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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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.

Mulan – Cinema Review

Y/N? No.

Director: Niki Caro

Stars: Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Gong Li, Jet Li, Tzi Ma and Ron Yuan.

Review by Damocles.

It’s confused. Very confused.

Perhaps one of the biggest issues Disney seems to face when creating their live-action adaptations of beloved classic animated films, is their poor director choices.

Niki Caro, touted as a “progressive” move, due to being the 2nd female director hired by Disney to helm a 100 million dollar film, is truly out of her depth directing Mulan, a story that is inherently based around action film, due to its war-torn Chinese setting.

A prominent drama director, whose film Whale Rider was actually studied by yours truly in high school, (even then I didn’t think much of it, beyond wishing I had a Kiwi accent), Caro seems to struggle both dramatically and action wise in a film that is best described as mediocre.

This poor choice in directors, is echoed recently with Aladdin. I remember being noticeably confused when I heard, Guy Ritchie, of iconic British gangster film fame, was being helmed to direct that particular adaptation. His natural ability and directing style, seemed to lack panache under the supervision of the Mouse, with a lot of his iconic fast-paced dialogue, clever cutting and ingenious editing skills that were so wonderfully put to use in 2019’s The Gentlemen, put aside for more basic directorship.

Which begs the question, of why would you hire Guy Ritchie to direct your film if you tie his arms creatively?

Or, more aptly, in Mulan’s case, why didn’t you hire Guy Ritchie to direct or industry famous Kathryn Bigelow, whose body of work is indisputably based around realistic action cinema, the very narrative that Disney has backed to justify the removal of big musical numbers and Mushu.

(Or just straight up hire Stephen Chow, whose unnatural ability to balance fantastical, action, comedy and the drama would be perfect for an adaptation of the animated Mulan.)

Caro’s directing ability struggles to properly balance the inherent darkness of warfare, Mulan’s internal struggles and the strange injections of fantastical elements like the Witch, Chi or Phoenix, all of them being needless additions to the story, and are actually detrimental to the overall tone.

The story itself is poorly paced and constructed, lacking a strong emotional core to properly generate investment in the characters on screen. Many characters, from Donnie Yen’s Commander Tung, to Tzi Ma’s Hua Zhou, lack proper introduction on-screen, and personal motivation that would generate conflict or motivation to the protagonist.

Mulan herself, is another casualty in the “Disney-nification” of female heroines, with her stoic, emotionless portrayal, and inherent ability to master “chi” in the same vein as Captain Marvel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Rey from the Star Wars universe.

The overpowered nature of these characters, with an emphasis on suppressing prodigy level of talent and skill, is the opposite of empowerment. It underwhelms the idea of struggle, and growth, perseverance in the face of adversity, arguably the most important aspect to portray on screen to generate relatability and connection between character and audience.

Mulan’s natural gift of “chi” (a poor substitute for the Force or superpowers), that is showcased in the first 5 minutes of her introduction, immediately sets a poor precedent, as it is tonally deaf to the realistic tone the film is striving to project, and distances audience relatability to her.

All of this is difficult to stomach, as the cast for the film, is the creme de la creme of Chinese acting talent, forced to perform their best, whilst being squandered and wasted at the same time.

The term “glorified extras”, seems harsh when talking about known leading men like Jet Li or Donnie Yen, but it is unquestionably true. Dialogue is stilted, repetitive to the point of hammering you over the head with the virtues, with delivery no-doubt suffering due to a decision to film in English, something that is more detrimental than immersive to the experience.

Of particular disappointment is the villain, Bori Khan, who doesn’t chew up scenery enough nor have any relationship with Mulan, leaving the final climax difficult to enjoy. The animated film suffered from something similar, but Shan Yu’s portrayal was far more charismatic and menacing, his overall design and demeanour on the right side of dramatic. Bori Khan’s on the other-hand suffers from the opposite, with bland design and personal motivation. On an directing level, Khan is played too straight and seriously, when in reality Jason Scott Lee should be more over-the-top and cartoonish to add more menace to the character’s aura and screen presence.

From a technical standpoint, Mulan has attractive use of colours, with costumes being largely fun, vibrant and attractive, a definite attempt to add depth to the landscape, which occasionally shines, only to be replaced by poor CG backdrops.

I largely found the action sequences to be thoroughly underwhelming, with too many strange camera moves, desperately trying to amp up the intensity of the fights, which lack proper choreography, depth, motivation and duration. For a war-film, there are a surprising lack “epic” shots, that are typical of “medieval” style armies and admittedly a couple of glaring unbelievable moments from a tactical standpoint (trebuchets deployed against infantry, Mulan’s cavalry charge, Khan’s strange introduction, Mulan’s ability to teleport from A to B and the Witch’s abilities far too powerful).

On the actual score itself, this is sadly one of Harry Gregson-Williams less inspired work, with a lot of the score being rehashes of the animated film, with a rather bizarre Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2010) twist added here and there, that upon listening to the score, I was thoroughly bewildered by, until I realised that he seemingly took a lot of his Prince of Persia music and applied it to the Rourans, due to their desert tribe nature.

Which is oddly discriminatory, as Middle Eastern higher pitches and shriller noises don’t quite apply to Mongolian steppes’ sounds, which are typically deeper and “throatier” (look it up).

The score was arguably my biggest disappointment, as I am usually enthralled by Gregson-Williams’ work, and I did wish there was an Asian composer who could provide a bit more bombast to the score, similar in the vein to the songs heard in the film Kung Fu Hustle (2004).

Overall, Mulan (2020) is a disappointing adaptation of the animated film, that fails to bring anything new to the table, nor add anything of substance to the lore. Many missed opportunities could have been fixed with a more rounded and inventive director, especially in regard to the score, action sequences, character development and overall tone.

Disney needs to take more risks with their approach to their Renaissance classics, and to actually choose and employ people who have the right skills, not because they fulfil an agenda.

To sum up, Mulan (2020) is not worth the $30.00 price point. In all honesty, that 30 dollars should be spent on getting a VPN, accessing a torrent site and finding a good copy there.

A scene to recall: When Ming Na-Wen (the original Mulan voice actor from the animated film) turned up briefly.

SPOILERS SECTION (FOR FUN):

I’ve created a small list below, to just quickly run through a lot of the plot inconsistencies and mistakes I noted throughout the film, and detrimental they are to the overall story. Please do not read further if spoilers annoy you.

  • Mulan’s father’s injury would have already sent him home, the moment he arrived on camp, due to the military’s strict training regime, thus nullifying the need for Mulan’s sacrifice.
  • Mulan’s iconic bathing sequence is odd simply because water is … transparent. Honghui would have noted her feminine figure.
  • There is a lack of characterisation with Mulan’s comrades. None of them particularly stand out to my disappointment and nor was there a sequence when all were inspired by Mulan’s success.
  • The journey from her home to the army camp was bewildering to say the least, especially since why would the Army afford to lost another recruit, when she should have linked up at a staging area, before being transported to the actual base itself.
  • The passage itself would have been a good opportunity for Mulan to reflect on her decision to steal her father’s honour, through a proper monologue, but instead we got silent flashbacks
  • The only true standout action sequence was when the Witch was kicking ass, but Mulan never gets her own proper action sequence, where she proves herself to be the best warrior in a convincing way.
  • How was Mulan able to ride behind the trebuchets, whilst in front of them still confuses me or how she was so quickly able to traverse around the Imperial City and get to the Emperor.
  • What was the actual point of the Phoenix beyond a ham-fisted symbol? Or Mulan’s sister for that matter? Was her whole character supposed to be summed up as “arachnophobic?”
  • Honghui and Mulan’s chemistry was … questionable to say the least.
  • Usually avalanches occur higher up. The trebuchet “hot-shot” landed at the base of the mountain.
  • Mulan’s “chi” usage was confusing and strange, with a lot of inconsistency regarding her true talent. It also degraded the other men in the Army a lot, something that bothered me greatly.
  • Mulan doesn’t particularly have a lot of range, in terms of emotion throughout the whole film.
  • Niki Caro clearly stole a lot of scenes from other films. Mad Max Fury Road (2015), Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2003) and bizarrely Dracula Untold (2014) to name a few.
  • I truly wished they stuck to Mandarin as the primary language and made the rest of the world read subtitles, because the actors gave it a valiant effort, but could not emote in English well.
  • There are a lot of strange cutting throughout the whole film. Some scenes dragged on for too long and some action sequences were cut too short.
  • There is this strange precedent to show that women are “stronger” than men, in terms of physicality. I find this dangerously unrealistic and delusional. I do not have a problem with the animated depiction of Mulan’s abilities and strength, because they showed how a smaller, more lithe and agile woman uses those abilities to outsmart and out-think a man who is physically more imposing than her. I found it highly troublesome when Mulan just outright, brute strength her buckets of water to the top of the mountain, when much bigger and stronger men than her struggled. I was truly hoping that during the training sequence, we would see some type of growth, and struggle that Mulan went through that showed how much effort she had to put in to keep up with the boys. But alas, none of that promise came through.
  • The lack of musical numbers, robbed Mulan a lot of her “voice.” In the animated films, the musical numbers were there to provide a thrilling, emotional insight into the characters. We never got that with this Mulan, hence the lack of emotional investment in her character.
  • Donnie Yen is always underappreciated in Hollywood films. His speed is never showcased properly. Tsk.
  • The Witch and Mulan’s friendship … was so out of left-field and lacking in proper motivation. The Witch could have outright just overpowered everyone and became a Queen and force everyone to accept her.
  • Khan’s big fire death for the Emperor was … ridiculously unsatisfying. He should have just killed him ouright with her sword.
  • The fake-out death of Cricket … is so J.J. Abrams. Cheap, stupid, emotionally dumb and pointless. Please stop this trend.
  • Also why didn’t Khan shoot another arrow at Mulan and the Witch?
  • Final two thing … Mulan’s scale armour around her legs, proved terribly distracting to me. I really wished her legs were freed from the armour. She removed the upper half, so it still bewildered me, as to why she kept it. It didn’t match the rest of the costume well.
  • The words “honour, warrior and phoenix” were so overused. I really wished someone consulted a thesaurus.

The Rise of Skywalker – Cinema Review

star-wars-rise-skywalker-kylo-rey-800x450

Yeah … this looks epic. Until the camera moves and then everything falls apart.

Y/N? No.

Director: J.J. Abrams

Stars: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Ian McDiarmid and Adam Driver

Review by Damien Nguyen

Bloated? Yes. Uninspired? Yes. Bloated? Probably. Disappointing? Yes.

No we’re not talking about the failure of your gastro medication, this is the finale of a Star Wars trilogy.

Where to start? There was a lot in this film that I had to unpack. Plenty to process.

Maybe we’ll do an ego trip and start with me.

I’ve been an off-and-on Star Wars fan since I started getting more and more invested in its rival, Star Trek. I love Trek. The philosophy. The science. The utopian ideals. Its all very heart-warming in a way that only science geeks can really appreciate.

At the heart of every scientist, is a science-fiction nerd, and they temper that nerdiness with a willingness to explore further, for the benefit of humanity. That’s what makes Trek special.

Which is why I prefer it to Star Wars. However, just because I love Trek, doesn’t mean I watch the new trash (ahem, Discovery) nor do I really dislike Star Wars. If I did, why would I spend over 1000 dollars on collecting every single LEGO starfighter from the Original Trilogy?

So it remains a friendly, touching nostalgic reminder of my childhood. I never saw Force Awakens in cinemas. Nor did I touch Last Jedi.

I didn’t even really want to see this. But a free movie ticket in a drought, is a free movie ticket and why I’ve grown away from Star Wars, (minus the Mandalorian), something compelled me to see this one.

And it broke all the damn rules.

It reminded me of the mess that was Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Lots of rules were broken in that one too.

J.J. also did a second film in a major franchise.

Only somehow, Rise of Skywalker is worse, because … the writing credit goes to Chris Terrio.

Why?

Why would you hire the guy who only recently wrote the messes known as Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice or The Justice League?

WHY.

Honestly, this review is more or less a rant, which will be captioned as full of spoilers below, and will be full of questions, in which I will try to keep my counter-arguments brief.

Try.

But if I have to critique it overall, it’s a very disjointed film. They go to, too many locations. A lot of jumping around, with crazed editing to hit you with something and then promptly forget about it a minute after.

There was so much to unpack, within the first half hour, my brain merely gave up and decided to join the ride, only it was entirely unimpressed with the ride the entire way and kept scoffing at every reference J.J. had to put in.

I’m a minority, in the sense that I hate being pandered to. I dislike nostalgia for nostalgia sake or for the indulgence of the director or studio mandate. References have to be naturally not forced in there to get a cheap emotional rise out of us.

I could go on and on, but in the interest of speed, here:

Cinematography: Lacking. There was simply nothing that really stood out. Everything happens so quickly, so rapidly, any impact an awesome shot might have, is instantly dulled.

Plot: Why so many MacGuffins? There was even a MacGuffin that lead to a MacGuffin. Lazy writing. Stupid short-sightness in the story and poor editing of said script.

Acting: Fine. If a bit under-par. I think these actors are done with this crap. They want out. They want real films. Can’t blame them. The only real actor was Adam Driver. But that guy brings his A-game in everything he does. He’s the linchpin of this entire fiasco.

Music: Nothing stood out. A Greatest Hits album is not good enough. Star Wars used to have the most epic scores, the most epic themes. I can name all 6 episodes iconic scores. Episode I (Duel of the Fates), Episode II (Across the Stars), Episode III (Battle of the Heroes), Episode IV (The Force Theme, although Cantina Band though), Episode V (Imperial March), and Episode VI (Into the Trap). In the past 3 films, I haven’t really heard anything as iconic or unique as those.

RANT (SPOILERS)

HERE ARE ALL THE DAMN QUESTIONS I’VE GOT FOR THIS FILM:

  1. If you can chain hyperspace jumps together …. why did all previous films establish the rule of charging the hyperdrive and how dangerous space travel actually is? Plus if you can hyperspace in a planetary atmosphere, wouldn’t that just mess up the planet?
  2. Why did we need a purple/gold space pirate lady for a character?
  3. Why were there so many side characters to being with?
  4. Why was Lando on that desert planet? How long was he there?
  5. Why Lando? He’s not even that special.
  6. Those speeder bikes …. aren’t speeder bikes? Why have wheels?! Its slower!
  7. Why the Emperor?
  8. HOW THE FUCK did he conjure up all those Star Destroyers? Why were they under the ground? Who is piloting them? Who made them? WHY DO THEY ALL HAVE DEATH STAR LASERS? THAT COMPLETELY NEGATES THE DEATH STAR.
  9. So the Emperor made clones of Snoke?
  10. How did the Emperor survive a gigantic explosion and a 1000m fall to his death?
  11. Why did they jump to so many planets in the first 15 minutes?
  12. Why make C-3PO go evil for? A trailer shot?
  13. Leia should have been made to die in the Last Jedi
  14. Luke can use the Force as a ghost?!?
  15. Why can Rey heal shit?
  16. What is this Life Force crap?
  17. Ben’s reversal is … underwhelming.
  18. Why is Exogol such a stupid planet.
  19. As if the Emperor created thousands of Star Destroyers that all relied on one communication array.
  20. Why didn’t the Star Destroyer just roll … to flip those Resistance fighters off?
  21. Who were all those people in that weird chamber?
  22. Why are there so many conveniences in this damn movie.
  23. A Captain’s coin? SERIOUSLY?
  24. Did no-one bother to check why a rust-bucket was going into a hangar?
  25. The last fight is so lame.
  26. Lighting can blow up ships now? How come the Emperor just disabled all the normal ones then? Plot Armour?
  27. Hux is a spy? REALLY?
  28. Rey as a Palpatine completely negates the unique story aspect of Last Jedi
  29. God so many cameos … none of them deserved or done well
  30. So many aliens look stupid. All the comedy flew past me, but the lame alien designs had me rolling in my chair
  31. Rey’s lightsaber is yellow. Big whoop.
  32. Rey Skywalker …. nah. No. Just nope.
  33. The Death Star throne room is still intact ….. HOW?
  34. Why did they have to crash the Falcon?
  35. The whole Chewbacca’s death clickbait was completely unnecessary
  36. The quicksand stuff was equally bullshit
  37. A dagger …. blends perfectly with the wreckage of the Death Star … yeah how about NO.
  38. First its too dangerous on a skiff …. but #yolo they do it anyway
  39. The sequences of “dream” between Rey and Kylo just …. plain breaks rules for some cinematic flair and I hated it
  40. Knights of Ren = Knights of Crap. Absolutely useless.
  41. How does Rey die at the end?
  42. If Palpatine can just knock out ships with Lightning …. why bother with a Death Star or ANYTHING.
  43. Leia shouldn’t be able to use the Force or be a “Jedi.”
  44. That Harrison Ford cameo … was only saved by Driver’s acting skills
  45. What exactly was the purpose of General Pryde?
  46. Where was Anakin in all of this stupid shit?
  47. Why the lesbian kiss?
  48. Why the shitty forest base?
  49. Rose was pointless wasn’t she …
  50. Why am I getting so angry over all of this.

I guess that pretty much sums it up. I’m exhausted, and thoroughly annoyed that a film got this hard under my skin.

Disney … please hand over the franchise to someone with real talent. And PLAN THE DAMN MOVIES IN ADVANCE NEXT TIME.

 

 

 

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes

Director: Chad Stahelski

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, and Ian McShane

Review by Damocles

Its just …. good.

Upon hearing that the next film in the John Wick series was going to be another “chapter”, I was initially hesitant. Somehow I suspected that it would have been a smarter move to have the words “requiem” put in there or “finale.”

Walking out of the cinema, I knew I was right not to have jumped on the hype train that all the other critics and movie-goers hopped on.

John Wick 3 has the troubling issue of having an absolutely riveting 20 minutes opening, with bombastic action sequences following each other almost seamlessly. Horses, cars, guns, blood, books and knives are all thrown around with reckless abandon, and there seems to be almost no limit to the imagination of Stahelski’s vision for martial arts choreography.

However, after those first 20 minutes, the film lacks the panache of the previous instalments.

John Wick has always been about stylised action sequences, backed with a charismatic performance from Keanu Reeves, whose internal agony and pain serves as the heart of the film. It is Reeves’ performance of a man with few words, a man of focus, commitment and sheer fucking will, that allows us to forgive the ballet of violence erupting across the silver screen.

However, such heart grows stale by the third repetition and the stakes don’t quite get higher or lower in Parabellum. Which is the core fundamental issue with the film.

Plot-wise, the film does not further nor develop the story and instead takes a back-seat to the action sequences. Parabellum seems less of a narrative, and more of a action film highlight reel.

Which of course sounds like a disservice to the film. But it isn’t, if that is exactly what you are going for. If a film merely has to deliver incredible and stylish action sequences, Parabellum is the cinema experience you crave and need.

Unfortunately for myself, the action film Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) casts a long shadow over the realm of action cinema, with its flawless execution of what an action film actually is …. a simple narrative that is told by via action sequences and characters’ motivations, abilities and development are all relayed during an action sequence.

Parabellum lacks the simplicity and heart of its original in 2014, which to me, remains the pinnacle of the series, because it executes an action film concept properly. Each action sequence, each kill, in the original was inspired by Daisy’s death, and the motivation was clear from the on-set.

In John Wick 3, the plot and pacing is more difficult to ascertain and my disappointment at not having the more logical narrative option of a straight up “survival-thriller finale” for the story soured the film-going experience for me. Which, is why I mentioned the first 20 minutes as being everything I hoped, only for it to be ripped cruelly away for a decision to continue the franchise instead of end it on a proper high-note.

Yet, in spite of this flaw, this slightly sour taste, the film is pop cinema at its finest. Creativity was shown from the onset of the film’s first kill to its very last. Cinematography and lighting and choreography have never quite been more bombastic, less CGI and more skilled than ever before.

In fact, it has gotten to such a level, that the introduction of the infamous Raid duo, Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman, provides another bittersweet note to the film, particularly if you are fan of the Raid films.

That note of course, is that Keanu Reeves simply cannot keep up with such fast and incredibly skilled practitioners of pencak silat. And if one was to compare the speed and ferocity of the hand to hand choreography in the Raid films to John Wick, there is quite a difference.

But then the strongest elements of John Wick has always been the gun-fu. And somehow, Stahelski tops the gun-fu choreography of the previous film, with unique new enemies types for John Wick and even new skills to showcase how competitive shooting provides a new platform for actors to showcase just how quickly a handgun, shotgun and rifle can be fired.

In particular, the standout sequence with Halle Berry and Keanu Reeves and the pair of Belgian Malinois’, is an incredible and unique display of dog training, gun fighting and impressive choreography that has never quite been portrayed so well on-film.

Accompanying these action sequences is a score that improves on the formula of the previous films of utilising electronic synth to punch the action sequences and the iconic slow tension build of John’s theme. In Parabellum, Tyler Bates & Joel J. Richard updates the score to include Vivaldi for a key finale sequence and is easily as iconic Le Castle Vania’s work in the previous films.

In terms of costuming, John Wick remains one of the best films to admire modern men’s fashion and how to blend beautifully made suits with tactical gun-fu. Despite the location change, each location showcases excellent use of the culture on display, whilst retaining the John Wick’s world aesthetics.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is an film that showcases how imaginative and talented stunt work has come since the black and white days of Buster Keaton. Everything on display, is a testimony to how far action cinema as come since then, but such spectacular choreography needs to be in service of a story, and not for the sake of style.

For the sake of the strength of the franchise, I hope the next film is the grand finale that the Baba Yaga deserves.

P.S. For the creative team, please continue the trend of utilising cool Latin phrases in your world.

A scene to recall: When things go green and winter descends at the Continental.

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Parasite – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Stars: Song Kang-ho, Lee Syn-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam

Review by Damocles

Its … so metaphorical.

Parasite, the latest film by Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho (of Snowpiercer, Okja and Mother fame)  is a brilliantly executed thriller.

The pacing of the film’s plot threads and characterisations of its key players is perfect. Not a single frame is wasted, not a single beat missed and the story is beautifully economical with how each character reacts to more and more dire situations.

Joon-ho’s skill at pace is all the more impressive when you consider the juxtaposition of  humour in tense situations. Yet the way how Joon-ho manages to balance both of those elements within a single scene is no doubt one of his trademark abilities.

Not many directors can balance and create such dark comedic moments in a film with such heavy themes. And I would argue none do it better than Bong Joon-ho.

And the themes that run through the film are obvious from the title alone. One does not need to repeat viewings of this film to see the obvious discussion around class, society and status. Yet there are just as nuanced and subtle debate about how Joon-ho chooses the portray the titular “parasitic” family, our protagonists.

We flip-flop between sympathy and reluctant disgust at their actions. The characters, are brilliantly realised and their desperation is portrayed beautifully by an excellent cast.

By far, the best thing about the film, are how each character, minor or major, are logically inhuman and human with their desires and emotional state regardless of the situation. Each action, each decision is perfect for the character and the consequences they suffer are a result of their own folly.

A film like Parasite, dissects the irrationality behind the rational concept of doing a con.

And that juxtaposition alone is what makes the film such compelling watching.

Acknowledgement must be made to the director’s ability to hold tension within a scene, to create frames of art in a drab urban environment (of particular note is the descending staircase sequence), and his ability to create new angles with the camera, despite being confided to 2 locations throughout the entire film.

This film, utilises light and architecture beautifully, whilst never quite sacrificing realism for style. There is style and punch to the camerawork, but it is never a distraction to the characters and the plot, the true linchpins of the film.

A slight weakness in the film’s near-perfect execution is the lack of a memorable soundtrack. Much of it was ambient and large forgettable. I would also level a small critique to costuming, with many characters lacking a distinct flair to their personalities. But such quibbles can easily be explained away by the setting and its realistic approach to Korean slice-of-life.

Korean cinema is at its finest when it explores dark themes and thrusts its likeable characters into dark situations. And here, with a plot that twists, turns and topple your expectations of what to expect next …. Parasite is a cornerstone of Korean cinema that thoroughly deserves its Palme d’Or.

A scene to recall: The flood, the stairs and the transition.

parasite