Ford V Ferrari (2019) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes.

Director: James Mangold.

Stars: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Noah Jupe, Josh Lucas & Tracy Letts.

Review by Damocles.

A movie that finally captures what racing is all about.

As a fanatic gearhead and a fan of James Mangold’s work, I have only heard positive things from both the car and film community.

So my expectations were high going in.

It is safe to say that this might be my favourite car movie of all time.

The racing, the story and all the elements of the film coalesced perfectly together in harmony.

There is an old-school vibe to the film, in particular with how little CGI there is and the simplicity of the story.

The footage captured has a particular focus to detail that rewards re-watches. The sound design in particular is excellent, really emphasizing every shift, and roar of these beautiful machines that continue to inspire petrol-heads everywhere.

But it is the masculinity that runs through this film that really sold me. James Mangold is one of those directors who seem to know how to inject the right amount of masculinity into all of his films. The characters that he brings to life in all of his films are always nuanced, flawed yet brilliantly realised.

In a film about motor-racing, it is hard to deny that this is a very male film. After all, it is said that petrol runs in every man’s blood. There is something about the combination of smell, touch, machinery, and untapped potential in any man’s car that lights you up from the inside when you steer or put the pedal down.

Even the most evasive non-motoring man cannot deny the thrill one gets, when you put the pedal down.

This film captures that adrenaline rush perfectly, as well as the strange floating sensation when you soar above “7000rpm.” It is a feeling that can only be described as man and machine, fused as one.

I wanted to highlight this element, because Mangold has made a career out of depicting male characters on screen, from his earliest hits like 3:10 to Yuma (2007) to his latest critical hit Logan (2017). In so many of his films, he explores the meaning of what it means to be a man, and the many different battles a man need to tackle in his life.

In Ford v Ferrari, the story isn’t as focused on the actual battle between the two motoring giants waging war on the racetrack of the 24hrs Le Mans.

The story is more keenly focused on the relationship between Caroll Shelby and Ken Miles, and their battle against corporate interference and each other. Their fun dynamic is what truly sells the film, and much like the relationship depicted between Charles Xavier and Logan, it is the heart of the film. The emotional scenes are gripping, because you are invested in the characters and their struggles within and outside of themselves.

This emotional resonance then carries over to the racing, and only serves to heighten the win and the exhilaration as you feel that to these men, racing isn’t just a matter of turning a wheel, it is truly about pushing yourself to the absolute limit and triumphing beyond those very limits.

While there is plenty of depth to the story, (corporate America, family sacrifices, a new era of American motoring, etc) the simplicity of it all boils down to the underdogs beating the odds, is what makes the film so much fun to watch.

That the film is an original IP, and is shot in a way that utilises natural lighting, and real cars speeding across roads only serves to enhance the viewing experience. In a world where there is clearly too much superhero and computer graphic imagery, watching Ford v Ferrari is like a breath of fresh air.

There isn’t a world at stake here. There isn’t some moustache-twirling villain who summons a blue sky beam. There aren’t scenes where the actors aren’t sure how to behave before a man in a green suit with a tennis ball above his head.

James Mangold took the time to run the actual cars at break-neck speed just so that his actors and extras can follow the cars and experience the thrill, whilst replicating period-accurate clothing, hair-styles and sensibilities.

There is a scene I remember, where you see all these iconic blue COBRA shirts worn by the pit crew bumping into each other, just to get a closer look at the cars, racing across the finish straight and you can clearly see that those are real cars being driven across the track, just to get that shot right.

You won’t see that anywhere in a large-scale Marvel or DC film. The cars would be CG’ed in, the actors would have dots on their bodies and there would be a sense of disbelief in what you are seeing.

It is those small details and efforts that make the film such a fun experience and really sells you the racing.

I would also like to compliment the maverick attitude that both Damon and Bale encapsulate about racers. Their performances perfectly match the outlooks that all racers possess regardless of which era they are born in. The competitiveness, the obsession with chasing perfect laps, the courage to push limits beyond safety … these are all traits that all racers are born with, no matter what car they race.

I’ve mentioned the period-accurate clothing, and would like to give praise to the costume designers for ensuring that every man at the race track is equipped with the coolest sunglasses available. Racers, Engineers, Team Principals … it is a necessity to possess a pair of sunglasses whilst racing. Something of an unspoken rule.

Moving onto the more technical elements of the film, I was struck by the continual collaboration between James Mangold and his cinematographer Phedon Papamichael with their use of natural lighting and seamless blending of thrilling moments in-race. There is 60-40 balance of Bale’s performance behind the wheel, as there is on-track action and for a race-car film, that is the perfect mix.

After all, if I wanted to see racing, I would go watch my precious Formula 1 or World RX.

This is, first and foremost, a film, where character is the key component why I am watching. I am also here to see shots of the cars that would not be possible in normal racing live coverage. To my immense satisfaction, the stunts and the shots are all beautifully non CG’ed and there are so many moments in the film that had me smiling as I could see where Papamichael could convey speed and emotion in one frame perfectly, whilst highlighting the beauty of the scenery and machine.

The cinematography never arrests you in the film and tries to convey some epic vista. Instead it seamlessly blends into the story, with emotional moments being enhanced by the excellent visuals, such as Ken Miles’ talk with his son about the perfect lap. It creates a seamless viewing experience that doesn’t outshine the rest of the film.

Equally understated but coming in strong at key moments was the score by Marco Beltrami & Buck Sanders. Beltrami is another long-time collaborator for James Mangold, with Ford v Ferrari marking their 4th time working together. It is the theme song, Le Mans 66 that really sells the beauty, drama and thrill of racing. I really appreciate having a theme song that is purely about the sensation of racing, instead of the “cool” elements of racing as seen in other car franchises like Fast & Furious.

Beltrami’s work throughout the film is consistently soulful and quiet, coming in strong when it needs to, before taking a softer note to the roar of an engine. Again, this is precisely what petrolheads like myself love and Mangold’s direction must be credited for the sound design of this film.

Ford v Ferrari is a film that struck me as fun at first, but upon re-viewings, I’ve come to appreciate more just how rare it is to get a film like this. This is a film, that isn’t trying to be a franchise, depicting real characters, a real race, real cars, real drama and is all based upon strong acting performances and the idea that you want to root for the underdog.

This is so rare in today’s world of Hollywood productions. In a lot of ways, Ford v Ferrari is definitive of the story it represents … a maverick, trying to beat an increasingly corporate approach to a creative industry.

So even for non gearheads, this is a film that you can enjoy.

I hope there are more films like these in the works. Less CGI, more real characters and real props please. I think the world needs more films like these than the cookie-cutter stuff that has saturated the market so much recently.

On a side-note, I may be a diehard tifosi but even in this race, I was cheering for Ford to win over my beloved Scuderia.

Because at the end of the day, no matter what team you go for, you just want to see a damn good race and for a good race to happen, it got to be close.

And Ford V Ferrari delivered exactly that.

A good race.

A scene to recall: Whenever Mangold allows the actors to deliver their lines in natural light. Whenever the cars get those glory shots through a corner. Whenever the LeMans race heats up. Whenever …. the movie is good … you get the idea. It’s a racer’s wet dream.

The Suicide Squad (2021) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes.

Director: James Gunn

Stars: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Viola Davis, Peter Capaldi & Sylvester Stallone.

Review by Damocles.

This is pure unadulterated James Gunn and it’s damn cool that he gets to do the film he wants to, on a big budget, without any restrictions.

Can James Gunn do no wrong?

The Suicide Squad is very much a reaction to the original Suicide Squad (2016). It possesses many of the same elements, from an eclectic mix of pop songs, an army of disposable minions, gratuitous violence and CG and a colourful palette of colours for the film’s visuals.

The irony of it all, is that the Suicide Squad in 2016 was a reaction to Gunn’s work on The Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).

And now, the director has come to showcase what he is capable of with no studio interference.

The result is a fun, touching, violent and zany film that takes full advantage of its premise.

It is genuinely surprising how much Gunn studied the original film and decided to put things right, with his signature style and bombast.

The songs were no longer random and a dime-a-dozen-cuts but instead seamlessly suited the scenes. The villain at the end of the film, had a strange depth to it, and there is a legitimate reason why there is an army of disposable henchmen for our heroes to fight.

The film is bright, colourful and well-lit, in contrast to the original dark, gritty palette. Characters are only introduced once, but with the same style of seeing them twice, as happened in the first film. In addition, the roster of heroes actually have depth and soul, with surprisingly touching scenes of drama for their backstory.

Then there are the actual selection of heroes, who actually perish often enough to warrant the word Suicide in Suicide Squad. Their costumes are a source of visual delight, unlike the first film and all their abilities complement each other, with the team actually working together well.

I mean, there is even the equivalent of the bar scene from the first film, that is echoed here, but fleshed out properly …

In many ways, I managed to draw a strange parallel to Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker because it felt like the director was reacting to a lot of the problems seen in the previous film, only here, it was done much better and with a film-maker who knows how to have fun with the material given to him.

How else would you explain the choices of D-List super-villains like the completely unknown Bloodsport or Polka Dot Man?

This is what James Gunn excels at, making the bottom-of-the-barrel characters become house-hold names. He instinctively understand their tragic back-story and doesn’t cheapen them, but humanise them where he can and poke fun at them when he can’t.

The pacing in the film is excellent, with much of the plot moving along at a cracking pace, emphasized beautifully with creative and extravagant chapter titles. Not once in the film did I feel the length of the film, with a lot of the characters getting their moment to shine both from an action and emotional standpoint.

The film was also aided by humour that land well and never distract from the characters or plot. In particular, I loved the way how Gunn knew how to twist his humour and violence together that made for excellent comedic moments during heavy action sequences.

From a cinematography perspective, this film might be the most James Gunn experience that has ever been given a 100 million budget. The mise-en-scene is graphic, colourful and has standout comic book moments that make you marvel at how beautifully Gunn frames this film.

During action sequences, the film has an energy behind the camera that emphasizes the gruesome kills as well as how ludicrous they can be. Harley Quinn’s solo fight in particular, have a certain pizazz to them that makes for both visually pleasing and psychologically insightful viewing.

In so many scenes, Gunn loved being creative with his shots, even with simpler flashback sequences. Bus windows became mirrors to the past, toilet seats being scrubbed down with soap was an opportunity for amusing text and 360 pans became punchlines for jokes. There are so many fun tweaks that Gunn put in the film and only showcases his talent as a film-maker and interpreter for these characters.

I particularly loved how they interpreted Bloodshot’s comic ability to teleport weapons to his person, as modular nanotechnology that makes a bigger stick to go boom. The costume of Bloodsport, has one of the coolest masks I’ve seen on film.

But of equal noteworthiness was John Cena’s Peacemaker, whose goofy costume only served to enhance the sheer size of the man himself. There is a hilarious comic-book strong-man vibe to Peacemaker that always made me smile when I saw him on screen. John Cena is finally allowed to be the huge, muscular goof-ball on screen and it is refreshing to see a director acknowledge his talent and natural comic timing.

I must also give a mention to Polka Dot Man, whose worn, lame and affectionate suit will always bring out a smile. He is such a bedraggled character, but he is perfectly portrayed in this film and played with aplomb.

As with many Gunn films, the mixtape used to punctuate key moments in this film is excellent. It ranges from old school rock’n’roll to modern pop-synth and it blends seamlessly with the visuals. Even thought John Murphy’s score is taking a back-seat to Gunn’s soundtrack, it is there enough to accompany the scene well and ramps up appropriately enough to steal moments like Harley & Javelin or the big fight at the end.

Perhaps where the score worked best though, were the scenes between Ratcatcher 2 and her father, with both actors putting in excellent performances to flesh out the emotional heart of the film. At the end of the day, it is Ratcatcher’s story that reflects the theme of the Suicide Squad and how they can all be greater, despite their lowly status.

Overall, The Suicide Squad is a fun, creative romp that shows that the DCEU is on an upward trend. Film-makers are allowed to make their chosen IP their own, like James Wan’s Aquaman, Todd Phillips’ Joker and David F. Sandberg’s Shazam!

This is such a refreshing attitude of trust granted to these talented directors and I think that these films now have the power to rival Marvel’s output.

It will be interesting to see how much DC’s growth can continue after the reception to The Suicide Squad.

Fun, ridiculous, subversive and a little bit grind-house, The Suicide Squad is James Gunn at his best and is a fiendishly good film to while away lockdown hours.

A scene to recall: When the squad infiltrates the camp in the forest and they’re showcasing their powers … that was old-fashioned jungle camp massacre, and I thoroughly enjoyed it for the throwback it was.

F9 – The Fast Saga (2021) – Cinema Review

Y/N? No

Director: Justin Lin

Stars: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, John Cena, Sung Kang, Charlize Theron & John Cena.

Review by Damocles

Why didn’t they end this on 7?

One of the big things you should be aware about me, as a film reviewer, is that I am a Fast & Furious apologist.

Having grown up with the series, F&F to me, hold the same level of reverence in my heart, as Star Wars, Star Trek, the Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy, Drew/Lucy/Cameron’s Charlie’s Angels and Michael Bay’s Bad Boys.

If that isn’t a clue, as to what a 90s poster-child I am, I don’t know what is.

Thus, it is difficult for my mind to wrap around watching a bad F&F installment.

Granted, this film is still more fun than most, but when compared to previous entries in this huge franchise, it is probably one of the weakest, if not the weakest.

How is that the case though? They have the zaniest car chase through the jungle … there are magnets flipping cars, zip-lining assassins and they go to space.

The question, that I have always asked my action films, is so what? If I don’t care about the characters, then none of this means shit.

And much like the franchise, a lot of the characters are a little washed out.

The core issue plaguing this film, are the retcons.

From the introduction of Dom’s mystery brother, Jakob to the resurrection of Han, there are just too many revisions to the existing lore, that don’t really get the proper explanation as to why they occur or how they happen.

As such, a lot of the big emotional moments end up feeling hollow and unearned.

John Cena’s Jakob was wasted, considering his massive presence and normally excellent charisma. As Dom’s brother, there were many ramifications to his actual appearance, but none of them were truly touched upon in a meaningful way. The flashbacks that set up the divide between Dom and Jakob lack proper emotional nuance and his eventual turn to family is becoming a far too predictable trope in this franchise.

In addition, there wasn’t enough oomph to his actual abilities, as normally seen with the previous antagonists. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) was a consistent menace to the team, throughout the entirety of Furious 7. His younger brother, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) had the incredible flip car and Cipher’s (Charlize Theron) hacking wizardry and atrocious hair-style really sold her character as someone to despise for the big bad of the entire franchise.

But what is there to Jakob? There simply weren’t enough scenes where he and Dom went head to head, much like we were promised in Fast Five, between Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Dom. Not seeing enough fight scenes between them, meant that there was little to care about when it came to Jakob.

In addition, his lackey, Otto, was merely there as a plot convenience to explain Jakob’s eventual turn and to insert bizarre Star Wars dialogue, which was so incredibly left-field that it warranted a lot of questions towards the script-writers.

The strange wordplay was a consistent issue throughout the entire film, from Roman’s observation about his supposed invincibility, which was an immersion breaker, rather than an amusing joke, to Ramsey’s literal techno-babble that reduced her character rather than add any dimension.

F9 might also be responsible for creating another buzzword, heart, with its’ consistently non-subtle father-son moments that were more preachy than touching.

So much of the film lacked the heartfelt dialogue between characters that solidified their connections as seen in previous films, which I suppose is an apt analogy considering how corporate these films have become, with their departure from humble modded import/muscle cars to only displaying exotics on screen.

It should also be noted that the usual F&F cinematography has also been toned down massively, with less glory shots of the cars set to the bass of throbbing electronic rap and the iconic tight dresses and arses shots removed.

These changes make F9 seem like it is a bit ashamed of its’ own history and I found myself missing what made this franchise memorable, and wincing at the CG mess I was witnessing on screen. It did not help that the songs chosen for this film, did not quite seem the usual fun rap/street mix-tape, which normally suit the visuals perfectly, but for some odd reason, lack a je ne sais quoi.

F9’s score also shows how much Brian Tyler is struggling to reinvent his work for the franchise, with a lot of the soundtrack going unnoticed throughout the film, which is a shame, as I believe his best work was in Furious 7, a bombastic score that really emphasised the action well. Here in F9, beyond the common motifs heard in the previous films, there is very little in way of original songs.

Overall, F9 suffers from a lot of stop-starts, with a lot of flashbacks that could have been condensed into one scene and a weak antagonist that doesn’t really contribute heavily to the lore. Having swapped the laws of physics for metahuman abilities inspired by family, I do not have any real issue with the bombastic action set pieces, but I do miss the touching emotional moments to anchor these crazier moments.

Much like other franchises that have gone on for too long, I wish companies would learn when is a natural ending point for these beloved characters and this one, should have concluded with the passing of Paul Walker, in Furious 7.

A scene to recall: When they actually raced cars. Somehow it got me nostalgic ….just seeing 2 muscle cars go head to head on the actual streets of LA, to the beat of Prodigy’s techno made me miss the old F&F.

The Death of Stalin (2017) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes.

Director: Armando Iannucci

Stars: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Andrew Riseborough, Michael Palin, Olga Kurylenko & Adrian McLoughlin.

Review by Damocles

Ensemble Cast, Dark Comedy & Modern Historical Setting? This film never puts a single foot wrong.

A rather avid student of history, particularly the modern era, the moment I saw the trailer for this film, I knew I was going to like it.

The Death of Stalin, is a darkly comedic film, that centres around the actions of Stalin’s Committee directly in the aftermath of his death. What ensues is a scathing political dissection of the power struggle that opens after Stalin’s death and an insight into the anxiety that all Russian citizens felt under Stalin’s thumb in the 1950s.

What I particularly liked about this film, was its’ ability to balance something as horrific as Stalinism with darkly comedic dialogue that relies heavily on the strength of the actors’ skills and delivery.

This is a film that doesn’t rely on strong cinematography, nor score, nor costume design, but instead is a pure actor’s film. The Death of Stalin created an environment where the stars are truly allowed to perform and outshine every other element of a film.

None of the cast bothered to try to do a Russian accent, a fact that is now lauded for adding extra comedic value to the film, especially when the dialogue is contrasted with the extremely Soviet sets and accurate uniforms. None of the cast even really look that Russian. But they are all having immense fun on-screen and it is a joy to watch them perform and bring some type of bizarre humanity to these inhuman monsters that history remember them as.

Every single member of the cast, from Jeffrey Tambor’s snivelling and indecisive take on Georgy Malenkov, to Jason Isaacs’ scene stealing turn as the brash and supremely confident Georgy Zhukov, brought their A-game.

But it is the interplay between the unscrupulous and despicable Simon Russell Beale as Laventiy Beria and the more reasonable but still sinister Steve Buscemi’s Nikita Khrushchev that really creates the film.

Watching these two great actors scheme, plot and slowly develop their characters more and more, as the situation deteriorated was one of the best parts of this film. Much of the film is a showcase about how both men crave the top seat and will do anything to appear genuine and kind-hearted to those who will support them, only to turn on them viciously, moments later when the time is right.

It is this irony that supplies so much of the humour in the film, with both men desperate for power and control over the lesser minds of the committee, resorting to schemes and moves that mirror each other’s low tactics amidst this power vacuum.

I found myself laughing uproariously at some of the ridiculousness of the dialogue that is laden with profanities. So much of it, was bickering and humorous situational observations that seem ridiculous and ludicrous given the extreme nature of the scenario.

Then, moments later, I would be aghast how the cruel nature of the Soviet machine at work, and the depravity showcases by these men in power, and their tone-deaf approach to the situation.

It is this delicate balancing act, of humour and horror that really creates the unique tone of the film.

From a cinematography perspective, the film is shot in a primarily documentary format, with a lot of wonderful fly on the wall attributes that add to the hilarity and shock of what is happening on screen. There is nothing particularly note-worthy though, beyond glory shots of set dressing and surprisingly faithful recreations of Soviet era buildings.

As for the score, there is again, little to really discuss there, with appropriately styled Soviet-esque music playing in the background and always just there to emphasis certain dramatic points. Christopher Willis’ work never soared by the scenes enough to distract, which I personally believe to be a wise move, considering the documentary style that Armando Iannucci chose.

Overall, I had a great time watching an ensemble cast act, plot, connive and bring some humourous humanity to some of history’s greatest evil apparatchik. The film moves along at a great pace, and never overstays it welcome.

As fictional retelling of historical events go … this one is as fun as it gets.

A scene to recall: The glorious slow-motion entrance of Jason Isaac’s Field Marshal Zhukov, as befitting this war hero. What a man.

Apparently, the director had to tone down the sheer number of medals on Zhukov’s chest, because in reality he fielded a lot more on his chest. Reading the career of Field Marshal Zhukov is like realising this man is essentially a Russian Caesar, without the political ambitions.

Rurouni Kenshin: The Final (2021) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes.

Director: Keishi Otomo

Stars: Takeru Satoh, Emi Takei, Mackenyu Arata, Yosuke Eguchi, Munetaka Aoki & Yu Aoi

Review by Damocles

I think I liked it? But then I’m such a huge fan so this bias is probably clouding my judgement.

Let’s just get one thing very clear …. Rurouni Kenshin has had a substantial impact on me through my more troubled years and I won’t deny the fact that I have a huge blind spot for this series. So expect this review to be forgiving.

That said, my cynical and critical side is always active, so maybe I will be a tiny bit balanced.

One of the biggest issues with the Rurouni Kenshin series, is the fact that it is notoriously good if you know the source material (the original 90s anime, the manga and the darker OVAs) and incredibly difficult to appreciate if you know nothing about it.

In fact, whenever I recommend this series, I always hesitate because those who are unaware of the source material will probably take very little from it, beyond an appreciation for the potential high budget Japanese action cinema has, if harnessed properly and how evocative the score is.

Those same people will also have their appreciation be sharply balanced by the fact that live action anime costumes look ridiculous, as does hair and styling and there is a bit too much melodramatic expository dialogue.

Not to mention there are far too many damnable flashbacks.

But for the fans, like myself, this film was an excellent interpretation of Kenshin’s final arc and the primary reason why we chose to watch the film: the fight sequences, did not disappoint at all.

Regardless of what type of viewer you are, the Rurouni Kenshin series have always excelled at their incredible camerawork and choreography, with some truly imaginative swordplay and action that pushes the limit of what stunt-work can create.

The films have always beautifully crossed the line between realism and fantasy, with the cinematography to match such graceful and deadly stunt work. If there is a reason to watch this film, it is the final action sequence, which arguably puts a lot of the previous sword-fights to shame.

But does the plot work as well to heighten the action?

This is where Rurouni Kenshin’s falters, as die-hard fans such as myself will find the plot adequate, but remarkably slow paced and casual viewers will find themselves checking out, due to the lack of context in which a lot of the expository dialogue is delivered and an under-appreciation for the emotional stakes.

Rurouni Kenshin: The Final’s weak plot highlights the unique challenge in which a lot of anime/manga adaptations must face, when translating a huge story arc into a condensed 2 hour viewing experience. In fact, it more than showcases the challenge, it actively falls into the typical Japanese trappings that plague their normal story-telling style.

  • An over-reliance on flashbacks, that often condense too much in their sequences, without any real stakes established and clear indications of the characters’ (in the flashback) importance.
  • Insufficient development for a lot of character’s motivations, with singular lines that somehow are meant to justify entire betrayals and fight scenes.
  • Too many scenes that showcase a character’s anguish but doesn’t quite seem to delve further into their actual motivation or development.
  • Side characters that are more or less fan service elements than actual people that populate the world of the film.
  • Dialogue that is inherently too Japanese in their interpretation.

To touch further on that, what I deem as excessively Japanese is scripting that requires a lot of viewer’s interpretation and reading between the lines to understand motivations. This is a very short-hand story technique that is common across many Japanese narrative styles, and it was a skill I had to hone after reading the entire breadth of Haruki Murakami’s works all in English.

A lot of the phrases and dialogue in this film will sound natural to Japanese viewers, but will definitely confuse those who are unfamiliar with how Japanese to English is translated and the short cuts in speech the film-makers are employing to inject emotional stakes.

If these elements alienate or detract from your film experience, that is completely understandable

However, it did not affect my own experience as I have come to expect such flaws and narrative quirks, especially in this series. This film did not do any more or less than what I have seen previously in the context of their story-telling.

That being said, there were a lot of backtracking that I thought was unnecessary and padded out the run time longer than it needed to. Many flashbacks repeated lines that I thought were not in need of repeating.

From a more technical standpoint, Rurouni Kenshin: The Final ramps up the cinematography with better shot compositions, more plays on weather conditions and evocative use of slow motion. There are many scenes that stand-out visually, from hot-air balloons over a burning Tokyo, to footage of Rurouni Kenshin performing parkour moves that highlight his speed and agility in a incredibly detailed set.

To highlight the film from a costuming perspective, all the characters, with the exception of the villain, are garbed beautifully in traditional clothing with easter eggs that hint at the anime origins of the characters, like Aoshi’s hint of blue in his dark hair. Kenshin’s wardrobe in particular is extraordinary, with a lot of beautiful subdued colours that highlight the natural lines of the kimono and accent his dark wood scabbard. The final outfits of Kenshin and Kaoru really showcase how rich and layered traditional Japanese clothing can be, and might be one of my favourite pairing of colours on screen this year.

The only issue perhaps is the villain himself, whose outfits are just a bit too outlandish for the period setting and have a strange anachronistic feel to them, in contrast to the traditional outfits on display. In particular the bright orange costume jarred too much with the background, and proved more distracting than fashionable.

Naoki Sato’s score does not delve too much into new territory, with the film soundtrack resembling’s his greatest hits from the previous 3 films. There are just enough new melodies and throwbacks to the series’ strongest themes that overall, create a still pleasing soundscape. I have always love how traditional yet modern the score are in Rurouni Kenshin and this film is no different.

Overall, Rurouni Kenshin: The Final is a decent swan-song to a series that has highlighted the heights and lows of anime/manga to film adaptations.

These films aren’t perfect and will still fall prey to a lot of stereotypical Japanese story-telling problems that can alienate casual viewers but the series has proved that with the right source material, such adaptations can capture the flamboyance of animation without sacrificing realistic settings and still innovate action cinema to another level.

A scene to recall: The film has a lot of attractive shots, that had me pausing. But it was this one that I really liked, with the rain coming in just so with perfect timing. Nothing quite captures moodiness like Japanese forests and traditional garb.

Wrath of Man (2021) – Cinema Review

Y/N? No.

Director: Guy Ritchie

Stars: Jason Statham, Holy McCallany, Josh Hartnett, Jeffrey Donovan, Scott Eastwood and Niamh Algar

Review by Damocles

Guy Ritchie … just film only in Britain please.

It is often the case that the American who goes to Europe, is the one who sticks out like a sore thumb. To quote an infamous character, I was a dumb American, in a place where dumb Americans are less popular than the clap.

However, I feel with Guy Ritchie, it is the other way around. He is this cockney lad, feeling and looking decidedly out of place, whose witticisms, fast-paced dialogue and British sensibilities just don’t mesh with the simpler American values and customs.

This contrast, is clearly reflected in the film, where we follow “H” as he works undercover in a security company to uncover the mystery of who was behind the murder of his son. If you find a lack of mention being granted to secondary characters or antagonists, then that is deliberate, as all of them suffer from real depth.

The story is simple enough, but it lacks the more direct formula of the initial John Wick film.

In the first John Wick film, there is a focus at the very beginning of the film to establish the emotional stakes and the grief that Wick himself is experiencing., Thus the loss of his dog, expounds upon his sorrow and causes him to lash out at the NYC Russian Mob. A clear villain is established in the pairing of Iosef and Viggo and there are a lot of scenes to establish their characters and the obstacles that Wick himself need to clear to achieve his revenge.

In Wrath of Man, there are simply not enough emotional scenes to establish the motivation of H, nor to the villains. If anything, this film takes too many liberties with time, pacing and poor devotions to scene that don’t really pay off in any meaningful way.

I also fail to see how H’s British nature really lend any meaningful story contributions, which is where I felt Ritchie’s natural cockney leanings were completely out of place with the setting of the film.

Of particular criticism is the lack of Ritchie’s signature flair in the film. So many scenes were lacking his usual energy and vibe and many I felt spent too long on strange elements of H’s actions (not his character) that never necessitated anything to the overall plot of revenge.

There are just so many scenes dedicated to establishing what a “dark spirit” H’s character was, but they never truly pay off. Instead they serve to undermine a character who doesn’t seem to emote, react in any way or speak. This is in stark contrast to a character like John Wick, who does behave stoically, but there are scenes with him, in private, where he displays raw emotions.

H, on the other hand, is repeatedly referred to by other characters as a dark spirit, but is never really shown to be one. He has a moral code, and is repeatedly shown as a relatively dull anti-hero.

In particular, the way how the film handled the actual villains of the story was very poor, which so little scenes dedicated to them and I particularly felt their introduction was very weak as they were randomly introduced half way through the film. There was so-so Richtie-esque ribbing in the dialogue, but it never set them up as anything meaningful. In addition, the story of the “turncoat” was so obvious, that the reveal meant very little in the end.

In regards to the cinematography, it was remarkably average, with a big nose-dive in the action sequences. Statham looked like he had very little to do, beyond holding the gun out with one hand and shooting with comical precision. Whilst I am sure, to some, it made him seem badass, to me, it looked so lazy instead, like the stakes weren’t high enough and the goons were so, lacklustre in their competence that they simply get shot on the spot.

So many action sequences went by in a blur of boredom, with gunfights ending predictably and in boring fashion. Something about the rhythm, choreography and the way how they were filmed, felt very flat, lacking the usual energy of Richtie’s earlier works.

The few saving graces of this film lie in 2 barely acknowledged departments of film, sound and costume design.

The score is excellent. Composed by Chris Benstead who collaborated with Guy Ritchie on The Gentlemen (2019), this score is brooding and moody in all the right ways, with an excellent remix of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. It elevates the film more than it should, an effect I like to describe of as the “Prequel Score“, in which John William’s incredible score did so much heavy lifting, that the actual film, seen in the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, seem a lot more epic than it actually is.

Benstead does the exact same thing, with a lot of scenes, despite how flat and uninteresting they are, elevated in atmosphere by the score. The film has a dark tonality throughout, maintained mostly by Benstead’s excellent work. There is a beautiful cello melody that truly boost the vibe and it should be said that all the scenes I liked the most, was when the score was at its height.

The second element I wanted to praise was the costume design. In what I suspect, is a heavy influence from himself and his famous Victoria Secret Angel wife, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, H’s outfits in the film are fashion-forward and timeless, with a lot of excellent casual wear and beautifully layered outfits that work both casually and formally.

I was struck by the wide breadth of costumes that H employs, from his well tailored shawl collar cardigan, to his loafers, Statham legitimately looked like he picked most of his outfits from his personal wardrobe, and should have every reason to, as he is often short-listed on GQ’s Best Dressed lists for his timeless tailoring and choices.

Perhaps this is an odd thing to praise, but it is not often that I see such a wide variety in looks, tailoring and styles on one character and I thought Statham was particularly dressed well, in comparison to his compatriots.

To sum up, Wrath of Man had me stretching to find positives in a thoroughly underwhelming viewing experience. Its’ key issues lie with a proper focus on the emotional resonance of the protagonists and antagonists actions and lacklustre action sequences that provide nothing unique nor inventive.

I would also like to mention that the set of the security company was used so often, I wondered if COVID-19 affected the filming, schedule and budget, as it seems overly-used for many of the scenes, and thus lent a vague “cheap” vibe to the overall film.

If I had to really sum up, I found this film sadly disappointing, considering I have followed Ritchie’s career for so long and with great pleasure, from his more mediocre fare like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and Aladdin (2019) to Sherlock Holmes (2009) and RocknRolla (2008).

It is just sad, that this is probably the worst out of his filmography.

A scene to recall: The only scene where I felt vaguely something and that is because the mixture of blood, bullets and a big fuck-off gun, the G36K is a cool combo.

Boom, Boom, Boom … and yet …. I felt nothing.

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse (2021) – Cinema Review

Y/N? No.

Director: Stefano Solima

Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith & Guy Pearce.

Review by Damocles.

Please stop giving military action thrillers a bad name with piss-poor entries like this.

Placed in developmental hell for years, Without Remorse more or less fizzle as badly as its explosions on screen.

Watching this film, I was given a keen sense of deja vu regarding one of my earliest attempts at writing film critiques, American Assassin back in 2017 for my burgeoning journalism career in university.

When I watched American Assassin, I was able to predict many of the plot twists, lines and action beats with eerie ease. I had read the source material, and was majorly disappointed with how much they had diverged from the original novel, and how the screenwriters had butchered the original premise which made the book and story so compelling.

In addition, as a keen military researcher and avid shooting fan, I was more or less assaulted with feelings of incredulous disbelief and anger at how wrong a lot of the military advice and equipment were presented in that film.

Without Remorse manages to outdo the feelings I had whilst watching American Assassin and insult the military/espionage thriller genre even further than that film ever did.

Both films suffer from what I call the Call of Duty syndrome, where a lot of the cool moments and action plays out like a sequence in the titular video game series and it is not compelling viewing. I mean, there is even a moment where the main character, John Kelly, shoots a red barrel and it explodes, wounding the enemies around it.

Let that sink in for a second … we have a film where a red barrel explodes.

The video game comparison does not end there however, as this film was co-written by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples. Sheridan, a man I thought I could trust, especially after his Frontier trilogy, had stirred me back to the reality where even the greats can fall. But it is Will Staples, that I wish to focus on, because there are a lot of moments that truly echo his previous work on the weakest link in the Modern Warfare trilogy …. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

The plane sequence depicted in the film, echo a lot of the Russian hijacking mission in MW3, as did a lot of the action where our titular heroes seem impervious to gunfire and can shoot with pinpoint accuracy. You can read below in the “MILITARY NITPICKING” for more details on this element. However, spoilers are there, so be forewarned!

I found myself thoroughly underwhelmed by the violence depicted in this film. The PG-13 rating was a terrible mistake, considering this is not the type of film that would be marketed towards children in the first place and a lot more enjoyment would be had if there were proper blood effects in the film. Much of the action sequences were filmed very flatly, without any real energy behind the camera and a lot of the geography and choreography of a fight sequence was confusing or uninspired.

At least in American Assassin there was a lot of blood being sprayed everywhere and some proper gruesome kills.

What made the action even more disenchanting was how “inaccurate” a lot of the military movements on display were. I am not particularly highlighting the tactics and weapon handling (more on that in the section below), but more the way how enemies couldn’t seem to shoot straight, despite only being 5 metres apart, the lack of gunfire actually being employed, and the overall sound design and choreography.

This lends the film a very cheap feel with a lot of the explosions looking flat, the sets equally dull and some of the larger CGI landscapes suffering from a strange uncanny valley feeling. Contrast this to the surprise hit of Extraction (2020) which was filmed on a shoestring budget of 65 million USD, there is a noticeable difference in how a talented director can bring a heightened fun to the film, in spite of limitations, like only being able to use airsoft guns and having to CG all the muzzle flashes and blood. Extraction surpassed expectations by being kinetic in its’ camerawork, starring a more charismatic performance, and creating a more compelling narrative.

Yes, both films have a strange colour tint to it, can look cheap at times, and cast extraordinarily handsome leads but when you compare the two films, you can see how one film is truly trying and the other is just being trying.

However I have waxed lyrical enough about comparing Without Remorse to other similar films on giant streaming platforms. What of the characters, the plot, and the music?

The plot is as generic as it can get, with a lot of film being spoiled in the actual trailers being released. I found the hook regarding the set-up between Russia and the U.S. more compelling than the emotional angle, which is precisely the element that tends to drive the Tom Clancy’s universe. But neither were done particularly well to elevate the film to anything.

The characters are arguably the worst part of the film, with so many thin sketches of characters that it seems almost laughable at how many poor decisions and lines were given to them. Michael B. Jordan does what he can with the material given to him, but not even his natural charisma elevate his character beyond anything but a dull military man obsessed with revenge and somehow being the only one able to piece the puzzle together.

Other characters are given zero arcs and many of them are as forgettable as they come, with no real attempts being made to actually give them time to breathe, emote and play a more compelling part in the narrative.

To care about the action on-screen, is to care about the characters. That is one of the fundamental rules of action cinema.

This film blatantly ignores this film and only sets up the thinnest of lines for secondary characters to off them a few moments later.

I found the performance of Jodie Turner-Smith’s to be particularly stiff. I am still very puzzled as to why she was included in the film, but then her casting as Karen Greer, a inverse female replacement for the venerable “James Greer” never sat well with me, and I was admittedly taken out of the film by the inclusion of a female U.S. Navy SEAL. It did little to help the cause when she barely emoted throughout the film, nor show any signs of actually changing throughout the film.

To clarify, I don’t have an issue with the concept of a female special forces operator, I just wished it was handled better in fiction and reality. An all-female special forces unit, named something else other than SEAL would be just as combat-effective in the right context, but I dislike the idea of lowering BUD/s to accommodate for female operators.

Men and Women are different. There is nothing wrong with that. It should be celebrated that women can do things men can’t and vice versa. Both have their place on the battlefield, just applied in different ways and in different arenas.

Finally, we come to the score by Jonsi.

It can be summed up as “forgettable”. I wished a more talented composer like Ramin Djawadi did work on this film, as his compositions on the short-lived series, Medal of Honor (2010) is actually the perfect contemporary military music for the current era. I have always loved his twin scores for the series and I could easily see it working well in this film.

Note that I haven’t even mentioned anything of substance regarding the cinematography. Because there was none. Everything was shot as flat and dull as possible and even potential interesting moments were filmed so perfunctory, that you almost missed them out of boredom.

Overall, Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is doubtless an attempt by Amazon to capitalise on the success of their Jack Ryan series and expand their Tom Clancy IP.

I just wished it was a lot better.

There was so much potential here, from the cast to the director and the universe it was set in. I particularly would have liked it more if they removed the typical revenge element and leaned harder into the political spectrum of the story.

There has still not been a good film made where political deals and backroom decisions affect real-time military operations. I think the contrast between the clean, treacherous streets of D.C. and the dirty but brother-like environment of a warzone could really create a unique story and compelling viewing experience.

This was not an enjoyable watch, from a good or bad experience. Instead it proved itself to be the worst kind of film … uninspired and dull, wishing you could take back the hour and a half of your life and pour it into something more productive.

A scene to recall: See the screenshot below … that is the only interesting shot, an image of a Huey flying away on a CG landscape.

The only decent shot in the film … and it doesn’t even feature any stars.

MILITARY NITPICKING (SPOILERS BELOW)

As a keen military nerd (“milsimp”), I was annoyed at the lack of military knowledge they employed in this film. A franchise written by Tom Clancy has always had the latest information and technology employed by the forces in his fictional universe and I was disappointed by the portrayal of the military units in this film. This list below, is probably only targeted at people who are up to speed on the latest military knowledge and tactics so be warned that this is probably useless factual information.

  1. Weapon handling always seem to be a weak point in cinema nowadays. They seem to still be hiring out-of-touch weapon advisors, with very little updates on the latest methodology for the manual of arms. I did not see a single “U.S. Navy SEAL” perform a high ready or low ready placement in the entire film, something that is now commonly taught across all military units in the world.
  2. No doubt due to the budget, but a lot of the “uniforms” used in the film are very … odd choices. The most realistic outfits were equipped at the beginning of the film, but as the film went further and further along, the clothing worn by the men began to stretch the limit of realism. Skinny tactical pants are an unlikely development, even though they look damn good on Michael B. Jordan’s athletic frame. I was particularly disappointed with the outfits they chose for an infiltration into Russia. Where are the infamous Addidas tracksuits? A real military unit would also hesitate to bring people of different ethnicity into country, for the obvious reason of standing out.
  3. Another odd choice were the weapons used by the unit when infiltrating Russia. Where are all the AK weapon platforms? A deep cover unit would be using foreign weapons to blend with the locals. An AK is just as good of a gun as the AR-15 and I don’t see any reasons why they wouldn’t be equipped with tricked out AKs.
  4. To go a little further, I was even more confused when John Kelly character was equipped with an G36K of all weapons. Especially considering that he is a SEAL, and on Russian soil, the old workhorse of the German Bundeswehr is an odd choice considering its close affiliation with NATO. Even more odd to me was the fact that he was using the K model which is the largest version of the G36 for CQB purposes! Why he didn’t just use the G36C variant was confusing to me. At least his optic choices were suitable, although naturally Hollywood exaggerated the zoom of the ELCAN SpectreDR he had equipped on top of his G36K. It was even missing the red dot that is normally seen on that optic.
  5. I was equally perplexed by Greer’s choice of a Tavor TAR-21 which is almost exclusive to the IDF, another country not exactly known for its close ties to Russian forces. At least she chose a bullpup which was a lot more suitable for CQB situations than Kelly’s rifle. Also when her gun jammed, she should have checked before bursting into the room or have practiced her secondary transitions to the point where, the moment the weapon jammed, her pistol is up and cleared of its’ holster. She was tragically slow, very uncharacteristic for a SEAL.
  6. One final ballistic nitpick, from a gun-a-holic like myself is Kelly’s choice of a pistol for the house invasion sequence. The man bothered to buy a expensive Trijicon RMR for his pistol, but neglected to get himself a pistol light attachment for his home-defence gun? Any shooter, even civilians, are aware that you can’t shoot what you can’t see. The fact that he had to pick up a torch, and compromise his stance with the Weaver grip is … just bizarre, when you can literally actuate a Surefire X300U with your trigger finger and maintain a perfect thumbs forward grip. I was so baffled when I saw him pick up the torch separate and yet still have a RMR on his pistol. He should have known to buy a pistol light before a useless RMR that glows too bright in the dark. It wasn’t even a cheap Glock he used either! It was an Salient Arms model … he definitely had the money to buy a damn Surefire for that gun.
  7. The overall movie was suffering from inconsistent ballistic impacts. I mean, there was a scene where a Russian sniper had them pinned down with a goddamn Barrett M95 and the huge .50cal rounds didn’t even punch right through the wall. A round that large, and intimidating would have blown a hole through anything, regardless of plot armour. Then there was the cover that would protect Kelly, then wouldn’t … sometimes rounds would ping off the wall Kelly was hiding behind and other times … they would go right through and wound his shoulder. It was maddening. Not to mention the RPG sequence at the very start …. at such a short range, the RPG would never be able to arm itself and explode like it did in the film.
  8. Of equal confusion was the fact that the U.S. Military would exfiltrate a multi-million dollar investment known as a U.S. Navy SEAL team with a Cold War relic like the UH-1 Huey out of a known warzone called Aleppo, Syria. At minimum that bird would be flanked by AH-1 Cobras or AH-64 Apaches as escorts, ready to take out any insurgents with an RPG on their shoulders. For the SEALs, at the minimum you would expect a BlackHawk or a Little Bird for their extraction. Not a Vietnam-era workhorse.
  9. The NODs tubes that they used at the beginning of the film, looked a little old for a team that is supposed to be America’s tip of the spear. Of particular disappointment, is that they didn’t even use the damn things, nor actuate their weapon lights or AN/PEQ-15s …. none of them were hooked up on a pressure button either … so they are just for show.
  10. The HK-416 that Kelly uses at the beginning of the film had a very strange set-up. Normally SEALs use tried and true brands such as Aimpoint or EOTech for their optics. Kelly was running a Leupold Carbine Optic which is a very peculiar choice. There were also no visible weapon lights. Again … lights are always useful regardless of what gun you own or what training you have.
  11. The torch in his house after he got shot … why the hell did it spin so much for dramatic effect?
  12. You don’t talk about the mission until the debrief back at base. The fact that Kelly’s character kept pausing and discussing important plot points in the middle of a potential hot area annoyed me greatly.
  13. I disliked how the CIA agent at the beginning of the raid was not wearing BDUs …. like the rest of the team, just bedecked in flannel. That is not how spooks operate in the field. He might as well have been yelling to everyone he was CIA.
  14. How did Kelly get to a hospital after being shot 2-4 times? No one else knew he was being attacked … so who called the cops? Last I checked too, the house he was living in didn’t seem to have any neighbours so … how was he rescued?
  15. Greer should have been arrested for leaking state secrets. No one else would have sanctioned her actions.
  16. Shooting someone in the chest to puncture their lung … is not how bullets work. At least the fire stunt looked cool though.
  17. Police response time is not usually that quick, nor would the VIP leave without his bodyguards. He probably would have guessed what was going down and told his driver either to floor it or wait for his security team to catch up.
  18. Any sane military person would have just jumped out of a doomed 747 about to be shot down by a Russian fighter jet. To see them …. REMOVE their chute from their shoulders, especially at a height ready for a HALO jump made absolutely no sense. In addition, the fact that the plane crashed so soon after, also doesn’t translate well because HALO stands for High Altitude, Low Opening which meant that the plane should have been incredibly high up in the air. Additionally, 747 are also renowned for their toughness and durability, with several real recorded instances of successful landing after all 4 engines were shut down. In the film, only one was taken out by a missile, and if it was a true AA missile, the shrapnel form the missile would have destroyed everything inside a thin passenger airliner.
  19. Why was their gear strapped to the wall of the plane if they were just about to do a HALO jump? If anything, your equipment is the first thing to out the damn door and you always have your gun on you, strapped to your leg. If it was always meant to be a water landing, these SEALs would not be in civilian clothes either, but in proper SCUBA gear and ready to swim and then change into normal clothes once in-country, or at the very least be already sucking on oxygen, due to the extremely high altitude that they are flying at. Yet these guys were already having their 747 opened to the wind without any need to do any pre-breathing to void the nitrogen from their bloodstream.
  20. WHY fly a 747!?!? Most military infiltration techniques literally just disguise a C-130 Hercules or C-5 Galaxy as a commercial flight via radar and electronic suites. They do not actually need to fly a 747 to insert into a country. If anything the Russian pilot would be even more convinced that this was an ordinary plane if he did see a 747. I understand though that this was for budgetary reasons for the water stunt but from a military perspective, very odd choice.
  21. That much amount of C4 strapped to Rykov’s chest would have blown apart the entire 3 floors and killed Kelly with it.
  22. The entire sniper sequence would have resulted in the entire team dying. There is no way a sniper armed with those weapons and owning the superior angles would miss at such close range.
  23. There were also not enough rounds being fired to cover the team. In such a situation they would be unable to hear each other, due to the sheer amount of rounds being fired to cover the team. One of the first rules when engaged in a firefight is to gain fire superiority when ambushed or setting the ambush. Their weapons, with their higher capacity and at such close range should have dominated the snipers. They would also have provided first aid IMMEDIATELY after a team member got shot in the stomach instead of just waiting around for him to bleed out.
  24. The entire movie in fact lacked any proper battlefield medical applications in situations and preferred to cut around them, to move things along, something that bothered me greatly. One of the things that make military films so great is seeing how battle damage can be taken, healed and recuperated in the middle of a firefight.
  25. Blind firing is generally discouraged.
  26. The Russians soldiers would have easily dominated Kelly’s position atop the rooftop. But for some bizarre reason they didn’t crush him under huge amounts of suppressive fire or grenades. Oh wait, I forgot he has plot armour.
  27. Kelly also stayed up on the roof for far too long. A man of his training would have lobbed two grenades and then moved to another roof top immediately.
  28. Why the HELL did the team just drive right through the massive firefight between Kelly and the Russian troops!?!
  29. His uniform switch at the end was completely bullshit and he should have been coughing obnoxiously with the amount of smoke filling that staircase.
  30. Again … C4 does not work that way. Everything should have been emptied in that lobby when he threw it, even Kelly himself. Also, what an incredibly underwhelming explosion.
  31. The Rainbow nod at the end, has got me on complete edge. I do not want any of it. Please leave my beloved tactical shooter franchise alone.

That concludes my ridiculously nerdy rant about all the things wrong, form a military perspective in this film. Thanks for stopping by and indulging in my anger over this terribleness.

~ Damocles

Mortal Kombat (2021) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes.

Director: Simon McQuoid

Stars: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Joe Taslim, Chin Han, Tadanobu Asano & Hiroyuki Sanada.

Review by Damocles

As a fan of the game … it’s OK. As a fan of film … it’s mediocre.

Video games movies ….

Three words that will strike fear into any self-respecting film critic, because you know that the bar is so low, it might as well be uttered next to the words: Breen, Wiseau or Cage.

However, Mortal Kombat (2021) does surpass the low bar that was set in the previous 2 installments of this … franchise?

First, a bit of disclosure … this review is likely to be more skewed that usual, due to the fact that I am actually a rather substantial fan of the Mortal Kombat game, having followed the franchise since its reboot in Mortal Kombat X.

So as a fan, this film did scratch, a little bit of the fanboy that resided in me. I particularly appreciated the depiction of Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Kano and Sonya Blade. But with so many characters needing and fighting for screen-time, it is difficult to characterise all the unique heroes and villains that reside in the Mortal Kombat universe.

Thus for much of the film, many of the characters had the slimmest sketches of characters imaginable, making a lot of the characters seem very bland and uninteresting. I also found the protagonist, a character, not featured in the game, Cole Young, to be a very uninspired lead, his motivation for fighting in Mortal Kombat tournament, very bland and generic. In particular, I was disappointed they did not go another route with his character, in just having the ability to summon his ancestor’s abilities and powers at a whim.

Perhaps a strong reason why I was disappointed in the lead so much, is because he was meant to represent the audience’s eyes into the world. But there was such a lack of wonderment or fear in his reactions to seeing superhuman abilities or the world itself that as an audience member, I felt a similar lack of detachment.

Arguably, I felt that the film overall was underwhelming, due to the pacing issues and the lack of depth that was provided to all the characters. I wished there was more to the film, as I felt they really rushed the climax, speeding through fights in a way that did not lead to a very satisfying conclusion to the overall story.

At a 110 minutes, the film is over soon, perhaps a bit too soon, as it drags near the middle with extremely heavy exposition story telling, trying to build the world up. Thus when the conclusion begins, everything feels very rushed and over too quickly, thus leaving you with a sense of dissatisfaction in how they handle the fight sequences.

A bit more time was needed to expand the fight sequences between characters and also establish some much needed backstory for a lot of the villains. Perhaps, this is a hold-over from the Synder’s Cut of Justice League but also a strange step into how film is being watched nowadays, with the line between TV and film being blurred so much, but I think Mortal Kombat would have fared better was a TV series. The budget and look of the film would be perfectly serviceable for a TV series, and thus allow all the characters much more room to be more realised and fleshed out, in addition to being able to really showcase their fights.

The Synder’s Cut proved to me that films can be stretched a bit longer into an almost TV format, much like something such as The Falcon and the Winter Soldier should be seen as a extremely long movie, not a episodic series. I would have liked to seen Mortal Kombat pitched as a TV series, with each episode really fleshing out 2 characters, a hero and villain, and featuring their showdown for the climactic battle.

From a technical standpoint, given the budget and the fact that the director is a first timer, the movie looks surprisingly OK, with relatively well placed shots and CGI that doesn’t really offend the eyes. The fight choreography and sequences however lack panache and I think need a bit more time for the eyes to soak in what is happening. The editing was not obnoxious however there were a lot of subtle moments that were missed due to the angle of the camera or the pace of the editing.

What was fun however, were the ways how they included iconic moves and fatalities, as well as some cheesy lines that were often uttered in the games. I appreciated these fan-service moments and found that they didn’t detract from the film, but rather made me enjoy it a bit more than I suspected I would have, if it didn’t have these moments.

From a musical perspective, Mortal Kombat’s score is serviceable, with nothing really to write home about. It emphasizes the right moments enough but is more or less something relegated to the background. This is a bit of a pity, as I was excited to see what Benjamin Wallfisch would do, considering his amazing collaboration with Hans Zimmer on Blade Runner 2049.

His remix of Techno Syndrome is …. much like the film. It’s OK, but lacks the fun over the top nature of the original by The Immortals. With its more reliance on dubstep and electronic synth, the new remix grew on me over time, but nothing quite gets you hyped as the original.

Overall, Mortal Kombat (2021) is on the more positive side of video game adaptations. It isn’t long enough to offend you, but at least there are promising elements there, enough to warrant a drastic improvement if a sequel ever occurs. I smiled a lot at some of the lines, and iconic fight moves and felt that the casting was overall on point.

It isn’t a terrible film, but mediocre overall. I will say though, the climatic battle did at least, leave me with a satisfying feeling, something that can’t be said for a lot of third act battles.

To justify the “Yes” rating … I will say, it’s not a terrible way to spend time in the cinema, but I would recommend avoiding paying the full cinema-going experience for it. It’s a fine film overall. But the emphasis is on the word “fine.”

A scene to recall: The moment when Scorpion appears and the remix of Techno Syndrome kicked in. As a fan of the game, this entire fight got me hyped.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes?

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller & Ciaran Hinds

Review by Damocles

It’s an improvement … that’s about it.

In what must be a first for Hollywood and setting a rather expensive precedence (70 million USD), comes the first ever DLC edition of a film, years after its’ failed release in 2017 at the hands of audiences and critics alike.

With over 4 years to mull over the project and fans clamouring for his vision to be realised, Snyder has finally had an opportunity to right many of the wrongs in the original cut of the film.

However did that opportunity really have to come at a 4 hour run time?

Snyder, as a director, seems to relish elaborate story-telling techniques and vast inclusions of world building elements. This, whilst exciting, often bogs down the film with references that some die-hard comic book fans will love, but others will leave, scratching their head. In particular, I found the “Epilogue” of the film to be far too long with a lot of world building elements that do not need to be added.

However, Snyder’s slavish attention to further explore the backstory of a lot of these characters is a necessary evil, as without them, the film truly suffers with emotional stakes as seen in the 2017 cut.

Here, in the Snyder cut, much of the additional cast without their solo films, like Cyborg and the Flash gain much needed improvement, in regards to their characterisation and motivations. They are more realised and iconic now, due to their past being a key element as to why they want to join the Justice League.

The same is also said for the main villain, Steppenwolf whose generic motivations were now transformed into a desire to fall back into the good graces of his true master, Darkseid.

Again, this was another necessary sacrifice to create a more realised “world”, with Snyder’s decision to insert Darkseid into the plot, a way to set up a future story about the true evil that was coming to destroy Earth. This of course, negatively affects the importance of Steppenwolf, but such is the nature of this beast that the DCEU has become.

The overall plot is also remarkably improved by Snyder’s direction, as there are less silly contrivances and conveniences. however the film does suffer from a slight pacing issue with having to balance so many character’s individual aspirations, motivations and actions.

The sheer amount of times, in which Snyder cuts between Cyborg then to Flash, then over to Wonder Woman, then back to Batman and finally to Superman, with a splash of Aquaman in between is dizzying and serves to blur the film slightly when looking back upon it.

But gone are the silly quips that plagued the original Justice League and soured its tone. Instead a more natural and cohesive colour grade, tone and pace was injected into the film, creating a less confusing and more consistent watching experience.

Fight sequences which lack panache before, are now more exciting and gritty. The score in particular, under the expert supervision of Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg) is now much more memorable and heroic, serving the visuals well. It is pleasing to note that all the heroes have their own moment to shine in the score, and to hear the iconic Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel theme again is always a blast.

When discussing visuals, there are times when the visuals do not match well with the rest of the film, no doubt a key issue due to budget and time constraints. Certain CGI heavy scenes stick out from the rest of the film, and there are some scenes that do not need the signature Snyder slow motion shots, for the sake of brevity. In fact, I found the use of slow motion a bit excessive but that could just be a personal gripe speaking.

Overall, the improvements are there. The film has punchier and bloodier fight sequences, something which, I will admit, is not quite something I approve of. There is something odd about seeing superheroes kill their enemies on film, especially when they espouse a higher moral code.

But I digress …

The backstory of key characters have been fleshed out and a lot of their flaws from the 2017 cut have been addressed. The way how the story evolves and unfolds throughout the film has a lot more rhythm and sense to them, and the visuals finally match the tone that its’ creator had always strive for.

I just wished it didn’t take Snyder so damn long to tell this story and focus a bit less emphasis on extravagant world building for future sequels. I thought that there was already enough in here to warrant a great Justice League film.

It is a pity, because had the DCEU followed a better business model like its’ great rival, the MCU, in creating individual films for each of their main characters, the Justice League would be a much more concise and precise film, removed from the restraints of having to introduce characters and their motivational arcs.

For a lot of Snyder fans this is a vindictive moment, a film that justified their belief in a director, whose visions are often torn up by the studio. The 2021 version of Justice League has some excellent moments that really highlight the heroism of their characters and overall enhance the experience of the film to the point where the 2017 version seems like a bland rip-off in comparison.

Perhaps a necessary step forward for Snyder is to understand one of his greatest strengths is his weakness in the studio’s eyes. His penchant for long, elaborate stories, often require a lot from the audience with their 3 hour run times (as seen in Watchmen Extended Cut, Batman v Superman Ultimate Edition, this 2021 version of Justice League) and such a run time require a director to be extremely adept with story pacing, an issue he suffers from often.

But there is a reason why I place a question mark at the end of the Yes? above in the recommendation. This film is best appreciated when you have seen the 2017 cut before. As a standalone film, it is a bit trickier to recommend to new audiences, because of the long run-time, the wildly elaborate story and the excessive amount of backstory work Snyder had to do, to create compelling emotional moments for each of the main characters and villains. This does not even include the hundreds of Easter eggs scattered throughout the film.

To wrap things up, Snyder’s Justice League is a marked improvement over the 2017 cut and worth viewing if you were disappointed with the film when it first came out. If you are new to the DCEU, this might be an undertaking that may underwhelm you slightly.

A scene to recall: There is something oddly striking about seeing Wonder Woman’s silhouette against the backdrop of London, desperately throwing a bomb away from hostages. It makes her a believable mythological figure and somehow the composition of the shot and colours made the scene so photo-realistic.

Tenet (2020) – Cinema Review

Y/N? No

Director: Christopher Nolan

Stars: John David Washington, Robert Pattison, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Kenneth Branagh and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

Review by Damocles

If you search the word “muddled” in a thesaurus, every synonym can be used to describe Tenet.

Christopher Nolan is one of those directors that I respect and simultaneously dislike at the same time.

He focuses a lot on spectacle, has the ability to make reality seem more exciting than it really is, and often prefers to tackle an interesting concept poorly, than telling a simple story well.

It makes him a strange paradox in my mind … an appropriate mindset going into this film where much of the plot is about “time inversion”, “entropy” and “temporal movements.”

The film’s plot follows the Protagonist, a spy who joins a secret organisation named Tenet to prevent an Armageddon that is being bought about by Andrei Sator, whose scorched-earth policies will result in the world being torn apart by time inversion.

The plot is dense, confusing and admittedly too complex to properly enjoy. Nolan plays with time a bit too many times in ways that convolutes things too much for you to have a good grasp on what is going on. Confusion is not a particularly good emotion to be feeling when watching a spectacle play across the screen. In Inception (2010) it was enjoyable, in Tenet it is almost insufferable.

This is one of the few times in a review, where I won’t bother to convey the plot in words, but instead just tell you, that if you want to enjoy the film more, it is almost better to ignore what characters are saying and just focus on what they are doing.

Of the three elements that make Nolan special; spectacle, reality and concept, I admire and respect his craftsmanship for spectacle and refusal to implement CGI in his films, but despise his fixation on strange bloodless violence and unnecessary complications to a climax approach.

Tenet is his most “Nolan-esque” film to date. An interesting concept that is made complex far too much, that I felt myself checking out of the film after the 9th expository explanation.

For a man with such visual flair to his set-pieces, he seems to depend a lot on needlessly complicated wordplay to describe what is happening.

In addition, I felt a lot of the incredible locations and sets were not given enough time to breathe. A location shift to Mumbai should be more than just a slightly underwhelming bungee stunt and multiple scenes of dialogue. Tallinn was reduced to an airport. The incredible opening opera house sequence, I felt needed a bit more love and care in the set-up.

The climatic ending needed a better sense of geography and scale, something I was particularly aggrieved about because there was such a lack of focus on what seemed like a large-scale battle, but you couldn’t really tell who was shooting at whom.

Too many action set pieces I felt were not built up enough, where they felt earned, unique and creative and as such, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed by it all, despite witnessing a 747 crash into a building. If anything, I felt they were strangely underused and even a little under-dressed, but then that could just be the nature of a film regarding “time inversion.”

This is a shame, because the casting for the film is excellent, with a truly standout physical performance from John David Washington, whose charisma is palpable despite some odd dialogue choices. His physicality is impressive and I was struck by the natural athletic grace he had, no doubt a holdover from his NFL days.

Robert Pattison’s ability to be a chameleon in any role, continues to impress. I was struck by how well he seemed to control his face to express himself, in a lot of the action sequences.

Elizabeth Debicki, arguably one of my favourite actresses ever because of my Melburnian bias and her effortless class, felt a little bit wasted in this role, a typical Nolan flaw, as he has always had a bit of trouble writing women. A very relatable issue to have, as I struggle from the same dilemma.

What I was pleasantly amused by is Branagh’s continual ability to play a Russian with a slightly strange accent. He seems to enjoy being the big, bad evil Russian with a philosophical intellect, as he plays a highly similar character in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014).

On a more positive note, I loved Ludwig Goransson’s work for the score, with much of the soundscapes sounding remarkably unique, tense and evocative for a spy thriller. His music was particularly refreshing after Nolan’s frequent collaborative efforts with Hans Zimmer, and I found that much of the film was boosted by Goransson’s style and flair.

Rainy Night in Tallinn is such an incredible example of how Goransson is able to transform a peaceful, airy sound into something dark and terrifying before lifting it up again into something heroic and mysterious.

Praise must also be given to the cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema whose work continues to shine under Nolan’s direction. I was particularly struck by how good everything looked, a testament to his ability to make the ordinary world more exciting.

However in spite of his work, I couldn’t really find myself getting more invested in the film. Certain shots grabbed the eyes, but there was this strange disconnect between all the elements that make a spy thriller exciting. Costumes in particular, were really drab for a spy thriller, with much of the characters covered up or dressed in dull tactical gear that didn’t really express their personality.

A key element behind espionage films has always been the glamour of certain locales and characters, and I couldn’t help but feel like Nolan’s insistence on realism was a detriment to this unique take on the spy genre. The Protagonist’s costumes switched constantly, and actually served to be slightly distracting, as I could not pinpoint what his style was, beyond multiple suit colours.

However there was major disservice to Elizabeth Debicki’s tall frame not being utilized enough to emphasis her natural ballet posture. Her costumes in particular did not suit what I imagined a Russian billionaire’s wife would dress like with many not really accentuating her tragic looks.

A great example of spy costuming done right, was The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) where all the characters had incredible colours and looks that matched their personalities. Normally, I would not pay attention to costumes, but in this film, I felt like it was needed to just bring the characters to life a bit better.

Overall, I felt like Tenet was not one of Nolan’s better films, as I really felt like this time around, the time inversion concept proved too much even for a filmmaker of his abilities and it soured what might have been a fun take on the spy genre.

Set pieces lacked panache and visual flair, especially with some action sequences needing to be expanded further or developed beyond a simple gimmick, such as the enthralling bungee jump sequence or the truck heist perhaps benefiting from a night-time shoot.

Too much of Nolan’s violence seems so bloodless and at odds with the realistic approach he enjoys, and I do wish he would film his action with a better sense of the enemies the protagonists are fighting, because the formula is there, it is good, but the execution isn’t quite up to scratch.

Perhaps I am too biased to the John Wick films, or Mad Max series, but at the end of the day, I dislike seeing such huge potential for unique and interesting action wasted.

A scene to recall: A windmill safe-room is a remarkably interesting and novel concept to me. Just seeing the Protagonist spend his time working out and disguising himself as an maintenance worker stuck with me oddly enough.

It also reinforces my suspicion regarding hi-vis vests and that I was right to use it in my high-school murder mystery.