Directed by: Akihito Shiota
Starring: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Ko Shibasaki, Kiichi Nakai
Boy, this was a weird one. The best way I can describe the tone of the film is that it’s somewhere between Rurouni Kenshin, Power Rangers, and Lexx. It’s quirky as fuck and when I tried to explain the important plot points of the first 30 minutes to my wife when she came in late, it took nearly 30 minutes to do so. I enjoyed it.
An evil emperor performs a dark magic ritual, sacrificing his unborn son’s organs and body parts to become all-powerful. The devil he deals with turns all those body parts into evil monsters that roam the land, and the baby is born looking like a weird squishy potato. His mom obviously throws him away, but he’s taken in by a weird Geppetto-ish guy who builds arms and eyes and things for the kid. He grows up to be a mysterious swordsman who’s swords are actually embedded in his elbows and pop out when he pulls his arms off. I told you it was weird. He meets a chipper young lady thief who pushes him to defeat the monsters and regain his organs, and eventually they go on to face the emperor himself.
This movie’s pretty cute, and the practical effects they do for the monsters are charming and creative… and VERY Power Rangers-ey. I don’t have a clue how they came up with the premise for this story, but nobody could say it’s not creative. Apparently it’s based on a manga from the 60’s, which explains the film’s biggest flaw: it tries to cram WAY too much into just an hour and a half and can be hard to follow at times because of the complexity and weirdness of its premise. So basically it’s just a movie you have to pay attention to, and you’ll be rewarded with a fun, colorful action adventure story from the mind of an insane person.
The Sorcerer and the White Snake (2011)
Directed by: Siu-Tung Ching
Starring: Jet Li, Shengyi Huang, Raymond Lam
You may not know this, but there’s a surprisingly wide subgenre of kung fu action movies which are basically just fantasy stories where people jump around and kick dragons in the face. If you weren’t aware, you’ve been missing out boy, hoo-doggie. Though it generally lacks the same kind of oomph you’d get from a really good Bruce Lee movie, for example (the subgenre is entirely wire-fu stuff, from what I’ve seen), it adds a really refreshing twist on the boring old high fantasy Tolkein ripoff stuff you get over here.
There’s a lot of stuff going on in this movie, but it centers around the relationship of a fisherman and his mysterious wife nobody knows the origin of. Jet Li is a monk who goes around the country killing demons, and he finds out that this lady is actually a super powerful demon in disguise. Of course the monk thinks that she’s using the fisherman and wants to eat his soul, but could it be possible that she just genuinely fell in love with the guy?
The action isn’t wholly remarkable, but there are some great special effects and I really enjoyed the lighthearted tone of most of the film. Basically the main plot is only a third of the movie and the rest is goofy cute stuff with all the comic relief characters, demons and humans alike. Jet Li is super badass in this movie, and it’s really cool to see him as a good guy who’s also the antagonist. Really, the film’s worth watching just for his very well developed no-nonsense monk character.
A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012)
Directed by: Crispian Mills, Chris Hopewell
Starring: Simon Pegg, Paul Freeman, Amara Karan
I guess I don’t keep up very well with Simon Pegg movies, even though I kinda sorta try to. You know how it is when there’s an actor that you like but you don’t really have the energy to look up what they’re always working on? Or is that just the way life is for you normal people?
Pegg is a writer working on a series about Victorian era serial killers who believes that he himself is the target of a serial killer. Without giving too much away, it leads him down a path to one of his darkest moments as a child in a laundromat, an old fear he’ll have to face before he can move on… OR SURVIVE!!! I’ll write really bad copy for any movie, only $1.99 (US money please).
This is kind of a horror/comedy, but it’s also just pretty weird and it doesn’t sit well being identified as one or other, or even really both. There are moments that are pure suspense horror with slapstick routines following not ten minutes later. I don’t mean this in a bad way, necessarily, but the film never really gives you a chance to get a grip on it, and that’s something that’s crucial for a suspenseful horror flick. My biggest complaint was the scenes where Simon Pegg raps, which is not only completely terrible, but grinds all the audience involvement to a screeching halt in two different sequences where you should feel at your most compelled. So, it’s a fine B-grade movie. Could definitely have been a lot worse.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Directed by: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper
Can we just take a second and talk about how awful the IMDb pages for current, big budget movies are? They turn this great informational resource into the most obnoxious internet ad conceivable. We all know that IMDb has always been on the forefront of the worst possible internet ad technology, and we put up with it because it’s such a useful fucking service… but seriously, how long can we let this go on.
An all-star cast of B-list comedians are accidentally cast in the new Star Wars movie, so they decide to make a FUNNY Star Wars and hell let’s cash in on that Marvel money too and make it Guardians of the Galaxy! The guy who suggested that is double rich now.
A rag-tag group of adventurers all gang up to stop a cartoonishly evil Darth Maul-style villain from destroying a planet. You’ve got Chris Pratt as Han Solo, Zoe Saldana as Leia, Bradley Cooper as a raccoon, Vin Diesel as motion capture for a tree man who can only say his name for SOME fucking reason, and that one wrestler guy who’s been making shitty movies for years as himself painted blue. They go through crazy space adventures where everybody shoots at each other and things explode.
So seriously, this movie is Star Wars made in the modern times. If the new Star Wars movie ends up being worse than this, that would be fucking hilarious. It’s a good movie, don’t get me wrong. It’s very fun, very action-packed, the characters are funny and cute, it’s fine. It’s also exactly Star Wars. Just look at that fucking movie poster. Case closed.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson
I had been looking forward to this movie since I saw the first Captain America, which I think is probably the best of the recent run of superhero movies. It was a little disappointing, but mostly because I was wanting to watch a Captain America movie, not a tie-in to Marvel’s failing SHIELD TV show. What there was of Cap in this was great, but the guy is really only in like a third of the film.
Nick Fury is killed when he suspects that Robert Redford is trying to use the secret spy agency SHIELD for evil purposes, ie spying on the world covertly with three giant helicopters the size of cities. It turns out that he was right, and that Redford is employing an assassin who is actually Captain America’s old sidekick Bucky, only evil and brainwashed or something. Cap needs the help of some random dude with a set of wings he can fly with to stop the evil plot and save the world.
Cap worked for SHIELD a lot in the comic books, so there’s plenty of precedent for the idea behind this movie… but at least make the guy the main character of the film. Apart from that concern, there are some really awesome action sequences which both capture the feeling of a comic book while also being very cinematic and visually stimulating, and that’s really worth seeing the movie all by itself. Once again, a big summer blockbuster action movie’s biggest weak point is the writing. What a surprise.