Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Great Expectations (Newell, 2013)

Or, if you like, Harry Potter and the Great Expectations. OK, no Daniel Radcliffe, but Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter and Robbie Coltrane are in this Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) interpretation of the Dickens classic.

Which is not, it cannot be emphasized enough, apparently, the classic 1946 David Lean version of the same story. Nor is it the "South Park" version, but nobody seems to be holding that against it.

I don't have much truck with Dickens. I tried reading The Pickwick Papers once; it was so dense with what were, essentially, the pop culture references of the day (specifically politics, which is just self-important pop culture) that, well, it just didn't seem worth the effort.

Well, it was his first work, and he was paid by the word, and probably mostly concerned with keeping the gravy train going. Probably a bad choice to start. My fault, really.

In any event, I mention it because there are Dickens purists out there, and between the Lean purists and the Dickens purists, this movie doesn't have much of a chance.

The Boy and I really liked it, however. The story is more or less the one you know and love, or not. They pretty much show it all in the trailer, which is kind of a shame because the third act twist is a good one. If there's a serious flaw with this film it might be that it's too aware of what has come before.

It clocks in at about two hours and moves briskly the whole time, which means scenery must be chewed at a breakneck pace. That's not a dig, there are a whole lot of acting chops crammed into this timeframe and, in typically English fashion, alongside the big names are many lesser known actors carrying their weight.

Jeremy Irvine (whose only other major credit is the lead in War Horse) plays Pip likably, but Holliday Grainger (who, at 25, is a grizzled old acting veteran) perhaps had the tougher job playing Estella likably, as in many interpretations, she's rather detestable.

This is a relatively optimistic interpretation—something I think that bothered some of the purists, although it's debatable whether the Dickens meant it to be as bleak as it is often portrayed—and so Estella must suffer the scars of her twisted association with Havisham, but also reveal, however subtly, something redeemable, and something worthy of being redeemed. Grainger has a kind of porcelain beauty to her that has some warmth, and Newell, too, is fairly skilled at making her unattractive at times and not at others.

Helena Bonham-Carter threads that needle very nicely, too. At times she looks almost ghostly beautiful, like a shadow of her young self, and at other times like a hag, but even if when she looks "good", she looks like the live-action version of herself in The Corpse Bride.

If we're being honest, though, all the roles have challenges. Dickens isn't really about safe, subdued strokes, I don't think, and the characters are broad—perhaps too broad for modern audiences.

I don't know; I'm just trying to figure out why a lot of people seem put off or outright hostile.

It's a good story with memorable characters. It rewards your time in the chair, and isn't self-indulgent. So, I guess I'd recommend if you're open to Dickens but not fanatical about him.

The Flower demurred, by the way, because she figured she had already seen it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

All Is Lost

Look, in any movie of Robert Redford vs. the Sea, I'm going to root for the sea. That's just how it is.

We went to see Great Expectations but there was a traffic jam, so we opted instead for the latest Israeli documentary on their Prime Ministers. But we were a little late for that, too, and the only seats were down front—and there was a Q&A with the filmmakers.

Q&A can be fun, but it's a little ostentatious to be sitting in the front row with our giant-sized sodas and popcorns slurping and chomping away while people talk about the existential crises that Israel has confronted over the years.

Gauche, eh, what?

So we ended up seeing this movie I hadn't planned on seeing, All Is Lost, starring that anti-Tea Party bigot. He had to come out vocally against the Tea Party, too, right beforehand. So while I'm not pleased I contributed my dollars to its box office, I'm glad it didn't go over the five million mark.

Heh. Take that Sundance Kid.

This is the second film from J.C. Chandor, writer/director of the muddled Margin Call, and this is a better film, because even if it makes no sense from a nautical standpoint, the struggle is always immediate and therefore more real feeling. (Though, like Margin Call, it really doesn't make much sense even to amateur eyes, and every seasoned sailor I've talked to just sort of rolls their eyes.)

This is, essentially, Gravity, but on a boat. Only without George Clooney, and with Robert Redford in the Sandra Bullock role.

Redford's boat hits a shipping container, and he spends the next 100-plus minutes in increasingly dire situations. This is all told in flashback, mind you, so we're spared any uncomfortable suspense. Although at some point the movie passes the opening monologue, though it was not at all clear to me when that was.

The sum total of what we learn about Redford, beside that he's a bad sailor, comes from that monologue. In which we learn, he has regrets. Well, yeah: He's drowning out in the Indian Ocean alone somewhere, that'd tend to bring up the remorse.

That's it.

So a movie like this tends to rest on how much you relate to the lead actor, and political nonsense aside, I'm ready to call it on Redford. Much like Peter O'Toole, a great deal of his acting was in his face, and his face is little-old-lady-ish at this point. He's nowhere near as washed out as O'Toole, whose age is positively distracting, but it seems to me like he hasn't adapted to not being gorgeous.

Your mileage may vary, of course. But Gravity would've been twice as much better had they kept Sandra Bullock in her undies the whole time, and this film would've been twice as good had they used someone a little younger.

Shallow? OK, yeah, maybe. Blame Hollywood.

James Cromwell probably could've done a great job, and the $5M it took in might have been a profit. (Except it might not have even made that much, given that Still Mine only took in slightly over $1M, and is a much better film.)

Well, what do I know? Redford's got fans, still. Critics gave this a near perfect score. Audiences, besides turning away in droves, are more lukewarm. I can't see it being a big video/cable hit either. Maybe a last-chance shot at an Oscar for Redford?

It's competently directed, I guess. I keep thinking of all the movies we've seen recently where the montage—the dialogue free stuff—is the best part. I somehow think more could've been done here. It's so literal that I was actually starting to crave something more metaphorical, some kind of larger picture than "What kind of schmuck doesn't have an emergency transponder on his life raft? Don't they all have that now?"

So, yeah, with bolder direction or better acting, it could've been good. That Tom Hanks fellow did good in his lost-at-sea movie, right? The Boy shared my sense of ennui over the proceedings.

Despite it all, I actually wanted to begrudgingly like it, and I sorta guess I did maybe. I didn't hate it. Meh.

12 Years A Slave

Serious You Guys slavery was bad.

I mean, in case you didn't know. Americans wear their slavery history hair-shirt like the French wear their treatment of the Algerians.

It can be tiresome.

So, a movie like 12 Years A Slave is kind of refreshing.

Turns out racism isn't a black American billionairess who has some difficulty window shopping a $38,000 handbag in Switzerland. It's more about, you know, the degradation of an entire country.

This is, I think, a pretty accurate depiction of slavery, at least in a movie sense. The story, if you don't know it, is about a free black man named Solomon Northrup who was lured to Washington DC where he was drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana. As the title suggests, he spends twelve years in bondage until finally freed.

And, really, knowing that doesn't mitigate the power of that eventual liberation.

Why this film stands out from other treatments of slavery, I think, is that it shows the richness of the degradation caused by slavery. Just from the get-go, the fact that a human being is a commodity allows them to be "stolen" and also "disposed of" as the whim suits.

As Solomon is given a new identity and sold, we see the next level of degradation: That of a good Christian who hates the system, and sees the evil in it, but is economically bound by it. However, most of the story takes place on the plantation of a not very good (though still very devout) Christian whose awfulness is given free reign by his complete power over other human beings.

The blacks themselves are given a human range of states to be in, as well. This is kind of nice, as the urge to sanctify can be overwhelming. But there's Solomon, who feels the degradation acutely, as a free man, and there are slaves who have gotten along with their masters, and one who his her master's favorite mistress, with much favors associated, and one who wants to be killed rather than be in the same position, and so on.

Slavery affects everyone who takes a part in it. That's the point. It would make sense, of course, for Solomon to have penned a memoir that highlights that, but even in situations where the racial factor wasn't the key factor (say, in ancient Rome), and Greeks were enslaved for intellect, it was still degradation.

You'll hear that the film is brutal in its violence, and while that's true, it's also rather restrained. Except for one scourging, director Steve McQueen leaves a whole lot to the imagination, which is sufficient, as we've seen in many movies this year. The social situation is so refined (antebellum South) on the one hand that it throws the savagery of the system into sharp contrast.

Chiweetel Ejiofor (Love Actually, Children of Men) is an obvious choice for a Best Actor nomination, having to play—as Northrup must have played—many different characters in order to stay alive as a slave. He has a quality of nobility, of Everyman, even, that makes you root for him from the get-go. Newcomer Lupita Nyong'o is just heart-rending as the slave who wants Solomon to kill her.

Couple that with a moving score by Hans Zimmer and photography by Roger Deakins, and I think we're looking at a whole lot of Oscar here.

The Boy loved it.


A French film-noir thriller about a series of seamy sex crimes? That could be good.

Or, it could be Bastards, the latest film from French director Clair Denis, best known for the '80s racial flick Chocolat, and in no danger of being best known for this muddled, murky, mess of a film that feels overlong at 80 minutes.

There's some good imagery. The acting is okay in that New Age way, with desultory monologues and lots of barely interested sex.

I'd say the plot is a mess, but it's really not. It's actually a very simple plot told in a very convoluted matter, with the movie not being exactly in chronological sequence but not being careful about signalling deviations from the main timeline.

It's like Girl With A Dragon Tattoo infused with French ennui.

The story? Well, as near as I can tell, a merchant marine (? sailor?) comes back from the sea when his brother-in-law commits suicide. He starts an investigation into matters and discovers that everything—everything and everyone sucks.

I could elaborate, but what's the point? Each layer of degradation gives way to a deeper, more disgusting layer, all of which culminates in a pointless ending that gives nihilism a bad name.

Yeah, did not care for it. Neither did The Boy. We'd say we hated it, but it sort of drained all our energy out of us, so we couldn't work up much more than a meh.

Enough Said

I had avoided this James Gandolfini movie for several weeks because I had the idea that it wasn't very good. Something about the advertising turned me off, and that it was his last film made me suspicious of the beatific reviews.

I liked James Gandolfini. I've never been a gangster guy, so I never watched "The Sopranos". I always figured him for one of the great character actors who got supremely lucky to find a role that really allowed him to shine and was amazingly popular. But he showed great range in The Last Castle and Killing Them Softly, even if his role was pointless in the latter.

Here, he's less Soprano-y than ever, as he's a kind of lovable doof, a good man with a passion but modest ambitions, a 50-year-old showing all his age but still a bit of a romantic at heart.

Yeah, we have a romantic comedy for 50-year-olds here. Which also made me a bit suspicious. Is this the tail end of the Boomer generation lamenting its agedness or a new crop of narcissists coming to the fore? I wondered.

Actually, though, it's good. It's really good. A little melancholy, in the way aging is melancholy. But kind of optimistic in its unflinching look at the lives of people who have entered middle-age divorced and self-absorbed.

Wait, is that even possible?

Well, you be the judge. The lead here is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a masseuse who travels around the streets of L.A. with her table, catering to a bunch of people who don't seem to have jobs. And whom, frankly, she doesn't seem to like much, because they're all so freaking self-absorbed.

So, yeah, pretty accurate take on Los Angeles in 2013.

Eva (Louis-Dreyfus) is dragged to a party by married couple friends Sarah and Will (played by Toni Colette and Ben Falcone) where she meets a woman she quickly comes to idolize, Marianne (Catherine Keener), and a guy, Albert (Gandolfini) to whom she flatly states the unattractiveness of everyone at the party.

Anyway, Eva is a single (divorced) mother, as is Marianne, as Albert is a divorced dad, and their relationships to their ex-spouses is contrasted with the frayed relationship of Sarah and Will. And all their relationships with their children who are, themselves, starting to date and move away from home.

Louis-Dreyfus is perfect for the role here as she can be very, very awful and still be kind of sympathetic, like things have just gotten away from her. In fact, you could imagine this role having been written for her. Though it has a personal feel that makes me think writer/director Nicole Holofcener experienced a lot of this stuff firsthand.

It's a good script, too. Funny, smart, and human. Also kind, where our views on characters can flip very suddenly based on something they do or say—an unexpected tenderness or expression of genuine feeling.

In the romcom genre, we have to assume the two are going to get together but this also has kind of an "indie" feel which means it can go any way, and even the way it does resolve isn't entirely dispositive. Part of this is that while Eva's character arc is really strong, the enormity of her crimes would pretty much kill any relationship.

That's kind of a funny realization to have in a romcom, by the way. The Wacky Misunderstanding is the staple of RCs, and (pre-Nora Ephron, anyway) has to be shared or at least provoked by some misunderstanding of human nature or something to mitigate it. (Or it can be glibly dismissed, a la Jewtopia.)

Eva's just awful. She has a weakness that causes her to exploit her circumstances in an absolutely devastating fashion. And her character completes her growth arc in a manner that Albert cannot possibly be aware of. That leaves him to be a saint or a sap to even consider taking her back.

Well, maybe the ending is dispositive but I had trouble viewing it that way because of that aspect of the film. Really the only weakness in the movie, perhaps necessitated by the structure of romantic comedies themselves.

OK, it's a pretty serious flaw. It relies heavily on the audience's sentimentality toward the two to even suggest the plausibility that they might get back together.

I didn't care that much, though, at the time.

The Boy really, really liked it, though, which is interesting, since he isn't at all the target audience. I chalk that up to the basic humor and pace of the script, and the fine acting all around.


You sometimes—if you're a very, very frequent moviegoer, like The Boy and I—meander from disappointment to mediocrity and go for surprisingly long stretches without seeing anything really good.

I mean, if you're careful, I think you could probably see 50 really fine movies in the theater in a year. But if you're into the triple-digits, as we are, you're going to have a lot of misses among the hits. Especially if, like The Boy, your objective is about going to the movies than seeing something in particular. (Like me, The Boy enjoys the focus and relative solitude of the movies, only in spades. I once invited a friend of his to come with us, and he uninvited him, saying "Movies aren't really a social thing for me.")

I've created a monster. Yes. But he's a monster with good taste and a keen eye for the good and bad in cinema. This, ultimately, is the point: To view movies with an eye toward the art, rather than as just a passive experience.

So after our recent disappointments, The Boy proclaimed, "I want to see a good movie." (He hasn't seen Clerks yet, so he doesn't get why that amuses me.) But, you know, post-Summer/pre-Oscar doldrums, so there aren't a lot of options.

This movie, Prisoners, had amazing buzz, and we'd somehow missed it when it was local, so I hauled us down to Pasadena and, yeah, this is a gem. Written by unknown-to-me Aaron Guzikowski and directed by Denis Vilanueeve (who directed the contrived Incendies), this is a complex film that doesn't sell out its basic role of telling an entertaining story.

Which is damn good, because it's two-and-a-half hours long.

This is the story of the Dovers (Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello) and the Birches (Terence Howard, Viola Davis) who are good friends whose children are kidnapped. On the case is Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) who quickly finds a connection at the home of Holly Jones (Melissa Leo) and her simple nephew Alex (Paul Dano).

The nephew is targeted early on but released by Gyllenhaal, who is convinced that he's as simple as he appears. But Jackman hears the boy taunting him as he's released and decides to take the law into his own hands.

This movie is nearly as brutal and contrived as Incendies though it works a lot better because the twists and turns of the convoluted plot manage to both surprise and straighten out the story (i.e., when you get the whole picture, it's not really that complicated), and because there are frequent suspense and even some action scenes.

This gives a framework for some really powerful acting, coming from a place that's more easily relatable. How far would you go to save your child? Jackman is convincing in his role, and really the lead, here.

Lotta red herrings which, come to think of it, reminds me of Incendies, too.

Did I mention it's brutal? Yeah, it's brutal. And it dares you to both empathize with Jackman as he descends into his darkest place and dares you not to, as we learn what happens to the kidnapped children.

It veers away from two easy plot pitfalls: Painting Jackman as a cartoon because he loves guns and Jesus, and he's a survivalist, and bringing in race (since the Birches are black). The only real weakness I saw was that Jackman's faith in God seemed superficial, like a religious person wouldn't look to God in times of real trouble—or deliberately turn away.

It kind of felt like the people involved didn't get that about the religious. Not having a sense of what God is for, they didn't bring any depth to that aspect of the role. But that's so much better than doing it badly, I didn't mind too much.

So, yes, we loved it. It was a good antidote to the wan sort of directionless films we'd been seeing, and this was both tight (despite the length) and deep.

Did I mention it's brutal, though? Yeah. It is. If you're the squeamish type, you might want to steer clear.

The Pin

The first Yiddish Canadian narrative drama, The Pin! Look, you know you're in trouble when they start trotting out the "firsts". I mean, maybe the first Canadian movie was a big deal—although, probably not since people were just shooting stuff without any real sense of history (or at least anyone caring much). Maybe the first Yiddish movie. Maybe even the first Yiddish Canadian movie!

But I'm guessing there must've been a Canadian documentary done in Yiddish at some point, and very possibly a Yiddish comedy, and doubtless Canadian movies about Jews, so we're down to the first Canadian narrative drama in Yiddish.

This is a very low budget film. As a result, it combines a recent favorite padding device (extended shots of very nice scenery) with a classic low-budget '50s technique (a narrator to exposit) that basically kills the film's momentum at every turn.

Outside of that, it kind of reminded me of a dark version of The Notebook, without the horrible pandering.

The story is that a Jewish girl fleeing the destruction of her village wanders into a barn where a Jewish boy who has also fled is hiding. They hide out, they talk, they're suspicious, but they get over it, they fall in love and then are separated.

None of this is spoilers, by the way, the movie is entirely the flashback of the boy, now grown old, who is a shomer (one who watches over the dead), who recognizes his long-lost love when he's tasked to take care of her.

It's actually a fine story, with good acting and even direction, but there's only about 40 minutes of it stretched out into more than double that.

It may seem odd, but this is one of the advantages of seeing films in the theater. This is the kind of film it would be very hard to focus on anywhere else and, again, it is a good story, worthy of some attention, but so sparse as to be virtually unwatchable if there's any distraction.

I hope the director gets a chance—and the money—to flesh out her next idea.

The Boy says "Meh".

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Muscle Shoals

Why she's so dumb, it really is a shame
She thinks "Muscle Shoals" is a boxer's name
--Rudy Vallee, "Kitty from Kansas City"

I was just listening to this (highly dated) Rudy Vallee song (no, they're not all highly dated) when I came across this reference to Muscle Shoals, within days of seeing this documentary, Muscle Shoals, and, perhaps most interestingly, the two have nothing to do with each other.

OK, maybe that's the opposite of interesting. Muscle Shoals, a small town in Alabama, was a topic of interest in Vallee's day because of a dam and munitions plant, but this is a story about the music scene which started up in the '60s and had a specific funky sound that defined entire subgenres of music fortwo decades. (It's still going today but, shhhh, it's about as dated as Vallee.)

So, what we have here is another paean to the not-waning-fast-enough era of the Baby Boomers.

So, using the method I described in the Darby documentary, we have three parts: the topic, the skillful handling of the topic, and the stance taken about the topic.

Factually, the topic is a fine subject for a documentary. The main subject is, or rather should be, Rich Hall, the founder of the Muscle Shoals sound, who came from desperately poor and tragic circumstances to rise to meteoric heights. There's the story of his rise, and success with turning Aretha Franklin from a vanilla girl-group lead singer to the Queen of Soul, Wilson Pickett, and so on. Then his falling out with his core group of musicians, and his rise to even higher heights.

Lotta good stuff here, with Hall getting screwed by a variety of people, though, honestly, in most cases, you just have people acting in their own interests, and he was admittedly hard to work with. Undoubtedly it was his perfectionism, but hey, you wanna make quality art, even if it's just disposable pop art, you gotta suffer through hundreds of retakes.

It's also kind of nice that there don't seem to be a lot of hard feelings. It was a long time ago and most of the motivations that led to trouble were not malicious, so letting bygones be bygones is worth something.

There's a common theme of shock-and-awe when all these coastal musical types wanna come down to Muscle Shoals to get that authentic black sound, only to find that the musicians were a bunch of redneck crackers. But, yeah, the music industry, at least from all these documentaries, was pretty damned racist back in the '60s and '70s.

Anyway, good source material.

So, let's talk about the handling. It's...okay. It suffers from a two moderate problems: First, it's seriously padded out with pictures of the Muscle Shoals area. This is lovely country, undoubtedly. But its relevance to the story is easily communicated with a few shots, not shot after shot after shot.

Perhaps more serious, if more understandable, is the kind of nostalgic shopping list that clutters up these kinds of films. It's significant to the story that Aretha Franklin got her second wind here, and how they rebounded with Etta James after she left, and that the Rolling Stones were there, and there's a great section on Lynyrd Skynyrd and the umpteen minute (nine minutes and forty seconds?) original version of "Free Bird", and so on.

At points, though, we're getting into music trivia that's only really good for reliving the past and perhaps scholarly interest. At one point, Hall recounts the death of his dad, and how he turned that into a hit song which, from a topic standpoint made a lot of sense and was touching, but from a musical checklist standpoint had me wondering why I'd never heard this hit song (and why, frankly, it seemed so awful to me).

But, hey, I'm not a music critic. I'm not even a film critic. I just go to a lot of movies. And this was pretty good, just diluted. Not When Comedy Went To School diluted or anything crazy, but enough to rob the narrative of a lot of its power, at least for me.

At the same time, if you were really into that music and that time period, you might completely disagree.

The Boy, who is rather unaware of the time period and not particularly into music, tended to agree. And I kind of think he's the audience of the future.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Big Ass Spider

Big Ass Spider is a title that raises many questions. For example: Does Big modify Ass, signifying "extremely large", or does it modify Spider, implying that you have a larger-than-usual ass-spider, a perhaps even more horrifying prospect. Or is, perhaps, the Ass meant as a noun, not an adjective, meaning that it's the sort of spider that only takes up residence inside the sort of derrieres that Mr. Mixalot would approve?

Of course, it raises none of these questions. It's merely another low-budget creature feature in the mold of such SyFy films as Sharknado and Mechahalibut vs. The Conqueror Worm, which isn't in fact a real movie, yet, but give them time.

In fact, The Boy complained that this was basically Arachnoquake, especially in the final act, and thus rather devoid of all suspense.

And yet.

In the chair is Mike Mendez, behind one of the best of all After Dark Horror Festival films, The Gravedancers. In fact—and somewhat inexplicably—this is his first film since that 2006 flick. Mendez is good, if for no other reason than he seems to really care about the product, and also not regard the audience as idiots.

He's also very good at the horror while also being good at the comedy, which is a tricky balancing act. His movies tend to remind of the best Corman/Griffith collaborations (like Little Shop of Horrors), with heavy Raimi overtones and even a touch of Whedonesque.

So, within the straitjacket of this low-budget giant-monster flick (the limitations of which are so obvious, you'd think the money guys would give the creative guys a little more freedom), what do we get?

Well, powering the film is a buddy picture with Greg Gumberg as an exterminator (Alex), and Lombardo Boyar (Jose) as the hospital janitor who ends up buddying with Alex, and providing most of the workable ideas, as they drive around L.A. in pursuit of a the eponymous arachnid.

It was nice to see Clare Kramer (of Gravedancers) turn up here, even though the romantic subplot couldn't have been more perfunctory. It had some nice touches but Gravedancers had a much better triangle, and this felt like "well, there has to be a love interest, and the two have to get together at the end."

There's actually a kind of unevenness that this shows up: Alex is supposed to be kind of a dunderhead, with José giving him the good ideas, and Kelly (Kramer) is supposed to be a hard-bitten lieutenant (in the Giant Insect Defense Corps, presumably) who is initially turned off by Alex's goofiness but who is ultimately won over by his astuteness and bravery.

Well, I guess his bravery isn't really in question.

If I were to hope for a sequel, I'd like to see Kelly back and the two of them having romantic difficulties. (A sequel involving a giant cockroach is set up by the end credits.)

Anyway, the high points of the film are the effectiveness of the very early scare scenes involving very small spiders that don't look blatantly CGI, and the switch to light humor and action once the blatantly CGI Big Ass Spider appears in the park.

The park in the middle of L.A. where bikini-clad girls play volleyball, apparently, and which I do not know where it is but wish I did.

Anyway. That was another kinda fun part: Seeing L.A. destroyed by a big spider. Not as good as Volcano, in that regard, because the effects—

Eh, I'll stop bitching about the effects. It used to be that low-budget horror movies understood that their effects were bad, so that they used them sparingly. The last 15 seconds of Corman's Haunted Palace utterly destroys the otherwise fine, atmospheric film with a 2D model of something like Sigmund The Sea Monster filmed with a wavy effect. But at least it was only the last 15 seconds.

Anyway, I said I'd stop bitching. And one day, maybe, I will.

Inexplicably, the movie features Ray Wise and (briefly) Lin Shaye (who were co-stars of the ultra-creepy Dead End) and Patrick Bachau and, explicably, a cameo by Troma found Lloyd Kaufman.

Again, the thing that makes it work, to the extent that it can escape the SyFy Formula Ghetto, is that at frequent intervals, there's something little that's somewhat unexpected, something funny—not much scary after the first few scenes, sadly—something that says, "Hey, we're not just here to collect a check."

I remember the Sharknado screenplay guys joking, while the movie was airing, that they'd have the script for the sequel done by the time the airing was over—but that's only half-a-joke. They're making crap, they know they're making crap, and they're just kind of riding a wave caused by a brief burst of over-the-top creativity that they then completely fail to follow-up on, producing a movie that just goes through the motions.

It'll probably be overlooked, but you can really tell the difference. A producer with half-a-brain would give Mendez a bigger budget and even more creative freedom and see what he came up with. Also, he'd make Gumberg and Boyar into a light X-Files-Meets-Tremors TV series. But I don't know how many producers can meet that fraction of cerebral mass.

OK, I'm done. It's not great. It's way better than Sharknado. There's a lot of talent that could be unleashed here.

Oh, I didn't know this was the Gravedancers guy going in, I should note, even though in retrospect, the movies remind me of each other.

Extra shoutout for Lombardo Boyar, who plays his character just right, as a sort of an admiring Sancho Panza to Gumberg's Quixote.

Also, this has the most unusual product placement I've ever seen in the film, with Alex running around in a Western Exterminators van.


We weren't exactly clamoring to see this wildly hyped action space pic with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. If anything, the wild praise made me suspicious, even if I rather liked Alfonso Cuaron's turn at the Harry Potter franchise (Azkaban) and didn't hate Children of Men. Whatever: We're still in the post-summer doldrums, and desperate times call for any excuse for popcorn, so there we were.


It's over-hyped. Not really its fault. It's a solid action flick, considerably better than most stranded in space movies (like Marooned and those awful Mars movies from the last decade), and it's a nice showcase for Ms. Bullock (and even Clooney is perfectly cast here).

Some who saw it insist it's a good vehicle for 3D. I didn't see it in 3D because 3D annoys the crap out of me, and having seen it, I think it would've detracted. But note my predisposition.

The story is minimal. Seasoned astronaut Clooney and novice astronaut/comm-satellite-specialist Bullock are repairing a satellite when their ship is taken out by Russian mayhem. I forget what exactly it was. A satellite explodes and ends up taking a bunch of other satellites with it, and the whole thing creates a debris storm circling the earth at 24 hours at whatever height our heroes are currently at, and with enough density to cause trouble.

No, it's not realistic.

Or, let me say, I wouldn't use the word "realistic" to describe it. There are some more realistic choices made in this film than many other films of this ilk. For example, there's no sound in most of the situations where there shouldn't be sound. Things float around well in excess of your typical zero-G movie. A great deal of attention is paid to the no-gravity situation, e.g., when Sandra Bullock rests her head, instead of falling back on the chair headrest, it floats forward.

In fact, if anything, they probably overdid it. It seemed like the zero-G persisted into scenes taking place on re-entry.

The debris field is way more visible than it would actually be in the darkness of space, and individual particles seemed to be making noise. Real life would lack the suspense. You'd either never see it coming, then you'd be dead, or you'd see a hole appear nearby you, or (most likely) nothing. You'd just never know.

But that'd be boring.

We seem to have been on a vector for the past 50+ years where everything has to be "more realistic" (even our superhero movies!), but mostly this involves shifting the unrealism around to things that we have less knowledge of. (For example, superhero movies seem to revolve entirely around a lack of understanding of Newtonian physics that our grandparents would probably have found preposterous.)

So, despite the cries that this is "the most realistic ever!!", it's really just a matter of conforming to our limited notions of what reality is.

Which is fine, but a good thing to be aware of. It would help the world a great deal if we realized we aren't really the apotheosis of culture and evolution, rising out of a sea of ancient barbarism.

I digress, but that's probably because there isn't much more to say about this movie. If you like Sandra Bullock and stories of struggling-for-life, this is a movie you will probably enjoy.

The movie fosters a bit of characterization involving Bullock's character and her daughter and I couldn't really decide whether or not I liked this. On the one hand, it was awful ham-handed. On the other, well, All Is Lost (think of it as Gravity, but on the ocean) is completely devoid of such background material, and suffers from it, I think.

But I think that Bullock is almost inherently empathetic (except to certain feminists, as noted*), and if the movie needed this underlying character development, it could've done with a lot less of it.

Nonetheless, The Boy and I liked it. The Flower demurred, deciding that the trailer looked like the entire movie (astute) and that it didn't look very interesting (your mileage may vary).

*For double-super-awesomeness, you could read a review of how the movie is a betrayal of all things feminine here. It's the sort of review that could only not be satirical in our modern world.

Demon's Rook

The next feature had such a tantalizing premise that we swallowed our disappointment over Cannon Fodder and marched in to see it.

It was called Demon's Rook and the idea is that a young boy communes with demons until one takes him to the underworld, where he lives for a decade or more, only emerging as a confused, heavily bearded adult. And, as it turns out, leading a bunch of other demons up into our world, where they wreak havoc.

The other hook this had going for it was that all the effects were practical. The director, James Sizemore, was also the special effects chief and star of the film (with his wife Ashley Jo). The makeup is quite good, very old school '80s but lovingly done, and by itself sets this movie apart from other low budget flicks.

Which is why the movie itself is such a crushing disappointment, in its way far worse than Cannon Fodder, which didn't really have much promise.

The best parts of this movie were the stretches without any dialogue, and another long stretch where the dialogue is entirely in demon-ese (no subtitles).

Another amusing thing was how it hearkened back to '80s, '70s and (at points) even '60s horror flicks. It starts out squarely in the '80s, during that Creepshow-inspired wave of monster-oriented horror features, videos and TV shows. Then at other parts it evokes '70s cult-oriented flicks like The Devils' Rain. At one point, there's a virtual go-go dance with demons, a la '60s. And the ending is kinda '60s nihilistic and reminded me of, like, Manos or Dementia 13 or something from that ilk.

Apart from that, it's a complete and utter mess. It's said that it took over two years to make with all the consequent cast and crew issues that would occur when you make a movie over the course of two years, even if it's mostly with friends and family. At the same time, Mrs. Sizemore can be seen in videos from a year ago talking about how "principal photography" is about to begin, and the movie was first aired in March.

Both things are possible, of course. It might be that many of the scenes were filmed over the course of two years with little more purpose than "this will be cool" and an idea about demons terrorizing a rural community.

Anyway, it's a sort of depressing experience, precisely because there's some real talent involved, not just in the makeup (obviously) but Sizemore seems to have a real facility for the visual aspect of filmmaking. But this comes off as sort of special-effects porno: the non-SFX portions are just filler.

We were so bummed at the end, we gave up on the festival.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Cannon Fodder

Our backup theater in North Hollywood played host this year to the Los Angeles Screamfest. Now in it's 13th year, I was not even aware it was a thing until seeing its movies turn up on familiar screens. And I wouldn't have been aware any other way. The After Dark Horror Fest had a billboard/newspaper/radio budget.

But, of course, that's not around any more, and maybe that ad budget is part of why.

The Screamfest features dozens of films shown over a ten day period, so you can't really see them all. I talked The Boy into going to one show, which kind of interestingly turned out to be an Israeli zombie flick.

So, even here, we had subtitles.

Cannon Fodder is a low budget World War Z and unfortunately, that's about all you can say about it. The premise is as hoary as any you'll find: Basically, a mad scientist working for the government created a disease to turn the enemy into zombies, or maybe to turn soldiers into zombies or something.

A special forces squad is required to go into the enemy territory and retrieve the scientist, or maybe just his blood (which for some reason would hold a cure). The Boy called it "Call of Duty: The Movie", based on the movements and capabilities of the team.

The acting is strong here, and the characters are pretty decent, with a conservative Jew, a Russian and an African alongside the squad leader, a disillusioned intelligence agent called in for that one-last-job, and Yafit Shalev (who has a producer credit) as the Scientist's Daughter.

Shalev looked very much like another Israeli actress we've seen recently but is not, in fact, that actress, having no other feature credits than this.

This movie makes a lot of rookie mistakes, sadly, that keep it from ever getting very engaging. Instead of enforcing the movie's strengths, which is the acting, it goes with a more big budget formula of knocking off the characters and having lots of cheesy action sequences and explosions, none of which it had the budget to pull off convincingly.

Like a lot of big budget movies, it's more a series of things-that-happen rather than a logical sequence of events, carefully plotted out.

Even at 90 minutes, it seems to drag on. It was bad enough that The Boy figured that was enough movies for the day, and we would've headed home until I read him the description for the NEXT feature...

(By the way, this movie has some awards attached to it, and some critical praise. I believe that's because the Israeli government is the villain of the piece.)

Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde

I ask The Boy and The Flower what lessons they had learned from Running Wild after seeing it. After they made their feeble guesses about the moral of the story, I set them straight:

  1. Horse people are crazy.
  2. Always get the mineral rights.

Running Wild is the story of cowboy poet Dayton O. Hyde who has gained notoriety over the past decades as an author and a protector of wild mustangs. If you look at the reviews for this, they'll talk about a heart-warming story about a noble guy who's saving magnificent beasts.

I presume those are horse people.

Dayton O. Hyde is a cowboy, in the classic sense of a guy who decides how things are going to be and then sets about making things that way, and really doesn't talk much about it. I mean, that's a kind of archetypal cowboy, along with the whole farming and ranching thing.

This outlines his early life, with his apparently equally taciturn father, his time in school, his WWII service, some of his cowboy antics, and his time working a huge ranch with his wife and five kids. There are some anecdotes about wild mustangs and the government's rather barbaric handlings of them.

Then, one of his daughters is killed by a horse. What actually occurred is a little vague.

His reaction to this is interesting. If he blamed his wife, it's not apparent. He certainly didn't blame the horse, which of course is sensible, but he could be forgiven for it maybe putting him off horses for a little while.

But, you know, horse-persons aren't like that.

Instead, the lesson he takes from this is that we all have a brief time on this earth, and if he's going to save those mustangs, like he's always wanted to, he better get moving. So he heads out to the Black Hills of South Dakota to start a wild horse sanctuary.

Pro tip: Googling "Mustang Ranch" will not bring this guy up.

Family? Well, they were all busy with the current, ginormous ranch in Oregon, and South Dakota is quite a trip. So, yeah. Oh, well.

It's like that Randy Newman song:

Oh my mother's in Saint Louis
And my wife's in Tennessee
So I'm going to Arizona
With a banjo on my knee

One of the sons, Andrew, I think, is frequently interviewed, and seems to be even more taciturn than his father. He's both supportive of his father and yet still fairly devastated by being abandoned by him 20-odd years ago. You can tell just in the way he answers the questions, or doesn't, without him needing to say much.

One of his daughters is particularly distraught that he's out in South Dakota where she, crippled with arthritis (I think it is), can't really get to him.

The final portion of the film concerns his efforts on the conservatory, his support of the local Indian tribes (we just can't stop messing with the Indians, can we?) and his effort to stop some uranium mining that a Canadian company wants to do under his land.

I thought this was kind of interesting: There's a little on how the company buzzes the horses with helicopters (which apparently freak them out due to the helicopters done by the government to round up their ancestors, or something). There's a little on the potential dangers of mining. There's a little on the activism. And in South Dakota, owning land means you own the surface of it, not the mineral rights, which has to be one of the classic government power grabs.

But even if the horse people are being irrational regarding the mining, that really should be their right: It's a big world, and the Canadians don't have any right to that uranium. Let 'em eat frack or whatever.

Overall, an interesting film that we all liked, but also padded to 90 minutes with a lot of landscape shots.


Have you noticed we've seen a lot of documentaries this year? Although this is the sort of thing that ebbs and flows (like foreign films), this year may represent a sea change, in that our preferred local theater is showing dozens of them in short order, apparently due to requirements laid down by the Oscar folk.

They've probably been doing this for years, but with our former preferred theater shutting down, and The Boy's three-times-a-week habit, well, there's likely to be more in the future.

This one is particularly noteworthy not because it's about Stephen Hawking, but because it's an autobiographical documentary about Hawking.

He points out, off the bat, that people probably know him more as the guy in the wheelchair than with any understanding of what he's done to be a famous physicist. And, actually, after hearing him talk about what made him famous, I still don't get it.

In a nutshell, he broke into the scene by proving the Big Bang didn't need a God to make it happen. He did this with math, apparently. While I'm sure the math was brilliant, the Boy and I were sitting there thinking, "OK, but how did that get there, asshole?"

This is not entirely fair, of course. Scientists can't be answering questions with "God" any more than they can answer the question of "God", but Hawking's an avowed materialist and atheist—and perhaps not coincidentally, ruthlessly ambitious and concerned with worldly success.

In fact, I'm convinced that a non-insignificant part of his motivation making this is that he wants an Oscar.

Let's not be churlish: He's an interesting guy who brought astrophysics to the masses, which is no mean achievement, and he did so while suffering a debilitating disease that nearly killed him a couple of times.

The movie is part personal life, part career ambitions, and part—probably the smallest part—physics. Apart from the Big Bang thing, he lightly covers a couple of other big theories he had. But mostly it's about his life growing up, his wife and children, the writing of his book, the use of technology to make that talking chair thing, his divorce and post-divorce relationships, and all the various ways he's been feted in recent years.

Which is not boasting, it must be said: I'm not exactly hip but I could name quite a few Hawking references off the top of my head that they just didn't cover in the movie (probably due to lack of time).

However much the guy loves himself, though, the movie sticks to a manageable 90 minute length. Even so, toward the end it felt like it was wandering gratuitously into self-congratulation.

We did like it, though, the Boy and I. But it really shouldn't be in the running for an Oscar given the competition.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Missing Picture

You know, I don't know if we should've been in Vietnam. I've heard it was all a power play by the CIA to create and consolidate their influence in America's shadow government, and that isn't really as preposterous as it should be. The Gulf of Tonkin seems to have been dubious grounds for which to go to war, assuming it actually even happened.

I'm not even sure we shouldn't have pulled out, even if doing so emboldened the Soviets and Chinese, or that this wasn't a victory for popular revolt—even if the popular revolt was just the tool of communist agitators.

There is no doubt, however, that the aftermath of the Fall of Saigon was a series of atrocities, and also no doubt that information about those atrocities was largely suppressed in the USA for years.

Which brings us to this interesting little documentary called The Missing Picture. This is the story of the Khmer Rouge's democide of Cambodians in the wake of America's evacuation. It's the Cambodian version of The Act of Killing, basically, but where the latter film used moviemaking as an excuse to pantomime the horrors, this movie uses little wooden carvings. (There's also some archive footage but primarily it's wooden dolls.)

The carvings are set up in little tableaux to illustrate particular events that occurred, as the narrator (a young man at the time of the purge) describes the events he witnessed.

I've mentioned before that some things are too awful to directly stage, both in fictional films and in documentaries, and these sorts of slaughters tend to be among those things. The little dolls allow us to look at and contemplate the horrors without showing us something so directly horrible that we turn away.

It's a good strategy, and the primitively carved figures are still perfectly capable of reflecting the horrors the narrator experienced.

It's all very familiar, but no less horrible for it. The communists took over the farm (food is a human right, donchaknow) and so everyone ends up starving. Of course, while this is going on, they keep touting how popular their programs are and how much traffic they get on their websitehow much food their farms are producing.

I guess Pol Pot was a true believer, or at least managed to come across that way, wearing the same drab, awful uniforms as everyone else in that jungle mess. So there's that. On the other hand, there's the between two and two-and-a-half million deaths (in a country that had a population of about 7.5 million).

It's a short movie that can seem long, though not from being boring. The Boy and I were both greatly impressed. Unlike the previous Cannes film laureate A Touch of Sin, we both were impressed and moved by this film.

A Touch Of Sin

In the "mixed bag" category of going to obscure movies is that you can literally have no clue what you're about to see, or how good it is. I mean, you can't ever really know how "good" something is until you see it because only you can know how good something is in that all-important universe of yourself.

But you can get a sense of what other people think, and if you read reviews like the ones I aspire to write, you can get a sense of whether or not you'll like it regardless of whether the reviewer liked it. (That's always my goal, anyway.)

But sometimes nobody's seen it. At least nobody who's written anything. Or at least anything in English. Or, perhaps, the only people who have written things are completely untrustworthy. Which brings us to today's film in question A Touch of Sin.

This won "best screenplay" at Cannes. My response to that is "Huh?" Although I thought (and still think to a degree) that I missed a lot because there are many things that are doubtless significant in China that I did not get, I kinda wonder if this didn't win its award because nobody got it.

The movie is, in fact, an anthology of four stories. The four stories never come together, they never impact on each other, and they don't interact except maybe incidentally at one point. The fourth story may have had a callback to the first. I sorta thought so at the time, but I was also trying to find meaning in this overlong mess.

It's only two hours and change but the problem is, just as a story is gaining momentum and building interest, it ends and you're back to square one, not knowing what's going on or why. Worse is that the first story is the most interesting. An interesting character in an interesting situation does interesting things, gets himself in a position of incredible peril and then, story over. None of the rest of the stories achieve that level of interest.

The four stories are:

1. A crotchety old dude is dismayed by the corruption in his village and takes violent steps to "correct" matters.

2. A roguish man visits his home village, wife and kids, then goes out to work as a murderous purse snatcher.

3. A girl works as a receptionist in a sauna, where "sauna" is a euphemism for brothel, but she really is just a receptionist. A series of unfortunate events push her out into other work for a while.

4. A young man weighing his options in life goes for the increasingly easier ones but discovers this doesn't lead to any sort of happiness, meeting a violent end.

The theme, I guess, is violence, which may be is also why it won an award. But, I dunno, violence is just as legitimately the theme of the Transformers movies and I don't see those getting any awards.

At first I thought maybe it would be gun violence. I can't imagine there are too many guns in the hands of the peasantry in China so that might be interesting. But the last two stories don't involve guns.

Actually, before that, in the first story, I thought we might be getting a Chinese Death Wish—that would've been interesting. But then I thought "OK, guns." And then I thought maybe the stories would all be tied together, if only incidentally. And then, beginning to despair, I thought maybe there would be something in the final story that tied everything to the first three.

Something. Anything.

No joy. It's a pretty joyless film. The takeaway may well be "China sucks" which comes as no surprise to anybody. Communist countries always suck. Oh, wait, they're not considered Communist any more. Uh...totalitarian countries always suck.

I think the suckage is best exemplified by a scene in the first story where our main character injects himself with insulin. The movie takes the time to show him injecting the insulin (and his equipment is exactly the same as The Boy's, which I found interesting). It never came up again.

But unless the director is taking the piss, presumably against pretentious art films, or is just plain awful, there has to be a reason for showing this. Was it to show that this fire-breathing example of Chinese Tea Party-ism was dependent on the State he hated so much? Was the whole story a commentary on keeping your blood sugar in line?

Who the hell knows?

Not great. Fine production values, acting, camera work, including lovely shots of China, and the same sort of atmospheric oppression you get from all movies that are based in CommunistTotalitarian countries.

We couldn't get up the interest level to actually hate it. But The Boy and I would definitely not recommend.

Wolf Children

The Boy said that this film, Wolf Children was the first to make him cry since Machine Gun Preacher, although he amended that later to say he hadn't actually cried so much as misted up a bit.

Mamoru Hosoda is sometimes tapped as the spiritual successor of Hayao Miyazaki, of whom both kids are big fans, so The Flower accompanied us to see this moving and strangely serious tale of a woman who struggles with raising her children, who happen to be able to turn into wolves.

One of my big gripes these days is how ill-considered almost everything fantastic is, and probably a lot of things that aren't fantastic, come to think of it. My love of the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic genres, for example, is soured by the slipshod way writers hand it.

To name two prominent, popular exmaples, both "The Walking Dead" and "Falling Skies" feature genuine nothing's-ever-gonna-be-the-same scenarios where survival is predicated on being able to attack aggressively, right alongside parents who refuse to teach their children to use weapons because they "deserve a childhood".

Both shows do that exact same thing. The whole "deserve a childhood" thing set sail along with the 99% of the population destroyed by zombies/aliens/virus/whatever, Sparky.

I've watched enough of those and other recent doomsday scenarios to make me believe that there will be no Hollywood writers surviving the Apocalypse.

So, why bring it up in this context? Well, this is just a very thoughtful exercise on what it would be like to raise children who could turn into wolves. Erm, in a society where that is not the norm. Which, apparently, includes Japan. (You never know with those guys.)

Toddler and adolescent disobedience takes on new dimensions, as does the bitter-sweetness of children growing into adults and finding their own ways into the world.

Much like many Miyazaki films, there's no antagonist. In this movie, not even obliquely. The circumstance requires the mother, who isn't a wolf-person and doesn't know anything about them, really, to take defensive action, and ultimately learn to be very self-sufficient in a rural community.

There's still conflict, of the sort that tends to come up in real life (or at least real life plus the sorts that would come with wolf children), and the movie is brisk, engaging and moving. It's almost as if the introduction of this wild, fantastic element allows the filmmaker to condense human experience and focus like a laser on the sort of fleeting, temporary nature of we all endure in this veil of tears.


Who knew you could do that?

Kind of amusingly, to me, is that at least one Japanese critic referred to the movie as being on rails, and full of stereotypes to boot. I, on the other hand, have not seen more than four or five movies about wolf children this year, so it all seemed pretty fresh to me.

I was actually somewhat surprised that the kids were so enthusiastic about this movie, because to my eyes it was more about parenting than about being a child. But there it is. Maybe they related to being wolves.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Super fast snail cartoon. Yeah, it didn't really pump our 'nads, either. But Turbo was one of the better reviewed movies of the summer, and The Barbarienne was looking forward to it, so off we went to see it. (Well, not The Flower. She has rather high standards.)

Cribbing heavily from A Bug's Life and Finding Nemo, not to mention the Fast and Furious franchise, this is the story of a snail who dreams of being in the Indy 500. His ambitions cause his community, and especially his conservative brother, all kinds of difficulty, resulting in him being alienated from said community. A freak accident gives him super-speed and he winds up on the snail racing circuit in a mini-mall full of stereotypes, both human and gastropodan.

Ultimately, a human discovers his powers and decides to enter him in the Indy 500 as a promotional ploy to save the mini-mall.

Voiced forgettably by a bunch of celebs, of course, with notable exceptions being Paul Giamatti as Turbo's crusty brother, Samuel L. Jackson as the snail version of Samuel L. Jackson, and Bill Hader as a snooty French-Canadian. I also spotted Richard Jenkins, Ken Jeong and Michelle Rodriguez as their various ethnic stereotypes.

Other people who might have been replaced by anyone else include Ryan Reynolds as Turbo, Snoop Dog, Michael Pena, Luis Guzman, etc.

The Barbarienne loved it, of course, though she didn't give it her "best movie ever" rating, which might be a reflection on her personal growth, rather than on the film itself. The Boy found it mildly amusing but also noted that he just really didn't care about any of the characters.

The formula is strong in this one. It stakes out little original ground but gets by on energy and good will, and some successful gags. Time has cooled some of the enthusiasm for the film, and it's higher initial ratings may have to do with the large number of high profile summer flops.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Grandmaster

Prior to this, the only Kar Wong Wai movie I had seen was 2046, which I confess I didn't get. I found out recently from @SueSkyBluez that it was a sequel, which may have had something to do with it. Also, it was about time travel. Fictional time travel. I mean, it was about a story that happened in the future that was being written by someone in the present which may or may not have actually been going to occur. Er. Well, you can see it still confuses me.

Fortunately, this movie is essentially easy to follow, though subtle in its own way, and reminded me very strongly of 2046.

This is the story of Yip Man (or Ip Man, depending), the legendary martial artist who fought for justice (maybe?) and trained Bruce Lee. There are about six different versions of his story that have been made in Shanghai over the past couple years and this is one of them.

One of the other renditions was a trilogy, the third movie of which showed up in theaters about a week after this one, and was focused on his post-War, post-Communist years, but this movie takes a wide, philosophical scan of his adult life and turns it, essentially, into a love story. Or, if you will, a story of love versus duty, which the Chinese are so fond of.

As such, while there are some fun and beautiful fight scenes, gorgeously choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping, famous here for The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, these scenes are not what they appear. For the most part, they remind me of Sun Tzu, who advocated a sort of bloodless, philosophical kind of war, where generals maneuvered their pieces, preferring to concede defeat when outmatched strategically, without resorting to something as grotesque as actual combat.

I have a feeling that a lot of the movies we see out of China these days are somewhat skewed by an inability to address the elephant in the room, but here we are.

Anyway, the tension in this movie comes from Ip Man's need to unite the two martial arts scenes in sort of an East-Cost/West-Coast thing (except it's North and South) while not consummating his love with his soul mate, the daughter of his teacher (who, by virtue of being a daughter, can't be the grandmaster).

The pacing is poetic, not chop-socky, and there's a real beauty to the proceedings—in other words some hardcore martial arts film fans might be disappointed. The Boy and The Flower both enjoyed it quite a bit, though.

I liked it a lot better than 2046, and it held my attention even if I felt like I didn't quite understand what was going on. In any event, it was a lot better than the next Chinese movie we would see, the opaque A Touch Of Sin.

Martial Arts Movie legends in their own right Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang star.