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One of the weirdest kung fu movies I've seen.
Polly Shang-Kwan is Chi Po Chun, a woman who is determined to study kungfu at Shaolin temple. She will not settle for any other teaching. I'm not sure why.
Two rookie monks who haven't started their kungfu training yet (still at the "carry water for one year" stage) note Chun at the temple steps praying to be admitted. They decide to trick her into carrying their water by telling her they'll train her.
Noticeable from the start is that the monks of Shaolin temple are weak in this movie. Ten students disguise themselves as their renowned masters and go to Shaolin temple. They speak to the head abbot, asking about the "Dao Mo Classics", a collection of ten secret magical kungfu manuscripts. The head abbot says they are in the temple. One of the "masters" says he heard it was stolen and demands to see it to satisfy their worry. The head abbot retrieves it, gets taken out with a single sucker punch and each of the fake masters abscond with one of the books.
While Chun is carrying water she meets an old hermit who lives in a cave outside the temple. Turns out he was the temple's lead martial artist and master of all ten disciplines of the Dao Mo Classic. Chun agrees to bring him water regularly.
The two rookie monks shenanigans are discovered and they are sentenced to carry water another 3 years. But the temple still won't admit Chun since she's a girl.
The old hermit, sitting on the temple roof for some reason, hops down and says he'll teach her. The temple's useless head abbot basically says, "Hey, that's great old master. By the way, since you're here, I should tell you some people came and stole the Dai Mo Classics right out from under me." Understandably upset about the temple's plunging reputation the old master says he will train Chun in the Dai Mo arts so she can retrieve and return the ten books to the temple.
They begin training and the movie, goofy to this point, gets downright absurd. One Dai Mo style is "hand". Beyond the usual cool hand movements it also teaches the user to stretch their arms like Mr. Fantastic. The first time Chun does this in her training, accompanied by a ridiculously cartoonish spring sound effect, you kind of scratch your head.
Then she does the same thing with her feet, having learned the "leg" discipline of Dai Mo. Other shots of her learning the disciplines include her either inhaling or exhaling a huge amount of smoke, (I couldn't tell which) and busting rocks over her head.
Everything's going groovy until she grows a mustache. Old Uncle laughs at her panic and explains that's the normal result of one of the disciplines, "Positive Kungfu". Studying the "Negative Kungfu" discipline will balance this out. Unfortunately the old master has forgotten Negative Kungfu.
Not wanting to listen to her scream about it he decides to fake his death. The temple coats him in gold and sticks him in a hall with other dead masters who were also embalmed.
Chun takes the two rookie monks as her assistants and goes out looking for the 10 books, particularly the Negative Kungfu book so she can reverse her budding masculinity.
This is a typical oddity of kungfu movies. For a girl to appear to be a man, she simply dresses like one. To our eyes she then simply looks like a hot girl dressed like a guy. But other characters in the movie completely buy that she's a guy. Even in their inn room when Chun is hanging out with only a linen wrap up top (leaving it hard to miss her feminine assets) men think she's a guy.
The middle part of the movie follows Chun battling the thieves, capturing them and retrieving the books. More weirdness is that evil folks twist Dai Mo disciplines. The Hand guy can't shrink his arms back, the Head guy walks around upside down, etc.
Chun returns the books and thieves to the temple. The thieves are interned for reform. The real masters now show up, indignant that their students have been incarcerated at Shaolin.
The head abbot and monks are sent running again and then, for no real reason to the story, four of the masters are shown in one-on-one contests with Shaolin animal style masters (dragon, tiger, snake and crane).
The movie jumps again to the masters running into an inner courtyard where they face Chun. She wallops a couple of them in combat and they decide they can't beat her that way. They must form the Shantung Battleline.
The movie, ridiculous up to this point, then impresses by increasing the absurdity. The ten masters, intended to be awe-inspiring, line up single file and start odd synchronized stepping that looks like the Loco-Motion.
Meanwhile, again for unknown reasons, the two rookie monks have retrieved the gold-embalmed body of old master, who is still alive, and bring him out to the courtyard. Inside a huge urn. Why they put him in the urn to bring him out, I have no idea.
The Shantung Battleline actually takes to the air, somehow achieving even more absurdity, and goes slowly towards Chun. Nothing about the Battleline has been fast. Chun could have disrupted it at any time but just stood there watching. As the Battleline goes airborne, so does the urn! The urn flies and collides with the Battleline. The urn shatters and old master lands on the ground laughing. The masters all fall about.
Running time is suddenly of great concern because, without further ado, old master declares the thieves reformed and orders them returned to the masters. He then coughs blood and dies. The last 60 seconds of the film are as abrupt as that.
Where the North Begins (1923)
I had long hoped to see a Rin Tin Tin silent and Grapevine Video made this one possible.
Where The North Begins is an excellent showcase for the great German Shepherd. Rin Tin Tin is by turn alert, submissive, fierce, quizzical, proud, afraid, etc. Rin Tin Tin, in short, displayed far more dramatic range than many humans who are currently being touted as great performers.
Physically he was just as impressive. I was absolutely astounded by the scene in which he takes a running start and makes an incredible leap to get into an attic window. I also loved that the film-makers included his failed attempts as well as this illustrated the tremendous effort the dog put into his tasks.
The story itself is pedestrian and completely predictable. I imagine it was even predictable in 1923. Gabrielle, Rin Tin Tin's human companion, is rather slow-witted and somewhat useless. But his role reminded me of the Steve Trevor character from the 1970's Wonder Woman series. Despite being a military officer, Trevor was constantly being outsmarted and captured by the enemy, a plot device enabling Wonder Woman to come to the rescue. Gabrielle served that purpose here as this is beyond a doubt Rin Tin Tin's movie.
A must-see movie for dog lovers and, even more so, for lovers of the majestic German Shepherd breed.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
The fun outweighs the negative!
The good: 1. Hobgoblin-Spidey Fight - Fast frenetic action! 2. Excellent visualization of the Sandman forming. 3. Spidey saving Gwen Stacy. 4. The Eddie Brock plot device. 5. Stan Lee's "Nuff Said" Cameo! 6. Spidey-Sandman Fight - Fun! 7. BRUCE CAMPBELL AS THE SNOOTY MAITRE DE!!!! 8. The recurring supporting characters: Bldg super & daughter, Dr. Connors, Betty Brant 9. Harry Osborne as an evil rich manipulator. 10. Evil, disco Peter. 11. The first super-villain team-up! 12. Bryce Dallas Howard - Excellent portrayal of Gwen stacy.
The bad: 1. Kirsten Dunst - She's never convinced me that she's MJ Watson. 2. Parker not in costume for the Hobgoblin-Spidey fight. 3. Rewriting history - Sandman killing Uncle Ben. 4. Sandman's name changed to Marko. That is a different Spidey villain. 5. MJ as an annoying, clinging whiner. 6. Spidey unmasked FAR too much.
Rest in Peace, Cuervo Jones (2002)
Wow. They really didn't have anything.
They didn't seem to have any professional equipment. They used auto focus on their camera. I mean, honestly. Auto focus. It sounded like the mic was an omnidirectional mounted on the camera. The lighting was just a flood mounted at whatever angle the director thought would look good. For tracking, I *think* they mounted the camera on a skateboard for a couple of shots and pulled it along, complete with sudden jerks and jolts.
They didn't have actors. At least I hope these weren't actors. If they were rappers or gangsters or something in real life, and simply decided to be in this movie, then that is understandable. I think that's the case as IMDb lists this as the only movie for the vast majority of the participants. Exacerbating the poor quality sound, everyone mumbled. It caused you to lean forward, trying to catch what they were saying until you realized it didn't really matter.
They didn't have a writer. Or, specifically, someone to proofread and edit Tyrone McClain's rambling script. There were several attempted and aborted subplots. I still have no idea what the "Pencil Killer" subplot was supposed to add to the story.
They didn't have an editor. If you trimmed the useless fat out of this movie it would run at about 40 minutes. It would still be a horribly produced movie but at least it would be over quick. As it is, it runs just over 2 hours.
They did have two attractive actresses who provided the only positive attributes to this movie.
On the positive side this was obviously a labor of love for McClain since he wrote, produced and directed. It's tough to wear all those hats alone and get the movie completed but he did so. According to IMDb it's his first professional attempt so kudos to him. I hope he can do better in future outings.
Black Christmas (2006)
We needed one more "Alternate" in the Bonus Features
I know by now that when you watch a teen slasher movie you cannot set high expectations. If I go into it expecting the usual formula (a deranged killer separates the hapless youngsters and kills them one-by-one in horrible ways) then it should be fine. Somehow, though, Black Christmas managed to disappoint me anyway.
I don't, for example, expect the acting to be stellar. Honestly, even if there are a few skilled actors hidden among the T&A the typical slasher script is not going to lend itself to them flexing any dramatic muscles. But, please. Oliver Hudson played the Kyle character so laughably wooden that it was really annoying. And, what happened to Lacy Chabert? She was touted at one time as being "one of the most promising young actresses" but we find her in this dismal mess as not only one of the generic victims, but also one that gets offed halfway through the movie. No, even by slasher standards, the performances are uniformly horrible.
Ah well, there's the gore right? That's the real reason to watch a slasher flick. Strike two for Black Christmas here. And I watched the "Unrated" version. I can only imagine how tame and unimaginative the theatrical "R" version must have been. The one big thing seemed to be the eyeball. Everyone had their eye plucked out, or poked out or even shoved through the back of their head. But, if you're going to make that your central gore theme, at least know the eye. They're actually pretty delicate organs, easily punctured and drained. In Black Christmas they were plucked out and waved about on ridiculously fake looking stalks or, as mentioned, shoved through heads, all the while remaining perfectly intact. The eyes held up so well that the killer used them as Christmas tree ornaments. There was a scene in Alias (Season 4 I think) where, because the writers understood the nature of the eye, Marshall's plucking of one caused far more discomfort without the viewer actually seeing any of the gore than all of Black Christmas' fake splatter combined.
Okay, well, how about the story? Your slasher flick needs a killer with a background so twisted that, in retribution, you can only imagine the terror he or she is going to visit on the victims. Strike three, and Black Christmas is out. Billy Lenz is never going to have to worry about being mentioned in the same breath as Vorhees, Myers or Krueger. He was a kid whose mother, with her boyfriend, murdered his father. She knew Billy witnessed them burying the father but we didn't see her do anything violent to him. She made him stay in the attic and even went up to have sex with him. Eh that's twisted but not in the way to spawn a slasher-flick villain. Oh wait, Billy was also born with a rare liver disease that made his skin yellow. This didn't really matter as most of his scenes were far too darkly lit to notice. Okay but he did have a daughter/sister from his union with mom. She also turned into a slasher-flick villainess. *yawn* It's all really just weak. Including the movie's catchphrase, hissed repeatedly by both killers, "(Insert victim's name here) is in our family noooowwww!" Okay. Whatever.
After the credits finally rolled we hopped over to the bonus features as I always like to watch the theatrical trailer after I've seen a movie. I don't like to watch them beforehand, as trailers now tend to give away plot points. That wouldn't have been an issue here of course, but I enjoy seeing the trailers to see what key elements they decided would be the most useful in convincing folks to see the movie. I noticed in the bonus features that they included an "Alternate Ending". I didn't bother watching it but it made me wish they had included a link to an "Alternate Movie". A better one.
A showcase for Kari Wuhrer
Sensation is a showcase for the gorgeous Kari Wuhrer. Please don't try to tell me it's a thriller or it's about psychic abilities. The story exists simply to string along the scenes with Kari. Sensation is about psychic phenomena in the same way Debbie Does Dallas is about Dallas.
If Kari just had a few cheesecake moments here and there, then I would agree, "Okay, this is a poorly crafted thriller." Instead, Kari is displayed almost constantly in her full, sensational glory. We need a scene where Kari is painting? Sure, let's put her in coveralls with no shirt. Most artists paint like that. Any chance we have to show Kari in her apartment make sure she's wearing a thong. Kari and Eric Roberts' characters don't actually have sex? No problem, just show it as one of Kari's fantasies. Repeatedly.
As an aside here, during one of her fantasies, Eric Roberts looked screamingly ridiculous wearing face paint and doing some sort of ill-conceived bump and grind.
I adore Kari Wuhrer and this movie didn't disappoint. I have seen her in quite a few different roles and she demonstrated very little dramatic range in any of them. Nonetheless she possesses a screen presence that more technically skilled actresses would kill for. Wuhrer is clearly at ease in front of the cameras and almost always maintains an easy, natural sexiness. She has a voice that is simultaneously charming and sultry, and a very nice array of facial expressions. And, of course, a killer body.
If you're looking for a thriller with substance beyond your typical made-for-TV movie, don't bother here. If you enjoy beautiful women in general or Kari Wuhrer in particular, watch Sensation the first chance you get.
Normal Life (1996)
Normal Life is simply about the illogical love Chris (Luke Perry) has for Pam (Ashley Judd).
From the love-at-first-sight moment you know his attraction is there but, other than the physical appeal, you can't understand why. The first time he sees her, she's drunk and having a fight with what seems to be her boyfriend. She smashes a glass and cuts her hand. She's definitely attractive (Judd always is) so Chris overlooks her odd behavior and plays the knight in shining armor role as he tends to her cut.
The attraction is immediately so strong that he tracks her down at her workplace to see her again. He's a cop. When he sees her the second time she's sitting in her car outside her job smoking pot. He overlooks this as well and they go to an isolated area to lie in the grass and look at the stars. She's heavy into astronomy.
She initiates sex with him and, during the intercourse, he innocently says she's "crazy." She goes berserk, breaks off the copulation, runs screaming to her car and very nearly runs him over. He explains that he meant nothing bad by the comment and, once again, accepts her behavior.
This is the theme that continues. No matter what Pam does, Chris loves her. He's not blind. He recognizes Pam's attitudinal deficiencies and points them out to her. He struggles to help her change and become a better person. But when she doesn't change he must either leave her or change himself to fit her life. He does the latter.
Chris is not only a cop when the movie begins but also a straight arrow. He does not condone cutting corners, or police brutality. However he ignores his strict code of ethics when he finds Pam smoking pot the first time. That lets us know right away that, while he will try to change her, he is willing to sacrifice all of his personal standards to be with her. By the end of the movie he is a bank robber and a murderer.
Normal Life is a neat snapshot of what folks like Chris go through when they allow another person to become the end-all, be-all of their life. They begin to define their own life by the other person. They do not have the strength to let go. Some glimpses of Chris' parents are given but it is incomplete. We do not know if the family is truly dysfunctional or if there are difficulties exacerbated by his father's illness.
Perry was enjoyable as Chris. He played the character with a realistic edge. Chris was typically reserved and soft-spoken but Perry made it clear that there was high tension underneath.
Judd (one of my favorite actresses) was not so adept with Pam. In order to portray hysteria I think you have to go there, otherwise the acting is painfully obvious. That's what I saw here. In other scenes she did fine as she took Pam along the edge of a normal life. When Pam needed to turn on the charm, Judd excelled. The further Pam went the other direction, the more the performance suffered.
April Fool (1920)
Delightful outing from a forgotten star.
Charlie Chaplin? No, Charley Chase. He was apparently pretty popular during the silent era, yet almost no one remembers him now.
I discovered him on TCM's Silent Sunday Nights and was happily engaged. Like Chaplin, Chase directed himself here. There was good use of camera angles and editing, setting a solid pace. It was pretty sophisticated for what I believe was an independent film-maker only five years after DW Griffith's pioneering techniques in The Birth Of A Nation (1915).
The story itself is funny. Not multi-layered clever like many of the classics from Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd but still with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.
Check it out if you get a chance! It's a good look at a forgotten star.
Po jie (1977)
Wanna see why Angela Mao is the Queen of Kung Fu?
Broken Oath showcases the charm, the beauty and the total arse-whuppin ability of Angela Mao. Moreover, this is kung fu cinema in its purest form. If vengeance is the central theme of Chinese martial arts films you don't get much better than Broken Oath.
Angela Mao plays Lotus Liu. Her father is killed by an infamous quartet of assassins. They spare her pregnant mother, who is sent to a prison island. While in prison she gives birth to Lotus.
One of the women inmates helping to deliver the child says, "It's a girl!" The mother simply states, "It doesn't matter. Boy or girl, this child will have vengeance. My daughter is born into hate."
A well-meaning inmate delivers the child to a Buddhist temple. She explains Lotus' background and asks the Sister Superior to raise the child as a peaceful citizen. The Sister Superior agrees and they dutifully raise Lotus and train her in the peaceful ways of Buddha.
It doesn't work. Even though she doesn't understand how or why, Lotus is driven by a hate-filled desire for violence. Sparring sessions with the other nuns are hardly fair as Lotus pummels them mercilessly. Classes on love and Buddha's commandments annoy her so she skips them to sneak into the nearby woods for further practice.
One day in the woods three ruffians happen upon her. One announces that they like to kill but are "tender" with girls. He further assures Lotus that they'll take turns with her. Lotus kills them. It's not a fight, the ruffians are hopelessly outmatched. Lotus is never in any real danger but she not only kills them, she takes a slow delight with the death of the third.
The nuns have no choice but to throw her out of the temple. Before expelling her, the Sister Superior tells Lotus where she may find the woman who delivered her to the temple. Lotus does so and discovers her past. Now she understands why she is fueled by violence and is happy that she has a target at which to aim her furious skill.
Though there has already been killing, it just gets better from this point. Lotus begins seeking the four assassins one by one. Taking on the masters singly or their gangs by the dozen she cuts a swathe of bloody destruction.
Angela Mao has ranked as my third favorite actress for most of my adult life (behind Audrey Hepburn and Judy Holliday). I love the kung fu genre in general and consider Mao to be in the elite echelon of performers. Mao not only possesses a fierce beauty (watch her expressions) but a physical skill equaled by very few other female martial arts actresses.
Her timing is superb which enabled the directors to place her in complex choreographed fights and her physical range is astounding. Clearly short of stature, even by the Chinese standards of the time, Mao can deliver kicks that come out of nowhere. And when she launches into a series of kicks, it's a thing of beauty.
My favorite movie of hers remains Sting of the Dragon Masters but Broken Oath is the best showcase for her skill, both in quantity and range. If you enjoy kung fu cinema, watch this! If you enjoy Angela Mao, watch this!
The Marrying Kind (1952)
Holliday is sublime! Ray is engaging! The story... hm!
You gotta see this movie!
I'll talk at length about the one issue I had with this movie but you can just skip that if you like as I'll say right off the bat, I highly recommend The Marrying Kind!
For one, you get Judy Holliday! Really, that's enough to recommend anything. Second, you get her fourth outing with George Cukor (her second as the star). It also features a Garson Kanin screenplay. He didn't do too badly with Born Yesterday, did he? Plus you have a fun premiere role for Aldo Ray, a multi-faceted performance by Holliday and a superb slice-of-New-York-life in the early fifties.
Watch this movie!
Now this movie was a bit odd in its flow. The ads and trailers clearly touted a romantic comedy. The re-teaming of Holliday and Cukor furthered this. And the first half of the movie was as light and airy as one could hope for, though I always wish for more Holliday screen time. Then, at the picnic, the movie takes a decidedly heavier turn towards drama from which it never returns. This had to catch audiences in 1952 off guard.
I never mind a tempo change in a movie if it's done well. Hitchcock switched gears nicely with Psycho in 1960 by having the "star" killed halfway through and taking us from a crime drama to psychological horror. Miike pulled an incredible swerve in 1999 with Audition where, again at the midway point, we were jolted from a light romance into a film of violent horror.
There are others but you quickly run out of well-crafted examples and are left with lots of movies where the change is simply not executed well. It leaves audiences puzzled as to what they're watching. Movie-making is an art and, over the past century, the craftsmen have learned to condition us as to how to react and what to expect. When they betray this it must be in a skilled fashion that plays to the context of the story (such as the two examples above) or the audience feels annoyance.
The death of their son (and the heartbreaking moments that followed) felt really out of place with everything that had preceded it. As a viewer I prepared myself for the mental shift. If this is no longer Born Yesterday comedy then are we now going into serious melodrama? I waited for the payoff but it never came. The Marrying Kind continued along the same plot line, limping now as its comedic legs had taken out at the knees.
The death of their son was played like similar incidents in The Crowd (1928) and Gone With The Wind (1939). Both of these movies, however, were beautifully crafted dramas. Optimism shining through the lens of heartache and tragedy. Romantic comedies (and all light comedies) show optimism in the face of everyday troubles, usually brought about by situational misunderstandings and misdirection. Not necessarily mundane but certainly not life-altering.
For me, this shift didn't work well. It certainly doesn't alter my love for Holliday as my favorite all-time actress (along with Audrey Hepburn) nor my consideration of Cukor as one of my all-time favorite directors.
For her part Holliday remained sublime, delivering pitch-perfect comedy in the first half and gut-wrenching drama in the second. Though she was really only utilized in her short career as a comedienne (and there were none better to this viewer) she clearly could have been a superb dramatic actress.
Columbia made quite a deal out of "introducing Aldo Ray." While he didn't become the major star they were clearly hoping for he was nonetheless likable and engaging here. His masculine appeal and gruff voice was an interesting alternative to Holliday's usual romantic interests. Compare Ray's blue-collar Chet to the reserved and cultured Paul Verral of William Holden (Born Yesterday) or Richard Conte's polite and introverted Nick Rocco (Full of Life). Or, for Holliday's best on-screen chemistry see Jack Lemmon's quirky and neurotic beaus (It Should Happen To You and Phffft!).
So sit back, expect a sea-change in mood and enjoy the incomparable Judy Holliday as she once again works her screen magic. We love you Judy. We miss you.