Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Dreadnaught A.K.A. Yong zhe wu ju (1981)

A Chinese kung fu directed by Yuen Woo-ping, starring Yuen Biao and Kwan Tak-hing.
A fighter's wife who used to wear bells was killed in an ambush at a restaurant, causing him to become evil. He is hiding out with an opera troupe and wants to kill a cowardly man who runs a laundry business.
I was expecting another run of the mill kung fu snoozer, but this was worthwhile. The plot was a little convoluted (aren't they always?) but had a reason for why the villain went evil. Not many films explain why the bad guy is bad. The casting for him and the hero was great. Biao was the hero and Tak-hing was the teacher (his constant role). The villain doesn't even have a wikipedia page, but he was perfect for the part. There were a few too many other characters, but that's another staple of the genre that goes with the unnecessary plot points. A little bit of crappy acting is yet another of the unavoidable kung fu cliches, but the main characters did a great job. I can't really say much about the dialogue, but I found good subtitles. Sets and costumes looked extremely recycled, like every kung fu flick ever made shared them. The exception was the dog costume for the lion dance scenes. The choreography for those and the fights was done exceptionally well. This is not just because it looks good, but because of context and use of props and special effects. It wasn't just "Let's fight!", but a lion dance competition fight, accidentally showing eagle claw techniques in front of the teacher, etc. I also liked the use of Hong Kong wire and wuxia style long sleeve weapons. The editing was all very quick and the camera-work straight forward, but I could see what was going on and there were a few creative angles to give context to some situations like when the killer scales an alley wall. One of my least favorite kung fu cliches is bad sound and this had it. I swear every sound was peaking the levels, with most being distorted. IMDb has a rating of 7.5/10 listed for this, AllMovie has 0/5 AllMovie rating with 3.5/5 user rating and Rotten Tomatoes has 85% Audience Score. 57.5% average seems really low to me and all because of the zero from AllMovie. I rate this good because I'm so tired of kung fu flicks that it hurts and even I liked it. Watch this if you're just as bored with whoosh, swack and fighting for no reason.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (2003)

An American documentary directed by Kenneth Bowser.
The stars of Hollywood talk about the '60s, '70s and '80s.
Oh boy, I really needed to see this shit about mainstream flicks! 2 hours was too much, but the pacing was moderately quick. The plot seriously went nowhere. Usually, documentaries about movies are supposed to make you want to watch the films they're about, but this did the opposite! I don't want to have watched those movies! Information density was pretty sparse. It seemed like people spoke on a single talking point for far too long. Selection of interviewees was top notch. These were the people involved in the subject matter and could not have been chosen better. I think that the subject matter itself is what repulsed me so much. These are the most popular films leading into the era of the blockbuster and I like the most obscure films most. The camera-work on interviews was textbook, but terrible. Every one of them was on the left with tons of headroom (image). Some variety would have been nice. There were endless kinestasises of still photos as well. Clips from the films were as sparse as the information density. Audio worked. I could hear dialogue, sound effects and music. I would call the style uncreative at best. IMDb lists a rating of 7.5/10 and Rotten Tomatoes 100% tomatometer with 81% audience score for an average of 85.3%. It is easy to believe that this got 100% on something because it's a mediocre documentary about mediocre films that were enormously popular for their mediocrity. Obviously, I disagree with so high an average grade. I rate this poor because it sucked a fat one, but wasn't painful.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Anomalisa (2015)

An American stop motion animated drama directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, starring David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
The best thing about this was that it was strange. The pacing seemed to build through the duration and as the plot developed. The plot itself was not all that interesting, but it had some moments when things went nuts. I liked all of the characters only being voiced by only 3 people, regardless of age and gender. What made this really interesting is that it turns out to be a plot point. Dialogue was mostly mundane, but glimpses of insanity shone through all that much better this way. Everything being models and figures, the sets and character design was convincing and complex. Not everyone makes stop motion characters with removable clothing. I thought the camera-work was done very well. What impressed me most was correct use of focal depths. Sometimes the focal point was the only thing in focus and others showed deep focus. The audio seemed to be mixed fine. There was a little too much dynamic range on the dialogue vocals for my liking, but I turned it up just a little bit and everything was fine. This won 4/32 awards that it was nominated for, IMDb has a 7.3/10 rating listed, Metacritic lists an 88% metascore and Rotten Tomatoes shows 91% tomatometer with 70% audience score for an average of 80.5%. I think that's predictable because the whole film seemed a little on the mundane side, with little bits of interest poking through. I rate it adequate for being artfully made and a little strange, but not quite interesting enough.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A Chinese Odyssey (1995)

A Chinese wuxia directed by Jeffrey Lau, starring Stephen Chow, Ng Man-tat, Karen Mok and Law Kar-ying.
The monkey King has upset Buddha by trying to eat Longevity Monk and is disguised as a man named Joker. He leads a band of robbers who are attacked by immortal sisters. A time travel box is found and Joker must prevent one of the sisters from committing suicide, but when he does, he goes 500 years back in time. His marriage to the immortal sister is taking place at Bull King's home, but people's bodies get switched. Joker puts on the crown and becomes Monkey King again to fight Bull King.
Stephen Chow as the Monkey King in a 1995 wuxia is the answer to my heart's desires. It was 3 hours of fast paced action comedy in classic Chow dead-pan delivery. The plot reads like the mess that flies across the screen on Hong Kong wire. Characters? Forget trying to keep track of them. As long as you know who Stephen Chow is at the moment and which sister is which, you're set. The guy from India and the pig man appear at some point... It seems to me that there is more than what is apparent lost in translation between Chinese and English. Anything involving phrasing is immediately gone, among countless other things. Do you know comedic Chinese speech inflections? I don't. What survived of the comedy was mostly physical: crotch-stomping, smashed by rocks, pig man with woman's voice type humor. Alright, that is pretty funny. The sets looked like they took years to build. We had giant set pieces for less than a minute of some special effects. The heart set looked like Jim Henson made it while in an altered state of mind and the big pole set was way over the top for how little it was used. The smashed by a rock door set even had a hidden trick up its sleeve. Camera-work looked a little inferior, but that was mostly because of the extremely low video quality. There were also some shakes, jumps and blurs besides pixellation. It did conform to wuxia imagery standards. There was lots of contrast and strong lighting, back-lighting and overly color corrected scenes. As stated above, the special effects were one of the main focal points. They were mostly done in-camera with set pieces, but there were some digital size manipulations and compositing scenes as well. In Chinese audio situations, dialogue volume is not my top priority. The music and sound effects worked. I got mostly good subtitles that I didn't try switching because I didn't want to lose what little functionality there was. Style was like mixing Bride with White Hair, Legend of Liquid Sword and Jim Henson's The Storyteller (crazy, cheesy and good!). Part 1 got 7.9/10 on IMDb and part 2 got 8.1/10. Rotten Tomatoes gives the whole deal 87% audience score. 82.3% average sounds pretty high for a general population/mainstream website grade. I rate this awesome! If you like Stephen Chow, Hong Kong wire flying, comedy, fantasy and special effects to the point that it becomes absurd, you will agree.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner (2007)

An American documentary directed by Charles de Lauzirika.
The plot is no secret: the making of Blade Runner.
In a "making of" documentary, I'm really looking for 1 thing: does it make me want to watch the movie that it's about? This did. 3 and a half hours is a little bit much for anyone who doesn't love the original film or who isn't into filmmaking. I watched the original a long time ago and remember not being impressed, but I am very into filmmaking. The information density was very high and the interviews were revealing. Almost everyone who worked on the film was interviewed about each stage of production. Most of them were only filmed with one camera placement, but what they said illustrated the story very well. The troubles that Blade Runner encountered on its way from concept to final product were large, nearly insurmountable. What I liked most was the special effects section. That's what I would really like to do, so it was cool to hear from people who made those things happen in a science fiction film of such renown. Audio was all very good. I could tell the microphones were placed properly and the resulting audio was mixed correctly. IMDb has this rated at 8.3/10 and Rotten Tomatoes has 92% audience score for an average of 87.5%. A high B+ seems appropriate because I really liked the depth and found it interesting, but it didn't blow me away and make me shout "YAHOO!". I rate this good.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

California Split (1974)

An American comedy directed by Robert Altman, starring George Segal and Elliott Gould.
A pair of gamblers meet and become friends. One of them is in debt so they go to Reno and gamble some more.
An artfully made nothing. The pacing was noticeably slower than the current 4 second average shot length trend. Calling the plot sparse would be an extreme understatement. Some stuff does happen like when the angry poker player reappears. Characters were written very well. The 2 main protagonists made a great "straight man funny man" team. I think that lots of the dialogue was added after filming by voice-over. Locations looked good to me. There seemed to be a good mix of seedy and reputable gambling establishments. Camera-work was amazingly artful. There were some longer shots of the main characters in crowds that looked best to me. Audio was correctly mixed, but sometimes a little too busy. IMDb has a rating of 7.3/10 for this, AllMovie has it at 4/5 site and user ratings and Rotten Tomatoes lists 93% Tomatometer with 84% audience score for an average of 82%. Although that is lower than I would grade, it's in the neighborhood. I rate this good. You should watch it if you pay attention to cinematography.

When You Die as a Cat (2015)

A Canadian documentary directed by Zoran Maslic.
A poet left Bosnia because of war and moved to Canada, where he opened a restaurant.
It's difficult not to compare this with Zoran's other film, Annoying. This was not as good. The pacing was very slow and the interviews seemed a little too informal. It was very clear that the film was a portrait of Goran Simic, the poet, but I expected more to happen or some deeper meaning to be revealed. Way too much of the camera-work was handheld, which added to the informal style of the film. Audio was good, with subtitles even when people were speaking English. I can't really compare ratings by other critics because Zoran made sure that his website is the only place where this is mentioned, besides a vimeo page where I watched it. Overall, it seemed slow, uneventful and informal. I rate this o.k.