Monday, April 10, 2017

La Tortue Rouge (2016)



"La Tortue Rouge" (or "The Red Turtle") seems at first sight to be pretty much the same thing as the ambiental noise/music for stress relief/chillout moments. But as in the audio area there's a thin line here too between "effective" and "dry/boring"...

A man cast away on an island tries helplessly to leave it. Something destroys his raft over and over again. We find out that the "something" is a big red turtle, which ends up being his pair on the island. In actual human shape. That's the story.

The animation produced in co-operation with Studio Ghibli is silent, which contributes somehow to the effect mentioned above. And even if the Japanese side seems involved only in the technical area, the story has some specific fantasy elements as many other productions released by Myiazaki and co's studio. Not many, just as much as it needs. It's actually mostly about the turtle metamorphosis. From there, you can move beyond by yourself... If a turtle can be seen as a human being, maybe you can also see the island as an existence filled with issues that you want to get away of but you can't, maybe you can also see the escape route actually within the "island", maybe you can also see that staying on the "island" you can help others find a way out (light spoiler), and more metaphors like these... That's the strongest part of "Red Turtle", and sometimes it gets close to exceptional. The problem is that many times this is not that obvious, and trying to understand if there's something more complicated behind what you see on screen as something simple gets you lost...

Rating: 3 out of 5

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017)



In brief, the newest "Kong" is a nostalgic. But, surprisingly, that's not about an older "Kong"...

We have an island, we have the expedition, we have the blonde, we have the gorilla, but still the story is a new one (or I don't know all the old ones). The US government decides near the end of the Vietnam war to fund investigating a remote island in the South Pacific, an isolated ecosystem, which I guy who nobody believes claims it's populated with something... big, for which we need a military escort. And like that, we're gathering the dream team, and we fly with a choppers squadron, with a direct reference to "Apocalypse Now", towards the great unknown. Where Kong, troubled by the noisy guests, reduces them by half, leaving the other half to find a way out... But there is more than Kong on the island.

There are lots of references in this movie. It made me think on "Kelly's Heroes" looking at the army bunch, or on "Moby Dick" looking at the obsession of the one who leads it, or on "Indiana Jones" (I don't know why...), or on others. And it's nice. It's not a copy of any of these. And as I was saying it's not even a copy of another Kong: the purpose is not to capture the monkey. It's a survival movie who made me think mostly on "Jurassic Park". And if you've seen "Jurassic Park" in cinema when you were little, you know the feeling ;)... One more thing: the camera work is gorgeus. Too bad that the ending is I don't know... a bit too dry...

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Monday, March 27, 2017

Life (2017)



... is more about the opposite. Either I'm getting old, or the SciFi thriller genre is sometimes too extreme, sometimes too mild. Or both = I'm getting older and I prefer the mild version = "Passengers" let's say to an extreme one as we have in "Life".

Well... To be fair IMDb gives it clearly as: horror, but I didn't buy it from the trailer. Seems it is one indeed. At least 3 scenes are quite rough, long and very graphical. We have an unknown life form discovered on Mars, which follows the classical recipe: group killer, take them one by one, for the crew members of the International Space Station. Who change quickly their priorities from researching the alien to preventing it reaching Earth. Guess how this story ends?...

I expected something like "Alien", and this partially confirmed. Indeed, the story is quite similar. The problem is again about how is this brought on screen. It doesn't really work throwing around cliches (some a bit weird) about life, to build up like a gritty movie, and to fallback on campy horror from time to time ending it like this with the end credits entry. It's true that it offers a necessary tension relief, but something's not really right in all this... Clearly, the opposite way of build-up as a funny slasher, hitting you with some morals in the end, a la "Cabin in the Woods", has much more impact. There are also problems with the direction - here I've seen the weirdest ending twist construction. It's clear from the start how it will go on. That's why the question in the previous paragraph is rhetorical. But in the movie, when the time has come it sort of telling you that's it, then that it's not, that again it is... Oh well... Overall it was acceptable, but I'm still waiting for something on par with "Sunshine" or at least "Pandorum".

Rating: 3 out of 5

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Logan (2017)



There's a thin line between sensitive and tearjerking. And in "Logan" the line is crossed exactly when it shouldn't be... Actually I start to think it's something specific for Marvel, but in the end that's not the main problem here.

If you watch the trailer you'll sort of figure out the story. In a semi-dystopian future where we don't have many mutants left, Logan lives somewhere isolated taking care of an ailing Professor X. When a girl seems to show the same powers of extending retractable claws some not well-intended group of individuals want to get her. If you add to this what you might have heard = Hugh Jackman giving up on the role, there's no spoiler that Wolverine will die. I don't know how big of a spoiler is that others die too. A bit too many I would say. But that's also not the main problem here...

The problem is that James Mangold is an overrated director, although he wasn't for "Wolverine", which was actually almost bashed by critics. So I don't really get how the same guy was put in charge of the sequel. I'm sorry, but I don't agree with the general opinion that "Logan" is a small masterpiece. The directing is weak, the camera work is dull and even bad in some places (we have frame margins that are cut inappropriately), the script is... oh well... I don't know, but for me kids & violence don't get together when we have the amount of sheer roughness seen in "Logan". There's one thing what you see in "Kick-Ass" where everything should be taken lightly as a joke, there's one thing what you see in "Let the Right One In" (the Swedish version) where you have one gruesome scene in the end that's built over an entire context and has more meaning, there's one thing what you have in "Firestarter" or in "Looper" where the lack of control can be seen as problematic, and there's a totally different thing having a movie where an 11 years old child cuts heads or slashes people more than enough to kill them each 30 minutes, because that's how we get rid of the bad people and "excess violence sells". I can agree with that for a generic action movie, but not when the violence is produced by children and made to seem required. Spoiler: Even more, the attempt to "sentimentally" tune the ending after the final carnage is ridiculous...

It's true that I never really liked the X-Men series, but considering the ratings and even the trailer setting the story in a grim future I had some hopes. All I can say more is too bad for the semi-dystopian context that almost went unused...

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Saturday, March 11, 2017

John Wick 2 (2017)




There are few sequels who grow beyond the original. "T2: Judgment Day" and "Aliens" are two examples that just crossed my mind (no connection with having the same director). However, I don't seem able to find something to be at least two classes better than the first part... except "John Wick 2".

I wrote around a year and a half ago an entry about what I still believe to be one of the most stupid action movies released this decade, in total contradiction with the praise it got at the time (which tuned down a bit a while after). It seemed so bad then that 1) it was really hard to decide on watching the second part and 2) while watching the second part it was really hard to convince myself that I'm not losing time. I was effectively trying to find reasons to confirm my expectations that I'm watching yet another movie with a rating artificially inflated on every movie site. Well, it's not perfect but, they learned ... I don't know how since there were not many complaints on the first movie being bad, but they did. And the director is the same stuntman who didn't direct anything up to JW1, and the writer is the same guy who up to JW1 only wrote a couple scripts for bad B-series movies.

The story stays really simple. And still a bit more complex than last time = I. John Wick is brought back in the assassin business by an old debt that he has to pay, which he doesn't want to but "the rules demand it" and II. "The rules" do not exclude that after paying the debt to "pay" something extra. Well, it might not seem much, but we have an action line that moves between I and II and is more consistent than a linear revenge story in a stupid context that we had in the first movie. But the part that really matters in JW2 and brings it well beyond the first movie is not the story...

... It's the way the story is staged. We have an example here on how you can get maximum out of a simple subject, a violent one, without much to say. The dialogue is delivered sometimes in short lines, thoughtful, with pauses, which say little enough to keep just enough out of the ridiculous cliche area of the first movie but still have punchline effect, and overall it seems the movie's much more aware of not taking itself too seriously. The camera work gains a lot from locating the action in Italy, but leaving that aside we have some exceptionally composed frames, and a scene towards the end that seems slightly referring the classic "mirror fight" of Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon". The soundtrack is built upon a simple theme that fits perfectly with the action. Even the fights choreography seems much less exaggerated compared to the first movie. There are plenty technical nuances which bring value to what we see here. Or to put it shortly, you could say that it "finally has style". Remains to be seen in JW3 if it keeps it or this was just a fortunate accident ( yes, well, I'm still not convinced :) )...

Rating: 4 out of 5