BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

An immortal warrior named Manji joins forces with a girl who is out to avenge her murdered family in director Miike Takashi’s 100th film.

I enjoyed the humour that was in the movie, although I personally thought there could have been more of it. Some of the quieter scenes dragged on a bit too, which needlessly slowed the pace in several parts.

But, as far as grand sword fighting spectacles go, BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL delivered what it promised. The body count was astoundingly high. So lots of good fun, in other words.

Rin, the lead girl, was pretty useless though! If she was supposed to be nothing more than a damsel in distress, they should have just made her that. Instead, I got the impression she was one of the top students at her father’s dojo. And she trained for her revenge every day with Manji, only to end up utterly incapable of defending herself! I have to conclude that probably the villain was right when he dismissed her father’s skill; maybe he (and his sword style) really did suck.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

spider-man-homecoming

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

This third incarnation of Spider-Man, in a span of only 15 years, stars Tom Holland as the newest friendly neighborhood web-slinger. And it gets it right, in my opinion. To my mind, this is how Spider-Man should be: very smart, very funny, and roughly equal parts cool and uncool.

After the opening credits, a recollection of the climactic fight from CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is presented, as seen from Peter’s point of view. It’s really funny stuff.

Since that incident, Peter spends his days fighting crime locally and trying to keep his secret identity from friends and family. All the while, he’s waiting for his next major assignment from Tony Stark, orders which never seem to come. But there’s trouble brewing…

The cast is terrific in this movie. Most notably, Michael Keaton (ex-Batman) is really believable in his role.

Captain America, who of course was on the opposite side of the “civil war,” does not get treated nicely by this film.

MOANA

moana

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016

When her idyllic homeland becomes blighted by a spreading curse, the Chief’s daughter sets out on a quest to find the fallen hero who triggered the curse, and make him correct his wrongdoing.

The early part of the film was my favourite because it was so insanely cute! Pua the adorable pig, the little sea turtle, and baby Moana! Hnnngg!

The rest of the movie played out like a pirate adventure starring a capable heroine. It was somewhat predictable, but satisfactorily enjoyable nonetheless.

Another highlight was the animated/moving tattoos covering Maui’s body, which not only looked impressive, but was literally a character of its own.

I felt pretty meh about most of the soundtrack; not because it was bad, only that it was just not my kind of music.

BLAME!

blame

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

Like the TV series KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA, this film is also an adaptation of a Nihei Tsutomu manga by animation studio POLYGON PICTURES. As such, the 2 projects have a similar gritty, dark, monochromatic aesthetic. Certainly, there are still limitations on how good CGI animation can look, but POLYGON is demonstrating here that they currently do the best work in this field. The background images and the action sequences, in particular, are stunning.

BLAME! takes place in a post-apocalyptic sci-fi setting in which the centralized technology operates blindly on its own, no longer recognizing the commands of humans. Instead, humans are seen as a threat to the system and are brutally purged by the Safeguard whenever they are detected. One small village of people known as Electro-Fishers has barely gotten by for decades, trapped in a protected space. But now they face extinction from starvation.

I would have expected one of the draws of the film to be Sakurai Takahiro as the lead character. Unfortunately, you might be disappointed if you are here for Sakurai, since the mysterious hero Killy hardly ever speaks! It’s a good thing (for me) Miyano Mamoru is also in this thing, in a supporting role, and his character actually gets to talk.

I was a bit disturbed by the rough way in which Killy handled the remains of Cibo. Yes, it was clear that she was basically a machine; but regardless, she looked human! I was also suitably terrified whenever the Safeguard activated to exterminate the villagers.

Some things do not get fully explained during the film, such as how Killy and Cibo came to be. Everything is also not resolved for everyone, so the door is open for a potential continuation of the story down the line.

WONDER WOMAN

WONDER WOMAN

3.25 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

A few weeks ago, we finally got out to the theatre to see WONDER WOMAN. I enjoyed it a lot. Rather than your typical modern-day superhero movie, this was set amidst the fighting and espionage of World War I. Obviously, there were some fantastical elements, but most of the developments were pretty grounded. Even Diana’s abilities were mainly the result of years of rigorous training.

For only the story itself, I was going to rate the film at 3 stars. The extra 0.25 is for Gal Gadot’s riveting portrayal of the lead character. I liked how Diana was somewhat naïve and idealistic, and yet strong and fearsome too. Depending on the situation, her demeanor could range from appearing fierce and determined to gentle and even sweet. She was just really great in this role.

MUMON – THE LAND OF STEALTH (Shinobi no Kuni)

MUMON

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

This year’s Toronto Japanese Film Festival came to a close last Wednesday night with the North American premiere of Shinobi no Kuni, a rousingly enjoyable action movie set during the Sengoku period. Director Nakamura Yoshihiro was on hand to introduce the film and answer questions afterward.

Iga Province used to be renowned for its fearsome, highly-skilled ninja for hire. The Iga would kill without question if the price was right. Apparently, they would even sell out their own flesh and blood. As Oda Nobunaga’s forces approached their territory, in his mission to unify Japan, the Iga ninja were tasked with fighting for themselves for once, a monetarily profitless venture. How would they be able to muster up the motivation?

The acting was really good all around. The cast handled the serious dramatic scenes and the absurd comedic parts with equal flair.

The soundtrack was great too. I liked the inclusion of 70s-style rock music, which was unexpected, but really worked with the mood of the film.

Recently, I was turned off by the ugly violence in another TJFF film, Himeanole. MUMON – THE LAND OF STEALTH got it right, in my opinion. Cool-looking, largely bloodless, respectful sword fights and combat scenes are absolutely the way to go.

The movie did actually address some thoughtful themes regarding morality and honour, but it was balanced out by plenty of humour. All in all, it was a whole lot of fun to watch.

THE EMPIRE OF CORPSES (Shisha no Teikoku)

Empire of corpses

2 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015

This animated adaptation of late author Project Itoh’s zombie novel takes place in a steampunk 19th century Europe in which “corpse reanimation technology” has been accepted by society as a way to provide laborers to serve the living. However, these undead never retain their souls.

Medical student John Watson secretly reanimates the body of his friend and research partner, but becomes obsessed with finding a method to return his soul as well. He gets the opportunity to search worldwide for the records of Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s work when he teams up with the British government, who also want the notes for different reasons.

First of all, the movie looked great; the art and animation were absolutely top-notch. That would be the one good reason to watch it.

The plot itself was all serious and philosophical, but it honestly didn’t make much sense to me. While it was simple to follow what was happening from scene to scene, understanding why was something else entirely. It’s kind of a failure if the audience can’t reasonably tell why the protagonists made the choices that they did, or how the villain was doing whatever he was doing (re-creating GUILTY CROWN’s Lost Christmas?…), or even what governed the behaviour of the zombies.

The name-drops of famous literary figures didn’t seem to add anything to the story either. And it was not that clear whether the ending had anything to do with Watson’s initial goal.

I confess I’ve never understood the romanticism of zombies; this film didn’t help to enlighten me.

Anyway, after watching The Empire of Corpses, my sister and I also went and re-watched the fourth episode of Space Dandy. It covered similar musings of achieving world (or universal) peace through mass zombification – except that it was conveyed much more succinctly and enjoyably.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

pirates-caribbean-dead-men-tell-no-tales

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

We are now at the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, 14 years after the release of The Curse of the Black Pearl. The series has been running for long enough that we are into next generation territory already. This film pairs Captain Jack Sparrow with Henry Turner, the grown up son of Elizabeth and Will, in a quest for the Trident of Poseidon.

Pirates of the Caribbean has always been famous for having stunning special effects, and Dead Men did not disappoint. In particular, I really liked how Captain Salazar’s hair moved as if it were permanently suspended in water – that was so cool. And, they managed to make a guillotine look like an amusement park ride – probably the most hilarious treatment of an execution device that I’ve ever seen!

It’s too bad certain action sequences were too dark to see clearly, though. Also, some of the plot developments seemed a little too convenient, but I guess it was acceptable to get things progressing more quickly.

I think I was never completely satisfied with the bittersweet way in which the original trilogy ended back in 2007. Therefore, it was good to see the issue revisited finally in this latest installment.

Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji): Book of the Atlantic

Black Butler Book of the Atlantic

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

Ciel and Sebastian board a luxury liner in order to investigate a suspicious medical society rumoured to possess a treatment that prolongs life. It’s a mixture of business and pleasure for our duo, as they have friends who are also on the ship for vacation.

Anyway, disaster ensues. Double disaster, actually – think Titanic, with zombies.

I had read criticisms beforehand that the animation was not of the highest quality, and I’d have to agree. The CG rendering of the ship and its passengers looked really stiff. The action scenes seemed all right, but characters were roughly drawn when not shown in close-up. (Close-up art looked great.)

I didn’t find Snake that amusing here (I can’t remember: did I ever?), but otherwise, the absurd humour worked most of the time. Several of the gags were laugh-out-loud funny even.

Often, movie installments of popular franchises will tell a standalone story, and the villains are introduced and taken care of during the film’s runtime. In Book of the Atlantic, it’s more complicated than that. There are revelations about established characters that will affect the rest of the series, including one person who turns out to be deeply mixed up in the raising-of-the-dead scheme. Of course, that also means that some loose threads are left hanging at the end.

Today’s special screening was in Japanese with English subtitles. The film will screen one more time on Wednesday in English.

Chihayafuru Part I

Chihayafuru part 1

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016

I really love the Chihayafuru anime, so I went into this live action film with high expectations, but also some mild trepidation as to how successfully the content would transfer to a 2 hour movie format.

The screenplay writer made what must certainly have been difficult decisions, but the cuts and story rearrangements resulted in a streamlined production that hit all the right notes. In the places when it really mattered, no corners were cut. In particular, Taichi’s and Tsutomu’s conflicts had sufficient time to fully develop and the payoff was rewarding.

Some of the acting was a little unnatural, especially in the quieter moments, but the cast’s performance was effective in conveying humour and showing the characters’ personalities.

The good framing of the shots, use of slow motion, and the music further added to the excitement in this thrilling competitive karuta movie.