I’m back with some more reviews of 2013 films I watched in recent months.
The Grandmasters (2013)
Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai is regarded as an artist with classics such as Chunking Express and In the Mood for Love on his impressive resume. So when I heard he was directing The Grandmasters, about the life of Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man (played by Tony Leung, though Donnie Yen previously played the role in the eponymous Ip Man films), I had reasonable expectations for something with more beauty and depth than some of the manufactured Hollywood wannabes I’ve seen, such as Hero, The Promise and Curse of the Golden Flower, all of which felt like they valued style over substance by a considerable margin.
The film has been selected as Hong Kong’s entry for Best Foreign Film at next year’s Oscars, but I don’t think it is quite good enough to secure a nomination (though what the hell would I know?). The good thing about Grandmasters is that it has some of the most beautiful fight scenes ever filmed. While they have a strange air of authenticity to them due to the genuine Wing Chun moves, they are really more art fantasy than anything else, and I think that’s a good thing. The performances of Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi are also strong and you could have fooled me into believing that they both had years of martial arts training.
The bad thing about The Grandmasters is that when the characters aren’t fighting the film crawls along at a snail’s pace with lots of pretty images, which is fine but could put a lot of people to sleep. I was also kind of shocked that the story itself wasn’t more interesting. On a side note, I found the casting of Korean star Song Hye-kyo, who rose to fame in the TV drama Full House with Rain, a complete distraction. I had no idea what she was doing there as Ip Man’s wife, and it seems she didn’t either, as she said in an interview that there was “a bit of friction and misunderstanding” during filming with the director.
Overall, there are positives and negatives to take away from The Grandmasters. I’ve seen parts of the second Ip Man film and that was complete trash. The Grandmasters also wipes the floor with most of the other ambitious and flashy kung fu films I mentioned above. But at an unnecessarily long 130 minutes (I watched the full Chinese version) and with so many flaws, it really a great film? I think it falls short.
3.5 stars out of 5
The Heat (2013)
I like Melissa McCarthy (photoshopped or not) and I can tolerate Sandra Bullock, but both are actresses I can’t see too much of at once, or else I’d get sick of them. This is why I wasn’t initially enthused about their action comedy buddy movie, The Heat, about a couple of FBI agents trying to take down a mobster.
They basically play versions of characters they have played before. Bullock is the uptight, goofy, ditzy detective who is dorky but adorable. McCarthy is the foul, abrasive loudmouth with the sharp one-liners and insults. Surprisingly, they have fairly good chemistry and as a result the movie was better than I expected.
Still, this is a formula movie that progresses as you would expect – the initial wariness, the bonding, the fallout, and the best buddy reunion just in time for the climatic finish. The Heat has some good laughs, some of which at the expense of an albino and McCarthy’s dysfunctional hillbilly family, but there is nothing gut-bustingly hilarious or memorable about it or even just specific scenes or conversations.
For me, I had a reasonably amusing time with it, but somewhere along the final third the film started to run out of steam and I wanted to more than the same clichés and jokes they were throwing at me.
2.75 stars out of 5
Snitch is about an “ordinary” father who would do anything to save his son from a lengthy prison sentence and decides to put his life on the line by going undercover to gather evidence on dangerous drug lords to get his son a plea bargain.
The problem is, the dad is played by The Rock, who despite his best efforts to look scared and vulnerable, is still THE ROCK. Apart from this weird casting choice, however, Snitch is a pretty solid crime drama that is heavy on the grit and the atmospheric tension, though at the end of the day it’s not as riveting or exciting as I hoped it would be.
Much of the film centers on The Rock’s efforts to infiltrate the drug world with the help of one of his employees, Jon Bernthal from The Walking Dead, who is alive and well this time. And it’s a scary world with lots of bad people with guns and intimidating faces, though you would have to assume that in real life they would take one look at The Rock and scamper in the opposite direction.
On the side of the “good guys” are Barry Pepper, who plays a bearded agent, and Susan Sarandon, who plays the US attorney who can cut a deal for The Rock’s son. Good actors and good performances, but I thought their characters were poorly written, with Sarandon’s in particular a real cardboard cliché.
I suppose director Ric Roman Waugh went for dark realism in this one, which means you don’t get to see The Rock kicking ass and doing his thing, even though there are shootouts and car chases. You get to see his amazing “acting” muscles in action instead.
It’s a thoughtful film about the way the justice system works but I think it could have been better had the execution been sharper and the direction less muddled. As a result, it kind of works as a crime drama but is not a particularly effective action movie.
3 stars out of 5
Curse of Chucky (2013)
One of my favourite horror movies growing up was the 1988 classic Child’s Play, which kept me up at night and made me forever fearful of dolls. I was also a fan of the next two sequels which kept the straight-laced horror, but then the franchise took a turn towards comedy with the next two installments, Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky (the latter of which I haven’t seen). I think Chucky lost a lot of his cache with those two films (a mixed bag at best), which is why I was happy to see the straight-to-DVD Curse of Chucky, a welcome return to darker tone of the original.
Brad Dourif is back as the voice of Chucky, who for whatever reason is not dead (again) and arrives in the mail for Nica (played by Dourif’s real-life daughter Fiona), a wheelchair-bound girl living with her mother in a giant mansion. Chucky makes real quick work of the mother and Nica is left to grieve with her older sister, the sister’s husband, daughter and live-in nanny – all just more victims for Chucky to have some fun with.
Bearing in mind that this is a straight-to-DVD sequel, Curse of Chucky is not all that bad. It’s got the usual clichés but it does have some surprises, scares and gory moments which bring back memories of Chucky’s glory days. There is also a back story that takes us back to the original and helps us understand some of Chucky’s madness. And if you stick around for the credits there is a cool cameo from Alex Vincent, the kid who played Andy in the 1988 original.
It’s not exactly a great horror flick but unlike most of these relatively low budget sequels Curse of Chucky doesn’t take a dump on the franchise and in the scheme of things is actually not a bad addition that could open the door for a new generation of Chucky films. Just don’t expect too much from it.
3 stars out of 5