MOVIE REVIEW: Bunraku

Not every cool idea is necessarily a great idea, and that’s never more apparent than in director Guy Moshe’s genre mash-up, “Bunraku.” Set during a post-nuclear future where guns have been banned but swords, knives and pretty much anything else with a sharp edge is still fair game, the film takes place in a neon-drenched city controlled by a warrior named Nicola (Ron Perlman) and his gang of killers. When two drifters (Josh Hartnett and Japanese pop star Gackt) arrive in town with their own reasons for wanting to take down the tyrannical crime boss, they serendipitously cross paths at a local bar and decide to team up to increase their chances. But before they can get their shot at Nicola, the warriors must first face off against all nine of his elite assassins.

The first thing you’ll notice about “Bunraku” is that it has a very distinct visual style that falls somewhere between the graphic novel aesthetic of “Sin City” and a children’s pop-up book; not all that surprising considering the film’s title is a reference to a form of Japanese puppet theater. The action sequences are also fun to watch and benefit from the film’s unique look, but unfortunately, they never amount to more than a series of flashy distractions to hide the fact that there isn’t much of a story. And when Moshe does try to slow things down in order to develop his characters, he’s forced to rely on some dreadful dialogue that not even reliable actors like Woody Harrelson, Kevin McKidd and Demi Moore can improve. The best you could say about “Bunraku” is that it would make for an entertaining late night movie when nothing else is on TV, because this self-serving piece of fanboy drivel is not even close to being as good as it pretends to be.

  

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It’s weekend box office time: “Kick-Ass” will kick..nah, forget about it

Easily the most ‘net hyped movie of the year not based on a Marvel superhero or collection thereof comes out this weekend, and while a monster hit isn’t expected, there will be some very long faces at Lionsgate if the comic-book adaptation “Kick-Ass” doesn’t collect at least about $20 million. I think they’ll be okay.

Kick-Ass

Indeed, if I were to bet, I’d expect the film to exceed expectations, if not this weekend, then later on in the run as the word of mouth among younger filmgoers gets out. True, as Jolly Carl DiOrio points out, it’s R-rating is a bit of a deterrent to the younger teens who’d no doubt love to see it but will have to come up with some clever maneuvers to check out this ultra-violent action non-super-powered superhero comedy any time too soon.

Of course, there’s more than a hint of controversy around “Kick-Ass.” It raised some hackles on its earlier British release and while getting mostly solid reviews, did so again stateside with a somewhat surprising one-star review from Roger Ebert. He seemed genuinely saddened and not amused by the spectacle of ultra-violence being meted out by, and later visited upon, the character of Hit Girl played by young superstar to be Chloe Moretz. Kenneth Turan, who’s often in the running for the title of the nation’s second most respected/well-known critic, admitted to being just a touch disturbed, but liked it and even declared it a pop-culture phenom. The interesting part is that Tarantino-negative Turan, who cites “Kill Bill” in his review, was utterly horrified by the violence in that film (the piece, or pieces, he wrote about it seem to have disappeared off the ‘net), while Ebert was beyond thoroughly amused.

It’s tempting for me to engage in a long speculation about other movies they’ve reviewed — a long time ago Ebert was somewhat similarly moved to anger by the finale of “The Dirty Dozen” but, much more recently, he defended, in amused but guarded fashion, “The Devils Rejects.”  But all there really is to say that what disturbs us, or doesn’t, and whether it does so in a good or bad way, is a highly individual and idiosyncratic matter and it behooves all of us critical types to remember that. Anyhow, whatever controversy there is will no doubt only feed the beast and expectations are for it to go from anywhere between $20 to $30 milliion this weekend and almost certainly taking the top  spot.

Death at a FuneralThe other major new release this week is Sony’s “Death at the Funeral,” a Neil Labute-directed remake of an identically-titled Frank Oz-directed British comedy from just a couple of years back with a primarily, but not exclusively, African-American cast. (Or, as Carl DiOrio would put it, the cast “skews to urban demos.”) Since the African-Americans in question are Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, and Danny Glover while Dominican-American Zoe Saldana, white dude James Marsden and little person Peter Dinklage make for a bit of added diversity, this R-rated comedy should play well with a reasonably broad audience.

Jolly Carl says “a debut in the high-teen millions seems doable.” Still, with possible strong showings for holdovers like “Date Night” and “How to Train Your Dragon,” the box office results could be close on Sunday. While the reviews are not at all particularly good, the original did better with reviewers but didn’t exactly make critics do handstands.

In limited release, we have actually too many interesting small movies to mention this week including the amusingly titled “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead.” (Shame the trailer isn’t as amusing.) However, “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” looks to be one of the bigger documentaries likely to come out for a while, while the social satire “The Joneses” with David Duchovny and Demi Moore is dividing critics in general, much as it divided our own David Medsker in particular. According to Box Office Mojo, it’s getting a relatively large first week for this kind of film with 192 screens.

The Joneses

  

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A movie news midnight ramble.

It’s a bit late for a Friday night news dump –and most all of  you will be reading this on Saturday morning — but here’s the news…

* Chris Evans has been offered the part of Captain America, but will he accept?

* Christopher Nolan’s multi-star Philip Dick-esque new movie is generating interesting, of course.

* That word about Tim Burton doing an stop-motion version of “The Addams Family” going back to the characters’ cartoon roots struck me as a perfectly reasonable idea. Charles Addams brilliant cartoons have never really be transferred to the screen in quite the fashion they deserve, so why not take another whack, says me. I any case, the whole story appears to be premature.

adams2* Demi Moore and Nia Vardalos: Twitter heroines.

* Friday’s over now. Is Leo the Lion closer to having a new tamer?

* Speaking of lion tamers, Carl Icahn is at the Lion’s gate. (Sorry.)

* Wow, Jeff Bridges was really a lock for the Oscar. George Clooney did his classy Cary Grant thing again and voted for him. Weirdly enough, much as I just about worship Bridges, I actually think Clooney was better in his nominated role than Bridges in his.

* Christoph Waltz wowed the world as Col. Landa, but what he really wants to do, aside from being America’s new go-to bad guy, is direct, at least once. Good for him for striking while the iron is hot, and it’s very hot for him.

* Woody Allen is having second thoughts, it appears, about casting France’s first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, in his new movie.

Carla-Bruni-Nicolas-1

* The ultra-hawkish rightwing’s answer to having more successful political thrillers is apparently the same as their longstanding and unchanging prescription for foreign policy: more mindless brutality, please. On the other hand, I might pay to see Gene Simmons’ head explode in a ball of flame, though I’m not advocating it.

* Which is not to say there aren’t some conservatives who don’t have something to teach us liberals. The subtly and thoughtfully right-leaning cinephile Bill Ryan, via Dennis the C,  takes apart the latest highly irritaining controversy involving the always irritaining Armond White.

* I can’t say I actually know the man really at all, but film distributor turned filmmaker turned back to film distributor Jeff Lipsky and I have a bit of history (discussed in my interview with him from 2007). His thoughts on returning to the biz are some interesting inside baseball and most of them seem to make a fair amount of sense.  His movie love is sincere, even as his tastes are quite different than mine. And it’s interesting and hopeful to see an Indie guy still excited about theatrical filmgoing. But why on earth does he feel the need to single out the aforementioned Armond White for praise? I could go on…

  

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Tales of cinema survival

* Flicks are a tough business which frequently requires great sacrifice. Still, I can’t think of a single creative or suit whose had to saw off a limb to stay alive. However, that’s exactly what mountaineer Aron Ralston had to do and now director Danny Boyle plans to film Ralston’s story, perhaps or perhaps not with actor Ryan Gosling in the lead. Fun, fun, fun.

Cast Away

* Demon-plagued Katie and Micah of “Paranormal Activitylive (and hopefully have good agents). Also, those with a high tolerance for low humor will want to check out my friends, the Perry Boys, in “Perry-Normal Activity.”

* RIP comic actor, vaudevillian, and magician Carl Ballantine aka “The Great Ballantine, who survived very nicely until age 92.

* Roadside Attractions has picked up “The Joneses,” a comedic social satire with two career survivors, David Duchovny and Demi Moore.

* “The Tourist,” a remake of a 2005 French thriller little seen in the U.S. has lost Sam Worthington and the very good director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others.”) However, it lives to tell the tale as it’s gained Johnny Depp and, perhaps, and an even better director in Alfonso Cuaron (“Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “Children of Men“).

  

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A Patrick Swayze movie moment

In honor of the late actor who passed away earlier, here’s a really famous scene from “Ghost” that no doubt made a lot of of dates go just a little bit better back in 1990.

Fans of Mr. Swayze will want to be sure and check out our earlier post from Will Harris, Remembering Patrick Swayze.

  

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