I spent my Saturday watching Doomsday and Never Back Down. I reviewed the former for Film Threat.
Here is an excerpt from my review:
Judging from the likes of “Dog Soldiers” and “The Descent“, writer-director Neil Marshall has an affinity towards examining the interplay between Darwinian survival and the crumbling of humanity in times of extreme stress. His latest bundle of dystopic dreams, “Doomsday,” marches onward under this thematic banner…..
Once the characters are inside, “Doomsday” curves its narrative course. Instead of serving up a compost heap of “Resident Evil” legs and “28 Days Later” arms, Marshall’s film adds a few helpings of “Mad Max,” “Gladiator“, “Timeline,” and a spritz of “The Village“. Sergeant Eden’s team finds survivors all right; it’s just unfortunate (though sociologically inevitable) that they’ve lost touch with modern society. Social disorder and desperation force one group to adopt a leather-and-tattoo, “badass” cannibalistic lifestyle, while the other group retreats from the manic streets of Glasgow into the country and sets up a medieval existence—knights, a stone castle, jousting matches and all.
Click here for a trailer for Doomsday.
Click here for more pictures from the film.
Now for my thoughts on Never Back Down.
Directed by Jeff Wadlow, Never Back Down is an amped up serenade to the distressing days of adolescent emotion that incorporates mixed martial arts as spectacle (for the viewers) and therapy (for the characters). Margot Tyler (Leslie Hope) moves her two sons, the younger Charlie (Wyatt Smith) and the older Jake (Sean Faris) from Iowa to Orlando, Florida to make a new start (after her husband died in a car accident) and so that Charlie can continue to pursue his dreams of becoming a tennis star. Oh yes, and so that Jake can hopefully end his misbehaving tendencies.
Not long after mingling with his new classmates and befriending eventual wingman Max Cooperman (Evan Peters) and fated love interest Baja Miller (Amber Heard), Jake finds himself the unwitting slap-down target of the school’s most popular set of washboard abs: Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet). Try as he might to avoid any rumblings with Ryan, Jake is ensnared. To salvage his own ego, to put a stop to his peers’ demand to see him fight, Jake must face up to his nemesis….with the help of a certain mentor in the form of Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou).
As a film about teenage angst or turmoil, Never Back Down is mostly mediocre and unnecessary–it adds little if anything to the ranks of Thirteen, Bully, Better Luck Tomorrow, and even Pretty In Pink. As a sports film, however, it fills up every slot on the dance card. Whether or not it invigorates the “genre” is debatable.
I knew very little about this film’s story when I decided to see it. I didn’t have to know much–it’s a sports film that showcases mixed martial arts and would be relevant to Sitting Pugs. I was pleasantly surprised that the opening sequence was a football game…in the rain, edited with a rapid cutting rate, filmed in hand-held mode, and consisting of more medium close-ups and close-ups than long shots (very Friday Night Lights the movie). Point-of-view shots were prevalent as well, including a visual reference to the college football film The Program (inside the helmet).
Jake Tyler is also introduced in this game sequence. The viewer learns three facts about him:
1. His dad is dead.
2. He gets angry easily and is prone to violence.
3. Mentioning his father makes him angry and figuratively induces an Incredible-Hulkian transformation.
After this opening, Never Back Down progresses like a high school film: new kid trying to bide his time and stay out of trouble. Throw in a love interest that already belongs to the soon-to-be-antagonist and there’s no doubt about it–the hero of the story won’t have the luxury of laying low. The film characterizes Jake Tyler as basically being a good kid. His fighting impulse is not borne out of leisure. He’s just got some unresolved anger and guilt issues relating to the circumstances of his father’s death.
It’s with respect to ameliorating this situation that Never Back Down achieves the most number of brownie points as a sports film. In addition to an adequate number of sports sequences (six fights and three or four practices), a female character that plays a significant role in the protagonist’s rise/fall, and other people’s wishes to consider (mother and younger brother)–all qualities of the standard sports film, the conflict in Never Back Down is both man vs. man and man vs. himself. Through the many bruises endured and heart-to-heart talks had, Jake must conquer a part of himself before he can take down his other enemy, Ryan. Some viewers might find this theme too “spelled out” for comfort, but I found its direct and unambiguous presentation to be the film’s one salvaging grace.
Observations & Miscellania:
1. Product Placement & Branding: Riddell helmets, Epcot Center, U-Haul, Jansport backpack, I-Phone, Mapquest, IMAC, Aquafina, Youtube, Nokia, Barnie’s Coffee & Tea Company, Motorola. The foregrounding of the cell phones and (the concept of ) online streaming video is narratively and thematically significant. Ryan finds Jake to be such a worthy opponent (er, punching bag) because of what he saw Jake do to a football player (from the beginning of the film). Ryan is both impressed but also determined to take out any possible threat, regardless of that perceived threat’s intentions.
2. The viewer is supposed to like and identify with Jake Tyler because he’s the protagonist. Perhaps Mr. Faris needs to brush up on those acting skills, but I wasn’t connecting with him at all. I actually found Ryan McCarthy much more sympathetic (especially in that scene with his father–no wonder he’s such a bully).
3 . It’s interesting that Baja Miller gets Jake pulled into an unwanted rivalry with Ryan, but she–minor spoiler, highlight pertinent text if you want to know details about the film’s end–doesn’t end up dismantling him, the way she would if Never Back Down were a traditional boxing film.
4. Following Jake Tyler’s first arse-kicking by Ryan, Max Cooperman brings to Jake’s attention a crucial distinction between the two. Jake has heart; Ryan only has technique. This remark reminded me of the ballet film Center Stage.
5. During aforementioned arse-kicking session, Ryan tells Jake that old school boxing methods are not going to cut it. Immediately, I thought of Annapolis. James Franco’s character had the emotion, the anger, but his technique was sloppy. He became a better human being after transforming from a brawler to a boxer. In Never Back Down, it’s essentially the opposite.
6. The comic relief in this film works a lot better than the dramatic bits.
7. Lukas Ettlin was the cinematographer for this film. The way in which the fight scenes were filmed and edited (quick cuts, POV shots, swirling camerawork, slow-motion for dramatic effect) made me think of the opening sequence in Stomp the Yard.
8. Despite the lavaflow of cheese in this film (and the terrible, cloy of an ending–the very end, final image end), I’m going to buy this movie when it comes out on DVD because of five words: exploitation of the male body.
Tinseltown cultivating a new Tom Cruise? It’s a little creepy, the resemblance:
Click here for the trailer for Never Back Down.
Click here for more pictures from the film.