The supreme silliness of Jung_E

jung1Jung_E, Dir. Yeon Sang-ho, 2023, 98 mins, Netflix

I ended up writing a far too-lengthy post for Jung_E and while this edited version is still rather long I assure you that what you’re reading here is the abbreviated version. Sometimes its too easy to go on a long wild rant regards what is wrong with a film, and sometimes I have to wonder is it worth my time venting about bad films, or your time reading it? That’s if anyone really reads my rambling but hey, that’s by the by and not why I write it anyway, but editing never hurt anyone unless you’re Ridley Scott and your film is Kingdom of Heaven, so suffice to say this film is pretty poor, really, and a big disappointment with its “from the director of Train to Busan!” tagline.

Lets start with the good- Kim Hyun-joo, who plays titular protagonist Jung_E (as well as Captain Yun Jung-yi, which we’ll get to later) is really very good- an actress accomplished at the physical side of acting in the stunts and action sequences, but also very good at emoting in the character moments and giving the film a weight it doesn’t really deserve. If the film had just focused on her it would have been much better, but again, we’ll get into its lack of focus later.  She really is great, and… well, the film looks pretty for a fairly low-budget sci-fi, costing less than an average episode of Westworld or House of the Dragon, apparently. The sets are limited but the CGI is largely quite effective.

As for why the film proves to be so bad, well…

Funnily enough, that all starts with the films very beginning, with a lengthy information-dump in text describing the state of the 22nd Century Earth that has been rendered inhabitable by climate change, with humanity living in huge orbital habitats threatened by a lengthy civil war, but in curiously all of that proves entirely incidental to the plot. We don’t see anything of those opposing forces or how the war is going, anything of those orbital habitats. The film would function just fine without being told about any of it, and once we get outside of the city later in the film, the natural world looks okay and rather surprisingly recovered (indeed, a curious reminder of the daft theatrical ending of Blade Runner back in 1982).

It is so nonsensical. This is one of those daft sci-fi flicks that aims for some kind of sophistication and falls far short; its really nowhere near as clever as it seems to think it is. Contrary to the apocalyptic state the world is apparently in, there seems to be an endless supply of power and resources available; there’s no starving millions for example, which increasingly suggests that the premise has been ill-thought out. We are led to believe the war has been going on for more than thirty years, which probably makes it a wonder anyone is still around at all.

As for the plot… well it is similarly ill thought-out, and woefully convoluted.  Jung_E  is a robot programmed with a cyber brain copying the intellect, memories and character of ‘star’ fighter Captain Yun Jung-yi  who was killed in a battle thirty years prior and is now stored in a coma, from which her brain-patterns (or some such nonsense) are downloaded into the robot simulacra Jung_E. Jung_E thinks she is Captain Yun Jung-yi  and thinks the battle happened yesterday, unaware that she is no longer human: repeatedly she is put into trial simulations reliving her last battle, found wanting when she dies in each one, and disposed of, replaced with another model and trialled again. The reasoning seems to be if she can beat this simulation of her last battle then she’s a winner and they can put her on the production line.

Where the film gets side-tracked is that it is Captain Yun Jung-yi’s daughter, Seoyhun (played by Kang Soo-yeon, who sadly passed away before this film was released), a child when Jung-yi died/was put into a coma, who is the (now-adult, thirty years have passed, remember) scientist who is in charge of the project to turn her mother into a production line of robot warriors. There’s all sorts of mother-daughter relationship hysterics, the daughter emotionally damaged, angry at her mother deserting her as a child, presumably guilty over what she is now doing, while the unaware mother still seems to think her daughter is a child back home and desperate to get back to her.

Its all very busy with coincidences and complications that add little to the plot. Just think for one moment though- had the scientist not been her daughter, and the film itself focused more upon Jung_E questioning her identity, humanity and purpose (essentially the very cyberpunk idea that her personality/memories/skills are reduced to just intellectual property owned by a military corporation), wouldn’t that have been a much better, tighter-focused film? The child daughter left behind at home thirty years ago could still have been an interesting twist, when Jung_E learned that thirty years had indeed passed and her daughter was orphaned and is now an adult.

But here perhaps I’m giving the narrative more thought and consideration than did the films director, Yeon Sang-ho; as well as directing this film he also wrote it, and it is clearly one of those ‘director’s vision’ projects that suggests most directors should steer clear of the actual writing (if only someone would tell James Cameron he can’t write dialogue).

The weird thing is, I can imagine this thing being remade by Hollywood with a much simpler plot and starring Charlize Theron or somebody. I’d suggest Scarlett Johansson, but she’s already starred in that movie, it was called Ghost in the Shell, and thats the biggest failure of Jung_E; its all been done before, and better.

The Weekly Summary #4

wingsd2A more productive week this week (if you can calling watching films and tv shows productive). No discs though, funnily enough- it was all streaming or films recorded off  broadcast channels. Sign of the times re: physical media or just me consciously steering away from those noir boxsets to shake things up?

Three Pines, TV series (Season One, 8 Episodes, 2022), Episodes 7-8 – Amazon Prime

13. D.O.A. (1948)

14. Kansas City Confidential (1952) – Amazon Prime

Unforgiven (1992)

15. Wings of Desire (1987)

16. Jung_E (2023) – Netflix

17. Narvik: Hitler’s First Defeat (2022) – Netflix

Jack Ryan (Season Two, 8 Episodes, 2019), Episodes 1 – 8, Amazon Prime

Attentive readers may note that I finished season two of Jack Ryan following yesterday’s post reviewing episodes 1 – 4. Yeah, I watched the final four episodes yesterday, staying up late last night for the final two. You know a show is good when you suggest staying up for one more episode and then even later for another. Binge-watching… reminds me of one Easter many years ago when I’d bought the DVD boxset (well, I did say many years ago) of season one of 24 and we wound up binge-watching the entire box of twenty-four episodes over the single weekend. In my defence, I will point out it wasn’t a rewatch, I’d not watched any of the show during its network airing so was merely catching-up on a well-regarded show that I’d missed. But anyway, that was my first experience of binge-watching, something that has largely come into its own with the rise of Netflix and other streamers which happily ‘dump’ entire seasons of new shows all at once. I still prefer the old-fashioned method of weekly drops, such as what Amazon did with Rings of Power a few months back, and The Expanse before it- I like the anticipation of looking forward to the next week’s instalment, and discussing it with colleagues at work or online. A social side to what is essentially a very solitary experience, of sitting down and watching something on a television.

So anyway, season two of Jack Ryan is very good, better than the first season I think and regards that second season in particular, the final four episodes were better than those first four- I really enjoyed how the script-writers brought all the various character arcs to their conclusion, and brought the seperate plot threads together in a very satisfying way. It may not have been ground-breaking or particularly extraordinary, but it was very well done and I always like a well-structured narrative with good character arcs. Its a very solid show and I look forward to watching season three.

A word regards my methodology with these weekly summaries- I’ve resumed counting ‘new’ films (those films I haven’t seen before, many of which are hardly new to most people) which is why some films have a numerical count against them and others don’t, and I’m also not counting TV shows. I didn’t keep any count at all last year and while I’ve not got a target at all regards an annual total, I’d just like to keep track for curiosities sake.

So now to my weekly summary of best and worst of the ‘new’ stuff. Well, best of the week is Wings of Desire, which I finally got to watch after all these years. To be frank, it didn’t blow me away, and its ‘best of the week’ status is more a reflection of the others, I guess. Wings of Desire is a film I likely need to watch again; its more of a tone-poem than a regular film, and while I’ve nothing against that (hey, I really like Terrence Mallick films after all) it did, I suspect, mean that its probably a grower. I also recorded it off a television airing on a commercial channel which meant I had to fast-forward through commercial breaks and that’s never the best way to watch a film, especially one like this one which establishes a mood and dreamlike space only for it to be broken every fifteen-twenty minutes. Back in the day, this was the way we tended to watch so many films but its really not ideal.

Worst of the month was Jung_E, a major disappointment considering that director Sang-ho Yeon previously made the excellent Train to Busan. I’ll get to posting a review shortly, so I’ll not go into it a great deal here, but my goodness it was stupid. Is there anything worse than stupid sci-fi? This was like one of those silly 1960s sci-fi b-movies I used to cringe at growing up, albeit with a bigger budget. I thought the genre had grown up out of that nonsense but apparently not.

So anyway, regards next week, I really have no idea. Maybe I’ll crack on with Jack Ryan season three (or maybe I’ll take a break); one film on my radar is Sergio Sollima’s 1973 Italian crime drama Revolver, starring Oliver Reed, which may seem a little obscure but I believe is well-regarded (I recall a Blu-ray release from Eureka last year) and which I’ve noticed is on Amazon Prime. Other than that, who knows? Other than reviews, I feel a rant about cinema prices coming on –  I haven’t been to a cinema since I saw Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, and while I wasn’t actually intending to go, I perused the prices for Avatar: The Way of the Water out of idle curiosity and I have to say, there’s little wonder it broke the $2 billion mark this week if folks are paying the same prices I saw. Also, I came across an absolutely fascinating article about AI being used for lip-synching that both excited and scared me, I’ll hopefully get chance to post about that.

The Weekly Summary #2

satAnother week already? Well, here’s the list for week # 2 of 2023:

6. Jurassic World Dominion (2022) – 4K UHD

7. The Pale Blue Eye (2023) – Netflix

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) – 4K UHD

8. Saturday Night & Sunday Morning (1960)

Jack Ryan (Season One, 2018)  Episodes 1 to 5 – Amazon Prime

9. Crimes of the Future (2022)

Life keeps on throwing curveballs. Last year I desperately wanted to see out 2022; Christmas seemed just incidental to getting to New Year and kissing it all good riddance. There’s an old tradition for New Year that my My Dad followed, I don’t know if its something unique to England or the Midlands or something everyone used to do in the old days – certainly for the past twenty+ years I’ve always been the only one ever doing it in my street. Seeing out the old and in with the new, you walk out the back door of your house shortly before midnight, wait outside for the turn of midnight, then enter the house through the front door; out with the old year, in with the new. What? I’m the only one doing it? I knew it. I’m some kind of idiot. But bless him, my Dad used to do it when I was a kid so I used to tag along with him, and I’ll carry on doing it.

These days the only New Year tradition folks seem to follow other than possibly getting drunk is letting off lots of noisy fireworks that terrify my dog. Its something that has become the norm since the Millennium New Year when everyone seemed to go batshit crazy about a number. Every year now as the minutes approach midnight I’m standing out front of my house, with the field across from it I have a wonderful view like some great vast panorama, and the sky goes berserk with fireworks, money being burned for the sake of pretty colours and loud bangs. No, I’m not a fan of fireworks, I expect few dog owners are.

So anyway, back to the subject at hand- anyone who’s a regular reader of my blog will understand why it was one of the very worst years of my life and I just wanted to be rid of it, draw a line under it and hope for a fresh start in 2023. Unfortunately life is rarely as neat as that, and the game of endurance just seems to have rolled over into 2023. I’ve started the year with a death in the family so another funeral ahead (after the three funerals in 2022 I’d have hoped for a longer respite from them but hey, it increasingly seems life has other ideas when you’re getting older).

Is anyone else trying to ignore the news these days? It seems the media just love to milk a crisis and dwell on the worst. I suspect they found that Covid had the benefit of stupendous ratings for news outlets – there’s profit in misery, so they continue to pile it on. Is it the same everywhere or is it just the UK? There seems a great deal of attention is paid to mental health these days but no-one seems to take the news outlasts to task. Lets have some hope, people. Its getting so that watching the darkest of film noir is actually an escape to some old world utopia.

Which allows me an awkward link to an early twist- looking at the list above, you’ll note that there’s been no noir this week, and that unfortunately I’m already falling even further behind on posting reviews ((there’s a few from week #1 that I need to catch up on, never mind those listed above). I wish I could simply suggest that I must try harder and clear some of the backlog, but as ever of late that’s a battle with real-world issues beyond my control, so the pressure is on to at the very least keep up with these weekly summaries (we’ll see how that goes, but at least I’ve managed to week two so its now a bone-fide series rather than a forlorn one-off).

The best film of the week -and I intend to keep track of these ‘best of the week’ titles and maybe use them at the end of the year if I get that far- is Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, a simply remarkable film from 1960 which somehow I had never seen before. I have a review of it about ready to be posted so I won’t dwell upon it here, you’ll be able to read what I thought when I get the post up later today or early tomorrow, but if that isn’t one of the best British films ever made I’m a Wookie’s uncle. I was never really a fan of Albert Finney, I got used to seeing him when a mature actor in films and television during his later years, but goodness, seeing him so young and handsome, his innate fiery energy funnelled into his portrayal of an angry young man (absolutely perfect casting) was quite a revelation.

Worst film of the week is David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future– a real gut punch that one as I’d hoped for the best. I think it is clear that Cronenberg’s best years (Videodrome, The Dead Zone and The Fly remake, for me) are well behind him. I’m sure it must have its fans, but I simply didn’t ‘get’ Crimes of the Future, even though I tried my damnedest: I don’t think it matters what great ideas are involved in a film, bad storytelling is bad storytelling, and I’m not even certain Crimes of the Future even had a plot. Perhaps the art-house crowd don’t care so much about that. Such a shame considering it had a good cast and a premise one would expect to be perfect for Cronenberg. I guess it could be argued that the film was a welcome respite from the empty-headed blockbusters but for me it was just too far in the opposite direction; an empty-headed arthouse flick with dodgy performances. Body-horror for its own sake? I guess I missed the point.

So anyway, that’s week two. Now this is the part where I go to a ‘coming attractions’ teaser to get all you gentle readers excited for the week ahead but its really a blank slate at the moment: no disc releases are due  or anything planned like those 4K Godfather films from Christmas. Well, who dares makes plans these days? The week seems already busy with all that real-world stuff (Claire’s mom is having a carpet fitted so we need to go over and move some more furniture beforehand, there’s the usual shopping chores and possibly another instalment in the saga of taking my Aunt to her Opticians… really, it makes me wonder how I fit my job in never mind this blogging nonsense).  I’ll probably go back to a noir or two for some kind of escape, and there’s still a few ‘new’ films on Netflix and Amazon I need to catch up on, so we’ll wait and see, hey?

Blonde Nightmare

blonde1Blonde, 2022, 166 mins, Netflix

I must confess, impressed as I was by Ana de Armas in BR2049 and Knives Out, I would never have imagined her ever playing Marilyn Monroe, and when I first heard of her casting for Andrew Dominik’s Blonde I was quite incredulous. Still, what do I know, I thought Ben Affleck was going to be a disaster as Batman and he turned out to be the best incarnation of the caped crusader I’ve yet seen. So it turns out Ana de Armas is the highlight of Blonde, with an absolutely arresting performance which should get attention come awards season unless the films more notorious elements hold it back (I don’t think the Academy appreciates the Hollywood Dream Factory being portrayed in a bad light).

Blonde seems to be getting a mixed response from critics. To say I enjoyed it actually feels wrong, I mean, how can anyone actually enjoy something as dark and unrelenting as this film? But I did, in as much as I thought it was very good indeed, fascinating and unnerving with great performances and lovely art direction and attention to detail. Its powerful and intense stuff. Watching it just a week after seeing Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis felt rather curious though; two biopics of such iconic people in such close succession, and both being so grim. I’ve noticed critic Mark Kermode describe Blonde as a horror film, and he’s absolutely spot-on, but to be honest that was my experience with Elvis too. Baz Luhrmann’s film itself felt like a horror film, it’s Col Tom Parker a predatory character with devilish eyes something like a killer in a 1980s slasher movie. I remember feeling quite down after watching Elvis, it wasn’t as uplifting as I’d expected it to be, instead feeling disturbed by Parker and Tom Hank’s very effective turn, the film felt less of a celebration of Elvis Presley’s life and more a tragedy.

So here comes Blonde and its pulled the same trick, examining the misery and nightmare of Norma Jean/Marilyn Monroe’s life in such an unrelenting way its operating at some other magnitude entirely. The dark side of Hollywood is hardly a surprise to anyone now, surely. We’ve all read revelations of the misdoings of superstars of old that was covered up by the Studios, and the Harvey Weinstein saga depressingly reminded us how little things have changed. Hollywood is a dark place that destroys people just as much as it makes people into superstars. Many of the ‘revelations’ within Blonde are hardly going to be new to anyone familiar with Marilyn Monroe’s life story, and in some respects it actually holds its punches. We don’t see as much as I’d expected regards the Kennedy brothers and the mob and how Marilyn was caught up in that, nor does the film suggest anything about her death: it might have been accidental, it may have been despairing suicide, but there’s no intimation of actual murder.

I’ve seen Blonde come under fire, particularly from her adoring fanbase, for not being more of a celebration of Marilyn’s success, showing what makes her such an icon today, her relationship with the camera in all her movies and photo shoots. There may be something to those criticisms, but in  the films defence, its simply not that movie- it’s like pro-shark activists criticising Jaws for showing sharks in a bad light. Blonde is deliberately and absolutely a cautionary tale. If anything, it makes the good in Marilyn’s life, those performances (in Some Like It Hot, for instance), actually seem even more extraordinary considering what was going on behind the scenes. Considering Norma Jean’s childhood and all that came before Hollywood itself, I think her achievements and the fact she remains such an icon today are something to be marvelled at, no doubt.

I’m not the first or likely the last to have noticed a Lynchian undertone to the film- the excellent soundtrack score by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave sounds like, and functions like, an Angelo Badalamenti score, and of course the storyline mirrors that of Twin Peaks and in particular Fire Walk with Me‘s portrayal of Laura Palmers dark descent. Had Blonde actually been a David Lynch film, would it be getting some of the criticism Andrew Dominik’s film is getting? Possibly not; audiences would perhaps have more of a mindset of what to expect, and Lynch is adored for making films about the dark underbelly of America, he’s practically fireproof. I don’t think Andrew Dominik is as bulletproof as Lynch, but I think its admirable that in today’s Hollywood Dominik got to make the film he wanted to make.

Another Bonfire of the Absurdities

Lou1

Lou, 2022, 107 mins, Netflix

Silly me, could tell from the start: I think the pre-credits Bad Robot logo animation was the giveaway, supreme purveyors of utter tosh as they are these days, that Bad Robot logo screams Proceed At Caution and yet I still didn’t press the exit/stop button, especially when this thing appears to be another Netflix Original (boo/hiss/shudder).  I don’t know, maybe I’m a sucker for films set in the 1980s, maybe the warm feeling of First Blood-derived nostalgia for action dramas set out in wild woods got the better of me, but as the plot contrivances and preposterous coincidences dropped with loud clunks I could feel my will to stick to the bitter end start to wane, but stick with it I did, right to the (indeed bitter) end. 

Lets keep these things positive for as long as I can: Allison Janney is great.

Er, that actually… yeah, that might be it. Janney plays Lou, fiftyish ex-CIA superwoman in hiding on Orcas island, just off the Pacific Northwest. Its a fairly ridiculous character really, a sort-of female Nobody, and that’s maybe as far as the script goes, but Janney has a sense of conviction and cold detachment that fits the character and lends a degree of plausibility.  She’s a taciturn, no-nonsense old dear with a talent for killing, you know, a sort of All-American Grannie with a talent for guns and knives. Lou’s only companion is a brilliantly obedient dog with a superpower that is somehow putting up with his mistress’ glorious bitchiness. Did Bad Robot think this would be a franchise?

The film starts on a dark and stormy night (no, seriously) with Lou grumpier than usual having emptied her bank account and written a suicide note, finally putting a shotgun to her mouth when, wouldn’t you know it, just in the nick of time as the thunder crashes and Lou is about to pull the trigger and end the movie early, a young woman, Hannah (Jurnee Smollett), who is renting a trailer home from Lou, suddenly bursts in screaming her child has been abducted. 

Hannah knows who has stolen her daughter- its her estranged husband Phillip (Logan Marshall-Green), an ex-special forces soldier (stifle yawns, please) who was abusive to Hannah and a danger to their daughter Vee (Ridley Asha Bateman) but who is supposed to be dead. Seems Phillip faked his own death to lull Hannah and the police into a false sense of security. We the viewers are fully aware of how bad this mad bastard is because he’s already killed Hannah’s new boyfriend, who picked him up thinking Phillip was just some lowly hitch-hiker caught out in the rain (some guys are so gullible and can’t tell a crazy bastard from soggy lowlife). What we don’t yet know, and that Hannah doesn’t know either, is that Lou isn’t just some random landlord renting out a mobile home to single-mother Hannah, she’s actually Hannah’s mother-in-law, an ex-CIA spy and badass middle-aged killing machine who’s been waiting for her psychopath son to make his move, and who now has to track mad Phillip through wild woods in a storm to save her grand-daughter. Oh yeah, this time its not just personal, its maternal, baby. The awkward script gradually unwraps the twists with crashing thuds that stretch credibility beyond breaking-point; as is usual these days in modern cinema, the scriptwriter doesn’t know when to stop and just runs on towards farce.

Of course at this point I’m struggling to keep up as I studiously tick off the absurdities. There’s immediately a great part when they load up Lou’s Arsenal of Death (every hero/heroine worth their salt has a secret stash of doom-mongering) and rush out to her station wagon, which dutifully fails to start as is the wont in tense pursuits like this. When Lou opens up the bonnet we see a bomb that looks like something out of the Adam West Batman tv series dutifully ticking down to zero so Lou has sufficient seconds to leap to safety before it explodes. If the bomb was triggered by Lou lifting the bonnet, wouldn’t it be better to have just gone off immediately, rather than give a convenient ten second countdown? Am I really meant to think about stuff like that? Of course not. Likewise I’m not supposed to question why Hannah doesn’t collapse into a fit of panicked hysterics at this point, what with it being the middle of a storm, her daughter kidnapped by her mad dead husband, trucks blowing up… seems Hannah is a bit of a no-nonsense badass herself when the chips are down. Its amazing how characters in films are so down to Earth, steady-thinking and believable in a crisis, especially the women.  

How I miss women like Lambert in Alien, the wonderful Veronica Cartwright losing her shit and endearing her to sympathetic viewers forever. Sure, we’d all like to be heroes like Liam Neeson etc but we know we’d really collapse into a hysterical panic like Lambert, bless her.

Philip isn’t alone, he’s recruited two of his special forces buddies to assist him, said assistance being, er, waiting in an isolated cabin in the middle of the woods. Must confess the script lost me a bit with this part. Lou and Hannah are tracking Phillip and come upon the cabin where two beefy killing machines are waiting for Phillip but he isn’t there yet, if he ever intended to arrive and meet them there at all, and yet Lou is tracking Phillip which would…. Nah, don’t think about it, its just an excuse to give Lou an opportunity to beat the shit out of two huge blokes in a hand-fight to the death. Yeah sisters, this time grannies are doing it for themselves. 

What is this, Ghost? Ageism coupled with sexism? I should be ashamed.

Actually its not a bad bit of action choreography, Janney handles the physicality well, but when a six-foot-plus beefcake punches her in the face I expect her jaw to break or teeth to fall out and when he kicks her into a wall I expect her hip or back to protest but nah, she’s cool, its those two special ops guys we should be worried for, they are clearly outmatched, somehow. Its getting to be a bit of a trope, women beating the shit out of guys twice their size/half their age. 

What is this, Ghost? Yet MORE ageism coupled with sexism? This is beyond shame.

I could go on about Logan Marshall-Green; he in no way convinces as a mad, bad, lousy son/terrible husband/awful father… (yeah this guy ticks all the toxic-male boxes, the script does him no favours at all). This is a diabolically pantomime villain who seems to blame everything on mom, and thankfully moms here to sort the wee upstart out, even if she has had a pick-axe shoved in her chest (yeah… really, action movies have to tone down the comicbook silliness; they get more violent but that violence only results in a token sense of hurt;  Lou should be rasping blood out of her lips and gushing bubbles from her chest but hey, as John Brosnan assured us decades ago, its only a movie, stupid).  

Anyway, I’ve wasted far too much time already writing about this nonsense. Should have been better, but these jokers at Bad Robot just don’t know when to stop with the stupidity, and Netflix will buy anything in its craving for new content. So here we are. Lou 2 next year? Bring it on, I hear those pesky Russians need sorting out.

On the trail of a complete and utter b—–d.

rogue1Rogue Agent, 2022, 115 mins, Netflix

Devastatingly handsome, smooth-talking bastard Robert Freegard (James Norton) is a bartender one minute, a car salesman the next, but the job’s are just a cover, as he’s really an MI5 spy. He recruits agents to assist him in his war against terrorists, following him around the country, sometimes falling in love with him, usually giving all their money to him. But he’s too good to be true, girls. He’s a fake. He’s a conman. This guy is the Hannibal Lecter of Tall Stories, a sociopath with a brilliant intellect, an uncanny ability to charm women, sleep with ’em and scam ’em-  utterly irredeemable. The T-1000 of smooth-talkers, the police cannot stop him. Only a woman can: Alice Archer (Gemma Arterton), one of his victims who loses a fortune to him and then abandons her career as a lawyer in order to show the police how to do their job and bring Freegard down before further vulnerable women are conned by him.

There is a type of movie which… well, a type of movie that holds a certain philosophy, which is that all men are either bastards, or quite incompetent. This is one of those movies. To be fair, the bad guy is indeed a total utter bastard, and shockingly, its all based on a true story. But… well, you have to take everything with a wee pinch of salt. Rogue Agent is unfortunately blunt at times: especially with regards men being incompetent, whether it be a father giving away the family fortune in a vain attempt to help his wayward daughter, or a detective tasked with tracking Freegard down. When a film casts Clem Fandango from Toast of London (Shazad Latif) as a witless police detective who can only bring Freegard down through the help of Alice and another woman, FBI Special Agent Sandy Harland (Edwina Findley), well, while it may be a man’s world, its perhaps just as well that sisters are doing it for themselves.

I suppose it could almost qualify as a genre, maybe: just name any movie in which the men are useless and it takes a woman to save the day (hello, Disney/Marvel etc). Anyway, this is one of those movies, and they usually ruffle my feathers but in this case, I’m with the ladies. This ‘rogue agent’ is a complete and utter bastard. Based rather incredibly, as I have mentioned, on a true story, it concerns the antics of conman Robert Freegard, who posed as an MI5 agent to trick, coerce, kidnap, seduce and rob his victims who were usually -albeit not exclusively- female.

Its a great, stranger-then-fiction story that deserves a better film; Rogue Agent is nowhere near as sophisticated as it should be. Norton is very good as Freegard, albeit he’s inevitably more beautiful and masculine than the real Freegard was, but the film never tries to explain where he came from, or why he does what he does- he remains an enigma, unknowable. Likewise, Arterton is possibly ill-served by an underwritten character- again, a very beautiful person, the films only indication that she’s somehow vulnerable to Freegard’s antics is that she smokes a lot; I mean, that’s as sophisticated as it gets- we can tell she’s a little unhappy and susceptible to a mans attention because she smokes too much.

I appreciate I’ve possibly overdrawn the ‘beautiful characters’ angle, but really, for a film with such a bizarrely fantastical story, its a shame that it pushes over the edge of implausibility even further by making the two stars so pretty and, well, perfect. I can see why casting a guy who can be as smooth as James Bond might make his skills as a conman seem more plausible and its possibly sexist of me to suggest that Arterton is too gorgeous for the role, but when she dresses up for her first date with and she see a Bond Girl in the mirror… Agh. Maybe that’s just me.

So anyway, not a great film but not a bad one either, certainly worth a watch if only to experience the totally stranger-than-fiction story that will leave you quite incredulous, especially when you finally learn what happened to Freegard afterwards. Be careful out there, ladies.

The Gray Man: Action flicks need a reboot

gray1The Gray Man, 2022, 122 mins, Netflix

The Gray Man isn’t terrible- I’ve certainly seen far worse Netflix Originals – Outside The Wire, Red Notice, The Woman in the Window, Father Christmas is Back, and the recent Interceptor immediately spring to mind – but it is sadly typical of so many films these days, especially from Netflix, who still seem to be preoccupied with competing with the Hollywood Silver Screen Big Boys (any explosion you can do, I can do bigger). The worst thing about it is how it ably summarises where the action film genre is right now, a kind of film that badly needs a reboot. We still seem to be caught in a post-Bourne Identity wave of action films, something that infected Bond and much every film with a big stunt and fight sequence in it. Some films, most notably the John Wick series, seem to have made their own niche and proved successful with it, but most everything else seems to be floundering with ever-more sophisticated and increasingly ridiculous stunt and fight sequences that inspire unintended laughter rather than respectful awe.

Maybe I’m cursing the Bourne films too unfairly- its likely just as much the trend for costumed superheroes that’s causing all this, and the action-film’s apparent need to compete with all that wall-shattering, bullet-proof nonsense of costumed nutters with silly powers. Oh, for the days of Die Hard

Some six-foot giant of a thug punches me in the face, I’m likely to have a fractured jaw, fewer teeth, serious concussion and a bruised swollen countenance lasting months. I know movies are the land of Make Believe but its getting crazy what happens to our action stars now – guys who may be ‘professional killers’ but who lack the powers of your average Kryptonian. They survive stabbings, gunshot wounds, being thrown through glass windows, falling from great heights, car crashes, explosions… I know, I sound like a killjoy hellbent on spoiling everyone’s fun, we all like our heroes to be a little larger than life, that’s part of the fun of action movies, but surely its gone too far, its getting more into parody now. You don’t need to make something like an Airplane! or Top Secret! comedy to ridicule current action-film tropes; The Gray Man is already it.

To be clear, The Gray Man is everything it was intended to be. Its some kind of action/ spy thriller in which a secret agent (codename ‘Six’) from some covert group operating within the CIA stumbles upon a conspiracy that causes him to question the ‘rightfulness’ of his actions and the integrity of his superiors, going on the run and subsequently pursued by every killer in the Uber Assassins Handbook in a global chase that decimates cities and a castle, killing hundreds, maiming thousands. Naturally everyone is beautiful and sexy, muscle-toned  and well-dressed, even some of the bad guys. Its a spy fantasy on some level astronomically beyond even the daftest Roger Moore 007 flick.

Its competently acted, has some great, albeit increasingly preposterous stunt sequences, wasting some $220 million with absolutely ruthless efficiently. On one level, one has to admire it.

gray2But its also so woeful. Ana de Armas seems to be increasingly wasted in these dumb support roles which are a) one dimensional and b) repeatedly daft with her beating the shit out of guys twice her size. She’s very pretty and apparently the Face Of The Moment, but there is depth to her as an actress -demonstrated in BR2049 and Knives Out– that is lost in all the carnage of these action flicks she’s slumming in. There seems to be a dominant male fantasy lately, as per No Time to Die and so many others, that seems to suggest that slim beautiful 5 ft 6 inch women can beat up musclebound brutes without creasing her designer dress (her cameo in No Time to Die was more silly than anything else to me but the fans seemed to love it).  I don’t know if its some kind of delirious, devious  Girls Can Too movement working away in the shadows but… hell, there’s plenty of instances in The Gray Man that I’m scoffing at six-foot hunks doing stuff, never mind fragile beauties… am I being sexist here? Should I shut up before I get trolled?

Chris Evans chews up the scenery in some fruitless attempt to out-act his moustache. He’s probably revelling at the opportunity to over-act in every scene he’s in: its not his fault, its exactly what’s being asked of him, he’s a cartoon bad guy in a Marvel movie posing as a semi-serious spy movie. I mean, that’s basically what The Gray Man is. The Russo dudes weren’t hired by coincidence. Yes its not a great movie but it is exactly what it is intended to be and very proficient at it. I’m questioning why it seems every action film is like it these days. Its so big,  So noisy. It takes us all over the world, spending huge amounts of Netflix money on a script that doesn’t warrant it (but isn’t that true of most every Hollywood movie and television show these days?). As for Ryan Gosling, I have the worrying feeling that this whole film is just some kind of audition for him being cast in an MCU flick.

I wonder what Martin Scorsese thinks of this film.

Mrs Hemsworth saves the world

interceptInterceptor, 2022, 99 mins, Netflix

I get it: the joke’s on me, I paid for this. Chris Hemsworth is sitting on his private beach somewhere with his beautiful wife and chuckling “cheers, Ghost!” as he sips his cocktail partly funded by my Netflix subscription this month. I finally figured out that beard by the way- he hasn’t been able to look himself in the mirror long enough to get a shave.

Not that I should give Hemsworth any credit for feeling guilty about Interceptor, a film (I’m using that term loosely here) of which he’s a producer, that stars his wife, and in which he features in a cameo that’s either hysterically funny or horribly self-indulgent, and most likely a desperate attempt to raise this horrible film’s profile for his buddies at Netflix.

Nah, Chris doesn’t feel guilty sunning himself on that beach. Guilt doesn’t come into it for our Hollywood types. I still can’t quite figure it out- he doesn’t need the money, she doesn’t need the money; she’s a beautiful and I’m sure charming lady who does not deserve this movie- its the kind of film that can (should) torpedo anybody’s career behind and in front of the camera.

Are they bored? Is that what it is? They got nothing better to do than find some writer with one of the most stupid stories ever, featuring some of the dumbest plot twists and most risible dialogue and then make it for next to no money at all and flog it to Netflix, because Netflix is like the Patron Saint of Money for Hollywood types? Oh loosen up, Ghost, its just a bit of fun. I wanted to star my wife in a film where she saves the world so my kids can say hey, mom’s cool too.

Part of me wants to laugh, part of me wants to get angry. Angry at all these Hollywood creative types and their indifference to any kind of quality control as long as there’s a pay cheque. Maybe the bigger question is was there ever any integrity in Hollywood?

There’s a part of this film where Mrs Hemsworth, shot in one arm and suspended under a sinking oil rig by her one good arm clutching to a metal rung performs a preposterous stunt that had my wife threatening to throw something at the screen. My wife is calm and meek and not often disposed to physical violence against TV screens. It takes extreme provocation to have her losing her shit at a movie.

Me, I’m finding it hard to forgive. Not my wife losing her shit (fear not, my OLED is still in one piece) but I’m finding it so hard to forgive anyone involved in this train wreck of a film (I’m still using that term loosely), but you know, above all else I blame myself for watching it. There’s a Netflix algorithm that probably cites this film as a major success and has greenlit several sequels featuring -hang on, what’s her name?- Elsa Pataky as Captain JJ Collins.

A film doesn’t have to be any good, it can be absolute shit, but as long as enough idiots stream some of it -not even all of it- then its deemed a success and we get more of the same. Something has to be done regards how this all works. Its pretty damning and Netflix needs to ensure some better kind of quality control, or they will deservedly continue haemorrhaging subscribers.

Interceptor is bad. Its very bad. Its worse than very bad. Have a very good look in the mirror Chris. And apologise to the missus (yeah, yours and mine).

Rewatching The Crow

crowfireThe Crow, 1994, 102 mins, Netflix

Saturday night I watched Alex Proyas’ The Crow, for the first time in… possibly twenty years. The gaps sometimes between viewings of films never fails to be a mixture of surprise and alarm for me, if only because the years pass and accumulate so quickly.

Naturally some, possibly most, people watch a film once and that’s it, they never feel any need to revisit it. Alternatively, some people can watch some films far too many times than can be possibly healthy, and the reasons for returning to films like that can be many. I suppose its often less to do with the film and more to do with the pull of nostalgia for the original time when we first experienced a film, whether it be a childhood favourite or a formative experience when growing up (usually in teenage years). In the case of The Crow… well it’s a film I watched back in 1994 in the (incredibly now a car showroom) Showcase Cinema and later bought in those heady days of importing R1 DVDs. Two things spring to mind: those were fun days going to the Showcase with my future wife every week, and boy, DVDs were so special – you know, actually owning films, in widescreen format, in great quality, with lots of special features, it was all new back then, especially as I’d never experienced anything of the laserdisc era. Who’d have thought DVDs would be so replaceable by so many new formats, given time?

the crow cdThe Crow has been on my mind a little while because late last year Varese finally released its soundtrack score in a complete edition 2-CD set (decades overdue but hey, we’re STILL waiting for the official complete Blade Runner…). I couldn’t resist it and have listened to it several times since – its a great score, dark and melancholy and with beautiful, often heart-rending music, richly thematic, something all too rare these days. Hey, even the song playing over the end titles (a trend I hated back then, much preferring the carefully-constructed end-title suites written by composers like John Williams) was a lovely piece that really worked for the film, and felt a part of the whole. Whenever I’ve listened to the CDs I’ve often thought it’d be nice to watch the film again (I don’t have it on Blu-ray, and the days of me playing my R1 DVDs -even if I could find the box they are in- are long gone). Anyway, I noticed that its popped up on Netflix so hey, bravo for streaming services (not something I write here very often!).

But sticking with the film’s music a little longer- electronic drones drenched in reverb, guitars, children’s choir, women’s voices, ethnic instruments… its a score that was ahead of its time and subsequently imitated numerous times over the years. I found it interesting in the CD booklet that Graeme Revell refers to Blade Runner‘s score, as The Crow‘s ‘world music/multi-cultural’ approach always reminded me of Vangelis’ opus.  Both films sound rather ‘outside of time.’

So anyway, back to rewatching the movie. Has The Crow aged well? Its hard to say, really. I suppose its a wonder the film even got released at all:  The Crow is always remembered for Brandon Lee’s tragic death (from an accidental gunshot wound during the filming), and it was only able to be completed by then-cutting edge use of computer graphics patching scenes together using various shots of Lee, body-doubles and careful composition of scenes, in a similar way to how Gladiator would later be completed following the death of Oliver Reed during filming in 1999. You can see the trickery in places but on the whole it works well- its nothing too distracting.

What was distracting, at least this time around, was that the film seems to have been cut in several places; weird edits occur that makes it look like some of the violence or more graphic shots were cut, like something is missing. Whether anything has been cut, I don’t know; I assume this UK version is the same as the American R1 DVD disc I watched all those years ago; its not something I can remember from back then which is why it makes me curious now – it really rather felt like I was watching one of those ‘TV versions’ of films that were so common years ago (the TV version of Robocop for instance, is legendary). Maybe the film was always toned down a little from its original intent, in respect of Lee’s death.

The film also wears its ‘pop-video director’ vibe clearly; back then it possibly hardly seemed a thing at all, it was all the rage, but these days, with MTV and pop videos a more distant thing now, it seems to stick out more (I believe The Crow was Alex Proyas’ first film after years shooting pop videos). Too many slow-motion shots with over-powering music; it reminded me greatly of Highlander (1986) but on the positive side, there was some great use of music juxtaposed with the visuals at times. Inevitable visual nods to Blade Runner or Tim Burton’s Batman movie, regards endless rain and gothic art direction. I was such a fan of this film back in 1994/1995- its odd, with it being so long ago when I first watched it, the perspective from being in 2022 now. All those miniatures!

Director Alex Proyas certainly seemed to be someone to follow back then, and I simply adored his next film, the magnificent (if ill-fated, as I recall) Dark City that was one of the very best genre films of the 1990s, but his career sadly tailed off somewhat after that. Proyas skirted with major studio projects like I, Robot (a film I quite liked but don’t have any interest in ever watching again) but the bizarre casting for Knowing (Nicolas Cage as an M.I.T. professor!) pretty much ruined that particular film for me, and I never got around to watching Proyas’ Gods of Egypt at all. So it doesn’t seem that Proyas fulfilled the possibilities inferred by The Crow wowing me like it did in 1994.

I’m out of the loop somewhat regards The Crow, its been so many years since I last watched it. I’m not certain I ever watched the sequel and wasn’t even aware of the third or fourth films in that film series, or indeed that there was a 22-episode television series back in 1998. I must have been living under a rock or something, or maybe that’s just indication of so many straight-to-video films or television series ‘hiding’ on some obscure cable channel.

So anyway, I really quite enjoyed the film. Its such a sad film, inevitably so due to the circumstances during the making of it, the tragedy which seems to loom over most every scene. An unfortunate result is that its hard to really judge Brandon Lee’s performance, judging the line between narrative and reality but I still think a huge part of why the film works so well is Revell’s music; it seems to dominate everything. Which isn’t to say Lee isn’t excellent- his performance is really very good and I’m certain he would have gone on to considerable success in future films, but between what happened to him making the film and the music being such a symphony of melancholy, its really almost overwhelming. The Crow is a very dark gothic fable, a reminder that nothing is trivial, and there ain’t no coming back…. except maybe for movies.

The Man should have stayed in Toronto…

toronoThe Man From Toronto, 2022, 112 mins, Netflix

Yes, The Man should have stayed in Toronto and saved us all the pain and bother. Mind, I don’t deserve any sympathy, I really should have known better. Some films have ‘avoid’ written all over them, but fair play, the marketing boffins had managed an intriguing teaser/trailer that Netflix put up when one foolishly clicked on this film’s title. It showed a neat little scene in which Kevin Hart, wrong dude at the wrong cabin, finds himself mistaken for the titular Man from Toronto, master interrogator and torture-artiste, and he’s escorted into a basement where he finds a poor guy is strung up waiting his attention and nasty thugs waiting to enjoy the show. Talk your way out of that, Kevin.

Well, they clearly couldn’t stretch that gag for a whole movie…

But they try.

Isn’t it curious how some Hollywood peeps, at least until Disney stepped in, treated streaming as The Great Evil a few years back? Well, money talks I guess, and now streamers, particularly Netflix at any rate, seems to have been useful as a happy dumping ground for any Hollywood effort that looks to be a misfire (see most any ‘Netflix Original’ or numerous other examples over on Amazon). Maybe things will change now that reduced subscribers have cautioned Netflix to be a wee bit more mindful over how it spends money. The Hollywood cash-cow era may be drawing to a close, so I hope everyone’s luxury renovations are squared up and yachts paid for and beach houses accounted for.

The Man From Toronto is a lamentable effort. An action-comedy that makes The Hitman’s Bodyguard look like a bona-fide classic, and HItman’s Wife’s Bodyguard look nowhere near as lazy as it seemed at the time. Maybe that’s all I really need to say on the matter- this is one of those films that one can easily imagine the pitch and the studio guys nodding sagely imagining another easy hit. But you can’t make movies by-the-numbers like that… well, you clearly can, but it doesn’t guarantee success like some think it might. But to the extent of sinking $75 million into something as cynically calculated as this? One can imagine “We got Hart!” ” We got Statham!” “We got that guy who directed Hitman’s Bodyguard!” “We can’t lose!” “Statham’s out- but Harrelson’s in!” “That cutey from Big Bang Theory says she got a few days free to shoot a few scenes!”  At least it wasn’t a huge success: whatever would have been next, The Man From Tipton? Yeah, I bet somebody had their eye on a franchise: The Man From Dallas, The Man From London, The Man From Paris…”ker-ching, baby they almost write themselves!”

Oh well. This is one to avoid, really, and another poor addition to the burgeoning pile of sub-standard Netflix content. I suppose this proves a timely addendum to my recent post about streaming; the way the game used to work, it was all about the amount of content rather than said content actually being any good. But maybe if any positive can come of something like The Man From Toronto, its that it may play some part in things changing. Netflix can’t remain the happy dumping ground for Hollywood misfires, it simply has to exercise some QC when it gets its wallet out- or subscribers may keep on leaving, and without the streaming option being quite so easy, maybe Hollywood itself will exercise a bit more care too. Well, one can dream…