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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The Hateful Eight

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu is the Name, And Views Are My Game.

Have you ever been to a murder mystery party before? In case you haven’t, it’s when you and your friends get together, and are given a scenario; “We are these people, at the so and so mansion, for this reason.” Each person is assigned a character, and then gets told that there’s a killer in their midst. You spend the rest of the game trying to figure out who said killer is, hopefully before he or she gets to you. It’s silly, but very fun, and gives people the chance to get creative and show off their improv chops. Plus, who doesn’t love hanging out with their friends?

Now, imagine that you’re at a murder mystery party, but things are a little different. You don’t know anyone there, and when you do get to know them, you realize that they’re all bigots, rapists, and murderers. There’s no fun involved with the discovery of the killer, only necessity and petty jealousy. On top of that, certain people keep repeating the same lines over and over again, and it’s really starting to grate on your nerves. If you can imagine what that party would be like, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect with The Hateful Eight, the latest film from writer-director Quentin Tarantino.

The story of two bounty hunters, Samuel L Jackson and Kurt Russel, trying to bring a woman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, into hang, The Hateful Eight is a straightforward, contained thriller. 90% of the film takes place inside a single room, and, as with most Tarantino pictures, it synthesizes long, drawn-out scenes of dialogue with occasional outbursts of intense violence. Oh, and racial slurs. Lots and lots of racial slurs. I actually took the liberty of counting, and the n word is used 59 times in this movie. Yeah. 59 times. Look, I realize that Tarantino always uses that word in his films, and that his justification is that there was a lot of racism back in the 1800s, but, I’m sorry, there were other words in the English language back then. You don’t have to use it to such excess, Quentin. You’re not being edgy or provocative when you do so. You’re just coming off as an annoying little kid, screaming for attention.

But, I digress. Concerning the movie itself, I’m going to come right out and say that I didn’t like it. And before anyone says anything, it’s not because Tarantino directed it. I actually do like some of his films. I’ve seen Pulp Fiction many times, and I think Jackie Brown is enjoyable. However, ever since Kill Bill, his works have consistently managed to either enrage, or simply baffle me. And I think I can confidently say that The Hateful Eight is his worst film yet. For starters, certain things that you just expect to be good in a Quentin Tarantino movie, like the dialogue and the acting, aren’t good here. There are numerous scenes where characters will repeat themselves, like one where Kurt Russell says “You really only need to hang mean bastards, but mean bastards you need to hang,” and another where Walton Goggins asks Samuel Jackson three times in a row, “You have a letter from Abraham Lincoln?” There’s absolutely no reason to repeat the same lines over and over again. It just gets annoying. We heard you the first time, Quentin. Move on. And as for the acting, Tim Roth gives an atrociously over-the-top performance in this movie. Every now and then, like in the scene where he says, “the n***er in the stable has a letter from Abraham Lincoln?” his voice will get super high and cartoonish sounding. And while I’m aware that he actually is British in real life, there are points in this film where he sounds more like Nicolas Cage doing a parody of a British person.

So, the acting and the dialogue aren’t much to write home about. But what about the filmmaking? The cinematography? The music? Well, when promoting this film, Tarantino kept bringing up the fact that he was using ultra-wide, 70 mm lens cameras, like the ones they used on Lawrence of Arabia. Problem is, those lenses are more or less wasted in this picture, because, as I said before, 90% of the movie takes place inside a tiny room. Lawrence Of Arabia took place outside, in a gorgeous, rugged landscape, where the huge lenses helped capture the full scope and beauty of the environment. The Hateful Eight takes place in a cramped, dimly lit room. There’s absolutely no reason to be using these big, and expensive, lenses if all you’re going to do is stay inside one location. It honestly just comes off to me as Quentin Tarantino wanting to stroke his own ego by saying “hey! I’m just as great a filmmaker as Cecil B DeMille or David Lean! My shitty little western is on par with The Ten Commandments and Lawrence Of Arabia.” And lest you think I exaggerate with that statement, Tarantino also had the movie be over three hours long, decided to include an overture, and an intermission. That stuff hasn’t been used in movies since the 1960s. If that isn’t self-indulgent, I don’t know what is.

But by far the biggest problem I had with this movie were the characters. It’s not that they weren’t well-rounded or fleshed out. It’s just that they were all such complete and utter assholes, that I really didn’t care if they lived or died. I know that Tarantino likes to write about morally ambiguous, or even downright evil people, but, usually, he tries to give them some redeeming qualities. Samuel L Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction becomes a kinder, less violent person by the end of the movie, and Bruce Willis’s character, as selfish and proud as he is, does go back to save Ving Rhames. None of the characters in The Hateful Eight have redeeming qualities. Kurt Russell is a misogynist who repeatedly hits Jennifer Jason-Leigh, who is a racist and a murderer. Samuel L Jackson is a rapist, and a murderer. Bruce Dern is a genocidal bigot and, well, you get the idea. No one is worth caring about in this movie, and that’s sad. Why have we become so determined to not write kind, decent, or generous characters anymore? Why do we hate seeing good people in our entertainment? Hell, even Superman, the quintessential boy scout, has gotten turned into an asshole in recent years. Why, I ask you? Why?

But, yeah, as you can probably tell, I wasn’t a big fan of The Hateful Eight. It’s got everything you’d expect from a Quentin Tarantino joint, just not done very well. It’s a 5 out of 10, in my opinion. If you’re a fan of his, whatever. You’ll probably love this anyway. But if you want good quality entertainment, avoid this picture.

The Revenant

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

If you’ve ever read any works of literary or cinematic criticism, you’ve probably noticed that the phrase “style over substance” gets tossed around a lot. Most of the time, the expression is used to describe sci-fi, action, or fantasy films that are more interested in looking nice than having coherent stories, or likable, well-rounded characters. Well, having just seen The Revenant, the latest film from writer-director Alejandro González Iñárritu, I can assure you, the same principle holds true for artsy movies.

Set in the 1820s, on the Missouri River, The Revenant is a very loose re-telling of an actual event concerning the famous Mountain Man, Hugh Glass. In both the movie and real-life, Glass gets mauled by a bear, left for dead by his men, and then sets out on a path of vengeance. That, however, is where the similarities end, because this movie takes SO MANY liberties with history, it’s not even funny. In real life, Glass constructed a raft, floated downstream until he reached his men’s fort, and then FORGAVE them for leaving him behind. In the movie, by contrast, Glass not only gets left behind, but he’s also forced to watch one of his men, Fitzgerald, murder his son. This causes him to embark on a deranged, blood-soaked voyage, which involves him killing more or less everyone and everything he comes into contact with, and ends with a climactic battle between him and Fitzgerald by a riverside. Now, to my knowledge, the murder, and existence, of Glass’s son, as well as the battle between him and Fitzgerald at the end, are all completely fictional. But, as many of you will no doubt point out, this movie is not a documentary. It is a work of fiction. It is, therefore, not obligated to tell the whole truth, the full truth, and nothing but the truth. So, historical inaccuracies aside, is it any good?

Well, on the one hand, yes it is. The acting in this film is beyond superb. Leonardo DiCaprio, whom plays Glass, does an absolutely astounding job in this movie. There’s so much dangerous, physically-demanding stuff that he has to do–including getting mauled by a bear, thrown off a cliff, tossed through rapids, and sleeping inside the carcass of a dead horse–that I’m honestly kind of shocked he’s still alive. In addition to this, the cinematography is astounding. Much like his last film, Birdman, González Iñárritu includes a lot of long takes in this movie, where he moves the camera around the whole location so you can see everything, instead of just cutting to different objects or characters. Finally, and I cannot emphasize this enough, this film is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Shot on location in British Columbia and Southern Argentina, the film contains some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever laid eyes upon. What makes it even better is that none of the images are artificial. The director stated that he wanted to make this movie seem as natural as possible, and so they didn’t use any CGI or artificial lighting. They used sunlight, moonlight, firelight, and the wilderness around them to tell the story, and that level of ambition from a mainstream Hollywood director is extremely impressive. Watching this movie reminded me of the early works of Werner Herzog, like Aguirre: The Wrath Of God, where the director really demanded a lot from his cast and crew, and basically put them through hell to get the best possible product. It’s both good, and frightening, to know that there are still some artists out there willing to sacrifice anything for their craft.

But, all it’s artistic ambition and visual tricks aside, The Revenant still suffers from an excessive amount of violence, overly simplistic characters, and a lack of a clear moral center. Lajos Egri, author of The Art Of Dramatic Writing, wrote that all great stories must contain a premise, a theme or hypothesis that the author has to prove with his or her narrative. Romeo and Juliet’s premise is “Great Love Conquers Death.” Macbeth’s premise is “Violent Ambition Leads To Its Own Destruction.” Without a premise, Egri asserted, stories lose focus, and it becomes harder to get invested in them. Keeping this in mind, it becomes easy to understand why I never felt fully interested in The Revenant. Yeah, it looks pretty, but I don’t learn anything from it. I just watch a guy get screwed over, do everything in his power to get revenge, and that’s it. No themes are ever established, or touched upon throughout the story. You also don’t learn anything about any of the characters besides Glass. They’re just kind of there, and so you don’t really care when they die or get hurt. And it’s not like I can write this movie off as idiotic, “turn your brain off” entertainment, because when you watch the movie, it’s clear that the filmmakers are too smart and too ambitious to make a picture like that. The fact that they used all these complicated shots, the fact that they chose not to use CGI or studio lights, and the fact that they include a lot of really surreal imagery–like a bird rising from a dead woman’s chest, and Renaissance paintings on the walls of caves–make it clear that they wanted to create something meaningful and lasting with this. I just don’t think they did.

So, in the end, should you go see The Revenant? Honestly, I think you should. The camera work, the performances,and the imagery are all amazing. Just don’t expect great writing, and be prepared to see a lot of really disturbing violence. It’s a 7 out of 10.

Bronson: So Who Says Prison Can’t Be An Enjoyable Experience?

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

With it’s bizarre visuals, odd, non-linear narrative structure, and hard to pin-point characters, it is very difficult to say for certain what kind of a film Bronson is. It’s about a real person, but it’s not a documentary. It’s main character is an extremely violent individual, and yet very little blood is seen throughout the movie. It’s set up like a morality tale, and yet absolutely no morals are imparted in it. In fact, the film becomes so absurd in some scenes, like the one where the main character kidnaps his art teacher, paints himself black and then puts an apple in the hostage’s mouth, that one starts to wonder if it’s really worth continuing with this rubbish. I will say this, though. For all it’s confusing features, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson is still a highly enjoyable, highly original audio-visual experience. I’d heard various critics describe it as “A Clockwork Orange for the 21st century,” and now, having seen it for myself, I can understand why they’d say that.

For those of you who don’t recognize this picture, Bronson is a 2008 fictionalized biographical drama directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring
Tom Hardy. It tells the story of Michael Peterson (aka Charlie Bronson), a convicted felon who has earned a notorious reputation as Britain’s most violent prisoner. I’d never heard of him beforehand, but now, having learned something of his various escapades, I can understand why he might be thought of that way.

The film is set up in a rather unusual manner. It presents several assorted points from Bronson’s life, intercut with him on stage before an audience in several stages of performance make-up, and speaking directly to camera while seemingly behind bars. Like A Clockwork Orange, the film juxtaposes highly intense, violent imagery with gentle, classical-sounding audio. You’re constantly reminded that what you’re watching is a movie, and never led to believe that any of what’s happening is real. In fact, were it not for the tagline, “based on a true story,” and my own research into Charlie Bronson’s existence, I would have sworn to you that this film was pure fiction. And you know what, I actually feel like that worked to the movie’s advantage. Most biopics try extremely hard to make themselves believable, and in so doing, set themselves up for criticism when they inevitably portray events or people inaccurately. Bronson, by contrast, exults in the fact that it is fiction by being extremely outrageous, which is actually quite fitting, since it is telling the story of an extremely outrageous man. Likewise, the movie’s lack of a moral center makes it more enjoyable. With it’s prison setting, violent main character, and classification as “A Clockwork Orange for the 21st century,” one might be led to believe that Bronson is a searing condemnation of society’s attempts to get everyone to conform to a certain behavioral standard by breaking the human spirit. And I will admit, there were several points in the story where I felt as though the movie was going down that path–like the scene where a fellow inmate says, “You’re no more mad than I am, and that scares them,” and the fact that the final shot shows a weak and wounded Bronson standing in a phone-booth sized cell–but the film never falls pray to the “look for the hidden meaning” monster. No one in the film ever tries to “change” Bronson, at least, not in the way that they tried to change Alex in A Clockwork Orange or McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The main character never seems disheartened by his situation. If anything, he seems to rather like it. He declares, numerous times throughout the film, his absolute love for prison, likening it to a hotel room, and even going so far as to strangle a sympathetic asylum inmate in order to ensure his return there. If there is a message to be taken from this film, it is that some people are just crazy, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

So, is Bronson really worth taking the time to watch? Absolutely! From it’s unique cinematography, to it’s enthralling soundtrack, to its self-aware absurdity and odd narrative voice, Bronson is a highly unique audio-visual experience that’s extremely enjoyable. Even if you don’t like prison movies or actors like Tom Hardy, this film is still a triumph, and on many levels. Some other critics might beg to differ, but I would go so far as to give this film an 8 out of 10. Hands down, one of the best pictures I’ve seen this year.