Police Story 2 (April 24th, 2016)
Director: Jackie Chan
Starring: Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Bill Tung, and Kowk Hung Lam
The Jackie Chan viewing continues into a new week, and I don’t see it stopping any time soon. Not as long as I can get my hands on some movies of his. So continuing that, I’m continuing the Police Story series. And while I gotta say that the 2nd entry may not have as crazy a stunt as the pole jump from 1, it’s a better package overall. It’s a longer movie, focused more on a plot that is a more random affair than the first movie. Instead of a task force going after a target, the police are reactive this time out. A group has bombed a mall and will be targeting other building owned by that malls owners unless they are paid off. In comes Jackie and his elite squad. So there’s a more investigative bent to the flick, spending more time getting into the crime. We get to see Jackie be more of a cop than an ass kicker, even though we get plenty of that. And luckily, we got rid of some of that goofy humor from the last one. Not completely, but not so out of touch as to be momentum killing. There’s still the out of place score that feels more comedic than it really should. The added length of the movie helps out to elevate the story a bit and to add some character to Jackie, making him a bit more of a tragic figure by calling out his dedication to his job over his girlfriend. It’s typical cop movie stuff, but it helps to add some flavor to the proceedings. But the length does kinda hinder the pacing a bit, getting a little too repetitive in it’s investigative bent. And it also gets weirdly into police brutality, making it seem very much pro brutality. It’s a weird line to seemingly have, but watching the movie you can feel the oddness. Jackie fighting ten guys in a park isn’t the same as beating a witness into cooperation. There’s also some weird diversion into the plot of the first one, with that ones villain trying to have Jackie killed/irritated at points in the movie that eventually goes nowhere, existing only to goose the action levels of the movie. But yet again, what elevates this above simple crime fiction is the action. Jackie and his gang of damn near suicidal stunt team go for broke yet again. As above, it doesn’t have as signature a stunt as the pole jump, but it features some absolutely insane stunts. It really doesn’t register how vital a stuntman is and how the lack of CGI in an action scene can really sell the reality of the situation much more than any computer team. But that reality alone isn’t enough for Jackie, going way beyond the normative ideas of safe. And the editing of the action sells it too, since it doesn’t over cut the scenes and allows the talent of the players involved make it thrilling. This is another god damn winner by Jackie and crew. It’s got it’s weaknesses, but like the first in this series, it’s strengths are so goddamned strong that you forget the weaknesses by the end of the explosive finale. Long live Jackie Chan, one of the best action icons of all time. Can’t wait to dive into his work even more.
Police Story 3: Supercop (April 25th, 2016)
Director: Stanley Tong
Starring: Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, Wah Yeun, and Kenneth Tsang Kong
No, I didn’t have a stroke that left me incapable of watching anything but Jackie Chan movies. I’m doing this of my own volition. Because in my continued cleanse of Blockbuster cinema (minus a Jungle Book), I decided to go with some foreign movies. And I hedged my bets by going into the action genre with the best kung fu star of all time. And I got this series before I decided to get into his other, lesser known titles. So third film in, the series has hit a new high. Because while the stunt work is less morally dubious/physically dangerous than the first two, the narrative is better as are the production values overall. It feels like it’s got a bigger budget and a propulsion. That may be due to the fact that Jackie has ceded the directors seat for someone new, a director he’d go on to collaborate with a few times after this one. Stanley Tong takes over and immediately has a much sharper, cinematic eye than Jackie. Jackie may have a direct style that helps show off the negligent stunt work, but Tong makes the affair look like a movie. With this shift comes a shift narratively and tonally. For the first two are very much cop movies with kung fu instead of shootouts, this is a straight up action movie. It honestly feels more like a spy movie in the James Bond vein. Because there’s no real procedural feel to this movie, just a non stop movement of action and incident that leads to explosions. There’s more going on, while being the shortest entry thus far, making it never boring. And with that leaner run time, it doesn’t dally in unneeded diversion into broad comedy. All the comedy here arrive within the story and feels semi natural in this heightened world. Because Jackie’s way of fighting is always gonna be fun, as he is like a human Rube Goldbergian machine of destruction. The action is great here, going more for cinematic thrills than the thrill of knowing someone probably got unduly fucked up doing something completely reckless. And the end is a thrilling chase scene culminating in some crazy train and helicopter stunts. Also added is a worthy partner in ass kicking, Michelle Yeoh. It’s a good balance to have someone fighting with him that is just as talented, and it leads to some dynamic action. This is the perfect balance of tone they’ve had thus far, mixing the comedy and the action equally well. This is a crazy, big action flick dealing with drug dealing and prison breaks. It’s a change up for the series, but a welcome one as to not feel stale. The style of the first two couldn’t have worked past it’s time, so the change is well timed. This may not have the pure voyeuristic thrills of the dangerous stunts of the first two, but the stunts are still wild and dangerous all things considered. For fans of action and/or Jackie Chan, this is a must see.
Police Story 4: First Strike (April 26th, 2016)
Director: Stanley Tong
Starring: Jackie Chan, Jackson Liu, Annie Wu, and Bill Tung
Well the time has come. I have reached the end of the Police Story series. Or I should say I have finished up the series that focuses on character Chan Ka Kui. Cause two more entries would come out after this one, with only the name being a common denominator. And as I come to the end of this wonderful little series of magnificently staged fights and action, my respect for Jackie Chan has merged damn near into idolatry. There is no one else like him in cinema. So while I may like Arnold or Stallone more for action movies, or think the best Kung Fu film is Enter The Dragon, Jackie stands alone. He has a fantastic mix of comedic chops and physical dexterity, selling pratfalls and ass kicking/getting his ass kicked with equal mastery. His movies never take themselves too seriously. There’s always a light and entertaining quality to them. While the tonal shifts may not work perfectly in all of them, the dedication to be a pure entertainer is always charming. His charisma is so strong that it transcends language barriers. Going into this entry, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting but I knew what I was getting. A barely comprehendible story that is mainly an excuse to get Jackie into some crazy situations that are thrilling and funny. And that’s what we get. The series’ shift into action of the spy variety is fully complete here, as Jackie is essentially working for the CIA at this point for some damn reason. He’s on the chase for nukes and gets involved in some crazy Russian backdealing, leading to frame jobs and double/triple crosses while Jackie gets into wacky situations. And it works. Jackie has a way with action, turning them into these elaborate dances/puzzles that incorporates the environment in fun ways. But a problem that I have to hold against the film since it’s the only way I saw it, is that it’s really short and it feels like it’s chopped up. Lo and behold, the internet tells me it is so. So while I know the story is almost experimental in it’s obtuseness, it’s a hindrance to the enjoyment/stakes of what’s going on. Cause the action, while not the best in the series, is still fantastic and completely Jackie Chan crazy. It also does something that not even the Bond series (which it basically became) could do in two entries. It made underwater fight scenes entertaining, mainly by making it funny. My journey into Jackie’s work by way of this series has been fun as shit, and has ignited my thirst for more kung fu craziness. So looking back on my previous reviews of this series, know that the ratings are based on the objective. Cause subjective wise, I love these god damn movies.
Oculus (April 28th, 2016)
Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Karen Gillen, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, and Katee Sackhoff
This was really not the movie I thought it was gonna be. Even after having seen Mike Flanagans most recent movie, the slyly ingenious Hush, I just assumed this would be another simple haunted house movie. And when the movie started and the WWE logo popped up, my heart sank. But alas, this is yet another notch in Flanagans belt. What a hell of a big league debut for the man. This is one of the most structurally ambitious movies I’ve seen in this kind of movie, the Blumhouse haunted house movie. It’s a movie that has two stories running parallel to each other that tell the same story essentially. We focus on Gillen and Thwaites, brother and sister reunited after years of Thwaites being locked up in a mental institution. As that happens, a relic from their past comes back into their lives and Gillen forces Thwaites to confront it with her. While we focus on them trying to deal with this relic that is tied to tragedy in their past, we see the past unfold as it actually did and not as they believe it to have gone down. And as the movie in the present moves forward, the past starts blending more and more into it. We start to see how this relic, an antique mirror, starts to affect things around it. How it weasels its way into the minds of those it latches onto. And how it just utterly destroys those in it’s path, the poor souls that become food for it’s appetite for destruction. The editing on this movie is some of the most superb editing I have ever seen, seamlessly going between time frames and making the time periods bleed into each other without ever losing the thread of the story it’s telling. And it’s all in service of a really good ghost story. All ghost stories should have a reason that a ghost is apart of things, thematically speaking. And ghosts represent the past being unable to leave, hanging above those who can’t let go. So it’s fitting that the story here is about two kids who witnessed their parents slowly destroyed in front of their eyes, being unable to move on and forget. Or I should say one of them is unable, as Gillen is obsessed with destroying the force in the mirror. But Thwaites has made progress in the hospital, being able to move past the trauma to hopefully start a life for himself. And the act of bringing him back in, Gillen dooms him to misery. Because in a ghost story where there is an outright refusal to move on, things will end badly. That and the structure of the movie make this feel like a massive Greek tragedy, something set in motion years earlier that can not be avoided. And watching it slowly come to fruition is kinda heartbreaking, an emotion not typically associated with the genre. Flanagan wrings some genuine tension out of the movie without relying on jump scares, making the entire movie almost unbearable once the mirror comes into play. Much like Hush, this is a movie filled with ingenious little details to make the movie feel different from the pack. The way they go about trying to beat the ghost and prove the ghost exists is great, small little things that all play off perfectly in the end. It’s all set up and knocked down perfectly, with none of the screenwriting seems showing. Everything flows naturally and it’s fantastic stuff. It’s honestly seeing how well he made this movie with the WWE name attached makes me kinda interested to see how he handles Ouija 2. What can he bring to that, the little details that make it stand out? I’m actually excited to see.
The Invitation (April 30th, 2016)
Director: Karyn Kusama
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Husiman, Tammy Blanchard, and John Carroll Lynch
I haven’t really heard Karyn Kusamas name before this movie came to be. That’s probably due to my age, her main work coming to be when I wasn’t as tuned into the film world and I didn’t have an internet connection to learn. But also because she’s been in movie jail for quite a while now, with two big flops to her name. Aeon Flux and Jennifer’s Body were movies I’ve heard about, without the directors name getting into my mind. But it’s no real surprise to see the director of those two movies fall into directors jail, with no hint of sexism in the industry. Something that costs alot and fails to make any money will kick someone to the minors for a while. Male or female alike. But what Kusama did is what those on cinematic parole should do, and that is to make a small movie to show of ones skills. Take time away to reevaluate that maybe blockbuster cinema isn’t for you and that character stuff on a budget is the way to go. Because she came back with one of them and has crafted something that will get her much attention and positive word. This movie feels like something that took years of patience to put together, as it is a cinematic puzzle box. We start the movie off following Green with his new girlfriend going to a dinner party with old friends that he hasn’t seen in 2 years, and from there we get little details that build up this world and the whys everything is in the place it’s in. Why haven’t they seen each other for 2 years? Why does Green have a look of unending sadness on his face? Who are the new people that the friends haven’t met before? Everything comes out naturally and never makes the movie feel like it is cheating by holding back. Which is key, because the story as it goes on starts to take a more fanciful turn than the simple dinner party set up. This isn’t exactly a Linklater movie, with friends just talking. A sense of unease is hovering over this party from the jump, and it’s palpable. But what the movie doesn’t do is answer why for a good long while. The movie is making us wonder if this unease is because of the situation or because Green is paranoid. I won’t say much more to avoid getting into any kind of spoiler territory, even one as mundane as character relationships. But I will say, that there is more to the movie than simple tension. It’s a movie with something to say, without preaching it. What’s on this movies mind is that people have a very hard time dealing with loss and would rather ignore it to the detriment of themselves/everyone around them than deal with the loss head on. People have become so weak that they don’t want to feel pain anymore. It’s a fascinating look at that theme, working to make a movie that is very talkative but thrilling and propulsive anyway. The cast is great, the writing is perfect and the direction is superb. For a movie set in one locale, it’s gorgeously shot and very dynamic in its visuals. There’s a sort of dream logic to the proceedings, capturing the heightened narrative that dovetails into what can only be described as a nightmare for these people. What kind of nightmare and why should be discovered by the individual. All I can say is that this is fantastic genre entertainment, with some thrills and entertainment and intelligence to it with a dash of unflinching unsentimentality to it. One of the top flicks for the first half of 2016. Helps to set a very high bar for the year.