Saturday, June 25, 2011

13 Assassins

In the Edo period of Japanese history, the samurai lived as powerful servants to the even more powerful shogunate. While the samurai may have been the ultimate warriors on the highly guarded and closed off islands that made up Japan in those days, their code required absolute devotion to their lords. So strong was this devotion that it was unthinkable to not follow the lord’s demands. Along comes Lord Naritsugu, who is both a high-level shogun lord and a complete psychopath. Everywhere he went he raped, tortured and killed at will, often the victim’s were completely innocent families, often using the noble samurai to finish the job. Naritsugu’s main samurai, Hanbei, is a seasoned veteran who was a top pupil back in the day, second only to an ultimate bad ass of a samurai, Shinzaemon.

Unlucky for Hanbei, Shinzaemon has just found out what Naritsugu’s been up to and that Naritsugu is about to take over has top shogun. Well, ole Shinzaemon can’t let that go down. Problem is, he can’t find anyone to join him in his quest to take out Naritsugu, as most samurai wouldn’t even think of touching a hair on a shogun lord’s head. So, all Sinzaemon can do is round up a group of samurai rejects and iconoclasts and try to take down Naritsugu. So, the ragtag group of 13 takes on Hanbei and his army of samurai to stand up for what’s right and bring down the hand of justice.

This movie is freaking awesome. I tend to either not much care for Takashi Miike’s movies at all or love them. This one definitely falls into the latter category. The movie is a tale about the dangers of absolute, unthinking devotion to authority. The style is that of a classic samurai period piece and, as such, mimics the great westerns of the golden age. Change the background to the frontier of the western U.S. in the 19th century and switch out the main actor with Clint Eastwood and you would have a western classic on your hands. The white hats and black hats are similar in substantial ways and diametrically opposed at the same time. They’re also both heavy hands who ultimately must have a final showdown to decide the fate of the town. It’s classic stuff, high noon samurai style, and it’s awesome.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Annie’s life is falling apart. She has no relationship with her mom. Her business has recently failed. She has no love life and the one guy she is involved with is a douche of the highest order. The only constant and positive aspect of her life is her lifelong best friend Lillian, but Lillian is now spending most of her time in Chicago, nearly an hour away, and now Lillian has announced she’s moving there because she’s engaged. Annie is essentially on the verge of a nervous breakdown when Lillian asks her to be the maid of honor and pairs her up with Lillian’s new best friend the all to together and seemingly perfect Helen. It is the straw that breaks the camels back.

What makes a comedy great? Is it the story? Is it the emotional bits that function to keep the story arch and character development going? Or is it just laughs? There are many comedies we can all think of that may be full of gags and laughs but that didn’t stick with us because they lacked the other elements. It’s rare that a comedy has all these elements firing on all pistons. Bridesmaids is no exception. I left feeling like it wasn’t that great because I didn’t care much at all about the emotional arch of the Annie character. I love Kristen Wiig, but it seemed like, for most of the movie, she was just doing her character from most of her movie appearances but just amped up a bit. At the same time, I laughed my ass off in this movie, more than any other comedy I can remember in a good long time. So, what does this mean? If I give the main story line a B-, does that mean the movie is a B-?

I don’t think that’s fair. Plus, as time passed I began to think more kindly on the Annie character and like her a bit more and also came to realize that excluding such an emotional aspect of the movie would have made it just another Apatow-helmed dirty mouthed gross out comedy. While I like some of his movies of such an ilk, it’s been done and, lately, done way too often. Instead, it was like those movies but worked slightly better, to where I am still thinking about the story and movie now, still mentally invested in the characters.

But, hands down, 100%, without a doubt, the absolute best thing about this movie was Melissa McCarthy. Her character, Megan, was easily the funniest character I’ve seen in a solid decade. She took what could have been a completely forgettable side character and totally nailed it, to the point that, by the end of the movie, her merely being on screen made me laugh. From the first moment she speaks to the roll of the credits, she kept my attention and made me laugh like I haven’t laughed in years. Hilarious! So, in the end, I felt so so about some of the storyline aspects of the movie, but it was a decent story that was very well acted and it consistently made me laugh and, after all, isn’t that what a comedy is aiming to do?


Saturday, June 11, 2011


As anyone who knows me or follows this blog knows, I love campy cinematic crap from my childhood. I own so many movies from the 70’s and 80’s that most people have long forgotten that it’s not even funny. I also love to scan back, remember some movie even I’ve long forgotten and give it an overdue repeat view. Anytime someone undertakes such an endeavor, they inevitably find that some movies they loved as a kid hold up over time and some most certainly do not. Well, all that to say, viewing Krull now, a movie I totally dug as a little guy, I realize just how much Krull sucks. There really isn’t a good aspect of this movie. The effects are awful, the props are awful, the acting, the writing, even the score, it’s all just terrible.

Krull has about as much suspense and drama as an episode of the A-Team. True, three people die in Krull, which is monumentally more than in any episode of the A-Team, but there was never a second where I felt any of the important characters was in any danger whatsoever. There were these highly trained killing machines with laser guns who seemed to be everywhere and were constantly trying to kill the five or so people on this mission. Those five or so people were not trained and had things like staffs and spears. Yet, they seemed to be able to easily defeat the killing machines through some cunning bobbing and weaving. Awful, just awful.

Their biggest help comes in the form of a Cyclops that looked like the neighbor from Home Improvement with a second rate mechanical blinking eye molded over his actual eyes. It’s the fakest thing I’ve ever seen and they chose a guy who is not at all imposing or athletic to be this big heroic warrior. Sheesh.

I could go on and on, but the absolute worst thing, hands down, was the music. The score is the most grand, sweeping, epic score I have ever heard and the movie is about as sweeping and epic as Clerks. They go to like two locations! Take the biggest and most bombastic parts of the Star Wars score and imagine that playing constantly throughout the movie, as in every single time a person crossed the room or took a single step. It was beyond description.

Long story short, if you’re aching for some retro fantasy, pop in Conan the Barbarian, revel in some James Earl Jones/Arnold Schwarzenegger goodness and skip Krull.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Trinity and Beyond

Trinity & Beyond is a 1995 documentary about America’s embracement of and development of nuclear weaponry. Using declassified footage, the documentary largely lets the old military footage of these gigantic test blasts and the preparation there for (and sometimes backlash thereof) speak for itself. If you are at all fascinated by human evolution, this movie is not something to miss. There are shots in this movie I have never seen and blasts the scale of which I have never known. On this level, it is truly disturbing.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is our willingness to simply accept that the development of these weapons was just part of life and completely necessary. While a few people may have spoken out against atom and hydrogen weapons, the majority, especially those involved in their creation, seemed to think nothing of it, as though it was as necessary as developing a sharper knife than your enemy. In reality, we were creating ways to destroy each other on a scale unlike any in human history. As though we were figuring out how to jump start an ice age or plague.

Where the movie falls short is two fold. First, the general aesthetic and score are campy at best. They make shtick of something of greater historical and ecological significance than nearly anything else. Secondly, and this is largely because it was made in the mid-to-early 90’s, it seems to treat the threat like something from the past. In fact, the story pretty well ends in 1964, as though America and many others like it stopped developing these horrific weapons back in the day. In reality, atomic weaponry is now in the hands of countries that can barely sustain a workable hospital or education system. These weapons of mass destruction are being refined and developed by numerous countries and, oh by the way, America and Russia still have plenty enough to wipe out a huge chunk of humanity. Put plainly, the movie seems to think this is a closed case, when, in reality, we are still in an era where a select few could send humanity back into the dark ages in a matter of hours.

Until we leav it, the nuclear age is going to be a disturbing threat to humane and ecological existence and if you are unclear of this after watching the footage contained in this movie, then ignorance must truly be bliss.