Taken 3 and Museum 3

Apparently, my weekend was filled with trequels(?). I don’t have much on these two, but here goes.

Taken 3

meh. Not terrible. Kind of a convoluted plot. Action scenes were just blurry messes. At least the daughter character was a completely useless plot point. And it’s still nice seeing Liam Neeson kick ass and not take names. Not Luc Besson’s best work, but I’ve seen worse.

Night at the Museum 3

meh. It’s a family movie, I’m not the primary demographic, but it was still entertaining. Rental if you have children, or if your girlfriend doesn’t like scary movies, perhaps?

John Wick

John WickJohn Wick is an mindless, but entertaining shoot-em up. Keanu Reeves stars as the ultimate hitman out for revenge after gangsters steal his ’69 Mustang and kill his dog. John Wick is supposed to be the Russian mob’s boogyman devout only to the mission that he partakes. However, Keanu only pulls off a mostly robotic Terminator assassin. There are a few times where John Wick is shown to be human and Keanu does a pretty good job but those moments are too few and far between.

The action is intense and luckily there isn’t any shaky-cam involved. But a lot of the action is just Wick pulling off impossible headshots. The tag-line for this movie should be “BOOM! Headshot!” And after all the times that John Wick is beaten and battered I walked out of the movie hurting.

The best thing about the movie would have to be the underworld the writers setup. All the seedy elements in this non-named city use gold coins as an alternate form of currency. And Ian McShane heads up a neutral-zone hotel called The Continental. One gold coin to stay at the hotel. One gold coin to clean up a body. It was quite an elaborate setup for such a simple run-and-gun revenge movie. Unfortunately, that setup was the most interesting thing in the movie. There could be a sequel based on the beginnings that setup, but I think John Wick is a one trick movie. John Wick isn’t terrible. It’s entertaining as a mindless shoot-em up movie with some unique properties, but it’s not special.

Lewis (Series 7)

Lewis (Series 7)
Hathaway and Maddox

I saw the premier of series 7 for Lewis. I liked it. I was a little bummed out when Lewis retired at the end of last season. I thought I would have to rely upon Endeavour to fullfill my Oxford mystery quota. I never followed up to find out of series 7 was greenlit or not. Thinking it was cancelled, I had a pleasant surprise when Roku sent me an email saying that series 7 started on PBS.

I’ve liked Lewis from the start. The dynamic between he and Hathaway are great. Lewis, the common-man inspector in the hoity-toity Oxford is a fish out of pond. He often relies on his educated, yet not naive, Hathaway to fill in the gaps of this knowledge. It’s a partnership that worked. However, now Lewis has moved into retirement and Hathaway is the Inspector with a new sidekick. I won’t be giving anything away by saying that Lewis is still in the show. He’s now a consultant to the department. Maybe it’s just a transition period. I don’t think Lewis can stay on the show if they are going to have a new partner for Hathaway, but I guess we’ll see how it pans out.

The episode was good. Hathaway and Lewis are in fine form. The writers need to find the new partner’s character soon.

 

Update (2014-10-18): I saw the second episode of this season and it was very good. I almost felt sorry for the murderer. He was cuckolded twice. But he did murder three people. It was a crazy episode. It also seems that Lewis is staying in the show. I’m glad. More Lewis and Hathaway is always a good thing.

Twin Peaks (2016)

I’m excited for this. It looks like Lynch and Frost will be doing a nine episode sequel to the original Twin Peaks and Lynch will be directing all nine. Twin Peaks 2016 will be a continuation of the story and not a reboot. After all the reboots I’ve seen in the theater and on tv, I’m glad. I’m done with reboots. I don’t want to see another one. Another YouTube video said we’ll get some answers to some of the questions the cancellation left us with. I hope they don’t give us too many answers. The mystery is part of the show.

A Walk Among Tombstones

A Walk Among Tombstones Movie PosterI enjoyed Liam Neeson’s new thriller. It felt like a Jason Patterson bookmovie: The bad guys were psychotic. The good guy wasn’t perfect, but he wasn’t some woe-is-me, super-flawed, I’m-not-good-I’m-just-less-evil character. Liam Neeson does a great job. He has just the right amount of grizzled, seen-it-all cop without overdoing it. The token black kid was kind of annoying, but he wasn’t a deal breaker. Like the last movie I saw, The November Man, this is a good movie, but nothing stood out about it to make it great. If you’re a fan of Liam Neeson, see it.

P.S.: Just make sure you don’t see it in a theater where they will come around and tell you to take your leg off the back of the seat in front of you during the climax of the movie, thus jarring you out of your engrossment and completely destroying the feel of the movie. I won’t name any names (Carmike), but there appear to be some movie theaters that do that. (Carmike)

The Raid 2

The Raid 2 is one helluva movie. The muay-thai is brutal and phenomenal. The car chase scene is the best I’ve seen since Ronin with Robert DeNiro. If you want a rip-roaring, hard hitting, martial arts, action movie, you would not do wrong with either of The Raid movies. I only have minor issues with this sequel.

I couldn’t handle the excessive blood letting that was in this movie. Some of it established the cruelty of the villains, which was fine, but most of throat-slitting, baseball bats to the face, limb slicing, was a bit too much for me. I must be getting old.

The shaky cam isn’t as bad as the second Bourne movie. I needed Dramamine to get through that movie, but it is noticeable in The Raid 2. Also, I preferred the premise of the first movie better than the undercover cop premise of this movie. That isn’t a takeaway from this movie, just a preference toward the first movie.

Those minor issues aside, The Raid 2 is definitely recommended.

Maison Ikkoku


Kyoko OtonashiHow much of a Maison Ikkoku fan am I? Well, let’s count… I have the legit DVDs from Viz, bootleg copy DVDs from Hong Kong, two complete sets of first and second edition graphic novels from Viz (both read countless times over), several soundtracks, the same t-shirt in grey and white, and I watched the entire 96 episode TV series non-stop in 41 hours over a single Memorial Day weekend. In summary, I’m a fan. Maison Ikkoku occupies the top spot in my favorite anime list and will never be usurped.

Maison Ikkoku was first published in 1980 and began airing on television in 1986. Written by Rumiko Takahashi, one of Japan’s most successful manga writers it joins her other successes such as Urusei Yatsura, Ranma ½, and Inu-Yasha. These were huge successes in Japan. The power wielded by Takahashi is not to be taken lightly.

Maison Ikkoku is a simple romantic-comedy. It’s just your ordinary loser-college-boy-falls-in-love-with-his-new-beautiful-yet-widowed-landlady-and-the-tenants-that-share-the-apartment-house-love-to-interfere-with-their-lovelife-or-lack-there-of story. Takahashi wrote Maison Ikkoku to be a love story that could take place in the real world, and she tells it very well.

Yusaku Godai lives in a small apartment house and is a trying to get into college. Unable to hack all the distractions and annoyances that his neighbors cause, Godai decides to move. His plan doesn’t get very far and he doesn’t even get out the front door when the beautiful Kyoko Otonashi walks in and says she is the new apartment manager. Godai’s life is turned sideways. The poor, unemployed, struggling student fights against all odds to win Kyoko’s heart. Including competing against the good looking, wealthy, fun, and all around perfect: Mitaka. Misunderstandings and overreactions are a staple of this series, complete with yelling, slamming doors, and throwing whatever is within arms’ reach. The character’s are stereotypical in the beginning, but each of them grows throughout the series and surprises the audience with their depth.

The well written characters are memorable, but the best quality of Maison Ikkoku is it’s ability to wrench the reader’s emotions all over the place. The series moves from slapstick comedy to tear-jerking heartbreak to bittersweet understanding, and does so often within a page or two. Maison Ikkoku has it all and does it well. There are a couple slow areas in the middle of the series where it can seem the story or characters aren’t moving forward. However, MI starts hilariously and ends strong, and the characters grow over the course of the story. I cannot recommend this series enough.

Wikipedia entry for Maison Ikkoku
Maison Ikkoku @ Amazon

Vampire Hunter D

DHideyuki Kikuchi, the writer and creator of VHD, has created a great and expansive universe to explore. Just watching the first movie, Vampire Hunter D (1985), the universe may seem a bit sparse and the story a bit stereotypical. However, after reading the first novel, which the first movie is based off, did I really get the scope of the playground that Kikuchi has at his disposal. The vampires have taken over and the future may seem dystopian and bleak, but Earth isn’t in complete despair and there still exists hope. Kikuchi’s universe is rich with emotion, story, and detail. There are two movies and more than twenty novels.

Vampire Hunter D begins in the year 12,090. The future has been consumed by rule of the vampires. After taking control of Earth, the vampires ruled over the Earth with an iron fist for many millennium. The books and movies take place after the vampire control has been broken and man’s reign is ascending. The main character, D, is a human/vampire hybrid called a dhampir. The audience is given hints and told early on that D’s father was Dracula, someone the vampires still revere. D has a love for humanity that isn’t shared by his full vampire brethren. He travels throughout the frontier as a hired gun against vampires. Humanity has managed to take back the capital, but the fragile and weak human government cannot deal with the frontier and outer lands. In the outer regions, vampire lords still rule their land from a castle on a hill outfitted with a laser defense systems and personal armies of genetically created monsters. The Vampires have recreated all the monsters from human nightmares. They reinvented the old stories to subjugate their ‘meal source’ as they call humans. Hydra, werewolves, and fear are the vampires control. Even though their complete control has slipped, it is still effective in some towns and villages. Sometimes a town will gather enough money to hire a vampire hunter. Vampires hunters are especially expensive, but if they succeed in their mission then the town might be free for a while. Not having to worry about the dead of the night coming for them.

It is plain to see that Kikuchi was influenced by the motif of the wild west. All the stories have a great western flair to them. Kikuchi does inject sci-fi elements into the story, keeping in line with the idea that ten millennium have passed. However, he keeps the wildly fantastic sci-fi mumbo-jumbo to an absolute minimum. I like this a lot. It keeps the stories uncluttered and focused.

I like what Kikuchi has done regarding the mythology of the vampires, or more accurately, what he hasn’t done to the mythology. Modern incarnations of vampires by Hollywood are secular. Blade, Underworld, and Twilight all remove the religious aspect of the vampire mythos. They also portray the vampires and sympathic character and heros. Blade and Underworld remove the holy water, crosses, and make vampirism a blood-born disease. Just an STD. Twilight takes it a step further and removes the vampires weakness to sunlight. These movies scientifically explain away everything and render their universes sterile and empty. Kikuchi takes the opposite approach, he keeps all the mythology. Vampirism is not a disease; it is a curse. It cannot be described by physical science. In Kikuchi’s universe, Vampires greatly fear the cross. They fear it so much that the vampires went to great lengths to wipe the cross from humanity’s mind. With their advanced knowledge of
genetics, vampires have bred out all memory of the Christianity and the cross. However, even after the technological advancements of ten millennium, the vampires cannot explain their deadly aversion to the cross, sunlight, silver, and all the other mythic weaknesses. The mythology and mystery of the vampire is very much alive in Kikuchi’s incarnation of the demons. It is an interesting and refreshing take from the all the secular cinema vampires.

The movies Vampire Hunter D (1985) and Bloodlust (2000) were entertaining and fun, but the books paint a rich and infinitely more intricate picture of Kikuchi’s undead infested world. The books are easy to read, numerous, quite fun, and now available in a Kindle format. I consider them fluff, but fluff that’s worth it. I highly recommend them. Don’t think of it as anime, manga, or anything foreign if you can’t appreciate that. Just think of it as a sci-fi, western, vampire hunting story. (If that helps.)

Wikipedia entry for Vampire Hunter D
Kindle edition of book one at Amazon.com

Maleficent

I’ve been a fan of the Disney movie Sleeping Beauty (1959) for quite a while. The hand painted backgrounds, the character design, and the beautiful music make it a wonderful movie and probably one of my favorite animated Disney movies. Thus, Angelina Jolie’s new movie Maleficent had to overcome some very high standards with me.

After watching it this past weekend, I think the movie started with a single idea: the kiss of true love to awaken the Sleeping Beauty came not from Prince Phillip, but from Maleficent. Apologizing for cursing Princess Aurora she kisses Aurora and that is the true love that breaks the curse. I like the idea. I think it’s a good twist on the repetitive, romantic love interest swooping in to save the fair maiden. My issue is that the rest of the movie fell flat. The writers worked to keep Maleficent in the canon of the original Sleeping Beauty movie and created a lot of inconsistencies.

The movie starts with Maleficent as a young fairy girl (albeit with evil looking horns and non-fairy like wings) falling for a human boy. However, their romantic feelings are panned over quickly, and the betrayal by this boy (the soon-to-be King Stephan) doesn’t seem real or tragic. The audience is just given a flimsy, one sentence explanation as to the motivation of the betrayal: He became greedy. And the reason for Maleficent’s fall isn’t very sympathetic or believable.

The scene of the curse of Princess Aurora is very similar to the original movie. The green fire surrounding the evil witch Maleficent, complete with crow familiar in tow, was well done with dark imagery. However, soon after the curse and the hiding of Aurora comes the next left turn in the movie. Maleficent begins watching over Aurora because the three fairy Godmothers (Pink, Blue, and Green, whatever their names may be) are completely inept. There are jests that the baby would die of neglect before the curse is complete. So Maleficent begins secretly caring for the baby behind the backs of the fairy Godmothers, and thus begins the slow warming of Maleficent’s heart towards Aurora. Or that was the only explanation the writers could think up.

Most of the story seems to have been built around the simple idea that Maleficent is the one to free Aurora from her curse. From one angle, I think it’s a great idea. It shakes up some often used fairy tale tropes. The other angle builds upon a concern I have. Hollywood has been on a fallen hero kick for the past decade, and I find it tiresome. The constant bashing of heroes has left our society to think that all acts of good are wasted because even our heroes are bad. A friend of mine often remarks that Superman is a horrible character because he’s perfect. I happen to think that all the fallen heroes and anti-heroes is just a way to worship what is broken and a way to despair against life. In Maleficent, there is another twist on the fallen hero. Instead of taking a hero and bringing them down, Disney has taken the most evil animated villain and made her a hero. Except she isn’t fully redeemed at the end of the movie. She has her revenge, but at the end of the movie it is plainly stated that Maleficent is both hero and villain. Had Maleficent been fully redeemed along with King Stephan, I would like this movie much more. However, for a movie aimed at kids (pre-teens at the earliest in my opinion), where none of the characters are redeemed and the villain is stated to be hero, I find it to be on shaky ground.

The final complaint could be added to nearly any Disney movie: the lack of any decent male characters. Frozen had none. Maleficent had none. I would bet the new Cinderella will have none. (There was a Cinderella teaser before Maleficent.)

Even with all that complaining, Maleficent wasn’t a bad movie. I really liked the initial idea, and had Maleficent and King Phillip been fully redeemed at then end, this movie would have been on my ‘to buy’ list. But the story felt shoehorned to fit with the original movie and doing that well was and would have been too difficult.