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Review Bullet Train (2022): It's entertaining while it lasts but for the most part disappointing!

genre: action, comedy, thriller

David Leitch delivered good action with Deadpool 2 and Atomic Blonde. This was less the case with Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. The less we say about that, the better. However, it's obvious the expectations were high. So did Leith do it again?

Unfortunately, Bullet Train is an example of a film that lends a lot from other films and directors without upping the ante or giving you fresh, compelling things to be amazed by. On the surface level, it's solid, but if you look beyond, there is nothing there. Bullet Train tries real hard to be a Tarantino film without his talent for writing witty and compelling dialogue. To be honest, that for me wouldn't have been a big deal had the characters been fleshed out a little more. We are supposed to feel things about them, however aren't given that much substance to do so. I realize that Bullet Train is based on a Japanese novel, so it might very well be possible that some of the story got lost in translation. Because honestly, there is very little story to begin with. Like with John Wick, certain characters are vital to the story. There are several assassins on board of this train, and it's they way they interact with each other that provides the most fun. These assassins seem to know each other by reputation, but clearly aren't bound by any rules. Still, I can't help but feel that a lot of background on these characters is thrown out.

And this also would not have been that much of an issue had the action be spectacular. It's in this department where the film lets down. The choreography is average at best. If you, like me, were hoping for John Wick type of action, I will have to disappoint you. It's not there. There was potential for some good combat, but many opportunities have been wasted. It's real puzzling to me. For example, the film features Hiroyuki Sanada and Andrew Koji. Two excellent martial artists who could have made quite the impact had they been given the chance. Brad Pitt as Ladybug was a decent lead, but he didn't do that much action wise. At least not like it was hyped up to be. Then again, if it weren't for him, I don't think I would have stuck around. 

Sure, the film is entertaining while it lasts, but for the most part it's disappointing. It just points out how hard it is to make good, interesting action films. If you are craving top-notch action, then watch Carter. If you can't appreciate Carter you simply can't call yourself an action fan.

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Review Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022): Giant waste of your time!

genre: comedy, horror, thriller

When they were discussing this film on a Dutch talk show, I was a little intrigued. These grumpy old men automatically dislike everything. But the fact that they were talking about it did prove there was a lot of hype surrounding Bodies Bodies Bodies. I wasn't aware that actress Halina Reijn also directed films. And yes, it is a big deal when somebody from The Netherlands gets attached to a big American production like this. It doesn't happen often. So naturally it looked promising.

In one of the comments / reviews online it was mentioned that this film was a modern take on Agathie Christie. Well, I love whodunnits Especially, that style of murder mystery. And when it was stated that there was one big twist that made it worth your while, I was on board. 5 minutes later I already tuned out. None of the characters were likeable. Except maybe the one played by Lee Pace. But he was so underused it simply isn't funny any more. It also didn't help that I couldn't understand what was said 90 percent of the time. Obviously, I understood the poor attempt at satire. I just had trouble hearing the words. I truly dislike it when actors don't pronounce properly. Usually I watch films with subtitles in case people speak softly or unintelligibly. This time I couldn't be bothered. I doubt it would have made that big of a difference, since the dialogue was absolutely awful. There isn't a single scene where you are compelled by a conversation. They do try, but they fail miserably because none of the actors have the ability. 

At one point, the mystery elements happen. Even in a black comedy, you are supposed to feel some sense of tension or dread. But like I said, none of the characters were likeable, so you don't really care when bad things happen. They could have remedied this by at least make the death scenes exciting. Or have people respond in ways you never expect. Unfortunately, not only does Bodies Bodies Bodies commit the ultimate sin by rehashing every horror cliché you can imagine. It also doesn't do anything fresh or creative with the premise. The supposed twist is funny, I will give them that. But it's one so stupid that it feels like the final kick in the groin. However, it sure takes forever for that twist to happen. It was the one thing I was looking forward too. Sometimes twists, no matter how crazy, can make boring events compelling. It can put a spin on what you have experienced and truly surprise you. This is not the case here. Actually, it emphasizes the huge flaws in plot, red herrings and the direction. And for the love of God, please stop putting Pete Davidson in films. He is not a good actor and not attractive by any means. 

Bodies Bodies Bodies is very messy. I am not even going to pretend to be knowledgable about Gen Z. But I am pretty sure there is far more to them than is presented. Then again, maybe the whole goal was to point out the big generation gap between people my age and Gen Z. But is Halina Reijn the one to educate us on them. I don't think so. She lacks the wit and finesse to give us a proper satire. All you are left with is the feeling you have wasted your precious time! 

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Review Ballistic Kiss a.k.a. Sat sat yan, tiu tiu mo (1998) and Drunken Tai Chi a.k.a. Siu Tai Gik (1984)

genre: action, martial arts, gun fu

Even for a Hong Kong action flick, Ballistic Kiss is very confusing. I guess Donnie Yen tried to be clever and up the ante with style and choreography that is a little different from his usual stuff. Nothing wrong with that if it actually pays off. Instead, we get one big mess where it's very hard to make out the ass kicking. 

As a huge martial arts fan, you would think I would prefer hand-to-hand combat over gun play. And yes, before John Woo this was very true. Ever since, I am also a huge fan of heroic bloodshed and everything gun fu when done right. So naturally, I was all on board for Donnie Yen to make his own bloodshed film. In all honestly, there are some inventive and creative gun play scenes. No question. But, and this is a very big but. You don't get to witness the brilliance since the cameraman couldn't follow the action. To make matters worse. The editor also was out of his depth and keeps cutting away from the action instead of focussing the good stuff. And if that wasn't enough, the odd choice of having most of the action take place in darkness with poor lighting is beyond me. I get that this could be due to a low budget. Still, I have seen Hong Kong do much more with much less.

Then there is the story. Trust me, I don't want to talk about it. I really dislike being forced to. For some reason, there was a trend in Hong Kong to have these supposed edgy and fatalistic romantic love stories incorporated in almost everything you can think of. Only the most brilliant directors could do something worthwhile with that notion. While Donnie Yen certainly is a master in the industry. Back then, he certainly didn't have the directing experience to make that happen. So what you are left with is a love story without romance and all that goodness that comes with romance. Donnie's character Cat and female cop don't even know each other for them to be lovers. It's completely baffling. 

Look, I really wished I could say that Ballistic Kiss is worth your while. But to be honest, it's complete rubbish. Even the most hardcore fans of Donnie Yen and heroic bloodshed won't get much fun out of this. 

genre: martial arts, comedy

Drunken Tai Chi is Donnie Yen's debut film and immediately one of the best he has ever made. It's no wonder since both the direction and action choreography is done by the one and only Yuen Woo Ping. A true winning combination if you ask me.

Granted, this early Donnie Yen film suffers from what the early Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan films had been featuring, but here it's even less sophisticated. And with that I mean a lot of random goofiness and silly antics I have learned to get used to. Tonally, this film is a comedy. But for example, there is one major dramatic event in the film that could and should have changed the tone and become a more serious affair. It would have vastly improved the viewing experience. Instead, you have Yen's character barely registering or reacting to what has happened and going through with his comedic antics. It kind of breaks the immersion a little. Just a little. 

Since the martial arts and the stunt work throughout the film is insane. Basically, the film is a collection of several random fight and stunt scenes tied together through a super thin narrative. Quite effectively! There are many stand out moments. But the most memorable is the puppeteer scene, where Donnie Yen showcases his breakdancing skills. Truly remarkable! Certainly a must-watch!

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Review Day Shift (2022): Good action, but suffers hugely because of the bad pacing and lack of real jokes.

genre: action, comedy, fantasy

Day Shift is not exactly what I thought it was going to be. However, it was fun and entertaining. And these days that does count for something.

So before I start talking about the good, I need to mention the bad. For whatever reason, the focus seemed to be on comedy. Especially between badass vampire hunter Bud Jablonski, played by Jamie Foxx, and timid by the numbers Seth, played by Dave Franco. Yes, in essence, this is a buddy film. And that would have been awesome if Fox and Franco actually had some chemistry. Unfortunately, most of their dynamics feels forced. It could have worked if the jokes were actually funny. Sure, I laughed more than I didn't, but at a certain point I did get annoyed with Franco's character whining all the time. I would not have had a problem if he had been on Bud's ass all the time, slamming him with rules and regulations. I mean, he was there to keep Bud proper and actually is a great premise for comedic antics if Bud wouldn't be able to do the job because of the strict rules. And it actually would have been amazing if Seth realized that there is no such thing as black and white. I would have loved to watch him slowly turn into the cynical but though as nails vampire slayer without the forced plot element. I won't spoil, but it's too damn convenient and kind of broke the immersion for me. 

At first, I liked the inclusion of Snoop Dogg. But honestly, I don't think he really fit in this film. Let's face it, he is a bad actor. Sure, he can provide laughs and have some merit in the right film. Except not in this one. He is just Snoop pretending to be someone he is not. You can't detach the Snoop persona from whomever he was supposed to be playing. I can't even be bothered to look it up. It really doesn't matter. I wished they would have let him done things you wouldn't expect him to do. Once he appears in the film, you know what he is going to be about.

I could complain about the lack of real story and even less character development. But it was enough to keep events going, and for an action flick that sometimes is all you need. No, the real issue I have is with the pacing. Some scenes are too dragged out or simply go nowhere. There is absolute no need for this story to be around 1 hour and 50 minutes. Had they cut twenty or twenty-five minutes off, this film would have been stellar. The long duration exposes a lot of flaws which could have been easily avoided.

Still. There are some highlights in the film you simply can't pass up. The action sequences. There are two big ones that stand out. It's the opening sequence and the one in the middle where another cool cat makes his entrance. Or actually two. They are called the Nazarian Brothers. I honestly had no knowledge of this incredible martial artist being in the film. But he surely elevated that action sequence to orgasmic levels. My girl, Mrs. P, who is not familiar with him and his work, absolutely didn't understand my excitement for his appearance (even when short) in the film. But people who are fans of his work will understand. Then the vampires. Brilliant move to have them play by members of Cirque du Soleil. You certainly haven't seen vampires move like they did. And it actually adds tension and thrills to the action.

Another highlight is Jamie Foxx. Most of us know he is a good actor. And he sure has tried to make a couple of action flicks. But he is at his best in this one. You actually believe him to be this hard-boiled vampire hunter who is trying to make a decent living. He doesn't really want to, but he needs to in order to keep close to his daughter and ex-wife.

Overall, Day Shift delivers good action, but suffers hugely because of the bad pacing and lack of real jokes. Compared to The Gray Man, though, this is a freaking masterpiece.

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Reviews Top Gun (1986) and Top Gun: Maverick (2022): Superior to the original in every way!

genre: action, drama

Top Gun (1986)

For a long time, I regarded Top Gun as a classic. And in many ways it is. Iconic quotes, catchy songs, top-notch cinematography, Tom Cruise at hist cruisiest, incredible aerial combat and the infamous volleyball scene. According to many experts, Top Gun is filled with homo eroticism and even is about Maverick' struggle being gay. The way Quentin Tarantino explains it, you could interpret it like that. The scenes do support this notion. However, like with many action flicks made in the 80's this was unintentional.

It's not something I paid much attention to. Says more about people like Quentin Tarantino than the average viewer. I mean, a lot of men tuned in for Kelly McGillis and I have to admit it's the one thing I didn't quite understand. I still don't believe she is that hot. Perhaps because I am more mature now, I can see some of her charm and attraction, but even then she still was nowhere near the hotness that makes people bump into walls while driving, for example. Yes, I am very aware this is immensely subjective. I am just trying to make the point that while she and her relationship with Maverick has been made into an important part of the story, I find it to be the weakest part of the film. There is nothing there. 

Actually, if you think about it, Top Gun is for the most part devoid of real conflict. Maverick has some issues, but they way he gets over it has very little to do with the people at Top Gun. Had someone actually been in his way to get on top, then that would have been more interesting. No, he himself is his biggest enemy. Hot Shots (the Top Gun) very rightfully so makes fun of this. The true heart of the film is the action. Even today, it's one that gets your heart pumping. Sure, at times it looks a little dated but for the most part looks amazing, especially if you watch the 4k Blu-ray version. Almost as if the film was made today. I said almost.

Top Gun certainly is a film you need to have watched to appreciate the sequel. Without it, you will miss out on important dynamics and story elements. However, the biggest reason to watch is to witness how much a concept of an original film can be improved upon. Top Gun still can be seen as a classic but it's by no means perfect.

Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

Once it was announced that a sequel was coming to Top Gun, I was a little surprised. There was nothing to the story that warranted a sequel. Then the trailer arrived, and I was blown away by what was presented to us. Not only did it seem like that it was going to have a better story, it also was going to improve on the action.

I also have to say that this was the first film I had seen in the cinema since COVID had hit the world. And I was glad to have chosen this over Doctor Strange 2, which I initially wanted to watch first. But luck would have it that this was available on Disney+ and I wasn't entirely impressed with it. More on that in the review that is coming. Top Gun: Maverick, however, genuinely provided a cinema experience I hadn't experienced in a long time. From start to finish, I was thoroughly entertained. Even with its duration, I never felt like a second was wasted. Almost every element of the original is improved upon. 

The story builds on what is established in the original and puts Maverick in different shoes. He still is very much a hot shot who still is no fan of obeying the rules. Despite this, he has grown up a little. Enter Rooster, son of the late Goose, Maverick's best friend. Rooster apparently holds Maverick responsible for his father's death. If that isn't bad enough, there is another reason that gets revealed. The animosity between them is exactly what the original needed, since it adds conflict that you can relate to. But also provides some character development, since you know they will make it up to each other somehow. Essentially, you should view this as a buddy film. Old buddies, new buddies. I do have to mention an incredible, powerful scene regarding Maverick and Iceman. It transcended the film and felt like it was a tribute to Val Kilmer. Was it necessary for the film? One could argue about that. But it's one of those moments that gets to you since it confronts you with certain truths about, life, old age and sickness. It had a significant impact on me and will be one of the moments I will cherish forever. Next to that, it's also about an impossible mission that has to be made possible with the help of Maverick. While one could argue that these stories don't always mesh together that well. It does offer a sense of urgency and gravity to events. Especially in the final part of the film, you will be on the edge of your seat. I was completely invested.

Like in the original, the action is what matters the most. You have never seen aerial combat like this before. It very much looks like the actors have flown the fighter jets themselves. No, they didn't pilot the jets for real. However, they were in the jets in front of the real pilots who were doing all those crazy stunts. So kudos for the cast going so far to make you believe. It truly helps with the immersion and how everything looks. It's definitely spectacular. At times, it felt I was with them. Imagine what it would feel like had they made this is 3D.

Top Gun: Maverick does build on the original story and nostalgia wise. Still, it's able to give you a fresh and fun viewing experience because of it. This is how sequels should be. It is nice to look back and revel in what was. But you should also do something with the aftermath. And Top Gun: Maverick does a good job of that. Besides, it's one hell of an action film. What more do you want?

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Review Carter (2022): Like The Villainess but to the twentieth power!

genre: action, martial arts, gun fu

As someone who loved The Villainess I honestly can't say I was prepared for this. I mean, I had an idea. But if you thought The Villainess already was over the top then brace yourself because Carter is maximum insanity.

Carter starts out with a plot that has been done to death. A man suffering from memory loss is thrust into an adventure, not knowing who he can trust and who he can't. At first, it seems like the whole world is after him. Slowly, but gradually, the puzzle pieces come together. While he is figuring out who he is and what is going on, the audience is treated with almost non-stop action and thrills. Director Jung Byung Gil commented, "I tried to make the impossible happen in order to capture the [stunts] with real action instead of CG (computer graphics)." I must admit that sometimes I did wonder whether the stunts were real or not. I guess this film is a superb culmination of a lot of practical effects, creative wire works, inventive usage of camera and very clever editing. Sure, this film does look and feel more like a video game. The same can be said of Hardcore Henry and that one was awesome since it did combine masterful action with a good narrative. Carter does the same, although it is required of you to suspend disbelief because the film keeps throwing things at you that are illogical and fantastic. At certain points, I did find the plot to be a little convoluted. Yet I wasn't bothered by it too much since you aren't really supposed to think about it too much. Everything is in service of the action.

There seems to be a lot of criticism towards the way the action is presented and choreographed. While it certainly is chaotic and messy, it was never to the extent that I couldn't follow what was going on. No quick cuts or shaky cam. Yes, the camera is constantly moving, but never at the cost of the spectacle. The director is a fan of good action, so he has made sure you get to enjoy it. He even filmed and edited, in a way that it seems like everything is one take. Of course, this is not the case. But the effort alone is incredibly commendable. Besides, there is stunt work here that has never been done before. For example, there is a chase scene involving motorcycles and minivans. Standard stuff right? Wrong! Carter is jumping from bike to bike and from van to bike and back to the van, etcetera etcetera. I am not kidding. I think they were so proud they did it again, but with trains. And no, it didn't get tedious. I think directors like these should be celebrated. Here is someone who is actually doing his best to bring you something fresh and creative within a genre where everything has been done before. It is incredibly hard to make action exciting. Yet Jung Byung Gil succeeds. 

So it is safe to say that the people who were complaining aren't fans of good action. You do have to wonder why they decided to watch this film in the first place. Do these people even do any kind of research? Anyway, Carter is a must-watch for real action aficionados and one film I'm definitely going to purchase once it's available on Blu-ray.

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