Ip Man (2008)

ip man

Ip Man (Donnie Yen) vs 10 opponents…

I have to confess that the older I get, the more cynical I appear when friends tell me about movies I should see.  It is not that I don’t care about other opinions or tastes. It is more that I know my knowledge and expertise at cinema is more than likely more evolved than that of a normal movie goer (or fanboy/fangirl). That being said, a lot of times when people offer me suggestions on films, I may reply that I have not seen them.

“What? I thought you were a movie guy! This movie is a classic! A great movie.”

(I often think to myself if they sometimes know what the term “classic” means, but never mind).

This leads us to Ip Man (2008), a movie that tells the story of the title character (played by Donnie Yen, who, pardon the pun, gives a near knockout performance) that, before seeing the movie, I thought was just some lame title for an asian superhero who was really good at martial arts. I was wrong. There was no way I would go into this movie knowing it was actually based on a real life person who would eventually train the legendary Bruce Lee.

The story takes place in 1930s China, where Ip Man and his wife Cheung (Lynn Hung) live in somewhat blissful harmony along with his young son. There are a number of Martial Arts schools in the village, but none can compare to Ip Man (how else to explain a guy who can knock the holster out of the revolver with one finger?) The film starts out with one master trying to fight Ip Man, but to no avail.

The one thing that Ip Man does not appear to have a love for is teaching, despite all the young men wanting to learn. Even the Northerners who rudely come in, trying to showboat their skills, are no match.

The movie eventually shows us the invasion of Japan in 1937, leading to even Ip Man having to find work shoveling coal. Eventually, the Japanese General Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), a fan of martial arts, wishes to fight Ip Man after seeing him in action.

Now let us talk about the action in this film. There is no secret that Hollywood is known for making countless (and I mean countless) number of movies that rely on special effects (which is what most people want to see). While I am not saying the artists that make special effects are not talented, it is clear that fight scenes such as those in Ip Man are much more appreciated. It gave me the feeling I had when I watch legendary dance choreography from the likes of Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. The scenes are so intimate that you just know those fighting are trusting the others not only with the movie, but their own lives.

Parents, the movie is rated R, but is one I think could be easily ok for kids in the PG-13 range. There is no sexual content (the only nudity is of a young man’s rear end that is played for laughs, lasting only about two seconds). The swearing is not very heavy (at least that much more than a PG-13 action flick). It is mainly the violence, which is no more so than that you would find on TV shows nowadays. Middle School and above.

Possibly the most surprising thing about Ip Man is that the makers knew not to rely heavily on the fight scenes. They use it mainly to enhance the story, which is what all good film makers do. Ip Man already has two sequels (another is in the works), and I plan on watching them right away.

Overall: Four Stars

Hero (2002)

Hero

Jet Li is literally untouchable as Nameless…

The first real martial arts movie I remember being introduced to was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), one of the very best the genre has ever offered. Afterward, we got other great movies like Hero, which, although not as good as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it still is a wonder to behold.

I have no idea if the martial arts are all choreographed in this film or not, but the movie is so gorgeous to behold that the story seems almost superfluos (its alternate time lines are the only thing negative about the film). Hero tells the story of a warrior (Jet Li) who is known as Nameless. He is brought to the Qin Emperor (Daoming Chen) after his completed assassinations. The movie is basically how those came to be. The movie also stars such actors as Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Maggie Cheung, Ziyi Zhang (also in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and Donnie Yen (who is now known for 2016’s Rogue One).

I am not sure if Hero is the first movie one should see if they are hesitant about seeing their first martial arts film, but it is more than enough to quench the thirst of any hardcore fan of the genre. How else to explain a scene where (for about seven seconds) we see a sword fight where the two combatants seem to almost be playing ping-pong with water drops?

Parents, the PG-13 rating is due mainly to the violence (though none of it is gory or bloody). There is also one scene of sexuality to skip (though no actually nudity is show below the neck). Basically, the rating is justified.

The best thing that can be said about Hero (as well as all martial arts films) is that it shows the art of fighting (of being martial) is not just about the scenes, editing, or special effects. It is so much more deeper: the poetry, emotions, life, and serenity of it all. It is truly a delicate art.

The way movies should be treated, when you think about it.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman

Gal Gadot stars as Wonder Woman, sweeping in to save not only the day, but the DC universe as well..

Perhaps the best way to describe Wonder Woman is to remember her grand entrance toward the end of last year’s disappointing Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Superman (Henry Cavill) and Batman (Ben Affleck) had finished fighting each other, and were about to be obliterated by Doomsday until Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) swoops in to save the day. Like that scene, the film Wonder Woman has finally given a good movie to let the DC Universe brag about.

Taking place long before the events of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman tells the story of Diana (Gal Gadot, who proves she is right for the part and not just because she looks like the character). She is raised by the Amazons, a group of women sworn to protect mankind. Her mother , the Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) does not wish to have her train like the others, but her Aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) sees it differently and trains Diana. One day there is a stray pilot who crashes in the water and is saved by Diana. This is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, who is able to play second fiddle to Gadot and does a rather great job). He is a british spy who stole plans from the Germans as they are facing the end of the first World War. Diana is convinced it is the return of Ares, the God of War.

The average audience member goes to a superhero flick for the action sequences, and Wonder Woman does not disappoint on that front. Directed by Patty Jenkins (who helped get Charlize Theron an Oscar for her brilliant portrayal in 2003’s Monster), she does not rely on the fact that Wonder Woman is finally on-screen, but that there is a story behind it (and one that is, thankfully, not too hard to follow). Gadot lets us feel every inch of the situations her Diana is in (even if it involves trying on new clothes), and has great chemistry with Chris Pine (who, of course, is no stranger to action pics).

As for the villain, I will not reveal who it is, as it will ruin the surprise (though one of the evil German scientists is very menacingly played by Elena Anaya). I will say that when you find out about the main villain, it was something I personally did not see coming at all.

Parents, despite Wonder Woman wearing kind of revealing clothing (as well as the other Amazons), the only other form of sexual content is a scene where Steve and Diana are talking about the knowledge of sex (which does produce much humor). There is also a brief moment (again, played for laughs) where a male character is naked, covering his crotch. The violence is surprisingly light (I did not see any blood), and I am more than sure there was not a single curse word. Basically, Middle School and above (or if your kids saw any other DC or Marvel movie, they are ok).

The movie is not all great: there are times where the action scenes did drag on a bit (especially at the end). Still, it is very refreshing to know that DC has finally given the world a movie that can rank up with a lot of Marvel’s movies (and is better than a good amount of them).

When Diana is told that the world does not deserve her, I thought “Maybe not, but I am still glad she finally got the screen treatment. It is so worth it”.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

 

Rachel Getting Married (2008)

Rachel Getting Married

Kym (Anne Hathaway) returns home for the weekend for her sister’s wedding.

It has been almost a month since the passing of director Jonathan Demme, and the only two movies I have seen of his prior to Rachel Getting Married were The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Philadelphia (1993). Both of those had won Oscars for acting (Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster in Lambs and Tom Hanks in Philadelphia). While Anne Hathaway was only nomintated (she lost out to Kate Winslet in The Reader), her performance is well worth mentioning with the others. It may even be better than the performance that won her an Oscar for 2012’s Les Miserables.

In Rachel Getting Married, Hathaway plays Kym, a recovering drug addict who has been in recovery for nearly a decade. After finally finding some light at the end of the tunnel, she is allowed to come home for the weekend to attend the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie Dewitt).

The details of the wedding and how they are presented are spellbinding. We basically see all the wedding and meet the people through Kym’s perspective. She reunites with her father Paul (Bill Irwin) and his new wife Carol (Anna Deavere Smith). She meets her future brother in law musician Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe) and his family. We finally meet her own mother Abby (Debra Winger), whose relationship with Kym is tense to say the least.

I have read user reviews saying that the movie goes either too fast or too slow. It actually goes at just the right pace. You may think some things (such as speechs and dances) go on for too long, but isn’t that how it feels at every wedding? Especially the rehearsal part?

Hathaway is beyond words. You do begin to appreciate the performance when you realize the tragic event in her life (as well as the family’s). It is always a big credit to an actor when you forget they are playing the character in the first place.

Parents, the movie is very much not for kids. There is a lot of swearing, including one (brief) sex scene. There is also a very brief glimpse of nudity. Basically, the R rating is justified.

If you can handle it, seek the film out. Especially if you want to see what is still probably Anne Hathaway’s best performance to date.

Overall: Four Stars ****

Song of the South (1946)

Song of the South

The Disney movie most people, of any age, will not be able to see…

I suppose I should start off with some form of explanation.

Those of you who have actually heard of Disney’s 1946 film Song of the South know it has never been released on VHS or DVD (let alone Blu-Ray). After a theatrical re-release in 1986, the Disney Company has basically swept the film under the rug, with no intention at all of re distributing it. The closest anyone can really get to the film is the Splash Mountain Attraction at the Disney theme parks. Some other countries have had releases on home video of the film, which I assume led to bootleg copies. This is how I managed to finally see the movie (thank you Amazon).

The story is simple enough. It tells the tale of an innocent young boy named Johnny (Bobby Driscoll, who would voice the title role of Disney’s animated Peter Pan before sadly succumbing to drugs). He travels to his Grandma’s house in Georgia with his parents and Aunt Tempy (Hattie McDanniel). His father must leave his wife and son to work for his newspaper, leaving Johnny in tears. His only hope is to find the mythical Uncle Remus, who has been telling stories ever since Johnny’s father was a boy.

James Baskett died shortly after his role as Uncle Remus, but it is truly a magical and pure performance (he would win an Honorary Oscar for the role.) When he tells the tales of Br’er Rabbit and others, I kept getting a sense it was actually Baskett doing all of the voices (he does do the voice of Br’er Fox). As was the case for all Disney films back then (and basically in general), the movie was filled with good songs. Still, if ever there were a song that was a Disney classic, it is “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”, which is far more popular than the movie itself (and, as shown by Uncle Remus, is fun for anyone to sing).

So why has it not been on DVD before? Simply put, since the movie is taking place in Georgia after the Civil War, it is the depiction of African Americans as slaves. It is very sugar-coated (it is Disney, after all). The way the slaves (though they are never called that) are shown is very stereotypical.

I like to think I know a lot about movies and their history, but I know I don’t know everything. What I do know is that the history of movies took time to make drastic changes. Keep in mind a movie like Gone with the Wind (also starring Hattie McDaniel in her Oscar-winning role as Mammie, which made her the first African-American Oscar winner) was showing slaves walking and talking the same way. Unlike Song of the South, Gone with the Wind is available to the public (and rightly so).

The problem is that a movie like Song of the South is geared toward kids, while GWTW is not. I do feel that Song of the South is not a movie to be first experienced at a young age. A person must know what slavery is, and how drastic it was, before seeing Song of the South. In other words parents, a good talk with your kids before and after the movie is in order (if you manage to see this at all).

Will they release Song of the South to the public again? I do hope so. Disney is arguably the biggest name in show business, so a release would not entirely destroy them at all. When I got the film in my hand, I honestly felt quite honored, knowing I was watching something not many younger than me have seen (the last re-release was a year before I was born).

Perhaps the Disney Studio should remember the words of Uncle Remus:

“You can’t run away from trouble. There ain’t no place that far.”

It’s the truth. It’s ‘actch’ll.

Despite all the flaws of Song of the South, at the core it gave me a feeling about childhood innocence  that was “satisfactch’ll”.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Logan (2017)

logan

Hugh Jackman unleashes the claws one last time.

Not to start anything here, but who needs a wall on the Mexican border when we have Wolverine?

 

Wolverine was one of my favorite superheroes growing up for one main reason: the claws. I mean, I would look at my hands sometimes as a kid and thought to myself, “How cool would it be to have three metal knifes just come out of my hand whenever I want?” Logan‘s Hugh Jackman has been donning the claws since 2000’s X-Men, and now, in his final performance (he has stated that skin cancer and age are why he is stepping down), he gives a truly stellar and even subtle performance as the self-healing mutant (though not always healing on the inside).

The movie starts out at a gas station in 2029, where most mutants are long gone. The opening scene is how the director (James Mangold) will show us that this is no kiddie movie by any means. Logan/Wolverine has used his claws before, but this is one of the times we get to see the aftermath. Living off the Mexican border, Logan is accompanied by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) as they both look after Logan’s old mentor, Charles (that always subliminal thespian Patrick Stewart), who was once known as Professor X. Thru mere chance (ok, not really) one day, Logan comes across Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), who is helping a child mutant escape from the authorities. Her name is Laura, and is played by newcomer Dafne Keen, and she gives one heck of a knockout performance (literally). She is one of many child mutants who are trying to make it to a safe place in North Dakota.

Parents, as stated before, this is no kid movie. It deserves its R rating (though not as bad as Deadpool, who may or may not pop up for about five minutes). There is swearing, violence (though in these days with The Walking Dead, there is not much worse you can see on TV,) and one very brief scene of nudity (it happens in the back of a limo when someone flashes Logan, but it is very quick and over in only a second or two). Nevertheless, High School and above only.

Even at a run time of 2 hours and 17 minutes, this movie does not seem to drag on (for the most part). My only really qualm with the film is not having that great of a villain (at least when measured against the greats like the Joker, Doc Ock, and Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor). One way or the other, the film is sure to delight all, comic book fans or not.

Possibly the best thing about Logan is it reminds us of the most important element needed in any superhero/comic book movie.

 

That element is human.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Jackie (2016)

jackie

Natalie Portman is “Jackie”. 

My dad was always a huge admirer of John F. Kennedy, and that was a major part of my fascination with his death (and the film masterpiece that is JFK). One thing I always wondered was what about his wife? I mean, she was there, so how come no one actually talked to her? That answer is clear in Jackie.

I will make it bluntly clear: Natalie Portman is phenomenal in the title role. She will clearly be nominated for Best Actress, and it would not surprise me if she wins. She brings depth, humanity, pathos, and grit to the former first lady.

We meet her being interviewed with a journalist (Billy Crudup), one week after the events of which no one of that time would forget. My main issue with the movie is the way it does tend to jump around between different times in the story, making the movie a little bit inconsistent. There are scenes with her and Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), her helper and friend Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), and a priest (the always valuable John Hurt). All actors do good work when with Portman (who is in virtually every scene), but the order of them made me scratch my head a bit.

Parents, the R rating is mainly for swearing and violence (Director Pablo Larrain does not let the gruesome details go unseen of the assassination), and there are a few swears including some uses of the F word. Still, I would think High Schoolers and up would be ok with the film (even a mature middle schooler, perhaps).

If anything, this movie is worth seeing mainly for Natalie Portman’s performance, clearly one of the years best. As stated in the picture above, she is Jackie Kennedy, a woman who managed to keep a wonderful smile going in the harshest of moments our country ever faced.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****