My friends, I would be perfectly happy with just another cool Godzilla movie. That’s what I want to see. But it turns out the new one, GODZILLA MINUS ONE, is an actual masterpiece. I think you could say the same of 2016’s SHIN GODZILLA, a visionary take on the big guy. This one, from writer/director/special effects supervisor Takashi Yamazaki (RETURNER, SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO), is more of a sweeping emotional one. Set between 1945 and 1947, it’s a serious and very involving post-war melodrama about the opposite of a war hero.
As WWII is winding down, kamikaze pilot Koichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki, RUROUNI KENSHIN: KYOTO INFERNO) lands on Odo Island with engine troubles. Or so he says. The mechanics all give him a look as their boss, Tachibana (Munetaka Aoki, BATTLE ROYALE II, HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI, SAMURAI MARATHON) tells him they couldn’t find anything wrong with it. “What are you implying?” Koichi cries, and storms off.
Tachibana catches up with him and says that, for what it’s worth, he’s on his side. The government treats life as cheap. It makes no sense to give your life for a war that’s already lost. Yeah, we agree, but that’s not gonna wipe the shame off of Koichi. So you see, this is a movie about about a guy who chose to live, and feels tremendous guilt about it. (read the rest of this shit…)
Okay, I know after 15 years many people have sort of fallen out of love with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I feel you. Maybe you’re looking forward to a world with fewer comic book movies. Fair enough.
But before you go can I interest you in Indonesia’s answer to the MCU real quick? A few years ago I reviewed the 2019 film GUNDALA, written and directed by Joko Anwar (SATAN’S SLAVES), based on an Indonesian comic book character from the ‘60s. I really liked it, and thought it was cool to see a super hero origin story that’s obviously inspired by the American ones, but based in the history, culture and cinematic traditions of Indonesia. Most specifically, for my tastes, that means it has a whole bunch of really great martial-arts-based action. So I was intrigued that it was meant to kick off something called the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe. In the MCU tradition it even had a little tag at the end introducing the heroine of movie #2 here, SRI ASIH. Then the whole endeavor got delayed by that bastard COVID-19, but it finally made its way to U.S. DVD (but I guess not blu-ray) this week under the insulting title SRI ASIH: THE WARRIOR.
Anwar is the executive producer of the whole series, and he co-wrote this one with its director, Upi Avianto (HIT & RUN), just credited as Upi. Pevita Pearce (MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU) stars as Alana, whose mom died giving birth to her four months early, during a volcanic eruption, in a car being chased by a demon-faced ash plume. So Alana grew up in an orphanage defending others from bullies until a rich lady named Sarita (Jenny Chang, also a mother in competing Indonesian comic book universe movie SATRIA DEWA: GATOTKACA) adopted her and taught her to be a fighter, who competes against men and is undefeated. (read the rest of this shit…)
I don’t need to tell any of you that one of the all time great directors, John Woo, has returned to our screens. If you didn’t read it or hear it, you could probly sense it. It’s been six years since his last movie (MANHUNT, 2017) and twenty since his last American movie (PAYCHECK, 2003), so it’s an event. It’s also a Christmas-set action movie, which I always appreciate, and it has a gimmicky storytelling conceit (no dialogue) that makes it a fun formal challenge for the grandmaster.
It is not, however, a poetic story of brotherhood like A BETTER TOMORROW, BULLET IN THE HEAD or THE KILLER, nor an American genre pushed to gorgeous levels of absurdity like HARD TARGET, BLACKJACK or FACE/OFF. Instead it’s a skilled and slightly eccentric but not emotionally complex take on a standard vigilante revenge formula. And there’s another catch, which I will get to soon. We’ll just say it’s more of an interesting film that I’m excited to write about than a great John Woo film. But I got some entertainment from it. (read the rest of this shit…)
HAUNTED SAMURAI, a.k.a. SHINOBI DEMON: DUEL IN THE WIND, a.k.a. KAZE NO TENGU (1970), is an obscure samurai movie I uncharacteristically blind-bought from Diabolik DVD. It’s apparently never been on video and they made a limited edition blu-ray and I went for it.
Diabolik say it’s “based on the works of Goseki Kojima, the artist behind the legendary Lone Wolf and Cub.” Not the writer, Kazuo Koike, who was involved in quite a few movies, but the illustrator, Kojima. According to the film historian commentary track it’s based on a manga he wrote and illustrated, and it sounds like he calls it “Donenke” or something like that, but I could find no information about it anywhere. The opening credits do play over what looks like Kojima’s art.
(Update: It’s called Doninki [土忍記, “Earth Ninja Chronicles”] Thanks Matthew B.!)
The day after I saw THANKSGIVING I decided to sit down and watch the whole GRINDHOUSE double feature for the first time in many years. I saw it twice during its short theatrical run in 2007, saw the longer separate version of DEATH PROOF on DVD (can’t remember if I ever did the same for PLANET TERROR), at some point I bought a Canadian import blu-ray just to have the full double feature when it wasn’t available here yet. Turns out it was still unopened.
DEATH PROOF definitely stands up as a separate movie, but I thoroughly enjoyed having that full experience again. I know online movie people talk too much about runtimes, sort of a dumb topic usually, but I want to point out that this full double feature is only 15 minutes longer than THE BATMAN, 10 minutes longer than OPPENHEIMER, and 15 minutes shorter than KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON. But it offers two very different movies, plus short subjects in the form of fake trailers and bumpers, that play off each other kind of like an anthology. For those times when you’re in more of a splattering blood and smashing cars mood than a creation of the atom bomb one it’s a joyful and enriching way to spend an afternoon or evening. (read the rest of this shit…)
INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER (1965) is Godzilla movie #6, once again from director Ishiro Honda. Weirdly it’s a co-production between Toho and the American animation studio UPA – a collaboration that began that year with FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON (the one that WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is a sequel to).
According to the opening text, ASTRO-MONSTER takes place in the year 196X (which you may remember from the Bryan Adams song “Summer of ‘6X”). World Space Agency astronauts Kazuo Fuji (Akira Takarada, GLORY TO THE FILMMAKER!) and Glenn (Nick Adams, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE) are flying the P-1 rocket on a mission to the mysterious Planet X. Fuji’s sister Haruno Fuji (Keiko Sawai) also works at the agency, and he’s so controlling of her that during lift off he asks them to relay a message to her to “not rush into things” with her new boyfriend Tetsuo, inventor of “The Ladyguard Portable Alarm” (kind of an electronic rape whistle). (read the rest of this shit…)
TAMARA may or may not be obscure enough to qualify for Slasher Search, but it’s harder to define now that I’m doing 21st century movies. Its hook is that it’s from Jeffrey Reddick, writer of FINAL DESTINATION. Apparently it had an unprofitable theatrical release in 2005, a time of terrible fonts and faux-distressed poster art. I recognized the cover from the video store, but only when I found it on Tubi did I wonder what its deal was and click on it.
The part that piqued my curiosity is that the title character is played by former Janet Jackson backup dancer Jenna Dewan a year before she starred in the first STEP UP movie. Tamara is, as described in the IMDb plot summary, “an unattractive girl who is picked on by her peers,” and it plays like kind of a CARRIE ripoff for a while. She’s a shy, awkward girl, is mercilessly bullied by the (cartoonishly obnoxious) popular kids, and isn’t helped by a crushingly miserable home life with a terrible single parent. In her case it’s her dad (Chris Sigurdson) who’s still around, and he’s a sleazy, molesty drunk. And instead of going home and being made to pray to Jesus, she secretly practices witchcraft. (read the rest of this shit…)
SAKRA is Donnie Yen’s 2023 passion project, which he stars in and co-directed (with Kam Ka-Wai, second assistant director of IP MAN 1 and 2). It’s a wuxia story based on a famous novel with the tough-sounding title Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils by Jin Yong.
Yen stars as Qiao Feng, an orphan raised by a couple in the Song Empire. He grows up to become the leader of the powerful Beggar Gang, whose legendary badassness is introduced in one of those classic scenes where somebody is being an asshole in public and our guy is quietly listening for a while and then gets inolved (see also: Blue Eye Samurai). A monk (Tsui Siu-Ming, KUNG FU KILLER) comes to this restaurant dragging a cage he says contains an “unruly” person he’s going to sacrifice, and Qiao Feng is sitting at a table on the balcony of a whole different establishment across the way when he starts loudly talking shit without even looking at him. The monk is like “What the fuck – is that guy talking to me?” (read the rest of this shit…)
I take any chance I can to tell people about the show Reservation Dogs. If you get Hulu it’s on there – just 3 seasons, a total of 28 half hour episodes, not heavy on continuity, not a huge time commitment. In a way it’s comparable to my other favorite recent show, Atlanta, in that it’s just this incredible cast where every character is really hilarious to me in a different way, and also because the writers and directors are narratively playful and free. They’re willing to leave their teenage protagonists to do an episode all about the elders, then later one all about the elders when they were teenagers, then an episode where one of today’s teenagers meets a weirdo recluse who we start to realize was one of the kids in that flashback episode who has become estranged from the others. Things like that. But also it’s a very potent show about friendship and dealing with loss, so it’s the funniest show that I always find myself trying not to cry at.
They ended it this year and I already miss it, so it’s a good time for me to track down the handful of indie movies creator Sterlin Harjo did in the pre-Rez Dogs part of his career. I previously reviewed his debut feature FOUR SHEETS TO THE WIND, sort of a romance. Now I’ve skipped to his third one, MEKKO (2015), which Wikipedia describes as a thriller. That wouldn’t have occurred to me but yeah, I guess it makes sense to call it that. Mostly it’s just a slice of life following this big quiet guy named Mekko (Rod Rondeaux, MEEK’S CUTOFF, HOSTILES, THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS) getting out of prison after 19 years and trying to survive on the streets of Tulsa. (read the rest of this shit…)