Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"THE MAN WITH THE FISTS OF IRON"
Set in 19th-century feudal China, this is the somewhat incomprehensible story of how a shipwrecked American slave-turned-blacksmith (RZA) is saved by the emperor's emissary, Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), and, in turn, uses his metallurgical skill to help the hedonistic British mercenary recover a stolen shipment of the governor's gold. As the prologue explains, "When it comes to money, things get funny."
The brave blacksmith adores a pretty prostitute, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), who works for the madam (Lucy Liu), an influential force since everything of importance in Jungle Village seems to occur in her Pink Blossom brothel. "Men have always held the power," she tells her lethal lovelies, "but power is a flexible mistress."
Meanwhile, the local clans are at war. Villainous Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and his formidable henchman Bronze Lion (Cung Le) are on the rampage, along with duplicitous Poison Dagger (Daniel Wu), and WWE's David Bautista plays impervious Brass Body. The only point on which all the assassins agree is that the legendary local Cantonese spareribs are "spicy." Filled with adroitly choreographed kung-fu, wire-work and hand-to-hand combat, this is obviously a vanity project inspired by the corny Shaw Brothers' movies of RZA's youth, like "Fists of Double K" and "The Godfathers of Hong Kong." And Pam Grier, star of 1970s Blaxploitation movies, appears as the blacksmith's mother in a flashback.
The music megastar grew up as Robert Fitzgerald Diggs and led eight of his unconventional Staten Island cohorts to success in the music business in the '90s. After scoring "Kill Bill: Vol. 1," he enlisted the support of Quentin Tarantino for this highly stylized spoof, which RZA co-scripted with "Hostel" director Eli Roth, incoherently combining the Chinese wuxia format with a Japanese jidaigeki itinerant peasant/craftsman/samurai concept.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Man with the Iron Fists" is a ferocious 5, filled with blood-spurting and limb-hacking.
Remember how in "Toy Story" the toys came to life? Now, video arcade characters come to life.
At Litwak's Arcade, demolition expert Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) dreams of gaining respect and acceptance, like the good guy with a magic hammer known as Fix-It Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer), whose repair skills make him a hero to the Nicelanders. Having been a smashing bad guy for 30 years, Ralph confesses his secret at his weekly "Bad-Anon" 12-step support group. But Ralph's aspirations are thwarted until he visits Game Central Station, a huge surge-protector terminal, where he embarks on a personal quest that takes him through multiple digital gaming generations. Despite the dire warning, "If you die outside your own game, you don't regenerate -- ever," Ralph is determined to prove that just because he was programmed to be evil that doesn't mean he can't overcome that to become what he really desires.
Subversively scripted by Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston ("Cedar Rapids") and directed by "Simpsons" Emmy-winning Rich Moore, this computer-animated 3D feature recalls many video games of yesteryear as Ralph befriends 9-year-old Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman), a feisty girly "glitch" from the candy-colored, anime-influenced cart-racing game "Sugar Rush Speedway," and grapples with fearless Sgt. Tamora Jean Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch), leading her squad against extraterrestrial computer viruses known as Cy-Bugs in the hi-def, hyper-violent "Hero's Duty." Along the way, hot-tempered Ralph accidentally hatches a rogue Cy-Bug invader that clings to him as he escapes from one game to another and threatens to obliterate the entire Arcade.
Disney's art department has created visually dazzling, distinctively retro worlds for each of these individual electronic encounters, and Henry Jackman's energetic score includes eclectic selections from R&B star Rihanna, classic Kool & the Gang and electronica artist Skrillex, among others.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Wreck-It Ralph" revs up to a wired, inventive 8. Obviously, the more familiar you are with the glossy game culture, the more you'll enjoy the nostalgic "in" jokes.
"THE OTHER SON"
The concept of babies switched at birth is not original. Think of "The Prince and the Pauper" and Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors." But French-Jewish filmmaker Lorraine Levy adds a new twist: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In Tel Aviv when an 18-year-old musician, Joseph Silbur (Jules Sitruk), tries to enlist in an elite Army unit and undergoes the requisite physical exam, there's a problem. A blood test reveals that he cannot possibly be the biological son of his high-ranking Israeli soldier father, Alon (Pascal Elbe), and French-born physician mother, Orith (Emmanuelle Devos). Apparently, right after he was born in Haifa during the 1991 Gulf War, there was a hospital evacuation because of incoming Iraqi SCUD missiles. That's when Joseph was inadvertently switched with Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi), the newborn son of a Palestinian engineer/auto mechanic, Said (Khalifa Natour), and a West Bank housewife, Leila (Areen Omari).
Co-written by Nathalie Saugeon, Noam Fitoussi and director Lorraine Levy, this sensitive family drama delves into how the teenagers and their respective parents react to the news. Deeply into denial, both fathers are reluctant, yet the warm-hearted mothers eventually arrange a socially awkward meeting between their entangled families, as conciliatory curiosity about their "other" son triumphs over resentment of their personal predicament.
Educated in Paris and preparing to enter medical school, Yacine seems to adjust the best, although his virulently anti-Semitic brother, Bilal (Mahmood Shalabi), is furious that their family has been unwittingly nurturing a Jew. Joseph is stunned and deeply hurt when his rabbi informs him that, although he's been circumcised and Bar Mitzvah'd, he's not Jewish unless he goes through
a complicated conversion process. Yet, showing remarkable maturity, Joseph realizes his talent and passion for music are inherited from his Arabic father.
The performances are touching and convincing, as the multinational cast gently and subtly conveys an upbeat, optimistic message that adroitly skirts sentimentality.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Other Son" -- in French, Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles -- is a compelling, emotional 8, exploring many facets of self-identity.