Ambulance (2022) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes.

Director: Michael Bay

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II & Eiza Gonzalez.

Review by Damocles.

Street combat has never looked quite as good.

Michael Bay isn’t really known as a subtle director. He’s famous for a winning formula that genuinely makes his films some of the most watchable action fare a cinema-goer can get.

Some of them you can guess, like his iconic use of explosives and sweeping vistas with helicopters cutting across the screen. Others are just trademarked now, like extremely intense performances, crazy lines that could only pass in a Bay film, gratuitous lens flares and more recently, a very fun use of gore.

Growing up, I was addicted to scenes of Bad Boys 2, (which is still easily one of my favourite films of all time) and was a bit dismayed when the director chose to commit far too many years to the Transformers franchise.

But the release of 6 Underground, which is easily one of the most over-the-top Bay movie ever conceived, slowly bought him back into contention as one of the most energetic, frenetic and bombastic action directors working today.

I enjoyed Ambulance far more than 6 Underground though.

There was a certain restraint placed on Bay’s excess, due to the much smaller budget and the literal confines of an ambulance set.

I have always believed that the best work a director can make, is when they are passionate about a project, but are placed under certain restrictions. This forces them to work smarter and harder, instead of indulging too much in their creativity.

In Ambulance, you can still feel the presence of Bay’s signature style and taste, with prominent American flags still displayed in almost every scene, lens flares popping in to spice up the frame, and frenetic camera moves that enhances the chaos of the action, instead of the actual choreography.

Watching a Bay film isn’t so much an appreciation of finely tuned and carefully crafted choreography, but more a sequences of what is absolutely cool to look at and how these shots relate to the overall chaos that Bay creates for his action set-pieces.

For example, one of the earliest shoot-outs involve many incredible shots of SWAT Officers walking in tandem towards the chaos, exchanging fire with criminals who are scrabbling around, finding cover. This will then be interspersed with shots of police cars, drifting into position, particles flying across the screen, and the latest arsenal in Bayhem … drone shots that sweep the chaos.

The geography is confusing, the editing and cutting is fast and furious and the cacophony of sound is intense, but that is the point of the action sequence. It sells the chaos of the street combat in a visceral manner that can only be done by Bay’s sense of timing and direction.

In terms of direction towards actors, like most who end up in a Bay production, the actors give it their all. Cam, played by Eiza Gonzalez is clearly the heart of the film, her straight edged performance matching well with the earnest one from Yahya’s Will Sharp.

However, nothing can quite top the insane intensity that is Jake Gyllenhaal’s Danny. There is a sociopathic and manic unhinged energy to his performance that makes him arresting to watch, and creates much needed chaotic and unpredictable drama to even the quiet moments.

It is also a testament to Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen II’s chemistry that they are able to effectively sell their formidable brotherhood, a bond that lasts all the way through the film.

It is that partnership that really sells the emotional element behind such a chaotic film, that is largely confined to the walls of the ambulance. The plot here is as thin as can be, effectively only used to sell audiences on the desperate moves of desperate people in desperate situations. It can be effectively summed up as “robbery gone wrong in LA” but such a simplistic summary doesn’t quite does justice to just how much Bay managed to wrangle out of such a simple premise.

Overall, the movie moves at a breakneck pace, slow only at the beginning to get you to care about the characters before shoving you head first into the wild chaos that Bay had in mind for his film. There are barely any moments to breathe, before the next insane action set-piece takes place.

From a cinematography perspective, Ambulance suffers or should I say, is enhanced by Bay’s classic use of advertising cinema. I use that word carefully, because watching Bay films is a lot like seeing a hyper intense version of a trailer. There is a clarity, colour and cool factor to his shot selections that makes them such visually interesting films. The use of lens flares, the dramatic close-ups, the quick cutting, the dramatic low angle shots … all of these create a reel that is never boring to look at.

As for the other parts of the production, I was struck by how authentic the weapons and extravagant the equipment used by the Law Enforcement was in the film. For a film that operated on a shoe-string budget, so much of the kit seen on screen had a real world authenticity to them and perfectly highlighted the differences between LE and the criminals they were fighting. This was in stark contrast to a film like the Gray Man, which had a much more hodge-podge aesthetic to the equipment used but with 4x the budget.

It should be said that Bay had a special relationship with LE throughout the production of Ambulance, and that many of the extras were active-duty police officers who wanted to be featured in the film, which explained why so many of the gear used looked so authentic.

Touching briefly on the score, Lorne Balfe returns to the world of Bayhem, by recycling a lot of his work in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. There is a sense of almost plagiarism to some of his slower, heroic melodies that were also employed in 13 Hours, and a lot of the action music was reminiscent, however with a more strange, almost angry beat to them, to heighten the street chaos being displayed on screen.

However, it should be said that in most Bay films, especially the action set-pieces, music has never really played a strong part in defining itself outside of the film. It is there to serve a purpose and that is ratchet up the atmosphere of what you are seeing on screen.

To sum up, Ambulance is an intense rollercoaster ride of a film, with barely any time to breathe. It is shot in a gritty, street-level way, with furious action that is only further enhanced by Bay’s trademarked style.

For a movie with a budget that is meant to temper Bay’s excess, this is definitely one of his better ones.

A scene to recall: Literally whenever Jake Gyllenhaal says something crazy. There are some lines that only he could deliver, the unhinged madman he is.

The Batman (2022) – Cinema Review.

Y/N? Yes.

Director: Matt Reeves

Stars: Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffery Wright, Colin Farrell & John Turturro.

Review by Damocles

I’m Vengeance.

Batman isn’t really a character that needs any introduction. I’m not the biggest comic-book nerd in the world, but I’ve played enough of the Arkham games, seen enough of the Batman animated series and watched all the Batman films to know when something is right and something isn’t.

At his core, Batman isn’t a particularly complicated character. He’s violence personified without the murderous intent and he’s your classic noir detective motivated by revenge. It is the city around him and the villains that live within the borders of Gotham that make him compelling, because his struggle is endless and almost in vain.

In this film, we are introduced to a Batman who is only just starting his vigilante career. I thoroughly enjoyed this approach, as we get to enjoy some of the more popular Arkham styled beat-downs on criminals, whilst trying to establish his unique intellect and emotional issues.

This is a Batman who is still a bit untested, a character who doesn’t quite know where he fits in Gotham yet and is still trying to work through his grief in the most unhealthy way possible: violence.

Pattinson is remarkable in this film, his acting mostly done through highly expressive eye movements and careful measured movements. Whilst there could have been more done to his character of Bruce Wayne, overall, the portrayal of Wayne, as a haunted and scarred man was performed admirably by Pattinson.

I particularly enjoyed the sequences where he was not in costume, relying on all black clothing, a hoodie and mask to blend with the environment. Something about the image of a masked, hooded figure moving through Halloween celebrations stuck with me, long after the film and there was such a great emphasis on realism, on how Batman wouldn’t be relying solely on his suit for reconnaissance and infiltration.

These details can be attributed to Reeves, who wrote the screenplay alongside Peter Craig. In The Batman, they have created a wonderfully dark and noirish world, with elements of Se7en (1995) and Taxi Driver (1976). Whilst the plot did muddle a bit near the middle and in parts of the third act, the pacing was excellent and immersive throughout the entire run-time, never really feeling its 3 hour length.

The dark, realistic nature of the film was offset beautifully with the more classic noir elements that have always been a strong part of the Batman’s mythos.

In Selina Kyle, we have a classic femme fatale, whose costume changes I thought were an intriguing take on the ever-changing chameleon nature of the archetype.

In the Penguin, we have the classic noir decoy character, Farrell disappearing completely into the role, unrecognisable and brilliant as one of Batman’s classic mobster characters.

In Gordon, we have the sole beacon of goodness in the film, a man who just wants to do his job, but understand that he needs Batman’s unique take on justice to hang onto the city. Wright shines as a cynical but honest man who just want to see the good guys prevail in a city as dark as Gotham.

Finally, in the Riddler, we have a fun and twisted performance by Paul Dano, who hams it up, in many ways, resembling certain online personalities that I couldn’t help but smile at the reference.

If you can see a trend, it is that all the cast involved were excellent in their roles, despite some of the more muddled parts of the plot.

Cinematography wise, The Batman boasts incredible visuals that perfectly captures the dark moodiness that has always been associated with Gotham. Whilst I’ve always loved that Gotham has had a more Gothic architecture in some of the earlier Batman live-action films, I am willing to sacrifice that aesthetic for a modern take, with a strong emphasis on darkness. There was a real sense of despair and decay that could be seen in every frame of Gotham, from the nightclub, to the crime scenes and train stations.

In having such a prevalent dark aesthetic, I thought the cinematographer, Greig Fraser (congratulations on the Oscar win!), really employed the use of colours brilliantly, with red lighting being a particular highlight throughout the film.

As for the sound, the foley in this film was ridiculously over the top. The entrance of the Batmobile in particular was enough to make the hairs on my arms stand up, a very rare sensation for me to experience in a cinema. Everything that involved the Batman, had a horror focus to his foley, from the footsteps to the score.

Speaking of score, Michael Giacchino nails the atmosphere needed for such a dark film, with a haunting, nightmarish sound that is eventually elevated to something more heroic for Batman, a sweeping, romantic but dark melody for Catwoman (excellent use of the piano) and a twisted version of a child-like melody for the Riddler.

Overall, the Batman is a worthy interpretation of the famous comic book character. It was nice to see a satisfying arc to what is normally the dullest part of the Batman universe, Batman himself and done right without any transgressions on his famous rules.

And that, in the world of Hollywood, where there are so many little things that the screenwriters get wrong about beloved characters whilst adapting them for film, is something to be celebrated.

A scene to recall: The moment Batman popped the flare and become a proper hero for Gotham, was such a satisfying character arc for the character. Also I copy this moment way too much, when I do my urbex stuff.

Yeah, the Batsuit in this film is my favourite version so far.

Fanboy moments:

To quickly cap off my inner fanboy, I would like make a shot list of the things I really liked in the film. I tried to be a bit more objective in my review, but I will confess, I left the theatre smiling and liking the film a lot.

  • The BATSUIT
    • What a thing of beauty. It’s a brilliant take on modern plate carriers and armour. I particularly loved how the Bat symbol is actually a tactical knife and magnetically clamps onto his suit, and the various gadgets that he has on his forearms and legs.
    • The green medical syringe insert, was a brilliant touch, showcasing how Batman would use any medical tools, whilst maintaining protection against NBC agents.
    • I’m a big sucker for thigh bags in general, so to see Batman sport one, was a weird aesthetic that I couldn’t help but adore.
    • The camera lens in the cowl was a neat touch and really showed how Batman would be able to analyse crime scenes long after he had left them.
    • Overall, I applaud the designers for their more modern, military take on the Batsuit. I can easily see that the utility belt is a lot more akin to modern warbelts worn by modern operators, and I liked the idea that Batman could zip up his cape to create a modern wingsuit for emergency exfiltrations, along with his parachute.
  • The BATMOBILE
    • An angry, jet-powered muscle car. What’s not to love?
    • I love the low-slung nature of the car, as well as the incredible sound design behind it. I got such a huge thrill, when I heard something akin to the V12 era of F1 cars in the sound mixing. Cars aren’t just an aesthetic, they’re also auditory porn when done right.
  • The Iceberg Lounge
    • Such a cool location, with flashing red lights and industrial aesthetics.
    • The sequence where Batman fights his way though and tosses a baseball bat at a gun-toting goon was brilliant. In fact, so many of the fight scenes clearly showcase how this Batman doesn’t care about himself, he is only out for blood, despite the danger he is in. It is only right at the very end, does Batman start to care a bit more about self-preservation.
  • The Funeral Sequence
    • Easily my favourite part of the film, the funeral sequence was so brilliantly executed and really serve to heighten the paranoia one felt on the streets of Gotham.
    • I loved the neck-bomb, the chilling riddle and the eventual failure of Batman to save the victim. I liked the vulnerability, the mistakes Batman made, trying to do his best in a shitty scenario.
    • Especially in the aftermath of the funeral, I got to see Batman do his best to escape, using all his wits, and gadgets to flee.
  • Overall … this was probably my favourite interpretation of Batman put to live-screen and I’m eager to see more.

Peacemaker: Season 1 (2022) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes

Stars: John Cena, Danielle Brooks, Freddie Stroma, Chukwudi Iwuji, Jennifer Holland, Steve Agee, Robert Patrick & Annie Chang.

Director: James Gunn

Review by Damocles.

I trust James Gunn. He speaks an universal language.

When it comes to James Gunn projects, I can expect a lot of things. Gruesome kills with plenty of gore, touching emotional moments with wounded characters, weird sci-fi shit, a cute animal and a banging score.

Peacemaker: Season 1 delivers on all those fronts. After seeing the character of Peacemaker in 2021’s The Suicide Squad and Cena’s enthusiasm for the role, I couldn’t help but be curious about the show. The moment I heard Gunn was on board to direct and write most of the 8 episodes, I knew that I had to watch it.

Ever since The Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), it’s been impossible for me to hate any of Gunn’s work. He has such an arresting and charismatic stylistic direction behind the camera that captures a very vivid imagination and a killer ear.

I’m just a big fan of his work and I adore the escapism that his films offer to so many people.

Peacemaker is one of those shows that demonstrate how, in spite of the smaller budget, scale and setting, the talent of a film-maker will always shine through and put an emphasis on other areas.

With an 8 episode format, Gunn was allowed freedom to really explore every character and flesh them out, as well allow them to bounce of each other in ways that wouldn’t be allowed in a 2 hour film. All of the cast are quite vividly realised and you really get to empathise and sympathise with them over the course of the show.

That has always been TV’s greatest asset. You get more scenes with the characters you like, the ability to believe in their inherent traits becomes more natural and you’re always excited to see them again. These characters become more like friends, whilst their movie counterparts are more like heroes you idolise.

But then, the issue becomes about pace. How do you keep your audience engaged throughout the whole run-time? This is where some shows like The Mandalorian: Season Two (2020) can really falter if there isn’t a real precise story that keeps the narrative running at an even pace.

Fortunately, Peacemaker doesn’t run into that issue. Gunn is able to keep himself on track, whilst positively indulging in some of his favourite film-making excess. The jokes are rampant throughout the series, without taking away from emotional moments and as always Gunn blend fun action scenes with a practiced eye that doesn’t sacrifice visual clarity for dynamic camera movements.

But this show is as much Gunn as it is John Cena. His performance in the show is dramatic and wide-ranging. He throws himself into the character so completely, that he somehow make an inherently douchebag character likable and relatable. Cena’s dramatic range is on full display in this show and there isn’t anything he can’t sell. From hilarious monologues, to improvised lines, Cena’s charisma and commitment to the role is commendable and worth watching.

The cast that surrounds him, is equally deft and fun. Brooks’ Adebayo is a wonderful surrogate for the audience, her character development and sanity among all the insanity, an useful narrative tool to discover the world as well as offering some intriguing critiques on the comic book world. Steve Agee’s performance as Economos is oddly touching and wonderfully compelling for someone like me, who have always sided with the nerds and their daily struggles.

But it is Robert Patrick and Freddie Stroma, as the White Dragon and Vigilante respectively that really made the show fun and electric.

I don’t know how to make a character so despicable, yet intelligent, but Patrick plays the White Dragon with aplomb and a menace that I didn’t think was possible. I loved that there were no redeeming him, that he remained the same cruel, twisted figure. Whilst it could be one-dimensional, I thought Patrick gave him depth by being wily and oddly understandable, through his cruel actions to his son.

What can be said about Stroma’s portrayal of Vigilante that hasn’t been lauded everywhere? He steals every scene he is in, with his naive psychopathy and mirror to the worst of Peacemaker’s excess. His jokes, energy and insanity is reminiscent of Deadpool, only a bit more nuanced and less obnoxious. This is a much more intriguing character study into psychopathy than it is meant to be some over the top joke. So much of his presence comes across as slightly unsettling and tone-deaf, thus adding to his hilarity value without resorting to fourth wall breaks.

From a technical standpoint, Peacemaker is a well-executed show. There are no real stand-out cinematic moments, after all, it is a TV show, but everything is framed nicely and I particularly liked the overall setting of suburban Americana. There is something telling about how the entire show takes place in a quiet American setting, with a lot of forests, car-parks, cheap motels and trailer parks, that give the whole Butterfly plot a strange unsettling feeling.

I will also say that I appreciated how well-executed the VFX/CGI effects are. Eagly is beautifully realised, as are the butterflies and the “cow.” It shows how you can still create an effective alien invasion whilst working to the limits of the budget. The gore is also hilariously over the top and gruesome, which is exactly how I like it.

But by far my favourite element of the show is the heavy inclusion of metal music.

As a relatively passionate metalhead, I was blown away by the consistently excellent choices Gunn made in picking metal music for scenes. The 44 songs that Gunn has hand-picked for the entire series are an incredible playlist that covers classic metal songs to more obscure Swedish glam-rock and hair metal. And it works as a beautiful cohesive score that showcases both Peacemaker’s taste and how he expresses himself in more tragic moments.

I mean, any series that features super obscure bands like The Hellacopters or BAND-MAID (who I have been an avid fan of since they first arrived on the scene) has to have excellent taste in music and the fact that Gunn made the opening of the show a dance number to Do Ya Wanna Taste It by Wig Wam reassured me that this series was going to be as fun as it gets.

Overall, I had so much fun with this series, and was actively looking forwards to the next episode every single week. It was everything I’m sure Gunn and Cena wanted the series to be; funny, tragic, outlandish and ultimately a good time watching a ridiculous superhero concept with a banger score.

A scene to recall: I don’t think I’ve ever seen something as equally epic, tragic, horrifying and beautifully badass as the scene when Sophie-Goff enters the station, her butterfly army taking over everyone to the song: Monster by Reckless Love. My jaw was on the floor.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) – Cinema Review

Y/N? No.

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Stars: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Florian Munteanu, Michelle Yeoh, Ben Kingsley & Tony Leung.

Review by Damocles

This gave me Mulan (2020) vibes. I thought I put that movie behind me, but this bought it back. Curses.

This is going to be a difficult review for me to write, simply because I am struggling to recall anything of note in this film. So much of this film was lacklustre in the extreme, from the visual effects, to the story and the acting.

There was nothing to grab onto in this film.

I will also be the first to admit that I am somewhat of an MCU apologist, however this was before I hopped off the train after Avengers Endgame successfully delivered me to its’ destination.

In many ways, I wished they stopped because this movie sucked.

First, a personal confession. Unlike many people who love to be shoehorned into an ethnicity for whatever reason, I don’t see nor feel any special connection just because someone happens to look similar to me. In fact, I like to maintain that I feel an equal amount of embarrassment and pride in my ethnicity as any healthy person should.

What this means, is that this film is not going to get any special treatment simply because it has Asian people in it …

Feel free to read the “after-review” list below for the long litany of sins that this film commits in my eye.

Another superhero, another origin story, you would think that Marvel would know how to change up the formula by now, considering one of their first hits, Blade (1998) didn’t even bother with establishing how the character came to be, just that he is Blade.

What made this film particularly uncompelling is the rather convoluted plot to get him to become the hero. In what was a promising start to the concept of the hidden hero, ends up being marred by motivations that aren’t particularly conducive to character building and the usual derivative Marvel CG-heavy third act.

The idea that the hero needs to return home, after being attacked by unknown forces is not a great basis for understanding what makes Shang-Chi … Shang-Chi. There needs to be more than just him finding out why he is being attacked or the usual “bad dad” ham-fisted motivations.

There are many problems with Shang-Chi as a film, but the most problematic of them all is how utterly boring it all is. It is oh-so predictable, and visually there is nothing to latch onto. The plot suffers from extreme second act lagging issues and so many characters lack proper depth to their motivations and even participation in the film’s story.

To future cement its mediocrity, the atypical Marvel quips are delivered with their usual slightly tone-deaf happenstance throughout the film, most of which are done through Awkwafina. Whilst mostly innocuous, I found myself not particularly amused by the line’s creativity nor their timing.

Which brings me to the cast.

Simu Liu is perhaps one of the least charismatic leads for a superhero film seen in a while, with his performance lacking any real charm or particularly note-worthy elements that make a lead interesting. This, on its own, is not an issue, as there have been films where the lead isn’t the most interesting factor, take Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), but when so much of the surrounding film is forgettable, it falls on the lead to carry the film.

Much like how Al Pacino carries The Godfather (1972) or George Clooney in Michael Clayton (2007), these films are elevated by their strong performance and fearless plumbing of emotional depth.

In perhaps less Oscar-worthy comparison, you can see how Chris Hemsworth transforms Thor in Ragnarok (2017) to a much more affable goofball, or how Benedict Cumberbatch taps into a worldly arrogance for his turn as Doctor Strange in his film.

Despite the plot and the usual backstory trappings, Simu Liu doesn’t exactly do much beyond pose in martial art stances and look vaguely confused at what is going on around him.

Not exactly, a lead that demands his own solo movie entry into the MCU.

Perhaps he is best introduced ala Black Panther, as a side character to a larger story?

Lamentably, the rest of the cast isn’t much better, with Awkwafina’s natural charisma, muted to favour Simu Liu and showcased only through very bizarre fashion choices, Tony Leung being wasted in his role, similar to Donnie Yen in Star Wars: Rogue One (2016) and Michelle Yeoh being casted as a predictably serviceable matronly figure with no real standout elements to her character.

You can sense the running theme here, a lot of safe choices that don’t particularly endear the film nor enhance them.

This extends to the cinematography which is laughably terrible with its overuse of CGI and garish mixing of colours for a truly strange aesthetic that runs throughout the film. Too much of the film looked like it was filmed on a green screen with effects that accompany them, looking decidedly Black Panther (2018) third act bad.

What a huge pity, that never once, did the film really tap into the vein that it was ripping off from, with real bamboo tree settings or thought provoking scenery that these films can offer, in conjunction with martial arts action. Instead, so much of the film has very rough-looking scenery that does little to sell the impression that we are observing a beautiful hidden world.

From an action standpoint, the only noteworthy fights were seen in the first half of the film, which even then, fail to stick the landing owning to the overuse of CG all around the action. Whether it is garishly purple neon lighting or a bizarre overuse of a CG bus, so much of the fights were marred by strange choices that detracted from the action and took the immersion out of it.

You didn’t feel like Simu Liu could perform these fights, because there simply wasn’t enough opportunity for him to really showcase the extent of his skill.

Contrast these fight scenes with the more grounded, fast-paced action seen in classics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) or even the more ludicrous silliness as seen in Kung Fu Hustle (2004), you will notice that the camera work is much steadier and less dynamic, truly allowing these martial artists to showcase the speed and complexity of the choreography and thus cement their status as brilliant fighters & actors.

This inability to allow the cast to breathe life into the plot or the action, is also highlighted with an incredibly forgettable score by Joel P. West, in which he uses generic Asian themes and melodies to mix them together in a highly disparate album, that goes from electronic to traditional and everything in-between.

Whilst Marvel films aren’t particularly known for their remarkable score, I found Shang Chi’s one to be particularly egregious and worthy of the complaints directed against Marvel films and their soundscapes. I, for the life of me, cannot place a single tune from that film, and this is coming from a guy who enjoyed Hugh Jackman’s work on G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) and that score was as generically Asian as it gets.

To throw in a quick note regarding fashion, it was also lacking a lot of the usual Marvel flair for design and their iconic thigh boots. Whether this wasn’t incorporated because Simu Liu is a sneaker head, I shall leave up to you, but taking a look at his final costume, you will notice a distinct lack of flair for the bottom half of his “super-hero outfit.”

Overall, Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, needed a shorter name, better script and direction. So much of the film was dull, boring and ugly to look at and I found myself consciously checking the time to see how much more of the film was left.

It was so infernally monotonous that I cannot even provide a single photo to showcase a scene I liked in the film.

God, this film almost made me wish I saw Mulan (2020) for an insufferable second time instead.

To sum up … Shang Chi … is most definitely lacking any Chi in its filming-making.

Just go and watch some proper classics instead and leave this as another forgettable entry in the MCU … like so many of them are nowadays.

Who looked at this and thought …. “Yes. Job well done.” Who?! A dark, ugly background and lame wall-paper effects for the rings, of which you can barely discern there are 10 of the blasted things. This is amateurish. This is terrible.

THE CRAP LIST (SPOILERS AHEAD):

This list seems to be a recurring phenomena when I discuss bad films, so from now they shall be referred to as the Crap List. Spoilers will be everywhere and will categorise all the personal gripes and issues I’ve had with the film.

  • As an Asian growing up in a Western country, there are a lot of embarrassing qualities about us, as a people and a splinter faction of strange Asians. Here are some of them:
    • Terrible fashion taste … check.
    • Drive obnoxious BMWs everywhere … check.
    • Strange sense of entitlement over being a “failed Asian in a dead end job” … check.
    • Being over-sensitive about racism, whilst failing to acknowledge that Asian people are far more racist than anyone else out there … check.
    • Shallow references to things that everyone knows (Bubble Tea, Karaoke etc) and pass it off as being “cultured” … fucking check that box.
    • So you can imagine my embarrassment when they put every single terrible element about ABAs (Australian/American Born Asians) in this film …
  • Speaking of BMWs, was their sponsorship intentional? Because you could not have chosen a worse & accurate car to represent ABAs. As a car nerd, I hate BMWs with a passion, mostly because of the clientele they attract …. rude, non-indicator-using arseholes who think that in owning the cheapest luxury car available, somehow equates to having class. Here, in Australia anyway, most of those pricks are young, arrogant Asian males and I cannot stand their poor taste in car, manners or aesthetics. Let’s not get into the fact that recent BMW grilles have been an affront to eyes everywhere with its pig snout and somehow the only people buying them are these pricks.
  • I’m sick of seeing neon lights everywhere to represent Asia. It’s uncreative, unrealistic and honestly, just shows how cheap your sets are. Please stop this stupid trend of showcasing Asia as some neon-soaked urban jungle. It’s really just old, crumbling and ugly in a fascinating way like most concrete jungles are.
  • The Mandarin’s retcon is … lame honestly. I liked how they changed in up in Iron Man 3 (2013) and to have Trevor Slattery return is clearly just a shot across the bow to those who liked the twist.
  • What was the point of Trevor returning? Was it for Ben Kingsley to get a pay-check? Because his character did nothing and served zero purpose.
  • Why was the CGI so bad throughout this film? The visuals were so over-saturated or muted. The bamboo forest’s saturation was eye-searing, yet when you flick back to the mountain, it was so dull and difficult to make out anything.
  • Can we stop having such ridiculous third acts? It’s OK to change things up Marvel, but having two giant dragons fight each other is ridiculous and there was no build up to such things. Not to mention the actors barely react to the sight of a fucking mythological creature just spring out of nowhere.
  • Why did Awkwafina’s character go along for the ride? Any reasonable person would have left after the whole bus incident. Her character was so unbelievably shoe-horned in and the fact that she was the one who became a master archer that took down an evil dragon was …. stupid. You can’t convince me that it only took 2 hours to become an expert archer, especially when all she’s ever done is park cars.
  • Speaking of which, I understand being a valet is a “dull job” but at the very least they could have paid it off and made the pair of them use their driving skills to good use. But alas, that never happened.
  • Why can’t I remember any of the characters’ names …
  • My poor man, Florian Munteanu was terribly wasted in this film. His imposing stature, once so awesome and powerful in Creed 2 (2018) is now reduced to a bumbling henchman with a sword for an arm …. hardly worthy of such a powerful physique.
  • The non-subtle hint about racism being the main reason why Shang Chi was bullied as a child, had me rolling my eyes so hard. It would be better to show not tell, and showcase perhaps how difficult it was for him to grow up without a parental figure, instead we got a cheap woke moment and myself reflecting on it and going “did you ever think that maybe you were bullied cos you are an ass?”
  • The lack of definition on the relationship between Shang Chi and Awkwafina was irritating. I disliked how they finished each other sentences constantly whilst telling a story, like two dumb minds clicking together, and how they never got together. It seems odd to me, to have an entire life-changing event appear on screen, and yet somehow the people involved never get closer …. romantically or personally. If I had a huge death-defying, mythological experience, I’m certain my biological brain would be reminding me of how short my life is, and that I need a mate immediately. But no … they just remain friends, as usual. Nothing changes. I question that, you could have at least stopped a lame karaoke session to discuss the events over drinks.
  • Karaoke … BMWs, Bubble Tea, Horrible Fashion, Poor Parenting, Bad Career Choices, Sneaker Obsession, Fuccboi Attitudes, Cringe Small Asian Hype-Man, Stoic Older Sister Who is a Bitch … this really felt like they went through a lame checklist of all the things Asians have gone through in Western countries, not actual Asia.
  • I genuinely forgot the sister of Shang Chi was in film … her character had such a lame impression on me … she wasn’t there to add drama, nor enhance the plot in any meaningful way … perhaps this is a strange thing, but I feel siblings in films need to either be very minor characters that help pep up the hero or be a dastardly competitor whose relationship with the lead has soured beyond healing. Otherwise they serve no real purpose. There is a reason why a majority of the most compelling characters do not have siblings.
  • The plot was so poorly paced, that I have large blank spots of the film’s plot in my mind. There are just a lot of disparate scenes in my head and they all clash with each other, either tonally or visually.
  • The final third act was definitely one of the worst things about the film. Visually, it was a mess, and the fight scenes were so choppily edited that none of the moves were particularly impressive. It didn’t helped that most of it was spent riding a dragon and that looked terrible.
  • Too many factions were involved in that final fight scene and it was all so lame … fighting another faceless CG army again.
  • The lack of emotional closure and stakes between father and son was … disappointing to say the least. His sacrifice in the end was also lame. It needed more panache.
  • The titular rings were very uninventive in terms of a super-power. There was literally nothing special about them. They weren’t used creatively, or showed any real worth compared to the other iconic weapons in the MCU. They were just colourful wallpaper light shows …
  • The costume department need to look at themselves in the mirror and consider their colour profiles and the cuts of the jackets and costumes. Because everything sucked in this film. EVERYTHING.
  • The mother figure and Michelle Yeoh should have been one character.
  • The end credit scenes were awful. Unnecessary. Useless. Not even fun. Just horribly bad and I see Brie Larson has another bad hair day again.
  • They promised me a martial arts movie … I got another generic lame MCU movie. Seems like this is the par for the course nowadays ….
  • I’ve never winced so much throughout a film, that it left my jaw hurting. So thank you.

No Time to Die (2021) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes.

Director: Cary Fukunaga

Stars: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Ana de Armas, Lashana Lynch, Rami Malek, Ralph Fiennes & Jeffrey Wright.

Review by Damocles.

As a Bond film, it was a delight to see the legendary 007 back on screen again.

At its’ core, No Time to Die is a loving tribute to the 007 franchise, and a celebration of Daniel Craig’s contributions to the legendary spy. This is a film that is anchored around Craig’s portrayal of Bond, emotional, vulnerable and undeniably, stoically masculine.

As has been noted by many fans of the series, Craig’s run as Bond, started off strong in Casino Royale (2006), went decidedly wrong in Quantum of Solace (2008), before returning to form in Skyfall (2012). The less said about Spectre (2015) the better, the film being a particularly egregious chapter in my film repertoire.

It was hoped that Craig would return to full strength for his final run as James Bond, and I can confirm that, despite some of the messier issues with the film, it was wonderful to see Craig get a proper send-off and truly cash in all the good-will he had garnered over the years.

No Time To Die is aware of the franchise history, littering much of the screen with excellent references to previous Bond films without being overly distracting. As a long time Bond aficionado, I found myself smiling a lot throughout the film, noting the Easter Eggs with a genuine pleasure. From the dotted beginning of the opening credits to the John Barry-esque score that Hans Zimmer employed, this film is bound to get many hardcore fans going.

However, just like Skyfall, No Time to Die works on its’ own. It is an emotional film, with much of the focus on the character of Bond and his relationship with Madeline Swann, the second Bond girl to actually reappear in a Bond film.

Both Craig and Seydoux seem to have worked on their chemistry, because in this film, it is given plenty of screen time to develop and grow, with both characters faring much better in this film, than the predecessor.

However, this emotional focus is so narrow that it sacrifices much of the plot and drama. A lot of the plot is confusing, with the new bioweapon something of blurry detail. In particular, Malek’s Safin is one of the weakest Bond villains as of yet, his motivations and relationship to Bond very obscure and obfuscated.

Let’s not mention the numerous henchmen either, of which there are a bit too many. I did enjoy though, the return of the physically strange henchmen trope that Bond films are so famous for and his eventual death. Oddly, this time, the “killer-pun” was actually perfectly delivered and was in no way as distracting as it was in Spectre.

To the movie’s credit though, in spite of the lack of characterisation and messy plot, the pacing of the film is rapid, with so many action scenes and emotional beats hitting their mark accurately, so that you do not feel the length of the film. In less deft hands, the movie would have dragged inexorably, but Fukunaga’s helmsmanship ensured that the movie was quite engaging throughout.

A pleasant surprise, was Craig’s committent to stunt-work, who despite his age, still possess the same killer body and look that he debut in Casino Royale. So many of the action sequences were not filmed around, thanks to Craig’s excellent work ethic and it was a pleasure to see Bond in action again, with grounded fights and many fun gadgets.

From a cinematography perspective, No Time to Die is easily one of the best looking Bond films, with strong uses of colours, appropriate amount of hand-held and plenty of homages to past Bond films. It is an attractive movie, that really soaks you in the adventure and the ocean blues of Craig’s eyes.

What was less solid though, was the more generic Hans Zimmer score, which failed to impress me upon first listen, without the context of the movie. Too much of the score was borrowed from previous Zimmer works, the Bond theme and odes to John Barry’s past work only kicking in every so often to remind you this was a Bond film. I was particularly left nonplussed by his latest version of the Bond theme.

Something about it, lacked the bombastic nature I’ve come to expect from a Bond theme rendition.

Billie Eilish’s No Time to Die theme however was excellent. It was the perfect segue into the opening credits, after the opening sequence, and perfectly nails the overarching theme of the film. This coupled with the gorgeous visuals of the credits and the seamless transition into the rest of the film, might be one of my absolute favourites after Casino Royale’s You Know My Name. I absolutely adored the song in cinemas.

One final waxing of positives for this film is the wardrobe. Daniel Craig established his own trend way back in 2006, by only wearing a tuxedo when it was appropriate to do so. Otherwise you would often see him bedecked in Sunspel polo shirts, Barbour jackets or Crockett & Jones chukka boots.

This has much to do with the excellent sartorial taste of Daniel Craig, whose style icon: Steve McQueen, has influenced much of Bond’s approachable casual wear. In this film, Bond is beautifully outfitted in every scene, with a flattery and generosity not often seen in the Sam Mendes films, whose tight suits served to distract, rather than compliment Craig’s muscular figure.

Overall, I am pleased that I made this film the first cinematic experience coming out of lockdown. It has rekindled my love with the franchise and the cinema experience, something I do not take very lightly. It has also begun to empty my wallet, due to a LEGO Aston Martin DB5 replica, a pair of Vuarnet Sunglasses and a luxurious N.Peal Ribbed Army Sweater. I’m just glad I haven’t got the luxury of affording an Omega Seamaster yet or heavens forbid, an Aston Martin Superleggera.

To sum up, No Time to Die is a worthy farewell to Craig’s Bond, whose tenure has been a lovely run as the world’s most famous spy. Thank you Daniel for inspiring countless men out there to achieve a modicum of what Bond is as a man.

A scene to recall: There are so many references to previous Bond films, but I particularly love the shot below, simply because it emulates the iconic gun-barrel sequence. Fukunaga is clearly a huge Bond nerd. There need to be more clever adaptations of iconic Bond moments like this in the future.

A scene to recall: Perhaps my favourite sequence of any of the Craig era Bond series, the few seconds of Bond piloting his private yacht to his Bahamas home, relaxed, supremely confident and alone perfectly encapsulates everything I know about the character.

I love that they used Ian Fleming’s home Goldeneye and that you can see how this is the place where Bond escapes from the troubles of the world. It’s quiet, beautiful, rich and lonely.

The speargun is a lovely throwback to past Bond films, Craig’s outfit is masculine, supremely confident and sexy. Add in Zimmer’s heroic score, it made me wish I was Bond.

At the end of the day, I want my Bond films to create a serious feeling of envy. It is that jealousy that makes me want to upgrade my own life. This scene did just that.

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.