Reviews for January 28th, 2011
Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster
Directed by Wilson Yip.
Ip Man (Donnie Yen), desperately wants to open a martial arts school to teach the art of Wing Chun in the town of Fo Shun, China, but in order to do so, he must first fight against Master Hung Quan (Sammo Hung), Hung’s gang members as well as martial arts students from other schools. Zhang Yong Cheng (Lynn Hung), Ip Man’s pregnant wife, continues to remind him that he needs to find a steady source income fast so that they can afford to pay the rent on time. When a British boxing champion, Taylor "Twister" Milos (Darren Shahlavi), arrives in town, the fighting kicks into gear full throttle as the British police show their prejudice and disdain for the Chinese people. Ip Man not only fights against many Chinese opponents, but now must face Twister in a boxing match, “King of the Ring”, to win back the honor of the Chinese people and to prove the true value of Wing Chun. Not surprisingly, Master Hung continuous to treat Ip Man with hostility and even goes to the extent of siding with the corrupt British police. The dramatic elements of the plot written by screenwriter Edmond Wong isn’t particularly engaging because it often feels contrived and, more often than not, secondary to the highly energetic action sequences. You won’t find yourself remembering any of the dialogue or feeling any empathy for Ip Man and his struggles, but those flaws don’t take away from the film’s entertainment value as a whole. Wong could have included some much-needed comic relief although, admittedly, if there were indeed witty bits of dialogue, the wit may have been lost in translation.
Director Wilson Yip shoots the well-choreographed fight sequences with a sense of clarity, focus, imagination and momentum that will make you feel equally thrilled and exhilarated. One particularly brilliant sequence occurs when Ip Man fights against Master Hung, and the two of them end up standing on broken halves of a table that’s balance on some chairs. The actors who play the British officers give such wooden performances that it seems as if they’re not even trying to act. Everything leads up to the inevitable showdown between Ip Man and Twister in the lengthy albeit well-shot “King of the Ring” match. There’s a clever scene following the match that reminds you that the legendary Ip Man would eventually become Bruce Lee’s master. At a running time of 1 hour and 47 minutes, Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster is viscerally exhilarating and thrilling in its brilliantly-choreographed fight sequences, but less engaging during its contrived moments of drama.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1Released by Variance Films. Opens at the Village East Cinema.
Directed by Gregg Araki.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2Released by IFC Films. Opens at the IFC Film Center.
Directed by Simon West.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3Released by CBS Films. Opens nationwide.
Directed by Mikael Håfström.
Inspired by true events. Just as Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue), a seminary student, questions his own faith and send an email to withdraw from the seminary, he happens to bump into his superior, Father Matthew (Toby Jones), who’s nearly killed in an accident and witnesses the way he speaks to a woman as she lays dying. He soon persuades Michael to travel all the way to the Vatican to study exorcism with Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds) as his instructor. He also sends him to work as an apprentice with Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), a priest who’s been performing exorcisms for many years. Michael, Father Lucas as well as Michael’s classmate, Angeline (Alive Braga), have their own doubts about the existence of demonic possession, but their doubts are about to be tested when Rosaria (Marta Gastini) arrives at Father Lucas’s rectory showing signs that she may either be psychotic or possessed by a demon. Screenwriter Michael Petroni achieves a moderate amount of intrigue for the first hour of the film as the behavior of Rosaria can be open to many interpretations depending on which side of the fence you are when it comes to believing in demonic possession. Angeline even wisely suggests to Father Xavier that some exorcism patients might be merely suffering from a psychotic disorder that makes them believe that they’re possessed. Then, all of a sudden, any doubts you may have gets thrown out the window in a way that’s too facile and implausible when Rosaria starts speaking with a creepy voice in different languages and contorting her body before barfing up long nails that were inside her. That’s when the plot loses not only its plausibility but also its suspense because you’ll be able to figure out what will happen to Rosaria and how Michael can save her by using Father Matthew’s simple instructions. Petroni doesn’t show Michael’s innate transformation from a skeptic into a believer in a truly organic fashion because it feels too pedestrian---it’s as if Michael’s change of heart happens only as a plot device.
Director Mikael Håfström at least includes some nifty special effects and impressively style production values, i.e. filming some scenes at slanted camera angles. Unfortunately, Colin O'Donoghue, in his big screen debut, lacks charisma and the acting skills needed to turn Michael into a compelling character. His performance isn’t terrible, but it’s quite bland and unengaging on the whole. Anthony Hopkins chews the scenery and adds some darkly comedic relief whenever he’s onscreen, i.e. when he suddenly takes a call on his iPhone in the middle of an exorcism. It would have been great if the underrated Ciarán Hinds had more scenes because he provides the film some gravitas. The over-the-top third act, which won’t be spoiled too much here, doesn’t even have a single twist or surprise; every event can be easily predicted as long as you pay close attention—unless you’re Sarah Palin. At running time of 1 hour and 52 minutes, The Rite is a stylish, initially provocative dramatic thriller that suffers from increasing implausibility, oversimplifications, diminishing suspense and a bland, unengaging performance by Colin O'Donoghue.
Number of times I checked my watch: 4Released by Warner Bros. Pictures. Opens nationwide.