47 Ronin [mild spoilers]: follows a group of disgraced samurai as they set out to avenge their murdered master. As it’s a Hollywood film it obviously contains every single ‘western portrayal of Asia’ pitfall imaginable – everyone speaking ‘Engrish’, exotic mystique, ninjas/samurai everywhere, forbidden gaijin romance, cherry blossom, western warrior, kanji writing, tradition, tradition, tradition… Because of this – and given the foul reviews this received – I was expecting something woeful, but this is pleasantly surprising. The visuals are fantastic: it is a touch over-styalised – some parts feel like Sucker Punch set in feudal Japan – but the costumes, textures, sets, CGI backgrounds are all eye-poppingly sumptuous: it’s up there with The Fall’s immaculate design. Story-wise, other than a few swashbuckling & sword fighting action set pieces, this is definitely more of a drama than you expect: the story arcs are all fairly standard until the ‘happy’ ending – a mass samurai suicide instead of a mass criminal hanging – yay! The biggest complaint you hear about this is that it’s nothing like the original story: WTF?! This is a blockbuster movie… and there are so many fictionalized accounts of this tale that there’s a specific entire genre term for it – Chūshingura! The weirdest thing about 47 Ronin is that it plays to two wildly different audiences – it’s half respectful and traditional samurai movie; and half Game of Thrones style middle-earth mayhem (battles, questing, magic & mythology). Overall, it’s an interesting, and beautiful, oddity that could have been great, but is by no means a terrible movie.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift: a ‘teenager’ who’s always in trouble moves to Japan to dodge juvenile prison (is this a real thing?), but is soon back in the shit when he joins the underground drift/racing crew in Tokyo. For being a franchise film, the only thing connecting it to previous outings is a 20 second Vin Diesel cameo in the final frames – that’s stretching it. A brief list of the things that pissed me off about this film would be: the cheesy all-Americanism, particularly the leads honking redneck accent & attitude; why would anyone give a total stranger their high-spec supercar to race in!?; suspiciously old actors playing teenagers; and most worryingly, all of the girls in the film are there to be race trophies, one of whom actually states “The winner gets me” – what a skank! Also, what the fuck is martial artist legend Sony Chiba doing in this, and why does every street corner, garage, club and eatery in Tokyo have a DJ with decks and big headphones?!?! In the film’s defence, the stunt driving / drifting sections are pretty cool – and to an extent, that’s probably the biggest target it had to hit. The visuals are rich and for all the flaws, it’s well shot and directed on a technical level. Tokyo itself is represented through vending machines, gadgets, high-tech garages, neon signage, quaint bath-houses and gangster-punks. There’s a handful of obligatory ‘Culture Clash – LOL’ moments also put in for good measure. If the rest of the Fast/Furious movies were normal Jonas Brothers this one would be the talentless, embarrassing, tone-deaf one that the parents intentionally keep locked in the basement – hoping that the world forgets about him: unfortunately, Tokyo Jonas is still part of the family, so comes with the box-set, and thus has to be watched and reviewed. Tokyo Drift feels like a totally unrelated, knock-off, emotionless, empty-car-chassis of a film, that had the potential to kill off the franchise. This one definitely failed it’s M.O.T.
The Fast and The Furious
2 Fast 2 Furious
NEDS: follows a catholic kid in Glasgow circa in the 1970s at the teenage crossroads between continuing education or joining gang life. With a no-holds barred approach to the story and filmmaking, this is gritty, raw and violent for the entire duration; the mentality of the characters is particularly shocking – but as a Scot, I can (sadly) vouch for the realism. The language is coarse and very broad Scottish, so will be pretty difficult for anyone outwith the country to fully understand it. The central character is also one of the meanest pieces of work I can remember, with a likability score of zero, even as the school SWAT. Put this all together and you’ve got a moderately depressing story that in parts makes Trainspotting look like a sitcom – but there’s a few saving graces. There’s a lot of great performances, especially from a cast made primarily of non-actors; most notably the father and both the young & teenage Johns (esp Conor McCarron). Secondly, although it gets to some pretty dark places, the story arc is fantastic, proving to be very powerful and surprisingly effective as a whole. I’m glad I saw NEDS, at first I wasn’t impressed but as the story continued I was slowly drawn in and engaged through to the last 5 minutes. Even though it’s pretty dismal, this film won me over in the end.
The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon: Richard Gale’s ten minute short that’s a pseudo-trailer for what would make an absolutely awesome film. Despite the descriptive, yet modest, title this short has explosions, beards, guns, the undead, tanks, global locations and spoons… what more could you ask for? Genuinely funny and very well produced this one is well worth checking out – ‘It will kill you. Even if it takes the rest of your life!’ No need to go anywhere though as it’s on Youtube in HD! LINK: