Movie Review – Death Note (2017)

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EXPECTATIONS: Something not resembling a trainwreck.

REVIEW: Whitewashing! Americanized! Lack of ethnicity! Yeah, I’m gonna talk about that in much detail, just to make that clear. Anyway, a lot of negative buzz has been going around this project due the things mentioned above and it definitely is a valid argument since the source material is distinctly Japanese. So to retroactively set the story in another location would potentially leave a lot of things lost in translation, so to speak.

To give some hints about my prior expectations about this new film, I have never seen the anime nor read the manga, but I have seen the Japanese live-action films and I thought they were tedious and dull, due to massive amounts of exposition and shoddy filmmaking that makes it look like a television show, rather than an actual film. So, there really isn’t a high bar to reach here.

Another hint, I like Adam Wingard‘s work. From the well-made slasher flick You’re Next to the stylish neo-noir thriller The Guest and the proficient sequel Blair Witch, he does good work. When I heard his name was attached to this film, I had a glimmer of hope that this film would actually be quite good. Does the film stand out or does it deserve to be written in and taken out of circulation?

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Death Note follows Max Landis a high school student, Light Turner (Nat Wolff) who comes across a supernatural notebook, realizing it holds within it a great power; if the owner writes someone’s name into it while picturing their face, he or she will die.

Feeling a sense of purpose with his life and driven by his anger due to an unjustly death in the family, thanks to his new godlike abilities, Light begins to kill those he deems to be unworthy of living. As the long number of kills gets ever higher, it draws the attention of “L” (Lakeith Stanfield), a enigmatic detective, hot on his trail.

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My opinion on Death Note? Surprisingly enjoyable in parts, but for all the wrong reasons. With all the mythology that the source material has, the film just blitzes through it, rendering the film emotionally inert and amusingly ironic, since the Japanese counterparts suffer from too much exposition. You just don’t really care for any of these characters and when you are meant to, the film just turns into an unintentional comedy.

Wingard, who has used great soundtracks with his previous films has lost it here, executing scenes (in more ways than one) that are meant to be emotionally involving just got shrieks of laughter out of me. The film still looks great like Wingard’s prior films, thanks to cinematographer David Tattersall, but the style is all for naught. One change from the source material involves the executions of the death scenes. In the 2017 film, the keeper can write how people can die and it leads some surprisingly gory denouements.

But the problem is, the deaths are so overstated and serious, that it again becomes hilarious. The deaths are very similar to the Final Destination films but the tone of them all are similar to the deaths in The Happening. And no, that is not worthy of praise.

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Also not worthy of much praise is the performances. Nat Wolff, who was fine in The Fault in Our Stars, is just awful here as Light Turner. Most of the time, he can’t live up to his character’s name and becomes dim but when the dramatic stakes are up, he goes for hysterical shrieking that made me laugh uproariously. Seriously, his shrieking makes Shia LaBeouf‘s shrieking in the Transformers films look thespian.

As for L, Lakeith Stanfield is fine in the role, although when the going gets tough, he is meant to play the character with fiery anger, but he comes across as annoyingly petulant, ruining the mystery and enigmatic feel of the character. Margaret Qualley does the best she can with the character of Maya Sutton, but her backstory is literally stated as being a cheerleader, not giving her anything to work with than just being a love interest, and when her gradual character change is revealed, it becomes hard to buy since we never really know her motivations.

The supporting cast are all okay, but nothing worthy of praise like Shea Whigham as Light’s father and Paul Nakauchi as Watari, L’s assistant. But the real (and only) standout is Willem Dafoe as Ryuk. He lends a lot of creepiness to the part as well as some much-needed sadistic sense of humour. But I wished they didn’t do the motion-capture route and just did some light touches of make-up on him. He looks like Ryuk already!

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So that’s the American incarnation of Death Note folks. It’s good for a couple of unintended laughs, all sealed up in a candy wrapper. There’s nothing here worth getting angry about, nor is there anything worthy of praise; the resulting film is more of a footnote than a Death Note.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Some unintentional laughs from the acting and stylistic cues

Willem Dafoe as Ryuk

CONS

Tonally misguided

Awful acting, especially from Nat Wolff

Incredibly rushed storytelling

SCORE: 4/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, Paul Nakauchi, Jason Liles, Willem Dafoe
Director: Adam Wingard
Screenwriters: Charley Parlapanides & Vlas Parlapanides and Jeremy Slater, based on the manga by Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata in Shonen Jump

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Movie Review – Meow

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EXPECTATIONS: Something that will surprise me, like Stephen Chow’s CJ7.

REVIEW: Benny Chan is known as one of Hong Kong’s most commercially successful directors. With huge classic hits like A Moment of Romance and Big Bullet to his recent blockbusters like The White Storm and Shaolin, he is quite dependable to rely on for action spectacle.

But when Chan branches out to different genres, that is when his films go from decent to disastrous. One of the examples is the sequel to Gen-X Cops, Gen-Y Cops, a film so bad that it made the original look like The Wild Bunch. Filled with abysmal acting, ridiculous events strewn together to resemble a plot and a script that makes Paul Rudd (yes, that Paul Rudd) say the most awful lines (some even in Cantonese!).

Another example is the sci-fi/fantasy flick City Under Siege, which was considered to be Hong Kong’s answer to X-Men, but it turned out to be a disaster, with the expected terrible script, awful acting and unintentionally hilarious make-up effects that would make the Toxic Avenger look like an art installation.

But the two films have one essential factor in common that made them entertaining, despite the terrible quality of each of them: they were both unintentionally funny. They were never comedies, but the films were such disastrous examples of filmmaking, that they might as well have been classified as one.

So when I heard that Chan was making a family comedy about alien cats invading planet Earth, I was both equally appalled and intrigued. Appalled at the fact that Benny Chan would direct such a thing that Wong Jing would shill out any day of the week and intrigued at the fact it could be an enjoyable disaster like the other two entries.

But one thing is for sure: it helps to have an open mind. Does Meow live up to my expectations or even exceed them to become an enjoyable surprise like Stephen Chow’s CJ7? Or will it crash-land and burn up before it even starts the opening credits?

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In the distant corners of the universe, a planet of cats known as Meow exists where its creatures are more civilized than Earthlings. Thousands of years ago, the king of Meow has been sending messengers to planet Earth, hoping to prepare for an invasion. However, over the years, every messenger sent to Earth never returned, which forced the king to put aside his plans.

In the present day, the king decides to re-ignite his plan and selects the bravest and mightiest warrior of Meow, Pudding, as a vanguard to Earth. However, during the journey, Pudding loses a divine Meow device that can resist the particles of Earth and loses his divine powers.

As a result, the lean-built Pudding becomes a giant fat cat Xilili (due to a contrived reason). It is then adopted by a family, which consists of Go-Lee Wu (Louis Koo), his wife (Ma Li), their elder son (Andy Wong) and younger daughter (Jessica Liu). Xilili has no choice but to hide in the Wu household before finding his device to invade Earth.

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Most people have written articles, which say films that consist of pervasive violence and adult content can turn people into psychopaths. To them I say, nay, because it is films like Meow that can turn people into psychopaths. Apart from Kung Fu Yoga (which I thought would never be surpassed as the worst film I have seen so far this year), watching Meow was one of the most insufferable and emotionally harrowing experiences I have ever been through.

To think that most of Benny Chan’s films have unintentionally funny moments in his serious films, it would be feasible to think he would be good at comedy. But in the case of Meow, it shows that he does not have a comedic bone in his body whatsoever. The script is so incredibly stupid and mindbogglingly misguided, that even infants would be insulted.

Who in poo-perfect hell thought that a scene where an alien cat plans to murder a family with a kitchen knife, would be suitable for family entertainment? The only time the film was inching close to laughter is during the dramatic scenes. Like during a scene where one of the main characters trips over, I laughed wholeheartedly. But even with those moments, it was not enough to compensate for the rest.

During the film, I thought to myself, what was going through the minds of Louis Koo and Benny Chan that they would be involved in this film, But alas, it was said in a behind-the-scenes feature that it was Louis Koo’s idea to make a film about cats, due to the fact that he does advertisements for a health and beauty franchise (Mannings) that has a cat as a mascot. And it was Chan’s idea to make it into a feature film about cats in space. If that’s the case, then Louis Koo should get double the blame for his contribution of the cinematic equivalent of ultraviolent dysentery.

In order to find comedies funny, you have to have some sort of engagement with the characters. Clearly, no one involved in the film knew that since the actors in the film all probably thought that to get laughs out of the script is to deliver the lines as loud as humanly possible. And boy, it is like a bunch of needles piercing through your ears and into your brain.

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Louis Koo overacts miserably as Go-Lee Wu (He plays a goalie! Get it?), as he suffers through fart jokes (some literally in his face), pratfalls and lots and lots of screaming. Ma Li (or Mary Ma, as she is credited) loses all of her comedic chops from her prior films like Goodbye Mr. Loser, as she is stuck playing an unlikable harpy while the supporting cast all overact like loonies, that I actually sided with the cat wanting to kill the family. They are all that insufferable to watch.

The only actor in the film that is somewhat tolerable is Michelle Wai. Wai is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated actress in HK, as she has always displayed stellar work, even in the smallest of roles eg. her drug addict role in Insanity. In the case of Meow, she does fine in an unfairly written role as a school teacher and she almost goes out of the film unscathed. She almost acts like a normal human being to the point that I yelled at the screen, pleading her to take me away from the loonies! And yet when the film reaches the end credits, she overacts like all the other loonies. So close.

There are a lot more things to say about Meow, like the xenophobic moments (one character that is meant to be a portrayal of a Thai person is shockingly racist AND homophobic), the ham-fisted approach in conveying a lesson to the audience that filial love trumps all, plot holes (like how does the family afford all the cat food and supplies if they are struggling financially due to Go-Lee Wu being in massive debt?) and even lapses in basic logic (Cats don’t even land on their feet in this film!), but it’s just not worth it.

When parents teach children how to behave themselves, there are some lessons that are taught, which are already known, without prior education. Like how one should not run with scissors or one should not talk to strangers. And now the lesson of not watching Meow should be one of those lessons. Meow is an atrocious piece of garbage and everyone involved in this film should be thoroughly ashamed.

Quickie Review

PROS

You’re kidding me, right?

CONS

**doing a Gary Oldman impression** EVERYTHING!!!

SCORE: 0/10

Cast: Louis Koo, Ma Li, Jessica Liu, Andy Wong, Michelle Wai, Louis Yuen, Grasshopper, Lo Hoi-pang, Lam Chi-chung
Director: Benny Chan
Screenwriters: Chan Hing-ka, Ho Miu-kei, Poon Chun-lam

Movie Review – A Ghost Story

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EXPECTATIONS: Absolutely no clue. Except knowing that it’s not a horror film.

REVIEW: David Lowery is a film-maker whose work I have enjoyed due to his restrained approach to his direction, his way of humanizing his characters and his sincere, honest approach to his storytelling. Whether it a small-scale story like Ain’t Them Bodies Saints or a commercial film like the reboot Pete’s Dragon, his directorial and screenwriting touch is always apparent.

Now we have his third film, A Ghost Story. Despite what the title implies, the film is not part of the horror genre and it is more about existentialism, the afterlife and the concepts of time. And with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara coming back for their second collaboration after Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, the film looks to be another top-notch film for Lowery. Or will it?

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Casey Affleck plays a struggling musician (oddly named C) living with his wife, played by Rooney Mara (oddly named M) in a small suburban house. One night, they hear a heavy bang on their piano, but are unable to find the cause for the noise. Some time later, C is killed in a car accident outside his home. At the morgue, he awakens as a ghost covered in a white bedsheet with two black holes for eyes.

It is from there on that a connection is forged between the two that stretches beyond the boundaries of time and space and it is then that C ventures on a metaphysical journey.

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Now, let’s get to the positives. Like every film that Lowery has made, the film is well-made, in terms of the mood and atmosphere (the understated execution of the scene where C is in a car crash is very well-handled) and the slow pace really adds to it.

Plus, the film is really well-shot. Through the cinematography by Andrew Droz Palermo, everything looks absolutely ethereal and yet, the aspect ratio (which is 1.33:1) gives it a claustrophobic feel that conveys the feelings of the leading character very well.

And also as expected, the performances from both Mara and Affleck are both quite good. Affleck does world-weary very well, as he conveys the character’s struggles in an effective manner. As for Mara, she does quite well in showing the character’s grief and sorrow and none of it is more apt than in the scene where her character eats a pie in a 5-minute long, unbroken take.

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But unlike the pie, the film is much less filling. The minimalist approach is quite a double-edge sword for the film, and it unfortunately affects the characters. Mara and Affleck are understated actors to begin with, so when they are placed under this approach, it creates a pretty large void for the audience, in which they have nothing to empathize, particularly during the moments when the two leads are conversing with one another. The relationship isn’t really given enough time for the audience to latch on to, leaving them detached.

And since Affleck is under a white bedsheet for the majority of the running time (and believe me, anyone could’ve played the ghost role), it relies more on Mara for the lifting, but even then, she disappears for long stretches of time. On the contrary, since the film does touch on loneliness, the execution does make sense. But it ends up all for naught when watching the film for 90 minutes becomes a very drawn-out chore.

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If the film was made in a short film format, then the potential of the story would have been satisfied, and would even do away with a second-act monologue that is so patronizing and pandering that it almost seems to exist just so people who fell asleep during the film would have a scene just for them to catch up with the proceedings. JUST IN THE CASE THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK AREN’T GETTING IT!

Despite the overlong, droning running time, the film concludes effectively, as it finally reaches fruition with all of the themes coalescing together for a satisfying and touching finale. But for many, it is too little, too late.

Overall, A Ghost Story is like one of the bedsheets in the film. It looks nice, it flows well, but like the bedsheet, there are some holes and major stains on it.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Well-made and well-shot

Good acting

Satisfying ending

CONS

Incredibly slow paced and understated for its own good

A monologue that is annoying, patronizing and pandering that almost sinks the film

SCORE: 5/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, McColm Sephas Jr., Kenneisha Thompson, Grover Coulson, Liz Cardenas Franke, Barlow Jacobs
Director: David Lowery
Screenwriter: David Lowery

Movie Review – Okja (Sydney Film Fest 2017)

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EXPECTATIONS: Another fantastic entry into Bong Joon Ho’s filmography.

REVIEW: Okja is a film involving a giant mutated pig. What more do you want? But seriously, in order to understand the hype of the film, you have to know the filmmaker Bong Joon Ho.

Bong Joon Ho is an acclaimed Korean filmmaker who has made some incredible films. And the reason he is so acclaimed is his assured directorial hand in mixing genres that usually do not associate with each other and executes them brilliantly. And he also adds a sense of humour, regardless of how inappropriate the tone of the film is.

His impressive resume so far includes films like the strikingly dark comedy Barking Dogs Never Bite, the comic-confronting crime thriller Memories of Murder, the blockbuster monster film The Host (not the film starring Saoirse Ronan, thank goodness), the old-fashioned mystery-noir Mother and the dystopian epic Snowpiercer.

Considering the critical acclaim that Bong has received, having expectations reaching levels other than high is an understandable reaction. Seeing how this was the closing film of Sydney Film Fest 2017, it was likely that Okja would end it with a bang. Does it?

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An Seo Hyun stars as Mija, a young girl who lives in the mountains with her grandfather (Byun Heebong) and is a caretaker and loving companion to Okja, a giant super pig. Life seems simple enough but that eventually changes when a family-owned multinational conglomerate takes Okja for themselves and transports her to New York, where image obsessed and self-promoting CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) has big plans for Mija’s dearest friend.

With no plan and only her sheer focus, Mija vows to get her back but the journey will be hard going, going through many obstacles like capitalists, fat cats, greedy consumers, demonstrators (led by Paul Dano). Will Mija succeed in bringing her best friend home?

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Just like his earlier films, director Bong deals with a lot of issues and ideas like consumerism, animal rights, the environment and capitalism; all while forming an action-adventure film and a political satire at the same time. Even with all that baggage, it’s a miracle that Okja works as well as it does.

Even though the issues are serious, Bong never backs out from adding a touch of humour into the mix, as he places the targets both the characters and themes and satirizes them with verve. For example, the characters Bostick and Henshall play, who foolishly contribute to their cause by starving themselves to leave a minimal environmental footprint.

But this does not mean Bong doesn’t get straight to the point, as he steers the film into very dark territory, particularly in the final act. This may be the first film that I praise due to the fact that it almost made me throw up.

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All the themes pack a thematic punch as well as an emotional punch, as it adds to the heart of the film, which is the bond between Mija and Okja. The peaceful scenes between the two are executed very well (complete with references to the anime film, My Neighbour Totoro), without being overstated or sappy. There’s even a scene where the family are gathering together to eat and it is reminiscent to one of the scenes in The Host.

There’s a scene where the two take a shortcut back home and it ends up being more than they bargained for. The scene is thrilling, action-packed and skillfully foreshadows what is to come between their relationship.

Speaking of action scenes, they are all gleefully manic, yet intricately composed. There is a scene where Mija arrives in Seoul and single-handedly shakes the corporation, resulting in a fantastic car chase, leading to a shopping center that reaches its beautifully realized climax with the use of “Annie’s Song” by John Denver.

But none of it would be as good as it looks without the cinematography by Darius Khondji, who is clearly embracing the resources of what digital filmmaking can do. The CGI modelling of the creature itself is quite impressive, considering the budget, which is only $50 million.

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The acting from the ensemble cast are all either fun, unhinged or thankfully, genuine. An Seo Hyun, who impressed in the 2010 remake The Housemaid, is the solid rock of the film that keeps the film grounded, as she convincingly conveys both the tough, determined side and the paternal side of her character. The former is shown perfectly during a funny scene where Mija tries to enter the government floor entrance.

On the other side of the spectrum, Jake Gyllenhaal gleefully hams it up figuratively as well as literally. Tilda Swinton vamps it up as well as camps it up as the primary antagonist, Lucy Mirando, and she nails it, as usual while Paul Dano, in an example of off-kilter casting as with Gyllenhaal, is surprisingly cool as the leader of the animal rights group.

The smaller roles from the conflicted Steven Yeun, the fiery Lily Collins, the comically dedicated duo of Devon Bostick and Daniel Henshall, the fatherly Byun Heebong, the weaselly Choi Woo Shik, the subtly menacing, scheming Giancarlo Esposito and the overworked and nasally Shirley Henderson all immensely contribute to the fun.

Like Okja itself, the film tends to lumber a lot, veering in many directions and tones, sometimes going on-the-snout with its themes, and like Gyllenhaal’s character, its rebellious and off-kilter filmmaking may turn people off. But like a roller-coaster, it is exhilarating stuff, and it rarely ever abides to filmmaking conventions and tropes. Okja was a film that had everything I hoped for and I wish more films like this would get made, regardless of where it comes from.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastically rebellious direction from Bong Joon Ho

Mixing of genres and ideas is done really well

The ensemble cast is great

Action scenes are very thrilling

CONS

The filmmaking and Gyllenhaal’s performance will polarize

SCORE: 9/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, An Seo Hyun, Byun Heebong, Steven Yeun, Giancarlo Esposito, Lily Collins, Yoon Je Moon, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Choi Woo Shik
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Screenwriter: Bong Joon Ho, Jon Ronson

Movie Review – Colossal

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EXPECTATIONS: Something original, audacious and surprising.

REVIEW: Nacho Vigalondo has always been an exciting film-maker for me. Ever since I saw his first film, I’ve always wanted to see more of this work. His handling of genre film and melding it with themes of humanity or topical themes has always fascinated and thrilled me.

Timecrimes was a great time-travel film that revolved around infidelity; Extraterrestrial was an entertaining sci-fi movie that just so happened to be a rom-com; while Open Windows was a nail-biting thriller that happened to revolve around the invasion of privacy.

So when I heard that Vigalondo was making a film that featured a kaiju monster, I was in. And having the biggest star to date with Anne Hathaway (as the lead actor and producer), the film has some big expectations to fill. And knowing nothing about the genre it is executing for, will Vigalondo live up to the bonkers premise?

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Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, a trainwreck in human form. Because of her relentless partying and drinking, she has been dumped by her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens), has lost her job as an online writer and has no place to live. So she reluctantly moves back to her hometown.

Struggling to stay awake, let alone trying to get her life back on track, she finds her way into Oscar (Jason Sudekis), a childhood friend of Gloria who may or may not have feelings for her. As he helps her get back on her feet, a giant monster is attacking Seoul, Korea and through some strange coincidences (or maybe the drinking finally has long-term effects), she strangely has some sort of connection to said monster.

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As much as I want to go into extreme detail about the story, I know I can’t because not only do I want to spoil the many surprises, but the film is best if you know absolutely nothing about it, beyond the premise. Even the trailer doesn’t spoil much, which is surprising. But what I can say with utmost honesty is that Colossal is one of the best films I have seen this year so far.

The film is basically a female self-empowerment story that just happens to have a giant monster in it. And it is these mix of genres that meld together is what makes the film so original. But none of it would be effective if it weren’t for Nacho Vigalondo‘s direction.

Executing the film’s tone as straight as possible, finding the sincerity in all of its grounded themes and wringing the best out of his actors, Vigalondo just knocks it out of the park. The themes here, including coming to terms with ones’ self and overcoming addictions, are all dealt with in surprising ways. Like how the monster can be a metaphor for our destructive selves and how they can harm others. Even something as minor as a playground fight, where Gloria puts up her dukes, can have such strong meaning behind it.

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Speaking of putting up dukes, there are many monster scenes in the film, which are very well done considering the budget and the way the story combines both the human story and the monster story together in the climax is absolutely satisfying, both emotionally and cinematically.

A lot of the credit goes to actors, which include Anne Hathaway, who gives her best performance since Rachel Getting Married. Funnily enough, the character of Gloria is quite similar her character in Married due to the fact that they are both trainwrecks; they both repel everybody close to them and they both refuse to take responsibility for their own actions.

But in Colossal, Hathaway manages to find a sweet, relatable side to her character that makes it convincing that people would want to be around her as well as the audience wanting to root for her. It also helps that Hathaway still has her comedic chops (evident in The Princess Diaries that made her a star in the first place) and the film gives her ample opportunities to utilize them.

As for Dan Stevens (whom I like to call the new Cary Elwes), he isn’t in the film that much (probably due to being in Legion and Beauty and the Beast) but he does show a panicky wide-eyed side to his character that did make me laugh, like when his character confronts Sudekis‘ character.

Speaking of Sudekis, his performance is one of the most surprising things in the film. Without spoiling anything, his character is charming, if a little clingy. He is also quite generous, if a little intrusive and he is very laid-back, if a little uninitiated. But it is these “ifs” and many more that makes his character compelling and when he gradually reveals who he really is, that is when Sudekis shows he is more than just his comic persona.

As for flaws, there are scenes where you can nitpick logical errors (like how can one character forget or repress such an event) and abrupt tone shifts (which is quite befitting considering the drunk state of Gloria), but neither is enough to knock down the solid, yet unorthodox foundations that are surprisingly down-to-earth: seeing the humanity within the monster and how one’s self-empowerment can be the greatest gift one’s self can give.

Colossal is one of the best movies of the year and for those who are complaining that we do not see original films in the cinema lately; well this is one of them. I really do hope that a lot of people see it, just so we can have more films like this. The very fact that this film exists is fantastic enough, but for it to work as effectively as it does, it just seems miraculous to me.

Like a fellow film critic of mine once said: If we don’t see the movies that deserve it, we get the movies that we deserve.

Colossal

Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic acting

Thematically sound story

Constantly surprises and keeps the audience off-guard

Incredibly satisfying ending

CONS

Tone shifts and logical errors

SCORE: 9/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Screenwriter: Nacho Vigalondo

Movie Review – Kong: Skull Island

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EXPECTATIONS: An incredibly silly, yet very entertaining monster mash.

REVIEW: Monster movies were my jam back when I was a kid. Just seeing two colossal creatures beating each other with whatever environment they are in at their disposal was such an incredible delight. With fantastic examples like the various Godzilla films, King Kong films, Mighty Peking Man, The Host (2006) and War of the Gargantuas, it just goes to show that sometimes, the simplest pleasures can be the best.

And it seems that Western films are getting back into the genre, with sterling examples like Cloverfield, Peter Jackson‘s King Kong, Pacific Rim and of course, the latest Godzilla entry. And now we have the latest reiteration of Kong with Kong: Skull Island. With an up-and-rising director (this being Vogt-Roberts‘ first studio film), a vast and talented supporting cast (with multiple Oscar winner/nominated actors and rising stars) and a huge budget (almost $200 million) in their disposal, will this be the entertaining monster mash the trailers hint at?

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Set in 1973, Tom Hiddleston plays James Conrad, a former British Special Air Force captain who served in the Vietnam War, who is hired by William “Bill” Randa (John Goodman), a senior official for Monarch, a secret government organization, to head an expedition to go to an uncharted island for extensive research.

Those who come along in the expedition include army personnel like Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) a US Lieutenant Colonel and leader of his helicopter squadron (consisting of Toby Kebbell, Thomas Mann, Shea Whigham, Jason Mitchell and others); Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), a war photojournalist and peace activist and Houston Brooks and San Lin (Corey Hawkins and Jing Tian), whom both work for Monarch, and others.

As they arrive on the island, they quickly realize that they have stepped in a place that they should have never stepped in as the inhabitant known as Kong (motion-captured by Terry Notary and Toby Kebbell) takes a stand to defend his land from the intruders. As the expedition crew makes plans to fight for survival against Kong and the other monsters on the island, some of them begin to see that Kong is worth saving.

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Let’s get one thing straight: this film does not have the tone of Gareth EdwardsGodzilla. So for those who want their monster films dark and serious would probably be deterred by the film’s lighter tone. But for those who relish the campy, silly monster films of yore will be highly entertained.

The trailers for the film promise loads of monster battles and boy, do we get them! Unlike the relentless teasing of showing Godzilla in the 2014 film, Kong is shown in the very first scene and has a constant presence throughout the film. The action scenes are plentiful, distinct and pack a massive punch.

The scene where Kong appears before the expedition crew for the first time is the highlight of the film. Other action scenes include giant insects, pterodactyls, octopi and of course, the Skullcrawlers, and they are spectacular to behold, thanks to Jordan Vogt-Roberts‘ direction, Larry Fong‘s graphic novel-like cinematography and John Dykstra‘s handing of the special effects. There are some inventive touches in the action scenes that also add to the fun like the use of a flashing camera or the use of toxic gas.

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Speaking of Vogt-Roberts, it is very clear that he is a huge fan of genre cinema and animation, particularly with Studio Ghibli. Besides the obvious references to Apocalypse Now and Platoon, the visual splendor and film-making references acclaimed animated films like Princess Mononoke (the settings and monsters), Spirited Away (the monsters) and even Laputa: Castle in the Sky (the scene where the expedition crew go through the storm to enter the island).

Although the splendor may interfere with the logic in the story (Would anyone stand still if an explosion happened that close?), thankfully, the film doesn’t really take itself seriously, therefore the splendor always adds to the fun. I also liked the fact that there are no shoehorned references or excessive foreshadowing to future films, unlike films of other established universes.

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The violence of the film is also a surprise that actually shocked me quite a bit. Considering that this is an M-rated film, the implications of said violent scenes still make a huge impact, like how a soldier meets his end with an incoming helicopter or how another soldier meets his end in a bamboo forest that is similar to a scene in Cannibal Holocaust.

Speaking of the lighter tone, contrary to the 2014 Godzilla film, Kong: Skull Island actually has a sense of humour. Everyone in the film clearly knows the ridiculousness of the story and the premise and they all have fun with it. So much so, that it’s quite hard to believe that this film is set in the same universe as the 2014 Godzilla film.

Almost every monster film has weak characterizations and Kong: Skull Island is no exception. Fortunately, the majority of the ensemble cast are all charismatic enough to stand out regardless. Tom Hiddleston basically reprises his role from The Night Manager as James Conrad; meaning that he gives a stoic, heroic and controlled performance that suits the film. Brie Larson capably exudes charm, sympathy and some much-needed wit to the proceedings, while John Goodman and Samuel L. Jackson chew some scenery with gusto.

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The majority of the supporting cast have their moments like Corey Hawkins as a passionate geologist and Thomas Mann, who gives an amusing performance that is clearly inspired by Bill Paxton‘s performance in Aliens while Shea Whigham and Jason Mitchell are an amusing duo with their banter. Toby Kebbell is fine as the sympathetic family man of the squadron, but he isn’t given much to do, probably because he was too busy helping out with the motion-capture process of the film.

It doesn’t excuse the wasted talent of Jing Tian, who contributes nothing to the film. It’s a shame because she has made big impressions as an action heroine in films like Special ID and The Great Wall. She is basically a shoehorned plug-in for the China market (since one of the production companies for the film is a Chinese film company), therefore she ends up joining the list of highly talented, yet wasted actors like Zhang Jingchu (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), Fan Bing-bing and Wang Xueqi (Iron Man 3).

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Fortunately, the film compensates with John C. Reilly, who is the standout of the film. The trailers seem to hint that he was cast in the film for comic relief, but he ends up more than that and registers as a convincing action hero. His character has a solid backstory and also has a scene during the credits that was surprisingly poignant.

As for flaws, alongside the thin characterizations, the light tone can sometimes conflict with the serious parts of the film, which can confuse some on how to react. There’s a scene involving Shea Whigham‘s character that felt so out of place that I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be taken seriously or it was meant to be funny. Although the film lacks an emotional through-line unlike the last Kong film, it makes up for it with fun.

Overall, Kong: Skull Island was a lot of fun, with many spectacular monster battles, a likable ensemble cast, outstanding visual splendor and a standout performance from John C. Reilly.  Don’t leave the film during the credits, as there is a scene proceeding it for your pleasure.

Quickie Review

PROS

Spectacular monster battles

Astounding visual splendor

Vogt-Roberts’ enthusiastic direction

Likable and self-aware ensemble cast

CONS

The light tone conflicts with the seriousness of some scenes, leading to some unintentional laughs

Waste of Jing Tian

Thin characterizations

Lacks emotional through-line

SCORE: 7.5/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Toby Kebbell, Jing Tian, Corey Hawkins, Terry Notary, Thomas Mann, Shea Whigham, Jason Mitchell, John Ortiz, Miyavi
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenwriter: John Gatins, Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Conolly

Movie Review – Assassin’s Creed

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EXPECTATIONS: A videogame film adaptation that finally breaks the videogame film curse.

REVIEW: The majority of videogame films are, for a lack of a better term, complete tosh. From catastrophes like Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros. and most of Uwe Boll‘s filmography to films that are close to viewer satisfaction like Final Fantasy VII – Advent Children and Ace Attorney, the reputation of videogame films is not something you would proudly put on a pedestal.

So when Creedy Assassin Assassin’s Creed was announced to be made into a film, I admit that I had zero expectations whatsoever. Granted, I have never played the games before, but upon discovering the incredibly talented cast and crew (which most of them made the fantastic Shakespeare adaptation, 2015’s Macbeth), my expectations went up. So do they manage to break the so-called videogame film curse or will the film just end up in the critically maligned dung-heap?

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The film starts off during the Spanish Inquisition, with the Assassin’s Creed (consisting of Aguilar de Nerha and Maria, played by Michael Fassbender and Ariane Labed) taking a vow to get a certain artifact called the Apple of Eden, which is known to have powers that can stop violence and aggression in the world. They must obtain the artifact swiftly before the Templar Order obtains it for their unknown deeds.

Cutting to the present day, we see Callum Lynch (also Michael Fassbender), a criminal who is about to be given the lethal injection (that’s not a euphemism). He is then rescued (or revived?) by Abstergo Industries, which just so happens to be the present-day version of the Templar Order, headed by Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) and his daughter, Sophia (Marion Cotillard).

Callum is then forced to participate in the Animus Project and relive the memories of his ancestor, Aguilar, to investigate the whereabouts of the Apple of Eden in exchange of his freedom. But during the experiments, Callum begins to understand and inexplicably immerse himself to his ancestor to the point that Alan and Sophia might have bit off a bit more than they could chew.

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Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Does the film break the videogame film curse? Absolutely not. The storytelling is incredibly baffling, the action scenes are perfunctory and uneventful and the exposition is overwhelming to the point of absolute tedium. Hell, many of the story elements don’t make any sense.

For example, the Animus is portrayed as a machine that locks on to the participant to allow mobility within a circular room. So when the participant is running straight during the past, where is the participant going during the present? And this applies for tall heights as well. How high is too high when the building of the present day is quite limited?

It’s not even fully explained if Callum died during his sentencing or he was rescued before he got the injection. How do the people at Abstergo know where and when Callum in the Animus end up to become Aguilar in the past? There are so many illogical inconsistencies and plot holes that if the film was a bulletproof vest, it would be destroyed and mangled beyond recognition.

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Well, the sheer talent of the film absolutely try their best with the crummy script and cardboard cutouts substituting as characters. Michael Fassbender really tries to tap into the essence of his character(s), but he only succeeds in showing his own charisma and star power, instead of giving anything memorable that could’ve come from the script.

This can be due to the fact that main characters in videogames are in fact ciphers; basically proxies of the players that they can put themselves into to experience the story. But this is a film, not a videogame.

Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Michael K. Williams, Charlotte Rampling, Ariane LabedBrendan Gleeson; how the hell did they end up in this film? All of them struggle valiantly to give life to their characters and only Cotillard ends up with an arc that actually has some impact and that is only due to her performance. Much like the viewers, the cast were probably all present due to the involvement of rising director, Justin Kurzel. Even with films like Snowtown and Macbeth, he can’t even save this mess.

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The action scenes, which are the biggest selling point of the film, are incredibly over-edited, sanitized and shaky to the point where it is blatantly obvious that the film is sucking up to the teenage crowd to spend their money. The games were already made for people older than 17 years of age, so why doesn’t the film get made the same way? Oh that’s right, the almighty dollar, of course. There is little impact, little suspense and especially little fun be had.

To be honest, I actually fell asleep during the first action scene, since it was just so ho-hum. It also doesn’t help that we know that Fassbender’s character will survive due to the fact that Fassbender himself announced that the story is a part of a three-film arc, so there’s no stakes whatsoever. What happened to making films that were so good that people want more; instead of making feature-length commercials for future sequels and spin-offs?

But the biggest problem with the film is the storytelling. The pacing is all over the place, with exposition scenes either going way too fast (in explaining the Animus) or way too slow (in explaining the connections with Callum’s past and the present). The editing is so choppy, that it kills the little suspense the film could have earned.

The premise is interesting within of itself, but the execution would leave one incredibly puzzled. There’s even a joke in the film when Fassbender actually says “What the fuck is going on?”. Nothing else in the film is more amusing, self-aware and meta than that statement.

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With so many flaws, there are some positives. Besides the insanely committed and overqualified cast, cinematographer Adam Arkapaw makes the film look epic in scope (similar in 2015’s Macbeth) during the scenes set in the past, but can only do so much in the scenes set in the present. The scenes set in Abstergo actually reminds me of the lab scenes in Fantastic Four (2015), and no, that is absolutely not a compliment. The musical score by Jed Kurzel also adds a sense of credibility but like the rest of the crew’s work, it can only go so far.

Another videogame film adaptation, another epic fail, I’m afraid. As if the story of the film doesn’t do that already, it seriously boggles the mind that the film can assemble so much talent and yet achieve so very little. Creedy Assassin Assassin’s Creed is a disappointment on almost every level.

Quickie Review

PROS

The cast try their darnedest to give the film credibility

The production values are good

CONS

So many plot holes and illogical inconsistencies

The storytelling is all over the place

The action scenes do not thrill or excite

The pacing is incredibly haphazard

Too much exposition, which results in tedium

SCORE: 3/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams, Ariane Labed, Callum Turner, Brendan Gleeson, Essie Davis, Denis Ménochet
Director: Justin Kurzel
Screenwriter: Bill Collage, Adam Cooper, Michael Lesslie

Movie Review – Your Name

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EXPECTATIONS: A film that lives up to its buzz.

REVIEW: Makoto Shinkai is an animation film-maker that has been earmarked to become the next Hayao Miyazaki with his spectacular animation. But in my opinion, he’s not really there yet. Although he gets the visuals right, his storytelling is quite flawed due to the slow pace and he never gets to end his films in a satisfying manner.

The endings are either abrupt, lack impact or at one point, incredibly overwrought. But the biggest problem with his films is the use of musical montages. Whenever a film of his reaches an emotional peak, he tends to play a song over it with the intention of eliciting poignancy. But unfortunately it ends up being lazy, cheap and ruins the cinematic panache of the film, making it look like a television episode at times.

So when I heard that Shinkai’s latest film was breaking Japanese box office records AND was chosen to be in the running for Best Animated Film at the Oscars, I knew I had to watch it to see if the film lived up to its hype. So does the film live up to its sterling reputation or will it end up being underwhelming?

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Edited and expanded synopsis from Madman: Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) and Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) are two total strangers living completely different lives. But when Mitsuha makes an impulsive wish to leave her mountain town for the bustling city of Tokyo, they become connected in a bizarre way. She dreams she is a boy living in Tokyo while Taki dreams he is a girl from a rural town he’s never been to.

The two realize the situation that they are in and decide to make the most of it until they develop an intimate relationship. But they suddenly lose contact with each other and Taki decides to personally meet up with Mitsuha over at her hometown. Little does he know, he ventures into something that will send both into an emotional journey that few could dream of. Will their relationship survive through the tumultuous turn of events?

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Let us get the obvious out of the way. From the looks of the screenshots alone, Your Name looks visually spectacular. Everything just has a pinkish/orange hue that gives the film such a warm, optimistic feel that made me smile. The music by RADWIMPS (a change from Shinkai’s usual composer, TENMON) gets the emotional pull of the film quite well, despite some major flaws.

As for the storytelling, Shinkai thankfully has improved in some ways. First of all, the editing (by Shinkai himself) has tightened up considerably, leading to a pace that is manageable for the story as well as keeping the emotional momentum going. Secondly, he actually sticks the landing and provides a satisfying, albeit predictable ending. Without spoilers, the ending does not feel abrupt, nor does it feel overwrought and it actually feels earned and rightfully so.

Thirdly, the fun sci-fi premise never interferes with the storytelling. There is very little spoon-feeding and exposition that slows the film down and it benefits greatly from it. And finally, Shinkai finally develops a nice sense of humour that provides the perfect offset from the potentially darker turns of the story.

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As for the voice acting, all the actors give great performances. Ryunosuke Kamiki, who is a veteran in voice acting as far as his projects for Studio Ghibli go, is great as Taki, as he provides the perfect balance between brimming anger and kindness. While Mone Kamishiraishi (who was fantastic in the leading role of Lady Maiko) is no beginner in voice acting due to her performance in Wolf Chidren, is great as Mitsuha, as she makes her character likable and compelling, with a great portrayal of both naivety and hubris. The supporting cast all add life to their roles from Masami Nagasawa providing a certain sultry appeal as Miki, Taki’s senior and romantic crush; to Kana Hanazawa as Ms. Yukino, Mitsuha’s teacher and is a reprisal of a character in one of Shinkai’s previous films.

But as much as improvements go, there is always room for it and Shinkai still has ample space of it. The lightest flaw is typical of films with this premise, which leads to some plot holes and lapses in the film’s logic, but I can’t really say further, since it would spoil part of the film. The other flaw, and this is a major one, is one I stated in the beginning of this review: the musical montages. Yes, they are still present and there are more present than usual, which really harms the emotional pull of the film, as well as unintentionally making the film cheap, looking like part of a TV episode.

But overall, Your Name is Shinkai’s most satisfying and complete film to date. With its amazingly beautiful animation, a fun yet familiar sci-fi premise, a great melding of genres (sci-fi, romance and disaster movie?) and great vocal talent, Your Name is a film that is worth seeing and remembering.

Quickie Review

PROS

Spectacular animation

Fantastic voice work from the cast

Little spoon-feeding and exposition about the fantasy premise

Great storytelling and editing, ensuring a good pace

A satisfying ending

CONS

The use of musical montages

Problematic subtitles

Some plot holes and lapses in logic

SCORE: 8/10

Cast: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Masami Nagasawa, Ryo Narita, Aoi Yuki, Obunaga Shimazaki, Kaito Ishikawa, Kanon Tani, Masaki Terasoma  
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Screenwriters: Makoto Shinkai

Movie Review – The Top Secret: Murder in Mind (Japanese Film Festival 2016)

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EXPECTATIONS: An intriguing sci-fi mystery that overstays its welcome.

REVIEW: Director Keishi Otomo is perhaps well-known in the West as the director of the acclaimed Rurouni Kenshin trilogy. And while I enjoyed the majority of the trilogy (the end was quite anti-climactic in my opinion), his stand-alone works were quite disappointing.

The sci-fi thriller Platinum Data had a laughable story with inconsistent acting and The Vulture was a sloppily extended TV episode, with all the trimmings. So when I heard that Otomo is doing another sci-fi thriller, I was hesitant. But the intriguing premise and the capable cast were too good to pass up. Will the film upend my low expectations?

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Ikko Aoki (Masaki Okada) is a young, talented, rookie crime investigator who is recognized for his skills by the distant and cold Tsuyoshi Maki (Toma Ikuta), the head of Department Nine, a special unit of the Metropolitan Police. What makes the department special is its use of nanotechnology, monitored and implemented by Yukio Miyoshi (Chiaki Kuriyama), to extract memories from the dead.

Never as clear-cut as it is claimed to be, it has its consequences like strong psychological harm to those who undergo the procedure; as well as the ethical complications. Aoki’s first case is to probe into the mind of a man who murdered his entire family. The memories of the man could hold the key to the location of his missing daughter who was absent from the murders but what Aoki discovers is that something more sinister and more evil is out there.

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The Top Secret: Murder in Mind, while interesting at times, is unfortunately another disappointing film for director Otomo. To start off, the film certainly looks great and makes the most out of its budget. The production values like its cinematography and the musical score give the film a haunting vibe that all bets are off with the fates of the characters and it works really well.

What is also effective and surprising is Otomo’s lack of restraint towards the execution of violence. The first-person POV’s that the film utilizes is really effective, as it allows the audience the understand the high stakes of the plot as well as giving them a strong sense of chilling foreboding.

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The actors try their best with the characters they got and some of them do quite well. Masaki Okada, who hasn’t really impressed me with his acting, is quite good as Aoki; conveying the naivety and commitment of his character convincingly. Toma Ikuta still continues his acting streak after The Mole Song, Prophecy and The Brain Man, as he steals the show as Maki. Ikuta manages to exude a magnetic, yet imposing presence despite his laughable look and make-up.

Nao Omori (Ichi the Killer) has a good role as the down-on-his-luck cop but the film does not give him enough opportunities to him. Lily Franky does really well in a small role as a depraved psychiatrist while Tori Matsuzaka also has a striking and integral cameo.

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Like in Otomo’s previous films, the female roles usually get the short end of the stick and unfortunately, that trend continues. Chiaki Kuriyama, who is extremely talented in roles like Exte – Hair Extensions, Kill Bill and others, is utterly wasted as the brain surgeon/former love interest to one of the characters.

Lisa Oda’s performance is wildly inconsistent as she appears to be restrained under the cliched role she inhabits; as well as her unrefined acting chops. She has solid presence and improves over the course of the film, but some of her line delivery does appear annoyingly petulant at times, when it should have more oomph into it.

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But what really lets the film down is the storytelling and the script. Mixing too many plot-lines (and not well, I might add), the film ends up being a bit of a mess. The main plot, which is solving the case of the missing daughter/the murders is often interrupted (when it should be smoothly integrated) by another plot-line involving Maki’s tortured past, which involves a dead partner and survivor’s guilt.

It also doesn’t help that it develops potentially compelling themes, like the effects of exposure to on-screen violence and the blurred line between imagination and reality; but ends up being discarded without further insight. Which is quite strange, considering the film’s extended running time. Even some of the motivations of the characters are thrown to the wayside soon after they are mentioned (like Aoki’s motivation for taking the case).

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The Top Secret: Murder in Mind could have been a great thriller, due to its interesting premise, production values and nice touches the director implements. But the unfocused script, the extended running time and the inconsistent characterizations/acting lets it down to the point that it becomes another missed opportunity for Keishi Otomo.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Some good performances

Surprising lack of restraint towards violence

Intriguing premise

Top-notch production values

CONS

Overlong running time

Inconsistent characterizations

Messy storytelling

Underused supporting cast

SCORE: 6/10

Readers in Australia want to watch the film? Book tickets for it at Japanese Film Festival 2016! Press the logo below for more details!

Cast: Toma Ikuta, Masaki Okada, Koji Kikkawa, Tori Matsuzaka, Chiaki Kuriyama, Lisa Oda, Lily Franky, Kippei Shiina, Nao Omori
Director: Keishi Otomo
Screenwriters: Izumi Takahashi, Keishi Otomo, Lee Sork Jun, Kim Sun Mee; original story by Reiko Shimizu

Movie Review – Shin Godzilla

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EXPECTATIONS: One of the best Godzilla films.

REVIEW: It is incredibly hard to believe that there are THIRTY ONE Godzilla films in existence. And the premise of all of these films is about a giant creature roaming through large cities, causing havoc and destruction. How can you stretch that to 31 films? James Bond hasn’t even reached 25 films yet! What makes Godzilla so special? A lot of people say it’s what Godzilla represents. Sometimes, he represents the mistakes that Japan has done like in the original film that involved nuclear bomb testing that brought back memories of Hiroshima; a parable of the mistakes of humanity.

While others love Godzilla so much because the franchise delivers exactly what it promises. Mindless chaos and destruction that must be seen on a cinematic scale. Or getting drunk off your ass due to its cheesy execution, it all depends on the entry. Throughout the years, the Godzilla entries have changed the perception of Godzilla to the point that it became campy and made the star an anti-hero that fought other creatures, therefore saving the world.

In the case of the latest entry, the film goes back to the roots of the original by bringing back memories of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. And to add to that, we have Hideaki Anno (creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion and director of camp classic Cutie Honey) and Shinji Higuchi (director of Attack on Titan films) co-directing and you got a lot of talent lined up. Does Shin Godzilla live up to the massive expectations?

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The film starts off in a day like every other day, until a strange body of water moves within the bay, which causes some panic with the locals. With government officials assuming that the occurrence was caused due to volcanic activity, Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa), a young deputy believes that a large creature is the cause. But before the officials could come up with a conclusion, Yaguchi’s predictions come to life as a giant creature rampages through the city, causing havoc and destruction within its path. As the government declares a state of emergency and tries desperately to save the citizens, Yaguchi hires a team of supposed “nerds” and “outcasts” to study the creature’s weaknesses and formulate a plan to stop it. But with very little time and a high amount of democratic red tape to sift through, the chance of chaos is becoming more and more imminent.

As you can probably tell from the synopsis, it seems that Shin Godzilla will play out almost exactly like every other Godzilla film: Godzilla appears, massive panic, people formulate plan to stop Godzilla, plan succeeds, end credits. But with Hideki Anno at the helm, you can expect something different and I am happy to report that Shin Godzilla succeeds wholeheartedly. The film surprised me in more ways than one and as soon as I left the cinema, I wanted to watch it again.

First off, Godzilla itself is a grand sight to behold. The film goes backs to the basics to make it scary and menacing again, unlike the campy entries. The minimal screen-time, the less-is-more approach, it’s all here. But unlike the 2014 entry which short-changed Godzilla to the point of being in a supporting role (thanks to the direction and the major focus on the other creatures), Anno makes Godzilla the main focus of the film.

Anno changes the origins of Godzilla and it is quite inventive to witness. I cannot wait to see ideas of it to be explored further if a sequel ever happens. I don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t seen the film but prepare to be surprised when you see Godzilla for the first time. The portrayal of Godzilla is also a nice change, as it is portrayed as a force of nature than an actual antagonist. Even the characters in the film admire the creature just as much as they fear it. There are some nice touches to Godzilla that adds to the portrayal like when it “attacks”, it never feels like an attack, but an act of fear i.e. the atomic breath.

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As for the city-wide destruction scenes, they are beautifully orchestrated and will definitely send a chill to one’s spine. No doubt, scenes of the destruction that are reminiscent of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami will stir up some people. A scene at night with Godzilla executing his iconic action after provocation from outside forces is still tattooed into my brain. Speaking of tattooed images, the final shot of the film is also an image that I would never have thought to see and it just has me psyched for a sequel to see the themes and ideas more developed and thoroughly realized. It is just that haunting.

As with many Godzilla films, characterizations of the humans are in short-supply but in the case of Shin Godzilla, it seems that the filmmakers know of this flaw, so they just jam-pack the film with a boatload of stars/character actors and it is a lot of fun to spot them, if you are familiar with the Japanese media. I have to admit seeing director Shinya Tsukamoto (who directed the cult classic Tetsuo franchise) playing a character who admires Godzilla got a big smile out of me.

As much of the bounty of actors that we see, there are only two actors that stand out: Hiroki Hasegawa and Satomi Ishihara. Hasegawa has always been a dependable actor who is very versatile (like playing a crazed director in Why Don’t You Play In Hell; to playing a revered soldier in Attack on Titan) and he makes an impression in Shin Godzilla. Emblematic of perseverance and strong will, Hasegawa portrays Yaguchi with utter seriousness that it makes it easy to support and sympathize with his character.

In the case of Ishihara, she stands out due to the fact that her character is essentially a dry joke. Playing Kayoko Ann Patterson, the “American” of the film, she seems to be having a lot of fun with her performance. The way she moves (in comparison to the stiff government officials), the way she talks (the stilted English delivery and dialogue), her motivations (she wants to become President of the United States) and even the way she dresses (There’s a joke about her choice of wardrobe when we first meet her), her character comes across as a joke and I think Anno intended it to be that way. There are much better Japanese actresses who can play the role, especially with the English language (like Yoshino Kimura) but would she had stood out as much as Ishihara did? I doubt it. She’s basically the Raymond Burr of Shin Godzilla, and it delighted me to no end.

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Speaking of delight, a big surprise of the film was the amusing satire of the government. its bureaucracy and even its foreign relations. Meetings are held over and over for decision approvals and sometimes decisions are reneged and therefore, another meeting must be held to approve the reneging. It may sound tedious and repetitive, but the way Anno executes it, it comes across as dryly amusing, especially when you encounter the over-seriousness of the actors’ performances. There’s even a scene Anno also employs musical scores from Neon Genesis Evangelion (thanks to Shiro Sagisu and Akira Ifukube) to a thrilling effect that makes the deliberating scenes more swift as well as gives a punch to the action scenes. He even films the deliberating scenes in strange ways (like a shot seen through a chair that is being pushed) that reminded me of his live-action film debut, Love & Pop.

The subtitles (which has come an annoyance for many) explicitly state the occupations/ranks of the characters that appear on-screen as well as their names during dialogue scenes. They also apply to the locations of the film as well. As for the locations, the film cuts to many to show the spanning destruction that Godzilla causes, but funnily enough, there’s a part where Anno cuts to a location where nothing happens and stays there for about ten seconds then cuts to the government officials. I don’t understand why it’s there, but it did make chuckle due to the perfect timing of it, as the tension of the preceding scene is meant to dissipate at that point.

In the case of the ranks, they are never meant to be of importance to the story, but it can be seen to convey the amusingly sharp obliviousness of the government and its hierarchy and who to rely on for a sense of authority and well as autonomy. There’s even a character whose name and rank is shown, yet we never see his face! In an odd fashion, there’s a cameo of actress Hairi Katagiri as a janitor whose character’s name and rank never shows up, despite the fact that her few lines of dialogue make a bigger impression than the others do. There was a nice touch with the ranks as the character of Yaguchi has his rank shown a few times throughout the film until the final act, where it is seen that he has achieved a promotion. One hilarious throwaway joke involves the Americans and the name of Godzilla that had me laughing out loud.

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Shin Godzilla lived up to the buzz and exceeded my expectations in every single way. Just as I was afraid of the overly talky scenes, Anno punches it up with a much-needed satirical and topical humour. Just when I thought Godzilla wasn’t going to live up to its reputation, Anno executes its presence spectacularly. And just when I thought successful reboots were a dime a dozen, Anno proves me wrong. I absolutely enjoyed this film.

P.S – Here are some advertisements of Satomi Ishihara promoting the school (Aeon) that she attends to learn the English language. If that doesn’t prove her “American” character is a joke, I don’t know what will.

Quickie Review

PROS

Godzilla itself

A sharp and amusingly satirical look towards governments and bureaucracy

The musical score and cinematography

Anno’s fantastic direction

Performances were perfectly on point

CONS

Some shoddy CGI

May be too talky at times

The overcrowded subtitles

SCORE: 9.5/10

Cast: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara and a boatload of cameos
Director: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi
Screenwriters: Hideaki Anno