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.

Advertisements

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.

Ghost Hunt (2006) Review

Amongst all the paranormal “reality” tv shows out these days, it’s refreshing to find a show honest about its fictionality. The anime Ghost Hunt certainly does cover a topic not often shown in anime, and the eastern perspective is rather refreshing for a paranormal aficionado such as myself. However, Ghost Hunt is little more then a mediocre anime, good for a casual watch, but forgettable at best.

Mai is a high school student (of course) who accidentally interferes in a paranormal investigation and the surprisingly young and narcissistic man in charge named Naru employs her as an assistant. From there they and a team of spiritualists help victims of haunting and possessions, growing closer together in the process. The show follows a case-by-case format, with cases taking between 1-5 episodes to solve. There’s no overarching plot, just small subplots carrying between the cases, and none of those are ever resolved (spoilers!). The cases themselves are predictable as hell and you’re often two steps ahead of the characters. On a few occasions there are twists and turns that are unexpected, but these aren’t nearly as plentiful as I would like. The show is generally engaging, but there are far too many times that I got easily distracted while they were just talking back and forth explaining everything.

Mai serves as our entry level character, allowing all the spiritualists to explain to her and the audience everything thats going on. Besides her ignorance, she also has an obnoxious can-do attitude that leads to her constantly complaining when things don’t go her way. Her high-school drama outlook constantly deflates any tension the episodes start to build and her crush on Naru was annoying to me, but I could see how it would be endearing to younger fans. The rest of the spiritualists are all fairly unique and engaging characters, and a few of them do develop by the end of the show. Naru is the quiet badass, who never does much except solve everything and explain it in a Holmesesque monologue. His backstory is very slowly revealed and most of it in the final episode, leaving you wanting more Naru and pissed that he could have been cool anytime before this. If you let yourself get invested in these characters, the show will pay off in a few touching moments.

The animation isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t the show’s strong point. What does stand out about it is the way they chose to visualize the various spirits and demons. It was a treat to look at and made me appreciate the capabilities of an anime vs a live action show. The music is fine, it serves well to create the atmosphere, but there are far too few tracks and you end up hearing the same songs over and over. The intro is probably one of the worst I’ve ever seen. It’s nothing more then a mediocre song played over various “spooky” images. There’s nothing interesting there to see and it lasts for far too long.

Now as much as I’ve ragged on this show, there is a certain charm about it that I like. It’s something I haven’t really seen before. It’s a ghost hunting procedural show and surprisingly there aren’t really any shows like that, at least not ones as realistic as Ghost Hunt. Sure you have The real Ghostbusters and Supernatural or even Ghost Hunters, but none of those really show the more realistic type of spirits while investigating like a cop show. I also like how religion is portrayed in this show. Catholicism, Japanese occultism, Chinese practices, and science all work together to achieve various things and common goals. Every religion is on equal footing and that’s something I’ve always subscribed to, but never experienced in the christian heavy western world.

Ghost Hunt is an ok show, with some eye-rollingly stupid moments in it, but if you’re looking for something light to enjoy on and off as you wish, then maybe this is what you’re looking for. It’s very open, go read the manga ending will be infuriating to most, but with all the shitty endings American TV shows are getting these days you should be used to it by now. If you’re into the paranormal then you should definitely check this show out, and even if you just like watching SyFy shows, there will be something here for you to enjoy. You’re not going to want to go out and buy the blu-ray of this show, but some good times will be had. If you really like it, I recommend you check out the manga. It’s not necessarily better, but it does continue the story further and develop the characters a lot more. Ghost Hunt is available for streaming on Netflix, Funimation.com and Hulu.

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.