“The Hidden Fortress” Review

Akira Kurosawa is one of the best directors of all-time not just for his exceptional camera work, but for making samurai films both unique and fun. No film is more true of this then ‘The Hidden Fortress’, an adventure in feudal Japan seen through the eyes of two bumbling soldiers. It adds an unparalleled level of comic relief to a tale of sword fights and brutal warfare.

Trapped behind enemy lines after a failed campaign, Tahei and Matashichi try to lay low and find a way out of enemy territory. On their journey, they stumble upon a secret base for what they do not realize is a fallen clan. Within the mountains hides samurai general Rokurota and princess Akizuki who offer the two greedy men gold for safe passage to safer land. Agreeing to the task, Tahei and Matashichi try to maintain their friendship over monetary gain while Rokurota fends off any enemies and Akizuki deals with her lack of power. The journey is made all the more difficult as they hide the gold they’re transferring within wooden sticks that even the local authorities are aware of. Not to mention there is actually a price on the princess’ head.

This is easily one of my favorite Kurosawa films for the perspectives of both the characters and the camera. Several of the shots in the film are grand in scale involving hundreds of extras. One of the best scenes involves a massive wave of slaves rushing down a steep flight of stairs as guards attempt to fire on them before being rushed. The most memorable, however, is a pike duel Rokurota accepts with an old military buddy in a circle of soldiers.

The two comical soldiers are usually the trickster characters saddled to supporting roles, but it’s infinitely entertaining to watch them take center stage. They don’t become the heroes per se and they don’t exactly mend their ways all that much either. It’s a refreshing change of pace to the usual hero tale. Rokurota is best suited for this role as he makes the tough decisions that guides his group across shady ground. Princess Akizuki, however, has the most interesting development as she attempts to handle her fall from grace while still trying to do good for others.

It’s easy enough to see how this film was a large inspiration for ‘Star Wars’. The characters of C3Po and R2-D2 were clearly inspired by Tahei and Matashichi. I shouldn’t even have to mention who the samurai general and princess were inspired to create for George Lucas’ sci-fi epic. I cannot get enough of this movie as it just gets better every time I watch it. The film manages to mix perfect cinematography with an exceptional level of fun and cool. I still prefer ‘The Seven Samurai’ and ‘Yojimbo’ as the definitive samurai films of the genre, but ‘The Hidden Fortress’ is a close third simply for how much it redefined the architecture and looked good while doing it.

“Man of Steel” Review

It’s been a long time since there has been a decent Superman movie. Superman 3 and Superman 4: The Quest for Peace were lackluster to the say least and Superman Returns was more of a love-letter than an actual remake or sequel. In the crafty hands of Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan, Man of Steel manages to be the Superman I’ve been waiting for. He doesn’t explode on to the screen with the same resonance as Batman’s reimagining, but it does lay a solid foundation for the primary-colored cape.

Told in a slightly non-linear fashion, we get to see the last son of Krypton rise to the title of Superman. The film explores how Clark Kent learns to find his place in the world and cope with his powers that become painfully overwhelming at times. In his early adult years, Clark Kent wanders the globe just trying to blend in, but always seems to end up using his powers. Eventually, he discovers the secret of his alien race via an alien vessel buried in the ice. At which point, we finally get to see the iconic suit. It took an hour, but it was well worth the build-up.

Our antagonist for the movie is Zod; not an original villain, but a strong choice that fits with the story. Having escaped the Phantom Zone for his crimes against Krypton’s council, Zod wants to turn Earth into a new Krypton with a giant gravity-smashing device. In addition, he also wants to retrieve the vital codex of his people who were actually stored within Superman’s DNA. Realizing he doesn’t need Superman alive to retrieve this information, it isn’t long before the two duke it out in a city-smashing brawl that makes Superman 2’s fight look like a minor scuffle.

This is a much different Superman than the usual movie affair. Unlike like previous incarnations which dive straight into the heroism theatrics, fun though they may be, this is man struggling to both function with and properly use his superpowers. It gives a reason for why Clark dons the cape and why he decides to lead the life we know he’ll pursue. The scene where he first learns to fly by taking massive leaps and bounds is the best moment of the film as we actually get to see Superman take shape before our eyes.

This is not a perfect movie. It has some pacing problems and the third act fight scene goes on a little too long. And the biggest concern seems to be the violence in how Superman seems to decimate Metropolis and ultimately murder his enemies. But this is actually the most unique aspect of Superman as a character. When he reaches the climax which results in him murdering his foes, he’s frustrated and angry. He realizes he has to be smart about how he uses his powers and foils the bad guys. This is a man still struggling to find his place in the world and how to be a hero. I enjoyed the development in how he still has a ways to go instead of just quickly jumping into the suit and knowing exactly what to do.

For all its questionable flaws, Man of Steel is on the same level as Batman Begins. And that movie had a few problems as well, but the sequel more than learned from those mistakes. That’s why I was so excited after seeing Man of Steel for how much potential a sequel can hold for being the best Superman movie since the original. At any rate, Superman is back and I couldn’t be happier.