Category Archives: japan
Steel Against the Sky ~ A classic Warner Bros. two-reeler from 1941, this has stock characters and a predictable end, but all in all is great fun. Two brothers, Lloyd Nolan and Craig Stevens, high rise construction workers, compete for the same girl, sexy dame Alexis Smith. Thrills abound in the climax high above a bridge construction in a raging ice storm. Classic forties Hollywood melodrama at its best – snappy banter, comedy, romance, and adventure. And watch out for the young Jackie Gleason. Worth watching.
Spaceship Yamato ~ This 2010 live action version of the animated TV series “Star Blazers” is everything you would expect it to be. I liken it to seeing my comic book heroes, the Avengers, on the big screen. It’s something I never thought I would see in a million years, and yet here it is. Fabulous special effects bring the animation to life. So worth seeing, even if you just look at it with no subtitles on YouTube. Absolutely must see for any “Star Blazers” fans.
21 Jump Street ~ I really only watched the first season of this show when it was originally on, so I’m not a fan by any real stretch, but I do hate the idea of remaking old TV series into comedy movies, especially when the source material was not a comedy. I can forgive “Bewitched,” but this one doesn’t quite fit. About the only thing I liked about this was the Johnny Depp reveal at the end. The rest of this mess is really like Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum just got stoned and improv-ed what they thought “21 Jump Street” might be about. Hill is so not funny here, and I equally don’t get what all the fuss over Tatum is. Avoid this like a salad bar without a sneeze guard.
The Cabin in the Woods ~ Joss Whedon strikes again. There’s really not much I can say about this one, other than it is always more than you expect, and always goes one better. Unpredictability at its best, a modern horror classic. If I told you anything else, I’d spoil it. You’re on your own.
Double or Nothing ~ This great one-reeler from 1936 stars Phil Harris as a stunt double in Hollywood who while under gas dreams he goes to ‘Doubles Heaven,’ home to lookalikes of the stars. An amusing musical romp, and lots of fun for fans of classic Hollywood, starring many doubles of the day.
Red Sun ~ I got turned on to this one eavesdropping on Twitter. I follow comic book writer Andy Diggle on Twitter and someone had hipped him to it. Just imagine it, a movie with Charles Bronson as a gunslinger and Toshiro Mifune as a samurai in the old west. Add in Ursula Andress, Alain Delon, music by Maurice Jarre, and direction by Terence Young – and you have Red Sun. I had to see this. How could I lose?
Also known as Soleil Rouge, the flick has Mifune as a Japanese samurai in the old West, carrying an ancient sword for the US President, which is stolen during a train robbery. Mifune teams with Bronson, one of the robbers betrayed during the heist, to get the sword back. A samurai, a cowboy, a western and a buddy movie, all with a brilliant cast and spellbinding music. I’m sold.
The film turns out to be everything I could have wished for. All the actors are perfect in this international amalgam. I don’t think I could have had more fun watching this. For once, a film that achieves everything it promises to be – a gritty western with amazing actors from all parts of the world. Great flick.
Funky Forest – The First Contact ~ I love Japanese television, film, and comics, but admittedly, a lot of what I like is genre specific. Superhero, giant monster, etc. That might be part of the reason I just didn’t get this.
Even with subtitles I don’t believe I could even tell you what it’s about. Imagine an extra long episode of “Kids in the Hall” in a language you didn’t understand and you’ll begin to get a vibe of what this movie is like.
It looks very much like something I might like but it is indescribable and I don’t get it. There are some very neat make-up, animation and CGI effects in it though. Just don’t ask me what it’s about.
The best explanation I can offer is it’s a sort of Amazon Women on the Moon… on crack. Watch at your own risk.
Battleship ~ There been a lot of bad press and even worse word of mouth on this flick, and let’s be honest here, this is a movie based on a board game. And not a game that lends itself well to a plot, mind you, this is not Clue we’re talking about here. All that said, and bear in mind, this is by no means a brilliant movie (it’s no Doctor Zhivago) but it is pretty good flick for one made based on a board game.
The acting is pretty bad by most here, I would say below soap opera level, no offense meant to soap opera actors, but it doesn’t bode well for folks like Liam Neeson and Alexander Skarsgard. The special effects of the completely indecipherable alien ships are the draw here, as it should be for a summer blockbuster. They are kinda like rejects from the Transformers movies, only not, but they are impressive. Also impressive is how they actually tie aspects of the film to the specifics of the game “Battleship,” that, I thought was clever. Spoilers, if there are such a thing here, but it was really sweet that the old guys who fought in World War II and their antique battleship are the guys who save the world, especially nice in lieu of Memorial Day this past weekend.
As far as the rest of the cast goes, Rihanna steals the movie, she is a delight. Taylor Kitsch, who I have loved as both Gambit and John Carter, is almost a cipher here. He’s terrible in this role, paper not even cardboard. Liam Neeson… well, if you have seen the preview, you have seen almost all of his scenes. Talk about calling it in, taking the cash and running. I did however also like John Tui and Tadanobu Asano, the latter of which is being called the Johnny Depp of Japan – they were both quite good.
The rest of the movie? It gets not only monotonous and predictable but it actually manages to make those big impressive alien ships get boring after a while. And the jumping from ship to ship to ship when they get sunk got a bit ridiculous after a while. We all knew we would beat the aliens, but it got so I wanted to yell “Get on with it already!” more than a few times.
All in all, it was an enjoyable two hours of mindless popcorn movie fluff. It wasn’t bad enough to want my money back, but as I said, this wasn’t a great film either. I don’t think it deserves the bad word of mouth it has been getting either. Come on folks, it’s not like this was Moulin Rouge! or The Dark Knight.
The Secret World of Arrietty ~ Probably one of the most wonderful things Disney has done in recent years, outside of their Cruise Line and keeping Marvel Comics from going under is obtaining distribution rights for Studio Ghibli. Those of us in the genre audience who have loved the breathtaking work of Hayao Miyazaki can now share it with the rest of the world.
The newest import from the Land of the Rising Sun, via Disney distribution is The Secret World of Arrietty, also known as Kari-gurashi no Arietti, is based on “The Borrowers” novels by Mary Norton, which have provided inspiration for many television and film projects. The Borrowers are tiny folks who live in the floorboards of your house and only take what they need.
Here they live in a house soon occupied by a sickly boy who sees them right away, especially a high-spirited young Borrower girl named Arrietty. A tentative friendship blooms in this smaller than usual (pun unintended) Ghibli film. It is wondrously animated and tells a touching story with a surprising voice cast. Amy Pohler didn’t annoy me and Carol Burnett slips easily into a villain role.
Like all the Miyazaki and Ghibli films, this is a joy to watch, a wonderful adventure and character story, highly recommended.
I’m a comics guy, not a gaming guy, but this one completely eludes me. The Darkness, and The Darkness II were both hard games to get into. It’s based on a comic book by Top Cow, so you’d think I’d be into it, but the fact is I don’t know all that much about The Darkness. And that’s the comic, not the band. I like the band.
Here’s what I know about the Darkness: published by Top Cow, he wears a mask over the lower part of his face, and the guy who created him – his favorite band is Journey. That last bit stuck with me from a nearly all forgotten Wizard Magazine article about the creator. I can’t remember his name but I remember that little tidbit because The Bride is such a big Journey fan. That’s it.
Apparently he’s a mob guy who is possessed by evil dark stuff or beings. Not much else of it makes sense. For the real scoop, I consulted Wikipedia for this entry. Does that make any sense? Here’s what I got from that. Jackie Estacado is a mob hitman who is cursed on his twenty-first birthday to carry the curse of The Darkness, an entity that can access the otherworldly dimension of the Darklings. Thus he is granted a gamut of super powers, not the least of which is darkness manipulation, yet somehow, especially in the videogame, he depends mostly on guns. Got it?
The opening to The Darkness is disturbing and creepy, like 1990s Nine Inch Nails music video disturbing. By the way, if I haven’t mentioned it yet, this game (nor its sequel) is not for the kids. From all appearances it is a first person shooter crossed with Japanese tentacle porn. So, best of both worlds, I guess. There’s a sweet voice cast involved, including Mike Patton from Faith No More, and Lauren Ambrose from “Six Feet Under” and “Torchwood: Miracle Day.” Beyond that, and a lot of shooting, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. At least not to me.
First there’s a crazy race through a tunnel, crashing and being shot at, then a shootout in an abandoned building. Once the controllers are gotten used to, and what they do memorized, it could be fun. The thing is, every single button, every single one, is used. I should have a diagram in front of me to play. This could be fun, maybe.
Darkness II still has a creepy opening, the protagonist, played in first person shooter style by you, is being crucified, and the makers of the game, Starbreeze Studios, take full advantage of the shaking rattling controller. It is unnerving. The actual game is kinda realistic with a Grand Theft Auto vibe. You enter an Italian, obviously mob-related, restaurant, sit down and somebody tries to whack you. You’re hurt and must make your way out, someone carrying you as you shoot anyone following, again with full on shaking controller. This was actually kinda fun.
So I vote maybe on the first one, and a hesitant yes on the second. All things considered, I think I will pass on the comic, and the video games… even if the creator (apparently Marc Silvestri, among others) does like Journey.
“Stop This Game” by Cheap Trick
The above video is from an old Italian music TV show. The song, from the 1980 album All Shook Up. Like with Alice Cooper and “Clones (We’re All),” this represented a marked change in the traditional Cheap Trick sound, aping the now more popular New Wave sound.
The song and the album were enough to put off the fans who had made Cheap Trick rock gods with their Live at Budokan album. Personnel changes kept the band from putting out a complete album for too long, and the Budokan heat had cooled. The fans were divided, rockers thought they were pop, and poppers thought they were rock, and in the end, they were screwed.
That wasn’t all that led to Cheap Trick’s downfall. Some say it was the Beatles curse, after Budokan they were dubbed the new Beatles, especially in Japan. That usually kills a band. It didn’t help that Cheap Trick themselves were huge Beatles fans, doing various covers like “Daytripper,” “Magical Mystery Tour” and even a mash-up with John Lennon of his “I’m Losing You.”
And then there were the plagiarism claims. Listen to their early 1980s pop ballad “The Flame” next to Spirit’s “Nature’s Way” if you don’t believe me. Even the above tune, “Stop This Game,” borrows a few rifts from KISS’ foray into disco and new wave, “I Was Born for Lovin’ You.”
Now, I don’t mean to bag on Cheap Trick. I still have a place in my heart for them. This song, as well as “Reach Out” from the Heavy Metal soundtrack, and “On Top of the World” from the classic 1978 album Heaven Tonight are among my favorite guilty pleasures.
One of the games I have downloaded from the PlayStation Store has been Namco Museum Essentials. Yeah, they’re old arcade games. I figured they would be way more my speed. One of the games included was Dig Dug.
I used to play Dig Dug all the time, probably for the first time at Maibu Grand Prix in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. The big draw was the miniature Indy car raceway in the back, but inside, it was a huge arcade, back in the day when videogames were played in such places. Now it’s just at home on the computer or video console. Us old people did it differently.
Malibu’s been gone for a long time now. They tore it all down and there’s now a medical complex there. Before that, it was closed and abandoned for years. Rumor has it that when they went to demolish it, a body was found on the grounds. Weird. There are still some Mailbu complexes open, in California and Texas, but for the most part, the arcade is a dead thing in our time.
I discovered Malibu in high school. A friend’s mother used to work in the offices nearby and he would pick her up after work every day, and take his brothers and his friends with to play at Malibu while we waited ’til the working whistle blew as they say. Malibu was where I first played a lot of great games, stuff like Star Castle, which I used to be able to play for hours on only a quarter – that was my game, as well as Centipede (though I preferred Millipede), Warlords, Popeye, Galaxian, Qix (another favorite I was very good at), Astro Fighter, Time Pilot, Pac-Man, Zaxxon, and another old favorite, Sinistar – and of course, Dig Dug. Hmmm… I guess I’m really dating myself with that list, huh?
Anyway, as I was playing Dig Dug, and getting my ol’ skillz back after navigating the PS3 controller, I started to wonder about the game. I mean, what the hell is it, really? It’s a guy named Dig Dug, who dresses like an astronaut and digs through the ground… and when he encounters weird creatures and dragons he shoots a hose at them, and inflates them until they explode. That sound about right? Wow. You can not tell me there were not drugs involved in the creation of this game.
After a bit of research (always a dangerous thing to do when you don’t know what you’ll find), I discovered Dig Dug’s real name was Hori Taizo, and he was the father of the guy in the Mr. Driller videogame (never heard of it) and the ex-husband of the heroine from Baraduke (that one either). The creatures are Pookas and Fygars respectively. Collectively they represent a weird incestuous hierarchy in Japanese videogaming. They are everywhere, in dozens of games.
I still got no explanation of what the game actually means. Sometimes a little knowledge, or a lack thereof, is a bad thing. At least it’s fun, and at least I can play it without embarrassing myself…
Bunraku ~ I saw this a few days back and I’m still not sure what I thought of it. It’s hard to describe. The word that is the title is Japanese and refers to a 400 year old type of theater that makes use of puppets, shadows and origami. It does in fact describe the way this movie is filmed. If I had to give it a shot, I would call Bunraku a samurai gangster western musical morality play. It is shot mostly on a soundstage and many of the sets and miniatures are paper. If nothing else, it’s impressive.
The story of a cowboy without a gun and a samurai without a sword who face off against an evil warlord and his gang of assassins takes place in a future where there are no guns, and the world has returned to the way of the sword. Josh Hartnett does his best Tim Olyphant impression from “Deadwood” as the cowboy, with Demi Moore making brief appearances as a madam, and Woody Harrelson plays a wounded hero turned bartender with a penchant for making pop-up books with forgotten (or perhaps stolen) comic book themes. Ron Perlman is the evil warlord, and Kevin McKidd (from two of my favorite shows that never should have been canceled – “Rome” and “Journeyman”) deftly dances through and steals the entire movie from the rest of the cast as the lead assassin, Killer Number Two.
In closing, Bunraku is at its core a morality play, and a samurai film in the old tradition. It’s also very stylish and has to be seen to be believed. I recommend it with a precaution. Be prepared to be weirded out, and blown away.