Thespian Equestrian | Ran (1985) Review

The horses and the horse riders are put through the wringer in Ran, the final epic of Akira Kurosawa and perhaps his greatest film. I saw horses struggling through water coming up to their necks, soldiers falling off horses, and horses just about to trample a soldier who fell off his horse. It’s a movie entitled “Chaos,” after all! And, well, that’s about as fresh an angle I can manage for this or any Kurosawa title, the director being so widely studied and appreciated. Of course, I’ve come into this one for the first time nearing the age of 30, long after film school let out. I have nothing to add to the conversation, so take this review on a humble blog as a missive – delivered by horseback – that I’d like the conversation to continue. … More Thespian Equestrian | Ran (1985) Review

Beautiful China Doll | Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) Review

If you were to accuse me of disliking this film simply because it’s an insensitive American portrayal of an Asian culture, my only objection would be the word “dislike.” I disliked the movie the first time I saw it, in high school as part of AP English Literature – parents, if you were wondering what your kids are getting up to at school – where we also read the book. I didn’t remember much, other than it wasn’t that good but the Spielbergian style was sort of amusing. Well, TVs back in 2011 sucked, especially ones wheeled into public school classrooms. I don’t know what I saw in even the cinematography. This is, quite possibly, the worst movie I’ve ever seen. … More Beautiful China Doll | Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) Review

A Shimmering Vegetable Death | Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) Review

Godzilla vs. Biollante is good. Especially for the Heisei era, it’s held in high regard among Godzilla movies. Surprisingly, it derives a lot of its profitable ambition from being a true sequel to Return of Godzilla, imagining what the world would be like after a giant monster attack. We find that international corporate interests are competing for Godzilla cells, whose magic properties have the potential to shift world power. In the fictitious and ridiculous Middle Eastern country “Saradia,” a nationalized oil firm plans to harvest the cells’ immortality to grow vegetation in the desert, divesting the region of its reliance on a valuable but limited resource. Meanwhile, the American company Bio-Major resorts to terrorism to claim the cells, as their science experiment would neutralize the threat posed by nuclear missiles. Somehow, in the midst of this political spy thriller, a giant rose emerges from the sea, and Godzilla burns it with the heat ray. … More A Shimmering Vegetable Death | Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) Review

Shiny New Toys | The Return of Godzilla (1984) Review

It was, for me as well, a long-awaited return, as this 1984 film truthfully entitled “Godzilla” didn’t see a home video release in the United States until May 2016. By that time, we’d abandoned the term “home video!” I mean, I waited longer than contemporary audiences had between this film and the previous installment, 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla, and as such, had viewed 2016’s Shin Godzilla before this one. I knew that The Return of Godzilla was an attempt to take Godzilla “back to its roots” – that old chestnut – and featured American and Soviet politicians arguing with the Japanese in conference rooms. Sure sounds like the 1980s version of Shin Godzilla, but with a little more cheese and vintage effects. What I got was far closer to the 1954 original, a lumbering near-docudrama – with a little more cheese and vintage effects. … More Shiny New Toys | The Return of Godzilla (1984) Review

Action Master Takes a Break | Hydra (2019) Review

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 Action Master Takes a Break | Hydra (2019) Review

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

All the Wonders | Spirited Away (2001) Review

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 All the Wonders | Spirited Away (2001) Review

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