20160720: Action Review--The Good The Bad The Weird

Name: The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)
IMDb: link to The Good The Bad The Weird page

image courtesy of The Movie Database (TMDb)

Genres: Action, Crime, Comedy   Country of origin: South Korea

Jung Woo-Sung as Park Do-won (the Good), Lee Byung-hun as Park Chang-yi (the Bad), Kang-ho Song as Yoon Tae-goo (the Weird).

Directed by: Kim Jee-woon.  Written by: Kim Jee-woon, Min-suk Kim.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
This motion picture is set in 1930s Manchuria, traditionally part of China, but occupied by Japanese armed forces at the time.  The three protagonists are Koreans who have some connection to Korean independence, however weak this connection might be.  The Good is a bounty hunter of considerable skill and experience.  The Bad is a gang leader capable of endless (and often fortuitous) violence.  The Weird appears to be a bumbling bandit who succeeds only by serendipity.

Like a typical James Bond film, the opening is a manic short in its own right, followed by a calmer, longer, deeper depiction of the issues hinted at in the short.  In this case, the film opens at the home of a rich Chinese man, who has an obligation to a man in the Japanese power structure.  The map is sent to even things up.  However, the Chinese fellow hires The Bad to steal the map back.  We jump forward in time to a speeding train.

The Weird decides to rob the train, and starts his robbery slightly ahead of The Bad.  By accident, he finds the train car with the Japanese delegation who have the map, plus various other valuables.  While rifling through luggage, the Weird barely gets to the map when The Bad's gang engages the train with its full attack.

Just about every train robbery cliche follows, as does the arrival of The Good.  The Weird gets away from The Good and The Bad, which sets up the rest of the film.

Delineation of conflicts:
The film is about the map.  It begins with the map, and ends with the map.  Everything in between is about the pursuit and acquisition of the map, plus finding the map's destination.  There is some value attached to the map, since the Japanese army wants it, as do monied interests in China and Japan, as well as bandit gangs and freelance thieves.

The Good and The Bad follow The Weird.  Alliances come and go.  Betrayals arise and damage is taken.

Resolution: The dialectic of conflicts ends late in the film.

The end sequence runs like the Keystone Kops set in the desert, only with one thousand times better production values.  The three protagonists outrun, outgun, or evade other gangs, Japanese army elements, and each other until only the three are left.  They find their target in the map, then they deal with each other.

One line summary: Fine western film set in 1930s Manchuria.


Cinematography: 10/10 Excellent camera work, whether it be vast expanses of desert, tight shots of fights in cityscapes, horses versus motorcycles, moving trains, or quiet interviews in a wealthy man's opulent house.

Sound: 6/10 Dialog was in Korean, Mandarin, and Japanese.  I relied on the sub-titles.  Musical accompaniment was appropriate, but not quite the asset it might have been.

Acting: 9/10 The three lead actors were quite engaging.  They (or their doubles) show considerable athletic skill, plus fine weapons expertise.  Several segments were done at breakneck speeds, and everyone seemed up to the task.  Quiet interpersonal scenes were done well.

Screenplay: 8/10 This could be considered an alternate take on the iconic film The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966).  There were parallels, but this is a very Asian film.  At 130 minutes, the film is a bit long, but the humour and the action make the minutes melt away.

Final Rating: 8/10


20160719: Fantasy Review--Jurassic World

Embrace the Suck, review #2: Jurassic World (2015)
Pre-emptive considerations:
  1. Chris Pratt.  A poor man's version of Tyler Labine.  I don't believe any line that he says as an actor; he is a strong deal breaker.

  2. Bryce Dallas Howard.  Why, just why?  Two deal breakers in one film!

  3. Counter-balancing the nausea caused by the choice of lead actors was the presence of much better actors such as Irrfan Khan, Vincent D'Onofrio, Omar Sy, BD Wong, and Judy Greer.
So why did I watch it? I liked very much the source material from Jurassic Park.  I thought the SFX might be a step up from the original, which would be worth seeing.

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Name: Jurassic World (2015)
IMDb: link to Jurassic World page

courtesy of The Movie Database (TMDb)

Genres: Fantasy   Country of origin: USA

Chris Pratt as Owen, Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire, Irrfan Khan as Masrani, Vincent D'Onofrio as Morton, Omar Sy as Barry, BD Wong as Dr Henry Wu, Judy Greer as Karen, Nick Robinson as Zach, Ty Simpkins as Gray.

Directed by: Colin Trevorrow.  Written by: Amanda Silver, Rick Jaffa.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
In modern day Costa Rica, the theme park Jurassic World has completely replaced the theme park Jurassic Park, which closed twenty years earlier due to a disaster involving multiple human deaths.  The new park has bigger dinosaurs with more teeth and greater ability to do damage.

Claire has a position of responsibility at the park coordinating operations.  She promises her sister Karen that she will show her nephews Zach and Gray a good time at the park.  Claire provides them with bracelets that let them get on rides without waiting in line, and hires a nanny to oversee them.  However, she does not provide them with more than a few minutes of her own time.

Owen is still bonding with the four raptors he has dealt with since their hatching.  As an accident early on shows, the training and loyalty are a bit iffy.

Delineation of conflicts:
The animals at the exhibits would like to escape their jails; the owners of the park would like them kept in captivity.  The makers of the film think that the viewers would like to see human beings slaughtered by the animals.   Said human characters would like to continue living.

The owners of the park experience decay in attendance when there are not enough new attractions every so often.  In order to keep profits high and push them higher, the owners fund the creation of 'new' animals made from dinosaur DNA plus other DNA.  The danger in this seems to elude the park owners, who set up testing, but do not spend enough money or thought on safeguards.

Claire delegates her responsibilities for Zach and Gray to an English nanny, and the results are not good.  Consequences here are many. Claire and Owen spend a lot of effort finding the boys then helping them survive.

Claire and Owen have some nebulous past relationship, and that seems to be going nowhere.  Despite this, when the going gets tough, she calls on Owen for help.

The Morton character represents interests who want to make huge amounts of money by weaponising the dinosaurs, particularly the raptors.  Chaos at the park represents an opportunity for Morton to take over the park and scoop up the full research on dinosaur redesign technology.  This would circumvent dealing honorably with the owners.

Owen sets up a pilot project to see whether raptors can bond with humans.  He has some success since he has interacted with them from birth.  Later these raptors meet with the indominus creation, and are drawn to it, since it has some raptor DNA.  The raptors have divided loyalties.  How will that play out in the final battle?

Resolution: The dialectic of conflicts ends late in the film.  Most of the resolutions end up the way one would expect, and take most of the movie and much effort.  So the film at least goes through the motions of good storytelling, but fails chronically in delivery.

One line summary: Same plot as Jurassic Park with newer SFX.


Cinematography: 9/10 I rather liked this, despite the overabundance of CGI.  The skill level and care in editing was high.  In particular, the sequence where the indominus comes out of camouflage is just brilliant.

Sound: 6/10 I could hear the dialog clearly, which was usually a plus.  The main score by Michael Giacchino would have been more at home in an historical costume drama, rather than in a high tech fantasy.

Acting: 4/10 The two lead actors are walking disasters, and the director did not do enough to blunt this weakness.  Sam Neill and Laura Dern (the leads in Jurassic Park) outshine Pratt and Howard by orders of magnitude.

In contrast, I would like the fine actors Irrfan Khan, Vincent D'Onofrio, Omar Sy, BD Wong, and Judy Greer in just about any property in which they appear, including this one.  However, I do wish that each of them had had more screen time plus better dialog.

Screenplay: 5/10 This was a rehash of Jurassic Park, but with more CGI and lesser actors.  The 'new' elements were just excuses for more butchery of human beings by mindless, ridiculous, and impossible monsters.

There were natural (for a fantasy) conflicts aplenty, and the storytelling brought them to reasonable conclusions in most cases.

The dialog struck me as poor.  Part of that was the lack of acting skills on the parts of the lead actors (Pratt and Howard), but not all of it.  Even the much better supporting actors sounded terribly stupid here and there.

Final Rating: 6/10


20160718: Action Review--The Man from UNCLE

Embrace the Suck, review #1: The Man from U. N. C. L. E. (2015)
Pre-emptive considerations:
  1. Henry Cavill.  After watching a segment of Man of Steel (2013) with Cavill and Kevin Costner, I took a mighty oath never to watch another movie with Cavill in the cast.  I still like Costner, but Cavill was just horrible, and he's a Brit to boot, playing Superman.  A thousand times, no.

  2. Armie Hammer.  Part of the reason I was never a strong fan of The Social Network (2010) was the portrayal of the Winklevoss twins by Mr Hammer.  When the mega-flop The Lone Ranger (2013) was circling the bowl, I took the criticisms of Mr Hammer to heart, and skipped it.

  3. Counter-balancing the nausea caused by the choice of lead actors was the presence of Guy Ritchie as the director.  Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000) are two favourites of mine.  The humour, action, and sleek editing style were excellent.
So why did I watch it?  I had DVR'd it on a lark. I liked the source material from 1964-68, after all. The wife and I were looking for some funny material recently, and we both remembered the Guy Ritchie films listed above.

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Name: The Man from UNCLE (2015)
IMDb: link to The Man from UNCLE page
image courtesy of TMDb
Genres: Action, Comedy, Drama   Country of origin: USA, UK

Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo, Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin, Alicia Vikander as Gaby Teller, Hugh Grant as Alexander Waverly, Elizabeth Debicki as Victoria Vinciguerra, Luca Calvani as Alexander, Sylvester Groth as Uncle Rudy, Jared Harris as Sanders (CIA contact), Misha Kuznetzov as Oleg (KGB contact).

Directed by: Guy Ritchie.  Written by: Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
In the early 1960s, on behalf of the CIA, reformed master thief Napoleon Solo crosses into East Germany to extract Gaby Teller so as to find (and get leverage over) her scientist father.  Russian KGB agent Illya Kuryakin has a similar mission.

Delineation of conflicts:
Solo and Kuryakin compete throughout the film, partly from international and interagency competition, partly from testosterone poisoning.  Victoria Vinciguerra and her rich family have cornered Dr Teller into constructing nuclear devices that are somehow more dangerous than the usual kinds, as in 'end of the world' dangerous.  Victoria wants to use the devices for leverage.  The CIA, KGB, and MI5 would like to stop that.  The goals of these agencies are not always in sync with each other.

Resolution: The dialectic of conflicts ends late in the film.  Stay tuned.

One line summary: Origin story of UNCLE (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement).


Cinematography: 8/10 Nicely done.

Sound: 10/10 The dialog was in English, German, Russian, and Italian, so I relied on sub-titles.  I know enough German to tell that the sub-titles were usually on target, so I trusted the sub-titles for the spoken Russian and Italian.  Guy Ritchie is a huge fan of music, and the choices made for this film were delightful.

Acting: 6/10 Guy Ritchie is clearly a talented director.  The three lead actors are walking disasters, but he managed to neutralise that factor.  His choices of seasoned actors for the side characters were sound.  I liked Jared Harris, Hugh Grant, and Sylvester Groth quite well.

Screenplay: 8/10 I watched this to have fun, and collected a number of good laughs.  The combination of humour and action was good.  The film was 117 minutes long, but I did not feel that it dragged anywhere.

Final Rating: 8/10