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JAPANORAMA - Seven Monkey BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpgR100 Review Movie Film Nao Ōmori, Shinobu Terajima, Hitoshi Matsumoto, Ai Tominaga, Eriko Sato, Naomi Watanabe, You, Suzuki Matsuo, Atsuro Watabe, Gin Maeda R100: A quiet salaryman in Japan signs up for a year-long mysterious bondage contract with only one rule – you cannot cancel it. First thing you’ll notice is that this looks weird; the colours aren’t far off black and white and there’s a full-on noir aesthetic (clothes, props, etc). The next strange aspect is the editing: for no reason whatsoever the film keeps ‘stopping’ and cutting to some test viewers trying to figure bits out; and for no reason it dips in to ‘interview’ / ‘documentary’ formats – both tactics demolish the flow of the story. For a whacky, kinky S&M / Bondage comedy… there’s simply not enough laughs, one or two at most, which is unforgivable as a story like this has so, so, so much potential. Overall, R100 is far, FAR too eclectic and random for its own good; but instead of being cult, it’s TRYING to be cult, and falls short, landing up as more ‘rubbish’ than weird, even by Japanese standards.

Score: 2.5/10

JAPANORAMA - Seven Monkey BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpgLone Wolf and Cub Sword of Vengeance 01 Kenji Misumi, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Tomoko Mayama, Fumio Watanabe, Keiko Fujita, Reiko Kasahar, YunosukeLone Wolf and Cub #1 – Sword of Vengeance (子連れ狼  子を貸し腕貸しつかまつる, or Kozure Ōkami: Kowokashi udekashi tsukamatsuru): when his wife is killed by ninjas and he is betrayed by a rival clan, the Shogun’s lead executioner becomes an assassin for hire, wondering the country with his infant son. The film opens with the lead character beheading a child… which lets you know exactly what to expect from the film, and what the lead, Itto Ogami is capable of. Despite this, being played so well by Tomisaburo Wakayama means that you still relate to, and feel for the character and his situation, as he transforms from obedient executioner, to a masterless badass – even if he’s out-of-shape. He is another one of Japan’s surprisingly complex – well acted – anti-heroes. The action scenes are second to none; heads literally roll across the screen, limbs fall to the ground, jets of blood spray everywhere – it’s completely over the top, yet so ridiculously stylish and meticulously planed; it was the first of the more extreme, exploitative Chambara movies. There’s also surprisingly good period detail for an out-and-out exploitation movie; the weirdest part however is that there’s a strangely high volume of scenes involving suckling on teats (OK, only two, but that’s still two more than most films). Sword of Vengeance is over 40 years old now, but it’s crammed full of everything that most modern exploitation films can’t even do right – the main difference is that it’s filmed by an absolute auteur – the film looks like art at times, which is a testament to the story’s manga roots.

Score: 7.5/10

Lone Wolf and Cub Sword of Vengeance 02 Kenji Misumi, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Tomoko Mayama, Fumio Watanabe, Keiko Fujita, Reiko Kasahar, YunosukeLone Wolf and Cub Sword of Vengeance 03 Kenji Misumi, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Tomoko Mayama, Fumio Watanabe, Keiko Fujita, Reiko Kasahar, YunosukeLone Wolf and Cub Sword of Vengeance 04 Kenji Misumi, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Tomoko Mayama, Fumio Watanabe, Keiko Fujita, Reiko Kasahar, YunosukeNOTE: Some people will be familiar with this from the Shogun Assassin movie – which takes the bloodiest bits from the first two Lone Wolf and Cub films and mashes them together to create an even bloodier samurai slasher film aimed at Western audiences. That banned VIPCO vault of horror DVD was my first exposure to the series, and god was it brilliant.

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Having just booked a trip to Japan for this summer I’ve decided to use  it as the perfect opportunity to watch the huge pile of Japanese movies I’ve been slinging into my cupboard for the past 10 years.

Japan’s culture has always been absolutely fascinating to me, particularly their cinematic output – or at least what we can get our hands on in the West. Many of the Japanese films I’ve seen are easily among the most eclectic I’ve seen when it comes to both style and subject matter, and it’s probably the only country where Yakuza, Ninjas, Robots, Monsters, Samurai and Martial Artists appear to be fairly ‘mainstream’ movies.

For the next 6 months I’ll be consuming and reviewing all of the major genres and themes that have defined Japanese cinema on the world stage: 1950s Samurai Epics, J-Horror of the 2000s, 80s/90s Sci-Fi & Cyberpunk, 4 decades of Yakuza flicks, Monster Movies and some of the most bizarre and unique one-off films the country has to offer. The viewing list is fairly big, but a list as varied as: Branded to Kill, Wild Zero, Zatochi, Babycart (Lone Wolf and Cub), Ghost in the Shell, Akira, Ichi the Killer, Seven Samurai, Tokyo Story, Tetsuo: Iron Man, Tokyo Gore Police, Tokyo Decadence, Lady Snowblood, Godzilla – to name but a few.

I’ll also take a look at how Japan (and East Asia) has been portrayed in Western movies over the years, which hasn’t always been positive; bringing to mind things like the fairly racist stereotypes like Mr Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany’s (played by a caucasian – not uncommon), everyone as a Yakuza (Black Rain), student nerds (almost every high-school film), exotic and erotic females and so on. I can barely think of a single Japanese character in a major Hollywood film that wasn’t nerdy / socially inept / over-disciplined / tech savvy / submissive etc.

As always, I’m happy to take on any film suggestions providing I can get my hands on it easily enough. Also happy to team up with other bloggers, publish some guest reviews, collaborations etc – so please get in touch if you’re interested!

Cheers, and I hope you enjoy it.

/Paul

Current reading: Battle Royale13 AssassinsSukiyaki Western DjangoGozuThe Machine GirlSurvive Style 5+Tokyo Zombie20th Century BoysHana-BiVersus

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Licence to Kill: on his wedding day Felix Leiter’s runs into some trouble. When the CIA or MI6 don’t want to pursue the case, Bond goes dark and has to infiltrate a drug cartel to avenge his long-time friend and partner, who’s bailed 007 out over the years more than he’s ever given credit for!

I'll take your feeble car-wheelie and raise you, Moore!

It’s quite unfortunate that the next film was delayed for so long, rendering this Dalton’s last appearance by default. He gets a hard time for only having two films, but given that he turned down the first offer some 20 years prior to The Living Daylights and got shafted by a rights war at the other end, he’s definitely the unluckiest actor to play Bond. As mentioned before I think he’s great, and this film has my favourite Dalton moment, when he shouts at the Bond girl “Ya bloody luckey ta be alyve!!” Fantastic accent lapse! The also has a toughness lapse at the end when he turns all gooey and gets the girl.

"Are you sanchez? No? Are you sanchez? No!? But I... I am Sanchez!"

There’s two great bad guys at the table here; Sanchez (Davi) and his right-hand runt man Dario (Del Toro) – and being honest, even if these guys were to glide around the scenes in bright pink suits they’d still be absolute badasses. Unlike previous villains these guys don’t just look the like nasty pieces of work; they carry out of the most brutal and often senseless murders of all the movies. True to the 1980s, their story is essentially America’s ‘War on Drugs’ put on the big screen – spookily foretelling a similar story to real criminals like Pablo Escobar.

Toilets are over there gringo

The bottom line in Licence to Kill is that when you pit the darkest James Bond against two of the most ruthless villains, it can only mean one thing – a bloody corpsemageddon!!

Even though he helps terrorists, this guy could smile his way to safety

There’s not a lot of balls-to-the-wall action, but when it rolls round it’s handled expertly and stylishly done; particularly the barfight (even though it’s a little Airplane! there’s some cool bits) and the final 20 minutes – peaking with the coolest multiple uses of 18-wheelers known to man – are absolutely fantastic to watch; just stunt after stunt after stunt punctuated with massive (real) explosions.

KABOOM!!! Looks a lot better than CGI explosions

This is the first film that’s fully an out-and-out revenge-driven story, and that’s why it’s one of the better plots. There’s very little backup, and Bond has to rely more on his smarts than anything else. He gets into some pretty hairy situations too, and watching him escape or get bailed out is just a little edgier knowing that the cavalry isn’t just around the corner.

Q's supposed to be on holiday... yet still has Bond's back. What a guy!

Other delightful portions of Licence to Kill are: the plane fishin’ scene at the start, manta ray disguise, cutting edge computers that made ‘CD-ROMs’ look tiny, everyone smoking furiously, and Felix himself being scarily calm considering that he’d just lost is better half (and lower half).

Felix getting a bum deal in the shark pen

This is easily one of the better Bond films and one with the most clout, not just because it’s dark and violent, but because it’s the most grounded Bond picture to date. The mix of a gripping story, believable characters and well-made action is a truly explosive combo. Finally, there’s Dalton, who’s not just a great Bond in his own right, but reiterated the darker side of the worlds best spy, a side that Brosnan and Craig would both use to their advantage. Criminally underrated film.

Score: 7.5/10

Knife to the head... not the best first date 007's ever had. Nor the worst...

TOP TRUMPS
Villain: Sanchez – ruthless escobarian guy. Soft spot for ‘loyalty’ though. 8
Henchmen: Switchblade Dario – pretty nasty smile / Killfer (bent cop) / Milton (sailor moustace). 7
Action: shootout and ‘plane fishin’ / underwater fight / Barfight / Grinder / Tankers. 8
Babes: Ginger toy boy exec secretary – boys haircut / Sanchez’s deceitful girlfriend – eyebrows. 7

Bond daydreaming... probably about shooting someone in the face. Let's hope Dalton one day gets proper recognition for his time with the PPK

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The Warrior’s Way: Seriously, $42M spent on a film that has ninjas, cowboys, guns, swords, circus freaks, dynamite… and it’s still this boring? With almost nothing physical to film +85% of the buildings, scenery, props and even people are CGI. Because of this it looks pretty dreadful and feels cheap. The trailer suggests a fun action-fest, yet there’s around an hour of awful character building – this is not the type of film in which I wish to invest in characters!! When the action finally rolls round it’s emotionless, over-styled, plagasised, dull, vague, and edited to within an inch of its life to preserve a 15 certificate. The main guy (Yang Dong-gun) is a total vacuum; with almost no lines he tries his best to convey mystery and enigma but ends up just looking confused. The Leading lady (Kate Bosworth) looked good, but was the human version of Jessie from Toy Story – down to the bad accent. The script is riddled with clichés, there’s corny narration, an unforgivable pseudo-Asian soundtrack, and a heap of ‘cutesy baby’ shots!? I can only imagine hope this will be Sngmoo Lee’s first and last time behind a camera. I walked in to the cinema yearning to like this but there wasn’t a single scene where I thought “That’s original” or “That’s cool”. 100% stick to The Good, The Bad, The Weird as it’s not an Asian stereotype and actually has story, acting, exciting action, a proper ending, Even Sukiyaki‘s worth your time, but not this – ever…

Score: 1/10

War: (Blu Ray) A gritty cop is out to avenge his partner’s death at the hand of the cockiest and most conspicuous hitman on the planet. Initially, this one doesn’t bat too high; with flashbacks referencing the start of the film after 20 minutes!! It’s also totally textbook, from the archetypal spy/metal music & story-progressing montage through to the constant ‘satellite’ shots and swooping cuts of cars driving over bridges. However, the last 30 minutes or so make this film more than worth persevering with – and in general the film was slicker and smarter than the uninspired synopsis and general image gives it credit for. There’s a lot of decent and original action/choreogrphy threading through the film – the best being an awesome footchase, and a jaw-dropping steakhouse punch up. You know what to expect from Statham and Li, and neither disappoint. The uncompressed audio mix bursts out of every speaker for the full duration creating one of the best soundscapes I’ve heard to date – every word, footstep, punch, gunshot and shatter is crystal clear and mixed in perfectly with the film’s fully orchestrated score  – it’s truly an aural delight that should be a must-have for anyone with a home theater system, indisputable demo material. The picture’s generally good, but has a few bum scenes. Overall, if you like your cop-revenge-action films this is definitely one of the better ones out there – and while it’s not outstanding, there’s a lot of good touches that elevate it above expectations.

Score: 7/10