Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Capsule reviews: Enter the Dragon, Thor, Black Christmas

Enter the Dragon (1973, Robert Clouse)

And so the quadrilogy is complete. A few weeks ago a ‘capsule reviews’ article was publish for Bruce Lee’s first three feature length adventures. Now is his fourth and final one, 1973’s Enter the Dragon, which has gone down in history as the most popular. Following the tradition of absolutely preposterous plots, Bruce Lee, one of his school’s most gifted martial artists, is sent by his master to enter a tournament hosted by one of his school’s former students, Han (Kien Shih), now corrupt and allegedly smuggling drugs. Lee’s mission? Kick his ass. It also happens that Americans Jim Kelly (the ‘actor’, not the Bill’s quarterback) and John Saxon are also after Han.

I think one of the principle reasons why this one is so fondly remembered is precisely because it is filtered through American eyes and mindset. I mean, as a martial arts film, especially if one has seen a-Lee’s Chinese films and b-some of the Shaw Brothers productions releases in the 1970s, it’s pretty awful. Sure, Jim Kelly is pretty buff and seems like somebody I’d rather avoid in the back ally of a building at night, but he doesn’t look so good with the kicks, ducks and punches. Let’s not even talk about John Saxon, an actor I actually kind of like, but who can’t fight for shit. Even the man at the center of it all, Bruce Lee, doesn’t get much fighting screen time until the final half hour. Excuse me? Not show Lee fight until there are only 30 minutes left? That doesn’t compute at all. The story is really boring too. There is some sneaking around, but it amounts to very little. But to return to my original point, it is a ‘martial arts’ film made by and for a western audience. They need some white guys in there, why not even throw in a black dude too, and let’s cover it all up in some weirdo plot about drug smuggling that seems to take on greater importance than the fighting. I mean, I honestly ‘get it.’ I really do. Introduce the uninitiated into the martial arts genre with some baby steps. The problem is that I watched about 25 kung fu movies before this so I was bored.

Thor (2011, Kenneth Branagh)

After much debate about whether or not this would be worth my time, the positive reviews spread across the internet pushed me over the edge. Sunday was also a ridiculously wet, cloudy day, so that helped. The titular god of thunder (Chris Hemsworth) is banished from his realm by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) just before be crowned king because he’s just too much of a spoiled, power hungry brat unfit to be king (why didn’t his father realize this earlier?...). Thor crash lands on Earth where he meets Jane (Nathalie Portman) and her astrophysicist buddies (Stellan Skarsgr├órd and Ket Dennings). Meanwhile, back home, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) plots his way to the throne.

This was a good movie. Much like a couple weeks back with The Green Hornet, I was fascinated by a hero film involving a central character who is rather snotty and annoying and must learn to be good. That aspect of the film played nicely and the later moments when Thor re-earns his spurs felt right. The chemistry between Hemsworth and Portman was also believable as well as charming. Portman herself was especially geeky, something I don’t think we’ve seen much of. The action, both on Earth and on wherever-the-hell Thor is from was sweet as well, showing off a lot of epic scale. Not everything works however. Kat Denning was terrible, what with her predictable, lowest common denominator one liners and the race of Frost Giants felt a bit a dumb. They do serve a purpose, that wasn’t the problem, I just failed to see why somebody thought frost giants would be a cool army for the bad guy. Lastly, the visual splendour of Thor’s other worldly home never ceased to impress. Excellent set design and cg wizardry in bringing that planet to life.

Black Christmas (1974, Bob Clark)

Late night MPIx films. You gotta love them. Jess (Olivia Hussey) and her friends, who live in a sorority house, are terrorized by an unknown killer who keeps calling their home everything one of them is murdered. Lt. Fuller (John Saxon again!) is on the case. The primary suspect is Jess’ former flame, Peter (Keir  Dullea from 2001: A Space Odyssey) who was upset after Jess had an abortion not long ago.

Slasher films are not my thing, but this one was okay. It has a minimalist style to it. Nothing flashy happens except during a couple of deaths scenes that go for some overt, unsubtle symbolism, This was a john Saxon performance I could get behind because the guy is actually a believable cop as opposed to an unbelievable martial artist (‘unbelievable’ in its literal sense). The girls are play their pats adequately. Hussey and Margot Kidder were rather good in particular. Of course, there is the matter of the killer, which will frequently make or break a movie like this. In the case of Black Christmas, it made the movie. There are some terrific shots of the murder’s bulging eye appearing in doorways that look really freaky, and the voice he uses whenever calling (from inside the house!) is enough to send some chills down one’s spine. Overall, it feels like a very classical, maybe even like a classy (?) slasher film.  It has a good sense of geography, which is pretty important for a movie in which 80% of the action occurs in the same house. A couple of hiccups happen here and there, such as Jess obviously choosing to face the unknown killer hiding upstairs immediately after being told, by the cops no less, to leave the house because the killer is inside. She even yells out the names of her friends, but to no reply. They’re fucking dead! Run you stupid bitch! The killer is inside the house! The killer is-AAAHHHHHHH!!!!!

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