Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Yin And The Yang Of Mr. Go

The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go (1970)

Runtime: 89 minutes

Directed by: Burgess Meredith (!)

Starring: James Mason, Jack MacGowran, Irene Tsu, Meredith, Jeff Bridges (!!)

From: Ross Film Productions

Last night I saw two movies. It was this obscurity and a rewatch of an average at best giallo known as Five Dolls for an August Moon; my opinion on that hasn't changed. As for this movie... what an oddity it is. I give basic details about it below: 

This was a movie I did not even know about until last night, when I stumbled upon it and once I read the details, it was something I had to see as soon as I could, so that is what I did.

The plot: it's nonsense in Hong Kong (it was filmed there and in Toronto) where the villain is named Yin Yang Go; if that isn't preposterous enough, it's a “half-Mexican, half-Chinese” man played by... James Mason! Even more silly, Burgess Meredith plays The Dolphin, his Chinese doctor/acupuncturist, who of course uses alternative medicine. There are other familiar faces, like Broderick Crawford, Irene Tsu and Jack MacGowran, but would you believe that a famous face made his theatrical feature film debut here playing a character named NERO FINNEGAN, a James Joyce loving wannabe author? It is true... the role was played by none other than JEFF BRIDGES, no lie.

Personally, I wouldn't expect anything too weird from a movie directed and written by Meredith (again, no lie)* yet we get such things as Buddha narrating the film, a stereotypical lesbian, an old gay man-so unfortunately, a few homophobic slurs are uttered-blackmail, a “super mace”, a large Chinese man, a speargun, a wacky yet important weapon that's the MacGuffin of the plot, and more. It's all daffy and the soundtrack sounds like it should be for a promotional film for Hong Kong circa 1970's; you know, it's flower power and cheery and upbeat... that only adds to the surreal nature.

At first things are goofy yet I can still say it's watchable and fine. Then, things take an odd turn and things become real confused until the final few minutes. The entire movie is baffling overall but much of the second half, you don't want to scrutinize the plot too hard, that's all I am saying. I give it points for originality but I can still only say it's about average overall. Allegedly it's public domain so it's not difficult to find on YouTube, if you so dare.

* This is only second-hand information but apparently, in Meredith's autobiography he mentioned that the producers meddled with the movie and among other things, added the Buddha stuff and Broderick Crawford, who does only appear in footage not related to anything else in the movie. So they are partly to blame for how odd this is.

Monday, February 20, 2017

La La Land

La La Land (2016)

93% on Rotten Tomatoes (out of 331 reviews)

Runtime: 128 minutes

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, Finn Wittrock

From: Summit Entertainment

Most people love this movie, I know that for certain. I can only say I liked it, as it is charming and it looks real nice. Unfortunately, the plot... I explain it below: 

It wasn't until Saturday night that I finally saw this heavily-hyped movie, which most have fallen in love with and because it's the Oscars and they are usually easy to predict, this probably will win Best Picture this upcoming Sunday. I wish I could say that I love this too, but... hopefully I don't sound like a gigantic grinch or a Lee Chandler come to life; this is honestly how I feel.

Everyone knows how this is a musical about the ill-fated love story between Sebastian and Mia, and how they deal with being a musician/hopeful jazz nightclub owner and actress, respectively. The movie certainly looks pretty with plenty of memorable moments and scenes (even though there is a LOT of navel-gazing going on), a pleasant-enough score and song and dance numbers where it's not as great as it was “back in the day” but it was still acceptable for my tastes.

Unfortunately, aside from it making me wish I'd watch or rewatch various old musicals where the leads do the song and dance better and feature choreography that will blow you away, it is more than a slight problem when the big relationship between the two leads, I did not really care about. It's difficult to conceptualize into words, but it did not enrapture me. I thought the leads were dopey, sometimes pretty annoying and did a lot of dumb things. For the movie's sake, I hope that the reason why the story sometimes is really dumb or makes no sense is because the director decided to slavishly follow the cornball and silly plots that plenty of those old genre pictures had too.

I mean, at times I wondered why a cell phone wasn't used... while it has plenty of pandering to old movies/a retro aesthetic, it is still set in modern times and smartphones are seen being used by the leads. I can't explain why Mia is unfamiliar with the concept of musicians going on tour. Not to mention, I was begging for more music during the second act, as I thought it would have been better than watching some hoary dramatics taking place. Aside from the problem with our protagonists, John Legend is in a supporting role and everything about his character is confused; his music is commercial but it's not an abomination as the film seems to suggest. Others have noted this, and it's odd, really.

I wish I could have loved this like everyone else does. It certainly is charming overall and has great visuals throughout. It just did not blow me away or work its magic on me like it has for the movie-going public in general. While I don't regularly watch old musicals I certainly appreciated the idea of bringing them back, and jazz music is pretty cool... even if it's a white hipster singing its praises. The final number, it was greatly and at times brutally effective and it did make me feel melancholy as I was reminded of certain things that happened in my life. Even then, I can only say this was “fine” when I look at the film as a whole. At least that dark blue fridge at the end and the KEYTAR were cool, admittedly....


Fences (2016)

93% on Rotten Tomatoes (out of 194 reviews)

Runtime: 139 minutes

Directed by: Denzel Washington

Starring: Denzel, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Davis, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby

From: Paramount

I saw this film on Saturday in a movie marathon on the big screen, which was nice. The big crowd I was with seemed to enjoy it, audibly reacting to some big moments. Despite it seeming like a long movie at times and some iffy moments-not to mention an ending best described as “curious”-overall I can say I enjoyed this melodrama movie set in 1950's Pittsburgh.

It centered on the African-American Maxson family, where the patriarch is Troy (Denzel Washington), a former ballplayer in the Negro Leagues who was too old by the time Major League Baseball allowed black players to play and thus he had to become a garbageman, the matriarch is Rose (Viola Davis) and there's 17 year old Cory (Jovan Adepo). Cory has an older half-brother named Lyons (Russell Hornsby) who occasionally drops by. There's also Gabriel, Troy's brother who happens to be mentally handicapped after a traumatic event; thankfully the character wasn't as “Simple Jack” as he could have been. Finally, Troy has his pal Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson), who sometimes stops by to hang out.

1950's Pittsburgh looks both nice and authentic, although most of the action is focused on the inside and outside of the house. This is definitely a movie filled with dialogue and its stage origins are obvious. That was fine to me here as the story was compelling and there are some tremendous performances and some great scenes. I was not familiar with the play this was based on (written by the late August Wilson) but I know it was on Broadway previously, and both Washington and Davis played those roles on stage and won Tony Awards for their performances. They may both win Oscars for their performances captured here, and I wouldn't complain about either as both are aces in their roles as they played complex characters, especially on Denzel's part. At first Troy seems gregarious but as things progress... you see he is haunted by his past and is obsessed with both The Grim Reaper and baseball. I'll leave it at that.

The cast as a whole does a nice job overall. You only see a handful of people throughout, aside from little kids playing baseball in the street a few times to start off a scene. I hadn't seen Adepo before and in a difficult role he was successful. So was Henderson, who was also new to me and despite a role not as challenging he also knocked it out of the park. It was amusing seeing him in this film, as I had seen Manchester by the Sea right before this and in that film he only appears in a scene that lasts about 90 seconds long and that was it. Here his role was more substantial so I was able to see his talents.

I understand those who didn't care for the movie, as there are legitimate complaints to be made. Yet, I was glad I saw this as it worked for me overall.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Manchester By The Sea

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

96% on Rotten Tomatoes (out of 244 reviews)

Runtime: 137 minutes

Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan

Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol

From: Roadside Attractions/Amazon Studios

I went and saw 4 movies today. One of them was Hell or High Water, which I saw last summer and I don't need to review it again. By tomorrow night I'll post the reviews of the two others. I wish I could have seen the quartet of movies with a better/less annoying crowd, but alas... I also wish I could have enjoyed this better. Eh, oh well. It wasn't the only disappointment of the day, as you'll find out tomorrow night. Why I didn't like this is explained below: 

As I did in 2014 and 2016, I went and saw one of the two Best Picture Showcases that AMC Theatres presented. This is where at select locations AMC presents half of the Best Picture nominees in a marathon. At least where I go (Disney Springs on Walt Disney World grounds) it's held in a large auditorium of almost 350 seats and it always comes close to selling out; no wonder this is the 11th year AMC has held this event. Yesterday, I got to see this film, Fences, Hell or High Water, then La La Land. As I saw Hell or High Water this past summer, I won't be reviewing it again; I can say I still rate it highly after a second viewing. Tomorrow I'll review the other two films.

I realize that many people reading this are shocked I don't have this rated 5 stars, as most around these parts love the movie. To be honest, I haven't seen either of Lonergan's previous films before. I'll be honest here and say that if You Can Count on Me and Margaret are filled with nonstop awkwardness, A-hole characters, people usually yelling and screaming at each other, inappropriate humor, and constant dropping of the F-bomb... I honestly would rather not see them. It's a shame this movie did not win me over, as the general idea of a broken man trying to repair his life and dealing with suddenly have to raise his 16 year old nephew is a nice one.

Obviously most disagree but I thought most of the characters you see in this film are gigantic A-holes and people I did not want to spend time with. If it wasn't for some great scenes throughout the film and quality performances from Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges as the leads (and Michelle Williams in her supporting role), I'd rate this even lower. Those moments help elevate this to technically a score I say is “fine” but watching such an unpleasant movie was not enjoyable for me even if I thought that the lead character's ultimate decision was an appropriate one considering the circumstances and how he was always an awkward human being and after that horrific event he was probably forever damaged.

I can also say that the movie did look nice & the Massachusetts setting was scenic. Last month a pair of people I knew (not Letterboxd members by any means) saw the film and didn't like it at all. I did not pry them for details. I at least can give some compliments; besides what I already mentioned, I was fine with how there were flashbacks throughout that progressively showed the audience why Lee Chandler acted the way he did. I did not know beforehand what awful event happened which explained why he wasn't a family man anymore like he was in the earlier flashbacks. I did not complain with how brutal that moment was; I just wish the score during that 10 minute segment wouldn't have been so loud and overbearing; I thought subtlety would have been better there. It's not my only complaint with how music was used, to be honest.

I am fine with other people loving this; me, it's far too abrasive for my tastes to ever want to watch this again.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Great Wall

The Great Wall (2016)

36% on Rotten Tomatoes (out of 143 reviews)

Runtime: 103 minutes

Directed by: Yimou Zhang

Starring: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Pedro Pascal

From: Universal... and some Chinese companies

I am posting this at this hour as I'll be seeing a movie marathon today, which I'll explain when I return tomorrow. Talk of this cheesy yet fun movie is below:

I've mentioned before how in recent years China and the Chinese film market has become intertwined with Hollywood and its film market, so we have had Chinese actors appear in American films, Chinese companies co-finance big budget productions, and now we have a Chinese movie with some American actors as a wide release in the United States. Considering I've heard stories in the past about how China isn't always willing to send over the box office earnings to the film studios-not to mention all the controversy surrounding China as a whole... human rights violations, Communism and the like-hopefully this decision to pursue a gigantic film market and the almighty dollar isn't something that has dire ramifications for Hollywood in the future.

Anyhow, the movie on its own caused controversy. A segment of the Internet got really angry when they first heard about this; of course this was just based on only the film's title and knowing it starred Matt Damon. They leapt to conclusions and automatically thought “whitewashing” without any knowledge of the plot or how it was a mostly Chinese production filled with a mostly Chinese crew and actors, but why let facts get in the way of outrage?

I saw this film last night knowing already that many did not enjoy it; it's a big hit in China so I know it won't be a money-loser no matter what. After seeing it for myself, it technically isn't good between the story, some of the performances (whatever accent Damon had, it changed often so it's not worth figuring out what it was supposed to be) and a large amount of the English dialogue. After saying all that, I can still say it's “fine.” Honestly, it's a B movie and a much lower budget less elaborate version with practical effects, I'd imagine Golan-Globus or Roger Corman making it in the 80's or late 70's; at least for me it reminded me of the halcyon days of yore.

I presume by now that everyone is familiar with the general plot. I mean, a mutual I follow here admitted he didn't when he saw the movie yesterday but at this time, I imagine everyone knows how this is about Matt Damon, who is “from Europe” and he is with an odious pal and they wish to take some gunpowder and bring it back home. What a hell of a roadtrip that is. It becomes worse when you discover that The Great Wall of China was built in order to prevent monsters from attacking. While they only do it every 60 years, it took over 1,000 years to build it, and technically it was great WALLS until they were later joined. Again, I'll bring up, why let facts get in the way of a good story... they do say in the beginning this was a “legend” so I guess it's alright... maybe...

But enough of my blatherings. There are plenty of entertaining action scenes that are shot so they can be comprehensible (usually a novel idea in Hollywood these days), the CG monsters look like something from a videogame but in a charming way... it looks and sounds great, but that shouldn't be a shocker considering the director was Yimou Zhang. There are wacky over the top moments and plenty of bright/colorful outfits. The musical score is pretty entertaining, as was this movie to me. I knew it wouldn't be high art and it worked as popcorn fluff which wasn't cringe-worthy to me. While there's the whole “white savior” element, it's not as bad as it could have been and the leader of the territory that does battle with these creatures is a badass young woman who is pretty rad. How can I hate a movie which has such elements?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Taken 3

Taken 3 (2014)

11% on Rotten Tomatoes, out of 105 reviews

Runtime: I saw the unrated version, which was 115 minutes

Directed by: The hack known as Olivier Megaton

Starring: Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Maggie Grace, Dougray Scott, Famke Janssen

From: 20th Century Fox

Oh Lord, this movie... it's even worse than Taken 2. I explain why below: 

It was not the plan to watch Taken 2 and then immediately thereafter this piece of crap, but I was with someone last night and this is what they wanted to do, so that is what happened. I had never seen any version of 3 before; once I saw that the director would be the same, I knew to give it a pass. Finally, I saw the unrated version and it made me wish I could watch 2 again, it was so bad.

To steal a thought from someone else, this movie is pretty much The Fugitive remade; the ex-wife of Bryan Mills is murdered and it's set up to appear that he did it, so he's on the run from the cops while trying to avoid a group of people after him, led by a wise man. In this case, Liam Neeson has to avoid Forest Whitaker, who I guess is wise because he doesn't underestimate Mills and he has some odd tics involving such things as a chess piece and rubber bands. I know, “great” characterization, right? Then again, I knew I was in trouble in the first act when we got several moments straight out of a sitcom happen between Bryan and his daughter Kim, who is at least college aged now and is closer in age to Maggie Grace.

The story is complete nonsense; it's drivel and they try to go the convoluted route but there are few surprises, if any at all. Russian gangsters factor into the plot and while that sort of thing is sadly more relevant now than it was a few years ago, that does not make this retroactively better. It's incredibly dumb and I'd rather not say more about the plot. To my disappointment, not only did director Olivier Megaton return, he actually regressed as an action director. The quick cutting and shaky-cam was even worse than in 2, sapping all the fun out of the action scenes.

The actors don't really care, you can't enjoy the action and the plot was poppycock, where Mills can cause an incredible amount of collateral damage, to little repercussions. Let's hope Neeson is literally too old for this shit and we never get a Taken 4 (Please, No More).

The First Two Taken Movies

I saw and reviewed them here a few years ago but to be brief, the first one is still a lot of fun and the second is still pretty bad. Well, I finally saw the third one; it's even worse than the second one. I'll explain why late Thursday night.