Monday, 26 April 2010
Thursday, 22 April 2010
The continuation of the Monthly Classics Double-Edged Sword series is this Saturday at Japan Society. This second-to-last screening marks the final appearance of Shintaro Katsu’s Zatoichi in our series as well as the introduction of Raizo Ichikawa’s Nemuri Kyoshiro in “The Sword of Seduction,” AKA “Sleepy Eyes of Death 4.”
New Tale of Zatoichi
新・座頭市物語 (Shin Zatoichi monogatari)
Directed by Tokuzo Tanaka, 1963
Saturday, April 24, 2010, 5:00 PM
Nemuri Kyoshiro At Bay:
The Sword of Seduction
A.K.A. Sleepy Eyes of Death 4
眠狂四郎 女妖剣 (Nemuri Kyoshiro Joyo Ken)
Directed by Kazuo Ikehiro, 1964
Saturday, April 24, 2010, 7:00 PM
More information on these exciting events is available at the Japan Society website:
If you are in the area check out these exciting films on the big screen.
Wednesday, 21 April 2010
RAGING PHOENIX (2009)
Directed by: Rashane Limtrakul
Written by: Sompope Vejchapipat
Starring: JeeJa Yanin
Cute, little, hard-as-nails Jeeja Yanin burst onto the scene with the awesome and underrated Chocolate. Managing to balance an effective performance as an autistic young women with performing incredible bouts of martial arts action, Jeeja Yanin proved she was much than just the female Tony Jaa. Her sophomore effort may be light on plot and a little frivolous in the character department but its nothing short of a stellar fight film, a shit ton of fun and quite frankly one of the best female fighting films to come along in an age.
Produced by the same team behind Chocolate and the Ong Bak films, Raging Phoenix gets down to business quick and rarely let’s up. Reminiscent of martial arts films of bygone days, Raging Phoenix takes a ludicrous concept (street gangs kidnapping young women to farm them for their pheromones to produce a perfume that makes people addicted to sex!), spins in some astonishing displays of crazy martial arts action (B-boy break-dance moves mixed with what seems to be Drunken Thai Boxing) and weaves a tale that starts off fun (lots of comedy hi-jinks with the drunken style boxing) before taking a more serious tone come the second half (the rescue of a character’s wife and some incredibly brutal one-on-one fighting) and caps it off with the quite possibly the most impressive, not too mention violent, female vs. female showdown seen in marital arts cinema for sometime.
Despite the slick visual look, kooky set up and a little too much reliance on wirework and CGI enhancement come the last third, Raging Phoenix is really what we loved about the fight flicks from Hong Kong’s golden age: minimal story, over-the-top characters, fast pacing and heaps of beautifully choreographed fight scenes. The action scenes are a delight to behold and Raging Phoenix is stuffed with them. Skillfully choreographed, playful, brutal and pushing the actors/athletes to their physical limits, the fights scenes in Raging Phoenix are up there with the best. They kick off more fun and lightweight incorporating as much comedy as they do hard edged dust ups. The opening fight incorporates the crazy idea of fighters on what seem to be pogo sticks but it all works well thanks to how well shot and choreographed the scene is. Likewise, the next fight where Jeeja first meets the gang of fighters she eventually hooks up with, has as many gags as it does skilfully choreographed take downs and techniques. The gag of Jeeja with a chair stuck to her behind (!) while using it to defend off bad guys is a hoot and a perfectly blended example of comedy and kung fu. Combing the techniques of kung fu, break dancing and fighting while drunk may seem ridiculous, and there is no doubt this is “movie fighting,” but it gives the fight scenes a kinetic and creative charge that will having you guffawing, cheering and amazed all at the same time. The best example: Jeeja’s first fight when drunk, as she kicks butt and busts some awesome dance moves.
And this is definitely Jeeja’s film. Despite being supported by a group of likeable and equally talented performers and fighters (who all get their chance to shine), it’s Jeeja who is the soul of the film. She may be cute, small of frame and shout a little too much but she is a fighting dynamo in the action scenes. Going from fun to gritty with apparent ease she also ups the emotional stakes of the film as she fights for the lives of her friends in several bouts of martial arts action where you feel every emotionally charged punch, kick and elbow to the head. Its great seeing a female get to cut loose like the boys and, to this reviewer at least, she can stand up there with the likes of Tony Jaa as one of the best action stars out there right now. She might not have to stretch her acting chops as much here as she did in Chocolate but its great to see her in a fun film that is proud to be a relatively lightweight romp with lots of kick ass action.
Hardened critics and martial arts fans will no doubt pick it apart for all it ludicrous aspects and yes there is a little too much reliance on wirework; not least in a very OTT sequence set on two rope bridges. But for the most part Raging Phoenix is a hugely fun martial arts romp that is made enjoyable by its female star and its acceptance of just being a simply told fight film. A pleasant surprise indeed.
I liked it.
My new review of Rain Fall at Far East Films (www.fareastfilms.com)
Wednesday, 14 April 2010
Directed by: Dominic Sena
Screenplay: Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber and Chad Hayes & Carey Hayes
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht & Tom Skerritt
Another big budget thriller unfairly dumped, hated on and ripped apart by the critical establishment, Whiteout may not be revolutionary in, well, any terms, predictable and hated by anyone who has the even the slightest aversion to Hollywood product (which is pretty much everyone these days), but it actually isn’t that bad.
Certainly it lacks any real emotional punch, all the characters just a little too “cool” and subdued to make them feel much more than cardboard cut outs. That’s a little unfair, as Beckinsale actually does quite well as the slightly melancholic heroine, the regulation Hollywood back-story of her accidentally killing someone on the job (geez, never seen that one before!), bringing a slight damaged quality to her Carrie Setko: a US Marshal Stationed at a remote post in Antarctica. But don’t worry; we also get many Hollywood regulation shots of her in her knickers and showering. While the premise and setting are novel and visually stylish, the characters needed more oomph, meaning that the quieter and talkier scenes lack bite and tend to drag the film into a lethargic slog.
Luckily the film has a Hollywood budget and director at the helm meaning the film looks fantastic in its snowy setting and the action set-pieces are staged with verve. Sure this may mean style over substance but nothing wrong with that sometimes and the film is still entertaining on its own popcorn terms. Based on Greg Rucka and Steve Leiber’s graphic novel of the same name, Whiteout entertains with the cool premise about the hunt for a serial killer in the most remote place on earth: Antarctica. It’s an interesting idea and set-up but let down a little by the fact it’s fairly obvious who is the culprit from the get go. Still, the dark, icy visual style more than makes up for this and director Dominic Sena sure knows how to stage a set-piece: which occur at frequent enough intervals.
Sena creates tension well, getting the most from a masked, ice pick wielding maniac chasing our heroine through the snowy confines of a remote outpost. The films opens with a ludicrous (but hey, ludicrous can be enjoyable too!) action scene featuring a gun fight on a plane which eventually crashes into the snowy plains. Over the top it may be but it’s staged with intensity and excitement. Likewise, the final confrontation set during the big blizzard is also staged superbly, Sena again squeezing out tension and suspense rather than going for CGI overkill.
Sure, it’s a pretty lightweight affair but a decent enough action thriller that for the most part is well made and offers up a fair amount of Hollywood produced thrills. Once again, not as bad as you may have heard.
THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT (2008)
Directed by: Jesse Johnson
Written by: Rick Yune
Starring: Rick Yune, Dania Ramirez, Bokeem Woodbine, Roger Yuan & Keith David
The hitman with a heart genre strikes again in this vehicle for would be action star Rick Yune. Having popped up in the big budget fare like Die Another Day, The Fast and the Furious and Ninja Assassin, Yune turns his hand to producing, writing and starring in his own action vehicle. It’s all a case of déjà vu really, The Fifth Commandment something action fans have seen a millions times before. Yune plays Chance a young orphan taken in by hitman Max “Coolbreeze” Templeton (a very cool Keith David). Chance is trained in the art of the kill, grows up to be the top assassin and then has a change of heart when his latest mission involves someone close to his heart. Cue: mucho gritty fighting and gunplay.
In terms of story and character, The Fifth Commandment is a little ho hum. The film certainly tries to flesh out the characters somewhat and its cool seeing how Yune’s character became the assassin is today. However, the story is predictable, Yune’s character not the most engaging or sympathetic leading man, and the great Keith David isn’t in it enough. Though his character does liven up any scene he is in. However, The Fifth Commandment is saved from being just another run-of-the-mill assassin decides to quit the business actioner by its slick photography, visually pleasing setting and a great bad guy in Roger Yuan. Director Jesse Johnson (presumably onboard here as a director for hire) works with what appears to be his biggest budget, the film looking slick and like it had some money spent on it. The Bangkok locations and camerawork are used to good effect giving the film a glossy, sweltering look, locations utilized to maximum effect. Roger Yuan (Shanghai Noon) is particularly memorable as the shoot first, ask no questions bad guy who will kill absolutely anyone in his way. He tears through the picture causing destruction as part of a murderous husband and wife team called Collateral and Damage (one of the unique and fun aspects of the screenplay).
In addition, the action hits hard and the viewer is never far away from the next bullet riddled showdown. There is a good mixture of gunplay, fist fights, car chases and explosions, Johnson and co assumingly trying to cram in as much varied action as they can. There is a brutal showdown in a rain soaked market, the final fight is satisfyingly punchy and technique heavy and there is a particularly explosive shootout in a police station a la The Terminator.
The film has a distinct 80s action vibe going on: high gloss action, that moves from point A to point B with little complication. Heck, there’s even a slo-mo scream in the rain when somebody dies. The Fifth Commandment is definitely geared around Rick Yune’s star wattage but is made watchable and entertaining thanks to Johnson’s slick direction and know how when it comes to the action department. If you are in the mood for some straightforward action thrills, The Fifth Commandment will do nicely.
My new review of Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl at Far East Films (www.fareastfilms.com)
Wednesday, 7 April 2010
KICK ASS (2010)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay: Matthew Vaughn & Jane Goldman
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong & Nicholas Cage
Does Kick Ass live up to the hype?
Pretty much earning cult status before it was even released, Kick Ass the, (sort of) anti-superhero movie, has been causing bloggers to buzz and fan boys to go into fits of analytical delirium since the Comic Con footage released last year and then those strategically released red-band trailers. Could this film really be the coolest, funniest, foul mouthed, violent, day-glow comic book film we were all hoping for? Yeah, it certainly is. And then some.
Adapted from Mark Millar’s and John Romita Jr's violent comic book of the same name, Kick Ass is about a guy who one day, despite having no super powers or any noticeable skills, decides to become a superhero and help clean up his neighbourhood. So, one slightly modified scuba suit and a pair of fighting baton’s later, Dave Lizewski (Johnson) transforms himself into Kick Ass. Possessing not much more than an over enthusiastic need to help others; Kick Ass becomes a sensation despite actually not being very good at fighting, rescuing or stopping himself from experiencing extreme body trauma. However, local crime boss Frank D’Amico (Strong) isn’t happy believing Kick Ass is behind the killing of many of his men. When in fact it’s father/daughter team Big Daddy and Hit Girl (Cage and Moretz), a couple of real crime fighting superheroes, who see potential in Kick Ass and want him to help them take down D’Amico.
Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust) manages to weave the cool and funny with the dark and serious and make Kick Ass a gentle piss take (albeit a very foul mouthed and violent one) of the superhero genre but also an almost pitch perfect superhero movie in its own right. Written and made by fans of the genre, the makers eschew po-faced seriousness and send up all that is ridiculous about superhero movies: the costumes, the fact that if anyone did become one, they’d be seriously hurt or dead inside of a day. But Kick Ass takes everything that is great about superhero films, embraces them and spins them into a wild whirlwind of ultra violence, abrasive language and 11 year old girls who can quite literally kick the ass of anyone.
But what is so great about Kick Ass, is that it isn’t just being “cool” for the sake of being “cool.” This isn’t a film that is showing off how cool it is for being violent, sweary and a slight send up of a genre. It uses these mechanisms to set a different kind of tone, a tone that fits the film well and that makes it the hoot it is. The comedy is rude and adult but often the simpler scenes of comedy are the most effective (Kick Ass and Red Mist dancing in their souped car while driving on the way to fight crime: one the funniest things this reviewer has seen in a while!) and the entire cast are game throughout. Good to see Nicholas Cage back on his game, actually being rather quietly effective and comedic (rather than out and out “mad”) as Big Daddy. Everything you’ve heard about little Chloe Moretz as the potty mouthed hit girl is right: a little whirling, twirling, and blade wielding dynamo with a choice in language that would make most sailors blush. But it’s Aaron Johnson who really kicks ass. An amazingly committed performance, he perfectly embodies a young boy who simply has a near unbreakable shield of optimism and a huge capacity for taking a beating time after time.
And the action? Yeah, it also, ahem, kicks ass. Shot, cut and staged with clarity and momentum Vaughn crafts exhilarating set pieces that play to the rough and ready nature of people who really don’t how to fight (Kick Ass fighting some goons outside a diner) but which thrill and excite at the same time (Hit Girl’s one woman assault on a shit ton of bad guys). There is one sequence towards the end that perfectly welds action, emotion, violence, music and intensity together which takes Kick Ass to a new level and shows this really is a superhero film that can run with the big dogs. In fact, the most surprising element of Kick Ass is the serious turn it takes in the final act. The comedy still flows but the characters we have invested in are put in danger and proceedings take a more serious turn. It works perfectly and shows Vaughn’s skill at handling the material.
Really not much more to say. Just see it and make up your mind. If you don’t like it, fine but if you don’t go and see it….then I’ll kick your ass…