The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008) – [rate 3.5]
The opening sequence for this Asian Western (Eastern?) is really strong and worth seeing even if you don’t have time to see the whole thing. From there on, a really good western unfolds with lots of familiar spaghetti western material, with Asian-style fighting, weapons and motorcycles added in for good measure. The characters fit the style and no excuse for a fight feels forced, though obviously there’s a lot of fighting all the same.
The only real downside to the movie is the illogical sequence of events leading up to the ending. The ending scene itself is actually pretty good, but the first few minutes of it leave you wondering what just happened and why it isn’t happening anymore.
The violence is a bit more graphic than you might expect from a western, but then most of the ones you know were shot in or before the 80’s, so I guess that’s just a sign of the times. The addition of all the Manchurian attributes to the typical western fare works really well. Watching gunfights interspersed with martial arts, watching horses chase motorcycles and vice versa and having both steam trains and jeeps with mortars in the mix never really breaks immersion and makes for a nice spectacle.
A bit too long perhaps and with a bit too much repetition as a result, but overall recommended for whoever likes westerns. Maybe even more so because this genre really belongs in Asia to begin with (think Seven Samurai).
Edison and Leo (2008) – [rate 2.5]
The animation is right on target, the characters have plenty of character and the story isn’t just straightforward in this animation movie. Some scenes looked a little rushed and reminded me of Robot Chicken episode, but even that didn’t detract from the overall movie. So why the low rating?
Well, there really is no point in watching this well-made movie. It’s not a nice family picture, since there is some seriously graphic violence and sexual material in it that makes it unfit for the young. But the story doesn’t have the depth, background or sufficiently rich ideas to recommend it to your friends, more so since you’ll be sending them to see stop-motion animated puppets.
If such a movie is to succeed, it needs to tell a good story in an inspired setting like Strings (2004). Or it needs to have memorable and loveable characters like Wallace and Gromit (1995). Policital satire also works, as in Team America: World Police. But Edison and Leo is a somewhat simple story about the unknown (and fictional) side of Edison and his family background.
It’s well-made, with nice effects, sound and voice-acting, but I really can’t think of a reason to go see it and I would only recommend it if you really like animation or if you don’t care about brutality and (mild) sex in the movies your kids watch. They might learn something…
Book of Blood (2008) – [rate 1.5]
I happen to be a fan of some of the work of Clive Barker. And even though I like his fantasy (like Weaveworld or Imagica) better, I do greatly appreciate his horror (Cabal, The Great and Secret Show). Book of Blood is some of his old work and fits right in with the material in movies like Hellraiser (1987) and Nightbreed (1990). But Book of Blood misses the mark rather severely.
The chemistry between the characters just isn’t there. And the special effects serve to do nothing but repeat the point of the movie, that has already been made 4 times in dialogue. I’ll spoil it here, since someone already says it in the opening sequence. The dead have highways, the highways intersect and at some of these crossroads, the dead spill over into our world.
A female researcher, with some experiences in her past, writes about the paranormal and has her eyes on some haunted house. She meets an apparently psychically gifted student and they end up in the house, along with one of her colleagues. Drama ensues, the dead walk and it all ends predictably.
Only if you really like Barker’s stuff and don’t mind sitting out a poor plot and aren’t expecting amazing effects would you want to watch this movie. Nothing sparkles, but I suppose it isn’t a real bomb either. It would have been better if it had been made just like this in the 80’s, where it really belongs, considering the competition it has to live up to nowadays.
Chocolate (2008) – [rate 3.5]
If you watch a kung fu movie that manages to impress and entertain with the same force as something like The Matrix (1999), you have to give it extra credit. More so if it was achieved with nothing but conventional means like good stuntwork, choreography and camera action. Chocolate is all that and a bag of chips.
Quickly introducing the characters and their background, the movie makes good haste to get to the good stuff: kung fu fighting of the kind that riles up the audience and gets them cheering for the main character.
The basic premise of Chocolate is simple: a yakuza hotshot and a Thai woman that is also connected get involved. He is forced out of Taiwan, being yakuza, and she remains, pregnant of their daughter. The daughter turns out to be autistic, which makes her hard to raise, but she turn out to have a real knack for picking up on fighting techniques. Soon, occasions arise where she can put her acquired skills to the test.
Don’t expect a whole lot more from the plot than what I just told you and really, with this kind of movie such trivialities would only get in the way. This is pure, unadulterated, uncut kung fu and it is all good. Some fights are humorous, others gut wrenching and some just plain beautiful. The choreography makes great use of the environment and the stuntwork is amazing (though rather painful as the title roll ‘making of’ shots show).
Not for everyone, but if you like watching a good mock fight, this is it.
11 Minutes Ago (2008) – [rate 3.5]
In the past few years, there have been a number of highly original and ‘realistic’ movies about time travel. Unlike the silly Timecop (1994) and slapstick Back to the Future (1985) series, these movies have been about relatively ordinary people; usually scientists or people that wander into the situation unaware, without special powers or attributes, dealing with a situation in a way that you and I would. Time travel is strange but mundane in movies like Primer (2004) and Timecrimes (2007).
11 minutes is like that and as a movie it is interesting in that it shows the story from the perspective of the time traveler. It has a number of clever restrictions: the time traveler is only shown at his destination, never in his own time. The chronological order is his timeline and unlike many (worse) movies about time travel, he makes mistakes in interpreting the effects, it’s as confusing to him as to you, the viewer.
For unknown (or rather untold) reasons, the stints of time travel have to be restricted to 11 minutes, but why does this man keep coming back to the same party? And the presence of a film crew at this meticulously organized wedding make it entirely believable that everything has been caught on film and allows the main character to interact with the film crew, lending the whole thing credibility.
Many original ideas mesh into a coherent whole, of good length, telling an entertaining – if somewhat soppy – story. The only negative points I would point out are his initial reasons to visit our time and the slightly corny overall motivations of the main character. But none of this should prevent you from watching this excellent time travel story.
100 ft. (2008) – [rate 2.0]
The premise of 100 ft. was good and had me interested because of an interesting angle on a tried and true thriller format: the haunted house. In 100 ft. a recently released convict, played by Famke Jansen, returns to the house where she killed her abusive husband in self-defense. She’s under house arrest and gets an ankle bracelet that makes it impossible for her to leave the house for more than a few minutes without the police showing up.
Adding to the interesting situation is the fact that her husband used to be a cop himself and his former partner is now assigned the case. Her husband may be dead, but as the character puts it herself: he isn’t taking it so well. Haunting ensues and you can pretty much guess what the bulk of the movie looks like.
But though the setting may be original, the setup is good and Famke Jansen portrays a strong, modern woman in a believable way, this movie didn’t work for a number of reasons. First of all, besides the main character, this movie is filled with stereotypical, shallow characters that are all over the place. Her husband’s paranoid partner seems to be ready shoot and kill whoever thinks about breaking the law one moment and is all loving and caring the next.
You can act like there’s no tomorrow and give the best performance of a career, but if the script has your characters make stupid decisions and gives you lousy lines, there’s no saving the movie. This is Famke’s plight. And the special effects are pretty and impressive in some scenes, but corny and needlessly over the top in others.
With a better scenario, better extra’s and another director, this would have had potential, but as it stands, I would only recommend it to the fans of a genre and even then, only to pass the time.
Sleep Dealer (2008) – [rate 4.0]
In Sleep Dealer we are given a sneak peek at a not so distant future. New technology is changing the way people connect to the net, and high-tec unmanned planes are patrolling the air. But unlike many Hollywood scifi flics, this doesn’t result in our entire world being miraculously replaced by a shining, new plastic and aluminium reality. Instead, the new technology meshes with current day architecture, society and culture.
And with that also come current day problems. Migration, access to drinking water, labour outsourcing, privacy in the light of security, Sleep Dealer deals with all of it. It tells the tale of a Mexican man who dreams of the city and, as a result of various events, ends up working in a factory that allows workers to remotely control equipment for heavy labour, a so-called Sleep Dealer.
The atmosphere in Sleep Dealer reminded me somewhat of Code 46, but even more than in that story, I felt the presented reality was entirely believable. Not so much because the technological advances seem more likely, but because it is completely believable that the world of Sleep Dealer would grow out of our own and could do so in only a decade.
The plot has some flaws and the effects sometimes made me too aware that I was looking at something created in computer memory, but all of it was effective in telling a story and as a whole, Sleep Dealer deserves to be recommended to anyone with an interest in the effect technology may have on current day issues.