The Man with the Iron Fists the directorial debut of music artist RZA is clearly a love letter to all of the Wu Tang frontman's passions. An old school kung fu movie infused with hip hop beats and a comic book aesthetic Iron Fists rarely makes a lick of sense but it's a collage of imagination — and that earns it a few points. Like a cinematic version of the backyard games we all used to play RZA casts himself as a Chinese town's resident badass who teams up with a cowboy to take down an army of ninjas assassins. The freeform style allows him to run wild rarely providing actual thrills but resulting in an action movie overflowing with heart. Bloody bloody heart.
The manic script for Iron Fists written by RZA and Eli Roth (Cabin Fever Hostel) interlocks a handful of colorful characters with varying degrees of success: The Blacksmith (RZA) a freed slave who hopes to earn enough bucks to whisk his love prostitute Lady Silk (Jamie Chung) away from the Pink Blossom brothel; Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu) the brothel's owner (and local mobster); Silver Lion (Byron Mann) a murderous gangster out to overtake the city with the help of his magical metallic underling Brass Body (Dave Bautista); Zen Yi a.k.a. The X-Blade (Rick Yune) whose father was killed at the hands of Silver Lion and now seeks revenge; and Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) a mysterious British gunslinger taking residence at the Pink Blossom who may have ulterior motives. Iron Fists bounces between the plot threads without much worry — you never really know who is doing what or why. But if characters say what they're thinking with conviction then beat the daylights out of their opponent it's supposed to suffice. More often than not it does.
What Iron Fists lacks in coherency it makes up for in absurdity. RZA pumps up the volume on every element of the film from costumes that shoot daggers to flamboyant overacting evildoers to Jack Knife taking the goriest route to defeat an enemy (in this case using a knife gun to rip up a heavyset man's insides). Taking a page from mentor Quentin Tarantino's book anything can happen in this Eastern martial soap opera and everything does happen. It's money shot after money shot the rapid pace reminiscent of channel surfing — likely the way most kung fu fans stumbled upon the type of films that inspire Iron Fists back in the '70s and '80s.
Not every moment pops — unlike Liu and Crowe RZA doesn't exactly light up the screen when given the freedom to go crazy. Blacksmith is a muted mumbling character who doesn't throw himself into a fight the way a kung fu movie demands from its lead. Behind the camera the fight scenes are choreographed similarly to how the movie is structured: randomly with the occasional inspired moment. But the inventiveness of the mechanics keeps Iron Fists working. A scene with two twins using contortion to throw and kick and punch their way through hoards of bad guys is a joy. Seeing Crowe (obviously not an expert in martial arts) lay down a few moves is pure fun too.
The Man with the Iron Fists isn't as expertly crafted as Tarantino's Kill Bill but it has more mind-boggling oddities. RZA unleashes his passion into the film so even when the story or action isn't working something else on screen is.
Max Payne started life as a popular 2001 videogame and now the dark dreary material has morphed into feature film that tries to give a back story for the tortured title character. Payne’s (Mark Wahlberg) wife and newborn baby are tragically killed and now Max a DEA agent is involved in the investigation of a series of murders that could provide a link to solving the mystery of his family’s demise. Demons in the form of a winged serpents haunt Max -- but nothing real or imagined will stand in the way of his quest. He teams with a beautiful Russian mobster and assassin Mona Sax (Mila Kunis) whose sister Natasha (Olga Kurylenko) is also killed giving equal reason to seek revenge. Complicating matters is Max’s mentor B.B. (Beau Bridges) an ex-cop who now does security for a large pharmaceutical company which may hold the key to the mystery. Forces -- both real and hidden -- are hard at work to keep Max who is clearly fighting his inner demons from reaching his goal. Wahlberg is earnest and knows how to kickass but the murders of his young wife and baby which is meant to give emotional heft to the character is really not enough to connect us to this guy. Still he does quite nicely in the numerous action scenes and is at home playing a DEA agent. Mila Kunis so appealing in Forgetting Sarah Marshall shows a saucier side here and has great potential as an action mama perhaps the kind of ball-buster Aeon Flux should have been. Olga Kurylenko who is also in the new James Bond film Quantum of Solace is well-used in the few scenes she has and Prison Break’s Amaury Nolasco is convincing as a tough ex-vet who now has drifted into the drug underworld. Beau Bridges has a tricky role he pulls off without tipping the story over while the other Bridges in the film -- rapper-turned-actor Chris “Ludicris” Bridges -- is an Internal Affairs detective who seems to sense something serious going on with Max. John Moore has been clearly influenced by the Matrix and new Batman movies creating a dark and ominous New York City with winged creatures reminiscent of the mythological Valkyrie roaming the grey skies. These creatures are apparently meant to physically represent the tortured thoughts in the mind of Max Payne. This creature feature aspect does not exist in the videogame and it’s an interesting if not entirely plausible addition from the mind of writer Beau Thorne. Moore invests his visuals with equal doses of reality and fantasy in an uneasy mix that has you wondering what’s real and what’s Memorex. Subjective POV camerawork and slow-motion shots sometimes give us the feeling we are watching Matrix but the stylistic touches do seem to be in line with the character’s journey. Moore has laid on the visual effects effortlessly particularly in the creation of the creatures who haunt Payne’s subconscious life.
Dateline: 10 000 B.C. The day of the last hunt has arrived. Oh dear. If an ancient prophecy holds true a remote mountain tribe’s quiet existence is hours away from coming to a bloody end. Not that it matters to a hunting party comprised of mud-splattered Abercrombie & Fitch himbos--nothing’s going to come between them and a hot plate of woolly mammoth meat. But no sooner is dinner over than “four-legged demons” attack. Actually they’re just slave traders on horseback but they quickly make off with plenty of women and children including Evolet (Camilla Belle). This “girl with the blue eyes” just so happens to possess the tribe’s “promise of life”--whatever that is. Enter D'Leh (Steven Strait). Our would-be He-Man loves Evolet so he organizes a rescue mission with the help of tribe elder Tic’Tic (Cliff Curtis). Their destination is a place unlike anything they have seen before (because they didn’t see Apocalypto): a city with pyramids built by slaves and ruled by a purported god the evil Almighty. First though our heroes must make it there alive--which is easier said than done when there are hungry (and poorly computer-generated) saber-toothed tigers on the prowl. Forget about Belle replacing Raquel Welch as the prehistoric playmate of your dreams. It’s my sad duty to report that are we denied the pleasure of seeing Belle strike some sexy poses in an animal-skin bikini straight out of One Million Years B.C. But it’s nice to know that even in the Mesolithic period our dreadlocked damsel in distress has access to the spa services needed for her to pass as the well-scrubbed face of a Vera Wang perfume campaign. Everyone else though needs a hosing down. Besides keeping herself clean and healthy Belle’s only other responsibility is to give the occasional hard stare that emphasizes Evolet’s piercing blue eyes which she does with aplomb. The Covenant’s Strait may have the beefcake physique of a warrior but he doesn’t possess any noble qualities. He’s more dolt than D’Leh natural born leader. Just listen to the sleepy Strait’s morale-boosting Independence Day-ish speech and you’re be inspired to fall on your own spear. Live Free or Die Hard’s Curtis can barely contain his embarrassment at having to fight at Strait’s side. 10 000 B.C. doesn’t boast a villain worthy of our hisses but Affiff Ben Nadra and Marco Khan at least project some menace as at-odds slave traders. “Only time can teach us what is truth and what is legend ” intones narrator Omar Sharif with all the pomposity of Seinfeld’s J. Peterman. Fine but 10 000 B.C. is hardly the stuff of legends. There are too many problems with this serious-minded but fantastical prehistoric romp to enjoy it on its own terms or as an unintentional exercise in pure camp. Forcing the cast to speak with grating generic European accents makes the inane dialogue harder on the ears. The plot borrows too liberally from Apocalypto. Even when Emmerich stops treading on Mel Gibson’s toes 10 000 B.C. also comes across as a de facto prequel to Stargate what with its antagonist being a pyramid-obsessed supreme being. You even brace yourself for the Almighty to reveal himself to be Jaye Davidson. All could be forgivable if Emmerich delivered on the action. He doesn’t. A woolly mammoth stampede proves to be inferior to similar scenes in Jurassic Park and King Kong. A phorusrhacid attack provokes laughter because it looks like our heroes are fleeing from a pissed-off Big Bird. The climatic revolt ends as soon as it begins. No one demands much from Emmerich. Just pure spectacle. So why does 10 000 B.C. feel no bigger than a natural history museum mini-diorama?
The Illusionist is also a bit sluggish sort of like a complicated magic trick building to its climatic conclusion. It starts at the turn of the century when mysterious stage magician Eisenheim (Edward Norton) arrives in Vienna and begins performing his astounding illusions. He arouses not only the curiosity of the people who believe he has otherworldly powers but of the ruthless Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) an unsavory fellow who’d like to prove the man a fraud especially after he witnesses a budding attraction between his beautiful fiancé Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel) and the magician. What Leopold doesn’t know is that Eisenheim and Sophie were once childhood sweethearts—and now that they’ve reunited a dormant and forbidden love affair has been rekindled. Now it’s up to Vienna's shrewd Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) to uncover the truth charged by Leopold to intensify his efforts to expose Eisenheim. With Uhl doggedly pursuing the man behind the magician Eisenheim prepares to execute his greatest illusion yet. The stars of The Illusionist all shine. Yes even Ms. Biel who may not be of the same caliber as her cast mates but certainly doesn’t embarrass herself either as the aristocratic Sophie with a feisty spirit. Norton who has always prided himself on choosing his projects wisely is sad and wonderful as The Illusionist’s regal and masterful purveyor of chimera. Oscar could come calling. Gold might also be in Giamatti’s horizon who seems unable to turn in a sour performance in whatever he does (even if its swimming with water nymphs). As the steadfast policeman Uhl Giamatti takes the brilliantly juicy part and runs with it. He really comes alive when trying to figure out Eisenheim’s trickery but is continually baffled by it at the same time. Sewell (The Legend of Zorro) plays the bad guy once again. Guess he doesn’t really care to try something new so long as he gets the job done. The reason The Illusionist feels like an independent film despite its opulent art direction and period costumes is because writer/director Neil Burger is a newbie. And it’s obvious the story is something close to his heart. Taken from a short story called “Eisenheim The Illusionist ” Burger has cleverly interwoven an intimate murder mystery with a grand and romantic saga of two lovers torn apart by class struggles all within the frame work of magic. It’s a brilliant first effort. Burger’s inexperience does show up at times especially in how the film plods a bit in the beginning but once it gets going you’re hooked. It’s also interesting to note there are TWO 19th century period movies about magicians coming out in the same year. Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige with Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as rival magicians is due out in October. Magicians and their tricks can certainly be cinema worthy it’s just funny to see how those Hollywood execs all think alike: “Hey did you hear about that new guy doing a movie about a turn of the century illusionist or whatever? Let’s do one too!” “OK and let’s release it two months after the first one!” “OK!” Oy.
It's graduation day for Scotty (Scott Mechlowicz) but the celebration comes to an abrupt end when his girlfriend Fiona (Kristin Kreuk) dumps him by blatantly announcing she has been unfaithful to him--over and over again. At a graduation party that night Fiona makes her point by jumping on stage during rockers Lustra's performance of "Scotty Doesn't Know " which goes something like this: "Scotty doesn't know that Fiona and me do it in my van every Sunday..." Dumbfounded Scotty gets drunk and goes home to confide in his Berlin-based computer pen pal Mieke (Jessica Boerhs) who suggests coming to America for a "rendezvous." Scott rudely rebuffs him (and that's putting it mildly) not aware that Mieke is not a guy but actually a really hot high school girl. He tries to make amends but Mieke won't read his e-mails so his pal Cooper (Jacob Pitts) convinces him to go to Berlin and meet her face-to-face. Short on cash they take a cheap courier flight to London where they meet up with twin pals Jenny (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Jamie (Travis Wester) before hopscotching to Amsterdam Bratislava Rome Vatican City and finally Berlin. Of course the chase is always better than the kill and Eurotrip is no different: Whether Scotty gets Mieke is beside the point; the amusement is all in the journey there. Who knew for example that you could spend the night in a five star hotel and partake in a night of clubbing in Eastern Europe on $1.87 U.S.-and still have 27 cents left over when it's all over?
Newcomer Mechlowicz is perfectly cast as the lead here playing a character that is simple-minded daring sympathetic and charming. But it's Mechlowicz's personal spin--his bewildered expressions--that really nails the role for him whether he is witnessing the twins accidentally making out on the dance floor in a drunken stupor or waking up to find a strange passenger cozying up to him on a train. As his buddy Cooper Pitts (K-19: The Widowmaker) plays the wisecracker of the bunch and although he doesn't go over the top with the crassness there is a little too much David Spade influence in his delivery (and the similar haircuts don't help the matter either). Like the rest of the cast Wester is careful not to typecast his character Jamie a meticulous planner who can't travel without Frommer's by loosening him up slightly. Jamie for example knows when it's time do drop the book and experiment even if it means nude sunbathing. Trachtenberg (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer) also infuses her twin character Jenny with the perfect blend of sexuality and innocence. The result is a cast of mishmash characters that are just so darn likeable. Look for a surprise cameo from Matt Damon as well as small but hilarious performances from Vinnie Jones as Mad Maynard a Manchester United soccer hooligan; Lucy Lawless as S&M mistress Madame Vandersexxx; and Saturday Night Live's Fred Armisen credited as "the creepy Italian guy."
Jeff Schaffer makes his directorial debut here from a screenplay co-written with his longtime partners scribes Alec Berg and David Mandel. And ads touting it as a comedy "from producers of Road Trip and Old School " may be exactly what Eurotrip a comedy starring relative unknowns needs to draw the coveted teen crowd. After all Ivan Reitman the producer responsible for catapulting low budget comedies into box-office gold territory has secured quite a following--and fans won't be let down with this latest offering. Unlike its predecessors Eurotrip isn't afraid to be crass and while the characters are sweet the storyline is anything but. In this Euro-centric tale writing trio Schaffer Berg and Mandel proudly embrace every stereotype imaginable but do so at the expense of the inexperienced foursome which makes the material funny rather than offensive. Nude beaches the young Americans discover aren't necessarily packed with hot gorgeous women and Amsterdam's sex industry isn't exactly the stuff young male fantasies are made of. With one hilarious gag after another as well as funky map graphics with dotted lines that transport viewers from city to city the film maintains its fast-moving pace throughout. Surprisingly the film was shot entirely on location in the Czech Republic with Prague doubling as London Paris Berlin Amsterdam Rome Vatican City Bratislava--and even Hudson Ohio with landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower the Coliseum and Big Ben added using CGI. Accompanied by an awesome soundtrack featuring Lutsra's "Scotty Doesn't Know " Chapeaumelon's "My Generation" and The Salads "Get Loose " this film succeeds on all levels.