Blade of the Immortal Poignant Tale of Samurai Redemption

Directed by Takashi Miike, Blade of the Immortal is his 100th film. Miike is best known for directing the popular samurai movie 13 Assassins about the end of Japan’s feudal era.

Immortal follows Manji, played honestly by Takuya Kimura, a highly skilled samurai, who becomes cursed with immortality after a legendary battle. The foreboding of being haunted by the brutal murder of his sister drives Manji to continue fighting evil. He cannot die and is cursed with the pain of being sliced and hacked with swords forever more.

I found myself chuckling a couple of times when his severed hand would magically snap back to his arm. The effects were done well but a couple of shots seemed fake.

Manji wants to be able to die and regain his soul. He comes across a young girl named Rin, played beautifully by Hana Sugisaki. Sugisaki also plays his sister, which offers a correlation between him helping Rin for the sake of his deceased sister.

He promises to help the young girl avenge her parents’ death. They were killed by a group of master swordsmen led by ruthless warrior Anotsu, played by Sôta Fukushi.

The movie is in Japanese and English with English subtitles. The story is well told because Manji’s mission changes him. Kimura portrayal of Manji captured my interest and kept me watching the movie because as he changes even Manji cannot believe what is happening to him.  I am right there with him all the way.

For those who love samurai movies, this is a must to see.  The Blu-ray Special Features include a poster gallery, cast interviews, which are educational for anyone who studies movies, trailers, and a poignant interview with Takuya Kimura.

Cannes Festival Winner: The Square an Elegant Satire

Directed by Ruben Ostlund, The Square is 2017 Cannes Film Festival – Winner: Palme d’Or. The movie follows Christian, played dynamically and heartfelt by Claes Bang, who is the esteemed curator of a contemporary art museum. He is a divorced but devoted father of two girls and drives an electric car. He also supports good causes but there is an edge to him. His actions at times contradict his devotion. For example, he turns away homeless people or refuses to help a boy who is falsely in trouble with his parent’s cause by Christian’s attempt to recover his stolen wallet and cellphone. In all, the movie is a satire and a drama pointing out flaws of society’s inability to help and trust each other.

Christian’s next show at the museum is “The Square”, an installation which invites passersby to altruism, reminding them of their role as responsible fellow human beings. But sometimes, it is difficult to live up to your own ideals. Ostlund points out in a recent media statement, “…The Square is a drama/satire. I wanted to make an elegant movie, with visual and rhetorical devices to provoke and entertain viewers. Thematically the film moves between topics such as responsibility and trust, rich and poor, power and powerlessness. The growing beliefs in the individual and the declining beliefs in the community. The distrust of the state, in media and in art.”

Christian’s foolish response to the theft of his phone drags him into shameful situations that are a bit drawn out for my tastes, but I understand the director’s point. Bang takes this role and owns it. He conveys the push and pulls off what he wants to do and what he should do.

Meanwhile, the museum’s PR agency has created an unexpected campaign for “The Square”. The response is overblown and sends Christian, as well as the museum, into an existential crisis. I question the crisis in the story because the PR agency generates enough free publicity and social media trends that the art piece and museum will flourish.

Elisabeth Moss of The Handmaid’s Tale has a supporting role in the movie where she and Bang play off each other brilliantly and it is fun to watch. Her comedic timing cinches the point it is a satire. It is obvious why Moss’ career is taking off like a rocket in the stars. She is just too fun to watch.

So much happens in this movie and there are moments where my shadow of disbelief lifts because of the crazy situations like a man being an ape as an art piece. Silly.  I am sure some will find it funny, which make this movie so good.

The DVD comes with some bonus features like the trailer and casting clips, disappointingly Moss’ casting clip is not in the bunch.

The movie’s title comes from the name of a project that was first exhibited in the fall of 2014 at the Vandalorum Museum in the South of Sweden. The exhibition representing the ideal of consensus that should govern society as a whole for the greater good. The project became a permanent installation on the city of Värnamo’s central square. If someone is standing in Värnamo’s led-light version of a square, it is one’s duty to act and react if one needs help.

The movie is in Swedish with English and Spanish subtitles, though English is sometimes spoken in certain scenes. Hopefully, viewers leave the movie with a more understanding of how help is important and one should trust others more so there will be peace on Earth.

 

Extraordinary Mission Brutal and Raw

From Alan Mak and Felix Chong, co-writers of The Departed and director of Infernal Affairs, the movie follows Lin Kai, played by Huang Xuan, in Extraordinary Mission. The movie is razor sharp with intense lighting that heightens the tension in each scene.

The movie takes place in Hong Kong where crime is center staged. Lin Kai is an undercover officer delegated to break through the Twin Eagles drug cartel. The story moves fast and the shots are tight. I never found my thoughts wandering.  The subtitles were tough to follow at times because the movie moved fast with raw intensity.

Yihong Duan plays an impressive cartel boss and a firm conviction in his ruthlessness.  Seeing both Xuan and Duan in scenes together was like watching a full charged emotional push-and-pull. Their scenes were not just a cat and mouse game.  It was brutal and raw.

The movie takes a turn that I was not expecting. Xuan acting talent shines when Kai is coerced into gradual drug addiction while attempting to locate the cartel’s production base.  Being strung out on drugs creates more complications when Kai realizes Eagle has been plotting a violent revenge against his supervisor Li Jianguo, played by Jiadong Xing, for over a decade.

The ending is brutal but fun to watch.  The creative minds of Mak and Chong is a vision you don’t want to miss.

Andy Lau’s Shock Wave High-Action

Written and directed by Herman Yau, Shock Wave is spellbinding with all the action scenes in the movie. The fact that it seized the #1 box office spot in China and Hong Kong when it hit theaters speaks about how much explosive action there is in the movie. Producing the movie on a $23 million budget, Shock Wave is one of Hong Kong’s highest grossing domestic movies for 2017. Take a look at the movie’s trailer, and you will see what I mean.

The movie follows, Cheung Choi-san, played by Andy Lau, as he works as a bomb disposal expert among the busy streets of Hong Kong.  Along comes a terrorist who specializes in explosives, Hung Kai-pang, played by Jiang Wu, takes hold of the busy Cross-Harbor Tunnel. He threatens to kill hostages if his demands are not met.

This is a typical action movie plot, but the director executes these scenes is riveting, so unlike some American action movies. In Shock Wave, they are very realistic, almost scary. The movie is intense and kept my attention throughout even though there are English subtitles.

The movie has a flair for cat and mouse. Cheung effectively broke up Hung’s criminal gang, but in the course of the raid, Hung triumphs and escapes whereas his younger brother and allies are captured.

Seeking retribution for Cheung’s duplicity, Hung returns after seven years and plants a series of bombs in Hong Kong. The result is a public terror and attracts Cheung where he discovers the greatest plan for revenge.

The Blu-ray + DVD Combo is on the streets and includes an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, including an interview with Andy Lau.  Andy Lau is the most popular actor in China. His interview is worth purchasing the DVD.

James Patterson’s Zoo: Third & Last Season

Zoo: Third Season from CBS is the last season for the drama series based on the novel written by James Patterson and Michael Ledwige.  The story takes a jump forward and is set 10 years after the animals were cured and humanity was left sterile.

The season follows Abraham, played by Nonso Anozie, who is now a doctor and is helping Clementine, played by Gracie Dzienny, find her father Mitch, played by Billy Burke. The huge plot point is Mitch is being held in suspended animation in a secretive location.

The year is now 2027 and the world has reached a tipping point. The human population continues to dwindle due to a sterility problem and devastating threat rises in the form of the hybrids. These hybrids are an army of unstoppable lab-made creatures who are hell-bent on destroying mankind. Although the team has become estranged over the past decade, they are forced to overcome their differences and reunite when they learn that Mitch is alive. As the planet’s future hangs in the balance, the team must race to stop the hybrids and their creator – a shadowy figure with a startling connection to the team’s past.

Another change of events is Jamie, played by Kristen Connolly, is now a successful author trying to find “The Falco” and what is left of the Shepherds. Still, there is Jackson, played by James Wolk, and Logan, played by Josh Salatin. Both are trying to hold the hybrids at bay. As I went through the DVS I discovered that all the characters work super hard to overpower and wipe out the hybrids. At the same time, they are an urgency to find a cure for sterility.

The third season DVD arrives with deleted scenes and a gag reel that complements the whole package as the final season of a series that started off like a rocket ride and slowly fizzled as the storyline became scattered.

Person to Person

Directed by Dustin Guy Defa, Person to Person follows several New Yorkers while we are haphazardly introduced to them with strings of delicious scenes any acting student would cherish as a scene study project.

I offer accolades to the actors in this movie because they drive the well-scripted movie. Whether the audience will get the overall storyline is iffy. The eclectic scenes bespoke a record collector who hustles for a big score while his heartbroken roommate tries to erase a terrible mistake, a teenager, played by Tavi Gevinson, bears witness to her best friend’s, played by Olivia Luccardi, new relationship, and a rookie reporter, played by Abbi Jacobson, alongside her ultra-demanding supervisor, played by Michael Cera, chases the clues of a murder case involving a life-weary clock shop owner.

The movie was shot entirely in 16mm, which adds a nostalgic look to New York City, but I am sure it was bumped up for presentation purposes but haven’t verified it yet.

Seeing Cera as a metal-head boss working the beat is unique because I have only seen him in more passive roles. Check out this clip and you will see what I mean.

The soundtrack is just as much a part of the movie as the characters and city. I heard some indistinct R&B and familiar songs with Shirley Ann Lee’s “Time,” Greenflow’s “I Got’cha,” and the Volumes’ “I’m Gonna Miss You.”

Another way to describe this film is that it reminds me of Woody Allen’s work because of the defined scenes that naturally edifies its characters, summoning a heartfelt truth in each performance.

The Beguiled

Directed by Oscar-winner Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), The Beguiled is billed as a seductive thriller. Winner of the Best Director award for Coppola at the 2017 Cannes International Film Festival, the movie is based on the novel and 1971 movie of the same title starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page.

The dark lighting, intense undercurrents, authentic costumes, and scenery set the story as a historical thriller. The exceptional performances include Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning.

The story progresses slowly during the Civil War at a Southern girls’ boarding school. One of the 12-year old girls out picking mushrooms discovers an injured enemy soldier, played by Farrell. While he is nursed back to health, the boarding school provides refuge as well. Kirsten Dunst the teacher, Nicole Kidman the headmistress, and Elle Fanning one of the girls, portray southern women who struggle with decorum and visceral desires with the soldier. The soldier slowly becomes intimate with each of the three women, and a sexual tension escalates bringing about an overwhelming rivalry that becomes very dangerous for the soldier.

As mentioned, the story is slow, and some viewers may walk away wondering how a group of women can lose their senses with only one man in their circle.

The soldier’s outcome is not surprising and seems fitting for the circumstances.

Coppola created an authentic setting with costumes, art design, production sets, and music.

The Blu-ray comes with exclusive featurettes taking viewers behind the scenes and exploring Sofia Coppola’s unique vision.

Some of the Features:

A Shift in Perspective -Filmmakers and cast discuss how this version of The Beguiled is a departure from the novel of the same name and its earlier film adaptation. Screenwriter/director Sofia Coppola describes how the talented cast helped bring her vision to life.

A Southern Style – Discover how costumes, hair, and many other elements came together to create an immersive experience not only for the audience but also for the actors.

2:22

Directed by Paul Currie and starring Michiel Huisman, Teresa Palmer, and Sam Reid, the movie follows air traffic controller Dylan Branson, played by Huisman, where two planes almost collide after a blinding flash of light paralyzes him for a few seconds.

As a result, Branson is suspended from his job, and he becomes cognitive of repetition of sounds and events in his life at exactly the same time every day. Guess what time that is? The title of the movie, 2:22.

The underlying pattern soon builds and draws him New York’s Grand Central Station daily at 2:22 p.m. He meets up with a woman who works in an art gallery, Sarah, played by Palmer, disturbingly complicated by her ex-boyfriend Jonas, played by Reid. Still, Dylan must break the power of the past, and take control of time itself.

Every day, on the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal, Branson sees a businessman at the ticket counter reading a newspaper, a couple kissing, six school children, and a pregnant woman standing under the famous clock. It’s not always the same businessman, but it’s always the same pattern.

Earlier in the day – other patterns play out and haunt Dylan – a plane flies overhead, glass shatters, car screeches. It becomes clear to Dylan, and to Dylan alone, that these supposed random series of events, in this busy, noisy city, are not so random.

This is the enigma of 2:22.

How this movie plays out is crucial to whether or not the movie will be enjoyed, and Currie describes it best, “2:22 is about the fear of love. It’s also about the past that can secretly haunt us all. It’s a story about a guy who is trying to protect his girl at all costs, against time itself. Time is both Dylan’s ally and his enemy.”

The movie isn’t perfect and some may find it hard to enjoy, but it is a good attempt at a complex topic about taking control of time both the past and the future.

XX Anthology

Directed by Jeff Garlin, I know that horror films are very popular because the ones that I get my hands one sell like hot cakes. XX is a collection of short horror films that are unfamiliar for a lot of horror fans, they will catch your interest. You should give them a shot because like most horror movies you have a 50/50 chance of ending up with something which is overall worth your time and money.

This collection is produced well and acted well, but it’s nothing to get super excited about because, honestly the first short film The Box was really the only one worth watching that I enjoyed, the rest, well, were not that great. Still, you might the other because horror movies are so diverse.

Being a horror fan it intrigues you. There is a good chance you will more than I did. I am not saying it is a bad collection, but I do feel the horror experience should have been better. Either way, if you are a horror fan let me know what you think.

Overall, it is an anthology that shows a variety of styles. Each filmmaker’s expression is distinctive and contemporary, and it makes for an awfully good horror viewing.

Like I said The Box is a deep story and Only Living Son is a second best with a more thematically deep, straight horror and dark comedy. You crave horror, then you won’t be disappointed.

A Kind of Murder

Directed by Andy Goddard, who spent quality time directing Downton Abby episodes, A Kind of Murder follows an obsessed crime novelist, played by Patrick Wilson, who is married to a suicidal wife, played by Jessica Biel. The movie is suspenseful, fascinating along with a captivating storyline that includes twists and turns like an old-fashion movie.

With such a talented cast, I was surprised that the movie’s tempo was slow and not as engaging as it could have been like the novel the movie is based. The novel by Patricia Highsmith, who also wrote other popular psychological thrillers such as Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

The movie follows a crime novelist obsessed with an unsolved murder case begins to fantasize about committing a crime of his own. His marriage is an unhappy one, and his desire to be free from his beautiful but damaged wife becomes an obsession. But when his wife is found dead the lines blur between innocence and intent, forcing the question who, in fact, is the real killer?

The movie is a thriller and has a story that should be engaging, but somehow it fell flat in the third act.