Commentaries

Friday, February 17, 2017

THE GREAT WALL



GOOD MONSTER MOVIE  

Film Review by Fiore 


There is a veritable plethora of behind the scenes elements affecting THE GREAT WALL, the latest effort from Legendary Pictures starring Matt Damon.  Before I get into the international Hollywood drama, let’s talk about the movie.  It’s great; one of the best monster movies I’ve seen in years.  It has a rousing score, beautiful cinematography, better bow and arrow sequences than Steven Amell can perform in ARROW, the first ever grenades, the first aerial bombers and expert SFX on the monsters.  You can’t ask for more than that.

During the Song Dynasty, a group of mercenaries led by William Garin (Damon) meander their way into China to purloin gun powder.  Unfortunately, their quest is snarled when they are attacked by Toaties, an alien species which emerges from hibernation every sixty years to feed.  The monster awakening to feed draws from JEEPERS CREEPERS, but this isn’t just one monster.  A military garrison of the Imperial Court called The Nameless Order, snags the mercenaries as spies, but then relies on their fighting prowess when it is discovered they have found a way to kill the Toaties.  The first Toatie attack occurs within the film’s opening reel, and from that point, THE GREAT WALL never slows.  Thank Mary Jo Markey and Craig Wood for proving to be the exception to the rule that more than one editor ruins the film.

Matt Damon is generally a harbinger of lame movies.  He stars in films fraught with liberal, socialist concepts.  Outside of THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, this is the only film I’ve enjoyed him in.  Some time ago, Chuck Norris, who was embarking on his acting career, asked Steve McQueen for advice.  McQueen told Norris: “… say as little as you can and just fight.”  Norris, to this day, claims it was the best advice he ever received.  It made him a star and an icon.  Damon takes that same advice in THE GREAT WALL.  He has very little dialogue, and what he does say is curt, and non-political, thankfully.

Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe help complete the mercenary group.  At no time does Dafoe say: “God speed, Spider-Man” and it’s a little disappointing.  Pascal is solid as Damon’s friend and ally, and the plucky comic relief.

Andy Lau, who is one of China’s top box office stars, plays Wang, the Strategist and War Counselor for the Nameless Order.  He is one of two Chinese characters who can speak English, and therefore, carries the dialogue.   Jing Tian plays Commander Lin Mae, and the love interest for Garin.   Lu Han is Peng Yong, a young warrior who becomes Garin’s mentor


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      THE FIRST ATTACK ON THE WALL
2.      THE BATTLE OVER THE WALL
3.      THE AERIAL RAID


Now for the real drama.

This film supposedly cost Thomas Tull his position at Legendary Pictures.  You may recall several years ago, I broke the story about the implosion of the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh as an integral part in Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT.  When the proposed shoot was placed in jeopardy by social activist, Nolan threatened to pull out and shoot everything in New York. It was Tull, who has a vested interest in the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, who came in and salvaged Nolan’s production in Pittsburgh.  He considers Pittsburgh home, and made it possible for the city to score major Hollywood points by replacing the Civic Arena with a heavy CGI of Heinz Field, and of course, cameos by players and coaches.    For THE GREAT WALL , Tull envisioned  a series of productions between American and Chinese studios to reap the benefits of both box office venues.
 
THE GREAT WALL cost $150 million to make; the most for any production in China.  The film, which was released in China toward the end of last year, met with harsh critical reviews.  Seems the Chinese critics thought the film provided a “white savoir narrative” by bringing in the mercenary group.  See, America isn’t the only place where politics, especially from those pushing an agenda, comes into play on film entertainment. 

Unfortunately for the critics, the Chinese government also wanted this film to succeed for better ties between the two countries.  They issued a statement blasting the critics, and within 24 hours, the negative comments on the film were ceased.

Stupidly, the American critics, except of course, for your one true film critic, saw this censorship as a slight to all thing the H3L stand for; so a media jihad against THE GREAT WALL was formed by the condescending critics in the two-letter cities to pan the film, as a sign of solidarity.  The pundits are predicting the movie will only make $20 million on opening weekend, despite having already earned $225 million in its Asian release.  So vehement was the American press on THE GREAT WALL, that Tull became the studio’s fall guy.  This byplay of media vs. government vs movie was laid on Tull’s plate and, despite his past contributions to the studio, including its formation, is credited for the dismissal of Tull from the Legendary Pictures Board of Directors.  This is worse than high school; and it’s the main reason you, dear reader and film lover, come to me for best in film coverage and reviews you can truly use.

Let’s take a look at the report card for THE GREAT WALL:

ACTING = B
CINEMATOGRAPHY =A
SOUND/MUSIC =A
EDITING =A
LIGHTING =A
SCRIPT =B
SFX =A
ACTION =A




THE GREAT WALL is fun and definitely worth the price of admission.  This is Director Yimou Zhang’s first venture into American cinema.  I trust it will not be his last.   I was fortunate to see the film in 3D, and the technique enhances the presentation.  Many arrows, hatchets and body parts fly off the screen.  Don’t miss this one; you’re going to have a good time.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

THE RED TURTLE



SO WHAT'S THE POINT?

Film Review by Fiore 


I cringe every time there is a Saturday morning screening for a kids animated flick.  The films are generally insipid, filled with a Disney globalist agenda.  The children are rude, loud and obnoxious, while their parents are too attached to their phones to correct the bad behavior.  Yet,  I like animated films intended for adults (no, I’m not talking FELIX THE CAT).   Films utilizing animation to convey an adult story are rare, and often not engaging.  TALES OF HALLOWEEN was an interesting, but very predictable anthology of horror tales.  Jon Favreau’s THE JUNGLE BOOKS could be considered an animated film, even though a few live action stars appear in it.  The last epic animated film I watched was LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE.

With that background, I anticipated an enjoyable experience watching THE RED TURTLE.  The film gathered awards at various festivals with ease.  It is being considered as best animated film for the Oscars.  When the movie concluded, I scratched my head and immediately sent out a whiskey tango foxtrot alert.

I understand film well.  Often, others accuse me of reading too deeply into films, or suggest I have inserted a concept or symbolism surely not intended.  As best I can figure, THE RED TURTLE is a film about inter species co-habitation.  I have honestly attempted to place various symbolisms on the two main characters, hoping for a man and nature, man and woman or man and magic theme, but honestly, nothing works.

THE RED TURTLE has no dialogue, except for a shouted “Hey!”.  It’s the story of a man who is shipwrecked on a deserted island.  Every time he attempts to leave the island, by building a raft of bamboo, something attacks the raft and he is forced to return to the island.  The creature keeping him in place is a large red turtle (guess there’s no surprise there).  

One day, when the turtle comes ashore, the man attacks and kills it.  Afterwards, he feels remorse and tries to revive the turtle, to no avail.  Suddenly, the red turtle transforms into a dazzling red-haired woman.  The man and woman live in happy bliss on the island and even have a son.

As the years go by, no ship, plane or other sea creature comes near this island.  As deserted islands go, this one is off the charts. Kong could use this type of remoteness.   At no time, through all the years is there even a hint of a rescue.  The couple’s son grows, and eventually swims off with a group of turtles.  Quelle surprise!  The man eventually dies of old age, and when he does, the woman turns back into the Red Turtle and swims off into the sunset.

I searched all my collected knowledge of Aesop’s Fables, The Brother Grimm, the Bible, Greek and Egyptian mythology and even conversed with friends who are Wiccan, and no where can I find any tale, story, parable, myth or legend that comes close to trying to explain THE RED TURTLE.  Even if you mix and match tales, there’s still nothing here.

The rumors in Tinseltown are Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit wanted Studio Ghibli to release one of his short-animated movies in Japan.  The studio was reluctant, so de Wit promised to give the studio a full length animated film if they would handle the distribution of his short film in Japan.  The studio agreed and the resulting movie was THE RED TURTLE.  Perhaps the only purpose for the movie is to serve as payment for Japanese distribution of another film.

Let’s look at the report card for THE RED TURTLE:
ACTING = F
CINEMATOGRAPHY = D
SOUND/MUSIC = D
EDITING = C
LIGHTING = C
SCRIPT = F
SFX = F
ACTION = F


It figures that only members fully immersed in the H3L could find anything of value in this movie.  Perhaps you still must believe Hillary won the election, and everyone should be allowed into our country to make any sense of this movie.



Thursday, February 9, 2017

JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2



IT'S EARLY, BUT ONE OF THE YEAR'S BEST

Film Review by Fiore 


Back in 2014, Keanu Reeves starred as a mob hitman in JOHN WICK.  The film made my best of the year list and became an instant classic.  JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2 is every bit as good as the first.  So, we have JOHN WICK being epic; and JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2 being epic.  Do you sense a pattern?

JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2 begins right after the conclusion of the first.  Wick finally finds his precious car and seeks to retrieve it.  Once all the loose ends from the first film are tied, Wick, finally, retires, only to have a mob boss call in a personal marker, which pulls Wick out of his planned idyllic life and throws him back into the assassination game.  It’s just enough of a plot to springboard the film into its intended milieu – a non-stop series of spectacular action sequences.

Reeves is back as the monotone one-man killing machine.  Reprising their respective roles from the first film are Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan and Lance Reddick.  New to this chapter are Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose and Franco Nero.  It is amusing when Fishburne and Reeves first appear on screen together.  Fishburne says:  “I met Mr. Wick many years ago.”  And you truly expect him to add, “didn’t we Neo?” and offer him either a blue or red pill.  Sweet.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      CAR RETREVAL
2.      ESCAPE FROM THE PARTY
3.      MIRROR ROOM

JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2 offers excellent action cinematography from Dan Lausten.  There are especially fine street level shoots during both the car chase and fight scenes.   Evan Schiff keeps the film rolling; there is literally no time to catch your breath as each minute is either exploding with action, or serving as a tense interlude.   This confirms my mantra of one editor per film.  Schiff had a non-stop vision, and executes it with aplomb.
 
What makes a movie like JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2 appealing is its emersion in actual fighting techniques.  Reeves, and his antagonists, utilize a blend of traditional marital arts moves, mixed with Gracie Jujitsu take-downs.  The weapons are all utilized in proper tactical fashion.  There are no completely unbelievable stunts, as in Vin Diesel’s recent XXX: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE.

Before the opening of JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2, Reeves issued a press release claiming he is interested in participating in JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3.  Following the pattern already established, it should also be epic.  Let’s take a look at the report card for JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2.

ACTING = B
CINEMATOGRAPHY = A
SOUND/MUSIC = B
EDITING = A
LIGHTING =A
SCRIPT =B
SFX = A
ACTION = A

THE MATRIX is not the only film given homage in JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2.  During the climax, Wick pursues a mob boss into a room of mirrors.  It’s a play on Bruce Lee’s classic conclusion in ENTER THE DRAGON.  This time, however, the mirror room is more modern, with opening glass doors and a changing light display.  It’s a nice twist to an old standard.  




You can’t go wrong with this one.  Definitely worth the price of admission, and then some.  It’s only February, but already JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2 goes down as one of the year’s best.