A man discovers his capacity for violence and the difference between “soft” and “hard.” Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut, “Man Of Tai Chi,” a martial arts mini-“Matrix,” is fizzy, physical fun. As director and as antagonist, Reeves’ work is coolly measured and knowing. Set in Hong Kong and Beijing, and spoken in English, Mandarin and Cantonese, “Man” is hybrid but not mongrel, taking dashes from American editing with mainstays of lighter Hong Kong police procedurals and, of course, boasting the action direction of the great, ubiquitous Yuen Woo-ping, whose work since 1971 includes the “Matrix” trilogy, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” the “Kill Bill” films, and so much more. Read the rest of this entry »
But for a pitched altercation on a CTA bus between two elderly, raucously disagreeable men in wheelchairs—a not uncommon occurrence on the 66 bus, in my daily experience—I would have made it to the early morning screening of Ridley Scott’s filming of Cormac McCarthy’s script, the drug-deal-gone-oh-so-terribly-wrong tale “The Counselor” with minutes to spare. The studio showed the film to reviewers only this once, on Tuesday before a Friday opening, keeping it largely under wraps except for the visual sizzle of a few commercials shown on sports channels. Wonder why! While fate kept me from that screening, Vintage published the paperback ($14.95) a week earlier, and I continued to read it as I realized I would be a half an hour or more late. C’est la vie, c’est la guerre. On the page, this version is, I don’t know, bonkers? What’s a bigger pile-up of descriptors than brazenly bonkers batshit? Extended monologues alternately wound and caress the eye and, by some reports, what’s on screen deletes some of these scalding siroccos of language in favor of other sandy windstorms. Read the rest of this entry »
“’Speed’ in space”?: Sandra Bullock is a strong woman in peril in the darkest of darkest houses, the expanses of outer space and beyond. Alfonso Cuarón’s 3D IMAX thriller takes the most complicated means to tell the smallest story, the highest concept of pitches, and to make it seem graceful, inescapable and simple. “Life in space is impossible” reads one of the cards sprinkled at the start of “Gravity” and its epic opening shot that captures three astronauts on a spacewalk making repairs on the outside of the space shuttle. As with the movie’s many extended takes, Cuarón varies point-of-view, moves from epic panoramas to close in on his characters: the fluid result should keep all but the most aware from realizing that there hasn’t been a cut for over ten minutes. In a sense, “Gravity” is an animated film, as the illusion of the vastness of space and weightlessness wouldn’t be as lyrical without the intense construction behind the scenes. Read the rest of this entry »
Hungarian-American director Nimród Antal (“Kontroll,” “Predators”) joins hands with the members of Metallica (James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo) for “Metallica Through The Never.” Shot in 3D on a 360-degree stage at a fistful of Canadian stadium shows, with twenty-four swooping, darting cameras on cranes and jibs, as well as cameramen behind 3D Steadicam rigs that dart around the edges of the frame, strange and Taurus-headed figures. It’s fluid work, but the movie also intersperses wordless scenes of a young roadie, Trip (Dane DeHaan, “The Place Beyond The Pines”), on a mission to retrieve a mysterious satchel on quotidian but post-apocalyptic late-night Canuck streets outside. Read the rest of this entry »
Situated at the end of the world at the end of the cinema in our usual center seat, “Elysium,” Neill Blomkamp’s 2154-set follow-up to “District 9,” has already set caverns of the internet alight. It’s not all that difficult to trip over a review with the assertion that “Elysium” has a key flaw: it has “politics.” As an allegory for the modern moment, this futuristic race against time is, yes, assuredly future now, in its own way a dystopian hero’s journey that could well have been adapted freely from Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine.” But like better science fiction, it’s an allegory that lines up parallels to the present moment, but doesn’t fuss so much over extended metaphor. For the middlest of brows (plot rather than theme and assured, thrilling physical detail): it’s a Matt Damon chase adventure. Max is a worker, injured on the job, fired, told he has five days to live after radiation contamination. Max turns into Jason Bourne, or more to Blomkamp’s esthetic, he’s transformed by criminals-turned-rebels from his reformed car-thieving past into a weaponized merc, a mega mecha with weaknesses, hours to live, grudges to bear.
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The best Johnnie To films—and there are many—are like church: there may be no more than a few followers of his impeccable high classicism, but they know much of the doctrine that is his sleek, shockingly efficient style as present leader of the twenty-first-century Hong Kong gangster genre. “Drug War,” at least his fifty-third feature as director, is thrilling, hyper-efficient, choreographed action filmmaking at its finest, but it also, like other drug-driven narratives—“French Connection,” “The Wire”—has a political undercurrent that deepens the telling but never insists on raising an unnecessary placard of expository dialogue. (The pair of gifted warrior drug workers who happen to be mutes offer a ready reading?) It’s a flawed world, in motion, observed without imperfection. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
The very title, “Only God Forgives,” not only suggests austere pulp, high Euro-trash, it encapsulates the red-light-green-light binary character of Nicolas Winding Refn’s simple, cruel fairytale that’s erected to sustain his gleeful visual and sonic delirium: the characters that take vengeance are taking up the mantle of a higher power, and will be smote. (As well as cleft in twain.) No eye for any old eye here.
In a storybook Bangkok, where the central characters live by night and a nameless, karaoke-adept cop-cum-executioner (Vithaya Pansringarm) meditates by day, an American sex tourist kills a woman, whose father-pimp then is given leave to do what he wants with the man under the gimlet eyes of the cop. The victim’s brother, Julian (Ryan Gosling), running a boxing gym, but likely other criminal endeavors, and on the run from an at-first unspecified crime, notifies their mother (Kristen Scott Thomas), who comes to collect the body. Action piles upon reaction in a virulent way until a gorily climactic punishment of a secondary character after the fashion of primal Greek drama, overseen by a reproduction of a statue of David from antiquity, tiny penis and all. Read the rest of this entry »
Vivid pulp rumpus, Guillermo Del Toro’s monsters-vs.-robots (or “Kaiju” versus “Jaeger”) epic “Pacific Rim” is brimming, bursting, surging and punching with energy. It’s an amalgam of dozens of things I recognize, and surely hundreds more I don’t (drawn, in large part, from Del Toro’s own vast knowledge of both monsters and mecha, and robots and multiple cultures). Dialogue is pro forma without becoming rigid, largely because of the cast, including the one man who thinks he can save the planet from the monsters bursting from within, from beneath the sea, from an otherworldly vaginal canal, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba): “Today, at the edge of our hope, at the end of our time, we’ve chosen to believe in each other… Today, the apocalypse has been cancelled!” (Shakespearean verve is indicated.) Character names thicken with unseemly delight. They’re masterful moniker mastication, on par with David Cronenberg’s strange-named strangers: brother Raleigh Becket and Yancy Becket. Father and son Hercules Hansen and Chuck Hansen. The Wei Tang triplets and the Kaidanovsky siblings. Mako Mori. Stacker. Pentecost. Read the rest of this entry »
(Kapringen) Writer-director Tobias Lindholm’s “A Hijacking” is a taut thriller about Somali pirates hijacking a Danish vessel in the Indian Ocean, but it’s also a lesson plan in negotiation tactics. Danish filmmakers are famously supportive of each other, especially at the script level, and it shows in movies from filmmakers as diverse as Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg (the upcoming “The Hunt,” co-written by Lindholm), Nikolaj Arcel (“A Royal Affair,” co-writer on “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”) and now Lindholm’s cracking actioner. There’s so much to admire in character detail, implicit motives and simple dramatic tension. Read the rest of this entry »
“Furious 6,” as the main title has it, has the same simian delight as “Fast Five” and prior installments of the series: friends become family, bond in crime, regroup when one of many is in a fresh scrape. As more and more reviewers have realized, as audiences did almost straightaway, this series is seriously “post-racial.” It doesn’t matter “what” anyone is: action speaks louder than one-liners. Everyone’s a colleague, a peer, a friend. “We’re family, we do things together, you’re stronger together, ya always were,” is only the first iteration of the endless, kindly affirmations. Jibes are familiar now, basic unadorned teasing, terse bunkum. Vin Diesel makes gravel audible—there’s one reason he didn’t choose “Vin Cashmere” as his nom de zoom—with elongated, not quite drawled delivery of lines like “L’es go for a li’l ride.” Women bare their backs, the men their torsos: when Diesel wakes with his latest love, we’re treated to a glimpse of his kneaded-dough belly button, its furrows as profuse and detailed as the frown lines between his eyes. There are special effects in profusion, with physics-defying stunts that grow increasingly delirious. Few pop from the screen as brightly as Michelle Rodriguez’s magnetic smile. (Or her de rigeur black tank top.) Read the rest of this entry »