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Fox in Socks
Fung wan: Hung ba tin ha (1998)
Kung Fu with limit breaks
The DVD case uses the phrase "Final Fantasy" twice, and they're not kidding - moody photogenic youths with perfect windswept hair, a tragic love triangle, outrageous swords, and even a character called Cloud. The starting and closing credits are cut-scenes as well.
It's all good though. The film looks gorgeous, has some beautiful set pieces and is very entertaining. Enjoy the trip, this is for people who enjoyed Zu Warriors.
A couple of points points - you'll have to be a bit tolerant of Canto-pop if you watch the extended version. Also, fight fans be warned, this is about special effects not choreography, so if you're looking for some fancy moves get a Jet Li movie instead.
Late night TV movie
There are really only 3 reasons to watch this: Michael Jai White has some quality screen time; Kiana Tom is quite gorgeous except for her dismal second incarnation, and this film has the most hilariously gratuitous T & A sequence since Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder hid out in the poledancing club in Stir Crazy.
Actually I quite like Van Damme - he makes martial arts look attainable. You can go to your classes and think "I'll never be as good as Jet Li, the guy's superhuman. But I might just get as good as Van Damme someday."
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Art for art's sake
I have never seen a film so self-conscious and vain about itself. So let me guess, it raises questions about self and ego while hilariously lampooning the egos of stars and obsession with immortality.
No, not really. It's a laboured effort that tries too desperately hard to be weird, and exists only to give critics and armchair philosophers an excuse to feel smug about themselves or laugh at the film industry in-jokes. If you want existentialism, stick to Ingmar Bergman or even David Cronenberg.
But wait, it has moments. Charlie Sheen playing himself is actually quite funny. The cast generally are good, but unlikable, which means you don't care what happens to them or the story.
Don't let it kid you. There's no intellectualism and no satire here.
More dreams of China and a few comments of "Sino-centrism"
Another excellent entry into the series dealing with China coming to terms with foreign influence and an uncertain future, infused with romance, humour and some outstanding choreography. The well-drawn cast includes Dr Sun Yat-Sen which brings some historical credibility, but adds irony as well, since Dr Sun's idealism may have been misplaced. Oh yeah, its got some great fighting in it too...
I find previous accusations implying racism in this film to be misguided and deeply ignorant. The Wong Fei-Hung series highlights the historical turmoil felt in China from external trade interest and internal political pressure. Foreign characters are shown as both villainous and sympathetic (just like the Chinese characters). OUATIC II portrays the xenophobia of the White Lotus Cult as a Very Bad Thing, and the confusion at western objects and inventions varies from the hilarious train sequence to the superstitious fear of the camera. It's self-mockery, but it's bittersweet. If anything, Tsui Hark is implying a loss of innocence.
If the foreign powers are portrayed in a negative light, it's because our presence in China was motivated by greed and imperialism. Hardly the most noble of motives. But then nobody's perfect, and China's human rights record is less than great before and after the revolution.
I'm staggered that anyone could be so utterly stupid as to ascribe Nazi overtones to a film which goes so far to portray nobility, humanism and honour. Anyway, great film.
Wong Fei Hung (1991)
There's more to martial arts cinema than arthouse self-indulgence or slapstick comedy
Watched this again as an antidote to "The One". Jet Li's done some good films, some TERRIBLE films, and then again he's done a few genuine epics, like the Once upon a time in China series. These films are also among the best work of Tsui Hark.
The modern Wong Fei-Hung series contains elements of humour without being just broad slapstick (if you want kung fu comedy, rent a Jackie Chan film), but are mostly films about a troubled China where traditional values are being overwhelmed by Western style and influence. Iron-Robe Yim's line "you can't fight bullets with kung fu" resonates achingly with the failed boxer rebellion, during which chi-gung practitioners mistakenly believed they were protected from foreign guns.
Wong Fei-Hung's struggle to find an honourable, peaceful path through the collision between cultures should strike a chord with anyone who has moved on from chop-socky and realises that a kung fu movie can feature a great story as well as great cinematography.
Mulan kicks butt without wires!
That's my background - grew up with Aristocats, Jungle Book, 101 Dalmations etc but I've avoided stuff like Pocahontas and The Lion King like the plague because cutesy animals and horrible moralising have replaced wit and charm. So I gave Mulan a chance.
And I was really pleasantly surprised. Mulan manages to keep a reasonable flavour of Chinese/Hong Kong cinema without seeming patronising or watered-down. It's not too cute or fluffy and the villain is not even remotely camp or risible. He's just plain EVIL. Course the songs are sometimes naff, but I really loved Disney's take on the staple "kung fu boot camp" .
Even the romantic angle isn't too gloopy and soft focus, it just leaves you with a hint of a beginning.
Anyway for more cross-dressing martial arts heroines, check out Brigitte Lin's career.
The One (2001)
Could have been better
But this is really rather run of the mill and formulaic, although I'm always glad to see TC McQueen in something. Maybe I took this too seriously - that motorbike gag really belonged in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Still, the end fight is nice if you're actually into martial arts and not just wire-fu, and any film which works in a variation of the line "yew shure do got a purty mouth" has to have some redeeming qualities. I'll wait a few months and give it a second chance
The Godfather (1972)
It was alright
Even quite tense at times - that restaurant scene had my heart pounding, as did the hospital scene. But it is overhyped. Okay, scene composition and direction are top notch, yadda yadda, acting is phenomenal, but you can't watch it without thinking "everyone says this is the greatest film of all time". Well maybe it is for some, but the film suffers from high expectations as a consequence. Not that you, gentle reader, are interested, but I didn't rate it as highly as Apocalypse Now, Seven Samurai or even Star Wars, but it deserves a respectable 8/10 and if you haven't seen it, its worth 3 hours of your time.
Just don't believe the hype.
Oh god please when will it end
This is about as tense as an episode of Scooby Doo, and not as well scripted. Crichton's book is probably a lot better than this mish-mash of The Abyss, 2001, Event Horizon and many other, better films. I have never seen a film with so many loose ends. Clumsy, cliched and stupid. Did I mention boring? Even Mission To Mars was better than this.
Particularly annoying was the episodic editing which felt like reading a book and then skipping 8 pages for no apparent reason.
The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
Been done better
I can't help thinking that French versions of this genre always work better. They have the right accents, for starters, but they also look a hell of a lot better - more swashbuckling, more cleavages, more big dresses, big hair, big shirts, and more moustache-twirling villains. This featured too many British people pretending to be French, something we're not very good at.
Still, it wasn't bad at all, and at least it had Michael Wincott doing what he does best - sadism with a smile. See him as the villainous Moxica in the otherwise uninteresting 1492, the villainous but underused Rochfort in The Three Musketeers, or indeed the villainous Top Dollar in The Crow. Guy Pearce was good too, and has come a long way since Neighbours.
You can forgive a few changes to a classic, but what was hard to swallow was the clumsy insertion of a heavily religious message which was absent from Dumas's romance and every other film version. Didn't ruin the film, but there were several glurge moments.
Queen of the Damned (2002)
This actually looked great, in a 2-hour Marylin Manson video kind of way. As a film, it sort of spent 90 minutes getting started, just in time for Aaliyah to go "RAR! I will kill you all!" and then time for some more vampire-fu.
A real shame that the depth and complexity of Ms Rice's better early Vampire novels were lost. Characters crossed the screen for no apparent reason, and only reformed goths like me could point and say "oh, that's Mael". In fact, the film bore so little resemblance to "The Vampire Lestat" and "Queen of the Damned" that they may as well have called it something completely different. So, no story, no development, poor pacing. But it's a very pretty film, and Stuart Townsend is a very pretty Lestat (better in some respects than Cruise). The stage fight is hilarious (watch out for the wires!). Paul McGann occasionally looks like he's asking himself what the hell he's doing in this film. Vincent Perez, on the other hand, gets all the best vampire lines and really made the film for me.
One for genre fans, but then we knew that.
More milky way than black magic
Sadly, this film is not as good as it thinks it is. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it well enough, but it won't change your life, reveal the secret of happiness or even inspire you to a night of impassioned lovemaking (for that, see Don Juan de Marco).
It certainly looks good, has some charming and funny moments, as well as some solid performances (Depp's oirish is better than his mockney). But it's all been done before - magic stranger arrives in town, changes people's lives, falls foul of the local patriarchal repressor, everything builds to a happy ending in a warm sentimental glow. I've been told that the book is far more involved, has a real feeling of magic, and is less light and fluffy.
There's a certain amount of lazy assumption as well; just like cheesy action movies, the right mix of ingredients will always attract genre fans regardless of quality. Fair enough, but this is not a classic. It doesn't take any risks, plays to a formula, and ultimately, it's a low-fat confection - tastes fine, but you don't carry it with you.
Rapid Fire (1992)
Looks lightweight, but satisfies
A regular staple on the late movie round, I always find myself drawn to this film. It's okay as a story, thriller, whatever, and Powers Boothe never gets enough exposure. But you watch it for Brandon Lee.
It's a charming performance, which scores highly because there's no dependence on wires, SFX or 'splosions. Just an extremely graceful, talented fighter putting the art into martial arts, and he was a joy to watch. Frankly, much as I like the Matrix, I'd rather have Brandon back for one more film than the whole damn trilogy.
Sun lung moon hak chan (1992)
The film that Crouching Tiger wants to be
'scuse me while I go off on one.
I watched this last night and realised something. Any martial artist should be able to tell you about "soft" and "hard" arts. Hard arts are all about immediate impact, force, visible effect. Soft arts affect you internally and subtly in ways you are not immediately aware of.
New Dragon Gate Inn has finally shown me that there are soft and hard martial arts movies. It's a visual treat with stunning set pieces, but I didn't realise the effect it was having on me until it was over.
It's difficult now to discuss any historic/fantasy MA film without referring to CTHD, because good or bad, it's become the standard. Well, I thought it was overrated, had it's moments, but wasn't as inspiring as people seem to make out, compared to Iron Monkey, Once Upon A Time In China etc. Well, I'm getting from this film what everybody else is getting out of CTHD, so now I'm happy.
Oh yeah.. kung hei fat choi!
Mission to Mars (2000)
Completely devoid of artistic merit
It's beyond me what a director like de Palma is doing with this turkey, other than paying off the Christmas credit card bill. A good cast is likewise wasted on a formulaic, derivative, silly film.
What's bad about it? It's an alien artifact on Mars film which contributes nothing new to the genre. It's dumb. IF a manned mission to Mars went wrong, there is no way a rescue mission would be launched 2 days later off the back of true grit and "we can't leave our buddy to die". This film plagiarises clumsily from 2001 without giving anything back, and **SPOILER** throws in a cutesy benevolent alien progenitor without any build-up. Because there is no build, and the film doesn't develop it's own mythology, this just appears laughable when it happens.
And what's with the flooding scene at the end?
Classic kung fu buddy movie
This is one of my favourite martial arts action films. It's a fun, entertaining buddy/road movie that is guaranteed to leave a smile on your face. It also showcases Mark Dacascos perfectly. Far too many of his films fail to capture his grace and athleticism, not Drive. Kadeem Hardison is a also a great talent. I hate making comparisons, but this came out before Rush Hour and is funnier, more emotionally involving, and sorry Jackie, but the kung fu is streets ahead.
If you get the DVD, play the hilarious audio commentary, featuring director, fight choreographer and the two stars. It really sounds like four guys on a sofa talking trivia about a favourite movie, and it's great. It's also amazing to learn that some of the best lines and coolest moves were ad-libbed, or choreographed without a wire.
Great homage to Kurosawa
The more I think about this film, the better I like it. It treats its source material very respectfully, carries some brilliantly understated performances, and has *gasp* action without dumb explosions and humour without dumb one-liners. This is not a popcorn movie, but a well-crafted film featuring lots of people who can act. Remember, using your brain can stave off senile dementia.
One slight gripe. The wiseguys are great as comedy, and also as a representation of something deeper being lost (so much for "Men of Honour"), but their stupidity sometimes becomes a little too surreal. Even so, a film isn't often funny, haunting and thought-provoking.
Brilliant and powerful
Has anybody else noticed how early on Sir Ian slips quietly out of the frame, and Gandalf the Grey himself steps off the page and onto the screen? Sean Bean also gives an incredible performance.
This film deserves every single "10" that we have given it.
The Relic (1997)
Awful, silly, dim.
Peter Hyams seems to have good days and bad days, and this is a bad day. This film seems to have started off with a great idea and a fine script for a horror movie, only to sink under the weight of 'splosions, action movie-isms and dreadful excess.
Starts off well, with a convincing cast of researchers, some natural performances and a similar feel to "Serpent and the Rainbow". Any originality or spark is totally crushed by the Cameronesque introduction of **spoiler, maybe** heavily armed marines and a big stompy monster, not to mention the Fort Knox style security arrangements for turning a museum into a nuclear bunker. And the vast stockpiles of petrol and C4 which make the place explode so dramatically at the end.
I hope "A sound of thunder" doesn't suffer the same treatment.
Le pacte des loups (2001)
I'm confining my comments to a few brief points rather than a full review:
I really enjoyed this. It's not the best film I'll ever see, but its the best costume-mystery-gothic-melodrama-monster-martial-arts-period-softcore-eyecan dy that I expect I'll ever see.
In defense - there's nothing wrong with the pacing or the length. The film takes it's own time to tell a story, so be ready for that. It's never boring, and doesn't (thankfully) adhere to the modern formulaic blockbuster format. Also, though the point has been made before, France has for a long time had its own style of martial art called Savate, which happens to feature acrobatic kicks. What anachronism?
Mind you, kung fu IS the new black, and yes, the choreographer is from the HK film industry. Since other countries have borrowed heavily from the French film industry, I think they've got the right to something in return. Well done, mes amis.
The Cell (2000)
Lopez through the looking glass
Aaah, this took me back to the seventies... trippy visuals, psychedelic landscapes, style over substance, sadly also rather wooden acting, unconvincing dialogue and emotionless direction.
This was actually very enjoyable; there's a solid serial killer plot, beautiful art direction, and a very good performance by Vincent D'Onofrio in various guises. It's well put together, reasonably gripping, and even made me squirm.
There is nothing original here - the standard theme of finding the victim before suffocation has appeared in various films and TV episodes, usually involving coercion of the kidnaper. Go back to 1971 and Dirty Harry for an example. Entering someone's dreams has also been done, although admittedly rarely as well as this (Dreamscape, Freddy Krueger series).
Although very pretty, the movie does ultimately come across as a pop video. Great visuals, good enough for a second viewing, with lovely set pieces. However, it doesn't haunt you. The concepts don't stay with you as they did with "Videodrome" or "Altered States", and while suspension of disbelief is important in cinema, a little effort to explain HOW J-Lo was getting into the imagination of another character would have helped. Telepathy? Drugs? Virtual reality?
Good but not great. Still, its an fun combination of modern serial killer thriller and hallucinatory cinema.
Only the Strong (1993)
Guaranteed to leave you smiling
This is one of those films you can't help enjoying. It's light, fun, undemanding, and an absolute joy to watch. It might not be a gritty urban drama that deals sensitively with youth and alienation in high school, but then neither was "Heathers".
Cinema primarily exists to entertain, and "Only The Strong" does this in spades. Dacascos is the most graceful, watchable martial arts star since Brandon Lee, with an easy charisma that really comes across in a film like this and also the brilliant "Drive". The rest of the cast perform quite nicely as well. The plot and characterisation are admittedly 2-D, but what the hell, it's a 100% schmaltz-free feelgood movie.
Two of my friends actually took up Capoeira after watching this film. How's that for life-changing?
This is a very fine film, for a number of reasons. It succeeds very well thank you as a costume drama with an involving story, great visuals, skillfully paced direction and several outstanding performances (too many to pick out).
It also treats de Sade's work very fairly, although the more (frankly repulsive) passages are mercifully skipped. Pornography as a political/satirical tool isn't often considered outside of Channel 4, and this film does it interestingly and accessibly. It also carries across the sense that wickedness, sadism and perversion already exist, and de Sade simply chose to expose them. Love the ending, which is perfectly in keeping with the philosophy of "Justine".
Without having known the man personally, there isn't a single person who can tell if Geoffrey Rush's performance is mad enough, bad enough, cynical enough, perverse enough. It'll do, though.
Barb Wire (1996)
My girlfriend liked it just as much as I did
Cheese. The key to enjoying this movie is not take it seriously! Don't expect great art! It's based on a comic book, it's got guns and 'splosions and Pamela Anderson pre-reduction. Waddaya want, Ingmar Bergman? It entertained me, and I didn't have to use my brain once. I even bought a copy, it sits on the shelf between "Brief Encounter" and "Apocalypse Now". Its miles better than the dreadful "The Mummy" or the unspeakably bad "Independence Day".
Okay, have a review. The plot is a shameless rip-off of Casablanca and makes no effort to hide it. It made me laugh, has some great dialogue, and is never actually slow. It's OBVIOUS that the cast and crew had a brilliant time making it, and that really shows on screen. Steve Railsback is brilliant, as is the uniformly excellent Udo Kier.
And its got guns and 'splosions and Pam!
Event Horizon (1997)
Quite an enjoyable horror movie
This is certainly one of the spookier films I've seen in a while. Don't expect 2001: A Space Odyssey crossed with Alien, though. It does have strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes the cast get a little too Scooby Doo in their investigations. There are a few rather artificial devices used to advance the plot, which depends more on set-pieces than seamless storytelling. The film scores highly on imagery and environment. If you let it draw you in, it does create a pretty good atmosphere which in the early stages owes more to classical horror than cheap shocks. Particularly pleasing is the imaginative use of sound effects to enhance your sensory experience, rather than just as a vehicle for a bolt-on soundtrack.
Good, but not great. Should certainly appeal to anyone who likes Clive Barker or John Carpenter