In the second of a series of short pieces about films in the public domain, I take a look at Dziga Vertov's increasingly acclaimed Soviet silent experiment, Man With a Movie Camera.
Mostly ignored or dismissed upon its original release in the Soviet Union in 1929, Dziga Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera eventually became one of the most celebrated experimental films of all time.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) [IMDB]
Directed by James Gunn
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Kurt Russell
The team of misfits that form a comic tangent to the Marvel Cinematic Universe get a second run-out in James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. While the CGI action is more numbing than exciting, this spacefaring sequel has charm and wit to spare.
By 2014, the MCU was well-established and lucrative but in danger of becoming stale. Guardians of the Galaxy felt fresh, deftly introducing a new team of eccentric heroes without the years of buildup the Avengers had required. Better yet, Starlord and his crew were shown to exist in relative isolation from the rest of Marvel's universe, offering a degree of freedom from the straitjacket of continuity.
1987 marked the only point in his career when John Woo - never fond of sequels - made a follow-up to one of his own films. The immense success of A Better Tomorrow led Cinema City to push for a continuation and Woo agreed, in part because comedian Dean Shek - one of the studio's co-founders - was in a poor financial position.
After being shot successfully in Hong Kong and New York City, A Better Tomorrow II had a difficult editing process, and Woo is said to have disowned much of the film. While the need to bring back Chow Yun-fat imposes a degree of implausibility to the story and the film doesn't equal its predecessor, ABT II is still an fascinating sequel with a number of masterful action sequences.
In the second of my series of articles looking at John Woo's cycle of "heroic bloodshed" films, I discuss the the smash hit A Better Tomorrow, the director's hugely influential breakthrough.
The decision by Golden Harvest to shelve Heroes Shed No Tears can only have deepened John Woo's feeling of dejection. The director might easily have been condemned to making yet more comedies, continuing to be kept away from the themes and images that interested him. Fortunately, an escape route presented itself in the shape of Tsui Hark. With Tsui's assistance, Woo would make his passion project: an emotional, contemporary thriller fusing a novel style of action with the chivalry of old. A Better Tomorrow would be a massive hit across Asia. With it, John Woo would truly arrive.
In the first of my series of articles looking at John Woo's cycle of "heroic bloodshed" films, I discuss the director's first contemporary action film, Heroes Shed No Tears.
Although it is one of the least well-known of John Woo's action films, Heroes Shed No Tears is quite unique and significant within the director's filmography. Best viewed as a kind of proto-heroic bloodshed film, the project marked the first time Woo had made a contemporary, gunplay-oriented action movie. In this sense, and in some of its stylistic choices, the film is a direct antecedent to A Better Tomorrow (1986) - Woo's commercial breakthrough and the first true heroic bloodshed film. With its foreign setting and war aesthetic, it's also a precursor to Bullet in the Head (1990).
Tomboy (AKA The Assignment) (2016 / 2017 wide release) [IMDB}
Directed by Walter Hill
Starring Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Caitlin Gerard
Walter Hill's controversial sex change revenge thriller has a strong concept and some good performances. But hamstrung by his own very poor script and a tiny $5 million budget, the genre veteran turns in a muddled, often boring mess.
It's fair to say that Tomboy has had a troubled history. Based on a 1978 script that Hill had optioned and abandoned once before, the film has gone through numerous changes of title and a very poorly received premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016. Even before shooting began it was dogged with controversy because of its gender reassignment premise, and in the UK it's been released direct-to-video - and not even on Blu-Ray, at that. The film's single biggest problem, however, is simple: it's bad.
With its heady mix of the fact, fiction and folklore of the American frontier, the Western has been a popular genre for over a century. Detailing the dubious exploits of bounty hunter Silas Greaves, Techland's 2013 FPS Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is a brilliant and under-recognised exploration of the Old West.
By 2013, the Call of Juarez series had picked up a very bad reputation indeed. The most recent game at the time, subtitled The Cartel, had become notorious for its poor quality and numerous technical issues. Many were surprised to learn that Polish developer Techland hadn't abandoned the franchise altogether. For its part, Gunslinger was released as an inexpensive download-only title and afforded very little promotion. It looked like another disappointment in the making - but while it didn't make many waves in its release, it won deservedly strong reviews.
In the first of a series of short pieces about some of the more important and entertaining films that are in the public domain, I take a look at the 17 pioneering Superman shorts made in the 1940s.
Superman is the world's best-known superhero – the star of countless comic books, TV series, films, and radio shows since his first appearance in Action Comics in 1938. His first on-screen adventures are not so familiar today, but had a tremendous impact not only on the Superman mythos but also on the history of animation.
While I came to Half-Life late, Valve's 1998 masterpiece was the game that cemented my enthusiasm for games generally, and first-person shooters specifically. Replaying it almost 20 years on from its release, one aspect shines more than any other: the game's unique environments and crucial sense of place.
During the early history of the FPS, developers did not tend to prioritise settings. In classics of the form like Doom (1993), Hexen (1994) and Duke Nukem 3D (1996), settings and locations were only nominal, with little to no coherence between levels or episodes. Things began to change with id Software's Quake II (1997), in which the player progressed through numerous areas of an enemy planet, Stroggos. It was Valve and Half-Life, however, which gave the FPS its first - and perhaps best - coherent sense of place.
John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
Directed by Chad Stahelski
Starring Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Common, Ian McShane
Free up a chair at the High Table of modern action films - John Wick: Chapter 2 has arrived and it is glorious.
There's been a clear trend in action films during the last several years: the number of films that fit squarely in the genre is quite small, and mediocre efforts outnumber the accomplished ones. Once or twice a year, however, a film is produced which immediately enters the pantheon of true greats. With their directorial debut John Wick, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch did exactly this in 2014. Combining their vast action design and second-unit experience with the total commitment of star Keanu Reeves, they forged one of the most exciting American action films of the decade.
Directing alone this time, Stahelski has gone and done it again. Chapter 2 is a blistering continuation and expansion of everything that made the original so intoxicating - the unique fictional underworld, the beautiful cinematography, Reeves' performance as "the man, the myth, the legend" that is John Wick and of course the astonishing action sequences. The sequel reaches a level of intensity and accomplishment in action cinema that, in recent years, is matched only by the likes of The Raid 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road.
Sometime film reviewer, Letterboxd user, novice Blu-Ray collector. Top 3 directors: Woo, Hill, Leone.
Henry V (UK, 1989) ★★★★½
The Fast and the Furious (USA, 2001) ★★★★
Goodfellas (USA, 1990) ★★★★★
[All Letterboxd Reviews]