Keiji Monogatari

1982, Japan. Also known as ‘(Police) Detective Story’, ‘Karate Cop’.

Now, before I get into the plot I think it’s better to point out why I am reviewing this movie and how I discovered it. About 6 years ago I was at a park and I noticed a young university student practicing martial arts with a clothes hanger. The way he moved the clothes hanger was like someone practicing with nunchakus. It looked pretty cool. I also saw him practicing with a golf club using it as a weapon rather than a normal golf club. I got speaking to him and he explained that he loved the movie series called ‘Keiji Monogatari’ where the main character was a police detective who knew kung fu and in some scenes used a clothes hanger as a weapon. I was intrigued to say the least since I had never heard of the movies until he told me about them. I searched for more about the movies but they weren’t that easy to find and are impossible to find with English subtitles. I was finally able to see the movie (sans subtitles) on Amazon Prime. Why I want to talk about the film is mainly because it held my fascination for the past few years and it seems a bit of a shame that it isn’t that well known outside of Japan.

The basic premise of the movie is about Detective Gen Katayama, who at the beginning of the movie saves a young deaf woman named Hisako from a brothel. Shortly after, he is informed that he is being transferred from his current city in Fukuoka to Shizuoka, supposedly because he was heavy handed with some thugs he arrested. Discovering that Hisako has no family he decides to take her with him to his new post. Katayama not only takes pity on Hisako because of her situation but also because he too was abandoned by his mother as a child and deeply relates to her feeling of loneliness in the world. Upon reaching Shizuoka he is trust into an investigation to discover why young prostitutes in the city are being murdered.

It’s a pretty good film and it kept my attention throughout. Gen Katayama is an interesting character, emotionally complex, especially when related to Hisako, he is at first appearance a kind, warm hearted and gentle man. But when push comes to shove and he is forced to take violent action against criminals he is like a wild animal. I had heard that the martial arts he uses in this film is like Mantis Boxing and it does look like Mantis boxing in some places but not Chinese Mantis Boxing. This is more like Karate infused with Mantis boxing and the way Katayama shouts and moves in his fight scenes feels very reminiscent of Bruce Lee in his movies. For those still curious, he does use the clothes hanger briefly near the end to fight off gangsters, and though brief, it is cool. The clothes hanger in particular is of it’s time and not just any old clothes hanger you can find today. In fact, the student I saw practicing at the park bought it from a special store online.

So that’s my basic review of the movie. It feels satisfying to have finally seen it after hearing Japanese martial arts fans mention it to me. It’s not the most memorable Japanese movie or martial arts movie I have seen but it does feel like a piece of pop culture that should be a little more known about. I mean, people praise Matt Damon for beating up people with a rolled up magazine in the Bourne movies, surely kicking ass with a clothes hanger needs to be seen by more people.

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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Before I go on, this review will have spoilers.

My non-spoiler review: It’s a mixed bag. The plot is all over the place which is probably in part to the covid 19 pandemic and because this film was supposed to be released before ‘Spiderman No Way Home’. There might have been large changes to the script at short notice and there were talks of large reshoots too, possibly to make everything gel together. Sam Rami is let loose and given quite a bit of free reign. For Rami fans I’m sure they’ll appreciate it. For younger fans this is going to be scary. The way super hero characters get killed in this is pretty brutal. For a second I was getting ‘The Boys’ vibes. I recommend not taking younger kids to this. It’s definitely not a marvel film to keep them quiet for a few hours.

On to my spoiler review…

SPOILERS

This film is going to be something of a let down to anyone going in with high expectations like I was. The firs reason for this is that if you have seen any of the promotional material over the past 2 months to two weeks then much of the surprise of certain cameos in the movie is gone. The problem with that is that most people thought “If this is what they are showing us then what they’re hiding must be amazing”. Unfortunately, this is not a ‘Spiderman No Way Home’. If you watched the trailers and TV spots then that’s it. Don’t wait to be surprised. The only thing that surprised me was how much the trailers and TV spots gave away… There are no other X-Men, there are no Spidermen, there’s no Deadpool, no Loki, there’s no Tom Cruise as Iron Man. There’s no moment in the movie where Wanda says “Mutants” and suddenly there are mutants in the world.

I guess what did surprise me was the plot. The villain of the movie is Wanda. The trailers seemed to hint that it was an alternate version of Strange that was the problem and had caused so much of a mess. But it’s actually Wanda. The reveal isn’t so shocking because it’s not done as a plot twist. Fairly early on in the film Wanda reveals that she is the villain. But it didn’t feel like a clear reveal to me. Wanda is the person trying to capture a character called America Chavez, a young girl who can travel between the multiverses when she gets really scared. Yep. Apparently, she’s the only person in the multiverse who doesn’t have a double. That’s also the reason she doesn’t have dreams. Because dreams are actually us seeing the multiverse version of ourselves according to this movie. Umm, OK.

While Wanda makes a great villain I’m not sure how comfortable I am with it. The reason why is because she just wipes out anyone in her way. There is no remorse or regret to her actions, she murders people brutally. You thought Thanos was a problem? You’re basically screwed if you have to go up against Wanda. The other thing is that we did kinda see her go through this phase of grief in ‘WandaVision’ and she is somewhat redeemed at the end of that series. For the record, I thought ‘ WandaVision’ was absolutely fantastic and one of the best things marvel studios have put out there. That was such a satisfying story arc for the character, a character I previously wasn’t all that interested in. But here there’s no glimpses of light in her. She’s fully gone to the dark side. There is a brief scene where we see an innocent Wanda trapped in her mind but after all the brutality and bloodshed she causes in this movie it’s hard to see the character ever redeemed to a point where she’ll be the Wanda we used to know.

As for the multiverse concept, it’s really not played up as much as I thought it would be. That’s on me of course, but the majority of stuff marvel studios puts out rarely disappoints and when you come off a movie like ‘Spiderman No Way Home’ then you expect there is no way they’re not going to let us have our cake and eat it. Even putting that disappointment aside the film does feel muddled. Rami’s direction is refreshing but it’s going beyond the superhero film idea. With his Spiderman movies he always played to the best of his potential within the limits of that world. Here I felt he is breaking those limits to the detriment of the film. I wanted to like it more but having lived in this marvel world of 28 movies and 6 TV shows this seems out of place and not a comfortable fit to what has come before. I guess I have to answer that question myself. Do I want the marvel universe to get this dark?

The cast of the film are fantastic of course and the production value leaves you wanting nothing. It’s still worth your money and I doubt anything I say would stop someone from going to see this with the amount of hype surrounding it. I don’t know how you’re going to see this but I bought tickets to this in IMAX. For the past two years I have been fortunate that all IMAX showings here AREN’T in 3D. I never liked 3D and having to wear a mask with 3D glasses is terrible as it would just steam them up. So I buy my tickets to the IMAX showing but as I’m walking into the theater they’re handing out 3D glasses and I’m like WTF is this?!? Here in Japan people are still expected to wear masks in public spaces, which of course included movie theaters so why the hell pass out 3D glasses? As soon as I put the 3D glasses on they began to steam up and I, like many others around me, slipped their mask down a little, some below their noses. I kept wondering why after 2 years they’d start showing 3D movies again and then the answer appeared to me on the theater’s screen as I watched a bunch of blue CGI creatures running through a forest. Avatar 2. Gods damn you Avatar. Are you going to force people to use 3D glasses again to watch the sequel to a movie everyone has forgotten about? Not only was I pissed at the trailer but it was boring as hell. You think I’m going to see it in theaters? Not even if you brought back the Titanic and turned it into a spaceship captained by Terminators would I want to watch a sequel to Avatar. It was boring 14 years ago, it’s looks just as boring and CGIy as it did back in 2008.

Anyway….

What this film, ‘Doctor Strange 2’ feels like is a tonal shift. Marvel hearing the whispers of fans saying that their movies are predictable and generic. This shift is going to divide people more than something like ‘Moon Knight’ would. I was personally surprised how full on violent it was and while marvel fans have grown up with their films there are still kids watching these. The images can be fairly frightening to a young mind.

Notes: What actually caused the multiverse? Was it the events in ‘Loki’? But those were branch timelines right?

The X-Men theme from the animated series plays in the movie. The coolest moment of the film.

Favorite Quote: “Just because someone stumbles and loses their path, doesn’t mean they’re lost forever”. – Professor X.

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Born Invincible

When a martial arts school gives refuge to a master swordsman and his daughter they become embroiled in a life or death battle against two seemingly unbeatable opponents. One who has a golden baton that can cut swords and stab opponents. The other a white haired Tai Chi master with seemingly no vulnerabilities.

This is not a Pai Mei movie but it is a worthy “not Pai Mei” movie in that it looks like Pai Mei, is as invulnerable as him and is as deadly as him. If you are any sort of fan of the real Pai Mei movies which I have previously reviewed here then you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to check out this film. It’s Pai Mei, only not in name.

While ‘Born Invincible’ doesn’t have the polish or fun as some of the better Pai Mei movies there is a certain satisfaction to it that it does give us more of what we want; a bunch of kung fu students trying to figure out how to defeat a near invincible opponent and the training they put themselves through in order to do it. To give the movie even more credit it has Lo Lieh in it. Unfortunately he is not playing the role of the white haired master, I guess that would be too close to his very memorable role as the real Pei Mei in the Shaw Brothers films. Instead Carter Wong takes on the role and does a very good job of being the villain.

As previously mentioned, there are many white haired kung fu villains out there. A lot of them don’t live up to their menacing looks but on some occasions like here, they do shine.

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Zatoichi Season 2

As with season 1 and the movies, the second season of Zatoichi follows the similar pattern of story of the week. If you’re not familiar by now, then here’s a brief rundown. Zatoichi is a wandering blind swordsman who has at times worked for the Yakuza and is even considered a Yakuza by many, doing the dirty jobs and taking out rival gangs. His bloody past and present is a constant companion with him, his crimes and skill attracts the attention of gangs, clans, constables, ronins and vagabonds who either want to capture him, get him to work for them, kill him or test their sword skills against his. Yet, Zatoichi is an antihero, there is a goodness to him, he doesn’t kill the good or the innocent, he tries to help others whenever he can at no cost. Think of him as ‘The Littlest Hobo’, except he is not a dog and when he moves onto his next town or city at the end of an episode there is usually a bloody trail of destruction left behind him.

There are quite a few episodes in season 2 with a similar theme, mainly men who put their girlfriends, lover, wife, daughter into the prostitution business or brothels for money and then there are the ex lovers who are trying to get their loved ones out of the prostitution business. These episodes were less interesting to me and the same type of plot leads to some dispiriting episodes. If you are mentally not in the right place at the moment or feel you might be triggered by such scenes or if you’re just tired of seeing women as the victim then you might want to think about if you really want to watch these episodes or not.
But there are a few interesting stories that, like season 1, are quite heart wrenching.

Take for example episode 6. Now, a ton of stuff happens in this episode so bear with me. Zatoichi encounters his old master who invites him to stay at his home with him and his sister. During training practice his master betters him which leaves a swollen mark on Zatoichi’s wrist, this will play into the episode later. Meanwhile, his master has been recommended to be a teacher of a clan in another city. This high recommendation comes with a price though, dues that need to be paid, amounting up to a lot of money. The master asks a gang for a lone, but unknown to him the gang kidnaps one of his students to ransom the student’s father. As this is going on, the sister of Zatoichi’s master wants to marry Zatoichi and live with him. As if that wasn’t enough, another man is seeking Zatoichi out in revenge for killing his brother! When Zatoichi’s master returns home that night his sister tells him that she wants to marry Zatoichi. Her brother refuses and Zatoichi leaves the next morning in shame.
That same morning, the gang meet Zatoichi’s master in a forest where they are waiting to collect the ransom on his behalf, still unbeknownst to the master. Once the ransom has been paid the gang kill the student and his father to the horror of Zatoichi’s master who proceeds to kill the boss and any gang members that will fight him. As the survivors run off he bends down to slowly pick up the money. Zatoichi enters and finds the dead bodies of father and son tied up. He assumes the person picking up the money is in some way responsible and duels with him shortly before striking a killing blow. Zatoichi then continues on his journey, as he does he notices his wrist is bleeding in the same place his master had attacked him in practice. With agony on his face, he realizes he has killed his master.

Sorry, that was a long synopsis, but it was a brilliant episode with so much stuff going on. The series seems to play fast and loose with the continuity though because this is not the first time Zatoichi has killed his master and we also see him visit his mother’s grave which seems to contradict the implications of a season 1 episode. I guess we could say that Zatoichi had more than one master (since this season 2 master looks almost younger than him) and perhaps we could say the grave he visited was not his actual mother but the woman who raised him (A point he does clarify in a later season 2 episode).

Each episode of Zatoichi is rich in storytelling like the movies were. My only criticism might be that we know how things will play out. People will die. Friends he makes will die at his hand. Zatoichi is a character immersed in tragedy.

Compared to season 1 I think season 2 is stronger. While it’s still an episodic show with stories of the week, this season has far stronger stand alone episodes with tons of complexity going on in each one. I was often left reeling after each episode and thinking at the same time how great it was.

Continuity Notes: things are pretty much all over the place but here’s a few things.

In one episode, Zatoichi is caught and his cane sword is taken from him. He escapes and ends up fashioning a much cruder cane sword with a blunt blade. At the end of the episode Zatoichi is stuck on a small boat that floats away. Yet in the next episode we see him with his regular cane sword again. He may have gone back to search for it but considering that he was last see floating away on a boat, with no idea where he was going and considering that he is afraid of the water it seems less likely he could have made his way back.

There is mention that Zatoichi travels mainly in the areas of Awa, Kazusa, Shimosa and Hitachi. For anyone unfamiliar, these are outside areas surrounding Tokyo. Zatoichi’s hometown itself is said to be Kasama. That’s about 100km from Tokyo.

Zatoichi is described as Yakuza by his former master and those that fight Zatoichi describe his fighting as Yakuza sword style.

Favorite quote: “After all the suffering you’ve caused people… you need to learn how to shed real tears.” – Zatoichi

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The Batman

You know, I remember back in 2008 or 2009, after ‘The Dark Knight’ came out there was a fake poster of the third sequel in the trilogy. Clearly inspired by ‘Zodiac’ and clearly dealt with the Riddler. I wonder if all those years ago Matt Reeves saw that fake fan made poster too and wondered about what could be…

Fan made poster for the third sequel in the Nolan Batman trilogy

Hard to believe it’s 10 years since the last solo Batman movie outing (unless you count Lego Batman. Awesome Batman movie BTW). We’ve had Batfleck of course but nothing with him on his own. ‘The Batman’ was originally going to be a Batfleck solo movie. Vastly different of course and was hinted at by those close to the project that it would have been a Batman Arkham Asylum movie.

Things changed and along comes this iteration of the character. My first thoughts were that this movie feels the closest to the comics than any other Batman movie, in the framing of shots, to the voice-over, to having Batman play detective finally. My view might have been colored by having recently read ‘The Long Halloween’. But of the Batman comics I have read I did think that yeah, this is the Batman of the comics.

As the movie progressed, my continued thoughts were, this is definitely not for kids. I don’t mean the ‘Seven’ inspired tone, violence and visuals but rather the adult drama and nature of the movie. Christopher Nolan did give us a grittier and more realistic Batman but it still felt like a popcorn flick. As film critic Mark Kermode put it “the most expensive art house film ever made“. ‘The Batman’ doesn’t disguise itself as anything other than what it is. It’s not a popcorn flick. It’s an almost 3 hour movie that had people shifting in their seats. You can’t take kids to that. There’s not enough action and the pace is too slow for kids. It’s not like it was with ‘Batman’ 89 or ‘The Dark Knight’ where you had action set pieces to amaze, memorable one liners and sprinkles of humor. I will go even further by saying that the 3 hour run time doesn’t work and is a detriment to the film. This is coming from a person who watched the 3 hour ‘Avengers Endgame’ 4 times at the theater and loved it. ‘The Batman’ dwells too much in it’s visuals and moodiness. Which is a shame because I like those things but what we see here doesn’t grab my attention the way Nolan did. I think ‘The Batman’ is a good movie but not at it’s current running time. I would say that I felt more satisfied with the 4 hour Snyder cut than this. It’s a shame I feel that way. I was excited for the movie even though I kept my expectations low. It’s funny that on the day that I watched ‘The Batman’ I also watched ‘Uncharted’. I wasn’t expecting to like ‘Uncharted’ since it’s based on a video game after all, but I had a hell of time. That was a film well worth the money.

Thinking back to my first impressions of the teaser trailer for ‘The Batman’, I was very intrigued and impressed with what they were going to do with the character. I got the impression that this would be a full on Batman is a nut job, murdering criminals and completely let loose. The film however doesn’t have him killing criminals. It has him beating people up pretty badly but it’s no Michael Keaton Batman. Even at the end of the film this new Batman decides that maybe he should be a symbol of hope instead. Now if they were taking the character into a more colorful world of Denny O’Neil then great but making Batman a symbol of hope in the world they have created here doesn’t feel like it’s going to work. How is it going to change the character in what will likely be the second act of a trilogy? The second act where things are supposed to fall apart. We even see Batman use something like venom in the movie which sets up an addiction story line for the future. All in all, I don’t see “hope” being the selling theme of future sequels.

Overall ‘The Batman’ is a good movie but the running time is my major issue and a secondary minor nit pick is the depiction of a certain character near the very end of the movie which sets up future possibilities.

How I rank Batman solo movies of the 21st Century.

Batman Begins
The Dark Knight
The Lego Batman Movie
The Dark Knight Rises
The Batman

Favorite quotes:What the hell is this? Good cop, bat-shit cop?” – Oswald Cobblepot

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Ghostbusters Afterlife

This review will contain spoilers and will have spoilers from ‘Spider-man No Way Home’ and the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy.

I don’t have a strong opinion on ‘Ghostbusters Afterlife’ now that I’ve finally seen it. After waiting 30 years for a third sequel to Ghostbusters, this ain’t it. I wasn’t expecting it to be. That would have had to have happened in the 90s. A sequel would be one prominently featuring the original characters that we love. ‘Ghostbusters Afterlife’ is at best a nod to the original movies. I was still hyped to see this movie though because I am a massive Ghostbusters fan. That hype only increased with the rave reviews and positivity surrounding it from people who watched the movie and asking each other “Did you cry?”.

To answer that question. No. No, I didn’t. The film didn’t grip me emotionally in the way ‘Spider-man No Way Home‘ did and didn’t devastate me the way ‘James Bond No Time To Die‘ did. I almost wondered if something was wrong with me as I watch this new Ghostbusters movie. Shouldn’t I be crying now? I should be feeling something more here, right? Why am I not liking this movie more? While I did like this movie the answer to why I didn’t like it more is that it’s a soft reboot. It reintroduces aspects from the original movie with new characters that are fun but not entirely gripping. I like the setting, I like the idea of a grandchild trying to connect with a grandparent she never knew, but the nostalgia aspects of the movie didn’t stir me. The plot and ending of the film are fairly similar to the first Ghostbusters movie, only with less going on in between the nostalgia driven parts. Even at the end when the movie gives you everything you could have hoped for it still feels very much to be fan service rather than service to the story.

So where does this fail in my eyes where other movies driven by nostalgia succeed? Take for example ‘Star Wars The Force Awakens’. While it hits the same story beats as ‘A New Hope‘ and contains a lot of nods to the visual look of the original trilogy, it still feels fresh and new. It includes Han Solo and has him deeply involved with the overall plot of the film. Some people weren’t overly happy though, mainly because it doesn’t give us Luke, Han and Leia on screen together at the same time. Mark Hamill notes that he expected Luke to show up near the end to save the day. On the one hand you have this as an example of a soft reboot driven by nostalgia. JJ Abrams had the unenviable position of making the choice to not have the core original trilogy characters sharing a scene together because he felt it distracted too much from the rest of the movie.
On the other hand you have ‘Ghostbusters Afterlife’ which gives us the imagery we as fans have been waiting so long for. Yet, it feels like a moment in a film rather than a bigger piece of the film. How does it serve the rest of the film’s story other than to distract from the growth of newer characters? Yes, it’s great to see but it feels out of place.
The film that handled our nostalgic expectations best was of course ‘Spiderman No Way Home‘. Here they had their cake ate it too. Instead of giving us just a moment with heroes suddenly showing up to save the day at the last moment you have them as an integral part of the third act. This then lays the groundwork for a far more satisfying “save the day!” ending that doesn’t feel shoved in or out of place and actually serves the story and the journey of the main character.

My main problem with the overall story of ‘Ghostbusters Afterlife’ is that it’s based on the idea that Egon ran away from his family and the other Ghostbusters to spend years living as a hermit in order to save the world. I just don’t buy it for that character. Instead of spending years raising his daughter he spends years alone. Instead of asking the other Ghostbusters for help or even explaining what he was up to he’d rather just leave and ditch everyone like that? I don’t buy it. And then to make it worse the other Ghostbusters didn’t believe him? A work colleague for years and they don’t even try to give him the benefit of the doubt to go see this underground temple? Also, since when did Egon have a family? Going by the age of his daughter that would mean that Egon had her before the first movie. So in the first two movies we saw him in he was married with kids but living at the firehouse with Ray and Peter? Yes, I know this is the same Egon who tried to drill a hole through his head but that was a line, a bit, a piece of comedy in the film. The character we saw in the first two movies doesn’t resemble the picture that is painted of him in this movie. I’m almost getting Luke Skywalker The Last Jedi vibes here with Egon isolating himself like Luke did and those that knew him not having a kind word to say.

Speaking of problems, why is Gozer now catchable? In the first movie they couldn’t even get Gozer with the proton packs, but here isn’t no problem to hold onto her. They also just go ahead and start crossing the streams without a second though; the thing that caused a massive explosion years ago that could have potentially killed them. Add to the fact that the purpose of crossing the streams was to close the doorway to Gozer’s temple. But here there is no temple which means it’s potentially even more dangerous to do that because the energy isn’t going into a temple to reverse it’s appearance.
And why Gozer again? With the plethora of villains they could have taken from the animated series why do a de-powered Gozer? I guess I should know the answer. Nostalgia. Look at the trivia page on IMDB and 90% of the trivia there is pointing out what in Afterlife relates to or is connected to or is an easter egg of the original movie. Yes, the twinky and candy bar. I got it. I got it guys.

The consensus seems to be if you didn’t like the 2016 movie then you’ll like this one and if you did like the 2016 movie then you won’t like this one. I fall into the category of not really liking either. I like it more than the 2016 movie and overall, it’s fine, well made, gives fans what they want, I would definitely watch a sequel, but it’s ultimately unmemorable for a film that really should be memorable.

Here’s how I rank the movies:

Ghostbusters
Ghostbusters II
Ghostbusters Afterlife
Ghostbusters 2016

Favorite quote: “On a personal note, I thought that we had busted up for good. I mean, it wasn’t working for me. My friends didn’t think so, and I know yours didn’t.”

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Spider-Man: No Way Home

Probably my most anticipated movie of the year, particularly when there were the earliest hints of what it might be about. Let me stress, there will be spoilers in this review.

I haven’t been the biggest fan of the MCU Spider-man movies. I think Tom Holland as Spider-man is fantastic and I loved Spider-man in ‘Civil War‘, ‘Infinity War’ and ‘Endgame’. His appearance in Civil War was a perfect introduction to the character for the MCU. I was pretty hyped for what his own movies would be like. But when I watched ‘Homecoming’ and ‘Far from Home’ I was entertained but I kinda wanted more and something a little different. The bar was set high though. I considered Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-man 2’ to be one of the best superhero movies ever (Coming after ‘Superman’ from 1979 and ‘Batman Begins’). ‘Homecoming’ was a little more focused on Peter the teenager and his school life and ‘Far from Home’ was the same with greater emphasis given to characters in his school which gave the films a more comedic tone. Scenes with Peter Parker worrying about how he is going to sit next to MJ on the plane wasn’t all that appealing to me especially after the monumental ‘Endgame’. I was also slightly disappointed that for an MCU Spider-man movie that they didn’t lean into it more with other MCU characters showing up. What we see of Iron Man was relatively little to what the trailer had sold us. All in all, these are still great films but I felt young teenage girls and boys might get more out of it than myself. That’s not a criticism. That’s just me showing my age.

‘No Way Home’ rolls around and it felt like a very different MCU Spider-man movie and I have to say that it had quite an affect on me. Not just because it gives a Spider-man fan everything they could ever dream of but because of where I view the film at this time of my life and really relating to the mixed bag of emotions that Peter Parker feels. That’s in no small part down to the acting abilities of Tom Holland who just completely owns it here.

A movie like this reminds us what heroes are all about and why, even if fictional, they can be the heroes that we need at certain times. I think Spider-man more than other heroes has definitely been at the forefront of this but it also seems to be a trend with Marvel Studios itself in recent times. We get ‘Endgame’ and ‘Shang-chi’ dealing with strong family themes, ‘WandaVision’ dealing with grief, ‘Hawkeye’ dealing with PTSD and ‘Falcon and the Winter Solider’ dealing with imposter syndrome. In ‘No Way Home’ Peter Parker has to deal with grief, anger, hate, sorrow, guilt and love. At Peter’s lowest point he finds the hero he needs to save him. Spider-man.
For all the entertainment in this movie it contains an emotional wallop, especially where it leaves the wall crawler at the end. Thankfully, there is a mid credits scene that does really lighten the mood before you leave the theater, I’m really starting to like this take on this particular mid credits character…
Special nod also to William Dafoe too who’s Green Goblin has to be one of the most truly evil and terrifying villains in the MCU.

A few years ago it almost looked like we weren’t getting this film. The Sony & Marvel deal was ending and Sony would be making Spiderman movies with Tom Holland minus any MCU characters showing up or being referenced. The end of this movie feels like setting up a clean slate for Sony, it puts the toys back in the box for a large part. For both fans and the general audience it also, in a way, separates Spider-man from the MCU on some level.

Do I have any criticisms of this movie? None. None whatsoever. It was everything and more. To criticize it would be like criticizing Santa Claus for giving me the present I asked for…

What does the future hold? I see dollar signs, lots of dollar signs. I see dumpster trucks of cash on their way to Tom Holland to make sure he keeps playing Spider-man. Surely we get Venom Vs. Spider-man, either Holland or Garfield. We get a black suit symbiote Spider-man. We get more Amazing Spider-man movies? We most definitely will get a live action Miles Morales one day. Surely they’ll keep Spider-man around for Secret Wars.

So how do I rank all these Spider-man movies? I have watched all of these at the cinema when they were first released and rewatched all of them again in November and December in preparation for this film. I’m so blown away by this movie that it might be better to let the dust and hype settle but so far here is my list from top to bottom.

Spider-man 2/ Spider-man: No Way Home (tied)
Spider-man
Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse
Spider-man 3
Spider-man: Homecoming
Spider-man: Far From Home
The Amazing Spider-man 2
The Amazing Spider-man

Favorite Quote: “with great power, there must also come great responsibility.” – Aunt May

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Cobra Kai

There has been so many amazing television shows in recent years, there’s ‘The Boys’ which I found utterly hilarious, ‘Watchmen’ which felt like a complete masterpiece of a show, ‘The Mandalorian’ which had me literally jumping out of my chair applauding loudly and falling to the ground with my head in my hands saying “oh my gods, I can’t believe they did that!”, ‘WandaVision’ which I wanted to ball my eyes out at (i didn’t though, just for the record).

So why am I not talking about them here on this blog? Well, why would I? They are great. There’s nothing else to say. Even if I didn’t see them I’d probably be very aware that these are great shows. Everyone loves them. I’m not really motivated to write anything here for the sake of it. Just adding my voice to a chorus. Why am I writing about ‘Cobra Kai’? because I was once a disbeliever and have found the true path and you should too. If I had a kid and one day that kid said “tell me about life” I would hand them the Blu Ray boxsets or a netflix subscription to them and tell them to go watch that to understand life. ‘Cobra Kai’ isn’t the best TV show I have ever watched but it is the most glorious one. It’s the show I binged watched as hard as I binged ‘Breaking Bad’.

When I first heard of ‘Cobra Kai’ I was very dismissive. It was a “youtube red original series”. I thought youtube was pretty desperate to cash in on nostalgia to go as far as to make a sequel series to ‘The Karate Kid’. I mean, jesus, who thought the world needed a sequel to that? I’m not saying ‘The Karate Kid’ is bad but…look, I grew up watching those movies. I saw them on TV often, I think we rented the third movie on video. They were a staple of youth. But that was it. You don’t knock on the door of your kindergarten girlfriend 30 years later and say “hey, wanna go out?”. That’s the past for me. That was part of my youth but I’m done with it. I’ve watched hundreds of martial art movies since then, I’ve spent years practicing martial arts. Thinking back on the fight choreography of ‘The Karate Kid’ was kinda embarrassing when you compare it to all the other martial art movies, the Shaw Brothers, Golden Harvest, Gorden Liu, Hiroyuki Sanada, The Venoms etc. Seriously, who wants to watch a series about ‘ Cobra Kai’? They were the bad guys. Johnny was an asshole. Why make a series about him?

I think a lot of people didn’t pay attention to it, but those who saw the show rained down positive reviews upon it and after all the good I heard I decided to watch it. But not before refreshing myself on ‘The Karate Kid’ movies which I had never imagined I would watch again in my lifetime. The last Karate Kid movie I had watched was the remake back in 2010.

The Karate Kid (1984)

Watching it all these years later with old eyes, it’s very much a film of it’s time. It’s a hit 80s movie which kinda feels a bit cheesey by today’s standards, still, it’s a pretty great movie. When I watched the movies as a kid there really was nothing to compare it to. Jackie Chan movies weren’t available to watch on video and definitely not on TV. Bruce Lee movies were rated 18 and considered too violent so for the time being they were out of the question. So when I watched the fights in the ‘Karate Kid’ movies the Karate looked really impressive. Today less so, not all of the actors were skilled in onscreen fighting and at times it looked quite slow. But as I rewatched these movies the thing that really stuck out to me was the message of martial arts. Mr. Miyagi reiterates time and time again that Karate is not about fighting, it’s about defense and that people shouldn’t fight. I found myself remembering that when I was a child in school and some other kid wanted to fight I would remember those words and refuse to fight. So while the action and fight choreography isn’t as strong, the meaning of martial arts passed down from Mr. Miyagi to Daniel is. Also, watching it years later there is a greater sense of a Father Son relationship between the two. Daniel is a Kid living with his single Mother, Mr. Miyagi lives alone having tragically lost his family years before. Through destiny they find each other and inadvertently bring balance to each other’s lives.

The Karate Kid 2

The second film takes place in Okinawa in Japan but follows the same formula and themes as the first, in that Daniel has to face an opponent/bully who is stronger than him, learns a new Karate move from Mr. Miyagi and defeats his opponent with the new move. The stakes are higher and it’s a little bit darker. I think the overall success of this film is due to the chemistry between characters such as Kumiko and Daniel and once again Daniel and Mr. Miyagi. The fresh setting keeps things interesting as we experience Japan life through the eyes of Daniel.

The Karate Kid 3

By this stage the series was beginning to become less interesting as our character returned to America and again we follow the same story arc as the first two films i.e. Daniel faces an opponent/bully that is stronger than him and is forced into fighting to regain his self worth. I still enjoyed it. I liked such an over the top villain as Terry Silver and seeing Creed return was fun. There’s really nothing to dislike about this movie other than it’s more of the same.

The Next Karate Kid

This film, released in the 90s was hoped to reinvigorate the series with Hilary Swank as the next Karate Kid. It didn’t and I have to admit until recently I don’t believe I watched the movie all the way through. In fact I think I only got as far as the trailer as that was all I could remember about this movie. The trailer which, from memory, seemed to be a little more comedy focused. While viewing the movie I felt some aspects definitely don’t age well and was surprisingly quite dark in some places. I felt uncomfortable with some scenes having school bullies, consisting of a group of men, chasing Hilary Swank’s character around the school in the dead of night. This is the only film where the main character actually has a choice not to fight and to go to the police but instead we are left with the message that she needs to fight for her pride and self respect. It’s not a big deal but as I said above, the point of the other movies was not fighting. Daniel was put in situations where he had to fight in the end. Considering the situation here I don’t believe there was a valid reason given (by the movie) for the main character to have a show down. It’s my minor nitpick. Overall the movie is just OK. 90s movies and music don’t age well for me, unless you still like listening to ‘M People’.

Cobra Kai

Cobra Kai is nothing short of spectacular.

Unlike the Star Trek 2009 reboot, the Star Wars sequel trilogy, Terminator Dark Fate and many others, Cobra Kai actually uses it’s legacy characters as legitimate characters to guide the younger generation of characters. Johnny and Daniel are part of the story of Cobra Kai, it’s about them as much as it is about their students, they have grown and changed and made mistakes but they are still essentially the same people we knew, there’s a trust you have in the handling of them. You never feel their actions are out of character, they are respected, as are all the other legacy characters of the Karate Kid movies. And while I was never the biggest fan of the Karate Kid it’s refreshing to not see your childhood destroyed for a change. We live in a world where our nostalgia is used against us to sell a film, we take our kids to a movie we are more excited about than they are only to realize that the characters we were most excited to see are merely used as sign posts to guide a story for the new generation of characters that unfortunately are also underwritten since the focus is on “what sells” instead of “what’s good”. Han Solo in the Force Awakens, TOS Spock in Star Trek 09, Sarah Connor in Terminator Dark Fate, these are characters that sadly could be replaced by any new expository character. Rey, 09 Kirk & Spock and Dani Ramos are essentially the same people they were after meeting the previous generation of legacy characters. Nothing would have changed other than learning some plot points that are part of the movie’s story. Miguel and Robby however are dramatically changed by their associations with Johnny and Daniel and would not be who they are without the chance encounters with both men.

Outside of these characters we have Kreese who returns later in the show. A somewhat one dimensional bad guy character in the movies but here his character is given a compelling back story and you actually start to feel compassion for one of the main villains of the franchise because of how believable and fleshed out the character becomes. That’s how good the show is and it never feels forced or impossible. You get to learn the motivations behind the character to understand who he is, the same way we get to explore Johnny’s character, who he is now and how he has change. But at no time do these changes or life course corrections ever feel forced or unreal, the character is still acting in a believable way. In other words, they’re just being themselves.

Johnny is compelling. A man out of place in life, a failed relationship with a child that has grown up to resent him. He has pinned his miseries on the day his life changed at the All Valley tournament and the day he lost to Daniel Larusso What I found hilarious about it is how he recounts his story with others and paints Daniel as the bad guy, as the bully, which we see through flash backs of the first movie. Genius. As an audience you almost want to side with Johnny when you see how his life has turned out compared to the success of Daniel. Johnny is instantly relatable because of his predicaments and is just sheer fun to watch, from his battles with modern technology to his longing to see his high school sweetheart, which is played over the 3 seasons to perfection. There isn’t anything to dislike about him, a man who was seen as the bad guy for 34 years until this show came along. I take my hat off to the folks behind this show.

The big turning point in Johnny’s life is when he decides to be a Teacher and opens up the Cobra Kai dojo. He meets a young teenager named Miguel and becomes not only a teacher of karate but a life mentor. The teacher – student relationship that played out in the original movies and in countless martial arts films is played out here again to perfection, honoring what great martial art films are all about.

There are in my opinion 4 types of martial arts movies and TV series. There are martial art movies that have great fight choreography (Fist of Legend, Wheels on Meals, The Raid), there are martial art movies that have imparted great wisdom and learning (The Karate Kid, Kung Fu – The TV series), there are martial arts movies which encompass both of these (The Matrix, The Grandmaster) and there are martial art movies which suck and don’t have any redeemable qualities (Street Fighter, Kung Pao: Enter the Fist). I would put the Karate Kid movies in the category of sharing the essence of martial arts, the knowledge, wisdom shared between student and Teacher and I think Cobra Kai elevates that to the next generation and also provides better choreographed and entertaining fight scenes for the 21st century. Cobra Kai not only gives us the gold standard, archetypal “Teacher trains student to defeat bully” but gives us Teachers who are struggling internally to live up to the lessons of their former masters and to their own student’s lofty expectations. But through their students they rediscover themselves and remember the lessons they have learned.

To summarize, Cobra Kai is the best thing since sliced bread and is the warmest blanket of nostalgia I’ve ever wrapped myself in. Watch it. There’s nothing to dislike about it. Be a kid again. Be a kid and parent with your own kids while watching it.

Favorite Quote:Never mind your past mistakes, don’t let them determine your future” – Carmen

Posted in 1980s, martial arts, TV, TV/DVD/Video/BluRay | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Space Academy The First Star Trek Adventure

Finally. Finally…. I got my hands on this script. After 14 years I have finally read the script to the Starfleet Academy movie that was almost the 6th Star Trek movie.

How did we get here? Some kind soul must have scanned the script and started passing it around because let me tell you folks. It’s out there. The last time I was in contact with someone who had the script they had it on paper because this script was written back in 1989 with a 1991 planned release date for the 25th anniversary of Star Trek. The guy who had it said he would be happy to pass it to me. Then he couldn’t find it and believed he had lost it while he was moving homes. And just to confirm, yes, he really did have the script. This was no con. It wasn’t the old “Teacher I lost my homework” routine. I checked in on the guy every so often to see if he had found it. No luck. Well damn. Trying to get this script has been one of my movie fan holy grails. The others been the ‘Star Trek Beginnings’ script, which I was very fortunate to have dropped on me by chance, the ‘Ghostbusters 3 Hellbent’ script (still looking) and the missing footage of the Russian roulette scene from ‘Bullet in the Head’ (still looking). These might not mean a lot to some of you but they do to others and when you factor in that these unmade scripts go up for auction for $200-$400 a pop then you’ll understand the desire some people have for them. I honestly can’t believe I got it. After reaching out to so many people over the years, I got it.

On to the review. I actually gave in a few years back and wrote something of a review on what information I knew of the script. A large portion of this came from an online film review by a Star Trek fan named Merrick who wrote a very detailed review on it. Other bits and pieces were also floating around including concept art that was on the ‘Star Trek VI’ two disc DVD. The concept art is labelled ‘Space Academy’ and so too is the script for this movie. While the script name remains unchanged the production title went through some changes from ‘Star Trek The First Adventure’ to ‘Starfleet Academy’ to ‘Star Trek The Academy Years’. If you want to know why the film wasn’t made then check out my other article here.

The film was to be set in the early years of the life of James T. Kirk and Spock with Bones and Scotty also being part of the film. The plan was to have William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy book end the movie by having them show up at the beginning and end of the movie talking to a new group of cadets. These book end scenes are not in the script and were likely proposed afterwards.

The script opens with a young Kirk crop dusting in a futuristic biplane giving us a taste of his devil may care attitude as he handles it wildly and ends up crashing. His Mother and older brother both fear for the young man who smiles as he gets out of the crashed plane. He, like his father, wants to join Starfleet Academy and head to the stars. At this stage of his life Jim Kirk wants to be a test pilot like his father.

Running parallel to this is Spock, who insists on being the first Vulcan to join Starfleet despite his father’s protests. Having both Vulcan and Human blood, he is a young man who feels he doesn’t belong anywhere and is looked down on from both sides of his heritage. The values of Starfleet and the Federation, he believes, may be where his destiny lies.

In this script the Federation is young, consisting of a few solar systems. They’ve only pushed out so far because ship speeds are limited to the types of crystals they use for the warp engines. Here, warp rules are different. Under strontium crystals, warp one takes hours, even for the fastest ship. Under dilithium crystals (which we would see in The Original series and all Star Trek series after) it would take less than a minute. Apparently, Kirk’s Father disappears during a test with the dilithium crystals and is never seen again. This possibly could have been something that might have been set up for later sequels. We later discover that Scotty knew Kirk’s father and had been there the day his father disappeared during the test flight. This Scotty, much like the 2009 Scotty, is a forgotten man, hidden away as punishment for his failures, although less comedic here and with far more weight.

The threat the Federations faces is from the Guardians of the Galaxy, but not the ones that instantly spring to your mind. These are xenophobic, racial bigots. They want to purify the galaxy for red bloods by removing green bloods that pollute the waters of the reds. These green bloods seem to not only include Vulcans but Tellarites too. I’m not sure if this implies that all aliens were considered green blooded. You have to remember that this script was written in 1989 when there was still a lot of unwritten gaps within the continuity of the Star Trek franchise. With that said, the script still feels relevant to today’s world.

Other than Scotty, the only other member of the original series that we see in a prominent role is Bones, Kirk’s roommate. We are introduced to him lying on his bed drinking Tennessee Whiskey. Bones doesn’t have much of a story here, only some things hinted at. He’s main role, which works quite well, is bringing out the more interesting aspects of Kirk and Spock’s characters. Here we find Bones as a man in his mid 20s, already a Doctor but to be part of Starfleet he needs to go through the same training as the rest of the cadets. We learn in this script that Bone’s nickname comes from the old slang word for Doctors, “sawbones”. It makes more sense than “got nothing but my Bones after the divorce” in the 2009 Star Trek movie.

A large portion of the script revolves around Kirk and Spock’s rivalry and the development of their friendship. The other two main plots are the Guardians of the Galaxy whom also have a few secret members in Starfleet and Kirk’s love interest. Out of these three stories only one has a future.

The way the movie unfolds is somewhat predictable. Kirk has to save the day by stealing an experimental warp craft, along with Scotty and Spock who help make the experimental craft go faster than anything with Scotty’s dilithium and Spock’s theorum. They arrive in time to save the Enterprise, not the TOS version but an even older ship that’s described as a warhorse. Kirk gets onboard and takes command for the first time in his life. His opponent is a fellow cadet and rival from the academy and also happens to be the secret commander of the Guardians of the Galaxy warship.

The final battle is not bad. It takes place within the rings of a volatile planet, so visually I think it would have been interesting. The climax of the battle a little less so, it’s basically Kirk making a run at the planet with the enemy in hot pursuit and then Kirk using warp speed to escape leaving the pursuing enemy ship to crash into the planet.

It’s a pretty straight forward script. I like it. I wasn’t much of a fan of the 2009 version but I could still imagine Pine, Quinto and Urban reading the lines of this script. What interested me most about wanting to read this script was because it’s a prequel, a Kirk and Spock first meeting story that could have been part of Star Trek canon had things gone differently. While the 2009 movie shows how Kirk and Spock of another timeline met I’d like to think that this is how Kirk and Spock met in this prime timeline.

Notes: The Kobayashi Maru simulator is in this but it’s very brief. We don’t see Kirk take the test, we only have him step up to the chair and following that we learn he passed the test and has moved to the
top of the Cadet’s rankings.

The only exam Kirk unknowingly cheats on is a Quantum Mechanics exam. The night before, Spock mind melds with a sleeping Jim Kirk in order for him to pass.

Like the ‘Starfleet Academy: Collision Course‘ book, both Kirk and Spock are in a strip/seedy club. McCoy joins them in the script.

Interestingly, the characterization of a young Kirk in this script is the same in both the 2009 movie and Collision Course. Kirk steals something in all three, is a rebel, has a less than positive relationship with Spock. Kirk takes command of the Enterprise in all three.

Spock willy nilly divulges that Vulcans only mate every 7 years. A subject which would be extremely secret and personal 2 decades later. (he was drunk though)

There’s a bizarre scene where Spock is starting Pon Farr with a stripper by rubbing his two fingers (the same way we saw in Star Trek III) along hers, but the stripper stops him for a moment to put on a hand glove before resuming the activity. Practice safe Pon Farr everyone.

Like the 2009 film Spock helps Scotty develop something that will help Kirk reach the Enterprise in time to save the day.

Jim suffers personal loss in this movie which seems to contradict the man we know up until ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’.

There are multiple tales of how the original crew first met. ‘Star Trek’ the 2009 movie, this script, Enterprise: The First Adventure, Collision Course and also All Those Years Ago...‘ an original series annual published by DC Comic and released in 1985.

Script Notes:

There is more than one draft of this script. Another script opens with McCoy addressing the cadets. Harve Bennett, producer, would say in interviews that it could be Kirk who was addressing cadets and beams up to the Enterprise at the end where we would see Spock.

Interestingly, the Kirk in this script and Tiberius Chase in the Star Trek Beginnings script both fall for a woman who they later find out to be the Admiral’s daughter.

Like the 2009 film Kirk is the only person in charge who can take the Captain’s seat.

There’s a little more backstory to the main antagonist Kalibar in later versions of the script. We learn after he is kicked out of the academy that his father “the king” is killed on his home-world in an uprising. Also, an anti slavery treaty is passed on his home world which angers him further. Near the end of the script it is the ambassador who signs the treaty that is being taken back to his home-world. In the version I read it is the Federation President.

The title of the film would later change to Star Trek: The First Adventure, Starfleet Academy and Star Trek: The Academy Years.

Continuity notes: The script heavily implies that Scotty designs the Enterprise 1701.

Favorite Quote: Vulcans are unable to achieve sexual pleasure. That’s why they go around looking so sad all the time. And Spock. . . well , he’ s the saddest Vulcan I ever saw.- McCoy

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The Matrix Resurrections

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 20 years since the last Matrix movie. But everything is like that these days.

Before watching this movie I decided to sit down and rewatch the previous 3 movies. This time round the movies are starting to feel very much of their time. It used to be that these movies were the ones to reference and copy in terms of action, filmography and effects. But the world has moved on. We’re in the age of Superheroes. Neo taking off flying into the sky is no longer his alone. The fight choreography that once looked so amazing doesn’t shine as much as it used to in the face of your Black Widows, Wonder Woman, Shang-Chi, Batman, James Bond. It looks a little more choreographed than before. The special effects that were once mind bending are now an almost every day affair. The original 1999 film is still great though and as a stand alone movie is pretty perfect. The sequels still have their problems, overlong, feeling padded, throw out the first quarter of each sequel and they get much better. The main problems I see with Reloaded and Revolutions is that they felt like add ons rather than part of one whole story. The rumored plan was to do a prequel and sequel but Warners wanted two sequels. So the prequel movie was turned into an animated version and they did the two sequels. Which feel stretch and have world building elements that feel not connected to the first film. Even the all powerful, enlightened Neo is downgraded to a guy who’s just super powered rather than omnipotent. It’s not to say they are bad films it’s just that the bar was set so high by the first film and expectations were even higher.

That was then, this is now. When a 4th film was announced I don’t think I was all that excited but upon seeing the trailer my interest was perked because it looked different. It didn’t feel like another Matrix movie but was rather doing it’s own thing. After seeing it tonight I’m of the same opinion. However, it’s very very meta.

How meta you ask? Well, for the first third of the movie I kept thinking of Danny Boyle’s ‘T2’ Trainspotting 2, a film which I love to bits. I think Lana Wachowski must have been inspired by T2 because it’s very much playing on our nostalgia, showing scenes from the original trilogy to the audience and to the characters themselves. If the sequels of the original trilogy had been better received that might have worked better? I didn’t think it worked as well as T2 in my opinion. The film itself was also heavy on commentary on media itself. There’s a line in the film where they say “if we don’t make a sequel to the Matrix the studio is going to make one without us anyway” and it felt like a bit of a dig at Warners. The whole discussion of “reboot, what do audiences want” in the movie seems to poke fun at entertainment today and how it’s so much more of a product to sell than an actual story with heart. While I appreciate those scenes they do feel a little on the nose.

The bits of the movie that do work for me is when Neo actually gets out of the Matrix and starts to remember who he was. I like that the story centers around himself and Trinity, which is the thing that really stood out when I rewatched the original movies. I like the idea that Neo is the One because of Trinity and vice versa. Although that kinda reminded me of Rey and Kylo Ren in the Rise of Skywalker.

What I also liked about this movie is that this isn’t a soft reboot. This isn’t about legacy characters propping up new characters. This is a story about Neo and Trinity. This is a movie about characters we know and love. When we leave the cinema they are still the heroes they were 20 years ago. In this regard the movie excels.

If I had any critic it’s that the movie is missing two major players. Hugo Weaving and Laurence Fishburn. We have their characters in the film but they just aren’t anything without the original actors in the roles.

Favorite Quote: “The most important choice in Neo’s life isn’t his to make.” – Sati

Posted in 2020s, Cinema, martial arts, Science fiction | Leave a comment