Dragon Blade (2015)

DragonBlade+2015-1-bDragon Blade [天降雄獅] (2015)

Starring Jackie Chan, John Cusack, Adrien Brody, Choi Si-Won, Lin Peng, Mika Wang, Xiao Yang, Wang Tai-Li, Jozef Waite, Sammy Hung, William Feng, Sharni Vinson, Lorie Pester, Karena Lam, Steve Yoo Seung-Jun

Directed by Daniel Lee

Expectations: I don’t know, honestly. Not much. I am excited, if that counts for anything!

twohalfstar


Dragon Blade is very entertaining, but there’s no denying that it just isn’t that good. Given the amount of “jank” in the movie, those two-and-a-half stars up top are fairly generous of me, but I’m such a huge Jackie Chan fan that I was easily able to overlook a lot of the film’s issues. I don’t think others will be nearly as kind, although fans of both Jackie Chan and B-Movies might be able to transcend and enjoy the film as I did. That’s not something I expected to say about the highest-budget Chinese film of all time, but even the most expensive rose-colored glasses on Earth couldn’t obscure just how laughable and ludicrous some of this movie is.

Don’t believe me? I’ll give you three guesses of what the first on-screen image is in this historical epic supposedly based on true events. OK? Go! … … … Nope, nope, and nope. The correct answer is a satellite orbiting the Earth! WHA? So instead of finding out that the movie is weird a few minutes in, they smack you in the face with it immediately. This is arguably the best way to go into Dragon Blade, as this is merely the first moment you’ll watch with a quizzical look on your face.

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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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Hollywoodland (2006)

hollywoodlandStarring Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, Kathleen Robertson, Lois Smith, Phillip MacKenzie, Larry Cedar

Directed by Allen Coulter

Expectations: Low.

threestar


I kicked off my run through the Superman films with Superman and the Mole Men, so it seems somewhat fitting that my last review before Man of Steel should come around full circle. Hollywoodland is centered around the death of George Reeves, star of Superman and the Mole Men and the TV series it spawned: The Adventures of Superman. Hindsight reveals this as a landmark series, and as part of the foundation for the superhero genre that now populates our multiplex theaters every summer. At the time, though, things were not quite all wine and roses. Reeves wasn’t especially fond of the Superman role, even though it gave him fame among the kiddos. If we buy into the film’s character being similar to the real Reeves, he struggled and hoped to get more well-respected roles (much like the Jayne Mansfield character in The Jayne Mansfield Story).

Hollywoodland combines two things I generally try to stay away from in film: movies about Hollywood (as in the filmmaking industry, not the city) and celebrity biopics. The film definitely had moments that reminded me why I feel this way, but the narrative is varied and interesting enough to largely sideline these personal issues. The film is definitely too slow and longer than it needs to be, though. First time filmmaker Allen Coulter tries to fight the boredom back with a time-jumping narrative structure, moving between the investigation of Reeves’s death and flashbacks of his troubled life. Sometimes this works well, and sometimes it feels like a crutch used to spice up a slow-moving storyline.

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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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Midnight in Paris (2011)

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, Michael Sheen, Nina Arianda, Carla Bruni, Yves Heck, Alison Pill, Corey Stoll, Tom Hiddleston, Sonia Rolland, Daniel Lundh, Kathy Bates, Marion Cotillard, Adrien Brody

Directed by Woody Allen

Expectations: Woody Allen films are always fun for me, even the bad ones, so I expect to enjoy this.


(If you’re really anticipating this film, come back after watching because I’m about to spoil it all as I seek to analyze.)

Woody Allen is one of the last classic directors still pumping out films like clockwork. While his output of the last fifteen years has had its ups and downs, he never lost that Allen feeling and voice. Not many filmmakers can say that about themselves. So when a new Woody Allen film drops, I always approach with a distinct love and appreciation of his work, but not a lot of high expectations. I seem to enjoy his recent films a lot more than the average Allen fan, but I still approach with trepidation. Leave it to me to moderately enjoy the newest in the string of “Allen’s best film in decades!” Sure, it’s a solid film, but at the end of the day, it isn’t much more than amusing. It’s one of those Allen films I enjoy with a small smile on my face throughout the film, as it’s not laugh-out-loud funny but it is quite charming.

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Mini-Review: Splice (2010)

Splice (2010)

Starring Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chanéac, Brandon McGibbon, Simona Maicanescu, David Hewlett, Abigail Chu

Directed by Vincenzo Natali

Expectations: Low.


Splice starts off rather well, peaks about forty minutes in, and then slowly declines until the last fifteen minutes or so. At this point it reaches the cliff of the Grand Canyon and jumps off into oblivion. Despite this bullshit final reel, Splice is actually pretty enjoyable for the most part and is surprisingly shocking at times, even to my depraved mind. Throughout the film the story hinted and teased that it might go down a certain path, but being a studio picture I thought it wouldn’t dare actually do it. They do go there and it’s shocking both visually and morally when they do. When you really think about what you’re witnessing, it’s some twisted shit and I wouldn’t have expected a major Hollywood picture to be this fucked up. It’s a shame that the script wasn’t as good as it could have been, because Splice isn’t too far away from being great, at least in the idea department. The elements are clearly here but the weak, plodding script lacks tension and genuine narrative flow. Even still, Splice is a lot better than I expected it to be.

Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley are both adequate as the genetic research couple, but the star of the show is really Delphine Chanéac as their creation. Without revealing too much, she manages to encompass the questioning nature of her character and the mannerisms associated with her unique situation. The FX are great as well, as director Vincenzo Natali wisely has the masters at KNB providing killer practical FX that get as much screen time as their CG counterparts. The integration between the two is very well done and helps to sell the over-the-top plot to even the most jaded viewer. KNB’s work dominates the majority of close-up FX shots, allowing the intense details of the physical models to inform your mind when the less detailed CG versions take the reigns for the medium-range shots. Natali’s shot selection and framing is also excellent and adds quite a bit of intrigue and interest to the film through clever camerawork and beautiful cinematography.

The final reel is pretty piss-poor though, as it’s pretty clear that they had run out of ideas half an hour earlier. Any goodwill built up over the course of the film is quickly dissipated and the film ends with a telegraphed, bullshit moment that was only inserted so a sequel could be churned out if the film proved successful. Oh well, it was pretty fun while it lasted.

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