Science fiction is one of my favorite genre for storytelling. No matter how grand, or small the scope of the stories are I could name you around dozen science fiction work that completely engrossed me. An appeal of it for me is how versatile it’s visionaries can be. Expertly using the realm of sci-fi to provide commentary on humanity, takes us to places beyond imagination, and in the case of Upgrade be a schlocky low budget, hard sci-fi thriller done correctly.
Upgrade premise is the classic story of a ordinary man getting revenge. Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green) witnesses his wife getting killed, mopes around for a bit with his thoughts, gets a computer chip called STEM implanted into him after being paralyzed, and getting pushed into taking vengeance on those who wronged him. In between all the cool action bits, and dark humor at the expense of its protagonist. Comes plenty of serious moments waving around in quality. It can be difficult to remain engaged in the story during the whodunnit segments, and collecting clues since the main story is predictable. Preventing this from becoming a growing issue is the film writer/director, Leigh Whannell, developing it lead character psychology. Showing Grey Trace mental, and physical destruction as the movie progress in a move that pays off in the long run.
What Upgrade lacks in consistency in engaging material it makes up for it in its ending. It one of the few instances where it turned a good movie into a great one for me. Mostly because the ending gives some added depth to everything that came before. Making the dynamic between talking computer chip STEM, and Grey Trace that much better. It doesn’t excuse the feeling of it dragging at points, but it ends on a such a high note it’s easy to forget about.
One area the movie falter without much to redeem it is the failed attempt at commentary. Throughout the movie Grey Trace technophobia will be reestablished multiple times, and bits about technology improving humanity. There’s some dialogue establishing bits of the world where more jobs are being lost to machines. As well there being bits mentioning the living conditions of the rich, and the poor. These parts of the story feel like an afterthought when undermined by the man vs. machine, and revenge driven storyline.
The standout moments in Upgrade are easily the four action sequences, and the small satisfying amount of blood, and gore. Tightly choreographed with kinetic cinematography swaying as it follow the action. Offers the film’s most visually inspired moments. Two of the fight sequences in the movie have offer brutal kills, and great practical gore effects that makes those moments easily memorable. It’s impossible not to get excited about an upcoming action sequence when they are edited masterfully, and are visually interesting. As for the climax it doesn’t offer up gore, but it will provide the best fight sequence in the film. Made impressive by the fact it’s not even a martial movie, nor does it have complex martial art moves.
Beyond the cool fight scenes is Upgrade’s one car chase is the least exciting action set piece in the movie. There’s not much to it other than everyone involve driving carefully, and there’s no hiding the cars aren’t going fast either through the many long shots. One car is ahead, and the other is trying to catch up to it without much happening in between.
For a low budget science fiction movie the most advance pieces of technology are drones, and literal handguns (yes, people can fire bullets from their hands). Other than that the technology being kept grounded for that hard sci-fi aesthetics. Providing a gritty detail to its overall look. Offering nice contrast between the glossy high tech look of the rich, and the grimy outdated looking tech of the poor.
Logan Marshall Green is the standout in the acting cast. Taking front, and center there’s hardly a single scene he isn’t part off. Doing a fantastic job to make the viewer sympathize with his character all the while being able to deliver some dark jokes. Providing his character great urgency in his journey. One difficult bit in his performance is performing an action scene where STEM takes over his body during a fight, and must act comedically horrified he’s beating a man to bloody pulp. Pulling off the difficult scene successfully to make it one of its most memorable moments. Plus, a nice touch in his performance is Green switching up how human, and how mechanically he moves in different portions of the movie.
Other standout in the movie is Simon Maiden who voices STEM. He’s portrays a emotionally detached computer voice with some enthusiasm. Coming across robotic, but not stoic. Rest of the cast pretty much plays it straight with their single minded characters. They do well in their roles ensuring there isn’t a weak link to the best of their abilities. Any actor who took part in the fight sequences also deserves some praise brilliantly performing them through robotic movements. The cinematography, and music score their job. Occasionally from both you’ll get inspired bits creating energy in a scene, but generally aren’t noteworthy most of the time.
It’s a simple movie with simple goals that knows not to take itself too seriously. The takeaways from Ugrapde are easily the action sequences, the gore, and the ending. There’s still plenty in the movie to appreciate from Logan Marshall Green performance, the dark humor, and its lead character destruction for a majority of the run time. Upgrade offers entertainment of a schlocky B-movie with all the right touches to make it a cult classic over time.
Massacre Gun follows Kuroda (Jô Shishido) a mob hitman who turns on his employers after being forced to execute his lover. Telling a lightweight story with little to grasp onto. This film is barebones in covering the essentials for competent storytelling; partial characterization, half baked exploration into the themes of brotherhood & the Yakuza code of honor, and proper escalation of story events. At it core it should be a crime thriller, but moves at a leisurely pace it becomes soothing to watch. Unfortunately, it is also attempting to tell a story about Kuroda friendship falling apart because of the ways of the Yakuza. Kuroda, and his best friend both being bound to violently resolve their war through their violent encounters, even if it against their personal intentions. This lays the groundwork for possible in depth characters who remain about the same when they are introduced sadly. Resulting in a storyline that should carry weight to it, but does not due to how little it does to create sympathy for anyone involve. A shame too since the film provide plentiful instances where expansion on character are hinted at. They are simple characters, and remain that way just like the film’s story.
Familiarity is also an issue with the film, but only if you’re familiar with Yakuza movies. If you’re not, than the film is a good introduction into Nikkatsu’s Yakuza films. Covering the familiar of loyalty, blood brotherhood, unrequited love, not following the same wrong path, loosing oneself, and yep that’s about it. Character archetypes are here make the cast of characters; from the age old veteran wanting who is bound to his boss, the best friend in a rival gang beholden to loyalty over friendship, the partner thinking of calling it quits, and the upcoming youngest member desiring his chance to join the Yakuza. Those familiar with Nikkatsu’s Yakuza films will know what to expect, and Massacre Gun is more than comfortable with itself on that front. For newcomers into this kind of films it’ll serve a good introduction to get familiarize with the basics of Yakuza films in a more grounded state.
The only aspect of the writing that shines is the character of Saburo (Jiro Okazaki). He’s given a history, a dream, and conflict that gets expanded on as the film progresses. It initially starts a story about him being unable to become a boxer, and grows into Saburo finding himself again in life. Unlike the main storyline, Saburo has more to him that the film is more than happy to flesh out leading to him being the most engaging part of the movie. Unfortunately, his part is superfluous in the overarching narrative with his biggest contribution in the movie is having to be rescued twice in order to escalate events. Being a missed opportunity to add something more to the simplistic, and lightweight film.
Another cool shot, but why the burning ships in the background I got no clue.
One aspect that is unquestionable about the film is that it has class to it. Without question, this has to be the classiest presented Yakuza movie I’ve seen unrivaled by any other. Helmed by director Yasuharu Hasebe he surprisingly shows no sign of inexperience despite it being his second directorial effort in his career. Giving the film the qualities of a cinematic experience that enhances what could have a basic film. Through his eye for visuals he is able to create a beautiful looking movie from the first frame. Do except the questionable visuals choices at times; like one where there are burning ships in the background for no reason, but thankfully odd visuals touches like that are sparse in the film.
What isn’t sparse is his careful attention to framing. Several sequences in the movie he’s able to perfectly show turmoil without dialogue. An example of this is during a wide shot scene when Jiro Okazaki is depressed, sitting down at a bar looking down at his bandage hand, and hearing jazz music being played. The elegant usage of lighting in crisp black and white, and atmosphere further empathizes the mood meant to be convey in this scene. Subtle touches like these to convey characters make the sillier moments, like a bomb being strapped to a dead body, be easily overlooked. Another highlight of the film is a sequence where a major character seemingly escapes a hit, and tricking the viewer that he has made a getaway only to realize that he’s trapped up against a wall surrounded by men with gun. Yes, it takes an absurd amounts of bullets before the man is down, but it’s a great sequence that gives cinematic quality to simplistic writing.
When the film numerous actors aren’t wearing suits to class things up the soundtrack composed of Jazz keep things classy. With numerous musical interludes, and (somewhat) erotic dancing splice during the movie makes it come across as elegant. From a technical standpoint, the music used shouldn’t work, but it does. On the violence side there’s not much of it. Same with the body count not being close what a person would consider a massacre, but the action sequences are fine being carried by smart direction. Except for one that takes place on a ship; the sequence is finely crafted, and confined until the two major characters escape from a trap. The characters are corner on all direction, and there seems no way out. This action sequence ends when one of the two major characters shoots the light, and then cuts to the two running out of the ship. Due to how it was framed it’s impossible to tell how exactly they escape a constant barrage of gunfire when surrounded. Aside from this slip up, the old fashion action sequences are pretty well done.
No one here likes the what the future holds for Nikkatsu studio
The only actor in the film who I felt shine was Jiro Okazaki. It helps that he has the most fleshed out characters, but even without that his screen presence is simply attention grabbing without being commanding. He has all the charm to pull off his character with ease, and the dramatic chops to subtly act out the inner separation of his character. He’s a delight to see on screen, even if his supporting role ensures he’s not given the center attention.
Jo Shishido stars in the film, and delivers a solid performance. His botox cheeks gives him a recognizable look, but in terms of acting here he isn’t allowed much range. Always being bound to restraint any emotion to just being collected. Tatsuya Fiji is a bit more loosed, but has the same problem with the material being too limited. Also, a moment in the film has him slapping a woman several, and having sex with her which the woman complies with. It was a different era, but luckily the direction prevents that moment from being worse than it could have been.
Got to say it again, film is beautifully shot
Hideaki Nitani is the second standout in the film playing Jo Shishido friend in a rival gang. Emoting his characters complex emotions with ease. Takashi Kanda portrayal as a Yakuza boss is simple; just come off as evil, and over controlling which he does. Aside from that, the other remaining in the cast from Yoko Yamamoto, Tamaki Sawa, and the rest of the actress simply act concerned over their men. They don’t get much to do either, much like Ken Sanders who plays the jazz player Chico, but make the most with what they can.
Massacre Gun is an above average movie whose only stand out is Jiro Okazaki performance, and its classy direction from Yasuharu Hasebe elevating what could have been a mediocre Yakuza movie. It’s a evident case of style over substance that for those familiar with Yakuza movies make it worth looking into a little. While for newcomers it serves as a good introduction into Yakuza films having all the traits other Yakuza movie past, and future would retain. It might not offer anything unique besides it’s style, but it still makes for a solid viewing experience.
Several films typically portray news media in a unfavorable manner. Easily due to the shifts most people witness growing up possibly realizing the true intentions of such mainstream journalism, and the inner workings of news media. Many movies that tackle news media simply discuss, or briefly mention how evil, and soulless it is, but very few of them can match the lasting powers that something like Network (1976) has accomplished. However, I also feel Nightcrawler accomplishes the same in depicting the current era of journalism much like Network did for its era. In short, Nightcrawler is classic filmmaking, and fantastically done commentary on its subject matters.
Like a true lunatics, wears sunglasses at nighttime.
Nightcrawler follows Los Angeles denizen Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) stumbling into a new career as a cameraman, and begins his nocturnal forays across the city in search of shocking and grisly crimes. Being entirely character driven the film hardly leaves Louis Bloom out of the picture in its tightly crafted, and masterful woven narrative. Louis Blood is a charming, sociopathic, and manipulative character written in such a darkly comedic manner one can’t help, but be engrossed by him. Part of his masterful characterization is starting up as underdog in a field he has no experience in, and even less knowledge on. His stick it to the man attitude is brilliantly used to help masked an already trouble character true’s intention. Possibly fooling the viewer into hoping this trouble man will succeed in his new career against the bigger corporation that are his competition. Only to witness more of Louis Bloom sociopath personality in his desire to always be on top.
Louis Bloom writing is similar to a fictional character from a sports story, like Rocky Balboa, and having them go the distance despite all odds. Using a similar method here, but to a vastly different effect that works just the same. Chronicling Louis Bloom hard work in detail from him rigorously learning police codes, waiting hours for a good scoop from police scanner, and learning the streets for the fastest possibles route to get to his scoop. Much like Louis Bloom mentions it several times himself he’s a very hard worker, dedicated, and always set high goals for himself which is shown in great. There’s no shortage of antagonistic forces applying pressure to Louis creating more obstacles for him to overcome. Culminating in the creation of a sympathetic character you’ll find in Louis Bloom despite taking more morally questionable action to stay on top.
Louis Bloom doesn’t so much descend into madness, but rather his true intentions come to the forefront the further he reaches success, and obsessively wants to maintain it. The writing does an excellent job displaying Louis Bloom troubling nature. Just about every interaction Louis has in the film displays his cunning nature in manipulation; especially with his assistant Rick (Riz Ahmed) whom always get talked back into doing Louis work despite it being against it morally. Another subtle trait of Bloom true’s sociopath self is his politeness. Always presenting himself in a calm, and collected manner with a polite tone to everyone. Once he gets taste of being success his politeness takes a different nature when applying that to threaten people. Giving layers to an already well defined character.
When it comes to Louis Bloom, the film passes no judgement on him, and instead uses his position in the story provide commentary on society. Through, and through Nightcrawler ultimately tells a story about how a man seeking a job, and who eventually through hard work makes a successful business for himself. Seeing the method he used, and the moral lines he crossed to reach his goals never once pushes the blame on Louis Bloom. Rather, it is used for viewers for reflect how society itself lend a hand in creating such a person. By using the background of sensational journalism it kills two birds with one stone; illustrate exactly how society created a man like Louis Bloom & the consequences that come for rewarding such behavior, and displaying the shady side of sensationalist journalism. Commentating on these things with a easy to understand character with plenty more around him to dissect. Nightcrawler doesn’t become a complex story to follow, nor are it themes difficult to decipher, but much in the same vein as Louis Bloom, it’s a lot more intelligent than you might think.
First time director Dan Gilroy (who also wrote the script) shows a surprisingly amount of understanding in crafting his movie. Every choice he made in the film can fool the average viewer into thinking he’s an experience director. From his masterful usage of James Newton Howard music to display Louis Bloom triumphant state of mind when perfectly capturing a hot scoop. Gilroy style is one that is in control showing the right amount of restraint between displaying the sympathetic, and sociopath side of his story. He presents the cold truth, and harsh realities around him as well as portray Louis Bloom worshiping sensationalist media without ever telling the audience how to feel. One standout sequence in the film details how a news station usage the morbid footage Louis Bloom filmed of a terrible aftermath of a horrific crime, and showing viewers firsthand look how the news station uses such footage to manipulate its audience. It’s a brilliant scene in terms of writing, and especially direction giving it a an eerie horror like mood to it. Depicting the night life of Nightcrawlers as one full of wonders, and equal disgust in the length news media will go for ratings. Precise, and calculated Dan Gilroy in his directorial debut managed to helm a film all with an understanding of a veteran director.
Jake Gyllenhaal is obviously the man of the hour with a tour de force performance. Gyllenhaal’s weight loss in the film help further emphasizes his definitive facial features, and seems to leave his eyes empty of emotion beyond greed. Contributing to the character’s slimy personality. Nailing his polite mannerism in scenes where he meant to come off professional, and shows subtle violent nature within him when speaking to people privately. His fast talk is just charming as it is perceived to be coming from a complete lunatics. From his smirks whenever he gets what he wants to his eye bulging look that makes him appear ready to snap at any moment. All the while keeping his portrayal of Louis Bloom in check, and actually making him a sympathetic character despite being morally against him. When viewing Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal simply disappears into the role. Jake Gyllenhaal performance makes is worth the price of admission alone.
Riz Ahmed who plays the hapless assistant Rick serving as a good contrast to Gyllenhaal. Keeping his emotions in tack to empathize with his cause. He’s closest the film has to a moral compass. Ahmed expresses fear in the way he speaks during scenes he shares with Gyllenhaal helps portray what kind of hold he has over people while his nervous nature to be firm constantly shown. On the other hand, the film also has Rene Russo who plays news station director Nina Romina. Her chemistry with Gyllenhaal is perfect in every scene they share. She’s commanding, easily approachable, and most important of all underlying evil in her portrayal. Able to slowly show the inner destruction of someone who eventually seeks ratings over ethical journalism. Bill Paxton also delivers to in the film as a enjoyable, and unlikable foil whenever he’s onscreen. Simply being charismatic in his slimeball nature while keeping himself in check.
Nightcrawler is my ideal type of movie; everything just works seamlessly with one another perfectly into a masterful viewing experience. Keeping me glue to the screen, and never looses me in it. Everything about Nightcrawler seems seamless from the natural writing that engrosses the viewer, the great performances, and the very careful direction that elevate the film to where it needs to be. Being both an entertaining movie through Jake Gyllenhaal captivating performance, and a fantastic character study ensures Nightcrawler can be the type of movie that can be enjoyed by anyone.
Today’s film, The Tigers (1991), might simply come across as just another obscure Hong Kong film forgotten by time. However, it’s the star studded of the Five Tiger Generals of TVB that will ensure it place in Hong Kong cinema history, even the reason is superficial. The Five Tiger Generals of TVB consisted of Michael Miu, Kent Tong, Felix Wong, Andy Lau, and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai who were the most popular young actors in Hong Kong during the 1980s. If you’re a fan of even one of these actors than eventually you’ll stumble upon this film on their filmography, and like me, be surprised by the amount of talent in the film. Sadly, whose in the film is about as interesting as it ever gets. While some of the Five Tigers of TVB have gone off to star in some classic films that have become landmark films in Hong Kong cinema. The Tigers (1991) is going to be a footnote in it stars legacy.
The Tigers follows fives Cops that find their careers, and their lives in jeopardy when they spend a gangster’s bribe money after releasing him from custody during a drug bust. The movie’s premise immediately falls upon when it decided our first introduction to our characters sould be them betting on horses while on duty. It’s this initial irresponsible impression the film is unable to shake off becoming detrimental in its failing. Before the whole “should we take the money” plot point comes into play. Everything leading up to that plot point paints our officers as goofy, and easy going. Not treating what case they’re currently assigned to seriously. So when the officers are considering whether, or not to take away a suitcase filled with money, and not report it to anyone of course it comes across something they would do without question. Except for the fact it wants to present this fall into temptation with shades of grey, which you can’t do when only one out of the five characters presented actually appears to be taking their job seriously.
So seeing one officers who’s remaining silent on the matter, and not telling his superiors talks to another corrupt officers to remind him why he became an officer is sketchy. For starter, the silent officer values his friendship more so than upholding justice, and yet this character thinks he holds the higher ground when compared to his friends who actually took the money, and spend it. Obviously, just because the character sees corruption in his line of work, is in a position to prevent it from getting worse, and not participating in it doesn’t make him an upstanding officer. If the characters were more fleshed out in terms of caring about their jobs than maybe all the conversations about how they will make things right might actually hold some weight.
Another weakness from the writing is the uneven characterization for its large cast of characters. Most of them can be defined as easy going officers whom want to make more money. Some of the characters are decently developed, and some fleshed out with their own subplots most of which don’t matter in the long run. However, on the other half you get characters who just come across as background fodder despite being established as good friends. There’s also the noteworthy weakness that none of the officers are given traits to stand out. All are jokey, partially serious, and slowly crack under pressure. Homogenizing nearly all the characters unknowingly. Also, since the film is incapable of developing characters the “mind games” the corrupt officers take part in against the film’s villain feels dragged out. When the “mind games” portion start around the end of the first act virtually no progress in the story is made until the climax of the movie comes. This is because it feel like the story is prolonging the inevitable by having scheme, after scheme failed in either getting the villain killed, or getting the police officers locked up.
Dialogue doesn’t fare any better being the routine “what does being an officer mean to you”, “what separates your action from criminals”, and “we are bound to uphold the law, not break it” variety with conversations going where you would expect them too. The issue with this are the characters participating in these conversations never had the high ground. From the opening that showed the officers not taking their line of work seriously, even during a police raid making sex jokes, all the way to the end these officers simply come off as irresponsible, and stupid. You would think characters who’ve all been serving various amount of years in the police force would know how to hide the fact they illegally acquire a huge sum of money during a raid. Apparently not since the characters aren’t able to hide their tracks for simple reasons like buying an expensive car that can’t be bought on their budget, or giving a daughter a large sum of cash for her to start her business. Made even stupider by the fact they mentioned earlier in the movie they wouldn’t do these of things to because they could caught, yet still do it.
Now comes my biggest point of criticism in the writing; it’s inability to represent morality in shades of grey, or black and white. The villain of the film for instance uses his hold over the officers for his own needs. Never at any point in the film is he given a fair shake that would allow him to be sympathetic. This cartoonish villain doesn’t belong in the same story that is attempting to make police officers that took bribe money appear morally grey. A villian who enjoys giving our main characters a difficult time, and takes pleasure in killing some of them muddles it’s execution of being morally ambiguous. You end up with a film with a cartoonish villain who has nothing much going for him besides being evil. However, when one of the police officers takes the stolen money to pay for his brother education it’s meant to be a noble cause. You simply can’t do that because then the villain becomes justified for demanding the police to do his bidding for taking the money he made through (likely) illegal means. This issue could have been easily remedied if the film didn’t attempt to make what the police did with some sense of righteousness.
As for the actual story of the film that’s hard to discuss because nearly all character arcs are never balanced out in its nearly 2 hours runtime. A subplot revolving around an old police officer trying to reconcile with his daughter that doesn’t add much to the movie. It would have helped if the reconciling part wasn’t resolved by a third party after one conversation that basically amounted to “Your dad does care for you, have you considered that”. Another storyline would be an officer finding his brother during a raid doing shady activities. That plot point feels like it just disappears after its brought up. Instead of using this moment to create an interesting dynamic between the brothers it chooses not to do anything with it because it’s not a well written movie. There’s also another officer who worries about getting killed because it’ll mean his family will be left with no money. This officer is hardly ever shown interacting with his family rendering what could have been an emotional drive seem shallow.
When it tries to be thrilling it fails because inevitable sequences are dragged out; like the police releasing a gang leader from custody in order to get the villain killed, and there being a fight that breaks out. Whenever the story acts like whatever it does is a big deal it gets boring over time before realizing you still have over forty minutes left in the movie. Tonally, there’s no balance in it. It’s somewhat comedic in the beginning of the film, and than suddenly turns dark before the first act ends. The writers had a bunch of ideas about what story they wanted to tell, and just called it a day before developing them into something cohesive that would work in anything it attempted to do.
Despite my gripes with the story my actual biggest disappointment from the movie is generally the weak performances from its star-studded cast. Sure, maybe Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau is the only name you recognize, but Tony Leung, Felix Wing, Miu Roi Wai, and Ken Tong aren’t small players either. First of all, Andy Lau performance in the film is weak. Usually he can make the most even out of cardboard characters. Sadly in this movie his usual charm is nowhere to be found, and when it comes to his dramatic chops the poor direction hurts him. For example, there’s a sequence where he sees one of his friend getting killed, and while he’s mourning a song he sang for the movie is inserted into the sequence with on the nose lyrics about how conflicting his character is. It made a dramatic scene unintentionally funny, and it’s doesn’t help either the song used in this sequence is also used to close out the movie further hammering the point in.
There’s the beginning of the movie where most of the cast are acting goofy. Andy Lau during the brief lighthearted moments appears to be having fun. His dramatic acting is the opposite delivery scene after scene like he’s directly reading of from the script without adding his own touch. Becoming robotic in nature when delivery his scenes. Rarely does he deliver a scene in the movie that feels natural because once the lighthearted moments end he always looks pissed off. This could have been remedied if the writing included more moments of Andy Lau character expressing how conflicting he was about the turn of events. While Andy Lau does have the acting chops to play a unrepentant character the direction gives him little on how much to convey in scenes.
Tony Chiu-Wai Leung who plays Tai-Pi fares worse than Andy Lau. Whereas Andy Lau will have moments that displays the strength of his acting abilities. Tony Chiu-Wai isn’t allowed that luxury as he suffers the most from jarring tonal shifts. He overacts the comedic bits of his character so whenever he does any serious scene it’s difficult for him to come off convincingly. Seeing him be overly goofy detracts from his dramatic scenes, and in return almost comes off the worse among the star studded. Also, his goofy clothing dressing up like a teenager with his baseball cap adds to the problem.
There’s Miu Kiu-Wai who unlike Tony Chiu is simply wooden. His lack of effort to emote eventually makes him disappear into the background, and make you forget the fact he’s in the film. At least Felix Wong Yat-Wah who is constantly just making an angry face for the entire film stands out a bit. Sure, Felix Wong unmoving angry face makes it impossible to care for him, but he puts effort in emoting when it he has too. Tony Chiu is the weakest link in the film in terms of acting.
The only actor who delivers a good performance in the film is easily Ka-Yan Leung as Uncle Tim. Unlike the rest of the cast, his performance is more grounded, and in line with the film’s end goal. He never borders into the realm of silliness like his other co-stars thanks to his committed performance. He never lets up on his serious portrayal being one of the oldest actor in the cast, but when requires he’ll loosen up a little bit in moments that don’t require him to be serious. In these moments, it’s not jarring seeing him having fun, and most importantly refrains himself from being overly silly like his other co-stars. There’s also a surprise appearance by Shing Fui-On who keeps appearing in obscure Hong Kong movies I write about, and here he’s once again casted as a criminal. He’s does fine, but I find his appearance more amusing more than it actually should be. There’s also Philip Chan as a superintendent which is another surprise.
Ken Tong plays the villain in the movie, and typically over acts in virtually all his sequences. His character is to dislike, but it’s biggest drawback is falling into the annoying category. When Ken Tong starts taking up more screen time as the film progresses so his obnoxious evil laughter. Over acting while constantly laughing is a recipe for annoying. Sure, it makes you want to see Ken Tong gets killed quickly in the movie, but when’s far from subtle in his acting it diminishes the payoff. His over acting further highlights weakness in the writing going out of his way make his character detastable by any means. In a ironic way Ken Tong succeed in bringing to life this over the top villain, but at the cost of being increasingly annoying.
If you’re expecting any thrills from this film you’ll be disappointed. Aside from the fact the script is terrible written, director Eric Tsang doesn’t know how to rack up tension. I’ve already went into lengths about a majority of the actors inability to balance the tone of their material, but Eric Tsang is just as responsible for that. Committing mistakes that an amatuer is more likely to make; like inserting a song from Andy Lau during a death scene, and the right on the nose lyrics (paraphrasing) “I know I’ve done wrong, so let me take the blame” is not how drama should be delivered. While on music, it’s largely forgettable. His biggest strong suit is obviously comedy since he felt the most comfortable helming those scenes, and simply having fun, even if the humor was off. However, the absence of tension is noteworthy, especially if you’re making a mind game between two opposing forces, and the only thing you could think of to raise tension is by having loud music play more frequently throughout the movie. There’s also the lack of action, but since it’s more in line of a crime thriller the lack of them isn’t a criticism. Although, the poor quality of them is. From a shootout that is ruined by slapsticks to the climatic sequence in a mall that relies to heavily on making its villain nearly invincible to make it exciting. It’s a climax not worth sitting through a chore of a film.
The Tigers only appeal is the star studded cast of actors whom headline the movie, but even than only Ka-Yan Leung comes out looking good. It’s just a complete mess in representing it’s morality, handling its characters, and especially building tension for what’s meant to be a thriller. For something that has a star studded something better should have been expected than what was given. Even if you’re not a fan of any of these actors, this film doesn’t come close to being a worthwhile watch by any means.
Boxing Helena (1993) is an extremely divisive film with very little discussion surrounding it. In the realm of controversial films such titles like I Spit On Your Graves (1978), Cannibal Holocaust (1980), Natural Born Killers (1994), A Clockwork Orange (1971), and other such films draw plenty of film lovers (and sometime an uninformed outsider) sharing conflicting viewpoints, and sometime ideology gets thrown into the fold. These are the kind of films that make you ask if a film can go too far. Obviously the answer is yes they can go too far. I draw this conclusion with my experience with the 2012 Ron Morales film’s Graceland which briefly had full frontal nudity of minors. However, such cases are extremely rare as I go years without even thinking a film has gone too far with its material. You might be wondering where exactly Boxing Helena stands in terms of controversy? If we’re purely talking about the content in the film than it’s nothing special. It’s simply an experimental indie film that went to the mainstream public with a traditional Hollywood studio treatment resulting in extreme divided reaction towards the film.
Boxing Helena tells the story of an Atlanta surgeon Nick Cavanaugh (played by Julian Sands) dangerous obsession with Helena (played by Sherilyn Fenn), a woman he had a one night stand with. This is the kind of film where knowing specific parts of the story will spoil the experience on first time viewing. That sounds like a no brainer, but you’ll be amazed how many reviews for Boxing Helena from paid professionals, and amateur reviewers online basically give away 42 minutes worth material. This plot point is usually given away in synopsis (if the review has one) when the film is reviewed. That’s not even including the possible hundreds of film sites that also give away a major plot point that should be have been a surprise instead of just given away in a synopsis. Before hand, I of course went on IMDb to check what the film premise was about, and unintentionally spoiled something that should have been shocking, but instead I didn’t expect for the film to take 1/3 to get to that point. I read about the film Boxing Helena before going on IMDb when checking up a list of controversial films (I occasionally like a challenge in discussing a film) so that’s what sold me on it. However, I advise anyone who has an interest in seeing this film to be cautious when reading reviews on this film. If it sounds like a synopsis, just skip it, and read whatever left in the written review. Best advice I could give to go into this as blindly as possible.
On to the actual meat of discussion in Boxing Helena story. The story is slow moving while introducing interesting concepts in the first act. Nick Cavanaugh is shown being neglected by his mother at a party, and not being affected much by his mother death as an adult by leaving his mother funeral early. Raising a question of what kind of relationship Nick had with his mother? To bad the film almost immediately stopped poking around with the idea. Last time Nick mother has anything to do with the story is a hallucination where Nick sees his naked mother in an attempt to imply they had an unhealthy relationship, but how far it went is uncertain. It’s a “connect the loose dot” form of writing done badly when there’s little foundation to connect concrete information given to the viewer. What’s concrete is Nick had a trouble relationship with his mother, but everything else in association to that is kept vague. There isn’t enough to make the connection between Nick relationship with his mother, and the type of woman he’s attracted to come off as viable. At best, it’s imaginative speculation, but at worse making something significant out of something that ain’t there to be found.
In terms of characters they’re just plot devices. To an extent all characters can be considered plot devices, but there are capable writers who are able to masked this. Jennifer Lynch was not able too. I wouldn’t need to count on my hand the amount of characters that were fleshed in this movie because they don’t exist. All supporting characters are basically one trait exacerbated too inconvenient Nick. In the film, Nick has a girlfriend, Anne Garett (played by Betsy Clark) whom he just has a relationship with. If the film dabble a bit on Nick obsession perhaps being greater than his love for Anne there would have been a point to Anne in the film. Anne, much like the implications of Nick troublesome relationship with his mother, provides little in the way of something concrete to confirm themes, and ideas. In one of the very few scene Anne is in she treats Nick in a motherly way. As mentioned before, there’s speculation to be had that Nick might have a thing for women that remind him of his mother, but there’s not enough established about the characters to make it more than mere speculation.
The loose dots could have been remedied halfway with Dr. Lawrence Augustine who is played by Art Garfunkel…I don’t know why he just is in the movie. It’s mentioned briefly that Lawrence helped with Nick on his obsession with Helena, the woman Nick had a one stand with, but to what extent is kept vague. All the viewer is told about Nick mother is that she’s neglectful, and in one instance of the film Nick see’s an image of his mother when Helena is choking him. Does that mean that Nick had an abusive, or perhaps had sexual relation with his mother? The viewer will never know since there is nothing much to Nick’s mother, nor does Dr. Lawrence provide much insight as a friend of Nick. You think Art Garfunkel, of all people to have been cast, would have imparted on Nick some wisdom about relationship, but that’s the sound of silence.
Another plot device comes in the form of Ray O’Malley played by Bill Paxton. Ray O’Malley is more of a possessive friend with benefits who loves having sex with Helena. Ray contribute slightly to the film’s story, but then there’s the ending which undoes virtually all his contribution in the film. For Helena who is the other main character on the other hand, throughout the film she does speak about how almost every man she comes across only love her for her looks. Helena is played by Sherilyn Fenn who is stunning in the film which makes such an idea easy to swallow. Her personality on the other hand has little to dig into as for most of the film she’s verbally, and physically fighting against Nick possessive nature over her. This mostly due to the fact that the film’s ending once again undoing what development, and characterization the viewer thought there was in the film. So Helena fears to commit to a relationship through her arc means nothing in the end. In particular, if Helena arc did mean something than it would require an incredible amount of disbelief that two people experience the same exact thing while unconscious.
The ending to Boxing Helena is single handedly the most polarizing aspect about it. It’s so fundamental to how viewers perceive their overall view on the film it’ll change your perspective into an extreme. On one hand it could simply be viewed as a cautionary tale of an obsessed doctor psyche. However, since the ending rewrites the rules it makes it come off as clueless writing when scenes not involving Nick Cavanaugh are shown to the viewers. The twist ending, despite how much it undoes still retains Nick Cavanaugh characterization, and can still be viewed as cautionary tale of being incapable to overcome his obsession. A character in the film, due to this ending, basically stroke Nick Cavanaugh ego as being a superior man holds some weight. However, because of the ending many of the implied themes, and ideas have even less of a foundation to be more than mere speculation. As you can probably tell by this review the film’s ending makes a non-spoiler review challenging to write around.
Julian Sands stars in the film to good, and bad degree of acting. The good being Julian Sands is able to make his character come off as a truly pathetic person, and the bad being the material doesn’t make his character sympathetic. Another good in Julian Sands performance are some of the heavier dramatic scene that requires a burst of anger, or subdue emotion he pulls off. There’s a scene of Julian Sands with Sherilyn Fenn out on the porch in heavy rain. Sands yells at Fenn character to scream out for help, but also in the same scene he’s still comes across as vulnerable despite having power over Fenn character. A bad side to some of Sands dialogue delivery is he’s unintentionally hilarious. One moment that stands out in goofy delivery is when Sands says Helena as desperately as he can before Helena experience an accident. On the whole, Sands performance could be considered positive with occasional mishaps along the way.
Sherilyn Fenn also stars opposite of Julian Sands for a majority of the film. While the film does rely heavily on her looks, and pulls of creating a sorta seductive aura around her. Fenn comes off convincingly in later scenes too that rely less on her looks. Unlike the rest of the cast, Fenn is slowly given limitation to her performance preventing her from being as expressive as the other cast. Yet, she’s still able to be convincing in her role coming off as vulnerable, and strong. A downside to this is most of the time she’s constantly screaming her lines, and doesn’t have as many vulnerable scenes compared to Sands. It doesn’t help either that there isn’t much to Fenn character either so Fenn gradually changing into a different person sadly go to waste due to context of the film.
The only other noteworthy performance comes from Bill Paxton who dress up like a dated, 90s greaser in the film. Aside from his silly appearances, Bill Paxton only appears in four scenes, and is silly in all of them. He hams it up in his short screen time, and makes an impression. The other supporting actors in the film are fully onenote. Art Garfunkel doesn’t do much in terms of range, Betsy Clark doesn’t do much either with her time, and Kurtwood Smith despite playing his small part well won’t stay with you because once again, very limited screen time. Also, since it’s wholly a serious movie the whole supporting cast performances eventually mesh with each other being indistinguishable from one another.
Jennifer Lynch direction is fine for a first a time director. There are certain shots that are questionable in the way they’re frame. For example, there’s a scene of Julian Sands looking out at the front of his Mansion garden, and is unable to see a clearly visible crouching Bill Paxton behind some branches. It makes you wonder how Sands wasn’t able to see Bill Paxton when he’s as visible as he is. Another bad shot is when Helena is hit by a car, and lingering on it for too long exposes the bad effects used in the moment. Jennifer Lynch was both subtle, and heavy handed with some of her imagery. Heavy handed when cutting to a bird in cage whenever Fenn is failing to escape the grasp of Julian Sands. The subtle imagery comes in how very selective shots are framed to make it appear it’s actor are stuck in boxes. As for anything else I would say the selection of music is fitting, but none of the original music stands out. A lot of the music choices are orchestrated pieces with rare inclusion of insert tracks. The only piece of music that stands out is a cover of Bonnie Raitt“I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Venice. To Lynch credit, it fits perfectly into what she was trying to get across in her film.
This would usually be the end of the review with me posting my closing thoughts, but there’s still one other thing left to talk about, and that’s the ludicrous statement that this film is sexist towards women. The criticism came from the 90s when it was release, but as of the moment of this review being posted it’s as relevant as ever. Labeling this a male power fantasy is silly since Helena is constantly fighting back against her captor for the entire film. Helena wants nothing to do with Nick, even when holds her captive, and Nick is doing anything to prevent her from escaping. If anything, it’s actually against power fantasies since Helena fight every chance she gets. Nick isn’t rewarded for his action which is proven by the film’s ending. Another thing that disproves the film so call “sexism” is Nick does not enjoy obsessing over a woman he had a night stand with. In his own words regarding his obsession, “I’m still haunted for my love for her”. Even if I take into account the way the film is shot it’s still part of Nick character whose otherworldly attraction to Helena is presented by those images, and having seen the film entirely Nick does not enjoy seeing Helena the way he does. It’s negative for his mindset, and negative in his life. Just imagine if the film were to be release in 2016, and it would have caused a far greater riot. I clearly don’t think highly of Boxing Helena, but there’s one thing that Jennifer Lynch didn’t come across when directing her film, and that was sexist.
Boxing Helena I see as a lost opportunity. Beneath the many faults I do feel if handled by a more experience director could have been great. By a first time director, Jennifer Lynch lacked the experience she needed to pull off such an experimental project, and couldn’t reach the high mark she set for herself. None of this is further evident with the ending, and scenes that go against the notion of the ending. Much like its title character, the film itself is trapped in a metaphorical box, but instead of going outside of the box, and sticking to it guns with an ending that would have garner it some respect, even among some detractors. It’s ending plays it safe which goes along with abstract theme of society putting people in boxes, but at the cost of giving the impression Boxing Helena is not worth taking out of its box, even among the more “artsy” film lovers.
Side Stuff: Casting Controversy
There’s also the controversy of casting when it comes to this film. I read one review that made a joke out of it for a closing statement. Granted I wanted to do the same, but someone else beat me to the punch. Originally Madonna was meant to play the part of Helena, but dropped out due to unexplained reasons. Afterwards, Kim Basinger was set to star, but once again stepped down from the role. Unlike Madonna, Kim Basinger exit from the film caused her to go to court, and file for bankruptcy. Her exit from the film cost to pay around, allegedly, $9 million dollars to the film’s producer. Given that Kim Basinger would win best supporting actress four years in 1997 L.A. Confidential I doubt Kim Basinger regret passing up on Boxing Helena.
If there’s another genre that had a bigger fall from grace it would be the horror genre. Much like the action genre, allot of fans can agree the 80s was where it peaked in popularity. However, horror can still continue to push the boundary of what is acceptable both visually, and from a creative perspective. How much is too much when it comes to blood, and gore. How in depth of an character exploration can you create before you begin thinking like a killer. Horror has the ability, more so than other genre, to put viewers in a uncomfortable situations, and even scare them in some cases. As someone who doesn’t see allot of horror movies it’s unfortunate very few horror films from the 90s, and 2000s didn’t entice me in viewing the genre without a preconceived notion. What made matter worse is despite having seen very few horror films, most of what I was exposed to by friends, and family were generally trite films within the genre. There were eventually films that won me over like 1931 Frankenstein, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from 1974 (the only horror movie to scare me to date), and George A. Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead which is my all time favorite zombie film. That’s why I’m happy to write about I Saw the Devil. A modern horror film that is hybrid with a psychological thriller, and succeed for all the right reasons work as well it should have.
I Saw the Devil is about a secret agent exacting revenge on a serial killer through a series of captures and releases. While not entirely a horror film, one admirable trait that I Saw the Devil accomplishes far better than general horror films is contextualizing the blood, and gore. Too often do many films within this genre disregard characters, and story for the sake of bloodshed. The film is deliberately slow paced for this singular reason. For starter, it slow pacing helps it create an atmosphere of dread over it’s main Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee). What it also allows for is to display impatience within Kim Soo-hyeon witnessing him losing sleep over finding his wife’s killer. Showing Kim Soo-hyeon will do anything in his position in the name of vengeance. Splicing scenes of both Kim Soo-hyeon, and Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi) current activities in the film to never lose focus of time. Showing the two men psychology are similar in certain ways, but makes it easy to determine who the film wants you to sympathize with as Kim Soo-hyeon is going after killers while Kyung-chul goes after women to kill.
Another aspect of the story that is appealing is putting a twist on a familiar premise. In some horror films, if the victim of the deceased faces with the killer it’s either save until the climax, or becomes a film where the victim tortures the killer until someone dies in both scenario. By the end of the first act, the film victim Kim Soo-hyeon confronts killer Kyung-chul in which, surprisingly a choreographed fight scene ensues. After this confrontation, the film still continues by using a hunter, and the hunted mentality for its characters. At certain points in the film, this mind game between the two characters are discussed in the film. One attempted to be persuaded to simply let up on the vengeance, and ponder if there’s any value in it. For another he receives a taste of his own medicine while also deriving pleasure of how to get under the skin of whoever chasing him. In terms of characterization enough is given about Kim Soo-hyeon to understand his action. Simple things like having a wife, and caring for his family is as deep as it goes for Kim Soo-hyeon as a person. It’s enough to give an idea of his mentality before he decides to take revenge, and seeing how his act of revenge ultimately affects eventually becomes a dynamic characterization.
The same cannot be said for those it represent as killers since the film never bother exploring the psychological aspect of what can motivate its criminals to do the things they do. There’s a cannibal in the film who loves eating people, but that’s about as deep as it goes. All the criminals function as criminals. They’re meant to be evil for the sake of being evil in order to take pleasure in their deaths. It could be debated the intention was to to debate in the act of revenge itself is justified, but on the other hand the film does not lay down any ground work for greyness. Nothing is more evident of this than the usage of its female characters. From the victims perspectives they respect women as people, but every time a criminal interacts with a woman it’s with the intent to do whatever the criminal desire to do with them. It’s portrayal of representing both sides is one dimensional at best. Just fine for a revenge fantasy film, but when the script tacked on a family aspect to Kyung-chul character it says it wanted to be something more thought provoking. Made even noteworthy when it wants to use Kyung-chul family to get across a specific agenda that doesn’t work out since they’re only included in one before popping back up again. It hard see the film for anything other more than just a piece of revenge fantasy where viewers takes satisfaction in seeing its main character harm criminals.
Other issues within the film are specifically connected to the horror genre itself. Moments in the film required higher suspension of disbelief in order for the film to function the way it wants too. One of these problematic plot point is not Kim Soo-hyeon not killing his wife’s murderer when he’s given three good opportunities to do so. It’s given context, and established motivation for why Kim Soo-hyeon won’t simply kill Kyung-chul. What is not explained in the film is how Kyung-chul manage to find personal information of Kim Soo-hyeon within a quick span of time. There’s no mention in the film he’s connected with anyone in the police force, nor has ties with many criminals that can provide this information. Another issues comes in the form of useless police officers for the film both as characters, and narrative devices. Within the film, the police officers biggest contribution is making an arrest after Kim Soo-hyeon has another encounter with Kyung-chul. As far as usage go they give minimal remarks on how they dislike killers receiving medical treatment in a hospital despite their crimes, and does not provide additional characterization for any of the criminals. A miss opportunity for the police officers is providing a semblance of a man hunt. Rarely is there a mention of the police making progress of finding a suspect who is going after serial killers. There’s is a moment where it seems like the police are close to tracking down Kyung-chul, but it ends up being forgotten plot point. I would mention that the police did provide Kim Soo-hyeon information needed to track down his wife murderer as a positive from the police inclusion, but he’s a secret agent so information gathering wouldn’t be as difficult to obtain if he was an ordinary citizen.
I Saw the Devil is entirely reliant on talent of two highly regarded actors from Korea who are Choi Min-sik, and Byung-hun Lee. Choi Min-sik as the psychaotic Kyung-chul is a performance that is show stealing. Portraying a psychopath whose proud, and takes pleasure in the accomplishment of his killings. Embodying the truest essence of a killer without going over the top. Choi Min-sik subdue portrayal makes his character much more memorable because of it. Coming off as human as possible making it believable in one moment he holds your best interest to then later on want to chop you up into pieces. Withholding any urge to exaggerate his mannerism, and body language. At the same time, despite how often the viewer will see him get abused, Min-sik is a talented actor that he’s still manage to make his character despicable. The character of Kyung-chul has remotely no essence of any likable traits, yet Choi Min-sik understanding of his character paints a clear understanding of his mentality. In the all best possible ways, Choi Min-sik delivers a performance is very impressive to see unfold as much as it is capable to make you immerse within the film.
Byung-hun Lee who plays isn’t too shabby himself in the film either. Lee does a excellent job displaying a character whom seem to have all life sucked out of him. Remaining calm in any situation, even when to face with the killer. Despite displaying a humanless exterior for most of the film when the situation demands it Byung-hun Lee, in a few scenes is able to be emotional. There’s a final moment as the film closes where in a single moment Lee be expresses how mentality broken his character has become. When it comes to the sequences that require to fight him against actor Choi Min-sik, and neither of whom are expert in martial arts their performance of these sequences can fool anyone. Especially Byung-hun Lee whose swift movement can make a viewer further believe he encompasses his perfectly. As for the rest of the cast they’re at best character actor being good at playing off that one specific trait of their characters. It’s no exaggeration when saying the film is essentially a showcase for actors Choi Min-sik, and Byung-hun Lee than. Given the film aims that’s not a negative. The (I’m surprise to have) stunts work in the film are have good work put into them, and in certain scenes amaze by its creativity.
The film is directed by Jee-won Kim who also has a writing credit in the film. His direction in the film is basically flawless. Despite sporting a beautiful look thanks to Mo-gae Lee it still manages to create scenes that master of the horror genre would be proud off. One important tool in Kim framing of a horror sequence is lightning, and showing specific details of the environments. In the opening sequence, Jee-won Kim makes it clear how helpless one of Choi Min-sik victims is in the environment. A recurring feeling Jee-won Kim goes for is making the viewer feel trapped in certain environments. Rarely showing what’s on the outside of an car, or building when a horror set piece is in place. His usage of wide shots is minimal in the film mostly being reliant on close on medium, and close ups whenever in buildings, and cars. What it accomplishes is not showing any blind spot to where an escape route is possible. Another aspect Jee-won Kim avoids is the common horror trope of people tripping while they run. Since there isn’t a high death count that never becomes an issue. If there’s any moments where Jee-won Kim becomes indulgent it’s mostly towards horror fans. He makes up for the lack of kills by going all out in showing good practical effects of body parts, makes sure lots of blood is spilled, and doesn’t cut away from hard to watch sequences. There’s a scene there you see a character cutting off an Achilles tendon, and the viewer sees the entire process. Another standout sequence execellent direction revolves around Choi Min-sik riding in a taxi with suspicious characters. Without being specific, this particular is carefully constructed to be bloody displaying Choi Min-sik stabbing people multiple times in a taxi, and having little blood spill on the camera as it spins around taxi. Jee-won Kim is relentless where it counts, but not overboard to the point where it’s indulgent on blood, and gore.
I Saw the Devil is wonderful combination of horror, and a psychological thriller understanding the best of both genre. The horror elements allows it to go into dark places as well as be bloody in presentation. Balance elegantly with the psychological mind games of two characters who simply hate each other guts to fuel it story after its first act. It’s a wonderfully twisted cat, and mouse game even when it’s clear at points it wants to be more than just revenge fantasy entertainment. On a technical level alone it offers two great performances from two good actor which alone makes it worth viewing. If you haven’t seen a good usage of horror within films, or simply a fan of horror movies I Saw the Devil will satisfy viewers who simply want the blood, and gore, while also offering viewers who are looking something more than just meaningless bloodshed.
Psychological stories are among my favorite forms of storytelling along with the Western genre, Samurai films, and martial art films. This is mostly contributed to personal preferences as these four type of films, if everything is done correctly, hit all my sweet spots of what I’m looking for in a film. Western films in particular I consider the genre to find the best examples of writing in films for in depth narrative, and character exploration while martial art films can get me emotionally invested in events than a traditional action movie. Psychological stories what they tend to offer, besides the occasional intelligent writing, is endless possibilities in writing, and countless pondering thoughts once the film ends. When psychological films are done correctly you’ll have example likes Inception where debates over an ending among other elements are still written about. Clues that could have been missed the first time further can make you appreciate a film. Whereas other examples can fall into M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense category of thinking it’s smarter than actually is. Despite it being well received, I still hold on my beliefs that it’s a film that is poorly written, and badly directed since it build around a single gimmick. That brings me to write about today’s film that falls into the later category of psychological films I dislike that are unable to use their key element in the story in any meaningful way. While not uncommon, it’s never a welcoming sight to see the exact moment where a film fall apart.
1: Nenokkadine is about a rock star who must overcome his psychological inhibitions to seek revenge for his parents’ death. The film waste no time drawing in viewers into the story starting with a kid running away from adults shooting at him. You immediately wonder why, and the opening sequence does it job in setting up the psychological elements without faltering. However, after the flashback is over it’s immediately followed by a musical number. Now the first song does have context since Gautham (Mahesh Babu) is performing at a rock concert. So the transition into a musical number isn’t jarring. Unlike the rest of the film where musical numbers just happen out of nowhere. While it is par for the course for Indian movies to insert musical numbers into a number of their films it is also common for some of the films to insert them accordingly. This film feel no need to fit them in so it’s spontaneous when it occurs. At least the first song while it contribute little narratively was an enjoyable, energetic track about finding yourself. Whereas the other 4 musical numbers are simply about love with corny lyrics. Except the last song in the film which could have been cut out since it contributes nothing.
Now before the film reaches the 41 minute mark it’s story is actually intriguing. It strikes a nice balance playing with Gautham psyche without over complicating matters. The streamlined story is constantly making the viewer wonder if its leading character is imagining events, or if they actually happened. Every major event within the first 41 minutes serve to play a mind game with the viewers. Presenting events in careful manner to not reveal the truth of Gautham memories. It’s also everything pass those first 41 minutes that the film entirely falls apart. Due to a simple scene the psychological angle the film started with is absolutely gone. No longer will you question if Gautham can’t tell the difference between imagination, and reality. This is one moment with Samira (Kriti Sanon) explaining her method to coworkers on how to get an interview with Gautham destroys any doubts you might have had of Gautham psychology being unstable. It’s so plot breaking that further events in the film that attempt to play with the idea of Gautham imagination with their only being one reasonable outcome from that one that scene in the film. Ultimately you end up seeing a film that thinks it’s more intelligent than it actually is. Throwing plot twist as every major turning point. If the film wasn’t trying to be a psychological thriller first than the issue wouldn’t as glaring. However, it would still be an overblown love story.
A major chunk of the film is focus on romance that is overblown. The script doesn’t give the protagonist, and love interest enough time before they fall in love. In context, these two character share a single musical number, and a single action scene which is enough for the protagonist to basically die for his love. This is despite the fact after he learns his love interest has been deceiving him simply forgetting the fact that he been lie by this woman a majority of the time they spend together. After a scene where the damsel in distress get rescue consciously for the first time the romance becomes lovey-dovey. It’s further embarrassing seeing adult characters written like teenagers saying romantic to each other like they were little kids.
Then there’s a subplot revolving around Hydrogen Cyanide getting mixed into seeds causing infertile land causing inedible food in the background that only appears if neede to make progress. That’s a mouthful for sure, but it doesn’t end there as the flimsy attempt to tie in this subplot into its main storyline becomes over the top. Before it eventually evolves to a possible ego stroking film that’s only made to make it star look good. If main character Gautham who is constantly refer to as Rockstar in the film can find the Golden Rice than he can stop world hunger. You might be wondering how a film about a rockstar trying to find his parents killer ended up becoming a green environmentalist action film. The answer is simple as I went to the film IMDb page, and see nine people were given credits. Nine people writing a single film that almost three hours explains allot. It explains why the film never bother explaining how a rockstar just has the skill of a secret agent. This also explains why the film uses of flashbacks several time in the film, withholding certain information, and explains why a film that is wholly serious gives up attempting to balance a serious tone with comedy. Also, explains why despite Gautham popularity he doesn’t have any fanatic fan that would stalk him despite apparently being describe as Indian biggest rockstar.
Characterization for leading character Gautham is surprisingly dynamic. He has an conflict that is both external, and internal that he is desperate to find the resolution for. Despite the story placing importance on overblown romance Gautham turmoil is a driving force for the film. While the film doesn’t spend much on telling us about Gautham himself his conflict in the film is enough to make him an interesting character. Changing his minded goal of revenge into something more personal like remembering their faces. Touches like this make Gautham far more interesting than hardened person who already has his mind set on killing only to possibly change his mind in the end. That’s another aspect to his character that is great. Gautham deciding whether or not to take revenge isn’t the climax of his character. The storytelling isn’t coherent consistently, but Gautham as a character is easy to understand. It’s just a shame Jeremy Zimmermann, Arjun Y.K., Suneel Madhav, Thota Srinivas, Palnati Surya Pratap, Venkateswararao Potluri, Hari Prasad Jakka, Jakka Hariprasad, and Sukamar (who also the film’s director) nine credited writers couldn’t think among themselves how to create a good story to along with him. The other characters, are not even worth mentioning since they’re treated as plot devices, and nothing more.
The rest of the cast isn’t worth discussing in depth since they play pretty straightforward roles. Kriti Sanon who plays Samira is given a role where she plays an woman infatuated with her love interest. As some point in the film it seemed she would be required to do more than smile, look pretty, and bubbly when around the Mahesh Babu, but it doesn’t last long. So she overshadow in every possible way when she shares scenes with Mahesh Babu. Her biggest praise would be she could sing, and dance well, but so can her co star Mahesh Babu. Nasser who plays the film antagonist doesn’t appear in the film until the climax. While screen time is a contributing factor to his lack of an impression is his bland portrayal of a villain makes an easy part of the film to forget. Kelly Dorji is more of the same playing a villain, though his final scene allows him to mix change his dialogue delivery. Supporting actors in general from Anu Hasan, Pradeep Singh Rawat, Sayaji Shinde, Krishna Murali Posani, Gautham Ghattamaneni, Anand, Ravi Verma, and Srinivasa Reddy give the impression they’ll be given roles before disappearing from the film with pure ease.
Sukumar as an director at least nailed down making good music videos in the film. They look stylish as well having good dance choreography to showcase. Playing up a particular aspect in different musical numbers, including the corny love song where he films like a cheesy romance movie. Devi Sri Prasad did an excellent job creating the music. The action scenes in the film all good stunt work, but an issue in all of them is editing. In virtually all the action speed, and quick cuts are played around with. For example, there’s a fight scene where Mahesh Babu has to defend his love interest from a group thugs. Within the same fight scene there’s good practical effects that make the lack of psychics look convincing. This particular fight scene is unable to hide the fact actors in the background simply standing around waiting for their que to be in the scene. Also, this particular fight scene repeats the same shot of its own fight within the same sequence. What is not fun to see is seeing an entire action scene not being allowed to play out by itself without being tampered in some way. As oppose to the film first action sequence where playing with the motion of speed wasn’t abused while it played out.
Another issue is some of the bigger set pieces lack creativity. There’s a set piece in a parking lot having our hero fight off a gang motorcyclist trying to kill. Despite showing some of the motorcyclist carrying guns they never fun them while riding the motorcycles. That sequence in particular plays to traditional to the run, shoot, and cover style of action choreography without changing much in how it plays. Finally, the final action set piece requires you to disbelief the fact that our hero is couple of feet away from armed guards shooting at him, in a wide open space, and somehow not getting shot. The choreography in the final action sequence is sloppy unable to hide the fact that Mahesh Babu should have gotten in despite not hiding behind cover. If the sequence showed Babu dodging bullets by showing some bullet pierce on the ground, or destroy some light to distort vision it would have been easier to swallow the nonsense. There’s also some bad CGI in a sequence with a ship is burning then exploding, and some set pieces being filmed way too close to tell what’s going on. They’re done in a way where it’s easy to lose coherence while viewing them. It’s a shame too since they have some good stunt work in them, though in a nearly three hour film a couple action sequences won’t do much to salvage a bad even if they edited, and filmed correctly. Especially when a long chase sequence is only showing Babu running after someone without spicing it up in any way.
1: Nenokkadine is an overlong film with a psychological angle that shoots itself in the foot 41 minutes in the film. It’s think it smarter than actually is resulting in a film where it length is noticeable. The overblown romance, the bad psychological aspect, and the lackluster subplot of finding Golden Rice to stop world hunger aren’t an exciting mixed elements like they should have been. Mahesh Babu performance alone cannot out do the damage done by jarring transition into musical numbers, and badly edited action sequences. While star Mahesh Babu demonstrated he has talent. It’s unfortunate that none of the filmmakers, and especially it credited don’t have any of it to produce something worthwhile in a nearly three hour film.
My feelings towards the news outlet is represented by the film “Natural Born Killers” in which it depicts news media commercializing violence. Sure not all news media outlet are out solely seeking profit, but it has become less trustworthy with facts distortion, false story testimony, hypocritical political stance that change on a whim, and hundreds of other issues. “The Terror Live” yes does to a degree support my views on the news media outlet; however, as a film it achieves all the high mark needed for a perfect rating. Excellent writing for the story it’s telling, high production values regardless of budget, a magnificent cast, and a key understanding of what genre fans want while also making it accessible for the average viewer.
The Terror Live follows Young-Hwa Yoon, once a top national news anchor attempting to get his title back through an exclusive live broadcast with a terrorist. One thing to note about “The Terror Live” is the amount of creativity put into it taking entirely place in just one broadcast room. Starting things simple and low key for the introduction of protagonist Yoon as an unhappy radio host. It builds beyond that point doing the basics of introducing the premise, the characters, and the conflict setting them immediately in placed. Developing in real time we’re able to witness everything fleshed out right before our eyes. Being an immersive experience that’s often not capture by written words. For this reason we bare witness the now common practice report it first get it right later mentality of web journalism with the disillusionment and frustration that come from it. It’s not far fetched concept nowadays nor is the way how the film tackle this too refrain from reality. Motivations for a live terrorist broadcast make senses from the characters angle going beyond the underline that in the end it’s about money. Never does it tell you swallow it owns views rather ask how reliable news reporting is up to the viewer to determine for themselves. For the first two act there’s very little to complain about (some of the character development is conventional, but it’s better than nothing). Slowly building up to its climax for the two act are flawlessly written keeping the story essentials engaging while building upon what already placed. What will ultimately determine how your reaction on the film as a whole will be with the third act. Revealing the terrorist and his rather disappointing reason behind his actions, though even in context his action could be perceived as overblown. Yet these complaints would automatically be labeled as flaws sneakily tie into how preconceived the media in the film. How much of we what see and hear is reliable from the sources we get this information from and how much do we accept of it as the truth and a work of fiction.
Writer/director Kim Byeong-woo had a taunting task of not only writing a film in just one setting, but also filming it. What instantly catches the eye is the camera being constantly in motion and creating momentum. The camera serves as a tool showing details among the cast anxiety of the situations to creating a feeling of entrapment with little to no influence to change its outcome. Alongside with editing effectively emoting the anxiety felt by its protagonist. Kim Byeong-woo makes great use of all his available resources and intelligently knows how to use them properly. For example, the bridge that has partly collapsed can almost at all times only be seen from a distance and thus the CGI effects look always looks great. Star Ha Jeong-woo does good work in revealing Yoon’s motivations through his performance instead of solely through dialogue, and his arc is clearer because of it. Gradually upping the dosages of anxiety and doubt he injected Yoon’s smug veneer, the actor has managed to portray a man quickly losing his moorings, but having to at least pretend he’s putting up a good fight. Staying on him almost exclusively straying only to offer glimpses through windows or to TV screens, and he carries the responsibility with energy and believability.
The Terror Live fits the term masterful filmmaking in all category. It’s an intelligent thriller with a fresh and new concept not widely seen that keeps your attention right to the very end. Doing more so entertaining its audience its asks the bold question of who are the real terrorist in a depiction that purely gray where no simple answer in sight.
Grand Piano follows Tom Selznick, a master pianist who retired from playing five years prior due to a meltdown on stage, performing for this first time in five years discovers a note written on his sheet music that claims if he plays a wrong note he will die. Preposterous, over the top, and flimsy are best fitted to describe “Grand Piano” plot. Never being one for common sense it’s a thriller that does not rack up suspense because of how far fetched the basics premise is. Immediately once the antagonist plans gets started many questions begin popping up it expects the viewer to ignore. Every clue given to solve its mystery is done unsubtly revealing too much with little to work out for the viewer. With the exception of Tom Selznick and the film antagonist character development is slim. Secondary characters bare little weight in how the plot actually plays out. Some characters are obligatorily created to become victims, though the victims death don’t heighten the tension seeing how little the characters were involved in the first place. It plot flaws are visible; however, it’s a film that knows how to execute. While the plot is not exactly high minded it is cleverly structure. The cat and mouse game has enough intrigued to sustain its run time. Conversations between Tom and the films antagonist carry strong dialogue for large portion of the film. Tom (our protagonist) reacts reasonably (minus the climax) in his situations albeit it might result in a negative impact. No matter how slim plausibly may be for the film it never overstays its welcome. It has enough set pieces and ideas to support itself to the end even if it asks too much suspension of disbelief. Enjoyment of the story is also equal to how much you can buy the antagonist motivations for his plan.
Director Eugenio Mira’s visual work is surely inspired and successful. Once Elijah Wood gets to the concert hall, everything has a grand, classy, and polished look to it. However, Mira’s work doesn’t truly shine until Elijah begins playing the piano. There are a lot of sweeping shots and wonderfully-captured scenes with Wood’s fingers running across the keys that perfectly represent the character’s tension. There’s a lot of great selection of classical music throughout the running time, which has wonderful clarity as its fluid editing. Director of photography Unax Mendia uses plenty of long, highly choreographed and well blocked single take shots that remind the viewer the film is taking place in real time. The shots are impressive, often involving dozens of actors and extras moving in front of or around the camera as it cranes in or out on its focal point. With everything that’s going on around the set, the production is almost like live theater, only with the viewer stuck right in the middle. Elijah Wood handily conveys a nervous, anxious, and jaded musician with limitless talents and plenty of insecurities. Wood makes his character captivating through his easy and relatable presence. No matter how far fetch the plot is Elijah Wood always feels grounded. John Cusack is solid here too, even if his character is a bit on the one-dimensional side of things, as we spend most of the movie only hearing his calculating voice rather than seeing him. One important thing note even though the film runtime says ninety minutes; twelve of those minutes are slow running closing credits with a hit or miss ending.
Grand Piano is preposterous, but a well executed film. The initial premise won’t rack up suspense or thrills. It does offer good writing, a great selection of classical music, and solid performances that can keep you engage for its short run time. Production values equal that of a classical concert and on the technical sides takes surprisingly many liberties despite how restraint the material is. A high end thriller Grand Piano is not, but a solid film that makes up for its weakness it is.