Japan’s 13 Assassins is Badass!

File:Thirteen Assassins.jpg

If you can get pass the subtitles you will not regret it!  Takashi Miike‘s 13 Assassins is awesome!  The story follows 13 Samurais that are employed to kill a truly evil man, who is on the path to political power.  It is visually stunning, extremely violent, and beautifully executed.  I haven’t hated a villian this much in a long time–I wanted him to die…slowly and painfully.  Yeah, that’s how involved you become.

I did not know anything about this film when I sat down at The Ritz (Alamo Drafthouse) and I am glad I didn’t.  It was a journey.  Later I discovered it is based on true events–that makes the tale even more interesting. 

You are introduced to every character leisurely.  (That is how the hatred for the sadistic Lord Naritsugu was allowed to fester and grow.)  Each warrior is unique–from the comic relief to the fierce ronin.  They are assembled and led by an aging master, Shinzaemon, at a time when the Samurais’ era was ending– ” I had almost given up the hope of dying an honorable death.”   With this mission they find, not only employment, but purpose.  

I loved it!  From the quiet exchanges to the bloody finale.  The director is known for horror movies and although I can see the violence, this film seems elegant (which I learned is a departure for him, since he is usually graphic and gory).  I will assume this was a new challenge for him and as Shinzaemon states, when accepting the assassination assignment,     “I shall accomplish your task… with magnificence. ”  And I think Takashi Miike did just that. 

Advertisements

Fast Five starts the summer of FUN! (I hope…)

   

I will admit that I enjoy the Fast and the Furious franchise.  Hot guys?  Driving hot cars? Hello.  I appreciate that it is does not try to be anything more than mindless entertainment and as I have stated before, sometimes you want pure escapism.  Fast Five delivers that in spades!  So, if you can put away your reality check meter…sit back–buckle up and enjoy the ride!  

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker have a comfortable chemistry and I am glad neither one has other movies to interfere with their fast and furious-ness!  The supporting cast of familiar faces from the franchise only help amplify the fun factor and I thought Dwayne Johnson was a great addition (even if he is a bit stiff).   I was digging the new setting in Rio de Janeiro and the heist was cool, but, the main focus are the cars and the action and that is where Fast Five brings the goods!  More crazy stunt driving and fist fights…sweet!

If you enjoy this, you must stick around after the credits–it will set you up for Fast Six!  And why not?  These movies are  financially successful because people like to be mindlessly entertained–obviously.

New Arthur fails to shine like the original

Let me begin with saying that I am opposed to remakes in general.  It frustrates me that we have so little original ideas left that we feel compelled to recycle old ones–whether they are good or bad.  With that said, I should confess that although I liked the original 1981 film Arthur I am not a member of  its ” the best movie ever” fan club.  It is a memorable, unique classic with iconic performances that did not need to be remade, but I do not consider it scared material.  If they added enough contemporary elements it could be successful new version for a new generation.  Unfortunately, the new Arthur fails to do that and again, the original film is the winner.

The problem could be Russell Brand.  He is not as lovable as Dudley Moore and his alcoholism isn’t quite as charming.  Or maybe it was the lack of chemistry between Russell and his leading lady Greta Gerwig (who can not be as delightful as Liza Minneli).  I am not completely sure…but something is off.

I like some of the modern twists.  Helen Mirren as Hobson was brilliant–and I enjoyed Jennifer Garner as a more evil Susan Johnson.  But most of the changes seem forced and unnatural.

Overall, I did laugh at some of the jokes and liked the relationship between Brand and Mirren–but that was not enough to save the rest of the film.  

Another remake failure–but do not worry…they will try again in a few years–and this time Arthur will be a woman who has a pot problem and is…ah! who cares!

Rio is simple, family fun!

 

I was a bit underwhelmed with Rio‘s preview trailers–none of them enticed me to want to see this movie–they were vague and well…not funny.  But I have to say I am glad I went to see it! It was a cute, family friendly story. 

The animation was well done with beautiful vistas, the music was catchy and fun (except for one truly horrible rap attempt by an evil Cockatoo)–and the talented voice cast helped raise the entertainment factor.  Yet, Rio is solely a kids movie–with plenty of sight gags and sweet moments, but not enough heart to rank it among the elite animation greats. 

You will not regret your time spent in Rio, but you will not walk away with anything to special to treasure–except maybe for some samba beats!

Jane Eyre revisited

Image via Wikipedia

I have had a 30 year relationship with Charlotte Bronte‘s classic novel and every few years I find myself drawn to its pages.  Each time, I am excited to see what  new discoveries await among the familiar words.  The story I thought I knew so well surprises me and reveals a layer of itself that had remained hidden until I was ready, not only to find it, but to understand it.

It all started at the age of 10 when Mrs. Donovan, my 5th grade teacher, asked me to stay after class to talk–she had caught me reading a romance novel during class.  I was braced for the stern lecture on paying attention and the importance of not being distracted during the lessons, but instead I was met with a smile and a question.

“Do you like romance novels?”

“Not really.  There are a bunch of these books around the house.  They’re kind of boring, to be honest.  Very predictable.”

“I will make you a deal.  You can read after your work is done–except I will select the books and you will have assignments to complete throughout.”

“Okay.  That sounds like a good deal.”

The next day she handed me a dark hard bound book.  “We will start with Jane Eyre.  It does have romance…yet, it is much more and definitely not boring.”

And with those words and that keenly astute gesture, Mrs. Donovan changed my life. 

(As a side note–the books that followed were all memorable and opened my eyes to a whole new world–Wuthering Heights–How Green was My Valley–The Stranger–The Sun Also Rises–etc, etc–but, none captured my heart and imagination like Jane Eyre.)

Why such a strong a reaction to this story in particular?  Because Jane Eyre was the first character I related to on a personal level.  Like her, I was alone and felt the sting of feeling unloved.  Like her, I felt trapped by the expectations and standards of my environment.  Like her, I was full of passion and opinions.  Like her, I sought to be independent and free. 

“I longed for a power of vision which might overpass that limit; which might reach the busy world, towns, regions full of life I had heard of but never seen: that I desired more of practical experience than I possessed; more of intercourse with my kind, of acquaintance with variety of character, than was here within my reach…I could not help it: the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes…”

Jane became my first and only role model for many years.  I wanted to be like her–to have the strength of her convictions and the determination she mustered.  Without realizing at the time, Charlotte’s pioneering feminist views would have a powerful influence on my life.  

“Women are supposed to be very calm generally; but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”

The interesting part is the constantly changing interpretation.  At different stages of my life I have walked away with a new meaning that relates to me.  I could see myself in her solitude.  I could see myself in her keen mind.  I could see myself in her forgiving nature.  In this last reading, I was amazed that I could see myself in her absolute love for Mr. Rochester! 

In all my visits to Jane’s universe, I had never truly believed in the soul mate kind of connection, in romantic terms–I may have subconsciously longed for it–but never truly believed.  This time I found myself stopping and rereading passages out loud to my Rochester–Matt Greene.  He would listen and smile or comment on the eerily similar feelings we had lived with for the last few years.  

“I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest—blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward’s society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together.”

Honestly it kind of shocked me.  Wow!  Creepy and unexpected!  That I would find myself even more connected to Jane than I ever had previously.  I understood all of it now–and it was scary and yet, lovely.  I can only hope that I can live through my happily ever after.  Jane deserved it and so do I. 

I look back and I can not help but feel an immense gratitude to Mrs. Donovan.  What would my life  have been like without her handing me that book?  I shudder to think of my past without  Jane as my faithful companion.  Looking ahead, I wonder what else awaits me–what will Jane Eyre tell me 2 –5–10 years from now?  Only time will tell what my old friend has yet to share with me.  I look forward to it. 

P.S.  Follow this for my review of the most recent Jane Eyre film interpretation–

Tina Fey’s Prayer for her Daughter! Must share…

 

Tina Fey is one of my female crushes! And with that I mean I love everything about her–her humor, wit, intelligence and the grace in which she lives her life.  I had heard about her new book Bossypants and after this wonderful excerpt (shared by the lovely Sandra Greene) I am going to run to buy this book! AWESOME!  She speaks truth…

“First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.

May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.When the Crystal Meth is offered, may she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half And stick with Beer.

Guide her, protect her when crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance.Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels. What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.

Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen.Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.

O Lord, break the Internet forever, that she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.

And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back. “My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.

Amen.”

-Tina Fey

I was in a Tim McGraw video!

Tim McGraw

Image by 1035 WEZL via Flickr

Well…sort of–it felt like I was in a Tim McGraw video.  Bright lights–screaming fans–Tim spreading his arms wide and then shaking and touching people’s hands.  Even the songs were straight out of the performance videos of yester-year…”I like it! I love it! I want some more of it!”  Only difference was that I was way up in the arena area and there were some sound issues–music way louder than the vocals–and I did not have my hand touched. Whatcha gonna do?  No matter.  It was a fun time!  Great Valentine present from my honey! ❤

Want a goofy-stupid, fun time? Your Highness is here to fulfill your wishes!

Sometimes you want to leave your brain at the door and just enjoy the popcorn–it is what I call “popcorn movies” and they can be cool when you know what to expect.  Your Highness is not high art and it is not a cult classic, but it is raunchy, vulgar and fun.  Go at your own risk!

It had a lot more action than expected–which was cool.  The special effects were nice–creative beasties and awesome magic.  Definitely not advertised as a swash buckling adventure, yet it is!

It had a better narrative than expected too.  Danny McBride is funny as the under achieving younger prince and James Franco is charming as the naive yet sweet, brave older prince–they are believable as siblings and volley jokes very well.   Natalie Portman is dead on as the warrior they meet on their quest and she plays it so straight and serious, that it only makes it funnier!  I even liked Rasmus Hardiker’s man-servant, Courtney.  But the stand out is Justin Theroux‘s evil Leezar–loved his wizard villain!

Well, again–if you know what you are getting into…you will probably laugh and say it wasn’t a bad way to spend an hour and a half.

Hanna is a thrilling tale…brilliantly executed!

Wow!  I love that feeling when you leave a movie house all excited and energized–discussing the shared experience.  That is what film lovers live for and tonight Hanna did just that!  It is a perfect combination of an independent character driven movie and a Hollywood action thriller.   It passes my “best of” test…I would not change a thing in this movie. 

You may have figured out that I really focus on character development–at times I can excuse other faults if I am 100% invested in the character–and here I was completely taken by Soairse Ronan’s portrayal of Hanna.  Otherworldly, intense and solemn, yet fresh, curious and innocent.  You are scared of her and yet strangely, want to protect her too.  It is a stunning performance!

Add a wonderful supporting cast and you can’t help but be lost in this story.  Eric Bana as the devoted father, Cate Blanchette as a hardened agent and in a smaller role, Tom Hollander’s german henchman are all impressive–the traveling family and the Grimm keeper are perfect, too.  And another character is the fantastic music by The Chemical Brothers–it grabs hold and adds dimension to every scene. 

All of this is beautifully woven together by director Joe Wright.  Honestly, I was surprised!   Atonement?  Beautiful but flawed.  The Soloist?  Cookie cutter.  Pride and Predjudice? Quite good–but no action showcase.  He takes a drastic turn and it pays off very well–very well indeed!  The pacing is quick and the story is lean.  His attention to detail is what makes the difference and makes this an action movie with a whole new feel.   

I am so glad I was able to share Hanna with an awesome AICN crowd.  We were all invested.  We laughed together.  We winced together.  We exclaimed at the awesome, kick ass moments together.  That is the best way to experience a film and it was a good time!

If you couldn’t tell, I loved it!  I was on the edge of my seat–tense and paranoid at times.  I loved the allusions to Grimm fairy tales–very clever.  The setting for the climatic finale is pretty cool.  Yes…I can go on and on, but I have said enough–go check it out!  You will not regret it!

Source Code–engaging, but not quite brilliant…

This is a smart, reinventing of standard sci-fi themes–the strong performances and clever directing allow you to enjoy the storytelling–even if the story has been told before.    I was interested throughout, even if I was not blown away (sorry for the pun).  Source Code does keep you engaged in its short running time and that is why it is successful–but not brilliant.

I have read that this movie is a thriller and I can not agree with that label.  Maybe it’s just me–and my aforementioned ability to figure stuff out–but there was no suspense.  It is straight forward.  Don’t get me wrong–the pace is good–I just saw everything coming.  A thriller (to me) should keep me guessing and on the edge of my seat.  Not the case here. 

The cast was dead on.  Jake Gyllenhaal was very good–and that is saying a lot–he has been overrated, in my opinion, in the past.  I liked him as Captain Colter Stevens.  Michelle Monaghan is lovely as the ill-fated passenger and Vera Farmiga is surprisingly right in her role as Captain Stevens life line.  My favorite though is Jeffrey Wright–an outstanding character actor–he creates a fully realized character in a very short period–you know instantly you should not like this guy.  Bravo!

At the end, it does spur some interesting conversation about quantum physics and divergent paths…and for a sci-fi geek like me–that is pretty awesome. 

Duncan Jones shows promise and is a director I will keep an eye on–his first written and directed film Moon was provocative (if not perfect) and now this–not too shabby.  I look forward to his next attempt.