Shanghai Noon (2000)

Shanghai Noon (2000)
AKA Shanghai Kid, Shaolin Cowboy

Starring Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Lucy Liu, Brandon Merrill, Roger Yuan, Xander Berkeley, Yu Rong-Guang, Jason Connery, Walton Goggins, Adrien Dorval, Rafael Báez, Stacy Grant, Kate Luyben

Directed by Tom Dey

Expectations: Moderate.


From where I’m sitting, the years have not been kind to Shanghai Noon. I initially saw it upon its original home video release, and I remember liking well enough to carry a positive memory around with me in the intervening years. Seeing it in relative close proximity to some truly great Jackie films, though, Shanghai Noon feels neutered and missing so much of the “it factor” that makes Jackie unique. The action is minimal and not satisfying at all, though to be fair Shanghai Noon is trying its best to be a comedy more than anything else. This becomes a problem when you’re not laughing along with the movie, because there’s literally nothing else to carry the film (other than every western genre cliche you can imagine).

Jackie plays Chon Wang, an Imperial Guard who is friendly with Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu) and feels responsible when she is kidnapped and taken to America. So along with a trio of uptight guards, Jackie makes his way to the land of cowboys and golden dreams to begin his search. Initially he finds it a bit hard, running into a bumbling gang of train thieves led by Roy O’Bannon (Owen Wilson). But to be honest, the plot of Shanghai Noon isn’t of much concern; it’s more about the comedy of the two lead characters coming together and dealing with situation after situation of bad luck.

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Quick Takes: The Lego Movie, Machete Kills, Only God Forgives

lego_movie_ver9The Lego Movie (2014)
twohalfstar

Starring Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Cobie Smulders, Jadon Sand
Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

So pretty much everyone loves this movie, but I just thought it was OK. I also found it ironic that the song Everything is Awesome became so popular among fans of the film, but yet it’s the butt of many jokes about the conformity of the mainstream Lego people in the movie. Whatever. The jokes largely fell flat for me, and while I enjoyed the premise and the imagination on display, it was all too loud and abrasive for my tastes. I did love the little Star Wars cameos and Batman’s hilarious song, though, and I wish the film had more of that kind of comedic brilliance.

machete-kills-new-poster-and-13-new-photos-1Machete Kills (2013)

Starring Danny Trejo, Mel Gibson, Demian Bichir, Amber Heard, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Hudgens, Alexa Vega, Marko Zaror, Tom Savini, William Sadler
Directed by Robert Rodriguez

This, on the other hand, was pure entertainment for me. Robert Rodriguez makes fun B-Movies, and I love him for it. Machete Kills feels like more of a James Bond spoof than a sequel to Machete, but as long as you like both Machete and Bond (like me), that isn’t an issue. Charlie Sheen is wonderful as the US President, and Mel Gibson definitely makes for a fun asshole villain. The film is somewhat spastic with its ultra-long list of characters, though, which doesn’t allow many of them to get much screen-time. I understand this allows for a long list of celebrities to fill the poster, but quality is usually better than quantity. But this is a B-exploitation flick, so more is better, right?

only_god_forgives_ver6Only God Forgives (2013)
onehalfstar

Starring Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Gordon Brown, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, Tom Burke, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Pitchawat Petchayahon, Charlie Ruedpokanon
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

There are times when I am a film masochist. Despite thinking Refn’s Drive was an overrated, boring mess of staring people, I felt compelled to watch Only God Forgives. I guess being set in Thailand was a big enough draw to pull me in, regardless of my misgivings. Anyway, this one probably has more staring than Drive. There’s even a whole scene where an entire room of people sit and stare, all while a man has his eyes cut out… Refn is clearly preoccupied with all things ocular. Even still, I think I liked this one a hair more than Drive because the exotic, urban Thai locations and the bold uses of color are pretty to look at. It’s also interesting to see what is basically a B-movie all dolled up in artsy clothes, but it’s not something that really works for me. At least in these clothes it doesn’t. For some reason, I still feel compelled to see more of Refn’s work. Like I said, sometimes I’m a film masochist.

Django Unchained (2012)

django-unchained-movie-poster-teaserStarring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, Don Johnson, Laura Cayouette

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Expectations: Very high. Tarantino is a big western fan, so there’s no way this can’t be great, right?

twostar


In a single word, Django Unchained is excessive. Excessive in every possible way. Some movies that trade in excess get by because the excess is fun, or in some way in service of the story, but in Django it’s neither (not that an unflinching slavery movie should be fun). Instead it feels more like Tarantino is simply throwing everything he has at the audience when he should be carefully crafting a tale worth telling. I’ve always had something of a love/hate relationship with Tarantino and his films, but coming off of the expertly crafted Inglourious Basterds I thought for sure he would deliver something truly memorable. And Django is memorable… for all the wrong reasons. Where the script for Basterds was honed over something like 10 years, Django Unchained was written in a few months and thrown into production soon after. This may be a three-hour “epic,” but it definitely feels a lot closer to Death Proof than I would have liked, at least in terms of the quality of the writing.

As the film opens, a couple of slave traders transport a small group of slaves across the rocky hills and the frozen fields “somewhere in Texas.” They are stopped by a jovial man named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who is specifically looking for a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) in hopes that he can help him find a trio of wanted men. Thus begins the tale of Django, a freed slave on his way to becoming a fearsome bounty hunter. Or really, that should read: Thus begins the tale of King Schultz and how he frees Django, but not really.

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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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