Monday, July 25, 2011

Ern's Monthly Visual Victuals (April 2011)

Now that I have concluded my posts on our recent Hawaii trip, I think its time I tried to catch up with my film reviews.  I've been watching an average of 15 to 20 films a month so I think you may may find something to your liking.  After this post, I shall be writing more about what I've been doing here in Tokyo.  New cafes, new restaurants, new burger shops, neighborhood walks, etc.  Coming soon will be a post about my date with my mother-in-law!  And now for those flicks I watched in April:

THE BOONDOCK SAINTS (1999) – I rented this film for the simple fact that one of my Facebook friends cited it as one of their favorite movies. I had not heard of it but I usually trust a lot of my friend’s judgment. I was not disappointed with this flick. An excellent story about a couple of Irish brothers who by happenstance take on the Russian mafia in Boston. At the same time, they’re being tracked down by an FBI agent. However, the closer the agent gets to the brothers, he begins to believe what they’re doing is righteous so he starts to help them. After all, the brothers are getting rid of a bunch of baddies.

THE BOONDOCK SAINTS 2 : ALL SAINTS DAY (2009) – I so enjoyed the first film that when I saw there was a Part 2 I knew I had to rent it. What a mistake!! What was that director thinking? Ten years from the first movie and this is what he gives us? Pathetic, stupid, waste of time. The first film was such a great story that I had high hopes for this sequel. Unfortunately, instead of creative action crime film, what we have here is a low budget comedy that isn’t even funny. The boys have been away from America for a while now. But somebody’s has killed a Priest in their old neighborhood and made it look like the work of the Boondock Saints. Now they’re headed back to Boston to find out who and why the Priest was killed. Throw in this really stupid, f&#%n’ annoying FBI agent with the most godawful southern accent and you’re in for one long snore-fest! Do watch the first one but skip this by all means!

ゼブラマン2:ゼブラシティの逆襲 [Zebra Man 2 : Attack on Zebra City] (2010) – Sho Aikawa’s 100th film was the cleverly made “Zebra Man”. It’s not that Japan suffers from sequelitis as much as Hollywood, but there are just some films that should be left well alone. “Zebra Man” is one of them. Sho Aikawa reprises his role as Zebra Man who must fight against the Zebra Queen (a very hot and sexy Riisa Naka). Its sometime in the future. Tokyo has become Zebra City and for five minutes every day, its Zebra Time (not to be confused with Hammer Time!) – where citizens of Zebra City can commit any crime they want and not be punished. Even murder is allowed (but only during Zebra Time). Not bad for a B-movie but as with the above mentioned “Boondock Saints”, the original is better. Okay for a rainy day.

時をかける少女 [Toki wo Kakeru Shojo] [Time Traveler] (2010) – If you are only familiar with the anime movie, leave it at that. This is such a rip off, I don’t even know why it has the same title as the animation version. At least the international English language title did not try to deceive its audience by giving it the same title as the original. The animation version is such a great story that I had high hopes for this film. This film also features Riisa Naka (the hot and sexy babe from “Zebra Man 2”, but this time she is the cute girl next door type of character (oh, and for trivia maniacs, she did provide the voice for Makoto, the main character in the animated version of the film.)

てぃだかんかん 海とサンゴと小さな奇跡 [Tida-kankan] (2010) – Movie based on a true story of one man’s fight against big corporations and academics to revive the coral in the seas of Okinawa. This stars- one half of the comedy duo Ninety-nine, Takeshi Okamura, who is originally from the Kansai area but loves Okinawa. So it was no wonder that he wanted to bring this story to the attention of the masses. It may seem strange to some people to see a comedian like Okamura take on a serious role as he does in this film. Okumura portrays Kenji Kinjo, a boy born and raised in Okinawa. He marries his childhood sweetheart and has two children. He’s makes a living by opening a bar which becomes quite successful. However, one day as he goes diving with a friend, he sees with his own eyes that most of the coral is dead. This is when he has an epiphany. It all starts with the simple thought of showing his kids how beautiful Okinawa’s ocean really is, as when he was a kid. So he closes his bars and decides to revive the coral, all without the help of any grants or loans, and is laughed at by academics. However, with the support of his wife and kids, Kenji never gives up his dream to make the ocean as beautiful as it once was. It’s a very heartwarming story about one man’s vision to make the ocean a place of wonderment for his kids. Unfortunately, I doubt that this has an audience outside of Japan.

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER : A NEW BEGINNING (2009) – The return of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren in the third or fourth sequel of the original and released as "Universal Soldier : Regeneration" in Japan.  Unfortunately, the story and action sucks. Well hey, Van Damme and Lundgren are getting old as well. This time we have some Russian terrorists who have kidnapped the Russian Premier’s children and are threatening to blow up the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant if their demands are not met. Although Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) is being in the process of being decommissioned, he is being reactivated to stop the terrorists and to deal with another threat as well – the NGU (New Generation Unisols, that would be Universal Soldiers for those of you who are not familiar with the series). And if you still don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, check out the first film. Soldiers killed during the Vietnam War were used in secret military project where the dead were reanimated and turned into the perfect soldier.

IEP! (2010) – Family entertainment from the Netherlands. An elderly couple find a little creature that looks like a girl but has wings instead of arms. They take her in and name her Viegeltje and decide to raise her like a little girl. But as Viegeltje grows, she has a yearning to fly south with other birds. And the only word she says is “Iep” or rather “Eep” which is the international English title. Strange film though. Although the couple raised her as their own, the bigger she grew, the more prominent the change became and they decide to help Viegeltje to follow the birds.

リアル鬼ごっご2 [Real Oni Gokko 2] [The Chasing Life 2] (2010) – Ha, so they really did make a sequel to this. It was a decent science fiction film about parallel worlds. And since the number of worlds are infinite, there may be an infinite amount of sequels as well. Definitely not a A list movie but I would call it a B movie either. Lots of action. This time, the onis follow are main character back to the standard world. And since the onis are programmed to find and kill anybody with the last name of Sato and our hero of course happens to be named Sato. Now, Sato has to find a way to take the onis back to the parallel world they came from (without getting killed in the process). He manages just that, but guess what – he gets transported to another parallel world – this time being feudal Japan during the Warring States period. So I imagine we can expect yet another sequel.

座頭一 THE LAST [Zatoichi : The Last] (2010) – The worst “Zatoichi” movie ever. I can’t believe this even got made. Why in God’s name would the director choose Japanese pop idol band member Shingo Katori of SMAP is beyond me. I had to agree with guy who wrote the review on the IMDB website. I just have to borrow his phrase “this version of Zatoichi not only falls short but it falls off a very high cliff and breaks its neck on the sharp rocks below.” If you’re a fan of the original, then this is definitely one to miss. But the Takeshi Kitano version and “Ichi” starring Haruka Ayase are pretty decent films to watch.

DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? (2009) – It’s “City Slickers” with a recently divorced couple and without the cattle drive or wait, more like “Sister Act” but replacing Ray, Wyoming for the convent. Husband cheated on wife but still loves wife and tries to win her back even though they have already gotten divorced. But they both a witness a murder and the murderer has seen their faces and now the estranged couple are a target themselves. The FBI places them in the witness protection program for their safety and they find themselves in the small town of Ray in Wyoming. Oh, it stars Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker. What can I say? I have a weakness for Hugh Grant movies as they almost always have a happy ending. And how can you not like the guy.

MONSTERS VS. ALIENS (2009) – It’s too bad my wife isn’t a big a fan of animated movies as I am so I find myself renting them long after they have been available. I’ve been meaning to rent “Horton Hears a Who” but still haven’t gotten around to watching that either. A woman named Susan Murphy is about to get married but is hit by a meteorite from outer space. This turns her into a giant woman! She is then taken to secret government base where she meets up with a ragtag group of other monsters the government has been keeping in secret. When Earth is being invaded by some aliens, the government decides to use their ultimate secret weapons – yep, the monsters including one giant Susan Murphy! Oh, and Reese Witherspoon provides the voice for Susan.

THE SIMPSONS : MOVIE (2007) – D’oh!! It’s like watching three back to back episodes of the popular animation series (hey, remember when we called all animation films cartoons?). Gotta love the scene where Green Day gets sunk into the lake for spouting off something about the environment. At the same time, Homer saves a pig from slaughter and names it “Spider Pig”. Spider Pig fills up a silo with waste in just two days and since Homer doesn’t want to go all the way to the county dump, he tosses the silo into the lake which pollutes the water supply which gets the EPA involved which puts a dome around the entire city of Springfield and which the government lead by the EPA are planning on destroying Springfield. But wait, Homer and family have managed to get outside the dome – so now they’re fugitives as well. Gotta love Homer, Bart, Lisa, Maggie, Marge and the rest of the gang. Even if you’ve never watched the series you could still enjoy this movie. Plain escapist fun – D’Oh!!

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER (2009) – Hm, I’m kind of out to lunch on this one. Not your standard rom-com (that would be romantic comedy for those of you who were wondering). In fact the narrator states at the beginning of the flick, “This is not a love story”. But you wouldn’t know that until the very end. It’s the end that depresses me because it’s just so real. Tom works at a greeting card company and he’s just fallen head over heels for the new assistant administrator – Summer Finn. Unfortunately for Tom, Summer doesn’t believe in love. She thinks that eventually real life will get in the way. And yet, somehow the spend a lot of time together and do things as any couple would. But the 500 of the title is the days with Summer that Tom remembers before leaving his life for good. Wait a minute, perhaps quirky would be the correct description for this film. You will have to watch it and decide for yourself.

PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS : THE LIGHTNING THIEF (2010) – And yet another attempt at creating a franchise a la “Harry Potter”. Hello Hollywood, is anybody home? It’s not that simple. When will they learn? “Eragon” trilogy anybody? “His Dark Materials”? The first book in that series would be “The Golden Compass”. Um, did anybody even watch the third film in the “Chronicles of Narnia” series? But here we go again, this time it’s a series by Rick Riordan. This time, we have a teen who discovers that he is a descendent of a Greek God, thus the Olympians and his mother is mortal, which makes Percy a Demigod. His father is Poseidon. When Zeus’ lightning bolt is stolen, Zeus accuses Poseidon’s son of stealing it and gives him fourteen days to recover it or Zeus will wage a war amongst the Gods. But there is a positive to this flick, perhaps it will get people more interested in Greek mythology. I’ve always loved mythology but it’s so hard to keep track of all the names of the Gods and their relation to one another. Still, a fun movie. I don’t really expect any sequels even if the books are up to their fifth volume or so now.

THE PRINCE OF PERSIA : THE SANDS OF TIME (2010) – Okay, I know this is actually based on a video game because I played it quite a lot. Actually, I borrowed it from a friend and completed before my friend did so I don’t know if he’s forgiven me for that. But damn, that was a fun game. Unfortunately, this plot of this movie is not based on the game on played which was the original “Prince of Persia” The game was simple, a princess was being held in a tower and you the player was stuck in a dungeon. From the pit of the Sultan’s castle, you had to free yourself from the dungeon and work through about 12 levels to reach and free the princess. Oh yeah, and you had to complete the task in under an hour. I am not familiar with the newer game which this movie takes its title from. In this, the story is about a prince and a princess who must stop a villain from using this magic dagger that contains the “Sands of Time”, a gift from the Gods which can reverse time. Pretty cool action scenes. It was much better than I anticipated.

MY SISTER’S KEEPER (2009) – Based on the bestselling novel by Jodi Picoult and starring Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, and Alec Baldwin. It’s a question of ethics really. One of those movies that makes you think. Anna Fitzgerald is an eleven year old girl. She decides to take her parents to court for medical emancipation and a successful lawyer decides to take her case pro bono. You see, Anna’s sister suffers from leukemia and Anna was conceived (in vitro) for the specific purpose of providing organs for her sick sister, be it platelets or bone marrow. Currently, Anna sister also suffered from renal failure and needs a kidney – guess who’s supposed to provide one. The mother (Diaz) thinks only of her suffering child. But really got me was the scene where Diaz confronts Baldwin and says, “You’re good! You almost had me believing that you cared about Anna” to which he replies, “Funny, I was going to say the same thing about you”. That scene is just classic. I haven’t read the book, but I did want to slap that Mom upside the head. Her actions make you mad when you think about Anna as a person. I may have to read the book eventually.

SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009) – Hey, I finally got around to watching this new updated version of a well known character. I must say I was quite entertained. Robert Downey Jr. makes an excellent Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. Watson was just as well. And with Guy Richie directing, you get one heck of a film. The two of them work really well together. Homes and Watson have caught the serial killer Lord Blackwell and can now close the case. But when Blackwell mysteriously reappears from the beyond and continues his murder spree so once again Holmes and Watson must work together to solve this mystery. Unlike certain series, you can forgive Hollywood for its sequelitis on some titles and I think this is one of them. I’m actually looking forward to the sequel. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law will reprise their roles as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and once again sitting in the director’s chair will be Guy Richie.

のだめカンタービレ 最終楽章 後篇 [Nodame : The Final Score Part 2] (2010) – Ah, the finale of the popular drama series that was spawned from the equally popular manga. But it’s been a while since I saw the first part that I forgot where the story left off. But hey, it was broadcast on network television and as I hadn’t rented Part 2 of course I had to watch it. One last look at all your favorite characters – Nodame, Chiaki, Mine, Kiyora, Masumi and a whole host of others. And one mustn’t forget the classical music as well. One reviewer compared the love between Nodame and Chiaki to that of another series – specifically “The Twilight Saga” but I cannot comment on how close the comparisons are since I have yet to watch the other films in the series (I did see the first one by the way and my sister still insists that I should read the actual series!).

春の雪 [Haru no Yuki] [Spring Snow] (2005) – This is based on Yukio Mishima’s last novel and after watching it, I was reminded of why I don’t read any Mishima books. So why did I rent this? Very simple, it stars one of my favorite Japanese actress – Yuko Takeuchi. A story about forbidden love. Kiyoaki realized too late that he is deeply in love with his childhood friend – Satoko, but Satoko has already accepted the marriage proposal from another man. And yet, she continues to see and make love with Kiyoaki. But their love suffers a tragic end. Satoko gets pregnant but is not married yet. To spare her family any shame, she enters a convent and makes a vow never to see Kiyoaki again. Kiyoaki is sick and weak but goes to the convent in the hopes of seeing Satoko one last time. Unfortunately for Kiyoaki, Satoko does not stray from her promise. In the end, Kiyoaki dies a lonely man. Just damn depressing I tell ya!

星に願いを [Hoshi ni Negai wo] [Night of the Shooting Stars] (2003) – Continuing my private Yuko Takeuchi festival, I rented one of her earlier films. It’s a sad little love story set in the town of Hakodate in Hokkaido. A young man named Shogo was in an accident which caused him to lose his sight and the will to live. But with the help of a nurse named Kana (Takeuchi), his heart slowly opens up to her. Just when things seem to be going well between them, Shogo dies in a car accident. Although Shogo is taken to the hospital, he dies right in front of Kana, who breaks down and weeps and also loses her sense of purpose in life. But here is where the story takes a turn for the interesting. Shogo wakes up in one of the local trams and finds that he doesn’t have a single scar on his body and he can see as well! By the power of a shooting star he has been given a second chance at life (only for a limited time). Unfortunately, no one will be able to recognize him from his previous life, not even Kana. But Shogo is determined to give Kana one last message. Will he be able to succeed? It’s like “Ghost” without any crime or wacky mediums.

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