Short Film Safari - Mis-drop

Score Card

MAY

    Akira ☆☆☆☆
    Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ☆☆☆☆
    Wolf of Wall Street ☆☆☆☆
    Fist of Legend ☆☆☆☆
    Hero ☆☆☆☆
    Shawn of the Dead ☆☆☆☆
    Léon ☆☆☆☆
    Magnificent Warriors ☆☆☆☆
    Mr. Vampire ☆☆☆☆
    Once Upon a Time in China ☆☆☆☆
    I Confess ☆☆☆
    Armor of God ☆☆☆
    Last Hero in China ☆☆☆
    Legend of a Fighter ☆☆☆
    Lost in Translation ☆☆☆
    Odd Couple ☆☆☆
    Once Upon a Time in China 2 ☆☆☆
    Police Story 3 ☆☆☆
    Return of the Living Dead ☆☆☆
    The Evil Dead ☆☆☆
    The Nanny ☆☆☆
    The Witches (1966) ☆☆☆
    Warriors Two ☆☆☆
    Wing Chun ☆☆☆
    Yes, Madam ☆☆☆
    Prince of the Sun ☆☆
    Red Wolf ☆☆
    Golgo 13 ☆☆
    Holy Weapon ☆☆
    The Viking Queen ☆☆
    The Wrong Man ☆☆
    Black Mask ☆☆
    Evil Dead 2013 ☆☆
    China O'Brien ☆
    Demons of the Mind ☆
    Family Plot ☆
    No Surrender 2 ☆

Weekend Roundup - Horror bites

"It worked in the movie!"

To my shame I had never seen Dan O'Bannon's zombie comedy Return of the Living Dead, until now. As I mentioned in my review of World War Z, this kind of thing with the corpses staggering about and chewing on people is always kind of silly as a genre so a comedy works better than a straight horror, though I'm still a fan of Romero's original flesh eater trilogy with Dawn of the Dead taking top spot. It was interesting to discover why the phrase "Living Dead" is only used in the first of those films - this could have been a serious sequel by it's co-writer John Russo who retained the name rights and penned a follow up in novel form, though I think anyone who has seen his Anniversary cut of Night of the Living Dead is probably glad it never happened on screen. For me this serious stuff still is overshadowed by the total madness of Brain Dead though, where the total insanity of early Peter Jackson reigns and humour is laid on in broad strokes as blood covers every surface. This one falls firmly into that comedy splatter category.

 
Fun for the whole family

Yes, to my amusement this can by filed under none-more-80s style cheese and ham fests in the vein of Creep Show with similar style (over)acting, a few neat practical effects courtesy of puppeteers from Jim Henson's Creature Workshop, and a lot of silly characters including assorted teen punks, shady businessmen and a gun wielding mortician. The rock and synth music in the soundtrack fit perfectly and leave it as a product of it's time. Personally I found that it loses momentum towards the third act, as things become more like a standard siege movie and the goofy dialogue takes a back seat somewhat, but overall it's a likeable experience with plenty of obvious reasons it's got such a cult status. Though perhaps why the lasting pop culture mark it left is that idea about zombies eating brains is more of a mystery, I thought it comes off as a throwaway gag here. A fun time overall, although Brain Dead is still the king of the zombies.



On the theme of horror comedy, I also revisited a favourite of mine from the archives of Hong Kong cinema with Mr Vampire - a great blend of the usual martial arts stunts and humour you get in many of these, plus some of the weirdest vampire lore I can think of. Forget the garlic and the holy water, these are Chinese style bloodsuckers. They hop about on two legs because of rigor, and death also leaves them blind so you can hold your breath to avoid them finding you. They also have a strong dislike for certain kinds of rice... yeah I don't know either. It's just another take on the idea, and once things get moving it all fits with the tone perfectly.


Taoist priest come exorcist Lam Ching Ying (Prodigal Son) has to deal with physical and ghostly forms of the living dead with his two incompetent helpers and the local police captain hindering his efforts along the way. It's all played for laughs but retains some atmosphere as the reburial of his client's father goes awry and both father and son become long nailed creatures of the night. Did I forget to mention the finger nails? Yeah, they grow blue claws as well. There's less biting and more neck stabbing here. With a lot of spells and Eastern culture it shares many similarities with Sammo Hung's Spooky Encounters, and Tsui Hark's A Chinese Ghost Story. The latter is probably a stronger movie but for supernatural fun all of them are worth a look.

Review Roundup - Nothing succeeds like Excess

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013)

After going into some uncharted territory with the family friendly adventure Hugo, a fun diversion into the history of cinema; Martin Scorsese returns to familiar ground. Ground that is drenched with bodily fluids, where the air is blue and every scene is populated with grotesque yet compelling characters. In a follow up to both Goodfellas/Casino and his previous collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio this is another stylised, self narrated non fiction story about crime and corruption. At nearly three hours, this is a monster just like it's central character; at times it's excessive and extreme. Luckily the proceedings are nearly always entertaining no matter how ridiculous and obscene things turn out to be. In a story about seedy financial dealings and crime it's also surprisingly funny in a lot of places even if most of the the humour is incredibly dark.

 
'I have to return some video tapes'

After some great turns in Inception and Django Unchained, Leo goes one better as wannabe broker turned self made millionaire Jordan Belfort, who after a short lived entry level position in a Wall Street corporation begins his journey to build his own shady stocks and shares business - apparently through hard drugs and charisma alone. It's a mesmerising performance as the small time dealer becomes a narcotics addled money making machine. The idea this guy built up an entire personality cult within a few short years is easy to imagine when the acting seems so effortless. My major complaint is that unlike the rise and fall of Henry Hill, the character arc here isn't particularly strong despite the lengthy running time - early scenes where he is at the bottom level of this questionable game are rushed through while his earlier life is skipped entirely; and his fall never feels like it's that much of a come down. Success comes too quickly, and when it all goes wrong the recovery at the end seems almost too simple. That being said the series of events are still very engrossing (emphasis on the gross) with a lot of great dialogue and some good supporting cast members. It's never dull even though none of them are in any way sympathetic.

There has been some question on that subject, can you enjoy a film where the central characters are just so detestable; but I never found it to be a problem and spending so much running time in their company never felt like a drag. Quite often it comes across as very natural, perhaps a credit to the screen writer and the actors involved; though a few moments feel perhaps too ad-libbed or allowed to run longer than intended. But restraint is not the subject of the story here after all. The main credit goes to Jonah Hill's Donnie who gets the best interaction with Belfort though there are a lot of good performances, Matthew McConaughey has only a few scenes but leaves an impression early on; and there are fun moments with Rob Reiner as Belfort's conservative but outspoken father. Sure this is no Goodfellas but as a journey into the limits of excess and unsavoury goings on, the trip is a lot of fun.

4/5

BONUS REVIEW
EVIL DEAD (2013)

 
'Should we bury this or lock it away?' 'Ah this bin bag and wire is fine'


So this is just Evil Dead, rather than The Evil Dead. Which is a appropriate, since it gets nasty enough in a few all-out blood spewing sequences but has none of the charm or personality of the original films. In spite of all the skin peeling and limb slicing, it's too boring too often. The weak characters are all written for plot convenience, with a drug addict who won't be taken seriously, a brother to share her family issues, a nurse at hand to dismiss her behaviour; and a spectacle wearing bookworm ready to unleash the demonic spirits on cue. It has none of the humour of Evil Dead 2/3 and none of the low budget experimental vibes from the original where even the camera movements had crazy sound effects. Surprisingly the acting is at times worse than those oldschool outings. Their attempts at adding "more story" to both the characters and the Evil itself just fall flat and come across as lazy A to B writing that adds clichés rather than any substance and exists to move events along. Yes the splatter is here, but I just don't care since everything is so dull. Yes it's about demons, but I don't want my own eyes rolling like someone possessed. Maybe I am desensitised but it's not even that bloody - after all the talk of gore it's just a disappointment, and in the end it has no soul to swallow.

2/5

Martial Arts Mix - In the line of Duty

MICHELLE YEOH (1985 to present)

Doing a bit of a Hong Kong cinema marathon recently, I took time out from the usual Jet Li and Jackie Chan efforts and looked at a few of the best adventures from Miss Malaysia herself, Michelle Yeoh. Sometimes credited as Michelle Khan or Michelle Kheng I guess for the usual reasons of studio interference and overseas marketing, I wish there were more of them - as many of the ones she stars in as the lead are very good. She has the acting chops with enough screen charisma to match her male contemporaries, as well as doing plenty of her own stunt work. Her screen debut (as the lead) is typical of this, taking on gangsters with Cynthia Rothrock in Police Assassins aka Yes, Madam. It's a fun buddy cop feature with a lot of silly humour and painful looking stunts - a staple of the HK action genre - and would prove to be the first of various successful outings.



My favourite of these is Magnificent Warriors, a tongue in cheek adventure set in what appears to be somewhere in northern China in the 1930s - it lends the movie an Indiana Jones type vibe with their own take on the leather coat and whip combo making an appearance, as Yeoh and her companions (including the ever amusing Richard Ng) take on the typical fascist oppressors - Imperial Japan. The action beats are all pretty good as a variety of fighting styles and weapons are used, and there are some great set pieces leading up to a siege showdown. There is some incredibly repetitive music in this, the worst example being looped during a plane chase; but this is a minor complaint.

In the more traditional style martial arts movie Wing Chun, she also does a great job and her moves get showcased with the typically stylish fight choreography of director Yeun Woo Ping. Though the purile comedic elements are a little more over done it's still very entertaining and the menace of bandit raiders provides plenty of great fight sequences. Whether the fighting style which shares the title of the movie has anything to do with the events of the film is probably unlikely, but it makes for a solid if unremarkable entertainment.



Her central performance in the Ang Lee drama Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon would of course bring her international fame (besides making the best ever Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies) and it remains a strong addition to her filmography full of character depth and beautifully framed drama alongside all the fantasy styled ass kicking and sword battles. I don't think there are many other genre movies in this style that have this much emotive content which is a shame, since it adds to the wuxia magic in a unique way.

Elsewhere there are the likes of Police Story 3: Super Cop and Tai Chi Master, though they are mostly vehicles for their other stars they still have their moments - the former particularly having a few impressive stunt moments with Yeoh as an officer for the mainland Chinese government going undercover opposite Jackie Chan's Hong Kong detective. If only the DVD release was better - I have yet to get a good version with the original language, having to settle for a low quality non anamorphic release with poor subtitles or an edited cut. A pseudo follow up called Project S (also called Super Cop in some releases which is very misleading) was less than impressive personally and one for completists only, with far too much melodrama and tentative links to the Police Story series. To think that she was going to retire after getting married in the late 80s. Thank goodness for divorce eh?