Monday, November 12, 2012

'Wild Target' is worth a shot

Wild Target (2009)
Starring: Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, Rupert Grint, Martin Freeman, and Rupert Everett
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Natty professional killer Victor Maynard (Nighy) finds himself questioning his dedication to the family business and his life in danger when a mid-life crisis is triggered when he takes on an apprentice (Grint) and develops romantic feelings for a con artist (Blunt) he has been hired to kill.

"Wild Target" is a quirky hit man movie/dark romantic comedy. It's a remake of a French film, but I didn't realize this until I did some research--it feels British through-and-through, so that might be a consideration as to whether you think it might be a film for you or not.

It's also a relatively low-key movie, given its subject matter. In some ways it probably mirrors the life that those who truly lead their lives killing select targets for lots of money probably lead -- quiet steady existences that are marked by sudden, explosive bursts. Although while there is murder and violence here, the explosive bursts in this film are probably far funnier than those that occur in the life of a real hit man.

I also imagine that the looks-and-acts-more-like-a-banker-than-a-murderer borderline obaessive-compulsive character portrayed by Bill Nighy than the flamboyant master assassins we get in so many movies and books. I would think it would be the only way someone like that could have a career in murder. Whether realistic or not, it is a character that works extremely well here, as he ends up being both the film's straight-man and one of the funniest characters in it. Blunt and Grint portray characters that are purely comedic figures, while Nighy's character performs many functions as the film unfolds and along the way he is funny, tragic, and even a little scary when we see exactly how little like a banker he really is.

But, more importantly, Nighy portrays a character who is very likely. As I get older, I find it increasingly hard to like characters who are contract killers and murderers. However, Victor Maynard was a sympathetic and likable character almost immediately, and he became only more appealing as the film unfolded and he began to question whether he could have more in his life than just killing.

"Wild Target" is perhaps a quieter film than most of those who are attracted to films featuring hit men or comedies about guys having mid-life crisis are used to. However, the snappy, well-paced script and exceptional performances by the entire cast will win everyone but the most ADD-plagued viewers over.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Ninjas learn not to mess with Chuck Norris

It's the annual Nine Days of the Ninja here at the Cinema Steve blog network.

The Octagon (1980)
Starring: Chuck Norris, Karen Carlson, Lee Van Cleef, Tadashi Yamashida, Richard Norton, and Larry D. Mann
Director: Eric Karson
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A retired professional martial artist who just happens to be the adopted son of a ninja master (Norris) is drawn back into the world of violence and ninja intrigues when his brother (Yamashida) starts a martial arts school for international terrorists.

"The Octagon" is the film that launched a thousand "American ninja" movies. It was a surprise hit for the production company--that had reportedly pitched it to investors as a tax write-off--and it stands one of the very best examples of this kind of film. It's also an early Chuck Norris film and one of his bests, as it makes as much sense as a movie featuring ninjas building a secret lair/major militarized terrorist compound a short drive from a major urban center can, and it is non-stop plot, action, and/or neat fight scenes from beginning to end.

Chuck Norris is Chuck Norris--meaning that he is wooden but likeable--and most of the rest of the cast is made up of pretty decent B actors. Except for Lee Van Cleef... he plays another one of his you-love-to-hate-him sort of bastard characters... and he does it with his usual A+ style. But what really makes this movie are the various fight scenes. The grand showdown in the terrorist training camp, as well as the final battle between Norris, Norton, and Yamashida in the titular octagon arena has rightfully made it onto numerous "best fight sequence" or "best action sequence" lists. All the wire-fu, jump cuts, and computer graphics tricks that infest movies these days can't hold a candle to the real skill on display here.

Oh, and filmmakers--please PLEASE pay attention to the cinematography in this movie if you think you want to make a martial arts film. If you have people who can actually do martial arts, you should be doing mostly medium or long shots and pans rather than cuts when filming the fights. Let the audience see the skill on display. Don't do the god-damned close-ups that I keep seeing in so many martial arts and action films made after 2000 or so.

Even if your one of those strange people who say you don't like watching old movies, this is one you should check out if you your action films with a side-order of Ninjas.