Monday, September 23, 2013

Enter the Dragon

1973, Hong Kong/US, directed by Robert Clouse

Utterly absurd stuff, but of course wildly popular in its day; the hybrid format of American financing and Asian setting is as uneasy as you might expect, with the resourcefulness and visual dexterity of much Hong Kong cinema replaced by a fairly routine James Bond-style setup (all fake ultra-villain lairs and comely, disposable young women). Bruce Lee himself doesn't get caught up in such distractions: he's the single-minded man in the midst of it all, and for the most part the film succeeds in giving his extraordinary physical skills their due, particularly in the scenes with nunchaku. The extended early fight/chase sequence featuring Angela Mao is also quite skilfully done, and the scenes in and around the harbour have a certain degree of historical interest, but much of the subsequent filler is painful.

The Hatchet Man

1932, US, directed by William Wellman

The sexual and drug themes were presumably what would have made The Hatchet Man fall foul of the Production Code from 1934, but the more startling aspect to the modern viewer is the sight of Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young and others made up to look like Chinese characters: the actual characters themselves are a good deal more free of stereotype than you might expect, and a story that takes place entirely within the Chinese community of San Francisco is quite intriguing as an idea, but the almost complete failure to give any parts to actual Asian actors makes for a major distraction in 2013. I
do wonder whether the original audience was bothered by the rather obvious eye makeup or whether these kinds of exclusions and appropriations were so routine that they went unremarked. Despite all that, Edward G. Robinson is very good in the titular role: there's not a million miles between the character and some of the American gangland roles he played, and his intensity near the conclusion gives the film a real jolt of conviction.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

L'Homme qui voulait vivre sa vie

2010, France, directed by Eric Lartigau

Disappointing, frankly. Romain Duris is capable of carrying both light and dark material, but he never really convinces in the opening segment of this film, cast as a successful lawyer and playful father (Duris is a father offscreen, but seemed very awkward around his onscreen children, which undermines the moment late on when they assume great significance). Duris is rather better matched with the character after a profound transformation -- the methodical plotting of a change of identity is the film's strongest suit -- but it's hard not to recall what came before, while the ending is both unconvincingly melodramatic and rather pat. It may well have been lifted more or less directly from Douglas Kennedy's source novel The Big Picture, which I've not read, but onscreen it's rushed and weak.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Captain America

2011, US, directed by Joe Johnston

Silly, sure, but a whole lot better than the capstone Avengers: at least there's a story here, and an attempt, however schematic, to create actual characters that allow for a degree of emotional payoff. Joe Johnston has always been adept at the action/humour mélange, as well as for a certain willingness to tweak superhero tropes going back as far as The Rocketeer (Chris Evans's pre-superhero persona surely owes a little something to the wacky nerd of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, too); if he goes light indeed on the reality of warfare at times, he's pretty good at nailing some of the absurd hoopla of American propaganda.


List of all movies

Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States