Film Review: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Also known as: Mission: Impossible 5 (working title), MI5 (informal title)
Release Date: July 23rd, 2015 (Vienna premiere)
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie, Drew Pearce
Based on: Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller
Music by: Joe Kraemer
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris

TC Productions, Bad Robot Productions, Skydance Media, Paramount Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“I can’t protect you, that’s why I need you to leave.” – Ethan Hunt, “That’s not your decision to make, Ethan! I am a field agent, I know the risks! More than that, I am your friend, no matter what I tell the polygraph every week! Now you called me because you needed my help! And you still do! So I am staying! And that is all we are gonna say about that!” – Benji Dunn

Man, I was a fool for quitting this series after the pretty terrible second film. Each movie since then has gotten better and better and frankly, I’m incredibly impressed by these stupendous movies! I shouldn’t have ignored the hype, I should’ve bought in and just enjoyed these on the big screen. Well, thankfully there are two more installments currently being filmed.

Getting into this particular chapter of the franchise, all my favorite surviving members of the series are back and it’s great seeing them pick up where the fourth film left off while also adding in Alec Baldwin and Rebecca Ferguson, who I absolutely fucking loved in this. I’m glad they chose to let her stick around for more films after this one, as she hit it out of the park and became the best female in this series almost immediately. Although, I was curious about Paula Patton’s absence and hope that her character appears at some point again, in the future.

This chapter also establishes a great villain and villain group that our heroes have to face. It’s sort of like Ethan Hunt having to face his own version of James Bond‘s SPECTRE but a lot less hammy and a bit more scary, as these film’s tend to veer more towards realism than the classic SPECTRE stories in the earliest Bond movies.

And while this might easily be brushed off as a rehash of that idea or other similar stories with villainous, secret terrorist groups like Hydra or Cobra, this group feels more plausible in the real world.

As is customary with these awesome flicks, the movie is full of incredible stunts and action sequences. While I think the previous film edges out this one in that regard, this is a slightly better movie, overall. That has a lot to do with the story but also in how this expands the mythos in a cool new way while building up from the franchise’s very strong foundation (excluding M:I-2 of course).

In the end, this was near-fucking-perfect for what it is. It gives me hope for the sixth film, which I still haven’t seen, as well as the two sequels yet to come. If the series maintains its quality beyond this chapter, it may become my favorite franchise of the modern era, post-2000.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Mission: Impossible films.

Film Review: Mad Monkey Kung Fu (1979)

Also known as: Mad Monkey (Germany)
Release Date: October 5th, 1979 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Lau Kar-leung
Written by: Ni Kuang
Music by: Eddie Wang
Cast: Hsiao Ho, Lau Kar-leung, Lo Lieh, Kara Hui, Ching Chu

Shaw Brothers, 116 Minutes

Review:

This was one of my favorite kung fu movies that used to pop up on cable when I was a kid. I’d watch it every time I came across it and my cousins and I would often times try to replicate what we saw in the film.

It’s also one of the pictures that led to us actually taking up martial arts. We wanted to be as cool as the heroes in this film, as well as the heroes in other innovative martial arts flicks like it. Then as the ’80s rolled on, we got more into ninja shit but it all really started with the clever and amusing Shaw Brothers films like this gem.

Watching it now, it all sort of came back to me. Honestly, I barely remembered the movie and a lot of the kung fu pictures of that era sort of blended together in my head. But certain scenes and sequences just triggered that nostalgia bug in my brain.

For what this is, it has aged really well and the film has this cool, youthful energy about it that makes it a lot of fun to watch, even as an adult with back problems that can’t do 1/10th of the martial arts that he thought he could do well as a kid.

As much as I enjoy Lo Lieh’s work, I actually forgot he was in this. It was cool seeing him get to ham it up while also being a total badass.

This is one of those kung fu classics that is really the perfect type of late ’70s/early ’80s drive-in action movie. It’s got just about everything you’d want in a Shaw Brothers film and just a wee bit more.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Shaw Brothers kung fu flicks.

Film Review: Cannonball! (1976)

Also known as: Carquake! (UK)
Release Date: July 6th, 1976
Directed by: Paul Bartel
Written by: Paul Bartel, Donald C. Simpson
Music by: David A. Axelrod
Cast: David Carradine, Bill McKinney, Veronica Hamel, Gerrit Graham, Robert Carradine, Belinda Balaski, Mary Woronov, James Keach, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, Roger Corman, Don Simpson, Martin Scorsese (uncredited), Sylvester Stallone (uncredited)

Cross Country Productions, Harbor Productions, New World Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“I thought this car could beat anything on the road.” – Linda Maxwell, “This car’s a winner.” – Coy ‘Cannonball’ Buckman

A year after Paul Bartel directed the cult classic Death Race 2000, he made a very similar film with a lot of the same core cast members, as well as producer and B-movie legend, Roger Corman.

In this film, take the Death Race 2000 concept and strip away the futuristic sci-fi setting, the slapstick uber violence and the plot to assassinate a corrupt president and you’ve essentially got the same film.

Granted, Cannonball! isn’t as good and I kind of blame that on stripping away the things that made Death Race 2000 so unique. This is still really enjoyable, though, and fans of that more beloved flick will probably dig this one too.

The race car driving hero is still David Carradine and he’s re-joined in the cast by Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel (the director), Sylvester Stallone in an uncredited cameo, as well as some of the other bit players.

Like Death Race, the film follows a cross-country auto race, all the wacky characters involved and all the crazy shenanigans of racers trying to sabotage and outperform one another.

I like a lot of the new additions to the cast like the always great Gerrit Graham, Robert Carradine, Bill McKinney, Belinda Balaski and the inclusion of Dick Miller, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, Roger Corman (the producer), Don Simpson and Martin Scorsese, who is also uncredited for his appearance here.

The action is good, the comedy still works and this film has that unique Paul Bartel charm.

In the end, this isn’t quite a classic but it did help pave the way for all the other movies like it that followed for years to come.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000, as well as other cross-country racing movies of the ’70s and ’80s like the Cannonball Run films, The Gumball Rally and Speed Zone.

Film Review: Clan of the White Lotus (1980)

Also known as: Fists of the White Lotus (alternative title)
Release Date: January 1st, 1980 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Lo Lieh
Written by: Haung Tien
Music by: Eddie Wang
Cast: Lo Lieh, Gordon Liu, Kara Hui, Johnny Wang, Hsiao Ho

Shaw Brothers, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Why worry. He’s not my match at all. To come after us is like seeking death.” – Pai Mei

It’s been awhile since I’ve watched a movie with the Pai Mei character in it. While it may be surprising to some, he is not a Quentin Tarantino creation and has in fact been the villain in several Hong Kong kung fu movies over the years. He’s also based on a legendary historical figure, also referred to as Bak Mei.

Clan of the White Lotus is a pretty cool film that actually features Pai Mei quite a lot. The displays of his skill and power in this are really cool and creative and you get to see him fight a lot, which is always badass.

That being said, the fight choreography in this film is stellar and impressive, even for kung-fucianados. I love all the big battles between Pai Mei and the hero but all the other core characters pull their weight. I especially liked the girl in this, Kara Hui. Even her early training sequence was excellent.

A unique thing about this film is that it exists as both a sequel and sort of remake of the 1977 film, Executioners From Shaolin. The films feature the same main players and the Pai Mei character. Some may find it interesting that Gordon Liu, who later played Pai Mei in Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, plays the hero that must conquer him in this one.

Liu’s hero character gets his ass kicked early on by Pai Mei but then he studies the “embroidery technique” from Kara Hui’s character, which gives him the edge in the final battle. Essentially, this technique works like the antithesis to acupuncture. Here, instead of using needles to heal the body, Liu’s carefully placed needles break down Pai Mei to where he can be defeated. It’s an interesting and neat concept even if it’s a bit bonkers.

This is a fast paced, energetic and enjoyable kung fu flick. I can’t call it a classic of the genre but for fans of Tarantino that like to look at some of the film’s that have inspired his work, this is worth checking out.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Shaw Brothers kung fu films of the ’70s and ’80s, especially those featuring the Pai Mei character.

Film Review: The Mighty Peking Man (1977)

Also known as: Goliathon (alternative title)
Release Date: August 11th, 1977 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Ho Meng-hua
Written by: Kuang Ni
Music by: Frankie Chan
Cast: Danny Lee, Evelyne Kraft, Hsiao Yao, Ku Feng, Lin Wei-tu

Shaw Brothers, Shochiku, 90 Minutes

Review:

What a delightfully bonkers, energetic and fun movie!

For a Hong Kong ripoff of King Kong, this is so fucking enjoyable and it honestly comes across more like a Toho styled kaiju flick, especially their two King Kong ones from the ’60s.

The overall plot is about the same as King Kong, however, the pretty girl in this film has lived on the island with the giant gorilla for most of her life already. When she was a small child an aircraft crashed on the island and she was the only survivor. The gorilla found her, took a liking to her and raised her into a Jungle goddess. Basically, she’s like Tarzan but a woman… and raised by one very large ape.

Anyway, some rich doucher ends up taking the giant gorilla back to Hong Kong to turn him into a carnival act. But once the doucher attempts to rape the girl, the gorilla breaks free and starts trashing the city.

There is also a male human hero in this, played by Danny Lee. He’s a cool and likable guy that falls in love with the girl while also trying to save her from the danger the government brings down on her gorilla father figure.

While Shaw Brothers was mostly known for their martial arts movies, they really did the kaiju genre well and honestly, I wish that there were more of these. Hell, Roger Ebert gave this film three out of four stars and referred to it as his “favorite Hong Kong monster film”.

I was impressed by the effects of the film and the miniatures especially looked good. If I’m being honest, the craftsmanship and skill was pretty close to Eiji Tsuburaya’s level when he was making magic in those Toho Godzilla movies.

Ultimately, this is a picture that is much better than I could have hoped for. While I do like a lot of non-Japanese kaiju flicks, this is certainly one of the better ones and it should have spawned a Hong Kong era in giant monster movies.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other kaiju pictures from outside of Japan, as well as the King Kong films, especially the 1976 remake and the Toho ones.

Film Review: The Way of the Dragon (1972)

Also known as: Fury of the Dragon (European English title), Revenge of the Dragon (US cable TV title), Return of the Dragon (US dubbed version)
Release Date: June 1st, 1972 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Bruce Lee
Written by: Bruce Lee
Music by: Joseph Ko
Cast: Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, Paul Wei, Tony Liu, Unicorn Chan, Chuck Norris, Malisa Longo, Robert Wall, Hwang In-shik, Jon T. Benn 

Golden Harvest Films, Concord Productions, 99 Minutes, 133 Minutes (extended cut), 86 Minutes (censored cut)

Review:

“Let him know. If I ever see him here again… he won’t leave alive!” – Tang Lung

While this is my least favorite of the trilogy of martial arts films that Bruce Lee made before the legendary Enter the Dragon, this one does have the best finale of the three, as it pits Bruce Lee against Chuck Norris and then shows him kick the f’n shit out a bunch of gangsters.

The story takes place in what was modern 1970s Rome. Lee and his family’s restaurant is terrorized by local mafiosos, so he takes it upon himself to beat them all to a bloody pulp for 99 minutes.

The plot is fairly weak and generic but I like most of the characters from Lee’s family to the evil mob boss to Chuck Norris’ Colt.

If one were to pull the action sequences from this film, it’d be dreadfully dull. However, the action and Lee’s presence keep the film afloat.

In fact, the fight choreography in this movie is stunning but that should probably go without saying, as Lee never disappointed in that regard. Adding Chuck Norris to the mix only maximizes the awesome action sequences.

Ultimately, this is a pretty fun movie to watch for its high points but it still pales in comparison to Enter the Dragon, which followed.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Bruce Lee martial arts films of the ’70s.

Vids I Dig 179: Defunctland: The Failure of Hong Kong Disneyland

From Defunctland’s YouTube description: In the Season Two finale of Defunctland, Kevin ends his Michael Eisner saga with his final years at the company, overseeing the development, construction, and opening of Disney’s smallest and worst-performing Magic Kingdom, Hong Kong Disneyland.

Film Review: Return of the 18 Bronzemen (1976)

Also known as: Yong zheng da po shi ba tong ren (original Chinese title), The 18 Bronzemen Part 2, 18 Bronzemen II
Release Date: August 14th, 1976 (Taiwan)
Directed by: Joseph Kuo
Written by: Chien Chin, Ting Hung Kuo, Han Meng
Music by: Fu Liang Chou
Cast: Lingfeng Shangguan, Peng Tien

Karlot, Kuo Hwa Motion Pictures Co., Taiwan Li Cheng Film Company, 93 Minutes

Review:

I don’t know if the dubbed version of this that I watched missed a lot of things in its translation but the film was hard to follow from a narrative standpoint.

The main character is a prince. He decides to go through the trials in the temple where all the Bronzemen from the first film are. There is some sort of conflict and the prince isn’t supposed to become a supreme warrior under the monks that control the Bronzemen but he hides his identity and trains to be the biggest badass in China anyway.

There were a few decent fights early in the film but the first half of this picture was really slow and incredibly boring. The action bits helped to break that up but it was a real drag to get through.

However, at about the midway point, things really pick up. The back half of this movie is much better. Things shift into high gear and our prince hero goes through each room and corridor, fighting Bronzemen and trying to survive their other trials.

The physicality in this movie is great, the fighting is above average and the choreography was nice.

Unfortunately, it is bogged down by being too incoherent and for the first half being literal Ambien.

If you do have the urge to watch this, you probably just want to start at about 45 minutes in. I hate saying that but I can’t recommend the first half. The second half is a different film where everything you want in a ’70s kung fu movie is all crammed into half of the normal running time.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: Its predecessor, The 18 Bronzemen, as well as other mystical Hong Kong martial arts films of the era.

 

Film Review: Robo Vampire (1988)

Also known as: Robovamp (Spain)
Release Date: 1988 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Godfrey Ho (as Joe Livingstone)
Written by: William Palmer
Music by: Ian Wilson
Cast: Robin Mackay, Nian Watts, Harry Myles, Joe Browne

Filmark International Ltd., 90 Minutes

Review:

“Now that Tom is dead, I want to use his body to create an android-like robot. I’d appreciate you approving my application.” – Soldier #1

This is easily one of the worst things I have ever seen, hands f’n down. This makes all of those other Godfrey Ho movies look like Fellini films.

To be honest, I don’t even know what the hell I watched. This is a Godfrey Ho movie but his pictures are much better when he just throws a bunch of ninjas at each other. This saw a fake Robocop take on vampires dressed in ornate Chinese garb that bounce around like pogo sticks with their arms outstretched. I’m not shitting you. The threat is bouncy zombie dudes dressed like a maître d’ at a super fancy Chinese restaurant.

The fake Robocop suit is so damn bad that it made my head want to explode with confusion and bewilderment. But not a good kind of bewilderment. I think I made a better Robocop suit out of tin foil and duct tape when I was nine years old.

This pile of donkey dung was terrible in every way. The acting was atrocious. The dubbing was deplorable. The directing was reprehensible. The cinematography was nonexistent. The music was barf inspiring. Nothing about this worked in any way whatsoever.

You know how a bad movie can be sort of good because it is so bad? Well, this is so bad it made me want to take a rotary sander to my face just to hide my eyes from it.

One time when I was in third grade, I did what I thought was a fart while I was in class. I got a little surprise though… it was more than a fart. It was a fart with a wet, physical friend. That experience was less horrifying than this one.

So let me use that analogy to segue into what we all know must happen. Robo Vampire absolutely must be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Fuck you, asshole! I am not analyzing this cinematic calamity! – Sincerely, the Cinespiria Shitometer”

Rating: 0.25/10
Pairs well with: Bowel cancer.

Film Review: John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Release Date: January 30th, 2017 (Arclight Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Music by: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Claudia Gerini, Lance Reddick, Bridget Moynahan, David Patrick Kelly, Franco Nero, Peter Serafinowicz

Thunder Road Pictures, 87Eleven, Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate, 122 Minutes

Review:

“John Wick, you’re not very good at retiring.” – Bowery King, “I’m working on it.” – John Wick

Having finally watched the first John Wick, I figured that I would check out the sequel, as it is available on HBO but is soon expiring.

This film is longer than its predecessor and it is also packed with a lot more action and I thought that those sequences were orchestrated really well. Although, I didn’t like this film’s story as much and it seemed forced in parts and disjointed in others.

Still, this was enjoyable and a good followup to the first chapter.

Here, John Wick is pulled back into his life as an assassin. He is called upon by an old acquaintance that he owes a favor to. Wick refuses, has his home destroyed and finally decides to do the favor. However, like a typical film-noir, the plot has a lot of swerves, surprises and is hard to predict. While this approach worked well in the first film, I found this one a bit harder to follow. Plus, they introduce new characters left and right and the amount of people in the film is a bit overwhelming and bogs down the flow of the narrative. But I guess when a film needs to get by on murdering the crap out of everyone and everything, you’ve got to throw characters at John Wick in order to keep piling up the bodies.

Also, the dog isn’t murdered in this movie, which is a plus.

While the first film did well and got the sequel treatment, this film, I don’t know if I have much interest in watching more of these. I like Keanu, I like the action but there isn’t much else to sink my teeth into that satisfies my palate.

Yes, this is well made from a visual, action and stunt standpoint. But I need more than that from a film. I don’t know, I admire what I see in these pictures but I just don’t feel connected to them. What John Wick goes through to setup these films is horrible but it is just backstory without any sort of real emotional context. Maybe it’s because you never really get to spend time with Wick and his wife, other than a quick sort of montage in the first film. I’m not saying that this needs to be The Notebook but I feel like they needed to show a their deep connection to really give Wick’s loss some weight. And by the time you get to this second film, the loss of his wife and dog are mentioned but the gravity of the situation is lost.

I would still probably check out the eventual John Wick 3 but I’ll go into it without any expectations other than anticipating solid action sequences and nice cinematography. Which is fine. I just feel like these movies had the opportunity to be so much better.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: John Wick, as well as Atomic BlondePunisher: War Zone and Death Wish 3, which still has the best balls out grand finale in motion picture history. For some old school pictures with similar themes and visual flair: Tokyo Drifter and Le Samouraï.