Monday, December 28, 2009

Avatar 2009

Opening scene: a camera sweeps high across the treeline of a lush, green world.

Intercut is a sequence of images of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) waking up in a VA hospital, where he is one of a seemingly endless number of wounded war veterans. Jake awakens inside a pod-like apparatus, where he's comforted by hospital staff. Then, through voiceover and dialogue with both hospital and military officials, we learn that Jake has a recently deceased twin brother -- Tom, a scientist -- who was to be part of a highest-level program overseen by corporate and military strategists. Because Jake and his brother are genetic matches, he's presented with a unique opportunity: take over his brother's contract with with corporate-military entity and travel light years away to an outpost on the previously glimpsed world, Pandora.

Acknowledging the notions of "being free" and having a "fresh start", Jake agrees to the deal as his brother's body is cremated.

Now aboard a human transporter spacecraft, Jake is one of many soldiers and personnel about to touch down on Pandora, actually a moon of the planet of Polyphemus, some 4.3 light years from Earth. We catch views of the base and its construction as Jake ponders his new role. Then, as the other passengers disembark and take their first steps onto the base, we see Jake make his first pushes into this world, for Jake is in a wheelchair. Jake acknowledges through voiceover that he lost the use of his legs during one of his tours of duty on Earth, and while a spine can be fixed, that "takes money," and that is tough to come by in the present economy. To add insult to the situation, Jake is referred to as "Meals on Wheels" by a few of his fellow travelers who are about to begin their careers as for-hire workers on Pandora.

Cut to a military briefing room, where Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) is addressing the assembled soldiers, including Jake. Referencing the fact that they're "not in Kansas anymore," Col. Quaritch educates the soldiers on Pandora's indigenous population, the Na'vi. Quaritch lets it be known that the Na'vi want to kill and, while it's his job to keep soldiers alive, he will not succeed in this task -- "not with all of you," he declares.

Jake is now in a science lab where he meets biologist Norm Spellman (Joel Moore) and Dr. Max Patel (Dileep Rao), two members of the Avatar Program. As Jake gets his first look at his own Avatar, we learn about the program itself.

Humans are unable to breathe Pandora's air, but the Avatar Program enables people to link with their own Avatar, a genetically-bred human-Navi hybrid. Through his Avatar body, Jake will be able to walk again. While Jake says his Avatar "looks like Tom," Norm replies that the being "looks like you".

We learn more about the program as Jake records his experiences onto his videolog (the first of many). During this, Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), the program's science lead, awakens. We learn that she likes "plants better than people," and after speaking in Na'vi with Norm, she informs the assembled group of people that she needs Tom, a Phd.D who trained 3 years for the Pandora mission, and that she has no use for Jake.

Grace is next seen in the base's control room with Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), representative for the Resources Development Administration, an organization that oversees all military and other personnel on the colony. Grace tells Parker she needs a researcher and not a "jarhead dropout" when told that Jake will serve as a security escort on her team while they're on the planet's surface. Grace is doubtful that Jake possesses the skills to meet one of her objectives: to bond with the Na'vi and discern the factors for the breakdown in Na'vi/human relations. Parker has a different goal. After discussing Pandora's much-desired natural resource, the mineral Unobtanium, which can save Earth from its present energy crisis. Parker wants Grace simply to "use what you got and get me some results."

Back in the lab, Jake and Norm are linked to their Avatars for the first time. It's noted that Jake's brain is "gorgeous". Jake, in his Avatar, wakes up in a different room with other Avatars and staff. Within a few moments, Jake is making his handlers nervous because he is moving too quickly and trying to walk. His long tail is knocking over instruments. A staff member informs him that his behavior is dangerous, to which Jake replies, "This is great".

Jake busts out of the recovery room and into the daylight. He finds himself in a recreation area where other Avatars are playing sports and staff, in their protective gear, are performing various duties. Norm is in pursuit of Jake. When Avatar Jake dips his toes into the dirt, we're shown how the feeling registers on the face of human Jake.

In the garden area, Jake meets Grace's Avatar, who, with a slightly more cheery demeanor, accompanies Jake to the barracks where he is eventually encouraged to rest. The link is broken, and human Jake awakens.

Jake next meets Trudy Chacon (Michelle Rodriguez), a retired Marine pilot with whom he'll spent several weeks getting used to his Avatar and exploring Pandora. Jake will also serve as the door gun on her crew.

Jake reunites with Col. Quaritch, who is lifting weights. The Col. Tells Jake about some of his tours, including one in Venezuela, and other aspects of his military history. The Col. re-warns Jake about the dangerous awaiting him on Pandora. His also exerts his belief that the Avatar Program is a joke and that it actually represents an opportunity for a unique reconnaissance mission: Jake can amass knowledge of the "hostiles" and "savages" as a covert military operative. At the end of this scene, the Col. climbs into an AMP Suit -- a bipedal exoskeleton used for missions on Pandora -- and informs Jake that he will help get his real legs back.

Relinked with his Avatar, Jake is flying over Pandora's surface with Trudy, Grace, Norm, and others. The team lands in a forest setting, where Grace and Norm begin to take different samples. Jake is distracted by his surroundings and making Grace nervous. He wanders into a field of Helicoradian flowers, which are quite tall and shrink at Jake's touch. Trouble arrives when a Titanotheres -- a dinosaur-like creature -- confronts Jake. Grace orders him to stand his ground and not shoot, or else the animal will charge. Jake successfully holds his ground, but only because a larger creature, a Thanator, has approached him from behind. Grace tells Jake to run -- definitely run -- and he's pursued by the Thanator in a chase that separates Jake from his crew. Initially, Jake eludes the beast; even when he's lost his gun and then downed by the animal, he releases his pack to escape. Ultimately, the chase leads to waterfalls, where Jake jumps to his safety, leaving the Thanator alone above him.

Now on dry ground, Jake is fashioning a spear and then a torch as we notice he's been watched above, this time from a different being ... a Na'vi? It has to be. The being draws an arrow to a bow and is about to shoot, only to be surprised as seeds (we'll come to know them as the "seeds of Eyra") land on the bow and arrow. The being retreats.

Meanwhile, as Jake's crew searches for him, Trudy says they'll have to return to base since night ops are not allowed. It's acknowledged that Jake likely will not survive until the morning.

As Jake fashions a torch, he's surrounded by a pack of Viperwolfs, who encircle Jake with their teeth bared, jaws gnashing. As their battle begins, the being who was observing Jake joins him in the battle, where she kills many of the animals and causes the rest to flee. Now alone, Jake follows his rescuer to an illuminated pond, where prayers are said for the animals that were killed. Spent arrows are then collected. Jake says thanks for killing those "things" which earns an agitated response from his rescuer, who hits Jake with the arrows and declares that the animals did not need to die. Jake is then told the incident is his fault because he is "like a baby" yet he's also told the reason he was saved was due to his strong heart and lack of fear.

Though no introduction has been made yet, Jake follows his rescuer up into a tree, though he's warned that he, like the other "sky people", should not be on Pandora. Just then, the seeds of Eyra reappear and we learn they are seeds of a sacred tree -- "very pure spirits" -- and Jake is covered by them. "Come," he is told.

In this next scene, we learn the name of Jake's rescuer: Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who is young Na'vi female. Netyiri presents Jake to her people, the Omaticaya, though he is surrounded by Omaticayan warriors and felled by them. Leading this group of men is Tsu'Tey (Laz Alonso), Neytiri's brother and next in line to the throne. Neytiri lets them know that "there has been a sign" and that he should be brought to "tashik" (father, approximate spelling) and "eyra" (mother).

Jake is presented to Neytiri's parents, Eytukan (Wes Studi) and Mo'at (CCH Pounder), who are the king and queen of the tribe, respectively. Jake tells the elders that he is a warrior -- a "dreamwalker" -- and his intention is to learn from the,. Mo'at tastes Jake's blood from a wound on his forehead and decrees it is the will of Eyra for him to live with the Omaticayan, and for Neytiri, however reluctantly, to be his teacher in their ways and customs. After a ritual gathering, Jake is brought to his bed, a leaf high up in the "Hometree" that encircles him like a cocoon. As he falls asleep, human Jake is revived.

At morning chow, all the scientists, including Grace, are focused on every one of Jake's words. Even the military and corporate reps have warmed to him. He lets them know the Hometree rests on Pandora's biggest deposit of Unobtanium. He's informed that he has three months to achieve his objective.

The next series of scenes revolve around Avatar Jake's training with Neytiri and human Jake's reported findings. He bonds with his Direhorse, arguably the most important animal to the Na'vi since Jake must learn to must mount the animal and connect his neural queue to its antennae. Human Jake continues to report on the Hometree's infrastructure and other Na'vi details.

Jake takes his first trip to the Hallelujah Mountains -- a system of remote, floating islands that are sacred to the Na'vi and are also rich in Unobtanium. It's here that Grace's camp is to be set up, away from the RDA officials and military officers alike.

In his next videolog, Jake discusses his language lessons and says his time with the Na'vi is like "field-stripping a weapon". This is intercut with scenes of his continued training with Neytiri, who teaches him about the Na'vi-forest connection. She tells Jake that all energy is borrowed and one day we have to give it back. Jake seems to comprehend this, and as he says a prayer for an animal he successfully hunted, Neytiri says that he is "ready".

We discover that Jake is ready for a Na'vi rite of passage: to connect with a Mountain Banshee, a flying creature, in the same manner he bonded with the Direhorse. Several factors (the height, the ferociousness of the untamed banshees) make this a dangerous lesson, but Jake's lack of fear and successful bond with his Banshee impress the Na'vi warriors present, including Tsu'Tey. Jake, Neytiri, and the others ride together to the Tree of Souls, the most sacred place to the Na'vi.

Human Jake is revived, and Grace calls him a "lucky swine".

Jake next is on an aerial hunting mission. Pursued by a creature known to the Na'vi as Toruk, which is larger than his Banshee. Neytiri says one name the beast has earned is "last shadow" and that her grandfather once rode on of the animals to unite the 5 Na'vi tribes.

When Jake comes back to, it's clear he's been changed by this latest experience, for he says, "out there is the real world ... in here is the dream". He's then confronted by the Colonel to say he's to take a shuttle to get his legs back, but Jake asks to delay the trip, since this evening there is to be a ceremony where he will become a true Na'vi man. The Col. acquiesces when Jake says this will be the perfect opportunity to negotiate the relocation of the Omaticaya so RDA can claim the Unobtanium.

Cut to the ceremony, where Jake learns the Na'vi believe that every person can be born twice. Neytiri leads Jake to a place of prayer, the "tree of voices" where they bond with the tree. Neytiri tells Jake he can made a bow from the tree ... and that he can choose a woman.

Jake says, "she must also choose me".

Neytiri indicates, "she already has".

In the morning, Neytiri awakens to falling tress, then the presence of bulldozers. She cannot wake Jake (back on the base, Jake is having breakfast and is clearly in a clear rush to return to Neytiri). Soldiers are advancing, the forest is falling around Neytiri, who is dragging and carrying Jake to safety. When he finally revives, Jake climbs onto one of the flying craft and tries to stop it, eventually blinding their camera system and initiating some gunfire. Other Na'vi warriors arrive, while the assembled military personnel recognize Jake in his Avatar form as the person who tried to stop their mission.

At Hometree, the Na'vi want war. Grace and Jake say no. There's an intense debate. Tsu'Tey tries to kill Jake. Jake declares he is a Na'vi and deserves the right to speak. Then, suddenly, both Grace and Jake's Avatars are downed.

Grace and Jake face off with RDA and military brass. It's revealed that Pandora has a "network of trees" and that the Omaticaya will never leave Hometree. Parker and the Col. discuss options. Gas out the Na'vi ... turn gunships on Hometree ... Jake lobbies to return to the Omaticaya and negotiate, and he's granted one hour to achieve the objective.

Jake and Grace are not welcomed back. Neytiri rejects Jake. Both are bound and left behind by the Omaticaya, who are preparing to fight against the humans.

Gas canisters are launched into Hometree and the surrounding area. Rockets are fired. The military is advancing on the ground and in the air. As the battle escalates, most of the weaponry is focused on Hometree, which is downed by a series of explosions and heavy artillery. Many Omaticaya are killed. Moat frees Jake and Grace and asks them to save the tribe. We watch a dying Eytukan tell Neytiri to take his bow and protect their people. Jake then arrives and is rejected again by Neytiri when he tries to console her.

The destruction seems endless, and, suddenly, Jake and Grace return to their human bodies and promptly placed under arrest for treason. Norm is also arrested for trying to prevent soldiers from disabling their Avatar forms.

Some time has passed, and the Na'vi exodus continues.

Trudy arrives at the cell which holds Jake, Grace, and Norm. She dupes their guard by saying she wants nothing to do with them, only to knock out the guard an instant later. In the attempt to flee the base in Trudy's ship, Dr. Patel remains behind while Grace is shot by the Colonel, who braves Pandora's atmosphere without protection, hell bent on recapturing Jake and the others. The team flies to the Tree of Souls, where the Omaticaya have relocated.

The hopeful reunion with the Omaticaya is not to be, initially. Jake is outcast, an alien. He does, however, convince Mo'at to try and help a dying Grace. Mo'at agrees and begins the preparations, mostly which involve getting Grace in place at the Tree of Souls.

Ever more determined to make amends with the Omaticaya, Jake arrives from the sky on the back of a Toruk in front of the Tree of Souls. The stunned Omaticaya feel Jake's dedication to them; in an exchange with Neytiri, she says "I see you". Tsu'Tey, who is now king, and Jake also make amends.

Back to Grace's ritual. The attempt is to try and have Grace's consciousness permanently transferred to her Avatar self. We see both human Grace and her Avatar. Mo'at lets it be known that Grace must pass through the eye of Eyra, and that the great mother might choose to let her pass through to her Avatar self, or she might opt to have Grace remain with her. The ritual is not successful, though before she dies, Grace tells Jake that she has seen Eyra. Jake is next seen addressing his chosen people. He says it's time to bring war to the sky people, and to do so, the other Na'vi clans must be brought together to fight as one.

The military, who are about to launch their attack, are focusing most of their efforts on turning a single craft into a massive bomb. Their target is, of course, now the Tree of Souls, and the attack is planned for 0600 the next day.

Jake is busy rallying the Omaticaya. At the Tree of Souls, he looks into Grace's memories, realizing that humankind killed their mother (Earth), the entity that protects the balance of life.

The story quickly jumps to the day of the final battle. The military forces are close and the bombship is hovering toward the Tree of Souls. Because of Pandora's magnetic currents, however, human-made instruments are failing. The united Na'vi force begins to arrive from the sky and on the ground. On his Toruk, Jake, Tsu'Tey, and other warriors engage in battle with the military craft, mainly Scorpion and Dragon assault ships. Casualties are mounting on both sides.

A flurry of main-character action: Jakes locks onto Colonel Quaritch; Trudy arrives and opens fire; Neytiri is separated from her Banshee; Norm's Avatar is mortally wounded and he jumps back to his human form; Tsu'Tey takes on the bombship and is killed in the attempt; Trudy's ship is blown up and she is killed in the process.

On the ground, Neytiri watches this action transpire. Jake attempts to contact Tsu-Tey and is unsuccessful, as is his attempt to reach Neytiri. The bombship closes in on the Tree of Souls.

A reunited Jake and Neytiri opt to stand their ground against the humans but to no longer display aggression. Suddenly, through what's left of the surrounding forest, a battalion of Pandora's animal races arrive. Neytiri tells Jake, who called out to Eyra for help earlier, has been heard as the various animals engage in combat with the humans.

Jake and his Toruk take to the sky to confront the bombship as the military's ground forces begin to scatter. Jake grenades the bombship and it catches fire.

Colonel Quaritch mans an AMP Suit in preparation for battle on the ground. He makes his way to the temporary camp set up by Grace and the others when they escaped from military incarceration. Human Jake, of course, is inside the camp and linked to his Avatar self. Quaritch is set on killing Jake, and Neytiri arrives with seconds to spare and saves Jake, though her Thanator is killed and she is trapped underneath it.

Avatar Jake arrives and engages Colonel Quaritch in a fight, and the Col. is quickly injured, but Jake is caught in the grip of the AMP Suit. Meanwhile, Neytiri has almost freed herself. Out of his AMP Suit, the Colonel dons a breathing device and insults Jake, asking him how it feels to have betrayed his race. The Col. races to the camp and is surprised when he doesn't find Jake in the first pod. Human Jake is starting to unlink with his Avatar self.

With human Jake in the Col.'s clutches, Neytiri draws an arrow and downs her enemy. A second arrow brings him to the ground. However, much damage has been done to the camp, which is leaking oxygen. Human Jake is awake but having difficulty both breathing and trying to get a mask on. Fully in danger, Neytiri arrives to help Jake with his mask. Neytiri, cradling Jake, says, "I see you".

Cut to the former military base, which is now under Na'vi control. Most of the remaining humans are being rounded up to be shipped back to Earth; however, some of the more harmonious people are invited to stay on Pandora. Norm is one of the humans who will remain.

Jake signs off in his final videolog, where we learn that he has chosen to transfer his consciousness to his Avatar self. In a ceremony similar to Grace's, Jake passes through the eye of Eyra ... and wakes up in his Avatar self with Neytiri watching over him.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Disney's A Christmas Carol (2009)

Consensus: Robert Zemeckis' 3-D animated take on the Dickens classic tries hard, but its dazzling special effects distract from an array of fine performances from Jim Carrey and Gary Oldman.

Rated: PG [See Full Rating] for scary sequences and images

Genre: Childrens

Theatrical Release:Nov 6, 2009 Wide

Box Office: $63,289,000

Synopsis: Director Robert Zemeckis (THE POLAR EXPRESS) continues to work his holiday magic with A CHRISTMAS CAROL. This 3-D adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic will use the motion capture technology... Director Robert Zemeckis (THE POLAR EXPRESS) continues to work his holiday magic with A CHRISTMAS CAROL. This 3-D adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic will use the motion capture technology previously seen in the filmmaker's BEOWULF. [More]

Starring: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins

Starring: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn, Cary Elwes, Fionnula Flanagan

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenwriter: Robert Zemeckis
Producer: Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis, Jack Rapke
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

2012 - Movie Review

Directed by Roland Emmerich
Starring John Cusack, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Disaster movie maven Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) crafts this apocalyptic sci-fi thriller following an academic researcher who opens a portal into a parallel universe, making contact with his double in an effort to prevent the catastrophic prophecies of the ancient Mayan calendar from coming to pass. According to the Mayan calendar, the world will come to an end on December 21, 2012. When a global cataclysm thrusts the world into chaos, divorced writer and father Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) uses his knowledge of the ancient prophecies to ensure that the human race is not completely wiped out. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, and Oliver Platt round out the cast of this end-of-the-world thriller co-scripted by the director and his 10,000 B.C. writer/composer, Harald Kloser. ~ Jason Buchanan, All Movie Guide

Directed by Roland Emmerich
Starring John Cusack, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Disaster movie maven Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) crafts this apocalyptic sci-fi thriller following an academic researcher who opens a portal into a parallel universe, making contact with his double in an effort to prevent the catastrophic prophecies of the ancient Mayan calendar from coming to pass. According to the Mayan calendar, the world will come to an end on December 21, 2012. When a global cataclysm thrusts the world into chaos, divorced writer and father Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) uses his knowledge of the ancient prophecies to ensure that the human race is not completely wiped out. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, and Oliver Platt round out the cast of this end-of-the-world thriller co-scripted by the director and his 10,000 B.C. writer/composer, Harald Kloser. ~ Jason Buchanan, All Movie Guide

Thursday, October 29, 2009

* Culture * Music * Michael Jackson This Is It review: Michael Jackson film is fitting tribute to a bittersweet legacy

Michael Jackson's This Is It

Michael Jackson's This Is It has all the singer's hits in their toe-tapping glory. Photograph: Kevin Mazur/Sony Pictures Releas/PA

For everyone who's thirsted for more Michael Jackson since his death little more than four months ago, the wait is finally over. For the rest of us, it's time to look on in awe as Jackson's memory – and the legendary fervency of his fans – is ruthlessly exploited till the pips squeak.

As is all too well known, Jackson was carried off shortly before embarking on a 50-date residency at London's O2 Arena to try and pay off his rumoured $500m debts; footage shot during rehearsal for this series of shows forms

the vast majority of this much-heralded and hyped film, and goes some of the way to plugging both fans' disappointment and his estate's balance sheet.

So, to the burning question: is there any intimation of Jackson's impending demise? I can't honestly say there is. In the footage we are permitted to see, Jackson appears in pretty good shape for a 50-year-old – even if his general spindliness makes him occasionally look a bit like Skeletor in a lamé tuxedo. He performs at walking pace for much of the time, but makes it clear he is holding himself in.

As for the film itself, I can simply report that it isn't too bad at all. It's pretty much unadorned rehearsal footage, artfully stitched together to create complete song sequences; and since the O2 gigs were intended to present his crowdpleasing hits, they're all here in their toe-tapping glory. Director Kenny Ortega puts himself in the frame quite a bit (sucking up to Jackson something rotten, it has to be said), and we learn that Jackson appeared to prefer culinary metaphors to describe his music: it must "sizzle", or "simmer", or indeed "nourish".

The big fear, though, was that fulsome homages to the man and his talent would smother This Is It in a coating of treacle; thankfully, Ortega limits it to the occasional sobbing outburst from the dancers or choreographers. We are instead offered genuinely interesting tidbits of Jackson's stagecraft, in the shape of intense discussion of cues, cherry-pickers and trapdoors – presumably to demonstrate how hands-on he was.

And there's some fun sequences showing the creation of specially filmed inserts, such as the intro for Smooth Criminal having Jackson being Photoshopped into black and white movie clips from the 1940s, fending off Bogart and Cagney.

Jackson's penchant for drivel couldn't be entirely eliminated, as evidenced by the sickly little scene, built around a small girl wandering through an enchanted forest, that heralds Earth Song.

Still, this could have been a lot worse. It's a bit much to claim it's any kind of viable substitute for the live show, and since Jackson avoids conversation as much as is humanly possible it's also a bit much to claim we get to know anything more about how he ticks. But This Is It a testament of a kind, and one that is no disgrace to his memory.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Zombieland (2009) Movie Review

zombielandAh, Zombies. There’s really no better way to spend an evening with your loved one than in the tender care of the recently deceased or horribly infected. Zombies are fun for the whole family!

There’s something in the Zombie movie for everyone. Delight in the shambling hoards of the slow Zombie as they lurch, crawl, or slide, trailing little bits of peeled, mouldering or putrefying outer or inner fleshy stuff, recently but no longer near and dear to the re-animated dead or bloodshot and wild eyed microbial infested remains of the corner checkout girl. If the slow Zombie isn’t your style, the fast Zombie may be more to your liking. Where the slow Zombie must employ mass numbers of the heaving and decayed to get you cornered, the fast Zombie is all kinds of fun all by themselves. The fast Zombie isn’t just fast, he’s quiet and sneaky too. Unlike the slow Zombie, which likes to gibber and grunt all the time, the fast Zombie waits until he’s just about to eat you before uttering his crude vocalizations.

alg_movie_zombieland“Zombieland” is a comedy that understands fully the myths, behaviors and mandatory gross out components of any movie featuring the walking dead. It follows in the lurching footsteps of one of the great comedies of our time, “Shaun Of The Dead”, staring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. “Zombieland” is not quite up to the standards of Shaun but it has it’s heart completely in the right place. The cast includes Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin alongside a very large number of Zombie extras who are truly in fine Zombie form. Jesse Eisenberg as Columbus (the cast uses their home towns as names to avoid getting close) narrates and fills us in not only on how the whole Zombocalypse begin (a virus in a bad burger) but how he has managed to stay alive amidst an army of leaping and sprinting horrors. Columbus has rules. These rules serve as excuses for mini scenes in the movie that drive the story along.

There are many rules (47 in all) and all of those we learn about are funny. After Columbus fills us in on the basics of the infection and how it started, along with a few rules, he meets up with the rule-less Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee. I think that there is a place in every movie for Woody. I never get tired of seeing him. He is wonderfully enthusiastic as a man that has found his calling in life as the most creative and spirited Zombie killer left alive. Tallahassee takes pride and joy in his work, shooting, chopping, smashing and smushing every Zombie he sees, all in the quest for perhaps the last twinkie in the United States. Columbus and Tallahassee have differing styles for staying alive and the mix makes for fine road and buddy movie material.

zombieland-movie-image-woody-harrelson-jesse-eisenberg-abigail-breslin-emma-stoneAlong the road the fellas meet up with a sister team of survivors, Wichita (Emma Stone), sexy and smart and her tough little sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). After a few tense moments the four agree to team up for a journey to the West Coast, to visit an old amusement park for the childhood benefit of Little Rock. Zombie killing can be a maturing experience. What is great about “Zombieland” is the completely happy and joyful approach director Ruben Fleischer takes in the torture and dismemberment of one Zombie after another. Zombies are killed in every possible way and clever sequences are constructed in many fun places such as supermarkets, gift shops and the climatic amusement park location to showcase our heroes numerous talents at gratuitously and graphically putting the hurt on the infected. It’s a good time. “Zombieland” seems to be a popular date movie from what I have seen myself and from what I’ve heard. Beware that “Zombieland” is as violent as a movie gets. It’s really not disturbing though, since there’s no empathic connection to the torment and slaughter of the Zombies. Killing them is good. You may clap along and cheer as I did. There’s a fantastic cameo from a famous actor mid way through. Just an added bonus to the feel good movie of the early Fall. Expect a sequel.

Ruben Fleischer (Director) Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Screenplay)
CAST: Woody Harrelson (Tallahassee)
Jesse Eisenberg (Columbus)
Emma Stone (Wichita)
Abigail Breslin (Little Rock)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

District 9 Movie Review

District 9

Matinee with Snacks

The early previews of District 9 looked like a dark update of Alien Nation – visitors come and can’t leave so we take them in and let’s see what that’s like. The previews are deceptive. That may be what Act I of District 9 is about, but certainly not the real story. Set in Johannesburg, South Africa, the film parks the aliens for 20 years in a shantytown and it’s impossible not to recollect the same slums from the time of apartheid. In that country’s history, the minority white settlers ghettoized the conquered native blacks, and here it is the established humans ghettoizing new arrivals. The fear and hatred and resentment outside District 9 is real, but the secret exploitation is what makes this film more than a thinly veiled allegory. We know, looking back over human history, that the treatment of these castaways would be just like this, or worse.

Newcomer Sharlto Copley (sexy in person at Comic-Con) is Wikus Van der Merwe, a nerdy pencil pusher who inadvertently stumbles upon the aliens’ greatest secret. Called Prawns by humans, the aliens have something we want, but they have managed to defy our exploitation until Wikus accidentally opens that door. Sharlto is wonderful – new to film, he’s very natural and earthy and believable, and we are caught up in his performance and his empathetic nature. Director Neill Blomkamp encouraged his actors to improvise as much as possible to add realism to the scene, which is a seriously ballsy choice considering how pre-planned heavy effects movies need to be as a rule. I learned that one performance-capture actors performed all the motion work for the Prawns, and regretfully have been unable to retrieve his name to applaud him. The alien body design is bipedal, but with bird-like reversed knees and a chitinous and reticulated body. Still below all that is that actor’s vivid humanity, which serves to bring the audience closer to these visitors emotionally. A cowering form elicits pity even if it has antennae.

District 9 was made for a seemingly impossible $30 million, and it wows you not with expensive overdone bells and whistles, but with making everything feel as real and grounded as possible. The best effects are the ones that don’t seem like effects (the perpetually hovering derelict spaceship, for example) and just fill in the story. We feel like we’re really there with Wikus and the main alien known as Christopher Johnson, thanks to the digital video and hand-held camera, oh and the incredibly realistic effect of Johnson. This film doesn’t throw itself around trying to be the biggest movie of the summer (no offense, Iron Man), it just is a blessedly original story told as bare bones as possible, while also exhibiting seamless special effects. It’s low key in its excellence by just being solid and real and well thought-out.

Oh, but I should note that this movie is crazy gory. But, so were the Oscar bait movies Saving Private Ryan and Gladiator. It’s not gore for gore’s sake, but it is definitely unapologetically vivid. In the 72 hours during which the majority of the story takes place, writers Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell pack in story and character and spectacle and humanity at its best and worst. By the time we get to Act III it’s pretty intense, so be ready for it. I’m so grateful that the original project project that Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson were going to do (a movie adaptation of the video game Halo, deep sigh) fell through so we could have this great original work. District 9 is going to be studied and discussed for a long time, it’s substantial and revealing. Go see it.

MPAA Rating R-bloody violence and pervasive language
Release date 8/14/09
Time in minutes 112
Director Neill Blomkamp
Studio TriStar Pictures

Monday, August 24, 2009

Review: Inglourious Basterds is Damned Delightful

Quentin Tarantino is my kind of filmmaker. His use of tension (Quentin's Tension), his sincere homaging, his absolute love of all things cinema -- I mean, this is just a guy that "gets it." I know he's not for everyone. And I know this subject matter isn't appealing to most. But man, if we could all just get over our preconceived notions and let Tarantino present his concepts I think we'd be better off as a nation, nay, a world.

World War II. The Nazis. A ruthless band of Americans (led by Brad Pitt) is inserted into the thick of it, into enemy-controlled France. Their mission? To wreak havoc. To cause fear. To bring the fight to the Nazis. We've seen filmmakers tackle every angle of this war, from the measured and noble perseverance of Defiance to the horror of concentration camp discovery displayed in Band of Brothers. But we've never seen the joy of killing that must have occurred on the winning side, the angry outlet of war, where courage and nobility have left, leaving only darkness, blood, and hurt on all sides. Tarantino tries here, tries to point out the obvious, that real people with flaws and families were involved, that we would have had to send a few killers over there to sort things out.

Because really, no one can make sense of something this big: 11 million people marched off to camps and killed, an entire generation of Russians dead defending the capitol, a new and fearsome weapon developed by the biggest intellects in the world and unleashed upon a citizenry. It's all too massive, the scope is too epic, and most efforts come off as sterile by comparison. There's no way to impart the enormity of the situation, so why not tell the story of one man? Or a group of survivors? It's the kind and gentle way out. It's comfortable. But it's not true, any more than the phrase "six million Jews" has the type of impact that it should. It should absolutely floor you, each and every time. But the human emotional construct is built to deflect, work around, and simply move forward. We never put it together that these were all real people, and that's the true horror of the situation, that neighbors sold each other out, that we sent some very bad people to do some very bad things, and that occasionally a Nazi officer was a charming yet horrifying version of Mr. Rogers. Somehow, once you wade through the one-liners, silliness, and brutality you're left with the heart of the film. You want the Nazis to be obliterated, and not for noble reasons. Think of the hurt if someone took your sister, wife, or mom away from you. What would you want for that person? And isn't it empowering to see a filmmaker completely unafraid to give it to you? Yeah, it's the ugly side of humanity ... but it's no less honest. If anything it's more accurate given the hell that was occurring during this time period. War is terrible, but the people involved on all side were humans with the human motivations of passion, anger, national pride, and power.

The most misleading thing about Inglourous Basterds is that it's not even about Pitt's group of guerrilla warriors. It's really the story of a girl in occupied Paris who runs a movie theater. It's a fantasy revenge epic. It's a cascade of characters, all compelling, all dynamic, all thrown into the Tarantino stew. This is a fun movie, which is terrible to say given the subject matter, but it's true. Tarantino has made the film that occurs in your head which you never, ever, tell anyone about. He's laid bare the themes of familial obligation and revenge, and he's done it with real beauty. The Nazis were evil for a number of complex reasons but Tarantino is nice enough to hate them for simple ones, offering simple solutions. Like a bat to the head, it's not too subtle, but you can't help but watch. Each and every scene has a giant shoe hanging over it, just waiting to drop, violence waiting to be strummed on Inglourious Basterds' 12-string guitar. The only startling aspect? You want to hear the music.

Grade: A

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Opens: August 21, 2009

Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz



“Inglourious Basterds” begins in German-occupied France, where Shosanna Dreyfus(Mélanie Laurent) witnesses the execution of her family at the hand of Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). Shosanna narrowly escapes and flees to Paris, where she forges a new identity as the owner and operator of a cinema. Elsewhere in Europe, Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) organizes a group of Jewish soldiers to engage in targeted acts of retribution. Known to their enemy as “The Basterds,” Raine’s squad joins German actress and undercover agent Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) on a mission to take down the leaders of The Third Reich.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Wild About Harry

When a film series reaches its sixth installment, usually the well is running pretty dry (think Halloween or Friday the 13th). Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince succeeds beautifully in continuing the series and deepening the characters, relationships and upcoming menace. And the cast is uniformly terrific as it matures before our eyes.

Harry Potter benefits from its strong literary source novels by J.K. Rowling, but that by no means makes filming her works a piece of cake. Call it Harry Potter and the Raging Hormones, since this is the first time we see the kids really grappling with their sexuality. Being more of a casual observer of the films, and never having read the novels, I wondered where Harry’s love interest from the previous film went, and why he suddenly had the hots for Ron Weasley’s ginger-haired sister, Ginny (Bonnie Wright).

I only point that out as a way of saying that for the first time, you can’t watch the new film without being familiar with the series. As wonderful and entertaining as Half-Blood Prince is, its best moments come in seeing new sides and levels to characters we’ve grown to love over the past years. Evanna Lynch steals her scenes as the ethereally kooky Lana Lovegood, and Sir Michael Gambon is the best he’s been as the embattled Headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore.

As Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine Granger (Emma Watson) return for their sixth year at Hogwarts, the work of the Dark Lord Voldemort grows so brazen that even muggles (non-wizards) are getting killed in mass numbers. Everyone knows that Harry is the “Chosen One,” and he’s as beloved in the wizardly world as Radcliffe is in real life.

In this, the sixth of seven books, Dumbledore has a vital mission that involves bringing back an old professor (James Broadbent) who knew Voldermort when he was a student. Broadbent is wonderfully duplicitous, coming across as dithering yet manipulative, and the central mystery of Half-Blood Prince concerns what he knew and how he helped Tom Riddle become the Dark Lord, who murdered Harry’s parents. The title refers to a mysterious inscription Harry finds in a book of potions he is lent to attend Broadbent’s potions class. In addition, the book is full of “the Half-Blood Prince’s” notes that fix errors in the text, and make Harry seem like a star pupil.

Like The Empire Strikes Back, Half-Blood Prince revels in being an open-ended and darker entry in the series. It packs a huge dramatic event that you probably already know. Director David Yates creates a sense of menace and suspense and leaves you anxiously awaiting the two-part Deathly Hallows that closes out the saga in November 2010 and summer 2011. I can’t say if the film does justice to the novel, but it certainly is a shining addition to the Harry Potter film chronicles.

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Movie Central: Shrek Forever After

Shrek Forever After (Coming Soon)

Release Date: May 21, 2010 (conventional theaters and IMAX)
Studio: DreamWorks Animation
Director: Mike Mitchell
Screenwriter: Tim Sullivan, Josh Klausner
Starring: Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Fantasy
MPAA Rating: Not Available
Official Website: Not Available
Review: Not Available
DVD Review: Not Available
DVD: Not Available
Movie Poster: Not Available
Production Stills: View here
Plot Summary: Shrek Forever After will be released on May 21, 2010. Aron Warner (producer of the "Shrek" franchise films) and Andrew Adamson ("Shrek," "The Chronicles of Narnia") are serving as executive producers on the film, which is being directed by Mike Mitchell and produced by Teresa Cheng and Gina Shay and will feature the original all-star cast, including Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and Antonio Banderas.

Coming Soon!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

'Funny People' tops modest boxoffice


"Funny People"

Universal's "Funny People," a film about stand-up comics with serious problems, staged a good-humored weekend bow estimated at $23.4 million.

But that was on the lower end of industry expectations for the Adam Sandler-starring dramatic comedy, which will be watched for drawing power during coming weeks. Industry consensus maintains summer-laggard Uni needed not only to open the R-rated "Funny" well but also to sustain positive word-of-mouth. Its first-frame tally gains luster when viewed among lackluster results elsewhere in the limp boxoffice session. The weekend's top 10 rung up $106 million, or 25% less than top performers in the same frame last year, according to Nielsen EDI.

As for the other openers, Fox's "Aliens in the Attic" arrived in fifth place with $7.8 million, down in the cellar of prerelease forecasts for family action fantasy, and Freestyle Releasing's R-rated horror film "The Collector" missed the top 10, collecting just $3.6 million.

After topping the previous weekend's rankings, Disney's animated family actioner "G-Force" dropped 46% in its sophomore session to $17.1 million and third place, with a 10-day tally of $66.5 million. Sony's romantic comedy "The Ugly Truth" tumbled 53% in its second outing to ring up $13 million with $54.5 million in cumulative boxoffice, and Warner Bros.' horror pic "The Orphan" slid 44% for $7.3 million in sixth with a $26.8 million cume.

Warners' leggy sequel "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" took the frame's silver medal with $17.7 million. Bolstered by $3.2 million from 160 high-grossing Imax playdates, "Prince" boasts a $255.5 million cume through three sessions.

In a limited bow, Sony Pictures Classics unspooled the Belgian drama "Lorna's Silence" in six locations to gross $36,219, or a solid $6,037 per site.

Roadside Attractions opened eco-documentary "The Cove" in four theaters and grossed $55,500, or an impressive $13,875 per venue.

Focus Features debuted the Korean vampire film "Thirst" in four locations and fetched $55,173, or an encouraging $13,793 per site.

Fox Searchlight sent out its romantic comedy "Adam" on Wednesday with four playdates to woo $66,265, or $16,566 per engagement, with five-day cume of $94,776.

IFC Fims opened Danish WWII drama "Flame and Citron" in a pair of New York theaters, grossing $13,620.

Elsewhere, Searchlight's romantic comedy "(500) Days of Summer" added 181 theaters for a total 266 to register $2.8 million, or a sunny $10,338 per venue, with a $6.8 million cume.

Iraq War drama "The Hurt Locker" from Summit Entertainment and Maple Pictures added 285 locations for a total 523 in grossing $1.9 million, or a sturdy $3,654 per site, with a $6.8 million cume.

IFC Films added 27 engagements for a total 35 for military comedy "In the Loop" and rung up $308,947, a solid $8,827 per playdate, with cume of $589,535.

And Here Media's Japanese drama "Departures" added one theater for a total 22 in grossing $44,540, or $2,121 per venue, as cume hit $1 million for the foreign-language Oscar winner.

Directed by Judd Apatow, "Funny" co-stars Seth Rogen and Leslie Mann. Toting a nearly 2 1/2-hour running time and $70 million negative cost, the dramedy has drawn largely positive reviews and debuted midway between the two previous Apatow-helmed movies. "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" unspooled in August 2005 with $21.4 million and registered $109.4 million overall domestically; 2007's "Knocked Up" bowed with $30.7 million and rang up $148.8 million in domestic coin.

"We're pleased to be No. 1," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said. "We're pleased with the opening, as it was a different sort of role for Adam. And for Judd, it has him evolving into a more serious kind of comedy."

Audiences skewed 53% male, with 52% of "Funny" patrons aged 25 or older.

Like "G-Force," "Aliens" mixes whimsical CGI characters into live action, though with production costs estimated at $45 million, the latter was a lot less expensive to produce. Rated PG, "Aliens" features a young ensemble cast including Ashley Tisdale ("High School Musical"), with John Schultz ("The Honeymooners") directing.

"The kids do love the movies, so hopefully we'll take advantage of the summer days ahead," Fox senior vp distribution Chris Aronson said.

Opening audiences for "Aliens" comprised 52% females, with family patrons accounting for 75% of its support.

Liddell Entertainment's "Collector" stars Josh Stewart ("The Haunting of Molly Hartley") and was helmed by "Saw IV" writer Marcus Dunstan. Playing in 1,325 locations, "Collector" targeted primarily young males.

"Exceeding $3 million was our goal, so we are quite pleased," Freestyle president Mark Borde said.

Looking ahead, wide openers set for Friday include Paramount's "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" -- the first pure action release in several weeks -- Sony's Meryl Streep starrer "Julie and Julia" and Universal's R-rated horror thriller "A Perfect Getaway."

Monday, February 9, 2009


(focus features)
Director: Henry Selick
Writer: Henry Selick
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Ian McShane
Plot: Adapted from the Hugo Award-winning, internationally best-selling novel, Coraline is a spine-tingling tale about a curious girl who unlocks a mysterious door in her family's new home and enters into an adventure in a parallel reality. On the surface, this "Other World" eerily mimics her own life - though it is much more fantastical. In it, Coraline encounters different versions of her own life, including off-kilter neighbors and an Other Mother who attempts to keep her forever. Ultimately, Coraline must rely on her resourcefulness, determination and bravery to get back home.
Genre: Animation | Family | Fantasy

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans


Genre: Horror/Suspense

Theatrical Release:Jan 23, 2009 Wide

Box Office: $33,165,746

I'll accept to actuality afraid that the Underworld alternation has accomplished a third installment. Apparently, these films aren't that big-ticket to accomplish because they accept never been big box appointment performers. With the additional movie, Underworld: Evolution, accepting captivated up things too neatly for this assembly to abide affective forward, the filmmakers accept adopted to do some backtracking. This is an "origin story" - one that allotment to the alpha and chronicles how the vampire/werewolf war started. The limitations of the Underworld adventure are on display: the storyline about replicates that of Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, acceptation that if you've apparent one or both of them, there's no acute acumen to absorb your adamantine becoming dollars on the third.

The affidavit for watching the aboriginal two Underworld movies were simple: Kate Beckinsale in a bound covering costume, lots of fast-paced action, Kate Beckinsale in a bound covering costume, affluence of claret and gore, and Kate Beckinsale in a bound covering costume. The fast-paced activity and claret and claret are still present in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, but Kate Beckinsale is boilerplate to be begin (excepting a abrupt actualization abreast the end in a blow that I accept was aerial from the aboriginal film). Back Underworld would not be Underworld after the dominatrix aspect, Rhona Mitra accomplish into the bound covering costume. The aftereffect is agnate but not absolutely the same. Beckinsale's husband, Len Wiseman, who directed the aboriginal two Underworlds afore axis his absorption to Live Free or Die Hard, has ceded the top armchair to Patrick Tatopoulos (a beheld furnishings authority who formed on the antecedent two Underworld films), although he gets a adventure credit. Tatopoulos, it should be noted, does a adequate job of assuming Wiseman's style.

The adventure takes us aback hundreds of years to back the werewolves were disciplinarian to the vampires. (A allegiant apostle of the cine ability alarm this aspect allegorical.) Viktor (Bill Nighy), the baron of the bloodsuckers, has a accurate affection for Lucian (Michael Sheen), the best and bravest of his wolf bite-infected pets. Unfortunately, as abundant as Lucian brand Viktor, he brand Viktor's daughter, Sonja (Rhona Mitra), alike more, and the activity is mutual. Back sex amid vampires and lycanthropes is forbidden, the two charge accommodated in secret. Alike afore they are begin out, the activity leads to their downfall. In adjustment to save Sonja's life, Lucian charge abolish the collar that inhibits his shape-shifting. This is an breach that acreage him in a corpuscle and, while he's there, his words and accomplishments bulb the seeds for the insurgence that will alpha the war.

Those who awful Twilight because of the way in which it defanged vampires while axis women into victims can blow calmly here. Sonja is annihilation but a victim and the vampires, abnormally Viktor, are awful pieces of work. The botheration with Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is the way in which it repeats all that has gone before: banned love, desaturated color, blood-soaked battles amid CGI werewolves and all-too-destructible vampires. The accomplished acquaintance feels obligatory. If the filmmakers were activity to go to all the agitation to accomplish a new affiliate to this saga, why not do article absorbing with it?

Bill Nighy, who had a cogent role in the aboriginal Underworld, is a contentment to catch in the way he blithely overacts. This is accurate scenery-chewing. Here's a accepted amateur who has adopted to go as far over-the-top as the administrator will acquiesce (and that turns out to be absolutely far). There are times back it's absurd not to chuckle. This first-rate amateur achievement causes the added sedate assignment by Michael Sheen and Rhona Mitra, who booty their genitalia seriously, to achromatize into the background. (Although, to his credit, Sheen does accompany the affair during scenes back he gets to bark snippets of "rousing" dialogue.)

The appropriate furnishings are beneath absorbing than in the antecedent two installments, conceivably because of bread-and-butter restrictions. They assume like they were done cheaply and/or quickly. Granted, we're not accepted to accept that an army of werewolves is affronted a castle, but neither is it declared to be accessible that the absolute arrangement was put calm on a computer. The akin of captivation accepted by the adventure has not been accomplished by the furnishings technicians. Also, the action scenes are accumulated with the now-popular fast-edit address that makes them difficult to follow.

Does one accept to be a fan of the alternation to acknowledge Underworld: Rise of the Lycans? Probably, back the cine assumes a acquaintance with the saga's mythology. The blur can be watched and accepted by a abecedarian (although I accept apparent the added two, I can't affirmation to bethink them decidedly well), but there's no acumen why addition alien with Underworld would appetite to bother. The aboriginal blur was decidedly bigger and, therefore, is the abode to alpha for anyone with a atom of interest. Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is an also-ran that is acceptable to be accepted alone by completi

Starring: Rhona Mitra, Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen, Steven Mackintosh

Starring: Rhona Mitra, Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen, Steven Mackintosh, Kevin Grevioux, Danny McBride

Director: Patrick Tatopoulos

Monday, January 26, 2009

My Bloody Valentine (2009)

Tom (Ackles) returns to his hometown on the tenth anniversary of the Valentine's night massacre that claimed the lives of 22 people. Instead of a homecoming, however, Tom finds himself suspected of committing the murders, and it seems like his old flame (King) is the only one will believes he's innocent.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ip Man - Review

If you look at the last 5 movies in Donnie Yen’s filmography, I feel that his better works had resulted from his collaboration with director Wilson Yip. In Painted Skin and An Empress and The Warriors, he was relegated to supporting roles, with the former being ineffectively cast against type, and the latter playing second fiddle to the leads Kelly Chen and Leon Lai. With Yip, he’s the able star of the show, and in each of the movies, was put to do what he does best – numbing arse kicking action, with SPL sparring with Sammo Hung and Wu Jing, Dragon Tiger Gate having to lead Nicholas Tse and Shawn Yue battling bad hair days, and introducing some wildly kinetic Mixed Martial Arts action in Flash Point. So how does his latest collaboration with Wilson Yip fare?

They do no wrong. I shall now proclaim unabashedly that I absolutely love this movie! It’s been some time since we last saw a biopic on one of the Chinese’s martial arts folk heroes, with Jet Li’s Fearless being the last memorable one to hit the big screen. While Li lays claim to three of such roles in the iconic Wong Fei Hung (in the Tsui Hark movies), Fong Sai Yuk and Huo Yuan Jia in Fearless, after which he felt he had to hang up his martial arts roles because he thought that he had communicated all that he wanted about martial arts through these films. And thank goodness for Donnie Yen still being around to pick up from where the genre left off, and presenting a memorable role which he truly owned, with Ip Man being the first cinematic rendition of the Wing Chun martial arts grandmaster.

In this bio-pic, Ip Man, one of the earliest Wing Chun martial arts exponents credited to have propagated its popularity, gets portrayed as the best of the best in 1930s Fo Shan, China, where the bustling city has its own Martial Arts Street where countless of martial arts schools have set up shop to fuel the craze of kung fu training. With each new school, the master will pay their respects to Ip Man and to challenge him to a duel. Ip Man, an aristocrat who spends most of his quality time developing and perfecting his brand of martial arts, will take them on behind closed doors, so as not to damage his opponents’ reputation nor embarrass them in public. His humility is his virtue, and his style is never violent or aggressive, which often gets assumed and mistaken for being effeminate, since Wing Chun after all was founded by a woman.

The bulk of the story gets set in the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war, and it’s not all fight and no story. Witth this historical setting, at times it does seem that there is an air of familiarity with the type of stories told, with how the Japanese Imperial Army had made life really miserable for the Chinese, and how the Chinese being fragmented in spirit, fail to unite during dire straits. More often than note, martial arts become a unifying force, and this aspect of the narrative might seem to be a walk in the usual territory.

But with its array of charismatic supporting cast with the likes of Simon Yam as Ip Man’s best friend and industrialist Quan, and Lam Ka Tung as a cop turned translator, there are little nicely put sub plots which seek to expand the air of respect that Ip Man commands amongst his community. The story by Edmond Wong did not demonize all the villains, often adding a dash of empathy and sympathy to the likes of the Japanese General Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), a highly skilled exponent from the North called Zhao (Fan Siu Wong) as well as Lam’s translator character who is deemed as a traitor for being in the service of the Japanese. Ip Man the family man also gets put under the spotlight, where his passion could sometimes leave him neglecting his wife and kid, and through the course of the story this focus often leaves one quite exasperated for his family’s safety as he puts his countrymen above self and family when going up against the oppressive Japanese forces.

So what’s the verdict on the action? Action junkies won’t have to wait too long before watching Ip Man in action, and to Sammo Hung and Tony Leung Siu Hung’s credit, they have intricately designed some of the most varied martial arts sequences in the movie, such as private fights in his home, a factory melee, a Japanese dojo battle as seen in the trailer, (which I know has actually sent some positive vibes amongst moviegoers, mouth agape at that incredible scene of Yen continuously beating down a karateka) being somewhat of a throwback and reminscent of Bruce Lee in Fists of Fury, and a ringside duel amongst others. And it’s not just Ip Man who gets in on the action, but specialized martial arts moves designed for the various practitioners as well. It’s so difficult to name any particular one as a personal favourite, though I must add that you definitely won’t feel short changed by the time the inevitable final battle comes rolling along and gets delivered with aplomb.

I’m no Wing Chun practitioner, but Donnie Yen has this marvelous calm and zen like approach with his Ip Man taking out his opponents quite effectively with the minimal of moves. Like Huo Yuan Jia, he doesn’t deliver the killing blows to friendly opponents, but rather simulates the various hit points, which actually calls for some astonishing control of strength and precision. This approach will change of course as the opponents become anything but friendly. And unlike the usual martial arts stance of crouching low, here we see him standing tall and striking with such precision and efficiency, it’s like poetry in motion with some astounding closed quarter combat utilizing plenty of upper limb strength.

With Wong Kar-wai at one point also declaring interest in making a Ip Man movie, I thought that this effort will be hard to beat, just like how Tsui Hark has crafted some of the more definitive movies in modern times about Wong Fei Hung and Jet Li benefiting from a major career boost, I’d say Ip Man just about cements Yen’s reputation as a martial arts leading man, which I guess the cinematic world these days severely lacks. Definitely recommended, and surely a thrill ride for Donnie Yen fans!