STREAMING REVIEWS: The ‘F’ words of final and father

Published June 22, 2021, 7:30 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

The two films reviewed today are making strong waves here in the Philippines. Rurouni Kenshin: The Final is #1 Most Watched, knocking off Trese, which ruled for just one week; while Fatherhood is rating creditably, given its timely Father’s Day weekend release. 

Rurouni Kenshin: The Final (Netflix Japan) – This is one extremely smart acquisition of Netflix, given the cult following and support the first installments have enjoyed. Here then is what is ostensibly the final chapter of the film series – when it comes to any film franchise, the word ‘final’ is often a misnomer. Set in 1879, it’s a Japan that is delicately poised between its feudal era and the fast encroaching modern world. This geopolitical aspect is always referred to via mentions of Okinawa, the Shanghai Mafia, and influences of the West in terms of dress and custom. It’s against this background that a tale of revenge and ambition unfolds. So there is a lot of plot and storytelling to these Kenshin films.

It good to have this plot-driven aspect as it turns the franchise into something more than just waiting for the action sequences. Admittedly, these scenes would still be the main reason for watching the films – and they don’t disappoint. Whether it’s hand to hand combat, with blades, watching dojos and martial arts academies in full learning mode – there’s much to enjoy here and the Director nimbly takes us through the paces. There is something hyper-real here, some speeding up created for effects, and yes, it does good to remember the manga source material to understand where this is all coming from. On a sidebar note, the author of the manga series was found to have a cache of child pornography on his PC in 2018, and that led to general condemnation, but fortunately for the franchise, it doesn’t seem to have affected the appeal of the films.

Fatherhood (Netflix USA) – Say what you want about Kevin Hart; for despite the brouhaha he was embroiled in a few years ago when an early career rant that went viral caused him to lose his Oscars hosting gig – he still gets a lot of love from Netflix. There was the ho-hum Quarantine comedy special that emanated from his home, and now, for Father’s Day weekend, we get this paint by numbers feelgood film, Fatherhood. You might think it’ll be a Hart version of such Daddy classics as Three Men and a Baby, or Mr. Mom, and admittedly, there are elements of those films to be found here. But to his credit, the director, Paul Weitz (who first made a splash with American Pie, but also directed About a Boy and Grandma), has more ambition on his mind than to simply ape those films. 
Fatherhood is what we like to call a Dramedy.

The comedy elements are all there to keep things moving and light-footed, but as it’s based on a true story, there’s also tragedy and drama mixed in. In fact, for a Kevin Hart film, it starts quite unusually with a funeral and the wake. It’s somber, it’s sad, and we slowly get the reveal of why Kevin is raising his daughter all by himself. There’s a more nuanced, deep portrayal at play here. While I know some may balk at the suggestion that Hart is out for drama here, I’ll give him a Pass on this endeavor, as he does manage to pull it off for the most part. I say for the most part because there are moments when he seems to overreach in the drama department, but fortunately for him, the child actress playing his daughter keeps us charmed.