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Ju-on: Owari no hajimari (2014)
As Dead-Eyed as Its Ghosts
It is usually quite exciting when a new installment of your favourite horror films come out, but with Ju-On/The Grudge, knowing what to expect has become all too predictable. Takashi Shimizu's premise about a Japanese suburban house being haunted by its dead residents who consume all those who step in it has run out of steam and feels more dead than the iconic ghosts in the movie. While each previous installment of the series followed the same basic plot, each one did something unique with the characters.
Heck, the films White Ghost/Black Ghost were pretty good, showing what might happen with similar but different "grudges" that are unconnected to Kayako and Toshio. However, it seems Ju-On is taking a page out of Halloween's book - ditching any potential of being original with each new film and instead retracing its steps with a film reboot/extremely loose sequel. How original. And while Sadako 3D served as a flawed reintroduction to Ringu, Ju-On: The Beginning of the End is a drab, cheap, boring dull-fest that is more absurd and hilarious than scary.
The film takes several plots from previous Ju-On films and reworks them into the traditional, non-linear storyline we've come to know. A teacher visits the Saeki house after Toshio is absent from school, and a group of school girls venture into the house as part of a dare. As expected, the creepy and kooky Saeki family pay the intruders a visit and one by one, after some cheesy poltergeist activity, kill them off screen or in gory fashion.
As I said a lot of stuff from the past films are included - the creepy diary from the fourth film, the broken off jaw from the first, a group of girls going into the house and being driven crazy, identical death, etc. The acting is very sub-par and none of the characters develop beyond being anything more than idiots who are to be killed off. There is plenty of cheese in the film and downright hilarious moments that are meant to be scary. Cardboard boxes shudder and jump around, Toshio must've met Gozer at some point as one girl is dragged into a fridge to her doom, and one girl encounters her dead friends on the subway, one of whom has become a giant for some reason.
The differences in the mythos are extensive - the Saekis are now the Yanagas, Toshio is Takeo's biological son and implied in Kayako's diary to be something possibly supernatural, the house is completely different, and the sympathetic tragedy that I found with the ghosts has now completely gone to the sheer ridiculousness and sub-par acting of the cast. And who's idea was it to have Takeo nuke the cat in the microwave! Surprisingly, even the traditional "Kayako crawls down the stairs" scene is missing too.
The whole production of Ju-On: The Beginning of the End feels extremely cheap and lacks any creative thought or introduces new ideas beyond a clunky reboot. Very poor.
Cardcaptors: The Movie (2000)
Worth the watch.
The trouble with anime tie-in movies is that they can be made with only the established audience and fan base in mind, leaving general audiences without a hook to join in the fun. While Pokemon the First Movie and Digimon the Movie both fall into this pit, Cardcaptors the Movie flies right over it by offering an original engaging and immense story for both parties without pandering to either.
Cardcaptors is the English language dub of the 1999 magical girl anime Cardcaptor Sakura, and while the dub is notorious among fans for the cultural changes (western names, altering character relationships), Cardcaptors is a decent dub that brings its own sense of charm to the material. The basic premise involves 10-year Sakura, a school girl who accidentally unleashes the magical Clow Cards upon the world and it is up to her and a small band of friends to capture them. That is established in the movie's opening scenes. Sakura also intermixes her everyday life with her Cardcapturing (not likely an actual verb) and keeps her loved ones out of harm's way. It is relatively light-hearted but still has enough drama to prevent the show from falling into dumb forgetful children's mush.
Anyway, the movie involves Sakura unexpectedly winning a holiday to Hong Kong, accompanied by her best friend Madison, big brother Tori, and her crush Julian, along with the Clow Cards' guarding Kero who is looks like a smart-mouthed plush toy. But things start going weird when Sakura experiences haunting dreams, and she and her friends are soon targeted by an imprisoned sorceress who has a grudge against Clow Reed, creator of the Clow Cards. Sakura will have to fight or fly against her when her loved ones are harmed.
Even if you are not an anime lover or like Cardcaptors, the movie is worth a watch. I enjoy the characterisations throughout the film, particularly Sakura's vulnerability at being outmatched by someone who is magically stronger than she is and the consequences of her fears. The villainess Su Yung is both fearsome but sympathetic, and Nicole Oliver does a great job bringing emotion and rage to the character. The visuals are spectacular and well detailed, particularly when the characters are exploring Hong Kong and all of the little details in the architecture and backgrounds are lovely. The scenes in the alternate dimensions are pretty cool as well. There is a constant theme of water in the movie, and the scenes with it are beautifully animated. The music fits well too, never feeling out of place or inappropriately used.
On the negative side, the supporting characters don't get much to do, and for some reason, the audio and voice work can sound muffled in certain parts of the movie, particularly at the start. But in conclusion, Cardcaptors the Movie is an enjoyable film with an engaging, emotional story and great visuals.
The Condemned (2007)
Too Similar to Battle Royale
The Condemned is an action film that sounds good in the concept but I've noticed one too many similarities to Battle Royale. Ten prisoners on death row are gathered together by some TV producer to participate in the game, on a remote island, with the goal to kill each other within a limited time. To further force the criminals to participate, explosive collars have been placed around their ankles which can be detonated at will. Sound familiar. Battle Royale follows a very similar storyline but with Japanese students instead of criminals. This was likely changed to adult criminals to avoid major controversy in the USA.
The Condemned can be a fun action film if you turn your brain off for a while, with some decent fighting scenes but that's about it. The characters are pretty bland save perhaps the Japanese guy and Vinnie Jones when he's funny, and the music was pretty shoddy save Savin' Me by Nickelback. Pardon me for comparing is much to BR but it felt like it was a cheap attempt to remake the film whilst trying to sneak it past the American censors.
In 2000, Kinji Fukasaku released a controversial but amazing film called Battle Royale, based on a novel, in which 42 ninth graders are placed on a remote island and forced to kill each other until one remained. Three years on, the sequel Battle Royale II was released. However, it lacked the same quality of the first film.
Kinji Fukasaku died during filming of the sequel and his son Kenta took control of the film as director and screenwriter. The end result is what could be called a bit of a mess - little character development, overacting, overbearing political subtexts, too much violence without a just cause behind it, and tons of explosions that would make people think Michael Bay invaded the set.
In the sequel, a survivor of the Battle Royale game Shuya Nanahara has declared "war on all adults" and formed a large terrorist group of outcast kids called the Wild Seven. They bomb the Shinjuku District in Tokyo and kill many people. In response, the Japanese government alters the BR Game to BRII - and sends a new class of 42 outcast ninth graders to the Wild Seven's island base to kill Nanahara. The kids are given military suits and weapons, but for an odd reason are given the familiar explosive collars to wear and there are pointless Death Zone elements on the island. While it seems the filmmakers tried to incorporate elements from the past film to keep the kids going, they are generally unnecessary and I thought the prospect of sending these kids to attack a terrorist group daunting enough.
Among the kids are the main hero Takuma Aoi who seems to have no real motive; and Shiori Kitano, the daughter of the teacher from the first film who personally wishes to kill Nanahara for her father's death. However, Takuma, Nanahara and Shiori are generally the only characters in this whole film that gain some form of character development. The rest of the kids and members of the Wild Seven are just there to shoot guns and die. There are some characters who had potential, like the comic relief character, a girl who has diabetes, and a kid whose sister is a member of the Wild Seven, but it feels like the filmmakers weren't motivated enough to give them much development or focus. The first film's entire cast had enough character development and screen time to make them likable, even though most had only one scene before dying.
Rounding up the film's cast as the resident adult bad guy is Riki Takeuchi as, well, Riki Takeuchi. However, his acting is hilariously overdone and crazy, which I think doesn't really fit into the gloomy atmosphere of the film. Perhaps his acting was supposed to match his character trait like Kitano's was in BR, but I still find him a bit out of place.
There are some political messages which are not as subtle as the first film's were. The opening scene of the Shinjuku District collapsing is very similar to 9/11, and there is a large amount of negativity towards America in the film, possibly hinting at the objected choice of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the problem with this film is that it can be tricky to support either side of the war - the kids and the adults are just as bad a each other. The adults kidnapped kids and forced them to kill each other, and the kids are now killing adults and bombing buildings, and what's more, the adults seek revenge and send more kids to kill those who are getting revenge on them! Despite these problems, BRII can be an enjoyable film. The acting, aside from perhaps Takeuchi's madness, is pretty good, the film has an awesome soundtrack, and some of the more positive messages can let the audience leave feeling somewhat satisfied. I recommend this film if you are a BR fan or a Fukasaku fan, although if you are a hardcore BR fan, then the sequel may come out as a disappointment.
Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Ohana Means Family
What do you get if you cross an alien, Hawaii, Elvis Presley and the meaning of family? The almighty piece of artwork called Lilo and Stitch.
The film is a delightful sci-fi family film created by the Walt Disney Company shortly before their descent into Dumbville, population them. The film focuses on two unique characters; Lilo, a young lonely Hawaiian girl who is living with her older sister Nani who in turn in struggling to cope being a guardian since their parents died offscreen (what is it with Disney and killing off parents); the second is Experiment 626, a maniacal genetically-created alien who escapes imprisonment and goes on the run, crashlanding in Hawaii but due to be run over by a three trucks, he ends up in a dog shelter and is adopted by Lilo as a dog named Stitch.
Stitch at first uses Lilo as a shield to protect himself, but over time he learns the concept of "Ohana" - which means family, and family means that "nobody gets left behind or forgotten". Stitch turns from a destructive and cruel person into a courageous, caring and loyal figure. Lilo also changes to some extent. The film has a well-rounded amount of characters and each of them have a designated goal or desire and enough screen time. Lilo wants a friend, Stitch's motives change over time, Nani wants to be a good guardian towards Lilo, David wants to date Nani, the list goes on.
In regards to the villains, well there are two interesting things: There are effectively six villains in the film, but none of them are proper Disney Villains and wish to conquer the world or harm someone: Mertle is a typical bullying and pompous little girl who picks on Lola out of fear; social worker Cobra Bubbles is just doing his job despite wanting what's best for Lilo and Nani; Jumba and Pleakley are hunting Stitch for personal reasons; Gantu is doing his job too and sees Stitch as a threat to the universe; and the Grand Councilwoman is also doing her job for the greater good and protection of the universe.
There are many emotional and memorable moments throughout the film and reflects on the tale of the Ugly Duckling - Lilo, Stitch and other characters being outcasts and are brought together by Ohana and over such emotions. Each of the primary characters (Lilo, Stitch, Nani, Jumba and Pleakley) all have their own individual scenes alone or in the company of a close affiliated character.
My favourite is when Jumba observes Stitch and comments to Pleakley that he never created Stitch for a greater purpose other than to destroy everything and questions what it must be like not to have any memories or anything else to remember. There's a charming scene seconds later of Stitch looking around for something to do, and starts reading books, coming across the Ugly Duckling book.
There are many more great moments in the film, some comical (e.g. Stitch plays an Elvis song through his mouth) and musical numbers to enjoy. The last twenty moments goes into the traditional sci-fi wham-mo blammo, but the emotion is still there.
Like many Disney films I've seen, I highly recommend you view this film.
Sonikku za hejjihoggu (1996)
Hilarious and Great Film
Sonic the Movie/Sonic OVA is a well-made Japanese dubbed movie which really captures the early games and elements of the Sonic the Hedgehog video game series before it all became about 3D aspects, werehogs and Shadow. The animation and music are good, although the voice acting is a little iffy but full of memorable lines (e.g. "Strange isn't it?").
The plot is split into two acts. Eggman sends Sonic and Tails down into what looks like a dark abandoned version of New York to stop Metal Eggman, a giant fat robot, from doing something. Knuckles makes his animated debut in this film, sporting an Indiana Jones' hat and wrongly-coloured shoes, and for some reason, is mistook for a mole. Eventually, Metal Sonic makes his fantastic appearance to initially take over the world for Eggman.
Being an anime cartoon, there are a large number of elements from the Japanese cartoons that are included, including characters randomly falling over, the character Sara is placed into a rather short miniskirt of sorts, and there is some adult humour. Unlike America, Japan doesn't really care about swear words and the protection of their kids, and included some adult jokes in the movie. The notable jokes include Sonic flipping the bird towards Metal Eggman, Sara has a vision of her breast-feeding a baby resembling Eggman, Tails accidentally touching her cleavage, and rather dodgy scene involving Metal Sonic unintentionally looking up Sara's skirt.
Regardless, it is a great movie to watch if you are a Sonic fan. I recommend you watch a parody of this film on YouTube, called Sonic B******ized.
An Incredible Emotional Film
What can be said about Wall-E? It is a masterpiece. One of Pixar's best films, only beaten by Toy Story and Finding Nemo, and perhaps Monsters Inc. Wall-E doesn't have much talk in it until the second half, but it is very emotional from beginning to end and shows various ways to display emotion and tell a story without having to speak all the way through.
The film features Wall-E, a lonely trash-removing robot and the only thing alive on Earth aside from his pal cockroach, as all of humanity having left to travel the stars - we covered the planet in trash and left, just like that! Anyway, Wall-E has his own weird little world and longs for some company or something along those lines. He gets his wish when EVE, a shiny streamlined robot who is in search of plant life on Earth. She is basically an Apple iPod, Wall-E is a rusty Mac III, so its old meets new. The two share a charming bond which grows throughout the film. EVE eventually finds a plant which ironically Wall-E has and she sort of shuts down until a spaceship picks her up, Wall-E hitching along for the ride.
There's a wonderful scene here where Wall-E floats through space on EVE's ship, it's quite magical and spectacular. The two eventually arrive in the second half of the film on a large space cruiser which comically looks like an actually cruise ship attached to rockets. The film's primary plot kicks in at this point but the relationship between Wall-E and EVE remains a plot point throughout the remainder of the film and the ending is beautiful in its own right.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
A Sequel Worth Watching
Gremlins was a film I never really considered watching but when I did, I thought it was brilliant; a little scary but great. I was unaware there was a sequel until I watched Cinemassacre's (The Angry Video Game Nerd) review of the films. I liked the look of the second film so I bought the film boxset online and watched the films. Gremlins 2: The New Batch is awesome.
Everything about it is brilliant. The story, the characters, all the gags and film references and the Gremlins themselves. The filmmakers knew that Gremlins 2 would never beat the original so they made fun of the film itself. Some notable references included an angry parent dragging her child out of the cinema and complaining. A film critic gives a negative review on Gremlins and gets beaten up by the monsters as punishment. There some great film references including Batman, The Wizard of Oz and Rambo.
At one point the Gremlins even destroy the film and start making shadow puppets on screen, prompting Hulk Hogan to scare them into fixing the film.
The film's plot involves Gizmo, the cute mogwai from the first film, being taken to the Clamp Enterprises in New York after his owner died. Escaping becoming a lab rat with help from his friend Billy Peltzer and his girlfriend Kate, Gizmo ends getting wet and spawns a new batch of Gremlins. The first group consist of grouchy George, bucktoothed Lenny, crazy nutcase Daffy, and Mohawk, a reincarnation of Stripe from the first film. As expected, the Gremlins cause havoc in the building with lots of gags, the Gremlins spawning into dozens of Gremlins when they blow up a microwave and set of a sprinkler system.
The building they're in is very modern allowing the Gremlins plenty of opportunities to cause mass destruction and mayhem. There's a genetics laboratory run by Christopher Lee where a group of Gremlins drink serums and gain wacky abilities. One becomes super smart, one grows bat wings, one becomes made of vegetables, one mimics the Phantom of the Opera, another becomes made of electricity and there's even one that becomes a woman Gremlin and flirts with Robert Picardo's character. Mohawk also gains a spider body.
The film is really entertaining, but while it lacks the dark atmosphere of the first film, it still has plenty of great moments, some of which are disgusting but fun to watch. Some may consider the film's slapstick humour its downfall, but that doesn't stop them from watching and enjoying this film.
If a third film was to be made, it would be interesting to see what the Gremlins could mess with in the 21st Century.
Better than the first film.
For the first film, I was a little disappointed. Mostly because the plot was a bit out of whack, the characters were nothing like their cartoon counterparts and the ending revelations were silly. I found the second film on DVD and decided to buy it. I watched it and loved it.
The second film is a great deal better than the first film and more faithful to the cartoons, in fact, that's what it feels like - watching a feature length live-action episode of the show. The actors portrayals of Mystery Inc. have greatly improved and they seem more comfortable in their roles. The sets, stunts and special effects (a phrase taken from the bonus features on the DVD) were all well put together, adding to the fun.
Monsters Unleashed involves Mystery Inc. in their hometown of Coolsville, attending the opening of the Coolsonian Criminology Museum, where the costumes of monsters the gang faced in the cartoon are on display. However, the Evil Masked Figure attacks, stealing the costumes and transforming them into realistic-looking monsters who all seek revenge on Mystery Inc. However to make matters worse, a trash-talking news reporter Heather Jasper Howe berates the gang and turns the city against them. Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby Doo must fight and run for survival and regain the confidence of Coolsville.
The portrayal of Fred and Daphne are greatly improved and a lot more funnier than in the first film where they were greatly out of character. Velma is generally the same as before, but the presence of a romantic interest for her is a new side to her. As for Shaggy and Scooby, they are hilarious and really emotional.
It was really great to see a lot of references to the classic shows. The monsters are all accurate to their cartoon versions with some changes to make them look realistic. Among the monsters are the ghostly Black Knight, the electrifying 10,000 Volt Ghost, the vicious Pterodactyl Ghost who steals the monster costumes, the comical duo of the Skeleton Men, Captain Cutler who is a deceased deep sea diver with a glowing helmet, gargantuan fire-breathing Miner 49er, boggle-eyed Zombie who covers an unfortunate news reporter in slime, the massive blob that is the Tar Monster, and the Cotton Candy Glob who meets his end by Shaggy and Scooby's stomachs. Other monster costumes appear, heavily similar to their cartoons forms.
I recommend this film is anyone who likes Scooby Doo as it is really fun and enjoyable. Although there are some swear words used, a couple of scary images (and disturbing ones too), and Scooby Doo wearing an afro and dancing for a little while, this film is colourful and memorable experience to watch.
One of the best films I've seen.
I've watched a lot of films based on comics - the X-Men trilogy, the Spider-Man trilogy, Fantastic Four and its sequel, Iron Man, Hulk, Daredevil, the Batman films and Superman Returns. I had heard of Hellboy and watched the trailer, however, I wasn't sure on watching it. However, my sister bought it and I watched the DVD - and I loved it to pieces.
Anyway, the story starts off with a bunch of American troops in Scotland during the final years of World War II. Among them is Professor Bruttenholm (pronouched as "Broom"), a paranormalist and adviser to President Roosevelt. The soldiers come across a bunch of Nazis who are using a machine to open a portal to another dimension and unleash the Seven Gods of Chaos to win the war and conquer the world. However, the soldiers interfere and stop the Nazis, their leader Rasputin (the Russian nutcase who helped kill the Zsar of Russia and his family) being sucked into the portal and vanishing. However, a small red monkey-like child with a large hand made of rock comes out and becomes the "son" of Bruttenholm, named Hellboy.
Many years on Hellboy is the protector of mankind, battling monsters and supernatural things (like a cross between Batman and Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Hellboy lives in the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence, sort of a Men in Black-like sercet organization except they fight monsters instead of aliens. Hellboy lives with Abe Sapien, a blue-skinned aquatic fish guy who likes eating rotten eggs. Hellboy is also infatuated with a pyrokinetic woman named Liz Shaw who has trouble controlling her flames, often causing explosive infernos. Bruttenholm is in charge of the BPRD, covered up by FBI director Tom Manning who dislikes the weird team members. The BPRD is joined by John Myers, the most boring and unemotional drip in existence.
Anyway, Hellboy, Abe, Myers and Liz find themselves fighting against Rasputin, still alive but now a lot more demonic (his veins squirm about in his head and hands), his girlfriend who wields a sledgehammer, and Karl Ruprecht Kroenen, a kickass villain who wears a gas mask and fights with a pair of spinning blades. The three intend on using Hellboy to open some sort of gate and allowing a monstrous tentacled demon to take over Earth. They also unleash Samiel the Desolate One, a demonic reptile with dreadlocks who can reproduce once he is killed. The BPRD fight against the villains with amazing CGI effects (although sometimes everything is done physically without a single sign of computer graphics), cool fight scenes and Hellboy making jokes at every opportunity.
I really enjoyed this film mainly because it is the first real dark comic book film I've seen. Hellboy is a different kind of superhero. Heroes like Spider-Man, Superman and the X-Men do not mess about with an enemy and are a bit more concerned just trying to defeat an enemy as quick as possible. Hellboy instead takes his time, cracking jokes and being rather laidback. Plus he has a big gun, which adds to his awesomeness. The characters of Liz and Abe are very entertaining, plus Bruttenholm and Manning's presence adds an extra touch of greatness to the film. However, I dislike the presence of Myers. He doesn't really do much in the film, stands around looking miserable and blank-minded and has too much screen time looking blank and miserable.
As for the villains, I find Rasputin to be creepy but really interesting. I prefer the animated version from Anastasia. His sledgehammer-wielding girlfriend doesn't really do much either. But the person to steals the show is perhaps the coolest villain ever to appear on the big screen (except possibly Darth Vader): Kroenen. Kroenen is a silent Nazi officer who wears a gas mask over his head, wields a pair of spinning blades, can do impossible things, and has a severe mental issue in which he has surgically removed his eyelids and lips, making him look quite a fright when he is seen without his armour in one seen. Everything about him is brilliant and he has become one of my favourite antagonists of all time.
Seriously, I recommend this film to anyone who likes superhero films, dark films or anything made by Guillermo de Toro. Hellboy is a masterpiece.