One location, bad CGI, and a storyline that feels made for a pre-teen audience; these are the defining elements of Andy Lau’s Kung Fu Monster. It is disappointing in a way that a lot of Chinese cinema has become in recent years, and a way that should be familiar to American audiences. Try as they have to make this film entertaining to as broad of an audience as possible, the end result is too childish for adults and may even be too monotonous for the attention span of the modern child. It is hard to believe this filmmaker once made Infernal Affairs.
Yesterday has a great premise, joining the ranks of a special division of romantic comedies that are blended with a sci-fi premise. South Koreans have perfected this delicate balance with films like The Beauty Inside and How Long Will I Love You, but there are plenty of American ones as well. There are those that deal with time travel (Hot Tub Time Machine) and time loops (Groundhog’s Day), ones that take place in the future (Her), alternate worlds unlike ours (The Lobster) and alternate worlds similar to our own (The Invention of Lying, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), but all of these films made full use of their premise. Yesterday has a great concept that it seems to abandon for the romantic elements, rather than having them work in tandem. Even worse, the message of the movie becomes contradictory in its need to provide a satisfying and moral resolution.
Hollywood had long been obsessed with remaking popular films from the past, and the horror genre has often been the favorite testing ground for these updated adaptations. More often than not, the duplicate is just that, a pale imitation of the original, rarely capable of capturing the original magic, much less creating some of its own. With news of a Child’s Play remake, I expected this trend to continue, particularly with news of Don Mancini disassociated himself with the film. But considering the downward spiral of Mancini’s franchise (which continues simultaneously with home-entertainment releases), this turned out to be a good thing.
The way that superhero/comic book movies are received by audiences is beginning to feel a bit like high school. If a film is thought to be popular, there are those who make up their mind about it before they have even taken the time to get to figure out if their expectations will be met. And then there are those films that the masses decide are a waste even before they have been released. We have seen this fan-backlash before, and it seemed that every comic-book fan I knew would roll their eyes at the mention of Dark Phoenix, long before it was in theaters. I find this mob mentality to be ironically tantamount to the popularity cliques of high school that likely made life miserable for most of the same comic book fans without ever taking the time to get to know them.
The first two volumes of the Buster Keaton collection, following the release of a fantastic documentary to remind us all why he was such an icon of the silent comedy era, included some of the slapstick star’s most recognizable titles. The first one included The General, while the second featured Sherlock Jr. as headliner. While neither of the titles in Volume Three carry the same historical significance, it does include one of Keaton’s personal favorites and another with an unforgettable premise. Even if these aren’t the most famous of Keaton’s films, they are every bit as memorable as the ones in Volumes 1 and 2.
A few great action sequences alone do not make for a good movie. But when a film has good action, it becomes easier to dismiss minor flaws within the narrative. The Brink isn’t a film full of flaws so much as one that feels generic and forgettable save one or two carefully constructed action set pieces that impress. The action is good, but never so impressive that it is able to make the movie memorable. It doesn’t help that the simple premise is presented in a convoluted manner and the leading man seems to employ slight variations on a single emotion for the full run-time.
There was online outrage with the decision to turn Ghostbusters into a female franchise. Whether it was coincidence or design, the gender reversal of old films shifted to properties with far less of a devoted fanbase. This meant less controversy over the repurposing of the material for female protagonists, but it also meant far less interest. There may have been no pushback for a gender reversal Overboard or What Women Want, but that’s probably because few people had little interest in the original narrative to begin with. I’m afraid The Hustle falls under this category, with most younger audiences unlikely to have even heard of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and fewer the one that came before. The biggest problem with the film isn’t a derivative story, however, but the way that it loses all of its bite in an effort to make sure a feminist message lasts, even when it contradicts the themes and structure of the original film.
In the new world of
Hollywood blockbusters, which is
essentially all the industry seems interested in pursuing these days, two types
of audiences must be considered: the average moviegoers, and the fan. When
dealing with the average moviegoer, they are often reading film reviewers and
critics because they are ignorant or undecided. They turn to the expert opinion
(which is admittedly still subjective) in order to make a decision, whether it
is deciding to see a film or coming to a decision about how they feel about the
viewing experience/end product. Fans, on the other hand, mostly already have
their mind made up; they are reading the professionals to either reinforce
these preexisting beliefs, or to disagree with them. Often they only
recognizing expertise if it is confirming their own opinion, otherwise
insisting that all bad reviews must come from a bitter failed filmmaker rather
than admitting any validity to an opinion that besmirches something they love.
Poms reminded me of a student film. Not every student film; as a film professor, I have seen many, and there seem to be two different types. There are the ones that are taking the opportunity to experiment and test boundaries, which usually results in the prototypical art student film, seeming to point to aspirations in avant-garde and independent filmmaking. Poms falls under the other category, with the students aspiring to imitate the
formulas, despite budgetary limitations. While it is less noticeable than it
might be in a more action-oriented genre, there is much that appears amateur
within Poms, despite the best efforts
and good intentions by the cast and crew.
Shadow is a film that fulfills generic expectations while simultaneously, inexplicably, seemingly defies them to create something wholly unique, or at the very least revolutionary in its ability to revise a genre. We saw this before with the widespread success of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; a subtitled film which saw unprecedented success with Western audiences. Fittingly, Crouching Tiger was surpassed by Zhang Yimou’s Hero as the most profitable foreign film to be released in
(much of this success owed
to Lee’s film paving the way, as well as Quentin Tarantino’s name attached as a
seal of quality). Yimou’s career has rarely since met the same cultural
response, though he has had varied success with the critics. Shadow seems to
mark a return for both. America
Following a tradition of blending the romantic genre narrative with icons and story devices from the science-fiction and fantasy genres (a trend that seems particularly prominent within Asian cinema in recent years), How Long Will I Love U is a refreshingly original idea, even if there remains a great deal of predictability/familiarity in its execution. In many ways, this has been the complaint about Danny Boyle’s Yesterday by critics, but the audience for romantic comedies is rarely one clamoring for creativity over the base enjoyments of the genre, and How Long Will I Love U makes certain not to sacrifice these expected elements, even if they counter the unpredictability of the science-fiction elements in the narrative.
The Island has a premise that cleverly blends the apocalypse-paranoia themes common recently with a narrative that filters “Lord of the Flies” through an office hierarchy. It is an entertaining modern parable about a group of flawed individuals who could easily stand in as representatives for the variety of people existing in society together today. Each have their roles in civilized society, but once the office workers think that the world has been destroyed by an apocalyptic event, it alters their inherent civility.
I almost feel bad for modern South Korean filmmakers. This generation is following one of the most innovative and prolific in the nation’s entire cinematic history, and many of the latest endeavors simply pale in comparison. The Swindlers is a perfect example of how South Korean cinema has learned from the successes of
while also retaining very distinct national themes (revenge narratives are
common across multiple genres). There is no difference between the way that
Chang-Won Jang adopts the Ocean’s 11/Now You See Me/The Italian Job formula for Korean audiences and how Chan-Wook Park
did the same with 90s thrillers (specifically Fincher films, The Game and Se7en) for his iconic ‘Vengeance Trilogy’ (Oldboy being the most influential in the West), other than the
familiarity with this structure and the quality of the films imitated. The
reason I feel bad for Jang is the same that I felt bad for every Tarantino-hack
in the late 90s, but it isn’t enough to make The Swindlers a more memorable film. Hollywood
Buster Keaton’s most remembered and technically accomplished feature films is, without a doubt, The General (featured in Volume 1 of the Buster Keaton Collection). If we are talking about innovation within the medium, however, few films have contributed quite so much as the accomplished Sherlock Jr., which is featured in Volume 2 alongside The Navigator, which displays Keaton’s endless creativity with slapstick and comedic timing. Sherlock Jr. is not only a great early slapstick film, it is one of the first films to really expand on the potential discovered in Georges Méliès’ ‘magic show’ shorts.
There were so many diverging plots in Ip Man 3, one would be forgiven for forgetting the place Cheung Tin Chi (Max Zhang) has in the series, despite his being given the first spin-off film in the franchise. With that being said, Master Z: Ip Man Legacy lives up to its name, and earns the honor of carrying ‘Ip Man’ in the title, despite his complete absence in physical presence from the film. For those eager for the upcoming Ip Man 4, Master Z is a welcome deviation in the meantime.
When a horror film’s social or political subtext becomes more important than the logic of the narrative and the characters within it, it is somewhat like being able to see behind the curtain. The surface narrative of horror should be strong enough to support the themes, not the other way around. While The Intruder is clearly playing upon some real American fears, with an aggressive white landowner as the villain against a newly arrived/assimilated black couple, it does so with zero subtlety and consistently illogical behavior written into each character as a lazy way of moving the story (and its racially-driven themes) forward. Taking the home invasion narrative away from the post-9/11 terrorist anxieties and replacing it with fears of white nationalists refusing to surrender ‘their’ America to the minorities they consider to be ‘less American,’ all that The Intruder is missing is a good film to go with its themes (ones already visited in the last installment of The Purge franchise).
American faith-based films love their child-in-peril narratives like no other, with the possible exception of underdog sports stories. They also love cherry-picking the ones in which the child recovers despite all medical professionals predicting otherwise, making them films more interested in encouraging the belief in miracles than a need for faith itself. In other words, American Christian-made movies tend to celebrate wish-fulfillment rather than faith in God’s plan, leaving audience members having suffered real loss with unsavory questions about why their faith wasn’t rewarded in the same way. Breakthrough almost addresses this troubling question through the filter of the central survivor, but quickly sacrifices it for easily digestible messages of inspiration and repaired relationship.
When I heard the title of the 2018 South Korean musical, Swing Kids, my first thoughts were of the 1993 American film with the same name. Despite both being backstage musicals set during wartime, I assumed that similarities would end there and the re-used title was merely a coincidence rather than a reference. Though it may be true that the filmmaker did not directly intend to make a connection between the two films, the similarities are also impossible to ignore. Swing Kids (’93) is a film about German youths attempting to grow up and enjoy ordinary lives appreciating swing music during an era of the Nazi regime and war that was anything but ordinary. Similarly, Swing Time (2018) is about a group of people finding simple pleasures in dance during wartime. Even more remarkably, while Swing Kids (’93) is an American film with German protagonists, Swing Kids (2018) is a South Korean film with North Korean characters as the primary focus. Most importantly, both films (along with the French Joyeux Noel) celebrate the empathetic powers of music and artistic expression during wartime, specifically considering those on the opposite side from the country in which the film is made.