Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring Cleaning

My backlog of films is over 100 so I need to start blogging again.

I saw a number of films which I considered mediocre at best.

The Girls in the Band; directed by Judy Chaikin; documentary; (2013) - Official Website
Age of Consent starring James Mason & Helen Mirren; directed by Michael Powell; (1969)
Raze starring Zoë Bell; directed by Josh C. Waller; (2013) - Official Website
Special ID starring Donnie Yen and Andy On; directed by Clarence Fok; Mandarin & Cantonese with subtitles; (2013) 

I saw The Girls in the Band at the Landmark Opera Plaza, Age of Consent at the Castro, Raze at the Roxie and Special ID the 4 Star.

I saw The Girls in the Band in January.  It's a documentary about all-girl jazz bands from the 1930s to 1950s.  Jazz is a genre of music I'm largely ignorant of so I'm not sure what I was doing at this film.  I was kind of expecting something on par with 20 Feet from Stardom or Muscle Shoals.  Actually, The Girls in the Band starts by detailing some fascinating women.  However, it doesn't know when to stop.  From profiling a select group of women, the film expands by the end to kind of Who's Who of Female Jazz artists and director Judy Chaikin seemed to not offend by omitting them from the film.  A significant portion of the 2nd half of the film is a series of profiles about female jazz musicians I was unfamiliar with and who, by comparison to the musicians profiled earlier in the film, seemed less interesting or impressive.  Frankly, I was ready for the film to be over about 20 minutes before it ended.  The Girls in the Band seemed better suited as a 60 minute PBS special and would benefit from some editing.

I chose to see Age of Consent in February mainly to see a young (22 years old at the time of filming) Helen Mirren.  The Castro film calendar trumpeted that it was screening the version with Mirren's nude scenes restored.  Age of Consent was directed by Michael Powell as in Powell and Pressburger.  Finally, it starred James Mason, an actor whom I have long admired.  Age of Consent was paired with  his seminal work, Lolita.  I passed on Lolita, having seen it several times before.  In hindsight, I wish I would have skipped Age of Consent and watched Lolita again.

I have to admit that my concentration flagged for extended periods during the film.  Mason's character is an artist who tires of New York and moves to remote Australia to regain his artistic inspiration.  It is there that he meets Helen Mirren, a congenial juvenile delinquent of sorts who he keeps out of trouble by hiring her to be his model...nude model.  The premise seems ridiculous but rather than skip past it, the film is slow paced for much of the first half.  Mirren's alcoholic grandmother and Mason's deadbeat friend spoil Eden for Mirren and Mason although they find bliss through her death and his...I guess rape would be the best film.

As the title alludes to, Mirren's character is underage which makes the ending scene where Mason & Mirren embrace romantically, a little uneasy for me.  Perhaps she had a birthday when I wasn't paying attention.  Mirren certainly was sexy; still is.  A creaky plot and some dated 1960s sexual revolution ethos left me bored with this film.  Even the sight of Mirren's nude form barely roused me from my stupor although that may say more about me than the film.

I saw Raze in the Big Roxie on a Friday afternoon (strange 6 PM showtime) in February.  Including myself, there were only four people in the auditorium.

The premise of Raze is that women with fighting or self-defense skills are kidnapped, held prisoner and forced to fight each other to the death.  Sounds like grindhouse film from the late 1970s or early 1980s.  In fact, Raze has the look and feel of homage to grindhouse rather than a film made based on its own merits.  Zoë Bell is the main prisoner although time is taken to flesh out several of the characters.  Rosario Dawson makes an appearance as one of the female gladiators.

There is an endless parade of fight scenes in Raze which left me bored and confused.   Zoë Bell tries to hold it together with intense emoting but ultimately I felt like the girls in the film - can I just go home now?  It reminded me of a film called Bitch Slap which also extended the fights scenes beyond the limit of human concentration.  Coincidentally (or perhaps not), Bell was the fight/stunt coordinator on Bitch Slap.

The most memorable part of Raze was poor Sherilyn Fenn as the matron of the "prison."  One of the sexiest actresses from the late 1980s through the 1990s, age and weight gain have made her barely recognizable.  It's like seeing ia middle-aged  Elizabeth Taylor after watching Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or Suddenly, Last Summer.
Of the four films mentioned in this post, Special ID is the best.  I didn't regret the 100 minutes or so that I spend at the 4 Star on a Wednesday night in March but as far as HK action flicks go, I've seen much better.  Like Raze, I think there were only four people in the auditorium.

Donnie Yen plays a HK cop who goes under cover as a mid-level gangster.  He is sent by his mob boss to mainland China to deal with Sunny (Andy On), his one-time gangland protege who is no looking to expand his reach.  Once on the mainland, Yen's new handler is a sexy, no-nonsense, ass-kicking female cop who doesn't like him because a) he's been undercover too long and b) he's from HK.

It's all just window dressing.  Yen & On get to strut around like peacocks and there are some hellacious fight scenes which keeps the film moving along briskly.  As has been the case in the past few Yen films, rather than standard kick and punch action scenes, Yen displays some MMA/Brazilian jiu-jitsu fight techniques which set Special ID apart.  By the way, the title refers to the police identification Yen's character has.  His character is desperate to become a "regular" cop as he has spent his whole career undercover.

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