Sunday Matinee: Deep Rising

There are some movies that are just so dumb that they are entertaining. Celebrating it’s 20th anniversary is action/horror movie Deep Rising

On a luxury cruise ship, the Argonautica, something hits the ship and attacks the crew and the passengers. Meanwhile Treat Williams and his crew are taking a bunch of mercenaries out into the middle of the ocean to an undisclosed location.
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REVIEW: Crazy Rich Asians Goes Beyond the Call of Duty

Constance Wu in Crazy Rich Asians.

While the Asian population in North America is grossly underrepresented in Hollywood, there are venues to access Korean, Chinese, Philippine and Japanese films: A fair number are available via Netflix and big titles often find their way into the multiplex or art-houses. In fact, if it wasn’t for general audiences’ ludicrous distaste for subtitles, every culture with a film industry would be within reach.

So, it’s not like Crazy Rich Asians needs to reinvent the whole film market. It may, however, change habits, improve representation, and help breach the divide between the average moviegoer and Asian cinema’s vast treasures.

Discarding external considerations, Crazy Rich Asians is a sudser on steroids, a full season of a soap opera concentrated in two hours. Well written too. Director Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2) takes full advantage of the setup and –even though the basic plot is light as a feather­– manages to imbue the characters with enough pathos to make them interesting.

The film revolves around Rachel (Constance Wu, Fresh of the Boat), an economics professor at NYU in a committed relationship with Nick (Henry Golding). Nick invites Rachel to attend a wedding in Singapore, an opportunity to introduce her to his family.

Unbeknownst to Rachel, Nick is the scion of one of the richest and most powerful families in the country. The matriarch, Eleanor (an imperious Michelle Yeoh), would like her son to return home and take over the family business, and Rachel seems to be standing in her way. Nastiness ensue.

Crazy Rich Asians’ mission statement comes to the fore in the opening minutes: A harried Eleanor is turned away from a snotty hotel in London. She makes a call and, moments later, she is the owner of the establishment. No snub will be tolerated.

The film is basically cotton candy. Everything is delish: The looks, the food, the real estate, the put downs. Michelle Yeoh towers over the rest of the cast, but everybody is up to task, particularly the comic reliefs (Awkwafina, The Daily Show’s Ronnie Chang, Ken Jeong). Constance Wu gets the hardest job of all as the lead: Balancing competing tones and make it look seamless. She struggles at times, but her innate likeability keeps the audience on her side.

There is a major B-plot involving Nick’s uber-fashionable cousin and her commoner husband, but I would be hard-pressed to say it matters to anybody else but readers of the original book.

While the dissection of family values in Chinese culture goes beyond the stereotypes, Crazy Rich Asians is not a film willing to sacrifice a good time for depth. Go for the luxury, stay for the killer one-liners. Three and a half Bichon Frise dogs.

Crazy Rich Asians is now playing, everywhere.

REVIEW: Blindspotting Depicts a City in Flux

Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs in Blindspotting.

2018 is shaping up as a banner year for black cinema. Three of the most talked-about films revolve around the African-American experience, with a complexity seldom seen before: Sorry to Bother You, BlacKkKlansman, and Blindspotting stay with you long after you leave the theatre.

Blindspotting doesn’t have the scope of BlacKkKlansman, but is the most well-rounded of the bunch. The brainchild of hip-hop artist Daveed Diggs (Hamilton) and poet Rafael Casal, Blindspotting is a dramedy that follows two friends/co-workers over a weekend in Oakland. Colin (Diggs) is three days away from finishing his probation. Of course they will be the longest 72 hours of his life, particularly after his compadre, the hothead Miles (Casal), purchases a gun for protection.

Not only Miles puts Colin’s freedom in jeopardy. The jailbird witnesses the murder of a black man at hands of a white cop, and getting involved seems inadvisable in his situation.

There are plenty of dark corners in Blindspotting, but also levity. Diggs and Casal use their real-life friendship to push each other into unconventional territory. Every so often the gun reappears to stir the pot. The old rule “if you show a gun in the first act, you should expect it to go off by the third” is used to subvert expectations brilliantly.

Ultimately, this is a film about breaking the black/white divide. In a normal movie, Colin would come to terms with the fact Miles brings him down and cut him loose. Blindspotting values class awareness and loyalty higher, so the decision is not as clear. The movie also deals with the tensions that come from gentrification. Once a blue-collar hub, Oakland is enduring a constant influx of hipsters escaping San Francisco, driving prices up and occupying spaces that used to belong to the working class.

The ending is bold and works proportionally to the audience’s investment on the characters: It can be exhilarating or take you out of the movie entirely. Regardless, one must acknowledge the film’s willingness to go for broke. 3.5/5 prairie bros.

Blindspotting opens today at Rainbow Cinemas – Studio 7.

Sunday Matinee: The Mask Of Zorro

The Mask of Zorro turned 20 last month. The Martin Campbell film starred Antonio Banderas as a young man trained by the original Zorro (Anthony Hopkins) to pick up the masked mantle and fight corruption. While I’ve always preferred the 1940 Mark of Zorro, The Mask of Zorro is a fun, solid action film and Banderas is excellent.

In 1821 during the Mexican War of Independence, Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson), the corporate governor of Las Californias, is forced to flee back to Spain. Before he does though he goes to confront his archenemy Zorro who he finds out is really nobleman Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins). As they fight De la Vega’s wife Esperanza (Julieta Rosen) is killed and Zorro gives up, is arrested and imprisoned. Zorro’s infant daughter Elana is taken by Don Rafael and raised as his own.
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Sunday Matinee: Ninja III: The Combination

Today’s Sunday Matinee is the fun and terrible action movie Ninja III: The Domination.

The first two Ninja movies the first being Enter the Ninja, and the second being Revenge of the Ninja. The three movies are really stand alone movies and have nothing to do with each other. The only the really connection all three films is that all three star Sho Kosugi.
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Sunday Matinee: The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey

Getting released this week on Blu-ray from Arrow Films is this excellent but forgot 1988 New Zealand film from director Vincent Ward, The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey.

Set in the 14th century in a Cumbrian mountain village, the townsfolk are in a panic when they hear that the black plague is coming to them. Desperate to save themselves they listen to a young village boy who has visions, Griffin (Hamish McFarlane). His vision says that they must dig and travel to the farside of the world.
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Sunday Matinee: The House That Dripped Blood

Amicus Productions was a British film company that was around from the 1960s to the 1970s. They tried to compete with Hammmer Films and used several of the same actors.

Amicus Productions main type of horror film was the anthology which they found some success with. They made seven anthology films, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), Torture Garden (1967), The House That Dripped Blood (1971), Tales from the Crypt (1972), Asylum (1972), Vault of Horror (1973) and From Beyond the Grave (1974). Today we’re looking at the recently released on bluray The House That Dripped Blood.
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REVIEW: Ant-Man and the Wasp Is Marvel’s Amuse-Bouche

Ant-Man as Giant-Man.

The solemnity of Avengers: Infinity War didn’t quite hit me until the first few minutes of the frothy Ant-Man and the Wasp. A sequel to 2015 Ant-Man(the one Edgar Wright got bumped from), this chapter leans heavily on the comedy and well-designed set-pieces based on… size proportion. The film stands by itself for far longer than expected –given certain events in the MCU– and the limited stakes are a welcome respite from Thanos’ idea of redistribution.

Probably because of the absence of drama behind the scenes, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a lot more cohesive than the first episode. Returning director Peyton Reed and a team of five scriptwriters fail to fully grasp the whole subatomic shrinking business, but your tolerance for science-speak is rewarded in different ways.

Following the events in Captain America: Civil War, the titular Ant-Man, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), has abandoned his career as a superhero and now endures a two-year house arrest sentence. Scott is willing to bide his time for his daughter, but is also fully aware his actions have forced his former companions –Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly)– to go on the lam. Continue reading “REVIEW: Ant-Man and the Wasp Is Marvel’s Amuse-Bouche”

Sunday Matinee: The Colossus Of Rhodes

Sergio Leone is known for making awesome westerns. A Fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. He didn’t direct a lot of movies but his last few are consider to be classics. Leone’s first full credited feature film though (he had co-directed a couple things) was this sword and sandals epic The Colossus of Rhodes.

Set in 280 BC on the island of Rhodes where the kingdom has just finished building a giant statue, a colossal statue if you will to Apollo in the harbour to help protect against invasions. A Greek military soldier named Darios (Rory Calhoun) is visiting his uncle on the island and gets caught up in several plots.

It seems there are rebels on the island are planning on overthrowing the king Serse (Roberto Camardiel). The king’s second in command Thar (Conrado San Martín) is planning on overthrowing the king too but with the help of the Phoenicians. He’s smuggled an army onto the island and is trying to have men reading to take over the statue in order to let a large Phoenician fleet of ships in.

Meanwhile Darios is helping the rebels and the they plan on attack the statue to free the prisoners who are kept in a dungeon below the statue. Lots of fighting and getting captured ensue. The movie is pretty good for a swords and sandals flick. It isn’t classic Leone but it gave him a big break and let go on to direct A Fistful of Dollars.

REVIEW: Pope Francis Gets Real

Pope says hi.

Regardless of your feelings towards the Catholic Church, it’s fair to say Jorge Bergoglio encountered a challenging situation when he became Pope Francis in 2013: The institution was noticeably out of step with the world, congregations were dwindling, and the matter of widespread sexual abuse perpetrated by priests wasn’t being dealt with as much as swept under the carpet.

Francis revealed himself to be more of a revolutionary than anybody expected (sure, the transformation of the Church hasn’t been sweeping, but the man is inarguably an improvement). Director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) focuses precisely on the Pontiff’s main drives in Pope Francis: A Man of his Word, a documentary built around a couple of wide ranging interviews with the Argentinian Jesuit.

Wenders cares little about Francis’ upbringing or how he became the man he is today. His main concern is the Pope’s view of the world and what is he doing about it. The Pontiff’s modest lifestyle (for Vatican standards anyway) gives away his game: Poverty is the chip on his shoulders and hasn’t hesitated in calling out capitalism. He is also the first environmentalist Leader of the Church to date, a stance that has alienated many Conservative Catholics, particularly in the US. You don’t have to agree with the man, but one has to admire the consistency.

From a cinematic perspective, Wim Wenders gets his hands on some eye-popping footage. Unfortunately, his decision of creating cheesy interstitials with the life of St. Francis of Assisi (as if shot by Carl Dreyer in the 1920’s) fails to achieve the desired effect of linking both Francises through history.

Bergoglio comes across as affable, but doesn’t take much to discover gravitas under his welcoming demeanor. One could argue Wenders is too soft on Francis, particularly when dealing with the matter of children’s abuse at hands of clerics. As biased as it is, it provides enough insight on a man who sees monumental tasks ahead –refugees, climate change, ever expanding poverty– and his reaction is simply to roll up his sleeves and get to work, which is more than the other guy did (the German one, who quit). Three pious prairie dogs.

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word is now playing at Studio 7.

REVIEW: Incredibles 2 Leaves You Wanting More

Elastigirl leaves the baby with her house-husband in Incredibles 2.

Alongside Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc., The Incrediblesis a foundational Pixar film, a veritable neoclassic that explores the changing dynamics of family life disguised as a superhero film from the 60’s. The film invigorated the career of Brad Bird, who crashed and burned with the Iron Giant, a critical darling that didn’t connect with audiences.

The Incredibles was a smash hit, and Bird moved on to bigger things (the narratively ambitious Ratatouille, his first live-action film Mission: Impossible 4), but following another box office miss (the unfairly maligned Tomorrowland), the Pixar creative returned to Pixar to helm a sequel of his first hit… 14 years after the original.

Incredibles 2 picks up seconds after the original’s ending, mid-battle with the Underminer. The considerable destruction that ensued from that encounter forced the Parr family to go back into hiding. Broke and a little bored, when a millionaire offers them to spearhead a PR campaign to bring superheroes back, they are happy to accept. There is a catch, Helen a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is the one chosen to be the face of the movement.

Suddenly a stay-at-home dad, Bob a.k.a Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) struggles mightily: Homework is ridiculously hard, daughter Violet is sullen as ever, and baby Jack-Jack has dozens of powers and can’t control a single one of them. Meanwhile, Elastigirl thrives in her new job, although the new villain in town –the Screenslaver– is getting on her nerves.

The home front chaos is far more compelling than the adventure that ties all together, mainly by how compelling Bob, Violet and Jack-Jack are, together and separately. Bob is not exactly ‘woke’ and even though he doesn’t get in the way of Helen, he is clearly begrudging his spouse. Violet’s priorities are not in line with the rest of the family, especially when facing the possibility of a boyfriend.

The relationship of Bob and Helen is another highlight. Never mind the disagreements, their partnership is one you can believe. Take recent superhero hits Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War: A good chunk of the plot hangs on coupledom, and yet the undoing of these pairs left me cold. Bob and Helen have a shorthand and know when to push a point and pull their punches. It’s a successful marriage in a nutshell.

I don’t plan to spoil the identity of the villain here. Suffice to say, like all good antagonists, it has a valid motive and a cool and unusual modus operandi. It’s not nearly as flashy as fanboy-gone-wrong Syndrome, but it has more depth.

The only aspect of the film that doesn’t quite work is the conclusion. Probably because the scenario is not particularly dramatic, or the threat is too mild to taste, the stakes feel low. That said, Incredibles 2 gets an easy pass on character strength alone. 3 ½ super dogs

Incredibles 2 is playing everywhere.

Sunday Matinee: Jack The Giant Killer

In 1958 Ray Harryhausen helped make The 7th Voyage of Sinbad which became a big hit with audiences. A rival film producer named Edward Small decided that he wanted to cash in on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad‘s success. He made Jack the Giant Killer which got released in 1962.

Small hired director Nathan Juran who directed The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and along with Sinbad actors Kerwin Mathews who played Sinbad and now plays the hero Jack and Torin Thatcher who played an evil wizard in Sinbad and in Jack plays an evil wizard called Pendragon.
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Sunday Matinee: A Study In Terror

In 1965 Sherlock Holmes found himself facing off against a mysterious and notorious killer for the first time. Jack the Ripper.

Three prostitutes have murdered in gruesome fashion with no clues to the killer other than the press call him Jack the Ripper. Soon after a mysterious package arrives for Sherlock Holmes (John Neville). It’s a case of surgical tools with scalpel missing. With the help of Dr. Watson (Donald Houston) Holmes starts looking into the case.
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Sunday Matinee: It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive

Shout Factory has just released Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive trilogy on blu-ray and it looks fantastic.

I’ve written before about the first It’s Alive about a horribly deformed monster baby being born and then going on a rampage to get home to Mom and Dad. Cohen was a master of low budget horror movies. God Told me To and Q were both fantastic and the original It’s Alive is highly entertaining.
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Sunday Matinee: Kill Bill

Quentin Tarantino’s homage to grindhouse action, samurai, martial art movies was also a showcase for actress Uma Thurman.

Thurman stars as The Bride, a woman who was once a part of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. On her wedding day, while pregnant, her former squad members stormed the wedding killing everyone. The leader of the group Bill (David Carradine), The Bride’s former lover and father of her child shots her in the head. The Bride survives but is in a coma for four years.
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Sunday Matinee: Yes, Madam!

After the 1970s there were several big movies that featured bad ass woman action lead roles. 1979’s Alien with Sigourney Weaver which needs no introduction and 1980’s Gloria with Gena Rowlands as a woman trying to save a kid from the mob. There was also a lot of bad action movies. She, Sheena and Red Sonja just to name a couple.

Today’s Sunday Matinee is 1985’s Yes, Madam a Hong Kong action film starring Michelle Yeoh – in what was her first starring role.
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Sunday Matinee: Lady Snowblood

A woman gives birth to a baby girl while in prison in the late 1800 Japan. The woman dies after the birth but before she dies she wants her daughter Yuki to continue her plan of vengeance.

Yuki (Meiko Kaji) grows up learning how to fight and kill. She needs to kill three more people. Before she was born her mother and her mother’s husband were attacked by a group of four people. The husband was killed and the mother was raped. The mother tracked down one of the four and murdered him which is why she was in prison. While in prison she purposely got pregnant by one of the guards so she could have a child to finish seeking vengeance.
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Sunday Matinee: Coffy

Pam Grier had co-starred in several women in prison movies and a few blaxploitation films before getting the lead role of 1973’s Coffy.

Blaxploitation films had exploded in popularity and American International Pictures had lost the rights to make Cleopatra Jones – which Warner Bros. made and released in the same year. American International Pictures being American International Pictures quickly raced and made Coffy to beat Cleopatra Jones in theatres.
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