Saturday, September 07, 2013

Martial Art: Wong Kar-wai's THE GRANDMASTER

In fighting, as in storytelling, one of one’s greatest allies is the element of surprise.  A well-placed strike, an unexpected kick. When I walked into the local cineplex this afternoon, I felt I knew what was coming as I sat down for Wong Kar-wai’s THE GRANDMASTER. And at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I found it to be the most unexpectedly terrific film I’ve seen in more than a year and possibly the best martial arts picture since Zhang Yimou’s Hero and Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi.

What makes it so great?  Intention and detail.  When I first saw the Grandmaster trailers I thought, “Wow, Wong Kar-wai’s doing a genre film again?”  He hadn’t really done one since Ashes of Time in 1994 (and the cine-revisionist Ashes of Time Redux in 2008). In the between years, the man perfected the slow-burn romance drama with In the Mood For Love, 2046 and The Hand – his contribution to the omnibus film, Eros – and brought his sensibilities stateside with the noble Norah Jones and Jude Law-led My Blueberry Nights which wasn’t perfect but grew on and blossomed for me very quickly. So when I saw Tony Leung fighting ten or fifteen random people at night in the rain as the renowned Wing Chun master Ip Man — more recently played with general action flick acclaim by Donnie Yen — I thought it was an unusual step for WKW to make something so popularist, so apparently standard-looking. Like Edward Hopper penciling an issue of a Spider-Man comic. Not a bad move, just… Well, unexpected.

I should have known better.

The Grandmaster is about fighting, both one’s physical opponent and one’s own desires. Part biopic, part action flick… but all art film, and even more so than it appears. A beautiful bait and switch, things start out as you might expect but in the latter half the film’s real strengths are revealed. Lovingly filmed, edited, photographed and performed, it’s not so concerned with badassness, sweeping vistas and operatic theatricality, though there is quite a bit of that in the first half and specific moments in the second and those scenes are still very well done and rank among the best anyone has ever done them. Then the visceral thrill of battle and excitement gives way to a more serene, heartfelt and contemplative second half that fits squarely into WKW’s more recent oeuvre. You realize that you’re watching something different, something that will tug at your emotions as much as it fulfills your need for fight choreography. You feel the fights more when you care about the characters this much, when they’re this well-drawn.

No slap to Donnie Yen’s Ip Man films is intended here.  They’re a lot of fun and remain well-made and well-performed action adventures. WKW’s Grandmaster is just a different take with different artistic concerns.  Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining are both haunted house films. One’s a fun, sweet thrill ride and one’s a strange and shattering artistic wonder. The Grandmaster, just as The Shining does with Kubrick, also serves as a reminder about the sure-handed skill of it’s director, Wong Kar-wai..

The guy couldn’t make an average movie if he tried.

(See this thing in a theater, if at all possible. This deserves to make a ton of money. And stay a moment after the credits start. There’s an unexpected midway “gotcha” there that gets a real smile.)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Note to Self: Do Try To Get Out of the House More Often.

Not much news to report, for now.  Some drama, some highs and lows, some biking, reading and writing. And of course, some movie watching...

Theatrical Reviews
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)  ****
The Blues Brothers (1981)  ****
Jurassic Park 3D  ***1/2
The World's End  ***1/2
Europa Report  ***1/2
The Wolverine  ***1/2
Iron Man 3  ***1/2
Only God Forgives  ***
Blue Jasmine  ***
On the Road  ***
Pacific Rim  ***
Stoker  ***
Man of Steel  **1/2
Room 237  **1/2

DVD/Home Video
Streetwise (Documentary, 1984)  ****
Comedian (Doc, 2002)  ****
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006, Japan)  ***1/2
Elevator to the Gallows (France, 1953)  ***1/2
What The @#*! Is Astron-6 (2011, DVD) ***1/2
The Lost Skelton of Cadavera (2001)  ***1/2
Straight to Hell Returns (2011)  ***1/2
In the Heat of the Night (1967)  ***1/2
The Spanish Prisoner (1996)  ***1/2
Experiment in Terror (1962)  ***1/2
State of Grace (1990)  ***1/2
Alive (2002, Japan)  ***1/2
Texasville (1990)  ***1/2
Trespass (1990)  ***1/2
American: The Bill Hicks Story (2009, Doc)  ***
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012)  ***
Tom Waits: Burma Shave (1978/2006)  ***
Miami Connection (1987)  ***
The Public Eye (1994)  ***
The Split (1968)  ***
Marlowe (1969)  ***
Metro (1997)  ***
4:44: Last Day On Earth (2011)  **1/2
Doctor Who: The Movie (1996)  **1/2
Meet Monica Velour (2010)  **1/2
The Terrorist (1998, India)  **1/2
Just Imagine (1930)  **1/2
Navajo Joe (1966)  **1/2
Cat Chaser (1989)  **1/2
Parker (2013)  **1/2
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)  **
Brainsmasher: A Love Story (1993)  **
Daft Punk: Electroma (2006)  **
Searchers 2.0 (2007)  **
Freaky Deaky (2013)  **
Trespass (2011)  **
Stolen (2012)  **
Crash (1996)  **
Safe (2012)  **
The Blob (1958)  *1/2
A Great Jungle Adventure (Germany, 1982)  *
Cruel Jaws (1995)  *
Zaat (1971)  *

The Films of Brian De Palma
Greetings (1968)  **1/2
Hi, Mom! (1970)  ***
Sisters (1973)  ***
Obsession (1976)  **
Carrie (1976)  ***
The Fury (1978)  **1/2
Dressed to Kill (1980)  ***
Blow Out (1981)  ***
Scarface (1983)  **1/2
Body Double (1984)  ***
Wise Guys (1986)  ***1/2
The Untouchables (1987)  ****
Casualties of War (1989)  ***1/2
The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)  ***
Raising Cain (1992)  ***
Carlito's Way (1993)  ****
Mission: Impossible (1996)  ***1/2
Snake Eyes (1998)  ***1/2
Mission to Mars (2000)  **
Femme Fatale (2002)  ***
The Black Dahlia (2006)  **

The Films of Dolph Lundgren
Masters of the Universe  ***
Red Scorpion  ***
The Punisher  ***
I Come In Peace  ***
Showdown in Little Tokyo  **1/2
Universal Soldier  **1/2
Army of One / Joshua Tree  **
Johnny Mnemonic  **1/2
Silent Trigger   *1/2
Blackjack   **1/2
The Defender  *1/2
UNISOL: Day of Reckoning  ***
The Expendables  ***
Expendables 2  **1/2

The Films of the 1970s
Serpico (1973)  ****
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)  ***1/2
Vanishing Point (1971)  ***1/2
Black Sunday (1977)  ***1/2
Little Murders (1971)  ***1/2
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1975)  ***
The Last American Hero (1973)  ***
Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976)  ***
Lady Sings the Blues (1972)  ***
The Carey Treatment (1972)  ***
American Hot Wax (1978)  ***
The Onion Field (1979)  ***
Rolling Thunder (1977)  ***
The Seven-Ups (1973)  ***
Charley Varrick (1973)  ***
Coonskin (1975)  ***
The Deep (1977)  ***
Joe (1975)  ***
The Silent Partner (1978)  **1/2
The Organization (1971)  **1/2
Heavy Traffic (1973)  **1/2
Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973)  **
Aloha, Bobby & Rose (1975)  **
Badge 373 (1973)  **
Hustle (1975)  **
Fuzz (1972)  **
Driller Killer (1979)  *

The Films of the 1980s
Phil Collins: Live at Perkins Palace (1983, TV)  ****
Running Scared (1986)  ****
Miracle Mile (1988)  ****
Videodrome (1983)  ****
Tootsie (1982)  ****
Thief (1981)  ****
Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982)  ***1/2
Richard Pryor: Here and Now (1983)  ***1/2
Dead Bang (1989)  ***1/2
Wise Guys (1986)  ***1/2
The Company of Wolves (1984)  ***
Grandview, U.S.A. (1984)  ***
Candy Mountain (1988)  ***
Streets of Fire (1985)  ***
The Entity (1981)  ***
Robot Jox (1989)  ***
The Wizard of Speed and Time (1989)  **1/2
Riptide: Pilot Episode (1984, TV)  **1/2
King of the Mountain (1981)  **1/2
Patlabor: The Movie (1989)  **1/2
The Park Is Mine (1986)  **1/2
Heavenly Bodies (1984)  **1/2
Zone Troopers (1985)  **1/2
Little Darlings (1980)  **1/2
Cutter's Way (1981)  **1/2
The Wild Life (1984) **1/2
Eliminators (1986)  **1/2
Stir Crazy (1980)  **1/2
Malone (1987)  **1/2
Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983)  **
Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979)  **
Fast Lane Fever (Austrailain, 1982)  **
Remote Control (1987)  **
The Ice Pirates (1984)  **
Battletruck (1982)  **
Get Crazy (1983) **
Arena (1986)  **
Bulletproof (1988)  *1/2
Crash & Burn (1989)  *

Black Coffee Blues (Henry Rollins)  ***1/2
Gonzo: A Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson (Will Bingley & Anthony Hope-Smith)  ***
The Superior Spider-Man #1-7 (Marvel)  ***
Pronto (Elmore Leonard)  ***
All-New X-Men #1-4 (Marvel)  **1/2
The Big-Screen Drive In Theater (Donald Davis)  **

Music/Spoken Word
Escape From New York (score by Alan Howarth) 2013 Vinyl Reissue  ****
Blade Runner (score by Vangelis) 2013 Vinyl Reissue  ***1/2
Drive (score by Cliff Martinez) 2013 Vinyl Reissue  ***1/2
The Wolverine (score by Marco Beltrami)  ***1/2
Daft Punk: Random Access Memories  ***1/2
John Coltrane: Live at the Half Note  ***1/2
Edward Hopper and the Music of New York (jazz standards)  ***
David Bowie: The Next Day  ***
Eric Clapton: Old Sock  ***
mc chris: Friends (EP)  ***
mc chris: Kicks Tape (EP)  **1/2
Hunter S. Thompson's "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved" Audio Dramatization  **1/2
Man of Steel (score by Hans Zimmer)  **1/2

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Boston Marathon - 4/15/13

It was a beautiful blue-skied morning as I walked to work with a roommate on her way downtown to the Boston Marathon.  I've had a love/hate relationship with the Marathon for years in that I've often given it a bit of attitude (for the shutdown of local bus service and not being able to cross the street during the race, for example)... but eventually I always fall in line and get swept up in the joy of the occasion and the festivity of the crowds.  The place where I work is located in a well-traveled shopping area neighborhood about two miles from the finish line and is on the actual route of the race itself, so we get to see all the runners and hear all the hoots and hollers of all the supportive people-watchers nearby.  Online for a moment between work moments, I saw that a friend who'd gone down to the finish line had Facebooked something alone the lines of "I just heard explosions in Copley at the Marathon, WTF?"  And my first thought when reading that was that it must've been fireworks or celebration cannons or something and didn't immediately think anything much of it.  (The city sounds-off heavy guns at the Fourth of July on the Esplanade of the Charles River, so it didn't seem a huge stretch at the time.)  Not three minutes later, the Facebook status updates of my local friends began coming in fast and furious.  Then the links to news reports.  And finally one of my co-workers came to my workspace and reported the official word about the bombs going off at the finish line. 

The next moments and hours were sad and surreal.  We all pretty much stopped working for a while as the emergency vehicles of the surrounding areas tore through our area, headed downtown.  I called my Mom and Facebooked friends and family to let them know I was fine.  A longtime friend stopped in from watching the race to see check in and see if we were all present and accounted for.  She and I walked out around the neighborhood to grab a coffee and talk about what was going on.  We saw an oblivious race runner nearly get hit by a speeding squad car.  We saw elderly women at the coffee shop at the exact moment that they learned what was happening.  Hundreds more runners were just jogging along doing their thing, apparently not in possession of cell phones and most likely not knowing a thing about what was happening just two or three miles up the road.  National Guard people climbed into their heavy vehicle and headed off toward the scene.  And most everyone was on their cells or smartphones trying to learn more about the causes and/or casualties.  Eventually the street was closed and emptied, the trains were shut down and the local neighborhood looked as deserted as it does on an early Sunday morning.  Later, I finally heard from my roommate who let us here at the house know that she made it home safe & sound and that she'd fortunately never actually made it downtown to the event, which was a major relief...

At work, we spent most of the rest of the day doing our jobs as usual, checking in on live-streams of local news and chatting with customers about the tragedy.  We watched and listened through all the chaos of the multiple bomb reports, facts and falsehoods, the local law enforcement press conferences, the live shots from Copley Square and the city hospitals, the injury and casualty reports, the pop theories and national news chatter.  They're still piecing everything together as I write this.  There are reports of surveillance pictures of an individual dropping a backpack or backpacks into a trash car or cans as well as news videos and GIFs of the two confirmed blasts at the finish line area and the deep fear and terror of the scared and injured on the scene.

It reminds me of 9/11, of course.  Of getting off that underground commuter rail train that morning, coming up to the street and looking up into the sky, watching for low flying planes and building fires, not knowing anything about what was happening except for the cold facts of the destruction and the dead.

It's only been a little over eight hours.  So far nobody's claimed responsibility and noone seems to know who or why this happened, just yet.  There are no answers just yet and there's actually very little to say.  The local emotional vibe is sorrow, confusion and desire for more information, for a name and a face to put to this terrible event.  Hopefully we'll get them as the night goes on and the time passes.  Tomorrow's a new day and it seems it will be a partly sunny and warm one for this time of year.  It will be one in which the departed will be mourned and survivors will hold each other in tearful relief and thanks.  I, among others I'm sure, am thankful that this attack wasn't as large as it could've been, all things considered, and am also looking forward to the moment when those who did this are identified and brought to justice.  I'm thankful that none of my friends or family were caught in the terror of this afternoon first-hand and am also very sad for the victims that were.  There will be joy and sadness tomorrow.  But we'll rise in the morning and go on with what we do, as they have in New York and London and Paris and everywhere else that suffers the evil work of cowards.  And we'll get through it.  As Patton Oswalt said this morning of the violent and hateful and ignorant,  "The good outnumber you, and we always will."

I have no such quotes for the ages, no answers and not much in the way of spiritual or even helpful advice.  All I have is hope that you are safe and warm with those you love.  And a hope that good is stronger than evil.  Especially in moments like these, when it seems most difficult to believe.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Etymology and John McClane

In doing a personal research project regarding the classic (and now over-sequelized) 1988 action film DIE HARD directed by John McTiernan and starring Bruce Willis, I picked up on something kind of interesting...

The expression "yippee-ki-yay," attributed to Roy Rogers by John McClane (Bruce Willis), may or may not have actually been coined by Roy Rogers.  In trying to find the actual very first use of the term, I found some intriguing clips on YouTube.

First were a couple of versions of the song "The Ballad of Pecos Bill" by Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers. In both the following version (date unknown) and the 1948 version below from the Disney feature film, Pecos Bill, the line is "yippee-i-yay, yippee-i-oh"...

A little closer is the next song, written by Johnny Mercer and performed by Bing Crosby, "I'm An Old Cowhand" from 1936.  It features the expression "yippee-i-oh-ki-yay."

And in this Roy Rogers version of "Git Along Little Dogies" from 1940, he uses the expression "whoopy-ti-yi-oh."

So, did Roy Rogers ever actually say yippee-ki-yay?  Maybe as dialogue in a particular film?  Or on the radio?  Or in a different version of a different song?  I'm not sure. If so, I still haven't found it.  My research continues...  

Also, I'm throwing this last clip in, 'cause it's pretty cute.

And with that, I think I may have done more actual, proper, Die Hard related research than the makers of A Good Day to Die Hard did.

Theatrical Reviews
On the Waterfront (1954)  ****
Ghostbusters (1984)  ****
Evil Dead 2 (1987)  ****
Manhattan (1979)  ****
Chinatown (1974)  ****
Jaws (1975)  ****
Mad Max (1979)  ****
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)  ****
Django Unchained  ***1/2
The Fifth Element (1997)  ***1/2
Bronson (2008)  ***1/2
Jack Reacher  ***1/2
Samsara  ***1/2
The Dark Knight Rises  ***
The 'Burbs (1989)  ***
Looper  ***
The Expendables 2  **1/2
The Master  **1/2
To Rome With Love  **
A Good Day to Die Hard  *1/2

DVD/Home Video
The Silence of the Lambs: Criterion Collection (1991)  ****
The Killing: Criterion Collection (1956)  ****
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)  ****
Dark Days (Documentary)  ****
Zero Effect (1998)  ****
The Thing (1982)  ****
Heist (2001)  ****
Johnny Carson: King of Late Night (PBS)  ***1/2
Looking For Mr. Goodbar (1977)  ***1/2
Maria Bamford: Plan B (2010)  ***1/2
Escape From Alcatraz (1975)  ***1/2
The Eiger Sanction (1975)  ***1/2
The Long Goodbye (1973) ***1/2
The Brink's Job (1978)  ***1/2
The Rocketeer (1991)  ***1/2
Sid and Nancy (1986)  ***1/2
Futurama: Volume 7  ***1/2
Withnail & I (1987)  ***1/2
Meanwhile (2012)  ***1/2
Mona Lisa (1986)  ***1/2
Real Life (1978)  ***1/2
Haywire (2012)  ***1/2
Hit! (1973)  ***1/2
Check It Out with Dr. Steve Brule: Seasons 1 & 2  ***
80 Blocks From Tiffany's (Documentary)  ***
NY77: The Coolest Year In Hell (Doc)  ***
Resident Evil: Degeneration (anime)  ***
Where the Buffalo Roam (1980)  ***
Tom Waits: Big Time (1988)  ***
Night Fishing (South Korea)  ***
The Cannonball Run (1981)  ***
Private Eye (South Korea)  ***
Rough Cut (South Korea)  ***
The Nickel Ride (1974)  ***
The Quiet Earth (1985)  ***
White Lightning (1973)  ***
The Howling (1981)  ***
Valley Girl (1984)  ***
Class (1983)  ***
Flying Swords of Dragon Tiger Gate (HK)  **1/2
The Sorcerer and the Green Snake (HK)  **1/2
2019: After The Fall of New York (1983)  **1/2
Edge City / Sleep Is For Sissies (1980)  **1/2
Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)  **1/2
Drive A Crooked Road (1957)  **1/2
Endangered Species (1982)  **1/2
Cannonball Run II (1984)  **1/2
American Flyers (1985)  **1/2
Lady in Cement (1968)  **1/2
The Choirboys (1977)  **1/2
Tony Rome (1967)  **1/2
High-Ballin' (1978)  **1/2
Saturn 3 (1980)  **1/2
Machete (2011)  **1/2
Bad Ass (2012)  **1/2
Busting (1973)  **1/2
Walker (1987)  **1/2
Jaws 2 (1975)  **1/2
Gator (1976)  **1/2
Sliver (1994)  **1/2
Jade (1995)  **1/2
They're Playing with Fire (1984)  **
Return to Boggy Creek (1977)  **
American Anthem (1985)  **
Dawn of the Dead (1978)  **
Diary of a Hitman (1991)  **
Live From Tokyo (Doc)  **
Pink Panther 2 (2009)  **
Thunder Run (1986)  **
Sadako 3D (Japan)  **
Raw Force (1982)  **
Destroyer (1988)  **
Moon 44 (1990)  **
Air Doll (Japan)  **
Zardoz (1974)  **
Wacko (1982)  **
Claws (1977)  **
Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf  *1/2
Casa De Mi Padre (2012)  *1/2
Repo Chick (2009)  *1/2
Terrorvision (1986)  *1/2
R.O.T.O.R. (1989)  *1/2
Grizzly (1976)  *1/2
Grizzly 2: The Predator (Workprint Edition, 1983)  1/2 *
Robbers of the Sacred Mountain (1982)  1/2*

The Films of Humphrey Bogart
San Quentin (1937)  **1/2
Dead End (1937)  ***1/2
You Can't Get Away With Murder (1939)  **1/2
King of the Underworld (1939)  ***
The Return of Doctor X (1939)  **1/2
They Drive By Night (1940)  ***1/2
All Through The Night (1941)  ***1/2
Across the Pacific (1942)  ***
Sahara (1943)  ****
Action in the North Atlantic (1943)  ***
Passage to Marseille (1944)  ***
Dead Reckoning (1947)  ***
Chain Lightning (1949)  ***
Tokyo Joe (1949)  ***
The Enforcer (1951)  ***1/2
Battle Circus (1953)  **1/2

The Films of Wim Wenders
The Scarlet Letter (1973)  **
The American Friend (1977)  ***
Hammett (1982)  ***
Paris, Texas (1984)  ****
Wings of Desire (1987)  ****
Until The End of the World (1991)  ****
Faraway, So Close! (1993)  **1/2
The End of Violence (1997)  ***1/2
Buena Vista Social Club (1999)  ****
The Million Dollar Hotel (2000)  ***
Land of Plenty (2004)  ***
Don't Come Knocking (2005)  **1/2

SeagalFest 2012
Steven Seagal Vs Justin Lee Collins (2011, UK)  ***
Maximum Conviction (2012)  **1/2
The Path Beyond Thought (2001, Doc)  **
The Voice Vs Steven Seagal  (2012, TV)  **

Music/Spoken Word
Maria Bamford: Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome  ****
Com Truise: In Decay  ***1/2
The Dark Knight Rises (score by Hans Zimmer)  ***
The 'Burbs (score by Jerry Goldsmith)  ***
Moon 44 (score by Joel Goldsmith)  **1/2
Mitch Murder: Mars (EP)  ***
Bronson (soundtrack)  ***
The Amazing Spider-Man (score by James Horner)  **1/2
Close Encounters of the Third Kind - Official Dramatized Recording  *

Ricky Gervais XFM Podcast Seasons 1-4  (YouTube)  ****
The Ricky Gervais Show (HBO/YouTube)  ****
Maria Bamford: The Special Special Special!  (  ***1/2

Hotel Chronicles (Wim Wenders)  ***1/2
The Old Neighborhood (David Mamet)  ***
Kiss Your Ass Goodbye (Charles Willeford)  **1/2
Gas Station (Joseph Torra)  *