CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

captain america civil war

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016

The Avengers are coming under fire from the public, and feeling their own regrets, over the collateral damage that happens during their missions. The UN proposes the Sokovia Accords to govern the deployment of the Avengers; but this divides their members, as some of them cannot stomach the political interference into their activities.

It’s a valid argument: what is the right amount of autonomy or oversight for an organization such as the Avengers? The film does a fine job of presenting both angles of the dispute, represented mainly by Captain America and Iron Man on opposite sides. Meanwhile, a number of other plots are unfolding which further threaten to tear the team apart.

The movie features great characterization, as usual, of each of the superheroes, especially Captain America and Iron Man. I really liked Black Widow too. Peter Parker makes an appearance in this film and he’s really funny, as Spider-Man ought to be. Is it too soon for another Spider-Man reboot? I don’t know. If what we get here is any indication, I think it could work!

RUROUNI KENSHIN: Kyoto Inferno / The Legend Ends

rurouni-kenshin-kyoto-inferno-the-legend-ends

Both: 3 stars (out of 4)

Both: Released 2014 (in Japan)

These represent the second and third films in the trilogy and cover the Kyoto Arc. The first film came out in 2012.

Compared to the source manga, the narrative is much compressed and rearranged, as with the first Kenshin film. It works okay as a movie, but once again, some transitions don’t completely make sense if you think about them.

Most of the individual fights between various characters have been cut; a necessity, as the intricacies and meanings would have been difficult to convey in this medium. I do regret we didn’t get to properly see the battle at Aoi-ya, in which 2 or 3 of Shishio’s Juppongatana were defeated by “women and children,” namely Kaoru, Misao, and Yahiko.

That brings me to my primary complaint, which is still the weak characterization of Kaoru. My image of her is of an open-minded young lady who is also bossy, strong-willed, and courageous. She lives by her progressive ideals of forgiveness and protecting life, but it’s not to say that she is a childishly naïve pacifist, either. From the manga (and anime), I could understand how she would be a source of strength and inspiration for Kenshin, but here she seems like just a nice girl with a pretty face.

Sadly, Yahiko, and Shishio’s woman, Yumi also lost a good chunk of their personality in the transition to film.

Soujirou was so good, though. Ryunosuke Kamiki really got his character’s scary-polite killer-child nature down. Soujirou represents an extreme version of what Kenshin used to be, and I’m glad his scenes were well-depicted in the films.

The many action and sword-fighting scenes throughout were absolutely gorgeous and thrilling; honestly, those alone are enough to make these movies worth seeing. There’s a whole lot to like in this adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin and I’m happy I got to experience these live-action films on the big screen at long last.

PARASYTE (Kiseijuu) (Part 1)

parasyte-part-one

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2014 (in Japan)

This is the live-action retelling of the story of Parasites invading human bodies and turning them into cannibals. Shinichi’s quick thinking stops his Parasite from taking his brain when he is attacked, but now he is part-Parasite (in his right arm) and he and Migi are caught in the middle of the conflict between humans and Parasites.

I have not read the PARASYTE manga, so my reference for comparison will be the anime series which aired in 2014-2015. As far as I know, it was a fairly faithful adaptation of the original source material. Basically, this film was a streamlined, nicely compressed version of the tale. While it covered a lot of material in a short time, the important pieces, including the horror and humour, were left intact.

The arc involving Kana was skipped entirely, which was wise considering the time constraints, however, Kana fans may be disappointed at the exclusion. And there was not as much detail on the gradual evolution of Migi (or Shinichi), but I think the gist of their development came through; it’s hard to say for sure how effective it was, since obviously, this was not my first exposure to the story.

In contrast to the Rurouni Kenshin films, which screened on the same day as this, I do like what they did here with the female lead. Satomi of the anime was a pretty bland nice-girl. In the film, they eliminated 2 of the secondary female characters, with the result of Satomi ending up with a greater role and more personality.

The monstrous creatures looked great; the special effects in general were fantastic. Foley artist Goro Koyama was even on hand at the screening to give a demonstration of the techniques he used to create the sound effects in the film, which was a nice treat.

The Magnificent Nine

the magnificent nine

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016

In 1700s feudal Japan, several people devise a plan to save their suffering village from ruin by lending money to their lord in order to earn interest. Some of them get the money by selling off all of their belongings. There is no personal benefit for each of the participants, as all proceeds go to supporting the village.

It takes years for the funds to be collected and more years to convince their lord to accept the deal.

This is apparently based on a true story, and if the film is to be believed, what’s really remarkable is that even though some of the men were more miserly and self-interested than others, there was no dishonesty at all. Multiple times, just when it seemed that someone or other would be out for themselves, it was revealed that they actually had good intentions.

It certainly was a feel-good story and pretty inspiring that it could happen. It was a real miracle that so many altruistic people happened to come together and managed to accomplish something great.

Nagasaki – Memories of My Son

nagasaki memories of my son

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015 (in Japan)

On August 9, 1945, Nobuko’s son Koji perished when the atomic bomb fell on Nagasaki. On the third anniversary of the tragedy, Nobuko resigns herself to the fact that he is really gone and that she should move on with her life. She advises Koji’s girlfriend Machiko to do the same. That night, Koji starts appearing to his mother as a ghost. They talk and reminisce about the past. Meanwhile, we follow Nobuko’s interactions with the other people in her life, including Machiko.

Nagasaki – Memories of My Son is a very personal, simple story that perfectly captures and conveys the thoughts and emotions of its characters. It is profoundly sad, but the whole thing is not just a downer, either. There are moments of levity and hopefulness too.

In at least one instance, the characters marvel at how incredible America was, creating impressive things like Hollywood movies as well as nuclear weapons. Lines like that reflect the soft humour and intrinsic sadness of the film.

I really appreciated that this isn’t the kind of movie that beats you over the head with its melodrama. The pacing is such that the viewer doesn’t actually get a chance to dwell on any one idea or emotion for too long.

After all, 3 years had passed, and if anything, Nobuko was accepting of her lot in life; she held no particular resentment or bitterness about her loss. But the sadness that she kept inside her heart, the unspoken mourning over wasted hopes and dreams, that hit me straight in the gut.

This is a truly excellent, powerful film that perfectly accomplishes what it sets out to do. I’m glad I got to experience it. It really affected me. However, it was so brutally, emotionally draining that I don’t think I could ever watch it again.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION

Mission Impossible rogue nation

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015

I missed my chance to see this film when it was in theatres. I finally managed to catch it during my recent flight home from Tokyo; and I enjoyed it a lot. It was funny right off the bat, followed by a stunning plot twist! The thrilling action and humour carried over during the rest of the movie as well.

Honestly, I can’t remember much about the previous installments of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and whether they were the same way, but I really liked how flawed and fallible Ethan Hunt was shown to be. Other characters were questioning the soundness of his motives and his methods. Although his successes were certainly due in part to his exceptional skill and determination, if it weren’t for his reliable comrades and plain good luck, none of it would have been possible; and that was made obvious.

Props to Air Canada’s in-flight entertainment system, which is vastly improved from just a few years ago. Navigation is easy and pages load quickly. I was watching in English and it was possible to turn the subtitles on. This is especially useful as sometimes it is hard to hear in a noisy environment like a plane cabin. That said, the dialogue and sounds seemed pretty clear through my earphones anyway, a credit to both the film and the system probably.

PSYCHO-PASS: THE MOVIE

PsychoPass-movie

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015 (in Japan)

Inspector Akane Tsunemori gets a lead on Shinya Kougami’s whereabouts from the Chief and leaves the country to look for him. PSYCHO-PASS: THE MOVIE further expands on the benefits and risks of the mental-state profiling Sibyl System, including ways of misuse, as Japan exports the technology to a corrupt, war-torn nation known as SEAUn.

There are many great action sequences throughout the film. Cinematography and sound effects are on par with those of a Hollywood movie as well.

The theatrical version is English-dubbed. At the time that I ordered my ticket, however, the screening was listed as Japanese with subtitles, and I haven’t completely forgiven the switcheroo. To be fair, Funimation really did an excellent job with this English edition. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had already seen 2 previous seasons of PSYCHO-PASS with the Japanese voices, I would have had zero issues with the dub.

You don’t need to watch PSYCHO-PASS 2 before seeing this film. (In fact, don’t watch season 2 – it was terrible.) You don’t even need to watch the first season, apparently. We saw the film with several people who only had basic knowledge of Psycho-Pass and the Sibyl System and they were able to follow everything with very little difficulty. Obviously, you can get more out of the interpersonal dialogue if you’re familiar with the events of season one, but it isn’t essential to the enjoyment of the film.

I can pretty much recommend PSYCHO-PASS: THE MOVIE for anyone, even non-anime fans, who appreciates dystopian sci-fi with a serving of action, intrigue, and exploding criminals.

LOST & FOUND

LOST&FOUND

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015

The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011 took more than 15,000 lives and swept away whole towns and villages off the eastern coast of Japan. Subsequently, debris began washing ashore all the way across the Pacific Ocean. This documentary follows several American and Canadian beachcombers in their efforts to reunite lost objects with their original owners.

Compared to the survivors’ overwhelming losses, the retrieved items, such as a buoy, a volleyball, and a bike helmet, seem trivial. However, the value of those articles lies not just in the past memories associated with them, but also with the new connections forged with their return. Therefore, I really liked how one of the Alaskan beachcombers added his own artwork to one of the items. He was clearly nervous about how it would be received, but it perfectly symbolized the value-added nature of this kind of endeavour.

THE DANISH GIRL

the danish girl

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015

Based on the true story of Lili Elbe, one of the first patients to undergo sex reassignment surgery, back when the procedure was being pioneered in 1930s Germany.

I would have liked to have seen things more from Einar/Lili’s point of view and to know what was going through her mind. Understandably, that would have been really hard to get across in a visual medium, and instead, the story was told mainly through the eyes of Einar’s wife, Gerda.

Alicia Vikander as the supportive wife was the real star of the show. Her nuanced, Oscar-bait performance truly made the film worth seeing.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

star wars the force awakens-700x350

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015

I actually saw the movie several weeks ago and I was thinking of not reviewing it, since it seems like it will never be a good time to openly discuss this highly-anticipated sequel to the legendary franchise. After some discussion with Bini, however, I started to think it might be possible to say a few things without giving too much away.

The Force Awakens is not the best thing I have seen ever, but the film is respectably good and for the most part, lives up to the hype. There are nice callbacks to previous installments, great action scenes, likeable new (and old) characters. The new little droid, BB-8, scores major points for cuteness. And there’s even a cameo from The Lord of the Rings.

I have to say, I thought the overall “map” plotline was… a little hard to believe. However, I’m willing to reserve judgement on that, as it is possible future developments might add some context that isn’t apparent now. We’ll see.

There was just one small part that definitely did disappoint, and that was the too-easy shield-disabling scene. The character in question seriously did not think to secretly call for help or set off an alarm? At the very least, she could have done some stalling; it was obvious the people who were threatening her didn’t know the first thing about what she was doing (otherwise, they wouldn’t need her)!

For anyone who is new to Star Wars, it is best to have some familiarity with the original trilogy, Episodes IV, V and VI, (though not necessarily the prequels) before watching this. For established fans, I say: try to keep an open mind. They may not be reinventing the wheel with this film, but it can be a very fun ride nonetheless.