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The Man with the Iron Fists

It is not coincidental that hip-hop polymath RZA started his career with a group called the Wu-Tang Clan. The group, and RZA in particular, has always had an abiding love for old-school kung fu movies.

But RZA hurts the thing he loves as director, star and co-writer (along with Eli Roth) of this pretty bad martial arts pastiche. There are duelling clans, stolen gold, a lethal whorehouse madam (Lucy Liu) sporting a razor-sharp fan, and a chubby, priapic Englishman (Russell "What the hell am I doing here?" Crowe) who goes by the name of Jack Knife.

I'm guessing Crowe is paying homage to martial arts fave Sammo Hung in a demonstration that portly can be deadly.

All take a back seat to RZA, who plays a former American slave-turned-Chinese village blacksmith. (For a lesson in how to stop a movie's momentum cold, witness how the blacksmith's back story stalls out the action machine mid-movie; it never gets back in gear.)

RZA is a surprisingly bad actor to boot. For a guy who writes, directs and produces music for films, his thespian abilities are those of some beefy NFL star drafted into action-movie duties. If he aspires to be Quentin Tarantino behind the camera, he achieves Brian Bosworth awfulness in front of the camera. 'Ö1/2

Mimesis

While Hollywood is remaking old horror movies at a staggering rate, this low-budget shocker offers an ingenious variation on one of the genre's sacred texts.

The premise: a sampling of people at a horror movie convention are invited to an exclusive party in an old farm house. All are apparently drugged into unconsciousness. When they wake up, they are all dressed as characters in George Romero's landmark 1968 zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead.

They are all promptly set upon by shambling walking corpses with a propensity for biting. Suspiciously, however, the zombies do not require a bullet to the head to stop them in their tracks.

It's a great premise that poses the question: Why watch a horror movie when you can live a horror movie? The concept deserves better execution. This is a movie that could have used a good rewrite, a good cast and a good, imaginative director capable of reproducing Romero's terror tropes. Alas, it doesn't have any of those things.

While Romero himself didn't have much of a budget when he made his film, the stars somehow aligned to create a classic. Not here.

Ironically, Mimesis is a movie that could really benefit from a professional Hollywood remake. 'Ö'Ö

Silent Hill: Revelation

Like the video game that inspired them, the movie versions of Silent Hill tends to pool their gothic creativity into surreal atmosphere. The setting is an American mining community long abandoned due to a decades-old coal seam fire that rages beneath the earth. In fact, the place is a multi-dimensional hell, where a fiendish cult holds sway.

Heather Mason (Adelaide Clemens) escaped that community years earlier, but is obliged to return when her dad (Sean Bean) is kidnapped.

Writer-director Michael J. Bassett does manage to deliver a few interesting bad-trip hallucinations, including a spider creature that appears to be constructed entirely out of mannequins, and a room filled with buxom women in naughty nurse uniforms, which would be a tantalizing prospect, except they have scary, fleshy heads without faces and are all armed with sharp weapons.

It would be interesting to see how a smart, funny, intellectually lively character might react to these bizarre scenarios. Alas, while Clemens seems a skilled actress, she is never called upon to portray anything other than panic, anger and chronic depression. Indeed, this shot-in-Canada production shares a trait with a lot of Canadian dramas: it's joyless and dour and just no fun. 'Ö'Ö

Skyfall

This 23rd official Bond movie was obliged to regain its footing after the misstep of Quantum of Solace. It does, and then some, courtesy of director Sam Mendes (American Beauty).

In the 50th year of the franchise, Bond manages to be realpolitik-pertinent while paying discreet homage to the films of the past. It also comes as close as possible to taking Bond into the realm of a family drama.

Things kick off in action mode as Bond (Daniel Craig) engages in one of those high-octane pre-credit sequences wherein Bond is in hot pursuit of an assassin who has made off with a hard drive containing a list of all MI-6's undercover operatives. It doesn't go well. Soon, MI-6's deep-cover agents are being systematically exposed by a mysterious cyber-genius who seems intent on tormenting M specifically.

A shaky Bond returns to duty to track down the culprit, a fey blond psycho called Silva (Javier Bardem). Like Bond himself, Silva was the victim of an M judgment call and ended up presumed dead. In fact, he has returned with mind and body twisted, eager to mete out vengeance.

Bond and Silva duel like feuding brothers battling over the recognition of a withholding parent. It's like East of Eden -- if John Steinbeck had thought to include a scene in a lush Macao casino where a thug meets death courtesy of a giant Komodo dragon. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2013 C8

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