Friday, 30 March 2012


(Gary Ross, 2012)

Hunger Games is so derivative, feels so familiar, that watching it I felt as if I had seen it before, or at least read the book, neither of which is true. In certain cases, that can be a good thing. Some of the great stories - in cinema and other forms - give you that feeling of narrative déjà vu, because they resonate in a specific way or because they find a plot or a structural hook that seems obvious, as if it had always been there, somewhere in the ether, and they just stumbled upon it.
I'm not sure that is the case with this film. Rather it - and Suzanne Collins' novel, from which it is adapted - cannily peel various ideas from eclectic sources and twist them together with no little wit and intelligence. So we have a little "Enders Game", a lot of the obscenity of modern reality tv mixed with the way horrendous violence and tragedy are packaged for us by broadcast news, a bit of the gladiatorial arena, some Western imagery, some of the starry-eyed romance of teen fiction and a wealth of deadly-game-show tales from pop culture, from Stephen King's "The Running Man" through Battle Royale to Killraven.
That sounds unwieldy, but it holds together for a number of reasons. First there is the strong, simple plotting and storytelling. The world-building of the first act seems impressively effortless, the world and its conditions established within the first few scenes, and then gradually expanded upon. Partly this is possible because of the familiarity I mentioned above; we have seen enough future-worlds to understand a certain amount of shorthand in the portrayal of another one.
The world depicted here is an America after some future-War, now named Panem and split into 12 districts, each of which serve the existence and prosperity of the Capitol. Each year two tributes are chosen from each district, one male and one female, to compete in the Hunger Games, a televised gladiatorial battle to the death, from which only one contestant can emerge alive. Our protagonists are Katniss and Peeta (Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson) from the outlying District 12, which provides coal to power the Capitol while it's own residents freeze and starve to death. Katniss is a hunter and survivor, skilled with a bow and played by Lawrence with a sort of raw charisma: she stares down the camera with the same fearless beauty she directs at the colourfully-dressed peacocks of the Capitol. Peeta is more vulnerable, not least in his unrequited love for her, and Hutcherson plays him as close to a child, swinging between sweaty, crease-browed anxiety and puppy-eyed love.
Their encounters with the machinery beneath the Games and the Capitol shape the best scenes in the film, full of dry wit, blunt satire and some chilling resonances - the parallels with modern youth, shipped off to foreign wars, seem obvious. There are also some eye-catching supporting performances from Woody Harrelson, the perpetually underrated Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci.
Much of the second half of the film is devoted to the games themselves, and here Ross stumbles somewhat. His direction is loose and handheld for the most part, giving much of the narrative an immediate, intimate feel which works well and helps hide the relative low-budget for a big sci-fi film by avoiding any outright money shots (the shots of the Capitol itself are quite fleeting and notable for their lack of detail in comparison to the teeming cityscapes of the Star Wars prequels, for instance).
That also gives him a methodology for the action scenes. The games themselves are a bloodthirsty spectacle of murder and violence, but this is a film aimed at, if not quite children, then pre-teens. So Ross shoots the action like everything else, his camera shaking and jumping around, tight to faces and figures, rarely pulling back to give a sense of scale or context. It gives them a visceral jolt in the best moments, but renders them oddly (literally) bloodless and thin in the worst.
Throughout, however, the storytelling remains gritty and powerful, offering up a series of tense set-pieces, satisfying face-offs and taut character beats, and Ross' style does well to capture the beauty of the green world of the forest and Lawrence's movie star presence.
As summer blockbusters go, then, this is raw, involving, intelligent entertainment.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


(Jimmy Hayward, 2010)

Jonah Hex is a pretty simple character, so simple that it seems hard to believe any film could mess up his appeal so comprehensively. An ex-Confederate Soldier with a long, tragic history turned deadly, surly Bounty Hunter, he is more-or-less a generic Western hero type. He speaks little, kills often, but is bound by a personal code of honour to do the right thing and protect the innocent.
The place for such a character is in a stark, taut, visceral action Western, which is how the majority of the various comic book series in which he has featured have used him.
Jimmy Hayward's Jonah Hex is no such thing. Instead it seems set upon being a comic-influenced modern Western, shot like a music video, massively influenced by video games, determined to cram in as much of Hex's lore as possible into around 70 minutes (this feels like a film which was cut to bits in the editing room). The first five minutes fly through Hex's Civil War story in an unbearably shallow manner, mixing actual comic book art with brief snippets of scenes, all of it obviously meant to be held together by a Josh Brolin voiceover. Then it's onto the plot proper, with John Malkovich's insane Confederate General determined to destroy the USA by blowing up Washington with a Super-Weapon. Malkovich plays it at his usual high camp pitch, while Michael Fassbinder wanders around, utterly wasted as an Irish psychopath, giggling like a villain from the 60s Batman tv show.
Brolin is ok as Hex - it's a part that doesn't require much once his make-up is in place - and Megan Fox registers only as a strange sort of special effect, her celebrated body fetishized in a Western prostitute outfit, so insubstatial and pointless is her character; but they're all mired in an awful film, which is tonally berserk, incoherent for most of its running time, aggressively ugly and utterly boring. Its attempts to do "different" things with Hex are ill-thought: here he can speak to the dead, for some ridiculous reason, and carries twin Gatling guns strapped to his horse. This is like a Western having a seizure. It forgets all of the great things about the genre and replaces them with the worst aspects of modern blockbusters; explosions, murky action scenes, bad cgi. It makes the similarly disastrous steam punk Western Wild Wild West seem like a classical masterpiece. It makes me hope Hollywood never gets it's hands on another comic book Western character.

Monday, 26 March 2012


(Phil Lord & Chris Miller, 2012)

Using the seldom-mentioned 1980s tv show, most notable for being Johnny Depps breakthrough, as a platform for a messily energetic action-comedy sounded a little lame from a distance. But upon closer inspection, 21 Jump Street proves to be a simultaneously crude and witty mash-up of various genres. Crucially, it's extremely funny.
The concept is the same as in the tv version (and allows the movie to function as a sequel thanks to a couple of late guest stars): a special
Undercover unit is established within the Police Department, sending youthful-looking Cops into High Schools to find drug dealers and suppliers. Recent Police Academy graduates Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill, who co-wrote) disastrously mess up their first bust and find themselves undercover in a modern High School, seeking out a drug ring, six years after they graduated.
Only the rules have changed completely. Jenko, once a popular jock, finds that in the new world of teens; tolerance, intelligence and environmental awareness count more than his macho attributes and an approach to high school he summarises as "never try at anything, ever, and make fun of people who do try". That makes geeky Schmidt one of the coolest guys in school, and the reversed roles test their relationship as they stumble towards solving their case.
The comedy elements are quintessentially modern, taking much from sketch comedy in continually changing tone and topic, working in slapstick, parody, satire, some screwball rom-com dialogue, and some surreal visual humour over the course of a slightly overlong running time, all of it shot through with the quirky deadpan irony common in American movie comedy since Wes Anderson perfected it. Hill and Tatum both excel and have real comedic chemistry, each reaching a sort of peak with the scene where they sabotage various classes under the influence of the synthetic drug they are investigating.
The action scenes are less convincing, but the gleeful edge brought to them by the lead character's approach - they celebrate explosions with the awe of pre-teens - makes them work. This is the real subject of the film, and its a common theme in the influential work of Judd Apatow, from whose stable Hill emerged: both the main characters here are boy-men, stuck somewhere between adolescence and adulthood. Returning to High School only throws that into sharper relief, allowing them to relive different mistakes.
What is refreshing here is that they remain in that state at the end of the film, having grown and changed in other ways - Jenko by embracing his inner nerd, Schmidt by seeing the reality of being cool.
Backing them up is a frequently inspired supporting cast, featuring an angry Ice Cube as a walking, acknowledged stereotype, Rob Wriggle as a pumped-up gym teacher, Ellie Kemper hilariously losing the ability to speak coherently due to her lust for Tatum and Brie Larson as Hill's high school love interest.

Thursday, 22 March 2012


(Martin Ritt, 1967)

Elmore Leonard's Western work all seems ideal for adaptation to cinema. His stories are generally based on strong, simple ideas, his heroes attractive, capable, manly, his heroines strong, independent women, his villains loathsome but interestingly complicated.
Hombre contains as striking and effective a plot mechanism as the one which drives the twice-filmed 3:10 To Yuma; a White man abducted as a boy and mainly raised among Apache finds himself shunned by his fellow travellers on a long stagecoach journey through the wilderness. But when outlaws show up, the others turn to him, the only capable warrior, for help, and he must decide whether to lead them through the desert to survival or leave them to die.
Directed by Robert Aldrich, say, Hombre might stand as one of the great Westerns. The story is exciting and gripping, the characters strong and recognisable. But Ritt is not a director all that comfortable with genre material. His background in theatre and television means that he is great with actors - and the performances here are all memorable for their strength - but also means that this film plods along almost politely, where Leonard's plots usually crackle with forward momentum and a delight in the unavoidable violence which must, inevitably, come.
Still, Hombre is a fine western, full of good things. Paul Newman, who had established a close working relationship with Ritt over five previous films, makes his hero an inscrutable survivor, his eyes lit with a private amusement at the pettiness of lying White men. When pushed, like all Leonard's heroes, he is a deadly killer, he just needs persuading to take that step, his stoicism hiding seething anger at the injustices heaped upon the Apache.
He is well matched with Richard Boone's charismatic, intimidating villain, also somewhat amused by his lot, and Diane Cilento's no-nonsense widow, all cynicism, quiet smoulder and guarded concern for others, afraid of nobody and always ready with a sharp-tongued opinion.
For the most part, Hombre actually plays like a television or stage play, much of it devoted to characters talking in the confines of a Stagecoach or an abandoned cabin, so the quality of the cast is vital to it's success.
But Ritt helps himself with his handsomely classical direction - he handles the final confrontation and shootout with real, perhaps surprising aplomb - and the cinematography by the legendary James Wong Howe is terrific, with a real feel for the rugged landscape and it's dangerous possibilities.
This is a Western made after the first arrival and success of the Italian Spaghetti Films, and that has affected the look and feel on display here. Gone is the clean, cheery brightness of many Westerns of the 1950s and early 60s. Instead we get a burnished palette of browns and drained yellows. The nocturnal scenes are dark, no jarring, surreal "day for night" shooting here, and the characters sweat and fray and get dirty and dusty and tired during their ordeal.
And there is a single, ugly splash of blood when one particularly unpleasant villain is shot which seems very much a moment from the 1960s; Ritt keen to tell us that in his west, violence was an scary, serious thing. His film, for all it's strengths, could perhaps have used just a touch less seriousness and a little more of Elmore Leonard's humour and verve.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012


(Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011)

It's an instructive oddity that Ceylan, a filmmaker whose work is almost all intimately attuned with the interior lives of his characters, mainly Turkish men struggling with loneliness and searching for meaning in modern Turkey, is also among the greatest directors of landscape currently working in International cinema. His work as a photographer was at its best when it focused on figures within distinctive, beautiful landscapes, and his work in film has followed suit.
In Once Upon A Time In Anatolia he takes on a slightly more high concept idea than he has before, following a group of men - policemen, a Prosecutor, a doctor, a couple of soldiers - through the nocturnal countryside as they search for the buried corpse of a murder victim. The murderer and his brother are with them, but his memory of burying the body is faulty. "I'd been drinking" he says as yet another possible hillside or field is revealed as the wrong place. In between the procedural aspects, Ceylan slowly draws out his characters as we observe them joke and bicker as they drive down endless country roads and wait by their cars as others stumble around in the darkness, searching for this body.
The murder handily allows for contemplation of grand themes - the proximity of death hangs over the film, shadowing many of the mens conversations - but the numerous characters make this arguably Ceylan's most accessible film. Like all truly great "art" cinema, the conceit falls away and it stands as simply an exceptionally powerful piece of storytelling with a universality which is massively appealing. The characters are a good mix: the melancholy humour of the Prosecutor, with his story of a gorgeous woman and her unexplained death, the doctor, a city boy and outsider, who struggles to understand all that he sees, Arab Ali, the driver, with his petty gripes, Police Chief Nacri, hollowed out by his work but afraid to go home to his wide and sick son, and the officious Army Sergeant, worrying about jurisdiction and procedure.
There is much black humour and character comedy here, mainly in the sparks between these men, but Ceylan beautifully balances that with his studies of the incredible Anatolian landscape - his compositions and lighting here are typically breathtaking - and more poetic passages, with and without dialogue. The doctor gets most of these reveries to himself, whether startled by an immense hillside sculpture lit by lightning as he sneaks off to urinate, to his numb wanderings around town once they have returned with the body.
This is an expansive film, allowing us glimpses into the souls of many characters. The murderer - who, it is suggested late on, may in fact be innocent - has nightmares and grieves for his relationship with a boy he claims is his son. The pathologist who assists the doctor in the autopsy bitches about his cheap instruments. Ceylan alights on these people fleetingly, yet each is given life and heft.
Only women come off poorly, which is perhaps surprising given how strong the female lead was In Ceylan's Climates. In perhaps the loveliest passage in the film, the tired men have called in with the Mayor of a remote town for a break in their gruelling search. He politicks relentlessly while they eat and discusses his family and the villages problems. Then the power dies and in the darkness the men are served tea by his youngest daughter, her beautiful youth illuminated by the lamp she carries on her tray. Her lovely face floats above each man in turn as they take a glass in silence, their faces masks of awe and desire. It is a great scene, sensuous and unforgettable, but it does underline the absence of a feminine character or voice in the film.
This is an old failing of masculine European Art cinema, and doesn't really undermine the power of Ceylan's superb film, which is otherwise beautifully controlled, displaying a fine command of tone, character and pacing.

Monday, 12 March 2012


(Gerardo Naranjo, 2011)

It's the consistency of the stylistic approach that makes Miss Bala so powerful and unique. A story of this kind would typically find itself housed in a much juicier, more hyperbolic vehicle, with more of a pronounced Goodfellas influence. But Director Naranjo instead opts for an artier approach. He finds a shot - generally a beautifully composed shot, which, with a little or a lot of camera movement, will inevitably give the audience all the story they need - and he sticks to it, cutting relatively rarely. That means that the storytelling throughout this film is elliptical, stylish and evenly-paced. Some of the biggest scenes - a pitched gun battle in the street between the Mexican military and a drug cartel, for instance - are captured in a single take, the camera following the title character through the area as the action occurs in the background.
That main character is Laura, a beautiful 23-year old from Tijuana who finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time and soon is working for a vicious drug gang in order to survive and protect her family. She finds herself smuggling, in the middle of gunfights, and in a twisted fulfilment of her fantasy, winning a Beauty Pageant, much of it captured by Naranjo's camera from a position behind her head as she is propelled and dragged along by the gangsters who have invaded her life.
It plays a little bit like Carlos Reygadas goes pulp - no bad thing - and that pulp content, when combined with the exemplary control and artfulness of the direction, helps make it wholly gripping and compulsive. It also seems driven by a righteous fury at the state of modern Mexico - as a graphic at the end states, 36000 people have been killed by the Drug War over the last few years - and the plot repeatedly underlines the way corruption infiltrates every level of society, poisoning all it touches. Laura's fate is manifestly unfair, and Miss Bala suggests that such injustice is nothing unusual in Mexico today.
Much depends on Stephanie Sigman in the lead, and she is terrific; her characters journey from stark, quivering terror to a stoicism and inner toughness which she never suspected she had is subtly, powerfully played. Each of the supporting players is effortlessly convincing, helping to make this textured, vivid view of a world feel remarkably authentic and unforced. In an action film - for that is what this is, albeit an incredibly obtuse one - this sort of commitment and nuance is fantastic and unexpected.
In all, it's a riveting, remarkable film.

Saturday, 10 March 2012


(Andrew Stanton, 2012)

Pulp - old pulp, real pulp, the kind of thing written by Robert E Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, tales of high adventure and fantastic creatures, full of exotic lands, beautiful women, brave warriors, romance and action - that sort of pulp has been largely absent from cinema for a few decades. Modern cinema is sleeker, slicker, more cynical.
Though pulp still seeps through the cracks occasionally. It's there in the Star Wars films, in Indiana Jones, in Pirates of the Caribbean, even though it is often obscured by contemporary style, suffering from death by a thousand cuts due to modern editing rhythms and buffeted by cgi until its most essential, old-fashioned nature is hard to make out.
Andrew Stanton's John Carter is an admirable, earnest attempt to revive that old-fashioned pulp. As such, it adapts one of the core texts of the genre, Rice Burroughs' "Princess of Mars", the novel which introduced John Carter, Confederate Veteran of the Civil War, and transported him to Mars, where he becomes involved in the disputes between various Martian species, discovers the Martian atmosphere gives him great strength and agility, and falls in love with a Martian Princess.
Stanton adapts much of that surprisingly faithfully, and it is a strange testament to the massive influence Burroughs' books have had upon pop culture that a lot of the material here seems very familiar. That is partly down to the many works that have stolen from Burroughs and partly down to Stanton's classical, old-fashioned storytelling. No hyperactive editing here; he fills the screen with big landscapes and bold imagery, and he takes his time. If John Carter seems to share some DNA with Lucas' Star Wars series, then that is mainly down to their cinematic influences; both are heavily reliant on Lean, Kurosawa and Ford for their epic stateliness, and both take much of their visual grandeur from the costume Epics of the 50s and 60s.
And this film is epic; a sweeping tale which begins in turn of the Century New York, moves to an Arizona populated by Apache, Cavalrymen and ornery miners before it alights on Mars (or "Barsoom" as this film has it). Stanton manages the delicate dance between such a grand narrative and a more intimate, character-based piece throughout.
If that makes John Carter sound a tad overstuffed, well, that may be it's big flaw. It takes on a lot; masses of plot, numerous major characters, and far too many themes for this kind of action spectacle to handle. But it works. The plot means there is an overlong scene or two of dry exposition in the first act, the characters make strong impressions with little screen time (a quality Stanton learned well at Pixar) and the themes are generally nicely-integrated with the story. Only Carter's status as a soldier who fought for the South in the Civil War is glossed over, which in a film full of characters making speeches about freedom and oppression, seems most odd.
It is all, undeniably, a bit of a mess. But what a glorious mess! Stanton understands the appeal of the material, so that there is a genuine sense of wonder to many of the sequences, from Carter discovering the extent of his abilities on Barsoom to the reveal of the Thark's temple. That wonder is crossed with a distinct strangeness; something antiquarian and colonial, perhaps taken from Burroughs, is discernible here in the encounters between Carter and these "primitive" aliens, and even in much of the production design. The action scenes are thrilling and muscular, even beautiful at times - Carter fighting an entire army of Tharks, most notably - and the strong characters give it a compulsively watchable momentum even when the plot is at its most knotty and discursive.
The cast is mainly composed of British class, with James Purefoy, Ciaran Hinds, Samantha Morton, Dominic West and Mark Strong all vivid presences. Taylor Kitsch is perhaps slightly too contemporary for the lead, but he is a star; charismatic and physically beautiful, he delivers especially in the action scenes, and his passion for his leading lady is convincing. That may be because Collins is fantastic here; lovely, fierce, intelligent, she carries much of the emotional weight of the film.
The other standout is Willem Defoe as Tars Tarkas, leader of the Tharks, the tall, green-skinned, four-armed, tusked Apache-Mongol-like alien race who capture and adopt Carter. Defoe - and the animators who brought his character to life - make the alien a proud, complex creature who is the source of much of the film's easy humour. The other source is another cgi alien; Woola, the dog-like animal who bonds with Carter and protects him with almost touching enthusiasm.
Both aliens are good examples of the film's great design; they reference the heritage of John Carter in popular culture - from Frazetta book covers to Marvel Comics - but they integrate that within a coherent, thought-out alien civilisation with a touch of steampunk to its technology and a lot of ancient Rome in its pageantry and costumes. Stanton and cinematographer Daniel Mindel keep the film visually lush and timeless, to match its confident pacing, and Michaell Giacchino provides a beautifully stirring Epic score which binds it all together.
The film's probable commercial failure may mean that the franchise it establishes is never continued, which would be a great shame, for John Carter is an interesting, exciting, fun, soaringly romantic and at times batty old-fashioned Sci-Fi Epic worth a dozen modern summer blockbusters.

Sunday, 4 March 2012


(Budd Boetticher, 1959)

The "Ranown" cycle of films made between 1956 and 1960 by screenwriter Burt Kennedy, Director Budd Boetticher and star Randolph Scott play like elemental, classically generic Westerns. They have beautifully simple storys, typical of the genre, which are delivered through tight plotting. And yet somehow Kennedy's scripts and Boetticher's matchless direction ensure that they feel relaxed and effortless; there is a confidence in these films which adds to their appeal.
Ride Lonesome was the first of the Ranown films shot in CinemaScope and Boetticher takes to the format instantly, as seen in the beautifully economical opening sequence. The credits play out over a rocky desert landscape, then the camera turns as we see a rider approach below, his tiny figure emphasising the implacable immensity of the land, which will prove to be as much a character in the drama as he is. He dismounts and approaches a rock slope. The camera pivots to the right where a man sits camped beside his horse. The rider is Randolph Scott's bounty hunter Ben Brigade, the man atop the slope his quarry, a young murderer. Their ensuing confrontation is the motor which drives the rest of the plot, and it is all captured in three or four shots, with the dialogue clipped and witty. Boetticher's widescreen compositions are terrific throughout the film, using the landscape with a grace and power which recalls Anthony Mann, but always retaining his own unique sense of taut visual economy. He never uses two shots where one will do, and deploys an array of astutely judged camera movements, never ostentatiously, most of which add to the easy flow of his storytelling.
The story follows Brigade as he seeks to bring his fugitive back to town to face justice and becomes entangled with various other characters along the way, all the while being hunted by Brigade's outlaw brother (Lee Van Cleef) and a tribe of hostile Indians. Kennedy writes his characters as rich, vivid types with interesting shades and the cast bring them to life with brusque, easy charm. The protagonist and antagonist in the Ranown films frequently have friendly relationships; their conflict based upon a matter of principal or entwined destinies rather than any real emnity, and that is the case here. Scott is a minimalist lead; holding back, never too emotional, and the film is similarly laid back, coolly observing its characters as they circle and size each other up.
That doesn't mean there is no action; Boetticher films the action sequences with as much style and muscularity as everything else, and they are accordingly gripping and beautiful.
The Ranown films are the foundation of Boetticher's exalted reputation among cineastes, and Ride Lonesome is a great example of why; beautifully made and full of stylish, timeless storytelling, it is pure pleasure from start to finish.

Friday, 2 March 2012


(Daniel Espinosa, 2012)

Safe House functions as perhaps the ultimate compliment to Director Tony Scott (who has no involvement here). Featuring his usual leading man in Denzel Washington, making extremely pungent, evocative use of a distinctive location (in this case Cape Town), shot and cut with a hyperactive, almost exaggerated beauty and no little style, and full of action scenes staged for maximum violence and brutality, Espinosa's action-thriller appears to assume Scott as a sub-genre in his own right.
As such, it's a decent, if somewhat generic Tony Scott film.
Ryan Reynolds takes the lead here, allowing Washington to assume the same sort of almost mythic bogie man role he took in Training Day. Washington plays Tobin Frost, an ex-CIA Agent gone rogue and trading secrets who has come into possession of a crucial computer file when he is cornered by a team of assassins in Cape Town and, desperate, hands himself in at a US Consulate. Delivered to a Safe House run by frustrated junior agent Reynolds, Washington's interrogation is interrupted when the assassins assault the house and kill the CIA Extraction team, forcing Reynolds to flee with his prisoner. The usual game of cat and mouse, double-cross and shoot and punch follows.
That is a little unfair. The plot is never riveting, but the story mechanics generally work and the odd adversarial relationship between Reynolds and Washington drive that. Reynolds plays the whole thing as if his character is a confused boy; always frightened, always unsure, generally on the edge of complete collapse. Its a slightly constricted, one-note performance, but then the script doesn't give him much else to do beyond the action stuff. At least that action stuff is often extremely well-done; each of the gun battles and car chases are exciting, visceral experiences. Best are the fist fights: in this post-Bourne world, they are gripping, brutal struggles to the death, convincingly exhausting in their physicality. Espinosa shoots it all with vivid colours and designer grit to the fore.
Washington gets his fair share of action too, but mainly he lends that intelligent poised movie star presence to his part; his character is always the smartest person in the room. That's what Denzel brings, that and tried, true charisma. The supporting cast backs him up; filled with classy character actors like Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Liam Cunningham and Sam Shepherd, who do a great job of selling such material.
The real star here, however, is South Africa itself, and Cape Town in particular, captured as a bustling, beautiful, cruel city by Espinosa, a fine stage in which his action sequences unfold.