1911 (2011)

1911 [辛亥革命] (2011)
AKA 1911 Revolution

Starring Jackie Chan, Winston Chao Wen-Hsuan, Li Bing-Bing, Sun Chun, Joan Chen, Jiang Wu, Jaycee Chan Cho-Ming, Hu Ge, Ning Jing, Yu Shao-Qun, Dennis To, Huang Zhi-Zhong, Mei Ting, Xing Jia-Dong, Bobo Hu Ming, Huo Qing, Qi Dao, Tao Ze-Ru, Olivia Wang Zi-Wen, Michael Lacidonia

Directed by Jackie Chan & Zhang Li

Expectations: I don’t expect traditional Jackie.


1911 was released in 2011 to celebrate the centennial of the momentous rebellion that ended 2,000 years of imperial rule and established the Republic of China. It is a film painted in broad strokes, seeking to tell the story of the Xinhai Revolution from the Second Guangzhou Uprising (April 27, 1911) to the swearing in of Yuan Shikai as the second Provisional President of the Republic of China. Major players like Sun Yat-Sen (Winston Chao Wen-Hsuan) and Huang Xing (Jackie Chan) are well-represented, but the film isn’t specifically about them; it’s about China and the overall effort of all involved that led to the revolution’s success. This makes 1911 more detached and broad than is traditional in American historical films, but it does exactly what it sets out to do very well. It’s a film likely to divide audiences, but I definitely enjoyed it and look forward to revisiting it in the future.

The film begins five months before the Second Guangzhou Uprising, as the members of the Tongmenghui are gathered in Malaysia for the 1910 Penang conference. There Sun Yat-Sen and the other leaders (such as Huang Xing) planned the upcoming uprising against the corrupt Qing government. The men are on the brink of going to war, but we see them in the quiet days beforehand, when they are still able to enjoy frolicking on the Malaysian beach. After the meeting, Sun Yat-Sen left to continue fundraising efforts among the overseas Chinese sympathetic to the cause. Over the course of 1911, we follow both Sun Yat-Sen in the US and Huang Xing as he leads the troops into battle. The importance of both men’s actions (and hundreds of others, as well) is brought into sharp focus by crafting the film like this, and it becomes easy to understand how the rebellion was able to succeed despite going up against the much more powerful Qing government. It was a war on two fronts, waged physically and mentally.

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The Spy Next Door (2010)

AKA Spy Daddy, Kung Fu Nanny, Double Mission

Starring Jackie Chan, Amber Valletta, Madeline Carroll, Will Shadley, Alina Foley, Magnús Scheving, Billy Ray Cyrus, George Lopez, Katherine Boecher, Mia Stallard, Maverick McWilliams, Quinn Mason, Lucas Till

Directed by Brian Levant

Expectations: I don’t expect much at all.


I don’t know what I expected this movie to be, other than the reasonable assumption that it’d be another in a long line of Jackie Chan spy movies. When the movie began with a montage of old Jackie Chan spy movies, I was surprised and taken aback. Why would a movie open with a montage of movies that it has no chance of matching? But as the story of The Spy Next Door developed, this opening actually makes a lot of sense. By opening with the old, amazing clips, we see how Jackie has defended the world against insurmountable odds throughout his career; he is an indestructible machine capable of taking on literally anything the villains can throw his way. But one thing Jackie has never had to contend with on-screen is the more mundane, everyday task of managing a family and earning the respect and trust of potential step-children. So while this is “another Jackie Chan spy movie,” it is unique among the bunch.

Jackie plays Bob Ho, international spy on loan to the CIA and living life undercover in New Mexico as an importer of pens. His neighbor and main squeeze is Gillian (Amber Valletta), a single mother of three: seven-year-old Nora (Alina Foley), 10-year-old Ian (Will Shadley), and teenager Farren (Madeline Carroll). Bob and Gillian’s relationship is getting serious, and Bob wants to finally divulge his true profession, retire and begin a new life with Gillian. But because it’s a movie, he’s interrupted by an urgent job which complicates matters, and before you know it, Bob is tasked with caring for the three kids on his own while a group of Russians hunts him down.

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Puppet Master: Axis Termination (2017)

Starring George Appleby, Tonya Kay, Paul Logan, Kevin Scott Allen, Tania Fox, Alynxia America, Lilou Vos, Daniele Romer, Kyle Devero, Allen Perada, Jean Louise O’Sullivan, Kip Canyon, Rob Vardaro

Puppet Cast: Blade, Jester, Pinhead, Tunneler, Leech Women, Six Shooter, Blitzkrieg, Bombshell, Weremacht

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


If I remember right, sometime around the release of the last Puppet Master movie, 2012’s Axis Rising, Charles Band announced that Full Moon would give the people what they want and deliver a new Puppet Master film every year. They do it with the Evil Bong films, but with Puppet Master I thought it was an especially ambitious claim. It is one they did not make good on, but given the attention paid to the production of Puppet Master: Axis Termination it definitely ended up better for everyone. Five years is a long time, but a good movie is worth more than five half-ass ones with a meager handful of tepid thrills. So yeah, the new Puppet Master is a fantastic addition to the series.

The story is not the film’s strong point, but I doubt anyone would’ve expected it to be. It’s basically just Toulon’s puppets vs. the Nazi puppets like the previous Axis films, but now with better characters! Not in terms of their depth or anything high-brow like that, more like the vanilla-white couple of Danny (Kip Canyon) and Beth (Jean Louise O’Sullivan) are immediately killed off and replaced with a musclebound soldier (Paul Logan), the dwarf magician Dr. Ivan Ivanov from Decadent Evil (now played by George Appleby) and a voodoo priestess (Alynxia America). The Nazis boast a powerful magician of their own in Sturmbahnfurher Steiner Krabke (Kevin Scott Allen), as well as his boss, the strong-willed puppet master Doktor Gerde Ernst (Tonya Kay). Maybe I’m just rusty with my Puppet Master knowledge, but I don’t ever remember this kind of purely magical stuff in the series, but regardless I loved the flavor it added to the film.

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Stephen reviews: Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos (2011)

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos [Fullmetal Alchemist: Milos no Sei-Naru Hoshi 鋼の錬金術師 嘆きの丘(ミロス)の聖なる星] (2011)

Starring Rie Kugimiya, Romi Park, Hidenobu Kiuchi, Maaya Sakamoto, Toshiyuki Morikawa

Directed by Kazuya Murata


It’s been a while since I saw the Fullmetal Alchemist series, and my memories of it are pretty vague. But I suppose that’s OK since this film doesn’t rely too much on the source material. The series is about two brothers, Edward and Alphonse, living in a fantasy world with technology roughly equivalent to the mid-19th century, but with cyborgs! They try to use alchemy to bring their dead mother back to life. This does not work. In fact it doesn’t work so much that it literally costs Ed an arm and a leg while Al loses his entire body, winding up with his soul fused to a suit of armor.

Around a decade later, the brothers have grown up (or in Al’s case, not changed at all) and now work for the government with the idea that they will eventually figure out how to restore their bodies. For this film, the government sends them out on a mission to find an escaped criminal who turned out to be an alchemist himself. This quest takes them out to a border town called Table City which has a ton of political tension as two large countries have displaced the original natives to the area, and there’s a ton of rebels and spies running around.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos (2011) →

Stephen reviews: Harmony (2015)

Harmony [ハーモニー] (2015)

Starring Miyuki Sawashiro, Reina Ueda, Aya Suzaki, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Shin-ichiro Miki, Junpei Morita

Directed by Takashi Nakamura, Michael Arias


I didn’t have any expectations when I took a chance on Harmony, and that’s probably a good thing, because whatever expectations I had probably would have been way off base. I was surprised to see Michael Arias as co-director here, and like Tekkonkinkreet, his other anime film, Harmony is a weird philosophical journey, though nowhere near as intensely psychedelic. The other director, Takashi Nakamura, has been around the industry for quite a while, but hasn’t done much directing work. His most prominent film is A Tree of Palme, but he also directed the fantastic “Chicken Man and Red Neck” (AKA: Nightmare) segment of Robot Carnival, another trippy and moody story.

Coming from these two directors, I would have expected Harmony to be weirder than it is, but the film does have an ethereal quality that makes it feel like a light and airy dream. Set in a utopian future, it revolves around Tuan Kirie, a woman who survived a group suicide attempt in high school. The ringleader of the group was a mysterious girl named Miach Mihie, whose personality is a charismatic mixture of cheerful cynicism and rebellious hatred. Miach’s body was donated to science after the incident, but Tuan was seduced by Miach and grew up despising her homeland. Then some criminal mastermind causes a mass suicide to occur across the country that strongly reminds Tuan of Miach’s goals and agendas, and she sets off to uncover the truth of what is happening.

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Evil Bong 666 (2017)

Starring Mindy Robinson, Sonny Carl Davis, Michelle Mais, Robin Sydney, Jessica Morris, The Don, Bobby Ramos, Caleb Hurst, Orson Chaplin, Tonya Kay, Megan Sage, Samantha McGee, Brooks Davis

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Despite the numbering, Evil Bong 666 is technically the series’ 7th entry, and for my money it’s one of the best Full Moon films in years. I know that isn’t saying a lot because Full Moon’s output has been pretty lackluster for a while, but just in terms of simple entertainment it’s probably the best Bong since Evil Bong 2: King Bong. Of course, your enjoyment will depend on your tolerance for the usual stoner logic and antics that fills these films, but I imagine anyone interested enough to read a review of a movie like Evil Bong 666 is on-board, strapped-in and ready to roll.

Evil Bong 666 follows the basic storefront formula of the last few Evil Bong films, but it changes up the energy by replacing the series’ star character, Larnell (John Patrick Jordan), with a new store owner, Lucy Furr (Mindy Robinson). This might seem like a small detail, but it changes the film’s course considerably. Instead of seeing Larnell and/or Rabbit (Sonny Carl Davis) handling a steady stream of customers — something we’ve seen way more than anyone ever needs to — now we have the devious, Satan-loving Lucy Furr taking care of business. It’s a whole new ballgame. It not only breathes life into the store scenes, it packs the bowl for another round. And thankfully, there’s actually not that many store scenes! I’d have preferred another David DeCoteau cameo instead of one of the lamer scenes, but you can’t win them all.

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Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Peter Ferdinando

Directed by Rupert Sanders


I was looking forward to this movie with a mixture of hope and dread. My expectations were set low, but at the same time I had a hunch that Ghost in the Shell was possibly the only anime franchise that might work well as a Hollywood production. The serious tone, cyberpunk setting, and evil corporations mesh well with the kind of FX-heavy, sci-fi action films that Hollywood likes to churn out. So does it work? Well, if by working you mean that it is a functional mass market formulaic Hollywood film, then yes I suppose it does. It checks off all the boxes that modern Hollywood films are supposed to have at any rate.

The film is basically a hodgepodge of scenes from the various anime titles, mostly the first movie, so it was pretty much all stuff I’ve already seen. I can’t really call this a bad thing since this is an adaptation of the story. This live-action film was honestly in a tough spot. It had to stay true enough to the original to avoid pissing off the fanboys, but it still had to have enough mainstream appeal to make a profit. On top of that, there has never been a truly successful Hollywood anime adaptation (sure, I liked Fist of the North Star, but that was hardly a commercial hit), so they were understandably playing this pretty cautiously and avoiding risky artistic decisions. This leaves the film kinda drab, neither good nor bad.

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