Wednesday 25 September 2013

Review: Riddick

Review: Riddick
Year: 2013
Director: David Twohy
Screenplay: David Twohy
Starring: Vin Diesel, Katee Sackhoff

Synopsis is here

If there’s one thing I enjoy about Riddick, it’s that the character is a survivor.  The story of Vin saving his baby is an interesting one worth noting. With the rights in his power and his credit as producer, Vin now has the chance to slim down the bloated and dull elements that made Chronicles of Riddick such a misshapen beast. The character of Riddick fared better in Pitch Black, a solid Sci-Fi B movie that I found adequate, yet was embraced by many.

Making the third Riddick entry, a smaller scale picture is a decent idea. Yes, there may be less money involved, but in all honesty who really thought the character of Riddick would thrive in that more large scale environment?  Like Dredd, having Riddick exist to live out these smaller, more self contained adventures is a good way to go in a world where so many larger scale “epics” feel that they have to destroy a city to get viewers to care.

Some of the more needless mythology is stripped down in the beginning of this third adventure with most of what happened in the second film reduced to a near pointless cameo appearance. We’re given Riddick in a near desolate world, having to having to survive as well as he can off the land. A difficult task as most of what inhabits the land seems hell-bent on trying to kill him.  This is perhaps my favourite section of the film. To have our main character on his own for so long, with almost nobody to interact with, tackling the elements is quite a brave thing to do in this day and age. Riddick seems to hint that it’s a film that willing to take a few risks. Then the rest of the cast turn up.

The film’s tone shifts, but not for the better. The harsh environment moves to the background as a quite boring bunch of stock characters come forth and talk about things that aren’t particularly interesting, while Riddick employ a stalk and slash affair that does little to stand out (save one head splitting sequence). The films climax appears to be a throwback that may engage bigger Riddick fans than I, but by then I was too drained of interest from what had happened before. Oh and then there’s the whole sexism argument that’s cropped up.

Yes, there’s been talk of strong talk from British critics stating that the exchanges with Vin’s Riddick and Katee Sackhoff’s Dahl character reek of horrible, vulgar sexism. I don’t wish to dismiss this issue. I feel the issues that females have in media is bad enough, when we jump into sub-cultures such as Sci-Fi it often gets much worse.  However looking back at the film and listening to an interesting counter-point from a good and wise friend, I did wonder why it’s this film that appeared to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for the likes of Helen O’ Hara. I do believe she has a point that the writing of the Dahl shows a frustrating doe-eyed change that occurs with the film that feels tonally off (than again Sackhoff’s performance is surprisingly off key). Yet looking at the likes of better movies which work around the same pulp and are way more popular often don’t appear to gain as much scorn, particularly now.  Considering the likes of Escape from New York or even branching off to the works of Agento and De Palma (whose work is currently being strongly revised), Riddick seems to getting slammed a hell of a lot.

Not to say that the film is not at fault. Riddick at one point makes a comment that makes him sound more like an adolescent tweeter faceless lipping off to a feminist journo than a badass. But I found myself considering that the film is so bland that crappy sexual politics is the only thing that could spark any conversation of this film.

Despite holding a certain amount of B movie charm and Diesel obviously having a fondness for this project, I found that Riddick held such a lack of interest, that the talk surrounding the film was far more interesting than the film itself.  Do I find the gender issues problematic? Yes, but with that said I’d rather Hollywood get off its arse and create a Wonder Woman I’ll remember then helping Vin Diesel and David Twohy bring about a slightly offensive Riddick film that will most likely be forgotten. 

Review: Pain & Gain

Year: 2013
Director: Michael Bay
Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Rebel Wilson, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris

Synopsis is here:

Based loosely on an even more insane true story, Pain & Gain finds Michael Bay at the height of his excesses. The film is homophobic, xenophobic and sleazy in all the ways we expect a Bay film to be. Yet as the film isn't aiming dubious messages at the world’s youth (see Transformers), the blow is softened somewhat. The nastiness of the story the film is based on is in fact perfect for a director like Bay who revels in the delinquency of it all. The film is full of discrepancies (composite characters, altered facts) but it doesn't seem to matter. In his own cartoony way, Bay has crafted a film that at its highest points satirises the desperation that infects some who chase the elusive American Dream. It’s Scarface by the way of The 3 Stooges.

Bay mines all the techniques that make many hate him, but his excessiveness only seems to aid the film. The forever roaming camera captures these exasperated characters in heavily saturated colours. The extreme close ups capture every ounce of sweat drenched anxiety that befouls these despicable creatures. The canted angles and hectic cross cutting only seem to serve the skewed views of these criminals.  Even the multiple voice over narration from nearly every character in the film, plays into the mania of it all. Like soulless vultures; the various voices (full of juxtaposition as opposed to what we’re seeing) highlight the hollowness of these people.

It’s easy to hate Pain & Gain because it captures the vapid nature of its characters acutely. Delving head first into the griminess of its story, the characters talk in infomercial platitudes. They take work out breaks when the grisly shit hits the fan. Bay throws this amped up aggression right in our faces and doesn't let, but I never found myself aligning myself with the characters. I felt there was more than enough distance for me to pity their ignorance and laugh at them then with them.

The films humour is often hit and miss, yet when the lurid nature of the piece hits the right spot, there is an amusement about it that will tickle a few. Bay still really needs to reign in his bizarre issues with homosexuals (there was no elements of this in the actual story), while his attitudes to race and females are still as crude as ever. However, I must maintain that some of this works towards the characters we are observing. To sanitize the nastiness of this story would be a disservice. Fact is, as grim as the tone of this movie may be; it’s still not as nasty as what actually happened.  That Bay manages to mine something “enjoyable” out of this, says more about me than anything, but there’s something in the blackness of it all that entertained me. I've said it before; you gotta laugh, or else you’ll cry.

Pain & Gain looks to attack the worse aspects of American materialism in plain sight. From the garish colours, and over indulgent direction (although Bay has eased up on his editing), to the arrogant, dunderhead performances (Johnson’s relapsed, meatheaded addict is a highlight) of the main cast. Everything plays into the sordid mentality of culture that’s able to cultivate sociopaths and all of this is wrapped within a high octane package that only Bay could deliver. I have to admit that after the 447 minutes of robot smashing that Bay gave us, Pain & Gain seems much more toned down and focused in its action. Again, nothing hits the peaks of some his earlier works, however compared to the fallen revenges of the dark of the moon, everything is little bit more engaging. I guess one of the reasons is that Bay isn't shilling this to adolescents.