A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 522 – Jaws 2

Jaws 2 – August 4th, 2011

After watching Jaws last year we decided we should perhaps buy the sequels for the next year’s Shark Week. And lo and behold, it’s the next year’s Shark Week now and so we’re watching the thoroughly pointless sequel to a movie that never really needed one (but ended up getting three). I admit, this is sort of my fault. I have some rather tame childhood memories of the third movie so we decided to get that but then it seemed silly not to get the second and fourth movies if we were getting the third. So now we’re watching this. And yeah, it’s pretty ridiculous.

I think my major issue with this movie isn’t really that it’s bad, it’s that it’s mediocre. There’s nothing revolutionary here. There’s no attempt to do anything different aside from have lots of teenagers involved. The plot is almost identical in shape to the first movie. Until the end, which is sadly lacking. You’ve got Chief Brody, again played by Roy Scheider, and you’ve got a great white shark snacking on people in the water just off the shores of Amity Island. You’ve got Brody warning the town’s authorities that there’s a shark and you’ve got the authorities deciding to err on the side of money and not warn the tourists. And you’ve got a climactic battle between man and shark. Without as much climax.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to say about this movie. The plot isn’t any more complicated than I just explained. Sure, there’s some drama because of the teens but ultimately the movie is a rehash. I don’t particularly mind the whole teenager subplot, it’s just not terribly engrossing. I’m certain it was added in order to try and attract a teenage audience. Whereas the first movie’s focus was on Chief Brody and Matt Hooper and the two of them being bound and determined to convince everyone of the danger, then to take out the shark. The people in danger weren’t the people we were paying attention to. So the introduction of Brody’s kids and the group of teens makes sense on two fronts. I just don’t think it did much in the end.

To make the movie’s shark attacks more personal, we spend a lot of time with elder son, Mike, who’s 17 and wants to go out sailing with his friends. When his father suspects there’s a shark in the area he grounds Mike, gets him a job and tells him to take his boat out of the water. Of course, being 17 and having a group of friends who’ve all grown up on an island, sailing and boating and whatnot, Mike eventually sneaks out, taking his little brother Sean with him. And it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen there, isn’t it? After several attacks on other people and all that ominous music, it’s just a matter of time before the shark goes after the group of teens out enjoying their summers.

There’s nothing really unpredictable about this movie. It’s going through the motions of the first one with a few nods to the timeline and no real innovation. Brody gets fired when he won’t back down from his convictions about the supposed shark attacks but he ends up taking the police boat out anyhow. It doesn’t end up mattering. Nothing that’s supposed to matter in this movie ends up having much effect on anything. There’s a scientist who shows up when a killer whale is beached with lots of injuries and Brody talks at her about great white shark bite radii and then she leaves and nothing ever comes of the conversation. He tries to reach his old pal but his old pal was busy filming another movie so nothing ever comes of him either. It’s a movie full of loose ends and aborted plot points.

It just feels like a nothing of a movie. I’m struggling to find more to say about it because this feels so short to me after several reviews of crappier movies were so much longer. But the crappier movies at least had things to talk about. Like I said, this is mediocre. It wasn’t trying to be as good as the first and it wasn’t trying to break free of it either. It was trying to cash in on the same market and pull in some teens at the same time. I will say that I rather like the teens in this movie. They’re a little rebellious, sure, but they’re not obnoxious or rude or mean. They’re teens. And they’re fairly savvy when it comes to how to handle themselves after they get attacked by the shark. I was pleased to see a few of them remaining relatively cool headed and getting the others to help lash their damaged boats and catamarans together for more stability. But that’s about all I have to say about them. A few of them are doomed, of course, because this is a shark attack movie. But there’s just no real terror here. The ending is distinctly anticlimactic and I found myself hoping that Chief Brody decided to retire somewhere inland where all he has to worry about is land sharks posing as Candygrams.

August 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 507 – Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas

Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas – July 20th, 2011

The other night, at the beginning of Rango, the little Johnny Depp-voiced chameleon at the center of the movie bounces across a highway. He swings off a car antenna, rides a bicycle wheel and smacks into a car carrying a very obvious reference to this movie. And at the time I jokingly said we should watch this next. Then when we were going through our list looking for movies around two hours I mentioned this and we said hey, why not, right? There are a couple of connections beyond the reference, with Johnny Depp and Las Vegas featuring in Rango and in this movie as well. So we put this on and settled in for an evening of hallucinations and monologues.

And really, it’s mostly a lot of Johnny Depp as “Raoul Duke” (a.k.a. Hunter S. Thompson, who based the character on himself) doing a lot of drugs and hallucinating and talking about it. But then there are moments of such depth. There’s the oft-quoted monologue about San Francisco: “So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look west, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark – that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” I mean, damn. That makes me so sad. It makes me tear up every time I hear it and it’s in the middle of this incredibly bizarre drug trip of a movie. And that’s what makes this movie interesting to me. I mean, it’s visually entertaining, with all of the drug trip visuals, but it’s the mix of drug-fueled antics and behavior and insightful commentary on the culture of the time that makes it more than what it might at first appear.

Truth be told, I’ve been struggling with this review. How do I even begin to touch this movie? How do I explain it? It defies true explanation by its very nature. That’s one reason this review is so late. I mentioned in the morning that I might just recount the dreams this movie gave me. It would be about as lucid as the movie itself. But the dreams are now just a hazy memory. I don’t often remember my dreams for long. But I do remember that they were full of Las Vegas and hotel corridors and confusion. Which I’m sure is par for the course after watching this movie.

I have been to Las Vegas, but my trip was full of Star Trek, not drugs, so it wasn’t quite the same experience as is presented here. The thing is, this isn’t really a cohesive experience. It’s not like this is one continuous drug trip. It’s not one journalism assignment for the main character. It’s not one hotel. It’s not one drug. It’s a series of moments and observations, witnessed and recounted through a haze of recreational chemicals and societal malaise. What makes it so fascinating to me is the combination of irreverent and bizarre moments and serious commentary and action. There’s some truly dark stuff going on in this movie and if all you know of it is the hallucinations near the beginning then you’re only seeing half the story.

Given that the story is so wildly all over the place, it’s difficult to really relate the events in the movie. It’s not a story with a beginning, middle and end so much as it’s a series of episodes showing a certain time and place through a certain filter. The fictional characters Raoul Duke and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, head to Las Vegas, ostensibly to cover a motorcycle race for a magazine. It doesn’t really matter what race or what magazine. Details like that are incidental to the story. The point is that on the drive down to Vegas the two men take an impressive array of drugs and are thoroughly wasted by the time they get there. And from there the story sort of goes off the rails. But that’s the point. Duke misses the race almost entirely, seeing only the beginning before getting distracted by the LSD and mescalin and ether and the strange world of the Las Vegas strip as experienced with chemical assistance. And I mean, the strip is one of those strange nowhere-else-like-this places anyhow. So the addition of hallucinogens is only adding to the strangeness, not creating it.

Honestly, the series of subsequent events are a blur. And I think that’s intentional. Duke flees the hotel in a fit of paranoia, makes it out of the city without paying for the room (or the damage done to it) and then gets stranded and then goes back and checks into another hotel where Dr. Gonzo has moved to along with a girl he met on an airplane (she paints pictures of Barbara Streisand) and they go to cover a District Attorney convention on drug culture and they do more drugs and eventually Duke wakes up and the new room is a pit and he knows things have gone very wrong. And I’ll be straight here, I’m not entirely sure of the sequence of events. Duke has some flashbacks and I’m pretty sure that the diner scene near the end isn’t one of them but this review has taken me so long to write I could be misremembering. But it’s pretty dark. It’s a very different mood than the earlier scenes of circus-themed casinos full of people who look like fish or whatever. The return to Las Vegas heralds in a very different mood.

I think part of the shift is that it’s a return. That the original trip had been its own thing, fun in a way but ending in paranoia. And the return is tinged with more of that paranoia which is then bolstered by the proliferation of officers of the law. One never gets the impression that Duke really wanted to go back to Las Vegas. It wasn’t an environment he was entirely comfortable with anyhow. And then there he is. The return trip goes down hill very fast, with talk about selling the girl Dr. Gonzo’s brought to the room and then the trip to the diner, where Dr. Gonzo pulls a knife and threatens a waitress with it. It’s a far cry from the beginning of the movie. But at the same time it feels almost like a natural progression. Not a smooth one, to be sure, but a showcase of how things can go from strange to bad to worse to even worse than you ever thought possible. It happens in bits and pieces and part of what the movie does well is to make the audience feel as disjointed as Duke himself is supposed to be feeling. We’re all just along for the ride.

The two key selling points for me here are the cast and the visuals. The writing I take as a given. I’ve never read Thompson but Andy’s been reading the book this is based on since we watched it and he claims it’s pretty much word for word. So what really does it for me are the performances, which are universally fantastic, and the visuals that manage to convey both the reality of Las Vegas and the unreality of the drug-induced visions Duke has at the same time. Johnny Depp is a weird guy, to be sure, and he’s amazing here, but I also have to give a whole lot of credit to Benicio Del Toro as Dr. Gonzo. It’s a thoroughly unlikeable role for much of the movie and he pulls it off amazingly. But then the rest of the movie is peppered with bit parts played by very recognizable names. Ellen Barkin, Gary Busey, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, just to name a few. They show up and have their moment or moments and then they’re gone, because really, as I mentioned, the story is Duke’s (or Thompson’s, if you want to go there) and he’s the focal point. It’s about him and drugs and Las Vegas and really, what more can I say?

July 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 504 – Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Close Encounters of the Third Kind – July 17th, 2011

Tonight we went looking for a longer movie, something over two hours since we had the time. None of the things we hadn’t seen yet appealed but as soon as I saw this on the list I knew it was right for tonight. And so the mad search commenced! Our apartment isn’t that big and we do own a lot of movies and they’re not as organized as we’d like. And we could not find this. Andy searched every stack in every room and it was nowhere to be found. I said I’d look, moved one Simpsons box set out of the way and there it was. I’ll give Andy a pass, though, because it’s one of the ones we bought cheap and it has no actual case, just a plastic sleeve with the disc and the cover and it was stuck to another disc in another plastic sleeve. And you know, I’m really glad I found it because it was precisely what I wanted tonight and I would have been so bummed to have to pick something else.

Within science fiction there are a number of sub-genres. The “aliens come to Earth” idea is one of those sub-genres and it’s an interesting one. It can take place present-day without trying to envision a future for humanity and it provides a whole host of possibilities. Are the aliens friendly or hostile? Do they understand us and can we understand them? What do they want, if anything? What do they look like? Do we even see them? What I like about this movie is that it is so largely grounded not in space but on Earth. It’s about the reactions people have to this unexplained thing that’s happened to them and the people they know. In the end the aliens themselves aren’t so much the point. The point is in the connection and the discovery and the journey and events that lead to them.

When the movie starts strange things are happening. Fighter planes reported missing in 1945 appear in the Sonora Desert thirty years late, missing their pilots. A man nearby says the sun came out at night and sang to him. Air traffic controllers call in reports of something mysterious in the sky, then decline to make any official reports. And in Muncie, Indiana a boy wakes up when all of his toys turn on, only to find the fridge’s contents on the kitchen floor. He walks out of the house, into the night. Elsewhere in town, while the boy’s mother chases him into the woods, another family is arguing over what to do the next night. Their father heads out to help repair some power outages and finds himself having a very strange experience with bright lights and his truck going haywire. It’s all the beginning of a number of mysterious events, with electrical oddities and bright lights in the sky and the strange return of vehicles long missing.

But the bulk of the movie is spent with Roy Neary, the man who left his family to go help with the power outages, and Jillian Guiler, whose son Barry is taken by the aliens mid-movie. We see the two of them struggle with this experience they’ve both had, unable to explain what they’ve seen and unable to convince their families or the public that whatever happened actually happened. Now, in a movie made today? Roy and Jillian would end up in love and half the movie would be a romantic plotline for them. I am pleased to say that this doesn’t happen here. Not really. The two of them bond through the shared knowledge that what they saw was real, but there’s no epic love story being attempted between the two of them. Just the story of two people who’ve been separated from the norm by experiences they didn’t want in the first place.

Now, I do have some quibbles with the movie, in that we learn very little about Jillian’s life aside from that she’s a mother and apparently it’s just her and her son? And on the other hand we learn plenty about Roy’s family and they’re presented as both thoroughly annoying and completely justified in being frustrated by him. After all, he starts out as a somewhat uninvested father, spreading his stuff all over the obviously too-small house, much to the frustration of his wife. He goes out overnight for work, is unreachable all night leading to middle-of-the-night phone calls at his house, waking his wife and kids. And when he comes back he’s ranting and raving about lights in the sky and flying saucers. He becomes thoroughly obsessed and you can tell that not only is he frustrated and confused by it all, but his wife and children are all of that as well as scared. To them it probably seems as though Roy’s had a mental break of some sort. But there’s no resolution there. The wife and kids head off to the wife’s sister’s place, leaving Roy on his own to build a model of the Devil’s Tower in the middle of their kitchen. And I’m left wondering how we’re meant to feel about the family.

In the end Roy leaves with the aliens without a second thought, or so it seems. But what happens to that family? Those kids? They’re not bad people and they’re not portrayed as such, just crowded and loud. And now their father is gone. Not just absent, but off the planet. Much as I love the introduction of the alien spaceship near the end, with the iconic music playing in greeting and all, and much as I want to see the whole thing at the end where they choose Roy as a positive note, I can’t. It’s not as if his family was taken from him. It’s not as if they’re gone for good. And I can’t really see a character who’d walk away from his family after putting them through what Roy puts them through, leaving them likely never to know what happened to him, as someone to fully sympathize with. I want to! I really do! Because if you take away the family stuff Roy’s experience is amazing and wonderful. Put the family stuff in and I’m conflicted about him.

All that being said, the ending to this movie is one of my favorite movie endings ever. After the build-up for the aliens, with the tiny ships zipping by, bright and indistinct, the huge ship coming in to blare its music at everyone is fantastic. The return of the missing pilots and Navy officers? Gets me every time. There’s a touch of this in Flight of the Navigator, which explores more about what would happen when one of those abductees returns after so long away. I love it, cheesy alien costumes and all. I love the set-up, with the government knowing that this is going on the whole time and having people trained for the eventuality of being taken by aliens. I love that Jillian decides not to go but is still clearly enthralled by it, just like her son is after he’s been returned. It’s an excellent climax to a mostly excellent movie

July 17, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 463 – No Country For Old Men

No Country for Old Men – June 6th, 2011

This is going to be a short review. I am thoroughly uninterested in this movie. Uninterested to the point of questioning this whole project. The only thing I can see about this movie that explains why we own it is the Coen Brothers. Otherwise it really isn’t at all the sort of movie either of us set out to watch. If it hadn’t been directed by the Coens, would Andy have bought it? I have no idea. I certainly wouldn’t have. Even knowing who directed it I would never have gone out and bought it. Because it’s not at all my taste. It’s a tense crime thriller and it’s a western. It’s a movie about good and largely innocent people getting brutally murdered by a sociopath. That’s not fun for me. That’s not fun at all.

I spent two hours tonight watching a movie that held no interest for me. Sure, I like Tommy Lee Jones, but not enough to watch this movie solely for him. It’s got a cast full of people I’m mildly interested in and they give excellent performances. It’s got a well written script but it’s a well written script telling a story I’m not drawn to. It’s got good cinematography and good directing and it is, overall, a very nicely crafted movie. It is an excellent example of its genre. And I didn’t enjoy one single minute of it. It’s not that I actively disliked it. This isn’t like Punch Drunk Love where I felt like a hideous movie was cheating me out of enjoying the gorgeous cinematography. And it isn’t like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where I could see how it would be a beautiful movie to other people but so thoroughly disturbed me that I couldn’t take away from it what other people did. No. I get this movie. I just don’t care about it because it isn’t for me.

And I don’t say it isn’t for me because of demographics or anything like that. It’s that the things that people enjoy about this movie aren’t my personal taste. They aren’t antithetical to my tastes. They just exist somewhere not in the same part of the Venn diagram that I occupy. I’m finding it hard to even muster up the interest in recounting the plot here. Why bother? Anyone who cares about this movie or is looking for something like it probably wouldn’t bother reading my review. But here’s the basic rundown: Llewellyn Moss is a hunter and welder who, by accident, happens upon the site of a drug deal gone bad. Several trucks, several bodies, a pick-up bed full of heroin and a valise full of money all point to someone not getting what they wanted and everyone paying for it. And that’s a good way to sum up this whole movie. Llewellyn goes home but can’t help thinking about that money. So in the middle of the night he goes back out and gets it, and for his trouble he ends up hunted down by a hit man hired to get the money back.

Llewellyn gets chased by an attack dog, which is a pretty firm clue that someone’s going to come looking for him. He sends his wife away and starts running, figuring if he can find a safe spot he can hole up and wait for the man coming to get him and get the hit man first. But the hit man isn’t just a hired gun. He’s a sociopath. Anton Chigurh kills people with a bolt gun normally used to kill livestock. And he kills people all the time. He needs a car so he kills a driver who stops for him. He kills almost everyone he encounters. He is implacable and unstoppable and he has a job to do and he’s going to do it. If I was so inclined, I’m sure I could do a fascinating character study on Chigurh and his personal code of conduct, his Two-Face-esque coin flipping and his choice of weapon. But I don’t really care about him. He’s in this movie to be the bogeyman.

Moss runs and Chigurh chases and while they do that Moss’ wife goes to her mother’s, which ends up being far from safe. Because this is a movie where horrible things happen to people who’ve done nothing wrong and I knew from the beginning what was going to happen there. I knew what was going to happen from the very beginning. This isn’t a movie where the good guys win, I’m sorry to say. That’s not the point. I don’t know if I could accurately describe the real point, but it’s definitely not about the underdog winning because good should prevail. Which is pretty depressing, but there you go.

The events of the movie are largely trailed by a sheriff played by Tommy Lee Jones. He’s close to retirement and jaded from the horrible things he’s seen and read about. And right from the start, when he sees the evidence of the drug deal gone bad and a subsequent execution of two more men he seems to know that the whole ordeal will end poorly for many people. He never seems hopeful that things will turn out okay for anyone. He just tries his best to keep things from turning out as horribly as they could. And he doesn’t seem to succeed, really. The movie ends on him, talking about a dream he had about his father. And it’s a bleak ending. A bleak ending for a grim movie I never wanted to watch and regret spending time on. An excellently crafted grim movie, but that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy having spent my evening watching it.

June 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 2 Comments

Movie 460 – Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory – June 3rd, 2011

I’ve been trying to whittle down the remaining list of movies we own that I haven’t seen. When we started this project it was a vast number. I think I’d seen maybe 60% of what we owned. And when we started out I wasn’t paying particular attention to distributing what I’d seen and what I hadn’t evenly amongst our days. Now I make an effort. And out of the 150 or so movies left, there’s a 20 movie gap in favor of what I’ve seen. So I think I can afford an old favorite or two before we go popping in things that will make me angry or annoyed. And tonight, after a long day of prodding HTML into shape at work, I needed an old favorite. Something comforting and familiar and fun. This fit the bill perfectly.

We actually purchased this after we purchased the remake with Johnny Depp and Freddie Highmore. While I’d seen it numerous times – enough to know most of the songs by heart and have some lines in my daily reference lexicon – we hadn’t ever gotten around to buying it. This happens in our collection. It’s led to some awkward holes. I mean, we still don’t own Clerks for some reason I can’t fathom. So strange. But I purposefully set out to get this after be got the remake and I realized I didn’t want to watch it without watching this first. I’ll get to talk about the remake tomorrow but tonight belongs to the classic.

I don’t recall when I first saw this movie but I’m fairly sure it wasn’t at home. Perhaps at a friend’s house at a sleepover or something. I really don’t know. What I do know is that I was utterly captivated by Gene Wilder in it. And that I had a Grandpa Joe of my own, and missed him terribly by the time I saw this movie (he died when I was very young) and while he didn’t really look anything like Jack Albertson, I couldn’t help but connect them in my head. So I loved this movie and not just for the wonders inside Wonka’s factory. I mean, I loved those too, but the set-up drew me in first. Charlie with his impoverished life where a loaf of bread means a feast, suddenly winning one of five rare chances to go inside a magical candy factory? That’s a great hook!

Now, I’m going to admit something that’s as close to heresy as I can get in my profession: I’m not really all that enamored of Roald Dahl. I’m sorry, okay? I like my fantasy with a little less whimsy. They’re fun stories and all, but there was always something about his books that didn’t quite click for me. The movie adaptations are hit-or-miss. I really love this movie but I’m not at all fond of James and the Giant Peach and I could take or leave The Witches. So going into this movie it’s not that I have any particular love for the book. It’s just that I really enjoy the performances of the cast here. Gene Wilder deserves special mention and I’ll get to him in a moment, but really, I love all the children who play the five lead roles. Only one of them (Julia Dawn Cole, who played Veruca) seems to have kept on in the acting business, but they all did lovely jobs here. And of course Jack Albertson was fantastic as Grandpa Joe.

But then there’s Gene Wilder. The thing I truly love about Wilder is his ability to portray quiet wildness. He can give a perfectly reasonable look, sitting as calmly as you please, and still give the impression of barely restrained glee or panic. It imbues this particular character with an unpredictability that really suits him. And while the IMDB trivia claims that Wilder made Wonka unpredictable on purpose, I think he couldn’t have helped but do so. The combination of the character with Wilder’s strange calm energy was going to work towards that anyhow. It was an excellent bit of casting and I honestly don’t know if anyone else at the time could have made Wonka as iconic as Wilder did. I can picture other people in the role, but not playing it the way Wilder did and it’s the performance choices and the energy that make the character for me. Which in turn is what makes the movie for me.

Not that there’s not plenty more to enjoy about the movie. It’s just that without Wilder as Wonka I think it just would have been fun but not necessarily magical. It would have been a nice little children’s fantasy musical with a whole lot of candy and that would have been that. Perfectly enjoyable. But it turned out to be more than that. To be honest, I could do without a couple of the songs. Cheer Up Charlie slows the movie to a crawl for me and it could be excised and I’d never miss it. I mean, the songs aren’t the highlight of the movie for me. They do keep the pace up in many parts, and a few of them are pretty good earworms. I’ve Got a Golden Ticket will get stuck in my head whenever this movie crosses my desk at work. The various Oompa Loompa songs have some great little snarky lines in them. But the draw for me is the build-up to the factory tour and then the reveal, Wonka included.

I do enjoy the sense of humor this movie has. It’s really pretty sharp in places, meant as much for adult amusement as for kids. The whole bit with the search for the five golden tickets that will allow the finders to tour Wonka’s factory? It’s a great bit of worldbuilding and the way it’s done, with high-priced auctions and kidnapping with Wonka bars demanded as ransom? Brilliantly over the top. And it very neatly establishes Charlie as quite set apart from everyone else. He’s not opening hundreds of Wonka bars to look for the tickets. He opens a total of four over the course of the movie. And this is in a world where Willy Wonka and his mysterious factory have casino owners forging tickets to get a peek.

Once inside the factory is where the real fun starts. I figure most kids who see this would like to be let loose in the garden at the start of the factory tour. Who wouldn’t want to pluck a gummi bear down off a tree or eat peppermint grass? It just seems like so much fun. So much horribly unsanitary fun. Not that anything in the factory is supposed to be at all realistic. After all, this is a place that churns its chocolate by waterfall. It has hallucinatory boat rides and coat hangers shaped like hands that actually grab your coat. Safety precautions? Who cares about safety precautions when there’s lickable snozzberry wallpaper?

Now, I will say that the villain arc and the way it figures into the ending only sort of works for me, but I’m okay with it overall. I mean, it’s not so huge a part of the plot that enough time is devoted to it that I feel could have been better spent elsewhere. The movie shows us just enough of Charlie’s life beforehand and the world he lives in, then jumps into the wondrous factory and all that it contains. The villain arc is more a tool than a plot and I can deal with that. It doesn’t detract from the fun or the magic, and those are what make this movie enjoyable. It had been some time between when I’d last seen this and when I first saw the remake, so I’m curious to see how the remake will hold up tomorrow after having so much fun watching this tonight.

June 3, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 446 – Dragon Princess

Dragon Princess – May 20th, 2011

Oh boy, this is going to be a short review. There’s not a heck of a lot to this movie and I’m afraid I’m going to end up focusing on its flaws instead of on its potential, but I guess that’s how it goes sometimes. This is yet another movie obtained from my coworker. We got it solely on the basis of Sonny Chiba’s involvement. Okay, Sonny Chiba and the promise of a kick-ass female protagonist getting revenge for her father’s sake. And well, Sonny Chiba is in it. And Yumi is pretty awesome and does kick a lot of ass. But the movie’s pretty lacking in almost every other area.

One of the first things we discovered when we put the movie in was that it was dubbed. And this is the sort of horrible dubbing that’s been lampooned on every sketch comedy show ever, with the audio not even remotely synced with the video on multiple occasions. The aspect ratio shifts between the opening scene and the rest of the movie. The camera appears to be hand held and not very steadily so. There is panning and scanning but not nearly enough of either since the camera often seems to be looking at the empty space between the two characters in the scene being filmed, or on the spot a character was in and has moved from. And well, this is very obviously a low quality transfer from what was likely already a low quality copy of the original, leaving the visuals blurred more often than not.

The plot is pretty simple, or so it seems. The basic story is, anyhow. A man is attacked by several men and gravely wounded in front of his young daughter. He lives, only to devote his daughter’s childhood to the study of martial arts so she can be his instrument of revenge. She grows up and after he dies she seeks out the men who attacked him when she was little, eventually taking them all down. That’s not terribly complicated. And if the movie had kept it nice and simple like that, perhaps things would have gone better. But there’s a whole plot with a karate school and the scheming leader, Nikaido, who wants it to be the only school or a state sanctioned school or something like that. I couldn’t really figure out exactly what his incentive was but it definitely had something to do with being a karate teacher. And he’s also into extorting protection money from the locals around his school and sets up a big tournament that’s supposed to bring prestige to the school and the local government somehow and then he rigs it so his students will win. And then there are his men.

The Big Four, as they’re referred to in the movie, are four of Nikaido’s men. They were with him when he beat up on Yumi’s father and they act as his agents all over the place. And I’m not sure if I’m supposed to have picked up on anything other than that one of them, who has longish white hair, is more than a little high strung. The trouble here, and through the vast majority of the movie, is that while it attempts to have a plot and characters and dialogue, the scenes between fights are so poorly shot and edited together that they’re actually hard to pay attention to or make sense of. Which in turn makes the whole movie hard to pay attention to or make sense of. Why did that one student at Nikaido’s school decide to help Yumi? I have no idea. If he ever said anything about his reasons I admit I totally missed it and it’s not like the movie gave me much to go on. But help he does. After the tournament is announced the Big Four go out to kick the asses of anyone who might dare to try and compete. This takes us to such far flung locales as Cuba and South America and. Um. I think that’s it. Cuba and South America. Where we spend about five minutes of fighting before going back to Tokyo.

Yumi’s staying with her grandfather in the city, and you do get to hear some from him, but not enough to keep my interest. He tries to stop her but she goes to fight anyhow. She gets her arm fractured and is told if she fights more before it heals she’ll probably never use it again. You might think this would be the source of some emotional weight or conflict but no. She doesn’t really bat an eye. Not that I saw. There’s also a sort of side plot with a man who picks Yumi’s pocket when she arrives in Tokyo and apparently sells pornography from a stall near his home and whose mother pays protection money to Nikaido, but it’s never delved into. That would take time away from the fight scenes.

The thing is, with the shaky and poorly framed camera work here, all the fight scenes sort of muddle together into one. If I were to tune into this movie, even having seen it, I’d probably find it difficult to tell by a fight scene where the plot was at any given moment. When a movie has well choreographed fights that serve to enhance or propel the plot you can see how unique they are. These fight scenes are only usually unique due to whom, specifically, Yumi is fighting. And even then, the villains aren’t terribly distinguishable for me, aside from the one with the long hair and Nikaido himself. The other three? They aren’t even characters. They’re just henchmen.

And in the middle of all that mess is a totally unrelated sexy dancing scene that’s not really at all sexy. I think sex is supposed to have happened? I’m not sure. It’s strip disco, as Andy said. Between two characters who aren’t even in this movie. For no reason I can divine aside from someone deciding that the movie needed some bare breasts for American audiences. That, along with the ever-so-70s horn section soundtrack just makes this movie ridiculous and cheesy on top of messy. And you know, I really wish it was better. I would love to see a remake of this with decent production values. Heck, I’d even settle for halfway decent production values. Because I like the basic premise and I’ve got to say I did enjoy Etsuko Shihomi as Yumi and she did indeed kick a lot of ass. But I couldn’t really enjoy it as much as I wanted to, between the cropped and sloppy camera work and the horrible dubbing and the total lack of pacing and writing. If anyone knows of a remake or of something that takes the same premise and runs with it in a more coherent fashion, please let me know.

May 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment