Weekend Updates: The Breakfast Club, Rurouni Kenshin, The Avenging Fist, The Castle of Cagliostro (Review)

Rurouni Kenshin Anime

I just finished posting new album reviews, as well as an interview with The Super Furry Animals. Thanks to Richie and Jonathan for all of their hard work.

On Friday night, I went to a midnight screening of The Breakfast Club at Omaha’s Dundee Theatre. Not only was this my first midnight screening (well, this kind of midnight screening, anyway), but it was also the first time I’d ever seen The Breakfast Club. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the years, but never actually watched the whole thing. Now that I have, I understand why everyone calls it a classic, because it really is.

As for the screening, it was an absolute riot, with people quoting dialog along with the movie, heckling characters, and making smart-ass comments. It was like a giant episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and it was one of the funnest theatre experiences I’ve ever had. I can’t wait to go another one.

On Saturday, I got caught up on my NetFlix queue. I’d already made it through volume 7 of Rurouni Kenshin, but I watched some of it again before slipping the disc into the envelope. This is some of the most enjoyable anime I’ve ever seen, and I’m only 1/3 of the way through the series (I’ve still got 15 more discs to go). I love the action, the music, the animation, the intricate plots, the interesting characters, and the amazing drama. Sure, at times it’s really cartoony and silly, but there are scenes that just blow me away with their intensity and power.

I find the character of Kenshin to be incredibly inspiring. He seeks to atone for the sins of his past by protecting those around him, to use his killing skills to protect life rather than take it. Because of his past life as a killer, he now seeks to find the good in everyone, even his enemies, and bring it out for everyone to see. In other words, he now seeks to give out mercy whereas before he dealt our death. And he chooses to confront his demons again and again, even if it means forsaking love and peace, in order to protect the common good.

I rarely find such well-developed characters in any television show, let alone one in a cartoon! It really pisses me off when people assume that Dragonball Z and Pokémon are all that anime has to offer, because they’re missing out on some truly amazing stuff, like Rurouni Kenshin.

After catching up on my Kenshin, I popped in The Avenging Fist, a thinly-veiled movie version of video games like Tekken. You’d if anyone could do a decent movie version of a popular fighting game, it’d be Hong Kong, right? After all, games like Tekken, Street Fighter 2, and Mortal Kombat owe most of their inspiration to kung fu movies. Sadly, even an HK-produced video game movie still sucks. There were some parts of the film that I did like, such as the whole “tapping into the unused 90% of brain to unlock totally bitchin’ superpowers” explanation for why our heroes had, well, bitchin’ superpowers, and some of the fight scenes and special effects were pretty cool (especially in the final showdown). However, everything else was just an incoherent mess.

Most of the actors were pretty bad, or should I say, simply awful. But that’s not surprising since most of the cast seemed composed of supermodels and pop stars. It was nice to see Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao onscreen together, though neither of them did anything special (and Biao was totally wasted in an evil henchman role). However, Hung did look fetching in his aluminum foil fedora.

The futuristic vision of the film was laughable at best, with obvious nods to Blade Runner and The Fifth Element (or should I say rip-offs?). Apparently, in the future, everyone dresses like they’re extras from a Britney Spears or N*Sync video. Also, club dancing in the future is like country line dancing, only lamer. If you want to pick up a girl in a club, you engage in some mock kung fu with her (while listening to some of the most horrible “dance” music I’ve ever heard).

I wasn’t expecting The Avenging Fist to be good, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be this bad. If the filmmakers had kept everything tongue in cheek, it could’ve been so much more enjoyable. They should’ve realized that only reason people would ever think of watching a movie called The Avenging Fist would be to see ridiculous special effects, incredibly insane fight scenes, and lots of big explosions. And maybe a cute actress or two.

Now why would you want to spoil that with horribly cliched melodrama, nauseating romantic scenes (with equally nauseating love themes), and obvious attempts to trick us into thinking that the characters have any depth whatsoever?!? And why would you want to force the cast of a movie like this to actually try and act? Why would you be that cruel?

A movie like The Avenging Fist should never try to be deep, or emotional, or moving. It just shouldn’t be. Nay, it just can’t be. There should be no subplots involving sons discovering that their presumed dead fathers have gone over to the dark side. There should be no flashbacks where characters have to face the demons of their past. And there should definitely not be any scene in which a character must look deep within himself and have some sudden revelation of truth about his origins.

Stuff like that should only be left up to real actors in real movies. In order to be even remotely enjoyable, a movie likes this needs to be over the top, ridiculous, and completely willing to not take itself seriously… at all. I never though I’d say this, but I think I’d take The Duel over The Avenging Fist any day of the week.

I finished up things with The Castle of Cagliostro, which has the distinction of being one of Hayao Miyazaki’s first films. Chronicling the exploits of Lupin the Third, the world’s greatest thief, and his fellow cohorts, the film was just an absolute treat to watch. After a big heist goes awry, Lupin and his friend Jigen head off to the country of Cagliostro, supposedly home of the world’s greatest counterfeiters. Once there, they get mixed up in a plot involving an evil Duke, a shadowy conspiracy, a young princess imprisoned in a tower, and (surprise) the secret treasure of the Cagliostro family.

Being the happy-go-lucky daredevil that he is, Lupin gets right in the thick of things, and it’s as much a blast watching him get out of sticky situations as it is watching him get into them. Of course, he does it all with plenty of charm and wit, and still finds time to woo the ladies. Watch The Castle of Cagliostro, and then go watch some Cowboy Bebop. You’ll see where they got their inspiration for Spike Spiegel (and Jett Black has more than just a bit of Jigen in him, too).

Of course, this being a Miyazaki film, the animation and artwork is all solid (and the character designs, like the Princess Clarisse, are obviously Miyazaki). It’s one of Miyazaki’s lightest films, and it’s great to see that he can do comedy just as well weightier material. The movie does look a bit dated, in a Speed Racer sort of way (it did come out in 1979, after all), but holds up very well. It’s easily one of the more exciting and entertaining anime titles I’ve seen in awhile (and it’s easy to see why it was once voted as “the best anime in history”). There’s such a freshness and energy to it (again, its influence on Cowboy Bebop is obvious), it seems like the filmmakers just had a blast doing it. I know I had a blast watching it.

For more info on Lupin, check out the Lupin Encyclopedia.

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