Outpost should be better. Unfortunately, director Blaakilde doesn’t have many zombie ideas except ripping off The Evil Dead camerawork.
The short takes place at a remote Soviet outpost; its single soldier (Asbjørn Krogh Nissen, who has nothing to do except look sad) prepares to tear it down as the Soviet Union falls and gets infected with zombie juice. The short runs maybe eleven minutes without the end credits and the opening takes two or three, so it’s Nissen walking around by himself for most of it.
And Blaakilde nicely turns that walking around into a joke. The further joke is the zombie is too dumb to survive–he’s locked in, can’t open the gate, can’t catch the cute little snow mouse.
But the short takes place over twenty years. Shouldn’t the zombie decay?
The production values make it play well… only Blaakilde doesn’t have any original ideas. It’s too bad.
Directed by Esben Halfdan Blaakilde; written by Blaakilde, Sander Andreas Schwartz and Magnus Balle; director of photography, Balle; produced by Schwartz.
Starring Asbjørn Krogh Nissen (Soldier).
Posted in 2012, Color, Denmark, Horror, Not Recommended, Russian, Short, War
Tagged Asbjørn Krogh Nissen, Esben Halfdan Blaakilde, Magnus Balle, Sander Andreas Schwartz
Lego Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Out gleefully turns the Star Wars characters into caricatures–it’s a mix of Empire and Episode One, apparently because that combination works out funniest. Darth Vader is upset when Darth Maul gets more of the Emperor’s attention, C–3PO (actually voiced by Anthony Daniels) annoys everyone, Luke is all of a sudden a heartthrob.
What’s impressive about Michael Price’s script is how well he tells the jokes. Lego Star Wars doesn’t revere its source material, but does appreciate it and all the pop culture hubbub it’s caused. The result’s far smarter for that approach. Price tells a lot of jokes I assumed he’d avoid.
The CG’s all fantastic; the shadowing makes some of the static LEGO figures appear to be physical rather than rendered. The John Williams music works well (and is the only thing used sincerely).
As expected, it’s fun, but smart too.
Directed by Guy Vasilovich; screenplay by Michael Price; edited by Michael D. Black; produced by Joshua Wexler; released by Cartoon Network.
Starring Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Kenneth Colley (Admiral Piett), Brian Blessed (Boss Nass), Julian Glover (General Veers), Lloyd Floyd (Luke Skywalker), Matt Sloan (Darth Vader), Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks), Lisa Fuson (Princess Leia Organa), John Armstrong (Han Solo), Andy Secombe (Watto), Tom Kane (Narrator / Yoda), Sam Witwer (Darth Maul / Emperor Palpatine) and Jason Canning (Admiral Ozzel).
Posted in 2012, Action, Animation, Cartoon Network, Color, English, Family, Recommended, Sci-Fi, USA
Tagged Ahmed Best, Andy Secombe, Anthony Daniels, Brian Blessed, Guy Vasilovich, Jason Canning, John Armstrong, Joshua Wexler, Julian Glover, Kenneth Colley, Lisa Fuson, Lloyd Floyd, Matt Sloan, Michael D. Black, Michael Price, Sam Witwer, Tom Kane
It feels like whole parts of Interview with a Hitman are missing. A major supporting character will be revealed in the present action, grown up from a little kid in one scene in the flashback. There’s probably a good ten minutes of exposition missing from the picture.
It might explain why, when it’s not full of bad dialogue, Hitman is such a beautifully made film. Director Bhandal can’t write dialogue whatsoever (he also doesn’t even know when he’s got half a good scene–he just goes on and runs it with more talking), but the plot sometimes feels like After Hours with a hitman. Great music from Dan Teicher, just phenomenal. Hitman works best when there’s no talking, just Teicher’s music, Ben King and Harry Skipp’s sublime editing and Richard Swingle’s lovely photography. It’s like Bhandal realized, in post, he couldn’t tell his story straightforward because of the writing and acting fails, so he let it at least partially succeed through exceptional work from his crew.
Luke Goss plays the lead as an adult and he’s middling. He’s good when he doesn’t have any lines. He’s particularly bad during the terribly written narration. Still, he’s leagues ahead of Elliot Greene, who plays the same character as a child. Greene’s terrible.
Caroline Tillette’s good as Goss’s love interest, Danny Midwinter’s all right, Philip Whitchurch is good.
The obvious finish fails some of the actors’ good work and there’s a lot terrible about it. But there’s a lot good about Hitman too.
Written and directed by Perry Bhandal; director of photography, Richard Swingle; edited by Harry Skipp and Ben King; music by Ben Teicher; production designer, Mickaela Trodden; produced by Dean Fisher; released by Kaleidoscope Film Distribution
Starring Luke Goss (Viktor), Caroline Tillette (Bethesda), Stephen Marcus (Traffikant), Danny Midwinter (Sergei), Philip Whitchurch (Tosca), Patrick Lyster (Xavier), Ray Panthaki (Franco), Uriel Emil Pollack (Alexandru) and Elliot Greene (Young Viktor).
Posted in 2012, Action, ⓏⒺⓇⓄ, Color, English, Kaleidoscope Film Distribution, Thriller, UK
Tagged Ben King, Ben Teicher, Caroline Tillette, Danny Midwinter, Dean Fisher, Elliot Greene, Harry Skipp, Luke Goss, Mickaela Trodden, Patrick Lyster, Perry Bhandal, Philip Whitchurch, Ray Panthaki, Richard Swingle, Stephen Marcus, Uriel Emil Pollack
In Our Nature has an unfortunate title. The film concerns two couples from New York–Jena Malone and Zach Gilford and then Gabrielle Union and John Slattery–in a country home for the weekend. Slattery is Gilford’s estranged father, who arrives unexpectedly. Our Nature also, in the possessive sense, refers to the location.
It’s dreadfully cute, but the film makes up for it.
Director Savelson constructs the film like an onion. There are always layers to be uncovered, including some he leaves untouched and just implied. There’s a great scene where the people are starting to bond and Union and Gilford get angry at Malone and Slattery. Savelson implies some unspoken reason for these separate angry people’s feelings, but never explores it. So while the onion construction always allows for some other hurtful revelation to come out and get another scene going… Savelson doesn’t use for that purpose. He’s just put two very secretive men together–if Nature has a fault, it’s how little Malone and Union actually have to do.
They have some amazing scenes and both give great performances–Union probably gives the film’s best performance, which is no easy feat–but it’s about Slattery and Gilford. The first half’s more about Gilford, the second half’s more about Slattery. The women are secondary. The location binds the two men. Their women are just visitors.
Savelson’s direction’s outstanding, great photography from Jeremy Saulnier, great editing from Kate Abernathy and Annette Davey.
Nature’s a fantastic picture. Shame about the title.
Written and directed by Brian Savelson; director of photography, Jeremy Saulnier; edited by Kate Abernathy and Annette Davey; music by Jeff Grace; production designer, Russell Barnes; produced by Anish Savjani, Vincent Savino and Savelson; released by Cinedigm.
Starring Jena Malone (Andie), Zach Gilford (Seth), John Slattery (Gil) and Gabrielle Union (Vicky).
Posted in 2012, ★★★½, Cinedigm, Color, Drama, English, USA
Tagged Anish Savjani, Annette Davey, Brian Savelson, Gabrielle Union, Jeff Grace, Jena Malone, Jeremy Saulnier, John Slattery, Kate Abernathy, Russell Barnes, Vincent Savino, Zach Gilford
I’m not sure what’s more incredulous, director Kim thinking she’s Bob Rafelson or her thinking her For Ellen lead is Jack Nicholson.
Besides the inept, predictable rip-off (or homage) of one of Nicholson and Rafelson’s more famous moments, the only thing distinctive about For Ellen–besides some great photography and location shooting–is Shaylena Mandigo as the title character. Kim gets an exceptional performance out of Mandigo, who’s seven or so. In her scenes with Dano, Mandigo acts circles around him. It’s embarrassing for Dano.
Other than those scenes, Dano is the whole show in Ellen. One has to assume Kim has him ad-libbing some of the more inane exchanges. He’s a struggling musician (it’s never clear if he’s any good, doesn’t seem like it), who travels from Chicago to an undisclosed small midwestern town to sign his divorce papers. There he mets his daughter (Mandigo) for the first time.
But for the first hour, the film’s mostly Dano wandering around. He hangs out with his weird, small town lawyer (Jon Heder in a thankless role). Dano’s not just unlikable, he’s boring. Director Kim must have really thought he was giving a better performance than the one she put on film. Or video. You get the idea.
As for Kim… her composition is great. Her dialogue’s awful, but her direction of talky scenes is good. She tries to be very cute with the exposition, which flops.
Ellen’s got nothing to offer except Mandigo and cinematographer Reed Morano.
Written and directed by So Yong Kim; director of photography, Reed Morano; edited by Bradley Rust Gray and Kim; music by Jóhann Jóhannsson; production designer, Ryan Warren Smith; produced by Gray, Kim and Jen Gatien; released by Tribeca Film.
Starring Paul Dano (Joby), Jon Heder (Mr. Butler), Jena Malone (Susan), Margarita Levieva (Claire Taylor), Julian Gamble (Mr. Hamilton), Dakota Johnson (Cindy) and Shaylena Mandigo (Ellen).
Posted in 2012, ⓏⒺⓇⓄ, Color, Drama, English, Tribeca Film, USA
Tagged Bradley Rust Gray, Dakota Johnson, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Jen Gatien, Jena Malone, Jon Heder, Julian Gamble, Margarita Levieva, Paul Dano, Reed Morano, Ryan Warren Smith, Shaylena Mandigo, So Yong Kim
The Thieves doesn’t try to redefine the heist genre. Instead, it shows the genre’s possibilities. The film has the traditional flashbacks, double crosses, triple crosses and so on, but it also brings a tenderness. And it’s a sincere tenderness; the film resonates because of its characters, not its spectacles. However, director Choi does everything he can to make the film viewing experience spectacular. When the film achieves its singular successes, it’s because how of he mixes the ingredients.
There are a lot of characters in the film. Ten thieves and some (mostly) comic relief supporting cast. Choi opens establishing the Korean thieves–they team up with a Chinese crew for the heist–before moving into the film’s central heist. And it’s a central sequence. The Thieves is a never boring 136 minutes and the heist sequences come relatively early. Once it’s done, Choi then moves into the film’s most surprising turn. It becomes an urban adventure thriller. There’s some astounding sequences, which shouldn’t work because of tone, but Choi and his actors bind the everything together seamlessly.
There are showy performances–Kim Yun-seok, Lee Jung-jae and especially Oh Dal-su–and there are quiet performances– Kim Hye-su, Kim Soo-hyun and Simon Yam–and there are quiet performances masquerading as showy ones–Jun Ji-hyun and Kim Hae-suk. They quietly collide and create wonderful energy.
The Thieves isn’t perfect–Choi never finds the right way to end it–but it’s excellent and a lot of fun.
Directed by Choi Dong-hoon; written by Choi and Lee Gi-cheol; director of photography, Choi Yeong-hwan; edited by Shin Min-kyung; music by Jang Young-gyu; produced by Ahn Soo-hyun; released by Showbox.
Starring Kim Yun-seok (Macau Park), Lee Jung-jae (Popeye), Kim Hye-su (Pepsi), Jun Ji-hyun (Yanicall), Kim Hae-suk (Chewing Gum), Oh Dal-su (Andrew), Kim Soo-hyun (Jampano), Simon Yam (Chen), Angelica Lee (Julie), Tsang Kwok Cheung (Johnny), Ju Jin-mo (the chief inspector), Choi Deok-mun (the casino manager), Yee Soo-jung (Tiffany) and Shin Ha-kyun (the art gallery director).
Posted in 2012, Action, ★★★, Cantonese, Color, Crime, English, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Showbox, South Korea
Tagged Ahn Soo-hyun, Angelica Lee, Choi Deok-mun, Choi Dong-hoon, Choi Yeong-hwan, Jang Young-gyu, Ju Jin-mo, Jun Ji-hyun, Kim Hae-suk, Kim Hye-su, Kim Soo-hyun, Kim Yun-seok, Lee Gi-cheol, Lee Jung-jae, Oh Dal-su, Shin Ha-kyun, Shin Min-kyung, Simon Yam, Tsang Kwok Cheung, Yee Soo-jung
An adaptation of something like Dangerous Liaisons–where the ending isn’t just assured, but probably familiar to the viewer–requires good actors and an interesting approach. This version of Liaisons has both.
It takes place in 1931 China; the Japanese have started attacking and there’s unrest. Director Hur has a great sense of style for this era and setting, more than he has good composition, for example. When Liaisons becomes a manor film, Hur is just as capable as when he’s in CG-enhanced Shanghai.
The political unrest is just background action. The film’s concentration on the main events are all the melodrama and soap opera. It’s kind of unfortunate. As the film neared its inevitable conclusion, I was sad there was no attempt to break free a little with the supporting cast in particular.
As the scheming leads, Jang Dong-gun and Cecilia Cheung are great. Between the setting–it feels like an old Hollywood picture, just in color and grandiose–the performances and Jo Sung-woo’s playful score, it’s impossible to dislike them. Especially as Zhang Ziyi’s innocent victim lacks personality. She gets sympathy because it’s Dangerous Liaisons, but she doesn’t get particularly good until the third act.
The film feels a little long, with the technical competences and the acting keeping up the quality if not the interest. Most of the setting-specific adjustments to the source material happen in the first half. Everything else is predictable.
Liaisons is finely produced and acted, but there’s no spark.
Directed by Hur Jin-ho; screenplay by Yan Geling, based on the novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos; director of photography, Kim Byung-seo; edited by Nam Na-young; music by Jo Sung-woo; produced by Chen Wei Ming; released by Zonbo Media.
Starring Jang Dong-gun (Xie Yifan), Zhang Ziyi (Du Fenyu), Cecilia Cheung (Mo Jieyu), Shawn Dou (Dai Wenzhou), Lisa Lu (Madam Du Ruixue), Rong Rong (Mrs. Zhu) and Candy Wang (Beibei).
Posted in 2012, ★½, China, Color, Drama, Mandarin, Mystery, Romance, Singapore, South Korea, Zonbo Media
Tagged Candy Wang, Cecilia Cheung, Chen Wei Ming, Hur Jin-ho, Jang Dong-gun, Jo Sung-woo, Kim Byung-seo, Lisa Lu, Nam Na-young, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Rong Rong, Shawn Dou, Yan Geling, Zhang Ziyi
Presumably the Zero in Tai Chi Zero‘s title indicates a second installment is forthcoming, because this one ends on two cliffhangers. The film joyously embraces its artificiality–there’s no attempt at making the kung fu fighting seem realistic; instead, director Fung concentrates on making it look good and drawing attention to that effort. The opening titles all have annotations, informing the viewer where they might have seen cast members before. The method makes Zero a lot of fun, when it otherwise might not be.
It’s not a particularly fun story. Yuan Xiaochao plays an orphan who ends up in a possibly villainous army, his commander knowingly endangering his life because of a mysterious kung fu-enabling ailment. He journeys to an idyllic village, hoping to save his own life, where he’s met with derision from the townsfolk.
Meanwhile, Eddie Peng plays another outsider who’s never been accepted, but now he’s back to build a railroad through his old village.
Angelababy is the girl; she pines for Peng and constantly kicks Yuan’s ass with the kung fu he desperately wants to learn. All three give good performances, especially Peng. And Tony Leung Ka Fai’s great as Yuan’s reluctant friend.
While the film’s constantly trying to be amusing–and it succeeds almost all of the time–the technical achievements are significant. The photography’s fantastic, as is Katsunori Ishida’s music. Katsunori toggles between grand melodramatic scoring and playful action instantly.
It’s hard to hold the problematic ending against Zero. It’s just too fun.
Directed by Stephen Fung; screenplay by Cheng Hsiao-tse and Zhang Jialu, based on a story by Chen Kuo-fu; directors of photography, Peter Ngor, Lai Yiu-Fai and Du Jie; edited by Cheng, Matthew Hui, Zhang Jialu and Zhang Weili; music by Katsunori Ishida; production designer, Timmy Yip; produced by Wang Zhongjun, Daniel Wu and Zhang Dajun; released by Huayi Brothers Media.
Starring Yuan Xiaochao (Yang Lu Chan), Angelababy (Chen Yunia), Tony Leung Ka Fai (Uncle Laborer), Eddie Peng (Fang Zi Jing), Shu Qi (Yang Lu Chan’s Mother) and Feng Shaofeng (Chen Zai-Yang).
Posted in 2012, Action, ★★, China, Color, Drama, Huayi Brothers Media, Mandarin
Tagged Angelababy, Chen Kuo-fu, Cheng Hsiao-tse, Daniel Wu, Du Jie, Eddie Peng, Feng Shaofeng, Katsunori Ishida, Lai Yiu-Fai, Matthew Hui, Peter Ngor, Shu Qi, Stephen Fung, Timmy Yip, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Wang Zhongjun, Yuan Xiaochao, Zhang Dajun, Zhang Jialu, Zhang Weili
Despite its opening–a training camp for turning kidnapped peasant children into killers–The Assassins is actually a manor drama. Sure, it’s a Chinese manor drama, but it’s a manor drama. The action principally takes place at Chow Yun-fat’s estate. There are all sorts of political machinations (none interesting) and some character development (mildly interesting).
Chow looks distressed throughout the picture. It fits his character but one has to wonder if he realized what a terrible job director Zhao Linshan does. The Assassins has no personality. It occasionally has rapid action movie cuts and, of course, it has to have wire-work and then there’s the occasional bullet time, but it has no personality. The estate has no presence. It’s ornate but alien.
And director Zhao’s awful at handling the political stuff. The bad guys are immediately demonized–or just played as buffoons. The protagonist of the film isn’t even Chow (though he takes over the second he arrives) but Liu Yifei, as a young woman sent to the estate to kill him. Hence the title.
Chow’s great, Liu isn’t bad (though her voiceovers are the worst written thing in the film) and Annie Yi’s decent as the Empress who conspires against Chow. The male supporting cast is weak, however. Tamaki Hiroshi is awful, as are Alec Su and Qiu Xinzhi.
Excellent photography from Zhao Xiaoding helps a little, but not enough to make The Assassins compelling. The film’s failings aren’t all director Zhao’s fault, just most of them.
Directed by Zhao Linshan; written by Wang Bin; director of photography, Zhao Xiaoding; edited by Cheng Long; music by Mei Linmao and Lin Maoqing; produced by Zhao Xiaoding; released by Changchun Motion Picture Studio.
Starring Chow Yun-fat (Cao Cao), Liu Yifei (Ling Ju), Tamaki Hiroshi (Mu Shun), Alec Su (Emperor Xian of Han), Annie Yi (Empress Fu Shou), Qiu Xinzhi (Cao Pi), Yao Lu (Ji Ben) and Ni Dahong (Fu Wan).
Posted in 2012, ⓏⒺⓇⓄ, Changchun Motion Picture Studio, China, Color, Drama, History, Mandarin
Tagged Alec Su, Annie Yi, Cheng Long, Chow Yun-fat, Lin Maoqing, Liu Yifei, Mei Linmao, Ni Dahong, Qiu Xinzhi, Tamaki Hiroshi, Wang Bin, Yao Lu, Zhao Linshan, Zhao Xiaoding
The first third of Jack Reacher is an elegantly told procedural, with director McQuarrie emulating a seventies cop movie. Of course, there are some garnishing, but nothing monumental. Tom Cruise’s cop is actually an ex-Army cop, it takes place in the twenty-first century (but I don’t think there’s a single computer turned on in the entire picture) and it’s a got an action movie finish. The finish is great–McQuarrie doesn’t give the violence flare, it’s all matter of fact. It knocks the movie’s quality down a little, but only because McQuarrie has to stop making a cop movie.
Technical standouts are Caleb Deschanel’s photography and Joe Kraemer’s music. Kraemer (until the last bit, when he’s just scoring action) does an amazing job. The music gives Reacher a lot of its personality, especially since the film often leaves Cruise in the first half to do other things.
Some of these other things involve Rosamund Pike, who I’ve never liked before but here is phenomenal, and Jai Courtney as a bad guy. Courtney’s good too. He doesn’t have a lot to do, but McQuarrie makes sure it’s all important. Same goes for Richard Jenkins and David Oyelowo. They’re both great. And Alexia Fast is good too.
As for Cruise?
At the end of the big action finale, Cruise tells a bad guy about how he’s a badass. Maybe McQuarrie waited with the line because he had to know Cruise had earned it.
And Cruise (and Reacher) definitely earn it.
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie; screenplay by McQuarrie, based on a novel by Lee Child; director of photography, Caleb Deschanel; edited by Kevin Stitt; music by Joe Kraemer; produced by Tom Cruise, Don Granger, Paula Wagner and Gary Levinsohn; released by Paramount Pictures.
Starring Tom Cruise (Reacher), Rosamund Pike (Helen), Richard Jenkins (Rodin), David Oyelowo (Emerson), Werner Herzog (The Zec), Jai Courtney (Charlie), Vladimir Sizov (Vlad), Joseph Sikora (Barr), Michael Raymond-James (Linsky), Alexia Fast (Sandy), Josh Helman (Jeb), James Martin Kelly (Rob Farrior), Dylan Kussman (Gary) and Robert Duvall (Cash).
Posted in 2012, Action, ★★½, Color, Crime, English, Paramount Pictures, Thriller, USA
Tagged Alexia Fast, Caleb Deschanel, Christopher McQuarrie, David Oyelowo, Don Granger, Dylan Kussman, Gary Levinsohn, Jai Courtney, James Martin Kelly, Joe Kraemer, Joseph Sikora, Josh Helman, Kevin Stitt, Lee Child, Michael Raymond-James, Paula Wagner, Richard Jenkins, Robert Duvall, Rosamund Pike, Tom Cruise, Vladimir Sizov, Werner Herzog