Quick Takes: Ichi the Killer, The Legend Is Born: Ip Man, John Wick

ichiIchi the Killer [殺し屋1] (1994)
threehalfstar

Starring Tadanobu Asano, Nao Omori, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Paulyn Sun, Susumu Terajima, Shun Sugata, Toru Tezuka, Yoshiki Arizono, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Satoshi Niizuma, Suzuki Matsuo, Jun Kunimura
Directed by Takashi Miike

Ichi the Killer is the third feature I’ve seen from Takashi Miike, and damn he’s good. A film like this that’s so incredibly bloody and violent, but yet the main takeaway is the need for a deep intellectual discussion… that’s hard to pull off. It ultimately felt like Miike had crafted a film that wonders about the people who watch these kinds of films (or violent, “negative” media in general) with an armchair bloodlust. This all seemed to hinge on one small moment during the finale when a character in extreme peril looks directly into the camera with intense fear, while that same camera is presenting a first-person view from the character instilling this fear in the other. In any case, this is definitely not a film for the squeamish, as it’s one hell of an extreme, sadistic bloodbath. Audition may have gotten the “this movie is so crazy and shocking” press, but Ichi the Killer is a million times worse than Audition. The nipple scene is sheer torture! I literally pushed my chair back as far as it would go, cringed and repeated “Goddamn!” in a whisper for the next 30 seconds or so. Good stuff.

TheLegendIsBornIpMan+2010-3-bThe Legend Is Born: Ip Man [葉問前傳] (2010)
AKA Ip Man Zero
threestar

Starring Dennis To, Crystal Huang Yi, Xu Jiao, Hins Cheung King-Hin, Fan Siu-Wong, Yuen Biao, Lam Suet, Yip Chun, Bernice Liu Bik-Yi, Sire Ma Choi, Rose Chan Ka-Wun, Sammo Hung
Directed by Herman Yau

I initially avoided The Legend Is Born: Ip Man out of respect for the original Ip Man films. I didn’t want to see any watered-down knock-offs. But then it occurred to me that it was no different than all the Brucesploitation films that are a lot of fun, so I plunged in head-first, hoping it wouldn’t be as trashy as a you might expect a knock-off to be. And, you know, it actually felt more respectful of Ip Man’s legacy than Ip Man 2 was! The Legend Is Born even features Ip Man’s son, Ip Chun, in a wonderful role as an elder student of Wing Chun that has developed a more refined and varied approach to the fighting style that revolutionizes Ip Man’s way of thinking. This reminded me greatly of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do style, and if this section of the film was truthful to Ip Man’s life, then I imagine it was this spirit of openness to other styles and ways of thinking that he would later pass on to Bruce. I loved the focus on Wing Chun in The Legend Is Born, and it’s definitely one for Hong Kong fans to watch. In some ways it actually felt like an older-style kung fu film that is generally no longer made, and you know that kind of thing is a quick way to my heart. And it has Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung in supporting roles!

johnwickJohn Wick (2014)
AKA Sin Control, John Wick: Sin Control

twostar

Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Omer Barnea, Toby Leonard Moore, Daniel Bernhardt, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Clarke Peters
Directed by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch

I just didn’t connect with John Wick at all. I blame the fan hype that sold it as some kind of John Woo-style gun movie. I didn’t see that in it AT ALL. The way the violence was handled felt really gross. It’s the same problem I have with a lot of modern horror films: everything looks too damn real or graphic for me to just have fun with it. I am forced to reckon with the reality of the situation, which in this case is John Wick revenge-killing a whole shitload of dudes. All the violence is really flippant and backed by “cool” music, too, so everything about the violence felt glorified and dirty to me. I can’t have fun with that. Does this even make sense to anyone but me? It’s hard to explain. Whatever. I didn’t like it. ’nuff said.

Europa Report (2013)

europareport_5Starring Christian Camargo, Embeth Davidtz, Anamaria Marinca, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra, Sharlto Copley, Dan Fogler, Isiah Whitlock Jr.

Directed by Sebastián Cordero

Expectations: Pretty high. I do like my sci-fi.

threestar


Europa Report is the movie you’ve dreamed of if you’re a big fan of Ben Bova’s novel Mars (or presumably any of the many sequels to it that I never read). What that means is that Europa Report is a movie that takes space exploration seriously, and is therefore much more realistic and unique than the usual action science fiction movie made by Hollywood. Enjoyment of a film like Europa Report takes patience, investment and a genuine wonder about the mysteries the rest of our universe holds to discover if we ever do make it up there.

Europa Report is essentially a found footage film, but, unlike other films in this sub-par genre, this does not equal handheld shaky-cam nonsense. All of the cameras are fixed to the walls of the Europa One spacecraft, capturing the day-to-day lives of our astronauts from many different angles. This removes the one main barrier to entry that plagues films of the genre, and it helps us enter this scientific world seamlessly. We are merely watching video feeds like security guards, or, if you want to role-play, mission control.

Continue reading Europa Report (2013) →

Mini-Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2010)

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2010)

Starring Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Tehilla Blad, Lena Endre, Annika Hallin, Sofia Ledarp, Jacob Ericksson, Georgi Staykov, Aksel Morisse, Niklas Hjulström, Micke Spreitz, Anders Ahlbom, Hans Alfredson, Lennart Hjulström, Per Oscarsson, Michalis Koutsogiannakis, Mirja Turestedt, Johan Kylén

Directed by Daniel Alfredson

Expectations: Moderate. I enjoyed the last one pretty well.


Oh man, where’s my notebook? I seriously need a road map to navigate the ridiculously complex plots of these movies, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is probably the hardest to follow of the trilogy. It is also the most boring of the three as well. Y’know I was diametrically opposed to the US remakes of these movies, just on the simple fact that these films were just coming out and didn’t need a remake. After viewing them all, I can’t really argue with the desire to remake them. If they were tightened up and the dialogue was easier to digest, I think I could love these stories.

Noomi Rapace is once again fantastic as Lisbeth Salander. She spends a good portion of this film in the hospital recovering from the shitstorm that capped off the previous film, so she doesn’t have nearly enough time to kick ass. There’s also a lot of courtroom scenes that didn’t do anything for me either. I was hoping for a more thrilling film, like The Girl Who Played With Fire was, but instead I got an overly talky, exposition-heavy film to end an okay trilogy. Eh.

The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009)

The Girl Who Played With Fire [Flickan som lekte med elden] (2009)

Starring Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Tehilla Blad, Lena Endre, Peter Andersson, Per Oscarsson, Sofia Ledarp, Yasmine Garbi, Georgi Staykov, Annika Hallin

Directed by Daniel Alfredson

Expectations: Low. I didn’t really like the first one that much, but just enough to give this a shot.


 

I wasn’t shy about my indifference to the first film in this series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but despite that I had an urge to see the follow-up. The character of Lisbeth Salander is an intriguing one and I hoped that with a different story surrounding her, I might connect more with the film. This is essentially exactly what happened with The Girl Who Played With Fire and I’m glad I took the plunge.

Continue reading The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009) →

Mini-Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo [Män som hatar kvinnor] (2009)

Starring Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Peter Haber, Sven-Bertil Taube, Henrik Vanger, Peter Andersson, Ingvar Hirdwall, Marika Lagercrantz, Björn Granath

Directed by Niels Arden Oplev

Expectations: High. I’d heard nothing but heaps of gushing praise.


Is this the most overrated movie of 2009? No, it’s not quite at Avatar level here, but it is pretty thick. I didn’t hate this movie, it’s just that I honestly didn’t see a lot to get particularly excited about. Despite its interesting story, the film is a painful two-and-a-half hour slog through rape, revenge and murder. It’s definitely well shot and well acted, but it just takes so damn long to get anywhere that any suspense or tension is gone long before it has any real chance at an impact. There’s a fairly graphic rape scene that serves next to no purpose other than to set up a vice versa revenge rape a few minutes later. So there’s about 30 minutes of runtime devoted solely to setting up the fact that our main character is a girl that doesn’t take any shit. I LOVE revenge movies, they are my total bread and butter, but these scenes were just glorified torture porn. Director Oplev could have learned a lot from Taken. Liam Neeson is set up as a complete and absolute badass in one scene, and if memory serves, its done and over in less than five minutes.

I realize this makes me sound like a dude with attention deficit disorder that’s just itching for something to explode, but that’s simply not the case. Great, slow-burn movies are some of the best the cinema has to offer. In order for them to work though, you have to be connected to the characters you are traveling with, and herein lies another flaw of the film. I don’t care about anyone in this movie. The title character is essentially just supporting Michael Nyqvist in her own film, and Nyqvist’s character has got to be a front-runner in the “Most Boring Lead Character of the 2000s” race. This is all quite frustrating, as there are some killer moments peppered throughout the film that just don’t get the chance to shine they deserve. I wouldn’t recommend watching this, but as almost every other review I’ve seen is overwhelmingly positive, I’d say that if you are greatly interested or a fan of the book, you might be better off judging for yourself or trusting someone else’s opinion on this one.

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