Stephen reviews: You’re Under Arrest: The Movie (1999)

youreunderarrest_1You’re Under Arrest: The Movie [逮捕しちゃうぞ Taiho Shichauzo - The Movie] (1999)

Starring Sakiko Tamagawa, Akiko Hiramatsu. Bin Shimada, Etsuko Kozakura, Rika Matsumoto, Issei Masamune, Tomokazu Seki, Ryoko Sakakibara, Takeshi Watanabe, Ikuya Sawaki, Masaki Aizawa, Masato Sako

Directed by Junji Nishimura


Back in the ’90s You’re Under Arrest was fairly popular, though not as popular as Kōsuke Fujishima’s other creation, Oh My Goddess. I never felt it was anything beyond average, but it was entertaining enough. It was a buddy cop series that mixed together action, adventure, and comedy. The two female leads, Miyuki and Natsumi, patrolled around Tokyo in some remarkably tiny vehicles (which actually do exist) with the typical humor derived from their conflicting personalities that you would expect.

The movie veers a little off course by focusing more on the entire police station rather than the main characters. This takes away from the whole buddy cop premise, and it kinda left me disappointed since that’s what I was going into the film expecting. Another missing hallmark of the series is the car chases. The villain of the film has hacked into the traffic lights and caused traffic jams all across Tokyo, which makes it pretty hard to have a fun and exciting car chase (although it was rather funny that they had to drag their patrol car around town by boat and helicopter). In fact the first half of the film has only one or two minor action scenes at all, so you have to wait quite a while before the movie finally starts to get entertaining. It takes a lot of inspiration from the Patlabor films, especially the second one, which has a very similar ending.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: You’re Under Arrest: The Movie (1999) →

Zarkorr! the Invader (1996)

zarkorr_6Starring Rhys Pugh, De’Prise Grossman, Mark Hamilton, Charles Schneider, Ron Barnes, Dileen Nesson, Torie Lynch, John Paul Fedele, Mike Terner, Robert J. Ferrelli

Directed by Aaron Osborne (with kaiju SFX scenes directed by Michael Deak)

Expectations: I have a bad feeling, but I want it to be good.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


What happens when noted low-budget studio Full Moon puts together a kaiju film? Pure Grade A Grade B entertainment! Don’t believe me? Take the film’s first two scenes as an example. The film opens with a mountain exploding and a giant dinosaur kaiju bursting out from it. As if that’s not enough to launch the film, the monster then stands in front of the gaping hole he made, emitting his Godzilla-like scream while giant balls of fire erupt around him. It reminded me of the ridiculous intros that wrestlers have, and I wished — even before seeing more than two minutes of the movie — that there was a Zarkorr! sequel so this horned behemoth could go claw-to-claw with another fearsome giant (who could have a similar ridiculous intro).

But many B-Movies kick off with a bang, and then leave viewers in the lurch. Not Zarkorr! the Invader! The next scene is a complete change of pace, as we meet our hero: a lowly postal worker. He’s just minding his own business in his apartment when a teenage girl about three inches high materializes onto his kitchen table out of a ball of light. She informs him that he’s been chosen to defeat the beast, the invader from another realm… Zarkorr! the Invader! She leaves him with a few truths about the monster — such as he cannot be harmed by any weapon known to man — and then disappears just as quickly as she appeared. You’re probably wondering why this meek postal worker was chosen and not someone brawny like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Here’s where the logic gets a little fuzzy. This guy was picked specifically because he’s the median human; 50% of the world is better suited to the job, and 50% of the world is less well-equipped for the job. So if you were wondering: yes, mediocrity does have its benefits.

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Escape Plan (2013)

escapeplan_1Escape Plan (2013)
AKA The Tomb

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Faran Tahir, Amy Ryan, Sam Neill, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vinnie Jones, Matt Gerald, 50 Cent, Caitriona Balfe

Directed by Mikael Håfström

Expectations: Moderate.

threehalfstar


Any time a new film starring Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger pops up, I’m sure to see it and probably like it more than the average Joe based on my lifelong love of their work. Even considering this, I’ve headed into each one of their modern films with hesitation and tempered expectations. I’ve enjoyed every one so far, but I actively recognize that my unabashed love for the leads plays a large role in the film’s success. In the case of Escape Plan, though, I can honestly say that this is a fantastic prison break movie which also happens to star a couple of my favorite actors. The combination proved to be absolute GOLD; I loved Escape Plan from start to finish.

To tip the film’s hand too much would spoil the fun of the movie and its slow, metered build (which is paced perfectly), so I’m going to forgo my usual plot description. Just know that Stallone and Arnold are in prison together and they hatch an escape plan. But they aren’t in just any ol’ prison. No, they’re in a strange, almost futuristic prison, so breaking out isn’t going to be one of those “tunnel out and scale the wall” sort of gigs.

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The Lizard (1972)

thelizard_1The Lizard [壁虎] (1972)

Starring Yueh Hua, Connie Chan Po-Chu, Lo Lieh, Yeung Chi-Hing, Goo Man-Chung, Lydia Shum, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Chan Ho, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Wu Ma, Choi Yuen-Ping, Ma Chien-Tang, Chung Wa

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Moderate.

threestar


Director Chor Yuen’s previous film in this review series was the multi-genre masterpiece Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, and with The Lizard he applies the same principles to different genres. The Lizard is a simple film on the surface, but once it gets rolling it reveals itself as a fairly dense hybrid film, mainly mashing kung fu together with comedy. There were Shaw Bros martial arts films that had some laughs prior to this, but none that go directly for the laughs throughout like The Lizard. So, at least in terms of the Shaw output, this is most likely the first attempt at a true kung fu comedy.

For this alone, The Lizard is notable and actually kind of subversive for its day; as Chang Cheh was pushing the martial arts genre forward into dramatic, male-dominated bashers with each subsequent film, Chor Yuen dared to go in a completely different direction. The Lizard takes a well-worn wuxia storyline (the tale of a Robin Hood-like masked figure) and transports it to the modern era. Chor Yuen then adds a couple tablespoons of romance, a pinch of thriller, a dollop of the casino film (actually outright stealing the ability to accurately hear dice rolling from The Casino‘s main character, who was also played by Yueh Hua), and a few sprinkles of wuxia so that his characters can leap around the wonderfully constructed Shaw Bros. sets.

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The Cannonball Run (1981)

cannonballrun_1Starring Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Jack Elam, Adrienne Barbeau, Terry Bradshaw, Jackie Chan, Michael Hui, Bert Convy, Jamie Farr

Directed by Hal Needham

Expectations: Moderate.

twostar


I haven’t seen The Cannonball Run since I was about five or six years old, and I remember it being hilarious. As you might imagine, a person’s sense of humor changes a bit after 25 or so years, so I unfortunately can’t list The Cannonball Run as a film that holds up very well. On top of that, I’m watching the film as part of my Jackie Chan series, which is not the best way to approach this film AT ALL. Jackie probably has less than five minutes total screentime throughout the film, and every one of his short appearances is heralded with the most stereotypical Asian music imaginable. He’s also supposed to be Japanese in the film, even though Chan and his co-driver Michael Hui (also a huge star in Hong Kong at the time) clearly speak their native Chinese throughout. Sigh.

But I should try to focus on the bulk of The Cannonball Run instead of Jackie’s glorified, dumb cameo. The story here is as loose as the pants that Jared from Subway used to wear. There’s a cross-country race called the Cannonball Run, and all kinds of drivers show up to take part in it. That’s it. I don’t recall there being a prize to be had (other than side bets and bragging rights), and there’s no actual plot running alongside the race. The Cannonball Run is just that, a wacky race across country. Also the race doesn’t really matter, it’s just a means to put crazy characters into crazy situations along the way. There’s never any tension or sense of time as the race is on; it’s all freewheelin’ fun!

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Stephen reviews: New Kimagure Orange Road: Summer’s Beginning (1996)

summersbeginning_1New Kimagure Orange Road: Summer’s Beginning [新きまぐれオレンジ☆ロード ~ そして、あの夏のはじまり Shin Kimagure Orange Road - Soshite, Ano Natsu no Hajimari] (1996)
AKA New Kimagure Orange Road: And Then, The Beginning of That Summer

Starring Tohru Furuya, Hiromi Tsuru, Eriko Hara, Kenichi Ogata

Directed by Kunihiko Yuyama


I’ve never been a huge fan of Kimagure. Its humor always struck me as bland and uninspired, but its first movie, I Want to Return to That Day, was such an odd and compelling title that I have wanted to delve into the series more. Summer’s Beginning tries to do what IWTRTTD did by losing the comedic tone and making it a more straight-up romance. But it doesn’t really have the nerve to go all the way with it, and it leaves in a lot of the sillier elements of the series. I’m not too fond of this approach as it only serves to dilute both aspects of the story without achieving the depth of emotion that IWTRTTD had. This may just be that I never really did care for the humor of Kimagure, but hey, at least it’s still better than an American sitcom.

Summer’s Beginning is not a sequel to IWTRTTD; it’s actually a sequel to the later series New Kimagure Orange Road, though I’m not exactly sure whether the second series is a sequel, a remake, or something else entirely. Summer’s Beginning starts off after IWTRTTD ends, and as far as my fading memories go, there are no contradictions to the story. There are even several flashbacks to events that happened in IWTRTTD, making it seem like Summer’s Beginning might well be a sequel to it. What Summer’s Beginning does differently, however, is keep all the psychic powers that IWTRTTD conveniently forgot about. In fact, those powers form the crux of the entire plot in Summer’s Beginning.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: New Kimagure Orange Road: Summer’s Beginning (1996) →

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

thor2_1Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Jaimie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård

Directed by Alan Taylor

Expectations: Moderate, but these Marvel movies are pure fun for me.

threestar


Well, they’ve done it again. These Marvel movies continue to impress, and while Thor: The Dark World is definitely not a great film, it’s a rip-roaring good fantasy film filled to the brim with excitement, thrills and all kinds of cosmic shit. I’m surprised how hard they went into the fantasy realm for this film; the intro felt like a sort of sci-fi influenced version of the Lord of the Rings films. Consequently, Thor: The Dark World is chock full of stuff to excite every nerd in the audience. That’s probably what surprises me the most about these Marvel films. They’re relentlessly nerdy, yet they are also some of the most popular mainstream movies of the last few years. The nerd paradigm is truly upon us; the weak have inherited the Earth!

Thor: The Dark World centers around the Convergence, a celestial event that only happens every few thousand years. It aligns the Nine Realms, and makes the borders between these realms thin, allowing people to pass through them. The last time this happened the Dark Elves tried to plunge the Nine Realms into a neverending darkness but Odin’s father Bor was able to defeat them. The elves’ ultimate weapon was the Aethor, a powerful, shape-changing fluid, but instead of destroying it, Isildur Bor decides to lock it away in some dark recess of the Nine Realms. See… Thor: The Dark World is in full-on nerd mode.

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