Goosebumps (Blu-ray release 2016-1-26) show a lot of different types of monsters that come out from R.L. Stine’s books. The monsters decide to invade the town so it depends on the author to write a new book to catch them all. The premise is not bad but the initial setup is driven by stupidity. Some people may think stupidity is funny but it’s just annoying to me. Anyway, when the story really gets going it is somewhat entertaining, with an entirely predictable twist at the end.
惡人谷 (House of Wolves) is a typical Hong Kong comedy. Superficially all the protagonists are bad guys. Two men in a village fall in love with a woman who has just come to the village, is secretly pregnant and makes them believe both may possibly be the father of child. Unlike some other Hong Kong comedies, this movie does not rely on cleavages or poop jokes. As usual the plot is merely an excuse for some jokes, so it’s purely the jokes that determine whether it is successful. Other than the final act which tries to tell a story that is not really worth telling, I think that it is above average for this class of movies.
The Last Witch Hunter (Blu-ray release 2016-2-2) tells the story of a witch hunter who managed to defeat the witch queen but was cursed with immortality 800 years ago. In the modern day he still catches bad witches and is supported by a certain organization. The twists in this otherwise standard story make it slightly interesting, but there is nothing noteworthy about the action sequences. Some seemingly important supporting characters are underutilized. I don’t think the movie is bad, but there are many significantly better action/fantasy movies nowadays with better character development or intriguing plots.
Our Brand is Crisis (Blu-ray release 2016-2-2) is a fictionalized account of how US campaign strategists “helping” with an election in Bolivia, originally detailed in a 2005 documentary of the same name. The entertainment value of this movie primarily comes from the comedy aspect, but there are actually not too many jokes since it still has an election story to tell. Some jokes are so crazy, and together with the fictionalization they undermine the believability of the story. On the other hand, the negativity of the political stuff and the moral undermined the pleasantness of the limited amount of jokes. So at the end, it neither succeeds at the comedy nor the drama, and flopped.
Assassination (Blu-ray release 2016-1-15) shows a team of Korean soldiers, who are given a task to assassinate a Japanese official and a Korean traitor, during the 1930s. In addition to the Korean and Japanese military, there is also a pair of paid assassins who are contracted to kill the aforementioned assassins. Needless to say there are twists, and double crosses.
I am surprised to find this movie to be so excellent. It has a seriously rich plot to fill the 140 minutes of running time with good pacing. The climactic scene in which the protagonist wears a certain type of costume is very awesome. This particular scene shows why the protagonist has to be female. I also appreciate that this movie does not go with the conventional Korean movie route of being tear jerking.
同班同學 (Lazy Hazy Crazy) (Blu-ray release 2015-12-28) is a Hong Kong movie about the friendship among three girls. Since they perform “compensated dating” (a form of prostitution) there are sex scenes. The odd thing with this movie is that it has several nude scenes even when the girls are not having sex. These scenes serve absolutely no purpose – they do not enhance the story and they are not sexy either. Were this movie done by a male director instead of a female one, I’d suspect they are done only to increase the screen time for nudity.
As for the friendship part of the story, its quality is very far below 閨密 (Girls) (2014). The friendship is shaky right from the start, collapses in no time when betrayals occur, and strangely is repaired in no time. Makes no sense. There is no point in watching the movie, not even for the sex scenes.
Burnt (Blu-ray release 2016-1-26) is about a chef who screwed up in the past and try to restart his career in the hopes of obtaining Michelin 3-star. I like Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of a shouting chef, who reminds me of Gordon Ramsay. However, the formulaic story lacks some ingredients for the audience to root for the protagonist. Its emotional core is weak. In addition, the relationship between the protagonist and the single mother – daughter family is underdeveloped.
Much has been written on how bad Pan (Blu-ray release 2015-12-22) is. Here’s my take. I love origin stories as much as I need movies to have closure. However, Pan makes the fatal mistake of spending almost the entire movie not being Peter Pan. So the audience is ripped of the potential joy in seeing superheroes perform superhero duty. Fantasy Four (2015) made the same mistake and flopped. Batman Begins (2005) and both Spider-man origin movies (2002, 2012) had very good allocation of screen time between establishing the origin stories and kicking bad guys’ asses.
Although I subjectively feel the Oliver Twist style opening is very odd for a Peter Pan movie, it is not entirely unacceptable were the remaining parts of the movie good enough. However, the rest of the movie just does not feel like a Peter Pan movie. Okay, I see Hook, although not as a villain as I expect him to be. Where’s the never grow up theme? Where’s Tinker Bell? Where’s Wendy? I’m also not excited about the climax. Visually it looks fine. (Spoiler) The problem is, Peter Pan does not really do anything other than giving an order to fairies to fight the bad guys. If the fairies are so powerful they would not have been nearly extinct at all. If they cannot defend themselves without being ordered to, this is incredibly stupid.
Another subjective thing, although this is less of an issue, is that the protagonist does not look right. He simply does not look like the athletic fly boy whose charm attracts both Tinker Bell and Wendy while having the brain to outsmart the villains. This is a role that is very different from the protagonist in the first book of Harry Potter, so being adorable (in case anyone considers him to be) is just not enough.
Love (Blu-ray release 2016-1-11) is about a man who received a call from the mother of his ex-girlfriend, who has been missing. He loved her, and still does, but is living with another woman after getting the latter one pregnant. From this point on, he recalls the sex, talking, sex, arguments, sex, drugs, and sexual adventures they had. Notable for the real sex depicted, this movie aims to portray real sex regular people do as opposed to porn which is fantasy. It has a number of shots showing the protagonist’s penis, a number of ejaculation shots, and one (or two) of them that actually shoots directly at the audience, in 3D.
Its “regular” sex is actually not too regular for regular people, but perhaps I’m being conservative. Just as there can be too many gun fights in an action movie, there can be too many sex scenes in a romance drama. Why have I focused on the sex so far? That’s because its story is rather simple and there’s not much to talk about. Comparing romance dramas, I’d say this movie is weaker than the several ones I have recently written about.
Based on a short 9th century story, 刺客聶隱娘 (The Assassin) (Blu-ray release 2015-12-18) is a Taiwan movie about a girl who was taken by a nun and trained as an assassin. The nun sends her to kill the governor of a province, who happens to be her betrothed previously. Seeing him and his son, she chooses not to kill him.
This is a really special movie. It has a 1.41:1 aspect ratio. If the title gives one the impression of a typical martial arts movie or having a lot of action scenes involving killing, that cannot be further from the truth. It has the absolute minimum of action scenes, even though a lot of those were shot meticulously in the 440000 feet of film used. Only 10800 feet of the film remained in the final movie. Fantastical and gravity defying action scenes are all cut in order to strive for realism. Likewise, all the costumes, sets, details such as the type of groceries and morning drums are all made as historically correct as possible to show the real Tang dynasty. Not only is there minimal action scenes, even the dialogue is kept to an absolute minimum. The protagonist only has 9 lines of dialogue. Apparently the director is a firm believer in telling story through image instead of dialogue. So what does the movie actually contain? Long shots that allow the audience to admire every detail in the scene, and gorgeous shots that look like Chinese classical paintings.
This is an arthouse movie. A really complete story was supposed to be in the screenplay, which was published publicly before the movie is released. The director encouraged people to read it before seeing this movie, because so much of it was left in the cutting room floor. The movie only presents the middle one-third section of the original screenplay. In conjunction with the cutting of scenes with non-essential dialogue due to the director’s dislike of long-windedness, these caused the movie to be widely regarded as hard to understand. Its use of classical Chinese language made things even worse for people with average Chinese language abilities (although I expect English subtitle will be free from this problem). Actually the main story is not difficult to understand at all, but there are important details about the characters and their relationship being missing or very non-obvious.
There is a really important tale told in the movie: A king owns a bluebird. It does not sing for three years. The queen suggests to put a mirror beside it so it can see its own kind and start singing. Seeing the mirror image, it dances to its death. Some reviewers believe this nature of being one of a kind and loneliness are applicable to many characters in the movie.
[SPOILER and Explanations]
As the movie revealed, this tale is firstly about the princess who needs to go to an unfamiliar place for political marriage. The nun is her twin sister and can be considered a mirror image.
The protagonist disobeys the nun, and she cannot really remain at home when the governor knows she is the assassin, there is no place for her and she has to leave. As a bluebird, she finally goes with the mirror guy. However, in the Japanese version of the movie, it is shown that the mirror guy already has a Japanese wife.
The wife of the governor spends time in front of the mirror for makeup but still cannot have the love of the governor. So she tries to kill the woman he loves, and wears a mask to fight the protagonist. The relationship chart above reveals that the old man is her master.
The reason the nun orders the protagonist to kill the provincial governor is that when the nun was still a child, the provincial military attacked the central government, and her sister and she were on the run. So the provincial powers are considered evil.
For more details, read this.