Review: Justice League

Is Justice League as bad as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)?  No.  Justice League is better and mostly enjoyable.  It has to briefly introduce three superheroes, and needs to deal with the previous “death” of Superman, leaving very limited time for actual teamwork.  There is something odd with the plot, however.  We learned that Atlanteans and Amazons teamed up with human to combat the bad guy in the past.  For reasons I cannot comprehend, both races choose not to help this time even after failing to do their job of protecting the really important stuff.

Unfortunately, Justice League does not reach the normal level of accomplishment of the competing Marvel movies.  The recent Thor: Ragnarok is more entertaining, and with more humor too.  Although I think The Avengers (2012) is not one of the best Marvel movies, it is still better than Justice League.   The former had a more elaborate story, more exciting and realistic climax, while the climax in the latter feels somewhat like a cartoon.


Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Blu-ray release 2017-11-21) is a sci-fi movie about two agents dealing with different forms of aliens, when a crisis in their space station is occurring.  It reminds me of The Fifth Element (1997), but in spite of the visual spectacle, this movie is merely average because of the weak emotional core, and straying from the main plot for too much time – the pole dance sequence looks good, but it is just a waste of time from the context of the story.  The climax is a letdown.  People also do dumb things in the movie, such as going out to be killed unnecessarily, letting the bad guy does things at a critical moment, being unable to override the programmed actions of robots, etc.

Review: The Sinking City: Capsule Odyssey (西謊極落:太爆.太子.太空艙)

西謊極落:太爆.太子.太空艙 (The Sinking City: Capsule Odyssey) (Blu-ray release 2017-11-10) is a comedy satire of difficult life in Hong Kong, primarily due to extremely expensive real estate.  The situation is so bad that it seriously affects romantic relationships (and sex).  As a Hong Kong comedy it is perhaps more successful in generating laughs than other movies, with a complete focus on social satire.  To my surprise reviews of it are pretty positive, and it got a respectable box office.  Subjectively I do not like this movie much despite its accomplishments, because of its subject matter and that it is really a tragedy presented as a comedy.

Review: Sagrada / Sakurada Reset

Sagrada / Sakurada Reset is a light novel series.  It is adapted as a 24-episode anime series and a two-part live action movies (Blu-ray release 2017-10-27).  This story is about a town in which many people have supernatural abilities.  In particular, the combination of the abilities of the two protagonists allow them to reset time to 1-3 days earlier and give them a chance to make things happen in a different way.  While supernatural abilities are not new in fiction, this anime is unique in that the protagonists use their abilities to combat sadness, such as making a mother remembering her love for her daughter instead of deciding to abandon her, or saving a cat from a traffic accident. However, through these resets a friend died mysteriously, and they are led into life threatening situations, which gradually reveal a great conspiracy.

Another unique aspect of the anime is that it spends a lot of time discussing philosophy, such as what is right, justice, god, evil, friend, happiness, whether one still loves one’s romantic partner if he is turned into a stone, whether a newly appeared person who duplicates a dead person is the same person, whether it is worthwhile to sacrifice a few people to save a lot of people, etc.  Normally I do not like talky drama.  Incredibly it does not only discuss philosophy, these topics go beyond discussion and manifest in various aspects of the various plot lines.  What makes it great is also its weakness.  Talky philosophy and monotonic voicing will make a lot of audience find it boring and give it up in the first few episodes.  Only those who appreciate the value of sci-fi combined with philosophy has the potential to truly appreciate it, and they will be rewarded with a conspiracy that takes complicated turns to solve, and a great love story.  Even then, various things in the story are difficult to understand, because they depend on inventive logic of arbitrary rules of the combination of various super powers.  To make things worse, the narrative jumps forward and backward in time.

The live action movies do a reasonable job of telling the complex conspiracy in two movies, with most of the characters retained.  Most of the plot changes seem essential to trim the time required to tell the story.  Just as it is unreasonable to expect a live action Ghost in the Shell to discuss the philosophy of what differentiates an android from human, here it is unreasonable to expect the live action movies to retain the philosophical emphasis of this story.  I commend the movies for trying to make it less difficult to understand, with more explanations and a more streamlined flow.

My concern with the movies are not with the necessary plot changes, but the reduced screen time for the love story, especially from the point of view from the dead girl.  It is no longer apparent how much sacrifice she did, and how much pain she went through, to make things happen.  The other change is to villainize the antagonist.  In the anime it is clear that he is not fundamentally a bad guy – he chooses his path for his own valid reasons.  In the movie he really acts like a bad guy – I think this is more unfaithful to the story than the plot changes.  This becomes a bigger problem when the bad guy does not receive an ending appropriate for a bad guy – because the original ending is about two smart guys trying to outwit each other, not a good vs evil thing.

[Note: Although I tagged this as time travel, there is a crucial difference between it and reset: someone is able to nullify the reset.]

Review: The Villainess

The Villainess (Blu-ray release 2017-10-30) is a violent Korean movie about an assassin, who was raised as such by a certain organization when she was only a child.  She wipes out an entire group of thugs at the beginning of the movie single handedly.  After she is captured by the police, she is forced to work for the intelligence agency, continuing her job as an assassin.

This movie is really good for a variety of reasons: the insane speed of killing people is matched only by very few movies, such as John Wick.  It employs unique camera angles for the fight scenes (even though I generally dislike first person view).  The initial escape from the intelligence agency school, and the agency system of arranging fake love interests for the female assassins, are interesting.  Since both organizations are murderous, it keeps people guessing which is the ultimate evil.  The movie is not perfect, however.  For the story to proceed it makes certain unreasonable decisions, such as choosing an obviously wrong assassin for a certain task, wasting the chances to kill a bad guy multiple times, and throwing away a gun and doing a knife fight, etc.

Review: Closest Love to Heaven / Kyō no Kira-kun

Closest Love to Heaven (Blu-ray release 2017-8-18) is a live-action adaptation of the shojo manga Kyō no Kira-kun.  The protagonist is a shy schoolgirl, who falls in love with a handsome classmate.  The boy suffers from a terminal illness and can only live for one more year.  As a schoolgirl fantasy, in this story the boy embodies both the bad boy and good boy types – because he used to be a bad boy but has become nice since meeting the protagonist.  We also get a marriage (simulation) scene.  Other than some obligatory happy dating and tear jerking moments, not much happens.  I checked the Wikipedia and found that a lot of the dramatic content from the original story is removed in this adaptation.  It is even less dramatic than Policeman and Me.

Review: Atomic Blonde

Even without large scale action sequences in 007 movies, Atomic Blonde (Blu-ray release 2017-11-14) delivers a stylish, violent and believable spy story set in the cold war.  The protagonist goes on a mission to retrieve a list of spies, and to find out the identity of a double spy.  She meets a partner in Berlin, who apparently has his own agenda.

While the latest entry in the Bourne series delivered more of the same, this movie delivers something new and captivating.  I also like the final surprise here – twists are often unreasonable and may destroy the integrity of a movie, but here it makes the movie even more intelligent than it already is.

Review: Cars 3

Cars 3 (Blu-ray release 2017-11-7) tells us the protagonist is old, and cannot keep up with the younger and faster cars who had high-tech training.  He also tries to be trained, but with very little success.  Were this an ordinary underdog sports movie, we would see him overcome his challenges and win.  Pixar has never delivered any movie that was just ordinary, and in this case this becomes a problem.

A different path is taken, with good messages about empowerment.  On the other hand, it also sends a message that old people need to accept defeat and move on.  This is not what I want to watch.  I’d rather go back to watch Future GPX Cyber Formula Saga (1996), which is the weakest entry in the series, also about a champion who is overtaken by a new driver with far more advanced technology.  Future GPX Cyber Formula Zero (1994) also had a more skillful treatment of having both a master and the apprentice competing in the same race.

Review: Antiporno

The last Roman Porno Reboot movie I’d like to talk about is Antiporno (Blu-ray release 2017-9-2).  As its title suggests, this is not really a porn movie at all, despite some nudity and sex.  This surreal movie talks about female oppression in a male driven society via a crazy novelist.  Women accept imprisonment under the pretense of having freedom, with no way out like a lizard trapped in a glass bottle.  There are critics who appreciate this movie, but I don’t like it at all.  I very much prefer Tag (2015) from the same director instead.

Review: Dawn of the Felines

Dawn of the Felines (Blu-ray release 2017-9-2) is a more normal entry in the Roman Porno Reboot series, depicting the lives of three escort girls.  For some reason I often find movies about sex workers tend to be boring.  This one is comparatively better.  An important theme here is that everyone has the need to be loved and cared.  A relationship between an escort girl and a young man is quite special – he has purchased her sexual services before, but when she offers him free sex for love, he turns her down.  I especially like the relationship between another escort woman and an elderly man, whose wife has died a while ago.  He seeks escort services purely to sit with him at home, in place of his dead wife.