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Vancouver International Film Festival 2010: 13 Assassins

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Vancouver International Film Festival 2010: 13 Assassins

[This post is cross-published at Parallax View.]

The rumors are true: Miike Takashi’s 13 Assassins, a kind of outlaw The Seven Samurai by way of The Dirty Dozen set at the sunset of the Shogunate and the samurai era, is a startlingly tradition samurai action piece that shows that Miike can indeed color between the lines. Which makes me wonder if that was indeed his project. With the exception of one signature Miike image (a woman who has been cruelly disfigured by our royal villain, writhing naked on the screen like some science experiment gone displayed as a piece of evidence), this is a straightforward piece, a men on a mission film where the increasingly outmoded ideals of duty and honor and meaning through sacrifice are at the heart of the matter. As a matter of face, the Shogun’s advisor can’t challenge the depraved Lord Naritsugo (Inagaki Goro), a monster that makes Caligula look restrained, and who just happens to be the Shogun’s half brother, without bringing disgrace upon his master, so he calls upon the honorable retired samurai Shinzaemon (Kurosawa Kiyoshi regular Yakusho Koji) to assassinate Naritsugo before he is promoted to the cabinet. A surgical strike, one might call it, all in the name of preserving the country and the honor of the Shogunate.

Anyone coming to this film without knowing Miike’s legacy would find an efficiently-made piece of commercial filmmaking, crisply set up in the first half with introductions and justifications laid out, non-stop action in a town turned into one giant deathtrap in the final act. What little humor there is comes from a peasant forest hunter and guide, the ringer who makes up the thirteenth member and jumps into the fray with stones, sticks, slings and fists: “Your samurai brawls are crazy fun,” the unkempt but energetic eccentric smiles in the midst of battle, getting nothing but scowls from his samurai teammate, a man in it for honor and a worthy death. But so is Shinzaemon’s opposite Hanbei (Ichimura Masachika), a man obligated to protect his Lord no matter how much he despises his dishonorable conduct.

It’s a good death, I suppose, and Miike finds little irony in any of it. He takes it all at face value—the codes of honor, the contradictions of the code, the idea that life is defined by the mode of one’s death—and delivers a film that mourns the men and the end of the era with obligatory regret and acknowledges the ironies without pushing them to the extremes that one expects. What’s the difference between Shinzaemon’s fascination with violence and his nostalgia for the era of war that he never experienced, and the samurai who yearn for an opportunity to actually ply their profession in a meaningful battle and earn their honor by a good death? One of respect for life in the first place, I suppose, but it’s really a matter of degree: Shinzaemon pushes the glorification of violence into sadism against powerless victims, but he’s happy as can be in the midst of the ambush, like a kid playing war for real, certain that he can’t be touched. The samurai never smile, but they too take a certain satisfaction in battle.

There’s not a trace of satire or even a question of the concepts of honor in the fatal justice on display. But Miike does deliver a fluid and flashy piece of furious samurai action and he constructs a terrific set of tricks and traps, barbed walls that shoot out of buildings to divide and confuse, openings to channel them into constricted spaces (the better for individuals to take on platoons of swordsmen) and weapons cached everywhere for the 13 heroes to take on an army of 200. But it’s also anonymous, not just because it lacks any of his weirdness and wild visuals, but because it lacks a sensibility of any kind.

Sean Axmaker is a DVD columnist for MSN Entertainment, a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online and the managing editor of Parallax View. He was a film critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for nine years, his work has appeared in The Seattle Weekly, The Stranger, The Seattle Post-Globe, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, Psychotronic Video and “The Scarecrow Video Guide” and he collaborated with Sherman Alexie on the commentary track to the DVD release of The Exiles. You can find links to all of this and more on his shamelessly self-promoting blog.

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Let Your Sanity Go on Vacation with a Trip to the Moons of Madness

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

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Moons of Madness
Photo: Rock Pocket Games

The announcement trailer for Moons of Madness opens with an empty shot of the Invictus, a research installation that’s been established on Mars. The camera lingers over well-lit but equally abandoned corridors, drifting over a picture of a family left millions of kilometers behind on Earth before finally settling on the first-person perspective of Shane Newehart, an engineer working for the Orochi Group. Fans of a different Funcom series, The Secret World, will instantly know that something’s wrong. And sure enough, in what may be the understatement of the year, Newehart is soon talking about how he “seems to have a situation here”—you know, what with all the antiquated Gothic hallways, glitching cameras, and tentacled creatures that start appearing before him.

As with Dead Space, it’s not long before the station is running on emergency power, with eerie whispers echoing through the station and bloody, cryptic symbols being scrawled on the walls. Did we mention tentacles? Though the gameplay hasn’t officially been revealed, this brief teaser suggests that players will have to find ways both to survive the physical pressures of this lifeless planet and all sorts of sanity-challenging supernatural occurrences, with at least a soupçon of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmicism thrown in for good measure.

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

Rock Pocket Games will release Moons of Madness later this year.

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

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Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with 2014’s Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

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