All posts by Mike Blitz

Review: So Close

soclose_cov.jpgOriginal Title: Chik yeung tin si
Year: 2002
Director: Corey Yuen
Starring: Qi Shu, Wei Zhao, Karen Mok, Seung-heon Song
Kaboom Review Action Movie Rating: 63

Plot
Two women seek revenge on the their fathers’ killers.

Quick Review
So Close comes, well, so close to being a great action film. We’ve got all the critical elements: creative, fast action sequences; beautiful women and handsome men; and a decent story. But the wildly implausible use of technology and an overall lack of concern with premise hold this film back from excellence.

Full Review
Let’s cut to the chase: So Close is worth watching for its fighting, and you may even get mildly interested in the simple, effective story of two sisters trying to extract revenge on their parents’ so_close_4.jpgkillers. But the strength of this film is the creative martial arts fighting. Director Corey Yuen shows off his talent here, as he has the three women stars (Qi Shu, Wei Zhao, and Karen Mok) battling each other and waves of nameless enemies throughout the movie. The film also tosses in ample shootouts and even a generic car chase, but the martial arts element of the film makes the action memorable. The pace is fast, yet we’ve got a good use of camera angles and slow motion to keep things clear. At times the believability of the fighting gets stretched well beyond reason, but on the whole this is forgivable.

The film revolves around its three female stars, and they all do an outstanding job in the physical element of their roles. Their male counterparts do an equally effective job in their fighting so_close_6.jpgsequences. It doesn’t hurt that all three women are very easy on the eyes. Qi Shu (Lynn) is a stunning actress, Wei Zhao (Sue) is well above average, and Karen Mok (Officer Hong Yat Hong) puts on a feisty performance. Their male counterparts are a cut below them in terms of looks, but Seung-heon Song and Yasuaki Kurata drive the hunk rating well up. If you like eye candy in your movies, you’ll love this film.

Unlike Dead or Alive, the other Yuen movie I recently reviewed, So Close comes with a decent story. The general plot of revenge works well, and the twist in the middle caught me completely off guard. There is even an occasional bit of depth to the story. The three women act well enough, with Karen Mok deserving a special note for her fantastic job in playing the role of a brilliant detective. (Some of the villains’ acting, however, is atrocious.) Pacing is good, with the exception of some scenes that drag in the middle of the film. The final battle is riveting, and the film comes to a satisfying end.

So far, so good, but unfortunately So Close struggles in some important ways. Although the story so_close_8.jpgworks to move the film along, the devil is in the details, and in the details So Close starts to drift away. First of all, I am hard pressed to think of a film that uses technology in such a wildly unbelievable way. So Close makes Live Free or Die Hard look like a technological masterpiece. You know right from the start that you’re in trouble when the movie kicks off with a computer room getting hacked by a virus that causes sparks to come shooting out of all the computers. This is followed by a message that comes on screen saying that everything is okay, at which point the staff in the room starts cheering wildly. Sigh. And a key element to the story is that the sisters’ father has developed a program that allows one to access and control any security camera in the world from outer space. And things get worse from there. With the greatest ease, our heroes can create digital models, import them into a building’s security system, and have them run around and fool surveillance teams. Sigh. I could go on, but you get the point.

The execution of the film also suffers from all the problems that have plagued action films. Everyone runs out of guns and bullets at the same time to segue into a wild martial arts fight. so_close_7.jpgDespite some brilliantly choreographed fights, at times waves of enemies appear out of nowhere, only to blindly rush forward and get themselves killed. “Here I am! Shoot me!” And things just happen much too easily in the film. People find each other with amazing ease and run into each other as if there were only a dozen people in the entire sprawling city. Police cars show up in droves for a car chase, but no police show up for some incredibly noisy urban shootouts. It’s all too convenient, and this laissez-faire attention to credibility drags the effectiveness of the film down.

In the end, however, the fast action and generally effective story manage to overcome these problems. Despite shaking my head at some of the problems, the film managed to draw me in and entertain me. Worth watching.

Score
Pace: 70
Plot: 58
Action: 77
Consistent Premise: 21
Script/Quotes: 31
Characters: 72
Acting: 50
Villain: 57
Body Count: 80
Time to First Dead Body: Not sure
Babes: 86
Hunks: 76
Explosions: 30
Special Effects: 41
Stunts: 88
Ending: 83

Overall: 63

[tags]So Close, Chik yeung tin si, action movie, movie review, Corey Yuen, Qi Shu, Wei Zhao, Karen Mok, Seung-heon Song[/tags]

Review: Moonraker

moonraker_cov.jpgYear: 1979
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Starring: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel
Kaboom Review Action Movie Rating: 58

Plot
James Bond attempts to foil an evil villain’s plot to exterminate the world’s population from outer space.

Quick Review

The special effects, final battle, and overall action in Moonraker are often highly entertaining, but the lack of attention to premise and the lifeless acting by Lois Chiles and Michael Lonsdale hinder this film considerably. Moonraker is overall worth viewing, but you’ve got to turn off your brain completely in order to enjoy the action.

Full Review
At times Moonraker makes you cringe. More so than that of any James Bond film that I’ve reviewed to date, the action in this film makes no sense. Sure, it’s greatly entertaining. We’ve got an above average dose of creative James Bond violence: fights atop moonraker_4.jpgBrazilian sky-high gondolas, chases in Venetian gondolas, and an ambitious space station battle that easily sets a world record for actors hanging on wires. For the most part this action is well executed, crisp, and makes impressive use of special effects for a 29-year-old movie. But at the same time, the action often makes no sense. If we need a fistfight on top of an airborne gondola, for example, a CIA agent and James Bond conveniently aren’t carrying any firearms with them. And Bond forgets to use his handy-dandy wrist blaster here as well. Of course, Jaws the assassin isn’t armed either for this scene. Two scenes later, however, our villains are armed to the teeth as they try to kill Bond. At one point in the movie a martial artist expert ambushes Bond, and uses—get this—a wooden kendo staff as his sole weapon. Again, conveniently, Bond is unarmed for this fight.

And I’m not sure how they do it, but our villains can anticipate Bond’s every move with amazing ease. Every step of the way, they lay traps and ambushes for Bond. Bond is navigating a river in the wilds of the Amazon? No problem, we’ve got him in our sights. Bond heads to a Rio de Janeiro festival? No problem. Jaws is there, waiting. It’s all too convenient and orchestrated, and while I can easily suspend my sense of disbelief with a Bond film, Moonraker asks me to stretch it too much. After a while, things are haphazard to the point that it dumbs down the meaning and force of the story.
moonraker_2.jpg
Moonraker also has a lot more of the supposedly humorous comic relief scenes than a typical Bond movie, and most of them aren’t funny. Our villains are just too dopey at moments, even to the point of falling out of speedboats on their own accord. It’s one thing to toss us some occasional escapist humor, it’s another thing to drop these moments in the film every fifteen minutes. After a while, the struggles between Bond and Jaws—a main focus of the comic relief—remind me of the comic, good natured struggles of Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog. Again, as with the attention to premise, it’s a matter of balance, and Moonraker misses this balance point badly.

But the film still gets some major things right. We’ve got some solid stunts, including and impressively shot airborne scene that opens the movie. There is plenty of action, and the climactic battle in the space station is a remarkable piece of work that earned the film an Academy Award nomination for Visual Effects. In these last thirty minutes, the action picks up, the special effects hold up surprisingly well, and to a certain degree the action makes sense. In many ways this one sequence carries the entire film and overcomes the film’s flaws. Moonraker was also the first film to feature the Space Shuttle in it, nearly two years before the official moonraker_3.jpgfirst launch of the craft. Having said that, some of the fights do come across wooden, and the previously mentioned goofiness with the action does drag down its impact.

It’s also a plus that Moonraker features perhaps the most stunningly beautiful Bond woman in the series to date. Lois Chiles is an instant 10, and ranks up there with Claudine Auger and Luciana Paluzzi from Thunderball as top Bond women. Unlike Auger and Paluzzi, however—and this is where we come to another problem with Moonraker—Chiles can’t act. She has the life of a corpse, and only seems to get worse as things go along. I don’t want to ruin the ending for you, but she reaches a peak in the final ten minutes of the film. How someone can deliver lines in such a flat, deadpan manner with all humankind at stake is truly remarkable. Her dull, somnolent performance is so bad that it puts her in the same class as Cindy Crawford from Fair Game and Eva Mendes from Ghost Rider as worst leading female actors who are incredibly beautiful.

moonraker_1.jpgMichael Lonsdale, as arch villain Drax, is nearly as weak as Chiles. He tries to strike some sort of intelligent, aloof, sinister vibe, but whatever he was aiming for, he misses completely. Beside these two actors, even the usually consistent and handsome Roger Moore seems to lose a step, although in comparison his performance shines. It doesn’t help that the script for Moonraker is unremarkable and dry. In particular, Bond’s one-liners have little zip and force.

It might sound like I hated Moonraker, but when I add everything up, I have to say that I enjoyed this film. Moonraker misses the mark in so many of the critical details. We’ve got too much silliness, a lack of reason to much of the action, and some dead acting performances. But the entertainment value of the action is solid, the overall story is coherent and logical, and the final 30 minutes of the film are excellently constructed. Ultimately these elements manage to just overcome the film’s glaring problems. Worth watching once.

Fun Fact
The parachuting sequence that opens the movie took 88 jumps and 5 weeks to film.

Score
Pace: 72
Plot: 58
Action: 56
Consistent Premise: 15
Script/Quotes: 41
Characters: 63
Acting: 48
Villain: 48
Body Count: 73
Time to First Dead Body: Not sure
Babes: 83
Hunks: 83
Explosions: 81
Special Effects: 84
Stunts: 65
Ending: 74

Overall: 58 (Entertaining, but turn off your brain beforehand)

[tags]Moonraker, James Bond, movie review, action, Lewis Gilbert, Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel[/tags]

Review: Wanted

wanted_cov.jpgYear: 2008
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman
Kaboom Review Action Movie Rating: 64

Plot
A man becomes an assassin in order to avenge his father’s death.

Quick Review
Wanted is a violent, bloody action film with an attitude. The acting, script, and action shine throughout the film, but shallow characters take the emotional impact out of the story. Worth watching on the whole, but could have been so much better if they made the viewer care.

Full Review
Wanted slaps you in the face, breaks your nose, and then puts a slow-motion bullet in your skull. This is a violent, bloody film with an in-your-face edge. I guess I should have expected this tone given the film’s rating, but the dark mood, the splattering blood, and the gruesome violence of the film caught me off guard. The majority of action films today end up as feel-good thrillers; Wanted shuns that crowd, embraces its R rating, and uses it to put a unique spin on the action film genre.

Once you’ve accepted this angle, you can settle into the story of Wesley Gibson, a depressed, downtrodden cubicle worker wanted_1.jpgwhose life is transformed as he develops into a master assassin. And on the whole, Wanted is well-crafted, well-edited, and oozes quality and creativity. The story moves along quickly enough, and tosses in a few twists and turns as it rumbles to a satisfying conclusion. Having said that, I found my mind wandering during the middle of the film, where Wesley’s training seemed to drag and I was getting flashbacks to Rocky Balboa with all the scenes involving raw meat. I do have some minor difficulties and one major difficulty with the premise. The film asks the viewer to make a certain Matrix-like leap of faith with regards to human abilities and powers, and I was fine with that, but I laughed out loud at the huge loom and its role in the story. You’ll know what I mean when you get there. And if you really think about the story hard, there are some questionable actions by some of the characters. But these are relatively minor, and I could grant them some wiggle room with their story and still enjoy the tale well enough. Bottom line: premise is established and then adhered to.

Helping the film out are the above average acting and the surprisingly effective script. James McAvoy plays a convincing role. He does a wonderful job switching from the wimpy cubicle worker to the deadly assassin. Angelina Jolie puts a mysterious, sexy edge on her role as a talented assassin. Morgan Freeman, as the head of the Fraternity (the society of assassins), seemed flat in his role, and I expected more here, but he gets the job done well enough that the film doesn’t suffer.

The action in Wanted has some thrilling, creative and brilliant moments. Yes, there is a certain Matrix-derivative flair to the shootouts and fighting, but this only enhances this film’s best scenes. There are car chases, shootouts, a wild train crash,
wanted_3.jpgand an amazing one-man charge. The film uses slow-motion to clarify and enhance, and bursts to speed to rev up the intensity. Kudos all around in this regard.

The funny thing, though, is that although Wanted gets all these things right, I found myself sitting in the theater only mildly entertained. At first I just thought that it was the blood and gore that were holding me back, and I’m sure in part this played a role: I tend to prefer more escapist entertainment. But I also love some perfectly gruesome movies, so this didn’t feel like the only reason. About an hour into the film, though, I realized what I was struggling with: Wanted had failed to make me care.

Solid acting and script aside, Wesley Gibson, as the lead character, is as shallow as a puddle of blood. Sure, you mildly root for him as he begins the film as an office worker who absolutely despises everything about his life. But in the end, he’s not a character I found myself identifying with. He makes a switch to killer with a relish that borders on evil, and in only one short scene does he question the morality of killing for the greater good. His focus for much of the film is training to kill his father’s killer and gaining power, but I never captured any sense that he was interested in the greater good until wanted_2.jpgperhaps the end. Even then it seemed more for self-preservation and revenge. And so what I ended up with in Wanted is a heck of a lot of fighting and bloodshed that certainly entertained me, but I ended up watching it from a disinterested perspective: I never emotionally invested in the main character’s survival or cause. In many ways, the supporting actors suffer the same fate: Fox (Angelina Jolie) remains too aloof to care about, and Sloan (Morgan Freeman) was too dry to root for. To a degree, Wanted ends up being a film about a bunch of morally questionable assassins beating the crap out of each other. And watched from this angle, it’s the difference between watching a sports game where your favorite team is playing and watching a sports game between two teams you care little about.

And this is a shame, because Wanted is clearly a film of vision, creativity, and style. There are so many wonderful elements in this film. Even though it’s not my type of movie, I found myself sucked in through the action. If only they could have made me care.

Score
Pace: 66
Plot: 57
Action: 69
Consistent Premise: 70
Script/Quotes: 62
Characters: 63
Acting: 78
Villain: 61
Body Count: 58
Time to First Dead Body: Watch Died
Babes: 62
Hunks: 54
Explosions: 61
Special Effects: 83
Stunts: 62
Ending: 66

Overall: 64 (Better if they made me care)

[tags]Wanted, movie review, action movie, Timur Bekmambetov, James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman[/tags]