Blu-ray Review: The Warrior's Way (2010)

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AKA: Laundry Warrior

“This is the story of a Sad Flute, a laughin’ baby and a weepin’ sword.” What could’ve been one of the tongue-twisters that Geoffrey Rush told Colin Firth to say while setting out to correct The King’s Speech in the Oscar winning Best Picture serves as the introduction to The Warrior’s Way as Rush’s town drunk turned narrator Ron sets up writer/director Sngmoo Lee’s increasingly bizarre tale of carnies, cowboys and ninja warriors (oh my!).

As far as Geoffrey Rush movies go, The King’s Speech and The Warrior’s Way may be the oddest double feature on record. However, in a strange twist of fate, nearly three years after production on the then-dubbed Laundry Warrior began in Auckland, New Zealand, Lee’s blandly re-titled Warrior’s Way made its theatrical debut around the exact same time that Speech gained momentum in 2010-‘11’s speech-making award season.

But despite its long life on the shelf, Warrior had a remarkably short one on the screen, disappearing from theatres with stealthy speed. Yet unlike other films that suffered the same fate due to studio restructuring, budgetary problems, legal red tape, or scheduling conflicts for so long that – like neglected flowers – they withered and aged, Warrior’s Way lost its bloom from too much (rather than too little) attention.

Fusing together a samurai picture and a spaghetti western with a new age spin on the old west, whether it’s meant to be surrealistic storytelling or just plain silly is anyone’s guess but in NYU master’s film degree holder Lee’s everything-and-the-CGI-kitchen-sink debut, 19th century Asian East meets the wide-open-spaces of the Wild West to extremely exaggerated effect.

Having sworn allegiance to the Sad Flutes since he was first initiated into the cruelest clan of assassins in the Eastern land as a child, Jang Dong Gun’s conflicted warrior Yang finds himself struck with a crisis of conscience upon discovering that the last living member of the Flutes’ enemy is a giggling baby girl instead of a grown man.

Unable to murder an innocent child, the Sad Flute takes the “laughin’ baby” on the lam, knowing full well that by not fulfilling his mission to murder every member of the opposing clan, he’s put himself on the top of the Flute’s most wanted list.

And with this in mind, the warrior Yang improbably packs up his mystical “weepin’ sword” that acts like a honing device, which if unsheathed sends out a signal revealing his location that only Sad Flutes can hear.

After traveling to the American town of Lode (as in Silver Lode?) that’s been illogically dubbed “the Paris of the West,” Yang and the baby set up shop in the barren dead-end desert town where everyone other than carny folks, circus freaks, and outsiders with tragic pasts have left, passing through on their way to a better place.

And even though the warrior had vowed to leave his violent ways behind him, it’s only a matter of time before Danny Huston’s sadistic Colonel returns to Lode after gunning down the entire family of Yang’s gal pal Lynne (Kate Bosworth) years before.

Taking up arms once again to stop the colonel and his ruthless posse of thugs from causing new destruction and settling old scores, Yang joins forces with carnies, sideshow freaks, strangers and lost-souls against those who cross his path, from crazy cowboys to ninja warriors.

A cinematic contradiction, The Warrior’s Way is as elaborately ornate as it is functionally stark. Considering the minimalistic production design and scores of green sheets and screens shown hanging in plain sight in the deleted scenes and on-set footage that make up the Blu-ray’s bonus features, you get a sense that for Warrior’s filmmakers, the emphasis was purely focused on the CGI.

From its Impressionistic CG style Monet skies and carny cast of Moulin Rouge escapees from the sketchbook of Toulouse-Lautrec to its overwhelmingly bare-bone set-pieces as if Lee was staging Dogville in the desert (as opposed to say, Shakespeare in the park), Lee’s Warrior is equal parts Jeunet and Von Trier.

Unfortunately even with three years to play with, the odd contrast between oddly empty frames that give off a Von Trier Dogme vibe and the eye-candy overload of ninjas raining from the sky just doesn’t flow together in any way shape or form.

Hoping to make up for in style what it lacks in substance, Sngmoo Lee and company overdose on homage with specific nods including Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name Trilogy (boasting a shiver inducing Morricone sound-alike score by Javier Navarrete) as well as playing with genre and character expectation a la Rush’s gunman turned drunk, Bosworth’s vengeance seeking daughter and Huston’s Lee Marvin-esque thug.

In fact, Huston, Rush and Bosworth are all so good in their otherwise under-developed roles that we can’t help but think how much better the film would’ve been as a three-handed modern spin on a western without that pesky bookended warrior subplot altogether.

For in addition to having no chemistry with other members of the cast, we have no connection to our hero as well, which is understandably hindered by the realization that the hybrid-happy script never seems to convey a single authentic emotion let alone settle on a tone.

Pulled in far too many directions, although it’s filled with potential (especially as a tongue-twister), Warrior’s Way is too wildly all over the place for us to fully enjoy the ride.

And while I can’t recommend Warrior’s Way as anything other than promising bunch of ideas that resulted in disaster, those who dive into the Blu-ray should visit the deleted scenes to take in an alternate ending with Bosworth and Rush that may have salvaged the mess overall.

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Text ©2011, 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: Drive Angry (2011)

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Like many of us, screenwriter Todd Farmer and his co-writer/director Patrick Lussier wished that the newest releases being served up by the studio system had more in common with the kind of movies Hollywood used to make.

But after screening just five minutes of their contemporary throwback to ‘70s revenge-driven, rubber-burning autoxploitation metal-on-metal, pedal-to-the-metal pictures in the form of their badass behind-the-wheel testosterone litmus test Drive Angry, we realize that their definition of “the kind they used to make” is very different from that of mainstream viewers.

In fact, even on the typewritten page, Drive Angry’s script was so outrageous that it not only “shocked” the man who played a suicidal alcoholic, switched faces with John Travolta, went Wild at Heart with David Lynch, held up a gas station in exchange for diapers, and ate a live cockroach in his cinematic career but also made actor Nicolas Cage “quite uncomfortable.”

And given the finished product, maybe in the future, that should be the “to greenlight or not to greenlight” test for a Hollywood “Go” picture because if it freaks Cage out, it may need a rewrite or at the very least a whole different level of MPAA classification.

Luckily for the filmmakers however, the screenplay managed to startle the Oscar winning actor just right, after which he signed onto – as Farmer described – “chew up” the lead role as only Cage can with a fully committed confidence to both go over-the-top and drive “as fast as humanly possible.”

Longing for the good old days of crash and burn midnight movies where the good guys were so bad that they pushed the “antihero” label to its breaking point and the bad guys were unspeakably evil by exploitative design, Lussier and Farmer revved up their original idea that was fit for McQueen, giving their grindhouse feature a supernatural side.

Infusing their Bronson inspired premise of a father hellbent on revenge with the fires of hell, Lussier and Farmer take the figurative idea that prison is hell literally by opening their 3D follow-up to their three-dimensional My Bloody Valentine remake in hell.

Unwilling to let the fact that he’s imprisoned in hell stop him from embarking on a six-state road-rage fueled race against time, Nicolas Cage’s John Milton brings hell with him in his Earthly escape, desperate to rescue his kidnapped baby granddaughter from the sacrificial clutches of the satanic cult leader (Billy Burke) that took his own baby girl’s life.

In addition to Cage, Angry boasts a terrific supporting cast including Burke’s terrifying cult leader (modeled on both Jim Jones and Jim Morrison), Amber Heard as Cage’s feisty refreshingly non-love interest/surrogate daughter female sidekick, David Morse, and Angry’s MVP William Fichtner as its most fascinating character – The Accountant – who balances Hell’s books (and should’ve been used as the center of a much better movie).

While at its best, Angry is proof that you don’t need $200 million to make an action movie since its most creative scenes seem to have stemmed from approaching plot points with limited means, unfortunately the flick is most often at its worst. Therefore, all of the effort Cage puts into the film is ultimately wasted in Lussier’s ultra-violently frenzied, mad-dash of a picture.

Even in a 2D Blu-ray, you get the sense that 3D was used to distract you with visual razzle dazzle from the catastrophe that turned into the final cut, which in no way, shape or form could’ve been saved in the editing room, even by someone as talented as former Scream Trilogy editor turned director Patrick Lussier.

Going so far off its course as a gritty yet goal-oriented man-on-a-mission actioner, Drive Angry takes one too many turns for the worse, becoming as aggressively ugly as it is utterly pointless -- crashing and burning long before the lead’s ’69 Dodge Charger makes its way to the final credit finish line.

So when it all comes down to it, I guess they just can’t “make them the way the used to” even if Lussier and Farmer get behind the wheel and give it one hell of a try in a freewheeling fast-paced film determined to thrill us until the wheels fall off, which unfortunately happens in Drive Angry’s irritable first half.

Likewise, had Cage realized that it's OK to "just say no," once in awhile, perhaps the filmmakers would've been inclined to "just say yes," by taking advantage of Cage's cautionary yellow light to give their greenlit script a much needed tune-up, oil-change and rewrite -- souping it up to full throttle perfection before hitting record on the camera's red light.

Nicolas Cage

Text ©2011, 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: Some Like It Hot (1959)

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Mastering every single genre just wasn’t enough for master writer/director Billy Wilder; he wanted to master every one of ‘em in a single picture. And that is exactly what he did throughout his staggeringly successful career, pushing genre conventions to the side to focus on telling human stories – some happy, some sad – and some of Wilder’s best works (such as The Apartment and Love in the Afternoon) were a bit of both, much like life.

Although he managed to help – perhaps accidentally – inspire at least three subgenres of his own as one of American cinema’s unintentional forefathers of firework-banter-filled Film Noir (Double Indemnity), unflinching addiction drama (The Lost Weekend), and sardonic showbiz satire (Sunset Boulevard), in the cinematic world of Billy Wilder, the “story” – not the structure – was the thing and the characters were king.

Needless to say, by the time he began scripting his upcoming ‘59 production alongside longtime collaborator I.A.L. Diamond, Billy Wilder wasn’t going to let a little thing like David O. Selznick telling him, “you cannot combine comedy with murder” stop him from doing just that and more – putting everything and the kitchen sink (character, genre, and plot-wise) – into the Oscar winning classic, Some Like It Hot.

Yet as daring as it was to set the first act of a comedy film against the backdrop of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre which sends our two musician leads scrambling for new identities and a new location after witnessing the roaring twenties gangland hit, in retrospect, the gunfire in Chicago should’ve been the least of Selznick’s fears about Hot.

A cross-dressing comedy that’s also a period movie, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis ditch the gangsters in favor of drag, seeking solace in stockings as female imposters hiding out in a Florida resort as part of an all-girl band.

And although it opens like an action flick, once George Raft’s gun and grit are replaced by the giggles and gams of Marilyn Monroe, Hot gets a lot of mileage out of double-entendre banter, segueing into a mistaken-identity road movie fueled by flirtatious, freewheeling fun.

Of course predictably, their charade catches up with them to farcical effect when Raft’s Capone-like ‘Spats’ Columbo and his wiseguy cronies head south for winter and find themselves at the exact same resort (with California’s Hotel Del Coronado standing in for the Florida location).

However what was in fact based on a ’51 German remake of a ’35 French film and could’ve also turned into a stagey update of the British classic play Charley’s Aunt still feels fresh thanks to the overall fast pace, the men’s hysterically funny near-misses, Monroe’s sultry musical numbers and the oft-quoted, quip-heavy dialogue from Hot's legendary scribes.

While it isn’t as eye-opening as Tootsie, for its era, Hot effectively plays against gender roles and sexual stereotypes to rather ingenious effect, particularly when Tony Curtis forms a Cary Grant-inspired impotent alter-ego and in a particularly inspired creative twist manages to inspire Monroe to seduce him.

Still, in a priceless romantic subplot that “mirrors” the main one (as if using a carnival funhouse mirror to go for far more daring, subversive-for-the-time laughs), Lemmon and former silent film star Joe E. Brown easily steal the picture away from the rest.

And even though Wilder’s moviemaking career was filled with superlative movie-closing lines, Some Like It Hot sends ‘em screaming in the aisles and out the door, thanks to Brown’s pitch-perfect delivery of the “[I.A.L.] Diamond throwaway” final film line that Cameron Crowe described as the “’Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn,’ of modern comedy.”

But as scandalous as it was for the subject matter, which found Hot condemned by the Roman Catholic Church’s National Legion of Decency and screened without being approved by the MPAA, it was a cinematic gamble as well, given that due to the green effect of the men’s makeup the film was shot in black-and-white and released in the era of lush Cinemascope, VistaVision, and Technicolor.

Yet while the shadowy cinematography helped soften the makeup lines needed for us to suspend-our-disbelief just enough to "buy" Lemmon and Curtis as men in drag pulled off successfully enough to fool the women onscreen, the smoldering effect that the black-and-white visuals had on Marilyn Monroe caused the screen goddess to sizzle even Hotter.

Oscar winning costume designer Orry-Kelly's nearly-nude, bosom-accentuating, curve-clinging transparent little black dress (along with its flesh-toned twin that photographs nearly white) may not have been as scandalous as the siren's oft-cited skirt-flying subway grate shot captured in Wilder's Seven Year Itch but Monroe's gown still causes jaws to drop in the recent crystal-clear Blu-ray release.

Infectiously entertaining yet impossible to define as a work of any one specific type, although it was named the single greatest American comedy movie of all time by the AFI, upon closer inspection, even that label limits the scope of the film as anything other than a Billy Wilder movie and therefore of its own one-and-only kind.

Some Like It History:
Arthur Miller on Marilyn Monroe*

“Everything she did, she played realistically. I don’t think she knew any other way to play anything – only to tell you the truth. She was always psychologically committed to that person as a person, no matter what the hell it was, rather than as a stock figure. Because the parts she got could easily have been stock figures, which had no other dimension…”

“I thought she had the potential for being a great performer if she were given the right stuff to do. And if you look at the stuff she did do, it’s amazing that she created any impression at all because most of it was very primitive. And the fact that people remember these parts from these films is amazing... She was committed to these parts as though they were real people, not cardboard cutouts.

"Even though the director and author and the rest might have thought they were cutouts and would deal with them that way. The way the two men [Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon] in Some Like It Hot[1959] felt with their parts; or George Raft with his part. She was real. And therefore she had the potential of being a great comedienne…”

*As Quoted in the “Marilyn Monroe” chapter of Who the Hell’s In It by author Peter Bogdanovich in the 2005 Ballantine Books Trade Paperback Edition of his ’04 work.

Text ©2011, 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.