Movie Reviews

Gone with the Bullets (Review)

Gone with the Bullets

aka 一步之遙 aka Yi Bu Zhi Yao aka 隨子彈飛 aka One Step Away
Gone with the Bullets
2014
Written by Jiang Wen, Wang Shuo, Guo Jun-Li, and Shu Ping
Directed by Jiang Wen

Gone with the Bullets
Jiang Wen’s followup to Let the Bullets Fly goes in a completely different direction, a period satire of the entertainment industry, a scandalous crime, and a China carved up by colonial forces. Basically they gave Jiang Wen a dump truck full of money and he made the most ridiculous razzle-dazzle he could craft that also spent a good portion of the film mocking the very razzle-dazzle it celebrated. Yet the whole thing is hard to engage with, not even bothering to spend time to keep the audience and just flies off in whatever direction it feels like as the story rumbles along. It is certainly a spectacle, but the whole thing just isn’t my cup of tea.

Jiang Wen is Ma Zouri, a local scam artist who is so good at self-promotion that a warlord’s son comes to him for advice in an effort to switch from new money to old money to impress foreign women. Ma Zouri and his partner in crime Xiang Feitian (Ge You) see this as the perfect opportunity to fleece this guy out of all his money while simultaneously putting on the biggest talent show for ladies of the night in the history of the world, which will put Shanghai on the map. The pageant for President of Escort Nation features women from across the globe and is a huge production with multiple numbers, but in the end Wanyan Yin (Shu Qi) emerges victorious. She’s a former flame of Ma Zouri as they were growing up together, and soon the pair are racing around town high on opium until Wanyan Yin is dead in a car accident and Ma Zouri is on the run, assumed to be her killer.
Gone with the Bullets
Read more…

Be the first to comment - What do you think?
Posted by Tars Tarkas - July 3, 2017 at 7:55 am

Categories: Movie Reviews   Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Starcrash (Review)

Starcrash

aka Scontri Stellari Oltre la Terza Dimensione
Starcrash
1978
Written by Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates) and Nat Wachsberger
Directed by Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates)

Starcrash
The galaxy is threatened by a secret weapon from a mad dictator – something that projects red blobs into ships! The horror, red doesn’t go with most peoples’ outfits, which drives them mad. Or maybe the red blobs themselves drive the people mad. Whatever the case may be, the galaxy is in danger, so who’re you gonna call? Obviously two random smugglers! Wait, WHAT? It’s Italy, baby!

Starcrash is one of those films that if you love bad movies, you have to watch it. It’s the law. Bad Movie Law. That’s totally a thing. Because Starcrash is freaking awesome! There’s so much to love from every direction of cheese! We got crazy costumes, scantily clad space babes, a ridiculous robot, David Hasselhoff, light sabers, model spaceships (complete with model sprues glued to the outside!), fireworks explosions, blobby weapons, giant titans, dodgy dialogue, traitorous goons, amazing amazons, kooky cave dwellers, a hand-shaped space station, and scene-chewing villains. Mix that together and Starcrash crashes all over the screen with top notch entertainment!
Starcrash
Star Wars that is totally not Star Wars was a brief specialty in a lot of local movie production hot zones. Italy managed to produce more than most, thanks to Italy then being a source of hundreds of cheap films pumped out. While that system was slowly breaking apart, it was still cohesive enough to produce a good amount of science fiction junk that could cash in on Star Wars. Starcrash manages to be 1000% times more 1970s while still being an entertaining film that is a lot more swiftly paced than most of the Italian Star Wars ripoffs (the rest are almost universally long and terrible)
Starcrash
Read more…

Be the first to comment - What do you think?
Posted by Tars Tarkas - June 26, 2017 at 7:00 am

Categories: Movie Reviews   Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Mister Universo (Review)

Mister Universo

aka Mister Universe
Mister Universo
2016
Written by Tizza Covi
Directed by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel

Mister Universo
A pursuit for a lucky charm leads into a quasi-magical realism world with Mister Universo! The last of our SFIFF coverage, this time running over to the San Francisco Alamo Drafthouse for a fun Italian film that I probably wouldn’t have watched on my own if it wasn’t part of a festival and caught my eye in the movie listing. I’m glad it did!

Mister Universo is actually a sort of sequel to 2009’s La Pivellina (Little Girl), Tairo is grown and a lion tamers, now with a quest of his own. Besides the quest we still get an extended view of the family and friends of Tairo as he travels up and down the Italian peninsula, with most people playing themselves (or versions of themselves.) It is a fun slice of life into a culture that there isn’t really much about (except Covi and Frimmel’s other films!)

We begin following Tairo and him preparing for his show, hanging out with his girl Wendy Weber, and generally causing trouble with some of the circus performers he doesn’t like. These arguments have escalated to pranks, and Tairo soon finds all his stuff has gone missing, scattered around the park the circus is staying at. Tairo doesn’t have much and finds many items quickly, but there is one item that has completely disappeared, and it is important to him. An iron bar bent by a strong man when Tairo was a child, his lucky charm that he needs to touch before every performance.

Wendy is way more superstitious than Tairo, she is into charms, fortune tellers, putting candles in streams to remove bad luck/the evil eye. She is a contortionist bends her body in much the same way that the iron bar was bent. Tairo knows her interests and even takes her to one of those hills that goes down but is also going up (if you’ve been to one of them you know what I am talking about) for some neat scenes. He does find plenty of time to good-naturedly harass her little dog, Panico. While Tairo dismisses Wendy’s superstitions as nonsense, he has superstitions of his own and soon is off on a search to find the strongman so he will bend him another bar.

The bar was bent by Arthur Robin, Mr. Universe 1957, the first black Mr. Universe and also called Black Hercules. As far as I can tell he didn’t make any movie appearances. He does eventually appear in Mister Universo, so I guess he did end up in movies after all! Taizo’s journey lets him visit all sorts of relatives, including his parents, grandmother, cousins, brother, and other circus friends. The interactions with the performers and with the circus culture and families are the film, everyone knows everyone in a roundabout way, having worked with them long ago at some earlier job. Taizo’s big cats are aged and obviously overweight, they have health problems just from being so old, and one passed on earlier but there is no money for replacement animals. It’s a totally obvious metaphor for the whole circus industry aging out and fading away. We see it in the family members who have moved out of the circus life and are doing other things. Even Mister Universe himself is a shadow of his former self, though he still looks amazing for his age!

Superstition and reality blend to make Mister Universo an amazing travelogue that shows that there may just be some magic left in the world, but not in the obvious way.
Mister Universo
SFIFF 2017

Read more…

Be the first to comment - What do you think?
Posted by Tars Tarkas - May 4, 2017 at 7:09 am

Categories: Movie Reviews   Tags: , , ,

Maliglutit (Review)

Maliglutit

aka Searchers
Maliglutit (Searchers)
2016
Written by Norman Cohn and Zacharias Kunuk
Directed by Zacharias Kunuk and Natar Ungalaaq

Maliglutit (Searchers)
SFIFF fun continues with my first ever visit to the BAMPFA – Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive – for the Inuktitut-language film Maliglutit! I didn’t have time to enjoy the rest of the museum as I had to grab some lunch and then BART it back to San Francisco to make another film, thus is the life of someone who bought two tickets to movies. Maliglutit is a film by Zacharias Kunuk, this timed joined by Natar Ungalaaq in the director’s chair. It’s inspired by the John Wayne Western The Searchers, but discards much of the racial politics of the plot in favor of an internal setting between different groups of Inuits. But it keeps the basic premise and even the title, though translated (never fear, the English title is helpfully added in parentheses!)

Kuanana (Benjamin Kunuk) returns from hunting with his son Siku (Joseph Uttak) to find that the rest of his family has been killed and his wife and daughter kidnapped. He must go rescue them and stop the people responsible, in what can only end with more people dead. Before the attack, the group is seen hanging out at a local party where they are kicked out for just being leeches in regard to taking food and romancing women while not contributing anything. The attackers are four men who are occasionally called the Kupaks after their leader, Kupak (Joey Sarpinak) The men tire of their lonely scavenger lifestyle and think some wives would be just the thing to make things better, and how else do you get wives than be raiding a peaceful household?

The attack by the Kupak group thought to be a polar bear attack by the family at first, they smash into the igloo through the wall and the scene is shot as if an animalistic attack is happening (which is basically what is happening.) Man is again the apex predator, Kuanana’s parents are beaten (and die later when Kuanana returns home) and his youngest son is killed. The men run with the wife and daughter, but soon realize they are being followed and must set up a confrontation before Kuanana picks them off one by one.

The slow pace of the film fits in with the setting. The beginning scenes have a lot of sitting around watching food cook and making clothes, stories are told, songs are sung, life is as it was. There is a lack of modern conveniences but a limited amount of Western tools such as metal knifes and tea sets and a gun with a few bullets. We also get a nice class on igloo building as some of the characters rapidly put up structures (Kunuk had a crew on standby that would help them make authentic structures, which probably came in handy during the cold weather they had during filming!)

The family asks for help from a spirit to locate the food Kuanana and Siku go out to hunt, and Kuanana calls upon a spirit to help guide him to what is left of his family. The scenes set Maliglutit apart, a new twist on a familiar tale. I’ve seen some people try to label this film as something different from a Western, but it is a Western, it follows all the movie rules of a Western, we just trade horses for dogsleds and a snowy wasteland for a desert. There is no need to divide this into something new, and that potentially limits the audience that might get exposed to it (which would be a crime!) There just isn’t enough native filmmaking, especially native films that are good and can find an audience that might not have watched it otherwise.

Maliglutit fits in perfectly with remix film culture, not just with the Turkish Star Treks but with the Infernal Affairs/The Departeds. It will be something you haven’t seen before while being just familiar enough to want to see who it plays out.
Maliglutit (Searchers)

SFIFF 2017

Read more…

Be the first to comment - What do you think?
Posted by Tars Tarkas - May 3, 2017 at 7:02 am

Categories: Movie Reviews   Tags: , , ,

Headshot (2016 – Review)

Headshot

Headshot
2016
Written by Timo Tjahjanto
Directed by Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto

Headshot
A late night screening at the Roxie let me see martial arts film Headshot, it’s got Iko Uwais, Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman!!!) and Hammer Girl herself, Julie Estelle! There are some other martial stars and a whole slew of fight scenes that keeps things entertaining even when part of the plot threatens to snatch that away.

The world of Headshot is a world where it takes dozens of bullets to kill someone, leading to many many scenes where characters are basically emptying clips from their machine guns into people before they finally die. It gets a little ridiculous. Okay, it gets very ridiculous. Insanely ridiculous. I had to assume it takes place in a universe where bullets only hurt as much as a bee sting or something. The violence and gore helps paint Headshot as more of a martial horror movie, it even opens in a filthy prison where dozens of characters machine gun each other down, only seemingly collapsing from the weight of the shear volume of bullets they pump into each others bodies.

Even the plot is set in motion because Iko Uwais was shot in the head and didn’t die, washing up in a coma on the beach and awakening in the hospital weeks later with amnesia. He’s then dubbed Ishmael by the local incredibly young Dr. Ailin (Chelsea Islan), who is infatuated with him and reading Moby Dick at the time. Any further parallel to Moby Dick is accidental beyond Ishmael’s determination to stop the villain Lee sort of like how Ahab was obsessed, but not in a self-destructive way that gets everyone dead, only a bunch of random innocent people. We know from Steven Seagal movies that coma victims are irresistibly attractive to women, so she couldn’t help it.

Ishmael wakes up, remembers nothing, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t still looking for him (or the former him, who was named Abdi), and soon Ishmael is violently getting his memory back and has to save the now kidnapped Dr. Ailin by punching and kicking his way through the army of villains. The main thing we are here for is the fights, to see Iko Uwais beat the snot out of people, and there is plenty of beating! The fight sequences are fantastic, and while they don’t measure to the top tier stuff from The Raid or the sequel, they are still worth your time, even if the rest of the plot is about as bad as The Raid 2‘s boring gangster drama.

The fight with Very Tri Yulisman is the best in the film, and they save it towards the end. Earlier fights have mixes of martial arts and gunplay (a fight in a police station seems to reference a scene in Die Hard before going in a completely different direction) A fight on a bus full of murdered people while goons are trying to burn it and all the evidence on it (and hopefully Ishmael as well) is a good highlight, the increasing danger as the fight progresses does a good job of building suspense while still giving plenty of nice fight choreography and brutal hits.

The boss villain Lee (Sunny Pang) gets several scenes that all do the same job of showing how he’s just an evil force of nature. His prison escape (from which he purposefully got himself captured just so he could escape?), his taking over of local drug gangs by killing anyone who dares resist him, and his history of kidnapping children after he raids villages, raising the children to be killers that he later uses as enforcers. As most of these kids are now in their mid-20s, this is like 20 years of investment into a bunch of powerful soldiers, all of which he sends against Ishmael in slow trickles so they can be defeated. Lee is more of a collection of villain tropes than an actual villain or even an evil father figure. They try to touch on the bad father figure part, but only spend a limited amount of time with, most of which is divorced from affecting Ishmael directly and instead hits Julie Estelle’s character more than anything in explaining why she won’t leave with Ishmael.

For Headshot you need to come for the fighting and wait for the next fighting. Luckily things start going by at a fast pace after the plot gets started, but it would be nice to once again recommend one of these Indonesian action films for the plot in addition to the fighting. I just want more, and I’m not going to settle for less.
Headshot

SFIFF 2017

Read more…

Be the first to comment - What do you think?
Posted by Tars Tarkas - May 2, 2017 at 7:54 am

Categories: Movie Reviews   Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Mrs K (Review)

Mrs K

Mrs K
2016
Written by Chan Wai-Keung and Ho Yuhang
Directed by Ho Yuhang

Mrs K
Kara Hui headlines another action flick with Mrs K, the star of My Young Auntie and The Inspector Wears Skirts series returns to her action roots for what is rumored to be her farewell film performance. A delivery boy brings an oversized basket filled with food to a large house in a gated community. Inside, the homemaker (Kara Hui) is bringing out a fresh batch of buns from the oven. But the delivery boy brandishes a gun, while his partner starts rummaging through the house, demanding the valuables. The housewife smiles, grabs the gun and starts smacking the delivery boy, and shooting his accomplice in the crotch with the pellet gun. She admonishes them for being so sloppy and not even having a real gun, while the delivery boy lets loose that his pregnant girlfriend is at her husband’s doctor’s office. She lets them go with a warning (and a taste of her cooking), but the accomplice isn’t done yet and makes plans to return with a weapon. But she’s already called security on them, and watches from the video feed as the guards beat and arrest them.

Mrs. K isn’t your typical housewife. She has a rich husband (Wu Bai), a daughter (Li Xuan Siow), and looks the part, but she has a past with a lot of shade, and that’s going to catch up with her real soon. But from the introductory sequence we know she’s not someone to be taken lightly and she knows her way around weapons. It’s going to take someone with a real reason to want to mess with her, and that person exists.

Macau had a casino robbery years ago, most of the plotters escaped with the money, but their inside man (Simon Yam Tat-Wah) tried to turn on them, and she shot him. Only problem was, he wasn’t shot dead, and now he’s back and very angry. Mrs K herself is first harassed by a nosy ex-cop who managed to track her down, but she turns the tables on his attempts at blackmail. What he did end up doing is lead Simon Yam’s character right to her. One quick sequence later, and her daughter is kidnapped, her husband is in the hospital, and Mrs. K is desperate to get her back, woe to anyone who gets in her way.

Mrs K doesn’t do the straight-forward female lead driven action, part of the running time is devoted to her daughter’s attempts to escape from the villains (which she does often enough thanks to bumbling co-conspirators) and her husband’s attempts to recover enough to provide help. This keeps things from becoming Mrs. K running through a gauntlet of goons, but also seems to make the film lose focus. Mrs. K had such a good introductory scene we just want more of her and less of anyone else.

Mrs K is best when it is throwing us into the thick of some rough action sequences, and there isn’t enough of them for my taste, but what we do get works and works well. The action scenes are the meat, and they deliver with some nice desperate fighting between aging heroes and villains, at times you can see on her face that Mrs K knows that some of the jumps and falls are going to be painful but must endure them to save her daughter. Characters get hurt, and their being hurt follows them throughout the movie. They are getting old and tired, but continue to fight because they must, to save their family or to enact their revenge.
Mrs K
Director Ho Yuhang is obviously a fan of Quentin Tarantino, beyond the film superficially resembling Kill Bill, it is peppered with soundtracks from Westerns. There are some nice shots such as a POV while a head is in a vice or the silhouetted killer standing off in the distance, but Ho doesn’t get too creative with shots and that ends up making the better ones stand out more than they should. The opening sequence where the fellow co-conspirators are all slaughtered is and interesting introduction, but at that point we are to confused as to who the people are and why we would care. Oddly enough, the characters are more developed in death when they appear to Mrs K as an hallucination. Fans of Hong Kong style action will enjoy Mrs K, but if you are looking for something greater, you should probably keep looking.

SFIFF 2017

Read more…

Be the first to comment - What do you think?
Posted by Tars Tarkas - May 1, 2017 at 7:01 am

Categories: Movie Reviews   Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Next Page »

%d bloggers like this: