Reviews Too Late: This and That

by wjw on December 10, 2013

Flying twice across the Pacific, I had little to do but watch movies and eat peanuts.  So I saw a lot of movies, many of them last summer’s blockbusters.  These are the ones I remember.

Red2: A by-the-numbers action film, with none of the wit and spark of the original.  The heroes chase plot coupons for a while, then cash them in at the finale.  The actors are trying, but it doesn’t help.  I’m glad I didn’t pay to see it.

Pacific Rim: Oh my God, Guillermo del Toro gave up directing The Hobbit for this?  It should have been a fun summer movie, but instead it was ponderous, portentous, witless, and stupid.  If the actors have any charisma, they were thorough in suppressing it.  I’m happy the price of admission remains in my pocket.

Iron Man 3: Much better than the reviews had led me to expect.  Giving Tony Stark something like PTSD was an interesting idea, along with the Invincible Iron Man getting his ass handed to him by the bad guys, and it would have worked with a darker hero like Batman.  But Robert Downey’s affect never tracks the changes that his character is supposed to be undergoing, he stays light and breezy throughout, and I never doubted for an instant that he would prevail.  Having Stark dragged out of the Slough of Despond by a young child was a ghastly idea that made me wonder if I’d wandered into a Hallmark Hall of Fame Christmas Special by mistake, but at least they made the kid interesting.  Still, even though there were missteps, the film was still fun.

You have to wonder if the filmmaker’s noticed that Stark’s problems are pretty much solved by the end of the movie, insofar as he has a whole army of android Iron Men who can do his fighting for him.  Those Skrulls should stay the heck away or they’ll get mashed by fifty metric tonnes of Iron Man suits.  Tony can sit in his luxurious penthouse suite with Pepper and a glass of champagne while his army does the fighting for him, and he never need risk PTSD again.  Nor need he ever bother with the Avengers, who are a bunch of prima donnas anyway.

So.  Happy ending, right?

Emperor: This film features Matthew Fox as General Bonner Fellers, who was the man who decided after World War II that the Japanese Emperor wasn’t going to be hanged for war crimes, but would stay in office.  Which is kind of interesting, but not really interesting enough to pack the theaters.  In order to broaden the audience demographic, the filmmakers concocted a romance between Fellers and a Japanese girl, which also falls under the category “sort of interesting.”  Douglas MacArthur is played by Tommy Lee Jones, who neither looks nor sounds like MacArthur but who does his best anyway.

Blue Jasmine.  Watching this movie was like being trapped in a phone booth with the crazy ex-girlfriend you never want to see again.  As a result I’ve decided I should stay away from the Woody Allen movies that critics actually like and watch the other ones instead.  Blue Jasmine is didactic, relentless, and humorless, which is the sort of movies that critics can understand and which they deem “serious.”  Cate Blanchett was so terrific and convincing in the part of the raving, condescending, selfish, narcissistic lead character than I could only stand about twenty minutes of her, and then decided to watch something else.

Tai Chi Zero: Postmodern kung fu steampunk.  (I mean, why not?  What the hell, y’know?)

Hong Kong’s been making kung fu films long enough that they’ve gone postmodern, and started to make movies in which everyone in the movie sort of knows that they’re in a kung fu movie, and so they collect every cliche in the repertoire and play them all in a ferociously heightened way.  Every single scene in this film is a cliche— well, maybe not the ones involving the Giant Armored Turtle Tank—  and every single scene shoots for the moon.  It’s like Tarantino without all the stage blood and the relentless references to pop culture.

The movie comments on itself with facetious subtitles: “Hey, it’s Tony Leung Ka-Fai as ‘Uncle Laborer!”  Thoughts balloons appear telling us what the characters are thinking.  For instance, when the technophilic, Western-educated Feng (who is in love with his village girl cousin) tells the Eurasian Claire he really wants her, her thought-balloon arrives in the form of a list:

  1. He’s using me.

  2. He’s finally confessing his love!

  3. He’s just trying to get ahead.

Naturally she picks #2, and her fate is a tragic one.  (Claire, by the way, us played by an actress/model whose stage name is actually “Angelababy.”  No, really it is!)

It’s so much relentless fun that watching the whole thing at once would be exhausting.  I saw it in stages, and it was okay that way.

There is also a sequel, Kung Fu Hero, which I have not yet had the energy to approach.

Badges of Fury:  Another Hong Kong film brimming with postmodernity, this one a cop movie that ramps up every cop movie cliche till it blazes way the hell past 11.  Wen Jang plays overeager rookie detective Wang Bu Er (“Not Stupid Wang”), with Jet Li as grizzled veteran Huang Fei Hong, which is not meant to make you think of Wong Fei-hung, not really, okay?  Both characters feel free to ignore the sensible advice of their superior, played by Michelle Chen, and the result is a lot of explosive chaos.  It’s “not stupid,” but it’s not genius, either.  If real Hong Kong cops were like this, the island would have burned down long ago.

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