Film Review: Audition (1999)

Release Date: October 2nd, 1999 (Vancouver International Film Festival)
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Written by: Daisuke Tengan
Based on: Audition by Ryu Murakami
Music by: Kōji Endō
Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina

Basara Pictures, Creators Company Connection, Omega Project, 115 Minutes (original), 113 Minutes (R-rated)

Review:

“Only pain and suffering will make you realize who you are.” – Asami Yamazaki

I was somewhat late to the Takashi Miike party, as this was the first film of his that I had ever seen. He had a lot of pictures under his belt by the time Audition hit the United States but this was still my introduction to the director, who many people love but I simply don’t.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the man’s work rate and his effort, as he’s always working on something. But his movies typically don’t connect with me. And that’s certainly not the gore or a cultural issue, as I love lots of film with gore and if you’ve followed Talking Pulp for awhile, my love for Japanese cinema should be pretty apparent.

That being said, Audition is probably my favorite film of Takashi Miike’s after Ichi the Killer. That doesn’t mean that it’s great but I do think that it’s terrifying as fuck and damn effective.

The story is about a single father who has his friend hold fake acting auditions in an effort to screen women for the real life role of his new girlfriend. He does find what he’s looking for. However, the girl he selects is pretty much psychotic and ends up torturing and disfiguring him after she feels slighted.

The movie moves at a snail’s pace but the high points are damn good and will probably give most men nightmares.

It’s well acted, well shot and well directed. It’s much more grounded than Miike’s more surreal stuff and that’s probably why I connect to it more than most of his work.

In the end, though, many view this as a classic and I just view it as just a fucked up flick that took me two decades to revisit.

For those that think its over the top, it really isn’t when compared to some of Miike’s other pictures.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Takashi Miike films.

Film Review: Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

Release Date: September 29th, 2003 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: RZA
Cast: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks, Michael Bowen, Jun Kunimura, Kenji Ohba, James Parks, The 5.6.7.8’s

Super Cool ManChu, A Band Apart, Miramax, 111 Minutes

Review:

“Do you find me sadistic? You know, I bet I could fry an egg on your head right now, if I wanted to. You know, Kiddo, I’d like to believe that you’re aware enough even now to know that there’s nothing sadistic in my actions. Well, maybe towards those other… jokers, but not you. No Kiddo, at this moment, this is me at my most… [cocks pistol] masochistic.” – Bill

The Kill Bill films are my favorite movies from Quentin Tarantino, which makes me happy that there are two of them. I felt that reviewing them was long overdue, so I had myself a little marathon with these two movies and some of the classic Pai Mei flicks I’ve already reviewed on this site.

The two films work really well together even though the first one plays more like a martial arts/Yakuza flick while the second is more akin to a spaghetti western. I think this is probably why they were split into two parts, as opposed to giving us one big epic film. Granted, I’m still waiting for the combined version that Tarantino promised years ago. Hell, I think it’s also about time for the third film, which he also promised years ago.

Anyway, this is a review of the first movie, so let me get to it.

The film is just great from top-to-bottom from the opening scene to the big, action-packed, blood-soaked finale.

My only reservations with it, seeing it for the first time in quite a damn while, is that some of the dialogue came out fairly cringe. The scene with Uma Thurman and Vivica Fox exchanging pleasantries seemed a lot less cool and a lot more forced and unnatural for me. It never really bothered me before but it set them film up poorly and because of that, I thought I was going to be disappointed and discover that this just wasn’t as good as I thought it was when I was a lot younger.

I’m glad to say that even though there is more dialogue cringe, it doesn’t really wreck the film or its dramatic effect. Quentin Tarantino is always getting props for the dialogue in his movies but I’ve never been as big of a mark for it. It’s almost always compelling but it tends to be an example of something that sounds great on paper but doesn’t work as well onscreen. And honestly, I think that’s what happened in some of these scenes and I don’t blame the actresses for it.

That gripe aside, everything else is pretty much perfect and the film moves at an incredibly brisk pace, leading to the big showdown with one woman against an army of Yakuza’s wielding samurai swords.

While Tarantino’s films always look fantastic and cinematically impressive, this one really takes the cake for me. Especially, during that final fight, as the film goes from color, to black and white, to just silhouette. The changes work really damn well and the visual tone helps to set the narrative tone, as it shifts during the battle. It also helps break it out into segments, keeping it fresh, as it does run on for a really long time.

Also, I love how after the fight, it switches back to regular color, where it reveals a giant hall full of downed Yakuza, blood absolutely everywhere and limbs just randomly dropped throughout the set. This whole sequence gives you pure, ultraviolence but you don’t actually see the sum of all its (body)parts until that final moment and its kind of breathtaking.

Additionally, the one-on-one final fight between The Bride and O-Ren Ishii is a beautiful, artful and calculated confrontation that works in contrast to the massive fight before it while also being a stunning exclamation point on the film.

The movie is also full of stupendous dramatic scenes and places where the dialogue is so damn good that it sort of washes away the cringe from earlier in the film. The scenes between The Bride and Sonny Chiba’s Hattori Hanzō are fucking beautiful, sweet and intense.

The closing moments of the movie, where The Bride explains her plan to Sofie is ominous as hell and spectacularly effective, as is the big reveal and twist, delivered by Bill, as the final line of the movie.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is pretty close to being Tarantino’s greatest masterpiece. But then, it is slightly edged out by its sequel, which I will review in about a week.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Kill Bill films, as well as other movies by Quentin Tarantino, as well as the many films this homages.

Film Review: Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)

Also known as: Gamera 3: Jashin kakusei (original Japanese title), Gamera 3: The Awakening of Iris (alternative title), Gamera 1999: The Absolute Guardian of the Universe (UK closing credits title), Gamera 3 (unofficial title)
Release Date: March 6th, 1999 (Japan)
Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko
Written by: Kazunori Ito, Shusuke Kaneko
Music by: Kow Otani
Cast: Shinobu Nakayama, Ai Maeda, Yukijiro Hotaru

Daiei Studios, Hakuhodo, Nippon Shuppan Hanbai K.K., Toho Co. Ltd., 108 Minutes

Review:

“Every creature, however unappealing, fights to the last to survive. Humanity as well.” – Mayumi Nagamine

This is the last of the awesome trilogy of Gamera films directed by Shusuke Kaneko. With that, this also concludes the storyline of his reoccurring characters and brings to a close this version of Gamera canon.

I’ve got to say, though, Kaneko went out with a bang and this isn’t just my favorite Gamera film of his trilogy but it is my favorite Gamera film of them all!

This one took a longer break from its predecessor and with that, I think they had more time to fine tune it and refine it from a story and script standpoint to working out some of the special effects kinks.

The end result is a film that looks better and plays better than any of its predecessors.

I enjoy the story in this a lot and even if it doesn’t come across as wholly original (it feels like something lifted from an Ultraman episode), it still works for this film series and provides Gamera fans with a neat, energetic conclusion to possibly the best version of the property.

Furthermore, the enemy monster in this is really damn cool and it’s an unfortunate creature with a personal grudge against Gamera. Basically, the monster Gamera fights isn’t simply evil and its reason for fighting Gamera is pretty damn justified.

That being said, the third act of this movie is really f’n good. If you’re already a kaiju or tokusatsu fan, you should really dig it. The final battle is the best in the series and the final moments of the film are pretty heavy and emotional.

If Daiei really wanted to take Gamera seriously and give fans something great, this is where they truly succeeded. The two films before this one really set the ground work and built a solid foundation but this shows that their efforts paid off and the studio and director delivered.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Gamera films of the Heisei era.

Film Review: Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996)

Also known as: Gamera 2: Region shurai (original Japanese title), Gamera 2: Advent of Legion, Gamera 2: Assault of the Legion (alternative titles)
Release Date: July 13th, 1996 (Japan)
Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko
Written by: Kazunori Ito
Music by: Kow Otani
Cast: Maki Mizuno, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Tamotsu Ishibashi

Daiei Studios, Hakuhodo, NTV Network, Tokuma International, Toho Co. Ltd., 99 Minutes

Review:

The second of the three Heisei era Gamera films is pretty good. While I think it’s predecessor is a bit better, these movies are really consistent and much better than the original, really hokey Gamera movies from the Showa era.

Now while I like the first one more, this picture does have one of the best looking kaiju villains in motion picture history.

love Legion, even if the monster is a sort of mishmash ripoff of Biolante and Destroyah from the Heisei era Godzilla movies.

Since Gamera, himself, was Daiei’s attempt at ripping off Godzilla in the ’60s, “borrowing” heavily from a more popular franchise isn’t really anything new for this series. Besides, we’ve had some pretty original and cool monsters in the Gamera franchise and even some of them were ripped off for other films: most notably Guiron was used as “inspiration” for Knifehead in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim.

This film picks up a year or so after the events of the previous movie, which saw Gamera destroy a bunch of Gaos. Here, he returns to fight what is the biggest threat he’s ever faced in the franchise. Since this era is a reboot of the franchise, those older movies don’t really exist in the same canon but Gamera’s challenge in this chapter, is still his greatest.

This employs pretty good practical special effects for the time. As I said with the previous review, these ’90s Gamera films are good enough to rival the ’90s Godzilla movies.

Now I don’t like this as much as the 1995 reboot but it’s still a fun, solid, “giant monsters smashing everything” flick. Plus, the villain is cooler than Gaos, which might sound like sacrilege to some diehard, old school Gamera fans but sorry, Legion is just a cool f’n monster that was well-designed and looked really intimidating.

Overall, this is pretty satisfying. If Gamera films are your thing, this era provided the best of the lot and they’re all damn consistent.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Gamera films of the Heisei era.

Film Review: The World’s End (2013)

Release Date: July 10th, 2013 (London premiere)
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Music by: Steven Price
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan, Bill Nighy (voice), David Bradley, Darren Boyd, Michael Smiley, Sophie Evans, Rose Reynolds, Peter Serafinowicz (uncredited), Rafe Spall, Mark Heap, Nicholas Burns, Edgar Wright (voice, uncredited)

Relativity Media, Focus Features, Universal Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“Hey it is our basic human right to be fuck ups. This civilization was founded on fuck ups and you know what? That makes me proud!” – Gary King

When I first saw this movie, I was fairly disappointed by it and I remember many others being as well. However, I think my initial assessment of it was faulty, as its actually not a bad film and after having nearly eight years to digest it and reflect on it, I thought that maybe I needed to give it another go, knowing what I was getting into this time.

So seeing it now was actually kind of refreshing. I had forgotten a great deal of the film and its story. Sure, I remembered the gist of it, as well as the ending but I hadn’t retained all of the context and nuance. And now that I’ve re-experienced it, I think that I just wasn’t in the right headspace or hadn’t experienced enough of life to find things in it that resonated so deeply in the way they do now.

The thing is, the power trio of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are all about 5-10 years older than me. Well, seeing this somewhere within 5-10 years after its release, makes me roughly the same age that they were when they made it. Why’s that important? I’ll explain.

The main thing is that the film deals with guys approaching the midway point of life and thus, right at the age that the midlife crisis stage can begin in many males. Now that I’ve also reached this point, I can relate to how one character in particular is obsessed with the greatest night of his life, which came in his youth, and how his future then was a clean slate for him to do anything but now, years later, life hasn’t panned out as greatly as he had anticipated or hoped. I think everyone has these thoughts around 40 or so but some people can take it to the extreme.

Additionally, this same character, you find out late into the film, recently tried to commit suicide and was dealing with massive depression caused by the immense weight of his own disappointment in himself. Depression at that level is something I have dealt with for my entire life and I’ve had friends who were even worse off and have taken their lives. Two of them hit me really hard in the last few years. But having now lived through that in my own life makes the emotional parts of this film much more real and gut punching. Luckily, I’ve mostly overcome my issues in the last few years.

While I can sympathize with Simon Pegg’s Gary and understand his issue first hand, I feel like I more closely relate to Nick Frost’s Andy, as the guy who realizes the pain his best friend has been in and feels immense guilt for not being there for him. I think that’s something that all good people feel when they’ve lost a friend or a loved one to suicide.

Now mixed in with all that emotional stuff that I didn’t appreciate as deeply as I do now, we have the larger group of friends, who also have to try and work out their issues with each other. And then on top of that, we have a pub crawl marathon in a small quaint town that has seen its citizens replaced by manufactured shells controlled by a high-tech alien species who have been secretly invading and assimilating the planet for quite awhile.

So there’s a lot in this movie to take in but it’s really well-balanced between the real human drama and the really awesome sci-fi action plot. And frankly, the plot is pretty cool, as are the special effects and the solid soundtrack that may be Edgar Wright’s best in how he used it throughout the film to set the tone and to properly generate the right level of nostalgia.

Additionally, the acting in this is the best out of the three films in the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. By this, the third film, these guys are just so perfect together and the surrounding cast is full of many people who have worked with these guys multiple times that they all just feel like an onscreen family. To put it simply, everyone has great chemistry but the bond between Pegg and Frost has never been stronger than it is here. I’d also say that this is Nick Frost’s greatest performance, as he actually was the more serious character for the first time and with that, had to help uplift his broken friend and become the real hero of the story.

Still, this is my least favorite film in the trilogy. But that’s like saying oral is your least favorite type of sex. In the end, it’s still really fucking good.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Edgar Wright comedies, as well as his television show Spaced.

Film Review: Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

Also known as: Gamera daikaijû kuchu kessen (original Japanese title), Gamera: Giant Monster Midair Showdown (Japanese English title)
Release Date: March 11th, 1995 (Japan)
Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko
Written by: Kazunori Ito
Music by: Kow Otani
Cast: Shinobu Nakayama, Ayako Fujitani, Yukijiro Hotaru

Daiei Studios, Hakuhodo, NTV Network, Toho Co. Ltd., 96 Minutes

Review:

Gamera movies are a lot of fun for hardcore fans of kaiju and tokusatsu flicks that want to go deeper than just the regular Godzilla films.

However, they were always sort of shit. That is, until this movie came out in 1995 and gave the world a Gamera picture that was taken really seriously and may actually be as good as the ’90s Godzilla movies. Hell, I’d say this is even better than some of them.

This has a darker tone than the jovial kids movies of the original run of films. Also, this has a harder edge and the monsters are more played up for scares than slapstick comic relief.

I like that the studio stuck to using actors in monster suits, as well as great miniature sets for them to wreck while duking it out over the course of the story.

In fact, the special effects for the time and budget are exceptionally good. Quality-wise, this is one of the best looking kaiju movies of the Heisei era.

Plus, I like the cast in this a lot more than what’s typical in these sort of films. The core characters stand out, have purpose and make the human part of the story a worthwhile one, which can often times just get in the way of what audiences really want to see, which is giant monster mayhem. 

This also sets up future films, which for this era in the Gamera franchise led to a pretty impressive trilogy.

From memory, I feel like each sequel improved upon its predecessor but since it’s been so long since I’ve watched these, I’ll refrain from actually stating that until I revisit and review them in the coming weeks.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Gamera films of the Heisei era.

Film Review: Wrath of Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Daimajin gyakushû (original Japanese title), Daimajin Strikes Again, Majin Strikes Again, The Return of Giant Majin, Return of Majin (US alternative titles)
Release Date: December 21st, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kazuo Mori
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Hideki Ninomiya, Shinji Hori, Masahide Iizuka, Muneyuki Nagatomo, Junichiro Yamashita, Toru Abe, Takashi Nakamura, Hiroshi Nawa, Tanie Kitabayashi

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 87 Minutes

Review:

This is the third and final Daimajin film. These movies were all shot and released in the same year. Sadly, this great concept didn’t continue on like other kaiju and tokusatsu franchises but maybe that’s for the best as every Daimajin film has real quality.

From memory, this was my least favorite. However, seeing them all again after so long, I have to say that this one slightly edges out the other two. I think that the first one had the better story and the second one had the better finale. However, this one seems to be the most balanced, as its story rivals the first film, its action rivals the second while both of those things are really, really good.

This installment in the series is also carried by a group of child actors. This can often times be disastrous or just lack in quality but these kids were great and loveable.

I also really liked the three samurai that were trying to capture the runaway kids. They had good chemistry and they played off of the kids really well.

The story primarily follows these kids on a great journey across a region of feudal Japan. It draws allusions to The Fellowship of the Ring in that way, as they have to reach their objective over a long distance while being pursued by a great, deadly force.

In the end, we get to see the giant stone demon come back to life and crush vile tyrants. This is always the highlight of these films and it is used to great effect, here, even if some of the shots appeared to be reused from the previous films. This was pretty common in Japanese kaiju pictures, though, but at least it isn’t a technique that was as bastardized as it would become in the Gamera movies.

I love the hell out of this series. But what I love even more is that they don’t lose steam and that the series goes out on a bang.

That being said, I’m fine that there are only three of these and the short-lived franchise quit while it was ahead.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.