Monday, April 25, 2011

Your Highness Review

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I didn't really have anything to do, so I decided to risk some of my hard earned capital on David Gordon Green's Your Highness. We typically go for matinĂ©es on Sundays, so money really wasn't a concern, and I have to admit that I went in with a fairly limited level of expectation. I do enjoy a good portion of Danny McBride's work, and I figured that it would be a stupid movie to help wear away an afternoon.

I was correct on the fact that this is stupid and lowbrow comedy, but that is what Green and McBride seem to specialize in. I can't help but to think that if you went into Your Highness looking for a "smart" comedy, and you were disappointed, then part of the fault lies on you. That would be like going to see a Will Ferrel movie and expecting to see something on par with Dr. Strangelove. It just won't happen. The fact that Danny McBride wrote it, and David Gordon Green (the same guy who directed Pineapple Express) directed it should give you a slight idea of what to expect.

Many of the jokes are plays on language, and by that I mean the characters often place swear words and current slang in the dialog while continuing to try to maintain the feel of the Medieval setting. Personally, I found it to be somewhat comical, and it managed to keep me grinning throughout the film.  However, I will admit that it does get somewhat predictable the more that this device is used. Also, marijuana jokes and the usual "dick jokes" that plague many of today's comedies are definitely present in Your Highness, but it really doesn't seem to be as annoying when Seth Rogan isn't on screen.

The sight gags were also good enough to make me chuckle from time to time. I must admit that in spite of myself, I found the wearing of the genitals of a minotaur around the neck as a trophy after it's defeat to be fairly comical. Perhaps some may be above such crude devices, but it honestly did come across as somewhat funny to me.

The actors themselves all seem to be having a good time, and all are able add something to the comedy. I even found some of Natalie Portman's lines to not be a complete waste of effort. I usually don't find her that funny, but her and the other cast members are able to play off of each other rather well. I believe that if somebody like Ashton Kutcher were to play opposite of Portman instead of McBride, the comedic ability that she does have would not have played very well. Your Highness just seemed to be a bunch of friends having a good time while making a movie.

The special effects were not bad, and though "shaky-cam" (a technique that I hate) was used during the action scenes, they didn't distract enough in this case to take me out of the adventure. Also, the CG wasn't too bad, though with a budget of close to $50 million I wouldn't expect The Assylum style visuals.

The evil wizard Leezar was probably my favorite character. He just seemed to be this loser who tried so hard come across as a hard-ass, but was really insecure. The corny picture that Leezar draws (with his embellished manhood) of his upcoming consummation night with the captured Belladonna is probably the funniest demonstration of his insecurities, as well as his overall excitement at the thought of being with an actual girl.

Overall, I thought that Your Highness was a funny movie, and I would recommend it for those that enjoy crude humor. It was much better than Pineapple Express because the audience isn't subjected to the dastardly Seth Rogan, and the pacing felt better. Just know that this is a stupid movie, and is really nothing more than a popcorn flick, and you should find it enjoyable. If you're terrified of crude humor, but are still curious to see it, then wait for a rental.


Monday, April 18, 2011

The Company of Wolves

Sarah Patterson
Who To Know
Neil Jordan................Director

Sarah Patterson.........Rosaleen
Angela Landsbury.....Granny
Micha Bergese..........Huntsman
David Warner...........Father
Tusse Silberg............Mother

The Story Goes...
We enter the dreams of a pubescent girl, Rosaleen, as she comes to terms with her sexuality, as well as her maturity. Inside her dreamworld she his constantly warned by her granny to beware of the beast that lives inside of all men, and to never leave the straight and narrow. Ultimately, after Rosaleen meets a suave huntsman, she must decide for herself whether or not her grandmother's warnings are true.

Granny warns Rosaleen about straying from the path.

My Thoughts
The recent release of Red Riding Hood brought renewed attention to the legend of Little Red Riding Hood. Though I didn't find the premise of this particular film to be all that intriguing, it did remind me of a film that I hadn't seen in years that was also based on the Little Red Riding Hood story called The Company of Wolves. I decided to give it another watch after all these years, and was just as pleased at this viewing as I was the first time that I saw it. This is a strange and surreal take on the classic tale that is loaded with symbolism that is sure to leave a lasting impression on fans of horror-fantasy.

I had first seen The Company of Wolves on Monster-vision with Joe Bob Briggs when I was a youngin', and I remember being somewhat blown away by the structure. This was a film that stuck with me because it was much stranger than the typical werewolf movie that I had seen up to that point, and I couldn't get past trying to decipher what all of the symbols meant. It was clear that sexual maturity was a theme, but figuring out all of the (sometimes confusing) symbolism is what makes films like this so interesting. Indeed, on first look it can appear that The Company of Wolves is a string of nonsensical scenes that are slapped together with little care, though the reality is that once the themes are understood, it is quite a compelling story that is incredible visually.

The tale of Little Red Riding Hood has been analyzed for a number of years, and one of the more popular analyses amongst many contemporary critics is that it represents the sexual awakening of a young girl who is maturing but is still innocent, as well as the dangers of the advances of those who are also aware of her maturity and naivety. Ultimately, this is the basis that writer Angela Carter used when she wrote the original short story of the same title. Likewise, sexuality has been a major theme in many of director Neil Jordan's popular films such as The Crying Game and Interview With the Vampire, and his vision flowed well with Carters story to create a very compelling film.

Rosaleen and Mother discuss the inner beast.
Granny has stern views of sex and the way that all men are, and she repeatedly attempts to instill these beliefs in Rosaleen. It's true that Granny does have influence in Rosaleen's views to a certain degree, but Rosaleen's Mother has conflicting views that also seem to make an impression on the girl. At one point Rosaleen sees her parents having sex and questions her mother about whether her father was hurting her mother during the activity. To which Mother replies "if there's a beast in men, it meets it's match in women too." Clearly the mother has a different and more sympathetic view of men than Granny. To Mother, power that lies in sex is shared by both men and women, and there is no victim during the act. As you could expect, all of these conflicting influences could be very confusing for a young girl. Sarah Patterson does a great job displaying the innocence, which really draws you in to her character.

The scenery is definitely fantastic, and a dreamlike feeling is held throughout. The bulk of the story takes place in a seemingly secluded mountain village that, due to the lack of direct sunlight, remains dark and somewhat claustrophobic. Perhaps this "tightness" is a reflection of Rosaleen's limited understanding of the world and of sex, as well as what it means to be a mature woman. By not being allowed to stray from the path, the young girl is inexperienced and not able to see beyond the childlike views that she has always known. In any case, fans of dreamlike settings should definitely find those that are in The Company of Wolves beautiful.

The huntsman approaches
One aspect of this film that can be somewhat off-putting for some is that it is really not a full out horror film. If you intend to see a werewolf horror film, then you may be somewhat bored with the slow pacing of The Company of Wolves. You can rest assured that there are indeed aspects of horror in the film such as werewolf transformations and decapitations, but they are not enough for me to consider this straight horror. I would, however, consider this to be a fantasy/drama with elements of horror occasionally mixed in at times.

The final confrontation 

The Company of Wolves is definitely not a film for everybody. I believe that if you go into the film understanding that it is about Rosaleen's entrance into womanhood and her struggle to accept her sexuality, then the symbolism will make much more sense. Often films that deal with werewolves can be nothing more than entertainment schlock with no real substance, but because of the depth of this film, it moves beyond the run of the mill werewolf movie, and becomes a really engaging statement.

Sarah Patterson, though young and new to acting, does a superb job as a confused young girl that is growing up. She seemed to have the beginnings of a promising career, and it seems strange that she stopped acting. Perhaps she had her own awakening of the film business, and called it quits. The supporting cast does an equally great job, and I especially enjoyed seeing Angela Landsbury in all of her porcelain glory.

Anyways, I would recommend this movie to anybody that enjoys rich symbolism, fairy tales, and fantasy. The Company of Wolves is a great movie, and is well worth the time if you know what you're getting into.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Come Drink With Me - A Review of the King Hu Classic

Who To Know
Director..................King Hu
Pei-pei Cheng.........Golden Swallow
Hua Yueh...............Drunken Cat
Hung Lieh Chen......Jade Faced Tiger
Chih-Ching Yang....Abbot Diao Ching-tang

The Story Goes
An official is kidnapped by a gang of bandits so that they can exchange him for their leader, who has been arrested. The official's sister, Golden Swallow, arrives to free him, and ends up needing the help of a beggar/kung fu master. 

My Thoughts
I have been a fan of King Hu's films for a while now, and I've seen quite a bit of his work. I even bought a multi-regional DVD player so that I could buy the best versions of a couple of his movies that were not available in my region. As chance would have it Come Drink With Me was one of the last of his movies that I have seen. Perhaps this played a role in my somewhat-negative opinion since I had seen his other films, and heard so much about how great this film is before I had the chance to see it.

Pei Pei Cheng / Golden Swallow
First of all, I'll start off by saying that Come Drink With Me isn't a terrible movie. Personally, I just find it to be one of Hu's weaker films that I've seen. Of course I thought it was better than Painted Skin, again another film that still do I find very watchable, but I feel that Come Drink With Me it is somewhat overrated, at least in the States. I believe that this was King Hu's last film with Shaw Brothers, and you can actually see the "Shawness" in the film compared to his later efforts. I remember reading that Shaw Brothers were known to restrict creative control of the films that they produced, and it's possible that this may have affected the final cut of Come Drink With Me.

Another thing that I would like to note is that I have only had the opportunity to see the Dragon Dynasty version of the film. If you know anything about the Weinsteins and Dragon Dynasty, then you are probably familiar with their strange desire to recut, and include alternative soundtracks to the movies that they release. The version that I saw only had the English dubtitles available at the time. I'm sure that if you purchase the DVD that you can probably choose some version of spoken Chinese and English subtitles. It just wasn't available to me at the time, however.

Anyways, I'm sure that the questionable dubbing may have influenced my opinion negatively, but I believe that if I would've seen it in the original audio that I still would've found this to be a lesser film than A Touch of Zen, Dragon Gate Inn, Valiant Ones, The Fate of Lee Kahn, or the Two Mountain films.

The Characters were interesting enough, but I didn't sense that tension that I usually get between the opposing characters in Hu's films. I won't say that they are generic characters, and that are running through the motions. That is actually far from true, but they definitely didn't have the playful cat-and-mouse relationship that we see in many of his films, in my opinion at least. In fact, I found both Golden Swallow and Drunken Cat to both be great heroes, and Cheng and Yueh were good in their respective roles.

Likewise, the villains were all pretty good, and I especially thought Jade Face Tiger was interesting. The first villain that Golden Swallow encounters is Smiling Tiger, who for some reason always reminds me of an Asian Jack Palance. It must be the fake/sex-assaulter grin that he keeps during his entire time on screen.

As with all of King Hu's films, I did enjoy the sets that were used in Come Drink With Me, and they did keep a somewhat magical feel to the film. It goes without saying that the man had a knack for visuals, and I found this film to be visually satisfying.

Hua Yueh / Drunken Cat
Finally, the fight scenes were adequate, though I wouldn't say that they are as good as those of other Hu films, such as The Valiant Ones. Compared to many of the kinetic, and often disorienting, fight scenes that we are subjected to in contemporary films, I very much prefer the fight scenes in Come Drink With Me. Not that Hu doesn't make use of fast editing, but I don't find it nearly as annoying as many of todays action films. If you do enjoy those types of action scenes, then it may be possible that you find those in Come Drink With Me somewhat slow. All I can say is to just relax and enjoy the film.

In Conclusion 
Would I recommend Come Drink With Me? Sure. I would especially suggest it to somebody that is not familiar with King Hu's work, but may be interested in seeing some of his films, if for no other reason than it is very easy to get a copy of, and it is very accessible to newcomers. I think that those who may not be familiar with wuxia could find this to enjoyable enough because it's not quite as far out as other films of the same genre, such as The Lezend of Zu.

As I mentioned earlier, I feel that this is one of Hu's weaker films, and for those interested in seeing him in his prime, then I would probably consider A Touch of Zen to be his best film. It takes a much deeper approach to the genre, and the story is much more engaging. To put it in perspective, I would say A Touch of Zen is King Hu's 2001: A Space Odyssey.



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