Friday, 18 August 2017

Big Game



Title: Big Game
Director: Jalmari Helander
Released: 2014
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Felicity Huffman, Victor Garber, Ted Levine, Jim Broadbent, Ray Stevenson

Plot: When Air Force One is shot down by terrorists President Moore (Jackson) his only hope of survival lies with the 13 year old Oskari (Tommila) who is on a hunting mission to prove his maturity to his kinsfolk, only not to find himself instead aiding the President to escape the terrorists now hunting them.


Review: After giving the world a truly unique take on the Father Christmas mythos with his debut film “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” which itself built on his short films “Rare Exports Inc.” and “The Official Rare Exports Inc. Safety Instructions” Finnish director Jalmari Helander shared with the world his unique world view were Santa was less the jolly fat man but rather a horned beast incased in a block of ice, while his elves were a bunch of naked old guys. Now four years after his memorable debut he takes a stab at the action genre while still carrying across many of the traits which made his debut so memorable.

The most expensive film to be produced in Finland with a budget of $10 million this is a film which for whatever reason seemed to disappear as quick as it appear on the release radar leaving me entering into this film with a sense of trepidation, especially when compared to “Rare Exports” which it seemed the blogging community were keen to discuss unlike this film which no one seemed to be talking about. Thankfully I shouldn’t have worried as Helander once again has delivered a film which is similar to “Rare Exports” in so many ways as Helander gives us his take on the action genre.

In much the same way that his take on Christmas was unique the same could be said for his take on the action genre which not only gives nods the action / adventure movies of the 80’s and early 90’s which arguably shot through what almost feels like the lens of a family film, alas one with terrorists and gunfights. Still thanks to a committed cast which see’s him bringing back cast members from “Rare Exports” aswell as casting American actors like Jackson who arn’t afraid to work with more unique material like this.

Opening to Oskari as he stands before the hunter wall of fame, showcasing the boys who’ve take the same right of passage he’s about to embark on were 13 year old boys from the village are sent into the Finnish wilderness to hunt by themselves, the photos all showing his predessorts all proudly posing with their kills including his father he idolises. Oskari on the other hand is not quite the hunter as we soon discover as he struggles to pull back on his bow a worrying sign when the trail is designed as a test of proving a young boys maturity into manhood. This kind of tough upbringing we saw in his previous film and once again its the same relationship we see between the gruff father figure who hides a softer side and his son which might be off putting to some, but this is the enviroment in which Oskari is growing up were life is tough and childhood fleeting as young boys are expected to be able to hunt skills the trial is designed to test.

It’s certainly far from your usual setup for this film, especially when you consider that featuring kids is usually the kiss of death for most action fans enthusiasm, but perhaps because of how Oskari is introduced its certainly less of an issue here even though Oskari still gives us a few moments of being a wise ass kid, using a cup and string phone to initially talk to Moore in a scene which actually was pretty charming and no doubt equally has a lot to do with Jackson’s ability to commit to the most random of material as highlighted by the 174 credits he currently has on IMDB at the time of writing this review.
Jackson’s Moore himself is an interesting character racked with concerns over his declining popularity, let alone his own concerns over being able to perform as a president and while his character might have benefited from more development the charisma of Jackson once more carries the character across. At the same time he’s played off against Secret Service agent Morris (Stevenson) along with the pychotic and insanely rich Hazar (Kurtulus) whose schemes are less about holding the President hostage and in keeping with his personality is more focused on hunting Moore for sport with the intention of having him stuffed and mounted as the ultimate hunting trophy.

While you might expect to know the direction the film will be heading, throughout the brisk run time Helander constantly manages to catch the audience off guard, which might be slightly disapointing to those who saw the trailer and went into the film expecting more of action fest, when here the action comes more in bursts with the focus being largely on the friendship between Moore and Oskari, while the frequent switches between humour and drama happen so often it can be hard to really latch onto any one mood for the film. The action scenes we do get though are enjoyably outlandish including a refrigerator escape sequence which makes the much lauded one from Crystal Skull seem quite plausible in comparison as we watch Oskari and Moore tumbling down the mountainside following the exciting chase through the woods as Hazar attempts to transport his prize off the mountain side inside said refrigerator. The ending though only up the ante further with Helander ending on a huge setpiece involving an ejector seat, a bow and arrow and an exploding lake!

While the action might be kept to the most part to the mountain side we do get the obligatory cuts to the pentagon crisis room were an enjoyable Victor Garber does a lot of hand wringing as the vice president and Jim Broadbent basically steals every scene he’s in as the head of the Terrorist Intel Unit while somehow managing to make a sandwich last the whole film, let alone showing a rare darker side we haven’t seen since “Art School Confidential” and one I would love to see more of. Yes at time these scenes can feel like throw away exposition but thankfully they do lead up to something bigger by the finale in a rather shocking twist that comes seemingly out of nowhere.

As with “Rare Exports” its hard to say who exactly the audience is for this film and with such a strange family adventure vibe running throughout the film, combined with Helander’s general refusal to commit to any one tone I’ve found myself refering to this as a “Starter Action Movie”. The kind of movie you could show the kids as a gateway into the genre before you show them the Schwarzenegger / Stallone / Van Damme classics. More so when this film is free of the usual bad language and ultra-violence you might not want to expose the kids to, still if we can have starter horror movies why not the same for action movies?

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Symbol

Title: Symbol
Director: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Released: 2009
Starring: Hitoshi Matsumoto, David Quintero, Luis Accinelli, Lilian Tapia, Adriana Fricke, Carlos C. Torres, Ivana Wong, Arkangel De La Muerte, Matcho Panpu, Dick Togo, Salam Diagne

Plot: A Japanese man wakes up in a plain white room covered with phallus like switches which cause random events to happen within the room, while I attempts to find a way out. At the same a Mexican luchadore called Escargot Man prepares for his match despite being concerned that the fact his opponent is much younger than him. At the same time the worlds of these two men are surprisingly connected.

Review: Director Hitoshi Matsumoto might be a director whose work I never intend to seek out and yet our paths for some reason keep crossing, first with the Kaiju parody “Big Man Japan” and later the delightfully perverted “R100”. This time though its a lighter tone that Matsumoto brings to this film of two randomly interconnected tales even though from the start they couldn’t seem to be further part.

Of course surreal worlds have always been one of the trademarks of the comedian turned director and here that’s certainly the case for at least one half of this film as Matsumoto plays the unnamed man who wakes up in the plain room devoid of any colour bar his garish poka-dot pajamas. He has no idea how he got there or why he’s there and certainly by the end of the film we are arguably none the wiser, but it certainly doesn’t stop it being fun to see him being put through the slapstick ringer like your watching “Saw” with jokes.

The main humour of the film comes from him trying to figure out his new surrounding which seem to have designed to purposely test him at all times. The main one of these challenges being the phallus like switches which at one point turn into cherubs which emerge from the wall before disappearing again. Each switch causes something to happen or appear in the room, be it a plate of sushi, a pair of chopsticks or even cause a Zulu warrior to run through the room and this is the challenge which he is faced with let alone the fact that they all look identical.

Just seeing Matsumoto try and find a solution of each problem as he encounters is facinating to watch and his background in comedy only helps further sell even the simplest of jokes such as counsuming a small pile of sushi after resigning himself to the fact that there is no soy sauce only for the next switch he presses to produce the much desired soy sauce. Often these problem solving sections are presented with comic book storyboards while he stares at the viewer just clicking his fingers and the trail and error of the situation is designed so that you want to see him succeed yet at the same time the pay off for each failed plan is so amusing your equally wanting to see him crash and burn aswell.

The second story involving our ageing masked Mexican wrester is a much gentler far and works well running parallel to Matsumoto’s tale. Escargot Man loves his craft as a wrester yet at the same time he’s worried that his age is meaning that he is almost out of the game, especially when faced with competing against a pair of wrestlers half his age. Seeing him permanently wearing his mask regardless of if he is wrestling or not felt like a fun throw back to the likes of “Santo” while at the same time keeping in with the traditions of Lucha Libre. Over the course of his story we see the impact it has on family, including his son who is see defending his father’s in ring ability when two of his classmates make fun of Escargot Man.

Compared to my previous encounters with Matsumoto’s work this one surprisingly didn’t have a darker edge to it, or even go anywhere remotely downbeat in its tone. True instead the finale is a random mish-mash of ideas which includes a Kiss tribute act, ascension and a rather unique ending to Escargot Man’s match. True by the end of the film I might not have been any the wiser as to what I was watching than I was at the start but the ride is so unquestionably fun you really don’t care, while for those willing to take a few risks with their movie watching then this is certainly worth checking out, especially as a more gentle introduction to Matsumoto’s work.
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