Chowing Down On Some Hilarious Seafood – The Mermaid (2016)

mer7One of the things that I always love about Stephen Chow’s movies is that he never forgets that he is making a movie. What I mean by that is that rather than trying to fit into some kind of “realistic” mode which seems to be all the rage now, Chow is willing to recognize and accept his films for the fantasies that they are, and to do whatever seems appropriate to tell the story that he wants to. This has been true throughout his career, and is just as evident in his newest release, The Mermaid.

The Mermaid is actually many films (and styles of film) brought together in a way that on paper might seem as though they would irredeemably clash, but in the course of the movie, they never actually do. It is, at heart, a fantasy retelling of The Little Mermaid – along with a splash of Romeo and Juliet style rom-com thrown in for good measure. It is also an industrial espionage movie. It’s a bit of a Jackie-Chan style kung fu movie.  And it’s an ecological horror/message film.

Mostly, though, it’s simply an at times laugh-out-loud comedy.

And a Stephen Chow film.

What all of this means, and what any potential viewer needs to know going in is that you’re going to see a style of mostly-fantasy film that – if you’re unfamiliar with Chow’s previous work – especially, say, Kung Fu Hustle (though The Mermaid is not as egregiously indulgent as that one) – that requires the viewer to buy into over the top effects, including both obvious wire work and at times extremely obvious and purposefully so CGI effects. If you’re not willing to do that, then you’re likely going to come away hating this movie.

mer2If, on the other hand you’re willing to make that buy-in and simply let Chow take you where he wants to however he feels is necessary to get the job done, then you’re in for a true treat.

The actual basics of the story line are pretty simple: a wealthy playboy-type businessman has set up a series of extreme sonar like devices around an island that he has managed to acquire in order to drive off the dolphins in the surrounding waters so that he can get a development permit without having to worry about environmentalists protesting his development of the area.

Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him – or to anyone else – the area is also the home to a clan of mermaids (and, for some reason an especially war hungry half-human octopus), and the sonar are having a devastating effect on them, killing them slowly, much as if the water had been poisoned.

mer8In order to put an end to this, the mermaids have come up with a plan – they will send one of their own to the surface to seduce the businessman Mata Hari style and then lure them back to their home where they will subsequently kill him.

It’s a good plan, and one that seems to be working, until the mermaid seductress and the businessman actually fall immediately in love with each other and it seems that she may not be able to carry out her part of the assassination plot after all.

Also, just for good measure, you need to throw in a group of renegade scientists who seem to be hell-bent on both capturing and killing off the mermaids, some inept policemen who are at first unable to even understand the concept of a mermaid and then find the businessman’s story of having been kidnapped by them truly laughable, and one truly incredible mer-fu wielding Big-Mama mermaid.

mer6So what you really have here is what in America will probably be a little seen quirky import comedy that will quickly for the most part make the rounds of the usual art-house type cinemas and than disappear largely unknown.

In China however…

In China The Mermaid was released on February 8, 2016. Upon release, it broke numerous box office records such as the biggest opening day and the biggest single day gross through its seventh day of release and had the biggest opening week of all time. On February 19 it became the country’s highest-grossing film.

Here are some numbers for you courtesy of Wikipedia:

The Mermaid recorded an opening day record of US$40.9 million, which is the biggest opening day for a Chinese film and the second biggest of all time there only behind the opening day of Furious 7. US$1 million came from midnight screenings. It set a new record for the fastest film to earn CN¥1 billion (US$152.4 million), doing so in just 4 days of release, and also recorded the largest 5-days gross (US$187.3 million). Through its seven day opening week, it grossed a total of $275.1 million, breaking records for the biggest seven day gross and the biggest-opening week of all time in China (breaking Furious 7) and the third biggest of all time, behind Hollywood films Star Wars: The Force Awakens (US$390.8 million) and Jurassic orld (US$296.2 million). It grossed US$120.4 million alone for the three-day opening weekend (Friday to Sunday), which is the biggest of all time in China and the second biggest three-day gross behind Furious 7s Saturday to Monday gross. This along with From Vegas to Macau III (US$119 million) and The Monkey King 2 (US$116 million) helped Chinese box office break the Guinness World Record for the biggest box office week with $548 million from February 8 – 14, 2016. The previous record was set during the week of December 26, 2015 – January 1, 2016 when Star Wars: The Force Awakens led the box office with US$261 million and the box office that week totaled US$529.6 million. And the previous biggest Chinese box office week was set in July 2015 when Monster Hunt, Pancake Man, and Monkey King: Hero is Back, combined for a then total US$253 million during their first week. On February 19 – 12 days after release – the film became the highest-grossing film in China with CN¥2.45 billion, overtaking the previous record holder, Monster Hunt.

Yeah, you could say it’s big. And in my opinion, it deserves to be much bigger than it will surely turn out to be in the US, too.

mer3Oh, and a couple of other quick notes: with a running time of only 94 minutes. The Mermaid also breaks with much modern blockbuster fare in that it does an excellent job of getting in, telling its story, and getting out. There is no bloat about this movie.

Also, I do feel that I should warn you that there are a couple of quite violent scenes that – while definitely in keeping with both the tone and the message of what is going on in the film at the time may disturb some more sensitive viewers and really may keep this from being, in some viewers’ eyes, truly family friendly – especially for the youngest of viewers.

And last, but definitely not least, I want to take a moment to praise the work of newcomer actress Lin Yun who plays Shan, the somewhat reluctant mermaid seductress/assassin. Yun was selected by Chow and his casting team from over 120,000 participants due to her demure personality in a talent contest held in Shenzhen, China, and throughout what was reportedly a grueling shoot which saw her repeatedly bruised and injured, she never loses the sense of charm and innocence that is necessary to pull off the role.

So, if you’re in the mood for a fantasy film that truly embraces the fantastical, yet is also much more than that, I highly recommend going to see The Mermaid if you happen to see it pop up anywhere near you. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Here’s a trailer:

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Forget Freddie vs Jason – Here’s The Teaser Trailer For Sadako vs Kayako (2016)

svk1So if you take two of the most popular and terrifying horror franchises ever produced and have the main characters come into conflict with each other what do you get? Well, if you’re talking about what’s come to be known as J-Horror, and those franchises are Ringu and Ju-On – or as they became known in the U.S., The Ring and The Grudge – you get Sadako vs Kayako, due for a release in Japan in June.

There’s been no official plot line release that I’ve seen yet, but it appears to involve a teenage girl named Yuri who inadvertently watches a version of the infamous VHS tape from the Ringu series, thereby once again drawing out the character Sadako. How she then comes into conflict with Kayako from The Grudge still at this point remains a mystery.

The trailer itself, as can really only be expected at this point, is only a series of scenes, but if it’s any indication, fans of the two series are in for a real treat.

I’ve got no idea when or even if we’ll get a stateside big-screen release of this, especially in an unedited subtitled version, but I’m definitely holding out hope that that will happen and that we won’t have to settle for a direct to disk or VOD release. Or worse, an in-some-form Americanized version.

Here’s the trailer:

Quckie Review – The Judge (2014)

j1Okay, let’s take a look at 2014’s The Judge and see what we’ve got here:

Robert Duvall as the titular cantankerous old coot judge? Check.

Robert Downey Jr as his charming arsehole lawyer son? Check.

Billy Bob Thornton as the too slick opposition lawyer? Check.

Vera Farmiga as the she stayed in the small town and may be the mother of Downey’s child ex-girlfriend? Check

A dysfunctional all-male family brought together and made to learn to relate to each other through shared impending tragedy? Check.

Outrageous courtroom scenes that would never be allowed to play out in anything resembling real life? Check.

Not one surprising plot twist in the entire movie? Check.

A movie that somehow made a boatload of money and got a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Duvall? Check, though I have no idea why.

A firm recommendation from me that  you not even bother with this movie unless you just want to watch these guys go through their paces one more time or just have 142 minutes (yes, the dang thing is well over two-hours long) to kill with absolutely nothing better to do? Check.

Here’s the trailer. I suppose you might as well go ahead and check it out.

 

(Un)Seeing Red – Here’s The First Real Trailer For Daredevil Season 2 (2016)

If you were a fan of the first season of Netflix/Marvel’s Daredevil, you’re going to find a lot to like about this trailer for the second season. One thing that pleased me personally is that we’re actually going to get the red suit instead of him being simply decked out in black. The version of the Punisher presented here looks like a good interpretation of the character, and we finally get an actual look at the third major character who will be taking the stage during this season.

One other interesting thing about the trailer is that it promises us a “part two” coming up in ten days, and presumably picking up just where this one leaves off. Hopefully that will give us an idea of what the interactions between DD and his former love are going to be like – whether they’re going to be on the same side initially or whether they two will be squaring off.

Take a look:

Come For O’Toole, Stay For Whittaker – Venus (2006)

v1Roger Michell’s 2006 film Venus could very easily have been your typical May-December romance/coming of age story, but fortunately it isn’t, largely thanks not only to an inspired performance by the always fascinating Peter O’Toole, but a much surprising turn by Jodie Whittaker as the young object of his affection – actually, that affection is accompanied by a healthy dose of lust – Jessie.

When we first meet Jessie, she has come to take care of her great-uncle Ian (Leslie Phillips). Ian introduces her to his best friend O’Toole’s Maurice (pronounced as though spelled Morris) Russell, an aging actor, who is dying of prostate cancer. Though Ian at best tolerates her, calling her a trouble maker and a nuisance who can’t even seem to fix his tea properly, Maurice is immediately attracted by the brash young girl, whom he seems to find both alluring and fascinating.

Though she is initially as shy and disaffected around Maurice as she is towards her great uncle, he begins to charm her, since he appears to be the only person she knows who is willing to accept her as she is, and to treat her in a non-judgmental way that it seems no one in her actual family is able or willing to do. Soon they have struck up something of a friendship, though there is also a constant prickliness to their relationship, due both to the mistrust that Jessie seems to have towards everyone and Maurice’s tendency to push the boundaries of their relationship whenever he is given the opportunity.

Peter O'Toole and Jodie Whittaker in VenusIt’s not long before Jessie is actually spending more time with Maurice than with Ian, and during one of their outings, he takes her to see his favorite painting, Diego Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus. Ian also encourages Jessie, who has stated that she wants to be a model to pose nude for an arts class, though one suspects – since he is a participant in the class – that his real motive in doing so is to be able to study the young girl’s body which he eventually admits that he has been fantasizing about.

Eventually, as can only be expected in this kind of film, the two become closer, and though Jessie does begin to allow Maurice more and more leeway toward her both physically and emotionally, she also never hesitates to draw back from him or to shoot him down when he begins to cross the line into what she considers to be inappropriate behavior toward her. Maurice also finds himself changing and becoming even more accepting of the young girl’s way of life, even as he tries to help her see that there may be more to hers, and the two both bring new ideas and experiences to the other.

v3Unfortunately, things eventually come to a head when Jessie brings her new young lover to Maurice’s flat, seeking a place where they can make love together. Though he initially complies and begins to take a walk to give the two time to be together, he soon decides that he cannot abide it, and returns to confront the two. This leads to a physical confrontation which leaves Maurice gravely injured.

I mentioned at the start that O’Toole’s performance as Maurice is as inspired as any that he has undertaken and that is borne out by the fact that it earned him his eighth Best Actor Academy Award nomination. No, it does not have the showmanship and bluster of his earlier roles, but that’s obviously not what is called for here. Instead his performance holds the dignity of his age, even though the character he is playing at times does not. It’s obvious that O’Toole is having fun here, and that makes it easy for the viewer to do so also.

v2The person who really deserves more credit here though is Jodie Whittaker who truly steals not just Maurice’s heart, but the entire film. Whittaker brings to the role of Josie just the right blend of brokenness and brashness that takes her character far beyond the cardboard cutout that one might expect. Obviously, simply having to share the screen with a legend like O’Toole brings an inherent challenge for any actor in that they are likely to simply be overshadowed by the mere presence of the actor, but that never happens. Instead her portrayal is strong enough that there is no question at all why Maurice is drawn to her and is willing to go to the lengths he does just to spend more time with her.

In the end, Venus earns a very high recommendation from me. I’ll especially commend it to those of you who happened to see the recent Robert Di Nero/Anne Hathaway movie The Intern and either enjoyed that or found it just a bit too sweet and unrealistic. This is definitely a movie that I’d place into the “hidden gem” category and deserves to be discovered by more people.

 

 

Throwback Thursday – The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (1935)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

Here’s one for you Sherlock Holmes fans out there from Professor Damian.

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Whodunnit Wednesday – The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (1935)

tt31There have been so many different adaptations, interpretations and reiterations of the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective that it is often quite nearly impossible to keep up with them. Wikipedia lists the first filmed Holmes story as 1900’s Sherlock Holmes Baffled, and since that time there must have been hundreds of different actors portraying the famed investigator right up to last year’s entry starring Robert Downey Jr. Some of these interpretations, of course, have been more faithful (and some more successful) than others. A while back, I wrote about one of my personal favorite portrayals, that of Basil Rathbone in the series of films produced by Universal Studios. Today I’d like to take a look at another, slightly earlier series of films which unfortunately have been overshadowed by those Universal films.

Arthur Wotner was born in 1875 and portrayed Holmes in a series of five films from 1931 to 1937. Of these five films, the first, The Sleeping Cardinal was, until recently, thought to be a lost film. Unfortunately, though prints have been found of this one, his second, The Missing Rembrant is still considered lost. nonetheless, the films that we do have show Wotner as a Holmes that is more cerebral than many interpretations, and who also definitely looks the part. Wotner is not as athletic as some of the later Holmes, relying much more on his deductive prowess, and that serves him in good stead in today’s feature, his fourth outing as the titular detective, The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes.

tt32Of course, a large part of the credit for this must go to the screenwriters who have hewn fairly closely to the original source material, in this case, Doyle’s fourth Holmes novel, The Valley of Fear. One of the trickier aspects of any Holmes story is that since he is truly smarter than anyone else in the room (unless, of course, his brother Mycroft also happens to be present), he has often already figured out the main puzzle of the story before the explanation of the situation is finished. That is why he works better in a short story format than in a longer work such as a novel or film, and why, so often, those longer works feel padded with action scenes or obstacles that do not really belong. In this particular instance, Doyle figured out a unique way to lengthen the story. Almost one third of the book is taken up by an extended flashback to Holmes’s client’s past as a miner in the U.S. The movie makers have kept this flashback, and though it does cause the film to drag a bit in the middle, it also gives the film a feeling of having more substance than other efforts at padding. On the flip side, the producers also felt the need to include Holmes’ arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty in the film, when he does not appear in the original story, but that change does not distract too much from the overall quality of the film.

Note should also be made of Ian Fleming’s (no, not the James Bond author) interpretation of the role of Dr. Watson. Instead of the bumbling oaf that Watson often seems, in Fleming’s hands we see a Watson that lets us understand why Holmes would have kept him around. After all, when compared to the brilliance of Holmes, anyone is going to seem second rate, and it is important to remember that Watson was not only considered a first-rate doctor, but also a highly trained military man.

There’s no embedable trailer online that I’ve been able to find, but here’s a clip from the first part of the movie which introduces not only Holmes and Watson to the audience, but also the detective’s arch enemy:

And now, the Skinny:
Title: The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes
Release Date: 1935
Running Time: 75min
Black and White
Starring: Arthur Wotner, Ian Fleming
Directed by: Leslie S. Hiscott
Produced by: Julius Hagen
Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

 

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

 

A Sensual Noodle Fest – Tampopo (1985)

tp2There are times when eating is simply about fueling up the body for whatever is to come next.

Then there are those other times…

Juzo Itami’s Tampopo is a film that never forgets the sensual side of food and eating.

The movie takes its name from that of its heroine, who runs a roadside ramen stand in rural Japan. Her desire is to have the best ramen shop in the area, but unfortunately, her noodles simply aren’t all that good. Enter itinerant trucker Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and his sidekick Gun (Ken Watanabe), who stop in one evening as a break from the road. After Goro stops her son from being beaten by three of his school mates then takes a beating himself while defending her from harassing local Pisken, he awakens the next morning to find that she has taken him in and cleaned and bandaged his wounds.

When it turns out that Goro knows more than a thing or two about the proper cooking of ramen, Tampopo begs him to train her so that she can become a truly great noodle chef.

Okay, I know that at this point many of you are probably thinking “ramen chef”? How much does it take to boil water and toss in some dried noodles and a pack of seasoning? But of course, we’re not talking here about the sodium-laden six-for-a-buck college student staple. Instead, we’re talking a true bowl of Japanese deliciousness, with a deeply flavored soup, handmade noodles freshly cooked, thin slices of pork that actually cook once they are placed in the soup just before eating, and slices of vegetables and other ingredients that make for a heart, healthy meal.

tp1In other words, we’re talking about a dish that not only fulfills the body’s need for energy, but one which, if made and approached correctly, can be a delight for all the senses.

We’re also talking about a movie that celebrates that sensory and, as I said above, sensual side of food and of eating.

Back to the main plot of the film: from this point on, Tampopo plays out not unlike a parody of many a Samurai and Western movie – it was even promoted as the world’s first “ramen western” – a play on the Italian “spaghetti western” genre – with Goro not only teaching and training Tampopo to make the best bowl of noodles possible, but where his own expertise fails, recruiting others to help out. In many ways it has that classic “gather the warriors to help defend the village” feel to it. The pair also set about to learn the true tricks of the ramen masters, even at times going undercover to learn her competitors’ secrets.

tp5But that’s just the main plot. Interspersed within that are small vignettes which bring the true sensuality of eating to the forefront. For instance, the is one subplot which involves a gangster and his lover who are all about exploring the sexual nature and possibilities of different foods in a way that is somewhat reminiscent of the refrigerator scene from 9 1/2 Weeks. There’s even a scene involving a raw egg that… well, let’s just say that it may give you something different to think about the next time you’re making breakfast.

There’s also a memorable scene involving a women’s etiquette class which takes place in a restaurant and in which the teacher is attempting to instruct her young charges the proper “Western” way to eat spaghetti – without the characteristic slurping sounds that often are taken as a sign of the enjoyment of the food in Japanese culture. Her lecture, however is often interrupted by a man sitting a few tables over who is definitely enjoying his own bowl of noodles. And when it finally becomes time for the students to practice what she has been preaching, things do not go exactly as she had hoped.

tp4One of the beauties of Itami’s work here is how seamlessly he integrates these vignettes into the larger work, making them feel not so much like intrusions in the ongoing main plot, but explicative and evocative examples of the mood and atmosphere and themes that he is exploring. He is very ably assisted in this by the camera work of cinematographer Masaki Tamura who finds the perfect way to shoot each of these scenes in a way that makes them feel individualized, but none the less part of the whole.

At the same time, Tampopo is a movie which never loses sight of the inherent silliness at its core and therefore never falls into the trap that can be the downfall of so many comedies. It never takes itself too seriously. Instead it completely embraces its parodic nature and celebrates it just as it celebrates the culinary world.

tp3Also of note is the cast, each of whom seems perfectly chosen for their role. Yamazaki brings just the right combination of gruffness, world-weariness, and sensitivity to the role of itinerant driver/samurai, and Nobuko Miyamoto is utterly charming as the vibrant Tampopo (we’re told that her name means “Dandelion”) who transforms from somewhat dowdy and run down to become as shining and bright as her new restaurant once it. too, receives a near-complete makeover. The supporting cast, which includes many Japanese film stalwarts such as Kōji Yakusho, Yoshi Katō, Hideji Ōtaki, and Ryūtarō Ōtomo, are all perfectly cast and inhabit their roles extremely well.

All of this leads to Tampopo being a film which celebrates food and eating in all of its facets, one which emphasizes and celebrates the fact that food, both in its creation and in its eating can be so much more than just another quick stop along the way in the day, if only one takes the time to slow down and approach it properly.

It’s also a movie that will make you want to give up those little packages of “flavor” forever. Which you really should do anyway, you know.

Her’s a trailer: