Stephen reviews: The Five Star Stories (1989)

geroi_pjati_planetThe Five Star Stories [ファイブスター物語] (1989)

Starring Ryo Horikawa, Maria Kawamura, Hideyuki Tanaka, Norio Wakamoto, Ichiro Nagai, Kazuhiko Inoue, Rei Sakuma, Run Sasaki

Directed by Kazuo Yamazaki


The Five Star Stories starts off with a brief description of the Joker Galaxy, which contains only four stars, making it the smallest galaxy I’ve ever heard of. So why does the title talk about five stars? No idea. The four stars we do get to hear about have the rather unusual names of Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western. I suppose the film takes place in one of these solar systems, but I can’t remember if it bothered to say which one. Maybe it even takes place on that mysterious fifth star. This confusing description of the galaxy actually mirrors the film which is also bizarre, mismatched, and very incomplete.

Clearly a highly condensed adaptation of a longer work, Five Star Stories suffers the usual problems of these types of films, but magnifies the problem by also being very short. Even a full two hours or more can leave adaptations such as Fist of the North Star or Dagger of Kamui feeling like half the story was left out. Five Star Stories is only one hour long, and it is nowhere near enough time to do the original story justice. What’s left is a confusing hodgepodge of poorly explained events told with an air of epic mythology.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: The Five Star Stories (1989) →

The Curse (1987)

thecurse_9The Curse (1987)
AKA The Farm

Starring Wil Wheaton, Claude Akins, Malcolm Danare, Cooper Huckabee, John Schneider, Amy Wheaton, Steve Carlisle, Kathleen Jordon Gregory, Hope North, Steve Davis

Directed by David Keith

Expectations: For some reason I’m really stoked about this one.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
onehalfstar


The Curse puts a few different horror movie premises together and expects them to play nice, but instead they just kinda sit apart from one another and refuse to jell. On one hand, it presents itself as a small town paranoia-based ’50s throwback film. A crazed man with a nasty boil on his face is taken away by the police while screaming, “It’s in the water!” He nervously watches out the window as they drive away from his home, as everyone in the neighborhood waters their lawn, or washes their car, or drinks from the hose… etc.

After this opening, the film shifts gears to the story of a small family farm owned by Nathan Crane (Claude Akins). Nathan is a strict religious man who berates his wife, Frances (Kathleen Jordon Gregory), for every little thing she does wrong. She’s actually doing a great job taking care of the house and the kids, Nathan’s just an overbearing asshole with the Lord on his side (in his mind). Here The Curse becomes something of a religious-based horror film, with Nathan seeing the family’s misfortune and hardships as a curse brought onto them by his wife’s behavior.

Continue reading The Curse (1987) →

Guest Review by Evan from the Gourmet Gamer Podcast: Chappie (2015)

chappie-posterStarring Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver

Directed by Neill Blomkamp

onehalfstar


It’s a piece of shit.

 

 

 

 

 

And for those who don’t feel like reading the whole review:

[Editor’s Note: I’d like to thank Evan for the wonderfully in-depth and insightful review of Chappie. Don’t forget to visit Gourmet Gamer and give a listen to their hilarious podcast!]

Quick Takes: Hardware, Snowpiercer, Brotherhood of Blades

968fullHardware (1990)
threehalfstar

Starring Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, Mark Northover, William Hootkins, Carl McCoy
Directed by Richard Stanley

I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about Hardware over the years. It’s an ultra-fun killer robot movie that is legitimately frightening in parts, and it’s one of those rare genre films made with such visual flair and artistry that it could easily crossover into the more highbrow conversation on film. Absolutely fantastic cinematography is around every corner, as are tons of wicked gory delights. The robot does seem rather stupid at times, but if I reformed myself from a pile of scrap metal and broken parts I wouldn’t be all there either. This is the kind of movie to whip out when someone says disparaging things about low-budget movies.

snowpiercerSnowpiercer (2013)
twohalfstar

Starring Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, Ewen Bremner, Go Ah-sung, Alison Pill
Directed by Bong Joon-ho

After reviewing the Snowpiercer graphic novels, I was really stoked to see what Boon Jong-Ho would make of them on-screen. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as thrilled with the results as I thought I’d be. Snowpiercer is a very entertaining film that moves quite briskly, but for a story all about class struggle I found it to be rather shallow. Tilda Swinton is brilliant in her supporting role, though. Definitely well-made and worth watching, but I guess I expected something more cerebral than this was. Even still, a great English debut for Bong.

brotherhood-of-blades-posterBrotherhood of Blades [繡春刀] (2014)
twohalfstar

Starring Chang Chen, Ye Qing, Chin Shih-Chieh, Wang Qian-Yuan, Ethan Li Dong-Xue, Nie Yuan, Zhao Li-Xin
Directed by Lu Yang

I think I might like Brotherhood of Blades better on a second watch. I would have my 50% knowledge of what was going on to build on, and I wouldn’t have any expectations that it was a wuxia film. It’s actually a period-set action drama with no supernatural elements, so I was rather disappointed that it didn’t live up to my expectations. As a period drama it excels, though. Fantastic costumes go a long way, and the cast Brotherhood of Blades wear some damn fine duds. The fights aren’t all that special, though, with unhealthy amounts of uninspired choreography, quick-cut editing, and the shutter speed thing from Saving Private Ryan. It makes for action that is VERY modern, and I’m just too old school to embrace it. Yes, even in 2015 when these techniques are at least 15 years old. If you like Chinese costume dramas and modern action, you should definitely try this one.

Stephen reviews: The Sky Crawlers (2008)

skycrawlers_1The Sky Crawlers [スカイ・クロラ] (2008)

Starring Rinko Kikuchi, Ryo Kase, Chiaki Kuriyama, Shosuke Tanihara

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


Sky Crawlers is an odd one. Despite its premise of fighter pilots at war, it is very far from an action film, or even much of a war film. It is a Mamoru Oshii film, and that, perhaps, is the best description you can give it. Like most of Oshii’s films, it is slow and methodical, more concerned with savoring the moment than it is with telling a story. Of course, this is why Oshii’s films tend to be kind of boring. And while I did have a certain amount of interest in what was going to happen, it is a pretty damn boring film.

The biggest hurdle to get over is that the film makes no attempt to explain what’s happening. Sometimes playing it mysterious can help the mood of a story, making you keep watching to find the answers. But if it goes too far — and it definitely does in Sky Crawlers — it turns the film into a dragging, confusing affair that goes nowhere. Even the setting and tone of the film are drab and ponderous. Colors are muted, and the locales have an old fashioned 1950s feel to them, that is if the 1950s were sterile and emotionless. The technology is all over the place. People fly prop planes and watch black-and-white TVs with too much sepia. The pilots live in barracks that looks like a Victorian mansion. Yet they have computers and genetic engineering. The film is described as an alternate present, but that’s about the only time period I am certain it doesn’t take place in.

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Total Recall (1990)

total_recall_xlgStarring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside, Marshall Bell, Mel Johnson Jr., Michael Champion, Roy Brocksmith, Ray Baker, Dean Norris, Debbie Lee Carrington

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Expectations: I expect to get my ass to Mars.

fourstar


Total Recall is possibly the greatest movie ever made. It doesn’t have a single slow moment; its pace is relentless and unforgiving. The special FX work throughout still looks amazing, seamlessly bringing the near-future world and the surface of Mars to brilliant life. Director Paul Verhoeven, hot off of the equally incredible RoboCop, squeezes every last ounce of entertainment and excitement out of every shot in Total Recall.

The script might be the film’s greatest aspect, though. Total Recall is based on a Philip K. Dick story called We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, but the film isn’t all that much like the story. Usually I’d complain about this kind of thing, but in the case of Total Recall the screenplay takes the ideas from the short story and creates a thrill ride for the ages. Most importantly, it doesn’t just use the ideas, but also the overarching themes that run through so much of Dick’s work. Dick’s major theme — the nature of reality and what is truly real — is in full effect in Total Recall. The lines between reality and dream are constantly blurred, and even at the end of the film this question is never answered, just as Dick ends many of this novels.

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Stephen reviews: Appleseed α (2014)

appleseedalpha_1Appleseed α [アップルシード アルファ] (2014)
AKA Appleseed Alpha

Starring Luci Christian, David Matranga, Wendel Calvert, Chris Hutchinson, Adam Gibbs, Brina Palencia, Elizabeth Bunch, Joshua Sheltz

Directed by Shinji Aramaki


Welcome to the last, or at least most recent, Appleseed film. I’m glad to finally be here because that means I don’t have to keep watching this stuff any more. I’ve gotten more than my fill of Appleseed this past month. I held out a bit of hope that this new one would be an improvement, but that was a false hope. Appleseed α is pretty much the same as the others. Except for that whole part about not having the Japanese audio. Yeah, that was a rather unpleasant surprise.

I poked about for an explanation, and the best I could come up with is the same explanation Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust had, that the Japanese audio wasn’t finished yet, and may still be in production as far as I know. I didn’t look very hard, though. Unlike Bloodlust, Appleseed α isn’t all that great of a film. Bloodlust‘s crappy dub was a tragedy, but Appleseed? Eh, who cares? It’s not worth getting bothered over. The good thing is that, also unlike Bloodlust, the actors in Appleseed were actually trying to act. I grew up with anime in the 1990s, and I will never ever get over the initial fear when watching an English dub that it’ll sound like shit. I know the industry standard has improved since then, but at this point it’s a knee-jerk reaction that I’m never going to grow out of.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Appleseed α (2014) →

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