Blade Of The Immortal (2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, ANd Views Are My Game.

When her parents are slaughtered by a ruthless group of swordsmen, teenaged Rin seeks out a ronin named Manji, who, rumor has it, cannot be killed. This gossip turns out to be true, as we see Manji being able to recover from what should be fatal injuries, including several instances where he re-attaches severed limbs to his body. Manji is reluctant to help her at first, knowing, all too well, what the price of vengeance is, but eventually agrees, seeing in Rin a shot at redemption. So the two set out in search of the wicked swordsmen, and what follows is 151 minutes of spraying blood and flashing steel.

Anyone who’s read my blog knows that I’m a huge fan of Takashi Miike, a highly prolific and controversial Japanese filmmaker. For while he’s sickened many people, including myself, with perverse and bizarre films like Ichi The Killer, I’ve always been a fan of his ability to switch between genres, and his uncanny knack for churning out relatively high quality flicks in a very short amount of time. Between 2001 and 2002 alone, he directed no less than 15 features. And this movie, Blade Of The Immortal, is his 100th motion picture. I was honestly astonished when I saw this in the movie’s tagline, and I knew, right away, that I just had to see it. And lucky for me, a theater close by where I live just happened to be playing it. So, hey. I had no choice.

But how, you ask, is the flick itself? Well, as far as simple filmmaking is concerned–acting, cinematography, costumes, music–I have no complaints. This is a gorgeous looking, and sounding, movie. And everyone in the film, even people who are only in one or two scenes, give good performances. Something Miike is known for is cramming his films with tons of A-list actors and pop stars, none of whom usually get enough screen time, and this flick is no exception. Another thing I liked about this movie were the battle sequences. Every character has a very distinct look and fighting style, and when you see them tearing into each other, it’s a ton of fun. If you’re a fan of Miike, samurai cinema, or are just looking for a break from the bland Hollywood fare that comes out around this time of year, give this flick a look. You won’t be disappointed. But if you’re the sort of person who can’t stand a ton of violence, or prefers your films to have well-written scripts, this might not be for you. Blade Of The Immortal is extremely bloody, and highly episodic in structure, with most of the film being Rin and Manji finding one of the swordsman, fighting him, and then moving on. And while the action is cool, every battle is so big and frenetic that, after a certain point,  they all start to feel the same. Still, the movie is well-made, and refreshingly off-kilter when compared to all the other films I’ve seen over the past two months. So, for that reason, I think you all should go see it. Treat yourself to something different.

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Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

When his father Odin dies, Thor’s sister, Hela, the goddess of Death, is released from her prison. And seeing how she’s stronger than every other god, she quickly takes over all of Asgard. Thor himself is banished to a distant planet, Sakaar, where he is forced to fight in gladiator-style battles with none other than the Hulk. Determined to get home, Thor teams up with the jolly green giant, a fellow Asgardian named Valkyrie, and Loki, who was also stranded on Sakaar, and, together, the four start a revolution, return home, and smash a whole lot of CGI stuff.

Remember how I said in my review of Happy Death Day that it was a crowd pleaser? Scratch that. This movie here is a crowd pleaser. It’s big, loud, funny, and completely undemanding. It is a quintessential movie. Now what I mean by that is, motion pictures can generally be clumped into two categories; movies and films. Movies are meant to be enjoyable. You watch them to have fun and kill time. Films, on the other hand, are generally made with more artistic integrity,  and try to talk about more serious issues. That’s not to say that movies can’t be well-written, or that films can’t be enjoyable. But you understand my point. You don’t go into Thor: Ragnarok expecting Oscar-worthy performances or groundbreaking social commentary. You go in expecting big action, light comedy, and colorful, made-up worlds. And you get all that here, so you walk out of the movie feeling happy. I certainly did.

Which is not to suggest that this flick is free of flaws. It actually has quite a few. First of all, the main villain, Hela, is pretty weak. She’s unique in the sense that she’s the MCU’s first female bad guy, but, other than that, she’s not that interesting. She basically has two roles in this movie, provide exposition, and kill people while cackling. Other than that, there’s really nothing to her character. Likewise, the film feels the need to tell us her back-story about four different times; once from Odin, once from Hela herself, once in animated form, and once in flashback. She also isn’t in the movie as much as you’d think. There’s a good 20-minute section in the middle where we don’t see her, or Asgard, at all. Which brings me to my biggest gripe, the fact that this film feels kind of weightless. Even though it’s about the destruction of Asgard, you never really feel like there’s any real danger. Part of this is due to the fact that so much of the film, even the deaths, are played for laughs. Another part is the fact that about 95% of this movie’s action and scenery  are animated, so the threats never feel real. In fact, I wouldn’t even call this a live-action movie. I would call it a cartoon, with bits of live-action thrown in.

All that said, the film is still fun. I’m not a Marvel fan, and I still laughed quite a lot while watching this movie. Which says a lot. So if you want a good time, give it a look.

Wonder Woman (2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The name, And Views Are My Game.

Born from clay, and raised on an island of only women, Princess Diana has long dreamt of war and adventure. Her mother, Hippolyte, tells her to put such matters out of her mind; that bloodshed is cruel and pointless, that their lives are much better without the influence of men, and the war god, Ares, but Diana doesn’t listen. She trains with her Aunt, Antiope, becoming the most skilled warrior on the island, until, one day, a plane with a man, Captain Steve Trevor, crashes in the ocean. Rescuing him from the water, Diana learns that there is a massive conflict, World War 1, raging outside the island, and that millions have already perished. Believing that this is the work of Ares, and that if she kills him, the world will be at peace, Diana dons armor, picks up a sword and shield, and sets off for London. But when she gets to the World of Men, she realizes that things aren’t as simple as she thought.

Wonder Woman is a movie I was very excited to see. Not only is it the first big budget superhero film starring a woman, directed by a woman, but the reviews I’d read had been extremely positive. On top of that, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Wonder Woman character. See, Superman might be my favorite costumed hero of all time, but Wonder Woman is the first superhero whose comics I ever read. Seriously. When I was a kid, my parents got me a collection of Gold and Silver age comics, one of which was the original origin of Wonder Woman. So, from an early age, I’ve been exposed to her mythos and adventures, and I was very interested to see what the filmmakers would do with it. What would they change? What would they keep? But, most important of all, would the movie be any good? Would the dialogue sound natural? Would their be character development? Would the action be exciting, and would the performances be good?

Well, having just seen Wonder Woman, I can happily say that I was very, very satisfied with the picture. This is an extremely well-made movie. It’s exciting, there’s a lot of great humor in it, the acting is superb, with the chemistry between Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor deserving an extra special mention, and there’s great character development. Diana starts off very naive and optimistic, believing that she can end a global conflict by stabbing a dude in the face, and ends more mature and measured, understanding that life’s a bit more complicated than that. I also love the team that she and Steve assemble to help them fight the Germans. See, people have made comparisons between this film and Captain America: The First Avenger, where a superhero gathers up a team to fight in World War 2, but I don’t think that’s fair. The team in that movie isn’t given nearly as much screen time, or personality, as the team here, and they just aren’t as interesting. In Wonder Woman, by contrast, you’ve got three really cool guys to work with; Samir, an Arab con artist who speaks several languages, Charlie, a Scottish sniper with a knack for singing, and the Chief, a native American smuggler who uses the war as a way to avoid racism back home. And, finally, I actually really loved the fact that they changed the film’s setting. See, in the comics, Wonder Woman leaves her home to fight the Nazis in World War 2, and when I saw that they’d changed the time period, I was a little skeptical. Were they just doing it to avoid comparisons with Captain America? Having seen the film, though, I actually think that was a smart choice. See, Diana is very naive. She’s never seen a conflict like this before, and she believes that she can end it by killing a single man. That’s actually quite similar to the way soldiers and politicians viewed the First World War. They’d never seen a conflict of this scale, or with these kinds of weapons before, and they applied their outdated Victorian principles and battle tactics to it, resulting in catastrophic losses of life. The setting is a perfect mirror for Diana’s transformation as a character. Plus, there really aren’t enough movies made about World War 1. There are a few great ones, like Lawrence of Arabia and War Horse, but, for the most part, filmmakers don’t talk about it, which is sad, when you consider how devastating it was, and how important it is, historically. But I’m getting side tracked.

With regards to complaints, I really only have one. The first few minutes are very exposition heavy, with there being a lot of voice over, and Hippolyte telling young Diana stories that will factor in later. Because of that, the dialogue there feels a little bit stiff. But, really, that’s about it, because as soon as Steve Trevor crashes on the island, the movie kicks into high gear, and, trust me, it doesn’t let you go.

Guys, I had a ton of fun with this movie. It was exciting, it was funny, I loved the characters, and I honestly want to see it again. Go ahead and give it a look.

Logan (2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My game.

The X-men are gone. The mutant race has all but vanished. And Earth’s greatest hero, Wolverine, is now a depressed alcoholic, eking out a meager living as a chauffeur. Every day is a battle for him; a battle to pay rent; to get Professor X his drugs before he has another psychic episode. And every night, he finds himself staring at a special, adamantium bullet, asking the dreaded question, “Should I do it?” But before he can find an answer, a woman and a little girl with remarkably similar powers to him show up on his doorstep, begging for help. A ruthless government agency is hot on their trail, and they mean to kill them both. Realizing he can’t let this girl die, Logan grabs his keys, and his friend Charles Xavier, and embarks on a major, cross country journey, both to get everyone to safety, and to provide himself with some overdue redemption.

Just as Christopher Reeve was the quintessential Superman for my parents’ generation, Hugh Jackman has been the quintessential Wolverine for me and everyone my age. So when I heard that Logan, the tenth film in the X-men franchise, was going to be his final outing as the character, I knew I had to watch it. I had to see what kind of closure the filmmakers would give the character, and whether Jackman’s run would go out with a bang, or end on a whimper. And, having just seen the movie, I can tell you, this is the best possible send off you could hope for. Logan is a fantastic picture, both as a piece of superhero escapism, and mature, emotional drama. I highly recommend you all watch it, and I’m tempted to see it again myself.

Something that sets this movie apart from all the other films in the X-men franchise, and most other superheor movies as well, is how grounded it is. It feels like real life, as absurd as that sounds. Characters say the F word in this picture. They get dirty. They bleed. There are real steaks in this film, because the heroes have gotten frail, and death is a very real possibility for them. And unlike some other movie franchises–cough, cough, the MCU, cough, cough–which don’t try to explore dark, adult subject matter, like death, survivor’s guilt, parenthood and responsibility, this movie jumps head first into those topics, giving us a refreshingly mature picture, which transcends the comic book genre.

But before any of you action lovers feel the urge to look away, know that Logan has some of the best, most imaginative superhero fight sequences I’ve ever seen. Two in particular, one in a Casino where Professor X is having a psychic seizure, and one on a mountain side where Wolverine is going full berserker, are imprinted on my brain, they’re that brutal and inventive. This film is rated R, and unlike some movies that probably shouldn’t have had that classification, Logan really earns that title. This is a brutal, exceedingly bloody movie. And like I said, there is no limit to foul language in this picture. And yet it never crosses the threshold into exploitation territory. This isn’t like the works of Mark Millar or Garth Ennis, which pretend to be mature by including gratuitous amounts of violence and profanity. This is a thoughtful, emotionally resonant drama, which has brutal, hard-hitting violence in it, because the world it creates is a dark and ugly one. And yet, you never reach that point where the film gets so bleak that you feel like looking away. You’re never turned off by the morbid subject matter. Rather, you’re engrossed in it. You’re captivated by it. And I am so happy about that.

Guys, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I really don’t have any complaints with Logan. It’s mature, emotionally resonant, and a really fun superhero movie as well. It’s the perfect send off to an actor and a character, and I really think you all should go see it.

Gotham

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game!

And it’s official–DC Comics should just stick to television!

What? You think that statement requires an explanation? Well, all right. I’ll do my best to provide you with one.

So, in case you’ve been living under a rock you’re whole life, there are two major comic book companies in the United States, DC Comics, which is owned by Warner Brothers, and Marvel Comics, which is owned by Disney. DC is famous for such characters as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and the most notorious villain of all time, the Joker. Marvel is known for characters like Spider Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and Wolverine. The two companies have been rivals, basically since the day they were established, and have sought to out due each other in everything from comic book sales to movie profits. Now, as far as live-action films go, Marvel has been far more financially successful in recent years, with the company’s cinematic universe–consisting of The Avengers, Iron Man, and Captain America movies–raking in absurd amounts of dough. DC, by contrast, has been a bit less fortunate. Yes, they’ve had some critical and financial hits–like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, and V For Vendetta–but, overall, their track record has been a bit less consistent in terms of greatness. This, of course, is excluding their TV shows.

DC Comics has produced some of the longest-running, most critically-acclaimed TV shows, both animated and live-action, to ever hit the screen. Do the names Smallville, Arrow, Justice League, and Batman: The Animated Series ring any bells? Of course they do! They’re classics! But, that’s not the point. The point is, DC has a more or less perfect track record when it comes to television, and this record has, in my opinion, been upheld by the small screen adaptation of the Batman legend, Gotham.

First airing in 2014, and continuing to run up till this day, Gotham takes the characters and places of the Batman comics, and puts them in a cop show. Since it’s set right after the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and doesn’t skip ahead to the time when he’s Batman, no actual superhero-ing occurs in this series. You won’t find any gadgets, explosions, or caped crusaders dealing out justice here. What you will find is a dark, twisted, thoroughly gripping police procedural that positively oozes style and atmosphere. The basic premise is that Detective James Gordon has been assigned to find the man who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents, and in so doing, he finds himself getting pulled into a world of corruption, violence and intrigue.

There’s a lot to admire with this series. As I stated earlier, the style and aesthetic of the show are just fantastic. Every set and environment has a specific color scheme. All blacks, grays, and whites. No primary colors here. On top of that, all the buildings you see in the background have a very run-down feel to them, which is appropriate, seeing as Gotham is supposed to be a corrupt, crime-ridden hell hole. And finally, and I cannot emphasize this enough, the show is very dark, very violent, and very twisted. Those are three things that a Batman story should always be. The creators of the Batman Universe, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson, always intended for Batman to be a darker, more mature comic book character. I actually got a chance to meet the late Mr Robinson before his passing, and he told me as much in person. “Gotham is supposed to be a dark, hellish version of New York,” he said. And, well, if you ask me, this series has captured that vision PERFECTLY with regards to its tone, plot and aesthetic.

Now, of course, no series ever created was without its share of flaws, and Gotham certainly has a few. Some of the acting–particularly that of Donal Logue and Jada Pinkett Smith–is hammy and over-the-top. In addition, the plot of the show starts off as fairly straight forward–the Wayne’s get murdered, Gordon has to find out who did it–but then becomes rather convoluted and hard to follow as the series progresses. And, as much as I admire Gotham for maintaining the dark tone and gritty violence of its source material, those things can also serve to alienate some people. But, if you don’t mind that, or are simply a die hard Batman fan, I still think you’ll enjoy the series. In my opinion, its a 7 out of 10. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.