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Sparks Fly in ‘Grandmaster’; ‘World’s End’; ‘Next’: Film

'The Grandmaster'
Tony Leung Chiu Wai as Yip Man in "The Grandmaster." Yip Man is known as the man who trained Bruce Lee. Source: The Weinstein Company via Bloomberg

Aug. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Wong Kar Wai’s martial-arts romance “The Grandmaster” is a long series of fights, exquisitely choreographed and hypnotically shot in snow, in watery courtyards under heavy rain (which brings Pina Bausch to mind), in beautiful rooms that are beautifully destroyed.

The picture is no less aching than Wong’s hyper-romantic 2000 masterpiece, “In the Mood for Love,” which also starred Tony Leung, now in his early 50s.

The story purports to be based on the life of Ip Man, who in his later years became Bruce Lee’s teacher. But no life ever went by so gorgeously, or played out against such a lush string soundtrack, with a little “Casta Diva” and a little Ennio Morricone thrown in.

Wong’s genius for overheated, overstuffed glamour brings to mind the demented movies that Josef von Sternberg made with Marlene Dietrich in the 1930s, which is when “The Grandmaster” begins, in the southern Chinese city of Foshan.

It continues through the Japanese invasion and the war and on into Hong Kong in the 1950s. The dialogue -- mainly exchanges of gnomic and/or metaphorical wisdom about kung fu -- might feel leaden if the picture were less mesmerizing.

The woman Ip Man falls in love with is Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang), daughter of the northern Chinese grandmaster. Their moment of electricity occurs in the middle of hand-to-hand combat. The voltage is off the charts.

“The Grandmaster,” from the Weinstein Company, is playing in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto. Rating: **** (Seligman)

‘World’s End’

A one-two punch half lager-drenched reunion flick and half sci-fi camp, “The World’s End” is the final round of a genre-mashing trilogy from Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright.

I hit my limit at two.

Perhaps overloved by cultish fans and critics alike, the Pegg-Wright comedies “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” had their delights, mostly by way of sneak attack.

But the broadly comic “World’s End” had me feeling like a grumpy interloper at someone else’s raucous reunion.

You might want to stop reading here if you’ve managed to avoid the ubiquitous TV trailers that reveal the mid-movie twist.

“World’s End” begins as a boys-night-out quest in which five middle-aged mates from the British suburbs reconvene to finish the pub crawl that went uncompleted back in 1990.

Leading the charge is Gary (Pegg, who co-wrote with director Wright), an alcoholic man-child still wearing the Sisters of Mercy T-shirt and black trench coat of his Goth youth.

Grow Up

The rest of the gang (Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan) have long since gotten on with adulthood.

“World’s End” deftly toys with bromantic conventions, initially stocking the party with crude jokes, old grudges, betrayals and booze.

But even arrested adolescents can’t go home again, especially when the old neighborhood has been overtaken by outer-space body-snatchers.

The left-turn switch to sci-fi comedy at least stalls the encroaching sentimentality of the movie’s first half, and the boldness of the trick is temporarily invigorating.

But the gimmick quickly comes to feel as smug and self-satisfied as any drunken brawler, and Pegg’s in-your-face performance grates, whether he’s bemoaning lost youth or ripping heads off robots.

“The World’s End,” from Focus Features, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2 (Evans)

‘You’re Next’

Heroes are scarcer than corpses (and unlikely laughs) in “You’re Next,” a giddy, blood-soaked indie chiller that slips more sideways ingenuity into its hidebound genre than any five of this summer’s big-budget blockbusters.

Director Adam Wingard, with a deadpan, knowing script by Simon Barrett, employs all the usual don’t-go-down-to-the-basement cliches, then rewards seen-it-all audiences with a satisfying slap. Or two.

Gathering at their remote estate for a 35th wedding anniversary, the Davisons are loaded with wealth and vitriol. Verbal arrows ruin dinner before real ones announce the start of a bloody home invasion.

Three animal-masked killers, gruesomely reducing the number of Davisons and assorted significant others, provide the requisite gasps, but “You’re Next” finds its bullseye in the dark humor of familial ruthlessness and sibling rivalry.

Even under attack, brothers bicker. “I’m the fastest,” insists the eldest. “But I’ve got a [bleeping] arrow in my back.”

“You’re Next,” from Lionsgate, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *** (Evans)


What the Stars Mean:

***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and New York Weekend.

To contact the writers on the story: Greg Evans at gregeaevans@yahoo.com. and Craig Seligman at cseligman@mindspring.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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