Rapid-Fire Reviews | Himizu ヒミズ

Info:

Genre: Crime, drama

Director/s: Sion Sono

Running Time: 129 mins

Budget: Unknown

Released: 5 September 2011

Himizu (Japanese Shrew Mole) has earned a certain amount of acclaim in the Japanese film industry as well as in certain Western circles for being a ‘masterpiece’ or ‘extraordinary’ however I cannot fathom as to why that is as this film is utterly pointless.  Himizu focuses on two teenagers who live a dystopian existence after the tsunami disaster in May 2011. Even though the disaster is used as the backdrop of the film to exemplify the hopeless dreariness of the situation, it pales in comparison to the dreary protagonists.  Sumida lives with his mother in a boat house, in no time she abandons him and soon after he kills his father – a worthless man who frequents the home in search of cash and alcohol.  In the beginning Sumida still goes to school and is stalked by Keiko who spends her time coating her bedroom wall with pages of random quotes that Sumida makes throughout the day.  Soon enough Keiko begins to speak to Sumida and when he stops going to school, she starts spending her days at Sumida’s home, even though he has absolutely no interest in her.  Himizu won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best New Young Actor and Actress, which is quite confusing as both protagonists display the usual amount of over-acting, and nonsensical garbage lines synonymous with many Japanese dramas, such as Sumida himself shouting “Sumida! Don’t give up!” Himizu is basically two hours of exaggerated teenage angst, screaming, pointless crying, abuse (as Sumida and Keiko slap one another around repeatedly) and stupidity as Sumida ‘descends into madness’ after slaying his father, deciding to “punish bad guys” in the last hour of the film which equates to him walking around town covered in paint (some of which he consumes), carrying a knife around in a bag which he never actually uses.  Adding to the melancholy of Himizu is the use of Mozart’s Requiem repeatedly throughout the film’s duration, two hours of the same musical composition, really?  What makes everything worse is the fact that Sumida’s misery is self-inflicted, as he never acknowledges or accepts the help of the people (squatters on his property) who actually care for him or try to help him, as he occupies his time with pointless screaming, loitering and for the most part – rolling in mud.

Conclusion

You’d be hard-pressed to take anything from this film as I certainly didn’t.  Himizu is a 129 minute waste of your life.  Circular, pointless and dreary, filled with forgettable performances and a senseless ending.  However, if there’s one film I would like to see Sumida and Keiko in, it’d be Battle Royale.

Grade: F

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Black Swan

Info:

Genre: Psychological thriller

Director/s: Darren Aronofsky

Running Time: 108 mins

Budget: $13 million

Released: 17 December 2010 (USA)

Plot:

A ballet dancer wins the lead in “Swan Lake” and is perfect for the role of the delicate White Swan – Princess Odette – but slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like Odile, the Black Swan – imdb

Review:

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a young, talented ballet dancer who constantly strives for perfection and in doing so, she is always pushing herself harder and harder in order to reach that elusive level of flawlessness she so craves even at the expense of her own well-being but having worked for the same ballet company for a number of years she seems to be toiling needlessly as her career has not earned her the recognition she rightly deserves.

After director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to do a reworked rendition of Swan Lake, Nina gets her chance at stardom as she is cast in the lead as the delicate White Swan, a role she is perfect for except that she is required to portray the Black Swan as well – the dark and sensual doppelganger. As Nina struggles to embody the role of the Black Swan, a new challenge in the form of Lily (Mila Kunis) emerges, as she is the very embodiment of the darker twin.

Ballet occupies every facet of Nina Sayer's life.

 

To compound matters further, Nina lives with her obsessive former ballerina mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) who exerts a stifling hold over her, controlling her every move and treating her like a child.  The mother’s failure as a former ballerina becomes apparent as she selfishly pushes and manipulates her daughter in an effort to reclaim a sense of her own lost career and in doing so, project herself into her daughter.  However, Erica’s efforts are inevitably thwarted as Nina eventually befriends Lily, a reckless ‘free-spirit’ who introduces Nina to a world of drugs and sexual encounters that invariably changes Nina, so much so that she is able to stand up to her mother and portray the Black Swan thanks to her newly acquired sensibilities.

…the cinematography and acting are brilliant in Black Swan and Natalie Portman portrays her character with substance and realism…

Though it is quite apparent that Lily is merely the trigger that sets Nina off as Nina seems to possess some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder in the form of scratching herself open as well as a more serious psychological sickness, possibly schizophrenia as she constantly sees visions of herself bleeding, skin peeling or people’s faces becoming her own, a condition brought on possibly by her mother due to social isolation or years of mental abuse.

Natalie Portman as the Black Swan.

 

The cinematography and acting are brilliant in Black Swan and Natalie Portman portrays her character with substance and realism – as a tortured soul constantly striving for the unattainable, but know that Black Swan isn’t an easy-going film as it is visually disturbing at times and overall the tone of the film is pensive and melancholic.  As Black Swan is a departure from what I’m accustomed to watching, I did find the film to be lacking in pace and sometimes even boring.  Save for the odd twist or two, I feel that Black Swan fails at the level of ‘psychological thriller’ but rather excels at being a drama (and much drama there is).

In conclusion, Black Swan is a well-directed, brilliantly choreographed film, well-deserving of your attention if you are attracted to tragedy and pensive themes, though if you like your films to be light-hearted or easy-going it would be best to avoid this one.  As I said previously, while I feel that Black Swan isn’t much of a psychological thriller (there wasn’t enough mind-fuckery in the film that could really warrant it to fall into the psyche-thriller category) it is however a brilliant drama.

 

Ip Man & Ip Man 2

Info:

Genre: Semi-biographical, martial arts, drama

Director/s: Wilson Yip

Running Time: 108 mins/109 mins

Budget: $11.7 million/$12.9 million

Released: 10 December 2008/29 April 2010

Plot:

Ip Man – A semi-biographical account of Yip Man, the first martial arts master to teach the Chinese martial art of Wing Chun.

Ip Man 2 – Centering on Ip Man’s migration to Hong Kong in 1949 as he attempts to propagate his discipline of Wing Chun martial arts.

Warning: the following contains spoilers, do not proceed unless you have watched the films.

Review:

I must stress that when they say ‘semi-biographical’ they really mean it as Wilson Yip has taken countless liberties with Ip Man’s, though technically it’s Yip Man (葉問), life story.  Yip Man was considered to be the first person to openly teach the martial art – Wing Chun (詠春) and is best known as the teacher of the most famous Asian action star of all time – Bruce Lee.  Though the films aren’t really an accurate representation of Yip Man’s life, they are nonetheless entertaining provided you are able to switch off your brain and overlook the shortcomings of both films.

Donnie Yen stars as Yip Man, and I must say that his performance is brilliant.  His martial arts skill is shown off to great effect even though a lot of the moves performed are of the flashier variety as opposed to the effective.  However, the punches, kicks, grabs and so forth are all rooted in Wing Chun as opposed to the movie martial art known as Wu Shu, and this is shown off impressively as Yip steam-rolls over every adversary waiting to challenge him.

…Yip Man’s life is turned upside down when the Japanese invade China and this is where the central event of the film comes into play – Karate versus Wing Chun…

The first film, set in the 1930s, tells the story of brilliant martial artist; Yip Man who, together with his family, live an extremely luxurious life.  He is well-known around the city and is often met by other martial artists who wish to challenge him.  Yip Man’s life is turned upside down when the Japanese invade China and this is where the central event of the film comes into play – Karate versus Wing Chun.  When Yip Man refuses to train General Miura’s (a highly skilled Japanese practitioner of Karate) soldiers in the art of Wing Chun, Yip Man invariably finds himself facing off against Miura’s men, in a 10 on 1 battle (the most impressive scene in the film) and then eventually fighting the general himself.  While the 10 on 1 fight was certainly impressive, the odds of one man besting ten is quite slim so once again you have to take into account that a lot of this film is fiction.

This is the actual Yip Man himself, sadly he died on December 2, 1972.

Yip Man played by Donnie Yen in the films Ip Man & Ip Man 2.

Now 1949, Ip Man 2 takes place in Hong Kong where Yip Man and his family have fled to (the film basically starts where the first one ended) in an attempt to escape prosecution.  Yip Man wishes to open a Wing Chun school in the city however, rival schools and politics do not make the job easy for him.  In order to open his school, Yip Man needs to defeat a number of masters from other schools (one being Hung Jan Nam played by Sammo Hung) and agree to pay a monthly fee which he disagrees upon.  Though Yip and Hung start out as enemies, the two men invariably become friends though the friendship is cut short when a British boxer named Twister kills Hung.  After his friend’s death, Yip Man decides to formally challenge Twister and though he eventually defeats the foreigner, Twister still manages to smack Yip Man around like a rag-doll and that’s another problem I have with these films…

How is it that in the first film, Yip Man is able to dispatch ten highly skilled Karate warriors with brutal speed and efficiency AND defeat Miura without so much as a black eye or broken bone and yet in Ip Man 2, Twister manages to almost defeat the Wing Chun master himself.  Granted, Twister was a large well-built muscular man (and therefore able to toss Yip around) but the main purpose of Wing Chun is to allow smaller people to sort out larger ones.  It’s the reason why Wing Chun practitioners use a wooden man as a training device.  The wooden dummy represents a larger foe, who’s too strong to be overpowered by strength alone, therefore the Wing Chun student needs to find weaknesses and ways to overcome that strength by circumventing it.  99% of the techniques employed in Wing Chun are lethal so how is it that a seasoned master such as Yip Man had such a tough time defeating a boxer?  Put simply, Wilson Yip wanted to make a sequel and to make it ‘exciting’ he decided to include a preposterously drawn-out battle that should have ended in five seconds with Yip Man crushing in Twister’s throat.  Though I did enjoy the second film as it expands upon the lives of the characters in the first installment, it lacked action scenes (only two main fights) and was too drawn out with the stupid Twister plot (the English actors were terrible by-the-way) to make it a truly great martial arts epic.  Wilson originally intended for the second film to focus on Yip Man and his protégé, Bruce Lee, but couldn’t secure the rights to represent Bruce extensively in the film so instead, the young Lee shows up at the end looking to train.

…Wilson Yip wanted to make a sequel and to make it ‘exciting’ he decided to include a preposterously drawn-out battle that should have ended in five seconds with Yip Man crushing in Twister’s throat…

Oddly enough, they did a similar thing in Ninja Assassin when the protagonist – Raizo, had one final step before becoming a full-fledged Ninja involving the assassination of a large English (coincidence?) kingpin (Stephen Marcus) in a bathroom.  Raizo, perhaps the most skilled fighter of the entire clan has his ass handed to him in a long brawl with the plump man and then after finally killing him, rejoins his fellow Ninja on the roof of the building, has a falling out with them and then proceeds to kill a numerous amount of his (skilled) Ninja brothers without breaking a sweat.  It’s shit like that which just pisses me off to no end.

In closing, both films are enjoyable and Donnie Yen is fantastic as Yip Man as he manages to dish out kick-assery on a dime, just don’t expect a very accurate bio-pic.  Hopefully Wilson Yip doesn’t make a third film as he was milking the Yip Man license enough with the second installment.  Recommended If you like Asian drama with a kick…or punch.  I award both films  seven out of ten each.

The Shawshank Redemption

Info:

Genre: Crime, drama

Director/s: Frank Darabont

Writer/s: Stephen King (short story ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’), Frank Darabont

Running Time: 142 mins

Budget: $25 million

Released: 23 September 1994

Plot:

Two imprisoned men bond after a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency – imdb

Review:

The Shawshank redemption is one of those films that I just never got around to seeing since it didn’t interest me at the time what with being ten years old and all, nominated for 7 Academy Awards and failing to win a single one due to being overshadowed by 1994’s top film; Forest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption has been called one of the greatest films of all time.  So almost sixteen years after the film’s release I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Well firstly, for the duration of the film, I was somewhat confused due to the fact that the film is based upon a Stephen King story, it just didn’t seem like the type of story that he would come up with, as to my knowledge Stephen King is known for his horror, science fiction and fantasy titles as opposed to the harsh reality setting of something like The Shawshank Redemption.  I initially found the film to be somewhat underwhelming but as the film drew to a close and all the pieces fell together I could appreciate the genius of it all.

Though the film is clever and the acting, particularly of Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, was brilliant I don’t quite understand why this film has reached such critical acclaim.  The Shawshank Redemption isn’t genre defining and the plot isn’t the most spectacular and yet it has managed to leave a positive impression on me.  As Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is imprisoned in Shawshank prison, we see how he goes from unlikable nobody to popular somebody, especially since he befriends ‘Red’ (Morgan Freeman) the so-called ‘man who’s known to get things…from time to time’.  Together these two men form a lasting friendship, reinforced my the brilliant acting of the aforementioned actors.

…I initially found the film to be somewhat underwhelming but as the film drew to a close and all the pieces fell together I could appreciate the genius of it all…

Both Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman display brilliant acting skill in this film.

Due to the lengthy running time of this film, the writers were able to focus plenty of time on character development and it really shows as the more you watch, the more you see Andy and Red’s world through their eyes as well as the myriad of friends that they have.  The truth of the matter is that the film is set in a maximum security prison in the late ’40s, this is the established setting of The Shawshank Redemption, at times it’s funny and though it is a very interesting and entertaining film, there is a harsh, almost foreboding atmosphere about it (Shawshank is a prison afterall) and oftentimes the setting is quite depressing.

The Shawshank Redemption isn’t something that usually appeals to my interests and thinking back, it was probably a good idea that I didn’t watch it all those years ago as I probably would have hated it and not have seen it through to the end (which would ruin it all together).  Though I’d probably never watch it again, I still managed to thoroughly enjoy this film and recommend that all movie goers interested in heavy-handed drama stories give The Shawshank Redemption a shot.