Friday, April 28, 2006

Camera Obscura - James Bond and Some Hustle Fu

Let's just get some of the obvious movie stuff out of the way first, then it's on to the real (reel) stuff, including a crime drama that offers an excellent performance by the soon-to-be James Bond, Daniel Craig and this week's must-see comedy-action movie.

On a weekend when most of America is pig-biting mad about the relentless rise in gasoline prices, it's not the best time for a good-natured family film about the fun to be had in an RV, with the gas mileage of 4 miles per gallon. Yet that's the plan for the Robin William's comedy "R.V.", a clone of "National Lampoon's Vacation". If your feeling more pain than comedy at the pump, wait til you plop down 50 bucks for the family to see "R.V." (that's what, the price of an SUV fill-up?) Williams may be able to save some of the lightweight comedy here, and maybe the hackneyed jokes will give viewers another form of gas.

As mentioned last week, a new JJ Abrams version of the old "Star Trek" story is in the works, but Abrams is pretty ticked that details about his involvement and the script details:

He explains to Empire online, "The whole thing was reported entirely without our cooperation. People learned that I was producing a Star Trek film, that I had an option to direct it, they hear rumors of what the thing was going to be and ran with a story that is not entirely accurate." Abrams won't reveal the true storyline, but hints that it won't feature characters Captain James T. Kirk or Mr. Spock at all..."

Empire also says Jon Favreau is working on an adaption of the comic "Iron Man," and "Shaun of the Dead" director is working on "Ant Man." Also getting a new script is "Nick Fury" (oh please do this right) by Andrew Marlow, writer of "Air Force One" and "Hollow Man." And Will Smith is set to star in a new version of Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend."

(Obligatory "Poseidon" joke: is it more than coincidence that just as Rosie O'Donnell did a gay cruise documentary we get a new ship disaster movie??)

Set for release much sooner is "Talladega: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby", from the same makers of "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy." Check out the details and trailer here.

Now, onto the sneak peek of the new James Bond, Daniel Craig. In a seldom-seen award winning crime drama from 2005, Layer Cake. Akin to early Scorcese pics, and in the brutal and oddball crime world of "Snatch" and "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," this movie is likely the one that got Craig the job as the new Bond. Lean, tough and above all, a very good actor. His character is a super-smug drug dealer who is attempting to retire, but his companions and his boss have other plans. His best efforts splinter into the worst of all possible situations and while the storyline may seem familiar, Craig reveals some first rate acting chops, along with a host of British character actors (hey, was that Colm Meaney from "Deep Space 9''??)

Twists and turns keep the viewer guessing (if you can follow the VERY british slang) and Craig shows he'll make a compelling and both brutal and witty Bond. The movie also has an excellent soundtrack.

One more recommendation for this week, which asks the question: What do you get if you blend the humor and style of an MGM musical, a Looney Tunes cartoon and a Kung Fu movie? (Yeah, like you've ever asked that.) The answer is a startling, hilarious and highly entertaining romp called "Kung Fu Hustle," from writer, director, actor Stephen Chow.

Set in the 1940s in a cul-de-sac, rundown tenement, which looks like an old set on the lot of MGM, this truly funny spoof of kung-fu and movies in general is loaded with enough jokes to almost land it in the filmmaking school of "Airplane." The story follows what happens in this community of ultra-poor luckless folk when they are accidentally forced into a confrontation with the notorious Axe Gang. Chow plays the lead, a witless con-man who pretends to be a member of the Axe Gang and inadvertently draws that gang into the run down tenements.

What helps keep the visual and scripted surprises flying is the cast of characters - a landlord (played by old Bruce Lee stunt double Yuen Wah) and his pushy wife, a gay tailor and Chow's overweight companion. First time I've seen a kung fu master played as a mouthy woman with her hair in rollers and a perpetual cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth. In fact, all the ragged residents of the tenement don't look or act like anything fierce, but that's part of the charm and the comedy.

As the story brings about fight scene after fight scene, the jokes pile on top of each other, just as the fighters pile on top of each other. Using very funny CG effects and sharp camera work, even non-fu fans will really enjoy this romp. Chow stands out too, almost like a Buster Keaton character who does far more damage to himself while trying to act tough. Attempting to throw knives, the knives all land on Chow himself.

Imagine Mel Brooks and Chuck Jones making "Enter The Dragon". I found the movie much funnier than Chow's last American release "Shaolin Soccer" and I think you'll be astonished at how funny this parody can be.

One last note for this Friday - some years back, some friends and I used to try and find outlandish or unusual movies to challenge each other. The other night, I watched the unrated horror flick "Hostel." Whew! Grim barely describes it. A couple of dim-witted American tourists head to Europe in search of the most hedonistic adventures they can find - then they find themselves the main course in a hedonistic European Let's-Hate-American buffet. It's what I used to call a Clear The Room movie, as few people could withstand how vile the movie becomes. Watch at your own risk,

Me, I'm watching "King-Fu Hustle" again.


  1. I absolutely adored Kung Fu Hustle.

    The wit, both verbal and visual, kept me involved from start to finish. Nothing is as it is unitially assumed.

    To put it simply, it's a hoot.

  2. ya know, Snarky Squirel, it was so good on viewing three, that i'm just gonna buy the DVD and laugh til my garments is soiled.

  3. AT and I are both huge fans of Kung-Fu Hustle. We rented it the first day it came out (with all the theaters around here, you'd think more than just run-down Downtown West would show it). We've watched it repeatedly since. Unfortunately, most friends to whom we've recommended it don't watch it, because they're aware of our peculiar taste in movies.