Saturday, March 23, 2013

Movie Reviews-The Man with the Iron Fists, Standoff

The Man With The Iron Fists
directed by RZA
Dave Bautista is a HUGE MONSTER of a man. Lucy Liu and Jamie Chung are sexy. RZA is not a skilled actor. Russell Crowe could stand to drop a few pounds. Those are the impressions I got from watching this film. They are pretty much about all I remember. Look, nobody goes to watch a kung-fu/action movie for the great acting or complex plot lines. That's certainly not what I enjoyed watching those Saturday afternoon channel 4 kung-fu movies all those years ago.  So I wasn't really expecting much from this film. And I wasn't disappointed.

RZA directed this film with an assist in production and writing by Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth ("Hostel"). As a director he's so so but then again most people don't hit a home run at their first at bat. No the major problem here is that RZA can't really act. Or to be more charitable he can't act well enough for you to suspend belief that he's not RZA and instead is the titular character, an emancipated slave, who somehow got shipwrecked halfway across the world in 19th century China, where he works as a blacksmith (and undercover monk) making weapons for various rival gangs who fight each other for, well, they don't really need a reason and you don't either.

Blacksmith doesn't speak much in the film but does give a lot of the voice over. He has a thing going on with the delectable Lady Silk (Jamie Chung) a prostitute in the brothel run by the older, still sexy and proto-feminist Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), a woman who promises her female employees that the day of their liberation is arriving soon. Blacksmith intends to earn enough money to purchase the freedom of Lady Silk. Until then they only see each other. Lady Silk is unavailable to any other customers, no matter what they offer.

As mentioned there are many rivals gangs or clans that battle for supremacy. During one such fight between the Lions and the Hyenas, Gold Lion, an honorable elder, is betrayed by his subordinates Silver Lion and Bronze Lion, and murdered. The duo intend to steal a gold shipment that they were supposed to be protecting. One of their top enforcers is Brass Body (Dave Bautista) who can turn his body to the aforementioned metal. When Gold Lion's son The X-Blade (Rick Yune) hears of his father's traitorous murder of course he swears bloody revenge and runs out looking for the scumbags who did it. Meanwhile a British mercenary named Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) shows up in town looking for the gold and women, not necessarily in that order. All of these people wind up in Jungle Village and the sparks such as they are start to fly.
In case you can't tell I wasn't super impressed by this movie. There are several scenes which are not only homages to kung-fu movies but there are seemingly virtual  shot for shot takes of some classic Tarantino scenes from Kill Bill. So if you like being able to watch a movie and pick out influences or shots from other films this could be an interesting exercise. I would have been furious if I had paid for this in the theater. It just didn't have enough energy to work even as a bad kung fu movie. This phrase is almost a cliche now but RZA's performance is wooden. Even when he gets his chance to go on a roaring rampage of revenge you just don't feel very much for the character. He seems bored. Many performances seem muted here, with the exception of Bautista who just needs to flex and beat people up and Liu, who infuses what could have been a dragon lady stereotype with humor and surprising physicality. This is an ok late night movie if there is nothing else on to watch but it doesn't rank with the classics of the genre.

Stand Off
written by Terry George
The first issue I had with this film was actually referenced by the film itself. People in America and the UK and Ireland may technically speak the same language but there are occasions when the accent, cadence and slang may render words, phrases or even entire sentences temporarily incomprehensible. A Belfast man asks an American a question which the American simply can't understand, even when the Belfast man repeats himself. Frustrated the Belfast man inquires "Do they not speak English over there in America?"

Just like with the American it took some time for me to catch on to the accents and what was really going on. Once I did, well the movie was okay but it was nothing to write home about. An American, Joe Maguire (Brendan Fraser) who has familial (and possibly criminal ties) to Northern Ireland, comes to Belfast to run an antique shop for his cousin, who is either off on vacation or doing good deeds in Africa. Maguire does his best to fit in and even starts to make goo-goo eyes at beautiful Ethiopian immigrant Sophie (Yaya DaCosta).

Meanwhile local crime overlord Mad Dog Flynn (David O'Hara) (and there are more than a few setpieces used to show that he really does indeed deserve his sobriquet) is tired of his wife nagging him about his inability to get her pregnant. In fact he won't even admit that he's the party with the parts that don't work and will throw a beating to anyone who suggests so. Flynn has noticed that one of his local loanshark/gambling debtors Jimbo (Martin McCann) has a young son. So desirous of a peaceful situation with his wife, Flynn tells Jimbo that as he can't pay his debt that Jimbo will need to hand over his son to Flynn. If Jimbo refuses Flynn will just kill Jimbo and his wife and take the baby anyway.

Desperate and not knowing what else to do Jimbo decides to rob the local fish market to get enough money to either pay Flynn or more likely get out of town. But the fish market is owned by Flynn. The robbery doesn't work as planned and through a series of comical and not so comical mixups Jimbo winds up in the antique shop with Joe and Sophie as hostages. Unfortunately for Joe the local police, led by detective Weller (Colm Meaney) believe that Joe is the armed robber and hostage taker. Weller also has some family issues he's working thru with his son. Weller is the old school sort of policeman who wants to beat up criminals and arrest them instead of spending time doing what he sees as "social work".

Of course there are some funny kids with hearts of gold and hidden links between many of the parties involved in this situation. This was an ok little film with great location shots of Belfast. But good or great movie? Ehh. Meaney and O'Hara do a solid job carrying this film but they just don't have enough to work with. A Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels this was not. It is nowhere near as action packed as the trailer would have you believe.

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