Sunday, May 20, 2018

Afro Samurai (2007) and his Resurrection (2009)



As probably noticeable I still lack the time for new material so I decided to stop at something that I don't remember when or if I had on my blog = an anime. The difference to the usual anime range is that "Afro Samurai" is not an exclusive Japanese production, all the acting and most of the sound design being made in Hollywood. Probably that's why 10 years ago this mini-series had quite some success, having Samuel L. Jackson as lead on the poster. All the action is centered around a pretty straight-forward revenge story. The context is where the original part comes from: Somewhere in a dystopian future, there are two samurai head-bands - No. 1 and No. 2. The toughest samurai holds the number 1 + something like a "god status" = untouchable = he cannot be challenged by anybody else except number 2. Number 2, however, can be challenged by anybody who would like to become number 2, meaning that his life is mostly about fight, more fight and even more fight until he manages to get to number 1, if he lasts that long (because obviously neither number 1 nor number 2 are really the persons to find in a phone book). Well... the story starts with losing the No. 1 head-band along his own head by the father of the main character. The little Afro wants revenge, and from here a series of flashbacks tell us where he did grow up, where he learned to wield a katana, how he got the number 2 head-band and how many dead bodies he left behind in the process. All these come packed with lots & lots & lots of blood... (too much actually...). Anyway, as I said, the context plus some very original built characters (I didn't mention much about an imaginary alter-ego of Afro who's as talkative as silent the main character is) made "Afro Samurai" a decent anime, which is at least interesting. About his resurrection...

In a typical Hollywood fashion, considering the success the first part in the series had, two years after another anime was released basically repeating the whole story. Meaning that (spoiler alert) Afro also loses the No. 1 head-band (but keeps his head), that being taken by a person showing up from nowhere. The sister of one of his former victims, comes up with a diabolical revenge plan = cloning Afro senior as a sort of mindless cyborg and placing Afro junior in the place of killing his own father to get the number 1 head-band and to put him finally to rest. The bad part in all this story is that's a sort of reheated soup, which starts to get boring immediately after another series of endless fights starts... Either that, or I got old and I don't have the patience I had a while ago (I've watched this relatively recent). Therefore...

Rating: AS - 3 out of 5 ; ASR - 2 out of 5

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Butter (2011)



My second try to find a decently good comedy worked better than my first, but still partially confirms me why I normally avoid the genre... We're moving from the shady world of trailers voice-over jobs in the shady world of... butter carving. Well, yes, apparently I managed to find a movie with an even more exotic subject than the previous. Still, "Butter" doesn't escape completely of cliches, although surprisingly we don't really have the "classic" light romance here. A little black girl, moved from a foster home to another discovers a talent - butter carving, despite being told by all her tutors that she's not really good at anything. Fortunately, the last couple assigned to take care of her doesn't share the same opinion and decided to encourage the child up to supporting her enrollment in the regional competition (apparently there is a thing like this in Iowa, USA). The problem is, well... it's a shady world :) = undisputed champion, for 15 years = the same amount of titles is Mr. Pickler. Who decides though to step back and leave some room for somebody else. That's not really on Ms. Pickler liking, who doesn't accept the idea of having another name written on the trophy. So... the butter war starts. And with that also a satire of the nationalism/conservative excessiveness & the typical associated US redneckish stuff. Overall, an enjoyable movie, but really light (not that I would expect too much food for thought from a comedy, but anyway...)

Rating: 3 out of 5

Friday, May 11, 2018

In a World... (2013)



This is a short one... Not the movie, the review. "In a World..." is way too long. I was in the mood for a comedy around two weeks ago (rare occasion) and from what I had on my list seemed to be the most exotic/interesting option (= one out of the standard genre of light romances). The synopsis would be something like: a "voice coach" stumbles on some significant difficulties in her career when she decides to enter the shady business of... trailer voice-overs. Unfortunately, as "original" the subject might sound, the movie is not very different from a bland Woody Allen clone. The first part is so boring that gets you tired. It gets a bit better towards the ending, ironically... mostly due to some light romances. Probably would actually work as a sleeping pill if it wouldn't be for the better ending... Like this, again, ironically, it also loses this "quality".

Rating: 2 out of 5

Monday, April 30, 2018

Small Town Crime (2017)



Short and effective. That's a quick summary for "Small Town Crime". The trailer puts it between "Three Billboards ...", as a recent example, and "Fargo" or anything else by the Coen brothers. It's indeed in the right area to classify it, but doesn't reach to any of the two above. Overall, however... not bad.

Mike Kendall is an ex-alcoholic cop who struggles to not find another job, and lives out of his unemployment stipend hoping to get back in the force. After a drinking night resulting in a sleepover on the open fields, on his way home he notices on the side of the road the body of a young girl seriously beaten. Unfortunately, she doesn't survive the first night in hospital, and neither leaves any clue on who brought her to that state. Since Mike doesn't really have something to fill the time with he decides to take the case as an unauthorized private investigator, despite his former colleagues insisting for him to stay away. The minus of the movie is that the "mistery" in the whole investigation gets revealed relatively quickly and what we're left with is a pretty simple story... so enough details.

What brings value to the movie are mainly the actors. John Hawkes makes a lead role here that's probably comparable with the one in "Winter's Bone", although playing a totally different character. Clifton Collins Jr., who's a latino actor, is cast as a pimp who struggles to show up as a sort of black gangsta, from his car to the way he talks. Robert Forster is an angry grandpa with a "high quality musket". And I really don't know who plays the main villain, but we have an overweight guy with thick eye glasses who's appearing as the ultimate assassin. Despite the obvious comic factor the cast brings, the movie is actually quite serious through its course. I guess it would've been even to dark and gritty if we wouldn't have had the characters in the cast... Too bad that the simple story brings it down. It's probably the perfect example of where the difference between a story and a script comes from = the dialogues are excellent. Besides that, I don't think we could've get a much better movie on this subject.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Cure for Wellness (2016)



Two years ago when "A Cure for Wellness" was released I decided to skip it seeing the ratings it got. Obviously I changed my mind, given the lack of time for reaching the cinema to see something newer. Good decision...

The story goes like this: Mr. Lockhart, an employee of a financial company on Wall Street gets sent somewhere in the Swiss Alps to take his boss back to New York from the sanatorium where he went. Reaching the place, what he finds there is a baths resort with a castle rebuilt after the local inhabitants decided two centuries ago to burn it down along with his owner, a baron with very unorthodox habits. Here comes the dark story, where we find out piece by piece details on the obsession of the baron with pure bloodline + the resulting incest with his own sister. Getting back to the present day, the location is used for treating patients who are mostly above 50 and rich enough to afford "the cure". The cure is something created by the director of the institution, consisting in an ensemble of water-based treatments, which strange enough we finally find out that actually dehydrates the patients. Despite the effect, everybody seems to feel more and more better, and even more we're reaching the conclusion that nobody wants to leave the place. Obviously, an enigma for the young Lockhart who doesn't manage to get his boss back, and on top of that he gets into the position of being a patient with a cast on his leg after his leaving attempt is stopped by a ... buck.

The movie has plenty of scenes that might generate a "what the... ?", but this is matched by the number of metaphors behind and the symbolism. From dehydrating the "wellness" in the title, up to more subtle stuff. There are also plot holes, but you typically can fill these on your own. It's somehow compensating the predictability of the movie. There's nothing surprising - you can see where all goes starting from half the movie onward, if not earlier. The movie is long, but doesn't bore. Contrary to the critics received this length has a purpose - the story you see coming is built brick by brick for making the impact more intense. And it works... The direction and partially the story belong to Gore Verbinski, and if "The Ring" tells you something, and you were able to appreciate also "Lone Ranger" (which got pretty much the same bashing from the critics), you can expect the same way of building the whole movie atmosphere - there are elements on top of other elements - camera work, sound, editing, acting taking you there. There's an excellent and complete movie experience. To compare this with something what we have here is a much more complex version of "Get Out" combined with some "Eliza Graves" feeling, but clearly better than both. It's really not worth the time to start debating why the critics praised "Get Out" so highly just because it touches a social aspect and it's better to be politically correct these days than objective - we don't have exploited black population here, so the rest doesn't matter. Just watch this, and decide which is more "movie" out of the two...

Rating: 4 out of 5