I arrived in Japan in mid-June of 2002. I saw my first film in early July. I just love movies, and even though they cost twice as much in Japan as they do back in Canada, I still want to see as many as I can. Because my Internet access has been somewhat limited over the past few months, I haven’t been able to keep doing movie reviews as much as I liked to. So now, we’re playing catch-up. These are all the films I’ve seen from July through November. Hopefully, starting with this, movie reviews can become a regular feature on the site again. In case you’re curious, the actual order in which I saw these films is: Men in Black II, The Powerpuff Girls Movie, Pokémon 5, Austin Powers in Goldmember, Signs, and Minority Report. The order I wrote the reviews in, however, is the order in which I remembered them.
And for those new to my movie reviews, a quick review of my patented Nib system. It’s a simple 4-point system. One nib means it’s crap, four means it’s one hell of a cool movie. So, please, enjoy the reviews!
Directed by Steven “God’s gift to film” Spielberg.
Starring Tom Cruise, Colin Ferrel, Samantha Morton, and Max von Sydow.
I am of the young generation of movie geek that was raised to believe Steven Spielberg is the greatest director there is. I love pretty much all of his films: Jurassic Park, the Indiana Jones films, E.T., A.I., Saving Private Ryan, Close Encounters of the Third Kind…well, every Spielberg film I’ve seen. I’ve always loved Tom Cruise as the action hero, from Top Gun through the Mission: Impossible films. I was really excited to see what the two of them together would do. I was also looking forward to it because, having been a big fan of A.I., I wanted to know what more Spielberg could give us when it came to the future.
John Anderton (Cruise) is a troubled cop. His son was kidnapped out from under his nose, he’s estranged from his wife, and he’s a drug addict. He also happens to be one of the most prominent members in Washington, D.C.’s elite “pre-crime” unit. Thanks to a trio of precognizant individuals (dubbed the “precogs”) they are able to see murders that are about to happen, and then arrest the person who is about to do it. It has been in place for 5 years now, and the murder rate has dropped to 0. It’s been so successful that pre-crime is about to be made a federal bureau, and so a federal investigator (Ferrel) is standing over Anderton’s shoulder, looking for flaws in this perfect system. And then, a flaw is found, as the precogs predict that Anderton himself will become a murderer in 36 hours. Naturally, this leads Anderton to become a fugitive as he takes off to clear his name. His search to clear his name leads him to the one who developed the pre-crime system, and he makes a shocking discovery: sometimes the precogs don’t see the same future. Sometimes, one of the three sees something different. This “minority report” is the only thing capable of clearing John’s name. So, now, John is off to find the minority report – if it even exists. Will he find it? Or will he be arrested? Is he even guilty of any crime?
My anticipation for this film was twice that of any other summer blockbuster, as I had to wait an extra six months for it to come out in Japan. And you know what? It wasn’t worth the wait. I’m sorry, but this was just a standard cop movie with a few neat sci-fi twists. We’ve seen the whole angst-ridden cop thing. We’ve seen the wrongly accused man on the run from the law. This was mostly stuff we’ve all seen before. Granted, the sci-fi twists were really cool. (Do you want retinal scanners all over the place, tracking your every movement? Thought not.) But, it wasn’t enough. This is just a run-of-the-mill cop movie/murder mystery. C’mon, Spielberg and Cruise. I was expecting a whole lot more.
Directed by M. Night Shymalyn
Starring Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, and a cute little girl.
When I was a kid, there was this headline-making UFO incident in Australia. Reportedly, a UFO picked up a car, carried it for a mile or so, and then dropped it. Accompanying the article were pictures of the burnt car (the UFO burned its rooftop) and the passenger’s accounts of hearing strange voices while this was going on. That began my fascination with UFO lore. I began reading every book I could on aliens, could tell you what aliens look like, and differentiate between close encounters of the second and third kind. Of course, being only 9 years old at the time, this gave me some pretty freaky nightmares about aliens outside my door. But, I grew up, slowly the fascination faded to a mild interest, and shows like The X-Files desensitized what was left. So, naturally, I thought that Signs would be a pretty good movie, seeing as to how it was from the guy who did The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, and loved both those films.
Mel Gibson plays a corn farmer in a small Pennsylvania farm. Well, he wasn’t always a farmer. He used to be the town’s priest, but when his wife was killed in a car accident, he began to believe that there is no God. His brother (Phoenix) gave up a rising baseball career to come home and help out Gibson with the farm and his kids (Macaulay Culkin’s little brother and the cute little girl). Gibson has had it rough. He’s growing emotionally distant and is overprotective of his children. Then, one day, he discovers a crop circle in his corn field. The local authorities are perplexed, but soon, it’s not too long before circles are sighted all over the globe and strange lights are hovering over every major city. But, back at the Gibson ranch, things get even stranger when the animals start sensing danger, strange voices are heard over an old baby monitor, and there’s something in the corn fields at night. It then becomes painfully obvious: the aliens are here, they’re mean, and the Gibson farm is going to be the front line in the invasion. Can Gibson and his family protect their home from the alien invaders? Will he rediscover his faith?
Can someone please tell me, because I don’t know the answers to those questions. I had to walk out of this film because I was finding it so scary. It started when we were treated to an artist’s conception of a farmhouse in flames and a family lying dead out front. I saw that and thought, “OK, this is how the nightmares began.” I saw the shadows of the aliens outside the windows of the farmhouse and though, “OK, this is the middle of the nightmare,” and (at what I’m assuming was the start of the climax) when the baby monitor lit up with the voices of a hundred aliens and Mel Gibson calmly said, “They’re here,” I though, “OK, if there’s one thing I remember, it’s that it’s not too long before I wake up screaming, so let’s wake up now,” and I ran for the exit. You’re probably laughing at me, but hey, I really didn’t like seeing my childhood nightmares being played out on a movie screen. If the object of a horror movie is to scare you, then damn, this was a very good horror movie. But that’s only because it was able to tap into some long-dormant nightmares. Chuck chided me, saying that it’s now my mission in life to see the movie to the end. And maybe I will, someday, on video, in the middle of the day, with a few friends for moral support.
4 Nibs (based on what I saw)
Pocket Monsters: Latios and Latias – Guardians of Water
(aka Pokémon 5)
Directed by Kuniko Yuyama (I’m assuming, seeing as to how he directed the first 4)
Starring the voices of…know what? I really don’t know, as the credits were all in Japanese.
When I first arrived in Japan, I noticed the movie posters right away. I had been reading little bits on the Internet too. Yup, shortly after I arrived in Japan, the fifth Pokémon movie hit theatres. I just knew I had to go and see it. I put it off for months and months, but I finally got around to seeing it a week after my summer vacation in August. I knew it’d be a unique experience, seeing as to how I didn’t speak a word of Japanese and that’s what the film would be in.
As with every other Pokémon film, this one is a double feature. The first one is a short film, as we once again meet the Pichu brothers, first introduced in the short film in front of Pokémon 3. They are off to an adventure in the country, when a comic mishap gets them kicked off of their train. And who do they run into in the country but Pikachu and his gang of Pokémon? Thus the quest is on to get the Pichu brothers to the nearest train station and back on their train. And then we have the movie proper. Our film opens when we meet two hot anime babe cat burglars. They do a daring raid on a library to do some research on Latios and Latias, two mythical pokémon who are guardians of the pokémon world equivalent of Venice. Turns out these two are members of Team Rocket, and they seek to take over this city and capture Latios and Latias. And guess who happens to be in this city but our beloved heroes Ash, Misty and Brock! Can they stop these two members of Team Rocket, rescue Latios and Latias and save the city? Sure they can!
Even though this film was completely in Japanese, I was able to understand it and follow the plot. I mean, it’s pokémon, not Schindler’s List. But, I found it to be a lot of fun and an interesting experience. Now, if someone back home could send me a copy of Pokémon 4Ever when it hits video, I’ll be happy.
The Powerpuff Girls Movie
Directed by Craig McCracken
Starring the voices of Christine Cavendini, E.G. Daily, Tara Strong, and a bunch of others.
So, I love The Powerpuff Girls. I think it is a very cool cartoon and was elated at the news of a movie version. Sadly, though, I heard that it wouldn’t be hitting theatres until I was settled in Japan. That set off my great quest to find out if North American animated films are released dubbed or subtitled in Japan. Turns out that with some major releases, they are released in both formats, but not in the countryside of Kumagaya. Out here, it was only released dubbed. If I wanted to see it subtitled, that would mean a daytrip into Tokyo, which is exactly what I did. It was playing in a subtitled format in this little out of the way theatre in Shinjuku, and I settled in for my movie going experience.
THE CITY…OF TOWNSVILLE!! (Sorry, just had to do that.) Things aren’t so hot in the City of Townsville. It is overrun with crime and good citizens are afraid to go out at night. But one man seeks to change all this: Professor Utonium. He feels that maybe if he can bring a child into this world and raise it to be a good and decent human being, that maybe he can change things just a little. But, rather than have a child the traditional way, he decides to just genetically engineer the perfect little girl. He gets the requisite ingredients of sugar, spice, and everything nice, but as he’s mixing the ingredients together, he gets a vicious shove from his helper monkey Jojo, thus making him accidentally add an extra ingredient: Chemical X. There’s a brilliant explosion, and standing before the Professor are three little girls, whom he christens Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup. But he can’t help but notice that there’s something different about these girls. The Chemical X seems to have given them superpowers! Fearful of how the world will react to superpowered children, he asks his girls to not use their powers in public. But they do anyway, and soon a superpowered game of tag leaves the city in ruins. With the Professor behind bars and the girls alone on the streets, they soon come into the care of another who was blessed by Chemical X: the Professor’s old helper monkey Jojo, who has now become Mojo Jojo. The girls are at first thankful to find another like them, but Mojo Jojo’s intentions soon turn out to be less than good. Can the girls stop Mojo Jojo’s first ever evil plot and save the City? Will the City stop shunning the girls for their gifts?
With this film, it was kind of cool to finally go back and see the origins of the Powerpuff Girls. But, sadly, it wasn’t just as big and epic as it could have been. I mean, when you hear “Powerpuff Girls Movie,” you want some big, huge, superpowered extravaganza, but here we get little more than a long episode. Don’t get me wrong. It had a lot of cool moments and funny parts, but it was all what you’d expect in most episodes. There was nothing new or fresh about it. But at least they remembered everything that made the cartoon so cool.
Austin Powers in Goldmember
Directed by Jay Roach
Starring Mike Myers, Beyonce Knowles, Michael Caine, Verne Troyer, and Seth Green.
I remember back in 1999, I was reading about an Austin Powers cartoon in development. It was going to be on HBO and follow the resurgence in adult animation that South Park seemed to create. I was reading about plot ideas and seeing the character designs until about early 2000, when the announcement came that the Austin Powers cartoon was being cancelled. It was never going to see the light of day. When asked why, Mike Myers said, “We’ve decided to save the material for another film.” It took a few years, but we finally got the next chapter.
Austin Powers (Mike Myers) has finally captured Dr. Evil (also Myers)! In a special ceremony, Powers is being knighted to celebrate this achievement. But, Austin’s father doesn’t come. This, of course, destroys Austin, but soon he is thrust back into action! It turns out that, before Dr. Evil was capture, he was able to put his latest plot into motion, which involved going back in time to the 1970s to enlist the aid of the villainous Goldmember (also Myers), and it is now Goldmember who is holding Powers Sr. hostage. So, Austin goes back to the 1970s to rescue his father and stop Goldmember! But, after rescuing his father, Goldmember goes into the future and busts Dr. Evil out of prison, and they’re off to modern-day Tokyo to put their plot into motion! Austin returns to the future with his father (Michael Caine) and Foxxy Cleopatra (Knowles) and they’re off to Tokyo to stop Dr. Evil! Can they stop Dr. Evil? And what is the startling family secret that Powers Sr. has to reveal?
There’s a lot going on in the movie, concerning subplots involving Scott Evil becoming the new “favorite son,” Mini-Me defecting, and the aforementioned deep, dark secret. And, above it all, it’s just funny, funny, funny. I found this to be one very good and very funny film, if still not as funny as the first few Austin Powers films. But still, I was laughing the loudest in the movie theatre. And that opening cameo by Tom Cruise is just the best! I thought it was great.
Men in Black II
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Lara Flynn Boyle, Rosario Dawson, and Rip Torn.
The original Men in Black was one of the surprise hits of 1997, and I personally think it’s a cool little film. Hell, I’ve even adopted a line from the first film (“Imagine What You’ll Know Tomorrow”) to be the site’s slogan. So, as you can imagine, I was looking forward to it with a certain glee. While my #1 must-see films of 2002 were Spider-Man and Episode II, Men In Black II was truly high on the list of “others.” So, on July 7, 2002, it seemed to be the perfect film to be my first in Japan and my annual birthday movie.
It’s been a few years since we’ve seen Agent J (Smith) of the MiB, and he’s really settling into his job. He’s settling in a little too much, though, as he’s taken to neuralizing his partners and drumming them out of the service at the slightest infraction. With the Frank the Pug (the talking dog from the first movie) the only one willing to be his new partner, J begins investigating a new case. There’s been a mysterious landing in Central Park, and an alien warlord by the name of Serleena (Boyle) is off in search of something called “the Light.” As the investigation proceeds, J discovers that this is somehow tied to a case his old partner, Agent K (Jones) once worked, so before long, there’s only one option: de-neuralize K and bring him out of retirement. K, naturally, has no memory of his previous job and is reluctant to believe J’s story, but soon, he’s back in MiB HQ, moments before de-neuralized, when Serleena busts in and takes over MiB HQ. Now, it’s up to J and K to get K de-neuralized, unlock the secret of the Light, and bring in Serleena. Can they do it?
I loved Men in Black, I loved the subsequent cartoon, but this film just made me go, “Huh.” It was funny, it had its highlights, but there was just too much repetition of stuff from the fist film. We know why we shouldn’t hit the little red button. We know what’ll happen when you shoot Jeebs in the head. We just know all of this stuff. Sadly, it did nothing new or cool to expand the Men in Black universe. It even went so far as to rip off the very cool ending from the first film. Love that Will Smith theme song, though, and the Danny Elfman score. But, I just wanted more.