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.

Comic Review: Daredevil by Bendis and Maleev – Ultimate Collection, Book 2

Published: September 15th, 2010
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Alex Maleev

Marvel Comics, 461 Pages

Review:

This long stretch of Daredevil issues should’ve actually been better than the ones in the first volume, as shit got real dark, things were more action packed and this went to places I didn’t expect.

The reason why I can’t rate it as high as the previous one is because of the awful romantic subplot that actually sees Daredevil get married for a short time.

I hated this plot, the new love interest and thought that it detracted from a much better story about the shifting power in the New York City criminal structure and Daredevil dealing with that while also trying to work around the public knowing his identity.

The romance plot was just too much added into an already very layered and rich story. Plus, that stuff was poorly written and I don’t want to be that guy but I don’t think that Brian Michael Bendis understands romantic interaction above a college aged level.

That being said, Bendis’ writing is great outside of the romantic shit.

Also, I love Alex Maleev’s style and tone in regards to Bendis’ story. They come together rather nicely, even if it appears as if Maleev is tracing some characters and doing digital tricks. This was originally made at the turn of the millennium and artists were experimenting with a lot of new technology at the time. Frankly, I know he used Photoshop filters because I recognize them. Still, the end result works and I’m just a traditionalist that likes things done the old school way. This is why I also don’t like Pixar movies or that style of animation.

Out of all the different story arcs collected here, I think I like the one that features The Owl the best. I liked seeing him truly unhinged and trying to wedge himself into The Kingpin’s spot as crime boss. After that, I really loved the section with Typhoid Mary, as she’s one of my favorite Daredevil villains and doesn’t get enough love, in my opinion. She also looked great in this run, even if I still prefer her original look, as drawn by John Romita Jr. back in the late ’80s.

I love the hell out of Bendis’ run on this series and it truly rivals the great runs by Frank Miller and Ann Nocenti, who still takes the cake for me.

Remove the romantic, juvenile love shit in this story and this would’ve been a perfect Daredevil collection.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Daredevil comics from his Marvel Knights run.

Film Review: A Colt Is My Passport (1967)

Release Date: February 4th, 1967 (Japan)
Directed by: Takashi Nomura
Written by: Shūichi Nagahara, Nobuo Yamada
Based on: a novel by Shinji Fujiwara
Music by: Harumi Ibe
Cast: Joe Shishido, Jerry Fujio, Chitose Kobayashi, Ryōtarō Sugi

Nikkatsu, 84 Minutes

Review:

Japan really made some visually stellar and interesting motion pictures in the 1960s. This one takes its inspiration from classic film noir, French New Wave and the spaghetti westerns of its time.

In fact, despite being a simple Yakuza crime flick, this has a score very similar to the ones you’d hear in Sergio Leone’s western movies.

Beyond that, this feels similar to Seijun Suzuki’s crime movies from the same decade. Although, this one is less stylized and surreal.

Director Takashi Nomura’s work here is incredible and since I’ve never seen any of his work before this, I kind of want to check out what else he’s done based off of how enjoyable, artistic and technically savvy this film is.

It’s also pretty well acted from top-to-bottom and features characters you’ll like and despise.

One thing that really stands out about this movie is the energy of it. The big finale is absolutely incredible and way ahead of its time in how it was shot, executed and presented.

Additionally, the cinematography is beautiful and it truly embraces the best parts of the classic film-noir aesthetic with a high contrast visual style and the clever use of shadow and light.

While I hold the Seijun Suzuki and Akira Kurosawa Yakuza films in very high regard, this lesser known film by the uber talented Takashi Nomura deserves to be in the same circle as those other amazing and game changing pictures.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other neo-noir styled Yakuza movies, such as some of the ’60s films of Seijun Suzuki.

Film Review: The Punisher (1989)

Release Date: October 5th, 1989 (Germany)
Directed by: Mark Goldblatt
Written by: Boaz Yakin
Based on: The Punisher by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, John Romita Sr.
Music by: Dennis Dreith
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gossett Jr., Jeroen Krabbe, Kim Miyori

Marvel Entertainment, New World Pictures, 89 Minutes, 76 Minutes (heavily cut), 98 Minutes (workprint version)

Review:

“If you’re guilty, you’re dead.” – Frank Castle

While I know that this isn’t as good as the 2004 Punisher movie, this is still my favorite film of the lot and Dolph Lundgren really embodied the version of Frank Castle that I envisioned as a kid in the late ’80s, just discovering Punisher comics.

I loved the fuck out of this movie when I saw it in 1990, once it hit video store shelves in my area. I would’ve loved to have seen it in the theater but I lived in a small town with small theaters that played it safe, didn’t take risks and have now mostly been replaced with better theaters offering more variety… and alcohol.

Dolph Lundgren is just fucking perfect in this and nothing else about the film really matters. Sure, I like Louis Gossett Jr. but he’s kind of a non-event in the picture, as is everyone else, except the mob boss turned vigilante that helps the Punisher fight ninjas in an effort to rescue his kidnapped son.

This wasn’t made by Cannon, it was in fact made by New World, but it has that Cannon vibe to it albeit with an even cheaper budget. Still, its a solid mix of gritty, ’80s action, a badass hero and more ammo wasted than an Argentinian coup.

One sequence that really stands out is where we get to see the Punisher battle a hoard of machine gun ninjas in a decrepit carnival funhouse. Granted, I also loved the big finale that saw our hero and the mobster douche machine gun the crap out of ninjas.

All in all, this is just a badass flick with uber amounts of testosterone, one of the best, most physically intimidating action stars of all-time and it feels true to the source material. It’s certainly better than everything that came after that Thomas Jane Punisher movie. 

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel live-action films pre-MCU.

Film Review: Black Rain (1989)

Release Date: September 22nd, 1989
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Craig Bolotin, Warren Lewis
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takakura, Kate Capshaw, Luis Guzman, Stephen Root, Richard Riehle, Vondie Curtis-Hall

Paramount Pictures, Jaffe-Lansing, Pegasus Film Partners, 125 Minutes

Review:

“I usually get kissed before I get fucked.” – Nick Conklin

Ridley Scott has done some great films. While Black Rain isn’t often times in the discussion of Scott’s best works, it is one of his best looking motion pictures.

Being that this is pretty much neo-noir, it shares a lot of the same visual style as Blade Runner. However, instead of seeing a futuristic Los Angeles on the screen, we are given modern day Osaka. Or what was modern day in 1989.

Sure, this doesn’t have Replicants and flying cars but it does show us how late ’80s metropolitan Japan wasn’t too far off from Scott’s vision of the future.

The story follows two cops played by Michael Douglas, in maybe his coolest role, and Andy Garcia. They witness a Yakuza hit in New York City, capture the criminal and then have to escort him to Japan, where he escapes and they then have to work with the Osaka police in an effort to catch him and bring him back in.

What the cops soon find out, once their stay in Japan is extended, is that the Yakuza guy they caught is in a massive gang war. Now these two find themselves in the middle of it all while the local Osaka police are slow to act due to their hands being tied by their strict laws.

This is also like two buddy cop films in one, as Douglas’ Nick Conklin works with his New York partner for the first half and then has to work with his assigned Japanese partner for the remainder of the film. But unlike your typical buddy cop formula, we’ve got two guys from very different cultures, clashing but ultimately finding respect for one another. It’s kind of like what we would get with the Rush Hour movies nine years later and with less comedy and more testosterone.

The thing that I really like about this flick is not only the clash of cultural styles but the mixing of genres. You’ve basically got a neo-noir Yakuza biker movie. It also has a pretty hard edge to it and is unapologetic about its violence and what modern critics would deem “toxic masculinity”.

Black Rain is a cool fucking movie, hands down. While it is sort of a Yakuza movie seen through Western eyes and made for that audience, it really isn’t too dissimilar from the best films that genre has to offer. Ridley Scott doesn’t specifically try to replicate Japanese gangster cinema, so much as he just tries to make a film within his own style that just happens to take place primarily in Osaka. And frankly, it all seems to fit pretty well together.

Unfortunately, Scott had issues filming in Japan due to the budget. He actually had to shoot the big finale back in California. I really would have loved to have seen a sequel but I’m assuming that Nick Conklin only got one outing because of the financial strain of going back to Japan for another movie.

Then again, Scott didn’t really have much interest in sequels to his films until more recently. So maybe we can get Black Rain 2? Assuming Michael Douglas can still go at 75 years-old. But hey, Sylvester Stallone is bringing Marion Cobretti back, so why not?

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Blade Runner, Someone to Watch Over Me, Rising Sun and ’80s neo-noir.

Film Review: Wolf Guy (1975)

Also known as: Urufu gai: Moero ôkami-otoko, lit. Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (Japan)
Release Date: April 5th, 1975 (Japan)
Directed by: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Written by: Fumio Konami
Based on: Wolf Guy by Kazumasa Hirai
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Kyosuke Machida

Toei, 86 Minutes

Review:

“There is a nastier pathogen than syphilis. It’s the one they call hatred of humans. I had clearly caught that infection from Miki.” – Akira Inugami

Man, this is a bizarre movie. But it’s also a horror Yakuza movie from Toei Studios in the 1970s. They spent a lot of time making tokusatsu television and Sonny Chiba action movies though, so this was a weird hybrid of all the things they were good at back in the mid-’70s.

Chiba is essentially a werewolf. However, we never see him actually turn into a werewolf, there is just dialogue about how he’s channeling his wolf power and his animal instincts. There is also some sort of phantom ghost tiger thing that keeps attacking people and ripping them to shreds.

The films is also full of drugs, whores, gangsters, syphilis and really weird sexual encounters.

At one point, Wolf Guy Chiba meets his mother, who is also his wife and he suckles her breasts. Yeah, it’s fucking weird as shit but hey, this is Japanese cinema where weird shit is allowed to fly, nothing has to make much logical sense and no one really seems to care as long as something really cool happens every five to ten minutes.

If I’m being honest though, I have no idea what the hell I watched. But I did mostly like it. I love Chiba, I love Toei and bizarreness is right up my alley. And luckily, this wasn’t so bizarre that it was like some Takashi Miike shitshow. He’s literally made shitshows, that’s not just an expression.

Wolf Guy is an insane movie. It won’t be a movie for most people. But the right kind of audience should love it. I don’t love it but I guess I appreciate it for what it is: pure madness, but cool pure madness. And not so visually off putting that I have to wash my eyes out for ten hours after seeing it.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: ’70s Japanese horror and tokusatsu, as well as ’70s Sonny Chiba action crime movies.

Film Review: Branded to Kill (1967)

Also known as: Koroshi no rakuin (Japanese)
Release Date: June 15th, 1967 (Japan)
Directed by: Seijun Suzuki
Written by: Hachiro Guryu
Music by: Naozumi Yamamoto
Cast: Joe Shishido, Koji Nanbara, Annu Mari, Mariko Ogawa, Hiroshi Minami

Nikkatsu, 98 Minutes

Review:

“This is how Number 1 works: first he exhausts you, and then he kills you.” – Number 1

While I have only seen a handful of Seijun Suzuki’s motion pictures, he has become one of my favorite directors of all-time. Between this and Tokyo Drifter alone, he has proven to me that he is a true auteur with an incredible eye, an enchanting style and impeccable craftsmanship.

I thought Tokyo Drifter was one of the coolest, if not the coolest, movies I have ever seen. Branded to Kill is nearly as cool and just as perfect as Tokyo Drifter.

Suzuki has a way of taking something pretty standard like a Yakuza picture and making it much more interesting than it needs to be. But that is also why his films are so unique and incredible and not just forgettable chapters in a massive genre of Japanese cinema.

The bizarreness of this film can’t be understated. The main character is an assassin for hire and is ranked Number 3. He is in a battle with the other ranked assassins throughout the film but is specifically being targeted by Number 1. He also has a fetish that sees him obsessively inhaling the aromas of freshly boiled rice.

The movie is mostly a series of assassin battles playing out, as these killers try to outwit and survive one another. The story also has strong film-noir elements in its visual style, use of a femme fatale and constant twists and turns. It is one of the most artistically sound Japanese neo-noirs of all-time, right alongside Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter.

It is easy to see where some other noteworthy auteur directors were influenced and inspired by Suzuki’s work here. The film almost has some David Lynch qualities too it, decades before Lynch really emerged and crafted his own interesting oeuvre. It would also influence John Woo, Chan-wook Park, Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino.

Interestingly enough, this film made no money upon its release and Suzuki was fired for making films that “…make no sense and no money.” Suzuki successfully sued the studio and caused a major controversy within the Japanese film industry, which resulted in him being blacklisted. He didn’t make another film for ten years and became a sort of counterculture hero. Because of this, he became recognized as an artist with something more to say than just a standard director pumping out low budget gangster movies for a paycheck.

Nowadays, this film is heralded as an incredible body of work and even has its own Criterion Collection edition.

Over thirty years later, Suzuki filmed Pistol Opera for Nikkatsu, the studio he had the falling out with. That film was a loose sequel to this one.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter, as well as some of his other films: Youth of the Beast, Pistol Opera and Gate of Flesh.

Film Review: Ichi the Killer (2001)

Also known as: Koroshiya Ichi, lit. Koroshiya 1
Release Date: September 14th, 2001 (TIFF)
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Written by: Sakichi Sato
Based on: Ichi the Killer by Hideo Yamamoto
Music by: Karera Musication, Seiichi Yamamoto
Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Shinya Tsukamoto, Nao Omori, Alien Sun

Omega Project, Omega Micott Inc., Emperor Multimedia Group (EMG), Media Blasters, 128 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

“Put some feeling into it, already! If you’re going to give someone pain, you’ve got to get into it!” – Kakihara

Ichi the Killer is a gruesome movie. That is probably an understatement, actually.

All I can say is that if you are going to watch it, be prepared for some serious shit. Then again, if you are familiar with the earlier works of director Takashi Miike, you probably know what to expect to a certain degree. This just takes his love of ultraviolence and brutality to a whole new level.

Visually, the film is pretty close to being a masterpiece. The use of lighting and environment paints an emotional context over the scene before a character even speaks. The art direction and cinematography are amazing. The use of color is spectacular and tonal shifts from scene to scene is brilliantly done. What we have with this film is a beautiful picture comprised of ugly and horrible things.

The story is bizarre and unsettling but what else could one expect from a film that pushes the bar so high in the gore factor. The plot also pushes that same bar and then pushes it even further. The characters are complex, their motivations are sometimes confusing but by the time the credits roll, it all adds up.

Out of the earlier works of Takashi Miike, this may be my favorite film.

Rating: 8/10