Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Friday, August 30, 2013

I Saw the Devil

I'm continuing to explore foreign films and the other night I watched a whopper. 2010's I Saw the Devil is a brutal Korean slasher/revenge film (I don't want to say "horror" even though it is horrifying at times) and also an epic one with a run time of two and a half hours. I know the reputation of a few Korean flicks, but I'd had no experience watching one so I couldn't say for sure. Well, folks, that reputation is justly earned as far as this film is concerned. This isn't a cheesy Hollywood-fest where you root for the killer to kill the half-naked bimbos running around in screwed up ways. No, this is a legitimately intense and trauma-inducing film where you desperately want the (mostly) female victims to escape and for the killer to get what is coming to him.

The killer is a guy named Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik in a chilling performance that could go toe to toe with a lot of American screen villains from Lecter to Joker) and he is doing his thing as the movie starts out. He captures, assaults, and then butchers a young pregnant woman with almost no change in facial expression. Why does he do this terrible thing? Because he wants to. And he does this kind of thing quite a bit. 

This time is different, though. The pregnant woman is the fiance of a guy named Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun) and he just happens to be a secret agent with the National Intelligence Service. After catching a glimpse of his beloved's severed head, Soo-hyun decides to go on an epic quest to kick ass and take revenge on the guy who did it. But how can he find Kyung-chul? 

With a little help from Squad Chief Jang (the father of Soo-hyun's fiance), Soo-hyun discovers four pictures of four possible suspects. One of those is a picture of Kyung-chul. After a little process of elimination the real games begin. 

Soo-hyun doesn't just want revenge though because he catches up with Kyung-chul easily enough and beats the shit out of him. No, he wants to make Kyung-chul suffer as his Joo-yun suffered. He wants to make the evil Kyung-chul learn true fear before he dies. 

So Soo-yun stop short of killing him and plants an NIS chip in the body of the killer so he can track his every move and hear his every word. Then he leaves Kyung-chul alone with an envelope of cash. Prey just isn't prey unless they can afford to be on the run. 

But this is a dangerous game and Kyung-chul is a durable and bull-headed guy. As well as a fucked in the head killer. Fear isn't going to come easy. Maybe not at all. 

While this movie does have a long run time for one of its type the hours do pass by quickly once the game begins. Sometimes things become a little too far fetched (I mean, just how much of a beating can these two guys take in such a short time and still be living let alone chasing each other?), but the pace is so fast and the film is presented so well that any bending of the rules of reality is a forgivable offense. 

The director of this fine film Kim Ji-woon (who also made his first directorial effort with the recent Arnold Schwarzenegger pic The Last Stand) is definitely now on my list of directors to look out for. 

Lee Byung-hun is also getting some recognition in America after his roles in the two G.I. Joe movies (which I haven't seen but will probably soon now) and Red 2 (I suppose I'll have to watch the first one before I can see this one). If you haven't heard of him yet then you will. If you watch I Saw the Devil then you'll definitely want to hear more about him. 

Choi Min-sik doesn't seem like the type who wants to jump on the American bandwagon (Hell, who can blame him?) so I guess I'll have to work a little harder to see his movies. I'm sure his movies are better than a lot of crap out in theaters these days if his performance in this one film is any indication of his talent. The guy has got serious screen presence. 

My advice? Put this film in your Netflix queue and give it a watch after you've made sure your iron stomach is shined up.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Flowers of War (Jīnlíng Shísān Chāi)

Sandwiched between Christian Bale's Academy Award-winning performance in The Fighter and his final (?) time behind the mask in The Dark Knight Rises, The Flowers of War is a film that understandably and unfortunately failed to win over the critics and probably the majority of movie-going audiences from America at that time. First of all it's a two and a half hour Chinese historical war drama film with a largely unknown cast (to America, at least). Second of all Bale plays a drunkard hick asshole who initially tries to steal money from a Catholic church that no longer has a priest during the Rape of Nanking, China, in 1937. He's not someone you want to root for at first. In fact, you'll kind of wish that the invading Japanese soldiers would shoot him in the face on a few occasions.

As you can figure from that catchy name "Rape of Nanking," this was not a good time to be in Nanking. Especially if you were a woman.

Admittedly, I didn't know about this incident or maybe I had forgot about it being briefly mentioned in one of my history textbooks from school. (Did they even cover the second Sino-Japanese war in American textbooks?) So I can't say what the historical accuracy of this film is, but if even 1/10th of it is the way it was portrayed in this film then all I can say is, "Holy shit." The Japanese Imperial soldiers (with the exception of one or two) are a bunch of rapist assholes in this movie and probably were like that in real life, too. 

It's tragic. 

At this Catholic church is a convent of young Chinese girls, a Chinese boy name George Chen, and eventually a group of surviving young women from the red light district as well. Naturally, mortician John Miller (Bale) is glad to be surrounded by a bunch of women (Harem, anyone? Wait, that's Japanese!), but the leader of the prostitutes Yu Mo (Ni Ni in a fabulous performance... Hell, she's two years older than I am!) asks Miller to use his "American face" to get the ladies of the night out of Nanking. Not surprisingly, that's the same thing that the girls of the convent and George Chen want Miller to do. 

Miller, in typical douchebag drunk hick fashion, says no and decides he'll just stay in the church and drink the wine from the cellar and sleep in a nice cozy bed until this whole thing blows over. 

Then the Japanese soldiers attack the church even though they aren't supposed to do that kind of thing. The red light girls make it to the safety of the cellar, but the convent girls are left unprotected by the brutal Imperial soldiers. Hearing the sounds of their cries as he's hiding in his bedroom, Miller realizes that he is the only one who can do anything. But what?

John Miller decides to put on the uniform of a priest and abandon his hiding place in an effort to protect the girls from the Japanese. But what can an unarmed "priest" do against armed Japanese soldiers? More than you might think. 

This movie is really damn good. Maybe the presence of an American wasn't necessary to the story, but it doesn't hurt, either. It actually helps this film to have a broader reach than it might have had otherwise. Bale's casting (or the casting of an American in general) seems to be where a lot of critics get their panties in a knot, but the critics are just flat out wrong in this case. 

The Japanese actors in this movie do really well, too. I mean, the ones that do more than just scream and rape, of course. Although the guy who do that stuff are convincing, too. 

But this movie really is about the Chinese women and they are a wonderful bunch. See the movie for them if not anyone else. 

Ignore the 40-something percent approval rating from the douchebag critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Zhang Yimou directed a fine film.

Watch this movie... and do so with a pack of kleenex handy. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Valvrave the Liberator (Kakumeiki Valvrave) (Season One)

It's been a minute since I watched a good space mecha anime. Perhaps my wanting to watch Pacific Rim and not being able to see it is what made me start watching Valvrave the Liberator or perhaps I was just killing more time between installments of Attack on Titan. Either way, I discovered a pretty good show. It's not perfect and not quite in the same league as Mobile Suit Gundam or Neon Genesis Evangelion, but it is a close cousin. At times an annoying imitating cousin, but mostly not so annoying or imitating. We start out with a bunch of school kids. Yeah, of course, we do. It isn't anime if there aren't school kids. And the school these kids go to just happens to be located on top of a secret lab that builds bigass robots called Valvraves. This school happens to be part of the JIOR territory too and JIOR is supposed to be neutral in the war that is being fought between Dorssia and ARUS. So why is JIOR building weapons? And under a school, no less! Watch to find out. 

Our main character is Tokishima Haruto and he is just your average reasonably popular school kid. He likes his childhood friend Sashinami Shoko and he is about to confess to her (A love confession in the first episode of an anime? No freakin' way!) when Dorssia attacks the peaceful JIOR and really screws his plans up (Told ya!). Shoko is killed (or is she?) and Haruto decides that he wants to kill the Dorssia scum that killed her. But how? Well, as the lab below the school is being attacked by the terrorists, a dying scientist sends the Valvrave 1 up to surface level within convenient reach of Haruto and thus out of reach of said terrorists. 

But there's something peculiar with this robot. It requests that you give up being human in order to pilot it. Haruto does so without knowing the possibly very dangerous side effects of his choice. Haruto becomes a hero though and he drives back the Dorssian forces as well as the ARUS forces trying to snare him in a political trap to steal the Valvrave. 

Eventually about four other pilots in four different colored Valvraves join his fight and the school becomes an independent nation floating through space with the Valvraves serving as its army and its engine. 

But it isn't easy to run a country made up almost solely of school kids. Some definite growing up is in order if they want to survive and keep order. This is where supreme badass and untrustworthy genius prick from Dorssia L-elf Karlstein comes in. L-elf is a refugee (supposedly) that helps Haruto when it benefits him and he is known as the "One-Man Brigade" even though he is 16 years old. Word of advice? Don't mess with L-elf. 

Much like a mecha anime called Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, we are given a mecha drama filled with supernatural undertones. However, Valvrave the Liberator also has a bit of a sense of humor and even a romantic angle going for it at first. But like a lot of anime shows the light and fluffy stuff gradually gets dropped and shit starts getting real as we approach the final episode. And I've got to say that I've seen a lot of anime. Probably more than is healthy for even the nerdiest of nerds. But there is a specific moment later on in the show (and you'll know it when you see it... I think it is in episode 10 or whatever episode is called Campaign Promises of Love) where my jaw just about hit the damn floor. Man, I just really was NOT expecting this incident to happen at all! I mean... it's just one of those things that will grab you. 

The first season left some serious questions to be answered about the Valvraves and Haruto's condition and all I can say is, "Man, I can't wait for the second season to arrive in October!" Until then I'll just be cliffhanger-ed for almost three months. It's freakin' agony. 

The second season will decide if this show ends up in my catalog of greatness, but if it improves upon the first season then it will be a serious candidate. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013


I remember getting this movie on VHS before the sequels began milking the crap out of this movie. I had never heard of it before and figured that I might enjoy it since it had Danny Glover in it. Plus a severed hand and foot were on the cover and that was a bonus. I watched it once when I was 14 and enjoyed it and that was it.  

I personally haven't seen any of them beyond Saw III because I decided that three was enough for me. I didn't really see a point in extending the series beyond the third movie. Honestly, I still don't see the point in it being a series at all. The first movie works perfectly fine by itself. It's not a great film, but it is pretty decent even though it really doesn't hold up so well on repeat viewings. The sequels are even worse when it comes to repeat viewings because with the first one at least no one knew there was going to be a twist ending. Saw II (my least favorite of the three) and Saw III (liked this one enough to be glad I saw it in theaters but still not better than the first one) indulged in the same kind of twist ending style, too. The reason I didn't watch any of the other Saw movies was because I knew that twist endings are not twist endings when they happen all the time. That just isn't a twist anymore; that's formula. 

And the sequels moved more into the horror/torture genre, too. The first film is not too gory or a torture porn movie. Anybody who says otherwise has never seen this movie. There is one scene where it gets kind of "torture-y", but almost all of the bloodletting happens off-screen. Things are hinted at and sometime shown, but never excessively. 

This film is much more of a dark mystery thriller in the vein of Se7en or The Silence of the Lambs than a gory modern horror movies like Hostel or Final Destination. It's the sequels that began to focus more on the unique ways to torture people. The sequels focused more on the acts and how gruesome they were. The first one certainly knew how to be gruesome, but it wasn't over the top. 

Chances are you know the story by now. 

Two guys are trapped in a rundown bathroom and are forced to make terrifying choices in order to survive. Of course, there's a bit more to it than that. But I'll save that for the movie to tell if you haven't seen it.  

The storytelling is shaky and filled with flashbacks. So many that you could find yourself momentarily lost if you aren't paying attention. While the story of the detectives (Danny Glover, Ken Leung) helps fill time and provides for a few red herrings here and there this movie is primarily about the victims played by Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell. Since a large part of this story is told in flashbacks from the point of view of the victims it becomes a bit bizarre when we see a flashback from Danny Glover's point of view. 

It's almost like the writers of this flick knew that you couldn't find out more about Jigsaw by sticking with the victims who are stuck in a broken down bathroom so they had to find a way to fill gaps in the story. This method works to a degree, but it makes you wonder why Glover himself wasn't given a larger part in this movie. I mean, nothing is learned about his character at all while we are traveling with him. Yeah, he's obsessed with Jigsaw, but what else? He's just that stereotypical tough guy cop with no social life. That's all. I guess that is supposed to remind us that he isn't at the center of the action, but he is certainly a key ingredient that I felt was underutilized. 

This film is a pretty good one despite its budget restrictions and herky jerky style of storytelling. Tobin Bell is what makes this a classic, though. He is the voice of Jigsaw in this movie and that does provide for a few creepy moments, but it is his very brief appearance at the end that is what really catapults this movie above a lot of others. Yeah, it's a cliche now, but I had no freaking idea that all that time... Okay, I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it. It really is the ending that makes this movie though and that is exactly why repeat viewings don't quite hold up so well. Once you know the secret then the whole movie becomes insanely obvious even if the result is a bit far-fetched. 

However, it is still better than a lot of its imitators even if Saw itself imitates Se7en just a bit.

My advice? Avoid all the sequels and stick with the original. 


I have a sincere appreciation for the German and Japanese languages and often watch shows or movies or listen to music from those countries, but I can honestly say that I don't venture beyond those two cultures very much to get my "foreign fix." Yeah, I watched a couple of Sergio Leone films (who hasn't?), but those were filmed silent and then dubbed over in English. Plus they had a few American actors sprinkled in. I typically view foreign films as films that are products from other countries and contain a cast and crew made up of the citizens of that same country. That's why I don't view Letters from Iwo Jima or The Passion of the Christ as "foreign films" even though they are certainly "foreign language films."

Irreversible is a genuine foreign film, though. It was filmed in France and the actors were French and there was not a word of English spoken throughout the film. Well, unless you count the word "rectum."

The very weird thing about this movie (or maybe the weird thing about me) is that I did not want to watch it at all. When I saw the title on Netflix, I thought "I wonder what moron is going to willingly watch this movie." Then I thought, "Well, I haven't seen it and I'm not doing anything else at the moment." So I guess that makes me a moron. Very much so, in fact.

While I have seen Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door as well as the original versions of I Spit On Your Grave and The Last House on the Left, I can honestly say that the whole hardcore rape horror movies are something I typically avoid. They aren't entertaining and they take a serious effort to watch even if they are made extremely well and by talented people.

While I certainly wouldn't classify Irreversible as a horror film, I certainly would describe two of the scenes in the movie as difficult to watch. One of them you probably already know about.

We open up at the end of the story and gradually move back through time. This isn't quite pulled off with with the same mastery of Chris Nolan's Memento, but it is still fairly effective to a point. Until the ending.

Two guys named Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel) are at a gay club called The Rectum and they are looking for a guy who calls himself The Tapeworm. Marcus is very pissed about something while Pierre is trying to calm him down and keep him from doing stupid shit. It doesn't work out so well. A guy who might or might not be The Tapeworm whips Marcus's ass and almost rapes him before he gets owned by Pierre. The guy who might or might not be The Tapeworm gets his face crushed to a pulp by Pierre during a fight.

The opening scene in the gay club is definitely a stifling one and kind of annoying as hell. The camera is shaking and being whipped around in circles and it is tough to see what the fuck is going on. I can understand the effect because it does put you on edge, but it also just looks sloppy. Maybe it is purposely sloppy, but I still don't like sloppy. Since this is a foreign film we do get an abundance of male frontal nudity that we typically don't see in American movies. This almost put me off watching because I was getting grossed out. I really should have stopped watching it right there, though. Again, I'm a moron.

From this point on we work our way back in time. Marcus and Pierre are searching for The Tapeworm because he is the one who raped their good friend Alex (Monica Bellucci). Alex is Pierre's ex-girlfriend as well as Marcus's current girlfriend. 

The rapist turns out not to be the one that Pierre had killed but rather the one who had been standing right beside him at the club. Oh, the cruel irony. The baddie gets away scot-free at the start of the movie and you don't even know it until you actually witness the rape scene firsthand.

The rape scene... Completely agonizing. All the more reason that you should not watch this movie because the camera doesn't turn away at all. You see it. The angle is relatively subtle until the dude pulls out and you see some digitally added male schlongage, but you definitely get the full effect without that addition. You see him rape Alex and then you see him beat the shit out of her. Again, there's no "camera moves away while we hear sounds of struggling stuff." How long does it last? Ten minutes? Something like that. It is agonizingly long. I totally would not blame anybody for not making it through.

After that scene the rest of the movie is fairly pointless. I'm pretty numb and there's just no topping that one scene. The rest of the movie (the beginning of the story) is calm and sweet and we soon learn that Alex is actually pregnant with Marcus's child and she is happy and reading a book in the park and the movie ends.

Honestly, I did not take much from this movie. Yeah, I know the message it was trying to convey, but it just tried too hard to shock and the last part of the movie feels largely anti-climatic (pardon the pun). The revelation that Alex is pregnant certainly makes the rape scene that much more horrifying in retrospect, but at that point in the movie I was just too numb to think about things like that. The final 20 minutes of the film is a trial of patience because it is just Marcus, Alex, and Pierre having a good time being pals and not much else. Again, I know this is the beginning on the story and all that and I know how it signifies how peaceful things were before the shit hit the fan, but it just isn't interesting. And I was on autopilot anyway so if anything else had happened it wouldn't have mattered much to me anyway. I kept thinking, "Holy shit, that rape scene was fucked up and I'll need some therapy" for the rest of the movie. The film might as well have not had an ending. 

Since I don't know jack about the French language, it took me a bit to figure out who the hell was talking at times. The screwed up and often frantic camera angles didn't help any during a few of the scenes. It was an adjustment and I made it after about half an hour, but I really do wish that this had not been my first French movie.

Taking it all as a whole I guess you could call this a decent movie. Maybe. If, like me, you are a complete moron then go ahead and give this movie a try. It's not exactly one for date night, though. Just some FYI. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013


I'm not what you would call a huge Brad Pitt fan. Typically, I avoid movies with him in them just like I avoid movies with Colin Farrell in them. Not saying they are bad actors or that they make usually bad movies (well, okay, I actually kind of am), but I won't exactly break the bank to watch their movies in the theaters. Maybe I'll catch the half-priced matinee, but I generally just watch 'em on the tube if nothing else is on. Remember the hype there was for World War Z? When I heard Brad Pitt's name mentioned as the star the movie fell off my radar completely.

But... I will stand up for a few of Pitt's movies. Inglourious Basterds? Hell yeah. Fight Club? Make that two hell yeahs. Any others? I know I've seen a few, but there are no others that come to mind at the moment. Oh yeah, I suppose he was in a certain vampire flick with Tom Cruise, but that alone is enough to make me not like that movie. Vampires bore me for the most part and Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt being together in a movie is just plain nauseating.

However, there is this film called Se7en that co-stars Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, John C. McGinley (Dr. Cox from Scrubs), R. Lee Ermey, and some other guy who won't be mentioned here as the sadistic killer named John Doe. Yeah, you can look up who played him and spoil the fun, but you won't hear it from me here.

Pitt was adequate in his role and Morgan Freeman was up to standard as usual, but the guy who stole the show didn't make an appearance until the final twenty minutes of the movie.

The villain himself contains shades of Hannibal Lecter, but there's enough deviation from the basic character formula that it seems more like a character that could go toe to toe with Lecter rather than ride his on his coattails.

David Fincher's previous movie was Alien 3 and the signs of growth from that film to this one are fairly obvious or should be. His later movie with Brad Pitt called Fight Club continued this pattern, but I don't think even Fight Club could topple Se7en. No, I definitely think that this particular film was Fincher firing on all cylinders. Plus a fat guy eats himself to death in this movie so that automatically puts it knotch above the rest as far as I'm concerned.

I can see why this movie was considered to be the heir to The Silence of the Lambs as well as the stepping stone to 2004's Saw (a film I'm so glad I discovered before the sequels were put out on a freakin' assembly line).

In terms of gore and grit this film brings it with the best of 'em, but there is also a bit of subtlety. The fact that all of the murders take place off screen and that the grosser parts are only mentioned rather that shown is a good example of what I am talking about.

So if you are a sadist like me and like your mismatched police buddy movies with a side of drip and goo then you could do no worse than to check out this fine flick.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Good Luck! Ninomiya-kun (Goshusho-sama Ninomiya-kun)

Ninomiya Shungo is a high school kid skilled in martial arts and he's got an older sister that likes to pretend she's Chuck Norris. Shungo's badass sister Ryoko just happens to know an incubus named Mikihiro and Mikihiro just happens to have a younger sister named Mayu. Well, Mayu is a succubus who happens to suffer from a fear of men. 

Through what can only be deemed "anime logic," it has become Shungo's job to cure Mayu's fear of men without succumbing to Mayu's uncontrollable powers to attract men. This somehow requires him to take baths with her and even sleep with her under the watchful eye of his sister's video camera. But whenever Shungo's urges get too strong Ryoko is quick to step in and make sure he doesn't get the life sucked out of him by Mayu. 

At school his fellow male students chase after Mayu and it is up to Shungo to use his martial arts skills to fight them away. But some of them are really, really persistent and apparently are able to create elaborate traps. 

Enter a headstrong and possibly sybil girl named Reika who is blackmailed into becoming Shungo's maid after trying to seduce Shungo. Reika is followed around by a quiet but skilled butler as a well as a pissed off maid who hates Shungo. Reika likes Shungo even though she pretends she doesn't and she refuses to admit to anyone that she likes being the maid in Shungo's home just so she can keep an eye of Mayu and Reika.  

The hijinks ensue as Reika and Mayu fight over Shungo and Shungo finds himself in uncomfortable situation after uncomfortable situation much to his sister's and Mikihiro's amusement. 

Ah, those blatant over the top fanservice anime shows. It actually feels silly reviewing this show because there really is nothing to it. Hell, Girls Bravo has more to it in terms of plot than this show. Okay, maybe that is a gross exaggeration because Girls Bravo is pretty pointless too, but they are about on par. This is the type of show you watch when you want to laugh and set your brain on autopilot. And if you want some gratuitous panyshots with some less than subtle hints of cameltoe then there's that, too. However, there really isn't a lot of nudity in this show. Instead the nudity is implied for the most part rather than actually seen although there really isn't a lot left for the imagination. 

At 12 episodes this show is mercifully brief and doesn't overstay its welcome. It starts, causes some legitimate laughs, and then tries to tie up its attempt at a story before it ends. Unlike a lot of harem shows like Shuffle!, Tenchi Universe, or H20: Footprints in the Sand, this show doesn't quite pull off the "story turned serious." It relies a little bit too much on the "main character can't remember what happened during his childhood" bit and once you toss that out there really is no story at all. The story is sort of a sacrificial lamb in this because it is the situational comedy that is put first as the priority. The story is just kind of incidental. 

Pantyshots and laughs. That's what this show is about. 

It's a matter of taste (and possibly of age) how good you think this show will be, but I thought it was okay. Nowhere near great or even good, but it was decent and I laughed. Although I could have done without Reika or Mayu suddenly developing a fondness for yaoi. Thank God none of those images lingered for too long. 

The Usual Suspects

Before the night before last I had never seen this movie. In fact, the only Kevin Spacey movies I had seen were L.A. Confidential, A Time to Kill, Outbreak, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Superman Returns. And I actually used IMDB to come up with a few of those titles because I completely forgot he was in Outbreak or See No Evil, Hear No Evil.  

However, from I what had read of Kevin Spacey, he seems like one of those actors like Tim Robbins or Vincent D'Onofrio that a lot of people know about but never seem to quite mention with the upper echelon of Hollywood greats. With two Oscar wins under his belt, Spacey doesn't really grab headlines. Maybe you can name a surefire great movie he was in (or a few), but you probably know quite a few more Tom Cruise movies than you do Spacey movies.

The Usual Suspects is one of those films that folks who like films just hear about and have to watch. The ending is famous. Even if you were like me and had never seen the film before you'll still know the ending is famous. That takes away a lot of the fun (much like knowing that Norman Bates dresses up like his mother even though you've never seen Psycho), but sometimes this just can't be helped. People talk and sometimes they talk too much. As time passes everyone just naturally assumes that everyone else has seen "the classics" and things can get spoiled.

This is one of those movies that just doesn't work so well if you know the ending beforehand. Other movies can get away with that kind of thing. Even modern movies. Take Iron Man, for instance. At the end Tony Stark saves the day and then tells everyone he's Iron Man. Not a very big spoiler there. However, anyone who tells you the ending of The Usual Suspects when you haven't seen it should be punched multiple times in the kidney. 

The entire movie is based on one concept and that is one of five criminals meeting up in a police lineup. Their loose association eventually leads them into doing a desperate job for a criminal mastermind and that is where our movie begins. Like Reservoir Dogs, this films starts in the aftermath of the crime. Through flashbacks we are told the story, but it feels like director Bryan Singer is just screwing with us at times and we are just not quite sure what we are supposed to believe or not believe.

Without the right screenplay, the right director, and the right actors then this film would not have survived its own cleverness. If just one ingredient was off then we probably wouldn't be talking about this movie today. Even the editing was essential. A lot of movies don't make you think about editing, but this one does.

Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollack, Kevin Spacey, and Benicio Del Toro play our five criminals and I think the casting department really nailed this lineup (pardon the pun). Baldwin could very well have been the weakest link of the bunch, but he still adequately portrays his character. 

Chazz Palminteri plays a hardboiled US Customs agent and he does so in typical Palminteri fashion. He doesn't exactly steal the show (Spacey does that in an Oscar-winning portrayal of a con man with cerebral palsy), but Palminteri serves as the eyes and ears of the audience and his role is pretty critical in conveying the story we're being told. 

This is perhaps Bryan Singer's only great movie, but it's certainly one to be known for. 

Ain't seen it? Watch it. Seen it? Watch it again. 

(By the way, look for me to do more movie reviews starting with Se7en, Saw, The Human Centipede, 28 Days Later, and Stand Up Guys.) 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Attack On Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin)

There are three walls that protect the remaining survivors of humankind. These walls are Maria, Rose, and Sina. Inside these walls people have been living in relative peace for one hundred years, safe from the tyranny of the titans. Then one day a titan taller than any other breaks a hole in Wall Maria and one hundred years of peace comes to a screeching and bloody halt because the only thing titans like doing is eating people. They don't kill because they must, but because they seem to enjoy doing it and fighting them is not something that many people know how to do or have enough courage to do. 

However, Eren Yeager is a kid who vows to kill every titan after watching the terrible events caused by the titans that day. Eren wants to become one of the Survey Corps so he can go beyond the walls that cage humanity and kill the titans that roam freely on the outside world. Resolution and execution are two very different things, though. 

This is a series I had heard a lot about from anime nerds, but I postponed watching it because I'm just that type of person. Sure, I jumped on The Flowers of Evil bandwagon from the start because it was so different and it irked some people, but Attack on Titan seemed to be just another action anime at first. I had heard Attack on Titan called "the Japanese version of The Walking Dead with giants instead of zombies" on one website or another, but I wasn't sure about that. That's some high praise to someone who is a fan of both anime and shows about people getting eaten.

Well, this show really is excellent and it is one of the very few times where any television show I've seen made its presence known within the first three minutes of the first episode. Without warning you are there staring over the wall at the face of a huge creature known as the Colossal Titan and the shit is about to hit the fan. There's no buildup to the chaos because the chaos is there from the start and it just keeps building and building and building even where we are introduced to bits of backstory. The pacing is unrelenting and I think that it is a perfect show for the kind of people who like the bleak as hell end of the world vibe of Stephen King's The Stand, Brian Keene's The Rising (or Dead Sea), and the aforementioned The Walking Dead. If you want daisies and butterflies then go watch something else. 

This anime is similar in terms of animation style to another action-packed anime called Claymore, but Attack on Titan is much more intense and a lot bloodier. But if you don't care for the animation of Claymore than you might not care for the look of Attack on Titan

Excluding credits and previews and episode recaps each episode is about twenty minutes in running time and I am glad each episode is so short because those running times help keep the pedal to the metal. The show just doesn't wander around and there's almost no filler. There's an episode 13.5 that acts as a recap of the first 13 episodes. With so much happening at once the episode 13.5 acts as a bit of a breather as well as a memory refresher so you can brace yourself for what is about to come your way. Although if you've read the manga or are binge watching the series the extra episode will be more of an annoyance. 

This show doesn't pull any punches when it comes to unceremoniously killing characters and there's no real way to know what is coming your way next (unless you've read the manga, I guess). 

I just got through watching episode 19 today and it really is going to be an agonizing wait until the next episode. A week is just too long between episodes. 

There are only 25 episodes of this show according to the wikipedia page, but I am hoping that this show can keep going. It all depends on what happens next and where the manga goes, but this show has major crossover potential and I can't imagine it just ending in a few more episodes. I don't want it to keep going on forever like Naruto or Bleach and become consumed by enough filler to where the filler itself could become its own TV series, but I do want Attack on Titan to be around for a bit longer. 

The second half of the series introduces Captain Levi and he is a great entry into the ever growing catalog of short but badass anime characters. Levi is a captain on the Survey Corps and I don't know what to think of some of his actions just yet, but he has a charisma that hooks you from the get-go and he doesn't screw around. Assuming he lives until the end of episode 25 then I think he should be given a bit more time in the next season (and there better be one!). 

You can stream this show on FUNimation or Crunchyroll and I sincerely encourage you to do so. I like all of the Japanese voices on this show and I think the graphics and music are fantastic. It looks epic and in your face and it sounds epic and in your face. 

Watch it. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

H20: Footprints in the Sand

Cutesy wide-eyed anime gets old after a while, but in small doses it doesn't hurt. I am currently watching a bleak as hell and riveting anime called Attack on Titan and since I have to wait each week to see a new episode, I have basically been killing time on Netflix, Crunchyroll, and FUNimation just trying wait it out between installments. I tried watching an episode of a Tenchi Muyo! spin-off called Sasami: Magical Girls Club, but I couldn't make it beyond the first episode. If there is one thing that I can't stand more than the overuse of Super Deformed (which also goes hand in hand with the cutesy wide-eyed style more often than not), it's the overindulgence of Magical Girl genre. Sasami: Magical Girls Club is guilty of both. I just couldn't stick with it. Not saying it's bad, but it isn't for me. Plus it was only available for streaming in English so that was also an extra buzzkill.

I was browsing on Crunchyroll when I came across H20: Footprints in the Sand (named for a poem and the three main characters of the show) and while one of the still pictures used to describe the show didn't look all that spectacular (cutesy-eyed effect on me in action), the initial premise description did seem intriguing or at least different than the usual fanservice-filled harem anime. Basically, I thought it would be about a blind kid who moves into a village and forms a harem with some of the girls he meets there. And, hey, that's not a bad way to kill some hours, is it? 

I got something a little bit different, though. There is some fanservice and there are some harem-like moments, but this show is something else. This show, despite its animation style, is a tough show to watch at times. One thing I can't stand is bullying and child abuse. Can't. Fucking. Stand. It. When I read descriptions of abuse in books or see it on TV, I try really hard to remind myself that what I'm seeing or reading is fiction and therefore not real. I know getting pissed at a fictional character and wanting to beat the dogshit out of said fictional character is kind of silly, but this kind of thing really makes my blood boil. 

The central story follows Hirose Takuma as he comes to a small town to live with his uncle. After his mother died in an accident in his childhood, Hirose became blind and has since remained so. In the first episode Takuma is introduced to everyone in class at his new school. Where he is seated places him between Kohinata Hayami and Kagura Hinata. This is actually very important information to know because Hayami is the village pariah and she is forced to live on the outskirts of town even though the residents of this town would prefer that she didn't live in town at all. They claim she is a demon because of who her family was and they shun her for it. In more than a few instances they beat her for it. Indeed, all of her classmates make fun of her by calling her a cockroach and a few beat her quite badly as the teacher stands idly by, pretending not to notice anything. Hayami doesn't fight back. She takes it all in as if she has just accepted this treatment as part of her natural life.

Takuma sees (in a figurative sense, of course) this going on and feels obligated to help Hayami out because he doesn't get just why the people of this village hate her so much.

Hinata, on the other hand, is the granddaughter of the most powerful man in the village and she doesn't want Takuma to have anything to do with Hayami. It's up to her to teach him the ways of the village. 

Enter Otoha. Otoha is a supernatural being and at the very end of the first episode she gives Takuma his sight back and calls him "Promised One." As the "Promised One," Takuma must essentially use his new sight to free Hayami and heal the bond between her and the village. But this won't be easy at all. 

It is kind of bizarre that no one notices that Takuma can see the very next day, but these things will be explained later. While it can be coughed up to deus ex machina it wouldn't be quite so accurate to do so. So just give it time.

When Takuma's sight returned in the first episode I was kind of bummed, but I was still intrigued enough to keep going. I really wanted to know why the village acted like a bunch of pricks around Hayami. 

Okay, there is your basic story outline. Since there are only 12 episodes I really don't want to spill too much. I certainly could. This show made me think quite a bit. I really wasn't expecting this show to have quite the psychological edge it had and the final episode literally took my breath away. I didn't cry, but I almost did. Yeah, there go a few more of my man points off my man card. I thought about the last episode while I was at work that night, trying to come to terms with everything and work out my interpretation of what I had seen.

Because this show ends in a way that leaves a few questions. I think everything gets resolved perfectly. This show has the perfect ending for it and I wouldn't change a thing. I applaud the folks who made it. However, it is the way the show gets resolved rather than the resolution itself that made and still makes me wonder. Essentially, it's the meaning of the resolution that is worth reflection. 

And that poem... I didn't realize that Footprints in the Sand was a poem. In the context of this show it work perfectly. The first half is told in the first episode and final half is told in the last episode and by the time you hear those final verses in the last episode... it'll be like niagra falls if you are watching this with your girlfriend or wife. Might come from you, too. It almost got me to reach for my hanky, okay? And I'm a deviant little antichrist. 

I can honestly say that I really enjoyed this show. Sure, Takuma's voice actor could have tried to make him sound less like a total wuss, but that really is a small complaint. There is an episode that is a trippy parody of the Magical Girl genre as well as an almost pointless beach episode where all the girls wear bikinis (both of these things I would call "almost complaints"), but the rest of this show is fairly serious and not so overdone with fanservice after the first few episodes.

Quite a few of the characters, while initially very unsympathetic, become very much worth caring about. Even the crossdresser. 

Yep, there's a crossdresser in this show. 

This show is currently only available in Japanese with English subtitles and since this show came out in 2008, I highly doubt there will be a sequel or a dub in the near future. 

But I could go for a sequel if there is ever one. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

People Will Talk

I really am all over the place when it comes to movies so it is very hard for me to choose which movies I might want to review here. Typically, I just stick to what I watch in theaters or certain gems like The Beguiled or Reflections in a Golden Eye that I might come across by chance while shopping or browsing Amazon. 

However, there are a few actors and directors that are not represented here that should be.

So that me correct that with my brilliant review of 1951's People Will Talk. Why this movie? Well, I really enjoy watching a good Cary Grant movie and the film's director Joseph L. Mankiewicz seems like the kind of guy a film snob should mention every now and then. Since this is the only movie they ever did together as actor/director and I just finished watching it again... I figure it's pretty convenient to review it.

I assume that everyone is familiar with Cary Grant (real name was Archibald Leach, FYI), but maybe not so much with Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Well, Mankiewicz directed Julius Caesar (1953), The Barefoot Contessa, Sleuth, and Cleopatra as well as many other films. He also produced The Philadelphia Story, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Keys to the Kingdom (which he co-wrote).

Mankiewicz (very much a liberal) was subject to scrutiny in the '50's because he openly opposed McCarthyism and movies like People Will Talk were blatant attempts to refuse and denounce McCarthyism (although he did yield to the nationalists during the adaptation process of The Quiet American by changing the presentation of the subject matter). And it makes sense that Cary Grant would star in it even though Grant wasn't particularly the political type. Grant was one of those rare actors that tried to stay out of the realm of politics, but a few of his colleagues and friends like Charles Chaplin had been affected by blacklisting at the time. So this pairing actually makes sense. 

With two parallel and potentially mentally taxing storylines to be juggled and attempts to gain a few laughs thrown in in order to keep the movie in the romantic comedy/drama genre, People Will Talk comes across as a bit uneven and herky-jerky. 

It's talkative, too. While the subject matter undoubtedly caused discussion and even dissension among Mankiewicz's peers, it's the way the subject matter is portrayed in this film that could very well put some folks off more than anything else. There isn't really any action here and much of the drama and humor takes place between people during discussions. This movie (other than being about a relationship with a pregnant woman out of wedlock or a representation of the McCarthy hearings) is also about people talking and listening to each other. The one guy who spends the entire movie talking at people and not listening to anyone's responses is obviously the bad guy portrayed brilliantly by Hume Cronyn. 

While the out of wedlock mother theme may not be such a heavy topic as it was in the 1950's, you'd be fooling yourself a little if you didn't think it still wasn't a sticky topic today in certain areas. Especially if you live in one of the red states. 

But one thing I noticed is that the love story itself between Dr. Praetorius (Cary Grant) and Deborah Higgins (Jeanne Crain) is a potential point of contention. Not only is Praetorius Deborah's doctor at one point, but he was also her professor at one point, too. So essentially we have the double whammy of a doctor/teacher having a relationship with a student/patient. Then he marries her after telling her that she isn't pregnant just to keep her from trying to kill herself again? Yeah, there's some heaviness here. 

We also have the mysterious character of Shunderson portrayed by Finlay Currie. Shunderson is the constant and loyal companion of Dr. Praetorius and he unintentionally serves as the catalyst that makes the investigation into the history of Dr. Praetorius that much more intense. While nothing so bold is made of their close relationship in the movie, it could very well be implied by the modern day audience that one of the reasons Dr. Praetorius was being investigated (aside from the uninformed opinion that he was a quack) was because he might be a homosexual. I don't think this particular angle was even on Mankiewicz's mind during filming (and probably not even on Grant's or Currie's or Cronyn's) because it doesn't even seem to be accidentally inferred, though. We are never asked to wonder if Praetorius is perceived to be a homosexual by some of his peers. 

However, when two men are constantly seen together... it could lead to improper assumptions in real life and if there's anything that uptight Repubs hate it's homosexuals. This is indeed a heavy topic for today's time. 

Again, these are things to think about while you watch the movie. 

Now I am about to spoil the ending of the film because there is something that warrants mention. So watch the movie or proceed at your own peril. Either way, knowing the ending shouldn't affect how much you enjoy it so do what you will.

At the end Shunderson is indeed revealed to have murdered somebody. While the events are explained in a semi-humorous way, there's no denying that we are hearing a tale of false-imprisonment and then actual murder. Praetorius willfully keeps silent about his association with Shunderson during the trial at the risk of his own professional disgrace until Shunderson himself decides to show up and clear the whole matter.

This is the most obvious parallel to the McCarthy hearings because a lot of actors, producers, screenwriters, and directors were blacklisted and subsequently ruined when they wouldn't name people possibly involved in the Communist party. Those that did drop names to get away clean like Sterling Hayden and Lee J. Cobb certainly lived to regret it. 

People will talk indeed. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Maximum the Hormone

I don't really care for nu-metal bands outside of certain releases by Slipknot, Staind, System of a Down, or the early stuff by Korn. However, there is one other band that I will listen that indulges in the nu-metal sound. This band is the Japanese band Maximum the Hormone. 

As with all the bands that fit this genre, I really can't listen to them for too long of a time. But Maximum the Hormone do provide enough quirkiness to keep their songs light as well as heavy. They have some serious pop elements in their music (please remember that Japanese pop is a serious earworm and it will stay in your head longer than any Lady Gaga song... don't say I didn't warn you), but they also have some hardcore moments with guttural vocals and rapping. You'll go from listening to melodic singing over something like a doo wop guitar riff to a grindcore riff (don't even know if I'm listing that genre right, but whatever) with not-so-melodic singing within the space of about fifteen seconds. 

System of a Down probably comes close to being this diverse, but Serj and Daron just don't have the pipes for melodic pop singing or guttural vocals. And they don't sing in Japanese.

While I still prefer German rock to Japanese rock in a lot of respects, I would say that Maximum the Hormone could very well rival my fondness for Megaherz. Although not Rammstein or Oomph! just yet and probably never. 

It doesn't hurt Maximum the Hormone that they've had a few songs featured in popular anime shows, either. Their songs What's Up, People?! and Zetsubou Billy were featured as the opening and ending theme songs for the second season of Death Note, respectively. Their song Akagi was also featured in the anime of the same name.

They also recently released a song called [F] that is about the villain Frieza from Dragonball Z. That song isn't featured in the show or anything, but it is about freaking time more bands started writing songs about DBZ

Their current line-up is Nao, Maximum the Ryo-kun, Ue-chan, and Daisuke-han and they have released a total of five studio albums so far. Their most recent is called Yosho Fukushu

So if you've never listened to Maximum the Hormone then it's time to unfuck that. Here's a little taste of hybrid and hyper brand of rock. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Tenchi Muyo! Tenchi in Tokyo

Along with Tenchi Universe, Tenchi In Tokyo was a show I had last seen in 2000 when Toonami broadcasted it on Cartoon Network. This was something I knew, but the nostalgia I felt for this show was not there. 

After beginning my re-watch of it the day I finished rewatching Tenchi Universe, I realized a few very important things about Tenchi in Tokyo that you should bear in mind as I explain my reasons for not liking this show as much as its predecessors.

Tenchi Universe finished its Toonami run on August 24, 2000 and Tenchi in Tokyo started on August 25, 2000. On the surface this fact is relatively meaningless, but it is very important when you consider how the ending of Tenchi Universe really hit me. Like the first time I saw the ending of Cowboy Bebop, I felt sort of stunned and awed. I didn't really want to watch anything else like it because I knew nothing else could be quite as good. Or, to be more truthful, I wanted to watch something just like it but without worrying that one day that show might come to an end and that ending won't be anywhere as good.

But when Tenchi in Tokyo started its Toonami run I began to think that maybe the Tenchi Universe was unfinished and that Tenchi in Tokyo was a sequel to Tenchi Universe and not another retelling of Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki. I mean, Tenchi in Tokyo didn't start out with your typical "Tenchi meets harem" episodes that the last two entries in the franchise had done. At the beginning of Tenchi in Tokyo, Tenchi is already living with his harem and that naturally lead me to draw the conclusion that this had to be a sequel to Tenchi Universe. I began to think "So this is what happens once everyone is back on earth after Tenchi Universe." I was pretty freaking excited.

But when Tenchi decided he was going off to Tokyo and that none of the events of Tenchi Universe were being mentioned at all, I began to scratch my head.

Well, what I eventually found out was that Tenchi in Tokyo was completely unrelated to Tenchi Universe.

You see, the creators of this show put off the "Tenchi meets harem" episodes until about episode six or seven. Man, that's just mean and lazy. Seriously. I am still kind of pissed at Toonami for airing this show the day after Tenchi Universe ended without some sort of disclaimer. That may be good marketing for the first episode, but it also should count as cruelty towards children.

Anyway, that was thirteen years ago. 

A couple of days ago I began re-watching Tenchi in Tokyo knowing what to expect. Sort of. 

The first episode starts off with Tenchi (with guidance from grandfather) deciding that he is going to go off to Tokyo for two years to train to become a Shinto priest. Naturally, this news strikes Ryoko, Ayeka, Sasami, Washu, Kiyone, and Mihoshi as fairly shocking. And it would strike anyone else who had just seen Tenchi Universe without knowing Tenchi in Tokyo was a retelling as fairly shocking because this decision would make no fucking sense. 

The girls, all of them suddenly becoming annoying stalkers, do everything they can to travel to Tokyo as often as possible to keep tabs on Tenchi and make sure he isn't sneaking around. This includes Washu creating a dimensional portal that leads from Tenchi's home in Okayama to Tenchi's apartment in Tokyo. 

All of this stalking continues for a while and it only gets worse when Tenchi meets a girl in Tokyo by the name of Sakuya Kumashiro. Apparently, Sakuya has the hots for Tenchi and she wants to win him over. Ryoko and Ayeka certainly don't like that. 

Meanwhile, an evil girl named Yugi and her three minions hover in the sky and watch over the hijinks with sinister grins on their faces. Her exact agenda is unknown until late in the series, but it is obvious from the start that she wants to cause chaos for the Masaki family and Tenchi's now separated harem. 

And then we have our introduction episodes coming out of nowhere, but they aren't real introduction episodes because they are told in flashbacks. So there really isn't much choice but to watch the first few episodes in order and just deal with the drastic changes in some characters until we get a so-so explanation for why they changed so much. 

The biggest character change is Ryo-Ohki. She is Sasami's spaceship and fighting robot suit in this series and no longer Ryoko's spaceship as she had been in the previous two series. While Sasami and Ryo-Ohki had always seemed close, I don't see the point in making her Sasami's spaceship. Ryo-Ohki is obviously not Jurian technology (at least not as we are familiar with it) so what's with the huge change all of a sudden? Is Jurai somehow vastly different than the previous two series, too? This seems like one of those things the creators did for kicks without really trying to find a reason for it. How the two of them met is never explained.

Another change I didn't care for has nothing to do with the characters and more to do with the animation. I don't really like super deformed animation and this series is guilty at overindulging in that. Some of the villains that Yugi creates are just so annoying. Yugi has a legitimately creepy vibe going for her, but her creations are super deformed creatures that are more annoying than anything this side of Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo. Washu's creations are also more annoying than usual, too. 

But if you can stomach to poor introduction to the series and the overuse of all things super deformed then you will start to be rewarded about halfway through the series. It does get better and bit more dramatic. 

It's no Tenchi Universe, but the show as a whole is at least decent. I've certainly seen worse shows. 

However, I would not call this show a "harem anime" because the harem is broken up the entire show. And the fact that Tenchi willfully broke up his harem and then even began dating someone outside of his harem... I don't really like that aspect of this show. One of the unique traits about Tenchi was his wanting to keep the harem together a family unit and not pursue romantic interest. Apparently, that's all thrown out of the window for this series. 

That is the change I like least of all. 

This show gets a high rank on the "meh" scale. Yeah, I liked it well enough, but there are parts that are just "meh" and/or completely mishandled.