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The Book of Eli – Review January 17, 2010

Posted by Cello in Domestic Film Reviews.
8 comments

I’ve been intrigued by The Book of Eli ever since I read that Denzel Washington was trained in the martial arts by Bruce Lee’s protégé Dan Inosanto in order to pull off the fighting scenes. This is just as much of a spiritual movie as it could be a samurai film. The movie starts off with Eli walking down a road when he confronts a gang of thieves wanting what he has, and of course, he must protect himself and the book. We see that he has some ninja killing skills that have carried him all these years. Honestly, without beating around the bush, The Book Of Eli is hands down my favorite film of the year thus far.  January is usually a dump site for lackluster films but I must say that 2010 is breaking that cliche.

Eli was guided by a higher power to a hidden book and given the task of protecting the book and taking it to its final destination. Eli guards the book with his life, because he knows that the book is the only hope that humanity has for its future. Eli is a peaceful man who only acts in self defense, and becomes a warrior with unbelievable killing skills when he is challenged. Visually, this movie was amazing. Once again, the production design and the cinematography are absolutely stunning. If I may be so bold, I would like to say it featured the best soundtrack for a movie in years. It was that good. Sure, The Book of Eli can be viewed as a religious movie but I assure you, it didn’t feel remotely preachy or heavy handed.
 

A good blogger buddy of mine over at Cinematropolis quoted Denzel as being ‘God’s Samurai’ and I thought this was a fitting description of the character. Washington aside, you have some great supporting characters in Mila Kunis and Gary Oldman. Although their performances complimented Washington, I couldn’t wrap my head around the many plot holes. In one instance, Carnegie takes one look at Eli and says, “He is not like other men,” but then spends the rest of the movie trying to kill him to prove “he’s just a man.” Another example is how they got their hands on a gattling gun after ammo for a pistol is scarce.  Those gripes aside, it was a very enjoyable movie.

But on the whole, The Hughes Brothers have created a solid homage to samurai films and done so in a clever fashion by putting it beneath the guise of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Eli impressed me by having no dialogue for almost the first ten minutes of the movie. Make no mistake about it, this film is heavily asian influenced. I give it high praise and it even gives us a twist ending that sucker punched me for once. The first great movie of the year that you should all be running to see in my opinion.

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Hachi: A Dog’s Tale – Review January 13, 2010

Posted by Cello in Domestic Film Reviews.
4 comments

Hachi: A Dog’s Tale is a tear-jerker about a lovable dog which are almost always box office winners as Marley & Me proved last year. Hachi is a drama based on the true story of a college professor’s bond with the abandoned dog he takes into his home.  It’s an American take on the story of Hachiko – the famous Akita from Japan who continued to come to meet his master at the train even 9 years after his death. There’s a statue memorializing the dog in Japan where it’s a well known story. Those who know the legend will realize where the story is heading, but it plays out effectively because Hallstrom handles the tear jerking moments discreetly.

Hachi is a loving but willful companion. For instance, he refuses to play fetch, despite Parker’s many training attempts. He also ignores his master’s instruction not to follow him to the train station for work every day. He even shows up again promptly at 5 p.m. to wait for Parker to step off the train again. One of the things that sets this movie apart from the other movies that involve animals is how they stuck to reality instead of throwing in some hard to believe elements here and there just to make it more entertaining. Unlike other Japanese remakes, this movie actually gives credit to the original story so that you don’t get the sense that Hollywood wants to call it its own. All the actors in the movie do a superb job in making you feel as if you were a part of the community embracing the dog.

I don’t think I’m giving anything away in saying that Richard gere’s character, Parker, dies about two-thirds of the way through the film — after all, it’s the dog’s behavior after his master’s death that made his story so unforgettable. When I looked around the theater though, every single person was crying and I saw a lot of red eyes as I left the Men’s restroom. The film really amps up the pulling of heartstrings at this point, as the dog continues his increasingly grim journey to the train station every afternoon, eternally hopefully that his master will greet him again. However, it’s also a heartwarming tale of loyalty, about how people and dogs are more than just friends and, I guess most of all, about how a dog’s love for its master never fades.

Richard Gere was fantastic in this movie, he bonded really well with the dog and it never felt like watching an actor at all, it genuinely seemed to be a movie with his own dog. Hachi is a film without explosions, computer graphics, and violence. A family film with a message. Of course, this might not attract everybody, providing that majority of movie audience today is highly dependent on fast paced, action packed scenes, and aggressive, often rude highlights of any other nature. However, for those who can do without it, and keep alive their interest even in a simple story, who won’t shy away from emotional involvement, they shall easily find themselves consumed by its mere beauty and warmth. But it is the pacing which most cripples the film. At least a dozen slow fade blackouts exaggerate the emotional side of the film, thus, lessening the impact. The passage of time is portrayed very poorly, with nearly 15 years passing and few physical alterations made in any human character. These are just small nitpicks though in an otherwise great film.

Hachi: A Dog's Tale – Review January 13, 2010

Posted by Cello in Domestic Film Reviews.
4 comments

Hachi: A Dog’s Tale is a tear-jerker about a lovable dog which are almost always box office winners as Marley & Me proved last year. Hachi is a drama based on the true story of a college professor’s bond with the abandoned dog he takes into his home.  It’s an American take on the story of Hachiko – the famous Akita from Japan who continued to come to meet his master at the train even 9 years after his death. There’s a statue memorializing the dog in Japan where it’s a well known story. Those who know the legend will realize where the story is heading, but it plays out effectively because Hallstrom handles the tear jerking moments discreetly.

Hachi is a loving but willful companion. For instance, he refuses to play fetch, despite Parker’s many training attempts. He also ignores his master’s instruction not to follow him to the train station for work every day. He even shows up again promptly at 5 p.m. to wait for Parker to step off the train again. One of the things that sets this movie apart from the other movies that involve animals is how they stuck to reality instead of throwing in some hard to believe elements here and there just to make it more entertaining. Unlike other Japanese remakes, this movie actually gives credit to the original story so that you don’t get the sense that Hollywood wants to call it its own. All the actors in the movie do a superb job in making you feel as if you were a part of the community embracing the dog.

I don’t think I’m giving anything away in saying that Richard gere’s character, Parker, dies about two-thirds of the way through the film — after all, it’s the dog’s behavior after his master’s death that made his story so unforgettable. When I looked around the theater though, every single person was crying and I saw a lot of red eyes as I left the Men’s restroom. The film really amps up the pulling of heartstrings at this point, as the dog continues his increasingly grim journey to the train station every afternoon, eternally hopefully that his master will greet him again. However, it’s also a heartwarming tale of loyalty, about how people and dogs are more than just friends and, I guess most of all, about how a dog’s love for its master never fades.

Richard Gere was fantastic in this movie, he bonded really well with the dog and it never felt like watching an actor at all, it genuinely seemed to be a movie with his own dog. Hachi is a film without explosions, computer graphics, and violence. A family film with a message. Of course, this might not attract everybody, providing that majority of movie audience today is highly dependent on fast paced, action packed scenes, and aggressive, often rude highlights of any other nature. However, for those who can do without it, and keep alive their interest even in a simple story, who won’t shy away from emotional involvement, they shall easily find themselves consumed by its mere beauty and warmth. But it is the pacing which most cripples the film. At least a dozen slow fade blackouts exaggerate the emotional side of the film, thus, lessening the impact. The passage of time is portrayed very poorly, with nearly 15 years passing and few physical alterations made in any human character. These are just small nitpicks though in an otherwise great film.

Ninja Assassin – Review November 30, 2009

Posted by Cello in Domestic Film Reviews.
14 comments

Ninja Assassin is a balls to the wall movie that follows a character named Raizo, who just happens to be one of the deadliest assassins in the world. Taken from the streets as a child, he was transformed into a trained killer by the Ozunu Clan. He eventually becomes haunted by the merciless execution of his friend by the Clan, Raizo breaks free from them and vanishes. When (as we learn in flashbacks) he parted company after refusing to kill someone who tried to leave the clan, he became marked for death. He has been pursuing vengeance ever since. The key with a film like this is finding a lead actor who can carry the role with finesse. Rain is no Oscar-worthy talent, but he does have the charisma and presence needed to carry the film. One thing I really want to stress to those who haven’t seen this film yet is do not take it seriously. This movie isn’t over-the-top, it leaps over the top and continues to ascend to the point of pure lunacy, and that’s just within the first 10 minutes.

One thing I heard a lot of people complaining about in the theater was the use of dark light during action scenes. Yes, the dim lighting made it difficult to see what was going on in a few fight scenes; however, this darkness served the purpose of the concept, unlike the shaky cam trend, which is done for no purpose other than to convince you that what is going on in the scene is more interesting than it actually is. I was able to see more action in one of the “dark” scenes in Ninja Assassin than I did in the last two Bourne movies combined. Audiences are getting exactly what they pay for with Ninja Assassin, an unrelentingly violent and over-the-top action film that makes the most out of the fun it can wring out. My only complaint with this aspect was that Ninja Assassin’s script never clearly defines what a ninja is actually capable of at any given moment.  There was some supernatural things going on in the movie that had me scratching my head often times.

What we do know is that the ninjas in this film are a force to be reckoned with. True to the myth, they move silently in the shadows. They can also be found clinging to the ceiling like something out of Aliens. And once they arrive, no one is safe. The filmmakers have said that they wanted to update the ninja movie for the 21st century, and there they succeed.  After that first kill, none of the action is brought to life with any extended originality. Not to knock the films’ action right after I praised it but therereally is no fun, no fresh new ideas. Torrents of CGI blood and limbs lead to an easy comparison to the films of Ryuhei Kitamura, but the big point of comparison is energy and attitude. Sure, Kitamura’s Versus is an amateurish movie, but it has buckets of ideas and boundless energy, and just a little of each would have made Ninja Assassin infinitely more entertaining.

I mean, the only real reason to make this movie is if you have a notebook full of ideas for shredding the human body. So if you’re in the mood for action supported by a dull plot or stupid characters, Ninja Assassin might make for a bloody good time. I left the movie with my memory of it being largely a big blur. Ninja Assassin is a genre movie with accomplished, impressive fight choreography and visual effects. But the most important thng to remember in all of this is if we learned anything from Indiana Jones, it’s that bullets trump sharp objects every time. It good seeing ninjas getting some love instead of vampires nowadays but this isn’t the movie that is going to propel them into a statewide phenomenom.

The Forbidden Kingdom – Review November 17, 2009

Posted by Cello in Domestic Film Reviews.
2 comments

Like most people, I got duped pretty hard on this movie. I was under the impression this was a Jackie Chan and Jet Li driven vehicle film but in actuality, The Forbidden Kingdom follows the main character of Jason Tripitikas.  As Jason is heading out of Chinatown, he gets stopped by some local bullies. They make fun of him about his kung-fu movies and then show him some of their own fighting style. After they beat him down they tell him to rob a pawn shop and runs into an old man with a staff. Jason runs from the thugs with a staff that the old man hands him. As Jason tries to get away, he falls and lands in a different world in a different time. He comes across a man named Lu Yan who tells him about his staff. That it once belonged to powerful man named The Monkey King and how he was tricked into a non fair fight and before the King was imprisoned he sent his staff away so that someone could come rescue him with it.

Obviously, this white kid is his saving grace.  By now, you should know if this movie is for you or not as this film may be America’s tribute to Asian cinema.  Truly, what better way to capitalize on these two Kung Fu stars than by pitting them against each other and letting the film capture as much of this once in a lifetime chance of getting these two Masters together in the same movie. While the fighting scene involving these two megastars is a very minor part of the film, the scene is undoubtedly the best fighting scene in the film. Jackie Chan vs. Jet Li was truly fun to watch. We all know it could’ve been Much better though if they were probably 10 or 15 years younger than they are, but it was still a great fight scene. Praying Mantis, Snake, Tiger, Crane, all types of Kung-Fu was used. It was definitely something to witness.

As they all travel across China to the fabled Five Elements Mountain, both the Lu and the Silent Monk take it upon themselves to teach Jason the art of Kung Fu, which will be a long and arduous process. The film overall can be regarded as a kung-fu fantasy and a better made one than a lot of others over the years. I suspect the Asian market may not care for it, as America-Asia films cross the cultural border very poorly. I think most martial art film fanatics will be slightly disappointed by this film, but many will enjoy this movie for what it is – entertainment with a couple of excellent choreographed martial art scenes.

The Forbidden Kingdom may not be a Martial Arts flick for the ages, but I have to say I really enjoyed this one. The movie is just so much fun that any flaws that can be found are quite easy to overlook. This isn’t gonna go down in history as one of the greats, but due to the first teaming of Li and Chan it will go down for that. We have young people, old people, amateur fighters and pros, pretty girls with pretty moms, exotic locales and a lot of seriousness mixed with goofiness and Chinese mythology. So if you haven’t come to a conclusion about this film yet, it doesn’t live up to the caliber of the actors involved but its a fun way to spend two hours.