Choreography 101: Why Did Jackie Chan Speed up His Fights?

By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

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For forty years, Jackie Chan has been appearing in iconic action films, from being a random stuntman in Enter the Dragon to being a leading man in Hollywood films such as Rush Hour.  Yet, the biggest question remains for this great action star: Why speed up the fights?

Sped-up.

Once you notice it, you can never go back.  All of a sudden, I realized how many of Chan’s fights are sped up.  How?  Let’s take regular motion of a car or a man walking in one of his films.  They walk at a brisk pace, but you can see them move step by step.  In some of Chan’s films, such as Police Story 2, Chan’s fight scenes kind of blur together and look more like a Charlie Chaplin stunt comedy short.

In other films, Jackie Chan has demonstrated how quick he can be or how precise his movements are.  Police Story and Legend of the Drunken Master are perfect examples of that.  Police Story has not only some of the best action pieces, but also my personal favorite.

Non-sped-up.

The action pieces have quick movements with tight editing.  That way, the action moves smoothly.  Whereas in Police Story 2, we see only brief moments of smooth action, which are marred by jarring, sped-up action, making it very difficult to watch.

During the 80s, Chan filmed 21 movies.  Considering that Police Story 2 came out in the late 80s, it’s understandable that he was burning out, since he usually gives it his all with the fight scenes.  Even though most of his action pieces stepped up his game, he had some missteps during these years, Police Story 2 and Armour of God being the most prominent ones.  He almost killed himself in Armour of God, and brutally injured himself and his stunt performers in Police Story 2.  That said, there is no way the fight scenes of those films didn’t suffer in quality.

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Could he have put too much effort into them?  I think so.  And as a result, Chan had to take it easier, by fighting at a slower pace during filming.  Not wanting to disappoint fans with a slower speed, he sped up the fights in post-production.

Jackie Chan is one of the greatest martial art stars, no doubt.  His crazy action scenes and stunts, and his personality, make him such a memorable performer.  Although, I wish Chan took a step back and relaxed a bit during those years for his sake and for his art.  His fans know how much he worked to perfect the action.  Even sped up, however, those scenes are still better than most fight scenes that America has produced in the last forty years.  (By the way, American fight scenes are usually sped-up; look out for my blog coming soon on this topic).

Don’t Believe the Hype: Summer Movies

By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

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Because most of the movies look dreadful this summer, I decided to clump them all into one big article to share why I think you shouldn’t go to the movies.  While commercials try really really hard to get you to the theatres, I feel that instead they are attempting to keep me from the theatres.  I mean, name one blockbuster this summer that isn’t a remake, sequel, or something we have seen a million times in the last five years.  Yup, I can’t think of anything.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2

Hey look, it’s 1990 all over again!  Apparently, the remake didn’t suck enough to kill the franchise, so we needed a crappier one to do the job.  In a time when media is not trying to be offensive, the new Turtles film sure does a good job of being just that to true fans of the source material.  Not only does the film not take itself seriously, but also everything looks so out of place and fake I would just rather watch the 90s live action show (and that is saying a lot).

Independence Day 2

We’ve been waiting twenty years for this…well not me, or you, but…I guess Hollywood has?  Not every movie needs a sequel.  Independence Day is a standalone film.  It has a beginning, middle, and end.  Who cares about what happens next?   For some odd reason, they don’t know how to end things in Hollywood.  Maybe the spaceship in the first one should have hit Hollywood instead of the White House.

Finding Dory

Pixar has a good track record when it comes to sequels (Toy Story 2 and 3, Monster’s University).  But, this is a spinoff movie that hasn’t seen a lot of commercial time on Disney’s main stations.  That, to me, means trouble because usually Disney boasts about how awesome their new movie is.  Sigh.

Star Trek Beyond

How do we make something cool?  I know, we play Beastie Boys in the trailer; they were anti-establishment back in the day, and rebelliousness is the tone we want to give to a Stark Trek movie.  We all know the trailer was godawful, and the premise sounds all too familiar.  It’s like the filmmakers can’t make anything new and exciting and just have to look back to the original series.  Remember Indiana Jones?  That was an original take on something we’ve seen a million times.  But who needs creativity when you have name brand recognition and hundreds of millions of dollars?

2016 seems to be offering the least promising summer of movies I have seen in several years.  Hopefully, one of these years,  the movies that come out will generally be more original.  That way, I’ll actually feel like I’m in present day, and not some past decade.

Top Ten Moments That Make Me Believe in the X-Men Franchise

By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

10.) The Cast of Characters

It’s usually hard to cast a superhero character.  X-Men succeeded at this with most of the original cast and its reboot cast.  Have you ever heard anyone say that Hugh Jackman or James McAvoy were miscast?

09.) The reason they are fighting

X-Men is one of the few superhero series that has a strong reason for the action.  Unlike most Marvel films, X-Men is straight forward.  Magneto wants to protect the mutants through violence and Professor X wants to protect mutants by protecting humans.  Each film built on this idea.

08.) It’s more than action

The best X-Men films are dramas first and action movies second.  Look at the first two films and First Class.  The climactic moment in First Class is not dozens of superheroes and super villains attacking each other, but simply three people standing, and one of them screaming.  By the way, I love this!

07.) The Villains are Bad!

Stryker, Kevin Bacon, and Stryker!  All of these characters are just bad people.  None of them have any redeemable characteristics.  Both experimented on mutants.  In their movies, you want them to get their comeuppance.

06.) Nightcrawler was epic!

X2 is probably the greatest X-Men movie.  One reason is the opening scene that introduces a new character…Nightcrawler.  Nightcrawler was one of the best parts of that movie.  And you know what…it left me wanting more.

05.) When Toad Actually Mattered

Toad is a small character in the first film, but boy did he shine in the final action scene!  He faced the entire X-Men (besides Wolverine) and held his own.  Toad was made special for that reason.  Also, he was given great energy by Ray Park who at that point was a fanboy favorite thanks to his turn as Darth Maul.  It’s awesome to see how such a minor character brought so much fan service.

04.) Magneto!

Magneto might be one of the best villains created by Marvel, so it’s almost impossible for them to get him wrong.  Not only did the great Ian McKellen play him, but he was also played by the brilliant Michael Fassbender.  Both actors brought new ideas to Magneto, which has made the character endure through all of these years.

03.) The tone is perfect

For the most part, the franchise is dead serious, but every once in a while they slip in a joke.  The best of the X-Men series has been a breath of fresh air because most superhero films now are more about making jokes than telling a thought-out story.

02.) It has a purpose

When “X-Men” first started in the comics, the idea was based on the African American movement with Malcom X (Magneto) and Martin Luther King Jr. (Professor X).  In 2000, Bryan Singer used these characters to talk about a new topic—homosexuality.  The franchise started with a fresh take.  As a result, this is one of the few superhero franchises that has brought relatable topics to the mainstream audience.

01.) The reboot was a success

First Class was amazing!  This scene explains it all.

Will Apocalypse X out the X-Men Movies?

By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

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The X-Men franchise has had its ups and downs.  One of its major downs is that for some time the movies haven’t quite hit the mark with the mainstream audience.  “X-Men” is one of Marvel’s most prolific comic book series, featuring some of the most popular characters in the Marvel universe.  So why is that not reflecting in the box office anymore?

Back in 2000, the first live-action X-Men movie was released, and it was a smash hit with critics and at the box office.  This film told not only the fans, but also the mainstream (and, of course, Hollywood) that superhero movies were here to stay (for a long time).  X-Men and its sequel, X2, (along with competitors Spider-Man 1 and 2) comprised a major breakthrough in the superhero genre.  These films captivated the comic book lovers by staying true to the source material, while also appealing to the everyday person.  The first X-Men movie started the ball rolling, and X2 (again, with help from the first two Spider-Man movies) made that ball score some serious cash for Hollywood.  In other words, X-Men was a viable franchise.  Then came the letdown.

X-Men: The Last Stand might be more than a title, it might actually be Fox saying, “Hey, this is the last time these characters will be relevant.”  It was bad enough that Bryan Singer (who directed the first two) did not direct this, but Fox really stuck it to the fans by hiring Brett Ratner as Singer’s replacement.  You know him, right?  He’s the guy who freely admitted to knowing nothing about X-Men.  Not surprisingly, The Last Stand was a disappointingly bad film.  At that time, I had never seen so many mistakes from a comic book film in my life.  The biggest reason it is a letdown is for its lazy treatment of the source material, “The Dark Phoenix Saga”.  This was a heinous crime.

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Despite the trilogy (miserably) ending, Fox was intent on punishing us for giving us two great X-Men movies by also giving us X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  The movie is, of course, about Wolverine, but who asked for this?  The first three movies dealt with Wolverine’s past and present problems.  I guess the main draw of Origins is that you get to actually see it, because Fox believed that the fans’ imagination is as blank as theirs.  The movie looked like it had a budget that was half that of the first two X-Men movies, as evidenced by the infamous CG Wolverine claws, and pretty much every special effect looking like it got lost on its way to a PS2 game.

All momentum for X-Men was stifled thanks to two horrendous films, and it never came back.  After taking a couple years off from killing their fan base, Fox decided to reground the series.  Thus, we were given First Class.  It is an excellent film, and might be my favorite of the entire series.  But for how great this film was, sadly the box office didn’t reflect that.  The movie made as much as Last Stand’s opening weekend.  After two horrid films, was it any wonder to Fox that not enough people were interested in the franchise anymore?  Alas, First Class was the start of bringing the fans back.  So, the next logical step was to…erase The Last Stand?

We all know Last Stand sucks, but until I saw Days of Future Past, I had never seen a film that has the sole purpose of erasing a past film.  Watching DOFP was like watching another prequel from George Lucas, whose intent was to erase the bad moments of the prequel trilogy.  Say what you will about Lucas, but at least he knows they suck and is willing to admit it.  Fox just said, “Please don’t buy the third one” and treated DOFP as the third one instead.  Well, I guess that worked, but we really didn’t need it to.  In a lot of fans’ minds, First Class was a fresh start that didn’t need any of the original cast in a sequel.  In Fox’s mind, though, Wolverine needed to be a part of it.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t make money, because obviously his absence (save for a 5-second cameo) was the reason First Class failed, and his major presence is what made Last Stand and Wolverine such monumental successes.  Days of Future Past was the first X-Men movie to receive a mixed response.  A lot of people believed it to be a great film, but a lot of others, who were expecting to see the old and new X-Men unite, felt let down that it was just another Wolverine movie.  One thing is for sure, though: the buzz didn’t reach the heights of the first two, nor did it innovate anything.

Flash forward to present day.  Like Last Stand, the title X-Men: Apocalypse can be taken to mean the end of the franchise.  If not, then the box office numbers for it sure do.  Last Stand and Wolverine butchered this once-great franchise, and as long as each new movie affiliates with those, nobody will care.

Ahhh…good times.

Choreography 101: Who Started It?

By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

The beginning to a fight can be the most challenging to make, just like the beginning of a movie.  The challenge for most is who should start the fight.  That might sound crazy, but it is important.  If someone has more at stake than the other, then they should be the starter.  The beginning is my favorite part of a fight.  The reason being that I love the buildup and the tension but I also enjoy how it’s all going to start.

Many fight scenes simply start with none of what I just mentioned.  In The Protector, both the main character and the bodybuilder just kind of charge at one another; nothing to grasp there.  Even though a lot of the fights in the movie are exciting, there was no payoff at the end.  Not only did you not know Tony Jaa’s character, but also the filmmakers didn’t even try to make you want the fight, they just gave it to you.  When a director just hands over a fight, you know they didn’t give it their all.

Empire Strikes Back is a great example of a film that makes you want the climactic fight to happen.  Created with the style of Kurosawa, Lucas and his team created the stall, or slow walk for the duel.  The story of the fight is that Luke confronts Vader in order to save the ones he cares about.  Through the fight scene, though, the characters have to explain this.

The entire movie is built around facing your fears by confronting the dark side.  Luke Skywalker, sworn to walk the path of peace (Jedi), believes he is not afraid of the threat that is Darth Vader.  When the two finally collide, Luke Skywalker is the one who starts the battle.  This is significant for one reason: never do Jedi start a conflict.  Later in the battle, Luke shows once again that he is not ready.  Not only does he start to fear Vader, but also he simply cannot overcome him.  Also, in the middle of the fight, Luke begins to realize what he is becoming.  For two movies, Luke was slowly turning to the dark side with displays of recklessness (as shown in A New Hope, and pointed out by Yoda earlier in Empire), selfishness (facing Vader alone), and fear (of Vader).  What happens internally with Luke adds a new layer to this unforgettable fight scene, and makes “I am your father” a truly potent climax.

Fight scene openings are hard to accomplish.  If the audience doesn’t feel the excitement at the opening, then the fight scene is doomed to mediocrity (or worse).  Check out below for fight scenes with the best openings.  Enjoy!

 

Daredevil went MIA!!!

By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

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It seems like anytime Marvel generates buzz for their projects, that buzz quickly goes ice cold, simply because they don’t live up to the hype.  (Look at Iron Man 3, Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron, and Civil War as recent examples).  This time, it was none other than their Netflix show Daredevil.

Last year, Daredevil was the talk of the town.  Any person who knew me wanted my opinion on the action scenes of the show.  Although I wasn’t a huge fan, I understood why people loved the show.  To be honest, its fight scenes are the best out of all superhero films.  But that wasn’t what interested me about the show.  Not only did the show make you believe that superheroes could be in our world, but also the story dared to surprise its audience.  And the main characters were actually effective.  Wilson Fisk was my favorite part of the show.  Actor Vincent D’Onofrio offered a unique take on the character.  Needless to say, once the season was over, everyone was ready for season 2.

Fast forward to a year later.  I was ready to receive a lot of messages about the fight scenes from the new season.  Then…nothing.  Nobody was talking about it!  Even mainstream internet sites, such as IGN and Rotten Tomatoes, were barely mentioning it.  Why was Daredevil being treated like the new kid at school who’s popular for the first week, and is then ignored afterwards?

Well, it was because season 2 wasn’t really about Daredevil.  You see, Marvel thought it’d be a grand idea to devote the whole season to origin stories of other characters, such as Elektra, and (most prominently) The Punisher.  Granted, Punisher IS cool in this show, but there’s no reason that he should cut into Daredevil’s screen time.  Because Daredevil became the secondary character in his own show, season 2 felt unnecessary to watch.  All season 2 showed the audience was that Daredevil wants to be like Batman and Punisher is there to kick butt.  WOW!  But the biggest let down for most fans was that the action took a major leap backwards.

Not only was the lighting poor (as in, too dark to see anything), but also none of the fights looked like they were thought out.  Who in their right mind starts the season with Daredevil versus Punisher (you know, the face-off that you think would be saved for the end of the season, because it’s a main draw)?  After you have seen what is supposed to be the climax, what’s the point of continuing?  Even worse, the fight itself was a complete letdown.

The worst part, though, was the main villain.  For two seasons, they built up this gang to be the worst of the worst, yet we find out that the main villain is…the guy who played Cyrax in Mortal Kombat: Legacy?  (You know, the other show that had a great first season, and a disappointing second season).  Sure, if I had read the comics I would have known more about the character, but this show did not even try to build him up.  But don’t let that fool you, because it’s supposed to be a major twist when you see him!  There’s nothing more exciting than a big reveal of a character no one cares about.  Once again, Marvel proves how great they are at pissing me off for not giving me a reason to care.

Overall, this season seemed like one giant setup for a Punisher spinoff.  Whatever momentum this show produced has now been shifted to Punisher.  I hope Daredevil stays MIA.  Bring on The Punisher show, because I can’t wait to see him become a secondary character in his own show!

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MCU–Why It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

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By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

Two weeks ago, Marvel released Civil War to theatres, and I still haven’t seen it.  In fact, I have not seen any Marvel movies since Winter Soldier.  You may say, “The nerve!  The audacity!”.  But hear me out: I have not seen any good reason to watch these films, because there is no real threat presented in any of them.  And for that reason, I believe the Marvel movies finished its course a long time ago.  Now, since you’re demanding examples right now for such a blasphemous statement, here you go:

We know in comic books that when somebody dies they come back to life.  Resurrection is inevitable in comic books because there is a lot of money at stake, but what usually happens is the characters are brought back in a new story that is set in a new universe.  In the “Civil War” arc, Captain America dies at the hands of Shannon Carter, but returns in the unconnected, official Captain America issue line .  With the “Civil War” arc, writer Ed Brubaker separated the issue lines.  When a reader knows that what they are reading is separate from a main storyline, he or she can actually believe that, for example, Steve Rogers died at the end of “Civil War” and stayed that way.  The same goes for Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns”.  That story does not take place in the main Batman storyline, and Batman dies at the end.  Now, I did not just explain all of that to impress you, I did it to give context to my next point: the MCU doesn’t want you to be “invested.”

Usually, the word “invested” is associated with the words “money” and “time”.  How much time and money are you, the viewer, going to invest into this?  For me, it used to be that with every Marvel movie I was devoted—both in theatres and on DVD.  This changed after I saw the pilot for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  The year before, Agent Coulson is clearly dead in The Avengers.  Yet, in Agents, he is brought back to life nonchalantly.  Although Marvel says he is not alive in the MCU, his resurrection still feels like a copout, and was the first major example of how most of these movies have no real consequences to them.

At 0:45 is where this show jumped the shark.

That same year, I was excited when I heard that Thor was going to lose his hand in Thor 2.  Instead, I was disappointed because it was an “illusion.”  Marvel tried to rev people up Empire Strikes Back-style, only to tell them, “just kidding, we’re not THAT intense!”.  After a while, nobody will actually be invested in these films, because if there is no sacrifice, then what is the point of these movies, or any movie for that matter?  Every character should have consequences for their actions.  The only character in the MCU who comes closest to such a thing is Captain America, but his emotions aren’t shown enough to convince you that being frozen took a toll on him.  Instead, his being frozen for 70 years is treated like something that happened merely to advance the story of the franchise.

A couple of days ago, I watched the animated Ultimate Avengers movie once again.  Sure, it is short (a scant 70 minutes), but it still managed to do justice to all of the essential Avengers, including Captain America (by showing his suffering as a man out of time).  Unlike the live-action movie, all of the Avengers show that they have individual problems that they will need to resolve at the end (what a concept!).

So how can a 70-minute film have more in-depth characters than a 140-minute film, or even seven 2-hour-plus films?  Well, when your movie’s sole purpose is to advertise other films, the characters take a backseat, and just become objects for action scenes and advancing the plot in non-action scenes.  Granted, The Avengers wasn’t so much an ad for more films, but it very much treated its characters as objects for action and exposition rather than unique people.  Therefore, you don’t care about them.  Even if they are in peril, you don’t have any reaction, and it doesn’t matter if they get hurt or not.  As for the films that ARE more focused on advertising…

When you hype certain characters being in the next film, who gives a crap about watching it?  You remember Thor and Captain America?  Both of those films were trashed because they were just long advertisements for The Avengers.  Likewise, such films as Age of Ultron, Ant-Man and Cvil War are advertisements for “the next one”.  Can you recall anything earth-shattering that happened in any of those movies?  What about Winter Soldier, Thor 2, or Iron Man 3?  Sure, S.H.I.E.L.D fell apart in Winter Soldier, but the end to a faceless entity (that no one cared about) does not count.  Sure, Tony Stark gave up being Iron Man at the end of 3, but we all know how long that lasted.

After watching all of these movies, it’s pretty clear that Tony Stark’s greatest power is building machines that turn on him.

So why shouldn’t we care about Civil War?  When your film is based on a violent comic about heroes killing other heroes, you have to deliver.  After eight years and seeing nothing that even came close to reaching such high stakes (unless you count Quicksilver, for some reason), I didn’t expect it to happen with the newest movie.  In the end, everyone comes out fine (oh happy day).  No!  Sure, Cap leaves the Avengers at the end of the movie, but whoopty-doo!  We all know he’s gonna be back for Infinity War.

13234800_1004862042954424_210339950_o.pngFrom the studio that brought you Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron, comes the epic blockbuster of the summer.  This time, the consequences are even more minute.

You know, it didn’t seem that long ago when characters had to battle through the trenches.  Take the original Spider-Man.  Peter Parker is in love with Mary Jane, but after choosing to become Spider-Man, he received more responsibilities.  He realized this and chose not to tell her, and to walk down the superhero path alone.  To top that off, his best friend wants to murder him for what he did to his father (who is dead).  Some pretty intense stuff happens in the final five minutes, which made me want to see the sequel.

It’s hard to say how long the MCU will go, but moviegoer interest here in the United States seems to be dwindling.  Just look at the box office numbers for Civil War.  Within two weeks it still hasn’t made anything close to the last two Avengers movies.  Could people be experiencing superhero fatigue because they’re tired of nothing consequential happening?

What’s crazy is that Marvel’s problem is not that hard to change; just create conflict with the characters’ psyche at the end, or have them kill someone.  In Empire Strikes Back, Luke realizes the true power of the villain, after going against his masters’ wishes to battle Darth Vader on his own.  BOOM!  There’s a perfect example of our protagonist facing the repercussions of his actions.  Marvel should focus more on each movie, instead of slowly telling one story through umpteen movies.  This is film; not TV.  Let’s face it, Civil War and all other Marvel movies are pure entertainment, but that does not mean any of them are good.  If it can’t make you feel for these characters, then what entertainment is there to watching a flashing screen of stuff and things happening?

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Look, Marvel!  It’s a screenshot from a family movie in which Nazis are the bad guys, but it actually takes itself seriously!  It doesn’t have Captain America in it, but it does have Swastikas!