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Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Retro Review: Hancock (2008)

Cast: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Eddie Marsden
Genre: Superhero Action
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $629 million 

Plot: Hancock is a superhero whose ill-conceived behaviour regularly causes damage in the millions. He changes when the person he saves helps him improve his public image

'A Wasted Opportunity' 

Hancock was directed by Peter Berg who was best known for playing Dr Billy Kronk on CBS's medical drama, Chicago Hope, & CBS's answer to E.R; he pumped out some not so good movies, Battleship, Very Bad Things and several Mark Wahlberg outings in Mile 22, Spencer Confidential, Deep Water Horizon.  

Stubbled superhero John Hancock is loathed by citizens in Los Angeles; fueled by booze and depressed, he jumps at the chance of turning his life around with the aid of PR consultant, Ray, who helps him in his redemption - only to further complicate matters when Hancock reunites/bumps into Mary, Ray's wife - and Hancock's ex-flame.  

The film also marked as Will Smith's first film of 2008, which was followed up by the much-maligned Seven Pounds that same year. Hancock is Smith's misbegotten would-be blockbuster and two movies that when combined, the end result is that it isn't very entertaining. A sub-version on the superhero action film as seen in the likes of Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment's offerings, Hancock, is sadly a huge disappointment; besides the main story being stale, Hancock is a mess and under a far more competent director, this would have been up there with other non-DC & Marvel comic book movies such as The Losers, Kingsman, Hellboy, The Crow, Mystery Men. The premise is dark, but the problem is it takes itself way too seriously with limp subplots and an utterly forgettable villain, in a bank robber played by Eddie Marsan, who never seems plausible, thus undercutting the film, and Hancock, himself, doesn't come across as a character one can root for. 

Frustrating, conflicting at times, with a story that doesn't convince and the film truly wastes the cast, most notably Will Smith, Jason Bateman and former Oscar winner, Charlize Theron in what is a poorly developed and written role as the wife and ex-love of Hancock. The latter acquits herself as Mary, but Mary, as a character, is mishandled and as such, her underutilization and misplaced role in the story only exacerbates matters. I'd prefer to have Mary over Ray as the secondary character to John Hancock. It is a letdown to see a good premise being wasted on a mediocre screenplay; with a hodgepodge of ideas, these don't come together on screen as I'd expected and as such, Hancock never has a good storyline for the film to follow through. Smith gives a somewhat stronger account here, playing not quite an against-type role in contrast to his usual good guys, but who is also not the bad guy, yet his character is difficult to pin down and identify. 

Hancock has had a troubled development (that it reportedly cost $150 million to produce) and though it is not as disastrous and awfully bad and the special effects are all right for a film of this type, one just wonders what a far better film this would have turned out with a more inviting, entertaining and witty script and a better director at the helm, say, Zack Snyder or somebody else, who truly knows what makes a superhero-based satire action movie work. 

In contrast to Will Smith's other so-called blockbuster flop, Wild Wild West, Hancock just doesn't know how to have fun in spades and to embrace and let loose its wacky side, as well as for the film to gel and with that, this is one of those movies wherein one would expect a whole lot more and better from this film and of the concept as well. It is a shame as I had considerable hopes this wasn't going to be as terrible as it is; it isn't to the extent to which I hated it, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed and underwhelmed. 

Final Verdict:

As I write this, it has been reported in June 2020 that Charlize Theron would be up for a sequel in Hancock and reuniting alongside Will Smith; I wouldn't mind this if it means a better script this time around, anyone, but for Peter Berg, who understands the action sci-fi genre well, and having both Theron and Smith as the lead stars.  

But insofar as 2008's Hancock is concerned, it just wasn't cracked up to be. 


Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Movie Review: Detroit (2017)

Cast: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, John Krasinski, Anthony Mackie 
Genre: Period Crime Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $24 million 

Plot: A civil unrest arises after the Detroit Police Department launches a raid on a group of African-Americans. The public anger reaches its peak as the officials respond with retribution than justice 

'Very Good Movie, Which Also Could've & Should've Been Greater'

Detroit begins on the night of Sunday, July 23, 1967 - one year before the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr by a sniper: a series of violent confrontations between the Detroit police and residents of predominately African American neighbours intensified, after a raid on an illegal party whereby 82 Blacks and several other people were arrested and interrogated at Algiers motel. Resultingly, nearby residents looted businesses and vandalised property and set arson to public property and buildings. The violence dispersed into other cities and resulted in further deaths, injuries and arrests & burned buildings. 

Whilst I found this film to be rather engrossing and suspenseful, I do feel as though that Katheryn Bigelow offers a much narrower version of events that are portrayed than I'd anticipated, as she treads a fine line between nuance and compelling. Which Bigelow does with Will Poulter, Algee Smith and Hannah Murray, yet, unfortunately, Detroit, through her dogmatic and often partisan direction, underplays John Boyega's character, which as good a performance as he gives here, alas, the ambiguously spurned Melvin Dismukes isn't afforded more screentime for Boyega to stamp his mark. 

I couldn't fault it in terms of keeping me glued to the screen as the nail-biting tension mounts up, scene after scene, and as impressive as Detroit attempts to be, this should have been a tale that was multifaceted and far broader in its development of the characters involved and of their eventual fates. In terms of being behind the camera, Bigelow never shies away from portraying the truth in a gritty, no-nonsense way that isn't dressed up and glamorised.  

Detroit is a good film, and an important one to watch and view in light of the murder of George Floyd and incidents of police brutality that have been the talking point of 2020, besides the Coronavirus; harrowing and powerful and conveying a bleakness that seeps through, yet I also couldn't help but wonder that as much as they focused on the characters, individually, there wasn't much depth in terms of how they were written. Performance-wise, it ranged from very good to great with Poulter, the standout. Sitting through the hallway scene as the helpless victims line up outside, as the bent cops shoot them one by one, was nail-biting. But after that, there were signs whereby with Detroit, I wouldn't say lost its footing completely, rather that momentum from the middle third wasn't sustained all the way through. & yet Bigelow's insistence to cover any further ground, besides the hallway scene and killings, was an opportunity that was being squandered. It just didn't provide much of a backstory surrounding the riots or the characters. The film descends into a SAW-like survival horror telling of events, through Bigelow's use of horror and thriller tropes to extract that psychological feel, which isn't something I have against. Though some will question the victimisation of the Black male characters and White female characters as being helpless and of whom exist as inconsequential, throwaway types, as well as the fact there is not a single lead African- American female character to be found during the entire film. 

It is, like I said, admirable... but when it comes to the characters themselves, it seemed like rather than this being an emotionally resonating character-driven piece, Detroit focused more on the story and the killings. I think with a drama with a story such as this and the issues such as systemic and institutionalised racism, of racial inequality, police brutality, of course, these things need to be highlighted. Yet it shouldn't also mean negating the characters as they are a vital piece of any story, be it film, TV and in any genre, which is why in that respect, with the writer and Kathryn Bigelow, it is a little disappointing that whilst the characters galvanise the story, it still feels there is so much more left that could have been done with them by fleshing them out further. 

Final Verdict: 

Besides that, this was still a really efficient film; better than 1990's haphazard and brazen mess, Blue Steel, but also not as thrilling as 1995's virtuoso effort, Strange Days. Yet, I wanted this to be far gritty, greater and better than it should have been. It can be argued that Bigelow's take on Detroit is both opportunistic and nihilistic, which this is, and doesn't fully present ways in which racism functions, and with that in particular, I could see to it why this film isn't to everyone's tastes and why they won't be and aren't enamoured by and for it.


Monday, 12 October 2020

Mini Retro Review: Taxi (2004) #badmovies

Action Comedy

Humourless, poorly casted, gags are unfunny, Taxi was a massive flop; a remake of the 1998 French film and one that was so successful it spawned 4 more movies. Written and produced by Luc Besson about a cop and a cab driver who, in this version, team up to bring down a group of female Brazilian bank robbers. Supposedly an action-comedy, the humour is non-existent with stunts and action propping up the movie. Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon, years before he became the host of The Tonight Show, are a total mismatch as a buddy pairing, it just didn't work. Most of it doesn't work, it's so inept, it is surprising it was penned by Besson himself. A laugh-free comedy, the misery ended after 40 mins when I stopped tuning in. 

Is It Worth Watching?



Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Retro Review: No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)

No Retreat, No Surrender aka Karate Tiger 
Cast: Kurt McKinney, Jean-Claude Van Damme, J.W Fails, Ron Pohnel, Peter 'Sugarfoot' Cunningham
Genre: Martial Arts
U.S Box Office Gross: over $4.6 million

Plot: A karate kid wannabe seeks a master to bring his skills to the next level to avenge his father, and finds it unexpectedly in the spirit of Bruce Lee 

'Hong Kong Karate Kid'

Seeing these films in reverse order, 1986's No Retreat, No Surrender, is the first film in the series, & thus is the conclusion to my critique of the No Retreat, No Surrender trilogy. 

The first No Retreat, No Surrender is in the vein of the Karate Kid: released two years after the hugely successful martial arts drama starring Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita, this action- drama was directed and penned by Corey Yuen-Kwai and is noted for being his first English-based film. 

After some bad guys threaten the father and threatening him to fight in a tournament, he gets injured and they end up closing the gym. His son, Jason summons the spirit of Bruce Lee, his hero, who teaches him Jeet Kune Do and it isn't long until he puts those skills to use to save his dojo, as well as friends from Ivan and his crew of cretins. 

Michael Jackson and breakdancing, this is a mish-mash of Breakin' with Karate Kid, with a bit of Rocky, some of the scenes are cringeworthy and the story is not very well developed or written, thus lacking in any depth. The fight scenes, however, looked pretty good, as I'd expected quality-wise, from a Hong Kong-based martial arts movie. The one at the end was good between Ivan and Jason, but too brief. When there wasn't a fight or martial arts scene, it was so drone-worthy and dull. It was comically bad. 

Far from resembling the tone and edginess of the No Retreat No Surrender: Blood Brothers and Raging Thunder instalments, the original No Retreat, No Surrender was more of the Z-grade Karate Kid with teen characters, namely the evil fat kid who eats a lot, a white kid was a nasty looking plaited ponytail, the young love interest and the Black kid, RJ with the Michael Jackson Jheri curl, who Jason befriends, and so-called comic relief types. There is even a Bruce-Lee poser, or be it actor passing off as Lee as inspiration for Kurt McKinny's character, Jason, which I found to be a little odd. Van Damme, who at the time was in only his third-major English language film - appears in only two scenes as Ivan, Jason's nemesis, including the end fight. Like Arnold Schwarzenneger in 1984's The Terminator, Van Damme made his big-screen breakthrough (somewhat) as the villain. The Jason character whines a good deal in this film, and as the main protagonist, is bereft of charm and dare I say it, likeability, although Kurt McKinney is passable in the role. 

The difference between Hong Kong produced martial arts flicks and those produced in America, is that the former focuses more on the action and less so the drama and story; most of the time, this works as the quality and quantity of action precedes over the poor or lacklustre narrative, other times this doesn't: No Retreat, No Surrender falls into the latter category as it descends into teen drama fare. Yuen-Kwai was probably influenced and impressed by The Karate Kid and wanted to capitalise on its popularity and success; unfortunately, No Retreat, No Surrender barely manages to scrape the barrel. 

The original NRNS is somewhat of a blip on Corey Yuen-Kwai, who is usually competent; his previous film before No Retreat No Surrender, the Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock- led, Yes Madam! was terrific fun, whilst She Shoots Straight, that came out in 1990, also had some amazing fight scenes and choreography. A hit-&-miss filmmaker when it comes to his American output (DOA: Dead or Alive, The Transporter), as well as some of his Hong Kong efforts (So Close), this can be glaring to see. 

In the last scene or two, Corey Yuen hands over the reins to Van Damme; with that it concludes on a strong note, saving the best 'till last as he adds some needed fire-power and fireworks to a one-dimensional story carried by a one-dimensional lead protagonist. 

The follow-up movies, were not continuations of the Jason/RJ/Jean-Claude Van Damme Russian bad guy storyline, thankfully, as they invest in some grit but retaining its upbeat-ish tone, thanks to Loren Avedon as the lead. The third had more weight, and for me, is my favourite out of the No Retreat series. Who knows how the No Retreat movies might have turned out, had Van Damme and Kurt McKinney reprised their roles; if anything, their omissions might have been what the No Retreat movies needed. Particularly as unlike the Kickboxer offerings, these films got better with each release. 

Final Verdict:

The extra mark is for the final fight; I will say that fights-wise and in terms of action choreography, this is a whole another level to The Karate Kid with better scenes and martial arts; this is a B-movie Karate Kid and No Retreat, No Surrender is better than say, Gymkata. Yet the story and levels of melodrama can be cumbersome to endure and it isn't great either. Personally, as a Karate Kid-type martial arts film, the first No Retreat is all right at best, but as an action martial arts film it isn't as well-executed.

Some might say it is worth tuning into for Jean-Claude Van Damme, but even as the antagonist, he is underused. 

One can skip this movie and watch the sequels. 


Monday, 5 October 2020

Retro Review: Hard To Kill (1990)

Hard to Kill
Cast: Steven Segal, Kelly LeBrock, William Sadler, Frederick Coffin
Genre: Action
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $59 Million  

Plot: Left for dead with his wife in their house, an L.A detective will have to make a quick recovery, expose those behind the murder & take revenge 

'Not Quite Hard To Endure, But Lacking In Edge'

Mason Storm is left for dead after he and his wife and kid are shot and killed by some goons, well, it is presumed that Mason is dead, when, in fact, he miraculously survives and awakens from a coma, 7 years after the attack. With the help of a nurse who aids him in his recovery, Mason goes out of his way to find the people, in some crooked cops and a corrupt politician, responsible and bring them to justice. Mason becomes a cop who is hard to kill, hence the title, a tough nut for the bad guys to crack, the cop of whom the villains can't outmuscle or defeat. Hard To Kill was Steven Segal's second major feature film, following on from 1988's Nico/Above The Law

The first half opens up with a vicious and riveting 20 mins or so, but then comes to middle third when the film begins to sag, as it goes down the lull route with the boring back-and-forth interplay between Kelly LeBrock and Segal dominating the film's proceedings and the action heating up in the final third - only to come to a sluggish end, - and one that was also a cop-out.

I was never big on Steven Segal, I mean, sure enough, he has the skills (Aikido to be more precise) and he is no slouch in the fight department, but as a movie star, an action movie star with screen presence and charisma, he just never wowed me and it just comes across in his performances that there was that vibe that looked brooding-yet bored and showing less enthusiasm. His movies also ranged from okay to half-decent to forgettable and bad direct-to-DVD showings. Under Siege is (arguably) the high point of his ever-fluctuating movie career.

There is something about Steven Segal in a fight scene, whereby he always gains the upper hand and rarely gets smacked or kicked around, which is what happens to Jackie Chan, Slyvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenneger, Jean-Claude Van Damme. His characters, or be it Segal himself, are so zoned in he would stroll through his roles by beating the hell out of them in a fight scene, with no fear, with sheer confidence, and his opponents have no way to counter-attack Segal. At times, it's entertaining to watch, other times this becomes aggravating this will bother many viewers. Of course, Mason gets killed earlier on, unlike so many of Segal's characters, but he comes back to life to exact his vengeance. 

The fight scenes themselves are at times, flashy looking, but nothing to behold, but rather basic as well and the action was done better elsewhere. Back in 1990 and in the early '90s, I would have been all right with Hard To Kill; If I saw this during the early 1990s, I wouldn't have thought too much about it, but in seeing this today in 2020, it underwhelmed. Hard To Kill is by-the-numbers as action films go and whilst there are 2 or 3 decent action sequences, the drab storyline, co-written by Segal also, and the pacing of it dragged and took up way too much time. The romance with Steven Segal and then-wife Kelly LeBrock was unconvincing as they had no onscreen chemistry, whatsoever, whilst her performance wasn't much to write home about, in fact, there weren't any real standouts. There wasn't even a proper toe-to-toe fight with William Sadler's meanie character; instead, that was reserved for Bruce Willis in Die Hard 2: Die Harder, released in the same year as Hard To Kill. & whilst these are two very different action films, both in terms of plot, story and main characters' motivations in going after the villain, Renny Harlin's Die Hard 2 reigned, big-time. 

Hard To Kill's final third, but for the limp ending, is worth sitting through, and it's a shame that the first half wasn't bad and yet the middle of the movie felt pretty lacklustre. Alas, the story was just so forgettable and so lethargic, you couldn't care when it tried to tell the story, & the action scenes were, well, for me, I expected a whole lot more and with more quality, but this just didn't transpire.  

Final Verdict

Hardcore and ardent Segal fans will get plenty of bang for their buck, but for everyone else, there are better action films out there that excel much more so than Hard To Kill. This is serviceable stuff, at best, otherwise, it's lacklustre but not as bad as his latter straight- to- DVD offerings. 


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