Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Japan Society: SHADOWS OF THE RISING SUN



SHADOWS OF THE RISING SUN
Cinema and Empire


Japan Society are proud to announce the next film program in conjunction with Monthly Classics series: SHADOWS OF THE RISING SUN: Cinema and Empire.

This winter, a new Japan Society film series tells the multifaceted story of Japan’s quest for Empire and its tragic downfall, as seen through the eyes of filmmakers from Japan and China.

In four epoch-making titles, Shadows of the Rising Sun explores the conflagration and its dreadful consequences: the feature films presented, from Kon Ichikawa’s 1959 arch-classic Fires on the Plain to Koji Wakamatsu’s recent and controversial shocker Caterpillar (which earned main actress Shinobu Terajima the 2010 Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival), go to the confines of history and truth, beyond the bright madness of battle and heroism, into the metaphysical realm of death, evil, sacrifice and the sublime.

Schedules:
Fires on the Plain at 7:30 p.m. Friday, December 10
Caterpillar at 7:00 p.m. Saturday, December 11 (New York Premiere)
Devils on the Doorstep at 4:00 p.m. Sunday, December 12
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence at 7:00 p.m. Sunday, December 12

Experience these four exceptional films during a one-weekend only event.

2010-2011 Monthly Classics Trailer


www.japansociety.org/film

Monday, 29 November 2010

14 Blades



14 BLADES (2010)

Directed by: Daniel Lee
Written by: Daniel Lee, Abe Kwong
Starring: Donnie Yen, Zhao Wei, Chun Wu Kate Tsui, Yuwu Qui, Sammo Hung

Donnie Yen continues his domination of big budget Hong Kong action cinema with the visually stunning and action packed period piece, 14 Blades. Yen has been on a good run for some time now with hits like SPL, Flashpoint, Ip Man 1 & 2 and Bodyguards and Assassins cementing him as the number one star of Eastern martial arts cinema. 14 Blades seems to be continuing this run and is a welcome throwback to wuxia films of the 80s and 90s and a thoroughly satisfying martial arts film.

Yen is Green Dragon, one of the top agents in the Jin Yi Wei, a group of bad ass fighters and swordsmen who protect the Emperor and uphold peace in his land. Green Dragon wields the "14 blades" a case he carries with him containing 14 different blades each with a different purpose. Sent on a secret mission by the Emperor, Green Dragon is set up and left for dead by his own men. On the run and hunted by those he once trusted, Green Dragon has to reassess his loyalties and plots revenge with the help of a lovely lady and a band of crossbow wielding desert pirates.



From style, to action, to fantasy, 14 Blades is a delight for martial arts fans. As the plot unfolds and characters double-cross one another and challenge each other to fights, proceedings may not surprise in any narrative way but the film harks back to the golden age of these types of films: suitably nasty bad guys with dastardly powers that make them deadly in a fight, a blossoming romance, great locations, a wronged hero out to right himself and lots and lots of fantasy styled action. Director Daniel Lee (Three Kingdoms) creates a visually arresting, almost gothic like, setting playing to the fantasy elements of the film but keeps enough grit in to give the characters and fights a tough edge. Yen carries the film, playing a quieter more restrained hero for a change, not as indestructible as he is in many of his other films. In fact, he takes quite a pasting in the various scenes of kung fu combat.



The fight scenes are big and full of flight-of-fancy moves, techniques and magic. This being a somewhat fantasy styled action pic, the wuxia element is played up meaning characters can glide through the air, pull off impossible moves and surroundings are almost always destroyed in some way when two characters fight. This means we don't get quite as much one-on-one hard hitting fight action but the spectacle is certainly well handled and Yen once again shows how versatile he can be in the action department.

Unfortunately, ropey CGI does rear its ugly head one-two many times but it's nothing that can't be lived with. Lee tries to perhaps cram in too many characters, the somewhat fast pace not always allowing them to register on screen and Sammo Hung's cameo is all but a blink-and-you'll-miss-him appearance. Yet, at the end of day, 14 Blades is still quality fantasy themed martial arts cinema. While Yen seems to be making a fair share of period styled films of late (be great to see him back in a modern day cop actioner like Flashpoint again soon), 14 Blades is one of his most enjoyable: it looks great, it moves at a fair lick and is filled with excellent action scenes.


Monday, 22 November 2010

Mother



My new review of Mother at Far East Films

Click Here to read the review.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Unstoppable



UNSTOPPABLE (2010)

Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Mark Bomback
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine & Rosario Dawson

Simple storytelling: sometimes that is the best ingredient for making an entertaining film. While many bang on and on (and on) about "thin" plot this and "simple" story that, a film which is straightforward in its intentions, has characters we can root for and is unfussy in its approach to just telling its story can be just what us viewers need to be entertained as much as any complex, character driven film. That's the beauty of Unstoppable: a simple, straightforward story told well and excitingly. Not to say its characters are under nourished as they are perfectly drawn and interesting for this film but they don't get in the way of what Unstoppable is all about: a runaway train.




There is a runaway train tearing through the American mid west, loaded with dangerous toxins, and a couple of blue collar workers (Washington and Pine) are the two would be heroes who give it a shot at trying to stop it before it kills hundreds of people. They encounter opposition from various and nefarious bureaucratic types who want to avoid an "incident" but form an alliance with plucky track controller Rosario Dawson who keeps them up to date over the radio with what's going on and helps conceive of ideas of how to stop the rampaging juggernaut. From there on in it's daring and stunt filled attempts to stop the train, all delivered in Tony Scott's adrenaline rush style of cinema.



Unstoppable is an entertaining ride and harks back to the simpler days of blockbusting action cinema. We have heroes to root for, the set-pieces are big but done with real stunts and while the outcome is never in doubt, it's still a fun ride getting there. While events can't stop from slipping into cheesy predictability on occasion, Scott keeps everything rocketing along at such a fun pace he delivers exactly what this film is about, and needs to be about: a runaway train. The action, destruction and set-pieces are big and loud and are put together with charge and ferocity. Scott also mercifully forgoes the CGI root hardly using it at all, much of the big action staged for real making it much more exciting. Crashes, smashes, derailments and some very dangerous stunts making for an action saturated good time.

The two leads are on solid form playing their predictable heroes well and at least have good chemistry. Rosairo Dawson is on even finer form (and looking mighty fine) infusing her character with much needed spark and personality as she spends a good deal of the film talking over the radio with the two train bound leads. So all-in-all a rip roaring good time that makes simplicity work in its favour for some runaway train, stunt filled good times. Scott can't quite help but rely a little too much on the rapid camerawork and editing but certainly gets the adrenaline pumping which is what any good disaster film should do: especially one about a runaway train smashing through small town America


Born To Raise Hell



BORN TO RAISE HELL (2010)

Directed by: Lauro Chartrand
Written by: Steven Seagal
Starring: Steven Seagal, Darren Shahlavi, Dan Badarau

Reviewing new direct-to-DVD Steven Seagal films is now a cut and paste job. They are becoming less indistinguishable, Seagal playing pretty much the same character (himself!) in every flick as some sort of cop/federal agent/former special forces dude, who has to rescue someone (his daughter/his wife/his friends daughter) usually in Eastern Europe somewhere all punctuated by some decent if hardly ground breaking shootouts and fight scenes. While I enjoyed his last few recent efforts (The Keeper, A Dangerous Man), as they were at least a little better produced with solid action, Born to Raise Hell is a step back once again.



Ugly, predictable, ludicrous and to be honest, often dull Born to Raise Hell packs a punch in a few ok action scenes but it's all just run-of-the-mill Seagal dubbed and doubled nonsense. He's out to avenge the death of his cop buddy (ok, so it's not his wife or daughter this time) which leads to a rather anti-climactic fight with Darren Shahlavi. Yep, even poor old Darren is wasted in this. Despite being a proven action actor and fighter (Bloodmoon, Ip Man 2) he gets a thankless bad guy role and a fight with Seagal which lasts all of a minute and a half and is completely one sided favouring Seagal. Mr Shahlavi could have at least been allowed to get a few kicks and hits in to make the fight more worthwhile.



Maybe Seagal is just tired of churning out these low rent action flicks and should just retire. But I guess when there is still money to make, then why not churn out a couple more? It's just a pity the opportunity to be entertaining and another action star's talents are wasted in the process. Maybe Seagal just bought a bunch of action movie titles (from Today You Die to Driven to Kill) and is contractually obligated to make them (though I'm still no sure how anyone thought Belly of the Beast makes for a cool action movie title!). Some have been entertaining (like Pistol Whipped and the aforementioned A Dangerous Man) but Born to Raise Hell (a title which promises much action fun) is just a lazy mess.



Street Asylum



STREET ASYLUM (1990)

Directed by: Gregory Dark
Written by: John Powers & Gregory Dark
Starring: Wings Hauser, G. Gordon Liddy, Sy Richardson, Alex Cord, Roberta Vazquez & Brion James

Wings Hauser made some mad films. Vice Squad, Nightmare at Noon and The Art of Dying all push the boundaries of taste, absurdness and over-the-top action. But perhaps the maddest film he made (though don't hold me to it, as I've yet to see all his films: something I'm sure I will accomplish at some point!) was Street Asylum. It's not just mad but deranged, sleazy, disturbing and just outright weird. Directed and co-written by one time porn director and king of the 1990s softcore thriller craze Gregory Dark (Secret Games 3, Animal Instincts), Street Asylum takes a walk on the wild and dark side of Los Angeles as Hauser's grizzled cop trawls through the underbelly of LA. But while the film certainly delves into the dirty areas of LA and its characters minds, the makers also throw in a sci-fi twist with Hauser joining an elite squad of cops who have been implanted with some kind of special microchip which sends them into fits of violent rage and unrelenting lust. Yep, this film is pretty mad.

So with Hauser and his various cop partners all micro-chipped up, we go on a wild ride through the seedy streets of LA as no fetish or sexual deviation is left untouched. Inncoent people are gunned down in ultra violent fashion; one of Hauser's partners (Sy Richardson) continuously giggles like a school girl and attempts to hump everything in sight; some rather convincing, grubby and disturbing video footage opens the film showing people being killed and hurt in horrible ways; Hauser bangs a prostitute in a dirty alleyway as his enraged lust takes over; and with so much more weirdness and wrongness going on I need to go and take a shower just thinking about it.



Not really a cop film, not in the traditional sense anyway, and not much of a sci-fi film either despite the brain controlling plot device, one thing Street Asylum certainly is, is a pure exploitation flick. The film often hits hard in delivering seedy scene after seedy scene and it certainly achieves a manic energy that makes one keep watching no matter how crazy and weird things get. There is also a couple of groovy action scenes thrown in as well including an impressive scene where a stunt man it attached to the back of a speeding car by a rope to his foot and flung all over the LA streets in a high speed pursuit. Pretty cool stunt and just as bonkers as everything else is this movie.

Street Asylum is a weird film that could only have come from the late 80s/early 90s that probably had intentions of showing us viewers how fucked up the world and it's people are but will be more remembered for the complete looniness of many of its scenes. Still, despite the bonkers premise and the over-the-top exploitation, Street Asylum still disturbs on some level and, again, proves that Wings Hauser made some mad, mad films.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Axis of War: Night Raid



My new review of Axis of War: Night Raid at Far East Films

Click Here to read the review.