New Police Story (2004)

New Police Story [新警察故事] (2004)

Starring Jackie Chan, Nicholas Tse, Charlie Yeung, Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin, Daniel Wu, Dave Wong Kit, Andy On, Terence Yin Chi-Wai, Hayama Hiro, Coco Chiang Yi, Ken Lo, Yu Rong-Guang

Directed by Benny Chan

Expectations: Low.


Titling this film New Police Story evokes memories of Jackie’s successful series of films than ran through the ’80s and ’90s, but the “new” indicates that it’s a reboot or otherwise unrelated. It’s true, Jackie doesn’t play the loose Chan Ka-Kui character, and this film’s character is almost a polar opposite to Ka-Kui’s reckless, Supercop spirit. Jackie plays Senior Inspector Chan Kwok-Wing, a straight-laced man who gets the job done through discipline, strong leadership and efficiency. With a lead character like this, the film takes on a seriousness that none of the Police Story films carry, but anyone who has seen Crime Story will recognize the tone. So a more apt title might be New Crime Story, which is ironic since Crime Story was released in Japan under the title New Police Story. Confused yet? Anyway, what matters is that New Police Story is more Crime Story than Police Story, something that’s not readily apparent thanks to the title. I guess Hollywood isn’t the only film market to title based on name recognition.

A group of young thugs rob a bank in wild fashion, specifically asking for the police to be called when they finish gathering the money. Instead of swiftly making a getaway, they stick around to confront the policemen, seeing the situation as a game, complete with points for kills & property damage. After causing massive casualties, the robbers escape, and now Senior Inspector Chan Kwok-Wing, the force’s most successful investigator, is tasked with finding their hideout and bringing them to justice. He’s so confident in his abilities and those of his men that he brags about catching them within three hours, but when the assault on their hideout is launched, literally everything that could go wrong does. Chan is the staunch veteran going up against the youthful new breed of criminal; New Police Story could also be called No Hong Kong for Old Men. 🙂

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Around the World in 80 Days (2004)

Starring Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Cécile De France, Jim Broadbent, Karen Mok, Ewen Bremner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sammo Hung, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Daniel Wu, Kengo Watanabe, Maggie Q, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Rob Schneider, John Cleese, Will Forte, Kathy Bates, Robert Fyfe, Ian McNeice, David Ryall, Roger Hammond, Adam Godley

Directed by Frank Coraci

Expectations: Low, but it has Jackie and an Arnold cameo, so…


I haven’t seen the 1956 version of Around the World in 80 Days since I was a kid, but my initial feeling was that it didn’t seem like something that lends itself to Jackie Chan. But this new version isn’t so much a remake as it is a complete fantasy/steampunk re-imagining with Jackie Chan’s style in mind from the genesis. A new sub-plot focuses on bringing Jackie’s talents to the forefront, and while it definitely isn’t the most inspired story line, it’s more than enough to entertain and justify the stunts and fights we all look for in a Jackie movie. Fans of the novel and the classic, Oscar-winning film will likely be disappointed by this re-telling, but I feel like fans of Jackie might really enjoy themselves if they click with the film’s comedic style (which probably skews a bit younger than Jackie’s other US films). I know I did, and to be honest I was expecting a total stinker!

Passepartout (Jackie Chan) robs a precious Jade Buddha from the Bank of England and is in need of shelter. He finds it with Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan), an inventor with a rich, creative mind for science. Fogg lacks much life experience “outside the lab,” though, rarely venturing from his home. One of the few places he frequents is the Royal Academy of Science, where he’s regularly laughed at and thought of as an eccentric thinker who lacks the practicality to be useful to the field of science. In a bid to rid themselves of him, the head of the academy, Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent), bets Fogg that his calculation of being able to circumnavigate the world in 80 days is incorrect. The stakes are immense: if Fogg wins, he becomes head of the academy, but if he loses he must give up inventing for the rest of his life. Oh, and a bunch of henchmen are in pursuit of Jackie and his Jade Buddha the whole time, further complicating their travels.

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Stephen reviews: Hellevator: the Bottled Fools (2004)

hellevator_1Hellevator: the Bottled Fools [グシャノビンヅメ, Gusha no bindume] (2004)
AKA Gusher No Binds Me

Starring Luchino Fujisaki, Masato Tsujioka, Ikuma Saisho, Kae Minami, Yuko Takarada, Ryusuke Koshiba, Koji Yokooawa, Keisuke Urushizaki

Directed by Hiroki Yamaguchi


When I pick these live-action horror films to review I look for the most outlandish things I can find. Typical horror thrills don’t really thrill me, so if I don’t want to be bored out of my mind I need to track down more exotic fare. Maybe something comedic or deliberately campy, something that doesn’t try to take itself too seriously and presents its silliness with a knowing smile and a wink. Or at least something so batshit crazy that I can laugh at it. Thus when something with a title as puntastic as Hellevator caught my eye, I thought my search was over. But far from a campy cheese-fest, Hellevator is a dark and inventive psychological thriller that, much to my surprise, is genuinely good.

The movie clearly has a vision, and sees it play out with surprising depth. The imaginative world is what really captured my interest. It’s a sort of futuristic setting, but with very old-fashioned technology. There’s a weird combination of heavy industrial machinery with robot brain-in-a-jar toys for children. The society seems to exist solely inside a massive building with no idea that there is anything outside. And what is perhaps the most impressive aspect of the film is how well it establishes this world despite most of the movie taking place inside just one elevator.

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Dr. Moreau’s House of Pain (2004)

drmoreau_1Starring John Patrick Jordan, Jessica Lancaster, Jacob Witkin, Peter Donald Badalamenti II, Lorielle New, Ling Aum, B.J. Smith, Debra Mayer, Laura Petersen

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
twohalfstar


H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau is a classic of horror literature. It’s been adapted into many film versions, starting all the way back in 1913 with The Island of Terror. But for fans looking for stories that go beyond the scope of the original novel, your options are far more limited. Enter Dr. Moreau’s House of Pain, a sequel of sorts to the original novel, telling the story of how the good doctor set up shop in a Hollywood mansion in the 1940s after leaving his island behind. Oh, what’s that? Dr. Moreau died in the novel? Oh… well… uh… no he didn’t!

Dr. Moreau’s House of Pain opens with boxer Eric Carson (John Patrick Jordan), journalist Mary Anne (Debra Mayer), and their friend Judith (Jessica Lancaster) in a car talking about how Eric’s brother Roy has gone missing. He frequented the bar they’re parked in front of, so I guess the plan is to go in and gather information. I don’t know, I wasn’t paying attention. I know, I know, the movie just started and my attention shouldn’t be wavering, but hear me out. Eric is played by the same guy that plays the lead in the Evil Bong films, so all I could do was theorize about how this 1940s John Patrick Jordan was somehow the grandfather of Evil Bong‘s Larnell. Which then led me down the mental path of trying to connect the creepy kids show host Hambo, who is featured in most of Full Moon’s recent films, and surmising that he could actually be one of Moreau’s creations. Perhaps the next Evil Bong sequel will also be a sequel to this film!

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Stephen reviews: Appleseed (2004)

20052694156.7577495Appleseed [アップルシード] (2004)

Starring Ai Kobayashi, Jurouta Kosugi, Mami Koyama, Yuki Matsuoka, Miho Yamada, Takehito Koyasu, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Yuzuru Fujimoto

Directed by Shinji Aramaki


It took 15 years for someone to make another Appleseed film, and this one is pretty much the exact opposite of the first. They both center around Deunan and Briareos, members of Olympus’s S.W.A.T. team in the wake of World War III, facing off against terrorists and traitorous elements of their utopian society. But where the original film focused on tactical and strategic combat without any real attempt at characterization or explanation, the newer adaptation of the tale is chock full of explanation while dumbing down the action scenes to just look cool rather than have any thought behind them.

The other big difference is the animation. The original film was low-budget and looked rather dated even for its time. This version, however, came after the colossal success of Ghost in the Shell, and producers were a lot more willing to risk cash on Masamune Shirow’s other properties. So the new version has sleek CG animation, which astonishes by actually not looking like total shit. Just partial shit. Pixar this ain’t, but I have seen a good deal worse. In fact, most anime CG from the 2000s does look like total shit — anime has always lagged behind its western counterparts in terms of digital functionality — but it’s clear that Appleseed had a lot of loving care put into its production design. That doesn’t mean I like it. I still hate CG productions like this, but when you knowingly jump head first into a full CG film, there’s not much reason to rant about it being CG. So I’ll restrain myself and focus on the film’s other features instead.

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Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004)

ghostintheshell2_1Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence [イノセンス GHOST IN THE SHELL (仮題)] (2004)

Starring Akio Ohtsuka, Kōichi Yamadera, Atsuko Tanaka, Tamio Ohki, Yutaka Nakano, Naoto Takenaka, Yoshiko Sakakibara

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


While the first Ghost in the Shell dealt primarily with mental identity, the “ghost” of the title, Innocence deals more with the physical robot body, the “shell” in this analogy. In that sense, it completes the theme nicely and is the perfect direction for the series to take. This time the police case is investigating a series of crazed robots that have killed their owners. This immediately made me think of Boomers from the Bubblegum Crisis/AD Police series, but like the first film, Innocence is so full of philosophical discussion on the definition of life and the distinction between man and machine that it stands apart from most anything else dealing with psycho robots.

It’s certainly an ambitious goal to make a sequel to such a complex and well-made film as Ghost in the Shell, and although I have a number of issues with it, it didn’t do a terrible job. Mostly what bugs me is what really just comes with the territory in a mid 2000s anime; it’s chock full of obnoxious and very obvious CG. When set next to the original, there is just no comparison between the natural grace of handcrafted animation and the jarring, stiff feel of CG. What makes this more annoying to me is that the moments that don’t rely on CG look fantastic, which only emphasizes how ugly the CG is. Much of the film does look amazing, and it just makes me bemoan the fact that the entire film wasn’t made so well.

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Cube Zero (2004)

cubezero2Starring Zachary Bennett, David Huband, Stephanie Moore, Martin Roach, Terri Hawkes, Richard McMillan, Mike ‘Nug’ Nahrgang, Tony Munch, Michael Riley, Joshua Peace, Diego Klattenhoff

Directed by Ernie Barbarash

Expectations: Low, but higher than I had for the second one.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Jesus Christ. Are the events of Cube Zero really what was going on behind the scenes this whole time? My mind simply cannot comprehend this fact, and as soon as this review is over I’m going to do my best attempt at a home lobotomy to forget everything I stored in my short-term memory about the film; I’ve got a wire hanger all ready to go. This film is a case-in-point example of why things shrouded in mystery will always trump an explanation. Despite some valiant efforts on the filmmaker’s part to resurrect the spirit and visuals of the original film, Cube Zero is a total dog of a movie.

But this wasn’t always my opinion. Cube Zero starts off incredibly strong, delivering one of the best trap kills in the entire series, bested only by the first film’s opening kill. The kill here is acid in nature, but instead of the quick face-melt like the one in Cube, this is some kind of slow-burn acid that the victim first thinks is water. Lulled into a false sense of security, the guy drinks as much of the liquid as he can suck off his drenched fingers, only to eventually notice his deteriorating skin and realize that yes, indeed, he has sprung a trap. What follows is one of the best full-body, skin-peeling disintegrations I’ve seen in a film. It’s truly a thing of beauty.

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