20160831: Action Review--The Gunman

Name: The Gunman (2015)
IMDb: link to The Gunman page

Genres: Action, mystery, thriller, crime.   Country of origin: USA.

Sean Penn as Jim Terrier, Idris Elba as Barnes, Jasmine Trinca as Annie, Javier Bardem as Felix, Ray Winstone as Stanley, Mark Rylance as Cox.

Directed by: Pierre Morel.  Written by: Jean-Patrick Manchette (novel), Don MacPherson (screenplay).

Image courtesy of TMDb
The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Terrier worked in the Congo in 2006 during their civil war as a mercenary.   His speciality is assassination, and he kills the minister of mines.  Minister of mines is a key position, due to the Congo's mineral wealth.  Terrier's being tasked with this shows his level of trust with whomever is paying him.  Jim is having an affair with Annie, who is a doctor who does humanitarian work.  Felix is in love with Annie, which she does not reciprocate at the time.

Delineation of conflicts:
Eight years later, Jim is back in the Congo, again working in parallel with a humanitarian agency, but not as an assassin.  However, someone holds a grudge, and makes an attempt on his life.  Their agents are charged with providing proof of death.  Terrier intends to keep living.  In order to do that, he needs to know the motivations of whoever wants to kill him. His adversary has no intention of that happening, so the mystery/thriller action ensues.

Terrier leaves Congo for London to confer with his former colleague Cox.  He asks about the complete list of those who knew about the assassination.  This is the springboard for the rest of the film's plot: find the true players and ask them what's what.

Just to make things more interesting, Jim's past war injuries have had a cumulative effect.  He has memory loss and passes out now and them.  Can he keep it together long enough to sort this out?

Jim's first stop is Barcelona, the last known of Felix, his first real target.  However, Felix just might have his own agenda here.

Resolution: Jim finds out some of what he needs to know, but will he find out enough?

One line summary: Sean Penn as an action hero.


Cinematography: 7/10 Not all that good.

Sound: 8/10 Dialog is clear.  Music is subdued but appropriate.

Acting: 7/10 Mark Rylance was fine as I expected.  Ray Winstone was an asset. Sean Penn was in good form.  Javier Bardem disappointed as usual.  The overused Idris Elba was better than I expected in a small role.  Jasmine Trinca was OK for what the script gave her to work with.

Screenplay: 6/10 Violence and threat moves the plot along, so the 115 minutes runtime does not drag. The romantic angle was bleak and sad, but did resolve somewhat well.  I'm glad I saw the film, but would not watch it again.  Checking against Box Office Mojo and IMDb, it took in 11 million domestically, against 40 million production costs, so the chances for a sequel are slim.

At the end of the film, I felt that I should have been happier for the protagonist, but just could not be.  I felt this to be a major failing of the film.

Final Rating: 7/10 I liked it better than most people did, but I would be hard pressed to say, 'you must see this one.'


20160812: SciFi Review--Sharknado 4

Name: Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens (2016)
IMDb: link to Sharknado 4 page

Genres: Action, SciFi   Country of origin: USA.

Ian Ziering as Fin Shepard, Tara Reid as April Wexler, David Hasselhoff as Colonel Gilbert Shepard, Masiela Lusha as Gemini, Cody Linley as Matt Shepard, Imani Hakim as Gabrielle, Ryan Newman as Claudia Shepard, Tommy Davidson as Aston Reynolds, Gary Busey as Wilford Wexler, Al Roker as himself, plus many others.

Directed by: Anthony C. Ferrante.  Written by: Thunder Levin.
Image courtesy of TMDb

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Aston Reynolds has made a fortune building installations that prevent the formation of sharknados. Five years have gone by since Sharknado 3, and a new series of variations on sharknado form.  Fin's father, the Colonel, has been rescued from the Moon, and Fin's wife, April, has been revived and rebuilt as a cyborg.

Delineation of conflicts:
The sharks are hungry and are coming in several shapes and forms in several locations about the connected United States.  The majority of humans have no defense whatsoever against this.  Fin and his family attempt to fend off the sharks and help Aston stop the sharknado formation.

Resolution: Seriously?  If they can bring back April, they can do whatever they want for future Sharknado films.  The precedent has been set.  Nothing is ever finished here.

One line summary: Fin Shepard and family fight sharknados again.


Cinematography: 4/10 Natural photography without shaky cams: rather nice.  SFX: beyond cheesy, beyond rotten, just terrible, and there was a lot of it.

Sound: 5/10 OK, but nothing to brag about.

Acting: (-2)/10 There was no acting, except perhaps by Al Roker.  Gary Busey looked like he needed life support for this one.

Screenplay: (-1)/10 Hacksaws were the artistic motif.  Illogic reigned over everything.  This was one continuous downpour of bullshit.

Final Rating: 0/10 The Asylum at its worst, perhaps redefining the limits of bad.


20160812: Action Review--Atomic Shark

Name: Atomic Shark (2016)
IMDb: link to Atomic Shark page

Genres: Action, SciFi   Country of origin: USA.

Rachele Brooke Smith as Gina, Jeff Fahey as Rottger, David Faustino as Fletcher, and so on.

Directed by: A. B. Stone.  Written by: Scott Foy, Griff Furst.
Image courtesy of TMDb
The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
At a Southern California beach, Rottger rents out his speed boat for water skiers.  While doing this, the skier is eaten by a red glowing shark.  Rottger reports this to the beach patrol, but is ignored.

On the beach, there are lifeguards (led by a total jackass), the environmentalists, the voyeurs, plus the normal folk.   Gina is Rottger's daughter, one of the lifeguards, and a so-so student of the environment.  She draws her boss' disapproval by insisting that there is a shark problem.

Delineation of conflicts:
The sharks would like to kill and eat the humans.  The environmental group would like the radioactive waste in a sunken submarine to be cleaned up.

As the incidents mount, the drone flyer, the environmentalists, Rottger, and Gina band together to take the issue to the source of the mutated sharks.  The sharks do not take it lying down.

The millennials want selfies every so many minutes, so there is the war with the WiFi.

Resolution: Depends on whether the WiFi works out at sea to coordinate the attack using tablets.

One line summary: Radioactive mutant sharks vs environmental students in SoCal.


Cinematography: 6/10 Bright, well-focused, reasonably framed for natural, outdoor, daytime shooting.  The CGI was frequently unconvincing.

Sound: 7/10 No particular problems.

Acting: 4/10 Jeff Fahey was about as good as he could get given the rotten screenplay.  Other than Jeff, the other actors were between mighty poor and abysmal.

Screenplay: 1/10 Gods of all stars, save me from this crap! The script was just terrible.  This is one of the worst efforts I've seen through Syfy, which is saying a lot.  There were shark movie cliches, beach cliches, stupid boss cliches, radioactivity cliches, and father-daughter cliches.  Add in stereotypical views of millennials, the necessity of WiFi, and the 'ability' of sharks to do just about anything.

Final Rating: 3/10

20160811: Action Review--Ice Sharks

Name: Ice Sharks (2016)
IMDb: link to Ice Sharks page

Genres: Action   Country of origin: USA.

Edward DeRuiter as David, Jenna Parker as Tracy, Kaiwi Lyman Mersereau as Michael, Clarissa Thibeaux as Alex, Travis Lincoln Cox as Sammy, Mia Danielle as Val.

Written and directed by: Emile Edwin Smith.
image courtesy of TMDb

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
A group of young (25-35-ish) scientists study warming patterns in the Arctic icepack.  A nearby Norwegian camp has been losing hunters in the last month or so.  Some of the underwater warming patterns seem alarming, so Sammy is sent out to check the sensors.

Delineation of conflicts:
The sharks would like to kill and eat the humans.  The humans would like to survive.  The sharks show behavior similar to teamwork.  For instance, the sharks manage to sink the station since the ice underneath it is so much thinner than it has been historically. The humans exhibit cleverness and bravery in countering the effects of the shark attacks on the station.  They seal out the sharks and get a new oxygen source while underwater.  Will they hold off the sharks long enough for help to arrive?

Resolution: The results were sad, but not as bleak as in most elimination derbies.

One line summary: Sharks vs environmental scientists in the Arctic.


Cinematography: 5/10 Where it was not shaky cam, it was good.  However, much of the SFX were truly, deeply, POS bad.  For instance, the model of the station was shabbily obvious for all too many minutes, rather like bad 1950s creature features.

Sound: 8/10 No particular problems.

Acting: 7/10 Some of it was a bit wooden.  On the other hand, the team showed courage and intelligence in the face of adversity.  The usual acting in such a film is to scream a lot, then do something extremely stupid.  This group was definitely better than that, which takes more acting skill.

Screenplay: 7/10 Unlike in a typical teen elimination derby, the somewhat older group in this film cooperated and had several small victories.  This did not compensate entirely against the depredations of the sharks, but it made for a better film.  There were adults present, and the adults wisely called mayday early on, which was a partially saving grace for the group.

Final Rating: 7/10 Yes, I must be in a generous mood, but this is the best Asylum film I've seen so far.

20160810: Comedy Review--Gambit

Name: Gambit (2012)
IMDb: link to the Gambit (2012) page

Genres: Comedy   Country of origin: USA

Colin Firth as Harry Deane, Alan Rickman as Lionel Shabandar, Tom Courtenay as The Major, Cameron Diaz as PJ Puznowski, Spencer Cummins as Sgt Puznowski, Cloris Leachman as Grandma Merle Puznowski, Stanley Tucci as Zaidenweber,  Togo Igawa as Takagawa.

Directed by: Michael Hoffman.  Written by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (screenplay); Sidney Carroll (short story).
image courtesy of TMDb

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Harry Deane hates his blowhard multimillionaire boss, Shabandar, who collects art.  Harry is moderately well paid as Shabandar's art curator.  Harry's long time friend, The Major, has a fine hand at forging known works of master oil painters.

Some years back, Shabandar bested the Japanese art collector Takagawa at the auction of Monet's Haystacks in the Morning.  Shabandar would dearly love to acquire the companion piece, Haystacks in the Evening.  Evening was lost in World War II, but Harry sees an opportunity.

Delineation of conflicts:
Harry would like to sell Shabandar the fake created by the Major.  Shabandar would like to own the companion piece.  Harry would like to get rich and stay out of jail, so he plans to create a fake provenance to the target painting.

Harry travels to Texas to find the American rodeo woman PJ Pusnowski, whose grandfather, Sgt Pusnowski supposedly liberated the painting from the Germans who had swiped it earlier in the war.  Shabandar paid 11 million pounds sterling for Morning, so Harry expects to get at least 12 million for Evening.  He offers PJ a large chunk of change, and she decides to cooperate in crafting a false segment of the provenance of The Major's copy.  That is, Evening had been sitting in Texas all those years.

While schmoozing Shabandar in London with PJ, Harry's weak position leads to his firing as well Shabandar's commandeering of PJ's attentions.  Shabandar hires Zaidenweber as an alternate authenticator for the proposed Evening.  Harry hopes to reverse his fortunes, but goodness, what a feckless fool!

Takagawa is in London, ostensibly, to sell certain television rights to Shabandar.  PJ helps Shabandar deal with the Japanese contingent brought along by Takagawa.  This will cement Shabandar's standing in Japanese television.  PJ is swimming in this deal and having the time of her life.  Harry is completely shut out of this, of course.

Harry's last asset is that he has The Major's fake Evening.  Can he use this to reverse all his setbacks?

Resolution: Harry seems a dim bulb, but is he?  Throughout the film, we see him face defeat after defeat, and a mounting sense of overall embarrassment.  The film's title is a good clue to Harry's actual plans.

One line summary: Fine remake of the 1966 caper film.


Cinematography: 9/10 Good looking from beginning to end.

Sound: 8/10 The dialog was clear, the foley was good, and the incidental music amusing.

Acting: 9/10 Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, and Tom Courtenay were excellent.  The rest of the cast did well.

Screenplay: 9/10 The pacing of the film was wonderful.  I got several hearty laughs out of the film, and a dozen or so chuckles.  Not once did I have to strain at suspending disbelief, and the ending came as a mild surprise.

Final Rating: 9/10


20160808: Action Review--IP Man

Name: IP Man (2008)
IMDb: link to IP Man page

Genres: Action   Country of origin: Hong Kong.

Donnie Yen as Ip Man, Simon Yam as Quan, Lynn Hung as Cheung, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi as (Japanese) General Miura, Ka Tung Lam as Li, Sui-Wong Fan as Jin, Xing Yu as Lin, Tenma Shibuya as Colonel Sato (Miura's aide).

Directed by: Wilson Yip.  Written by: Edmond Wong, Siu-Wong Fan.
image courtesy of TMDb

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
The town of Foshan, China in 1935 hosts many martial arts schools.  IP Man is a master of Wing Chun style.  He has a wide reputation which attracts challengers.  He is a man of significant wealth and reputation with a wife and young son.

In 1937, however, the Japanese invasion extended to the region where IP Man lives, including in particular Foshan.  The Japanese military commandeered IP Man's house and ejected him.  Now he is broke.  The Japanese destroyed much of the local manufacturing base, rendering the whole area poor.

Delineation of conflicts:
The local Chinese would like the Japanese to leave; the Japanese clearly intend to stay. The occupying force recruits Chinese masters to fight for rice.  General Miura is quite the expert, and likes to beat the hell out of the locals, three at a time.

IP Man will not participate at first, but a number of deaths draw him out.  He makes a few statements in Miura's tournaments, but what can he do about the situation as a whole?

Quan, a want-to-be rival of IP Man before the war, becomes the boss of a robber gang after the war begins.  IP Man helps defend workers against their extortion by training and personal protection.  Will IP Man be able to help the workers sufficiently to defend themselves?

Will the IP Man confront General Miura directly?

Resolution: We find out.

One line summary: Locals vs Japanese in late 1930s China.


Cinematography: 8/10 Uniformly well-done though not spectacular.

Sound: 8/10 I used the subtitles, but the voices were clear enough for the dialog.  The music was easy enough to hear, well executed, but a bit understated and florid at times.

Acting: 7/10 Donnie Yen was fine as IP Man, as was Hiroyuki Ikeuchi as General Miura, Ka Tung Lam as Li (the poor bastard who chose to interface with Miura), and Simon Yam as Quan.

Screenplay: 8/10  The story moves along, and the motivations are clear enough.  The build up to the final fight between Miura and IP Man was rather good, and the fight was spectacular.

Final Rating: 8/10


201600808: Drama Review--A Decent Arrangement

Name: A Decent Arrangement (2014)
IMDb: link to A Decent Arrangement page
image courtesy of IMDb

Genres: Drama, Romance   Country of origin: USA, India

Adam Laupus as Ashok Khosla, Vikram Kapadia as Arun Khosla, Navneet Nishan as Gita Khosla,
Shabana Azmi as Preeti Mehta, Shreya Sharma as Suriya Mehta, Farid Currim as Bashi Mehta,
Diksha Basu as Amita Chandra, Lethia Nall as Lorie Sanders, Adhir Bhatt as Vikram Kohli.

Written, Produced, and Directed by: Sarovar Banka.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Indian American Ashok Khosla travels from the USA (where he grew up, where he lives, where he works) to India in search of an arranged marriage.  In particular, he travels to Chandigarh, as city north of New Delhi.  He stays with his older female cousin Preeti, who will be his matchmaker.

Delineation of conflicts:
Ashok has to decide what his innermost values are while a wife is being picked for him.

A number of American things have rubbed off on Ashok: he likes coffee, not tea.  He does not like cookies (biscuits) with either.  The American supermarket, the American shower, the American versions of tolerance are all things that he appears to miss.  Perhaps the biggest miss is honesty.  Ashok is honest about his aspirations during his interview with the first set of parents; Preeti is correct in that he just destroyed all hopes in that direction.

Preeti has a very methodical approach, and has a large notebook of descriptions of potential brides ready for Ashok's first day.  She asks for his input, but informs him with reasonable clarity, why his opinion is sometimes 'wrong.'  Preeti asserts that her first pick is 'homely,' which surprises Ashok, but is presented as a virtue in this circumstance.

Preeti asserts that the Indian economy is better than the American at present.  That is curious.  Most of the long sets of local footage point to abject poverty, not to sufficiency, much less abundance.  Some scenes about Preeti's circle look like lower middle class America.  The Mehtas' refrigerator looks as if it were purchased used in the 1950s, and this is a film about 2014.

Some of the parents of potential brides would rather meet with Ashok's parents directly, but not with Preeti, and not with Ashok.  Sigh.  Eventually, Ashok is more quiet during interviews, and actually gets to meet one of Preeti's candidates.

Unfortunately for Ashok's clarity of the moment, Ashok meets Lorie Sanders, an American traveling in India.  This sets him into a new quandary since he has yet to meet a potential Indian bride, and here is this living reminder of all things American.  Oddly enough, she knows more about the city of Chandigarh than he does and offers to show him around.

Shortly thereafter, Ashok meets the Chandra family, and his first Indian bride candidate, Amita Chandra.  He gets to like Amita.

By the time his parents Arun and Gita arrive in Chandigarh, Ashok has to make some decisions.

Resolution: These cultural differences resolve themselves, eventually.

One line summary: Desi man looks for arranged marriage in India.


Cinematography: 5/10 When the camera is steady, this film has a low budget, but still good-looking appearance.  When the camera is weaving about, nausea seems just around the corner.

Sound: 4/10 Neel Murgai is credited with the music, which added some atmosphere but not much emotional depth.

Acting: 5/10 Adam Laupus and Shabana Azmi were convincing as Ashok and Preeti.  Lethia Nall was quite good as Lorie, but the rest of the cast I could have done without.  Entirely.

Screenplay: 7/10 Slow and careful, passive and illuminating.  Ashok is a fish out of water, but this is not played for laughs.  There is no humour in this piece, and little action beyond the motion of the train in the initial sequence.  As a still and thoughtful film, it's fairly pleasant.  Unless one likes still and thoughtful, this could be a major trial.

"We all want out of this shit, and you want to get back in."  Ashok hears this at a bar in Chandigarh, from a local IT professional, and it seems to encapsulate the entire movie for me.

Final Rating: 6/10