Love of Foreign Films A Lunch Community <![CDATA[ Savage, Cruel Mayhem....A Thematic Yakuza Film That is Not for the Squeamish]]> Sonatine” to “Brother“ and on to “Battle Royale” and “Blood and Bones”, the man truly knows how to deliver a gritty, violent and artistic motion picture. I realize that I am a little late here with my review for “Outrage“ (aka. Outrage: Way of the Yakuza), but since its sequel “Outrage Beyond” is looming in the horizon for an American release, I thought perhaps that a long overdue review would prepare me for my review of its sequel.

                    Takeshi Kitano and Kippei Shiina in "Outrage."

Kitano had created a no-nonsense, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it kind of deal” with his yakuza tale “Outrage”. Kitano stars, edits, writes and directs what feels like a collection of gangster clichés, and yet somehow, he makes it compelling, disturbing and quite frankly realistic. Kitano plays Otomo, who is a gunman for a mid-level boss named Ikemoto (Jun Kunimura) who is aligned with another mid-level boss named Murase (Renji Ishibashi) who is really not part of the larger yakuza family but who wants to vie for a position in the greater yakuza community. Murase runs the risk of losing it all as he deals with drugs and this is a no-no to the head of the larger yakuza family. Ikemoto begins to turn things to his advantage, as he begins to stir up trouble in the yakuza community. But everyone appears to have an agenda of their own, from the head yakuza to the lowly enforcer, everyone wants to outlive or get more control over a turf. What follows is a game of murder and betrayal as what is set into play is something that may leave only one man left standing.

                 Beat Takeshi as Otomo in ``Outrage.''

                Takashi Tsukamoto as Iizuka and Hideo Nakano as Kimura in ``Outrage.''

Beat Kitano is not reinventing the wheel here when it comes to yakuza films. He exploit’s the usual yakuza tropes and the story does fit into a mold that fits its premise. The film is all about double-crosses and plotting for one to get over the other. Insanely artistic in the portrayal of its violent themes, it does not feel exploitive at all, but rather the flow of the film becomes natural and authentic that the grisly images of violence becomes something that is the expression of a harsh reality. The plot is pretty standard and yet the themes it presents pretty much speak a lot for its violent screenplay. There are three themes that make the plot of “Outrage” much more layered than at first look. With the three acts of the film, the viewer is brought into the world of the yakuza and just how the rules are played within.

The first theme is the way the yakuza and the police force have formed a relationship. There is an ambiguous message as to how a corrupt detective can survive the turmoil that takes place within the yakuza simply by keeping a low-key profile and how he could work with them. The first themes is the study of how nature takes its course in the shifting of loyalties and the absence of such codes within the yakuza. It presents a lesson that can be applied in life, that one needs to be loyal to himself, otherwise the danger of being caught in the turmoil may become too risky. It is an expression as to how power can only can gained when one is willing to take it, after one secures his own order of loyalties. The third theme is just how the crime syndicates can have a huge political and cultural influence in Japan. It sends an ambiguous message that a crime syndicate will always remain intact for generations even after the bloodshed, betrayal and murder. It is almost as if it is saying that groups such as Sanno-Kai go through stages of calm order and disorder, as if to restructure itself with a new figurehead from time to time. The themes aren’t very nice but it does speak a very honest truth that applies in real life.

                     Beat Takeshi as Otomo and Soichiro Kitamura as Kan'nai in ``Outrage.''

                    Takeshi Kitano and Kippei Shiina in "Outrage."

With a cast that just grabs attention in its screenplay, “Outrage” may feel unoriginal on the outside, and yet the editing and the direction makes it quite a cinematic experience that makes one ponder the themes that lie within. The film is pretty visceral and brutal; as it shows several grisly smack downs such a chopstick in the ear, a dental drill assault, a creative way to try to decapitate someone and so forth. The film does have a lot of bloody images to express the ruthlessness of the yakuza, and while the effects have that B-movie appeal, the way the kills were executed did not appear cheap at all. Kitano does keep his storytelling pretty simple just so it could feel natural. The actor-director also does not hog all the spotlight as performers such as Kippei Shiina, Ryo Kase, Tetta Sugimoto had more screen time than Kitano himself. It was an expression as to how the world revolved around Kitano’s Otomo character was beyond his control, and that he could only try to ride out the waters set before him.

                 Beat Takeshi as Otomo in ``Outrage.''

“Outrage” is an extremely well-made motion picture. Kitano is deathly mysterious, the supporting characters actually took the lead in the film’s storytelling and the camera work by Katsumi Yangijima had that contemporary pizzazz that made Kitano’s editing and handling of the film’s more savage sequences have a lot of punch. I suppose, the film’s one flaw is the fact that the characters did not leave the viewer any choice as to who and what to root for, Otomo isn‘t that cruel or evil, and that is exactly what the film is trying to communicate. It is a deglamorized gangster tale that just makes a stand that crime really does not pay in the long run. It is a noble artistic approach that carries a very honest message with its endless string of attacks and retaliations. The film's meaning lies in what is not being told and such a life in a yakuza may hold nothing but meaningless violence. Recommended! [4 Out of 5 Stars]

                  Takeshi Kitano in "Outrage."

Poster art for "Outrage."  Poster art for "Outrage."

                                            File:Outrage-2010-poster.png]]> Mon, 5 Aug 2013 06:05:36 +0000
<![CDATA[ THE GUILLOTINES Cuts Its Own Head Off Right Out Of The Gate]]>
Period actioners can be a very tough vehicle to sell, especially when they’re loaded with characters.  Typically, the bigger the cast the longer the film has to be in order to have enough time for (a) establishing everyone’s identity, (b) giving each notable the necessary screen time to establish presence, and (c) allowing each of the principles to allow their respective thematic functions to be fulfilled.  One fine example of this is THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (an American retread of the Japanese 1954 original SEVEN SAMURAI): each character gets an introduction respective of the role he’ll play in the entire affair, and each character is given ample opportunity to develop a personality and some impactful ‘conclusion’ to his participation in it.
To the contrary, THE GUILLOTINES kinda/sorta tinkers in similar territory, but director Andrew Lau (whose career proves he knows better) traffics in all the wrong directorial choices.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters.  If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
At the height of the Qing Dynasty, THE GUILLOTINES were a secret brotherhood of royal assassins empowered by the Emperor to do his dark deeds: crush whatever rebellion may start in its tracks.  They’re outfitted with swords of the same name – flexible blades of steel that launch deadly rings with the power to decapitate their victims by the pull of a trigger – and, in using them, this medieval ‘Injustice League’ become an unstoppable force leaving only fear in their wake.  However, a villager known as Wolf (played by Xiaoming Huang) will prove their greatest challenge, forcing the team to take to the countryside in pursuit alongside an evil general who seeks only to see THE GUILLOTINES vanquished to history once and for all.
Usually, this kind of cinematic magic is the stuff I find myself curiously drawn to.  You’ve got a team of warriors once committed to a brand of justice only now beginning to question the choices they’ve made throughout the years.  You’ve got an idyllic period of history wherein mankind is starting to deal with larger issues of nobility and restraint.  Plus, you’ve got some fisticuffs and chases and swordplay to help propel the story forward.  Sadly, I hate to report that THE GUILLOTINES – with a script by no less than six contributors – feeling like a mash-up of one undeserved action piece after another.
Seriously, the film felt uneven from the get go with director Lau stringing along a big opening action showdown with edits coming so fast and so furious that it was nearly impossible to see much less figure out what was happening.  When a film only looks pretty in its opening scenes and no single character is given suitable opportunity to become something other than flickers of light and shadow on the screen, it becomes clear just how good looks can be deceiving.
And the rest of the film really gets no better.  There is some wonderfully John Ford style cinematography to the vast countryside that looks marvelous, but it’s all laid out with no reason to care about it and (worse) no prompting to care about the folks who live in it.  The plot is plagued by a weird “I have a dream” speech that ends in death (hello, Mr. Foreshadowing), and the story ends up relying so heavily on flashbacks to establish purpose that I began to wonder if it all shouldn’t have begun in a prequel of some sort.  In good period pieces, the action sequences evolve from the plot, but THE GUILLOTINES clearly have reversed those roles, with the storytellers believing that their paper thin idea is actually thick enough to justify the action.  Truth is: it isn’t.
The audience never cares about the men, or at least they’re not encouraged to until the 1:23:00 mark when the story is finally granted some modest emotional resonance.  Too little too late for this critic.
THE GUILLOTINES (aka “Xue di zi”) (2012) is produced by Media Asia Arts, Polyface Entertainment, Stellar Mega Films, and We Pictures.  DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled by Well Go USA.  As for the technical specifications, the picture looks and sounds mostly solid, though it’s replete with some curiously way-too-fast editing choices that makes me believe a vastly longer cut probably exists somewhere (a director’s cut?).  For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Mandarin-spoken-language release, and there’s either an English-dubbing track available or English subtitles.  Lastly, there’s a brief ‘making of’ feature and some cast and crew interviews – along with the theatrical trailer – for those inclined; I wasn’t.
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED.  There’s a fair amount of flash and sizzle incorporated into THE GUILLOTINES’ visual tapestry, but there isn’t enough narrative thread to pull it all together, and, yes, that’s a h-u-g-e disappointment.  One of the chief considerations in telling any story is that there be some relatable character at the center of it – someone to root for, someone to care about – but this splashy CGI-heavy period actioner has little heart except for the last reel.  The problem, then, becomes caring too little too late for all of it to do little more than end.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA provided me with a DVD copy of THE GUILLOTINES by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]> Mon, 29 Jul 2013 06:07:42 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Birth of Tai Chi According to Director Stephen Fung]]> Tai Chi Zero” and so I was very reluctant to continue on with this trilogy with his “Tai Chi Hero”. Honestly, I barely even remember the details of “Zero” going into “Hero”. The first two films were released within weeks of each other in China and the final chapter won’t be released until 2014. It does not end with a cliffhanger as with the first movie, but rather it does manage to give some closure to the devices and elements established in the first film. I suppose these first two films were meant to be the set up for the climactic final chapter, but given what I have seen in them, I am not even sure if I want to push through with it.

This film picks up where “Tai Chi Zero” had left off, as young Lu Chan (Jayden Yuan) is set to marry the grandmaster’s daughter, Yu-Niang (Angelbaby); a union pressed on them so that Lu Chan can learn their family’s signature kung-fu. Lu Chan needs to learn kung fu to restore his inner self, which had slowly been burned out because of the “Three Blossoms of the crown”, his horn-shaped birthmark that makes him an ala-Hulk Kung Fu master. Of course, there is tension between the two, as their marriage is birthed out of necessity rather than love. Despite this, Lu Chan begins to learn under the tutelage of Yu-Niang and her father (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) but things becomes a little complicated with the arrival of the Chen family’s eldest son, Zai Yang (William Feng) had returned and Yu-Niang’s childhood sweetheart, Ji-Zing (Eddie Peng) comes forth to bring chaos to the Chen family.



Not really sure how I feel about this film, since it is better than “Zero” and it did show restraint from the things that made the first flick a little too silly and annoying. Yes, the devices that made the first film feel like “Scott Pilgrim” and somewhat kind of Looney Tunes tempo were all still here, but the direction does keep them under control as it focuses on the development of its story. It takes on a more serious tone and the delivery is a little more stable this time around. The film goes forward with its story as it develops the roots of its characters and just how things were set to become. Themes of family, of tradition and progress, of skill vs. technology were brought forth to a common message of acceptance and understanding.

The Chen family secret and superstitions come into exposition, as the viewer learns the reasons why only family members may learn such skill. I did like the way the father-estranged son relationship came through to give the film some needed dramatic flow. The subplot was pretty decent to add some intricacies to its screenplay. William Feng and the always excellent Tony Leung Ka-Fai manages to break ground in developing their relationship, and it also helped to make things a little uneasy that Zai Yang may or may not be in cahoots with the bad guys. Feng performed well as a character with layers, and his mute, martial artist wife (played by Nikki Hsieh) gave his character much needed depth in the script. I know Hsieh was a little too underused, given her splendid screen charisma. I guess I felt that the film would’ve benefited more if it took its focus more on its stronger characters than the ones that should’ve been left in the sidelines.



Not to say that Jayden Yuan was horrible as the lead character, but the problem was, Yuan just could not hit that high note with Angel baby (seriously that’s her screen name). The two struggled to form that chemistry as rivals turned lovers, and they bickered more like brother and sister. I also have some issues with the way the villain was portrayed. Parts of the script did not help Eddie Peng, as he became a little too cartoonish of a bad guy. He comes off rather pathetic as a snot-nosed villain. Yeah, the film pitches a hint for his eventual return for revenge, but I did not care any more.

Now as for the action sequences and set pieces, the film does have its merit. Lu Chan’s training to his encounters with other adept masters come in the form of almost like a montage, but they were a way to quickly express his improvement as a novice to a full-fledged master. I did have an issue with the way that the assault on the village was staged, it felt a little too much on the stylized wirework to really generate any kind of intensity. It was a little sad that the major action set piece ended too early to really make a difference. The action here feels like a video game but I do think that the camera work kind of compensates for what it lacked (but just barely). Once Lu Chan and Yu-Niang goes into the final act, Jayden Yuan faces off with no other than martial arts legend Yuen Biao who plays the prince‘s butler Master Li. Their encounter was more built on more wirework and philosophy as they fight above a kitchen. Sammo Hung’s choreography does pay off but it just did not define what was at stake very well so it wasn’t a rousing encounter that it felt more like an exercise.

Stephen Fung’s “Tai Chi Hero” wasn’t a total loss I suppose; it actually made “Tai Chi Zero” much more tolerable now that I’ve seen where it was headed. It biggest flaw was the way it did not express emotion and it lacked a certain sense of urgency in its narrative. The film felt really built for the superficial audience as it tried so many things that did not work in the first movie. The moves should have that moment that would make my jaw drop, but they all felt rather inferior to its inspiration, “Kung Fu Hustle”. Not sure, for a “zero to hero” story to work, the character has to win over his audience so that they could cheer for him. Lu Chan just did not do that as he did not hit the bottom of the barrel to raise himself back up. The stakes felt a little too mild and there wasn’t anything too personal to make it all work. Given the technology and resources, this movie should’ve been a lot better. The filmmakers did not make a failure, but certainly not a success either.
Rent it. [3- Out of 5 Stars]

   ]]> Mon, 29 Jul 2013 04:14:47 +0000
<![CDATA[ A More Authentic, More Human Portrayal on the Life of Bruce Lee's Teacher]]> Ip Man" collaboration brought superficial, crowd-pleasing, entertaining action but fails to bring forth the man behind its story. It was more of Donnie being Donnie than Master Ip. Wong Kar-Wai’s “The Grandmaster” was an artful presentation that depicted how the principles of martial arts could be applied to life applications. It was a good film, but it didn’t hit the right stuff to form a biopic about Master Ip. The Wing Chun master also inspired a TV series, a prequel “The Legend is Born” and even a stage drama in Singapore. I suppose these are all attempts to create another folk hero for Chinese audiences that brings people to theater seats.

Well, despite its somewhat cheesy title, Herman Yau’s “Ip Man: The Final Fight” may be the best movie in this film of fictional biographies. This time, Master Ip is not an romanticized ass kicker or an action hero, but rather, Yau instead focuses on the humanity that is within Master Ip. It feels rather more authentic, natural that it even gets the look of Hong Kong right during this period from the late 40’s onto the 60’s.


Ip Man (Anthony Wong) is a struggling kung fu teacher in Hong Kong after he lost his fortune in Foshan. Here, the man meets the students who would make an impact in his life (played by Gillian Chung, Jiang Luxia, Timmy Hung, and Marvel Chow). Issues of poverty surround them, but they all manage to come together as some kind of family. One student is a cop named Tang Sing (Jordan Chan) and despite his instinct to be true to the principles taught him, hardship often lead him to take bribes. Yau seems to lean towards the portrayal of real-life Hong Kong during this time, than making Master Ip some kind of Huo Yuan Jia. He humanizes the narrative by illuminating his viewers with Ip Man’s values and principles, and how his story could paint a picture of the issues of British-colonized Hong Kong.

It was an approach that certainly felt more authentic with its simplicity. It carried themes as to how the teacher teaches his students, but a good teacher also learns from them. Master Ip’s principles come in the form of his response to the world around him. He is shown as a man of peace, that he would only engage in combat when truly needed. I know it may seem a little cliché, but the way it was executed was well-conceived, as his responses often come from the form of a loved one, his wife, Wing Shing (Anita Yuen) and later on, an illiterate singer that he befriends (Zhou Chuchu). His influence in the lives of his students also come into bear. They seek to stay true to his teachings, and yet, there would be times that would test their own principles. Students may stray and some may stay true, not for the lack of trying but merely their needs. These things were brought more into the light with the characters of Tang Sing and Wong Tung (played by Jordan Chan and Marvel Chow) as they took more of the spotlight in the story’s exposition. Yes, the screenplay may feel a little fragmented and some details were lacking, but with the inclusion of the voice over supposedly narrated by Master Ip’s son, it does strike a note as a biopic.



Anthony Wong carries most of the film’s burden as Master Ip. He plays a more humble, older, low-key portrayal that makes him feel more real. Those who’ve seen photos of the renowned master know that he does not look like Donnie Yen the action star or the heartthrob, Tony Leung, and Wong makes his appearance much closer to the man he is set to portray. Wong also does quite well in the action sequences, and they were used to express the values that he made his foundation. His duel with another Master (Eric Tsang who plays Master Ng) expressed a lot of the principles and the movements of the Wing Chun. The moves also felt more realistic, and spoke more to the spirit of Wing Chun, unlike Donnie Yen’s more flamboyant approach with the Sammo Hung rendered fight choreography. As expected, the film has a fair amount of students vs. students and students against masters encounters to keep the film from becoming too dramatic.

Not to say that the film did not do its part for showmanship, since the climactic final duel between Ip Man and the man called “Dragon” (Xiong Xin-Xin) may feel a little more stylized than most of the action scenes, but it proved its worth for an exclamation point. It was a nice approach to also include the ravaging of 1960’s Typhoon Wanda into the encounter. Yes, the martial arts skills come in full display, as a lion dance becomes a free-for-all with a villainous Master Ngai (Ken Lo) shows his stuff amid all the wooden poles. The fight sequences were well balanced and placed, as the more the movie went, the more exciting the encounters became. It was also a nice approach at humor when a journalist exaggerated the reaches of Ip Man’s skills, as if to make fun of what the public sees as superficial entertainment.


Before the film’s close, there is a reference to Bruce Lee, without the curious mention of his name. I am not sure, but it seemed to say that Lee was a self-promoter and would do anything to promote himself with the use of Wing Chun and Ip Man for personal gain. I may be mistaken, but the portrayal of Lee is telling; he embraces fame while Master Ip, the superior master is content with just standing amid a crowd. His more humble nature against Lee’s more advantageous approach. Herman Yau’s Ip Man does not idealize him nor makes him into an action hero, but instead, he focuses on his humility, discipline and the ability to be true to his values. I am not sure, the title “the Final Fight” may be catchy but it feels a little out of place for a movie that sought to bring forth the humble Master Ip. Highly Recommended! [4 Out of 5 Stars]

 ]]> Sun, 28 Jul 2013 04:23:38 +0000
<![CDATA[ Operation NEW WORLD, That Is]]>
I have a long love affair with gangster pictures that stretches back a few decades.  American cinema enthusiasts may think differently, but, for me, there’s no better traditional gangster-style pictures produced anywhere in the world these days than the ones coming out of Korea.  Perhaps it’s the fact that there are so many triads from competing nations over there that I find the stories more interesting.  Perhaps it’s just that being removed from the shackles of the American studio system these foreign releases tend to feel more legitimate, more authentic, and more thrilling.  Perhaps it’s that these releases tend to be more auteur-inspired character pieces than anything being done anywhere else.  Whatever the reason, I went into NEW WORLD really looking forward to the experience.  I came out, however, not as enamored with it as I hoped I would’ve been.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters.  If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Ja-sung Lee (played by the impressive Lee Jung-jae) is a deep cover police operative who’s spent the past ten years of his life climbing the corporate ladder within the Triad establishment.  His boss – police chief Kang (Min-sik Choi) – has promised him over and over again that he’s working on a method of extracting Lee from his life with the mob, that he needs him to just complete ‘one more mission’ for the team, and that his life will change.  But as the power structure within the criminal organization starts to shift dramatically, Kang realizes that he and his man has never been this close before; and if they play their cards right, they can make moves of their own that might just rip the gangland apart.
As is often the case in crime stories of this nature, nothing is quite what it seems, and solutions are always hard to come by.  Still, Ja-sung stays committed, even though he knows that his wife and the future of his unborn child rest in his chief’s experienced hands.

Perhaps that’s my issue here: writer/director Park Hoon-Jung went to great pains to paint NEW WORLD as his epic exploration of crime and a life of crime, but somewhere along the way he ended up essentially delivering something that audiences have seen before (and often before, especially from Korea).  As much as I wanted to find something fresh, something vibrant, and something new in there, I just didn’t, and methinks that weighed heavily on my mind, much the same way Ja-sung can’t shake the pressure holding him down.  It’s plenty stylish.  It’s well staged and wonderfully shot.  But it’s also bloated (way too long at 135 minutes) and more than a bit sluggish.
Certainly, Min-sik and Lee are in top form as the officers constantly waging a battle against the kingpins that they’re destined to lose.  The two are given some terrific material (Park’s script certainly hits all of the right buttons, if not a bit too predictably), and there’s even two other equally impressive performances from Seong-Woong Park as menacing criminal overlord Joong-ju and Jeong-min Hwang as the slightly demented boss, Jung.  Still, the film can’t quite escape it’s heavy “been there, done that” vibe.
At the end of the picture, one comes to realize that the story is all about allegiance – how we build them, how we maintain them, and how far we’re willing to go to preserve them.  All of that is handled crisply when the opportunities are presented; had they not been so far spaced out in between the moments of clarity, I think I would’ve definitely enjoyed this one much more than I did.  As it stands, NEW WORLD didn’t come off all that ‘new’ to this reviewer.

NEW WORLD (2013) is produced by Next Entertainment World, Inc. and Sanai Pictures Co., Ltd.  DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through Well Go USA.  For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Korean spoken language release with English subtitles available.  As for the technical specifications, Park Hoon-Jung continues to set the bar immeasurably with impressive sights and sounds; I’m even recommend that the film is worth further study by film school nuts and nerds.  As is often the case when these foreign releases find distribution on American shores, this disc boasts no significant special features save for a five-minute ‘making of’ short, and brief photo gallery, and the theatrical trailer.
RECOMMENDED.  As much as I wanted to love NEW WORLD, I only ended up liking it, and, even then, I only liked it modestly.  It’s far too long, staged as an epic with unnecessarily drawn out cinematography over its massive set pieces, and there’s very little (if any) emotional attachment to its characters.  In fact, one could make the case that it’s mostly a clinical, academic exercise on Park Hoon-Jung’s part when it should’ve been more about these men.  There’s even an all-too-brief few minute coda tacked on after what audiences are led to believe is the closing scene that, narratively, should’ve been on the front end; but, for the sake of art, the director pasted it on the end … like a figurative band-aid or something.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA provided me with a DVD copy of NEW WORLD by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]> Thu, 18 Jul 2013 22:51:55 +0000
<![CDATA[ THE TOWER Is A Disaster Of Epic Proportions!]]>
In some corners, I can’t offer enough praise for the films coming out of South Korea.  It used to be – back when I just started exploring their flicks – they had the market on quality, pulpy actioners featuring slickly dressed guys who were quick with a gun and quicker with a steely glance.  Not long after that, their studios amped up their comedy exports, but, as is often the case with humor, those works didn’t translate as easily as one would’ve hoped for.  Then, Korean directors charged to the forefront with quality dramas – social commentaries confronting the loss of a national identity brought on by a new generation of young ones – and even some cutting edge adult-themed semi-erotic masterpieces.
Well, throughout the 1970’s, American films blazed a trail with the great disaster picture, and, thankfully, it’s finally found purchase in South Korea in the form of THE TOWER, a stunning tour-de-force that quite frankly is about as close to perfection as I think you can get.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters.  If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then this may not be for you!  Instead, I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
It’s Christmas Eve – the heart of the silly season – and everyone’s wearing a smile inside Seoul’s ultra-chic, ultra-glamorous twin-tower high-rise, Tower Sky: it’s a pair of skyscrapers – joined by a glass sky-bridge – that houses elite tenants, restaurants, and shops.  However, something goes unthinkably wrong, putting scores of people in great danger as one of the buildings is struck by an out-of-control helicopter, igniting a blaze that traps residents and guests alike!
Like those American films of the 70’s I referenced above, THE TOWER has a bit of everything in the people department.  There are easily a dozen stories involving the wealthy residents and/or the middle class workers and/or the firefighting heroes who respond to the call to danger.  Every single character here is presented in the midst of some minor crisis, the brunt of which will all be forced to a head during a magical Christmas Eve celebration.  Of course – as is often the case – it’s the reveling in the excess that inevitably causes the disaster that fuels the greater action/drama about to unfold, and it’s all handled with tremendous grace under pressure by the accomplished film veterans (behind the camera and before it) of South Korea.
In fact, THE TOWER is exactly the kind of human drama America’s Hollywood used to make before bloated special effects and CGI-enhanced heroics became the norm.  It’s a shame that studios on this side of the ocean appear so disinterested in human characters – a little girl wishing his daddy to have a wife, a veteran firefighter who’ll sacrifice any measure of personal happiness in order to save others, an elderly widower trying to find love again, a pregnant woman being the only one who’ll stop and help others in distress – because there’s far more heart, love, and soul in this TOWER than I’ve seen in anything American-made this year (or last, for that matter).  This is exactly the kind of Herculean effort I’d pay twice to see up on the big screen where it belonged with its authentic people in crisis doing what’s necessary to survive as their very high-tech civilization begins falling apart all around them.
Granted, disaster films have always had a reputation with some as being ‘easy entertainment’ – the premise is practically founded on investment with characters and then requiring audiences to care about them.  But when it’s all done and delivered as perfectly as is THE TOWER, then that’s a cause for celebration, indeed.
THE TOWER is produced by CJ Entertainment, and DVD distribution is being handled by the same.  As for the technical specifications … wow!  The film delivers sights and sounds of the highest order with some increasingly spectacular cinematography and some frenetic special effects work.  For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Korean spoken language release with English subtitles OR there’s an English-dubbing track available.  Lastly, there’s a handful of special features, including some deleted scenes (storywise, nothing much is missing) and two production featurettes (each about ten minutes) that deal with bringing this wonderful disaster flick to life.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  Yes, some might dismiss it as entirely formulaic, but it’s a formula of the highest order.  Once it gets to the disaster, THE TOWER is a non-stop adrenaline rush of epic proportions.  It presses all of the right buttons – personal stories of poignancy, professional stories of heroism against all odds – in just the right places.  And it doesn’t hurt that it’s overflowing with impressive stunt work and eye-popping special effects to keep every viewer on the edge of his or her seat!  This is exactly the kind of opus expects from South Korea, folks, so sit up and take notice.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at CJ Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of THE TOWER by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]> Mon, 8 Jul 2013 22:23:26 +0000
<![CDATA[ Korean "Towering Inferno" Has Heat Despite Some Cold Areas in its Screenplay]]> Sector 7”, but I guess I was curious how director Kim Ji-Hoon would fare in a disaster movie. “The Tower” is a film that has been inspired by the classic “The Towering Inferno” or at least it appears to be as such. As with most disaster movies such as “Tidal Wave”, “2012”, “Volcano” and “The Day After Tomorrow”, this film takes a simple premise such as a tale of heroism and sacrifice into a display of special effects.

The set up of the movie is pretty pedestrian. A high-rise building that houses the rich and new lottery winners. Despite the money put in its construction, it was made for superficial reasons and was hardly made with ‘practicality’ in mind. During a Christmas party, an accident causes the huge towering skyscraper to turn into an inferno as the heroic firefighters mobilize to save the lives of those within.


At the film's first act, the viewer is taken for a ride to establish who the main characters would be and just who they are and how they move around their lives. As such the film does fall under the areas of cliché, the screenplay doesn’t exactly go for something more imaginative seeing as how there would be a lot of characters in the film. However, the film does take the central focus on certain characters, while allowing the rest of the characters to be caricatures. You know exactly who would be fodder and who would play a bigger part in the script. I know this wasn’t exactly a bad thing, but it does somehow already call its shots early. It does become predictable, despite the fact that one wouldn’t exactly know how the central characters would play into its screenplay.

Elements of brotherhood and family were introduced in the way the firemen and the building employees interacted. The film also injects a social commentary about the wealthy, political power, human error and arrogance and persons of authority. It touches upon but the film does not really go that far into the areas that would’ve made it much more compelling. I thought it was a weakness of the script to introduce such things and yet play it safe. I know the movie probably wanted to easily relate to the viewer in establishing a look to the characters’ personal lives, but really, the characters weren’t all that different from the ones we’ve seen in other films. The film does serve up a lot of emotional scenes, and certain things connected, but the direction was a little too unpolished with its bouts with tonal shifts. The film puts in some touches of humor and they felt misplaced at certain areas in the plot. The comedy did become a little annoying, and I thought it hurt the pacing.



Once the film goes into the actual disaster, it does take off. It then takes its focus on the firemen and the central characters. “Ladder 49” and even “Armageddon” comes to mind with some scenes that felt like a homage to “Towering Inferno” and “Backdraft”. If one wants to talk special effects, the film does do a great job. It was easy to feel the urgency and the perils of the situation, as the shots truly did make one feel that it was an inferno. The set designs were done in a way to exude the lifestyle of the rich until the towering structure became something very close to hell. I thought that the movie did a good job in animating the damage to the structure and how certain laws of physics were made to make the disaster feel more realistic. It was a film about the race against time, with elements that feel like a chase movie with the fire close behind.

There were key scenes that made the movie work, while some became overly predictable (the remote and so forth). Despite the flaws in the script, the performances were decent and some were even good. Sol Kyung-Gu (Silmido) did a credible job in his portrayal as the captain of the firemen. Kim Sang Kyung played the single father who has un-proclaimed feelings for Son Ye-Jin’s (Open City) character, and despite the clichés of their relationship, it made some plot set ups much more effective. Ahn Sung-Ki (Arahan) was a little underused in the script as his dealings with the “commissioner” (Kwon Tae-Won) only made moderate narrative impact in the film’s first half. In-Kwon Kim played one supporting character that easily won me over with his antics both in its dramatic and funny moments. Cha In-Pyo plays the owner of the structure and who stands to lose everything. Unfortunately, his character made a small impact in the film’s overall script. 


Lately, I have noticed that the majority of recent Korean and Chinese films often try to emulate Hollywood,  and “The Tower” is such a film that could’ve been much more if the filmmakers wanted to go a little bit further. While I thought it could’ve been better, the script was able to get certain points across, such as the definition of sacrifice and just how ‘smaller’ people tend to lose more in the face of such tragedy. It wasn’t afraid to show an ugly reality about the rich and the poor, the ones with political power and the ones who can considered as the ‘grunts’ of public servitude. It also manages to express a thought about pets and that they should not be more important than actual people. “The Tower” was an entertaining film that served up moderate suspense and impressed with special effects. The screenplay just needed a lot of smoothing over, as certain tonal shifts proved to be bothersome. There were some scenes which were unintentionally hilarious, and it hampered its flow. No, “The Tower” isn’t a bad movie, but rather an entertaining one among the ranks of commercial disaster movies. I do think it was better than “The Towering Inferno” and as an intended remake(?), it succeeds. Mild Recommendation, Rent it First [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]

 ]]> Fri, 5 Jul 2013 14:08:21 +0000
<![CDATA[ HERO Is As Hero Does!]]>
Unlike many other critics I know and correspond with, I tend to struggle with traditional martial arts movies.  It isn’t that I don’t like or I don’t find them particularly entertaining because that’s far from the truth.  Rather, I tend to think that my ‘disassociation’ from them thematically is that I just don’t identify with the ‘struggle’ to learn or master a particular fighting style.  Maybe that’s because, growing up, I didn’t much partake in sports regularly, so I don’t always see the fascination with mastering one’s physique in the same way.  However, when a martial arts film comes along that has a winning story and actors with some impressive command of their fisticuffs AND the ability to muster a solid screen presence, then I’m usually hooked.
If you’re here reading this modest review for TAI CHI HERO and you’re a bit lost, maybe you haven’t seen the first chapter, TAI CHI ZERO (or TAI CHI 0 as some sites have it listed)?  You might want to watch that one before you adventure into this installment, otherwise you’re not going to legitimately appreciate these crazy, zany characters and what they add uniquely to this crazy, zany world.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters.  If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then this may not be for you!  Instead, I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
This sequel to TAI CHI ZERO – actually, it’s part two of a planned trilogy – continues to depict the adventures and misadventures involving the people of Chen Village, masters of Chen-style kung fu – benefits from a stronger thematic story focusing on brotherhood, family, and redemption … and it also benefits from some sharper editing that slowed down small portions of the first film.  Working from a story by Kuo-fu Chen, director Sammo Hung serves up another helping for fans of traditional martial arts films as well as their friends and family who get dragged along to the flick not knowing what to expect.
When we last visited Chen Village, the residents nearly fell under the attack orchestrated by Fang Zi Jing (played with suitable menace by Eddie Peng) and a huge, steam-powered tank.  Lu Chan (our hero, played by Jayden Yuan) and his budding love interest Yu Niang (Angela Yeung Wing, aka ‘Angelbaby’) were only on the verge of something special, but this time out – in order for the village elders to bless Lu Chan with proper training in their martial arts – Master Chen Chang Xing (the legendary Tony Leung Ka Fei) orders his daughter to properly wed the young misfit in order to eliminate his ‘outsider’ status.  While she begrudgingly agrees to the marriage, she also insists that Lu Chan behave as her student (she will be conducting his training) as well as call her ‘master.’  It’s a comedy of manners as the two slowly succumbs to their true affections for one another and discover love, all the while trying to save their small mountain city from Fang’s approaching army!
Like the first film, HERO is bursting at the seams with some amazing fight choreography (most of it is entirely bloodless and fairly family-friendly … so long as you’re okay with little Timmy or Susie watching the kung fu).  Also, I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t point out that there’s some stunningly wonderful cinematography captured in here; both the big moments (some stunning vistas) and the smaller (some more intimate close-ups of the players) are handled with great depth and care.  If anything, one could make an argument that these TAI CHI films are beautifully packaged by all involved; I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this was director Hung’s intent – to deliver a big epic – because it all feels quite deliberate.
Still, I found this one a bit smaller, a bit more intimate than the first visit to this universe, and I think that strongly aided the story.  There’s more emphasis on character – the script tinkers almost as elaborately with themes of family and tradition as much as it does machines and gadgets – and, as such, there’s more here for these talented players to work with.  Much in the same way that THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK added to the mysticism and the mythology of the original STAR WARS, TAI CHI HERO serves up a middle chapter that, no doubt, should have fans clamoring for more.
I know I will be.
TAI CHI HERO is produced by Huayi Brothers & Taihe Film Investment and Diversion Pictures.  DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through the always reliable Well Go USA.  For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Chinese language picture with English subtitles; packaging indicates there is an English-dubbing track available, but I didn’t use it.  As for the technical specifications, I can’t shout a WOW big enough; this picture looks and sounds incredible from start to finish with increasingly impressive cinematography.  (There’s a healthy amount of slow-motion photography, but, given the circumstances of the story and choreography, I didn’t find any of it over-used as can be the case with some films.)  Lastly, the disc rounds out the special features with the theatrical trailer and a 60-minute making-of documentary that takes viewers behind-the-scenes with production snippets and short interviews.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  Fun, frenetic, and even sometimes frivolous, there’s still much to love about TAI CHI HERO, the second installment in a proposed trilogy dealing when Chen-style kung fu (which gets royally renamed as simply ‘Tai Chi’ this time out).  It boasts some terrifically heroic characters for an action comedy; it delivers a visually exciting world that continues to combine elements of traditional Chinese films along with steampunk and anime inspirations; and it puts eye-popping martial arts action up on the silver (or small) screen in a reverential manner befitting the masters and grandmasters who study it.  Plus, did I mention it was just good clean fun?  (Yeah, I did.  Right up front.  My bad.)
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA provided me with a DVD copy of TAI CHI HERO by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]> Mon, 1 Jul 2013 17:39:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Entertaining and Inspiring]]> Bend it Like Beckham is a British comedy flick about a talented girl named Jesminder (aka Jess) who loves to play soccer and has one really big problem: her rigid Punjabi Sikh family wants her to settle down, learn to cook, find a suitable husband, and quit playing sports. Amidst the usual trials of friendship and love, Jesminder, struggling to satisfy both her family and herself, ends up lying to her parents in order to go to her soccer team meetings and matches. But of course, as the saying goes, the truth will out!

There's lots to like about this movie: great acting from the main cast (especially Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightly, and Anupam Kher), plenty of entertaining dialogue, and thought-provoking juxtaposition between cultures that highlights important similarities and differences. There is overt comedy here, but there is also subtlety and nuance - kudos to director Gurinder Chadha on her sensitivity to the subject. One thing I especially appreciate is that, in essence, this is a movie about girls playing sports: it's nice to see powerful women working together, becoming friends, going after what they want, and generally kicking butt.

Of course, films like this have been done and done again - this is your basic coming-of-age sports movie, with an added cultural twist - but Bend it Like Beckham offers entertainment and inspiration. It makes you feel good in the end, empowered to follow your dreams - and any movie that does that is pretty cool in my book.

]]> Sat, 29 Jun 2013 15:11:43 +0000
<![CDATA[The Girl Who Played with Fire (2010 movie) Quick Tip by TheJohn]]> Thu, 6 Jun 2013 17:58:35 +0000 <![CDATA[ An amazing film!]]> Simon Pegg plays a London police officer who is too good at his job. After making the other London police officers look bad, his boss decides to send him to a small town in the country side, where he joins the local police force. However, after some mysterious 'accidents' he find that his new life won't be as boring as he thought.

Full of action and gore, this comedy is definitely one for the horror/mystery fans out there. To get the most out of your viewing experience I recommend playing close attention to the film- as like all Simon Pegg's films the humour is subtle, but brilliant.]]> Wed, 5 Jun 2013 14:48:05 +0000
<![CDATA[ Sweeden's bright skies wiped away the sickening green night. How does that make you feel?]]>
I won't completely retread the story as I've talked about it in the 2011 version but for the story centers on Swedish magazine publisher Mikael Blomkvist who has just gotten a jail sentence and fines for libel against a shifty company-this does little to dissuade Henrik Vagner, a wealthy businessman up North who admires Mikael's tenacity for finding the truth and wants him to uncover the death of his niece 40 years ago, which has troubled him ever since.  If Mikael can find the answer before going to jail, he is promised a huge financial reward.

Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander a punk girl with supreme hacking talents is a ward of the state for past mental problems and other troubles and when her caretaker becomes ill, another enters the picture to ruin her life and abuse her.  Lisbeth fights back though and is able to get her life back on track before Mikael enters her life.  He found her out since she investigated Mikael during his trial and since she has already on his case with the missing niece, the two agree to work together and become friends.

Now on paper both movies follow a pretty similar path but where the American one went for tingling atmosphere and creeps under a sick filter, the Swedish one has a more breezy feel.  Scenes of endless pouring over the same photos and living in the cabin are not nearly as big in this original version.  Mikael and Lisbeth make many trips together to investigate related murders which gets them out and moving around more.  More of the Vagner family is opened up and we see more of them.  A subplot involving Mikael's libel and how he lost the case gets touched on, but I can understand why it's left out of the American film.  This movie seems to give you a lot more with different scenes instead of the same ones over and over again.

NOW having said that, the best thing about the story is strangely not as prevalent as it is in the American film, and thats the eponymous girl herself.  Lisbeth in this movie doesn't seem to have as large a role, she gets her character establishing moments early on but once she and Mikael team up, the story does continue on with Mikael in the spotlight with Lisbeth in tow.  Yes we can still pick up on her ticks and attitude and in some changed scenes we pick up more on who she is and where she comes from so we are treated to that at least but in the American film, we see more of her, doing more and we still get the taste of her character.

Both films keep the same flow of the film, and that does include the violence.  Both films torture and rape scenes are present and while the American film will make you squirm more, neither are pleasant.

In the end, it's hard to say which one is truly better but I would say the original film does edge out the American one but ONLY by a smidge. 

The American one has much more of Lisbeth (an awesome character) a stronger mood and atmosphere, and I personally liked the ending more in that one. 

This version, the original foreign film has a story that is simply told better making some better use of scenes to tell more story points and our heroes don't feel so bottled up as they move about more freely and doesn't sit still as long.  It all depends on you're tastes in the end.]]> Tue, 4 Jun 2013 07:29:08 +0000
<![CDATA[ My favorite film of all time.]]> Mon, 3 Jun 2013 22:55:49 +0000 <![CDATA[Princess Mononoke (1997 Japanese Anime Film) Quick Tip by LexiGrayson]]> Mon, 3 Jun 2013 22:50:44 +0000 <![CDATA[ A Fun House Ride of Korean Lore, Martial Arts and CGI Special Effects]]> Jeon Woo Chi: The Taoist Wizard), I can see how it can be one of those crowd-pleasing affair that usually makes a good box-office return in Korea. Despite the fact that it is the kind of movie I would usually like (magic, special effects and ancient legend), I found Woochi to be a little too uneven, and would've used a lot of smoothing over its screenplay.


Mixing up Korean folklore and Mozart's "The Magic Flute", "Woochi" is a film that channels martial arts, a different turn for its devices, and adds a lot of special effects to drive its story. The film begins in the past where magic and evil spirits are set in a place of power, there lies a magical flute that could control the beasts. Lost in time, the flute has fallen into the hands of one of the evil ones and in the guise of humans, the beasts have been released to wreak havoc upon the world. Now, 500 years in the past, the flute is sought after by many as it can change the balance of power. Among those who seek the flute is Jun Woochi (Kang Dong-Won), who has been tasked by his master (Baek Yoon-Sik) to recover the flute. Woochi is such a trickster that he got the attention of another mystic, Hwadan (Kim Yoon-Seok) and his three Taoist wizards. This sets forth a series of events that ends with Woochi being blamed for his master's murder and the lost of the flute.

Now in the present, Woochi has been awakened along with his companion, the dog-horse-human Chorang-Yi (Yoo Hae-jin) to try to combat the chaos being brought forth by the beast-spirits in exchange for their freedom from the Taoist scrolls. What begins as a hunt for goblins and spirits in the guise of humans, has become more of Woochi trying to get used to this strange new world. He also meets a woman (Im Soo-Jung) with a familiar face from his past, as his new adventure begins...



The screenplay of "Woochi" makes a good move in creating a story that happens in between two different timelines, that even part of it happens within a painting. I do appreciate the efforts written in by Choi Dong-hoon (who also directs), as it deals with Woochi's origins up till the 47 minute mark. To try and reach out to its viewers, it tries to explain a lot and sets its groundwork, but the efforts feel a little impenetrable as two timelines collide in its screenplay. Choi Dong-hoon did an exceptional job with "Tazza The High Rollers" and "The Big Swindle", here he tries to depart the crime drama genre, and instead does a film that relies on fantasy elements and special effects to dictate the flow of the screenplay. The result is a little incoherent for my tastes (sure, it worked in his other movies), and while it does have that quirky, goofy allure that can appeal to its viewers, much of the film made little sense. It is intentionally cartoonish as it transitions from one scene to another. It jumps around with very little development of the devices in its plot, and the viewer is left to take in its quirky charm and forget coherency in its script. Think of it as an anime feature on steroids.

It is also filled with outrageous character performances and decent stunt work. When the film does get going with the action sequences, it does get going. The choreography has that hyper-stylish editing that have become the staple for Korean fantasy films. People fly around (with the impressive wire work) as the camera work goes in and out of the fights. The editing is pretty good and the set designs are impressive. The battles utilize the effects to its maximum impact. Martial arts and magic are always good things to watch, and "Woochi" is no different. Though a little too stylish for my tastes, and the fights did have the right intensity for its tempo. I do have to say that while most of the CGI were good, there were times that they looked rather soft and you could tell that they were fake. There is one ugly giant Rat-like creature that fights like a human, another who seems like a grotesque looking Easter bunny, but they were all for show, and the "how" and "why" of how these ghouls appear as such were never developed in the script.



Now, despite its flaws, the film does manage to entertain. The quirky and goofy humor did make me snicker quite a few times. Yoo Hae-jin and Kang Dong-Won connected in their roles and their antics can be funny. The three Taoist wizards also gave some good bits of humor, and Yeom Jeong Ah and Im Soo-jung served their purpose. Actress Kim Hyo-jin also makes a welcome cameo. Baek Yoon-Sik also managed to become a good baddie, despite the fact that he was a little too underwritten. The performances were a little crazy to balance out with its tone and cartoonish flow.

The best way to describe "Woochi The Demon Slayer" is a breezy, comical and frenzied entertainment that one needs to surrender to its outrageous execution and forget absorbing the details of the plot. It is a little hard to follow, but it is rather unique. Outlandish action, comedy and oddball characters are helped along by its manic editing and good special effects. If you pay too much attention to the script then you will see a lot of holes, so the best way to approach it would be to just accept it for what it is. Think of it as a trip to a "Fun House" where logic barely makes sense, and allow your senses to take you for a ride. Timid Recommendation to fans of Korean cinema and a RENTAL to everyone else. [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]


                  File:Jeon Woo Chi Woochi.jpg]]> Mon, 15 Apr 2013 01:19:06 +0000
<![CDATA[ I Shouldn't Like this Movie]]> Every bone in my body is telling me “Jonathan, this is a romance, it’s a time traveling romance filled with plot holes, love triangles, and more teenee gooy romance then you can handle.” Yes, it’s true; I’ve made somewhat of a reputation for myself amongst my family and friends for my hatred of these kinds of movies. You know, close nit group of friends (two guys, one girl), boy likes girl but doesn’t have the guts to tell her for fear of ruining their friendship, girl likes guy but doesn’t want to admit it, other guy likes girl but doesn’t want relationship getting in the way of school, girl develops time traveling super powers, drama ensues. You know, your basic stuff.  If this were ANY other movie, made by any other director, done any differently than it was, I’d probably have a field day ripping this film a new one. And why not? Didn’t I rip Myazaki’s “Whisper of the Heart” for the same elements this movie has? Yes, I seem to remember doing that, and having good reasons for it too. It wasn’t a fluke, I’m not in the habit of giving out bad reviews for Studio Ghibli’s amazing (and I do mean amazing) work, much less a film Myazaki himself, the MASTER of anime, produced. But I did, and I stand by that decision.  

But how then can I sit here with a straight face and tell you that The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a magnificent film. Not just a good film, but one of my favorite anime movies of all time that managed to bring a smile to the face of even a sarcastic cynic like me. Even with all its mellow drama, its plot holes, the love triangles and teeny weeny ‘cry me a river’ romance I couldn’t help but find myself completely enthralled by the story and characters.  I just can’t explain it, maybe I’ve changed, maybe this night I was just in the mood, as it were, for a heartwarming little story about a teenage girl and her love for the cute funny best friend. I pride myself for my consistency, in my taste in music, movies, my political beliefs, etc, I’m nothing if not consistent. Logic, therefore, would tell me to hate this film, but I don’t. In fact, I love it, so for the sake of the reading public (you guys) I will try to explain, to myself as well as to you, just why it is I loved this movie.
Makoto, Chiaki, and Kosuke are the best of friends. Just like any classic friend trio their personalities vary a lot, Makoto (the lead female) being mostly carefree and fun loving, Kosuke being the brains of the outfit, while Chiaki is laid back, lazy, but fun to be around. Together they make an inseparable team, playing a little catch, singing a little karioke, or just riding bikes their bikes. Like any good anime this films main strength lies with its characters. Rarely does an anime film capture so perfectly the character and personality of its characters, and even rarer are examples of anime that do this for teenage characters. At no point in time did I feel like I was watching a movie about fictional characters in a fictional world with fictional problems, instead I felt like I was simply watching three normal everyday people as they interact with each other and the world around them. I cannot overstate how amazing these characters are. So that helps explain why I love this film, as characters are the foundation upon which any story is built. That’s not what surprises me here.


No, the surprising part is that the  love triangles and twist ending didn’t completely turn me off to this film. After all, those are just the kind of things that usually activate the ‘let’s trash a movie’ part of my brain. It’s my natural response. My BS flag goes up faster than it takes for an Elfen Lied character to take their clothes off. My fingers find their way to the C-R-A-P buttons on my keyboard, and I go on a funny rant that gets on the nerves of every fanboy on the internet. Overall a lot of fun, you all should try it sometime. Let this movie serve as an example to the Twilight fans of the world, to the writers who make their living writing crappy teen romances to sappy/shallow readers. Let this also serve as an example to all the snobby critics (myself included) who would normally never give a story like this a chance. The lesson being that ANY story can be done well provided the characters are strong enough to drive it. At its core this film is a teen age love story, and in the hands of an unskilled writer (Stephanie Meyers is but one example) this story would be complete and utter nonsense void of all artistic or entertainment value. But in the hands of a skilled writer, a visionary director, and talented actors, art is made. And that is what this movie is. Art.


Pictured: the devil.

I watched this movie years ago and never quite got around to finishing the review for it, but at the time I gave it a 4/5. Upon seeing it again I’ve realized that rating wasn’t enough, so I’ll bump this up to a 5/5. Yes, I am that impressed by it. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is an amazing anime film reminiscent of the movies of the legendary Studio Ghibli. The art, the music, the cinematography, he visuals, all add to the story to create something of a modest masterpiece. Does it have its flaws? Yes, most notably the blatant plot holes that litter it especially near the end of the film, but compared to the overall quality of the movie such transgressions can easily be forgiven and forgotten.
I love this movie. I hope you love it too.
Replay value; moderate.]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2013 23:43:34 +0000
<![CDATA[ "Hitokiri Battousai" is Now a Sword That Protects! The Anime Series Comes Alive]]> Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal”, I was ecstatic to learn that a live-action adaptation of “Rurouni Kenshin” became one of Japan’s highest-grossing film of 2012 and an international success in Asia. Based on the manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki, the film follows the adventures of a young man named Kenshin Himura during the Meiji period. Watsuki discovered  and was inspired by the story of Kawakami Gensai who was a hitokiri battousai (man slayer) who was executed by the Meiji government. According to the writer, Kawakami maintained a sense of duty to his comrades that he decided to create the title character.

Fans of the anime series would be satisfied with this live-action version as it does capture the mood, tempo and style of the anime series. The film features superb swordplay that I have seen since “Azumi” and while newcomers may see it as a ‘hack and slash’ affair, I am impressed with the amount of effort that went through its production, that director Keishi Otomo truly expressed love for the source material.


The film has been inspired by seasons 1 and 2 of the anime series. After living the life of an assassin since the tender age of 14 and fighting in the Bakumatsu war, Himura Kenshin (Takeru Satoh) has gained a reputation as a legendary swordsman that he has earned the much feared title of “Hitokiri Battosai”. Now a wandering samurai, he seeks to atone for his sins by taking an oath of not killing and protecting those in need. In his travels, Kenshin comes across the daughter of a deceased dojo master, Kaoru (Emi Takei) and aides her against her assailants. The two have formed a unique form of friendship, as Kenshin realizes a chance to find peace. But when a crooked businessman named Takeda (Teruyuki Kagawa) has plans of his own for taking over the harbor where the dojo stood, Kenshin must do what he can to protect what he has found. With the aid of Sagara Sanosuke (Munetaka Aoki), he must confront the forces of Takeda and save the life of a young woman named Megumi (Yu Aoi). But his past just continues to haunt him as a master swordsman called Jin-ei who delves in the Jutou mystical arts, wants Kenshin’s blood.




Director Otomo manages to keep the essence of the anime alive when it came to tempo, mood and style. I do have to admit that deviations from the source material was inevitable for editing and pacing purposes. I could say that the movie was loosely based off the first couple of seasons of the anime series, as characters such as Sagara, Yahiko (Taketo Tanaka), Saito Hajime (Yosuke Eguchi) and Kaoru all make appearances to drive the film’s plot. There were also flashback sequences that seemed to emulate scenes in "Trust and Betrayal" to give Kenshin his needed groundwork. Sadly, while I really enjoyed this film, I cannot deny that characterization was a little too light and the screenplay opts to put all its energy in the fight choreography and action set pieces. The emotional content of the material was admittedly a little lost, as the movie revolved mainly on Kenshin and Kaoru.

Villains such as Gein (Gou Ayano) and Banjin Inui (Genki Sudo) were easily recognizable by fans but they were a little underwritten into the script. They became a little more than tools for flamboyance, and became devices to drive the action.  This is not a complaint, but an observation. The motivations behind the Jin-ei Udo’s actions weren’t sold into the screenplay that the only tension I felt between him and Kenshin was the coming climactic showdown. There was a missed opportunity in developing the 'sword that spilled a lot of blood' and just how Jin-ei got his mystical skills. The screenplay should've done well in developing that part of its narrative. I know fans of the anime could easily connect the dots, but this does leave newcomers left with little more than what was presented to them by the film.



Be that as it may, the film does succeed in a way that it intended. Mild humor was brought forth by Sagara and while lacking in development, it was easy to get interested with the film’s plot as it moved briskly and never lost its energy. The swordplay was truly the film’s top draw, Otomo shot the scenes in a way that mimicked the style and intensity of the anime series. It was also never a loss for blood, as the swordfights were brutal at certain moments, and yet it never lost that feeling of rhythm in the emotional drama with each hack and slash. There was a certain identity to its swordplay that I enjoyed, while there was no gore, it had the sense of poignancy that I have to expect from samurai films. I do have to say that Otomo did his homework in selling the film through the fight choreography, there were mild uses of special effects but they were only used to enhance the speed and strength of the struggle. The signature moves of Sagara and Kenshin also came into play, and if this was any indication, there may be a lot of room for a sequel since Kenshin had only began to fight. The costumes and set designs were all done in the spirit of the anime, and the colors leaned towards Earth colors as with any other jidai geki film. All these elements combined with its fantastic soundtrack gave the film a cinematic feel that is familiar and yet fresh to fans of the Jidai Geki genre.

The performances were decent for the most part. Satoh made for a very credible Kenshin Himura. He had the look, the posturing and the personality to pull it off. With Otomo’s cool editing tricks, he made the Kenshin character come alive in all the fight sequences, and Satoah looked really cool in performing the moves. Emi Takei makes for a very convincing Kaoru Kamiya, as the woman with the strength to influence a conflicted Kenshin. Aoki was fun as the cocky Sagara, but I had mixed feelings with Kagawa as Kanryu Takeda; he was a little too manic for his own good. Koji Kikkawa was magnificent as the creepy Battousai even though his character lacked depth, he was effective in the build up to the final showdown.


“Rurouni Kenshin” the live-action film may be flawed, but it was one of the better ones I have seen along with “Azumi”, “Death Note” and “Shinobi Heart Under Blade” (Lord knows there is a lot of them out there that are bad). The film was made with love of the source material, and the action swordplay was just fantastic. It was fast, hard-hitting and exciting to watch that it did not feel like a 134 minute film at all. Newcomers may feel a little lost with the lack of characterization and development, but fans of the original material and the anime series would feel right at home. I would advise those who have no prior knowledge of the anime series to take a look at “Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal”, as it will give you much needed background to the character (really seeing the first two seasons of the anime series would be more beneficial). This film is fine companion piece to the anime film and the series, that fans will not be able to stay away. Me, I am a fan so it gets a High Recommendation from me to its fans. To non-fans, at the very least, it is a solid hack and slash affair, that is really well done. [4 ½ Out of 5 Stars]





          ]]> Tue, 9 Apr 2013 06:34:46 +0000
<![CDATA[Rurouni Kenshin (Live Action film) Quick Tip by woopak_the_thrill]]>
Update: Full Review can be read here.

]]> Mon, 1 Apr 2013 14:04:38 +0000
<![CDATA[Sword of Desperation Quick Tip by woopak_the_thrill]]> Poignant, Heartfelt and Powerful. "Sword of Desperation" reminded me just why I loved chambara films. See full review here.


]]> Mon, 7 Jan 2013 00:35:12 +0000
<![CDATA[ Loyalty and Honor in Oneself Means More Than Obedience to a Code]]> Twilight Samurai” and Yojiro Takita‘s “When the Last Sword is Drawn“; even Takashi Miike’s remakes of “13 Assassins” and “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai”, while good in their own right, were still remakes and as such, arguably cannot be seen as a definitive modern tale of Bushido. Director Hideyuki Hibayama’s critically acclaimed “Sword of Desperation” has finally given me once again the sensibilities that I have missed in chambara films since Yamada’s “Samurai Trilogy”.

Kanemi Sangamon (Etsushi Toyokawa) is an expert swordsman who publicly assassinates his Lord’s favorite concubine, Lady Renko (Megumi Senki) after the conclusion of a show. Preparing himself for the worst, Kanemi expects himself to be beheaded, but to his surprise, he is merely sentenced to house arrest for the period of one year. Here while serving his sentence, his only companion would be his late wife’s niece, Rio (Chizuru Ikewaki) who would be taking care of household affairs. Finally, the year is up and Kanemi tries to live a quiet life and to settle back to his fief, but instead he is offered the position of chief bodyguard to his Lord Tabu Ukyou (Jun Murakami) by Tsuda (Ittoku Kishibe). Stunned but appreciative, Kanemi is determined to carry out his new duty, even when it means facing down a skilled swordsman called Obiya (Koji Kikkawa)..


We all know that Bushido/chambara movies often portray proud tales of loyalty and of betrayal and “Sword of Desperation” is no different. I do have to admit that while the themes of this film are familiar, the interpretation may be more fresh and original since Yamada’s own Bushido films about a decade ago. I do have to say that there is a definite "Shakespearean" element around its screenplay. The first 60 minutes of the film serve as the means to understand our characters. After the killer opening act, the viewer is no doubt drawn for the need to know the motivations of the murder. The screenplay by Hidehiro Ito (based on Shuhei Fujisawa’s novel) keeps things simple and yet intriguing, as details of Kanemi’s life with his late wife, Matsue (Naho Toda) serve as a way to understand Minami’s moral stances and sense of kindness. The governmental workings of his Lord and the influence of his consort, Renko on such affairs are also revealed. The growing tensions that grow between his Lord and Obiya because of meddling in governamental affairs that lead to cruel decisions. The director amazingly weaves the tale carefully, always maintaining Minami’s stoic stance as a means to express loyalty to his Lord; the viewer begins to understand the possible motivations of Minami’s actions in the first act.

It was a masterful approach that impressed me. The direction and screenplay had me engaged despite the simplicities of such motivations because of the way the director structured its revelations. It was a simple manner of carefully laying down its groundwork that I became invested in the story. By the 61 minute mark, the viewer is then taken to understand why and how Minami was spared from a beheading. Minami is indeed a man of honor, and even he must follow his heart. He prepares for what may become of him, and despite his hopes for the best, in his heart he feels that something may be amiss, and a shadow had fallen on his house. There is also something to be said for the manner the direction builds on its groundwork that made its surprising twist much more effective and powerful.


As with most chambara movies, weak-willed men can be manipulated by beautiful strong-willed women, while strong men have the heart of a good woman behind them. The film also touches on the corruption of authority figures and their selfish material needs. This makes our lead characters much more interesting, as Toyokawa and Ikewaki play their characters as people with needs that express their pureness of heart. I suppose the story wanted to show a theme that good people do exist behind the glamour and lie of the Bushido code; that their loyalty is all that defines such a code despite being alienated from it. This is something that can truly be heart-breaking, one’s own sense of loyalty can lead to one’s ruin and hardship. The direction strongly weaves this element into its screenplay in a subtle way.

As with most chambara movies modern or classic, “Sword of Desperation” has a gorgeous display of sword play that is both beautiful and bloody. The sword fight between Minami and Obiya was simple, and yet beautiful in its simplicity. It was an expression of pure technique rather than something that wallows in bloodshed. The final encounter yielded a gorgeous display of swordsmanship, as Minami stays true to his character; he only kills when pushed to and would rather steer clear of violence. The blood effects have the familiar arterial spray that defined samurai films, albeit the swordplay was built more for the expression of realism than for showmanship as with Ryuhei Kitamura’s Azumi and Aragami. The final encounter was brutal but was necessary to express the desperation of such a struggle.


“Sword of Desperation” is a film whose title becomes defined in its entirety. Desperate situations call for a desperate action and when pushed to the limit, only desperation can lead to a final stroke for freedom. The film was also well acted, the characters were multi-dimensional and the direction was top-notch. There is very little I can say to nit-pick this film, it may feel familiar and yet the execution is more fresh than I would’ve expected. In some ways, the film reminded me of Kobayashi's "Samurai Rebellion" and Minami himself represents someone whose nature may be too good for his world. This may be one of the best films I’ve seen for 2012, and definitely something that will become a classic. This film is a must if you are a fan of Bushido films.

Highly Recommended! [5- Out of 5 Stars]


                    ]]> Mon, 31 Dec 2012 06:20:28 +0000
<![CDATA[The Intouchables Quick Tip by mikedraper]]> Thu, 6 Sep 2012 14:29:52 +0000 <![CDATA[ "The touch of your hand, makes me understand." Song lyrics]]> Starring Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy

This beautiful movie had the audience standing to cheer at the end of the story.

A quadriplegic millionaire, Philippe,  and his secretary are interviewing applicants for the position of companion and care giver. Most of the applicants are run of the mill and treat the idea of helping the man as a form of penance or paid charity.

Omar Sy, Driss,  cuts the line and walks in to the interview, mainly to have a form signed that he applied for the job so he could get government benefits. There is an immediate give and take between him and the paralyzed man.  The next day, when he returns for his document, he learns that he's got the job but the paralyzed man bets him that he won't last more than a couple of weeks.

Of all the applicants, it is Driss  who treats Philippe  as a man and not an object of pity. Their relationship builds as Philippe tries to teach Driss about classical music and art.  Driss tries to teach Philippe about music with a beat and not to spend his money foolishly on the art he seems to like. In one of the memorable scenes, Philippe and Driss are staring at a work of abstract art and Philippe decides to buy it, Driss tells him that it looks like nosebleed on canvas.

It was certainly uplifting to see how Driss, an ex-con from the ghetto and the millionaire, Philippe each grow because of their relationship.]]> Thu, 6 Sep 2012 14:24:34 +0000
<![CDATA[ Not bad for a kick-ass zombie action horror-thriller...]]>
If you like your zombies served fast and your action served with a side-dish of brutality; then the French zombie-action film "The Horde" is likely to be your wet dream. Probably not one of your fondest, but a fond one nevertheless. I admire it for just going fucking berserk for long periods of time and thoroughly entertaining my thirst for blood, guts, and the undead while leaving all deep characterization and narrative credibility at the door. As a film for its genre, it is relentless and fast-paced; exciting and hyperactively violent. As a film in general, it is perhaps far too simplistic and forgettable for its own good. But if one is to judge it on the grounds that they should - in this case its own - then one will also discover that it's not all so bad. If you've got at least one quarter of an entire film brimming with at least some artistic inspiration, you've got more than most films these days as it is.

A quartet of French policeman (and one woman) raid an abandoned apartment complex in an act of vengeance against some depraved drug dealers who killed a close friend (whose body is seen dead at the end of the film; or at least we presume it is his). They are overpowered and held captive by the dealers, who are armed with guns, knives, and drugs; but not for long. Just as things are about to heat up, hordes of the undead come crashing through the doors and flooding the hallways. One is enough to kill several of the previously "living"; these are powerful beings that, like most zombies today, have outlived the convention that George Romero popularized of zombies being slow and clumsy. The groups are split up and the remaining cops must team up with the thugs to get out alive.

I think the style, carefully yet recklessly executed by directors Benjamin Rocher and Yannick Dahan, more than makes up for most of the flaws, which include, but are not limited to, the lack of character development and the rapid pacing sometimes getting ahead of itself. The film does stop for a moment in an attempt to conjure up some sort of suspense but it doesn't quite succeed in doing so; the directors think that the style that they possess alone can create tension, but they are wrong. Still, it's a hell of a lot more tense than most Hollywood pictures and I have to commend it for that. Good, bad; it's still worth its weight in blood.

In addition to the weak characters, one of the film's other main weaknesses is its inability to explain the origin of the undead. We see a little excerpt from television but that's about it. Outside on the horizon we see a city exploding right in front of our eyes. Could the zombies themselves be doing this much damage, or is it our attempt to stop them? "The Horde" doesn't have all the answers and doesn't necessarily need some of them, but would have benefitted greatly if it had at least a few. But rational explanations aside, the zombies are nice looking and they can certainly die real good. The gore effects are really great here. There are a number of badass moments that make the film worth checking out on its own: such as a somewhat climactic showdown in a garage and various hallway shootouts. There's also a quirky old man who fights with an axe and can't seem to stop using the word "chink".

But the honest truth is that this isn't a great zombie movie. It isn't even really a good one. But I can't ignore that some considerable craft went into making it; it's just as if the filmmakers were more interested in the effects, the actors (all of whom seem very professional and give good performances), and the camerawork that they had access to over the more important things such as the story and the characters. Nothing but the set-up and the locations are very well drawn out, but that's OK. "The Horde" is gruesome and crazy enough without being particularly interesting or intellectually stimulating. In spite of it being a foreign zombie flick, you'd best leave logic and your criticisms behind. For what it is, I didn't find it boring and it distracted me for a good hour and a half. I know there's a better film to be seen from these filmmakers and I hope it surfaces soon, because "The Horde" indicates a bright future for the both of them so long as next time they develop the substantial elements rather than disregard them all-together.]]> Fri, 17 Aug 2012 17:30:23 +0000
<![CDATA[ Gonzo entertainment! So very very fun.]]>
I love blood. I love guts. I love gore. I love anything (artificial) that flows in large amounts, even if we aren't speaking of bodily fluids. But if we are, then movie blood is what I always crave. The more the merrier is my motto when it comes to such a thing. I'm not easily offended or shocked by movie violence; and in the case of features like "The Evil Dead" and its sequel, the grotesque becomes the darkly comic and absurd. Peter Jackson apparently loves blood, guts, gore, and fake red bodily fluids as much as I do. His early effort "Dead Alive" (known as "Braindead" some places) is an ode or homage to the mere existence of over-the-top movie violence and gore. The whole thing has this real low budget aesthetic to it throughout the first half and that's charming, but what's even more-so is the transition from that to all-out gruesome carnage in the third act.

This is probably one of the most bat-shit insane and violent movies I have ever seen, period. It's such a lively, spontaneous, comic horror farce; it embraces special effects for blood and gore like few films before or after it truly have. And by blood and gore, we're talking organs coming back to life, faces being ripped open and necks suffering from a similar fate, flesh exploding into a frenzy of green goo, and a in a famous scene, a lawnmower meeting with mortal flesh and causing certain disfigurement and mutilation. Was there a line that Jackson ever considered? Because if there was; he not only crosses but disregards it all-together. With "Dead Alive", there simply is no line. And Jackson couldn't give less of a fuck about it.

It starts out with a sequence involving a couple of misguided explorers on the fictional Skull Island who intend to escape with a caged "Rat Monkey", which has a rather nasty bite. Not everyone makes it back alive. Cut to the town of Wellington, New Zealand; where the rat monkey now lives, confined in its cage with the other monkeys at a zoo. It's 1957; and the likably docile Lionel (Timonthy Balme) is living with his elderly mother (Elizabeth Moody) and is being pursued by a helpless romantic foreigner named Paquita (Diana Penalver). The two go to the zoo one day on a date and Lionel's over-protective mother tags along, only to be bitten by the crazed rat monkey. Lionel must take care of her while she is still sane, which won't be for long. She starts losing her skin (an ear, parts of her face, soon her whole body) and eventually goes completely mad, or so it seems. Perhaps she's just a zombie.

Her behavior gets increasingly violent and Lionel must purchase a syringe in order to fight back against his mother and the ill-fated house guests that she has killed and turned into zombies just like her. When mother leaves the house, she starts attacking townsfolk and turning them into zombies as well. Soon she'll have an entire army behind her. Lionel must contain what she's started in his house. But it's not easy. Two of the zombies have sex and produce a disgusting little zombie baby who Lionel attempts to father by taking it to the park and then subsequently beating the shit out of it. Then Lionel's obnoxious cousin arrives, discovers the zombies in the guest room, and invites all his friends and family to the house for a party. You know what happens next.

I'm a sucker for movies like this. Movies that are made according to a director's original and daring vision regardless of what the general public might think. Even the most mainstream of film critics have warmed up to this one by now; and it's considered a masterpiece in the field of marrying the humorous with the macabre by horror fans and movie critics specializing in or who enjoy the genre in particular. I can understand why. Here, you've got a director (Jackson) who is known for bigger and supposedly better things such as the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and the spectacular re-imagining of "King Kong" (which also features Skull Island). But the truth is that the earlier end of the director's career was populated by absurdist comedies of an extremely over-the-top nature; and this is one of them as well as one of the best. If you're half as crazy as me when it comes to your taste in cinema; you're going to have the movie-going experience of your life with this one.

Kung Fu priests that "kick ass for the Lord", diabolical yet playful zombie newborns, silly dialogue, silly accents, yet effective satire on 50's New Zealand society; "Dead Alive" has just about everything I've been looking for in a movie but never expected I would get. As far as sheer entertainment goes, it's a marvel and I haven't had this much pure fun watching a movie in a long time, but I love it when the occasion pops up at random. Every self-respecting sicko should see this. Any self-respecting human being should see this. It's such a good, hilarious, ridiculous bloodbath that I can't stand seeing it being overlooked by ANYONE. It is good cinema. Because as a special effects extravaganza, it really does understand itself. It's completely self-aware of its absurdity. But it was also influential for the new wave of American horror film; particularly films like "Shaun of the Dead". It's a classic on its own right. A flesh-crawling, head-ripping, toilet-absorbing, blade-cutting good time.]]> Fri, 17 Aug 2012 17:16:45 +0000
<![CDATA[ Totally lives up to the hype. 94%]]>

A journalist named Mikael Blomkvist loses a libel case involving allegations he published against tycoon Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. While this happens, a surveillance agent named Lisbeth Salander is contracted to investigate Blomkvist. After her investigation, Lisbeth sends her findings to lawyer Dirch Frode, who's only client is an 82 year-old man named Henrik Vanger. Vanger hires Blomkvist to investigate the disappearance of Harriet, his great niece, who vanished in 1966.


One of the best aspects to this film is that its characters are well-developed, believable, and have great chemistry. Of course, the stars of this show are Blomkvist and Salander. The latter is especially engaging since we see her as someone tough yet vulnerable (this makes for a realistic character). Near the beginning, we see Salander as a girl who's not one to be a pushover when a bunch of drunk male hooligans start scuffling with her and she beats them back. However, when her guardian has a stroke and is assigned a new guardian that forces her to perform sexual acts on him for her own money, she's forced to take it at first. Without spoiling much, you'll be glad to see when the tables are turned on her new guardian. Blomkvist is a good protagonist since you see him as a guy who just trying to do his job as a journalist, but gets shafted by a seedy tycoon and sees Vanger's offer as a way to get himself something good before he has to go to jail.

The supporting characters are solid as well. Henrik Vanger's family is confined to living on an island that's only accessible via bridge and without fitting into any cardboard cutouts, feel and act like people who live in a small place and keep themselves away from the rest of society. Without spoiling anything, let's just say that like any mystery-thriller worth its salt, some characters are totally unpredictable. Nils Bjurman, Salander's sexually-sadistic guardian, is excellent as a slimy character. I can keep going, but I think you get the picture.


Despite that the extended cut of this movie is 186 minutes long, it felt more like it was around 120 minutes because of how engaging the story and characters are. Also, much like the well-developed characters in a mystery-thriller film, the plotting of the story was so well-written that I was on the edge of my seat, hardly expecting anything that would happen to happenn. Because of how engaging everything else was, there were some scenes of legitimate tension going on near the end of the film. Also without spoiling much, I was a little worried around the 80% point of the film that some issues wouldn't be resolved in the end, but much to my surprise, these issues were resolved and done so in a way that didn't feel very rushed or incomplete.


Since I'm not a native speaker of the Swedish language, I can't really say what constitutes as "good acting" in Swedish, but I'll say that the actors did so well with their roles that the last thing on my mind was the acting. In particular, Michael Nyqvist (Blomkvist), Noomi Rapace (Salander), and Sven-Bertil Taube (Henrik Vanger) delivered some of the best performances in this film.


The cinematography in this movie is totally stunning. The shots of the streets in Stockholm and of the island where the Vanger family resides simultaneously drip with beauty and of griminess. The beauty in that there's lush shots of the Swedish countryside and winter, and the griminess when you learn about the ugly events that occur in some places.


The score for this film is really good. Like the plotting of the film, the score is slow and creeps up on you for an excellent build-up that dives into an excellent payoff when something truly exciting jumps out at you. The music perfectly fits the tone of the movie.


The theme I caught on most to this movie is that of anti-misogyny. I thought this theme was handled well because at first, I thought this would degenerate into baseless man-bashing, but that's not the case. The misogynistic male characters in this movie are all portrayed in believable strokes, which really helped the delivery of this theme.  It also helps that the protagonist, Blomkvist, isn't portrayed as an ideal "neutered" male that's made to be acceptable among feminists.

Also, corruption seems like a big theme since Blomkvist is convicted of libel even though he was on to a factual story for his magazine, Millenium. The corruption can even tie in a little with the anti-misogyny theme since a sadistic man like Bjurman is allowed to be a guardian on the government payroll, despite how awful he is.


This is NOT a movie for the kids to see. There's some scenes of strong violence, nudity, sex, and rape. There's scenes of mutilated corpses, shots of bare female chests and butts (and of male butts, too), and a hard to watch rape scene with Salander handcuffed and gagged while Bjurman rapes her. There's even a scene where a male gets tied up, gagged, and sodomized.


I honestly can't say if this movie follows the books well since I haven't read any of them, but just judging the movie strictly on its own terms, it's marvelous. I'll soon be checking out the two sequels, and do yourself a favor and seek out the extended cut of this movie since the extra time seems to be used perfectly. If you're an Amazon Prime user, there's no excuse to watch this now if you have some free time, since you can watch it for free. Otherwise, track down a physical or digital copy ASAP.]]> Thu, 2 Aug 2012 17:06:35 +0000
<![CDATA[ Much angst, but powerfully, if slowly, presented]]>
For many of faith this movie might be too frustrating, even with a sort of redemptive end. For many like me, the movie might not be all that involving if it weren't for Robert Bresson's immense talent as a moviemaker. Even so, the movie is filled with Bresson's words that seem to carry great freight but may sound better than they mean, whatever it is they mean. "Our hidden sins poison the air that others breathe." "The simplest tasks are by no means the easiest." "He [God] is not the master of love. He is love itself. If you would love, don't place yourself beyond love's reach."]]> Sun, 22 Jul 2012 21:17:22 +0000
<![CDATA[ "Cut."]]>
This is a gimmick movie; a silent, black and white homage to silent and early talkies. The actors mug and ham it up throughout the film, the story is sweet and predictable, and the dog was my favorite part. It was a good try at doing something different but after ten minutes I was saying, "I get it, already. It's a silent movie." I would have liked it better if it were 20 minutes long.

I don't think it deserved 5 Oscars. The novelty got old fast for me. I watched most of it in 2X FF.

I loved "Uggie."
]]> Wed, 27 Jun 2012 03:20:27 +0000
<![CDATA[Grave of the Fireflies Quick Tip by RabidChihuahua]]>
I seriously can't find anything wrong with this anime.  The characters feel so realistic, the story is nothing short of powerful, the animation and artwork is top-notch, the music is perfect, and portrays one of the best delivered, realistic anti-war messages ever put on film.  The last 10 minutes of this anime were so emotionally-powerful, it even made me, a really cynical fellow, cry my eyes out.

Even if you're not a fan of anime, you must do yourself a favor and get your paws on this because this film transcends the animation realm and creates a feeling of realism that really few films (animated or otherwise) can ever achieve.]]> Fri, 22 Jun 2012 06:07:31 +0000
<![CDATA[ Pure Magic... "Girl" Leaps Into The Hearts of its Audience!]]>
Japanese anime have always been successful in bringing forth depth in story telling even with a simple style in animation. Recent anime series have been much more snazzy with much more detailed animation aided by CGI but it feels that scripting have taken a nose-dive to arguably attract more mainstream viewers. Storytelling should never be sacrificed for visuals. Well, consider this review as myself “time leaping” back to 2007 when I first saw director Mamoru Hosoda’s “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” which became one of the more compelling anime films that I have ever seen. There is a reason why I’ve decided to finally review this delightful and emotional film as you will find out sometime next week.

This is not a sci-fi movie as the title would suggest but rather one borne of young romance, very human messages and how time itself waits for no one. The film is based on the novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui and it takes us to the life of an ordinary young girl named Makoto Konno (Riisa Naka) who enjoys her friendship with her friends Kousuke and Chiaki (Mitsukara Itakura and Takuya Ishida respectively). One day she makes a startling realization that she had gained the ability to time travel to the past. Makoto is a young girl who is simple and does not ask for much, she uses her ability to do silly stuff, pass her exams and even to avoid certain compromising questions by her friend Chiaki. Makoto is seemingly have fun with her frivolous time leaps, that is until she soon realizes that her powers are causing certain negative impact on the people around her and by the time she sets out to correct the effects of her time leaps, it may just be too late.

Director Hosoda and screenwriter Satoko Okudera have woven a delightful tale about time; time does not wait for anyone and time cannot stand still. The science of the time travels is used merely as a backdrop for the strong human drama where this film is immersed in. The screenplay has a ton of commentary on human fear, how we must make the most of life’s moments since it teaches us certain things, and the misuse of an ability and how anything must be used responsibly. “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” is a film immersed in drama and even hints of existentialism. It is all about how us, as people should not be afraid to stand tall in order to confront the trials of life. It is all about losing the fear of disappointment and how we must grab at every opportunity; we must be open so that we can grow.

While the film merely gives hints as to how ‘time‘ works, it never relents in giving the viewer things that can truly boggle the mind. I am not sure, there is a powerful message about how men should not mess with something that they could not comprehend, and to do so may bring disaster. It doesn‘t matter if the motivations are pure, one cannot play God in a way life flows since humans are natural fallible beings. This message is brought forth by Makoto‘s character, as a young girl she does not know how to wield such power responsibly. Her reaction is that of a little girl, the direction was spot on in portraying her as someone who is kind, pure and may have the right motivations, but she should not be messing with such forces. There is also an underlying question as to what is moral or not, but the film does not spend too much time trying to dwell on this little message.

This is a tale of young romance and what one may call ‘a coming of age‘ after all. The direction and the script screams with absolute delight as young Makoto fumbles and toys with her new found powers. The film is funny, as Makoto does things what a normal girl would. The direction admirably paced the scenes as the story began to take life. It is all about learning, and once the film has you, it never lets go, as I was completely enthralled by the film up to its emotional twists and turns in the last act.

The animation work is simple and in many ways it resembles the look of a comic strip. The cell animation was smooth, fluid and charming; it fit the film’s premise. The backgrounds have the appearance of a painted surface with lush colors that express its mood. Accompanied by the superb soundtrack and cinematography, the film is such an enchanting experience. The voice acting is amazing (I‘d advise seeing this with the original Japanese language with subtitles) as it proved to be so filled with raw emotion. The characters are all endearing, Kousuke and Kaho gave a lot of meaning to the film’s premise while Chiaki and Yuri were the ones that helped define Makoto. I am certain that the novel had a lot of details as I saw several areas of potential, particularly with Makoto’s family and some details about "Auntie Witch" needed further development but hey, I was impressed with the way a 98 minute movie could go into such depths in its storytelling.

“The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” received a lot of accolades in Europe and Asia. It was the winner of the animation grand award in Sitges and won the animation of the year in Japan’s Academy awards. These are simple and little things that prove the film’s worth; it is a fine animated film worthy of Miyazaki and Kon themselves. Too bad this had a rather subtle U.S. release at the time. This is fine anime storytelling at its best, not for kids, and yet there is something so important that children should be taught from it. “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” is absolutely magical…not because of the time travels but its very human sincerity.

Highest Possible Recommendation [4 ½ Out of 5 Stars]

 ]]> Tue, 19 Jun 2012 02:03:49 +0000
<![CDATA[ Wages of Fear: More suspenseful than a first date]]>

Imagine going to see a movie with someone on what might be a first date. The uncertainty about whether this is anything more than two new friends getting together is compounded by not knowing much about the person you're with. Is she a saint? Is he a psycho? The movie would have to be compelling to divert your attention from those concerns.

The almost-flawless Wages of Fear could do that. The movie (aka Le Salaire de la Peur; 1953; in French with English subtitles; directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot; starring Yves Montand and Charles Vanel; Best Film at the Cannes Film Festival, where Vanel was named Best Actor) is so gripping that you could easily forget you're with someone, even if you're in a crowded theatre. The film's suspense rivets so completely that you could even forget there are other people in the world besides you and those on the screen.

Director Henri-George Clouzot, who also directed the original Diabolique (Les Diaboliques, 1955), paces his extended opening slowly so that the audience has time to get to know the central characters. Then Clouzot exploits our familiarity by plunging them into a series of extreme dangers, which he presents with mastery that transfers much of the characters' intense anxiety to us. The experience is so enthralling and exhausting that the movie's end brings with it some surprise that it was just a movie. Part thrill ride, part nightmare and part masterpiece, Wages of Fear seems so much more.

The movie follows four men stuck in a remote Latin American village who are desperate to earn a little money. They drive trucks loaded with volatile nitroglycerine across terrain that is bumpy in its best spots and seemingly impassable in the rest. The oil company that hires them needs the nitro to blow up a well that is consumed by fire, but the company's pressing need doesn't make it generous. The men risk their lives for a relative pittance.

The audience goes through every bit of their ordeals with them. We hold our breath every time the road jostles their trucks. We breathe when things calm down, but stop breathing again when a new danger threatens. The movie's power can leave viewers frozen. It does not make sense, but you might find yourself afraid to move in case something you do triggers an explosion.

Wages of Fear grips strongly because of the richly drawn characters and the complex relationships among them. One is a thug, but his early dominance gives way to something almost touching. Another looks Aryan, which makes his presence in post-World War II Latin America suspicious, but those suspicions turn out to be off the mark, at least in part. These vague references are intended to suggest some of the skillful nuance with which the characters are presented.

Yves Montand's assured and virile performance made him a star. Charles Vanel and Peter van Cyck invest their portrayals with impressive shading and energy. Folco Lulli brings to his performance as the fourth driver much more than the simple comic relief into which his character could have slipped.

If there is a weak performance, it reflects more on the script than on the actor involved. Vera Clouzot has the thankless task of being unyielding in her devotion to Montand's character despite his dismissive mistreatment of her. He treats her so badly that anyone who knows that Vera was married to director George-Henri Clouzot could be tempted to wonder if their off-screen relationship was a happy one. Vera Clouzot comes across much better in her husband's Diabolique, in which she plays a villain.

There is one mistake in Wages of Fear that is difficult to overlook. The ending has one of the main characters behaving in a way that betrays all that has come before. It completely contradicts everything we have seen him do and have heard him say. Evidently we are intended to accept that he acts recklessly in defiance of the extreme caution that was demanded of him, but it goes beyond that into absurdity. Because there is no way to reconcile his final actions with his earlier ones, it is best to forget the ending entirely.

Or skip it. If you stop watching when someone falls to the ground with an inferno in the near background, you'll end the movie with an image so striking and ambiguous that it reflects deftly all the subtlety and power that has preceded it. Otherwise, you end up with a final 60 seconds or so that mar what is in all other respects a masterpiece.]]> Fri, 8 Jun 2012 19:08:17 +0000
<![CDATA[ As quiet and dry as a Norwegian bachelor]]> Kitchen Stories, a Norwegion/Swedish co-production, starts out as a dry, deadpan comedy of differences and ends as a dry, deadpan comedy of friendships.

Sweden's Home Research Institute has just finished a detailed, observation-based study of the Swedish housewife's movements through her kitchen. The purpose is to maximize efficiency. The next step is a study of Norwegian bachelors and how they use their kitchens. Observers are sent out to scientifically plot the movements of their subjects' kitchen use. Folke Nilsson (Tomas Norstrom) is sent to the small farmhouse of Isak Bjornsson (Joachim Calmeyer), who lives on the outskirts of the Norwegian village of Landstad. Nilsson's instructions are clear. He is to have no interactions with the subject. He is not to speak. He is not to offer help. He is to spend his time observing from a tall highchair in the corner of the kitchen, saying nothing and only plotting the subject's movements. The study gets off to a rocky start. Bjornsson is a crafty, aging man who has had second thoughts about agreeing to take part. He quietly makes things difficult for Nilsson, turning off the light, leaving a faucet to deliberately drip, even boring a small hole in the ceiling above where Nilsson perches so that he can observe the observer.
Slowly, small gestures between the men evolve into a friendship. Nilsson uses a salt shaker to salt his boiled egg for lunch and when Bjornsson can't find the shaker, Nilsson coughs and slightly motions to where it is. Bjornsson one afternoon makes two cups of coffee instead of one, and Nilsson climbs off his perch to have it, without speaking. On a cold night, Bjornsson finds a blanket for Nilsson. Soon the two taciturn men are seated at the kitchen table, talking quietly about things. A tentative relationship develops into a real friendship. The ending is as dry and touching as the rest of the movie.
As the two men become friends, of course, the kitchen study is fatally compromised. While the friendship evolves, director Bent Hamer creates a commentary on all sorts of things. The movie looks quietly and amusingly at stereotypes (Swedish efficiency; Norwegian quaintness), behavior and sociology. I hope all the sociology teachers who see this movie have senses of humor; if they don't, they're going to have a bad research day.
At one point, one of the other observers comes pounding on the door of Nilsson's little trailer. The man and his subject have begun drinking and talking together. Nilsson's colleague has run out of booze and needs two bottles of beer. Nilsson refuses and the man shouts drunkenly at him, "We're not allowed to drink. Not allowed to talk. Folke, what the hell are we doing? We sit up there on our pedestals and think we understand everything. How can we think we understand anything about people simply by observing them? We have to talk to each other! We have to communicate!"]]> Sun, 13 May 2012 15:33:05 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Most Expensive Epic Film in Taiwan Cinema Finally Hits American Shores!]]> The Avengers” I wanted to see something more on the art house level in my local movie theater. This was where I managed to spot the John Woo co-produced critically acclaimed (in the Venice Film Festival) “Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale”. This ambitious Taiwanese historical drama is based on the Wushe incident in central Taiwan in 1930. The original film versions of the film was released in Asia and Europe in two parts much like “Red Cliff“1 and 2. The first part is called “The Flag of the Sun” and part 2 was called “Bridge of Rainbow” to total up to 4 and a half hours.

Director Wei Te-Sheng was both heavily praised and criticized for making such an effort. This is the most expensive film ever made in Taiwan to date but the runtime may be too much for the common movie-goer. The film was condensed to a runtime of 2 ½ hours to make the story much more compact and fast-moving. It was been nominated for the finals in Venice and received the Best Foreign Language Film in the 84th Academy awards. This is a monumental film that every fan of Asian cinema should go and see this film.

                        A scene from "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale."

                       A scene from "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale."

Mouna Rudo (Lin Ching-Tai) was a young warrior in the Mehebu village when he made his mark in the clan wars between the Sediq people. In 1895, when the treaty of Shimonoseki between China and Japan annexes Taiwan to the Japanese empire, the Sediq people found themselves taken over because of Japan’s military might. 25 years later, the island is slowly becoming civilized as the Japanese have brought their culture with them. Some of the Seediq people have began to embrace the Japanese culture while some are fixed with their old ways. This causes most of the Seediq to be laborers and paid little money. Mouna Rudo, still the chief of his clan, has become a sort of a drunk that is until an incident with a lowly Japanese officer causes a rift between the aborigine tribes that is set to ignite a revolt. Mouna Rudo must once again show his tribesmen what it truly means to be a Seediq….

I am at a disadvantage since I have not seen the original 2-part Taiwanese versions of the film and all I am privy to is the re-edited, re-cut international versions. I am sure much of the details of the true history of the Wushe incident that took place for 50 days lies in the 4 hour plus versions. However, the screenplay by director Wei Te-Sheng feels as though it kept the momentous details of the story. I have read that the Rudo character in the film did deviate significantly from historical records. Be that as it may, the film does feel more like a historical epic when it was compacted and re-edited. There is a lot to keep up with “Warriors of the Rainbow”. The film is filled with significant characters, and yet the script does a good job in keeping its coherency (if a little shaky at times).

                     A scene from "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale."

                     A scene from "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale."

                    A scene from "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale."

The film is all about a native people who up to this day had never returned to their homeland. The direction focuses almost all of its running time fleshing out the beliefs, culture and traditions of the Sediq people. The film begins with a simple set up as we see a young Mouna Rudo (played by Da Ching) become a man and what the tattoos in the faces of the tribesmen stand for. The film is mostly about the preservation of a people and their ways. The film gains its momentum as soon as the tribes have been segregated by the Japanese. It was interesting how different tribes have a different set of pride and rules. The tribes often fight amongst themselves rather than oppose the Japanese. Some have embraced Japanese culture while one tribe had been befriended by the Japanese. The writing was set to reveal a lot of the workings of the human mind and how certain traditions prove to be the defining moment for a man. Such traditions can either make or break a man. The direction leaves such things to be decided by the audience. It was also curious to know that many of the Seediq traditions and beliefs feel similar to those of the Norse Vikings as with the rainbow and a place for warriors.

This is a film about a revolt and any war movie is going to be bloody. We see the Seediq people use their knowledge of the terrain and their skill in maneuvering the vast forest. The use of guerilla tactics is indeed viable in a fight against a large military force. What made the incident quite different was that 300 Seediq warriors were able to hold off a Japanese force numbering in the thousands for 50 days. The battles were grisly and bloody but the direction was very careful not to wallow in the graphic details of the war. The film does have a lot of disturbing images of suicide, and the murder of children. It was necessary and they were as shocking as necessary to demonstrate the proud beliefs of the tribes.

                      A scene from "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale."

                     A scene from "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale."

Characters from Taiwanese history such as Temu Wallis (Umin Boya) and Kojima Genji (Ando Masanobu) makes appearances, but the film loses some details about their lives. Dakis Nomin’s (Hsu Yi-Fan) character does make significant impact on the film’s narrative. I do have to admit that looking through Taiwanese history that this compacted film did lose a lot on the details of the second part. The direction was capable enough to make a smooth transition but you can see that the film was re-edited. I would love to see the uncut versions of the film. The film is shot in the bi-lingual languages of Japan and Taiwan, and aids in its feeling of authenticity. Set designs and costumes were accurately rendered. I did have some mixed feelings of its soundtrack, since there were times it lacked some power.

                      A scene from "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale."

“Warriors of the Rainbow Seediq Bale” is indeed a monumental achievement in Asian cinema. This re-cut and re-edited version may arguably feel more even and well-paced than the near-infinitely long 4 hour plus versions but I would still be willing to give the two-parter a shot. This re-edited version is one film that made me hungry for more. I would love to see the finer details behind the Wushe incident. The direction here made for a good attempt in telling its story, but one wouldn’t be hard-pressed to tell that some grisly images were cut out to keep its pacing. Still, “Warriors” gets a recommended rating from me; it was exciting, engaging and ambitious. It reminded me of the days when I saw “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Apocalypto”. Perhaps I am just a sucker for historical epics.

Recommended! [4- Out of 5 Stars]

                                Poster art for "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale."

 ]]> Mon, 7 May 2012 03:47:56 +0000
<![CDATA[Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale Quick Tip by woopak_the_thrill]]> RED CLIFF".

Full review Here

             A scene from "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale."]]> Mon, 30 Apr 2012 05:27:44 +0000
<![CDATA[ A great whodunnit thriller that comes at a time where whodunnit thrillers seem almost extinct.]]>
In 2002, a case involving the disappearance of a young woman from nearly sixty years ago is re-opened by the girl's great granduncle, Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), who believes not only that his niece was murdered, but by a family member too. In the year of 1966, when she first disappeared, very thorough searches were conducted and nothing - nor no one - was found. Henrik has not been able to give up. He himself admits to sort of looking for his lost niece whenever he so much as takes a walk around the premises of his mansion. He cannot cope with life without knowing the truth - he must reach a conclusion - and so he revives the case by hiring the infamous journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), who is to be imprisoned in about six months for losing a libel case concerning the billionaire Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. Henrik sets Mikael up in a small cottage still located on the Vanger estate, and it is there that he conducts most of his research.

Enter Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the woman who acquired the information on Blomkvist for Henrik in the first place. Lisbeth is characterized by her appearance and her occupation; she could be easily labeled as a punk/Goth girl with obvious but unidentifiable emotional burdens, the kind of chick who is attractive but incredibly secretive. She also drives a motorcycle, and happens to be very talented in the field of computer hacking. For the first hour or so of the film, she doesn't meet up with Mikael, although we know that eventually she'll have to. That's how these stories go. And so when Lisbeth meets Mikael; it becomes clear that these are two great minds, and great minds think alike - and on the most fascinating of occasions, differently.

In a complicated whodunit narrative with absolutely brilliant structure and flawless pacing, Blomkvist snoops around and meets the extended Vanger family, while Lisbeth deals with the more juicy stuff. Over time, the two bond a little, although Mikael finds Lisbeth unpredictable, which both angers and fascinates him at the same time. Needless to say, the two make an effective pair; their progress is stunt-like in its rapid succession over time, and the conversations held between the two of them are always very intellectually stimulating. If you've seen murder mystery-thrillers of both the past and present, then you'll know that one of the key elements to any story within that genre is going in knowing as little as possible. You'll also know some of what to expect, as this is not the kind of film that intends to be a game changer. But then again, sometimes, it doesn't take a game changer at all to blow you away.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is a fierce and relentless movie. I did not know that films of its kind could be made anymore, but then again, it is a Swedish import (if you live anywhere other than Sweden, that is). It is also uncompromising, intoxicating, disarming, and absolutely brilliant. There are many who could claim the worldwide success that the film has since enjoyed, although two names are primarily responsible. First, the author of the "Millenium" book trilogy, Stieg Larson; and second, the director of the first film adaptation, Niels Arden Oplev. The former is responsible for the material; the latter is credited for respectively bringing it to the big screen unmarred.

Aside from abiding by the ground rules of the mystery thriller, the story is perhaps most memorable for its characters rather than its twists and turns. On paper, Lisbeth Salander was a heroine that an inspired female reader could perhaps look up to, and in the film, she is portrayed as a wounded woman living a violent life in which she commits at least 50% of that violence, which is sometimes directed towards others and sometimes towards herself. Once we have seen the flashbacks depicting a very dark childhood for the character, we get the sense that she is deep and complex; and having never read the source novel(s), I hope the depths of her very dark and very human soul are explored in great detail in the two sequels (both of which I have yet to see, and Hollywood has yet to touch). And as for Mikael Blomkvist, well, he's a decent enough guy; he might have a troubled past as well, but oh, who wants to hear about that. The popular opinion is that the Lisbeth character is what makes the material so compelling, and after witnessing Rapace's performance in that particular role, I must agree with such an opinion.

Oplev directs with an eye for detail. He doesn't simply stick to one style, and instead chooses to employ a few along the way. He decides to have fun with how he chooses to depict and film specific sequences. For instance, there are many scenes that feel simplistic in their purely technical aspects; and then there are those which are unrelenting in their tension, and others in which the camera might as well be going completely bat-shit in comparison to how it's been used for what makes up the rest of the film. The cinematographers were Eric Kress and Jens Fischer. Both did an exceptional job at helping Oplev to achieve his master vision. The score by Jacob Groth is sinister and foreboding; at one moment, in the moment, and at another, not in the moment at all. While the story itself may take on a structure that will come off to many as familiar (and therefore "unoriginal"), the style of the film itself is hard to predict. It's never quite what you want it to be.

Most American viewers will find the content difficult to swallow. If you don't want to see a movie that goes where most people would never want to go at all - the dark corners of the human soul - then you probably should do your best to avoid this one. However, if you want a deep, challenging character study with impeccable directorial flare; then you'll want to see "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" as soon as possible. While the high-quality suspense and performances aim to entertain, the on-screen violence and sexual perversion depicted towards women does not; but this material should not be labeled as misogynistic. If anything, there are undertones of raw feminism. So don't you dare imply otherwise. Because by the end of the film, you'll have seen first-hand what the girl with the titular tattoos is willing to do to those who have done her wrong. And you don't want to be getting involved with that.]]> Sun, 29 Apr 2012 23:33:43 +0000
<![CDATA[ OCEAN HEAVEN Is Righteous]]> In the past several years, there’s been a tremendous increase of awareness surrounding the nature of autism.  To be correct, autism is medically known as, either, Autism or Autism Spectral Disorder (ASD); both terms define a group of disorders associated to the development of the human brain.  Typically, persons suffering autism display difficulty in interacting socially; in fact, they may experience difficulty with any form of communication.  They may engage in repetitive behaviors – repeating sounds or phrases, arranging and re-arranging objects and furniture, flapping or waving of the hands and/or fingers, etc.  Of course, there are other vastly more serious and complicated medical symptoms and realities; but the end result is that – when dealing with the traditional parent-child relationship – it becomes increasingly difficult to responsibly raise a sufferer who neither completely grasps the direction or advice offered nor possesses the skills to adequately define any cause for alarm to the parent.  Still, the parent continues on – out of love – and that’s the central theme behind writer/director Xue Xiaolu’s latest film, OCEAN HEAVEN.
To his surprise, widowed handyman Sam Wong (played by Jet Li) discovers that he’s entering the final stages of an advanced terminal illness.  In normal circumstances, Wong would simply go about spending some quality time of shoring up his own personal affairs; however, he must put the desire to square up his relationships aside in order to place all of his effort into securing some reasonable future for his 22-year-old son, David (Lunmei Kwai), a victim of autism so severe that he lacks anything resembling a normal existence and quite possibly won’t survive independently.  With no other family or institution available to assist with this highly personal challenge, Wong fights an uphill struggle to connect once-and-for-all with the boy in a way that can give him half-a-chance to live in a world he’s always at odds with.
The film opens with a sequence – I won’t go into any specifics here so that I don’t spoil it for any viewers – that I found a bit off-putting.  It isn’t the sequence itself that I found a bit problematic – it’s a fact that, in the scope of time, I was at a loss to understand what had legitimately ‘happened’ at the opening until a bit later in the film.  (Trust me: once you see the film, I have no doubt you’ll probably understand what I’m referencing.)  It’s a small quibble, but I think it should’ve been either handled a bit differently or given a better explanation earlier than it does; there are hints, but it’s never fully explained until later than I believed was helpful to the narrative.  What it did (for me) was throw me for a loop: I am watching these events in their proper chronology or is the picture ‘as a flashback’?  To my delight, it worked out the way I hoped – no harm, no foul – but, as I stated, I believe it could’ve been handled better.  Who knows?  It may even have been something lost in the film’s translation (subtitles).
That small quibble aside, OCEAN HEAVEN is nothing short of pure cinematic brilliance.
In his hands as David, Kwai embodies so much of the picture with an infectiously youthful innocence.  Director Xiaolu clearly goes to great lengths to capture how David’s perspective on the larger world outside flavors so much of the young man’s perceptions.  To be precise, Xiaolu even tries – to great effect – to display “how” David sees the world, positioning the camera to record what the young man’s exact visual impressions would be.  In the hands of a lesser director, it could have all ended up more than a bit maudlin – an aggressive film-school narrative trick unintentionally demeaning the ‘affliction du jour’ – but it works here, winningly, and that’s because of respectful attention given to the material.  As David’s counterpoint – presenting the point-of-view which most movie watchers will identify with – Li gives an exceptionally convincing performance as the troubled father.  Clearly, this aquarium worker has lived a humble life – one entirely dedicated to raising his boy after the death of the mother.  This grounding in reality – in the hands of man who accomplishes ‘fixing’ things but yet can’t even begin to understand how to ‘fix’ his child – gives OCEAN HEAVEN the chance to not so much be an advocacy picture in support of treating autism so much as it sticks to a central theme no one can find controversy in: at all times, be a good parent.  So much of the father/son relationship works here because the two characters remain ‘committed’ to one another in this crippled reality – both are shown struggling to find their respective voices instead of securing a grand solution suitable for a motion picture audience.  It’s always poignant.  It’s always relevant.  It’s always reverential to that central struggle, not the players, and that’s why it excels on so many levels.
The production is impressive.  The director put a tremendous amount of work in securing not only a certain look but, as well, a certain environment for the story, and it’s photography beautifully.  Colors are rich and vibrant when needed, and they’re necessarily muted when the story calls for it.  Sound presentation is equally important, and no expense has been shared.  It’s a top notch production given a top notch pressing here.  There’s a brief ‘making of’ featurette – essentially a series of intercut interviews – and trailers, but nothing else.
HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION.  I went into this one with, seriously, very little expectations.  I mean … Jet Li?  In a dramatic role … as a single father suffering a terminal illness?  It’s nothing short of wonderful – if not heart-wrenchingly so at times – a brilliant story of one man’s acceptance of the fact that connecting with his autistic son may not only mean bringing the son into his world but also having the courage and conviction to live forever in the boy’s world.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA provided me with a DVD screener copy of OCEAN HEAVEN for the expressed purposes of writing this review.]]> Mon, 16 Apr 2012 03:44:54 +0000
<![CDATA[ A crafty mystery thanks to Chabrol and Noiret, with a satisfying last line for game show hosts]]> Masques we have mystery in the country manor with, perhaps, murder in the country manner. But was there a murder and, if so, who did the murdering? Chabrol leads us to the easy conclusion, reassures us, then lets us consider the thought that there might be other possibilities.
It's far better for a director's reputation that he or she turn out turgid dramas than well-crafted entertainments. Claude Chabrol is a case in point. Although his more serious films are scarcely turgid, it is his many films over the last 35 years or so, most of which can easily be called entertainments, at least by me, that sometimes cause a condescending sniff. It's nearly impossible to read comments about a Chabrol film without seeing yet another reference to his "French New Wave" credentials -- of over 40 years ago -- or to that tired old cliché of Chabrol being France's answer to Hitchcock.
I admire Chabrol for one simple reason. In a long career he continued to make movie after movie, year after year, and good ones. Chabrol made all kinds of movies, mysteries, murders, comedies, satires, dramas. He could be serious about serious things, if it suited him, but more often he could be amusing about serious things. His movies are literate and nearly always depend upon the mood Chabrol created around the plot. It's clear that authority or the conventions of society didn’t impress him. He wasn’t above gruesome shock. Occasionally, he was unsettling, even sad. Occasionally he produced a dud or a half dud. Through it all, he kept making movies. It seems to me that if one accepts that motion pictures are, above all, popular entertainment, then having one's films praised as entertainment -- literate entertainment -- should be seen as high praise.
Chabrol was one of the great craftsmen of movie making, one with a point of view, and one with whom some fine actors wanted to work. And that brings us back to Masques, another of Claude Chabrol's literate entertainments, this one with that great actor, Philippe Noiret.
Christian Lagagneur (Noiret) is the ebullient host of a popular television game show. On a pink set with a ricky-tick band playing ricky-tick music, Lagagneur hosts elderly couples who must perform a song or a dance, and then they're voted upon to see which couple wins the trip of a lifetime. He agrees to have Roland Wolf (Robin Renucci) write his biography. He invites Wolf to a weekend at his country manor where they'll work together. At the manor are Lagagneur's secretary, Colette, a smiling, watchful woman, along with his live-in masseuse and her husband, who looks after the wine. The cook is also the chauffeur, a man who is mute. "Max had tongue cancer which metastasized into his ears," explains Lagagneur to Wolf. There also is Catherine, a pale, thin young woman who wears dark glasses in the house. Catherine is Lagagneur's ward and godchild. She is a minor but just barely.

We know something's up when Wolf, unpacking in his room, removes a revolver from his valise. He hides it in a closet and discovers a lipstick. He looks at it carefully, and then writes a large M on the mirror. He murmurs "Madeleine" and then wipes it off. It's not long before we discover Madeline was a houseguest, too, who left suddenly in the night.
We witness Lagagneur's solicitude for Catherine, his insistence that doctors not see her because of the damage they caused earlier, his concern that she take the pills Colette crushes and mixes in her tea. We also witness Catherine's instability, her mood swings and her unexpected passions. Wolf interviews Lagagneur, records everything, and at night discovers secrets. Whatever is going to happen in this manor house over the weekend, we can be sure death will be involved.
Philippe Noiret dominates the movie just as his character, Christian Lagagneur, dominates the manor house and the game show. Lagagneur is relentlessly full of bon homme. His overwhelming small talk gives nothing away. His charm can seem genuine. Noiret, whether prancing about the television stage embracing an old woman dressed in her best, glancing at his cue cards and mouthing aggressive patter about the delights of old age, or playing chess in a dark room while measuring with drooping eye lids the possible motives of Wolf, is sheer pleasure. Noiret played so many indelible characters it's impossible to say which are best. Among my favorites are Lucien Cordier in Coup de Torchon, Major Delaplane in Life and Nothing But, Alfredo in Cinema Paradiso and D'Artagnan in the amusing Revenge of the Musketeers. If you like stick-it-in-your-nose detectives who must have paprika on their eggs, try Claude Chabrol's Inspector Lavardin in Cop au Vin and Inspecteur Lavardin.
Masques is a clever, misleading mystery with sharp edges.
Claude Chabrol died in 2010 at 81; Philippe Noiret in 2006 at 76.]]> Sun, 15 Apr 2012 01:03:30 +0000
<![CDATA[ Hey...that weren't me.]]>
Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) finds himself the victim of "for-the-hell-of-it" logic. An intelligent, fast-talking police officer in London's Metropolitan Police Service; he is one day called into the office of his superiors, where they proceed to give him a lecture on how good he is at what he does, and how his thorough and consistent goodness has led them to make the very tough decision of transferring him to a smaller town, supposedly to spare the embarrassment of the other far inferior officers. Nicholas is to be transferred to the quiet village of Sandford, located somewhere in Gloucestershire. He makes the journey by train and never with a smile on his face. He takes with him only his clothes and his Japanese peace lily. Everything else - including his girlfriend, who he has become increasingly distant from over time - can stay behind. He's ready to start life anew.

Sandford is known for its particularly low crime rate. The officers stationed there have been practically brainwashed over the years to the point where they believe nothing bad can possibly happen in their nice little town. The central office is headed by Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent), and the day after he arrives, Nicholas is introduced to the fellow officers. I'll run off some names: Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) - son of Frank and now Nicholas's partner when on duty -, Andy Wainwright (Paddy Considine) and Andy Cartwright (Rafe Spall), Tony Fisher (Kevin Eldon), "policewoman" Doris Thatcher (Olivia Colman), PC Bob Walker (Bill Bailey), and his dog Saxon. Then there is the Neighborhood Watch Alliance; made up of many people, but in particular, a Mr. Tom Weaver (Edward Woodward) and a Mr. Simon Skinner (a fantastically creepy Timothy Dalton).

Nicholas and Danny could not be more different. The former is forever grounded in the reality that a privileged amount of field experience has created, while the latter wishes his life/job were more reminiscent of the action movies that he religiously watches. All the same, the two start to bond over long periods of time; eventually having to spring into action when a series of brutal murders threaten to ruin the reputation and well-being of Sandford. There are a few prime suspects - in particular, Mr. Skinner - but the identity of the killer could be anyone. Clues and red herrings pop up at any given moments, often at the strangest of times. Meanwhile, a swan is on the loose; the Sandford officers are assholes; and both Nicholas and Danny get drunk and watch "Bad Boys 2" late at night.

I could go on and on about a movie like this all day. I've seen it a record number of times, and truth be told, it never gets old. Of course, one might need space after a few go-rounds (and I certainly found this to be the case), but revisiting Edgar Wright's "Hot Fuzz" is a very rich and peculiar experience indeed. There are few like it. I refuse to give too much away in regards to the plot, or the smaller characters that populate it, because I fear this will spoil the film for those who have yet to see it. What I can say is that if you loved "Shaun of the Dead" (Wright's first feature); you'll probably love "Hot Fuzz" just as much. Technically speaking, it's a pretty big step up from the said earlier film, but bigger doesn't always mean better. Nevertheless, here, it just might.

What I love about Wright's screenplays are that (1.) they show his nigh impeccable love for cinema and (2.) they make great use of Frost and Pegg's combined talents as a dynamic comic duo. Here, as in "Shaun", they have great on-screen chemistry; it's to the point where seeing them in individual movies - without each-other - becomes a rather odd experience. Anyways, coming back to the first part; "Hot Fuzz" is like a love letter to not only action movies - but also slashers, horror films (a very gory death scene mimics "The Omen"), and British historical cinema. For instance, it was shot in the same town that Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs" was all those years ago. Also, the story is like the bastard love child of "The Wicker Man" and "The Naked Gun". The proceedings are satisfactory. Since his comic timing is so ingenious, every joke goes down easy; even the crude and profane ones consisting of four-letter words, none of which are too harsh for one to stomach. The in-references to other films are smartly placed, and to notice them all, repeated viewings are absolutely essential. It doesn't get much better than this.

Another thing I adore about Wright; his productions aren't cheap. They're real, authentic, high-quality productions. "Hot Fuzz" is an action-comedy written in over-the-top blood and gore (it's the second installment in Wright's so-called "Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy") and an absolutely bat-shit insane final shootout that takes place in the last twenty minutes. There isn't a dull moment to spare; and I couldn't stop laughing. It was off-the-wall, it was fearless, it was hyper-violent, and it was like an ADD-riddled kid with a good hand at the pen had crafted the thing. That might just be the case. Many shots seem to distantly echo the lost era of cheesy 80's action; and I loved the vibe. The cinematography - which is both moody and stylistic at times - certainly helps to perfect this aspect of the film. Also, the soundtrack - consisting mostly of classic (British) rock) - assists in immersing the viewer in Wright's twisted word of non-stop hilarity.

One last thing; in a film of ironic and undeniably funny names, which one do I like the most? Well, there's a wide variety to choose from. There's...Simon Skinner (wink, wink), Tom Weaver, Nicholas Angel, Rev. Philip Shooter, Martin Blower, Eve Draper, George Merchant, Tim Messenger, Leslie Tiller, and Peter Cocker. That's a lot of ironic and funny names to choose from. After much thought, I decided it might be best to go with Rev. Philip Shooter; since the character generates a hell of a laugh near the end. But Martin Blower was very, very close.]]> Wed, 11 Apr 2012 21:15:10 +0000
<![CDATA[ You've got red on you.]]>
Edgar Wright is the kind of guy who I would best describe as nice. A director of comedy films - always has, always will be, I hope - , it's surprising that one of the genre's greatest minds working today does not succumb to the universal demands of the folks overseas. A filmmaker working primarily in his homeland United Kingdom, Wright isn't one to rely on gross-out gags or excessively crude humor. He does however seem to like blood a whole lot. But that's one of the simple pleasures of a great many artists. Wright achieved fame in his native country with his television program "Spaced", although it wasn't until he made "Shaun of the Dead" that the modern comic genius made his debut into worldwide sensationalism. This was the film that put him on the map, as a name to look out for in the future; his name was a selling point in itself for all his other directorial (and non-directorial) features to follow. Nevertheless, I like to think of this as the one that started it all; the madness, the hilarity, the ingenuity, the blood and the ice-cream. You know what I mean.

The titular hero, Shaun (Simon Pegg), is an almost fascinatingly lazy and hopelessly clueless man. He's a slacker, shares a flat in London with his best friend Ed (Nick Frost) - who's admittedly a bit of a useless turd himself - and goes through life day by day with a rinse-repeat philosophy on his mind, or not. He's able to uphold a decent job at a retail shop with indecent people, but he's not so lucky in his love life. Not too long after the story opens, Shaun's girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) breaks up with the hero, finding him to be incompetent. She believes that if they remain partners, they'll both end up drowning their sorrow and boredom in alcohol at the local pub - The Winchester - for the rest of their lives. She's probably right, even if Shaun has no complaints or regrets.

Things are not looking all too well for Shaun. He plans to get drunk with Ed for the next few days - and probably lie around the house a little - to try and get the breakup off his mind. These plans are interrupted when people start falling unconscious on the streets at random, old men start eating pigeons in the park, and seemingly drunk convenience store clerks are mysteriously ending up in Sean's backyard. It soon becomes clear that this is not just rapid public drunkenness; the newscaster on the television explains that this is the start of a full-fledged zombie apocalypse. After realizing that they aren't quite safe at all where they stand, both Shaun and Ed devise a plan to round up Liz, her roommates Dianne (Lucy Davis) and David (Dylan Moran), and Shaun's mom (Penelope Wilton) so that they can ensure a chance at survival. Shaun just hopes he won't have to take his stepfather (Bill Nighy) - whom he passionately loathes - along with them for the trip.

The first half of the film is devoted to build-up. The opening titles sequence depicts an almost emotionally desolate London in which life is forever repetitive, contrived, and almost robotic; people are essentially zombie-like even without the craving for human flesh. Shaun is no different, and there are two prolonged scenes - almost identical in visual style - in which he leaves the house, picks up a beer at the supermarket, and plops back down on the couch again. Then...there's panic on the streets of London. Now, the second half of the film is set after the group that Shaun has gotten together avoids the "panic". They set up camp in the Winchester for a while, hoping that they will be safe, even though a window has been shattered. They should be fine; they've got food, alcohol, and look, even a shotgun over the bar that gave the pub its name.

"Shaun of the Dead" is my payoff for all those countless days, hours, and weeks spent watching or just THINKING about zombie movies. The title itself is of course a play on a certain George Romero genre classic, and there are little in-jokes and clever references to past zombie flicks scattered throughout this one. So if you know your stuff about the genre, look out for those; and you'll have an even better time than what is already guaranteed. Even without the references, there are enough laugh-out-loud moments and jokes to more than keep the film afloat. Wright seems to enjoy visual gags the most; which is apparent in scenes like the one where the group walks through London to get to the pub disguised as the undead (they try their hand at convincing moaning noises and jolted bodily movements), as well as another where Shaun and Ed go to town on some bloodthirsty zombies hanging around their throwing Shaun's entire LP record collection in their general direction.

It's ultraviolent, bloody, and you'd better bet that it's sometimes quite profane (one of my favorite scenes is a non-stop barrage of four-letter words). But it's also one of the more absorbing comedies out there. I cannot simply count how many times I've seen and thoroughly enjoyed the film but I can tell you right now that it's been a while. I'm glad I finally revisited the film; for it's one of those special viewings where you feel like you're revisiting every last location presented in the actual movie. From the Winchester to Shaun's flat, to the individual scenes of humor that take place in between and within them; everything felt familiar, but in a good way. If I already know and anticipate the joke(s), but they still manage to make me laugh until it hurts, you know a movie has been taken completely to heart. It's one of the few comedies that completely immersed me in its universe. You remember the names of the smaller characters long after you've survived Z-day.

Case in point, the film has not changed on bit from the last time I saw it until now. "Shaun of the Dead" remains a bloody good time at the movies; the kind of flick that will someday (deservingly) spawn some sort of cult following (it already has, somewhat). If you are in need of a very fine introduction to Wright's hilarious and wholly impressive body of work, this would be the movie to get you started. It may not be loved by all, but you'd have to be a sourpuss to reject it completely. After all, one should know how to accurately distinguish a good homage/genre spoof from a bad one. What I like most about the film is that it mixes genuine atmosphere, scares, and drama with brilliant comedy that ranges from physical to dialogue-driven antics. If it had tried any harder, it might have failed; but then again, why let the thought even cross my mind in the first place?]]> Wed, 11 Apr 2012 21:13:47 +0000
<![CDATA[ Three dedicated Norwegian students create a fine documentary]]> Troll Hunter, it is primarily a disturbing educational experience. Some of what a viewer sees might seem unnecessarily bloody and frightening, but this is what these students found after they attached themselves to a reclusive, surly bear hunter. I will only say that this man, Hans, and his superior, Mr. Finn Haugen, worked for the Norwegian Wildlife Board. As we and the students later learn the men actually were employees of the secret government agency, the Norwegian Troll Security Service (TSS). This agency, it turned out, was created to kill trolls and hide their existence. Outlandish? You must watch this documentary film. This film was released only after the students disappeared and their work was discovered by the side of a road.
The film is presented as it was discovered, from snips and pieces made by the students. Kalle was the cameraman, Johanna was responsible for the audio, Thomas was the on-camera commentator. We do not know their last names, only that they were students from Dottmar College. They were three young people dedicated to their project, sometimes frightened but with a deep desire to learn and to record the truth. They have never been seen again, and we do not know their fate. Many suspect the TSS might be involved since it since has been learned that the TSS has been attempting to cover-up the existence of trolls for many years. This was discovered only inadvertently when the Norwegian prime minister, Mr. Jens Stoltenberg, inadvertently confirmed the existence of trolls during a press conference.
In the course of these students’ film we encounter the Tosserlad, the Jotnar and a group of young Ringlefinches, all huge beasts with gigantic noses, long arms and covered with filthy hair. We see how gigantic are these beasts, towering over forests and wreaking destruction as they move. We learn that their inability to convert vitamin D into calcium makes them vulnerable to turning into stone in sunlight as their bodies over-react to UV rays. Unfortunately, (because of the likelihood of sensationalism), the students also record terrifying chases through dense dark woods, bloody encounters and frightening suspense. There is the sacrifice of a goat to snare, I believe, a ringlefinch. The young goat bleats its fear.
Some of what the students filmed simply is not appropriate for children. Indeed, even the preparations for approaching these creatures might seem too disgusting for family viewing. The application of trollstench, particularly to the armpits and groins, is vulgar. This substance is so foul to the nostrils that gagging usually is induced. Trollstench is prepared by cooking down the difficult-to-collect bodily wastes of trolls. This, however, is essential if one is to disguise one’s own scent, particularly if one is a Christian. Trolls are enraged by Christians. Yet as fearsome as these huge beasts are, they are susceptible to disease. This might be, the students learn, the cause of troll rage.
Kalle, Johanna and Thomas framed their story around Hans, the trolljegeren (or troll hunter). Hans might not be as reliable as the students think. Yet Hans undoubtedly knows his trolls
Call Troll Hunter what you will – a documentary, cinema verite, or simply a student college film project. It remains a remarkable record. Any who have managed to watch that other classic documentary, Forgotten Silver, will not regret watching this.]]> Wed, 11 Apr 2012 16:10:45 +0000
<![CDATA[ Gangsters, cops, chases and murders…and an innocent nice guy. Hitchcock would smile.]]> Point Blank opens: When safecracker Hugo Sartet suddenly finds two men confronting him in a darkened Paris apartment, it’s run or die. He runs…out of the apartment, down the stairs, across a thoroughfare dodging cars, into a traffic-filled underpass. He’s been shot in the side, bleeding, gasping for air. Cars roar past him. Some narrowly miss him. He’s bleeding badly and can hardly stagger. The two pursuers, guns drawn, are almost on him. They’re not interested in catching him, just killing him. A motorcyle suddenly runs straight into him. Drivers screech on the brakes and halt. Some run over to help. The two gunmen fade back and then run off.
What’s all this have to do with Samuel Pierret, a nurse’s aide? Pierret’s a nice guy with an everyman face. His wife Nadia is seven months pregnant. They are a warm, sexy couple who love each other. Her doctor told Nadia she must be careful and rest as much as possible. Pierret dotes on her. This will be their first child.
Hugo Sartet and Samuel Pierret are going to meet when Pierret starts his night shift. Visitors have left and the ward is empty except for silent patients separated by curtains. Sartet is one of the patients. He’s wrapped in bandages, hooked up to monitors and unconscious. He’s about to be murdered unless Pierret notices the silent visitor now standing by Sartet’s bed.
And now Point Blank (A bout portant), a classy French gangster/chase thriller directed by Fred Cavaye, takes off. Sam scares off the murderer, cops arrive, and Sam takes a phone call. We just kidnapped your wife, Sam is told, now get Sartet out of the hospital and take him to this abandoned warehouse or we’ll kill her.
A frantic, fast and sometimes brutal chase begins. The cops are after both of them. Sam has become headline fodder as a probable criminal, vying for tabloid honors with an important businessman who’d been gunned down for no apparent reason. But who has kidnapped Sam’s pregnant wife?  Maybe a partner of Sartet trying to help him? Maybe the cops who might have other things in mind? Men and women, including a cop, quickly become corpses..
The movie isn’t a buddy flick. Sartet, played by Roschdy Zem, is a professional gangster, mean looking, fit, competent and humorless. Pierret, played by Gilles Lellouche, is younger, a bit out of shape, honest and can only think of his wife. Sartet wants to live and exact revenge. Pierret desperately wants to save his wife and protect their unborn child.
There are two masterful and lengthy action set pieces, one in the Paris metro and one in a police station. With the action in the station, Cavaye creates chaos. Panicky cops and crooks rush up and down stairs. There are murder attempts, close calls, crowded hallways and stairways, slammed doors and a transvestite. Sartet’s skills and coolness are vital and so is Pierret’s nervous bravery.
Point Blank is nearly non-stop action, coherent and clever. The end, needless to say, is satisfying. Hitchcock would approve.]]> Wed, 11 Apr 2012 02:37:32 +0000
<![CDATA[ Best kept silent.]]>
The definition of "horror" states that - in the context of cinema - for a film to qualify as a successful entry into this genre, it must unnerve and elicit both negative and positive (but mostly negative) emotions from the viewing audience. If this is true, then "The Silent House" is half a horror movie; momentarily, it scares and keeps the viewer on edge, waiting for whatever has the potential to inevitably happen to happen, but when regarding those emotions, I can't say it left me with too many positive ones. My theory is that no matter how violent or depressing the movie, one can derive happy thoughts from the experience so long as they find it thought-provoking. I say this because in all honesty, it feels pretty darn good to think; so long as all that thinking gets you somewhere, to a conclusion, perhaps. In the beginning, I wasn't sure what to think; in the middle, I was experiencing some of those "positive emotions"; and by the end, I was left with nothing but dark, cold, bitter cynicism.

My problem was this: the film has basically used a gimmick (it was supposedly shot in one continuous take, and it runs about 80 minutes in length) to hold my attention for the time that it demanded, instead of using an absorbing story and characters to draw me in. I'll admit that it's seldom boring, and it intrigued me from beginning to end (although that's precisely where I draw the line); but in trying to make the film as creepy and tense as possible, director Gustavo Hernandez also forget some key ingredients. "The Silent House" could have been such an effective little chiller - and for extended but underwhelming periods of time it kind of is - had it avoided the obstacles that were involved in its making. It almost feels as if there was no written screenplay, and that the ambition alone was supposed to carry the film. The filmmakers should not have so arrogantly assumed such a thing.

The premise is incredibly simple. Laura (Florencia Colucci) and her father Wilson (Gustavo Olonso) make way by foot to an old cottage that lies on secluded ground. They intend to fix it up within the next few days for a friend of dad, who intends to sell the house soon after they finish the job. The two get to the estate a little too late for their liking, and Wilson says they'll start up in the morning. However, they must set up camp downstairs for the time being, since the upstairs is deemed "unsafe" and "unstable". And so they settle down on the various chairs, with the blankets that have been provided, and they try to get some shut-eye. But a loud noise disturbs Laura, prompting her to ask Wilson to go check it out. Of course, it's coming from upstairs; and of course, that's just where Wilson goes. When yet another noise is heard and father does not return, Laura goes looking for him and gets way more than she bargained for.

Most of the film is devoted to Laura looking around in the dark, dark house with a particularly illuminating lamp and a scythe in hand. Something must have made that noise, and clearly it's looking to get nasty; Wilson is found dead and bleeding in no time, and we see apparitions (unseen to Laura) that could very well be his killer(s). It remains intriguing and engaging for a while, but soon gets repetitive and rather pointless. Certain scenes, such as the one where Laura happens upon strange paintings of people with literally "blank expressions", give the film some steam; but it fails to catch fire.

The film is an outstanding technical achievement for Hernandez and his team. The production was completed in four days, and while that makes me somewhat doubt the authenticity of the single-take claims that alone sell the film, it can still be considered a mastery of cinematic technology. It certainly had me fooled, even if it was nothing more than a gimmick. The cinematography is also gorgeous, particularly when Laura's lamp lights the way. Such a light gives off an image that lends the film a certain quality; it's almost surreal and otherworldly. I just wish such things had been put to better use, or perhaps in a better film. They might have worked exceptionally well had the film been one of paranormal and ghostly qualities, but the twist ending reveals a true intent that is anything but from beyond the grave. Maybe if this had been a ghost story in the end, I would have enjoyed it more. All-in-all, I did enjoy a good portion of it anyways; but the twist ruined the entire experience and made me feel as if I had just wasted my time.

Nevertheless, it's still worth seeing if you're as big a horror fan as I am. There are some aspects worth looking into here, although I'm afraid all goodness is drowned out by the bad and the sadly mediocre stuff that comes in between. There are genuine moments of suspense, some cleverly placed jump scares, and the visual atmosphere is gold; but as I said, there are some great materials and resources here that simply belong in a film of different qualities and themes. It doesn't help that the story is weak, the characters grossly under-developed (although the twist is supposed to sort of rectify that), and the pacing unfortunately uneven. I love a good, suspenseful horror film, but this isn't one. By the halfway point, I was hoping that it would silence itself before I would be provoked to silence it, by turning off the DVD Player.]]> Mon, 2 Apr 2012 01:45:09 +0000
<![CDATA[ Finally! Blu-ray BATTLE ROYALE: It Just Doesn't Get Any Better Than This!]]> So much has been written about the film.  So much has been said.  So much has been debated, discussed, dissected, and so much has been praised or insulted or misunderstood.  Those of us who celebrate film will always owe a special debt to the people at Anchor Bay: for the first time since it was released, BATTLE ROYALE is now being made available – uncensored, uncut, unrated – in America.
No doubt that BATTLE ROYALE’s Blu-ray release was intended to coincide with the launch of another  book-turned-film-franchise, THE HUNGER GAMES, in theatres in March, 2012.  Clearly, that’s some savvy marketing, as people from around the world have been arguing about the comparisons since the books by Suzanna Collins appeared.  To her credit, Ms. Collins claims that she’d never heard of BATTLE ROYALE, nor read the 1999 Japanese novel of the same name that the movie was based on.  I’ll take her at her word, and I’ll leave that debate to folks who’ve schooled themselves in those facts.
In the not-too-distant-future, Japan’s economy has collapsed.  As a result, unemployment is destroying the culture.  Crime is on the rise.  Hoping to keep its next generation under its control, the Japanese government passed The BR (‘Battle Royale’) Law, which requires one 9th grade class each year to be shipped off to an island.  Their mission?  Kill each other until only one person is left.  There are some other fine points to the game (i.e. each student is given a duffle full of supplies, the Island is broken into danger zones, etc.), but the message remains the same: 42 kids enter, 1 may leave.
That simple concept practically explodes into one of the bloodiest, shocking flicks captured on film!
As I said above, much has been written about ROYALE’s violence, so much so that I’ll take a pass on that topic.  Violence is violence – there isn’t any escaping it – and, when buckets of blood rules at the box office, the film certainly delivers.  What fascinated me much more about this story is the way that the 42 students of the film created their own subcultures once they’ve been deposited on the island.  Some of them remain fiercely independent, while others are doggedly loyal to one another.  Some of them panic as a result of the circumstances, and they immediately turn on one another.  What’s fascinating is that who they become as a result of the situation thrust upon them in many ways resembles an extension of who they were before it all when to heck in a handbasket.  The manipulative ‘losers’ become even more manipulative in order to survive the game, just as the computer nerds quickly go to work on cracking the hard science behind their entrapment.  If anything, ROYALE shows – despite its joyous subversiveness – that who a person is at his core will inevitably dictate what he’ll become when a new society comes calling.  Agree with it or not, that’s a powerful message, and it clearly shows why ROYALE deserves much more study in the years ahead.  Now that it’s available legitimately in the U.S., it’ll hopefully gain an even greater following.
As stated, this is a fully uncut restoration, and it’s been given a first class treatment here.  While the disc boasts absolutely zero special features, I’m so appreciative of having a clean cut available to me that I don’t believe I missed much.  The picture is fabulous (mostly), but there are a few scenes which clearly were either shot poorly ‘in the can’ or were tinkered with in post-production (zoom ins), a choice that ultimately limited the quality.  You’ll see instantly what I mean: three or four short cuts are covered in grain.  Sound is excellent – a noticeable improvement over the previous foreign DVD release I’ve had in my collection for a few years – which is nice because the film makes great use of some background audio and even a limited score.  Now all we need is a massive “Intellectual Edition” release which scores and scores and scores of commentaries, essays, features, and interviews about the picture.
Maybe I’m overdoing it, and, if you think so, you’ll have to pardon my excitement.  Those of us who’ve loved ROYALE privately for years are ecstatic to be treated to a terrific stateside release.  Yes, the film’s dark.  Of course, it’s a textbook example of subversive cinema at its finest.  It’ll make you think, squeal, squirm.  Shock.  Joy.  Revenge.  And cookies.  Everything you could want in a picture is in here – somewhere – so, if you’ve never seen it, I encourage you to do it today.  Put the kids to bed.  Pop some fresh popcorn.  Dim the lights.  Prepare yourself for the darkest of dark tragedies – this modern day epic – and let the chips fall where they may.  Blood will be shed.  Oh, yes, it will.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  Yes, BATTLE ROYALE is an instant classic.  While the subject matter or elements of the presentation may disturb you, keep in mind that there will probably never be another film like it in your lifetime.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Anchor Bay provided me with a DVD screener copy for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]> Fri, 30 Mar 2012 14:49:45 +0000
<![CDATA[ Mika's hot chocolate is delicious]]>  
There's little mystery about what's going on in Merci Pour le Chocolat, but the story drives with the question, "Why?" Why does Mika do what she does...and just what are all the things she's done? There's tension as it becomes clearer who should really be cautious about accepting Mika's hospitality. The pay-off is low key and a little unsatisfying. It's still a movie to enjoy.
The movie works because of Huppert's ability to seem imperturbable while you know probably unpleasant things are bubbling away below the surface. Let me tell you...for those fans of Britny and Angie, Isabelle Huppert, now 58, could chew you up and spit you out before you knew what was happening. ]]> Mon, 26 Mar 2012 02:35:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ An extraordinary performance by Marion Cotillard; an extraordinary film about the life of Edith Piaf]]> La Vie en Rose, the life of Edith Piaf, one of the great biographical films. What I'm sure of is that Marion Cotillard's portrayal of Piaf, from Piaf's early teens until Piaf died at 47, is one of the most extraordinary performances I've ever seen on a movie screen. Cotillard remakes herself into this willful, self-destructive, selfish, generous, melodramatic, tiny creature -- Piaf was only 4' 8" tall -- of dramatic vocal genius.
Piaf grew up on the streets of Paris. Her life was one crises after another, some of her making, some not. We meet her as a child, when her mother abandoned her. Her father, a soldier in WWI and a contortionist in small traveling circuses, disappeared for long periods of time. At one point before puberty she lived for quite a while with her paternal grandmother, who ran a brothel. She helped her father work at one of those circuses. They survived as street entertainers in Paris. She finally had enough and struck out on her own, making a little money singing on the streets, giving much of it to a local pimp for protection. She had a child who died of meningitis. When she was 20 she was discovered by an "impresario" who ran a nightclub. Louis Leplee renamed her Piaf. When he was murdered in what seemed to be a gang hit, she was put through the public wringer by the police and the French press. Her fame grew. During WWII she agreed to sing at POW camps so the French prisoners could be photographed with Piaf by the Germans as evidence of how happy the prisoners were. Piaf was a member of the Resistance. She took copies of the photographs and arranged for the Resistance to make false passports for 150 prisoners. She returned to the camps with the passports and managed to have them distributed to the prisoners under the eyes of the Germans. She was either fearless or willfully fatalistic. The Germans never seemed to realize what this tiny, internationally known singer was doing. After the war, she was acclaimed. She had famous love affairs, including Yves Montand and French middleweight boxer Marcel Cerdan. Cerdan, whom she loved, was killed in a plane crash. She drank heavily, took drugs, and her health continued to deteriorate. She suffered from rheumatism, severe arthritis, a liver that barely functioned. She became addicted to morphine and continued to drink heavily.
And she sang and sang and sang. She could make a child's jump-rope song sound like an obsession to lost love. Piaf had a big voice and she knew how to use it. She preferred simple black dresses and a spotlight when she performed, creating a highly dramatic image of this small, sad face and her two expressive hands. Her songs were about love, loss, death, memories, hope that was glimmering and hope that had died. She had a vibrato that seemed to throb in the heart. When she died at 47, the drink and the drugs, the losses and tragedies, the self-destructive willfulness and the arthritis had turned her into the ruined shell of the teen-ager who sang on Paris streets. Not a life I would have wanted, even if I'd traded for her talent, but it was her life and it became a huge melodrama powered by her unique voice.
For Americans, perhaps her most familiar song is La Vie En Rose. With Mack David's soppy lyrics, there was a time when it couldn't be avoided, including Piaf's French version. But the song that evokes the most memories, and the one that closes the movie and summarizes her life, is the song Piaf first sang just three years before her death, "Non, je ne regrette rien."
Non, rien de rien,
Non, je ne regrette rien,
Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait,
Ni le mal, tout ça m'est bien égal.
Non, rien de rien,
Non, je ne regrette rien,
C'est payé, balayé, oublié,
Je me fous du passé...
The song roughly translates as "I don't regret a thing. What has happened has happened and has been paid for. Neither the good done to me, nor the bad; to me, they're all the same. No, I regret nothing. Because my life, because my joys, today, begin with you."
The movie La Vie en Rose is dramatically and almost lushly photographed. We don't have a simple linear story line; we keep moving back and forth among the times of her life. The juxtapositions between the child, the girl, the young woman, the star, and the prematurely aged force of talent and willfulness, makes us pay attention, but it also gives us some idea of the chaos of her life.
Marion Cotillard is incredible as she makes us believe in this self-destructive and fascinating person. We forget about Cotillard and can only focus on this tiny body, big voice and an odd, appealing face made up of huge eyes, blood red lips, and plucked, thin-lined eye-brows.
Self-destruction after awhile makes me impatient. There are too many things to do to waste one's life on a diet of willfulness and selfishness, even if one is gifted with huge talent. I was mesmerized by Piaf, her life and her songs, but at times I felt like telling her to ease up on the drama. I suppose, given her life, much should be forgiven or at least understood. As Roger Ebert has said, "Nothing in her early life taught her to count on permanence or loyalty. What she counted on was singing, champagne, infatuation and morphine." ]]> Mon, 26 Mar 2012 02:04:18 +0000
<![CDATA[ Murderous imperial melodrama with Gong Li and Chow Yun Fat]]> The Curse of the Golden Flower (Man Cheng Jin Dai Huang Jin Jia) is gorgeous melodrama; a visual feast of scarlet, magenta and gold, of lush set pieces with thousands of characters (computer generated but still impressive), of armies of men wearing yellow, scarlet or iron-colored armor...but still melodrama.
In tenth century China the Emperor Ping (Chow Yun Fat), ruthless and malevolent, is slowly poisoning the Empress Phoenix (Gong Li), ruthless and determined, with an extract from a fungus which will drive her insane before she dies. They have three sons. There is the Crown Prince Xiang, weak, who has been having an intimate affair with his mother for a couple of years. There is the second son, Prince Jie, who is capable and torn between fealty to his father and responsibility to his mother. And there is the youngest son, Prince Chang, scarcely more than a teen-ager, always happy and ready to please, usually ignored by both parents, and a young man who hides his resentments. The Empress knows she is being poisoned and puts into play a plot which will culminate during the Festival of the Chrysanthemum. A violent plot it is, with bloody consequences for everyone.
But does this dysfunctional family with all the plotting and maneuvering really mean anything? Not much, in my view, except as a reason to create wonderful visual images without end, plus a chance to see two outstanding actors, Gong Li and Chow Yun Fat, show why they're so good. There are plenty of confrontations, secrets about first marriages and first wives, sword thrusts and choreographed duels and battles to keep most people happy. I had a grand time, but I was hungry two hours later.
Most likely if this film by Zhang Yimou is remembered in twenty years, it will be because of its production values. The palace settings, despite the dark doings, are vibrant with color; there are bright, multi-hued columns, rugs and walls that virtually scream to be noticed, heavy and ornate silk costumes and sumptuous details, such as the golden hair-pins Gong Li wears and the small, translucent cup she drinks her poisoned medicine from. The attack by the Chinese equivalent of black-clad ninja warriors on an Imperial outpost in a canyon is great, choreographed action...dozens of these shadowy men rappelling down cliffs, using hooks and cables to slide down from great heights onto the roofs of the compound. In the dusk they look like clouds of black raptors swooping from the sky. At the imperial palace a great circular pavilion is built looming over the immense square. When the square is filled with yellow chrysanthemums it looks like a vast golden plain. The climatic battle between the two forces on this golden field of chrysanthemum is filled with brightly uniformed men in the thousands, with huge wooden walls rolled into place that sprout spears and slowly move forward while arrows darken the sky. Afterwards, cleaning the square of all the bodies and blood and armor, then replacing the crushed flowers with new chrysanthemums, is nearly as impressive as the battle itself. This is great, engrossing stuff. The one false note was the occasional gymnastic sword play between actors. When you see a middle-aged woman suddenly doing backflips, or an aging emperor sitting on an ornate bench able to ward off blindingly fast front, back and side sword strikes, well, for me, I found myself amused, not amazed.
When one considers the movies Zhang Yimou has given us -- among them Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, Shanghai Triad, The Road Home, The Story of Qiu Ju -- he gets a free pass from me on this one. It's great fun and not much more, but enjoy.]]> Wed, 21 Mar 2012 02:42:07 +0000
<![CDATA[The Artist Quick Tip by woopak_the_thrill]]>
It was excellently executed as with the style, direction, sly humor and acting. The leads were able to engage me and the dog just stole the show! Sorry I cannot do a full review on a movie I saw with a buzz LOL

Great movie…Highly Recommended! But it is not for everybody.

 ]]> Mon, 12 Mar 2012 07:48:12 +0000
<![CDATA[ "You've such pretty hands. Why hold that knife when you could hold something else?"]]> In the Realm of the Senses.
To reach this point we’ve witnessed a sad, odd and serious tale of sexual  obsession that takes place in 1936 Japan. A handsome owner of an inn dallies with a new maid. Soon after, he leaves his wife and they embark on a life bounded by the paper walls of a small inn they moved to. Sada is driven by the sexual needs her mind and her body must have, all focused on Ichizo Ishida. Ishida, sexually experienced and confident, is at first delighted. He takes the initiative and reciprocates with as much aroused response as she. Their needs and their pleasures move them toward more exciting territories, including some that your granny might frown upon. It does not end well. Yet the movie, written and directed by Nagisa Oshima, is so somber and so respectful of the two characters that it is difficult not to be drawn to both of them.
We’ve also reached this point by watching any number of explicit sex scenes. Oshima in an interview called his movie hard-core pornography. By this I think he meant that In the Realm of the Senses his actors performed hard-core unsimulated sex featuring fellatio, full intercourse, fondling of each other, male erection and sex with three or four minor characters. But this is no hard-core porn movie. Well, yes it is, partly. Well, no, the movie is a serious work from a serious artist.
When Ishida says, “Since life is a fleeting charm, you can have my life if you want it.” he has become as obsessed as Sada, and for both, sex and life have become so intertwined that satiation immediately leads to arousal. It may be that Ishida has remarkable powers of recovery. It may be that he occasionally complains of being tired or sore. As he becomes more of a willingly partner, she becomes more possessive and violent. As I mentioned, no happy ending.
What does this all mean? I don’t have the slightest idea.
In the Realm of the Senses is a serious movie. Could it have the impact it does without the hardcore sex? I suspect so. I speak only for myself, but genitalia on stage or screen I find distracting. Sex and its apparatus are just too powerful to think they can be observed simply as a part of art or “the human condition.” The need for sexual release is as powerful as the need to eat and drink. It is as natural as breathing. I’m talking sex, not procreation. When I, at least, see real sexual activity I tend to forget about the intent of the artist. I’ll admit, however, that about two-thirds of the way through the movie the sex scenes seemed less compelling. I think most married couples might tell you the same thing. 
The two lead actors have my respect. They were doing all that we saw on screen, doing it in character and hitting their marks. They were believable. This was Eiko Matsuda’s first movie. She made it when she was 24. After Realm she made six more, the last in 1982. I wonder what happened to her. Tatsuya Fuji was a well-known leading man when he made Realm. He continues to act.]]> Sun, 4 Mar 2012 23:34:25 +0000
<![CDATA[ SWORD OF DESPERATION Puts Bushido Films Back on Top]]> Let’s square this up right away: Bushido films are not for everyone. 

Why not?

For starters, these flicks – usually detailing the morality tales of samurai warriors – rarely tend to be told at breakneck pace.  They don’t usually employ too many storytelling techniques all that similar to Western film sensibilities, a surprise given how many Western films are based on samurai pictures; what I mean here is that, when it comes to editing, the only quick cutting is done at the edge of a sword, but generally that takes place after great posturing and positioning.  I’ve heard it said that the pace can be considered somewhat languid by some standards, and I personally think that’s because the core traits of these samurai warriors – trust, loyalty, mastery, and (most importantly) honor – are usually reduced to character beats in U.S. films.  For example, Character A says Character B is “very faithful to his cause,” and American audiences accept that; Bushido films will expend five minutes of film to e-s-t-a-b-l-i-s-h Character B’s conviction to a principle.  Bushido films “show” stories instead of “tell” stories, and therein lies the fundamental drawbacks.
However, for those of us who embrace this unique form of storytelling, SWORD OF DESPERATION is nothing short of magnificent, a welcome throwback to samurai films of yesteryear with polished acting sharing face time with equally polished swords.  Thankfully, the producers avoided the excessive bloodspray so common to lesser Bushido flicks – ones principally capitalizing on gore and violence – though there’s more than a fair share of slicing and dicing on display.  Period details are spectacular, and the sum total of these parts is an exceptional accomplishment.
The film opens with a surprise big enough that other films would save it for later: for no apparent reason, a royal guard, Kanemi Sanzaemon (played with the appropriate amount of samurai stoicity by Etsushi Toyokawa), assassinates his lord’s concubine.  To his shock, his punishment is mild, as he is imprisoned in his home for one year.  As the story unfolds, we learn that Sanzaemon’s wife has died (was that part of what drove him to do what he did?), but he’s able to entrust the care of his home to his niece, Rio (played by the lovely and demure Chizuru Ikewaki).  After he’s released from his home – and to an even greater surprise – he’s suddenly promoted back to full status and assigned to serve as his lord’s personal bodyguard.  Little does Sanzaemon know that he’s unwittingly become a pawn in a game of royal deception, one that won’t be fully revealed until the cost may be greater than any one man should ever be asked to bear.
The film’s title, SWORD OF DESPERATION, actually refers to a unique sword-fighting maneuver mastered by Sanzaemon.  While the audience is teased to see its origins and its development, the grand secret of how it plays into the central story – and the effect it has on these characters – is masterfully hidden away until the film’s bloody conclusion.  Also, the story is based on a novel by Shuhei Fujisawa, and that comes as no surprise; the story is heavy with Shakespearean-style political scheming of the palace elite, and it’s layered fairly evenly with consistent plot and character developments right up until the closing frames of the picture.  Suffice it to say, every piece to this puzzle has a time and a place in this story, and, like a good puzzle, the complete picture isn’t fully revealed until the last bit is placed on the board.
Even with all the Machiavellian undertones, SWORD remains a quiet, almost uniquely meditative experience.  The characters are given brief text introductions at the beginning – some of this is necessary to establish who’s who and to fully appreciate those early events – but everyone’s true motivations (even those belonging to our lead characters) are shaded with healthy bits of screen melancholy.  Like Sanzaemon’s deadly expert swordplay, every pose and every movement has its proper place in the story, and these characters are treated no differently, a stroke of brilliant construction by the writer, director, and actors.  Like that swift strike of the samurai’s blade, these players spring into action only when called upon – when needed to advance the narrative.  As a consequence, the film forces the viewer to pay closer attention to even the calmest of moments because you never know when evil may strike.
SWORD OF DESPERATION received no less than six nominations for the 2011 Japan Academy Prize, including nods for Best Actor (fact: Mr. Toyokawa won), Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Supporting Actor, Best Editing, and Best Lighting.  Additionally, the packaging boasts that the film was an “Official Selection” for the World Competition category at the 34th Montreal World Film Festival 2010.  Clearly, where recognition carries influence in the film community, the picture is clearly an accomplished piece of cinema excellence.
The disc – disappointingly so – is short on extras, though that’s not all that uncommon with foreign films obtaining U.S. DVD release.  It contains theatrical trailers (one for SWORD and then two previews for related Bushido films) and an image gallery from the shooting process, along with some basic program notes for the picture, nothing with any great detail.  For Bushido junkies, it would’ve been nice had anyone put some thought into a special feature highlighting the history of samurai films, their evolution, their influence on Western films, etc., but, alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  The film is crisp throughout with sharp colors though much of the palette here is largely natural or muted.  The sound carries consistently, though there’s very little rise and fall in any of the channels.  (Again, Bushido films are NOT about laser-wielding robot fighters from space; most everything – picture and sound and performance – are grounded in as natural setting as can be preserved on film.)
Highest recommendation
In the interests of fairness, I’m comfortable disclosing that the fine folks at AnimEgo provided me with a DVD screener copy of the film for the purposes of completing this review.]]> Thu, 1 Mar 2012 06:37:54 +0000
<![CDATA[The Devil's Rock Quick Tip by woopak_the_thrill]]>
Read Full Review Here.

]]> Tue, 28 Feb 2012 05:49:40 +0000
<![CDATA[ "Some call it elegance. Some call it cruel. I like it," says Lord Matsudaira, kicking a head.]]> 13 Assassins owes much to the story of the 47 ronin. The story still works, whether it’s the 47 ronin, those seven samurai or Robert Taylor and his 13 buddies on Bataan.
Look upon 13 Assassins as a movie with four acts, set in Japan in the middle of the 19th century. The Tokugawa shogunate is decaying, falling apart because of outdated customs, calcified hereditary government, corruption and too many armed warriors with sharp swords and nothing much to do after nearly three centuries of peace. There’s a weak, disengaged shogun; his ambitious, cruel and probably psychopathic younger half brother who pushes the envelope when it comes to other men’s wives and his own servants, who soon will move into a position of power; a samurai of honor and bravery who is recruited to end the young man’s career permanently; the 12 men he recruits to assist him; and how it all ends. No love stories, no sex.
Act one: We see what a monster Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu is. For an attractive-looking and privileged young man, even Jack the Ripper might find off-putting his ways of relaxing through rape and murder. He gives sadism a bad name.
Act two: We meet Shinzaemon Shimada (Koji Yakusho), an experienced, tired and trusted samurai. We follow how he is recruited by those high in the government, how he recruits 11 others (along the way a mountain peasant will join them), and how he sets his traps to attack the young psycho as Naritsugu and his warriors travel from Edo to Naritsugu’s clan province.
Act three: A 50-minute battle that leaves just about everyone in sight slashed, burned or exploded to death.
Act four: A better world…maybe.
Yes, the story is a cliché. Miike, however, has delivered a movie of excellent craftsmanship. He immediately sets the point of the movie with a scene of queasy but not gory seppuku, and develops why this act leads to the assassination plot. For the most part, the 13 assassins are well-defined enough that the audience is drawn to them, and is saddened at their inevitable and noble deaths. Miike presents a vision of feudal Japan, its leadership, the county and its life that is realistic as well as beautifully photographed. The action may be brutal but the views are first-rate. He handles the long, climactic battle with mastery. This action is set in the village of Ochiai, a village of death Shinzaemon calls it, where he and his 12 fellows meet head on Matsudaira and his 200 retainers, considerably more than they expected. Shinzaemon and his men have laced the village with deathly, unexpected traps that surprise the opposing samurai as much as they surprise the audience. It’s 50 minutes of rousing sword-slashing action, the few against the many, with each assassin having his moment of bravery while he cuts down or blows up dozens.  Miike hurtles the action along and he is skilled enough not to lose the clarity of how the long battle proceeds.
Two quibbles, one serious. Whoever wrote the subtitles did a disservice to the movie by using American vernacular far too often. Informal phrases that we wouldn’t notice in a contemporary American film are jarring when supposedly coming from the mouths of samurai in the 1840s. “Listen up” is only one of several examples.
At the end we’re also faced with the question, is one of the 13 a ghost or simply a hardy survivor of a sword thrust through the neck and abdomen? Miike says it could be either, and either way a viewer might take it is fine with him. I feel like it’s either sloppy or pretentious directing, bringing in an unneeded question at the end of a very good movie.
For those who admire and have enjoyed this movie, I recommend they watch Chushingura (1962), a nearly 3-1/2 hour telling of the story of the 47 ronin.
The DVD of 13 Assassins includes an interview with Miike by a constantly smiling and deferential young woman who lobs easy questions. Miike at one point says, “This is not an action film, but a drama.” He’s right. For all the action, the movie has a pervasive feeling of something like sadness and inevitability. But then later Miike says, “When a sword hits another sword, it’s not about metal hitting against metal. It’s someone’s soul battling another soul.” Shades of Mishima. The truth probably lies among Lord Matsudaira’s last words. As he says, “It hurts.”   ]]> Sun, 26 Feb 2012 23:10:08 +0000