Tag Archives: battle

The Great Wall – Review

3 Mar

I recently did a review for Zhang Yimou’s 2011 war drama, The Flowers of War. In that review, I mention that Yimou is a very respectable film maker who has an especially strong talent for filming what I believe to be some of the most beautiful looking movies I’ve ever seen. His latest film is The Great Wall, a monster movie that involves protecting the Imperial City from creatures hell bent on destroying civilization as we know it. That combined with Yimou’s colorful and sweeping directorial style kind of made this a must see for me. Well, all I can say is that this film definitely looks great. That’s pretty much where the compliments end.

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William (Matt Damon) and Pero (Pedro Pascal) are two mercenaries scouring the East looking for “black powder,” which we now know as gunpowder. During their search, they end up at the Great Wall of China and are questioned about their intentions immediately upon their arrival. The two partners soon learn why the soldiers at the wall are so concerned about their motives. During a seemingly quiet afternoon, the wall is raided by alien monsters called the Tao Tie, whose goal is to penetrate the wall and continue on to the Imperial City. It doesn’t take long for William to come to a decision as to wether he wants to escape with Pero and another Englishman, Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe), or if he would rather stay and defend the Great Wall with the newly appointed general, Lin Mae (Jing Tian).

I was excited for this movie for multiple reasons. First off, I was pumped to see Zhang Yimou tackle a big budget monster movie and have his style painted all over the movie. I was also just pumped to see another monster movie from Legendary, which has pretty much become the monster movie company for America. In these ways, the movie does succeed. When battles start happening, I got really into it. The special effects look kind of cartoony, but for some reason, that didn’t really bother me. I was taken aback by Yimou’s use of color and framing scenes to make them look as epic as possible. One of these shots in particular happened in the very first battle where you can see most of the battle in one super wide shot. Another really cool thing are the different regiments of the soldiers and the uniforms they wear to identify themselves. Honestly, in terms of style and scope, this movie stands tall.

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Like I said before, that’s pretty much where all of the good stuff ends. The Great Wall really isn’t all that good of a movie despite having a really cool premise. My biggest problem was the characters. I haven’t seen such poor development and writing in a really long time. Any scene that didn’t involve a battle or special effect of some kind fell flat. Like completely, utterly flat. It’s incredible how an epic period piece featuring alien monsters attacking the Great Wall of China could be so boring. There are a few characters worth something, but that’s not saying to much. William’s partner Pero has a good amount of one liners and a story that at least attempts to go somewhere before that’s shut down by some idiotic decisions from the writers. Lin Mae is also a pretty cool character who feels the most human out of anyone else. The worst offender of characters not worth anything is Sir Ballard. If you were to take Willem Dafoe out of this movie, nothing would be different. He’s completely wasted here.

I was also really bothered by the acting in this movie, but part of this also has to fall on the writers. There was so much clunky and awkward dialogue in this movie which only made me more distracted during the down time that I’ve already complained was boring enough. Like I said before, the only exceptions from this are Pero and Lin Mae. They weren’t perfect, but they were better than the rest. Honestly though, I was mostly shocked at how flat and uninspired Matt Damon was. I didn’t know until the end of the movie that he was supposed to be European, and I still don’t know exactly where he’s supposed to be from. His accent is on and off throughout the whole movie, and the way he delivers his lines is cringeworthy. Aside from his weird accent, he uses this over the top tough guy voice that wore thin on me after the second line of dialogue he had.

The Great Wall is a very disappointing movie. Throughout its run time, I saw a lot of hope for potential, but nothing really came of it. I will say that this is a fantastic looking movie with cool creature design and some excellent use of lighting and costume design. Everything else from the characters and their development to the structure of the narrative is flat, recycled, or just plain boring. As a monster movie, it works at the most basic of levels. As a movie to be appreciated and viewed for something more than that, it’s a failure.

Final Grade: C-

Star Trek: The Next Generation Movies – Part 1

4 Nov

A little while ago, I did a couple of review on the original Star Trek movies. Overall, it’s an epic series of movies, save for a few bad eggs. There was still a lot more great than bad, so I was pleased. It would be wrong to talk about those movies and leave the more recent Next Generation movies in the dark. Wether you like the original series or The Next Generation better is a different story. I personally think that both have their own unique strengths that hold them both up very well. That may be a cop out answer, but you can’t make me choose. Anyway, let’s get started with the first part of my reviews.

The first movie to feature The Next Generation cast was the 1994 film Star Trek: Generations. The interesting thing about this one is that it also features some cast of the original series. Could it possibly live up to that kind of potential?

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In the past, James Kirk (William Shatner), Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), and Montgomery Scott (James Doohan) are guests for the maiden voyage of the USS Enterprise-B. After answering a distress call involving ships caught in an energy ribbon, the Enterprise-B also gets damaged and Kirk is apparently killed. In the time of the the Enterprise-D, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the rest of the crew are called to investigate an incident on a space observatory where they find Dr. Soran (Malcolm McDowell), an El-Aurian who was also saved from the energy ribbon by the Enterprise-B. It soon becomes clear that Soran’s motives to get closer to the ribbon are not scientific, but personal as he will do anything, including destroy an entire planetary system to just reenter the ribbon, which is a place that time does not exist and a person can travel and do whatever they want. In order to stop Soran, Picard relies on an old Starfleet legend: James Kirk, who has also been trapped in the ribbon for all these years.

There isn’t really a whole lot to say about Generations. It’s great to see the crew of The Next Generation finally get their own big budget movie, and it’s also cool to see some older faces from the original series in the same movie. There isn’t much inherently wrong with this film, but by the time the credits begin to roll you can’t help but feel you’ve watched a weak entry into the series. The best way to describe this movie is just as a longer and more expensive episode of The Next Generation. The whole plot involving the energy ribbon and being able to enter it and travel in time is just the kind of thing you would see in one of the cool episodes of the series, but I’m not sure that’s enough to really carry a feature film.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some stand out parts of Generations. The crew all do great in their first time together on the big screen, and McDowell’s villainous performance as Soran is both tragic and sinister which makes him a perfect fit for this series. There’s also some excellent comedic relief since Data fits himself with Doctor Soong’s emotion chip that he gets off Lore towards the end of the series. Finally seeing Data truly understand emotions is funny and, in some odd nerdy way, makes me proud. This isn’t an excellent entry into the series, but it also isn’t a bad one. This movie has enough to make fans happy, but will also leave them wanting a bit more. I say it’s worth a watch.

Final Grade: B

Two years later in 1996, the crew of The Next Generation got their very own movie where no other character from the original series made an appearance. This film was Star Trek: First Contact.

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Ever since being assimilated by the Borg, Captain Jean-Luc Picard has never fully recovered from his experience. Now, he’s forced to face his most dangerous enemy yet again as they begin their assault on Earth. After defeating the Borg Cube, a sphere is released from the ship and sent through time with the plans of killing Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) before he can create the first warp engine and establish first contact with an alien race. This will make humanity more susceptible to the Borg and their mission of assimilation. Luckily, the Enterprise manages to travel through time as well, and fight back the Borg and aid Cochrane in his attempts to repair the warp engine. For those left on board the Enterprise, however, things don’t look so good as the Borg sneak onto the ship and wage an all out war with the crew.

Take everything cool in Generations and make it even cooler, and the result is First Contact. This is how you make a high quality Star Trek film. So far, this is one of the best entries in the entire franchise, including the original series. For starters, the Borg are my favorite villains in Star Trek, and making them the main antagonists for this film was a great idea. It brings a lot of the canon from the show and adds even more to it, while also revealing the man Cochrane really was, rather than the hero Star Fleet has made him out to be. There’s a lot of themes about humanity and what it means to be human and good, which seems to be the prime directive for the writers of Star Trek. It’s themes like this that feel all the more highlighted when you’re watching a feature film rather than an episode on t.v.

Along with improving the villain and the storytelling, First Contact also amps up the action and characterization. The main draw to watch Star Trek is to see the crews, whoever they may be, work together in such unison that no problem appears to big for them to handle, even at the most dire of moments. In this film, the crew is split up doing equally important things, which means their screen time is never wasted. On Earth, the scenes are much quieter, but the Enterprise is where all the action is. There’s one scene in particular that takes place on the outside of the Enterprise that might be my favorite scene in any Star Trek movie. The space battle in the beginning is another highlight in an already outstanding film.

For fans of The Next Generation, this is the Star Trek movie for you. It shows all of the strengths and weaknesses of the characters very clearly while also beefing up the canon that has already been established. There’s great acting, a great villain, and many memorable scenes that will keep your eyes glued to the screen.

Final Grade: A

So that’s just the start of my reviews for The Next Generation movies. Up next, I’ll be looking at Insurrection and Nemesis.

The Thin Red Line – Review

12 May

Terrence Malick is a very strange Hollywood entity that’s made not that many films over the course of over 40 years. His first two films, Badlands and Days of Heaven, were met with huge success. After these two achievements, Malick disappeared off the face of the earth until 1998 when he released his World War II epic The Thin Red Line. This is around the same time that Spielberg released what I consider to be the best war movie ever made, Saving Private Ryan, but there are people who believe that Malick’s film is right up there with it. While I will say that it is one of the most memorable and well made war films to come out of Hollywood, it may also be one of the weirdest.

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After being picked up on an island in the South Pacific after going AWOL, Pvt. Robert Witt (Jim Caviezel) is chewed out by Sgt. Edward Welsh (Sean Penn) and sent to Guadalcanal to be a part of a siege to secure Henderson Field from the Japanese. While on the island, the mass of soldiers have to secure Hill 210, which causes devastating casualties for the American forces. As the battle rages on and the days begin to pass by even slower, every soldier looks death in the eye through the sights of their guns and has to come to terms with the life that he’s led, the inevitable future that lays ahead,  and the possibility that they may never return home to the world that they know and have created for themselves.

The Thin Red Line is an outstanding example of a war movie, and I’m not sure how many people would deny that. While many war films deal with the European front, this movie deals with the battle that was raging on in the Pacific, specifically on Guadalcanal. This movie takes a really long time to get started, but when the battle finally gets going it doesn’t let up for a really long time. The original cut of this movie goes on for a little over 5 hours, and this is a rare time where I’d actually love to see the full 5 hour version because the 3 hour one that we have is so enthralling I feel like I need to see more. The combat is so intense and realistic that I began feeling anxious for the soldiers onscreen, even though I knew well enough that it was a movie. Not only is this a very intense movie, but the scenes of battle are shot in the most intricate and beautiful of ways. The camera sweeps over the battlefield in such a fashion that I can’t say I ever saw before. That is where Malick’s vision truly shines, and it’s almost blinding.

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So the battle scenes are all excellent and beautifully shot, but also the quieter scenes are shot in such a way that we see all of the beauty of nature that stands idly by as men wage their wars. It’s a pretty strong antiwar message done well, but things do tend to get a little weird. There are parts throughout the movie where the characters give these long winded soliloquies about the turmoil that they face everyday and the toll it’s taking on their lives and their beliefs. Seriously, this movie would gain a lot of points if those voice overs were taken out completely. It’s melodramatic and distracting because people simply don’t talk like that, especially when it’s already been established that it’s definitely not how that character talks normally. It’s just way too over the top, but that’s really my only complaint with this movie.

The Thin Red Line has a very odd story behind the making of it that makes it something of a Frankenstein monster masterpiece. Malick is known for taking an absurd amount of time to edit his movies, and this is a clear example of how far he’ll go to ensure he gets the picture he wants. Adrian Brody’s character went from being a lead to a secondary character who barely even speaks. The opposite goes for Caviezel, who’s character became the main focus of the story. The cast of actors in this movie is huge, but a lot of them end up being only cameos. Like I said, this movie was originally 5 hours long, so a  lot of their screen time got cut. Still, Malick knew what he wanted and the final product is great.

Plain and simply, The Thin Red Line is one of the best war movies ever made. There’s been countless, both old and new, but this movie has a certain beauty to it that Terrence Malick is known for capturing. That’s what really makes it stand out. Unfortunately, the film does lose points for the weird voice overs that more than border on the pretentious side. While that is a flaw, the rest of the movie is an epic masterwork of human drama and war.

13 Assassins – Review

3 Sep

The samurai genre seems to be nearly extinct these days. There was a time, however, where samurai films were nationally popular and attracted massive audiences. This isn’t the case now. Fortunately, Takashi Miike has taken a break from his usual over the top gorefests of twisted mayhem to bring a quality samurai film that reintroduces the genre to modern audiences, 13 Assassins.

 

The year is 1844, and the era of the shogun is coming to a swift end. Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), the shogun’s  younger brother, is threatening peacetime by murdering, raping, and stealing at random as he travels through towns. A secret meeting is held where the samurai Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) is tasked with assassinating Naritsugu. A team of 13 willing samurai assassins is formed and turn a town into a well fortified trap which Narisugu and his men will enter and engage these samurai in battle.

13 Assassins reminded me very much of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, Seven Samurai. It got to the point where I was convinced that this was an unofficial remake, but it turns out that it is a remake of a film from 1963, The Thirteen Assassins. Even though it isn’t related to the Kurosawa film, it is certainly influenced in both style and storytelling by Kurosawa. To say otherwise would be very naive.

 

This film may be very easily mistaken as a misleading or boring. With a name like 13 Assassins, one might begin to think that this is going to be an all out samurai action film, and with Takashi Miike at the wheel, we can sure expect buckets of the red stuff and limbs flying in all directions. If that’s what you’re looking for, I can gladly refer you to great Miike films like Ichi the KillerAudition, and his banned ShoTime Masters of Horror episode, Imprint13 Assassins on the other hand is a mature drama that builds up all the tension that is released in an extended battle at the end.

I never really mention just one character in a movie. Normally I’ll try to spend time on all of the main characters. This is not one of those times. I’d like to focus on Lord Naritsugu. This guy is a total asshole that the audience wants to see fail. He attacks men, women, and children of all ages. No one is safe from his violent and malicious personality. He know he has power and can’t be touched, so he flaunts it at every turn. It is a great performance by Goro Inagaki.

 

Even though there isn’t much action in the first half of the movie, rest assured that the final battle more than makes up for it. Have you ever played a video game and got to the last level where you are bombarded by enemy after enemy? That’s what this final battle is like. There is a never ending flow of enemies that this small group of assassins have to defeat. It’s long, bloody, and a fulfilling showcase for Miike’s talent as a director.

Takashi Miike is a director of many genres. With 13 Assassins, I believe that he has earned some much deserved respect from film makers, critics, and larger audiences. This is mature film making that is epic in scale and down to earth. This is one of his best films that will her regarded as a classic in years to come.