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Bleach (2018 Movie)

Warner Bros.

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Kurosaki Ichigo: a normal high-school student with bleached-looking hair, a grumpy expression . . . and the ability to see spirits. The wheels of fate begin to turn as this ability leads to his encounter with a shinigami, Kuchiki Rukia, and spin completely out of control as their encounter with a dark spirit known as a Hollow leads to Rukia’s injury and Ichigo’s subsequent taking on of her shinigami powers. In effect, he becomes a substitute shinigami, fighting Hollows until he’s strong enough to give Rukia’s power back to her without dying in the process. He may even get a shot at the Hollow that killed his mother years ago. Assuming Rukia’s superiors don’t kill them both first.

I was surprised and pleased to see a decent live-action remake of Bleach released this year. This movie takes the first major story arc, all the stuff with Grand Fisher, Ichigo’s becoming a substitute shinigami, basically everything up to Rukia’s return to Soul Society, and compresses it into about an hour and a half of fast-paced action. It’s quite well done and manages to summarize a lot of information into a very brief chunk of time without losing the story in the process. Still, I would recommend this mostly for fans who are already familiar with the story, or at least the basic concepts, because it’s kind of a huge info dump even still. They did a good job keeping the balance, though, with drama, humor, and of course some action-packed fights interspersed. And the fights are properly epic. The CG throughout is very impressive, especially for the Hollows themselves. The casting was well done, especially for Ichigo himself and for Yuzu and Inoue, although I don’t personally love the casting for Renji. Honestly, my biggest complaint is just that, because there are sooooo many characters in Bleach, there just wasn’t time for lots of character development for everyone. Like, at all, in some instances. But still, they did a good job of picking a few key characters and developing them well. I liked that they actually took a proper story arc from the original manga instead of just making a random plot or hugely distorting a main plot, and I honestly do think they did well trimming and unifying it to work as a movie. So yes, I would recommend the live-action Bleach, particularly to fans of the original anime/manga.

Written by Shinsuke Sato & Daisuke Habara/Directed by Shinsuke Sato/Based on Bleach by Tite Kubo/Starring Sota Fukushi, Hana Sugisaki, Ryo Yoshizawa, Erina Mano, Yu Koyanagi, Taichi Saotome, Miyavi, Seiichi Tanabe, Masami Nagasawa, & Yōsuke Eguchi/Music by Yutaka Yamada

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The Forest (2016 Movie)

Gramercy Pictures

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Rated PG-13/Trigger warning for suicide

Sara Price receives a phone call from Japan informing her that her twin sister Jess was last seen entering Aokigahara Forest–a place legendary for people going to commit suicide–and is presumed dead. But Sara knows better. Ever since they were kids, she’s been able to sense Jess’s existence, tell when she’s in trouble. So she knows that Jess is still alive, and as so many times before, that she needs Sara’s help. Arriving in Japan, Sara is warned off numerous times, told of the yūrei that haunt the forest, driving people to madness and luring those with sadness in their hearts to kill themselves, even if that wasn’t their intention. But Sara refuses to be dissuaded, and teaming up with reporter Aiden and trail-guide Michi, she sets off into the forest in search of her sister.

I initially picked up The Forest for the simple reason that Eoin Macken is in it. For the record, don’t do that. His role here isn’t that big, and while I liked his character, the writing here simply did not do justice to his immense skill as an actor. Having said that, I very much do not regret watching this movie. It’s an unexpected horror/thriller that refuses to fall into any of your typical genre niches neatly. There’s an Asian horror feel to it that goes beyond just the setting, but it’s not strictly an Asian horror film. Nor is it your typical jump-scare, blood and gore fest that so many horror movies are. In fact, although it seems strange to say this in regards to any horror sort of movie, The Forest is remarkably clean. Still not family friendly, obviously, what with the scariness and allusions to suicide that are prevalent, but it’s not all the sex and language and blood that so many movies of this sort seem to stoop to. Rather, this movie is a slow, atmospheric build of emotional, mental, and psychological horror over the course of the entire movie. If you’re not a fan of the slow burn, it will probably drive you crazy; give this movie a pass. But if you’ve got the patience, the atmosphere of tension that builds is quite well done–the lighting, music, acting, sets, backstory, everything working together quite brilliantly. There’s a sense of mystery that plays in well, and of course, the supernatural element as the yūrei here are real . . . at least in Sara’s head. And that’s where things get really interesting as we have this slow descent into madness from her perspective, so we as the viewers aren’t always able to tell what’s real and what isn’t either. I’ve seen a lot of controversial ratings for this movie–some very positive, others negative in the extreme–but personally, I feel The Forest is one of the best horror/thriller movies I’ve seen, period. Recommended, at least for those who have the patience for the slower pacing.

Written by Ben Ketai, Sarah Cornwell, & Nick Antosca/Directed by Jason Zada/Produced by Tory Metzger, David S. Goyer, & David Linde/Starring Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, & Eoin Macken/Music by Bear McCreary

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Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984 Anime Movie)

Kitty Films & Toho

My rating: 3.5 of 5

The kids at Tomobiki High School are all gearing up for the cultural festival, preparing shops, fitting costumes, and getting into their usual hijinks. They’ve been so busy, they’ve even been staying overnight at the school! But wait . . . how long have they actually been working on this? Once they start paying attention, more and more things don’t add up. Parents don’t answer the phones at home. When a staff member goes home, he finds the place covered in layer upon layer of dust. When the students go out of the school grounds, they find the city oddly deserted . . . and find themselves mysteriously re-routed back to the school. Someone should probably freak out or do something, right? But it’s kind of fun just hanging out together without a lot of responsibilities, isn’t it?

Beautiful Dreamer was just recently re-released in a beautiful collector’s edition, making this classic film once again readily available to the general viewer. Not being particularly familiar with Mamoru Oshii’s directing work, I can’t specifically comment on how this movie compares to his other work; however, I have heard others say that this is an excellent example of his early work, for those of you who are interested in that. The animation and story content do certainly show the age of the movie to a certain extent, while still being pleasant and enjoyable. For those who have watched or read Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura, I think Beautiful Dreamer will definitely strike a chord. While somewhat dated, the art is also undeniably classic Takahashi, giving it a timeless quality that is quite endearing. The story is classic for the series as well, full of hijinks and strange, unexplainable occurrences galore. Also, Ataru chasing girls and Lum shocking him for it. There’s actually a nice focus on a large number of classic cast members, which is fun. But this movie also manages to be more pensive, to delve into Lum’s mindset and Ataru’s relationship with her . . . it’s just generally a bit more thoughtful and philosophical than the rest of the series. Surprisingly, it works well and I found the movie to be enjoyable. Fair warning, those unfamiliar with the series would probably have a difficult time jumping directly into this movie, but for those who have enjoyed Urusei Yatsura in the past, I think Beautiful Dreamer would be a nostalgic and amusing choice.

Written and Directed by Mamoru Oshii/Produced by Hidenori Taga/Based on Urusei Yatsura by Rumiko Takahashi/Music by Masaru Hoshi/Voice Acting by Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Akira Kamiya, Kazuko Sugiyama, Saeko Shimazu, Machiko Washio, Mayumi Tanaka, Shigeru Chiba, Akira Murayama, Shinji Nomura, Issei Futamata, Kenichi Ogata, Natsumi Sakuma, Michihiro Ikemizu, Masahiro Anzai, Tomomichi Nishimura, Ichirō Nagai, & Takuya Fujioka

 

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My Bloody Valentine (2009 Movie)

Lionsgate

My rating: 3 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience/Rated R for all the reasons–sex, language, nudity, blood and gore, violence, you name it, you’ve been warned

Tom Warden returns to the small mining town of Harmony after nearly ten years away to settle things following his father’s death. But it seems the past is coming back to haunt him as a series of violent murders sweeps across the rural community . . . murders that parallel closely those that devastated the town on Valentine’s Day ten years ago. And people can’t help but wonder, since Tom was in a way responsible for the previous murders, or at least for the mining accident that created the monster responsible for them.

My Bloody Valentine is a great reminder of why I don’t watch slasher films–but I couldn’t resist the awesomeness that is Jensen Ackles anymore, I just couldn’t. And I have to say that if this were my kind of movie, I would likely have given it quite a high rating. There’s more story to it that just a random collection of bodies building up, so points for that. The casting and acting are well done, too–and yes, I have to gush a bit over the great job Jensen did with this role. There’s a lot of subtlety and suggestion that goes into this part, and he pulls it off with his typical aplomb. But I have to say that the other actors did a great job with their parts, too, which again made the whole thing much more enjoyable. Having said that, there’s a lot of violence and just cringe-worthy, graphic murders–kudos on the CG, by the way–that are just kind of awful, even though they’re executed well. So yeah, fair warning and all that; this is likely to induce nightmares. I did enjoy the twist at the ending, even if it was a bit predictable. Of note, this is a remake of the 1981 movie of the same title, which I haven’t seen, so I can’t comment on any comparisons between the two. Recommended for Ackles fans and for slasher fans, but probably not otherwise. And I’ll always love Ten Inch Hero waaaaay more.

Directed by Patrick Lussier/Produced by Jack L. Murray/Screenplay by Zane Smith, Todd Farmer, & John Beaird (1981 screenplay)/Story by Stephen Miller (1981 story)/Based on My Bloody Valentine by George Mihalka/Starring Jensen Ackles, Jaime King, Kerr Smith, Betsy Rue, & Kevin Tighe/Music by Michael Wandmacher

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Bloodsucking Bastards (2015 Movie)

Shout! Factory

My rating: 2 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE/Not rated, but would be rated R for language and blood and gore

Live in corporate America is completely unfair. You really try to do your job, and on the one hand your best friend who works with you thinks you’re lame for trying so hard, while on the other your boss overlooks you for your expected promotion–only to high your college nemesis from outside the company instead! Evan finds it all a bit too much, especially when his girlfriend Amanda (who works in HR) is currently shunning his as well (although it really was his fault). But really, finding out that the new company strategy is to turn its workers into vampires?! Truly unfair, and also a bit disturbing.

So . . . picked this up because Fran Kranz. Adorable and fun actor to watch, although this certainly isn’t his best movie. Basically, take The Office and add vampires, and you’ve got the basic plot of Bloodsucking Bastards. I honestly almost didn’t finish this; the first chunk is kind of boring, full of corporate politics, love problems, and bad/awkward comedy à la The Office. But once the action starts–people acting strange, bodies showing up, that sort of thing–the story becomes more interesting, although still full of awkward comedic moments and lots of language (fair warning). There are elements of the story that are clever in an indie-writing sort of way, I guess. Kranz comes into his own as things heat up, showing that he is capable of making even a rather awful movie into something at least somewhat interesting. Still not my favorite role for him, though. Also, fair warning that the vampires in this movie splat something awful–blood and gore everywhere in a goopy, but not really graphic, kind of way. I think . . . if you’re into horror-comedy and enjoy a poke at corporate politics, Bloodsucking Bastards might be fun, but it’s generally not something I’d recommend on the whole.

Written by Ryan Mitts & Dr. God/Directed by Brian James O’Connell/Produced by Brett Forbes, Patrick Rizzotti, Brandon Evans, Colleen Hard, & Justin Ware/Starring Fran Kranz, Pedro Pascal, Emma Fitzpatrick, Joey Kern, Joel Murray, Justin Ware, & Marshall Givens/Music by Anton Sanko

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Fullmetal Alchemist (2017 Movie)

Netflix/Warner Bros./Oxybot Inc./Square Enix

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric find their lives forever changed when their childhood attempt to use alchemy to resurrect their mother ends tragically, with Ed losing a leg and an arm and Al losing his body entirely–only Ed’s quick thinking and sacrifice binding Al’s soul to an old suit of armor in the house. Years later, Ed has become an Alchemist for the military in order to access their resources, and the brothers travel the country searching for the Philosopher’s Stone, the one thing they are convinced will help them get their bodies back. But stranger and larger forces are at work in the country, and the two find themselves treading into murky waters, thick with government intrigue, homonculi, and people who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals.

First of all, thank you Netflix for making this available in the U.S.! Secondly, I have seen such a polarized array of reviews that I feel I need to write my own review in two sections–the first discussing who should and who shouldn’t watch this movie, and the second discussing what I personally enjoyed and my general impressions of the movie. You should know before going into this that Fullmetal Alchemist is a Japanese live-action movie based generally (not precisely) on the manga and anime series of the same title. It’s not exactly the same story, so don’t expect that; rather it is an adaptation of the story crafted to suit the live-action movie format, and I believe it does that very well. Also, it’s Japanese–Japanese actors, Japanese language, subs only. Moreover, the acting style and the humor shown here are very Japanese–tastefully done, but stylistically distinct, so if you don’t like that, pick something else to watch. But if you’re interested in a creative, well-cast, cinematically gorgeous adaptation of this beloved story, Fullmetal Alchemist (2017) may be worth your checking out.

For myself, I truly enjoyed this movie a great deal. I felt like the cast was chosen well and portrayed their roles excellently. The acting was very well done, keeping the darkness and tension of the story present, but balancing it with appropriate humor, friendship, and hope. Again, since this is an adaptation, certain characters don’t come up at all, and others don’t get as much attention and screen time as they might in a different format; however, I felt like the characters they chose to focus on and the way they wove their stories together told the story well and kept distractions from the main storylines to a minimum. With the plot itself, again, they adapted it, taking pieces from both Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, while also doing some things unique to this particular movie, but I felt that the story they chose to tell was crafted well. Additionally, the ending point is conclusive enough for me to be okay leaving it there, but it leaves things open enough for the possibility of a sequel. . . . We can hope, right? Visually, this movie is absolutely stunning. The countryside where this was filmed is just gorgeous–a lot of it shot in Italy as well as some in Japan. The CGI is also incredible, like, seriously breathtaking. And the music is really beautiful as well, quite suited to the sweeping beauty of the country. My only minor complaints are that I would like a little more Al cuteness and open brotherly bromance (both of which are there, I just want more), and I could do with less fiery violence at the end (although that’s an important part of the big finish, so it’s kind of excused). But seriously, I was very impressed with the 2017 live-action version of Fullmetal Alchemist and would recommend it to anyone who likes Japanese live-action films and who isn’t going to nit-pickingly compare this to the anime, because if you’re that person, you won’t enjoy this. At all.

Written by Hiromu Arakawa/Directed by Fumihiko Sori/Produced by Yumihiko Yoshihara/Screenplay by Fumihiko Sori & Takeshi Miyamoto/Music by Reiji Kitasato/Starring Ryosuke Yamada, Atomu Mizuishi, Tsubasa Honda, Dean Fujioka, Ryuta Sato, Jun Kunimura, Fumiyo Kohinata, & Yasuko Matsuyuki

 

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The Snowman (1982 Movie)

TVC London

My rating: 5 of 5

One day a young boy awakens to a delightful surprise–lots and lots of snow! He can’t wait to get out of the house to play in it. In fact, much of the day is spent in the construction of a most excellent snowman. But the boy awakens that night at midnight to find something most wondrous–his snowman has come to life!

The Snowman is one of those delightful classic stories that just never loses its charm. I grew up watching this, and recently revisiting it with my 3-year-old niece (who, incidentally, also loves it), I found myself just as enchanted as when I was a child. The only words in this entire movie are in the introduction; other than that, it’s told entirely in pictures and music. And what pictures and music they are! The art is expressive, hand-drawn animation following the original picture book (also wordless) closely. It’s truly beautiful and charming. And the music is absolutely breathtaking and unforgettable. And the story itself is innocent and adorable while also being filled with and open wonder that you just don’t see nowadays. It’s nostalgically lovely. Honestly, I find myself unable to avoid comparing this movie to some of Studio Ghibli’s movies–in the fabulous music, the beautiful animation, the attention to detail, the way it looks at the mundane with new eyes, the wonder of the boy and the snowman’s journey, and the copious attention to nature that is given here. I love it and would highly recommend it to anyone; it’s entirely appropriate for even little children, but has a charm that may just capture the hearts even of an older and more jaded audience.

Directed by Dianne Jackson/Produced by John Coates/Music by Howard Blake/Based on The Snowman by Raymond Briggs

 

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