he inhabited. The common consensus, however, is that he lives. In which case, what the fuck was up with that ending? I think I'm going to keep imagining Long died, since I'm fairly sure it was deliberately left open to interpretation, and this seems to make more sense. However, the very fact that this might not be what the film makers intended still bothers me somewhat, because I thought it was a pretty good ending when I saw it.

Unfortunately, looking back at it, the plaster on his forehead seems to be a pretty good indicator that I was wrong, and that the ending was a bit of a cop-out, presumably because the studio didn't want to end on too much of a downer...

But, aside from that ending possibly having been ruined for me thanks to checking the internet (why couldn't you just let me have my dream?), I can't complain much more. I loved the Jazz Bar scenes, mainly because I know that John Woo and Chow Yun Fat both wanted the bar which Jennie played at in "The Killer" to be a Jazz Bar, but were forced to change it to one playing more traditional Chinese Music by the producers. I was also really impressed that in the climactic explosion, it is clearly Chow Yun Fat actually outrunning a wall of flames, and not some stuntman or a bunch of CGI/mini explosions:

Fuck you John Woooooooo!!!!!!!

I guess there's not much more I can say to conclude - great action-packed pulse racing stuff, with some awesome scenes, but a bit too light and stupid in places. This movie has nothing on Woo and Chow's earlier collaboration The Killer, but is still an enjoyable action film. It is definitely worth a watch, even if it isn't quite as satisfying as The Killer, and doesn't have quite such a poignant ending as I had previously thought. The only other thing I would add is that on the DVD version I have, the subtitles appear to have been synched to either the original Hong Kong version, or the American release, which of course play at a slightly different rate to the British one. This means that by the end of the movie, the subtitles for each line come about 3 seconds after the line has been spoken, and this is quite distracting in such an action-laden piece. I suppose it isn't overly important to follow the dialogue for much of the film, but it was especially frustrating in the elevator scene when we see such raw emotion to have it ruined by poorly lined-up subtitles. Still, that's hardly the fault of the film makers, and I shan't hold it against them.



3 Stars

Very enjoyable piece, which I would highly recommend to all action fans. I probably would have enjoyed it even more had I not watched it right after watching The Killer, but never mind: it was still good. Certainly worth a watch, but by no means a cinemtaic masterpiece; it is incredible what was achieved on such a small budget, and as with 'The Killer', nice to see a foreign film do so well in the Hollywood market. However, the overly light and camp tone in places killed it for me a bit, as did some of the other stupider moments, where you really felt the writers could have done a better job. Of course, a lot of the film was rewritten as they went along to lighten the tone, as the script was apparently deemed too dark to shoot. However, it seems they went a bit too far into "camp" territory, and perhaps needed to take a little more time working on the rewrites. The fact that much of the action was devised on location by seeing what was available to use on set is impressive, but the nature of the making of a film does not necessarily make the film itself any better. If you haven't seen this film, check it out; but maybe place it under The Killer in your list of movies to see...


P.S. Awesomely, I ordered this DVD second hand from Play Trade for £1.04, and when it arrived at Play's distribution centre, they decided it was in too poor condition, so binned it. This meant I was refunded the money, AND they sent out a brand new sealed copy for me to have free of charge. Great Success!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Killer Review

I mentioned last night that I was planning on breaking in my new copy of 'Hard Boiled' today. However, when I awoke this morning (well, this afternoon, technically), I came downstairs to discover the copy of 'The Killer' I had also ordered had arrived, so felt obliged to watch that first, given it was the first of the two (admittedly unconnected) movies. And I have to say: I actually enjoyed the movie even more this time around than I did the first time I watched it.

And I really enjoyed this first time round...

Hard Boiled is great fun - it's a ridiculously over-the-top action movie in which pistols deal as much damage as shotguns should, and shotguns are effectively grenade launchers. The comedy mishaps at the hospital also add to the bizarre atmosphere, but in a good way (an example of a bad way would be the scenes in 'Last House on the Left' with the woman who has a truck full of chickens, which completely destroyed what little atmosphere was created in the scenes relating to the main story. In fact, were it not for the last ten minutes or so being amazing, that would probably be one of the worst movies I have ever seen), so it comes as somewhat of a shock when the movie comes to such a serious conclusion. The Killer, on the other hand, whilst still classic John Woo - is also an incredibly intense dramatic piece, which sucks the viewer in and grips them right from the beginning, and never lets up. It somehow manages to rack up a higher single-man body count than 'The Killing Machine', whilst being as heart-wrenching as that bit at the end of 'Armageddon' where Bill Fichtner asks if he can shake the hand of the daughter of the bravest man he's ever met. I know that sounds retarded, but I can't actually think of many sad yet reassuring movies off the top of my head (yet I just named one with Michael Clarke Duncan in, so there's a fairly logical jump to a relatively respected film here. Not that I'll change my analogy now, mind you - one of the hardest guys I know refuses to watch Armageddon because he cried at the end), so roll with it. I'm trying to say it's a movie which makes you feel whilst still kicking some serious arse, is all.

Kick Arse Now! There'll be time for feelings later!

The storyline of The Killer is fantastic, with a 'good' assassin accidentally blinding a woman, and devoting himself to making sure he can get her the operation she needs so she will be able to see again, whilst at the same time, a maverick cop stuggles to deal justice within the confines of the law, and finds himself sympathizing with the man he has been tasked with arresting. The depth of the characters is fantastic, and although Inspector Li is for the most part your stereotypical hero from cop movies, the later scenes which pair him and Chow Yun Fat together see a transformation in the character, taking him beyond the conventional, and into truly remarkable territory. Chow Yun Fat's character Ah Jong is also an outstanding character - the caring hitman, way before Leon came out (who, incidentally, isn't that caring, since those cops he kills at the end aren't Stansfield's men, just a bunch of regular guys trying to do their job to pay the mortgage), and also the depth to which this extends - for Jennie, for his friend, for any innocents who may get caught up in his actions, even to the police men who are trying to put him away, or even looking for an excuse to kill him. As the scene by the river states: Li is an unusual cop, Ah Jong is an unusual killer. Of course, I watched the version from Hong Kong Legends with accurate subtitles, so can actually see all this depth in the movie - reading through the quotes on IMDB from the "English version" makes me cringe. I mean, seriously - some of those lines just sound awful, and I'm sure the movie would have been worse for it.

I wish I had photoshopped this. It was the Haitian Creole which really fucked it...

The Killer also happens to be one of the only movies where I've actively enjoyed characters not reloading weapons, or somehow running out of shots with an automatic and not knowing. Whilst I cringe in most films where someone goes through 30-odd rounds using an 8 shot gun, The Killer makes such a habit of it that you come to see it as being from the perspective of the individuals involved. Of course they're not counting their shots, and don't remember how many times they changed magazines - it's like you're remembering the events, and the way the camera cuts between shots helps to increase this feeling, employing a large number of quick cuts between angles and even different rooms whilst keeping the action flowing. When you start to enjoy this idea of characters whose guns only run out when it's necessary to the story, as opposed to when it would realistically occur, you can also appreciate the action so much more. There are numerous shots in which characters will have 7 or 8 bullets put in them, and seeing all these shots go off in the same frame is actually really impressive - especially in the shots where we have an individual firing and an individual being hit in the same shot. This gratuitous use of bullets also helps to keep the pace of the movie up, as all the action scenes become incredible dramatic set pieces - so where a real professional might use 4 bullets and the scene would be over, we instead get to see countless shots of one of our heroes firing, and dishing out severe damage. In doing this, John Woo has actually made gun violence appear "cool" in a movie with a lot of feeling and emotion, which can be extremely difficult to achieve. For example, The Matrix made gunplay look incredibly cool with the infamous "Government Lobby Scene", but I doubt anyone found Neo's death truly upsetting - because it is so incredibly hard to strike that balance between making violence cool, but the consequences of it shocking and disturbing. Whether this was Woo's intention when he set out to make the film is irrelevant - he achieved it. And I cannot for the life of me think of another movie where this has been achieved - especially on a scale so grand as this.

Good attempt, though...

Even the slower scenes in the film are outstanding, and so many of them are memorable it is incredible. Everything from Jennie's singing at the piano to Ah Jong's reaction when Fung double crosses him is just perfectly framed to make it stick in your mind, with the dragon boat sequence perhaps being the most memorable of all. The way in which we can tell exactly what's going through Ah Jong's mind as he considers taking the shot without any cues from a voice over, or long shots of his expression as he deliberates, is incredible, and the shot in which we see his Dragunov sink into the clear water when he is done with it is one of the most gorgeous shots ever to appear on film. The influence of The Killer on later films is also incredible - not only with so many mimicking its gunplay (jumping through the air firing in slow motion is pretty well a staple of the action genre these days), but with some of the more subtle influences. For example, the scene in which Fung goes to get Ah Jong's money from the Triad leader, and endures a merciless beating whilst still fighting back with incredible determination was obviously on Tony Scott's mind when he shot the scene in True Romance in which James Gandolfini beats Patricia Arquette. Hell, even the music is similar. And that's not the only thing to be taken from this film (though admittedly, it is probably the greatest reinventing of a piece of this movie).

This one's probably easier to masturbate to as well...

The Killer managed to take the Hong Kong film industry, up to that point only really famous for camp action comedies like "Jackie Chan's Police Story", and turn it into a serious rival for Hollywood. It's telling that even now, 22 years later, there still hasn't been a film from across the Channel which can rival the intensity of The Killer, and the fact that it rose to such prominence in the film industry even in the days before it had accurate subtitles, gives further credence to what I have been saying. The ending is so incredible, and so bleak, that I can't imagine it ever making its way into an American movie - and yet there was no other way to end the film. Woo's vision was perfect.

Unlike Jennie's. Amirite?

So, even on the second watch, I would have to say that The Killer is one of my favourite action movies of all time, and deserves the recognition that it rightly gets.



5 Stars

The influence of this film has been incredible - stretching from Leon (ranked #32 on IMDB's Top 250 list), to Rodriguez's work (Antonio Banderas kicking off and sliding along the floor whilst shooting a man coming toward him with two pistols having been duplicated exactly from a shot in the cathedral scene in The Killer), and through to True Romance as mentioned above (one of my favourite movies). But, it isn't just a great movie technically, either - it is a genuinely engrossing, thrilling and touching story, which goes far beyond what you would expect from an action movie, and is so breath taking at times each copy should come with a free oxygen mask. It is cool, and stylish, yet emotional, and heartfelt. It dances across genres with ease, whilst keeping its feet clearly routed in the action. And the dialogue, with the correct translations, is also pretty incredible. If you haven't seen this movie already, do so now, because I promise you won't regret it. I picked up a copy for £3.85, and all three hundred and eighty-five pence of that was well spent.

By the way, did I mention I'm friends with one of Chow Yun Fat's nephews?