Tag Archives: legend

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – Review

15 May

Guy Ritchie is one of my favorite film makers of all time, and more often than not I envy the skill that he has when it comes to crafting an entertaining film. Snatch is quite possibly my favorite movie, but there’s so much else to love in his filmography. His newest film, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, is not somewhere that I expected his career to go, but I learned he was making this movie close to a year and a half ago, and I’ve been excited ever since. That puts a lot of pressure on this movie with all that time to build up my expectations, and when I do that, it hurts all the more when they come crashing down. Well, I really can’t say I’m disappointed at all. This movie is no masterpiece, nor is it Ritchie’s crowning achievement. What it is, however, is a classic myth seen through the eyes of Guy Ritchie, which means there’s plenty of action, frenetic camera work and editing, and a tongue in cheek bad attitude that makes for some fun beginning of the summer blockbuster season entertainment.

After defeating the evil warlock Mordred from invading Camelot, King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) is betrayed by his brother, Vortigen (Jude Law), who starts a rebellion and soon wins the throne. The only Pendragon survivor is a young Arthur who grows up on the streets of Londinium unaware of his true lineage. When Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) has grown, the mysterious sword in the stone, Excalibur, is reappears which causes alarm to Vortigen, since whoever removes the sword is the true king. Vortigen soon weeds out Arthur, but Arthur is quickly saved from execution by Sir Bedivere (Djimon Honsou), Goosefat (Aiden Gillen), and a Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey). Together with these disgraced knights and servants of Uther, Arthur joins the rebellion against Vortigen, but must also learn how to wield the power of Excalibur to even come close to standing a chance against the magically corrupted evil king and his army.

It seems that Guy Ritchie has comfortably taken on the task of being the film maker that takes classic stories and reworks them into modern, brawling stories filled with action and absurd moments of cinematic trickery. He did it with Sherlock Holmes and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and now he’s done it with Arthurian legends. This isn’t the classic King Arthur you’ve come to know through the various stories and movies and television shows. This Arthur is a streetwise brawler with a strong sense of morality, and not so much a regal leader riding into battle with his knights in shining armor. I can’t proclaim to know much about Arthurian legend, but I’m comfortable saying this is a very different retelling. I, personally, love this direction and would love to see more of these legends brought to life by Ritchie.

Part of why I love Ritchie’s work so much is the high energy he always brings to his movies, and that’s where King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is unfortunately lacking. While his other movies show crazy displays of editing and directing in many different ways, this one felt a little bit tamer. The montage of Arthur growing up set the stage very well and the few scenes after that kept the energy going, but as the world building set in, so did the slow down in the energy. The only time it really picked up again, other than a few noteworthy shots, is whenever Arthur successfully wielded Excalibur. Now, when those scenes happen, I was floored. It’s cinematic wizardry that can be explained through computer generated effects, but what’s impressive is Ritchie’s eye for movement and how he choreographed and laid out these scenes. I just wish more of the action could have had the same visual flair as those Excalibur scenes. There also wasn’t the energy in the writing either. There were funny quips and rough and tough attitude, but there weren’t any lines that really stand out as being memorable and a lot of the dialogue was pretty run of the mill.

I never thought I’d say this, but Charlie Hunnam was a perfect choice to play Arthur. I love imagining scenarios where certain things are turned into movies, and who I would cast in it, and I never would have thought of Hunnam for Arthur. Fortunately, I was wrong. Now, I will say I’m not sure how well he’d work in a more classic representation of the character, but for this tough talking Arthur, he was spot on. I also have to give props to Jude Law as Vortigen. He has this way of portraying scumbag villains really well, with a shining example being his role in Road to Perdition. In this film, however, he becomes worse as the movie continues, and while humanity can be seen in him at times, he truly is an evil bastard in this movie, and it’s so much fun to hate his guts. The rest of the cast is good, with Honsou also standing out as Bedivere, but the real memorable performances are by Hunnam and Law.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is not a perfect movie, and it’s flaws become very clear as the movie goes on. It has some lackluster dialogue and doesn’t quite match the energy of Ritchie’s other films. That being said, when it does decide to pick up, it nearly explodes off the screen. This take of King Arthur is admittedly different from the classic legends, but the differences make it feel fresh. This may not be a movie that should be analyzed or thought about too heavily, but it is a really great way to spend a couple of hours and stands strong as an entertaining summer blockbuster.

Final Grade: B

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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.

Ran – Review

5 Aug

Akira Kurosawa is a cinema god. I say that without any hesitation. Seven SamuraiYojimbo, and Drunken Angel are just a few of his outstanding films that make up his filmography. Many consider his last masterpiece to be his last historic epic, Ran. Set during the 1600s and based partially on William Shakespeare’s King Lear and legends of the daimyō Mori Motonari, Ran is a spectacle to look at and also stands strong as a powerful and deep family drama.

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Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) is an old, powerful warlord who used excessive violence and brutality to achieve his position. At age 70, he decides to step down and give all of his power and castles to his three sons: Taro (Akira Terao), Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu), and Saburo (Daisuke Ryû). Saburo declines the offer and warns his father of the mistake he is making, but is banished by Hidetora. Saburo’s prediction come true, however, and the two remaining sons betray Hidetora and fight for power over the entire kingdom which drives Hidetora to insanity. While all of this is happening, Lady Kaede (Mieko Harada), whose family was slaughtered by Hidetora, is quietly pulling strings to ensure the collapse of the Ichimonji clan.

As you can see from this summary, the story and characters are very reminiscent of a Shakespearean tragedy. There is much family turmoil and violence, which results in a much larger scale of bloodshed. That’s really what this movie is about, in my opinion: the personal and the chaotic. This family is so powerful, and their warriors so loyal, that they will march into battle and kill who they have to in order for the person they serve under can achieve whatever selfish gain they desire. This begs the question: How far should loyalty really go? This is answered by some characters in this movie who let their moral compass really guide them in the right direction.

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Color is a very important part of Ran, and definitely gives the film the look of some sort of moving Expressionist painting. Interestingly enough, Kurowsawa spent two years storyboarding exactly how he wanted scenes to look. By storyboarding, I mean that he painted scenes, complete with vibrant colors, just so he could get the look of the film exactly right. Amongst other huge problems that he faced during the shooting of the movie, one being the death of his wife, he was also losing his eye sight and had to have people frame the shots based exactly on what he had painted. Anything to get the film done the way he needed it to be done.

The acting in this movie is just as interesting as the visuals. Tatsuya Nakadai is brilliant as Hidetora. Absolutely brilliant. His facial expressions and exceptional physical acting really sells the decline of his mental health over the course of the film. The other actor who really stands out to me is Meiko Harada and her performance as Lady Kaede. While you can’t call her a “villain”, per se, she does act as the main antagonist to the Ichimonji clan. She is beautiful, yet the lack of eye brows makes her look odd. Underneath this odd beauty is a thunderstorm of restless determination that really breaks through in certain scenes. She is a blast to watch.

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Ran is an iconic masterpiece of Kurosawa’s that has proved that he is a master, especially at the age he made the film (well into his 70s). Death of loved ones and poor eyesight were not going to stop him from getting his vision made, and thank your lucky stars it did. This is not only visually beautiful, but soulfully, even though it shows the heinous side of humanity, their thrust for power, and the chaos that comes with it. To anyone who doesn’t mind a lengthy movie, owe it to yourself not to miss Ran.

Goemon – Review

2 Apr

I like to think that Asian cinema has far surpasses America. We’ve seemed to have lost all of our creativity, and feel perfectly content churning out remakes, reboots, and adaptations. It was refreshing to see the originality that complimented Goemon, a visually beautiful treat. Unfortunately, once you get past how nice everything looks, there is a supremely sloppy film that made even our constant reboots that accomplish their storytelling seem much more appealing.

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Goemon (Yôsuke Eguchi) is what you would consider a Japanese Robin Hood. After seeing his mentor and ruler of Japan, Lord Nobunaga (Hashinosukè Nakamura) assassinated, Goemon ends his education to become a samurai and turns to thievery. He soon becomes what he considers “the greatest thief in the world” and gives most, if not all, of his loot to the poor. One particular job uncovers a secret about the assassination of Lord Nobunaga, revealing that the present leader of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Eiji Okuda), is responsible. Now, Goemon vows revenge with the blood of Hideyoshi and to save his lost love, Princess Chacha (Ryōko Hirosue).

Style over substance. There isn’t a better phrase that can be used to describe this movie. Right when I put it on, and the first scene played, I knew that I was in for an outstanding visual experience, and I certainly was. From the first scene to the last, I was completely taken in by the heavily CGI backgrounds. It was cartoonish, but somehow other-worldly. It reminded me almost of a live action anime, which the director Kazuaki Kiriya’s last film, Casshernwas. So, yes, visually this movie is phenomenal. One scene in particular that takes place on a burning boat is especially enticing and can not be shrugged off.

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Are video games any good if the graphics look great but the gameplay is terrible? Is it fun listening to a well produced album if the music isn’t any good? In that same regard, is it worthwhile to sit through two hours of a movie that looks nice but has such a sloppy plot that it takes a really long time just to settle into it? No, it’s really not. When Goemon first started, I was really into the visuals and was ready to see where the story was going to take me. After the first 20 minutes, I still didn’t feel like it was taking me anywhere. Nor did I feel that way after 45 minutes. It took until the last half of the movie before things finally got interesting. This interest didn’t even last too long, and it didn’t help that the movie felt 15 minutes too long. Yes, it suffers from Return of the King Syndrome.

There’s really no redeeming qualities to any of the characters, either. I’ve seen all of these people before in many other different movies. This just adds to the continuing list of clichés that this movie has created. I called pretty much what the ending was and where each character would physically and mentally be by the end of the movie. I guess this is the big problem with this movie. Other than the visuals, it sticks so close to a mediocre story arc that is seen in a lot of modern films. I was hoping for a lot more from the story than this movie offers.

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In the end, Goemon is a very disappointing movie. It’s a two hour long formula, not a two hour long narrative. The only thing that manages to keep the film interesting is its incredible visuals. The story is flat and the characters are boring. To compare it to a movie with a similar problem, one only needs to look at Avatar The difference is that Avatar‘s visuals creates an entirely new world while Goemon only offers something pretty to look at. See it once for its effects, but a second viewing is far from necessary. Strictly mediocre glitter.