Alice In Wonderland. Partly a sequel to the book and Disney film, with aspects of Through the Looking Glass incorporated. The title is almost incorrect. If you like Tim Burton you know what to expect with this film. Highlights for me were the Mad Hatter’s (Depp’s) recitation of the Jabberwock verses, any appearance by Bonham Carter’s Red Queen, and the White Queen’s (Anne Hathaway’s) visceral squeamishness. Anyone notice how much Hathaway looked and acted like Tim Burton’s ex Lisa Marie? I still get a chuckle remembering Depp’s statement about Alice defeating the Jabberwock: ‘On that day, I shall futterwacken… vigorously.’
District 9. I was hoping this would be good, but it surpassed all my expectations. Blackly funny at times, it also contains some of the most harrowing scenes I can remember in any recent film… all due to Sharlto Copley’s incredible improvised performance. The rest of the film is certainly awesome, especially considering the budget. But the lead is such a believable everyman that the film could’ve been about making brownies and it still would have been entertaining. About the only criticism I’d have would be the heavy-handedness of placing a film about segregation and prejudice in South Africa. It makes a great and unique setting visually, but is really REALLY on the nose.
The Taking of Pelham 123. My expectations for this were pretty low, but I wanted to see Travolta’s psycho villain. It was better than I thought it would be and is pretty tense in places. Denzel and Travolta were both good, and both played very flawed, mistake-capable men. The direction and camera work might not be to everyone’s taste, but its Tony Scott, one of foundational directors for the jittery, ‘music video’ film style. Its been done to death perhaps, but he is the master of it.
Lone Wolf and Cub: Final Conflict (In That Little Hand). I had this on VHS ages ago, but bought it recently on DVD, so it got a rewatch. Frequently touted as the seventh and last film in the Kozure Okami film series, this is actually misleading since the film has little connection to the famous series from the seventies that starred Tomisaburo Wakayama apart from the title characters. New leads and a new style for a film made years after the original films stopped being made and the manga had ended. This movie is very revisionist, frequently putting spin on familiar scenes in the story. Even lead actor Tamura Masakazu is a completely different sort of Itto Ogami, making a much more emotional ‘hero’. He’s good but it rather works against the traditional story, which may have been the point. Ogami in the manga and previous films is supposed to be an immovable rock of a man. Centered in honor, but driven by vengeance to the point of being inhuman. The only one who regularly gets Ogami’s humanity to show is his son Daigoro. The kid is the lens through which the reader/viewer gets to sympathize with Ogami’s plight. With a less stoic Ogami, Daigoro’s role is seriously watered down. This film is well-known in cult circles for providing the ending to the story that the original film series never did. The conclusion here is heartrending (as is the whole film) but not a patch on the finale in the manga. I could recommend this film to anyone who wants a very melancholy style of action film, but Lone Wolf and Cub fans will have to be somewhat open-minded.
Ip Man. Donny Yen as the 20th century’s most influential wing chun sifu, who would later gain fame as Bruce Lee’s first formal instructor. This is a great film. I don’t know how accurate Donny is as Ip Man, but he does a good job with both the acting and the action. The fights as expected are awesome (thanks again, Sammo), but as has been common in martial arts films of late, a lot of questions get raised about the reasoning and practicality of their practice. In this case, Ip Man is kind of an idle dilettante just breezing through life practicing kung fu until the Japanese occupation prior to World War 2 crashes down on his reality. As has also been typical in these films recently, the Japanese get a much more even-handed treatment then they did back in the 60s and 70s. The trailers make the sequel to this film look even better, with Sammo actually stepping in front of the camera to fight Donny. Hopefully the results will be as awesome as they were in Killzone.
Ass Worship vol. 11. The level of talent on display in this… what? What the hell is this doing in the list. Uh…
I Love You Man. Paul Rudd doing exactly what you’d expect in this movie. A great premise, and executed pretty well. I’m not sure the character of his new buddy is quite extreme enough, but that probably made this film more believable. Part of the new breed of R-rated Apatow-ish comedies. More heartfelt and a little less about dick jokes. Has a great gag reel in the extras. While it is more of an odd-funny than a laugh-out-loud-funny thing, Rudd’s awkward, attempted-hip phrases were a highlight.
Halloween II. Rob Zombie’s followup to his 2007 film. I like Rob. He’s my favorite modern renaissance dude. I’m typically more lenient on his movies than the critics are. This one’s no exception. In the same way Rob transitioned to a harsher, grittier view when he followed House of 1000 Corpses with The Devil’s Rejects, his sequel to Halloween is a bleaker, more violent extension of the story. Michael Myers moves through the story almost as an elemental force (like Godzilla is frequently portrayed) and the story in Halloween II is mostly not about him. It is about the after effects of the first film on almost everyone else that survived. I’m partly convinced the poor reception to the film was its defiance of expectations as a horror film. It examines inherited insanity, the cult of celebrity, efficacy of psychoanalysis, and people putting their lives back together after a tragedy. The version I saw, the director’s cut, is apparently radically different than the theatrical version, including the ending. I’ll need to see the other cut and compare. About the only thing that really bothered me was the overuse of Michael’s hallucinations. In the first film, one of the scariest things was Michael’s descent into insanity as a child, the outward manifestation AND the viewers’ guesses as to what was going on inside. In this film, you see what is going on inside… and it is rather blah and disappointing