2LDK

2LDK

How 2LDK came about is, you have director Yukihiko Tsutsumi sitting down with Ryuhei Kitamura sometime in 2002. And these guys, they like film, they certainly like each other. So the idea comes up maybe they should work together. Tsutsumi tells the story over and over, how neither of them are drinkers, how the restaurant they chose was perfect for their decision. While the world got sloshed, they set the rules for the Duel Project:

– 60 minutes long, 2 films, no R-18 rating.
– One set each. No one is allowed to leave.
– Two actors, both male, or both female.
– Both films must operate on the same budget.
– Both films must contain ‘mysterious’ similarities.
– Whoever attracts the least amount of business loses.
– Whoever attracts a higher TV audience wins a special award.
– Any director who makes a profit may receive a bonus.
– No complaints if we just do one movie together.

The result is a lovely mess. Kitamura went off to create Aragami, a blazing long old-school swordfight of a film. As for Tsutsumi, well – both directors agree he got the better end of the deal. The premise: two young model-actresses (Lana and Nozomi, played by Maho Nonami and Eiko Koike), both working for the same talent agency, come to lethal blows one terrible night over an upcoming role. The battleground: a “two-bedroom one-living dining kitchen” in central Tokyo. It’s a rather up-scale place; we learn quickly that the girls are guests, that the owner is away on some business or another. There is a “half-character” parrot overseeing the atrium. There are swords and sharp corners all about. There are eggs and chainsaws and fountains and electrical hazards. You can imagine.

Watching these girls brawl is far more fun than it ought to be. This is a movie you can’t help but tell your friends about, even if you don’t find much in the story. For enthusiasts, it’s easy to recommend: the way you watch, say, Suicide Circle for its moments, you watch 2LDK for the duration. Entertaining and digestible, it’s short enough – and surprisingly cute enough – to merit repeat viewings, in mixed company, even in the same night. And it’s likely to hold attention.

But does all this make the movie good? Well… it depends. How much you value any portion of 2LDK may bank on how much you know, or care to know, about its origin. To me, 2LDK needs the backstory to be what it is. To some, take away the ladder and what you’ve got is really not a lot apart from so much obvious dialogue and popcorn violence. TLA Releasing seems to have understood this in putting the DVD together. If you find that at 70 minutes the movie doesn’t qualify, then the hour-plus of featurettes and interviews are very welcome, and perhaps a little bit necessary. It certainly helps the purchase. It also results in a good deal more insight and background than I’ve been able to include here.

And then: 2LDK is alone in distribution (in North America), while an Aragami/2LDK box set has been available in Japan since January. Who made this decision? Tsutsumi’s half certainly isn’t lost without its pair, but especially under the Dual Project heading, it look a bit lonely, if not silly, on the shelf. What makes it so acceptable is knowing that “silly” is the heart of the thing.

Translation notes: Shohei Ikeda

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2LDK (2002)
Director Yukihiko Tsutsumi
Stars Maho Nonami, Eiko Koike
Genre Thriller, Action

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16 Blocks

Find out our 16 blocks movie review.

16 Blocks

Some movie plots seem to have been plucked out of the air on a “what if…” basis, taking some absurd notion to its logical conclusion. Take Phone Booth(2002) for example. The what if… in that feature was whether it’d be possible to keep Colin Farrell in a phone booth for an entire movie. Doesn’t necessarily sound good on paper, but the resulting movie was better than it had any right to be. Another example would be Speed (1994). It’s not hard to imagine the studio execs arching their eyebrows and saying, “I’ve got this right: it’s set on a bus that can’t go slower than thirty miles an hour…?”

Take yet another what if… scenario: what if Bruce Willis had to transport a prisoner 16 blocks and it took him the whole damn movie to do it? Sounds crazy, but that movie got made.

Bruce Willis plays Jack Mosley, a tired, middle-aged cop, who has to mop his brow at the top of a flight of stairs and owns the kind of moustache last seen on the Village People. He’s awoken from his weary, drunken trance when the prisoner he’s been ordered to take to a grand jury hearing just 16 blocks away is the victim of an attempted assassination. It turns out that the prisoner, Eddie Bunker (Mos Def), is a crucial witness in a police corruption trial and now half the NYPD want him dead. Rather than turn a blind eye to Eddie’s murder—something, it’s implied, he may have done in the past—Mosley gains a conscience and makes it his business to get Eddie to court, even if it kills him.

Leading the corrupt police is Mosely‘s former partner, Frank Nugent (played by the excellent David Morse), a gritty, gum chewing, morally dubious detective of the kind that populated crime movies of the 70s. In fact, the whole movie has a 70s vibe to it, thanks to the timeless New York backdrop and overcast skies.

The movie ducks and weaves through New York’s Chinatown, through its sweatshop basements and rooftops as Mosely and Eddie try and stay one step ahead of the cops on their tail. There‘s a slight touch of 24 to the proceedings as it largely happens in real time (Eddie has to get to court before 10am or the jury will be dismissed).

Willis is spot on as the fatigued Mosely, although the mumbling Mos Def is an acquired taste with his relentless chatter. Richard Donner‘s direction is assured and dynamic, and he has no need to rely on any flashy techniques to tell the story. The plot is always interesting, constantly lurching in new directions, although there is probably one twist and turn too many by the time the credits roll.

The film is as much character study as it is action movie: Donner takes the time to invest the main trio with real personalities, and it pays dividends because 16 Blocks has more depth than most action movies coming out of Hollywood combined. It does have its flaws and plot holes you could drive and ambulance (or two) through, but works perfectly adequately as a solid and intelligent piece of action entertainment.

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16 Blocks (2006)
Director Richard Donner
Stars Bruce Willis, Mos Def, David Morse, Jenna Stern, Casey Sander, David Zayas
Genre Drama, Action

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Mission Impossible III

Mission Impossible III

The Summer blockbuster season is officially upon us and first out of the gate is Mission Impossible III, the latest instalment of the Tom Cruise action franchise based on the TV series that ran from 1966 to 1973 about a group of secret agents working for the US government. The movies are high octane entertainment, with the elaborate plotting of the TV shows making way for explosions and car chases.

The series has had an illustrious series of directors with Brian De Palma taking the reigns in 1996, followed by John Woo in 2000. Now, Alias and Lost creator JJ Abrams has his name on the director’s chair, and adds a playful sense of mystery to the proceedings.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Owen Davian, a powerful bad guy who appears to be some kind of top-end arms dealer. Impossible Mission Force agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is brought out of retirement to lead a trio of agents—Luther Strickell (Ving Rhames), Declan (Jonathon Rhys Meyers) and Zhen (Maggie Q)—to rescue an IMF operative kidnapped by Davian. The mission fails when an explosive planted in the operative’s head explodes.

The team manage to discover that Davian is planning on selling a hugely expensive weapon code named The Rabbit’s Foot to a Middle Eastern country, so they track him down to the Vatican City and kidnap him. Davian himself is then spectacularly rescued, and takes revenge on Hunt by threatening to kill his new wife Julia (the elfin-nosed Michelle Monaghan) unless he gets the Rabbit’s Foot and delivers it to Davian within 48 hours.

The Rabbit’s Foot is the biggest MacGuffin of all time: neither we nor the characters ever find out what it actually is, it’s just a device to set the battles between Davian and Hunt in motion. In fact the plot is faintly ridiculous and really makes very little sense, but no matter: I enjoyed the ride and that’s all that counts. Surprisingly, the best performance in this film doesn’t come from Hoffman, who’s simply a one-note baddie with no room for development, but rather Laurence Fishburne, who plays Hunt’s boss John Brassel and is given some excellent lines to chew on. Simon Pegg puts in a nice little cameo as a nerdy computer operator in a role that was apparently originally slated for Ricky Gervais.

It’s pretty much action all the way, with only momentary pauses for breath as the drama lurches from the US to Germany to Shanghai leaving a trail of destruction and spent shell casings. Abrams proves himself to be adept at handling the mayhem, employing a gritty, motion sickness-inducing hand-held camera style. He’s slated to direct the next Star Trek movie, a Kirk and Spock prequel, due for release in 2008, but there’s no doubt he’ll be in demand to direct other glossy action flicks.

M:I:3 is probably the best Mission Impossible movie so far, but it’s still dumbed-down entertainment that makes the average James Bond film look like Ingmar Bergman. But this is the nature of summer blockbusters and if you go in with low expectations, you’ll be rewarded with an frantic, adrenaline-charged movie that allows you to park your brain next to your popcorn for two hours and enjoy our favourite Scientologist kicking some ass.

There’s a small easter egg for Lost fans should you decide to sit through the credits. The last company thanked before the lights come up is The Hanso Foundation.

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Mission Impossible III (2006)
Director JJ Abrams
Stars Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Genre Action

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District 13

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District 13

For anyone who associates French films with moody, slow paced black & white art-house fare filled with meaningful looks and aloof Frenchmen smoking Gauloises, this is sure to disappoint. For those look more favourably upon Hollywood popcorn action extravaganzas it should prove to be something of an eye-opener.

With Luc Besson (Nikita, Léon, Taxi, The Fifth Element) both producing the film and co-writing the screenplay, this film wasn’t terribly likely to offend me but I had no idea how first-time director Pierre Morel would handle the job. Having left the screening with a wry smile on my face and looking forward to the 60 mile trip home on my motorbike at what might be termed “legally questionable speeds”, suffice to say that I wouldn’t object to seeing more of his work in the future.

The movie is set in 2013, and dispenses with the American “80 Marlboro a day” voiceover introduction in favour of a slightly more subtle treatment (plus subtitles for the non-francophones) to bring us up to pace with the next seven years of our future – a future in which the suburbs of Paris are beset by crime, with the notorious District 13 having been cordoned off from the urbane centre-ville by vast concrete security walls and police checkpoints for the thick end of three years.

Leïto (David Belle) is seemly the only good guy in a bad area, trying to keep the dealers and pimps away from his block by playing off against local gang overlord Taha (Bibi Naceri) and his goons. Ultimately he falls foul of Taha and ends up in prison, from which he escapes during a prisoner transfer with an undercover cop (and martial arts expert) as his accomplice…

Now, I should point out that much of the early criticism of this film has been on grounds of plot, and I’d have to say that it is indeed the weak point – it’s simple, somewhat derivative fare.

Here’s the breakdown – good guy tries to keep his little part of a decaying urban landscape semi-clean, good guy loses out to bad guy, good guys’ sister gets turned into junkie concubine by bad guy, bad guy ends up in possession of dangerous weapon while good guy does upside-down situps in jail, good guy gets picked to act as guide to even more good guy undercover cop Damian (Cyril Raffaelli) , good guy cop earns grudging respect from good guy criminal, buddy movie ensues. Fights happen, good guys win, girl immediately and miraculously de-toxes in the blink of an eye, everyone likes happily ever after.

So why watch such one-dimensional near-future societal-decay nonsense? Because it’s bloody spectacular, that’s why!

David Belle is one of the originators of Le Parkour, or Free Running as the more anglo-centric media would have it. Still greek to you? If you’re a brit, do you remember the BBC ident with the bloke running and jumping across rooftops to get home to watch telly? Well that bloke was David Belle, and there was no wire work or camera trickery involved – he really can leap (between) tall buildings in a single bound.

Belle’s philosophy of Parkour is the fluid progress from A to B without being hindered by structures or other obstacles, and I’d love to know how the cameras keep up with him. Some of the stunts and action sequences are absolutely breathtaking – all the more so when you realise that he did them himself and with little or no safety equipment.

Belle has been somewhat sidelined by the English speaking media in their coverage of Le Parkour, as they have favoured the more stylised and ostentatious path taken by the british Urban Freeflow crew and their French inspiration, Sebastien Foucan (who co-founded Le Parkour with Belle, but later fell out over “artistic differences”). Belle has little time for the flips and tricks favoured by the UF team, preferring the more direct path and advocating grace and speed over flair and ostentation.

To counterpoint Belle’s relentless forward speed and flow, Cyril Raffaelli brings martial arts prowess to the mix as über-cop Damian, along with a good helping of gymnastic skill. As a first class martial artist, Rafaelli works superbly alongside Belle to provide explosive combat sequences punctuated by typically wry buddy-movie dialogue.

Sure, he’s no Van Damme… but that’s a good thing. He fights hard, never once does the splits supported by two chairs, and doesn’t get beaten to a pulp only to make a last-gasp heroic comeback with an amazing spinning kick. He just beats the crap out of people with flourish, style, wit, and breathtaking pace.

For those looking for some female eye-candy to round out the muscle-fest, Leïto’s sister Lola (Dany Verissimo) is easy on the eye albeit in a “cute but crazy french chick with a gun” kind of way.

Overall the plot is derivative, the ending is a let-down, and the characters aren’t likely to rival a more rounded, character-driven piece, but as an example of action-packed film-making it’s truly excellent.

If you want depth of characterisation, riveting dialogue, or a life-changing experience then this is not the film for you.

If, on the other hand you want 85 minutes of entertaining action that beats recent Hollywood fare to the ground without dropping its cigarette and then stands on its opponents throat until it turns blue, you could do worse than hand over your hard-earned cash and grab a ticket for District 13.

“Super cool”.

District 13
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District 13 (2006)
Director Pierre Morel
Stars Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Tony d’Amario, Bibi Naceri, Dany Verissimo
Genre Action

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Crank

Crank

Many action movies promote themselves as high adrenaline, but Crank, directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, is the real deal. Literally. Chev Chelios (Jason Statham), a hit man, wakes up in his apartment to discover that he’s been injected by an obscure Chinese poison which will kill him within the hour. In order to survive—and to track down Verano (Jose Pablo Cantillo) the underworld thug who injected him with the “Beijing Cocktail”—he must keep his adrenaline level up. Chev does this by every means at his disposal: getting into fights, racing around Los Angeles, injecting himself with epinephrine, and even getting a defibrillator shock.

This is a film that dispenses with unnecessary back-story and gradual starts. Crank rockets out of the gate from the start with high octane camera work and dizzying action. The central conceit—almost like the movie Speed (1994) in human form—requires a certain suspension of disbelief; but luckily Crankdoesn’t take itself too seriously and is as funny as it is wild.

Jason Statham’s Chev Chelios is the distillation of many characters he’s played before, such as Frank Martin in The Transporter (2002) and Jake in Revolver(2005). Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor claim that Statham is the only real action star in town, the natural heir to Bruce Willis. It’s difficult not to agree. Statham has natural charm, acting skills and physicality (he was a member of Britain’s National Diving Squad for ten years). He also shares Willis’ receding hairline.

This is Statham’s film, and the other players are either forgettable hoodlums (such as Jose Pablo Cantillo as Verona) or disposable side characters (like Efren Ramirez as the under-developed Kaylo). Only Amy Smart as Eve, Chev’s slightly ditzy girlfriend, shines with a great comedic performance.

Crank will not be winning any awards any time soon, and is highly unlikely to make the Academy Award shortlist; but it’s certainly a fun film, with some superb set-pieces. Chev and Eve having sex in the middle of LA’s Chinatown, in front of a pleasantly shocked crowd, has to be seen to be believed. The directors constantly wink at the audience, as if to say, can you believe we’re getting paid to put this on screen? They’re like kids at the genre candy shop.

Occasionally the film comes perilously close to overshooting its target; and an ill-advised Al-Qaeda joke that only succeeds thanks to its over the top denouement. But mostly, Crank rains down surefooted hits on its audience with confidence and regularity.

Crank is an extreme film, full of violence and jet black humour, that knows exactly what its audience wants. It’s clear that first time writer/directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor are fanboys themselves, who want to make the ultimate action movie with all the unnecessary flab trimmed away. The lean result will leave you as exhausted and breathless as its protagonist.

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Crank (2006)
Director Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Stars Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Dwight Yoakam, Efren Ramirez, Jose Pablo Cantillo
Genre Action

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Blade: Trinity

Blade: Trinity

When Guillermo Del Toro passed on the opportunity of helming the third Blademovie to direct his dream project, Hellboy, the baton went to writer and occasional director David S. Goyer.

In Goyer’s Blade: Trinity we find Blade (Wesley Snipes), the half vampire killing machine, in his trademark sunglasses taking out dozens of bloodsuckers, reducing them to sparks and ash. But the Police are on his trail, who want him for the vast amount of carnage he leaves in his wake and track him down to his lair where they manage to take him into custody after a violent, explosive battle.

Meanwhile, the vampires, led by Danica Talos (a virtually unrecognisable Parker Posey), have managed to find Dracula in an ancient Iraqi Pyramid, hoping he can help them with their “Final Solution” for the Human Race (which has obvious Nazi overtones). Dracula (Dominic Purcell), or Drake, as he likes to called these days, is no Christopher Lee or Bela Lugosi but a shape-shifting beast resembling a cross between the Witch King from Lord of the Rings and the Reapers from the second Blade film. Conveniently, he assumes human form so he can stroll the city streets, and during daylight, too.

Blade is sprung from his police cell by a bunch of vampire hunters called the Nightstalkers, consisting mainly of Abigail Whistler (Jessica Biel) and Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds, who seems to have to got his face from the same store as James Van Der Beek). Abigail is Abraham Whistler’s daughter, who obviously wants to keep the vampire killing thing in the family, while Hannibal King is an ex vampire who went through the cure to become human again and now enjoys mixing carnage with wisecracks.

The movie clips along at a fair pace, but the plot just feels like a way of linking one messy battle to another. Video games are becoming more like movies, but this film moves in the opposite direction and feels like a first person shooter. That’s fine if you’re just expecting to root for Blade and his new team of ass-kickers, but compared to Blade II, there’s no depth at all, and it’s not as if Blade II was a particularly deep movie.

Drake is also a fairly uninteresting adversary, especially compared to Blade II‘s Nomak (Luke Goss), but luckily Danica and Jarko Grimwood (Paul Michael Levesque – the World Heavyweight Champion wrestler Triple H) make for more charismatic foes and prevented me from drifting off to sleep. (Just to make a curious observation: Drake, considering he’d been out of the picture for several thousand years, seemed to get used to modern civilisation pretty quickly, not even batting an eyelid at things like cars and machine guns. Perhaps his pyramid was equipped with satellite TV.)

Hannibal’s snappy dialogue aside, the writing feels lazy, the direction pedestrian and Snipes looks like he’s just going through the motions, no doubt thinking about the paycheck at the end. And you have to wonder about the intelligence of the vampires: rather than just shoot Snipes and his heavily armed human team, they insist on rushing them, fangs bared for a bit of hand to hand combat only to be cut down in increasingly imaginative ways with a variety of UV bullets, arrows and swords. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel!

There’s also the strangest product placement perhaps in the history of cinema: Abigail likes to download MP3s to her iPod so she can listen to custom playlists while she turns vampires to cinders with her high powered bow and arrow! Excuse me?

The introduction of Hannibal and Abigail seem like an effort to move the franchise in a more “youth” direction (and I for one would rather see Jessica Biel in the shower washing blood off her than Kris Kristofferson) but it seems a little forced and cynical.

I was hoping for a more imaginative plot, taking the story further, but I was sadly disappointed, and ironically Goyer appears to have painted the franchise into a corner with a new weapon that the humans have at their disposal.

Blade: Trinity is mindless fun and nothing more.

Blade: Trinity
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Blade: Trinity (2004)
Director David S. Goyer
Stars Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Jessica Biel, Ryan Reynolds, Parker Posey, Triple H, Dominic Purcell
Genre Horror, Action

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Infernal Affairs II

Infernal Affairs II

AKA: Wu jian dao 2

“The bad guys get everything. The good guys end up with nothing” ruminates Superintendent Wong dryly at the beginning of this prequel to the superb Infernal Affairs from 2002. And it’s a statement that seems to infuse the mood of the entire movie, much as it did the original, like a storm cloud waiting to burst.

If you thought the first movie was at times a little convoluted, then this prequel, which establishes how the characters came to their relative positions in the first movie, will be downright dizzying. And that’s partly because directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak won’t be holding your hand. Indeed, if you’ve not already seen the superb original, then make sure you do, because you’ll get much more out of this prequel, even if on its own terms it just about makes sense. Within the first fifteen minutes of the movie, so many new characters are introduced, adding depth to the overlapping police and triad spheres of the saga, that you’ll really need to pay attention. Luckily, it’s definitely worth it, and definitely worth watching more than once.

With some of the movie set over a decade before the events of the original, this necessitates that younger actors play the main supermoles of Ming and Yan. So we have fairly believable look-alikes Edison Chen and Shawn Yue playing younger incarnations of Andy Lau and Tony Leung respectively. The same actors appeared in the flashback sequences of the original, so an acceptable level of continuity is maintained. And whilst these young actors are clearly very good actors, they’re probably not quite in the same league as Lau and Leung. Not yet, anyway. Cleverly, the directors are aware of this, and don’t make them carry the whole movie, instead choosing to centre the story around superintendent Wong, and up-and-coming triad Sam, played by talented veterans Anthony Wong and Eric Tsang (pictured). It’s this single move alone that makes Infernal Affairs II at least as watchable as the first, something which is evident from the very first scene. Reminiscent of the classic sequence in Michael Mann’s Heat, where Pacino’s cop, and De Niro’s robber come to understand their similarities over coffee, Wong and Sam share dinner at police HQ.

At this time, Sam is some way down the triad chain, and soon we learn how Sam and Wong first insert their moles into the opposing camps. And, as was the case with the original, this central conceit in itself is fairly straightforward, but the repercussions are exponential, not least because the plot pivots around the end of British rule in China in 1997. Used as both a literal and metaphorical signifier of changing relationships between Sam and Superintendent Wong, as well as triad boss Ngai Wing-Hau and the young Ming and Yan, the movie is full of pertinent scenes observing the ambiguity of right and wrong. I say observing, because a huge part of the appeal stems from the fact the movie never tries to force the viewer down one particular perspective. If nothing else, it will be interesting to see how the proposed Hollywood version will address this open structure. Although it’s worth pointing out that the trilogy does owe a lot to Hollywood, and the movies of Michael Mann and then The Godfather in particular.

Visually, Infernal Affairs II is peppered with beautifully framed moments, and the cinematography maintains a strong visual continuity with the original. Period fashion and technology is subtle enough to establish the time period, without drawing attention to itself. Special mention should be made of the music, which is used on more than one occasion to beautiful effect: a choral lament in stark contrast to the visceral violence being taken in by your eyes. Each of the many characters are well-realised, adding several extra layers to the tale. Carina Lau, as Sam’s wife Mary, is particularly notable. Her performance as the resolute and dependable wife, and fantasy figure for the young Ming, is entirely believable, and makes the progression of the characters around her all the more pertinent.

Infernal Affairs II is rich with character detail and nuance, and is an emotive, taut and immensely satisfying drama. It will make you want to return to the first movie, and will have you excited about the forthcoming finale, something which the second part of a movie trilogy often struggles to do. It’s no wonder that Hollywood are going to remake the entire trilogy. Perhaps they’ll rediscover the secret formula while they’re at it, because it’s definitely all in here somewhere…

Infernal Affairs II
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Infernal Affairs II (2003)
Director Andrew Lau and Alan Mak
Stars Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Edison Chen, Shawn Yue, Francis Ng, Carina Lau
Genre Action, Crime, Drama

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Domino

Domino Movie Review Poster

Domino

Domino is a car crash of a movie. Not a slight fender bender that chips the paint, but a cartwheeling-down-the-highway-while-on-fire kind of car crash that ends up landing on a gas station and bursting into a ball of flame about twenty stories high. It’s an over the top, out of control, wreck; an eye-blistering, teeth-jarring, epilepsy-inducing head-on collision. Now we have that out of the way, we can continue.

It must have looked great on paper: Keira Knightley playing a tooled-up hard-ass bounty hunter, with a script by Donnie Darko writer/director Richard Kelly and Tony Scott at the helm, fresh from winning plaudits for his movie Man on Fire. With a juicy role for Mickey Rourke—who appears to be making an unexpected comeback after retiring from a brief boxing career and an ill-advised course of plastic surgery—and a cameo from Christopher Walken, how could this movie possibly fail?

The movie is (“sort of”) based on the life of Domino Harvey, a British adrenaline junkie who was expelled from several schools for fighting with boys, became a model for the prestigious Ford agency before finally becoming a bounty hunter. Sadly, she died of a heart attack shortly after the film wrapped, possibly resulting from an overdose. She had been arrested and charged with possession of $2m worth of methamphetamines and was on bail when she was discovered at her home in West Hollywood and pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. A post-mortem proved inconclusive.

With a life as various and interesting as Domino’s, it’s difficult to believe the filmmakers found it necessary to “sex up” her story by introducing convoluted plot strands such as being followed around by a reality TV show hosted by ex Beverly Hills 90210 actors and a double-crossing mafia caper. Although Domino was friends with Tony Scott, acted as advisor on the movie and apparently loved the final result, she was reported to have been upset at the liberties taken with her story.

Because of the number of complex plot elements the film has to cover, Domino hurtles along at breakneck speed. The movie begins at the end: Domino is bloodied, apparently under arrest and is being interviewed by the cold, bitchy Taryn Miles (Lucy Liu). Domino considers her upbringing in flashback and voiceover—conducted in Knightley’s fruity English tones down what seems to be a very poor telephone line—before moving onto her career as a bounty hunter, and finally the reason she’s sitting in the police station being interviewed by the FBI. Annoyingly, the film charges down a particular path only to shrug and admit that what the viewer is seeing on screen is only a possible reality before reversing and taking a different fork in the road and showing what reallyhappened.

Domino is stylishly shot by cinematographer Daniel Mindel in deep saturated colours and high contrast, but is filmed in a bewildering range of film speeds, so the movie speeds up, slows down, stutters, jerks and lopes along, which is fine for a music video, but spread relentlessly across the length of a movie begins to grate like fingernails down a blackboard.

The script allows for very little character development. All the actors do well with the material, despite playing one-note pastiches. Rourke plays Ed Mosbey, Domino’s grizzled boss and the sultry Edgar Ramirez plays Domino’s moody, vaguley psychotic, would-be lover and the third member of the bounty hunting team. Christopher Walken plays a TV producer following the trio around with his camera crew and presenters Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green from Beverly Hills 90210 (playing themselves).

But the script introduces some unbelievable situations when it deviates from Domino’s real life story, the worst of which is a phone conversation with Claremont Williams (Delroy Lindo), the bounty hunters’ bail bondsman. The line breaks up and while Williams is saying “remove the sleeve from the right arm” of some guy they have tied up, Domino hears it as “remove… the right arm”. And without question—such as asking what the fuck this extreme act hopes to achieve—they do it. And with a shotgun. It’s simply a ridiculous, eye-rolling piece of contrivance that perhaps a more experienced screenwriter might have sidestepped, but Kelly, with only a single previous feature to his name (albeit, a superb feature) includes it without batting an eyelid.

Domino is an unsatisfying mess of a movie, more concerned with superficial gloss than character development. It’s a loud, shallow crowdpleaser that’s hard to recommend to anyone who really likes movies.

Domino
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Domino (2005)
Director Tony Scott
Stars Keira Knightley, Mickey Rourke, Edgar Ramirez, Riz Abbasi, Delroy Lindo, Mo’Nique Imes-Jackson, Ian Ziering, Brian Austin Green, Christopher Walken, Mena Suvari, Lucy Liu, Tom Waits
Genre Action, Thriller

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Divergence [San cha kou]

Divergence [San ch kou] (2006)

Imagine this. You’ve just met someone for the first time and you’ve discovered you have a lot of things in common. You both know Jim who works in the bowling alley, and you both like prawn toast. Things are going well, until your interlocutor suddenly starts talking about rabbits. There wasn’t any reason for them to just mention rabbits suddenly like that; and now they’re starting to talk about them all the time: how they’re watching, pawing the ground lightly, having conferences in rabbit sign-language. Something tells you you should probably leave the party when your companion suddenly slips a huge carrot out of their pocket and starts to examine it with furious intensity.

Divergence is a typically convoluted action thriller in the style’as the marketing bumf doesn’t hesitate to point out twice’of Infernal Affairs. Aaron Kwok (The Storm Riders ‘ no, I haven’t seen The Storm Riders either) plays Suen, your average renegade cop with a dead girlfriend and a wardrobe comprised of a single check shirt.

Benny Chan injects a lot of visual flair, and the film by and large has a fresh and vibrant look, but the choppiness of certain sections is entirely unsatisfying: it’s just hard to get a foothold. The acting is generally strong despite this, though, with Daniel Wu’s arrogant, free-wheeling assassin often stealing the show. The hysterical editing, which largely serves to make the entire film look like a trailer, is complemented by a fairly silly plot involving doppelg’ngers, coincidence, intrigue and, at one point, the gloriously incorrect subtitle, ‘Police Headquarter’.

So, everything is bowling along fairly pleasantly until the film suddenly becomes completely and utterly barking. It just flips out.

If I told you that Kwok and Wu are fighting in a fish market after a chase scene, and (SPOILER!) Wu puts a plastic bag over Kwok’s head to suffocate him, you probably wouldn’t bat too much of an eyelid. ‘Oh,’ you’d say, ‘that’s nothing. I ‘ve seen Jackie Chan movies, I know about ludicrous film combat.’ If I then told you that the bag stays on Kwok’s head for the majority of the scene, you might raise a rakish eyebrow above that unbatted eyelid. If I then told you that the scene continues with Kwok putting a plastic bag over Wu’s head, and attempting to suffocate him, whilst still wearing his own bag, your eyebrow’s lateral counterpart might join it in a state of erection.

What, I ask, will you do with your eyebrows when you attempt to assimilate the information that Kwok’s character ends the scene in a dream sequence where he hallucinates riding on a merry-go-round with his aforementioned dead girlfriend, who announces her pregnancy and then turns into a small plume of bubbles?

That’s not the end of it. The sheer daftness of the sequence in which Kwok sobs pathetically into a hotdog while a surging love theme from composer Anthony Chue wells up underneath him is matched only by The Car Scene, which is comprised of Kwok allowing his car to roll backwards down a hill into incoming traffic whilst inexplicably opening and closing his mouth like a goldfish, all set to a cue which I can only describe as ‘comedy ballet music’.

What’s going on? If a film sets out to evoke a certain tension, which Divergence certainly does (yes, an opening scene in which Kwok has to take a large fat man to visit the toilet might not necessarily flag this up from the outset), why is it constantly undermining itself in this thoroughly bizarre manner? The maudlin whinging about Suen’s girlfriend coupled with this kind of nonsensical unintentional comedy means that the film is utterly out of emotional kilter. There’s so little to be said for this kind of haphazard writing and direction.

There’s equally little to be said about the absolutely endless advertising for Nokia which this film perpetrates. Every character has a Nokia phone of some kind, pretty much the whole range is covered and shot in loving close-ups. I’m not exaggerating ‘ it just makes precisely no sense.

While Divergence is at its best doing action, everything is a little overwrought and under-evolved. It’s all been done better before, and Benny Chan can’t solve that problem just by filming everything from underneath, or upside down, or with a handheld camera. This film needs to be stripped of its frills and rebuilt from the ground up, but something tells me the task is hopeless.

It comes down to this: don’t watch this movie, even though it has good points, and even though some of it is utterly crazy. If you want craziness, watch the David Hasselhof sci-fi show which was on TV just now (Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD). If you want taut ‘Asian action’ (sorry) rent some Park Chan-wook movies, or even a Benny Chan movie which isn’t this. Divergence never quite shakes its slight straight-to-video air, and it’s simply not worth your time.

‘Where is Bruce Lee?’ asks a character at one point. Where indeed?

Divergence [San cha kou]
7 / 10 Pixelsurgeon Verdict
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Divergence [San cha kou] (2006)
Director Benny Chan
Stars Aaron Kwok, Ekin Cheng, Daniel Wu, Lee Sinje
Genre Action, Thriller

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Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk Down

Saving Private Ryan opened the floodgates on war movies containing tense, realistic action sequences. Every director wants to live out his boyhood fantasies and blow stuff up, from Randall Wallace (We Were Soldiers) and John Woo (Windtalkers) to Terrence Malick’s more cerebral approach (Thin Red Line). Now Ridley Scott has joined the party with the ultimate expression of this genre.

I mean ultimate, not in the sense of greatest, but in the sense of the most war action it is possible to squeeze into a movie.

The movie is based on the true story of 123 elite US Rangers who are dropped in the middle of Somalia’s capital city, Mogadishu, during the height of the civil war in the early nineties, to try and capture an enemy warlord’s top advisors. During the mission two Black Hawk helicopters are shot down as the Somali’s put up heavier than expected resistance. The Ranger’s motto is “Leave No Man Behind” so they attempt to battle through the unfriendly city to try and rescue any survivors and bring back the dead. Unfortunately, they have an entire armed city intent on killing them, and as the film progresses things just go from bad to worse and then worse still.

In terms of plot, that’s pretty much it, and can be found in the first half hour of the film. The remainder of the movie is a long, relentless action sequence which must set some kind of unbeatable record for the amount of rounds fired during the course of a film. And this being post Saving Private Ryan, Scott doesn’t shy away from presenting the viewer with the realistic and gory results of bullets and explosions.

The film grips with the same kind of tension and fear as the battle scenes in Saving Private Ryan, but above the noise and bloodshed, it’s interesting to compare the two films further.

Superficially, Speilberg created an authentic feel to his film with documentary-style hand held camera, desaturated colours and often shooting at 12 frames per second, while Scott has taken a much more Rock and Roll approach. Although he tips his hat to the dynamism of Spielberg’s techniques, Scott also borrows from the look and feel of Apocalypse now, even using Jimi Hendrix as the score. The result is a slightly less gritty film, and one in which Scott can’t help himself from framing almost beautiful scenes of destruction.

Speilberg spent much of his film developing the characters, making the viewer emotionally attached and involved. But Scott has no time for this and beyond an early, cursory journey around a mess tent where each character has about twenty seconds to establish themselves, we’re given very little backstory and no character development. In the end, the name of the game is survival, and as the Ranger’s mission begins to unravel, wide eyed panic begins to set in and character traits are dropped by the wayside.

What both films share is a sense of It’s-a-dirty-job-but-someone-has-to-do-it, a grudging acceptance that this is how the situation is. Scott has described the film as an anti-war movie, but to my mind it is less so than Saving Private Ryan. Sure, the US Rangers, get decimated, but they have enough gung-ho, strength under adversity to make this an almost patriotic, flag waving film. The Somalis are not humanised enough and the situation not explained enough for this to seem like an even handed fight: they are simply a relentless wave of AK-47 waving cannon fodder. It’s almost like a video game: no matter how many Somali’s are killed, there always seem to be more around the corner.

All the actors turn in reasonable performances, Ewen McGregor’s terrible American accent excepted, with only Ewen Bremner’s comedic turn as the deafened Nelson rising above the chaos. Josh Hartnett is adequate for the earnest Staff Sergeant Matt Eversmann and Tom Sizemore simply reprises his Saving Private Ryan role, albeit with a higher rank.

But despite some of these shortcomings, Scott has created a gripping film which truly gives a sense of what the situation must have been like for the US troops on the ground. The audience stumbled out of the movie theatre slightly shell shocked themselves and letting out audible gasps of relief.

Black Hawk Down
8 / 10 Pixelsurgeon Verdict
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Black Hawk Down (2002)
Director Ridley Scott
Stars Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Jason Isaacs, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Eric Bana, Ewen Bremner
Genre Drama, Action

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