Film Review: Buffalo Girls (2013)

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© Copyright 2012 Buffalo Girls Movie

Stam and Pet are two eight year old girls living in Thailand. Stam is a cute, normal-looking girl. She has stuffed animals and is a shy little girl. Pet has a shaved head, with a section of long hair in the back, and has a heart condition. This image of normalcy, however, is shattered when director Todd Kellstein shows the two girls fighting in an underground muay thai kickboxing match in Buffalo Girls, a 2013 documentary.

According to the documentary, there are 30,000 child boxers in Thailand. The fighting is real, and it’s for money.

She boxes for money to get an education, Stam says in the film.

Another boxer, age 10, says she boxes to take care of her mom and dad.

pet running after school buffalo girls mauy thai

Pet running after school. © Copyright 2012 Buffalo Girls Movie

The narrative of the film follows Stam and Pet as they train. Six days a week, the girls workout – running, weight lifting and working the heavy bag – in order to help support their families. The girls are very different in nature. Stam is shy, but smiles a lot. She appears to enjoy the training regimen. Pet has more of a laser focus, rarely smiling.

buffalo girls muay thai kickboxing

Stam (left) taking a right cross from Pet (right) © Copyright 2012 Buffalo Girls Movie

As a child of western culture, I found some of the fighting, and especially the way the girls are treated in the corner, to be shocking. But as the story unfolds, I realized that fighting is a way to get out of poverty. What impressed me was how serious the girls viewed their responsibility to the family. Also a career in kickboxing can mean these girls will be able to avoid the common career of many your Thai women, sex work.

It’s also important to understand that kickboxing is to Thailand what Baseball is to Americans, a culture-defining activity.

This is a good documentary with two likable characters in a difficult situation. There’s no narration in the film, Kellstein simply presents the situation. If I have one complaint about documentaries, it’s that they tend to run too long. Buffalo Girls is 66 minutes in length and moves quickly. My only complaint is the movie has a grainy look, possibly due to the low-lighting of the matches and the equipment used to document the story. The fights are brutal, but there’s no blood in the shots. The movie’s unrated, but I’d give it a PG for fighting.

If your kids complain about taking out the trash or doing homework, I suggest you have them watch Buffalo Girls. Taking out the trash isn’t fun, but it’s better than getting beat up by another kid while fighting in the middle of a brothel.

©  Paul George and The Reno Signal, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul George and The Reno Signal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies … Finale! … I mean FINALLY!

If you were disappointed that the "desolation of Smaug" part of the story never happened in the movie "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," you be glad to know that seemingly unimportant event is dealt with in the first ten minutes of the new film.

If you were disappointed that the “desolation of Smaug” part of the story never happened in the movie “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” you be glad to know that seemingly unimportant event is dealt with in the first ten minutes of the new film.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a lot like flirting with Evangeline Lilly, at first it’s going great, she smiles, and then Orlando Bloom walks up and cock-blocks you.

When I originally heard that Peter Jackson was going to direct The Hobbit, I had reservations. His Lord of the Rings films are great, but dark and violent. Jackson took advantage of every opportunity to add some PG-13 gore to those films. I would have preferred Guillmero del Toro’s take, which I would have imagined as being more whimsical and closer in tone to the book.

Then it was announced that The Hobbit would be two movies. That made sense. Even though the book is short, I could see it being split into two films.

But Jackson and New Line were not happy taking our money twice for an adaptation of a short story. The announcement of three Hobbit movies gave me pause. And I wrote a blog about it:

The Hobbit — Peter Jackson’s Cash Grab

I never reviewed the first two Hobbit movies, so here’s a quick look at them.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey starts off slow and spirals into stupidity. Jackson moves the story forward at a snail’s pace, yet manages take no time to truly introduce us to the characters. And everyone in that film is irritating.

Azog kindly leads moviegoers to the exit after a butt-numbing three hours of watching The Battle of the Five Armies.

Azog kindly leads moviegoers to the exit after a butt-numbing three hours of watching The Battle of the Five Armies.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has more action, but, again drags on. And just in case you thought this was an adaptation of The Hobbit and not a Lord of the Rings prequel, Legolas arrives! The Smaug’s desolation is no where. Instead the film ends up being a very long teaser for the final installment. Evangeline Lilly arrives too since Jackson has no idea how to develop the dwarfs. The only payoff, Smaug.

The Battle of the Five Armies begins exactly where the last film ended. The desolation of Smaug has begun, and will be over before you know it. While the first two films had a lot of travel, with Bilbo Baggins and his dwarf companions meeting all manner of friends and foes, Five Armies keeps all the action within the confines of the Lonely Mountain. The film feels geographically constricted.

Without Martin Freeman, these films would be beyond saving. He presents Bilbo as a sympathetic character, someone who was very content in his own little village. There are hints that Bilbo now sees himself as part of a bigger world, but not much time is spent developing Bilbo.

As a matter of fact, for a film called The Hobbit, Bilbo is surprisingly absent from most of the film. He has a few scenes involving the Arkenstone*, but spends most of the film on the sidelines.

These films drag. And I liked Chariots of Fire.

Unconvincing special effects mar the film. Instead of trying to create a fantastic reality, team Weta produced a bunch of scenes that look like cut scenes from a video game. At one point Legolas is jumping on stones as they crumble and fall. I haven’t seen such action since the Nintendo Entertainment System.

There just is not enough good for me to recommend the film. Freeman and a few good action scenes do not make the film worth the time or money to see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

*I believe the Arkenstone will return in The Avengers: The Infinity Gauntlet films.

©  Paul Anthony George and The Reno Signal, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul Anthony George and The Reno Signal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Image courtesy Sony Pictures.

Image courtesy Sony Pictures.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”  achieves exactly what Sony Pictures seemed to have in mind; make a film that will fill seats, make a profit, and insure an “Amazing Spider-Man 3.” It’s not a bad film, just pedestrian. And it adds as little as possible to the Spider-Man cinematic canon.

The film manages to be a long, painfully long, toy commercial that does not fall into the trap of “Batman and Robin,” a film people still talk about. To Joel Schumacher’s credit, he created a Batman movie that won’t, no cannot, be forgotten. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” however, is a forgettable film.

amazing spiderman 2 posterI saw it 24 hours ago, and I’m having trouble recalling much of the film. It is ephemera, not cinema. Am I being to harsh on a comic book movie? Not at all. People still talk about “The Avengers” and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films. Last month’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” featured superheroes and a strong plot.

The action scenes in this installment, or more accurately, Sony’s legally-necessary release, are typical of summer fare, full of impossible CGI shots and ultra-slow motion imagery. But the action scenes do almost nothing for the story. They just happen.

Yes, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” has a story, which is almost the exact story of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films. I’ve seen these chunks of plot too many times. Peter Parker’s love life is again, challenged by his career as a web slinger, aunt May is worried about Peter and sad, Gwen Stacy wants to do something with her life (it was Mary Jane in Raimi’s) and needs to figure needs Peter to figure out her enigmatic clues or she’s gone, some guy gets in an accident and decides he wants to be a supervillain, and so forth.

Yet the film is competent and, occasionally, enjoyable. The feeling is of a film written by committee, but an occasional emotion comes through. The cast is great, doing the best with what they have been given. Andrew Garfield turns in a strong performance as Peter Parker. Dane DeHaan enters the film as Harry Osborne. DeHaan has some great scenes early in the film, but, like everyone else, must turn into an insane villain before the film’s end.

My favorite scene has Peter and Harry by the waterline talking. For a moment, the film radiated sincerity. Maybe director Marc Webb — I kid you not. That’s his name — should make a Spider-Man film just about Peter’s relationships. The personal moments, along with a few Spider-Man moments, save the film from ruin.

As for the villains in this film, I don’t care. I’ve seen the same origin story many times. They exist to give Spider-Man something to do. Jamie Foxx does fine with a role that gives him little to do.  Paul Giamatti, playing the Rhino, has nothing to do in the movie. He is the film for five minutes.

If only to confuse the entire theater, Sony tacked on a teaser for Twentieth Century Fox’s summer Marvel film “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” This happens about a minute into the end credits. Unlike the Disney Marvel films, this teaser had nothing to do with this Spider-Man film or any future one.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” as its title suggest, is a product. In a few years, Sony will release “The Amazing Spider-Man 3.” Why bother with proper titles when a number will do. Kids seemed to enjoy the movie, but if you are over 12, I suggest you see “Captain America : The Winter Soldier” instead.

 

 

Review: Sabotage

sabotageposterDirector David Ayer returns to his favorite subject, the corrupting power of authority, in “Sabotage,” a film about a team of DEA agents caught up in a scandal involving stolen drug money and a federal investigation.

The film opens with the team, led by John ‘Breacher’ Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger) raiding the home of a crime boss. During the raid, the team hides $10 million, eventually leading to an investigation of the team. The money is taken before they can retrieve it, and someone is murdering members of Wharton’s team.

To give a way more of the plot would require the typical “spoiler alert” warnings, as the film begins twisting and turning itself to keep the plot moving. “Sabotage” is entertaining and features some truly creative action scenes. Most notable is a scene which plays out as a series of back and forth cuts from the murder being committed to Wharton’s discovery of the crime scene. But, as the film progresses, the script seems to lose its way. It ends on such a bizarre note; I wasn’t sure if I should cheer for Wharton or grieve for him. Maybe it was just time to leave.

Script troubles aside, most of the film works just fine. Credit goes to director Ayer, who directed last years’ cop drama “End of Watch” and wrote “Training Day” for crafting a movie that makes us forgive some of its lapses in logic. Ayer’s co-writer, Skip Woods, wrote “A Good Day to Die Hard,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and many other passionless movies. “Sabotage” seems to be trying to merge Ayer’s realism with Woods’ big Hollywood movie approach. I would have preferred a movie that looked even deeper into the corrupting effect of the drug underworld on law enforcement.

The cast, however, rises above the script, especially Schwarzenegger. I admit, I am a big fan of Arnold. I followed his career as a bodybuilder when I was a kid. I spent a good chunk of my life watching his movies. However, in the two “Expendables” films, he seemed wooden, perhaps from too many years sitting in the governor’s chair. But those appearances were just cameos. I enjoyed “The Last Stand,” but, again, he seemed a bit stiff, physically and creatively. “Escape Plan” showed Schwarzenegger returning to his pre-political charm, playing a tough but likeable inmate. In “Sabotage,” Schwarzenegger is tough and hard, not in the near self-parody way of his Regan-era films. His Wharton is a man that has suffered and Schwarzenegger infuses his character with an edge I have never seen in the actor.

Olivia Williams also stands out as a homicide detective investigating the deaths of Wharton’s team members. Williams, 45, lets her age show. She plays a person who has worked hard in law enforcement. Schwarzenegger’s leading ladies have tended to be very self-determined women and Williams does not disappoint. Her character is never the victim in this film. She can handler herself.

I enjoyed this film. While there are some script troubles and some odd pacing, it is an engaging film with plenty of violence and nudity to entertain audiences looking for some thrills. I just wish it spent more time revealing the world of drug enforcement.

Rise of a Franchise?

Sullivan Stapleton stars as Greek general Themistocles in director Noam Murro's follow-up to 2006's "300." Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers and Legendary Films.

Sullivan Stapleton stars as Greek general Themistocles in director Noam Murro’s follow-up to 2006’s “300.” Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers and Legendary Films.

With the death of the main characters, a sequel to Zack Snyder’s 300 seems far fetched, almost as ridiculous as a proposed Gladiator sequel that almost happened. However, 300: Rise of an Empire manages to be an entertaining, bloody good time.

The movie is not a sequel, or even a prequel, to the original film. The best way to describe it is as a “parallelquel,” a story that takes place along side the Battle of Thermopylae.  While the film occasionally returns to the 300 Spartans, its focus is on Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), an Athenian general who fought at the Battle of Marathon.

During that battle – according to the movie, not history – Themistocles shot the arrow that killed Persia’s King Darius I and set in motion the rise of Xerxes. Years pass and Themistocles is a politician in Athens who rallies men to fight the Persian onslaught. Meanwhile, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), now the god of bling bling, has assigned general Artemisia (Eva Green) to engage the Greeks by sea.

Unlike 300, Rise is mainly the story of Greece’s naval battles with Persia, focusing on the battles of Artemisium and Salamis.  The battles are dramatic and visually gorgeous. Like the original, Rise has the look of a graphic novel – although the visuals here look more like Immortals – but the color palette is richer than 300’s sepia and blood swathed filters. The style of 300 has been stolen and used too much since the film’s release. Starz’ Spartacus series used it to good effect. I enjoyed Immortals. However, Renny Harlin’s The Legend of Hercules and Paul W.S. Anderson’s Pompeii looked cheap. I recently re-watched Troy, which used a classic, realistic look. I miss that look. But Rise has more right than any film to use the visual style of 300.

Zack Snyder, busy making films about another hero in a red cape, serves as co-writer for Rise. Noam Murro takes over the reigns well, creating a mythic vision of Greece as the cradle of democracy and heroes. He adds more blood and gore to his film, although most of the CGI blood disappears into the digital ether.

Eva Green stars as Artemisia, the only Persian fleet commander discussed in detail by Herodotus. Although portrayed as a villain in the film, she is a strong female character in a male-dominated story. Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures.

Eva Green stars as Artemisia, the only Persian fleet commander discussed in detail by Herodotus. Although portrayed as a villain in the film, she is a strong female character in a male-dominated story. Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures.

Stapleton is fine as the lead, but he portrays a much different type of leader than Gerard Butler’s Leonidas. Themistocles is a more practical man and not obsessed with the beautiful death the Spartans considered a holy experience. Although she is handed some silly dialogue, Green stands above the chaos as Artemisa, the Persian general.  Both Eva Green and Lena Headey, returning as Queen Gorgo, portray strong women, capable of leading. If only Green didn’t spend so much time staring into nothingness. Since the film is more concerned with hero worship than historical accuracy, it never mentions that both of these figures were strong women outside the normal Greek social structures, which demanded that women stay home and not be a part of society.

I hope Rise sets off a franchise of films based in this fictional version of ancient Greece. What’s next? That would have to be the Battle of Plataea, the one that ended the war.  Xenophon’s The Persian Expedition is another great one. Why that has not been adapted to film is a mystery to me. It’s a great story with action and drama. Finally, Snyder and company can tackle Alexander the Great, but make it more exciting and comprehendible than Oliver Stone’s misguided film.

Rise is not a smart movie, or a historical document. Like 300, it takes Greek history and adds a dash of fantasy, creating a mythology that makes sense within the two films.  I don’t go to these expecting to be educated. I want to be entertained. And 300: Rise of an Empire entertained.

Copyright 2014 Tony George