Iro's Film Diary

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The Blues Brothers and John Belushi are sacred to me. I can't bring myself to watch the sequel.
Sure, you can.
I really just want you all angry and confused the whole time.
Iro's Top 100 Movies v3.0

#276 - Tango & Cash
Oooh. Russel and Stallone?

Originally Posted by Iroquois
I wouldn't recommend to people who weren't already interested in films of this caliber.

How 'bout me?
Movie Reviews | Anime Reviews
Top 100 Action Movie Countdown (2015): List | Thread
"Well, at least your intentions behind the UTTERLY DEVASTATING FAULTS IN YOUR LOGIC are good." - Captain Steel

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#282 - The Purge: Anarchy
James DeMonaco, 2014

In a world where all crime is temporarily legalised for one night a year, a ragtag group of survivors must make their way through the chaos-strewn city.

The premise of The Purge is admittedly a silly one, but it at least has the potential to prove a good B-movie experience. While the home-invasion plot of the original couldn't do a whole lot of worth with the idea, follow-up Anarchy at least manages to improve upon the idea by expanding the scope of the universe out of the gated communities where the rich hide from their problems and into the streets where the poor must fend for themselves. The resulting film plays like a fairly passable update of an early-'80s B-movie in the vein of The Warriors or Escape From New York in its depiction of a grim yet oddly cartoonish dystopia, yet it still tries to play things reasonably straight. There are some decent little vignettes that lend substance to this improbable world and a somewhat twisty plot featuring some half-decent characters, but it never quite feels like enough to make this film feel like much more than a passable genre exercise that may improve on its source but doesn't become great in its own right.

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#283 - Star Trek Beyond
Justin Lin, 2016

When the Enterprise respond to a distress signal, the ship is attacked by hostile aliens and the crew are marooned on a nearby planet.

Considering how Justin Lin managed to oversee the Fast and Furious series' metamorphosis from low-rent pieces of carsploitation to high-concept mega-blockbusters, it naturally makes sense that he would once again get tapped to direct a threequel in a fledgling yet promising cinematic franchise. While I've grown to appreciate the Star Trek franchise over the past few years, I haven't thought too highly of J.J. Abrams' attempt to reinvent the relatively cerebral yet notoriously campy sci-fi franchise for the 21st-century blockbuster market. Though I haven't exactly loved Lin's work on the Fast series either, I can see how he has a knack for developing an ensemble of actors in addition to providing high-octane action sequences. Hopefully, his filmmaking abilities would translate into the world of Trek and help lend some weight to a rebooted series that had yet to reach its full potential under Abrams' slick yet hollow supervision. Unfortunately, that's not necessarily the case here. Now that the series is no longer constrained by either the need for re-establishing the characters within an alternate-reality canon or coasting on former glories by bringing back one of the franchise's most memorable antagonists, it might actually have the freedom to tell a decent story.

Beyond certainly has plenty of promise as it takes the Enterprise (whose crew has settled into a comfortable yet stagnant routine) on a rescue mission that quickly goes wrong, leaving the Enterprise destroyed and its surviving crew members scattered across the surface of a nearby planet. The film even gets to set up some arcs and stakes to carry the characters through the film; most prominently, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) must contend with the growing uneasiness surrounding his role as captain , while First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) has his loyalty divided by his obligations to Starfleet and his duty towards his fellow Vulcans. Other characters either spin off from those two (Karl Urban's medical officer Bones and Zoe Saldana's communications officer Uhura being the chief examples for Kirk and Spock respectively) or effectively exist independently in the cases of Sulu (John Cho), Scotty (Simon Pegg), and Chekov (Anton Yelchin). After being split up, they all deal with the threat posed by Krall (Idris Elba), a barbaric warlord with a grudge against the Federation who plans on capturing a MacGuffin in order to carry out an evil plan. To this end, the Enterprise crew must not only find each other but join forces with Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a formidable alien warrior who is waging her own war for survival. It's a thin framework that can be filled out with action, characterisation, and thematic exploration, but this balancing act proves a little too skewed towards the former for its own good.

As much I want to like Star Trek Beyond (and as much as it gives me things to like about it), somehow it's not all clicking into place for me. Lin definitely handles certain aspects of the film well enough as he is capable of developing the ensemble that is key to the Trek experience, even if it does amount to little more than a steady stream of sharp-witted banter punctuated with the odd moment of warm emotion (with Quinto and Urban proving the true MVPs in this regard as their caustic interplay is a constant treat). However, it is the action side of things that lets things down as this archetypal Trek plot is padded with all sorts of frantic-looking set-pieces that still manage to feel tedious despite the obvious technical flair on display (though they do gradually improve as the film progresses). It is nice to see various little nods to recently-departed cast members like Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy, plus the focus on the Enterprise crew as a surrogate family is likely to help Beyond hold up quite well on re-watches. However, being the best film in this rebooted series does not necessarily mean that Beyond becomes great in its own terms and it really does leave a little too much to be desired.

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#284 - Grizzly Man
Werner Herzog, 2005

A documentary about Timothy Treadwell, a man who spent many years co-habitating with wild bears before ultimately being killed by them.

Grizzly Man is a lot of things. A cautionary tale, a very black comedy, and a tragedy in every sense of the may not be making an especially profound point in showing what happens when you get too close to wild bears but it is a fascinating film nonetheless. Main subject Treadwell is quite the eccentric (to put it mildly) yet is not made to look like a complete fool - even Herzog's starkly dissenting narration about his subject's actions doesn't cast explicit condemnation of them either. There is the odd moment that feels staged (especially those involving Treadwell's ex-girlfriend) but nothing that seriously disrupts the film as a whole - such is the power of what's going on.

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#285 - Josie and the Pussycats
Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, 2001

A shady music executive signs an all-female rock band to his company in order to make them into the next big pop sensation.

With Internet culture combing the past few decades of cinema for any movie that it could potentially hold up as an under-appreciated gem, I can definitely understand why this movie would deserve some recognition beyond being yet another turn-of-the-millennium girl-power relic based on a comic book from the 1960s. Josie and the Pussycats may not be subtle in its satirisation of soulless corporations and their treatment of musicians, but none of it actually feels unearned despite the obvious family film status. The performers may vary in terms of ability (and the best performers at least look like they're having fun with their silly roles, especially Parker Posey and Alan Cumming as a pair of nefarious label executives) but there's nothing that really grinds this film to a halt in terms of being totally awful. Even the actual songs on display, which are as early-2000s bubblegum-rock as you can possibly get, don't actually suck. While I'm still hesitant to consider Josie and the Pussycats some kind of secret success thanks to its relatively basic humour and generally ordinary execution, it didn't actively irritate me either and that's certainly worth some consideration.

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#286 - Witness for the Prosecution
Billy Wilder, 1957

A lawyer must defend a man who has been accused of murdering a wealthy widow.

I like how the closing credits feature a voice-over telling audiences not to spoil the film for people who haven't seen it. A nice touch from a relatively civilised era. Anyway, I'm not totally enamoured with this one - that first half was a bit of a slog - but it's definitely a grower that has a decent cast on display and a straight-shooting style that can only pick up more and more momentum as the film nears its conclusion.

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#287 - Capturing the Friedmans
Andrew Jarecki, 2003

A documentary about the Friedmans, a seemingly ordinary American family who were at the heart of a damaging sex scandal in the late-1980s.

I saw most (but not all) of this in class a few years ago but that doesn't make it any less harrowing to see this postmortem on a nuclear family that was embroiled in a scandal where the father and youngest son are accused of being child molesters. The film encompasses a variety of media ranging from old home movies to new interviews of the parties involved that attempt to approach such a sensitive subject from all sides without implicit condemnation or absolution on the part of the filmmakers. As a result, it is a troubling film and a tough watch but it is effective as both a true-crime procedural and a portrait of a family in crisis.

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#288 - Mommy
Xavier Dolan, 2014

The dysfunctional relationship between a single mother and her teenage son is affected by the presence of a neighbour.

While this may have an almost identical premise to Dolan's earlier I Killed My Mother (which I did not particularly like), it at least manages to be a step up in its execution (especially due to Anne Dorval providing another good performance as yet another on-edge matriarch dealing with extremely difficult offspring). The decision to shoot the film with a heavily-letterboxed 1:1 ratio is an intriguing choice and the film's only just good enough to get away with it but beyond that it's a rather sluggish series of domestic dramatics.

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#289 - The Bourne Identity
Doug Liman, 2002

An amnesiac looking to regain his memories learns that he is a highly-skilled spy and must go on the run when he is targeted for assassination.

I decided to run the Bourne series in anticipation of the latest one and I'm still undecided over whether or not I genuinely like them. Identity proves to be an okay-ish movie that is very much like its highly-skilled cipher of a protagonist in that it moves smoothly and efficiently but never quite managing to leave a strong impression. I can't fault it too hard in this regard and I'm not about to hold it to task over its imitators, but watching it now feels strangely inconsequential in a way that no amount of intense hand-to-hand fights or swift chases can ever truly compensate for.

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#290 - 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Michael Bay, 2016

A dramatisation of the events surrounding the 2012 terrorist attack on an American embassy in Benghazi.

Considering his reputation for directing some of the most loud and crass blockbusters to ever grace international multiplexes, it's something of a relief to see Bay do something that requires a more grounded approach. His skills as a technical filmmaker are easier to parse within the decidedly straightforward true-story framework and, while that arguably constrains it a little (to the point where a character snarkily making reference Black Hawk Down feels a little on-the-nose), it's as good a way to focus his "Bayhem" into something watchable (if not necessarily great).

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#291 - The Bourne Supremacy
Paul Greengrass, 2004

After the events of The Bourne Identity. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is living a peaceful existence until events force him to come out of hiding and start chasing the truth about his real identity.

Original review posted here.

(Additional notes: while it's definitely better a second time around, I still don't love it. I do appreciate some good moments - the kitchen fight stood out as a solid action scene in its own right - but I still find the whole thing to be a bit middle-of-the-road.)

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#292 - The Expendables 3
Patrick Hughes, 2014

When a team of skilled mercenaries is tasked with capturing a notorious arms dealer, it causes the leader to have a crisis of conscience.

The first Expendables may have buckled under the weight of a promise it knew it wouldn't quite be able to keep - that of using an all-star cast to resurrect the classic '80s action movie - but its most immediate follow-up was a significant enough improvement that an exponentially superior third movie seemed quite plausible. Unfortunately, it is with the third movie where things collapse (sometimes literally but mostly figuratively). With a plot that's seemingly engineered around new additions to the cast (mainly young up-and-comers in the action genre) and a PG-13 rating neutering much of the action and tough-talking, The Expendables 3 perhaps goes a little too far in replicating old-school action movies by creating a watered-down threequel not unlike RoboCop 3 or Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Even the prospect of seeing Mel Gibson play a deranged villain is undermined by the fact that he's essentially repeating the role he played in Machete Kills to lesser effect (and that's without mentioning Antonio Banderas' grating turn as an overly enthusiastic wannabe Expendable).

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#293 - The Bourne Ultimatum
Paul Greengrass, 2007

Following on from the events of The Bourne Supremacy, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is still trying to uncover the truth by any means necessary.

Original review posted here.

(Additional notes: I feel like my bumping up the rating is a bit of a cop-out especially when I didn't grant the last two films such leniency but screw it, this is where we're at. At least the infamous bathroom fight actually manages to look good and I now have a better understanding of why it's praised as a good example of shakycam, but it is pretty much business as usual for these movies. Still not sure if I'll see Jason Bourne while it's in theatres, though.)

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#294 - Star Trek
J.J. Abrams, 2009

In a future where humans and aliens peacefully inhabit and explore outer space, a young rebel joins the fight against a ship full of genocidal aliens.

I had originally intended to revisit the first two nu-Trek movies before watching Beyond, but that obviously didn't happen so here I am seeing how they hold up in comparison. Star Trek does fall prey to the usual foibles one associates with J.J. Abrams - I always seem to forget just how much of a fixation he has on lens flares unless I'm actually watching something he's done, but on repeat viewings I'm more liable to be annoyed by how easily the "mystery box" storytelling falls apart on a second viewing. At least that latter quality is mitigated here by the demands of an origin story that seeks to re-establish iconic characters within an altered timeline and the casting is usually solid enough to compensate for any shortcomings in character development. As a result, this becomes a relatively watchable piece of work that may be somewhat hampered by the demands of your average tentpole blockbuster and the director's mildly frustrating visual style (plus the usual quibbles about it being an affront to "real" Trek) but it's at least able to function well enough as a standalone piece of work.

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#295 - Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Taiki Waititi, 2016

A juvenile delinquent is sent to a rural foster home and eventually goes on a journey through the bush with his survivalist "uncle".

While it's easy to be skeptical of any film that's touted as a feel-good must-see (especially when it's a small-scale affair from a country whose films don't often get major attention so anytime something rises above it almost demands to be seen), I must say that Hunt for the Wilderpeople goes about it quite well. Though it does take a while to get going (and did have me worrying that it might prove a dud), it soon gets into a good rhythm as it sets up an solid odd-couple dynamic between a bratty youth (Julian Dennison) and his grouchy guardian (Sam Neill) as they both end up in the wilderness for reasons that I'm not about to mention. I'd liked Waititi's vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows and, while this movie is considerably lighter in terms of content, it still manages to pack in a fair few chuckles thanks to its quirky New Zealander humour and heroes divided by a generation gap (to the point where it feels like a much more realistic variation on Up, especially when it manages to sell some of its more serious narrative beats).