Tag Archives: fighting

Con Air – Review

17 Oct

When I think of the first R-rated movies I ever saw, my mind goes to the same two. The first that comes to mind is Gladiator and the second is Con Air. Two very different movies, yet they both have a special spot in the heart of this overly sentimental film geek. I actually haven’t seen Con Air in a really long time, so I had this fear that it would be nowhere near as great as I remember it being. So, I put it on and hoped for the best. What I got isn’t nearly as spectacular as I remembered it being, but it’s certainly an acceptable and memorable action fest that could’ve used a few more brain cells amongst other things.

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Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) has just finished serving his country as an Army Ranger and is celebrating his return with his wife, Tricia (Monica Potter). That night, Poe gets into a fight with a couple of bar patrons and accidentally kills one of them in self defense. Because of his extensive military training, he is deemed a human weapon and sentenced to 8 years in prison for manslaughter. After quietly serving his time in prison, he’s finally paroled and ready to be reunited with his wife and his daughter whom he has never met. Poe, along with some other inmates getting transferred board the transport plane, which doesn’t get too far until it is high jacked by the psychotic criminal Cyrus the Virus (John Malkovich) and his crew. With U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack) fighting on the ground to get the plane back, Poe is left to his own devices on the plane to stop Cyrus from using the plane to gain his own freedom, while also staying alive long enough to get home and see his family.

Like I said, I have very fond memories of watching this movie when I was younger, and while it still has some elements of being a guilty pleasure, I’ve noticed a lot of weird things that I really dislike about it. Before we get to them, I’d like to something I really like about the movie. The cast of Con Air is fantastic. Other than the names I’ve already mentioned there’s also Danny Trejo, Dave Chapelle, Colm Meaney, Ving Rhames, and Steve Buscemi. All of these actors do a fine job in their roles, with Buscemi bringing a really creepy performance as a Jeffrey Dahmer like serial killer that has disturbed me ever since I first saw this movie. The real scene stealer, though, is John Malkovich as Cyrus. Cyrus the Virus has remained one of my favorite screen villains, and this viewing of the movie still holds that opinion to be true. He just oozes with over the top villainy, and it’s so easy and fun to hate this character. I honestly feel like Malkovich is the only person that could’ve played this role, which is odd because it feels so out of place from what he usually does.

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So while the majority of the cast is really fantastic, there are parts of this movie that are so distractingly terrible, they pull me out of the movie and makes me think twice about what I’m watching. For one thing, I can’t get into Nicolas Cage’s character even though he’s the hero of the movie. There are scenes of his ridiculous long hair blowing in the wind and some really awful lines of dialogue that are so bad, it almost isn’t even funny. But I really can’t totally fault Nicolas Cage for this. Despite what many people think, Cage is a fine actor and has proven so in the past. Con Air isn’t quite a shining point in his filmography. I’d much rather blame the writers for most of the cringe inducing moments. Let’s just say that Con Air is one of those movies that you can only show to the closest of friends in order to save yourself massive amounts of embarrassment, solely because of all the awkwardness and corny dialogue.

Honestly, that one paragraph doesn’t really do justice to the amount of negativity that I would have towards this movie if it wasn’t for some really badass action sequences. The fact that a lot of this movie takes place on a plane is enough for plenty of set pieces, but there’s great sequences on the ground as well. Add in an element of time sensitivity, and you got yourself some suspense filled and memorable action scenes. There’s plenty of explosions and gunplay, but what really makes these parts so great are the maniacal villains and their psychopathic nature. There’s plenty of stand out scenes, and it’s funny to say that Con Air was nominated for an Academy Award for its sound design. It’s an example of really well constructed moments of mayhem, and these parts save the movie from being a complete flop.

The bottom line is that Con Air didn’t hold up quite as well as it did when I was a kid. I remember all of the characters and the action to their full potential, but I simply didn’t realize how awful some of the writing was. Now that I have more experience with film and how real people talk in real life, I know awful writing when I hear it, and this film is filled with it. As an action movie, it’s memorable for many different reasons, and it’s arguably a good escape from the real world. Objectively, however, it’s got so much going against it that the whole experience can feel kind of awkward.

Final Grade: C+

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Unleashed – Review

16 Jun

I’ve talked about Luc Besson quite a bit in these reviews, and that’s because he’s a powerhouse when it comes to the action genre. Not only can he direct a great action film, but he has written some modern action classics. People may have seen more of his movies than they even thought. Today, I’m going to be looking at the 2005 film, Unleashed, which was written by Besson and directed by Louis Leterrier, who is known for his work on The Transporter (also written by Besson) and more recently on the Now You See Me films. Unleashed marks a high point in Jet Li’s career as well as this is widely regarded as his best English language film. Could it be possible that it actually is? Well I say it just might be.

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Deep in the pits of the underground crime world of the United Kingdom, there lies a small cage in a warehouse that is inhabited by Danny (Jet Li), who as a young boy witnessed his mother being murdered only to be picked up and “raised” by a small time gangster named Bart (Bob Hoskins). Throughout his life, Danny is trained to be a human attack dog, implementing brutal martial arts to beat on whoever Bart commands. After an attack on Bart’s life, Danny escapes and finds his way to Sam (Morgan Freeman), a blind piano player, and his musician step daughter Victoria (Kerry Condon). The trio soon becomes a close knit family, with Danny learning more and more how to be a part of society, but Bart is still alive and well and wants his attack dog back. This forces Danny to stand up for both himself and his new family and rid himself from Bart and his goons once and for all.

First and foremost, this is an action film, and a very good one at that. Jet Li is known for his highly choreographed, flawless martial art performances, which makes Unleashed stand out. The whole point of Danny’s character is that he’s raised as some street fighting attack dog, which means that he fights like some sort of rabid animal. This makes for some vicious action sequences that made me cringe more than a few times thanks to some nasty sound effects. People don’t just get hit, they get completely obliterated in a barrage of fists that would make even the most skilled of fighters think about what they are doing with their lives. A lot of this has to do with the incredible fight choreography by Yuen Wo Ping, who worked as choreographer on The Matrix and Kill Bill.

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So while Unleashed exceeds expectations in terms of its action, there’s also a lot of heart. After a gleefully violent first act, there’s a break of about 25 minutes to a half hour where the action completely comes to a stop. Normally, I’d say that this would be where you can go get a snack because it completely disrupts the pacing. The crazy thing is that it doesn’t disrupt anything. In fact it adds a hefty layer of character and succeeds in turning otherwise throw away characters into people that you absolutely need to see win over the bad guys. Anything else would be completely unacceptable since you grow to love these characters so much. I wasn’t expecting this from this film, but it sure was a pleasant surprise.

It’s also worthwhile to talk about the performances in Unleashed, because like everything else, they offer a lot more than you might expect. First of all, Jet Li completely goes in a different direction with his performances of Danny. Unlike his normal heroic performances, Li plays an incredibly damaged individual who has a lot to learn about himself and life, and he plays it very convincingly. Morgan Freeman and Kerry Condon are good as the people who welcome Danny into their lives, but the real performance powerhouse is brought forth by Bob Hoskins. Hoskins was a fantastic actor, and I never really hear his name come up in relation to this movie. He seems to be having the time of his life playing the villainous Bart, who is one of the easiest villains to hate that I’ve seen in a while. He absolutely knocks it out of the park in this movie.

Unleashed is an action movie that stands above the average films in this genre. It has bone crunching action, but it also has a lot of heart and some excellent performances for some really great characters. When a movie like this really makes you care about the people and what may happen to them, you know you’ve found your way to something special. Isn’t that what movies are all about? Losing yourself in a story with great characters and real emotion. It also helps the Jet Li kicks major ass. This is one hell of a good movie.

The City of Violence – Review

21 Apr

Sometimes it’s great to sit down and watch a movie that really challenges me. A movie that has complex art design and intricate storytelling that weaves in many thematic and moral questions while telling a story that’s wholly original and moving. Then there’s times where I want to sit down, switch my brain off, and just take a ride. That’s exactly what I wanted with The City of Violence and that’s exactly what I got. This movie isn’t difficult or all that original, but it is a whole lot of fun, but it could definitely have used a little bit more work in the story and character department.

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When ex-gangster Wang-jae (Ahn Gil-kang) is murdered, three of his closest friends are reunited in their hometown for the funeral. Tae-su (Jung Doo-hong) is a cop from Seoul known for his controversial no nonsense attitude, Pil-ho (Lee Beom-soo) is the gangster that took over Wang-jae’s place, and Seok-hwan (played by director Ryoo Seung-wan) is the youngest of the three working as a debt collector. Tae-su and Seok-hwan are both hell bent on getting revenge for the murder of their friend and soon find themselves working together, turning the city upside down and blood red to find who are responsible. When it becomes evident that Pil-ho had something to do with the murder, the two investigators engage in a head on collision with one of their closest childhood friends.

So, really there isn’t too much to The City of Violence. It’s a pretty standard revenge movie, but definitely has some elements that make it memorable along with some problems as well. For one thing, it is extremely generic, and while that isn’t a huge detraction, it is worth mentioning. Another problem is that the movie didn’t have any sense of time or character development. Time seemed to move without cluing me in to how much time has passed or where I was. The characters are also incredibly bland. Like, blaaaaand. Not only that, but they also don’t develop at all. They are exactly how they were at the beginning of the movie, save for a few minor changes. For a story about revenge, I didn’t feel a strong sense of motivation coming from the characters. Things seemed to just be happening.

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What I can say about this movie is that the action is fantastic. There are points where it felt like I was watching a video game, as many of the best martial arts movies make me feel. Seeing two guys throw down with an entire crowd of bad guys is just entertaining to watch. One scene that takes place in an alley with a whole bunch of different gangs is particularly memorable, especially since one of the gangs is based off of the Baseball Furies from The Warriors. There is so much destruction, both physically and environmentally, in every fight that it made each extended sequence feel exciting.

Another problem I have with this movie actually happened after I was done the movie. Yes, the movie has a good bad guy and exciting fight sequences, but there’s a lot of the movie that I don’t really remember too vividly because it isn’t anything special. As I’ve been thinking more and more about this movie, the less and less I really enjoy it. Part of the fun of watching a movie is the way that it makes you feel and think afterwards. Points go to a movie that makes me excited to talk about it and share it, but I don’t feel that way with The City of Violence. It’s more of a movie that you watch but then don’t really have anything to say about it in the days to come, which hurts a movie just as much as poor writing or acting.

The City of Violence isn’t a bad movie, in fact it’s a pretty good one. While I was watching it, I was really involved with what I was watching because it moved so fast and had great action sequences and characters that I recognized. What made it less enjoyable is the lack of development the story and the characters go through. Like I said before, things seem to just be happening. There’s plenty of style to enjoy, but sometimes that even becomes a bit too much. For martial arts fans, it’s definitely one to check out at least once, but I don’t think it’s going to be one that sticks with you forever.

Ip Man and Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster – Review

29 Nov

Nowadays, there seems to be a new movie about Ip Man coming out every year. With Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster and Herman Yau’s Ip Man: The Final Fight, people just can’t seem to get enough of the legend of the iconic wing chun grandmaster who went on to mentor Bruce Lee. Before all of these movies, though, Wilson Yip made Ip Man, which was a huge success with both critics and audiences. Before the first film was even released, a sequel was planned and in 2010 Ip Man 2 was released. While the second doesn’t quite reach the greatness of the first, both of these films will go down as two of the greatest martial arts movies ever made.

First, let’s look at the 2008 film that started it off.

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In the city of Foshan during the 1930s, legendary martial arts schools keep the city running and even attracts students and competitors all over China. The man known the most through all of the city, though, isn’t even a teacher, but instead a grandmaster of the wing chun style of martial arts. This man is Ip Man (Donnie Yen), who spends his days practicing and sparring masters of Foshan. As time passes on, the Japanese violently invade China during the Sino-Japanese War, and Ip Man is forced to see his friends and neighbors brutalized and starved by the Japanese. One Japanese general, Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), begins challenging the Chinese martial artists to fight him to prove his Japanese fighting style is far superior. Ip Man bravely rises to the challenge, risking his life to give new breath to the Chinese spirit and respect for their art.

Ip Man is more than just a simple martial arts movie. It’s a movie about the honor and respect of the Chinese. Some of the most powerful scenes of the movie don’t even include action, but more so examples of how to live and treat others with Ip Man being the prime example. While this movie isn’t really historically accurate, it uses the legend of who Ip Man was to get a message across. This never would have worked if Donnie Yen wasn’t completely dedicated to the role. Luckily he’s not only just a fantastic martial artist, he’s also a very talented actor who is able to deeply understand the roles that are given to him.

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But let’s be real. One of the reasons people are so into Ip Man are the brilliantly choreographed and executed martial arts action sequences, and there are plenty to really marvel at. What’s great is that Wilson Yip and action choreographer Sammo Hung really emphasize the different techniques utilized in the different fighting styles. Ip Man’s way of fighting is a lot different than Miura’s, which makes the climactic fight all the more exciting. To get away from really analyzing the movie, the action scenes are just really freakin’ cool. The punches seem like they can be heard a mile away and the aftermaths are always shown in vivid detail. It’s a dream come true in terms of martial arts movies.

Ip Man is one of the better martial arts movies I’ve ever seen, but it also works really well as a drama and historical picture. Wilson Yip seamlessly blends these genres together while Donnie Yen completely kills it as Ip Man. It’s just a fantastic movie, even if it is far fetched and historically inaccurate.

In 2010, the sequel to this smash hit was released and received a wider audience than its predecessor. That movie is Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster.

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Jumping ahead to the 1950s, Ip Man and his family have relocated to Hong Kong so that Ip Man can teach the wing chun style to any who are willing to learn. At first, business seems to be lacking, but he soon finds students. This angers another master working in the city, Hung Chun-nam (Sammo Hung), who is part of a guild of masters. Ip Man soon earns his place among the other teachers, but refuses to pay the fee to remain teaching. The fee is actually used to pay the corrupt British police superintendent (Charles Mayer), who is planning on hosting a boxing match featuring Britain’s number one fighter, Twister (Darren Shahlavi). When Twister insults the Chinese people and even goes so far as beating one to death, Ip Man  challenges the foreigner to a fight, which may prove to be Ip Man’s most deadliest confrontation yet.

Right off the bat, Ip Man 2 feels a lot different, but also very similar to its predecessor. The Sino-Japanese War is no longer happening, so we don’t really have that drama going on anymore. This one is actually very similar to Rocky IV, where Rocky challenges Ivan Drago, a Soviet, to restore faith to the Americans. Ip Man challenges Twister for almost the same exact reasons. This entry is also a lot heavier on the action than the original, which certainly isn’t a bad thing. Still, the story feels a little off kilter and undirected a points, like Ip Man 2 is a combination of a few different movies. But don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy this movie.

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What this movie does have that the first one didn’t is a much stronger villain. It’s so easy and fun to hate Twister, and so satisfying when Ip Man finally steps in the ring with him. Much like the first one, Ip Man 2 focuses a lot on the differences between the ways of fighting, in this case the differences between eastern martial arts and western boxing. It’s a cool combination that makes for a very interesting and intense fight. Even the other scenes where Ip Man takes on multiples people with his superior knowledge of wing chun is awesome. Again, every punch can be heard and every breaking bone is highlighted in excruciating detail. It’s almost too much fun.

Ip Man 2 doesn’t quite reach the level of greatness as the first one, but it’s still a superior martial arts movie. Donnie Yen kills it once again as Ip Man, showing his talent both in fighting and acting. A great addition to the cast is Sammo Hung, himself, who also did the choreography for both films. This movie is essential for any fan of the first film, and pretty much just any fan of the martial arts genre.

All in all, these aren’t movies to be missed. I recently saw The Grandmaster, and while it was a really cool movie, it didn’t quite hook me as much as the Ip Man films did. These movies pack a punch in both action and drama, while creating a legendary view of the actual Ip Man. As I said before, these movies aren’t historically accurate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t love them for what they are.

The Man with the Iron Fists – Review

17 Mar

The Wu-Tang Clan are best known as being one of the most influential and popular rap groups of all time. They also had a huge part in an underground revival of kung fu films, taking unknown trash and re-releasing them on video under their own names. That being said, it seems only appropriate that RZA, a member of the group, direct an homage to these “beloved” kung fu films of the past. With the help of Eli Roth, a script was written and a film was made.

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In feudal China, clan leader Gold Lion is charged with delivering the Emperor’s gold to awaiting soldiers. The gold never arrives, however, since Gold Lion’s lieutenants Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and Bronze Lion (Cung Le) betray and assassinate him. Now in possession of the gold, there are other parties moving into Jungle Village to claim it for themselves. These parties include a rogue soldier Jack Knife (Russell Crowe)and a madame of a brothel, Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu). Finally, a Blacksmith (RZA) is caught in the middle of it all, and takes it upon himself to defend the village and the woman he loves, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung).

Personally, I think kung fu is a pretty cool genre when done correctly. I really like Wuxia films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and HeroThe Man with the Iron Fists take these two styles and blends them pretty well. It has the cheese of Kung Fu and the wire work of Wuxia. What’s not to like? Well, believe it or not, a lot of stuff. This is a really sloppy movie both in the way the story is told, the editing, and the effects. I had much higher expectations for this movie and have not felt so disappointed in a film in a long, long time.

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I do feel a great sense of appreciation by RZA and fellow writer Eli Roth. All of the tropes and cliches of the genre are there from the gold worth dying for, the over the top violence, and the cheesy dialogue. I recognize all of these, but it really doesn’t save the movie. The most distracting thing here is the acting. Pretty much all of the actors do subpar jobs, which I feel has a lot to do with the writing. I understand that Kung Fu films aren’t supposed to have the best dialogue, but some of this stuff is so derivative and corny that it’s painful to listen to. Thank goodness Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu have scenes to balance it a little bit. Crowe delivers his lines like a champ and Liu relishes the silly dialogue she has been given and provides a wonderfully over the top performance.

I will give massive props to the production design. The brothel, the Pink Blossom, looks awesome. It is bright and, as the name would suggest, very pink. I think that’s a pretty bold move to have a completely pink set in such a violent film, but hey, it works great. The costumes are also really nice looking. The only problem with the look of the film is some of the special effects. One character turns completely into brass when struck, and that looks so cool. There are some quick special effects shots, such as a bell shattering, that have such cool potential but look so fake it’s annoying. I can’t say it enough, I know I shouldn’t over think this movie, but when things are so bad it’s distracting, I have to say something.

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The action does look pretty cool sometimes, and I’ll go so far as to say there are some really, really awesome shots of crazy gore and slow motion goodness. Unfortunately, the pacing of the movie is absolutely dreadful. There is a huge chunk in the middle of the movie where the pacing changes so abruptly from fast moving to not moving that it’s jarring. My attention felt like it was literally thrown out the window. It got so boring. When it eventually did pick up again, I already lost so much interest in the movie that I didn’t really care about what I was watching.

As much as it pains me to say this, I didn’t like this movie too much. Out of almost two hours, I only really like twenty minutes worth. The rest is completely forgettable. The characters are dull, the acting is horrible (save for Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu), and the action scenes were pretty sloppy and suffered from some weird editing issues. I expected a lot more from The Man with the Iron Fists, but instead, I feel completely let down.