A crew, including renowned scientist is staying through the Winter in the Antarctic research station Polaris VI when suddenly the outside world loses radio contact. When Spring comes, Summer commander Johan Berg (Alexander Willaume) comes to investigate and discovers that most of the crew are dead or missing, including his missing wife Annika (Laura Bach). The only apparent survivor is Maggie (Katharine O’Donnelly), the Winter doctor, who relays the story of the events to Johan, beginning with the finding of a decapitated corpse. Now, Johan must sort through the truth and lies as she tells him a story of people slowly turning against each other.
I once reviewed all three of the versions of The Thing, so I unfortunately was already familiar with the pinnacle story of “people stuck in a research station with a killer.” This show clearly knew people were going to draw the parallel, to the point that they actually show the film in the first episode. However, here, there is no alien (sorry if that’s a spoiler) to blame for all of the paranoia. At first, that seems like a good idea, until you realize that the story doesn’t really have the strength to keep the murderfest going.
A big problem is that you can never tell how much of the story is dependent on the unreliable narrator, since many of the events shown happen outside of any living person’s view. Later, when we get a second viewpoint that conflicts with Maggie’s, we see several scenes told from multiple perspectives where the words are the same but the tones are not, but we still get scenes that neither person could inform us about really. It makes it hard to get invested when we’re supposed to be wondering about points of view while seemingly having some third-person omniscient sections. Even when the show tries to rectify this by asking how the narrator could know it, it’s mostly just glossed over.
The worst part is that the setting does make the plot work for about an hour or two and most of the scenes are very well performed, it just is too long to hold up without more character development. It doesn’t help that most of the reveals that seem to be the big twists at the end really seem stupid in retrospect.
Overall, I would recommend watching the Thing again instead.
The greatest Anime studio (fight me) releases a rare miss.
A witch (Sherina Munaf/Kacey Musgraves) leaves her infant daughter Aya/Earwig (Kokoro Hirasawa/Taylor Paige Henderson) at an orphanage as she’s being chased by the other members of her coven, promising to return. Ten years later, Earwig, now called Erica, is a mischievous but not malicious child who wants to stay with her friends at the orphanage. However, she is adopted by a strange woman named Bella Yaga (Shinobu Terajima/Vanessa Marshall) and an inhuman man named Mandrake (Etsushi Toyokawa/Richard E. Grant). Bella Yaga reveals that she is a witch and that she has adopted Earwig to be her servant. Rather than be upset, Earwig is excited at the possibility of learning magic, only to be disappointed that Bella Yaga doesn’t want to teach her. She and Bella Yaga’s familiar Thomas (Gaku Hamada/Dan Stevens) work together to try and improve their lot under Bella Yaga.
I want to start off by saying that I might have put too much pressure on this film because it’s Studio Ghibli. I mean, they’re the studio that made Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, Grave of the Fireflies, and Spirited Away. Aside from Akira and Dragon Ball Z, this studio is probably the single biggest penetration of Anime into mainstream Western culture. Much like Pixar, I expect the baseline of their films to be “above average.” Unfortunately, by that standard, this is not a good movie.
The biggest problem with the film is that it has so many interesting premises and elements that could be explored, but it perpetually chooses not to do anything with them. Instead, the film just kind of jumps from weird moment to weird moment, often with little to nothing indicating why. The whole film’s motivation appears to be Earwig wanting to get Bella and Mandrake to do what she wants, but even when she works towards that, it usually is indirect. Character motivations are surprisingly thin, particularly since there are really only four characters in the film. I admit that I usually expect a Studio Ghibli film to do a lot of its development through animation and setting, but this film skipped even that and I think part of it is that they just weren’t as experienced in doing subtlety through CGI. I’ll admit that while I think parts of the CGI in this film look great, other parts feel somewhat unfinished or stylized poorly, which means that a lot of the film suffers.
The soundtrack is pretty good, since a part of the bigger arc to the film involves Earwig finding a band called Earwig and enjoying their songs, but it does get a bit repetitive. Even worse, like much of the other stuff in the film, the presence of the band only brings up a bunch of questions that would likely have really interesting answers, but then fails to deliver on any of them. Instead, the film just kind of jumps ahead and wraps everything up in a monologue and a rushed conclusion. Given that the movie (without credits) is only like 70 minutes, I don’t quite understand why the finale had to be so quick. It’s like this movie was just the first half of a film and that the second half got cut for time.
Overall, this is just not a great film and I am so sad to say that.
Two teenage girls go on a long drive. Hilarity ensues.
Veronica Clarke (Haley Lu Richardson) is a high-school junior who finds out that she’s pregnant and is caught with the positive test by her former friend, Bailey Butler (Barbie Ferreira). Bailey casually offers Veronica a ride to the clinic if she needs an abortion, but assumes that she will keep the pregnancy. Veronica decides to get an abortion, but discovers that she can only get one in Missouri with parental consent. Her parents are conservative, so she searches for the closest place that doesn’t require parental notification, which happens to be in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is nearly one-thousand miles away. She asks Bailey to help her drive there and along the way, they have to deal with local law enforcement, attractive bystanders (Betty Who and Denny Love), a conspiracy theorist (Giancarlo Esposito), a crazy religious couple (Breckin Meyer and Sugar Lyn Beard), and Veronica’s boyfriend Kevin (Alex MacNicoll), who didn’t tell her the condom broke and wants her to keep the pregnancy.
I’m sure that this film is naturally going to piss some people off since the motivation for the movie is aborting a pregnancy, but, honestly, most of the time it just serves as a macguffin to keep the film going. While the movie does have several scenes in which Veronica flat-out complains that the fact that the Missouri legislature (and most of the Midwest) being assholes has forced her into this situation, most of the film is focused on the journey and the relationship between Veronica and Bailey. As you might expect, when handling the actual abortion, the film is straight-forward and accurate about how to get an abortion and what it’s like to undergo the procedure. The film also tries to incidentally dispel many myths associated with abortion, mostly in the scenes with the religious couple who abduct Veronica to try and stop her.
Like I said before, though, most of the movie is just the kind of wacky road-trip hijinks that you would expect in a film featuring two people who have a strained history. Veronica’s family had forced her to stop associating with Bailey because of her weird interests, so they really hadn’t talked in a while before this incident. Bailey is openly gay, nerdy, and outspoken while Veronica is a stereotypical cheerleader from a conservative family. Many of the scenes are just them talking about their varied experiences and they’re pretty great. Both Richardson and Ferreira bring a lot of distinct characteristics to their characters and their chemistry is great. As the film goes on, they start to fall more into a natural rhythm as if they’re finding their friendship again and it really helps propel the film through some of the more farcical scenes.
The dialogue in the movie is solid, balancing awkward humor with serious subjects and it never feels like either diminishes the other. There are a number of great scenes in which the characters are having deep and sincere moments, only to follow them up with something ridiculous as a way to bring the film back into comedy.
Overall, this really is just a great road film. Recommend it highly.
Three great actors and a decent premise, but you’ve seen it before.
It’s 1990 and a woman has been murdered in L.A. Disgraced former detective and current deputy sheriff Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) is called in to collect forensic evidence and notices similarities to a serial murder case he worked on. Along with lead detective Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek), Deacon searches for a man who is out murdering prostitutes in California. The two begin to investigate local man Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), who shows an interest in Baxter and in serial murder.
This movie’s getting beaten up a bit by critics and, honestly, it’s easy to see why. I’ve tried not to read them too much, but one of the general comments I’ve seen repeatedly was that the film seemed like a rehash of Seven. Having now watched it, I disagree. I don’t think this film necessarily feels like Seven, since it lacks the criminal mastermind, religion, or even elaborate killings elements, but I also think it’s really that this film doesn’t do anything to set itself apart from most films about police chasing a murderer. Yes, the performances by the leads are all great, but the killer isn’t particularly interesting and the pacing on the revelations throughout the story is too slow. Even the final character moments of the film don’t really do much to win it back.
Naturally, the performances in this movie are great. Denzel Washington does a great job of portraying Deacon, whose past is already made up of moral compromises. This gives him a perspective on policing than the more arrogant and fame-hungry Baxter, but ultimately also gives him a bit of a cooler head. Rami Malek walks the line of being likable throughout the film and you never quite know how much of his motive is genuine altruism and how much is his desire to advance his career. Jared Leto’s portrayal of Sparma is especially interesting. While he’s a jerk, you are never sure throughout his early scenes if he is the killer or not.
Like I said, the movie largely just runs through the beats of every film that’s like this. There’s an optimist cop and a grizzled cop trying to find someone. Almost all of Washington and Malek’s interactions are so by-the-book that I was surprised it was written by John Lee Hancock, who did The Blind Side and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. However, it fell into place a little when I found out that he wrote this in 1993, before Seven came out and caused Hollywood to flood the genre for the last three decades. So, part of it is just that this film might have been ahead of its time if it had come out when it was written, but instead it feels derivative. Timing is everything, I guess.
Overall, since the last point I want to address requires a spoiler, I’ll just say that this movie is not great. If you’re a big fan of Denzel, you can probably watch it. Otherwise, it’s just a little too slow and a little too long.
The ending to the film, had it been built-up properly, might have been great. At the end of the film, Baxter accidentally kills Sparma after Sparma claimed he’d show him where a victim was buried. Right before dying, though, Sparma tells Baxter that he’s just been messing with the policeman and that he’s not a killer. Deacon tells Baxter to bury him and forget, then sends him a piece of evidence that would supposedly prove Sparma was the killer… only for it to be revealed that Deacon faked it. Sparma might have been innocent and there’s still a killer out there. This kind of ambiguity and the moral defeat on Malek’s face at the end of the film could have been great, but instead it just feels hollow.
We get a full-on Covid-19 film and it’s… not great.
Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Linda (Anne Hathaway) are romantic partners for roughly a decade and they were starting to break up when Covid-19 causes London to lockdown. Paxton drives a delivery truck due to a criminal record from his youth and Linda works for a major fashion company whose chairman (Ben Stiller) forces her to lay off most of her co-workers at the beginning of lockdown. Having formerly worked at Harrods, she is put in charge of emptying the inventory of the department store during the first few weeks of the pandemic. At the same time, Paxton’s boss, Malcolm (Ben Kingsley), forges a new ID for Paxton so that he can do runs during lockdown, including Harrods. Realizing their schedules sync up, Linda hatches a plan for the two to steal a multimillion dollar diamond from a war-criminal and, in the process, their spark reignites.
This movie was, apparently, written on a dare in July of last year. Now, I’m not saying that you can’t make great work over a dare or a bet, nor that great work can’t happen over a short period, but it seems like doing a film about Covid while still dealing with Covid was always a recipe for disaster. Some of the situations in the film honestly make me bitter and angry at how optimistic we might have been about humanity at the beginning of this pandemic. Every mask-less person and prediction that lockdown will only be a few months made me want to scream. Also, and maybe it’s due to the way it had to be filmed, but this film seems wildly disjointed. It’s like it’s two movies crammed together badly, which, while a decent metaphor for the situation of the leads, does not work well as a narrative.
During the opening act, I was genuinely enjoying the movie, for the most part. The idea of being ready to break up with someone just as you are now literally forced to stay with them, and only them, for a long period is pretty great as a set-up for a romantic comedy. We get a ton of funny interactions between characters over Zoom, particularly involving Paxton’s brother David (Dule Hill) and his wife, Maria (Jazmyn Simon). Maria and Linda apparently had a sexual encounter a few months earlier and the way they talk is hilarious. The fact that both Paxton and Linda are kind of falling apart is, mostly, entertaining, and both Ejiofor and Hathaway are great performers that bring a lot of humor to the awkwardness. They have good chemistry when they’re together, but, weirdly, I don’t feel like they’re deeply attracted to each other. It’s just that the two clearly like to banter. When that’s what’s happening, I think the movie was pretty funny.
Unfortunately, the film had to have a plot, so we get the weirdest heist set-up ever. It’s completely a crime of opportunity that has to be literally given to the pair. They are, without their knowledge, both set-up to move a diamond that’s worth a fortune. The diamond will, and Linda is told this up-front, be put into a vault and kept locked for 50 years or so, completely unseen. No one will even inspect it before it’s locked away. It’s also revealed that the diamond is bought by a mass murdering dictator (or possibly a former US President) who literally had to use a third party anonymously because Harrods wasn’t going to sell to them. So, no moral quandary. The entire “heist” consists of switching the diamond for the fake display diamond which they were going to have to throw away. There’s no security, really, because Covid. It’s amazing how uninteresting this theft is and, honestly, it just feels like they kind of meander through it. It’s just not that interesting.
Overall, it’s not a great film, but it has a number of good bits and the Zoom parts do kind of capture how fucked up the world is during the pandemic. Still, maybe just rewatch Point Break if you want a heist involving two people with great sexual chemistry.
BMO – BMO (Niki Yang) the tiny robot is sent on a mission into space but ends up getting hijacked by a robot and sent to the space station called “The Drift.” The station is run by Hugo (Randall Park), an evil former-human who essentially rules with an iron fist. BMO, with the help of local scientist Y5 (Glory Curda), ends up saving the entire station and helps them start a new way of life. BMO then returns home.
Obsidian – Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch) and Marceline (Olivia Olson) have been together for several years now and their relationship is still going well. They are summoned by the young Glass Boy (Michaela Dietz) to save the Glass Kingdom and See-Thru Princess from the evil dragon Molto Larvo (Dee Bradley Baker). In the process, they must confront some issues from their past relationship and Marceline’s history.
If you were a fan of Adventure Time like myself, the news of this miniseries was like water to the desert-dweller. I had originally planned to wait until all four of the episodes were out, but it’s been like six months and we still don’t have dates for the last two episodes, so I’m just pulling the trigger.
“BMO” is, much like BMO him/her/itself, unusual. It’s a strange misadventure featuring a character who often acts like a small child. BMO often doesn’t even seem cognizant of the impact that their presence is having on the events, but instead just kind of plays along with their own kind of dream logic. Ultimately, the biggest thing that BMO has going for them is that they are completely innocent and impart some level of that innocence on everyone they interact with. Additionally, BMO is selfless, most of the time, and that similarly rubs off on people. It’s the sincerity of the tiny robot that sells the narrative, which helps because a lot of it feels aimless and meandering, like BMO is during the events. The final message of the episode is that ultimately being manipulative and greedy will leave you lonely, which is a good moral for kids.
“OBSIDIAN” is extremely different. It focuses more on Marceline and Bubblegum coming to terms with their past and how it impacts their current efforts at having a relationship. Since the pair did not get together (again) until the final episode of the original series, we haven’t actually gotten a lot of time with them as a couple. During some of the episodes of the final seasons we got a picture of their interplay and hints that they had been together in the past, but all we know is that it didn’t work out well. This episode fleshes out the end of that relationship by showing us how angry and insecure Marceline was. It then takes us further back and shows us when Marceline was originally left on her own as a child, with the narrative drawing strong associations between those events. Then, at the end, we see that Marceline has finally moved forward and grown past these after a literal millennium of life. It’s a lot more about self exploration than adventure, but it’s also just as important of a message.
Seth Rogen brings us a strange new take on Rip Van Winkle.
In 1919, Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) and his wife, Sarah (Sarah Snook), immigrate to America from Eastern Europe after the Cossacks sacked their village. Herschel gets a job at a pickle factory, but on the day the factory closes, he gets trapped in a vat and is preserved for 100 years until the vat is unsealed. His only relative is his great-grandson Ben (Also Seth Rogen), who is a freelance app developer. Herschel’s values from 1919 quickly start to clash with Ben’s more modern sensibilities. At the same time, Herschel thinks that Ben does not appropriately respect his heritage. It’s like they’re in some kind of uncomfortable situation.
So, this movie does a number of things right. Seth Rogen does a great job playing both the terse and confrontational Herschel and the softer and more sarcastic Ben. Some of their scenes together are genuinely touching and many are also funny, which is more impressive when you realize that the same person is playing both parts. A lot of the humorous scenes in the movie really work well, but only because Rogen is just naturally charming and playing two different sides of himself.
The problem is that, at a lot of points, the style of comedy is inconsistent and, unless you’re really malleable, you’ll probably be thrown off by the changes. For example, there’s a funny scene in which the film avoids explaining HOW Herschel could possibly have survived in the vat by telling the audience that there definitely is an explanation and that it satisfied everyone who asked. It’s a great way to acknowledge that there’s no way to make this film’s premise scientifically viable but moving past it with a fun wink to the audience. However, that’s the only time that kind of joke is made in the film and it kind of sticks out. Most of the movie derives its humor from the “fish out of water” story or the generational divide and how anti-progressives in the modern day actually like Herschel’s horrible opinions, but every so often one of the jokes will come from a completely different angle and rather than adding to the film, kind of pulls you out of it and makes it hard to laugh at the next joke.
Overall, though, the negatives in this movie are outweighed by Rogen’s performance and the number of genuinely well-done scenes. I still recommend it.
It’s got the makings of a good film, covered in a lot of fluff.
It’s not quite 1985 yet and America is living it up like it’s 1999, Prince’s 1982 album. If that sentence seemed like an overly roundabout and pointlessly showy way of saying “it’s 1984,” then I have successfully conveyed the movie’s tone. Diana, Princess of the Amazons, (Gal Gadot) is working as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian and somewhat covertly operating as Wonder Woman. After stopping a heist of rare antiquities, she meets Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a new gemologist, who envies Diana for her confidence and strength. One of the items from the robbery is an inscribed stone which is given to Barbara to inspect by the FBI. After handling it, Diana discovers that her previously deceased love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is now alive again. At the same time, aspiring businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) wants the stone for his own purposes. Action sequences ensue.
This movie reminds me a bit of the third Tobey Maguire Spider-Man film. There were good performances in it and several decent ideas, but the plot was overloaded with moments that exist just to satisfy some fleeting desire to add a single element. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still better than most of Spider-Man 3, but it has the same “let’s add 10 minutes for an unnecessary sub-plot” feeling. As a result, this movie is probably about a solid forty minutes longer than it needs to be. They just kept adding things that either needed more focus to really work or just didn’t need to be there at all. I’ll give a concrete and major example after the spoiler break.
I’m not going to say that this film is bad. I certainly wasn’t blindingly angry while watching it, which puts it ahead of at least two other films in the DCEU. There are some good sequences in it, particularly the fight sequence in the White House, and Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal both play their characters better than they are written. Sure, there are a lot of scenes that could be cut, but many of the scenes in the film are genuinely touching or well-done. I particularly will say that I loved the way that the main conflict was resolved. In the first movie, Diana says that her greatest power is love, but then also beats Ares by using the power of shooting magic lightning. It’s hard for me to absorb the message when the story completely contradicts it. However, in this film, Diana actually does win by using love and empathy rather than just punching. It’s a logical resolution that contains a great moral and a lesson that is completely appropriate for our time.
I will admit that while watching it I considered that the movie might be bloated and overindulgent because it’s a 1980s film. That was a decade of action movies that basically defined the term “over-the-top” and maybe this movie is trying to take that back from the extremely male-dominated genre by saying “here’s a film with a strong female protagonist that is also f*cking ridiculous.” We were willing to overlook the many flaws in Commando and turn it into a much-loved classic, so why can’t this film get the same benefit? But, if that was why, that’s still not a great reason. We don’t make ’80s action films anymore because we are no longer living in the ’80s. America, and the world, is fundamentally different and our art reflects that. The film captures the style of the period, it doesn’t need to capture the attitude behind the scenes.
Overall, I don’t think this is a great movie, but I don’t regret seeing it. I am glad they’ve gone ahead and green-lit another film, because this movie still made it clear that Patty Jenkins knows how to shoot some great sequences and Gal Gadot is a solid choice for Wonder Woman. Also, amazing post-credits cameo.
The single point at which I knew I was getting frustrated in the movie was the invisible jet sequence. It has so many logical flaws that it just started breaking my brain. First, they have to get a jet because they need to fly to Cairo in one trip and can’t fly commercial as Steve doesn’t have a passport. This is already stupid because A) Steve is possessing the body of a guy who clearly travels and thus would likely have a passport, B) Diana, a literal immortal goddess, works for the Federal Government and thus clearly knows someone who can make fake identities, and C) they pick a Panavia Tornado, a Jet whose maximum range would not get you halfway to Cairo from Washington DC on a full tank of fuel. Also, Steve can fly a jet even though he died in 1918? Then, while they’re taking off, Diana suddenly remembers that stealing a jet is a thing people don’t like and that they’re going to be attacked, so she has to make it invisible, even though she apparently hasn’t done this before. The thing that really pisses me off is that it was all just a ham-fisted way to work the Invisible Jet into the Wonder Woman film. It’s a 20 minute subplot that could just have been replaced with “oh, btw, I HAVE A MAGIC JET THAT’S INVISIBLE.” Making it a real jet that she turns invisible makes you wonder how the hell they found an airstrip or a place to refuel or how Steve used the bathroom during a 10 hour fight. If it’s a magic jet, like it usually is in the comics, then no one needs to think about any of that stuff. Or, honestly, just work the jet in somewhere else and do a jump cut to them being in Cairo. No one would have questioned them just taking a commercial plane.
There are about three different subplots like this that add nothing to the movie and feel like they were done just to add something for either the trailer or just to satisfy a studio checklist. Actually, multiple scenes from the trailer were completely pointless, like having her lasso lightning while flying or having her don Asteria’s armor only for Cheetah to tear it apart in a minute.
Then there’s Cheetah. Okay, so, I’m giving credit to the movie for the scene in which a drunk guy accosts Barbara, because it is appropriately horrifying. Particularly with him repeatedly saying “I’m a nice guy” as he tries to force himself on her. When Diana saves her, it’s completely reasonable that Barbara would wish to be like Diana and thus wish to be strong. It’s even understandable that she would start to get caught up in having that much power and attention. However, they try to convey her “start of darkness” by having her beat up the guy who accosted her. A woman beating up her would-be rapist is usually not a “villainous” act. But the biggest question is why she ever wanted to be a cheetah woman at all. She already has super-strength and such, why the hell not just ask for Wonder Woman’s full powerset? She says it’s about being an “apex predator,” which is weird enough, but cheetahs, while they technically fit the term, aren’t what you think of when you hear “apex predator.” I could not buy that last leap to being Cheetah on any level. Why not have Barbara lose her powers at the end of this film and seek alternate powers to be strong again in the next movie that have the side-effect of turning her into a cheetah? It’d give some time for an actually well-done character to believably go from nice to villain.
The thing about all of these complaints is that they stink to high heaven of studio meddling. “You can’t use a movie to set-up Cheetah without showing Cheetah” or “we need some cool shots for a trailer that will be made a year before the film is done.” If you cut all of this crap, then this movie could genuinely have been really good. I think I could re-cut the movie myself to be better with just what we have. It’s just frustrating to watch a lot of good get diluted by mediocre.
This was the last film of a great actor and the dying flame truly burns brightest.
Lee (BRUCE F*CKING LEE) is a supremely skilled martial artist who is approached by British Intelligence agent Braithwaite (Geoffrey Weeks) about an investigation into Han (Shih Kien/Keye Luke), a notorious drug lord. Han is hosting a martial arts tournament and Lee is a prime candidate to enter. Lee’s master (Roy Chiao) informs him that a man who works for Han, O’Hara (Bob Wall), killed Lee’s sister, Su Lin (Angela Mao). Additionally, he reveals that Han had been a member of the Shaolin temple like Lee, until he was expelled. Lee agrees to infiltrate Han’s island for the British. At the same time, gambling addict Roper (John Saxon) and Martial Arts master Williams (Jim Kelly) also enter the tournament. The two, having previously served together in Vietnam, quickly regain their friendship. The three, along with other competitors, arrive on Han’s island.
The three prove to be more than up to the level of the challengers, with Saxon and Williams even wagering on each other. At the end of the first day of fighting, Han supplies all of the fighters with female companionship, but orders the men to stay in their rooms. Lee arranges for his companion to be Mei Ling (Betty Chung), a secret undercover British agent, which allows him to sneak out. However, he encounters guards and is unable to find anything to report to the British, but escapes back to his room. The next morning, Han orders his chief fighter Bolo (Bolo Yeung) to kill the guards for failing. Bolo kills them all easily. Lee then faces off with O’Hara, whom he defeats easily, then is forced to kill when O’Hara tries to stab him. That night, Han summons Williams to his chambers. Williams had stepped outside the previous night to practice and Han believes he was the intruder. Han kills Williams with his metal hand when Williams tries to leave.
Han offers Roper a place in his organization. Roper, who usually operates in the gray areas of the law, considers it, but refuses when he sees Williams’ corpse. Lee sneaks into Han’s inner sanctum and finds a collection of drugs and guns and radios Braithwaite before being captured. Han orders Roper to fight Lee, but Roper refuses. Han orders Bolo to fight Roper, only for Roper to emerge victorious. Lee and Roper fight off Han’s minions, aided by released prisoners from Han’s own cells. Lee pursues Han and kills him. The British military finally arrive and Roper and Lee watch as Han’s men are overrun.
Some of you are probably wondering why I would finish the year off with Enter the Dragon. The simple answer is that I started the year off with The Last Dragon, so it seemed like a natural pairing. A movie about a man aspiring to be Bruce Lee and the movie that represents the pinnacle of Bruce Lee’s short career. It’s been a crappy year, so let’s end it with a good movie. Also, a certain brother who shall not be named showed this to his daughters and apparently it resulted in an honor duel between them, so I took that as a sign.
As you can probably guess from my subtitle, I believe this is the greatest martial arts film ever made. Yes, I’ve seen The Raid and its sequel, Once Upon a Time in China (which I would argue is less impressive than Kiss of the Dragon but I’m apparently in the minority there), Ong Bak, Ip Man, The Legend of Drunken Master, and The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. All of those are great films that usually populate the top few spots of “Greatest Martial Arts Movies” lists, but I would argue that this is the only film where NOT having it on your list does not invalidate the movie, but instead invalidates the list.
Part of it is that, in the case of many of those films, most modern production companies would not be willing to do a lot of the ridiculous things that this movie did, like having Bruce Lee grab an untrained cobra for 30+ takes (he got bit once, but it was devenomed by that point). During the final battle sequence, the film hired members of two rival gangs as extras, leading to an actual brawl on camera. As a joke scene during the movie, they shoved actual Martial Arts Champion Peter Archer onto a boat which had a hole in it. They were not aware of the hole in the boat, but Archer, an Australian, just told them to keep filming until the boat he was on actually sank. Most of the types of contact between the martial artists in this movie would not have been allowed if they hadn’t filmed in Hong Kong in the 1970s. Hell, Lee routinely had to fight the martial arts extras after filming because they kept challenging him on set. Then there’s the Bob Wall fight.
Legend has it that Bob Wall and Bruce Lee did not get along very well. Wall had already appeared in The Way of the Dragon, being a friend of Chuck Norris, and supposedly had clashed with Lee on set there. Then, during filming, Bob Wall actually cut Bruce Lee with the bottle he was using to stab him, due to it being a real broken bottle and Lee insisting that Wall keep trying to really attack him. This supposedly enraged Lee so much that during a subsequent take (which actually happens earlier in the fight in the movie), Lee actually kicked Wall harder than expected. As Wall was a professional martial artist, the scene was supposed to be more real than usually allowed, but in this case Lee kicked Wall so hard that he flew into an extra, breaking the extra’s arm. While Wall has disputed that Lee was angry at him, it’s irrelevant, because Bruce Lee kicking a man so hard that he broke another man’s arm is one of the most amazing things you could put in a movie.
Just those things alone set this movie apart. The only recent film I can think of with this much reckless disregard for the safety of the people involved was the movie Chocolate in 2008, which was filmed in Thailand and almost permanently crippled at least one person involved. Lee and Director Robert Clouse’s decision to mostly cast actual martial artists allowed for a level of realism that most films just won’t match. John Saxon was one of the only members of the cast who wasn’t a professional martial artist, but he had black belts in Judo and Shotokan Karate. Additionally, Lee trained most of the stunt people for the film, something that pays off immensely in the iconic scene of him rampaging through the facility. While most martial arts films record at a slower shutter speed so that the actors will seem faster when played normally, Lee trained the stuntmen to react to his movements so that the film could be filmed at a high shutter speed. The result is that everyone aside from Bruce Lee appears to be moving in slow motion. It shows just how fast Lee could move and react.
The performances in the film are solid, though it’s made easier with having several of the characters (Bolo and O’Hara, for example) almost entirely silent. The actor who plays Han was dubbed, but the fact that his voice acting doesn’t quite match his physical performance actually still works for the character, who is constantly practicing some level of deception. It starts with his famous iron hand and culminates in the showdown with Lee in a hall of mirrors. Jim Kelly, who was asked to be in the film less than a week before filming was set to begin after actor Rockne Tarkington dropped out, started a successful career in movies for the rest of the 70s. The scene in which Kelly humorously picks four girls for the evening is still a great performance. John Saxon, who was primarily an actor, does a great job as the comic relief. Then there’s Bruce Lee, the only man who could deliver a line like “Boards don’t hit back” and make it sound awesome.
Overall, this is just a great movie. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. Even if you’re not a fan of martial arts films, you should give it a try.
The movie takes some risks, but it just doesn’t quite pay off.
Angela Darling (Shay Walker) is a waitress who is raising her three children: Wendy (Devin France), Douglas (Gage Naquin), and James (Gavin Naquin). As a young child, Wendy witnessed local boy Thomas Marshall (Krzysztof Meyn) jump onto a passing train and disappear. Years later, Wendy and her brothers jump onto the same train and find that a young boy uses it to travel to a mysterious island where children don’t age. Yes, that boy is Peter Pan (Yashua Mack). It turns out that the island is powered by a spirit named “Mother” which protects the children. However, not everyone on the island is happy about this arrangement, and some of the older inhabitants are looking to destroy Mother and her chosen guardian, Peter.
This movie is absolutely gorgeous. The Southern railway aesthetic of the first act contrasts perfectly with the island locale of the rest of the film. Apparently it was shot in Montserrat, an island located South of Antigua, which looks exactly like every tropical island you’ve seen before. It’s more grounded and realistic than some of the Neverlands we’ve seen in movies like the Disney animated version or Hook, but it’s still clearly a magical location. The more the characters explore, the more surreal and amazing it becomes and it’s very well constructed. The cinematography is top-notch and it has a great soundtrack to complement it. Unfortunately, that’s most of the positives I can give for the film.
Having a film with all child actors is always a risk because there are not a lot of great actors under the age of 11. Acting is a skill that takes time to develop, so you’re really looking for people with natural ability. Benh Zeitlin, the director and writer of this movie, definitely lucked out when he found 8 year old Quvenzhané Wallis to act in his previous project Beasts of the Southern Wild. Not only was Wallis capable of delivering a performance well beyond her years, she was still clearly an adorable and vulnerable-looking child. In this film, Zeitlin cast 10 year old Yashua Mack as Peter Pan, and but he didn’t quite get as lucky. No question that Mack is absolutely adorable and that he has a natural physicality that often makes him seem completely at home moving through the location, but unfortunately he does not have the ability to deliver lines as naturally as Wallis. It’s made even more pronounced because Devin France DOES know how to do a line, even with a Southern accent (which seems to be her natural one, but it if not is even more impressive). I’m not saying that Mack doesn’t have talent, because in some scenes he absolutely nails it, but, again, that just makes it more obvious when he doesn’t.
A big part of the problem with this film is that, while it does try to redo the classic Peter Pan, it runs into some issues. The mechanism by which some people are children and some are adults is explicit in this movie and it immediately raises so many questions it distracts the viewer. It’s one of the central motivations behind the eventual plot, but it also seems arbitrary to the point that it almost doesn’t make sense that the kids are okay with it. Also, the fact that many of the characters on the island are black and that Wendy, a white girl, ends up being their savior, naturally seems to have called up a bit of controversy about that trope.
Overall, it’s just not a great film. Maybe it needed more happy thoughts.