Friday, April 12, 2013

Simply the Favorite Man

     Today's clump of at home viewing options include a modern Kung-fu flick, a comedy that goes with or against the odds and a drama about ageing from Hong Kong.   Don't just wade, dive in...

  Lay the Favorite - Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  Once upon a time, director Stephen Frears crafted films like the 1988 costume drama classic Dangerous Liasons.  There was a time when screen writer D.V. DiVicentis penned a notable little indie called High Fidelity.  In 2012, this creative team brought you a Las Vegas set comedy about a call girl who tries to start a new life as a personal assistant to a professional gambler called Lay the Favorite...sigh.
     What can I say?  The script and film were cliched, predictable, and a little insipid.  The film did have a lot of potential in the cast, but most of them fall well shy of their capabilities.  Bruce Willis phones in his usual Williscisms (such a far cry from his excellent work in Looper) as the gambler. Vince Vaughan is cloying and cartoonish as a rival gambler.  However, Catherine Zeta-Jones does show us a new trick or two, disappearing far enough into her role as Willis's wife that she becomes almost unrecognizable.
     The only thing that really keeps this pic at all watchable is Rebecca Hall in the lead role of Beth.  Beth is everything you would expect from her character bio, ALMOST cartoonishly so.  In Ms. Hall's talented hands, though, the character gains much greater depth and evinces many more sides to her personality than I ever expected at the film's inception.  Beth ends up being laughably childlike, shrewdly capable, and utterly charming all at the same time.  If you are a fan of the young actress's work, I wouldn't miss her here.  Beyond that...2 1/2 of 5 stars.

  The Man With the Iron Fists - RZA wants to break into films in a big way, and making a highly stylized quasi-Kung-Fu flick with archetypal overtones like this is certainly one way to do it.  This film marks his debut as a director and screen writer, although he got an assist on the script from Eli Roth.  Quentin Tarantino produced the film and there IS something of a Kill Bill vibe going on.   "Fists" is painted in far broader strokes than "Bill" was, however, and none of the characters demonstrate the sort of subtle depth that Uma Thurman accomplished with "The Bride".
     It DOES work pretty well in a "style over substance" kind of way, though.  The fight sequences are impressive, amusing, and ridiculous. The production design by Drew Boughton (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) is phenomenal, coupling splendidly with Thomas Chong's (Fearless) delightfully gaudy costuming.  The Make-Up and Hair Design team of Jake Garber, Aileen Seaton, and Erin Ayanian complete the visual picture nicely and cinematographer Chi Ying Chan (Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame) captures it all very effectively.  The only real technical flaw here, for me, was that some of the sound track choices seemed like odd ones for the scenes in which they were used.
     There are also some laudable performances in the movie despite the fact that most of the actors are playing "stock" characters.  When given a caricature to portray, the best thing to do is just go big and no one does that as consistently well as actress Lucy Liu.  She's as good here as you would hope.  Russell Crowe also shines.  It's too bad that this film didn't come out AFTER Les Miserables.  It could have been a minor redemption.  RZA plays the understated contrast of his role to decent effect.  He's still getting his sea legs as an actor, but he's definitely giving it his best effort.  Even Dave Bautista gives a strong turn, but hey, professional wrestling's tone and sensibilities are not ALL that dissimilar to the movie's.
     Now, while I did say there was a Kill Bill tone to this, don't go in expecting a Tarantino flick.  There is a sort of (possibly unconscious) inspiration to that man's work that this picture cannot touch.  It IS entertaining, but not too much more than that.  I enjoyed it, and I'm open to checking out RZA's future projects IF they catch my interest, but I'm not planning a repeat viewing...3 1/2 of 5 stars.

  A Simple Life - Both director Ann Hui and screen writer Susan Chan have several films to their credit, but neither has broken out in the international critical community before the way that they have with this picture.  Maybe co-scripter Yan-lam Lee (on her first movie) gave them the little creative push that they needed.  It's hard to say.  What I can say is that, in A Simple Life, they have created a film that is touching, poignant, and very well put together.
     The movie tells the story of an ageing maid (played brilliantly by Deannie Yip) and the family she has toiled to take care of for fifty years.  When the maid has a stroke, the member that she currently resides with (played by Andy Lau from House of Flying Daggers) turns the tables and begins to take care of her.  Both of the leads do excellent jobs and the film is a vivid portrait of the frustrations felt by capable people as they begin to decline.  I would HIGHLY recommend checking it out...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Related Articles: Twist Until You Are Loopey! (Looper review), Les MostlyAbles (Les Miserables review)

No comments:

Post a Comment