WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL?

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2013 (TIFF Encore Presentation)

Amid ongoing gang wars, a yakuza boss’s wife is about to be released from jail after doing time for murder. He has promised to show her a movie with their daughter as the star. Meanwhile, there’s a group of amateur filmmakers who are willing to lay down their lives in the service of creating the ultimate action flick.

WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? is bloody, crazy violent, and also absurdly funny. The characters are surprisingly likeable, as well, despite being a bunch of murderous gangsters and idiots.

At the end of the day, though, I kind of hoped that there would be a point to all the carnage, some more plot, if you will, but there was not.

Don’t get me wrong; I still enjoyed the film. I think I had a smile on my face the entire time except when I was wincing at the butchery – and sometimes it might have been both at once. Taken as an unrestrained celebration of glorious, comedic violence, the film is a rousing success.

DJANGO UNCHAINED

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2012

This western-actioner is pretty much what one would expect from a Quentin Tarantino film.  It manages to be smart and dumb at the same time and there’s no skimping on gore.  It takes place in the American deep south a couple of years before the Civil War.  Like LINCOLN, it covers the topic of slavery, although the 2 films couldn’t be more different in terms of presentation and tone.

Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx deliver strong performances in their roles of dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz and his eventual partner, slave-turned-bounty hunter Django.  Django’s ultimate goal is to rescue his wife Broomhilda from the Candieland plantation, but there’s a lot of character- and plot-development enroute.

DJANGO UNCHAINED is brutally violent, with copious amounts especially toward the end.  Fortunately, it is frequently amusing too.  Just one example: a pre-raid meeting held by the white supremacists in which they air their grievances about the headgear they are supposed to wear.

Going in, the running time of nearly 3 hours gave me pause, but ultimately, the movie didn’t end up feeling too long.

(On a side note, seeing Dr. Schultz’s cute horse made me nostalgic for another cute horse: Comet, from The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.)

BLANK SLATE manga review

BLANK SLATE, by Aya Kanno

I picked up this manga almost on impulse. I had some money on a gift card that I wanted to use up. The art looked pretty and dark. And, the whole series is only two volumes long, so it fit my budget nicely.

Zen, our main character, is an amnesiac, cold-blooded killer who reluctantly ends up investigating the mysteries of his past. Be prepared to leave your moral expectations at the door before reading these books, because there’s a lot of senseless violence perpetrated by the “good guy”.

It turns out the first chapter is its own stand-alone story, then the rest, chapters 2 to 8, represents the main story.

Volume one (chapter 1) – brief impression

The protagonist of this first tale, Russo, bears some physical resemblance to Takumi from NANA, with lighter-colour hair. I remember Nana (Hachi) used to say that Takumi might have become a yakuza if he hadn’t found an outlet in music.

Well, imagine Takumi as an underworld hitman who meets his match in master criminal Zen. Pretty. BLoody. Good!!

Volume one (chapters 2 to 4) – brief impression

The main story starts here and it’s somewhat milder than the first chapter. There’s less violence and the relationships between the characters are a bit more predictable. The artwork continues to be attractive, despite some instances of shrunken head.

The main characters spend much of chapter 4 in military uniform, so that’s some nice fanservice right there.

Volume two (chapters 5 to 8)

Good, focused, plot developments. Some of the translation work seems a little weak, making some lines difficult to understand within the narrative. Also, Zen apparently hasn’t lost the “last 20 years” of his memory, since he can remember back almost 10 years! Don’t know if that one’s the fault of the author or the translator.

As before, all of the characters are attractive, even the bad guys. Of course, once you get familiar with this manga, you’ll know that there are very few non-villian characters to be found.

Fairly satisfactory ending, though there could have been more story still. I felt some of the deaths were a bit unnecessary and illogical; even though I originally expected an even higher body count after that first bloody chapter.

BLANK SLATE would probably make a good anime. There’s enough material for 12 or 13 episodes, maybe with room for quality “filler” like chapter 1.