Apr 30, 2014

Review: Ging chaat goo si 4: Ji gaan daan yam mo [Jackie Chan's First Strike] (1996)

The fourth entry in the Police Story series of films involves Chan Ka-Kui allying himself with first the CIA and then the Russian FSB (Federal Security Agency) to chase down a nuclear arms dealer. Like Supercop before it, Jackie Chan's First Strike takes Ka-Kui away from Hong Kong for places like Russia and Australia. Stanley Tong returns to direct and the only other recurring character to make a return is Bill Wong as Ka-Kui's boss. So no more May which makes me kind of sad.

I watched the New Line Cinema version and it's pretty obvious that cuts were made here and there. Well not here and there, incessantly is more like it. It's like New Line took a rusty machete and hacked at the original movie as violently as they could. The Mai Ah Entertainment VCD and Japanese Warner Home Video versions apparently contain the full movie, but these copies aren't easy to get a hold of where I am.

Apr 28, 2014

Review: Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

Ah, young Keanu Reeves who looks exactly the same as old Keanu Reeves. There's some about Keanu that I just like and I'm not really sure what it is. It has nothing to do with him being a standup guy and he's honestly not that great an actor since he struggles to display basic emotions at times. He's just got something. By 1995, his action movie credentials were pretty well established with Point Break in 1991 and no one can forget Speed obviously.

Johnny Mnemonic or "just Johnny" is an information smuggler in the year 2026. The way he and his fellow smugglers can do their job is with an implanted hard drive in the brain. An important thing to remember though is that a smuggler cannot exceed the storage capacity of his hard drive, or else the information will seep into the brain or whatever and kill you. Johnny has a maximum capacity of 160 gigabytes and as you can guess, he exceeds his capacity and has a limited amount of time to get that info out of his brain before he's fried.

Apr 27, 2014

Review: John Dies at the End (2012)

Don Coscarelli helms this adaptation of David Wong's comic horror novel into what is a strange, strange journey. I haven't read the source material but I'm guessing that John Dies at the End is just as strange and surreal as its film counterpart. What can definitely be said is that John Dies at the End is pretty entertaining because of how weird and unexpected a lot of what happens is. At the same time though, all this weirdness doesn't seem to lead to very much.

The main character David Wong is trying to avoid being found. According to him, his surname is the most common surname in the world. For him, it's worth the confusion people get when they first meet him and find out he isn't Asian. He recounts the recent paranormal events that he's gone through to journalist Arnie Blondestone, making the movie told mostly by flashback with present day scenes interspersed.

Apr 26, 2014

Review: Joe the King (1999)

Frank Whaley made his directorial debut with Joe the King and it feels a lot like a tribute to the French classic The 400 Blows. It's about a boy named Joe Henry who has the misfortune of being dealt the worst kind of cards. In short, he's a neglected kid trying to make his way in the world.

It's a really depressing movie, sort of like Angela's Ashes but in the United States depressing. Things don't ever stop from getting worse and worse for poor Joe. Joe the King probably wallows in self pity maybe a tiny bit too much, but that doesn't stop it from being an entertaining movie. It's helped along mightily by Noah Fleiss' performance as the titular character.

Apr 25, 2014

Review: Ging chat goo si 3: Chiu kup ging chat [Supercop] (1992)

The next entry in Jackie Chan's Police Story series is Supercop which ends up going through a bit of a change in tone. Compared to its predecessors, Supercop turns the dial up on crime movie and turns the dial down on silly comedy. There are still some slapstick elements, comedic moments and Jackie Chan still has his comedic timing of course, but the overall feeling has changed.

That's not to say that Supercop isn't any good though. The stunts may even seem less grand at first until you get to the final 30 minutes where they are simply mind blowing. Quite honestly, Michelle Yeoh practically outshines Jackie Chan's stunt efforts and like the master himself, she does all her own stunts. She's got real talent and there is some legitimate chemistry between her and Jackie Chan. Not romantic chemistry mind you, cop chemistry!

Apr 24, 2014

Review: Non-Stop (2014)

Non-Stop, the latest in Liam Neeson's action career finds him taken to new heights. I have absolutely no problem with these movies, which are basically a genre in themselves. That's because I'm an action fan through and through. Superhero films just can't fill the void from those 80's and 90's actioners and Neeson's recent films come pretty close. Give me Liam's giant fists smashing the faces off his enemies and I'll be at least partially satisfied.

It's directed by Jaume Collet-Serra who previously did Unknown with Liam Neeson in 2011, so he knows how to handle him. Sadly, Non-Stop suffers from the overly used blue digital colour correction you see in a lot of movies these days, but the production as a whole is pretty solid. The $50 million budget only really shows itself in some of the CGI sequences which aren't very common anyway.

Review: The Farm: Angola, USA (1998)

The strength of The Farm Angola, USA is in the way it simply lays down the facts and lets the audience interpret. That's the best kind of documentary if you ask me. It's very simply done and it effectively captures the lives of inmates inside a maximum security prison in Angola, Louisiana.

Seven men are filmed and followed throughout their attempts at getting parole, filing appeals or just plain trying to survive. The prison they're in is known to be the bloodiest in the state and most of the inmates will probably die from either being killed or from old age or illnesses. It's a bleak situation that is contrasted between new arrivals and longtime inmates. As hard as it may be to believe, you sympathize for these men despite the crimes they've committed. Liz Garbus, Wilbert Rideau and Johnathan Stack who directed this documentary have done this by simply giving the floor to these prisoners and letting them speak their minds.

Apr 23, 2014

Review: The Runner (1999)

The Runner delves into the world of sports betting with a main character who has a gambling addiction. It's set in Las Vegas with Ron Eldard playing the protagonist who goes by the name of Edward. There are some interesting moments that show potential but for the most part, The Runner is a letdown.

The premise itself sounds good. Edward bets big and loses big from sports gambling that forces him to work as a runner for a criminal gambler played by John Goodman. His name? Deepthroat. He's a brave man to go by that name. For the most part, Deepthroat spends his time away from the action, chewing up scenes on the phone while he has Edward and his other hired hands to do his gambling work. Sounds good but there are problems.

Apr 21, 2014

Review: Død snø [Dead Snow] (2009)

As far as Easter films or films set around Easter, Dead Snow is pretty alternative as they come. It's a Norwegian movie about a group of medical students on Easter vacation who go on a trip to a mountain cabin outside Øksfjord, Norway. The Easter vacation is the only thing that really makes it an Easter movie but that's fine with me. It counts.

Nazis makes good movie villains don't they? Add a dose of zombie to the equation and we have a recipe for success. Let it be known that Dead Snow is in no way a serious horror flick, it's a parody of a whole bunch of horror classics like Evil Dead for example. The winks to its predecessors are all there but it doesn't quite hit the nail on the head.

Apr 20, 2014

Review: It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown! (1974)

It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown! is full to the brim with the typical charm you'd find in Charles M. Schulz's comic strips. It's a perfect mix of cute, smart and funny in a thirty minute package. A Charlie Brown Christmas is my favourite Christmas special that I watch without fail every single year during the holidays. Nine years later with ten TV specials and two feature films preceding it, It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown is a worthy part of the Peanuts series.

The story follows the series of adventures/misadvenures of several Peanuts characters. Peppermint Patty is trying to teach Marcie how to make Easter eggs to hilarious results, Snoopy is trying to improve Woodstock's living conditions, Lucy in short wants presents and Linus is trying to spread word of the Easter Beagle to everyone. All the stories cross over with Charlie Brown being an observer for the most part.

Apr 19, 2014

Review: Hop (2011)

In the world of Hop, Easter is like Christmas. The Easter Bunny rides some egg-shaped sled contraption pulled by chicks and he goes around on Easter to deliver treats. The bunny himself lives on Easter Island and manufactures chocolate and other assorted sweets in mass quantities for the children of the world. Or at least those who celebrate Easter anyway.

The current Easter Bunny is getting long in the tooth and is looking to retire. His son E.B. who is voiced by Russell Brand will soon take up the mantle. He's a bit of a wild child though and dreams of becoming a drummer. He rocks out to Green Day and therefore draws the ire of his dad who says he has to live up to his family's heritage instead of wasting his time on dreams of drumming.

Review: The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

The Man with the Golden Gun is the follow up to Live and Let Die and is the final movie in the series to be directed by Guy Hamilton. This is where Roger Moore really steps into the role of Bond with total ease. I do prefer Sean Connery as James Bond but I think that Roger Moore makes Bond his own in this sequel and I like the results. He has this kind of, alternative classiness if you will. The choices of suits and the smoking of a cigar are worlds apart from the type of style that Sean Connery's Bond followed. He's not an evolution per se, but a revision and I'm cool with that.

The story involves James hunting down a world class assassin by the name of Fransico Scaramanga played by the ever glorious Christopher Lee. I love this man and I love him in The Man with the Golden Gun. Scaramanga is known to charge $1 million per hit, uses a golden gun as his weapon of choice and is an extremely skilled shooter so Bond can't take him lightly. An item of importance called the Solex which could solve the energy crisis going on in the 70's is also in play between both men so it makes for an interesting matchup.

Apr 18, 2014

Review: No Pain, No Gain (2005)

The sport of bodybuilding is something I know of to the extent of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Pumping Iron. That's really about it. I'm an unbridled Arnold fan since the day I first saw The Terminator so bodybuilding is all the same a bit of an interest of mine. We all know that using steroids is a bit of a dirty secret in the sport and No Pain, No Gain's hero aims to prove that he can be the best without using anything but his brains.

Mike Zorillo is played by virtually unknown actor Gus Malliarodakis. He plays a former bodybuilder chamption who hails from Ohio. He's a farm boy who comes from humble beginnings and he's sort of lost his direction in life. He does however have these theories on some sort of natural steroid that can be unleashed to improve training gains but never is this "science" really explained in too much detail. He's challenged to compete in the West Coast Bodybuilding competition and it marks an opportunity to prove his theories right.

Apr 16, 2014

Review: Live and Let Die (1973)

Guy Hamilton directed Live and Let Die, his third outing as director of a James Bond film. He's famous for bringing what is known as the best of all Bonds, Goldfinger. Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman are for sure looking to repeat that success with the same team but a key component is gone. Without Sean Connery, we're introduced to Roger Moore playing the crucial role of 007.

It's a low-key introduction. Instead of On Her Majesty's Secret Service that hid George Lazenby's face for as long as possible to build anticipation of his reveal or Diamonds Are Forever playing the same trick as its predecessor, Roger Moore is shown pretty much right away. With an Italian babe in his bed of course. It's an intimate introduction because we actually see Bond's house for the first time. Pretty nice digs, that's for sure.

Review: Sleeping Beauties (1999)

Sleeping Beauties is a 13 minute short film directed by Jamie Babbit who is probably mostly known for But I'm a Cheerleader. I haven't seen it myself but I know it has to do with being a lesbian as does Sleeping Beauties. Babbit has made a couple of other features as well but it looks like she's transitioned into directing television episodes. That's a shame because Sleeping Beauties is pretty unique and I'm guessing that her other movies are as well despite the less than positive critical reception.

This short film takes the story of Sleeping Beauty and turns it upside down. Instead of a prince who arrives to kiss the princess and wake her up, we get two princesses. And why shouldn't we? Really when you think about it, the whole waking up from a kiss is highly inappropriate. The prince and princess don't know each other at all so think of what it would be like to be woken up by a kiss from a total stranger. Sleeping Beauty makes the joke that the prince is actually a date rapist.

So instead of the man and woman we're used to from the fairy tale we get two women. We should be outraged right? Well I guess that's subjective but this definitely isn't a movie for the Westboro Baptist Church.

Review: Our Friend, Martin (1999)

Our Friend, Martin is about a group of kids who time travel back to watch Martin Luther King Jr. evolve into his leadership role in the American civil rights movement. Robert Ri'chard voices the main character Miles. He's an African-American boy in sixth grade who's on the verge of having to be kept back a year. What's Miles gotta do? Ace a project on Martin Luther King Jr. 

There is a stacked cast in Our Friend, Martin from Whoopi Goldberg to John Travolta. It's all for a good cause though because this is first and foremost an educational movie for younger people. Money is not part of the equation here. All the same I got some opening credit shock seeing all these big players in one movie. The most amusing of all is Samuel L. Jackson's role which isn't really supposed to be funny because it comes at what is supposed to be a tense and serious moment.

Apr 14, 2014

Review: jOBS (2013)

Everyone is familiar with Steve Jobs, probably the most famous of all executives for a company ever. His impact on computing is undeniable and a movie of his life was inevitable following his death in 2011. jOBS is a missed opportunity in properly showcasing Steve Jobs' life because of its insistence on turning his life into a series of episodes that don't build on one another.

It covers his life from 1974 while he was still a student until 2001 with his unveiling of the iPod which the latter is actually the episode that opens up the movie. Nothing wrong with that really, it's supposed to make us the viewers wonder, "Now how did he get there?" jOBS does the best it can to show that but it stretches itself too thin.

Apr 13, 2014

Review: Joan of Arc (1999)

Joan of Arc or otherwise known as The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc is a biopic on the famous martyr Joan of Arc. It's produced by the French film studio Gaumont but clearly made for North American tastes. So usually that means that we get everything in English but with French accents. In Joan of Arc though, this isn't always the case, namely Milla Jovovich who plays Joan doesn't put on any accent but I think that would have been impossible anyhow.

At the very least, there is a good lineup of French actors backing up Milla who bring some credibility. An inexplicable casting decision though is John Malkovich as Charles VII of France. He seems to have a thing with playing Frenchmen because he was also Paul Sauvage in Johnny English. I like Malkovich a whole bunch but frankly it's weird having him as the Dauphin, soon to be king of France speaking in English with at times totally modern dialogue. That's the thing about the dialogue in Joan of Arc,  it's extremely uneven because some characters speak in an older English and others speak in modern English. It makes for a really bizarre feel.

Apr 12, 2014

Review: Jinnah (1998)

One of my favourite elder statesmen of acting, Christopher Lee stars as Muhammad Ali Jinnah who is known as the founder of Pakistan. To say that the separation of Pakistan from India is a prickly chapter in history is an understatement. Seeing these events from the point of view of Jinnah is an interesting perspective and I feel that this film does a good job at presenting events as neutrally as possible which isn't easy.

Jinnah tells the story of Muhammad Ali Jinnah's life from his younger days and onwards. The story is told while a dead Jinnah watches over his life unfolding as he is being judged by a gatekeeper of Heaven. I agree, it does sound totally ridiculous in writing and it might be easy to roll your eyes when we're introduced to this in the movie but strangely it works pretty well. The reason why is because Jinnah is a controversial figure. In these moments with the gatekeeper he answers his motivations the best he can, at times visibly struggling.

Apr 11, 2014

Review: Tachiguishi retsuden [Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters] (2006)

Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters is one of the weirdest movies I've seen recently. It's part of the Kerberos saga alongside The Red Spectacles, StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops and Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade. Although the story does relate a bit to The Red Spectacles, it's so different from any of the movies in this series.

It plays out as a history of food documentary in Japan but set in the world of the Kerberos saga. You could say it's a mockumentary. Also, it has animated and live action sequences intermixed. It all makes for a really bizarre creation. The animation itself is reminiscent of what you'd see in the Paper Mario video game.

Review: Mon frère se marie (2006)

Mon frère se marie sounds like it could be the perfect American romantic comedy doesn't it? In English, the title would be something like "My Brother's Getting Married." Starring Vince Vaughn and Katherine Heigl. What the hell, let's throw in Dane Cook for support. Actually, Mon frère se marie did get remade and I had no idea until after having seen it. This American classic is none other than The Big Wedding, so hold onto your hats for when I review that title in the near future.

Mon frère se marie is not a comedy if you ask me, even though it's the only genre that IMDB lists. It's a straight drama. It's about Vinh of Vietnam who was seven years old when he was adopted by Michel and Claire, two Swiss residents. They also already had two children as well. Vinh continued to keep in contact with his mother despite his big move which was something that was actively encouraged. Over time, Michel and Claire divorced among a series of other family problems that developed.

Apr 10, 2014

Review: Macskafogó 2 - A sátán macskája [Catcher: Cat City 2] (2007)

Catcher: Cat City 2 is the sequel to the strangely entertaining Hungarian animated movie Cat City. The spy/comedy formula worked well for a variety of reasons but almost none of these reasons make an appearance in Cat City 2. In short, it plays like any other direct-to-video animated release without being a direct-to-video release.

The story takes place about 20 years after the events of Cat City. All is well in society ever since the cats have been tamed. Stanley is a journalist/explorer going through a jungle and he stumbles on an untamed society of tribal cats who still rule over mice. Learning that cats no longer rule anywhere else, these tribal cats summon a giant devil cat to help the rest of the world's cats to take back control.

Apr 9, 2014

Review: Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

This is my second time watching Diamonds are Forever as I've been going through the series for fun once again. For the first time, I wasn't all that impressed with Diamonds even though it was considered a huge victory getting Sean Connery to come back as James Bond. A record-setting $1.25 million salary was what it took to get Sean back in the fold, despite his insistence that he didn't want to do Bond anymore. According to the US Department of Labor, that's $7.2 million in 2014 dollars. Quite a far cry from the $20 million salaries we see today.

So as I was saying, I wasn't that impressed with Diamonds Are Forever back when I first saw it. It isn't very original and it still isn't the second time watching it. Does that make it any less fun? I don't think so. My opinion of Diamonds has definitely softened for some reason. As far as Bond movies go, this is far from the best but it gets the job done.

Apr 8, 2014

Review: Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal (2007)

Is Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal a Bollywood remake of Goal! or not? I guess the answer is more no than yes. It seems like it's trying to capitalize on the title of Goal! but beyond featuring football there isn't really anything else that's similar. It's centered around a community of Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis who play in a football club on the side of their regular jobs.

Sunny Bhasin who is played by John Abraham is a talented player trying to break into a starting role on the Aston squad. He's the only Pakistani on the team and as a result gets singled out and doesn't get the role he actually deserves as a result. Racism is a recurring theme throughout Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal but never really explored very deeply. It feels cartoony in the way it's presented.

Apr 7, 2014

Review: As Cool as I Am (2013)

As Cool as I Am can be summed up as a mash-up of popular coming-of-age tropes. There's nothing exactly wrong with that if it were to shed some new light on these issues or actually develop them. That's where As Cool as I Am fails miserably. There are many conflicts that confront Lucy Diamond but hardly any of them go anywhere.

It also doesn't help that the director fails to properly showcase Claire Danes and James Marsden. I don't think they're the most talented actors in Hollywood but they're not hacks either. As Cool as I Am could have used some additional takes to improve the situation but as a result it's botched and looks rushed.

Apr 6, 2014

Review: Jin-Rô [Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade] (1999)

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is the third movie in the Kerberos series following The Red Spectacles and StrayDog. Unlike the previous two, Jon-Roh is completely animated and it is not directed by Mamoru Oshii. He wrote the story for Jin-Roh but it looks like he was pushed out of directing since his directorial efforts for the previous two films did not succeed commercially.

Without Oshii, Jin-Roh feels a whole lot less weird which is OK. I appreciate his efforts for sure and I like a weird movie from time to time. He makes for a good screenwriter though and Hiroyuki Okiura has done a good job at adapting Oshii's vision. It's much more accessible but not in a detrimental way. 

Apr 5, 2014

Review: Jigoku no banken: kerubersu [StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops] (1991)

The follow-up to Mamoru Oshii's The Red Spectacles is in fact a prequel, set in the time before
Koichi Todome goes back to Japan. We get a look at the final stand of the Kerberos Panzer cops before their demise and we're introduced to a new character named Inui.

He's actually the main character of this film and he's on a hunt to find Koichi. He holds a bit of a grudge against Koichi because of the fact that he was their leader and abandoned them. I had mentioned in my review for The Red Spectacles that cats were used very symbolically throughout and this time, it's dogs that are. The concept of dog and master is very important at advancing the plot and that's why Koichi's abandonment is so important.

Review: Jigoku no banken: akai megane [The Red Spectacles] (1987)

The Red Spectacles seems to be an odd mix of a variety of genres. There's elements of sci-fi, film-noir, action and at times slapstick comedy. Sounds pretty weird right? You'd be right and I'd be lying if I said that I understood 100% of everything that happened in this film.

The Red Spectacles uses a lot of literary references that escaped my ability to tie them into the story. All the same, the story is intriguing enough. It's set in a dystopian version of the late 90's where crime has risen to never before seen levels. The government creates a special police force that start to use questionable methods before being disbanded. They're branded traitors and are fugitives.

Apr 4, 2014

Review: Macskafogó [Cat City] (1986)

Cat City is a Hungarian animated film that plays out like a wacky and bizarre spy/thriller. It can leave you scratching your head wondering what the hell just happened but that's what makes it interesting. It's set in a world populated by cats, rats, bats and mice but these aren't at all your cutesy animated animal movies from American mainstream cinema. 

There's some violence, right from the beginning actually but for the most part it's cartoony violence like you'd see in Looney Toons. What's truly baffling is the amount of sexual content that's presented. We're shown plenty of cat and rat cleavage which is just so weird but strangely amusing at the same time. I think it's an attempt at spoofing Western spy movies since there are some other good natured jabs at Western movies.

Apr 1, 2014

Review: Strike! (1998)

It looks like this film had a little difficulty getting itself out there to the masses. It was financed by Alliance Atlantis and picked up by Miramax, small/indie film expert of the 90's. It was given no less than three titles depending on the market; Stike! for Canada, All I Wanna Do for the US and only Australia got the original title of The Hairy Bird. I can understand the decision from a marketing point of view, but both the Canadian and American titles are particularly boring. Are us North Americans that afraid of hints at penises? 

The film announces itself as quirky from the opening credits. We're introduced to Abby Sawyer, played by Rachael Leigh Cook, who gets put into a private all-girls boarding school because she got caught trying to have sex with a boy. She's strong-willed and she's got an interesting mastery of the English language. However, it looks like her worst fears are going to come true when shown around the school. It's stuffy, proper and there's no way she'll ever be free to be herself.