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Monday, December 26, 2005

Swifty Reviews 'Zathura', Zhang Yimou's 'Riding Alone For Thousands Of Miles' and 'King Kong'

Man, I'm rather far behind with my film reviews, guess I'll have to cram all of them in one entry. Don't expect them to be long and in-depth.

Zathura
Remember Jumanji? I remembered liking it when I saw it ten years ago. I even had the laser disc (that was before the time of DVDs) and watched it numerous times. Never failed to like it. Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt were funny. And Kirsten Dunst was, well, young.

And Jumanji was the sole reason I went to see Zathura (both were based on books by the same author, and I believe Zathura was supposedly an unrelated sequel). All right, it did get some solid reviews at Rotten Tomatoes too.

Summary? Two bickering siblings find a board game at the basement of their house while their dad (Tim Robbins) is out for work. Then when they start playing, their entire freaking house is launched sent into space, and they meet scary aliens, killer robots and mysterious stranded astronauts. Things can only revert to normal if they can finish the board game, but can they put aside their differences and do so?

This is a decent and simple film. Just imagine Jumanji in space, but less complications and subplots, or probably less budget too. Basically, the film's centered around the relationship between the two brothers, and the child actors did pretty well in here, with the continuous argument and their intense rivalry. I won't really bother watching it twice (like I did with Jumanji, but then, I might have liked Jumanji that much due to my age back then), but it does have a nice little twist in the end.

Riding Alone For Thousands Of Miles (千里走单骑)
After making two consecutive big-budget martial arts flicks, the wonderful 'Hero' and the crappy 'House of Thousand Daggers', Zhang Yimou returns to making a simplistic and low-budget drama starring veteran Japanese actor, Takakura Ken.

I saw this film in Shanghai on the 22nd of December, the day of its release. And I think it's going to flop badly in the box-office... considering the fact that MY DAD AND I WERE THE ONLY ONES SEEING THIS FILM IN THE CINEMA! I kid you not, this has NEVER happened to me before, even when I saw the aussie flick, The Preposition, there was at least two other people, a couple, in the cinema with me.

And so, there we were, father and son, seeing a film about father and son bonding. I'm generally okay with most Zhang Yimou pre-'Hero' flicks, Not One Less, Happy Times, To Live etc. They are all good films. Unfortunately, 'Riding Alone For Thousands Of Miles' is a disappointment.

The film begins in Japan, an elderly fisherman returns to Tokyo to find his estranged son suffering from terminal illness. After watching a video footage filmed in China by his son, where he (the son) voices out his interest in Chinese opera to this opera singer, the old dude decides to go to China and film a Chinese opera for his son to mend the relationship that was ruined years ago. It could've been a good and moving film, but it fell flat. The son remains off-screen throughout the entire film (you never see his face), thus everything becomes more of a one-sided affair for the dad, it's all about his guilt and his desperation to know more about his son from the Chinese people his son had befriended.

But things were just too generic, predictable and worst of all, MANIPULATIVE. There are scenes which have groups of grown men weeping like bitches for the sake of hoping that audiences would weep like bitches too. But for crap's sake, what they wept for was so inane and illogical that I ended up shaking my head in disbelief. I won't say that this film sucks, but Zhang Yimou is seriously losing his touch.

King Kong
Saw King Kong yesterday on Christmas. I agree with Roger Ebert's review (and most other US critics') . This is one of the best films of the year.

I had my doubts with the film when I first saw the trailer (the one that came with 'War of the Worlds'). It looked nothing more than some generic loud, special-effects heavy blockbuster. If it weren't directed by Peter Jackson, I wouldn't even have ANY EXPECTATIONS of the film AT ALL.

(After all, we all know the story, filmmaker and his crew found big ass gorilla, took him back to New York, big ass gorilla escaped, climbed onto Empire State Building with screaming woman. Big ass gorilla got shot, and fell to his death. The end. Baboom. Yawn.)

I was wrong.

I'll never, EVER, doubt Peter Jackson again. My god, what a mindblowing job he had done with King Kong.

"What do you think?" My friend, Sebastian, asked after we finished the film.

"Spectacular." I said. I couldn't think of any other words to describe it.

Yes, it was a bit too long. And yes, like Sebastian said, there were too many longing looks between King Kong and Ann (a splendid Naomi Watts who made the forgettable Ring 2 entirely forgotten. She is forgiven), but still, it was dramatic. The film's an epic masterpiece.

Everything in it works, the drama, the action, the thrills, the romance etc. The characters here are people you care for, even if they aren't, you'll still feel that they are real people, something you seldom feel in most big-budget Hollywood films. I'm not going to analyze each and every single actor and tell you how I feel about their acting, after what I said in the previous sentence, you should know already.

The major action scenes were just insane. The ones in Skull island. King Kong vs the three T.Rexes, the stampeding Brontosauruses, those icky slimy thingies that appeared after the stampede. I was already 'whoa'ing at them (something I've ceased doing these days). And the ones in the beautiful 1930s New York. To see King Kong running around, jumping from one skyscraper to another, him breaking things up, wrecking cars, tearing buildings apart, I was STUNNED! BLOWN AWAY!

But like I said, it's not just about the action. It's dramatic and poetic too. It's totally Oscar material. (Although I wonder whether it'll have any chance based on its Golden Globe snub. It should, since it's winning quite a number of awards from those US critics associations)

Argh, enough with it. Go see this film now.

Oh, and the trailer doesn't do the film justice. Many of the less than impressive looking parts in the trailer aren't actually in the film itself.

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