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A “reverse re-make,” Kim Ji-woon comes over from South Korea and directs “The Last Stand” the 2013 action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. What the hell happened here? Part 1 of 2.

As many of you know, we here at JPFmovies have been bitching about the bankruptcy of American cinema for some time now.  Holly Wood’s creative impoverishment is seen the trend that American studios and directors are now copying (or to use the polite term “re-making”) South Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Asian films in general instead of producing their own original films.  Cases in point include: Spike Lee’s “re-making” the gritty South Korean film Old Boy (2003) (due sometime this year); Universal Studio’s and Keanu Reeves (based in all accounts) butchering of the Japanese classic tale of The 47 Ronin (due Xmas 2013); The Grudge (2004) a remake of the Japanese film Ju-on (2002); The Ring (2002) a remake of the Japanese film Ringu (1998); The Lake House (2006) with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves (again) a remake of the South Korean film Il Mare (2000); Martin Scorsese’s crime thriller The Departed (2006) which won an Academy Award for Best Picture is a remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs (2002) (a far better movie); and The Hunger Games (2012) a rip-off of Battle Royale (2000), a Japanese film/novel that came out over ten years earlier.  The list does not even include films like The Seven Samurai (1954) made by the “Emperor” Akira Kurosawa.

However The Last Stand (2013) goes against the grain.  How could Kim Ji-woon, director of the outstanding film A Bittersweet Life (2005), make the wretched, rigidly formulaic The Last Stand?  I am pretty sure that part of the problem was Kim Jee-Woon and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s what we shall term a failure to communicate.  They literally could not speak each other’s language, relying on translators because Kim can’t speak English and Schwarzenegger’s heavy Teutonic accent.  Another explanation is that Holly Wood has become so devoid of ability that it actually sucks the talent out of people who have it.  When Kim’s plane landed in Los Angeles, it seems like he had a temporary lobotomy.  Hopefully, on his way back to South Korea, Kim will regain his full facilities.

So let’s contrast Kim’s A Bittersweet Life with The Last Stand.

First we examine the impressive A Bittersweet Life.

Korean films have come a long way, evolving faster than any other industry in the world with quality and unique films.  Coming from a director known for his offbeat films with sincere inclination towards action, violence and revenge, A Bittersweet Life is a film about life’s lessons.  A lesson that clarifies, in life, irrespective of who you are, good or bad, you’re sure have to moments that are sweet and bitter in nature.  These moments when put together become “A Bittersweet Life.”

Kim Sun-Woo is an enforcer working for the coldest, ruthless and calculating crime boss in the city.  This crime boss has bestowed all his trust upon Kim and considers him the loyal disciple. One fine afternoon, he is summoned by his boss and instructed over lunch that he’s to take on an assignment.  An assignment that should be kept very secretive and the developments in it should directly reach the boss at regular intervals.  The boss is romantically involved with a woman who’s younger than half his age.  He loves her genuinely however feels she may be cheating on him.  He appoints Kim to investigate and tells him to finish her off if caught red handed.  Unfortunately, at first sight, he falls for the boss’s girlfriend and also uncovers that she’s been cheating.  However, he  does not have the guts to pull the trigger on her, and therefore, lets her go off the hook.  When the boss discovers, Kim becomes the immediate target. With boss’s entourage on his trail, Kim should run for his life but should return sooner or later to give his piece of mind back to people who betrayed him.

Korean films love to glorify violence like no other industry in the world.  This is the Kind of violence that’ll make you love violence.  I mean it! The best part is Koreans love to fight with swords, knives, sickles, machetes, hammers but not guns.  So, it’s gruesome to see them chopping each other in the name of revenge.  I suppose their idea of carrying these instruments instead of guns is to inflict as much pain as possible.  Think about it and you’d be surprised that instead of putting a bullet in someone’s head, take a knife or something and start slashing them and the sadistic pleasure you get out of it is priceless, according to these Koreans.  

In life, there are moments that are good, bad and bitter; it’s the mixture of these moments which completes life and gives it a meaning.  Kim’s life had its share of sweet and bitter moments however he chose to let go off the former and take control of the latter.  The time spent with his boss’s daughter are his sweetest moments while the repercussion it left upon his life turned all the sweet in to bitter moments, eventually, only giving him grief to live with.

Performances were outstanding and there’s hardly anything to complain.  Stunts deserve a special mention and the credit goes to Doo-Hong Jung for keeping stunts top class and highly professional.  In short, A Bittersweet Life leaves you with one thought to ponder over.  Life gives you good and bad but it’s your ability to choose wisely instead of dwelling on one.

Next we’ll look Kim’s The Last Stand and hope it is Kim’s last American movie.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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What do Spike Lee’s remake of the 2003 South Korean film Old Boy and Dr. H have in common? Recognition that American films are in as deep a recession as the economy and Dr. H acknowledging that Asian movies have better scripts, stories and endings.

Anyone who has looked at JPFmovies knows that we review a lot of Asian films.  As I have said before, Hollywood, in my opinion, has not done anything fresh or original in years.  It seems that the studios come up with some action scenes and then fill the time between explosions with simple stories and bad dialogue.  So, disillusioned with American cinema, I’ve had to turn elsewhere—mainly to Asia.

Since the turn of the century Asian films have come a long way.  In the 1980s and throughout most of the 1990s Asia was copying Hollywood almost without shame.  Now the reverse is true.  Spike Lee’s recent announcement that he is going to remake the South Korean film Old Boy (2003) seems to embody this sad trend.  We here at JPFmovies loved Old Boy and I will be very interested to see how well Lee’s film stacks up against the original.  Even the remakes that Asian cinema produces, i.e. Hari Kari Death of a Samurai and 13 Assassins, are standout films in their own right.  The remakes here in America stink on ice.  Films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, “Planet of the Apes” (even though the 1968 Charlton Heston starrer doesn’t stand next to “Grand Illusion” or “Citizen Kane” in the cinematic pantheon).  But it worked beautifully as a campy thriller, it spawned four successful sequels in the ’70s, and it has gone on to become a cultural icon with a large landmark cult following.  The Tim Burton-directed remake in 2001 suffered from a wooden performance by Mark Wahlberg in the lead, an overemphasis on special effects and action, and a painfully formulaic script.  Another disgrace to the original films is the Harrison Ford & Greg Kinnear movie Sabrina where the film’s story is about as predictable as an X-rated movie script.  These only name a few.  And I will not bore you with a litany of similar foul-smelling remakes made in order to avoid having to create fresh ideas.

How, might you ask, does this relate to Dr. H?  While we rarely air our dirty laundry here at JPFMovies, long-time contributor Dr. H was almost universally opposed to foreign movies.  This recently changed after he attended an international medical convention full other physicians and moviegoers who informed Dr. H that if you want a real script with thriller and intelligent endings, South Korea, Japan and China are now at the forefront of the film industry.  Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to get him to acknowledge this for at least two years.  Until now, he’s fought me consistently on watching Asian movies containing subtitles.  Several days ago, after returning from the conference he actually requested that we watch Old Boy without any prodding from me.  This means that he took the word of his colleagues over the experts here at JPFmovies.  While disappointing on its face, at least we have someone who has taken the Matrix’s proverbial red pill, opening his eyes to the truth instead of blissful ignorance.

While it seems like my mantra has been falling on deaf ears for some time now.  I am feeling at least a little bit vindicated for my position on the current state of cinema today.  Naturally, I invite your comments, questions or concerns regarding this post and hope to hear from you soon.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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Lone Wolf & Cub Five: Or don’t try to pass off a girl as a boy. It could cost you your head.

This is the 5th in the Lone Wolf & Cub series.  It also marks the return of Director Kenji Misumi who directed the first three Baby Cart films.  It combines the films strong period feel, a convoluted affair and a fantastic amount of onscreen schematic violence.  Including some of the best death scenes in the series particularly the deaths of the messengers, each die a spectacular death.  For example, Itto slashes one of the poor saps who falls into Itto’s campfire’s red-hot coals living in agony only long enough to relay a complex message before finally he is finally engulfed in flames.

I guess I should explain the reference to the messengers in the preceding paragraph.  Ogami is being vetted by five messengers who all try to kill him.  That is some original job recruiting by an employer; I don’t think we would have an unemployment problem if more employers took these types of actions in while headhunting.  After defeating all the messengers, Ogami learns he must kill a young girl who is being raised as a boy to become heir of a local daimyo, while the real heir, a little boy, is kept locked away in a castle tower.  I have to ask wouldn’t someone notice along the way that the child is growing into a woman rather than a man?

The assassination assignment includes murdering the senile old lord, his concubine and the girl masquerading as a boy, plus Ogami must also stop a document revealing this sham from reaching the hands of his mortal enemy, Yagyū Retsudō.  While on the job, his son Daigoro is once again separated from his father and proves his courage and sense of honor as he refuses to admit the guilt of a woman pickpocket he promised not to rat on.  With his father looking on and giving his son ever so slight nods approving of Diagoro’s refusal rat on the woman, the boy is beaten, doesn’t talk and has taken his first major step to becoming a samurai.

For Itto it can be said that although Tomisaburo Wakayama plays a very stoic, virtually emotionless character, he does it very well.  This is perhaps due to his years of real martial arts training.  He handles his sword normally without any of over the top moves because of his skills, however, he can pull it off as his movements are focused and intimidating.

Now as a chambara fan, I must confess that the combination of stylized violence and the existential mystical look at both historical Japan and the genre conventions that form chambara, sure come through in this film.  It might not be as groundbreaking as the first two entries in the series; it is after all following well-tested tradition, but it is done with such conviction and deliberation that one has to give it its due.

As with other serialized characters of the chambara universe like Zatoichi or Nemuri Kiyoshiro, Baby Cart in the Land of Demons meets one’s expectations as a pure Lone Wolf movie that doesn’t frustrate one the way Hollywood sequels do.  Master film-maker Kenji Misumi breaks the traditional forms of the period drama that make even a fifth entry of this tried and tested recipe very palatable.

The idea of the five Samurai, each giving Ogami a part of his mission as their dying words is an imaginative one.  The fight scenes were excellent, particularly the underwater fight scene.  While the final battle was not as epic as some of the others in the series, Ogami still fights an entire army single-handedly, as fans have come to expect since the second film.

While some may say Baby Cart in the Land of Demons isn’t as enjoyable as some of its predecessors, I think otherwise.  It’s very solid from a technical standpoint and probably the most beautifully-filmed of the bunch.  The Spaghetti Western cinematic influences are present throughout in the form of tight Leone-esque camera shots and certain musical cues.  At times, there’s also a subtle otherworldly atmosphere, which may or may not be suggestive of Itto and son’s further descent into the depths of hell.  Even the supporting characters in the film are somewhat allegorical in a way: the clansmen of the Kuroda wear demon masks, and the initial five Kuroda representatives that Itto battles in the first act of the film wear veils that feature drawings of the “Beasts of Hell”.

As with anyone of the series see it, you won’t regret it.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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Our second film paying tribute to producer Don Simpson: the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun. This is a tough review because the good parts are very good and the bad parts are inexorably bad.

Our second film paying tribute to producer Don Simpson: the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun.  This is a tough review because the good parts are very good and the bad parts are inexorably bad.

The news that there might be a sequel to Top Gun is what inspired us at JPFmovies to do a three part tribute to the legendary producer Don Simpson—so I would be a fool to not review the film, but for some reason I feel kind of dirty or that I have somehow sold out to the movie “man” for writing this.  Putting that to one side, we’ll do the best we can and here it is.

One is hard pressed to find a movie that better embodies the 1980s feel good blockbuster film genre than Top Gun.  To say it put Tom Cruise on the map is an understatement and like the Bandit’s famous Trans Am, Cruise’s motorcycle, the (then) fastest motorcycle in production,  Kawasaki’s Ninja 900, became an icon overnight.  RayBan experienced a 40% spike in sales because of Top Gun, just as it had 3 years earlier when Cruise played Joel Goodsen in “Risky Business” sporting RayBan’s Wayfarer sunglasses.  Top Gun even convinced people to join the military; booths were set up outside of theaters and Navy recruitment increased by 500%.  The film also brought back the leather jacket and white T-shirt look of the 1950s.  Now that I think about it, I am not sure that any film since Top Gun had the kind of power this film did to influence the public.  I mean a 500% increase in military recruitment rivals the wretched propaganda the infamous Nazi Joseph Goebbels inflicted on the German people before and during WWII.  The Harold Faltermeyer (also creator of other 1980s soundtracks such as Beverly Hills Cop I and II & Miami Vice) soundtrack reached number 1 on the Billboard charts and remained there for 5 weeks while the song “Take My Breath Away” won an Oscar.

Cruise plays Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a maverick Navy fighter pilot.  Maverick embodies what I think is a character type loved by Americans: the “maverick” underdog who is so talented that he can flout conventional rules and get away with it.  We see this type of creature in Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry films, the cop who can play “dirty” because he gets the job done.  We see a variation in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa who plays the ultimate underdog by going from gym boxer to world heavy weight champion in only two movies and now we see it in Top Gun’s Maverick.

Maverick (or “mav” as he is often referred to in the film) is the “bastard” son of another naval aviator who was killed in Vietnam — the “ghost” of his father is partially responsible for his reckless flying and consistent rule violations.  Maverick and his REO “Goose” (Anthony Edwards) are sent to Top Gun school because the top pilot “Cougar” (John Stockwell who also starred with Cruise in “Lose’n It” — a “b” movie that I’ll bet neither one of them wishes they had made) freaks out after engaging an enemy plane and turns in his wings. 

At a bar the day before the Top Gun school starts, Maverick, assisted by Goose, unsuccessfully hits on a woman by singing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin.”  Much to Maverick’s surprise, the next day he learns that she is Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), an astrophysicist and civilian Top Gun instructor.  Maverick’s reckless flying both annoys and impresses Rick “Jester” Heatherly (Michael Ironside) and the other Top Gun instructors when he defeats Jester in combat, but violates several rules of engagement in the process.  Maverick and top student LT Tom “Iceman” Kasansky (Val Kilmer) quickly emerge as the two best pilots, but Iceman openly considers Maverick’s methods “dangerous.”  Although outwardly critical of Maverick’s tactics, Charlie eventually admits that she venerates his flying but harshly reviews it in public because she’s afraid her credibility would be jeopardized otherwise. Nonetheless, Maverick and Charlie begin a romantic relationship.  I am not sure that merely scrutinizing a pilot’s flying would save her credibility after having an affair with a student but it is part of the story. What is not part of the story is that every time McGillis and Cruise stand next to each other in the film, McGillis is in bare feet and Cruise wears lifts because he is so short. 

During a training flight near the end of the film, Maverick and Iceman are both chasing Jester each trying for the kill.  Under intense pressure from Maverick, Iceman breaks off but Maverick’s F-14 flies through the jet wash of Iceman’s aircraft and begins a flat spin from which he cannot recover, forcing him and Goose to eject.  Goose is not so lucky here as he ejects directly into the canopy and dies instantly.  Although a board of inquiry clears Maverick of any wrongdoing, his overwhelming guilt over Goose’s death causes him to lose his aggressiveness when flying.  Charlie and others attempt to console him, but Maverick considers leaving the Navy.  Unsure of his future, he seeks Top Gun’s head instructor Viper’s advice who reveals that he served with Maverick’s father in VF-51, and discloses classified details that show Duke Mitchell died a hero’s death.  Viper informs Maverick that he can graduate from Top Gun or quit.  Maverick chooses to graduate, but his rival Iceman wins the award for top pilot.

During the graduation party, Iceman, Hollywood, and Maverick are each sent to carrier Enterprise to deal with a “situation,” to provide air support for the rescue of another ship, the SS Layton, that has drifted into hostile territory.  Maverick and Merlin are assigned to one of two F-14s as back-up for those flown by Iceman and Hollywood, despite Iceman’s reservations over Maverick’s state of mind and ability.  In the subsequent dogfight against six MiGs, Hollywood is shot down but manages to safely eject; Maverick is sortied alone due to catapult failure and nearly retreats after encountering circumstances similar to those that caused Goose’s death.  He rallies though and joins Iceman, shoots down four MiGs and forces the others to retreat — then both return triumphantly to the Enterprise.  Offered his choice of duty, Maverick decides to return to Top Gun as an instructor and while sitting alone in a restaurant, he hears “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” playing on the jukebox and recalls meeting Charlie.  Low and behold, she enters the bar and the two reunite.

Well what more can you say?  It may be formulaic, but Simpson and Bruckheimer sure know their chemistry.  Top Gun grossed $378,000,000 worldwide and the dollars keep rolling in as a result of the dvd market.  The film was directed by Tony Scott, Ridley Scott’s younger brother.  Ridley Scott is one of my favorite directors so I was pleasantly surprised to discover this fact.

Like I said though, this one has terrifying highs and dizzying lows, but I still feel like a sell out for reviewing it.  Am I wrong to feel this way?

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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JPF Asks Why Don’t We Take a Look at Barton Fink?

Hollywood lore has it that the Coen brothers were having a tough time writing Miller’s Crossing decided to take a break and ended up writing Barton Fink in three weeks.  Man that must have been one hell of a three weeks because this film is nothing short of fantastic.

Barton Fink is played by John Tuturro.  On an aside, like so many other cast members of this movie, Tuturro also appears in the Coen Brothers The Big Lebowski.  Fink is a successful playwright who is approached by Hollywood to leave his native New York and go on the writer’s Hollywood safari to write B-movie wrestling pictures.  At first Barton is reluctant to go on safari, as he fears it may separate him from ‘the common man,’ whom he pompously regards as the source and reason of his creative outlet.

Fink does accept Hollywood’s high-priced proposal, and checks in to L.A.’s Hotel Earle, a resident’s hotel where he intends to write.  The Hotel is essentially run by “Chet” (Steve Buscemi also in The Big Lebowski) who informs Barton that one of the Hotels fine amenities is a free shoe shine.  After meeting the studio executive, Fink sits down to work but suffers from a serious case of writer’s block.  He becomes torn between his love of creating art with meaning, about and for ‘the common man,’ as he regularly puts it, and the demands of his new Hollywood masters, who are expecting a bestseller formulaic wrestling picture.  Looking for anyway to break his block, Fink begins to look around and venture out into his surroundings.  Perhaps he will even meet a few people.

Enter John Goodman who plays Charlie Meadows, Barton’s hotel neighbor.  Charlie is a charismatic insurance salesman, and becomes a confidante and source of inspiration to Fink.  Fink comes alive when he converses a common man like Charlie, who is supportive and provides comfort in the desolate, and soulless atmosphere of the Hotel Earle and his California surroundings in general.

The Hotel Earle becomes one of the strongest, most disturbing elements of the film.  It is eerie and unsettling, and it’s overall dark and depressing atmosphere is adequate housing, symbolically speaking, for Barton Fink, who is suffering from life-affirming lows and struggles linked with the creative process, ‘The life of the mind’, as it’s referred to in the film.  The Hotel Earle and the mind of Barton Fink are the same – cold, lonely, unsure, messy, and unpredictable.  Eventually the Hotel literally becomes a living hell—fire and all.  Be that as it may, one could go on for days about the symbolism displayed.  The wallpaper peeling in the hotel room that represents Fink’s mind, analogies offered by the very film Fink is working on, references to slavery as metaphors of the studio’s ownership of Fink’s creativity, along with other strong yet accurate accusations of the Hollywood machine (the studio head exclaims to Fink: “This is a wrestling picture, the audience wants to see action, adventure, wrestling.  They don’t want to see a guy wrestling with his own soul!”)

Barton Fink is an intelligent, funny, and powerful story, with dark elements of multiple genres and layers of various meanings, symbols, and representations.  It can be viewed as a strange film, not one to forget in a hurry, but pleasing, as much as it is unnerving.  It stands alone as an example of great film-making, and is certainly one of the finer offerings from the Coen brothers.

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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Liberty Stand Still No. 2 of 3 in the Oliver Platt Tribute

Liberty Stand Still is not too well known, but I like it.  I always think that  Linda Fiorentino is great no matter what role she plays and although Oliver Platt does not have a major part in this film it’s enough.  Platt plays Fiorentino’s husband–she is an heir to a gun manufacturer that has questionable business practices–but he runs the company.  Wesley Snipes plays a sniper (no joke) who lost a child in a gun related death manufactured by Platt’s & Fiorentino’s company.

Snipes takes Linda Fiorentino, who ‘s family founded a fire-arms company, hostage threatening to either kill her with a sniper rifle or by detonating a bomb located in a hot dog cart she is cuffed to.  The movie never definitely tells us Snipes true motives, but as the hostage situation unfolds he hints at political corruption, avenging the death of his daughter, even trying to kill Oliver Platt.  You are never really told.  Snipes, who actually acts in this movie instead playing the monosyllabic action hero, ultimately kills himself as the authorities are closing in but not before broadcasting his long dialog with Liberty exposing the corruption et cetera.

Yes the movie went directly to video and yes the movie is openly preachy in anti-gun anti-corporation/business attitude, but if you seriously think that Hollywood will ever in our lifetimes have an open unbiased discussion of these issues then I have a bridge to sell you–No really you can even set up toll booths to make money.

I had never seen snipes act before but he clearly can and of course so can Linda.  This film gave both of these underrated actors a chance do their jobs.

It certainly is not crap.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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