Movie Review: KUNG FU HUSTLE

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KUNG FU HUSTLEColumbia Pictures
2004
R

“You may know kung fu… but you’re still a fairy.”

Due to the shenanigans of a couple of street miscreants, the small slum town of Pig Sty is descended upon by the deadly- but stylin’- Axe Gang. Shortly after their arrival, though, the axe-wielding Scorsese knock-offs discover that being poor doesn’t necessarily mean being timid, as their collective butts are systematically and methodically handed to them by a trio of the slum’s merchants. To gain revenge on the simple townsfolk, they enlist a couple of deadly kung-fu assassins, including the insane Beast, a man who is so dedicated to the martial arts that he lost his mind. How can the Landlady and her husband protect their slum? Can you believe the miscreant who inadvertently brought all this trouble to begin with?

After viewing Kung Fu Hustle with Nex and my visiting cousin, and after having a couple of days to digest this experience in foreign cinematic wackiness, I would liken this flick to a multi-layered parfait- it has the basic but tasty Kung Fu movie base, and is topped with several different but equally tasty layers that borrow heavily from different genre pics: The Seven Samurai, Gangs Of New York, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (which comes naturally because of the director / writer / star), The Matrix: Revolutions…and some not-so-expected layers from old Laurel And Hardy flicks, and especially a heavy dose of classic Chuck Jones cartoons, mainly the Coyote and Roadrunner classics. All of which are served up into a damn fun concoction.

And by “fun”, I mean wacky, over-the-top, cartoony-in-a-good-way fun, where the acting is ham-fisted, the humor is goofy, the characters are eccentric, and the situations are zany. Add in the esophagus-crushing kung-fu action, and you’ve got 90 minutes of pure escapist fun. Imagine, if you will, the final big fight scene at the end of Matrix: Revolutions between Neo and all o’ them Agent Smiths, only with pinball machine sounds chiming every time contact is made, and you have a very small idea of the wackiness ensuing. You also got a Kung Fu master that takes on the attributes of a frog to fight, a couple of assassins that look like they stepped out of the Mortal Kombat game to battle with…music, a chain-smoking landlady who sucks down her cancer stick to the butt while preparing to unleash her Lion’s Roar on unsuspecting gang members, tons of Looney Tunes-style slapstick (the scene where the landlady hits a billboard after running about 1000 MPH, and “SCREEEEEEEEEEE!”‘s down slowly…I just about died)…just a nice balance of extreme action and extreme belly laughs from yours truly…which is rare in a “Kung Fu Comedy”…then again, thus far the only offerings in that department have been Jackie Chan’s one-trick-pony flicks. And Kung Pow doesn’t really count, as it’s an American movie made from an older, “serious” Kung Fu movie…

The things that work against this movie, though…would be the same things that made it such a great wacky ride for me. Let’s face it, there’s going to be people going to this expecting Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with a couple of gags in the fight scenes. These are probably the same people who don’t get Monty Python’s Search For The Holy Grail, so they don’t concern me really. Basically, if you ever seen that movie and shook your head in confusion as to why they were skipping around hitting coconut shells together instead of riding actual horses…um, you might want to stay away from Kung Fu Hustle. Trust me. You’re head will blow up. That, and personally, I didn’t like the English subtitles, as I know I missed a few things just trying to read and keep with the narrative. What could have worked, if there was an actual overdubbing of this movie, is to use gangsta rappers for the voices. I mean, gangsta rap is already cheesy and unintentionally funny while trying to portray a “thug” persona, so it’ll work well with the Axe Gang members…think about that…

Enough said. I enjoyed this movie. And if you’re a fan of the wacky, over-the-top action comedies, hitch up your pants (INSIDE REFERENCE ALERT!!!) and check this foreign flick out.

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Movie Review: KRULL

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KrullColumbia Pictures
1983
PG

“If I had my wish I’d be out of this gloomy place right away. If I really had my wish I’d be sitting on top of a gooseberry pie as big as a mountain. No, that’s a bit greedy. I’ll settle for one as big as a house.”

Truth be told, there’s a bunch of movies that I have yet to watch that many have just assumed I’ve already seen, and then when they find out I haven’t seen ’em yet the registered shock from shattering illusions makes for some rather amusing reactions.

Take Krull, for instance – the 1982 sci-fi fantasy cult classic that is considered required watching for anyone who’s serious about their geek cred. Yeah, managed to go without watching that one until very recently. And the reason I did watch it was because my near, dear brother-from-a-different-mother Nex discovered I have yet to watch Krull. And after recovering from some kind of brief seizure, immediately sat me on his couch and brought Krull up on his Net Flix streaming.

So…yeah, Krull. The story involves a planet that bears the title of the movie, a horde of intergalactic evil conquerors that fly around in a giant black petrified tree stump, and rides around on horses, firing laser thingies, and wearing black Power Ranger outfits. They go around, terrorizing the planet, and manage to eventually crash a royal wedding, killing most of the guests and guards, wounding the prince and kidnapping the princess. After a bunch of self-pity educed whining, said Prince goes off on a quest to find his Princess before the alien horde disappear with her forever, on the way hooking up with a ragtag bunch to help fight them.

Yeah, the story is pretty standard fantasy fare, with a bit of the ol’ Sci-Fi mixed in there. Seems that the movie was originally going to be a Dungeons & Dragons movie, but couldn’t secure the rights to use that, so we got a D&D-meets-Star Wars kind of thing. Well, heavy on the D&D fantasy actually.

The movie itself is campy fun. The effects are obviously dated, and the acting is a bit over-the-top, but all that adds to the experience, really. Far from a masterpiece, with several cliched plot contrivances, nevertheless Krull is far better than a lot of fantasy movies that have come out since (Neverending Story III, anyone?). The acting is just hammy enough to make everything fun, and it’s easy to get past the dated effects going on. I’d say, if you haven’t watched it yet, like I waited so long to do so, at least give it one look. Go ahead, watch it with friends. Have yourself a good time, there.

Movie Review: KNOWING

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KnowingSummit Entertainment
2009
PG-13

“What happens when the numbers run out?”

Nicholas Cage is really beginning to piss me off. His choice of movie rolls as of late have made me begin to question his ability to make good decisions regarding his career (and, in effect, my quality of entertainment), and wonder if he needs some kind of intervention. The kind that involves baseball bats.

In the over-hyped Knowing, we find Nicholas Cage at his most detached, acting-wise. There’s no chemistry whatsoever with his costars, which consists of mainly a kid. Not that the other adult featured in the movie oozed charm herself, mind you…

The plot itself is just headache-educing (um, I should maybe point out that there’s SPOILERS AHEAD, so proceed with caution): A girl in the 1950s jots down numbers given to her by mysterious voices, which is then placed inside a time capsule. Fifty years later, Nick Cage’s kid just happens to get that list after the capsule is opened, and Nick’s scientist character deciphers the numbers as dates of doom. In one night. While drunk. Seems all of the dates predicted have already come to pass, all but three. So we go from lethargic Nick Cage to bewildered and excitable Nick Cage, Wicker Man-style, trying to stop the remaining disasters. Somehow the daughter of the girl who wrote the numbers in the first place gets involved, then they realize that the final date is when the Earth gets blowed up by a freak solar flair, and then their kids get picked up by waxy aliens and taken tot he planet of fluffy bunnies and wavy grass of happiness before the Earth gets flash fried. Oh, and small black pebbles factor in there somewhere, though I’m still hard-pressed to explain how they do. Much like the majority of the plot, here.

So what we have is a movie that starts off as a slow moving psychological thriller which, after a couple of nicely done disaster scenes, turns into a sci-fi movie that’ll make you wonder if this wasn’t secretly funded by Scientology. Or a rejected M. Night Shyamalan script.

Yeah, Knowing was a bit of a chore to sit through. Nicely done in the cinematography department, but really anemic where it should count. I ended up lamenting what could have been.

Movie Review: JUSTICE LEAGUE: Starcrossed

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justice league starcrossedWarner Bros. Animation
2004
NR

The Justice League is on patrol in Washington, D. C. while the international peace summit takes place. Suddenly, the Capitol is under attack by an alien spaceship, and the combined forces of Superman, Batman, The Flash, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl and Wonder Woman can’t stop it…until a whole fleet of spaceships swoop down and destroys the menace. A fleet that turns out to be Thanagarian, from Hawkgirl’s home planet. And the leader of the winged warriors happens to be Hawkgirl’s old fiancĂ©. Which kind of weirds out Green Lantern, as he’s been having a little somethin’ somethin’ with Hawkgirl since about the middle of Second Season or so. But, anyway, referring back to Plot A: Seems there’s a warlike alien race headed toward Earth with notions of worldwide conquest on their noggins, and the Thanagarians have arrived to help the citizens of Earth defend against the horde. Only Batman thinks it’s too much of a coincidence that the Thanagarians arrived just as the one ship attacked. Soon, the true purpose of the Thanagarian presence is made known, which would mean the utter annihilation of our planet. With Hawkgirl’s allegiance now apparently with the Thanagarians (how many times can I say that?), the Justice League must try to stop their plans…otherwise, well…boom…

Starcrossed The Movie is technically the three-part series finale of the Cartoon Network series (it changed over to Justice League Unlimited afterwards). Clocking in at 68 minutes on DVD, it seems a bit short for a movie, but trust me when I say, it jams a lot of action in little over an hour. Like the other Bruce Timm-created cartoons utilizing the popular DC characters (Batman, Superman, Batman Beyond, etc.), Justice League manages to recreate the wonder of the superhero comics while not insulting the collective intelligence of those watching it. Meaning, this Justice League ain’t your daddy’s Superfriends. There’s the action, natch, but the script explores the complexities of the relationships of the characters- Hawkgirl’s feelings for Green Lantern and friends in the League versus her duty to her people, and the betrayal felt by the League. This made these superheroes more than just comic book characters…you feel something beyond just a quick ‘toon fix. The ending, I must admit, brought a tear to my eye, something that hasn’t happened since the end of Iron Giant, and Snoopy Come Home before that. Bite me.

Final analysis: Starcrossed The Movie is yet another example in the high-quality cartoons that Bruce Timm and co. have been putting out- simple yet engaging animation, fantastic voice actors, and a script that doesn’t dumb it down. Quality stuff…

Movie Review: SCARLET FRY’S JUNKFOOD HORRORFEST

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junk food horrorfestPretorious Productions / Brain Damage Films
2007
NR

Ah, another no-budget, shot-on-home-video “movie” to fill my head with pain and suffering. This one, though, was a bit different. Not only was this only a bit over an hour long, Scarlet Fry’s Junkfood Horrorfest is an anthology of six, count ’em, six no-budget shorts, the kind of stuff you usually can find on YouTube. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

We start off with a junkie looking to score some dope, who is played by none other than Alice Cooper’s daughter, Calico Cooper. Why she’s in here…I don’t know. Loose a bet? Favor to a friend or something? Regardless, she’s given a videotape of this movie, and after smashing in the head of the junkie dealer that gave her the movie (don’t blame her, really), we’re treated to six tidbits of *cough* terror, all hosted by a hillbilly zombie that’s guaranteed to annoy. Really, he comes off as one of those cheesy horror house tour guides the local community center puts on every year. But anyway, the six movies he introduces range from the somewhat watchable to the downright groan-educing bad, and not in the so-bad-it’s-good kind of way, either. The acting is what you would expect from fare like this- terrible. There’s way too much unneeded swearing (the normal hallmark of hack writing in these things), but surprisingly little nudity. I’ll give this movie points for keeping things relatively brief, clocking in at just over an hour as mentioned before.

Bland, uninspired, but not as painful as I was expecting. Pass.

Movie Review: IT

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ITWarner Home Video
1990
NR

“I’m every nightmare you’ve ever had. I’m your worst dream come true. I’m everything you ever were afraid of.”

Underneath the sleepy Maine town of Dery (I defy you to show me a town in Maine that isn’t sleepy), an unspeakable Lovecraftian evil dwells, manifesting itself as a clown and preying on the town’s children. In the 1950s, five youths venture into the bowels of the town and battle the unnameable thing, and leave it for dead. Twenty years later, however, It has returned. And now the group that battled the entity all those years ago are grown up with lives of their own. They’re coming back for a reunion, to put to rest once and for all the evil that stalks the town…

This is a first. An adaptation that’s actually better than the novel, if only for the fact that it trims out many needless details that made reading the book a long and tedious thing for me. And there were many, none-the-least of which is young Billy’s psychic journey to meet up with the giant cosmic turtle. Seriously.

Even with the simplified plot, this three-hour-plus TV miniseries zips right along. Casting Tim Curry as the evil clown was genius. It also helped to have the cast of adults a veritable who’s who of TV veterans, giving very commendable performances. On the downside, the final confrontation with the Creature disappointed me, as it could have benefited from more shadowy concealment to leave much to the imagination, instead of rendering it out in the open. Outside of that, and some obviously dated computer graphics, It is some fun watchin’…

Movie Review: IRON MAN

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IRON MANMarvel Studios
2008
PG-13

“Is it better to be feared or respected? I say, is it too much to ask for both?”

After the less-than-enjoyable comic book-based movies of 2007 (namely, Spider-Man 3 and Ghost Rider), I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the upcoming big screen adaptations for 2008. Given the recent track record, the big screen treatment of Marvel Comics’ billionaire superhero had a lot on its plate to make it worthwhile to spend my $9. And after seeing this with my compatriots Nex and Boz Man, I’d say Marvel Studios has taken a huge step in the right direction.

I’ve owned maybe two Iron Man comics in my youth. Regardless, as a comic geek, I’m very well-versed in the history of the character- the background, origin, main villains, personal struggles, allies, etc. So, while I didn’t have a lot of fanboy baggage going into Iron Man than I did with Spider-Man back in 2002, I would know if the movie was being true to the character and general comic mythos, or if the filmmakers were gonna pull an Ang Lee.

Fortunately, with Marvel now in full creative control, Iron Man was an incredibly fun action flick that remained true to the source material while rendering some unavoidable modern tweaks. I fall in the camp that thought Robert Downey, Jr. was a perfect choice for the roll of Tony Stark from the get go, and he doesn’t disappoint. He has fun with the character from within the first few minutes after the movie starts, giving a certain depth to the genius millionaire industrialist playboy; essentially, Stark is the lovable jerk, and Downey, Jr. really brings this out. The cast of supporting characters round out the story nicely, with Jeff Bridges almost unrecognizable with his shaved head and full beard.

Overall, Iron Man is pretty slick, good on the action, some very cool effects, and more than a few laughs, while staying true to the comic fans. A well-made geeky summer action superhero movie. Here’s hoping Marvel keeps this kind of quality up for the future.

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