Friday, 27 December 2013

Triage

Colin Farrell stars as a war photojournalist Mark Walsh who bears the hidden scars of war on his return to Dublin after an assignment in Iraqi Kurdistan during Saddam Hussein’s reign. Written and directed by Danis Tanovic, Triage is a psychological war drama about Mark returning home from the 1988 Anfal Genocide against the Kurdish people. However the problem is he came back without his colleague and best friend David (Jamie Sives). Mark’s wife Elana (Paz Vega) tries to discover the truth but as she explores the mystery of David he discovers the haunted past of Mark. A man savagely traumatized by war that left him gaunt, unable to relax and uncertain about what really happened. From returning in one of the most dangerous and unforgiving locations on Earth, Mark returns from his assignment a different man and is now tormented by a mystery that only him, Elana and her grandfather Joaquín Morales (Christopher Lee) a veteran psychoanalyst can uncover.
In one of the bloodiest wars with and conditions so awful that the Kurdish doctor Dr. Talzani (Branko Djuric) had to result into mercy killings to euthanize any rebel soldiers that are far gone beyond treatment. As Mark returns home he vainly tries to hide the physical wounds but the psychological damage of post-traumatic stress can be visibly seen by his withdrawn attitude. A changed man Mark returns to his wife with nightmares emotionally disconnected and a feeling of intense distress when trying to remember what happened. When questions are asked about what happened Mark simply inability can’t remember the important aspects of what happened.  Or perhaps he just doesn’t want to remember? Elana knows the only person that can empathize with Mark is her estranged grandfather, a psychoanalyst who treated the Fascists after they had committed atrocities in the Spanish Civil War.
Farrell convincingly portrays a man wrecked by grief and guilt. A man that devoted his life into being a war photojournalist is now for some reason running away from it all. As we follow Mark on this journey we begin to explore the idea that Mark is running away from the guilt. But through Mark’s futile efforts of trying to block out what happened, we begin to see a volatile state of the mind. Triage addresses the arbitrariness of war and the brutal nature of war reporting. With Mark it seemed to be his duty to take pictures of the horror this side of the world consists of. That it was his moral responsibility and duty that fuelled his ambition to get closer and closer to the front line which eventually killed him. Not physically but mentally.
This psychological war, mystery drama is a raw look into the peril of war journalism. There is nothing more powerful than a war photojournalist’s photograph that captures the entire intensity of an atmosphere, and sums up the entire war. Just like the soldiers or rebels in the front lines they are also in the firing lines of bullets, shrapnel and death. When they come home they are all scarred by psychological wounds. Danis Tanovic beautifully captures and sums up the perils of physical harm and the danger of psychological damage in Triage.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Land Of The Dead

The key to a good zombie movie is making it into a George A Romero zombie movie. The man who created the genre is the icon and he is the trademark to the theme.  Just like other Romero zombie films, his standard of work levels to great story telling, beautiful gore and a showcase of a brilliant journey of survival. Like most of Romero films there is always something self-reflective on the perception of what would civilization might do or become if zombies ever took over. In a world where the dead is going to or already has taken over and now the humans are the minority. The real threat is not the zombies but rather people. The key to a good post-apocalyptic genre is taking humanity into extraordinary circumstances and creating a far greater threat than the strange conditions of the surroundings. George always captures the human element of pushing humanity to the brink of insanity. With this it is always the human element that becomes the greatest threat for the survivors.
Land Of The Dead is set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where the zombie infestation has overrun the living. Now the remaining surviving population live in fenced and protected cities. An administration has now become a self-styled government where the population is split between a ruling class, led by the arrogant Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) and the underclass who struggle in the streets. As our protagonist Riley Denbo (Simon Baker) is looking to head north where there are no people or zombies, his second in command Colo (John Leguizamo) looks to live in the ivory tower with the big shots. However a deal between Cholo and Kaufman turns ugly, which results in Cholo stealing a heavily armed zombie-fighting truck called “Dead Reckoning” and demands his money or else he’ll blow up the corrupt city. Riley is sent to stop Cholo and steal back the armoured truck but he has other plans.
The primary focus of Land Of The Dead is the films distinction between the wealthy and the poor. When the rich live in the lavish tower of Fiddler’s Green the poor live in the slums. This is Romero’s political drive into the film that shows the rising gap between the rich and poor in the United States and possibly the rest of the world. As poor get poorer and rich get richer we begin to see a rising rebellion in the slums by the lower class. Rather than creating a segregated social class based on wealth they would overthrow the upper class and create a more mutual government to benefit everyone. Seems that Romero created a social unrest and unease between the rich and poor in Land Of The Dead, alluding to the audience that if the zombies don’t take over, it seems that a civil war will eventual occur.
One of the sub-focus of Land Of The Dead is the city and how it tries to go on as if nothing has happened. That their city is the centre of the world and beyond their electric fence and high walls is a world that does not exist. The new government run by profiteers, bankers and stockholders has made the city believe that nothing is happening outside of its borders. They profit from capturing zombies and using them for amusement, gambling and target practice. Riley dislikes the cold concrete artificiality and wants to live somewhere with no high walls and electric fences. Rather than hunting down zombies and killing them he sees them as just another predator. Rather than slaughtering them it’s better to just accept them and try to move on. This empathetic characteristic of Riley makes for a likeable protagonist and believable hero.
This is the fourth of Romero's six Living Dead movies with Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2010).  What makes Land Of The Dead so different from the rest is the production value. Like the others Romero prefers to use a tighter budget and smaller crew to work with. While the 1968 release is known to be classic and is usually the series favourite. Land Of The Dead’s fascinating insight into the apocalyptic world of segregated social class of capitalism VS socialism makes this dead movie my personal favourite of the series.


Monday, 23 December 2013

Eastern Promises

Eastern Promises bears the trademark of a beautifully gritty, violent and psychological gangster drama set in London. East Promises is a compelling crime story about the Russian Mafia and the underworld movement of human trafficking, murder and the portrayal of a distant foreign culture that brings with it its ruthless heritage. Director David Cronenberg presents London in a whole new dark light where Russian mobsters silt throats with straight razors or wield linoleum knives. This is a gangster movie with no guns, simply knives, that gives Eastern Promises that rogue, shadowy atmospheric take on the genre.  
A Russian teenager living in London dies during childbirth, leaving only her diary behind as the only clue to whom she was. Half Russian Midwife Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts) sets out to undercover the girls origins. The diary leads Anna to an extravagant Russian Trans-Siberia restaurant with an over welcoming old man Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl). However this lavish restaurant and charming old man is all a front for the brutal Russian Mafia Vory Z Zakone brotherhood, with his oldest son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) and driver Nikolai Luzhin (Viggo Mortensen) as lead henchmen of the family.
Eastern Promises is not only a fantastic take on the gangster genre but a fascinating gateway into the Russian mafia and the Vory Z Zakone subculture of their tattoos. The film shows the secret language of the criminal underworld Vory tattoos “The Code of Thieves” and how these tattoos are not only symbols of who they are and what they’ve done, but also an indication of their rank within the criminal world. Stars on the shoulder declare the rank as a Thief and on the kneecaps stand for “I won’t fall to my knees before the authorities”. Daggers are the calling card of a man who kills for money. Cupolas on churches show the number of years the convicts have served in prison. Just like in the army, the military style epaulet on the shoulder represents the individuals’ high ranking profile in the Mafia. To these men the stars on the shoulders are not only a symbol that they will bow down to know man but a birthmark to the life they have chosen to take.
Just like his other films, Cronenberg's trademark of violence creeps its way into Eastern Promises with a graphically violent fight scene in a Turkish bath where two Chechen men are wielding linoleum knives. The choice to focus the primary weapon with knives rather than guns gives a more brutal and terrifying atmosphere. It’s a purely psychological feeling knowing that someone would have to be up close to kill you and the last person you would see is the stabber. In an interview Cronenberg said “We have no guns in this movie. There were no guns in the script. The choice of those curved knives we use in the steam bath was mine. They're not some kind of exotic Turkish knive, they're linoleum knives. I felt that these guys could walk around in the streets with these knives, and if they were ever caught, they could say 'we're linoleum cutters”.
David Cronenberg triumphs once again with gripping us with not only the violence but the culture of the criminal world just like in A History of Violence (2005). Showcasing Viggo Mortensen's once again, his prowess in a daring performance as the hitman driver and clean up guy Nikolai Luzhin goes far beyond as the heavily-tattooed cold hearted killer. Mortensen personal saw to it that the tattoos he wore were accurate for the character he played. He even studied Russian gangsters and their tattoos and even spending time with a Russian Mafia specialist. This unquestionable dedication resulted in Mortensen being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor at the 80th Academy Awards, and rightfully so.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Universal Soldier

Directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, Universal Soldier is the first of the franchise that started in 1992. First set in 1969 during the Vietnam War. An American special forces has received orders to secure a village against the Viet Cong. Luc (Jean Claude) discovers that Sergeant Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) has gone insane and has massacred the villagers, killed his own unit and kept their severed ears as trophies. With Luc only wanting to go home but Scott wanting to kill, the two end up killing each other. The two are reanimated in a secret Army project along with other dead soldiers. Twenty-five years later and not having aged a day, the two have become android fighting machines called UniSols and are back in action. However the secret government test begins to show cracks. With their memories supposed to be erased, the UniSols begin having violent flashbacks. As Luc slowly remembers who he was, Scott slowly descends back into madness and still thinks he is in 1969 and fighting the Viet Cong enemy.
An entertaining and exciting action and Sci-Fi flick, at the time of its release back in 1992, Universal Soldier was a box office hit and today has a cult following. No surprise there, with a well-crafted narrative, some pretty intense violence with a dab of gore, awesome looking costumes and most importantly a superb final fight. Even though the film was panned by critics and dubbed as Terminator 2 clone. It is still regarded as one of the best 90’s Sci-FI relics and the most memorable Jean Claude Van Damme film. Roland Emmerich gives the movie a mucho and energetic atmosphere which is usually expected in a Jean Claude movie.
Even though the movie is from the early 90’s and like most 90’s film the special effects and graphics were pretty dismal. However Irvin Kershner’s Robocop 2 (1990) was one of the first films to use a real-time computer graphics or "digital puppetry" to create a character in a motion picture. In 1991 James Cameron Terminator 2: Judgment Day was the first film to create a realistic human movement using CGI. It was the first film to have its main character partially computer-generated and the first blockbuster to feature multiple morphing effects. It was even the first major movie with 3D effects. I’m not saying that Universal Soldier is up there as one of the best special effect movies, however the effects and graphics are still pretty impressive and the film itself has aged well and is still watchable.
The best way to sum up Universal Soldier is “The Muscles from Brussels VS The Swedish Giant Lundgren both having superhuman strength”.  One of the best chase scenes is between a prison bus and the armoured UniSols truck. A bus VS a truck along the narrow desert roads, on the edge of canyons with deep precipices makes for a thrilling chase scene. You just know that as the vehicles climbs higher up the cliffs, speed increases and the driving becomes more erratic, there is going to be an obligatory climatic ending of one of the vehicles driving off the edge, rolling into the gorge and bursting into flames.
An action movie with loads of bullets fired into buildings and cars, headshots, eyeshot and faceshots. This is pretty much the key origins into making a good action film. The Sci-Fi elements comes with the enhancing drugs, the futurist weapons, technology the UniSols have and let’s not forget the armoured UniSols truck they are cruising in. If you’re looking for a good old fashioned action Sci-Fi film, bringing back the memories of the good old 90’s with guys in super tight tank tops, then Universal Soldier is the film to watch.


Friday, 13 December 2013

Conspiracy

This BBC and HBO dramatized television film delves into the psychology of the top Nazi officials of the 1942 Wannsee Conference. The purpose of the conference was to ensure cooperation of administrative leaders of various government departments in the implementation of the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" during World War II. Lead by SS-General Reinhard Heydrich (Kenneth Branagh) and Adolf Eichmann (Stanley Tucci), this group of high ranking military officers and prominent state officials would come to the decision of exterminating the Jews of Europe. Directed Frank Pierson, Conspiracy shows the fascinating and horrifying phase where the Final Solution formed from a harmless word and became the camouflage for the killings of the Holocaust.
As the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1942 had come to a standstill the Wehrmacht turned to Moscow. The Red Amy fiercely resisted and the severe winter weather brought the unstoppable German Wehrmacht's advance to a halt. Now that the US has entered the war it seemed that Adolf Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich was very much in doubt. For the first time in the Reich, defeat was a possibility. However in the midst of defeat, The Nazi’s agenda to immigrate the Jews had turned to exterminating them. In the beautiful and a luxurious mansion in Wansee just outside of Berlin, facing the Greater Wannsee Lake, fifteen ranking members from all areas of the Nazi government are brought together under one extravagant roof. One of the most shockingly horrifying factors is the precise professionalism of the manner these desk murderers would act. While the soldiers, economists, administrators and lawyers would discuss genocide smoking affluent cigars, the servants of the villa would cook their fine meals and pour their brandy. In a place of such beauty and hierarchy, it is a shame that the most horrific and shameful episode of human history would be made.
The constant feeling of disbelief seems to keep unfolding more incredulity as the conference looks so much like a boardroom meeting.  While men in suits and uniforms talk about genocide, wine and caviar is served to these officials. As the question moves from immigration to extermination, the guilty look of Heydrich and the remorselessness of Eichmann fill the room with the haunting talk of gas chambers is brought up. They both mathematically sum up how to kill an entire race as if they were calculating gross profit margins. There are many facets of evil in Conspiracy, Wilhelm Stuckart (Colin Firth) is only respectable characters in the conference. Even though he created the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws, he opposed the idea of mass murder and showed courage, but it all fell on deaf ears.
Conspiracy is certainly another provoking television drama film that gives a fascinating and enhanced insight into the minds of the most evil men on earth. Just like Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Downfall (2004) that shows the final days of Adolf Hitler in his bunker, the absorbing narrative shows how the most powerful men are blinded by their ideology. The ending is one of the most disturbing conclusions that showed these men all walking free. The final act of Heydrich is him admiring the mansion which he desired to own after the war.  Conspiracy shows that even though these men were killed during the war or trailed at the Nuremberg trials, to bitter end, these men thought it was their national duty not just for the Reich but for the world to commit these crimes. That even facing trial and execution they had no remorse or guilt for their crimes against humanity


Monday, 9 December 2013

Coward

Coward is a moving short film war drama based on the tale of two cousins that leave the countryside of Ireland to fight in the First World War. In the brutally cold and unforgiving trench warfare of the battlegrounds of Ypres in Belgium 1917, two boyhood friends set out to find adventure. Instead they are victim to enemy fire by inner chauvinisms, politics and eventual discriminations of the British Army.  
What makes Coward such a gripping short film is not just the action and violence it brings for the action junkies. It is the raw human nature that is lost with our protagonist Andrew (Martin McCann). The moral ambiguity or ambivalence is shaken to the core and the loss of innocence is always the first casualty. Even though he has been in many battles, it only takes one moment in one conflict to break the spirit of a soldier. Even after battles that are won or lost, there are no true winners in war. In the end, it is the dead that will see the end of war and for those who survived will be haunted.
Coward focuses its narrative drive in a time when soldiers were seen as deserters, cowards and disobedient. For the act of such cowardice, they were put on trial and even executed. At the time where psychological injury was unknown, Andrew’s journey was seen as a voyage to pusillanimity and loss of honour. In reality our protagonist’s sanity is pushed to the point of no return, as his innocence is stripped away from him; even though, in the eyes of his officers, he seemed an abled body. Sadly his mind was the victim of shellshock. The stresses of trench warfare and his position repeatedly shelled caused a mental break down, that left our Irish soldiers lost. His fragile heart and innocent soul was broken by too much combat, death, devastation and to whoever saw this young man now, was not the same. 
With a compelling narrative and touching story, director Dave Roddham had certainly made a powerful war film. It is no surprise when he has worked as special effects technician for both Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998) and War Horse (2011). Its solid performance from a great cast, a subject that focuses on the untold stories of the horrors of WW1, gives Coward a tragically dark and thrilling short independent film.





Thursday, 5 December 2013

Unleashed

Unleashed is a hard core martial arts action thriller with hints of an empathetic drama about an enslaved man called Danny (Jet Li) set in Glasgow. Under the control of a malicious loan shark Bart (Bob Hoskins) his secret weapon is mentally controlling Danny by unleashing a metal collar around his neck that results in a violent beating. However when the collar is back on, Danny is a harmless, withdrawn individual with little knowledge of the world around him. Enslaved from childhood Danny is raised and treated like a human attack dog. Growing up in a world of violence and brutality Danny escapes his captors and is saved by a blind piano tuner Sam (Morgan Freeman) and starts a new life.
One of the noticeable aspects that you can’t but notice with Li or anyone with English not being their native language is the accent. From the nameless assassin in Yimou Zhang’s Hero (2002) to depicting the life of Huo Yuanjia in Ronny Yu’s Fearless (2006) his deep firm voice can be as intimidating as his swordsmanship skills. However in his English speaking films like Andrzej Bartkowiak’s Romeo Must Die (2000) or James Wong’s The One (2001) no matter how skilled of a fighter he may be, his high pitched accent would at times ruin the illusion. In Unleashed Li worked with little dialogue not because of his accent but rather a more gripping way to portray Danny as a vulnerable, introverted, recluse. However, when unchaining Danny it sheds a different perception of our charmingly awkward hermit.  We see the brutal ferocity, kicking, pounding, screaming and eye gouging skilled maniac.
Jet Li’s fighting technique is a cross between, Judo, Wushu, Kung Fu and a whole lot of ass kicking! Releasing Danny is a perfect metaphor for unleashing the carnage and grittily raw and hard core violence. However it is not all savage beatings and fist pumping mayhem. Danny’s character arc that unfolds is a touching story of a savage beast that slowly reclaims his humanity. From the very beginning we see a ravaged man unleash his brutality with electrifying energy and overall madness. But the brutal warrior is not just an insane fighter but rather a skilled warrior that can get out of any situation. Using his environment to his advantage, Danny’s parkour skills are unquestionable and a fine example of the parkour philosophy, which is seen as freedom of expression in controlled environments. Using only his body and the surroundings, Danny propels his body with such momentum that he can jump from room to room and building to building. Playing a cat and mouse game with his pursuers. Almost like a typical Jackie Chan movie.
Unleashed shows us that by fusing Asian martial arts and Western action films together that the outcome is an experience that both martial art fans and action junkies would be pleased with. It has all the martial arts elements with our Chinese film actor and Wushu champion Jet Li, in a film written by Luc Besson who directed fantastic action films like Léon: The Professional (1994) and The Fifth Element (1997). The core to the film is the fighting choreography by Yeun Wo-ping, that gave Unleashed that important Kung Fu atmosphere of kicks, twists and improvisations.
The combination of having a writer with a history of well received action films working alongside a hero from a martial arts background, and also with the phenomenal choreography, it makes for a beautiful amalgamation of Western action films and the Far East martial arts traditions and techniques, all in a single film. Its compassionate drama gives a raw atmosphere for a good story plot, however the story does tend to get in the way of just wanting to see Jet Li kick some ass and pull off some insane parkour skills.


Monday, 2 December 2013

The Punisher

When an illegal arms deal results in a sting operation by the FBI and the unpredicted death of a powerful corrupt businessman’s son. Former U.S. Army Delta Force operator and now retired undercover FBI agent Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) thinks his days of violence and action are over and can now return to his family. However money launderer Tampa crime boss and villain Howard Saint (John Travolta) infuriated by the death of his youngest son orders a hit on not only Castle but his entire family to "settle the score". A family reunion at Castle’s father's seaside home in Aguadilla Bay, Puerto Rico ends in bloodshed. After cheating death Frank Castle is no more, he is now the vigilante assassin The Punisher. Now out of the shadows, Castle unleashes a vengeful barrage of destruction to the man that killed his family.
Director Jonathan Hensleigh takes the Marvel Comic to the big screen with only a $33 million budget from the studio when most action movies get higher budget of $64 million. With only fifty five days of filming and most of the tight budget going on an even tighter shooting schedule, after some rewrites to the script I’m surprised that this comic book vigilante film managed to pull it off. It certainly is not on the list of best films based on Marvel Comics, however it definitely is not worse than Sam Raimi‘s Spider 3 (2007). From comic book to film, Punisher is your typical action film of a hero out for revenge but discovers that his second chance was not gift for vengeance but a greater purpose. In situations when the law is inadequate and fails to provide justice, it is his obligation to act outside the law. That those who harm others will soon learn fear and be punished, by The Punisher.
Thomas Jane convincingly does portray our hard bodied vigilante well and brings the printed hero alive from the Marvel pages to the cinema screen. However it was no surprise that the villain Travolta took the spotlight. After his role as Vincent Vega in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) that revitalized his career and his performance as the psychotic maniac villain Castor Troy in John Woo’s Face/Off (1997) it is nice to see him play a  brutally cold and straightforward gangster. His menacing stone cold face with often bursts of rage gives a very believable performance of a convincing mobster. Unfortunately, even with such a good hero and an even better villain the final showdown between Jane and Travolta was pretty disappointingly quick and somewhat uneventful; considering the fact that it was the last boss fight. However the viciously raw fight scene between Castle and a big blonde brute named “The Russian” is definitely eventful. For a Marvel Comic to Marvel film, the final verdict would be that The Punisher is a low budget average action revenge film but is carried by a good performance by both hero and villain