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Yi dai zong shi (2013)
A fine wine turned to vinegar
For the first 45 minutes, "The Grandmaster" is exquisitely beautiful, perfected composed and edited production; the likes of which I have rarely seen since the Sergio Leone films and "The Godfather" Parts 1 and 2. Then, when Japan invades China, the movie crumbles in the same tragic manner as the fortunes of the Chinese elite. While the film remains exquisitely beautiful, the storyline becomes so disjointed as to become completely uninvolving. Scenes requiring dramatic impact are summarized in voice-over and scenes which should have played in parallel are presented in flashback. The proper title for this film should be "The Grandmasters," as there are two grandmasters in the foreground; Tony Leung's "Ip Man" and Ziyi Zhang's "Gong Er". Zhang is missing from the film for far too long to care much about her fate. Yet, when we finally do learn what happened to her during the war, Leung's character is missing long enough for us not to care about him, either. The closing scenes are flat and unnecessary. Both my wife and I found ourselves squirming, waiting for the movie to end. This is a shame; as, had "The Grandmaster" been edited in a coherent fashion during the last hour, it would be one of the great martial arts films. Instead, it winds up barely being good. I give "The Grand Master" a weak "6".
Like Murphy/Robocop, nearly lifeless
I do credit the producers for taking the risks of remaking a classic AND attempting a different perspective than the original. However, in order to do this successfully, one needs to understand the elements that made the original "Robocop" a classic.
The classic film "The Terminator" had already addressed the dangers of robotic warfare, soldiers, armor and drones. However, "Robocop" (1987)focused on the dehumanization of mankind and one man's struggle to regain the humanity taken from him. While physically almost all machine, "Murphy" was more human than all of the other characters, except for his partner and a sympathetic police lieutenant. In this "Robocop," there are plenty of sympathetic humans supporting Murphy, even if some of them are seriously flawed.
Dan O'Herlihy was brilliant playing the white collar psychopath CEO of Omnicorp in "Robocop" (1987). His CEO was not even aware he was a monster. Likewise, Ronny Cox brilliantly played a corporate executive clearly aware of his white collar evil. Unfortunately, Cox's character does not appear in the remake, having been replaced by paramilitary robotics engineer, extremely well played by Jackie Earle Haley. While Haley is great, his character is a poor substitute for the character played by Ronny Cox.
Likewise, Kurtwood Smith's hilariously evil assassin in "Robocop" (1987) has been replaced by a bland assassin blandly played by Patrick Garrow.
Thankfully, Garry Oldman and Abbie Cornish, who play characters who either did not exist or were peripheral to the plot in "Robocop" (1987) perform brilliantly. Cornish, a world class actress, is, quite simply, amazing in a nothing role. I shudder to think how this "Robocop" would play without her.
Finally, one of the brilliantly prophetic elements of the original "Robocop" was the trivialization of news and entertainment, clearly suggesting a "dumbed-down" society totally unconscious of the decay and chaos surrounding them. However, in this "Robocop," we get a poor parody of Fox News and "The O'Reilly Factor" and an overused Samuel L. Jackson instead of either a Bill O'Reilly lookalike or Alec Baldwin (who would have been perfect). In addition, Detroit in this "Robocop" looks like a prosperous city, not a "war zone".
The producers would have been better served by simply re-shooting the original story with updated special effects, as the stop motion animation in the original "Robocop" was the worst thing about the movie.
I give "Robocop" (2014) a weak "6" based ENTIRELY on Abbie Cornish.
Gripping, character-based science fiction.
"Extant" is the type of science fiction I truly love. Gripping and character-based, with multiple mysteries and obstacles challenging the main character(s). This is what distinguished the original "Star Trek" from all the successors. Halle Berry is perfect as Molly, with her beautiful expressive eyes capturing empathy from the first frame. Flashback is used as it should be, to enable suspense to build slowly; as suspense is dependent upon empathy with a character or characters. Those who consider it implausible that Molly would spend 13 months alone in space know little about the logistics of space exploration. I do, because I worked logistics on the International Space Station in the 1990s, which includes cost estimating. The single biggest expense of maintaining a manned space station is the cost of life support. Thus, intelligent robots and continuous communication with the earth would be used to substitute for human contact. As following allowing the ship's "commander" to delete security camera footage, the "commander" has overall authority of what is recorded in the ship's log, especially within the interior of the ship, where privacy issues are concerned. Most US astronauts would not set foot in a vehicle unless they could do this.
"Extant" is handsomely mounted, sophisticated adult entertainment. Those expecting the exciting, but juvenile excitement of "Star Wars" should look elsewhere.
I give the "Extant" pilot a "10" and hope the series can keep up its excellence. I will admit, however, the plotting of this series seems limited. So, I would be surprised if it survives more than one or two seasons.
2 Guns (2013)
It takes good chemistry.
Once upon a time, a couple of writer/producers were hanging out, enjoying their favorite recreational drugs, when one of them said, "I'm tired of making the same old franchise crap." "Whatdoyouwannado?" asks another. "Lets make something different...but not TOO different?" "KnowwhatI'dliketosee?" chimes in another...a buddy movie with Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington." "YES!" replied the first. "Mark Wahlberg worked GREAT with a Teddy Bear. He can certainly work with Denzel." Gazing around the room, the first writer/producer spots his favorite reading material, a comic book (Well, EXCUSE ME! A graphic novel). "PERFECT!" he shouts.
Well, by this time these three writer/producers must have been as fully loaded as Mark's and Denzel's weapons. What else, besides a lack of talent, would explain HOW they created such an incoherent mess as "2 Guns"? And, they must have been writing in sequence and coming down HARD by the time they finished, because this is EXACTLY how "2 Guns" plays; a humorous, promising start that turns convoluted and unsavory, barely redeemed by its finish, which must have written at another "hangout". Two guns has two fine "A list" stars; two distinguished character actors in Edward James Olmos and Bill Paxton; lots of firepower, explosions and great one liners. Fine ingredients and great chemistry. Well, it takes great chemistry to make a stink bomb, too.
I give "2 Guns" a 5; but only because I gave "Man of Steel" a 4; and I want "Man of Steel" to remain my worst "A" list movie of the year.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Third rate screenplay, first rate production
When I first saw the trailer for "Pacific Rim," I said to myself "Rock'em, Sock'em Robots". I mean, the idiot-level concept that the gigantic monsters would not be stopped by torpedoes, missiles or guns at sea or a submarine net rigged with explosives or electricity just seemed to stupid to endure. However, two things made me change my mind: 1) my wife wanted to see it and 2) the movie had a really beautiful "look" (thanks to topnotch production values and use of a RED camera (the same camera used for "Step-up Revolution). Minutes into the movie, my other suspicions were confirmed: 1) this movie is marketed to an international cast, as the the three main characters are all of different races and nationalities; and 2) the storyline would be one cliché after another.
Nonetheless, I rate "Pacific Rim" highly for the acting, direction, music and those aforementioned production values. Even the cliché plot lines seem fresh and original due to the fine acting; especially Idris Elba, who could impress reading a soup can. Also, always welcome, is Ron Perlman, who somehow always manages to class up the most ridiculous projects.
With a cast of real actors, not stars, the most modest of romances and lots of violent action, this movie screams "International (particularly Asian) project". I certainly expected to see more Asian names among the technical credits. However, when one figures three-fourths of this movies grosses came from outside the US, it is clear Guillermo del Toro intended to make an international film, and he certainly made a handsome one. I give "Pacific Rim" a "7".
Man of Steel (2013)
Hollywood remakes "First Knight"?
The Superman character was only 20 years old when I first began reading the DC comics. Superman and Green Lantern were my favorite DC characters, as Green Arrow and Batman had too similar origins and partners, Speedy and Robin, respectively. Marvel Comics were not even carried on any of the news stands I frequented. While I later became more found of characters who relied on their skills rather than super powers, I certainly read more Superman, as he appeared in both the Superman and Detective Story comic books. I had never been really satisfied with the movie versions of Superman; it always seemed to me they chose the wrong actresses to play Lois Lane. Both Noel Nell ("Adventures of Superman") and Terri Hatcher ("Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman") resembled the comic book Lois Lane, both in appearance and class. However, until "Man of Steel," I had never seen a such a hash of the Superman legend. Even as a kid, I understood that Kal-El embodied BOTH Clark Kent AND Superman; and that Lois, while a fearless, crusading reporter, was so vain and self deceptive that she could not recognize that Clark and Superman were one in the same; as she was unable to accept both sides of Kal-El. Kal-El loved Lois, despite this tragic character trait. The widely-despised "Superman III" actually makes a point of this; in that Lana Lang loved Clark Kent and could not care less that he was Superman. However, in "Man of Steel," Lois is ONLY non-family member who knows Clark Kent is Superman. The entire theme of "the inner man" has been tragically shelved.
Henry Cavill does a fine job of playing Kal-El, even if he less resembles the comic book Superman than Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain or George Reeves. Clearly Cavill has a great future in Hollywood.
Amy Adams, an otherwise superb actress ("American Hustle") is totally wrong for Lois Lane. Not meaning to be unkind, I asked myself, "Just how does one actually go about kissing a woman with such a LONG nose". As written, NONE of Lois' trademark characteristics are visible in Adams' role.
Russell Crowe seems to have as much screen time as Cavill. Whose movie is this, Jor-El's or Kal-El's? In the original comics, the Kents were an ELDERLY couple. Here, they appear to be in their mid to late 40s.
While the effects and production design are handsomely mounted, there is nothing new here to rave about. Worse, the movie is numbingly long. Superman does not even appear in costume until nearly two hours into the movie. Say what you want about any of the Christopher Reeve efforts; they were never boring or ponderous. "Man of Steel is both.
"First Knight" was rightfully savaged in 1995 when it created a travesty of the King Arthur legend. "Man of Steel" gets kudos. Has our cultured declined THAT much in the last 20 years?
I give "Man of Steel" a "4".
The Undefeated (1969)
Remarkable story, unremarkable movie
The story of two remarkable men whose deeply flawed world views were irrevocably changed for the better makes for an very interesting theme. To set this theme against the backdrop of both the War of Secession ("War Between the States") AND the Mexican Revolution makes "The Undefeated" all the more promising. Furthermore, parallels to Vietnam make "The Undefeated" a downright profound story. Sadly, Andrew V. McLaglen tepid direction and bland casting of the female characters makes "The Undefeated" an unfulfilled promise and so-so effort.
To understand the profundity of "The Undefeated" requires a crash course in the War of Secession. Though slavery was a major issue, it was NOT the primary cause of hostilities. Revolutionary War debt was coming due and many states that remained with the union had not paid their debts. However, states that joined the Confederacy HAD paid their debt and resented draconian tariffs on goods entering and leaving their harbors. Secession was recognized and accepted, as it is a basic part of the Declaration of Independence and of the Congressional Record at the time of the enactment of the US Constitution. Even Lincoln, as a member of Congress, recognized the right of secession. For those who still insist the war was about slavery, keep in mind four slave states remained in the union.
It is time now to discuss the flawed world views of both union Colonel John Henry Thomas (John Wayne) and confederate Colonel James Langdon (Rock Hudson). Thomas is a decent, kind hearted man, but his world view is quite callous. Thomas thinks nothing of taking his loyal men into strife-torn Mexico, even though he knows they may be killed and that none of them has seen home for four years. Langdon is also decent and kind hearted, but his vanity leads him to destroy his property and take his family into Mexico to fight alongside General Maximilian, who is doing to the citizens of Mexico what the Union did to the Confederacy. BOTH men receive a deserved comeuppance from Juarista General Rojas (Tony Aguilar). I am sure this would be lost on most American audiences even today even in the hands of a more skilled western director, such as John Ford, Howard Hawks, Sergio Leone, Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher, Fred Zinnemann or even Henry Hathaway.
The finest performances in "The Undefeated" come from Rock Hudson and Roman Gabriel. Unfortunately, their same-sex antics drew publicity which clearly eclipsed the movie. Other fine performances include the aforementioned Tony Aguilar (whose reluctance and relief at a key moment is the best scene of the film), Merlin Olsen (as a wise man who prefers the company of children to adults), Royal Dano (who reveals the true theme of "The Undefeated") and Big John Hamilton (who proves one does not have to fight a war or appear unafraid to be a hero).
Hugo Montenegro, who had a top 40 hit channeling Ennio Morricone with "The Theme From 'The Good, The Bad & The Ugly') here channels Elmer Bernstein with his music. While not "great Bernstein," Montenegro's score is at least "good Bernstein".
I give "The Undefeated" a "6".
Space Battleship Yamato (2010)
Incredibly fast paced and entertaining
I remember seeing a few minutes of the anime of "Space Battleship Yamato" on TV in the 70s. I took one look at the ridiculous-looking flying battleship and turned it off. However, a few days ago, I was watching an Asian martial arts movie and the trailer to "Space Battleship Yamato" came on. The movie is visually gorgeous, the battle scenes fast paced and plentiful and, best of all, the chemistry among the cast is genuinely heartfelt. I found myself misty-eyed in many sequences, something I cannot say has happened to me in a space movie since "Wrath of Khan". While some of the CGI is less than stellar, the cheesy shots pass so quickly they do not intrude. Besides, this movie was shot for less than a fifteenth of the modern Hollywood blockbuster and looks as good or better than most of them. It also never drags, which I cannot say about even the best of the "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" movies.
The Japanese made some good to terrific science fiction films in the 1950s, including "Godzilla" ("Gojira"), "Rodan," "The H Man" and "Battle in Outer Space". "Space Battleship Yamato" has elements of "Star Wars," "Star Trek" and, particularly, "Battlestar Galactica". Given the origins of this live action movie, all of the clichés and cribbing can be forgiven, except one. All I can say is that it occurs at the climax of "Space Battleship Yamato" and shamelessly cribs from the last scene of "Return of the Jedi". Clumsy as this scene is, "Space Battleship Yamato" is still the most fun I've experienced watching a movie in years. I give "Space Battleship Yamato" an "8".
Long nga (2008)
Good martial arts, great song, extraordinary Celina Jade, horrible everything else
I rented "Legendary Assassin" because I liked Celina Jade on "Arrow," and because I was looking for a special actress to appear in my movie. Celina, who is Amerasian, has great international appeal. A friend of mine was absolutely convinced she was Latin. However, as much as I liked Celina as "Shado" on "Arrow," her role was pretty one-dimensional. However, in "Legendary Assassin," Celina is extraordinary, managing to be beautiful, cute, funny, sexy and sad in a single role. Not to mention, Celina has a singing voice that rivals Christina Aguilera, which is no small feat, and her "Legendary Assassin love theme" is a bravura performance. You should watch the music video, because the song, which plays over the end credits (and is featured on the radio, in one sequence) is never performed in its entirety. Lead actor Jacky Wu (Wu Jing) is a skilled martial artist. Unfortunately, his opponents are not and the fight scenes are just so-so. Far worse is the story, dialog, and the acting of almost all of the supporting players. Kara Hui, who is not too bad, is still totally unconvincing as a menacing villain. Jacky Wu may be a good actor, but his character is so wooden, one would never know. Almost everyone else has been encouraged to overact, typical of terrible direction. Almost every scene, except the first, is listlessly shot and edited. Even the opening credits are inept. However, Celina brightens every scene she is in. She will make a wonderful leading lady in my movie and will, hopefully, become the international star she deserves to be. Oh, one other positive note. In the movie, Celina has a beautiful Persian cat.
I rate "Legendary Assassin a "5".
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Great movie. More importantly, great message about the FDA
"Dallas Buyers Club" does not fit in my usual tastes of subject matter. I saw it primarily because of Matthew McConaughey, who has evolved from a "caterpillar" to a "butterfly" over the last 15 years. I hated McConaughey in "Contact," tolerated him in "The Wedding Planner" and "Failure to Launch," but loved him in "Reign of Fire," "The Lincoln Lawyer," "The Paperboy," "Killer Joe," "Magic Mike," "Mud" and this movie. Imagine my surprise when I discovered Jared Leto's fine performance AND the GREAT message about the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Rockefellers CREATED the FDA as a shill for "Big Pharma". The FDA harasses, threatens or outright outlaws alternative medical treatments, which could save live. The FDA usurped this power; it has NO power to do so and is not even Constitutional. Recently the FDA ordered the REMOVAL of natural Statin from Red Yeast Rice, even though natural Statin is SAFE, unlike the Statin drugs used to lower cholesterol. Independent studies can measure the efficacy and safety of drugs; and alternative medical treatments and natural products can safely replace MOST prescription drugs. A board-certified MD, who practiced alternative medicine three days a week, once told me, "If you had AIDS, I could cure it. However, if I did, I would lose my license and go to jail." THIS is the legacy of the FDA. By the way, during the time period of this movie, the NEW YORK TIMES reported French doctors were CURING AIDS by passing a patient's blood through tubes exposed to ultraviolet light.
I also need to mention the fine performances of both Jennifer Garner and Griffin Dunne, who play sympathetic doctors, one of whom has lost his license over prescribing non-approved treatments. I gave this movie a "9" instead of a "10" because the last quarter tends to drag and the ending feels a bit flat. However, the message is so important, and the performances so fine, I urge every adult to see "The Dallas Buyers Club".