Tag Archives: movies

13 Assassins

Here’s a movie you don’t want to miss.  I saw 13 Assassins back at Fantastic Fest last year and now it’s in limited release in the US; here in Austin it’s showing at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. I went to see it again last night and again was blown away at the brilliance of the film.

13 Assassins is directed by Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer, Sukiyaki Western Django) and stars Koji Yakusho (Memoirs of a Geisha). It’s a traditional samurai movie in many respects, the kind there used to be scads of but isn’t really made much any more (technically, jidaigeki).

The general setup is that there’s a noble who is a degenerate Caligula style freak who is committing all kinds of atrocities, but he’s the Shogun’s half-brother so can’t be held to account. In fact, he gets nominated to be the Shogun’s chief advisor and once he travels back home from Edo, will take office and be untouchable. Finally the Chief Justice has to do something, and he approaches a samurai, Shinzaemon Shimada, and asks him to take care of this problem. Shinzaemon recruits 11 other samurai willing to risk their lives for the sake of taking out the sadistic noble and they plan an in-route hit, culminating in them taking a small village and turning it into a prepared kill zone. In an unfortunate turn for them the noble’s head samurai, who knows Shinzaemon, is forewarned and gets more troops, so the opposing force is 200+ clan samurai. This does not of course dissuade the samurai, who just hold up a banner stained with the bloody tears of one of the noble’s victims that reads “TOTAL MASSACRE” and then proceed to kick a legendary amount of ass.

The film is very, very well done. It has an economy of motion about it very fitting for a samurai movie.  There aren’t wasted scenes or movement; the momentum of the film builds strongly even through the early recruitment and planning scenes and doesn’t spin out or go over the top even in the end fight scene that’s an hour long(!). The violence is not done in a “cheap” way like in many, where the super-protagonist just kills an unlimited number of people because, hey, it’s a movie and they’re the star.  And it’s not turned into a big epic costume drama either. It is a very personal movie.  I was impressed that the 13 protagonists (they are joined by a hunter they find tied up in the forest, though he is a lot more than he seems) were all distinct characters without being broad stereotypes – that’s hard to do even with smaller ensemble casts.

It is refreshing after a diet of Hollywood movies where all you can really say is “Well, I’m glad it wasn’t awful” – like Thor and everything else I’ve seen this year really – to see something skillfully done, a movie made like a movie can be, with drama and violence and some humor and executed completely faithfully to its theme.

And also – you get to see an unparalleled samurai bloodbath.  Woot! Go see it.

Fantastic Fest 2010 Summary

I had a great time at Fantastic Fest, and plan to attend again next year.  For what it’s worth, here’s my stack ranked films from most to least favorite along with ratings.  Compare to my similar list from last year!  Basically above 5 means I enjoyed it, 5 or below means I somewhat regret having seen it. There’s only three films that fell into that category, and there were a lot of really good ones.  None was perfect – last year I gave only Fish Story a 10/10.  I saw 30 movies, man!  (I’m not counting the shorts collection in that.)

Must See

These are all instant classics I’d like to own the DVD of.  You should see them – alternately,  some don’t have distribution, so if you’re in “the biz” you should get a piece of them and distribute them!

  • Sound of Noise 9/10
  • 13 Assassins 9/10
  • Drones 9/10
  • Rammbock 9/10
  • Golden Slumber 9/10
  • Rare Exports 8/10
  • Transfer 8/10
  • Stake Land 8/10
  • 14 Blades 8/10
  • Red 8/10
  • Red Hill 8/10
  • Bedevilled 8/10
  • The Violent Kind 8/10
  • Snake in Eagle’s Shadow 8/10

Should See

When you go to see one of these in the theater, you come out feeling your money was well spent.

  • We Are What We Are 7/10
  • Mother’s Day 7/10
  • Primal 7/10
  • True Legend 7/10
  • Let Me In 7/10
  • Fire of Conscience 7/10
  • The Man From Nowhere 7/10
  • Legend of the Fist 7/10
  • The Dead 7/10

Could See

About what you’d expect from a good day on SyFy/Chiller.  I snoozed from time to time during them.

  • Zombie Roadkill 7/10
  • 30 Days of Night: Dark Days 6/10
  • Bunraku 6/10
  • Mutant Girls Squad 6/10

Bah

These movies made me sad.  I would rather have slept than watch them.

  • Gallants 5/10
  • Bibliotheque Pascal 4/10
  • The Last Circus: Balada Triste 3/10

Fantastic Fest 2010 Day Eight

One week isn’t enough for Fantastic Fest!  No, it’s a week and a bonus day.  And good thing; I saw my favorite two movies of the fest on this last day.

After a week of being in a movie theater, and often getting about 3 hours sleep between the late showing and getting in the early morning ticket line, I started to get sick.  A fistful of meds kept my sinuses in line till afterwards (I’m still suffering even now…)

14 Blades (8/10) – Donnie Yen stars in this period HK martial arts movie.  It’s well done and showcases some of the Mongol type areas.  Nothing too new and unique, but it was solidly executed – which made it better than the higher profile movies of the fest, True Legend and Legend of the Fist.  Duty!  Honor!  Kung fu!  All that good stuff.  It has light supernatural elements; occasional wire-fu and one baddie has a cool “evade death blows and leave a garment hovering behind” ninja trick kind of thing.

Red Hill (8/10) – Ryan Kwanten from True Blood stars in an Aussie film by Patrick Hughes.  It’s a constable’s first day on the job in a small outback town, Red Hill, when there’s a prison break and an infamous criminal from the town gets loose.  The locals freak, and are sure he’s coming back…  What could have been a straightforward slasher movie instead has a big twist, and the movie keeps tension without dragging.  We were all pleasantly surprised by this one – it’s not great, but it’s quite good.  [Side note – my gay friends that lust after Kwanten in his Jason Stackhouse role are concerned that he is not as dumb, and therefore not as adorable, in this part.  Fair warning.]

13 Assassins (9/10) – Now that’s a movie!  Takashi Miike gives us a samurai movie in the vein of Seven Samurai.  There’s a bad noble who has the favor of the Shogun, and a bunch of samurai are recruited to take him out before he goes and plunges the entire country into chaos.  The bad guy is Caligula bad, and the 13 samurai are cool – it’s hard to take a large cast like that and make them all distinct but they did a good job of that.  The entire latter part of the film is the 13 taking on like 200 guys in a town they’ve turned into a kill zone.  It is awesome.

Sound of Noise (9/10) – I didn’t know what to expect from this movie, but I heard from people that really liked it so I gave it a go.  It’s a Swedish film about guerrilla musicians and the tone deaf cop from a famously musical family who’s after them.  That description doesn’t really do it justice, but it’s quirky, fun, musical, dramatic, and more.  I hope more people get a chance to see it.  It gets my nod for best of the fest.

And that’s Fantastic Fest 2010!  I’ll do a recap next, but there were a lot of movies and the vast majority were very good.  I’ll be there next year, and since I managed to score a VIP badge I’ll be able to get some sleep!

Fantastic Fest 2010 Day Seven

Son of a bitch.  I just wrote up a huge long post and WordPress ate it.  Sorry, I’m not going to do it all again, here’s the highlights though.

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (7/10)

  • HK movie starring Andrew Lau
  • Sequel to Fist of Fury (Bruce Lee) or its remake Fist of Legend (Jet Li)
  • Starts off strong with kung fu WWII action scene
  • Then goes noir with a lot of hanging around a nightclub unsubtly called “Casablanca”
  • Masked avenger subplot a la Black Mask, but should have either been cut or gone into more, it was an odd thing to be a small sideline
  • End fight scene in Japanese dojo a shout-out to earlier Fists movies, but wasn’t nearly as good
  • Starts strong, then goes downhill

Bedevilled (8/10)

  • S. Korean movie, didn’t know what to expect based on blurb and pic
  • Self absorbed bitch Hae-won living in Seoul goes back to the island she grew up on, which has only about 9 souls living on it, eking out a 12th century subsistence lifestyle
  • The men abuse, the old ladies enable, and the one woman friend of Hae-Won, Bok-Nam, and her daughter are the ones to take the brunt of it
  • Hae-won keeps to her “not my problem” policy as bad things happen
  • Slow build and then in the last act the payback begins
  • Very well done movie, not a typical slasher/revenge movie, great indictment of those who stand by and won’t speak up when others are doing bad things

Red (8/10)

  • Based on Warren Ellis graphic novel
  • Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren are retired secret agents who get provoked by Karl Wagner et al. and have to swing back into action
  • A straightforward but well done comedy actioner, much better than the “Expendables”/”A-Team” kind of crap we’ve gotten lately
  • In theaters soon – heck, I may go see it again when it comes out

The Last Circus: Balada Triste (3/10)

  • Strongly hyped by Harry Knowles (AICN founder, FF co-founder) in slavering terms
  • Balada Triste = Sad Trumpet
  • Spanish film by Alex de la Iglesia about a kid whose clown dad is killed in a battle during Spanish Civil War, which is fun
  • Forget that and skip forward, now he’s a sad clown and working for a circus, he falls in love with a circus performer who has a violent happy clown boyfriend
  • He gets his ass beat
  • Both he and the other clown get all deformed and have Joker transformations
  • They fight over the “sad strumpet” a lot and are all surreal
  • I want to cut myself
  • Some people justified the movie’s weaknesses because of its “compelling imagery” but just because you’re Spanish doesn’t mean you’re Guillermo del Toro
  • Q&A indicates that Knowles loves this because of the comic book references
  • Worst film I saw at the fest, agreement on that assessment from the people I was attending with

Fantastic Fest 2010 Day Six

Day 6, I wasn’t going to mess around – I put down five movies like they were unruly hookers.

First up, the awesome Rare Exports (8/10).  Scandinavians have weird myths, and this one delves into the early Swedish myths of Santa Claus – think less “jolly old Nick” and more “demented goat-beast.”   It’s the tale of a boy and his (modern day) reindeer-ranching village as Christmas approaches.  Some Americans (those goddamn Americans are always behind it) are blasting up on a nearby mountain, and it appears wolves have eaten all the reindeer…  But then you find out that the mountain may be where the natives froze and buried Santa because he was so nasty….  And next thing you know there’s fifty naked old guys running through the snow chasing a little boy.  This was a very enjoyable movie, it never goes over the line to slasher horror but you really think that any minute it’s going to…

There was a cool short before it, Unholy Night,  that similarly deals with the Icelandic Santa myths, in which there are 13 Santas, one of which is named “Meathook.”  You can imagine how that ends up.  They want to parlay the short into a film with all 13 Santas.  Sounds like a winning idea for a one-season Showtime special to me!

Then it was time for Mutant Girls Squad (6/10), the newest from the three Japanese psychos behind Tokyo Gore Police, Robogeisha, and Be A Man! Samurai School.  It’s Troma-esque schlocky gore.  I didn’t find it too engaging.  It was better than last year’s Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl at least, but there’s only so far the sophomoric imagery takes you – “Girl with a chainsaw coming out her ass” and “Girl with katanas coming out of her breasts” were two of the characters in this flick.  It was enjoyable in a middle school kind of way for the first hour, and then I got sleepy.

Next was a real high point, Drones (9/10) – like Office Space, but with aliens!  Kinda.  A true low budget success, we get a tale of intergalactic domination told only with office workers in cubicles.  The writing is the real star here, and the film is clever and engaging.  The protagonist, “Brian”, discovers in short order that both his best friend and his girlfriend are alien infiltrators, but from different races that oppose each other…  But it doesn’t go all “Bros vs Hoes,” it’s a good-hearted film where the characters pull together.  Very, very funny.  We all came out of that showing reinvigorated and chatty.

Then we watched The Dead (7/10).  Fair warning, the people I was with liked this film less than I did.  They shot a zombie outbreak movie in Africa, on the border of Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso.  An American military man involved in some brushfire war there gets stranded when a zombie outbreak happens.  He travels across the country, teaming up with a local military man for much of the journey.

This film just didn’t have the bite it should have.  First of all, “zombie outbreak” is only about a 6 on the 1-10 scale of fucked up shit that happens in that part of Africa every day.  The filmmaker shied away from showing any of that, possibly out of ultra sensitivity to the inevitable charges of racism that would follow.  (They talked about some of the Internet nimrods that are already tooting that horn; there is absolutely no reason for it but people like to bring themselves some measure of fame by crapping on other stuff.)  Second of all, they talked about the transformation of the main character from selfish to altruistic over the course of the film, but the movie I saw doesn’t support that one bit (that he was that selfish, or that he changed).  I did like how the people in the movie weren’t all “turn on each other and be more dangerous than the zombies,” that’s such a cliche now; seeing even disparate people band together despite their differences (besides black/white, they were on opposite sides in a war a day ago) in the face of such a threat.

A side note, they started this movie way before Resident Evil decided to have its newest incarnation in Africa, so no copycat charges please.  I think some of the problem may be that they just couldn’t get some of the scenes they wanted in the can; between customs delays and bribery and being held at gunpoint and knifepoint and suffering from dysentery, they really had a hellish time trying to make a movie in Africa.  There’s a scene where he finds a baby and gives it away to some soldiers about one minute after; the director expressed his frustration that they wanted to do more with that but just ran up against the limits of their time in country.

Finally, we had Rammbock (9/10), a German zombie outbreak movie.  A sad sack going to bug his ex-girlfriend gets caught up in an outbreak and he and several other residents of the townhouse barricade themselves in and have to help each other.  This film also had a fairly positive view of human nature post-zombie, though there was the one “Mr. Twitchy” who endangers everyone by being a big selfish tool.

I thought their take on the zombie outbreak was a very compelling one. It’s a disease, and the result is 28 Days Later style fast-zombies, but you find out that being bitten isn’t 100% fatal, and that an infected’s immune system might fight it off if they stay calm and avoid adrenaline rush.  So you have a reason to not just kill anyone bitten, and a reason to be seeking after sedatives and other McGuffins.  It opens up a lot of interesting avenues that the now-traditional zombie disease closes, and I’d be interested in seeing more riffs on it.

It was also clever in that all their attempts for random townspeople to confront zombies with violence end badly – they really have to use their brains, they don’t all go Ash like so many movies depict.

This was one of the best days of the fest!  But even better is yet to come…

Fantastic Fest 2010 Day Five

Day five, and the second week of Fantastic Fest.  All the weekend partiers have left, and Fantastic Arcade rolls up its mat.  Now it’s just the hardcore movie watchers.

First, I saw The Man From Nowhere (7/10).  Somewhat of a South Korean riff on The Professional, starring Won Bin, which according to the movie blurb on the FF site I guess I would know if I were a teenaged South Korean girl.  I’m not, so I could give a crap.  But the movie was decent.  It starts out with some reclusive guy running a crappy pawnshop in an apartment building; his junkie neighbor has a little kid and then the bad men come and it turns out he’s ex-special forces and then he becomes the KILLDOZER!  The bad guys basically snatch kids, use them for various criminal schemes, and then harvest them for their organs.  I enjoyed the movie but can’t help but feel like since they had Korean pop star Rain in the bloody Ninja Assassin last year at FF this was a deliberate attempt to duplicate that.

Next, I watched a movie about a cannibal family in Mexico called We Are What We Are (7/10).  It was interesting, not a slasher flick, but a serious movie about a family that is – well, it sounds weird to call them “normally” dysfunctional, with the crazy mom and the brothers both wanting to bang their sister, but they’re not all Texas Chainsaw Massacre crazy.  They are cannibals, and seem to believe strongly that they have to, from time to time, eat someone in a ritual manner.  Interestingly, the corrupt cops and locals seem to treat cannibalism as a pretty common thing there – when a would-be victim escapes and finds a cop, the cop radios in a “code 17 in progress,” which one would think is a pretty low number for “cannibals on a rampage.”  I liked that they left a lot unexplained, like the exact nature of the ritual and what exactly happened to the father (he dies in the first 30 seconds of the film, but it’s never clear who did it and how).  The main thing that seemed off was that in the end when the cops are on their trail, they somehow home in unerringly in packs to their one apartment in a whole barrio.  As a bonus, thanks to the Alamo’s extensive menu I ate a big bowl of puerco guisada while watching it, and my cackling discomfited my neighbors.

The high point of the day was Stake Land (8/10), a post-apocalyptic vampire movie like unto I Am Legend, or The Road with vampires.  These are more feral vampires only slightly differentiated from fast zombies, not “sexy prince of the night” vampires.  A guy named “Mister” and a kid named Martin travel across the mostly-wasted American countryside, where only small enclaves of humans still hold out against the hostile world.  They slay vampires in roughneck style, and directory Jim Mickle must be making John Carpenter jealous, since he knows how to make it look good.  It has rednecks throwing vampires out of helicopters as a terror weapon.  And nun raping, lots of nun raping.  (All the men seem to be all over the old nun, played by Kelly Gillis, as opposed to the oddly fresh-faced young women for whatever reason.  Maybe it’s because they all touched themselves to Top Gun too.)  More dangerous than the vampires are the psycho fundie militia that’s taken over swaths of the area.  Dark and violent, Stake Land is a really good vampire movie.

I finished out the day with the disappointing Bunraku (6/10). It seemed really interesting at the start – Josh Hartnett, Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore, Ron Perlman, and some Japanese chick (I really did think he was a woman for his first two scenes – really it’s some pop star named “Gackt”) star in a Sin City meets Moulin Rouge, cowboys-and-samurai action romp!  But after the initial imagery wore off, the plot really started to lag.  They have to kill the “top ten killers” and I started napping towards the end of them.  Although it had loads of visual style, it definitely needed some tighter pacing and editing in the last third of the film.

Fantastic Fest 2010 Day Four

This was Sunday, and I took off most of the day to go to an amusement park with my daughter; my company had rented out Six Flags Fiesta Texas for Family Day so it was too good to miss.  But it’s Fantastic Fest, so even after a reasonably brutal day in the Texas sun it was back for a couple movies!

First I saw Primal (7/10), an “Ozploitation” movie in the vein of Cabin Fever, The Descent or The Ruin, where some college kids on a camping trip to look at cave paintings way out in the middle of nowhere, Australia run afoul of a… Well, we’ll call it a “disease,” that turns people into feral “fast zombie” style savages.  This was decent; a simple premise but well done.  There is almost a tentacle rape, and the heroine takes some good punches in the uterus.  Good times.  It wasn’t an exceptional movie but I thought it was an enjoyable representative of that “camping horror” genre.

Then I saw Gallants (5/10), a Hong Kong martial arts comedy.  It was billed as “Cocoon with kung fu” because the protagonists are old, I guess.  HK humor is admittedly a bit of a different beast from American humor, but I didn’t enjoy this movie all that much.  The comedy was just goofy slapstick, the martial arts sequences weren’t all that good, and the melodrama was eye-rolling.  The most memorable part for us was that the villains had an odd penchant for carrying man-purses (much like Elijah Woods, who attended a lot of Fantastic Fest).  I suspect you are supposed to like this because the old guys are huge kung fu movie stars from the old days.  But, no.

Only two movies on Day Four, but I crank it back up into overdrive in Day Five!