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13 Assassins – Orion’s Take

October 5, 2011 Leave a comment

A man, pale faced yet resolute, careful opens his robe, takes a small knife in his hand, methodically feels his stomach, and cuts.  At this point we see only his face as it contorts in agony, yet he continues the cut across and, with effort straining the muscles in his neck, pulls the knife out.  But his job is not yet finished.  We hear his ragged breathing as he finds the middle of the cut, reinserts the blade, and this time cuts upward.  Finally, he collapses forward in a pool of blood, as the shot pans to the pristine, white letter in front of him.

This is by far the most shockingly violent film I have seen.  Saw, which made me physically ill when I watched it for the first (and only) time, is the only film to come close—and Saw utilized all sorts of cheap tricks to make the violence more shocking than it already was.  Saw also glorified violence for violence’s sake: this film on the other hand, is a direct refutation of the violence we have come to celebrate.  Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu is the son of the former Shogun, and half-brother to the current one.  Nobody can touch him—nobody even dares check his violent and sexual tendencies.  Doi Toshitsura, a senior government official, realizes that if Lord Naritsugu ascends to a higher political position, lots of people will die.  He therefore tacitly informs Shimada Shinzaemon, an aging and trusted Shogunate samurai, that Lord Naritsugu must die.  Shimada collects a team of 13 samurai (really more like 12 samurai plus 1 random forest guy that beats wild bears to death) and together plot the death of one of the most powerful figures in Japan.

To understand what I mean about the denunciation of violence in this film, you have to look at the run time: this movie is two hours long.  About half of that is one continuous action scene.  That sure as hell doesn’t sound like a denunciation of violence—and yet that is exactly the picture that emerges: you can’t enjoy the action scene.  It is so messy, yet so visually appealing, so brutal, yet so captivating, that you feel really damn guilty watching the thing.  The whole time Lord Naritsugu is just watching with this gleam in his eye—you know he’s enjoying it, and suddenly you feel a sense of revulsion.  It’s such a waste.  All these people dying.  You want to enjoy the swordsmanship of the characters, the brutal efficiency of their swords, but the beauty fades away the longer you watch.  The characters get tired.  They get bloody.  The swords, once swinging smoothly, now are flailed around.  One character loses his sword, so he picks up a rock and beats a man to death with it—that simply isn’t pretty.

As I mentioned already, however, it’s Lord Naritsugu that really embodies everything wrong with this violence that we claim to love, we consumers who dine on WWII movies and the occasional flick like The Expendables.  As the battle rages on, as literal heaps of bodies pile around him, he asks with a faint smile if this is what war is like.  As his astonished samurai stammer out a yes, his face twists into an expression of rapt attention and he says “Let’s bring back the age of war.”

The other theme here, less relevant, perhaps, to a Western audience, is that of the conflicting ideals of Bushido—justice for the people?  Or duty to one’s lord?  To go as far as to commit seppuku: probably very few people in America understand that compulsion, the constraints of a society in which honor is valued above life.  But there is a sense of waste in this: the ways in which people that otherwise might be allies kill each other for something almost senseless—duty as more than life, more even than any divinity or deity that might exist—something truly frightening.

There are some problems with the film—sometimes one wonders if the action is a little too polished for the message it is carrying, or if the filmmaker wants to force feed the audience the message—at the end there is a little epilogue in which we are rather smugly told that the Shogunate ended some 23 years later, as if the violence depicted in the film would never come again with the Shoguns out of power.  Also, the character of Kiga Koyata (apparently he’s a demon or something) is interesting but very very very shallow, even in comparison to the other throw-away characters.  Despite all of that, this film still manages to make you think: and any action movie that can do that is worth all the praises I can give it.

4.5/5 Waffles

Categories: Uncategorized

September Movies!

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Lots and lots of movies coming out this month!

The Debt: Sam Worthington (Apple’s favorite), Helen Mirren–split timelines and juicy twists.  Looks interesting to me.

Warrior: A MMA version of The Fighter?  I am not so sure about this one-I was never a fan of these fighting movies.

Abduction: Taylor Lautner as the lead in an action flick?  I’m excited to see this one, even if Apple isn’t, just for the gratuitous half-nakedness that will no doubt ensue.

Shaolin: Jackie Chan!  Lots of kungfu!  Filmed on location in an actual Shaolin Temple!

Contagion: Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, and Jude Law star in this film about a bird flu outbreak.

Moneyball: Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s general manager that used the little money available to craft a winning team.

Categories: Uncategorized

Captain America–Orion’s Take

July 29, 2011 2 comments

Captain AmericaThe best word to describe a movie like Captain America is “vintage.”  Captain America literally came into being as a Nazi-fighting superhero in the 1940s, so it’s no surprise that the villain of the film is a Nazi super soldier, albeit one with greater ambition than might be expected.  But back to the point: this is a vintage film with vintage characters.  The good guy is a good guy.  The bad guy is a bad guy.  They fight.   Mayhem ensues.

This is not to say that the mayhem that ensues is entirely without character of its own.  I enjoyed watching the transformation of a patriotic if weak-bodied man into Captain America, especially since that transformation took more than a secret serum.  Steve Rogers goes from a nobody with a dream to a dancing monkey to a real American hero, and boy, is it fun to watch.  It’s a lot more fun than Thor, for sure.  There’s grit to balance the kitsch, a certain subtlety to match the cheesiness.  And most importantly for me, there is character.  The casting is well done for this: Chris Evans plays a convincing Steve Rogers, Tommy Lee Jones is great as usual as a grizzled Colonel, and Hugo Weaving plays an excellent villain (though the accent was a little eh).  The interactions between these three and the love interest Hayley Atwell (played by Peggy Carter) make for fun viewing when the audience isn’t watching Captain America bash some Hydra heads in.

I simply couldn’t take this film seriously.  And that was a good thing for the movie, because taken seriously it makes no sense.  But taken as it is, a film about a man who grows into something great, a film made to have fun and make people laugh, it is successful enough to warrant seeing.  This review is short because there isn’t much to say–watch this film if you like superheroes and if you want to have a little fun.

3/5 Waffles

-Orion

See also: Apple’s Review (2.5/5)

Categories: Uncategorized

Transformers 3: A Hot Mess—Orion’s Take

July 9, 2011 1 comment

That's a big ship.The issue with this installment of the Transformer’s franchise is not, as Clover has insinuated, that it is boring.  I personally had a lot of fun watching this flashy, funny, explosive film.  The issue is that it’s a film made to be a hit, a film that doesn’t bother making sense, a film that mashes together so many different ideas and styles and explosions that it becomes something akin to a hamburger tossed in a blender: easily digestible but ultimately lacking anything that could be called character.

Truthfully, I need to tell you absolutely nothing about the plot for you to “get” this movie—everything is explained in such excruciating detail that I was simply amused that the film catered so obviously to the casual viewer.  My only real experience with the Transformer’s brand was my love of the Beast War series, which I loved.  Just to let you know, Beast Wars is pretty well regarded for a Transformer’s series, even though it’s often seen as the black sheep in the family, simply because it tackled interesting themes and was still cool.  This movie is severely lacking in the interesting themes department.  The villains suck, the good guys rule—there is no dilemma at all.  The action scenes are good but not great.  The romance scenes are passable.  The humor is a safe laugh.

I mean, this movie is fun.  But it’s so mindless.  Epic?  Maybe, but the topic can’t cover for such a messy film.  To be fair, this movie is certainly better than the 36% rating on RT might suggest, but it’s just not that good either.  It reminds me of Eclipse: I was laughing the whole time, it was too long, and I still managed to have fun.  Go see this movie for a bit of mindless fun, but don’t bother putting your thinking caps on: you’ll just be wasting time.

3/5 Waffles

–Orion

See also: Apple’s Review (4.5/5)

Categories: Uncategorized

“Super 8”—Orion’s Take

June 27, 2011 3 comments

Clover is a jaded, sarcastic, teenage-minded, reviewer when it comes to movies about relationships: if there is a movie that attempts to bring a certain set of relationships to the forefront, Clover cannot help but dismiss it as “sentimental” or “cheesy,” especially if there is no action or whimsy to distract her.  I must admit that I too fall into this trap when watching certain movies, but I often find explorations of emotion and human interaction quite fascinating.

You may have heard that this film is about aliens.  That is incorrect: while the movie includes alien interactions, the focus of the film is on a group of kids that are starting to grow up.  The tragedies are ultimately human tragedies.  Joe Lamb, the protagonist of the film, loses his mother in an accident at the steel factory.  His father, the lieutenant sheriff of a small town, is left to raise Joe by himself.  Their interaction, which is both distant and desperate, is one of the highlights of the film.  Likewise, the exploration of each character, no matter how minor, lends a sense of fullness, or richness, to this film.  Clover thinks this movie is nothing special.  I have to beg to differ: the tangled relationships, the setting, and the plot all mingle into something utterly pleasant.  I agree that this is no masterpiece, of the likes of E.T. (which this movie imitates and draws on), but there is some spark in this film that is absent from movies like “X-Men: First Class,” a real sense of character.

I can taste character when I watch a film.  Some movies portray people in general as bitter and unloving, a distinctly sour flavor.  Others make the world seem like a playground—minor woes, minor foes, and major cuteness: this is sweet, sometimes cloyingly so.  But in a movie like “Super 8,” which, for the most part, portrays people as people, produces a flavor that is wonderfully subtle, like almond or coconut, and also amazingly rich: like truffle.  These people are real; these relationships are real.  I know people exactly like Joe, or like Martin (haha, brownie points for having my name for a character, never mind that that character is a wimp), and every word of their dialogue makes sense.  Clover says that she isn’t interested in prepubescent romance, but the truth is that all romance is prepubescent romance plus sexuality.  In my opinion, getting a prepubescent relationship right is a lot harder to fake than getting an adult romance right—in movies like “No Strings Attached” you just throw in lots of sex and messy break-up scenes and people will buy it.  But everyone knows that innocent and intense feeling of falling in love with someone at that age, and the complications that come with it.  To say that this characterization is nothing special is to deny that romance is special at all (and I’m sure Clover would quite easily make that concession).  A world without romance is a dull world indeed.

Though the audience is left with a few questions at the end, the ending still satisfies.  The viewer leaves the movie sated, if not stuffed, on the well-written, believable relationships.  What more can you ask for?

4.25/5

- Orion

See also: Apple’s Review (3.5/5)

Categories: Uncategorized

Sucker Punch–A Rambling Review by Orion

Watching several scantily-attired women kill zombie Nazis with swords and guns while a hot Asian chick sucking on a sucker pilots a mecha-suit (or something of that nature) was…interesting.  Or at least it appealed to my brute senses in a very primitive way.  The skeleton of the story was far more appealing than I had been led to believe by the trailers, the emotion raw but strangely compelling, the actresses oozing both sexuality and vulnerability.  The structure, a fantasy within a fantasy, explored issues of escapism and empowerment, albeit in a very crude way.  But I felt that there was something there, something deeper that remained woefully distant, a depth that could have, might have, saved this movie from…from what, exactly, I can’t say.  I can’t help but like this film more than a similarly ridiculous one (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World).  Whereas Scott Pilgrim had a sort of nerdy polish but no real depth, Sucker Punch is a wild and messy film that aspires to something great.

If you couldn’t tell this movie is straining to hold itself together.  The responses to this film have ranged from a kind of exploitative pleasure to disgust (I heard a man and a woman speaking about this film—“It was awesome!”-man.  “Oh, shut up, you just liked it because of the costumes, which were, by the way, terrible.  It would be so impractical to fight in those clothes.”-woman) and I ran the gamut in terms of emotions.  I couldn’t help but like the style of the film, the flashiness that Zach Snyder brings to the table, but I would have liked a gentler touch with the overarching plot.  At some points the action scenes distracted from the real emotion that is involved in this story of a girl wronged and assigned to a mental asylum.  This distraction was compounded at some points by the structure of the film—most of the film takes place in a fantasy world one level removed from the actuality of the plot, and the action scenes take place one level further from reality.  While at some points this distance works, at other times this extended metaphor/fantasy is just confusing.

It’s hard to explain the structure, especially since the movie itself fails to clear up some points, but in essence there are three levels of the film:

LEVEL 1—this is reality, where the story is that of a girl, Baby Doll, whose stepfather places her in a mental institution and bribes an orderly to have her lobotomized.  It is revealed here that the doctor who will do the lobotomy won’t come for five days.

LEVEL 2—A fantasy that puts Baby Doll in a different prison, a bordello, where she plans an escape.  On this level, Baby Doll is capable of completely distracting men with her dance.

LEVEL 3—A further fantasy world in which all battles occur.  When Baby Doll dances on Level 2, this is where the girls are transported.

There are so many ideas I appreciated in this film.  Simple touches, like a story behind dragon’s fire, like off-screen violence that hits you hard, like the damn twist at the end, all these things make me want to like this film.  But there’s simply too much here, too much stupidity mixed in with ambition, too much trash mixed in with the gold.  I just can’t stomach the mix.

3.5/5 Waffles

–Orion

P.S.  If you want a better written and smarter exploration of Sucker Punch, check out this article: http://www.salon.com/entertainment/movies/our_picks/index.html?story=/ent/movies/andrew_ohehir/2011/03/24/sucker_punch

 

Orion’s Oscar Predictions

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Update: Correct italicized.

In response to Apple’s frivolous and inaccurate Oscar predictions, I, Orion, will use my mighty psychic powers to correctly predict the outcome of the Oscars.

Best Picture: The King’s Speech
Best Actor: Jesse Einsenberg
Supporting Actor: Geoffrey Rush
Best Actress: Natalie Portman
Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo
Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
Art Direction: Inception
Cinematography: Black Swan
Costume Design: Alice in Wonderland
Directing: The Coen Brothers (True Grit)
Documentary: Inside Job
Short Documentary: Poster Girl
Film Editing: Black Swan
Foreign Film: Biutiful
Makeup: Barney’s Version
Music Score: 127 Hours
Music (song): Tangled
Short Animation: Day & Night
Short Film: The Crush
Sound Editing: Tron
Sound Mixing: Inception
Visual Effects: Inception
Writing (adapted): The Social Network
Writing (original): The Kids Are All Right

Categories: Uncategorized

Alvin and the Chipmunks: watching videos at 1.5x, 2x.

October 30, 2010 Leave a comment

I never thought about this until I started talking to some med students.  Most medical schools will videotape lectures and then put them online for students to watch later.  It turns out that lots of students watch the lectures at sped-up rates.

I was wondering if anyone has tried this for movies.  It seems like it would be a great time saver, but on the other hand, seems kind of lame.  Isn’t the point of watching a movie to enjoy the break, to get lost in another world?

This technique definitely works well for lecture.  I get so bored listening to slow speakers (even when the speakers are great), and right now, I’ve gotten up to 1.65x.

Compare:

1x, soooo slow.

1.65x speed, good speed.

2.75x!  Can barely comprehend.

What are your thoughts?

Categories: Uncategorized

The Godfather Part I – Orion’s Take

October 16, 2010 1 comment

This is a movie that needs no introduction.  Coppola’s masterpiece, the gangster movie to end all gangster movies.  Could this movie ever live up to the hype?  I approached this movie skeptically.  Three and a half hours is nothing to scoff at, and I’m not known for my patience.  Yet this movie was everything it promised to be, and more.

This movie follows the epic struggles between Mafia families and the internal tensions within the Corleone organization.  The focal point is Michael Corleone, the youngest son, the “civilian” of his family, who soon shows himself quite capable of helping out the family.

The film moves on the strength of its characters.  The casting is excellent for the most part.  Marlon Brando is magnificent as Vito Corleone, the Don of the family.  He plays his character with great grace, managing to capture Vito’s sharp intuition as well as his strong sense of honor.  At one point Vito is given the news of a death in the family.  His face contorts, he shakes with grief, and he turns away.  When he turns back, he is composed, the Don again and no longer just a father.  It’s moments like these that distinguish The Godfather from other gangster films: the gangsters are not mindless thugs, but real people.  All actions in this world have motivations, whether those motivations are revenge, greed, or love.  No figure in this film better exemplifies this than Michael, the anti-hero and protagonist played by Al Pacino.  Michael acts meticulously to protect his family members, seemingly without remorse.

This is a bloody tale of revenge and love in the best sense.  When the movie climbs to its bloody climax, your breath catches in your throat, and as the actors come tumbling down, you can’t help but exult and be horrified in Michael’s victory.

5/5 Waffles

Let Me In – Orion’s take

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

I never managed to work my way through the original incarnation of this film, having been stymied by the slow pace and some casting choices, but seeing the positive reviews I was persuaded to give it another shot.

The movie is constantly shifting and twisting the viewer’s perceptions of the characters in the film.  Within the first few scenes the viewer is introduced to a man who systemically captures, kills, and then drains a young man.  One might be inclined to call that man a villain.  Owen, the young boy at or near the center of it all, is a child of a divided household who is continuously bullied at school.  A victim and hero?  Or a boy just as cruel as his tormentors but unable to express that cruelty?

The best example of this kind of character shift is the vampire, Abby.  Abby appears at first to be a young girl who has a curious penchant for being barefoot.  Later, we learn of her vampiric nature.  This, however, fails to make Abby less sympathetic to the viewer.  But she is not purely innocent: her actions as a vampire are brutal and even sadistic.  Compared to the bullies, whose motivations become clear with time, her own actions remain fairly inscrutable.

This movie is great when it focuses on its characters, on the developments and shifts in perspective.  It is not so great when it tries to be a bona fide horror movie, with screams and blood and all.  Don’t go see this if you have a weak stomach: the character development will be lost in your vomit.

4/5 WAFFLES – Orion

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