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Nothing Left to Do But Die (2011)
Started with potential, but...
I saw this film at the Horrorfind Film Festival in 2011, and it started off well enough with a black and white boxing match. Wonderful lighting/cinematography, I expected something along the lines of Raging Bull with a horror twist... but this wasn't even close to the case.
As the plot synopsis on here says, the film goes into a "split narrative"... the only problem is, it seemed like any logic that that should have accompanied the plot was split as well. Neither storyline really made much sense, with the boxer's storyline dealing with what seemed like a coven of women trying to do something with the boxer that never really came to fruition, and "Rookie's" storyline dealing with suddenly bringing his dead relative back to life (the only real "horror" aspect of the film).
The film's biggest detriment is in the editing, and not knowing when to finally cut. For example, there's a scene midway in the film where Rookie is aimlessly driving down a long road, drinking and head banging to his radio, and it's initially pretty funny. Everyone in the theater got a decent laugh in the beginning (I at least assumed this was to be one of the comic relief scenes), but the scene went on... and on... and on... until finally, no wait, it's still going... and going... and... okay, it's done. Everyone in the theater went from chuckling to that kind of awkward giggling in which you're not sure if you're still supposed to laugh anymore. This scene probably should've been a half minute at most, but it felt like it was at least 5 minutes. Most likely to pad out the half hour runtime.
Overall, I really don't mean to sound harsh, as I know how difficult filmmaking can be. I just get disappointed when I see an indie film start with such potential, only to stumble as it goes along. I still think these filmmakers have potential, as from a technical scale, the cinematography was pretty decent. However, it's storytelling and editing that need work.
Painful... but not in the good, dramatic way
You know, I'm VERY open minded when it comes to different types of film, whether its fiction or non-fiction. However, I can't see what people enjoy about this documentary... nor can I see it as "Criterion Collection" material. This film can be summed up like this:
1. Salesman approaches possible customer; 2. Salesman explains all paying plans; 3. Possible customer is not interested; 4. Salesman continues pushing; 5. Possible customer still not interested; 6. Salesman keeps pushing; 7. Possible customer puts foot down; 8. Salesman gives up; 9. Salesman complains to other salesmen; 10. Start back at step #1 and repeat entire process until 90 minutes are up.
That's it. This "documentary" redefined the term "monotony". Usually a documentary is made up of narration, photos, interviews, and b-roll footage. Imagine just 90 minutes of nothing but b-roll footage. No narration. No interviews. No photos. Just a camera running with some of the footage thrown together in the editing process. Also, all four of the salesmen seemed too similar to really get to know them. The only one I can remotely remember was the skinny one who kept breaking out into the voice of an old Irish woman.
In short, remember the feeling you had after seeing The Blair Witch Project for the first time? Same reaction here. Almost the same concept as well: A "documentary" that is nothing but b-roll footage and has a bunch of people doing the same thing over and over again and complaining about it. Like I said, I'm usually pretty open minded about film in general, and I tried as hard as I could to respect this film, but it just fell flat and I left wanting that hour and a half of my life back. The 4 stars I gave out of 10 were more or less pity stars for the effort these people tried in making some type of documentary. There are so many deeper documentaries out there, and this doesn't even come close.
Jing wu men xu ji (1977)
What New Fist of Fury should have been, and one of Bruce Li's best
All right, here we have another of the infamous "Bruceploitation" films, with the most popular of the wannabes, Bruce Li. Hey, wait, come back, this is actually a good Bruceploitation movie! But first, we need a minor history lesson...
In 1972, the real Bruce Lee stars in Jing Wu Men/Cheng Mo Mun/Fist of Fury/Chinese Connection (or whatever else you want to call it), and of course, it's a hit. In 1976, three years after Lee's death and four years after Fist of Fury, Lo Wei now decides to look for the "new Bruce Lee" to film New Fist of Fury, and reels in Jackie Chan, or, as he would bill him, "Sing Lung". Seeing as how this was to be an "official" sequel to Fist of Fury in using the same director as well as a couple of veteran cast members (Nora Miao Ker Hsiu and Han Ying Chieh), plus having a star who didn't exactly try to impersonate Bruce Lee for once, you'd think it'd be good. It wasn't. It was overly long, very slow both in pacing and fight scenes, and the ending was one of those endings that feels like the director and writer just thought "uh, we don't have a real ending planned... eh, this'll do". Overall, for being the only official Bruce Lee sequel, it was just boring and no fun whatsoever.
However, around the same time, the Shah Brothers (no not the ShaW Brothers, the ShaH Brothers... big difference) had coined the simple name Fist of Fury Part II before Lo Wei could use it, and decided to make an unofficial sequel. Similar to New Fist of Fury, Fist of Fury Part II brought in a couple of veteran cast members, in this case Tien Feng and Li Kun, both reprising their roles from the previous film. Now, if New Fist of Fury was as bad as it was, you would think this would be worse... it's actually better. The storyline is more coherent in that it directly follows the events from the end of the first film starting with the funeral of Bruce Lee's character Chen Zhen. The story deals with the Japanese ignoring Chen Zhen's final request in that the Japanese were to leave the Jing Wu school in peace, but instead invade the school and occupy it. It is at this time that Chen Zhen's brother, Chen Shen (played by, who else, Bruce Li) pays his respects at his grave site. It is here that a Jing Wu student in hiding tells Chen Shen of the trouble the school is facing and that he must help.
That's pretty much the plot as the film is heavy on action while Lo Wei's "official" New Fist of Fury was lacking in action. The best part is just how much attention was spent in recreating the Jing Wu school to look virtually identical to the set from the Golden Harvest studios. Also, the new villain this time around is Miyamoto played by Lo "Five Figners of Death" Lieh who has a pretty damn good final fight with Bruce Li. Overall, this is the best example of a Bruce Lee sequel and one of Bruce Li's best. There IS a Fist of Fury III that does continue from here following Chen Shen's return home and the continuation of the Japanese occupation... but it's not nearly as good as this one. Also, good luck finding an uncut version of this film as the current US DVD is taken from a British video which cuts out all uses of the nunchucks. Try to find an out of print NTSC video on eBay if you can. Overall, this is worthy of a 6/10. Decent story, above par "Bruceploitation acting", nice set design, and pretty good fights. Worth a look!
Transporter 2 (2005)
More enjoyable if you think it was based on a Marvel Comic
Now, I kinda enjoyed the first one, but it felt like it was missing something. Like it was taking itself too seriously or something. This one... well, you can't take seriously, but it's more fun in that all logic is thrown out the window. It's not like the acting is bad or anything (not even newcomer Kate Nauta's acting was that bad), it's just that as the film progresses, it gets more and more unrealistic. Once Frank is able to disarm a bomb under his car a certain way (won't give it away, but those who've seen this know this is the most infamous scene of the film), you should realize that anything can happen now... and it does. However, with this, the action is far more impressive, and has almost a seventies martial arts movie feeling. Basically, imagine crossing James Bond with Sonny Chiba and you'll get an idea of what this is like. Aside from that little example, it's like the first film was tired, sucked down as much coffee and caffeine as it could find, and then the sequel was born. The plot is far more complex than the first, but it's one of those plots set up for the sake of action. Like the first film, however, the last fight left much more to be desired, but it was still better than the first. Anyway, for action fans, this is definitely worth at least a rental.
Bei po (1977)
Not great, but underrated nonetheless
Out of the virtually countless Bruce Lee clones (Bruce Le, Dragon Lee... Jason Scott Lee), Bruce Li has been considered by many to be the best, and for good reason. Aside from having a similar physical appearance to him (looks about the same size... Le is too skinny and Dragon is too bulky) and having an above average fighting style comparable to the "bashers" of the day, Li has admitted he never liked being called Bruce Li or Li Xiao Long, but instead wanted to be properly known as Ho Chung Tao. Several of his films have him listed under this name, including this one... well, the opening credits at least. The video box, as well as one TV spot I've seen, credited him under his usual alias of Bruce Li. However, this is not like his usual Bruce Lee impersonation films like Goodbye Bruce Lee. While the use of nunchucks comes up as well as yellow pants with black stripes, Li gets to pretty much be himself... but then of course, one of the voice actors tried to do a bit of the Bruce Lee battle cries near the end of the film. However, it's explained that the character Li plays is a Bruce Lee fan, so it's slightly SLIGHTLY more passable. Like saying Van Damme was Cajun in Hard Target to explain his Brussels-based accent... riiiight.
Looking past this, it must also be noted that this would've made a great Shaw Brothers produced and Chang Cheh directed film as it's VERY dark and is set up like a Shakespearean tragedy. If anything, it has echoes of Cheh's Chinatown Kid in it. In fact, you can probably call this a poor man's Chinatown Kid. After all, it deals with illegal immigrants trying to start a new life only for everything to go straight down the tubes... which happens in both films. As opposed to leaving Hong Kong to America, in this film, the three protagonists leave an unnamed home (most likely Taiwan, where Li's films were produced) to start a new life in Hong Kong. Ironically, Shaw Brothers veteran Lo Meng plays one of the three immigrants and also played in Chinatown Kid as a gang leader. In this film, however, he ends up getting sucked into the triads and becoming one of Li's enemies. Speaking of Shaw veterans, Shaw Bros. character actor Ku Feng plays the main villain in this film, and also starred alongside Li in Fist of Fury III and Dynamo, with the latter being from the director of this film, Hwa I Hung. The final battle between the two of them is one of Li's better final battles, with a spectacular "finsher" in the uncut version. Plus, be on the lookout for doubling duties from Hong Kong legend Yuen Biao doubling for Ku Feng in the last fight.
Also, while it's not blatantly stated, the Yuen brothers (Wo Ping and Cheung-Yan) were the fight choreographers... but don't expect The Matrix or Crouching Tiger... this is when they were perfecting their wireless fight choreography, shortly before working on Jackie Chan's Snake in the Eagle's Shadow. Yuen Chueng-Yan (who recently had a cameo in Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle as the Kung Fu Manual Beggar) even shows up as a henchman for Bruce Li to take out. There are various others who pop up in this film who went onto other films as well, such as Golden Harvest villain extraordinaire Lee Hoi San (most notably from Warriors Two and The Young Master), who plays a "higher ranking" henchman in this film as well as former Bruce Lee stuntman Peter Chan Lung (from Fist of Fury, as well as Snake in the Eagle's Shadow) playing a martial arts instructor who specializes in using the bo staff.
And to top it all off, the film's main theme is "The Final Bell" from Bill Conti's score for Rocky... trust me, you won't get it out of your head after watching this. It even pops up once again in the alternate ending! Overall, this is definitely worth a rent. The only way to really buy it now is to find a used VHS on eBay, or buy the DVD as part of the "Bad Azz Muthaz" DVD set, which is a tad pricey for this film. But, if you have Netflix, the good news is that you can rent it from there, with the alternate ending after the movie. And as a spoiler, the alternate ending is better in the sense that there is an extra fight scene with co-star Carl Scott (which is actually his best fight in the whole film!) against Ku Feng. The fight between Li and Feng is the same except for the ending, in which Feng's death is clearly shown as Li literally stabs him in the heart with his bare finger... with a full color x-ray shot to show it. It's pretty gruesome too. And to top it off, he even stabs Feng in the throat with two fingers. Basically, the fight is only roughly 15 seconds longer in the extended/alternate ending, but it's a BIG difference from the abrupt death scene in the film version. Also, Carl Scott lives in this ending, but dies in the film version... big difference! Overall, while not Li's best film (that would have to go to Fist of Fury II, released here in the US as Chinese Connection II), it's certainly one of his better films, as well as being one of his grittier films. Most of his films are cheesy, and while this has a bit of the fromage, it's overall very serious and dark... but in a way that helps make this stand out from Li's other films. I'd rate this higher than a five, but having only seen it dubbed, it's hard to get a real balanced rating... so between a five and a six.
Prospero's Books (1991)
For REAL Shakespeare fans only...
This film was just painful to watch... not in the good dramatic way that makes you cringe with emotions for well developed characters in dramatic situations (yeah, I pretty much made that last sentence up as I went along), but in just an absolute dull way for OVER two hours. Now, you all may think I'm just some ignorant reviewer who has no respect for Shakespeare or "artistic film-making"... well, you'd be wrong on both counts. I love the works of Shakespeare, especially the tragedies of Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Hamlet, and I've watched plenty of "arthouse" films such as the surreal and well-made Eraserhead and Fellini's 8 1/2... but this was just over two hours of lost-in-translation Shakespeare, WAY too much nudity (I can understand artistic nudity in SOME scenes... but not in every other shot of a movie!!! IT WAS POINTLESS AND SERVED NOTHING FOR THE STORY!!!), and basically just overzealous film-making. I had high expectations for this film in that it was said to be "very artistic" and was an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest... but this was just an extreme letdown. I gave this film a three ONLY because of Sir John Gielgud's acting presence (which far surpassed all of the no-names in this film) and the cinematography/set design combination as it made a lot of scenes look like paintings in motion... however, a lot of this film would've been better off as JUST a painting with a scroll of text below it. A true disappointment... maybe if Zeffirelli had been given the director's chair, this would've been much better. But this is one audience member's opinion, many others may enjoy this far more than me. That being said, if you can't find this at any nearby video stores (it's currently not on DVD), don't try to go too far out of your way to find it... it's not really worth it.
One of the greatest martial arts films of all time.
Ong-Bak. A movie I had first heard about almost two years ago as a little blurb on the internet. A little less than a year ago, I began to read more and more about it and some new actor by the name of Tony Jaa. I finally began to see clips online of the film, and started to notice what people were raving about. While international DVDs had appeared in front of me left and right, I held out for the big day to see it on "the big screen" fresh and with few spoilers. And that day, was today. My expectations were already moderately high, reading that this new actor is the next Jackie Chan, and even Bruce Lee, and how he too uses no doubles... but he also uses no wires, which even Chan has used. Well, all I can say is that after sitting in the theaters for nearly two hours, my expectations were far surpassed.
Tony Jaa's performance brought back memories of seeing Bruce Lee for the first time in The Big Boss (Fists of Fury here in the US). Both characters were naive, innocent, and had left their home for the sake of family. Both characters in some shape or form had to hold back their extraordinary physical abilities for the sake of honor. And finally, both characters were pushed beyond their tolerance level and became the most deadly fighters in their times. After seeing wire work martial arts in every direction after The Matrix, it became very tired. While it still works in some cases, it's just not awe-inspiring... because we all sub-consciously know it's fake. With Ong-Bak, we know that Tony Jaa is performing all of his stunts and martial arts with NO tricks. This makes the fight sequences more intense and realistic, something which many fight sequences are lacking in today's film world.
This being said, the fights in the film are so intense and emotion driven, that my heart was literally racing as each fight passed... I felt like I was going to pass out after the last fight. This is something that no previous martial arts film I have seen has ever done to me, not even the Bruce Lee films. By the time I left the theaters, I was shaking from the film's intensity. Now, THAT'S what I call a martial arts film.
And yes, the plot IS flimsy... but the plot is basically there to set up Jaa's interaction with all of the characters he meets in his travels, whether it is to fight, or to aid his search for the head of Ong-Bak. This is basically what I would call a "journey film"... kind of like Kill Bill. As for Jaa's acting, he didn't have much to work with, but what he was given, he had enough charisma to make his character one you want to side with and cheer for in your mind.
Overall, this film is without a doubt mandatory viewing for martial arts film fans and/or martial arts practitioners... and being both, I can personally vouch for both groups. And if you get a chance to see it on one of the 380+ "big screens" in the US, do NOT pass up the chance to see it... it will be a movie going experience that you'll remember for years to come.
Beer and Pretzels (1933)
Any Curly short before '46 is worth watching, including this!
Reason why I said before '46 was because Curly was starting to become ill, and it was sad to see Curly in the shape he was in at that time. Because of that, it made it hard to watch any of those without feeling sad :( But here, we have the early days... the EARLY early days. Alright, so this isn't "The Three Stooges", but as it was usually put "Ted Healy and His Stooges". The humor here seems like a mix of what the stooges would become and a little bit of the biggest contenders at the time, The Marx Brothers. Best bit: proof that if you don't throw salt over your shoulder in time, you'll have bad luck... LOTS of it. Anyway, this is worth a look for ALL stooges fans and you can probably find it on a video or DVD collection for about five dollars... and in the words of Curly, "He's got FIVE DOLLARS!!!!!"
28 Days Later... (2002)
This is rare for me to say... but this may be one of the best horrors...
Some people said "This movie stinks!" for one main reason: They all expected a gory bloodbath which lacked plot and characterization... which I'll admit, I can enjoy as well, heh heh heh. However, this film showed in the most realistic manner how the human race can destroy itself, and the results of our own ignorance. The "rage virus" goes to the theory about how formal communication separates us from the animals, and when certain characters are contaminated, they no longer have that and basically go by primal needs and emotions destroying everything and everyone, pulling the human race back down all the way below animal races. This is expressed best not through a sequence with the "infected", but ironically enough by a group of horses which now run free after the incidents, with an entire family of horses running alongside others across a grassy field. It is also shown just how easy it is for a loved one to be taken away from us by such a virus causes some emotional disturbances and a lot of "what if?" questions. It also shows how when we're put in a crisis of such high magnitude how even non-"infected" can revert to primal instincts and once again, we destroy ourselves. This is one of the few horror flicks since those of "Dawn of the Dead" and "The Omega Man" to have these social commentaries, and in the world we live in now with terrorist attacks, newer viruses, foreign wars, it makes you start to wonder... how much longer will something like this only be a movie? How much longer...
Bad Taste (1987)
It's always the low-budget films that hit that special spot...this is THE BEST!
Being a fan of films high on the gore scale, and reading many reviews for this film, I finally decided to give this film a whirl...to this day, I still don't regret it! If you like gore, this is for you. If you like comedy, this is for you. If you liked the "Evil Dead" series, no doubt you will LOVE this film! For the full-effect, pick up the limited edition DVD. I swear, even if you have to pay 25 or even 40 bucks for this version, it's worth every penny! However, if you hate getting songs stuck in your head, then don't listen to the end theme! It's a cool eighties-style song, really good for a low-budget pic, but IT WILL GET STUCK IN YOUR HEAD!!! The entire film has great pacing, never slowing down for one second! This is also a great film for those, like myself, who want to get into filmmaking. This is one of those few films you never get bored watching, whether it's ten times or a thousand times!!! This is a must have for everybody!!!