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Posts Tagged ‘The Last Samurai’

Personal Ads:  “Got a problem?  Odds against you?  Call the Equalizer: 212 555 4200.
Today’s reviews are for a movie and its sequel:  Equalizer (2014) and Equalizer 2 (2018)
Both movies star two time Academy Award winning actor Denzel Washington as the lead character: Robert McCall.  The character and stories are based on a moderately successful TV show from the mid / late 1980’s of the same name starring Edward Woodward as McCall.  McCall is basically a “hero for hire” and the show is pretty similar to another TV series I enjoyed from the same period called “Stingray” (see my review of that TV series here).  The main difference is McCall never really seems to ask for a payment, whereas “Stingray” asked for a favor some time in the future.  Anyway, in this version, instead of a geriatric Brit playing McCall, we have a geriatric American.
Equalizer (2014)  —  movie review
This movie is rated “R” for violence, language and implied sex.  Basically we have a normal looking man who has a history as spy / detective / electronics expert and martial artist.  He is “retired” from his official duties at “The Agency” by faking his death.  Whenever he sees someone being hurt or taken advantage of unfairly, he exacts his sense of justice on the bad guy.  He says he usually gives them a chance to do the right thing (mostly they don’t) and if not, well, they don’t usually live to regret it.
In this movie, McCall makes friends with a young hooker who is beaten and nearly killed by her pimp.  The pimp is part of a Russian gang, so McCall ends up having to bring down the gang, too.  There are lots of great fight choreography – particularly a scene which replays in slow motion.  On watching it, I was reminded of a similar “replay” technique / scene used in “The Last Samurai“, another action movie I also enjoyed.  The scene works because it demonstrates the “temporal shift” it is said happens to highly trained and skilled warriors / athletes in which they say time slows down for them as they fight / perform.  Unless you have actually been in that “zone”, it (the feeling) is hard to relate to, but once you have experienced it, you find an enjoyable sense of déjà vu when you see the feeling in film.  At least I always seem to.
If you are a fan of violent action movies (and I can be), you will enjoy this movie because it is literally a string of increasingly violent encounters tied together by a thread of a plot.  It works because Washington carries the hero’s role and the Russian baddie (Nicolai Itchenko played by Marton Paul Csokas) is equally believable.  As an aside, there is also a scene in which a personal item is stolen from a co-worker of McCall.  The item is recovered and McCall is seen wiping down and replacing a hammer at the hardware store shelf display.  There is no “action” at all, but you know the robber has just had a very bad day.
Final Recommendation: strong recommendation.  While the story is almost unbelievable, the hero and the bad guy both make the movie an enjoyable action film.  It is violent and not appropriate for pre-teens.
Equalizer 2 (2018)  —  movie review
Okay, let’s get this out of the way:  “Denzel doesn’t do sequels…”  What we have here is Denzel Washington in his first career sequel reprising his role as Robert McCall: a guy who goes around helping others and righting wrongs.  I don’t mean stopping jay-walkers and litterbugs; I mean Russian gangsters (in Equalizer 1) and here (in the sequel) rogue killers who work both sides of the political fence.  When an “Agency” asset is killed, a former top analyst is sent to make sure it wasn’t a “hit”.  When she gets wacked, something smells fishy in Denmark (actually Brussels).  Because the lady is a lifelong friend of McCall, he must avenge her death.  Oh, and he’s upset because he will only get to kill them once.
The main bad guy in this movie is Dave York (played by Pedro Pascal), who worked for and with McCall before McCall’s staged death.  York was not aware McCall is still alive and he and the rest of McCall’s “team” go private after McCall’s death.  Anyway, the team kill a bunch of people on assignment and then to tidy up loose ends and there is a big battle at the end which (of course) pits McCall against the team.  After tidying up their loose ends McCall gets asked: “Who are you Mr. McCall?”
Final recommendation:  Moderate to strong.  Again, another violent movie…  The sequel is just not quite as good as the first.  Yeah, I know, big surprise.  It’s well shot and reasonably well acted, but the bad guy(s) just aren’t as threatening.  I guess they are a little too “clean” as professionals and lack the intensity of the actors playing the Russian gang in the first movie.  If you are a fan of Denzel or of this genre, you will enjoy this movie – both movies, actually.  I did.  But, it’s really not quite as good as “1”.   There is talk of a “EQ3″…  We’ll see…  I think I would prefer a re-boot / prequel with a younger actor.
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On This Day In:
2018 Irreplaceable Sparks
2017 Saving For April 15th
2016 First Wish
2015 Tracing Shadows
2014 One Thing
2013 More Is Less
2012 The Screw-Up Gene

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Today I am home ill with what seems to be an ear infection.  Every few years, I get this swollen sensation on the right side of my head.  It feels like my head has a weighted balloon attached to the right side.  When I turn my head, stand or look quickly in any direction, I get a light-headedness and it feels like my vision/brain is continuing to move after my head (or eyeballs) have stopped.  Several years ago I had to go to the ER to get seen by a doctor about this condition.  Then, I also had an associated fever, which I fortunately don’t have this time.  In any case, I take some decongestants and my vertigo pill and I kind of spend the day in a half-stupor of fatigue and dizziness.
This morning I completed a book I’ve been reading off and on for several years now.  Our local library system has an annual shelf clearing book give-away each August and they have about 800 to 1,000 boxes of books which are set out for anyone to take what they want – as much as you can carry, and come back tomorrow.  Today’s book was one of these and I picked it up about three years ago.  It has mostly sat in my car waiting to be read.  I would grab it whenever I had a doctor / dentist visit to have something to read in the waiting room.  Unfortunately, if you don’t wait much, you don’t read much, so this has taken quite a while to get through.
The book is titled: “The Modern Samurai Society: Duty and Dependence in Contemporary Japan“, (1982©) and was written by Mitsuyuki Masatsugu.  The book attempts to explain contemporary (circa 1982) corporate Japan in terms of the historical legacy of the Samurai (“samurai” means “one who serves”) society which held sway in Japan for several centuries.  The samurai tradition fell out of favor with the coming of the industrial revolution in the last half of the 19th century.  (As an aside, part of this transition was portrayed in the Tom Cruise movie: “The Last Samurai“.)  In essence, it attempts to explain Japanese business management techniques to non-Japanese.
To Masatsugu, successful Japanese management stems from eight factors which incorporate two features from Japanese culture.  The eight factors (guiding principles) to success are:
1) Paternalism;
2) Guaranteed lifetime employment;
3) Seniority-based promotion;
4) In-company unions;
5) Periodic transfers;
6) Overtime work as a safety valve;
7) Enriched welfare program; and,
8) A selective retirement system.
The two features which Masatsugu believes to be uniquely emphasized in Japanese society are:
1) Diligence – the duty each individual has towards their country in general and towards their company in particular.  And,
2) Dependence – a recognition that even though the employees are individuals, they must work together to surpass non-Japanese companies.
Like any “valid” theoretical explanation, management theories must meet a minimum of two criteria: does it accurately describe what is currently happening, and two, does it have predictive value either for when external conditions change or when internal structures are abandoned (or both).  In this book’s case, we now have the benefit of thirty-two years history to see that Masatsugu’s proposal was pretty spot on.
Since the book’s release Japan has suffered both a housing boom collapse and an economic drought now approaching the middle of its third decade.  The housing collapse happened in the 1980’s and the start of Japan’s economic drought (I hesitate to call it a collapse as Japan has only recently been surpassed by China as THE economic power in Asia) occurred in the 1990’s.  In fact, the 1990’s is sometimes referred to in Japan as “the lost decade” because there was so little economic growth.
Specifically, Masatsugu suggests the structure of Japan’s economic strength is based on these principles and if any one (or combination) fails, the entire structure will waver and ultimately collapse.  Masatsugu predicts the gradual incorporation of western management will bring about an economic failure.  He leans towards the abandonment of guaranteed lifetime employment and seniority-based promotion when “times get hard”.  Masatsugu says that in past times, management held to principle and the economy eventually turned around.  He cautions that future management might not have the fortitude to withstand to pressure to abandon principle in an effort to meet “western style” quarterly objectives.  We now know Japanese management has moved away from guaranteed lifetime employment, seniority-based promotion and selective retirement.  All of these actions have had a detrimental effect on business (and societal) productivity in the U.S. over the last 40 years.  It will be interesting to see if the same happens in Japan and how long it will take to happen (if it does).
I doubt very much that this book could be written in today’s “politically correct” world as it has several racist and sexist comments which, in context, seem common sense, but are actually inculcated cultural biases.  For example, women are generally considered unequal to men in the business world, because…  Wait for it…  Because they are!  (Well, except when they aren’t.)  In the author’s view, a woman can be one of the main reasons a man succeeds in business.  But, a female can never succeed in Japanese business on her own.  In all, though, these are trivial reasons to be critical of a book which I believe is overwhelmingly a valuable (if dated) insight into Japanese business culture.  Highly recommended!
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On This Day In:
2013 Doin’
2012 A Lover
2011 What Have We Found Here
Words

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Today’s review is for the detective / mystery / action movie: “Jack Reacher“, starring Tom Cruise.  Now, in all fairness, I like Tom Cruise, but I am not a big fan, so my views on this film are slanted towards “no dog in the fight”.  This wasn’t a movie I was looking forward to seeing in the theater, but when it became available on DVD, I decided to check it out.  Actually, I borrowed it from my brother.
The movie starts out as a “who-dun-it” and then quickly devolves into an action movie with set pieces to showcase Tom.  There is a particularly good street fight, which seems to be lifted out of “The Last Samurai” – which is my favorite Tom Cruise movie and which I’ve watched a couple dozen times.  Anyway, the next fight scene is in a home and is (I suppose) more of a comedy than a realistic fight.  Anyway, just before the ending, Tom has a big fight with the main ass-kicking villain (as opposed to the brainy villain).  The fight is okay, but not particularly believable.  For one thing, Tom is like 5′ 6” and the bad-guy (Jai Courtney) is 6′ 1”.  Of course with good camera angles you can make Tom look taller, but not so much and not so well here.
Incidentally, and I didn’t know this at the time of the viewing, the character “Jack Reacher” is from a series of novels and he is supposed to be around 6′ 5” and a force of nature.  Tom has charisma, but a “force of nature”?  Again, not so much.  Needless to say, the fans of the novels were not too keen to see Tom selected for the lead role.
Having said all this, I liked this movie.  It has a great little role for Robert Duvall (one of my favorite actors), and Tom does actually carry the role off rather well.  If I hadn’t done the background read about the novel and then thought about Tom Cruise in the role, I might even think more of it.  Anyway, it works as both a detective story and as an action movie.
Final recommendation:  moderate to highly recommended.
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On This Day In:
2013 Who’s Side?
2012 Why I Joined The Army And Not The Navy…
2011 Is It Your Turn Yet?
Just Trippin’

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I have spent a majority of my life feeling disconnected from the rest of the world.  I had never really felt with one with anything, and certainly not anyone that wasn’t a member of my family or my close group of friends.
…ironically, there is a way for it to improve simply by getting yourself locked into that very mundane circle, I have tried to avoid it everyday of my life, thinking that one of not knowing and random acts of adventure was “where it was at” it isn’t.  By forcing such things into your life or expecting them, can only cause impatience and a feeling of sadness that things are not happening for you.   For it is that very essence, of locking yourself in to a life that is routine, that we all begin to connect.
  —  from a blog I follow titled:   http://tearmatt.com
The individual blog title is: Monotonous As One
[The first sentence struck me very close to the bone; as did the second.  As I continued reading, less and less so.  Which in no way detracts from the substance of the initial two sentences – which I think is some of the beauty of words as a mean of expression.  The blog ends with a few words on how we may attempt to “connect” with others.  I don’t agree with the concept of locking oneself into a routine so that one may “connect” with others.  While there will certainly be a level of similarity, this is not my idea (or ideal) of connecting.
I am reminded of an exchange in the movie, “The Last Samurai“: “A man may spend his whole life looking for the perfect blossom.  And, it would be a life well spent.”   It is only at the end of the movie that the speaker (on viewing some blossoms blowing in the wind) realized: “They are all perfect…
We are all connected.  Whether we realize it or not…  Unfortunately, most never do.  —  KMAB]

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…If we are to learn to improve the quality of the decisions we make, we need to accept the mysterious nature of our snap judgments.  We need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing why we know and accept that  —  sometimes  —  we’re better off that way.
  —  Malcolm Gladwell
from his book: “Blink
[To misquote “The Last Samurai“: Sometimes, they ARE all perfect!  —  KMAB]
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