A month into 2018 and we’ve revisited an Akira Kurosawa classic in Rashomon, met another Nikkatsu Diamond Guy in Toshio Masuda’s Red Pier, experienced more of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s horror expertise in Creepy and Pulse, and returned a kaiju-dominated Earth in Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters.
Unexpectedly, Creepy is my pick of the bunch. It’s imperfect, but it’s weird thrill ride that Kurosawa’s own Pulse can’t match. On the other hand, while a lot of pop culture is deeply indebted to Rashomon, I’ve now seen better takes on the same multiple narrative-style storytelling, and Akira Kurosawa’s own filmography includes far better works.
Of course, I didn’t just watch Japanese films…
I’m still trying to catch up on some of the bigger movies of 2017. Get Out and Baby Driver are two stand-outs that I’m sorry to have missed on the big screen – Baby Driver especially. I’ll always have a soft spot for Shaun of the Dead, but Driver must be the best thing Edgar Wright has directed in years. Get Out impressed me, but I was also surprised to find that it was such a traditional horror with such a fantastical twist on the premise – I think I was expecting something more grounded.
Much less impressive were the big budget squibs Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (the US title, Dead Men Tell No Tales, is way better but wouldn’t have saved it), Power Rangers, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and Bright. I actually kind of like David Ayer’s latest and don’t think it deserves nearly the hammering it has received, but it’s still a little messy. King Arthur sees Ritchie attempt the same Cockney gangster re-imagining he somewhat pulled off in the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes series, but the movie’s tone is all over the place – half the action sequences look like they were filmed by Zack Snyder, drunk on slow motion effects. On the positive side, it does feature some of the best on-screen depictions of magic I’ve seen since the (even more dreadful) Snow White and the Huntsman. Perhaps Netflix can grab his visual effects crew for their upcoming The Witcher series.
It’s a cheat because it came out in February, but the last movie I want to mention is the surprise release of the third film in the Cloverfield franchise, The Cloverfield Paradox. It’s another picture I feel is getting an unfair critical thrashing, with more focus on the unusual release – announced with a trailer during the SuperBowl and dropping onto the streaming service just two hours later – than the film itself. It was never quite clear what it meant to be a ‘Cloverfield’ movie, with the original Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane sharing very little. It seemed like they were developing the series as an anthology of weird sci-fi, a feature-length Twilight Zone or Outer Limits. Paradox is explicitly connected to the original movie in a way that is perhaps a little detrimental, as it feels like the film – once titled God Particle and having nothing to do with Cloverfield – would stand alone without it. 10 Cloverfield Lane uses its ‘Cloverfield’ status as a meta storytelling tool; you instinctively question the explanations given by John Goodman’s unsettling prepper character, but because it’s a Cloverfield movie? Maybe he’s telling the truth. It keeps you guessing all the way through. The Cloverfield Paradox doesn’t really play with those sorts of questions, but it’s still a trippy sci-fi movie sharing more than a little DNA with Event Horizon. I enjoyed the hell out of it. Here’s hoping Netflix’ other surprise sci-fi acquisition, Alex Garland’s Annihilation, is even better.
Conspicuously absent from this run of 2017 movies are two Western remakes of Japanese franchises: Ghost in the Shell and Death Note. I’m saving them both for ‘bonus’ reviews here on Kino 893, but I must admit, I’m not going in with high hopes for either movie. Still, it’d be nice to be surprised.