Friday, December 29, 2006

Review of "Scoop" (2006)

Scoop (2006)

Should be called Snoop instead.

Tell me if you heard this joke.

A dead man's ghost wakes us on a boat on the river Styx. He then tries to bribe the ferryman, which results in nothing.

Haven't heard that one, eh ? Well thats probably because it's not a joke but rather the plot of a Woody Allen movie. To elaborate, a recently deceased well-known reporter (Ian McShane) is given an amazing "scoop" about a serial killer from another dead person, while on the boat crossing the river Styx. He then chooses to appear in the middle of a magic box magic trick, to a former dental hygienist turned college journalist (Scarlett Johansson). And the magic act is Splendini's (Woody Allen's magical alter ego).

This is a very, very light fare. Don't expect, nor should you look for, more than there is. I have had problems with most of Woody's later pieces. Lets just say his best material didn't leave the disco era. I did like Match Point (though I thought it was a bit long), but I believe that my enjoyment of it was due more to the nontraditional Woody' material and lack of the the director's presence in front of the camera. So the question everyone dances around is : is Woody still funny? I say not really. Why is that? Is it because his advancing age just make his "shtick" not funny or that it reminds us of our septuagenarian relatives (with all their nutty quirks)? Maybe it's because his cute neurosis became full fledge syndromes after 30 + years. It could also be that instead of trying to figure out a mystery, we end up accomplices in a game of lets find out what's in this drawer (aka, snooping). Hugh Jackman is barely used and the movie could have saved money if they just used a cardboard cutout of the actor. Scarlett Johansson is major eye candy, because I found her neophyte character portrayal to be lacking. She is the only reason this movie gets any rating past a yawn. So I say skip it, indulge your Woody wants in Annie Hall, Bananas, Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex... or Sleeper.

Review of "Tom Yum Goong" (2005)

Tom Yum Goong (2005)
a.k.a. The Protector; Warrior King; Ong Bak 2
Prachya Pinkaew's Sophomoric Tony Jaa movie. Who cares if the story is any good?? Its got Tony Jaa. 'Nuff said.

After seeing Ong-Bak I didn't think the action and terrible story vehicle could be pushed much further. I was happily mistaken for one and sorely underrated the other. The action has now risen to "WHAT" status and the story has dropped to "WHAT" status.

Kham (Tony Jaa) and his dad are Jaturungkabart, the protectors of the royal elephants. This seems to include doing everything with the elephants : bathing with the elephants, riding the elephants, hugging the elephants, trimming the shrubbery, and martial arts training. For Kham, his dad and the elephants, this is paradise. It is the intrusion of other, malicious humans that causes a disturbance. This happen twice : first when the elephant mom dies accidentally at the hands of kidnappers (really, elephant kidnappers). The director cleverly uses various scenes to mirror the relationship of the remaining dad and son elephant to their human protectors (lone tear. wipe with tissue. jazz hands. juggling plates. - Joel). The second incident sees both elephants get kidnapped and Kham's dad get shot, at a local wealthy man's sponsored parade and festival. From there we go to Australia. Thats the first 18 minutes. You can cut most of that. I think I can reduce that to about 3 minutes of just titles and simple introductions with white overlays.

Minute 18:00. Scene : Kham party crashes. Jaa flies across the powder blue wall and knocks down the perfectly centered, water buffalo head. The kicking of ass thus begins. And thus I learned how many guys one can take out with one knee ? 5. That is also the number of minutes of action we get in the first 40 minutes of the movie. The rest of the movie is : boat chase, foot chases, chest-crushing knees, roller-blade-rs and bmx'ers attacking, fluorescent lights, transvestite Chinese mob boss, cramp-like kicks, elephant throwing and pulverizing elbows.

The best and longest action sequence is when Kham arrives at the restaurant (this is probably because I was parched for some kind of action). It goes from being a small restaurant front, to opening up into a multi-teared pagoda-like structure with a spiral staircase, a casino, brothel and rare-species dinning facility. The capoeira fighter scene in the burning church is also very good. The final fight at the press conference is also mind blowing. It is incredible brutal and so so hilariously ridiculous (elephant skeleton, Tony Jaa's emotional release, Nathan Jones and 3 other huge guys fight, a transvestite with a whip, elephant bones as weapons, tendons and a helicopter). Also the sheer number of extras hurt during this scene was incredible. Can you imagine the hospital bill ?

The end is predictable, though strange because it was hard to discern much of a storyline. So the need for a conclusion, complete with politically laced stop elephant poaching, protect the elephant, Thailland for Thai messages seem a bit tacked on. Prachya Pinkaew just needs to put Tony Jaa in a room, reading Shakespeare in English. So long as Tony kicks someone's ass during the first paragraph, it will all fall into place. Tony Jaa makes Parkour (pseudo martial art, see my Banlieue 13 review) seem like Tai Chi. Jet and Jackie seem like your grandfather after Thanksgiving diner, by comparison. For fans of martial arts and action movies, this is a definite MUST own.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Review of "Beerfest" (2006)

Beerfest" (2006)
From the director, writer and actor of Super Troopers, Club Dredd and the Dukes of Hazzard.....

.....comes Dodgeball with beer (fill in the blank at this point : _____ with beer. ie, "BASEketball" with beer, "Cheech and Chong" with beer, etc). After the death of their German grandfather (Donald Sutherland, who's cameo is obviously part of the plea bargain agreement with some law enforcement, somewhere), our beer-guzzling heroes go to Munich, Germany to complete their dead, drunken grandfather's last wish : to have his urn brought to the BeerFeast (kind of like the competition from Bloodsport, with beer and except without the killing and fighting. Those have been replaced by quarters and beer chugging). There they encounter their distant German cousins and uncle, who promptly disgrace them by beating them at beer drinking (and making them wear their uncle back to the airport). This becomes the point of the rest of the movie. That is the 12 month, Rocky-like training regime of beer related activity, where they bond and have kooky adventures while learning the real meaning of Christmas (okay. that last part doesn't happened).

Everything else you can probably figure out very easily, even after several 6 packs. This movie is definitely geared towards the "drinking" collegiate-humor crowd. To tell the truth, I had found the humor in Jay Chandrasekhar's movies to be a little underwhelming, like watching Will Ferrel in Ron Burgundy or Ricky Bobby. Don't get me wrong, I'm the last person not to appreciate sausage warming (performed by Frau Blücher herself, the Leechman), frog sperm collecting, Schwarzenegger quotes and an unquenchable ocean of beer. Its amusing, but thats about it. Its not as bad as most things Adam Sandler touches (Grandma's Boy is an exception but his influence is limited to just being one of a few executive producers), but definitely not in league with Grandma's Boy, Half-Baked, the Cheech and Chong Trilogy (Up in Smoke, Next Movie and Nice Dreams), Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Fear and Loathing and Office Space. The cameo's by Das Boot's Jürgen Prochnow, Will Forte and the German Chin - Ralf Moeller are nice but minor.

Its not even worth a watch over pizza and many, many beers. It's like when you were 20 and you couldn't afford good alcohol so you binged on the water and empty calories contained in $1 Buds drafts. You'll get wasted, but you'll hate yourself in the morning.

Review of "Huo Yuan Jia" (2006)

Huo Yuan Jia (2006)
a.k.a. Fearless; Jet Li's Fearless
Semi-Fictional, Demi-Political, Demi-Philosophical tale of Chinese martial arts legend, Huo Yuanjia.

That whole first line is a mouthful, but describes the movie in a most precise way. First of all my gripes. After watching Tony Jaa, anything that doesn't involve contact is not quite there. It's like playing the original Half-Life after you've tried Soldier of Fortune. It is so close, yet something is lacking. Tony Jaa's influence is in everything these days from Banlieue 13 to Casino Royale and is certainly not missing from this one either. The wire work and the Jet Li's fill-ins are the blemishes on some really great fight scenes. This isn't to say that the wire work is bad, because it is not. It is done in a realistic manner. I guess Tony Jaa has just spoiled us all. My second gripe is the demi-political message mixed in. Although there is no direct country mentioned, there is a subdued sense of communal nationalism. Maybe I am just reading into it, or if I am basing it on other movies (ie, The Bodyguard from Beijing, another Jet movie in which it ends with a full screen Chinese Communist flag fluttering) ?

Now to the good parts. This is a glorified tribute to the famous Shanghai martial arts master, Huo Yuanjia. You will remember Hou Yuanjia is the master of Bruce Lee's character in Fists of Fury (aka, The Chinese Connection). The above subject has also been visited by Jet himself in Fist of the Legend. The movie starts with Huo Yuanjia's famous tournament against the champions of the Sphere of Influence nations. We get to the Japanese challenger and then are sent into a flashback to Huo's youth. We are given the details of Huo's early life, his trials and tribulations. How he was, what he became and how he got there. This section is full of all the other parts of martial arts that have nothing to do with fighting (at this point I'm think fondly of Bruce's Circle of Iron). This all leads up to the point past the end of the opening scene and involves the battle between the Japanese master and Huo. All the fight scenes are choreographed well and are quite exciting. I'm thinking especially of Hua vs O'Brien (Nathan Jones - who recently got his ass kicked by Tony Jaa in Tom Yun Goong) and the scene where Hua has all the challengers come up at once. This is obviously a tribute to Bruce's dojo scene from Fists of Fury.

As this is a semi-bio-pic, it runs into the same inherent problems in the genre; namely that you must have something invested in the person already. The person must be someone you know something or care something about. Rarely does a movie in this genre make you care about the character if you are not interested. It is much like hypnosis, if you do not believe you will not be put under. I did not know much about Hua before this, but I was curious enough to get some background afterwards. Also, I have seen enough martial arts movies such that this was background enough to connect me to Huo. All in all, I highly recommend this movie and don't tell anyone, but................... I'm a real life giant chicken.

Review of "The Descent" (2005)

The Descent (2005)

I didn't realize my high school English teacher wrote a movie script, with a curriculum level double-entendre title.

The movie with a grizzly and tragic beginning is most easily described using the vernacular of a stereotypical Hollywood executive :

"Little Women meets Pitch Black in the Hills Have Eyes, while tuned into National Georgraphic, with a side of Cannibal Holocaust poached with Lord of the Flies in a gravy of Machiavelli's Prince. Now this is all on a side of Predator. And for dessert, nothing but Brazil. This is all occurring on an island in a sea of estrogen."

It sounds like someone just regurgitated their lunch, but not to worry. It is the end result of the "mash-up" of other movie ideas. The uniqueness of this movie, the glue if you will, is that it all takes place in a cave. Oh wait, there's the Cavern and the Cave as well. I guess all you've got left is an "atmospheric mash-up", with an entirely female cast. Please feel free to use that term.. In typical "horror" genre guide-rules, one must remember to start the actual horror some time within the 2nd half of the movie (preferrably around the hour mark). Then remember to include lots of things jumping out at you (shock value), lots of gore and blood (more shock value), and finally lots and lots of screaming. There isn't much here; unless you really, really, really like cave exploring with 3 or 4 backstabbing dog-eat-dog females. This kind of shock horror I've seen done somewhere else (and better). It is a nice distraction on a lazy Saturday/Sunday afternoon. Just you and Jack Daniels, engaged in some cap-topping activities.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Review of "Kronos" (1957)

Kronos (1957)

Who would think a planet destroyer would be this boring ....

I once heard this movie described as either you'll love it or you'll hate it. From reading some of the other reviews and the ratings, I would venture to say that this is true. I am placing myself in the hate it crowd. I have seen some truly bad movies, boring movies, and even low budget movies. This movie is bad on all three fronts.

This Island Earth's Exeter (Jeff Morrow), returns to his sci-fi/b-movie roots as Dr. Les (minus giant head prosthetic). The doctor and his assistant Arnie (George O'Hanlon - aka the voice of George Jetson), along with Les' girlfriend assistant Vera, are tracking a meteor. This is the crux of the cast and is almost a double date. Les has Vera and Arnie has his "Susie" (Synchro Unifying Sinometric Integrating Equitensor - aka the computer). Lets just say the relationship between George and his robotic maid, Rosie, (and his relationship with "Susie") is more believable than the cold, clam-like feelings Vera has for Les (and vice versa). The object of their all their interest is no ordinary meteor, however. It is really an alien art nouveau/art deco energy storage device, which moves around like a 3 legged dog. There is also the little alien "energy" being that controls Dr. Hubbel (aka, the chief scientist there). The alien is obviously and from the get-go, malicious and evil. Is this the kind of science we are handing out? No wonder the aliens from the Explorers were afraid of us. From watching some of these movies, we shoot first. There's no need for questions afterwards.

The whole movie is synonymous with watching some really boring science experiments, like boiling an egg or adding food color to celery. Its not the fact that this is a low budget sci-fi movie or thats its a bit cheesy and outdated. It is really, really, really boring. The whole movie is about trying to figure out what is going on. That is it. Most of the things we learn about what's going on are through monologues and self dictation. Now add crappy dialog, cardboard acting and cheap-sets and you have the makings of an Ed Wood clone (by the way, Ed has made some really boring movies as well - please avoid the Orgy of the Dead). The dialog ... oh, the dialog. Jems such as :

"..from under 2 miles of ocean ?

Why not ?! It came through a billion miles in space."


"Do you think you'll be able to respect a husband who's probably pulled the scientific boner of all time ?"

This movie is obviously trying to pull a Forbidden Planet, This Island Earth, Magnetic Monster or in the same light as the Outer Limits, Twilight Zone. Namely, a low budget sci-fi movie (or TV episode) that is compelling enough to get past the technical difficulties and strange situations. At the core, these movies are enjoyable on some level (the story, the underlying meaning or the sheer comical nature of the dialog or situations). This movie has none of that. It is just 90 minutes of boredom. I couldn't even enjoy this on a Ed Wood level. I definitely recommend skipping this one and seeing one of the movies I mentioned above instead. It is so bad, that if my name was Dr. Forrester, I would never think of showing this movie to anyone ... except Frank maybe.