Hydra

It would be a cliché if it were true, that action movies always start off with a bang. In the opening scene of Hydra, a peeing man is attacked and dragged into a stall – piss spraying everywhere – to be stabbed repeatedly. It’s fast and brutal and that not-insignificant urinatological detail recalls Japanese shockers like Ichi the Killer. It also sets the wrong tone, quickly giving way to a moody, synth-infused credits sequence tracking a long drive home and deflating the excitement. It’s unfortunate, and this review is the worst kind to write. Hydra should be a success story on the order of The Raid or John Wick, and it follows that formula: the talent showcase. This is the directorial debut of Kensuke Sonomura, whose work you may have seen floating around the Internet accompanied by “holy shit, what,” in the form of a high-speed fistfight with, say, Chris Redfield or maybe Raiden and a U.S. senator. Without knowing it, I’ve been enjoying Sonomura’s work as an action director for decades, since Godzilla: Final Wars and through Hard Revenge Milly to Gantz: 0. I’d always assumed this frenetic, anti-gravity action choreography was a broader cultural product – “so Japanese” – when in fact, it’s the brainchild of one twisted genius. … More Hydra

And Hideaki Anno as Ultraman

So, Shin Ultraman premiered not long ago and it’s Ultra-smashing up the box office (Ultra Smash being a signature Ultraman move). The review bytes I read reflect the response to the trailer, that it’s a lighter version of Shin Godzilla — that’s all I need. I’m no Ultra scholar, so I don’t know how much political commentary factored into the original. Perhaps with Hideaki Anno ceding the director role entirely to Shinji Higuchi this time, there you have it? Well, that’s not really what a director does. And besides, as I learned today, Anno had a much more important role to play: Ultraman. … More And Hideaki Anno as Ultraman

I Need a Herb

Tomorrow I’ll be booting up an old favorite, Resident Evil 5, to play with a friend over online co-op. This game has remained significant to me for two reasons: one, it was probably the last title from my golden age of video games, back when it was couch co-op. My buddy and I had done … More I Need a Herb

Spirited Away

Setting upon the ocean with her mentor Lin, our heroine Chihiro looks back to see No Face stumbling out of the great bathhouse. However much a ghost stumbles, he is dizzy after his recently ejected meal of three people. Chihiro calls out to him, “Over here!” and Lin just says, “We don’t need him.” You know, not “He ate and spat out three people,” which was only part of his earlier rampage. It’s a casual kind of absurdity, one that doesn’t tug at incredulity because it feels earned. In fact, this is a film that gets funnier as it goes on, which is the opposite of how these things usually go – you know, movies that make me cry. You want to start funny to soften up the audience, and then hit them with tragedy, but not this time. Spirited Away understands that half of any joke, same as any wisdom, is the person making it, so its breathtaking fantasy adventure is premise for revealing the depths of people – none of whom are “human.” … More Spirited Away

The Princess Mononoke and I

What’s the best Hayao Miyazaki movie? You don’t know how much it drives me crazy that my answer is Spirited Away and not Princess Mononoke. Yes, the one about the little girl who gets a job at the spa, while the fantasy epic about war and gods doesn’t crack my Ghibli top five. How I wish it did! It’s the kind of movie I hope they make every time, but each successive adventure seems to shrink in scale, down to bean level. I’ve seen Princess Mononoke three times now, at different times in my life, and I’ve sat with the same conclusion each time: I just don’t like it that much. Very, very crazy. … More The Princess Mononoke and I

11/07/2021 – Gears of Metroid

Gears of War 2 remains symbolic to me of my very first friendship. My buddy and I grew up together and played co-op games like Bomberman 64: The Second Attack up through the Halo series. He was particularly fond of Gears of War, and while I liked it well enough, I came to admire his fandom — this coming from a guy who was not and likely never would be a self-described “nerd.” I’ll always remember the date Gears of War 2 was released — 11/07/08 — though I had no idea it would be our last game. Nothing tragic happened, we simply parted ways shortly into high school. … More 11/07/2021 – Gears of Metroid

Those American Godzilla Movies Strike Again

Who would’ve thought we’d make it to the year 2021? More that such a number could ever be real than those of us who’ve survived ought to ask this question. Because aside from the considerable turmoil of history in a perpetual state of climax, that number alone is the stuff of science-fiction. Blade Runner took place two years ago. Johnny Mnemonic takes place this year. I know that millions of Americans quit their jobs over the summer, including myself. I returned home to New England after six years in Los Angeles. A natural arc, we might say, but to me, 2021 is an afterlife. It’s too many years after the logical terminating point. We stopped seeing each other, stopped making physical contact; we have to process the world through literal filtration. It’s a world of screens and constant mediation. Even the movies don’t feel real. … More Those American Godzilla Movies Strike Again

Moon Over Tao: Makaraga

This is it. After the Zeiram duology and Mechanical Violator Hakaider, director Keita Amemiya turns in his final live-action feature. Three years later, Yuko Moriyama would retire from film without a word. The end of an era, and it’s bittersweet but satisfying that Moon Over Tao is the swan song. Unlike the adaptations Hakaider and Amemiya’s debut Mirai Ninja, and even the Zeirams which incited a franchise — however modest — Moon Over Tao stands alone. It is purer, and landing at the end of a directing career, it possibly commands a larger budget. Very likely, this will be our most vivid glimpse into an auteur’s mind, to which “purity” is surely the theme. Still, my favorite aspect of the Amemiya mythos is the ship between director and actress. Where usually the director’s relationship or obsession with the lead is uncomfortable (Underworld, Planet Terror, Final Fantasy XIII), Amemiya continues to lens Moriyama with the same low-angled awe as he does the giant animatronic monster. I believe she’s a wholesome muse, and the ship culminates here with three times as many Yuko Moriyamas as usual. … More Moon Over Tao: Makaraga

06/12/2021 – “We’ve Found Ourselves in a Village, a Resident Evil Village”

Resident Evil is a great stress test for my unified transmedia theory! That’s redundant, but I’d like to emphasize my concern here. In any given entry in the long-running zombie series, you’ll see inappropriate martial arts, superpowers, pretty boys, meme-making dialogue, boulder-punching, and a bestiary of such zoological scope it’s breathtaking. In that regard, it’s far closer to Pokémon than most movies of its ilk and their galdern, premature satisfaction with the simple zombo. So much to say, Resident Evil is weird. … More 06/12/2021 – “We’ve Found Ourselves in a Village, a Resident Evil Village”