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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Price: $14.99

1 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lethargic mutiny, November 21, 2014
Allies who became enemies are suddenly allies again, The Peacekeepers are still boring, Haymitch still makes stupid jokes that aren't funny about alcoholism ("I’m sober now but complaining about prohibition is still funny, right?"), the redundancy has become overbearing, the pace is even more sluggish, and the same storytelling formula is used of drudging along to one intriguing scene after two hours of boredom. "Mockingjay: Part I" is a game of tug of war between District 13 and the Capitol. District 13 has forced the hand of Katniss while the Capitol tortures Peeta into a government enforcing rag doll.

Why does "The Hunger Games" franchise put such an emphasis on fashion? The entire world has gone to hell because of some stupid decision you've made, but God forbid you go outside in normal clothes where you don't look fabulous in public for your fifteen minutes of fame. Stupidity is obviously hereditary in the Everdeen family as Katniss' sister Primrose (Willow Shields) makes it a point to rescue a forbidden cat when District 13 is under lockdown. There is so much death in "Mockingjay: Part I," but the events of the film are so incredibly dull that it forces the viewer into a lethargic state. Stealing herbs for your mother and staring at white roses in the shambles of your former home are intriguing bullet points that shouldn't be stretched out into five and ten minute sequences.

Other than the scene where Katniss forces herself into danger in order to be herself in front of the camera and the big climax near the end of the film, there is nothing exciting about the third "Hunger Games" film. The little recruitment speech Katniss makes is so similar to the one Tony Stark makes in "Iron Man 3." There's a lot of talking about make-believe political propaganda and a war where both sides just seem to be winging it, but the film backs itself into a corner early on. District 13 puts all their cards on the table and bets everything on Katniss succeeding and everything going according to plan. So things will obviously go very wrong and not work out or they'll play out as expected with Katniss realizing she's made a terrible mistake.

Just like "Catching Fire," "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I" is one long and boring journey leading to one surprising moment that isn't worth the two hours it takes to get to its destination. The film is a game of chess between two sides with no upper hand. One side may have a slight advantage by the time it's over, but an advantage isn't much of anything if both sides are still sitting at a stalemate. With its inclusion of death and suffering, destruction, its rebellious attitude, and the audience being thrown into this bloody war between normal people and a controlling government, it's a downright shame to report that "Mockingjay: Part I" is utterly tedious and mostly unnecessary
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 23, 2014 2:07 AM PST

As the Light Goes Out [Blu-ray]
As the Light Goes Out [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Andy On
Price: $16.59
20 used & new from $11.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Piping hot melodrama, November 21, 2014
The thick smoke that develops in these fires that burn for too long make rescues all the more difficult; you can't see, breathing becomes impossible, and prolonged exposure results in death in a matter of minutes. "As the Light Goes Out" makes this point very clear in the opening credits as text describing these cautions rises up into the screen like smoke rising from a fire. There's a "Police Story" reference early on as well with a guest appearance from Jackie Chan for a firefighter recruitment ad that is a fun little cameo.

Sam spends way too much time allowing himself to be walked on by everybody. He feels guilty for allowing Chill to take the fall a year ago and typically doesn't fight for the opportunities that he should. Chill is more worried about taking care of his son Water (yes, that's his name), who is a complete brat and unappreciative of everything his father provides. Water changes his name in front of his classmates, seems to be calling all the shots in his parents relationship, complains about everything, and does nothing but make paper airplanes all day which conveniently becomes a plot device later on. Yip is so worried about being the cool boss who wears smelly cologne, schmoozes with higher ups, and tries to help out his friends that he's forgotten what it's like to fight actual fires.

Other notable characters include an older, on the verge of retiring firefighter referred to as Major Pui (Simon Yam) who is attempting to give up smoking and is convinced he is still as agile as the young recruits. The Major is in competition with a 12 year firefighting veteran new to the station named Ocean (Hu Jun); a 42 year old who achieved a perfect score on his physical exam. The film spends a decent amount of time taking slight jabs at humor, which usually falls on the shoulders of these two stubborn characters. Unfortunately joking about how much beer you can drink and vying to come back for your helmet can only go so far.

At the early stages of the film, the story seems to have a pretty solid grasp on fighting fires. The issues that lead to this massive explosion sound fairly logical and believable, but these realistic tendencies are slowly burned to ash as they make room for extreme melodrama and stiff acting. Stupid decisions and incompetency are introduced solely to fuel the flames of the film's overdramatic atmosphere. The fate of a certain character is so obvious that by the time it actually occurs you just want it to be done and over with. The smack talking kid who was so embarrassed of his father is of course singing a different tune once he needs to be saved after making the worst decision a dumb kid could possibly make during a class field trip.

Sam goes through a ridiculous amount of bad luck and traumatic events in the film. Tragedy strikes for him early on, his relationship goes south, he doesn't want to transfer but is being forced to, and none of that covers what happens after he enters this explosive warehouse that has no exits. The most memorable scene of the film is one where Sam finally finds the beanbag in his pants and does something heroic. He shares a cigarette with fallen comrades as flour falls to the ground like snow. It's an incredible sequence that only lasts a handful of minutes, but something so small makes a bigger impression than anything else in the entire film.

"As the Light Goes Out" shows promise early on, but replaces any potential with cliché story points, flat characters, and utter predictability. The smoke in the film is obviously very computer generated, but actually works for the film depending on how you look at it. This smoke apparently clogs your senses, inhabits your insides, and encompasses your surroundings. If you look at it from that angle, then the smoke absolutely does its job effectively. "As the Light Goes Out" is unfortunately a disappointing disaster film effort despite its talented cast.

Camp X-Ray
Camp X-Ray
Price: $6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impounding sentimentality, November 14, 2014
This review is from: Camp X-Ray (Amazon Instant Video)
While "On the Road" showed an extremely provocative side of Kristen Stewart we had yet to see on film, "Camp X-Ray" allows Stewart to add a little depth to her repertoire. The California native will likely never be able to shake that dumbfounded glare that seems to always be cemented on her face, but Stewart tries her best to be strong and independent in the shoes of Pvt. Amy Cole and she’s surprisingly impressive. Cole works with a bunch of men since this isn't an easy job for a woman, but she never quits and is always willing to step up.

It’s obviously a very tough first day for Amy since she’s overly rattled as soon as she arrives and is then punched in the face and spit on during her first shift. She takes it all in stride though and doesn’t miss a beat or pass up an opportunity to talk trash with the rest of the guys. Some tension develops between her and Cpl. “Randy” Ransdell (Lane Garrison) as Randy begins to make Amy’s life a living hell. Amy’s relationship with Ali doesn’t start on a high note either as they have an entire argument devoted to the last Harry Potter book and they share a “The Silence of the Lambs” moment Amy could have lived without.

The chemistry between Kristen Stewart and Peyman Moaadi is thought provoking. Nearly their entire friendship is separated by a door, a fence, or regulations; something is always standing in the way of the two of them just getting to know one another. The relationship that develops is purely platonic, but the mutual respect is overwhelming. After eight years, Ali is desperate for human interaction while Amy has a different way of thinking and feeling than her fellow soldiers. Compassion goes a long way and it culminates in a foreseeable yet still touching manner.

The opening of first time writer and director Peter Sattler's dramatic film is completely and utterly absorbing. You're introduced to Ali in his home as he's praying and suddenly kidnapped. A powerful montage plays out showing Ali with his head and ears completely covered along with two men in the same predicament as they travel very far by air, sea, and land. There's no dialogue as a straightforward but effectively haunting reverberating score echoes through your eardrums.

"Camp X-Ray" is the story of a tough, independent woman trying to prove herself who finds something that she wasn't looking for, but is actually something very valuable for anyone who feels out of their element. Ali is cut off from the rest of the world in his tiny cell while Amy is a free woman and yet they still find themselves trapped in the same place. In a nasty, merciless world, a little act of kindness can go a long way. With phenomenal performances from Kristen Stewart and Peyman Moaadi, "Camp X-Ray" offers that hopeful ray of light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel.

Iceman [Blu-ray]
Iceman [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Donnie Yen
Price: $15.09
11 used & new from $8.95

3.0 out of 5 stars Nonstop action meets inconistent comedy, November 13, 2014
This review is from: Iceman [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
"Iceman" wastes little time awakening these frozen warriors, but it manages to do so in the silliest way imaginable. They're being transported in these frozen containers in the back of a truck. The driver throws a plastic bag out the window, which gets lodged in the brakes of the truck and locks up the brakes to send the vehicle barreling into a river. He Ying wakes up first and urinates the most pressurized stream in the history of urinary streams solely because he works his abdomen before unzipping. This is just the beginning of awkward and out of place toilet humor; a never-ending supply of penis jokes, He Ying's enjoyment of flatulence, stabs at pornography, and exploding toilets full of feces. "Iceman" makes "Dumb and Dumber" look classy at times.

In between its harmless yet juvenile sense of humor, "Iceman" is busy referencing popular sci-fi travel films that came before it. "Terminator" and "Back to the Future" are named sometimes more than once in the film. Sao and Niehu have a particular liking for spaghetti chicken curry. This shouldn't be noteworthy, but the two characters spend an awful lot of time saying this out loud and bringing it up when it serves no purpose. Wang Baoqiang has a very unusual way of portraying his character. He moves his jaw in sharp, unnatural movements and smiles from ear to ear frequently. While eating a Big Mac and holding a McDonalds bag, Sao says to a doctor, "Thank you you're welcome."

The acting is lacking in general. He Ying crashes with a woman named May (Huang Shengyi), who struggles to make payments to the nursing home taking care of her sick mother. May's boss is just the worst actress. She sounds foreign, but is forced to speak English dialogue. Her broken method of speaking and uncomfortable pauses between words make her lines some of the most painful in the entire film. "Iceman" is over the top, outrageous, and goofy from beginning to end. He Ying, Sao, and Niehu are snowboarding on shields before they're buried in snow and frozen for 400 years. May and He Ying chase a man driving a Lamborghini on a scooter and stick with it on the highway. Why do three warriors from 1621 have super strength and agility anyway? The flying techniques and wuxia used in the film are just completely unbelievable and He Ying seems to be everywhere at once. But no explanation is given as to why these men are capable of superhuman acts.

Despite its very heavy use of computer generation, "Iceman" flourishes during the majority of the action scenes. The club scene is the first real fight between two characters who actually know what they're doing, but the real pride and joy of the film is the Tsing Ma Bridge sequence. Just absolutely massive in scale, execution, and delivery, everything that takes place on the bridge is undeniably impressive. This isn't surprising since it apparently took a full two months to shoot. The car crashes are spectacular and the action sequences (Donnie Yen takes the reign as action choreographer in the film) are breathtaking.

"Iceman" is the unsuccessful combination of "Encino Man," "Austin Powers," and martial arts. The film's shortcomings are nearly redeemed by one fantastic sequence that the entire film is built around. Unfortunately though, "Iceman" has a ton of issues with pacing, dialogue, and storytelling. The last scene during the end credits is confusing enough. Obviously meant to be the starting point of a franchise, "Iceman" is an inconsistent mess that features Donnie Yen in his action packed prime but spends too much time dragging its audience through unnecessary and disgusting comedy.

The Two Faces of January
The Two Faces of January
Price: $6.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The con that ate the canary, October 31, 2014
Based on the novel of the same name by author Patricia Highsmith ("The Talented Mr. Ripley"), "The Two Faces of January" takes place in 1962 and stars Oscar Isaac as a tour guide named Rydal. Rydal resides in Athens, Greece. He's very good at what he does and is even able to skim little chunks of money from tourists from time to time to make a decent living. A vacationing couple known as the MacFarlands catch Rydal's eye. He is immediately drawn to the young woman named Colette (Kirsten Dunst) while her older husband Chester (Viggo Mortensen) reminds Rydal of his recently deceased father.

Chester is in over his head with the con-artist scheme he's pulling in order to live the luxurious life that he does. Rydal accidentally stumbles onto the terrible secret Chester is attempting to keep buried. An act of kindness on Rydal's part turns into a more sinister deed. Lust and greed quickly evolves into becoming an accomplice for murder. The freedom of this law-fleeing trio is suddenly at stake.

The symphonic score of "The Two Faces of January" immediately establishes this Alfred Hitchcock-type feel for the film. The heavy strings only seem to intensify an already tense and nail-biting atmosphere. Tension is only heightened by pounding drums and recoiling string arrangements. First time director Hossein Amini (writer of "Drive") really makes you sweat in his debut.

Purely functioning on jealousy and deception as nourishment, "The Two Faces of January" is an ongoing conflict between Rydal and Chester. Not only are they competing for the same woman, but the entire film makes you question who is conning who. The film portrays both Rydal and Chester as shady individuals and just as you attempt to choose a side something else is revealed about that specific character to change your opinion. Chester is clearly the more dangerous of the two, but Rydal often takes the advantage because he's underestimated. Viggo Mortensen is able to convey how paranoid Chester is extremely well while Oscar Isaac is like the sports team playing a home game; he's able to utilize his surroundings to their maximum potential since he's so familiar with the location.

On the downside the film comes off as a promotional advertisement for a cigarette brand that is never revealed or just smoking in general. The characters, especially Chester, smoke and light up nearly every time they're shown on screen. It's likely just a statement on the time period of the film, but it's quite noticeable how often tobacco is enjoyed. It also seems like everyone in Athens has a Zippo lighter handy for any occasion.

Kirsten Dunst is rather dull with her portrayal of Colette. She seemed to take her career to a different level after "Melancholia," but she's just kind of there going through the motions in "The Two Faces of January." While Chester and Rydal have unusual character traits that make them fascinating, Colette comes off as a young girl who married into money because she always dreamed of being rich. She now regrets the consequences, does nothing but complain about it, and is indecisive with the two men currently in her life pulling her in opposing directions.

A man who's so worried about another man's actions is likely guilty himself. On the other hand, another man can only ignore his desires for so long. Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac stuff a great deal of depth and quite a bit of intrigue into two very selfish individuals. The score is astonishingly good and the Hitchcock feel only enhances its appeal. "The Two Faces of January" is a stylish and riveting thriller full of suspense where the boundaries of the deranged fragments of the mind are pushed beyond their breaking point.

ABCs of Death 2
ABCs of Death 2
Price: $6.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars How to make an inferior horror anthology sequel, October 30, 2014
Continuing the alphabetized horror anthology format the first film followed, 26 directors were again given a random letter for "ABCs of Death 2," chose a random word that started with that letter, and then were allowed complete control over their segment for the sequel. Directors for the film include Julian Barratt ("The Mighty Boosh"), Alexandre Bustillo ("Inside"), Alejandro Brugues ("Juan of the Dead"), Larry Fessenden ("I Sell the Dead"), E.L. Katz ("Cheap Thrills"), Aharon Keshales ("Big Bad Wolves"), Steven Kostanski ("Manborg"), Julien Maury ("Inside"), Vincenzo Natali ("Cube"), "Splice"), Navot Papushado ("Big Bad Wolves"), Jerome Sable ("Stage Fright"), and Jen and Sylvia Soska ("American Mary").

While "ABCs of Death 2" can still be viewed as ambitious, the sequel can't help but give the impression that it's the B-team version of the original. Even with all of the present talent behind modern horror included in the cast, this sequel can’t even carry the buckets of blood spilled or scratch the surface of outrageous images established in the first film.

The quality of the sequel doesn't fluctuate on the same scale the original "ABCs of Death" did and still does. Most of the segments are very so-so ("Capital Punishment"), extremely peculiar ("Youth"), or just absolutely unlikeable ("P-P-P-P Scary!"). There are really only a handful of segments that are even worth remembering; "Ochlocracy" turns the zombie genre inside out, "Questionnaire" puts a unique spin on public surveys, and "Wish" is probably the most nostalgic segment of the collection.

The stop-motion animated "Deloused" seems like something ripped straight out of Clive Barker’s skull while the sketchy and traditionally animated "Head Games" is a bit more over the top. The futuristic "Utopia" tries so hard to be like "Vagitus" from the first film, but feels more like an imitation that isn't up to par. There's this emphasis on lame concepts such as "Equilibrium," "Falling," and "Grandad." These segments just come off as overly goofy, uninteresting, or are trying too hard to be humorous.

Some of the segments like “Knell” have the plug pulled right when they seem to be going somewhere. “Badger” is only worthwhile because of Julian Barratt’s performance and “Legacy” takes an intriguing concept and nearly ruins it with cheap looking effects.

That appealing factor “ABCs of Death” oozed the majority of the alphabet is completely absent in the sequel. Enjoyable segments that rearrange bizarre, gruesome, and sometimes amusing pieces to one horrific puzzle have been swapped for dull cast away diaries and lame “guy’s trip” stories that have gone awry. “ABCs of Death 2” pushes mediocrity above everything else. There’s gore and eccentricity, but it’s few and far between while being buried under layers and layers of nothing but boring absurdity.

Even with the bloodier "Xylophone" and "Zygote", the bold statement making "Jesus", and the ridiculously brilliant "Masticate," "ABCs of Death 2" is lackluster in comparison to the original film. Maybe the format is losing its charm or the talent involved just isn't as creative as the first batch of directors. Nevertheless "ABCs of Death 2" is a horror sequel that unfortunately follows the formula of feeling like a diluted clone of an impressive prototype.

Young Ones
Young Ones
Price: $12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A faulty yet reasonable vision of the future, October 18, 2014
This review is from: Young Ones (Amazon Instant Video)
Jake Paltrow's futuristic western is divided into three chapters that are designated to the primary male characters of the film; Ernest, Flem, and Jerome. This allows the audience to become more acquainted with each of these characters. Ernest is a hard working man who is just trying to do what's best for his family, Flem is a manipulative liar who will take whatever drastic measures he can to get what he wants, and Jerome is at that age where he's just trying to find himself as an individual and as a man.

Naturally there is a war over water in "Young Ones" as bandits are consistently trying to steal whatever they think they can to help them obtain water. Robotics are featured in the film such as automobiles and tractors with robotic legs and helicopter drones. What Ernest and Flem end up with looks and moves like a cybernetic grasshopper, but is more along the lines of a mechanical donkey with a giant laundry basket on its back. Another sci-fi element includes the awkward exo-suit Ernest's wife Katherine (Aimee Mullins) straps herself into to walk. It has all these wires and cords that makes Katherine seem like this helpless robotic marionette. Gas stations that pump water instead of fuel, mobile P.O. boxes, and a hand fan that functions like a smart phone are just a few more of the intriguing concepts featured in the film.

Since the film takes place out in the middle of nowhere, its vision of the future is slightly different than what you've come to expect from most science fiction films. The world showcased in "Young Ones" doesn't have the same resources films like "The Fifth Element" or "Blade Runner" do. This is like a less advanced, poorly evolved version of what you've come accustomed to when it comes to visions of the future.

The film does suggest amateurish tendencies that weakens Jake Paltrow's vision. Scenes and images are frequently bleeding into one another; sometimes multiple sequences and floating heads are featured in one scene. The characters are all fairly one-dimensional, as well. No attention is given whatsoever to the female characters of the film, so Mary and Katherine just feel utterly lifeless. The storyline is also extremely straightforward and refuses to deviate from similar tales you may be familiar with.

"Young Ones" is defectively unstable as far as strong performances, unique storytelling, and smooth editing are concerned, but its beautiful cinematography, bleak overtones, and ability to blend the science fiction, western, and drama genres fairly seamlessly helps categorize the film into a more than satisfying non-guilty pleasure.

Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead
Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead
Price: $9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The undead Fuhrer of zombie sequels, October 11, 2014
It's as if while making "Dead Snow" Tommy Wirkola realized that intestines are the key to a unique zombie film. "Dead Snow 2" has at least three separate occasions where someone's intestines are used to kill the undead or someone who was once living. The film keeps its ability to find humor in everything. The comedy always tends to teeter on being raunchy and absolutely overboard, but is relatively harmless and fun overall. The ridiculousness only seems to add to the film's amusement factor.

Being bitten by a zombie doesn't make you turn in this world. The victim generally just dies from a zombie bite. However, Herzog has the ability to resurrect whoever he sees fit as does Martin who's now in possession of one of Herzog's arms. The introduction of magic to the zombie genre is an intriguing one since it's something that's either relatively new or not nearly as worn out as the apocalypse or an epidemic. Combined with the familiar "kill the head and the rest will die" concept, "Dead Snow 2" is the messy, blood-splattered goulash of something old mixed with something new.

The introduction of the Zombie Squad both hurts and benefits the films. Zombie Squad is an American trio of nerds who have prepared for zombies for quite some time, but have never encountered them. Consisting of Blake (Ingrid Haas), the "Star Wars" obsessed Monica (Jocelyn DeBoer), and the leader of the group named Daniel (Martin Starr), Zombie Squad is mostly an excuse for more comedic relief who serve more of a purpose than that poor sidekick zombie (played by Kristoffer Joner) who keeps getting dismantled and brought back to life again and again. Zombie Squad is silly and yet useful. The characters may leave you feeling torn since they're annoying one minute and somewhat exciting to be around the next.

The film throws police into the very predictable stereotype of being downright incompetent. Major Stubbe (Daniel Berge Halvorsen) is an utter buffoon as he rambles on about seagull translators and nearly breaks his leg while trying to kick open a door. On the upside, the exquisite practical effects return and flourish during the climactic and bloody battle sequence. The very last scene of the film is so ludicrous as the combination of the song playing, the movie "Dead Snow 2" decides to reference," and the vile act taking place rattles your brain as you try to decide if it's funny or just blatantly ludicrous.

"Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead" is even bloodier and more excessive than the first film, but that's what makes it so entertaining. It's a one of a kind bloodbath filled with guts and gore. So grab a pile of intestines and the nearest severed head. "Dead Snow 2" is without a doubt one of the most preposterously bonkers and genre-pleasing zombie sequels ever made.

At The Devil's Door
At The Devil's Door

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stalked by a sheepish demon, September 26, 2014
There's always been something intriguing about the concept of making a deal with the devil. Greed overpowers logic in order for an individual to obtain what they've always dreamed of. Whenever they least expect it, sometimes it's years after they've enjoyed the fruits of their desires and other times it's shortly after making the deal itself, the devil comes to collect and the borrower always comes to the conclusion that they've bitten off more than they can chew when it's too late for him or her to do anything about it. "At the Devil's Door" offers a glimpse of something terrifying, but flinches and fails to follow through with a horror experience that's completely gratifying.

Nicholas McCarthy's follow up to "The Pact" toys with horror quite exquisitely. Witnessing what occurs in the background while someone unknowingly makes a phone call or fetches a drink for their wife at a party is nerve-racking. The unpredictability sends your brain spiraling into its own imagination as it begins to predict what could happen. The film's use of mirrors is also more effective than it was in "Oculus." Catching a glance of a demon as he closes in on his victim is much more intimidating than simply not remembering your horrific actions.

But the events in the film seem to cater more to the bizarre rather than the unnerving. Body spasms, creepy behavior, and hiding babies under furniture can only get you so far. It's as if "At the Devil's Door" teases the idea of a demonic bloodbath but never takes its gloves off even after the bell rings. The ending seems to completely destroy what Vera stood for the entire film, but maybe that's to show how much power resides in the ability to manipulate everyone around you.

The few glimpses of the devil pulling the strings throughout the film seems like a cheap knockoff of both "Jeepers Creepers" and "Pan's Labyrinth," but the story itself borrows from the likes of "The Omen" and "Rosemary's Baby." Despite its thick, creepy atmosphere and sinister tone, the biggest flaw "At the Devil's Door" has is that it is constantly knocking on the door of a nightmarish journey and yet it isn't tenacious enough to take that first step inside.

Firestorm [Blu-ray]
Firestorm [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Andy Lau
Price: $14.99
26 used & new from $8.48

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Shoot, explode, and repeat, September 24, 2014
This review is from: Firestorm [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
"Firestorm" has all of the right ingredients of a fast paced and hard hitting action film. Andy Lau is typically only a part of film projects that are better than average the majority of the time. This film is also directed by Alan Yuen who helped write films like "New Police Story," "Robin-B-Hood," and "Shaolin." Hong Kong knows how to make an entertaining police action film. So why does "Firestorm" feel so bland?

The action really sets fire to your adrenal gland and gets the blood flowing. Gunfights are loud, lengthy, and bloody, explosions are dangerous and volatile, and, most importantly, the choreographed fight sequences are intense and brutal. Andy Lau and Gordon Lam have the best fight in the film and it is absolutely relentless. Lau and Lam use a hard-hitting and MMA influenced kind of fighting style that echoes Wilson Yip's "Flash Point."

The film seems to come up short in every other aspect though. Inspector Liu is constantly reminded of how serious he is all the time. While Liu's emotional distance is understandable, Andy Lau's performance is almost completely devoid of any sort of sentiment. The most intriguing aspect of "Firestorm" is the side story of Tong Keung (Philip Keung); an undercover cop who is Liu's mole. The heart of the film that triggers Liu's inevitable breakdown resides in Tong's storyline.

The method in which Cao's friend and colleague named Paco (Ray Lui) enters the picture is completely unsatisfying. Identifying a source of the crime featured in the film is something "Firestorm" is reluctant to committing to. Liu and Bong are childhood friends, but that dynamic is never fully explored. So much time is spent on following the stereotypical as there's nothing that sets "Firestorm" apart from similar Hong Kong police action films that were done better.

There is an incredible action sequence that makes up nearly the entire resolution of the film. However anything remotely enjoyable about it is ruined by an overabundance of lackluster computer generation. "Firestorm" plays with CGI throughout the film as it lends a hand to a rather extravagant car crash and can take credit for nearly every sequence involving flying pigeons. The ending is where it really stands out though. The final scene also leaves too much lying on the table. It's as if "Firestorm" begins and ends with a very particular destructive act. The storylines of Inspector Liu and Bong end too melodramatically to be enjoyable.

With shades of "Drug War," "Hard Boiled," and "Infernal Affairs" at its core, it's completely disappointing to report that "Firestorm" is a monumental dud as far as explosive action films are concerned. Intriguing plot devices and character traits are exchanged for the cliché. While the action of "Firestorm" is thrilling, the weak ending and inability to follow through with its potentially promising story leaves the film feeling inadequate.

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