Shoot ‘Em Up Review
Review # 165
Director – Michael Davis
Cast – Clive Owen,Monica Bellucci, Paul Giamatti, Stephen McHattie
Right from the very first scene, you will know if this movie is for you. Clive Owen (Mr. Smith), an innocent bystander, sees a man threatening to kill a pregnant woman. Mr. Owen then kills this man with a carrot. He is immediately set upon by henchmen/fellow goons of the dead man, and, via a bullet to an oil pan, he creates a makeshift slip and slide to fling himself past them all. In between these two events he finds time to help the lady give birth, and sever the umbilical cord by shooting it.
Need I say more? Do let me continue.
He carries the baby with him through the rest of the movie, because slimy baddie Paul Giamatti wants it dead for some reason. When we are told the reason, we realize it makes no sense and thus we discard it. The plot just doesn’t matter. Luckily the movie knows this, and takes itself exactly as seriously as we take it, that is, not at all. It should also be mentioned that Monica Belucci tags along as a hooker with a heart of gold. She helps hard ass Mr. Smith with such non-manly things as breast-feeding. They also participate in the mandatory sex scene, but one which quickly morphs into a horrific gun fight. You know all you need to know about the tone of the movie when I tell you that they do not stop screwing when the bullets start flying. You get the sense it just spices things up a bit.
Simply put, this movie makes Sin City look like a down-to-earth thriller. Shoot ‘Em Up is preposterous trash, a C-movie with a miraculously high budget. It is lucky to have stars who know the movie is absolute bull shit, and act accordingly. It gets a bit draggy towards the end, but that can be forgiven. The stunts, shootouts, and acrobatics are so absurd we can’t help but giggle, and go along with the fun. And fun it is.
I can not stress this point enough. In Shoot ‘Em Up, Clive Owen kills a man with a carrot. Voila.
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The Woman in Black Review
Director – James Watkins
Cast – Daniel Radcliffe, Cirian Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White, Roger Allam
Hammer is back! The infamous production company most famous for Christopher Lee’s Dracula series (and a myriad of other lo-fi British horror films), has been dormant since the 1980’s. About five years ago the company was resurrected, and makes its return to the gothic horror films upon which they made their name.
The Woman in Black is also an attempted resurrection of sorts for its star. Radcliffe is of course best known as the star of the recently finished Harry Potter films, and now presumably wishes to cast that mantle aside. A period-ish piece about supernatural happenings may not seem like a complete 180 turn, but there we have it. Is Radcliffe a bit young for the role? I would argue that yes, he is. But Radcliffe is a very competent (if slightly wooden) actor, and he carries the film capably. Any doubts we may have about his character’s motivations are down to the script, and he actually does more than we could have hoped to help.
But does the movie work?
I think it depends on how you approach it. If you expect a slow burn of a horror movie, with nuanced characters and a solid story, you will be a bit disappointed. However, if you are in the mood for a traditional haunted house movie with tons of jumps and chills running up and down your spine, it will most certainly provide them. And that word, “traditional”, perhaps describes the movie the best. While the cinematography and effects are all shiny and modern, the story would have fit perfectly in the good old Peter Cushing era, or even any of the old Hollywood horror pics. Our lead hears a bump upstairs? Up he goes to investigate! A sunken face appears at an upstairs window? Up we trot!The whole movie is in that tradition. If you can go with it, you will be in for a good time.
(Is there something particularly scary about things being upstairs? Well maybe it’s just this movie… we’ve seen plenty of scantily clad leads going into creepy basements.)
Adding some welcome dramatic weight to the whole thing are veteran Brit’s Cirian Hinds and Janet McTeer. We also see Roger Allam pop up briefly, just to reaffirm the Britishness of the movie. Janet McTeer is the standout I think. Her character is a bit of a mess. She has seen some bad things, has had her son taken from her by the titular spirit, and believes herself to be possessed. She is tortured, and we see it. Radcliffe is supposed to be a tortured soul as well. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of that perhaps.
The Woman in Black is a fun traditional horror film. It features performances that range from solid to excellent, and definitely offers its fair share of scares. Dspite a strangely out-of-place ending, it is a very effective movie. Highly recommended to horror fans.
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The Road Warrior Review
Review # 163
Director – George Miller
Cast – Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Emil Minty, Michael Preston
Filmed in Australia, The Road Warrior is a dirty, rough and tumble, bizarre gem of a movie, perfectly utilizing the Australian Outback’s harsh landscape. Mel Gibson returns to his star making role as “Max”, in what we know in North America as The Road Warrior, known everywhere else as Mad Max 2. The movie follows Max, a loner badass who wanders the desolate dystopian landscape searching for precious gasoline, which has become the only thing of value in this desperate world.
Being a sequel to a movie no one in America saw, we are brought up to speed in a brief prologue, summing up, if not the events, then the tone of the previous movie. Shrunk down to the center of the screen and shown in black and white, it offers the perfect contrast when we smash cut to a close up shot of Max’s wide, intimidating grill. From that moment on the movie kicks into high gear and floors it, right until the final shot.
And what a trip! What a bizarre, adrenaline pumping trip! I originally had no interest in this movie; the stupid looking punk outfits and hairdo’s made the whole thing look like B-level trash. But George Miller knew what to do with the material; he built a consistent world, shot it classy, and keep everything moving. Nothing is treated as if it’s crazy; which just goes to make the crazy stuff digestible.
It has a strangely touching sense of honour and pride about it too. The characters (except for our lead, at the beginning anyway) believe in things, we can sense it. There is a ragtag group who Max falls in with, and we can see that he longs for their family warmth. He deserts them initially, but then comes back. Whether or not he stays is truly at the heart of the character. Well, calling Max a character may be a bit of an overstatement. He’s The Man With No Name, down under. Clint Eastwood, but fallible.
The Road Warrior is fun, fast, and has production values it shouldn’t have gotten in a logical world. It’s no wonder that this series launched Mel Gibson to international stardom. George Miller made a unique movie here. Recommended to action fans, sci-fi fans, and fans of a good time.
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Review # 162
Director – John Huston
Cast – Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Max von Sydwo, Pele, Maurice Roëves, Tim Pigott-Smith, Julian Curry
There is a lot of cross over between sports films and POW films. Sports films invariably feature an under dog team who are disadvantaged in some way (Remember the Titans, We Are Marshall, Bad News Bears) playing the arrogant douche-bag team. And of course, POW films inevitably pit the good ol’ Allies against “The Huns” or “The Japs”. To combine the two was either a stroke of genius or an awful idea. The problem with Victory! is that it isn’t sure which of those options got decided on. It’s luke warm, and thus will be spat out, as the saying goes.
Plot-wise, a German officer (Max von Sydow) decides to challenge the prisoners under his watch to a game of soccer, POW’s vs. guards. Once the German higher-ups hear about this they decide it will be a great propaganda move, and decide to allow Colby (Michael Caine) to round up the best soccer players held as captives in Europe, and form a team to play the German national team in Paris. Meanwhile, Hatch (Sylvester Stallone) plans an escape to occur during the halftime of the game, aided by the local Resistance.
The movie is of two minds – there is the rather carefree, fun sports movie firstly. This is the movie that Michael Caine heads. It is interesting, fun, and a touch cheeky. Stallone heads the other side – the side that deals with the Resistance, escaping POW’s, and dangerous escapes. These topics (and the associated tones) don’t necessarily clash… but somehow they found a way. To make it worse the team decides halfway through the game to not even escape, rendering half of the movie pointless. Then to top it all off we have a ridiculous ending that is vague, un-earned, and that panders embarrassingly badly to Stallone. It has to be seen to be believed. My jaw literally dropped.
Plus the DVD print was awful. (Which brings to mind the famous joke “The portions were awful, and so small.)
Now that I’ve bitched about the ending, I must admit that the beginning had me along for the ride. We see Caine training his team, and Pele showing off his bicycle kick. Max von Sydow has a great role as the kindly but firm German head-of-camp, and the interplay between he and Caine is nice. Stallone has a subplot about his awful soccer skills that mostly works, but it would have worked better if Stallone had been content to let the movie be an ensemble piece, too. Really, the whole movie would have worked better. You can practically hear him off-screen, getting himself more screen time. But come on… did he really need a romantic interest here? Did he need to save the game in slow motion?
On the other hand you have to admire him though. We never saw Schwarzenegger trying to go so far out of his comfort zone. I’ve always admires Stallone for that… he knew what he did well, but didn’t mind trying out something new once in a while. Let’s see Chuck Norris lose 40 pounds to work with a director like John Huston. No siree, bob!
Victory! is a movie that more or less fails, despite a decent first half and a surprisingly kinetic soccer game at the end. There are quite a few British actors in the background who would become standby’s of UK film; people like Tim Piggot-Smith and Maurice Roëves. Julian Curry even makes an appearance, and it’s great to see the actor known mostly for the excellent Rumpole of the Bailey series get some work.
But unfortunately the movie can’t find the right tone, miscasts Stallone horribly, and hands us a ludicrous ending. So much for that!
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