Tag: crime

Movie Review: Jukkalan (This Girl is Bad-Ass!!) (2011)

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Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from netflix instant.

A teen bike messenger named Jukkalan (JeeJa Yanin) and her well-meaning uncle (Petchtai Wongkamlao) find themselves in a heap of trouble when Jukkalan is hired to transport goods and money for warring gangster factions. She steals their money but keeps working for them (or something?) and soon tons of grunts are attacking her every second. Meanwhile a nerdy neighbor is trying to date her, but she has her eyes set on a different, hunkier neighbor. Hormones and high kicks fly around everywhere in This Girl is Bad-Ass!!.

So. Bike messengers. Martial arts. JeeJa Yanin. A title about a girl being a badass. THIS MOVIE SHOULD HAVE BEEN EXCELLENT. But mostly it was just totally stupid, nonsensical, and boring. The script has no direction, I had no idea what was happening half the time, and when I did it was probably because some dumb, juvenile subplot was happening that I definitely didn’t care about. The comedy is extremely broad and hokey, and every scene seems to extend a minute longer than it needs to so the jokes are beaten into the ground. Speaking of beating, even the action sequences aren’t satisfying! They try to do this martial-arts-with-a-bike fight style and it definitely sounds better in theory than in practice. A few of the later fight scenes are pretty cool, with JeeJa Yanin using various found objects to beat the shit out of some gangster henchmen, and I do just really like watching her work. She’s not a very good actress here, though, and her character is vapid and annoying. Most of the characters are cartoon caricatures, which makes sense since this is supposed to be a comedy, but maybe I just don’t quite follow a Thai sense of humor. The only person who actually made me laugh was the bike messenger boss, who dressed in ridiculous outfits, had foot-long eyebrows, and rode around on a bumpy horse toy.

It’s not like it’s worst movie in the world or anything, it just doesn’t live up to its premise’s potential. And there’s a bit of homophobia towards the end. I did dig several action scenes, and was pleased to see a badass lady fighter at the center of a story that didn’t sexualize or victimize her at all. But you could just watch the scattered battle scenes and you’d probably be ok, it’s not like the context made much sense to me while I was actually watching the movie anyway. Here’s one on youtube.

2/5

Pair This Movie With: I don’t know. More like a “Watch Instead” I think. I would revisit Chocolate, which also stars JeeJa Yanin and has some excellent fight sequences but the subject matter is kind of off. Or Premium Rush for more bike messengers?

Movie Review: Tom yum goong (The Protector) (2005)

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Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge.

I don’t remember how I came across it but somehow I saw the quote “You killed my father, and you stole my elephant!” and that pretty much inflamed my desire to see The Protector, another offering from the Prachya Pinkaew/Tony Jaa team. The film follows young fighter Kham (Jaa), who raises elephants for Thai royalty and has been trained in martial arts so he can protect them from predators. But he fails in his duty, and his two prize elephants are stolen and his father is killed all in one day. He travels to Australia to reclaim his animals from the powerful Thai criminals who took them, going up against various skilled fighters and gang assassins to get to their leader. An unorthodox Sydney cop (Petchtai Wongkamlao) helps him out despite corruption in his own office.

So this movie is pretty ridiculous, and shoddily made, and a little weird, but sort of endearing in its own way. A lot of it is Tony Jaa running around Sydney in his cute red ascot yelling about his elephants, which is silly, but then he starts beating the shit out of everyone he sees and I am definitely into that. The fight scenes are awesome, with Jaa barreling his way through large groups of angry grunts, never stopping more than he has to. I loved the range of villains Jaa goes up against, especially the capoeira fighter Lateef Crowder and wushu fighter Jon Foo. Ballet dancer Xing Jing is ferocious as the evil elephant-killer Madame Rose, dressed in fashionable outfits and fighting with a deadly whip all Catwoman-style. Apparently there was a whole subplot about her character being transgender (as the actress actually is) that was cut out of the American version, though I’m not sure why.

The fights are great, but that’s kind of the only really good thing about this movie. The story doesn’t make much sense, the script is cheesy and uneven, and the production isn’t exactly top quality (the dubbed-over English is the biggest distraction). Plus I couldn’t tell if it was taking itself seriously or not. But luckily, a good portion of the overall film is just radical fight sequences, and Tony Jaa alternating between his adorable ascot/jacket combo or bloody shirtlessness. And that’s all ok.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Ah I don’t know man, I guess Ong-bak.

Movie Review: Black Samurai (1977)

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Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

After watching Three the Hard Way and hearing about Jim Kelly’s death the next day, I was definitely in the mood for more of his films, and Black Samurai sounded like it would hit the spot. Kelly stars as superspy Robert Sand, whose girlfriend (Essie Lin Chia) (the daughter of an ambassador to Hong Kong) is kidnapped by voodoo practitioners trying to expand their drug trade. Sand is assigned to infiltrate their criminal group so he can save the lady and take down their operation, moving between California and Hong Kong and showing off his rad martial arts moves. But never really doing anything samurai-related so I feel like the title is a bit misleading.

This movie is like a lot of forgettable action b-movies except it has a few things that elevate it for me. One: Jim Kelly. Two: a jet pack. Three: Shirtless Jim Kelly. The story is ridiculous and doesn’t make any sense and honestly I didn’t pay much attention to it. The dialogue is stilted and most of the characters are boring. BUT. The action sequences are rad, featuring Jim Kelly beating the shit out of almost everyone he meets, including several little people stuntmen, yelling his own sound effects and swishing his feet around like a boxer. He really does at one point don a jet pack and fly around, which was great, but probably my favorite part was when he sent man falling to his death by taking off his own shirt. That’s the stuff dreams are made of, kids.

The villains are mostly forgettable, though I did enjoy Marilyn Joi as the sexy henchwoman Synne. I didn’t get the magic “voodoo” stuff, it never really fit into the plot except that at the end a bunch of extras were thrown into generic African masks so they could dance around in some ritual that was never finished. Anyway. This movie is pretty ok but mostly only worth it for Jim Kelly because oh my god I am crushing so hard on him. You could easily skip around and just watch his fight scenes and walk away entertained, and wouldn’t you know it the dvd’s only special feature is the option to select only the fights! Thanks, technology!

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I’d go with Enter the Dragon. That movie rules.

Movie Review: True Romance (1993)

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Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

I’ve heard the phrase “YOU’VE never seen True Romance?!” enough times that I finally got fed up and watched the damn thing. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW. Anyway this movie is about Clarence (Christian Slater), a chatty super geek, and Alabama (Patricia Arquette), a good-natured prostitute, who fall in love after one night together, get married, and run into trouble. Though she wants to leave her old life behind her, Clarence wants vengeance against her abusive pimp Drexl (Gary Oldman), and crashes into his lair guns blazing, ending up with a pile of bodies and a briefcase of cocaine. The couple scurries across the country hoping to sell off the drugs in LA and start a life together with all this free money, but things turn out to be more complicate than they thought.

Ok so I think I have Tarantino fatigue, pretty sure I’ve had it for a while actually, and that definitely played a factor in my reading of this movie. He clearly wrote Christian Slater’s character as a stand-in for himself (only much MUCH better looking), and used him to act out all his cool action movie fantasies, and it’s so obvious it’s annoying. While I probably would have loved Clarence and Alabama’s blood-soaked road trip in high school, I can’t help but see through some of Tarantino’s fanboy bullshit now. Like the gratuitous, exploitative scene of James Gandolfini beating the shit out of Alabama, for like, 10 minutes. I don’t care if she gets her vengeance eventually, there’s no drawn-out sequence of a dude getting bloodied and mauled, just the film’s only female character. Hmm. Also Gary Oldman’s black rapper imitation thing was just weird and made me uncomfortable because it’s kinda just blackface without the make-up? Right? That and unnecessary use of the n-word just confirm Tarantino’s lack of nuance when he’s dealing with race, though he features actors of color in many of his films.

Anyway it’s not that I hated True Romance, I actually liked it for the most part. It’s funny and exciting, with a crime thriller plot that merges nicely with a surprisingly sweet romance (even though usually I hate when people in movies fall in love after one night). I dug the cast a lot, which was well-peppered with actors I recognized but had no idea were in this movie, from Brad Pitt and Christopher Walken to Dennis Hopper and Michael Rappaport. I did NOT recognize Val Kilmer as the Elvis Presley manifestation/vision, which is pretty awesome actually. I kinda wish there’d been more of Clarence’s Elvis hallucinations, since it didn’t really fit with the rest of the film but informed the audience as to the character’s state of mind, and offered some funny, surreal moments. The dialogue is typical Tarantino, fast-paced pop culture references and lots of cusses, while Tony Scott’s direction keeps the story moving in a straightforward, sleek manner. With a totally out of place musical score, which I’m told is a thing of Scott’s movies, but I guess I haven’t noticed before.

The film is at its strongest when it turns into this Hollywood satire as Clarence tries to unload the drugs on a well-known movie producer played with effervescent glee by Saul Rubinek, accompanied by Bronson Pinchot as his sniveling assistant. They feature in the most entertaining scenes and I loved how Clarence and Alabama played into this weird world of under-the-table drug deals, haphazard police stings, and movie mogul self-importance. The entertainment industry is always ripe for parody and Tarantino and Scott definitely know how to manipulate it.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well I read somewhere that this was kind of the first half of one huge screenplay, the second half of which became Natural Born Killers, which I think would be a good follow-up as it has a lot of the same themes but is much more stylized. Alternatively, I was a little reminded of Gun Crazy as these two lovers get caught up in a criminal world they’re not prepared for but find themselves gradually fitting in.

Movie Review: The Bling Ring (2013)

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Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square.

With sexy teens, high fashion, celebrity burglary, and a based-on-a-true-story plot worthy of a Lifetime Original Movie, Sofia Coppola’s latest offering The Bling Ring has a lot going for it. It centers on a group of privileged California teens who dream of becoming a part of celebrity culture, and find that breaking into famous stars’ homes and “going shopping” brings them artificially closer to their goal. The high of committing a crime and the bonds that form between the group keep them reaching for more and more scores, until, of course, they get caught.

Told primarily from the point of view of Marc (Israel Broussard), an insecure teen who changes high schools and falls into a friendship with the glamorous (and effortlessly immoral) Becca (Katie Chang), the story moves back and forth between Vanity Fair interviews, sweaty club nights, and criminal extravaganzas. Marc is the most sympathetic of the characters, with the girls mostly reading as vapid self-absorbed jerks, but hey, it’s a satirical portrait of wealthy, pretty youth. These kids have been fed a bullshit American Dream and they learn they can succeed on their looks, their shows of material wealth, and some good old-fashioned law-breaking, all to an ultimate end of sexy drug-fueled excess and the push for their own reality show. It’s ridiculous and sad, and more so because it feels utterly realistic. Not to rag on teens, I know they get enough shit as it is, but Sofia Coppola has definitely tapped in to that reality show culture that’s erupted in the past decade, planting seeds of forced melodrama and hopes of unwarranted fame in the minds of impressionable youngsters. And encouraging lots of Facebook selfies.

The script is light and funny, and the cast is all-too-comfortable in their shallow, ludicrous roles; Emma Watson especially is hilarious as the ultra-ditzy Nicki, along with Leslie Mann as her doofy New age mom. I loved the high-glam interior sets and close camera work through various stars’ mansions. It gets a little repetitive with so many scenes of breaking and entering, but Coppola films each one a little differently and managed to keep up the visual interest even if narratively there’s something of a drag. I especially dug the silent, one-shot sequence for Miranda Kerr’s house. For Coppola the film is a bit of a break from her traditional approach, in that it’s less concerned with existential angst and more focused on the humor and over the top elements of celebrity culture today. It is definitely her funniest movie, and I was enjoying it so much that I found I could give it a pass for the off-kilter storytelling and lack of emotional depth. The Bling Ring has its faults, but it also has some (albeit fucked up) virtues. Her camera and soundtrack combine to atmospherically create a portrait of a certain kind of American youth, that while exaggerated, does hold some abominable truth.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: The breaking-and-entering with hip young people subject reminded me of The Edukators, which is more political but fun, or if you wanted more teenage girls being hilariously entitled there’s always Mean Girls.