Movie review catch up

This is the time of year that many movie reviewers refer to as “the dumping ground”: Hollywood dumps that which it thinks it can make money on but is unwilling to invest in on a public that has already proven that it will buy tickets to any number of shitty movies (here, here, and here among others) on the most flimsy of reasons (it’s a sequel; the girl in the poster looks hot in leather pants; it looks really violent (Oh…wait…those last two might just be my rationales…never mind)).

Fact is that from about the middle of December to Oscar time (February 25th this year) most of the country gets diddly squat to watch. Given this, it’s unsurprising that my Netflix queue has been getting quite a work out. Be that as it may, here I’ll catch up on reviews of the two things I have seen in the theater since just before Christmas.

Curse Of The Golden Flower
It’s pretty, but don’t expect too much.
1.5 popcorns out of 5

Night At The Museum
So much potential wasted.
1 popcorns out of 5

Curse Of The Golden Flower

Brought to us by Yimou Zhang (Hero, House of Flying Daggers),
Curse Of The Golden Flower takes the director’s obsession with color and theme to new heights. The film centers on the ruling family in the 10th century in the late states of the Tang Dynasty. The Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) returns from the country unexpectedly with his second son on the pretext of celebrating the Chrysanthemum Festival with his family. Tt seems as the film unspools that his real motive has more to do with uncovering what has been going on at the palace between the Empress (Gong Li) and her step-son, and heir to the throne, Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye).

Suffice it to say that while this film is visually beautiful if entirely impractical (I really don’t think they had plastic translucent columns lighted from the inside in the 10th century) if you look at it as the Chinese version of The Lion In Winter (possibly the best, and first, dysfunctional family Christmas movie ever) as was suggested by the reviewer at The Washington Post you’ll get the most out of the betrayals, machinations, and scenery chewing.

What I found most remarkable about this film, though, was not the overstylized presentation of Chinese themes, nor the fact that it is the most expensive film ever made in China. No, what is most remarkable is the stepping back from the wire work and aerial acrobatics that have come to mark what we expect from Chinese films. Yes, there is a certain amount of this stylized fighting in this film but the climatic battle scene is really more traditional tactics, the kind of thing we would have expected from Bruce Lee in his hey day, rather than the completely gravity defying stunts popularized by films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix.

Despite its visual beauty, despite the honor and irony inherent in the resolution of the film’s fairly standard betrayal/double-cross/triple cross/red herring/secret scheme/surprise mover plot, Curse Of The Golden Flower is overlong and more than moderately tedious. If you walk in not expecting too much you won’t be dissatisfied.

1.5 popcorns out of 5


Curse Of The Golden Flower poster
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Night At The Museum

Let me confess up front: I am predisposed to dislike any movie in which pivotal plot points hinge on the behavior of a monkey.

There. I said it. Everything is not better with monkies. It is unfortunate that the minds behind Night At The Museum don’t agree with me.

Finding himself in need of work to keep from being evicted and, more importantly in the movie world, keep the respect of his 10 year-old son, Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) winds up with what promises to be one of the coolest jobs ever: night guard at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Sounds pretty dull, right? Walk around, make sure things are locked up, probably punch a clock as you make your rounds. Except…everything in the museum comes alive at night courtesy of the magic tablet of Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek).

Chaos ensues as Larry at first proves himself to be the loser his son is beginning to believe he is: he fails to follow the instructions left him by the three geriatric security guards, Cecil (Dick Van Dyke), Gus (Mickey Rooney (who knew he was still alive!)) and Reginald (Bill Cobbs), whose jobs have been consolidated into the one for which Larry has been hired; he nearly gets himself fired after the first night on the job; he’s bested by a Capaucin monkey with a penchant for stealing keys, and his claims about what happens at the museum at night go unsupported, at first, when he tries to share this miraculous world with his son Nick (Jake Cherry).

Taking his role as father/peace maker/responsible adult way too seriously, Larry relies heavily on advice from Teddy Roosevelt (Robing Williams sleep walking through what isn’t much of a role until the very end of the film) regarding his place in life and in the museum. The moralizing about taking chances, standing up for what you believe in, and recognizing that sometimes you must reach beyond what you believe is your potential is thick enough to cut with a dull plastic food court supplied knife.

I think that fact that this film sat atop the box office in the U.S. for three weeks running and has grossed nearly $186M in four weeks of release says more about what isn’t available out there than what is for this film is no where near that good. Editing of many of the subplots, such as the one featuring tiny cowboy Jedediah (frequent Stiller collaborated Owen Wilson in an uncredited role) and his feud with General Octavius (Steve Coogan), and expanding some others, like the budding potential love story between Larry and Rebecca (Carla Gugino), a museum docent with an unfinished dissertation on Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck) (who just happens to come to life each night inside the Lewis and Clark exhibit), could have made this film a tight, family-friendly comedy instead of the lesson laden day-old pastry that it is.

For not living up to the potential of its basic idea, and for giving me way too much monkey and not nearly enough T-Rex as overgrown dog, 1 out of 5.

1 popcorns out of 5


Night At The Museum poster
Visit the official site (Requires Flash)