Friday, August 31, 2007

Camera Obscura - Elephant Fu; Halloween; Most Desired Movie Props


Something you don't say everyday: This movie features Elephant Kung Fu.

The movie is "The Protector" ("Tom Yum Goong") from 2005, and sadly the American version 'presented by Quentin Tarantino' is about half an hour shorter than the original Thai version.

Actor/stuntman Tony Jaa stars in the movie as a young man who is a protector of an elephant, a historical fact in which the royal families did assign people to be the caretakers and protectors of elephants. And of course, evil poachers attack Tony's dad and steal not just one but two elephants and whisk them away to Australia for .... well, I think it was for a crime boss who wanted some mystical elephant power, and because there is a notable Thai population in Australia.

Look, the reason to make and watch such a movie is simple - jaw-dropping action scenes. "The Protector" delivers those in large amounts. And yes, stuntman/actor Jaa is the real deal - no wire tricks of CG shots. He created his own variation of Muay Koshasan, which literally means Smashing Elephant Boxing. It is impressive to see the moves, which rely on grabbing, breaking and stomping on the bad guys with true elephantine glee.

A scene in a parking garage has Jaa facing off against a gang of extreme sportsters on roller blades, bikes and motorcycles and is a reminder of Jackie Chan's movies. Later, a single-shot steadicam tracks Jaa as he goes up the spiral staircase of the bad guys' lair and grabs and stomps them all. It is a real workout for Jaa and for the stuntcrew. Also stuntman/fighter Nathan Jones, who was in Jet Li's "Fearless" appears in two fight scenes which are notable as Jones is about three feet taller than Jaa.

One thing I liked about the movie is that it's focus on the traditional Thai world and the unusual Aussie cities makes the whole thing look futuristic or even science fictionesque. (Sorry, I could not think of a better word.) Also for added strangeness is the fact that the Aussie/Thai crime family stealing the elephants is headed up by one Madame Rose, who is actually a transsexual and is played by one too.

A fine write-up on the movie and the DVD sets which have both American and Thai versions are here. As to why the Thai title is also the name of a shrimp soup ... well, food is a plot point. 'Nuff said.

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It is no surprise the reviews for Rob Zombie's new version of the movie "Halloween" are not full of praise. The movie, opening today, was not screened for critics, usually a sign the movie is not that good. Still, I think many will see the movie this weekend and then it will find it's own cult on DVD.

One thing often missed in the tales of why John Carpenter's original movie was so good: Dean Cundey. Cundey's work as cinematographer is just pure excellence. While he started in low-budget drive-in fare like "Satan's Cheerleaders", he also worked with Carpenter for many great results, not only in "Halloween" but "The Fog" and "The Thing". Later he was cinematographer on the "Back to the Future" movies, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", "Jurassic Park", and "Apollo 13."

In "Halloween" especially, he uses a very fluid and seamless style, far above the B-movie origins, and his framing and scope make the original a true standout. Really. Watch it again and marvel at how the look and style of the movie is hardly ordinary.

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A fine murder-mystery from the 1970s, "Sleuth", is getting the remake treatment too. Kenneth Brannagh takes the director's chair as Michael Caine (also in the original) takes on Laurence Olivier's part and Jude Law plays Caine's old part. Some changes in the set-up are made by writer Harold Pinter, who adapted his script from the original.

Set for a mid-October release, the new version is some 85 minutes, compared to the original's running time of 138 minutes. Will a shorter tale be a better one?

Some tasty takes on this remake and other set for release are here.

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Best Movie Trivia Topic o' The Day: what do you think would be the most awesome movie props which you would like to own? USA Today writer Whitney Matheson poses the question and offers her choices, which include Indiana Jones' hat, Darth's lightsaber and Dude's carpet from The Big Lebowski. Meanwhile, at Cinematical, writer Scott Weinberg notes the best choices from readers, which include Rosebud from "Citizen Kane", the Holy Hand Grenade from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail', a can of Dapper Dan and the glowing suitcase from "Pulp Fiction."

Me? I'd love a Hattori Hanzo sword, the Maltese Falcon, some of that lab equipment from James Whale's "Frankenstein." Oh, and I would love to own Mr. Pointy, Buffy's favorite vampire stake.

2 comments:

Ron said...

"Ong Bak" is an excellent movie, too. Tony Jaa is a baaaad dude.

Joe Powell said...

Ron -

I utterly forgot to mention "Ong Bak" and i liked it too. Sadly, since "The Protector" did poorly at the box office, i doubt if Americans will see more of his work other than the films he makes overseas.

And there's a scene toward the end where Jaa lays into an endless supply of goons and there broken bodies are stacked up like a cords of wood. Bad dude indeed!!