Movie Review – Kong: Skull Island

new-kong-art

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?

097663-jpg-r_1280_720-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx
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.

kong-skull-island-001-1280x533

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.

kong-skull-island-john-goodman-as-bill-randa

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.

824A3622.dng

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.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

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).

A51A0055.dng

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

lhs

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

acm

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?

assassins-creed-gallery-01-gallery-image

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.

assassins-creed

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.

assasins-creed

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.

assassinscreedmovie_feature

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.

z

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

lhs

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

og_image

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?

p11-schilling-your-a-20160901

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?

your_name_image_008

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.

cutc2k1vmaehbqr

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)

1860141_1

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?

movie_016044_192793

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.

movie_016044_192801

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.

movie_016044_192792

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.

movie_016044_192791

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.

movie_016044_192799

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).

movie_016044_192804

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.

movie_016044_192798

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

3327ce9100000578-0-image-a-17_1460595713389

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?

godzilla

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.

p9-schilling-shingodzilla-a-20160804

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.

2ench3o

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.

image-1

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

Movie Review – The Love Witch (Sydney Underground Film Festival 2016)

phbnqfl4ztbsfd_1_l

EXPECTATIONS: Something of a groovy, dreamy and sexy experience.

REVIEW: Ooo-ooo, witchy woman! Sorry, got the song in my head. After my viewing of Blair Witch, it’s only fitting that my next review will be about The Love Witch. Hearing the incredibly positive buzz from many festivals around the world, especially from the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), I was so excited to see this film for this year’s Sydney Underground Film Festival. Also considering the fact that it hearkens back to the erotic melodramas of the 60’s and the occult films of the 70’s in terms of every facet of film-making, my eyes were watering. So was the film worth the buzz that it achieved?

elaine_knife

Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a beautiful, narcissistic love-starved young witch, is determined to find a man to love her. After her ex left her (or so she says in her blissfully selective memory), she moves into a new neighborhood. In her gothic Victorian apartment she makes spells and potions, then picks up men and seduces them. But though her desperation, her spells work a wee bit too well, and she ends up with a string of increasingly hysterical victims. When she at last meets the man of her dreams, her desperation to be loved drives her to the brink of insanity and murder.

elaine_richard

Just within seconds of the film, the viewer will be swept up by the incredibly gorgeous cinematography. Filmed on 35mm by cinematographer M. David Mullen, the film is just soaked with colours that will make your eyes crying for more. And let’s not forget the use of musical scores from the 60’s and 70’s consisting of works by Ennio Morricone, it’s clear that director Anna Biller has done her homework on the subject.

But there are some small and amusing modern touches that ensures that this story is set in the present, like a modern police car and the usage of mobile phones, but it just goes to show that the themes the story conveys can be told in any time period and still be relevant, timely and quite thought-provoking. There are also some subversiveness of the genre, such as the equal nudity of both genders in the ritual scenes as well as what fits the definition of being a witch.

Sexual politics, feminism, desires of both genders are all examined with wit and humour and Biller seems to be having a ball with her meticulous, yet somewhat indulgent direction. All the tropes of 60’s and 70’s films are here. The use of rear projection, the costumes, the make-up and especially the narration are all put to good use. But the film is not a parody or a spoof of any kind. The film is played absolutely straight and it only makes the film funnier and more genuine.

The Love Witch 05/19/15

And the performances are fantastic to witness in its stilted and deadpan glory. Samantha Robinson is a pure delight as Elaine, as she conveys her narcissistic side and her lovelorn side with a perfect balance of poise and subtle enthusiasm. You can tell that she has a wonderful time playing the role and the fun rubs off on the audience. And the same goes for the supporting actors like Gian Keys as the playboy cop investigating the mysterious deaths and Laura Waddell as the trusting landlord.

Every actor in the film looks the part of the film genre and it really does resemble a time machine back to the past, and it is glorious. The male actors in particular are all hoots, especially when they suffer from an absence of Elaine in their lives to the point of becoming hysterical. They all squeeze their roles with reckless abandon and it’s quite uproarious.

ritual_gahan

As much as I am raving about the film, there is one problem that dials my praise back quite a bit. Basically, the film is too long. At 120 minutes, the film can start to drag, especially for those not accustomed to the pacing of the film’s throwback feel and the intentionally stilted line readings, meaning that the film can be a bit too indulgent with itself. But then again, considering the film’s story and its characters, it feels strangely appropriate.

The Love Witch is a sweet and spicily entertaining tribute to the films of the 60’s and 70’s, with fantastic performances and such meticulous detail from multi-tasking director Anna Biller, that feels both nostalgic and timely at the same time. Although the running time shows that you can have too much of a good thing, it again reflects the film itself, as it is a lovely spell that works too well.

elaine_rug_01

Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic performances, especially from Samantha Robinson

Meticulous detail towards all facets of film-making

Subversive details towards genre

Thought-provoking in its thematic impact

CONS

Overlong and indulgent in its running time

SCORE: 8/10

lhs

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

Cast: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley, Jennifer Ingrum, Steve, Randy Evans, Clive Ashborn, Lily Holleman, Jennifer Couch, Stephen Wozniak
Director: Anna Biller
Screenwriter: Anna Biller

Movie Review – Kubo and the Two Strings

KUBO_Title-Card

EXPECTATIONS: A beautifully realized fantasy adventure from Laika.

REVIEW: Laika Studios is an animation studio that I am not fully familiar with. Now put your pitchforks away, it’s not due to bad expectations. I honestly don’t know why I am not more into their work although without knowing, I have enjoyed their first studio film, Coraline, immensely. And reading about their other works like The Boxtrolls and Paranorman, I was interested of what they have cooked up for their latest film. An Asian-influenced fantasy film with the use of stop-motion that adapts the art of origami? And it also stars Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey as a monkey and a beetle samurai? This honestly sounds like a film I would have loved to have seen when I was a kid. Hell, it sounds incredibly appealing at my current age. So does the film live up to its studio’s sterling reputation or will it rank alongside mediocre animated films like The Angry Birds Movie and the latest Ice age sequel?

Kubo-and-the-Two-Strings-trailer

In Ancient Japan, a young boy named Kubo (Art Parkinson) cares for his sick mother in a village. A spirit from the past known as The Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) turns Kubo’s life upside down by re-igniting an age-old vendetta. This causes all sorts of havoc as gods and monsters chase Kubo. In order to survive, Kubo must locate a magical suit of armor once worn by his late father, Hanzo a legendary Samurai warrior. On his journey, he also gains some allies in a Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) and he realizes he also has more demons on his way, like his twin aunts, whom are also phantoms (both played by Rooney Mara).

kubo-the-sisters

As you can see by the pictures (or the trailer), the animation is absolutely spectacular. The sheer commitment to the animation is just mind-blowing to the point that everything you question on-screen about whether it is CGI or practical effects, trust me, it is all practical. Even the water! And the character designs are all distinct while retaining the Asian influence. I especially loved the character design of the twin aunts, particularly when the first appear in the night. It was reminiscent of ghost stories in Japan i.e Kwaidan stories. And the stop-motion animation of the monsters are endearingly reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen films, which will please adults as much as children.

Speaking of pleasing adults, the story is surprisingly thematic and mature. Venturing towards themes such as death and autonomously determining your fate with minimal sugar-coating or being patronizing to children, it fits into the story in terms of its character development like a glove, which helps the audience relate to Kubo. Even if the themes go over the minds of children, the film still provides a rollicking fantasy adventure. The action scenes are thrilling to watch, particularly the martial arts scenes. Planning and executing them had to be a pain to do, but it pays off really well, particularly in a scene where Monkey fights one of the twins on the ship out in the ocean.

Kubo-and-the-Two-Strings-Featured-Image

And what would it be without the characters? With such a strange Hollywood cast chosen for these fantasy characters, it’s a wonder that they work as well as they should. Art Parkinson (known for his appearances in Game of Thrones) is endearing and convincingly conflicted as Kubo, as he not only has to deal with this quest involving family conflict, but he is also going through adolescence and owning up to his destiny, and Parkinson portrays that well. Matthew McConaughey is a hoot as Beetle, a former samurai who worked under Hanzo yet his memory isn’t quite what it used to be, leading to some very funny situations.

Ralph Feinnes can play the villainous role in his sleep and with his small role as the Moon King, he suffices. Rooney Mara seems to be relishing playing the twin villains, as she seems to be quite animated (not a pun) and delightfully acidic, when you compare it to her other live-action performances. But the big standout is Charlize Theron as Monkey. Authoritative, strong and paternal to an amusing degree, she steals every scene she is in and the chemistry between her and McConaughey is surprisingly sweet despite the two never working together in the same vicinity. And it was great to hear veteran actress Brenda Vaccaro again, who delights in her small role as Kameyo.

kubo-and-two-strings_2

As for its flaws, the story may be a little bit too simple for some and the motivation for some of the villains are not really clear, hindering the ending a little bit. Also, although the character of Beetle is very funny, his comic relief antics can intrude with the dramatic through-line at times.

But overall, Kubo and the Two Strings is one of the best films of the year and I highly recommend it. With its spectacular animation, thrilling action scenes, likable characters and a great message, Laika Studios has gotten me interested to watch their other work.

Quickie Review

PROS

Spectacular animation

Likable characters

Resonant themes

Fantastic action scenes

CONS

Motivations of villains a bit unclear

Intrusive comic relief

Overly simplistic story

SCORE: 9/10

lhs

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

Cast: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro, Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey.
Director: Travis Knight
Screenwriter: Marc Haimes, Chris Butler, Shannon Tindle

Movie Review – Time Renegades

1200x630

EXPECTATIONS: A return to form for Kwak Jae-yong.

REVIEW: Director Kwak Jae-yong, quite frankly, is a bit of a sap. Not offending him in any way, but as the evidence states that in all of his films contain a melodramatic love story of some sort, he really is. From his debut years of the Watercolor Painting in a Rainy Day films to the worldwide critical acclaim he received with the 2001 mega-blockbuster My Sassy Girl and his expansion into other genres and other countries like 2003’s classical drama The Classic or the two 2008 films like the wuxia/rom-com My Mighty Princess or the Japanese sci-fi/time-travel film, Cyborg Girl. But since then, he hasn’t made much progress lately due to screenwriting-only duties like Tsui Hark’s 2008 bonkers comedy All About Women, failed film projects like Yang Gui Fei, to his unfortunate nadir with 2014’s China rom-com, Meet Miss Anxiety. But now, director Kwak is back (I didn’t mean to rhyme, honest!) in Korea with another love story within a backdrop of a crime thriller for Time Renegades. Will this be a true return to form that made us love his work in the first place or will it start off a path that will end in eventual mediocrity?

CgJCI2wUsAIC4o9.jpg large

During New Year’s Eve celebrations at Bosingak Belfry in Seoul, 2014 rookie detective Geon-woo (Lee Jun-uk) and 1982 high school music teacher Ji-hwan (Jo Jung-suk) suffer life-threatening injuries after both of them were trying to stop a thief. When all hope seems lost, a momentary power blackout brings both men back from the brink. Back in 1983, Ji-hwan has just recently proposed to his long-time girlfriend Yoo-jung (Lim Soo-jung), a sweet and intelligent science teacher working at the same school. While in 2015, Geon-woo has a laughable encounter with So-eun (also Lim Soo-jung), a headstrong and sassy woman who is a doppelganger for Yoo-jung and also a school teacher. What links both the men from the two time periods is that they both dream of each others points of view and the tragic. untimely death of Yoo-jung.

movie_image-1-3

This is Kwak’s first venture into crime thriller territory and I am happy to say that he has done a fantastic job. The pacing, the action scenes (one involving an escape) and the foreshadowing (like a simple blackout) are all great. But the thing that really struck me when I watched the opening was how incredibly razor sharp the editing was. Considering the two time periods and an action scene that crosses the two, it is fantastic to see concise and clear editing supporting the story. What’s even more amazing is that the editing is so good that it nullifies one of the major flaws in director Kwak Jae-yong’s film-making. Usually, his works have bloated running times and the narratives have needless subplots and run longer than they should, so in the case of Time Renegades, it’s a miracle that Kwak learned his lesson and he immediately grips the audience from the very first scene.

After the bravura opening scene, Kwak wisely develops an emotional through-line with the three leads (or four, technically) gleefully letting loose with the thrills and it makes the film that much better as Kwak ensures us that the characters are worth caring about. He and screenwriters Ko Jeong-un and Lee Sang-hyun also create intriguing side characters that may or may not be involved with the murder of Yoo-jung. In 1983, Ji-hwan investigates people like Seung-beoum (Lee Min-ho), a rambunctious student and Hyung-chul (Jung Woong-in), a construction worker to a unnamed biology teacher (Jeon Shin-hwan) who might or might not have the eyes on Yoo-jung. We also have other distinct characters like Geon-woo’s sidekick (Lee Ki-woo) and newly-appointed veteran commander Lt. Kang (Jung Jin-young) who is haunted by the murder of his wife years ago. All the supporting characters are well-realized and well acted and add a lot of spice to the film, especially when Kwak teases the audience by making all of them look suspicious that one of them might be the killer.

t1.daumcdn.net

But let’s not discount the main actors here, who provide great work. Cho Jung-seok is easy to root for as Ji-hwan, as he shares fantastic chemistry with Soo-jung and has a every-man vibe that easily engenders sympathy (despite the pretty-boy looks). Lee Jin-wook is convincingly determined as Geon-woo, the rookie detective who becomes immersed in the murder case of Yoo-jung. But the MVP here in this film is Lim Soo-jung. Capturing my heart attention since her fantastic performance in the horror drama A Tale of Two Sisters and giving more performances of the like in films like the romantic drama …ing and the subversive rom-com All About My Wife, Lim destroys the male performances into oblivion with her dual roles. Playing Yoo-jung with brimming intelligence and sweet nature, she clinches the love story into place, ensuring that it works to immerse the audience. While her character of So-eun is so endearingly brash that it actually reminded me of Jeon Ji-hyun’s performance in My Sassy Girl. She even exclaims in a comedic manner to Geon-woo’s character whether he wanted to die, which had to be a reference to My Sassy Girl. It is just Jung’s performance alone that ensures that Time Renegades has a beating heart underneath its surrealistic narrative.

With all stories of this nature, there are flaws involving logic and plot and Time Renegades is no exception. Events in the past do change the line of time in the future, but there are some moments that would befuddle the audience. Fortunately, the film establishes its own logic that it rarely takes the audience out of the film. There isn’t even an explanation or long scenes of exposition of how the dream-sharing works, but it never truly matters to director Kwak, and neither should it matter to the audience, since the characters are the heart of the film. The cinematography by Lee Sung-jae is beautiful and clearly thought out, making the time periods easy to discern, while the score by Kim Jin-sung is effective, if emotionally overbearing at times. And for those who are expecting a film involving time-travel, which is implied by the title, will be disappointed, since it has no time travel whatsoever.

movie_image-2-4

Time Renegades is a triumphant return-to-form as well as a great departure to new territory, melding his passion for love stories to the crime thriller genre with a killer premise. And with great performances, distinct characters, plenty of thrills and air-tight pacing, Time Renegades continues the roll of fantastic Korean cinema.

maxresdefault

Quickie Review

PROS

Kwak Jae-yong’s direction and storytelling

The concise editing and beautiful cinematography

The distinct characters

The great performances (especially from Lim Soo-jung)

The trippy premise

CONS

Minor plot holes and lapses in logic

Musical score can be a bit overbearing at times

SCORE: 9/10

Cast: Jo Jung-suk, Lim Soo-jung, Lee Jun-uk, Jung Jin-young, Lee Min-ho, Jeon Shin-hwan, On Ju-wan, Lee Ki-woo
Director: Kwak Jae-yong
Screenwriters: Ko Jeong-un, Lee Sang-hyun, Kwak Jae-yong

Movie Review – Jossy’s

PDVD_025

EXPECTATIONS: An amusing spoof of the tokusatsu genre that loses its momentum due to repetition.

REVIEW: The tokusatsu genre has always been a favourite of mine, with the incredibly straightforward heroes, the extravagant costumes and villains, the incredibly ridiculous plots and even the repetition of said plots. For those who don’t know, tokusatsu is basically any live-action media that involves colourful special effects that are mostly aimed for children. As for Western audiences, there are adaptations of tokusatsu over in America like Godzilla and Power Rangers that are still popular today, with even a new Power Rangers film on the way. And with such a popular genre, there will be lots of spoofs and parodies about it and this is where we enter Jossy’s, a tokusatsu parody that knocks all the tropes and cliches of the genre, particularly ones involving Super Sentai. With an all-female cast and the lowest of budgets, will Jossy’s save the world and be a fun film or will it fail and sink into the clutches of evil?

20140601231358

The story starts off with five different young women (Kirei Miritani, Mitsuki Takahata, Mizuki Yamamoto, Mina Fujii and Kasumi Arimura) of different characteristics and personalities being assembled against their will by male leader Charles (Jiro Sato) who only appears as a hologram projection. Amusingly, they were only chosen due to their last names due to having colours in their surnames (Red, Yellow, Navy, Blue and Green respectively). Nevertheless, they take on the task to save the world from complete destruction, but it does have its caveats like the increasingly unfortunate timings of interfering with their daily lives and careers. And there are the little things like demanding salaries for their heroic deeds and the little difference in colour between Navy and Blue and the amusingly crappy name of Jossy’s, which makes just as little sense to the Japanese as well as the Western audience.

original

Jossy’s is directed by Yuichi Fukuda, who directed comedies like the Hentai Kamen films and Kids Police, so he definitely has a hand in amusing comedies and thankfully, Jossy’s continues that trend. The skewering of the tokusatsu genre is surprisingly accomplished. So much so that even the flaws of the film can be seen as absolute positives in the long run, like the repetition of jokes and the astoundingly low budget i.e. the quarry used to fight villains is used over and over again and the henchmen never change despite the different villains on display. While the repetition may irk some (as it is a major flaw in Fukuda’s other works), it actually builds up to a major plot point that adds to the humour. It especially works in the second half of the film, when the characters are aware of the repetition and how rote the superhero job actually is, which results in spectacularly off-kilter gags like a scene involving an acting rehearsal that could not be more deluded.

All the tropes and cliches are touched upon in an amusing fashion i.e. the heroes always fail individually but together they are unstoppable AND even the product placement inclusion in tokusatsu gets a big laugh in the form of Febreze that is used to defeat a villain. There’s even a slight social undercurrent of feminism in the film, especially how women deal with the workforce dominated by men who are either unskilled or lazy; in comparison to the women, who are clearly more determined and hard-working, despite some of them pining about how cute some actors are and their petty squabbles.

BlBzX92CUAABZ7_.jpg large

The actors are all game in their parts and fortunately, they all have their funny moments to add to the film. Mirei Kiritani plays the role of Red with such conviction that it comes off as hilarious i.e. when she says lines that are meant to be epiphanies for other characters, only to be brushed off instantaneously. Her lack of awareness to current pop-culture is also a good running gag that not only is funny, but is also a commentary about the lack of self-awareness of the genre itself i.e. like her lack of knowledge of the mega-popular 20th Century Boys manga and dissing pretty-boy actor Jang Keun-suk as a “ugly bastard”.

Mitsuki Takahata plays the role of Yellow in such an understated manner with aplomb that she makes throwaway lines more amusing than they actually are. It certainly helps that she supposedly has the most “tragic” character to play and its an amusing contrast to how the character is actually portrayed. In fact, she may have the best scene that involves staring at stairs for a LONG time. You just have to see it to believe it. Mina Fujii, who plays Blue, clearly relishes the brash attitude of the character, stating the obvious silliness of the situations at hand with some offbeat swearing. Kasumi Arimura plays the role of Green in an amusingly cutesy manner that may cross into the lines of delusions of grandeur. Her hilariously inaccurate impression of a tree is worth the price of admission. The trait of delusion also applies to Mizuki Yamamoto, who plays Navy, the only one who isn’t struggling financially, yet she comes late to battles due to superficial things like eyelash adjustments. Her best moment involves a break-up with a love interest whom may not be as handsome as people think. Jiro Sato plays Charles (with a kitten puppet for some reason) in a such a funny way of stuttering that you believe the women’s lack of faith towards him with ease.

1280x720-i81

As for flaws, as stated earlier, the repetition of jokes may irk some and some of the jokes tend to drag a bit too long, particularly jokes involving Jiro Sato’s character. Other scenes that drag too long are scenes involving a love interest (Shunsuke Daito) for Red also drag too long. Most of these scenes are in the second act and with a little editing and tightening, the film’s pacing could have been improved with a possible injection full of hilarity within an 80-minute run-time, but what we are left with is a funny 97-minute film with some unfortunate slow spots.

Nevertheless, director Yuichi Fukuda continues his winning streak of comedies with Jossy’s, a lovingly affectionate parody of the tokusatsu genre and with its winning performances from its lead actresses, off-kilter jokes and its comically low-budget production values, it’s a hoot worth looking out for.

Jossys

Quickie Review

PROS

Winning performances from its cast

Many funny jokes from its skewering of the tokusatsu genre

Flaws like repetition and the low budget work to the film’s advantage

Social undercurrent of feminism adds value

CONS

Repetition of jokes may irk some

Some scenes in the second act drag too long

SCORE: 7.5/10

Cast: Mirei Kiritani, Mitsuki Takahata, Mizuki Yamamoto, Mina Fujii, Kasumi Arimura, Shunsuke Daito, Jiro Sato, Ken Yasuda
Director: Yuichi Fukuda
Screenwriters: Yuichi Fukuda

Movie Review – The Legend of Tarzan

maxresdefault

EXPECTATIONS: A potentially great film squandered by studio heads.

REVIEW: Tarzan is a character that I have enjoyed over the years. I’m not a big fanatic of him, but I did like the concept of a man living in the jungle and residing with its inhabitants to become one of them and its fish-out-of-water plot. I grew up watching Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes with the Highlander himself, Christopher Lambert as the ape-man and I enjoyed the Disney adaptation of the story as well. So when I heard about another adaptation of Tarzan, I was cautiously optimistic. Cautious because of the many reboots, re-tellings, remakes and many other words with the prefix “re-” diluting the film industry these days; but optimistic because of the major talent involved. We have an underrated actor Alexander Skarsgard (whom I’ve enjoyed in The East and especially War on Everyone), rising star Margot Robbie, acting veterans Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz and director David Yates, who was responsible for the last four magically entertaining Harry Potter films. You even have the script co-written by writer/director Craig Brewer, who was responsible for the great Hustle and Flow and the both underrated Black Snake Moan and the Footloose remake.  How could I not get a little bit of my hopes up? Little did I know…

Tarzan-Footage-1

Set a decade after the events of the original story, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard), called John Clayton III after his family name, is now residing in Victorian England with his loving wife Jane Porter (Margot Robbie). The plot starts off when Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), an envoy for the ruthless King Leopold, comes up with a plan to take out Tarzan. Rom plans to capture Tarzan for Chief Mbonga (a wasted Djimon Hounsou), an enemy of his in exchange for rare diamonds to fund the armies of King Leopold and continue his reign over the country with his rule of slavery. Unfortunately, Jane becomes entangled into the plot, it is up to Tarzan and his companion, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) to return to the jungle and not only save Jane but to stop Rom from delivering the diamonds.

the-legend-of-tarzan-poster-1

I hate to say this to a film with this much talent involved, but this was a huge let-down. I don’t even know where to start. For a reported $180 million dollar film, you expect the CGI and green-screen to be immersive. But there are many scenes where the two are noticeable to the point of one having to point to the screen in frustration. Like a scene involving Tarzan, George and his fellow men swinging onto a speeding train. The storytelling (or the script, who knows) was rushed and slipshod, with the flashback scenes in particular being integrated into the film so poorly without any transitions whatsoever that it comes off like the director was just ticking it off a checklist, like a tragic scene involving a death of a loved one. It never comes off as emotional and will elicit more of a sigh than a tear. It also does not help that the film is nowhere near as entertaining as the premise of the film strives to be. A film about a heroic ape-man who can communicate with animals, swing on vines and fight for his own kind should elicit some joy, but the tone of the film is so self-serious, that it sucks a lot of the potential fun. Even the action scenes in the film are badly done, with lots of quick-cut editing, tight camera angles and really bad slow-motion.

The actors do their best, but their roles are so thinly-developed that they never make much of an impression and worse, the actors basically play themselves rather than inhabit their own characters. Alexander Skarsgard is fully committed to his role, with his fine presence and unique look, but without much personality, he becomes more of a cardboard cutout of a hero rather than a full-bodied (which he physically is) person. Margot Robbie valiantly tries her best to amp up her role with sass and quick wit (much like herself), but unlike her calls denying to be called a “damsel”, she most definitely is one, and it is a shame that she’s stuck with a role like this. Christoph Waltz basically reprises his villainous role from Inglourious Basterds, but with a bigger paycheck and much less personality to sink his teeth into. The only stand-out in this film that manages to single-handedly add mirth, fun and joy into the film is Samuel L. Jackson. Like Robbie, he basically plays himself, but he seems to be the only actor that is having fun in the movie. In interviews, he has stated that his character (which is based on a real person) should headline his own movie. I wholeheartedly agree.

tarzan-alexander-skarsgard-samuel-l-jackson-image

Apart from some okay acting and some interesting story ideas (like transfixing the story of Tarzan into real-life events), The Legend of Tarzan was a disappointment for all involved. But thank Samuel L. Jackson for his entertaining performance, as he makes the film more entertaining that it has any right to be.

legend-of-tarzan-hozier-better-love-spicypulp

Quickie Review

PROS

Samuel L. Jackson

Some interesting story ideas

CONS

Bad CGI/green-screen

Slipshod and rushed storytelling

Thinly written characters

Horribly edited action/flashback sequences

SCORE: 4/10

lhs

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

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou, Rory J. Saper, Christian Stevens
Director: David Yates
Screenwriter: Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer based on the “Tarzan” stories created by Edgar Rice Burroughs