The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bunraku (2010)

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We finish our big screen to DTV week with Bunraku, starring Josh Hartnett, Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore, and Ron Perlman. This is one that popped up on Watch Instantly recently, and I was instantly intrigued (no pun intended). I didn't know much about it, hadn't really seen much on it, but the running time, just over two hours, gave me a little pause. Seldom do the terms "DTV" and "two-hour running time" pair well. Maybe this will be an exception.

Bunraku takes place in the future, after a nuclear war, where the world is trying to rebuild. Guns are outlawed, so the best swordsmen rule the day, the strongest among them is a mysterious woodcutter (Ron Perlman), who has recruited nine other great warriors to cement his power and create a police state, the strongest one east of the Atlantic. Enter two mysterious men: Josh Hartnett, a cowboy in a world without guns; and Yoshi, a samurai without a sword. Joined together by a barman (Woody Harrelson), whose old flame (Demi Moore) is now shacking up with the woodcutter, they now seek to bring down the woodcutter and his reign of tyranny. Can they defy the odds and make it happen?

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This movie was amazing. It had everything, great martial arts, cool visuals, cool characters, and this mix of influences from all over the place: Westerns, Film Noir, Nikkatsu Noir, samurai films, Japanese theater, Weimar Republic Germany, comic books, and video games. So often, I watch movies and say "why can't they be like this?" or "why can't they just do that?", and this finally did it. Josh Hartnett was surprisingly solid as one of the heroic leads, Harrelson and Perlman were as good as you'd expect in their roles, and everyone else seemed to get what this was about too and performed accordingly. Elements like the 1920s musical aesthetic blended in and enhanced the atmosphere, as opposed to standing out and being the kind of thing the movie patted itself on the back for-- which is usually what brings a film like this down, and fortunately didn't here. For me, all of this worked, and I really enjoyed it.

Woody Harrelson has always been an interesting case in Hollywood. Even when he broke out in the early 90s after his run on Cheers, his roles ran the gamut from White Men Can't Jump to Indecent Proposal to Natural Born Killers, and that was something that didn't change like you'd expect after he became one of the bigger leading men in Hollywood, which I've always liked about him. My favorite film of his recently was The Messenger, a part that earned him his second Oscar nomination. Here he plays a wise, off-beat mentor character, and does it as well as he does everything else. If you're a Harrelson fan like I am, you won't be disappointed.

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His Indecent Proposal co-star, Demi Moore, has a much smaller part as Ron Perlman's lover. It's interesting when you think of Indecent Proposal, because that one was about two young Hollywood up-and-comers starring opposite a veteran like Robert Redford; now the two up-and-comers are the veterans, and in some ways, beyond veteran-dom. Neither quite made that Redford level, which is probably more a testament to him than it is a knock on them. Though it looks like her days as the 8-figure leading lady are past her, she isn't totally relegated to DTV-dom either, with the most recent film she was in, the ensemble piece Margin Call, nominated for an Oscar for best original screenplay.

Among the other co-stars, there's Ron Perlman, who I mentioned above. He's rocking some gray dreadlocks, as if he's the older guy that works at the local record store (tell me, doesn't every decent sized town in America have that guy working at their local record store?). He's great though as the head baddie, equal parts sinister and tired warrior. His second in command is played by Kevin McKidd, who I remember as Tommy from Trainspotting, but imdb also lists as starring in Grey's Anatomy. I don't know if he's a trained martial artist, or if they made heavy use of stunt doubles, but either way, he was an equally great baddie, a combination of swordsman and Gestapo head. Then we had Gackt, a Japanese pop singer, who played Yoshi. He looked kind of like Michael Jackson in his Dangerous days, only with a bigger nose. Again, like McKidd, I don't know what kind of martial artist he is in real life, but whether it was a stunt double or him, he was very believable as the hero. Finally, his uncle is played by Shun Sugata. He's been in things like Ichi the Killer and Tokyo Gore Police, so I'm sure for some of our readers he'd be more recognizable than he would for others.

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Finally, I can't complete this review without discussing Josh Hartnett. For me he was a revelation. If you'd said ahead of time "dude, Bunraku has Josh Hartnett as a renegade cowboy type that's really good at martial arts and has a mustache", I'd be skeptical, and I would've been wrong. It's like he got everything the people making this film envisioned for his role, and he made it all happen. He's got that Western vibe, but in a very Jo Shishido Nikkatsu Noir-esque kind of way-- which makes sense, because Nikkatsu Noir flicks borrowed a lot from American Westerns, but still, for him to pull it off isn't easy when you're not Jo Shishido. I've liked Josh Hartnett in a lot of other films I've seen him in, like The Virgin Suicides, 40 Days and 40 Nights, and, most recently, the indie flick August, which also starred David Bowie. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised then that he nailed this one out of the park.

This whole film is nailed out of the park actually (for my international readers that aren't familiar with baseball, "nailed out of the park" is a slang term for hitting a home run), everything I could've wanted out of a film that drew from so many places and made it all work so well. And that two hour running time? Forgot all about it. If you haven't seen this yet I suggest you do, especially my Americans readers that can get this on Watch Instantly.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1181795/

9 comments:

  1. This got released here the same day, surprisingly. Your review has convinced me to pick up the Bluray.

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  2. I have to imagine that Blu-ray would look stunning. I'll be curious to know what you think of it.

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  3. I have seen this a few months ago, and I was sceptical at first..the trailer was cool, but could`ve been just one more that promises much and cant keep them.
    As the film progressed, it was more and more evident, that this wasa mix of all the things you mentioned, and to my surprise, worked.
    I enjoyed it a great deal.
    This is something that can be , and probably should be seen more than once, there is a lot going on, and one probably will discover some things with the second viewing, or the third...great review!!!!

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  4. Great write-up! Happy to see this is entertaining. This is always on my instant queue (Like The Double). Love a good Ron Perlman villain role.

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  5. This is another title which I've got on the wishlist, but still got to get around to watching, but I love "Japanese Westerns" a less looked at genre which seems to suffering a strange revival at the moment with the likes of "Sukiyaki Western Django" and "The Warriors Way" which combine elements of spaghetti Westerns with those from Samurai movies to create a strange hybrid.

    Josh Harnett seems to be very into making smaller and more random movies with this following up the equally curious "I Come With The Rain".

    Will have to watch this soon!

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  6. I agree with you helford, I think this is one that could use a couple viewings. I don't know if the DVD has commentary, but that would be something to consider too.

    I think you'll dig this one Ty and Elwood. It has a lot going on that it does well.

    Sukiyaki Western Django is one that's been on my watch list for a while (like over two years I think!), so I need to check it out. Yeah, the Japanese Western is a cool genre, and I think Bunraku includes elements of it well.

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  7. Man, I just couldn't get into this one....it bored me to tears...I couldn't connect with it, I got lost, I mean, I liked the rebellious angle, but it was way too slow for my tastes. And why was everyone whispering all the time? Maybe I'll give it a rematch someday, but it was just too damn boring for me.

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  8. Yeah, I saw some of this on Instant a few weeks ago, and the style that I thought looked really cheesy in the trailers really helps to create a bizarre, creative world. Good flick.

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  9. Obviously I'm more with Mr. Sheldrake on this, but I'm surprised this wasn't more something you enjoyed too Francisco. I know some of your tastes overlap with this, especially with samurai films, but maybe not enough. We've agreed on plenty of other films in the past, so I guess we'll just chalk this one up to the ol' agree to disagree.

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