Wheels On Meals


Viewed – 15 September 2019 Blu-ray

I make no secret that I’m a big fan of martial arts icon Jackie Chan and over the years I have enjoyed many of his movies. There’s just something endlessly likeable about him that I feel not even names like Jet Li, Donnie Yen or even Bruce Lee come close. So sitting down to this 1984 kung fu caper, I had mixed emotions as I recalled not being its biggest fan back in the day. However at the time I was OD’ing on all things Hong Kong Cinema. Chan, teamed with frequent collaborator Yeun Biao play two mobile restaurant vendors who work out of a tricked-out hot dog van, who both fall for the same mysterious girl. At the same time a rookie private detective (another frequent collaborator Sammo Hung) has been given the case of tracking down said girl, whilst also a gang of bad guys are out to kidnap her. A bit of mystery then ensues bringing the three guys together to save the day.

This focuses heavily on interplay between the main characters with plenty of comical word-play that lends comparisons to The Marx Brothers or The Three Stooges, mixed with occasional action that throws in fights, a great car chase and a climactic series of encounters that make the long yet entertaining lead up well worth your patience. The inclusion of kick boxing champion Benny ‘the jet’ Urquidez is a particular highlight. Set unusually in what appears to be Spain the movie is filled with interesting locations and at times eye catching cinematography.

The overly-farcical nature of the plot, questionable depictions of mental patients and homeless people means it’s hard to get truly invested. Also Chan’s brand of stunt-work and Kung fu mostly takes a back seat … but its all done with such charm and sense of fun, I still had a great time.

The blu-ray from Eureka Classics has a pleasing, if generally soft image quality that although at its best during night time set sequences, is generally clean throughout… that bright yellow van especially pops. The soundtrack is presented in original mono and 5.1 Cantonese along with dubbed English in both mono and 5.1. Extras consist of outtakes, trailers and a few worthwhile interviews with key cast members. Not exhaustive but we do also get a detailed booklet with an essay by James Oliver. Solid treatment for what is for me a bit of a forgotten classic.

verdict:

(the movie) 3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray) 3.5 /5

Advertisements

Ralph Breaks the Internet


Viewed – 31 August 2019. DVD

I remember enjoying the first movie. Wreck It Ralph was a great idea, borrowing it must be said, from Pixar’s Monsters Inc yet not quite reaching the potential of its rather brilliant concept. However it delivered first-rate turns from John C Reilly as Donkey Kong inspired video game villain ‘Ralph’ and Sarah Silverman as cute kart racer girl ‘Venelope’. So yeah, I was keen to see what (mis)adventured this likeable duo would get up to next. This brings forth the arrival of wi-fi connectivity to the little arcade that’s home to Ralph, Venelope amongst others (including Pacman, various Street Fighter characters and several more recognisable faces), and after an over-zealous gamer breaks Venelope’s arcade machine steering wheel, a quest to get a new one (from eBay no doubt) is undertaken, with the world wide web ripe for exploration.

I found this built perfectly on the foundations set up in the first movie and delivered exactly what a sequel should … bigger and better. The animation is top-notch and I’ll go as far as to say its sone of the most lush, imaginative and personality-filled CGI I’ve ever witnessed. With the looming shadow of Pixar’s Toy Story 4, any hype for this seemed to get brushed under that carpet at time of release, which is a travesty as in many ways this is the superior movie. Ralph & Venelope are a great double-act and although the story is mostly focused on the plucky racer-girl’s journey of self discovery, Ralph still gets many of the best gags and a brilliant final act (hint…one Ralph is never enough!). The clever mickey-takes and references of the internet and especially of Disney themselves are also well-observed and often laugh out loud funny. The Disney Princesses scene is pure gold.

However the story isn’t exactly all that on paper, but its exploration of a developing friendship is poignantly observed none the less. Yet Disney’s obsession with forcing feminist propaganda into every movie these days raises its head again in the closing moments, but it’s at least more subtle than Avengers: Endgame. Tiny gripes aside though, this was great fun and one of the best animated movies of the year.

Verdict: 4 /5

Police Story 2


Viewed – 16 August 2019. Blu-ray

I don’t think you can really go wrong with a Jackie Chan movie. Over several decades the kung fu star has perfected his brand of slapstick action-comedy which is showcased well in the long running Police Story series. This 1987 sequel to the now legendary original picks up shortly after the events of that movie and has Chan relegated to traffic duty. However the mobster from the last movie is out of prison on compassionate grounds following a terminal illness diagnosis and goes about harassing Chan and his girlfriend May (the lovely Maggie Cheung). Yet when a bomb scare at a shopping centre brings about a new threat to the city, Chan’s superiors call on him to help out again.

This movie isn’t quite as talked about as the original and it’s fairly clear to see why. It once again gets bogged down in investigative police procedure, mixed with Chan’s often quaint style of comedy which I’ll admit did bring a few chuckles. However this occasionally feels even more long-winded, with the subplot of the mobster seeking revenge needing to be significantly trimmed. Thankfully then when the action comes it’s still superb, lightening-fast, expertly choreographed and amazing to witness – if a bit low key compared to the last movie. Yet the playground fight especially is a stand out. The climax also boasts some impressive stunt work and a great, if brief fight against Hapkido expert Benny Lai.

Chan’s direction overall is slick. The camerawork, especially for its time is stylish and well, he totally understands how to present action in a way Hollywood failed to grasp for years. Just a shame a wafer-thin plot and too much padding stops this just short of another Chan classic.

The recent Blu-ray from Eureka Classics has a decent if slightly soft image quality, but the soundtrack is at least delivered in several options including a dubbed, subtitled mono and and all new subtitled 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio. The movie also gets three cuts, the UK video version, the shorter and I’m guessing better-paced Hong Kong version as well as the full, uncut version I watched. I’d be interested in checking out these other versions I must admit. Extras consist of trailers, an episode of the ‘Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show’ hosted by Jonathan Ross, outtakes, an interview with Benny Lai as well as a commentary by stuntmen Miles Wood and Jude Poyer. The Blu-ray, as part of a deluxe set that also includes Police Story 1, also comes with a detailed booklet. Very impressive treatment overall for a still fun entry in Jackie Chan’s career thats worth checking out.

Verdict:

(the movie). 3 /5

(the Blu-ray). 5 /5

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood


Viewed – 14 August 2019. Cinema

Quentin Tarantino is for the most part probably my favourite director and has had very few missteps in a career that’s spanned over twenty years and so far 9 movies (if you count Kill Bill 1&2 as one movie). So it was with some degree of excitement I sat down to see his latest. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Rick Dalton, a washed up Western actor reaching the end of his career and along with best friend and stunt-double Cliff (Brad Pitt), they attempt to continue working in an ever changing industry. Meanwhile, a religious cult threaten to shatter the glitz and glamour and bring the Hollywood dream and sixties with it, to an abrupt and bloody end.

With knowledge of the real life murders and that of Charles Manson’s cult I thought this was perfect material to get the Tarantino treatment. Imagine my surprise then to discover that that aspect barely fills up even a quarter of this long, drawn out movie’s 160 minute run time. Which would be excusable if what we get otherwise pulled me in at all. Here, Tarantino is at his most self-indulgent and selfishly nostalgic, revelling in a Hollywood I’m guessing many of us won’t even recognise, name dropping tv actors I’d never heard of and even doing a deserving to those I had (Bruce Lee is pretty much relegated to gag-fodder). Margot Robbie turns in an appealing, sexy but otherwise redundant performance as Sharon Tate, wife of director Roman Polanski and the most famous victim of the Manson Family murders. Even the dialogue lacks the usual flow and zip of a Tarantino script, that whilst natural sounding, in a movie that basically has little to no actual plot, it really needed to shine. Also, if your idea of entertainment is to watch Margot Robbie for longer than necessary watching herself in a movie theatre, or countless women show off their bare feet, Brad Pitt drive (and drive) around Los Angeles or feed his dog, and DiCaprio cough a lot … then more power to you. The ending will also divide audiences for sure yet I suppose I get what Tarantino was going for … even if it kind of pissed me off.

So, Tarantino’s apparent ‘love letter’ to late sixties Hollywood somehow does the unfathomable and makes the behind-the-scenes lifestyle of the movies actually look boring, Pitt & DiCaprio are fine, but even they look like they’re only here to do a friend a favour and collect a pay cheque. It’s real redeeming feature then is often impressive camera work, because shock – even the soundtrack gets a bit annoying. Definitely the director’s weakest effort since Death Proof – and at least that was more fun. Disappointing.

Verdict: 2 /5

Toy Story 4


Viewed – 25 June 2019 Cinema

When toy cowboy ‘Woody’ (voiced by Tom Hanks) finds himself sidelined by new owner ‘Bonnie’ in favour of other toys, he finds new found purpose after Bonnie’s hand-made new toy ‘Forky’ goes missing at a carnival during a family road trip. At the same time Woody is reunited with his old flame, Bo Peep (Annie Potts).

I was looking forward to this. I’m a big fan of the other movies and couldn’t wait for the further adventures of Woody, Buzz and the gang. This time around we are introduced to a new villain, antique shop dwelling Doll ‘Gabby Gabby’ (Christina Hendricks). Yet despite initial promise with her brilliantly creepy Ventriloquist doll henchmen, she just failed to live up to her potential. The same could also be said for wasting the presence of such established characters as Jessie, T-Rex or even Buzz Lightyear (who is mostly demoted to a supporting role). Instead the movie focuses on Woody and Bo Peep which is at least different, even if Bo’s topical feminist symbolism was a bit too on the nose.

With that said, Forky is a welcome addition and gets all the best gags, and the movie looks as expected, stunning – the CGI animation often wowing this viewer. The caper at play here, if a little typical is still great fun too. The heart-strings get pulled firmly towards the end and the key characters are well written with at times real emotional depth. Overall though, this fails to be quite as sharp, clever or funny as what’s come before and the plot was not as engaging, Looking back, Toy Story 3 had everything come full circle. This however, whilst still worthwhile … didn’t have much more to say.

Verdict: 3.5 /5