Taxi Driver, 20 Million Miles To Earth, Kung Fu Hustle – Scorsese, Harryhausen & Chow: Masters In Their Own Ways

No one gets the New York vibe better than Martin Scorsese, whose Taxi Driver remains one of the best Big Apple dramas ever made. Ray Harryhausen revolutionized movie effects work with his stop-motion animation – 20 Million Miles to Earth features some of his best work. Stephen Chow took his comedy instincts and turned them to martial arts comedies, of which Kung Fu Hustle is the best.

Taxi Driver: Collector’s Edition

In 1976, movie lovers were presented with a work of genius when Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver was released. It was a film that captured the city of New York as seen through the eyes of Travis Bickle [Robert De Niro], a taxi driver who was slowly succumbing to madness. That the psychopathic Bickle became a hero of sorts is only one of the many ironies in this great film.

Scorsese, writer Paul Schrader and De Niro worked together to come up with as hard-edged a movie as anyone had seen at the time – a tale that involved career cabbies like the Wizard [Peter Boyle], the insomniac Bickle [who wanted to work long hours…] and child prostitute Iris [Jodie Foster] in a story that invoked family, politics, loneliness, and the edge between sanity and madness – all told with a style and perception that were distinctly New York.

This new two-disc Collector’s Edition features two excellent new commentary tracks [one by writer Paul Schrader; one by Professor Robert Kolker]; Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver; Producing Taxi Driver; God’s Lonely Man [Schrader and Kolker discuss the loneliness themes as seen in the film; Schrader talks about the circumstances that led to his writing the script]; Influence and appreciation [De Niro, Roger Corman, Oliver Stone and others pay tribute to Martin Scorsese]; Taxi Driver Stories [New York Cabbies share their experiences]; Making of Documentary; Travis’ New York [how the city has changed since 1976]; Travis’ New York Locations [how specific film locations have changed since 1976]; Storyboard-To-Film comparison With An Introduction By Martin Scorsese; Animated Photo Galleries, and the Original Screenplay.If you love film and haven’t seen Taxi Driver, this is the DVD to get. If you’ve seen the film and wondered what went into making it, this is the DVD to get. If you love New York, this one of the best films to get.

Grade: Taxi Driver – A+
Grade: Features – A+

[b]Final Grade: A+[/b]

[b]20 Million Miles To Earth: 50th Anniversary Edition[/b]

This digitally remastered edition of the Ray Harryhausen classic is a two-disc edition that is chockfull of cool stuff for the hardcore SF fan. The film is available in both beautiful black & white, as shot, and a computer colored version that is almost stunningly beautiful [and before you decry the colorization, Harryhausen himself goes on record as saying the film would’ve shot in color has the budget been big enough].

The plot is fairly simple: a rocketship crashes in the ocean off the coast of Sicily and fishermen find and save two human males before the ship finishes sinking. The men are returning from a secret mission to Venus, where the inhospitable atmosphere led to the deaths of all but two of the crew. They brought back a sample of a lifeform, but through a series of mishaps, it is unleashed on a world whose atmosphere affects it in such a way that it grows constantly.

In a manner reminiscent of King Kong [a favorite of Harryhausen’s, and the film that inspired him to learn about stop-motion animation], the hapless creatures gets free in Rome and a final showdown takes place in the roman Coliseum.

20 Million Miles To Earth still works, for the most, because the writing [basic plot by Harryhausen; treatment by Charlott Knight, and screenplay by Bob Williams and Christopher Knopf] is extremely good and the cast works well enough together that the occasional less-than-wonderful performance is not really an issue.

William Hopper is very good as the rocket’s commander, Col. Robert Calder and Joan Taylor is appropriately feisty as Marisa Leonardo, aspiring doctor and daughter of the man who first comes to possess the smaller version of the creature.Harryhausen’s animation is amazing – especially in a scene where the creature first hatches. When it emerges from its gelatin-like cocoon, it wipes its eyes to clear them and we immediately relate to it.

To say that colorization has come a long way since the eighties is to say that the sun is brighter than moon. The color version of the film looks as though it was shot in color – it looks that good!

Features include: Disc One: Audio commentary by Ray Harryhausen, Arnold Kunert and Visual Effects Masters Dennis Muren and Phil Tippet; Disc Two: Remembering 20 Million Miles to Earth; The Colorization Process; Tim Burton sits Down With Ray Harryhausen; Interview With Joan Taylor; David Schecter On Film Music’s Unsung Hero; 200 Million Miles More Comic Book Preview; Video Photo Galleries, and Original Ad Artwork.

Grade: 20 Million Miles to Earth – B+
Grade: Features – A+

[b]Final Grade: A-[/b]

[b]Kung Fu Hustle: Axe-Kickin’ Edition[/b]

What happens when you combine the talents of a gifted comic and martial artist with the premiere martial arts choreographers in film? One funny martial arts film!

Kung Fu Hustle takes the basic premise of the most unlikely kung fu hero and dresses it in wonderful sets, awesome fight choreography and whimsical CGI to produce more fun per punch than any martial arts film before it.

Sing [Stephen Chow] is a two-bit hustler who wants to become a member of the most powerful gang around, The Axe Gang. Unfortunately, he and his lumpish companion, Bone [Chi Chung Lam] are incompetent, and when one of their scams backfires in Pig Sty Alley, the most crazed martial arts mayhem ensues, leading to the discovery that there really is an unlikeliest hero of all.

Somehow, the plot ties together three martial arts masters who’ve disappeared into Pig Sty Alley to live their lives; a boy whose efforts to learn martial arts backfire when he tries to help a deaf girl; a landlord and landlady with devastating secrets and the most arrogant gang of axe-wielding thugs ever seen in a martial arts movie [reminiscent of The 88’s from Tarantino’s Kill Bill].

To describe the CGI in Kung Fu Hustle would be to give away some of the coolest surprises, as would be a description of two guys who use music to deadly effect. Suffice to say, the plots and subplots in Kung Fu Hustle are created solely to entertain and they do so at an almost unimaginable level [unimaginable, at least, until after you’ve seen the film].Chow does extremely good work both in front of the camera and behind it. He has a comic’s gift for timing that shows in the filming of the martial arts choreography and the moments of high drama and melodrama as well as comedy. His performance is note perfect. Sing is a conflicted character – though not in the way you might expect – and Chow makes us believe him throughout.

The martial arts choreography [begun by the legendary Sammo Hung and completed by the even more legendary Yuen Wo Ping] is frequently amazing and feels real even when it goes off on flights of absurdity.

Features include: Never Before Seen Footage From The Hong Kong Version; Comedy Central Interview and Outtakes with Stephen Chow; Organized Chaos [Action choreography Featurette]; Bringing Down The House [Production Design Featurette]; Dressed To Kill [Costume Design Featurette]; Storyboard Comparisons; Clean Out Pig Sty Alley DVD-ROM Video Game, and Ric Meyers’ Interview With Stephen Chow.

Grade: Kung Fu Hustle – A
Grade: Features – B

[b]Final Grade: B+[/b]

Eclipse Review Posted by Sheldon Wiebe
Originally Posted on 08/14/07

Check out our DVD Reviews Page for more current releases.


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