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Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Retro Review: Brewster's Millions (1985)

Brewster's Millions 
Cast: Richard Pryor, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Lonette McKee
Genre: Comedy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $45 million 

Plot: After losing his position as a minor league pitcher, Montgomery Brewster learns his great-uncle has left him $300 million. To inherit it, Brewster must spend $30 million in 3 days under a complicated set of rules that forbid him from donating too much to charity or retaining any new assets when the period is up. Unable to share details about the will's odd conditions with anyone, Brewster sets out to spend his money under the stern eye of paralegal Angela Drake  

'Interesting Premise, But Where's The Comedy?'

When struggling minor league baseball player, Montgomery Brewster inherits a huge fortune, he has the virtuous task of spending $30 million, fast before he can get his hands on the massive fortune. With a plot such as this for a comedy, one would expect funny hi-jinks, madcap situations when they spend the money on the silliest and craziest things, as well as slapstick and funny scenes. 

Not so with Brewster's Millions, as it doesn't have that: in fact, my feelings towards this movie echoes precisely my exact thoughts about Fletch, starring Chevy Chase, which was also released in the same year. The story is interesting in places, but insofar as to where the comedy is concerned, it never really transpires and in the way, I'd expected it to be. 

Much like with Chevy Chase's Fletch that was released in the same year, despite the impressive performances, the film suffers from a tedium and consistently unfunny script. For a film billed as a screwball comedy and with the calibre of comedians in John Candy and Richard Pryor in the main leads, one would expect Brewster's Millions to be highly amusing and a rip-roaring romp. Candy is all right and just like with nearly- or be it every role of his, he comes across as the nice guy. As with Pryor, he plays it almost straight in one of his unlikeliest & restrained performances, and whilst I commend him for that, I just feel the writers didn't do him justice on his character, Brewster in terms of funny scenes and lines. & so in a way, I am disappointed with this film: I read some positive comments from people, who enjoyed Brewster's Millions and through that, was hoping the humour, or be it this film would be sort of on the similar lines to the live-action Richie Rich.

The premise in the lead self-titled character could've and should've led to some chaotic and wild and ridiculously funny scenarios and situations for the characters; instead, what we get is little titbit's and morsels that don't really amount to much; most of which are rather forgettable. 

Walter Hill delivered in Red Heat and 48 Hours, but here he and the writer just didn't bring more of the comedy that this film really needed. The plot is very intriguing and a good one, but the story and the execution of it weren't what I'd expected (and I expected it to have full-on laughs, some side-splitting physical comedy moments, but yet nothing) and it was so boring, it was not very interesting. Writers Hershel Weingrod and Timothy Harris, who penned the script for the successful Trading Places, tried to work their magic for Richard Pryor. Yet despite Pryor's valiant efforts, the humour was never well conceived - and that is what really lets down this movie. I smiled in parts, but I never laughed at certain moments of Brewster's Millions where I was expected to laugh. & yet it also didn't help that there weren't more of them throughout. 

Final Verdict:

Not quite the parable for Richard's Pryor's talents, Brewster's Millions has some good performances from the cast - yet despite the comedian's brand of humour, which is downplayed a lot, the film is also low when it comes to laughs and the comedy itself for the most part. The script is patchy, humour is inconsistent and but for a good premise, it's a real shame this premise never translates to full on actual laughs. And for a comedy-type film, to me that is a huge disappointment, particularly given, it has comedic heavyweights in John Candy and Richard Pryor. 

This ought to have been the perfect vehicle to apply the comedy and to have it stretched out throughout the entirety of the movie, - and yet the script doesn't allow ample opportunities for it to happen. & for that itself, what you get in Brewster's Millions is a really uneven comedy effort, that is almost pitifully devoid of humour and laughter. 


Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Retro Review: Chicken & Duck Talk (1988) #Hongkongcinema

Chicken & Duck Talk (Gai Tung Aap Gong)
Cast: Michael Hui, Ricky Hui, Sylvia Chang, Lowell Lo, Lawrence Ng 
Genre: Comedy
Hong Kong Box Office Gross: over $29 million HK

Plot: Old Hui runs a restaurant specialising in roast duck. His secret duck recipe is very tasty, but customers and staff alike have to put up with the filthy shop & Hui's cost-cutting way of doing business. When ''Danny's Fried Chicken'', an American-style fast food restaurant, opens up across the street, Hui receives a rude awakening & is forced to up his game to compete. He might even have to supply clean chopsticks. 

'Classic Cantonese Hong Kong Comedy Highlighting Culinary Differences Between Western & Chinese Restaurants That Is Worth Seeing'

Hong Kong comedy films usually don't translate well outside of the country (or so that is to be believed), but Chicken & Duck is at times a side-splitting effort that deserves wider attention from well, everyone. Though Michael Hui's culinary farce is set in the Chinese context - or more specifically within the Cantonese Chinese context- the film, in general, can be easily understood, even if you are not Chinese. I've always been told or led to believe that trans-lingual movies, especially comedies and comedies that deal with cross- cultural themes and social situations that are set in Asia, likewise, will not appeal to Westerners or non-Chinese/Asians and that all they are interested in is seeing two guys beat each other up through kung fu flicks.

Well, Chicken & Duck Talk, aka Chicken & Fast Food is a film I'd recommend to anyone, particularly those of whom are interested in Hong Kong cinema, besides the usual martial arts flicks. Another deciding factor for me was it dealt with the theme of food, and the Chinese - as many of you will know- (we) are widely renowned for its cuisine through the proliferation of takeouts and restaurants, in and around China towns and within Hong Kong itself. 

This film operates on the lines as an observational commentary and looks at the differences between traditional Chinese restaurants, of whom are going up against more established overseas - related Western businesses, whilst infusing comedy, humour and traits in slapstick and witty banter. Michael Hui plays the owner & chef of a Chinese restaurant that serves roast duck (the ones you see in Chinese restaurants in Chinatown) amongst other food items, who soon finds his business is under threat when 'Danny Chicken' - a KFC -like food joint opens its front doors and begins to draw in crowds. Especially the younger demographic. Though it doesn't help matters when the Chinese restaurant is badly run, unhygienic and his disgruntled staff becomes increasingly restless. 

You have your McDonalds, Burger King and KFC serving American fast food, and then on the other end of the spectrum, you have local Chinese food serving rice, noodles amongst other food items that aren't burgers, fries and fried chicken. Which is interesting, given that almost 30 years on, Mickey D's, KFC are nowadays located in many parts of Hong Kong. This also shows that like America and Britain, Hong Kong has seen its proliferation of fast food restaurants. There is the ongoing battle between ordinary people going up against chain stores that try to put the traditional businesses out of business. And with all of these social themes, comes the comedy that underpins it and the comedy is brilliantly conceived. It is feel-good, hearty, silly most of the time but it still raises a smile. It's also fast-paced and as silly & witty as the humour is, Chicken & Duck Talk portrays the characters humanely; thus allowing us to understand and resonate with them. You have two people dressing up as mascots trying to sell their menu items trying to outsmart the other, you have infested rats appearing in and around the restaurant that they are trying to conceive away from the visiting health inspectors. & you have your domestic arguments and conflicts when they end up in a slanging match with other family members. 

Hong Kong cinema, in general, has been known for action movies, and more so its kung fu movies - your Jet Lis and Jackie Chans- and so when the likes of Chicken & Duck are released, it is only Hong Kongers who are more familiar with these movies. Although if you have watched either of Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle or Shaolin Soccer, the comedy is virtually on the similar lines to that. In fact, Hui was originally known as the king of Hong Kong comedy, up until Chow took on that mantle. One can see Chicken & Duck Talk being a sardonic commentary on Chinese culture trying to modernise itself in order to challenge the so-called big boys of the fast-food trade. And that comes with its challenges: Hui emphasises that for all of the traditions and being Chinese/Hong Kong-ese in its food, no one will go to your restaurant if you don't go to lengths to modernise it. 

Interestingly, Chicken & Duck Talk was hugely popular in Hong Kong when it was released in the late 1980s: and was produced during Hong Kong's film industry heydeys, spearheaded by production companies such as Golden Harvest. It was also the highest grossing HK film in 1988. Even with the film being almost 30 years old, the themes, the messages, and comedy still resonate well today. 

Final Verdict:

Though the story is simple and straightforward, the way this is conceived within the movie itself is what makes it so humourous and watchable throughout. 

Hong Kong cinema is more than just chop-socky, kick-ass beat em' up offerings: it has its fair share of comedies too, and through the interesting premise and funny writing, Chicken & Duck Talk is a film that deserves a much wider audience. 

This slice of screwball, satirical, Canto-comedy is a harmless culinary delight that is so '80s - and yet its themes still resonate and are relevant in today's context. Especially in light of the big business vs small business battle that takes place. It is also extremely entertaining, watchable, with humour that people can easily appreciate in doses.

If you are interested in Hong Kong films, beyond that of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, Chicken & Duck Talk is a more than worthy consideration and recommendation. 


Monday, 28 November 2016

Weekend TV Movie Review: The Running Man (1987), Film 4 #Schwarzenegger

The Running Man
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Jesse Ventura, Yaphet Kotto, Richard Dawson 
Genre: Science Fiction Technicolor Action 
US Box Office Gross: over $38 million 

Plot: In the year 2019, America is a totalitarian state where the favourite television programme is ''The Running Man'' - a game show in which prisoners must run to freedom to avoid a brutal death. Having been made a scapegoat by the government, an imprisoned Ben Richards has the opportunity to make it back to the outside again by being a contestant on the deadly show, although the twisted host, Damian Killian has no intention of letting him escape 

'A Pre-Cursor To The Reality TV Era of the 2000s & Beyond'

Years before we had reality TV, The Running Man in a way is seen as a precursor to this movement. This is American Gladiators meets Deathmatch meets Robocop - the satirical imagery that it borrows from Robocop through the cheesy commercials, along with that futuristic, apocalyptic feel, combined with game-show elements of American Gladiators where competitors compete against the toughest foes.

The Running Man is an interesting take on celebrity and Hollywood culture, it makes snipes at reality TV, at that programme-makers and producers manipulate audiences and viewers into what is real and what isn't, by editing the footage on purpose in order to gain higher viewership figures. 

Set in the year of 2017 (!) and loosely based on the Stephen King novel, cop Ben Richards is ordered by officers to shoot innocent, unarmed civilians and yet when he refuses, he is then arrested. Yet the state edits the footage to make Richards look like a criminal, thus dubbing him ''The Butcher of Bakersfield''. After escaping from a camp, presenter of the violent The Running Man game show with escaped convicts as contestants, Damon Killian (played by actual game-show host, Richard Dawson) sees footage of Richards and ropes him in as bait. With Ben Richards appearing on The Running Man as a contestant for real, he finds himself pitted against a wide range of opponents; with names such as Sub-Zero, the singing Christmas Tree in the shape of Dynamo, Buzzsaw and Captain Freedom played by former wrestler, Jesse ''The Body'' Ventura (who coincidentally enough was in Predator alongside Arnie). Characters that would fit right into any Saturday Morning Cartoon. But in this film, they provide very little tension and suspense that would have elevated The Running Man. There is also a strange cameo by Fleetwood Mac's Mick Fleetwood as one of the good guys.

Damian Killian is the slime-ball version of Simon Cowell: a TV host who has two sides to his character, likewise on television, he is smiling, polite, makes the audience laugh, kisses old ladies. He is the nation's darling. But off-camera, he is an arrogant, spiteful, control freak who loves the limelight.

The Running Man is effective as a movie that demonstrates how the world of television and entertainment and the media, when in the wrong hands, can be easily manipulated and twisted around, in order to attract viewers and for the viewers to fall for their tricks. It is a somewhat reflective piece that reflects the culture of worshipping violence and death as entertainment. When it was first released in 1987, critics and people at the time felt the idea of mass entertainment & the manipulation of the footage, was too far-fetched and not something that would happen in real life, years later. In re-watching it, it feels that The Running Man was ahead of its time & a precursor to reality TV that arrived less than 20 years later in the early 2000s. & though the game-show theme was replicated by The Hunger Games, it was this film that gave us a glimpse of that reality TV future. 

One scene that represents this, is a TV news segment when a reporter mentions that Ben Richards had killed the ticket agent and security guard - when in actuality, he hadn't. 

The movie's saving grace is Schwarzenegger himself who brings that charisma and likeability to his character, not to mention his one-liners. He tosses his one-liners like one would do with their salads. This was arguably only his second major/prime action movie role, following on from The Terminator, 4 years earlier. Had it not been for the casting of Arnie, The Running Man would have been a forgettable Z-list movie. His casting makes all the difference as a one-man army, who takes on, as well as takes out the foes with ease. Whereas the easily gullible and pathetic audience in this movie were cheering on and whooping for the likes of Sub-Zero and Buzzsaw to kill Ben and co, I was sitting in my seat, cheering on Ben to win. The supporting characters, on the other hand, were very weak and not that memorable. Maria Conchita Alonso wasn't as convincing here, compared to Predator 2. Yet The Running Man is more of a vehicle for Arnie's action-hero antics. 

Given this was made in the 1980s, the production values are all right for its time. The action was fun to watch, yet also it could have been a whole lot better conceived too. And yet in The Running Man, though it has come in for quite a lot of flak, it is a movie that I can easily look past the not-so-good script & the silly bad guy characters and just have fun with it. Some of the special effects are very 80s and for that period alone, it is good but today, it doesn't hold up well. It definitely has that fun factor, despite the heavy violence it evokes. I think had it been any more serious, it would have not worked so well; therefore, though for all the complaints about how cheesy and corny it is, that corniness lends itself to the superficiality and fakery of these types of TV shows that The Running Man exudes. 

Though Arnie has gone on to make better movies that followed right after The Running Man, it is still an Arnie cult classic that joins the ranks of Red Heat, Raw Deal and Commando, as good to very good Arnie flicks. Well, make that far better than Red Heat and Raw Deal.

Final Verdict:

Though it is considered by a lot of critics and film fans as one of Arnie's weaker movies, The Running Man, for me was a sheer blast and so watchable too. Highly entertaining from beginning to end with a simple, straightforward story and one that I'd rank in my top ten favourite Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Despite lacking that extra something that Terminator 2, True Lies and Total Recall has in abundance, it still has your standard Arnie one-liners, as well as being action-packed, and that it is a lot of fun.  

It may not impress a lot of people nowadays, yet The Running Man is still a movie I'd watch regardless today. 


Sunday, 27 November 2016

Weekend TV Movie Review: Speed (1994), Channel 4

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Daniels 
Genre: Action Thriller
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $350 million 

Plot: L.A police officer, Jack angers retired bomb squad member, Howard by foiling his attempt at taking hostages. In revenge, Howard arms a bus with a bomb that will explode if it drops below 50 miles per hour. With the help of spunky passenger, Annie, Jack and his partner, Harry try to save the people on the bus before the bomb goes off, whilst also trying to figure out how Jack is monitoring them 

'The Adrenaline-Rush Driving & Action Scenes Make Up For A Taut, One Dimensional Direction'

Essentially ''Die Hard on a bus'', the first time I saw Speed premiere on television way back during the late 1990s, I was blown away by the stunts and action sequences, which really elevated this film. When it aired on channel 4, I thought I'd re-watch it again to see how it stands up: and it is still as enjoyable and thrilling as it was all those years ago. However, it seems that the direction that Dutchman Jan De Bont (Die Hard, Twister) took was a bit one-dimensional. 

Speed is a three-act action movie: 1) Jack going after Howard on foot, 2) Jack along with the passengers find themselves under Howard's watchful and beady eye, as he monitors what is going on, 3) Jack and Howard go at it against each other, with Jack rescuing Annie.  

The simple story goes is that an ex-cop has put a bomb on a bus that is filled with passengers and the bomb will explode if the bus goes under 50 miles. If the bus hits 50 MPH, the bomb is set off. So what do you do? Well Jack has to go after the bus and to locate the bomb and in Sandra Bullock's character, Annie, the only thing she can do is to take the wheel and to keep on driving, but at the same time try to keep it steady on the steering wheel. Which isn't an easy thing to do, especially when you have a bomb strapped underneath the bus. But thanks to cop Jack, he does his best to guide Annie, as well as to defuse the situation and calm down the other passengers. 

One of the highlights is when as the bus is still moving, there is a gap in the freeway (known as the highway) and somehow through Annie, they manage to get over it and still survive. Which is incredible - although had that happened in real life, chances of getting out of that scenario alive, would be rather slim. 

The story is exciting and extremely riveting in places, but also one that is rather drawn out -, yet it is the way this is conceived and how it is unfolded in front of the viewers' eyes, that makes it so highly watchable from beginning to end. In fact, the first 20 mins or so is not very interesting: it's only when Jack gets on the bus and tells the passengers the dying truth that Speed starts to build momentum, and that this is sustained throughout. It is from then onwards where the film rarely stops and for it to take a breather. The action sequences are astounding at times. The cinematography gives this movie a very urban-ish, street-wise look to it, which is great. The script is witty at times with some amusing lines uttered by Annie and Jack to name. 

The chemistry between the leads, Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves works splendidly, and I'm not usually a fan of his movies, and though I sometimes find it hard to believe that he would play this character, Keanu made him extremely likeable. In her career breakout role, Bullock does herself justice as an unlikely ally to Jack and doesn't overplay her role, not to mention it was one that gave her a major boost to her career. The late Dennis Hopper turns on the screw as the conniving, psycho bad guy and he really revels in his role. Some of the other characters, such as a few of the bus passengers, however, I didn't really care for. 

As an action movie, it delivers on what it sets out to do, but one argument I'd make against Speed is that it does lack that grittiness that would have made it even better as a film of this genre. There is hardly that much gore and blood, obscenities and curse words are limited to 2 uses of the F-word and it lacks that dark edge that would have elevated it further. It is a type of action movie you can even show to your granny - it's nothing too dark or cynical. 

When the story gets bogged down right after the scene when everyone - or be it almost everyone gets off the bus alive during the final act, that is when Speed stars to lose its edge and excitement, a tiny bit. Still, as a debut directorial effort from Jan De Bont (and the only overly decent one), he manages to take a simple premise and goes above and beyond to make it as utterly entertaining, riveting and highly watchable. 

This was impressive, as he keeps the viewers guessing and 'oooh-ing & 'arrrgh-ing' as to what will happen next.

Final Verdict:

For those of you who love your action movies, the need for 'speed' is here: the plot is fairly substandard if a little far-fetched and the direction Jan De Bont takes is rather pedestrian in nature - but it is the rest of the film whereby it unfolds that is so highly entertaining, gripping on occasions and action-packed. 
Though of course came the sequel; without Keanu Reeves reprising his role, it ended up being a turkey and nowhere near as good as this effort. Keanu Reeves revels as Jack and delivers a memorable performance, whereas I enjoyed Sandra Bullock's role here. 

A non-stop thrill ride, one of the best chase movies, ever and by suspending your disbelief for 2 hours, Speed is definitely worth taking a spin and it still holds up today as one of the truly ultimate and best '90s action flicks, & one that understandably paved the way for many others to follow suit - yet many have sadly proven to be not as good as Speed


Retro Review: Showgirls (1995)

Cast: Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Gershon, Glenn Plummer, Robert Davi
Genre: Erotic Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $4 million 

Plot: Nomi arrives in Las Vegas with only a suitcase and a dream of becoming a top showgirl. She quickly befriends Molly, who works at the high-profile Stardust Hotel, and lands a job at a seedy strip club. A chance meeting with Crystal, the Stardust's marquee dancer, & her powerful boyfriend, Zack, brings Nomi one step closer to realising her dream. But as she ascends to the top, Nomi begins to wonder if it's all worth it

'I Admit I Was & Am Wrong About Showgirls - I Enjoyed It' 

Okay, so I have stated many times that this isn't or wasn't one of my favourite Paul Verhoeven movies, that it would have to rank as my lowest. For years, I was so sceptical of this movie, that I dismissed it completely. But after recently revisiting this movie, I have got to say that my dismissal of this movie was because of the sheer seediness of it and given the previews, it looked so corny- and yet somehow, after a full and proper viewing of Showgirls, I found this film to be .... watchable in a way. Which I cannot believe I am saying, given my previous slating of Showgirls

Still, the acting ranges from okay/substandard to abysmal, dialogue is the pits sometimes (written by Joe Esterhaz who penned Basic Instinct, and the dialogue in that film wasn't great, either) and at other times, okay strangely enough. There is the usage of the b - word a couple of times, and though Showgirls was slapped with an NC-17 rating, which is the highest, but for the lesbian kissing scene and make out romp in the swimming pool between Nomi and Kyle Maclachlan's character, the movie wasn't as overly sexual as the MPPA made it out to be, as the way it was shot, but for their heads, the water covered up their upper bodies. 

This movie is so odd: one minute she is taking her clothes off, the next, she's off window shopping, there is another scene that looked like an R-rated version of a So You Think You Can Dance audition scene with Nomi dancing her ass off in her underwear. There is also a scene like out of something from Flashdance. Showgirls tries to come across as being a serious drama, and though it is sort of corny at times, one can't help but see to it it is overwhelmed by a tackiness that subsumes in some of the acting and script. Yet that tackiness is what makes Showgirls so entertaining.

Elisabeth Berkley's character, Nomi is both dis-likeable, unsympathetic at times; her tantrums border on childish, but at the same time, it's like every time something good happens or comes across, she gets screwed around afterwards. Which isn't nice. Berkley's performance was slaughtered by critics, but in viewing Showgirls, it's actually not bad and not as bad as they say it was. Actually, it was so savage, the media and the film critics remarks about Elisabeth Berkley and how she is a horrible person or be it, actress, for doing this film went too far. It's also sad to know the negative reputation this film got had damaged Elisabeth's acting career in the long run. She didn't deserve it: if I have to blame one thing for this movie's failure it was how it was marketed and that Verhoeven and writer Joe Esterhaz didn't make the film's intentions truly clear. 

And besides, in a film such as this, the question here is, do you watch Showgirls because of the performances? Not really. You watch it for the entertainment and high camp factor; and I must say that there were 1, 2 entertaining scenes here that got my attention, far more so than in Basic Instinct. Basic Instinct but for the sex scenes, was underwhelming and anti-climatic, especially towards the end. Showgirls, on the other hand, was the opposite: it was climatic in places, the characters were a more varied bunch, and it also held my attention far longer than the 1992 erotic thriller. 

The central arc of Showgirls is Nomi's experiences in Las Vegas, the situations she finds herself in and the types of people she meets along the way & how her experiences shape her life, and the way these characters reveal themselves, both cynically and honestly.  

For a Verhoeven film, this is a more relaxed approach that he has taken, in stark contrast to his violent and dark sci-fi offerings. The scene where Nomi is dancing in front of the Black guy and a few mins later, she has her period, was awkward. In fact, this is so camp, it's almost like you are watching a Broadway show. Showgirls is more of a peak or a look at a dancer, trying to make it big. I know it isn't labelled as a musical or a drama about a dancer, but it seems that this film is so un-Verhoeven like. Well, almost but for the sex scene in the swimming pool, the nude scenes are no more as gratuitous and as hardcore as people painted them to be. They somehow managed to make it completely nonsexual, or in the case of the swimming pool sex scene not making it too revealing. 

I don't buy into this film being an accurate portrayal of what a showgirl's life is like, and I'm sure those reading this review, and of whom perform as showgirls would agree with me. 

The rape scene involving Nomi's friend and the Michael Bolton guy with a beard was difficult to watch; however, I liked the part where Nomi kicks the crap out of him out of vengeance, after she finds out she'd been raped, later on. 

Showgirls has been often compared to Striptease, but Striptease wasn't as interesting as I'd found it to be and the characters weren't very appealing. This movie, on the other hand, is strangely compelling from beginning to end: a satire of backstage shenanigans, people using each other and turning on each other. There are twists, Nomi getting stabbed in the back and bouncing back from each setback. If you can sit through this film in its entirety without being too swayed by the nudity, or indeed get by it, then you'll see Showgirls in a different - and more positive light.  

Final Verdict:

Showgirls is one of those intentionally 'so- bad- it's good', guilty pleasure adult entertainment movies masquerading as a mainstream populist high budget drama. Never has a film in history has been regarded by many people and critics as trashy porn and a joke, with a reputation as notorious as this movie during the 1990s. Unfortunately for many years, I actually bought into the critics word for it and avoided this movie, because of it. But having taken a chance with it, I see to it that Showgirls is highly watchable and entertaining. It's bold, it's daring and there are 2 or 3 scenes that really caught my eye.

Showgirls, surprisingly has some redeemable qualities, though not least so for the lead, Nomi, who starts out in this film being obnoxious that in the end, she isn't so bad after all. 

I'd have to rank this as my guilty pleasure - and dare I say it, it's far more entertaining than Basic Instinct. There I said it. Now lynch me; it's not going to change your life but whoever said it would. Would I own it on DVD though? Fat chance!

However, if you want pure entertainment & satire, if you want to be entertained on a sleazy level and not take everything so seriously, but for the brutal rape scene, then take a chance with Showgirls


Saturday, 26 November 2016

Retro Review: Hard Boiled (1992) #Hongkongcinema

Hard Boiled (Lat Sau San Taam)
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung, Chiu- Wai, Anthony Wong
Genre: Action
Hong Kong Box Office Gross: over $19 million 

Plot: A cop who loses his partner in a shoot-out with smugglers goes on a mission to catch them. In order to get closer to the ringleaders, he joins forces with an undercover cop, who is posing as a gangster hit-man. They use all means of excessive force to find them 

'Hong Kong Action Cult Classic'

Watching Hard Boiled, this is a pure unadulterated action fest that lets rip with ballistic and exhilarating gunplay from all quarters. Funnily enough, I'd never seen it before until recently after reading all the positive comments and critical appraisal, and I have to say, this is a phenomenal action movie from one of the greats, John Woo. It never became a bigger and viable commercial success in its native country as it deserves to be, but thanks to the release of Face/Off, Hard Target and Broken Arrow, it literately opened the door for Western audiences to take a shot at this film and to give it a chance to see what all the fuss was about with regards to Woo as an action filmmaker, and thankfully it worked. Hard Boiled reigned as a critical cult hit and much to rave reviews.  

Strangely for a Hong Kong Chinese film, there is spoken and written English and a lot of dialogue and characters speaking for an action film. 

There are three big major shoot-out scenes: one in the tea room at the beginning, one in a warehouse on motorbikes and the last one in the hospital. The last one is extremely long, yet so engrossing and action-packed and suspenseful. The story is highly gripping right from the start, the action sequences are incredible and just relentless, & for all of the action and though a lot of people won't care for the story, I do for this movie, & this was really intriguing & intense in places, with twists thrown in. 

The tearoom scene where the guys blast each other with guns is reminiscent of the scene in Face-Off between Nicolas Cage and John Travolta and in watching this movie I could see his influences from it in Face-Off and Hard Target. Hard Boiled is unashamedly over-the-top in its gun violence: like all of Woo's movies for the exception of Hard Target, it features less of the Kung Fu martial arts fighting scenes that one would expect in say a Jackie Chan and Jet Li movie, and thus operates more so like a standardised U.S action movie with lots of ammo and guns. 

The narrative serves as a means of support for the action scenes and though a lot of people may not care for the spoken Cantonese dialogue and may not feel it's of interest, for me personally, and being a Canto speaker, it's good to hear that dialogue and understanding the emotions and feelings of the characters. I feel it's worth cherishing movies such as Hard Boiled, Police Story to name but many as they were movies that promoted the usage of Cantonese, and not just being known for their violent action. Some may find the translated dialogue in English to be not as well interpreted as it is, depending on how you see it on screen. But if you can get over this hitch, then you will enjoy this movie for what it offers and achieves. 

But what it all boils down to - see what I did there - for Hard Boiled is the relentless, unscrupulous surge of action scenes; 99% of them involving firearms, that never seem to run out of steam. With some, or be it most action movies, there can be too much action that it suddenly becomes repetitive and tiresome, - yet here, this is an exception because the action is so varied from scene after scene; even with the characters using guns, it's never the same as the other. I'm not usually a fan of guns in real life, but here Woo makes the scenes look balletic-like and not too overly gratuitous. Yet it's so over-the-top, yet fluid in its movement, it is visually stylistic. Also, the performances are excellent throughout and particularly from stars, Chow-Yun Fat and Tony Leung. Chow has never been greater here, probably since The Killer and had it not been for him, his co-star Leung would have run away with this movie. His turn as a cop whose loyalties have been tested kind of reminds me in a way of Matt Damon's character in The Departed. Which was a Hollywood remake of a Hong Kong movie. Though eventually, he sides with Fat's character, Tequilla but as the film progresses, it doesn't go as well as planned. 

Whilst Chow-Yun Fat has had moderate success in the U.S with his Stateside efforts, unfortunately, he hasn't had the type of impact or success that Jackie Chan or even Jet Li have built up, over the decades in America. I think this is down to the movies he chooses to do, but in addition, the Western efforts don't really take advantage of his star power that he has in Hong Kong and further utilise his talents. & that is a shame because he is a great actor and as an Asian action movie star, he could've been the next in line to be as great as his contemporaries in Jackie, Jet Li and Bruce Lee. 

Its trademark ''Gun-fu'' sequences are what makes this film so memorable in the eyes of fans who appreciate it. And for all the controversy and criticism about guns in general, Hard Boiled doesn't glorify gun violence or tries to do so. But merely the violence serves its purpose as a plot device in an action movie, and in this movie especially. It's like seeing a modern-day Hong Kong Western film come to life.  

Hard Boiled is a violent-yet entertaining showcase of John Woo's directorial efforts that have had such a resounding and even profounding influence on other Western action movies, rather more so than for its box-office success and critical acclaim in Hong Kong. But for the somewhat weak leading antagonist character, as well played as he was by Anthony Wong, there is also a tonal style in Hard Boiled that goes much more deeper than it comes across, visually. It has complex and well-crafted characterisations that are ably supported by great performances, all- round. Though it is known for its gun scenes, there is more to Hard Boiled than just that and being your standard, middle-of-the-road ''shoot-em-up'' affair. 

Final Verdict:

Hard Boiled appropriately earns its status as a cult classic and thus, its legacy set an unprecedented standard in action movies in not just Hong Kong and Asia specifically, but globally in general that a few of them have managed to achieve. & in one of the greatest directors of this genre in John Woo, coupled with great leads in Chow Yun Fat and Tony Leung and an equally great supporting cast, after seeing this film from beginning to end, I could totally understand and see his influences in the likes of Broken Arrow, Hard Target and Face/Off. I'd have loved it had he directed Con Air. Undoubtedly, he would have brought a lot more to that movie, which I also enjoyed. 

This movie clearly has everything you want and expect in an action movie: violence, charismatic protagonists, outrageous and OTT action and unbelievable stunts. The bloodshed here is on par - if not as extreme as with anything you have seen in say 1987's Robocop and Reservoir Dogs: it is that gory. Combined with a great cast, impressive performances that hold up and are as good as the action sequences themselves, Hard Boiled is an action movie tailor-made for action movie fans that one would be missing out on, just by overlooking or ignoring this gem.


Thursday, 24 November 2016

Retro Review: Total Recall (1990) #Schwarzenegger

Total Recall
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Rachel Ticotin, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside
Genre: Science Fiction Action
Worldwide Box Office Gross: $260 million

Plot: Douglas Quaid is a bored construction worker in the year 2084 who dreams of visiting the colonised Mars. He visits Rekall: a company that plants false memories into people's brains, in order to experience the thrill of Mars without having to travel there. But something goes wrong during the procedure: Quaid discovers that his entire life is actually a false memory and that the people who implanted it in his head, now want him dead

'Violent, Action-Packed Mind-Bender On Mars, As You've Never Seen It Before'

For those of you who are already aware of, Total Recall, besides Robocop, was the other of the 2 Paul Verhoeven movies that got remade in the post- 2000s. I don't really care for that version because it just doesn't appeal to me. It didn't look very appealing: that, and it got watered down for the family-friendly audience and got downgraded from an R-rating and 18 certificate in the UK to PG-13 in the US and 12A in Britain. 

Whereas quite simply and without hesitation, the original Total Recall is yet another great Arnie movie and a brilliant follow-up to Robocop by Paul Verhoeven. Released in the same year as his family comedy, Kindergarten Cop, Schwarzenegger's role of Douglas Quaid was reportedly going to go to none other than Patrick Swayze - which when you think about it, you can't really see it working out. I know I couldn't. 

Based on Phillip K. Dick's short story 'We Can Remember It For You Wholesale', this is a raucous, yet also entertaining offering, unleashed by Verhoeven on the masses, over 15 years ago and is the director's follow-up to the box office smash, Robocop of 3 years ago. 

The cutting-edge special effects are so completely out of this world, they look incredibly amazing; the action is relentless, fast-paced and well executed. The great thing about Total Recall is as a film, it never lets up: there is always something happening during every minute in every scene. Douglas is married to wife, Lori and they have been together for 8 years - or so we and he thought. Douglas wants to go to Mars, but she is not a fan of the idea. He takes a vacation to Rekall instead. Things take a dramatic turn, and from there onwards, his memory gets wiped out. Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for Douglas, he discovers the agency in Mars he'd went to have implanted his memory and erased his identity. So, therefore, his life 6 weeks ago with Lori was apparently a sham, and that his personality is different. The bad guys want him dead, including head honcho named Cohaagen and they pull out all the stops to kill Douglas. Will Douglas find out the truth & will things ever be the same again for him, afterwards? Well, to answer that question, it's a yes.... but also a no. 

Total Recall delves into the issue of 'who we are?' and the implications of this notion, as the realities and fears of Douglas's that still succumb and play around in his mind, make a whole lot of sense, in the context of the events in the narrative and within the main plot. It is a film about Douglas's search for his true identity, and yet it is the way this is conceived that makes it so thrilling at times, as well as entertaining to watch.    

There are twists and surprises galore, characters backstabbing Doug, the tension is impalpable, terrific action and special effects (especially for a movie that was made in 1989 they still hold up today), as well as some gruesome special effects scenes. The bloodshed is heavy and the body count increases throughout this movie: a signature of Verhoeven's explicit onslaught of violence. Not to mention the three-breasted woman for the guys to gawp at. The opening flashback scene made me shut my eyes as it was grisly to the core, but it was also one that set off a chain of events involving Doug Quaid, his so-called wife played by Sharon Stone, who isn't all she seems to be and a third party - Doug's former flame. 

Additionally, it also has lots of great scenes: one of them being Quaid smashing through the glass-metal detector thing is a highlight, Quaid disguised as a woman, as is the girl fight between Sharon Stone and Rachel Ticotin - and it doesn't involve pulling each other's hair and the manner this is all unfolded is worth seeing, and the violence- though not as over-the-top as the former, Robocop, Total Recall is still as bloody but arguably with more established names, headlined by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone in the cast. In fact, the performances by the main cast are just wonderful throughout. They really embodied and captured their characters' personalities, both good and bad. Sharon Stone's breakthrough role as Doug's turncoat wife, Lori is great, as is Ronny Cox, who has never given a really bad performance as the antagonist, Cohaagen (he was also great in Robocop). 

With Arnie, he has appeared in memorable efforts in Predator, The Terminator to name in the 1980s, but in Total Recall, he really comes to life and thanks to the script and being surrounded by a competent cast, he plays to his strengths and gives him the ample opportunity to 'act' & deliver some classic one-liners, - besides being able to fire a gun - thus, giving his character considerable depth & presence. But it is Rachel Ticotin as Doug's sidekick and dream girl in Doug's past dreams, Melina, who besides Arnie, she also gives a terrific performance - and she is heroic and a good gal, unlike Lori. As a teenager, I never really cared much for Melina whilst I was watching this movie, but when I re-watched it several times as an adult, I appreciate what a great female protagonist ally she is to Quaid, and how integral she is to the story. And unlike some female sidekicks, she isn't one of those pretty-looking types with nothing to offer. She really is one of a kind. 

Then you have another assortment of secondary characters: a dwarf -looking girl, a one-eyed alien named Tony and guy who has an alien that pops out of his stomach (!), all of whom play a substantial role in the movie, as Arnold as Doug and Sharon Stone as Lori. 

You have amusing quips such as Melina going to Doug, right after the scene where he shoots Lori in the forehand: That was your wife?, Douglas nods his head in agreement and she goes, 'what a b****!'. That was amusing. 

In contrast, to say, Predator, Terminator movies, Commando and Raw Deal, besides all the gun-play, this isn't your standard Arnold Schwarzenegger affair, but more of a Verhoeven Sci-fi showing. Robocop was Verhoeven's introduction to the Western film front, whereas Total Recall helped solidified his reputation as a no-holds-barred European filmmaker in US movies, who despite his at times outlandish & over-the-top approach, engages in adult themes and concepts, fearlessly and with some artistic merit- for a brief while, up until Showgirls, anyway. & for Arnie, this is a uniquely satisfying offering that whilst he revels at doing what he usually does best in by beating people up, in addition, he shows layers in his performance as Douglas Quaid that makes that character believable, as he is convincing to the audience.

Total Recall is a terrific and delightful follow-up to Robocop by Paul Verhoeven - & a violently fun one to behold that through its twists and high entertainment factor remains as good as it is today as it was, during the '90s. 

Final Verdict:

Paul Verhoeven has crafted a high- octane and entertaining slice of adult sci-fi action with the usual profanity, special effects and gory action scenes, but even more to it, a story interlaced with pure substance and something to tell to the audience. Even over 20 years old, Total Recall still manages to be a fresh, alternate take on life on Mars and through the performances, ranging from Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone to Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside and Rachel Ticotin, along with Robocop, it really is another sublime Verhoeven effort to marvel at. 

Though Verhoeven takes liberties with the original book and changes things up, such as making Quaid's wife a villain, which never happened in the book, this is still a fantastic standalone, futuristic-based movie that still revels in his kinetic and aggressive line of approach that he unduly takes in his depictions of violence. 

Encompassing a pulsating and equally gruesome climax towards the end, which is not for the faint-hearted (me included), forget the soulless remake.

1990's Total Recall is still to this day, as great as I remembered it when I first saw it in the mid/the late 1990s. 

*score last updated: January 12, 2017*


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