Tag: 2011

Movie Review: Ichimei (Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai) (2011)

Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge.

Hey, a new Miike film! It sounds like that guy has really mellowed out since his Audition and Ichi the Killer days, so I’m a lot less trepidatious about seeing his newer movies. I didn’t know much about Hara-Kiri, never having seen the original, but it’s rare that I take in an old-fashioned samurai film despite my love for Japanese culture and history. Structured through the frame story of n poor aging samurai (Ichikawa Ebizo) requesting the honor of committing ritual suicide in the home of a powerful lord, the primary plot concerns a young man (Eita) of the samurai class who fights to make a living as a teacher in his poor town. He marries the narrating samurai’s daughter and they are happy for a time, but eventually poor health and poverty threaten to tear the family apart and he must take drastic action.

Quiet and drawn out in its storytelling, Hara-Kiri is a study in samurai honor codes and the desperation brought on by peace in the Edo Period. The mood is ever-pensive, ever-reserved, all very “Japanese” in the classical sense. I can appreciate a serious, thoughtful period piece as much as the next person, but I found all the melodrama in this too much to take at times. Everyone has a million problems, everything is felt acutely, and entrenched obsession with pride and honor rules the day instead of rational thought. The cast is strong, especially Ichikawa Ebizo, who simmers with hidden badassery for most of the film and then unleashes everything for a short but sweet fight scene at the end. Stylistically Miike is fairly austere, with extended shots of darkened wooden interiors and a sparse musical score. I worried that a film dealing with seppuku would have scenes of bloody disemboweling and beheading but actually there is little in the way of gore. Unfortunately after two hours of depressing mawkishness I was kind of hoping for some blood.

Not bad, just too slow and quiet for my tastes. The lovely imagery and good performances kept me engaged, though.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: As far as I can tell it’s better to just watch the original instead of this one, but otherwise I don’t know. Double Suicide, maybe?

Movie Review: Colombiana (2011)

Seen: On dvd on my laptop, rented from netflix.

When Colombiana came out last year I thought it looked awesome, but kept hearing negative things about it and eventually it got lost in the shuffle. More recently a friend recommended it to me and when I realized it had a Luc Besson connection I hurried to see it. Zoe Saldana stars as Cataleya, a young woman who witnesses her parents’ slaughter when she’s 8, and vows to become a hardened killer so she can take revenge on the Colombian mobsters who took her life away. She moves from Bogota to Chicago and learns to be an assassin from her uncle, killing leading criminal figures and leaving a cataleya flower calling card with the hope of drawing out Don Luis (Beto Benites), her father’s one-time drug lord boss.
Ok I have to immediately say that I do not get why people didn’t like this movie? It’s not the best thing ever but it’s a pretty fucking solid action movie and it stars the exceptionally talented (and gorgeous) Zoe Saldana so where is the problem? Don’t people like ladies with big guns anymore? I don’t get it.

Anyway this movie is pretty cool. I really like Saldana and was disappointed that she didn’t get to do much in Star Trek, plus she was the only one saddled with the miniskirt, so I’m glad she busted out the badassery and practical outfits for Colombiana. She’s tough but sympathetic, and I really felt for her character. It helps that young Cataleya is played by Amandla Stenberg, who continues to seriously impress me after her stint as Rue in The Hunger Games. She’s one kickass little girl, and I’m really excited to see what she does next. All the dudes in the cast are ok, I guess, nothing special. I liked Michael Vartan as the clueless artist boyfriend, which is weird since usually I resent unnecessary romance in action movies but it was handled pretty well and was actually relevant to the story.

Action-wise there are some awesome sequences, notably little Cataleya’s nail-biter run through Bogota to escape the bad guys and her grown-up infiltration of a police station to kill a prisoner. There’s also a nice bit with sharks. And the climax reminded me of the ending of Commando, in that it’s basically one person taking out a shitload of criminal henchmen in the antagonist’s fortified mansion. Only this time it’s a woman of color! And most of the time she isn’t hyper-sexualized or anything, so that’s nice! Doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test though, since there aren’t really any other ladies, but still a generally good example of a kickass action movie starring a woman, I think.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Another recently lady-centric action film I dug was Haywire. Also available, Leon/The Professional for more Besson taking a little girl and making her an assassin.

PS For a while I’ve felt that Zoe Saldana would make a fantastic Catwoman, and seeing her in a black bodysuit slinking around the police station just sealed the deal. Someone make this happen, please? Can we digitally replace Anne Hathaway in the new one? Because I do not have confidence that she will do a good job.

Movie Review: Serbuan maut (The Raid: Redemption) (2011)

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

After various reports of The Raid‘s status as “best action movie ever”, it was imperative for me to see it. Written and directed by Gareth Evans and starring rising action star/fight choreographer Iko Uwais, the film pits a group of Indonesian special police against a tenement building’s worth of thugs, killers, and drug dealers. Corruption within the city police and a number of booby traps leave young Rama (Uwais) alone and fighting for his life in a series of escalating battles with scary criminal dudes.

Violent and thrilling in its variety of fight scenes and good use of a one-location setting, The Raid is indeed a damn kickass action movie. It’s got a pretty simple set-up that’s perfect for a wide range of battles and all sorts of riff-raff redshirts, but also manages to work in some compelling character-driven drama and unexpected reveals. Iko Uwais is strong as the main dude with morals who is also a deadly killing machine, hot damn. He’s backed by a great cast of fighters and stuntmen, many of whom embody some interesting characters.

Of course with something like this it all boils down to expectations. I heard rumors of extreme levels of badassery and invention, and sometimes comments to the effect of “saving the action genre” and/or “the best action movie in years”. But I wonder if those who made such observations hadn’t seen various other Southeast Asian action films? No muay Thai? The Raid is a solid flick, no question, but it didn’t come off as something extremely special to me, since it called to mind a few other movies I’ve seen or know of. It’s not a failing, just something that confused me in regards to the overwhelming critical/audience response.

The actual drawback for me was the lack of clear good guy/bad guy boundaries. I didn’t have a reason to hate most of the people being killed by the protagonists, and while I recognize that this is something of a darker, at-times morally ambiguous story, I’m pretty sure I was supposed to root for Rama and his team. Sure, they’re often fighting in self-defense, but a shit ton of people are killed or horribly injured and I don’t even know what their deal is except they don’t like cops. Action movies are most fun when I feel strongly about who’s fighting, so not taking more time to show me why these guys are all bad made some of the gratuitous violence less fun.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: The set-up made me think of Attack the Block, which is the best. It also called to mind Bangkok Knockout, once they’re all trapped in the warehouse and fighting like crazy and it’s awesome, you know?

Movie Review: Fast Five (2011)

Seen: On blu-ray on our big screen/projector set-up. Our version didn’t have subtitles, though, so I missed the Portuguese dialogue.

Remember last summer when Miles and I were watching all the Fast and the Furious movies and was a weird, mostly shitty, time with overt homosexual undertones? Yeah, well the whole point was so we could watch Fast Five, since it looked awesome and featured Dwayne Johnson. (We skipped Fast & Furious since I’d already seen it- albeit dubbed in German- and Miles didn’t want to sit through it.) Well, WE FINALLY WATCHED FAST FIVE. It’s basically Ocean’s Eleven with less polish, a higher body count, and a more ethnically diverse cast, collecting together several characters from all four previous films. And Dwayne Johnson’s there as the government agent who’s gotta catch ’em all.

It’s got car chases, parkour, shoot-outs, bad jokes, scantily clad ladies who love cars (seriously, apparently hot women everywhere will just drop all of their clothes if a nice car is nearby?), con hijinks, ridiculous moments of sentimentality (of COURSE someone is pregnant and of COURSE we need to discuss the importance of “family” every five minutes because that’s the ITALIAN WAY), and a fucking unbelievable climax. The dialogue is terrible and I didn’t remember who most of the characters were (except everyone’s favorite character Han, obviously), but there usually wasn’t enough down time to get too bored. All of the action scenes are awesome and usually ludicrous, and everyone seems like they’re having grand old time. Well, except Jordana Brewster, who spends basically the entire movie hanging out in a dingy warehouse looking at computers.

The defining point of Fast Five is its completely unexpected focus on continuity and general inter-connectivity. Normally for a mainstream action movie like this I wouldn’t expect a familiarity with the previous films to be all that crucial, but it actually really is here. So many of the characters come from earlier installments, and several past events play an important role here. Then, of course, there’s a secret ending that LITERALLY blew my mind with how it brought various pieces together and also seemed to defy reality, I mean jeez. What the fuck.

Now the sequel (currently in the works) has given me a new reason to live, so that’s something.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Well I guess one of the other FF films? But most of them are really shitty? I’m pretty sure any fan of Lost will appreciate the crazy levels of interconnections that go on in this movie, so that’s an option. But the most appropriate pairing would probably be Ocean’s Eleven.

Movie Review: Rango (2011)

Seen: On blu-ray on our big screen/projector set-up, rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

The realization that I had only seen two new animated releases in 2011- and that one of them was Cars 2– made me super depressed. Everyone kept going on about how fun and movie-fan-friendly Rango was so that seemed the best place to start. A lonely, sheltered pet chameleon finds himself thrust into a harsh desert environ, where he puts his self-taught theatrical talents to use by creating a tough-talking lone gunman-type called “Rango”. He becomes sheriff of Dirt, a drought-stricken town with corrupt leaders, and takes it upon himself to find their stolen water and save the day, etc, with the help of some goofy desert animals.

Combining elements of classic westerns and animal-centric family films, Rango feels like something of an anomaly within its kid-friendly genre. It’s just… I’m not sure this movie is even for kids? Not really little ones anyway. I feel like a lot of the story and references would be over a child’s head, though I guess the goofy-looking anthropomorphic animals might be enough to keep them entertained. Regardless, it’s a pretty good movie. The script is clever and interesting, though a bit too drawn-out, the characters are varied, and the visual design and animation are solid. A few of the more action-y scenes are especially well done, like the early shot of Rango falling out of the car onto the highway. Very exciting!

With a Hunter Thompson-esque lilt (who gets a cameo), Johnny Depp imbues the character of Rango with a wacky edge, slipping easily into screenwriter John Logan’s quick-witted dialogue. Isla Fisher does a good over-the-top Western-y accent, and Ned Beatty basically plays Toy Story 3‘s Lotso only with more turtle. There are a ton of famous people in the supporting voice cast but I’ll admit most of them were unrecognizable to me, which I guess is actually impressive acting-wise. Although I caught Timothy Olyphant, oh yes I did.

I’ll be honest here dudes, I liked this movie but don’t really have that much to say about it. The main drawbacks were the at-times scattered narrative, some inconsistency in design, and too many characters. Otherwise, good times!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: The overall aesthetic and feeling reminded me of A Bug’s Life, which also involves imposters protecting a tiny-animal community, plus movie references since it’s all Seven Samurai-y.