Stephen reviews: Harmony (2015)

Harmony [ハーモニー] (2015)

Starring Miyuki Sawashiro, Reina Ueda, Aya Suzaki, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Shin-ichiro Miki, Junpei Morita

Directed by Takashi Nakamura, Michael Arias


I didn’t have any expectations when I took a chance on Harmony, and that’s probably a good thing, because whatever expectations I had probably would have been way off base. I was surprised to see Michael Arias as co-director here, and like Tekkonkinkreet, his other anime film, Harmony is a weird philosophical journey, though nowhere near as intensely psychedelic. The other director, Takashi Nakamura, has been around the industry for quite a while, but hasn’t done much directing work. His most prominent film is A Tree of Palme, but he also directed the fantastic “Chicken Man and Red Neck” (AKA: Nightmare) segment of Robot Carnival, another trippy and moody story.

Coming from these two directors, I would have expected Harmony to be weirder than it is, but the film does have an ethereal quality that makes it feel like a light and airy dream. Set in a utopian future, it revolves around Tuan Kirie, a woman who survived a group suicide attempt in high school. The ringleader of the group was a mysterious girl named Miach Mihie, whose personality is a charismatic mixture of cheerful cynicism and rebellious hatred. Miach’s body was donated to science after the incident, but Tuan was seduced by Miach and grew up despising her homeland. Then some criminal mastermind causes a mass suicide to occur across the country that strongly reminds Tuan of Miach’s goals and agendas, and she sets off to uncover the truth of what is happening.

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Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie (2015)

Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie [攻殻機動隊 新劇場版 Kōkaku Kidōtai Shin Gekijō-ban] (2015)
AKA Ghost in the Shell: The Rising

Starring Maaya Sakamoto, Kenichiro Matsuda, Mayumi Asano, Kazuya Nakai, Ikkyuu Juku, Miyuki Sawashiro, Shunsuke Sakuya, Takurou Nakakuni, Tarusuke Shingaki

Directed by Kazuya Nomura


A few years back I did a rundown of all the Ghost in the Shell films. Since then there have been a few more releases in the franchise, and I figured I would give them a glance before checking out the new live-action film slated to release at the end of March. Now it’s never a good idea to call your new movie in a long running franchise “The New Movie.” It just means that a couple of years later when a newer, higher profile production starring Scarlett Johansson comes out your no-longer-new movie just sounds dumb, and probably confusing for the audience. But I can’t stop some idiot without a scrap of originality from doing just that, so unfortunately we’re stuck with it.

In another really confusing move for a film so concerned about its timeliness, Ghost in the Shell: The It Was New a Couple Years Ago Movie is actually a prequel to the original story, showcasing how Major Motoko Kusanagi put together the team of operatives that work for Section 9. This far into the series we have only heard small bits about her past, mostly that she has been a cyborg since childhood, so I was a bit unconvinced that exploring her background was a good idea. We’ve gone this far without it. Why do we need it now? But the film does go a good way toward establishing some of the motivation for her decisions at the end of the first film, so I think they actually did find a pretty good reason to go back and examine her history.

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Mini-Review: Terminator: Genisys (2015)

TerminatorGenisys_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matt Smith, Courtney B. Vance, Byung-hun Lee

Directed by Alan Taylor

Expectations: Absolutely zero.

onehalfstar


Terminator: Genisys goes to great lengths to craft a story that can serve as both a reboot and a sequel to Cameron’s original movies, and while this is initially promising, it quickly becomes ridiculously convoluted and lost in a sea of nearly unending exposition and nostalgia hooks. In the end, I felt rather indifferent about the whole thing. I mean, I definitely didn’t like it, but it was entertaining in a generic science fiction manner (and I always enjoy watching Arnold do pretty much anything). It’s really missing the feeling of dread and inevitable apocalypse that permeates Cameron’s films, though, so it only feels like an approximation of a Terminator film and not an honest continuation.

The story begins in the Future War era in the hours before John Connor’s final assault on Skynet. Spoiler Alert: They destroy Skynet a few minutes into the movie! Woo hoo, that was easy! Roll the credits! But right before that happened, Skynet sent a T-800 to 1984 to take out Sarah Connor. Yes, this is the same Arnold Terminator that we all know from the original film. He said he’d be back, and he wasn’t lying! Anyway, mid-way through the 1984 Terminator’s encounter with the punks at the Griffith Observatory, an older Arnold Terminator comes over and starts blasting him with a shotgun! Whoa, what’s going on?

It does have a Terminator driving a truck, though.

It does have a Terminator driving a truck, though.

This is just one of many direct connections with the Cameron originals, but before too long Terminator: Genisys moves in an entirely new direction. Unfortunately, this brings about a barrage of exposition that continues for most of the movie. It’s never a good sign when a movie explains tons of stuff to the viewer — film is a visual medium and all that — but Terminator: Genisys is mostly explanation! Which is weird because it’s also mostly action. I don’t know, I can’t explain it. There’s a scene where the heroes get their mug shots taken to the Cops theme Bad Boys, for God’s sake. What am I supposed to say to that?

Terminator: Genisys is just a strange film, and one that’s hard to understand no matter how you look at it. On one hand it’s an entertaining, inoffensive sci-fi action movie, but it’s also horrendously convoluted and without an ounce of character chemistry or heart. I give them kudos for going in an interesting direction with the franchise (as opposed to just following the basic Terminator framework like T3), but all it does is expose how they shouldn’t really be making any more Terminator movies.

Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger is… some cameos! If I knew better I’d just skip these and move on to other things, but I don’t know better! I am going to speed it up by just doing Quick Take reviews of them, so Arnold will continue to hit these digital pages for a little while longer. Up next is Happy Anniversary and Goodbye, a 1974 TV Movie starring Lucille Ball and Art Carney, the Ivan Reitman film Dave, and a starring turn for Arnold’s lifelong friend Franco Columbu called Beretta’s Island! See ya then!

Top 10 Film Discoveries of 2015

2015 was full of great films for me, most of which I didn’t review for Silver Emulsion. What can I say, my time has dwindled and my interest in the blog has diminished a bit. It was bound to happen sooner or later, but one thing that hasn’t faded is my love of film. I usually watch mostly old movies, and in 2015 I cuddled deep under the warm blanket of older films even more than usual. I only saw eight 2015 movies in 2015, and two of those were right at the end of December so they hardly count. If you care, Mad Max: Fury Road is easily my pick for the best of the year (if not the last few years), and I doubt anything could unseat it. Anyway, enough about what this post isn’t!

Below I present the Top 10 films I saw in 2015 that were new to me. Maybe you like them, too?


#10 Q (1982)
Directed by Larry Cohen

q

I’ve always been interested in exploring film in its many forms, but having Silver Emulsion has really pushed me far beyond what I would have otherwise done. In some cases, this has been a huge waste of time, but delving into the films of Larry Cohen has been one of the most rewarding journeys the blog has set me on. I watched three of his films last year and I loved them all (Bone & God Told Me To were the others), but Q was definitely the one that I enjoyed the most. The sheer audacity of the idea is exciting all on its own; it’s the kind of idea that if made today they’d say things like, “This wouldn’t have been possible without CG,” but here it is in all its 1982 glory. Admittedly, some will likely balk at its relatively low-budget FX work, but I found the FX to be absolutely enchanting and perfectly fitting for the film. Highly recommended!

#9 Nightmare City (1980)
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Reviewed May 21, 2015

nightmarecity

I’ve never been much of an Italian horror fan, and I hate running zombies. Nightmare City showed me that both can be absolutely amazing. The zombies are little more than crazed dudes with mud smeared on their faces, but it doesn’t matter. The energy with which they assault the living, and the fun creativity of the film’s locations, make for one of the most fun zombies films of all time. Just watch it and thank me later.
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Mojin: The Lost Legend (2015)

Mojin-Poster-1080Mojin: The Lost Legend [鬼吹灯之寻龙诀] (2015)
AKA The Ghouls

Starring Chen Kun, Huang Bo, Shu Qi, Angelababy, Xia Yu, Liu Xiao-Qing, Cherry Ngan Cheuk-Ling, Jonathan Kos-Read

Directed by Wuershan

Expectations: Moderate. Trailer makes it look fun.

threestar


On the surface, Mojin: The Lost Legend is about venturing into elaborate tombs and hunting for ancient treasure, but it has a much sweeter heart than that suggests. The film is actually about letting go, which is fitting for a film so entrenched in the idea of delving deep into the past. Don’t get me wrong, Mojin is full of adventurous tomb raiding, explosions and zombies, it’s just that it doesn’t end there. There’s a moral to the story.

Hu Baiyi (Chen Kun), Wang Kaixuan (Huang Bo) and Shirley Yang (Shu Qi) are Mojin Xiaowei, professional tomb raiders equipped with their quick wits and a trusty compass attuned to find treasure. But when we first meet them, they have retired and moved to New York. They are legendary and skilled, but here they are selling trinkets out of their coats in a New York alleyway. To be honest, I missed why they decided to give it all up, but it doesn’t really matter because this is the beginning of the movie and of course they come out of retirement! And because this is a movie and things are always related, the job that does the trick has direct ties to when Hu Baiyi and Wang Kaixuan were among the educated youth living in a remote part of Inner Mongolia.

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Dragon Blade (2015)

DragonBlade+2015-1-bDragon Blade [天降雄獅] (2015)

Starring Jackie Chan, John Cusack, Adrien Brody, Choi Si-Won, Lin Peng, Mika Wang, Xiao Yang, Wang Tai-Li, Jozef Waite, Sammy Hung, William Feng, Sharni Vinson, Lorie Pester, Karena Lam, Steve Yoo Seung-Jun

Directed by Daniel Lee

Expectations: I don’t know, honestly. Not much. I am excited, if that counts for anything!

twohalfstar


Dragon Blade is very entertaining, but there’s no denying that it just isn’t that good. Given the amount of “jank” in the movie, those two-and-a-half stars up top are fairly generous of me, but I’m such a huge Jackie Chan fan that I was easily able to overlook a lot of the film’s issues. I don’t think others will be nearly as kind, although fans of both Jackie Chan and B-Movies might be able to transcend and enjoy the film as I did. That’s not something I expected to say about the highest-budget Chinese film of all time, but even the most expensive rose-colored glasses on Earth couldn’t obscure just how laughable and ludicrous some of this movie is.

Don’t believe me? I’ll give you three guesses of what the first on-screen image is in this historical epic supposedly based on true events. OK? Go! … … … Nope, nope, and nope. The correct answer is a satellite orbiting the Earth! WHA? So instead of finding out that the movie is weird a few minutes in, they smack you in the face with it immediately. This is arguably the best way to go into Dragon Blade, as this is merely the first moment you’ll watch with a quizzical look on your face.

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Maggie (2015)

maggieStarring Abigail Breslin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joely Richardson, Laura Cayouette, Denise Williamson, Raeden Greer, J.D. Evermore, Aiden Flowers, Taylor Murphy

Directed by Henry Hobson

Expectations: Moderate.

twohalfstar


Maggie was billed as a different kind of zombie movie, and in some ways that is true, but the things you know of zombies still hold true. The infection only spreads through a bite, although everyone in this movie is also scared of it being highly contagious (even though there’s no evidence of that from what we’re shown). The movie never goes into this, but for me this point speaks more to our dependence and willingness to believe whatever the media or someone in power is telling is, true or not. Anyway, the big difference here is that Maggie is not an apocalypse film, and that does inherently change the notion of what we know a zombie movie to be.

Without the apocalypse threat, there is no survival aspect to Maggie. Survival has always been one of the major hallmarks of any kind of zombie story, so it is interesting and novel to consider what a zombie uprising would be like if it was more like other outbreaks. It might seem like zombies and the apocalypse would go hand in hand, but if we believe that the government could get it together enough to create the quarantine zones every one in Maggie is always talking about, and that they’re going a great job containing everything, then it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Maggie could happen.

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