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.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

I started this book in 2014 soon after it came out. Maybe it was the month it was published or maybe it wasn't. I read it to about halfway and then I set it it aside. I knew I'd come back to it eventually, though. Now it's June of 2015 and I can finally say that I completed it. This is the third book I have completed this year. It's not quite up to the "60 book a year" mark I had set for myself back in 2009. With each year I've been reading less and less. Too much internet and anime, really. I know my weaknesses. 

This is the first Stephen King book I've finished since 11/22/63. I've got the others he has released since then including Finders Keepers but I just haven't gotten to them. My re-read of The Shining is also somewhat on hold. 

But I'm proud of myself for completing this one even though it isn't the greatest King book I've ever read. This isn't a transcendent journey like 11/22/63 or even Lisey's Story (which I didn't really enjoy as much as I would have liked - I mostly read it because I want to read all of King's work), but it did have that signature King feel. 

Mr. Mercedes is a down to earth novel that isn't supernatural at all. And King has done that before with varying degrees of success. Cujo, comes to mind. Misery and Rage and even The Running Man as well. 

This isn't horror, either. Not that that's a complaint even though some have made it out to be. I loved The Eyes of the Dragon even though that wasn't horror at all. 

So on what level does Mr. Mercedes reside in the great tower of Stephen King releases? 

Hmmm... Well, it really isn't all that original. It doesn't try to remake the wheel or put any new treads on it. While I was reading it I thought of great cat-and-mouse novels like Red Dragon. Well, Red Dragon this is not, but it is good because it is written by an author that can make just about any story interesting. 

Kermit William Hodges has a silly name that would make even Dean Koontz proud, but he's a fairly likeable character. Maybe not the best lead King has ever written (that would probably be Roland Deschain of Gilead), but Hodges is serviceable. He's haunted by the crime committed by Mr. Mercedes and toys with the idea of suicide. Until he is sent an invitation to get back in the game from the "perk" himself.

The kid who mows his lawn is Jerome Robinson and Jerome has this annoying thing where he talks with an affected ebonic accent, but other than that Jerome is alright. Together with Hodges, the two of them make an unlikely duo as they take on Mr. Mercedes. They aren't exactly Riggs and Murtaugh, but there's a chemistry there. I just wish that King would have had Jerome would lay off on the Tyrone Feelgood Delight thing. Just using it once would have been more than enough. It makes the characters uncomfortable, but it made me a bit uncomfortable, too. Maybe all of that recent confederate flag controversy has gotten to me, but it seems having a black character put himself down that way is a bit untimely. 

Of course, there have to be a few chapters written from the viewpoint of the bad guy with these types of stories and in some ways those are the best ones. Brady Hartsfield is one messed up dude and King is great at creating messed up dudes. He's been doing it for years. It's what I feel he can do best and it works just fine outside of a horror setting. In fact, it's through this gateway that he can successfully go from the realms of horror to the realms of crime. It might be a bit gratuitous to you, but I've read plenty of Laymon and Lee and this feels like coming home to me. It's certainly within the confines of what I can read on a full stomach. 

But at times I felt like I was reading a Dean Koontz story, too. Not the words themselves, but a Dean Koontz story nonetheless. You know, back when Dean wrote thrillers that were pretty good and fast paced, but a bit generic, too. If only Hodges had owned a dog... Still, Stephen King wrote a really good novel with this one. He's not quite Donald E. Westlake, though. This isn't quite the hardboiled crime caper I thought it was going to be. Maybe if it had been a Richard Bachman novel it would have been. 

I'll certainly pick up Finders Keepers. I believe I set this book down the first time so I could wait for Finders Keepers to be released, anyway. 

I just view this book as a middle of the road Stephen King novel. It's better than others (not many), but it isn't a classic. It could have been better. The opening was certainly memorable, though. And there was one character death that was incredibly impactful. Yet I still think it could have been better. 

Kill la Kill

"What's the greatest anime you've ever seen?"

"I won't tell you that, but I will tell you the best anime to involve evil clothing and nudists... the most awesome nudists."

I tried to open this review with one of those must read type of opening sentences. I guess I'm no Peter Straub (and I'm honestly curious as to whether or not any of you know what I mean by that), but I do like to think I can start off a review in style. 

I suppose that if there has been one glaring omission made (among many, I suppose) by my anime watching habits it is that I had for so long denied Kill La Kill. I didn't do it purposefully or anything like that. It's just that one guy can only watch so much anime and certain others have to get sacrificed. Kill La Kill was an unfortunate sacrifice. 

Honestly, what first piqued my interest in this crazy-ass anime was a shirt referencing Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movie. I love Quentin Tarantino and anime and Kill Bill so it just seem that this shirt was made strictly for me. The shirt was magic. I had to buy it. 

But I held off on watching the anime even though I had a shirt representing it. I know that seems like a "poseur" attitude, but I knew in my gut I would enjoy this anime no matter what. I just needed time to get to it. 

Any anime that references Tarantino cannot be bad. In fact, the characters from Pulp Fiction make brief cameos in this anime. How brief? Like blink and you'll miss it kind of brief, but they are there nonetheless. If you don't pause at the right moment they'll be gone. No joke. 

Kill La Kill is a love letter to anime. It is a love letter to fans of Gurren Lagann. It is a kind of fanservice for fans that bleed (from their noses, more than likely) for their favorite anime. This is what it is all about for me. 

School settings in anime are always ripe for depiction, but this time it is a bit different. At these schools the "Goku" uniforms carry enough lethal power to put even the great Unicron out of commision. 

But even then all articles of clothing are not made equal. 
There are powerful clothes and then there are the Kamui made from pure life fibers. 

Matoi Ryuko is a girl seeking vengeance for her father's death, but it seems like she'll never get it if she doesn't get stronger. The one responsible, Kiryuin Satsuki, is the leader of the Honnouji Academy. Judging by her “Fear is freedom! Subjugation is liberation! Contradiction is truth! Those are the facts of this world! And you will all surrender to them, you pigs in human clothing!” speech, I think you can tell what kind of person she is. She is absolutely ruthless and you will hate her. I certainly wouldn't want her in charge of my school. 

Ryuko suspects Satsuki of being responsible for her father's death, but she can't touch Satsuki.

But one day she discovers Senketsu, a living girl's sailor outfit that drinks blood in order to transform into an exhibitionist's suit of armor and things start changing for all parties involved. 

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention what is probably the greatest underground militant group in the history of anime. I'm talking about "Nudist Beach."

The Nudists understand that the Goku uniforms and the life fibers are a danger to human beings everywhere. The only way to achieve peace is to break free from the life fibers and go on a full commando rebellion, baby. It's Nudists vs. articles of clothing like you've never seen before. It will blow your mind. 

So, yeah, this anime is pretty damn awesome. Of course, ya'll knew that already. I'm the last schmuck on the planet to get around to watching Kill La Kill in all of its subtitled glory. 

But if you haven't watched it then there is no time like the present. Yes, the ghosts of Gurren Lagann will linger over this anime and comparisons will be made until doomsday, but this Kill La Kill doesn't believe in Gurren Lagann. Instead this is the anime that believes in the Kill La Kill that believes in itself.

Or something like that. 

Thanks for the ride, Studio Trigger. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Too! (Yahari Ore no Seishun Rabu Kome wa Machigatteiru)

When I was in elementary school I had a lot of friends. Or, well, maybe not a lot of friends, but I had a few and I wasn't worried about perceptions of me. Teachers knew of me and my folks. I was liked. Up until the fifth grade I even had the same teachers as my brother and I appreciated that connection. It kind of made me feel like I was part of a group. But when I was in the fourth grade I suffered the dawning realization that my friendships could very well be coming to an end because all of us would be shipped off to different schools.

There was a sense of finality. I was going to be alone. But when the school zones changed suddenly since a new elementary school had been built I found myself unready for the change in social climate. I was only going to be at this particular school for one year before starting sixth grade at middle school, too. I went from a fairly warm environment (my elementary school had been an old one) to an unintentionally cold one (that I often relate to hospitals as well) and I didn't take to it well. 

It was at this time that I sort of began to withdraw. I smiled when I had to, nodded my head at the right times when someone talked to me, and tried to laugh at the appropriate times if someone told me a joke, but I wasn't really in the moment.

This sort of behavior got worse in middle and high school because I refused to indulge in any sort of social behavior. I only indulged in a handful of social during high school. Since the I've had even less, but at least now the reasons are sort of different. I no longer feel uncomfortable around people. Now I just don't like most of them. See, it's different.

Honestly, if no one talked to me in middle school or high school I wouldn't have bothered to talk to anyone at all. Whatever ties I did have with elementary school companions were subsequently cut off because of my behavior. I try not to think about it, but every now and then I feel bad about how I just cut ties with what had been some good friends at the time. Childhood friends, you know. 

Being introverted, being coldly analytical, and always trying to live according to reason is tough to do and it isn't one of those things that can just be turned off. When my mind "came to" at times it would be somewhat sluggish like a computer recovering from a forced shutdown. I'd sometimes wonder, "Why the hell am I acting this way?" before pinching that thought off and plodding along through my solitude. 

A few folks sort of provided me with a tether to reality halfway through middle school, though. At a time when I just wanted to be left alone they wouldn't stop bothering me. And I'll always be grateful for that.

This group, like Hachiman's in a way, put me on the course toward wanting to find the "real thing." Of course, I don't have a "real thing" to this day, but I at least understand the concept of it. Or I think I do. 

Although things are a lot different now in some aspects my social skills are still lacking. It's tough to recover from. Really tough. 

I suppose virtually none of this seems to have anything to do with My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Too on the surface. I guess this shouldn't even count as a review, but more as a "thoughts inspired by" kind of thing. But it's only thanks to an anime like this that I can truthfully relate my own experiences.

Hikigaya Hachiman is the anime hero no one deserves, but everyone needs and seasons two does him some justice. He grows like I wish I could have done back in the day.

This is one of the few anime that I felt like watching again immediately after finishing. For a number of reasons. The second season arrived about two years after the first season and I chose not to re-watch the first season before jumping into this one. That was a bit of a mistake. This anime thrives on subtlety and on the moments in between moments. It's not just one of those that can be easy to remember. There are certain little things that can so easily go missed. Watching just one episode each week isn't ideal because there's so much impact lost in the week between episodes, but watching the second season after two years of waiting made me forget most of the damn story.

This is one of those anime that deserve a full weekend of time. Set aside two days and just binge-watch the two seasons and feel purged for it.

Of course, I really wish the ending of this second season could have provided a bit more clarity. I really don't like being cliffhangered after two years of waiting. And I suppose the pacing could also have been tidied up a bit.

But the beauty of this anime is that it takes everyday school life and makes something fascinating from it. There was nary an explosion in this anime, but it was intense in its own way and I was left wanting more. Especially, after that ending that will be infamous if there isn't a follow-up.

Unfortunately, this season's ending catches up to the light novels so it could be 2017 before there's a third season. I don't really even know how plausible that sounds. It really was tough to wait from 2013 to 2015. Between that time the studios and the animation style changed. It was worth the wait, though.

I guess we'll just have to see about season three.

But if you love anime then buy the blu-rays, stream it on Crunchyroll, or maybe even try out the light novels if you can find them. If there's a proper translation I might even pick them up myself.

Just support this wonderful anime. It deserves it and you deserve it. 

Commitment (Dong-chang-saeng)

Forgive me for not posting. I've been a bit under the weather lately. I suppose some of it is physical, but a lot of it is mental. Work-related fun and all of that. I hinted at it before in a previous post, but for a while I've been going through a bit of a work-related depression. And it's really been killing my blogging skills. Of course, that's not to say I don't have a bunch of killer reviews coming up. The anime Kill la Kill, Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes, and the second volume of Dr. Slump should all get the Jacobian treatment before the end of the month. 

And I have a whole weekend off right now so I'm excited about that.

To get things started I suppose I'll post a review for a Korean film that I saw a few nights ago. This film stars the Korean hip-hop star that goes by the stage name of "T.O.P." His real name is Choi Seung-hyun. I'm really not a fan of hip-hop regardless of the language used, but this young fellow could have a future in acting if he was could improve upon his ability and choose movies that had more substance.

2013's Commitment follows the tried and true formula of the secret agent from the North trapped in South Korea against his will and betrayed by his country. That agent just happens to be one of the most popular artists in Korea in real life so it is kind of tough to take him seriously as this all around badass. I had the same problem when I was watching his role in the otherwise excellent Korean television drama Iris.

It's not that T.O.P. can't act. It's just that it seems like he's trying a bit too hard to seem like a badass. If he just toned it down a bit it would be easier to accept him as a leading actor. He's certainly chosen some pretty decent movies so far. Not great movies, but decent. His movies, like his abilities, are just missing that little bit that could really create a gap between the competition. 

That's not to say Commitment doesn't have its moments. There are some really good fight scenes and the ending is actually pretty satisfying because it doesn't go for the happy one. Unfortunately, some of the more political stuff kind of gets thrown out of the movie halfway through and that was kind of a disappointment. The underdeveloped storylines between Section 35 and 8 and the NIS become pointless when it is basically just T.O.P. vs. everyone the entire time and everyone knows it. It's a wasted opportunity. There's no muddying of the waters or complex characters relationships. Nope, it's a good guy vs. everyone type of movie without a lot of in depth reflection compared to many of the other Korean movies I have seen. 

And of course there's a love story thrown in. 

I did like the initial school setting. The idea of a secret spy from the North being forced to go to school in the South and try to hold back against the school bullies is a neat one, but it was quickly dropped and forgotten about. I thought a bit more could have been done with that. The school setting just served as the setup for T.O.P. to meet his love interest. So it was plot device and nothing more as far as that was concerned. 

Yoon Je-moon was pretty good as the main NIS agent, but other than that there really isn't a lot of heavy lifting on the acting front. 

Commitment is a fairly decent popcorn movie. It doesn't carry that weight of, say, The Man from Nowhere, but it's still pretty good. It just could have been a lot better. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Jurassic World

To date I have seen all of the Jurassic Park sequels in theaters. I was three years old when that movie came out so my parents didn't take me to see it, but I was deemed old enough to watch of the others in theaters, though. Especially this one. Not that I had to ask for permission or anything. That'd be silly. 

I was a bit hesitant to see this movie because I figured that all that could have been done with the killer dinosaurs had been done before. But it's tough to resist watching stupid people getting eaten up by dinosaurs. It's the same reason I'm willing to keep watching Jason Voorhees slaughter dumb teenagers. It's just one of those things we consider immensely entertaining for reasons that confound critics. 

23 years after Jurassic Park dinosaurs are still cool. However, this movie isn't really a children's movie. At least it shouldn't be. It's a bit bloodier than entries past and there are more deaths. There's one human death in particular that could be considered over the top. Although it isn't that much different from the woman that was killed at the beginning of the first Jaws movie. In fact, I think that scene was a tribute. You'll know what I'm talking about when you see the movie. It's pretty brutal. 

But parents will take their kids to this movie because they probably grew up with this series. Nothing wrong with that, but just remember that dinosaurs eat each other and people and blood will be spilled. Kinda weird, but I grew up watching insanely violent movies, too. I can't say nothing. 

I really can't speak for the nostalgia aspect. I grew up watching the first film and its sequels on VHS, but they weren't my faves. The first one was the best, but I liked them all well enough. The first is a classic, but Spielberg has so many classics under his belt that I kinda forget about Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park certainly doesn't touch Schindler's List or The Color Purple in terms of depth or impact for me.

Jurassic Park is simply a monster movie (and not Spielberg's first, either). No different than any of the Japanese monster films, really. It has a great cast and effects that still stand up well to this day, but I've never considered it "unfollowable." The first two sequels didn't do a great job (some of us forget that Spielberg actually directed the first sequel), but they were watchable. However, Jurassic World is more than just watchable. It actually a damn good movie in its own right.

Yeah, it skips over the last two movies completely and doesn't feature any of the male leads from previous entries, but Colin Trevorrow is a smart guy for using the most successful of the films as the core of his story as well as a lead actor whose career is on a winning streak right now. 

Pratt is quite at home in this movie and can go toe to toe with either Sam Neill or Jeff Goldblum. He is undoubtedly a huge part of why this movie is successful. The rest of the cast is fairly vanilla or gives sub-par performances. Even Vincent D'Onofrio kinda phoned it in although he is usually very dependable. It's serviceable, but not awe-inspiring type of acting from one of the greats. 

Chris Pratt's greatest co-stars are the four velociraptors (as well as the tyrannosaurus rex that makes an inevitable cameo at the end). Ty Simpkins was good as the little kid in the movie, though. Other than that the best part of this movie is the theme park itself. The rest of the cast is dinosaur food, but the attractions were great and the setting was spot on. It was an awesome movie to look at. 

Bottom line: This is an extremely good movie and very much worth watching to the final (and super epic) climactic dinosaur fight.

Jurassic World will undoubtedly get a sequel starring Chris Pratt and this film deserves one (and anyone would be crazy to let Pratt go, too. Kudos for retaining his services). I just hope the next one tries to show off some more human talent. We already know how well Chris Pratt and the veloraptors can act. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Good Thing There Isn't a Real Pet Sematary...

On the first day of this month I discovered that Edgar Allan Poe had been killed by a car. My beautiful black cat with piercing yellow eyes that I had had since late 2008 was dead. My father had sent me a text at 6:30 in the morning telling me that he thought he had seen Poe's body right outside of the neighborhood in the middle of the street while he was on his way to work. 

Poe had a rather striking tail. It was the kind of tail that immediately draws attention because of its fluffiness. The rest of his fur was that way, too. It was hell when he was shedding because he would build this thick coat for winter and then start to lose it and anything he laid down on would become black from it.

I walked to the entrance of the neighborhood that morning. I didn't even really think about driving because I really didn't want it to be him and I could walk the distance anyway. I was in my pajamas and a white t-shirt. It was starting to rain and I didn't have an umbrella. 

I knew it was him as soon as I saw his tail. He was in the middle of the road with his tail facing my neighborhood. His head was facing the woods. 

The road was a two-lane, but it was always busy thanks to school and people going to work. I stood by the stop sign for about ten minutes before I could chance going into the middle of the road. I picked him up and he was stiff as an ironing board. 

I was fucking pissed. Actually, I was pissed as soon as I saw him lying there. I was kicking the curb and yelling the word "fuck" a lot. But I grew more pissed when I held him and picked him up. Somebody ran over my cat. Somebody killed my goddamn fucking cat. Yeah, my cat was black and it could have been pitch black at night, but still... I was cursing all of humanity at that moment. What the fuck else was I going to do? I was powerless. This was my pet. I had cats before and my last one had been killed by a car too, but I had managed to say goodbye to that one. That had sucked so much, but I realize it is worse when you can't say goodbye. 

It is worse when you can't mentally prepare yourself for the vet to have to put your animal down. It's worse when one day you picture yourself moving into an apartment someday and thinking about what it would be like to adjust your cat to the new environment only to discover that the very next day after these deep ruminations that your little buddy is dead. 

It's worse, I tell you. 

I set him in the grass in someone's yard. I was sure they wouldn't mind for the moment. I walked back to my house and grabbed a towel and the only box I could find and tossed them in my car. It was raining harder. I beat the steering wheel in frustration. I really didn't want to be doing this. 

My cat was awesome. Of all the shitty cats in my neighborhood why the hell did it have to be mine? He'd been a kitten when I first got him. He was my buddy through my schooless and jobless years. He loved to sit in my bed and sleep while I watched anime. He almost always came to me when I said "kitty" and patted the floor. He was loyal in a way I thought a cat couldn't be. 

This was crushing. 

Burying him wasn't the emotionally draining part. It was exhausting because we have a lot of red clay and digging through it is a sonofabitch, but I welcomed the exhaustion. I was still pissed. I dug a deep hole. A really deep hole. It was wide, too. I could have jumped in it and the ground would have gone up to my waist. I didn't want anything digging him up. 

The worst part wasn't even when I accidentally turned him a bit to see the side of his face while I was carrying him across the street. I managed to see what remained of that side of his face and I quickly turned him away. I couldn't look at his underside at all for fear of seeing something worse. I kept my eyes to his back. 

The worst part was the box. It had been a chainsaw box so there was a slight vertical gap on one side. Since my cat was stiff as an ironing board I had to manually curl him into a ball so he would fit. He finished defecating himself as I did so and that was really nice. I tried real hard to keep the towel wrapped around him as I handled him. 

I closed the top of the box as quickly as I could and placed him in my car. I forgot about the gap until I looked over to the passenger seat and saw the tip of his little paw sticking out. 

That's when I broke. 

After I buried him I sat down in my room in the dark and cried like a little bitch for about an hour. I could have gone on all day. I probably should have. It would have been more therapeutic. 

But I didn't. I wiped my tears away and watched anime in a state of numbness for the rest of the day. 

A couple of days ago my uncle came across a little kitten, a calico. The calico was in the wild and who the hell knows what would have happened to it. My uncle asked me if I wanted it. A hole in my heart had been torn open days ago, but I couldn't stand the idea of some animal losing its life because I was being sad and sorry. 

I've been playing with this calico a lot. She's really sweet. But I look at the spot on my bed where Poe would lay and realize that I still miss my cat Edgar Allan Poe terribly. I love having a new kitten and she is cute as a button. I'm going to spoil her and get her fixed and do everything I never did for Edgar Allan Poe, but my one "soul pet" (if that isn't a term then it should be) is no longer with me and I regret deeply and truly that I never got him fixed so he wouldn't wander around. He might have still been killed by a car because of the way my luck often runs with cats, but now I'm left wondering "what if." 

But by God, I'm not going to let this one suffer the same fate. I can't bury another animal like that again. This one is staying indoors. 

2008-2015 was a helluva run with Edgar Allan Poe, but I wish he would have seen old age. He was fucking awesome. He deserved old age and not some surprise Game of Thrones-ending. 

He loved boxes and sleeping. There's some irony here. 

It really does suck that my cat is dead. Good thing I don't know of any micmac burial grounds nearby. 

So what's the moral of this story? Get your animals fixed and keep them inside. 

Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators - "Live at the Roxy 9.25.14"

On April 29th, 2015, I got the opportunity to see these guys in concert. It was a fairly small place called the Soul Kitchen. It was my second concert after seeing the North Mississippi Allstars at that same venue in November of 2014. It was awesome and it made me realize how a lot of bands want you to listen to their studio stuff instead of their live stuff. Some bands throw all of their effort into the studio (making some songs practically unplayable live in the process) and only tour because it's part of the job. Those bands don't often sound all that good or interesting live. 

Slash has never been like that. 

Slash's music is actually sometimes limited by the studio. Even when he played on the Use Your Illusion albums where everything under the sun was thrown in it still didn't quite tap into the raw energy you get from a live performance of his. His most recent studio effort with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators is fantastic, but despite the intensity and the diversity of the 17 songs on World on Fire there's still that sense that these songs aren't meant just for the studio. There's something missing. They are missing the yells of a feverous crowd. That's the only way they could have been made better. 

It's just a credit to the musicianship of this group that they can play just as well live as they can in the studio. 

Slash has one helluva band right now and Live at the Roxy showcases it quite brilliantly much in the way that Made in Stoke did, but this time Slash's material with Myles gets the showcase since they have actually recorded and released two whole studio albums together since then. 

This setlist is slightly different from when I saw them, but it's just as impressive and very crowd-pleasing. Of course, the crowd during this concert seemed kind of dull compared to the crowd I was a part of, but that's neither here nor there. (They should have filmed this Mobile, Alabama, though.)

I'm not sure if this is a classic live album, but it's very good. It's a (almost) whole concert with all of the mistakes and everything else that should be in a concert. The only thing that sort of strikes me as odd is the blu-ray. The camera work is a bit frantic, but that's just the way a lot of camera work is for concerts these days. That's not really a deal breaker. 

What is strange is the presence of only 17 songs on the blu-ray. I'm not saying 17 songs is bad, but four of those songs are listed as "bonus tracks" and are only available from the options menu. You can't actually watch those four bonus songs as part of the main feature. So that leaves thirteen of the original 20 songs that were played live at the concert as the main feature. I'm not sure the reason for the odd song selection and deletion. Certainly all of the songs could have been included on the blu-ray. Normally, it seems like blu-rays and DVDs contain more songs than their strictly audio counterparts. The CD release actually has more with 19 of the 20 songs performed. (Automatic Overdrive got the shaft on all of the formats for some reason.)

Halo and Doctor Alibi were excluded from blu-ray release, but they are on the CD and all of the "bonus tracks" from the blu-ray are performed in their proper order on the CD release. 

So I'm not sure if the blu-ray is quite as "must have" as the CD since it includes less of the actual concert and kind of butchers it by placing four of the songs separate and dismisses two other songs from the CD entirely. 

So this is the blu-ray listing:

Back from Cali
You Could Be Mine
Rocket Queen
Bent to Fly
You're a Lie
World on Fire
Sweet Child O' Mine
Paradise City

Bonus Tracks:
Stone Blind
You're Crazy (Todd Kearns vocal)
Wicked Stone
30 Years to Life

And this is the CD:

Disc One:
Back from Cali
Stone Blind
You Could Be Mine
Doctor Alibi (Todd Kearns vocal)
You're Crazy (Todd Kearns vocal)
Wicked Stone
30 Years to Life
Rocket Queen

Disc Two:
Bent to Fly
You're a Lie
World on Fire
Sweet Child O' Mine
Paradise City

Personally, I think the CD is the way to go with this release. The blu-ray was good, but it could have been much better with a bit more care given to the original setlist. I suppose the CD can be forgiven or only omitting one song by comparison. 

Poor Automatic Overdrive has no friends. Awww. I rather like that song, too. Still, this is a pretty awesome concert. Just not a perfect video presentation compared to what the actual concert probably was. 

Friday, June 12, 2015


I love jazz-themed stories. I also love jazz-themed stories that have an edge to them. Whiplash fits that category to a "T." I bought this movie on a bit of a lark (in fact I bought it because of this insanely hilarious video... which is made even more hilarious because J.K. Simmons really does voice the character Tenzin from The Legend of Korra), but I was really surprised by how intense this was.

J.K. Simmons is a guy I only knew acting-wise from the trilogy of Spider-Man movies that features Tobey Maguire. I didn't really know him as an actor. I think I do now. At least quite a bit more.

J.K. Simmons won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the tough as nails band director Terence Fletcher. And he damn sure deserved it. I think his character even made R. Lee Ermey's drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket look tame. Yet even while he is shouting obscenities and pushing Miles Teller's character to the brink of insanity it seems like there might be something more to him than just being a dick. Or maybe not. 

Miles Teller's character is would-be jazz drummer Andrew Neiman and he wants to be one of the greats. Shaffer Conservatory in New York just happens to be the place for aspiring greats, but first they must please the tyrannical Terence Fletcher. 

And that ain't gonna be easy.

I know a film about jazz might not seem intense, but this really is as intense as any of the war movies I've watched lately. It's brutally intense.

The only point I'd take away from this movie might be the car accident scene, but it is based off a similar incident the director survived. The only thing is the timing of the car accident is bizarre with the regards to the situation. The effect is great for the story, but the event itself is a bit odd if you try to look at it realistically. 

However, Whiplash is still an amazing film about how far a person can or will go to achieve their goals... as well as how much they can take before they are pushed away from that goal for good. 

This is truly a fantastic piece of work with some great music. The editing is especially on point during the drum sequences, too. I rarely pay attention to editing, but if I had not of known that the final drum solo was shot over two days I really would have thought it was done in one brilliant four minute take. 

Highly, highly recommended. Especially for people that thought Drumline was for pussies. J.K Simmons's performance should not be missed. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

"Bust through the heavens with your drill." -  It's a statement that makes no sense on first read. However, it is the perfect name for the first episode of an anime that has earned a reputation as being one of the quintessential anime of the post-2000 era. The statement is a promise of what is going to happen in this anime and to your mind as the series continues. The heavens shall be pierced and the top of your head will pop off from just watching it happen.

It is perhaps the greatest mecha anime ever made made by one of the more talented folks involved with anime. Imaishi Hiroyuki has lended his talents to Neon Genesis Evangelion as key animator and FLCL as animation director, but it is his contribution to the direction of whole series that might endear him to anime fans from now on. After directing the anime film Dead Leaves, Hiroyuki took his first bite from the anime series director apple with this very series. He has since gone on to direct the well known Panty Stockings & Garter Belt and the insanely popular Kill La Kill, but it is undoubtedly Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann that sparked the man's legend as an anime director. 

Not only were his characters trying to bust through the heavens, but so was he and he succeeded just as much as they did. 

Gurren Lagann goes through three phases during its 27 episodes. The first phase details the discovery of the Lagann robot by Simon and Kamina. The two of them live underground in the village of Giha where no one dreams about silly things like life on the surface. Simon just drills and Kamina just gets in trouble with the chief of the village.

However, life throws a curveball their way when a robot with a large face busts through the surface of their world and attacks the inhabitants below.

Kamina decides that this is his chance (thanks to Simon's newfound robot Lagann) that the surface world can be retaken. However, Kamina wants his own robot and so he takes one and names it Gurren. That's kinda where the name for the anime comes from (although you won't hear the "Tengen Toppa" part until much later in the series). Along with the help of the scantily-clad Yoko, the three of them form the basis of what will later come to be known as Team Dai-Gurren. 

Their goal is to fight the giant face robots through the process of using their own robots to combine manly. If that doesn't make sense on the first read then you just have to watch it to understand.

From there, well, the anime takes off in a completely different direction than what you might think. The journey that begins in episode one seemingly ends early in the eighth episode, but Gurren Lagann has quite a few tricks up its sleeve. 

The animation is fantastic and incredibly eye-catching. The character designs are great. Simplistic, but memorable. The story itself builds to something so over-the-top that it is tough to imagine it had such humble beginnings, but there's a method to the madness. The goal of this anime is to pierce through the heavens using a drill. This anime is a documentary on how to do that. I'm pretty sure anyone can do it, too. Just find your favorite drill bit and get started now. (Lemme know how it works out if you seriously try it.)

The best thing of all could be the dialog. If there was ever a "man's anime" then Gurren Lagann would have to be it. It's sort of the life-changing experience that would be worthy of Ron Swanson's Pyramid of Greatness and the dialog is the reason for it. "Don't believe in yourself. Believe in me. Believe in the me that believes in you." Then there's this: "Whether it's impossible or laughable, great men open up paths in battle. If there's a wall, we break it down. If there's no path, we make one with these hands. The heart's magma burns with flames. Everlasting combination! Gurren Lagann! Me... Us... Who the hell do you think we are?!"

It's a classic. Watch if you love anime or if you want to love anime. I'm just going to warn you that these writers don't play it safe. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Nakaimo - My Sister is Among Them! (Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imouto ga Iru!)

This is the third (possibly fourth) anime I have seen that uses the ole "brother/sister relationship" as an uncomfortable plot device. I honestly don't know what mind I was in when I decided to give this one a shot. Hell, I don't know why anybody does. I suppose it is an anime and for those that will literally watch just about anything the Japanese choose to animate then I suppose this will do the trick.

Mostly, I just treated this anime like a side bitch. I watched it, but only because it was there and I wasn't really committed to it.

I'm probably going to H-E-double-hockey-sticks for that statement, right?

Yes, this is an anime, but it is not a very good one. It's kinda mediocre. Well, not kinda. It is mediocre. It's one of those anime that should be watched when you have no idea what to really watch and need background noise to think. Or if you are drinking and say, "Well, fuck I've been watching too many killer 'toons lately. It's time for a slump."

The premise (such that it is) of this anime is that Mikadono Shougo must take a girlfriend if he is to inherit his father's business after his father has passed on. So Shougo is enrolled at a school for the purposes of finding a suitable mate. There's some realism here. Not much, but as far as anime-verse is concerned this is doable. The potential for some nice slice of life and romance is here, too.

However, Shougo's chance at finding love could come with serious consequences if he chooses poorly.

Shougo has been receiving calls from a girl claiming to be his sister, but the voice is disguised and Shougo can't seem to place its origins. It's obvious this is weird behavior, but it is what she says that is perhaps even odder. The mysterious caller says she wants to marry him despite the fact that they are related. Ewww. 

Thankfully, Shougo has a good head on his shoulders. He doesn't just form his harem and pick one of the girls at random and hope she is not his sister. Instead, he doesn't choose any of them and each episode he does a bit of detective work that sometimes leads him closer to finding out who is sister really is. Other times he doesn't find out anything and the episode watched feels like a waste of time.

However, despite him remaining intentionally aloof his harem sure does try hard to reel him in. It's kinda funny and the overt sexual humor is pretty funny at times, but it's nothing that hasn't been done better elsewhere.

This anime is 12 episodes and one OVA, but it could have been halved and been better for it. Not much better, but at least it would have been over quicker.

With these types of anime you have to be in a mood for something brainless and I admittedly didn't watch this in that mindset. I took it too seriously. I kept waiting for substance. I should feel ashamed, I know.

Eh. As far as the whole "brother/sister" thing I thought Oreimo was much better. As far as the actual story I think just about anything is better. It just felt like a contrived excuse to feature an awkward harem.

But if you don't have anything better to do then go ahead. It's like preseason football: better than nothing at all.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Mad Max

It's kind of tough to go from watching Mad Max: Fury Road to the original Mad Max film from 1979. For a number of reasons.

The huge multi-million dollar budget of Mad Max: Fury Road created a tremendous spectacle, but it is worth noting and remembering that such a series originated with a film that had a budget of about 400,000 dollars. That seems like a lot to me, but then I am lowly fast food slave. However, in the film world 400,000 dollars can barely buy a pack of tic-tacs. 

The differences between the two is striking, but it is precisely films like the original Mad Max that made me a fan of films to begin with. There's a certain ingenuity found in older, cheaper movies that seems lost on the blockbusters of today. Just hearing about some of the stories from the filming of this movie and others like it are fascinating. 

The dude that gets hit in the head with the motorcycle isn't a film effect. It really happened and it just happened to be filmed. 

However, the first Mad Max film is not my favorite. It's a decent film with a lot of great moments, but this movie is not Mad Max Rockatansky as we all know him. This film is about a family man that has entirely too much dialog compared to later films. Max is not yet "Mad Max" in this one and he doesn't become that way until well into the film. 

The Mad Max formula wasn't really perfected until The Road Warrior, in my ever so humble opinion. I stumbled across a forty minute interview with Mel Gibson online where he talks about the days of Mad Max in great detail. You can find that here. It's definitely worth watching. He talks about other things like a plan to make a viking movie (the video was from 2012), but for the most part it's about the Mad Max franchise and there's a lot of emphasis placed on the first film. He agrees with the opinion I hold and probably many others hold. So I'm in good company on that end.

This was Mel Gibson's first lead role (and it's tough to believe how young he was, he was my age at the time), but the way he was introduced in this movie recalls the way the man with no name was introduced in the Spaghetti Westerns. That isn't much of a surprise considering how much Western motifs in general were used in this film. This was a Western with cars instead of horses.

There was just a larger than life aura about Max and that is what helped punch Gibson's ticket to stardom. However, that was only glimpsed at in this movie. Outside of Gibson's introduction into the film there isn't much else to really create the mystique of Mad Max until the ending when Max really does become mad and drives the fabled black car. His struggle with knowing how to deal with the outlaws and his joyous time spent with his family all seems somehow like the movie is procrastinating the inevitable and somewhat shocking ending (although certainly tame by today's standards).

Still, Mad Max is a strong entry in the post-apocalyptic movie canon. The car chases are spot on and some of the camera angles are truly spectacular. However, there was a bigger movie to be found here that just wasn't realized at the time. It wasn't until two years later with The Road Warrior and decades later with Mad Max: Fury Road that George Miller really found his movie.

P.S. - This film has two English dubs for some reason. The first is the true Australian English dub that is vastly superior than the second and rather pointless "American English" dub. Mel Gibson, despite being born in New York, had his own voice dubbed over because he didn't sound American enough at the time. Go figure. I think the shitty American dub stilted this film's popularity somewhat in America and it wasn't until The Road Warrior (which, unsurprisingly, featured less dialog) that Max got a real homecoming in America.

P.P.S. - It's also worth noting that the guy that is the main villain of this film is also the main villain of Mad Max: Fury Road even though the characters are different. Hugh Keays-Byrne is practically unrecognizable between the two roles.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Admiral: Roaring Currents (Myeongryang)

It's important to learn something new as often as you can. I highly doubt few people will in the English-speaking world know the history behind The Admiral: Roaring Currents without seeing this movie. I certainly didn't because the Battle of Myeongnyang wasn't required learning in school. Maybe it should have been, though. 

Last stands are a big thing in American folklore. From Custer's Last Stand to Davy Crockett at the Alamo to the 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, I think that the idea of a group of men being greatly outnumbered and still willing to lay down it all continues to enchant us. Those fights didn't exactly end so well for the likes of Crockett and Custer and the 300 Spartans involved, but there is one famous last stand that ended in victory for the overwhelmed side. 

If there was ever a famous last stand that should be more well known then it is the one led by Admiral Yi Sun-sin in 1597. The Joseon Kingdom (Korea) was under siege by Japanese forces and after suffering a defeat in the Battle of Chilcheollyang, the Joseon fleet now had a mere 12 ships to fight off the Japanese navy that trumped them with anywhere between 133 to 333 ships. Regardless of the exact number of the attacking Japanese forces, those odds certainly don't seem favorable for the 12. 

Admiral Yi Sun-sin had been disgraced recently, but he was hastily reinstated after the failed Battle of Chilcheollyang only to have King Seonjo issue an order to dissolve the navy fearing that no victory could come from defending the Yellow Sea. 

Admiral Yi Sun-sin refused the order and went into battle anyway with only 12 ships. 

The Admiral: Roaring Currents is an ambitious movie and knowing a bit about the history behind the battle helps. Knowing what a turtle ship is and what it does would be a good thing to know beforehand. So would studying up on history of this particular war.

The first hour of the movie mostly explains a bit about the personal motivations of the characters so I'm sure it will seem a bit slow to people. There's a lot of obscure history here for those of us in the West. Not too mention Korean filmmaking is just different from American filmmaking and the emphasis placed on characterization is also different. So maybe how these characters are portrayed and the story is told won't mesh with us like, say, Braveheart did. 

Obviously, this movie is not a 100% note-for-note true story. Liberties have been taken. The usage of certain plot devices to create an atmosphere will also cause some division. It'll either do the job for you or it won't. However, it's a million times better than, say, Pearl Harbor. And just the fact that it isn't note-for-note probably should make it crossover more than people that claim it won't because of the obscure history behind it. At least this movie is somewhat truthful compared to the likes of Braveheart (although I certainly can't knock that film). 

There is a reason this movie is the highest grossing movie of all time in South Korea right now. The first hour of the movie shows the build-up to the battle, but it is undoubtedly the final hour of this movie that makes this film one of the best war-at-sea movies of all time. Hell, it's practically the Ben-Hur chariot race type of epic. 

I remember the first time I saw the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and felt somewhat disappointed with the battle scenes involving the ships despite the presence of a kraken and a bigass whirlpool and a huge budget. That wasn't the case with this movie. It's a lot more low key, but it simply has better battle sequences. What Fury did for tanks The Admiral does for panokseon. Someone spent a lot of time researching how to make the panokseon look truly real for an audience and how they would and should fight each other in reality. Sure, there were some moments that were obviously CGI in this movie, but overall everything seemed to be on point even if some of the ships themselves were CGI because only eight of the ships in the movie were actually real. 

The uniforms were fantastic, too. I've always liked these kinds of period pieces that show us uniforms of old and these were also done with extreme care for the accuracy. It's just one of those nice touches.

The venerable Choi Min-sik plays our title character and he brings to the role just what I'd expect from an actor this talented. Ryu Seung-ryong is excellent as the Japanese General Kurushima that is the primary antagonist of this film. The rest of the cast is kind of standard Korean movie fair, but the strength of the two leads and the immense battle scenes from the final hour are more than enough to buoy this movie.

I managed to get this on blu-ray after a trip to Best Buy for about fifteen bucks and I consider it a better investment that buying the first Captain America movie for thirty bucks. So, yeah, that's some praise.

I'd definitely recommend this film to fans of films like period sea movies Master and Commander, Choi Min-sik fans, and/or fans of glorious last stand battles that seem so hopeless for the other side. You just can't go wrong with this one.