First Love (2019)

Young boxer Leo (Masataka Kubota) has just had some very bad news. He’s been told he has a tumour and it’s not operable. Whilst taking a walk, lost in thought, he bumps into a girl called Monica (Sakurako Kanishi), who is on the run. Together they get caught up in a shady drug deal gone awry, and must try to survive the night, all while dodging Yakuza, Triads and a dirty cop.

‘First Love’ is a mixed bag. It has flashes of the old Takashi Miike, but I felt that it was very sanitised compared to movies like ‘Ichi the Killer’, ‘Audition’ or ‘Gozu’. Chunks of the movie are slow, and I felt too much time was spent on Monica’s hallucinations, rather than the bag of drugs which was what was supposed to be moving the story forward.

For me the output of Miike of late has been hit and miss. ‘Blade of the Immortal’ was brilliant, where ‘Yakuza Apocalypse’ was a bit haphazard. At times this did feel like the old Miike, particularly in the final act, but it felt too little too late. Takashi Miike is one of the hardest working directors in Japan, but I feel his work is starting to become a case of quantity over quality. Not a film I’d rush to buy….probably rent it digitally first.

‘First Love’ is available digitally now, and will be released on Blu Ray on March 2nd 2020.

3/5

JM

Black Rain (1989)

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God I love this movie! One of Ridley Scott’s most underrated movies in my opinion. Nick Conklin (Michael Douglas) is a cop in New York City who is under investigation from Internal Affairs for his part in a bust where drug money went missing. Nick and his partner Charlie Vincent (Andy Garcia) are in a cafe when some Japanese men enter and begin to hassle some mafia members. One of them, Sato (Yusaku Matsuda), steals a wooden box and kills the men. Nick and Charlie give pursuit to Sato and his men. Nick manages to catch up to Sato and over powers him.

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Nick is told that Sato is wanted in Tokyo and that he is to be brought back immediately. Nick tells his superiors that he wants to be the one to bring Sato back and that Charlie is to accompany him. Nick, Charlie and Sato reach Tokyo where they are met by a group of policemen who have been ordered to collect Sato. Nick and Charlie hand Sato over and begin to get off the plane. Another group of policemen show up and say they are there to collect Sato, Nick realises that he’s been duped and gives chase. After losing Sato, Nick tells the chief of the police in Tokyo that he wants to retrieve Sato. Nick is told that he is not a Japanese policeman and that it will be left to Masahiro (Ken Takakura), a detective in the Tokyo police force, to catch Sato.

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Not willing to accept to simply be an idle bystander, Nick teams up with Masa and they both work together to catch Sato. Also helping them is an American working girl in Japan called Joyce (Kate Capshaw). As the case goes on, things happen that cause it to be more personal to Nick, giving him a chance at redemption.

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I really do love this movie. Tokyo looks like such a brilliantly vibrant city, I would love to visit one day. Everybody is on top form. Michael Douglas is brilliant as Nick, Andy Garcia brings a level head as Charlie and Ken Takakura is fantastic as the honourable Masa. However Kate Capshaw feels wasted in her role as Joyce, not really contributing anything to the story that I felt was needed. Yusaku Matsuda is menacing as Sato, bringing a real intensity to the role. Sadly he was dying of cancer during the making of this movie. Definitely worth a watch if you dig 80’s action with a kick ass synthy score.

4/5

JM

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The Punisher (1989)

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My wife has been saying I should do a review of the Dolph Lundgren version of The Punisher, so here it is. I’ve got a lot of love for this movie. I understand it gets a lot of shit because The Punisher in this version doesn’t have a skull emblem on his shirt. Many people have said that’s like having Superman without the S, and I used to agree. However I noticed something after all these years. To the untrained eye it looks like Dolph is rocking some serious mascara and fake stubble, but now I see there was a method to the madness. Rather than have a skull on his shirt, the director Mark Goldblatt wanted to have Frank Castle’s face look like a skull, hence the dodgy looking make-up.

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For many years a shadowy vigilante called The Punisher has been killing criminals all over the city. Many believe he is a myth but there is one police officer, Jake Berkowitz (Louis Gossett Jr.) who believes he knows the identity of The Punisher. Det. Berkowitz believes that The Punisher is his ex-partner Frank Castle who supposedly died in a car bomb along with his family. Berkowitz believes he is close to catching The Punisher and is given help by a young police woman named Sam Leary (Nancy Everhard). Some new criminals from Japan have surfaced and are looking to take over all of the Mafia’s business interests, forcing The Punisher to join forces with an enemy in order to bring the Yakuza down.

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I really do like this film. I remember watching it in early ’92, so it evokes some great memories for me. Dolph Lundgren is great as The Punisher. He cuts an imposing figure and is the closest to the comic Frank Castle in my opinion. Jeroen Kraabe is ok as Gianni Franco, though doesn’t really make a convincing Italian mobster. Louis Gossett Jr. is always worth watching as he always gives 100% in whatever film he’s in. There are some fantastic action sequences, particularly when The Punisher attacks a shipment at the docks.

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If you have only ever seen the Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson versions, then I can definitely recommend watching this one too. The script is a bit stilted in places, but overall it’s perfect beer and pizza entertainment!

4/5

JM

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