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Kung Fury

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***½

What are you going to do?

My job. I’m gonna go back in time to Nazi Germany and kill Hitler once and for all.

What the hell did I just watch? So many references. So many parodies. So 1980s. I do appreciate references and accurate satires. This 30 minute movie does not feel like a 30 minute movie. Based just on the look, and excluding the content, I would not have expected to learn that this was a Kickstartered movie.

Hackerman (Leopold Nilsson) hacking time so Kung Fury (David Sandberg) can surf back to the past on his keyboard. 2015 Lampray.

Hackerman (Leopold Nilsson) hacking time so Kung Fury (David Sandberg) can surf back to the past on his keyboard. 2015 Lampray.

The star/writer/director is David Sandberg. He appears to know Kung Fu, but it is difficult to really tell in this amalgam of Miami Vice, Tron, Weird Science, Rambo 3, Zee Terminator, Marvel Comics, Superman (if only through unsubtle product placement), 2001’s Hal, Knight Rider, Transformers, He-Man/Sheera, norse mythology, VHS tapes, and Heavy Metal (the movie). I pride myself on getting references and even I had to look up several of these. There are others, but it felt intellectually dishonest to present them as my own here. That is correct, in this review I just used the phrase “intellectually dishonest,” but do not worry, the next line has “Kung Führer” in it.

While some reviewers might highlight how Hitler—yeah, the Kung Führer—was portrayed by Jorma Taccone from The Lonely Island, I loved recognizing Björn Gustavsson—Spy, Rayna’s final guard who gets mocked mercilessly by Melissa McCarthy. He even showcased his amazing ability to unsuccessfully stop himself from crying while embarrassed mid-argument! So if you want to see that scene you should watch this movie. If you liked the shows on Adult Swim, then you should watch this movie. If you find modern alt-comedy confusing and frustrating, then steer clear.

The Mummy

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**½

The language of the slaves. I may have use for you. And the rewards will be great.

And the best quotation from the ride is, “Your end will be my beginning.”

To be cruel or to be kind? If I were speaking to someone who worked on the film I would certainly be polite and focus on the positives. On the other hand, people like biting reviews. I do want to say that I generally enjoyed watching the movie, in a National Treasure sort of way.

To be kind…the cast for this movie was excellent. Brendan Fraser–Rick–is not well regarded, but he has shown in movies like The Quiet American that he really has acting chops.  Rachel Weisz hides much of her skill behind a zany character here–Evy. Her resumé is weaker than I thought, but The Constant Gardener was very good. John Hannah, Evy’s brother, may not be a family name, but he did a great job as Dr. Gerard in the excellent episode of Poirot, “Appointment with Death.” That was a great episode—Tim Curry was in it, I believe. It was more a movie than an episode. Arnold Vosloo does a good job as the Mummy/Imhotep. My favorite role of his career is as the Mummy in Universal Studio’s The Mummy’s Revenge, which is a great ride. Kevin J. O’Connor plays Beni and makes him seem what was once called “ethnic”. I do not know why this American was cast as such. I did like the part where he speaks Hebrew, that is probably the highlight of the movie—see the above quotation. Note, there are not many women in this movie, which is too bad. Anyways, Jonathan Hyde seems respectful towards Egyptian history and culture, so I do not know what he was doing in this film. He was also very entertaining in Anaconda, as the English jerk. But the two gems in the rough are Erick Avari and Corey Johnson. Avari was #127 on IMDb’s Top 250 Underrated Actors—here is my take on that. And Corey Johnson has memorable roles in Bourne SupremacyUnited 93, and Captain Phillips. Oh and I almost forgot Patricia Velasquez, since she is really only in the first scenes. But she was Marta #2 on “Arrested Development” and looks amazing as Anck Su Namun.

See? Totally gorgeous.

Patricia Velasquez as Anck Su Namun in 1999’s The Mummy.

Plus, in some ways this was a better movie than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull—mostly in that it was not a big disappointment. It was fun to watch with friends while eating traditional movie theater snacks. And lastly, the soundtrack was fine.

To be unkind…what the hell is with the premise of this movie? High Priest Imhotep falls for the Pharaoh’s wife, Anck Su Namun. That name appears to be, and Google agrees with me on this, Ankhesenamun. Maybe you know her better as Ankhesenpaaten, or maybe you know her better as King Tut’s queen/half-sister. So Imhotep wanted her. But he died 1300 years before her birth. What does that make her, a Tomb robber? Does it make him a millennial cradle robber? Having done some research I have learned that this was not the fault of this movie, but in fact of the 1932 classic Mummy.

If I did not lose everyone with my take on the love story, then I will proceed to more cogent criticisms. First, what was with the image quality in this movie? It intercuts from movie quality film to what appears to be home video. The home video might actually have been higher quality or some higher frame rate, but as it was thrown in only occasionally throughout fight scenes, it was jarring and took me out of the movie repeatedly.

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Rick (Fraser) fights while Beni (O’Connor) runs at the Battle of Hamunaptra. 1999 Universal Pics. The Mummy. It looks good too, unlike the next home video type shot.

Second, the lame jokes with no sense of priorities. The library shelves falling down was visually interesting, but then it never gets cleaned up. When Rick is to be hanged the jokes keep coming and haggling ensues while his dying body kicks. Men being on fire or left to die on ship also gets played for laughs. The tone of the movie jumps from that distasteful irreverence to wanting us to care about the characters. See what I just did there?

Third, both sides have terrible plans. Just awful plans, which they abandon, especially if the plan actually happened to be working. In the words of the Mummy’s wiki, “[Imhotep] proclaimed that as Evelyn died, his lover would live, and he would become invincible. About to stab Evelyn with the dagger, he was interrupted by Jonathan, who had found the Book of Amun-Ra.” Let me highlight that logically, IF Mummy stab down, then Mummy invincible. No qualifiers. All he needed to do was stab, instead of stopping to listen and then goofing off for five minutes. True, if the book of Amun-Ra were used correctly, the Mummy would have been screwed, and lo and behold, he was eventually, but just stab her! She is tied to the altar!

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Stab! Stab! Stab! I could find no good images, so this screenshot used to sell replicas must do.

Four, what was with the ten plagues? While they occurred in Egypt they had nothing to do with Imhotep. The Pharaoh was not even a Ramesses in this story! Yet everyone in the movie just thinks that this Mummy coming back to life will parallel the plagues visited upon Mitrzayim by God, to punish and warn the Egyptians.  And there was no plague of mind control! Boils do not explain mind control!

Well, the important thing is to look on the bright side and be glad that the Mummy was dead at the end and the heroes were safe. The end. Wait, what? There was a sequel? Sequels?? Well there must be a silver lining, at least tell me that this franchise helps jumpstart Dwayne Johnson’s non-Rock career?  Speaking of which…anyone have a copy of The Scorpion King I can borrow? I have not seen it since it was in theaters. Now hit that sweet Godsmack theme Scorpion King had!

The Beauty of Film: A Bridge Too Far

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A Bridge Too Far —  Geoffrey Unsworth, BSC (cinematographer) & Richard Attenborough (director). Everyone sees the Panzer tank and the PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank), but please note how the handle of the umbrella is still in frame lower left.

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The Beauty of Film: Moonraker

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Moonraker — Jean Tournier (director of photography) & Lewis Gilbert (director).

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Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979).

The Hateful Eight

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The-Hateful-Eight

Chapter 1: Take Your Time?

When the handbill says “dead or alive”, the rest of us just shoot you in the back from up on top a perch somewhere and bring you in dead over a saddle. But when John Ruth the Hangman catches you…you hang.

Quentin Tarantino presented his film in five chapters. He shot it on 70mm film, which had equal visual splendour as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, probably thanks to Robert Richardson—multiple Oscar winning cinematography, e.g. Hugo. And boy did he let us see it. In this film there are long establishing shots. Mostly of stagecoaches fleeing from a blizzard.Wonderfully accompanied by the unmistakable sound of an Ennio Morricone score. But, with a blizzard cold on one’s heels, you want the characters to fly, to find shelter and safety. Tarantino loves to toy with this feeling in his audience and he did so effectively here. That said, less would have been more. Once this feeling peaks, he should cash in on it, not let it linger so that it weakens. He is no Terrence Malick–The Thin Red Line.

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John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) standing in the snow, while O.B. (James Parks) impatiently waits on the stagecoach. The Hateful Eight © 2015 Weinstein Co.

Chapter 2: How many people come along for the ride?

You got business in Red Rock?

The title suggest eight people, but inside the stagecoach only fits four, so either they are counting the corpses (bounties) on the roof, or we must hang in to get to the full crew. But why eight? The obvious reason is that it is one more than the Magnificent Seven, a group holed up in a Western town for the noblest of reasons—to stand up to injustice and to protect the innocent. Well Tarantino does not traffic in innocents, even here those who might be considered innocent have their flaws. With a blizzard going on, the only threats from the outside here are the elements themselves. Another difference is the inclusion of a woman and a Black man. The diversity of the Magnificent Seven was probably solely encompassed by Yul Brynner. Considering Tarantino’s last two pictures starred Christoph Waltz, it must have been difficult to turn back to his original European favorite, Tim Roth—Mr. Orange—as the English Oswaldo Mobray.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

SHUT THE DAMN DOOR! as told by Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh (Daisy Domergue) into the ear of Bruce Dern in Minnie’s Haberdashery in The Hateful Eight.

Chapter 3: Stuck in the middle of this one room house with you.

Yeah, Warren, that’s the problem with old men. You can kick ’em down the stairs, and say it’s an accident, but you can’t just shoot ’em. 

With this setup, after taking a long time to get here, we finally reach the mystery. The pacing does not increase and we are treated to more weather shots and a charming scene in a barn between Major Warren—Samuel L. Jackson, Star Wars’ Mace Windu—and Señor Bob—The Heat’s Demian Bichir. What has carried the film to this point, and really starts to shine hereafter, are the performances. Bruce Dern proved an excellent old Confederate General. With the level of acting, the script could have cut much of the backstory that the characters provide for each other. Also, THIS IS NOT A FAMILY MOVIE. The effusive usage of racist and sexist language is not why I say this. The male frontal nudity is not why I say this…it is because of the highly disturbing scene that Major Warren conjures to infuriate that old General. It took balls to shoot that scene.

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Tim Roth and Walter Goggins (as Chris Mannix) in The Hateful Eight, inside the haberdashery, trying to keep warm.

Chapter 4: It takes balls to make this movie.

He’s worth ten of you. 

At last the real mystery gets going. Everyone loves the mystery. While I, for biased reasons, may have wished for Hercule Poirot to be present, or at least a Sam Spade, we have none at our disposal. Without their moral anchors we have a host of villains, or at least not heroes. There is one notable exception. The one who is worth ten of another, or perhaps any other of the eight. His death is gross. But a viewer should expect that from a director who loves cheap horror. Like most of his movies, this is a genre bender: Mystery, Western, Action, and Gore. I was going to say, I do not know which is more unpleasant A or B, but I liked this movie and do not want to turn people away based on how bad A and B sound in a review.

Chapter 5: Houston We Have an Irreversible Problem.

Hey, Dave, ask me if my ass is fat!

Clearly in movies like Pulp Fiction Tarantino showed how much he likes to show a scene from another character’s point of view. He enjoys providing the viewer with a scene, which the viewer already thinks she knows. It is only natural to connect the panels. I am a fan of this kind of reveal, even if it lacks the panache of Hercule Poirot explaining everything.

Chapter 6: Take a guess how this one ends.

Come out of there you bushwhacking sack shooter by the time I count to 3, or I will shoot this bitch in the face.

One of my major complaints about Tarantino was how his sources received insufficient credit. Reservoir Dogs, for instance, took the look of A Better Tomorrow II and the last 30 minutes of plot from City on Fire, yet it gets hailed for its originality. And, like there, this here is a classic Quentin Tarantino ending, which I, except for Reservoir Dogs, like. The cinematography is generally great and the music delivered. On the whole, this is a new movie that takes some of the best of what Tarantino has to offer, puts it in an interesting, gory mystery and then adds lots of time. ***½

The Beauty of Film: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom — Douglas Slocombe (cinematographer) & Steven Spielberg (director).

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Ten Great Scores: Part 2

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For soundtracks 10-6, click here. While there were some polarizing choices therein, these ones are universally loved by all (of me).

5. Vertigo — Bernard Hermann had several candidates for this list but I could not leave this one off. Here is the opening theme. The violins catch me every time, in a way that none of 10-6 could. The music is so good it makes me wonder if people think this is a better film than Rear Window merely because of the power of its music. In my review I compared this to Requiem For a Dream, which somehow did not make my top 10—it was #11.

4. Blade Runner – One benefit from living in 2015 is that all of these scores are available online. What brings this to mind is that fact that the primary composer, Vangelis, refused to license the soundtrack for 12 years! Even then it was incomplete. Unlike Vertigo, Blade Runner could stand on its own with an average James Horner score. But when you take this score and and Ridley Scott’s visuals you have one of the greatest films of all-time.

3. For a Few Dollars More – Everyone knows the third movie in the Man with No Name trilogy, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Well this is part two and it has the best of the music. It is the The Empire Strikes Back of scores. I like the twangy-ness of the Jew’s harp.

2. The Lord of the Rings – If Howard Shore never made another score his life would still be a stunning success. When I heard he was doing the score I was concerned. I had no idea who he was, but in my defense I was 19 and had not seen Philadelphia or Se7en yet.  My favorite theme within the series is probably the Fellowship theme. It sounds like optimism, camaraderie, and heroism. But I can understand someone picking any one besides Arwen’s.

1. Star Wars – It is the Star Wars Trilogy of scores. Everything wonderful I say about Lord of the Rings, I will say about Star Wars, but with a bonus. Maybe it is simply that those movies and this music have been with me for longer. Maybe it feels appropriate to have the greatest film composer, John Williams, with the best score of all-time. Maybe it is the opening overture. Maybe it is the Imperial March. Pick a reason, for me the conclusion is the same.

With only one appearance on the list does John Williams’ #1 outshine Ennio Morricone’s 2 movies? Maybe some day I can scientifically determine who are the greatest film composers of all-time.

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