mag·nif·i·cent/magˈnifəsənt/ (adj.)

1. Impressively beautiful, elaborate, or extravagant; striking.
2. Very good; excellent.

Synonyms: splendid - gorgeous - grand - superb - glorious

WARNING: Some spoilers may be bound but I try to keep them light.

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

"The Chinese have a saying, 'dangerous men will meet in our streets' and so it was."

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012) is a loving tribute to the martial arts and kung fu films of the 70s, this is the premiere directorial (and dream) project of RZA leader of popular rap group The Wu-Tang Clan, he writes directs and stars in this film. The film follows three different kung fu heroes who must team up to stop the traitorous Silver Wolf and his friends from stealing a large amount of gold.

This movie is packed with references to old Shaw Brothers films, so if you’re a fan of that stuff this is the movie you’ve been waiting for. And they are all incorporated well enough and convincingly that they meld well with this story and I don’t think any of them really seemed out of place to me.

Another strong point of this film is each of the characters seemed really “epic.” This is a rather standard practice in the old kung fu films, each character needs a really epic introduction and seem very powerful and menacing. This film does a very good job at replicating this and each of the characters RZA creates not only seem strong and powerful and unique but I feel like for the most part they could fit right along with all the crazy characters from kung fu films in the 70s.

Unfortunately I felt the “world” of The Man with the Iron Fists was a bit confused. It seems like standard China from any martial arts film (wacky or otherwise) but the Blacksmith character (played by RZA) is in it for some reason. He doesn’t act, dress or talk like the other characters in the world. Eventually why he's there is explained but for the first half of the film all you get is “he’s not from around here.” Russel Crow’s character gets a decent enough introduction (though another world nitpick, how come Lucy Liu speaks Chinese originally (subtitled!) and then switches to English? Doesn’t everyone speak "English for Chinese" or does everyone in this mystical China actually speak English for some reason? The biggest problem with this is no one would notice or think twice if you just kept it all in English, but having some parts subtitled just makes it confusing and calls attention to it! But overall it felt like it was really weird that this world is basically typical Ancient China from numerous kung fu films but then there’s one black dude and a couple white dudes that really stick out, no one seems to know why they're there, and no one seems to think anything weird of it. I think if I was presenting this story I would have gone for a more diversified world, where all these different “cultures” are living together in one place (you know like a fantasy story allows). Like I said, they do get around to explaing how the Blacksmith got there and his backstory which I was okay with but the big wrestler guy Brass Body is left as an anomaly, and his power’s never explained either for that matter… how did he get his tattoos and nose piercing when it seems like he can’t control it (his "power" seems like a reflex) but I guess I'm just being nitpicky wanting to know what's the deal with one of the main villains who isn't anything like any of the other characters?

This film is almost too truthful to the old kung fu films (similarly to Tarantino’s Jackie Brown), in that the plot is WAY too complicated. First off there’s way too many characters, it’d be fine to have three separate heroes but then there’s a ton of different villains and all of their partners/allies/henchmen (did bronze Lion actually end up doing anything?) and all the other (supposedly) good guys that the villains kill. This is all way too convoluted and could have been done a lot simpler. The film starts with a good 15 minutes of pure backstory exposition recited in voice over!! I feel like RZA though he’d only get once chance at this so he wanted to make it as epic as possible, but did he really think he’d be able to do a 4 hour film or something?!

On top of all that it seemed to me like a lot of the specific plot points could have been done better: we’re meant to think it’s a horrible thing that the Blacksmith lost his arms, but he’s was already planning on quitting the life and leaving with his girl for the entire first half of the movie! This weakens the effect of an iron worker losing his ability to work big time! Also there’s a point near the end where we’re supposed to feel sorry (and it’s set up to be very dramatic) for these whores who are being abused and taken over by bad guys who are hiding out in their place (whores in distress). But first thing, THEY’RE WHORES and second Russel Crow’s character’s introduction was doing that same exact thing, abusing whores! Probably worse! And yet he's a good guy! There’s lots of things like that in this movie that just don’t seem that well thought out.

The camera work in this film bothered me. I mean if RZA’s cinematographer watched any of the old kung fu films he would know that usually the camera is usually pulled out very far so that you can see the entire kung fu actions, you do push in for specific punches and dramatic moments but for the most part the camera shows the full body. Not this film. Anytime someone fights the camera is pushed in to a medium close shot (torso length) so you really have no idea of the full stance/punch/attack the character is doing. This seems like something you’d do if the actors didn’t actually know how to use marital arts, but RZA trained for 1-2 hours a day over 2 months in Hung Ga style to prepare for the role, and he hired a bunch of seasoned Chinese martial artist actors so one would assume most everyone knew how to do their art (except apparently the cinematographer!) Also the bad camera work adds to this but the film has very bad geography and this is something I feel like the old kung fu films were really good at. In this film people’s places in the scene are constantly moving in relation to the shot and scenery for no reason in this film. Granted this isn’t something that’s easy to do and a common mistake for a first time director, but this just adds to the list of things that lead me to believe the cinematographer didn’t know what he was doing.

And the last point I want to bring up is that I feel like the film didn’t have any clue what kind of tone it was supposed to be. A lot of the old kung fu films have a very witty and silly tone to them, but still achieve very dramatic moments. This film looks like a comedy from the script level (there’s lots of wordplay jokes and puns/put-down that are all very humorous, on top of humorous events written into the film) yet the lead RZA acts like he’s trying to win an Oscar! Now, more likely than anything else, RZA probably just isn’t a good actor but he’s also the writer and director, so he’s gotta make sure the whole thing works together! AND he's working across from this guy Byron Mann who’s playing Silver Lion, the main antagonist who's constantly hamming it up and playing the role in silliest way possible! Byron seems to know what type of movie this is, why doesn’t RZA?!

I gotta say that this film has an amazing soundtrack, this is something RZA is really good at putting together (also check out Kill Bill Volume 1 and Blade: Trinity) Supposedly RZA asked Quentin Tarantino to do the soundtrack for this film because he thought he’d be too busy writing/directing/acting (and because he did it for Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1) but after reading the script?? Tarantino refused and said that he felt RZA himselft should do it. I think this was an excellent decision. RZA is very talented at developing an original soundtrack that mixes old and new together wonderfully and still really fits the tone of the film. I mean who knew rap goes together with kung fu so well? (probably the guy who started a rap group called Wu-Tang Clan haha).

Also I think RZA was really good at coming up with all the different fighting styles and weapons in this film, they’re all pretty original and unique but very creative and really fit the tone and style of those old 70s kung fu films.

Man with the Iron Fists (2012) is a great tribute to the old Shaw Brothers and other kung fu films form the 70s and a great experiment in mixing the old and new but suffers from a convoluted story and plot that could have been a hell of a lot simpler. Now supposedly this film was cut down from a 4 hour first cut(!), so if RZA eventually releases a directors cut that’s somewhere in the 2 hour range I might give this film another look and a second review. 3/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

This is the "unoffical" lead-in to next month here at The Good, The Bad and The Magnificent, which I have planned as a Tribute to Tarantino in honor of Quentin's most recent release Django Unchained (2012), so check back tomorrow and all month for more Tarantino-ish goodness!

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mother (2009)

"The most important thing is that you remember what happened that night."

Mother [마더] (2009) is a Korean Neo-Noir film about intellectual disability and a mother's love. From acclaimed Korean writer/director Bong Joon-ho, this film tells the story of an unnamed mother who lives alone with her only son Do-joon, who has some form of learning disability. When Do-joon is convicted of a murder that he says he didn't do and the police have no interest going any deeper, Do-joon's mother sets out to find out who the real killer is.

The film has some humor that is mostly situational or from a lines of dialogue and I felt these were expertly placed. But there's not too much, so that it overpowers the dark tones that drive the rest of the story.

I honestly don't think I could find anything negative to say about this film. :)

This film's story is expertly crafted. Everything in the setup leads to something else later, even little things you didn't think you noticed. Every clue along the way expertly leads to the next and the story is just plays with the viewer leading you exactly where it wants. I thought the story was going to end where the film starts but then it keeps going for a couple more minutes and unlike most films that do this, this only pluses the story even further, toward such a bittersweet ending.

Likewise the direction in the film is absolutely perfect. I enjoyed the dark mood that surrounds the even darker story and the blue hue that parallels this mood in most every frame of the film, I liked how the weather seemed to change and escalate as the mother grew more and more desperate, and I loved how the film shows you before and after the supposed incident so there's always that thought in the back of your mind of "well, maybe he did do it."

The camera work is absolutely stunning, there's not a single camera move that is done without purpose or reason and the placement of the camera angles and set up of shots is both beautiful and also single-handedly sets up a lot of suspense in a lot of the scenes.

I also really loved the characters and think they were brilliantly brought to life by each of the actors. Won Bin plays Do-joon with such sincerity it's really hard not feel sorry for him and Jin Goo offers a very memorable role that's both comedic and charming as Do-joon's only friend Jin-tae. But major props for Kim Hye-ja who plays Do-joon's mother and the title role. A lot of what is required for this film to work relies on how the viewer feels follows the mother character, the viewer needs to feel sorry for her and hope that she can find justice for her only son, and I think that Kim Hye-ja is absolutely perfect in the role.

Mother (2009) is an excellent modern spin on the film noir genre, and an amazingly crafted story that is really quite perfect. 5/5 stars.

Happy watching!

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Last King of Scotland (2006)

"If you're afraid of dying it shows you have a life worth living."

The Last King of Scotland (2006) is a British historical drama, loosely based on true events. Set in the 1970s, the film follows a young Scotsman named Nicholas Garrigan who is a recent graduate of medical school. Nicholas decides that instead of following his father's footsteps as a local doctor he will to travel to Uganda and try and make a difference in the world (while seeking a little adventure at the same time). Little does Nicholas know that a new dictator named Idi Amin has recently come to power in the country, and after a chance encounter with Amin, Nicholas quickly and unexpectedly finds himself accepting a job as his personal doctor and adviser.

The story of this film is quite good. I coudn't help but think that it was a little too good to be true while it was happening (only to find it's really not true later), I guess the reason for that "breaking of believability" would be too many coincidences around one person/character. Also the story telegraphs where it's going a too easily and ends up being very easily predictable, but its still a fun ride and a very interesting story.

I felt like a majority of the characters were very one-dimentional. Amin and Nicholas being the exceptions (and even Nicholas seemed that way at times, I would guess my exception for him is more thanks to the actor than to the script), but everyone seemed like they were there for their one purpose in the story. You're supposedly basing this film on real people, make the characters feel as interesting and complex as real people.

I have a big problem with films like this that are paraded as real events or "historical" when they do something as big as making up the main character! I don't have a problem with historical fiction at all, but I think that it should be called what it is. I understand with a film like this it's hard to tell where reality stops and fiction starts but I have to say it was a big buzz kill when I looked the film up after the credits rolled. At the very least I think you shouldn't start with a title card that says "based on historical events" or finish the film with an ending coda telling what happened in the conclusion of an actual historical event (especially since it was wrong!) These are tricks that mislead the audience into believing the entire film is fact.

I really enjoyed the films direction. There were multiple scenes where I found myself going: "wow, that was amazingly executed." One in particular is the scene with the Ox where Nicholas first meets Amin, such a great use of drama and heightened tenseness achieved through cutting, acting, camera moves and sound design, the scene has a sharp climax and then relieves itself and opens the door for a great friendship. Also I like how the film starts in the rural African landscape and as Nicholas travels to the capitol it's this great moment where the character and viewer both realize how there are parts of Uganda that are actually very built up and developed (for better or worse).

The film has a really amazing soundtrack, mixing traditional African music and music from the 70s and each song seems like it's perfectly placed within the film at just the right part.

But the real reason to see this film is Forest Whitaker's portral of the paranoid Ugandan president Idi Amin. He's amazing in the role, first making you think (along side Nicholas) that this guy is the greatest leader ever and then as the film goes on and his paranoia increases he achieves very, very high levels of suspense and fright that will keep you on the edge of your seat. He won much acclaim and awards for this role, and I think it's very well deserved. The film just woudn't have worked without such a convincing portrayal of this very interesting man.

The Last King of Scotland (2012) is a very well executed and acted historical drama, with a story so good that it will suck you in. Just try not to be disappointing when you find out later that the story is in fact too good to be true. 4.5/5 stars.

Happy watching!

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

"Strange isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives."

It’s a wonderful life (1946) is a (then) modern update and (sort of) retelling of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, it’s one of director Frank Capra’s classic films and probably my favorite Christmas film of all time.

It’s a Wonderful life tells the story of George Bailey's entire life. George is a genuinely good person who does good for other people but always ends up having the worst luck with the way things turn out. Eventually we see just how much a good man can take before it changes him.

With a story like this where you show a person’s entire life it’d be easy to trip up on the aging process. I really like how simple but yet effective this film is at aging the actors. Using only minimal makeup effects, a little bit of graying of the hair but a lot of it is done through clothing and hairstyle and mainly just the way the actors changed the way they acted and held themselves. Genius. No need for pounds of makeup or prosthetic or CG, (like they would have done today!)

Speaking of which, the entire cast is really wonderful. James Stewart hadn't acted in 5 years and felt he was "out of the game" but this being his third Capra film, Frank Capra knew exactly how to use Stewart not only as the wonderful, nice, good-hearted George, but also knew that he was capable of playing the darker side a man who is just completely frustrated with his years of horrible luck. And the seemingly perfect counter balance for James Stewart was the pretty much unknown Donna Reed as George's love interest. She is such a charming role and full of the wholesome sex appeal you don't see on the screen too much these days. Also the film brings together a lot of the greatest character actors of the day, which adds a lot to the humor and charm of the film. Ward Bond and Frank Faylen as the original Bert and Ernie, Henry Travers as the oddball angel Clarence, Thomas Mitchell as the eccentric Uncle Billy and Lionel Barrymore as the heartless Mr. Potter all have very memorable performances. And the humor keeps the film alive and watchable as things get progressively worse and worse for George.

There’s some effects and composting of stock footage that don’t hold up as well as they probably did 60+ years ago, but considering how long ago that was, this film really holds up pretty well. For example there's these “space” scenes that look like well balls on string but yet as soon as they pass, they use a simple effect of painted galaxies that flash while talking, and honestly I thought this was a really clever and effective way to do it, and I think it still holds up for the most part and the creative things they did for special effects actually add to the charm of the film in my opinion.

I really love the story of It’s a Wonderful Life, I would think it’d be really difficult to tell a man’s entire life in just a few key clips and highlights, and yet this film does it so well, it makes it look easy. By only focusing on a couple of really important times in his life and then packing everything you need to know (including details about supporting characters and how they’ve changed) into those scenes. This allows the film to track multiple characters, and tell their lives without it growing old or too repetitive.

As I mentioned before this is kind of an adaptation of A Christmas Carol but what I really like is this film is how real it all seems. The characters don’t seem like stereotypes we see all the time in film today. George Bailey really seems like a genuinely nice person, but you can tell it peeves him when the worst luck keeps happening to him, or his plans fizzle and eventually his frustrations gather beyond his control putting him on the brink of doing something very stupid. And the film doesn’t pull any punches either, the drama and struggle these characters go through is very real and very difficult.

This film does a really great job at dealing with a lot of hard subject matter like bankruptcy, a death in the family, suicide and greed also high concept stuff like why bad things happen to good people, and even God and some very Christian themes and incorporates them all into the film in a way that doesn’t seem pushy (or eye roll worthy) and effectively breaks all of them down into easy enough bites to understand in the context of the film. This definitely isn’t a film for kids, but it doesn’t take a religious nut or an economics major to enjoy it either.

Now one thing that critics like to say about Frank Capra’s work is that he has a reputation for really corny stories and particularly endings, they came up with clever terms like “Capra-corn” and this film definitely follows suite. But I would argue that this film’s ending is perfectly deserved. Here we see a guy who just always gets the worst side of luck no matter how hard he tries life keeps dealing him worse and worse luck, so much that he’s literally at his wits end. And when the film gets to the ending and everyone helps George out it’s a really, really wonderful moment and very well deserved. It's not just a happy ending for happy ending's sake. This is the perfect ending for this story.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) is a very real feeling look at the harder sides of life and a moral tale about goodness and a Christmas miracle. It was director Frank Capra's favorite of his films and it's one of mine too. 5/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

"Give it back? He’s kidnapped! It’s a kidnapped dog, you don’t just give back a kidnapped dog, defeats the purpose of the kidnapping!"

Seven Psychopaths (2012) is (as you might expect) about psychos and (as you probably weren't expecting) storytelling. This is the second feature from British-Irish playwright turned writer/director Martin McDonagh. The film is an interesting meta film about the main character named Marty who is a film writer and trying to write a movie called Seven Psychopaths (it doesn’t get any more meta than that folks!) which he really only has a title and a vague idea of what direction he wants to go with it. During the course of writing the script, Marty starts to meet all these different Psychopaths in real life, some of which thanks to Marty’s best friend Billy who wants to help Marty co-author the script. The subplot of the film is about Billy who makes a living kidnapping peoples dogs for rewards, kidnapping the small shitzu of a psychotic gangster.

This film does really well at balancing violence and comedy, far better than most films do anyway. Where these odd tonal shifts don’t work well is between drama and violence/comedy, but for the most part I was genuinely impressed with how this film handles the shifts in tone. It has a lot of moments that are very over the top and sickeningly violent but something about the way it's handled with all of these really amusing and strange characters makes it hilarious at the same time.

The film drags a bit in the middle, I think this is because the subplot about the gangster trying to find his shitzu goes entirely missing in the middle. Then you’re left with the real plot about Marty trying to write a script and let’s face it, that’s just a whole lot less interesting. There’s a point in this middle where the guys joke about the right way to end a movie is just having a conversation traveling into the distance, no ultra dramatic conclusion and no crazy epic shoot out and of course this is while the characters are having a conversation traveling into the distance. I really like how the writer/director is just playing with the audience here, because for a minute I really thought he was going to end it like that! And honestly with the gangster being absent for so long, I was just warming up to the idea of him ending it right there.

There’s also some things that bothered me a bit, things that didn’t seem like they were handled as well as they could have been. This includes Marty finding Billy's diary while he was staying at Billy's place – proving he’s not a sinister character entirely, this just seemed kind of thrown in. There’s a part where Billy is referring to himself as the diamond killer while explaining his "ultimate ending” in the script, (SPOILER) but no one should know that he’s the diamond killer yet! - this wouldn't have been so weird if we just had some kind of explanation to why he's referring to himself as the killer, it could have easily been covered up but without any explanation it just seems odd. There's this little bit where Hans is recording his thoughts on the ending of the script (and putting a note on it for Marty to find!) – why would he do this? Did he know he was going to die, somehow? And unfortunately Zachariah’s story seems a little rushed for time and not as well planned as the rest of the movie. These things work in the film and most of them help the film, but I would have liked to have had some further explanation or better planning around them because they all took me out of the story a little bit when they happened.

The thing I really loved about this film is it’s characters, and all the problems with the story all kind of fall to the wayside when you realize this really is just a character driven story. There’s so many really wonderful characters in this movie, I couldn’t talk about all of them, but each of the characters is really unique, I liked how each seem unlike characters I’ve seen on the screen before and they all have some of the best character introduction scenes I’ve seen in a long time. Sam Rockwell, (the always wonderful) Christopher Walken, and Tom Waits really stand out in my mind as distinct, original and interesting portrayals of characters. I was just really blown away by the characters and actors in this film this is something you should study if you want to write interesting and original characters for film.

Hand in hand with the characters, I loved the dialogue in this film. It’s got that really snappy theatrical cadence that you’d expect from a playwright turned screenwriter and I really love that. Also each character really seems to have his own distinct voice, something that falls by the wayside in movies A LOT. Some of this is probably thanks to the great actors, but I think on a script level each character's voice has distinct mannerisms that make them speak and act differently than all the other characters.

And I got to hand it to Martin McDonagh for his direction, this film does a lot of really interesting things with the camerawork and cutting that make a story about writing a movie seem a lot more interesting than it actually is. All the cuts to fictional movie scenes are handled extremely well. And one last special nod to the special effects of the movie, this is a very violent movie and the effects are VERY believable. I think that almost all the effects in this film are done traditionally rather than using CG which I think once again shows how much better things can look if you do it the old school way.

Seven Psychopaths (2012) is a hilariously violent meta film that probably isn’t for everyone but if you enjoy character driven stories and really witty dialogue I’d highly recommend giving it a watch. 4.5/5 stars.

Happy watching!

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Jin-Roh (1999)

"Tales of beasts getting involved with humans always end badly."

Jin-Roh [人狼] (1999) literally meaning "Man-dog" (and called Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade here in America), is the third entry in Mamoru Oshii’s Kerberos trilogy. Though this film works entirely on it’s own and takes place entirely before the other two films: The Red Spectacles (1987) and StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops (1991). Unlike the other two this film is not actually directed by Mamoru Oshii. Oshii wrote the screenplay and had planed to shoot it as a live action film a couple years earlier but a project that Oshii couldn’t pass up came his way: Ghost in the Shell (1995). Oshii decided to let Hiroyuki Okiura (an animation supervisor whom Oshii had worked previously with on the Patlabor films and Ghost in the Shell) direct the film instead as an anime.

Jin-Roh is the story of Corporal Kazuki Fuse a member of the elite police force called “Kerberos.” One night during a riot in a city between civilian terrorists and Japanese police, the Kerberos troops are ordered into the sewers below the city to cut off the terrorists. Kazuki comes across a young girl and is ordered to shoot her because she’s with the terrorists. But Kazuki can’t do it, and the girl then blows herself up. Although Kazuki miraculously survives mostly unscathed, this leaves him with some deep emotional and psychological scars.

The story of Jin-Roh is actually really good. The intro is very gripping and though the middle is very slow (more on that later) the entire last part and ending really pays off and connects everything quite well. I really like how this film actually gives an introduction explaining the world of the Kerberos Trilogy, setting it up as a parallel universe where Germans took over Japan in World War II. I feel like this really aided the movie and helps to be a clean jumping point for anyone who hasn’t seen the previous two films and doesn't know what is going on with this world. This also works well if you were to watch these three films chronologically because the other two don’t explain how the world got that way. By the way, (if anyone cares) the other order I would recommend watching these films (besides by release date) would be Jin-Roh, The Red Spectacles and then StrayDog, not chronologically. This way you get a good introduction to the world and how it got messed up and then you can watch Koichi's story unfold in two parts after this world goes to hell.

This movie actually explains the “Red hooded girl” representing fate that guides Koichi in The Red Spectacles (1987). Which is interesting and I enjoyed, but I’m also torn about. Part of me wishes this was just a metaphor for fate that is in the film, and loosely followed by the mysterious “red balls” that constantly appear in StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops (1991). The physical explanation of this red hooded girl, in this film would make more sense if the main character of this film was actually Koichi from those previous two. Koichi would actually work perfectly in this story, but I understand the want to distance itsself from the other two and tell a unique story on it’s own. Plus any viewer who has seen the other two would point out differences in Kazuki’s attitude and I guess his poor emotional state would probably tarnish Koichi’s supposedly “badass” attitude that surrounds him in the other two films (for no reason, mind you.) I suppose that it’s possible that Koichi would have had a similar encounter with another “Little Red Riding Hood” terrorist during the time before the Kerberos were disbanded, because there are apparently many of them. This however seems like a long shot, and this is the part of me that just feels like we should have left the “Red hooded girl” from The Red Spectacles alone. No need to explain a metaphor with physical events/people, this just ends up being weird when you think about it too much.

This movie is REALLY slow in the middle. I was trying to figure out the reason for this and I think it’s a result of the movie trying to be too clever and leaving too much to reveal in the end so the middle is actually quite barren, story wise. In the middle Kazuki is seemingly scarred and lacking really any motivation and while this is fine and fits the story and what Kazuki's been through... it’s not interesting to watch! He’s teamed with Kei Amemiya who is hanging out with him, why? Well… just because she feels like it! Beyond loneliness (which I guess is a reason for the two to hang out, but once again… not interesting) there’s no real reason for these two to connect or even spend so much time with each other. Now in the end it’s revealed that both have more reason and purpose for hanging out but in the moment, while you're getting through it, it’s just really boring and slow! I think that if Mamoru Oshii directed this himself, this is where he would have slipped in some existential or psychological questions to keep me interested, but alas he did not.

Most of this film is quiet which really adds to mood of the film and Kazuki’s emotional state. It’s used very sparingly but the score is really beautiful when it does come in. The score is composed by cellist Hajime Mizoguchi, I've never heard his work before, but it turns out he is married to famous anime composer Yoko Kanno! Crazy.

This film is beautifully animated. It’s probably one of the most realistic anime films ever created, and the animation follows suite so its also is quite realistic. Which is something I don't actually like, but seems to work for this film considering it's very serious tone and the fact that it is a prequel to two other serious live action films.

I especially loved the effects animation in this film: blood splatters, rain drops in water and bullets ricocheting off armor are all beautifully rendered. Nowadays even in traditionally animated films, a lot of the effects animation is done in CG and this film is an example of why completely traditionally animated films are superior. Japan is one of the few places in the world left that actually understands this. No it’s not easier, but it is vastly superior.

Jin-Roh (1999) may be the most successful of the Kerberos Trilogy, but it tries to be too clever for it’s own good and therefore is very slow in the middle, but if you make it to the end you will be rewarded with a decent explanation and an ending that will stick with you. 3.5/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

If you missed it be sure to go back and check out my review of the other films that make up the Kerberos Trilogy: The Red Spectacles (1987) and my review of it's sequel StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops (1991).

Or check out two other great animated films written by acclaimed anime director Mamoru Oshii: Ghost in the Shell (1995) and it's sequel Innocence (2004).

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Trigun: Badlands Rumble (2010)

"Nothing is gained through death."

Trigun: Badlands Rumble (2010) is a film based on the Trigun (1998) anime series and Trigun/Trigun Maximum manga by Yasuhiro Nightow though this is an independent story that takes place somewhere in the middle of the series so it doesn't mess with any of the main plots from the anime or manga much like the Cowboy Bebop film, Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door (2001).

Vash "The Humanoid Typhoon" crosses paths with the vicious and deadly thief Gasback mid robbery and ends up saving his life. Twenty years later, the next time their paths cross he may regret that decision.

They were smart to create this film at the studio Madhouse who originally adapted the anime in 1998. The film looks just like the anime: the animation and characters look great, the story has the same feel as an anime episode and they kept a lot of the original things that made the anime feel really original and fresh. It's also really nice to see Trigun with a higher budget, the animation is very smooth and there's more room for explosions and better battle scenes!

The movie adds two new characters that really fit the look (even if the character Amelia seems to look slightly more like the style of some of Madhouse's more recent anime) and act and have a motivation/story that really fits into the Trigun world.

But that being said, I'm actually really glad that this movie is a stand alone story that doesn't rely on the anime's plot. Also because the movie came out 12 years after the anime finished! I watched them probably that far apart also, so I was relieved that not too much called directly back to the anime. And they give Vash a good enough entrance/introduction that you could be introduced to Trigun through this film. When I was first getting into anime, it was much harder to find and see than it is today, so I'd hear names of popular series and not have access to them, but then maybe I'd find just a film or OVA and that would be my introduction to a series, and I'd go back and watch the stuff that came before it, if I liked it. So I really like how you could do that with this movie.

Something that is probably just a result of trying to adapt a 20-something minute an episode show into a 90 minute movie the movie is the movie really slow for the first half and they take a lot of time with things they would have normally just skipped or done faster. Also the plot twist is pretty unspectacular.

I'm not sure if this is true, but apparently this film was marketed as "Vash vs. Wolfwood!" originally. I'm sorry to anyone who walked in expecting that because though the film does deliver that. It's done in a really crappy way. So much so that it's pretty much just humorous in retrospect. The action lasts less than a minute, so seriously don't look forward to the film just for that. I actually think though they could have put a full fight in there (or maybe even just half?) and I would have bumped this film up at least half a star or so!)

If you know anything about Trigun, you know that they couldn't kill Vash in a movie that takes place in the middle of the series, so when they "kill off" Vash in this movie it's no surprise that he comes back. But what I really liked about his "death" is that it allows the other characters to really contemplate and give a deeper look into Vash's 'no killing' rhetoric and the vows he tries to live by, this in my opinion was the best part of the film and made the whole movie worth it.

Trigun: Badlands Rumble (2010) is a good stand alone movie to one of my top anime series of all time. I actually think this could be something they could keep doing and making more movies that are stand alone and take place in the middle of the series somewhere (and hopefully they'd get better), but unfortunately this anime wasn't actually that big of a hit inside Japan so this may be the only movie this series will get. But for what it's worth it's a decent story and a cool watch whether you've seen the anime or not. 3.5/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

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Friday, December 7, 2012

Innocence (2004)

"The less one forgets, the less one can remember."

Innocence (イノセンス) (2004) which is called Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence in America, is a follow up (or maybe companion?) to Ghost in the Shell (1998). It's also loosely based on the chapter Robot Rondo in the manga Mobile Armored Riot Police (called Ghost in the Shell in America) written and illustrated by Masamune Shirow.

Like Ghost in the Shell, this film also focuses on Section 9's investigation of a case, however this film follows Batou, Major Motoko Kusanagi's partner from the former film. This film takes place a couple years after the events of the first one. No one knows Motoko's whereabouts but she is constantly on the mind of Batou. Section 9 is investigating a cyborg-producing company named LOCUS SOLUS that produces "gynoids," androids that look like young girls that are built for sex. Recently there has been a string of these gynoids going berserk and killing humans, Section 9 is investigating to see of someone has tampered with their programming.

The animation in this film is really nice. It's a lot higher quality than most Japanese anime films. The film is a CG/traditional animation hybrid where most all the backgrounds are computer animated and almost all the characters are traditionally drawn, this works for the most part and it's definitely better than most films that try this. More often than not the texture on the CG scenes is what sticks out to me as not fitting the rest of it. Where I think the traditional animation really shines is there's times where the computer generated camera is doing a slight move or change of angle and the traditionally drawn characters change with the camera in perfect perspective. This is no easy feat at all and it's really done well in this film. The film also takes advantage of this hybrid animation (rather than being held back by it) by doing lots of interesting angles you wouldn't expect in either a CG animated film or a traditionally animated one and even some strange fish-eye shots that I enjoyed.

While the art direction is quite a bit different than the previous film making the characters and world seem pretty different, I think the technology in this film is very fairly evolved and seems like it all logically belongs in the same world based on what we saw in the previous film.

Unfortunately I really don't think this film holds up on it's own. You're really not going to understand the climax or why everyone keeps constantly talking about "the Major" if you've never seen Ghost in the Shell. I think that Mamoru Oshii could have made a film in this world that wasn't a sequel, but this isn't it. This film almost is, it follows different characters and a unique plot but they ruin that by constantly referencing the previous film and even bringing in Motoko at one point to help the plot/characters.

This film is actually structured very similar to Ghost in the Shell. However while I really enjoy the mystery of The Puppet Master and the intrigue of the main character Major Motoko in that film, Innocence's plot is a whole lot less interesting to me and while the second half does get more interesting and the end does pay off quite well, I think this film takes a lot more time to get the viewer interested and invested in the story.

I think my favorite part of Innocence (and every other Oshii film I've seen) is the deep psychological questions it asks. I realize this is an trademark you can expect walking into a Mamoru Oshii film, but I think Innocence is the king of this. Also Innocence contains a LOT of references to other literary works also, from Asimov to The Bible to Richard Dawkins to Plato, Confucius and the Brothers Grimm. So much so that you can tell Mamoru Oshii put a lot of his own thoughts and meditations into this film, a lot of this though it works for the film, is not necessary to the film which in turn, makes it a very personal journey. This film really reminds me of The Red Spectacles (1987) because I felt that film was very similar in it's contemplations (and this film even has the cracked-out dream sequences that that film had too!), though I would say this film hands down, is a lot more successful due to years of more experience (and no weird tonal shifts!)

Though Innocence (2004) wont really work on it's own as well as it was inteded, it's still a masterful example of great animation and filmmaking and a very personal film for Mamoru Oshii. 4/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

Well that concludes my week reviewing the films of acclaimed Japanese director Mamoru Oshii. If you missed it be sure to go back and check out my review of The Red Spectacles (1987) and my review of it's sequel StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops (1991) and the amazing meta-film Talking Head (1992) and this film's predecessor Ghost in the Shell (1995). And check back this weekend as I've got one more related film (though not directed by Mamoru Oshii) for you as a special bonus.

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

"I just have a whisper... from my ghost."

Ghost in the Shell (1995) known in japan as GHOST IN THE SHELL/攻殻機動隊 (literally Ghost in the shell - Mobile Armored Riot Police), is one of the most well known anime films of all time. It's based on the manga Mobile Armored Riot Police (called Ghost in the Shell in America) written and illustrated by Masamune Shirow.

Major Motoko Kusanagi is a cyborg that works for Section 9, a Japanese government agency focusing on counter-terrorism. The film revolves around Motoko and Secion 9 hunting a dangerous hacker known only as "The Puppet Master," because of his tendency to hack into people's brains and cause them to then hack into corporations and government agencies.

I really like how simple the story is in this film, despite all the complexities of the world and technology the plot is surprisingly easy to follow. I love the Puppet Master and think he is absolutely fascinating and I really enjoy how open ended the ending of this film is.

Also the complex characters in this film are surprisingly well set up. I love how Motoko seems cold and robotic a lot of the time, yet she's late to work and impatient (two things you wouldn't associate with someone who is mostly hardware) and as the film goes on and she talks to Batou (her only real friend) you realize she's a cyborg with a lot of really deep stuff on her mind constantly. I love the little bit about the irony of her loving to go diving, this is absolutely beautiful to me.

There is a bit of "technobabble" in this film that will probably turn off some first time viewers, but I've got to say that actually most of it makes sense to me after seeing this film many, many times over the years.

One of the things I love most about this movie is how well developed the world seems. It has loads of well thought-out technology (down to elaborate elevator door closing mechanisms) combined with a very lived-in feel much like the Star Wars movies were well known for, this is true cyberpunk and it makes for a very awesome film to watch.

Adapting the Mobile Armored Riot Police manga into a film must have seemed like a dream project for Mamoru Oshii. The manga is loaded with lots of really deep philosophy and the unique world and characters that seem perfect for an Oshii film. His direction in this movies is really wonderful, down to the little things like imagining what it would look like in a first person view to switch from one body to another.

In a very Oshii fashion, and shot in a very similar way to the Taiwan montages in StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops (1991), the film has multiple montages that are absolutely stunning at showing off the world and establishing the mood of the film these are set to the magnificent soundtrack by Kenji Kawai which uses a Japanese folk song choir singing in an ancient form Japanese mixed with Bulgarian harmony and traditional Japanese notes, it's very memorable and uniquely beautiful.

Ghost in the Shell (1995) is a truly great animated film, it's a really beautiful film with stunning visuals and a very thought-provoking story. I absolutely love it. 5/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

All this week, I am continuing to review the films of acclaimed Japanese director Mamoru Oshii. If you missed it be sure to go back and check out my review of The Red Spectacles (1987) and my review of it's sequel StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops (1991) and the amazing meta-film Talking Head (1992).

Like this blog? You can support it by buying this film through these links: