Reviews written by registered user
|189 reviews in total|
Hana-Dama: The Origin (2014) (Japanese Horror/Drama).
A schoolgirl is relentlessly bullied in this film by Hisayasu Sato. The protagonist here is mentally tough, but decides to endure the bullying until she graduates. The first hour is a teen drama with some uncomfortable moments and nudity, but there is also a nice friendship dynamic between three bullied students. It does get pretty nasty though. The antagonists (which consist of students and teachers) are repugnant scumbags who will make the viewer's blood boil at times. The horror elements ramp up during the final half hour, and they are bizarre, bloody, and blackly humorous. Fans of oddball low budget stuff might want to check this out. It's definitely a bit different from the norm.
Angel Terminators 2 (1993) (Chinese Action).
Moon Lee, Yukari Oshima, and Sibelle Hu smash some bad guys in this violent action flick that is one of the best "girls with guns" films on the planet. The opening minutes are loaded with action, including one awesome gymnasium sparring sequence involving Moon. It's a rarity to see both Lee and Oshima as protagonists in the same film, but that is indeed the case here. The characters and conflicts are actually quite good and they do add some dramatic intensity. All of this leads to one of the most satisfying, exciting finales in Moon's career.
I think "Angel Terminators 2" is even better than "Iron Angels", which is considered a landmark in this sub-genre. I strongly recommend this to viewers who want to see girls kick some serious butt.
Shady (2012) (Japanese Drama/Horror).
Two lonely, bullied highschool girls become friends, but their future may be darker than they expect. This film does a great job at developing the friendship in a realistic, endearing manner. It reminded me in some ways of the South Korean film "Memento Mori" (1999). These realistic teen dramas are a strong point in the Asian film industries, and "Shady" is yet another example of it. The film then slowly shows cracks in the foundation of the friendship while at the same time creating suspicion about the one girl's mental stability. A sense of unease is expertly established. Performances by the young cast are impressive. This film reminded me of the anime "When They Cry", only executed much better here.
In a Thicket (1996) (Japanese Fantasy Drama/Thriller/Horror).
This film by Hisayasu Sato is based on the same short story that yielded the film "Rashomon." It starts with a detective trying to unravel the story of a man and a woman encountering a bandit-rapist in the woods. The forest environment is very atmospheric, and it is nicely assisted by moody lighting and dreamy score. This has a fairytale feel to it, and a few scenes are quite creepy. Not quite as "sex/nudity packed" as Sato's exploitation films, but there's enough of it. Good performances, bloody violence, and sword fights round this one out.
This work of art is better than Akira Kurosawa's film (which I'm not a fan of). Check it out!
Pet Peeve (aka Seeds of Anxiety) (2013) (Japanese Horror).
A series of strange hauntings plague the residents of a strange suburban town. Focus shifts between a handful of characters and their experiences. There's a very ominous mood that is occasionally relieved with absurd spookiness. Things get very creepy, with a few bloody death scenes added to the mix. The appearances of the spirits are different, imaginative, and memorable. It reminded me of old school horror anthologies. This is one of the most creative, bizarre, unpredictable horror films in recent memory. A good example of how ambiguity, an otherworldly feel, and inexplicable horrific events can create a refreshingly different film.
Worth seeking out for fans of the genre.
This film by SABU takes place in a reality where zombie infections have
many different stages and full-blown zombie transformations take years
to complete. Zombies with a low virus count are used as household
servants, since they are relatively harmless if fed properly. One such
zombie woman is the focus of this story. Spectacularly shot in
black-and-white and glacially paced, this is an art-house film that
plays with genre expectations. The zombie is used as a protagonist that
quickly earns the viewer's sympathy thru a referenced backstory as well
as the fact that she is consistently harassed (and worse!) by humans.
There's also an interesting family dynamic involving the little boy.
The lead actress (Ayaka Komatsu) gives a very good silent performance.
This is a sad film that is also disturbing on a psychological level.
Scoring is minimal but effective. Impressive stuff.
FYI, SABU is a very talented drama/comedy director who made some very good films early in his career - Postman Blues (1997), Drive (2002), Monday (2000), and Blessing Bell (2002) being the most notable examples - but he has become less reliable over the past decade. So this film was a bit of a surprise. Miss Zombie (2013) is his first horror film and it's arguably the best title in his filmography now.
The Raid 2: Berandal (2014) (Indonesian Action).
Viewed on March 28th at the Regal E-Walk cinema in the heart of New York City.
After surviving the apartment building raid, Iko Uwais goes undercover to take down an Indonesian crime syndicate that is feuding with an invasive Japanese yakuza clan in Jakarta. Things get out of control and everything goes to hell. That's the plot in a nutshell.
The fighting is the main draw of this film. Martial arts films are frequently under-appreciated because critics tend to downplay the artistry of orchestrating a fight sequence. In some ways it's like staging a complex dance with extremely difficult performances by physical talents who have spent their entire lives perfecting their craft. In many cases it can be even more challenging than executing a good dramatic moment. With that said, "The Raid 2" is an exquisite ballet of death with an incredible variety of expertly crafted action sequences that have a grounded, realistic feel to them. It's hard to describe, but despite the insane action there's very little outrageousness present. The choreography here is some of the best ever put on film.
There is no question that Uwais is currently the premiere martial arts star, and there is certainly no question that Gareth Evans is the greatest action director on the planet. This man is a genius in terms of visually expressing action through vivid, mind-blowing camera-work. This guy never directed a car chase sequence in his life, and yet his very first attempt is impressive. I did notice a bit more shaky cam in this film when compared to its predecessor, but one can see everything so it's not a problem. Evans is also a pro to create a crescendo of action where every fight seems to outdo the one before it. This generates an absolutely thrilling final hour that will go down in history.
The gory violence of "The Raid 2" is a big "screw you" to PG-13 action movies. Some critics are already whining about the graphic bloodletting, but these are the same guys who hand out 90% approval ratings to movies with incompetent action and no edge *cough* "The Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire" (2013) *cough*. The gore in "The Raid 2" isn't just randomly thrown in either. It's a logical consequence of the situation and characters, and it is applied in very creative ways. I have heard that Evans was only coerced to cut a few "frames" due to the MPAA review, but I have no idea which frames those were because the now infamous shotgun kill is present in its full, unadulterated glory.
The $4.5 million budget is an even bigger "screw you" to mega budget Hollywood blockbusters. "The Raid 2" has more thrilling action than every $100+ million superhero movie I've ever seen . . . at less than 4.5% of the cost. It's almost unbelievable what these guys can do with a limited budget.
Given the exceptional quality of the action, the 148-minute runtime puts some pressure on the story to maintain its momentum between the violence. The first "Raid" received much criticism that asserted a generic story and undeveloped characters, but I felt that it nevertheless established a "feel" for the characters without the need for long-winded exposition. That "feel" can add quite a bit to an action film. "The Raid 2" spends more time setting up its premise, which results in some genuine plot and character development. It attempts to do this by taking a generic gangster template and infusing it with a sprawling crime saga that implements many characters. This is essentially a "chess board" setup where numerous pieces are first put into place, allowing for many possible confrontations. The viewer is therefore able to relish the moment when a particular piece attacks and takes down another, revealing the actual outcome amidst the countless possibilities.
I really liked some of the supporting characters in this, and actually felt a bit sad when they died (even some of the villains!). I am a bit disappointed that both "Hammer Girl" and Baseball Bat Man" are only given a few scenes, but they are certainly memorable. I really liked that brief moment where Hammer Girl picked up her hammers on the bar shelf. It was slightly child-like and innocent, like she was going out to play with friends. This brief, split-second moment can communicate a lot about her character.
I suppose it helps to already be a fan of the actors and actresses here, since there are a number of familiar faces from both Indonesian and Japanese film industries. Needless to say, the performances are top notch. The Japanese actors have their little moments, but they could have been given more to do in this. Maybe "The Raid 3" will give them more time in the spotlight.
Overall, "The Raid 2" is a very satisfying action film that justifies its hype after just one viewing. It's simply spectacular.
Woman (2013) (Japanese Drama Television Series).
After her husband dies in an accident, a young woman must raise her two children while attempting to reconcile with the mother that abandoned her as a child. This series (11 episodes, 45-60 minutes each) has the same scriptwriter as "Still, Life Goes On" (2011) and displays the same excellent level of craftsmanship in terms of dialogue, which is both intelligent and intense. The viewer will feel that the characters are ironing out their differences, but getting there is thrilling because the resentment from prior decisions runs deep. There is much complexity here, both in terms of the characters themselves and the mysteries that are gradually revealed. The acting is great all-around, but Hikari Mitsushima is utterly spectacular here and gives one of the best performances I've ever seen. That is no exaggeration. Lots of time is spent with the children as well, which is great. This series yields a number of powerful dramatic moments.
Still, Life Goes On (2011) (Japanese Drama/Thriller Television Series).
15 years after his little sister is murdered, a young man befriends the sister of the murderer. This is an impressively written series (11 episodes, 45 minutes each) that uses its unorthodox premise as an exhibition for long-term suffering and healing. The family members of the victim are obviously devastated, while the family members of the murderer face unending persecution and guilt. This series uses a very psychological approach with a number of highly developed characters that face their inner demons through the unorthodox main premise. Dialogue and interaction are gripping and realistic, with events unfolding in unexpected ways. There are even long stretches of slow-burning suspense too. Performances are excellent all-around, but Eita and Hikari Mitsushima are especially outstanding in the lead roles. It's no exaggeration to say that they give the best performances of their already notable careers. All of these positive elements create an experience that is unique, emotionally devastating, and fascinating all at the same time.
I'm a big, big fan of Kiyoshi Kurosawa. He is currently the only
director to have earned three 10/10 ratings from me. I loved "Cure"
(1997), "Pulse" (2001), and "Charisma" (1999). His recent transition
away from horror has also been quite successful, with quality works
such as "Tokyo Sonata" (2008) and "Penance" (2012).
The premise of "Real" (2013) is outstanding. New technology allows a man to venture into the mind of his comatose wife. This stuff is right in Kiyoshi's wheelhouse. This director has a knack for taking an overarching philosophical or psychological theme and exploring it in interesting ways. However, I had trepidations after viewing the trailer, which seemed a bit cheesy and hokey.
It turns out that I was right to be worried. This film is dramatically limp, with a very messy and unfocused script that makes it very difficult to have a vested interest in the characters. I literally could not have cared less about the ending to this film. The dialogue is seemingly worthless. At its best it acts merely as dull exposition and at its worst it's just boring. Performances are fine, but the star-studded cast is wasted on this uninspired screenplay. Kiyoshi does contribute some very nice framing of camera shots, which helps to alleviate some of the suffering. I hope he rebounds for his next feature.
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