When we were kids in the 1970s and early 80s, Bruce Lee movies clobbered Hollywood flicks at the box office, David Carradine walked the earth every week on TV’s Kung Fu, and Ramon Zamora punched, kicked and yelped his way to stardom. Martial arts masters, male and female, flew across the screens in lush historical epics. By the time we saw Luke Skywalker being trained by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back we were already familiar with the concept of a student being oppressed, knocked around, and heckled by a Shaolin master, so Yoda seemed too lenient. A friend of mine, one of the smartest people I know, was so impressed by the martial arts ballet in King Hu’s Come Drink With Me that at age 7 he tried to do the moves himself. In the process he took a flying leap off the roof of the family house, fractured his spine, and had to wear a brace for months.
It’s 2015, and the kung movie is on the decline. “The master-disciple tradition is being lost,” declares director Teddy Chen, whose electrifying movie Kung Fu Killer (released in the US and UK as Kung Fu Jungle) is a tribute to the martial arts movie and its best-loved stars. “Tribute” is the word because unless this decline is arrested, we may never see their like again.
1. From Almost Famous: Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) gives young rock journalist and Cameron Crowe stand-in William Miller (Patrick Fugit) advice to live by. (Rock journalist: a job description that barely exists anymore.)
We should commit this speech to memory.
You made friends with them. See, friendship is the booze they feed you. They want you to get drunk on feeling like you belong.
They make you feel cool. And hey. I met you. You are not cool.
We’re uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don’t have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we’re smarter.
Great art is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love…and let’s face it, you got a big head start.
The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.
My advice to you. I know you think those guys are your friends. You wanna be a true friend to them? Be honest, and unmerciful.
Philip Seymour Hoffman would have been 48 years old today. As long as people watch movies PSH will live on.
Another line from Almost Famous, wrongly attributed to Goethe by William’s mom (Frances McDormand):
Of course we like Ant-Man, like it enough to worry about whether audiences will accept Paul Rudd as a superhero. He’s adorable, but there are disadvantages to being adorable—superheroes are by definition tough. It’s not that Paul Rudd isn’t aging, but he’s aging backwards so now he looks like a younger brother of Chris Pratt.
Ant-Man 2.0 is Scott Lang, who has just finished serving a prison sentence for hacking into an evil corporation’s systems and giving people back the money it stole from them. The original Ant-Man is Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas, and the 80s version of Michael Douglas is the movie’s best visual effect. In the comics Pym was not a nice man—in the Avengers reboot we read, he was an abusive husband and general asshat. In the movie he’s estranged from his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who kicked him out of the tech company he founded and now runs it with his former assistant, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). But then Cross discovers the shrinking technology that Pym had tried to conceal, and now he wants to sell it to the military so Pym and Hope recruit Scott to steal it back. Scott is aided by his friends, including Michael Pena as the ex-con Luis, whose breathless storytelling skills provide the movie’s best gags.
The movie is clever, funny and entertaining, and the fathers-and-daughters theme gives it just enough emotional ballast so it doesn’t sink into sappiness. Ant-Man is considerably more low-key than the typical Marvel product, but whether it will be allowed to stay that way once he joins the Avengers is doubtful.
Yes, there are cameos by other regulars in the Marvel Universe. There are two stingers: The first shortly after the closing credits begin, the second after the credits have ended and the cleaners are waiting for you to go away.
P.S. Does anyone know the title of the science-fiction story in which the protagonist keeps shrinking and falling into different universes, each smaller than the next? We read it once in an anthology but cannot find the book.
If you watch Magic Mike XXL expecting nonstop abs and crotches bumping and grinding, you will be disappointed. Magic Mike XXL is not about male strippers, but about humans who are friends who happen to be strippers. It puts them on the road and gives them actual lives, with hopes, disappointments, desires and fears. Whatever is the opposite of objectification, that’s what this movie directed by longtime Soderbergh assistant Gregory Jacobs and shot by Steven Soderbergh himself (as Peter Andrews) goes for. It’s also very canny and respectful about female desire—the women hooting and throwing bills at the dancers are not drooling lust-crazed freaks but, again, humans owning their sexuality.
As we know, recognizably human characters equals disappointing box-office. Some women actually walked out of the screening so they missed the grand finale in which Kevin Nash, Adam Rodriguez, Matt Bomer (if that’s his real voice we’re impressed), Joe Manganiello and Channing Tatum each get a solo production number. Donald Glover (Troy from Community) shows up as a rapper-singer, Jada Pinkett-Smith as their guest emcee (Matthew MacConaughey went from playing Dallas to Dallas Buyers Club and left), Elizabeth Banks as the organizer of the male stripper convention, Andie MacDowell as a wealthy divorcee whose party they walk into, and Amber Heard as a photographer Mike gets interested in.
The danger of Science-Fiction Week is that you may feel like abandoning other genres altogether, they seem so staid and predictable in comparison. We saw Alex Garland’s excellent Ex Machina, starring Alicia Vikander as Ava the artificial intelligence, Oscar Isaac as her creator, and Domhnall Gleeson as the programmer chosen to administer the Turing test. Garland got his SF cred from Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, in which a team that includes Cillian Murphy and a bearded Chris Evans embark on a voyage to turn the sun back on. He also wrote the novels The Tesseract, set in the Philippines (reportedly he wrote it in Quezon), and The Beach and the screenplay for 28 Days Later.
Alicia Vikander, like Oscar Isaac, is in every other movie that opens this year, and she’s so good we cannot begrudge her Michael Fassbender assuming they’re still together. We loved Domhnall Gleeson in About Time, in which he was part of a family that used their ability to go back in time to read Dickens over and over again (there are worse ways to use time). And Vikander and Gleeson were by far the best parts of Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina (they were Kitty and Levin), except possibly for Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s moustache.
In Ex Machina, the tech billionaire behind the world’s most popular search engine—we think of him as Larry/Sergey—creates AI and gets one of his employees to test her. Lonely geek becomes emotionally attached to a program: it’s Spike Jonze’s Her, minus the whimsy, romance and the high-waisted pants. Ex Machina challenges the viewer to define what “human” is, and the results are uncomfortable. It makes us think that the singularity isn’t near, it’s already here and Asimov’s Laws no longer hold. The movie is chilly, and it’s supposed to be, so the sudden disco break is welcome.
Then we saw Alicia Vikander in James Kent’s Testament of Youth, based on Vera Brittain’s memoir of World War I. Vikander plays Vera, and she’s surrounded by some of the most adorable young British actors today, including Kit Harington (or as we call him at home, Christopher Darling), Colin Morgan (from the TV series Merlin, which makes us very angry because it takes painful myths we love and makes them cute), and Taron Egerton (from Kingsman). If you still haven’t recovered from the season finale of Game of Thrones, see Jon Snow clean-shaven here.
Testament of Youth reminded us of Joe Wright’s Atonement, no surprise since Brittain’s book is cited by Ian McEwan as one of the sources of his novel. Vera is a young woman who falls in love and gets accepted to Oxford in the same year—she’s all set to go to university with him when WWI breaks out and everything goes to hell.
Sapiens, available in hardcover at National Bookstores, Php1255
Seveneves got us to thinking about the survival of the species, so we picked up Sapiens, a history of the species by Yuval Noah Harari. We’re on chapter 4. It’s a fascinating book that makes leaps of logic that academics may scoff at, but we have no problem with.
The first part tries to answer the question: How did a species in the middle of the food chain suddenly vault to the top? We’d always thought that Homo sapiens descended from earlier versions of the species, Neanderthals and so on, but Harari points out that a mere 70,000 years ago there were six human species on the planet and sapiens basically won out. The competition was bigger and stronger, but sapiens could work together towards one goal, thanks to their ability to imagine things that did not exist, and to tell each other stories that bound their community together. In short, their weapon was fiction. So all you people who don’t read fiction, you’re doomed.
The toughest movies to review are those that you neither hate nor love. When someone asks what you think of the movie, you reply, “Okay lang.” I don’t like saying, “Okay lang” because I trade in opinions and that is a cop-out. Therefore, I will apply a cold business decision-making process to figure out how I feel about The Break-Up Playlist, the new film by director-cinematographer Dan Villegas and screenwriter Antoinette Jadaone, starring Sarah Geronimo and Piolo Pascual. The team made English Only, Please, which I liked, and Jadaone wrote and directed That Thing Called Tadhana, which did not suck but which caused me to have an out-of-body experience from tedium.
The process is called SWOT Analysis, and I learned it from the TV show Silicon Valley. SWOT means “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats”. My question is: Do I like The Break-Up Playlist?