Monster Hunt (2015)

Monster Hunt, a 2015 Chinese live-action/CGI historical-fantasy, was mostly cute but also more than a little disturbing in places.

Amazon reviews indicate that the English-dubbed version is missing some content and is thus less disturbing but also less coherent than the original.

Wikipedia says both versions played in US theaters, but it doesn’t surprise me to learn that neither did very well. The movie was reportedly a big hit in China, though how big a hit is a matter of some debate.

The premise of the movie is that, in a world where humans hate, hunt, fear, and enslave monsters, the strong monsters-in-exile turn against the weak and the beleaguered pregnant monster queen implants her unborn son in a rather domesticated young man whose father left him in charge of an isolated village. The pregnant young man then teams up with a relatively unproven female monster hunter who plans to sell the baby monster prince to a dealer in the city, where, it turns out, monsters are killed in a special kitchen and eaten in a special restaurant.

I don’t know which is more disturbing: the sequence in which two monsters disguised as human children plead with the head chef to be killed quickly, or the sequence in which the head chef prepares the cute little innocent monster prince to be eaten alive.

I think the point is that both humans and monsters are sentient beings, and shouldn’t hurt one another. Live and let live. It’s a nice theme.

There are lots of fight scenes that involve flying-through-the-air style martial arts moves. Oh, and there are songs.

The CGI is good. The movie’s take on gender roles is interesting. The fantasy action adventure story is fine. Bits of it are funny. I just think the villains could have been threatening in a less nightmarish way. Not a movie I’m likely to watch again.

Mr. Right (2015)

If you like The Man Who Knew Too Little, then perhaps you will also like Mr. Right. Both use obliviousness as a form of comedy. There are also presumably some similarities with the TV show Dexter, which I haven’t seen, but which revolves around a serial killer who kills killers.

There was some cleverness and fun action, but I didn’t genuinely like the characters and felt squeamish about some of the violence.

Perhaps the best part of the movie was Francis’s interaction with Steve, an assassin sent to kill him.

Also enjoyable was hearing Tim Roth, who I recognize from the TV show Lie to Me, put on a southern drawl that is not at all like his usual voice.

Racer Legend (2011)

I’m a sucker for car racing movies, which means that occasionally I wind up watching terrible examples of the genre. Such as this one.

The protagonist is an arrogant, brooding guy who’s out of control because of his brother’s racing-related death. There’s a girl racer who hates racing and loves nature. There’s some stuff about the physics of making tight turns. There’s some back and forth about risk-taking (bad) and teamwork (good). Lots of vroom vroom on the track.

It all felt amateurish, exaggerated, and overly long.

Oh well.

Hard to beat Herbie for goofy nostalgia or Speed Racer for epic weirdness.

A Hologram for the King (2016)

I watch a lot of action movies and kids’ movies, but when I’m on planes I search the free entertainment library for the unexpected… a movie about a boy in Laos who builds a rocket, for example.

I chose A Hologram for the King for its similarly exotic setting; I’ve been to Laos, but never Saudi Arabia.

This Tom Hanks movie was definitely unexpected; I hadn’t heard of the book by the same name by Dave Eggers.

I liked the middle-aged central character and was interested in the problems he faced. In addition, the movie has some great humor in it. I have mixed feelings about the overall plot, however.

More below, with SPOILERS.

Continue reading A Hologram for the King (2016)

V for Vendetta (2005)

Julia Roberts is good at smiling, as is Tom Cruise, but Hugo Weaving’s specialty is frowning. We’ve seen him as Elrond in LOTR, as Agent Smith in The Matrix, and as Old Georgie et al. in Cloud Atlas… the man is seriously good at frowning! Sadly, in V for Vendetta, we don’t get to see his face any more than we do when he voices Megatron.

Roger Ebert says:

“I was reminded of my problem with Thomas the Tank Engine: If something talks, its lips should move.”

I’m with you, Roger. The mask makes the quasi-romance between Evey and V particularly weird. By the way, which one is the protagonist? Evey is the, um, vehicle for our vicarious viewpoint, and the more prominent face on what seem to be the official materials promoting the film (see above).

If Evey once was the protagonist, certainly V has now eclipsed her. Or rather, the mask has. It now has a life of its own. It’s been appropriated (perhaps ironically; buy one here) by various groups, especially the hacker network Anonymous, as a symbol of their desire to stick it to the man. I mean, okay, I guess. It’s a handy symbol, for sure, since apparently it can mean almost anything you want it to, as long as you’re, you know, against something.

For more thoughts, including SPOILERS, see below.

Continue reading V for Vendetta (2005)

Wheels on Meals (1984)

In Wheels on Meals, Jackie Chan rides a skateboard to sell food from a cart in a plaza in Barcelona.

The other main characters are the other food cart guy, a private investigator, a mysterious woman, and the guy who kidnaps the woman and fights Jackie Chan at the end.

The fight is considered excellent, but I prefer the ones that are silly, and this one was pretty brutal.

The Wikipedia article about the movie can tell you more about the plot and the production history of the movie.

A Piece of Paradise (2013)

I’m pretty sure this was listed as A Piece of Paradise in Air China’s in-flight entertainment guide, even though the subtitles call it The Heavenly Corner. The Russian title is Pайский Yголок. According to Google Translate, the two words correspond to the words ‘paradise’ and ‘corner’.

My college friend who studied Russian expressed extreme surprise when I said a Russian movie I’d watched had a happy ending, but it does!

The basic idea here is that the female protagonist has everything she ever dreamed of (a successful husband, two lovely kids, and a comfortable life) but is unhappy in her marriage. She gradually realizes that her husband has become a real lowlife. He gets his comeuppance and she gets a new guy. Ta-da! That’s it, really. Still, it’s interesting because of the setting and language. I mean, how often do you get to watch a Russian movie? Not often, right?

For more information, you could follow this link, but it won’t help you much unless you or your web browser can read Russian. I’m just not finding anything in English on this movie at all.

The Lobster (2015)

The Lobster certainly qualifies as a movie—er, film?—that I wouldn’t normally watch.

When I’m on planes, I try to watch movies in different languages or genres than the ones I tend to pick up off the shelf or pay to see in theaters. I watch a lot of mainstream children’s animated films and Hollywood action flicks. They’re usually pretty sparkly and happy.

In contrast, The Lobster was a bleak dystopia that had a kind of a science-fiction premise but absolutely zero sci-fi eye candy. The movie exists to make us feel weird about rules governing  relationships. Ours as well as the ones on screen.

The premise is that the government does not permit people to be single. Those who separate or whose spouses die are sent to a kind of dating boot camp at a hotel where, if they do not find a ‘suitable’ partner in 45 days, they are turned into the animal of their choice (by means of some scientific process whose results we see but which is largely outside the scope of the film). The name of the movie is the animal that the protagonist wishes to become if he is unable to find a partner.

Parts of the movie seemed (and were probably intended to seem) disturbing. The ending is ambiguous, and felt (and was probably intended to feel) unsatisfying. The movie was interesting in that it was genuinely, uniquely weird (intentionally absurd, in fact), but I wouldn’t recommend it unless your tolerance for grotesqueness is a lot higher than mine, or you’ve got at least five or ten hours of time to pass on a long-haul international flight… and something cheerful lined up to watch next.

For a plot summary with SPOILERS, keep reading.

Continue reading The Lobster (2015)

Les Nouvelles Aventures d’Aladin (2015)

This French comedy, the title of which in English is The New Adventures of Aladdin, was the first and best of the ten movies I saw on my latest trip to the US.

It’s a story within a story; the frame story is set during Christmas and is about a guy who is planning an after-hours robbery of the department store where he and his buddy work. Before the time arrives, however, his boss makes him tell a story to a group of kids, and he chooses to narrate a ‘remix’ of the fantasy story of Aladdin.

This version of Aladdin is a mixture of the familiar 1992 Disney cartoon, the traditional Arabian Nights story, and the filmmakers’ own ideas. Some of the new ideas are wry anachronisms inserted by the character who serves as narrator; others are suggested by the children in the audience as the story progresses.

The whole thing is utterly hilarious, and of course there’s a happy holiday ending: the narrator—the proverbial thief with a heart of gold—decides not to go through with the robbery after all.

For more on what I liked, with SPOILERS, keep reading.

Continue reading Les Nouvelles Aventures d’Aladin (2015)

Cloud Atlas (2012)

From the Wachowski siblings who created pop-culture touchstone The Matrix (1999) as well as personal favorite Speed Racer (2008) comes Cloud Atlas (2012), a clever and ambitious positive spin on the novel of the same name by David Mitchell. I like it in some ways but not others.

It’s not a movie that can be easily summarized; it spans six different timelines that are tied together in surprising ways.

I’ve now watched the movie three times: once on a tiny screen on the plane, where much of the subtlety went straight past me; again via iTunes on a laptop screen; this time via iTunes on a huge TV shortly after reading the book.

For more on what I noticed about it this time (including SPOILERS), and ways the movie differs from the book, keep reading.

Also see my post on the book Cloud Atlas.

Continue reading Cloud Atlas (2012)