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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A little Late Movie Review - Kung Fu Girls Club (????)

Competent film making?  Proper equipment?  Cohesive storytelling?  Talented actors?  No longer do you need to deal with all of that superfluous crap!  Now, thanks to Robbie Ryan, you too can make a video, put it on YouTube, and call it an "Independently Distributed Film".  Boy, oh boy, do I wish I was being sarcastic there, but no, Kung Fu Girls Club (in all of its improper lack of titular punctuation) exists, and this makes me very happy.

I do not have anything against someone making a movie, putting themselves out there and trying to make a name for themselves in the industry.  Some of the greatest directors of the modern era got their careers started doing exactly that.  Hell, it is arguable that the entire movie industry would not exist if it were not for the race to innovation that occurred in the 1890's, where inventors copied each other's patents and short films in an effort to be the most acclaimed name in the new art of movie making.  That said, time has taught us that when some people get behind a camera, the result is not good, but still epic

I do not know much about the film maker Robbie Ryan.  He has a blog, a YouTube channel but little else really identifies him.  I can tell you he does have a strange sense of humor, and that this movie could be some sort of campy joke, but it is honestly difficult to tell.  Kung Fu Girls Club follows a teen named Tsunami (yep, I am pretty sure how they spell it too) who transfers to a high school where all ten of the other students are complete assholes (like real high school I guess).  When aliens disguised as humans (thus revealing this film's budget, as though the core production was not a dead giveaway) attack out of nowhere, paralyzing the rest of the student body, an Evanesence fan-girl named Sage informs Tsunami and her friend that they are bestowed with great power and they are destined to fight these shape-shifting creatures.  They give two more girls prop MacGuffins in the form of necklaces that give them powers also and the four of them proceed to fight the aliens.  There is almost zero build up to this, one second they are acting out a poor-man's Breakfast Club, the next they are fighting black-clad aliens, complete with lame after-effects!

The movie was filmed in what appears to be a single weekend at a school campus I can only assume the cast and crew broke into.  Even the hospital room set appears to be a low angle shot of a public restroom carefully framed to cut out all of the fixtures, leaving only the patient, the swinging door, the concerned student and a sketchy guy in a lab coat that I think also appears as a different character in the film (I cannot be certain of this though).  The otherwise empty halls of this building are reused over and over (I'm guessing in an attempt to avoid security cameras).  Okay, okay.  I kid.  I cannot accuse this production and those involved with any criminal activity legally, so I'll just say that this is a really, really bad movie that appears to have been filmed entirely in one location over a very short period of time.

Now, as for the action, it's bad.  Each fight scene is filmed clumsily and filled with goofy effects.  The one actor who seems to possess any actual martial arts ability seems out of place in this film too, playing a villain named Takahashi, he is also the only person on this project with an IMDB page with some pretty impressive stunt credits to his name.  Obviously attempting to mimic anime, the Girls Club members have transformation scenes for their "fighting modes" which come complete with fourth-wall-breaking, excessive poses, brightly-colored wigs and forced Japanese names.

Now, normally I would give a little detail and information about the film but, I can't find any.  As I said, the aforementioned Takahashi, played by Ilram Choi is the only credited actor in the film I could find any information on and even he does not credit this movie on his IMDB page, I just recognize him from the photos.  The filmmaker, Robbie Ryan, did not seem to do much to promote the movie either, as I can not find any online references to this film other than a few photos, mostly from the blog of Robbie Ryan himself (Where you can also watch the movie!).  Now, there are references to multiple "episodes", but these appear to be segmented parts of the film as a whole, probably its original format on YouTube.   I found this gem simply searching for fantasy Kung-Fu movies online and was very excited about this one by the five minute mark.

If it sounds like I'm bashing this film earlier in the article, know that I thoroughly enjoyed watching Kung Fu Girls Squad and strongly recommend everyone give it a shot.  This is the bad film bad film fans dream of.  It is filled with plot issues, bad editing, bad acting, bad effects, bad everything, and the end result is a glorious example of schlock fun.  The only thing that really grated on my nerves after a while was the buzzing, 8-bit techno soundtrack that sounds like a bee trapped in an old radiator.  The voices of some of the aliens are even layered with this buzzing, low-end sound and it is truly awful.  Still, there are so many laughs to be had with this film, and if you love flicks like the Room and Birdemic, you really, really need to watch this movie.  I found it posted in a number of locations online including YouTube and with the credits taken out, this one is less than an hour in length.  You will not regret this sit!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Film Review - Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Wreck-It Ralph (2012; Walt Disney
Animation Studios)
Video games are now part of mainstream pop culture.  Well, they have been for more than two decades but if Hollywood's viewpoint really mattered at all you would think gamers were a frindge group.  Hollywood's treatment (fear) of video games and gamers has been visceral, with countless stabs in the form of nerdy gamer characters in lazy comedies and many, often-intentional film butcherings of beloved video game franchises.  Hollywood has a problem now, however, in the fact that the Nintendo Generation has grown up, many with children of their own, and with Wreck-It-Ralph it seems that a major studio has put aside its ire in lieu of an attempt to bridge a generational gap.  Is it perfect?  No.  Is it a step in the right diection?  Yes.

Wreck-It Ralph has been compared to Toy Story.  I see it, because that is pretty much what it is.  The premise is that in an arcade, all of those cabinets are actually self-contained worlds, connected by power cables to Game Central Station, which inhabits a power strip, the worlds' single common connection.   When the arcade closes, the characters in the cabinets live a life of their own, still holding to the rules and ideals set fourth in their games.  Wreck-It Ralph has spent decades in his world as a Donkey Kong-esque villain constatnly overshadowed by his game's hero, Fix-It Felix, Jr.  He struggles with lonliness as the denizens of his world fear and hate him for his constant destruction of their apartment building.  He looks up in jelousy as Felix is praised and parties are thrown in his honor.  Finally having enough, Ralph takes a step towards trying to make friends with the people in his world but is strongly rejected because he is not a hero.  Now, desperate to become a hero, Ralph begins to travel to other worlds to get that elusive title and earn the affections and friendships of his fellow game world inhabitants.

Now, I say "other worlds" but I really mean two.  The first is a shooter game world he initially enters, meeting up with Jane Lynch's Calhoun, a gung-ho military babe with a tortured past. Next he travels to the game that will become the central setting for a majority of the story, Sugar Rush, a cutsey racing title with freakish sprites disguised as little girls (and one gender-confused boy) as the racers.  If you need an idea of what this world is like, imagine Dr. Doom used some sort of power to mutate a copy of the Candy Land board game to a sentient giant and said board game monster went to the hills of Ireland and puked out the Chocolate Room from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory all over the landscape, that's pretty much what it looks like.  This world annoyed me from the start, but I forced myself to get used to it.  It is not as though I had a choice in the matter.

This leads to my major complaint about Wreck-It Ralph, the ads lied to me.  I went in expecting a movie filled with lots of old-school gaming in-jokes and got a by-the-numbers romp instead.  Now, the video game references are there, they are there in spades, but they are sparse in comparison to the main premise, which could have taken place in any type of world outside of video games and would have more or less worked. This is a shame because there were so many directions they could have taken here, and they decided to make it an underdog sports story, a rag Disney wrung dry about twenty years ago.

On the technical side of things, Wreck-It Ralph is top-notch.  I did not see it in 3D because that crap gives me a headache but the film looks really good.  The characters are expressive and well-designed and the worlds are expansive and full.  The movie uses scale well too, as in the shots of the giant arcade machine screen looking out into the world from Fix-It Felix's apartment building inside the game. As far as characters and acting goes everyone is good except for one person.  Can you guess who that is?  In all honesty, I expected to absolutely hate Sarah Silverman's character Vanellope.  I didn't.  At least not nearly as much as I expected to.  I will say that her voice wears very thin on the nerves after a while but the writers did a good job of making her character sympethic enough that you kind of start to care about her, I do not think I will ever forgive the writers for this offense.  I have heard her compared to Jar-Jar Binks.  No.  She is nowhere near that annoying.  Still, she is what she is, a character designed to hook the kids in the audience who do not know who the hell Q*bert is.  Her story is pretty tragic too, and the my reactions to her childish antics often mirrored Ralph's, which I suppose was the idea.  As far as the rest of the cast goes, John C. Reily, an actor I normally dislike, is occasionally one-note as Ralph, but the character is written and animated well-enough that I can give him a pass.  Jack MacBrayer, Jane Lynch and Alan Tudyk are all fantastic, no complaints there.  Most everybody is more or less very good here, Silverman is just a little too much for me through most of the movie.

Now for the ultimate question:  Was Wreck-It Ralph any good?  Yes.  My complaints about a large chunk of the film aside, this is a solid movie.  Parents will like it as will their kids.  There are lots of nice references here and there that will make NES owners feel at home and the tragic ebb and flow of arcade gaming in America has left a grave need for loving nostaliga, which this film brings.  Putting aside the paint-by-numbers Disney-default story, the twist ending I saw coming from a mile away and the numerous eye-rollingly bad puns and there is still a lot here to take home.  I do not see myself rushing out to grab the Blu-Ray when it releases, but this is still the best animated film I have seen in 2012, and certainly the best family movie of the year.  Do as I did, forgoing aprehension and ignoring one's better judgement, and enter and just enjoy what you are given and you may find that Wreck-It-Ralph is a lot of fun.