Monday, November 05, 2012

New Releases: Wreck-It Ralph & The Man with the Iron Fists

Huzzah, MoviePass worked for The Man with the Iron Fists! Both the "one per day" and "no 3D" rules kept me from using it for Wreck-It Ralph, but that's OK, as this was a festival-full weekend and I had to squeeze what I wanted in while I could, and it's going to be that way through November.

Anyway, not a whole lot to say about The Man with the Iron Fists that isn't in the review other than that it's quite possible where I sat may have skewed my opinion. I like being toward the front in general, but by the time I got to the theater and got a snack (the first three movies of the day were stacked right on top of each other) I was looking at the front row if I wanted to be toward the center, so... front row it was. For something like Iron Fists, with a lot of fast-moving action that uses the entire wide screen, it's especially problematic. That may be a large chunk of why I thought the action direction was choppy while a lot of other people seemed to like it.

I must also say, I dug the credits. Great Shaw Brothers homaging on the one hand and blaxploitation style on the other.

Wreck-It Ralph was darn good, and the whole package was even better because it included the short film "Paperman" at the front. I'd actually heard a bit about it before, but forgot that it was going to be in front of Ralph (I was half-assuming another Toy Story short, though I gather then new one premiered online). It's really beautiful, using what feels like the same sort of CG models as Tangled to create something with a bit of the character of traditional cel-based animation, even if it is obviously CG and 3D. It does a great job of telling its story without words, just letting action, character expression, and music make the point. And it's sweet.

It was just what was needed after a pretty rough set of previews. There were trailers for a half-dozen animated/"family" films, and some were pretty rough: Dino Time and Escape from Planet Earth both look like they've got no business hitting the same theaters that play movies from the big studios, really; the animation is basic and characters look plastic less as a matter of style and more because there just isn't enough computing power to throw at it for textures or enough time to really get movement right. The Smurfs 2 looks like the studio has staked out a release date but don't have any idea what sort of movie it's making, and it ironically has the opposite problem as those other two - too much texture and dimension compared to Peyo's simple drawings (and the voice also seems totally wrong for someone who watched the cartoon when younger). Despicable Me 2, on the other hand, looks enjoyably absurd with its focus on the Minions, and The Croods at the very least looks interesting - the character animation looks like they got it as close to photorealistic as they could and then pulled back to what works. And the trailer for the 3D re-release of Monsters Inc. looks pretty good - you'd almost think it was built for that.

It's worth mentioning how relatively uninspiring the next batch of animated films looks because 2012 was actually crazy-good: We got Arietty, The Lorax, Pirates!, Madagascar 3, Brave, Ice Age 4, ParaNorman, Hotel Transylvania, Frankenweenie, Wreck-It Ralph, and the upcoming Rise of the Guardians. PLUS Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris from last year's Oscar-qualifiers and three Disney 3D re-releases. That's a pretty nice selection of movies, and it doesn't count any of the pretty good ones I saw at Fantasia that may wind up on the Oscar list (Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below, Gyo, A Letter to Momo, The King of Pigs, Asura)

Here's hoping 2013 can try to keep up with 2012, although that's a really high bar.

Oh, one more thing about Wreck-It Ralph... Stay through the end credits. The bit at the very end isn't that great, but the 8-bit styled gags in the titles amused me as did some of the music.

Wreck-It Ralph

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 November 2012 in AMC Boston Common #14 (first-run, Real-D)

Wreck-It Ralph might be said to be the next generation's Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and that can be taken as a compliment or a dig depending on who says that how: The cynical will claim that the video games it references are inherently inferior to the Disney and Warner cartoons previous generations grew up on, and that it lacks a certain satiric edge; those who like it will point out how well it integrates original characters into a world filled with old favorites and mixes and matches them in clever ways. I lean toward the latter, even if I could see where the former are coming from.

Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) is the bad guy in "Fix-It Felix Jr.", a game that's been in the local arcade for thirty years now. And when the characters from various games hang out together after the kids go home, he admits that it bothers him that no-one appreciates what he does. But when he's not invited to the machine's thirtieth anniversary party, he flips his lid, and enters first-person shooter "Hero's Duty" to try and win a medal of his own, though he eventually winds up in karting game "Sugar Rush", where glitchy outcast Vanellope von Sweetz (voice of Sarah Silverman) leads him on a merry chase. His absence from his own game leaves it declared out of order, though, and if he's not found by the next day, it will be unplugged, leaving the characters abandoned, so Felix (voice of Jack McBrayer) goes looking for him, teaming up with Sgt. Calhoun (voice of Jane Lynch) of "Duty", who fears a different kind of disaster.

At the very least, Wreck-It Ralph is going to be a fun movie to freeze-frame once it comes out on video, not just to see how many videogame in-jokes have been placed in the background but to see if an important clue to what kicks off the finale has been hiding in plain sight since early on. I sort of suspect it has, which means that the filmmakers' attention to detail isn't just about cramming all of their favorite game characters into the background. That is a lot of fun, though, especially since they dig into the 1980s games that might not have the highest profile (Q*Bert and Tapper, for instance) and have some fun with the more modern ones, too.

Full review at EFC.

The Man with the Iron Fists

* * * (out of four)
Seen 3 November 2012 in AMC Boston Common #11 (first-run, digital)

I'm going to guess that it's no coincidence that Gordon Liu and Pam Grier play important figures in the life of The Man with the Iron Fists's title character; his kung fu flicks and her blaxploitation movies provide a lot of DNA for this one. And while it retains a fair amount of their weaknesses, it captures a great deal of their pleasures, too.

The governor has a shipment of gold heading to the northern border and has hired the Lion Clan to protect it as it passes through Jungle Village. But leader Gold Lion (Chen Kuan Tai) has been betrayed by lieutenants Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and Bronze Lion (Cung Le), abetted by Poison Dagger (Daniel Wu). The local blacksmith (RZA) is selling weapons to everyone who will pay, aiming to buy out the contract of girlfriend Lady Silk (Jamie Chung) at the brother run by Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu). But all that gold makes an irresistible target, so warriors from Jack the Knife (Russell Crowe) to Brass Body (Dave Bautista) to the Gemini Killers (Andrew Lin & Grace Huang) to Gold Lion's son Zen Yi (Rick Yune) are all converging on Jungle Village.

Say this for the folks both behind and in front of the camera for this movie: They know exactly what film they want to make and generally nail it. That's trickier than it sounds; part of the characters of the movies that inspired this one is their imperfection and occasional broad comedy (intentional and otherwise), but recreating that too deliberately makes it easy to drift from loving homage to easy mockery. What writer/director/star RZA does is keep things loose until the fighting starts, never making fun of the genre into which he's inserted himself but well aware of its conventions. He has fun pushing already outsize things a little farther and letting his characters swagger.

Full review at EFC.

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