THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Violence, Strong Sexuality, Language and brief Drug Use

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Directed by: RZA

Written by: RZA & Eli Roth

Starring: RZA, Rick Yune, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, David Bautista, Jamie Chung, Cung Le & Byron Mann

MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is a movie that piqued my interest upon release, but I never took the plunge of going out to see it in the theater. That decision was probably for the best as I simply can’t imagine what a boring and agonizing an experience it would have been to stare at the big screen, fully knowing that I had just wasted 10 bucks and driven to a venue to watch 96 minutes of cinematic crap. RZA and Eli Roth were clearly trying to translate their love for stylish and ridiculous kung-fu epics into the ultimate homage film. The end result is MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS and it feels like a bad wannabe Grindhouse throwback.

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In the nineteenth century Chinese village of Jungle Village (creative name), a nameless blacksmith forges weapons for the various clans intent on killing each other. He might have to create more than a few new weapons as news hits of a valuable gold stash being transported through his town. This moving treasure on the horizon leads to various clans fighting over who will steal the gold as well as a couple of dangerous folks intent on protecting the treasure and plenty of murderous plots afoot. The unnamed blacksmith finds himself siding with a violent British emissary to fight violent scoundrels, protect the gold and ultimately, his village.

Film Title: The Man With the Iron Fists

The biggest problem with MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is definitely the writing. This film is all over the place and never once seems to gain any solid footing. There are goofy attempts at humor, over-the-top characters, and a plot that weaves through too many sub-plots without giving us a single reason to care about any of them. It almost feels as if the story is making itself up as it goes along. The fight scenes are far too brief for the viewer to care either. There are no show-stopping stunts or memorable set pieces (save for one thanks to Russell Crowe). Instead, brief CGI-addled quick bits replace actual fight scenes and don’t necessarily do anything remotely fresh, original or exciting. I mean, you have a baddie who can turn his body into brass and he really doesn’t use that insane power to much effect.

Film Title: The Man With the Iron Fists

RZA’s performance is horrible. Seeing as he pulled triple duty (directing, writing and starring) in this film, this was clearly his passion project. I just wish he hadn’t thrown himself into the title role. Though he serves as the would-be main protagonist, there are too many other characters and convoluted plot points to really care about his bland blacksmith with a convenient supernatural power. To make matters even worse, RZA provides a voice-over narration in a lifeless tone and wooden delivery. Still, there are a couple of brief redeeming qualities in MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS. Russell Crowe’s character is pretty damned cool, sporting the only memorable scene in the entire movie by sawing a guy in half in the first 10 minutes. A couple of jokes hit their marks, such as reactions from certain crowd members to the gory chaos around them. Apparently, this film was originally four hours long. Though I can’t imagine a longer version would fare much better (it might actually be far worse), this final cut of IRON FISTS definitely feels like a cut-and-paste job.

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As cool as a couple of shots are and as unapologetically badass as the marketing was, MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is a very lame movie. It feels like there are way too many characters, plot threads and ideas stuffed into one film. These problems leave little room for any character development or lengthy fight scenes as well as the hope of this flick getting any solid footing in terms of story-telling. I couldn’t care less about RZA’s blacksmith or his iron weapons of choice. The whole film feels unbelievably forced from its faux retro opening credits to the many plot points that are obvious references to kung fu films of the past. MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS looked too good to be true and rang completely false.

Grade: D

BIG HERO 6 (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action and Peril, some Rude Humor, and Thematic Elements

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Directed by: Don Hall & Chris Williams

Written by: Robert L. Baird, Dan Gerson & Jordan Roberts

(based on the BIG HERO 6 comics)

Voices of: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk & Maya Rudolph

Disney is known for tales of princess, far off lands, and immensely creative retellings of classic stories. Every now and then, Disney tries something new or unusual out for size. Sometimes, this approach comes out with a new classic (WRECK-IT RALPH), but it can also result in a flawed or mixed bag (ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE, LILO & STITCH).  BIG HERO 6 is Disney’s first adaptation of a Marvel comic into an animated family film and winds up being a decent enough movie with some frustrating problems.

BIG HERO 6, from left: Hiro (voice Ryan Potter), Baymax (voice: Scott Adsit), 2014. ©Walt Disney

In a colorful futuristic city called San Fransokyo, Hiro Hamada (a 14-year-old genius) spends his time hustling at illegal bot fights (think cock-fighting by remote-controlled robots). With Tadashi’s (Hiro’s older brother) guidance, Hiro is interested in attending a high-tech university, but disaster strikes. Hiro teams up with the gentle giant Baymax (Tadashi’s invention: an inflatable nurse-like robot) to stop an evil villain, but he’ll also need the help of four friends to take down the masked baddie. This is pretty basic stuff for a superhero origin story, but it’s executed fairly well for about two-thirds of the movie.

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BIG HERO 6 takes place in an awesome world. The visuals are beautiful and there’s a lot of creativity on display. A scene in which Hiro flies on Baymax’s back through the skies of San Fransokyo reminded me of the best scene in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON because of how gorgeous the animated environment looked around them. There’s also a unique style to the animation itself in that this almost comes off like an anime met up with regular computer animation and had a baby. A few characters look like they’re right out of a manga (Hiro, Tadashi, etc.) and others look like they’re from typical animated designs, but they blends seamlessly into one big world that is very cool to look at. It’s an awesome film in terms of pure animation, but the script itself is where things falter.

BIG HERO 6, Yokai (voice: Charles Adler), 2014. ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/courtesy

The characters in BIG HERO 6 are fun to watch, but pretty standard. With the exception of Hiro and Baymax, everyone else comes off as a one-note joke and don’t receive enough time to develop into actual characters. Hiro is a sympathetic teenager who’s suffering from severe depression and Baymax shows a remarkable amount of emotions for a robot (as well as providing the best comic relief in the whole movie). There’s genuine friendship between them that’s the best aspect of the film, besides the unique animation. However, BIG HERO 6 tries to have it both ways in terms of being a rocking superhero movie and a cutesy kid’s film. This isn’t a great mix and it’s clear that a lot of things were compromised in terms of making this child-friendly (just wiki some of the details about the source material for examples). BIG HERO 6 works very well for the first hour (maybe a little longer) thanks to well-placed humor. It’s a fun and entertaining flick that is almost compromised by a rushed climax.

BIG HERO 6, from left: Hiro (voice Ryan Potter), Baymax (voice: Scott Adsit), 2014. ©Walt Disney

All the momentum and entertainment nearly goes out the window in the final third. We are given the reveal of who the kabuki-masked villain is and I will give BIG HERO 6 praise in it being not completely predictable, but the details surrounding the bad guy are so rushed that beating him almost seemed like a shrug-inducing obligation. The stakes weren’t too high and the final battle is an afterthought. The climax isn’t compelling or very exciting. There are even a couple of plot holes introduced by the rushed showdown. It’s almost like you’re on a really fun rollercoaster ride and the cars stop for the final third, so you’re forced to get out and walk the rest of the track. That’s the exact same effect of watching BIG HERO 6.

BIG HERO 6, from left: Baymax (voice: Scott Adsit), Hiro (voice Ryan Potter), 2014. ©Walt Disney

Depending on how well it performs at the box office, BIG HERO 6 is likely to become a new franchise for Disney. I liked the world of this story enough to watch a sequel, but this film is just okay overall. It’s a decent enough origin story that doesn’t develop the colorful characters enough to make me care about anyone other than the two leads and nearly falls apart completely in the last third (opening up a big plot hole and cliché that you can see coming from a mile away). BIG HERO 6 is satisfying family entertainment, but you’d expect more from both Marvel and Disney (let alone a combination of the two).

Grade: B-

FLIGHT 7500 (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Thematic Material, some Scary Images and brief Language

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Directed by: Takashi Shimizu

Written by: Craig Rosenberg

Starring: Leslie Bibb, Jamie Chung, Jerry Ferrara, Ryan Kwanten, Amy Smart, Scout Taylor-Compton, Christian Serratos, Nicky Whelan & Johnathon Schaech

Airplanes seem like an unconventional and genius setting for a horror film. It’s too bad that the recent few attempts of would-be scary movies placed within the confines of flying transportation (AIRBORNE, ALTITUDE) have been mighty lame. The same goes for most action-thrillers set inside a plane (NON-STOP, FLIGHTPLAN, TURBULENCE). The oft-postponed 7500 doesn’t do anything to buck this cinematic trend. I remember seeing a trailer for this film on the big screen in front of WOMAN IN BLACK and it has since been shelved for two full years (supposedly making its way into select theaters on October 3 and available on DVD from Thailand). There’s a reason for these release date squabbles. Putting it lightly, 7500 is a sorry excuse for a horror film that wouldn’t have made any waves in theaters and garnered quite a lot of well-deserved hatred from the general public. Also Leslie Bibb seems to have bad luck picking horror films that wind up being shelved (e.g. the masterful TRICK ‘R TREAT, the solid MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, and this mess). I’m just saying what I’m seeing.

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Flight 7500 is traveling from Los Angeles to Tokyo. The passengers on the plane come in many shapes, sizes, and walks of life. This is going to be a bumpy ride as strange happenings are occurring high in the air. Turbulence is hit, something creepy is causing trouble and not everybody will be getting off this plane alive. The best way to really sum up what little plot there is for 7500 is to say its a made of three solid TWILIGHT ZONE episodes blended into a concoction that’s not original, entertaining, or even remotely creepy.

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7500’s production values are solid enough inside of the plane setting. The first shot outside showcases that not much of a budget was invested towards basic special effects though. The exterior CGI aircraft is worthy of a Syfy Channel film or direct-to-video cheapie to say the least. This is not acceptable for a big budget horror film that was originally granted a nationwide release (supposed to compete with the likes of THE already subpar POSSESSION and THE godawful APPARITION). Also the shoddy effects aren’t just limited to shots of the outside world, because the supernatural threat on board is never fully glimpsed. Takashi Shimizu was more than happy to lay a barrage of pale-faced spirits in his GRUDGE movies (some moments silly and others quite effective), but he keeps things off-screen for every supposedly spooky scene. These cut-away moments include but are not limited to: a character’s frightened reaction as something groans in front of them, white hands poking out of different places, lights shutting off, and the screen just awkwardly transitioning to the next moment with little rhyme or reason.

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Making things even worse is that the plot moves at a glacial pace and never fully gets moving. A handful of lame attempts at jump scares are given (most of which involve a character suddenly putting their hand on another character’s shoulder). The horrible writing really sinks this entire film. Not to mention that the big(ish) name cast members are wasted on laughably terrible characters who aren’t worth caring about in the slightest. In true TWILIGHT ZONE fashion (the movie even has the nerve to show a clip or two from a certain notable episode starring William Shatner and a man on the wing of the plane), the film ends with a twist. However, it’s an unbelievably convoluted and predictable climax. Honestly, your first guess is probably right as to how this film ends and don’t put any imagination or effort into your predictions. In recent years, this kind of ending has become almost as bad as the “it was all a dream” cop-out.

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Watching 7500, it became startlingly apparent as to why this film didn’t arrive on its intended destination of August 12, 2012. It didn’t even arrive in October 2013 and probably won’t see the light of day for a while longer (despite what IMDB states). Sometimes fantastic and original horror movies get crapped on (THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, TRICK ‘R TREAT, and I’m stoked to see Eli Roth’s THE GREEN INFERNO), but cases where the film being delayed outright sucking are also common. 7500 is one of the latter instances. It’s not a total failure as I found some scenes to be entertaining for the wrong reasons (bad acting or forced jump scares that might terrify an eight-year-old girl). If you want to see a solid horror story set in an airplane, watch the NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET segment from 1983’s TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. It’s shorter, scarier, and far more well written than 7500 could ever hope to be.

Grade: D

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Brutal Stylized Violence throughout, Sexual Content, Nudity, and brief Drug Use

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Directed by: Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller

Written by: Frank Miller

(based on the SIN CITY graphic novels by Frank Miller)

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Lloyd, Jamie King, Juno Temple, Marton Csokas, Jamie Chun & Julia Garner

The original SIN CITY was one of my favorite movies during high school and hopes were high that Frank Miller’s amazing crime anthology would play out with the two sequels as a trilogy. Announcements for big name talent (including the original cast and the likes of Johnny Depp) were made and then the much-anticipated sequel was placed in development hell. Almost a full decade later, the second installment has finally been released and it was not worth the ridiculously long wait. Ironically, another Frank Miller sequel released this year bears some strong resemblance to SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR. That film would be 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. Both sequels are forcibly trying way too hard to duplicate what the filmmakers think fans liked about the originals and neither of them succeed well at it. DAME TO KILL FOR is a mixed bag in every way.

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A DAME TO KILL FOR follows the same format as the original SIN CITY. It’s a crime anthology with four noir tales that have recurring characters and an interlocking timeline. While the first film felt open and vibrant with every single detail being paid close attention to, this sequel feels confined and cheaper in many ways. The production values range from sometimes gorgeous to mostly corny. I don’t mean corny in the sense that things feel too far over-the-top (some intentional cheese works well), but corny in the sense that the world around our actors is fake looking. The visuals of 2005’s SIN CITY hold up well to this day and made me feel like I had entered a dangerous city filled with criminals. DAME TO KILL FOR feels like I’m watching a bunch of actors pretend in front of a green screen with silly looking CGI backgrounds around them. It feels like less attention was being placed on detail and more on pumping this thing out fast, but that’s not the real case because this had a nine-year-long production. The stories are as follows…

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JUST ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT: Marv (from HARD GOODBYE in the original) wakes from a drunken stupor surrounded by crashed cars, corpses, and blood. He tries to piece together what happened to put him in this situation from hazy memories. This opener lasts less than 10 minutes and introduces the vibe that things are more forced this time around. Some dark comedy is present and I had fun watching the style in which this tale played out, but the writing was okay at best. Marv’s make-up looks ridiculous on Mickey Rourke this time around and it hurts that he appears during every single story in some way or another. It should have been an early sign for disappointment that the memorable character with the most disturbing tale in the first film was in a campy opener this time around. B-

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THE LONG BAD NIGHT: This first full-blown tale is the best segment in the film and up to the caliber of the original flick. I wouldn’t call it only good, but pretty awesome as a whole. Johnny is a gambler with a superb winning streak who visits Basin City (a.k.a. Sin City, duh) to play the most powerful poker game in town. He finds himself in over his head when he goes up against the corrupt Senator Roark (family member to a twisted priest, a cannibal serial killer, and a yellow-skinned pedophile in the first flick). Roark doesn’t take kindly to losing and Johnny finds himself against odds that he didn’t foresee when he leaves for a night on the town.

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a welcome newcomer to the cast as Johnny and Powers Boothe (briefly glimpsed in SIN CITY) takes center stage as the slimy Roark. It’s easy to hate the gambling villain and the story was fairly predictable, but a few twists did take me by surprise. I liked a reveal midway through that wasn’t so much of a shock but a nice direction to take the story. The ending of this tale is fantastic. It’s a poetic conclusion to the best story of the sequel. Also production values felt far better in this single story than they were in the rest of the entire film. A

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A DAME TO KILL FOR: The story is where the ride begins to get really bumpy. Dwight (from BIG FAT KILL in the first film) is a private investigator specializing in incriminating photos. When a femme fatale from his past contacts him about her abusive husband, Dwight becomes infatuated with the sexy Ava Lord and comes to find too late that the situation isn’t as simple as he expected. This tale was as by-the-numbers as one can get. There aren’t any unexpected twists and some lengthy side plot threads go nowhere.

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This also happens to be a tale where two recurring characters from the 2005 film are recast. The hulking bodyguard, Manute, was originally played by Michael Clarke Duncan (who passed away), but Dennis Haysbert doesn’t necessarily do a bad job of filling the part. He’s a hulking baddie who serves his purpose. However, Josh Brolin is terribly cast as Dwight, a role that Clive Owen owned. Brolin has none of the charisma or charm that made the character so damn enjoyable to begin with. Eva Green (who served as the best performer in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE) bares it all here (literally), but isn’t much of a character. She merely plays out as means to an end. The worst part about this second-to-last tale is that it takes up a majority of the running time, so much so that this sequel is titled after it. C

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NANCY’S LAST DANCE: Picking up shortly after YELLOW BASTARD from the original film, Nancy Callahan is looking to avenge her dead lover/protector John Hartigan. To do this, she hardens herself and aims to kill Senator Roark. Her plan encounters some difficulties along the way. DAME TO KILL FOR commits the worst sin any anthology can by ending on its weakest note. This tale with direct ties to one of the best stories from the first film is dull, sloppy and anti-climactic. It was so bad that I was hoping the movie would just get to the final scene that everyone knew was coming. Nothing more can really be said about this story other than it’s poorly acted, written and played out. D

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To say SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR is underwhelming would be an understatement. The main returning cast members from the original come in Bruce Willis (showing up for an extended cameo), a few side characters (including a gloriously wasted Rosario Dawson as murderous hooker Gale), Mickey Rourke as a silly looking Marv, and Jessica Alba shakily trying to take on a lead role in a dark segment. It speaks volumes that the most interesting character (Dwight) only appears for one segment, while the wooden Nancy is throughout every single one of them. Marv, one of the most colorful characters from the original, is turned into a dull brute and that’s all the personality he’s given. After a nine-year wait, I sat in a theater with about six other people on opening night. When the movie ended, a person behind me exclaimed “That’s it?!?” Those two words are likely to summarize most fans’ responses to SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR, including mine.

Grade: C+

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