Monday, 24 February 2014

The Running Man (1987)

The Running Man is a brilliantly 80s take on America's addiction to TV, so it's somewhat appropriate that it's directed by a TV star: Dave Starsky from Starsky and Hutch.  Paul Michael Glaser has made quite a daft film, with a definite Paul Verhoeven vibe, but is none the less great fun.  Preceding the likes of Battle Royale (2000) and The Hunger Games (2012), The Running Man is a gameshow (the world’s most popular TV programme) rather like Gladiators, except with more fatalities.

Originally penned by Stephen King, and adapted for the screen by Steven E. de Souza (Commando and Die Hard), the movie actually has more going on than you might expect; though I’m not sure how faithful the film is to King’s source material.  In a world of increased crime & violence, the government sees no option but to fight fire with fire, cracking down on criminality with belligerent and enthusiastic ruthlessness.  Of course they don’t care how many innocents are shot as long as they get their man; collateral damage eh?  As well as the more obvious sideswipe at The United States of Television, the totalitarian state also does a mean job in re-writing history a la 1984.  Naturally the media is crucial in enforcing this pseudo-reality so that the general public swallow everything.

Arnie is Arnie; a great action hero with some typically cringeworthy kiss off lines and lots of running.  Yaphet Koto is rather wasted as Arnie's friend who predictably gets thrown into the arena and suffers.  Maria Conchita Alonso is functional enough as the victim turn heroine/love interest, but the most interesting character is the TV presenter Damon Killian.  As presenter of the TV show The Running Man, he is smarmy, arrogant and convinced he is in the right, giving the people what they want.  Personified perfectly by Richard Dawson he really is what the film is worth watching for.  That and some cameos by Jesse Ventura, and bizarrely Mick Fleetwood and Dweezel Zappa!

By no means a fantastic film, but enough going on under the surface to prevent it from being completely brainless.  Apart from KIllian, the characters are all predictable and could be copy/pasted from any number of 80s actioners, but then that’s the joy of 80s Arnie, isn’t it?  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Priest (2011)

Historically Scott Stewart is more involved with visual effects as a cofounder of The Orphanage (credits include Sin City (2005); Pirates of the Caribbean (2006 & 2007) and Iron Man (2008)), but increasingly he is spending time in the director’s chair.  Priest is his third feature film and is very loosely based on the graphic novels written by Hyung Min-Woo.  Not the first film to be based on a graphic novel by any stretch, and I'm sure it won't be the last.  However, it is one of the few movies that I can think of that actually features a cartoon; Hellboy 2 being another obvious example.

The exposition cartoon at the beginning is very stylish, very cool and gave me hope that the rest of the film would be similarly stylised, and perhaps to an extent it was; but for all the great ideas, the movie is disappointingly flat.  It essentially boils down to a revenge movie of sorts, but it could have been so much more.  What saves it from being dreadful are the technical achievements.  I really liked the harsh, high contrast of the badlands which were reminiscent of Pitch Black (2000) and generally the cinematography by frequent Robert Zemeckis collaborator Don Burgess is great (also responsible for lensing the harsh look of The Book of Eli (2010)).  I also liked the idea that the vampires were a race themselves and didn't just suck blood of of their prey, they tore them apart!

Paul Bettany was fine, as was Cam Gigandet.  Christopher Plummer and Alan Dale both phone in their cameo performances.  As did Karl Urban, but his character just reminded me of Rattlesnake Jake from Rango!  Some great ideas (the premise is more interesting than the source material sounds!), I just think that the film falls short of what it aimed to be.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

If only...

Friday, 7 February 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

Having had to go all the way to Glasgow to fast track my passport renewal, I ended up with 3 hours to kill.  At least that's my excuse for going to see such an amazingly average film.  Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was the only film that would really allow me to get to my train home on time.  Jack Ryan has previously been played by 3 actors, (though to be honest I can't remember Ben Affleck's portrayal) and now it's Chris Pine's turn to bring whatever he brings to the role.

The story is concerned with Ryan's beginnings and his first mission to prevent a national economic disaster precipitated by a terrorist attack on New York.  The plot is methodical, ponderous and predictable; nothing inventive at all.  Chris Pine is fine, Keira Knightley isn't sprightly and Kenneth Branagh, erm doesn't rhyme with anything other than spanner, but he's OK, just not a villain really (and has no lips!).  Crinkly faced Kevin Costner was the best thing, but that's rather like saying a ray of sunshine is the best thing on a rainy day.

The film was full of fast edits contrasting with several steady cam moments; which was presumably a conscious decision by Branagh, who was behind the camera as well as in front of it.  Otherwise nothing stood out in this film to analyse at all.  A barely passable way to waste some time in Glasgow.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.