Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Four at the 4 Star

In February, I saw four films at the 4 Star Theater.

Elite Squad 2: Enemy Within starring Wagner Moura; directed by José Padilha; Portuguese with subtitles; (2010) - Official Website
Hugo starring Ben Kingsley & Asa Butterfield; with Chloë Grace Moretz & Sacha Baron Cohen; directed by Martin Scorsese; (2011) -Official Website
I Am Bruce Lee; directed by Pete McCormack; documentary; (2011) - Official Website
The Viral Factor starring Jay Chou & Nicholas Tse; directed by Dante Lam; Cantonese with subtitles; (2012) - Official Website

With Hugo, I have seen six out of the nine films nominated for the 2012 Oscar in the Best Picture category. The three I am missing are Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Tree of Life & War Horse.

Hugo was very entertaining mix of the standard street urchin story with historical events such as the Gare Montparnasse train wreck and Georges Méliès' life & films. Based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Hugo is veritable paean to Méliès who the typical audience member was likely unaware of. The film shifts from children's adventure to Méliès tribute which is probably what attracted Scorsese, a dedicated film preservationist. Several clips from Méliès films were included in Hugo. I had been fortunate enough to see several of them at the 2010 San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Asa Butterfield is adequate as the 12 year old Hugo but Chloë Grace Moretz was most impressive. Last seen by me as Nicholas Cage's daughter in Kick-Ass (2010), Moretz's Isabelle seemed too mature for Hugo. Moretz seems poised to make the jump from child actor to roles more suitable for young adults. Her performance reminded me of Elle Fanning in Super 8. The roles were completely different but physical maturity and perceived emotional maturity imbued their performances with something extra.

Sacha Baron Cohen was unrecognizable to me as the tyrannical train station gendarmerie. As expected Ben Kingsley gives a solid performance as Méliès.

Hugo was released in 3-D, but I saw the 2-D version at the 4 Star.


At times, I Am Bruce Lee seemed like a promotional video for UFC. Ostensibly a biography of Bruce Lee, the filmmakers felt it was important to trace UFC and Mixed Martial Arts to Bruce Lee. Being a very casual fan of MMA, I don't know how valid the claim is but the repetition of the claim was the worst part of I Am Bruce Lee.

I've seen several documentaries on Lee's life and this one covers much of the same ground. It seems like Linda Lee and Dan Inosanto are always willing to be interviewed for these films. This film also had ample interview footage with Lee after his failed attempt star in Kung Fu and as he begin to rebuild his career in Hong Kong.

In the film, much is made of Lee's physical prowess and Inosanto's daughter waxes poetic about how sexy her "uncle" was. I Am Bruce Lee doesn't add any insights to Bruce Lee's life and I'm only moderately interested in Lee's life. Feeling more like a television program, I was not surprised when I saw I Am Bruce Lee on Spike TV less than a month after seeing it at the 4 Star. Lee's life is fascinating enough that even a mediocre rehash of his life (with a generous side serving of UFC) is satisfying.

I Am Bruce Lee
Spike Full EpisodesSpike Video ClipsSpike on Facebook


Elite Squad 2: Enemy Within and The Viral Factor are big budget action films from Brazil and Hong Kong, respectively. Full of special effects and fight scenes, both films had overly complicated plots full of twists and turns. One thing I notice is that a lot of foreign action films are a little too cute for their own good. They put in these plot twists too often which results in frustrating the audience.

I can't recall much to recommend in either film. The Viral Factor was directed by Dante Lam who made one of my favorite action films - The Beast Stalker which also starred Nicholas Tse. The Lam and Tse pairing seemed like a harbinger for good things in The Viral Factor but I was sadly disappointed.

No comments: