Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Movie Review (House of Flying Daggers)...

House of Flying Daggers

During the reign of the Tang dynasty in China, a secret organization called "The House of the Flying Daggers" rises to oppose the government. A government deputy called Leo (played by Infernal Affairs star, Andy Lau) sends his friend and fellow deputy Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to investigate Mei (Zhang Ziyi of Crouching Tiger fame), a suspected member of the ever-illusive ‘Flying Daggers’. Leo arrests Mei, and the two men hatch a cunning plan to lead the police to the new leader of the secret organization.

There has been a recent Western surge in the popularity of Chinese martial arts ‘wushu’ movies. Since Ang Lee’s ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ debuted in 2000, audiences have begged for more. The man responsible for satisfying the demand is director Zhang Zimou, who last year gave us Jet Li in ‘Hero’. His follow up is has finally arrived on western shores, but is it worthy?

In a word, no. The movie’s only real plus points are the stunning cinematography by Xiaoding Zhao and the production design by Tingxiao Huo. Every frame of this movie is presented beautifully, with inventive and entertaining action set-pieces to rival those of any decent western action movie. However, one can’t help but feel that ‘House of Flying Daggers’ was a rush job, hoping to capitalise on the success of ‘Hero’. The script is a mess of clichés and wooden dire-logue, with a third act throwing twist after twist at the audience, battering them into submission.

Disappointing.

2.5 out of 5

Movie Review (The Machinist)...

The Machinist

Writer Scott Kosar had the unenviable task of scripting the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003, but when that did big business stateside, he was immediately tapped to pen the script for another upcoming horror remake, The Amityville Horror. Between those two jobs however, Kosar teamed up with director Brad Anderson to deliver his most accomplished work to date. The Machinist is the story of Trevor Reznik, an insomniac lathe-operator whose physical and mental health is steadily declining. Exhausted and fatigued, Reznik claims to have not slept in a year, shuffling through life one day at a time, desperate for some rest. Strange occurrences begin to plague his daily life, what with the appearance of creepy Ivan, and seemingly inexplicable post-it notes appearing in his apartment.

Christian Bale presents an outstanding portrayal of the emaciated, sickly Reznik. His dedication to the character was compounded by his sixty three pound weight loss, a record for any actor for a movie role. It works shockingly well as both the physical representation of a tortured soul, and metaphorically as a man who is wasting away, consumed by some untold fear or guilt. On supporting duties are Jennifer Jason Leigh, as Reznik’s hooker girlfriend, and the always value-for-money Michael Ironside as his co-worker, Miller.

Structurally, ‘The Machinist’ is most obviously influenced by the time twisting ’21 Grams’ or perhaps ‘Memento’ but the look and feel of the movie is reminiscent of David Fincher’s work. Bale’s revelatory central performance, some genuinely creepy imagery, and a smartly written (if not very original) script make ‘The Machinist’ highly recommended viewing.

4 out of 5

Movie Review (Melinda and Melinda)...

Melinda and Melinda

Melinda and Melinda is Woody Allen’s thirty sixth feature film in as many years. Hit and miss in recent times, with the likes of ‘Anything Else’ and ‘The Curse of the Jade Scorpion’, Allen seems to have returned to form with this latest offering. Over a meal in a New York restaurant, a pair of writers and their fellow diner’s, argue back and forth about their take on the essence of life, encouraging one another to chip in with their views along the way. Is the essence of life comic or tragic? For arguments sake, one of the diners tells the tale of a mysterious woman who shows up out of the blue at a dinner party one evening. Two of the writers then take us through the tale, one adopting a tragic tone, the other comic, with both interpretations played out through the titular character.

Radha Mitchell’s (‘Man on Fire’, ‘Pitch Black’) central performance is the key to understanding the significance of Allen’s cross-genre script. It is crucial for the audience to buy her character as both a suicidal, depressed hopeless case, and at the same time, a more traditional romantic-comedy heroine whose inevitable success with love, cushions the occasional falls from grace along the way. Mitchell is ably supported by the dramatic talents of Chloe Sevigny (Melinda’s lifelong friend Laurel) and Chiwetel Ejiofer (love interest, Ellis Moonsong) and the comedic talents of Will Ferrell and Amanda Peet, as a couple drifting apart, offering Melinda refuge in their home.

An interesting and thought provoking central concept will hold your attention all the way through, but it is down to personal taste whether one is more satisfied by one take on the story or the other. As the stories progressed though, it became apparent that, on that particular day, the comedic story arc was the clear winner. Effectively, two movies for the price of one, Melinda and Melinda is a satisfying slice of movie entertainment, which uniquely caters to both the die hard romantic and world weary cynic.

4 out of 5