Monday, April 18, 2011

Little Big Soldier (2010) - ActionFest Buffet 2.0: Plate #2

On the Menu:

Jackie Chan, Leehom Wang, Sung-jun Yoo, Rongguang Yu, Peng Lin, Xaio Dong Mei and Song Jin. Directed by Sheng Ding. Run time: 96 minutes. Rated: PG. 

At First Bite: Jackie Chan is almost always entertaining. I say almost always because some of his Hollywood movies have been slightly disappointing. But, LITTLE BIG SOLDIER was filmed in China/Hong Kong, and his Asian fare is typically better. Needless to say, it became the second film on my ActionFest agenda for Day 2.

The movie opens with animation and narration describing the Seven Warring States and their battles during the time before the unification of China. We're dropped into the middle of a resulting bloodbath between two of those states, Liang and Wei. Big Soldier (Chan) has feigned death and discovers the enemy general, Little Soldier (Wang), is also alive, but seriously injured. He plans to collect the general and trade him for a reward of farmland.

The problem is someone else is looking for the general, and wants him dead. 

Tough to Swallow: There are a few instances where the subtitles are misspelled, e.g., the word "small" appears as "samll." 

Something to Chew On: Chan is also the film's producer and writer. He wrote the screenplay 20 years ago, and had intended to play the Little Soldier role. However, the project was stuck in development for those 20 years, so he ended up playing Big Soldier.

The budget was an estimated $25 million.

It premiered February 11, 2010 in Malaysia. Its U.S. debut was June 6th at the Seattle International Film Festival.

The release date for the DVD was November 18, 2010. notes this is Chan's 99th film. His filmography lists 103 films prior to LITTLE BIG SOLDIER, but  he is uncredited in 18 of those. Either way, the numbers don't quite add up.

There is a blooper reel during the closing credits. 

Aftertaste: What makes this fun to watch is Big Soldier's reluctance to fight. That doesn't mean there aren't impressively choreographed fight scenes, but those scenes mostly involve Chan trying to defend himself or escape harm. Coupled with his comical expressions, these fights oftentimes make us laugh or at least smile.

Big Soldier has a fake arrow rigged on his chest and back. He pulls a string and both ends of the arrow pop up making it seem he's been shot with deadly force. The employment of this gadget was my favorite part of the movie; it garnered three good laughs. Of course, there's plenty of slapstick as well.

The movie isn't all comedy and action though. It plays pretty dramatic, especially the end. Basically, the idea is nothing good comes from war, but one shouldn't lose hope. So, yeah, I guess you'd say it's pretty deep for a Jackie Chan flick. Pay attention to the final scene with the Singer (Lin).

Chan and Wang have great chemistry together. They play off each other well. LITTLE BIG SOLDIER is definitely focused more on the characters than it is the action, which is a good thing.

Oh, I did enjoy the opening animation sequence. And, Xiao Dong Mei is pretty cute. 


Friday, April 15, 2011

Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010) - ActionFest Buffet 2.0: Plate #1

On the Menu:

Ingredients: Roger Corman, John Landis, Joe Dante, Sid Haig, Patrick Wayne, Judy Brown, Allan Arkush, R. Lee Ermey, Jack Hill, Dick Miller, Eddie Romero and Colleen Camp. Directed by Mark Hartley. Run time: 85 minutes. Rated: R for ridiculous (from the poster art and trailer).

At First Bite: I really enjoyed Hartley's NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD (4 stars), so once I saw this one on the film list for ActionFest, I made sure to put it on my agenda. It was Film #1 on Day 2, the first full day, of ActionFest.

Here, Hartley takes a look at American filmmakers, namely Roger Corman, who shot their flicks in the Philippines because it was cheaper. Ultimately, these would become drive-in movies.

Tough to Swallow: What happened to Colleen Camp? I think I asked the same question while watching FOUR CHRISTMASES. I'm sure you remember her. She was Yvette in CLUE and the Playmate in APOCALYPSE NOW. Well, she's definitely let herself go.

Something to Chew On: Premiered July 24, 2010 at the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Many directors got their start working for Corman, e.g., Coppola, Dante, Hill, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, James Cameron, Peter Bogdanovich and Paul Bartel.

Filipino actor Ernesto de la Cruz, known as Weng Weng, was 2 feet, 9 inches tall. He is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the shortest adult actor in a leading role.

Aftertaste: Right off the bat you're told the criteria for these movies were the 3 B's: blood, breasts and beasts. And, boy howdy, there are plenty of each to go around in this 85-minute doc.

Landis and Haig are, by far, the most entertaining of the interviewees. It was interesting to hear from the women, who starred in the less-than-stellar skin flicks, talk about their motivations and horrible working conditions. They actually refer to them as feminist films. If you think about it, they were probably the only films at the time with female leads.

The editing is pretty quick. But, not necessarily in a bad way. Most of the time, someone like Landis will give a one-liner and, boom, we cut to footage making what he said even funnier. Sometimes shots aren't on screen long enough to digest fully. However, we do get to see clips from many, many different films, which is a plus. The genres go from "crazy beasts" to "women in cages" to "blaxploitation" to "political revolution." We also get a glimpse of films made by Filipino directors, and sometimes the quality suffers drastically.

Of the films mentioned in MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED, I have only seen THE BIG DOLL HOUSE (2.5 stars), WOMEN IN CAGES (2 stars) and APOCALYPSE NOW (4 stars). The filming of the latter seemed to find disaster at every turn. Seriously, the tone of the doc takes a 180 from funny to almost depressing was it mentions Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 war drama. Coppola had asked for Corman's advice on shooting in the Philippines. Corman told him, "Don't go."

Three films that stood out as movies I'd want to see were MIRACLE (starring Paul Bartel), SAVAGE SISTERS and FOR Y'UR HEIGHT ONLY (starring Weng Weng). However, I can't find anything on MIRACLE, which is a shame because it was comedy about making movies in the Philippines. It was poking fun at what they had been doing for years.

All in all, this is a very entertaining documentary. In my opinion, NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD is more informative, but MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! is more fun.

Here's a look at the trailer (warning: it contains the 3 B's):

John Ashley's line at the 1:12 mark probably got the biggest laugh in the movie. That and the quote, "You'd go to your cameraman and say, 'How long to make it excellent? How long to make it good? How long to get the image?' Then you'd get the image."


Scream 4 (2011) - Late-night Popcorn Premiere

On the Menu:
SCREAM 4 (2011)

Ingredients: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Kristen Bell, Anna Paquin, Eric Knudsen, Nico Tortorella, Mary McDonnell, Nancy O'Dell and Heather Graham. Directed by Wes Craven. Run time: 111 minutes. Rated: R. 

At First Bite: Despite being slightly annoyed that my Ultimate Scream Collection DVD trilogy set was made redundant, I was still super-psyched to see the fourth installment. 

Sidney (Campbell), now a writer, is back in Woodsboro on a book tour. Her arrival coincides with the 10-year anniversary of the brutal murders from the original SCREAM. You know what that means. Let the killings begin. 

Sid's younger cousin, Jill (Roberts), and her friends are the new targets. Dewey (Arquette) is now the sheriff, and is trying to keep everyone safe, while Gail (Cox) is just looking for a story to write.

But, it's not your average horror reboot (sequel, whatever).

New decade. New rules. 

Tough to Swallow: The credit for Extras casting is listed as "Extra's casting." Apparently, it took two people to hire ONE extra.

Slightly less noticeable was the extra space in the 1st Assistant Director credit under the Additional Photography section (between 1st and Assistant).

Some of the shots looked blurry, and I did hear another theatergoer mention this upon leaving the movie, so my eyes are still good.

The douchebag randomly shining a red laser pointer at the screen for the first 10 minutes of the movie, and the guys in the row behind me intermittently making jokes and talking to the screen.

One reviewer somehow confuses Lucy Hale and Emma Roberts; writing the review as if Hale's Sherrie was Sidney's cousin. Another reviewer refers to Jill as Sidney's niece. Both reviewers pretty much railed on the movie, but obviously weren't paying too much attention to it.

Something to Chew On: Anthony Anderson's character is Deputy Anthony Perkins. Anthony Perkins is, of course, the star of PSYCHO and its three sequels.

Anderson previously appeared in the last two SCARY MOVIE sequels (numbers 3 and 4).

Brittany Robertson plays Marnie Cooper. MARNIE is another classic Hitchcock thriller.

I will assume, since this movie is set in Woodsboro, the character of Dr. Orth is the father of Steve Orth, who was Casey Becker's boyfriend and the 1st victim in the original film.

Aftertaste: This succeeds where the original did. It's self-referential and pokes fun at itself, but is still scary and gory. It's a sequel/reboot (more reboot) that trashes the idea of sequels and reboots. It's also a social commentary on today's youth being controlled by texting, Twitter, iPhones, etc., and becoming famous/successful for no apparent reason. It even takes aim at the post-SCREAM 3 horror trends of torture porn and scary Japanese kids. All of those little jabs made me laugh on the inside (and sometimes out loud).

The opening scene is very clever. It screams black comedy, and, I think, that hint is what you need to remember to really enjoy this movie. Otherwise, you're just going to say, "It's just the same movie. Why didn't they leave well enough alone?"

Honestly, I've said that about almost every other horror remake, although I found things I liked about Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN and the reboot of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Ultimately, I'd rather see the original films get another theater run instead of a newer version, even if the movie looks dated like ROSEMARY'S BABY or THE BROOD.

I digress.

There's a plethora of movie references in SCREAM 4, whether they be spoken or visual. There are also nods to other films using character names (as mentioned in Something to Chew On). I love that kind of stuff. I'm so much of a nerd that I pointed out the appearance of a Mountain Dew bottle to my fiancée, Megan. Product placement is interesting to me,too. Hey, I said I'm a nerd, right?

I have to say this is the bloodiest of the franchise. The stabbings are pretty hardcore and extra bloody. Megan doesn't like horror movies, but braved this one (at midnight, no less). Her lone critique: too bloody.

The original trio of actors, as well as Roger Jackson, hold their own, but Roberts steals the movie. I mean, she is basically the new Sid. Rory Culkin should be propelled into bigger things now; he was great in MEAN CREEK and THE CHUMSCRUBBER, but the box office success of this mainstream flick should get his name out there. Look out, Kieran. And, I enjoy seeing Panettiere do anything really (even with the cropped hairdo).

I will say I successfully predicted half of the outcome about halfway through, but wasn't disappointed in being correct.

SCREAM 4, or SCRE4M as it is affectionately known, is better than its two predecessors (both of which I rated 3.5 stars). It's funny, SCREAM 2 wasn't SC2EAM, but SCREAM 3 did show up occasionally as SCR3AM. Despite there now being 7 "STAB" movies, I doubt there will be a fifth SCREAM installment. If it happens though, following the leetspeak example, I can't see them advertising it as 5CREAM.

But, who knows.

There's a strong possibility I'll see it again before it hits the cheap theaters.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ironclad (2011) - ActionFest Buffet 2.0: Appetizer

On the Menu:
Ingredients: James Purefoy, Paul Giamatti, Kate Mara, Brian Cox, Jason Flemyng, Mackenzie Cook, Jamie Foreman, Aneurin Barnard, Rhys Parry Jones and Derek Jacobi. Directed by Jonathan English. Run time: 121 minutes. Rated: R. 

At First Bite: I missed out on the opening film at last year's ActionFest, which was CENTURION. However, this time around I took some vacation days in order to make sure I got as many movies as possible. The plot summary in the program for IRONCLAD piqued my interest. Basically, King John (Giamatti) is forced to sign the Magna Carta, but then goes back on his word to regain his tyrannical control of England. A Templar Knight named Thomas Marshall (Purefoy) teams up with six other men to defend the castle at Rochester, which was a major strategic position.

Tough to Swallow: The historical aspect isn't quite correct as King John and his men actually overtook Rochester by starvation. William d'Aubigny (Albany in the film) was imprisoned; he lived another 21 years after the siege of Rochester Castle. Not quite sure the French showed up either. All in all, a much bleaker reality.

The sword Marshall uses didn't exist in the 13th century; swords of the period were usually 3-feet in length and made for use with one hand. 

Something to Chew On: The movie was shot in Wales.

Richard Attenborough was cast, but had to drop out due to health issues.

Angus Macfadyen was cast as Coteral, but dropped out when the movie was refinanced.

Megan Fox was rumored to have a role.

Giamatti filmed his scenes in 7 days.

Stunt coordinator Richard Ryan said the stuntmen created a drinking game for the film -- each guy would take a shot when he saw himself get killed on screen. Ryan stated one stuntman died 15 times, and twice in the same fight.

Aftertaste: Well, the quick editing and close shots make the first few fights hard to follow. Once the story moves to Rochester, the fights are violently brutal. There's some serious head-bashing, limb-chopping and torso-splitting happening here. And, it's pretty freakin' sweet. Luckily, most of the two hours is spent in Rochester.

I have to admit it was slightly humorous to see Paul Giamatti in the role of King John. A majority of the theater audience laughed out loud when he first appeared on screen. But, no matter how odd the casting may seem, I couldn't help think it was a genius decision by the end credits. He's perfect at displaying skeeviness, dejection and patheity, but he also can bring the in-your-face insanity.

I've never seen "Rome," so I'm not all that familiar with James Purefoy's work. I only know him as King Edward in A KNIGHT'S TALE. He's Gerard Butler-lite, I guess you could say. He definitely kicks some butt and takes some names.

Not too sure about the love story, but Kate Mara is excellent eye candy. The one-liners fell to Brian Cox, who didn't disappoint. It was great to see Charles Dance again, and had I gone back to the theater at midnight I could have seen him in YOUR HIGHNESS as well.

Stunt coordinator Richard Ryan was in the audience, and did a short Q&A after the movie.

Bloody, bloody and bloody. A perfect way to open a film festival devoted to action.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) - Movie Marathon Short & Sweet Review: Film #20

On the Menu:

Ingredients: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzmann, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon, Eric Chase Anderson, Wallace Wolodarsky, Owen Wilson, Brian Cox, Adrien Brody, Mario Batali, Karen Duffy and Wes Anderson. Directed by Wes Anderson. Run time: 87 minutes. Rated: PG.

Tough to Swallow: The scientific names of the animals should be in the form: Genus species, not Genus Species.

Young foxes are kits, not cubs.

Something to Chew On: Based on the novel by Roald Dahl, which was the first book director Wes Anderson ever owned.

The Fox family tree is based on a beech tree on Dahl's property, and Mr. Fox's study was made to look like Dahl's favorite writing spot (a garden hut).

Mr. Fox's wardrobe is based on that of Anderson's.

Of the 535 puppets made for this movie, 102 of them were of Mr. Fox. The human puppets actually have human hair.

Nominated for Original Score and Best Animated Feature at the 2010 Oscars.

Aftertaste: Fun and enjoyable. I've never been disappointed with a Wes Anderson movie (at least 4 stars for each). It's a shame this one didn't take home the Best Animated Feature Oscar last year. I loved UP as well, but this had better animation with just as good a story.

The detail in the animation is incredible. I'm not sure most movie-goers realize how much work goes into a stop-motion film. I don't even think I do, but I know it has to be painstaking.

It's considered a family film, but, like most every other animated feature in the past 10 years, FANTASTIC MR. FOX has adult themes and humor. However, it has talking animals, so it must be for kids, right? Ugh.

Anyway, it's funny and looks amazing.