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Movie Nuggets: Azumi, Scotland, PA, Open Water, Fool’s Gold

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For those who just want to know, "Should I see this or not?" without all the fluff and intellectualism (or at least minimal amounts), I present to you these bite-sized movie reviews. If you're in an abnormally large hurry, skip to the last few words of each section, as each is noted with "See it" or "Pass." So without further ado, let's see what's on the slate in this edition.

Azumi

If you want a more detailed analysis of this flick, by all means, check out Danny's review. If you're in a hurry, it's martial arts lite, featuring some rather low-key fight sequences (at least when compared to something like Crouching Tiger or Braveheart) with a lot of play-fighting and blood squirting, but without all the gore, slashes, gashes, and impalement. There's more implied than shown, which may help those with weaker stomachs. The early-on "final test" is still a little tough to digest, as lifelong friends are pitted against one another in a fight to the death to see who is truly "worthy" of assassin status.

From there, these kids who've lived their entire lives on a mountain venture out into the world and grapple with not only how the rest of the world works, but also issues like when it's appropriate to get involved in a fight that you're not strictly a part of. Which wrong is more right? Save innocent villagers or mind your business and minimize exposure and not attract attention? These moral dilemmas are the best moments of the story, as the rest is mostly a vehicle.

Special effects, scenery, and wardrobe are all worth a look, sporting a variety of color and lushness. It's not quite as ham-fisted and dull as House of Flying Daggers, either. Turning on the English dubbed track changes it immediately from a drama into a comedy, so beware of doing that. Best to stick to the subtitles.

It's neither great nor terrible, and though it won't dethrone solid contemporaries Hero or Crouching Tiger, you could certainly do worse. Fans of the genre, see it.

Scotland, PA

Ever wonder what Shakespeare's MacBeth would be like if told from the perspective of a couple looking to take over a fast food empire? Yeah, me neither, but apparently Billy Morrissette did, and put together Scotland, PA, a tale of murder and burgers that despite a few high points, just didn't grab me. However, I'll watch almost anything to the end, and while Maura Tierney, James LeGros, and the always lovable Christopher Walken give it their all and provide some entertaining performances, the whole thing ended up a little flat.

Any familiarity with the source material gives away the story; you just wait to see how things are updated and modernized in the tale. Some amusing bits appear along the way; Walken's "Did you know I used to be a dancer?" was choice. Fans of indie flicks and offbeat material set in the 1970s involving oracles, pot, and hippies might enjoy it more than I did. It's telling that it took me three days to watch since I kept falling asleep. If you're really into the source material or indie, see it. Otherwise, you could safely pass.


Open Water

This one is easily the best of this batch. Take two unknown actors, drop them in the middle of the ocean, throw lots of unpredictable marine nasties into the mix, shake well, and watch. While not based on the tale of one particular couple, it's based on the general idea of people going SCUBA diving and getting left behind when the boat heads to shore, as it apparently happens pretty frequently. Whether those people make it home safely or wind up as fish food is another matter.

It's shot with a close-up camera style, almost akin to Blair Witch, and in no time you get a feel for your protagonists, their struggle, and then watch them go through all sorts of denial, blame assessment, and everything else you'd expect married people under duress to go through. My girlfriend felt the one nude scene was pretty gratuitous, but I wasn't complaining. Go Blanchard.

It's very taut throughout, with moments eerier than anything I remember from Jaws, perhaps because it's delivered in such documentary fashion. There's no background music, no flashy effects. It's all done to look very plausible and terrifying, and works to great effect. If the late Roy Scheider's adventure versus that predator of the deep didn't keep you out of the water, Open Water just may. Definitely see it.

Fool's Gold

As I fought to stay awake through this by-the-numbers adventure romp, I kept wishing it had merged with Open Water and I could bid all this popcorny nonsense adieu. First, the plusses: Kate Hudson in a bikini, Kate Hudson clocking Matthew McConaughey in the noggin, Alexis Dziena playing perhaps the most spot-on airheaded bimbo I've ever seen (annoying in its authenticity), and Donald Sutherland playing a disappointed father to said airhead and being, well, Donald Sutherland.

Now the awkward, teetering on bad. Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who made his name as a Cosby kid, has tried to break away from that and do other things, and I admire those efforts, but when you see him here and immediately blurt out, "It's Theo!" the entire movie gets subverted. Not really his fault. Lead Matthew McC is still "dreamy" or whatever, but his bone-headed, one-dimensional antics wear thin after a few minutes. From there, it's just all downhill as the plot revolves around the lead trying to win back his ex-wife and get the money to pay off an intimidating rapper who owns an entire island, coincidentally right next to where the title fortune is discovered. It takes no risks, elicits nary a chuckle, and goes on entirely too long. I just kept thinking, "This is the sort of thing my mom would watch," and that's not saying much. Definite pass for me.

That's it for this edition. I'm sure I'll be back soon with more, as I can't seem to stop renting stuff. Cheers.

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About Mark Buckingham

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    The whole “kill half our forces” plan of the master totally lost me in Azumi. I would suggest people skip it.