Zombie flick finds an outbreak occurring after an army convoy has a serious accident outside of Las Vegas and a containment canister is opened, releasing a vicious and fast moving zombie. It, and some of the soldiers it transforms by bite, head towards the Entertainment Capitol of the World and soon it’s overrun. After unsuccessfully trying to purge Vegas of the living dead, the army has sealed off the city and there are plans to nuke it. Enter down on his luck ex-soldier Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), who is hired by businessman Hunter Bly (Hiroyuki Sanada) to assemble a team and go into zombie infested Las Vegas to steal $250 Million from a casino hotel safe before the nuke hits. No surprise that things don’t go as planned.
Netflix release is directed by Zack Snyder from his script with Shay Hatten and Joby Harold. It’s a fun heist/zombie flick that is loaded with gore, but also has some heart and a little character depth amidst all the gory spectacle. The visuals are spectacular, as with any Snyder flick, and for a 2 and 1/2 hour movie it moves well and keeps one bloodily entertained. There are a few kinks added to classic zombie lore…while they still have to be shot in the head, there are levels of zombies including some that think, move fast and have emotions, aside from just voracious appetites. The colorful cast, including Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera and a hilariously sarcastic Tig Notaro are solid and Bautista shows he has developed some nice chops and is capable of leading man status. There are a few slow spots here and there, but otherwise it’s a bloody fun time and loaded with gunfire, chases and showers of gore. Also stars Matthias Schweighöfer, Omari Hardwick, Raúl Castillo, Nora Arnezeder and Samantha Win as the rest of Ward’s team and actor/stuntman Richard Cetrone (Ghosts of Mars) as the zombie king.
This weeks double feature consists of two Asian set action adventures that feature heroes from the West. One in feudal Japan with Keanu Reeves and the other set in ancient China with Michael Angarano. Both also are filled with fantasy elements and magic characters and plenty of martial arts action and swordsplay, not to mention renown Asian actors such as Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. Enjoy …
47 RONIN (2013)
I enjoyed this film which, sadly, bombed at the box office and though it isn’t a great movie by any stretch, it was entertaining and had some nice fantasy elements mixed in with all the action. The story focuses on half-breed servant Kai (Keanu Reeves) who, along with 46 masterless samurai, fight against overwhelming odds to avenge the wrongful death of their lord. The vile and ambitious Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) has used the power of witch Mizuki (Pacific Rim’s Rinko Kikuchi) to cast a spell on rival Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) causing him to attack Kira in the presence of the visiting Shogun (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and thus dishonor him. Asano commits seppuku (ritual suicide) to save the honor of his people, but Kira is granted control of his clan and the hand of his daughter Mika (Kou Shibasaki) in marriage. Asano’s Samurai are expelled and are now dishonored as masterless Ronin. Kai, who is rumored to have been raised by demons and has always loved Mika, is sold into slavery. Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), the lead samurai, bides his time and one year later, frees Kai and rallies the Ronin to attack lord Kira and free Mika and avenge Lord Asano’s death… all against the Shogun’s orders. It’s only 47 Ronin against a 1,000 soldiers and one powerful witch, but against these odds, the 47 warriors valiantly choose to wade into battle to get their revenge or die trying.
47 Ronin is a fictional story by Chris Morgan and Walter Hamada based on real events from Japanese history. As directed by commercial director Carl Rinsch, from a screenplay by Morgan and Hossein Amini, the film is moderately paced, but I liked that it took time to tell it’s story and didn’t rush into it’s climactic battle. Rinsch handles the large scale of the film well for a first-time feature director and seems to have a nice visual style to go with all the fantasy elements and the exotic setting. There is plenty of well-staged action peppered throughout and the heavy fantasy elements…as there are demons and a powerful witch involved in this story of honor and revenge…are mixed in well with the drama. Character development is a little on the weak side. We get to know the characters a little, but with 47, only a few get proper attention and even some of those we could have gotten to know better. Despite star billing and a central role, Reeves’ Kai is not the only character focused on and that helps make this more of an ensemble piece to a degree and less Reeves’ show. The cast are all quite good including star Keanu, who plays a noble character who just wants to be recognized fairly by the samurai and will do anything for the woman he loves, despite that she is out of his reach as a Lord’s daughter. The film is in English and the Japanese cast are all well spoken, perform well and there are many recognizable faces from current Japanese cinema. The budget is lavish as are the settings and SPFX and the action scenes have some nice energy and are excellently choreographed. I’ll admit the story could have used a bit more dramatic strength and the end conflict is exciting though, over a little too soon, but it is still an enjoyable action/fantasy with some nice old fashioned charm.
So, in conclusion, 47 Ronin is not a masterpiece and maybe not something all that memorable, but it is a well-made and entertaining enough adventure with some fun fantasy elements and exotic locations to give it a little something different. The action moves and while we could have used a little more character development and the story could have used a bit more weight, it was an entertaining 2 hours and I had a fun time with it. Go in with moderate expectations and it can be a pleasantly surprising flick and an entertaining watch. Certainly nowhere near the disaster it’s poor box office would lead one to believe.
Sure this flick has a heavy Karate Kid vibe, but we get Jackie Chan, Jet Li and the beautiful Li Bingbing as a villainous hottie so, why complain if we have seen this kind of story before. Charming and fun fantasy adventure has martial arts movie nut Jason (Michael Angarano) buying his favorite movies from old shop owner Hop (Jackie Chan) and finding a peculiar staff in his shop. When thugs force Jason to help them rob Hop’s store, the injured Hop tells the mortified and regretful Jason to take the staff and return it to it’s rightful owner. Jason is thus transported into a fantasy world in ancient China where he meets a drunken martial artist named Lu Yan (also Chan), a noble monk Sun Wukong (Jet Li) and pretty Golden Sparrow (Liu Yifei) who all agree to help Jason return the staff to The Monkey King (also Li), who is the staff’s rightful owner and is being imprisoned by the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou). But to get the staff back to The Monkey King, Jason and his new friends must battle the powerful Warlord, his army and a very deadly witch (Li Bingbing), who all wish to see that the staff never sees the Monkey King’s skilled hands ever again.
Despite the cliche’ story and some very familiar plot elements, Rob Minkoff (The Lion King) crafts a really entertaining martial arts fantasy that is loaded with charm and filled with martial arts action. There are plenty of fantasy elements too, in John Fusco’s script, from a story by Wu Cheng’en and Minkoff really captures the look and style of one of the martial arts fantasy films that Hong Kong cinema is famous for. Aside from numerous scenes of hand to hand combat, we get characters imbued with magic, who fly and cast spells, all presented with some very solid SPFX and fight choreography. Obviously, the main attraction is seeing Chan and Li working together and the two do have a great on-screen chemistry and camaraderie that goes a long way to making this flick so much fun. Their scenes together really crackle with energy and they seem to really enjoy working together, which I hear they did. Both are a lot of fun in their dual roles, especially Li’s whimsical Monkey King. Lead Angarano holds his own as the naive outsider who learns not only martial arts, but to believe in himself. Cliche’, yes, but it still works. Yifei is pretty and proves a resourceful heroine as the vengeful Golden Sparrow who seeks to destroy the Jade Warlord, but succeeds in catching Jason’s eye too. Chou is a solid villain though one stereotypical of these kind of films and Bingbing is having a blast as the evil and powerful witch Ni-Chang, who is as beautiful as she is deadly. The fun cast also helps make this a treat.
All in all, I like this film a lot. I am a hug fan of Asian cinema, and that certainly includes Hong Kong martial arts fantasy epics and this film captures the spirit of those movies very well. It mixes the traditional format with a underdog/fish out of water story for a really fun and colorful fairy tale-like movie, of a meek boy who becomes a heroic man. Sure we know he’ll eventually face those mean thugs from Hop’s store again, but we still eagerly anticipate it, despite it’s familiarity and the film is so charming and fun, we can forgive the age old story and oft-told story elements. When all is said and done, we get two martial arts living legends together on screen for the first time and, if that’s not enough, a couple of very pretty Asian actresses who are as easy on the eyes as they are dangerous with their fists and feet. That’s more then enough to get me in a seat! A fun martial arts fantasy flick.
I never read the X-Men comics but I am familiar with it’s popular clawed anti-hero and have seen all the movies so, whether they follow the comics’ mythos or not I cannot say and thus take each of the movies for what they are. That being said, I finally caught up with the latest solo adventure with the man known as Wolverine and having enjoyed all of the previous films to one degree or another and being a big fan of Japanese films and culture, I was looking forward to seeing the character’s adventures in the Land Of The Rising Sun… so was it worth the wait?…
The Wolverine opens during World War II in Nagasaki with Logan (Hugh Jackman) a prisoner of war who saves one of his captors, a Japanese office named Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) when the atomic bomb hits… and without the aid of a refrigerator. The film then picks up in present day with Logan living alone in the wilderness and being haunted by dreams about Jean Grey, a fellow mutant whom he loved but, was forced to kill in X-Men: The Last Stand when she was transformed into the villainous Phoenix. But, a young, psychic Japanese woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) finds him and tells him that Yashida is dying and requests Logan come to Japan to say goodbye. Logan reluctantly agrees only to find out that the dying man actually wishes to take Logan’s recuperative powers from him to which the adamantium bladed hero refuses. During the night Yashida dies and at his funeral his granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) is attacked by the Yakuza and while defending her, Logan finds his recuperative powers are now gone and he is very vulnerable. He still has his metal claws but, his wounds won’t heal instantly as before. Despite his new disadvantage, Logan decides to not only protect Mariko, whom he is starting to fall for, but find out what the Yakuza want from her and what happened to his power to regenerate himself. Wolverine’s previous solo adventure gets a lot of flak from die hard fans but, I enjoyed Gavin Hood’s flick to a degree being free of previous knowledge of Logan’s origins and not bothered by the direction the film took them. The film wasn’t great but, moved well and had some fun action scenes. And fun is one thing James Mangold’s follow up could have used. The biggest problem I have with The Wolverine is that despite some sumptuous cinematography by Ross Emery and a couple of nicely filmed action sequences, the movie is rather uninvolving and kinda dull. I can appreciate that Mark Bomback and Scott Frank’s script plays more like a thriller then a superhero movie and that Mangold gives Logan more of an intensity and takes him a bit more serious then previous films but, it’s the thrills that is the one thing missing from this thriller. The first two thirds of the film focuess on Logan trying to keep Mariko safe while various dull villains, including the mutant Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), try to locate and reclaim her. The film is very dialog heavy and that’s fine if the dialog and directions it takes you are interesting. It’s not. It’s a ho-hum conspiracy involving Mariko inheriting her grandfather’s company and the forces aligning to stop it while Logan deals with his own personal issues. The film only picks up somewhat in the last act when Mariko is finally kidnapped and Logan starts to piece things together including his own personally mystery while on a quest to rescue her. Then we get a couple of decent action scenes including one in the snow pitting Logan against an army of ninja. But, even the film’s action scenes never really get moving as the flick seems all to eager to finish them up and get back to gloating villains or Logan growling at someone or brooding. The fight on top of a bullet train in the first act is over just as it starts to get involving. The film lacks any real emotional resonance that would punctuate these dialog sequences and make them more involving. Logan’s ‘romance’ with Mariko seems forced and we never really get a sense of how they are supposed to feel about each other. Logan’s dream sequences with Jean have more resonance and they are few and far between and a figment of his imagination as he tries to deal with his grief and guilt over her death. It’s the only part of the movie that really worked. The final confrontation with the villains also lacks punch, despite all the punching and sword swinging, as the villains are generic and bland. An early duel between Logan and Mariko’s greedy father Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada) has far more impact then his climactic battle with the giant mechanical CGI Silver Samurai… whose occupant is obvious long before we find out their identity.
Mangold gets a good performance out of Jackman, who is usually reliable anyway, and benefits from the character’s already being established. But, his supporting cast really doesn’t come alive and none, except for the somewhat spunky Fukushima, really make an impression. First time actress (maybe not a good idea?) Okamoto is doe-eyed and bland as Mariko and Khodchenkova gives us one of the dullest mutants in an X-Men themed flick. The Silver Samurai is introduced in the last 10 minutes so, it has no personality and thus no menace and is as cold as the metallic armor encasing it.
So, while The Wolverine is sumptuously photographed, competently made and takes Logan to an exotic location, it doesn’t do anything really interesting with him and the characters journey is a rather routinely portrayed one. The idea of involving the popular Wolverine in a thriller in a foreign land a la James Bond was a good idea, it’s just too bad they forget some of 007s thrills to go along with it. There is however a really cool mid credits sequence which is by far the best scene in the movie and harkens to, hopefully, better things to come as The Wolverine is a thriller without claws.
Message From Space is Japan’s answer to Star Wars, though there are actually few similarities as this colorful and deliriously fun space adventure is actually based on a Japanese legend, The Legend of the Eight Samurai. Message tells the tragic story of the planet Jillucia, which is ravaged and conquered by the Gavanas, led by tyrannical leader Rockseia XXII (Mikio Narita) and his henpecking mother (actor Hideyo Amamoto in drag). The Jillucians send out a distress call in the form of eight glowing seeds which legend says will lead eight warriors, picked by the gods, to come to their defense. Jillcucian Princess, Emeralida (Etsuko Shihom) leaves to follow them and gather the warriors to return with her. Soon a ragtag group of both would-be and reluctant defenders, including retired drunk, General Garuda (Vic Morrow), exiled Gavana, Prince Hans (Sonny Chiba) and a bunch of space racing slackers, are off to Jillucia to take on the invaders who have now set their sights on Earth.
Directed by the versatile Kinji (Battle Royale) Fukasaku, Message From Space is a fast moving and delightfully silly and fun space opera with an abundance of entertainingly cheezy SPFX and numerous battles and action sequences, as this unlikely group of heroes go up against an almost invincible empire. You can have a real blast if you go into it with the right mindset and the right beverages. Vic Morrow’s drunken space general and his faithful robot sidekick are worth watching it for alone. There is also some really imaginative art direction and spaceship designs, including a ship that resembles an old sea galleon. Message looks more like a live action Manga then a Star Wars clone with it’s art deco sets and space samurai costumes.
A really fun Saturday night film fest flick that would make a great double feature with Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond The Stars. Also starring Philip Casnoff, Hiroyuki Sanada, Peggy Lee Brennan and Masazumi Okabe as Aaron, Shiro, Meia and Jack respectively, the young space slackers who become heroes. Message has just become available for the first time on a beautifully remastered DVD from the awesome people at Shout Factory!