November 26, 2009, - 7:43 pm

Holiday Box Office: “Ninja Assassin,” “Mr. Fox,” “The Road,” “Messenger”

By Debbie Schlussel

Sorry I didn’t post my movie reviews yesterday, as I’d planned, but my site crashed, etc.  “The best laid plans . . . .”  That’s just as well because the holiday movies opening yesterday or at Midnight aren’t anything to skip turkey or pumpkin pie for.  I did not see “Old Dogs,” as the screening was on a Saturday morning, when I am observing the Jewish Sabbath.

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*  “Ninja Assassin“:  This is one of those movies where I say, it is what it is.  It’s a ninja movie, so if you don’t like those, don’t go to this.  It’s one of my guilty pleasures that, believe it or not, I like a good ninja movie (and other martial arts movies–yup, I like ‘em).  So, I was excited to see this.  But I found this one to be excessively bloody, graphic, and gruesome.  Scene after scene of rivers of blood spurting out from grossly dismembered bodies, plus lots of extreme beatings–that’s what this movie is.   And I was a little taken aback.

It’s on the level of the violence, gore, and graphic bloodiness of a “Saw” or “Hostel” movie.  Disgusting.  And not recommended for anyone under 18 . . . even WITH a parent.  Plus, some of the blood is so clearly computer-generated or obvious red paint that it was simultaneously unbelievable and barf-inducing.

Still, it had that campy ninja thing going for it, though the campy factor would have increased had the movie been dubbed with American voices to unmatching Japanese-speaking video.  Instead, it’s mostly Asian guys speaking broken and/or perfect English (some, like Korean-American actor Rick Yune, lefty Lisa Ling’s ex-boyfriend, were raised here).  And like most ninja movies, it’s short on credible story, long on heart-pounding action.

Korean pop star Rain plays Raizo, a good ninja who has a falling out with his ninja clan because he sees they put evil, violence, and killing above doing what is right.  A female researcher for Interpol is investigating mysterious deaths of KGB agents, world leaders, etc.–all apparently at the hand of mysterious unseen ninjas.  Because she investigates it, Homeland Security, Interpol, and everyone else is after her, like they have never been when it comes to terrorists.  Intertwined with her story, we see Raizo in his brutal, violent training as a ninja, somewhere in the Japanese countryside.

No-one looks to ninja flicks for believability, but I laughed when people somewhere in Western Europe were–in twenty seconds–breaking into a Japanese countryside compound, once a GPS mechanism was activated.

The movie had a message of good versus evil, but it was faint in comparison to the graphic bloodiness that dominates the screen and not enough to redeem the movie from that.  Like I said, it is what it is, and if  you want a ninja movie updated with our era of violence and gore to the max, this is for you.  For everyone else, skip it and rent a ninja flick from the ’70s.  Not worth ten bucks.  At least, not for me.

HALF A REAGAN
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*  “Fantastic Mr. Fox“:  This animated feature about a family of foxes underground who constantly steal food and goods from farmers was very cute and great for kids and adults alike . . . if you can get past the fact that smug lefty George Clooney voices the title character.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, as it’s a light distraction from real life.  Very cute for kids, too.  If there was one thing that annoyed me–and I’m kinda nit-picking here–was Clooney’s constant use of the word “cuss,” as in “he’s a dumb-cuss.”  Sounds weird, wasn’t necessary, and it’s like they want you to imagine the f-word for which this is clearly the writers’ euphemism.  But kids won’t notice that the way I did.  Incidentally, this movie is based on a book by Roald Dahl, who was well known not only for writing “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” but also for his pointed Jew-hatred:

Dahl was entirely capable of unredeemed nastiness; he was, quite famously, an outspoken and unapologetic anti-Semite.

Dahl attacked Israel, Israelis, and Jews specifically, saying he understood why Hitler sent them to death camps because they aren’t likable. It makes it that much more interesting that Dahl’s biggest source of funds were those he made from the early ’70s movie, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factor,” made by . . .  Jews. Dahl is six feet under now, so I don’t know who gets the money from his estate’s portion of the movie, and whether his heirs are as anti-Semitic as he was.

ONE-AND-A-HALF REAGANS
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*  “The Road“:  This really bleak movie is hardly Thanksgiving material.  Or new material–what with the plethora of apocalypse movies we’ve already seen in the past couple of years and on the horizon for the foreseeable future.  On the other hand, it really makes you thankful for what you have.  And this is one of the better apocalypse movies in my view. It’s at the same time an adventure and a moral tale.

An earthquake or some other disaster has happened that has somehow knocked out sunlight from the earth.  Everything is cloudy, and most humans are dead or dying.  The few humans that remain are mostly evil and cannibals.

But Viggo Mortensen is one of the good people, and the movie raises the dilemma:  how do you remain good in a world gone bad?  A bleak world where the constant struggle to survive is dominant and you have a young son to whom to teach good values and the will to survive?  As they struggle to survive and forage in the woods, the cold, snow, and homes of strangers and the dead, Mortensen does his best to teach his son to be a good person and a survivor.  I liked it for that reason, and for the message of hope and survival amidst the bleakness, as well as the subtle religious messages.

Still, there were two part of this movie that turned me off.  One was a very disturbing scene in which naked humans were stored alive as food in a basement by cannibals.  There was blood everywhere, too.  The other was Charlize Theron as Mortensen’s hopeless wife, who abandons her husband and young son because she says it’s pointless to try to survive.  I’d bet this is how the real-life Cuba-apologist Theron would be, so there wasn’t much acting involved.  Yup, she’s a bitch.

TWO REAGANS
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*  “The Messenger“:  At first, I had mixed emotions about this movie, which focuses on two soldiers who deliver notice to soldiers’ families that their loved one has been killed in action.  It could have been a great movie, but it degrades into the usual gratuitous sex and drama wastes of time.  I liked that it shows the difficulty one soldier has telling people their loved one was KIA, and the rigidity and coldness with which his commanding officer, Woody Harrelson, deals with it.

But I had no use for stupid, irrelevant sex scenes and a soldier crashing his lover’s wedding and screaming.  Yes, it’s a tough job to notify families of soldiers that they’ve died in action.  But our men who perform this high-stress job handle it with class and dignity and conduct their lives in similar due course.  They are not unstable idiots and crybabies.  Sad that this movie makes them look that way.  Depressing, a waste of time, and of no value whatsoever.

TWO MARXES
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18 Responses

Despite Roald Dahl’s anti-semitism, growing up I really enjoyed several of his stories adapted into movies such as “The Witches” and “Matilda”. “Matilda” was one of my favorite childhood movies in fact.

Matthew on November 26, 2009 at 8:16 pm

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” seems longer than it is because the witticisms written for Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his talented wife (Meryl Streep) substitute for action. The pace picks up a bit when the foxes confront the evil rat (Willem Dafoe, but that doesn’t last long. Children might be disturbed by the revelation that foxes kill chickens. A pokey tale that will leave children and adults alike fidgeting in their seats.

Ricardo on November 26, 2009 at 11:55 pm

The movie “The Road” isn’t playing at the local theaters , I guess it was too heavy a story for holiday veiwing. Cormac Mccarthy isn’t a “all loose ends tied up/happily ever after” kind of writer. For me it was a great story, it’s hard to be good in such a horrific world but good survives even though there is absolutely no hope.

J: It is mostly in arthouse theaters. If you have one of those in your area, best to check there to see if it is running or will run “The Road.” DS

Jeff on November 27, 2009 at 6:26 am

ahh darn it. if I wanted blood and gore, I’d stay home and play my video games. well, another couple movies to add to the “wait til its on dvd list”.

happy thanksgiving everyone (a day late :) )

Linda

lindapolver on November 27, 2009 at 8:59 am

dude, i saw ninja assasin today, it’s great movie, amazing. And style from movie Ninja like that. I agree if chil not see this movie. But you adult man. Be a man and go see nInja assasin and get fun for that. Bloody and sadistis are generally in USA and west country… so what your problems dude. It’s just fun movie in packaged strongest. And Good acting for Mr.BiRain.

One think for you (with badcomment)…respect all actors and team from Ninja Assasin. They had done good job.

desi on November 27, 2009 at 1:15 pm

As this is a movie review post, and Samantha Morton is in “The Messenger”, I just want to point towards one of her better movies that isn’t well known: “Morvern Callar” Very good movie.
I wish I could write disjointed thought-blocked wordage like desi above. He had done good job. Good week end you all

Douglas Q on November 27, 2009 at 2:36 pm

It’s not that bleak out there yet, since no one has gone to jail yet for not buying a health policy. I may hit the road myself if that happens.

Seymour Del-Uziens on November 27, 2009 at 6:54 pm

Good review for Ninja Assassins, Debbie. I myself liked the film as much as any good Jet Li movie. Rain has very watchable star presence with appealing calm and great moves. The martial arts fight scenes IN THE DARK (!) were very strange and mysterious (who has ever done that?) His companion in the story was adorable. Incredibly gory, like you said, but all made bearable (unlike Saw VI) in a campy way by old fashioned values included in the story like honor, discipline, forbearance and loyalty. I liked this film. I LOVED Fantastic Fox from first minute to last and laughed my head off at the way the word “cussed” was used which was part of the movie’s idiosyncratic weirdness. This was a brilliant, perfect, hilarious movie in my mind. Four stars. Only movie topping this in my mind this year was von Trier’s The Antichrist. I place this movie with Wes Anderson’s earlier Mt. Rushmore. Amazing to see Clooney involved in this film; I thought Clooney only did socialist propaganda.
Old Dogs stunk, by the way–dud after dud after dud. Very flat, stupidly broad, bad timing, awful direction, lousy script. It made Wild Hogs look good, if you can believe… Robin William’s love interest is supposed to be attractive to us because she’s temporarily in jail for feistily protesting against toxic chemicals? How did one of Steven Soderbergh’s favorite ideas get in this film?
Thank you, Debbie, for this website! Always listen to you on Mike Church show. (BTW, Rush mentioned you the other day in case you didn’t hear)

Burke on November 27, 2009 at 8:57 pm

how do movie theaters stay in business with all this crap?
like anyone with a brain hasnt read cormac for years and they pick charlize theron? so many pearls thrown before swine..
philipkdick gets dude uh uh wyldstallyon kreeves.
judge dredd gets rocky? etc
i hate the movies now because when they do make a good movie i dont get to see it because i dont go anymore due to this crap.
why dont they make the cormac movie about the guy from new orleans who has to try and make it across mexico with the comanche after him?
your rating system is by far the best in the ratings biz!!

thad of detroit on November 28, 2009 at 7:11 pm

The violence, blood and gore in “Ninja Assasin” is nothing compared to the violence, bloodletting and gore that is going on in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and in the future war in Iran) perpetrated by both sides. The madness will stop (although it might be too late) when we will have a non-interventionist foreign policy

Ramjordan on November 28, 2009 at 8:42 pm

Fantastic Mr. Fox was a great story. I know about Roald and his Jew hate, but the Grimm Fairy Tail writers were just as bad. I had a collection of those when I was a kid with Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and one of the more stressful stories was called the Jew in the Bush… which of course was about killing the Jew.

Noah David Simon on November 29, 2009 at 12:51 pm

I’m slightly confused as to why the reference to Charlize Theron was even in your review. It contributes very little to the article as a whole and is quite simply in poor taste.

Sean on November 29, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Debbie:

It may interest you that, as far as I can tell, “The Road” is a complete ripoff of Lloyd Krupp, a far superior book with a little more of an upbeat outlook despite the bleakness of the setting.

Ibn Abu on November 30, 2009 at 11:52 am

“I’m slightly confused as to why the reference to Charlize Theron was even in your review. It contributes very little to the article as a whole and is quite simply in poor taste.”

I’m not sure why you’re confused: Ms. Schlussel provides this type of commentary because her loyal readers (like me) appreciate it. We like popular culture (when it’s done well) but we WILL NOT give celebs a pass on their atrocious ideas or behavior. Incidentally, Theron went on CNN and refused to admit there was censorship in Cuba, but insisted that the real censorship occurred in the United States.

I think THAT is in poor taste.

Don Kenner on November 30, 2009 at 11:56 am

“The violence, blood and gore in “Ninja Assasin” is nothing compared to the violence, bloodletting and gore that is going on in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and in the future war in Iran) perpetrated by both sides. The madness will stop (although it might be too late) when we will have a non-interventionist foreign policy”

Looks like somebody needs to get a clue.

Sam Adams on November 30, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Sam, Sam, Sam…I guess by “non-interventionist foreign policy” you also mean that saving those pesky Jews from the death camps was also “madness”, though sadly it came too late for many. What the hell were we thinking when we saved the Iraqi people from their right to be fed through an industrial shredder or gassed to death to test new chemical equipment or shot in the head at the local soccer stadium for showing some ankle in the market or daring to be raped? Shut up you moron! The only madness here is coming from you and the turn a blind eye left you serve.

Steve Hauptman on December 1, 2009 at 1:57 am

Re: Steve Hauptman’s Dec. 1 at 1:57 am post.

Steve, you are exactly correct to chatise the person who wishes for a “non-interventionist foreign policy”. However, the person who advocates such an insane foreign policy is not Sam Adams on Nov. 30 at 2:42 pm (or for that matter any other post that he has done). Sam’s 2:42 pm post had quoted someone else who had advocated this “non-interventionist policy” and he quoted that person with disapproval. Sam’s response to this person was to say “looks like somebody needs to get a clue.”

So who is this person who advocates such an insane “non-interventionist foreign policy”? That person would be Ramjordan on Nov. 28 at 8:42 pm. Sam’s post was in response to Ramjordan. Therefore, your ire should instead be directed at Ramjordan and you owe Sam Adams an apology.

JeffE on December 5, 2009 at 11:49 pm

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