Thermae Romae (2012) has got to have one of the most absurd setups I have ever seen about an Ancient Roman bathhouse engineer named Lucius Modestus (Abe Hiroshi) who one day stumbles upon a method of time travel utilizing mystical whirlpools at the bottom of baths that whisks him between Rome circa 128 AD and modern day Japan. Using this funky “hot tub time machine” Lucius learns to appreciate and then incorporate Japanese bath designs into his own with the help of a local aspiring manga creator named Manami ( Aya Ueto). As his renown grows back in his own time period Victus eventually meets the current Roman Emperor Hadrian (Masachika Ichimura), a kindred spirit who also believes that a good old bath experience will somehow enhance the morale of the Empire that is currently under duress from threat of a Barbarian invasion.
Actor/Director/Writer/Composer RZA attempts to craft a loving homage to the chop-socky martial arts films of the late 1960s-early 1970s yet despite the array of talent involved the end product is a near absolute mess with humour that constantly misfires, zombie-like acting and miserably filmed action sequences. The plot is totally inconsequential but that is to be expected yet every attempt made to imbue the film with edgy coolness ends up instead grating to the point of abject pain so much so that many will feel compelled to either walk out of the cinema or ram their thumbs with disdain into their eye-sockets.
If I told you that the plot of Silver Linings Playbook could be easily summed up as, “two essentially crazy people meet and decide for their own self-interest to enter a ballroom dance competition” I have a strong feeling that most readers would immediately blanch and quickly come to the conclusion that the film was a silly waste of celluloid. However, Silver Linings Playbook is so masterfully written and skillfully directed that it takes the basic traditional structure of the romantic comedy and turns it on its head in such a way that each scene is wholly unpredictable. It is without a doubt the most romantic film of the year and perhaps even the last decade a fact made all the more unfathomable considering the hugely ponderous and charged nature of its exceedingly dark subject matter.
Taken 2 is a completely perfunctory sequel to Liam Neeson’s original sleeper hit that basically turned him into a viable action star yet this new installment does nothing but disappoint. The first Taken movie was a by the books kind of an affair yet it was anchored by Neeson’s standout performance as the no-nonsense Bryan Mills who clearly was not someone you wanted to mess around with. Neeson reprises his role here yet the entire movie from start to finish is rife with a level of absurdity that even the most accommodating viewer will blanch at. When one of the main characters is tasked to throw not one but three live grenades willy-nilly amidst the bustling city scape of downtown Istanbul without hitting someone or causing too much collateral damage just so that Bryan can measure distance through the delayed travel of sound you know you have truly crossed over into the Twilight Zone.
Rurouni Kenshin (2012) achieves the impossible by being a near-perfect live action adaptation of a famous manga/anime that will have diehard fans crying tears of joy while newcomers will certainly be sucked into the wonderfully paced narrative that features mostly fully rounded colourful characters and exquisitely shot action sequences. At the same time, the movie pushes its unabashed message of peace and non-violence forward in almost every scene yet director/writer Keishi Ohtomo manages to make it seem organic, as if naturally flowing from the characters and their predicaments rather than needlessly bashing viewers with the moral sledgehammer.
Mass Effect: Paragon Lost attempts to expand the Mass Effect universe away from its traditional video game roots this time into the realm of Japanese animation. A co-production between American company Funimation and master anime studio Production I.G., Mass Effect: Paragon Lost is a prequel of sorts to Bioware’s Mass Effect 3 by showcasing how a particular incident involving a character named James Vega came to have significant repercussions that ended up scaring him for the foreseeable future. Fans of the series will however, be undoubtedly scratching their collective heads merely because James Vega is regarded as one of the least liked and utilized characters within the trilogy although to be fair this is probably due to his visual appearance more so than his actual personality.
History goes completely out the window in this prequel to the Donnie Yen Ip Man films with newcomer Dennis To taking over the lead role playing a young version of the title character in his formative years before he took over as master and starting teaching the Wing Chun martial arts style. The movie play incredibly loose with the facts here and while some of it is true for the most part the entire narrative is completely fabricated with the inclusion of yet another hoary old love triangle and an inherently bizarre subplot featuring, you guessed it, another evil Japanese antagonist that makes as much sense as sticking a wet finger into a live electrical socket. While utilizing cartoon-like evil Japanese characters comes as no surprise the villain’s plot is so woefully unbelievable I had to actually rewind a key scene to watch it again to make sure I didn’t hear it incorrectly.
Mark Wahlberg’s newest movie Contraband is perhaps one of the best examples of the word “potboiler” as the entire film is constructed using one of the oldest and moldiest clichés around, that of the retired crook/thief who is forced out of retirement for one last job. Admittedly, the caper/heist film subgenre can be incredibly entertaining but Contraband is just plain bland managing to both squander its two leads in Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale as well as concocting one truly heinous caper sequence that relies on a series of escalating ridiculous contrivances that totally derails the film in such a way that it never recovers.