Monday, May 31, 2010

10 Asian Films You Should See

While over at The Movie Blog, I checked out one of their favorite posts, 12 Asian Films To Get You Started. The author, John, named a dozen Asian films that he, as a Hollywood film lover still loves. Like John, I'm hardly an expert in Asian cinema but do have a number of Asian films that I love. Here are 10 of my faves, in no particular order. Well, alphabetically but...nevermind...let's move on.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin AKA Master Killer - Simply put, this is among the finest kung-fu movies ever made. Strangely enough, it parallels Batman Begins in many ways. It's about a boy who's parents were killed at a very young age. He makes his way to the Shaolin Temple where he is put through rigorous and creative training sessions and well, I'll stop there. Suffice it to say that this is the rare martial arts movie where the story is as strong, if not stronger than the fighting.

City on Fire - This one stars an actor many of you are familiar with, Chow Yun-Fat. Here, he plays an undercover cop who infiltrates a gang of thieves that plan to rob a jewelry store. The premise is a familiar one, but it plays out so much better than most. In fact, large portions of this movie were taken and transformed into Quentin Tarantino's classic Reservoir Dogs.

Five Deadly Venom - Another classic of the martial arts genre. Five fighters trained by one master have ventured out into the world and that master fears some of them have been up to no good. So he trains a sixth fighter to go out and corral them, more or less. One problem: since they all wore masks the entire time he trained them, he has no idea who they are.

Hard Boiled - With the help of this movie, director John Woo and actor Chow Yun-Fat became international superstars. This is an all-out, nonstop, anything goes action flick. Some of the sequences are among the best action scenes ever filmed. This is just one of those movies that action junkies have to see before they die or their lives are incomplete. Seriously.

Hero - Among a number of martial-arts epics, this is Jet Li's finest. He plays an unnamed man who has defeated three assassins that were to kill King of Qin. These two men tell one another how they think the events played out. The story works well enough as do the numerous fight scenes, but this is all about the cinematography. Simply, it's one of the most beautiful movies you'll ever lay eyes on.

Ichi the Killer - This is a gangster movie unlike any you've ever seen before. A Yakuza boss disappears with a ton of money and his top henchman (& crew) goes looking for him. The henchman is a sadist, and his crew keeps running into Ichi, much to their detriment. It's ultra-violent, vile and flat out insane. And that's why I like it. Think of what an anime movie would be like in live action and you'd be on the right track.

Infernal Affairs - A cop has infiltrated the mob, meanwhile the mob have a cop on the force. Neither knows the other's identity and a brilliant game of cat-and-mouse ensues. If that sounds familiar it's because this classic was remade into Martin Scorcese's Best Picture winner The Departed. If you've somehow not seen Scorcese's version, do yourself a favor and watch the original first. Well, even if you have seen it, check this one out.

Oldboy - A man is imprisoned in a windowless hotel room for 15 years and suddenly released. He has no idea who did this to him and why but he definitely wants to find out and exact a little revenge. When it's all said and done, we're not really sure who got revenge on who and the twist that ends the movie is just absolutely mind-blowing. It's part of the director's (Park Chan-Wook) " (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance the others) and one of my favorite movies of all time.

Return of the Dragon AKA Way of the Dragon - Okay, my favorite Bruce Lee flick of all time is Enter the Dragon but much to everyone's surprise, that's not an Asian film. This one is. If you claim to love martial arts movies but haven't seen this you are a fraud. I command you to get your hands on a copy immediately. If you're not sure why you should, consider this: Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris. I thought so.

Seven Samurai - This is considered by many to be the one of the greatest movies ever made. For any lovers of westerns, its a must-see as it was remade into the classic The Magnificent Seven. The scope of this movie is breathtaking as is the direction and character development. It's an exercise in patient storytelling. Admittedly, you will need some patience yourself since the run time stretches to near 3 and a half hours. However, over that time, there is not a wasted moment.

And once you've run through all those, check these out as well:

The Chinese Connection
Lady Vengeance
The Host
Kung Fu Hustle
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
3 Extremes

What are some of your favorite Asian films?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Revolutionary Road

Directed by Sam Mendes.
2008. Rated R, 118 minutes.
Kate Winslet
Leonardo DiCaprio
Kathy Bates
Michael Shannon
David Harbour
Dylan Baker
Richard Easton
Zoe Kazan

Plot: Frank (Di Caprio) and April Wheeler (Winslet) are an unhappy couple. They suddenly decide and start planning a move to Paris in hopes of chasing their dreams and rekindling the flames of their marriage.

The Good: First and foremost, both Winslet and Di Caprio turn in powerhouse performances. They are two of the very best in the business and they do not disappoint, here. To support them, director Sam Mendes surrounds them with an excellent cast and does a masterful job telling the story. The standout among the supporting players is Michael Shannon as the supposedly mentally ill John. I say supposedly because he seems less crazy than he does simply lacking a filter between his brain and mouth. As far as telling the story, Mendes carefully weaves a tapestry of issues until they seem almost singular and explode simultaneously.

The Bad: The focus on our main couple is so strict, other potentially interesting elements are brushed aside. In particular, the Wheeler’s neighbors are profoundly affected by what’s going on. However, given a certain event there could be much more shown. They certainly could’ve had some explosive moments of their own. Also, the Wheeler children are conveniently ushered off stage and easily spared the drama. It feels as if they’re not at all aware of what’s going on in their home, much less bothered by it. As a father, I can tell you it’s just too tidy an area of such a messy relationship.

The Ugly: The reason there is blood on the carpet.

Recommendation: This is a tough drama with three brilliant performances. It not only depicts a crumbling marriage, it raises questions. Though it clearly comes out on one side over the other, the pro-life/pro-choice debate eventually comes to fuel the movie and leaves us something to chew on.

The Opposite View: Stephanie Zacharek,

What the Internet Says: 7.6/10 on (5/23/10), 68% on, 69/100 on

MY SCORE: 8/10

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Blind Side

Directed by John Lee Hancock.
2009. Rated PG-13, 128 minutes.
Sandra Bullock
Quinton Aaron
Tim McGraw
Jae Head
Lily Collins
Kathy Bates
Ray McKinnon
Tom Nowicki
Melody Weintraub
Sharon Morris

Plot: The Tuohy family, at the urging of fiery matriarch Leigh Ann (Bullock), take in Michael Oher (Aaron), a homeless and academically challenged boy who attends the same school as their children. Michael turns out to be a highly sought after football prospect. Based on a true story.

The Good: It bends the sports underdog genre on its ear by making the person who helps the underdog the protagonist. In this case, that person is Leigh Ann Tuohy, played brazenly by Sandra Bullock. It’s perhaps the best performance of her career. Accordingly, it earned her an Oscar for Best Actress. As a whole, the movie knows when to utilize its sense of humor and when to press our emotional buttons. That timely alternating keeps us locked in, fully vested in the Tuohy family mission.

The Bad: Alas, genre clichés still abound. We think we know every obstacle before it approaches. Moments later, our suspicions are confirmed. This combines with the fact that the story it’s based on is of extremely recent vintage to sap the film of any real sense of mystery. The questions of race and budding sexuality are too neatly wrapped up within one scene. As far as race is concerned, it's content to be another film in which near-perfect white people save a damaged black kid from the ghetto. Both race and sexuality are quickly swept under the rug by a short speech in which Leigh Ann shouts down her naysayers. Perhaps more importantly, because we knew the racial dynamics going in, the question of just how Michael’s grades rose so quickly is never really addressed. This could be because of a scene in which Leigh Ann confronts one of Michael’s teachers and says “All the other teachers are on board. What’s your problem?” Hmmm, is there something else we need to know? The movie as a whole just seems too afraid to veer from the path to “happily ever after” to tackle the tough issues.

The Ugly: Now, that’s how you finish a block.

Recommendation: This is probably the best “feel-good” movie of 2009. Like a good football team, is has a game plan and executes it well. It never surprises us one bit, but that’s okay because it entertains us and engages us. If you’re prone to crying over movies, keep some tissue nearby.

The Opposite View: Melissa Anderson, Village Voice

What the Internet Says: 7.7/10 on (5/26/10), 67% on, 53/100 on

MY SCORE: 7/10

Iron Man 2

Iron Man

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Re-introduction


A whole three of you may remember me as the writer of the blog "The Urban Cinefile." A few months into it, I sadly got discouraged as I discovered there was already an urban cinefile out there. I never stopped reviewing movies. I just stopped posting them there.

It's been forever since my last post on "TUC". In the interim, life has thrown me a few curves. Blogging was the furthest thing from my mind.

I'm finally in a place where I can get back to sharing with you what I spend my time watching. And to solve that little name crisis, I've decided to no longer use "TUC". Instead, I'll make my movie-blogging home, here. So, check up on me from time to time. We have a lot of catching up to do.