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Posts Tagged ‘three stars’


Review: The Green Hornet

Directed by Michel Gondry.
Written by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen.
Starring Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, and Cameron Diaz.

I’ve been defending The Green Hornet‘s potential for a long time. Hell, I was even quoted in a press release for some Hornet toys about how excited I was to see the movie — largely (okay, entirely) because of my faith in Michel Gondry. And now I’ve seen it.

On the up side, my faith in Gondry is left intact, and I don’t feel I need to eat my words: Hornet is, indeed, a fun, funny movie with a fair amount of the Michel Gondry visual insanity. Jay Chou (as Kato) handles himself well enough in the action scenes that I never missed Stephen Chow, and Gondry shoots the fights (and car chases) beautifully: fluidly, coherently, and stylishly.

The down side is that when Kato’s not gloriously whooping ass, the rest of the film is a thoroughly generic action comedy (albeit a funnier one than most). And there’s just not enough of that Gondry insanity. Most of my favorite shots are still those already seen in the trailers. There’s more cool shit to be seen in the movie, especially in one fantastic sequence late in the film, but I made the mistake of hoping for even more.

The plot of the film is a totally generic hero-versus-drug-crime-lord tale — the kind you’ve seen before a few too many times, and with not enough variations on that theme to be of much interest. The jokes worked into the story are very funny (if you like Rogen’s relatively gentle, self-deprecating style of humor, as I do), but perhaps not enough to redeem the movie on that basis alone. Such a lack of substance would be fine, though, if the style of the film is over the top — but we only got a few glimpses of that here.

Aw yeah, Kato's gonna whoop some ass.

Perhaps we’ll get there next time Gondry gets behind the camera for an action movie — and I certainly hope he does more, ideally with a script he can really sink his crazy teeth into. Hornet tasted like an appetizer. I’m usually good about not letting expectations (or hopes) get the better of me when seeing a movie, but that may have happened in this case: if I gave half stars, I’d say Hornet was a solid 3 1/2 star movie. I felt the same way about Megamind, but rounded up there because it had more up its spandex sleeves than I had expected. Here, Hornet had a bit less.

Since much of the negative hype surrounding this film has been about the 3D conversion, it bears mentioning that the conversion here is surprisingly decent — but it’s also flawed enough to recommend against seeing it in 3D. While the conversion isn’t embarrassingly bad, they had so much time to perfect the conversion (nearly a year!) that if this is the best conversions can get, I’d say it’s time to just stop trying to change live-action movies to 3D. Especially when complex objects overlap other complex objects — such as a tree slowly moving against grass in the background, the conversion produces a noisy, digital halo where the computers have to make up image behind the foreground object to simulate depth. This halo isn’t usually very noticeable — I was definitely looking for such artifacts — but when you do notice it, it can be a little distracting. In faster shots, though, it works much better; the flaws aren’t as easy to spot.

Even at its best, the conversion in Hornet is never as strong as any film shot in 3D — and it can’t hold a candle to the 3D found in CGI animated features like Tangled or How to Train Your Dragon. In those films, the 3D is gorgeous and truly immersive, truly adding to the experience of the films, and it’s almost certainly more effective because it’s exaggerated slightly, as the filmmakers have all the information they could possibly need in order to push objects and scenery as far out towards the viewer as they want: it’s already in the computer. With a conversion, the farther you want to push something out, the more the computer needs to make up, the more obvious that halo is — right when you need it to look its best, it’s at its worst.

The Green Hornet is rated PG-13. Skip the 3D version. See it in 2D, and keep your expectations low.

Review: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Written and directed by Jalmari Helander.
Starring Jorma Tommila, Onni Tommila and Peeter Jakobi.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is fucking weird, man. This Finnish feature is based on two popular and equally weird short films by the same team from 2003 and 2005, but it’s sort of an origin story behind those shorts, so you don’t need to be familiar with them at all (in fact, I hadn’t heard of them until after I saw the film).

Here’s how it goes: Up in the arctic circle, in the Korvatunturi Mountains, a team of archaeologists has just dug up what they were looking for: Santa Claus. Except this isn’t the Santa Claus we know and love… For some reason, this Santa is a child-eating killer. Or something like that. (The film brilliantly portrays this as drawn from the true origins of the Santa Claus story; it’s not, but a few critics seem to have fallen for it.)

Anyway, children in the nearby village start disappearing; a team of hunters capture him (or have they?) and try to sell him back to the corporation that sponsored the dig; and the story takes a couple of hilarious, movie cliché-inspired left-turns along the way.

Rare Exports is charmingly, disturbingly weird, and yet… in the end, it’s not nearly as dark as you might expect from the trailer. I certainly wouldn’t call it a horror movie, or really even a thriller. It’s just one messed up little adventure story — very much in the Christmas movie tradition… except for, you know, the psycho Santa thing. The lead child (Onni Tommila) is an adorable scene-stealer who centers the film admirably.

Unfortunately, the storytelling is a little messed up, too — when the hunters discover the body of “Santa,” for instance, they initially think he’s dead. Only after entirely too much time has passed, do these hunters realize he isn’t. But the few eye-rolling moments like that aren’t enough to outweigh the film’s bizarro charm.

If you can, see in theaters this Christmas, or on video next year. Better yet, see it with an impressionable kid.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is rated R because there’s a lot of naked Santa in it and a bit of language. There’s not really a lot of violence in it; parents okay with their kids getting an eyeful of old-man schlong (mostly from a distance) shouldn’t find anything too objectionable in the violence. It opens in Chicago at the Music Box Theatre on Christmas Eve.

Review: Godzilla (1954) and Stray Dog


Directed by Ishiro Honda.
Starring Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura and Fuyuki Murakami.

Stray Dog

Directed by Akira Kurosawa.
Starring Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Awaji and Eiko Miyoshi.

Although Godzilla creator and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka lifted monster-sized elements from King Kong (1933) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), an early film featuring effects by Ray Harryhausen (Clash of the Titans), the immediate inspiration for Godzilla was a 1954 incident in which a fishing boat called the Lucky Dragon was scorched by an American H-bomb test, seriously burning several of the crew and causing the eventual death of its radio operator from radiation poisoning — clearly the reference point for the opening scene of the original 1954 Japanese Godzilla in which Godzilla’s attack on a small boat appears only as a flash of light.

Science fiction writer Shigeru Kayama, along with screenwriters Ishiro Honda (who also directed) and Takeo Murata, extended the metaphor a bit by paralleling many scenes of death and destruction in Godzilla’s wake with the aftermath of the H-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, using images of a flattened, burning town and hospitals overflowing with people. These images vividly recall what little documentary footage I’ve seen of the Hiroshima aftermath (to be specifc, the stock footage used in the first 20 minutes of Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour), but pretending that the film’s deeper meaning is much more complicated than “H-bomb testing is bad” is giving the filmmakers a little more credit than they deserve.


Review: Four films by Seijun Suzuki

Underworld Beauty

Starring Michitaro Mizushima, Mari Shiraki, Yusuke Ashida, Toru Abe and Hideaki Nitani.

Tokyo Drifter

Starring Tetsuya Watari, Tamio Kawaji, Ryuji Kita, Chieko Matsubara and Hideaki Nitani.

Branded to Kill

Starring Koji Nanbara, Joe Shishido, Mariko Ogawa and Annu Mari.

Kanto Wanderer

Starring Chieko Matsubara, Hiroko Ito and Akira Kobayashi.

Seijun Suzuki worked as a director in the Japanese studio system from 1956 to 1967, until, after filming Branded to Kill, he was fired for making an “incomprehensible” film, and, after having seen four of his films, it’s pretty hard to argue that claim. Taking the unprecedented act of suing his former production company, Nikkatsu, he won, but soon found himself blacklisted and didn’t make another movie for 10 years. Seijun Suzuki’s films are shockingly innovative on a visual level, and his characteristic narrative tangles have been a huge influence on modern-day filmmakers from Wong Kar Wai to Quentin Tarantino.