George Pastell contemplates death as the high priest of THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY
(still from www.chud.com)
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Will Rourke take a dive for real? That depends on how you define reality,
Monday, January 26, 2009
Get the picture?
Connie Chan squares off against a disguised Lo Lieh in THE LIZARD
(photo from http://www.moviefanprincess.com/)
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Actually, one item on the list really did surprise me. Can it really be possible that Jerry Lewis is only now getting the Hersholt? The man must have had plenty of enemies.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Aman Malik is an Indian Muslim commando on an anti-terror mission. He confronts Sultan, a terrorist leader, who challenges him to explain why he's fighting and tells him that he's only obeying orders for no good reason while he, Sultan, is a truly free man. Aman doesn't have time for a comeback before an explosion stirs confusion through which Sultan escapes.
Aman retires from the service and lives happily with his wife and daughter. Toward Divyi, his wife, he's rather condescending. She doesn't understand why terrorists do what they do. He answers: "If you can't understand anything, why think about it and spoil your mood? Change the channel and watch MTV!" He rebuffs Ahmad Hussein, a visitor from the police who hopes to recruit him for an undercover operation. He wants Aman to infiltrate the criminal gang of "RD," who has ties to Sultan's terrorists. He wants a military man because he doesn't really trust anyone in the police. Also, Aman can identify Sultan. Aman says no.
In the very next scene, Aman's wife and daughter are blown up by a terrorist bomb at a temple. It's a double blast and Aman is away from the first explosion. His family survived the first round, and he can see his little girl holding out her arms for him before the second blast. That image haunts him through the rest of the film, while the girl's rendition of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" morphs into some sinister lyrics that play over a montage of Aman training on the beach after he volunteers for Ahmad Hussein's mission. Here's a sample verse, as translated into English subtitles from the Hindi original.
Staying alive is a big problem.
Everything is an illusion.
The bird died after crashing into the building.
They will kill me after barging into my house.
The refrain is, "We should plant a bomb." I was hooked. Ahmad Hussein gives Aman a new identity (as Amaan Ali Yusuf), a criminal record, and a prison sentence. Ahmad's idea is that Amaan should get RD's attention by killing a prisoner that RD has so far been unable to touch from the outside, a minion of RD's great rival Goonga -- a buffoon who lives on a yacht so RD can't reach him. Amaan does the job with little trouble, with the desired result. He's taken out of prison by RD's lawyer, who we witness discreetly beating his wife for being slow about making coffee.
RD himself is a charmer. We see him torturing a prisoner and blaming his minions for the prisoner's death; they had not provided the proper voltage. One minion protests and strikes a karate pose, only to be told, "This is the age of Osama, not Bruce Lee." RD promptly puts Amaan to work on a reign of terror that ranges from gang hits to political assassinations. Feeling the heat, Goonga uses his pull with the police to recruit Dara, an "encounter specialist," i.e. a police hitman, to kill Amaan. Amaan gets word and ambushes Dara in his apartment. The pudgy killer manages to escape, but only after being chased naked through the streets until he can steal a sari off a mannequin. Made a laughingstock by the media, Dara is more determined to destroy Amaan, while the police issue a shoot-to-kill order against the mole.
Finally invited to meet RD face to face, Amaan is challenged by the karate guy, whose kung fu is very poor. His strikes have no effect, and Amaan beats him down while Iya, who we'll learn is RD's sister, watches with wary admiration. Soon after this, at about the one-hour mark, or halfway through the film, we have the closet thing to the stereotypical "Bollywood" musical number. The song is called Maula Khair Kare, and the refrain seems to be, "God, Be Kind."
Every death is dear to harmony.
Our business is to kill.
Blood flows in the vein.
It's important to shed blood.
Subtitled lyrics from CONTRACT closing credits
Monday, January 19, 2009
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Adanggaman (center, with bone) presides over his kingdom in his very own movie.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor may be the worst movie I've seen so far from the year 2008. It's easy to rip on Stephen Sommers following the disaster of Van Helsing, but Rob Cohen's movie illustrates negatively exactly what Sommers contributed to the previous Mummy outings. Sommers was probably doomed to hit a wall because of his more-is-always-better attitude, but before the crash came he infused his two Mummy movies with energy, enthusiasm and an authentic pulp mentality that got me over the stupidities of the stories. Neither Rob Cohen nor writers Miles Millar and Alfred Gough have anything like that enthusiasm. Nor do they have the strong pictorial sense that Sommers brought to the past projects. Nor does Jet Li contribute much to the new effort. This film appears to realize his post-Fearless career plan to take things easy, since CGI stand-ins do most of his work for him here. Worse, Brendan Fraser gives every indication of being finished as an actor. He gives the same sort of contemptuous performance here that he seems to have given in Journey to the Center of the Earth. Worse yet, Maria Bello is a terrible replacement for Rachel Weisz, while the actors playing the younger heroes are perfectly matched in stiffness. Worse still, the movie stops dead repeatedly to play out a needless family-conflict scenario in utterly predictable fashion. Yeoh, arguably, is the only major player not to embarrass herself. She plays an immortal witch who defeated Li's evil emperor 2,000 years ago and has been hanging out in Shangri-La (!) ever since waiting for him to make his move. This pays off in a fight scene that was supposedly highly awaited in Asia, but as with Li's encounter with Jackie Chan in the slightly less benighted Forbidden Kingdom, it came about a decade or so too late.
Dragon Emperor was probably a hopeless project. One gets the feeling that the writers skipped ahead past World War 2 in order to avoid aping the Indiana Jones movies with Nazi movies, only to stage scenes in a Shanghai nightclub in a way that can only expose the film's inferiority to The Temple of Doom. The only really impressive, non-derivative bit was when the Emperor calls down an avalanche on the heroes, who are saved by yetis. Otherwise, everything seemed lamely derivative of originals ranging from Army of Darkness to Planet Terror. There's nothing for Michelle Yeoh to do here but be Michelle Yeoh: a name on the poster to sell tickets somewhere.
I had a feeling that Babylon A.D. was not going to be as bad as American reviewers claimed, but it still proved pretty bad. I might not have been as critical toward it had it not reminded me of Children of Men at practically every turn. The comparison was always in favor of the earlier film. Mathieu Kossovitz is no Alfanso Cuaron. After starting out like he wanted to be the French Spike Lee with La Haine, Kassovitz has evolved into something like the French Lee Tamahori. There seems to be a career track for international directors that obliges you to make a gritty stab at social realism to get critics' attention, just so you can do impersonal genre stuff for the rest of your career. I've seen La Haine and I have to say it looked like style over substance even then.
Based on a Euro sci-fi novel called Babylon Babies (good call, American re-titlers!), this dystopia inflicts Vin Diesel on us (how soon before he's straight to video?) as a mercenary hired to transport some young woman from an Eastern European monastery to New York City. Michelle Yeoh is the girl's keeper who starts out like she's going to keep Diesel under strict discipline, but is never given a chance for payoff. It would have been wonderful to see her slap him around every time he swore or was otherwise a lout, but that might have introduced more humor into the story than director or star could stand. Either her age or Kassovitz's ineptitude as an action director limits her fight scenes. Yeoh is also constrained by the script's stubborn insistence on keeping us in the dark about why the girl is so important. This is sci-fi, not a mystery movie. Children of Men did quite nicely without false suspense of this sort, while Babylon A.D. seems to want to leave us in a perpetual state of "huh?" The horror of watching this a day after Dragon Emperor is the emergence of a pattern for poor Yeoh. In both films, she's a maternal or quasi-maternal figure who dies. Her expendability exposes the degree to which her participation in these travesties is based on market calculations and nothing else.
It's too bad, really. Yeoh has struggled to overcome career handicaps ever since she changed her name back from "Michelle Khan." You would have thought that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had earned her opportunities to break out of action typecasting, especially given her fluent English (especially compared to her male compatriots), but that hasn't been the case. Even getting to the point where she'd get the Charlotte Rampling part in Babylon A.D. would be some sort of progress for her. She still has a chance, though. I'd like to see Far North, her team-up with Sean Bean, for instance. But time is running out if she's ever going to be more than an international-cast action chick, and I think she deserves better.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Shirley MacLaine as Velma -- I mean, Maria Theresa in WOMAN TIMES SEVEN
In another episode, in which she is most often addressed as "Miss Interpreter," she comes as close to unclothed as current standards and her own star status will allow. However attractive she may be, her looks are marred by her obligation to act, on most occasions, like an insane person. This appears to be the point of the whole film, and it is made early and often. She is paired by a cast of actors ranging from a completely wasted Peter Sellers in the opening section to ex-Tarzan turned Euro action star Lex Barker as a novelist to Alan Arkin as a sullen partner in suicide to Michael Caine as a silent stalker. They are all just little planets circling Shirley's blazing gas giant, and as romantic partners, none of them are exactly Audrey Hepburn.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Zukor: You like parties?
Jason: Is that what this is?
Zukor: You're sharp, Blade.