How to Train Your Dragon
After finally managing to wrangle my son into the van, my wife and I managed to catch a Sunday afternoon screening of the latest 3-D Animated film for kids. Because the Pup doesn’t like to wear the glasses and my wife gets dizzy, we only managed to catch the film in regular 2-D and I sat back with a little package of nachos in order to avoid the stomach tearing effects of the popcorn my son regularly purchases for these little flicks. This is your fairly standard little “coming of age” story set to a Viking background and featuring a beautiful display of animated dragons. It was a satisfying afternoon film, something I’d probably wind up buying for both my wife and son to catch on a lazy evening at home but I’m not sure where else I could take the review.
Honestly, it’s not a bad film and I had a lot of fun watching it. But it was pretty much a “paint by numbers” story that didn’t try too hard to be much more than what it was, though the animation was absolutely top of the line and the action sequences were extremely well conceived. There were a number of moralizing points the story tried to make, and it pretty much succeeded on all counts without being too preachy or offensively condescending. There are worse ways to spend an afternoon.
4 out of 5.
Two sisters on a “last hurrah” road trip make a wrong turn and wind up in your typical Midwest bible-thumping “crazy” town with lunatic locals and homicidal maniacs. In what started off with some promising moments from one of the “eight movies to die for”, The Graves delivers some early gore and a terrific performance from Bill Moseley in order to fall through on the last two acts in a disappointing reach extra padded time. Our protagonist sisters are chased, tortured, and run to ground by a number of somewhat colorful characters in an attempt to appease the demonic ghosts that reside within the abandoned mine that once fueled the lifeblood of the small town. In developing a mystery and a number of characters, the film ultimately fails to give us any real answers to the number of questions that pop up. Moseley delivers a line that may have been seen as profound when it was written, but within the context of the film it ultimately gives you the gist of what ultimately fails…. He explains that there is no reason, but the entire film works to show us that there is but never stops to tell us what that reason is.
It could have something to do with the hanged miners accused of demonic possession, the insanity of the mines’ founder, the skull buried atop the gold that kicked off the rush that built the town, the flies that buzz around, the insane spirits, demonic forces, or too much chlorine in the water for all we need to know. I don’t know why she swallowed a fly, but I guess she’ll die. What we do know is that whatever “force” inspires the town to commit their bloody deeds sucks out eyeballs and makes a horrific screaming sound when it feeds. You would think at least one nut job would cave and give us a long monologue in answer to the sisters’ continuous questions, if not just to shut them up… but alas! Bubkus!
3 out of 5.
“Moonlight”, “Daylight”, and Jubei are three ronin Samurai who sell their swords for the sole purpose of foiling Ninja schemes and protecting the Clans from the confiscatory practices of a corrupt Shogunate. When a distant mountain family is threatened by the “Shadows” (ninja operatives for the Shogunate), the three swordsmen ride in and deliver sword slinging justice in bloody geysers of furious vengeance! They are tasked with accompanying a Clan Samurai as he presents a document bearing the Shoguns’ seal that guarantees possession of the fiefdom to the mountain family. The tale of each Ronin unfolds throughout their journey, so we understand precisely why they hunt the shadows and why they’ve accepted their station in the order of things as lowly “wavemen.”
Another furious chambara release from the folks over at AnimEigo, Shadow Hunters is a fairly standard sword epic with colorful characters and fantastic martial arts. Look, I just really love these movies… they might not be for everyone. There are a ton of other films who take the same cues and similar action sequences, from the Lone wolf & Cub series to Zatoichi. Shadow Hunters ranks up there with some of the best, and I look forward to watching additional films in the series. The DVD is packaged pretty nicely with some additional liner notes in the subtitles, including explanations on some of the terminology and historical annotations for events at the time. We also get a few trailers for additional AnimeIgo “samurai cinema” releases.
4 out of 5.
Shadow Hunters II: Echoes of Destiny
The second installment of the Shadow Hunters series delivers much the same action as the first film. Swords slash, blood sprays, and the ninja flip and fly around the screen as the Samurai cut them down and send their souls to jigoku. We continue shortly after the last film left off, with the Shadows demanding seppuku for the failure of their first lord to succeed in his duty and destroy the Hunters. A new Shadow is placed in charge, and he tasks the female Ninja with tracking down the Hunters and we’re treated to a number of scenes with the Shadow Hunters fending off attacking ninja. They are then summoned to a beleaguered province threatened by the political machinations of the shogunate and their Shadow spies. In this convoluted plot, the Wavemen are basically tasked with protecting the delivery of a canon to fief of a Clan honored with the task of protecting it.
I’ll take this moment to give you a spoiler warning as I discuss a fundamental truth about the nature of Samurai Chambara films. There is rarely ever a happy ending… in point of fact, the “heroes” usually succeed in their task; kill all the bad guys, deliver the goods, and kiss all the girls. But things are often worse off than when they started and the price they paid in order to achieve their aims becomes a terrible burden that they are forced to carry the rest of their lives. When they talk about their miserable lot in life and their haunted steps, you understand precisely what they mean by the end of the film as innocents suffer, people die, and honor is lost to various betrayals and political machinations. There is a cursed misery that continues to haunt the characters for the rest of their days and there is almost always a form of seppuku performed in the course of the film, a reminder that even this honorable release is denied to men such as our main characters. Considering how prone I am to depression, I’m not entirely certain why I love these movies so much… but I do.
4 out of 5.
I swear I caught this film at some point in the 80’s, but completely forgot anything at all related to the story or any scene involved. This is an almost entirely uninspired rehash of several plot points found in “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things” when an aging actor passes away and his body is stolen from his gimmicked death trap of a mausoleum. There is very little to set this film apart from the hundreds of mind-numbing low budget horror releases at the time, and yet Frightmare must have had something going for it because I had not once considered throwing my remote control through the screen. In point of fact, my wife actually found she was somewhat engaged by the films primary antagonist and kept tuning in from her WoW game to take a gander.
3 out of 5, worth watching.