Text Reviews Theatrical Review

Theatrical Review: War

FBI Agent John Crawford lost his partner in a revenge killing over an FBI investigation of Yakuza activity in San Francisco. The killing was carried out by am outside source, known only as Rogue. Three years later, Rogue has resurfaced as a war between the Yakuza and the Triads escalates in San Francisco and now John Crawford is out for total revenge.

And that’s the basic premise of the new action movie War featuring two of today’s biggest action stars, Jason Statham and Jet Li. To me this movie sort of plays out like Michael Mann’s Heat but for the short-attention spanned. That’s not a knock on the film in anyway, but there are similarities to Mann’s film, although this one doesn’t quite approach it in the same epic terms. This one plays as more a “B” film, but with some nice set pieces and a flip near the end of the film, that I can say at least I didn’t see coming.

I enjoyed this, but I’ll also tell you it’s hardly the best thing that I’ve seen this year. There’s a lot more that one could ask of this, though it does, at least to me, seem to cross all it’s “t’s” and dot all it’s “i’s.” Director Philip Atwill keeps the movie very fast-paced, but still it could’ve used a little more fleshing out, and probably a little more style and “oomph” to it’s action pieces (though some are very nice, including a final showdown in the San Francisco Yakuza headquarters).

Now I like both Statham and Li, and I can see the attraction to wanting to put them in a movie together (they’ve been in one together before, the science fiction film from Morgan and Wong called The One but that was before Statham’s star was more on the rise). But Statham isn’t hiding his British accent, though he’s distinctly playing an American FBI agent, and Li of course is Chinese, and here he’s playing Japanese- it’s a little goofy, but still having them playing accurate representations of their parts isn’t exactly what this one is about. They’re there mostly for some big-ass action more than anything else. They’re solid here though, with Statham getting a little more of the boost playing the “cop on the edge.”

Like I said above, I’ve certainly seen far better this year, but I still thought this was an entertaining diversion and a nice night out with the friends who I see movies with. Lionsgate didn’t exactly release this one for critical review, and after seeing the film, I sort of wonder why? I don’t think they had anything to be embarrassed by with this, and more than likely they probably would’ve expected reviewers to basically come in and say it’s purely for fans of the stars alone, but had little else to offer- but I guess you never really know. More than likely most will catch this on DVD than anything else, but still I certainly had a good time with it, and again where I saw it, it was shown in a digital projection room and that in itself offers up it’s own sort of fun…

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DVD Review: Yo-Yo Girl Cop

Magnolia Entertainment has done a fine job lately of bring over some very cool Asian cinema to both theatres and DVD lately. With releases like The Host and Tears of the Black Tiger we get some highly entertaining looks at other cultures, all wrapped up in very good films. The Host was a terrific look at Korea and Tears of the Black Tiger gave a great look at Thailand, and now Magnolia is back with a look at Japanese school culture, but in a very over-the-top way with Yo-Yo Girl Cop.

It’s the present day in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, and a young school girl is running about frantically with a bomb strapped to her chest, trying to get clear of the crowd of people- and then the bomb goes off! We learn that she was a special police operative who’s mission was to look into a website called Enola Gay, that’s counting down to something mysterious. The site is a resource for students without hope, and that leads the police to want to place a special operative within the school to find out more. There’s only 72 hours left to the countdown, and desperate measure force the “recruitment” of a new operative, a young girl named K, who’s been deported from New York is given the option of either serving the force or not having any hope of seeing her mother again. She takes on the name of Asamiya Saki and begins her job of uncovering the secret behind the Enola Gay site, with her only weapon being a deadly steel yo-yo…

Now I’m not that familiar with this, but apparently Yo-Yo Girl Cop has some heavy duty history and this is the first the character has been seen in 20 years. The DVD package touts this as from the creator of Battle Royale which is also heavily vested in Japanese school culture. To an American audience, watching this and taking it literally will no doubt have you thinking that Japanese schools are Columbines just waiting to happen, but yet to me this is all played very, very broad, very tongue-in-cheek, almost like this wild adolescent anime come to life. I really had no problems following it at all, but at the same time, again for a Western audience, you’ll no doubt see moments in this film where it just looks like logic has flown out the window.

The action is pretty decent in the film and it even takes it upon itself to make fun of itself in a few places (basically moments when Asamiya Saki is getting ready to go into action with her yo-yo), but once it gets to it’s end, it goes fairly balls out, and again, I thought very entertaining to watch.

Aya Matsuura is the young actress who plays Asamiya Saki, and again, near as I can tell, she’s a Japanese singing star who’s making her acting debut with this film. Well, she certainly does commit to the part and definitely brings an earnestness to it.

It’s a good-looking disc, in anamorphic widescreen with a 1:1.85 ratio and it features 5.1 and 2.0 surround sound in both Japanese and an English dub. I watched this with the English dub, and overall it’s pretty good, though the original Japanese will give you the natural voices of all of the characters. Usually movies like this I think are worth watching both ways.

This includes a Making Of featurette, that’s right in line with what Magnolia did for Tears of the Black Tiger. What this is is a subtitled TV special made in Japan about the film, and it features some nice behind the scenes footage, as well as some background on the various actors and actresses in the film. And of course, it’s very cool to see a Japanese television show like this, just to get a tast of the culture.

While I really enjoyed this, I can’t necessarily give it a good recommendation for a wide audience, but then I don’t think that’s who it’s for either. This one’s for fans of Japanese films, anime and manga and for those that like to see a little something different. It brings to mind for me other Japanese films like Takashi Miike’s Fudoh (though Fudoh is a way more extreme piece of work and definitely more for an audience that knows Miike’s films) and Suicide Club, a film with a similar premise at it’s core, but much, much more serious in it’s execution. While this doesn’t carry the same impact as either of those two, still I thought it was fun to watch.

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DVD Review: Dynamite Warrior

The year is 1855 and the location is Thailand. Thailand has just entered into a treaty that brings them into the forefront of world trade. But farmers can’t keep up the production with their normal resources, so they need more buffalo brought into pull their plows. Buffalo traders are happy to oblige, but they’re being pursued by mysterious warrior who combines his martial arts skill with a use of rockets and explosives- and he’s out for revenge, looking for a trader who killed his mother and father. All the while, progress is making it’s way through, and one slick character known as both Lord Sirokorn and Lord Waeng (I’m gonna refer to him as Lord Waeng) is trying to sell tractors at an exorbitant price. Well, no one is buying, so Lord Waeng enlists a group of outlaws to start to steel all of the buffalo and force the farmers to buy from Lord Waeng. And eventually, all forces involved come together for a huge showdown…

And that’s the basic premise of Dynamite Warrior a highly, highly entertaining Thai film (my second Thai film this year, my first being the equally entertaining Tears of the Black Tiger) that pushes itself as “from the makers of Ong-Bak” and that may be true, but thematically, this owes way more to Stephen Chow and his movies Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle than anything else. While this might have it’s historical significance (and it certainly looks like it’s been taken very seriously as far as the visual look and the lifestyle portrayals), believe me, the movie itself plays as more a giant cartoon than anything else, and really I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think trying to treat this seriously would’ve resulted in a stuffier film, nowhere near as fun as this is.

I’ve read other reviews online that have talked about the acting here as being very bad, and then y’know I just think they’re missing the point of the film- I think it is supposed to be as broad as it is, Dan Chupong who plays the Dynamite Warrior in question is typically stoic and he plays the hero well, but it’s the rest of the cast that makes this fun, at least from a character standpoint, in particular with the actor who play Lord Waeng. But Chupong excels with the stunt work, and really that’s what everyone is here to see, and you’ll see some nice stuff and some pretty original stuff too, especially when combined with the rocket attacks.

Dynamite Warrior is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format and available in 5.1 sound in both Thai and English dubs. This also includes a couple of extras around the making of the film and the stunts, and they’re subtitled featurettes, figuring that they’ve been created for their native land and then translated for domestic release.

Like I said, I just thought this was a lot of fun to watch, and it certainly gets points with me with it’s milieu as well, this isn’t a period I know a lot about and while I wouldn’t say this is at all a totally historical piece, it is showing me something on screen that I’m not used to seeing. Have fun with this one.

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Theatrical Review: The Invasion

A space shuttle landing disaster has brought an intelligent virus to the planet. This virus mixes with human DNA and changes it’s host, going from an individual mind to a collective. It doesn’t happen all at once, but the process does spread rapidly, but at first, not overtly. A psychiatrist, Carole Bennell is treating a patient who’s husband isn’t her husband any more, and quickly, Carole discovers that the rest of the world is changing around her.

The Invasion is the fourth movie to be based around Jack Finney’s novel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and it comes to us by way of German director Oliver Hirschbiegel, who’s given us a couple of really terrific movies in the past in The Experiment and Downfall. And The Invasion is certainly ambitious in both trying to be true to it’s source material but also find it’s own path as well. In my own opinion, out of the four movies, this is probably the least (I’d rank Philip Kaufman’s version as the very best- this one starred Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams and Leonard Nimoy), but that’s not saying it’s a bad movie by any means.

It’s a short film, and it does feel heavily edited and that there might be a lot more to it than what’s presented theatrically. At the same time, it certainly didn’t feel like something that was missing anything real important, just details that could’ve fully realized it’s ideals. One main idea that the film presents, and I give it big credit for this, is that it would take something like an “alien invasion” like this for humans to truly come to terms and live in peace, that by our own nature, we can’t have a world peace. And on top of that, it doesn’t quite get in your face about it like so many Hollywood films would’ve. That in itself is really refreshing to see in a movie like this when so many want to fall back on some tired Hollywood cliches of the authority figures being the villains- this one gives a little more food for thought.

At the same time, this certainly gives out the homages as well- particularly to Kaufman’s movie- using names like Bennell and Bellicec, and even going so far as casting Veronica Cartwright (who was in Kaufman’s film) as Carole Bennell’s patient who’s afraid of her husband, and an inadvertent key to eliminating this virus.

What it loses though is the whole idea of plant pods growing humans out of them, and the very dark endings of the other films. This one is resolved a little more quickly and is considerably more optimistic, but still pensive about the idea that it’s in our own nature to be cruel to one another. I don’t necessarily mind that, but have very much preferred the dark endings of the other movies. This one is also more openly blatant about what’s happening to the world, whereas the other films were very much isolated events, but with the prospect of opening up further.

Hirschbiegel has a great cast at work here. Nicole Kidman carries the film as Bennell, and she looks fantastic and she does a great job with the part. She’s backed up with solid support talent with Daniel Craig (this movie was completed before he became James Bond), Jeffrey Wright and Jeremy Northam- all doing solid work here.

At the end though, and I am recommending this film, this doesn’t feel as complete as it could and one wonders if perhaps on DVD this might have a bigger cut coming down the road. I hope it does, but still I think this is worth seeing if your a fan of the other three Body Snatcher films- this probably won’t upset any of them as your favorite, but still it offers an interesting take on the idea nonetheless.

Text Reviews Theatrical Review

Theatrical Review: Stardust

In this screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess’ fairy tale/novel, we see the story of a mystical world in England called Stormhold, that’s guarded by a wall from humans from the outside coming in. A young man named Tristan, who has more to him than meets the eye, has fallen in love with a young girl who doesn’t feel the same for him, and one night, as Tristan is trying to prove his love, a falling star falls past the wall, and Tristan proclaims his love in such a way that he promised to go retrieve the star for the girl who he’s courting, and from there… Tristan enters a world unlike any he’s ever seen before and learns a few lessons along the way.

Now, right off the bat, I’m gonna tell you this sort’ve thing isn’t my normal cup of tea, but with director Matthew Vaughn behind it (Vaughn directed the remarkably cool movie Layer Cake) it got me quite a bit more interested. I certainly respect Neil Gaiman’s talent, and certainly think he’s a fine writer, though I’m mostly familiar with his comic work, his work on the whole just hasn’t grabbed me the way that it does most genre fans. This isn’t saying it’s bad at all, it’s just not my cup of tea.

But with that said, and like last year’s MirrorMask, I’ve gotta say, Stardust is still a very good movie with my only bone of contention being that it’s probably just a bit too long, but other than that, this is a very entertaining piece of work. Matthew Vaughn has perfectly realized this world of Stormhold, and it’s all out there on the screen. And though I’ve never read the actual book, the script and dialogue certainly ring true to what I know of Neil Gaiman.

It’s really a beautiful film to watch, with a lot of great visual effects. My favorite of these being a flying pirate ship that catches lightning from the skies. there’s one scene involving this ship where it’s attempting to “land” in the water that’s just very cool to watch. There’s a lot of great set pieces in the film as well, one of the first that really impressed me was watching a witch (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) setting up a roadside inn and planning to use that to catch the star that Tristan has gone after. There’s a real nice convergence of visual effects, editing, and sound and music that really gives that scene quite a charge.

Good performances around in this film. Charlie Cox plays Tristan, and though I’m not that familiar with this guy, he’s certainly a very engaging personality in this film. Claire Danes plays the “star” that Tristan goes after, Evaine and she does a pretty nice job with the part. I already mentioned Michelle Pfeiffer above, and she’s certainly having fun chewing the scenery here. And Robert DeNiro plays the captain of the pirate ship, who has his “softer” side that’s the sort’ve of thing that I don’t know really works on him that well, considering who he is, but I still give him credit for going all out with it. Look for Peter O’Toole near the start of the film and there’s a great little part that Ricky Gervais has here as well.

We saw a late show of this last night, and honestly I was surprised to see more people in the audience than just the crew I was with. This is a very odd film to picture a mass audience going to, just because it’s different from other fantasy movies in that there’s nothing that’s real kid-centric here (though nothing objectionable as well)- but I don’t know, I’d like to see this do well, but could certainly see it get lost real easily out there too. While it’s subject matter, being this fantasy/fairy tale isn’t exactly my bag, I still honestly think it’s a terrific movie and wouldn’t hesitate in the slightest to recommend it. It’s been tossed out this past week that Matthew Vaughn’s next big project will be a film version of Marvel Comic’s Thor– seeing what Vaughn did here, I really do hope this happens…

Back Seat Producers Fanboy Smackdown On The Lot Season 02 Shows

FBSD Episode 44: On The Lot 112

Wow… America got that one all wrong. Zach was eliminated this week. I am totally shocked.
This has opened the competition though, and it should be interesting to see how it plays out.
The log line, chosen by a viewer, that is the theme of this week’s films is: “A man wakes up, finds himself in a dress and can’t remember what happened the night before.”

Adam Stein – Army Guy
Jason Epperson – Oh, Boy.
Sam Friedlander – Dress For Success
Will Bigham- The Yes Men

Text Reviews Theatrical Review

Theatrical Review: The Bourne Ultimatum

In what seems to be right on the heels of The Bourne Supremacy, Jason Bourne is still on the run in Russia and now having flashbacks to his early indoctrination. A British reporter gets wind of everything going on with everything with the CIA and the program that gave us Bourne and is trying to uncover everything, leading to a new category of covert ops called Blackbriar within the CIA, but the CIA is on to that as well and thus begins the cat-and-mouse chase with The Bourne Ultimatum.

Paul Greengrass is back at the helm for this movie after handling the last film in the series. Greengrass gave us what I thought was last years best movie of the year with United 93. For the most part, I think he’s in fine form here, particularly with many of the film’s set pieces. The chases and fight scenes in this movie are absolutely convincing as hell, filmed in Greengrass’ shaky handheld camera style, they’re just a lot of fun to watch.

Unfortunately, there are some points in the movie where it just falls on tired Hollywood cliches- particularly that the people in charge of the CIA are, of course, older white men, that any of the women involved here are automatically good, and that the project that created Jason Bourne is intrinsically wrong by the fact of the remorse that he’s suffering from all of the killing that he’s done.

I look at the creation of Jason Bourne to have a lot of similarities with a comic book character, Captain America, except that Cap’s missions have always been portrayed as noble, whereas in the space of the Bourne films, there’s nothing that shows that any of the missions that Bourne performed before his memory loss had any good to them at all. Now for these movies, and Bourne’s state of mind within these films, that’s fine, but to just leave it at that to me anyway falls into a cliche (and make no mistake, the third film leaves it at that). The end result could still be the same, but ignoring the fact that under this project that Bourne may have indeed done good for the country, just seems to push an idea of governmental pessimism that’s certainly popular for the time, but still becoming now an endlessly tired cliche. Personally, I feel that as a citizen of this country, I want agents like Jason Bourne out there in the world.

No fault at all of the cast, all of whom are very good here. Matt Damon continues to show why he’s as good as he is with his earnest portrayal of Bourne and watching him in the action scenes he’s totally convincing that he can do all of the stuff that he’s doing. Joan Allen and Julia Stiles are back from the previous film and joining in with this film are actors David Strathairn, Albert Finney and Scott Glenn, all of course playing the “bad guys” of the piece, and I think doing a great job, but that little bit of balance that I mentioned above just isn’t present.

This is fine as it is, I know with the exception of a particularly bad audience that we had, I had a pretty good time overall with the film. But one wonders just how much more meaty this could’ve been had there been a little more balance shown to the ideas and execution of the ideas that created the project that created Bourne. This is a good series and it wouldn’t hurt it at all to do that, to gray the line more than to draw it out in pure black and white.

Back Seat Producers Fanboy Smackdown On The Lot Season 02 Shows

FBSD Episode 43: On The Lot 111

This week the theme is Road movies.   For this week, each director had to feature a car in his film.

The lowest number of votes this week went to, as predicted (even a broken clock is right twice a day), Andrew Hunt.

The highest number of votes went to Jason.  For his reward, he acquired the services of Jerry O’Connell.

Adam Stein – Driving Under The Influence
Jason Epperson – The Move
Sam Friedlander – Backseat Driving Test
Will Bigham – Road Rage 101
Zach Lipovsky – Bonus Feature Two

Text Reviews Theatrical Review

Theatrical Review: Sunshine

It’s approximately 50 years in the future and scientists on Earth have discovered that soon the sun will burn itself out. Seven years prior to the start of the film, the Icarus project was initiated with the plan being to deliver a tremendous nuclear payload into the heart of the sun and hopefully re-igniting it. Something went wrong though and Icarus I wasn’t heard from again. As the movie starts, Icarus II is in the midst of trying again, closing in on the planet Mercury, when they start to receive a distress signal… from Icarus I.

And in a nutshell that’s the basic premise of Danny Boyle’s newest movie, Sunshine a hard science fiction film that’s in the vein of movies like Solaris, 2001: A Space Odyssey and it’s sequel 2010. And I think it’s a damn fine piece of work.

Boyle’s film, is not only a bit of a thematic throwback, but a technical one as well. It’s beautiful to look at, but it’s not at all a heavily CGI-rendered piece. If CGI is used, it’s in more subtle effects, but nothing as sweeping as you’ve seen in other films.

Now I’m no science whiz, and don’t pretend to be one. I bought into it’s premise though, Boyle and his excellent cast sold it well to me. I’ve read criticisms where people think that this is two thirds a great movie and that it falls a part for them in the third act. I’ve avoided reading why it falls apart, but I think I’ve got a good idea why now after seeing the film. The third act, featuring the discovery of Icarus I also has another event that I think is the one that’s hard for some to swallow, and yet I think there’s enough of a set-up there that it certainly rang true for me. It all builds to nice, if somewhat ambiguous, ending that I think again is true for the type of films that Boyle makes and is also very much in keeping with things like the above-mentioned Solaris (and I’m talking about the Soderbergh/Clooney Solaris, not the Tartovsky original) and 2001: A Space Odyssey) Boyle even goes further in his salutes to these films, even throwing in a nice one to John Carpenter’s first film Dark Star.

He’s got a great cast at work for him here… Rose Byrne, Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis are amongst others in the cast, but I think the real standout here is Chris Evans, who we know best as playing the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies. All of the characters feel like fully developed individuals, and Evans gets a very nice character arc in the film that lets him display some acting muscles that I haven’t really seen him display before. It’s a great ensemble all around, but Evans really does do a nice job here, making me look forward to more serious acting roles from him.

I really enjoyed this, this is the type of science fiction film that really speaks to me, and I applaud Danny Boyle for doing this type of film and adding another genre to his impressive list of credits. We had four of us together on this last night, all of us genre film fans and we all came out really enjoying the film, and I know for two of us, even enjoying it more after the fact, as we talked deeper about it. Very much looking forward to owning this one on DVD and watching it again and again, this one’s up there as one of the best of the summer for me (Ratatouille is still my big favorite though), and it will certainly be one that I’ll be considering as one of the best of the year as well. Highly, highly recommended…

Text Reviews Theatrical Review

Theatrical Review: The Simpsons Movie

Once again, in the town of Springfield, things are happening for the Simpsons family, Bart’s feeling neglected by his father, Lisa’s found a new love, and Homer has too, in the form of a new pet pig. It all culminates to yet another point where Homer does something that makes the town of Springfield declared a disaster are from the EPA, and encased in clear dome that there is no escape from, and yet the Simpsons find their escape only after the townsfolk come after them yet again… only to have the Simpsons being the one hope to save the day in the end.

And that’s the premise of The Simpsons Movie an event that Fox bills as 18 years in the making. This one’s been talked about for a long time, and finally it’s come to fruition and I gotta say, it’s a hell of a lot of fun, especially if you’re a Simpsons fan (which of course I am big time- I own all of the DVD sets and there’s many bits that I can quote you chapter and verse on).

Now the thing is, this does play out as though it’s one very extended episode of the show, and for me anyway, I think that’s just fine. I know some criticisms that it gets is that people think it should be more than the show, and it is in some ways (mostly technical), but that thematically it needs to go a bit beyond. I don’t know if it necessarily needs to do that, I could see it trying to stretch it’s boundaries and be an even bigger disappointment. What it does is give you what you know and love and presents it in a way that’s more extravagant and beautiful than it’s ever been done before.

And beautiful it is, it’s extremely well animated display an extensively greater dimensionality than what it does on TV. It’s a terrific blend of both 2D and 3D animation that really makes it beautiful to behold. And I got to see this in digital projection as well, even adding more to it’s presentation.

All of the voice cast are still there, Dan Castellanata, Julie Kavner, Yeardley Smith, Angela Cartwright, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer all do their usual wonderful jobs and this time they’re joined by Albert Brooks (who has also done an episode of the show), playing Russ Cargill, the EPA agent who’s out to impress President Schwarzenegger with his plans for Springfield.

Like I said, if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll definitely have a good time here. And they do, in some small ways, take advantage that they’re not on TV for this film (and there’s an extremely funny bit at the start of the film about why you’d go and pay to see something on the big screen taht you can see n TV for free). I know I laughed very hard during this film and that’s the best sign in the world that it’s working. If you’re a Simpsons fan, I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re not at all familiar with them, well then get familiar with them and then see this movie… great stuff here.