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

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Cold Pursuit


Viewed – 03 September 2019. Online rental

This Liam Neeson thriller has gotten swept under the rug it following the actor’s controversial remarks during an American TV interview earlier in the year, which has since relegated this to stumble-upon VOD fodder. Here, Neeson plays a snowplow driver at a ski resort who’s son is murdered in mysterious circumstances.. A simple set up then has Neeson tracking down those responsible. At the same time a war breaks out between rival drug dealers that Neeson uses to his advantage.

Now I thought after a glut of copycat Liam Neeson thrillers that just seemed like weak attempts to cash in on tne success of Taken … a satire of his usual formula was on the cards. However despite such a promise in the trailer, what we actually get is Neeson playing it entirely straight in a movie that tries and mostly fails to a achieve that clever Coens-esque vibe that blends the serious with the comedic (think especially Fargo). Some support characters add flavour, including a rookie cop out to prove herself and a young boy Neeson befriends who’s father just happens to be the main villain. I also enjoyed the villain’s maniacal performance, and the drug gang rivalry stuff was entertaining as they slowly picked each other off. Also on a purely technical basis, the wintery setting and some of the sequences were at least visually arresting.

Yet with a limp story, a cliched lead performance and plot threads that go nowhere – what actually had the son done to get himself killed? Oh and Laura Dern is in this as Neeson’s wife who following their son’s murder, just stops talking and eventually leaves – that’s how this movie explores grief. Yeah, this was a bit of a strange one and I’m afraid, not a movie I can easily recommend.

Verdict: 2.5 /5

Us


Viewed – 20 August 2019. Online rental

Director Jordan Peele has made quite a name for himself after the Oscar winning racial-tension thriller Get Out. He’s certainly a bold new voice in a largely stale genre filled with sequels and remakes. In this, his second effort, a woman along with her husband and kids head to a beach community for a holiday, where when she was a child a bizarre incident happened that has haunted her all her life. However after meeting up with some friends, as night draws in a weird group of strangers turn up outside the house who look exactly like them.

Initially I thought this was very much like a copy of The Strangers mixed with Funny Games., but as it progressed it became so much more. Firstly, Peele’s direction is slick, visually interesting and coats the movie in a thick unnerving atmosphere. Moments of humour only slightly eleveate the tension but work well to create a surprisingly relatable tone with characters I quickly grew to care about. One joke involving an Alexa-like device was just brilliant. Performances, especially considering the cast are mostly playing two parts are decent with a special mention going to Lupita Nyong’o who delivers a very layered duel-performance that’s at times quite chilling..

The overall concept is clever on paper, but as the movie drew to a close I felt it got a bit confused, causing an avalanche of questions in my head that begged me to re-evaluate what I had been watching. That can be great but in reflection, I’m not sure if it entirely works. However for such a visually captivating, well acted and often thrilling experience this remains one of the most purely entertaining horrors I’ve seen in a while.

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

Look Away


Viewed – 06 July 2019. Online rental

Occasionally a concept will grab my attention immediately and this eerie thriller is one such example. A bullied, introverted schoolgirl finds herself turning to her own reflection who’s sinister intentions gradually start to take control.

A story about a teenage girl, fitting in at high school , bullies and going to the prom whilst hiding a potentially deadly secret. Yep this certainly has echoes of Carrie but also brings in a few other elements such as the doppelgänger / alter-ego, peer pressure and a surprising amount of (attempted) eroticism. However as sexy as the movie tries to be, even when blended with the supernatural … a rather pubescent-looking lead actress made for, occasionally uncomfortable viewing. It’s also a movie that wastes potential on a clearly undeveloped script.

Which is a shame, as the dual performance (with some clever camera trickery) by relative unknown India Esley is decent and support from Mira Sorvino and especially Jason Isaacs means this isn’t quite the straight to VOD it otherwise appears to be. Yet the ending was unsatisfying with the movie giving too many hints at a larger story that’s ultimately left to the viewers imagination. In other hands that may have worked but here … it just doesn’t.

Verdict: 2.5 /5