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Review Hangman (2017): Al Pacino is not even trying any more!

genre: crime, mystery, thriller

How the mighty have fallen! There was a time Al Pacino could do no wrong and even at his worst he would still steal every scene he was in. I wished I could say that this is the case here. Unfortunately he has dropped the ball big time.

I remember Alec Baldwin talking about imitating Al Pacino and how his way of speaking has changed over time. For some reason he has adopted some kind of Southern accent now. To put this in some perspective Al Pacino is born in New York and has been living in New York most of his life if I am not mistaken. Then how on Earth did his accent change? Point is that if you had any doubts it is very apparent here since Al Pacino is saying his dialogue like he is minutes away from singing a country song. If this was the only flaw with his performance I could have lived with his accent. But then there is his stance and demeanour. He looks very exhausted throughout the whole film. Even in his more energetic moments you can tell he is holding back because he doesn't give a damn about anything he is doing. Although there was one brief moment of brilliance which must have been a fluke since he never repeated it. The bags under his eyes are so big that he looks like Droopy. Strangest thing is that there is one flashback scene where he is younger and looks a whole lot better. I couldn't tell if this was a good make-up job or CGI was used. But does beg the question why they didn't make him look better all the time. At least then he would have looked less tired and more interested in catching this highly dangerous serial killer. 

You read it right. This thriller is about a serial killer named Hangman and has called out Detective Ruiney played by Karl Urban and Detective Archer (Pacino). They are accompanied by Christi Davies (Brittany Snow) a reporter who wants to do a piece on detectives and their jobs. Like that has never been done before. What should and could have been compelling and thrilling is the exact opposite. There is very little tension or suspense. But worse those elements are replaced with generic action and some bloody crime scenes with dead bodies. Don't get your hopes up though. None of the crime scenes are gory or shocking. Very basic stuff really. It would be easy to put all the blame on director Johnny Martin and he undoubtedly  is responsible for a large part of this film failing. But it's also the cast that don't feel inspired or motivated. Karl Urban is far too laid back and mostly on automatic pilot. Brittany Snow was actually adequate but to be fair doesn't add anything significant to the dynamics other than the super melodramatic scene where she opens up about her reason for being there. It's not that it didn't feel sincere. But more that it was out of place. It had very little to do with the serial killer plot. Urban and Pacino are supposed to be old partners but they don't come across as such. There is zero chemistry between them and both of them didn't even care. Can you blame them for this? Actually no. The plot what should and could have been the highlight is as generic as they come. Very little is done to make everything fresh or creative. Sarah Shahi was good but like Snow could have been left out. To be fair though she was one of the few characters that looked like someone who belonged there. 

The serial killer element itself is incredibly dull and unimaginative. There are a few moments where the audience is given a taste of what could have been. Only apart from one ridiculous twist nothing is put in to make this serial killer menacing. No red herrings, no brutal murders, no tension and thrills. No epic moments between serial killer and the detectives. Absolutely nothing. Then what is the point? 

My expectations weren't that high to begin with but I should have known better. It takes itself far too seriously but never adds anything substantial. It doesn't even have that so bad it becomes good vibe. I hate to say it but Hangman is a giant waste of your time. I really tried hard to like this film but I simply couldn't. I would go so far to say that this would not even be suited on rainy Sunday's or very late at night. Unless you are out of sleeping pills and you need to be knocked out quickly. For that it's perfect. 

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Review Acts of Vengeance (2017): Not John Wick, not Taken nor Death Wish but something else!

genre: drama, crime, action

What do I mean with something else? Well, Acts of Vengeance is hardly the action revenge flick as it is advertised. There is action and revenge in it but not nearly as much as one would hope. Especially considering the fact that Isaac Florentine is specialised in making stylish and hard hitting action films. Acts of Vengeance is more a tale about loss and grief.

In particular how main character Frank Valera played by Antonio Banderas is dealing with his grief. First he blames himself but then by coincidence comes across a book called Meditations written by Marcus Aurelius. This book contains his personal notes on stoic philosophy which in essence is about not allowing yourself to be controlled by desire for pleasure or fear of pain but using your mind to understand the world and then to try to find a way to do your part and treating others in a fair and just manner. I am not entirely sure if Frank's understanding of the book rhymes with what the stoic philosophy is referring to but it does change his view on the guilt that he is feeling and that he has to punish the perpetrator of the crime committed against his wife and daughter. This is the moment he starts training and preparing himself for the tough battles that he will have to face. Problem is that there aren't that many. The few that are in the film are choreographed well and like often it makes Banderas look like he is capable and therefore believable. But it just makes you wanting more of Banderas kicking ass and this simply isn't that kind of movie. Another thing that Frank takes from the book is a vow of silence. I am not going to lie while I understood the principle it was a little bit hard to take that seriously at first especially since Frank never really tells people why he is not speaking. Still I managed to accept his silence since Banderas made me to. His sincere and earnest approach to the character made me buy it. Although I am not convinced that not speaking for a short time suddenly makes you a good listener like Frank is claiming. Another thing I was willing to buy since it did make Banderas look like a samurai warrior or ninja who was aware of his surroundings.

For some reason Paz Vega is in this film as well and while not annoying she easily could have been left out of the film. To be clear this is not her fault. She does her best with the little she has gotten but I do blame Isaac Florentine for not using Vega to her full potential. Same could be said of Karl Urban. His character could have been played by everyone and it would have hardly made a difference. It does make me wonder if they have cut out the more substantial stuff or that this truly was the final product as intended.

Surprisingly I enjoyed this film and it's a good example of what one can do to keep overused themes fresh. But I was a little disappointed to not get the non stop action that was promised. Antonio Banderas really makes it look good and I hope he keeps pursuing these kinds of roles and genres. Although I do wish he gets to do it in AAA titles like he deserves.

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Review Wolf Warrior II a.k.a. Zhan lang II (2017): I'll take propaganda and melodrama any day if the action is this good!

genre: action, adventure, war

Wolf Warrior was already a fun flick and was a good showcase of Wu Jing as an action star, director and storyteller. With Wolf Warrior 2 he ups the ante to epic proportions. I am not kidding by saying that you won't believe how spectacular this film is.

Is it a little too melodramatic and perhaps a little nationalistic? Sure but I see no difference between this and American films. China is basically doing the same as Hollywood used to or still is doing which is portraying themselves as the heroes. Well, in this the Chinese people and some Africans are the heroes. I am totally fine with that. Especially if it gives the high quality action and spectacle that this film has done. I mean I truly am not exaggerating the scale of the film. It easily is ten times bigger than the original. Wolf Warrior II also doesn't spare you. It very gladly will display the horrors of wars and the aftermath of those wars, hunger and diseases or rather the negligence  of curing those diseases. At first it can be somewhat overwhelming since it is a bit heavy handed. But fear not once Wu Jing takes on the mission to rescue a doctor called Chen eases up on the melodrama and focuses on the action. Such sweet and beautiful action. Now Wolf Warrior II does have moments where the drama is turned up to the maximum but these moments are surprisingly effective since they intensify what the good guys are trying to accomplish. It makes you root harder for them. It is very reminiscent of old war movies like Guns of Navarone amd The Great Escape.

Celima Jade from Arrow had a big role and while we know she can be convincing doing action she unfortunately serves as a damsel in distress but one with attitude and no pushover by any means so that makes it OK in my book. Frank Grillo is the villain named Big Daddy and seems to have similar characteristics to his Crossbones character of the two latest Captain America films. A ruthless mercenary for hire who has very little to no honour and loyalty. The worst kind of soldier you can imagine. He is not as fleshed out as I would have liked but we do get to see him fight and that is what most people want right?

Wolf Warrior II has a post-credits scene where Wolf Warrior III is announced. And that makes me so happy. Wu Jing could make a whole series of these like Tom Cruise did with Mission Impossible and Sylvester Stallone with Rambo or The Expendables. So can't wait for that film to be ready. Wolf Warrior is must watch for everyone who love good action. Old school action to be precise!

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Review Undisputed III: Redemption: Boyka IS the most complete fighter in the world!

genre: martial arts, action, crime

The title might be the most generic but it is the most fitting. The antagonist of Undisputed II: Last Man Standing returns in this sequel as the protagonist. Boyka the once proud champion is defeated and demoted to latrine duty. Most men would have wallowed in pity or worse. Only Boyka while down and out is far from broken. Boyka is still a proud and honourable man who doesn't let a bad knee or any other issue get in the way of his ambition.

As only he can, he proves himself to Gaga who is impressed with his recovery and mentality and signs him up for a new tournament between champions of other prisons. The whole idea of course is preposterous but in films like these it's best not to get hung up about those details. Now somewhere in the Republic of Georrgia in a prison called Gorgon he will face other skilled fighters. Naturally you already will know how events play out. But I have to give credit to Isaac Florentine for actually attempting to tell stories and elaborate on the world a little more than usual. As much as I appreciate this I do think that most of these scenes are dragging and slow the film down considerably. Because it is in these moments that you are confronted with lack of compelling plot and some real painful acting. Especially by Marko Zaror who plays the ultimate and undefeated champion of Gorgon named Raul 'Dolor' Quinones. I have no clue whether he intentionally was trying to be comedic or he actually was trying to be menacing. It doesn't really matter. Every time he is on the screen you can't help but laugh because of his crossed eyes. That in combination of trying to be edgy and evil makes him a walking parody. If it weren't for his excellent fighting skills I would not have taken him seriously at all. Mykel Shannon Jenkins as Turbo was highly annoying at first but he made up for it because of his chemistry with Scott Adkins.

Scott Adkins is one of the main reasons to check out Undisputed III. Even when we hardly know where Boyka comes from and how he ended up in prison he has made Boyka into one of the most bad ass characters ever. Adkins is phenomenal as the Russian of few words. His whole demeanour is that of a man you never want to mess with. Especially when he fights. Now I am fully aware that the martial arts in the film are more the flashy variety and might not be the best way to defeat opponents. Only it looks spectacular. Adkins pulls out moves like it's nothing. His fights and the other ones are definitely the highlight of the film.

Overall Undisputed III: Redemption will give you the martial arts goodness you crave for. But apart from Adkins as Boyka there is very little else. Keep that in mind.

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