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Monthly Archives: October 2009

Ten Words or Less Review: Coens have new set of clothes, same ugly personality.

I’m convinced more than ever that “No Country for Old Men” was a fluke.  A marriage of literary material and artisticly lost filmmakers that worked out well for all parties involved.  Left to their own devices the Coens continue to revel in easy cynicism aimed at targets of their own creation that deserve little more than the scorn and misfortune they receive.  Many have stated that “A Serious Man” is a more mature film for the Coens.  That it’s a more deeply felt thing for them personally as they’re tapping their own childhood for a setting and their Jewish faith for inspiration.  I feel this assessment is crap.  I see a film that expresses the same type of loathing and cynicism of people that their worst work can lapse into.  It’s become a tell tale sign of the laziness which continues to mare their films.

“A Serious Man” is about the neebish but decent Lawrence , dutifully portrayed by newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg, his unlikable wife, his unlikable children and all the horrible things that happen to him for reasons he can’t fathom.  Professional uncertainty begins to linger, his wife declares her intention to leave him for another man, his children ignore him at all turns, an employee of the Columbia House Record Club hounds him for enrollment payment he has no knowledge of.  It is the story of Job set in the late 1960’s around an unnamed Minnesota suburb.  It could be compelling and it could be touching, even devastating, but never for a minute do I think creators Joel and Ethan Coen feel Lawrence doesn’t deserves this fate.

Lawrence is “Fargo’s” Jerry Lundergard reincarnated as a less devious soul.  When his life unravels, becoming a field crowded with landmines, his reaction is always one of befuddlement and stupefaction as they explode one by one.  He’s always looking to others for answers.  His inability to act is his sin.  Also, there’s nothing to like or take note of about Lawrence, so feeling sympathy for his plight fails.  He’s a character made contemptible through blindness.  The fact that he’s so oblivious to his family’s rottenness says something about him.  Were he a poor man surrounded by decent people this type of scenario could have worked, but “A Serious Man” populates itself with one awful soul after another.  In what has become a staple of the Coens work, “No Country” excluded, most of the characters wandering through this tale are petty things worthy of scorn and rebuke.  Everyone is self-serving and annoying to various degrees.  How can the story about the taking away of everything a man has work when everything he has is lousy?

While divorced from moments of higher lunacy which typify many of their films, “A Serious Man” still retains abundant traces of the Coens various trademarks.  The inhabitants of this picture exist in that skewered place where surrealism hides in plain sight.  Everyone lives a life of unsettling peculiarity which is at constant odds with the timid nature of Lawrence, always keeping him on edge.  Someone at some point is going to die quickly and unpleasantly.  What the film is hoping to accomplish as an overtly religious parable is anyone’s guess.  As the whole thing feels like a cynical put on, taking anything it says seriously feels like folly.  The Coens simply reinterpret the story of Job as an exercise in sadomasochism.  They’ve also once again cut their own story off at the knees.  While it’s clear what destiny has bestowed upon poor Lawrence and his family, the film refuses to linger.  The Coens shut off the projector and walk away, not wanting to endure any kind of finale hardships.  These curt endings to their films are beginning to play like cruel gimmicks.  As if showing contempt for the characters in the film weren’t enough, they have to take one last jab at the audience.  Denying us a real resolution as a final ‘screw you’ has become their version of “The End.”

The Coens have grown to loathe the world and everyone in it and their movies do little anymore but express this loathing.  “A Serious Man” is just one more expression of their uselessly malcontent point of view.  After “No Country” I had hoped that the Coens would find a new place to go, but the only place they’ve gone to is one of internal selfishness.  For all that’s been said about it, “A Serious Man” is no more than one more ironic farce that they’re pulling on the audience.  Instead of applying their increasingly bleak craft on a more routine genre, they’ve turned their eye on the religious parable.  And though the setting may be personal for them, the story is just one more way for them to express how much they detest people.  In this case they literally are casting themselves as an Old Testament God.  They create a religious story populated with people they feel no sympathy for, and then set about destroying their creations with glee.

Ten Word or Less Review: Repetitious crime movie.  Why the cult status?

“The Boondock Saints” is the real deal when it comes to cult love.  It failed miserably upon its original release.  It’s been seen by only those who know to seek it out.  It’s found its small success entirely on DVD.  Director Troy Duffy only recently got to make another movie after ten years off, “Boondock Saints II”.  Those who love it swear by it without question.  You can walk into Hot Topic and buy a “Boondock” shirt.  Movies like this usually have a catch to warrant the fandom; great dialogue, interesting characters, a wildly unpredictable plot or aesthetic.  “The Boondock Saints” has almost none of these qualities.  Remove a scenery chewing Willem Dafoe as an aggressive, perceptive, homosexual FBI agent and “Saints” would be left with nothing but two poorly defined Irish hooligans who decide to take up killing mobsters for 100 minutes.  So, why the love for it?

The gun play is kind of stylish but the nature of the movie is so repetitive as to be maddening.  Irish guys kill mobsters, FBI agent figures out how it went down.  Them saying a prayer for the dead after they kill their victims is as close to character development as it gets.  When it takes on the air of a movie advocating, self-righteous vengeance against criminals, things become completely dunderheaded.   I’m so completely unimpressed and indifferent to it I don’t even want to write anything else about it.  It’s boring and silly and that’s that.

P.S.  I watched the Director’s Cut of the film.  Not sure how much different it is from previous versions.

Ten Word or Less Review: Very misguided, very unfunny, nearly unwatchable movie.

Twenty minutes into Jody Hill’s “Observe and Report” Ray Liotta’s detective character turns to Seth Rogen’s mall cop and berates him.  He eviscerates him.  He calls him out for being a fool, a moron, an all around imbecilic retard and every word he says is true. The only characteristics Ronnie has demonstrated so far are a juvenile sense of authority and an even lesser since of insight and depth.  He’s the kind of idiot that only exists in movies.  Seth Rogen’s Ronnie is so completely oblivious to his own wrong doings that any and all attempt to sympathize with the character is lost immediately.  And yet, our sympathies are supposed to lay with this sick, unimaginable, idiot.  “Observe and Report” may be one of the most bullshit comedies made in ages.  If it had simply been a Blartesque bit of foolery about a dimwit working as a mall cop, the poor judgment on display would’ve been much more run of the mill.  But as “Report” actually thinks it has something valid to express and a unique way to go about it, that makes it’s wretchedness a far more notable thing.

Without question the most dubious aspect about “Report” is Rogen’s Ronnie character and more specifically its attempt to justify/explain his behavior by giving him bi-polar disorder.  Ronnie never feels like a real character regardless.  His acts of stupidity are so grating and out of line that his destiny as some kind of warped anti-hero seems misbegotten from the start.  Giving him a genuine mental handicap that millions of people suffer from only serves to turn his incredible, blinding idiocy into incredibly offensive idiocy.  The movie wants us to laugh at Ronnie as he flirts with sociopathic behavior.  It sets up easy targets for Ronnie to terrorize and lash out at, ala “Falling Down”, but his actions are still those of someone not well and this keeps killing what little comedy could’ve existed.  We’re supposed to laugh at Ronnie as he extracts vengeance on cartoonish fools who deserve a slap, but how can we laugh at this when we know his victims are shallow constructs and his actions driven by a diseased mind?  It’s all about one step away from making a movie consisting of tripping handicapped kids on crutches.

Director Hill should’ve watched a movie like “Bad Santa” a little more closely.  In that black comedy, which this one apes on more than a few occasions, Billy Bob Thornton’s antics are often driven because he’s drunk, but never does the movie ask us to laugh at his alcoholism.  It very often bemoans it, acknowledging the repulsive things he does with a clear eye.  And more importantly, Thornton’s character wasn’t blatantly stupid or blind to his handicap.  He knew he was a drunk and he dealt with it.  “Report” doesn’t have this kind of clarity.  It only wants us to laugh as Ronnie continues to horrify the audience and ignore why he does what he does.

Not helping matters at all is a cast rounded out with characters who are all about as bad as Ronnie.  His friends are all as dull as he is, stock morons that could only exist in movies like this.  The girl he obsesses over, Anna Faris, is an awful, superficial mall whore.  His mother is an unapologetic, fall down drunk.  Though it’s a diseased movie, it never allows anything like a genuine reality to encroach.  A film with scope and ambition would’ve eventually included a real perspective or emotion.  Something or someone to pop Ronnie’s bubble, clue him into how warped he is and bring the whole thing down to a place we could buy into.  The fact that it goes so far as to ultimately reward Ronnie’s grotesque behavior is all the more confounding.

“Observe and Report” was put out as a comedy of empowerment.  A tale about a poor slob who had all he could stand and decided to take a stand against the dregs he patrols.  Travis Bickle in a mall as some lazily labeled it.  What they failed to tell you is that the man taking a stand is very much in need of medication.  That the man is a character reeking of unacknowledged failure and in need of therapy.  That to turn a situation like this into comedy was as doomed to fail as it would’ve been to turn “Taxi Driver” into slapstick.  The movie straddles a place of abysmal, two dimensional comedy and thinks that by mixing in some dangerous bits of mental unbalance that the results will somehow shock and amuse.  The only thing that shocks is how consistently awful and non-amusing it all turns out.

Ten Words or Less Review: Decent 80’s sci-fi that apes its betters, works anyway.

The fact that “The Hidden” is watchable is a pretty amazing thing.  On paper it’s little more than a low-budget 80’s sci-fi film that transparently apes Cameron’s original “Terminator” film and combines it with Carpenter’s 1982 remake of “The Thing.”  An alien is loose in L.A. on a crime spree of robbery and murder, stealing European cars, killing indiscriminately, all the while jamming any kind of metal music it can get its hands on.  Every time the body it’s in gets shot to pieces, which is frequent, it jumps into another host and starts the fun all over.   A rugged L.A. cop (Michael Nouri) and an FBI agent (Kyle MacLachlan) team up to hunt down this evil alien dickweed.

Like I said, on paper it sounds atrocious.  The odd thing is that after 22 years, “The Hidden” still hasn’t quite fallen off the radar of nerd awareness.  It still warrants the occasional mention on movie sites and the reason is that while marred by unoriginality, it’s made with an ample amount of skill, has a screenplay that isn’t terrible but mostly gets by on the strength of its agreeable leads.  Nouri does the overworked, skeptical cop thing pretty well, but of more interest is Kyle MacLachlan.  His peculiar FBI agent was only his third film, after “Dune” and “Blue Velvet”, and it seems to have served as his model for the work he did in “Twin Peaks.”  Its strong performances in dumb material that often make the dumb material work.  The film also avoids being too ambitious with its special effects.  Very often films like this can run into a brick wall as they reach for something they can’t achieve.  “Hidden” doesn’t try complex alien effects or shots of space ships falling to Earth and is probably better for it.

“The Hidden” has nice touches that make it a little bit better than the exploitation crap it was probably meant to be.  The part about the alien that loves rock is the best of them.  It’s probably never been anybodies favorite movie and I doubt an elaborate DVD special edition will ever materialize, but it works for what it is.  As someone who has suffered through some very awful retro, sci-fi pieces of late, “The Hidden” was a breeze to watch.

P.S. As marginal or awful as these 70’s and 80’s sci-fi movies can be, they usually had better posters.  Like the one above.

Ten Words of LessReview – Total enigma of a movie, but pretty to look at.

Cryptic and difficult to understand at most points “Last Year at Marienbad” is a surreal film experience which takes place at a hotel which straddles some kind of purgatory-like otherworld.  Filmed with a deeply mysterious black and white style, director Alain Renais obsesses over lavish settings of this haunting palace.  The opulence is unending, all of which is obsessively poured over in the opening by a narrator who seems to run on a loop, forever enamored with the environment which imprisons these people.  There is no end to the striking visuals as they pile up onto each other like a wonderful art project thrust up to the screen.  But as the images continue to mount, the meaning of what’s transpiring becomes less and less clear, eventually leaving us out in the cold looking for an answer that doesn’t exist.

The crux of the story involves a man attempting to reconnect to a woman whom he’s positive he had an affair with the previous year.  Despite the numerous details, his knowledge of events and recounting of their emotions, she cannot remember ever meeting him.  The time jumping, juxtaposed structure creates the sensation of multiple places and times all crashing into one another.  The viewer is lead to believe that he may be correct in his assertions, but she cannot connect the dots to him and their past.  An ominous husband character lurks in the shadows playing games with people he always wins.  People freeze in place like statues.  It all adds up to a film which questions reality and memory but doesn’t dangle many answers.

“Marienbad” takes on the aura of the art contained within the bizarre hotel.  Like the gorgeous classical paintings and statues, everyone inside has been transfixed to one spot from which they can’t leave.  They are there to be analyzed and thought about, but the ultimate meaning of it is up to the viewer.  The whole film feels like this by extension.  Are these people ghosts?  Is everyone dreaming?  Are they anything?  David Lynch could probably explain it all.  This ambiguity is both a blessing and a curse.  While the lack of traditional narrative and bold visuals marry together for a unique experience, there’s no right answer to any of it.  With the door open for the film to mean anything, it’s left with a faintly damning question, does it mean anything at all?  As odd, classic European art films go, “Last Year at Marienbad” is one of the most singularly unique ones viewers will find.  Its enigmatic nature will engross some but frustrate others.  This viewer found it to be a little bit of both.

Ten Word or Less Review: Crap.  I only needed one word.

Genre film fans who adore 70’s and 80’s offbeat B-movies are a hard lot to trust.  Sometimes they worship genuinely unique creations with unappreciated merits and their fandom is more than deserved.  Other times they tout movies of questionable quality and merit which make them seem over eager to grab onto material under the radar in an attempt to be different.  And then sometimes it seems their eyes are poked out as they waste time building up movies like “Q: The Winged Serpent.”

I have no desire to waste a lot of space on this.  I’ve consistently heard about this film for years and it turns out to be nothing more than lame ass monster movie with lame ass special effects and lame ass everything else.  Why some pillars of movie advocacy continue to tout it is baffling.  Fans of monster movies will be unimpressed with the brief, awful shots of the stop motion creature.  Fans of legendary bad asses David Carradine and Richard Roundtree will find little in the way of bad assery on their part.  Besides the poster there’s really nothing to recommend.  This movie sucks.

Ten Words or Less Review: Honest and touching movie about childhood, maybe not for children.

Movies for children and movies about children can be wholly different creations. Movies for children usually run the gamut from cute adventures about cats and dogs to hiding aliens in the basement. These stories are often simple, their morals straightforward, their visuals bright and their intentions limited in nature. They entertain and distract young minds and are then forgotten. Movies about kids, a rare breed, can be much more complex and unpleasant. They can be difficult and unwieldy things because the adults making them have long forgotten what it is to be a child.  Hollywood has a very thin resume when it comes to making believable movies about kids.  “Where the Wild Things Are” is a movie being touted as an experience for kids but is very much about them, and the experience of watching it for a youngster would by my estimation be a strange and possibly unsettling experience.  It’s a film rooted in the moody atmosphere of a child who has intense emotions, lashes out at others and doesn’t yet know why he does so.  So in that respect it’s about most children.  The fact that’s it’s inhabited with a group of creatures who share his tempestuous emotions only serves to make things more difficult for younger viewers, and probably older ones too.

Many people will probably attend “Where the Wild Things Are” expecting a harmless story about a pesky child running around with the monster friends of his imagination who then goes home for soup.  Such is the nature of Maurice Sendak’s original story.  It shouldn’t take long for viewers long to see that director Spike Jonze and company are unfolding a creature of a deeper nature.  The very first thing “Wild Things” shows us is protagonist Max, played by Max Records, running through his house in his wolf costume chasing his dog while he hisses and screams uncontrollably.  He’s a kid completely out of control.  This opening moment tells us a lot about who Max is.  As we see more about Max we uncover a very lonely boy who is growing out being the center of attention.  His father is absent, his older sister doesn’t want to play with him anymore, his mother loves him but has priorities besides his every waking need.  Max doesn’t know how to handle these deficiencies of attention and like so many kids; he can become an unpleasant creature easily bent out of shape.  After an intense outburst at his mother, he bites her, Max runs off and jumps in a small boat and makes off for the land of the Wild Things.  The movie wisely avoids any explanations as to why and how he gets there. There he finds the mysterious collection of the creatures who seem a lot like him.

Max’s adventure is not an average one.  Max and the Wild Things do what all kids like to do, play, rough house, build forts, an especially large fort, generally wreck havoc and test each other emotionally.  There is no real plot or mission to accomplish or fulfill.  Max builds an especially strong relationship with Carol, voiced with a great innocence by James Gandolfini.  Carol is Max’s most direct extension on an emotional level.  Carol wants things to stay the same, have his friends near an to feel important.  When these qualities are threatened, like when his best friend KW makes new friends, he can’t help but to lash out in anger, hurting whoever he wants, just like Max.  That’s likely when “Wild Things” could send more sensitive kids into a tizzy.  Though they are beautiful to look at, the fact that these are monsters is not lost on the film.  They can look scary and intimidating and it doesn’t take much imagination to see small kids being terrified at some of the more intense actions.  When Carol losses his temper and starts to chase Max, a genuine sense of danger is achieved.

The kind of genuine, childlike relationship that’s prevalent through out “Wild Things” makes it much more than average kids fare.  All of the creatures, despite their initially fearsome appearance, are misfit children themselves.  They crown Max their king because he promises to make all their loneliness go away.  That is a unique characteristic for a movie aimed at kids to acknowledge.  Childhood in this film isn’t just beauty, growth and synchronized simplicity.  Childhood here is a difficult and unpleasant thing.  It has moments of pure joy and creativity that can never be touched again after it’s gone, but there is a downside to all of it and that’s something most movies don’t like to acknowledge.  When Max leaves the island he doesn’t get a warm, tearful embrace with cheers, but a sad send off, his friend Carol timidly waving goodbye as he sails away.  It’s a powerful reminder that sometimes we have to leave behind people for hard reasons and that we won’t hoop, holler and cheer when we leave them.

The Wild Things themselves are a magnificent creation.  Amazing life-sized suits from the Jim Henson people are accentuated with CGI faces which are perfectly blended into the physical fur around them.  Instead of inhabiting a world of CGI behemoths, which in film often struggle to look and feel significant, we’re given wonderful representations of these well known beasts which look completely believable at all times.  And instead of lathering the adventure in bright lights and straight ahead cinematography, Jonze chooses a more subdued look.  This land of the Wild Things is a beautiful place, but one grim and dark around the edges.  Viewers used to the peppy visuals of your average CGI cartoon will see a more textured, haunted place.  One that they may feel apprehension at embracing, but could value greatly if they do.

“Where the Wild Things Are” survived a troubled production and a skittish studio to emerge as a unique and bold children’s movie, though I still have great reservations about young children seeing it.  Attempts to expand small children’s stories like Sendak’s usually result in a complete failure, see “The Polar Express”, so its achievement is doubly remarkable.  It works as a reflective and emotional film about childhood, one that might help remind adults who they were, and more importantly, what the little person sitting next to them might be thinking and feeling.  That is something so rarely captured on film that it should be greatly valued on the rare occasion when it actually happens.

Ten Words or Less Review – Stupid yes, but not the eye rape many implied.

Once a year or so a movie comes along that gets panned so hard, offends the sensibilities of so many delicate film goers and flops so hard, I simply must see for myself.  Last year critics took the woefully misunderstood “Speed Racer” out into the middle of the street and threw it under a bus.  This year the same thing happened to “Land of the Lost.”  I thought “Speed Racer” was a trip.  A visual mind warp of epic proportions, that while unarguably dopey in places, still wowed and showed genuine heart in the process.  I was wondering if “Land of the Lost” would play out the same.  Could it really be a weirdo piece of pop art that got advertised as a kiddie film and summarily executed like some suggested?  No.

“Land of the Lost” is pretty weird in places and it certainly has moments of a drug fuelled sense of humor about it, but after some chuckles found in the first half hour it falls into an odd place of cinematic nothingness, rounded out with a fair amount of stupidity.  Advertising this as family fare was a giant ass of an idea.  Aside from watching dinosaurs and monsters running around, there’s not much kid friendly material.  Most of the jokes fall into the sex and bodily fluid camp.  The movie has the sparsest of plots to run on so it’s up to the gags to sustain the thing.  Those work swiftly at first but slowly they start to go stale.  It never becomes the rancid, flaccid, foul pile of shit many labeled it as.  At its core it strives to be an idiosyncratic, oddball comedy, but it can’t get there.  It inhabits that clunky place where special effects and humor run head first into one another and accomplish nothing but self annihilation.  You’re left with a dull paste of a movie that doesn’t taste good or bad, just blah.  And those poor souls who wanted a real “Land of the Lost” movie should probably not even look.  Watching this one has a clear idea that Farrell and director Brad Siberling are using the property for their own ends.  Whatever the original show was, they likely don’t care one bit.

Will Farrell does his Will Farrell thing without missing a beat.  That may be part of the problem as well.  His over-confident man boy shtick has more than run its course.  Instead of doing anything new with it here he plays it like he always does.  I didn’t like this persona six years ago and age has not endeared it to me.  A few clever bits aside this likely won’t change your established opinion of Farrell for better or worse.  Farrell discovery Danny McBride gets a few laughs as some trailer trash along for the ride.  And there was a hot chick with them whose name escapes me.  I don’t feel like looking it up.  She was the plucky eye candy.

“Land of the Lost” isn’t going to hurt or offend anyone, except maybe some sensitive parent types who think it’s supposed to be a G-rated adventure film, and probably people who liked the show.  By the time the adventurers have gotten wasted on native juice and watch a giant crab run toward them which then falls into scolding hot water thus boiling itself and then they eat it, they should have long ago figured out something underhanded was up.  Not horrible, not great, but a stab a something different that didn’t quite work out.

Ten Words Or Less Review: Entertaining horror throwback that doesn’t play to the cheap seats.

For two years now, film websites like AICN and CHUD have been lobbying for the release of “Trick ‘r Treat”, a crafty little horror film that’s not a sequel, a remake or a reboot of any previously existing movie property.  God forbid.  This fact is very likely why Warner Brothers stubbornly refused to give the film a theatrical release of any kind and has now unceremoniously released it to DVD and Blu Ray.  It seems originality must be crushed and shunned at all times in today’s Hollywood.   Finally available for all to see outside of the festival circuit, “Trick ‘r Treat” is a devious little horror film made in a pseudo anthology style with a neat script and skilled hand behind the camera.  And while it may not blow people out of the water, it achieves a certain style and mood few horror films reach, or even try, that being fun.

Not being a crass sequel (Saw movies) or cheap remake (tons of them), “Trick ‘r Treat” is a throwback to horror anthologies and short story collections such as “Creepshow” and “Tales from the Crypt.”  Set in a small town whose residents all relish the Halloween season, “Trick” follows the stories of a homicidal maniac with a loud son, some nasty school kids, a Halloween hating neighbor, a virginal girl in a Little Red Riding outfit trying to find Mr. Right, all of whom are being observed by a strange kid wearing a big round bag on his head.  All of these stories are skillfully wrapped around one another, tying into the other thorough good editing.  It would’ve been easy to simply end one story and start the next, but as directed by Michael Daugherty, he takes this more elaborate approach and has each tale fit into the other at key moments, ultimately wrapping the whole thing back around to the beginning.  Producer, and one time cinematic trickster Bryan Singer (Usual Suspects), no doubt loved this approach.  The best part about “Trick” is that it doesn’t rely on an overabundance of gore, there is some, or cheap editing scares.  What works best about it is that it runs on genuinely nasty acts being performed by those who don’t seem terribly nasty to start with.  Unlike so many horror pieces where our sympathies are always clearly spelled out, “Trick” pulls the rug out from under us on more than one occasion.  No one is innocent and no one can be trusted.  This is after all a horror film.

One other thing that likely held the studio back from releasing the film theatrically is that this cast is strictly made up of character actors and unknowns.  The banal cattle that typically frequent these movies are mercifully absent.  Stalwart pros like Dylan Baker (Spiderman films), Bryan Cox (X2, Manhunter) and Anna Paquin (True Blood) tackle the material like ghoulish enthusiasm.  Though this may not be much more than a Halloween genre lark, no one phones it on or hams it up.  Baker is especially nasty as school principal who takes advantage of the season in his own unique way.

“Trick ‘r Treat” will probably be the real deal when it comes to establishing cult classic status.  Unreleased, unseen and unappreciated by many is how the formula usually works.  While it doesn’t redefine the genre, it plays out with a kind of entertaining spirit few horror films can achieve.  It very much has the mentality of a better 80’s movie.  Much of the genre for the past decade could be described as bleak, disgusting and stupid.  Dreary exercises in torture and pain that serve no other purpose to sedate blood lust in lesser beings and make the rest of the audience squirm and feel awful.  “Trick ‘r Treat” is a horror film you can actually enjoy watching.  It’s a gleefully dark kind of thing that rarely sees the light of day.

Ong Bak

Ong Bak

10 WORDS OR LESS REVIEW – Great fights, shit film.

The world is ready to replace an aging Jackie Chan.  As he’s gotten older his stunt work has become less spectacular, the daringness somewhat absent.  In some small part because of his tenure in uninspired American fare but mostly because he’s simply gotten older.  Happens to the best of us.  Being touted as the heir apparent to Chan is Thai sensation Tony Jaa.  A fierce physical presence, Jaa’s abilities cannot be denied.  The man can jump over a freaking car, twice.  He bends, leaps, contorts and punches face like a legend in the making.  He could kick Jesus and Jesus would appreciate the experience.  “Ong Bak” was his coming out party from 2003.  Such care was taken to place Jaa as the new Chan that his first feature plays almost exactly, but unwisely, like a Chan film.  The stunt work and fight scenes are stunning, awe inspiring creations which defy all logic, but all the remaining elements that make up a movie, I.E. story, screenplay and acting, can barely be stomached.  Just like a Chan film.

Chan’s Asian films are as we all know routinely terrible.  They’re bad on purpose, serving no other function than to showcase Chan and his near suicidal stunt work.  If Chan does have one thing on Jaa it’s that even though he is a stunningly bad actor, he still puts forth personality and effort, silly though it may be.  I have no clue if Jaa can actually act after watching “Ong Bak.”  I know he’s so fleet of foot that he can not only jump over people but walk on top of them as well.  His stunt work is Godlike in its impressiveness, quite possibly better than Chan’s, and he very likely has a long career ahead of him in action fare like this, but the presence of a person behind all the muscle is a total mystery after watching this first effort.  Jaa would be wise to find a vehicle which at least functions as a serviceable movie.  He’s made several films since this that I haven’t seen so maybe he’s opened up as a performer since.  But I’m doubting it.

“Ong Bak” has nothing going for it besides his insane basassery.  There’s enough of that on display to keep the all around stench of the rest of the movie at bay.  As much as I like Chan, I can rarely sit through one of his features without ample fast forwarding.  A similar fate awaits Jaa if he doesn’t marry his stunt work with a screenplay that utilizes it wisely and in service of something more than a story Van Damme would’ve likely passed on.