Sunday, January 27, 2013

Trouble With the Curve (2012)

Directed by Robert Lorenz. This movie, for which Hollywood's working title was "Skeletor Plays Baseball" was Clint Eastwood's first since 2008 ("Skeletor Is Gunned Down In the Street for Liking Koreans"). This is surprising because he is such an omnipresent media personality (2012's "Skeletor Hates the President") and busy director of films that he does not appear in ("J. Edgar," 2011; "Hereafter," 2010; "Invictus," 2009). I can make fun of his appearance all I want, Clint Eastwood is damned productive for an animated corpse.

In "Trouble With the Curve" Eastwood plays Atlanta Braves baseball scout Gus Lobel. In the literal sense the title refers to a problem he senses in a young pitching prospect in North Carolina, though more to the point of the flick, it seems to relate to the expression "around the bend," since for at least 15 years some element of all Clint Eastwood movies is how much aging sucks. This one firmly focuses on how much aging sucks, specifically needing the help of others.

It makes you wonder if it's a coincidence or not that, while this film was as personal as any Eastwood has ever directed himself, it was not directed by him but is the first film directed by Robert Lorenz, Eastwood's second unit director of many years. Just as the character of Gus Lobel requires the help of others for some of the tasks of his job as a baseball scout, including driving but also up-close observation of players, perhaps Eastwood prefers to collaborate more to keep up his current level of productivity.

Maybe I should collaborate more to just to watch movies. I spent all of this movie thinking that Isla Fisher wasn't looking up to par in this when at the end I found out it was Amy Adams. That explained everything. Also, this film includes more support for the notions that Justin Timberlake is a genuine talent.

Recommended if you have patience for a lot of grumbling.

Five Fingers of Death (aka "King Boxer" aka Tian Xia Di Yi Quan) 1972

Directed by Chang-hwa Jeong. This is one of the greatest martial arts films ever made and a must-see for anybody with an interest in the genre even though one of the most available DVD editions out there brags on the package "105 Minutes of Non-Stop Action" and fortunately this is a ridiculous lie. The two best things about "King Boxer" are that, first, the non-action sequences effectively increase anticipation for the fights, and two, they are hilarious.

First of all, here's what it's about: "The Karate Kid." Not exactly, but kinda. Earnest martial arts student and decent sensei are bullied by rival martial arts school/terrorist organization intensifying to a big tournament. Amid all this, a little something for the ladies: romantic sub-plot. Two women vie for the attention of our hero, Chao Chih-Hao. One would be the proverbial girl next door if she hadn't grown up in the same house as him, the other is a singer of the weirdest songs ever.

I have so many favorite parts of this movie, it's nuts. First and foremost there are the brutal beatings. One guy only kills people with his forehead. Two henchman with shaggy haircuts are clearly the inspiration for a legacy of similar characters you've seen forever. A pair of Baoding balls rolled by another character foreshadow the fate of a fink.

In between chops to peoples heads, middles and backs, Chih-Hao sends a letter home to his beloved first Sensei, in stereotypical Asian tradition it is end-to-end honor and devoid of any actual information (I am not making this up):

Dear Honoured Teacher:

I am indebted to you for raising me. I should serve you in order to repay my gratitude. Unfortunately, since my departure, not a day goes by that I don't think about you and sister Ying. I am now under the mentorship of Master Suen but I still remember what you have taught me. I aim to do well in the competition and have cherished sister Ying's words deep in my heart. I will not let you or Ying down. Words cannot express my regards.

-- All the best.


 And these are the actual lyrics to one of singer Yen Chu Hung's songs (again, I'm not making this up, it's from the movie): 

There is a pair of sisters on the farm who are looking for a husband
The loser will have to choose an ugly and short, lazy husband.
The elder sister pretending, a Phoenix opening its wings
The younger sister pretending, a dragonfly skimming the water's surface
Their competition is well-known in the village
The elder sister finally scores 99, and the younger sister scores 101
Elder sister is shy, younger sister smiles
Elder sister has picked an ugly, short and lazy husband 

Most highly recommended.