Tag Archives: dislikes

Act of Valor, a film by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh

By James Gilmore

Act of Valor is a ballad of the unsung heroic deeds of Navy SEALs in clandestine operations.

Although neatly structured the film feels less like a coherent story than a series of military reenactments with a few specks of story spliced in between action sequences. Valor is generously laden with fan service for military aficionados, but at times the ultra realistic use of military jargon crosses the line from necessity to extraneous masturbation. Action sequences deliver impressive intensity and speed while skillful POV camerawork immerses the audience inside each mission, lending a sort of video game feel to the advancement of the plot.

The acting is as wooden as it gets and not just in terms of line delivery—no surprise, considering the principal characters are played by real Navy SEALs and not professional actors. Unfortunately this means that emotional tangibility with the main characters is difficult to establish, even with the repeated use of artificial filmic constructs employed to build personal empathy.

Actor Jason Cottle’s uncanny intensity makes his performance stand out among the cast.

If Act of Valor teaches us anything, it’s that “actual” does not equal “dramatic.” For a stellar example of how dramatizing reality improves its filmic qualities, see Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden. In spite of its painful dialogue and feeble plot, Act of Valor is a realistic, tense experience that military and action enthusiasts will love.

Rating: 3 / 5

Battle Royale, a film by Kinji Fukasaku

by James Gilmore

Before the Hunger Games (2012) there was a grossly popular Japanese film by director Kinji Fukasaku called Battle Royale (2000).

Movie poster for Battle Royale, a film by Kinji Fukasaku, on the compact movie review at Minimalist Reviews.

Delivered in typical overdramatic Japanese style, Battle Royale is unlike any film known in Western cinema. Fukasaku blends beauty and brutality as we witness the innocence of youth corrupted with the ultimate need for survival, kill or be killed. With a death (or two) in every scene, this rapidly-paced narrative holds the sanctity of life as forfeit for each and every one of its multitudinous characters, who attempt a surprising array of tactics to kill, survive, or thwart the system in which they are trapped. All the social mores and pretensions of junior high school are replaced by love, loyalty, and raw fight-or-flight animal instinct.

The gems in this story are its intelligently characterized inhabitants, especially the teacher-turned-gamesmaster, Kitano-sensei. Through his character we see tragic, jaded adults devouring the lives of unblemished youth, especially the main characters, Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa, previously ignorant of the horrors of adulthood and disappointment.

Battle Royale’s plot fails to pursue a few red herrings which warrant further development, although this failure does not hinder the plot much, mostly because their elaboration would impinge on the rigorous pacing of the main story.

Although the over-the-top acting may be a turnoff to some, if you approach Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale with open mind, it may just surprise you with its juxtaposition of tenderness and violence, desperation and sacrifice, and ultimately, its human core.

Rating: 4 / 5

Conan the Barbarian, a film by Marcus Nispel

By James Gilmore

Don’t go into Marcus Nispel’s Conan the Barbarian expecting an expert remake of the 1982 classic by John Milius. You won’t get it.

The 2011 Conan is an action-soaked bonanza without any pretense at storytelling depth.  Nispel bombards our senses through an orgy of stylization and violence in an attempt to mask its slender content, but no amount of polished veneer can obscure the shallowness beneath.  The storytelling is clumsy and repetitive at best, hyper-extending itself to stretch a thin 60-minute perfunctory plot over two painstaking hours in an endless string of action vignettes in which the audience is whisked through time and space to a number of noncontiguous historical eras.

(Let’s not mention the fact that the acting and poorly written dialogue are enough to make you want to run for the hills.)

Movie poster for Conan the Barbarian remake 2011, a film by Marcus Nispel, on Minimalist Reviews.

Visually, Conan is a gruesome mishmash of every other fantasy film ever made, numerous elements being ripped almost directly out of better, more fulfilling constituents of the genre (which shall remain unnamed).

As for the character Conan, he is barely a character at all.  Employing the oft-overused-in-Hollywood cliché as his template, this impetuous hot-headed central character is more an excuse to paste the screen with gore than a true protagonist.

The only accomplishment worth lauding Conan for is the duping of Hollywood into spending $70 million on what is essentially an expensive-looking B movie.  And Hollywood executives wonder why audiences won’t pay up at the box office to see piles of sugar-coated poo…

(Meanwhile, thousands of excellent scripts waste away on shelves, unread.)

So if you’re up to stuffing a handful of dollar bills down the garbage disposal or want to watch actors don ridiculous costumes and douse each other in fake blood for an evening, pick up a copy of Marcus Nispel’s Conan the Barbarian.  If you are a fan of his kitschy horror resumethen you will probably take this bloated little number in stride.

Otherwise, see aforementioned garbage disposal.

Rating:  1.5 / 5

Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon, a novel by Jules Verne

By James Gilmore

Among the great works of literature by Jules Verne are such classics as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in Eighty Days and The Mysterious Island.  What you will not find nested among those works is a novel called Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon (La Jangada is the original title)—and for good reason.  One wouldn’t be so surprised at the quality (or lack thereof) of the novel had it been Jules Verne’s first attempt at the craft, but it mystifyingly appears at the very heart of his career alongside the greats.

Book cover for Eight Hundred Leages on the Amazon, a novel by Jules Verne, on Minimalist Reviews.

Despite pretense of adventure, 800 Leagues is for all intents and purposes a family melodrama with only trace amounts of “adventure.”  The novel is a dull read and hardly believable.  Sorely lack in conflict, the text is often insultingly redundant, the author reiterating known facts in such a fashion that the reader can’t help but feel like he is trying to fill space in a balloon filled with hot hair.  This effectively reduces the pacing of the novel to that of a dying snail.  The linear, predictable story submarines the uneventful plot with rare exception.  Any changes in the story occur entirely by means of deus ex machinae, which leaves the hands of the characters out of events almost entirely, save one or two instances, scuttling their raison d’être.

Overshadowing the weak dramatic impact of the book is the fact that it reads like a pedantic love letter to the Amazon River, like a wan excuse to wax poetic about this illustrious body of moving water.  Although informative, it reduces the novel’s literary value to a mere historical survey of Amazonian river tribes who would cease to exist a century later.

The characters in the novel tend to be shallow in depth and over dramatic.  The antagonist is the most interesting and compelling of the cast.  Unfortunately, his presence is minimal.

Despite some interesting tangents concerning facts about the Amazon River and a few florid descriptions, the novel is thin, flat, artificially contrived and obvious.

A caution to all who tread here: Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon is Jules Verne’s worst.  Despite a 5-star rating (from 2 reviews) on Amazon.com at the time of this writing, place this novel on your list of “books to avoid at all costs.”  Feel free to sample the free Kindle book (if you dare).

Rating: 1.5 / 5

Exterminating Angels (Les anges exterminateurs), a “Quickie” review of the film by Jean-Claude Brisseau

by James Gilmore

Movie poster for Exterminating Angels (Les anges exterminateurs), a film by Jean-Claude Brisseau, on Minimalist Reviews.

Exterminating Angels (Les anges exterminateurs) by Jean-Claude Brisseau should have been a short film. Bloated with too many shenanigans and not enough story, the film contains all the elements of a deep story but fails to take the necessary steps required to achieve its goal or to adequately explore its thematic material. In short, it doesn’t provide a qualitative, coherent examination of the subject matter.

Not to downplay the surrealism of E.A., but many of the film’s elements are completely superfluous while the plot is not as solid as it needs to be. Instead, it seems to act as a vehicle to justify extended scenes of sexual indulgence.

Brisseau makes an attempt at unraveling the ambiguity of sexuality and sexual love, but the result is shallow despite its proposed depth and, if anything, comes across as simply old-fashioned. One can’t help but feel like the filmmaker thought he was being clever while sending a personal message of defiance directed toward his critics. However, the result is incoherent and superficial.

Rating: 2 / 5

I Love You, Man, a film John Hamburg

Movie poster for I Love You Man, a film by John Hamburg, on Minimalist Reviews.by James Gilmore

Too many shenanigans, not enough story (common problem in feature comedies). While Paul Rudd is extremely likeable, he does not have the presence or ability to carry the success of an entire feature on his back. Great concept, adequate execution, some funny bits, but otherwise not worth the time.

Rating: 2 / 5

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, a film by David Yates

by James Gilmore

In what should have been one of the greatest climaxes of modern film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 falls very short of its mark. While Part 1 transforms the worst segment of the Potter novel series into the greatest film of the series, Part 2 manages to insult the best portion of the novel series with nearly the worst filmic experience in the series. The film is not without a few traces of remarkable moments, but nothing more than a trace.

It is perplexing how director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves managed to create such a remarkable Part 1 and a pathetically deflated Part 2Part 2’s story somehow lacks the robust emotional presence, subtle character, the visual acuity, and skillful storytelling of Part 1. The writing barely suffices to tell the plot of the story and proves completely insufficient to do anything more. It lack the thematic material warranted by such an epic series conclusion. Despite the intensely emotional situations involved in the story, every scene feels drained of emotional power, and is frequently absent altogether.

Movie poster for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, a film by David Yates, on Minimalist Reviews.The main characters are robbed of their greatest gems, especially Snape, Hermione and Ron, all of whom receive little to no actual development on screen although they are ever present in the background. Snape, for whom Part 2 is the apex of his character, is completely blunted as a character by the writing and direction to point that the incredible twist associated with his character is treated as a mere afterthought. The lovable secondary characters are used liked doilies, thrown into the story whenever required but serving little to no purpose except to have a few minutes of face time before they are again forgotten. The death of the Weasley brother, a moment of intense catharsis for the audience, is glossed over like the death of a background extra. Only Narcissa Malfoy and Neville Longbottom are given any character work worthy of remembering.

Quite deadly to the film is its ending, or lack thereof. Although there is a cute “years later” scene to conclude Part 2, the real conclusion which precedes it is barely a conclusion at all, consisting mostly of the main characters walking around with vacant stares.

Somehow, Daniel Radcliffe managed to break through the stunted storytelling to illustrate his grown maturity as an actor.

Overall, Part 2 feels unfinished, unsatisfactory and rushed, as if irreverently composed of mostly B-footage.

Rating: 3 / 5

Strange As This Weather Has Been, a literary novel by Ann Pancake

by James Gilmore

Book cover for Strange As This Weather Has Been, a literary novel by Ann Pancake, on Minimalist Reviews.

Aside from being slammed in the face with a sledgehammer labeled “Mountaintop removal mining is BAD” every paragraph, Strange As This Weather Has Been delivers strikingly eloquent characters and prose with unparalleled craftsmanship.

Many elements illustrate or elaborate the themes in the novel quite well while far too many seem to serve no other purpose than redundant milieu. For those who relish character work and language this is the book for you, but general readership will find it a work of willpower as they struggle to overcome breathtaking boredom due to a near-complete lack of forward story progress.

Although an enviously gifted writer, Pancake should consider serious outlining before writing her next novel or stick to her specialty: literary short stories about Appalachia.

Rating: 2 / 5