6 More Films From 2012: 4:44: Last Day On Earth, First Position, Flight, The Paperboy, Red Tails, and The Trouble With Bliss


Continuing my desperate attempt to review all of the 2012 films that I’ve seen but haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet, here’s six more reviews.

1) 4:44: Last Day On Earth (dir. by Abel Ferrara)

Whether it’s because of the Mayan calendar or the fact the Obama got reelected, people seem to be obsessed with the end of the world right now and it’s been the subject of several recent films.  4:44: Last Day On Earth is one of the more low-key entries in this genre.

Willem DaFoe plays a New York-based actor who deals with the impending end of the world by meditating in his loft, having sex with his much younger girlfriend, and having awkward conversations on Skype with his daughter.  As opposed to the characters in several other end of the world films, DaFoe doesn’t use the situation as an excuse to go on a quest for true love.  Unlike 2012, there’s no talk of escaping the apocalypse.  Instead, the world is ending and DaFoe has no choice but to accept it.  From a cinematic point of view, DaFoe’s passivity can be frustrating (4:44 is a film that’s willing to be boring to make its point) but, at the same time, it does force a viewer like me to wonder how she would handle the end of the world in a way that a film like Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World does not.

One interesting thing that distinguishes 4:44 from other end-of-the-world films is that, in 4:44, the world ends specifically because of the actions of mankind.  Whereas films like Melancholia and Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World presented a random apocalypse, 4:44 presents the apocalypse as the fitting punishment for the sins of humanity.  While I could have done without the scenes of DaFoe listening to Al Gore droning on and on about global warming (because, seriously, Gore always sounds like the creepy community college professor who you know is having an affair with one of his students), this still adds an interesting element to the film.

4:44 requires a bit of tolerance and a lot of patience but it’s still a film that’s worthy of being seen.

2) First Position (dir. by Bess Kargman)

First Position is a documentary about ballet so, of course, you know that I loved it.  The film follows six young dancers as they prepare for the Youth American Grand Prix in New York City and it brought back a lot of memories (both good and bad) for me.  First Position captures both the beauty and the pain of both dance and life.

3) Flight (dir. by Robert Zemeckis)

In Flight, Denzel Washington plays a cocky and talented pilot who is also an alcoholic and a drug addict.  In a truly harrowing sequence, the plane that Washington is piloting goes into a nosedive over Atlanta.  After Washington manages to crash-land the plane with only a few fatalities, he finds himself hailed as both a hero and also under investigation.  Working with a union rep (Bruce Greenwood) and a slick attorney (Don Cheadle), Washington tries to cover up his mistakes while, at the same time, romancing a recovering heroin addict (Kelly Reilly).

Flight has a brilliant opening and a strong ending.  Unfortunately, the middle of the film tends to drag.  Flight also suffers from the fact that cinematic addicts are always more fun to watch when they’re under the influence as opposed to when they’re getting sober.  On the plus side, the film itself is well-acted and the cast is always fun to watch even when the rest of the film is getting bogged down.  Washington is brilliant in the lead role and John Goodman has a great cameo as the world’s most helpful drug dealer.

4) The Paperboy (dir by Lee Daniels)

In 1960s Florida, Hillary Van Wetter (an amazingly sleazy John Cusack) is on death row for the murder of a small town sheriff.  His girlfriend, the flamboyant Charlotte Bess (Nicole Kidman), convinces reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) to return to his hometown and investigate the case against Van Wetter.  With the help of his younger brother (Zac Efron) and an arrogant colleague (David Oyelowo), Ward works to get Van Wetter off of death row but it becomes obvious that all of the film’s characters are hiding secrets of their own.

The Paperboy has a few isolated moments where it achieves a certain pulp poetry but, for the most part, Lee Daniels’ follow-up to his Academy Award-winning Precious is a total and complete mess.  Unfortunately, it’s not even all that interesting of a mess.  Nicole Kidman’s vampish performance and her white trash femme fatale outfits are definitely the film’s highlight.  As for Zac Efron, he’s not much of an actor but he’s pipin’, boilin’ hot.  It’s just  too bad the character that he’s playing isn’t that interesting.

In the end, The Paperboy showcases everything that didn’t work about Precious and nothing that did.

5) Red Tails (dir. by Anthony Hemingway)

Red Tails was one of the first “major” releases of 2012 and it’s also one of the most forgettable.  The film, which was executive produced and reportedly co-directed by George Lucas, is based on the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-Americans who served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II and who had to not only fight Nazis abroad but racial discrimination at home.  There’s undoubtedly an inspiring story to be told here but Red Tails is such a predictable and corny film that it feels as if Lucas and Hemingway essentially wasted the real life story of the Tuskegee Airmen on a painfully generic movie.

6) The Trouble With Bliss (dir. by Michael Knowles)

Morris Bliss (played by Michael C. Hall) is the type of guy who always seems to show up in quirky independent films.  He has no job, he has no money, and he lives in a tiny apartment with his father (Peter Fonda).  Since there’s nothing more attractive than a middle-aged guy with no future, he finds himself being pursued by an 18 year-old (Brie Larson), who also happens to be the daughter of a former high school classmate, and his married neighbor (played by Lucy Liu).

I have a weakness for quirky indie films but the nonstop quirkiness of The Trouble of With Bliss feels less like narrative imagination and more like total desperation.  Michael C. Hall’s a likable actor but he essentially turns Morris Bliss into Dexter Morgan and, as a result, I kept expected for the trouble with Bliss to turn out to be that he had about a few dozen bodies hidden away in a closet somewhere.

Now that would have been a quirky film!

Trailer: The Man with the Iron Fists (Official)


One thing that seemed destined the moment RZA (with his hip-hop group the Wu-Tang Clan) arrived on the scene in the early 1990’s was him finally making a martial arts film. Not just a martial arts film, but a wuxia kung fu film that he and the other in the Wu-Tang Clan had watched as kids and cotinued to obsess over as adults. RZA’s own brand of hip=hop was infused with many sound bites and track beats from the classic kung fu flicks of the 70’s and 80’s. Even the group’s name was taken from one of those very kung fu classics, Shaolin and the Wu-Tang.

Now RZA has teamed up with genre filmmaker Eli Roth to make his dream to a reality with the upcoming martial arts film The Man with the Iron Fists which RZA has directed from a story written by both him and Roth. It also stars RZA (making him a triple-threat in this production) with Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, Jamie Chung, Daniel Bautista and MMA fighter Cung Le. The fight choreography was handled by renowned martial arts fight choreographer Corey Yeun.

The first official trailer has now been released and it’s in awesome Red Band which shows just a hint of how ultra-violent the film will end up being. All I can say is that near the end of the trailer we get eyeballs!

Review: Kung Fu Panda 2 (dir. by Jennifer Yuh Nelson)


In 2008, Dreamworks Animation released what many had thought was one of their animated films. Some even went so far as to consider it on the same level as many of the Pixar animated offerings. This was high praise indeed and the praises from critics was awarded by public acclaim as Kung Fu Panda became an instant classic for Dreamworks Animation. It wasn’t a huge surprise that a sequel was quickly greenlit by the studio and now three years has passed and that sequel has finally come out. Kung Fu Panda 2 does one of those rare feats in film-making where it surpasses it’s original predecessor in all things. This was a sequel that was able to take what made the first one so fun and thrilling and build on it without losing the charm that made it so beloved in the first place.

Kung Fu Panda 2 brings back the Dragon Warrior Po (Jack Black returning in the role of the big fat panda) as he continues to live his dream of having become the Dragon Warrior and fighting evil, bandits and criminals with his fellow kung fu masters, the Furious Five. Instead of the film highlighting Po’s size as a detriment and keeping him a buffoonish character like in the beginning of the first film this sequel actually makes him an equal of his heroes, if not, surpassing them. This is a refreshing change since the writers could’ve easily banked on Po as a character who bungled and stumbled his way through most of the film.

This film was a continuation of Po’s journey as a hero which the first film was just the first step. Despite being a kung fu master in his own right his culture becomes threatened by a villain even more devious than the first film’s Tai Lung. Lord Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman) is the mad peacock heir to Gongmen City who has found an ultimate weapon through fireworks that he plans to defeat kung fu and conquer all of China. Kung fu is everything to Po and he journeys with the Furious Five to confront Lord Shen and stop his plans before it’s too late.

It’s during this journey that Po learns more about his true past and where he truly comes from. The sequences where Po’s adopted goose father tells of Po’s past was some of the best animations Dreamworks has done and I’d say surpasses some of Pixar’s own work. After seeing this film I’m sure many kids and some adults would want themselves their very own baby panda. Who would’ve thought that baby pandas sounded like human babies when they cried. It’s knowing his past that Po must now learn to find his inner peace if he’s to ever go beyond just being a kung fu master.

Kung Fu Panda 2 was actually quite a dark film in places as themes of genocide, destructive march of technology against nature, difficulties of adopted children finding their true origins and many others. That’s not to say that this sequel wasn’t fun to watch. The action took the kung fu fight scenes from the first film to a whole new level, but without turning it into all flash and no substance. It’s during some of the thrilling fight sequences that we see Po truly become part of the Furious Five and even affection from some of it’s members. It would be interesting to see how a third film would explore the growing relationship between Po and certain striped-feline.

The story gets a much needed infusion of creative help from one Guillermo Del Toro who served as creative producer. His inclusion in the film’s development was probably why the film had a much darker and serious tone in addition to the charm it continued from the first film. If there was anyone in Hollywood who knows how to further develop a character through a Campbellian hero’s journey then it’s Del Toro. If Dreamworks Animation is able to keep Del Toro on hand to further treat their other projects then it will be quite a coup for the studio.

The animation in this film is a step above the first film and anything Dreamworks Animation has ever done. With each passing year and release it looks like Dreamworks Animation has been able to come to the same level of animated work Pixar has set with their own projects. While I’m sure there’s no animosity between animators fo the two houses there probably is some sort of friendly rivalry which helps push both studios to improve on their animation work. All this means is that the public wins out in the end as we’re treated to better animated features from both Dreamworks and Pixar. It’s a good thing that Dreamworks Animation has also improved their storytelling with each new film that they’re not being called the weaker films when compared to Pixar’s latest.

In the end, Kung Fu Panda 2 more than lives up to it’s predecessor and actually surpasses it in every way. This sequel’s animation and use of stereoscopic 3D was some of the best in CG animation to date. It had a story that continued to explore and build the characters from the first film that they’ve gone beyond simple, basic animated characters but fully realized and complex individuals. Even the ending scene in the film which definitely sets-up a third film doesn’t seem tacked on but looks like something that would further continue Po’s hero’s journey. Sequels and milking of a franchise usually don’t sit well with serious film fans, but this franchise seems to be doing it correctly and using each new film to further an epic tale. Here’s to hoping we see Po and his Furious Five friends back for more in the coming years.

Song of the Day: Battle Without Honor or Humanity (by Tomoyasu Hotei)


To me, one of the most iconic sequences in 21st century cinema comes towards the end of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Volume One.  I’m talking about the scene in which Tokyo crime boss O-ren (played by Lucy Liu) walks through the House of Blue Leaves, flanked on either side by her bubble gum-chewing bodyguards.  While there’s a lot that makes  this scene memorable (the slow-mo staging, Liu’s regal yet fierce persona), what I always remember first when I think about this scene is the song playing on the soundtrack.

Of course, I’m talking about Tomoyasu Hotei’s Battle Without Honor or Humanity.  Though the song was not originally written for Kill Bill, it seem to almost perfectly epitomize volume one of Tarantino’s masterpiece.  Yes, it’s over-the-top and shamelessly excessive.  Yet, much like the best of the grindhouse films that inspired Tarantino, it’s performed with such an undeniable artistry that it’s impossible not to get drawn into it.

Whenever I’m out grocery shopping or walking to my office at the start of my workday, I always imagine that this is the song playing in the background.  It definitely brings a little stride to my step.

(The song has other uses as well.  A month ago, I wanted to perform a little impromptu dance for a friend of mine.  This is the song that I ended up dancing to because I knew that, with this song backing you up, it’s impossible not to look good doing whatever you might happen to be doing.)

Kung Fu Panda 2 (Super Bowl TV Spot)


Here’s another tv spot to air during Super Bowl XLV and this time around it’s the one for the upcoming sequel to Dreamworks Animations very popular and successful Kung Fu Panda.

This one using that Queen arena anthem chant from “We Will Rock You”. The 30-second ty spot shows more action with the requisite panda shenanigans from Jack Black’s character.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is one sequel I’m definitely hyped to see as the first film I ended up watching over and over and over and over and over again. The film comes out on May 26, 2011.

Kung Fu Panda 2: The Kaboom of Doom teaser trailer


One of my favorite films of 2008 was an animated film and it wasn’t from Pixar. I’m talking about the Dreamworks Animation release for the summer of the year that was awesome in its very awesomeness. The film I talk of is Kung Fu Panda. It was a film that was fun and more than just a bit inspiring for its message of persevering through obstacles and doubts to achieve one’s dream. That was what I got out if it anyway in addition to what the little ones got which was THE big, fat panda (voiced by the panda-looking one himself Jack Black) doing kung fu in all its awesomeness and bodacity.

It will take another three years before such awesomeness and bodacity returns to the silver screen and in awesome and bodacious 3D. This summer of 2011 will see the return of the Dragon Warrior himself, Po as he must confront a new danger in the form of Gary Oldman voicing some perpetuator of evilness and douchebaggery on the simple talking animals peasants.

Now, time for some kung fu staring contest!