Review: Princess Mononoke

Written by legendary Japanese screenwriter and animator Hayao Miyazaki, Princess Mononoke is a 1997 film masterpiece brought by Studio Ghibli, a Japanese animation film studio that produced other classics such as My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies.

An exquisite mix of beauty and brutality combined with a riveting plot, Princess Mononoke, though an animated film, is certainly not a children’s movie. There are disturbing shots of amputations and decapitations, and these elements of violence are presented, not to sicken the viewers, but to show it for the horror that it is. That being said, the film is alive with color and movement throughout, which is a genuine visual treat that older audiences will truly come to appreciate. Additionally, the artwork of the movie showcases gorgeous, unmatched imagery unbound by logic.

The movie tells the story of Ashitaka, a young, courageous warrior, whose village is threatened by a demon boar. In killing the boar, Ashitaka’s arm takes on the infection that has turned the boar into a demon. Stricken by the deadly curse, Ashitaka must embark on a journey to find a cure. In his travels, he comes across a variety of characters and situations, testing his spirit and limits. Ashitaka gets involved in a fierce battle that humans, led by the ambitious Lady Eboshi and her loyal clan, were waging against the gods of the forest, spearheaded by a brave young woman, Princess Mononoke, who was raised by a wolf-god. Ashitaka sees what each side is fighting for and tries to stop the bloodbath. This is not welcomed by both sides as they see him as an ally of the enemy.

One thing this movie did best in presenting is that in the end, there are no villains. Sure, there are antagonists and protagonists, but everyone is genuinely, sincerely doing what they think is the best thing for them to thrive. This is a great artistic expression of how things in life truly are.

This movie is an absolute must see for anyone into adventure stories, and/or anime. Go watch it. Now.

Review: In My Life

In My Life is a 2009 Filipino movie from renowned Filipino director, Olivia Lamasan, starring Vilma Santos, a veteran and well-loved Filipino actor. The movie was shot on location in Manila and New York.

Santos plays Shirley Templo, a loving yet stubborn mother to openly gay Mark (Luis Manzano, Santos’ son in real life). Because Santos is famous for her portrayal of being a mother in most of her films, Shirley Templo is like the culmination of all the mother roles she has played: because she can identify every little pleasure and comfort that she dutifully has sacrificed for her children – Shirley feels entitled to her children’s undivided loyalty and attention.

And so, when Shirley decides to move to New York City with Mark, Noel (played by John Lloyd Cruz), Mark’s overly loyal live-in boyfriend who’s staying in the US as an illegal immigrant, abruptly becomes the third wheel in Shirley’s overdue attempt to reconnect with her son.

The fact that Shirley has to deal with her son’s homosexual relationship only enlarges Shirley’s self-entitlement, considering that her opponent for her son’s attention and affection is Noel, a man whose only stake in Mark’s life is an emotional attachment that cannot be made formal nor legal because of statutory and immigration constraints, and as a result, can be easily refuted as a sham and manipulative, which Shirley has consistently raised up.

Shirley viciously competes with Noel for Mark’s attention. Noel, despite Shirley’s explicit meanness, treats Shirley with the patience and adoration one usually reserves for his own mother. The dynamics of Shirley and Noel’s relationship becomes the movie’s heart.

Undoubtedly, Santos gives a terrific performance in In My Life. Her portrayal of Shirley Templo is a genuine entertaining presence because of her amusing quirks (Santos has exquisite comedic timing) and the skill and experience she gives during the many emotional highlights in the film.

Both Manzano and Cruz, though fairly young and inexperienced actors compared to Santos, offer formidable acting to support the narrative of the story. Cruz, especially, who has graduated from the numerous boy-next-door type roles in Filipino romantic comedies he has starred in, does particularly well in the film.

Filipinos, in general, are beholden to their mothers. The maternal bond outlasts the most stringent of conflicts and damaging aches caused by strained relationships or unintentional distance. As with anything, this unhindered maternal affiliation reflects in the movies they make and watch. In My Life, though the result of a profit-oriented formula as espoused by a movie industry with capitalist intentions, attempts to break cultural expectations by reversing roles, having the parent learn from her children and later on, apologize for her shortcoming and stubbornness. This attempt is admirable, however, had the endeavor been armed with courage to break the limits of what is allowed under the guidelines of what the funding studio thinks is safe and profitable, then In My Life would have probably been a better movie with a more relevant title.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7LlfpggVz0

Review: Akira

Akira is widely known as a cult-classic masterpiece. It is a 1988 Japanese animated cyberpunk film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo and based on Otomo’s manga. The story is set in a futuristic Tokyo, full of biker gangs, corrupt political organizations, and cults. The film focuses on two kids from a biker gang named Tetsuo and Kaneda. After an accidental run in with a kid who possesses special powers, Tetsuo gets pulled into a top secret project known as AKIRA. When Tetsuo begins to manifest these special powers as well, he becomes the new target for the entire operation. It now seems that his friend, Kaneda, is the only one who can stop him.

The first thing you’ll notice about this film is how beautiful it is. The animation is smooth, the designs are slick, and the details are abundant. But what’s truly impressive is that the entire film is drawn by hand. A great example of this feat is when a window-covered building side explodes, creating thousands of shards. This scene alone rivals the computer-assisted animation of today. Akira truly set the bar for animation standards.

The main criticism that Akira gets is how confusing it is. Trying to fit a six-volume-manga into a two hour movie will do that. There will be times when you’ll be scratching your head in bewilderment, trying to figure out just what’s going on. The ending is especially guilty of this, making little to no sense. Without spoiling anything, my main gripe is how the ending leaves the audience hanging, and is completely open for interpretation. Reading the manga first will help alleviate some of these issues, but no film should have prerequisites for understanding what the heck is going on.

While the story could be clearer, the rest of the film makes up for it. The dark, cyberpunk fantasy undertones in this movie are truly memorable. The city of Neo-Tokyo is wonderfully dark and unique. The struggle that Tetsuo has with controlling his new found powers provides a lot of tension and excitement as you wonder just when he’ll finally snap. Watching the city fall apart and turn into a post-apocalyptic battleground is quite a thrill.

The music also deserves a mention. It’s a unique mix of traditional Japanese themes and industrial beats. At times it just sounds like experimental noises, which builds great tension. Other times it’s mesmerizing chanting with a hint of uneasiness. The soundtrack truly makes Akira into a unique experience unlike any other.

Akira has its weaknesses, but it is held in such high regard for a reason. Despite the confusing story, the designs, music, and animation will make you quickly forget any qualms you may have. Akira is so visually striking that any fan of animation should see it at least once.

 

Review: The Orphanage

The Orphanage is a 2007 Spanish horror film directed by J.A. Bayona. A lot of movies try to be creepy, but few pull it off. Especially in Hollywood, it seems that film makers often confuse “gore” with “scary.” The Orphanage is a perfect example of how a movie can be incredibly spooky without tons of special effects and blood.

The Orphanage is about a woman named Laura, returning to live in the now abandoned orphanage that she grew up in. With the help of her husband and child, she plans to reopen the orphanage to developmentally disabled children. While the building may be abandoned, it certainly isn’t empty. Laura and her family soon discover this, as well as grim past behind the place.

The story is pretty decent. It’s not anything ground breaking, but it’s certainly good enough to make for a creepy movie. I find that with most horror films, the story is more or less the same. Something bad happened in the past, the ghosts are mad, and now the main character needs to figure out why, to put an end to their suffering. While it would have been nice to have something a bit more original, it’s a believable plot, with a shocking twist at the end that you won’t see coming.

As for the creepiness, this movie has a lot of it. It’s not so much the “in your face monsters and blood” type of horror so much as the emotional trauma type. You never know if you’re get a good look at the ghosts, and when you do, they make for some disturbing imagery. I really liked this aspect of the movie. In many movies I feel that what I was imagining in my head turned out to be much scarier than what I was eventually shown on screen. What works so well with this movie, is that it takes full advantage of the audience’s imagination. It almost sets the scenes up in a way that you end up scaring yourself. The psychological tension it builds throughout the movie can lead up to an extremely terrifying experience.

I would also be remiss not to mention how well of a job all the actors did. These are some award worthy performances. I definitely recommend this movie to anyone who is a fan of scary stories. It’s a breath of fresh air from your typical Hollywood dribble, and can make for a pretty entertaining movie night.

5 Foreign Movies Everyone Should See Before They Die:

Aside from all the awesome movies I’ve reviewed so far, I’ve compiled a convenient list of the absolute must-watch-movies for all your foreign entertainment needs:

1. Battle Royale

Released in 2000, Battle Royale is a Japanese movie adaptation of the novel by the same name. Lots of people have said that this movie is where The Hunger Games drew its inspiration from. In a time when school attendance is at an all-time-low, schools around the country are in a panic and don’t know how to handle it. Obviously the only logical thing to do is trick all the students into coming back to school and then pit them together in a battle to the death, right?

The story follows a Japanese middle school student named Shuya Nanahara. After finally returning to school, he and all his other classmates get gassed on a “field trip” and wake up on a strange island. They are then given backpacks full of miscellaneous weapons and told to have at it. The rules are simple: whoever is the last man (or woman) standing wins.

This movie is just the right amount of disturbing to keep you glued to your T.V. If you liked The Hunger Games, then you have no excuse for not seeing this movie.

2. Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth may be one of the best dark fantasy films of all time. It’s a Mexican-Spanish movie directed by the famous Guillermo del Toro. This movie follows a little girl named Ofelia as she struggles to cope with the realities of war. Ofelia loves fairy tales, and they soon become her escape as she moves into a new place with her mother and new evil stepfather who is also a Captain of the army.

One day while Ofelia is exploring she stumbles onto a labyrinth only to meet a faun. The faun believes her to be Princess Moanna and gives her three tasks that she must complete before the full moon. If she does this, she’ll be able to join the spirit world as the princess.

This movie has some disturbingly iconic scenes that you won’t be able to forget. From the fantastic creatures to the emotional and touching story, Pan’s Labyrinth is a movie that deserves your attention.

3. Oldboy

Oldboy is a 2003 South Korean mystery thriller directed by Park Chan-wook. The film follows a man who has been locked in a hotel room for 15 years. He has no idea why, and no idea who put him there. When he’s finally released he vows to find those responsible and make them pay.

The less you know about this movie, the better. There is a plot twist here that makes The Sixth Sense look like Kindergarten Cop. Also, make sure you watch the original. There is a Hollywood remake coming out soon that is sure to destroy everything good about this amazing piece of cinema.

4. City of God

City of God is a 2002 Brazilian drama that follows two boys growing up in a violent neighborhood of Rio De Janeiro. One of the boys grows up to become an aspiring photographer who keeps getting swept up into madness, while the other a violent drug dealer who lives off it.

This movie gives you an in depth look at the life of the poor kids of Rio and its gangs. Crime, revenge, anger, this movie has it all. You really feel for some of the characters in this movie who are just trying to get by while living in such a dangerous place. Finally, things spiral out of control between the last two remaining gangs. It seems to be a viscous cycle that few escape.

5. The Raid: Redemption

The Raid: Redemption is a 2011 Indonesian martial arts action film. This movie is all about fast, in your face action. The Raid is about an elite police squad trying to take down a crime lord who owns an apartment building in Jakarta’s slums. The team sneaks into the apartment building on a mission to capture the crime lord who is hiding out in one of the top floors. Eventually they are found out, and must endure the waves of enemies sent to destroy them on every floor. Think classic-arcade-game, because this movie is just like that. The apartment floors are like levels, and the police must clear every one before finally getting to the boss.

Saying that this movie has over-the-top action doesn’t do it justice. The stunts performed in this movie will give even Jackie Chan a run for his money.

Review: I Saw The Devil

A South Korean thriller, I Saw The Devil is directed by Kim Ji-woon and was released in 2010. This movie is as genius as it is twisted. If you don’t have a pallet for violent, brutal films and about the epitome of evil, then you may want to steer clear. Otherwise, keep reading.

At first glance it looks like just another revenge movie, but that couldn’t be more wrong. I Saw The Devil redefines “revenge movies.” After special agent Soo-hyun learns the grim news that his fiance’ has been brutally murdered by a serial killer, he sets out to find out who did it, and deliver his own personal justice. After getting a list of possible suspects, Soo-hyun narrows it down to just one: a bus driver by the name of Kyung-chul. After tracking and stopping him in the middle of his next murder, Soo-hyun does something unexpected. He doesn’t kill him. He doesn’t even arrest him. Instead, he places a tracking device inside Kyung-chul. So begins this epic game of cat and mouse. Soo-hyun spends the rest of the movie, tracking, tormenting, and slowly destroying every facet of Kyung-chul’s life.

Besides the never ending tension that continues to build upon itself the entire time, one of the best parts about this movie is the emotional connection that the viewer is led to have with Soo-hyun. The film goes to great lengths to show just how much of a monster Kyung-chul is. This really makes you shamefully root for Soo-hyun as he satisfies his craving for revenge. If you aren’t reevaluating and questioning your morals by the end of this movie, there may be something wrong with you.

Being one of the darkest movies I’ve watched in years, I Saw The Devil certainly doesn’t skimp on the violence. There’s a lot of it. But where many Hollywood movies throw in unnecessary gore for better ratings, I Saw The Devil never wastes a second of it. The violence in this movie is tastefully done, only putting it in where it’s appropriate. It would have been impossible to show just how evil Kyung-chul is without many of the brutal scenes.

 This film starts with one monster, but ends with two. It’s true that I Saw The Devil is about revenge, but it’s also a movie about how monsters are made. You slowly begin to realize this as Soo-hyun descends further and further into madness. Watching the thrill and overall high he gets from slowly chipping away at Kyung-chul, a feeling of pity is invoked as he turns into something else.

A compelling and beautifully crafted story, I Saw The Devil is a must watch. If you can get past the dark nature of this movie, you’ll most likely find yourself almost a bit too invested in it by the end.

A Saw The Devil is available for viewing on Netflix.

Review: The Man From Nowhere

With another must-see-movie, South Korea does it again. Directed by Lee Jeong-beom and released in 2010, The Man From Nowhere is a fast-paced, action thriller that keeps the adrenaline going until the credits.

Ex-Black Ops officer Cha Tae-sik has given up the action-packed life for a now quiet one, operating a pawn shop in a quiet neighborhood. Well, it was quiet anyway. Tae-sik’s only friend and connection to the outside world is a little girl named So-mi. So-mi’s mother is a heroin addict who steals drugs from an organized crime group. In a feeble attempt to hide the drugs, she stashes them inside her daughter’s camera bag and then pawns it to Tae-sik. Long story short, the syndicate kidnaps both So-mi and her mother, and comes looking for the bag. After making short work of them, Tae-sik sets out to rescue the So-mi before it’s too late.

The story overall isn’t going to be throwing any twists at you, or try to be more complex than it really is. What you see is what you get. It’s your typical good guy vs. bad guy rescue mission. That’s not a bad thing though. The simplistic story absolutely works for this film. If you’re watching this film, chances are it’s not for the plot anyway.

This film is brutal. Very brutal. If you like violence, then this will be right up your alley, if not… Well you might want to pass on this. The director never fails to deliver with Tae-sik coming up with new and intricate ways of dispatching the bad guys until the very end. There is a knife fight scene in particular that is unlike anything else ever done on set. If this flick doesn’t get you on the edge of your seat, then nothing will. Just think Jackie Chan, but with a lot more casualties. So many casualties.

This isn’t a movie you’ll watch just once. I would rank this up there with some of the best action movies of all time. It’s really a shame that The Man From Nowhere doesn’t quite get the recognition that it deserves.

Verdict? Watch it now!

Available on netflix.