Monday, September 28, 2015

Kung Fu Killer aka Kung Fu Jungle aka Last of the Best aka Yi ge ren de wu lin (2014)

When I watched this movie it was called Kung Fu Killer which is good name for what it is. Last of the Best is even better. Wikipedia and IMDB seems to know this as Kung Fu Jungle. That name doesn't make any sense. Kung Fu Killer sounds bit dumb but at least there is a kung fu killer. There is no jungle.

I expected  dumb kung fu action movie because name sounded like it. But for a movie named Kung Fu Killer this had little kung fu action for first ten or fifteen minutes. It skips two potential action scenes and starts action scenes by fight which is questionable from story's point of view. Our hero picks fight in prison to get to talk to detectives.

Hahou Ma is kung fu master who accidentally killed his opponent during a fight. He is in prison when he sees someone targeting other kung fu masters. He promises to help police to find the killer. Movie is detective movie first and kung fu movie second. This is why it skips first two action scenes. While watching skipping felt odd but when action starts there is plenty of it and skipping first two action scenes felt good idea.

There is some pseudo kung fu philosophy but in the end kung fu doesn't matter. Kung fu masters can do what they want if they are good enough. But if they want to live in society they have to have real jobs. Hahou Ma and Killer are only ones without real jobs. Hahou Ma is in jail and Killer lives underground.

Killer is like old time kung fu master who want to show he is the best by challenging other kung fu masters to fight to the death. I thought, did other masters lose because they knew consequences of killing someone and held back. Killer didn't care. For him kung fu was meant for killing.

Overall I liked the movie. It wasn't cheap dumb kung fu movie. Kung fu action was good but not the main thing. There were few good twists. Movie looked really good except couple cgi effects when they were not needed. Most names are bad but the movie is good.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2010)

Movies based on video games are generally not masterpieces. I can only name one which is generally considered as good or should I say liked. First Mortal Kombat movie took Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon and modified it to Mortal Kombat movie. If felt like someone playing live action version of the game. It doesn't have cinematic values but as a video game movie it works. It turned game into a movie.

Other video game based movies have got more polarized reactions. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is competent but quite forgettable movie. Movie is faithful to source material. Main character is parkouring almost all the time. They focused into making this like games but forgot to make interesting story. It is just action scene after action scene.

Characters grow during the movie but it isn't always sure why they change at that point. Love story takes first they can't stand each others cliche too far. Then at some point they love each others. We have seen this too many times and this doesn't even try to hide this is going into that way.

Love story is not only thing taken too far. Some action scenes take it too far. Solders had bad case of storm trooper syndrome. They can't hit anything. Sorry. They can only hit other solders not our hero. Action scenes look good but lose effectiveness after too many close calls. I liked parkour sections. They looked like from live action platform video game.

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time looks pretty but there is very little beneath surface. It probably keep you entertained if you like the genre. How ever there are much better movies if you want to see movie of same genre. Ones with interesting characters and story.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Outcast (2014)

I can see what Outcast tries to be. It is western version of Chinese wuxia films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). Main story is son and daughter of emperor escaping their older brother who wants to be next emperor. Two former crusaders help the son and daughter. While movie mostly tries to follow wuxia genre there are western influences too. Western influences are not the only problem.

Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen are former crusaders who left crusades after seeing what crusades did to them. Cage is Christensen's mentor. He left to China earlier and Christensen followed. Both characters are drunk or high throughout the movie. Cage is alcoholic and Christensen opium addict but both are still great warriors. Christensen can kill group of solders when he can barely walk or see what is happening.

Movie's problems culminate to Cage and Christensen. Cage is Crazy Cage and Christensen is stoned Anakin. Christensen was ok in Jumper (2008). But this time he is Anakin who has found drugs. It doesn't help that both characters are badly written. Their actions don't make sense. Neither does some other characters'.

Worst stupidity is when Cage's gang defend dead end. They send the son and daughter deeper into cave but Christensen bring them out when everyone else has died. At one point they acted like they could escape through the cave and next they acted like they couldn't.

Wuxia films I have seen usually don't have clearly evil character. This movie makes older brother clearly evil and hits us head with it just in case we don't get it. Without that wuxia parts generally work even thought they are quite generic.

Outcast ends up being big mess with generic wuxia and alcoholic and junkie. There is sequel in plans. I just don't know why. Idea could have worked with better script and Cage and Christensen replaced by more suitable actors. I almost said better but Cage is good actor when he wants to be. This is not one of those movies.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Big Hero 6 (2014)

Big Hero 6 is animated movie for kids but it is better superhero movie than most superhero movies. While watching it I thought this is what Fantastic Four should have been. Story follows fourteen year old boy. Everything related to fourteen year old boy cut away and replaced by Fantastic Four and you have good Fantastic Four movie. This even has Stan Lee cameo.

Big Hero 6 is inspired by Marvel comic of same name. As far as I know this is quite different than the comic. I have not read the comic but I know characters from other comics. Comic is even more obscure than Guardian of the Galaxy before the movie.

Hiro is fourteen year old tech genius who participates in robot fights until his older brother Tadashi takes him to nerd school for a tour. Hiro likes the school and he applies to school with his nano robots. Nano robots steal the show but later nerd school is burned down killing Tadashi.

Hiro is left with his aunt and Tadashi's medical robot Baymax. Soon Hiro finds out his nano robots weren't destroyed in fire. This starts adventure which creates new superhero group Big Hero 6 and teaches Hiro some facts of life.

Movie has many cliches like at first group doesn't work but they learn to work together when time comes. Now that I think about it this follows quite common template but it doesn't feel forced at any time. Big reason is Baymax who is quite unique character. Baymax only wants to heal people. It becomes superhero only to make Hiro feel better.

Movie makes nerdy science kids superheroes. Inventing new stuff is cool. I was bit disappointed when movie turned into superhero movie. Characters we more interesting before they became superheroes. Pace also changes and there were less quiet moments which were best thing in this movie.

I am curious to know where idea to make this kind of version of Big Hero 6 came from. Disney owns Marvel so they could use name this way. Sony owns X-Men and some how term mutant superheros. Some of comic Big Hero 6 characters are from X-Men comics. Probably Disney or Marvel Studios can't use them in movies. This wasn't move against Sony because this is genuinely good movie. Idea had to come from somewhere.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Rise of the Template Movies

This is a topic I have planned to discuss for months. I don't know if these kind of movies have popular term. I like to call them template movies. Template movies are movies where template and requirements are more important than the story.

Classic examples are Bond movies. They start with action scene followed by animated opening credits. Then we have scene with Moneypenny before Bond meets with M. After meeting with M Bond goes to see Q to get some gadgets and see crazy inventions. After this template give more room for story but we will still get similar things in similar interval. Terms Bond villain, Bond car and Bond girl exists because every movie has similar type of villain, luxury cars and women in similar roles.

Later Bond movies have taken more liberties from Bond template. Skyfall (2012) have drifted so far from the template that it would have been better if it forgot the template. Earlier when you went to see Bond movie you knew what you will get. Just like when you went to fast food chain restaurant.

There have been other template movies through out the years like slasher movies. But Marvel Studios' movie have brought template movies back to main stream again. Fast & Furious movies tried to be different from each others so I would not put all of them as template movies even though they are very similar.

Marvel Studios have taken this concept even further. They have dozen movies in pipeline and every movie is connected to other movies. This has brought requirements to template movies. Bond movies were made one by one. Marvel Studios make several movies and tv shows at same time and everything is loosely connected.

This means Marvel Studios movies have template, few key moments and outcome decided before they decide who will write the movie or who will direct it. Then they bring talented creative people to fill the blanks. So far this has produced at least entertaining movies and few frustrated creative people. Some creative people find constraints of given framework too limiting.

Avengers: Age of Ultron showed why this approach may not work in long run. Avengers is Marvel Studios' flagship property which means it has to connect to almost everything. It started to feel like there was more build up and conclusion to everything else than movie's story.

Joss Whedon's interviews have been interesting. He was forced to have all the connections he didn't want. After finishing the movie he wanted to make something of his own and original. Joss Whedon is not the only creative person who has become frustrated working with Marvel Studios pre-planned templates and requirements.

Ant-Man worked better since it didn't have so much connections. Connections it had felt forced when you stopped to think. They were there to bring Ant-Man to next Captain America movie. So far best Marvel Studios' movie have been Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy which had least build up for upcoming movies. Later movies seem to be more interested of upcoming movies than themselves.

Other studios have tried to copy Marvel's formula with lesser success. They have brought bad things of Marvel Studios' way of making movies. They have forgotten they still have to make good movies. Next year we see what Warner Bros can do with DC's superheroes. They have far reaching plans and several movies in production but we have seen only one movie which wasn't too good. How tight template and requirements they have remains to be seen.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Automata (2014)

Automata is like movies I usually like. It is slow and beautiful science fiction movie. It has interesting premise and few good ideas. But it doesn't make me care about it. It tries to have least interesting characters possible. I understand why robots are like they are but I don't get why main character Jacq has to be so uninteresting.

Jacq is burned out insurance investigator who doesn't care about anything. He wants to leave the city and go to coast. There may not be any seas left because water has gone and everything is wasteland. Jacq's wife is about to give birth to their first child. Jacq doesn't want child into world they live in. If Jacq doesn't care about anything why should I?

Robots have two rules. They can't harm anything living and they can't modify themselves or other robots. Only robot manufacturers can modify or repair robots. "Clocksmiths" modify robots illegally. This cause robots to malfunction and Jacq is called to investigate.

In his latest case Jacq see robots behaving oddly. One is preparing itself and another burns itself. This is science fiction movie about artificial intelligence. So it is easy to guess where this is going. Points for the movie not making robots too human like. Robots look like robots and act like robots. They never become human like. They even rip off their faces to show they have cut themselves from humans.

While this is good idea it put more pressure to have interesting human characters. Movie revolves around Jacq who doesn't care until nothing changes and he cares about something. Jacq's only character trait is he wants to get away. Wife's character trait is she is pregnant and she gives birth. Then there are police/bounty hunter and hitmen who hate robots and Jacq. Movie doesn't give me any reason to care about any of them.

Same topic is studied better in The Machine and Ex Machina. Movie has few interesting twists but main story has too much cliches and is too predictable. I wanted to like this. Interesting main character would have helped. Making movie 90 minutes long would have also helped. Now it is 110 minutes. There is not enough story for movie that long.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Thoughts on The Martian trailer

I didn't have time to write proper post form start to finish for this Monday. So you get this draft for additional post turned into proper post. I am not turning my blog into this, This is just one time thing.

The Martian is based on hard science fiction novel. Few months ago I listened one hour podcast where author of the novel talked about science of The Martian. If I remember correctly novel had one unrealistic element and it was storms on Mars. Everything else was in realm of possibility at least in theory.

I have not read the novel. My knowledge is limited to the podcast but I think novel is not as full of action as this trailer. The Martian seems to follow trend of Gravity and Interstellar as movie which is kind of hard science fiction but ends up being something else. Gravity went from slow and realistic to fast and full of last second escapes. Interstellar just went weird for last fifteen minutes after being quite scientific until that.

I was curious about The Martian but not so much after seeing the trailers. It could be we saw most of the action in trailers but I doubt that. Hard science fiction can be interesting. Interstellar didn't need weirdness. It would have had different tone but it would have worked better. I guess they followed too much 2001: A Space Odyssey which ends weirdly. In 2001 weirdness was alien communication human could not understand. In Interstellar it turned out to be important story element.

Gravity could have stayed slower like it started. Stakes were high enough with out turning the movie into unrealistic roller coaster ride. You can make good hard science fiction movies. When big budget is included these movies tend to forget hard science fiction at some point even if it was original plan. Really good hard science fiction movies never seem to get real change. Movies like Moon (2009), Solaris (2002) , The Machine (2013) and Ex Machina (2015) struggle to get released when watered down and bad science fiction get huge marketing campaigns.

I will go to see The Martian because it could be good but trailer surely is not selling it to me.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

"One, two... ...Freddy comes for you
Three, four... ...better lock your door..."

We lost Wes Craven last Sunday. I couldn't do anything for Monday. So this post is my tribute to him. I remember Wes Craven from Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. Others may remember him from other movies too. Scream movies have been polarizing among horror fans. I liked them. I probably review them in future. This time I review movie that created biggest icon of modern horror.

Freddy Kruger is mix between normal slasher villain and supernatural foe. This makes Freddy more interesting than regular slasher villains like Jason. Regular slasher movies have almost unstoppable man killing people. There is little variance this can provide. Freddy is also killing people but his kills happen in dreams and can be almost anything at all. 

Nightmare on Elm Street has surprisingly little of Freddy. Someone has clocked he is on screen for seven minutes. There is lot of build up and then Freddy appear briefly as high point of dream sequences. This works well and keeps movie as horror. Later movies have more Freddy and he becomes almost comical character.

Freddy controls dream. Every time someone sleeps they could end up Freddy's victim. There are lot of dream sequences but there are only two certain deaths. It is not clear how ending goes. It is not sure what happened to Nancy or her mother. Things make more sense if we think it was Nancy's dream. How ever idea was probably that it happened for real. Nancy brought Freddy's hat from dream earlier. So bringing Freddy from dream is within movie's rules.

Before ending Freddy was only in dreams. Because Nancy gets call from Freddy this should mean she is in sleep and everything is her dream. If this is her dream it is not clear if Glen died or was it just her dream. Nancy's death is only implied but because she is in third movie she must have survived. I don't remember how her presence was explained in the movie.

Few effects look dated and ending has few continuity errors but other than that Nightmare on Elm Street works still today. Dream sequences are still effective. Movie uses Freddy sparingly. This let's audience's imagination do it's tricks. This is one of those movies where not showing the monster too much makes movie better.