Double Feature – “The Man with the Iron Fists” & “Skyfall”

 

Now I know what two of you are probably thinking…..“The Man with the Iron Fists”? Doesn’t that sound like the name of a James Bond movie? In actuality, the title of hip hop producer/rapper/actor RZA’s (pronounced rizzah) first feature-length film does, in a way, sound like that of the 1974 James Bond film “The Man with the Golden Gun” starring Roger Moore (the fourth greatest actor, in my opinion, to play Agent 007, with Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig and Sean Connery taking the top 3 spots), Christopher Lee – a.k.a. Saruman of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy- as the villain, and Herve Villechaize – a.k.a. everyone’s favourite dwarf  Tattoo from “Fantasy Island”  (“DE PLANE! DE PLANE!!” – remember that shit?!) as the villain’s henchman.

 

Mind you, I’ve never seen “The Man with the Golden Gun” – mainly because it’s ranked among the WORST  Bond films ever made.  And that’s reason enough for me not to give a fuck about it anyway. But it is a coincidence that two of the films I’ve been eagerly anticipating all year (“The Man with the Iron Fists”and “Skyfall”) sound like Bond films, but only one has “007” written all over it.

 

“Skyfall” is the 23rd film in the 50-year-old James Bond film series, and the third film to star Daniel Craig as the iconic British secret agent with a license to kill and a penchant for sleeping with every woman within a 1-mile radius (just exaggerating, of course).  “The Man with the Iron Fists”, however, is a martial arts film, produced by Eli Roth (known for directing the excruciatingly gory “Hostel” and “Hostel II”) and “presented by” Quentin Tarantino. Apparently, Quentin is such a bad-ass writer/director that he just needs to ADD his name to a film of which he had partial involvement in, and the common folk will arrive in droves just to see it. Not only is the film a throwback to the martial arts films which inspired the music and ideology of the legendary hip hop group, the Wu-Tang Clan (of which RZA is the de facto leader), but it’s also an opportunity for RZA to showcase his writing skills (with the help of Eli Roth), directorial skills (which he learned by observing Quentin Tarantino during production of 2003’s Kill Bill Vol. 1), musical score composition (with the assistance of Howard Drossin) and possible acting capabilities (with Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu and ex-WWE wrestler David Bautista in the film’s cast).

 

I’ve had high hopes for both of these films, so let’s see they they were worth the wait.  Let the ass kissing kicking begin!

 

 

“THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS” –  Set in 19th century China, our story is centered on a blacksmith (played weirdly, ironically and ever so conveniently by RZA – a BLACK man! Funny, I know.) who lives in Jungle Village and makes a living forging weapons of death for various groups of warriors. One of these groups is the famed Lion Clan. Zen-Yi, the X-Blade (COOLEST….NAME…..EVER!!) (played by Rick Yune) is the son of the murdered leader of the Lion Clan and he seeks revenge against the man who organized his father’s assassination – the vicious Silver Lion (Byron Mann). Along with his second-in-command Bronze Lion (Cung Le), Silver Lion’s scheme is to ambush a group of warriors called the Geminis, who’re sworn to protect the Emperor’s gold. A ruthless mercenary called Brass Body (Dave Bautista), who’s capable of turning his body into metal – hence his nickname, is hired by Silver Lion to act as enforcer to the Lion Clan. Meanwhile, Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), the crafty madam and owner of the Pink Blossom brothel, has her eyes set on the gold as well. One of the prostitutes working at the Pink Blossom is Lady Silk (played by the smoking hot Jamie Chung) and she just so happens to be the blacksmith’s girlfriend (thus proving my theory that there were indeed black Asians in ancient China!). The blacksmith wants to raise enough money so he can leave the violence and mayhem of Jungle Village, and start a new life with Lady Silk. But reality kicks our hero in the ass after an unforeseen encounter with Silver Lion and the Lion Clan. However, fate steps into the picture, as a British soldier named Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) (whose weapon of choice is a specialized knife that can cut through human flesh…..SWEEEET!!!) offers to assist our hero in stopping Silver Lion. And now, three men – Jack, Zen-Yi and the blacksmith with his tailor-made IRON FISTS OF DOOM (the last two words I added in)  –  will square off against Brass Body and the Lion Clan within the confines of the Pink Blossom. Bones will be shattered, blood will be spilled, and glorious hip hop music will play in the background. But who will be listening? And who will be left standing?

 

From the film’s action-packed intro, complete with yellow Chinese text reminiscent of the kung fu films of the Shaw Brothers era, and a fucking CLASSIC cut from the Wu Tang Clan’s first (and greatest) album “Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers”, you know exactly what you’re in for with “The Man with the Iron Fists”. It’s wild, over-the-top, and completely ridiculous.  And most importantly, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Even when it tries to take itself seriously – like the blacksmith’s flashback which begins with a young RZA as an American slave (actually it is the same RZA, but sporting nappy-ass hair) and ends with him becoming a monk at Shaolin Temple – there is no need for you to take it seriously either. Don’t even look for logic in this film. If you could get past Dave Bautista transforming into a brass-skinned killing machine, and RZA being able to move his fingers in his large iron gauntlets, then you can handle the rest of the film. But amidst the CG-created blood and carnage presented on screen, you can see RZA paying loving homage to the glory days of 1970s martial arts films. And it shows with the film’s epic scope and feel, gorgeous cinematography and set design, and of course, the film’s impressive fight sequences. Die-hard fans can easily spot, and appreciate, the film’s references to martial-arts classics like “Five Fingers of Death (King Boxer)” and “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”, among others. However, like most martial arts flicks, there are flaws within the script of this film. The characters are mostly two-dimensional (RZA’s character is the only one with backstory), the story is uneven and a tad bit convoluted (plot points/characters are showcased in the beginning, forgotten/ killed off in the middle, and resurfaced/killed off in the end), the editing is haphazard, and the dialogue, intended to be epic and dramatic, sounds cheesy and unintentionally funny at times (take Silver Lion’s line for example: ‘Are we not the strongest?! HUH?!! I say we MOVE with power and STRIKE NOW!!”).

 

The ironic thing about that line is that it was embedded in my brain after listening to the Wu Tang Clan track “Six Directions of Boxing” from the movie soundtrack (which is actually a decent album, by the way) quite a number of times. Ah fuck it, it’s one of my favourite tracks off the album, so sue me! On the subject of music, the film score of “The Man with the Iron Fists” is a hybrid of epic music mixed with hip hop beats produced by RZA, snippets of songs from the aforementioned soundtrack and a touch of Ennio Morricone-inspired Spaghetti Western music (I could almost imagine Quentin Tarantino smiling from ear to ear every time it’s played). The performances throughout the film are passable. Byron Mann (Silver Lion) plays a REALLY GOOD bad guy, Lucy Liu is every bit as authoritative and deadly as she was in Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Russell Crowe steals nearly every scene he appears in. RZA, sad to say, is out-shined by the cast thanks to his moody performance and novice acting skills. And speaking of cast, I truly appreciated the fact that it consisted mostly of Chinese performers. It added a much-needed authenticity to the film, making me forgive RZA for casting himself as the lead character.

 

As a fan of both Shaw Brothers martial arts films and everything Wu Tang Clan, I had fun with “The Man with the Iron Fists”, though not as much as I hoped. It is what it is – a pervasively violent martial arts film with the occasional sex scene or two thrown in for the hell of it. But if more emphasis was placed on a better-written story, and better performances, especially from RZA, then the film would have been better. Perhaps if Quentin Tarantino stepped in and assisted with the storytelling and acting, it would have been greater than it deserved to be. But it is RZA’s first directing gig, so you have to forgive him for his missteps. But you have to admit… it is a damn impressive debut film! If you’re a martial arts enthusiast, or if you’re a Wu Tang Clan fan, you should definitely give this film a look. If you’re not a fan of either, but you’re willing to sit through a mindlessly fun action flick, then feel free to check it out.  Just make sure to keep your expectations low, or you will be thoroughly disappointed. But if its flaws have already turned you off from seeing it, then don’t bother.  But the soundtrack is still worth checking out, by the way!

 

 

“SKYFALL” –  Now that I’ve nearly exhausted myself with my lengthy review of “The Man with the Iron Fists”, I’ll use the rest of my energy to talk about “Skyfall”. The story: James Bond (Daniel Craig) is presumed dead after a botched mission to recover a computer hard drive stolen from MI6. This hard drive contains details of almost all undercover NATO agents in terrorist organisations. Bond, of course, isn’t dead. He used his presumed death to retire from MI6, locking himself out from the world’s affairs in the process. However, when an explosion occurs in MI6 Headquarters, Bond returns to London. He confronts his superior M (Judi Dench) who eventually puts him back into active duty. Bond’s search for the perpetrator leads him to Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a former MI6 agent with a personal grudge against M. While M’s past literally comes back to haunt her in the form of Silva, James is forced to look into the past in order to defeat him.

 

The past is the major running theme of “Skyfall”. Throughout the film, James tries to regain the edge he had as a secret agent before he got all washed-up. Also, he’s constantly reminded that the “old ways work best”. And this is where the film ultimately shines. As it is the 50th anniversary of the James Bond films, “Skyfall” pays tribute to quite a few of the classic Bond films of the past. Everyone’s favourite MI6 quartermaster Q (played for the first time in film history by a young man – Ben Whishaw) makes his first appearance in a Daniel Craig Bond film. A couple more familiar characters and some clever references to other Bond films appear in “Skyfall”, but don’t worry – I won’t ruin the surprise (you may sigh in relief now!).  The relationship between James and M (his apparent mother figure) is the centerpiece of the film. Daniel Craig delivers a strong, convincing performance as a Bond unclear of his future, and M, played excellently by Judi Dench as a character who’s accepted her fate, is given more depth than in the previous films, making “Skyfall” more emotionally moving than “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace”. Javier Bardem, well-known for his Oscar-winning performance as the terrifying Anton Chigurh in the Coen Brothers ‘ “No Country for Old Men”, plays a TERRIFIC Bond villain, and arguably one of Bond film history’s greatest! He’s creepy, compelling and – like Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight” – maniacally intelligent. But what makes him so special is that unlike the Bond villains of the past, he’s not in it for money, or world domination, but for REVENGE! He really has a fucking grudge on M, and desires to see her and the rest of MI6 fall for his twisted satisfaction.

 

The story is well-written, the dialogue is sharp and the action sequences are exciting, engaging and well-edited. “Skyfall” marks the second collaboration between Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes, the first being Tom Hanks’ “Road to Perdition” (2002),  one of the best – and most emotionally powerful – gangster films I’ve ever seen. Like that film, “Skyfall” is chock full of stunning cinematography (worth seeing in IMAX if you can cough up some more dollar bills) and stirring music by Thomas Newman. And of course, the title sequence KICKS ASS, with a great title song performed by British singer/songwriter Adele, and visually-stimulating imagery which hearken back to the innovative title sequences (created by the late, great Maurice Binder) of the older Bond films.

 

In short, “Skyfall” works as a hearty tribute to the Bond films, a return to form for Daniel Craig’s 007 after “Quantum of Solace”, and a re-invention of an iconic character for a new generation. It is, like DURRRHH, one of the best movies of 2012, and for that reason alone, you should invest your time and money on this film. From 1962 to 2012, James Bond stood tall among all the secret agents of cinematic history (yes, even the Spy Kids). Here’s to another 50 years! Now gulp down the rest of that dry martini, which was hopefully shaken and not stirred, and go see “Skyfall” already!

 

MY RATING:

“THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS” – 3 out of 5 stars (“It was aight”)

“SKYFALL” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

 

– Matthew

Double Feature – “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” & “That’s My Boy”

 

 

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is the latest offering from Russian import Timur Bekmambetov (I DARE YOU to say that name five times fast), director of the 2004 Russian supernatural action film Night Watch (a film I have yet to comprehend in its entirety), its 2006 sequel, Day Watch, and his first American film, 2008’s Wanted (a BAD-ASS action film starring James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman which taught the world that it is indeed possible for fired bullets to CURVE!). Timur’s films have been admired for their dense narratives, twists and turns, and hyper-stylized visual styles. So when the first trailer for “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” came out in February, and the text read: “From producer Tim Burton and the director of Wanted, Timur Bekmambetov”, I was like: Chto za Huy?!!!  In case you were wondering, that’s Russian for “What the fuck?!!!”  My remark had nothing to do with Timur or Tim Burton, but the title and concept of the film: Abraham Lincoln……VAMPIRE HUNTER?!! The 16th President of the United States……. KILLING VAMPIRES?!!! And even weirder is the fact that it’s based on a 2010 novel of the same name.  It didn’t take long for the hype machine to activate, and the film became the subject of much anticipation, and head-scratching over its illogical concept, until its official release on June 22nd.

 

“That’s My Boy” is a comedy from Adam Sandler that came out on June 15th.  I’m sorry. That’s the best intro I can think of.

 

Anyhoo, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” was successful in the box office, though it received mixed to negative reviews from critics. On the other hand, “That’s My Boy” was a commercial flop and it received a plethora of negative reviews, most of them dealing with the film’s controversial themes of pedophilia and incest – among other things.  Both films were rated by online film reviewers as the worst that 2012 had to offer, although in my personal opinion, one of these films is actually not that bad.

 

But what film would that be? Hmmmmmmm…

 

 

 

 

“ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER” – After the obligatory opening voice-over by an elderly Abe…oops, I mean Benjamin Walker, our story begins. In 1818, a young Abraham witnesses an attack on his sleeping mother by Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), a plantation owner and local vampire. Days later, she passes away. Abe solemnly swears to find and kill Jack.  Nine years later, he finds Jack and tries to shoot him (unaware, of course, that he’s a vampire). He fails the first time. While Abe tries to reload, Jack says some threatening shit to him: “There’s  2 kinds of men, Mr. Lincoln. Those that have the guts to pull the trigger and those who do not”. When I heard that line uttered, it reminded me of a famous quote from the western classic The Good, the Bad and The Ugly (a.k.a. the greatest movie of all time – according to me!!): “You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig”. It then dawned on me that within the world of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, Jack is able to somehow transport himself to the future since (a) the story of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is set in the Civil War and (b) the film came out in 1966!!  ‘In other words, Jack went to the future, and either watched the film in 1966, or met the real-life characters from the film during the Civil War, heard one of them say it, then came back to 1827 and decided to quote that line to Abraham Lincoln.

 

Dumb concept, I know, but I was just being sarcastic, ladies and gents. But the message is simple: unless you’re paying homage or poking fun, don’t steal lines from other movies. And therein lies the main problem with “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”. With such a nonsensical premise already present in the film, it would have been wiser to play it off as self-parody i.e. delivering everything one expects from a film of that title, while mocking itself for having that fucking title in the first place. And a line like the one delivered from Jack would have worked, provided that the film didn’t take itself seriously. But unfortunately, it takes itself WAY TOO SERIOUSLY! Scenes of Abraham’s tutelage from Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper) – a Scotsman who saves Abe from a royal ass-whoop provided by Jack, and trains him in the ways of vampire slaying – are combined with action sequences involving Abe and his silver-tipped axe, and historical re-enactments of Abe’s presidency leading up to the Civil War.  The end result is an increasingly uneven narrative. And speaking of action sequences, there’s a lot of 300-style slow-motion during these scenes that get really annoying after the first three times it’s used. And while these sequences are visually stimulating, yet not as hyper-stylized as the ones in Timur Bekmambetov’s earlier work, some of them are downright cartoonish. One of the major action sequences in the film involves Abe chasing Jack in the middle of a horse stampede. While I won’t reveal everything that occurs, I will say that a horse is THROWN at Abe! I SHIT YOU NOT! But regardless of its flaws, the film boasts good performances throughout (even from Benjamin, who plays his role well enough), impressive visuals and a decent and entertaining story (though slow in some parts). In short, the film isn’t great (OBVIOUSLY) but it isn’t bad either. If you approach the film knowing that it’s about a vampire-slashing President and nothing more, you’ll actually enjoy the film….for more than half of its running time. But if its premise pisses you off, and you’d much rather watch Steven Spielberg’s vampire-free take on Abe’s life than Timur’s version, then feel free to skip “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”. But despite what the naysayers say, it really doesn’t suck. Which is more that I can say about….

 

 

 

“THAT’S MY BOY” –  And here we have a nominee for Worst Film of 2012: Adam Sandler’s R-rated epic “That’s my Boy”. In a nutshell, Adam plays Donny Berger, a 42-year old loser who was once a celebrity thanks to him getting caught, at 13 years of age, having sex with his 22-year old high-school teacher, Ms. McGarricle (played by Eva Amurri, the real-life daughter of Susan Sarandon). Of course, she gets arrested. And of course, she’s pregnant. The child, Han Solo Berger (named after Harrison Ford’s character in “Star Wars” – funny, huh?), disowned his father years later, changed his name to Todd Peterson (Adam Samberg) and has since moved on to becoming a successful businessman. But when Donny has to pay $43,000 worth of back taxes to the IRS, and he learns of his son’s upcoming marriage to a rich young woman named Jamie (Leighton Meester), an idea springs forth. With the help of TV producer Randall Morgan (Dan Patrick), Donny will get his son to the woman’s penitentiary to meet his mother as part of a televised reunion between all three parties, after which Donny will be paid $50.000 by Randall.  What results is Donny interrupting his son’s pre-wedding activities in Cape Cod, where he humiliates and embarrasses his son, and acts like a complete fucking asshole. First off, “That’s my Boy” is not as eye-gougingly terrible as Adam’s previous film “Jack and Jill”  (hailed by many as the worst film of 2011). Secondly, the film itself is well-shot, so kudos to the cinematographer for making a pile of turd like “That’s my Boy” shine so brightly. With that being said, this film is pure and utter bullshit. Adam Sandler is irritating as fuck in this movie, with his man-child mannerisms, over-sexed attitude and an accent that’ll annoy the living bejesus out of you! The talents of the cast are wasted: Adam Samberg is literally treated like a p***y throughout the entire film, and Leighton Meester’s character is reduced to an incestuous bitch (oops, spoiler alert!). Cameos by James Caan as a priest who beats up Adam in one scene, comedienne Luenell as an overweight stripper who eats breakfast while hanging on a pole in another scene, R&B superstar Ciara as Luenell’s daughter, and Vanilla Ice as himself (who proves that his acting range hasn’t improved since his 1991 film ‘Cool as Ice” marked the end of his short-lived rapping career) are unnecessary to the film’s weak story. Susan Sarandon delivers the best performance in the film as an older, and still horny, Ms. McGarricle, and she only appears for 4 minutes. And speaking of minutes, with the film’s already punishing running time of 114 minutes, it feels an hour too long. In the end, while the film is a lot raunchier than Adam’s recent (and mostly PG-13) efforts, “That’s my Boy” still an unfunny and unbearable affair. It is one of the worst Adam Sandler movies ever made and it is DEFINITELY one of the worst movies I’ve seen all year. The only reason why I’m giving this film one star is, like I said earlier, it’s WELL-SHOT. And I just found out on Wikipedia that the cinematographer’s name is Brandon Trost. Good job, dude. Problem is, by the time I wake up tomorrow, I’ll forget his name. I’ll still remember Timur Bekmambetov’s name though. And I TRIPLE DOG DARE YOU to say that name five times fast!

 

MY RATING:

“ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER” – 2 1/2 out of 5 stars (“See it if you really have to”)

“THAT’S MY BOY” – 1 out of 5 stars (“Of course it sucked!”)

 

– Matthew