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

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 ****

Let the Right One In (2008)

let-the-right-one-in

Eli is far from the typical girl next store…

This movie has you from the get go. The first scene shows a snowfall, but it looks like the black screen is steadily falling apart. It is rather spellbinding, just like the rest of the film.

I have not seen a lot of vampire movies, but Let the Right One In (along with its remake Let Me In from 2010, which is almost as good) is surely one of the best ones. It shows vampires as beings who have a problem, but do not relish in the fact that they have it. It is not a superpower, but a sickness of epic proportions (as shown in the original Nosferatu, still the greatest of vampire movies).

The Swedish (yes it has subtitles, get over it) film tells the story of Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a 12-year-old boy growing up in the 1980s. His parents are separated (he spends most of the time with his mom) and is basically a loner. He is picked on constantly at school. One day, a new girl moves in next store, Eli (Lina Leandersson). Right off the bat, she says “We cannot be friends.” The chemistry between these two 12 year olds (though Eli is not really 12) is more realistic than most “chemistry” in movies based off of a Nicholas Sparks book. Sure, Eli is a vampire (the picture above may have given that away), but Oskar only sees a soul going through the same things he does. It is one heck of an authentic friendship.

My only qualm with the film is it spent a tad too much time with the adult characters. Really, the only one I felt we needed to see much of was Hakan (Per Ragnar), the father like figure of Eli, who “supplies” her with the blood she needs. The other adult characters are interesting enough, but much of their screen time had me wanting to go back to the relationship between Oskar and Eli.

Parents, I cannot think of any other film about 12 year olds that is not for 12 year olds. Obviously, the film does have violence and gore, and some swearing (an F bomb here or there). There is also a scene where Eli undresses and gets into Oskar’s bed with him. It is nothing really sexual. There is also a very brief (and I mean very brief) flash of nudity (it comes after Oskar tells Eli about his mom’s dresses), but again nothing sexual. Still, the R rating is justified, so only High School and up.

I have stated before that I am a sucker (pun intended, since it is a vampire movie) for puppy love, and there is no doubt this movie nails it. There are not many movies that can explain horror, romance, drama, and art, and Let the Right One In does so flawlessly.

I found myself wanting a friend like Eli when I was twelve. Someone I could talk to when no one listened (or I did not want to talk to my parents). Someone to give me advice. Someone to help me out of a jam with bullies.

You know, minus the whole blood sucking part.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars ****1/2

 

 

 

 

Taken (2008)

taken

Liam Neeson in his now immortal scene from “Taken”

There is at least one meme I know of with Liam Neeson and a reference to his role in Taken. I am not sure 100 percent how it goes, but it is along the lines of “He saved over 1000 Jews, he helped train Batman AND Anakin Skywalker, and you dare to take his daughter?!?!” This is what I knew when I finally got around to seeing Taken, and it is far from brilliant, but it is still somewhat entertaining.

The movie would easily have been forgotten weeks after it was released if it were not for Liam Neeson. The role of Bryan Mills, a retired CIA agent whose daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is kidnapped on her trip in Paris is one that Neeson is still being known for almost a decade later (even so that he was in a great commercial a few years back for Clash of Clans).

There are no doubt the action scenes are well done, but it is the plot that had me stroking my chin in not the most positive ways. I understand there is a problem with underground sex trafficking in the world, but what a chance that both Kim and her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) are not only kidnapped for this, but are done so barely after they even get off the plane.

I also had a little trouble with believing the friendship between Mills and his former associate (at least that is what I think he was) Jean-Claude (Olivier Rabourdin). There is a dinner scene that, while somewhat well done, is highly improbable to me.

Parents, this is a not a movie for kids. Despite the PG-13 rating, it is one that could have easily been rated R. There is obviously some violence and some swearing (though I don’t remember any F bombs dropped), but the fact that the movie talks about sex trafficking may be too much for a middle schooler. High School and above only.

Still, if you have not seen the film, it is worth watching mainly for Neeson. There were times I was remembering another movie character who was more determined than ever to get a family member back: Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) in John Ford’s masterpiece The Searchers (1956), which, compared to Taken, is like comparing Disney World to a block party. Nevertheless, if Liam Neeson is reading this, I will tread lightly and say his performance is worth seeing the movie just by itself.

I would not be smart in making him mad.

Overall: Three Stars ***

Snow Angels (2007)

Snow Angels

Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale.

 

67% is where Snow Angels stands on Rotten Tomatoes. It made a little over 400,000 dollars GLOBALLY. I state these facts not to turn you away from the movie, but as proof that this may be one of the most underrated films I have ever seen. I named it my favorite movie of 2008, and I still stand by that.

It starts off at a Marching Band practice (I did Marching Band in High School, and this movie gets it right). We here two gun shots, and we know this movie is about a small town. The story is a slice of life. There are two main characters (the first is Arthur) that we see the lives of. The first is Annie (Kate Beckinsale, in what may be her best performance), a run down, divorced mom of one living with her own mother. She works at the local Chinese Restaurant with Arthur, (Michael Angarano), who Annie used to babysit. The dialogue here is so real it is almost scary (notice the scene at the begining where Annie is talking about a time she “married” Arthur to another kid when Arthur was young).

Both characters have flaws that are not like ones you will find in cliche movies, but that you would find in life. Annie is trying to recover from her divorce from Glenn (played outstandingly by Sam Rockwell), who is trying to recover from his past mistakes. Meanwhile, Annie is having an affair with Nate (Nicky Katt), the husband of her co worker Barb (Amy Sedaris). Katt plays Nate as someone who is (like so many in real life) really REALLY bad at lying.

Arthur’s parents are on the eve of divorce, and then meets the new girl Lila (Olivia Thirlby, also great here). There are seldom scenes in any movie I have ever seen that are truer than those with Arthur and Lila. Their chemistry together is truly magical, and is a testament to the young actors’ talents. It is one of the best examples of young love I have seen on celluloid (the scene where they say they like each other is sensational).

Things happen in “Snow Angels” that are funny, but also things that are very sad. I won’t ruin them for you. All I will say is that the director (David Gordon Green, who made this before he was making comedies like “Your Highness” and “The Sitter”) has made a film about normal people with normal struggles. There are so many examples of human behaviors that are hidden in site on the screen: a kid opening their eyes during a prayer, people saying “Cool Beans”, a school getting out early to help with a community issue, and so on.

Parents, the movie is rated R for Language and some sexual material. There are a lot of swears, but none that the normal High Schooler has not heard. The sexual material is there, but very brief. That all aside, this movie is a forgotten masterpiece, that deserves more attention.

Rating: Five Stars *****