Saturday, 9 December 2017

Review: Stronger

Cert: 15 / 119 mins / Dir. David Gordon Green / Trailer

You'd think I'd be happier about this. Being a curmudgeon of monumental dimensions, I usually berate the December/January-scheduled, über-worthy, awards-bothering, true-story releases for being excessively mawkish and exploitative, for expecting an audience to wistfully grip a tissue in their quivering hands for every minute of the run-time, for wringing the earnest, soul-wrenching drama from every last calculated frame of celluloid.

Stronger doesn't go to those lengths. And I'm not happier about this because Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany and Miranda Richardson are acting their thespic socks off while screenwriter John Pollono and director David Gordon Green apparently don't care. This is the story of Massachusetts production-worker Jeff Bauman, a spectator at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon when an explosive device was detonated next to him*1, resulting in the loss of his legs. The film isn't so much about the event itself as Bauman's struggle to get back into the world, to be the inspiration that people assumed him to be even before he was ready for that mantle.

Well, it should be about that, at least. Instead we get more of a fleeting docu-drama filled with unlikeable characters and a dearth of mechanical detail*2. Given how dramatic the first act is out of necessity, the film we have is oddly bereft of emotion. Not quite clinical, but anaesthetised certainly. A short setup takes us to the day of the marathon*3, breezes over the immediate aftermath, skips out completely on the six weeks of in-hospital rehab, then just drifts along with snapshots of Jeff's recouperation. We get glimpses into the recovery, but never really enough to emotionally invest in the character (a real actual person, don't forget). Dramatic outbursts and flashes of PTSD come as much of a surprise to the audience as they do to the characters surrounding Jeff, almost suggesting that we're not being told the story from his point of view in the first place. Which is odd because the only other main character is his partner Erin, doing her best to help Jeff's rehabilitation*4, but we don't really see the film from her point of view either.

The central performances are, as noted, solid enough, but the writing isn't there to back them up. And while Gyllenhaal is one of the finest actors of his generation, it feels like this part (certainly as it's written) isn't complex enough for Jake to represent good value for money*5. There's the feeling that rather than present Bauman as a challenging/conflicted character, the screenplay just doesn't particularly like him*6, which becomes a waste of a great performer. Mark McMark could play this role. There moments of dark humour in the film, genuinely funny for all the right reasons, but they're too sporadic to be classed as an actual feature of the script. A tale of redemption should be a rollercoaster, this is like being pulled over waste-ground in a cart with wooden wheels for an hour and a half, before…

And then, around twenty minutes from the end of the movie, Jeff resigns himself to meeting a man named Carlos in a bar. It's Carlos who pulled Jeff out of the carnage in Boston, who tourniquet'd his legs to stop him bleeding to death, who reassured the semi-conscious man that help was on its way. Carlos has his own backstory of course, and this could be the one genuine scene in the whole two hours. Everything after this point is absolutely fine, the movie I was expecting it to be throughout (which is to say it's overly-sentimental, but the details of the plot have earned it by that point). But it's too little, too late. You can't just fill the screen with sports-fans waving Stars and Stripes flags and call that a happy ending. No really, you can't.

The usual rules apply for this sort of thing: You want to honour survivors of an ordeal, film-makers? Then take a film crew to their house and get the base-footage for a documentary...

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
This Sort Of Thing™.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
While Stronger isn't exactly televisual, it's not particularly cinematic either.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Nowhere near as much as it would like, I suspect.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's not.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I shouldn't think so.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.
Not even when the bomb goes off

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Savage Opress is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
And it's only the last twenty minutes which lift it up that far.

*0 If you're at this first footnote because of the asterisk in the 'post description' on social media (and for the sake of HTML coding, let's call this *0), I put "Boston Strongler" in there because even I didn't think I'd get away with "Marathon Man(gled)". Who says I'm not a sensitive guy?

*1 Now you would think they'd have done a shared-cinematic-universe thing and given a cameo to Mark McMark, to tie in with last year's Patriots Day, but apparently not. Normally I'd insert a link to my review of the film there, but since I refused to watch Patriots Day as it looked like 90 minutes of histrionic flag-waving, I can't do that. You're right, maybe I'm not a sensitive guy… [ BACK ]

*2 It's quite a feat that in a movie full of aimless self-centred drifters, that the HR policy of the Costco corporation comes out looking like the good guy. I'm assuming the blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to a health insurance claim for an underperforming, low-grade 'poultry-technician' is what paid for his robot legs, the likes of which are normally reserved for military veterans. Because the film doesn't explain it otherwise. Jeff comes out of hospital to live in his mum's flat in the housing projects, and the extra financial burden on a woman who's already not working just isn't mentioned. And while I'm on, in one scene he's been out of the hospital for weeks and nobody's thought that a guy with no legs might have trouble reaching the toilet-roll which is kept on the opposite side of the bathroom from the toilet. Jeff's family are dicks in this. [ BACK ]

*3 Really though, Jeff's on/off girlfriend Erin is running a full marathon and leaves getting sponsorship until the day before. Then she does this by going to a pub and sitting down, and has the temerity to call him lacklustre in his commitments... [ BACK ]

*4 By the way, if you're unfamiliar with the phrase "Boston strong" (*raises hand*), I advise you to look it up before watching the this. The second-act is in love with the phrase, but not to the point where it actually explains the etymology of it. Jeff's surname isn't Strong, and at that point in the story he's displayed few actual signs of endurance other than being interviewed repeatedly on TV (or so we're told, that's another thing the film doesn't bother showing us). Anyway, apparently it just means that the people of Boston are strong. Which is fair enough, but here in the UK we got news reports about the bombing itself, but the rest of this awful world quickly filled the follow-up schedules. What I'm saying is, don't @ me for not knowing what the hell 'Boston Strong' meant. I'm a sensitive guy. [ BACK ]

*5 Seriously though, not to demean the actual Jeff Bauman's struggle at all, but Stronger's approach to post-traumatic stress disorder is much like that of American Sniper: 1) Lead character is sad and angry for a bit, 2) Lead character shouts for a bit, 3) Lead character is reflective for a bit, 4) Yay, lead character is better now! That's all he had to do all along!! [ BACK ]

*6 There's a lot of consequence-free alcohol/medication mixing going on in this movie. As well as the drunk-driving scene which has no comeback. And apparently losing your legs means never having to wear a seatbelt, somehow. If anyone is thinking of looking to this movie as a source of inspirational reference, they're going to take away the message that it's okay to be a complete tool for as long as you want. The bizarre thing is that when photos of the real, actual Jeff Bauman appear in the obligatory credits-montage, I was thinking "funny, he doesn't look like the dick that Jake's just made him out to be". Who knew? [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Review: Olaf's Frozen Adventure

Olaf's Frozen Adventure
Cert: U / 21 mins / Dir. Stevie Wermers-Skelton / Trailer

As much as I rather enjoyed the new Olaf's Frozen Adventure, I can't help but think that after the undue fuss surrounding the Frozen Fever short from 2015, and this similar hubbub two years later, it'd be nice if the powers that be just cracked on and made a proper sequel to one of the most enduring Disney films of recent times. And with another two years to go, I can't help but wonder how much more padding we'll be subjected to in the meanwhile.

But, as I said, that's not to take away from what is a fun little outing for Olaf the ostentatious snowman, in a production which I'm fairly certain was working-titled 'The Josh Gad Show'. As our diminutive hero patiently waits through a brief setup, he's then cast upon a singing, dancing quest to collect Christmas stories and traditions from the townspeople of Arendelle, with asides and sight-gags thrown into every other shot. I've made it sound dreadful of course, but fans of Frozen should find it enjoyable enough.

Olaf's Frozen Adventure recreates the fun spirit of the original, but not the soul (although every single frame of this contains more sincerity and love than the entirety of some other Christmas films I've seen this year). And while it would be tempting to point to the 21-minute runtime as a factor in this, bear in mind that Disney frequently produce 5-6 minute shorts to front-end their movies with every bit as much emotional punch as their feature-length animations.

And speaking of animation, this is a superb-looking piece of work. The texturing is photorealistic in its detail and depth, and although the models themselves remain stylised, the visuals have now pretty much removed the high-contrast 'black cartoon lines' of the artwork.
For this reason alone, it's worth hunting down on a big screen.

+ + + + +

Olaf was the warm-up feature of course, like we used to get in The Old Days. In the UK, Disney's new short is being packaged with a re-release of 2013's Frozen (whereas US markets are getting it in front of Coco, which I'm now desperate to see). But since they were both under the same BBFC card, you only get one review-post I'm afraid ;)

Truth be told, I don't have that much to add to my original thoughts on the film, other than to say that my 5/7 score seems inadequate for a movie this good*1. From the opening sequence, its scope is far greater than the (admittedly sweet) featurette which it follows, borderline operatic in tone and symphonic in its recurring themes and motifs (although the story's classical roots lend themselves to this).

Much like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Frozen is a much better musical than it's given credit for. And sure, the songs annoy a lot of parents*2, but they're annoying because they're catchy and they're catchy because they're crafted by experts. Kristen Anderson and Robert Lopez are award-winning songwriters for Broadway and Hollywood, and if their work doesn't infuriate you on some level you're not paying attention. But I digress.

Frozen is great; you don't need me to tell you that.

And for the record?
Elsa is totally Dr. Manhattan.*3

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Frozen, pretty much.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
You'll be lucky if you get the chance, but if you're a fan of the series - yes.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
…keep the brand ticking over while the mice pound away at a sequel? Pretty much.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
I wouldn't go that far.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Not at all.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
No. Bah.
Although that hawk-screech is in it

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The star of the show here is the voice of the Controller from an episode of Star Wars Rebels, while full movie features the guy behind K-2SO.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 I don't think Frozen is a 7, but it's definitely a 6. Still, I'm not going to rebadge the score now. I've only done that for one movie before. Besides, I'm marking Olaf's Adventure here, not Frozen. No, you're living rigidly by a set of self-imposed, arbitrary rules which no-one else has even noticed… [ BACK ]

*2 And sure, not being a parent I've never had to endure a car journey with youngsters singing along badly from the back seat. If anyone's going to howl out of tune with a movie soundtrack in my vicinity, it'll be me, thank you very much… [ BACK ]

*3 Also, I am completely convinced that the snow-monster's bellow of "Don't come ba-a-a-ack!" is a direct reference to the demon-voice at the start of Slayer's Hell Awaits. Imagine what fun it is to live in my head... [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Review: Molly's Game

Molly's Game
Cert: 15 / 140 mins / Dir. Aaron Sorkin / Trailer

Well, this was a nice surprise to end the month*1; an advance screening of Aaron Sorkin's new film, Molly's Game (due for general release on Dec 26th in the UK, by which time you'll have probably forgotten I wrote about it so promptly, but hey). Jessica Chastain plays the eponymous Molly Bloom, an olympic skier with a demanding father and recurring back injury which sees her taking a year out in Los Angeles. While working in a cocktail bar, Molly is offered a low-level (but crucially, better paid) office job which leads on to her organising illegal poker games for her boss and mixing with the rich and famous as a result. Striking out on her own, Molly runs a successful underground gambling den until the seedier side of the business threatens to pull everything apart. After a raid from the FBI, our subject finds herself in need of a sympathetic lawyer, and it's from there that the tale unfolds.

And what can I tell you without spoiling the plot-mechanics? It's good. Really good. Much of the film (although by no means all) revolves around poker, and while I know about as much about this as I do about tennis, Bloom's is a compelling story (although the viewer is always aware that this is a visual-retelling of a sanitised book based entirely on one person's account of things). This isn't a particularly original type of movie, but becomes more than the sum of its parts in Aaron Sorkin's hands, and his trademark-sharp dialogue is done full justice by a fantastic cast.

Chastain doesn't so much steal the show since it's entirely hers to begin with, but with her remarkable screen presence she makes this look effortless and seems to get better with each role*2. Idris Elba puts in a fine supporting performance as Molly's attorney, matching her energy beat-for-beat when it's required (although his accent goes for a right old wander during an emotional monologue in the third act). Elsewhere, Kevin Coster stars as Molly's (deliberately) annoying psychologist, pushy-sports-dad, reliably fleshing out a part which feels slightly underwritten given its significance to the character-aspect.

At just shy of two and a half hours, this is by no means a short ride. As three timelines are set up to tell the story in the first act, it takes a while to get going properly, and the The Properly Dramatic Part™ of the screenplay bides its time in the background. But when that sequence arrives, Molly's Game is lifted to another level entirely. By this point the audience have got to know Molly and are on-side completely, despite the screenplay making absolutely no bones about her flaws and weak spots; but it's a case of liking the character because of those foibles rather than in spite of them that Sorkin sells so well.

Despite landing in the fourth-quarter and being A True Story™, this is unlikely to find its way into many golden envelopes come February/March. Our heroine is admirable, but for few of the right reasons. Yet at the same time, Molly's Game is affecting because of its unpolished emotions. This is the first time Sorkin and Chastain have worked together. I look forward to the next.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Miss Sloane, The Big Short, The Wolf of Wall Street.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
The film itself isn't inherently cinematic, but that setting will immerse you in the story more.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Difficult to say, but 'first page of the CV', certainly.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I shouldn't imagine so.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Jessica Chastain starred in A Most Violent Year with Oscar 'Dameron' Isaac.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 This showing was the fifth exclusive Cineworld Unlimited screening of November, presented in my local's largest screen and had an outstanding turnout. To the point where I was thinking 'have all these people got Unlimited cards? I'm here all the time and I don't recognise most of them'. Then it occurred to me how few of the amassed crowd had actually given a shit about watching the Cineworld Unlimited screening for The Disaster Artist only two nights previously. Film fans are a fickle bunch. [ BACK ]

*2 Although I'm sure Ms. Chastain has a pre-prepared library of excuses to explain away the gaping exception which is The Huntsman: Winter's War... [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Review: The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist
Cert: 15 / 103 mins / Dir. James Franco / Trailer

I promise you, dear reader, that I take no delight in reporting a significantly low attendance for the Cineworld exclusive advance-screening of James Franco’s The Disaster Artist. As a story which charts and recreates the creation of a notoriously bad cult movie, it’s already quite a niche piece of work. No bad thing, given its subject. But as such, the film rests is theatrical hopes on two key factors: a) That the viewing audience has seen Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, and b) That the viewing audience don’t mind being reminded that they’ve seen Tommy Wiseau’s The Room*1. As the Venn-diagram of that demographic crossed with Unlimited Card holders in the South Oxfordshire area showed, audiences will be ‘select’ for this feature, and intentionally so.

More worryingly, looking around the room at the attendees I’m fairly certain some of them had come along because it was an advance screening of ‘a comedy movie’ and they had no idea what The Room is really like*2, despite The Disaster Artist’s best efforts to illustrate otherwise.

Adapted from producer Greg Sestero’s book on his memories of making the film, this comedic-dramatisation opens with a series of vox pops from the likes of Kristen Bell, Kevin Smith and JJ Abrams, speaking in reverential tones about the continued sustainability of The Room and its enduring appeal on the midnight circuit. From there we jump back to late 1997 when young aspiring actor Greg meets the outlandish Tommy at a drama class and the two begin to inspire each other, albeit to make a dreadful movie, and progress toward the evening of the film's 2003 Hollywood premiere.

As a separate entity, The Disaster Artist itself is perfectly acceptable. With the James Franco portraying the raven-haired auteur Wiseau and his brother Dave playing Sestero, they manage to lose their usually-annoying screen presences into the roles completely. But in order for this film to work, it does require you, the viewer, to believe that there is some artistic or historical worth in The Room. Even at its most insightful, this is just a fairly good re-telling of something awful; not pointing and laughing, but being supportive and understanding of a demonstrably atrocious piece of work. There’s no doubt that The Disaster Artist is made with absolute commitment*3, but it spent 103 minutes reminding me of the worst 99 minutes of my life…

While every artistic effort may indeed be valid, it does not automatically follow that every result should be rewarded. Stop encouraging this shit.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The Room, to be honest..

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If it's your thing, absolutely.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Validate cloying inanity? Yeah.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This has got the director of The Force Awakens in it. In one of those 'as himself' roles, but it still counts.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 I’ve mentioned this before, I’m sure, but it certainly bears repeating in relation to The Room: I don’t believe in ‘so bad it’s good’ cinema. A bad movie is a bad movie, and other than an example to learn and progress from (for both audiences and filmmakers), low standards should not be encouraged or celebrated. By all means make a cheap, schlocky exploitation film, but make a good one. And I don’t care how much The Disaster Artists paint’s Tommy Wiseau’s failed vision as noble and inspirational – sometimes, just sometimes, if everyone’s telling you you’re crap, it’s because you really are crap. [ BACK ]

*2 The ambling pace with which several viewers made their way to and from the toilet during the film suggested they held no real agenda to minimise the amount of the movie they subsequently missed. Although to be fair, at least they did come back; no walk-outs for this one. [ BACK ]

*3 And the film’s closing side-by-side reconstructions of The Room's iconically bad scenes are self-indulgent beyond belief. Yeah I get it, you can time a setup and mimic over/under-acting, good for you, mate. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Adaptation: Street Fighter II

The A-word.
It's the bane of cinephiles, everywhere.

That book you love; the comic you remember; the show you used to watch; the game you lost an entire summer playing? Oh, someone's adapted it and it's getting made into a movie! Whether a cause for pre-emptive celebration or foreboding caution, it leads to only one thing: expectation. And expectation is the death of the 'clean' movie-viewing experience; no matter how closely the film sticks to its source material, or how much it tries to distance itself, it will be faced with the hurdle of comparison.

And while the movie industry loves the pre-built marketing buzz of 'now a major motion picture!', they loathe the comparative references which will be made from the first review onwards. Because many punters will expect to get exactly the same reaction from a completely different medium, to a story they already know. And therein lies the problem.

In this monthly series, we'll look back at some of the most respected and best-loved properties which have made the perilous journey to the big screen; often with some controversy, and almost always with far too much hype. This isn't so much a review of the films themselves, more an appraisal of their suitability as an adaptation.

Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers
Super Street Fighter II:
The New Challengers
Capcom (1993)

Moving on slightly from Mario but still at the heart of SNES gaming, Street Fighter II is the very paradigm of Bushnell's Law; ridiculously easy to learn, ridiculously difficult to master. The beat-em-up genre has been around as long as games have had the capability to represent fists of course, and the explosion of home computing in the 1980s raised the bar with side-scrolling, co-operative, multi-sprite brawling titles, and of course ushered in the End Of Level Boss. But as a sequel to their 1987 1-on-1 combat title, Capcom's Street Fighter II quickly developed a life of its own, in both arcades and living rooms around the world. The port to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was the first, and is generally accepted as the purest, home-version of the game, and the title went on to have multiple re-releases with various tweaks and additions. For this comparison I've chosen to play 1993's Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers, the reasons being that 1) characters debuting in this release of the game are included in the movie adaptation I'll be watching (plus in the bonus-round), and 2) again, it's the version I've got upstairs with my SNES.

So. It's a classic, obviously. The secret to Capcom's success with SFII wasn't so much the array of characters, each with differing speeds, fighting styles and special moves, but rather that the player can choose to control any of them to begin with (as opposed to the 'character unlocking' method). What's more, when the player is beaten by an opponent, they can choose a different avatar to have another try (or just keep on with the same one and extra determination/optimism). While the first version of the game held the four 'bosses' off-limits, meaning only the original eight characters were playable, everything from second, Champion Edition, release onwards puts them on the selection screen. Additionally, The New Challengers throws an extra four into the mix, bringing the total to sixteen. Beating the game using all the players at your disposal is easily possible. Beating the game using only your favourite requires dedication. I imagine it's also theoretically possible to work through the entire game as every individual character, in completely separate sessions. And while I'd love to have that amount of spare time on my hands, even I have to admit I'd use it for something else. But as I said, Bushnell's Law and all that.

So, shortly after SFII's domestic release (meaning kids could play in the comfort of their own homes and didn't have to keep weighing down machines with 10p coins), the game entered that secondary level whereby it became part of popular culture. While it didn't quite have the broad demographic appeal of Mario, the fanbase was no less committed. And although the merchandising opportunities are slightly narrower for a property which involves each of its principals knocking the living shit out of every other one, the range of dynamic internal character design lent itself to numerous toys*1, comics and anime movies, all of which have continued to be produced over the years, alongside sequel and spin-off entries on various consoles.

But at the heart of it all was one breakout game, held on a single 16mb cartridge. It's not the first beat-em-up (not even the first in its series), and it stands in a very crowded arena, but Capcom's Street Fighter II is one of the few that can be genuinely described as culturally iconic.

It's been 24 years and I can't always do a Hadouken.

Street Fighter
Street Fighter
Steven E. de Souza (1994)

First things first, I should point out now that I haven't actually seen this film before*2. And not that I was doubting anyone's previous judgement for a single second, but yeah it's bad. Indescribably bad. But bear with me dear reader, I'll try…

Despite the lack of narrative development in the famed 1-on-1 fighting title, the problem writer/director Steve de Souza faces here is not necessarily 'how do you adapt a game with no story?'. As of the New Challengers release, SFII actually has sixteen stories, some of which overlap, but are generally self-contained. The only points at which these characters meet in-game is, as noted above, when they're out in a street somewhere knocking the living shit out of each other. And that's not going to make for a great mainstream, family-friendly screenplay. Anyhow, Steve decided that the best way forward would be to write a new independent, thoroughly incoherent narrative, desperately shoehorning all your favourites together for no reason, many unrecognisably until they're either excessively introduced by the script or some other character name-checks them pointedly.

This really is all kinds of shite. Wobbly sets, costumes which look like they were designed for Flash Gordon but rejected and some of the worst ADR I've ever seen (and then heard around a second and a half later). From Raul Julia over-channeling his best Darth Vader*3, homages to schlocky Hong Kong action cinema, James Bond and 70s exploitation movies, the film would happily forget it's supposed to be adapting Street Fighter. That is, it would if it didn't have another yet character to reference, introduce or squander with alarming regularity.

The movie sets up a ticking-countdown-timer-ending before the fifth minute is out, then another one begins at 40 mins, then another one at around 80 mins. Incredible. Although I actually had to stop myself taking detailed notes after 22 minutes when a truck drives four feet away from Chun Li and she goes into a ground roll for no reason…

It seems clear that some of the cast thought they were taking part in something which would be better. I certainly won't blame them for trying, unfortunately everyone else has their tongue so firmly in-cheek that dialogue becomes impossible. Heading up the roster is Belgian Jean-Claude Van Damme as the American Guile, atrocious even by his own standards*4 and quite frankly so incompatible with the character that he'd have been more convincing as Balrog.

Australian Kylie Mingoue stars as the British Cammy, Chinese-American Byron Mann as the Japanese Ryu, American Andrew Bryniarski as the Russian Zangief*5, Native American Jay Tavare as the Spanish Vega, Native American Wes Studi as the Thai Sagat, and the Japanese sumo-wrestler Edmund Honda is now the Samoan-American Peter Tuiasosopo (although they've scripted his ethnicity into the film, that one's not just left out in the wild like the rest). Hey, at least Ken is still a white dude though, right? Shame Damian Chapa doesn't have the trademark blonde hair like his character, but that seems pretty fucking far down the list of issues to be honest. By the time Blanka emerges looking like Tina Turner playing The Mask, I'd all but given up.

How is this Street Fighter?

For an adaptation of a game which is 100% combat, there is surprisingly little fighting in the first hour (and even after that it's appallingly choreographed). But there's certainly no doubt that if you wanted to watch your sixteen favourite characters stripped of context, established backstory and jostling for position over 90 minutes of cinematic gibberish, this is definitely where you'd look...

How do you adapt a game with no story?
Well, how about you don't..?

Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie
Street Fighter II:
The Animated Movie

Gisaburô Sugii (1994)

What's amazing about this is that the animated movie was released four months before the live action one. Which is to say that there was a period between August and December 1994 when Steve de Souza could, I'm pretty sure, watch the publicly-released anime adaptation of the world's most popular fighting game, whilst also being one of the few people on the planet to know what was in store with his own… version. I admire the man for not having Universal pull the plug and claim that the dog ate the master copy, at any rate.

There is more attitude, anger and adrenaline in the first five, dialogue-free, minutes of this film then the entirety of its live-action counterpart. Kenichi Imai's screenplay centres around M. Bison's terrorist organisation and with Ryu and Ken at the heart of the story once again, but this time hops around the globe to meet its characters, rather than contriving to have them all coincidentally be in Raul Julia's lounge together. What's more, individual characters' backstories from the game are maintained, proving that it can actually be done coherently.

The artwork is classic Japanese anime, and I don't think I'll ever get tired of the clunky charm of a 3D scene rendered in hand-drawn 2D. It's a style which lends itself perfectly to a story which originated in the same cultural arena, and the fight-scenes are dynamic without having to go into clinical detail (exactly like the game in that respect). Which brings us onto the most important aspect - there's a lot of fighting in this. And okay, the characters are scrapping often for no reason other than 'having a street fight', but that already makes the animated movie thematically closer to the game than the live-action will ever be.

The English-language dialogue is hardly Dickens, in either its writing or delivery, but it still manages to piss all over de Souza's work. The western release also has a slightly over-engineered grunge/industrial soundtrack, with John D'Andrea and Cory Lerios scoring the incidental music and songs dropped in from the likes of Korn and Alice In Chains.

Although Sugii's movie came well after the arcade and home-releases of Street Fighter II, everything in it adds depth to the characters and increases replay value of the Nintendo classic.

Best bit: Henchman and chief scientist Senoh unveils Shadowlaw's new covert surveillance system to his master:

M. Bison: Is it ready?
Senoh: Yesss… a masterpiece of computer technology; it's splendid. We've created the ultimate high-performance monitor cyborg. It's state of the art. The images it receives are immediately beamed via satellite to the super computer…
M. Bison: (narrowing eyes) Goood…

…showing that all you needed to impress a global crime-lord in 1994 was basic internet connectivity. 2017 would likely blow his tiny mind…

Is the original thing any good, though?
It's better than good, it's definitive.

Is the film-version any good, though?

So, should I check out one, both or neither?
If you wish to see the live-action movie, it's filed between Morbid Curiosity and Fucking Told You So...

Oh, is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
In the game, there's not.
In the anime, there's not.
In the movie there actually might be, lost in a horrendous sound-mix, but I'm not going to go back and check...

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The original game's voice-cast appears to be a mystery. Seriously, not even Capcom are talking about it. However… the live-action movie has James McTeigue as the second-assistant director; he was first assistant director on Attack of the Clones*6. The anime movie (well, the English-dubbed one) features the voice of Zeb Orrelios.

*1 Although let's be honest, the 1993 G.I. Joe tie-in line is pretty dreadful. That said, I suppose the figures make an ideal artistic accompaniment to the 1994 live-action flick. And I deliberately haven't mentioned the single they released up there in the main review. But since you're lovely enough to read the footnotes, don't click on this link. I'm not saying it's worse than the same era's Mario Rap, but I also definitely am. [ BACK ]

*2 As buzzed as I was at the time about the mere prospect of a Street Fighter movie, younger readers should understand that even in the days before the advent of the domestic internet connections, the trailers and advance publicity for the Street Fighter movie began to paint an all-too-accurate picture of what was ultimately in store. A studio didn't have Rotten Tomatoes to blame for their movie tanking, back then. The feature was the subject of mockery and derision by the time it actually opened on UK screens, and the decision by my local cinema to not show it outweighed any curiosity I still harboured. Similarly, by the time the movie hit VHS shelves, I was not inclined to investigate. I have seen various clips over the intervening years, but this is the first time I have actually watched the film in its entirety. Because obviously, having pulled over 900 movies apart on this blog, I am now in a position to be incredibly forgiving to its perceived flaws... [ BACK ]

*3 Although credit where it's due, M.Bison wearing a smoking jacket and mixing cocktails is fucking gold. [ BACK ]

*4 Coincidentally to *2, the same decision was made by that same cinema to not show Van Damme's Timecop either, despite running trailers and having a full-on display stand in the foyer. It should surprise no-one to learn that when I finally caught that movie on video, I wished the time-travelling technology existed, if only so I could go back and warn myself not to bother…
[ BACK ]

*5 Whose Russian-accent keeps dipping into the 'Allo 'Allo representation of Italian… [ BACK ]

*6 I mean I love AotC, but seriously - imagine having that and the Street Fighter live-action movie on your CV… [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.