Monday, October 8, 2007

Cutie Honey (Japan 2004)

Honey Kisaragi (Eriko Sato, pin-up model extraordinaire), is enjoying a nice bubble bath when she gets a call from her Uncle Utsugi (Masaki Kyomoto), a top science professor. While on the phone, she hears him being abducted by an unknown assailant and quickly leaps into action. Honey, alter-ego of Cutie Honey, finds that she doesn't have enough energy to transform, so she's forced to dress in a clear garbage bag and run to the store for some snacks. With that catastrophe averted she's finally able to transform into Cutie Honey by pressing the heart-shaped button on her choker and yelling, "Honey Flash!". But alas, uncle Utsugi's captors have already been completely boxed in by police at the Tokyo Bay aqua line. Most notably among them is squad chief Natsuko Aki (Mikako Ichikawa, also a model). The chief finds herself in over her head when the kidnapper turns out to be Gold Claw (Hairi Katagiri), a member of the evil organization Panther Claw. Cutie Honey, dressed as a police officer, saves the chief just in the nick of time and drags her kicking and screaming out of harms way. Cutie Honey takes over from there and eventually defeats Gold Claw single-handedly, rescuing her uncle in the process. Natsuko is anything but impressed and tries to take Honey into custody. A mysterious reporter named Hayami Seiji (Jun Murakami), interjects that the chief is committing a false arrest and he finds himself being handcuffed for interfering with police business. With a smile, and some nice diversionary tactics, Honey slips away and turns back into plain ol' Honey Kisaragi, the low-status office worker with no friends who can't seem to do anything right.

Upon returning to headquarters, Natsuki is having problems of her own. Her superiors reprimand her for the damage done at the aqua line and her inability to capture the criminals responsible. With that, she finds out Professor Utsugi has been kidnapped by Panther Claw once again from right under her nose. Now we're all back to square one. So Natsuki, Cutie Honey, and Hayami come together due to the fact that they all have their own reasons for wanting to get to the bottom of exactly what Panther Claw might be up to.

Cutie Honey is based on Go Nagai's 70's comic creation. This has spawned countless OVA's comics and other merchandise over the years. Enter Hideaki Anno, of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame, Warner Brothers distribution company, and a legion of fans that have probably been waiting years to see one of their favorites manga's come to life. All of this could be a recipe for success, or it could create a movie that is aimed directly towards the hardcore fans, so much so, that it completes neglects anyone else. Cutie Honey is a perfect example of the latter. I for one have seen the animation and found it to be alright, but how it would translate into a live action movie was the million-dollar question. I like to think that it holds it's own. The presentation is bright and colorful and keeps with that anime flare. Eriko does a fine job playing a bubbly, cute, yet dim-witted at times Honey. However, the story starts without you, in the sense that it's based on a world that the fan's know all about, but be patient and you'll soon catch up. Most of the special-effects are a double-edged sword. Either you'll hate the campiness of them, or you'll totally adore it. I did notice a few animated effects that were pretty original, such as when Honey is flipping about during her fight sequences. Overall, Honey won't amuse everyone and I don't believe it was meant to. It was built for the fans and I think they love seeing Honey come to life and do her thing. (Converter)

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Sunday, October 7, 2007

Flash Point (Hong Kong 2007)

If you have ever had any interest in either Donnie Yen or martial-arts, Flash Point will impress you in both departments. Sure the story is about as bland and cookie-cutter as action movie plots can get, but you're here to see one thing and one thing only: Donnie Yen beatin' some ass.

Serving as a prequel-of-sorts to the much-loved S.P.L., Flash Point takes us to 1997; a time where Hong Kong was still under British rule. Why this point is made in the movie I'll never know, but I digress. Inspector Ma (Donnie Yen) is working on a case with his undercover partner Wilson (Louis Koo, aka: the man with the tan) that involves three bad Vietnamese dudes. Archer (Ray Lui) is head of the gang, and his younger and bigger brother Tiger (Xing Yu), and co-hort Tony (Collin Chou) manage to look over the illegal shenanigans while Archer faces a bit of trouble with the authorities. Wilson has a lot of info on the gang's activities and is ready to testify against Archer, because everyday they seem to grow more and more suspicious of Wilson's behavior. However, everything can't always go as plan (nor would we want them to) and Wilson's cover is blown. Already having been reprimanded by his superiors for excessive behavior and force, Inspector Ma is ready to protect his partner anyway he can. When Archer's thugs kidnap Wilson's girlfriend (Fan Bing-Bing), Wilson finds himself unwilling to testify against Archer in hopes that his girlfriend's life will be spared. This doesn't fly with Ma, so he takes action into his own hands in order to help his friends and put Archer and his boys away once and for all.

As noted earlier, the story is about as run-of-the-mill as you can get, but in all honesty it's the perfect instigator for getting Ma's character fueled with enough anger to show us what he's made of. First off, let me say that I love Donnie Yen's style and after some serious discussion, me and a few others believe he could truly be the one to save Hong Kong cinema as we used to know it. No one is doing martial-arts as aggressive, realistic and as well choreographed as Donnie Yen. In Flash Point, the grappling-style we saw him incorporate into the action of S.P.L. is still here and it produces some truly jaw-dropping, holy-sh!t moments. The final act with Ma squaring off against Tony is one of the best fight scenes I've ever seen...I kid you not. Not to discredit the others involved, but Donnie is the centerpiece of the film and everyone else is their simply to support him in his beat-down quest. Collin Chou displays some excellent fighting skills, and let's be honest...anyone that can hang with Donnie has to have excellent skills.

He proved he could make a modern movie with mind-blowing action in S.P.L., and he once again shows us that it wasn't a fluke with Flash Point. I can only guess that as he continues to direct and choreograph action scenes in future projects that it will only get better. How it can get any better than this probably depends on the story, but overall I'd still say Flash Point is a success and if you love intense and innovative martial-arts, you'll see it as soon as possible. (Lee)

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Monday, October 1, 2007

Hold Up Down (Japan 2005)

A unique movie to be sure, Hold Up Down uses a Pulp Fiction-esque formula in an attempt to create a wacky, all-over-the-place comedy. For the first and second act the movie is fairly successful, but for the ending, what some would call the most important part, is where it all goes wrong. Color me disappointed.

Brace yourselves folks, because Hold Up Down is almost as hard to explain as it was to watch. Meaning that a lot of stuff happens in the movie, but most of it for no seemingly good reason. Right off the bat we're following two of the many main characters, dressed up in Santa Claus outfits preparing to rob a bank. After the hold-up, the two bandits run off and into the subway station to stash the cash in a station locker. Unfortunatley they don't have the change to lock it up, so they bother homeless musician Koichi (Okada Junichi) for his spare change. The men threaten Koichi, resulting in another foot chase in which Koichi is hit by a speeding police car (with our two other main characters). Our main hobo ends up with the key to the bank heist money, but the two police officers think he's dead. Now we meet a young man who is questioning his faith after an unfortunate incident at his church. His path crosses with the homeless man Koichi, and due to Koichi's...rustic appearance, the young man believes Koichi to be Jesus. So now we have two cops and two robbers racing to get to the stolen money in the station locker, and a young man on a spiritual journey with whom he believes to be Jesus, but is really just a homeless musician. Everyone crosses paths at one point or another throughout the film, and they all eventually come together in the end. In this case however, that isn't a good thing.

Forgive the lack of name-dropping in my review, but the characters in this movie never use their names so it was close to impossible to find out who played who. Actors aside, the story of Hold Up Down is actually really fun, in a quirky, nonsensical kind of way. It's amusing to watch everything that happens to Koichi the hobo, and a lot of the action and comedy is incredibly over-the-top. Suspend disbelief for the first hour and a half of the movie and you'll have a great time with it, but it's in the final act that everything goes straight to hell. To say the final act came out of left field would be an understatement, and to be honest, it just seemed like a last minute attempt at getting all the characters together in one spot just for the heck of it. It really didn't serve any purpose and to be honest, it ruined the movie for me.

I really wanted to like Hold Up Down, and for most of the time I did. I don't need a movie to be perfect to find it worthy of a purchase, because let's be honest, a perfect movie is strictly based on personal opinion. However, when one part of the movie is just so bad and the complete opposite of the rest of the movie, you can't look past this "flaw" for the sake of adding it to your collection. Hold Up Down succeeds in getting your hopes up, only to bring them to a crashing halt. (Lee)

*No Trailer Available

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