Neo-Tokyo (1987) Review

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When it comes to japanese animation, anthology films are a great way for new directors to get their start, as they’re rarely handed a TV series or feature film. The format of short film allows them to express their creative style, but without the budget of a larger project. There was a healthy dose of anthology films in the late 80s/early 90s between Neo-Tokyo, Memories, and Robot Carnival. While I can wholeheartedly recommend Memories and Robot Carnival, I’m not sure Neo-Tokyo (aka Manie-Manie, Labyrinth Tales) earns the same privilege. The segments aren’t particularly outstanding or entertaining, nor are they awful. They’re no doubt interesting experiments in storytelling and animation, but unfortunately all that results of these experiments is mediocrity.
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The first segment, “Labyrinth,” acts as the framing device, telling the story of a young girl who, during a game of hide and seek with her cat, discovers a labyrinthian world. In this world are shadow figures, cardboard residents, and a mysterious carnival clown who shows her the other two segments. Directed by Rintaro (Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Metropolis), the segment is extremely interesting to look at due to its clever camerawork and unusual character design, but has little to offer besides that, having no dialogue, character, or real story to it. It almost breaches into surrealism with the strange images and complete lack of character or narrative, but that would actually make it interesting if it did.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 1.25.55 AMThe second segment, “The Running Man,” is perhaps the best segment of the three thanks to its intriguing concept and gorgeous animation. “The Running Man” follows a reporter as he writes a story on Zack Hugh, a racer in the dangerous Death Circus circuit. In an interview with him, the reporter discovers that Hugh is telekinetic, which is how he’s been defeating the other racers. Unfortunately, after years of racing, his body is shutting down on him and the reporter bears witness to his final destructive race that Hugh wins even after he has died. The explosions and gore of “The Running Man” are fascinating to watch due to the extraordinary detail, the trademark of the director, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who’s also responsible for such extremely violent works as Ninja Scroll, Wicked City, and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 1.29.08 AM“Construction Cancellation Order,” the third segment, was directed by Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira, Steamboy) and plays on his favorite theme of man vs technology. Sent to a fully automated construction site to shut it down after the last foreman disappeared, Tsutomu Sugioka finds himself held hostage by the robot responsible for controlling the crew and keeping them on schedule. The segment, while lacking in a solid ending, manages to be entertaining if solely through the tonal shift that occurs halfway through, taking the short from weird and light-hearted to creepy and mildly horrifying.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 1.27.07 AMNeo-Tokyo as a location is a futuristic rebuilt Tokyo, and is the center of many cyberpunk stories. However, Neo-Tokyo as a film lacks in a lot of the familiar imagery and themes we’d see in other cyberpunk works. While Neo-Tokyo is by no means bad, it fails to capture our imagination through its individual segments or present us with an overarching theme or question. It has no utter insanity like in Robot Carnival, nor does it have one shining segment that could be a film on its own, as with “Magnetic Rose” in Memories. One’s time is far better spent on those other films, but if you so wish to check it out I’m afraid you’ll have to resort to not-so-legal sources as the DVD is out of print.

What are your thoughts on Neo-Tokyo and what are favorite anime anthologies? Sound off in the comments below!
This review and others like it can be found over at the ever amazing Geek Juice Media, for more movie and TV talk head on over to Buck On Stuff, and for more horror go to Hidden Horrors!

The Untouchables (1987) Review

The Untouchables is considered to be a classic gangster film, and for good reason. It has an all-star cast and hits all the police cliches of the genre (emphasis on the police). Despite it’s outstanding story and fantastic acting, it’s not without flaws. With all of it’s head explosions and dramatic speeches… it’s cheesy. And until I confirmed with rottentomatoes, I was wondering if it was intentional.

The Untouchables is the story of Elliot Ness who assembles a small crew of honest cops to take down the dangerous Al Capone. In the process he must watch his, his companions and his family’s backs or suffer the harsh reality of the Chicago streets.

The first main problem that lead to cheesiness is the score. It’s so bloody terrible. With booming orchestras that remind you of a western followed by an electric synth/horn jazz remix, the music is horribly distracting and overwhelms a good chunk of the scenes. I could have taken it more seriously if it had the subtlety (yes subtlety) of Goodfellas, but with the cacophonous score I just can’t.

The cheesiness doesn’t end there. Some of the speeches characters give don’t come off as effective as the writer would like, not because of the actors, but because of the stupid analogies or catchphrases. It’s hard to take Capone seriously when he’s rambling about prize fighting for no reason. While there are genuinely intense and suspenseful scenes, there are plenty of outrageous scenes that leave you with tonal whiplash. From the intensity of a baby and mass shooting to Kevin Costner catching a gun and Andy Garcia stopping the carriage with his leg, it’s not a smooth transition.

Speaking of shitty transitions, the editing in this movie is all over the place. I know this is a snob complaint, but there are many rough cuts and inconsistencies in the editing. The dubbing is absolute shit too, which is a pet peeve of mine. To be fair, the second half of the movie got better (probably because of the second editor).

Now that I’ve complained, lets talk about the good stuff (which we all know isn’t as fun). If you can get past the cheesiness that may or may not be there, then there is an engaging story to be had. The story develops at a good pace and even though we all know how it ends, the journey is still an exciting one. The acting is stupendous, Shaun Connery being his usual big badass (although I don’t know if it was Oscar worthy). DeNiro does an okay Capone, but he still is very DeNiro. It’s not an intense emotional drama like Goodfellas or The Godfather, since it’s from the police perspective, but it does have it’s fair share of character drama.

The Untouchables is a fun and engaging cops and robbers movie, but it’s “classic” status is up to question. That’s not to say you shouldn’t watch it, just that I’m too much of a snob. For the first movie I’ve seen about Chicago since moving there, it’s a pretty good one. The Untouchables is available on Netflix, Amazon Instant, Google Play, itunes and Blockbuster (OH WAIT!).

Evil Dead 2 (1987) Review

There is nary a film saga in the horror genre more fun then the Evil Dead trilogy. With the first one being a benchmark of independent filmmaking and pretty good blend of camp and genuine horror, Evil Dead 2 had a lot to live up to. It does in every way though, and in the process of making this film Raimi created a classic for decades to come. As I just mentioned camp, right off the bat don’t expect this movie to be serious. It’s a horror COMEDY, but a little more subtle about it the Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead.

Evil Dead 2 “picks up” where the first left off, but not after retelling the first movie (this time with just Ash and his girlfriend) in the first 10 minutes. For those who don’t know, Ash and his girlfriend drive up to a cabin in the woods for a fun weekend together. While there, they find a recording that when they play back summons an evil spirit. This evil spirit possesses the girl and As has to kill her. Holed up in this cabin with no way to escape, Ash fights to survive and keep his insanity until two couples show up to invite more trouble.

Sam Raimi is a brilliant director, not necessarily because he’s great with actors (although to be fair he helped mold Bruce Campbell into a fairly decent one), but because of his brilliant camera and effects work. This movie looks really quite good, with camera angles that make me practically orgasm I love them so much. Raimi is the master of perpetuating mood, if that mood is right and Evil Dead 2 never looses that feeling of bat-shit insanity that Raimi intended. The lighting works extremely well too, with the woods being spooky and the film in general having that undeniably VHS era feel to it.

The effects are phenomenal, even when they suck. It makes me nostalgic for the era of practical effects (even if I was never there) because with the same budget, the cgi would have looked worse. Raimi uses stop motion at several points in the movie and stop motion at it’s worse still has a creepy vibe because of how disjointed it is. CGI when it’s low budget looks like shit, so even if stop-motion looks bad it’s still better. The blood, makeup and various body part movements look amazing, much better then the original. There are a few effects that don’t work that well and actually could have used some CG but there never going to pull you out of the movie.

Evil Dead 2 is a funny ass movie, but it still manages to pull off scares. You’ll be laughing at Ash one second, cheering him on the next and fearing for him the next. It’s really a roller coaster, but it does require you to understand what it’s trying to do. The story is generic, the acting is mediocre, and the inconsistent tone on top of that is what’s going to turn people off. However, if you go into Evil Dead expecting to not take it too seriously then the comedy will be all the funnier and the scares will be all the more unexpected.

Evil Dead 2 hits all the right marks for me. It pokes at horror tropes, exaggerates to the extreme, has beautiful cinematography and features a protagonist that I will forever root for. Ash is one of the world’s greatest badasses and the shit that he goes through in this night makes for some of the most unique viewing you will ever experience. If you’re looking for a fun Halloween movie to watch with your friends or without, then grab the popcorn and pop in Evil Dead 2! Evil Dead 2 is available on Netflix instant and Amazon Instant or your local video store (remember those?).