Ooh, first movie review of the new academic year! I have to bring it. Show you guys the excitement in store for the rest of the year. It would probably be exciting to post a review about a movie that might be an Oscar contender. Oh, or maybe a sneak preview of something that’s about to come out!
Course, I am just a cougar. I don’t really have anymore access to sneak previews of upcoming movies than you do. And as for predicting Oscar nominees, well, let’s just say that you don’t want to take me to Vegas.
How about this: let’s talk about two movies I recently watched that remind me why I love watching movies in the first place? That sounds good, right?
Remember when you were a kid and you actually thought the things you saw in movies were real? Sometimes it’s nice to put away the cynicism of adulthood and try to recapture that joy again. These two movies do that for me, and I think they can for you, too.
Kung Fu Hustle (2004) – [R]
Okay, I admit it. I’m a sucker for kung fu movies. There are few things that are more entertaining to me on a lazy Sunday afternoon than watching an old Shaw Brothers kung fu extravaganza. I can’t tell you how many Jackie Chan movies I’ve seen. I own the Bruce Lee box set. I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the theater three times. I loved The House of Flying Daggers. I really like kung fu movies.
But this one is a little different. Kung Fu Hustle, directed by Stephen Chow, might be my favorite kung fu movie of all time. This is a movie I have watched over and over again because it is just so much fun. The movie is about a thief named Sing, played by Chow, who wants desperately to join the toughest gang in town, The Axe Gang. To be accepted into the gang, Sing has to commit murder so he heads for a sleepy, run-down apartment complex on the outskirts of town to find a victim. Instead, he incites a war between the tenants of the apartment complex and The Axe Gang.
Sounds fairly standard so far, right? Here’s the thing. First off, Kung Fu Hustle is set in 1940’s Shanghai or, at least, a 1940’s styled Shanghai. The sets are so vividly hued and are constructed in such a way that it seems more like a dream than a true depection of Shanghai in the 40’s. The Axe Gang do a dance number. Yeah, the toughest gang in town has coordinated dance moves. The action scenes are ferocious, beautiful . . . and full of slapstick comedy. As Geoff Pevere of the Toronto Star wrote, “Retrieving the martial arts movie from the gentrified middlebrow tastefulness of movies like House of Flying Daggers is only one item on Kung Fu Hustle’s agenda.”
Kung Fu Hustle is one of the most imaginative and unique movies you will ever see. It has comedy, drama, romance, action and a chain-smoking landlord who has a chase scene that looks like something out of a Road Runner / Wile E. Coyote cartoon. I would recommend watching it in its original Cantonese with subtitles but frankly you could probably watch it with the sound off and still find it entertaining. It’s smart, sweet, exciting and well worth your time.
8.5 paws out of 10
Now You See Me (2013) – [PG-13]
I have a buddy who tries to beat the three-card monte guys when he goes to Las Vegas. He knows it’s a trick. He knows he is going to lose his money. But he just enjoys playing the game.
Do yourself a favor. If you haven’t seen the trailer for Now You See Me yet, don’t. If you have friends that have seen it, don’t talk to them about it. Just go into this one with an open mind and let it roll over you the way it wants to. I’m sure that you are all smart enough to figure out the tricks and plot twists if you want to but don’t. I’m only going to give you a briefest synopsis of the plot on purpose. Don’t try to beat the movie and just enjoy playing the game.
Now You See Me is about an FBI agent and an Interpol detective who team up to track a team of illusionists who appear to be robbing banks during their performances. There, you don’t want to know anything else. That’s a pretty compelling set up already, if you ask me.
Most of the criticism I’ve seen of the movie revolves around a pair of complaints. First, some folks complain that a lot of the magic tricks in the movie were done with computer graphics and not practical tricks performed by the actors. Folks, they are actors. Performing illusions takes a lot of physical talent. As far as I can tell Jessie Eisenberg isn’t famous because he is particularly good at anything beyond talking very fast and sounding neurotic. It’s certainly not because of his ability to grow facial hair. His attempt at facial hair was my biggest complaint about this movie.
Second, there are plenty of folks complaining about the plot. It’s not as clever as The Prestige, for example. I won’t lie, it is a little light in character development. There is a romance that sort of comes out of nowhere because we don’t really get to know the two characters very well beforehand. This isn’t Shakespeare, folks. It’s fun, light, summer movie fun. Don’t go into it expecting Citizen Kane and you’ll be alright.
If you give it a chance, I think you’ll find Now You See Me to be a fast, fun ride even if you know it’s pulling the wool over your eyes a little bit. Isn’t that the fun of watching a magician though? You know the illusionist isn’t sawing someone in half or making a rabbit disappear but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining when it happens right before your eyes. Now You See Me is great in that same way. Let it show you it’s tricks. You won’t regret it.
7 paws out of 10