Tuesday, June 5, 2012

REVIEW - Shaolin Soccer (2001)

Shaolin Soccer
Hong Kong / China - 2001
Directed by - Stephen Chow
Starring - Stephen Chow, Patrick Tse, Vicki Zhao, Ng Man Tat
Color / 113 Min / Rated PG

Sing (Chow) is a down on his luck kung-fu master, on bad terms with his Shaolin brothers after the death of their mentor and eking out a humble existence on the streets selling tin cans. Sing’s dream is to legitimize kung-fu by teaching the masses of its practical uses in everyday life, but his schemes are met with failure until he meets ex-soccer star “Golden Leg“ Fung (Man Tat). Sing has the bright idea to promote martial arts through a soccer team, with Fung as the coach and his estranged Shaolin brothers playing alongside. But convincing everyone to join up might be the toughest trial Sing has ever faced, and even if Sing does get his Shaolin team together, the championship-winning Team Evil, led by the nefarious Hung (Tse), will be waiting for them on the pitch.

Yes. I said Team Evil.

Yes. That is the awesomest name for a sports team ever.

If you enjoyed Stephen Chow’s King of Comedy or Kung-Fu Hustle, there’s no reason to think you wouldn’t enjoy Shaolin Soccer too. It’s a goofy martial arts flick coupled with Chow’s brand of slapstick and fourth wall breaking humor minus the deluge of cynicism that creeps into so much comedy from the western world. Personally, I find Shaolin Soccer to be one of those ‘bad day’ movies. As in: “Wow, I had a really bad day… Oh, look! Shaolin Soccer is on. I feel better already.” You don’t need to be a soccer fan to appreciate the film, but if you are, you’ll probably get a cheap thrill out of watching the characters kick lumps into others ala Eric Cantona or deliver vicious headbutts ala Zinedine Zidane.

As with many actioners made around the turn of the century, The Matrix is a source of great inspiration here. (Gee, remember when that film was new and fresh and not stricken with sequelitis? Don’t you feel old now?) There’s plenty of ‘bullet time’ effects in addition to wire-based kung-fu on display. Not to imply that Shaolin Soccer is in any way a rip-off. The action scenes show a great deal of invention, especially in the approach to using the soccer ball as a weapon between members of Team Shaolin and Team Evil during the epic climax. There’s explosions on the field too. Because it wouldn’t be much of a soccer movie without explosions. Am I right?

If there’s one complaint, it’s that Patrick Tse doesn’t have enough screen time. Tse plays a delicious, scenery-chomping baddie, complete with dark shades and a pair of sweet white leather loafers. We needed to see more of him and his dastardly methods of training Team Evil to win the championship. (One of which includes giving them all performance enhancing drugs. The script makes sure to point out that the drugs are “from America”, which I find especially hilarious for some reason. Our baseball players are clean, I tells ya!)

Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Goal.
It took almost three years for the boneheads at Miramax to release this film Stateside. When it finally happened, approximately twenty minutes of footage got the axe and dreadful voice actors were hired to record the English dub. (Over the top English dubs are fun sometimes, but not in this instance). If you’re going to watch Shaolin Soccer, stick with the original Cantonese version with English subtitles. Not only are you getting the full movie (with the prologue and love story subplot intact), but you’re avoiding a terrible dub that drowns out both the score and the ambient noise at times. You also get to hear Stephen Chow singing bad karaoke out of tune in his native tongue. It’s worth it, trust me.

4 / 5

Saturday, June 2, 2012

REVIEW - The Wasp Woman (1959)

The Wasp Woman
USA - 1959
Directed by - Roger Corman
Starring - Susan Cabot, Anthony Eisley, Barboura Morris, Michael Mark
B&W / 73 Min / NR

The Wasp Woman is a movie way ahead of its time. Sure, it’s about as kitschy and cheesy as any late 50‘s/early 60‘s Roger Corman flick (one only needs to look at the dreadful movie poster to ascertain this), but with the benefit of hindsight we can look at the film now as a prescient satire on a society obsessed with appearance, beauty, and sexuality. Today’s women are pressured to look like airbrushed billboard models layered in make-up while men are preached at by sporting legends to cover up their gray hair lest they never get laid again. Face it, we’re in societal decline, people. If only we’d paid attention to The Wasp Woman when it was first released, we wouldn’t have all the rampant objectification we have today. Those dopey Kardashian sisters wouldn’t be celebrities and half-wasp vampire women wouldn’t be running the streets sucking the blood out of random passersby.

You mean you haven’t seen the half-wasp vampire women in your neighborhood yet?

So our protagonist is Janice Starling (Cabot), a middle-aged cosmetics mogul mired in declining profits for her company after stepping down as the advertised ’face’ of the brand. Janice is approached by disgraced scientist Dr. Winthrop (Mark), who believes he has discovered the key to an anti-aging formula through the enzymes of wasps. After witnessing the formula demonstrated on animals, Janice immediately hires Winthrop on as a R&D researcher, sparing no expense in providing everything he needs for his mad scientist lab. This kind of thing always ends well, right?

Revlon can suck it. I'm still number one.
Once the formula is perfected, Janice is eager to become the initial test subject. Her youthful looks slowly begin to return, but little does she realize that wasp juice is more addicting than smack. Soon enough, Janice is shooting up Winthrop’s wasp formula every hour, desperate to become 19 years of age again. Abusing the formula messes with her DNA and transforms Janice into the horrific Wasp Woman, who knocks off her own nosey company executives by jumping on them and feeding on their blood.

Something tells me the screenwriters didn’t do a lot of research on how wasps actually attack, but hey, it’s a Corman flick, you’ll give it a pass. Probably.

As you would expect from a sci-fi B-movie of the era, there are plenty of flaws. The pacing is slow despite a short run-time, most of the acting is predictably hammy, the recycled Fred Katz score that Corman used in countless films still doesn’t do anything for me, and then there’s the outfit for the Wasp Woman herself…

This is my brain on drugs.
It looks like Susan Cabot is wearing a stuffed pillowcase with a pair of tea strainers for eyes and a set of shoddy devil horns from a novelty store glued on the side of her head. I realize the film was made on a shoestring budget, but keeping the Wasp Woman confined to the shadows would have made more sense instead of parading her around on-screen like Lon Chaney or Bela Lugosi. To her credit, Cabot’s heavy movements and Mr. Hyde mannerisms while wearing the silly outfit are convincing enough to overlook the cheap suit at times.

Less convincing is Susan Cabot as the aging beauty queen. (Physically speaking, I should say.) The actress was only a year or two past 30 when she starred in the film. (Her last, she would return to Broadway after this.) The makeup department provides her with dark colored eyeshadow to mimic heavy bags under her eyes and the prop guy has handed her a pair of old lady glasses, but a fake wrinkle or two, maybe even a widow’s peak, could have helped sell the illusion much better.

Still, I found The Wasp Woman to be a solid science-fiction/horror story, certainly one of the more enjoyable films in Roger Corman’s oeuvre. It might not be up your alley if you’re looking for a Saturday evening monster mash type film, but if you’re in the mood for a B-movie satire involving the objectification of women, corporate espionage, and addiction, The Wasp Woman can provide some food for thought.

3 / 5

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

REVIEW - Rubber (2010)

France/Angola - 2010
Directed by - Quentin Dupieux
Starring - Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick, Wings Hauser, Roxane Mesquida
Color / 82 Min / Rated R

Rubber’s denouement sees the main character, a sentient killer tire, leading an army of killer tires towards the world-famous Hollywood sign. Ha ha! Get it?! GET IT???



Yeah, I hate this movie.

On paper, Rubber sounds like a great choice for a schlocky B-movie night. The plot sees the aforementioned tire come to life and embark on a Michael Myers-esque killing spree through a desert backwater over a three day period. That in itself should be more than enough to sustain genre fans, but director Quentin Dupieux is hellbent on using a silly horror movie setup as a forum to spout off how much he dislikes modern filmmaking, major movie studios, and yep, even YOU, the viewer of this movie. Don’t you realize how stupid you are for wanting to watch a movie like this? Geez!

Dupieux carries out his diatribe through a series of not-so-subtle ‘movie within a movie’ scenes, where onlookers watch the killer tire from afar and make snarky and ironic meta comments about the proceedings. These scenes have all the tact of a blunt hammer to the skull. It’d be one thing if Dupieux’s goal was to be part of the anti-intellectualism movement, but I’m under the impression the director envisions himself as the exact opposite. He’s letting everyone know, in no uncertain terms, that he is the next David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman, and Terry Gilliam all rolled into one. And he’s brushing flecks of beard dandruff off his Bohemian scarf while offering you a Turkish cigarette as he tells you this.

Get used to this shot. The director uses it every six seconds or so.
Sure, somewhere in this mess is an actual story about the killer tire stalking a sexy young lady and splattering poor sods with Scanners mind bullets, but it’s quite boring. For a movie billing itself as a comedy-horror, the tension is practically nonexistent and the laughs at the campy moments are few and far between. While I will offer some credit to the filmmakers for not resorting to CGI effects in capturing the tire rolling along of its own volition, if you edited all the bouncing tire shots together you’d easily have a half hour infomercial for Goodyear ready to play at 4 AM. Or a really fucked up version of The Red Balloon. Take your pick.

The sheriff character (Spinella), once he steps from the meta-movie into the actual film itself, is the closest thing to a redeeming quality in Rubber, but he doesn’t have nearly enough screen presence to save it. This movie desperately needed an over the hill redneck with a massive beer gut playing the sheriff. Somebody who could ham it up opposite an inanimate tire as a co-star yet bring a much needed gravitas to the piece to counterbalance all the bullshit hipster pseudo-intellectualism.

In other words, this movie needed Joe Don Baker.

0.5 / 5

Sunday, May 20, 2012

REVIEW - The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers
USA - 2012
Directed by - Joss Whedon
Starring - Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth
Color / 143 Min / Rated PG-13

Haters gonna hate.

That’s probably going to be the response to this review from anyone who reads it. That I don’t “get it” or that I’m just some trolling putz stirring up the pot and rebelling against something simply because it’s a success. Not so. I’ve stewed on my thoughts regarding The Avengers for a good two weeks now, simply because I didn’t want to write a knee jerk reaction piece on here. (I’ve got a Twitter feed for that kind of stuff, anyway). The problem is, the more I stew on Avengers, the more disheartened I become. So let me be clear. I wanted to love this movie.

The most exciting thing that happened to me while watching The Avengers was when the film had to be paused for an impromptu evacuation from the theater for about half an hour after a doofus teenager working the snack bar burned the popcorn, causing the smoke alarms to go haywire. As we exited the building, I saw a little boy with his parents. Only an hour earlier, the kid was running and jumping around before the film started, excited beyond belief to see Thor and Captain America kicking butt on the big screen. Now he was yawning and rubbing his eyes as he stepped out into the bright sunshine. Clearly the fire alarms had disturbed his nap.

Glad I’m not the only one bored by the movie.

Don’t get me wrong, Avengers has its moments. It’s somewhat entertaining on a completely mindless level. The effects are second to none, and the all too brief moments of typical Joss Whedon levity are always chuckle-worthy. (Galaga references in 2012!) But I don’t for one second believe Avengers warrants the second coming of Christ level of praise that the masses of aging comic book dweebs on the internet have awarded the film. It simply does not live up to the hype. While I applaud the effort it took to bring all the different film franchises together to form this movie, I don't feel duty bound as a fan of comics to automatically love Avengers just because of that. There are far better action movies out there. There are far better comic book movies out there. And gorram it, there are far better Joss Whedon movies out there.

Yeah, I dunno why they made me ditch my real costume for this lame Mad Max ripoff outfit, either...
The plot of Avengers centers around Norse demi-god Loki (Tom Huddleston, rocking an even sweeter mullet than in Thor) and his planned invasion of Earth with the help of the Tesseract, a glowing MacGuffin of doom. The stakes are high, but Loki's plan is unfocused, and he doesn't seem nearly as evil as he did in his previous appearance. Meanwhile, cyclopean badass Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) struggles to assemble his own Wild Bunch to combat Loki and the army of disposable blue guys from space. This culminates in a showdown in Manhattan that takes up the last forty minutes of screen time. The rest of the film preceding the climax consists of numerous (and tedious) banter scenes on the Helicarrier, followed by a few pissing contests between the heroes who initially grate on each other but (surprise, surprise) come together as a team after the death of a ‘beloved’ colleague (a guy Captain America knew for all of five minutes and whom the Hulk didn’t know at all -- but whatevs! We’ve got evil doers on jet skis to beat up!).

There's ample opportunity for development between the heroes, but it‘s all wasted. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) spends half the film hypnotized as a pawn of Loki’s. When he’s finally knocked back to his senses (literally -- way to think your way out of that one, screenwriters), his betrayal of SHIELD is neatly swept under the rug with a single line of dialogue. Uh… what? No superhero brooding? Nothing? Okay, what about these hints of romance between Hawkeye and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)? Anything going to happen there? No? Geez, give me something more than flashy explosions and tepid chase sequences, movie. How about Thor and Loki - the brothers who are now tragically opposed to one another? Surely their star-crossed relationship will yield some form of dramatic…

He’s adopted,” quips Thor. A few people in the front row chuckle half-heartedly while I start to remember why I don't bother going to the theater anymore.

At least Mark Ruffalo succeeds in making me give a crap about the Hulk for the first time ever. (I‘m more of a She-Hulk kinda guy). He outshines the rest of the cast simply by underplaying his part, bringing out the geeky, disheveled qualities of Bruce Banner from the comic books that’s been sorely lacking in previous big screen adventures featuring the character. While the rest of the cast preens and wisecracks, Bruce is content to sit back and be the adorkable nerd in his lab doing science-y things with beakers and computers. When he finally gives in to the ’other guy’ and turns into the Jolly Green Giant, it’s quite satisfying to watch him smash the everloving shit out of everything in sight (including Thor).

Alas, the Hulk alone is not enough to save the day. And when Bruce rides off into the sunset with Tony Stark at the conclusion of The Avengers, I can’t help but think that the inevitable wacky hijinks on their road trip would have made a more interesting movie than the one I just watched.

2 / 5

Friday, May 4, 2012

MCA, Where Have You Been?

If there is an afterlife, I'd like to think that John Phillip Law is having a very stern conversation with MCA about this music video.

...And then they have a sword fight.

(Also, I love that Adam Yauch sells being decapitated like the Black Knight in Holy Grail would).

RIP Adam 'MCA' Yauch