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Wow I just deleted some REALLY old websites of mine. Just try takeshikitano3 on Twitter.
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Fei long zhan (1976)
Interesting focus on a villain (minor spoilers)
I saw this earlier today thanks to the El Rey network, since they have been showing some of the best Shaw Brothers movies for months, but I'd already seen every one they've shown, except for one, The Dragon Missile. The name comes from these 2 dragon-shaped blades that Lo Lieh uses -- when thrown like boomerangs, they easily behead opponents and always come back. The movie felt different from most others in the genre (well, from Shaw) in that Lo Lieh is the main character but also pretty much the main villain. He performs some horrific acts that can't really be forgiven. He shows a little bit of hesitation but ultimately kills anyone his master tells him to because... well, just because it's his job. He never asks forgiveness for doing his job. His master sends out a half dozen other killers to keep an eye on him during a very important mission, and to kill him once he completes it, but ultimately who is the lesser of the evils doesn't matter much since a pair of heroes will enter the story and it becomes about Lo Lieh trying to survive their quest for revenge against him. Revenge which would be quite appropriate.
As much as I've been enjoying revisiting these Shaw Brothers classics on El Rey, I've seen the big ones and they've mainly been showing the big ones. They recently acquired 200+ more to add to the channel and I can't wait. I know there will be more interesting ones like The Dragon Missile out there that I haven't seen yet.
Very intense, dark action/horror
There is no general theatrical or digital release date yet for Raze (as of this post), so I can't tell you when you might see it, but it's worth a look for fans of horror or, well, tournament fighting movies. This movie is very lean. It doesn't include anything it doesn't need. Women who are athletic or who have some sort of fighting experience are being kidnapped, held in some hidden underground prison, and forced to fight to the death, for the entertainment of rich folks of course. If the women lose or refuse to fight, their closest loved ones will be killed. Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn are the cheerfully creepy married couple running things. Zoe Bell, also a producer, is one of the fighters, killing to help protect a daughter she hasn't seen in many years. Other fighters include familiar faces like Rachel Nichols, Tracie Thoms, and Rosario Dawson. It's very dark, and brutally violent, but not exploitative. It's not "sexist sh1t!" as one unhappy viewer shouted at the director and star after our screening (though he still stayed for the entire film). I couldn't say anything about the most surprising or rewarding bits of the movie without major spoilers, so let me just say do NOT be deterred by the low IMDb rating. It's a good one!
Rope a Dope (2013)
Might be the funniest short I've ever seen
We come to The Stunt People for their incredible action skills (and they are certainly on display here), but Rope-A-Dope is extremely funny. I was thrilled to see this at Ric Meyers' annual kung fu panel at San Diego Comic-Con this year, and Eric Jacobus was in attendance to present as well. His performance is flawless and I can't wait to share it with everyone else in anticipation of the huge laughs it will no doubt earn.
I can't help but mention Groundhog Day when describing this short. Instead of using an endlessly repeating day to win Andie MacDowell's heart, The Dope is suffering from a series of annoyances and frustrations ending with an attack from a local gang. He becomes determined to figure out how best to deal with this gang.
Bian di lang yan (2011)
Quite the excellent war-sniper-thriller thing!
I was lucky enough to see this film at its Chicago premiere courtesy of the Chicago Cinema Society. Don't know too much about director David Wu, except that he's edited some of the best action movies I've ever seen. The action touch was quite apparent here in Cold Steel. A young man somehow able to avoid the war raging in his country is recruited by the Chinese when they discover his skills as a sniper and need his help in the face of an ongoing Japanese invasion. The action is fast-paced, intense, and extremely well cut together. When at one point the lead character jumps off a roof into a neighboring building's window, a stunt cameraman follows RIGHT behind him in a nice first person view. I have never seen that before. Things slow down a bit halfway through for a romantic subplot, but it doesn't get too corny. And that's saying a lot considering this came from Hong Kong. You can do better for story or drama, but the flaws are minimal and the action is great as a sniper-thriller.
Tai fong siu sau (1982)
One of Sammo Hung's best movies!
Look, Hong Kong comedy can be really, really weird and awkward and hokey. In a way I've had to get used to it for the movies I watch, but in this movie it's so well done that this might be the funniest HK movie I've ever seen. It's a Sammo Hung movie all the way (star and director) and he never disappoints. This is easily one of his best movies. It's also fitting this features Richard Ng, possibly the funniest actor I've ever seen in an HK movie. This is more than a comedy though. The action is truly A-level and will not disappoint. Some really great stuff that I haven't seen before. Just as an example, for both the comedy and the action, loved the entire nightclub sequence early in the movie.
Fei hu wai chuan (1980)
A classic from Chang Cheh and the Venoms!!
Not sure why I'm surprised I enjoyed this so much. I love the Venom Mob movies and this was one of the best. There is a lot of plot thrown at you up front and I was definitely confused, though I suppose this is not rare for Chinese kung fu movies that want to dig in right away and not take the time to slowly set everything up. Actually, this movie was over two hours long, so there was definitely a lot going on! No need to dig into the plot where others here have. I just wanted to mention a few things.
Primarily I was overjoyed by Chin Siu-ho's performance as the lead character. I know him for Fist of Legend and Tai Chi Master, and wouldn't have thought of him as being a Shaw era performer. He was only seventeen years old when he did this! He was spectacular, and was one of my favorite performances to date of the typical young, overeager kung fu master who's emotions lead before his brain and skill. He did his fair share of laughing and boasting and rushing into danger, but had just enough patience to keep him from being annoying (I'm looking at you, Disciples of the 36th Chamber, grrr...). This was a very early performance in his career and I had no issues seeing him supported this time around by legends such as Lu Feng, Philip Kwok, and Chiang Sheng.
Lu Feng was a hero for once, and Chiang Sheng was a villain. Loved that. Philip Kwok did what he always did. Loved the action, the love story, the battle between the poison experts -- there was a lot going on and once I wrapped my head around it, I was thoroughly entertained!
Bi xie jian (1981)
Another fine Venom Mob movie
After watching the rather silly 36th Chamber trilogy this weekend, it was refreshing to finally see The Sword Stained with Royal Blood, which represents what I loved best from the Shaw Brothers era. Chang Cheh was by far my favorite director, the Vemon Mob folks were so extremely talented, and I loved the more serious and great stories that were being told in their movies. The story seems to jump around a lot early on, but it all comes together quite well by the end. Kuo Chui carries the film as usual and is excellent. Loved the sequence early on of him discovering the cave, though I have no idea why he went there in the first place. A lot of great action and I still just think these are so well made and better than the rest. Though I admit I'm pretty crazy about all the Shaw Brothers movies.
Pi li shi jie (1985)
Quick note on a late-era Shaw Brothers spectacle
So, I liked the film, but it was a very frustrating experience. I love Liu Chia-Liang, I really do. And I liked Gordon Liu returning to the role from the first film. And Lily Li is always good. But I HATED the main character of Fang Shiyu. I get that a lot of these movies had that wild, uncontrollable, disobedient young hero, but this one went too far and I was actively rooting for his death. I'm not going to say this was actor Hou Hsiao's fault. Good lord was he a great fighter. I just think it's hard for a character like that to be likable to me. You know who always did it just right for me? Alexander Fu Sheng. He mastered that kind of role. And I guess since I liked the two early 90s Fong Sai-Yuk movies with Jet Li, I thought he did that particular character well. But I just wanted to rip my hair out here! AHHHHHHH!!!! But, some super smooth action, some great group fighting scenes towards the end, and I always feel it's a treat when Liu Chia-Liang gets in front of the camera for one of his own movies. So I'd still recommend this for fans of the genre/era.
Chu Liu Xiang (1977)
Another Shaw gem
Clans of Intrigue is an excellent suspense-mystery with all the high stakes action you would still expect from a Ti Lung-starring Shaw Brothers film. Here he plays a well known rich thief, blamed for the murder of the leaders of the region's three largest kung fu clans. He is given one month to track down the real killer to save his life. Yueh Hua is excellent as a monk you meet early on who turns into the most interesting character in the film. Wish I could say more about him. And one of my absolute favorites, Ku Feng, shows up for a few sequences as well. The sets they use are just gorgeous, especially near the end. Some GREAT surprises along the way. I've seen a few of the collaborations between director Chu Yuan and star Ti Lung and hope there are more out there. At the very least I have a few more from the director on my shelf awaiting a viewing.
Ma Yong Zhen (1972)
Sort of a big deal and worth seeing
This is basically a kung fu Scarface type of story. Chen Kuan Tai gets an "Introducing" credit in what I believe to be his first starring role. He was great, and gets even better in future movies. David Chiang has a key role and as always was the coolest guy on screen. The version I saw was uncut, which is my favorite word for movies, though it did feel a bit long. I don't think anything was worth cutting out though. I feel sorry for those stuck with a version shorter by a half hour. My favorite supporting actor of the era, Ku Feng, was in this too, but if I told you I watched 2 Shaw Brothers movies today and he was in both... well, this shouldn't be a surprise. That guy worked his ass off and the odds of such an occurrence are quite high!
Shen dao (1968)
Love all these movies, but a bit annoyed by this one.
I can't help but wonder how this movie came about. Yu Wang was huge in the late 60s and had just done The One-Armed Swordsman. Some executive might have said "Hey we had this huge hit where Yu Wang was disabled. Let's think of another major injury he has to overcome and it'll be a hit!" They settled on blindness, but Chang Cheh thought they were idiots, so they got someone else to direct it. I doubt this really happened, but blindness isn't the only obstacle for Yu Wang in this movie.
Well, naturally there are dozens of armed men for him to cut down. But what bothered me most here was there are so so many dumb and stubborn characters. The melodrama factor is really high too. But, I watch these for the action, and it was pretty good. The main villain, Feng Tien, admits pretty early that he's not as good as Yu Wang, but they still get a few fights out of the pair because of the villain's plans. Great here as a villain, especially what he pulls on Yu Wang near the end, oh my god.
Da dao Wang Wu (1973)
An odd problem with this one
I liked this movie, as I have many of it's genre and era, but it had this one key weakness that I had yet to encounter. First of all, I liked a lot of people in the cast, and the action was good, especially near the end. Chen Kuan Tai was great as the lead, but I'd have to say he's better for his acting and presence here than his fighting. I thought when he started he was known for his kung fu skills, but his movements are so awkward in his early movies. In his later movies, where he adds some facial hair and plays more villains, his on camera action skill set gets much better. The problem with the entire movie though is one of sincerity. I've seen Yueh Hua (the other costar) play villains and heroes before, and he was good and you could tell what was going on. Here he plays someone who's supposed to be patriotic, trying to fight for change, for the better. He doesn't sell it though, I thought he was lying, and trying to manipulate Chen Kuan Tai by befriending him and using him. It was totally set up that way! I kept expecting to see Hua show up at the end as this surprise villain, but nope, it doesn't happen.
Shen diao xia lu (1982)
A mess but still fun (minor spoilers)
Oh my god, I am nearly speechless over the 100 minutes of madness I just witnessed. No one will ever read this but I'm going to work my way through it. First of all, the description on some sites is accurate except for Fu Sheng's "cameo." He is indeed one of the leads, but just not in the first half hour. This was like 3 crazy movies put together. The first half hour is like this traditional and serious kung fu story starring Kuo Chue where he avenges his teachers. It's good but it's compressed, like an entire film into a half hour. Then many years pass and Kuo Chue is a teacher, along with his wife, and a very smart but mischievous Fu Sheng is one of their students. He encounters a villain from the film's opening and that causes some trouble. Then the last part has them taking Fu Sheng to a new school, but when they show up it's under attack by completely new enemies, and a really long back story is given for all of that. Oh, and being the 4th film in the Brave Archer story, where Fu Sheng played Guo Jing, the star in the previous 3 films, this time Kuo Chue (who I'm a big fan of anyway), takes over the title role, and Fu Sheng is playing someone else! Haha why would they even bother trying that? It was crazy, it was all crazy, and kind of a mess, but I love this genre, I love Chang Cheh, Fu Sheng, the venom mob... I'll give this a slightly positive score, but for even the plot alone you'll have to keep up on a ton of fast moving subtitles to try and make any sense of it all. As of this post I still haven't seen the 2nd and 3rd film in the series, but the 1st one is pure gold! Go check it out!!
Zhi zhuan yi jian (1984)
A little different
I think the other reviews already touched on the awkward change of pace and story that occurs roughly an hour in. I really liked the story early on, and even at that point it was a bit different. The villain had certainly killed many but was painted as more of an ambitious swordsman than someone ruthless. He was given a bit more focus early than I was expecting. But then you also had the great Ku Feng, who is by far one of my favorite actors from the Shaw era. Things were going pretty well and it felt like things could be wrapped up and the film length would be rather short, yet still be satisfying, but then things change. It really messes up the momentum, and though you still get the expected encounter at the end, it was a very odd detour that makes me pull back on my support a bit. Also, these are talented action actors -- why did they bother to speed up their movements in post production? It looks rather strange.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Solid but not as good as the first
I'm thinking that quite a few liberties were taken with this film. It's Hollywood though, so what do you expect? Cate Blanchett ends up the best looking 52 year old queen ever portrayed on the big screen. I didn't realize this until the end though, so as with all the other historical details, I remained blissfully ignorant coming into the theater. Though I had just recently seen Elizabeth, and enjoyed it, and I've been known to go see just about any sequel. No regrets here, but it wasn't as good as the first and won't be considered for even 10% as many top 10 lists.
This film merely jumps to a later part of the queen's life and focuses on her relationship with adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) and the looming threat of the Spanish Armada. There is of course the unending issue of religion and threats of assassination to make the queen's cousin, Mary Stuart (Samantha Morton), into God's chosen queen. Elizabeth still benefits from the wisdom of close adviser Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush, the only other notable returning character from the first film besides the queen). The size of the Spanish army does not intimidate the queen, and she will not back down from any challenge. She is getting rather tired of the search for a man though. When an appealing fellow like Clive Owen announces he's named a newly discovered colony Virginia in your honor, well, that's kind of rubbing it in your face, isn't it? The production design in a movie like this has no choice but to be good, to both eclipse the original and give this movie its own buzz. No disappointments there. I also liked the story, but most of the performances were by the book. You know what to expect from an historical tale such as this. The only standout performance is from Blanchett. As a queen she is supremely confident and says whatever she wants to. The book of stock English historical characters for BBC productions and stage work doesn't include anything as entertaining as she was here. The camera work is a mixed bag. Some shots that give you the perspective of an outsider looking in are really interesting, but then you have your fair share of pointless, excessive glamour shots, mostly of the queen in bright light trying to look like a queen, maybe even looking directly into the camera. One of her holding a friend's baby comes to mind.
I saw this about a month ago on one of my Showtime movie channels. I have about 10 of them so it's hard to keep track of. This is one of three Cinema Hong Kong specials that have been airing a few times a week -- the other two are easy to find here on IMDb and deal with kung fu and swordplay films. I've been into Hong Kong films for several years but this particular documentary opened me up to an era that I knew next to nothing about. Cheng Pei-pei meant a lot more to her industry than just playing a villain in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Now I need to check out Come Drink With Me. Check this special out if you see that it's on.
Zhi fa xian feng (1986)
Fun stuff, but sadly I was disappointed at finally seeing this
I just got that new Dragon Dynasty version of the film, though I'd never seen it before last night. Haven't watched any of the extras yet, though from what I've read here this is the "downbeat" Cantonese cut of the film. I must admit I'm disappointed in the film, though can still justify a decent score. I really liked Yuen Biao as well as the lead villain. I just realized that Bad Egg was played by the director, haha. The film had some big laughs, perhaps occasionally unintentional, but also some great action.
There were a lot of problems with the editing and stunt-work though. I know they make these movies fast and for not much money, but this one seemed cut together more carelessly than most. Also, despite how talented all the stunt people and the leads are in the film's action scenes, there were way too many moments where I saw wires or could clearly see the faces of stunt-doubles. Especially for Rothrock. Sometimes they'd put makeup on the guy. And one of the doubles for her looked like Biao himself. I know you can never be perfect with such things, but it was just much more obvious than in many other films of the genre that I've seen.
On sort of a side note, you ever notice the ramp effect with vehicles in action movies? The most common example would be of a speedboat hitting the low end of another boat and rocketing through the air. You occasionally see this with cars too. Here in Above the Law a.k.a. Righting Wrongs, you see it with a car chasing down Yuen Biao going off of a parked car. Of course the car is in front of a railing up high on a multi-level parking garage. And I don't know my models but it's probably a Mitsubishi since they made it into EVERY Hong Kong action movie in the 80s. But the parked car wasn't particularly low to the ground. The moving car didn't hit any objects to lift it's front end up. It just jumps the other like a ramp. I don't know if this is really a complaint. It was odd, but hysterical.
If we're talking recommendations and I have to exclude anything with Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, or Jet Li, I'd recommend any of the first four In the Line of Duty movies over this. But it's still a decent action movie and any fan of Yuen Biao in particular really needs to see it.
Lung foo moon (2006)
If you like flashy then it's for you
I had been looking forward to Dragon Tiger Gate since even before its Asian theatrical release. Same director (Wilson Yip) and action choreographer (Donnie Yen) as Sha Po Lang (aka Killzone on your videostore walls), and also once again co-starring Donnie Yen. It also stars Shawn Yue (who I don't know) and Nicholas Tse, who I've been assured many times by my friend Kim is a uber-hottie. This one was definitely just a straight-up action movie with visual effects to emphasize the coolness factor. I enjoy the occasional flashy action movie, and actually really got into this one, characters and all. Instead of saying much about plot, let's just say that 2 of the 3 leads are brothers who hadn't seen each other in a long time, and they team up with a new friend to kick some bad guy ass. Not for those of you who hate unrealistic action. Though I always enjoy seeing Donnie Yen kick a guy so hard he flies 20 feet back and through a wall.
Dragon Tiger Gate had nominations at this year's Hong Kong film awards for action choreography and visual effects.
Hak se wui (2005)
Excellent gangster drama
Election is a Chinese mob movie, or triads in this case. Every two years an election is held to decide on a new leader, and at first it seems a toss up between Big D (Tony Leung Ka Fai, or as I know him, "The Other Tony Leung") and Lok (Simon Yam, who was Judge in Full Contact!). Though once Lok wins, Big D refuses to accept the choice and goes to whatever lengths he can to secure recognition as the new leader. Unlike any other Asian film I watch featuring gangsters, this one is not an action movie. It has its bloody moments, when necessary, as in Goodfellas, but it's basically just a really effective drama. There are a lot of characters, which is really hard to keep track of, but I think that plays into the craziness of it all a bit. A 100-year-old baton, which is the symbol of power I mentioned before, changes hands several times before things settle down. And though it may appear that the film ends at the 65 or 70-minute mark, there are still a couple big surprises waiting. Simon Yam was my favorite character here and sort of anchors the picture.
Election was quite the award winner at last year's Hong Kong Film Awards, winning for best actor (Tony Leung), best picture, best director (Johnny To, who did Heroic Trio!!), and best screenplay. It also had nominations for cinematography, editing, film score (which I loved), and three more acting performances (including Yam).
Just so beautiful to even look at...
Zhang Yimou was a very highly regarded filmmaker 5 years ago, before I had ever heard of him. Then he earned a place in my heart by directing both Hero and House of Flying Daggers. With those last two I felt like I was in martial arts movie heaven, so I would instantly be interested in any other future films that could approach those two in scope, talent, and action. Curse of the Golden Flower focuses mostly on the first two of those three traits, but besides, anything starring Chow Yun-Fat will earn my attention like a bullet to the head. I do own The Corrupter after all.
This is a film about a royal family, rather dysfunctional at that, in the 928 AD Tang Dynasty. Chow Yun-Fat is Emperor Ping, who from the way he handles his family and can anticipate any kind of attack or counterattack seems like quite the ruthless warlord. He has three sons: one is a teenager, who isn't given much regard but knows more than others think. The eldest of the three is the current crown prince, but doesn't seem to have any special talents, other than drawing the affections of the wrong women. The middle son is a great warrior and, of course, is now the favorite of the father. But these characters may be just pawns to Empress Phoenix (Gong Li), who is mother to the younger two brothers and step-mother to the eldest. Under normal circumstances she might be a great mother, wife, and Empress, but current circumstances, including a mystery illness, have forced her to take actions involving a secret plot to remove her husband from the throne.
This is not the action movie some might expect, though there is enough near the end to earn the R rating. It's basically a family drama, though in a rather fascinating and different setting for such a story. As you'd expect with a royal family, appearances are everything. Anything out of the ordinary has to happen in secret. All the normal everyday stuff is almost mechanical in nature. Whether you see dozens of servants getting up in the morning, or preparing food, or planting flowers, it all occurs in such a fiercely coordinated fashion. It would have been such a hard life, either being a royal or supporting one, but it would be a miserable life if one couldn't take any pride in what they did.
The filmmakers who designed and implemented all the sets and costumes should take a hell of a lot of pride in what they do. The family of this story, even while destroying themselves (and therefore their empire) from within, are living in the most lavish accommodations and outfits I've ever seen. I usually don't think much of costuming or set design, but I must say that after seeing Chow Yun-Fat's golden suit of armor, or anything Gong Li was in, or the design of their personal quarters, I really hope for some Oscar recognition. Perhaps the best I've ever seen in those areas.
Overall though, a good film, and a definite must for any Chow Yun-Fat fan to seem him play such a great villain, as with Sammo Hung in Sha Po Lang. It kept me interested throughout, but nothing too surprising happened in regards to story. It basically all went how I imagined it would.
Chinjeolhan geumjassi (2005)
An excellent conclusion to Chan-wook's vengeance "trilogy"
Lady Vengeance is the story of a woman, Geum-ja Lee, who is sent to prison for 13 years for kidnapping and murdering a young boy. She was not guilty of the crime, though she had a small part in the kidnapping. Rather Geum-ja was forced to admit to the crime by her accomplice Mr. Baek (Oldboy's Min-sik Choi). While in prison, she becomes a bit of an angel to her fellow inmates, showing them a kindness and love that not only turns their lives around, but also makes them willing to help Geum-ja with her plan for revenge once she is released. She is a different person upon release, but is set on making Mr. Baek atone for his sins.
I rarely see films presented like this. It has an independent art house feel to it, but it's extremely stylish and polished. Chan-wook Park is quite the talented filmmaker, and with this recent trilogy (I'll get to that), he has insured that any future projects of his earn international curiosity. As is typical of his films, there are a couple moments that are quite shocking, especially for American audiences. But this film wasn't as much about being shocking as the others may have been.
The story turns from one of vengeance to redemption, but nothing comes easy for Geum-ja. In fact, the actress in that role, Yeong-ae Lee, is in nearly every scene of the film and carries it quite well. This may end of one of the best acting performances I witness this year. She plays everything. The angel who glows with a smile. The cold hard bitch. The victim. The mother. And she also comes to realize that she needs to set things right for more than just herself. She is far from Mr. Baek's only victim.
This film is almost difficult to describe by it's own merits, but I hope any of you interested can see Chan-wook's entire trilogy. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance are not directly connected by any characters, but all share the common theme of vengeance. Now I'm not sure if there's an intentional progression occurring here, for I'm not that smart, but every film shows a different side of these emotions. Each takes it's own journey. Mr. Vengeance essentially has no villains, but features tragedies so unfortunate that it turns two decent people into monsters set on a path to destroy each other. Oldboy is the tale of ultimate revenge, with a plot so horrid that it necessitates locking a victim up for 15 years in isolation, then releases him so he can seek vengeance on an unknown entity with unclear motives. In this third film, the lead doesn't quite sink to the level of being a monster. She finds something very special to ground her, and changes her plan to do what really should be done.
The Proposition (2005)
A dirty, violent, great film...
Be grateful. That shower you use? Those things weren't always common. There weren't many in 1880s Australia, in a setting similar to the U.S. wild west. Most everyone in The Proposition is filthy and attracting flies to no end. Several people witnessing an event midway through the movie are shown with hundreds of tiny bugs on their backs, and the main characters find themselves squinting throughout the film to keep them out of their eyes. I was wondering at points if cg was used to add some of them. But I'm also a bit unsure as to why we saw so many. I mean obviously these characters would have a stench, but are the flies an effort to portray something extremely realistic, or was it some sort of metaphor? These are filthy people, making rash decisions, performing unforgivable deeds. They are no better than the corpses which fill the screen occasionally which are also attracting so many flies.
This is one of the better westerns I've ever seen. Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his younger brother Mike are capture by Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone). Justice is sought for the recent slaying of a local family. Mike is young and quite helpless, so Stanley focuses on Charlie and offers him a deal. He will let Charlie go for the moment to seek out and kill the one really responsible for the killings: Charlie's older brother Arthur. There isn't much choice in the matter though. If he does not succeed, Mike will be hung in just over a week's time. On Christmas actually. If he succeeds, Charlie and Mike will go free.
This is not your typical western. For one, it's exceedingly violent, so I shall dust off my old Bad Boys II Violence Warning here. All sorts of nastiness that would better be left as a surprise. What I perhaps liked the most in the film was how these characters change in your mind. It seems pretty clear cut at the start who the responsible parties are, and who is the "villian" and who can do no wrong. But this will not be the case. It is also not a situation where the plot twists and turns. I would just rather say that the story will progress and get more interesting. The proposition that Stanley offers Charlie in the beginning is certainly the setup for the film, but what are the precise implications for all those involved? Though the setting is a desolate area, the cinematography is still quite breathtaking in several scenes. It even won three separate awards for cinematography, as well as its soundtrack, last year in Australia. So I don't want to say this film was as good as Unforgiven, but comparisons are there. It has an effective look, it's a different kind of western, and there is some truly great dialogue in there. The U.S. release is quite limited, but check it out if you can.
Huang jia shi jie (1985)
Amazing action scenes that exceeded my expectations
So here it is -- Yes, Madam -- Michelle Yeoh's first starring role, back in 1985. I'd been wanting to see this one for a few years. I was a bit worried because the DVD appeared to be a bootleg once it arrived, but it worked fine, so I won't complain. But wow, Yeoh was so amazing in the film. She had won the title of Miss Malaysia just a couple years earlier, for damn good reason, but she took her start in the action genre seriously and trained hard for a few months before shooting began. Sammo Hung himself was the producer (and has a cameo, along with half the industry), and he was looking for two female leads, to make something different from the typical male buddy-cop films. For a co-star they got Cynthia Rothrock, who was making her start in the genre as well. Though she was the real deal as far as martial arts skill. I was interested in the film more for Yeoh but Rothrock certainly held her own. Well, with the action, not the acting, ha ha.
Now then, the average American audience might not think much of the movie. It's full of the kind of very odd and stupid HK humor that I've gotten used to. But Yeoh shines in every moment she's on screen, and the action scenes are incredible. In particular the final fights near the end of the film had me as excited as being at a Bulls game. I couldn't believe some of the stuff they were pulling off. My heart goes out to those stunt men!! The actual final minute of the film caught me off guard, though it was realistic. But damn... that ten minutes or so of fighting was among the best I've ever seen.
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
A thoroughly enjoyable piece of fiction
I'm reminded in seeing this film of the Indiana Jones series, though for the moment, not the 2nd one, which I still enjoy but for different reasons. Raiders was made to resemble the classic films from Hollywood's golden era, and it succeeded in this. Last Crusade had the inspired pairing of Sean Connery and Harrison Ford as father and son, and it couldn't have worked any better. Both had great action set pieces, edge of your seat moments, and laughs. But none of this describes my favorite aspect of both films. Each is a quest for a religious artifact. This is the story from which all the films' other elements are built upon. It's a search, a mystery, one that requires a bit of globe-trotting to solve. Allies may be enemies, enemies may in truth be allies. And in both those films, the mysteries are built up (for fictional, entertaining purposes only) upon beliefs held by billions of people around the globe, for centuries. Beliefs that are one and the same with truth to many, but regardless, they build upon grand stories that we already know, or think we know.
The Da Vinci Code is another such film with grand ideas affecting religious history, but built upon the stories that we have been familiar with our whole lives. In this way we don't have to pick up on a story out of nowhere. Depending on your education or personal interest, we're already starting at the knowledge base of Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) or Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), and we go along for the ride as the most basic stories of religion, of the origin of faith for billions of people, is, shall I say, given a new spin. Now I don't want to stick my foot out on the train tracks here and debate whether any of the revelations here are true, or could be, but you want a story to convince you of its value, and basically this was the cinematic equivalent of a real page-turner. I was quite fascinated and intrigued. Areas of my brain were working again that hadn't been accessed since I finished that History of Ideas minor in college.
I thought this film hit all the right notes, perfectly. They don't dumb anything down, and at the same time nothing was overly complicated. True, there is a lot, a lot of exposition, but I was able to follow it, nothing was too repetitious, and I wasn't getting lost in a sea of theories, boring history, or truly absurd notions, as I feared I might. There are some thrills in the film, and chase scenes, but the studio never tried to sell it as a non-stop thrill ride, for it is not. There is nothing truly absurd or impossible in the script (such as revealing Judas to be Dracula). The climactic moments of the film do not involve any magic, or centuries old death traps that are beyond the comprehension of modern architects. The implications of the film's big discovery are huge, in that it could shake the foundations of Christianity, but rather than this making the actions of any cast member insignificant and trite by comparison, it rather serves quite well as motivation for several parties who all might have an interest in what Langdon and Neveu get drawn into, and would also justify the existence of a centuries old cult, whatever its ultimate goal may be.
And also on the subject of the filmmakers (gotta love Ron Howard in particular) doing everything right, this does not become some sort of by-default love story for the two lead characters. Oh no, one's male, one's female, they're on the run, dodging bullets, we have to have them kiss at some point! No no, none of that. These are intelligent leading characters, both seeking a truth that outweighs their own personal motivations, and told from the point of view of a gifted author, not the Hollywood machine. And there's some real talent in the cast anyway. Hanks and Tautou are international stars, as are Ian McKellen (finding his way into several blockbusters these last 6 years) and Jean Reno. McKellen gives the best performance of the film, as to be expected, as a grail historian who gets into some amusing arguments with Hanks' character, but on that note I don't want people to discredit Paul Bettany, known more for his role in Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind. There's been some criticism of his performance here as murderous monk Silas, but it's a tortured character who, like many others, believes he is serving a much higher purpose. His suffering is his own damn fault, as he feels the need to punish himself for his sins, and suffer as Jesus did, but I thought Bettany pulled it off quite well.
So, I have not read the book, and probably won't in all honesty. My motivation to read the Lord of the Rings books never reached significant heights. I prefer the film medium. I can see with The Da Vinci Code in what ways it was originally a book, and for those who insist on comparing the two mediums, as usually, I don't give a damn what you have to say. But I loved this story as presented to me this afternoon on a big screen, and this is the ideal sort of fun I look to have every summer when the big stars and the big name directors hook up.
Inside Man (2006)
A safe bet for any fan of the genre or cast
I think Inside Man hit all the right notes. It's essentially a standard hostage situation thriller, but just really well done. There are a couple surprises in the plot department, but it's nothing too absurd. As Jodie Foster's character jokes, there aren't really nuclear missile launch codes sitting in one of the bank safety deposit boxes.
The film opens the same way I think the trailer did. Clive Owen stares rather intensely into the camera and gets our full attention. He's becoming one of my favorite actors. But he and a few others stage what is to be the perfect bank robbery. He has a plan for everything. What he doesn't expect is someone as smart as him on the outside. That would be Denzel Washington, who plays a detective arriving on the scene as the lead hostage negotiator. I believe I heard that Washington put on weight for the role, to look more like an ordinary guy. He wasn't though. Despite facing charges for some missing evidence, he's a rather exceptional detective and is a worthy adversary for Clive Owen's extremely calm bank robber. Jodie Foster enters the picture as well as... well, I have no idea whatsoever what she does. She specializes in protecting people's interests I guess. This would include the owner of the bank under siege (Christopher Plummer), who has something inside that he doesn't want the thieves to stumble upon.
I love the cast. In addition to who I already mentioned, you have Willem Dafoe as the head of the SWAT team and Chiwetel Ejiofor (who I'll always know as the operative from Serenity) as Washington's fellow detective. And despite how annoyed I am with Spike Lee over that ridiculous Spike TV situation, he's crafted quite a good film here. The movie is quite clever, but it never goes over the top, and it doesn't dance around with pride over how clever it is. There's a genuine sense of realism pumped into every scene, and I think that's the director's most prominent signature here. Nothing truly great or groundbreaking going on with the film, but it's a safe bet if you want an enjoyable film, and I especially enjoyed the performances of all 6 leads.