Castlevania (2017) Review


If you review media long enough there will inevitably come a point where your opinion will drastically differ from the general critical consensus. Well, after watching Castlevania I found myself in this exact predicament. Upon finishing Castlevania’s measly four episodes I was livid at how poorly made it was, at how stunningly mediocre the whole “season” ended up being. To my surprise, or maybe dismay, a cursory look on the internet revealed I was in the minority. It wasn’t hailed as a masterpiece, but it was generally received with positivity.

For background, Castlevania is based off a video game series of the same name (many entries of which I’ve played) and more specifically Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. The show, like the game, follows Trevor Belmont, a descendent of the heroic monster-hunting Belmont family who in recent years have been exiled from the church and society. He teams up with a mystic named Sypha and Dracula’s rogue vampire son Alucard to defeat Dracula and his demon hordes. Where the show deviates is in its explanation why: that the Christian Church burned Dracula’s doctor (and human) wife Lisa for “witchcraft.” With nothing left to make him happy, Dracula decides to burn it all to the ground, giving the people of Wallachia one year before he summons his armies from Hell and kills every last one of them. Not surprisingly, they waste their year and the country is slowly overrun by horrifying demons.

Now there are many ways to read this series: as an anime-influenced Western cartoon, as a gory horror fantasy show, as the latest Netflix original series, or (perhaps least interestingly, but most importantly) as a video game adaptation. In its favor as a horror fantasy show, it does have a somewhat interesting premise even if the story that follows is riddled with cliches. As a Netflix original series, it had really strong subdued performances by actors who do a good job with material that is only occasionally witty or engaging. As an anime-influenced Western cartoon, its character designs and background art are adequate and its fight scenes have really interesting stunts (mostly thanks to the whip combat, an underused weapon in media), but its animation is severely lacking. As a video game adaptation, it’s not a complete dumpster fire which immediately makes it one of the best adaptations of all time.

It’s easy to see why people enjoy Castlevania. Expectations were low going in, it does just enough things well that it’s not obviously bad, and it utilizes a few easy hooks, like gore and fight scenes, for people to latch on to. As a Castlevania fan, I’m well aware that it could have been way worse. As a film junkie and animation nerd, I can’t ignore that this does not mean that it’s very good. Looking back on my experience though, I can soundly point to one factor that absolutely ruined it for me and, if you read the rest of this review, may ruin it for you as well.

So let’s get this out of the way: don’t watch Castlevania… yet. It’s a very mediocre show all around, but it has a lot of promise. Unfortunately, at only four episodes it’s barely the first act in a larger story and doesn’t end in a remotely satisfying way. Once season two comes out in an ungodly amount of time, give the whole thing a watch. Until then? Don’t bother teasing yourself.

Alright now on to the no-fun part. So in the second episode of Castlevania, there’s a bar fight and it was during this scene that I noticed something. The rhythm of the fight was… off. The action would pause and then rush through a flurry of movement, an exchange of punches would be a tad too slow, the characters would react with just a half second more time than what felt natural. I tried to ignore it, assuming that this was because the characters were drunk, but even after that fight, this poor rhythm continued. It was noticeable in every sequence, be it the establishing shots, demons terrorizing the town, what should be standard dialogue, and, worst of all, every single fight scene. There would be a handful of times where I could ignore it, where I could buy back into the verisimilitude, but for the most part, this nagging thought consumed me: Castlevania is slowwwwww.

I mean “slow” in every single cinematic sense of the word. It’s infuriating. Every establishing or non-character centric shot is held a second too long, making it abundantly clear when those spaces are empty. The demons feel more like a few stragglers than an army, the citizens feel like a smattering of extras rather than a city, the scenery feels less like a world and more like a backdrop. These are all understandable limitations of the budget, but you’re supposed to cut fast enough that people don’t notice the details and Castlevania‘s uncomfortably long shots only highlighted them.

In dialogue scenes there’s an extra beat before characters react or in between lines, making those aforementioned subdued performances just boring to listen to. Which alone is a shame, but it also reveals how cyclical the dialogue can be, with the characters discussing the same things over and over again.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a big kung fu fan, but this pacing issue is the worst during fight scenes. The fights generally play out as clumsy exchanges of blows, with pauses for characters to react or retaliate that last for a beat or two longer than they should and even a few instances of the attacks themselves being slow. Now, I should emphasize that the whip combat is genuinely really cool, and the stunts that Belmont pulls are clever. Unfortunately, they often pass by so fast that you can barely enjoy them. It’s hard to tell if it actually is edited too quickly or if it’s edited at a normal pace and the rest is so slow that it causes a kind of whiplash (no pun intended).

Now as a disclaimer, this could all be on me. I could have a particular mindset or have watched some media recently that clashes in timing with how Castlevania was made. If I were to speculate though, I would say there are two possibilities as to how Castlevania ended up this way, the most probable being inexperience. It’s hard, especially in animation, to get a sense of how individual shots will tie together until you’re editing a near complete cut and by then it might be too late. The main animation studios responsible for Castlevania have been around since the early 2000s, so this doesn’t seem likely. I can’t really judge the crew individually because a lot of smaller indy projects don’t end up on imdb, so who knows how experienced most of them are.

The other time I’ve seen this is in really cheap older anime that are trying to make the most out of their limited budget and pad out their run time. I’d prefer to think that is not what is happening here. I’d really like to think that Netflix was fine with the run time being whatever it needed to be, as they are with most of their shows, but it’s possible they weren’t. It’s possible they whoever had the money in this instance wanted a standard 20-minute show and wanted at least four episodes. Who knows?

Regardless of why, this is an enjoyment-breaking factor for me. It distracts from the writing and the acting, plus it ruins the action and general pacing. It makes a mediocre show insufferable. Hopefully, season two improves. In fact, I’d be surprised if it didn’t. As I said before, once more episodes come out then give it a chance, but skip Castlevania for now. It’s just not worth it.

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Snowpiercer and Ideology

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This was a “creative work” I had to create for a class. I did a review, but since it had to relate back to a topic in the class this ends up being more about ideology then if the film is quality or not. Hence it being here and not a review.

It’s rare that action films have sufficient plot and character development, let alone any substantial themes and ideology to be analyzed. In the slog of action, sci-fi, and superhero films coming out of Hollywood, Snowpiercer shines bright as a unique thrill ride.

In the future the world has frozen over, forcing mankind into near extinction with the exception of a small faction that resides on an ever-moving train. Segregated to the back of the train are the poor and needy who in response to their seperation from the rich at the front of the train, decide to revolt. Led by Curtis (Chris Evans) and under the guidance of Gilliam (John Hurt), the mob pushes it way through the train. Along the way they uncover the secrets of the train’s operations and it’s creator Mr. Wilfred with the help of junkie technician Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song).

Chris Evans not only leads the rebellion, but leads the film as well. His strong performance keeps the film going at crucial points where the action dies down. Speaking of which, the film’s action scenes can be shaky at times, but still engrossing to watch. The rest of the cast is strong as well, particularly the brought over actors from director Joon-Ho Bong’s other film The Host.

Looking at Snowpiercer there’s the obvious themes of class divide and structures of society, but within that there’s an examination of ideology itself. Within the society that is the train, the doctrine of the train is sent through several ideological institutions. The poor are educated through religion, the word of those of a higher authority that they have to take on faith. “The Eternal Engine is sacred, Mr. Wilford is divine. So it is.” is repeated to create their world view. “So it is,” reinforces the ideological aspect of this statement as ideology by nature appears natural or “as it is.” The children are indoctrinated through school, educated in the world view that Mr. Wilford wants them to have.

When looking at cultural views that defy the mainstream, one notices that after a period of time the become incorporated back into the system. For example, the demonization of homosexuals slowly over time becomes worked into the ideology of the majority of a culture as wrong, despite being to some degree acceptable. When Curtis finally confronts Mr. Wilford, Wilford reveals that the entire rebellion was manufactured with the help of Gilliam. The film’s motif of “Everyone has their place” has been reinforced by the authority by incorporating rebellion into the ideological system, thus rendering it mute.

As the film comes to it’s end, the institution, which has lost its humanity through its methods, self-destructs and the society/train goes off the tracks, killing most of its members. The films message ultimately ends up being a cynical worldview, where the ideological institutions are both cruel and necessary to survival. It’s only when they are interrupted that the whole society crumbles, but in the wake of that destruction there is a glimmer of hope. In the wasteland of ice and snow, the survivors spot a polar bear, a sign of life.

With all this talk of ideology, we’ve ignored the central question of “Should you see Snowpiercer?” With it’s well-staged action scenes, fascinating premise, strong performances, and most importantly its ideological criticism, Snowpiercer is one of the most interesting action films you could watch this holiday break, if not the best.

The Rocketeer (1991) Review

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It’s easy to imagine any sane filmgoer becoming tired of super-hero films, particularly film critics who have an obligation to watch at least some of them. Yet here you are reading a review of “The Rocketeer,” the 1991 adaptation of the Dave Stevens graphic novel. In an era of critically acclaimed super-hero epics, what does the quaint and dated “The Rocketeer” have to offer?

rocketeer-thumb-560xauto-28521After a shootout leaves their plane ruined and themselves broke, Cliff Sefford (Billy Cambpell) and his mechanic Peevy (Alan Arkin) stumble across a mysterious rocket engine left in their hanger by a dead mobster. Testing out the engine, they’re surprised to find it’s actually a jetpack and take advantage of their good fortune to make a little money. However, that won’t be easy with both the FBI and superstar actor Neville Sinclair’s (Timothy Dalton) henchmen after the device. Adopting the guise of The Rocketeer, Cliff sets off to protect his friends and his beloved Jenny (Jennifer Connely) from getting caught up in this chaotic war for the rocket.

It should be stated that “The Rocketeer” is little more than nostalgic action fun. That is all. It doesn’t try to be anything more, putting it’s energies into doing just that well. Besides the solid cinematography and special effects, it has an extremely tight script, with cliches being used at their finest and plot threads being interconnected fairly well. For example, Cliff’s character bit of gum chewing affects the plot at least three times over the course of the film. What really stands out, however, is the characters, being that there are some. While the main cast hits their rather flat marks well, the minor characters end up having the same amount of effort put behind them. The clever and charming dialogue leaves you with a sense of who each small character is, if not some attachment to them.

Disney-Considering-The-Rocketeer-RemakeWhile the comic played up a nostalgia for both film serials and golden age comics, the movie emphasizes the serial aspect a lot more (for obvious reasons). It’s actually one of the few times an adaptation makes a lot of sense, since it’s a return to a form the original material is based on. That being said, “The Rocketeer” only feels like an old serial, having all the maturity of storytelling that modern films have. Thankfully so, as those old “Commander Cody” shorts are hard to watch at times.

What “The Rocketeer” has to offer is simplicity. There’s no epic CGI climax, no political commentary, and no questionable content in any way. It’s not dumb or manufactured, it simply concentrates on doing the little things well. I look at “The Rocketeer” and I see so many tropes and story similarities present in super-hero films nowadays, but somehow they work better here. Perhaps it’s the acknowledgement that these things are cheesy and the humbleness of asking the audience to accept it, as compared to the assumption that the audience will accept it and presenting it flatly. “The Rocketeer” has no misconceptions of what it is and I think modern super-hero films have lost that. The makers have forgotten they’re filming silly little stories of men in tights, mistaking popularity for permission to relax. In a post-modern world you can’t present a simple good/evil story and expect a few jokes will make it clever. These stories aren’t new, we’ve been creating them for over 80 years or, according to “The Rocketeer,” at least 20 years.

Princess Mononoke (1997) Review

Note: I meant to publish this article months ago and just found out today that I hadn’t… oops

So as a writing crutch I’ve been comparing the other Studio Ghibli films to the epic fantasies that they so iconically do. Being one Ghibli’s most notable and praised films, Princess Mononoke is the epitome of that epic fantasy. It’s a crowning jewel of animation and visual storytelling and it deserves it’s place as one of the best animated films of all time, if not one of the best films of all time. It’s not as light-hearted as most other Ghibli films, but what it lacks in charm it makes up for in tense engaging drama.

While defending his village from a Boar God turned Demon, Ashitaka gets burned by the creatures touch and is now cursed to die unless he finds a way to remove the mark. Following the boars trail leads him to a small village producing two things: Iron and rifles. It’s their guns that killed the boar and turned him into a demon, and it’s their cutting of the forest that’s causing the wolf clan, including the wolf-adopted human San, to attack them. While Ashitaka fights to maintain peace and find a cure, the leader of the village Lady Eboshi strives to obtain the head of the Great Forest Spirit that nurtures and protects the forest and its creatures.

Princess Mononoke is in many ways a retread of Miyazaki’s previous environmental masterpiece: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. It has a lot of the same themes and makes a lot of the same ideological arguments, but Mononoke does it far better, if only because it has stronger characters to give such heavy-handed messages. What he created in Mononoke, and I can’t emphasize this enough, is a powerful story. There are scenes in here that after they conclude you will realize you spent not blinking. He’s tapped into something that can’t be describe, that magic of storytelling. I truly wish that there weren’t so many other great American films that same year so this could have won best picture.

Mononoke is chock full of unique and intriguing concepts. Right off the bat I was fascinated by the predicament the hero is in. A lethal infection that also gives him inhuman strength, but grows as his hate and anger grows. It would be the perfect superhero origin. From the way the women in the village act, to the interactions and relationships between the creatures of the woods as well as the idea of legendary larger versions of the beasts we know today and the day-to-night changes of the Great Forest Spirit. These interesting concepts are worth the trade for me from the more simple and charming Ghibli film, because they serve as the fuel for the more dramatic world that’s established. It’s a true testament to the adapted script that it was able to convey these ideas seamlessly to a western audience.

Mononoke is a far more serious film, with a story developed for four years by Miyazaki. While other Ghibli films can be hard to invest in if you aren’t immediately engaged by the material, I would argue it’s hard NOT to get invested in the movie at all. Mononoke delves into a few very basic human conflicts that we’ve been struggling with since the dawn of man, and unlike Nausicaa presents them in a slightly more unbiased light. Instead of Nature over Man, the movie prefers Coexistence, but they still give you no answers as to how this is supposed to be achieved, they just intertwine it into the plot. Anyway, the story of Mononoke is well developed and without a ton of cliches, leaving you genuinely uncertain of where it’s going until it actually gets there.

The art design here is absolutely amazing, let alone the animation. The animation here is, in my opinion, the peak of Ghibli’s capabilities as it is their last cell animation work, as well as the most ambitious of theirs to animate. The backgrounds, creatures, battles, everything is more impressive to me then the arguably better animated, but more subdued Spirited Away or Howls Moving Castle. Back to the designs though, I don’t know if there’s background in Japanese culture, but even if there isn’t I’m still amazed at the unity and yet individuality to all the designs. The characters all have distinct and detailed looks to them, with visual aspects I’ve rarely, if ever, seen. I think San’s design is half the reason people like her so much, despite the fact that Ashitaka is arguably the hero of the film. Ghibli has a habit of not only making things beautiful, but also things incredibly gross and the possessed boars are the the most memorizing and disgusting things to look at outside of a gore scene in a horror film.

Assuming you get the Miramax release of this, the dub is absolutely amazing. I’m not going to go over all the actors, but I will assure you that the dub gets the characters across well, with no hiccups that other dubs may have. It was left in the hands of Neil Gaiman, who has a great respect for folklore and mythology, which is why not only is the adapted script so good, but the dub as a whole. It’s truly one of the best dubs out there so don’t feel bad if you don’t want to see it in Japanese, because you aren’t missing anything. Due to the gore and mature storytelling, this really isn’t a movie for kids, so please wait for teenage years to show this one. It does have important themes that I want kids to learn about, but I highly doubt a kid could sit through it.

Princess Mononoke, in all of it’s beauty and mystery took me for a ride quite unlike anything before. I truly felt immersed in the world I was watching and the characters were all worthy companions on the journey to the end. It’s easy on the eyes, ears, and mind as most Ghibli films are, if not more so. I only wish there were more films out there like this one. This is not only mandatory anime watching, but it’s a movie you need to see before you die. End of story.

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.

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.

Dredd (2012) Review

Dredd is the 2013 live action comic book adaptation of the long-time published “Judge Dredd” stories. “Judge Dredd” was also adapted into a Stallone-starring 90s cheesefest whose reputation is likely a big reason for this films low gross. Dredd is considered a box office bomb, but its considerable video sales leads one to take a second look at this movie. Can it really be passed off as a forgettable and shitty action flick like it’s predecessor? No, in actuality Dredd is a fairly clever and fun movie that manages to walk the line between gritty and self-mocking rather well.

In the post-apocalyptic future, humanity has been forced to create a mega city in order to survive. This city is riddled with crime, poverty and all around chaos. The only thing that stands between the citizens and complete anarchy are The Judges, the police force for this city. With their handy gadget equipped guns they both catch and punish criminals at their discretion. Enter Dredd, a long time veteran of the force who is required by his superior to field-test a rookie with unique psychic powers. On their day out, they respond to a triple homicide, which was caused by mob-boss Ma-Ma and her crew. In order to arrest Ma-Ma and stop her drug-trafficking, Dredd and the rookie fight their way to the top of the massive living block, facing a myriad of obstacles along the way. Standard action fare indeed, but what makes Dredd unique is the world it takes place in, the characters involved and satirical manner in which it point’s out its own flaws.

The world of Dredd is a surprisingly believable one. It has enough generic qualities for us to fill in the details, but it’s also unique enough that it doesn’t feel like we’ve seen it a thousand times. The Mega City has character and specifically the Block that the majority of the movie takes place in. You get a feeling for the relationships between the people, criminals and judges, even if the majority of it is delivered in extremely clumsy exposition. Hell, the monologue Dredd gives to tell us all about the city is so generic that the film decides to do it again at the end for funsies, but of course with even cheesier lines.

Speaking of funsies, this film knows that it’s not Apocalypse Now. It knows its tropes and while it doesn’t shove it’s knowledge of it in your face like You’re Next it does utilize humor to point out its more noticeable failings. The one-liners that Dredd gives are so cheesy they couldn’t have been written without intention. I’ve found lately that a lot of movies that know what they are and use a little “winkwinknudgenudge” over the course of the movie, usually end up being quite entertaining (ie. Sharknado) and maybe thats the key when it comes to doing adaptations of clearly generic material like Dredd is.

Rather unusually for a movie of this caliber, there are only three characters worth talking about in this movie. Ma-Ma, Dredd, and the psychic woman Anderson. Anderson is an odd duck, not really played for the naive, innocent rookie she could have been or the sensitive girl psychics usually are portrayed as. To the contrary, she’s quite brutal at times and even though her psychic powers clearly define her character, she still develops by the end of the movie. Ma-Ma is the generic villain, but her clumsily delivered back-story does give you a sense of meaning behind her actions and for that I applaud the actress for her mediocre, but still effective performance. Dredd is another story. He’s somewhere inbetween Batman and Punisher, but still has a unique enough of a flair to him that you can tell there’s a person behind that helmet and not a robot or Christian Bale. While he doesn’t develop per-say by the end of the movie, we do get to see a range of reactions from him that help us understand who he is. He’s a character I would love to see in another movie, even if he isn’t accompanied by Anderson.

Amongst the 3D craze taking Hollywood by storm, and to some extent driving it into the ground, it’s rather rare to find a movie actually made with 3D in mind and not just translated in post for extra cash. Dredd is one of these rarities, throwing all kinds of shit at the screen and utilizing slow motion for added effect. It’s a film in retrospect I think most would want to see in 3D, but maybe not for the price of 3D. The aforementioned effects are rather good. They’re not state of the art by any means, but they are utilized in a unique way and are ultimately effective, which is what counts. The visual style is also unique when it comes to the slow-mo drug or action sequences and this style really makes it feel comic-booky somehow, even if I’m not sure why.

If you’re looking for a fun evening with friends, then by all means check out Dredd. It’s a fun hour and a half with brutal violence and action scenes, but enough engaging story points and characters to keep you interested even when the guns aren’t firing. Dredd is an underrated gem in the rough and I think its cult following is only going to grow, even if a sequel is naught to be. Dredd is currently available on Netflix streaming and Amazon Instant, as well as Redbox and Blockbuster.

Attack on Titan (2013) Review

Attack on Titan is the blockbuster summer anime of 2013. It’s the show everyone is talking about, and above all, raving about. In fact it almost seems like if you aren’t watching this show, you’re missing out on the coming of Christ. But is this show as amazing as everyone claims it to be? Welllllllll…

Attack on Titan drops us into a world where humanity is almost extinct and their natural predators are creatures called titans who are as tall as buildings and only exist to eat humans. Due to this danger, humanity has safely confined itself inside 3 incredibly huge walls, that is until an even larger titan shows up and smashes a hole in one of them. Here’s where we meet Erin Jaeger who barely escapes the destruction of his hometown with his two friends Armin and Mikasa. After witnessing his mother become titan lunch, Erin vows an oath to kill all the titans and thus he and his friends join the military. From there we encounter many an epic battle with the titans, but for the sake of spoilers I won’t go into details.

Attack on Titan utilizes a few incredibly long and extremely well paced story lines over the course of its 25 episodes. The almost nonstop action makes it extremely hard to not marathon this show. Well that and the infuriating cliffhangers that always manage to completely fuck over everything you thought you knew. It’s safe to assume that the strong pacing is thanks to Attack’s director Tetsuro Araki, whose other works include Death Note and High School of the Dead. If you’ve seen those shows, you’ll see his fingerprints all over this. Now that doesn’t mean that Attack is nonstop action. There are many points where the plot comes to a dead stop and we get some character interactions or back story, which actually service the show nicely.

Speaking of characters lets take a look at them shall we. Erin is the protagonist, yes, but it takes a really long time for him to develop beyond “Kill Titans!” and that journey is a rather inconsistent one at that. In order to progress his character we’re usually subjected to a confusing monologue about humanity or what-have you, but for the most part he just gets you pumped up with his screaming about willpower that makes you wonder if he’s going to put on a Green Lantern ring halfway through the battle. It’s not that he’s a bad character, just that he’s not as developed as some of the others tend to be, for example Armin. Armin is probably the most well rounded character in the show, starting out a Shinji-esque coward and growing into a loyal and brilliant tactical mind. Mikasa is portrayed as being flawless, and thus is the stone cold one of the crew as per anime clichés. Her lack of flaws is probably her greatest flaw, and although she had the opportunity to grow into a great character, the story unfortunately got in the way. The greatest and worst part of Attack is that any character can die, and thus talking about the supporting cast is almost impossible beyond generalizations. We meet a lot of people while the trio is in training and even more after they officially join, and it becomes hard to keep track of al of them. Unimportant characters become important, important ones fall to the wayside and amongst all the dying, it’s hard to keep track of who we’re supposed to care about. The rest of the people who exist in the world tend to only serve as an obstacle to our heroes, thanks to their stupidity, which comes off as just being human, so I can’t call it bad writing.

The animation is done by Studio Wit, a small offshoot of Production IG and for a fairly new studio, even with IG’s help, this animation is fucking gorgeous. The art style is rather unique, going for thick black outlines around all the characters to help distinguish them from each other and the background. The characters themselves have an inconsistency to their design, with varying degrees of how western they look. Some characters have more realistic faces, while others have the typical large anime eyes. This inconsistency is also reflected in the titan designs, as they vary from creepy joker to kawaii. If anything this is what will be off-putting to people watching the show. The art style of the characters complements the medieval setting and really makes it seem European or Germanic in its influence, particularly when the choirs boom in. One of the most unique concepts the show has is the 3D maneuver gear, which the soldiers use to get around and battle in. These enable them to fly through the air like Spider-man and whenever they use them in battle, the animation quality soars to an orgasmic degree as the camera zooms and rotates with them, all the while maintaining a fluidity and consistency that is truly movie quality. All these great shots come with a price though, as during the more quiet parts the animation becomes non-existent, with characters talking over pictures or just two pictures moving like a motion comic. And while this can be distracting, it is totally and utterly worth it.

The music is amazing with all the tracks able to emotionally manipulate you in just the right way. Even without the scenes to complement them, the songs are all high quality, with a spectrum ranging from rock and roll to orchestral choir being represented. The music may be a little distracting because of how powerful it tends to be, but fuck it who cares? The intros are both amazing, probably the best I’ve ever seen. The first intro is one most effective ever at being able to pump you up for the upcoming episode. It also, once again, features many Tetsuro trademarks, which is fine by me since he creates fantastic openings. The second intro is not as appropriate, but is more musically diverse and the accompanying animation makes it downright cinematic. The outros are less impressive, but they really don’t matter since you’ll be skipping to the next episode anyways.

What Attack on Titan does better then probably any anime I’ve seen to this point is creating a world for you to invest in and for it to construct and deconstruct at will. It’s a fairly basic military-fights-evil-plot at its core (i.e. Starship Troopers, FMA), but it also contains some of the most unique ideas I’ve encountered in a while. It’s got one of the best beginnings an anime has had, with a momentum that doesn’t stop until halfway through the show. Every world-shattering cliffhanger works because they’ve made the world seem comfortable despite the danger. It’s only until the second half where the momentum wears off that you can really see both the flaws and intricacies of not only the world, but the show itself. Attack on Titan is an action-filled blockbuster of anime, yes, but also has a strong story, beautiful animation, and decent characters to back it up. Is it perfect, by no means, but it’s one of the most enjoyable anime to watch and a thrill-ride that should not be missed. The ending is unfortunately non-existent, with the series before us feeling like a part 1 and 2 of a much greater story. Thanks to the popularity of this show, it’s hard to imagine it not getting a second series. A second series would hopefully alleviate many of the problems I have with the show, but we’ll have to see. If you don’t want to read the manga, I would recommend you hold off on watching Attack on Titan until closer to that imaginary second series’ air date, unless you want to join in with the legions of Otaku worshipping this show. Nonetheless, if you do choose to watch it now or whenever you’re reading this be prepared for a long marathon ahead of you, but please don’t let the hype raise your expectations too far. Attack on Titan is currently available from both Crunchyroll and Funimation.com as well as having been licensed by Funimation for an upcoming DVD/Blue-Ray release.

Dick Tracy (1990) Review


The comic strip detective finds his life vastly complicated when Breathless Mahoney makes advances towards him while he is trying to battle Big Boy Caprice’s united mob.-imdb

Dick Tracy is the comic-strip based action flick that attempts to throw a goofy flair to itself. The comic strip style is translated directly to this film through many technical marvels that make this film a unique piece to look at, but not necessarily one to watch. It’s all-star cast, over the top visuals and campy yet serious writing all give off the vibe of a similar adaptation: Batman and Robin. Yes it’s eerie how similar the flaws in these two movies line up, the first and foremost being the convoluted tone.

Dick Tracy takes the comic-strip origins literally… and at the same time comically. It makes fun of the cliches of the comic, or goes for over the top goofy, but then the next minute expects you to take it seriously with the visuals or even the story. They try their hardest to make the universe look real, using shots that are impossible to get without complex green screening or intricate models. The colors of the costumes, sets and lighting are all vibrant, and coupled with the Elfman music it’s quite epic. Prosthetics are applied to all the actors portraying bad guys in order to make them look like their strip counterparts, but instead of immersing you in the Tracy-verse, it instead instills disgust as they look utterly hideous. It takes a long time to get used to it, and even then you’re never comfortable with it. They must have known how ugly it looked, because otherwise Warren Beatty would have had a chiseled chin glued on to fit the role. The sets, the costumes, the colors, are all taken so literally, but they expect you to laugh at how the villains look, or laugh at how loony Dick Tracy’s hunches are? Now to be fair, this could have worked in a more Airplanesque way, where they play it straight all the time, but they don’t, instead pointing out what you should laugh at. I could go on with contrast after contrast, but I think only one more example needs to be given. Warren Beatty as Dick Tracy plays him straight. Not as an overly confident superhero or an overly gritty detective, but as an almost human version of Dick Tracy. I say almost because the only time he shows personality is when the plot (or rather subplots) demand it. This serious Tracy against rubber bad guys is… odd. Like a semi-serious Batman facing off against a pun-spewing austrian while wearing a rubber suit… oh wait.

So while the writers and directors can’t seem to decide on a tone, it seems they also can’t seem to decide on a plot. The film has so many different subplots and such an unfocused main plot that when you look back at what’s happened you ask “why?” Entire scenes just seem pointless, and if they were removed it would make about as much sense as the rest of this movie since there are so many plot holes and leaps of logic that one more won’t harm it.There seems to be so much going on in the main plot that needs to be fleshed out, but if it was it would be a trilogy of movies. It almost feels like several tv episodes smashed together, but despite this the film still on occasion will careen to a stop to focus on one of the ridiculously predictable subplots and then compensate the actual plot’s screentime with a shitty montage that is never put to the right music, even ironically. It should be noted that the events of one of these montages could take up half a Burton or Scorsese film, but Beaty needs to keep trucking along. After some researching I found this movie was in development for 15 years, and then once it got into filming it had it’s shooting script combined with the novelization to fix the plot holes. Imagine what the script was like beforehand.

Even if you actually bother to pay attention to the convoluted shit on screen, there’s no way you can care about it. The actors never pull off a portrayal that can convince you to actually care about them because the material is just not there. Even one of the more tragic characters, played by Madonna, comes off as just stoic for half of the film and then overly dramatic for the last half. It’s either overacting or underacting, there is no middle ground for anyone, with the exception of the diner guy. He was cool. The dialogue is not convincing, interesting, or even seem to have a point to it. They repeat things too much and some characters NEVER SHUT UP. They go on and on and on and you want to pull your ears off. Most of the characters have little motivation or just pull 180 flips when needed. The kid goes from being an obnoxious little shit to being the bestest sidekick ever. Madonna loves Tracy because…??? Tess loves Tracy because…??? If they were attempting to portray the rather stilted strip dialogue or rushed character interactions, then they fail to understand that film and comic strips are not the same medium. A straight adaptation of Dick Tracy doesn’t work the same way a straight adaptation of The Great Gatsby, The Hobbit and The Shining wouldn’t and doesn’t work.

Dick Tracy provides you with enough action and visual appeal to get you through it IF you can get past the dialogue, the characters, and the looooonnnnng ass plot that either moves too fast or too slow. But the odds of that are pretty slim. My recommendation is to instead go to your local library and check out The Complete Dick Tracy volumes. They feature both the weekly and sunday strips and can actually be quite entertaining. As for this movie, it can sit next to Batman and Robin as it’s more obnoxious, but definitely more beautiful cousin.

Trigun Review/Thoughts

A fantastic 26 episode anime made by the kick-ass studio Mad House!
Following the adventures of Vash the stampede, Trigun is an anime all about life/death and family.
With a score of unique side characters that have almost as much development as the main character, Trigun is as much a character study as it is an action-fest.
The animation is for the most part beautiful, despite it’s simplistic style. There are plenty of times where you can see the budget and it can be distracting, but it’s still enjoyable and well worth the unique and carefully crafted environments.
The characters designs are unique and mostly kickass, particularly in the case of Vash himself. While another standout is the preacher, whose outrageously large gun is a treat to see him wield.
The voice-acting is not noticeable, which means that it’s amazing. All the characters are well voiced to the point of feeling completely natural. Only a few extras are poorly acted.
The plot is lengthy and evolving, climaxing not in one episode or a multi-parter, but instead a series of episodes that test vash and push him to the limits. As with most anime, the ending could have been better, but it was pretty good considering.
So should you watch it?
FUCK YEAH!
There are so many jawdroppingly awesome moments, it’s no wonder that this is considered a classic anime.
It’s currently on netflix instant.
9/10