The Expendables 2 (2012) Review

Last decade brought us the reboots of 80s classics like Transformers and GI Joe, and it seemed that the internet as whole was awash in 80s nostalgia. In the 2010s though, we’re onto another decade: the 90s. This 20 year cycle really has an impact on pop culture, since corporations want to appeal to that 28-38 year old crowd that now controls the majority of the consumership. They of course use artifacts from their childhood (ages 8-18) to attract their nostalgic attention and now that the 80s people are getting in their 40s it’s time for the 90s kids to take the reigns. We already have seen a Pokemon anime reminiscent of the original games, rereleases of many 90s games, and plenty of 90s pop culture being smeared across the internet like a reoccuring nightmare. So it seems only fit that Stallone’s pet project The Expendables would try to tap into that 90s action movie nostalgia that that controlling demographic has. The original was an adequate film, with a good amount of fun inserted into it’s action, but it was dragged down by Stallone’s ego and inexperienced directing. The Expendables 2… now that’s a different story.

The Expendables 2 is the remarkably simple story of Stallone and his team who are hired by CIA operative Bruce Willis to track down a package in a safe. On the mission they’re intercepted by Jean Claude Van Damme, who kills Liam Hemsworth and steals the package. Out for revenge, Stallone’s crew tracks down Van Damme with a little help from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris.

Now I went through a long tirade to basically come to the conclusion that Drag Me to Hell was a decent and fun film. Let me cut to the chase here and say that The Expendables 2 is a more then decent and extremely fun movie! There may be plot holes the size of the explosions, and realism and physics that make Adventure Time look like a Ken Burns documentary, but god damn it this movie’s fucking fun. It’s everything from the 90s action films you could possibly want, including the great one-liners. What helps Expendables 2 transcend just a 90s rehash is that it’s aware of its origins and plays them up for very effective comedy. It’s a fine line to walk, but Expendables pulls it off mostly due to its genuineness.

It has the stars to back up the lines and it has the effects to back up the storyline. This movie solved the shitty action sequences of the first one by putting director Simon West in charge and he chooses the far more effective steady shots that showcase the action more then cut around it. The effects are top notch, even if there is some shitty CGI blood here and there. Again, it’s hard to care since you’ll be surprisingly engrossed in the story even if you can see every twist and turn from a mile away.

It’s a film that just happens to work through the very careful balance of all the right factors. It plays up it’s premise in the right way, pulls in the serious moments and lets loose the comedy all at the right times. Expendables 2 is a must see for anyone who’s disappointed in the recent works of it’s stars and it’s must viewing for anyone burned by the awful Die Hard 5. It’s no masterpiece of course, but these films rarely are, especially in this decade. If you like your action more serious, then stay away, but if you’re up for some popcorn-chewing fun, then strap in and suit up. The Expendables 2 is available from Netflix Streaming, and all the usual online movie places.

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Exorcist 2: Mini Review

Maybe one day I’ll come back to this, but for now…
This movie is sooooo boring. The pace is slow as molasses and the script decides to ignore a little thing called plot in order to concentrate on the Director’s fancies, be they locusts or metaphysics. The performances are terrible, with the exception of James Earl Jones who has little to do. The soundtrack consists of screams and chants that make you want to pull your friggin hair out. The effects so far seem non-existant as this director stoutly refuses to show anything beyond an occasional vision. Everyone acts inconsistently, even within a scene and the dialogue is just clunky and stupid. I’m turning this movie off, I’m gonna watch some anime instead.

Drag Me to Hell (2009) Review

Sam Raimi is considered a master of horror, but he’s done relatively little to contribute to that title in the past decade. He’s been busy with the Spider-man trilogy and that Oz movie, but he did return to his roots in 2009’s Drag Me to Hell. A odd mix of both modern and classic Raimi, this film stands as a unique and unusual specimen that demands to be examined.

After denying an old gypsy woman an extension on her mortgage, Christine finds herself cursed to have her soul taken to Hell after 3 days. Now in a desperate race against time, Christine must overcome the supernatural forces that are playing with her before their final deed, all the while fighting to keep the things she values most in life, being her job and her boyfriend.

Sam Raimi is most well known for the Evil Dead trilogy, where he mixed over-the-top horror with campy comedy to varying degrees and results. Now the one to really examine in contrast to this film is The Evil Dead, which managed to be over-the-top while still being creepy and a little scary. Drag Me to Hell tries to hit this same balance and while it does to an extent achieve it, there’s just something off about it. As I was watching it I tried to figure out what wasn’t working for me, and I think it’s that Drag Me to Hell is lacking charm. It doesn’t have that kind of charm that the Evil Dead trilogy has or that his other works have. Even Spider-man has a charm to the first two films, but this one, while it has a little, is just missing that. It seems too self-aware that it’s campy and silly, almost like it just got done watching the Evil Dead films. That may just be speculation on my part and not matter to anyone else, but I thought I’d try to explain why this film didn’t work particularly well for me.

Alright enough of that flitting around, lets get to the actual meat and maggots of this movie. Sam Raimi has for all intents and purposes created one of the most unique horror movies of the 2000s. His blend of horror, comedy and even just good writing was sorely lacking last decade and even nowadays. He somehow manages to take cliches that we’ve seen and present them flat-out and then shortly thereafter show something you’ve never seen before. It’s an awkward blend that will turn some people off, but will excite most horror fans.

The acting is fine in this movie, not anything to write home about, but it’s a step up from the wooden performances of many a horror production. The score is some weird blend of horror and the soundtrack to Spider-man, but it’s ultimately quite good. The effects are really good… when they’re practical. The CGI in this movie is godawful, even for it’s time. It’s probably a good thing that this is such a cheesy movie, or those scenes would be incredibly distracting.

Drag Me to Hell doesn’t strike me as mandatory watching in any way, or something even worth buying. However, it is definitely a unique watch and will serve as quite refreshing for those weighed down by the found-footage dredge. If there’s one thing I can say about Drag Me to Hell it’s that it’s fun and really that’s all that matters. It’s a reassurance that Raimi can still do horror, granting that he’s given a low enough budget. Also to anyone interested in lighting, this serves as a great pallet of very basic, but effective lighting techniques. Drag Me to Hell is available to buy/rent from iTunes, Amazon Instant, and Google Play.

Devil’s Due (2014) Review

If there’s one bit of knowledge you should pick up from the following review it’s this: NEVER GO SEE MOVIES IN JANUARY. It’s a dumping ground of all the movies the studios didn’t want to release in the previous year or have no better time to release the rest of the year. Looking at the chart on Rotten Tomatoes there are only one or two movies released this year that have a score above 50%. So far this year we’ve had the Asylum-wannabe Legend of Hercules, the horrendously unfunny Ride Along, the hispanic bore-fest Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, the Godfrey-Hoed 47 Ronin, and coming up we have the doomed I, Frankenstein (which I’m sure will follow in the footsteps of Dylan Dog and Priest as being a not too bad, but horribly cliched movie that ruins a great premise) and That Awkward Moment where men act like assholes… like every other comedy these days. So Devil’s Due already has that going against it, let alone the fact it’s yet another found-footage film and that it seems to be a remake of Rosemary’s Baby. However, does it manage to scrap it’s way to excellence despite these handicaps? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. No.

Devil’s Due is the story of a newlywed couple who finds themselves expecting after the wife is impregnated on their honeymoon by a mysterious cult. The next 9 months quickly become a nightmare as they’re plagued by the wife’s unusual violent outbursts, telekinesis and lust for blood. The conspiracy deepens as they seem to be followed everywhere and people in their lives seem to disappear, leaving the husband on a desperate search for answers (filming all the way).

Found-footage/Mockumentary is a style of filmmaking that has exploded into the horror community and very slightly into other genres, mainly through the independent movement. Found-footage is absolutely dirt-cheap to make and they turn regular horror movie profits, which is why studios love them so much. Many horror fans despise them for being slow and anti-climatic with terrible acting and effects. My argument back is that most horror movies have terrible acting, a good chunk have shitty effects, and for the first 50 years of horror the movies were slow-paced. I actually like a few found-footage movies, like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and to a certain extent Paranormal Activity 2 and 3. While I had great experiences viewing them for the first time they all have no re-watch value. Chronicle, which isn’t horror, but still a film I thoroughly enjoyed, is probably the only one I would go back and watch again for the purposes of actual entertainment. Mockumentary’s a film-style I can respect if a) it’s just a style and their are no in-story cameras (Chernobyl Diaries) or b) if they have cameras in the story and use them properly (Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity). Devil’s Due doesn’t fall into either of these, with a myriad of inaccuracies that on their own are the nitpicks of a film nerd, but combined create a lack of believability in the story (which is the whole point of found footage). There are tons of camera angles that shouldn’t exist, but do because the director said so. The cameras all look the same with maybe a filter thrown on, despite being radically different models. The husband even mentions that the tape is gone despite the fact the movie is clearly shot in digital HD. If you’re going to be found footage, make the effort to be found footage. There was no reason this movie needed to be found footage other then the fact that the writers couldn’t come up with anything original and scary enough for the studio to put more money into it.

Now since we can pretty much ignore acting or effects and just assume they’re shit, lets go to the scares shall we. The most important part of a found footage movie are the payoffs of all the build-up and suspense the relatively slow paced rest of the movie creates. At least thats how it’s supposed to work. Devil’s Due is slow paced alright, letting us watch the marriage and honeymoon of these fairly boring protagonists. I understand the theoretical purpose behind this as it’s intended to get us invested in these characters, however it’s completely ineffective as the only defining characteristic the guy has is that he likes to film stuff and while the girl actually has character and is interesting to watch, it doesn’t matter since she gets possessed and becomes the antagonist. Let’s contrast this with Rosemary’s Baby, where Rosemary is in a similar situation, except she has her faculties the whole time and it isn’t until the end where she loses it. The mother here goes bat-shit insane half-way through the movie and we might as well be watching The Exorcist from that point. Well except for the fact that The Exorcist was scary, and this movie is inept at building any tension or suspense to make it’s frequent jump-scares anything more then cheap tricks. The film relies almost entirely on jump-scares and the rest of it’s fear tactics involve breaking a window, eating raw meat and a hilarious scene where a bunch of kids get thrown around like a scene out of Chronicle. It’s hard to describe why there appears to be no threat here and yet there is in movies like Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch, but rest assured you have nothing to be scared of when watching this film except for when you look at your watch and discover just how little time has passed.

A colleague of mine who I frequently disagree with on movies stated that Devil’s Due is nowhere near as bad people make it out to be and that it’s actually worth a trip to the theatre if you’ve run out of December releases to see. While I think it’s true that this movie is not the worst thing ever made and that it doesn’t deserve the 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes it has right now, it’s nowhere near worth the current $12 movie ticket price. If anything this movie is just blatantly mediocre and with a different director it could have actually been an interesting take on the devil baby storyline. As it stands though, there are plenty of movies far more worth your time if you’re interested in these themes, but if you really are curious about this movie then just wait until it hits Redbox. If you do want a devil pregnancy story then I recommend the slow but effective Rosemary’s Baby or even the first season of American Horror Story and if you want a found footage movie then check out, if you haven’t already The Blair Witch Project, the oft forgotten The Last Broadcast, and if you don’t want horror then Chronicle. Before I resign my keyboard for this review I would just like to emphasize that you should really hold off going to the theatre until February as odds are your viewing experience will be less then pleasant. Thats not to say all January releases suck but there certainly is never an Oscar winner among them.

The Horror of Dracula (1958) Review

For as large of a presence as Dracula has in pop culture, his movie count is actually quite low at least when you consider the ones that have actually breached the mainstream. There’s the Universal Dracula series, the Hammer Dracula series, Francis Ford Coppala’s Dracula and Dracula 2000. If we exclude Coppola’s Dracula and Dracula 2000 as being fairly irrelevant these days, then we’re left with the original Dracula series and Hammer’s Dracula. While you hear tons about Universal monster movies from filmmakers who cite them as their inspirations and people who have used them as the standard for the past 80 years, you don’t often hear about the Hammer films anymore. They still have some presence, with their ideas folded into the mind of pop culture like something out of Inception, but no one really talks about the films themselves. It’s a shame too, since Horror of Dracula (the first of the Hammer Dracula films) is one of the best not only Dracula, but vampire films I’ve ever seen.

Since Hammer had to keep their film different enough from Universals to not get sued, the original Bram Stoker story is not followed in this incarnation. Jonathan Harker travels to the castle of Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) to start his tenure as the new librarian, or at least thats his cover as he’s actually there to put an end to Dracula’s reign of terror. He unfortunately doesn’t succeed, and it’s up to Doctor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) to finish the job.

There’s something about the tone and mood of Hammer films that I thoroughly enjoy. The gothic sets, the indeterminate time period, the excellent cast of recurring actors, the grandeur over grindhouse. All of it mixes together to create a dark a moody universe ripe for the type of horror America was severely lacking at the time. Thats why my spirits immediately lifted when I saw that The Woman in Black was a Hammer film, because I knew they could create the tone necessary for that kind of throwback ghost story.

While the other Dracula movies steadily declined in quality as they started pumping them out, this one had a certain freshness to it. It’s clear that the script, acting, directing, mise en scene all had tons of effort and heart poured into them. The pacing of the film works well, the story has the right twists and turns and overall it’s an engrossing film to watch. It’s a kind of movie and story we just don’t get these days. It’s slow, meticulous, atmospheric instead of fast, bombastic and gory. Thats not to say that there’s no gore in this film, there’s a little, but the very small quantity of it makes what is there extremely potent. We feel the weight the small amount of blood on screen would hold in real life because we’re not being sprayed with it like a Raimi film (not that that’s a bad thing in his films). There’s also something to be said for the colour of the blood in Horror, as it’s an odd vibrant red somehow created by technicolor process of the day. It’s a treat to look at for horror hounds like myself.

Something I noticed while watching Horror of Dracula was that it was fairly intelligent, and treated the audience the same way. It wasn’t heavy-handed in any way, be it with plot points, acting, or exposition. It cut away from scenes, leaving you to fill in the blanks, which wasn’t hard to do or particularly left up to interpretation. What happened was set up, but not necessarily delivered. This meant more time for the film to develop and allowed the horrors of the movie to play out in your mind, a la Hitchcock, which tends to be a far more effective weapon when used properly. This subtle difference in treatment is something that is sorely lacking in a lot of films today. Wether intentionally or not, there seems to be a more obvious manner in which stories are presented. Maybe this film is just a special occasion, but it seems to me that this could be a source of conflict for any audience not trained to think during a film. That’s why blockbusters don’t give two shits about story and subtlety is something entirely lacking from most mainstream comedies. Anyways, something to ponder when watching this or any other older film.

Horror of Dracula is not for everyone, especially those who fall into the category discussed above. However, those who are tolerable or even fans of a slow-burn film are certainly going to be in the right mind set to enjoy this film. I highly recommend this movie to anyone looking for something different, be it in horror or film in general. It’s so different from modern horror, yet isn’t a black and white or even silent production. You can still relate to it since it’s in colour, and it’s timeless/period setting will make it more acceptable to the mind. Horror of Dracula is not necessarily underrated, but just under-watched in this modern era where vampires only have distant relation to the once powerful image that Dracula once imposed. Horror of Dracula is available on Amazon Instant, itunes and DVD.

John Dies at the End (2012) Review

With all the adaptations, remakes, and sequels flooding the Hollywood screen it’s easy to say that there’s no creativity left in movies. Even independent movies tend to be homages or remixes of the same old tropes and stories. However, occasionally one can find a truly original idea, one that relies less on the cliches of the past and more on creating the cliches of the future. It’s rare, but John Dies at the End is one such film… ironically it’s an adaptation, but aren’t all the greats? Well even if you don’t consider John Dies at the End one of the greats, it’s still true that it’s one of the weirdest, most and random, and frankly unique films to come out in a long time.

John Dies at the End is the story of… well it’s complicated. Meet Dave, just an average guy, that is until a weird encounter with a jamaican leads him to have to rescue his friend John, who’s fine except he’s high on something called Soy Sauce, which Dave gets accidentally injected with and this causes him to be able to remember things that haven’t happened yet and pull down the curtains of reality, until he’s interrupted by a stranger who puts a slug in his shirt and did I mention he’s telling this story to a reporter? Actually I guess the real question is that the same axe you used to kill the nazi with?

No I’m not bullshitting you. Yes thats all in the movie. Yes I wrote that summary intentionally confusing. If by now you’re completely turned off then odds are you wouldn’t like this movie. In fact there aren’t many people that would. John Dies at the End requires the pinnacle of belief suspension and that can only happen if you go with the flow. Either you figure out what’s going on and let slide the things that don’t make sense because they don’t make sense or you don’t. If you can accept John Dies at the End for what it is, then you’re in for a roller coaster ride of weird-ass fun. It has genuine twists and turns in the story and you get so lost in the film that you honestly have no idea where it’s going. There’s no formula or cliches to rely on and predict, just… strangeness.

The actual writing of John Dies at the End is extremely witty and the characters all feel like people despite the alienating things around them. They react quite similarly to how you do and that brings you closer to them as you are both trying to figure what the fuck is going on. The acting is fine, it’s not Oscar-worthy, but it’s never distracting and thats the important part. There’s actually a few notable actors in the film including Clancy Brown (The bad guy from Highlander and Lex Luthor in the DC animated universe), Doug Jones (Abe from Hellboy), and Paul Giamatti (A bunch of stuff, I don’t know he’s just really familiar), as well as a few notable voice actors from various shows and cartoons.

This movie clearly had a low budget, which isn’t surprising since no investor would put money into this movie. It never really shows in the camerawork or production design or anything, but it massively shows in the effects. John Dies at the End uses a mix of both CGI and practical effects, which is actually becoming a rarity these days, especially for low budget productions. These effects don’t look great and a lot of the practicals are frankly laughable, but there are still plenty of points where you don’t even notice and that means they did their job. Where the effects really falter is unfortunately the climax, where the enter the world of green-screened backgrounds. I think the theory was that there was no way they could afford to make that look good, so they decided to make their other effects look better. Which I was fine with, since by that point you’re so taken by the story you don’t give a shit anymore.

John Dies at the End is one of the most unique movies I’ve ever seen and for me it hit a lot of the notes I love to see in films or TV shows. So while I tried to remain objectionable, I clearly didn’t since this is going to become one of my favourite movies to watch. It’s most certainly not for everyone since it’s so fucking weird, but for those who can suspend their disbelief or are just intrigued by the concepts, this movie will stick in your brain forever as a fantastic film. It’s surrealistic and cult-moviey, but it’s a ton of fun. I both want to and don’t want to see more films like this. I would love to see more films take on the unique concepts in this movie, but at the same time I want John Dies at the End to stand as a purely unique and untouched jewel in the analogues of moviedom. Anyways, John Dies at the End is available on Netflix Instant, Amazon Prime, iTunes and Redbox.

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (2010) Review

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is the follow-up film to the beloved anime series of a similar title and in brief summary it’s fucking amazing. Taking the series as groundwork and using it to build a fantastic and heart-felt story, Disappearance manages to create a justified and satisfactory ending to the Haruhi story, even if you still want more at the end.

Disappearance picks up where the last episode (chronologically) ends and we are accompanied as always by the begrudging Kyon as he’s being dragged along for one of Haruhi’s schemes. The next day when he gets up and goes to school he finds that the world has changed and that no one knows who Haruhi is, or is there any evidence that she exists. With everything and everyone normal, Kyon struggles to find out what happened, what to do, and where in the world Haruhi is.

Lets get the technicals out of the way first. Practically everything about the original series is either maintained or improved on in Disappearance. The animation is even better then before, only showing weak spots on rare occasions. The music remains extremely well used, but this time there’s nary an annoying track to be found. The voice acting is astounding, with both Kyon (Crispin Freeman) and Nagato (Michelle Ruff) putting in memorable performances. The story is well paced and with little plot holes or objectionable content and the script is also good, with the same level of dialogue and wit being well balanced with more serious material. I really need to emphasize that the story is incredibly engaging and there are scenes that are so well done and impactful you may get goosebumps.

So yes. Go see it. Even if you haven’t seen the series give it a go. It’s themes are fascinating and it’s setting and story make it great for Christmas. What gets me most about this movie, and what really makes it a good film, is the characters. With a movie, you rarely have enough time to get particularly invested in the characters even if the story is more epic. With a TV show or anime you get invested, but the show rarely has a good finale to pay off your investment. However, with Disappearance, and with a lot of follow-up films to series (ie FMA, Firefly), you get an epic story that allows for all the proper payoffs with the characters you’d been hoping for. What Disappearance did for me was make me realize how much I was invested not just in Kyon, but in all of the characters. It had nods to subplots I had been curious about and it had callbacks to things that I had experienced with the characters (Endless Eight makes Nagato’s character parts all the more powerful). The SOS Brigade I realized meant the same to me as the Scoobies, Angel Investigations, the crew of Serenity, and the cast of Friends, Scrubs, HIMYM and Steins;Gate. They’re a group of people whose adventures I shared in a way, and who I got to see grow. There are so many poorly written movies and TV series these days that I’ll have to suffer through and hopefully along the way I’ll come across other characters to get invested in, but what Disappearance showed me by being a proper finale was that no matter what I can always come back to that club room and share in the adventures of Kyon, Koizami, Nagato, Ms. Asahina and the always happiness-spreading Haruhi Suzumiya. No I’m not some crazy fanboy of the series, as it’s in no way going to become an obsession of mine. It’s merely another moment of my life, but an enjoyable one. So don’t be a dummy and watch the show if only so that you too can take part in this excellent film. Unfortunately The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya isn’t available for legal streaming anywhere, but you can pick up the DVD again from Bandai Entertainment (until they go out of business).

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006/9) Review

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a 28 episode anime comedy series from Kyoto Animation. It’s fierce fanbase is one that will claim betrayal against anyone who hasn’t even watched it. While Melancholy may be a fun and certainly unique series, it definitely isn’t as worthy of such standing as shows like Madoka Magica or Cowboy Bebop. What Melancholy does offer is a light, fun show (for the most part) topped to the brim with energy and imagination.

Kyon is your extremely average high school guy, but what isn’t average is the extremely odd, but beautiful Haruhi Suzumiya who sits behind him in class. After an off-handed remark Kyon inspires Haruhi to start her own club and after recruiting him, the quiet sole member of the literary club Yuki Nagato, the so kawaii Mikuru Asahina and the mysterious transfer student Itsuki Koizumi the SOS Brigade is born. Their mission: to seek out strange phenomena and in particular find time travelers, aliens and espers. However, Haruhi isn’t an ordinary girl, as it’s revealed to Kyon by the alien Nagato, time traveling Mikuru, and the esper Koizami that Haruhi is actually the unknowing, but all-powerful god of the universe and it’s up to Kyon to prevent her from finding out and accidentally destroying it.

What makes Melancholy an interesting watch is two fold: The bat shit insanity of the situations Haruhi puts her friends in and those friends themselves. The characters are really what make this show, and despite having little drama between them they’re a fun bunch to get invested in. The narrator for the series, Kyon, provides a fun spin on things with his sarcasm and wit. It should be noted that in the english dub, which is what I watched, he’s played by the excellent Crispin Freeman and he does a bang-up job of it. While we’re on the subject the english dub for Melancholy is rather nice, with solid performances all around even if it doesn’t have the same energy that the japanese does. Anyhoo back to the characters. The three supporting characters all fit into their anime stereotypes, but by the end of the series you have a sense that they’re more then that and that kind of character growth justifies the cliches for me. Haruhi herself tends to be one note, but looking at the series as a whole you can see that she actually has a complicated psyche and is much more then just “weird.”

The stories of Melancholy are often times simplistic, but they get blown out of proportion by the stakes involved. Something as simple as making a movie all of a sudden becomes an exercise in tension with the fate of the world riding on it. The show doesn’t really have any filler episodes since the status quo doesn’t change once the world is set up and all of the arcs no matter how long or short aren’t particularly earth-shattering. In fact it seems to me looking back on the series that… nothing really happened. Yes there was stuff, but comparing it to how much they could have done and how high the stakes were they actually did shockingly little. To me at least. Thats not to say the stories of Melancholy are bad, most of them are filled with witty dialogue and fun character bits to stay entertaining and the show does manage to repackage many anime cliches with a hint of Haruhi magic to freshen them up again.

The animation, done by Kyoto is rather good, but rarely is anything astounding. All the characters look consistently good, but there are several points where the animation quality drops when they’re farther away or in motion. The style itself is nothing too special, but the designs given to concepts like The Closed Space are rather interesting. The openings and endings have a fun energetic style to them and fit the rather good music well. The endings also have the characters doing a choreographed dance, which became incredibly popular and has appeared in every Kyoto show since. The score of the series is okay, with a range of music from jazz to pop and for the most part it does it’s job, but there are a couple extremely annoying songs that distract from their scenes.

Now before I wrap up it’s important I address the story arc that has sparked lots of controversy all over the internet: “Endless Eight.” “Endless Eight” finds our characters stuck in a time loop, forever repeating the last two weeks of summer. The only way to get out is to figure out what Haruhi wants to do before summer ends. In the first episode we see the characters go about their summer activities and have a good time. In episode 2 the same activities occur, but this time it’s discovered that they’re stuck in a time loop and they don’t know what to do about it. In episode 3 the characters have forgotten the time loop since time has reset, and so they go about same activities until they discover the time loop, but still they can’t do anything about it. Episode 4 has the same activities and the characters discover the time loop, but can’t do anything about it. Episode 5-7 repeat this trend until in episode 8 Kyon finally figures out a solution and the loop is broken. Now it’s not like the episodes repeat themselves, they are all animated separately and little things in the dialogue and the character interactions do change. Despite these changes you are pretty much watching the same episode 6-8 times depending on how you weigh the differences in the first and last episode. This is obviously hard to get through, but like a few films I’ve mentioned (Redline, Gravity) it’s an experience. It achieves something greater then the sum of it’s parts by you watching it and you can only get that by watching the entire thing. “Endless Eight” puts you into the shoes of Nagato who remembers all 15, 532 repetitions since her “mind” transcends time/space. This loop is massively important to her character and with each episode you slowly get dragged down by the tedium of it and you get painfully sympathetic. So while “Endless Eight” is a hard arc to watch, it is important to … at least once. After an initial viewing you can pick and choose what episodes to watch and I would probably recommend parts 1, 6, 7, and 8.

What damaged The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya most is that when it was aired, it wasn’t aired in the production release order, but rather in the chronological order of the events that occur. This completely screwed up the pacing of the series and while it did make some aspects of the story more obvious, they weren’t exactly unclear to begin with. So when watching Melancholy, make sure that the source you’re viewing it from starts with “Episode 00: Mikuru Asahina’s Adventure.” And with that said let me declare that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is an extremely fun and entertaining show to watch, with lots of greats stories and characters that provide one of the most unique viewing experiences and one that could only be pulled off by anime. Melancholy is available from Crunchyroll and on DVD from Bandai Entertainment.

The Host (2013) Review

The Host is the 2013 teenage sci-fi drama based on the book from the brilliant mind of none other then the one and only Stephanie Meyer. While I’m sure no one expected The Host to be a good movie, since the book apparently is an improvement over Twilight it seems the same could be expected from the film adaptations. Shockingly enough I find myself far more willing to make cracks at the laughably bad Twilight then rage over the boring and story-handicapped The Host.

The Host is the tale of a neutered post-Body Snatchers world where an alien race has taken over most of the human populace creating what could be interpreted as utopia. Enter Melanie the rebel human who gets captured by the nameless aliens and has her body taken over by one such alien named The Wanderer. However instead of going quietly into the night, Melanie decides to serve as a screaming whining Jimminy Cricket for The Wanderer. With the use of horny memories Melanie essentially seduces the wanderer into sympathizing with her and thus they return to the human colony, with the Seekers (Alien Police) following behind. Enter mistrust between The Wanderer (dubbed Wanda) and the humans, a love triangle/square, and some feel-good peace bullshit that’s ultimately anti-climatic.

The characters of The Host are not neatly fit into cliche categories, but they are simplistic at best. This unfortunately also applies to our lead characters: Melanie and Wanda. In fact I found them not only incredibly bland like Bella, but also generally unlikeable for the majority of the movie. Melanie especially was quite the bitch, but Wanda had her fair share of dumbass moments as well. The side characters are there… that’s all. Actually no there’s more. Every character in the movie that has more then 5 lines is extremely inconsistent in their behaviour. Everyone changes their attitudes with very little to no motivation and what could be considered character arcs for the leads are patchy and confusing. Towards the end of the movie especially, I practically got whiplash from the various turnarounds the characters had.

The actual acting ranges from mediocre to wooden, with some of the side characters being more intriguing to watch then the leads. Particularly Uncle Whatshisface played by William Hurt who’s probably the most likeable character, since he’s not a raging asshole. The actual actress (Saoirse Ronan) who plays Melanie/Wanda is pretty wooden and doesn’t have enough screen presence to pull off the dual-narration as I call it. This idea of the dual-narration worked fine in the book I’m sure, but like with a lot of internal dialogue/monologue heavy writing it doesn’t translate to screen, because it’s just not visually interesting. An actress like Bullock or even Kidman could pull it off, but she just can’t and I don’t really blame her. I blame the director Andrew Niccol who hasn’t directed anything I’ve particularly liked so far, and while he made a very technically sound film here (excluding the blue/orange colour scheme) he can’t seem to get his actors to emote properly, especially inexperienced ones.

The story of The Host is… fairly aimless I guess is the best way to put it. There’s no ultimate ending goal or big bad to beat per say. Well there is a big bad in the head Scanner, but the film dedicates far too little time for me to say that fighting her was the climax of the film. It just has the melodramatic plot/subplots of what to do about Melanie and what to do about the love triangle. Oh and the whole taking aliens out of humans thing that was introduced in the last 45 minutes of the 2 hour 20 minute movie. Did I mention that this movie was overly long? It’s slow pacing and lack of anything going on really drags that 2 hours out where another movie like The Hobbit can make that breeze by. Sitting through all that is really quite wasted when you realize that the movie’s climax is… practically non-existent. Yes you can probably place it, but it’s in as low-key of a scene as one in the middle of the second act. Then of course there’s the ending about which I had this to say when I first started typing:

OF ALL THE STUPID FUCKING PLOT CONTRIVED MELODRAMATIC STUPID FUCKING ENDINGS!!!!!! GOD DAMN IT! LIKE THE REST OF THE FUCKING MOVIE WASN’T A SLOW-AS-MOLASSES MELODRAMATIC WASTE OF FUCKING TIME AND OFFENCE TO EYES, EARS, AND BRAIN THAT GOD DAMN ENDING IS LIKE ONE FINAL FUCK YOU AND A KICK TO THE FUCKING NUTS. MONTHS LATER MY GODDAMN ASS.

The plot wraps up in an extremely convenient way, utilizing the plot conveniences and holes that have plagued the movie more then your average action film. Then to top it all off, the film flashes forward to “Months Later” where our two couples are driving for no reason in the city and they’re pulled over (of fucking course), but just as you think it’s sequel bait, it’s revealed that the scanners are also a rebel group with their own mix of aliens and humans. What a fucking coincidence. Ignoring the 7000 plot holes I can come up with, this ending is entirely unnecessary and sums up essentially what this movie is. An intriguing concept destroyed by a series of plot contrivances and conveniences all for the sake of a stupid love and peace message.

The themes of The Host have been done before and in better movies but they would have been interesting to explore in this context. Especially the idea of a host fighting it’s parasite and the moral quandary of what to do with that parasite if it has loved ones too and no convenient body to jump into. If you liked the sci-fi side of the alien invasion check out either the 1950s or 70s incarnation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. If you liked the arc of the head Scanner check out Pleasantville as there are some striking similarities in a few scenes. And if you liked Wanda trying to live Melanie’s life then check out the show Quantum Leap. But whatever you do stay away from this piece of shit. I’m not commenting on the book, just the movie and it’s an utter waste of time and filmmaking that is just a cash-in on Twilight with little else behind it. While it does have it’s laughably bad moments like Twilight, for the most part it will just infuriate and bore you. And boredom, as any moviegoer knows, is the ultimate sin of the cinema.
The Host is available places, but I’ll be damned if I help you find it.