Sunday, July 14, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (7/7/13 - 7/13/13)

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (Hiroshi Inagaki) ***1/2 - This is the first in the trilogy of films about the famous titular real-life samurai warrior. I saw all three films in a 36 hour period but it didn't feel right to review it one-by-one so I'm gonna review all three at once. All three films hold their own as individual films but watching it in order will make you appreciate and understand the different little character arcs. The first one is like a "origin story" for you superhero nerds. It starts out a bit sluggish and derivative but eventually becomes more and more compelling and the pay-off is sublime. It will get you to watch the second and third, that's for certain.

Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple (Hiroshi Inagaki) ***1/2 - The second in the trilogy is better than the first if what you're looking for is great samurai action. The titular scene, where Musashi battles eighty men is superb. The journey there, however, is a bit of a slodge because it incorporates a few soapy/melodramatic love story/love triangle which I felt doesn't work THAT well with the otherwise strong material. I'm not against it per se. I just felt it hampered it, not compliment it. But it's only a minor quibble since everything else is so good and it sets up well for the third film.

Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island (Hiroshi Inagaki) ***1/2 - The third film and the conclusion of the trilogy is very wisely not as action-oriented as the second one. There's a character introduced in the second film that when you see him, the first thing that will pop in your mind is, "When is he gonna fight Musashi?". Well, this film was the answer. And I'm not lying when I say it's probably one of the most beautifully filmed fight scenes ever. Overall, I would say this trilogy is a solid entry into the samurai films canon. It doesn't quite reach the heights of Kurosawa (and a couple of other non-Kurosawa samurai films I've seen, one of them Sword of Doom). But they're terrific pieces of work.

Bernie (Richard Linklater) ***1/2 - Jack Black gives one of his career-best performances in this film based on a true story of a gay mortician who murders a mean 81 year old lady. One of the things I admired about this film is that it manages to be wickedly funny without being the least bit condescending or sensationalistic about its subject matter which lesser filmmakers and writers would most likely do. As I said, Black was fantastic but so were Matthew McConaughey and Shirley MacLaine.

Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro) ***1/2- Oh, my. This is probably my favorite summer blockbuster of the year so far. It's basicaly giant robots fighting giant monsters. It's big, loud and silly like any summer blockbuster. But the main difference is that it manages to inspire a sense of wonder and it surprised me. There were moments when I went "WOW!" and "HOLY SHIT!" I felt like a 12 year old again. This is exactly what this movie feels like: A loving tribute to monster movies that director Guillermo del Toro saw when he was a kid. The big fight scenes are spectacularly staged. You can actually see what's going on and they don't feel at all monotonous like these scenes tend to do. Plus they don't overstay their welcome. I will admit that the human elements of the story could have been a bit better but they were just good enough that I actually gave a damn about the characters so it's a minor quibble rather than a major one. I have to say, this is the summer blockbuster where I had the most fun! It's kind of refreshing to see original material from a visionary director who obviously loves it.

Before Midnight (Richard Linklater) **** - This is probably my favorite film of the year so far. This is the third film in what is, SO FAR (I'm thinking this may continue) a trilogy of films chronicling the relationship between Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) that started in Before Sunrise and continued to Before Sunset, both films I absolutely loved. This time, they're living together, they have twin girls and are middle-aged. Like the first two films, the film is basically entirely conversations but thanks to the great script, acting and direction, holds your attention and engages you throughout. Having seen these two characters "grow up" so to speak before our eyes and all the many ups and downs of their relationship, one can't help but hold onto to their every word and seem like we already know them as people. The film does not shy away from harsh realities and real-life issues yet still manages to be sweet, funny and romantic which makes the romance MORE romantic.


YeamieWaffles said...

I absolutely loved the Before Sunrise film and the other one was good as well so Before Midnight is an exciting prospect! I kind of want to see Bernie very soon though because of how obscure the plot is, sounds different!

Adam said...

I'm glad to hear pacific is good