Thursday, January 27, 2011

the Green Hornet [ Movie Review ] ***

 From the Asians perspective, the most memorable aspect of the Green Hornet franchise would be that the TV series helped launched Bruce Lee's career. Years later, the thing that is grabbing our attention  about this big screen adaption of the Green Hornet would be Jay Chou's foray into Hollywood with his rendition of Kato. We all know him as the Taiwanese music megastar who had done quite a few Asian movies recently but how will he fare in a English speaking role and will he be able to fill in the role that Bruce Lee had left behind?

Equally questionable, would Seth Rogen who played the lovable goofy dude that knocked up a babe in Knocked Up do well as the masked crime fighter? Or can Michel Gondry who directed romantic drama like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind be able to handle a superhero genre flick?

The result was that Green Hornet was surprisingly entertaining and refreshing in it's own ways. They took the Batman set up and gave it a spin of it's own. While both are rich man's son that turned into vigilante, Britt Reid (Green Hornet) 's conversion was less than noble (and more juvenile) compared to Bruce Wayne's journey. They both are aided by their trusty sidekick and an array of weapons to fight crime but Green Hornet does it by pretending to be one of the bad guys. And when it comes to taking on the criminal empire, this greenish duo actually rely on Lenore Case ( Cameron Diaz ) a secretary whom Britt Reid had hired to provide them with a master plan.

Are We having Fun yet!
Not quite the dynamic crime fighting duo but that where the charms of Green Hornet lies in. It almost felt like they were spoofing Batman if the Green Hornet wasn't such an established franchise. Seth Rogen's goofy charms rub off nicely on Green Hornet, a crime fighter who relies plenty of help on his sidekick. It made him likable while Kato / Jay Chou is doing all the cool stuff like kungfu fighting, preparing the arsenal and looking cool. The only thing unintentionally funny about Jay Chou's performance would be when he spoke in English. It's not the best that heard from an Asian in a Hollywood film but it's a commendable effort put in by the prince of Taiwan music chart.

This film also knew that Jay Chou could not perform the Bruce Lee's level of kungfu technicalities and chose to cover up with funky computer graphic (or I call it the Kato Vision) that bears hallmarks of Michel Gondry's handiwork. It was so fun to watch that one would forget to catch how fast or slow Jay Chou's Kato is punching or kicking (as compared to the legend).

Besides that, the buddy factors between Britt Reid and Kato were fun to watch. From their joint effort of stumbling into crime fighting to their squabbling over Lenore, there's a certain chemistry between Seth Rogen goofiness and Jay Chou's coolness that rub off nicely.

Last but not least, the various homage to Bruce Lee was pretty fun to catch too. The references to the one inch punch, moving too fast for camera and sketches of Bruce Lee images were just some of the homage that I caught.
the Gun got more character than me

But then again, not everyone will like this movie. The Green Hornet been getting mixed reviews (and mostly bad ones) from Review aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes. Some of the points that they made are relatable.

Christoph Waltz who had such a fine time playing the villain in Inglourious Basterds (and winning an Oscar for it) was simply not that impressive in Green Hornet. It might be that the script had required him to play a villain who is trying too hard to be cool and more menacing than what his peers think of him. Or it might be that he is trying to play a different type of villain that we saw in Inglourious Basterds. Nevertheless, the result was rather bland villain and every hero is defined by his or her arch enemy (which made the conflict between those two a little less compelling to watch).  

Where are we heading?
The story was also weak in how it construct the heroic changes in Britt Reid / Green Hornet. After the fun subside at the halfway point, it felt that it lacks a certain direction and was just podding along for the finale where the film could drown the audience with loud explosion and gunfights (which could get quite numbing after awhile).

But then again, the Green Hornet is not going to be Dark Knight. The thing is, go for this movie for mild entertainment and not for substance. Think of it as a goofy take on the masked crime fighter genre and appreciate their new spin on this genre as it is. It might be disjointed at times but Green Hornet definitely has its moments for fans of masked avengers. Come to think of it, I wouldn't mind catching the sequel if it's ever green lighted. 

Was it worth the 3D price?

The Green Hornet 3D felt like so much like a 2D movie that I wondered why do I have to suffer with a 3D glasses. There's absolutely nothing worth mentioning about the 3Dness of this movie except my eyes tearing up from the usual discomfort from watching 3D movies.

Beyond the Movie

Do you know that The Green Hornet is related to The Lone Ranger? Another masked crime fighter that originated from Radio and TV series. They were both created by George W. Trendle and Fran Strike. Britt Reid is the son of the Lone Ranger's nephew Dan. The Lone Ranger will be getting the big screen treatment soon and Johnny Depp might star as the sidekick to Lone Ranger.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives | ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ [ Movie Review ] ***

I am going to be honest. I didn't really get Uncle Boonmee Who can recall His Past Lives and if it didn't won the Palme d'Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, I would probably be less incline to try and understand what the movie about.

For me, a movie shouldn't be too overly abstract nor should it be filled with long takes of mundane stuff. Uncle Boonmee was one such movie that is pretty much opened to interpretation. There are also certain parts that would probably required some sort of knowledge of Thai movies or their history to appreciate what's going on. While some events are explicitly explained, there are many others that were left for you to figure out. Then there are still shot of an empty room for no apparent reason before the film cuts to Uncle Boonmee getting his kidney treatment in his room. These are some moments that frustrated me and made me wonder what did Tim Burton see in this movie that I am not getting.

While there are moments that are totally lost on me, there are actually some moments that were really stood out. The strange visitation of Uncle Boonmee's dead wife and his long lost son had a strong spooky atmospheric about it. Just imagine that you are in a remote area and a deceased relative suddenly appeared right beside you. Freaking out and running away probably won't do much good here. Beside that, the long lost son suddenly reappeared as a gorilla with very eery red eyes to inform Uncle Boonmee that there are creatures in the dark that are draw to him due to his kidney illness. It felt so ominous and yet strangely heartwarming that Uncle Boonmee could reunite with his love ones for one last time.

Then the movie shifted to one ugly princess who is having a secret affair with one of her servant. Just before I could even try to figure out what the linkage between the princess and Uncle Boonmee, the low self esteem princess proceed to have sex with a talking catfish! The most unnatural sex scene that's strangely erotic with a tinge of comedic elements that needed to be seen to believe. Till now, I couldn't figure out what does that scene got anything to do with Uncle Boonmee or his past lives. Was he the talking catfish, the ugly princess or the servant that got rejected.

Talking about past lives, there wasn't really an explicit moments that the viewers are told that what we are seeing now would be the past life of Uncle Boonmee. Such as the opening scene with a buffalo escaping from his owner. It was only at the Q&A session with the director that I realized that buffalo was one of Uncle Boonmee's past lives. He went on to explained that in the book, the buffalo had died and the spirit was hanging around a tree branch, watching his owner giving him a funeral.

The Q&A session and the various online interviews / reviews helped me to better understand what had transpired in the movie. Such as Uncle Boonmee's son who was fascinated about the monkey ghost and during his pursuit, he had became one of them. This was done to cite parallelism with the director's personal experience with transformation. But then again, I wonder without these assistance, would a movie goer still be able to understand and appreciate this movie?

Let me put it this way. Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives was just too abstract for me to fully understand and appreciate. I wonder how will the causal movie goers handle this movie. But after listening to the director and his fans passionately filling the blanks for me after the show, I wonder if there something that I had missed during my first viewing.

Uncle Boonmee definitely stayed on my mind for a while and it didn't really felt like a movie experience. It felt like a laborious journey that I had taken and be it good or bad, it's not something that could be forgotten easily.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Exorcismus | La posesión de Emma Evans [ Movie Review ] **

Exorcismus is about The Possession of Emma Evans. A teenage girl who happens to have an uncle who is a priest. The same priest who happened to fall from grace recently due to a failed exorcism. When Emma Evans started to show signs of possessions, who are you going to call?

It's not hard to figure out who going to help exorcise Emma's unholy squatter.  But it took so long to get there as Exorcismus had to wrestle with Emma's adolescent angst. When things finally became too much for Emma to ignore, she finally turned to her uncle and together, they discovered that there's supernatural force at work here.

Strangely, Emma was left on her own to convince her skeptic parents about her plight and the need for exorcism. Expectedly, her parents turned her request down and the runtime gets padded even longer. It made one wonder why don't they just left the parents see how a holy cross could fly across the room when it was place on Emma's hand. No sane parents would think that it's a medical condition after witnessing that kind of phenomena. It just felt like an unnecessary to drag of screen time until the inevitable happens.

But that's not the worst bit. When we reached the exorcism bit, it felt like a series of dental extractions with plenty of breaks in between. The exorcism just didn't seemed like it's such a big deal here. There are painful attempts to extract the devil but in between extractions, the victim was allowed to roam freely and basically left on her own with minimum supervision. Not quite your usual exorcism movies where the possessed individual would be either tied up or confined in one room till the devil's been extracted. There's no sense of urgency and needless to say, the possessed Emma went out to cause more grief and mayhem. Kinda hard to feel sympathetic for Emma's latest victims when the characters in the movie don't even seemed to care.

The better parts of this movie would be the twist at the climatic finale when the truth behind this possession was finally revealed. It managed to achieved an innovative twist to this tired genre. It did helped to explain some of the loopholes that were found in the main bulk of the movie but then again, the explanation does not really cover the weakness of the scripting. The problem with this  "shocking" revelation turned out to be just another silly adolescent tantrum gone too far. That took the shine off the innovative twist to the game and that's the only saving grace of this movie.

There are plenty of exorcism movies around and even though the formula been well defined, there are some good ones around and some not so good. The Exorcist is the classic that no other exorcism movie could touch. The Exorcism of Emily Rose / Requiem were quite good and Exorcismus would come in at the spectrum of "not so good". Weak plotting and zero on fright made this movie felt like a telemovie that could not be channel surfed.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Kinako: Police Dog Dream | きな子~見習い警察犬の物語~ [ Movie Review ] ***

Kinako: Police Dog Dream is "literally" a true underdog story. It's about a dog who lacks the right stuff to be a police dog but that didn't deter Kinako and it's trainer from trying. According to the press materials, this is a true story. There's a dog somewhere in Japan who had failed numerous times at the police dog exams but it's not giving up just yet.

The real question would be if it's really about a dog who wants to be a police dog? or would it be it's human trainer goal in life?

Meet  Kyoko Mochizuki (Kaho), daughter of a police dog trainer who trained one of the best search dog and had performed difficult search and rescue mission. Eager to fill her daddy's shoes, she enrolled into a police dog training school and encounter Kinako, a golden retriever. The pup's frail body and constant refusal to eat was a problem for the trainers. Kinako was deemed unfit to train in the school and there are plans to put it up for adoption. Everyone given up hope on Kinako except Kyoko Mochizuki. She slowly nursed Kinako back to health and the reversal in Kinako's condition inspired Kyoko to trained Kinako up as a police dog.

See! it wasn't the dog ambition or decision at all. Kinako would probably preferred to chase after butterflies.

The story progress with a strange twist. The trainer decided that Kyoko and Kinako were to represent the police dog training school in a police dog show demonstration. Both lacks adequate trainings and fumble big time at the demonstration. The media was there to capture the failed jump and strangely, Kinako's failure as a police dog captured the attention of the masses. The kids in particular found it endearing and encouragement started pouring in. That spurred Kyoko to train Kinako harder, but our lovable failure just kept on failing. Will Kyoko finally give up on Kinako? or will they go through some sort of baptism of fire so that Kinako could finally unlocked it's learning abilities?

Well the story here takes a rather predictable path. It's not hard to guess what's coming next. But the problem with Kinako: Police Dog Dream isn't it's predictable plot. Hachiko: A Dog's Story was predictable like hell but it was properly constructed to squeeze the tears duct. Kinako: Police Dog Dream don't really build a strong case on why Kinako is such a failure (beside being rather playful). It doesn't show the problems with these two underdogs and they could overcome their obstacles. It just spend too much time on Kyoko's perspective and an unnecessary subplot with Kyoko's senior at the training school just drag the story longer. In fact, the frequent close up on Kyoko and Kinako felt like the movie is banking on their cutesy factors and eye candy to draw the audience in.

Perhaps they should rename this movie as Kyoko: Police Dog Trainer Dream. There's potential with the material at hand but they squandered it by taking the bland and serviceable plot route.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Fighter [ Movie Review ] ★★★★

"Definitely a Contender"

Here comes The Fighter, the story of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg)'s quest for a boxing championship while dealing with adversities both in the ring and at home. His older brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) was once the pride of Lowell Massachusetts and had went on to fight Sugar Ray Leonard. His life took a wrong turn for drug addiction, he started living his life in past glories and took on the role of trainer for Micky Ward. Coupled with their mom's not so competent management, Micky Ward had no chance at championship and was starting to spiral into despair.

There are opportunities for him to leave his destructive  family and embark on his quest to be a contender but his love and respect for Dicky Eklund and his mom were holding him back. Now will Micky Ward turned his back against him family for his personal goal or would he be able to pull his family out of the slums that they are in?

The current buzz around The Fighter would definitely be on Christian Bale's performance and transformation. Heavily favored upon for a Best Supporting award in the upcoming major movie awards, it's not hard to see the rationale behind all these early accolades after previewing The Fighter. Christian Bale's rendition of Micky Ward's drug addict brother was so impressive that it's hard to think that's the guy who played Batman / Bruce Wayne for three consecutive movies.

Not only did he loosed massive amount of body weight to get in shaped of a drug addict, he also aced in capturing the mannerism of one. It's a matter of acting skill and immersing oneself into the character that he is playing. It's hard to find trace of Christian Bale and watching the short video of the Ward brothers at the end, I would say that he capture the essence of Dicky Eklund, a train wreck that steals the limelight wherever he goes. Though Christian Bale lost weight for movie roles before, this is by far the most entertaining and notable role yet.

While Christian Bale's performance would probably steal the thunder from everyone else in this movie, it would easy to overlook the effort of the rest to make this movie such a knockout.

The filmmakers used vintage filming technique to capture the fights of the past decades, effectively teleporting the audience to another era. Most audience would probably not realize that Mark Wahlberg had started training for the roles since six movies ago. Nor it would be likely that folks take note on how Mark Wahlberg did the boxing scenes without a stunt double. But it's the "little things" that made The Fighter such an absorbing experience. The upper cuts felt right and even though the boxing matches were decades old, the excitement of watching those fights were right on the edge of the seat.

It's both a pity and commendable effort that Mark Wahlberg chose to take on the role of Micky Ward. On one hand, the restrained mannerism of Micky Ward would probably mean that lesser of a chance at the acting awards for Mark Wahlberg. On the other hand, it made the less flashy Micky Ward so more believable and relatable. It's tough to get in shape of a boxer but I think it's tougher to stand your ground while performing with someone who got such rich material to play with. Nevertheless, Mark Wahlberg did a great job in making us root for Micky Ward, whether he is facing his opponents in the ring or the poisonous relationship with his family members.

Beside Christian Bale's over the top performance, Mark Wahlberg's restrained performance, the exciting look back at Micky Ward's fights, Melissa Leo's performance as Alice Eklund was noteworthy. One moment, she is a loathsome "white trash" who is ruining her sons's life and career. A quick turn and change of circumstance, her motherly concern and tears would moved her detractor. Like Mark Wahlberg, Melissa Leo's Alice Eklund would have to contend with Christina Bale's overwhelming performance but both Mark Wahlberg and Melissa Leo managed to stand their ground and bring something noteworthy to this movie.

The Fighter is one of those special boxing movie that engaged beyond the fights in the ring. Though this underdog movie is fairly predictable, it's the acting that make this movie stand out from the rest. The fights were superbly choreographed that it would attracts newbies and making them understand what there to lose or win in a tough match. This is one movie that blends drama and the ferocity of boxing into one fine entertainment. It would be interesting to see how Christian Bale and the rest fare in the upcoming awards festival.

The Fighter comes Highly Recommended.

Beyond the Movie

- It's sad to note that Dicky Eklund relapse back into his bad habits in 2006 and 2009. (Info from Wikipedia)