10 Movies That Will Get You into Anime

Lupin-3
From girls with big eyes and multi-color hair to fans who dress up in elaborate costumes, anime can seem like an impenetrable fortress of weirdness. However, don’t let that impression fool you into thinking anime is just for geeky teens and creepy basement dwellers. There are genuinely good anime that are comparable to the best of American entertainment. Even if you don’t become a hardcore fan, there are quite a few movies or shows that you might enjoy. Here are an assortment of movies that will definitely get you (at least partially) into anime!

 

The Garden of Words

In Hollywood, there aren’t many directors who specialize in tragic romance. In the anime industry there’s only one: Makoto Shinkai. He has a certain obsession with relationships being torn apart, so much so that it’s the focal point of every work he’s made. The Garden of Words is the most optimistic of his movies, but in no way has a happy ending. It is the shortest movie on this list, clocking in at 45 minutes. Though what The Garden of Words lacks in length, it makes up for in beauty. It’s incredibly gorgeous, so detailed and colorful that it practically transcends reality. This beautiful hyper-reality amplifies the emotions involved, leaving even the most stone-cold viewer a little teary-eyed.
What to watch next: The Wind Rises, Five Centimeters per Second

 

Summer Wars

Out of all the movies on this list, Summer Wars is the biggest crowd-pleaser. It’s the movie you watch with your kids (be they 8 or 18) or, conversely, the movie you watch with your parents. It’s well made and entertaining, a genre piece and yet accessible. Summer Wars’ best scenes, its emotional core, rest in the family drama, but its action scenes are still exciting. It pulls you in with sci-fi intrigue, holds you there with a beautiful family dynamic, and rewards you for your time with an over-the-top, yet worthy, climax.
What to watch next: Wolf Children, Porco Rosso

 

Millennium Actress

In four movies and a TV series, Satoshi Kon pushed the boundaries of storytelling by fully exploiting the unique abilities of animation. His remarkable works are known for bending reality, but despite this he manages to be a remarkably humanistic director. Even if you’re not sure where or when you are in the story, you’ll always connect with who you’re watching. Millennium Actress is the best blend of the two, finding a near-perfect balance between mind-bending and heart-breaking.
What to watch next: Tokyo Godfathers, The Tale of Princess Kaguya

 

Spirited Away

Like any culture, Japan has its own history of legends and beliefs. Part of anime’s appeal is the foreignness of it- it’s something you can’t get in America. Most anime are somewhat Western influenced, but there are many works that stick to very Eastern stories and ideas. Typical Western Tolkien-esque fantasy gets tiring, but the story and style of Spirited Away can provide a refreshing break. If a peek into the style of Japan’s unusual legends and fantasies intrigues you or your kids, then this is a great place to start.
What to watch next: Princess Mononoke, Mushi-Shi

 

Akira

Anime fandom in the US grew mostly out of the sci-fi community and with good reason: most of what was created was sci-fi or fantasy. Decades later, anime has more genre diversity, but there is still a backlog of great sci-fi and fantasy works. The king of all sci-fi anime is easily Akira. Katsuhiro Otomo’s masterpiece set a new benchmark for animation when it came out, being the most expensive anime movie up to that point. Akira‘s cyberpunk style is certain of its time, but the visuals are still breathtaking and the story engaging to this day.
What to watch next: Ghost in the Shell, Arcadia of My Youth

 

My Neighbor Totoro

Finding good children’s media is rather hard, and finding good children’s media that’s tolerable for adults is even harder. Disney movies may be the most beloved kids movies here, but in Japan the movies of choice are Studio Ghibil’s. My Neighbor Totoro is one of their movies that is more distinctly for kids, however its fantasy images are so heavily steeped in childish wonder that adults are sure to be charmed too. (Don’t let the trailer fool you, there is an english dub)
What to watch next: Kiki’s Delivery Service, Welcome to the Space Show

 

Redline

Japan is weird. We all know this. Our country’s weird too, but Japan is that special variety of weird. In anime there is no limitation to what can be shown and therefore no limit to potential weirdness. Redline is a simple paint-by-numbers racing movie story-wise. Everything else, from the characters to the world to the animation itself is very weird. However, this is, in no way shape or form, a bad thing. Rather, this weirdness fuels the movie, projecting it forward with all the speed and intensity a racing movie should. If you can get past the unusual design of Redline, you have quite the unique experience ahead of you.
What to watch next: Gurren Lagann, Space Dandy

 

The Castle of Cagliostro

Clear-cut bad guys and good guys. Big stakes and bigger action scenes. Battles across the globe, be it in the air, sea, or land. All these elements are key to creating a certain spirit of adventure that’s rare in cinema today. You feel like a kid again when you experience the blood-pumping thrills of movies like Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and even Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The Castle of Cagliostro has adventure galore, with car chases, counterfeiting, and condemnable counts! Its goofy, yet swashbuckling, gentleman thief hero, Lupin the Third, has an established franchise behind him, but this movie boils things down enough that anyone can enjoy it. It has a special blend of wonder and excitement that is sure to bring a goofy smile to your face.
What to watch next: Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Steamboy

 

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise

There are many movies on this list that qualify as great dramas, but Wings of Honneamise particularly excels in this genre. The filmmakers carefully craft a familiar sci-fi world to tell a very human story about space exploration. Wings of Honneamise is less story-driven and more a character piece about a reluctant astronaut who doubts the reasons for going into space. If it were live action, it would probably star Dustin Hoffman and definitely sweep the Oscars. Like a lot of the movies on this list, there’s far more to this Wings of Honneamise than its genre elements.
What to watch next: Grave of the Fireflies, Patlabor/Patlabor 2

 

Ninja Scroll

Anime used to be known as extreme, far more violent than Western animation ever dared to be. This reputation has long since expired, as nowadays anime is better characterized as lots of cute girls in high school. Although, for those who love some fun and bloody action, Ninja Scroll will always be in our hearts. The struggle of a samurai to stop eight powerful demon ninjas may seem generic, but mixed in with unhealthy doses of sex and violence degrades into some of the finest pulpy schlock in anime. Certain to satisfy the most blood-thirsty horror hound or action addict.
What to watch next: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, Hellsing Ultimate

I think we’ve covered a sufficient variety of tastes, so hopefully you’ve found one to your liking. Let me know in the comments below what you thought or if you have any suggestions of your own. Happy viewing!

Advertisements

Cinema de Super: An Introduction

invincible-alex-ross-8

I grew up with super-heroes. I had Batman pajamas, I played with my Spider-man action figure constantly, and I mourned the day I had to throw out my Superman shorts. It was inevitable that I’d end up reading comic books, but only my parents could have predicted that they’d be all I’d read for the next four years. My reading rate slowed in high school, but that’s only because my focus shifted to film. To take a cue from Tezuka, if cinema is my wife than comic books are my mistress. When the Marvel movies started to come out, I was the first amongst my friends (or possibly anyone) to tout that they’d be the biggest thing ever. I waited four long years for The Avengers to come out and after it did… well that’s a story for later. Regardless, in the past couple years I’ve found my enthusiasm for the big screen versions of my favorite characters waning.

My interest in these films has continued to an academic one (see my previous essay) and I’m not alone. In fact I’d say the attention paid and weight given to these films academically is… far greater than the evidence given. That being said, super-hero films are, in many ways, quite fascinating.


It’s been claimed that super-hero films are a genre and, while I wouldn’t go that far, they certainly qualify as at least a sub-genre. Yes, they have their own sets of tropes, character archetypes, and story arcs, but the stories themselves aren’t nearly as iconic and flexible like horror, mystery, or romance. Their origins are muddy and complex, much like another famous genre: the western. While the western is more reliant on location, it still has a set of themes, stories, and characters that it frequently deals with. That being said, you can still categorize most western stories in genres like adventure, drama, or romance. Similarly, most super-hero films obviously fit into sci-fi or fantasy, but also adventure, drama, comedy, or romance. Despite all this, to call super-hero films a “genre” feels a little off for me. Why is that?

Like a lot of other genres, super-hero films are adaptations more often than not. However, unlike the aforementioned Western, super-hero films are by definition adaptations. Super-hero films are specifically and intentionally based off the comics from which the genre itself arose. It’s been noted that genres go through cycles, and if you look at even something as small as horror, which constantly goes through cycles of adapting formulas and then rejecting them, you can see this. However, super-hero films constantly buck these rules, with films that would be considered post-modern takes on older stories coming out before more classical films. This is because in its original medium, comic books, “super-hero” is an actual genre, not sub-genre, that has already gone through its cycles. Batman’s gone from goofy (50s and 60s), to slightly darker (70s and 80s), to incredibly dark (Late 80s and 90s), to lighter but more complex (Late 90s and 00s), to darker and simpler (10s). If you looked at the movies you’d see that Batman started campy (‘66), swung far darker (‘89 & ‘Returns’), got progressively lighter (‘Forever’ & ‘and Robin’), then straight back to a far more realistic cynicism (Nolan trilogy). With far less creative entries, this progression makes proportionally less sense. The cycles are there somewhat, but they’re more financially than creatively driven.

It’s hard to call the super-hero genre evolving when the stories that are considered deconstructive caps on the genre, like Watchmen and Kick-Ass, come out before genre keystones like The Avengers. Without an ample material to derive examples from, a long enough time span (the actual beginning of the sub-genre in earnest is sometime between 25-15 years ago), or clearly present cycles, it’s hard for me to classify super-hero films as anything but a sub-genre. Perhaps if they survive the upcoming bubble burst, but if not they will remain a soon forgotten trend like 70s disaster movies. Without the typical story-based cycles present to steer the future of super-hero films, we really have no clue as to what its future is at all. Perhaps by looking through the history of this awkward and fledgling sub-genre we can find some patterns that will give us a vision of the future.

That being said, this is the very long introduction to one such retrospective. Over the course of god knows how long, I’ll be watching every notable theatrically released super-hero film, from 1978 to the present. In total I’ll be covering about 70 films, the names of won’t be revealed until the review itself comes out. We’ll see if I can make it. Each film will get an approximately 800 word review that’s formally written, but if the film strikes me a certain way it’ll will warrant an additional longer, and more personal, essay. I’ve seen most of these films before, but not for a long time, so this will be as much a trip through film as it is through my childhood. I hope you’ll join me on what will hopefully be an interesting journey.

Fear Itself: The Next Generation of Horror

10845718_1602800673326015_3819358720665108337_o

Fear Itself is the feature length debut of Aaron Mirtes, budding independent director. Based off his award-winning horror short “The Clown Statue,” the film’s kickstarter page cites the plot as:

“Emma, a college student with a crippling fear of clowns, must come face to face with her worst fear when a clown that has been terrorizing the town promises to kill her. This clown gives a balloon to each his victims with the exact time and date he’s going to kill them written on it. After receiving one herself, Emma realizes that she has two days left to live, and must fight against the clock to find a way to survive.”

With a trailer already up on the page, one’s sure to ask why they need money at all? As with many productions, anything can go wrong. A large fire forced one of their locations to be unaccessible, which means everyone had to pack up and go home. In order to go back and finish the remaining 10% and add in new scenes, the Fear Itself crew needs your help.

So why, of all indy films asking for money, am I spotlighting this film? Why, of all indy films, should you fund this one? Besides the fact I think we need more killer clown movies, Aaron is an acquaintance of mine. At school together, he demonstrated a certain vision and intelligence when it came to filmmaking I’ve yet to see in someone I’ve worked with since. Listening to the interview I did with him for Cinema Cynique, you can pick up on this as well. With The Babadook and It Follows ushering in a new era of putting the art back in horror, it’s not hard to see Aaron Mirtes and Fear Itself fitting comfortably into the new generation of horror films and filmmakers.

I’ve gone on record several times condemning the horror genre and its filmmakers for recycling and regurgitating the same stories, tropes, and characters. To me, it’s a no brainer to support an original and fresh project. To invest in Fear Itself is not just to invest in the film, but in the future career of Mirtes and all the interesting and entertaining films he is sure to bring us.

Check out Fear Itself‘s Twitter, facebook, instagram, and Kickstarter

The Rocketeer (1991) Review

The-Rocketeer-Poster
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.

Welcome to the Space Show (2010) Review

600full-welcome-to-the-space-show-poster
An old review of mine, approximately four months old, so I figured I’d finally publish it.

My Neighbor Totoro meets A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” is how a friend of mine described Welcome to The Space Show and that’s really quite the perfect encapsulation. Welcome to The Space Show is a whimsical adventure through the wonders of space, the final frontier viewed through a child’s eyes. It’s an adorable little film that has more genuine innocence to it then most of the pandering cartoons seen on TV. I would recommend it to every parent for their kids, but with some hesitation due to certain flaws. Welcome to The Space Show is a film I really wish was better than it is, and not just because I would like all films to be good. It has effort, heart, and competence behind it far beyond most other films.

Welcome to The Space Show details the journey of five kids as they make their way through space, thanks to an alien dog named Pochi, whose life they save after finding him injured in a grain field. Traveling from planet to planet, the kids hear about the mysterious and spectacular Space Show, a traveling circus that broadcasts across the galaxies. Due to unforeseen circumstances they have to take a detour to get back to Earth, but this proves to be difficult with greedy poachers after a rare Earth plant that they carry with them.

In 20-30 minute chunks, Welcome to The Space Show works extremely well. It’s technically beautiful and well made, with actual subtlety and thought put into every shot. The characters are likeable, diverse, well-developed, and learn important lessons that you want your kids to learn. You may not remember their names by the end of the film, but you will have a definite feel for who they are, if only by default of having spent so much time with them. The setting of Welcome to The Space Show represents the most innocent view one could have of a sci-fi universe, with bright colors and harmless creatures all willing to help you. It’s a film that asks you to “leave your logic at the door, and just have a little fun” and for the most part, you will have fun.

Looking at the film as a whole, however, reveals a tragically different image, as Welcome to The Space Show clumsily moves from set piece to set piece, taking far too much time to reach its end goal. The plot’s pacing only starts to pick up an hour in, and an unfortunate amount of last minute plot devices and character motivations are used to wrap up the story. Even ignoring that, the film is just too long, clocking in at 2 hours and 20 minutes. Despite how much fun the movie is, once you hit the hour and a half mark the movie’s length starts to take its toll. The film is a touch slower than most children’s films, so this combined with the average child’s attention span is going to detract from a kid’s enjoyment of the film.

Welcome to the Space Show disappoints, but nowhere near as much as it leaves you feeling warm inside. Perhaps breaking the film into two parts would serve as a better way to view it, but as it stands Welcome to The Space Show is tragically too long and too clunky in order to be the perfect kids film it ought to be. That’s not to say there’s no enjoyment to be had. It consistently manages to immerse you in the universe it has created, and even the most skeptical cynic will find themselves smirking and feeling like a kid again.

Boyhood (2014) Review

11178476_800
Boyhood: a film shot over the course of 12 years, starting in 2002. Having been born in 1995, I’m only a year older than the protagonist, Mason. His childhood is my childhood, and to a small extent, his film is my film. There are thousands of people out there who will review this film but only a handful will be able to connect to it on this level. That’s not to say the events in the film happened to me, but rather it’s just a fundamental understanding of what a character is feeling because you felt it at the same time, with the same music, styles and, events floating around your head.

Of course this film was going to work for me. Of course I was going to like it, but as I watched it I wondered how this film appeals to everyone else. What do they get out of it? Boyhood is ultimately three stories, that of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), his father (Ethan Hawke), and his mother (Patricia Arquette). Through the eyes of Mason we see the stories of his parents (and everyone else around him) unfold. The stories of their lives weaving through his. Hawke’s Dad struggling with maturity and responsibility; Arquette’s Mom trying to find herself outside of her family, but struggling to care for them nonetheless; Coltrane’s Mason, a boy thrown from home to home, with a constantly evolving idea of family and of life.

Boyhood is less a narrative and more an experience, and a tightly constructed one at that. For being shot over 12 years, Linklater’s film manages to be even smoother than a documentary covering the same time period would be. The experience is so immersive at times that you forget you are watching fiction. As the film goes on though, what became puzzling for me was the thematic question: What is this film actually about?

Your identity? Your path in life? The people around you?

This question started to bother me about two thirds through and I finally started taking notes, probably a little too late. Appropriate, putting it in contrast with my life. Normally I wouldn’t review a film I don’t feel I have full grasp of, but in this case, as in life, I think the experience is more important than the analysis.

In case you haven’t guessed, Boyhood is ultimately about life, and because of this, it’s somewhat open-ended as to what its themes are. Everyone will (hopefully) pull something different from it, as they would any other two hours of their life.

In the final moments of the film a high teenager yells to a beautiful desert landscape that “all of time” has opened up to him. Meanwhile, Mason and a cute girl are talking about moments: how they seize us and how life is just a series of them. In there is perhaps the most important message to me: Despite the fact that Boyhood is all of time, Mason’s time, laid out in front of us, what ultimately matters are the moments.

Boyhood is not a film with some overarching plot or fight against a bad guy, but rather just that: moments that compound onto each other until they finally start coalescing into something with meaning, hence why it took me so long to realize I should be paying attention.

The best films try to teach you something about life. Boyhood is a film that asks you to teach yourself about life. There are hundreds of thousands of people who will watch this. Out of them, most will find it cute, but ultimately uneventful. Some will feel the meaning, but go to bed unaffected. A handful will be impacted, permanently and deeply. I like to think I’m the latter. Boyhood is a film that will stay with me forever. A film that encapsulates my childhood, but will hopefully still find lessons to teach me no matter what period of my life I’m in.

So there it is. What a 19 year old with the same video games, dorky clothes, and angsty attitude towards the world thought of Boyhood. Thought you ought to know.

Legend of the Overfiend (1989) Review

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 2.47.51 AM
This is a fairly old review that I never got around to publishing. I’ve left it unedited for the sake of… something I’m sure. I’ve also left images out because I honestly don’t feel like censoring a bunch of screencaps.

When anime was introduced into the west in the late 80s/early 90s, it became notorious for being dramatic, dark, and extremely violent and/or sexual. There were a handful of films that created this image in both the geek and mainstream culture: Akira, Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D, and Legend of the Overfiend amongst others. Legend of the Overfiend is certainly the most sexually explicit of these, leaving images of tentacle rape in the minds of westerners to this day. It’s fascinating that anime has strayed so far from this “extreme” image, but the rampant sexual perversion still remains, whether perceived or actual.

Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend is a compilation film of three OVAs (Original Video Animation) that were released between 1987 and 1989. Now it’s important when going into this film to keep in mind that the “R-rated” DVD release cuts out about 40 minutes of footage and yet in the first 30 seconds there is a demon orgy. Now imagine what they cut out. Legend of the Overfiend is unforgiving in its content, assaulting the viewer with frequent tits, ass, demon dicks, and exploding bodies. While the variety of demon debauchery and violence is well animated, it’s far from comfortable to watch. However, if you can get past the –to put it lightly– explicit content (and that is very hard to do at times) Overfiend is an incredibly silly and enjoyable film.

The story of Overfiend (yes there actually is a story) centers around Neguma, a bland high school student who also just so happens to be the reincarnation of the Overfiend, aka Chojin. Chojin is a being that, according to a 3000 year old legend, will unite the three worlds: those of the humans, beastmen, and demons. Naturally both the beastmen and the demons are after the most powerful being in the universe, which means plenty of problems for Neguma and his love life! Wackiness ensues!

It’s no surprise that the writing in Overfiend is awful, but that in no way means that it’s not entertaining. Like the best of cheesy 80s/90s action OVAs, Overfiend is ridiculous enough that it easily breaches into “good-bad” territory. It’s hard not to laugh at the two demons dueling with their dicks, or just simply enjoy the fight scenes between the uniquely designed monsters. Where Overfiend ultimately fails is in its ending, which manages to be so boring that it almost loops back around into engaging because you can’t believe the disaster unfolding on screen. The deflation one feels at the end, due to plot device after plot device being thrown in, is enough to piss off even the most forgiving moviegoer, especially after the incredibly long build-up the ending had. In almost every scene a character hypes up the rise of the Overfiend, but once he does they introduce several new elements and unexplained character bits in order to make the film have a somewhat happy ending. It’s lazy and makes the rest of the film feel like a waste of our time.

The ending is almost enough to soil my recommendation, but not quite. The film clocks in at about 100 minutes, meaning you still get 1 hour and 20 minutes before the final act that is solid entertainment. Feel free to shut off the film at that point, because the ending is truly not worth your time. Legend of the Overfiend may be infamously graphic, exploitative, and offensive, but it’s because of these crimes against decency that it manages to be an entertaining and fun watch for you and a few willing friends if you have them.

Empire Records (1995) Review

empire-records-posterScreen Shot 2014-08-11 at 3.00.19 PMLucas: The wannabe philosopher who steals $9,000 from his boss and then loses it in Atlantic City while attempting to save the store. A.J.: The artist who’s struggling with his feelings for Corey. Corey: The straight A student who plans to lose her virginity to the visiting super star Rex Manning. Gina: Corey’s more bold and sarcastic best friend. Debra: The punk rocker with a bandage on her arm and a new haircut. Mark: The weird one. Eddie: The pizza guy. Berko: The guitarist. Joe: The boss. This cast of misfits make up the employees of Empire Records, a small vinyl shop that is in danger of being bought out by The Man. Empire Records tells the story of one day in these characters’ lives; one day filled with laughs, drama, and some kick ass music.

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 3.09.46 PMThe first two thirds of Empire Records is akin to Clerks, in that it is an aimless character study and string of fairly unrelated events. It bounces from character to character, dealing with their subplots, occasionally intertwining them or addressing the main plot of the failing store. The characters are all fairly diverse and unique, represented by not only the sharp-witted and snappy writing, but also the soundtrack choices. The scenes of drama are frequently interrupted by various musical inserts since, obviously, this is a record store. The soundtrack really is fantastic, even to a musical neophyte such as myself, playing everything from AC/DC to a score of indy bands I’ve never heard of.

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 2.58.25 PMWhile the characters aren’t nearly as cliche as the cast of, say, a sitcom or a slasher film, they do fit into certain stereotypes. However, this leaning on cliche doesn’t feel like laziness, which it usually is, but rather a legitimate use of the tropes in order to diversify its rather large cast. Despite its diversity, the large cast can still be a touch distracting –especially in the first half when characters are almost piled on in their introductions– and the movie can feel a little crowded at times. It is a fun crowd to spend time with, though: the cast being nicely split between likeable and loveably hateable.

Unfortunately the third act is where Empire Records starts to fall apart, as the various plot threads meet a cliche ending and the film starts to take on a cheesier feel-good vibe. However, I would make the case that the cheese adds to the the film’s attitude of “Fuck it, we’re young and we’re gonna have fun!”

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 2.22.40 PMEmpire Records was panned on release for being cliche and predictable, rightfully so, but looking at it in a modern context it seems remarkably more unique. I’ve seen very few films like it, and I’d wager the rest of my generation hasn’t either. In fact there is a surprising lack of teen dramedies out there for millennials, or at least good ones. Thanks to the rise of PG-13, most films that are aimed at us are also aimed at everybody, so we don’t get many films that are truly made for and about teenagers and college kids. Sure, there’s a raunchy comedy here or a spoof film there, but nothing quite like the teen films that came before in both quantity and quality. The 80s were like a golden age in retrospect, with the entire Rat Pack canon of films. The 90s had less, but still its fair share between Empire Records, Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, etc… The only popular teen comedy that actually touched on the issues our generation faces/faced was The Perks of Being a Wallflower. So, while Empire Records may have been cliche at the time, I think there’s an audience out there nowadays that could enjoy it, since it’s still a well done film that tackles the universal issues of coming to age.

What are your thoughts on Empire Records and the state of teen films? Sound off in the comments below! Be sure to visit the Geek Juice Media, Buck on Stuff, and Hidden Horrors for more great reviews!

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 3.36.31 PM

Neo-Tokyo (1987) Review

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 12.58.40 AM
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.
Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 1.21.17 AM
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!

American Mary (2012) Review

american-mary-poster

As some of you may know, I frequently attend anime conventions, spreading the Gospel of Geek Juice through the handful of panels I do. One of my more popular ones panels is “Japanese Horror: Anime vs Film” where, as the title suggests, I discuss horror anime, or the lack thereof, and the tropes and history of J-horror in general. Inevitably I’m asked questions about my thoughts on Movie A or if I’ve seen Movie B, but there’s one question in particular I love to get asked: “What are your thoughts on modern horror and the state of the industry?” It always provokes great discussion, but no matter the path that discussion takes the conclusion is usually “Indy horror is where it’s at.” However, if you asked me to name a handful of great Indy horror films from the last few years I’d be hard-pressed to think of many. It’s partially because I haven’t seen much, partially because the majority of what’s out there is low quality and derivative, and partially because I rarely even hear names of good horror movies thrown around for me to blindly recommend. In complete contrast to this, American Mary is a title I’ve heard about since its release, and many people I respect have called it an amazing film. Directed by the Soska sisters, American Mary shines brightly as a great example of what Indy horror can and should be, giving me hope for the future of horror.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 6.44.45 PMAmerican Mary‘s titular Mary Mason is a med student who is severely lacking in funds. In desperation she turns to stripping, but doesn’t even get the chance to do that before her would-be boss Billy whisks her off to save the life of a friend of theirs, of course compensating her $5,000 dollars. Beatress, a… shall we say “unique” individual obsessed with looking like Betty Boop, hears about Mary’s skills and commissions her to perform some body modification on a friend. From here on Mary finds herself teetering on the edge of the wild world of extreme body modification, but isn’t pushed in until she’s drugged and raped by her professor, Dr. Grant. Mary and her world are now forever changed as she sets out to be a successful surgeon in a drastically different way then she had planned.

Ignoring all eloquence on my part, let me simply put that American Mary just works. The premise works. The characters work. The film itself works. The Soskas clearly have an understanding of the technicals of cinema and use various techniques to create effective and unique scenes. At the beginning of the film when Mary saves the life of the criminal, she rushes home, pausing when she enters. After the chaos and fast editing of the surgery sequence, the Soskas give both Mary and the audience a second to take in everything that just happened and in that moment we understand every thought and emotion running through Mary’s head. They take the very weird surgeries that make up body modification and pull them into the realm of horror, not through gore as most would, but by concentrating on the violation done to a body in the process.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 6.45.42 PMMary herself is the crowning achievement of the film, easily being one of the finest horror protagonists I’ve ever seen. She’s not only more human than almost every character I see in horror films these days, but also far more likeable and realistic than most modern protagonists in Hollywood films. Katherine Isabella brilliantly brings Mary to life, but unfortunately she’s not in good company because while the other actors play their roles just fine, they lack the certain energy that Isabella/Mary have.

The film is fairly well paced, cutting off the fat and showing us the essentials of Mary’s descent. Like in a Scorsese film the scenes feel like episodes that all add up together to create a completed story. Unfortunately, American Mary doesn’t hold up its pacing forever and in its second half stumbles, leaving you with an anti-climatic ending. For some this would ruin the film, but if you keep in mind the Japanese philosophy (going back to the beginning) that the journey is more important than the destination, then you’ll most certainly find the rest of the film worth it.

OScreen Shot 2014-07-14 at 7.01.49 PMne may want to push a feminist agenda onto this film due to the creators behind it and its content, but I never once thought about examining this film through that lens while I was watching it. Plot wise it feels like a standard, albeit improved, rape/revenge film and there are few scenes that provoke further analysis. There has been a notable lack of female directors in horror, but the solution to this problem is not to make feminist horror movies or prove that female directors are better. Rather, we need more movies like this one. Movies that prove nothing more then that the director, who happens to be a woman, can make a damn fine movie.

I may not have seen the largest number of Indy horror films, but I’d wager that American Mary stands out not just from all indy horror, but from all film. It’s cold without losing emotion, clinical without losing passion, and sophisticated without losing the rawness we expect from horror. There has come to be a large difference between the standards we judge modern Indy horror by and the horror classics by, but American Mary holds up against all standards. It’s one of the finest modern horror movies I’ve seen and one I’ll be returning to even when it’s considered a classic. It’s the kind of film I’m proud to bring up in discussion and I hope that inspires more directors to create films in its spirit, eventually leading us into a world where indy horror can stand tall and proclaim that it really is where good horror’s at.

What are your thoughts on American Mary or modern horror, Indy or otherwise? 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!
Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 6.14.00 PM