Archive for June, 2009

ONG-BAK 2 Review

Posted in 3.5 Stars, Action, Foreign on June 24, 2009 by russellsreviews

Every generation has a ground breaking martial artist. One that comes along with a bang and changes how action movies are made for decades. He inspires many imitators, but there is only one true original and each one brings something different and amazing than the one before.. The first of course was Bruce Lee, then followed by Jackie Chan, Samo Hung, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen, but now with Jackie Chan and Jet Li cutting back a little, the future of Kung Fu was starting to look a little bleak. Then ,however, out of unlikely place of Thailand comes Tony Jaa. Ong-Bak crushed anything made in years, became a international breakout hit, and showed the world that Hong Kong isn’t he only place for great martial artists. Tony Jaa’s follow up Tom Yum Goong (or the protector in the states) was just as masterful, but the world was still waiting for a true sequel and anxiously wanted to see if he really was the next big thing or just a one trick pony. Finally after a long wait, Ong-Bak 2 is here.

It’s been no secret this movie went through tons of drama backstage. Even though this is only Tony Jaa’s third movie he sat in the director chair. The film went over budget and with the huge pressure with the massive early success and being labeled the next big thing meanwhile he was also starring, directing, and choreographing the fight scenes, Tony broke down and left the set to meditate in the jungles of Thailand. Then somehow Tony’s long last friend, producer, and director of his previous films gets more money and reaches an agreement with him to finish the film, but with his former director retaking the helm. This is no doubt why the film feels very much like two films.

The movie will take much criticism for not being a true sequel. The movie takes place 600 years before the first film and has no connection the previous film. I have no idea why they called the movie Ong-Bak 2 when not even the Buddha statue of Ong Bak is not even in the movie. Ong-Bak 2 is void of humor of the original and very much more of a traditional action period piece. The movie has a much darker tone,lighting, and takes much longer to hit on all cylinders. Much of the reason for this is you see the main character grow up and learn various fighting styles. To a martial art film junkie like me, seeing Tony Jaa learn and fight in many fighting classic fighting styles outside of muy thai only grew my respect and opinion of him, but for pacing and expectations that most people have for the film will just really want to see him in the next muay thai fight scene. I hope people can look past this and really appreciate or understand that Tony Jaa was just trying to show you he isn’t a one trick pony.

Now for those that wait Ong-Bak 2 picks up and finally delivers. The action picks up the intensity and offers the same jaw dropping painful fight scenes that set him apart. Seeing muy thai against all of the other styles is pleasure any kung fu film lover must see. One of which he takes out a whole crowd of pirates laying on his back. There is even a good twist at the end, but unfortunately the movie just ends. That’s right, a kung fu movie ends in a to be continued.

Reviewing this based of the first Ong-Bak, the movie is a mess. Watch simply as a complete separate film, the movie works. Despite the ending, the movie is well worth it just to see more from the best in the business. Its obvious that the movie is flawed and Tony Jaa took on too much too soon, but to me and hopefully the world this film will prove that he is real deal and here to stay. So relax Tony Jaa, you are destined for greatness so take some pressure off, trust yourself and let success come naturally. Ong-Bak 3 and your career will be better for it.



The Reader Review

Posted in 2.5 Stars, Drama, Review, Romantic on June 17, 2009 by russellsreviews

The Reader is a tough review. It’s trying to be thought provoking and mature and everything indie film lovers crave. No doubt many critics and viewers will be swallowed up by the drama, but the reality is The Reader is incoherent and never really established any idea long enough to really understand the point of the film.

In the 1940’s Germany, one day when a boy is walking home from school he falls very ill and is helped by a tram conductor Hanna Schmitz. Once he recovers he decides to return to Hanna’s place and thank her. When the boy, Micheal, gets caught looking at Hanna undress runs away flustered. Part curiosity and part wanting to apologize, Micheal visits Hanna again, only this time being pushed away Hanna Seduces him. They fall in love and Micheal lovingly reads to her everday, but its clear this relationship won’t last. See Hannah is in her 30’s and Micheal is 15. Not only does this cause obvious problems, but its hard to really get caught up in the couple when its so wrong for them to be together in the first place.

When Hanna leaves Micheal the movie jumps ahead in the 60’s and now Micheal is in college and studying law. One of the trails he is studying is a case where many former women Nazi prison guards, one of which is Hanna, are being tried for their crimes during the holocaust. Then during this middle part of the film The Reader shifts from a dramatic love story into a court room drama. The film goes into deeper territory here and really shows the hypocrisy and huge guilt leftover from the German people. The trial has the more interesting scenes of the movie, but they abruptly end and switches back focusing on Hanna and Micheal’s sad relationship which makes one wonder why the trial was even necessary.

The real crutch of the film is bad character motivations and reactions. One night Micheal surprises Hanna at work in the last tram car, but Hanna doesn’t seem amused. When they meet back at home Hanna yells and criticizes him not because he showed up, but because he went to the back car instead of the car she was in. The Reader is filled with weird reactions like this. The worst of these is the tag line of the movie,”How far would you go to protect a secret.” Well, Danna’s secret is she can’t read. She joins the Nazi party because she can’t read. Every life choice she makes is because she is trying to hide the fact she can’t read. She even could have gotten a not guilty verdict in the trial if she just, guess what, admit she can’t read. This is totally irrational. At the end of the film, only after she has been serving the rest of her life in prison, then she gets the great idea to try learn how to read. Why she didn’t try to learn before the end of her life only adds to the insanity of her decision.

The Reader is a good movie, but its filled with these illogical decisions that just bogs the film down and takes you out of the experience. There is a lot of subtle emotions present, but character motivations are lost on the viewer in most cases. I’m sure the book that the film is based of fills in the gaps, but unless your just in a mood for something depressing you can skip the movie.


Drag me to Hell Review

Posted in 3.5 Stars, Horror, New Movie, Review, Uncategorized on June 12, 2009 by russellsreviews

First let me say that I’m a huge Sam Raimi fan. I loved all of his movies and would consider him one of my favorite directors. He can work in any work in genre and takes it to the next level. Sam also has been responsible for some of the best sequels ever made in Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness,  and of course Spider-man 2. Way before he starting doing higher budget flicks he made a living with very low budget horror film series called Evil Dead. It took Sam 17 years, but finally he takes another shot at horror with Drag me to Hell. Knowing that just like those films Sam Raimi and his brother Ivan wrote and directed Drag me to Hell, needless to say I had high hopes and expectations for this film. So can he deliver on the same level as Evil Dead after all these years?

grave pic

Christine is a loan officer with opportunity for promotion for in her bank, but her manager thinks she is weak and unable of making tough choices. When a old gyspy lady Mrs. Ganush asks for an extension for her mortgage for a third time Christine sees this has her chance to prove herself and denies her. Only Christine picked the wrong person to show a backbone too. Ganush then gruesomely attacks her in the parking lot and curses her to damnation. Anyway, the plot in horror movies have never been their strong point, they simply rely on cheap thrills and scary jumps. That’s really what makes Sam Raimi horror movies stand out. He is so self aware of this he never really takes his horror too seriously. He makes these movies almost in way that its making fun of itself enough to be smart and campy, but yet not too much to be a comedy or loose its shock value. Sam shows this also by showing the old universal logo at the beginning of the film almost saying yeah you know whats coming.

Unfortunately, Drag me to Hell doesn’t do this as well as his previous films. It still has style and the camera turning and zooms that you love as a Raimi fan, but it looks like maybe Raimi is a tad rusty. The freights are good, but it feels like maybe Raimi was holding back a little of the craziness or camp to fit the PG-13 rating. This all could come down to why you like horror movies to begin with. Sam Raimi’s scary movies are scary and creepy, but didn’t resort to the old something behind you bang! play loud music then throw in gore. His horror is loony, crazy, and if it has gore its so over the top its funny. Their so weird in a cool way even though you might dislike horror you enjoy them anyway for other reasons. You finally see a lot of this in later part of the film, but since the movie is only about 90 mins. long you wish you had a little more of it. Some of lines from Christine are something Ash from Evil Dead might have even said. For most of the other parts of the film its just a better than run of the mill horror films you can see anytime.

Under any other director Drag me to Hell probably would have been average, but only through the style and dark humor is worth seeing. If you go see it with your expectations a little lowered I have no doubt you will enjoy it. Even though the film didn’t live up to the hype, its still a good film. It’s not a slasher flick or like any of those nasty gore fests most horror movies are nowadays that I hate. The biggest praise Drag me to Hell has is that its a horror movie thats more classic and fun than whats been out in years. I won’t say welcome back to horror that most critics say about Raimi, because I think he is extremely talented visionary and hope he doesn’t get trapped in one genre. Now lets hope Sam Raimi’s next horror film is Evil Dead 4.


Shaolin Girl review

Posted in 3.5 Stars, Action, Comedy, Foreign, New Movie, Review on June 11, 2009 by russellsreviews

Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer is one of the most successful Asian films of all time and finally put Stephen Chow on the map in America. To try to piggy back on the success of that film, here comes Shaolin Girl. At first glace this looks like Japan’s version of Shaolin Soccer but with a girls lacrosse team, but it does branch off enough to be worth a look.

The movie starts off with almost the same idea, Rin, a shaolin trainer, moves back to  Japan with dreams of bringing back the all but forgotten shaolin martial art in her home country. Finding very little interest from anyone, she gets the idea of joining a local college girls lacrosse team and show off her abilities in hopes that it gains a new audience to want to study the ancient art. One of the cool things about this movie is even though this movie was made in Japan and has really has nothing to do with Shaolin Soccer it still has enough homages and familiar faces to feel like a sequel . About the time the team learns how to work together and starts to see the benefits of learning shaolin is when the movie breaks away a little. Shaolin Girl from then on becomes more of a kung fu movie and feels less like a Shaolin Soccer clone.

The kung fu in this movie is pretty good and each fight scene is better than the last, but only the final fight scene will make you think wow. Most of the action really has been done before but its executed enough to please most martial art fans. The fight scene taking place entirely on water is the one that will stay with you. Shaolin Girl never quite hits the magic or cords they were banking on, but if your a major fan of these types of movies there is a lot to enjoy.


UP Review

Posted in 5 Stars, Animation, Comedy, New Movie, Review, Uncategorized on June 2, 2009 by russellsreviews

What’s starting to become the norm, every summer Pixar releases a new movie with a trailer for their next one. This year’s big release is UP, a story of the adventures an old man and a young boyscout floating in a house by thousands of balloons. I have to admit just by seeing the trailers I wasn’t as up for it as pixar past greats. The movie looked like it would be good, but not as iconic. However, I was wrong. UP is just as memorable as Finding Nemo, Cars,Toy Story, and Monster’s Inc. In fact, UP actually pulls at your heart strings more than any of those films.

Pixar’s movies have always been full of fun, energy, and soul for all ages, but this one really will make you laugh and cry young or old. Up has a shockingly mature story. Carl as a child wanted nothing more than to be like his idol Charles Muntz and dream to one day explore the place Muntz always wrote about, Paradise Falls.. One day while playing around in the neighborhood he meets Ellie, a talkative fellow adventurer . Through a brilliant montage you then see the two grow up together, fall deeper in love, get married, and show them  grow old together. When the day comes  when Karl finally saves enough money to take Ellie Paradise Falls, he rushes home only find Ellie has passed away. The montage of their happy days together just before was so powerful and moving that you care more about her death, and feel Karl’s pain more than majority of movies where they take the whole film to develop . Years later when Karl wraps  i up in daily life and even starts to calling the house they built as Ellie, you completely understand the state of mind he is in.

One day when Karl is basically forced to move out of this very important house, he decides to attach thousands of balloons to the roof and take the house with him, only he makes one mistake and accidently brings along a local boyscout. The boyscout Russell throughout Karl’s journey to escape to paradise falls gives him a much needed boost and reminds him of how he used to be. On their quest they meet up with Karl and Ellie’s childhood idol, crazy birds, and even hilarious ”talking” dogs. One of the such dogs, Dug, befriends the group and helps them along the way. All of these characters provide great fun and humor, but really makes UP stand out and put it up their with the elite is how the story of how Karl dealt with loosing his soul mate through the whole movie.

All Pixar movies have funny characters and a great life lesson, but this lesson is mostly for the adults and will make even the hardest heart melt. With most movies nowadays being either too kiddy, or too dark, its refreshing to see a movie like this especially in the summer. Pixar still has it and I don’t think any other move company in animation or live action can match the heart and soul they routinely put out. Leaving the theater after seeing UP will leave your heart will feeling twice as big and have a new found love for dogs.