Review: Shanghai Fortress (上海堡壘)

上海堡壘 (Shanghai Fortress) (Netflix) is the second major sci-fi movie from China.  This movie flopped and the reviews are universally bad.  Even the official newspaper condemned it, saying it loses the face of Chinese.  The director and the writer of the original novel it based on issued public apologies.

Mankind takes / steals energy crystals from outside Earth, so aliens invade all the cities that store those crystals.  It is up to the military base at Shanghai to defend Earth against the alien attacks and their mothership.  All this sounds pretty standard, but many details are incomprehensible or illogical.  At some point in the movie, some problem with a sci-fi weapon occurs, then somebody comes up with an arbitrary solution that has no basis that has been established before.  Therefore nothing in it is believable, let alone someone that the audience watched dying but he shows up in the next scene.

Worse it tries to infuse the plot with romance that does not work.  (Reportedly the original novel emphasized the romance in an alien invasion background.)  In the early part of the movie, the flow of the movie is frequently interrupted by transitioning between small scale alien attacks and worthless drama among the characters.  The director even blamed the casting of the male lead – I think shifting responsibility this way is really bad, and the male lead’s acting skill, however limited, is not the primary flaws of this movie.

I have watched many alien invasion movies.  Ignoring the factor of relatively high budget it has (by Chinese standard), this movie is not the worst of its kind.  In spite of its far too many serious flaws, there is one idea or two that has merit.  I would try to be fair and rate this merely below average.

Review: In the Tall Grass

In the Tall Grass (Netflix) is a horror time loop movie based on a novella by Stephen King and his son.  After hearing a child’s shout for help, two people go into the tall grass but find themselves lost.  There is a rock inside that seems to have supernatural powers, and shifts living things so they can never go out.  I really like it because it successfully creates horror from mundane grass, and its unusual structure that has multiple timelines merge together, making this time loop movie conceptually more complex than the others.  It reminds me of the masterpiece Triangle (2009).  (I am not surprised that not everyone will like it.  Some may find it confusing or combined timelines making no sense.)

Review: School-Live! (2019) Live Action Movie

School-Live! / Gakkou Gurashi! (Blu-ray release 2019-7-3) is not a conventional zombie movie.  Adapted from a manga, this live action adaptation shows a group of schoolgirls living in a school amidst a zombie outbreak.  They quarantined themselves to the upper floors while the student zombies wander below.  This works for a period of time, until they need to go through a room full of zombies to get some supplies.  One of the girls is schizophrenic and imagines she is still having a normal school life and attending class.  Another girl is burdened with the guilt that she had to kill the boy she loved after he protected her and became a zombie.

The concepts are certainly interesting and original in this slice of life movie – this is taken from a manga after all.  The movie itself is not too convincing, as only two of the girls attempt to do any combat while the others are powerless and need to be saved.  It is inconceivable how they could have survived in the first place.  The emotional weight that the subplots try to convey feel somewhat limited in the movie.  Although I cannot call this adaptation a success, it shows potential of the original material.

Review: Lion King (2019)

Many critics dismiss Lion King (UHD Release 2019-10-22) as an unnecessary remake.  It is not too capable to present emotion from the photo realistic CGI – this area is probably where the 1994 original holds a distinct advantage.  Some of the singing is probably not as good as the original, and “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” strangely occurs during daytime.  In spite of these minor flaws, I am happy with this technology demo.  This is what a 4K HDR TV is meant for.

Review: Extreme Job

Extreme Job (Blu-ray release 2019-9-4) is a Korean comedy that achieved a huge box office success. A team of five cops start a fried chicken restaurant for an undercover operation to investigate a drug trafficking organization.  They act comically stupid, but the chicken restaurant becomes a huge success due to their secret sauce.  It also defies the Korean standard of inserting tear-jerking scenes into everything – this alone is commendable.

As the director said he is inspired by 80’s-90’s Hong Kong comedy movies, such as those from Stephen Chow.  Part of the reason for the huge success of this movie can be attributed to recreating the essence of the Hong Kong comedies while giving it a refined treatment and integrating Korean culture.  This movie even ends with a Hong Kong music.  The thing is, even Hong Kong cannot produce the successful Hong Kong comedies for the last two decades, and Stephen Chow himself also fails to make movies that reach the critical success he had before.

Review: Crawl 2019

When I looked at the poster showing an alligator in Crawl (Blu-ray release 2019-10-15), I got scared because of the experience I had with the Thai crocodile-in-The Pool (2018) movie, which is a trash movie offering only stupidity and bad taste instead of scariness.  Fortunately this is a much, much better and enjoyable movie with very good visuals for its budget.  This is an effective thriller showing a daughter and her father trying to escape from alligator(s) inside their house.  The house setting allows for scenes not seen in other alligator movies.  Other than really questionable assumptions about the nature of alligator(s) and how to apply these rules to escape from being eaten, I have no complaint.


Review: Anna (2019)

Anna (UHD release 2019-9-24) received negative critical reviews.  Critics found it bland and not creative.  The frequent jumping of time in fragmented and repeated flash backs are annoying to the point that it affected the storytelling, otherwise I think it’s passable as a female assassin thriller, even if there is nothing new here.  Its box office is also lower than movies of similar quality.  I would explain the poor box office from the sexual harassment allegations against the director, and the female objectification in the movie.

Review: X-Men: Dark Phoenix

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (UHD Release 2019-9-17) is dull.  I did not like Apocalypse (2016), most of the new young cast introduced in it, or most of their appearance in this new movie.  When did the romance of Scott and Jean blossom on screen in the new timeline?  [Minor spoiler] I could not understand both Prof. X and Magneto changing stance – I think their rationale for change are not well supported.  The real antagonist is also not explored beyond a few lines of dialogue.  For me this is the worst entry in the X-Men franchise, and I prefer The Last Stand (2006) much more, even considering the 2006 version only contained a shortened story of Dark Phoenix.  The only thing I like from this movie is the opening space shuttle sequence.

Review: Toy Story 4

Toy Story 4 (UHD Release 2019-10-8) is good.  It delivers a new adventure, new characters, and most importantly brings back Bo Peep, who mystified me by disappearing from the prior installments.  I do not not want to call it an unnecessary sequel, but its theme of being abandoned by kids has already been explored before.  I kind of like the ending because of Bo Peep, but overall it is overshadowed by the perfect Toy Story 3.

Review: Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (DanMachi): Arrow of Orion

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?: Arrow of Orion (Blu-ray release 2019-7-31) is the movie following the first season of the anime adaptation of a light novel series.  This movie assumes knowledge of the first season about who everyone is and what their relationships are.  Although the story is self contained, I would not advise people to watch this movie without watching the anime series first.

The protagonist won a travel trip by pulling out a sword that no one else could, but of course this is merely a scheme to get him to go on a quest to defeat a monster.  The movie is rather straight forward especially considering it is hinted in the middle about what should happen at the end.  For fans the harem aspect is maintained as again we see the jealousy among the different female characters, especially involving the new goddess.  I do not think the relatively short dialogue involving her in this short movie is enough to establish the emotional core.  For the level of threat that the story implies, the city is too well defended to have a sense of urgency, but otherwise the movie is safe and is neither surprisingly good nor bad.