Search Results for: enter the dragon

MOVIE REVIEW | Enter the Dragon (1973)

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Ever seen a 70s martial arts movie?  Even if you haven’t, I bet you know exactly what to expect from this one.  I don’t think I’d ever watched one until now.  But Bruce Lee and everything about Enter the Dragon have been parodied and referenced so many times in the years since, that it’s hard to not feel like I’ve seen it all before.


After topping his class at ass kicking school, Lee (Bruce Lee) is deployed on a covert mission to infiltrate the island lair of Mr Han (Kien Shih).  He’s running drugs and running whores, and not the willing ones with hearts of gold either.  These chicks are straight up kidnapped and sold as sex slaves.  Every few years, Mr Han holds a tournament to help strengthen his ranks of henchmen.  Lee uses the tournament as an excuse to pop over, and there is much fighting.

As a bad guy, Mr Han is just a little too over the top.  In a movie that seems to have gone all out on sets and locations, the dodgy cheapness of his many fake hands is laughable.  The last one seriously looks like 4 steaks knives sticking out of a tissue box spray painted silver.  His henchman, Bolo Yeung, is legitimately threatening and would have made a much more menacing opponent for Lee’s final battle.  But I guess the film makers thought Mr Han and his chintzy fake bare claw were more impressive.

The story is paper thin and really doesn’t matter.  What does matter is, it keeps finding reasons to have dudes fight.  Mr Han as a couple of scary bodyguards and Lee gets some almost allies in Williams (Jim Kelley) and Roper (John Saxon).  As American fighters taking part in the tournament, they also get a couple of cool fight scenes each to add a little variety.

I know this is probably a dumb question, typical of someone new to the genre, but seriously, what’s the story with the sound effects?  How did they become a staple of this kind of movie? Did people back in the day think they were badass?  Because all I could think with every ‘crack’, ‘snap’ and ‘thonk’ was how ridiculous, cartoony and just dumb they were.

One thing about Enter the Dragon that does more than hold up though, is Bruce Lee’s fighting.  Watching, it became immediately clear why he’s still the most famous name associated with movie martial arts, even though he’s been dead for forty years.  His physicality, intensity and skill is just amazing.  It’s impossible not be blown away when he’s really going for it.

From what I can tell, Enter the Dragon is the epitome of this genre.  The sound effects, the slow motion fights, the constantly zooming camera, the bad over dubbing of voices, the awesome soundtrack.  This seems to be the blueprint of every rip off and piss-take I’ve ever seen.  And for all its cheesiness, I totally understand its place as genre classic.

Enter the Dragon
Directed By – Robert Clouse
Written By – Michael Allin

MOVIE REVIEW | How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

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“Good dragons under the control of bad people do bad things.”

Aaah, 2010. A simpler time. A time when names like Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga dominated the music charts. A time when none of us could stop talking about how great it was to be living in the International Year of Biodiversity. A year when a lot of people said, “You know a movie that was better than I thought it was going to be? How to Train Your Dragon”. A year or two later, I finally caved in and saw it. And you know what? They were right, How to Train Your Dragon was better than I thought it would be. Yet, not good enough for me to give two shits when its sequel was released earlier this year. Until, I was sitting on a plane with 12 hours of nothing to do ahead of me, and How to train Your Dragon 2 available on the in-flight entertainment.


With the perfect amount of recap for a casual viewer like me, while never getting too bogged down in it, some opening narration from main character Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) gets us up to speed with where the last movie ended and what has happened since. His Viking clan have embraced dragons and made riding them a big part of their everyday lives. Where they used to build weapons for catching and killing them, they now practice things like dragon dentistry. While clan leader Stoic (Gerard Butler) has decided to step down and let his son take over, his reluctant son, Hiccup, is more concerned with riding his dragon, Toothless, to the ends of the Earth, mapping out the world around them. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

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“A sword by itself rules nothing. It only comes alive in skilled hands.”

This is possibly the most recognisable foreign language film of the new millennium. It was the first to ever break $100million at the American box office and it was pretty unavoidable when it was released. Yet somehow, I found a way to avoid it. I’m not averse to subtitles, I don’t mind a bit of the old kung-fu and I had no reason to wait 14 years to see it. But for some reason I did. And I don’t know if the years of building it up in my head really helped Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.


I don’t want that to sound like I didn’t like it or didn’t think it was a pretty amazing piece of film making. I did, and it is. It’s just hard to not let the hype build something up a little too much in your head, even if you wait a decade and a half after that hype died down.
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MOVIE REVIEW | ***FOREIGN LANGUAGE WEEKEND*** Fist of Fury (1972)

The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again.   But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.

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“Now you listen to me. I’ll only say this once. We are not sick men.”

My experience with kung fu and martial arts movies is pretty limited. My experience with Bruce Lee movies is limited to just one, Enter the Dragon. About which I said, “This seems to be the blueprint of every rip off and piss-take I’ve ever seen.  And for all its cheesiness, I totally understand its place as genre classic.” So while I claimed to “get it”, it’s impact obviously didn’t really stick with me, because that review is two years old, and I only just got around to watching my second Bruce Lee picture, Fist of Fury.


In turn of the 20th century Shanghai, Chen (Lee) returns home to his martial arts school where the funeral for his teacher is in progress. Apparently dying from pneumonia, Chen finds that hard to believe and suspects foul play. His suspicions only grow when students from a rival Japanese martial arts school pay a visit to deliver a derogatory sign and try to pick a fight. Chen almost takes the bait, but his fellow students remind him that their deceased master taught them martial arts only for fitness, not for fighting. (more…)

MUSIC REVIEW | Regurgitator – SuperHappyFunTimesFriends (2011)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Justified my anticipation when it came out five years ago, and it did just as a good a job on this re-listen as well.”

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For me, more often than not, my favourite albums from any bands I love tend to be the album that helped me discover them, and the first new album that came out after that discovery.  That holds true for RegurgitatorTu-Plang was the first record of theirs I bought, and it’s my favourite.  Unit was the first to come out after I devoured Tu-Plang, and it’s probably in the top 10 of records I have listened to most from beginning to end.  But what makes Regurgitator stand out from most other bands in my CD collection, is how deep into their catalogue they are, and how consistently I still love everything they put out.  Which was definitely the case with the release of SuperHappyFunTimesFriends.

With the most obviously fake drum sound imaginable, leading into a super lo-fi guitar for some jangled, indie, pop rock, One Day really is a quintessential Regurgitator song, even before the unmistakable vocals of Quan Yeomans appear.  Throw in a little hip hop, and it could nicely represent their entire oeuvre in less than two and a half minutes.  At just 21 seconds of punk rock energy with zero aggression and all tongue in cheek, the shout out to Bill Paxton in Aliens that is Game Over Dude is pure Ben Ely. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***TOM WEEK*** Mr Baseball (1992)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “I wasn’t expecting much from Mr Baseball, and it pretty much delivered.”

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It’s like being a black guy back home. Only there’s less of us.

If you were to tell me that Tom Selleck was one of the biggest stars of the 80s, I’d agree.  I was there and remember him being huge.  What I don’t remember, are very many specific reasons why. Sure, he was the titular star of Magnum PI.  But that was a TV show, in a time when TV actors where scum compared to their big screen colleagues.  Selleck had a big hit with Three Men and a Baby and a slightly less big hit with its sequel, but that’s all I can remember about his movie output.  So why do I remember Tom Selleck as a mega star?  Maybe I’ll get a refresher by watching a movie I vaguely remembered when I saw it listed on his IMDb page, Mr Baseball.

Four years ago, Jack Elliot (Selleck) was a World Series MVP for the New York Yankees.  But now he’s deep in a rut of too many strike outs and not nearly enough home runs, or even base hits.  Trying to rescue some dignity for their old star, Yankees management put out the call looking for another club that might take Elliot in a trade.  The only club that answers, is the Japan based Dragons. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

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“Just remember what ol’ Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol’ storm right square in the eye and he says, give me your best shot, pal. I can take it.”

How did John Carpenter and Kurt Russell find each other? As revered and loved as Carpenter and his filmography are now, he spent most of the 80s making B-grade flops that had to wait for VHS and cable TV to become cult favourites. Russell was a dude with action star looks and charisma that for some reason never really cracked the action movie A-list. But put these two dudes together, and you get some of the best, tongue in cheek action fun the 80s had to offer. Tongue in cheek action fun like Big Trouble in Little China.


After a long day hauling freight in his semi trailer, Jack Burton (Russell) settles in for a night of back room gambling in Little China. When his last big bet results in a big win from Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) that he can’t afford to settle, Jack insists on sticking with Wang until he can pay up. Which includes a trip to the airport where Wang Chi is collecting his fiancé after finally saving up enough money for her to come to America from China. They arrive just in time to see her kidnapped by a Chinese street gang. (more…)

MUSIC REVIEW | Black Sabbath – Master of Reality (1971)

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I’m no metal fanatic, but I can appreciate a good, loud, heavy song. I grew up with metal being personified by bands like Metallica and Slayer, and that’s the brand of metal I’m generally drawn to when I want things a little louder and heavier than usual. But I realised something recently, I’ve never really gone back to the genre’s roots. I’ve never actively listened to bands like Iron Maiden, or Black Sabbath. So today, I corrected one of those mistakes by cranking up some Sabbath with Master of Reality.


While the metal of the 80s was all about explosions of speed and aggression, Black Sabbath offer a much sludgier, measured and grinding approach with album opener Sweet Leaf. There’s a brief relief of blistering guitar and drum work in the middle, but for the most part, it’s more ominous and foreboding than it is assaultive. With a little more energy and what would become a more common style of metal riffage, After Forever also brings in a hint of trippy psychedelia with its dancing bass guitar and Ozzy Osborne’s comically “spooky” vocal delivery. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***FOREIGN LANGUAGE WEEKEND*** Spirited Away (2001)

The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again.   But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.

Spirit 1

“Oh, that’s a wonderful place to start! Once you meet someone, you never really forget them.”

A few years ago, Toy Story 3 became the first animated movie that seemed like it had an actual chance of winning the Best Picture Oscar. As I write this, it looks like Inside Out might have a shot at the title this year. But generally, animated movies still struggle to be taken seriously and compete with live action when it comes to prestige and awards. But the shift is happening, slowly but surely. So slowly, that the first time I remember an animated movie getting talked about and gushed over by snooty critics, was 15 years ago, with Spirited Away.


Surly, 10 year old Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi) is travelling with her parents to their new home in a new town. When her father takes a wrong turn they stumble across what he thinks is an old, abandoned amusement park. While her parents excitedly explore and find a restaurant empty of people yet inexplicably full of fresh, delicious food, Chihiro wanders off on her own, where she meets a young boy named Haku (Miyu Irino). He warns her that she must leave before sunset, or else something terrible will happen. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | Zero Charisma (2013)

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“Are you in to Wizards and shit?”

Crowd funded with a budget of just $25,000.  A story about a man child nerd whose entire life revolves around being game master of a game of Dungeons and Dragons.  This is movie is for nerds, by nerds.  And it’s that insular attitude that makes Zero Charisma probably not worth your time.  Unless you too are a man child nerd whose entire life revolves around being game master of a game of Dungeons and Dragons.  Or, you know a man child nerd whose entire life revolves around being game master of a game of Dungeons and Dragons.


Scott (Sam Edison) is that man child nerd whose entire life revolves around being the game master of a game of Dungeons and Dragons.  He lives with his grandmother and hosts a weekly game in her house.  When one of his regulars quits because his wife is about to leave him, Scott can’t believe something as trivial as a marriage could be more important to someone than their long running game.   With a hole to fill in his game, Scott meets and recruits Miles (Garret Graham). (more…)

MUSIC REVIEW | Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz! (2009)

It's Blitz

Binge watching is the rage with the kids today, what with the Houses of Cards, Oranges are the News Blacks, Dares-Devil and what not.  But I don’t think I’ve ever binge listened before now.  I’ve discovered older bands with deep back catalogues before.  But usually I’ll obsess over one album at a time before moving on to the next.  Devouring the Yeah Yeah Yeahs discography over the space of a few days has given me a new way to look at a band and their career.  I’m more aware of a band’s evolution than usual, and I like it.  And now that I’m three records in as I cover It’s Blitz!, I love the direction that their evolution took.


The driving synth in the opening seconds of Zero is the kind of agenda setter that gets me pumped for an album and what’s to come.  Never afraid of electronica, this is Yeah Yeah Yeahs embracing it more than anything on their previous two records, and I like it.  Karen O is a singer who would have sounded great in the post punk, new wave 80s.  But she’s a singer who sounds phenomenal in the new millennium when everything is post-post and neo-new. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | Particle Fever (2013)

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“The things that are the least important for our survival, are the very things that make us human.”

Obsessives make great documentary subjects.  Middle aged men obsessing over the Donkey Kong high score sounds too silly for a movie script.  But when you see it happening in real life in The King of Kong, it’s hilarious, sad, uplifting and supremely entertaining.  Spelling bees, crosswords, Star Trek, Dungeons and Dragons…  All of these things, and the people who love them, have all made for great documentaries.


And while the inconsequential nature of their obsessions has been a big part of what makes these movies so entertaining, what happens when obsessives try to answer a big question?  Obsessives who actually have the intelligence and resources to answer a big question, like, what is the basis of all life?  What happens is, you get Particle Fever. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

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“You started this, you will forgive me if I finish it!”

So here it is, what I assumed would be a bloated end to a bloated series that I still kind of enjoyed. I just would have enjoyed it more, if there was less. Ever since it was announced that The Hobbit would be two movies, Peter Jackson copped a lot of criticism that there was no way such a slight book needed so much screen time. Then, it was announced that The Hobbit would be three movies, and Jackson really started copping it.


When I got to the end of the previous entry in the series, The Desolation of Smaug, I remembered the book and realised there was only one small section of it left, and it’s that one small section the supplies the subtitle of this third, and final entry, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. (more…)

MUSIC REVIEW | Rush – Moving Pictures (1981)

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A band that’s been at it for the best part of five decades. A band of three absolute virtuoso musicians who will go down in history of some of the best practitioners of what they do in rock. A band that has sold millions of albums and can still pack arenas in some countries. A band that has done all that, while never being able to crack the mainstream. That band is Rush, and the only thing more impressive than their success is the fact that they’ve managed to do it in large part without hit singles and radio airplay. Yet, without all of that that, albums like Moving Pictures have still managed to carve out a hallowed place in rock history for a massive number of devoted fans all over the world.


Opening with Tom Sawyer, that lack of hit singles and radio airplay is immediately explained. At 4:37, it’s the third shortest song on Moving Pictures. Once you crack that three minute barrier, your radio friendly quotient goes down exponentially with every additional second.   But in this 4:37, we get little moments of everything great about Rush. Soaring guitars from Alex Lifeson, complex, never still drumming from Neil Peart, roaring bass from Geddy Lee, and killer riff after killer riff. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***FRIEDKIN WEEK*** Sorcerer (1977)

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Aaah, the 70s, a time when Hollywood was run by the artists, the visionaries, the film buffs who took their childhood love of classic Hollywood, combined it with their young adult obsessions with the gritty French new wave, and gave us the film school brats era that redefined movie making.  There was Francis Ford Coppola with the first two Godfathers, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now.  Martin Scorsese delivered Mean Streets and Taxi DriverMichael Cimino blew everyone away with The Deer Hunter.  And William Friedkin had the one-two punch of The French Connection and The Exorcist.


Then, a couple of things happened.  Steven Spielberg and George Lucas invented the blockbuster with Jaws and Star Wars respectively.  And the rest of the film school brats started to believe a little too much of their own hype.  Getting overly ambitious, overly pretentious, overly coked up, or usually, a combination of all three.  In the next few years, we got Coppola’s One From the Heart, Scorsese’s New York New York, and the overly ambitious flop that would go down in infamy as the definition of overly ambitious flop, Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate.  But before Cimino set the still unequalled high watermark of shit bomb in 1980, Friedkin was the holder of that title, with Sorcerer.

Nilo (Francisco Rabal) executes someone in Mexico and has to go on the run.  Kassem (Amidou) gets caught up in some terrorist strife in Israel and has to go on the run.  Victor (Bruno Cremer) is about to be exposed for some pretty serious embezzlement in Paris and has to go on the run.  Jackie (Roy Scheider) takes part in a botched robbery of the mob in New Jersey and has to go on the run.  They all end up in Porvenir, South America.  The last refuge of desperate souls, trying to escape their past.
Needing money and legitimate residency, all four take on a job that means almost certain death, transporting two trucks of nitro glycerine more than 200km across rugged, South American jungle terrain.  But this isn’t regular nitro glycerine, this is sweaty nitro glycerine.  And as we all learned from Burt Lancaster in The Professionals, sweaty nitro glycerine is likely to go the fuck off at the slightest bump or jiggle.

From the first moment until the end credits, Sorcerer had me asking one question, how was this movie a flop?  With the opening montage of the main quartet all making their mistakes in exotic international locations…  And New Jersey…   To the grimey streets of Porvenir, to the nail biting truck journey, to the gut punch ending, I loved everything about Sorcerer.

All I knew about this movie before watching was the basic nr glycerine transportation plot, but that doesn’t even get introduced until about half way.  The set up for all of that was a great surprise that made my almost forget about the impending truck trip until it was finally introduced.  Then once it’s there, the convoy portion is even more amazing than everything that comes before it.

What really amazed me is the way Friedkin turns the two trucks into living, breathing characters.  One has weird bonnet scoops that almost look like the spikes on a dragon’s tail.  The lights and grills look like demonic eyes and teeth.  The exhausts have been mounted at the front, so they breathe smoke.  They even have names, so in my head as I watched, I never thought of them as “Jackie’s Truck” and “Victor’s Truck”, they were “Sorcerer” and “Lazaro”.

And then there’s the legendary rope bridge crossing.  Mentioning the sequence exists isn’t spoiling anything, it’s been the main image on every poster and DVD cover since the movie was released.  Apparently it took a month to film this 10 minutes or so of screen time, and I believe it.  It’s so visceral, so real, so anxious and dangerous.  While it in no way drags or loses any of its incredible tension, I could see every second of that 30 days of shooting on the screen.

Friedkin really suffered after making Sorcerer.  He’d gone from being one of the leading directors of his generation, to floundering for pretty much the rest of his career.  Even when his move Killer Joe got a lo of critical buzz a couple years ago, the focus was always on Matthew McConaughey’s performance, rather than Friedkin’s direction.  Apparently audiences at the time felt ripped off by the opening, subtitles scenes in Sorcerer, felling like they’d been tricked into watching a foreign film.

But I have to assume the blame should really fall on the title.  “Sorcerer” is obviously going to invoke images of fantasy, fairy tales and fable fuelled bull shit.  Images that couldn’t be further away from everything that’s awesome about this movie.  Like pretty much every flop from Friedkin’s, Sorcerer has definitely built in admiration in the years since its initial failure, but it still deserves more.  Watch this movie, because you’ll love this movie.

Sorcerer
Directed By – William Friedkin
Written By – Walon Green

 

MOVIE REVIEW | The Raid: Redemption (2011)

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I don’t really go in for action or fight movies.  I got my fill of martial arts stuff with a brief Van Damme obsession in the early 90s.  I gave a Bruce Lee a classic a go and respected it without really loving it.  All of that is to say that it takes a lot buzz and critical hype for me to take notice of anything too action or fight based.  And in the case of The Raid Redemption, it took several years of relentless buzz and critical hype, plus the recent release of its sequel, before I finally caved in.  Now, as I sit here with my mind still smouldering, all I can wonder is, why didn’t I just believe everyone and watch this years ago?


Rama (Iko Uwais), a rookie Jarkarta cop, gets ready for work and kisses his heavily pregnant wife goodbye after promising her that he’ll stay safe at work that day.  So of course, he has an uneventful, boring day, before returning home to her.  Oh wait, sorry, this is an action movie, so of course this clunky, clichéd introduction to the character of Rama means he’s about to have the worst day in the history of Indonesian policemen.  Thankfully, that’s the only real misstep The Raid: Redemption takes, and the following 90 minutes or so is balls out amazing.

Under the direction of the squad leader Sergeant Jaka (Joe Tslim), and shifty looking Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), a squad of cops, including Rama, plan to seize a   high rise slum, controlled by local crime boss Tama (Ray Sahetapy).  Because Tama rents his building out almost exclusively to Jakarta criminals looking for a place to lay low, it’s literally full of the city’s most violent and ruthless criminals.  What starts as an efficient raid as the police make their way floor by floor  toward their goal, quickly turns into a slaughter when they realise just how outnumbered and outgunned they are, and look for ways to escape.

The Raid: Redemption was made on a tiny budget and that’s its greatest strength.  With no money for lazy CGI effects and fakery, director and writer Gareth Evans puts all his faith in the ability of his cast, and it pays off amazingly.  The practical stunt work and fight scenes are like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  These dudes are blindingly quick and pinpoint precise, but even then, it’s baffling to think that these scenes were thought up by someone, choreographed, rehearsed and filmed.  Everything is so fast and visceral that it feels like the cameramen were just lucky to capture the chaos.

I’ve heard a few comments about the sequel that sound like Evans might have been given a little too much money and freedom.  I’ll still see it, but those criticisms of indulgence make me even more adamant that the limitations placed on Evans in the first movie are what makes The Raid: Redemption so amazing.  Like the malfunctioning animatronic shark that made Spielberg find different ways to scare the shit out us in Jaws, the lack of effects meant Evans was forced to give us a real movie like nothing else being made in this age of CGI.

The Rade: Redemption
Directed By – Gareth Evans
Written By – Gareth Evans

MOVIE REVIEW | 13 Assassins (2010)

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Takashi Miike is a name I’ve heard a lot, always talked about in glowing terms by movie nerds, movie snobs and genre fans.  I’ve always associated his name with horror and some sort of Japanese Grindhouse movement.  Admittedly, I have nothing to base that association on, it’s purely a preconception manufactured from offhanded comments by critics and vocal nerds.  So it was a bit of surprise when after watching 13 Assassins and going to its IMDB entry, I discovered I had just watched my first Takashi Miike movie.


It’s 1844, and Japan is coming to the end of the Shogunate era.  Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) is the brother of the current Shogun.  He’s also a cold assed psychopath, raping, murdering and de-limbing at will, to satiate his every nut bag whim.  Toshitsura (Mikijiro Hir), a high ranking official of the Shogun, decides Naritsugu is a liability and needs to be taken care of before he brings the entire Shogunate down around him.  He recruits old school samurai and all around great guy, Shinzaemon (Koji Jakusho), then together, they recruit another ten dudes.

“Another ten dudes?”, you ask.  “But that only totals twelve.  I thought the movie was called 13 Assassins.  Check your maths, mate”, you add, kind of dickishly.  Well steady on, I’m getting to that, you over inquisitive, impatient bastard.  After setting off to ambush Naritsugu as he travels home from his latest acts of ass holery, the titular-minus-one assassins get lost in a forest, where they meet and recruit the feral Koyata (Yusuke Iseya).  Now reaching the full baker’s dozen, they’re ready for some bad guy killin’.

There’s a lot of talk about the power structure of the Shogun system, references to the time of war that came before, and allusions to what would happen to Japan in the years to come.  At first, all these intricate details made be a bit anxious, like I was missing something really important by not fully understanding them.  Then I realised those details just didn’t matter.  All that mattered was the fighting, and the fighting is amazing.  Especially since it looks like it was all done without the aid of special effects or wires.  There’s a reality to 13 Assassins that makes it even more impressive than something like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Kung-Fu Hustle, two movies I really like.

The only problem with 13 Assassins, and it’s a small one compared to everything that’s so right about it, is in the title.  With thirteen good guys to keep track of, plus two major bad guys, plus the politics and allegiances of half a dozen more, I did struggle to keep up with who was who.  Of the thirteen goodies, I reckon I could differentiate about half, and only one of them by name, the rest by half assed descriptions.  There’s Shinzaemon, Shinzaemon’s mate., Shinzaemon’s nephew, the ass kicking Ronan dude, the super young fella, old mate with the spear, the feral bloke from the forest…  And the other eight.

I’m no samurai movie aficionado, but I don’t think I have to be an expert to declare the final battle, which takes almost half of 13 Assassin’s entire running time, as mind blowingly awesome, and bonkers, batshit crazy.  I’m sure there are genre purists who would say this kind of modern take on the samurai is nothing compared to the classics, but I really can’t imagine any other samurai movie living up to the high precedent this one has now set for me.

13 Assassins
Directed By – Takashi Miike
Written By – Daisuke Tengan

MUSIC REVIEW | ***A.V WEEK*** The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (1989)

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When The Stone Roses toured Australia last year, I was surprised by how many people my age and little older went completely mental.  Somehow, not only the band completely passed me by in their original heyday, but their legacy had also gone right over my head in the years since.  I knew the name, but I think in my mind they always occupied the same spot as Primal Scream, just some Brit band of the early 90s who I never paid any attention to. But it turns out, a lot of people out there are bat shit bananas for The Stone Roses, and especially, their self titled debut.


I Wanna Be Adored represents a pretty common way to start albums in those days.  All atmosphere and contemplation.  It’s the kind of song that didn’t really grab me on first listen, but I also know it’s likely to grow on me.  Like I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, the opener on Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, at first the sparseness seemed empty and boring, but the more I hear that song, the more I ‘hear’.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I Wanna Be Adored is a grower in the same way.

It drags at times with a little too much indulgence in soundscapes that I really could have done without.  The end of Waterfall that leads into the entirety of Don’t Stop is at its best a boring, repetitive groove.  At its worse, a complete musical wank.

Ever thought, “I wish Simon and Garfunkel were somehow even more boring and impressed by themselves”?  Well, you’re in luck, because Elizabeth My Dear is exactly what a less exciting, more self satisfied Paul and Art would sound like.  Mercifully, it clocks in at less than a minute.

From (Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister, the album really hits it stride.  Sugar Spun Sister involves most of the aspects I’ve complained in the previous songs, but somehow, this one really works for me.  It has an effortless cool, and a certain energy that I just don’t see in many other tracks on The Stone Roses.  And then comes the guitar solo in Made of Stone.  It’s a good song before John Squire’s shredding kicks in.  But once it does, it becomes the clear album stand out.

The Stone Roses closes with Fools Gold, a song I’ve heard a hundred times before, but obviously never actually consciously listened to.  Because until today, I never knew its name or who it was by.  A bit like the band blurring with Primal Scream, I think this song has always occupied the same place in my brain as I’m Free by the Soup Dragons.  I’ve never thought about either song enough to differentiate them.

It’s interesting to hear what rock was like then if you weren’t into Guns n Roses, but Nirvana were yet to really break and change everything.  It’s got an edge, but it’s trippier and a little more chilled out than what would dominate the next few years.  The Stone Roses doesn’t make me feel like I’ve really missed anything by never having my mind blown by this band or this album, but it does make me almost understand to excited squeals I heard from many a grown man when they got back together.  Almost.

And one last thing, forget about the music for a second and look at the album cover at the top of this review.  Worst album clover ever?  Even if you’re a mega fan, you must think it comes pretty close.

The Stone Roses

MOVIE REVIEW | The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

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I was a big fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.  If I didn’t see all three on opening day, I saw them opening week.  There were a few liberties taken with the source material that I didn’t like (I still really want to see Pippin and Merry kick ass in the Scouring of the Shire), but the overall result more than made up for those few, small things.  Yet, for some reason, when last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey came out, I couldn’t muster up any interest.  Months later, I saw it on the small screen at home and immediately regretted not seeing it in a cinema.  So when the next installment came around, I made sure I was in front of a big screen, in full blown High Frame Rate, to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

The first movie ended with Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) finding the magic ring that grants him invisibility, and his dwarf comrades, lead by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), finding respect for the little, hairy footed fella.  It also ended with Ian McKellen’s wizard Gandalf, discovering a great evil had returned to Middle Earth.  But the central story is still that of the dwarves and Bilbo, headed for the Loneley Mountain, filled with stolen dwarf gold, and the stealer of that gold, the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).

The first obstacle is the dark and foreboding Mirkwood Forest, home of giant spiders and some not so friendly elves, both of who have a crack at imprisoning the Hobbit and his dwarf mates.  Here’s where a little story adaptation and franchise crossover liberties are taken to not only shoehorn in Orlando Bloom as Lord of the Rings sharp shooting elf Legolas, but also a completely fabricated for the movie character played by Evangaline Lilly as a smoking hot elf and one corner of a love triangle between her, Bloom, and Aidan Turner as the controversially dreamy dwarf, Killi.

As someone who generally thought there was no reason to blow the small source book out into three bloated movies, I was surprised by how much I liked this addition.  Lilly makes a great, ass kicking lady elf, and Bloom is back in one of the only roles I’ve ever liked him in.

Gandalf leaves his travelling friends early to go face the growing evil, and beyond Mirkwood, the dwarves and Bilbo have an adventure in Laketown (with Stephen Fry cast perfectly as the pompous, corrupt leader) before reaching the mountain and confronting the dragon.

That’s a whole lot of story and there’s a lot I haven’t even mentioned.  But I found The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug to be a rare example of quantity adding to the quality.  It’s long.  Really, really long.  Yet the nonstop momentum means it’s never boring.

Having missed An Unexpected Journey in cinemas, The Desolation of Smaug was my first experience with the controversial and polarising High Frame Rate.  Some people say it looks too much like cheap video, that it highlights the sets and makeup and that it just looks weird.  I agreed with all of that for about the first 20 minutes.  Then my eyes adjusted and I liked it more and more as the movie went on.  Sure, some things look like cheap kids’ adventure dramas I used to watch on telly in the afternoon after school, some of the sets look overlay artificial, and the CGI characters look worse than ever, but when it looks right, it looks amazing.  I don’t think the problem is the 48 frames per second.  I think the problem is that it’s such new technology, Jackson doesn’t quite know how to use it yet and get the most out of it.

Like the first installment, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug picks a great place to end makes sure you’re excited for the next part in the series.  Like I said earlier, I thought expanding one small book into three epic movies was overkill, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.  When I read The Hobbit as a kid, I thought it was amazing.  When I re-read it, after having also read The Lord of the Rings, it felt inconsequential and childish.  Since Jackson began with the Rings trilogy, there’s no way he could have stayed completely faithful to the preceding book, without it too coming off as inconsequential and childish.

I’m no longer a skeptic and am officially pumped for a year from now when I get to see the final chapter, in all its High Frame Rate glory.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Directed By – Peter Jackson
Written By – Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro

MOVIE REVIEW | ***DIRECTOR DEBUT WEEK*** Lee: Pushing Hands (1992)

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Ang Lee is an interesting film maker.  He’s made high profile, Oscar nominated gear like Crouching Tiger, Hidden and Dragon, Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi.  He’s made a prestige English drama with Sense and Sensibility.  He’s made a big old comic book stink bomb with Hulk.  He’s not just a foreign born director who’s crossed over to English language success.  He really is an international film maker who isn’t scared to take on any story or location.  I think the only movies of his I’d actually seen before now were The Ice Storm and Life of Pi.  And as much as I know I should be familiar with his work, I’m really not.  But now I’ve made a start by watching his first feature, Pushing Hands.

Martha (Deb Snyder) is an American writer, working from home, trying to finish her latest novel.  But she’s a little distracted by her newly arrived father in law, Chu (Sihung Lung).  Martha is married to Alex, a Chinese American who recently moved his father to America from China.  The language barrier between Martha and Chu rapidly breeds resentment between them both.

Chu feels isolated in his new country and resists the American way of life as much as possible.  He’s basically just a cranky old bastard, set in his ways and determined to hate everything about America.  Until he meets Mrs Chen (Lai Wang), another recently arrived Chinese octogenarian who’s struggling to fit in to her new world as well.

There are culture clashes, generation clashes and physical clashes.  You see, Chui is a tai chi and martial arts expert, and he gets to show off his moves more than once.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an action movie in any way, the martial arts are only used sparingly and usually only to illustrate a thematic point.

About half way through, I started to get a little bored and frustrated with Pushing Hands.  It seemed to be nothing more than an exercise in showing how younger generations are too impatient, selfish and cocky to appreciate their noble, wise elders who’ve been there and seen it all before.  But then the movie started to explore Chu’s own stubbornness and lay a little blame on both sides.

Even though Lee had an English speaking co-writer, I still felt the dialogue was the biggest let down in Pushing Hands.  Some of the exposition is really obvious, as characters tell each other things they both clearly already know, but the audience needed to learn so the story could continue.  And more than once, an actor would awkwardly deliver a line that seemed like it was written by someone who’s first language probably wasn’t English.

Apparently Pushing Hands is part of a thematic trilogy about generational conflict.  I can’t say I’m super excited to see the other two entries, but it has made me want to finally check out his bigger movies like Crouching Tiger and Brokeback Mountain.

Pushing Hands
Directed By – Ang Lee
Written By – Ang Lee, James Schamus