in theatres Friday
With a mundane storyline and immature humor, Iron Monkey (Miramax) relies on sophisticated choreography to entertain but barely manages to capture audience approval.
A shallow plot and depthless characters act as a backdrop for fight scenes. The film seems like only an excuse to show off imaginative choreography from Yuen Woo-Ping, also the creative force behind The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Weaving fact and legend, Iron Monkey is the tale of a hero amid a corrupt government that sets out to help the oppressed people in Chinese Robin Hood fashion. Only known as the Iron Monkey, the main character can fly across buildings, do gravity-defying stunts and survive the deadliest of situations with acrobatic feats.
The governor forces a master fighter to hunt down the Iron Monkey. Their elaborate fight scenes are packed with ridiculous banter, resembling two eight-year-olds re-enacting a “Power Rangers” episode.
Fighting abilities become so cartoon-ish at times that it seems the viewer is watching a video game rather than a film.
The acting is painful, with Donnie Yen (Highlander: Endgame) in the role of Wong Kei Ying, the master fighter who battles the Iron Monkey (Yu Rong Guang).
Neither has notable acting ability, but their capability to do many of the stunts without special assistance is impressive. Yen and Guang display the “old school” style of kung fu that is dazzling yet unbelievable.
Intended to be a prequel to Once Upon A Time in China, also directed by Yuen Woo Ping, Iron Monkey (Miramax) follows in the Hong Kong movie tradition of breathtaking action sequences but fails to meet the standards of some of its more artful predecessors.
My First Mister
in theatres Friday
If audiences are seeking a modern-day Lolita story, then the search must continue onward. My First Mister (Paramount Classics) is much more complex than that. The film is a tender and touching coming-of-age story that revolves around love, friendship and familial relationships.
My First Mister is the story of seventeen-year-old, pierced, tattooed, Goth girl, Jennifer Benson (or, “J,” as she refers to herself), played by Leelee Sobieski.
“J” meets resistance when trying to find a part-time job at the local mall. Instant infatuation follows when she comes across upscale men’s clothing shop owner Randall Harris (Albert Brooks).
Randall, an emotionally stingy older man, ultimately hires “J” and the two forge an unlikely, but plausibly portrayed friendship.
While their rocky status may occasionally grow tiresome, there are enough twists and turns in the plot to pique interest. Although My First Mister is composed of a series of clich?s, they are cleverly juxtaposed, forming an original and thought-provoking script. Brooks and Sobieski are perfectly cast in their roles, as the chemistry between the two screams father and daughter, rather than lovers. It is a refreshing change from the formulaic “soul mate” scenario prevalently portrayed in contemporary dramatic films.
Life as a House
in theatres Friday
Life as a House opens with a sweeping view of cliff-top stucco houses overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Then the camera focuses on one house or, more accurately, one shack that mars a cluster of perfectly constructed California homes. We soon learn that this tenement belongs to George (Kevin Kline), a divorced architect who would rather pee over the side of his backyard than call the plumber to fix his toilet.
We then learn that he is dying from cancer. In fact, he only has four months to live. So George decides that in his remaining months he is going to tear down his shed and finally build his dream house. And he is going to do it with his estranged and troubled son, Sam (Hayden Christensen).
Christensen plays the desolate and distressed Sam with dark intensity. Kline is credible as the solitary, dying George. His gloomy eyes, permanent five o’clock shadow and lean trim suit his character perfectly.
Still, despite the acting talent, the movie is awkward and trite.
Cinematically, Life as a House is breathtaking. George and Robin dance to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” while the mammoth sun sinks into the Pacific.
It seems, at times, the movie is more about the exceptional beauty of living in the coastal cliffs of California than about George’s search for life and a relationship with his son. Sunsets, no matter how dazzling, can not replace content in the making of a good movie.