DVD Movie Review: Godzilla (2014)

***SUNDAY CALENDAR  STORY FOR MAY 11, 2014. DO NOT USE PRIOR TO PUBLICATION********** A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' sci-fi action adventure movie "GODZILLA," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. _Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

After witnessing what appeared to be nothing short of a cracking trailer, promoting an exhilarating action/disaster movie, I finally got time to watch Godzilla (2014) this weekend. What was previewed to be a major Hollywood blockbuster, actually turns out to be a Godzilla-sized waste of time.

Godzilla wasn’t designed with an all-star cast in mind. Emmerich had kind of made that mistake, with his 1998 flop of the same name. Even a star-studded line-up wouldn’t have saved this picture, though. Englishman Aaron Taylor-Johnson does a rather unconvincing job as Ford Brody, a Lieutenant in the US military, and the central human star of the film. The usually solid Ken Watanabe performed his role well, though, he wasn’t given enough screen time to really shine. Even if Watanabe’s role was reduced, it still lasted longer than Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston’s, who gives a mediocre performance as Brody’s father, a conspiracy-obsessed, former nuclear plant engineer who has lost it all.

After a fairly adrenaline pumping introduction, the movie falls into something of a lull as it tries to catch up with events taking place 15 years after the opening scenes. There’s some woeful, cheap dialogue concerning bones exploding from the inside (referencing the Space Jockey scene in Alien (1979)) to boot. From there on out, Godzilla simply falls apart.

The plot was designed to be simple – it ends up flat. It is designed to be realistic, but it falls very short of the mark. It does ask questions, but then answers them almost simultaneously, leaving you wondering a great deal about how everything in the plot came to be.

In short, Godzilla wishes to help the human race rid themselves of a pesky species of electro-magnetic pulse firing insects, known as the MUTOS. Don’t laugh, I’m being serious. I’m not sure Max Borenstein was, when he wrote the script. Anyhow, we are told by Dr Ishiro Serizawa (Watanabe) that Godzilla has been around since before the dinosaurs, and so have the MUTOS (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms), who feed on radiation. Okay, sure. As usual, the humans don’t know what to do, so they attempt to blow both species to Hell, only for Godzilla to save the day, and just in the nick of time. It’s a good thing, too, otherwise an overly predictable nuke would have wiped out San Francisco. Yes, that old chestnut.

Like the plot, the characters are also poorly developed. Nobody has any clue what role Dr Serizawa plays in Operation Monarch, how he knows what he knows about Godzilla. More mysterious is his partner, Dr Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins). All in all, they both have a good day at the office, but it’s pretty hard to cock up in what amounts to 30 minutes on the screen, n’est-ce pas? After 45 minutes of main character intros, you kind of feel short-changed that nobody really has anything more than a bit-part role in this film, some even less. The first 45 minutes – as it turns out – is way too long for a meet and greet, especially for characters who have names you don’t (and won’t) need to remember. Godzilla has a way of introducing characters, cutting them out of the film in the second act, then bringing them back for the obligatory hugs and cuddles when the coast is clear at the end.

On the plus side, Gareth Edwards’ direction is good, Alexandre Desplat’s score is below-par but fitting, and the special effects are superb. They’d have to be, though, wouldn’t they? These things are Godzilla’s only saving grace, really.

When the baddies are defeated, and all the smoke and rubble is cleared, what you are left with is a half-arsed, more expensive version of Cloverfield. I felt as though I was watching a very costly Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers episode, and that’s not what you want from Godzilla. I expected so much more. I want my money back.

The most surprising aspect of Godzilla is that it has received critical acclaim. I can’t imagine how. Having pocketed up more than $500 million at the box office, sequels are being planned. Perhaps the critics watched a different film from me?

As bad as Emmerich’s Godzilla (1998) was, that cringe-worthy flick and this film have a lot in common. They both excel in smashing up buildings, they both see the army fire off countless rounds of ammo to no avail, they both emphasize the dangers of nuclear testing, and they both fail spectacularly to deliver anything that I would consider a positive waste of two hours’ worth of celluloid.

Neither film does Godzilla justice on the big screen. But, if you’re going to be settling down to watch a monster film, then to be perfectly honest – and I can’t believe I’m going to say this – you’d be better off watching Emmerich’s again.

123 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Sin City (2005)

446534Short and sweet – unlike the film

OK, I’m not going to waste anyone’s time here. In a mere two paragraphs, I shall explain exactly why it is you should never waste any of your hard-earned cash on seeing this excercise in mental masturbation by usually reliable names. If it saves you even a few pounds/dollars/euro, I’ll consider my work done. Here goes:

Everybody I have come across who’s seen it raves about how much it’s like the comics. I suppose this is something to do with comic book author Frank Miller’s involvement in scene selection, storyboarding and direction. I would generally say this was a bad thing, not something to be celebrated. Let’s say you’re a massive fan of the band Talking Heads (and why wouldn’t you be, they were awesome) and you went to see a show. If it was just like the album, track-for-track and if you closed your eyes you could be at home listening to the album, you could have conceivably saved a few coins and done just that. Remaking something frame by frame (see: Psycho (1960)) does not make it good, it makes it artless and cold.  On the subject of ‘art’, the film opens with a scene in black-and-white, where the girl’s lips and dress are coloured bright red. A nice effect and a good use of green-screen technology. It would stand very well in music video but when it’s dragged out for over two hours, with various bits coloured for whatever effect they were attempting to achieve, it becomes pretty tiresome.

The story is deliberately noir with cheap-looking matte backgrounds and props and the actors dressed in pseudo-fifties costumes. Fine, a bit of pantomime, why not? the joke is pushed a little too far and any minute, i expected the curtain to lift, the colour to kick in and to feel overwhelmed by a sense of not being in Kansas any more.  The narration is supposed to be in the style of Sam Spade but just serves to accentuate the fact the actors are hamming it up. I wouldn’t mind if it was supposed to be funny – either that, or I missed the joke. The men are all rugged (except Kevin (Elijah Wood), who’s the best thing in the film by a country mile), the women are all sexy and are dangerous, giving them the kind of pseudo-empowerment that you could only get away with in cinema. All in all, it looked very much like director Robert Rodriguez was trying to emulate Tarantino, who also guest directs a short segment. It’s all jobs for the boys and nobody benefits. Overall, Sin City (2005) tries very hard to be clever, populist and indie and fails at all three.

124 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Gravity (2013)

GRAVITYHold tight

Gravity (2013) isn’t just another space junket for science geeks. Director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men (2006)) has captured the face of survival against the awesome backdrop that only space can provide. Gravity is extraordinary in every way possible. From the performances to the atmospheric surroundings, as an audience member, you will suffer through the hollowness of space to the claustrophobia within a space suit just as the characters do.

A medical engineer, Doctor Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), and an American astronaut, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), are in the final stages of repairing the Hubble telescope. As they relish their full-time jobs and begin to wrap-up their final assignment, the worst possible scenario occurs. In the flash of an eye, the comforting voice of Houston Control (Ed Harris – seemingly reprising his role from Apollo 13 (1995)) warns the two of an approaching issue that leaves Dr. Stone and Kowalski in full survival mode for the remainder of the film.

To capture the terror and obstacles both Ryan and Kowalski encounter, Cuarón masterfully switches from inside Ryan’s helmet to her chaotic surroundings without ever breaking the shot. Not for a second did I think there were two actors in front of a blue screen. Not once did I feel anywhere else other than floating through space.

It is a bit of a shame that Sandra Bullock won her Oscar for such a (in my ornery opinion) horrible movie in The Blind Side (2009). Her character was one we’ve seen a thousand times before (and we will see a thousands times after). As Ryan Stone, however, she delivered the depth and despair the role required. Sandra Bullock deserves to have received her Oscar achievement for this. Although her character didn’t have a drastic arc throughout the storyline, never once did your eyes shift from her when she was on screen. The film could not be effective unless she has the perfect balance of presence and fear—and she does.

I loved this film, and seeing it in 3-D only made it more enjoyable. If it weren’t for the jaw-dropping effects, my chin would have been sore from the amount of tension. The vast space between the characters and earth is a stark reminder of the likelihood of death and doesn’t allow you to rest until the credits roll off the screen. It twists and turns your insides.

There are no gimmicks in the narrative. There is no love story, no flashbacks, not even any frames with Houston in it. It’s only two people drifting in space doing everything to muster the courage to survive. The film set out to take you to a place you’ve never been before, and it achieved its goal. I recommend you sit back, and let Gravity cast you adrift.

91 mins.

DVD Movie Review: The East (2013)

TE_01770.nefGreen guns

Director Zal Batmanglij (The Sound of My Voice (2011)) dissects the moral circumstances taken by a small group of environmental terrorists, known as ‘The East’, as they launch attacks against faceless corporations throughout the world. As The East begins to obtain global media recognition for their efforts the corporations begin to take note of The East’s antics. An independent intelligence firm (whose sole clients are the threatened entities) has just hired a new operative, Sarah (Brit Marling). Her first assignment is to locate the cell, enter their ranks, and divulge all information relating to the firm’s client base.

After a chance meeting, Sarah soon succeeds and is taken in as a trusted accomplice. The East isn’t just the type of group that hates all things consumerism and materialistic. Sarah soon learns that the group is hell-bent on revenge due to personal stories of tragedies and hardships created by the corporations that they now target. Before long, Sarah swiftly encounters her own conflicting principles regarding how The East attacks the individuals responsible for corporation’s actions and the atrocities those same corporations cause to the general population.

The East’s leader, Benji (Alexander Skarsgard), is the supposed mastermind and implementer of all decisions made within the group. However, the amount of bite he has reminds me of the dog that shares his same name from those cheesy 1980s Disney movies. As the shifting group of misfit rebels with specialized skills conjure up demonic payback to corporations, the threat of being revealed becomes even greater with each attack. Whether it’s infecting a conglomerate’s CFO party guest’s drinks with hazardous drugs or making employees bathe in chemical waste, The East has their eyes set on revenge and nothing more.

The East comes up with good analytical conversations about ways corporations inflict damage by only focusing on their quarterly monetary goals instead of reflecting on the negative impacts they cause on the environment and local stakeholders. However, once the story moves away from the group’s wicked paybacks and tries to have a love story blossom between Sarah and Benji, the reckoning is lost. The analytical tone losses its grit. It’s as if the story slips into some Air Jordans, hops in their Hummer, and orders a Grande Frappacino from Starbucks on its way home before taking a nap.

For all of the spying and manipulating, the love story and final conclusion felt too rushed and insubstantial. It’s a shame because the build up to the recruitment of Sarah, her infiltration, and the types of revenge the cell completed set the final act up nicely for a first-rate espionage thriller. Instead, you feel like you received a large pepperoni pizza from Pizza Shack when all you wanted was an apple picked from your backyard.

116 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Elysium (2013)

Matt-Damon-in-Elysium-2013-Movie-ImageHazardous material

In director Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to the ridiculously fantastic District 9 (2009), Elysium (2013), he has created a convincingly surreal world. In the not so distant future, the rich and powerful residents from Earth have created a space station in orbit (called Elysium) while the rest of the world’s population remains on a resource-depleted Earth. Elysium is a fantasy land – it has no crime, no poverty, no problems. All residents are completely healthy due to machines that rid them of disease and age spots. Meanwhile, back on Earth, everyone is sick or dying – imagine Disney’s Wall-E (2008), mashed-up with District 9.

Max (Matt Damon) is an ex-felon trying lead a straight life even though the current establishment on earth takes advantage of people in his situation. Max has a manufacturing job on Earth assembling the robots that police Elysium and Earth. After a mishap at work exposes him to life threatening radiation, Max is likely going to die in the next few days. With the help of some classified information, an underground crime boss, and a childhood friend, Max is intent on reaching Elysium.

Now, let me stop here for a second. Elysium serves as a fine summer blockbuster. There are some demi-original ideas. There are even some enjoyable action scenes. But once the story tries to build a plot and rely on your vested interest in the characters, this summer blockbuster loses its wheels.

Elysium’s only strengths are captured during the action sequences on earth. With precise direction and editing, the battles between robots, humans, and Elysium’s thugs are always entertaining. Also, the worlds on Elysium and Earth created by Blomkamp may be some of the best images ever for a sci-fi film. However, there are several issues outside of the aesthetics. First, the villains needed to be given more of a story. Jodie Foster, who reminds me of a female Dick Cheney in this role, serves as an awkward antagonist whose accent during the film may be up for a 2013 Leonardo DiCaprio Award for worst linguistic failure in a film. But then we never understood her motivation, which caused inconsistency in her actions. Also, there are far too many holes in the storyline that left me questioning whether the director ever stopped and re-read his story. I would ruin some of the more fun twists in the story if I go on, so I won’t go into further detail.

Elysium doesn’t provide the original punch that made District 9 so unique. The action scenes and the worlds created are some of the best ever I’ve ever seen on screen, but the characters never establish their footing, due to space-station sized holes in the story. If you see this film, drink some bourbon, stick a crayon all the way up your nose, sniff some glue – and then enjoy.

109 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: World War Z (2013)

original1Catching some zeds?

Marc Foster, the director of such personal favorites as Monster’s Ball (2001), Finding Neverland (2004), and Stranger Than Fiction (2006), takes on a zombie apocalypse in his latest film, World War Z (2013) alongside Brad Pitt (Seven (1995) and Inglourious Basterds (2009)).

WWZ is an unusual project to try and manage given that Foster’s last two films have been anything but formalistic and stuffy (Quantum of Solace (2008) and Machine Gun Preacher (2011)). Now, he is trying to differentiate his zombie film from the saturated market of zombie material that’s running amok throughout our pop culture landscape. On top of that, he runs the risk of alienating the book’s entire fan base by completely ignoring the its premise and storylines.

It doesn’t take long into the film to become sceptical, as the intro more resembles an opening for a weather channel update covering the latest hurricane – it also doesn’t take long before everyone is running their asses off from hungry zombies. There isn’t much background given to Pitt’s character Gerry, but as he tries to find refuge for his family, he takes moments to analyze different functions surrounding the people being eaten around him, such as the amount of seconds it takes someone to die and reemerge or whether he will change into a zombie after he gets some zombie blood in his mouth.

Pitt’s character turns out to be a retired United Nations investigator. Once Gerry is able to get his family to safety, he is recruited by the government to find answers. Traveling from the US, to Israel, to somewhere else, and other places (the amount of plane travel and locations make you dizzy after a while), Pitt finds his answers and saves the world. Yipee!

As I have already mentioned, you can imagine that I was never sold on the actual character itself. Sure, he is a super smart, fit, and generous person, but there are no differentiating characteristics that stand out during the film. This is mostly caused by the ticky-tacky dialogue that curdles throughout.

I think one scene might also be a contender for the worst of the year (spoiler ahead) – it includes some briefly identified 20-something-year-old scientist who is going to save the world, who gives an excruciatingly long monologue about why this apocalypse is happening. This random guy is built up as being the savior of humanity. Apparently the screenwriters got sick of this character as well, because he slips and shoots himself in the face after two more minutes. There was then, maybe, a two second acknowledgment that this happened, before business moves on.

I may sound like I am being overly critical of World War Z –  there are some effective portions that cause you to jump a little and the scene with James Badge Dale as the crazy Captain Speke provides some grittiness. Looking back, it wasn’t a terrible film, it’s just wasn’t enough synchronicity to the storyline, and its characters, which left four or five lumpy acts. But, looking at the bigger picture, World War Z has given me my dose of zombies until The Walking Dead’s next season. So, thank you for that at least, Marc Foster.

116 mins. In English, Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic.

DVD Movie Review: The Towering Inferno (1974)

toweringinferno Crash-bang-wallop, what a picture!

What a nostalgia trip – the UK’s Film 4 was good enough to show The Towering Inferno (1974) just the other afternoon, and I couldn’t resist sitting down to see how well this Irwin Allen-produced, John Guillermin-directed disaster epic had aged.

The first time I saw it was way back in 1979, when it was first shown on British television, this being when a big TV premiere (and they didn’t come much bigger than this at the time) could rake in nearly 20 million viewers, given the absence of any other media on which to watch films, save down the flicks, of course.

Producer Irvin Allen, the ‘master of disaster’, was unfortunately to be associated with some terrible films later in his career (of which The Swarm (1978)) was the undoubted nadir), but the combination of one of the biggest big-name casts in history (Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, Robert Wagner, William Holden, Robert Vaughn, Richard Chamberlain, the list goes on and on), a solid, well-crafted screenplay from Stirling Silliphant (based on two novels, The Tower by Richard Martin Stern and The Glass Inferno by Frank M. Robinson and Thomas N. Scortia)  that only occassionally lapses into excess and controlled, suspenseful direction from Guillermin (King Kong (1976)), and it being the first time that two major studios (20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.) had collaborated on a picture, ensured that the first time I watched this, it was one of the most exciting (and talked about in the playground) films I had ever seen.

So, how does it stand up some 33-4 years after my original viewing? Truth be told, rather well. Of course, the cliches of the genre (which, to be fair, were not yet really cliches way back in 1974) stand out a mile – you’ve got developer Jim Duncan (William Holden) who has built the world’s tallest skyscraper, but hasn’t exactly kept too tight a leash on the nefarious business activities of his dishonest, cowardly son-in-law Simmons (Richard Chamberlain). You’ve got morally upstanding architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman), who quickly comes to realise that, while the building may have followed ‘code’, it is nowhere near up to the safety standards of his original specs. And, of course, you’ve got the rugged, tough but heroic fire Chief Mike O’Hallorhan (Steve McQueen) (‘It’s a fire. All fires are bad…when there’s a fire, I out-rank everyone here’) who is called in to fight an increasingly desperate battle against an inferno that threatens to destroy the building and all the guests at the inauguration party in the Promenade Room on the 135th floor.

But it is still tremendously exciting – unusually for Film 4, the channel showed a slightly trimmed version of the film (well, it did begin at 15h45) that removed some of the running, screaming, falling, burning and dying fun, but there was nevertheless still a sweaty, overpowering sense of all-consuming disaster. The film could almost be said to have had a certain prescience in these post 9/11 times, but the plot is only concerned with the horrors that incompetence and financial chicanery can bring, as opposed to outright malevolence.

There are a few parts that will make you cringe, of course – the doomed love affair between an ageing Fred Astaire and Jennifer Jones comes near to the top of the bill on that score – but I defy you, should you choose to pass an afternoon with it, as I did, not to get sucked in – the action sequences (for which Irwin Allen took a special direction credit) and the blaze S/FX are still outstanding, and the film as a whole stands as a tremendously good-fun reminder of when they really made movies big.

165 mins.

DVD Movie Review: The Sweeney (2012)

The_SweeneyThey’re havin’ a bubble…

Having grown up around London and the south-east of England, I have no trouble with the accents. People from anywhere outside the UK may want to put the subtitles on, as it all gets very Cockney very quickly. Historical note: ‘Sweeney’ comes from rhyming slang Sweeney Todd – Flying Squad – a kind of UK rapid-reaction outfit dealing with large-scale robberies, who are frequently armed. Unfortunately for me, I also grew up with the original Sweeney on the telly and I don’t really think the film made the transition into the 21st century that well. It’s all very well chasing around London in cars, having ‘casual sex’ at the top of your CV and generally making things go ‘bang’, but the original was more than that.

Gone are the days of rugged coppers in leather jackets driving some very fancy hardware around, roughing up suspects and rounding up the usual suspects. There are no brassy blondes, cheap smokes and bottles of Johnnie Walker stashed in filing cabinets. If anything, the attempt to polish the grain off and to make it more, well, Hollywood has left it more than a little flat. Ray Winstone as DI Reagan and Ben Drew as DC Carter are barely believable – a real shame as I am a huge fan of Winstone’s. Perhaps his now infamous tax-dodging took its toll and he needed to rustle up some cash, pronto.

Whatever the reason, the whole thing’s a bit of a mess really. The level of police brutality, of which it’s been said that it’s ‘unbelievable’ is not what spoils it for me – besides, I have my own theories about that. No, the veneer is what spoils it. Winstone and Drew both try very hard to make their hardened cop and poacher-turned-gamekeeper roles succeed but a weak script and some only very so-so camerawork make it an uphill struggle. It’s evident the producers didn’t think the script was up to the mark, as they relied on bigger US box-office draws to shore up the cast. Alan Ford (Bricktop from Snatch (2000)) and Damian Lewis (TV series Homeland) are well known to American audiences, but really don’t add anything o the film. Not their fault, of course.

Long story short, it’s not the worst thing ever. It suffices as a way to pass an hour and 50 minutes and is undemanding if unbelievable in parts. Watch it for the car chases and shootouts, but this ain’t no Shakespeare.

112 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron_Man_3__trailer_japan_japon_japones1_Tierra_Freak_Tierrafreak.com_.ar_On his metal

The concluding (for now) installment of the Iron Man franchise switches directors from Jon Favreau to Shane Black with the intent of amplifying the action. Fitting, since Black has a long history with blow-out action films, having written Lethal Weapon (1987), The Last Boy Scout (1991), and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), the latter of which was also Black’s directorial debut. In Iron Man 3, Black re-teams up with Robert Downey Jr. (from Kiss Kiss…), invites several familiar characters, and rewards fanboys to a fitting end to the blockbuster trilogy.

The story picks up with Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) fresh from his battle with assisting the Avengers, as he tries to resettle into society. Stark, who is experiencing side effects from his previous battles, has some lingering mental issues. Apparently, even a billionaire superhero battles mental issues, from time to time.

As Stark tinkers away in his laboratory, his eccentric behavior is on full blast and his girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), is the unfortunate recipient of his constant neurosis. Between an inept (yet, hilarious) birthday gift to Pepper to his distancing mannerisms, Stark’s mental state is far from recovered. Good thing there aren’t any terrorists running around the world. Oh, wait.

A genius, turned evil scientist (aren’t they all), Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and former one-night stand Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) have created a compound that regenerates people’s injuries. Maya created this compound years ago when she first ‘met’ Stark as a way to regenerate plants. However, there are side effects that Killian is more interested in. As Killian weaponizes the compound, and has recruited a terrorist, The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) to utilize his regenerating compound to inflict terror throughout the world. Let the games begin.

Downey Jr. and Paltrow carry the film, but the true enjoymentcomes every time the villains, Pearce and Kingsley, are on screen. Kingsley, who talks almost like Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, resembles a certain Middle Eastern terrorist, but whose character takes a hilarious turn that had me giggling the rest of the film and Pearce always provides a top-class portrayal in every film he makes. Everyone plays a fun and exciting part within the film, which ultimately is its downfall. There simply is too much going on to fully enjoy the film. There are too characters, too many explosions, and too many plot details to cram it in such a short period of time.

There wasn’t enough time to let villains be villains. There was barely even any time for Stark to be Stark. Outside of a few conversations with a kid, Stark never fully utilizes his bantering style of dialogue. This story had enough fun ideas and evil villains that it really could have been extended into two films. Therefore, due to the rush to introduce the villains and reach its conclusion, there are some gaping holes in the plot.

Overall, Iron Man 3 is a nice beginning to the summer blockbuster indulgences. Black incorporated a new type of comedy into the character, and I retained more of the film’s humour than its action. The battles can be a little large and extreme as expected from a huge blockbuster action movie, but Iron Man 3 still works simply due to Stark, some genuinely funny situations and the villains involved.

130 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Yi dai zong shi (The Grandmaster) (2013)

grandmasterPoetic fighting

The Japanese martial arts film The Grandmaster (2013) is a sweeping tale following Ip Man (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) as he tries to merge Japan’s north and south styles of fighting. Later on in life, Ip Man would be the martial artist that would go on to train Bruce Lee. It has been estimated that the director, Wong Kar Wai (In The Mood For Love (2000)) has worked on this film over the past 12 years. Looking over the intricate storyline and amount of metaphors included within the film, it is safe to assume that there is more to it than first meets the eye.

During portions of the film there is very little dialogue and flows like a visual poem. The majority of the opening act revolves around the different fighting techniques IP Man learns during his sessions within different rooms of the area’s brothel. Apparently, the brothel is like the local watering hole for all kinds of masterful martial artists back in the early 1900s. As Ip Man moves from room to room, he is constantly showing others his wit and talents in an effort to take over and became a grandmaster.

During Ip Man’s training period at the brothel his final fight was with one of the current grandmaster’s daughters, Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi). The two have a connection that borders on romantic during their fight. After the two dual, they go their separate ways and are later both affected differently by the war that soon breaks out between China and Japan.

All fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed and the atmospheres created in the scenes are electrifying. However, after close to an hour of choreographed fights throughout the brothel, the scenes become mundane and the intricate fights become more like an elaborate game of paddy-cake.

Overall, the film is great to watch, but I don’t think I have enough knowledge of marital arts and Japanese history to truly appreciate the film in its entirety.

130 mins. In Mandarin, Cantonese and Japanese.

Cinema Movie Review: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)


It may be the state of mind I’m currently in, but despite the crushing critique coming from all directions, I actually really enjoyed watching Tommy Wirkola’s Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013). I first saw the trailer without knowing anything about the movie, and I was quite amused by the simple idea of it – namely, the later story of the above-mentioned characters after they managed to kill the bad witch in her candy hut in the middle of the forest.

Well, let’s see. According to the director, Hansel (Jeremy Renner), and Gretel (Gemma Arterton), having realised that witch magic doesn’t work on them and having killed the children-eating monster from the candy cottage, decide to use their skills in a good fight against all the witches of the world. They are very good in what they do, they’re real pros, in fact. They have guns, knives and sparrows, they have leather clothes and they seem to know all kinds of martial arts. They have a reputation that proceeds them wherever they go, but they also have diabetes (Hansel) and hearts broken by their parents, who decided to leave them in the woods, alone (both). Now, 15 years after their first kill, they have a problem. In a (supposedly German) village, kids are being kidnapped by a witch. But not just any witch – a seemingly unconquerable one, whose evil plan is to make all the other witches immortal. Hansel and Gretel have to gather all their strength and get help from anyone who’s willing to offer it (even if these are white witches and sympathetic trolls) and deal with their mortal but brutal and unscrupulous enemy, the town sheriff (Peter Stormare).

And that’s it – that’s the whole plot, filled with fight scenes and shootings, gore, blood and heads smashed to the walls and ground. Pure entertainment (although it’s very bloody). None of the smart in-depth analysis of the Grimms’ story was touched upon, no special innovations, just a few funny exchanges and, apart from that a light, it’s not very original. Some films are made just for fun, however, and this is one of them.

88 mins.