Cinema-Maniac: Video Games: The Movie (2014) Review

When it comes to video games there’s various things I love about the industry from Atlus (specifically their Persona and Shin Megami Tensei series), Nintendo, Naughty Dog, and Hideo Kojima. There is also many things I absolutely loathe in the certain direction it’s taking from EA, Ubisoft, always online drm, and the pay to play model. It’s this general uncertainty about the industry that I rarely ever write about videogames or devote as much attention to them as I once used too. So when something simply called “Video Game: The Movie” is direct to the point of course I would see it since it’s history is one aspect I’ve held an interest towards. Sadly the film is only partially about videogames history which it does rather poorly in explaining certain contributions and when it comes right down to it this film just glorifies its culture.

Video Games: The Movie aims to educate audiences about how video games are made, marketed, and consumed by looking back at gaming history and culture through the eyes of game developers, publishers, and consumers. In the early goings of the documentary the slick plethora of animated infographics and an effective opening-credits sequence that details the evolution of games over time shows promise. Slowly explaining certain aspects like graphic bits and statistics on the average gamer. For the first eight minutes the presentation is slick and focused, but then as it progresses it’s made clear there’s no directed goal. This documentary biggest issue is in it structure. In the beginning the documentary looks at the history of videogames and makes it first fatal mistake of giving rushed summarization of significant contributions. In some cases overlooking some achievements from certain consoles. For example, it fails to mention the Sega’s Dreamcast contribution towards the industry for being the first home console to include a built-in modem, the first home console to support online gaming, and the first home console to support an MMORPG. If a non fully committed gamer like myself knows that fact without ever touching a Dreamcast console what makes you think this documentary will do a proper job of providing insight on videogames history. If removing quotes from Retamas Gandhi, Nicolas Tesla, and John F. Kennedy (who loved JFK: Reloaded) what the documentary aimed to achieve remains muddle. Over sighting important information causally in order to use to lesser effect later on. By not following a nonlinear format in its presentation of videogames history aspects of it will be loss to non-gamers coming across as shallow. How it presents it history will cause confusion in its constant jump from years to years. Poorly getting across what the technological differences from a Nintendo NES to a Sony’s Playstation among other things. The insights provided can be sometime insightful, but are too often glib and come at the expense of the film relaying the events at hand to the viewer. For example, you could come away from the section on game violence with no knowledge that the fight made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If the documentary aimed to be one thing there wouldn’t be this full length review criticizing it. Unfortunately since it attempts to highlight certain aspects of videogame culture its aimed is bigger than what it grasped. Once again the usage of it timeline does a disservice to the structure and the viewers. In one moment the documentary is addressing the media blaming video games for violence and the next it’s celebrating vudeogames. It’s emotion is all over the place without feeling connected to each other. Another issue is it priorities when it comes to who’s speaking on the subject. Someone important as Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell whose contribution to videogames is very significant receives less screen time than actor Donald Faison who hasn’t contribute to videogames in any shape. All the interviews sadly focus more on big stars than actual known videgame developers. There are several montages of video game trailers and gameplay footage that can on for minutes which also constitute as bad transitions. If you happen to be interested in any of the games in the montages you won’t have their name listed anywhere in the film. If the director does anything correctly it is conveying the passion of the fans and game designers he interviewed. For many games are much more than just a hobby, and that love and enthusiasm shows through. However, that segment isn’t enough to make up for the rest of documentary that says “All area of gaming is great” in a propaganda manner. For non-gamers it’ll come across that way because the documentary is filled with nothing, but good words about video games therefore doing harm in not providing a fair view on the subject matter more negative aspects. Every area it wants to discuss on the subject either misses relaying information to the viewer or is sloppily delivered because of it poor choice of its own structure.

Video Games: The Movie is too glamorize in its poor representation of gaming culture that it’s slick production values make it come across as one giant commercial. The whole structure of the documentary is sloppy jumping from certain subjects and specific years that muddles it message. If one thing it does express correctly is conveying gamers passion for video games going beyond simply enjoying playing games and touching on the more social aspect of gaming. It’s just a shame that same passion wasn’t shared by its filmmakers to make an engaging film on the same subject matter these gamers care so much for.


Cinema-Maniac: Hercules Reborn (2014) Review

Earlier in 2014 a filmed titled “The Legend of Hercules” was released and it was absolutely terrible. Especially it leading star Kellan Lutz who was incapable of showing any personality and acting talent in the title role. If you were to tell me “The Legend of Hercules” was knockoff by “The Asylum” I would believe you, except “The Asylum” actually managed to make a better Hercules movie with significantly less money. The saddest part being if there was actually more effort put into it’s screenplay and production it could have been entertaining.

Hercules Reborn follows Arius seeking help from the mythical hero Hercules to save his wife and his town from it’s new maniacal king. Despite his name being in the title Hercules is not the film’s protagonist. Instead it’s Arius in a conflict that gets resolved in a by the number fashion. Protagonist power hungry mentor betrays protagonist by kidnapping his wife and killing off the current holders of power, protagonist goes to seek help from a famous character in the same job field to help him in his rebellion, but upon first impression in seeing the legendary figure is a pathetic drunk or in a pathetic state he loses some hope. Until a moment arrives to prove his identity in a situation requiring him to save the protagonist and the legendary character takes a chance to redeem their name to his/her former glory. Just giving that rough summarization on the first act is enough for experience film viewers and storytellers to predict how the film will play out. There’s no twists of any sort to the story that is dead set on a straightforward delivery. Like every character in the film Arius is unengaging. Characters are one dimensional so there’s not much to read into and motivations are strip down to the lowest common denominator. Everything is kept at a basic level simultaneously committing the screenwriting crime of being rush and lingering too much on something established. Whenever there’s any possible room for characterization it’s rush and whenever you’re given a scene where you know the purpose it’ll linger on it. Clearly that’s some backward thinking in screenwriting. That’s not even taking into account the story doesn’t take advantage of Hercules as a character. In the film, he’s not a demi-god going on fantastical adventure based on any of his famous stories. While the intention was clearly made to make Hercules more grounded as a character it’s a decision that horrifically backfires especially when providing no characters of any depth. If given more time to fleshed plot devices and characters the film would have had an okay story. With some developed characters it would made the predictable journey feel less dull and uneventful.

Now on this corner we hear there are stories that claim this man is a God, has the strength of twenty men, and is a nearly unstoppable warrior. The actor that plays Hercules is none other than John Hennigan, or as some wrestling fans might him as WWE Superstar John Morrison. John Hennigan is not a good actor when he has to speak, but the script he’s provided requires more of his physical mannerism than actual line delivery. Despite his physical appearance Hennigan understands how to play the pathetic aspect of his character usually stumbling whenever his character is drunk. His inability to maintain his composure when drunk helps with the illusion that maybe Hennigan is not that great of a warrior. He’s also convincing in his action scenes, though it would be nice if the director knew how framed or shoot an action scene. Hennigan only falters in his line delivery, but his performance is above average since Hannigan knows how to portray the character on a physical standpoint. The only other actor that might register with viewer is James Duval (Frank the Rabbit from Donnie Darko) who gives a bad performance. He’s very off in his comedic timing and shares no chemistry with any other actor on set. Than there’s Christina Ulfsparre who’s nothing more eye candy on screen. Her scenes don’t amount to much aside from showing her in peril as the token damsel in distress. Finally Christian Oliver is the leading man and he’s bland. Oliver is given a typical role with little range to do show more emotion. Action scenes on the other hand are all terrible. In every single action scene the camera is way too close to making it difficult to make out what’s going on and the choreography behind the action scene is atrocious. Looking as if they were the rehearsal take instead of the actual finalize action scene. Adding to the bad action scenes is a shaky camera that makes it that much harder to enjoy an scene if in the faint chance you can make it something out of it. As for the editing, that’s also terrible with too many frequent cuts destroying any sort of flow in the action scene. Another issue is something I never expected to criticize. This film lack of extra hurts the grand scope it wants to pretend to have. The lack of numbers makes everything smaller, in particular to the ancient cities when depicting a crowd at most you’ll see on screen close to twenty. Although, knowing the studio history to be cheap it’s a surprised the location the film shot at gives off the ancient city vibe it’s trying capture.

Hercules Reborn is a knockoff and there’s no hiding that fact, but as a film it falls victim to being uninspired dull trite instead of an entertaining B movie “The Asylum” more often gets wrong than it does right. It could have been entertaining if more effort was put into it. There’s little for viewers of all kind to gain, especially those into B movies will find the film lacking inspiration in anything it does.


Cinema-Maniac: Elysium (2013) Review

Elysium, set in the year 2154, follows Max who agrees to take on daunting mission that if successful can save his life. If you’ve seen “District 9” you also have seen “Elysium”. It’s about the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The protagonist nominally works for the overlords, but is discarded when an accident gives him a deadline on his life, and nothing left to lose. He is selfish until a child in a situation gets him thinking about others as well as himself. Taken in by hated second-class citizens, and offered a dangerous, messy form of possible salvation that involves leaving Earth and flying somewhere forbidden. Anyone who’s seen “District 9” you sadly seen how “Elysium” plays out even if the order of events are changed. That there alone is the biggest obstacle it never conquers. By copying the framework of another film both by the same director/writer creates a disconnect for the audience when that same framework is dumbed down. It’s one thing if another copy a similar framework since it’s a different interpretation, but by the same filmmaker it comes of as a more expensive remake that retread discussed themes that was better explored in his previous film. However, the biggest nail in the film coffin is it inability to stand on its own.

Filled with good ideas and a simple to understand metaphor what would have helped it imaginative world become meaningful is if any of it made sense or got developed. The world features a host of neat gadgets like explosive heating seeking discs, rocket launchers that can travel through the Earth atmosphere, organic brain data that can store data, and a medical pods that can heal any sort of disease. These are a couple of the neat gadgets created in this dystopia, but how they are incorporated into the film makes no sense. Those heat seeking explosive disks are only used once in the film despite it being made very clear how useful it is. While it’s not a plot hole it does present the world as if high class citizens were all idiots. Also, that rocket launcher that can travel through the Earth atmosphere and into space is “Elysium” defense system. Forget the idea that citizens in the slum can built ships that can travel to space. The real question is this space station for the rich can afford medical pods that heal any disease, but the most their money can buy is a guy on Earth shooting rockets into space. Clearly some corners were cut as despite in one scene four rockets being fired only three are ever shown. Elysium should really get smarter people, a defense system that best fits their needs, better equipment for its officers, and a better citizen identification system. Another neat idea that is superfluous in existence is how an organic brain can carry data similar to a computer. This brain concept is made pointless in the film as it usage of a questionable plot device makes it first action sequence pointless. If extracting data is easy as getting a wifi connection from one’s laptop it defeats the purpose for our heroes extracting that same data physically. At least these concepts while nonsensical are nowhere near as bad as some of the other plot points (Max’s radiation effect) that get dropped inexplicably.

As a storyteller there are certain and specific techniques that are used to make your audience cheer for the hero. One of the most common and abused to death in this film is giving heroes inferior technology. This is nicknamed the “Underdog Effect” as physiologically superiority can easily be tricked to be associated with pure evil. This film to no extent ever restraints itself in abusing this particular plot device since it’s much easier and quicker to make sure your heroes likable if you give them a handicap. It’s a useful device if you want to explore complicated themes and expand on your concepts, but seeing how this dystopia came to be, why still Elysium uses an id citizen system that Earth citizen have copied successfully, why those living in the slums don’t attempt to steal medical pods, what drove these people to take such drastic measure for class separation, and when did the logic die on Earth all go unanswered. However, there is a counter effect to the “Underdog Effect” if that same character is too incompetent in overcoming his ordeals. Max has a criminal background and at one point referred to as legend in the area he lives in. His skills which other characters brag about are never applied to Max. As a protagonist he’s too clumsy in his journey to be get behind surviving numerous possible deaths scenario through sheer luck, plot convenience, and one blatant deus ex machina usage when Max is on the run. When you have a character that can’t survive on his own instincts he stops being relatable and becomes a tool when his failure is used to advance the plot. By relying heavily on good luck for survivor Max is never an engaging protagonist which is bad when all of your other characters are one dimensional.

Matt Damon is mixed in the leading role. He’s never engaging because his line reading varied in scenes where it matter most. At one point Damon is serious when he wants to save a childhood friend, but completely monotone when telling a little girl to stop telling him a story. It’s a role that handicapped him severely as his facial expressions never seems to change no matter the scene. On paper it would be easy to blame the xosuit that Damon character has to wear for giving him limitation physically (especially in his movement), but disregards obtained injuries before wearing his exosuit for the film. Jodie Foster is odd in the role. Her accent is inconsistent with recorded dialogue being dubbed noticeably. She’s always emotionless which to a degree serves it purpose to hate her more, but without background neither Foster nor the audience knows who she truly is. Her role is just being someone hate is almost like if her portion of the script only had a drawing of a angry face. William Fletcher in his short screen time suffers from the issue as Jodie Foster. Fletcher is told to be display as little human emotion as possible to be hated. Sharlto Copley is energetic portraying a sociopath. His physical appearance alone tells you how much of a lunatic he is, but it is his commanding acting and wrathful voice that makes him a memorable threat. Copley is the most notable actor that overcomes weak writing. Wagner Moura shows some difficulty in saying his English lines, but is one of the few supporting actors whose efforts overcomes weak material. The few action sequences had special effect that were solid. With varied weaponry how an opponent gets taken out were all unique. However, the editing and cinematography of those action scenes are all over the place. In particular there’s a fight in the climax that has the middle of it fight cut every three second. Choreography in the fight itself is basic villain is over power, but hero overcome eventually through will power was hard to enjoy with scattershot editing. None of the set pieces flowed smoothly because of quick cut editing that made it a chore to look at and close ups that clouded what was being shown. There were several occasion where you want the camera to pull back, but generally remains to close. Neil Blomkamp vision of the future looks realistic while it characters aren’t. His world feels real and distinct when in the dirty slums on Earth to the clean and glossy looking Elysium.

Elysium has good ideas none of which are ever developed to make it message have substance. It feels more like a superficial product of dumb entertainment rather than an intellectual blockbuster it wanted to be. The plot makes no sense and with no developed characters to gravitate towards its message never gets taken to the heart. Visually Blomkamp created a visually realistic future at the cost of any logic behind it. For anyone who seen “District 9” it’ll come off as a sloppy remake and anyone who never seen “District 9” will find it ideas intriguing, but without much substance behind them there’s hardly a reason to become engaged in what emotions and thoughts it’s trying to get across.


Cinema-Maniac: The Raid 2 (2014) Review

After finishing finishing a film called “Merantau” I saw concept footage for a filmed called “Berandal”, in 2010. It was a simple scene; a prisoner is in a graffiti filled prison restroom stalled contemplating some inner thought, there’s a crowd of angry prisoners attempting to break the door down, and the camera zooms in on the door lock before it eventually breaks forcing a single a prisoner to defend himself against a mob. That concept footage despite barely being over a minute showed promised it could carry a movie. However, a little known film called “The Raid: Redemption” came out in 2012 (nationwide that is) and due to its popularity “Berandal” was made possible. Sadly it became a victim of a forced tie-in to a film that not only had a completed script (hence concept footage to fund said film), but had no connection to “The Raid: Redemption” in any way. A trait that is made apparent with shallow characters and hollow emotional resonance that prevents it from being the grand sequel it tries so hard to be.

The Raid 2: Berandal follows Rama going undercover with the thugs of Jakarta and plans to bring down the syndicate and uncover the corruption within his police force. As the synopsis hinted the story aimed to cover more ground which it does to various degrees of success. When it succeeds the film does an excellent job displaying the honor among criminals and the dividing factor between ideology of power. In particular the hinted complex father and son dynamic between Uco and Bangun. Both characters are in the same line of work, but the methods to achieve a goal and maintain power keeps them at arms length. It’s their ideology and positioned that puts into perspective why both prefer to operate the way they do. The film could have focused on these two characters since they receive the most characterization, but sadly are a fraction of the whole picture. Another positive is the choice of pacing. Early on in the film there is small doses of violence, but as the film progresses how often it occurs is more frequent. Allowing plenty of breathing room to set all the plot devices in place that slowly escalate to more violence occurring. Sure the first thirty minutes of the film are the least captivating because it’s slow to set up the pieces, but once it gets closer to reaching the finish line the more engaging it becomes. Giving a sense how vastly small the danger is where we started is no where near life threatening as where we ended up.

Early on in the film it’s established how corrupt the police force is and how very few of them are are in the operation to take them down. Aside from that, there’s really no other connection between the task force and Rama that ties it with the original. Occasionally it brought back to serve no greater purpose than to reiterate the hero motivation. Though given how by the number the rocky relationship between Rama and his superior officer plays it’s no surprise the direction Rama takes in his investigation. It could have easily been about (and originally was) about a former prisoner finding a family in the criminal world. Instead it comes across as tacked on since the only time the task force is brought up is whenever Rama needs information or complicate the plot with a device that won’t come into play in the story. Certain elements in the film just didn’t click as they should have. For starter, there wasn’t a sense that scenes were always serving a purpose in some form. Say what you will about “The Raid: Redemption” screenplay, but it was a competent one because of it premise every scene felt as if the characters were making progress within the story. In the sequel it stalls around with scenes that are only created for the sake of action. Mad Dog, nope wrong movie. Prakoso is a device solely created for action with only a single scene dedicated to display his more human side. Every other time you see him Prakoso he’s going all Mad Dog, except this time with criminals.

Two of the most memorable character of the film are Baseball Bat Man and Hammer Girl. They have their signature weapons whenever they fight and every scene they’re in never fails to deliver on their awesome characteristics. I especially loved the aspect of the story taking time to explore the back story of these two characters. Being raised by abusive parents is a touchy subjects to discuss and in an action movie no less where violence can be a selling point. Who can also forget the symbolic meaning of the spinning coin once receiving the back story. Adding an extra dimension to the pair relationship…huh…oh you got to be f…[one profanity filled temper tantrum later]. Sad that interesting material and character development didn’t make it into the film. Way to go force tie in. Other superficial elements includes Rama wife who might as well been written off from the story. She’s just the “token wife” to pretend that Rama life is at risk even though the series of events make him superhuman. Sure the every man hero type is the most captivating, but not when the film pretends he’s human when performing superhuman feats. It’s fine to give the every man hero some moments of badassery, but not when its constantly out of character. Making Rama more human works against the film since he’s not developed much as a character to be engaging and the final thirty minutes guarantees to remove all “every man” trait until it’s dead.

The repetitive action scenes is where creativity suffers. Simply put the action scenes lack variety especially when the same setup is used eight out of fourteen times. Meaning fifty-seven percent of the action scenes are nearly identical in setup; one expert fighter slowly overcoming large number of opponents until all the opponents are killed. It wouldn’t be an issue if the outcome was changed, but nope the same setup plays out the same eight times. It certainly doesn’t help that a majority of these repeated action scenes have larger room for marginal errors. For example, in the film there’s an action scene involving Iko and company trying to collect money at a so call “porn den”. During that action scene three things are made apparent. The bad placement of the camera, the scene should have been re edited, and the staging of the action scene should have taken into account the amount of actors actually required in it. In this particular action scene in the background there are actor visibly waiting failing their arms around until it’s their cue to attack. Before it shows actors Epy Kusnandar (Topan) crawling on the floor to avoid a barrage of bullets (without any noticeable bullet piercing near him or in the environment) it shows Oka Antara (Eka) and a couple of his men shooting all of Topan men who all fall to the floor. Since the cut made it explicitly clear Topan men were dead and Epy Kusnandar just recently began started crawling towards a safe to retrieve a weapon there’s a disconnect of tension. Resulting in an eleven second window where the action scene should have ended since there’s no known obstacle given the visible context of the scene. Within this same scene there’s even greater room when the scene should have ended. When Epy Kusnandar gun runs out of bullets he attempts to make escape by running towards an exsist and Iko Uwais is seen in the background getting up waiting around to be tackle by an actor off screen. Given that there was no one made visibly alive during the short burst of gunfire the actor that tackles Iko to continue the action scene kills any sense of escapism. Although, the scene is slightly salvageable in it technical aspect once Iko catches up to Kusnandar and gives him a creative beating. It’s just a shame the action scene as a whole is bad.

I should make it clear this is the third time I’ve ever seen the martial style of Silat in a film, and it’s pretty sad that I recognized a crucial element in the choreography this film applies to it action scenes. In previous films that utilize Silat (Merantau, The Raid: Redemption) there were certain moves that were reused, but never took away because of the varied fighting setup were. Within the context of a fight it’s essential for the camera to not to show the audience any blind spot when a fight begins. Even if not all the blind spot can be cover this can be fixed by the combatant quick movements, elaborate choreography, or a good editor. In this film that’s not the case since the choreography relies on the viewer missing its actors going back to the starting point whenever there is a cut to the combatant fighting up close. By reusing the same setup the same mistakes won’t be easily missed especially since the same outcome applies to eight of them. The best action scenes in the film are the ones that are the most confined and in a small area. Since the size of where the action is occurring is smaller there’s less margin for error in the background for the star or fighter to stall in place until it’s their cue to strike. For example, there’s a scene of actress Julie Estelle (Hammer Girl) taking out a couple guys in a subway cart with a pairs of hammer. Forget the part every time it cuts to Estelle killing someone the rest of the goons are reset to the back of the of the subway cart because the technique to pull off the scene doesn’t break the scene illusion. Every time Estelle strikes someone with a hammer it shows when it makes contact to the opponent.

In general the action scenes have blind spots that makes it painfully visible when an actor is stalling until it is his cue to perform an action. So the least amount of actors required the better the action scene will be if removed of the one expert vs. many setup. The film best and most under appreciated action scene is a single car chase. It is surprisingly great given it combines the huge number of actors required and big scale that usually handicaps the action scenes. This car chase is creative in choreography and constantly inventive fight using every inch of the vehicle to keep the fight fresh in such a tight space. On a technical level it’s the film best action scene and done so successfully with good editing, fluid camera movement, and staging. The final two fight scenes in the film are easily the best since it puts together the film best fighters against one another. Allowing the choreography to be performed faster and show an array of complicated fighting techniques. However, the best fight scene in the film pits Iko Uwais against Cecep Arif Rahman. Of course, it’s well choreographed and easily the best fight scene in the film because the sheer velocity in it actors performance. That alone is worth showering it with praised, but what will make it rank up against some the most memorable fight scenes in Martial Art films is how subverted the staging is. Usually in Martial Art films it’s common to slowly have the hero overcome his final opponent, but that is not in this case breaking away from that traditional format. Instead the role is reverse with the hero being shown to have the upper hand getting sloppier against his greatest foe creating doubt among the viewer if the hero will actually come out on top despite early on having the upper hand. That subversive staging serves the same function as a traditional final fight and is what will make it rank among some of the genre greatest fight scenes.

When it comes to acting the less you speak the more memorable the performances are. Very Tru Yulisman and Julie Estelle have very few speaking parts, but embodied the cold nature of their characters persona they immediately sell them. In spite of the lack characterization the chemistry between Yulisman and Estelle gets across the characters more defining characteristics. Another memorable performance is Cecep Arif Rahman whose only job is look awesome which he clearly is. Like the other two mention actors, Cecep Arif Rahman doesn’t have much lines. However, his performance is more reliant on his physical appearance expression to display a man of overconfident and seemingly invincible ego. Leading man Iko Uwais is okay in his role. His fight scene are without an issue showing his talent with his fighting abilities. The acting side of Iko suffers from a lack of variation between the scene he’s given. Not allowing him the opportunity to show the more human side of his character which desperately the material wants to him to do. Being overshadow by co-star Arifin Putra whose given similar scene, but more opportunity to display more emotion than simply putting up an act. Gareth Evans direction is what saves the film in its presentation bringing an autership to his visuals. Though, the decision to bring back Yayan Ruhian will cause confusion and consistency issues given his role in the original.

The Raid: Berendal is a force tie in to a film that clearly had no correlation to its predecessor. As a sequel it’s questionable given how little attention is given for a proper continuation. In its own right it’s a decent action movie that doesn’t offer engaging characters nor are all of it set pieces equally impressive. However, when the film succeeds in what it does best both in story and action provides glimpses of a great film that unfortunately is lost being a sequel.


Fan’s Regard:
Dear Gareth H. Evans, speaking as a fan of the action genre and a fan of your work. You have the potential to be a master of the action genre like John Woo, but not if you’re going to treat your characters and story elements as a superficial component to the action scenes. An action movie will not stand and survive on action sequences alone. Remember how stellar the final fight sequence in Flash Point was, how well staged the extensive gunfight in El Gringo was, or how every single fight scene in BKO: Bangkok Knockout contain some of the best action scenes Thailand has ever done? No because they all had terrible stories among other issues that a short burst of violence won’t make better. For that, this sequel will be seen as a disappointment for squandering its own potential. You have the privilege of making action films in an age where expectations are drastically low. In particular to set pieces if something like “Thor: The Dark World” is consider to have good set pieces. Therefore it is consider quite sad from this genre fan that action sequences as poor as those are compared to what you’ve Evans. I’m only saying these things because as a fan I will honestly tell you when you mess up and when you succeed in a certain area. Unlike a majority of your new found fans that pretend to share the same passion for the genre, high standards, and understanding of the genre. I’ll leave you with three essential words to keep in mind when continuing on with your career no matter the kind of films you make; think, feel, and connect. Sincerely, the sometime cynical Cinema-Maniac.

Cinema-Maniac: The Holy Mountain (1973) Review

Admittedly “The Holy Mountain” is one of the most difficult film I ever had to interpret. Not because it’s story is so complicated it demands your full undivided attention to every detail in a frame, but because it draws its inspiration from Tarot cards (thank you Mr. Edogawa for those long lessons), Christian Iconology, Latin American History, futurism, mysticism, politics, astrology in a combination to strange images that correlate together into a difficult to decipher theme. Never do it characters explicitly tell you the significant of the events, but much like the characters it’s a journey of enlightenment. It’s also one that’ll leave you scratching your head until you realize you hit a nerve in your skull.

The Holy Mountain gives an omniscient view of what social engineering caused by greed has done to the modern world, but shows us how to live and not give in to a material world. That’s one way to put it or more honestly a series of strange visuals, odd metaphors, and a main character who isn’t even involved in the ending. Breaking all logic of a traditional narrative being a witness of the journey is not at any point off putting. It speaks figuratively rather than expressing itself through a literal sense. If taken at face value the film will leave you wondering what in the world you just saw. Much in comparison to the thief we follow, the film asks its audience to either go on the journey and be open to whatever is let out of the floodgates of the storyteller consciousness, or if to be closed off then to might as well leave. Visually exploring what is the significant of immorality, religion, and beliefs pondering if reaching enlightenment is more important than the journey to achieve it. Over the top humor pokes fun of the lack of awareness of the form of escapism in surreal ways that ranges from manufacturing art with a fully functioning conveyor belt for butt-imprint paintings to conditioning children to hate specific future enemies. Scenes all of which are a natural representation of escapism either be through photographs, paintings, videos, or anything that mentally makes the subject escape reality. Before reaching the end the figurative meaning behind it images will culminate into a narrative that touches on various themes. Each of which make sense (in this film logic that is) in the surreal manner they are presented in. Once it reaches the abstract ending is where there’s a glaring misstep. The ending itself spoon feeds everything the viewer witness in a final dialogue that reaffirms what you just saw was nothing more than it just appeared to be. Misguiding half of the meaning it actually was trying to get across. Then again, from a literal standpoint it goes along with the rest of the film.

Alejandro Jodorowsky is the film writer/director/producer/editor/music composer/costume designer/set designer/painter/sculptor/star and his input is on screen all the time. Creating a world that in semblance is no further than our very own, it’s just presented in a different form. At times the film looks absolutely gorgeous and it’s design are eye popping with surreal designs and bright colors. There is a scene where the thief enters a rainbow room with a single holy man and a camel. A struggle breaks out but the primitive learns that he is not worthy to overcome the much wiser man. Suggesting the brighter the color in the rainbow passage the greater the growth. It’s just one of the symbolic nature elements within. This intricate collective designed is sure to challenge the thoughts and translation of the viewer. As well as the set decorations, props, and the costumes and it pays off as the film is gorgeous to look at even if at times it’s a little hard to decipher without an innate knowledge of world religions and the occult. The whole film is a literal two hour intellectual LSD trip. In the scene where Axon of Neptune and his healthy young army massacre a town, the montage we see of blood, dust and guts isn’t entirely wounds overflowing with deep red or gory close-ups of torn flesh. Instead there are sticky greens and blues bubbling from bodies, obvious red ribbons from the gut and, in a rather touching moment from within the violence, little birds fluttering from the chest of a dead body. This barely scratches the surface of the surreal images you’re going to see in the whole film.

The Holy Mountain is surreal, deep, and one of the hardest films to make sense off if there’s any to be found if we speaking in a literal sense. If taken at face value the series of events will have little correlation, but never is it boring because of it surreal images. It’s a difficult film to recommend anyone to see because while it provides no background on everything it tackles. The abstract interpretation on the series of odd images is more than satisfactory for viewers seeking to challenge their minds. That is until it partially misguide viewers toward the end. No matter how the film is interpreted “The Holy Mountain” is never boring for what it bring to the forefront to the viewers that will confuse as well captivate the imagination.


Cinema-Maniac: The Passion of the Christ (2004) Review

Discussing religion is in the same vein as discussing politics for me. It could start off as a friendly discussion, but can quickly turn ugly due to where you stand on the subject. This film success relies on its viewer position on Jesus Christ in order for it to succeed. Never will it attempt to convert non believers to accept it views, but neither will the film reach them the same way as those who follow the word of Christ.

The Passion of the Christ is about the final hours of Jesus Christ life. If you’re seeking to learn about Jesus Christ, evaluate his teachings, analyze deep characters, and find meaning in the symbolic man that is Jesus Christ this is the wrong film for you. Characterization, pretext, metaphors, and his teachings are thrown out in favor to get across Christ suffered (quite allot) for our sins. It’s biggest drawback is assuming everyone will know about Jesus Christ before viewing the film. Since it tells you nothing about Christ or his teachings interpretation of a man’s passion towards love his fellow men comes across differently. Christ is not written as a character or as a man, but rather represented as an object of extreme physical suffering and one with a messiah complex. Without providing context the film exploits the prolonged torture inflicted on Christ with no emotional attachment made for the uninformed or non believers. Limiting more than just its audience it also limits the meaning of the message meant to get across. If you are aware Jesus Christ or a firm believer the film will pull your heart strings. Providing brief flashbacks on some of the famous passages in his life story. Focusing in detail the suffering Christ had to endured before the inevitable death. This setup will make it difficult for followers to endured because unlike most film centered around Jesus Christ showing his suffering is it focus. As a film it fails to reach a larger audience than it could have obtain; however, it’s intention wasn’t so much in informing viewers about Jesus Christ or his teachings, but rather to get across the love he had for his fellow man. For this reviewer he was left unmoved, distant, and cold due to an absence of characterization, but also acknowledges it completed it set goal. A trait he greatly admires even if the film failed to impact him in the manner it intended to.

Mel Gibson direction is admittedly intelligent and a true work of a master. Not a single a piece of dialogue is said in English or in any modern language. A decision that makes it depiction very authentic to what it’s portraying. Gibson takes directorial embellishments not found in his source material: Satan’s repeated visits; the snake in the Garden of Gethsemane; the raven and the crucified convict; Judas’ delusions of children as demons, and such, but they work in favor of the story. As for the violence Gibson does not shy away from it because of his goal to painstakingly show the extent of Jesus Christ suffering. Resulting in prolonged torture scenes and a second half that mostly consist of a broken, bloodied, and wounded Jesus Christ struggling to carry his cross to his death destination. Casting is also another bright spot by not having actual stars there’s no possible distraction in what’s occurring on screen. Of course the one actor that gets the most attention and vital role is Jim Caviezel. Jim Caviezel is a more Semitic-looking Jesus and gives a simple-stated, vulnerable performance. It’s physically demanding Caviezel to constantly come across as a wounded man changing his mannerism to fit with the condition his character is currently. At the same time his delivery of dialogue has to come across as passionate and well meaning as well as batter and difficult to speak from the punishment he receives. The fantastic score sweeps up and down in majestic ways and it is more impacting that anything else, but as a side effect it is cheap and manipulative depending on the viewer position.

The Passion of Christ does what it was intended to do which was display Jesus Christ suffering in his final hours in great detail. Whether or not that makes it a good film will varied because of beliefs and knowledge of Jesus Christ, but it does make it shallow piece of a film that fails to provide character worth getting emotionally attach towards and getting across the significance behind it’s subject life. If you’re not a follower of Christ (like myself) you will condemned the film for it weaknesses, but in my position I choose to reward the film with a positive review for what it intended to accomplished rather than criticize it for what I simply wanted it to be.


Cinema-Maniac: Bat sin fan dim ji yan yuk cha siu bau (The Eight Immortals Restaurant: The Untold Story) (1993)

Hong Kong’s Category III is the US equivalent of NC-17 and for several reasons always peaked my interests. In particular the way it categorizes the campy, over the top “Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky” in the same vein as “Mad Detective” which doesn’t remotely come close to containing the same amount of graphic content. In the end though it doesn’t matter if the film content lives up the rating, but rather if it a good piece of filmmaking. For the case of “The Eight Immortals Restaurant: The Untold Story” it is even if noticeably sloppy in execution.

The Eight Immortals Restaurant: The Untold Story is about cops investigation on a criminal running an unsuspecting restaurant, while trying to trace the steps back to how he ended up running it suddenly. The film jumps between the cops investigation and the criminal mastermind, Wong Chi Hang, to tell its story. Early on in the film it opens immediately with a murder only to then introduce the cops who are portrayed as bumbling idiots for comedic effect. Often the humor plays off the cops inability to gather evidence because of the bad smell or the womanizing inspector who always brings a new lady with him to the station. These early comedic scenes don’t mesh well when the film makes a turn for the grisly for a majority of its run. Tonally all it’s all over the place as one moment you’re possibly laughing at the cops investigation lack of professionalism to then suddenly cut to the next scene of murder. Whether or not it wants the audience the sympathize for the killer is left to the viewer to decide. Once Wong is capture it’s not the end of the film, but rather it continues to show at length the cops are willing to lock up Wong Chi Hang behind bars. Utilizing other methods that doesn’t require breaking bones. Asking yourself if the means to send Wong Chi Hang behind bars is justified by the officers given the extreme torture applied to Wong Chi Hang while taking into account what he did. Despite how often it jumps tones it position by the end of the film ends amorally. Neither condemning Wong Chi Hang for his killings or rewarding the cops methods to crack the case by any means. While the who in the mystery is always clear the background and motivation are elements that the film works for. Building up gradually the mystery of what exactly happened at this restaurant to a grisly reveal in its most infamous scene. There’s no cat and mouse game and the unraveling mystery that is Wong Chi Hang keeps it interesting. Wong Chi Hang is an interesting criminal mind and one with a troubled mindset in twisted way will keep you watching.

Anthony Wong is outstanding as the enigmatic Wong Chi Hang capturing so well the traits of this unbalanced psychotic character that he comes across as truly a demented person. He’s best in full on psychotic in the moments of killing a victim displaying joy with his grievous voice. However, Wong movement also tells us he’s not an expert struggling to some degree, but his eyes cold stare makes him comes across as demented even in daylight without a weapon. When Wong is captured he comes across as a broken human unable to stand up straight in his mannerism changing to his beaten state. The performance of Anthony Wong is noteworthy alone for a viewing. Supporting cast largely go unnoticed because their interpretation is direct what of the material demand. This is not good for the supporting cast since a majority of them have trouble transitioning to the darker side of the material. Often allowing them a moment to react silly in a serious moment. Danny Lee is the exception in the supporting cast being able to make a successful transition into the material darker side. Lee does come across as a womanizer on the silly side, but also comes across as a devoted inspector. As for the violence it’s deserving of the Category III (NC-17 in the US) rating. While generally not showing the impact of a kill there is plenty of gore, foreboding atmosphere, blood, and Anthony Wong successful portrayal that these murders scenes are wholly effective. On the down side despite how well done the special effects are and the way the murder are shot they are unevenly spread across the film. There’s three in the first act and one more in the final twenty minute involving children. There might be a light supply of murder on screen, but the execution of them more than makes up for it.

The Eight Immortals Restaurant: The Untold Story tone is unbalanced as the film’s criminal mind, yet it’s that same unbalanced nature that makes it appealing. While the comedy fails to fit in with the rest of the film never does any of it issues overshadow it bright spot. The way it tells it story works well enough due to it twisted criminal and held together by Anthony Wong spectacular performance.


Based on a true story claim:
I was unable to find any evidence or articles that prove the events in the film did occur. However, after doing a bit of lazy research (yay, reading about murders) and the closest source I could find as a possible inspiration is Fritz Haarmann. A German serial killer who is believed to have been responsible for the murder of 27 boys and young men between 1918 and 1924. Always with a view to his commercial instincts, the body of his victims would then be dismembered and the clothes and meat sold through the usual channels for smuggled goods. The useless portions were thrown into the River Leine. Due to Haarmann victims being runaways and his successful distribution the British police had a hard time finding any concrete evidence to crack the case. As the number of missing boys mounted, police suspicion began to fall on Haarmann. A woman who had purchased one of his black-market “steaks” became convinced it was human flesh and turned it over to the police. In the summer of 1924, several skulls and a sackful of bones were found on the banks of the canal. While searching Haarmann’s rooms, detectives found bundles of boys’ clothing. The landlady’s son was wearing a coat–given to him by Haarmann–that belonged to one of the missing boys. In the end, Haarmann confessed his crimes in minute detail, proclaiming insanity but declaring he was forced to commit the crimes whilst in a trance. He was convicted, found guilty of 24 murders and subsequently sentenced to execution in April, 1925. While awaiting execution, the “Vampire of Hanover” (as he’d been dubbed by the press) produced a written confession in which he described, with undisguised relish, the pleasure he had derived from his atrocities. At his own request, he was beheaded with a sword in the city marketplace, ironically one of the most common and effective ways to dispose of a vampire. Afterward, his brain was removed from his skull and shipped to Goettingen University for study. Unfortunately, nothing came of this effort. Over seventy years later, science is still no closer to comprehending the reasoning behind the crimes committed by people like Fritz Haarmann. Or maybe it could the fact that Fritz Haarmann was just plain insane without a particular motivator.

Cinema-Maniac: Locke (2014) Review

With over a century of filmmaking finding many films that only have one actor on screen is a rarity. It’s also a daunting task for a single actor to basically shoulder the entire film on their own shoulders no matter the experience they have. There’s only a handful of actors that tackle going solo for a film like Robert Redford in “All Is Lost”, Philip Baker Hall in “Secret Honor”, and Ryan Reynolds in “Buried”. All these films are carried by one actor and are minimalist efforts. They are all also terrific movies and now Tom Hardy will join the very small list of actors that carried an entire film by themselves.

Locke follows Ivan Locke, a dedicated family man and successful construction manager, making phone calls that sets in motion a series of events that threaten his careful cultivated existence in one drive to the hospital. Usually if you can literally summarize everything that occurs in a film with a single sentence there’s usually not a whole lot to dissect. That isn’t the case with Locke taking place in real time and primarily consisting of dialogue to tell its story. Characterization and plot development all occurs through conversations on the phone each of which flow naturally. Each of the conversations plays around several explored ideas like being defined by your actions, the impact of fatherhood, escapism within your job, and many other ideas that serves it as a equally layered character study. The more time you spent with Lock the more you begin to doubt his good nature and begin to see a different meaning behind his words and motives. Locke is a very layered character whose words and action in certain situations will paint him in various shades. Being the only visible character in the film he’s very defined with his interactions with supporting characters telling us allot of his relationship with them. On paper the plot is basically going from point A to point B without detours of any kind, yet a lone developed character is enough to carry the film.

On a the cinematography side of things the film is visually repetitive. The camera never stays at one angle for very long. It mixes extreme close-ups with medium shots, looks at Locke from his side mirrors, and then from his rearview mirror. Headlights and the streetlights reflect on his windshield, his windows and the shine of his car itself. Occasionally, the camera switches to a first-person view; we see what Locke sees. Repeating the same exterior shots of traffic or Locke car, not-too-functional shots of reflections of traffic lights in windshields, faded car lights, and interior shots just being different variation on Tom Hardy basically driving. While the cinematography is nothing impressive or engaging Tom Hardy is a true tour de force in his performance. Stuck behind the wheel of the car the entire time, there’s very little for Hardy to do, which is both the point and what makes his performance so remarkable. Physically he can do nothing but Hardy manages to play a multitude of roles while chatting on the phone. One minute, he’s the all-business deal breaker; the next, an attentive father, assuring his son he’ll be home in the morning. After his son goes back to the game, and his colleague does his bidding, and playing the role of insubordinate employee. Playing up various aspects of the character personality through by effortlessly changing his mannerism at a moment notice.

Locke is not an interesting movie to look at with repetitive shot compositions, but it’s an intriguing experiment that works for Tom Hardy to display some strong acting in a difficult role and challenges Steven Knight as a storyteller. It’s a rare film relying primarily on a single actor to be on screen containing the usual great story and a great performance by it lone star even if visually there’s not much to latch on to.



Cinema-Maniac: Chinese Zodiac (2013) Review

Chinese Zodiac follows JC search for the twelve bronze heads of the animals from the Chinese Zodiac. Aside from the protagonist name being JC (probably Jackie Chan does this kind of activity in his spare time) the story will not register a pulse. Literally the first action scene written into the film is just for the sake of it. What occurred in that action scene involving JC as a human rollerblade is never mentioned again. Speaking of which, it does attempt to developed it cast of characters albeit clumsily. At random characters will reveal bits of themselve when talking to each other during an operation which gets interrupted by contrivances or convenience. Development feels force as every plot device it uses to move forward makes it difficult to care when nothing is earned and resolved by luck. The dialogue ranges from steal this artifact, I hate your ancestors for stealing from us, we’re procrastinating doing anything evil to you for a comedic routine variety. All the while JC reiterates at several points during the movie the “great injustice and disrespect” the Western countries have shown to the Chinese in the past. This message is heavy-handed because of how often it’s brought up. One could look past the only Western representation is a stereotypical dumb blonde, but to solely act as if only one nation wronged China people does not help with it message of great injustice. I don’t know much about China history, but, um, remember Unit 731 screenwriters? I do and in case you do that’s because no one beats it over your head with how wrong it was.

For two acts the film goes for a lighthearted and comedic tone until the final arc which gears the tone to be more serious. Characters we follow that had no problem stealing rare artifacts for money developed a contrive code of honor towards the end. Yeah, because the same guy who has no problem stealing artifacts from the rich should really send the message that stealing is wrong. Chinese Zodiac takes a couple narrative inspiration from “Mission Impossible” globe trotting with some implausible gadgets (like the replica printer), the “Ocean’s Trilogy” team dynamics, and inability to balance action and comedy like “Once A Thief”. Failing to make the most of it settings to make it feel like a grand scale adventure, a bland team whose planning process before an operation is never seen, and succeeding in being unable to balance a tone. Writing is all over the place attempting to be many things failing to be a single good thing. As for which version you see really doesn’t matter. In the first cut I’ve seen that was fourteen minute shorter had rush pacing putting emphasizes on comedy with very little breathing to naturally develop the story. All the problems in the Chinese cut of the film are made more apparent, though it ends quicker.

Jackie Chan is the center of attention rendering the whole team dynamic a bit redundant. Chan carries the movie on his weight being the enjoyable goofball for two acts and going for serious in the final act. This role doesn’t challenge Chan to balance the comedy and drama like he master in previous films, but does a good job none the less. Supporting cast is decent, though mostly forgettable as comic reliefs to prolong one particular comedic action piece on an ancient ship. Action wise two of the film biggest set pieces are underwhelming at best. On paper Chan as a human rollerblade sounds exciting, but not so much in execution as in the way it was shot makes as if it was performed slowly. Another is a long set piece on ancient ship that is in favor to show comedic antics than actual fighting. Lasting allot longer than it needed too with added slapstick. The only worthwhile action sequences appear in the final forty minutes of the film. Allowing Chan use his environment against his opponent and fight against fighters that actually hit him. These fight scenes are reminiscent of Chan golden days since they stripped Chan of all his contraptions and unnecessary embellishment. Improvising with what’s ever around him with fast choreography combined with unique ways to take down his opponents. If these were the film final action sequences it would have ended on a high note in the action department. Sadly, there’s one in the uneventful climax involving four skydivers, and a volcano. On paper doesn’t that sound awesome, but in execution poor CG, slowly performed action, and no decent setup dooms it.

Chinese Zodiac comes across as a knock off of a good Jackie Chan film that just so happen to have the actual star in it. It’s story is uninteresting simply tossing an action sequence for the sake of it and sprinkling muddle characterization with little breathing room until the next plot devices rears itself in. On the action side the first half of the film is unimpressive or get interrupted by an overlong slapstick comedy routine. It has three good fight scenes two of which that serves to remind viewers of Chan’s skill as a fighter, but the climax leaves plenty to be desired. On a technical level there’s nothing much wrong with the film with the exception of few instances of bad CG. When there’s only three scene in a two hours movie that highlight it star true talent it’s stop being merely a bad movie and more a disappointment for fans.