Tag Archives: battles

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-

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Pacific Rim – Review

2 Aug

Giant monsters. Equally giant robots. Guillermo del Toro. Ok, now we’re talkin’. From the trailer, you really know exactly what to expect with Pacific Rim, a movie that brings to mind Toho’s Godzilla movies of the past. Giant robots are really nothing new to movies. Just look at Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise (ok, on second thought maybe you shouldn’t). But, and this is important, del Toro takes this concept and makes it totally new. Instead of robots, they’re giant mech suits with people inside controlling it. I’m getting ahead of myself here. I’m just really excited about how excellent this movie was.

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In the not too distant future, an inter dimensional portal opens up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean in which giant monsters, called Kaiju, are climbing out of and wreaking havoc on cities across the globe. In response to this, the superpowers of the world come together and create a program where giant mech suits, called Jaegers, complete with two pilots who have merged their minds can walk into the path of the Kaiju and stop them. For years, this seems to work just fine, but it appears that the Kaiju are evolving and adapting to earth and its defenses, making the jobs of the Jaeger pilots more demanding and much more dangerous. As the pilots begin failing at an alarming rate, Commander Pentecost (Idris Elba) hatches an idea that may very well be the key to closing the portal and saving the earth.

Now, this movie is absolutely outstanding. It’s certainly not much of a captivating drama, but it sure is a lot of fun. The main protagonist isn’t anything interesting and his partner, played by Rinko Kikuchi, is pretty good, but still nothing too great. Idris Elba on the other hand has a really cool character who is very interesting. He has to be since his main job is “canceling the apocalypse.” Finally, Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are exactly the kind of comic relief that this movie needs, as the two scientists who are obsessed with unlocking the secrets of the Kaiju.

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I guess that wasn’t the first talking point you would expect me to start with. The question of the hour is: How were the Jaeger vs Kaiju fights? Excellent question, and the answer is that they were mind blowing. Like the whole movie itself, these fights had the potential to be garbage, but the way they are executed makes all the difference. First of all, the sound design and visual effects make it very easy to believe that these behemoths are actually throwing down right in front of you. That, and camera angles that are interesting and make the action easy to follow. Everything feels really big about this movie, and that’s important given the subject matter. Some camera angles are shown from the ground level while others are from the view of distant buildings. Let’s just say that these fights look about as epic as anything I’ve ever seen.

I will say that there are slow parts to the movie where the lack of strong characters and dialogue really shows. The way these scenes play out are entirely too predictable and the characters are pretty stock for the most part. Like I said, most of the main characters are nothing special, even as sort of “everyman” characters. A lot of the disagreements and drama seems a little underplayed, and don’t amount to anything too special. Kikuchi’s character at least has a nice back story that helps her dramatic scenes feel a bit more interesting.

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While the human drama doesn’t really feel all that spectacular, it is adequate. On the flip side, the colossal battles between machine and beast in the oceans and cities of the world are some of the most fun you’ll have at the movies this year. Like I said, Pacific Rim had the potential to be generic drivel and nothing too special save for some pretty scenes. Instead, Guillermo del Toro has created an awesome thrill ride that, in my opinion, gives Star Trek Into Darkness some competition for my favorite film of the year.

Goemon – Review

2 Apr

I like to think that Asian cinema has far surpasses America. We’ve seemed to have lost all of our creativity, and feel perfectly content churning out remakes, reboots, and adaptations. It was refreshing to see the originality that complimented Goemon, a visually beautiful treat. Unfortunately, once you get past how nice everything looks, there is a supremely sloppy film that made even our constant reboots that accomplish their storytelling seem much more appealing.

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Goemon (Yôsuke Eguchi) is what you would consider a Japanese Robin Hood. After seeing his mentor and ruler of Japan, Lord Nobunaga (Hashinosukè Nakamura) assassinated, Goemon ends his education to become a samurai and turns to thievery. He soon becomes what he considers “the greatest thief in the world” and gives most, if not all, of his loot to the poor. One particular job uncovers a secret about the assassination of Lord Nobunaga, revealing that the present leader of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Eiji Okuda), is responsible. Now, Goemon vows revenge with the blood of Hideyoshi and to save his lost love, Princess Chacha (Ryōko Hirosue).

Style over substance. There isn’t a better phrase that can be used to describe this movie. Right when I put it on, and the first scene played, I knew that I was in for an outstanding visual experience, and I certainly was. From the first scene to the last, I was completely taken in by the heavily CGI backgrounds. It was cartoonish, but somehow other-worldly. It reminded me almost of a live action anime, which the director Kazuaki Kiriya’s last film, Casshernwas. So, yes, visually this movie is phenomenal. One scene in particular that takes place on a burning boat is especially enticing and can not be shrugged off.

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Are video games any good if the graphics look great but the gameplay is terrible? Is it fun listening to a well produced album if the music isn’t any good? In that same regard, is it worthwhile to sit through two hours of a movie that looks nice but has such a sloppy plot that it takes a really long time just to settle into it? No, it’s really not. When Goemon first started, I was really into the visuals and was ready to see where the story was going to take me. After the first 20 minutes, I still didn’t feel like it was taking me anywhere. Nor did I feel that way after 45 minutes. It took until the last half of the movie before things finally got interesting. This interest didn’t even last too long, and it didn’t help that the movie felt 15 minutes too long. Yes, it suffers from Return of the King Syndrome.

There’s really no redeeming qualities to any of the characters, either. I’ve seen all of these people before in many other different movies. This just adds to the continuing list of clichés that this movie has created. I called pretty much what the ending was and where each character would physically and mentally be by the end of the movie. I guess this is the big problem with this movie. Other than the visuals, it sticks so close to a mediocre story arc that is seen in a lot of modern films. I was hoping for a lot more from the story than this movie offers.

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In the end, Goemon is a very disappointing movie. It’s a two hour long formula, not a two hour long narrative. The only thing that manages to keep the film interesting is its incredible visuals. The story is flat and the characters are boring. To compare it to a movie with a similar problem, one only needs to look at Avatar The difference is that Avatar‘s visuals creates an entirely new world while Goemon only offers something pretty to look at. See it once for its effects, but a second viewing is far from necessary. Strictly mediocre glitter.