The Myth (2005)

The Myth [神話] (2005)
AKA Jackie Chan’s The Myth

Starring Jackie Chan, Kim Hee-Sun, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Yu Rong-Guang, Sun Zhou, Maggie Lau Sze-Wai, Mallika Sherawat, Ken Lo, Patrick Tam Yiu-Man, Shao Bing, Ken Wong Hop-Hey, Jin Song, Yuen Tak, Hayama Hiro, Chan Sek, Park Hyun-Jin, Yao Wei-Xing, Choi Min-Soo, Ram Gopal Bajaj, Sudanshu Pandde

Directed by Stanley Tong

Expectations: Low, but hopeful.


One day in 2005 or 2006, I happened upon a Chinese DVD (without English subs) of The Myth in my library. Based on the cover art, I assumed that The Myth was a straight historical drama. Intrigued, I took it home to see if it had any fights. I scanned through the film quickly, didn’t see any, and then wrote the movie off until now. Imagine my surprise when I actually sat down to watch the film and I discovered that there is a wealth of action contained within it! And it’s really fun, entertaining, Jackie-style Jackie Chan action! Whoa!

The Myth begins during the Qin Dynasty, as General Meng Yi (Jackie Chan) receives a Korean princess, Ok-Soo (Kim Hee-Sun), who is to marry the ailing Qin emperor. During the handover, a Korean warrior attempts to kidnap Ok-Soo, but Meng Yi ain’t havin’ none of that. They clash in epic fashion, but Meng and OK-Soo become separated from the troops when they fall into a river fall below. As they hit the water, we are whisked to the future, as the respected archaeologist Jack Chan (Jackie Chan) awakes from a dream. This isn’t his first dream of the princess and a Qin Dynasty version of himself, and this troubles him greatly. As luck would have it, his next assignment — helping his friend William (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) uncover the secret of a levitating mystic in India — will shed a lot of light on these dreams. Who woulda thought it? It’s like a movie or something!

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Arnold Quick Takes: The Long Goodbye, The Rundown, The Kid & I

longgoodbyeThe Long Goodbye (1973)
onestar

Starring Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell, Henry Gibson, David Arkin, Jim Bouton, Warren Berlinger, Jo Ann Brody, Stephen Coit
Directed by Robert Altman

Raymond Chandler is one of my favorite authors. After many, many years of procrastination, I finally read The Long Goodbye last month. It instantly became one of my favorite books from any author, and it is by far Chandler’s best. To put it bluntly: Robert Altman’s film version is a horrid adaptation of one of the best books I’ve ever read. Yet, this is a film with a fantastic reputation among film buffs! I can only surmise that they haven’t read the book. I understand that Altman’s goal was to subvert the detective genre with The Long Goodbye, but what I find most interesting is that Chandler’s novel does this better in many ways already. Much of the novel’s complexity is completely lost, and while some that is to be expected in any adaptation, it is very clear from the beginning that Altman was never interested in actually adapting Chandler’s novel. He supposedly didn’t even read the whole thing! The style, soul, and substance that made The Long Goodbye such a resonant piece of work are unceremoniously sucked out and replaced with an entirely different, Altman energy. I honestly don’t know that a faithful adaptation of The Long Goodbye could work as a film, but this sole attempt literally gets every aspect of the novel wrong. Even taking my love of Chandler out of the equation, the film itself hardly feels worthy of praise.

Oh yeah, I was watching this because of Arnold’s cameo. Even this was a disappointment! Arnold doesn’t get to say anything, although for what it’s worth, he sports a weird mustache and strips down to his underwear in one of the oddest gangster confrontation moments I’ve ever seen. WTF.  And don’t even get me started on the recurring Long Goodbye theme song… [and then, then I made a noise like this — HHUUUAAHH  HHUUUAAHH  HHHUUUUUUUUUAAAAAAAAHHHHH] I’ll stick with the book, thank you very much.

the_rundownThe Rundown (2003)
twohalfstar

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Walken, Ewen Bremner, Jon Gries, William Lucking, Ernie Reyes Jr.
Directed by Peter Berg

The Rundown was the first starring role for The Rock, and he easily proved that he could be a capable leading man. It’s not a great film by any means, but it has an odd charm that most mainstream films, especially ones from this era, don’t have for me. Arnold’s cameo isn’t anything more than the quick line, “Have fun,” but in this single moment during the film’s opening, Arnold effectively passes the bodybuilder-turned-action-hero mantle to The Rock. He’s a perfect fit, too; he’s got the body, the charisma and the acting chops to do very well. And now, 13 years later, he definitely has! But The Rock isn’t Arnold, so The Rundown isn’t the type of movie that Arnold himself could have starred in. The Rock is given a few hand-to-hand fights, and the action choreographer (Andy Cheng) wisely incorporated wrestling takedowns and the like into the choreography to take advantage of The Rock’s special skill set. Capoeira figures largely into the film’s most impressive fight, as well as some excellent wirework. I was honestly taken aback by how much I liked the choreography. It felt very Hong Kong-influenced, so when I discovered that Andy Cheng was a stunt double/member of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team for a few years, it all made sense. Overall, the action is pretty good, the comedy not so much, but it was still a lot more fun than I remember it being.

The Kid & I (2005)
threestar

Starring Tom Arnold, Eric Gores, Linda Hamilton, Joe Mantegna, Henry Winkler, Richard Edson, Shannon Elizabeth, Brenda Strong, Arielle Kebbel, Yvette Nicole Brown, Gabrielle Sanalitro
Directed by Penelope Spheeris

The Kid & I genuinely surprised me. It’s well-written and it boasts a great cast with a bunch of fun cameos (including Shaq and Arnold as themselves). I wasn’t expecting anything, but I was instantly won over by the unexpectedly dark suicide humor that opens the film. What makes the film even more interesting is that it’s a blend of fact and fiction. The film revolves around Tom Arnold writing a vanity project for a billionaire’s kid to star in, and the kid is played by Eric Gores, son to real-life billionaire Alec Gores. The Gores family lives next door to Tom Arnold, so the film serves as both the vanity project AND a sort of documentary peek inside the making of the movie. This kind of thing could have easily gone off the rails, but the cast performs admirably and it is impressively well-directed and edited. I’ve wanted to delve into the work of Penelope Spheeris for a while now, but The Kid & I solidifies that inclination to explore the work of this interesting and varied filmmaker.

Quick Takes: eXistenZ, Spider, A History of Violence

existenz_1eXistenZ (1999)
fourstar

Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie, Christopher Eccleston, Sarah Polley, Robert A. Silverman, Oscar Hsu
Directed by David Cronenberg

From what I understand, eXistenZ is Cronenberg’s last hurrah in the body horror genre. While I’m sad to know that there’s no more gross-out delights coming my way, you couldn’t ask for a better film to go out on. I literally loved everything about eXistenZ, start to finish. I’m a huge fan of Philip K. Dick, and while his influence is apparent in other Cronenberg films, eXistenZ is like the best Philip K. Dick movie that’s not actually based on a PKD story. Cronenberg expertly explores the world of video games and the inner workings of our minds, leaving you with much to consider and contemplate. When this came out in 1999, I immediately wrote it off because of its title’s seemingly dumb capitalization, but now I know you should never judge a movie by its title treatment! Super gooey, super fun, I loved it. There are times when a movie feels like it was made just for you, and eXistenZ is one such movie for me.

SpiderSpider (2002)
threehalfstar

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, Lynn Redgrave, John Neville, Bradley Hall, Gary Reineke, Philip Craig
Directed by David Cronenberg

Spider is about as opposite a movie from eXistenZ as Cronenberg could have made as a follow-up. Where eXistenZ is loud and grotesque, Spider is extremely subtle and disturbing. It’s a fantastic film, but probably one that would turn a lot of people off. It’s interminably quiet, with Ralph Fiennes mumbling all his dialogue (to great effect). Cronenberg never holds the audience’s hand and explains much of anything, either. We are an active part of the process, so decoding Spider and getting to know the character hinges completely on your engagement with the film. It’s the kind of film that takes a master craftsman to create, and with it Cronenberg one again proves how wonderful and unique a filmmaker he is.

historyofviolenceA History of Violence (2005)
threehalfstar

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Peter MacNeill, Stephen McHattie, Heidi Hayes
Directed by David Cronenberg

Even though I’d never seen A History of Violence before, I went into it pretty much knowing exactly what it was about. A few years ago I saw Wu Xia, the fantastic Peter Chan film starring Donnie Yen that is sort of a remake of this film. But while I knew the central conceit, thankfully A History of Violence and Wu Xia are very different films that happen to share a few key plot points. A History of Violence initially doesn’t seem to have much in common with Cronenberg’s other films, but by the end I thought it was one of his best and most accessible works to non-horror fans. Cronenberg masterfully pulls together the threads to create a tense thriller that’s also surprisingly got a lot of humor, too. Definitely check it out! And Maria Bello is spectacular as Viggo’s wife; I can’t believe she’s not a more well-known actress!

Stephen reviews: Meatball Machine (2005)

Meatball_MachineMeatball Machine [ミートボールマシン] (2006)

Starring Issei Takahashi, Aoba Kawai, Kenichi Kawasaki, Shōchirō Masumoto, Tōru Tezuka, Ayano Yamamoto

Directed by Yūdai Yamaguchi


Unlike the other Japanese horror films I’ve reviewed for previous Octobers, Meatball Machine isn’t very goofy or humorous, even unintentionally. It’s more of a straightforward thriller about a bunch of cyborg monsters ripping innocent people (and each other) apart. Considering the title, I was hoping for something a bit more lighthearted, but I can make do with what I got, although even after watching it I still have no idea what that title is all about.

Coming from the mid 2000s you might be expecting a riot of piss-poor CG effects littering the film, but I can thankfully report that the vast majority of this film’s FX work is physical. It’s still very low budget and the monster suits look far more like rubber than the metal they’re supposed to look like, but I’ll take that over bad CG any day. Meatball Machine is also filled with these effects at every turn. This is definitely not a B-movie to skimp on the action, and that makes it a pretty fun, if not amazing, film to watch.

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Decadent Evil (2005)

decadentevil_7Decadent Evil (2005)
AKA Decadent Evil Dead

Starring Debra Mayer, Jill Michelle, Raelyn Hennessee, Phil Fondacaro, Daniel Lennox, John F. Schaffer, Hazel Dean, Roger Toussaint

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


The experienced B-movie viewer is well aware of the “no bad movie can be short enough” principle, so any movie artificially trying to extend its runtime is immediately suspect. I’d guess that even Charles Band wouldn’t hold it against you if you judged Decadent Evil harshly in the first 15 minutes — which consist of 10 minutes from Vampire Journals, three minutes of opening credits, and two minutes of actual movie. And that’s the real shame about Decadent Evil: it’s actually pretty damn entertaining underneath all the low-budget shenanigans. It’s a film that reminds me how some stories just aren’t meant to be feature length; once you get past the padding, Decadent Evil is about as long as it needs to be. Part of that is that it’s built upon a foundation of vampire movie cliches and the characters are all fairly one-note, but nearly every element of the film is fun, which makes up for a lot of the so-called shortcomings.

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Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: The Laughing Man (2005)

SAC_laughing_manGhost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: The Laughing Man [攻殻機動隊 STAND ALONE COMPLEX The Laughing Man] (2005)

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Osamu Saka, Akio Ohtsuka, Kohichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Toru Okawa, Takashi Onozuka, Taro Yamaguchi, Sakiko Tamagawa

Directed by Kenji Kamiyama


The Laughing Man is a compilation film of the Stand Alone Complex TV series. As such, it has a TV budget and it lacks the slick animation of the two Mamoru Oshii Ghost in the Shell films. It does have some pretty solid production values for a TV series, though, and strangely enough the CG is actually better than in Ghost in the Shell 2. There’s a good deal of it, but it’s not nearly as intrusive and actually makes an attempt to blend in with the line art of the character designs. It was a bit annoying to have every vehicle rendered by computer, but I’m more forgiving with something that obviously needs to make do with a lower budget. And since it’s not contrasted with such great standard animation, it’s less disappointing to see here.

Compilations can spell doom for a film in other ways, though (just look at the Yotoden Movie for an example of how bad things can get), but The Laughing Man is one of the better compilations I’ve seen. Partly this is because of its length. The Laughing Man clocks in at more than two and a half hours, and that means it has enough time to put in all the necessary content to make the story work. It’s still a little rushed at times, but everything you need is here. Although I really wanted an explanation of those girls curled up in Major Kusanagi’s bed. Were they spare bodies? Does she collect life-size dolls? Or were they just passed out after a satisfying S&M session? In a world full of cyborgs and robots the possibilities are endless. In fact, I’m not sure I want to know. The truth will probably never live up to my inflated expectations.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: The Laughing Man (2005) →

King Kong (2005)

kingkong_4Starring Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Andy Serkis, Evan Parke, Jamie Bell, Lobo Chan, John Sumner, Craig Hall, Kyle Chandler

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: Surprisingly low. I feel like I just watched this, even though it was like five years ago.

threestar


You know the story of King Kong; there’s no need to recap it. It’s a story so firmly entrenched in the American psyche that I feel like infants only just born could give a fairly good pantomime version of the tragedy. So for this review, I’d like to do something different and focus on the quote that ends both the 1933 original and Peter Jackson’s remake (and probably the 1976 remake also, but I haven’t seen that since I was a kid). The famous quote is, of course, “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”

Ever since I was a kid this line has bothered me. It seemed to resonate with the adults around me, but my young mind just didn’t get it. Clearly the girl didn’t do anything to kill King Kong, so why was she getting blamed? Even in 2005, when I saw Jackson’s version in the theater, I thought largely the same thing. As an adult, I can see that the desired intent is probably to convey that a woman who tries to tame the one she loves will ultimately kill that which she loves about him. Nevermind that she doesn’t actually do any killing, but under this logic she dooms Kong to his fate, and thus beauty “killed” the beast. You could also read it oppositely, that Kong became infatuated with possessing the beautiful girl and thus killed himself by allowing the beauty into his heart. While these explanations might ring true for some relationships, I refuse to accept this as the point of the story, especially in Jackson’s remake.

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