Tag Archives: foreign films

Movie Review: Ip Man

Image result for ip man movie poster free useFilm is a transcending medium. In spite of language disparities, film is understood. Sadly, there will always be a small disconnect. Subtitles are an annoyance that can’t be ignored, not to mention that one mistranslated portion can significantly alter a message. With that said, the foreign film industry is one that should be respected and investigated. They have something to offer to film the same as anyone else.

The Asian film market is no different. Perhaps its biggest hit, Toho’s Godzilla is the longest continuously running movie franchise. Godzilla was a key component in creating the monster genre that is now popularized today and also demonstrated what at the time were one-of-a-kind special effects from Eiji Tsuburaya.

Other Asian industries have become known for their superb stunt choreography, especially in martial arts films. The Raid films, which I have sadly not seen yet, are examples of recent memory while Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Jet Li became Asian superstars many years ago. While stuntwork has become the staple of the Asian market, they’re capable of more than that. Every country’s theatrics are greater than any one aspect.

And so I introduce you to Ip Man.

Centered on the true story of the Kung Fu master that taught Bruce Lee, Ip Man is as much folklore as dramatic fiction, neither of which is problematic. Ip Man is both a character and a cultural icon, shouldering both the weight of his family and of his city. As the region of Foshan is enveloped by the Japanese during World War II, this struggle becomes heavier and widened. Ip Man is the beacon for a lot of people and through all this turmoil, he knows its his duty to stir hope.

This, sadly, is about as dramatic as our main plot is going to get. Director Wilson Yip doesn’t dive into anything more than that, taking a cautious but thorough route with a beloved figure. I imagine he may have been looking at the long-term possibilities here, knowing that trying to say all there was to say about Ip Man in one feature-length film simply wasn’t feasible.

And look, the plot may not be doing much for me, but I enjoy this movie. I really do. Each time I watch this, I gain more respect for it. There is some dramatization at points that takes away from the legitimate lens the camera is shooting with, but it does not erase the natural quality this movie possesses. It’s a finely crafted film from a visual standpoint. It’s just not an overly substantial one. It’s an interesting story because of what we see, not because of what we hear (in this case, read) or feel, at least most of the time. It’s rather basic storytelling presented with exaggeration at points, leaving us little contextual themes or underlying messages to chew on.

Donnie Yen is a more than competent martial artist and actor but his acting repertoire seems to fall by the wayside in favor of the action sequences. While Ip Man is doing an amazing job balancing his struggles, the pendulum of the film moves only one way: those action portraits.

The action novellas are pretty solid. For example, there’s a scene where Ip Man, armed with a feather duster, beats a man with a sword. These fighting sequences take both the stuntwork to execute and the direction to capture and frame them in a smooth rhythm. This process, for the most part, takes a lot of patience on the editing floor and from the actors themselves and so, whenever I see a practical stunt segment like this, I can only grin from the technique being displayed by the crew.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Captain America: Civil WarDeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe Babadook)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Olympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of Tomorrow)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Kong: Skull IslandThe InvitationHushGhostbusters (2016)Batman)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Doctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide SquadBatman Forever)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (The Great WallRobin HoodUnderworldThe Do-OverX-Men: Apocalypse)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Underworld: EvolutionBatman & RobinBloodsportWar, The Ridiculous 6)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Most Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturionPlanet of the Apes)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (Avalanche SharksCatwomanThe GunmanThe VisitThe Fantastic Four)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for Ip Man: 76.

Ip Man is a film that shows some of the best of Chinese cinema, but also never hits its full stride, leaving me hopeful for future installments but content with what I have here.

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Movie Review: The Great Wall

Image result for the great wall movie poster free useThe Great Wall isn’t great and I doubt anyone’s surprised. The trailer for this film looked awful, showcasing awkward line delivery and rather straightforward character arcs. While I am going to spend a fair amount of page bashing this film, I want to say up front this movie isn’t apocalyptically bad. I was expecting it to be, but it does offer some surprises.

Director Zhang Yimou, who’s been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film three times, has a solid resume, producing most of his work in China and Hong Kong. Known for his color palette and cinematography, Yimou demonstrates these attributes in The Great Wall, though neither to the quantity or splendor most of us would prefer. A drama would have been nice but Yimou can’t prevent himself from being a storyteller that wants to awe and shock people through vision rather than capable filmmaking or a conscious script.

Although, I will give him credit for avoiding what I felt would be this film’s biggest hurdle: taking itself too seriously. There are plenty of films I want to take themselves seriously and don’t. It’s unfortunate that’s how it turned out but sometimes it works itself out in the end. Concurrently, there are directors that want to turn everything they do into the most dire of affairs in every aspect, to the point their ambition hinders their product. This is often the case when I sit down for a foreign film. I am well aware that all foreign films are not like this. I just seem to find all of the ones that are, for some reason. All of this goes to say, I was thankful when Matt Damon and his compadre started cracking jokes. That moment of recognition, when you know your film doesn’t have the gravitas to pull off the compelling, is uber-important.

Yimou doesn’t give up on the seriousness, nor do I think he should have, instead trying to balance the seesaw of tension by himself between what may be too much humor and what needs a laugh dropped on top of it to simmer everything down a little. While I commend the effort he puts in to try to keep this ship straight, it’s as difficult as it sounds and he can’t pull it off, mostly because his script writers are sawing off half the contraption with some straight invalid characters (I still, after more than a week, can’t explain why Willem Dafoe is in this) and nauseating line delivery. Watch the trailer above and try to tell me Damon’s “We came to trade” line belongs in any movie. Try to make a semi-decent argument and put it in the comments. That line in the trailer might be the iceberg to the film, honestly. Don’t get me wrong, this ship takes plenty of hits along the way, but this behemoth is the one that puts her down for good.

Which means, most of the talking in this film isn’t relevant. Usually, when I review a foreign film, I have to talk about the already inherent disadvantage it’s at because of the need for subtitles. This film doesn’t have that wall, though it does have the wall of relevancy to face up against and doesn’t fare so well with that. Some narration is needed for the organization of the plot but otherwise, a majority of the dialogue could be removed and you’d still get as far with the story as you would with it in. The characters just don’t mean anything. Yes, we get a few chuckles early as I mentioned above, but there’s a substantial difference between a one-liner machine and a character and we don’t even have a machine here. More like a one-liner chicken having a seizure in the middle of a species war.

Some of the action sequences are attractive enough to hold one’s attention though nowhere near the command of focus a movie that essentially doesn’t have characters requires. Some are plain illogical but at least it warrants a laugh. There’s one scene in particular where Damon’s buddy throws an ax off target and Damon shoots it three separate times with three separate arrows to correct its trajectory. If you enjoy this type of content, you might find yourself halfway to the road of enjoyment. You just need to decide how large the chasm is between badass and stupid.

There are some nice shots from the cinematographer here, with Yimou no doubt having some influence given his past experience as one. There’s also some knowledge passed on about the Great Wall that peaked my interest and shows you some of the inner workings of one of the world’s greatest wonders, though a quick look on Wikipedia may disappoint you either a lot or a little, depending on how much of it you believed.

Despite how underwhelming this film is, I am glad to see it do well at the box office (thus far, $320 million on a $150 million budget) because it means more foreign films will get money thrown at them and, more importantly, it means a real shot at the world spotlight.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Captain America: Civil WarDeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe Babadook)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Olympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of Tomorrow)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (The InvitationHushGhostbusters (2016)BatmanFree State of Jones)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Doctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide SquadBatman Forever)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (Robin HoodUnderworldThe Do-OverX-Men: ApocalypseD-Tox/Eye See You)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Underworld: EvolutionBatman & RobinBloodsportWar, The Ridiculous 6)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Most Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturionPlanet of the Apes)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (Avalanche SharksCatwomanThe GunmanThe VisitThe Fantastic Four)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for The Great Wall: 52.

Great legends have great characters: Achilles, Leonidas, Robin Hood, King Arthur. The Great Wall doesn’t have one and that’s what drags this film down more than anything. All we can hope for is a better movie in the next worldwide chapter of Chinese cinema.

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Movie Review: Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead

I would like to preface this review by saying I never expected Dead Snow to be a good movie. Something I do to relax and calm my nerves is watch a bad movie and hate on it, which Netflix is the perfect avenue for. I brought up a zombie movie I did not expect it to be good. Dead Snow was a rare exception on Netflix, at least these days. It was a truly good film.

Good, not great. Looking back on it and skimming over the review I did for Dead Snow, something I continually hammered on was director Tommy Wirkola’s lack of direction and the film’s immobility for most of the first half. There was some suspense and there was a little pull on me to stick with it, but I think that pull may have been my want to see a movie at the time and not a pull from Wirkola.

However, I’ve seen Dead Snow twice which means it has some draw to it and I think that draw is that it’s too fun of a movie to not show your friends. It drags, it can be incompetent material at times and it’s certainly not to be taken seriously but it adequately meets the standard of fun.

So I was pumped for Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead. Despite its flaws as a film, I have fond memories of Dead Snow and while I had no idea how the film’s story would transition into a sequel, this was a film I was okay with having a sequel. There are so many sequels these days that are made purely for the dough and not for the story. This was a film that was made for the fun it gave the crew that made it and the fans who watched it. It only made $1.9 million at the box office.

Yes, Dead Snow is a foreign film, made in Norway, so you should probably take that into consideration, but I applaud the efforts. Money was not the top goal here and I truly appreciate that. Nice to see we’re not all obsessed with gold like those Nazi zombies in Dead Snow.

Watching Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead with my roommate and good friend, Jon and some guys around the dorm was a blast and carried so much more weight for me than its predecessor.

For one, Wirkola decided to loosen the reins on this script and just let it flow. The way the dialogue was written, I don’t think Wirkola needed to do much here.

The reason I say that is because Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead is more comedy than any zombie movie I have ever seen, including Zombieland. This movie is a gut-buster in more ways than one. Dark humor is a mainstay. Wirkola loves having people lose their intestines so enjoy some of that. Like for real, I think there’s an intestine obsession going on here. Trying saying that three times fast.

The costumes and visual effects took a step up in this film, as did the tempo and entertainment value.

The plot is out there and it’s a go-with-it element. If you’ve been reading this for a while, you know I hate go-with-it elements but when utilized in comedies, it doesn’t bug me as much. Yes, this story is pretty ridiculous on quite a few levels but if you’re willing to accept them for what they are, you can have a real blast with this film.

The comedy writing is phenomenal and the actors do a pretty good job of dropping their lines into our greedy, give-me-more hands. With that said, this film isn’t all a party. Action sequences are taken seriously even if some of the kills in this film are exceedingly preposterous. Not saying that some of these kills would or would not happen, but the creativity this film offers with our zombie-executions is remarkable. It kept me laughing the whole way through.

The amount of time that these actors invested into this film can be demonstrated not by their performances but by the way they handle these roles. The timing is perfect. No joke fell flat. If anything, it felt like each one was on an escalator. After each one, we found ourselves holding our breath in anticipation of the next one. Then the dominoes of our self-control would come crumbling down after yet another brilliantly-executed gag.

Yet, there was something that Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead was missing and it took me a couple minutes following the film to realize what it was. What Wirkola’s sequel is missing is not uncommon. Nearly every comedy I watch is missing it because when screenwriters go to the drawing board, this isn’t the first, second or third thing that comes to their minds. The thing that’s missing is a takeaway, a life lesson.

A quick example of what I mean by life lesson can be demonstrated in a speech in Step Brothers.

Yeah, I’ll own up to it. I just used a Will Ferrell film to demonstrate what I love in comedies. Sometimes his films really miss the mark, but Step Brothers was not one of them.

At the infamous Catalina Wine Mixer, we get a speech that indirectly says, grow up, but never forget your childhood. I’m talking about the “don’t lose your dinosaur” speech.

If you haven’t seen Step Brothers yet, shame on you sir/madam. Shame on you.

Basically, the whole reason Step Brothers gets so many point from me (I haven’t written a review on this yet but when I do, I think my score will surprise you) is because it understood that life can’t be all about laughs. It isn’t. That’s not how life works. Life gets serious more often than it gets funny and while we watch comedies to distract us from the stresses of our lives, we need to be given some confidence as well, something that gives us that boost of motivation to want to go back out there and weather the storm. Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead is missing that.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (American BeautyGone GirlMulanGuardians of the GalaxyDawn of the Planet of the Apes)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of TomorrowThe Amazing Spider-Man 2)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too.(SnowpiercerThe FamilyWhen the Game Stands TallBlack Hawk DownRed Dawn(2012))

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (TwistedParkerHouse at the End of the StreetThe RavenDead Snow)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (RageZoolanderThe Expendables 3HomefrontG.I. Joe: Retaliation)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (ErasedI, FrankensteinThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesBilly Madison)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (CenturionPlanet of the ApesStonadosRedemptionPride and Prejudice)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The ColonyIn the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege TaleThe GreyX-Men: Days of Future PastThor: The Dark World)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (SabotageGallowwalkersTucker & Dale vs. EvilSafeWatchmen)

My score for Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead: 72.

You’ll find brand new fire in this installment and it’s a jolly good time, but absence of the reflection element, as well as any real character depth, does make this a journey without a compass. Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead still comes highly recommended from me. It is sure to tickle your funny bone at some point.

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Movie Review: Dead Snow

I can’t remember who it was specifically, but someone in the WordPress blogging community recommended this film. I love The Walking Dead so when it comes to zombie movies, count me in.

It’s about a few Norwegian medical students going to a cabin in the mountains during Easter break. Everything is said in Norwegian so expect subtitles. I myself am not a fan of subtitles. Movies are supposed to be a form of entertainment that is both visual and auditory. When dialogue cannot be understood by your audience and you have to revert to subtitles, I’m now doing a lot of reading and not a lot of listening, which provides the overall feel of reading a picture book rather than watching a film. This is one of the disconnects that foreign films burdens American audiences with. It’s not intentional. It’s part of the language barrier.

Tommy Wirkola’s direction for the first half is aimless at best. He has his proponents sit around a cabin and engage in pointless conversation to waste time. It’s a bunch of guys and gals hanging around in a chilly cabin, drinking and relaxing. I got it. I don’t need to be beaten over the head with it.

For the majority of Dead Snow‘s first 45 minutes, Wirkola panders and erases at the drawing board while letting the tape roll. A film that is already short at 91 minutes, Wirkola’s poor decision-making makes Dead Snow more like a 46-minute short, if you have the patience to get that far. The script is far too nonchalant to stir interest. It doesn’t want to go anywhere. It’s like when you have to go somewhere and the car is in front of you, but instead of getting in the car and getting on your way, you sit down and fiddle with your keys. It doesn’t make sense.

The most persistent viewer will struggle to stay connected to the material. The audience’s desire to stick around would have been strengthened had they been teased of the quality Dead Snow had the potential to exhibit. However, when you watch a film for the first time and the opening half of the skit is mediocre at best, you can’t be criticized for turning it off. If you ate half of a pie and it was rotten, it makes no sense to eat the rest of it, even if the baker has assured you that is the good part. Rather than eat the rest, you’re more likely to ask, “Why couldn’t it have all been the good part?”

Desultory is probably the best adjective to describe Wirkola’s 2009 escapade: lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected. Inconsistency is a glaring blight on the zombie flick and it’s very unorganized. The story follows a logical trajectory but the entertainment value doesn’t. Wirkola’s pacing is off, especially considering this is a horror story and it’s even more of an affront when it’s a zombie movie. Where are the zombies? Where’s the suspense? Where’s the gore and laughs?

There’s no tension. The want to see what happens next is minimal. For a sub-genre that is usually described as gory and adrenaline-filled, Dead Snow if far too dead (haha) to elicit any cares from me.

Then Dead Snow got lively at the halfway point. Our protagonists stopped making the stereotypical, predictable decisions that infuriate viewers and started making the smart, survivalist decisions they should have made a long time ago. These people still aren’t bright. They make other choices that result in their demise, but at least Dead Snow improved.

Dark comedy and gutsy kills (pun) are displayed in favor of character development that never gave anything more than a perfunctory effort. I’ll give credit to the make-up artists for attempting zombie originality, but you got to do better than gray spray paint and some loose flesh to impress me. The Walking Dead is showing you up!

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (MulanGuardians of the GalaxyDawn of the Planet of the ApesTransformers: Age of ExtinctionJack Reacher)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of TomorrowThe Amazing Spider-Man 2Young Guns)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too.(When the Game Stands TallBlack Hawk DownRed Dawn(2012)MaleficentRise of the Planet of the Apes)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (RubberHansel and Gretel: Witch HuntersAnchorman: The Legend of Ron BurgundyThe TransporterSpeed)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (The Expendable 3HomefrontG.I. Joe: RetaliationVantage PointThe Starving Games)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesBilly MadisonA Haunted House300: Rise of an EmpireCowboys and Aliens)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (CenturionPlanet of the ApesStonadosRedemptionPride and Prejudice)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The GreyX-Men: Days of Future PastThor: The Dark WorldThe Sum of All Fears)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (GallowwalkersTucker & Dale vs. EvilSafeWatchmenClash of the Titans)

My score for Dead Snow: 61.

Dead Snow is half a film, so it gets half a score. The final third ascends it to the 60’s but just barely so.

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