[Happy 35th Birthday!] Kagemusha (1980)

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Director: Akira Kurosawa

Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ken’ichi Hagiwara

Screenplay: Masato Ide, Akira Kurosawa

162 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Foreign Language Film

 

In 1980, Akira Kurosawa (Yojimbo, Seven Samurai) released Kagemusha, but it almost didn’t happen. When the film went way over budget, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola stepped in to executive produce the film and keep it from being shut down. Was it worth it?

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Yes.

When warlord Shingen Takeda (Tatsuya Nakadai, Ran, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya) dies in the middle of his conquest, his brother Nobukado (Tsutomu Yamazaki, Departures, Space Battleship Yamato) replaces him with a criminal who bears a striking resemblance to the former conqueror. Through all his might, the criminal (also played by Nakadai) attempts to protect the ruse under the agreement that he be set free when no longer needed, though forces seek to unmask the lie and possibly topple the balance of power.

I love Kurosawa. His vision sets him apart from many other directors. He had a specific genre and style that surprised viewers his entire life. Kagemusha is huge. This film is glorious and gorgeous and everything that Kurosawa was known for. It also featured one of the biggest battles recorded on film, with 5000 extras. He also knew how to use the footage he had. The battle I just mentioned takes up roughly ten minutes of screen time. Many directors today failed to use restraint to save story, and we get movies like Transformers which focus so much on the battles that they forget the story too often.

The performances from the veteran actors continue to impress. The film also benefits have some amazingly planned out sequences. My favorite Kurosawa moments exist in his surreal sensibilities. There is an incredible dream sequence in Kagemusha, and it happens to be my favorite scene in the film, especially with both roles filled by the same actor.

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Now the film is translated very well into English thanks in part to Lucas and Coppola. Kagemusha is a great piece of cinema that demands to be viewed and experienced. Get your hands on it immediately and be a part of something historic (it is available as part of the Criterion Collection and also on Netflix). The only people who won’t appreciate are those who haven’t seen it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas

136 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi action/violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects

 

Today we are going to look back on Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, a film that has truly polarized fans of perhaps the most-beloved sagas in motion picture history.

Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List, Taken 3) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) are about to take part in trade negotiations with the insidious Trade Federation over trade disputes. When negotiations go south and the Trade Viceroy takes control of the peaceful planet of Naboo, the Jedi take refuge on the remote desert planet of Tattooine, where they meet young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd, Jingle All the Way), a child who may just be the Chosen One, a Jedi who can bring balance to the Force.

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Director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138) returned to his beloved Star Wars franchise sixteen years after 1983’s Return of the Jedi to create one of the most discussed entries in the canon. Some love it; many loathe it. I find it to be an enjoyable, albeit flawed entry in the series.

Jake Lloyd absolutely destroys his role as Anakin by not understanding the characters and delivering his lines as though he is just reading them. His scenes can’t even be saved by Neeson and McGregor. Anthony Daniels (The Lego Movie, The Lord of the Rings) and Kenny Baker (The King and I, Willow) return as C-3PO and R2-D2 and help to tie this film to the others. Then there is Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Annie: A Royal Adventure!) as Senator Palpatine. I love his performance here. He is slippery like a politician should be with just a note of secrecy.

I want to say something about George Lucas. I might get flack or praise, not sure which, but George Lucas can direct just fine. He cannot write all that well. He should stick to storytelling but leave the screenplay work to others. Look back at The Empire Strikes Back. It is considered by many to be the best in the saga, but it is the only one not specifically written by Lucas. Just sayin’.

The flow of the film is nicely tied together. I enjoyed the time spent on Tattooine, and I felt like the Naboo sequences add something new to the series. I honestly didn’t care much for Jar Jar Binks, but I also accepted that galaxies far far away probably had annoying aliens. There just has to be some.

The effects are wildly well put together, from the podrace sequences to the battle for Naboo. The new Yoda (played by Frank Oz, Zathura, Monsters, Inc.) is more advanced than previously, though it doesn’t really look like Yoda.

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Looking back at the first chronological Star Wars adventure brings up a lot of questions. How has the film held up? Did the love or the hate soften? Will Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens have the same reception? I don’t have the answers to all those questions, but I can say that expectations are often the culprits for long-waited installments. I like Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. It is far from the perfect Star Wars film, but it is an enjoyable reintroduction to the galaxy and the time that we love so much.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

January 2015 Preview

 

Welcome to 2015! January is usually equal parts wide-release Oscar nominees and bad horror releases, so let’s take a look at January’s releases.

As before, this is a look and my predictions are based on my abilities as a film reviewer. I’m pretty good at reading into these things and so here they are in all their glory.

Don’t sue me.

 

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The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death

I wasn’t all that keen on The Woman in Black. I was slightly disappointed by how normal it was. There was nothing to make it stand out as a horror film apart from a pretty good performance from Daniel Radcliffe. It just wasn’t all that original. The sequel looks to be the same fodder. I am curious as to exactly how this film will tie in with the original, so in that way, I’d like to see it, but this feel was clearly dumped in January.

 

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Taken 3

I really liked Taken starring Liam Neeson. I found Taken 2 to be less worthy of the awesomeness of the first film, but at the same time, I thought it was pretty action packed while not being a complete carbon copy of the first. Taken 3 is going in a different direction again, so I can’t wait to see what kind of trouble Bryan Mills has in store for him as he is framed for a crime he didn’t commit.

 

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Blackhat

A Hemsworth in a cyber-crime thriller? No, it isn’t Paranoia, its Blackhat from director Michael Mann. Mann is hit-or-miss for me. I liked Heat. I didn’t like Collateral. I liked TV’s Miami Vice. I didn’t like Miami Vice (the film). I saw the trailer last week and I gotta say, I’m not all that impressed here. On the bubble definitely.

 

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The Wedding Ringer

I know Kevin Hart isn’t the leading man of, how do I put it best, “good” movies. The Wedding Ringer actually sounds pretty funny. Hart plays the owner of a business that places best men in weddings for socially awkward grooms who don’t have the adequate friends to put together a wedding party of his own. I’m not saying good, I’m saying possibly good.

 

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Spare Parts

Spare Parts is the true story of four undocumented immigrants who enter into a national robotics challenge with $800 bucks and borrowed robotic parts and end up facing off against M.I.T. students. It stars George Lopez and Jamie Lee Curtis. The poster looks good, and the story seems pretty engaging, but it also has George Lopez. Yikes.

 

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The Boy Next Door

Hey look, another guy is stalking Jennifer Lopez. After a sexual encounter with a younger man living next door, she discovers that he has taken an uncomfortable obsession to her. I’m just not interested anymore.

 

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Mortdecai

Mortdecai is based on a book and stars Johnny Depp as a charismatic (yeah, again) rogue art dealer hunting down a stolen painting that could lead to Nazi gold. This film is star studded and directed by David Koepp who worked with Depp on Secret Window back in 2004. I loved Secret Window and I still believe in Depp’s abilities. I can’t wait to see what they accomplish here.

 

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Strange Magic

Now, the word stoked needs to get tossed around more for Strange Magic, an eclectic new animated fairy tale from Lucasfilm. Still not a ton is known about this film, except that George Lucas wanted to create another film with the love and affection that Labyrinth has. It also contains new versions of pop songs that were strung into the film’s story. I love it when films like this actually work, so I am excited.

 

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Project Almanac

I actually discussed this movie last February before it was postponed. At that time, it was called Welcome to Yesterday. My thoughts haven’t changed much.

 

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Wild Card

Wild Card is a remake of the 1986 film Heat starring Burt Reynolds. Jason Statham is Burt Reynolds here, a recovering gambler who becomes security-for-hire to fuel his addiction. January Statham is a bad idea. Skip.

 

So there you have it. One more time:

Best Bets: Taken 3, Mortdecai, Strange Magic

On the Bubble: Blackhat, The Wedding Ringer, Spare Parts

Likely Misses: The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, The Boy Next Door, Project Almanac, Wild Card

 

Look forward to my first list of best films this year coming soon and we will see you for another preview in February.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

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