(Video On-Demand, September 2017) The reviews for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword were harsh enough that I didn’t expect to enjoy the film, but it doesn’t turn out to be quite as bad as anticipated. As an attempt to take the Arthurian legend and fuse it with modern fantasy filmmaking, it’s actually rather good. It helps that director Guy Richie’s style is in full display here: while some sequences are almost incomprehensible (sometimes due to information being undisclosed until much later), other moments have almost genius-level editing blending cause and effect, narration and irony in one energetic package. There are a lot of special effects along the way, Jude Law effectively mugging for the camera as a villain (which he should do more often), and an honest attempt at revitalizing Arthurian myth. It’s certainly not all good. Charlie Hunnam remains a strikingly ineffective lead despite being better here than in many other movies. There are a few dull moments. The anachronisms are blatant despite taking place in an avowed fantasy film. And yet, and yet… King Arthur: Legend of the Sword does have its share of strong moments, and it’s almost regrettable that its commercial failure film means that none of its planned sequels will even be brought to screen. As an origin story, it would have promised much for later exploits of the Knights of the Round Table. As it is, though, it’s a better-than-average fantasy film, with almost-stirring echoes of British myth-making for us colonials. I very much prefer this maximalist approach to the Arthurian legend than 2004’s gritty yet completely dull King Arthur, which made the legend so realistic that it completely lost interest.
(On DVD, December 2015) Fans of subcultural anthropology by way of mainstream movies will love Hooligans for its accessible look at the inner workings and meaning of English gangs. Anchored by Elijah Wood as a disgraced American journalism student who gets caught in football hooliganism while visiting London, this is a film that’s part gang drama and part action violence. In some ways, it’s not terribly different from other stories in which an innocent is seduced by criminal activities and then pulls back after as climaxing trauma (usually the death of a good friend) – but setting and execution makes Hooligans feel somewhat fresher than another update about Los Angeles gangs. It’s also a bit more interesting for the way it dissects football hooliganism as stemming from territoriality, boredom, unemployment, class status and good-old rivalry. As far as performers go, Wood is his usual doe-eyed self, which works in his advantage in portraying how an average guy can get sucked into the violence. Charlie Hunnam is a bit of a revelation here: After seeing him in a very dull performance in latter big Hollywood movie Pacific Rim, here he seems animated and almost charismatic. Director Lexi Alexander keeps things moving and the action scenes feel a bit better than they ought to be in a film of this caliber. While Hooligans won’t make it near to top of any top-ten list, it’s an interesting look at a particular subculture, it’s seldom dull to watch, and it has a few good scenes. Not too bad for a film that barely made it to North America.
(Video on Demand, October 2013) For many people of the geeky disposition, Pacific Rim reads like a dream project: Fan-favourite writer/director Guillermo del Toro, perhaps one of the most imaginative filmmakers around, taking on both the entire tradition of Japanese kaiju films, and blending it with the mecha subgenre… with a decent budget for once. What’s not to like? And, for much of its duration, Pacific Rim does deliver on its premise. It’s a big blockbuster spectacular, made by someone who loves the genre(s), knows how to make a crowd-pleasing film and approaches the premise with a welcome blend of optimism and determination. The first ten minutes, if it wasn’t for the flat narration, are almost a model for delivering a ton of exposition without undue strain. Pacific Rim requires a significant suspension of disbelief to set up its premise (extra-dimensional monsters are one thing, but giant robots controlled by two mentally-linked people are a tougher sell when nuclear-tipped cruise missiles seem so much more appropriate) but the way it sells a fully-realized world affected by years of kaiju incursion is a good way to ease in even the most nitpicky viewers. Where the film loses points, curiously enough, is in its depiction of monsters-versus-robots combat: For all of ILM’s eye-popping work in setting massive fights in complex environments, it’s not hard to look at the Hong Kong sequence and wish for longer, wider shots and the opportunity to fully take in a sequence rather than the visual confusion made by the neon lights, rain and quick cuts. (This may be an unavoidable issue when hundred of special effects technicians slave for months on the same sequence: the temptation to add more, more, more visual detail may be irresistible, but it works at the viewers’ disfavour when it results in an overdesigned sequence.) In terms of sheer spectacle, the film also peaks at the three-quarter mark. Even though nominal star Charlie Hunnam couldn’t be blander (about a dozen other actors could have done the same, or better), del Toro gets good performances out of his other actors, with a bit of special praise going to Rinko Kikuchi as the emotional center of the film, Charlie Day in a surprisingly compelling comic performance and Ron Perlman for being, well, Ron Perlman. Pacific Rim is a good film, albeit one that I wish could have been great. Del Toro has done terrific work here, but a little bit more oomph could have carried this even further.