It lost out to No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood in 2008’s awards season, but it’s better than either.
Plus, the UK TV premiere is tonight at 10pm on ITV4.
#5: Tombstone (1993) December 1, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Drama, Western, 4 stars, 1990s, true stories, 2012 , add a comment
The 100 Films Advent Calendar 2012 begins with a much-belated (I watched it in January) look at this ’90s Western…
#30: Serpico (1973) October 29, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Drama, Thriller, Crime, adaptations, 3 stars, 1970s, true stories, Biography, 2012 , add a comment
Al Pacino stars as honest cop Frank Serpico in Sidney Lumet’s true-story crime drama…
#20: Burke & Hare (2010) August 24, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Comedy, 3 stars, British films, true stories, 2010s, 2012 , add a comment
“This is a true story
Except for the parts that are not”
#17: Unstoppable (2010) August 21, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Action, Thriller, 4 stars, true stories, 2010s, 2012 , add a comment
In tribute to the late Tony Scott, perhaps one of my favourite filmmakers, and normally a distinctly underrated one, 100 Films’s 600th feature review is of his final film…
Ridley Scott may get all the awards and honours, because, as Tony once described them, he is “classical” while Tony is “rock and roll”; but for my money the younger Scott brother’s influence on movies will be just as sorely missed. I think Ron Howard put it best: “No more Tony Scott movies. Tragic day.”
#62: Ip Man (2008) February 23, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Action, Drama, 2000s, 4 stars, true stories, world cinema, Biography, Historical, 2011 , add a comment
I liked Ip Man, but as we know from experience there are times when I find myself with little to say about a film, or I fail to make any notes, and this was an example of both. So I’ve decided to try something a little different.
I’ve read several different reviews of the film, found by various means, and have compiled a selection of quotes from them below. These are all segments of those reviews that I agree with or found to be an interesting point — I’m not trying to accurately represent each reviewer’s opinion, but instead using their words to enlighten my own. Each quote is, of course, credited and linked, so if you want to know their full opinion you can click through.
They’re arranged in an order that I think makes sense, too — by which I mean, rather than just bundle a selection of quotes in any old order, I’ve sorted them so that if you read them through as presented they should form a structured (more or less) piece.
Biographical martial arts drama starring Donnie Yen. China in the 1930s: Ip Man’s reputation as a martial arts master has brought fame and fortune to the city of Foshan. But hard times are ahead, as the Japanese invasion brings the once prosperous city to its knees.
Donnie Yen plays the eponymous Wing Chun master, who stove off hunger, poverty and half the Japanese army during China’s WW2 occupation – by kicking ass!
Though that’s an amusing thought, the film’s not quite that simplistic:
As he rallies his people to stand up for themselves, Ip Man becomes about how war pushes a peaceful man into action, but also how he tries to maintain his faith in what it means to be civilized.
Ip’s transformation from diffident bourgeois to symbolic man of the people is rendered as compelling period melodrama
There’s a pleasing playfulness about the opening scenes, which contrast… with the downbeat mood that follows during the occupation.
Not everyone was so impressed:
In transforming a humble real-life martial artist into the type of the reluctant hero (and nationalist icon), screenwriter Edmond Wong has turned his subject not only into something that he was not, but also into an overfamiliar kung fu movie cliche. This is an impression not helped by the film’s desaturated period look (yet another cliche), and a drift in the second, war-set half towards melodrama
a shameless hagiography that only bears a passing resemblance to history.
The presence of young Zhun [Ip Man’s son] suggests an eyewitness veracity to the events as portrayed on-screen — after all, Zhun himself, now a much older man and a wing chun master in his own right, served as a consultant on Ip Man. The film, however, does not hesitate to sacrifice the truth to the demands of dramatic entertainment.
almost none of what you see in Ip Man actually happened, and in some sense that’s too bad, because the real Ip sounds like a fascinating figure. He was a pre-revolutionary police officer, a reported opium addict, and a refugee who fled the Communist takeover in 1949 for a new life in British Hong Kong. But all those factors make him undesirable as the hero of a work of rousing nationalist agitprop. So instead we get Yen’s remarkable performance as a man of prodigious Buddhist-Confucian composure and tranquility, who goes from wealth to poverty to near-slave status, and finally must fight a public gladiatorial match against a sinister Japanese general
disappointingly simplistic. Yip, Wong, and Yen never develop any real tension between Ip’s true story and the exaggerated myth-making of a martial-arts movie. But as an exaggerated, myth-making martial-arts movie, Ip Man is often thrilling.
True-to-life or not, action star Donnie Yen largely shines in the lead role:
Donnie Yen delivers a charismatic portrayal of Ip Man, the martial arts master of the title.
Man is the role Yen was made to play: a stoic tough guy that everybody in the community knows is the best
Yen’s performance is also a bit one-dimensional as the modest wing chun expert, but at least he gives a good account of himself in the finely composed and inventive close-combat scenes — an impressive highlight being when he wipes the floor with ten soldiers with methodical precision.
Indeed, fighting is still what the film does best:
As a showcase for the distinctive moves of Wing Chun, or more generally for some formalised (if largely wire-free) chopsocky, Ip Man is exemplary, thanks to the action choreography of cult Hong Kong star Sammo Hung.
Hung’s fight choreography is clever and exciting, with sequences that have Ip felling a sword-wielding rival with a feather-duster, or holding off two men with a 10-foot pole.
That final conflict between evil General Sanpo and Man — who of course still has to fight the biggest bad guy since the locals are too incompetent to even fight a group of disorganized bandits — is also curiously ruthless. Sanpo is likened to Man’s coat rack-like training apparatus, making the flurry of blows Man rains down on Sanpo’s head a vicious attack on a dehumanized piece of furniture. It’s a fittingly abstract and totally brutal finale.
There are definitely better kung-fu flicks in terms of pure action spectacle, but Ip Man delivers as tremendous entertainment even if you don’t much care about martial arts.
It’s not all rosy:
The film was a box office hit in China… That may have had less to do with the excellent fight sequences, directed by Sammo Hung with the help of one of Mr. Ip’s sons, than with the appeals to nationalism and, particularly, the heavy-handed depiction of the occupying Japanese as giggling sadists or implacable killing machines.
The Japanese themselves couldn’t be more stereotyped in their presentation, with the honourable-but-brutal general and his cackling, sadistic henchman
On the other hand, as that “sinister Japanese general”:
Hiroyuki Ikeuchi… imbues what could have been a cardboard villain role with dignity and grace
To revisit Film4’s point about the “desaturated period look (yet another cliche)”:
Yip’s aesthetics are more muted and traditional than those of well-known florid imports Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yet such modesty is in tune with his soft-spoken protagonist, and also provides clean, sharp views of Yen’s awe-inspiring skills
But in conclusion:
a throwback to those chopsocky Hong Kong films of the 1970s - a period piece filmed on obvious but eye-pleasing studio sets with wall-to-wall kung fu and a simplistic, philosophical message.
I’m not qualified to judge whether [Ip Man] belongs among the top martial-arts films ever made, an opinion that’s been gaining credence as the movie bounced around the world… But there can be no doubt that director Wilson Yip has crafted a gripping, rousing, beautifully structured yarn, built around a calm but charismatic star performance by Donnie Yen and magnificent action sequences choreographed by the legendary Sammo Hung.
Consulted sources (including some unquoted)
- Abrams, Simon ‘Ip Man’ ushers in the return of the tough guys (New York Press)
- Adams, Derek Ip Man (2008) (Time Out)
- Cook, Simon IP Man 2 (Empire)
- Ebert, Roger Ip Man 2 (rogerebert.com)
- Film4 Ip Man Review
- Glasby, Matt Ip Man (Total Film)
- Hale, Mike Mastering Martial Arts (The New York Times)
- Healy, Jamie Ip Man (Radio Times)
- Johnson, G. Allen Review: ‘Ip Man’ is a fun kung-fu throwback movie (SFGate / San Francisco Chronicle)
- Jolin, Dan Ip Man (Empire)
- Murray, Noel Ip Man (A.V. Club)
- O’Hehir, Andrew “Ip Man”: A dazzling martial-arts epic (Salon.com)
- Schager, Nick Bruce Lee Mentor Ip Man Gets His Own Kickass Movie (The Village Voice)
#8: Ironclad (2011) January 28, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Action, War, 4 stars, Adventure, British films, true stories, Historical, 2010s, 2012 , 1 comment so far
In medieval times, a group of filmmakers set out to prove you can make a Hollywood-quality historical action epic with independent funding in Britain, while in the present day a ragtag group of seven samurai— sorry, gunslingers— sorry, warriors, defend a small town— sorry, castle, from evil bandits— sorry, an evil king.
I think I got some details confused there.
Set shortly after the signing of the Magna Carta, Ironclad tells the true story of King John not being very happy and, with the backing of the Pope, setting about reclaiming England. Violently. Naturally the men who forced him into scribbling on the famous document aren’t best pleased, so while some set off to persuade the French to invade, others hole up in Rochester castle, vital to John’s efforts as it controls trade routes to the rest of the country or something.
Firstly, I say “true story” — I have no idea how much fact has gone into this. Some, at least. Was John really supported by a Viking-ish army? Dunno. Were the Knights Templar really dead set against him? Dunno. Was Rochester really defended by a dozen men? Dunno. But this isn’t a history lecture, it’s a piece of entertainment — aiming for the same ballpark as Gladiator, Braveheart, Kingdom of Heaven, and so on, albeit less grand; and there’s a sort of connection to Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood too, which I seem to remember included the signing of the Magna Carta.
Anyway, it seems to me its use of facts are probably strong enough to support it as an entertainment. So some of the story structure may be reminiscent of Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven, but it’s not the first to use that and it won’t be the last (and I’ve never seen either anyway. Bad me). And so the special effects-driven climax may occur on the wrong tower of the castle’s keep — I think we can live with that level of deception.
As to the point of “why not just go round the castle?”, I presume the answer is more or less, “well… he didn’t…” Somewhat thankfully, the commander of the Danish forces puts this very question to the King, whose answer is some muttered speech about how his family built it and… I dunno. I’m not clear why they can’t just use the massive camp next to the tiny castle as their appropriate base of operations, other than the film wouldn’t be half as exciting.
And exciting it of course is. There are stretches some may find dull — there’s little new to be done with the whole Recruiting The Team bit, and once John gets the castle under siege and everyone’s twiddling thumbs and eating horses some viewers will be doing one of the two as well — but there are regular bursts of sword-swinging violence that achieve the film’s primary aims. The fights are generally well staged, even if many resort to the modern vogue for close-up quick-cut handheld shakiness, and they’re certainly gory.
I’ve seen some complain about the level of graphic detail in this regard, but this is medieval times, they didn’t just bump each other about a bit; and you don’t think a giant axe swung down on someone’s shoulder with all a man’s weight is going to just leave a scratch, do you? Director Jonathan English doesn’t linger on detail as if this were a horror movie. There’s cleaved bodies, severed limbs, squirts of blood and more, and it all feels gruesomely realistic, but individually each moment passes quickly.
This is as appropriate moment as any to mention that the film should be in the ratio 2.40:1, but UK Blu-ray (and presumably DVD) was for some unknown reason mastered in a screen-filling 16:9 — I thought some of the shots looked tight! On the bright side it means English isn’t incompetent; on the dark side it means whoever mastered the UK Blu-ray is. (I’ve seen grabs from the US BD and that’s in the right ratio. Completely different special features too — a director’s commentary may well trump the half-hour of EPK interview snippets we get, for those that care.) I found this to be most blatant in dialogue scenes, where characters are barely squeezed into the extreme edges of the screen, with even the occasional moment of pan & scan required to get everyone who’s speaking on screen. I think it must also hamper the impact of the occasional epic shot — and there are a few — which is a shame because I think that feeling is really part of English’s aim here. I imagine it also makes some of those fight scenes even more disorientating, which is a pity. Nothing will help the sometimes-too-obvious use of digital video though, which looks as nasty as ever.
The battling cast — led by James Purefoy and supported by the likes of Mackenzie Crook, Jason Flemyng and Jamie Foreman — all seem to have a whale of a time with their swords and axes and general fisticuffs. Their roles don’t offer too much depth, but only Flemyng (who I never rate) struggles. They’re supported by some talented thesps in the shape of Brian Cox, Derek Jacobi and Charles Dance, quality actors who maybe don’t always have the greatest taste for quality roles (Dance was recently in that direct-to-DVD Tesco-funded Jackie Collins adaptation, for instance) but always offer gravitas. There’s also Kate Mara, who does a fine British accent as an unnecessary love interest for Purefoy’s warrior monk type.
The real star, though, is Paul Giamatti as King John. Petulant, entitled and fundamentally weak, he rants and raves and chews any piece of scenery he can get his teeth into (not literally, but at times I swear he came close). It’s a well-pitched performance — he doesn’t go too far with it, making the King ridiculous and laughable without dragging the whole film down around him. That makes for a good villain.
Despite some occasional cheapness in the cinematography, Ironclad largely achieves its goal of creating a Hollywood-esque historical action movie on British soil (it was shot in Wales). Yes some of the CGI is obvious, and some stuff that looks like CGI was apparently model work, but these are all forgivable, especially when you remember this was made for just $25 million. The unfamiliar true story also gives it the added edge of not knowing who lives or dies, or whether our heroes even succeed. If the ultimate end feels guessable, I think it’s only in retrospect. Of course, that doesn’t mean any of it’s historically accurate anyway.
And so what? It’s an action movie. And on all points that matter, it scores well.
Ironclad began on Sky Movies Premiere last night and continues daily throughout the week. I have no idea which aspect ratio it’s in.