Monday, February 8, 2016

Super Fly

Super Fly (1972)

Runtime: 92 minutes

Directed by: Gordon Parks, Jr.

Starring: Ron O'Neal, Carl Lee, Sheila Frazier, Julius Harris, Charles MacGregor

From: Warner Bros.

Here's another review from me; I saw this movie on Saturday night; it's yet another one I hadn't seen in years. It's not as great as its reputation says it is. See me explain why in my Letterboxd review below: 

Here's one of the many movies that I've seen before but that one viewing was a long time ago. As the El Rey Network started showing the super hard to find (even online and even in the obscure places where rare films can be found) Super Fly T.N.T this weekend and I plan on giving that a review on Tuesday, of course I had to see this a second time.

I presume most are familiar with the plot of how pusherman Youngblood Priest is looking for one last big cocaine score so that he and his partner can retire from the beat-of course that goes wrong-so I won't spend much time there. I'll just say that if it wasn't for the legendary score from Curtis Mayfield, I'd only rate this as about average. I generally enjoy the old school funk and R&B personally so I am predisposed to enjoy the sort of music that Mayfield made; but, all the songs on the soundtrack are incredible and it offers a big boost to a movie that otherwise has sloppy storytelling, weird editing, a meandering pace, and some odd moments. It really does help the film.

Now, I can admit that the montage of photos set to the song Pusherman was really good; seeing Curtis on film perform that song earlier was definitely enjoyable. Plus, I've mentioned in other reviews how I enjoy looking at “The crappy New York City of old” in movies before the area got cleaned up (you know, in movies like Night of the Juggler, Shaft, Taxi Driver or the Joe Spinell Maniac) and there are scenes here which definitely reflect that.

No matter if I think this isn't the blaxploitation classic that it once was, I haven't seen a film in that unique genre since last summer, so it was about time to do so. I at least chuckled at the loud clothing (as I always do with these films) and Priest's pimp Cadillac was quite amusing. Point is, my list of blaxploitation wouldn't be complete without this, one of the most famous of the genre.

The Godfather, Part III

The Godfather, Part III

Runtime: 170 minutes

Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Al Pacino, Andy Garcia, Talia Shire, Diane Keaton, Eli Wallach

From: Paramount

After many years, I finally saw this again. The movie is better than I had remembered, although yeah, Sofia Coppola's performance is pretty bad. But considering this was mainly done for a paycheck... my long Letterboxd review is below: 

Last night after the Super Bowl I had the free time to watch a long film so it was the time for me to rewatch a movie I had seen before but the last time was years ago. Some movies come off as worse after the passage of time or are seen as worse by me compared to when I saw it in my youth. Likewise, films can be better due to the passage of time. This is a movie that is better than what I had remembered.

Considering the circumstances of trying to equal two of the greatest films in the history of world cinema AND being rushed by Paramount so that the movie could come out at a certain time (a horrible idea that happens all the time and honestly it's a miracle when a big Hollywood movie actually turns out great due to the needless corporate constrictions), the movie is good. Unfortunately, it's not great and it'll always suffer in comparison.

To mention the elephant in the room when it comes to III, Sofia Coppola... yes, Winona Ryder dropped out at the last minute and Francis Ford Coppola, father, made the unwise decision to cast his non-actress daughter in a pivotal role, and her performance was notably bad. Even with the circumstances they should have tried to cast someone with experience. The trilogy's theme of family shouldn't have been extended to real life like that. Considering how she got eviscerated for her acting it's a miracle that Sofia would even want anything else to do with the business but at least she's definitely better as a writer and director. Besides, it could be argued that Robert Duvall not appearing in the movie as Tom Hagen due to money reasons is also a big detriment, and to me it is. No offense but the replacement character of George Hamilton's BJ Harrison is just not the same.

At least the story was interesting to me. I can't quite explain why there was the subplot of Mary Corleone and Vincent Mancini (first cousins!) falling in love and they start rolling more than gnocchi-as it's a little weird and also a little gross-but the general idea of Michael Corleone trying to finally be legitimate for good as his corporation purchases the financially troubled bank owned by the Vatican, only to be pulled back into the Mafia life... it is enjoyable. Andy Garcia does a swell job of playing Mancini, who is the illegitimate son of Sonny Corleone, and he really nailed how James Caan acted and sounded in the role. The idea of a new Godfather was largely successfully done here.

The first part of the movie in late 70's New York City set things up nicely and showed who the bad guys were. I am not sure we needed all the obvious allusions and line quotes from the first two movies, though. The villains are pretty awful people, and crazy enough to deliver a memorable helicopter massacre in an Atlantic City hotel meeting room. The second half in Sicily where old locations are visited and we had the memorable opera finale, that works as the story is Michael having to pay for the sins of his past. The confession scene to the priest where he has to admit to his wrongdoings (including what he did to his brother Fredo) was great. The ending, it does show that he while he experienced hardships due to his ways (including friction with his family), he finally was truly punished for his actions; it was certainly an opera or a tragedy, and it was fitting.

Since I last saw the movie I did learn more about two plot points inspired by real life: how Pope John Paul I died barely a month into his reign due to (officially) natural causes but there have always been rumors that due to him trying to clean up corruption in the Papal offices he was actually murdered... and the Banco Ambrosiano, which the Vatican had a big stake in and due to corruption they collapsed, and there are rumors that the two were connected in real life so they did it in a fictional sense here. Knowing that background did help me out here.

To me, the acting was mostly solid. Pacino delivered a quality performance that was perfect for the character as an old beaten-down man. There were great scenes, from the aforementioned confession to Michael and Kay trying to reconcile after all those years but the scene's ending proves that some things will never change. The movie's plot is not always successful (why did Bridget Fonda's character vanish after only appearing in a few scenes?) but overall I'll say it's good. Talia Shire having more to do this time as Connie ended up working for her character. The ending seemed appropriate for Michael Corleone, even if it is pretty sad. Behind the camera things were solid; the cinematography from Gordon Willis stands out for me there.

The movie is not a masterpiece like the first two are; yet, to me it's not the disaster its reputation says it is.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Ip Man 2

Ip Man 2 (Yip Man 2) (2010)

Runtime: 108 minutes

Directed by: Wilson Yip

Starring: Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Lynn Hung, Xiaoming Huang, Darren Shahlavi

From: Several different Chinese companies

Quite simply, I had nothing I needed to watch last night so I selected this motion picture and watched it via Amazon streaming. It's not the first movie but it's still pretty good, I guess. Read all the details below in my Letterboxd review:

Nothing was on the agenda and I watched the first Ip Man a few days ago so I figured it was time to see its first sequel. Originally it was going to be about Bruce Lee but there were rights issues (which also reared their ugly head during the third film; that was eventually cleared up) so you only saw him in a brief scene at the very end as a kid. Instead, it was about swinging 1950's Hong Kong.

The plot revolves around how the British that ruled Hong Kong at the time were discriminatory against the Chinese, and how some kowtowed to them; a character played by Sammo Hung did this and he controls which martial arts clubs operate in the city. Yip Man isn't down with that so there's conflict. After a real Rocky IV moment (to steal a statement from various Letterboxd users; there certainly is a scene where you expect a character to yell, “throw the damn towel!”) Yip suddenly has to defend the honor of his countrymen against a cocky British boxer, played by the late Darren Shahlavi.

The movie dispenses with the idea of this being an accurate version of what happened in Man's life. It's rather loosely based, what with all the wire-fu and broad stereotypical villains who might as well be Snidely Whiplash, twirling their mustaches. It's not very realistic. Yet I was still entertained. While cliched at times, it's still rousing storytelling, and the film is still well-made, with very memorable fighting sequences; the big one involving a bunch of people wielding machetes is the best, IMO. More than one character from the first movie makes a surprise appearance. And Donnie Yen is still a great man.

It's not the original film but despite it being different it's still an entertaining watch.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Clan Of Amazons

Clan of Amazons (Xiu Hua Da Dao) (1978)

Runtime: 88 minutes

Directed by: Yuen Chor

Starring: Tony Liu, Hua Yueh, Yun Ling, Li Ching, Szu Shih

From: Shaw Brothers

After a few month break I finally saw another Shaw Brothers movie. This is another of their bread and butter of "period martial arts extravaganza" and I am perfectly content with that. My Letterboxd review is below:

It had been a few months since I've seen a Shaw Brothers movie. I decided to go with a random one that was on the El Rey Network late last night and as not many online have claimed to have seen it...

A disguised thief has an odd calling card of sewing an embroidered piece of silk before he makes his attacks... where he uses needles to blind everyone. Just seeing people covering their eyes, moaning in pain and red paint on their hands... that is pretty gruesome to my tastes. Investigating is Lu Xiaofeng, who I understand was the star of a series of 20th century Chinese novels by Gu Long. He's not only a fighter but also an ace investigator. He is assisted by the lovely lady known as Xue Bing. They go on the hunt for this thief and among other things, they are looking for red embroidered shoes.

The blinding aspect excepted, the movie isn't too serious in tone. After all, one scene has some enemies have their tops ripped off to make sure that they are men and not women; it makes sense in context. There's also poisoned chestnuts and the “TMI poem moment” where Lu states that when he gets really drunk from wine, he's impotent. I swear, this also makes sense in context. And yes, there is in fact a clan of “Amazons”, meaning “women who...” but I don't want to spoil anything.

This isn't a must-see entry in the vast Shaw Brothers catalogue and yet I do not regret seeing it. The movie was competently made in terms of such things as cinematography and direction. The martial arts were all entertaining, whether it be the ladies delivering palm strikes or all the sword action that we get to see. There being intrigue to the story when it comes to the mastermind behind it all was a nice touch. There were some interesting and cool setpieces. Overall, it was a nice reminder that I should try to watch these movies a little more frequently.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Cynic, The Rat, & The Fist

The Cynic, the Rat & the Fist (Il Cinico, l'infame Il Violento) (1977)

Runtime: 95 minutes

Directed by: Umberto Lenzi

Starring: Maurizio Merli, Tomas Milian, John Saxon, Renzo Palmer, Gabriella Lepori

From: Dania Film

Finally... Blair Russell has come back to... Poliziotteschi movies. I haven't watched many in the past year and a half or so. I'll try to be more frequent with the genre this year. Below in my Letterboxd review I talk about why I was glad to make my long-awaited return.

I was looking at the various lists I have here on Letterboxd, and I noticed that I had been neglecting the Poliziotteschi genre, having only seen a few films in the past 18 months, and one of them was the documentary Eurocrime! I also realized that while the majority of the reviews I have for the Poliziotteschi list are rather short, the ratings still apply and I hope I said enough to explain why I give most of the films 3 ½ to 4 ½ stars. So, I tracked down this film and in 2016 I'll try to explore the genre a little more often. I may also rewatch a movie or two-if possible-to give them longer and better reviews.

This film reminded me why I am glad I started watching that genre a few years ago. It is a sequel to a movie I reviewed a few years ago called Rome, Armed to the Teeth where genre stalwart Maurizio “Why yes, I do resemble Franco Nero” Merli as the loosest of loose cannon cops-Tanzi-goes after a villain who happens to be a hunchback, and that was only part of the plot. In the tremendously named The Cynic, The Rat & the Fist, he is off the force but it doesn't mean he's changed his ways. A foe from the past named THE CHINAMAN despite not being Chinese (Tomas Milian, who played the aforementioned hunchback in Rome, Armed to the Teeth) is released from jail and bad things start happening; he is also aligned with a man from New York named DiMaggio (John Saxon, w/ tremendous mustache) and along with dalliances with various punks, Tanzi deals with the both of them and a Kurosawa-like plot is introduced.

The movie has various aspects that you typically find in this genre. It includes:

* A badass hero (or in some cases, anti-hero) who is a loose cannon and is over the top awesome in doing cool crap.

* A lot of sleaze; this unfortunately means women sometimes getting beat up or otherwise denigrated.

* Villains who are also over the top.

* Crazy things happening to innocent parties; it usually means them getting injured or even killed.

* Purses getting snatched

* Motorcycle action

* Shootouts

* Plenty of fist fights

* Members of law enforcement that are either incompetent or corrupt.

* Tremendous 70's clothing

* A groovy 70's score.

* A scene in some sort of poolhall/gaming place.

* A scene in an Italo-disco; if it's a later film, Italo-disco music will likely be playing.

There isn't any vehicles chases but otherwise, it has what you'd expect. I could always do without the misogyny; this is not the time for me to discuss that topic. I have learned to put up with it when it comes to these goofy movies. It delivered the sort of thrills-and mirth-that I wanted and it reminded me how much fun I have watching these. I tend to giggle or even guffaw while seeing a Poliziotteschi, mainly due to being surprised at the craziness I am seeing. It can help when the story has issues, and here it did not always make 100% sense. I ignored that as I saw Tanzi punch another man or I heard another outrageous/colorful line of dialogue. As it's directed by Umberto Lenzi, of course there's plenty of sleaze.

Again, I'll try to watch these films a little more frequently; I'll try to track them down when I can.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Ip Man

Ip Man (Yip Man) (2008)

Runtime: 106 minutes

Directed by: Wilson Yip

Starring: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Siu-Wong Fan, Lynn Hung, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi

From: Several different Hong Kong and Chinese companies

I am not sure if I'll be seeing Ip Man 3 on the big screen (it's showing at two locations around me), but in case I do, I decided to see the first two movies in the series. This movie-but not the second one-is on HD for a dollar on Amazon so for that reason alone it was a good idea to see this. Turns out, this motion picture was worth seeing. The Letterboxd review is below: 

Everybody Wing Chun Tonight! Sorry, I had to get that obvious joke out of the way.

While I do not know if I'll be able to squeeze in a showing, Ip Man 3 is playing at two different theatres in the Orlando area. I had never seen the first two films in the series but I figured I should in case I do decide to see 3 now rather than waiting for streaming. I heard strong things about the films from a wide variety of people all across the Internet.

I know that this plays loose and fast when it comes to the actual facts; I am not always a fan of that but I'll excuse it here. It is all about Yip Man, the Wing Chun master who is best known for being Bruce Lee's master. It covers the period of his life from the mid to the late 1930's, where he started off a successful man who doesn't train anyone but when there's trouble from outsiders he is able to defend his city of Foshan, China. When Japan invades and the second Sino-Japanese war begins, though, things change and Yip has to work in a coal mine. The Japanese love watching the Chinese fight, and when a cocky general loves humiliating them... Yip has to defend his martial art and his country.

It's a story which has cliches for sure; you'll recognize them if you've only seen a few martial arts movies. People defending themselves against an evil enemy, cocky foes, someone fighting for honor & respect, a climatic one and one showdown, etc. That was fine by me, as it was a greatly entertaining story (albeit one with some rough moments; that was expected given the subject matter of war) w/ entertaining martial arts action, and a tremendous performance from the incomparable Donnie Yen. Yip's children were involved with the production so at least his legacy wouldn't be misrepresented and it wasn't. He is a wise and stoic man who loves his family (he'd drive a million miles just to be with them) & only uses his tremendous talents when necessary and he feels remorse that he couldn't do more during the war as he's “only a martial artist”. It is not just the impressive Wing Chun action on display that is notable.

It is a movie I am glad I finally saw. I think it's a film that I, you, and everyone we knew should check out, especially if you are a fan of the genre. One of these days I'll watch the competing film about Yip Man, known as The Grandmaster.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The First Two Godfather Movies...

are still outstanding. I mean, among the best motion pictures ever made. Sometime in February I'll watch The Godfather Epic that HBO put out, which is these movies in chronological order. I'll get into what that's all about once I watch it on HBO Now; that'll be sometime in February. For now, I wanted to mention that's what I've watched the past few nights. I've seen those two films plenty of times in the past and reviewed them on this site.