Review: Cook Up a Storm (決戰食神)

決戰食神 (Cook Up a Storm) (Blu-ray release 2017-4-13) is a Hong Kong Chinese New Year movie that mostly consists of a series of cooking competitions.  We have a great cast with a very weak screenplay, as usual.  There is some kind of unwritten nonsense rule in the competition regarding who can proceed to the next round.  Several subplots are underwritten and therefore unsatisfactory.  With these flaws corrected it might even be a good movie.

Review: Your Lie in April / Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso Live Action Movie (2016) vs Anime

Your Lie in April (Blu-ray release 2017-4-12) is a live action adaptation of a manga series.  The protagonist stopped playing piano because he could no longer hear the piano tones since the death of his mother.  A violinist girl shows up, and invites him to play a violin / piano duet with her.

As a standalone movie, it is not bad.  The main storyline is still mostly the same as the charming original, and the romance aspect is still good.  However, the 22-episode anime (2014-2015) is so much better, even after considering the comparatively limited duration of the movie.  The live action version takes a different approach in some areas that undermines the dramatic and visual impact seriously.

MINOR SPOILERS

Firstly, the inability to hear piano tone is done badly and is much less obvious in the movie.  In the anime we get a deep sea representation of it, coupled with muffled sounds, and a haunting hallucination of the dead mother – this visual portrayal of the difficulty involved is truly important.  Likewise, when this inability is explained as a gift, the movie fails to elaborate it other than saying it lets music flow from the heart.  The recovery as presented in the movie also brings much less impact.

Dramatically, the anime makes it clear that the situation with the girl is reminiscent of that of the mother, and the protagonist has to go through this difficulty again.  The movie removed this dramatic comparison.  The original story has a one line dialogue that says the protagonist needs to grow by facing tragedies.  I think this is an important justification of the story, but is again removed from the movie.

If anyone thinks that a live action movie must have everything realistic, that is most certainly false, as perfectly demonstrated in Beauty and the Beast (2017).  The movie makes this mistake and removes all the fantasy-style depiction of the emotion of music.  In the anime the screen is filled with colors, and the audience says they see the music is colorful.  In the movie we don’t get much from the audience to express their approval of the music – not even a “Bravo!”.  We are only told later that the performance was good enough so they continue to be invited for further performances.

The climactic scene in the anime has a beautiful background of sky and clouds, and more visual effects on the girl.  There are many different varieties of shots of the piano at different angles, the protagonist, and close-ups of different things.  There is also special lighting of the stage.  The movie drops the beautiful background, and has much less varieties of the shots, making a dull climax.

P.S. Watching the anime I found that it shares a common theme with Neon Genesis Evangelion – both protagonists try to run away from difficulties, and are saved by a group of women.

 

Review: The Fate of the Furious

In The Fate of the Furious, a new villain shows Dom a video, and somehow forces him to turn against his own team in a world threatening crisis.  This franchise is always about vehicles – we even get a submarine this time.  When the plot is revealed it shares some common elements from those old 007 movies, but the action sequences are much crazier.  What I love about this franchise is that it always show us something new, however unreasonable that may be.

Review: Satoshi: A Move for Tomorrow

Satoshi: A Move for Tomorrow (Blu-ray release 2017-4-28) is a biography movie about a prodigy in the Japanese chess known as shogi.  He has a kidney disease since childhood, and eventually gets cancer.  Time runs out for his life just as time runs out in his every move in shogi competitions.  We see his perseverance in the competitions despite his declining health.

The movie did the best it could with the shogi competition scenes, in which people just sit there and think – it managed to show the pressure via facial and body expressions.  This is the type of slow-paced movie which mainly conveys emotion instead of rich drama.  I think it is well done as a truthful biography, but not everybody like to read non-fiction biography.

Review: Split (2017)

In the movie Split (Blu-ray release 2017-4-18), the antagonist has multi-personality disorder, abducts three girls with unclear motivation, and spends much of the screen time being crazy, or talks to his psychiatrist.  There is little tension to be found.  All those talking scenes do not achieve much, except for providing a basis for the climax.  Since the climax is foreshadowed for a long time, seeing it happen does not bring any actual surprise.  I’m also not fond of watching movies having a little girl sexually molested by her guardian, who happens to be the only person she can depend on, since she has no friends or parents.

Unbreakable (2000) is structurally similar in that the primary objective of both movies is to establish a character with special abilities (origin stories).  The 2000 movie is much better in every way.

Review: Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale

Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale follows the anime series with a new augmented reality game.  There is a new conspiracy involved.  Although the movie starts with a very brief summary of what happened before, I think it’s best to have watched at least the first season to fully enjoy this movie.

Whereas previous monster battle animated movies are significantly flawed in some ways, such as Gantz: O or the recent Final Fantasy movies, this movie presents a perfect balance of everything and shows the correct way of doing it.  It recaptures the essence of what made the first season so great.  To nitpick the movie, the primary flaw is that what happened in the climax, and the plan of the villain, do not make complete sense.

P.S. There is an extra scene after the credits.

Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

A lot of critics are disappointed by Ghost in the Shell (2017), the live action remake of the 1995 anime masterpiece.  They expect the new movie to retain the original philosophical exploration of whether there can be a ghost (soul) in the shell (machine), and what separates a human from a machine.  That’s just not possible for a mainstream movie to focus on that.  I expect this theme to be toned down, but it is actually dropped entirely from this movie.

Does this make the movie bad?  Not in my view.  Even without the depth of the original, it is still an entertaining action movie that shows us a futuristic and colorful fake Hong Kong.  Instead of really remaking the 1995 movie, this version toke the memorable characters and scenes and reimagined an entirely new story for them.  My main complaints are with the climactic treatment of the villain, and the tank looks too small.

P.S. As an Asian, I’m not bothered by the casting of the protagonist.

Review: Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures (Blu-ray release 2017-4-11) tell the true story of African-American women who helped in the NASA space programme.  It is effective in portraying the racism and sexism in that era, while delivering an inspirational drama.  Progress in social issues are complemented by progress in the space programme.  The tone of the movie, including the comedic running scenes, also help making this movie a success.

Review: Shin Godzilla / Godzilla Resurgence

Instead of getting the long awaited Evangelion: 3.0 + 1.0, we got Shin Godzilla (Blu-ray release 2017-3-22).  I think it is important to state what this movie is not first.  It is not a popcorn monster movie.  It is not yet another cheesy Godzilla movie in which a man dresses up in the rubber Godzilla suit and destroy a model city.  This is a serious, realistic drama with a focus on bureaucracy and politics.  Due to this deviation from reasonable mainstream expectation of what a Godzilla movie is, I do not think this can be considered as a mainstream movie.  This is a good movie, but most probably not a truly exciting entertaining movie people normally expect.

To appreciate this movie, one has to endure the never ending meetings – meetings at the top government level, meetings in the military, meetings of working level staff, meetings between Japan and other countries, etc.  I do not recall watching another movie with more meetings.  I cannot say I like all these meeting scenes, however, they serve the unique perspective of how a bureaucratic government can respond to the threat of a never before seen huge and powerful monster like Godzilla.  This movie is good not because of the meetings, but because of the realism, social and political issues, and the reinforced metaphor of Godzilla and nuclear weaponry through these meetings.

One aspect that I did not expect is that several scenes look very much like those in Evangelion.  As an Evangelion fan, I’m happy to see them.  I’m also happy to hear Evangelion music in this movie – even though I don’t think it is really used appropriately.

Review: See You Tomorrow (擺渡人)

擺渡人 (See You Tomorrow) (Blu-ray release 2017-3-22) is a romantic comedy adapted from a novel, directed by the author of the novel, and produced by Wong Kar Wai.  It consists of several distinct subplots based on different stories in the novel, joined together via a bar – the bar owner’s job is to help people get over difficulties and reach the next stage in their lives.

In many ways this is very different from typical Wong Kar Wai movies.  It is colorful, mostly happy, comedic, and exaggerated.  Yet it is obvious the dialogue has been given much thought, in line with other Wong Kar Wai movies.  However, this combination was not well received.  People in mainland China was unable to appreciate it – near half of the viewers rated it 1 star and considered it to be trash.  It got so bad that Wong Kar Wai defended it.

My view is that it has good stories, has unique characters, is entertaining and comedic.  This is one of the most interesting romantic comedy featuring Hong Kong actors in recent years.