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.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Starring Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Expectations: I expect to still love it.


It is always with a resigned sigh that I start to review a film I’ve seen a multitude of times. It’s always hard to find what to say, as my perceptions of the film are inevitably shaped by my previous experiences with it, and are therefore somewhat suspect. But even though I’ve seen Bram Stoker’s Dracula several times throughout my life, I’m still drawn back to it, and I still enjoy it every time. That says something right there about the power of the film, even if some of that power is just pure nostalgia.

I’m sure it has something to do with first seeing the film while I was a young, impressionable kid, but this has always been my favorite telling of the story, and it remains so. This version was billed as being true to the novel, and while it’s not exactly that, it’s definitely much closer than the previous adaptations. This time through, I noticed that Bram Stoker’s Dracula felt in spots almost like an amalgamation of the previous Dracula films, creating a distinct and unique version of the tale, but still paying homage to what had come before as well. Specific shots reference Nosferatu, Oldman’s Dracula voice contains shades of Lugosi’s, and the Gothic overtones and vivid color scheme remind me greatly of the work of the Hammer studio on 1958’s Dracula.

Continue reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) →

Quick Takes: Hobo With A Shotgun, The Night Before, No Strings Attached

Hobo With A Shotgun (2011)

Starring Rutger Hauer, Gregory Smith, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Robb Wells, Nick Bateman, Peter Simas
Directed by Jason Eisener

Webster’s gonna have to put out a new dictionary, because they need to add a picture of Rutger Hauer from Hobo With A Shotgun to the entry for “trash”. Hobo With A Shotgun is the ultimate trash movie, filled with a seemingly non-stop orgy of bloody splatters and disembowelments. They try for some substance but there’s none, which is to expected, but it’s not nearly as fun as it should be. It’s enjoyable for gorehounds, but it seems more like someone trying to make a movie like the ones they love instead of focusing on the whole and making something of quality. I’m impressed that they made it though and that they got Rutger Hauer! Nice colors throughout too, and not just the reds of blood.

The Night Before (1988)

Starring Keanu Reeves, Lori Loughlin, Theresa Saldana, Trinidad Silva, Suzanne Snyder, Morgan Lofting, Gwil Richards, Chris Hebert, Michael Greene, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, George Clinton
Directed by Thom Eberhardt

Great in concept, but a little lackluster in execution, The Night Before tells the wild and crazy tale of how Keanu Reeves meant to take Lori Loughlin to the prom but ended up on the wrong side of the tracks in East LA. This begins a series of fuckups too numerous to list here. The interesting thing about this one is that it’s mostly told through inventive flashbacks as Reeves stumbles through alleyways trying to piece together what happened to him just a few hours ago. It gets tiring as it goes on, but it’s still a fun movie overall. Strangely enough, I saw this movie on TV a couple of times but I could never remember its name until recently when I happened upon it while doing some IMDB searching. If only I had retraced my steps like Keanu, my search wouldn’t have taken twenty years.

No Strings Attached (2011)

Starring Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Greta Gerwig, Jake M. Johnson, Cary Elwes, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Kline, Chris Bridges, Olivia Thirlby, Lake Bell, Ophelia Lovibond, Talia Balsam, Guy Branum
Directed by Ivan Reitman

No Strings Attached is an enjoyable romantic comedy, but like all romantic comedies it’s wildly predictable and its success lies completely in the hands of its leads. Thankfully both Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher perform their duties well and paint a good picture of a shallow relationship. Directed by Ivan Reitman(!) with little to no flair or style, the film fits perfectly into that tired mainstream studio mold that seems to endlessly churn out the same film over and over. It’s not as funny as it should be, nor is it as touching as it thinks it is, but it was a fun night off for my brain.

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