Monday, November 30, 2009

Batman: Gotham Knight (2008) review. The best of Both Worlds

Overall verdict: 9/10

Current Availability Status: 2 Disc special edition On DVD in stores at discounted price

DVD features:
disc 1
- A Mirror for the Bat: The Evil Denizens of Gotham City”: A stimulating documentary covering Gotham City’s most nefarious of characters, combined with a look into the symbiotic relationship Batman shares with his enemies.
-“Sneak Peek: Wonder Woman” - DC Universe animated original movie
-Audio Commentary - Featuring the filmmakers of Gotham Knight.
disc 2
-Batman and Me a Devotion of Destiny: The Bob Kane Story” - The comprehensive chronology of the remarkable life of the creator of Batman.
-“Batman: The Animated Series” Bonus Episodes - Bruce Timm selects his favorite episodes from Batman: The Animated Series.

Deep engaging stories written by renown American writers, rich detailed art and animation from top Japanese animation companies. Batman:Gotham Knight is truly a blend of the best from the east and west. 6 different animation directors and writers lend their own vision and creative flair to the legend of batman with highly successful and entertaining results.

First is "Have i got a story For you" written by Josh Olsen("A History of Violence" screenplay), directed by Shojiro Nishimi(who worked on TekkonKinkreet)and animated by Studio 4C(TekkonKinkreet, Spriggan). Most people i know say this is their least favorite of the short films. I find it quite good. It is about a bunch of kids relating their encounters with Batman, each giving a different spin on who the DArk Knight is and what he can do. HE is envisioned as vampire-like specter(no doubt inspired by the "Red rain" elseworld's Batman title), an invincible fighting machine(A hybrid of Gigantor and Iron Man) or like a feral bat-beast(similar to the Man-Bat) by 3 different kids. This segment is a metaphor basically for what the entire movie of Gotham Knight is all about. Different people giving their own different unique spins on Batman. It also speaks about how the legend of Batman in Gotham is fueled mainly by exaggerations made by the public. This first short film's art detail is kept painfully minimal but the character movements are flowing and fluid. The backgrounds are also the most intricately designed of all the 6 short films.

The second is "Crossfire". Written by Greg Rucka(comic book writer of 52, Ultimate Daredevil and OMAC project) directed by Futoshi Higashide in his directorial debut and animated by Production I.G(Ghost in the Shell, Sky Crawlers). It is more closely tied to the ongoing story arc of batman Begins and Dark Knight in that the police are not so trusting toward Batman. This story is a very straight forward tale of Batman gaining the trust of a skeptical detective after a daring rescue. THe director's inexperience shows in the poorly choreographed fight scenes. Where it falls short in the story and directing department, Crossfire makes up for it with some of the most beautiful character design seen in anime films. Batman's design here is possibly my favorite among all the 6 and the most true to the armored look of batman Begins' design.

THe 3rd short film is "Field test"(and my LEAST favorite among all). Written by Jordan Goldberg(film writing debut) directed by Hiroshi Morioka(Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles) and animated by Bee Train(.Hack). Aside from the moral at the end of the story about batman unwilling to put other's lives in danger for his own sake, this tale has nothing much to speak off. The story is a bore for the most part and the action is uninspired. The character designs are also very out of place. Bruce Wayne is suddenly a bishonen teenager and Batman looks more like "Eagleman" than Batman. THe fantasy-ish designs doesn't fit with the otherwise down to earth serious plot.

THe 4th, "In Darkness Dwells", can be easily seen as the definitive follow-up to Batman Begins. Written by Batman Begins writer himself David S Goyer, directed by Yasuhiro Aoki and animated by Madhouse(Ninja Scroll, Spawn). This story involves Batman going against the scarecrow and killer croc. It is a straight forward crime busting story with whacked out action sequences and a refreshingly stylized look. The character designs, colors and art style all lend to a very haunting and almost scary look to the whole segment. Action packed from start to finish, the fight scenes are truly epic. No so much in the story but since it is only a bridging piece between the Batman Begins and Dark Knight, i do not expect much resolution to the scarecrow plot here.

The 5th short film is my favorite in terms of story. "Working Through Pain" is a direct continuation of In Darkness Dwells, featuring a wounded Batman wandering the sewers in a daze due to loss of blood remembering his training days in India. Written by Brian Azzarello( comic book writer of "Superman: For Tomorrow" and "Batman: Broken City"), directed by Toshiyuki Kubooka(Origin: Spirits Of the Past) and animated by Studio 4C again. There is minimal art detail but extremely smooth an realistic character movements and animation. A nice break from the action heavy stories that came before, this one is a purely character driven tale about a seldom touched on time of Bruce Wayne's life. By the end of the story, we find out it is not so much physical pain that Bruce was looking to be able to bear. But it was in fact his own inner spiritual pain and the pain of the burden he now carries as Batman(reflected in the metaphorical final scene)

The last short film "Deadshot" is my all time favorite. It has an intriguing yet action packed story with a moral, and it has the best animation, choreography and artwork in the entire movie. Ironically, this one is the only one directed by a Korean, Jong Sik Nam(BASTof syndrome, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe 2002). Written by animation veteran Alan Burnett and animated by Madhouse(Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust). A very well paced chase story hearkening back some of the best episodes of the 90s Batman animated series. I could not help but realize that the animation, fight choreography and even some character designs seem like a homage to the style of Yoshiaki Kawajiri(Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, Ninja Scroll). Slow motion inter-cuts, muscular square jawed protagonist, flowing capes and full motion backgrounds all lend to this short film's awesome look and feel.

All in all, Gotham Knight is truly the blending of the best of both worlds. Most of the best animated movies have always been co-productions and this one is no exception.
*****************************Review End******************

Entertainment: A
Story: A-
Animation: A
Acting(english): A
Replay value: B-
"Brains": B+

Go for it: if you love Batman Begins, Dark Knight and great animation in general

Avoid: if you prefer more linear stories or if your idea of "anime" is synonymous with "kawaii"

Gamer (2009) review: One of the Best video game movies, ironically NOT based on an existing video game

Overall movie verdict: 7/10

The Good: underlying social commentary, easy to follow story, Gerald Butler kicking ass, video game style shoot outs

The Bad: underwhelming acting, cliched premise, erratic camerawork during fights, uninteresting characters

Current Availability status: DVD in stores now

DVD Features:
- none. just the movie

DVD value for money grade: C-

Anyone would be right in expecting this movie to be nothing more than pure action. Just watch, have fun and forget. After all, that is what the trailers make it out to be.

Gamer, however, proved to be a huge surprise and a better than expected.

For starters, Gamer is far from a mindless action flick. If anything it hearkens back to the late 80s where films were exceedingly violent and there was this obsession with futuristic settings and dystopian societies(remember Robocop, Total Recall, Blade Runner etc). Great to see that genre getting a revival.

Couple of parallels can be noticed between this and a number of other movies. Particularly Paul WS Anderson's "Death Race" and "The Condemned" which starred Stone Cold Steve Austin. Gamer's Premise about a wrongly accused criminal forced to take part in a "game" that is popular worldwide would no doubt cause an uproar of about how this movie lacks originality.

But who cares, this film delivers what one would expect from any first person shooter video game: non-stop action. The action is relentless and fast paced, though some viewers would be turned off by the erratic camera motions, whip pans and weird angles. Depending on the individual's taste, that style of filming would actually serves to increase the intensity and frantic feel of each action scene. Video game fans would no doubt agree that some of the "in game" combat footage scenes beats the crap out of the highly publicized 10 minute FPS scene in the 2005's "DOOM" movie.

Sadly, the acting was not really up to scratch, especially from Gerald butler. Gerald Butler is not a terrible actor judging from his previous starring roles. Maybe it was just how he was told to portray his character or the script he was given, but the acting was a little disappointing. Then again, its the future, a future where the general populace is so desensitized to violence that they may be a little less emotional than people in the present. In that case, much of the "flat" acting is negligible since it merely serves to better portray this dystopian society and how far humankind has fallen.

What stood out most was the implied messages and underlying themes of this film. The whole thing is a direct spoof of modern video gaming culture. It is like a cautionary tale about where our society may be heading . Themes about corporations controlling the people, desensitization to media violence, a downward spiral into decadence, and a world where the media is gaining a greater dominance over the minds of the youth are ALL spliced into the movie and, thankfully, come across as only implied and in no way "preachy". However that is also Gamer's downfall. The subtle social messages might be lost on the casual viewer thanks to the disappointing characters, less-than-original storyline and too much emphasis placed on the action.

In the end, most people might regard Gamer as a brainless action-er meant only for Video game addicts, action junkies and adrenaline pumped young adults. Not as if that is a bad thing. Also the more learned crowd like university students might get a kick out of discussing the many social issues that this movie brings to light.

Entertainment: A
Story: B
Acting: C
Characters: B-
Replay value: B
"Brains": A-

Go for it: if you like violence like in video games and a story with a deeper social message

Avoid: if you demand only thespian level acting in a movie or are not a fan of "dystopian future" genre. Also if you get queasy at the sight of blood.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ninja Assassin (2009) Review: Wicked weapons, killer moves and Bloody battles at its all-time Best

Overall movie verdict: 7/10

The Good: Intense non-stop action, bloody violence, beautiful fight choreography, a respectible update of the "ninja" film genre

The Bad: Convoluted story, Rain's bad acting, cheesy romance sub-plot, edits made by local film authorities

Current Availability Status in Singapore: DVD release pending

If the Wachowski brothers' Speed Racer was the ultimate tribute to family friendly classic cartoons, Ninja Assassin is the ultimate tribute to 80s martial arts B movies like "Enter the Ninja" and the Ultra-violent anime genre titles like Ninja Scroll.(Already noticed the name "ninja" in all the titles mentioned? well, what a coincidence!). It is violent, it is bloody and packed to the gills with action. Every thing else ends up playing second fiddle to the fights.

Unfortunately, "every else" also includes the story which is, a hodgepodge of very familiar elements. Raizo (played by Korean star Rain) is an orphan raised by a cruel master Lord Ozunu(played by Sho Kosugi, famous for his starring roles in, what else, 80s ninja movies like "Enter the ninja".) to be part of a secret clan of ninjas that have been responsible for countless assassinations over the centuries. Through a series of flashbacks (intercut with scenes of a half naked hunky Rain training with some vicious looking weapons), Raizo's tragic story is fleshed out. We see his tormented childhood days as a ninja trainee; his only emotional refuge, an orphan girl who, like Raizo, is part of the clan. One day, his friend tries to escape from the violent ninja way of life and is executed, prompting a change of heart in Raizo who eventually betrays his clan after a narrowly botched mission. Now on the run, hunted by both his former comrades and a special international task force, Raizo finds an unlikely ally in the form of Mika Coretti, a Europol agent who is close to exposing the secret existence of the Ninjas and hence targeted for assassination.

Simply put, the unoriginal storyline is highly predictable and filled with B movie clich├ęs from stem to stern. It is a definite step down from the philosophical Matrix trilogy or the sophisticated and political V for Vendetta. It also lacks the fun of Speed Racer.

Characters are, at best, cardboard cut outs and at worse painfully bland. None of them come across as emotionally engaging. Raizo is especially underdeveloped despite being the main character. His internal motives for his betrayal are never fully explored and the cheesy romance bit, not to mention the whole big about "the heart' feels like a tacked-on afterthought. The acting is passable; nothing better than the level of a TV series, but the script manages to have a couple of witty lines and dialog.

However, being a homage to 80s martial arts B movies and violent anime, one would not expect a work of storytelling perfection. One would expect lots of fights and lots of violence, to which this film delivers in spades. Limbs are lobbed off, stomachs are split open and heads are busted as the movie slashes its way from one fight scene to the next, delivering scenes of wicked weapons and bloody carnage that make even Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw Massacre look like a tame PG film. The fight choreography is well executed with a good mix of slow motion and frantic close-ups. Special effects and CGI are used to effectively give the movie a very comic book-like feel (not surprising since the Wachowski brothers are avid comic fans and one of the screenplay writers is also a comic book writer). Thankfully some erratic camera work (especially during the scene where Raizo is being chased through a busy street) does not feel distracting but enhances the frantic and lightning fast pace of the fights. Blood flows like rivers as Raizo proceeds to disembowel enemies en masse; definitely not for the squeamish.

On a whole, Ninja Assassin feels like a fan-boy's dream come true from the first skirmish to the climatic showdown involving modern day special forces taking on an army of ninja warriors . Some cheesy bits here and there require a certain suspension of disbelief but the film's portrayal of ninjas in general is gritty and realistic yet preserves their mysterious and legendary status. It is refreshing too to see that Raizo is not some invincible killing machine as he does tire and he does take his fair share of hits, even going down a couple of times.

Forget Naruto and all those brightly dressed, magic power spewing ninjas of recent anime. Ninja Assassin is the butt-kicking, face slashing answer to all that. A respectable re-imaging of a dated genre and 99 minutes of non-stop violent escapism once you look past its narrative flaws.
*****************************Review End******************

Entertainment: A
Story: B-
Acting: B
Characters: B
Replay value: A
"Brains": C

Go for it: if you're in the mood for some unadulterated bloody violent escapism the likes of which rivals Ninja Gaiden, God of War and Rambo.

Avoid: if you have a weak stomach for bloody violence or have a deep respect for historical accuracy.