Movie Review – Show Dogs

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EXPECTATIONS: Something amusing like the live-action Scooby-Doo films.

REVIEW: “Live-action family movies are somewhat of an endangered species these days as most family entertainment is now animated.” That is a line that is spoken by the director of the film Show Dogs, Raja Gosnell, who has a long pedigree (pun intended) of films that involve canines, as well as family entertainment.

Starting off with Home Alone 3, a film I personally liked since it came out (and includes a young pre-fame Scarlett Johansson), he also made the amusing rom-com Never Been Kissed and the action-comedy Big Momma’s House, a terrible rip-off of Mrs. Doubtfire.

Since then, he venture onto family films like the Scooby-Doo films, which I enjoyed due to the performances of the cast (particularly Matthew Lillard and Linda Cardellini). Then he did crummy family films like Yours, Mine and Ours, The Smurfs films and Beverly Hills Chihuahua; the latter being the best one out of the three due to one laugh.

And five years after The Smurfs 2, he’s back with a vengeance with another family film. Back in the doghouse with a talented cast in check and familiar territory, will Show Dogs be a funny family film that will bring back the supposed endangered species of live-action family movies?

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In a world where humans and talking dogs co-exist (although it is confusing as to how much they understand each other), a tough Rottweiler police dog named Max (voiced by Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) is ordered to go undercover as a show dog in a prestigious dog show with his human and incompetent partner Frank (Will Arnett) to stop an animal-smuggling scheme that is using the dog show as a front.

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When you watch a comedy and it doesn’t make you laugh, you start to get an itch in your throat and that is the feeling of wanting to laugh but never getting a chance. And for 90 minutes, the itch gets so painful, you start to choke on your own desperation of wanting to laugh. Well Show Dogs is exactly that: an equivalent of a choke chain.

Back to the remark that Gosnell said, it is quite an insulting thing for him to say considering that the Paddington films, Peter Rabbit, the live-action Disney films, Wonder and many more came out recently. It’s even more insulting that in the film, a character remarks that “no one makes talking dog movies anymore” and the film proceeds to provide a compelling reason why that is. And the most insulting thing is the film itself, which is a big contender in being one of the worst films of 2018.

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It was recently revealed that Show Dogs had a scene where Max has to go to his ‘happy place’ when one of the judges touches his testicles against his will. That’s the level of attempted homicide humour the audience is gonna get here. And funnily enough, one of scriptwriters, Max Botkin, said that he didn’t write that joke and the script was re-written by co-writer Marc Hyman and twelve other writers. Which means that FOURTEEN writers wrote this damn thing and this was the best they could come up with!

Actor Omar Chaparro commented in the press notes that “The writer [of Show Dogs] is very clever because he wrote this story to be watched by everyone, not only kids but adults too”. That is the basic demographic of a family film, sir.

There are jokes that reference the careers of the actors like how Arnett references his appearances in The LEGO Movie and Ludacris comments on what he sees as ludicrous (Get it?!); and it comes off as pathetic, unfunny and pandering. And they say it out loud JUST IN CASE THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK AREN’T GETTING IT! Hell, the film references the dog film, Turner and Hooch, starring Tom Hanks. Whom in the target audience of children would even know that film?

Other forms of humour are dog farts, testicle jokes, blatant meta remarks, annoyingly pantomime performances and really bad CGI. Even the storytelling is non-existent, as there is no plot. Just a string of unfunny events that goes on for 90 minutes, that feels like three years.

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The cast assembled all look mortified to be there, wondering how the hell did they get involved in this thing. Arnett does the typical Will Arnett film performance, which involves talking in a deep voice and keeping his eyes wide open for as long as possible. Omar Chaparro does nothing with his villainous role but play pantomime to a supposedly evil facial expression that involves looking to the corner of your eye.

Lyonne is given nothing to do with a cardboard cutout of a character. The funniest things that she does involving Show Dogs are in the press notes, where she says zingers like “Will Arnett is so well suited to the role because I really believe he works for the FBI” and my personal favourite on her role in the film: “It’s clearly the role I was born for”. Seriously, read the press notes of Show Dogs; they are far funnier, less time-consuming and more enlightening than the film itself.

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The voice cast of Tucci and Cumming, Sparks and RuPaul, they play roles that are clearly cardboard cutouts of personae they’ve played in the past i.e. The Devil Wears Prada, Burlesque and RuPaul respectively. And the most sophisticated casting the filmmakers could come up with is Shaquille O’Neal playing a dreadlocked Buddhist Komondor Karma, who spouts unfunny platitudes.

The budget of the film was $5.5 million so there wasn’t a big paycheck on their parts so what was the reason that the talented cast of Will Arnett, Natasha Lyonne, Stanley Tucci, Alan Cumming and others got to be in this mess? There are at least 15 dog movies and Miss Congeniality on Netflix (which the film is clearly ripping off) and you can watch all of them in the month free trial, rather than spend money to watch that piece of dog excrement that is Show Dogs.

EDIT: The cut of Show Dogs that I saw had that questionable ‘happy place’ dog grooming scene cut down. Unfortunately, the other 90 minutes still remain.

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Will Arnett, Natasha Lyonne, RuPaul Voices: Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Jordin Sparks, Gabriel Iglesias, Shaquille O’Neal, Alan Cumming, Stanley Tucci
Director: Raja Gosnell
Screenwriters: Max Botkin, Marc Hyman

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Movie Review – The Bookshop

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EXPECTATIONS: An understated, emotionally stirring piece of work.

REVIEW: Isabel Coixet has always been a talented filmmaker, making understated drama films dealing with issues like existentialism and inner turmoil to great aplomb. Although there have been some highs in her filmography like My Life Without Me and The Secret Life of Words (both starring the talented actress/director Sarah Polley), her last few films have signaled a steady decline in quality.

Since 2009’s beautiful yet empty Maps of the Sounds of Tokyo, her films have ranged from emotionally resonant to thematically lightweight. Now, we have her latest film, The Bookshop, which is adapted from an acclaimed novel of the same name by Penelope Fitzgerald. With its talented cast and strong source material, will it get Coixet out of her slump?

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Emily Mortimer stars as Florence Green, a widow who has just decided to put her turmoils behind her and risk everything to open up a bookshop; the first shop of its type in the sleepy seaside town of Hardborough, England.

But this seemingly innocent decision causes quite a stir in the town, which brings her fierce enemies: she invites the hostility of the town’s less prosperous shopkeepers and also crosses Mrs. Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), Harborough’s alpha who is a wannabe prominent of the local arts scene.

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Is The Bookshop a stellar film that gets Coixet out of her slump? Well…as with all of Coixet’s films, the cinematography, courtesy of regular cinematographer Jean-Claude Larrieu, is striking to look at. The musical score by Alfonso de Vilallonga is quite effective when utilized at the right moments.

And the last but not least, the standout performance is from Honor Kneafsey. She struggles a little bit in the first act but manages to find the perfect balance in conveying maturity and naivety, as Christine. With her performance here and her work in the murder mystery film Crooked House, her career looks like it could go on to greener pastures.

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Which makes it all the more disappointing that The Bookshop lands with a loud thud. Despite the fact that the film is adapted from acclaimed source material, the characters are as thin as the pages they’re written on. Florence wants to start a bookshop because she likes books and the film never develops the character nor the motivation beyond that. And the same goes for Mrs. Gamart, who wants to use the foundation of the bookshop to build an art center. Mustache-twirling ensues.

The acting would’ve given the characters and the film much-needed vitality but they’re all quite lifeless. Mortimer is okay as Florence, but her performance confuses inner emoting with inactivity. Nighy gets in a few chortles but he looks like he’s reprising his role as a zombie in Shaun of the Dead. His performance doesn’t come off as subtle, it comes off as sedated. Clarkson, who’s shown acerbity like a professional in many films, most recently in Sally Potter’s The Party, is unfortunately quite de-fanged here.

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It certainly doesn’t help the actors that the storytelling is all over the place, led by (or led off?) by Coixet’s loose direction, which just goes off into montages of misery without any character investment. To make up for the lack of convincing conflict and thin characterization, narration (read by Julie Christie) is added and it is patronizing, illogical and snore-inducingly terrible.

In one scene, Bill Nighy’s character, Brundish, tears the portrait pages from book covers and tosses them on a fire, while the narration says “There was nothing that bothered him more than the portraits that appeared in certain editions.” In another scene, we see Florence being angry at the bank teller, the narration actually states that “She is angry”. It’s bad enough that the audience are not only disengaged, but they’re being treated like brain-damaged morons.

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And when the film isn’t being boring, it becomes increasingly creepy, with the inclusion of a slight romance between Florence and Brundish, as the two bond over the love of books. The age difference is just terrifying and speaking of morbidity, the ending of the film is so predictable, that a certain plot device shown early in the film, completely ruins it. The foreshadowing is just insultingly solid-black.

Overall, The Bookshop is a predictable bore that wastes many of its talents on terrible storytelling and emotionally stunted direction from Coixet. Give a hoot, read a book. But don’t watch this movie. See The Guernsey Literary and the Potato Peel Pie Society instead. Now that’s a film that at least conveys the love of books in a more entertaining and compelling fashion.

Quickie Review

PROS

Honor Kneafsey’s performance

Well-shot and in some parts, well-scored

CONS

Inconsistent performances

Patronizing narration

Underdeveloped script

Boring storytelling

Creepy attempt at romance

SCORE: 3/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, Honor Kneafsey, James Lance, Reg Wilson, Michael Fitzgerald, Hunter Tremayne, Frances Barber, Nigel O’Neill, Jorge Suquet, Harvey Bennett, Charlotte Vega, Julie Christie (narrator)
Director: Isabel Coixet
Screenwriters: Isabel Coixet, based on the novel of the same name by Penelope Fitzgerald

Movie Review – Girls VS Gangsters

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EXPECTATIONS: The worst film of 2018.

REVIEW:

When one thinks of female filmmakers, you think of people like Ann Hui, who’s a fantastic filmmaker with films focusing on society in Hong Kong eg. Night and Fog, A Simple Life, Our Time Will Come and others. One could also think of Mabel Cheung, a wonderful filmmaker who makes passionate and graceful dramas like An Autumn’s Tale and Echoes of the Rainbow.

But if there’s one Hong Kong female filmmaker that people would like to forget, it’s Barbara Wong. Starting off promisingly with the hilariously open documentary Women’s Private Parts and the wholesome comedy/drama Truth or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat, she stumbles slightly with dopey comedies like Protege de la Rose Noire and Six Strong Guys. And then came Wonder Women, a film so bad that the egregious product placement actually comes across as a relief to the film itself.

She hasn’t really recovered since, although she’s found financial success in China with awfully manipulative melodramas like The Allure of Tears and The Stolen Years, the latter being so terrible that not only it plagiarizes better melodramas like A Moment to Remember, The Vow and Million Dollar Baby; it also plagiarized this YouTube video. No, that last one is not a joke.

Continuing on from catering the China rooster by petting and rubbing it in an abrasive fashion, we have the 2014 comedy/drama Girls (not to be confused with Kenneth Bi’s Girl$), a film about female relationships that is a rip-off of the Tiny Times franchise. In an interview promoting Girls, Wong says that “It’s difficult to make a film about female relationships. No matter if it’s a gossiping or fighting scene, you have to make it real.

Well, enter into Girls VS Gangsters, a sequel (no, really!) to the 2014 film. Originally meant for release in 2016 and delayed several times until it finally arrived (dumped?) onto cinemas in March of 2018. Will this film be a return to form for Barbara Wong? Will this film actually be empowering for women? Will this film be realistic in portraying female relationships?

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Continuing where Girls left off, Xiwen (Ivy Chen) announces that she’s finally getting married to Qiao Li (originally played by Shawn Yue, but is absent for some reason) and Kimmy (Fiona Sit) persuades her to take a fun bachelorette trip to Vietnam, where the third member of the group, the filmmaker Xiaomei (originally played by Yang Zishan, but is absent for some reason), is supposedly working on a project there.

The first obstacle for Kimmy’s plan arrives in the shape of Xiwen’s other best friend (and Kimmy’s mortal enemy), Jialan (Ning Chang) and her fiancé’s teenage sister, Jingjing (Wang Shuilin). Things quickly get worse on their first night in Vietnam, where Xiaomei has arranged for them to go to the extravagant house party of a wealthy mobster (Tran Bao Son).

After a wild night at the mansion that sees Kimmy eat a dead scorpion and end up in the bedroom of her host (with no prurience, because China), Xiwen, Kimmy and Jialan wake up the next morning to find themselves naked on a deserted beach, with Jingjing nowhere to be found. Worse still, Xiwen has an ugly new tattoo on her back, while the other two are handcuffed to a trunk full of gold bars that they’re soon told by a mysterious caller to spend.

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And it gets worse and worse and worse. Girls VS Gangsters is one of the worst films that his reviewer has ever seen. No joke. And yes, for those who are curious, this film is worse than Benny Chan’s Meow, which this reviewer has said was the cinematic equivalent of ultraviolent dysentery. Girls VS Gangsters is the cinematic equivalent of drowning in a cesspool of vomit WHILST having ultraviolent dysentery.

But as one that likes to live life optimistically, let’s begin with the positives. Yeah, there are none whatsoever. To put it mildly, let’s begin with the problems. Remember what director Barbara Wong said about female relationships having to be real? Well here in Girls VS Gangsters, the characters converse with each other while using gold bars as currency, they make rape “jokes” to each other, one being “if you can’t keep this secret, you’ll be raped 100 times”; the characters get attacked by Vietnamese gangsters; they all talk about men despite this being a female empowerment film; apparently all of this is real.

And then there’s the filmmaking. What filmmaking? The green-screen and CGI utilized in this film is grotesquely cheap; there is no story whatsoever, as it consists of nothing happening very loudly for two excruciating hours. And there are many filmmaking gaffes here that is so unbelievable that they are still on-screen. Some examples include the use of slow-motion so bad that it stutters; a case of bad ADR that is so noticeable that it comes from a character whose mouth is closed; action scenes where none of the actresses are even on-screen together or not on location at all; it just goes on and and on.

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The “comedy” is absolutely ear-piercingly terrible, even by China-market standards. The high point of the humour is apparently flatulence that not only happens three times throughout the film, but is actually a major plot point. Apparently, eating a deadly scorpion is funny. Vomiting on a corpse while it’s in the coffin is the height of hilarity and gay characters are downright hysterical because they’re gay. There’s even a God of Gamblers parody in the film that’s worse than anything in From Vegas to Macau III.

And speaking of China-market standards, there’s a cameo from boxer Mike Tyson. Yes, the Mike Tyson. The same one that was convicted of rape and is registered as a sex offender is starring in a film directed by and starring women. And he’s the best actor in this thing. If that’s not offensive enough, he’s portrayed as half African-American and half-Korean, who loves Korean dramas. No, really, that actually happens. It’s blatantly clear that the only reason his character is half-Korean is that no Chinese woman on film would ever like him unless he was. And it all leads to an embarrassing scene referencing the Korean drama, Descendants of the Sun. And there’s the racism that if you’re not Chinese, then all the races of Vietnam, Thailand and Laos are absolutely interchangeable, from the appearances, customs and even the geography.

And if they are interchangeable, so are the actresses. Fiona Sit, Ning Chang and Ivy Chen have all done good work in prior films. But in Girls VS Gangsters, they all play characters that are all narcissistic, petulant, sociopathic, manipulative, greedy, selfish and morally ugly shells of a human being that the audience will be begging for the usher to hand them barf bags and oxygen masks while seeing their performances.

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And let’s get into the stupid moments in the “plot” of the film. How does one of the characters take a dump without taking her pants off? How do the characters wear on Vietnamese clothing while they are handcuffed? If the characters were naked in the beach while being cuffed, where did they get their phones? Apparently, the characters can skydive without proper training and while consuming alcohol. For a character who wants to intentionally lose in blackjack, she clearly doesn’t know that nothing in blackjack can stop you from losing!

There’s so much more to gauge, criticize and rant about this film like the horrific musical number in the credits, but this review will never end. Many people say that excessive watching of films of the horror and action genre can lead to people turning into violent, psychopathic and angry beings. No, they don’t. Films like Girls VS Gangsters turn people into violent, psychopathic and angry beings because it is so tortuously poor, that you can feel your well-being and life force being sucked away seeing that humanity actually made a film like this and released it in cinemas.

It’s a film that’s so bad that Shawn Yue and Yang Zishan and even the constant cameo-appearing Barbara Wong decided not to appear in it, despite their characters making appearances. Everyone in this film should repeatedly smash themselves in the head with a gold bullion and be thoroughly ashamed.

P.S – Girls VS Gangsters was released in cinemas on International Women’s Day. If that’s not offensive, I don’t know what is.

Quickie Review

PROS

Really?

CONS

EVERYTHING!!!!!!

SCORE: ABSOLUTE ZERO!!

Cast: Fiona Sit, Ivy Chen, Ning Chang, Mike Tyson, Wang Shuilin, Fan Tiantian, Tran Bao Son, Elly Tran
Director: Barbara Wong
Screenwriters: Barbara Wong, Daryl Doo, Yingyan Hou, Zheng Shanyu

Movie Review – Guardians of the Tomb

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EXPECTATIONS: A fun B-movie creature feature along the lines of Big-Ass Spider.

REVIEW: It is great to watch films that stimulate the mind and dazzle the eye through fantastic filmmaking chops and directorial skill, but sometimes it’s nice to sit back and watch an unpretentious B-movie that simply exists to entertain. And one of the best genres to provide just that are creature features.

With recent films like Kong: Skull Island and Big-Ass Spider; or classics like Jaws and Alien; or even so-bad-it’s-good efforts like Troll 2 and Zombeavers, these are films that know what they are, achieve what they say on the tin and they do it well, with genuine effort.

But these types of films can go very wrong and it can be narrowed down to two reasons: putting in a bad effort and putting effort to be bad. Putting in a bad effort would result in films like The Swarm, which was ripe with potential, but ended up being boring. Or there are films that are deliberately terrible like Sharknado, which adds a sour taste of post-modernism and self-awareness that excuses bad filmmaking and shoddy skills.

So where does the China/Australian creature feature Guardians of the Tomb fit in? The film is directed by Kimble Rendall, who directed the goofy shark film, Bait 3D and it stars a mix of Chinese, American and Australian talent. So will it be an entertaining film for earned or unearned reasons? Or will it be a costly and incompetent bore?

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A team of scientists who lose a colleague in an ancient labyrinth while trying to make the discovery of a century. The group must battle their way through a swarm of deadly, man-eating funnel web spiders and discover the secret behind the arachnid’s power and intelligence.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Did I just copy that synopsis word-for-word from Wikipedia? Why yes, yes I did. At least in this case, I admitted it and I credited it where it’s from but in the case of Guardians of the Tomb, which steals from many, many films, it just comes off as lazy and stupid. To think that this film was credited to four writers. Four people wrote this thing!

You could make a drinking game out of it, pointing out things like this part is from Jurassic Park (the helicopter landing), this part is from Jurassic World (Kellan Lutz’s character), this part is from Aliens (the introduction of Eva Liu’s character), this part is from Psycho (the jump scare involving a corpse and a revolving chair), it just goes on and on and on. You can just hear the producers of the film high-fiving each other as they came up with this thing. Funnily enough, two of the credited writers are film producers themselves, so I guess it’s quite a fitting analogy.

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But first, let’s start off positively before an aneurysm might start off. The CGI of the spiders themselves is quite well-executed (yet jarring with the practical effects surrounding then) and Li Bingbing treats the film with utmost sincerity, as she seems to be the only actor in the film that’s actually trying to make the film good. Or it could be that her acting efforts (as well as her producing efforts) were made to make China look good due to news that she tried to incite propaganda about medical care in China and Australia. But that’s another story.

And that is it for the positives because Guardians of the Tomb is complete garbage. Known under many titles like 7 Guardians of the Tomb aka Nest 3D aka Funnel-Web aka Nest 3D and the Search for the Venom of Eternity, that alone shows that the filmmakers (or anyone really) had no clue with what they wanted to make.

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Let’s start with the actors. While Li Bingbing is fine, the rest of the cast are all either slumming it or clearly can’t act to save their life. Kellan Lutz, whom I have nothing against as a person, has always been a block of wood in films like The Legend of Hercules and the Twilight series, but in the case of Guardians of the Tomb or whatever the hell it’s called, he is saddled with a character that is clearly Chris Pratt’s character in Jurassic World. The entrance is the same, the costumes are the same and even some of the dialogue is the same, word-for-word. But clearly without the charisma or indeed the talent.

At one point, he introduces himself to Li’s character and he says to her to follow his rules because he’s the man. And it was at this point that I wanted Li’s character to punch him in the face for that chauvinistic, self-entitled attitude. And his character is practically drooled on by Stef Dawson’s character, which is just annoying, despite Dawson’s likable presence.

Shane Jacobson can be a good comedic actor with films like the mockumentary Kenny, but here he’s saddled with terrible lines of dialogue (involving Twitter and Willy Wonka of all things), but what makes it worse is that half of the lines are thrown in the film via ADR (additional dialogue recording) but it’s done so badly, it feels like leftovers from an audio commentary that was meant to disparage the film. And the other half of his lines are variations of “We should leave now.” Boy, did I regret not listening to him.

And then there’s Kelsey Grammer, who has a character that might as well have “I AM EVIL, PAY ME NOW!” tattooed on his forehead. He genuinely looks angry to be in the film and it becomes a waiting game just to see him let loose and when he does, it’s too little, too late. He does however have the best moment in the film where he explains his motives by actually yelling “I’M A BUSINESSMAN!”.

And of course we have Jason Chong, who plays a character that might as well be a cardboard cutout with a tape recorder attached to it, playing lines of plot exposition, because that’s all he spouts out, just in case the people in the back of the cinema can’t hear, understand or even care! And there’s Wu Chun, the pretty boy of the film who clearly can’t have his appearance ruined despite the fact that he has been lost over the course of many days in a nest of spiders.

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If you know your creature features and especially the working of the China-market, you can easily guess who is going to survive or die in the film. But honestly, all of these faults can be excused or even glossed over if the film actually had a sense of fun, but it never elicits any sense of thrill, suspense, tension or even unintentional laughter. It’s an absolute bore that believes that it’s delivering entertainment and characters worth caring for.

There are scenes that are meant to be dramatically involving, but they end up being incredibly tedious and overbearing with the point it is trying to make (Li’s brother, Wu Chun is lost out in the desert and it’s conveyed as a metaphor as their younger selves being trapped in a maze. Really?!). And the filmmakers are so intent on thinking that this would make us care for the characters that they repeat the same flashbacks over and over, that I’m sure that they take 20% of the total runtime. They even include dramatic flashbacks for Lutz’s character and integrate real footage of people dying in earthquakes. So not only does it make the film tedious, but it also make it tasteless as well.

The spiders themselves are just that: spiders. There’s no ingenuity or inspiration in the portrayal of them and the big spider of them all is as big as a turkey platter, meaning that it has no menace whatsoever. And the climax of the film, which is clearly meant to be some big battle, is so anti-climactic that people in the audience would demand refunds. There was no battle, there was no conflict, the film just stops, with a stupid jump scare that if you didn’t see it coming, you clearly fell asleep.

With films like this, The Dragon Pearl and Bleeding Steel, if this is the best the Chinese and Australians can do with their collaborations, then they should just cut ties because films like this shouldn’t be in the cinema. Guardians of the Tomb is a terrible, incompetent, cynical cash-grab that everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Li Bingbing’s performance

CONS

Everything else!

SCORE: 2/10

Cast: Li Bingbing, Kellan Lutz, Kelsey Grammer, Wu Chun, Stef Dawson, Shane Jacobson, Ryan Johnson, Jason Chong
Director: Kimble Rendall
Screenwriters: Kimble Rendall, Gary Hamilton, Jonathan Scanlon, Paul Staheli

Movie Review – Bleeding Steel

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EXPECTATIONS: More Jackie Chan China-market garbage.

REVIEW: Can you believe that Jackie Chan is 63 years old? Time has gone by since his classic films like Police Story and Drunken Master and you wonder where has it all gone? But then you realize, not all that much has gone in terms of Chan’s dexterity. Even at his advanced age, he still makes plenty of action films like Kung Fu Yoga, Skiptrace and the recent film, The Foreigner, where he still shows his agile action chops.

But what has gone away is Chan’s lack of judgement, because most, if not ALL his film in the past nine years have been middling at best or incredibly awful at worst. Whether it’s the terrible filmmaking, the film patchwork China-committee scripts or just the lack of effort from everyone involved, his recent films are disappointing to say the least.

Speaking of disappointing, what was the last good science-fiction film from the Chinese market that was actually good? Aside from Battle of Memories (which also came out in 2017), it was possibly Stephen Chow’s CJ7, and that came out 9 years ago.

So now, we have Bleeding Steel, Jackie Chan’s first foray into the science-fiction genre. With two hints of disappointment, there is some hope. Filmed almost entirely in Sydney, Australia (my hometown), it was a bit of a big deal over here, especially with the action setpiece on top of the Sydney Opera House and with some Australian talent involved in front and behind the camera, the film might actually exceed expectations. Will it look like a well-executed sci-fi venture or will be a sci-fi venture that looks…executed?

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Jackie Chan stars as Lin Dong, a loving father (who of course, put a teddy bear under a seatbelt) and supercop (What else?) who is in charge of handling protection for Dr. James (Kim Gyngell), a scientist specializing in “bioroid” soldiers, who is on the run from one of these hybrid mercenaries, Andre (Callan Mulvey), one of his experiments gone wrong. Lin is on his way to see his young daughter Xixi, who’s dying from leukemia (that’s what it said in the English subtitles), when he’s called to rescue James from an ambush led by Andre and his cronies.

When it spectacularly goes wrong, 13 years pass (where some characters don’t age a day, apparently) and we see Nancy (Taiwanese teen idol-cellist Nana Ouyang), a Chinese girl raised in an orphanage, who is tormented by nightmares of a past life, interspersed with visions of a beating full-metal heart. She seeks advice first from a witch doctor, then a hypnotist and so on (consisting of people dressed up like rejects of Pirates of the Caribbean).

And every time she goes on these errands, Leeson (Show Lo) a thief is always on her trail to lend a hand. The two stories eventually go hand-in-hand and it becomes an all-out showdown between Lin Dong and Andre, with Nancy and Leeson into the mix.

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To get the jist of where this review is going, Jackie Chan is credited as “Excetutive Producer” [sic] in the opening credits of Bleeding Steel. That pretty much tells you the amount of effort that went into this film, because Bleeding Steel is one of the worst films, not only of 2017, but in Jackie Chan’s career. Yes, even worse than the execrable Kung Fu Yoga.

Let’s begin with the positives. The opening action scene is actually well-executed. The action choreography of the shootouts, along with the Hollywood-like editing and the professional use of pyrotechnics are well-done and it promises to be a good start for the film, at least from an action stand-point.

And that is it for the positives, because the rest is just putrefying garbage. The action scenes are incredibly underwhelming and furiously edited to the point that it becomes exhausting rather than exciting. The highly-anticipated action scene set on top of the Sydney Opera House is hugely disappointing due to the routine fight choreography, the distracting green screen and the sloppy direction from Leo Zhang. Having the camera closer to see the performers would be nice, but little to that type of invention rarely ever happens.

It also doesn’t help that none of the supporting actors who play the villains are actual martial artists nor they are a decent compliment to Jackie Chan himself. It just feels rote, even with the supposed one-take action sequence in the climax involving three opponents.

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And now we get to the comedy. It is quite apparent that infantile, low-brow comedy is one of the hallmarks for the China-market and Bleeding Steel is no exception. But even by China-market standards, this is just god-awful.

And as expected, the strong xenophobia is back.  If you think Australians were portrayed horribly in Jackie Chan films like First Strike and Mr. Nice Guy, you should see Bleeding Steel. Apparently, every Australian in the film is either a rapist (every man in the slum Nancy visits wants to rape her), a racist (a Uni student claims she doesn’t understand Chinglish [sic]), a bully, an idiot, an insane person, (a TV reporter sounds like she’s having a stroke) a killer, a thief or even Australians playing foreigners, badly. But hey, what do I know about people in Australia? I was only born there.

The story is treated with utmost seriousness, but the film is always pummeled to the ground with unfunny comedy, and the main culprit for that is Show Lo. Despite proving to have solid comedic chops in Stephen Chow films like Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons and The Mermaid, in Bleeding Steel he is an incredibly annoying presence that you just want Jackie to break his neck.

His introduction into the film involves crossdressing and implying to go down under a man from Down Under. And boy, it only gets worse from there. Another comedic setpiece involves Lo fighting slum-residing rapists (who happen to know parkour because every person who lives in the slums knows parkour) with his belt, doing a terrible Bruce Lee impression with his pants down.

There are unfunny references to Jackie Chan himself despite the fact that he’s in the damn film! There’s even a scene where Nancy punches out a uni girl (that’s exactly how the actress is credited, no joke) for saying racist things and Lo praises her as a credit to the Chinese. You can’t get any worse than this.

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Other than Show Lo, the supporting cast are nothing to write about. Nana Ouyang (known as a talented cellist) has a charming presence but she isn’t much of an actress due to her wooden delivery while Erica Xia-hou gives a bland performance as the superfluous cop partner of Lin Dong, who presumably is in the film because she’s a co-writer of the script.

Tess Haubrich (famous for Australian TV shows Home and Away and the upcoming second season of Wolf Creek) is stuck with a bad European accent while looking like a mix of Jessica Chastain from Mama and Asia Argento. She does her best with her action scenes and the role but the terrible script and sloppy direction let her down.

And last and definitely the least, there’s Callan Mulvey as the main villain, Andre. Last seen in Beyond Skyline in a likable role as a doctor and Batman v Superman as an okay villain, in Bleeding Steel, he just looks laughably bad in his make-up that you almost feel sorry for him. Every Australian actor is directed so terribly and given such risible dialogue, that you almost think they’re being forced to be on camera at gunpoint, like that Barnaby Joyce video with Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.

But wait, there’s also the story, which is completely patched up with parts of other Hollywood films, which strangely enough, the filmmakers chose to plagiarize G.I Joe – The Rise of Cobra, of all things. And the drama is incredibly mishandled, with a dramatic character reveal so obvious that even a coma victim could figure it out. And there are so many details in the film that are so stupid or inexplicable that it’s hard to believe that there ever was a script to begin with.

Why is there a well of lava on the spaceship? How does transferring blood transfer memories? Why aren’t there police around the Sydney Opera House when there is a major commotion? Can costumes be susceptible to gas? How does Leeson escape many situations that guarantee death? Why is the covert found footage in the video camera filmed like a documentary, complete with narration? Oh God, my head hurts!

Speaking of head injuries, the costumes for the bioroids (more like hemorrhoids) look incredibly cheap (there’s a scene where Lo plays with the broken visor that looks like an outtake shoved in the film) and the CGI (for a budget that is apparently the highest budget for a Chinese film set in Australia) and make-up prosthetics look so ghastly that the film looks it belongs in the SyFy channel. There’s even obvious CGI water where characters are swimming in the ocean.

To think that the best thing in the film is the end credits (and no, not because the film ended) because Jackie sings the Police Story theme song in Mandarin. Okay, you got me, it’s because the film ended. Bleeding Steel is just one big pile of awfulness that it becomes shockingly funny. Unlike Kung Fu Yoga, the quality of the film is so low that you can invite your mates for a drinking night to watch the film and you’ll be guaranteed fits of laughter. And in the case of blockbusters by Jackie Chan, we’ll take what we can get.

But what people will not get is the Jackie Chan magic. There’s a scene in the film where Chan fights opponents with props from a magic show that is quite amusing, but unfortunately, there is too little of it and it just fades away. And like Jackie Chan himself, the magic is gone and that is no laughing matter.

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Quickie Review

PROS

The first action scene is quite good

Many unintentionally funny moments

CONS

Too damn many to mention

SCORE: 2/10

Cast: Jackie Chan, Show Lo, Nana Ouyang, Erica Xia-Hou, Callan Mulvey, Tess Haubrich, Kim Gyngell
Director: Leo Zhang
Screenwriters: Leo Zhang, Erica Xia-Hou, Siwei Cui

Movie Review – The Snowman

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EXPECTATIONS: A film that is warmer than its frosty reputation.

REVIEW: Another week, another film set in the snowy terrain. This week, we have The Snowman, a serial killer thriller starring Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson and a embarrassment of talent. But unlike the prior film, The Mountain (of Cheese) Between Us, this film has achieved quite a negative reception and brutal reviews from almost every major publication. So what must one do if one were to go into a film like this?

It helps to have an open mind. Films in the past like The Shining (1980), Scarface (1983) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (not released in 2001) gained negative reviews in the past, but over time, the films have garnered a much more positive reception; so there is a chance that The Snowman may be an unappreciated gem.

It could also help that you watch the film with an ironic bent in mind. Laughter really is the best medicine, regardless of the intention and it can get one through films painlessly and even have give films a new reputation as a unintentional comedy classic eg. The Wicker Man (2006) and The Room.

And of course, there’s the much more unorthodox solution of going in a film while being inebriated from either mild amounts of alcohol and cough syrup, but that is not recommended. With all that in mind and all that negative baggage, is it possible to actually enjoy The Snowman for what it is? Let’s cool off and delve into this thing, Mr Freeze-style.

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What an ice-hole.

Michael Frost-bender stars as Harry Hole (no, really), an investigator who’s down on his luck due to his addictions and his zero-temperature status of a marriage with his ex-wife (Charlotte Gains-breeze).

He is then brought back into the fray where an elusive serial killer known as The Snowman starts killing again, continuing a streak of murdered women. With the help of a young, experienced recruit (Rebecca Frigid-son), Hole has to connect the streak of murders to the current murders to stop The Snowman from striking again.

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This is a man who can’t believe what he got himself into.

So with the alcohol/cough syrup discount, an open mind and an ironic bent in check, did I enjoy The Snowman? Absolutely not. But let’s not start this on the negative side. The cinematography by Ski-on Beebe (too many great films to mention) is terrific, as it conveys the chilling territory of the locations in Norway quite well. And the musical score by M-arctic-o Beltrami does deliver a sense of urgency (along the side of unintentionally hilarious timing) to the proceedings.

And like a sense of warmth in the winter, it’s gone in an instant and we delve into the negatives. With this much talent in the cast (Val Chill-mer, Snow-by Jones, J.K. Ski-mmons, Snowy Sevigny and others), you expect them to give passionate and heated performances that would at least elevate the script. Unfortunately, that never happens.

Almost all of the performances are so stilted and petrified that it’s almost as if they were all kept in a meat freezer for weeks and just as the cameras started to roll, they were finally let out to deliver their lines on cue. It’s awe-inspiring to think that this much talent is given next to nothing to work with and are left out there in the cold.

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That’s the face of a woman who knows that she deserves better.

There’s a scene where Charlotte Gains-breeze and Michael Frost-bender are engaging in a prurient fashion that is so ill-executed that it brings new meaning to the word “frigid”. The only bright (or at least, easily seen) light out of the cast is Rebecca Frigid-son, who actually shows signs of life, until her character is unceremoniously expended.

Speaking of being unceremoniously expended, almost of the female characters are either damsels-in-distress, sex objects or murder victims. Hell, some of them are all three. To think at this day of age, the story could be updated to be timely and thematic but the film has the nerve to have a character that is eerily reminiscent of Harvey Windbag Weinstein (with an out-of-this-world accent).

Even with that in check, the story itself is just so dull and goes by at a glacial pace, the film makes polar ice caps look like cars in the Fast and Furious films. The killer himself (or is it herself?) is so predictable that the film should have featured a siren that goes “HONK! HONK!” when the person arrived. And the backstory and motive for the killer is even worse, which adds to the sexism directed to the female characters. It is the solid black foreshadowing, the many scenes of overdone exposition and the horrific editing (credited to Claire Ski-mpson and later credited to Thelma Snow-Cone-maker) that kills every source of heated tension.

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That’s the face of a man who just woke up and realized what film he is in.

But let’s give special mention to Val Chill-mer. Featuring in the film via flashbacks, he brings much-needed and unintentional vitality (or insanity) to the film that audiences will be shocked and awed at his appearance and especially the dubbing. While it is very understandable why Chill-mer was dubbed due to sounding like Sylvester Stallone on Quaaludes (NOTE: Here’s the proof!), the dubbing is so terrible that American distributors of Shaw Brothers films would be rolling on the floor laughing if they witnessed it.

Even if Chill-mer was dubbed properly, the script doesn’t help anyone involved whatsoever, since it is in desperate need of defrosting. According to an interview with director Snow-mas Alfredson, he said that only 85% of the script was completed. If that’s true, then the film is more nourished than I thought since the trailer actually has many scenes foreshadowed that are not in the finished product.

Dialogue exchanges border on farce like in a scene where Hole asks a colleague for some files that you’ll be begging for icicles to pierce your ears with; film techniques such as cutaways and dramatic zooms are utilized to laughable effect (every time a snowman appears) and the violence is so overstated, that it comes across as funny (like scenes from M Fright. Shyamalan‘s The Happening). Hell, even the narrations (which in one particular scene is via walkie-talkie) is embarrassing to witness.

How could this much talent involved could make such a disastrous film? To be honest, it doesn’t matter what the answer is. Even with Val Chill-mer‘s appearance and Snow-mas Alfredson‘s explanation, it doesn’t matter what happened behind the scenes; what matters is what’s on-screen. And after witnessing this disaster, someone out there is just begging to get their ice kicked.

But hey, snow film is better than no film, right? WRONG!

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That’s the face of a man who’s career is steadily going down the toilet.

Quickie Review

PROS

Good cinematography and effective score

Rebecca Frigid-son

CONS

Everything else

SCORE: 1/10

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jonas Karlsson, J.K. Simmons, Val Kilmer, David Dencik, Toby Jones, Chloe Sevigny, James D’Arcy
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Screenwriters: Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan, Søren Sveistrup

Movie Review – Meow

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EXPECTATIONS: Something that will surprise me, like Stephen Chow’s CJ7.

REVIEW: Benny Chan is known as one of Hong Kong’s most commercially successful directors. With huge classic hits like A Moment of Romance and Big Bullet to his recent blockbusters like The White Storm and Shaolin, he is quite dependable to rely on for action spectacle.

But when Chan branches out to different genres, that is when his films go from decent to disastrous. One of the examples is the sequel to Gen-X Cops, Gen-Y Cops, a film so bad that it made the original look like The Wild Bunch. Filled with abysmal acting, ridiculous events strewn together to resemble a plot and a script that makes Paul Rudd (yes, that Paul Rudd) say the most awful lines (some even in Cantonese!).

Another example is the sci-fi/fantasy flick City Under Siege, which was considered to be Hong Kong’s answer to X-Men, but it turned out to be a disaster, with the expected terrible script, awful acting and unintentionally hilarious make-up effects that would make the Toxic Avenger look like an art installation.

But the two films have one essential factor in common that made them entertaining, despite the terrible quality of each of them: they were both unintentionally funny. They were never comedies, but the films were such disastrous examples of filmmaking, that they might as well have been classified as one.

So when I heard that Chan was making a family comedy about alien cats invading planet Earth, I was both equally appalled and intrigued. Appalled at the fact that Benny Chan would direct such a thing that Wong Jing would shill out any day of the week and intrigued at the fact it could be an enjoyable disaster like the other two entries.

But one thing is for sure: it helps to have an open mind. Does Meow live up to my expectations or even exceed them to become an enjoyable surprise like Stephen Chow’s CJ7? Or will it crash-land and burn up before it even starts the opening credits?

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In the distant corners of the universe, a planet of cats known as Meow exists where its creatures are more civilized than Earthlings. Thousands of years ago, the king of Meow has been sending messengers to planet Earth, hoping to prepare for an invasion. However, over the years, every messenger sent to Earth never returned, which forced the king to put aside his plans.

In the present day, the king decides to re-ignite his plan and selects the bravest and mightiest warrior of Meow, Pudding, as a vanguard to Earth. However, during the journey, Pudding loses a divine Meow device that can resist the particles of Earth and loses his divine powers.

As a result, the lean-built Pudding becomes a giant fat cat Xilili (due to a contrived reason). It is then adopted by a family, which consists of Go-Lee Wu (Louis Koo), his wife (Ma Li), their elder son (Andy Wong) and younger daughter (Jessica Liu). Xilili has no choice but to hide in the Wu household before finding his device to invade Earth.

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Most people have written articles, which say films that consist of pervasive violence and adult content can turn people into psychopaths. To them I say, nay, because it is films like Meow that can turn people into psychopaths. Apart from Kung Fu Yoga (which I thought would never be surpassed as the worst film I have seen so far this year), watching Meow was one of the most insufferable and emotionally harrowing experiences I have ever been through.

To think that most of Benny Chan’s films have unintentionally funny moments in his serious films, it would be feasible to think he would be good at comedy. But in the case of Meow, it shows that he does not have a comedic bone in his body whatsoever. The script is so incredibly stupid and mindbogglingly misguided, that even infants would be insulted.

Who in poo-perfect hell thought that a scene where an alien cat plans to murder a family with a kitchen knife, would be suitable for family entertainment? The only time the film was inching close to laughter is during the dramatic scenes. Like during a scene where one of the main characters trips over, I laughed wholeheartedly. But even with those moments, it was not enough to compensate for the rest.

During the film, I thought to myself, what was going through the minds of Louis Koo and Benny Chan that they would be involved in this film, But alas, it was said in a behind-the-scenes feature that it was Louis Koo’s idea to make a film about cats, due to the fact that he does advertisements for a health and beauty franchise (Mannings) that has a cat as a mascot. And it was Chan’s idea to make it into a feature film about cats in space. If that’s the case, then Louis Koo should get double the blame for his contribution of the cinematic equivalent of ultraviolent dysentery.

In order to find comedies funny, you have to have some sort of engagement with the characters. Clearly, no one involved in the film knew that since the actors in the film all probably thought that to get laughs out of the script is to deliver the lines as loud as humanly possible. And boy, it is like a bunch of needles piercing through your ears and into your brain.

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Louis Koo overacts miserably as Go-Lee Wu (He plays a goalie! Get it?), as he suffers through fart jokes (some literally in his face), pratfalls and lots and lots of screaming. Ma Li (or Mary Ma, as she is credited) loses all of her comedic chops from her prior films like Goodbye Mr. Loser, as she is stuck playing an unlikable harpy while the supporting cast all overact like loonies, that I actually sided with the cat wanting to kill the family. They are all that insufferable to watch.

The only actor in the film that is somewhat tolerable is Michelle Wai. Wai is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated actress in HK, as she has always displayed stellar work, even in the smallest of roles eg. her drug addict role in Insanity. In the case of Meow, she does fine in an unfairly written role as a school teacher and she almost goes out of the film unscathed. She almost acts like a normal human being to the point that I yelled at the screen, pleading her to take me away from the loonies! And yet when the film reaches the end credits, she overacts like all the other loonies. So close.

There are a lot more things to say about Meow, like the xenophobic moments (one character that is meant to be a portrayal of a Thai person is shockingly racist AND homophobic), the ham-fisted approach in conveying a lesson to the audience that filial love trumps all, plot holes (like how does the family afford all the cat food and supplies if they are struggling financially due to Go-Lee Wu being in massive debt?) and even lapses in basic logic (Cats don’t even land on their feet in this film!), but it’s just not worth it.

When parents teach children how to behave themselves, there are some lessons that are taught, which are already known, without prior education. Like how one should not run with scissors or one should not talk to strangers. And now the lesson of not watching Meow should be one of those lessons. Meow is an atrocious piece of garbage and everyone involved in this film should be thoroughly ashamed.

Quickie Review

PROS

You’re kidding me, right?

CONS

**doing a Gary Oldman impression** EVERYTHING!!!

SCORE: 0/10

Cast: Louis Koo, Ma Li, Jessica Liu, Andy Wong, Michelle Wai, Louis Yuen, Grasshopper, Lo Hoi-pang, Lam Chi-chung
Director: Benny Chan
Screenwriters: Chan Hing-ka, Ho Miu-kei, Poon Chun-lam

Movie Review – Kung Fu Yoga

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EXPECTATIONS: An insufferable experience from the once-great Jackie Chan.

REVIEW: Before I get into this review, let’s get the b-word out of the way. I am a fan of Jackie Chan. Ever since I saw one of his films on SBS, I became a huge fan of his due to his incredible dexterity, his creative fight choreography, his amazing stuntwork and his likable aw-shucks persona.

But like every action hero, the thing that defeats them is age, but Chan has always compensated with more creative fight choreography, a sharper focus on acting and and branching out from his likable persona.

But ever since 2009, he’s hit a major snag that has rendered his reputation from being extremely likable to something a lot more polarizing i.e. he became a supporter of Communist China.

Since then, the quality of his films have dropped massively, with very little effort involved from everyone including fight choreography, ill-disciplined use of the high budget and the incredibly childish sense of humour that seems to be present to pander to the China market.

And last but not least, the jingoism and xenophobia is incredibly blatant that it is quite easy to be thrown out of the film. Cases in point: Skiptrace, Shinjuku Incident, Chinese Zodiac, Dragon Blade, Railroad Tigers; the list goes on.

And now, we have Kung Fu Yoga, an action/adventure that seems to be a throwback to the Armour of God films, with all the globetrotting and action you would expect. But can this film break the negative trend or will it sink into it?

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Jackie Chan plays Jack (who else?), a world-renowned archaeology professor, and his team are on a grand quest to locate a lost ancient Indian treasure when they are ambushed by a team of mercenaries and left for dead. Using his vast knowledge of history and kung fu (what else?), Jack leads his team on a race around the world to beat the mercenaries to the treasure and save an ancient culture.

Now that is a simple enough plot that is easy to follow. But boy, is it terribly told. The introduction to the film is incredibly emblematic of this flaw. It involves a five-minute backstory all told in terribly rendered CGI that could have only come from a PS2 game but what is bewildering is that it has absolutely no effect or relevance to the plot whatsoever!

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But hey, who cares about the plot in a Jackie Chan film? All we want is the action! Is the action good in Kung Fu Yoga? Nope, not at all. The choreography looks sloppy, uninspired and worst of all, boring. The stunts obviously look wire-assisted, the CGI implemented looks absolutely atrocious and the sets look incredibly cheap. Nothing in the action scenes thrill or amuse and it just ends up being tedious. When a major highlight in an action scene involves a horrific looking CGI lion in a car, believe me, you’re in trouble.

So, when you have terrible action scenes in a Jackie Chan film, all you have is, well, a whiff of something you’re sure not to like. There’s the xenophobia and jingoism present throughout i.e. how there are no Indians that can find an Indian artifact in India, and can solve the puzzle inscribed on the artifact. In Indian. Or how the film actually has the guts to provide a ham-fisted moral lesson from the Chinese to Indians, about something they read from an Indian artifact! And the character actually says “Stop teaching me about my own country!”

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And there’s also the blatant plagiarism that the film steals from eg. Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Fast and the Furious films, Tomb Raider and the James Bond films. And there are many details that took me off guard. Like, why is there the use of bells in a university? How do you distract wolves with kung fu stances and snowball throwing? Why is it that a gunshot does not echo throughout the ice cave to signal that someone is in the cave? How is it that the ice cave, which is believed to be in the middle of nowhere, have two people come out of the cave through a staircase? With handrails?

Asking all of these, and many other questions, just made me realize that the film didn’t entertain or distract me from any of those flaws. The actors are no great shakes in their performances and most of them were clearly hired for market appeal rather than thespian chops. Or even charisma.

Even for those who are talented, like Eric Tsang, they disappear faster than Jackie Chan’s reputation in Hong Kong. And the tone is all over the place; the film is clearly aiming for family-friendly (or so it says) humour, and yet there are instances of adult language and violence involving deadly animals.

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Now the end credits is actually the best part of the film. And not because it meant the film was over. I personally hated the way they remixed the original song, but the dance number looked very nice and is well choreographed, by Farah Khan no less.

Kung Fu Yoga is a massive disappointment for fans of Jackie Chan, fans of cinema, Indian fans, Indian people in general and is just a complete embarrassment for all involved. Even the Indians didn’t like the film when the film was released there. That tells you what you need to know.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Okay dance number in the end

Eric Tsang in a very small role

CONS

Everything else

SCORE: 2/10

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Jackie Chan, Disha Patani, Aarif Lee Rahman, Sonu Sood, Lay Zhang, Mu Qimiya, Zhang Guoli, Eric Tsang, Amyra Dastur, Coco Jiang
Director: Stanley Tong
Screenwriter: Stanley Tong

Movie Review – Assassin’s Creed

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EXPECTATIONS: A videogame film adaptation that finally breaks the videogame film curse.

REVIEW: The majority of videogame films are, for a lack of a better term, complete tosh. From catastrophes like Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros. and most of Uwe Boll‘s filmography to films that are close to viewer satisfaction like Final Fantasy VII – Advent Children and Ace Attorney, the reputation of videogame films is not something you would proudly put on a pedestal.

So when Creedy Assassin Assassin’s Creed was announced to be made into a film, I admit that I had zero expectations whatsoever. Granted, I have never played the games before, but upon discovering the incredibly talented cast and crew (which most of them made the fantastic Shakespeare adaptation, 2015’s Macbeth), my expectations went up. So do they manage to break the so-called videogame film curse or will the film just end up in the critically maligned dung-heap?

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The film starts off during the Spanish Inquisition, with the Assassin’s Creed (consisting of Aguilar de Nerha and Maria, played by Michael Fassbender and Ariane Labed) taking a vow to get a certain artifact called the Apple of Eden, which is known to have powers that can stop violence and aggression in the world. They must obtain the artifact swiftly before the Templar Order obtains it for their unknown deeds.

Cutting to the present day, we see Callum Lynch (also Michael Fassbender), a criminal who is about to be given the lethal injection (that’s not a euphemism). He is then rescued (or revived?) by Abstergo Industries, which just so happens to be the present-day version of the Templar Order, headed by Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) and his daughter, Sophia (Marion Cotillard).

Callum is then forced to participate in the Animus Project and relive the memories of his ancestor, Aguilar, to investigate the whereabouts of the Apple of Eden in exchange of his freedom. But during the experiments, Callum begins to understand and inexplicably immerse himself to his ancestor to the point that Alan and Sophia might have bit off a bit more than they could chew.

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Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Does the film break the videogame film curse? Absolutely not. The storytelling is incredibly baffling, the action scenes are perfunctory and uneventful and the exposition is overwhelming to the point of absolute tedium. Hell, many of the story elements don’t make any sense.

For example, the Animus is portrayed as a machine that locks on to the participant to allow mobility within a circular room. So when the participant is running straight during the past, where is the participant going during the present? And this applies for tall heights as well. How high is too high when the building of the present day is quite limited?

It’s not even fully explained if Callum died during his sentencing or he was rescued before he got the injection. How do the people at Abstergo know where and when Callum in the Animus end up to become Aguilar in the past? There are so many illogical inconsistencies and plot holes that if the film was a bulletproof vest, it would be destroyed and mangled beyond recognition.

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Well, the sheer talent of the film absolutely try their best with the crummy script and cardboard cutouts substituting as characters. Michael Fassbender really tries to tap into the essence of his character(s), but he only succeeds in showing his own charisma and star power, instead of giving anything memorable that could’ve come from the script.

This can be due to the fact that main characters in videogames are in fact ciphers; basically proxies of the players that they can put themselves into to experience the story. But this is a film, not a videogame.

Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Michael K. Williams, Charlotte Rampling, Ariane LabedBrendan Gleeson; how the hell did they end up in this film? All of them struggle valiantly to give life to their characters and only Cotillard ends up with an arc that actually has some impact and that is only due to her performance. Much like the viewers, the cast were probably all present due to the involvement of rising director, Justin Kurzel. Even with films like Snowtown and Macbeth, he can’t even save this mess.

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The action scenes, which are the biggest selling point of the film, are incredibly over-edited, sanitized and shaky to the point where it is blatantly obvious that the film is sucking up to the teenage crowd to spend their money. The games were already made for people older than 17 years of age, so why doesn’t the film get made the same way? Oh that’s right, the almighty dollar, of course. There is little impact, little suspense and especially little fun be had.

To be honest, I actually fell asleep during the first action scene, since it was just so ho-hum. It also doesn’t help that we know that Fassbender’s character will survive due to the fact that Fassbender himself announced that the story is a part of a three-film arc, so there’s no stakes whatsoever. What happened to making films that were so good that people want more; instead of making feature-length commercials for future sequels and spin-offs?

But the biggest problem with the film is the storytelling. The pacing is all over the place, with exposition scenes either going way too fast (in explaining the Animus) or way too slow (in explaining the connections with Callum’s past and the present). The editing is so choppy, that it kills the little suspense the film could have earned.

The premise is interesting within of itself, but the execution would leave one incredibly puzzled. There’s even a joke in the film when Fassbender actually says “What the fuck is going on?”. Nothing else in the film is more amusing, self-aware and meta than that statement.

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With so many flaws, there are some positives. Besides the insanely committed and overqualified cast, cinematographer Adam Arkapaw makes the film look epic in scope (similar in 2015’s Macbeth) during the scenes set in the past, but can only do so much in the scenes set in the present. The scenes set in Abstergo actually reminds me of the lab scenes in Fantastic Four (2015), and no, that is absolutely not a compliment. The musical score by Jed Kurzel also adds a sense of credibility but like the rest of the crew’s work, it can only go so far.

Another videogame film adaptation, another epic fail, I’m afraid. As if the story of the film doesn’t do that already, it seriously boggles the mind that the film can assemble so much talent and yet achieve so very little. Creedy Assassin Assassin’s Creed is a disappointment on almost every level.

Quickie Review

PROS

The cast try their darnedest to give the film credibility

The production values are good

CONS

So many plot holes and illogical inconsistencies

The storytelling is all over the place

The action scenes do not thrill or excite

The pacing is incredibly haphazard

Too much exposition, which results in tedium

SCORE: 3/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams, Ariane Labed, Callum Turner, Brendan Gleeson, Essie Davis, Denis Ménochet
Director: Justin Kurzel
Screenwriter: Bill Collage, Adam Cooper, Michael Lesslie

Movie Review – Thanatos, Drunk

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EXPECTATIONS: Typical art-house drivel.

REVIEW: Slow is deliberate. Beauty is substance. Silence is emotional. If you are wondering about what I mean by those statements, I am talking about art-house expressions, told in simple layman terms. Why am I mentioning this? Because the term “art-house” applies to the film, Thanatos, Drunk. Winning many awards at the 17th Taipei Film Awards and the 52nd  Golden Horse Film Awards, it did get my expectations up. But I have been fooled by critically acclaimed art-house films before. Despite all the film-making prowess that you can muster; it can result in nothing pretentious stylistic flourishes and an astounding lack of substance in getting ANY audience to care. Case in point: some of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s films like The Flowers of Shanghai. So when I started to watch Thanatos, Drunk, I was afraid it might be a chore to watch. But to my surprise, it was worse.

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Synopsis from FilmBizAsia: Whenever Rat (Lee Hong-chi), who works at a market stall, visits his alcoholic mother (Lü Hsueh-feng), a former actress-turned-mama-san who lives by the banks of the Tanshui River, she nags Rat to get a proper job and stop hanging out with Shuo (Chen Jen-shuo), an underworld gigolo whom he looks up to and with whom he shares a flat. Shuo’s girlfriend, a club dancer, is Rat’s cousin. Rat’s older brother, Shang-ho (Huang Shang-ho), had earlier upped and left one day for the US; now he’s returned, after losing his boyfriend there. He stays with Rat and gets a job with a film company in Hsimenting district, urging Rat to cut down on his drinking and also find a steady job. One night, Rat rescues a mute young prostitute (Chang Ning), for whom he has a soft spot, from a violent client, cutting him with a hooked knife he carries. The two gradually fall for each other. Meanwhile, Shuo finds his past catching up with him; he’s beaten up and also told that Rat will pay for the scar he caused. Back at the flat, Shuo has his wounds tended by Shang-ho, who then starts coming on to him.


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The film starts off with a long-winded prologue about Rat’s mother droning on and on about her suffering while recounting her life story before giving birth to her two sons. Which, by the way, you can tell that the microphone is being covered when you hear the actress’ dialogue being muffed. Then it jumps (I don’t know how far in time, the editing is unclear in a lot of scenes) to the main character, Rat, working, and looking outside a window of his friend’s home, seeing a rat dying outside, while his friend Shuo is banging his cousin. That’s when I knew, I was not going to like this film. Rat seeing a dying rat, while he mopes around in his drunken stupor? Could that not be any more obvious as a metaphor? It also has characters staring into the horizon or the sky as some sort of emotional reflection. It may have some effect on me if the characters were defined, but they remain annoyingly one-dimensional. Rat is meant to be  the main character, but his actions are so random in their purpose, he just looks like an complete idiot, especially in scenes where he is playing with ants or pig heads.

Other characters such as Shuo and Shang-ho are just as ill-defined. In the case of Shuo, he is a ladykiller, but when he encounters Shang-ho, it is so obvious that he is somehow attracted to Shang-ho, but the direction from Chang Tso-chi is so blatant instead of ambiguous that when the so-called crescendo of the two happens (with a strong sex scene), it comes with a finality that the audience can appreciate just so we can get on with the film. It does not help that the acting is quite mixed. Lu Hsueh-Feng is over-the-top as Rat and Shang-ho’s mother to the point that her character could be the reason that her sons are messed up. Director Chang sure as hell does not know for sure. Lee Hong-chi plays his role just fine, portraying the rebellious nature well, but he can’t add inner life to his character that makes him sympathetic or even grounded. The biggest impressions goes to Chen Jun-shuo and Chang Ning, since they either are animated or add life to their roles, especially in the case of Ning, who is basically the only source of hope in this film.

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Since the acting is quite flawed, the characters should make the journey worthwhile, but it never happens. Like many films of this type, it suffers from characters who are wholly unlikable, irresponsible and downright implausible in their motives. A character in the film gets pregnant and yet they attack their partner for their faults in their position. Do not expect much of the audience to care about characters who know the ramifications of their actions, yet they do them anyway, and expect them to care. It just makes them look like total idiots, or people who have off-screen head injuries. The climax of the film concludes in gory moments, with plenty of stabbings and killings, but the result can be seen in unintentionally funny ways, since some of the execution (pun definitely intended) of the deaths is poor, particularly in a case of a suicide, which just looks really cheap. The storytelling is just as bad, since the time jumps are so out of order, I have no idea how much time has passed or know if a certain character died at that time or not.

I did expect the film to be a chore in terms of its art-house ambitions, but the characters make the film a lot worse to the point that I got a bit infuriated. Do not expect me to care if the badly-defined characters are their own faults of their incredibly stupid actions in their eventual fates. Thanatos, Drunk is just an empty shell of a film it wants to be and I’ll leave it on this note.

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When your film has a sex scene between two men realizing their sexuality AND a gory climax and they both elicit unintentional laughter and relief, your film has serious problems.

Quickie Review

PROS

Some of the acting, cinematography and music is good

CONS

Frustrating and pretentious storytelling

Inconsistent acting

Insistent and blatant directing

Unsympathetic, ill-defined and idiotic characters

SCORE: 2/10

Cast: Lee Hong-chi, Cheng Jen-shuo, Huang Shang-ho, Lv Hsueh-feng, Wang Ching-ting, Chang Ning, Lin Chin-yu, Chin Tsu-yen
Director: Chang Tso-chi
Screenwriter: Chang Tso-chi