Wednesday, April 30, 2014

We've been eating Gamera, part 0: Ever since I was a lower-case g

Gamera isn't the most important, or the most influential, or the most popular Japanese monster.  That just means the Guardian of the Universe may have to content himself with simply being the best.  This series of reviews is dedicated to my very favorite turtle.

Sure, thanks to MST3K, we've all probably seen the five Gamera movies they riffed twenty times apiece, but unlike the majority of the English-speaking world, my own first exposure to Gamera wasn't alongside Joel and the Bots.  Instead, an unhealthy fraction of my childhood was spent witnessing sweaty men in reptile costumes wrestle in front of an overcranked camera while Japanese people shouted badly-dubbed expository dialogue at each other in cutaway shots.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Masaki Kobayashi, part I: Groovin' all week with you

Masaki Kobayashi may not be the first or even the fifth name you think of when you think of Japanese cinema.  This series of reviews is dedicated to why this is wrong.

(Musuko no seishun)

Boys will be boys, and dads will be dads, even in post-war Japan.

Directed by Masaki Kobayashi
Written by Fusao Hayashi and Sadayo Nakamura
With Ryuji Kita (Dad), Kuniko Miyake (Mom), Akira Ishihama (Haruhiko), and Motoji Fujiwara (Akuhiko)

Spoiler alert: severe

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Acts of killing, part IV


Finally responding to all those complaints that Merantau and The Raid simply had too much human feeling, Gareth Evans has removed as much as he could from The Raid 2 without casting fighting robots.  With that caveat, however major, this sequel is everything you could have hoped for, contributing powerfully to what is already shaping up to be a truly excellent year in film.

Written and directed by Gareth Evans
With Iko Uwais (Rama), Cecep Arif Rahman (The Assassin), Very Tri Ulisman (Baseball Bat Man), Julie Estelle (Hammer Girl), Arifin Putra (Ucho), Oka Antara (Eka), Alex Abbad (Bejo), Tio Pakusodewo (Bangun), and Yayan Ruhian (Prakoso)

Spoiler alert: moderate—there is only one spoiler in this review, and oddly enough, it relates to the very first scene of the film.  But still, it surprised as well as dismayed me, and The Raid 2 simply cannot be talked about in relation to its predecessor without describing it, so consider yourselves advised.

Acts of killing, part III


Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais' first foray into the wild and wooly world of martial arts cinema may wind up known to history principally for how it laid the groundwork for The Raid, but their Merantau is not just important for what it taught the two men: it is a vividly memorable success on its own terms.

Written and directed by Gareth (Huw?) Evans
With Iko Uwais (Yuda), Sisca Jessica (Astri), Alex Ahbad (Johni), Mads Koubal, dubbed by Philip Hersh ("Mr. Boss" Ratger), Laurent Buson (Luc), and Yayan Ruhian (Eric)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Acts of killing, part II


There are 800 million stories in the naked mega-city.  This is one of the more straightforward ones.  In just about the best possible way.

Directed by Pete Travis
Written by Alex Garland
With Karl Urban (J. Dredd), Olivia Thirlby (J. Anderson), Wood Harris (Kay), Langley Kirkwood (J. Lex), Domhnall Gleeson (The Clan Techie), Warrick Grier (Caleb), and Lena Headey (Ma-Ma)

Spoiler alert: severe

Monday, April 14, 2014

Acts of killing, part I

(Serbaun maut)

If you're looking for the beating, vital heart of cinema, you need look no further.

2011 Indonesia/2012 USA
Written and directed by Gareth Evans
With Iko Uwais (Rama), Donny Alamsyah (Andi), Joe Taslim (Jaka), Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog), Pierre Grunyo (Wahyu), and Ray Sahetapy (Tama)

Spoiler alert: severe

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

This is a hotel for ants!


Wes Anderson's best-looking, funniest film, and Goddamn is that better than good enough. The Grand Budapest Hotel lacks the high emotion of Anderson's very best, but it remains what it is: exuberance and excellence incarnate.

Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Hugo Guinness and Wes Anderson
With Ralph Fiennes (Gustave H.), Tony Revolori (Zero Moustafa as a young man), Adrien Brody (Dmitri), Willem Dafoe (Jopling), Saoirse Ronan (in a good movie for once), and many, many more!

Spoiler alert: mild

Sunday, April 6, 2014

William Sadler is Number One


Enviable talent combines to bring a powerful beginning, middle, and end to a classic superheroic tale.  Then they combine again to make another hour or so of movie.

Directed by Joe Johnston
Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
With Chris Evans (Steve Rogers), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes), Hugo Weaving (The Red Skull), Haley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Tommy Lee Jones (Col. Chester Phillips), Toby Jones (Arnim Zola), and Samuel Jackson (Nick Fury)

Spoiler alert: severe


If Captain America: The First Avenger gave us half of one of the best superhero films ever made and half of one of the dullest, Captain America: The Winter Soldier can certainly claim to be more even.

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (based hardly at all on the comic by Ed Brubaker)
With the above, as appropriate, as well as Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson), and Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce)

Spoiler alert: severe, but basically nonexistent if you've read any Captain America comics, or possibly if you've previously been exposed to any form of fictional narrative whatsoever