Tag Archives: russia

Child 44 – Review

28 Apr

There are a handful of times throughout history that I just would never want to be a part of, and Stalinist Russia could very easily be in the top 10. It was a time where no one was safe, no matter what age, sex, or creed, and everything that you said or did could potentially be used against you. These ideas are explored to great length in the film Child 44, a 205 film based off of a novel by Tom Rob Smith. I was initially intrigued by this movie after looking at the premise and the fact that it starred Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, and Noomi Rapace. To make things more interesting, I had to see how such a star studded historical drama could be such a major box office flop.

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After raising the Soviet flag on the Reichstag in Berlin in 1945, Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) quickly became a hero and symbol of his country. Jump to 1953 and Demidov has found himself a beautiful wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace), and has the position of Captain in the Russian intelligence agency, the MGB. After a child is found murdered by the train tracks, the government tries to cover it up and deny that there is a child murderer walking the streets. As Demidov continues his investigation, he and his wife are exiled to a small town where Leo is stripped of his rank and finds a low level job under General Neserov (Gary Oldman). After a lot of effort and more murdered children are discovered, Demidov convinces Nesterov that this is a serious problem, which leads to them both continuing the investigation behind the government’s back, a mission that could easily put them in front of a firing squad.

Something that Child 44 does better than anything else is create a sort of realism that really had to happen if they were going to create a movie that takes place in the early 1950s in the Soviet Union. The costume and set design made it feel like I was taking a glimpse at history. The black trains with the red star were so ominous and powerful looking and very memorable to look at. Of course all of this realism would be for nothing if the performances weren’t grounded in this sense of reality. Hardy, Rapace, and Oldman all give great performances and are reason enough to see this movie. One scene in particular involved a fight on a train, which was bone crunchingly real that it really stands out.

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I love murder mysteries of every shape and size. There’s a sense of danger and time that weave their way through the best mysteries. The hero is always racing against time to find the killer before anyone else gets hurt, which makes for some very exciting storytelling. A murder mystery that takes place in the middle of Stalin’s reign of terror just adds a whole new variable to the equation which makes for some even more intensity and suspense. Like I said before, no one was safe in this period of time and you had to be careful with whatever you said and whoever you talked to. Child 44 creates this overwhelming sense of paranoia with all of the twists and reveals. I’ve never quite seen a mystery like this before and that is definitely a compliment.

So far, everything I’ve said about this movie is pretty good. It would seem that I have no problem with it. This, however, is simply not the case. I felt like I was tripping over the pacing of this movie, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever said before… Interesting. Anyway, the layout of this movie is really, really weird. The first 45 minutes to an hour is just set up, then after that the movie picks up a lot of speed only to be jolted to a halt and then go from 0 to 60 in 5 seconds. It made for some awkward moments. The first cut of this movie was over 5 hours long, which makes a lot of sense because there is an absurd amount crammed into this movie which clocks in at a little under two and a half hours. This is one of those instances where this should’ve been a mini series.

The most important part of film is being able to coherently tell a story in the best possible way, and this is where Child 44 really slips and falls on its sickle. The story, itself, is very intriguing and full of paranoia and great performances. It’s also a beautifully shot film that prides itself on the realism that it creates. Unfortunately, the pacing and amount of information jammed into its run time makes it sort of an awkward viewing experience. This movie receives a lot of unwarranted negativity. I actually quite enjoyed this movie and would recommend it, but just be sure you’re ready for pacing from hell.

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Hardcore Henry – Review

16 Apr

There are many people out there who stick their noses way up in the air because quite clearly they are too good for action movies. Often times, however, I may agree with them, no matter how forgiving I like to think I am towards certain cinematic circumstances. Recently, action movies seem to have gotten an extra dosage of adrenaline and a couple needed brain cells to fuel the imagination. Last year we got Mad Max: Fury Road, which redefined what it meant to make a movie in the action genre. Now, in 2016, we have another knockout in the form of Hardcore Henry. Did you ever want to watch Crank through the eyes of protagonist Chev Chelios? Well, this is the closest thing you’ll get to that, but even more surprisingly, you might just find yourself marveling at some of the raw imagination that went into this modern action masterpiece.

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After waking up in a highly advanced laboratory with no memory, Henry is pieced back together after some sort of unexplained accident. The surgeon operating on him is his wife, Estelle (Haley Bennett), who tells Henry he has a lot of his life to remember. Before any of the can happen, the laboratory is raided by criminal mastermind Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) and his men who kidnap Henry’s wife and try to kidnap him as well. After barely escaping their grasp, Henry soon meets a mysterious man named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), who seems to have as many personalities as he does lives. With the help of Jimmy, Henry begins a violent and vengeful mission to save his wife from Akan, and also uncover the truth about Akan’s company and his own complicated past.

Let’s get right into it. The main draw to see this movie is to experience a highly frenetic action movie in the first person perspective. This technique has been explored to some degree before by Gaspar Noé in his film Enter the Void, but it’s not utilized to such a degree as it is in Hardcore Henry. I was really nervous at first that this movie was going to be absolutely nauseating, but I was pleasently surprised that minor dizziness was the only side effect. It’s such a neat idea to make an action movie this off the walls insane be shown in this perspective,and I thought back to the game Mirror’s Edge quite a bit as I was watching it. This film really succeeds at bringing the viewer into the wild and weird world of Hardcore Henry.

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While the name Henry may be in the title and we see all of the action through Henry’s eyes, the most memorable person in this movie is Sharlto Copley who once again proves that he’s one of the most underrated actors working in film. Without spoiling anything about his character, Copley gets to show off a huge variety of personalities in the short run time of the movie. He really steals the show here. I’d also like to mention Danila Kozlovsky as the villain Akan. I don’t know who this guy is but he really seems to be loving playing the role of the over the top antagonist. He’s a memorable villain and works perfectly for this movie.

I think the main reason someone should watch an action movie is to be completely taken back and entertained by the action that is happening. Now, an action movie with a great story is an added bonus, but sometimes an archetypical revenge tale is all I need. Hardcore Henry falls into the revenge tale story arc pretty well, but there are a lot of unique things about the story that make it surprisingly more imaginative than I thought it was going to be. In fact, it made me curious about the other aspects of the world that these characters lived in. I wanted to know more about the technology and the military and all that stuff and wouldn’t be against seeing more from this director and the world he’s created.

Hardcore Henry is a wonderful blend of frenetic violence, mayhem, stunt work, and imagination. While the story isn’t the strongest you’ll ever see, it has a lot of eccentric elements that make it memorable, and Sharlto Copley and Danila Kozlovsky are more than entertaining enough to keep my attention. The action and perspective are still the main reasons to see this movie, and I refuse to call it gimmicky. Hardcore Henry is an experimental action film that deserves all of the attention it receives. I highly recommend any action junkie to get to theater for Hardcore Henry ASAP.

Men Behind the Sun – Review

11 Mar

Oh boy. This is what it’s come to. I’m really digging up something with this one. This time we’re gonna be looking at T.F. Mou’s 1988 film Men Behind the Sun. It sounds innocent enough, but this infamous, though relatively obscure film, is one of the most brutal, grotesque, and disturbing films ever made. Look at any list about warped movies, and it’s guaranteed that you’ll find this one on here. Many people argue over what this movie is trying to do, but everyone seems to agree that it will definitely leave a mark on anyone who dares to watch.

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In the later days of World War II, the Japanese were getting desperate to turn the fight around to their favor, and a method that seemed both popular and deadly was biological warfare. The film follows a group of young Japanese boys enlisted in the youth corps that are stationed at Unit 731, a mysterious base run by a recently disgraced Lt. Gen. Shiro Ishii (Gang Wang). Soon the boys (and the viewer) finds out the secret work happening at Unit 731. The base is a testing ground for new biological weapons with the test subjects consisting of captured Chinese and Russian citizens.

This is actually the first part of an unofficial series that I’ve made the decision not to watch, mostly because they’re pretty hard to find and it’s pretty unnecessary considering the heavy subject matter. This is a movie that has torn audiences in to two separate factions with differing arguments on how to look at what is being presented. On one side, there are the people who think this movie is a disgusting piece of exploitive horror, using the testing and gratuitous gore as only a way to make people squirm. The other side truly believes that Men Behind the Sun is an important film that explores a horrific time of history in a no nonsense way. It’s hard to choose a side because there’s enough evidence to support both theories.

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T.F. Mou is a very odd figure in terms of his filmography. After joining the Shaw Brothers, Mou worked in the genres of crime, horror, kung fu, and exploitation. The Shaw Brothers aren’t really known for producing the most thought provoking work, but Mou, himself, was very dedicated to making Men Behind the Sun as realistic and historically accurate as possible, and for that I commend him. He hired actors who looked like their historical counterparts and researched for over a year in order to create an accurate depiction. Wang’s performance as Shiro Ishii is especially memorable. This makes me think that T.F. Mou was really trying to create a historically significant movie that would shock people into understanding the horrors that people endured. Unfortunately, he sort of took it way too far.

There’s no way to be comfortable watching this movie. I first saw this movie in school during a class about horror movies, and I found myself looking away at many points during the movie. Me. The guy who loves gory movies, but this was just too real. This is where the movie seems to lose its footing in a major way. For an hour and a half, you’re just subjected to scenes upon scenes of relentless brutality that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. It’s just way too much gore and sickening imagery to really keep someone’s attention focused on the history. Men Behind the Sun really is one of, if not the most sickening and repulsive movies ever made.

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Normally, I post a video in these reviews, but I just can’t for this movie. I can’t even write a review giving my opinion on it because I don’t know what it is. Technically, it’s very well made in terms of shot composition, effects, and historical accuracy. At the same time it’s a horrific piece of exploitation that is enough to make the most experienced movie watcher sick to their stomachs…or more. All I can say is that whatever this movie was trying to do, be it sicken people or depict a terrible history, it did it’s job. It’s just a bit to much for me to recommend to anybody.

5 Days of War – Review

14 Aug

I enjoy seeing movies that have conflicts or worldly events as their story lines because chances are that I remember them actually happening. In 5 Days of War, the worldly event that happens is the short war between Russia and Georgia, a conflict that wasn’t really covered in full because of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. I still remember seeing some coverage, but not following the stories too well to know what was going on. After 5 Days of War, I still can’t say that I’m 100% about the incident because this is nothing more than lame propaganda.

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After being ambushed in Iraq and losing his friend, Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend) isn’t anxious to get back in the field. His job is dangerous, being a war reporter, but necessary to get the truth out in times of global crisis. After being talked into a trip to Georiga by his friend the Dutchman (Val Kilmer), Anders and his cameraman Sebastian (Richard Coyle) head over just in time to see the start of the violence between Russia and Georgia. While they are there, they witness and record a war atrocity and make it their mission to get it on the air despite being ignored by major news networks, all while protecting Tatia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a Georgian woman who lost most of her family in the conflict.

The director of this film is Renny Harlin, who is most known for directing Die Hard 2Cliffhanger, and Deep Blue Sea. Now look at these movies, and think about the severity of the Russian-Georgian conflict. Taking a guy who directs mainly goofy action films and putting him in the directors chair for a film that is supposed to show a real life war with serious themes is not the best idea. It feels like part of the movie is there, but there are so many action clichés that pop up, it pulls you right out of the movie. These clichés also can be attributed to the awful screenplay.

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The screenplay. Oh, the screenplay. It may be more of an atrocity than what is depicted in the film. Ok, definitely not, but good lord. When I say it treats it’s audience like they’re a bunch of thirteen year olds who’ll believe anything they hear about anything, I’m being dead serious. First of all, haven’t the screenwriters, Mikko Alanne and David Battle, heard that when it comes to writing, less is more? There is so much expository dialogue and over decried scenarios that the dialogue feels more like a lecture than natural. Also, the clichés, which I have mentioned are terrible and would NEVER happen in a situation like this. Finally, the film makes the Georgians out to be peaceful angels who are being slaughtered by the evil Russian titans, thirsty for blood and power. Atrocities were done on both sides during the different conflicts between Georgia and Russia over the years. The Georgian propaganda is overwhelming and stupid.

Not all of this movie is bad, however. I will admit that there are some intense scenes that are pretty memorable. These are the times where the movie that this was supposed to be stands out. These intense scenes were accomplished well thanks to the cinematographer, Checco Varese, who was a news cameraman who recorded global conflict for many different news networks. As a guy who has been there and done that, the look of this movie is great and is really the only good thing about this movie

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5 Days of War is a stupid film that takes itself way too seriously, and ends up falling flat on its face. The propaganda is heavy handed and full of it, the characters are nothing special, and the story is clichéd and predictable. I can’t even say to check it out for the cool cinematography. It just isn’t worth it. There are better movies with this theme out there. Skip this movie altogether. It’s two hours of, for lack of a better word, bullshit.

A Good Day to Die Hard – Review

20 Feb

Since 1988, John McClane has saved what must be hundreds of thousands of lives. He stopped Hans Gruber at Nakatomi Plaza, saved the lives of Col. Stuart’s airborne hostages, hunted Simon all over New York, and successfully put a stop to Thomas Gabriel’s fire sale. All four of these movies have excellent qualities, yet of course not all of them are perfect. Now we have A Good Day to Die Hard, a film that brings the series back into the R-rating. Where do I begin?

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After hearing that his son is in some sort of trouble in Russia, John McClane (Bruce Willis) takes to the skies for yet another adventure, this time in Moscow. It doesn’t take long to find his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney), who is an agent for the CIA working with a government whistleblower, Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), to find a file that would incriminate high ranking Russian officials. Viktor Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov), an official who risks exposure, hires Alik (Radivoje Bukvić) and his team of mercenaries, to find and kill Jack and Yuri. They didn’t count on John, however, who turns Moscow into a war zone and will do anything and kill anyone to protect his son.

This is most certainly one of the weakest entries in the Die Hard franchise. There are so many weaknesses that jump off the screen and do their best to make the viewer disappointed. A Good Day to Die Hard has been receiving terrible reviews from both critics and audiences alike. Me? I didn’t hate the movie, in fact, I was entertained for most of it. Is it an action classic? Does it make the character of John McClane even more of a hero than he already is? Not particularly. But, it still does feel like a Die Hard film, despite all of its glaring weaknesses.

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Let’s start with what bothered me. First of all, the plot was pretty hard to follow, and not because it was a complicated web of intrigue. It was hard to follow because it was so muddled with the need for action that it just seemed out of place. A plot that has to do with exposing foreign government secrets that have to do with major historical events is great for a political thriller, not for something where John McClane has to run around killing bad guys. Along with the plot, there are characters. The characters are so uninteresting, save for John. Jack is stoic and boring and the villains are the worst that this series has to offer. Remember Hans Gruber? He was awesome, if not, the best villain ever. These guys are just boring. There’s also a weird revelation towards the end that has to do with the bad guys that threw me off and made me with they were more characterized.

Second of all, the dialogue at times made me cringe. If I had to hear one more snarky remark from Jack about how much John sucked as a father, I was going to somehow transport myself into the movie and shoot him myself. Having the theme of family issues is fine, especially when the idea of law enforcement and service is thrown in, but it got way too overbearing. We get it, Jack. Thanks.

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But come on. There has to have some good stuff. Of course there was! The action in this movie is awesome. Cars go flying, buildings are torn to shreds, helicopters explode, guns, fists, knives, the works. This is where I felt best. It had the same over the top insanity that Live Free or Die Hard had. The sky’s the limit with this movie. I already talked about the bad dialogue, but there was also some really good dialogue in that cheesy, sarcastic Die Hard way. In fact, there’s one scene involving a particular hand gesture that I consider to be one of the funniest moments of the whole series. I feel like John McClane is back and better than ever, character wise. The last film made him seem like a fish out of water and nothing else. In A Good Day to Die Hard, he’s back in his element.

So yeah, A Good Day to Die Hard is definitely one of the weakest entries in the series, but I don’t consider it the weakest. That award goes to Die Hard 2: Die Harder. I’m sure there are many, many people who would disagree, and they can if they want to. I was a little disappointed with this movie, but not enough to make me hate it altogether. Don’t go into this expecting a fantastic entry into the series. Instead, just be happy to be part of another one of John McClane’s adventures.

Safe – Review

26 Oct

I know that I just reviewed a Jason Statham movie a couple of weeks ago, but I just watched Safe in its entirety, so it’s only fair that I give it a review. By this point in time, we all know what to expect going into a Statham movie. There’s going to be a lot of ass kicking, gun shooting, car chasing action from beginning to end. Can that be tedious? Absolutely. Especially since we have seen it a hundred times before. Safe is very familiar, but there are just enough properly executed elements that saved this film from falling into the realm of mediocrity.

Luke Wright (Jason Statham) is about as down on his luck as one can possibly get. He lost his wife, job, and practically his entire life, forcing him to spend his nights at homeless shelters. He’s about to end it all when he see a little girl, Mei (Catherine Chan), being chased by Russian gangsters. He saves her, and makes it his mission to protect her from not only the Russians, but the Chinese mafia and the police who all want the number that she has memorized.

Pretty straightforward stuff here. Statham is a good guy who has to protect an innocent person from a lot of bad guys. What I love here is that there are SO many people to worry about. Three different factions blocking these two characters in the city and closing in on them, all while at war against each other, makes for some high octane action that doesn’t let up. Once the ass kicking starts, it doesn’t quickly end. Not only is there a lot of action, but it’s memorable and, thankfully, not so shaky that I have no idea what’s happening. It has enough aesthetic effects to make it intense and still watchable.

 

Another star of this movie was the outstanding sound design. The gun shots, the car chases, and the fight scenes all had a “pop” that really made them more immersive. Sound is a very important aspect of an action film. Are you really going to have a good time with muted gunfire and punches that don’t even sound like they’re landing? Of course not. Action is meant to thrill, and sound is part of the equation. In this, Safe, easily blows a lot of other films in this genre out of the water.

Pretty much what I’m saying is that this film had a lot of surprises. Statham’s performance goes beyond what he usually gives with scenes of genuine emotion that actually do tug at the heart strings. Catherine Chan unfortunately doesn’t hold up too well all of the time, but that’s pretty understandable considering she’s a young girl in an off the wall crazy action movie. One more surprise is the excellent implementation of zooms and camera tricks. It isn’t too often that a movie of this kind properly uses these techniques without going overboard (ahem, Bad Boys II). There were times where I would think to myself, “Wow, this  scene looks fantastic.”

 

Safe is one of those movies where you don’t really expect much, but end up getting a lot more. It isn’t derivative, stupid, or unoriginal. Sure, we may have seen some of these plot points before, but this film pushed to make them into something new. Thankfully, it succeeds. I want to like every Statham movie that I watch, but this isn’t always the case. I can say that Safe is one of his best films to date.

TransSiberian – Review

8 Aug

I’ve had a few lame vacations, but none of them can compare to the nightmare that the couple in TransSiberian have to endure. The worst part is is that it is all because of their own mistakes and the fact that bad people possibly outweigh the good. This is an intriguing  and tight thriller that requires one viewing, but deserves multiple.

 

Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) are an American couple who are traveling from Beijing to Moscow via the Trans-Siberian Railway. Along their travels they meet another couple: Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara). There seems to be more lurking beneath the surface of these two, and when a Russian narcotics officer, Ilya Grinko (Sir Ben Kingsley) gets thrown into the mix a supposedly innocent trip turns into a violent game of cat and mouse filled with murder and deception.

As I was watching this movie, my mind kept going to Alfred Hitchcock’s film Strangers on a Train. That is because TransSiberian hearkens back to the golden age of thrillers before high tech espionage and intense car chases became the norm in movies of this genre. The thrills come from the characters, their decisions, and the consequences of these decision. I always found the volatile nature of humans and their extreme drive for self preservation to be more interesting than any CGI-fest or high octane action thriller.

The setting of this movie is almost as dangerous as the characters themselves. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the foreboding Russian tundra is just as much a character as Roy and Jessie. Not only the cold landscapes, but the broken down interiors, minus the inside of the train, just scream tetanus. It couldn’t have been a better setting for a movie such as this.

Thematically, TransSiberian explores the snowball effect of lies and the amount of trust that we should put in other people. All of the trouble caused in this movie stems from these two themes. Another interesting theme of the movie is that of the Russian legal system especially in poverty stricken areas and against foreigners. I was on a message board and there was a post that claimed this movie was strictly anti-Russian propaganda. Another poster argued that they were actually from Russia, and this film is an accurate depiction of the problems the country is facing. Kingsley’s character has an interesting dialogue on the differences between Soviet Russia and modern day Russia. He pretty much says that things have changed, but not necessarily for the better.

 

So the themes, characters, and setting are what really make this movie thrilling. I have a gripe about the story, however. I understand that, without giving too much away, a certain character is faced with a massive problem that is only made worse by lying, even though telling the truth probably would have made things go a little smoother. I can’t speak for the characters or what others would do in this situation. I’m not even sure about what I would do. Let’s just say there were times where I wanted to knock some sense into this character.

TransSiberian is a gripping thriller that would make any Hitchcock fan proud. There isn’t wall to wall action, steamy sex, or death defying stunts. What we have is an intelligent and well crafted thriller that is supported by its aesthetics and its characters and how the actors portrayed them. I didn’t know much about this movie when I watched it, but when it ended I felt fulfilled and ready to share it with other people.