Category Archives: Action

Snowpiercer

snowpiercer-posterWhat Jesse said:

Watch Snowpiercer. Do it now.

Mike’s verdict:

I got a copy of this movie years before Jesse recommended it to me, but I never got around to watching it. For some reason I ended up forgetting what it was about or why I found it interesting in the first place. I actually believed that it was a foreign film with subtitles. If Jesse hadn’t recommended it, I’d probably never have watched it at all.

I’m glad that I finally did; given Jesse’s sparse review though I could easily have forgotten about it again. Since he didn’t elaborate on why I should watch Snowpiercer, I will have to assume that he recognized the film for what it truly is: a review of some of the most enduring themes in the history of political philosophy.

I suspect that many people will walk away from this film thinking it is a commentary on economic inequality – something along the lines of the 21st century protest movements that hope to up-end the so-called ‘One Percent’. Certainly, inequality is a major factor here – economic divide is the source of the film’s main conflict. But Snowpiercer isn’t about economic inequality – it’s about the rationale for maintaining that inequality.

The train here should be looked at as a metaphor (thinly veiled) for a society – everything
humanity needs ,thought not necessarily everything it wants, is within the train, while exiting means stepping into the cold, harsh reality of nature. But just as there are consequences to joining any social contract built to protect humankind, living on the train requires sacrifices to maintain balance. Economic classes develop both from the balance and in support of the balance. The upper-class in the front needs the idea of the poor in the back as much as it needs to physically oppress them. Moreover, the poor need to believe in the possibility of revolution just to maintain meaning in their lives. The train is an intricately designed state; meant to allow the human race to continue living safe from the dangers of nature, even if some lives will be more comfortable than others. The point is not to make every person’s life good, but to maintain a balance that will keep humanity in existence, hopefully until nature itself is less brutal.

The architects of this state understood that classes would be necessary, what each class would require to maintain it’s end of the balance, and how to manipulate both sides to facilitate that balance. The philosopher kings control the state through invisible hands that direct the people; deciding where sacrifices are necessary and building mythologies to make these sacrifices palatable. In the back of the train, the mythology is built on the great revolutionary uprisings that are never successful but close enough to give hope. In the front, people are taught to respect and revere the balance – ‘everyone has their place’.

It almost works. And it like it. Snowpiercer is a contemporary exploration of the social contract, continuing the work developed through Hobbs, Locke and of course Rousseau. That said, their are definitely flaws in this film. Leaving aside arguments against it’s philosophical commentary (that would be a whole other kind of blog), Snowpiercer has some pretty annoying holes: Where does the ‘flammable’ industrial waste / narcotic actually come from? What sort of witchcraft powers the train? Why does the train even need to keep moving? Many of the details seem needlessly implausible.

Even so, the acting is good, the story avoids being too obvious, and the ending was nicely
ambiguous. Jesse got it right, well, I assume.

7/10

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Slow West

SlowWest.jpgWhat Jesse said:

Yo, I got another one fer ya. This one is called Slow West and it stars Michael Fassbender and some kid named Kodi Smit-McPhee, who, turns out, I’ve already seen in another great movie – The Road.  Anyway, this is kind of a weird love story about a pasty-faced lovesick kid (Kodi) who travels from Scotland to the badlands of 19th century America in search of his massive crush, a girl named Rose.  The kid is uber naive and idealistic about his quest so you know he’s in trouble as soon as you see him in the New World.  Throw in some crazy bounty hunters and a jaded gunslinger with an agenda and you got yourself a pretty quirky twist on the old western genre.  I really enjoyed this one so cancel your plans for the Pokemon Go hunt and go see this movie right now. Go.

Mike’s verdict:

Apparently I took a while getting around to watching this one – as evidenced by Jesse’s outdated reference to a game that I was too old for even a decade ago when anyone cared about Pokemon.  Part of the delay was life – I was busy doing non-movie-related activities. But I was also very skeptical about this movie.  I’m not a fan of westerns generally and the idea that Jesse might have uncovered a good one seemed pretty remote.

Thankfully, this isn’t really a western, or at least it doesn’t feel like one.  It does tick all the western boxes: dusty plains, wooden buildings, people riding horses, everyone has a gun, nobody can aim a gun, the good guy looks just like the bad guys, nobody is ever in a hurry, it rarely rains but when it does everyone just gets wet, etc. Yet somehow this film feels less like western and more like fantasy.  I can’t quite place it, but the atmosphere doesn’t feel like it’s intended to be part of our reality – it has the same once-upon-a-timeness as the beginning of Stardust. You can sort of relate to the characters, but their reality is clearly askew.  This is particularly strong at the start, before the film shifts to the New World, but it continues right through to the end.  That said, it’s doesn’t feel completely foreign in the way that Cowboys & Aliens does.

The whole thing gives off a slight awkwardness that I enjoyed, and also left me constantly guessing where it was going to take me.  In the end, the basic result is pretty obvious – you can predict how Jay’s quest to find Rose is going to turn out just from the interaction between the two characters in the first five minutes. But this is definitely one of those movies that is more about the details of the absurd journey, than the details of the absurd ending.

Aside from some minor gruesomeness near the end, Slow West is fairly easy to watch, has a nice unrushed – but not too slow – pace and is packed with dry humour that you need to pay attention to notice (ha, salt in the wound!).  It’s like an easy-listening radio station during ‘the cool DJ’s’ shift – nothing overly special, but a fine way to spend a few hours.

8/10


Ant-man

Ant-Man-International-PosterWhat Jesse said:

Ant-Man is a friggin’ awesome fun ‘popcorn movie’ that doesn’t waste the audience’s time with overly complicated motives or over the top exposition. It’s a pretty simple story of a guy (Paul Rudd) who puts on a high-tech suit that gives him the power to shrink down to ant size in order to stop an evil dude from using the technology for not-so-nice purposes. The action sequences were a lot of fun and I thought the comic relief (provided by Michael Pena as ‘Luis’) was absolutely perfect. The whole thing was a lot of fun and I’m definitely checking out a sequel if they ever make one. Michael Douglas does a competent job as the ‘Scientist with a formula’ and Evangeline Lilly sleepwalks through this one as the ‘angry daughter who doesn’t get it yet’. Nothing much to think about or grand themes to ponder, just a fun flick to chill out to with some very cool sequences. Good movie, check it out.

Mike’s verdict:

Ant-Man is not my favourite superhero. Ant-Man is not even a superhero I was aware of until Jesse told me that there was a movie. I still can’t understand why Ant-Man is a superhero at all – at least, I can’t understand why a writer would choose to name a hero with the ability to become very tiny ‘Ant-Man’. Lots of things are tiny, many of them cool. There is nothing cool, menacing, or even encouraging about an ant unless it’s the kind that stings; and this one, as it turns out, doesn’t sting.

I started this movie thinking I was going to see something like Spider-Man, a superhero with super-abilities that are directly related to the persona he portrays, and merely enhanced by technological toys. Instead I got the other kind of superhero – the guy who puts on a suit and just comes up with a name that kind of fits the image at a really basic level – like Batman. That might be fine, except that in this case the toy that Ant-Man uses just takes him from being a normal-sized loser, to a really tiny one.

To be fair, I can’t exactly argue with the things that Jesse liked about this movie:

  • It definitely doesn’t waste time with complicated motives or exposition.
  • It is a simple story.
  • The action sequences were fun.
  • The comic relief was, okay maybe not perfect, but appreciated.
  • Michael Douglas is competent as an idealistic scientist.
  • Evangeline Lilly definitely doesn’t get it.
  • There is nothing much to think about or themes to ponder.

Watching this reminded me of Fantastic Four – the one from 2005 . It’s entertaining for the sake of entertainment, nothing is spectacular but everything works together if you suspend disbelief (which obviously you have to – it’s a superhero movie!).

My only real complaint is that nothing about this movie stands out. If I want a simple story, Ant-Man won’t be the first movie that comes to mind. If I’m in the mood for action, or if I want to watch Michael Douglas, Ant-Man won’t be the first movie that comes to mind. If I want to watch Evangeline Lilly, Ant-Man won’t be – wait, I’ll never want to watch Evangeline Lilly.  And if I don’t want much to think about or themes to ponder, Ant-Man won’t be the movie that comes to mind.

Ant-Man fulfilled its role – it helped time go by while I was bored on an airplane. But unless I’m on another plane with really limited choices, Ant-Man The Sequal/Prequal won’t be my choice.

On last thing, Paul Rudd does a fine job as Ant-Man. I expected him to be funnier, because he is, but I can understand that wasn’t his role this time.  But if I want to watch Paul Rudd in the future, Ant-Man won’t be the movie that comes to mind.

5/10


These Final Hours

What Jesse said:

Got another Aussie gem fee ya. I want you to check out These Final Hours. I’ve never heard of any of these actors so I had no idea what to expect from this low-budget flick. Familiar premise but I found it a lot of fun and thought-provoking. Check it out.

Mike’s verdict:

This is the first movie in a long time that I’ve had trouble starting a review for. I’ve been thinking it over for a few days, trying to come up with something to say but I keep drawing a blank. The trouble is that this film is really quite generic. It’s not bad exactly, and it’s not totally uninteresting; but there’s nothing specifically novel about it. It’s kind of the Australian movie equivalent of Nickelback – all the right elements are technically there, but there’s no spark of life.

I’m generally a fan of the apocalypse genre when it’s done right and I don’t care much about why the world is ending, as long as there’s a good story surrounding the characters. There has to be a thin layer of anxious suspense, or consistent hilarity, that keeps me interested in the people. And of course it helps if the people have an interesting goal that takes them through increasingly unlikely settings before they arrive at the oasis they’re invariably running to.

This films lacks all of those criteria.  The main characters are mostly sympathetic (technically) but I never really felt invested in them, and the plot lacks any significant depth. I do wonder if this might be different for viewers in Australia who, presumably, would be more familiar with the actors. To me, they’re just generic dramatic action movie stand-ins who haven’t had a chance to develop a unique style of their own yet, but at least a few of them are apparently recognizable in the southern hemisphere.

I must admit that I strongly disagree with Jesse’s assessment of it being a low-budget film – at a reported $2.5 million (Australian) it’s definitely not Hollywood, but it’s not an art school project either.  The cinematography is actually quite well done; I was never distracted by it. Of course that doesn’t fix the overly familiar story line and forgettable characters.

If there is one saving grace, it’s that Jesse was mostly right about the though-provoking nature of the film.  About halfway through I came to the realization that there is a subtle undercurrent present in most apocalypse films which is brought to the forefront in this one; namely, the insinuation that, given the knowledge of certain death and sufficient time to react to it, humanity will destroy itself before the apocalypse actually happens.

For some reason, suicide, rioting and general mayhem are regularly assumed to be the most immediate reaction to news that the world will be destroyed tomorrow. While I generally take a dim view of human nature, I’m not sure that I agree with this assessment. Certainly there will be pockets of individuals who decide to kill the boss that passed them up for a promotion, and a significant spike in drunk driving accidents. I’m even willing to accept the odd suicide as well. But I don’t think that average people will be anywhere near as quick to kill their families or themselves as we’ve portrayed them to be. I think people will be so focused on finding ways to ignore the inevitable and in such a state of denial that when the end does come they will miss it.

In considering the spectrum of reactions presented in this film, I realize that film in general has done a poor job of predicting pre-apocalypse behaviour and this is one more example of that. It’s too bad too; the intention of These Final Hours is obviously to provoke discussion on this behaviour and it would have been nice if the film hadn’t presented such melodramatic examples.

Overall, this movie gets a 5/10. The film is thought-provoking in its misunderstanding of people, but not particularly interesting as a movie.


Interstellar

What Jesse said:

… before he watched Interstellar:

Dude, we should go see Interstellar. Everyone and everyone’s monkey and everyone’s monkey’s dog is saying that it is fantastic. My brother and my cousin and my neighbour and my wife’s hairdresser’s pet saw it and they all say it’s awesome. They also say it’s the kind of movie we definitely need to see in IMAX. It is a space movie after all. Seriously, it’s going to be great. Plus it has Matthew McConaughey – he’s not as dreamy as Brad Pitt but he’s a close second.

… after he watched Interstellar:

Dude, please don’t review this movie. I don’t want people to think that I would recommend this – it will be devastating for my reputation as a movie-watcher and human-being. Please, please, please don’t tell people I made you and our respective significants pay $17 + taxes to see this in IMAX. Please. Let’s just forget this night ever happened.

Mike’s verdict:

I’ve decided to review Interstellar because even though the recommendation was both premature and formally rescinded, in the end I saw this movie because Jesse suggested we watch it: as far as I am concerned, that’s pretty much the definition of a recommendation. The fact that Jesse didn’t have his facts straight before he made the recommendation is irrelevant. Besides, there is already precedent for this type of situation: Black Dynamite.

There’s a lot wrong with Interstellar, but let’s start with the good because it’ll be quick. The atmosphere is great. This movie doesn’t have quite the same feeling of vastness that Gravity has – which is significant given that I watched Gravity on a comparatively tiny 8-foot screen rather than IMAX – but it still does a very good job of expressing the distance and emptiness of space. There is even one scene where I had a twinge of agoraphobia. I also really liked the stark difference in soundtracks between scenes on earth, in space vessels and in open space. You could really, really here the silence when it mattered.

And that’s it for good points.

My first complaint is that every major plot point is obvious – including the big twist. It’s not just obvious from the point of view of the spectator watching on the outside either – the characters themselves definitely should have seen it coming. The only parts of Interstellar’s plot that were not obvious were the ones that lacked any tie to actual science. Jonathan and Christopher Nolan took the liberty of using fantasy to fill in where science stops. In some sense this is fair, unfortunately I felt that the fantasy they invented was too silly. I really enjoy learning about the theoretical science behind space travel and this movie started off really well (at least to my non-specialist eyes). But it takes a bizarre tangent at the point where the science runs out.

Next, the characters. There is one interesting character in this movie; he gets all the best lines and is the only one you will feel for when there is danger. The entire rest of the cast is just there to ensure that the plot moves along – and I was never invested in any of them. In case you are wondering, the one good character isn’t portrayed by McConaughey, nor is it  really a central character in the strictest sense – in fact it isn’t a real person. I hope Bill Irwin is given the credit he deserves for bringing some entertainment to this movie. As far as the real characters are concerned, McConaughey was the same gritty-but-well-meaning character he is in every movie; Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine had suitably adequate performances but nobody is going to remember them for this movie. Matt Damon‘s role is less forgettable, but his performance isn’t really notable. I did like how Topher Grace and Casey Affleck were unceremoniously thrown in like extras though.

Overall, I think most of this movie was okay. I was basically entertained most of the way through until fantasy took over near the end. But it isn’t a good movie and it doesn’t deserve anywhere near the critical praise that it’s been getting. It’s also not worth the money to see it in a theatre – much less IMAX. I wish I’d waited and watched this at home.

4/10


Homefront

What Jesse said:

Alright, I’m gonna give you a break for once and recommend a movie that is not a documentary about something that happened 30 years ago or requires reading subtitles! I want you to put down your “Hipster Life” magazine and go watch Homefront starring my favorite British ass-kicker Jason Statham and thespian extraordinaire/academic powerhouse James Franco. Statham does his usual amount of knee-capping in this flick, and the plot is fairly straight forward, but Franco is just creepy enough to make this a pretty fun ride. Oh yeah, almost forgot, you’ll get to see Winona Ryder doing her very best impression of a bad girl doing bad things… I had a blast (pun intended) watching this one. Get yourself a large bucket of popcorn and settle in for some good old-fashioned hollywood violence!

Mike’s verdict:

This movie sucks; not because the characters are stupid – which is true – or because the plot is nonsensical – which is also true. No, this movie sucks because of its failure to adhere to the core tenets of action movies.

The first half was the worst. It definitely had a bit of the knee-capping action that Jesse was blinded by, but it was wasted. The narrative spent time trying to force emotional investment in the characters and in doing so neglected aspects that draw viewers to Statham movies in the first place. Nobody watches this kind of movie to have their heart touched. It’s almost as if the writers thought they needed to prove that the protagonist was a good loving father – as if anyone cared. By the halfway point I felt like stopping, not because the movie was so bad (it was!), but because I was annoyed at having been tricked. It’s too bad too – the beginning seemed particularly promising with Izabela Vidovic stepping up as a possible rival to Chloë Grace Moretz‘s Hit-Girl. Unfortunately, five minutes later she was just a lame little girl again. The writers completely missed an opportunity to redeem her later in the movie too.

The second half got a little better as the action picked up, but it was too far gone to recover. I was no longer subjected to the family movie sub-plot but by this point it was just too late. With every new ridiculously unfortunate coincidence, I found myself waiting for the explosions that Jesse alluded to. Incidentally, on my original reading of Jesse’s recommendation I was left with the inference that Winona Ryder was going to be blown up. Even to the last minute I held on believing that my patience would be rewarded. The anticipation was immense and probably would have saved this review if not for the heart-crushing disappointment felt when the credits rolled and I finally realized that Ryder’s character wasn’t going to be obliterated.

Positives: The characters are believable as their characters. James Franco definitely comes across well as the backwoods thug – in spite of the lame actions written for him. I also liked the almost-crooked-but-mostly-just-lazy town Sheriff, and all of the rednecks were sufficiently dirty.  Of course both Statham and Ryder feel natural as well – they play themselves, so how could they not?

I’m both surprised and disappointed with this one. I knew I wasn’t going to get award-winning performances, but I expected a decent smash and bang action movie. Homefront is not that. It’s not enough to have bad guys with unlimited ammo and protagonists that can rig whole houses to explode. A proper action movie needs to be able to insinuate that the good guy probably has deep connections with the people he saves, without wasting precious viewer time trying to show it. Every minute Jason Statham acts like a good father is a missed opportunity for him to headbutt someone.

If you’re looking for a good action movie and have your heart set on seeing Jason Statham hurt people, forget this one – watch The Mechanic instead.

3/10


Leon: The Professional

What Jesse said:

I can’t believe you still haven’t seen this 90’s classic! Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Jean Reno… Awesome performances by all these fine actors in a movie that’s all about delivering a fun kick-ass ride. I enjoyed this one very much when it came out and I would rank it as one of my top all-time favorite action flicks. Now drop whatever you’re doing and go watch it!

Mike’s verdict:

What’s with Jean Reno and movies where his character has to protect a teen girl? Leon: The Professional and Wasabi are not the same movie, but they’re awfully similar. In the former, Reno is a good bad-guy protecting a little girl who lived down the hall; in the later Reno is a bad good-guy protecting a daughter he didn’t know he had. In both there is a lot of punching and kicking and grown man / little girl tension.

Leo the Pro is a pretty standard action flick with a very familiar group of characters. It isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t really notable either. It’s the kind of movie that has its few naughty words muted so it can be shown on basic cable at 2pm on a Sunday. Reno’s performance is not as awesome as Jesse pretends, but it’s okay. I’ve never met Reno, but I’d be willing to bet that in real life he’s exactly the same temperament that he portrays in every movie.  My immediate impression in the opening scenes was that this film seemed like is was going to be a comedy.  Then about 5 minutes in I was quite certain it was a comedy. But by the 30 minute mark I had realized that I wasn’t supposed to be laughing.  Natalie Portman is most definitely not awesome either, but she was only 12 in 1994 and has since done much better work so I think she can be forgiven.

The runaway star of the show is actually Gary Oldman. He is absolutely fantastic as a crazy bad guy. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Heath Ledger took Oldman’s performance in this movie as a basis for his legendary portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight.

This film isn’t really anything. But Oldman’s performance is so good that it’s worth watching at least once.

6.5/10