Stephen reviews: Assault Girls (2009)

assaultgirls_1Assault Girls [アサルトガールズ] (2009)

Starring Meisa Kuroki, Rinko Kikuchi, Hinako Saeki, Yoshikatsu Fujiki, Ian Moore

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


It’s been a while since I last dived into Mamoru Oshii’s filmography, and it seems I have blundered into the worst spot to do so. Assault Girls is apparently a semi-sequel to a variety of short films Oshii made earlier, so perhaps I would better appreciate what it was trying to do if I had already seen those. But the film ought to stand on its own in any case, so I won’t be pulling any punches here.

Another of the film’s quirks is that it is almost entirely in English, with the unfortunate fact that all the actors, aside from narrator/gamemaster Ian Moore, are not very fluent in English. Rinko Kikuchi (best known to American audiences for Pacific Rim) would undoubtedly have been the best at speaking English intelligibly, so it’s pretty sad that her character, Lucifer, is the only one that has no dialog, remaining completely silent throughout the film. As such, much of the English in the film still requires subtitles to understand, and the resulting stiff acting really drags the film down.

Assault Girls follows the Mamoru Oshii tradition of combining evocative visuals with sluggish pacing. As such I’m a bit torn on it, just like most of Oshii’s films. This time I’m leaning much more towards boredom than interest, and only partially from the acting. The movie talks a lot about abstract social concepts, dumping a lot of explanation right at the outset. On top of that, the film has a lot of slow sections where nothing much is happening. This is a very good combination for tuning out and losing interest.

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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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Pacific Rim (2013)

pacificrim_1Starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Max Martini, Robert Kazinsky, Clifton Collins Jr., Ron Perlman, Diego Klattenhoff, Mana Ashida

Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Expectations: Very high.

threehalfstar


Pacific Rim is the epitome of what the summer blockbuster film stands for, concerned only with being as awesome as it can possibly be. It may have the look and feel of an emotional story at times, but these moments are mere flourishes on the canvas of awesome. Consequently, the film can be quickly discredited by those that would prefer to cross their arms instead of raising them in a cheer — and they’re not wrong. Pacific Rim speaks directly to the 10-year-old inside you, warping you back to a time when the most pressing matter in your life was whether an awesome robot dude could beat up an awesome lizard dude. Director Guillermo del Toro is obviously a huge fan of that type of thinking, and he has delivered a grand, modern kaiju film for the ages.

Pacific Rim doesn’t waste a moment of your time, as roughly 30 seconds after it begins the first kaiju hits the screen. Concurrently, we learn of the genesis of the Jaeger program, or how nations put aside their differences to build massive, awesome robots to combat the kaiju scourge. But a few years into the Kaiju War, things aren’t so hot, and that’s where our tale begins. To tell any more would be to give away too much (not that there’s a lot to give away). Pacific Rim‘s strength is definitely not its storytelling, but its ability to consistently and thoroughly entertain.

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