“The Grandmaster” (Action/ Biography/Drama: 1 hour, 48 minutes; Mandarin with English subtitles)
Starring: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Ziyi Zhang and Jin Zhang
Director: Kar Wai Wong
Rated: PG-13 (Strong violence, brief drug use and language)
Movie Review: The story of martial-arts master Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee, is the focus of this photoplay. It features Ip Man (Chiu Wai) and his legendary multiple studies of advanced styles of kung-fu. Along the way, Ip Man meets grandmasters of kung-fu and a love interest, Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang).
Entering a cinema and thinking this piece is an action film would be a mistake. Action scenes are plentiful, but a biography is what this really is.
Informative but tedious, “The Grandmaster” delivers plenty of biographical information regarding Ip Man and Gong Er, but it lacks a solid focus. Disjointed scenes jump about in a manner that leaves one puzzled. What exactly is the movie’s attempt other than telling a life’s story?
On the other hand, three aspects of this film mange to shine. The action sequences’ choreography is superb. They are engrossing scenes. Philippe Le Sourd does a spectacular job with cinematography. Sourd easily makes this film’s visuals art. He and his team are grandmasters here. In addition, beautiful, original music by Nathaniel Méchaly and Shigeru Umebayashi accompanies the scenes.
Those three aspects, alone, are not enough to make one forget about the uneven screenplay. This is especially true when considering the screenplay is dull, too.
Grade: C+ (Masterful art bores with a sloppily told story.)
“The Spectacular Now” (Drama: 1 hour, 35 minutes)
Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley and Jennifer Jason Leigh
Director: James Ponsoldt
Rated: R (Profanity, sexuality, sexual innuendo and teen drinking)
Movie Review: A talented young cast delivers in “Spectacular Now.” The film stars Miles Teller (“Project X," 2012, and “Rabbit Hole,” 2010) as Sutter Keely, a high school senior. He lives life as if it is one big party. He is popular. His fellow students find him fun but unserious. Keely is also an alcoholic. He tries to find himself and a past relationship with his estranged father, Tommy (Kyle Chandler). Along the way, Keely meets Aimee Finecky (Woodley). She is just the love Keely needs, if the young man can first love himself enough to love another.
Independent films never receive all the accolades they should, but they should. These films are consistently better than most mainstream films. “Spectacular Now” is such a film.
James Ponsoldt (“Smashed,” 2012) helms this all-star cast with a good consistency. This drama is no joy ride. It is an emotional roller coaster of good drama, a splendid coming-of-age tale. Ponsoldt orchestrates masterful moviemaking, pulling all together for this low-budget drama in a prevailing manner.
The cast is intriguing. Each player is significant, but Sutter Keely remains the focal point. Teller aptly portrays him. Teller makes his role a natural one. He is able to be funny or serious and maintain a deadpan face. This works well to make the role tangible and engaging.
Woodley ably joins Teller. She is fantastic. Like Teller, she is natural in her role yet charming. Her scenes with Teller are awkward at first, but this appears correct for them. As the relationship grows, the more compelling they appear together. Audiences have a chance to sway with them.
Teen alcoholism is no joke. “Spectacular Now” takes a very serious topic and makes it real without the adolescent gimmicks or pretentious players seen in other films about teens. Simply, very simply, it displays life as it is and not how one wants to see it. This type of realism is a breath of fresh air to the stale material usually presented about youths in angst.