DVD Digest #2: Forced To Fight + Jack The Giant Slayer + GI Joe: Retaliation

on Monday, July 29, 2013
Words: Maxamillian John

Well that didn't take long. When I said in the first DVD Digest that there wouldn't be so many good films out on a single release date for a while, I didn't think the backlash would be this immediate. It’s with a heavy heart but a sense of duty that I bring you this week’s DVD Digest.

Jonas Quastel's 'Forced To Fight' (★) is an action film so cheap it looks like video evidence from an assault trial. It stars Gary Daniels as a reformed underground fighter who's forced to return to the ring to pay back a crime boss cheated by his brother. That crime boss is played by Peter Weller, who continues failing to live up to the promise of 'Robocop', with Alexandra Weaver as Daniels' wife providing the sole injection of credibility.

The fight scenes are shot in way that transparently attempts to mask the inadequacies of the choreography and actors' physical skills. Every time a blow supposedly lands the camera cuts to a reverse angle at the moment of impact to disguise the fact that the actors aren't going anywhere near each other. The camera then shakes to give the blows weight, but the duplicity of the editing is so clear that it can't work. Often the shots are carefully composed to frame out one of the fighters so we can only see half the fight at a time.

Unfortunately, the choreographed deceit of the fight scenes is the only place a directorial aim is identifiable. The rest of the film has discontinuities in its lighting, entirely inapposite establishing shots and improperly graded colour. Sometimes the picture just hangs on a shot while nothing happens, for no readily apparent reason. Quastel has absolutely no idea where to point the camera, when, or why. Even if the plot were any good, and it's not, 'Forced To Fight' is such a litany of incompetencies that it's not worth the plastic it's printed on.

Slightly more forgivable is 'Jack The Giant Slayer' (★★½). Playing into the current trend of live-action reinventions of fairytales, Bryan Singer brings his well-honed distaste for creativity to the Jack and the Beanstalk and Jack the Giant Killer tales. While it's wearyingly predictable on a narrative level, the kids it's aimed at might think otherwise.

As an adult, 'Jack The Giant Slayer' is near unbearable. Jack himself is played by Nicholas Hoult with an oleaginous smarm that's clearly meant to be charming and irreverent, and the fact that the producers think we'll warm to an oozing teenager with his faced plastered into a permanent smirk is additionally irritating. Stanley Tucci's conniving royal advisor and Ewan McGregor's chisel-jawed soldier are walking narrative devices, as is Eleanor Tomlinson's love interest. It's looking like Hollywood producers, having treated adults like children for decades, are now treating children like barely sentient sponges.

I think it's pretty telling that the many fairytales involving the folk hero Jack draw on the Jungian archetype of the trickster, but Singer's adaptation substitutes the modern Hollywood archetype of the incorrigibly smug teenager. These are the times we live in.

But how bad is it really, given that it's for kids? It's not like the fairy tales that I feel protective of were originals - they were all adaptations and corrosions of previous stories going back generations, each generation passing down presentations of those stories that unconsciously embellished them with contemporary values. This film can be seen as part of the same tradition so it's really nothing to be upset about, right?

Except for the fact that it's not part of a tradition of passing down cultural heritage so much as a commercial exploitation of that heritage, and the adaptation isn't the product of an evolving collective unconscious, it's representative of what a handful of men think children should be watching. So, I don't know, colour me ambivalent.

In contrast, 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' (★½) is not a film complicated by notions of heritage. It's not complicated by physics either, or consistency of props. Following on from 'G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra', 'Retaliation' introduces Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson to the franchise, and not to imply he's getting typecast or anything, but he plays a burly soldier called Roadblock.

As you're no doubt aware, Cobra Commander and Destro were captured at the end of the first movie, but they pulled off a strategic coup in replacing the President of the United States with Zartan in disguise. I’m sure I don't have to tell you that. 'Retaliation' begins with Cobra breaking the Commander out of prison and wiping out all the G.I. Joes except the ones that don't suck, conveniently. So The Rock joins forces with Bruce Willis to take revenge on Jonathan Pryce's fake President who's trying to take over the world.

Well, it looks good. Apart from some slightly ropey CGI there's not much to complain about in the visuals. But man does every single other thing blow. The Joes are even more meatheaded than in 'Rise Of Cobra', their imitation Marine machismo echoing pitifully through a vacuous plot. Props appear and disappear at director Jon Chu's leisure, 'nanotechnology' is used to clumsily excuse plot devices, and the one decent piece of acting occurs when Jonathan Pryce manages to say "Give me the G.I. Joes!" with a straight face.

The fetishization of weaponry endemic in American action films reaches a nadir in a face-palmingly stupid 'lock-n-load' montage where Bruce Willis' retired general pulls guns out of secret compartments hidden around his kitchen. Other tropes are similarly driven into the cold ground as Dwayne & Friends stride around in slow motion to rock music.

All round, this has been a dispiriting week in DVDs. 'Forced To Fight' presents us with a zoo of technical disappointments, 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' shows us that you can polish a turd but it'll still stink, and 'Jack The Giant Slayer' proves once again that Achilles is to heel as Bryan Singer is to brain. If you must see something this week, see something else.

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