Dangan Ronpa (2013) Three Episode Review (Redux)

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The original post is located here and was originally published September 6th, 2013.

Just for clarification this is a review of the first three episodes. After approximately an hour of material, the creators should have established story, characters, and style and thus certain, albeit limited, conclusions can be made about the show. Judge the following opinions on this basis, but to continue watching the show past this point is a waste of time.

Visual novels are a common form of entertainment amongst Otaku in Japan, but they rarely make their way over here. The best comparison that can be made is a choose-your-own-adventure book mixed with a video game. You choose paths to follow, but that’s the extent of the interactivity. By having multiple stories, visual novels are inherently tricky to adapt. Several shows have gotten around this, like Steins;Gate and Higurashi: When They Cry, but most shows just opt for one path or a blend of a few notable ones. Theoretically, Dangan Ronpa would be easier to adapt, playing more like an never-ending game of Clue and television is no stranger to murder mysteries.

Dangan Ronpa: The Animation is the story of freshman high school student, Makoto Naegi, who somehow managed to get into Hope Academy, one of the most respected schools in the country. Upon arrival he finds himself and the other students trapped in the mechanizations of a psychotic, reality defying teddy bear named Monokuma that acts as their principal. Instead of math or science, the only taught in this school is survival. In order to “graduate” and thus escape, the student must kill someone, and escape the judgement of their fellow students who are tasked to find the killer. Everyone is reluctant at fist, but things escalate quickly as bodies pile up.

In terms of adaptation, the character models and environment look spot on, in all of its bland and awkward glory. The animation only becomes interesting during the “punishment” scenes, where it into a hyperactive mix of 2D models and 3D environments. It seems this was intended to make the violence on screen seem more tame, but that implies that something horrific would be shown, which never happens.

The pacing of Dangan Ronpa is inconsistent, shifting from boring talking heads to “tense” confrontations between the students and Monokuma. The cinematography and editing can easily be compared in these moments to a bad 90s MTV music video. This falsely “exciting” filmmaking is applied to a basic Battle Royale premise, with one-note characters and dialogue that shifts from dull and pointless to nonsensically revelatory at a moment’s notice.

Watching Dangan Ronpa is very much like watching someone play the visual novel. From an adaptation standpoint they succeeded, but that doesn’t mean that said adaptation is interesting or worth watching. When playing a visual novel you are engaging in the story, but watching anime leaves you a passive observer. Dangan Ronpa doesn’t do anything to overcome this, leaving the core of each episode essentially characters standing around talking and not bothering to actual develop their protagonist, leaving him a bland audience stand-in. It’s only a small comfort to know that at some point a random event will interrupt the repetitive dialogue to move the plot along in a way that might make sense, if you weren’t so bored that you aren’t paying attention. If the premise of Dangan Ronpa seems interesting then just watch a let’s play, don’t bother with this one.

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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.

Welcome to the Space Show (2010) Review

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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.

The Imitation Game (2014) Review

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With four of the 2014 Best Picture nominees featuring the struggles of historical figures and two specifically being the struggles of geniuses, it makes sense that Benedict Cumberbatch would star in one of said films. Cumberbatch has moved safely within his comfort zone from Sherlock Holmes to the character of Alan Turing, dubbed the “Father of Computer Science.” While Turing led a very interesting life, The Imitation Game focuses on his work cracking the infamous German Enigma code of World War II, by creating a computer to sift through the millions of possible solutions to its cypher.

In 1951 a police officer is curiously investigating a break-in at Alan Turing’s residence, only to find that all information about the man is classified. In 1939 Turing is hired to be a part of the top secret program to crack the German code, making enemies out of his bosses and colleagues immediately. Slowly he gains support and enlists several mathematical geniuses to help him, including sole female member Joan Clarke, played by Kiera Knightly. The film’s drama operates mostly on people’s lack of faith in Turing, with several scenes of him stammering out a confused defence to either his military overseers or his partners. It seems astounding that so many people of such a high intelligence can’t comprehend Turing’s rather logical plan. While not an expert on Turing’s life, it seems that this is a cliche and lacking source of drama, probably because it wasn’t one in reality.

Turing’s homosexuality would seem like the obvious choice for Oscar-worthy drama, but despite the epilogic captions emphasizing its greater historical context, it is ultimately a sub-plot. While Turing’s social ineptness and homosexuality may be the emotional heart of the film, the key scenes and major turning points all hinge on his machine. Turing himself acts as a machine, but with the aid of Joan Clarke as the one true friend he gains, Turing comes out of his emotional shell as the film goes on. It’s certainly interesting to see emotions bubble up inside someone incapable of handling them due to a lack of exposure, but it never quite emotionally resonates. Towards the end of the film when Turing’s outed and subjected to hormonal treatment, it becomes painfully clear that the emotional connection the film thought it was building up, isn’t there. Perhaps it’s the film’s emphasis on narrative and melodrama in the first two-thirds that result in its genuine efforts feeling empty. When you attach a film’s core to a machine and not a person, you’re leaving out factors in the equation, bits in the cypher, and creating a flawed and hollow result.

While smooth and comfortable to watch, easy and entertaining to digest, The Imitation Game is nothing more then a well-oiled machine. A machine pumping out a calculated and predictable result. One that imitates the genuine films that came before it, but without the key that will crack the code of greatness. If the film’s thesis of “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine,” then it is also evident that those we can easily imagine something of can do the things we easily can imagine.

Boyhood (2014) Review

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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

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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!

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American Mary (2012) Review

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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!
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Rubber (2010) Review

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A couple of years ago (2012), when I knew very little about film outside having seen a lot of horror movies and watched some reviews online, I was on a podcast initially titled “The Forumcast.” I say initially because it was such a disaster that my co-hosts and I renamed it “Podwreck.” On an episode of that show we reviewed an indy 2010 film called “Rubber,” directed by Quentin Dupieux. I absolutely hated it for numerous reasons: its promising premise of a rampaging tire that was so poorly handled; its “no reason” philosophy that was used to explain away any plot holes and inconsistencies; its addressing of both Hollywood and the audience in such a “clever” manner. I couldn’t stand it and proclaimed it to be one of the most disappointing and pretentious films I’d ever seen. I was shocked to find out that not only did one of my co-hosts love it, but so did several of my classmates. It took me two years to force myself to re-examine this movie, and with an accumulated arsenal of critical and filmic knowledge behind me what are my conclusions? That “Rubber” is a rather ambitious, but ultimately mediocre film. Not exactly a drastic revelation worthy of a two year build-up.

3The film has a “narrative” in the story of the killer tire and a “meta narrative” in the story of the audience and those staging the film. Through the first two-thirds of the movie the narrative part is simple enough. It’s the tale of a tire that for no reason becomes sentient and has “psycho-kinetic” powers. It roams the desert roads with little purpose except to blow up any creature it finds. There we have it. A truly interesting and unique premise that promises to not only be amusing, but also horrifying. While yes the tire’s antics do occasionally earn a chuckle, particularly in one scene where it watches NASCAR, it rarely is actually horrifying. If you’ve seen the head explosion from “Scanners” you’ve seen everything horrific about this film, and you’ve seen it eight times less than someone who has watched “Rubber.” The tire unfortunately has only one method of killing, and thus we are treated to the same sequence of events with every kill. The tire vibrates, the victim sits there, 5,4, 3, 2, 1, Boom! It’s the same thing every time and while yes the effects are fairly well done, it gets very boring after a while. It’s hard to build up tension when the audience knows exactly what’s going to happen.

gu3wmifkWatching these events unfold is an audience. A literal one who through binoculars observe the movie the same way we do, except stranded in the desert and watching it in real time. They complain and speculate about the events unfolding over the course of a couple days, but ultimately succumb to the poisoned food planted by the “filmmakers” so that they can end the movie and go home. Unfortunately one wheelchair bound man remains, stubbornly refusing to stop watching, which puts a kink in the the omniscient sheriff’s plans and eventually leads to the meta-narrative completely taking over and becoming the narrative.

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 1.52.29 PMThe sheriff’s opening monologue introduces the concept of “no reason” through several examples: why is the alien brown in “ET”; why do the characters fall in love in “Love Story”; and why do we never see the characters go to the bathroom in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”? The answer to these and questions like “Why can’t we see the air?” and “Why do only some people like sausages?” is NO REASON. While theoretically I should like this, the movie concentrates on too wide a variety of “no reason” examples xto really make clear what it’s talking about. Is it talking about poor writing? Is it talking about unexplained production decisions? Is it talking about the things the writers leave out because they aren’t relevant? Either way, the movie uses this as a launching point to turn “Rubber” into an absurdist film, which by all rights a sentient tire movie should be. The only problem is the film isn’t absurd enough. The plot makes sense, very rarely do things actually happen randomly, and once the world is established nothing abnormal happens that defies the rules. It’s actually an astonishingly straightforward movie, which is quite a shame.

While I may have put my theories of pretentiousness onto the film, interviews with the director show that this was truly a “no reason” movie. It’s a blank slate of “random” events that leave you asking questions and making theories. In this way it is a success, but the filmmakers ultimately fail at fulfilling the ambitions they had. It’s neither the “no reason” film it wished to be, nor an interesting sentient tire film, perhaps because it tried to do both at the same time. However, its blank slate nature also implies that I can’t possibly recommend nor condone this film, because each person will react to it differently, more so than with most other films. If we just examine its quality though, then it’s quite clear that “Rubber” is mediocre, unfulfilled, and not worth most people’s time.

What’s your take on Rubber? What are some other ridiculous film concepts have you enjoyed? Sound off in the comments below!


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Perfect Blue (1997) Review

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There are many stereotypical views of anime: that it’s strangely pedophilic, that it’s for kids, and/or that it’s all tentacle porn. While, yes, for the most part this is true, there are are still plenty of examples where anime transcends these trivial stereotypes and becomes something truly worth placing next to the greats of pop culture. One can of course point to Cowboy Bebop or the insanely popular Ghibli films, like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, but there are far more underrated works that deserve attention, particularly those of director Satoshi Kon. To be clear, it’s not that his works are without critical acclaim, rather it’s that his movies are criminally under-watched by the anime community and the movie audience at large. Perfect Blue, his first film, is a masterfully crafted psychological thriller that has been commonly compared to a Hitchcock film. While I disagree that the two are linked in any way thematically or stylistically, it’s hard to not compare how well the two directors handle the genres and mediums they operate within.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 1.03.56 AMPerfect Blue centers around Mima Kirigoe, the former lead singer of the pop group “CHAM!,” who decides to go into acting despite the pop idol stigma around her. Her first project, the gritty crime drama series “Double Bind,” leaves a few fans upset, particularly the mysterious stalker “Me-Mania.” Mima receives a fax reading “Traitor” and an explosive letter in the mail, but is continually assured by her manager Ruma Hidaka that she should just ignore it. Ruma urges Mima not to going along with the writer of “Double Bind,” who wants her to participate in a rape scene that will lead to her part becoming bigger. In order to help her career and not let down everyone who helped her get to where she is, Mima goes through with it, but not without hesitation as it means the sure death of that innocent pop star image she had. A website she finds that chronicles her life in an eerily accurate way doesn’t help either, as it idolizes that pop star persona of hers and soon she starts hallucinating that this very persona is criticizing her. As her career starts to spiral out of her control, her state of mind fragments and her sense of reality slips away dramatically.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 1.05.47 AMPerfect Blue is an interesting look at the entertainment industry and how daunting it can be to its young entrants. The dynamic and clear-cut characters that populate the sets and meetings give the film a sense of reality, but leave it a little cold (as it should). While it’s not clear what age Mima is supposed to be, the film is most certainly a tale of reaching maturity and shedding your childhood, and this is unfortunately best shown in the rape scene shoot. The similarity between the costume she’s wearing on set and the costume she wore on stage as part of CHAM! make it abundantly clear that she is “letting” her childhood be violently destroyed. What’s left of her afterwords is unclear.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 1.07.22 AMSatoshi Kon does a brilliant job of messing with the audience’s sense of reality through the characters’ delusions. The dual appearances of “Idol Mima” to Mima, as a way of taunting her and degrading her actions, and Me-Mania, as a way of egging him on ever closer to violence, confuses the audience into wondering if the delusions could possibly be connected by some supernatural force. As Mima’s sense of reality completely breaks into a series of loosely connected and repeating scenes, we as the audience have no sense of what’s real and what’s not.

Satoshi Kon picDespite its discontinuous nature, Perfect Blue has a fairly simple narrative and the confused reality that the audience experiences throughout the film ultimately adds to the enjoyment of the journey to the end. Satoshi Kon could have left such confusion out, but he didn’t because, unlike most directors in anime, Kon has a sense of artistic style as well as narrative structure. Kon approaches an anime film like a film and not an anime, keeping himself separated from the Otaku culture that most anime producers are inevitably pulled into. Surpassing even great directors like Hayao Miyazaki, Kon has a fantastic sense of editing and cinematography. There are shots in Perfect Blue that will leave any cinephile stunned at their beauty, accentuated by clever editing techniques.

Perfect Blue has a slow first two acts, but its tension keeps you believing that it’s building towards something. If you wait patiently the third act will blow you away by proving that Perfect Blue is not just a fantastic anime or an exciting thriller, but an impressive film. Period. The animation isn’t the highest quality, but it gets the job done (and better than live action could). Many people brag about anime’s “mature storytelling” all the while showing those they brag to a series that arguably is no more mature than an episode of CSI, however Perfect Blue actually lives up to this claim. I highly recommend it to not only anime fans, but to anyone seeking a good mystery/thriller film and to those who scoff at anime as just pantsu-filled cartoons.