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Sequel report

Some follow-up movies (Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back) are considerably better than others (Fifty Shades Darker)

"See Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back! The Monkey King commands it!"
"See Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back! The Monkey King commands it!"

First things first: the 2017 San Diego Jewish Film Festival is underway, and runs through the 17th. Film lineup is here. I rather like the cutline: "Our Lives Projected." Between that and the first San Diego Film Week at the Digital Gym, you shouldn't have to take in a single big studio release!

Movie

Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back ****

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A monk and his trio of disciples — Sandy, a giant, endearingly repulsive fish out of water; Pigsy, a porcine blunderer hiding beneath a porcelain mask; and the Monkey King, a scamp who would have served well in the winged army of Oz’s Wicked Witch – forge ahead in their quest to combat demons. Two of the biggest names in Asian cinema — Stephen Chow (<em>Journey to the West, Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle</em>) and Hong Kong action maestro Tsui Hark (<em>Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain, Green Snake, Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame</em>) — go partners for the first time on a sequel to a film you probably haven’t seen. Don’t let that deter you. Together they wrote the screenplay, and in a show of indissoluble reverence, Chow relinquished the director’s reins to his elder. The marriage of Hark’s “flying people” bounding about the spectacular settings and Chow’s squashing, stretching, and supremely silly slapstick — parts of this play like a live-action Looney Tune — found me seated alone in the AMC La Jolla #9, oohing and aahing like a 6-year-old on their maiden voyage through stereoscopics land. Pay the $3.00 surcharge, for this is by far one of the most seductively immersive 3D films to come out in the past 20 years. Highly and enthusiastically recommended.

Find showtimes

But if you do, it will probably be a sequel. The big news here is Journey to the West: the Demons Strike Back, one more sign that as Hollywood burns, Chinese cinema rises from the ashes. (And one more: Duckweed, also out this week.) Four stars from Scott Marks! Perhaps consider using it as a back door into the world of The Monkey King (who has two movies of his own!)

Movie

John Wick: Chapter 2 *

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What a great opening! An olde-timey movie, projected onto an urban facade, showing an automotive crash. Pan down to a motorcycle, sliding on its side along the rain-slicked street — <em>the crash has actually happened; the movie is reality</em>. The bike’s owner scrambles into view, picks it up, takes off, and VROOM here comes his pursuer, skidding across the purple neon asphalt in a roaring muscle car. No further introduction is required: here comes John Wick (Keanu Reeves), avenging angel, out to tie up the last loose end from the lean, mean, ‘80s-themed first installment: the recovery of his stolen ’69 Mustang. But here’s the problem with avenging angels: after a while, their invincibility gets both boring and silly, and the viewer starts pining for something recognizably human. (You wouldn’t want to make a drinking game out of every time Wick gets hit by a car/stabbed/shot/beaten up, only to shake it off and get back to work.) And this particular angel isn’t even especially righteous — his big decision about whether or not to honor a marker has less to do with integrity than pragmatism. The first chapter's ‘80s efficiency and sincerity give way to ‘90s excess and jokey cool; body armor gets replaced by a bulletproof sportcoat; loving attention to the realities of reloading surrenders to outright fetishization of the gun. Alas: for <em>John Wick: Chapter 2</em>, reality is just a movie. Directed by Chad Stahelski.

Find showtimes

The slightly smaller news is John Wick: Chapter 2, which just about everyone likes but me. The first one was such a pleasant surprise: Keanu Reeves as the hit man with a broken heart, tearing through the underworld on a mission only he understands. This one was a silly slog.

Movie

Lego Batman Movie **

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Director Chris McCay’s whirlwind romp through The Dark Knight’s universe keeps things kid-friendly by operating from the notion that Batman is a seven-year-old boy, his development arrested by the traumatic experience of losing his parents at a tender age. He doesn’t want to share: he regards his greatest enemy as “rival” good guy Superman instead of actual bad guy The Joker. He’s frightened by his feelings, so much so that he invents “snake clowns” as a more plausible phobia. And when his butler tells him he has to go to a social occasion, he literally rolls on the floor shouting “No,” until he’s reminded that going out means getting to play dress-up. The story is similarly juvenile: a bland affirmation of the importance of working together, and a casual brush-off to the pain of loss. Anything realer, one suspects, might have gotten in the way of the rat-a-tat barrage of gags, jokes, riffs, zingers, etc., wrought by the script’s five(!) authors, to say nothing of the ravishing riot of brick-based set design. It may look like a children’s movie, but it feels like it’s aimed at Mommy and (more likely) Daddy.

Find showtimes

The younger news is The Lego Batman Movie, a sequel of sorts to The Lego Movie and also every Batman movie ever, which had lots of funny parts and very little else. Well, except for the gorgeous set design.

The bad news — quelle surprise — is 50 Shades Darker.

And while I Am Not Your Negro isn't any kind of sequel, it did see a very limited release last week before landing in Hillcrest today. (Ditto They Call Us Monsters at The Digital Gym.) And it does revisit work written some 30 years ago.

My one new release, the Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films, wasn't much to shout about, darn it. I'll try to take a look at the live-action offerings next week.

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"See Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back! The Monkey King commands it!"
"See Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back! The Monkey King commands it!"

First things first: the 2017 San Diego Jewish Film Festival is underway, and runs through the 17th. Film lineup is here. I rather like the cutline: "Our Lives Projected." Between that and the first San Diego Film Week at the Digital Gym, you shouldn't have to take in a single big studio release!

Movie

Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back ****

thumbnail

A monk and his trio of disciples — Sandy, a giant, endearingly repulsive fish out of water; Pigsy, a porcine blunderer hiding beneath a porcelain mask; and the Monkey King, a scamp who would have served well in the winged army of Oz’s Wicked Witch – forge ahead in their quest to combat demons. Two of the biggest names in Asian cinema — Stephen Chow (<em>Journey to the West, Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle</em>) and Hong Kong action maestro Tsui Hark (<em>Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain, Green Snake, Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame</em>) — go partners for the first time on a sequel to a film you probably haven’t seen. Don’t let that deter you. Together they wrote the screenplay, and in a show of indissoluble reverence, Chow relinquished the director’s reins to his elder. The marriage of Hark’s “flying people” bounding about the spectacular settings and Chow’s squashing, stretching, and supremely silly slapstick — parts of this play like a live-action Looney Tune — found me seated alone in the AMC La Jolla #9, oohing and aahing like a 6-year-old on their maiden voyage through stereoscopics land. Pay the $3.00 surcharge, for this is by far one of the most seductively immersive 3D films to come out in the past 20 years. Highly and enthusiastically recommended.

Find showtimes

But if you do, it will probably be a sequel. The big news here is Journey to the West: the Demons Strike Back, one more sign that as Hollywood burns, Chinese cinema rises from the ashes. (And one more: Duckweed, also out this week.) Four stars from Scott Marks! Perhaps consider using it as a back door into the world of The Monkey King (who has two movies of his own!)

Movie

John Wick: Chapter 2 *

thumbnail

What a great opening! An olde-timey movie, projected onto an urban facade, showing an automotive crash. Pan down to a motorcycle, sliding on its side along the rain-slicked street — <em>the crash has actually happened; the movie is reality</em>. The bike’s owner scrambles into view, picks it up, takes off, and VROOM here comes his pursuer, skidding across the purple neon asphalt in a roaring muscle car. No further introduction is required: here comes John Wick (Keanu Reeves), avenging angel, out to tie up the last loose end from the lean, mean, ‘80s-themed first installment: the recovery of his stolen ’69 Mustang. But here’s the problem with avenging angels: after a while, their invincibility gets both boring and silly, and the viewer starts pining for something recognizably human. (You wouldn’t want to make a drinking game out of every time Wick gets hit by a car/stabbed/shot/beaten up, only to shake it off and get back to work.) And this particular angel isn’t even especially righteous — his big decision about whether or not to honor a marker has less to do with integrity than pragmatism. The first chapter's ‘80s efficiency and sincerity give way to ‘90s excess and jokey cool; body armor gets replaced by a bulletproof sportcoat; loving attention to the realities of reloading surrenders to outright fetishization of the gun. Alas: for <em>John Wick: Chapter 2</em>, reality is just a movie. Directed by Chad Stahelski.

Find showtimes

The slightly smaller news is John Wick: Chapter 2, which just about everyone likes but me. The first one was such a pleasant surprise: Keanu Reeves as the hit man with a broken heart, tearing through the underworld on a mission only he understands. This one was a silly slog.

Movie

Lego Batman Movie **

thumbnail

Director Chris McCay’s whirlwind romp through The Dark Knight’s universe keeps things kid-friendly by operating from the notion that Batman is a seven-year-old boy, his development arrested by the traumatic experience of losing his parents at a tender age. He doesn’t want to share: he regards his greatest enemy as “rival” good guy Superman instead of actual bad guy The Joker. He’s frightened by his feelings, so much so that he invents “snake clowns” as a more plausible phobia. And when his butler tells him he has to go to a social occasion, he literally rolls on the floor shouting “No,” until he’s reminded that going out means getting to play dress-up. The story is similarly juvenile: a bland affirmation of the importance of working together, and a casual brush-off to the pain of loss. Anything realer, one suspects, might have gotten in the way of the rat-a-tat barrage of gags, jokes, riffs, zingers, etc., wrought by the script’s five(!) authors, to say nothing of the ravishing riot of brick-based set design. It may look like a children’s movie, but it feels like it’s aimed at Mommy and (more likely) Daddy.

Find showtimes

The younger news is The Lego Batman Movie, a sequel of sorts to The Lego Movie and also every Batman movie ever, which had lots of funny parts and very little else. Well, except for the gorgeous set design.

The bad news — quelle surprise — is 50 Shades Darker.

And while I Am Not Your Negro isn't any kind of sequel, it did see a very limited release last week before landing in Hillcrest today. (Ditto They Call Us Monsters at The Digital Gym.) And it does revisit work written some 30 years ago.

My one new release, the Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films, wasn't much to shout about, darn it. I'll try to take a look at the live-action offerings next week.

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