The Great Wall

Posted on February 16, 2017 at 5:39 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy action violence
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive, intense, military and fantasy violence with scary monsters, spears, arrows, explosions, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters but some insensitive portrayals
Date Released to Theaters: February 17, 2017
Copyright Universal 2017

I get that you need a big Hollywood star to get big Hollywood money. But in “The Great Wall,” that means that Matt Damon has to save the day in ancient China, and having him share the fight with a tough female military leader (Tian Jing) who is Chinese (and very beautiful) does not reduce the quease factor.

Damon plays William, a mercenary who has fought for and against armies of several European nations, now traveling through China in search of the “black powder” they have heard is a new weapon of massive power to destroy. (Gunpowder, the first explosive, was developed by Chinese alchemists in the 9th century.) All of his group are killed except for his closest friend Tovar (Pedro Pascal) in an encounter with a mysterious beast. William kills it and keeps the claw to help find out what it was. When they are captured by an enormous army, it is the claw that keeps them from being killed. The army, a part of the Nameless Order, is stationed by the Great Wall to fight off those creatures, called Tao-Tie. They are dragon-like predators who are learning and evolving, becoming more powerful and working together to develop what can only be called strategy. The Nameless Order has to stop them before they can no longer be contained and take over China, and, after that, the world.

The six people who wrote the film include top-level screenwriters including Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz (“thirtysomething,” “Nashville”), Max Brooks (“World War Z”), and Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”) were not able to add any more depth than a videogame, and Matt Damon’s talent and charisma can only take his one-dimensional character so far, but the real star here is director Yimou Zhang, whose gift for visual imagery is always a pleasure to behold. In the grand tradition of Cecil B. DeMille or Busby Berkeley, his eye for epic scale, pageantry, and battle is superb. Blue-armored female soldiers leap off ledges to fight the Tao-Tie via military-grade bungee cords. Two interlopers are suddenly surrounded by a storm of red arrows, shot to keep them at the center of a perfect circle. A soldier accused of having a bow “not to the level of your skill” demonstrates what it — and he — can do with three arrows shot at once, one to adjust the trajectory of a tossed bowl and other two to pin it to a column. The film has no dialog about trust or what it means to risk your life, whether for money or for your community, no bromantic banter, and no discovery of the surprising secret to defeating the animals that comes close to the power of the endless row of faces, resolute, honorable, and determined it to whatever it takes to fight the Tao-Tie.

NOTE: Matt Damon and co-star Andy Lau both played the same character in the American and Chinese versions of the film that in the US was called “The Departed.” The Chinese version was “Infernal Affairs” and both are excellent.

Parents should know that this film includes extended military vs. monsters violence with many characters wounded and killed and disturbing images, arrows, spears, and explosions. While it features strong, brave female soldiers and officers and tries to balance the skill and courage of the Chinese and western characters, it is still disturbing to see in 2017 a movie where the indigenous people cannot solve the problem until the European arrives. You may wish to read the director’s statement on this issue.

Family discussion: Were William and Lin Mae alike? How did they earn each other’s trust?

If you like this, try: “House of the Flying Daggers” and “Curse of the Golden Flower”

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3D Action/Adventure Epic/Historical Fantasy Movies -- format

Coming to Theaters: February 2017

Posted on February 1, 2017 at 3:13 pm

Happy February! The movies this month start off slowly because the first weekend is the Super Bowl, but we have some very promising films coming to theaters after that, including three high-profile sequels on February 10 and two films from rising star Dane DeHaan. Some I am especially looking forward to:

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 3
“The Comedian” Robert De Niro plays a stand-up comic struggling with personal and professional challenges.

“The Space Between Us” Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson star in a love story about an ordinary teenager and the boy she loves, who was born to an astronaut mother and has just come to earth for the first time.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 10

“The LEGO Batman Movie” The folks from “The LEGO Movie” are back with a spin-off and I full expect that everything in it will be awesome!

“Fifty Shades Darker” The saga of the B&D power couple continues.

“John Wick 2” Keanu Reeves returns as the hired killer who can’t stay retired.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 17

“Fist Fight” Charlie Day plays a teacher who is not at all prepared to stand up to Ice Cube, who has promised to beat him up.

“The Great Wall” This grand historical fantasy epic has Matt Damon leading an army of mercenaries in ancient China.

“A Cure For Wellness” An ambitious young executive (Dane DeHaan) is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from an idyllic but mysterious “wellness center” at a remote location in the Swiss Alps but soon suspects that the spa’s miraculous treatments are not what they seem.

“A United Kingdom” David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike star in the true story of an African prince who married a commoner from London in the 1940’s, creating family and geopolitical controversy.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 24
“Tulip Fever” An artist falls for a young married woman (Alicia Vikander) while he’s commissioned to paint her portrait during the Tulip mania of 17th century Amsterdam. The cast includes Christoph Waltz, Zach Galifianakis, Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan. (Note: Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan also co-star in the upcoming fantasy “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”)

“Get Out” Audiences at Sundance loved this terrifying new horror film written by Jordan Peele.

“Rock Dog” All-star voice talent including Luke Wilson, JK Simmons, Lewis Black, Matt Dillon, and Kenan Thompson are featured in this second animated story in three months about singing animals.

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Opening This Month

Trailer: Matt Damon in “The Great Wall”

Posted on August 20, 2016 at 11:46 pm

Screenwriters Max Brooks (“World War Z”), Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton” and the upcoming “Star Wars” movie “Rogue One”), Marshall Herskovitz (“thirtysomething,” “Nashville”) are part of the team behind this epic historical drama about the building of The Great Wall in China.

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