Tag Archives: assassins

Anthropoid – Review

5 May

In 1942, an assassination attempt on one of the Third Reich’s most despicable leaders, Reinhard Heydrich, was undertaken by a group of Czech agents working alongside operative in England. This mission was appropriately called Operation Anthropoid. The implications of this mission helped redefine the Allies’ actions in these stages of Word War II, but even with all that, this isn’t a story that I’ve seen told in a mainstream motion picture. There have been films that have told this story before, so please pardon my ignorance. Sean Ellis’ 2016 film, Anthropoid, is one of these films to tell the story of these often times forgotten Czech heroes. While this is a really solid film, there are some storytelling choices and pacing issues that hold it back from being a real war classic, but it’s certainly one that I’m really glad to have seen.

In 1941, Jozef Gabčik (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan), two Czechoslovakian agents, are dropped into Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia. Their mission is to meet up with the underground resistance in Prague to ultimately assassinate SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich (Detlef Bothe). They soon meet up with the head of the resistance, Uncle Hajsky (Toby Jones), and begin planning their mission. As time goes on, the two agents begin to immerse themselves in their homeland once again, but their time is soon cut short when it is revealed that Heydrich is being reassigned to another post in France. This forces Jozef and Jan to push their plans forward, but to great risk to themselves and the people of Czechoslovakia.

Movies about World War II are everywhere, so it’s important for film makers to work hard and make their film unique from all the rest. Is Anthropoid a gleaming example of a unique WWII drama? In a sense, yes, and in another sense, no. The major pitfalls of this film happen early on, which is a good thing, but I was really worried for a good portion of the story that nothing special would really come from what I was watching. The first half of Anthropoid has the job of setting up the true to life history of the story while also creating some dramatic fiction to get the viewer more invested in the characters. The problem with that is that the true story is interesting enough, and the embellishments that the film makers added in were distracting and ultimately added to nothing. This is where the core of my worries came because these useless plot points stretched on for way too long. What I’m really trying to say is that the set up wasn’t necessarily overlong, but it was clunky and unfocused. Not every movie needs a romantic relationship… Seriously.

Where Anthropoid really hits is in its second half. With their mission moved forward, the team are forced to make some really tough decisions, which leads to some really harrowing and suspenseful scenes with explosive payoffs that left me feeling exhausted. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s one of those kinds of movies. I felt like I needed to sleep until the next day once these credits started to roll. The tension in this movie is wound so tight that Hitchcock, himself, would have been proud. What helps with this is the authenticity that is clearly present throughout the entirety of this movie. Sean Ellis and his team worked really hard to recreate Prague in the 1940s, which I will get more into later. A lot of the actual locations were used in the shoots, and everything that couldn’t be filmed was meticulously recreated. This is what movies are all about, and this alone saves the movie from the rough start that plagues it.

Now, while the story has a rough start and picks up later one, the design of Anthropoid is on point for the its entirety. This is a great looking movie and that’s one of its main saviors. Like I said, there are sets that are meticulously recreated to be exact replicas of real life locations. The most impressive is a cathedral set where the climax of the film happens. It’s an enormous and very well crafted replica that looks exactly like the real thing. This film is also shot using mostly handheld cameras, but it never gets too out of control. There are movies that exist that use this style to make it seem more real, but they go overboard and move the camera so much you can’t even tell what’s going on. Ellis shows great restraint with the camera and knows exactly when to make it kinetic and when to slow the movements down.

Anthropoid is a solid World War II thriller that tells a story that I knew nothing about. It’s a very well acted and well shot film that’s full of tension, excitement, and visceral drama. The only thing holding it down is the first 35 minutes or so. It’s not that this part of the movie is terrible, but it felt like nothing was really amounting to anything. For anyone interested in the more clandestine side of World War II, I can easily recommend Anthropoid.

Final Grade: B+

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Kill List – Review

23 Feb

I’m always up to the task of watching a movie that challenges the idea of genre and narrative form. It’s an excellent mode of expression to take preconceived notions of storytelling and flipping them on their head to create something new. For this to be a success, however, it has to be done right. Movies are archetypically based, so changing the formula can be a tough thing to do. This is exactly what Ben Wheatley attempted to do with his 2011 film Kill List. This was a very strange movie to watch, and I’m still kind of processing it, but it’s really a very interesting film to say the least, even if some of it doesn’t really work.

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Jay (Neil Maskell) is a hitman who has been out of work for months after a particularly traumatizing assignment in Kiev. Shel (MyAnna Buring), Jay’s wife, talks their friend, Gal (Michael Smiley), and convinces him to recruit Jay to help in an assignment with a large payout. After some arguing, Jay agrees and the two hitmen meet their employer (Struan Rodger), who gives them a list of three people and all the information they need to execute the hits. As the two hitmen start their mission and begin working their way down the list, things seem a little bit out of the ordinary, and a dark secret connects the three targets on the list; secrets that contain brutality and sadism on such a level that it horrifies the contract killers and sends them spiraling into a mystery that they may not come out of alive.

I think it’s kind of a compliment to say that a movie keeps rattling in your brain and forcing you to think about it, even when you don’t particularly want to. That’s the relationship I’m having with Kill List. This film blends two genres together to create a mash of oddness. I can’t think of another movie that takes a crime thriller and puts it together with sadistic horror to create something that is as chilling and unforgettable as Kill List. I don’t think this movie is a masterpiece or anything like that, but I do have this feeling that Kill List will forever be somewhere on the back burner. I also have to give Wheatley credit in how he handles a lot of the subject matter. There are scenes that will make the squeamish leave the room post haste, but never does it go over the top into an exploitive affair. This movie effectively crawls under your skin without it being too much or overdone. It’s very well thought out film making and storytelling.

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At the core of this movie, though, is a really intriguing mystery. This is where I got really hooked. The film starts off easy enough with a story of a hit man forced back into the business, but it was enough to keep me watching. When things started getting strange for no reason is when I really started to pay attention. It was great trying to figure out just what in the hell was going on, and for the most part, there really aren’t any clues. You’re left to sit and watch and wonder. I was really dying to know what happened, but this is very ambiguous movie that is left for you to interpret. This might be where the movie falters for me just a little bit. I really wanted to know everything and have concrete answers, but Kill List has none of these to offer. That being said, this is an incredibly frustrating film that succeeds in leaving the audience baffled and freaked out.

When I say freaked out, I really mean freaked out. I’m a real sucker for well made and effective horror movies, so I do expect horror movies to go the extra mile. Technically speaking, I don’t know if I’d call Kill List a horror film. I really don’t know how I’d define it. Still, the last third of this movie is frightening, and I’m not ashamed to say it royally messed with me. I would love to get deeper into what happens, but the most fun you’ll have with this movie is the tension and suspense of it building to what is actually going on. Saying anything more would spoil some of that, so just know that I thought it was one of the creepier displays I’ve seen in a while.

To me, Kill List is a lot of things. It’s frustrating, stunning, difficult, but also extremely memorable. Despite all of the confusion I felt watching it and all of the questions left unanswered, I’m really thrilled that this movie didn’t remain under my radar forever. It’s one that I’m going to want to show to people just so I can see their reaction to it because there really isn’t another movie quite like this one.

Final Grade: B

Jason Bourne – Review

2 Aug

Recently I did a review on all 3 of the original Bourne movies, and even threw in The Bourne Legacy because I apparently like cinematic torture. Yeah, that one was pretty awful. The original three films with Matt Damon as the titular character are, on the other hand, some of the greatest action films ever made, with The Bourne Ultimatum ranking up there with the best of the best. When the trailer was revealed for Jason Bourne, with Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass returning, I became as giddy as a school girl. There was a lot of hype around this movie, and it doesn’t quite seem to be fully living up to it. I may be biased in my opinion, but I honestly thought this was a pretty great thrill ride.

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All Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has ever wanted is to be left alone. After the events of the original trilogy, Bourne is laying low and making a life as a fighter in underground fighting rings. For 10 years, he has been living under the radar until Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) finds him and warns him of a new program the government has started called Operation Iron Hand and also reveals she has new information concerning Bourne’s father’s connection with Treadstone. The idea of learning more about why Bourne became part of the clandestine organization sends him back into the world he’s been trying to get away from. Hot on his tail are CIA bigwigs Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), and an assassin known only as the Asset (Vincent Cassel). This worldwide chase leads Bourne on a trail of clues that uncover more conspiracies and lies that ultimately ended with his mind becoming what it is today, and he wants revenge not only for himself, but for his father.

I should start by something that may come as a shock to hear, especially coming from someone like me who absolutely loves the Bourne trilogy. Jason Bourne didn’t really have to be made. They wrapped the story up pretty well in The Bourne Ultimatum, and it could have realistically been left at that. We live in a world, however, where sequels have become the norm and since this movie does exist, I whole heartedly welcome it. That being said, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessors. Jason knows who he is now, and by this point it kind of just felt like they were searching for anything that could possibly bring him back into the world of spies and espionage. For this one, we have conspiracies surrounding a social media network that the government wants to tap into and exploit, while also the plot about Jason’s father’s involvement in Treadstone and why they were surveilling him. This doesn’t make for the most interesting storyline, but there is plenty packed into the movie to make up for its missteps in terms of creating a highly captivating story.

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The best thing about Jason Bourne is the action. I honestly can’t stress enough how awesome every action scene was. The first one that really hit me was a motorcycle chase through a riot in Greece. Not only was this a unique environment for a chase to happen, but it was shot so beautifully. This is a really nice looking movie, and that credit goes to how well Paul Greengrass can capture a movie like this, in an almost documentary style way. There’s also plenty of great fist fights that have become a staple in this series. Part of the fun of these movies is seeing the new ways that Bourne can disarm and take down an enemy. These scenes are relentless. The highlight of this movie, however, is a car chase that takes place through the busy streets of Las Vegas. I kid you not when I say that this car chase is one of the coolest parts of this entire series and is hands down the best car chase in any Bourne movie.

Something I’ve heard complaints about is the story involving a social media tycoon (played by Riz Ahmed) and his involvements with the CIA in a sort of Edward Snowden, NSA spying on people sort of thing. I didn’t have a problem with this one bit, and I even think it added a little something to the story. I really like how these movies always made me feel like stuff like what was in the movie was definitely happening, and part of that success was how the media was handled in the stories. This is a Bourne movie that takes place in a time where social media is a main source of news, and this is also a time where the government is taking advantage of platforms like this. Jason Bourne fits in very well with the time and uses this conspiracy and paranoia to help better the story.

Jason Bourne may not live up to some of the heights of its predecessors in some regards, but as a whole I think it stands up very well with the other movies in this series. The action is some of the best you’ll see all year, the performances are all pitch perfect, and it’s just awesome to see this character back doing what he does best. This is a quick paced thrill ride that has its share of flaws, but more than makes up for them which means I definitely recommend this film to any fans of the Bourne series.

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate – Review

23 Jun

If you were to take the CGI effects of Hugo, the amount of characters from Snatch, and the impressive fighting choreography from Hero, the outcome would probably look a lot like Tsui Hark’s Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. This is a wuxia movie that uses the impressive 3D and computer generated effects to create a magical looking film filled with excellent action and beautiful scenery that will suck you into the apparent anti-gravity universe that all of the characters inhabit. Before this movie, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a battle take place inside a tornado, so it’s easy to say that there was a lot in this movie that was an over the top blast. Unfortunately, far too many characters with far too little motivation prohibited this movie from reaching the standards of classics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and left it just as a movie that had great action and looked really nice.

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After the Emperor’s eunuchs have split themselves into the two Bureaus of the East and West, ideas of justice and law soon went flying out the window. Zhou Huai’an (Jet Li) is a wandering warrior who has decided that it is up to him to protect these ideas of law and order by assassinating the heads of the Bureaus and eventually the Emperor. When a sandstorm threatens to cause major havoc in the area, a group of thieves and soldiers for the Emperor find themselves hiding in the Dragon Inn, but what they don’t know about each other, Zhou will use to his advantage. The thieves are here to find the hidden gold of Dragon Gate and the soldiers are there to kill a maid who was impregnated illegally in the Emperor’s court. Zhou begins to play these group off each other, but soon becomes involved in finding the gold at Dragon Gate with the boisterous group of thieves.

Normally, I like to name the main characters in movies and what they are doing, and even who they are played by, but I really don’t think I’d be able to with the overload of stories and characters in Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. There was a point about half way through the movie where I was worried if I wasn’t paying enough attention, and that’s not a feeling that I want to experience when I’m watching a movie. Confusion is one thing, but feeling like you’re missing something is totally different. When all of the characters are in the vicinity of the Dragon Inn, I was starting to sort of piece together what was going on, but I was still pretty unclear. This is because there are so many characters with not enough motivation and narrative drive. Things were happening without too much explanation. There were a few interesting characters, one of them being Jet Li’s role, so obviously this is who the movie focuses on…?

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Since Jet Li started the movie off with a bang with an excellent action sequence and then following up on his story with important scenes involving his mission, I was completely invested in what his character was doing and I was really into it. Too bad after I was really getting into the story, a giant handful of new characters show up and Jet Li disappears for a good amount of time. This is the time where I really started losing track of the plot because this is where the plot about finding the gold comes in, and compared to assassinating government officials in flying scenes of swordplay, this seems a lot less interesting. Another problem is that the movie becomes just as cramped as the Dragon Inn, itself. All of these characters and all of their plots are carelessly mushed into one movie and it just left me baffled.

While the story gets messed up in a really bad way, the action and special effects are spectacular. Flying Swords of Dragon Gate really is a spectacle in every sense of the word. The action scenes offer some really awesome slow motion and interesting choreography with weapons that made me laugh at the craziness of it all. The genre of wuxia has a lot of cool things to offer in terms of plot, but the action is what normally really gets me. Much like Hero, this movie puts the computer generated effects to good use with a combination of balletic swordplay and beautiful CGI backdrops and other effects.

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate isn’t particularly a good movie in every sense of the word, but in terms of how cool it is, it excels. The visuals are all mind blowingly awesome and the fight choreography meshes very well with the countless number of effects happening all around the characters. If the plot was just structured better and there were a few less characters, this film would probably be remembered as a martial arts classic. Unfortunately, this is a movie that will probably be missed or completely forgotten by people who aren’t completely devoted to this genre.