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King Kong (2005)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
King Long, 20 January 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Its not a documentary, its supposed to be mindless fun. Don't expect too much and you will be entertained.

Yes, it could be shorter. Yes, there are some scenes that aren't perfect. Yes, there are some scenes that are a tad too sentimental. Yes, its completely unrealistic. It is about a giant ape, afterall. But despite itself its hard not to get drawn in by the action sequences.

So just have fun with it. And if you think Spielberg could've done better, go back and watch Jurassic Park 2: Lost World, and I'm sure you'll agree he already tried to remake King Kong with that movie, and created one of the most disappointing movies of our time. The whole T-Rex in san francisco bit near the end was just stupid.

An entertaining, albeit unwarranted trek down memory lane for a director who is certainly more than a one-hit wonder; viewers who say so who would like to eat crow should watch "Heavenly Creatures".

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
it may keep your interest, but don't expect too much, 3 November 2005

Christian Bale physically transforms into a lifeless shell in the Machinist, a thriller derived from much better and more thought-provoking films. The cinematography is fine, and the story and pacing are OK, but the payoff just isn't there. The only reason to watch this movie is to see what Christian Bale did to himself. I'm surprised the director didn't tell him to stop much sooner as this looks irresponsible. I mean, when you see Tom Hanks in Cast Away he looks like he's been eating McDonald's in between takes compared to Christian Bale in Machinist. And when you see DeNiro in Raging Bull, you don't think his LIFE was at risk for being over-weight. I was actually fearing for Christian's life while watching this. Its like... if a 5 mph wind swept him away, he'd be gone for good. You'd never see him again. Irresponsible film-making at its most disturbing.

9 out of 39 people found the following review useful:
7 Swords... too bad it wasn't just 1 Sword, 3 November 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

7 Swords, by famed but troubled as of late director Tsui Hark serves up yet another fantasy martial arts epic in the style of House of Flying Daggers and Crouching Tiger. Unfortunately, unlike those two movies (which are far superior to this wasted effort), 7 Swords features some of the most downright laughable fight scenes (let alone badly filmed, they are badly choreographed as well!). I almost fell asleep during the last anti-climactic battle.

First we're introduced to the villains, who look like they've been plucked right out of any number of bad b-movies from the '80s, such as the horrible vampire goth female with the half-shaven head or the dozen forgettable henchmen with names that would make Skeletor blush. To make matters worse, they have ridiculous weapons, such as a shield studded with razor blades that can be thrown like a boomerang (the effect of which looks like a drunkard stage-hand dangling it across the frame with some invisible wire) and some sort of deadly umbrella. This is just cheap and sad, I would rather watch Tina Turner in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, at least if I didn't already claw my eyeballs out. And don't even get me started on the primary villain of the piece, his pathetic attempt at a maniacal laugh reads like the stuff of 2dimensional cartoon villains, but perhaps that was his intention.

Unfortunately the heroes are not much better. The cast in this movie is very questionable. From what I understand, not being a huge HK film buff, most of these actors are has-beens appearing in TV commercials as of late. And it shows. One of them reminded me a lot of Lou Diamond Philips which pretty much ruined it for me. Plus they are barely developed, basically 5/7 are just martial arts masters from a mountain on high. No explanation of background given, they're just the best in the world, and yes, they can take on an army of 3000 by themselves.

Maybe its the hare-brained plot. There's a scene in this film where one of the heroes cries out in pure melodramatic fashion for his old horse Joy-Luck, not because the horse is dead, but because he had to set it free. What makes this scene even more dumbfounding is its total lack of build-up - we don't see him riding this horse around doing crazy, heroic stunts from horseback. So why this sappy scene? Not to mention the nauseating side-plot romances between the star-crossed lovers who have a common language, or the creative writer's ace in the hole "hidden traitor" motif. This is garbage. At one point, the heroes decide to ride out and watch the sunrise for inspiration - is this a parody of some cooler, better movie, or are these clichés unintentional? I don't know which is worse. There are videogames with better plots.

Its not that I can't appreciate what Hark was after, but its the doom and gloom sense it evokes, that the artist peaked in earlier films and hasn't out-grown his childish fantasies of what makes a great action movie. Since the days of Once Upon a Time in China there have been great strides in this genre, but unfortunately Hark has learned little, if anything, from those films.

So while it might entertain an 8-year old, I doubt martial arts fans or fans of foreign films will find anything of value here. And while loosely based on the idea of 7 Samurai, 7 Samurai did it in such a way as to be entertaining, real, and emotionally involving. This film is too long for its own good and should have been a cartoon, because at least its semi-acceptable when heroes never die. I actually wanted to see the heroes' blood. Thats never a good sign.

Unfortunately, the buck doesn't stop here. The story leaves enough stones unturned in the form of the true mastermind of evil, the Emperor (the only acceptable period arch-villain in Communist China), almost guaranteeing a sequel. I now pray every night that Hark steps back from this abyss and looks deeply within himself, hopefully redeeming his true spirit for future films.

Akira (1988)
3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Life-changing., 21 October 2005

Like the introductory nuke that sets up the back story, Akira exploded upon the western hemisphere with the power of 10'000 pounds of pure TNT. Wasn't animation supposed to be cute? Wasn't there supposed to be song and dance routines, fluffy animal sidekicks and good old fashioned morals interspersed between moments of slapstick comedy and saucer-eyed shenanigans? Thankfully, in Japan they do things differently; in Japan, animation is cool.

Akira blew my mind when I saw it at the impressionable age of 15. I wasn't a complete noob, but still I had no idea what I was in for when I popped that crispy VHS tape into my noisy VCR. This movie had everything my teenage fantasies craved; ultra stylized and ultra violent sci-fi action more than a decade before the Matrix with production values that (now) nearly 20 years old still rock. There are scenes in this film drawn with more precision than a computer rendering, that look more alive because of that added human touch.

And there's a story to go with it. My animation instructor claimed Akira had nothing more than people yelling at each other in it (he was a little biased tho, having been influenced by only the western animation greats like ... well, none of their names come to mind because I was only influenced by Japanese ones! No wait, Tex Avery, got one! hah!...) Needless to say, I pity him and never did forgive him for his stupidity.

This is a masterpiece, something that must be seen. The original Streamline dub is better than the new Panasonic one, even though it is probably less accurate it left more to the imagination. But don't let that or the steep asking price deter you from the new DVD. There's tons of special features, from the Akira production report (30 mins) to 100s of character designs and background paintings to frame through. And the digital mastering brings out the picture and color in a way that makes my VHS tape weep tears of joy.

If you haven't seen it, I can't give AKIRA a higher recommendation.

63 out of 64 people found the following review useful:
Here's a little shock and awe for you, 12 October 2005

If you haven't seen this film, make it a top priority to track it down.

Barefoot Gen, the animated version of the autobiographical manga by Keiji Nakazawa, is an unflinching first-hand look at the result of dropping an atomic bomb on a civilian target. Comparisons to Grave of the Fireflies will abound, but for me personally Barefoot Gen was the more moving of the two. Though it centers on the effects of the atom bomb, the fact is this could be about any war, and any people. It is a story for all of humanity.

Barefoot Gen is filled with its fair share of caricatured mannerisms, but calling it a dramedy is pushing it. There isn't much to laugh at and even when the characters act a little over-the-top, the overall effect hits its mark (strongly). What makes the story even more powerful is knowing it comes from a survivor of the attack, and the honesty with which the film doles out darker and darker shades of life in the aftermath of the bombing (including subtle things one might not think about).

I think this along with Grave of the Fireflies belongs in every collection, even if you will only watch it once or twice, if only to show it to future generations. Its one thing to see a big explosion relating to the a-bomb in almost every other anime, but its another thing entirely to see the reality of it, and its aftermath.

At the risk of sounding incredibly pretentious, it made me want to burn flags. Not just from one country, but from all countries... to put it another way, I wish we could be united by our common humanity.

Steamboy (2004)
5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Why Steamboy is Otomo's BEST EVER, 7 October 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I've noticed many people giving it thumbs up for the incredible animation (of which Steamboy has in droves) but giving it thumbs down for the second half of the story, where things become a bit unclear as to what is going on. The first time I watched it I had the same reaction, but on a second viewing I keyed into Katsuhiro Otomo's storytelling and it absolutely MADE the second half of it for me. Interestingly, I had the same experience with Akira and Ghost in the Shell.

Steamboy, if taken at face value (ie steam-punk inspired action movie) will quickly lose steam at the half-way point. But for those who can see the film's many metaphors, the second half is rife with symbolism, some of which I will mention here.

First it is important to at least understand that there are three generations of scientists being personified by the steam family, and each has played a part in the evolution of science. Grandfather (representing the generations who discovered and developed science), Father (representing the generations who have since taken science and applied it to horrendous war machines and environmentally destructive waste), and Roy (representing the next generation who must take the reigns of science and right the wrongs committed by the last generation).

Grandfather, having seen the power and beauty of science is against using scientific might to build war machines (during this sequence, we are treated to an ever-escalating arms race of various military inventions - first infantry, then tanks, then attack boats, then attack planes, then submarines and etc etc etc). Father believes that science is all-powerful and by bringing it to everyone will create a new, better age. Roy is trapped between his loyalty to his family's heritage (the steamcastle) and what it will do to the world if they lose control of it.

Another great metaphor is Scarlett. She's a rich little American whose father's business (unbeknowst to her) is to create and auction off war machines to the highest foreign bidder - but when she finds out, being young and part of Roy's generation - she's morally disgusted, she complains and questions them but can't really change things.

The steamcastle and its destructive power can be likened to the current situation on earth. Our technology, though bestowing great power on the people, is also resulting in environmental disasters such as global warming and the military power to destroy the world several times over (thanks to a few thousand nuclear missiles). Only if the younger generation can steer us away from our destructive path can we avoid the consequences of global-warming (which would be a new ice age, as the planet rebels against the increasing heat) and the ultimate destruction of the human race.

Many interesting questions and suggestions are raised: father suggests at one point that even if science fails, people would rebuild it; for once people have seen the wonders and power science provides, there is no escaping the temptation! ...of course, Father is slightly biased in his opinion since he himself has become part machine! Grandfather grabs Roy by the shoulders and tells him only HE can inherit the steamcastle and decide what to do with it. And he soon learns that no adult is to be trusted with the power of science, for when he mistakenly entrusts the steamball to Dr. Stevenson, Stevenson immediately begins rolling out his own military plan of action! Back at Stevenson's lab a disturbing image is hidden in the background: the lab's machinery is shaped like a hand holding a limp penis (as apt a description of the destructive, military sciences as I've ever seen!).

It is later revealed that Grandfather built a carousel into the steamcastle, probably more out of the joy and wonder that he got from science in its early, explorative stages than for any practical purposes!


There is more, but unlike much of what one reads in the newspapers and scientific journals, Otomo gives us a rather idealistic ending. Interestingly, it is Scarlett (at the helm of the steamcastle) working together with Roy, with the help of his Father and Grandfather, who manages to steer the steamcastle away from the city, and it powers down before exploding into a devastating glacial freeze. Of course, science taking a few precious steps back is excruciating and some of it explodes into ice, but they manage to contain it in the end.


Once having realized the metaphors and symbolism stored within each sequence and each line of the film, I have no choice but to rate this film a 10. It is not just an action movie that gets bogged down by the weight of the steamcastle. It is a weighty subject and Otomo is fond of exploring it to its very limits - see this film for a moving dissection of man's relationship to technology and science! **********!

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Advent Children, one of the few REAL video game movies..., 18 September 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Unlike other game companies who are content to allow others to create b-movies based on their games (Mario Bros., House of the Dead, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, Doom and others spring immediately to mind), Square reinforces its reputation for quality game-based movies with the much anticipated Final Fantasy Vii Advent Children.

Whereas a single rendered background of the Resident Evil remakes (Gamecube) contain more mood and atmosphere than the entire feature-length films, Square's two Final Fantasy films accurately depict the themes and sensibilities of the games.

Unlike Spirits Within, Advent Children is by no means a stand-alone film. It is a true sequel in the sense that it is a continuation of the events of the game, therefore anyone unfamiliar with the game, its characters and plot, or its underlying themes and metaphors will likely find nothing more than a series of unending fight scenes (much to my chagrin, two people I recently screened it with who had never played any FF games actually fell asleep during the Bahamut sequence!). I imagine for them, it must've been like sitting down and watching a random episode of Star Wars without having heard of Star Wars before.

With the expectation that you've played the game, the film's creators immediately jump into the story and don't wait for you to catch up. As such, expecting lots of character development in the dozen or so side-characters is probably expecting too much - all of that has been covered in the game! They are concerned with the "here and now" of Cloud Strife. And when you look at the film with an emphasis on Cloud, you will find he undergoes a change that will be very very satisfying for fans. Its really all about Cloud, but manages to tie up many of the game's loose ends.

The film's emphasis on action over story has been much maligned by some fans, and more dialog between characters would have been appreciated. Lets face it, another hour and forty minutes would've been appreciated! Square's games are unique in that the characters and worlds are intriguing enough that you could make half a dozen spin-off movies and not tell the whole story. Movies like this are rare gems, and this one especially so because of its insistence that it is FOR the fans. It is a gift, and one that I am thankful for.

As far as computer graphics and animation is concerned, its really hard to imagine it getting much better than this, wouldn't you agree? Over the years, Square has really pushed the limits but in recent memory they have peaked to a certain degree. They still do the best cg humans, somehow being both realistic AND fantastically stylized, and even if there can be further improvements, I am quite happy with what is on offer here (I wept tears of joy at several moments upon first viewing - and I defy any fans not to do the same!).

The music too, is beautiful and aptly complements the visuals. More than a couple of the tracks are intense remixes of familiar themes but its the original anthems that rock the action sequences that truly excited me. Composed by series veteran Nobuo Uematsu, the score more than makes up for one of Spirits Within's biggest sins (the replacement of Uematsu for a traditional film score composer).

All in all, if you are a fan of the games, you WILL see this movie. You just HAVE to! It may not be perfect, it may not please everyone, but for what it is, I think its pretty damn good. No, its better than that...


54 out of 58 people found the following review useful:
One of the greatest adult animated films ever, 15 July 2005

Yoshiaki Kawajiri's style is so detailed, so precise, you just get the feeling that each frame of animation has been slaved over and perfected, making Vamp D Bloodlust the best showcase of his directorial style. Of course, the actual chara designs are by Yoshitaka Amano and here is perhaps the most accurate depiction of his unique style. The soundtrack also bears mentioning and is right up there with the Hollywood's best.

Story-wise, its an eclectic mixture of Gothic horror, Science fiction, Westerns and Samurai, apparently based on a novel I've never read. Its genre cannot be classified simply horror, and while there are plenty of great action scenes, the near-perfect pacing allows for quiet moments of conversation between the characters.

Its full of great moments, but the best is the climactic finale - absolutely unforgettable. A must-see, right up there with classics of anime such as Studio Ghibli's work...

Arion (1986)
6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Pretty good, 15 July 2005

Arion is a decent action adventure story. Its loosely based on characters from the Greek myths - however their Godly status has been reduced and they appear more like mere mortals with kingly status. Few actually exercise their inherent powers which was annoying.

This is kind of disappointing given the nature of animation - which is well-suited to grand stories - everything has been taken down a notch, leaving some characters (such as Heracles) resembling mere shadows of their reputations.

There's some very slight nudity and some semi-violent scenes (and the incestuous desires of some characters is more than hinted at) so it may not be suitable for the little ones, but compared to most anime its rather tame.

The background artwork is very nice, and the musical score (by Joe Hisaishi) is excellent. The animation on the whole is okay, rather limited in the big fight scenes involving lots of soldiers (which is to be expected) but better than most TV series. I was disappointed by the character designs. Arion, Lesphina and Apollo are fine but most of the others are lacking...

I looked it up at my local rental store because I was amazed they actually carried it given its "rare" reputation, and it was also rated amongst Helen McCarthy's top ten in an old anime encyclopedia. I wasn't all that impressed, but enjoyed it, and it might be worth a look if you're interested in the unique subject matter (something rarely seen outside of the Harryhausen epics).

I gave it a 6 out of 10, considering that the downright life-changing Castle in The Sky released the same year, this one doesn't really compare. However, it gets points for being pretty entertaining and unique... and the Hisaishi score.

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