Wednesday, April 30, 2008

An Empress and the Warriors

Epic in scope, this is a simple tale of unrequited love, palace intrigue and several large scale battles..and yes, Donnie Yen does take on an entire army with a sword. Ok, so there is all the synopsis you are going to get..
Swords, arrows and cool armor bathe this cross and double cross in blood rather than speeches. There is one speech, given by a "pharmacist" that decides the course of a nation. Apparently back in the day people actually listened to their pharmacist.
It helped a little that this pharmacist was the sole survivor of a fierce warrior tribe...
Not sure I need to say more, but this is a love story, and a heartbreaker to boot. You could watch it for Donnie Yen alone and not be disappointed, but there is nothing wrong with the double treat of being able to bring the other half to a kung-fu movie and having her like it..

Like a Dragon

The picture above is for the video-game that this movie is based on..but do not let that deter you, the director is Takeshi Miike! His movies are nearly comic books in the best sense of the word -- picture driven, graphic, lightning fast. I'm prettty sure the whole "storyboarding" business has more than passing commonalities..
I'm not sure Japanese Schoolgirls without socks would be labeled an innovation, but certainly the young foil in this film begs the question! "Like a Dragon" no doubt references Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon," and, as such has a lot of kung-fu on display, sans Yuen Woo Ping. How many other choreographers can I name? Have you not read my review of "City of Violence?!"
One of my favorite recent Yakuza Characters was "Big D" from Johnnie To's outstanding "Election". Big D tore up the screen with his flamboyance, boasting, and a sadistic streak on full display via brutal acts of ultraviolence. He didn't have Majima's bat! Majima is the pirate patch wearing over the top crazy bastard..and Miike spells over the top with 2 eyes!
Kazuma is the good guy here, and quite a fighter. These sequences fall under the new term, mixed martial arts..though I can't seem to recall the Japanese Character for "shotgun".
All this being said, this is a gentler Miike film than even "Blue's Harp", and might be a good intro film, perhaps better than "City of Lost Souls".

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Southland Tales

What do you do after "Donnie Darko?" You have managed to capture the minds of smart girls like no other movie this side of "Edward Scissorhands" and had one of the coolest songs ever, "Mad World", on the soundtrack, so what's next? I suppose you might hire the Rock and make a sci-fi satire of today..
I was sold when the backup for the cop named Taverner said "Flow My Tears..."
Yes, this is that kind of movie. Be prepared to connect the dots, and, like "Bladerunner" I suppose, be prepared to ignore the narrator.
This is a tale of an alternate near future, soaked in Hollywood, and served cold. Hippies and Republicans are skewered equally, as are the rest of us in this diamond hard, teeth clenched during the laughter film.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I Read the News Today..

Struck by short captions from the NYT, here they are, and why:
1. "European countries plan to use coal, generally the dirtiest fuel on earth, in new power plants." Well, I live in Kansas, not a particular hotbed of environmental action, where 2 new coal plants were shot down by a courageous politician: she was overridden, naturally. Anyone remember the Clamshell Alliance?
2. "The U.S. has less than 5 percent of the world’s population but almost a quarter of its prisoners." Land of the Free. Land of the Wiretap. Land where we came up with "Enemy Combatants" and began deciding that we don't really hold any truths to be self-evident if there is a no-bid contract involved.
3. " It is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge that the campaign’s negativity, for which she is mostly responsible, does nothing but harm to her, her opponent, her party and the 2008 election." To say nothing of the country that has been mired in a foreign occupation its populace doesn't understand but finally gets the picture that we truly messed up looking for revenge. For the 3 misguided conservatives that thought Saddam had to go, I suggest you look at our history, namely the Shah of Iran and General Pinochet.
and finally:
"The Supreme Court has repeatedly ignored the barbaric history of the death penalty."
Barbarians. A civilization is measured by its compassion -- where is the clause in Intelligent Design that allows us to stop moving towards it?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Forbidden Kingdom

"Forbidden Kingdom" is a great movie for 8-13 year old kids. I mean that in the same sense that the late 60's early 70's Tarzan films helped cultivate a sense of wonder in yours truly...
The things we know:
This is a Hollywood Film
Jackie Chan and Jet Li are the pull
The adolescent American boy is the viewer connection
Every die hard Fan Boy will be disappointed, as they haven't been 8-13 for at least a decade, and take this stuff way too seriously -- stick to your Tarantino filters guys!
This movie also has the guy who guarded the Oracle in Matrix 2, Collin Chou as the "sinister immortal tyrant".
There is terrific wire action throughout courtesy of Woo Ping Yuen, and even an explicit homage to the "Bride with White Hair".
My belated review of this does see the film as being accepted by the mainstream if not the critics, which I can only hope translates to more Kung Fu films making it in alongside the deluge of "Male Chick Flick" comedy-romances. It appears that acceptance is all about the subtitles, or lack thereof.
On a side note, it is great to see the foreign stars, in addition to being in top physical shape, learn English. It is a darn shame to read mean reviews by critics here in the United States making fun of Jackie Chan and Jet Li's accents. Nationalism is ugly wherever it rears its head, and the ugliness of English Only needs to go away.
During my time in the military I had a Dutch friend who translated German for me, which means he spoke Dutch, German and English, at least. The closest we get seems to be JFK calling himself a Berliner.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Black Book

"Black Book" is Verhoeven's "Lust, Caution", but this review is not going to be a side by side comparison! Suffice to say you must see them both, if only for the differences in geography..
"Black Book" is on the surface an espionage thriller set in WWII. Underneath that is a desire to see people as they can be under duress, and the ugliness of human shortsightedness. Somehow I can see Nicole Kidman's character in that Lars Von Trier meta-movie in the tenacity of the female lead in this film. Both actresses throw their all into the roll and I am not talking just about the bodice shedding without body-doubles.
"Schindler's List" shared some of this movies narrative, in a darker more bleak here we are, talking about Spielberg, Ang Lee and Paul "Robocop" Verhoeven in the same review. All three directors took chances with their respective films, all three succeeded artistically if not commercially for their efforts. We win too.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Appleseed Ex Machina

Appleseed Ex Machina is apparently part 3 of the Appleseed Saga...but I don't think it is necessary to start at the beginning on this one. John Woo was one of the producers on this, so you can bet it is a slow, languid float down a river of sadness...
Or you can watch cyborg on cyborg gun ballet with some cool matrixized camera not because they have to, but because they can!
The story is another post apocalypse that hasn't decayed infrastructure-wise but is suffering the moral rot that seems to grip even the cyborg and genetically enhanced citizens of this computer controlled city.
Akufen is on the soundtrack again, who would have guessed glitch was the music of action?