Monday, September 1, 2014

Back to 1942 (2012)

During the winter of 1942 to the spring of 1944, China's Henan Province is suffering a major drought and famine during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

In West Laorhung Village, Yanjin County, wealthy landlord Master Fan (Guoli Zhang), is forced to share food with a horde of starving bandits. A chaotic fight ensues; Fan's son (Zhao Yi) is killed, and his home is burned to the ground. The victims of robbery, the wealthy families turn to the county for help.

There is no help, and Master Fan, his daughter Lao Ma (Wei Fan), wife (Yuan Huifang), daughter-in-law (Li Qian), and servant Shuan Zhu (Mo  Zhang) join a long parade of refugees heading for greener pastures in Shaanxi. They soon join up with fellow villager Xia Lu (Yuanzheng Feng) and his family.

A Nationalist Army commander, Jiang Dingwen (Yu Zhen) turns down Henan Province Gov. Li Peiji's (Xuejian Li) request to forgive the requisition for 750,000 tons of grain. His troops need to be fed. One of the tragedies of the famine is that little girls are sold as child brides so that the rest of the family can eat. In fact, the refugees are forced to get their nutrition from cooking ground-up dried wood.

Meanwhile, Time correspondent Theodore H. White (Adrien Brody) has heard about the horrible conditions the refugees of Henan are experiencing. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (Chen Daoming Chen), head of Nationalist Government, decides to abandon Henan and let its residents fend for themselves against the invading Japanese Army.

Fan's daughter allows herself to be sold to a mattress factory for prostitution so she and her family (and her baby nephew) can have food to live (they already had to eat her pet cat).

After talking to Father Megan (Tim Robbins, in a pretty much useless character role) in Henan, White photographs the horror of the exodus and files a story about the refugees that causes outrage. Generalissimo Chiang is forced  to send relief to the suffering Henan Chinese. Unfortunately, the county and provincial governments continue to look the gift horse of 300-million pounds of grain in the mouth.

And the refugees keep suffering.

Back to 1942 is graced with magnificent cinematography tempered by horrendous scenes of war result in a powerful and gripping tale of faith, perseverance and hope. The choices to be made are heart-breaking.

Released as Yi Jiu Si Er in the Mandarin language, Back to 1942 is based on Liu Zhenyun’s 2012 book, Remembering 1942. It was submitted to the Academy Awards as China’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film, but wasn’t nominated. Produced on a ¥210-million (US$33.7 million) budget, Back to 1942 enjoyed a box office of ¥463 million (US$74.6 million).

Grade: A

Sunday, August 31, 2014

April in Paris (1952)

S. "Sam" Winthrop Putnam (Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz) has quite a title. He is Assistant Secretary to the Assistant to the Undersecretary of State, which is a darned sight better than his former title – Assistant Assistant Secretary to the Assistant to the Undersecretary of State.

He's in a panic because he got his mailings mixed up and sent an invitation to the International Festival of Arts in Paris that he's putting together to the wrong person. Meant for Ethel Barrymore, it instead went to Broadway chorus girl Ethel S. "Dynamite" Jackson (Doris Day).

By the way, stranded Frenchman Philippe Fouquet (Claude Dauphin) pops in every now and then to break the "fourth wall" and speak to the audience. His scenes are funny. In fact, he’s a scene-stealer.

Sam rushes to New York to try and straighten things out, but becomes enchanted with her. And who can blame him, she's a beauty. Besides, everybody she works with is making a big deal of it. Actually, he does tell her about the mistake, but his boss, Secretary Robert Sherman (Paul Harvey), approves of how things turned out. Sherman's daughter, Marcia Sherman (Eve Miller), Sam's fiancée, is delighted.

It takes quite an effort to set things straight with Ethel, but eventually, the delegation is set – artist Joshua Stevens (Herbert Farjeon), man of letters Sinclair Wilson (Wilson Millar), composer Joseph Welmar (Raymond Largay), and "What a built" Ethel.

Ethel doesn't quite fit in with her stuffy travel mates, especially at the luxury ship's dinner table, crunching celery loudly, spearing olives, slurping bouillon with the wrong spoon. Thank heavens for Philippe, who's working his way back to France as a waiter. He livens up her trip.

And, of course, Sam and Ethel fall in love (and they haven't even reached Paris yet) and pay a visit to the ship's captain, who marries them. But oops! It's not legal, because ... (Funny sequence regarding the nuptial beds.) Ah, disappointment reigns when the truth is out.

They finally get to Paris, which turns into another arena for the cherchez les femme game.

April in Paris is primarily a vehicle for Doris Day to entertain us with her singing. And boy, can she sing. The title song was not new at the time, having been a hit in 1932. It is reported that Bolger and director David Butler had their differences, with Bolger trying to steal scenes away from Day, who said she was totally unaware of this.

Bolger can barely carry a tune, but boy, can he dance. Lots of singing, lots of dancing, lots of funny stuff. Not much of a story, but what the heck, April in Paris is entertaining; not very deep, but entertaining. Bolger is goofy-looking, but Doris Day is beautiful enough for the two of them.

The film was one of the top box office hits of 1953, with a take of $2.75 million.

Grade: C+

Movie Quotations 143

Fin: "You broke a lotta hearts. How could I let a guy like that marry my sister?" Martin: "'Cause we were the same, man." Fin: "Exactly!" – Finley "Fin" Shepherd (Ian Ziering) and his brother-in-law Martin Brody (Mark McGrath), in Sharknado 2: The Second One

"You know, maybe I was wrong and luck is like love. You have to go all the way to find it." – Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), in Out of the Past

"All women are wonders, because they reduce all men to the obvious." – Leonard Eels (Ken Niles), in Out of the Past

"They say the day you die your name is written in the clouds." – Ann Miller (Virginia Huston), in Out of the Past

"The refugees trudge forward every day, and I can't see a government stepping in to assist them." – Theodore H. White (Adrien Brody), in Back to 1942

"You must not starve to death. A dead priest cannot preach." – Father Megan (Tim Robbins) in Back to 1942

“You know, when I was little, I caught a wild boar. My father set it free. Do you know why? It was pregnant. Are you pregnant?” – The Old Soldier (Jackie Chan) to his captive, in Little Big Soldier

“There is always a victor in war. Only when the victor has unified the world will there be true peace so little men like you can lead a regular life.” – The Young General (Leehom Wang), in Little Big Soldier

"Tonight allows people a release for all the hatred and violence that they keep up inside them." – James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), in The Purge

"Incoming reports show this year's Purge has been the most successful to date, with the most murders committed." – Newscaster (Karen Strassman, uncredited), in The Purge

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pacific Rim (2013)

It's the giant Kaiju ("strange beast" in Japanese) monster robots versus the massive, human-operated Jaeger ("hunter" in German) mecha robots in the war of the ages. But ... I'm getting ahead of myself, so let's back up a bit.

It starts when a fissure between two underwater tectonic plates becomes a portal between dimensions, and an entryway for the Kaiju to attack San Francisco, Manila, Cabo, and more. So humans develop Jaegers to counter the threat.

Difficult to control, the Jaegers require two pilots, right and left hemispheres linked and acting as one.
They "drift" – mind meld – through a neuro-handshake. It's like synchronized swimming in a monstrous robot body.

Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) defies a direct order by his commanding officer, Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), while on Jaeger assignment with his brother, Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff), resulting in loss of brother Yancy and the Jaeger. Raleigh washes out.

Five years later, the Jaeger program is in jeopardy of being phased out, thanks to an anti-Kaiju coastal wall construction project. Pentecost assembles all available Jaeger pilots for one last stand.

Raleigh signs up and meets Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi, and Mana Asjida as child), who wants to co-pilot the Jaeger Gipsy Danger. And after a martial arts match, he wants that too. But, she has problems. They will be wingmen to Australian Jaeger pilot Chuck Hansen (Rob Kazinsky) and his father and co-pilot Hercules "Herc" Hansen (Max Martini). Chuck has big problems with that.

The resistance's research team – Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) – does nothing to instill confidence with their constant, comedic bickering. But they do provide some interesting numbers that predict when the next Kaiju attacks will take place.

The plan is to drop a thermonuclear device through the portal into the Kaiju's parallel universe. A good plan? We'll see.

Newton connects his brain with a Kaiju and drifts with it. Turns out they've been here since the dinosaurs, and are emerging because the time (and atmosphere ) are finally right for them. Stacker sends him to see Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman), a black marketer of Kaiju organs in the bone slums of Hong Kong. Newton needs an entire live Kaiju brain to drift with for more information.

The battle is on. And what a battle it is. Heroes are made, including Newton Geiszler and Hermann Gottlieb.

Tom Cruise was considered for the role of Stacker Pentecost, but it went to Idris Elba (Charles Miner in NBC TV's The Office) when a Cruise had to decline because of a scheduling conflict. Many of the cubicle components used in the office that the robot Gipsy Danger's fist punches were created using 3D printers.

Pacific Rim performed poorly in the United States ($101.7 million), but was redeemed by its huge overseas box office, especially on China, its largest market ($114 million, the sixth largest American release in China). Eventually, its worldwide take exceeded $411 million against its $190-million budget. A sequel is currently being written, but the project has not yet been green lit.

Watching Pacific Rim is like watching a “Mega-Transformers vs Mega Godzilla” movie. At times the screen image is hard to get your brain around; it's often confusing to watch. Kind of like a description I read of the first Transformers movie, that it was like sticking your face in a bucket of LEGO pieces and shaking it around. But if you watch with concentration, it makes sense.

Grade: B-

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Humanoids from the Deep (1980)

Humanoids from the Deep is another one of those "locals fight the big, bad corporation" films, blaming them for a dwindling catches of salmon. But of course, there's something lurking beneath the surface off the coast of Noyo, California.

Baron is the first to fall victim to humanoid monsters. He's the family dog, owned by Jim and Carol Hill (Douglas McClure and Cindy Weintraub in her film debut), and his brother, Tommy (Breck Costin in his film debut). Apparently, Baron is one of many dogs left mangled.

And, of course, in films like this, teen lovers are out of luck. First, it's swimmers James Potter (Meegan King) and Peggy Larson (Lynn Schiller), who's raped by a monster, followed by Billy (David Strassman in his film debut) and his girlfriend Becky (Lisa Glaser),

The large corporation is Canco, which wants to build a large salmon cannery. Canco promises jobs, and an increased salmon population thanks to the work of its scientist, Dr. Susan Drake (Ann Turkel).

Local redneck canner Hank Slattery (Vic Morrow) has an ongoing conflict with Native American activist Johnny Eagle (Anthony Pena), who's planning to block development of the cannery via lawsuit. But when he's attacked by a Hank Slattery Molotov cocktail, Tommy is hurt by one of those monster things, and Tommy's girlfriend, Linda Eale (Denise Galik), dies in a car crash, he helps Jim and Susan find the monsters.

Susan definitely knows something about the humanoids, which appear hot to mate, rudely interrupting the Noyo Salmon Festival and "doing it" with women. Yep, it's a Canco coverup.

Humanoids from the Deep is simple, definitely unconfusing. The side stories are at least relevant to some degree, and most of the acting isn't too bad. There's frontal nudity, there's bloody gore, there's lots of screaming – everything one could want from a monster film. The Jim Hill character is superfluous, they should have saved money and gotten a cheaper actor than Doug McClure.

The movie’s stuntmen were originally supposed to play the humanoids, but they backed out, claiming the monsters looked too stupid. So more actors had to be hired to wear them. Actually there was only one humanoid costume that looked and functioned realistically enough to be used. Two more were shot from different angles to hide major imperfections.

Ann Turkel took the role of Dr. Susan Drake after reading the script and noting there was no sex. But when additional sex scenes were added, she asked the Screen Actors’ Guild to stop the film from being released. She failed.

The ending is a direct rip-off of 1979’s Alien (monster popping out of the stomach). A Roger Corman film, Humanoids from the Deep was released as Monster in Europe. It was remade in 1996 for television, reusing much of the salmon festival carnival footage.

Grade: C-

Monday, August 4, 2014

Red 2 (2013)

When Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) retired, he expected to stay retired, playing homemaker with his girlfriend Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker). But his former partner, Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), has other ideas.

But before we can find out what's up, Marvin's car blows up. Still, at the funeral, Frank suspects he's still alive, lying there in his casket, looking all serene and peaceful.

A man named Jack Horton (Neal McDonough), claiming to be Frank's representative, shows up at a Dept. Of Defense's Yankee White Facility, demanding to know where Frank is. Frank had been taken into custody at the funeral, and is being interrogated about Nightshade, a portable nuclear weapon hidden in Russia.

Horton brings along a half-dozen or so men, but that Frank is talented, and handles them all. Well, all except one. That one is eliminated by Marvin. Yep, that Marvin, the one believed dead by everybody. Consequently, Jack arranges for a Hong Kong contract killer, Han Cho-Bai (Lee Byung-hun), to take care of the situation.

What situation, you ask? They think Marvin and Frank know all about Nightshade. And why not? They had been assigned to get Dr. Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant, genius physicist, out of Moscow 30+ years ago. They failed, and Bailey was killed. Or so everyone thinks.

Meanwhile, in the U.K., Victoria Winslow (Helen Mirren), an old compatriot of Frank's, is hired by MI6 to also kill Frank. She calls Frank to let him know, in effect giving them fair warning.

What they have to do is catch "The Frog" (David Thewlis). They steal Han's plane and head off to Paris, where they bump into Russian secret agent Katya Petrokovich (Catherine Zeta-Jones), an old girlfriend of Frank's. She's also after Nightshade. They hook up with Victoria after tricking Katya into thinking she has the key to Nightshade, and invade an MI6 asylum where they find Dr. Bailey, whom everyone thought was dead, but has been hidden incognito for more than 30 years.

Meanwhile, Jack Horton is still trying to track them down, as is Han. And boy, is Han good at what he does. But he does do the right thing.

Ernest Borgnine had wanted to reprise his role as records keeper Henry. He was accommodated, but died three months before production got underway, necessitating changes in the script.

By the way, Mary-Louise Parker never looked more beautiful. Come to think of it, I could say the same thing about Catherine Zeta-Jones. And Helen Mirren has always been beautiful. I laughed quite a bit during the film, but it has nothing to do with their beauty. The writing is funny.

Red 2, the sequel to 2010’s Red, had a box office of #148 million against its budget of $84 million. The Red films were inspired by DC Comics’ limited edition comic book of the same name.

Grade: B