Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)

At first glance “Forbidden Kingdom,” the first movie to unite the martial arts action stars Jackie Chan and Jet Li, might be mistaken for a pastiche of its genre. Its main character, a Boston teenager named Jason (Michael Angarano), is obsessed with kung fu cinema, and the ways of modern Hollywood might lead you to expect the filmmakers to mock, travesty or wink at this obsession.

Filmed on Chinese locations and studio sets, the movie shows the lavish artificiality that is, in the currently booming Chinese film industry, a sign of authenticity. Mr. Chan made his name in scruffier, scrappier Hong Kong entertainments, but as he has aged into an international superstar, he has come to seem at home just about everywhere. Here he plays two roles: an elderly junk dealer in 21st-century Boston and an itinerant fighter, specializing in the “drunken fist” style of combat, in a mythic ancient China.

Still, the film works well enough as a primer for latecomers and a fix for insatiable martial arts lovers. If you’ve never seen a movie like this, it might satisfy your curiosity; if you can’t get enough of this kind of movie, nothing I say about it would keep you away.

Sex and the City: The Movie


For many women in their late twenties/early thirties, Sex And The City is the equivalent of The Phantom Menace. From its debut in 1998, the six-season sexploits of Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte on the Manhattan singles scene became a quasi-religion, something women cherished as their own and geeked out about to each other.

In many respects, Sex And The City has more in common with an old-school George Cukor “woman’s picture” than, say, The Devil Wears Prada or 27 Dresses, interweaving female centric tales of fidelity, heartbreak and forgiveness rather than relying on mad-dash-for-the-airport antics. What it misses, though, is Cukor’s grace as a storyteller. Writer-director King, a stalwart of the TV show, makes little of the opportunities offered by the big screen - a detour to Mexico lacks visual flavour - where a more courageous choice might have reflected the high style of the fashions in the filmmaking. And surely it’s unrealistic to expect any more?


If you are immune to the charms of Carrie and co., this will do little to convert you. Still, it has more than enough sass, style and sentiment to keep the faithful satisfied. Add a star if you’re a fan.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Adam Brody On Justice League Collapse

Unless you've been abstaining from the internet for the past year – in which case, well done on falling off the wagon – you'll know that one of the big movies for 2009 was supposed to be Justice League, which would have brought together Batman, Superman and a number of other DC superheroes in one super-film.

I always associated the most with Peter Parker". If Spider-Man 4 happens, there could, of course, be an opening for that role, if Tobey Maguire declines to return. "Yeah, I kinda know..."

Cage Is The (New) Bad Lieutenant

Nicolas Cage is Harvey Keitel – well kinda. The superbly coiffured Ghost Rider star has been announced as the titular naughty copper in Werner Herzog’s updated version of 1992's The Bad Lieutenant, reports Variety.

The original film (which infamously featured Keitel masturbating furiously on the side of a car driven by a pair of nubile teens) was directed by Abel Ferrara and, thanks to its shit storm-stirring content, grabbed itself an NC-17 rating.

Whether or not the remake will follow the same route remains to be seen but the recent mellowing of both Cage and Herzog (the former all but being a fully-fledged family star now) implies that the content could well be toned down – which is good news for those who aren’t hot on the idea of witnessing Nicolas doing a Harvey against an automobile, so to speak.

Is Bruckheimer Getting Serious?

What’s this? Jerry Bruckheimer latest acquisition is a geopolitical thriller? What no treasure hunts or salty sea dogs? Has the time finally come for the bearded mogul to put away childish things?

Nah, probably not, but it’s still interesting to discover that Bruckheimer’s next project (after the talking guinea pig comedy G-Force and the video-game adaptation Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time) is likely to be The Increment, a politically charged flick based on the upcoming novel by David Ignatius.

As befits the conspiratorial nature of the movie, there’s little in the way of plot details available yet but we do know that the title refers to an elite group of British undercover intelligence operatives who are conscripted by a CIA agent to help a weapons scientist defect from Iran.

So, as we said, the story may be a little more grown up but don’t go thinking that Don Simpson’s old sparring partner is putting away his big box of explosives just yet.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Why 'Iron Man' will outmuscle the 'Hulk'

On Friday, Marvel Entertainment releases "Iron Man," the saga of Tony Stark, a hard-drinking, amoral war-profiteer who redeems himself by donning high-tech armor and trouncing bad guys. Marvel is in the midst of a similar redemption.

Now the company is producing its own movies, and "Iron Man" is the first. The good news for Marvel is that "Iron Man" is likely to be a smash. Steve Mason, a theater owner and oft-quoted pundit, predicts a $103 million opening weekend for the film. "Marvel stockholders should be very happy in the near-term," he wrote on Thursday. "Numbers like that will certainly guarantee a couple of Iron Man sequels."

By contrast, the Hulk became an iconic comic book character when he first appeared in 1962. Few comic book fans could resist the tale of scientist Bruce Banner, whose overexposure to gamma rays cause him to become a raging green monster even stronger than the Fantastic Four's rocky-skinned Thing. The Hulk went on to appear on Saturday morning cartoons and a campy network television starring Bill Bixby as Banner and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno as his frightening alter ego.

The big screen hasn't been as kind to the green monolith. In 2003, Universal released "The Hulk," a stylish, but gloomy movie directed by Ang Lee, who later won an Oscar for "Brokeback Mountain." The film, which cost $150 million to produce, took in a mere $132 million in U.S. ticket sales and fared even more poorly internationally. Now Marvel has to draw disappointed Hulk fans back to the theaters.

That's going to be difficult. "The Incredible Hulk" has been plagued by infighting. Marvel hired the famously temperamental Edward Norton to play Banner and to rewrite the script. By all accounts, the star clashed with the higher ups at Marvel. Now he isn't participating in the company's publicity drive for the movie.

Meanwhile, "Iron Man" is getting ready to enjoy the kind of adulation he never received in comic land. The movie's director, Jon Favreau of "Elf" and "Swingers" fame, has turned Tony Stark from a cold warrior to a conflicted participant in America's war on terror. He discovers his company's weapons are being used by the bad guys against American troops and changes his ways.

If only Norton was doing the same. He's not helping The Hulk's latest movie bid.

Next year, Marvel plans to make one superhero movie. It hasn't announced the character yet. But Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Morgan, strongly suspects it will be "Captain America," the former Nazi fighter. Most comic book lovers would probably agree that "Captain America" is an even better character than the Hulk. Uh oh.

Iron Man (2008)

After Tobey Maguire's gawky boyishness and Christian Bale's glower, the ''offbeat'' casting of comic-book films is now the new normal. (The trend really started back in 1989, when Tim Burton turned a saucer-eyed noodge like Michael Keaton into Batman.)

Yet it's still bracing to see Robert Downey Jr. redefine what it takes to be a superhero in Iron Man. As Tony Stark, a high-living celebrity weapons magnate who is wounded on a trek through Afghanistan, only to transform himself into a hulking mechanical rocket man, Downey doesn't dial down his eager narcissistic wit.

The fun of Iron Man, a Marvel adaptation in which a routine arc has been burnished with great elegance and skill, is the way that it heals the split, soldering the two halves of its hero into a single organically driven figure.

On that fateful Afghan jaunt, Downey's Stark is wounded by one of his own bombs, then kidnapped and taken to an insurgent lair, where a magnetized gizmo is surgically implanted in his chest, all to keep the bits of shrapnel from heading toward his heart.

To fool his captors, he pretends to construct the cluster bomb they demand, but instead he builds himself a mechanical alter ego and flies to freedom.

Back at his hillside mansion (one of many clever details — it's out of vintage Bond), Stark then erects a new, improved version, with a two-toned shell and computerized mask. His desire? To destroy the weapons that he once created. He becomes a rock-'em sock-'em robot for peace.

Yet Favreau's direction never feels rote, even during the sky-zipping, metal-smashing action scenes, and the casting is aces. Jeff Bridges, as Stark's corporate partner, looks as scary as a cult leader in his shaved head and bushy beard, but he underacts, benignly; Bridges uses that wry, trust-me voice to create a timely portrait of stylish power.

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