The Accountant (2016) [IMDB]
Directed by Gavin O'Connor
Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal
In 2016, Hollywood has continued to labour under a pall of familiarity. Ever in search of "sure things", the big studios have doubled-down once again on sequels, remakes, reboots, "re-imaginings", and spin-offs. Where something new is promised - as with, say, Doctor Strange - we're often left disappointed. That's where The Accountant comes in: a genuinely somewhat novel, if flawed, thriller which serves as a breath of fresh air.
Doctor Strange (2016) [IMDB]
Directed by Scott Derrickson
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton
Conscious of the risk of superhero fatigue, Marvel has made much of the idea that Doctor Strange deviates from their usual formula. Some particularly dazzling visuals aside, it actually largely retains the feel of previous films in the MCU - with the strengths and weaknesses that tends to imply. However, powered by the performances of a strong cast, it overcomes the flaws in its story and should keep Marvel's fire burning well into 2017.
Recently, Paul Bramhall of City on Fire published an important article on the corrosive impact of piracy on martial arts and action cinema. In it, Bramhall explains how the decline in the budgets of today's independent action films is caused in part by piracy, which cuts the profitability of new productions. The article also discusses the apparently low demand for new (albeit sometimes dubious) Blu-Ray releases of older Asian action films. I broadly agree with Bramhall's points and they're worth a read.
I wanted to pick up some of the issues in the article and and to look at what I think is the other side of the problems action cinema is facing. In addition to a crisis of piracy, we also have what might be called a crisis of availability. What I mean by this is that in 2016, Asian action cinema is less visible and less widely available in the West than it has been for years - despite the advent of video on demand. These two crises are feeding into one another, creating a downward spiral: as fewer Asian action films see legitimate releases in the West, more consumers watch pirate releases. This in turn creates a sense that legitimate releases are not viable, and fewer occur. Clearly, this is not the only reason for piracy; there will always be those that choose not to pay. But like piracy itself, the crisis of availabilty is, for me, contributing to the existential threat to Asian action cinema fandom in the Western world.
Welcome to the Punch [IMDB]
Directed by Eran Creevy
Starring James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough
Over the last few years there has been a big rise in the number of action-oriented American productions filmed in the UK, from Fast and Furious 6 (2013) to Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015). This is just the latest in the country's many contributions to action cinema, which have also included the James Bond series and work of Vic Armstrong, perhaps the greatest stuntman of all time. However, precious few action films can be called British productions because the UK film industry has traditionally focused on drama and horror films. Recently, British genre cinema seems dominated by a seemingly endless tide of miserable low-budget crime films starring the likes of Danny Dyer and Vinnie Jones.
Up-and-coming British director Eran Creevy sought to change that with his 2013 film Welcome to the Punch. Having had success with the BAFTA-nominated microbudget crime film Shifty, Creevy secured the support of executive producer Ridley Scott and set his sights on something much more ambitious: a London-set action crime film strongly influenced by Hong Kong cinema and the works of Michael Mann. Sadly but perhaps not surprisingly, the film failed to attract all that much attention – but with Creevy's next effort being released this year, it definitely deserves another look.
Thief (1981) [IMDB]
Directed by Michael Mann
Starring James Caan, Tuesday Weld, Robert Prosky
My first experience of Michael Mann's work was seeing Heat (1995) several years ago. It was one of those rare films which impressed me tremendously right from the first viewing, and it's even grown on me over the years to the point where it's one of my top ten films. None of the Mann films I've seen subsequently have impressed me quite as much, but I always welcome the opportunity to catch another one.
I picked up Arrow Video's 2015 release of Mann's first theatrically-released film, Thief, in an excellent HMV sale. The five discs I bought are the first ones I've owned, but I've rented around ten of their other releases and they are all superb. Arrow may just the best film distributor operating in the UK right now, and their release of Thief is the perfect way to be introduced to this fascinating early work by Mann.
Martial Arts Gold was a short season of classic Shaw Brothers martial arts films broadcast on Film4 in the UK each Friday from January 15th to February 5th. The films were presented at their original aspect ratio and in their original language, complete with English subtitles. I'll be putting together a review for each film in the season, as well as for the films shown in a second season due in March and April. The season continued with Come Drink With Me on January 29th - here's another belated review.
Martial Arts Gold is a short season of classic Shaw Brothers martial arts films being broadcast on Film4 in the UK each Friday from January 15th to February 5th. Every film is being presented at its original aspect ratio and in its original language, complete with English subtitles. I'll be putting together a review for each film in the season, as well as for the films shown in a second season due in March and April. The season continued with King Boxer on January 22nd – here's my belated review.
Martial Arts Gold is a short season of classic Shaw Brothers martial arts films being broadcast on Film4 in the UK each Friday from January 15th to February 5th. Every film is being presented at its original aspect ratio and in its original language, complete with English subtitles. The season kicked off with Lau Kar-leung's iconic 1978 film The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. I'll be putting together a review for each film in the season, as well as for the films shown in a second season due in March and April.
If the exhibition on Bruce Lee's life at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum demonstrates one thing, it is the huge amount Lee achieved during a cruelly short but incredibly productive life. While his reputation rests mainly on the four martial arts films he completed as an adult, he had a notable career as a child actor in Hong Kong during the 1950s. Significantly, he appeared in In The Face of Demolition (1953), which was listed as the 18th greatest film in the history of Chinese cinema at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2005.
Today, most fans of Asian action cinema surely have all of Lee's martial arts films in their collection. Since coming back from Hong Kong, I've been revisiting those films and have decided that for me personally, only three make the cut. If only those three films existed, I really think that Lee's legacy would be almost exactly as strong as it is today. Moreover, those three films chart a logical progression in Lee's abilities, demonstrating the vast potential which was cut short by his untimely death in 1973. By looking at Lee's films in turn, I'll explain why I think that Lee's legend was made not in five films or even four, but just three.