Metalhead (2013)

Films that revolve around subcultures (particularly musical subcultures) tend to be either moderately watchable, or intolerably bad, and the main reason for it is that they end up getting bogged down in a lot of pandering, and often they do so in a way that seems alienating or off-putting to the uninitiated, and downright insulted to the already converted. This film, meanwhile, attempts at a meaningful, thoughtful portrayal of a metalhead, but in the end resorts to stereotypes all the same, and far from being a gripping, heartwarming drama, Metalhead comes across as a banal, pathetic cringe-fest.

The story revolves around a girl named Hera who, when she was eleven years old, had the misfortune of witnessing her older rocker brother Baldur die after falling off of and getting scalped by a tractor. She responded to the tragedy by immediately picking up her brother’s guitar and taking his clothes as her own, and years later, she and her parents still haven’t gotten over the incident. She begins acting out in various ways, like playing loud music wherever she has the given opportunity and generally being rude to everyone. When the priest tries to help her, she interprets it as a romantic relationship and when she realises it isn’t, she burns down a church and goes insane until she comes back, stops being a metalhead for a while until some Norwegian men form a band with her.

That’s pretty much the gist of the plot, and I may well have saved you 97 pointless minutes in divulging it to you. It’s not as if the writers had ill intentions. Grief and alienation make for ideal themes in dramatic works, but it’s just not executed very well, and the main problem is that the film feels like a feature-length tantrum on the part of the main character. The film lurches from being a melodramatic teen angst flick to becoming a preachy “pray the metalhead away” lecture. That to me seems to be the film’s message that being a metalhead is some sort of depressive phase that only teenagers go through, and that you can only be a normal person by getting out of it. I’m not even a metalhead and I think that it’s an utterly deplorable concept.

The main character is perhaps the biggest problem. The writers honestly want me to sympathise with her but I just can’t, and the reason why is because she’s just untenable as a character. She is literally the distorted caricature of a metalhead that parents used to have in their heads back in the 1990’s, complete with all the nasty behaviours that pearl clutchers might have accused metalheads of exhibiting back than, but worse than that, she seems like a character who has completely shackled herself to grief in a manner that isn’t remotely touching because it’s not realistic. It’s not as though the acting is terrible. Her acting is actually quite good, and the rest of the cast didn’t fare too badly either, but again, the whole narrative crumbles quickly.

I should at least commend the film for its visual style. It has a sort of sombre look and feel to it, which belies the shabbiness of the film itself. Of course the film tries to butter you up with all sorts of savoury metal tunes, but it honestly seems like window dressing. Oh, and this a film that ends by somehow managing to make Megadeth sound cringy, by having Hera’s mom do a corny dance to it.

This is one of those films where I have to wonder, how do critics love the film so much? Seriously, it seems like most professional critics do nothing other than give the film a blowjob, possibly because it somehow appeals to their moral sensibilities, but most likely because it’s the kind of banal, meandering melodrama that critics naturally gravitate towards. To me, this film will probably have more appeal with people who know screw all about metal, and I don’t think the sycophantic “critics” that worshipped this film even listened to a single metal song or album before that. I don’t know what planet they were on, or even if they were watching the same movie, but the reality is the Metalhead was a hollow mockery of the subculture that it is purported to cater to.

  • Score: 59%
  • Grade: D

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)

hansel_and_gretel_witch_hunters_There are those who would defend this movie on the basis of it being “pure escapism”, or “unpretentious entertainment”. Did any of the film’s defenders actually sit down and watch it, or did they focus on that scene where one of the characters gets naked? With all seriousness, however, this film was truly awful stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen worse films, but few films could ever expect to sink lower than this dribble. In this regard, the biggest problem is the film’s unbearably hackneyed writing. I’ve seen films with blatantly terrible writing, but let it be known, this film has the absolute worst writing I’ve ever seen.

Back when it was new, the film followed the reprehensible trend of gritty, action-oriented fantasy retellings of public domain stories. In this case, it pretends to be a continuation of the story of Hansel and Gretel, but this film bastardizes the story so badly that it made its own events for before the story (which make so little sense that it’s simply baffling). The script itself is an intense atrocity, but what’s even worse is how the film exploits every possible cliché from the Hollywood playbook, including a drawn out final showdown.

Another thing I noticed is that it seemed as if they were aiming to create a strong female lead working alongside the male lead (not that either are particularly good examples), but the film’s writers, the hacks that they are, bungled the opportunity. Towards the end, the writers figuratively beat her to a bloody pulp so that the lead male could have all the glory in saving the day. It’s truly an example of terrible writing, plagued by shoehorned clichés that are long past their sell by date. It doesn’t help that the characters are played by people who don’t even know how to act.

The other big thing that bothers me is the visuals and props. This film is essentially the unholy lovechild of Van Helsing and Wild Wild West, with deliberately anachronistic weapons, costumes and accents. The action scenes should have been the best part of the film, but instead, they feel so empty and badly done that they serve no purpose other than for the sake of adding in gratuitous violence wherever the writers can. These are all the cries of a truly talentless film-maker as he drowns in his pitiful mediocrity for all eternity, just like this film in all its tawdriness.

I can safely say on behalf of the entire cinema-going public that this goes beyond B-movie territory. In fact, this is the kind of film that belongs on Syfy, or at best Channel 5, rather than the silver screen. I know that Blades of Glory is still worse on a different level, but this film is so deeply mindless and devoid of substance or artistic merit that it shouldn’t exist, nor should I have laid eyes upon it, almost as if reviewing bad movies had at one point become a depressing pastime in my life. It may in fact be the worst action film of all time.

  • Score: 5%
  • Grade: F

Escape Plan (2013)

EscapeplanfilmposterFor fans of Schwarzenegger and Stallone, this might seem like a dream come true way too late. While it might be nice to finally see them together in an action film, it would have been even better if that happened twenty-five years earlier, especially considering the fact that action films haven’t exactly been the same nowadays. 2013 was a dark year for action films. We were given a horrible Die Hard sequel, a pitifully standard Stallone film, and the market was being oversaturated with sequels and copies of other films. Critics generally weren’t very nice towards the film, but then, they’ve hated action films for a long time, often to the point of blatant bias. Though I wouldn’t say this was a particularly great film, I would say that this is a case of other critics missing the point.

The story isn’t completely original, but at least the writing was better than Stallone’s previous effort at the time (let’s face it, Bullet to the Head was little more than a by-the-numbers action film that rested on the laurels of its star). In fact, I find that the plot of this film provides plenty of elbow room for some effective chemistry between the film’s two lead stars, which is good considering the actually plot isn’t much. Basically, it sees Sylvester Stallone working for a security company, and his job consists of breaking out of prisons in order to test the reliability of their security systems, only to be thrown into what is supposedly “the most secure prison ever built” (clearly one the film’s taglines).

I can’t help but think that the film was mainly written this way because the producers wanted to play it safe with regards to the kind of role Stallone plays. Hence, Stallone enjoys a somewhat privileged role in the film. It would have been far better if Stallone and Schwarzenegger played the role of hardened criminals, because at least then the film’s story would have been more believable. Instead, we get a bunch of unquestionably good protagonists against cliché villains, and the film ends in predictable fashion without tying up all the loose ends. Of course, action films generally aren’t good at storytelling, but at least this film has ways of making up for it. Stallone and Schwarzenegger play their roles with a good mixture of rugged seriousness and good humour, and it works so well that it’s though they haven’t aged a bit. However, I can’t say much about the other characters, especially not the film’s mediocre villains. In fact, Jim Caviezel seems to be pretty bad at playing the sadistic prison warden, and the other characters just seem to be chilling in the background.

I’ll admit that the film itself looks pretty good, but there’s not a lot of colour besides grey, which I guess makes some sense because most of the film is spent in a prison. That being said, however, it would seem less grey if the film didn’t use a cliché orchestral score. As for the action element, there’s not much to say. My guess is that they were trying to make a blend of the action film and the prison film, but it’s more of the latter than the former, but that’s not so bad. If you’re an action film fan, you can always count on the villains getting their comeuppance at the end. All in all, it was pretty disappointing, but it’s not terribly unwatchable, and to be honest, it’s not as bad as it could have been. It’s the kind of film that starts pretty good, but then ebbs after a while. At the very least, it’s worth it just to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger side by side in a decent film.

  • Score: 65%
  • Grade: C

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

A_Good_Day_to_Die_HardYou’d think that by 2013 Hollywood would have figured out that there’s simply no room for the old action films, but apparently somebody actually wanted a “Die Hard 5”. I can think of so many reasons why a fifth Die Hard film was a terrible idea to begin with, and most of them exemplify a central problem – Die Hard as a film franchise was only good for a few meritorious films, and then it hibernated for over a decade, and immediately lost steam as soon as the producers tried reviving it.

Essentially, Die Hard was a film franchise that was huge in the 1980’s, after a while it died and was quickly forgotten, and yet the producers honestly thought they could just bring it back without even trying to make it relevant to a newer generation of cinemagoers. Needless to say, they failed spectacularly, and right from the beginning it’s painfully obvious that they couldn’t hide from that. Even the title sequence tries using trendy graphics to make gullible viewers think that this is a next-generation Die Hard film, but really it’s just a Steven Seagal movie with Bruce Willis filling Seagal’s shoes. Making matters worse is a clearly uninspired story plagued by wildly liberal use of outdated action film clichés, and an extremely frail script. This could be forgiven in a low budget straight-to-DVD production, but for a film intended for cinematic release, there should have been higher standards.

Despite this being a by-the-numbers Die Hard film, the most surprisingly jarring aspect of the film, believe it or not, is how much of an insufferable jerk John McClane became in this film. If you loved him in the classic Die Hard, get ready to hate him as he shouts at a Russian man because he can’t understand what he’s saying. Is that the action hero audiences came to love in the late 1980’s? Also, he and his son are quite horrible to each other, but then again, I highly doubt that any of the actors playing them had any interest in the plot. As for McClane’s son, who is played incompetently by Jai Courtney, his character doesn’t surprise me that much. In fact, one could say that the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. The other characters simply blend into the background due to bad acting and even worse writing.

Another thing I should talk about is the film’s poor presentation. For a film that apparently needed an excessive $92 million to make, it looks absolutely appalling. There’s a noticeable absence of colour here, to the point that most scenes look like they were coloured with a bad mix of grey and blue. The production values are beyond awful, and it just makes me wonder how the producers spent their money. Did it go towards marketing, makeup, drugs? It seriously begs an explanation, since I find it hard to believe that a project this expensive looks so cheap.

Even the action scenes look badly done, to the point that it’s extremely obvious that the producers were hoping to compensate for a badly written plot with guns and explosions, as if the producers had no idea that 1980’s are long gone. Overall, it’s definitely the worst Die Hard film ever made, but somehow it goes beyond just being that. In fact, I’d say this is undoubtedly one of the worst action films of all time. In fact, we’d probably be better off if the Die Hard franchise would simply stay dead.

  • Score: 17%
  • Grade: F

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Oz_-_The_Great_and_Powerful_PosterDoes anyone remember The Wizard of Oz, along with its whimsical setting and characters, and catchy musical numbers? If you do, then this “spiritual prequel” will seem all the more shallow. All the charm that the old film had will literally melt before your eyes, washed away in a sea of standardized CGI. Wasting no time, the film starts off as an exercise of pretentious imitation, trying to imitate the style of an old-fashioned nickelodeon screen in some ham-fisted attempt at realism that has little to do with the actual plot at large. Eventually, the screen adjusts to normal size and the film transitions to bright and vivid colours. One immediate problem is that it’s impossible root for the hero, if he can be called such.

The fact that the Wizard of Oz is being played by the terribly unlikable James Franco is the least of our problems. In this film, the Wizard of Oz is a complete jerk. He’s a con artist (like all stage magicians), he’s a trashy womanizer, he takes credit for tricks he had pulled off by dumb luck, and on top of that, he’s only in it for the money. In one scene where he’s in the castle treasury, and when he’s asked if he wants to defeat the wicked witch, he accepts, but not before looking at the gleaming pile of gold he’ll get.

It doesn’t help that the actor portraying him is a pretty bad actor, as shown be his passionless and unenthusiastic performance of the main character. The whole cast is filled with talentless hacks, or at best, actors who try to be successful but always get overshadowed by bigger stars. And of course, for all the film’s ambition, if it has Zach Braff in it, it’s generally not a good sign, though to Zach’s credit, his character in the movie showed more lively enthusiasm for the role than James Franco does for his. There were very few characters in the film that didn’t make me cringe. It seems to me that a lot more time and effort went into making the film look nice and pretty as opposed to writing something decent. No wonder they couldn’t get any good actors for this film.

In the film’s defence, the visuals in Oz were quite nice, and the special effects were polished, but that’s pretty much the only nice thing I can say about this film. The only notably entertaining scene in the whole movie was the climactic final fight. The rest of the movie was two boring hours of bad acting. It’s literally The Wizard of Oz through a conventional Hollywood fantasy filter, and the end result is a soulless star vehicle for James Franco. Then again, it would terribly naïve to expect anything good from the same person who made the Spider-Man films, and it’s a pretty bizarre turn of events when the Spider-Man movie was an absolute pain to watch, and yet this film is somehow worse. If anything, this film represents a commercialized distortion of fantasy that has somehow become the normal perception of fantasy in the minds of Hollywood producers. If that’s not a sign of how bad things are in Hollywood, then I don’t know what is.

  • Score: 45%
  • Grade: D