Hieronymus Bosch: Touched By the Devil centers on a group of art historians helping to set up an exhibit of 16th Century artist Hieronynus Bosch's paintings at the Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch, the city in the Netherlands where Bosch grew up at. Director Pieter Van Huystee avoids turning the doc into a biography of Bosch by not including much info about him beyond the significance of his paintings. The modicum of drama can be found in the experts' meticulous studies of each painting to determine around when it was painted and whether Bosch were actually the painter or perhaps it's the work of one or more of his students/followers. Any of the footage other than the experts studying the paintings feels boring and dull. More insight on Bosch himself would have been useful or at least something that hooks your attention. You will learn, though, how the ominous-looking owls in Bosch's paintings represented the devil, and how dark his paintings were in general. Who is Bosch? What was it about Bosch's life that made him paint such dark paintings? Which other artists might have been his inspiration? Those questions, among others, go unanswered, thereby making the doc less insightful for audience members who are unfamiliar with Bosch. At a running time of 1 hour and 27 minutes, Hieronymus Bosch is a mostly underwhelming, lethargic doc that leaves you with more questions than answers. It opens via Kino Lorber at Film Forum on Wednesday, July 27th. Ants on a Shrimp, the latest foodie doc, centers on the restaurant NOMA and how challenging it was to relocate from Copenhagen to Tokyo. René Redzepi, NOMA's owner/chef, uses local products on the menu, so it's a daunting task to come up with innovative dishes based on the culture of Japan in time for the restaurant's opening. Director Maurice Dekkers shows Redzepi learning how and where to find local mushrooms in a forest. He goes to a fish market where he purchases fresh local fish----and bumps into the famous Jiro Ono there, not surprisingly. The most engaging parts of the doc are when you watch Redzepi and his team of chefs create the interesting dishes with all of the unusual and bold combinations of ingredients. The fact that his employees make mistakes along the way, i.e. by overcooking something, is far from surprising. Ants on a Shrimp lacks the suspense and emotional punch found in a superior food-related doc, Kings of Pastry, or the insight and wonder found in Jiro Dreams of Sushi. On top of that, its musical score sounds awkwardly downbeat and repetitive. Given that we're in a Golden Age of Documentaries, Ants on a Shrimp is ultimately underwhelming and forgettable while suffering from style over substance. It opens via Sundance Selects at IFC Center. Can We Take a Joke? asks an vital, provocative question about the rights of free speech when it comes to comedy, in particular stand-up comedy, but its answers, while valid, aren't balanced enough to paint a fair picture of its topic. It's as though director Ted Balaker already decided on the conclusion before filming the doc, and then set out to prove the conclusion. Interviews with stand-up comedians like Lisa Lampanelli, Gilbert Gottfried, Adam Carolla, Jim Norton and Penn Jillette shed some light on what risks they took (and still take) to tell jokes about sensitive subject matters, i.e. rape. They argue that it's a right of freedom of speech for a comedian to make any kind of jokes that they want, and that talk comedy should have no boundaries. Goerge Carlin once said, "I think it's the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately." The fact that a comedian would be arrested for going too far with a joke is alarming and unjust, but, conversely, don't audiences have a right to be offended if that's how they truly feel? Can We Take a Joke? doesn't really delve into that question which would have added more insight. As such, it remains incomplete and unbalanced. It opens via Samuel Goldwyn Films at Cinema Village.
League of Gods
Lei (Jacky Heung), Er Lang Shen (Xiaoming Huang), and Nezmah (Wen Zhang), go on a quest to find the Sword of Light which they hope to use in order to save the Middle Kingdom from the nefarious, tyrannical King Zhou (Tony Leung Ka-Fai). They each use their superpowers as they fights their obstacles along the way. Fan Bingbing plays King Zhou's concubine, and Jet Li shows up as Jiang Ziya, a military strategist/sorcerer.
League of Gods, at its core, is a dazzling, zany and exhilirating visual spectacle. Director Koan Hui moves the pace along very quickly, and includes just the right amount of exposition when it's needed. The action set pieces feel thrilling, especially in 3D. A particularly rousing battle is when the heroes face off a giant centipede---its teeth look as scary as the creature from Alien. When it comes to the plot, there's not much that's surprising or memorable, but the lively characters more than make up for that. One of the most delightful and fun characters is the baby Nezmah who provides some comic relief. The visual effects along with the set and costume designes have plenty of charms of their own and are breathtaking to behold on the big screen. It's even safe to say that League of Gods is more dazzling and a far better blockbuster than Gods of Egypt.
Fortunately, the screenplay by Cherryyoko and Samson Sun never takes itself too seriously, nor does it have any bad laughs or overstay its welcome like the overlong Gods of Egypt. In other words, it's pure escapist fun in under 2 hours. Legendary special effects creator Ray Harryhausen would have had a field day doing the visual effects for this film if it were made back when he were alive.