I’m the Baddest Man Alive

I dated a man in college who happened to be an enormous fan of the kung fu genre.  You know the films – Supercop, Mr. Nice Guy, Who Am I? – the kind of marital arts movies that combined the graphic violence with humor and emotion, that tried to add plot amidst the fighting.  Before I’d met that guy, I hadn’t seen Jackie Chan in anything other than Rush Hour.  If it hadn’t been for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I’d have had no clue who Michelle Yeoh was.  But that relationship, while in itself not entirely worthwhile, gave me an appreciation for a genre of film I’d previously been ignorant of and in which I had little, if any, interest.  Even now, I have to admit I haven’t seen more than a few kung fu films made before the ’90s and I am by no means a connoisseur of the genre.  But I can recognize good from bad and for those of you who have interest, The Man With The Iron Fists is some wicked good fun.

It comes to us from Rza, the leader of the Wu Tang Clan, who co-wrote the screenplay with Eli Roth, both directed and starred in it, and wrote the music for its soundtrack.  Yes, this film is a project near and dear to his heart and after watching the first few minutes alone, it is abundantly clear that Rza, unlike myself, harbors a deep and passionate love for this genre.  The attention to detail from the costumes to the set design, the weaponry and artfully choreographed fighting to all the bloody carnage, is testament to Rza’s lifelong love of a genre of film that has fallen out of style.  His flick, his dotingly cared-for baby, is nothing short of an homage.

Which isn’t to say that it’s perfect.  The plot revolves around a nameless blacksmith (Rza) who begrudgingly makes weapons for the Lion Clan, a band of violent offenders led by Gold Lion.  Gold Lion is murdered by his second-in-command, Silver Lion (Byron Mann), a remorseless, power-hungry brute after the cache of gold that has also drawn the attention of the local brothel’s Madame Blossom (Lucy Liu), the rivals Wolf Clan and Gemini Clan and a rogue British soldier, Jack Knife (Russell Crowe).  Rza’s blacksmith wants nothing more than to save enough money to flee the violent village with his love, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), one of Madame Blossom’s coveted girls.  Mann and Liu give fun, engaged performances but the real stand out here comes at the more than capable hands of Russell Crowe.  Crowe’s Jack Knife has an insatiable sexual appetite matched only by his appetite for destruction.  He is a joy to watch – seemingly having as much fun playing the role as you will watching him at it.  His witty dialogue is delivered with as much ease as his brutality towards his opponents, his confidence in the bedroom while delighting nearly all of Madame Blossom’s girls mirrors that which he displays while gutting his enemies.  I honestly can’t remember having seen Russell Crowe this mesmerizing to watch since 2000’s Gladiator.

At the complete opposite end of the acting spectrum, you’ll find Rza, who couldn’t muster one shred of emotion at any point during his performance.  His talents as a musician, writer and director far exceed any he may have as an actor.  His is the weakest performance in the film.  At times, it does take away from the story, giving moments that should be intensely emotional an empty, hollow feel impossible to ignore.  I couldn’t help but think that if a more capable actor had played Rza’s blacksmith, the film could have been much more than simply entertaining.

All in all, I recommend The Man With The Iron Fists.  It is a fast-paced, chaotic, delightfully violent film full of mayhem and whip-smart dialogue.  It may be a bit shallow, its attempts at the deeply emotional falling flat due mostly to Rza’s wooden performance, but otherwise enjoyable.  What it lacks in depth, it more than makes up for in the talent of the supporting cast, the killer soundtrack and the spectacular fighting.

~Nikki

Just Another Random Monday

The Ricky Gervais Show is over.  Forever.  Probably.  This is what Ricky said about it recently on his blog:

“So I don’t think I’m going to do a fourth series of The Ricky Gervais Show.  39 episodes is more than I’ve ever done for any other project (Yes. I know that’s pathetic but trust me.) and I don’t want to push my luck.  I think the show has steadily grown in both quality and popularity and I’d love to go out on a high so to speak.  My worry is that as we’ve used up all the best material we’d have to record hours and hours of new stuff and it might ruin the naivety of the whole thing.  Never say never though, like The Office.  But certainly for now.”

Season 3 was just as good as 1 and 2, in my opinion.  I watched the final episode (ever?…*weeps*) the other night and laughed out loud a number of times.  I know the world at large watches for Karl, to hear the absurdities that come out of his mouth, but it’s Stephen who always cracks me up.

Here’s a glimpse of Ricky’s upcoming project with Jerry Seinfeld, something about comedians and coffee…  So, they’re just going out for coffee?  Hmm… hope there’s more to it than that.

Just saw the teaser for the next season of SOA.  Check it:

Mad kudos to whoever does the music for that show.  They hit the nail on the head every fucking time.

Finally finished Homeland, that intoxicatingly smart Showtime series with Claire Danes and Damian Lewis.  Season 2 kicks off Sept. 30.  I don’t know if all the new episodes have been taped already but hopefully Danes’ pregnancy won’t interfere.  Congrats to her, of course, but you know I’m selfishly only worried about how it’ll affect me.  In my defense, that show would not work without her.  Everyone involved is great but Danes is the crux.  She is insanely talented and engaging to watch.  Plus, she’s beautiful without too much make-up or surgery or anything and thin in a natural way, not like she works out 10 hours a day or starves herself.  And she always takes really smart, strong roles.  So, yeah, she’s the shit.

What with the mad success of the British series Sherlock, CBS has decided to try a hand at its own re-vamp of the classic sleuth stories.  Johnny Lee Miller is set to play Sherlock and Watson will be played by Lucy Liu in Elementary, coming this fall.  Yeah, you read that right.  It’s Dr. Joan Watson in this latest version and the investigative pair will live and work in NYC.  Not sure if either will attempt an English accent but I have to admit, with a female Watson and Sherlock anywhere but London, it doesn’t much matter.  As much as I’d like to keep an open mind, I already feel fairly certain that this will likely suck.

Sherlock, thankfully, is set to have at least one more season, though it probably won’t air for another 6 to 8 months.  No worries… it’s totally worth waiting for. :)

~Nikki

Those Cats Were Fast As Lightning

Po, the schlubby, lovable, kung fu-fighting panda, returns to help kick off the summer movie season in the highly enjoyable Kung Fu Panda 2.  As far as sequels go (and Dreamworks looooves sequels), this was a solid effort.

First off, the animation is stunning.  Just astonishingly beautiful.  Vibrant colors, sweeping landscapes, and tons of fireworks.  I love fireworks.  I chose NOT to see this in 3D, which I started to regret about 3/4 of the way through.  I hadn’t heard one way or the other if it was worth it or not, and I always err on the side of NO 3D when it comes to blockbusters.  That being said, it might have been a mistake.

The plot centers around the maniac outcast Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) trying to take over China with his powerful new weapon, a cannon.  Surely kung fu is no match for massive gunfire, or is it?  (What do you think?)  Along the way, the fact that Po is a panda and his father is a GOOSE is addressed, and you find out where he really comes from.  You better brace yourself though, it is really, REALLY SAD (Baby Po is the cutest THING EVER).  No surprise then, that this one had more emotional heft than the first.

The cast is capable enough.  I don’t find the vocal talents of the “Furious Five” – Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, David Cross, and Seth Rogen (yucky voice) to be anything so remarkable that you couldn’t fill those roles with somebody else, however some characters are cast perfectly.  Jack Black’s manic goofball energy is well suited to an animated persona, especially somebody like Po.  Several of the more minor characters had voices that worked very well with their role – Dennis Haysbert as Master Ox, James Hong as Mr. Ping, Po’s father.  The award for most exciting, expressive, and generally awesome voice goes to  Gary Oldman (can he GET any cooler?), who is delicious as the evil villain, a peacock who has been denied his birthright and shunned by his parents.  His voice conveys unhinged regal authority with expert ease.

The score by John Powell (who did the killer score for How To Train Your Dragon) and Hans Zimmer (who has done amazing scores for shitloads of amazing movies) is lovely.  And scores matter.  (Future post to come)

I enjoyed this about as much as the original, although there’s a little less comedy this time around.  Who knows what the future holds for the third one (that’s right) because there’s a shocking final scene that pretty much guarantees a trilogy.  With a killer setup, more gorgeous animation, and (hopefully) another enchanting story, Dreamworks can breathe a sigh of relief, because I’m already looking forward to buying that ticket.

~Annie