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Cries & Whispers (The Criterion Collection)
Cries & Whispers (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ Harriet Andersson
Offered by newbury_comics
Price: $20.25
54 used & new from $12.72

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ingmar Bergman's Film is Rich in Symbolism and Immersed In Disturbing Emotion, December 4, 2009
Swedish director's Ingmar Bergman's "CRIES AND WHISPERS" is among the few foreign language films that was nominated for the best picture academy award and on that same year won best photography in the same event. The film is emotionally powerful, beautiful and quite frankly very frightening in the manner Bergman executes its premise. Many would notice its very religious overtone and may even compare it to "The Exorcist" in some ways. Agnes (the dying sister) tests the devotion of the those around her much like Regan from the "Exorcist" did because of something horrible that dwelt within. Bergman is a master of pessimisms, the topic of spiritual demise and decay are meticulously placed under scrutiny in "Cries and Whispers".

Agnes (Harriet Andersson), Maria (Liv Ullman) and Karin (Ingrid Thulin) are three sisters reunited because of a testing event in the family. One of them is dying, very slowly and all so painfully. The events lead to painful revelations, reflection on relationships and the states of mind of Maria, Karin, and even Anna (the faithful maid) are brought into exposition. Agnes' nameless affliction is so taxing that she almost appears to have been possessed and takes on supernatural dimensions.

Bergman's "Cries and Whispers" may be interpreted from a religious metaphysic. Bergman believed that the color red was the color of blood, passion and the soul that leads the corridors and significant set designs to be colored as such. Bergman's movie is rich and definitely immersed in symbolism. From a religious metaphysic, Agnes can be seen as a Christ-like figure who bears this pain because of the sins of her sisters. The sisters may be seen as representations of the Twelve Apostles, Karin is the eldest who exhibits indifference and is quite unfriendly (the scenes where she was aided by the maid in undressing symbolized repression) while Maria is much more submissive albeit belligerent and timid. The two sisters don't get along, their personalities clash most of the time. Anna (Kari Sylwan) the maid may be seen as the Virgin Mary who takes the barely conscious Agnes on her bosom to comfort her. It is quite an enthralling and telling sequence to see Agnes resurrected in a dream sequence, the two remaining sisters become horrified and more feelings of anxiety and mistrust come to the surface rather than joy and exoneration.

Bergman's film can be interpreted without the religious undertone as a material tale. The clocks in the household represent the passage of time and our characters being at the mercy of it. We see the more demure Maria (played by Ullman) as someone who tries to seduce Agnes' doctor as he notes that her deceitful smiles can no longer hide the years and sorrows that she had experienced. Maria was their mother's favorite but has lost her ability to charm and seduce; Maria is a woman who seemed to have missed the care freeness that she seemed to emerged from childhood straight to middle aged. Karin (played by Thulin) is the eldest who has stopped feeling her husband's passion and desire. In a loveless marriage, her husband won't even touch her as she begins to learn to dislike physical contact. The scene where she inserts a shard of broken glass to her private part is an act of hysteria and the need to feel something; her deviant smile as she brushes the blood on her face exhibits the lies that dwell within a marriage as a so-proclaimed "tissue of lies and pleasure"; this some real potent stuff. Their inability to deal with Agnes sickness drives Anna to bear her breast much like a mother to symbolize the tenderness of a mother's love and more often, other people are willing to soothe one's pain than one's own family. After Agnes' funeral, we see Karin and Maria touching and being compassionate with each other. This is a sign that family seeks comfort in the fact of uncertainty but after the funeral, the two part ways saying that they don't need to stay friends as they dismiss Anna from her position in the house.

Bergman maintains control throughout the film as Liv Ullman plays her Maria role with the incertitude of a woman who wishes the innocence of childhood may be carried over to adulthood. Ingrid Thulin plays her role as a cold and unforgiving persona, that repressed most of her emotions as the eldest and went straight to adulthood. Harriet Andersson is amazing as the dying Agnes. I was floored when I witnessed the scenes when she appeared out of breath and so much in agony. The film may be a chaotic emotional experience that relies on heavy symbolism, but most of the film's entirety is based on expression than dialogue. The bare corridors, the ticking of clocks and Agnes' screams of agony provide pure atmosphere as Karin and Maria maneuver with a single candle expresses the sheer desperation of the situation that threatens to engulf them at every turn. The color red is abundant in the film from the walls and floors, the wine spilled out of frustration, the blood wiped on Karin's face, (the fadeouts are done in red than black) Bergman uses red as the interior of the soul, and despite the fact that this isn't his first colored film, he uses the use of color as its significant part.

"Cries and Whispers" (1972) is a true masterpiece in filmmaking by Ingmar Bergman. While the film is not for everyone, and more intended for true cinema fans; yet no one can deny the brilliance in its execution. The film is all about love, the terror of death and failures in reaching fulfillment. The film is an effective art house film that is quite horrific in many ways, although one would have second thoughts in labeling this as a horror film. It stages a passionate play that goes awry, and will no doubt attract viewers of art house cinema is hailed as one of Bergman's most alluring films.

Highly Recommended! [4 ½ Stars]
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 17, 2009 8:40 AM PST


The House of the Devil
The House of the Devil
DVD ~ Jocelin Donahue
Price: $5.00
62 used & new from $2.98

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 3 ½ Stars: A Refreshing Throwback to 80's Horror Movies!, November 28, 2009
This review is from: The House of the Devil (DVD)
Written, directed and edited by Ti West, "The House of the Devil" is a 2009 horror film that mixes in `slasher' elements, haunted house features and uses the "satanic cult" as its central plot element. It is a throwback horror movie that uses the film techniques, style and the look of the bygone era of the 80's. West's creation keeps it straight and simple, to keep it true to the 1980's genre of horror films. "The House of the Devil" will not prove to be the most suspenseful film ever made, but it is pretty effective for what it wants to be.

Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) is a young college student who wants to get an apartment of her own. She lucked out in finding a place owned by a kindly landlady who is willing to waive all deposits so long as Samatha can come up with the first month's rent the following week. Things look rather down for Samantha, as she drowns her concerns in pizza and chit-chat with her talkative friend Megan (Greta Gerwig). Her desperation leaves her to make a call as a babysitter for a Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan) who desperately needs assistance; only instead of a child the job is for the care of an elderly mother and Ulman is prepared to pay a generous amount for a few hours. Reluctant but her need for cash is more a priority, Samantha agrees to the deal. When Mr. and Mrs. Ulman (Mary Woronov) leaves to watch the lunar eclipse, the young house sitter soon finds out that there is something sinister afoot and her life is in deadly danger.

"House of the Devil" is a low-budget horror film with the sensibilities of 80's horror. The film looked a little grainy as was intended by being shot on 16mm film and is very thoughtful of the era that it pays homage to. The hairdos, clothes, music, art direction and set designs looked very 80's which aids in convincing the viewer that the film does occur in the 1980's. Using the plague of devil worship as the film's foundation, the film opens with text warning of the fact that Satanism was a major event during this period; even going as far as suggesting of a government cover-up to quell the potential panic. The film sells itself as a based on real events and do take note that not as a true story. It is a good gimmick to get the film going but it just doesn't seem viable the longer the movie went on as the film does have a major B-grade feel to it; this is not negative comment but rather a simple statement of its charm and sensibilities.

The film is suggestive, but barely infuriated as the direction gets Samantha going in exploring the huge, eerie house. West isn't trying to stir up the senses in a very nippy manner, the film takes its time with its screenplay as we see our main protagonist go through some feelings of weirdness as she finds out certain secrets within the home. There are also a mild snippet of violence to keep things interesting and to draw to viewer in. Ti West doesn't hide the fact that something is definitely amiss, he scrounges up some suspense driven by creepy sensations as Samantha becomes more uncomfortable with her situation in the eerie home. There are some graphic images of blood and some gore dispersed throughout, not as a cheap scare but more as a stimulant to keep the film interesting. Those who are expecting a thrill-a-minute horror movie may be a little disappointed, as the audience needs to settle in and explore the film's spooky elements.

Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov are no strangers to horror films; they have that very creepy feel to their characters as Megan seemed to have detected right away. The film does have a good final act sequence as we become privy to a demonic physicality that can bring some chills down your spine. Its final scenes do generate a lot of tension as we see the film go into overdrive; West goes on to display some bursts of violence, ghoulish imagery and bloody sprays. The film doesn't exactly give the answers to how things become the way they are, but asks its viewer to find the answers as it does make the consumption of pizza and demonic blood very problematic. It isn't exactly hard, as it has become common knowledge in the horror genre as to how spells and demonic blood can affect someone.

"The House of the Devil" doesn't assume too much and it relies more on the power of suggestive restraint rather than resorting to an abundance of gore and blood. I was impressed in the manner with which West captured the mood and atmosphere that the film could've been ripped off the vault of horror sets. The film's main weakness is the problems of it moving to the next gear, as it dawdles a little too much. The film also starts off very clichéd and in all honesty the way it gets its footing isn't very inventive. Be that as it may, West is succeeds in taking his viewer to an alarming, albeit less aggressive mood for horror. The film relies more on atmosphere than depth in characterization. "House of the Devil" is a fun watch.

Recommended! [3 ½ Stars]
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 12, 2009 6:13 PM PST


Departures
Departures
DVD ~ Masahiro Motoki
Price: $16.81
70 used & new from $4.97

52 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 4 ½ + Stars: Yojiro Takita 's Film Explores A Dark Premise With Amazing Sensibilties, November 27, 2009
This review is from: Departures (DVD)
Japanese films have always had the remarkable reputation of turning the simplest premise into something so full of moving emotions and sensibilities. Yojiro Takita's multi-award winning film "DEPARTURES" (2008) is no different. There is a lot of excessive hype surrounding the film as it has almost nearly swept the Japanese Academy awards and has been awarded the Best Foreign film honor in the recent 2009 Oscars. No film can live up to the hype it has gotten, but I have to say it has earned each and every recognition; well deserving of the commercial success it had achieved in its native land.

Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) is a cello player whose dream is shattered when the orchestra he is playing with goes broke. Left with no choice but to sell his prized cello, Daigo together with his wife Mika (beauteous Ryoko Hirosue) returns to his hometown to live in his mother's old house. In need of a new job, Daigo responds to an ad in the local paper for a job in "Departures", thinking that it may be related to travel. But much to his surprise and dismay, Daigo discovers that he had applied for a profession as an `Encofineer'; a man who performs the delicate and traditional Japanese ritual of preparing the bodies of the deceased for the departure to the next life--it pays quite well, and without even thinking about it, he accepts without even giving his wife the details of his new job.

It is not often that we become privy to a film about the beautifying of corpses, director Takita takes on the grim subject matter and gives it a commercial charm and appeal. The direction is quite meticulous in exposing the world of the mortician as we become witnesses to the Japanese customs and traditions as to how they deal with their dead. Takita shows that the profession demands a certain amount of sensitivity as we see the different reactions of those left behind by the deceased; some are angry, some are funny, most are overwhelmed by grief and some are curiously joyful. In Daigo's profession, there are no religious affiliation; they do what they do to preserve the memory of the deceased, remembering them as the way they used to be and not who they are in the present.

It is a safe bet that a premise such as this may be unusual even for Japanese audiences and one of the film's key to success is the way it executes its grim subject matter through some doses of subtle humor in the film's first act. Writer Kundo Koyama and the direction by Takita meticulously eases the premise into the audience, as we were privy to Daigo and Sasaki's encounter with an extra "thing" to a supposedly female corpse. We see Masahiro Motoki's deadpan humor as he becomes repulsed by his first job, and just how he eventually becomes comfortable with his new career. Takita cleverly illustrates the short moments in the ceremony that our morticians get to know the deceased quite intimately.

After everything sinks in, then the emotional scenes begin to take hold, as we learn more of Daigo's childhood, his problems with his wife's disapproval of his new job and his anger towards his father who had left him while he was a child to run off with a younger woman. Now this is a commercial film and we know that eventually people close to Daigo will eventually come to respect what he does for a living, it is a little predictable but the journey with which the film gets to where it wishes to go is well-played that the screenplay becomes somewhat of a melancholy with a rhythm that just looks so beautiful. Mika (played by Ryoko Hirosue) is just so lovable as the diligent wife; she is just so full of love and trust that her character represents the goodness within the Japanese woman. It was touching to see Daigo perform a ceremony in his wife's presence and director Takita carefully manipulates the camera work to show pure emotion. Takita also injects some sequences that are beautiful to awaken the emotion (sort of serves as a vanguard) as we see Daigo playing the cello on a hill as if he was reaching out again to his dreams. The film also has beautiful cinematography and emotion-inducing score to match its otherwise simple but grim premise to keep the film running at a brisk pace.

The film has two significant scenes that seemed to induce quite a few sniffles, they were injected to give a twist that plays a significant part in Daigo's life. The first one does provoke a lot of emotion; it is full of tear-inducing sequences that can definitely touch its audience. However, it does feel a little overlong that the second twist may lose some of the narrative impact to the inexperienced viewer. The two twists do work in unison in the screenplay but some may argue that Takita was working too hard to induce emotion working one twist right after the other. I didn't find anything wrong with it and I thought it stuck to its sensibilities in reflecting just how life can sometimes throw you in for a curve.

The performances are quite good, Motoki (who won best actor in Japan) and Hirosue has some dynamic chemistry between them and the supporting characters made up of Sasaki, Yuriko (co-employee played by Kimiko Yo) and the woman (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) who runs a bath house plays their own significance in the script. I loved the way Yamazaki played Sasaki, it was like a cool and quiet boss as he always seemed to say "its fine."

Despite some flaws in the screenplay that the film came dangerously close in becoming too sentimental, "Departures" is easily one of the best commercial films to come out from Japan. The last act will leave an impression that no matter how we see ourselves and others, death sometimes is the one thing that can bring a family together. The film's biggest ace would have to come from its ability to induce the proper emotion at the right minute with such simplicity. Such critical acclaim will no doubt raise the film to unreasonable expectations, and while it may not change the course of Japanese cinema, it is not pretentious and never hides behind its beautiful visual style. The way to approach this film is with tempered expectations, so that the film can touch you in its journey that is both surprising and pleasurable.

Highly Recommended! [4 ½ + Stars]

The release looks great and sounds great. The 1.78 ratio anamorphic widescreen video transfer is vivid and clean. It also has a 5.1 Dolby Digital Track Japanese language track. Subtitles are well timed and translated.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 24, 2012 8:44 AM PDT


No Title Available

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 3 ½ Stars: Action-Packed, Bloody Good Time!, November 25, 2009
Co-produced by the Wachowski Brothers (boy, these guys just like Japanese mythos) of the Matrix fame and with a screenplay written by Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski (one of my favorite writers) I knew I just had to give "NINJA ASSASSIN" a look. Being a martial arts action fan, I know what I am talking about when it comes to high-flying action, moody Asian plot elements and mysticism. Director James Mcteigue's film is a lot of fun and provides some needed action `junk' for martial arts fans and it is a fair attempt at creating a new martial arts hero.

Raizo (Korean actor Jeong "Rain" Ji-Hoon) is a deadly assassin who was kidnapped as a child to be raised and trained by the Ozunu Ninja Clan that is also known as the Black Sand Clan; the existence of this secret group of assassins is considered to be a myth. Following the execution of his childhood friend by his own clan, Raizo has severed all ties with the Ozunu and goes into hiding. He resurfaces some years later seeking revenge on the clan's leader (Sho Kosugi) that takes him on a path that crosses with a young Europol agent named Mika (Naomie Harris) who is investigating the money linked to political murders and is in turn linked to the supposed mythic Ozunu Clan. Now, Raizo must confront his former brothers and to finally find redemption for the death of his childhood friend.

The plot in "Ninja Assassin" isn't very special, it is your usual revenge flick that touches on the themes of redemption, regret and finally fulfillment of one's destiny. However, what makes it somewhat engaging is the fact that the film has that Japanese flavor and carries enough of the style that made Asian movies successful in the martial arts genre. The screenplay gives some good characterization in the part of the lead character and focuses on his development as young student and finally a man. Raizo's past is shown in the form of flashbacks, and writers Michael Sand and J. Michael Straczynski (he rewrote the script) manages to make a compelling character out of Raizo. From childhood, he has been tortured both mentally and physically by Lord Ozunu (nicely portrayed by Sho Kosugi) that proved to be his own rite of passage. His friendship with Kiriko (Kylie Goldstein) proves to be anchor within the walls of the Ozunu and his rivalry with another student Takeshi (Rick Yune) for the leadership of the clan proved to be his goal at first. Things change, and the script brings the exposition that the right woman can indeed change a man for the better, this is indeed a fact.

Alright, one isn't exactly here for an inventive plot, martial arts action films usually soar because of the exciting fights and outrageous stunts; in this regard "Ninja Assassin" doesn't disappoint. Actor Jeong Ji-Hoon does have the charisma of a young ninja warrior and he does move gracefully during the fights. The film is full of style and very cool macho posturing; this is after all, still a Hollywood flick so count on the usual extreme close-ups, tricks with CGI, and a lot of zooming in and outs that take us right in the middle of the action. The fight choreography is very good, and looks very spiffy. It is cool but Hollywood didn't know when to stop and the scenes do become rather bombastic at times, that it came dangerously close to becoming "cartoonish". Ninja's are assassins that rely on stealth and the shadows to get to their objective, while the film does have those qualities, it doesn't feel any different than other martial arts films done by Hollywood. This movie would have done better with a more restrained style, but it does have its moments. The fights are long and very bloody; I liked the fights that occurred in the police safe house and the final fight with Sho Kosugi proved very exciting. It was such a thrill to see an older Kosugi show that he still has the stuff.

The film also has a significant amount of gore and loads of blood. I was happy to see the gore and massive amounts of blood but after awhile the CGI blood effects started to wear thin. I know the effects are probably done in a manner to pay homage to Japanese arterial sprays effects but it would've been better if it used the old-fashioned red-ink. The film also uses some prosthetics enhanced with the CGI blood, the results are a little uneven as the quality of the effects swing from good to just plain unnecessary.

"Ninja Assassin" has a fair share of supporting characters and while they did manage to get things going for Raizo, I am rather undecided whether they were necessary or not. Sure, Mika had her moments and actress Naomie Harris is nice to look at, but what is up with sidekicks? Hollywood still has little faith on the lead character to pull it off. Her superior Maslow (played by Ben Miles) provides some humor but this is where the dialogue resorts to becoming too obligatory, and the supporting characters do get in the way of the action.

"Ninja Assassin" is a fun action movie to watch. Despite its flaws, I enjoyed the way the fights were spaced out and if one is looking for balls-to-walls action then this film will not disappoint. Sometimes, we need a fun martial arts film and "Ninja Assassin" may just fulfill the needs of the action junkie. The CGI blood effects may prove to be a tad excessive at times, that I was a little turned off but I managed to look past it because the screenplay does manage to make Raizo an interesting character. The film would have been better if it avoided the stereotypical sidekick affair and instead focused on the conflict between Raizo and Lord Ozunu, but hey, this is a Hollywood flick, so if you want real authentic ninja mood and action, turn your eyes to Japan.

Recommended! [3 ½ Stars]
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 20, 2010 7:58 AM PDT


Gomorrah (The Criterion Collection)
Gomorrah (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ Gianfelice Imparato
Price: $22.98
44 used & new from $6.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Powerful Truth in Naples' Criminal Underworld..., November 24, 2009
The polished portrayal and slight glorification of the workings of the criminal underworld has been dramatized in movies such as "The Godfather" and in the hit HBO smash "The Sopranos". Director Matteo Garrone's "Gomorrah" is a film based on the novel by Roberto Saviano that identifies events very similar to historical ones compared to the Scampia feud. This Italian crime saga attempts to dispense of the lure of glory, riches and power by presenting an undaunted look at the inner dealings of the Camorra crime organization.

The film is a collection of intertwining tales of the different people from different walks of life. The lives of a grocery delivery boy who wants to get a taste of criminal life, a tailor who has connections with the criminal underworld, two cocky teenagers who dream of becoming crime lords, two working business men who make their profit in dumping toxic waste and a man who distributes cash; all these people struggle to make ends meet all the while being influenced by the mob whether directly or indirectly. They try to make their reputation and money under the shadow of the Camorra.

Matteo Garrone's film may hold some similarities to the crime epic "City of God" with the manner he shoots his film. The film's look and atmosphere exude that very realistic and gritty feel that sidesteps the polished look that mainstream audiences have gotten used to over the years. The film's focused is five intertwined stories that exposes different corrupting and seductive elements that can affect the young naïve mind. The film is a powerful look on the destructive effects of the corrupt, the greedy and the callous activities encouraged by this criminal network.

The film goes into the beginnings of a criminal in the personas of the two teenagers, Marco and Ciro (Marco Macor and Ciro Petrone) and Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese), the 13-year old delivery boy who gets a taste of the lifestyle; while one ending abruptly and the other showing its advancements. The tailor, Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo) and the cash dealer, Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato) are timid individuals who many may say that they are `stuck' with their situation. Roberto (Carmine Paternoster) is young man who works for Franco (Tony Servillo) who dumps illegal waste on unused patches of land for the sake of making huge amounts of profit. Garrone brings his observational perspective in his fragmented style filmmaking that just brings his viewers into the world of the mob in the beginning, the present and the future of its many dealings. It is a bleak and unflinching vision as to what the Camorra has done to Italy that threatens to wring every cent off its citizens.

The film's dialogue is accompanied by the use of incredible close-ups to bring the film's emotions right into the face of the viewer. I thought this was a very clever move for Garrone to bring us into the depths of conversations that gives the viewer a feeling of `being there'. The film starts off on a high note with a mob hit then it takes a slower pace as we see Marco and Ciro imitating "Scarface", Don Ciro going about his daily routine and so forth. The film is a little bit of a slow burn, the energy slowly exudes from its slow build up and lets the scenes come about naturally. "Gomorrah" is very realistic so expect no polished use of colors, style and elaborate visual manipulation, the film is as straight-forward as it can be with its portrayal. The film has a fair share of violence and the more I thought about it, it may not be as disturbing as to how the violence is all connected under one strong inevitable force of nature.

The performances in the film are very good. Marco Macor and Ciro Petrone almost takes the show as they represent the raw stupidity fueled by sheer cockiness that turns them into outcasts of society. They are power hungry (they want to be Tony Montana) and mad for blood, as they wish to make their reputation. Toto (played by Abruzzese) gets a taste of mob life through his own set of rules, not by making waves but through obedience and respect; the young actor manages to bring forth a likeable yet so disturbing personality in the film's script. The recent under-grad , Roberto (played by Paternoster) represents something unnerving as even sensible, level-headed individuals can be dragged into illegal activities when the situation presents itself. Much as the film goes into the other dealings of the Camorra, I thought the manner with which Garrone brings the `youthful' perspective into play is the film's main strength; the young people are after all, any nation's future.

"Gomorrah" sidesteps any glamorization of the criminal underworld and unrelentingly paints a very real `truth'. The film is a powerful anti-mob movie, and while it does take some inspiration from glamorous Hollywood mob films such as "Scarface" and "Good Fellas", it educates us with its raw unflinching message. It doesn't give us a reason to see `crime' as something necessary or a lifestyle, but provokes a thought and a reaction with the bleakness of its premise. It paints a painful reality that when Garrone closes his film, I was awed with the fact that these intertwined stories were touched upon by truth. The film is a gut-wrenching crime drama that packs a lot of visceral punch. Garrone makes it even more powerful with its realistic natural-looking visuals that almost looks like a documentary. Compelling, haunting and brutally realistic, Matteo Garrone's "Gomorrah" nicely blends brutal violence, melodrama and art house sensibilities that it earns a highly recommended rating from me.

Highly Recommended! [4+ Stars]

Criterion boasts of a very nice if grainy 2.35 ratio anamorphic widescreen that was shot intentionally to look a little dirty to capture a realistic feel. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Italian track is very powerful as it captures the gunfire and the noises of water very nicely. Subtitles are excellent.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 8, 2009 8:12 PM PST


The Divine Weapon
The Divine Weapon
DVD ~ Jae-yeong Jeong
Offered by librex
Price: $11.95
35 used & new from $2.48

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chronicling a Significant Historical Event in Korean History...The First Rockets!, November 22, 2009
This review is from: The Divine Weapon (DVD)
Korean action swordplay epics haven't exactly reached the plateau as of yet. There have only been a few noteworthy films such as "Shadowless Sword" and "Bichunmoo". Director Kim Yu-jin's latest modestly budgeted swordplay epic "The DIVINE WEAPON" is set in the Joseon era; the film is a semi-historical tale about the creation of the first rocket during King Sejeong's reign in the 1400's. It seeks to tell a significant event in Korean history; the film is entertaining on its own right, but certain elements kept it from becoming a well-rounded spectacular epic.

Tension is all over the Korean region in 1430. Despite the fact they are a smaller region, the Joseon dynasty is flourishing but they are being controlled by the Ming dynasty who demands increased tribute and even more eunuchs (in the hundreds) to serve. Joseon's top weapons designer, Ga-Song has developed plans for powerful weaponry that may change the balance of power. One night, Ga-Song is killed but his daughter Hong-Li (Han Eun-Jeong) narrowly escapes. A close friend of her father, Chang-Kang (Ahn Sung-Kee) aids her to stay hidden and brings her to a merchant named Sul-ju (Jeong Jae-Yeong) who has issues with the court. The palace and the Joseon army are being watched very closely by representatives of the Ming court, but perhaps Sul-ju may be able to help Hong-Li decipher the secrets of the secret weapon; construct the Singijeon (a machine that can fire multiple explosive arrows) while there is still time to avert catastrophe.

"The Divine Weapon" chronicles the creation of the first rocket used in warfare in 1430. This weapon can launch special arrows as well as a huge explosive arrow for about 3 km. The film does keep its focus about the story of the rocket itself; the film carefully shows its secrets and the risks in creating such as weapon. It comes as no surprise that the film may be easy to enjoy to film fans; it portrays a historical event, the political intrigue that came during this time, there is a lot of action, there are dabs of romance and touches of humor. Kim Yu-jin knows the elements that can make a film successful in the box-office. The plotting is actually not too bad, the political conspiracies and cultural implications are brought into exposition and while there is a perfunctory love story underneath its layer, the direction doesn't focus on those elements and rather more on the Joseon struggle. The developing relationship between Sul-ju and Hong-Li does manage to pitch in some needed charm in its proceedings because of the good performances of the two protagonists.

The film does have a fair amount of characterization, but it does suffer a little from the abundance of different characters. At times, the film gets a little difficult to follow and some scenes may encourage a small disconnection to the proceedings. There is also a brutal scenes with young boys being castrated that felt a little forced to show the Ming's cruelty. I thought most of the film was saved by Sul-ju as the main protagonist. I liked the fact that he appeared very human; a profiteer who is only interested in one thing until we see his development as a patriot because of what he has seen and the sacrifices made. Hong-Li is the one factor that proves once again that women can bring out the best in a man, as she demonstrates her compassion and her willingness to lay down her life for the good of one nation. The film does have several stirring speeches that can bring out the patriotism in its viewers as the film is full of motivational flag-waving. This may have been inspired by the movie "Hanbando" since the film's producers are the same.

There is a lot of action to be had with "The Divine Weapon". The swordplay in the film looked very realistic and avoids the usual wire work in other Wuxia films. The fights are quick and serves to expose Sul-ju's skills as a swordsman as he engages skilled swordsmen in their own right. Director Kim Yu-jin saves the final grand battle sequence at the final act and I thought this was a very calculated and smart move on his part. It makes the fights part of the film's plot rather than having fights to get to the film's resolution; as it managed to generate some tension and suspense as to what would happen in the final encounter. We see the usual grand underdog battle as a mere 100+ Joseon warriors become pinned down by about 3,000 Ming mercenaries. Kim does display competence in shooting the battle scene and of course, the viewer is treated to a grand display of the power of the Singijeon artillery which up to this scene, the viewer can only guess at its capabilities. The battle scenes are quite verbose in its own right, but it felt that it was proper to the film's tone.

I rather enjoyed the fact that director Kim uses the minimal amount of CGI in the film and only uses it when absolutely necessary in the final scene. The film is also nicely shot but exercises a fair amount of restraint as to avoid the film from becoming too extravagant. The screenplay is kept moving at an even vigorous pace as to keep its viewers entertained that its 134 minute runtime went by quickly.

"The Divine Weapon" is one film that may not prove to be groundbreaking or stellar, the film doesn't exactly show us anything very memorable; but the energetic direction, the lush cinematography, good costumes and set designs are enough to keep the film aloft while its discipline and restraint kept it grounded. It isn't the grand spectacle I could've wished for but it is highly entertaining. The film is a good example of how playing one's aces well can pay off, despite any flaws a film may have.

Highly Recommended! [3 ½ + Stars]

The U.S. Dvd has good picture quality but sadly only has a 2.0 Dolby Digital Korean language track. (the Korean release has 5.1 Dolby Digital) The release is pretty bare-bones.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 28, 2009 1:39 PM PST


Evangelion: 1.01 You Are (Not) Alone
Evangelion: 1.01 You Are (Not) Alone
DVD ~ Allison Keith-Shipp
Price: $13.47
66 used & new from $2.89

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Neon Genesis Evangelion REDUX? Fans Will Love This Film..., November 20, 2009
Fans of the fantastic anime series NEON GENESIS EVANGELION will no doubt embrace "EVANGELION 1.0: You Are Not Alone". The film is the first series of four films titled the "Rebuild of Evangelion" which will be a compressed retelling of the anime series and the two big screen films with better animation, a much more tighter and compressed storyline, and the promise of a newer, better ending (fans thought that the climax in the series was unsatisfactory). Creator HideakI Anno and company know that their bread and butter lies in the majesty of Evangelion; it is an excellent blend of huge robots, shonen action, existentialism, pure human angst and apprehensive self-determination. This first film, Evangelion 1.0 is a retelling of the first six episodes.

After the events of the second impact that nearly annihilated mankind, Tokyo-3's hopes for survival lie with a 14-year old Shinji Ikari (voiced by Megumi Ogata) and his ability to pilot the EVANGALION Unit 01; a massive sentient robot designed by his father, Gendo Ikari (Fumihiko Tachiki) to fight against an alien invasion mounted upon humanity called the Angels. Shinji's hopes for a simple reunion with his father are dashed as Gendo proves to be one cold-hearted parent. Taken under the wing of commander Misato Katsuragi (Kotono Mitsuishi), the young man reluctantly fights against the invaders' awesome firepower. But for reasons only he can decipher, Shinji finds himself drawn to another EVA-unit 00 pilot, Rei Ayanami (Megumi Hayashibara)...

There is much that is left unexplained in the film since this is the first of four films planned by writer HideakI Anno and directors Masayuki and Kazuya Tsuumaki. The motivations behind the attack is hinted on and as to why and how youngsters Shinji and Rei were chosen to pilot the giant robots aren't fully explained; all the details will come later in this new series. "Evangelion" fans will no doubt be more able to fill in the gaps and may offer little in the way of surprises. Much of the film's main draw would come from the improved animation that blends traditional cell animation and CGI. It also introduces little changes to the characters' introduction but this may also prove to be the film's best assets as it strengthens the feeling of familiarity in its set designs and atmosphere that just gives a lot of depressing plot elements. For those unfamiliar with "Evangelion", this film is great way to start since the storyline is much tighter, easier to connect with and arguably more taut than the anime series.

However, there's also less to get into in a mere less than 2-hour film. The more compact storyline does work in some ways but the more verbal approach in the film's exposition makes the underlying themes and notions become a little more obvious. The methodical approach in the anime series gets a little lost which may prove to be either the film's weakness or strength depending on the viewer's perception. In this approach, Shinji's self-loathing and depression gets a little redundant quickly because he isn't given enough space to breathe and for viewers to form an attachment to him. The beauty of the "Evangelion" series if the unnerving fact that two people who are barely in their teens are fighting a war to defend mankind. I guess in this more compact approach, Shinji becomes a mere child full of self-pity rather than a sympathetic figure who has become the anime poster child for depression. Shinji appears to be depressed most of the time, and newcomers to "Evangelion" will more likely feel a little disconnected and maybe even annoyed. Japanese non-fans will still form a connection since existentialism and angst are deeply embedded in most Japanese sci-fi movies, I have some uncertainties whether it would `click' with newer American audiences.

The robot battles are awesome to behold. I really enjoyed the manner with which the Angels varied in its approaches in its attacks, each one becoming deadlier than the next. The way that the NERV team approaches its battles aren't more on brute force but more on strategy that rests on Shinji's resolve to pilot the EVA. Things don't usually work out as planned, but Shinji and Commander Katsuragi do get by. I loved the way the direction remembers to instill emotion in the pilot's cockpit; Shinji is a young, inexperienced pilot after all, it is only his resolve to stay that keeps him alive. Ayanami has more determination to see things through.

For a film supposedly marked to attract new fans, I think "Evangelion 1.0" feels more aimed to its solid fan base. The copious expositions and the familiar back story would be easily understood by fans of the series. The film is a little opaque with its storytelling at times, the complexities of the 6 episodes in the series cannot be captured in a two hour movie. This is an anime film NOT for children as it contains some nudity and suggestive themes (Katsuragi is often in suggestive positions). It is a bit early to judge whether this new "Rebuild the Evangelion" would prove as compelling as the anime series, as this is only the first of a new 4-parter. It looks almost the same and I can't say as of now if this new series would do anything different; only time will tell. However, I am enough of an EVA fan to stick around to find out.

Highly Recommended to `EVA' fans and a recommended rating to those unfamiliar with the anime series [4- Stars]

Note: Watching the film in its original Japanese language is highly advisable.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 12, 2010 1:55 AM PDT


No Title Available

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Formula Movie Built on a Heavy Dose of Steroids!, November 15, 2009
Disaster movies are a dime-a-dozen in Hollywood. The approaching year "2012" has raised several speculations from the Mayan calendar to Nostradamus to the Bible code. Many believe that the year 2012 would hold special significance in the history of mankind, many think that something life-changing would happen and an epic catastrophe may cause mankind`s extinction. Leave it to Hollywood to take advantage of the "2012" phenomenon with co-writer/director Roland Emmerich's "2012". Emmerich has two disaster movies under his belt (Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day) and his latest film "2012" follows the same formulas that made other disaster movies successful. Sure, there is nothing uncommon about "2012", following a simple formula usually means huge returns in the box-office because they do work for mainstream audiences. Following the blueprint of past blockbusters usually mean success in the box-office and this film is that exact same overused formula. "2012" is ridiculously predictable and familiar; it gives you everything you have seen before while injecting it a heavy dose of steroids.

The movie begins with two scientists in 2009 who are having a discussion about an impending doom in the year 2012, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. The Earth's crust is about to undergo a polar shift because of the bombardment of neutrinos from the sun's surface. Doctor Adrian Helmsmen (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Redbelt) brings his findings to world leaders to prepare for the eventual cataclysm in order to preserve humanity in the cost of billions in Euro-Dollars in building an ark to save the world`s finest minds and a fraction of its population. Back in Los Angeles, struggling divorced dad Jackson Curtis (John Cusack, High Fidelity) is on a camping trip with his two kids when he bumps into a conspiracy theorist (Woody Harrelson, Zombieland) who predict that the world will end in the year 2012 and that the truth is being kept secret by the governments of the world. Jackson's first reaction is disbelief, but when a horrible earthquake destroys the area where his ex-wife (Amanda Peet) shops and something clues him in to the possible truth in the warnings, Jackson must race to save his family while the entire world crumbles around them...

Let's see, Emmerich is on familiar ground in this disaster epic. A moving speech, check. A car-chase scene with earth upheavals right behind, check. A plane taking off to take our heroes where they need to go, check. Massive Tsunamis that destroy major cities and landmarks, check. A sacrifice, check. Corrupt officials, check. An ending so predictable, check. The film's plot elements are very uninspired, and truth be told the movie offers nothing we haven't seen before. Emmerich does make the special effects grander, more polished and bigger than anything we've seen before. "2012" is an adrenaline ride that can bring some to the edge of their seats. The film does look very `spiffy' and you feel each drop of debris, each loud explosion, each toppled building as Jackson's family make their way from Pasadena to the mountains of safety. It is a simple chase film with a race against time, the elements used to generate tension are the cookie-cutter kind, not to say that they weren't successful but the film doesn't manage to generate a feeling of dread throughout its entirety. It makes everything all elementary and perfunctory, as the film focuses on a family, a scientist and some key authority figures.

To hide the weaknesses of its script, Emmerich opts to overload the audience with astounding, jaw-dropping special effects so that the details of the plot will not reach our brains. The script also opts to incorporate some comedic one-liners. There is also some doses of black comedy as we see someone impersonate California Governor Schwarzenegger as his speech "the worst is over" precedes the biggest disaster in California. I guess this was an attempt to please mainstream audiences so that they can't really complain about the bleakness of the film's theme. Approaches like this appear to stem the emotions; while Hollywood calls a balance, I thought it is all formula done to make it easy to relate to. I guess I prefer my `end of the world' movies to go into truths than to become a mere action film. The film does manage to touch on the selfishness of humanity when faced with an impending disaster, the powers of the rich and several morality questions in Helmsley's speech. The conversation between a musician and his granddaughter was pretty touching albeit a bit forced. Yes, Emmerich does try to incorporate human drama, but it is a minor element that becomes outdone by its comedy and visual effects.

The characters in "2012" are pretty much your usual caricatures. There is no doubt in my mind that viewers can predict the outcome of the estranged relationship between Jackson, his ex-wife and his kids, as the new boyfriend angle has been done for years. Danny Glover plays the president of the United States. I thought he was decent as the commander in chief while Oliver Platt plays the conniving stooge that comes in the way of the `right thing'. I guess fear makes people do stupid things sometimes, and the conspiracy to hide the foreseen 2012 disaster also serves as the villain the movie. One question: if everyone knew, and humanity had the chance to come together, would more arks have been built without the almighty lure of greed?

"2012" isn't a bad movie, it is actually an entertaining dose of a disaster film that has all the elements of past disaster movies that just is so much bigger, louder and grander. Think "Dante's Peak", "The Day After Tomorrow", "The Towering Inferno", "10.5" and the "Airport" franchise all compressed into one "souped-up" action movie. I have yet to see Hollywood portray a disaster movie with the exercise of bleak and depressing truth, the loss of lives is ignored for a perfunctory happy ending and dry resolution. The film clocks in at 157 minutes, Emmerich goes back and forth from the canned melodrama and the comedic tone to keep the audience distracted in its duller moments. It works in some ways since the film is fast-paced and it feels shorter. However, the film could've used better elements in its runtime; "2012" provides crowd-pleasing fun, but isn't any disaster supposed to be dark and bleak? With the approaching Dec. 21, 2012, a film like this should provoke a thought and not to become another eye-candy rich popcorn film.

Rental, But Fans of Disaster movies may have a ball [3 Stars]
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 12, 2010 6:26 PM PDT


Samurai Princess
Samurai Princess
DVD ~ Aino Kishi
Price: $10.96
42 used & new from $0.32

18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 3 ½ Stars: Japanese Camp Appeal, "PINK" Violence, Blood and a Whole Lot of GORE!, November 10, 2009
This review is from: Samurai Princess (DVD)
From the creator of "Tokyo Gore Police" and "Machine Girl", Yoshihiro Nishimura joins director/writer Kengo Kaji (Ultra-Seven X) as action director in this latest GORE-RIFFIC Japanese spectacle "SAMURAI PRINCESS" (aka. Devil Princess). One thing I have to say is that this film is NOT for everyone and is aimed at a very specific audience namely those who love Japanese "grind house" cinema and Gore-hounds. It stars J-AV stars Aino Kishi as the heroine and Mihiro Taniguchi (Cruel Restaurant) as the villainess--so do I have your attention yet?!

In an unknown place and an unknown time, when the creation of mechas (human-like androids) are outlawed by both the laws of Buddha and the Shogun; a pair of mad killers (played by Kentarou Shimazu and Mihiro) enhanced by mysticism and machinery are committing rape and murder throughout the land for the sake of making macabre art. Among their victims are Godohimo (Aino Kishi), who after her other 11 friends are raped and killed, is left for dead. Godohimo is found by a mad scientist called Kyoraku (Mituru Karahashi) who excels in making human-like machines and a kind-hearted Buddhist nun. Godohimo is resurrected in a new body made up of the body parts of her dead friends and their souls to hunt down and exact revenge on those responsible. Joined by a mysterious stranger named Gekko (Dai Mizuno), Godohimo is now known as "Samurai Princess"; a half-human, half-machine tech-warrior bent on revenge...

The film's plot is a tad uninspired and quite frankly pretty straightforward. "Samurai Princess" is a film about revenge and redemption. It also carries the elements of atonement and regret; coupled with a hint of mysticism. The characters in the film are outrageous from rubber suits to anime/manga-inspired garb; the film exudes that silly and goofy atmosphere at times. Some viewers may become a tad confused, as the setting seems to be the samurai period (because of the costumes) at first glance, then you see modern buildings, a hairy cellphone, an electric guitar, guns, bazookas, rocket-propelled chainsaws and entrails that spew out maggots. The weaponry is as outrageous as the costumes; and while most people may see this as negatives, those used to this type of Japanese filmmaking would be right at home.

What makes "Samurai Princess" succeed is the extreme excesses of BLOOD and GORE. True, it is not as awesome as "Tokyo Gore Police" but it will do. Body parts are quickly dismembered, brains are turned into gooey matter in an interrogation scene, heads are sliced, chainsaws are used extensively, there are "flying guillotine breasts", torso buzz saws, rocket boots and much more; they are all accompanied by the excessive bloody arterial spray that is the trademark of Japanese cinema. Gorehounds would be right at home with the film. There is a small amount of CGI in one scene and most of the visual effects are made of your old-fashioned prosthetics and a lot of red ink. The action scenes are decent and have that anime-like exaggerated style. However, due to the film's low budget, the quality of the action scenes are a little inconsistent. Some are decent while others may appear to be very mediocre. Action junkies may be a little disappointed, but honestly, this film isn't so much on action but more on crazy "pink violence".

The characters and the plot in "Samurai Princess" are developed in the form of flashbacks. It appears to be that the lead characters are pretty much all about revenge and redemption. Dai Mizuno's "Gekko" appears to be a reject from "Detroit Metal City" while Kyoraku appears to be a reject from one of those Japanese TV series. They do fit the film's tone; they are outrageous and the film is outrageous...what can we expect? We don't even need to discuss acting abilities in this type of film. Aino Kishi does also get to be in the nude and in a love scene. Kishi exhibits that gentle charisma but when she becomes a "mecha" consider her as a Barbie-like Frankenstein. I was a little disappointed that the villains Shaohi and Kochio weren't as fully developed as Kyoraku. Mihiro Taniguchi fans, sorry...but you don't get to see her in her birthday suit in this film.

Granted, "Samurai Princess" may not match the low-budget charm and action of "Tokyo Gore Police" and "Machine Girl" but it is still a whole lot of fun if you're a fan of silly, Japanese fantasy films. The elements in the film aren't anything we haven't seen before but it is still a great exercise in the glorification of blood, guts and gore. (did I just say that?) I guess the film can be better compared to "Meatball Machine". Again, this is a film NOT to be taken seriously and more for the fun factor than anything else. If you are into "pink violence" and Grindhouse quality filmmaking then you are in for a treat.

Recommended! [3 ½ Stars]

The U.S. Unrated DVD has both English (defaulted) and 2.0 Japanese Language tracks with good subtitles. The 1.78 ratio anamorphic widescreen picture quality may have some grain on some scenes but it is a part of its low budget charm; it is a pretty good transfer. It is pretty much a barebones release that only has the trailer and some photos.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 29, 2011 7:20 PM PDT


Nothing Like the Holidays
Nothing Like the Holidays
DVD ~ John Leguizamo
Offered by Media Favorites
Price: $4.72
189 used & new from $0.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Anything Like Any Other Holiday Movie", November 9, 2009
This review is from: Nothing Like the Holidays (DVD)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Movies about the Christmas Holiday tone are a dime-a-dozen. Truthfully, most movies have the same plot clichés, themes and Holiday cheers. Director Alfredo De Villa's "NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS" is nothing different; family issues, disappointments and hope abound in this dramedy. It does have a very strong Puerto Rican theme to it; with full emphasis on Puerto Rican.

There is nothing like Christmas in the Rodriguez household, as parents Edy (Alfred Molina) and Anna (Elizabeth Pena) is welcoming their children back for the Christmas festivities. Special welcome is given to their son, Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez) since he is coming home after a tour in Iraq, Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito) is struggling to make ends meet in Hollywood, and Mauricio (John Leguizamo) is arriving with his career-minded wife Sarah (Debra Messing). Old Friends are also coming to visit including Jesse's old flame, Marissa (Melanie Diaz) who has moved on, Johnny (Luis Guzman) and Ozzy (Jay Hernandez) who works in Edy's bodega. Brought together more by Holiday obligation than actual "wanting to be there"; family secrets and brewing feuds begin to threaten the enjoyment of the holidays...

"Nothing Like the Holidays" wears its Puerto Rican themes like a badge. The viewer is privy to some of the holiday traditions observed. The cultural disconnection may be tempting at first, but the film does manage to warm up with the familiar themes of the Christmas season. Actually, I was a little more curious as to what other traditions they have and after awhile, I kind of wished that it got more into those cultural traditions than the clichéd familial trappings of a holiday movie.

There is nothing original in the manner things are set up in the movie. The film's characters all have their baggages to carry and the film's screenplay goes back and forth from humor to dramatic moments. There was a couple of plot elements that had potential; the subplots with Jesse and Ozzy was interesting enough but the film has too many performers vying for the limited screen time. The complications that gets revealed in the film's first half can get irritating, after all, how many things can possibly go wrong in a limited time frame but they do. The airing of grievances appear to be a little far-fetched to occur in such a short period of time (maybe my family dinners are more civilized?) that it would be hard to connect with those grievances. Not to get me wrong, it is possible, but I guess the set ups were a little too heavy-handed for me. It would've been a better move to stick to one theme but De Villa exhausts his viewers into pitching in too many subplots and then leaving them half-baked. The film feels like it is in a rush to cover too much ground that it ends up really going nowhere significant.

The acting by Alfred Molina and Elizabeth Pena are very charismatic and effective; heck even Debra Messing was pretty good as the lone Caucasian woman in the Puerto Rican household. I suppose credit needs to be given to the performers but truth be told, Leguizamo is too old and Pena too young to be his mother (4 Years apart in real life?!). This is a major goof on the part of the direction. However, Pena and Molina does save the film's clichéd script by the potential divorce subplot and the two manages to convince that the situation is real. Despite some of my complaints, the cast do manage to pull it off by carrying most of the film's burden.

"Nothing Like the Holidays" can be fun to watch at times but I feel that the raw talent in the film is somewhat wasted because of the manner by which that there was too many subplots and that really didn't go anywhere. It covered too much ground without careful development and viewers may have issues connecting to the characters. The film can be endearing and it does have a lot of qualities; problem is, it just couldn't breathe and the direction struggles to really find its footing. Then again, I guess it may be this way on some households...?

Rental [2 ½ +Stars= mediocre to fair]
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 13, 2009 9:11 AM PST


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