Movie Review: The Precinct (2010)

Dubiously selected as Azerbaijan's official submission for the Best Foreign Film category of the 83rd Academy Awards, The Precinct is a well-intentioned but bizarre attempt to combine magic realism with mysticism from former documentarian turned feature filmmaker Ilgar Safat.

Excruciatingly misguided from conception to final cut -- when you take into consideration that Safat's work was inspired by a dream that he freely admits was influenced by The Doors songs and his interest in shamanism, it's easy to anticipate that subtlety will not be his strong suit.

And sure enough The Precinct suffers from a pretentious set-up that's incredibly easy to see right through, despite the fact that the filmmaker was obviously hoping to keep us guessing as to whether or not his characters have wound up in a police station or some sort of spiritual purgatory following a car accident.

Yet unfortunately, because it's so obvious to figure out that what we're watching is in essence a morality tale that seems to take place on Jim Morrison's “Crystal Ship” rather than an actual precinct, Safat's tale may have worked better as a short story or a 12-bar-blues Doors inspired rock song. For in this medium, we find ourselves losing interest rather quickly, which ensures that the 116 minute film feels twice as long.

Far more tragically, by waiting an infinitely long time to lead us into an extended flashback about the obligatorily traumatic and definitive coming-of-spiritual-age turning point in the life of our unlikable main character, Safat fails to interest us in the fate of our protagonists.

Moreover, because his documentary background easily lends itself to the flashback, we wonder why he just didn't ditch the shaman scene altogether since he's noticeably better suited to tackling the harsher realities of fallen heroes in youth instead of attempting to take us on a trippy New Age adventure.

Similarly, the style on display in the admittedly predictable yet compelling look at the past contrasted with Safat's unspooling of current events makes The Precinct feel as though two totally different movies were just slapped together to comprise an odd blend of reality and fantasy coupled with a nonexistent spiritual mystery.

Cinematically, The Precinct is all over the place. While the contemporary narrative appears as though it's influenced by Film Noir, there's a little bit of Bergman and Fellini on display as well when we move back in time.

Likewise, it's obvious that Safat is highly film literate since he tried to casually insert references to the Lumière Brothers into his otherwise wooden dialogue to perhaps “posh” up and compete with European films on a name-dropping, referential level.

Yet in this regard along with all others, The Precinct goes out of its way to remind you of its purported importance and its philosophical ambitions from start to finish, as opposed to actually bothering to ask whether or not this is a story worth telling, how to effectively to reach that goal and why viewers should care in the first place.

Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. 

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Blu-ray Review: Step Up 3 (2010)

AKA: Step Up 3D (Theatrical Title)

Now Available to Own

Original Step Up 3D Theatrical Review:

Quite possibly the most energetic full-out dance picture we’ve seen in ages, Step Up 3D makes a laughingstock of last year’s uninspired Fame remake and reminds avid filmgoers just why we go to the movies.

After the Angelina Jolie vehicle Salt, Step Up 3D is easily the most fun I’ve had at the movies so far during this lackluster summer wherein amusingly, character driven indies keep stealing the thunder of big budget blockbusters. However, these scrappy New York City dancers kick back with gusto, going to the mat for the Hollywood studios by delivering escapist fare of the highest order.

So filled with creative choreography that the energy of the dancers pours out of the frame in such a way that cinematographer Ken Seng can barely keep everything in the lens as backup dancers spring forth like a fountain in every direction, Step Up 3D is elaborately executed with extravagant, eye-popping, entertaining sequences that continually top all those that we’d previously encountered.

Essentially director Jon Chu’s third installment of the Step Up series is short on plot as the predictable, dubious screenplay doesn’t generate a single surprise, making it no wonder that it’s weakly acted by a large cast of appealing toe-tappers who are best expressing themselves with back-flips and break-dancing. However, it’s easily forgiven by the sheer ambitious scope and jaw-dropping power of the endlessly creative production numbers.

Like an adventure movie, we’re basically just hanging in there until the next burst of action propels the work forward. In doing so, we lose ourselves in what could be considered an extended series of innovative music videos as the film’s choreographers incorporate all styles of movement from classical tango to street dancing with nods to legends like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Bob Fosse and Michael Jackson in between.

Although I hadn’t seen the second work in the franchise and so I was unaware that two of the characters from Step Up 2 the Streets were reprising their roles in Chu’s second directorial effort in the series, since the main focus is all about the beat of the streets, the film plays just as successfully for those familiar with the elements of the previous movies as it does to those just strolling in unaware.

Obviously I have no idea if the movie will wind up premiering on DVD and Blu-ray in 3D or not since Touchstone’s parent company of Walt Disney Home Entertainment is notorious for releasing previously three dimensional works in a 2D disc format. Therefore I can’t stress how vital it is to catch this movie not only in the theatre but also in 3D to fully appreciate just how much effort went into ensuring an unparalleled visceral experience where dancers seem to journey off the screen, pulling you towards them as if inviting you to join the celebration regardless of where you’re sitting.

Virtually an exploratory near-IMAX voyage of just what can be achieved with 3D technology, the movie manages to maximize the potential of the medium with eye-candy galore as bubbles pop before your eyes, a car drives towards us while taking in Time Square, water splashes our direction, dancers glow in the dark, and an Icee spirals around in the wind.

And given the visual emphasis, Step Up 3D can certainly be accused of trying to use technology to make up for some pretty laughable lines of dialogue as instead of simply articulating his belief that naturally gifted dancers are “born from a boombox,” dance crew leader and aspiring filmmaker Luke (Rick Malambri) informs NYU freshman engineering major Moose (Adam G. Sevani) that he is “BFAB.”

Likewise, the West Side Story infused rivalry and confrontations between the two best dance groups never really feels authentic as Luke recruits not only Moose but also his obvious love interest – the beautiful Natalie (Sharni Vinson) – to compete at a world dance competition to save their warehouse living space courtesy of the one hundred grand cash prize.

However, despite the fact that we see one of the biggest twists concerning Natalie’s character coming a mile away or in fact within the first ten minutes she’s onscreen given an obvious editing mistake that focuses a second too long on another individual, since above all we’re not all that invested into the movie on a sudsy soap opera level, we have no problem ignoring the one-dimensional plotline to focus instead on the bravura three dimensional presentation.

Needless to say, from Footloose to Dirty Dancing to Flashdance to Save the Last Dance the genre isn’t exactly known for their particularly Earth-shattering plots and regardless of the fact that Step Up 3D is no exception, it manages to capture the same breathtaking feeling of those earlier movies and after overlooking the synthetic plot contrivances, we just can’t help getting wrapped up in the rhythmic beauty of human movement perfectly captured on film.

2D Blu-ray Review:

Despite a lukewarm box office reception to Step Up 3, Disney's Touchstone Pictures gave Jon M. Chu's underrated dance sleeper the first rate treatment in both its digital transfer and subsequent release. Perhaps predicting a greater response to the film as a "guilty pleasure" at home, Disney served up three different versions of the third Step Up work from which consumers could choose.

In addition to the single disc, 2 dimensional (or 2D) DVD and a 2D Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, in order to preserve the original presentation that most viewers missed in the theatre, Touchstone and Summit also unveiled a three disc 3D Combo Pack that incorporates a 2D and 3D Blu-ray version, a DVD and a portable Digital Copy to take with you and watch on the way to dance class.

Although the discs were loaded with deleted scenes, "Extra Moves," and eight music videos including a "making-of" counterpart to the MTV ready creations, I immediately bypassed all bonus features to get back to the main event itself. Namely, I was eager to gauge whether or not Step Up 3 (minus the D) would still entertain to the same degree without giving us a third dimensional layer of visual information.

Obviously, it doesn't have the same instantaneous visceral impact that Chu's movie delivered from the start when projected digitally in 3D on a silver screen to combat 3D headaches and dizziness. Nonetheless, you still find yourself caught up in the awe-inspiring physicality on display that you can now witness and appreciate more fully and minus the distraction of kid-in-a-candy-store effects to instead feel the rush of relishing in the pitch-perfect harmony put forth by top notch dancers utilizing innovative choreography.

This being said, if you do have a 3D set-up, you're going to be sure to want to drop a few extra bucks on the multiple format combo pack to best appreciate the high-quality, adrenaline fueled show that screened in theatres over the past summer.

Admittedly, in most cases, I feel the reliance on 3D is a gimmick that should be avoided like injecting your film with more CGI than human emotion or authentic characters.

Yet there is at least one exception to every rule and many more exceptions to be found when dealing with personal taste and opinion. For honestly Step Up 3D is as close as many of us will get to seeing a Broadway or Las Vegas style elaborate dance production from what feels like the vantage point of watching both behind and in-front of the stage. And truly in this day and age, every once in awhile, we all need a thrilling escapist spectacle to pull us out of reality and remind us to dream.

Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC;
All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I attended a free press screening of this title for my original review and later received the 2D Blu-ray release in order to evaluate this product for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not Step Up received a favorable or unfavorable critique.


Blu-ray Review: Rush Hour (1998)

Now Available to Own 

In the mid '90s, the stateside cult success of Jackie Chan's Rumble in the Bronx and the superlative Supercop (aka Police Story 3) expanded the comedic martial artist's fan base from beyond the realm of schoolyard Kung Fu enthusiasts who shared bootleg VHS tapes and compared fight scenes the way some kids traded baseball cards and obsessed over comic books.

Therefore, it was only a matter of time before Chan starred in his first English language Hollywood crossover hit with Brett Ratner's 1998 Rush Hour, which packed 'em in their seats with greater urgency than the imported, butchered and badly dubbed cuts of Hong Kong prints had years earlier.

For although roughly a decade later, Chan dismissed his Hollywood work by stating that he disliked the inaccessible overly Americanized humor and action of the Rush Hour trilogy co-starring funny man Chris Tucker, luckily for New Line Cinema, nearly a hundred and fifty million dollars worth of ticket-buyers disagreed -- making Rush one of the biggest hits of the year.

At its essence, Ratner's movie is a spirited twist on two tried and true formulas of a) the buddy cop comedy and b) fish-out-of-water culture clash pictures.  

Rush Hour finds Chan's Hong Kong Police Detective Inspector Lee journeying to Los Angeles to search for his recently kidnapped former martial arts pupil Soo Yung (Julia Hsu) -- the preteen daughter Chinese Consul Han (Tzi Ma) -- who was abducted en route to her first day of school.

Fearful that if something happened to Lee on American soil that the FBI would have an international scandal on their hands, they pawn off an assignment to babysit Lee to the LAPD. In turn the LAPD Captain Diel (Philip Baker Hall) passes the order along to Chris Tucker's Officer James Carter, whom Diel was otherwise prepared to suspend from the force for a costly undercover snafu that took out half a downtown block with C4.

Before he eventually figures out that he's on tour guide duty to distract Lee from the case, the Captain amusingly plays on chatterbox Carter's arrogance and delusion of grandeur, selling the gig hook, line and sinker to Carter who -- by accepting the bait -- thinks he's somehow been transferred to a prominent post with the FBI.

And it's this Eddie Murphy-esque Beverly Hills Cop style turn of events that Chris Tucker milks for all it's worth. In fact, Tucker generates far more laughs than one imagines were found in the formulaic script -- first and foremost because of his willingness to play against the type of buddy cop character we traditionally see onscreen -- as in comparison to the affable yet dim Carter, Murphy's admittedly brighter Axel Foley seems like he could've founded Mensa.

Yet it's all in good fun; Tucker's penchant for the risk-taking reliance of shoot-from-the-mouth first and figure out if it made sense later beautifully compliments Chan's physical, silent comedian inspired approach.

Rather limited in his grasp of the English language (note: the subtitle feature comes in quite handy), once again, Chan charms us with innovation by drawing as much from greats like Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton as he does from his own jaw-dropping martial arts background, using everyday objects as weapons and executing his own death defying stunts.

Yes, when evaluated next to Ratner's trilogy, the Shanghai Noon and Knights series garnered greater critical claim (see: Rotten Tomatoes), perhaps because Chan's collaborations with Owen Wilson freely blended genres and historical humor into an ingenious concoction that proved more creatively refreshing than the cop route.

Nonetheless, in stark contrast to some of Chan's solo vehicles that followed in his rise to international super-stardom, the original Rush Hour remains compulsively watchable to this day.

Likewise, Rush is augmented by a top-notch supporting cast of characters wherein we're treated with two new spins on female roles including Soo Yung's feisty anti child damsel in distress and Carter's bomb-squad expert-in-training cop colleague, Elizabeth Pena, both of whom are a far cry to 2 and 3's masseuses and showgirls.

Released in time for the holidays in a crisp Warner Brothers Blu-ray -- while the picture is on par with the version I saw twelve years ago in the theater, I was particularly blown away by the explosive high definition sound that comes pouring out of all speakers, thereby making us better appreciate Tucker's verbal rhythms and Chan's melodic martial arts.

Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. 

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.