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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Quick Takes: Ichi the Killer, The Legend Is Born: Ip Man, John Wick

ichiIchi the Killer [殺し屋1] (1994)
threehalfstar

Starring Tadanobu Asano, Nao Omori, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Paulyn Sun, Susumu Terajima, Shun Sugata, Toru Tezuka, Yoshiki Arizono, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Satoshi Niizuma, Suzuki Matsuo, Jun Kunimura
Directed by Takashi Miike

Ichi the Killer is the third feature I’ve seen from Takashi Miike, and damn he’s good. A film like this that’s so incredibly bloody and violent, but yet the main takeaway is the need for a deep intellectual discussion… that’s hard to pull off. It ultimately felt like Miike had crafted a film that wonders about the people who watch these kinds of films (or violent, “negative” media in general) with an armchair bloodlust. This all seemed to hinge on one small moment during the finale when a character in extreme peril looks directly into the camera with intense fear, while that same camera is presenting a first-person view from the character instilling this fear in the other. In any case, this is definitely not a film for the squeamish, as it’s one hell of an extreme, sadistic bloodbath. Audition may have gotten the “this movie is so crazy and shocking” press, but Ichi the Killer is a million times worse than Audition. The nipple scene is sheer torture! I literally pushed my chair back as far as it would go, cringed and repeated “Goddamn!” in a whisper for the next 30 seconds or so. Good stuff.

TheLegendIsBornIpMan+2010-3-bThe Legend Is Born: Ip Man [葉問前傳] (2010)
AKA Ip Man Zero
threestar

Starring Dennis To, Crystal Huang Yi, Xu Jiao, Hins Cheung King-Hin, Fan Siu-Wong, Yuen Biao, Lam Suet, Yip Chun, Bernice Liu Bik-Yi, Sire Ma Choi, Rose Chan Ka-Wun, Sammo Hung
Directed by Herman Yau

I initially avoided The Legend Is Born: Ip Man out of respect for the original Ip Man films. I didn’t want to see any watered-down knock-offs. But then it occurred to me that it was no different than all the Brucesploitation films that are a lot of fun, so I plunged in head-first, hoping it wouldn’t be as trashy as a you might expect a knock-off to be. And, you know, it actually felt more respectful of Ip Man’s legacy than Ip Man 2 was! The Legend Is Born even features Ip Man’s son, Ip Chun, in a wonderful role as an elder student of Wing Chun that has developed a more refined and varied approach to the fighting style that revolutionizes Ip Man’s way of thinking. This reminded me greatly of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do style, and if this section of the film was truthful to Ip Man’s life, then I imagine it was this spirit of openness to other styles and ways of thinking that he would later pass on to Bruce. I loved the focus on Wing Chun in The Legend Is Born, and it’s definitely one for Hong Kong fans to watch. In some ways it actually felt like an older-style kung fu film that is generally no longer made, and you know that kind of thing is a quick way to my heart. And it has Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung in supporting roles!

johnwickJohn Wick (2014)
AKA Sin Control, John Wick: Sin Control

twostar

Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Omer Barnea, Toby Leonard Moore, Daniel Bernhardt, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Clarke Peters
Directed by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch

I just didn’t connect with John Wick at all. I blame the fan hype that sold it as some kind of John Woo-style gun movie. I didn’t see that in it AT ALL. The way the violence was handled felt really gross. It’s the same problem I have with a lot of modern horror films: everything looks too damn real or graphic for me to just have fun with it. I am forced to reckon with the reality of the situation, which in this case is John Wick revenge-killing a whole shitload of dudes. All the violence is really flippant and backed by “cool” music, too, so everything about the violence felt glorified and dirty to me. I can’t have fun with that. Does this even make sense to anyone but me? It’s hard to explain. Whatever. I didn’t like it. ’nuff said.

Stephen reviews: Loups=Garous (2010)

loupsgarous_1Loups=Garous [ルー=ガルー] (2010)

Starring Kanae Oki, Hiromi Igarashi, Marina Inoue, Miyuki Sawashiro, Kana Uetake, Yutaka Aoyama, Kunihiro Kawamoto, Eriko Hirata

Directed by Junichi Fujisaku


Loups=Garous opens with a statement about wolves killing people in the distant past, and the title itself translates from French as werewolves. This is not a film about werewolves, though, or even regular wolves. They apparently died off a long time ago in this story. The film is about serial killers, which makes it something of a mystery story.

It’s also set in a utopian future where all food is synthetic, thus eliminating the need to kill animals for food. That theme of what it means to be a killer is the primary focus of Loups=Garous. Unfortunately, it seems to lose track of that theme for half of the film. After the brief opening, we don’t see anything that connects to that idea until the second half. It makes the film feel like two different stories spliced together. It also makes that theme feel unclear. I could see its shadow under the surface trying to make itself known, but I never got a feel for where they were going with the concept.

Part of the trouble is that the main character, Haduki Makino, has nothing much to do with things. She’s present for all of it, but she just sits around more often than she participates. She is a regular high school girl with “communication impediment,” which basically means she’s shy and doesn’t make friends easily. In the future where most communication is done through technology rather than face to face, this isn’t uncommon. The first half of the film is more of a high school drama that revolves around her growth as she tries to overcome her shyness and talk with her friends.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Loups=Garous (2010) →

Trollhunter (2010)

Trollhunter [Trolljegeren] (2010)

Starring Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Mørck, Tomas Alf Larsen, Urmila Berg-Domaas, Hans Morten Hansen, Robert Stoltenberg, Knut Nærum, Eirik Bech

Directed by André Øvredal

Expectations: High, I’m super stoked to finally see this.


Trollhunter is the type of film you want to go into without much knowledge. I had seen the poster and I knew that it was a found footage movie about a troll hunter, but that’s it. Realistically, how much more do you need? This kind of movie is all about the wonder of discovery, of not knowing what will be around the next corner. If you want to maintain that level of purity, go check it out without reading the review (or watching the trailer); the four stars above should be enough to tell you that I loved Trollhunter. For those sticking around, I have compiled some general thoughts about the movie, as I don’t know that discussing specifics will be anything more than me repeating “That part was awesome!” over and over.

Trollhunter is such a fantastic idea for a found footage movie, and it’s expertly executed. I’m not generally a fan of this horror sub-genre, but thanks to [REC], I’m also not completely close-minded to it. If someone is able to make it work, it can be incredible, as long as the story is one that can easily be told with this natively gimmicky format. Invoking the name of [REC] might call to mind the intensity that the handheld camera brings to that film, but Trollhunter is a different beast entirely. Instead of focusing on tension and scares, it’s more about simply capturing the images. Remember, the camera crew here is supposed to be three college kids hoping to make a documentary. What starts as a simple exploration into recent bear attacks on livestock, quickly becomes something more when the crew focuses on a strange man perceived by the bear hunters to be a poacher.

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Stephen reviews: Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (2010)

Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works [フェイト/ステイナイト Feito/sutei naito] (2010)

Starring Noriaki Sugiyama, Junichi Suwabe, Kana Ueda, Ayako Kawasumi, Hiroshi Kamiya, Jouji Nakata, Tomokazu Seki, Nobutoshi Kanna, Atsuko Tanaka

Directed by Yuuji Yamaguchi


I came to this film without knowing much about it. It was something of an impulse buy fueled by nothing more than a gut feeling. All I knew about the Fate/Stay Night series is that it had a blonde woman with a sword and medieval armor on its promotional art. I heard that this movie was a retelling of the original TV series with amped-up blood and violence. It sounded like a good jumping on point to see what, if anything, I’d been missing. After watching the film, I’m doubtful there’s a whole lot worth seeing in the series, but Unlimited Blade Works itself was well worth watching despite some flaws.

It has a very generic setup. Some crazy supernatural tournament is going on, and the winner gets to keep the Holy Grail as a reward. A bunch of people called magi control magical servants to battle for them. Then, surprise surprise, our poor main character Emiya gets unwittingly sucked into it and finds out that he too can use a servant and participate in the battles. It’s the same premise of a million other bland anime titles out there. Then there’s the irritable pretty girl who gradually falls in love with him despite constantly getting angry at him. It’s a tag team of the two most common anime clichés.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (2010) →

Predators (2010)

Starring Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Mahershala Ali, Carey Jones, Brian Steele, Derek Mears

Directed by Nimród Antal

Expectations: Low. I pretty much hated this the first time I saw it.


[Editor’s note: I unapologetically spoil everything about this movie.]

The good news is that now I’m able to enjoy this movie for what it is. The bad news is that I still think it’s kind of boring and not a good Predator movie. I first saw Predators about a year and a half ago and was completely underwhelmed. I specifically chose not to review it, as my feelings were so dark that I decided it was for the best if I kept them to myself. I had heard it lived up to the original Predator, paying homage in subtle ways that took the series back to what made it work in the past. While it is true that this one is set in the jungle, and it features many, many echoes of the original film, it forgets one huge thing that makes Predator great: the hunting… specifically the Predator hunting the humans. It’s also missing the feeling of dread that should be there when a group of people are being hunted by an alien race known for hunting and killing every other race in the universe.

The big reason why there’s no tension in this is that it always feels like Adrien Brody is on the offensive. He never feels like he’s got his back to the wall, as Arnold did when he took a Predator blast and then careened off the waterfall. The final act was a terrifying series of events in which Arnold won through sheer dumb luck and a whole lot of ingenuity. In Adrien Brody’s final confrontation, it feels like he’s the one bringing the Predators to his planet to hunt. It’s no fault of Brody’s, who does a fine job selling himself as a larger-than-life action hero, but it definitely doesn’t make for a compelling Predator movie.

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Killjoy 3: Killjoy’s Revenge (2010)

Starring Trent Haaga, Victoria De Mare, Al Burke, Darrow Igus, Spiral Jackson, Quentin Miles, Tai Chan Ngo, Michael Rupnow, Jessica Whitaker, Olivia Dawn York

Directed by John Lechago

Expectations: I just hope it’s not the slog that part 2 was.

On the general scale:

On the B-Movie scale:


Holy shit! Killjoy 3: Killjoy’s Revenge was everything I could have wanted out of a Killjoy movie! I lament the fact that it’s no longer an “urban,” blaxploitation-influenced series, but other than that Killjoy 3 delivers big time. I would go so far to say that it’s not only the most fun Killjoy film, it’s also the best Full Moon movie of the last few years. Evil Bong 2 was pretty fun in its own way, but Killjoy 3 delivers on a whole different level.

The film opens with a short scene where “The Professor” summons Killjoy. The demon senses a great need in the man, so he creates three devious minions to help him in this quest for vengeance: Punchy the Hobo Clown, Freakshow the Mime (complete with a Kuato-style baby attached to his side), and Batty Boop, a hot girl in full clown body paint. But then the Professor reneges on the deal by picking up a book(?) and Killjoy is not amused! Back to the nether realms he goes, but first he vows to have his own revenge on this dastardly professor! The tables have turned. But wait Killjoy 3, you had me at “Kuato-style baby attached to his side.”

Continue reading Killjoy 3: Killjoy’s Revenge (2010) →

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