10 Movies That Will Get You into Anime

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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!

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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.

Neo-Tokyo (1987) Review

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

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

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

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


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

Planet Hulk (2010) Review

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Unlike Spider-man or Batman, Hulk is one of the trickiest characters to get right in not only comics, but any medium. He’s incredibly popular and is no doubt a unique character, but writers never seem to know what to do with him. How does one deliver the pure destructive badassness that audiences want to see while also creating a complex and interesting plot? It seems to me that the biggest detriment to constructing a good hulk story, until recently, is his lack of intelligence. It’s hard to have good dialogue with a raging monster whose vocabulary solely includes “SMASH!” Bruce Banner is usually cruelly mishandled as well, but thats beside the point. It seems Hulk works best in groups where he can react to other characters and serve as the ultimate weapon. Looking at his movies, the first Hulk film was insufferably boring and the action scenes were just stupid, while The Incredible Hulk was better… if not still boring and stupid. Planet Hulk may indeed be the best Hulk film out there… for what it is and tries to be.

Planet Hulk, based of the comic storyline of the same name, is the rather unusual tale of how Hulk gets shipped off Earth by the other superheroes who are tired of fighting him. Hulk, of course, smashes the shit out of the spaceship he’s on and that causes it to veer off course and crash-land on the planet Sakaar. There Hulk is imprisoned and force to fight in a gladiator ring, along with other rebels, for the entertainment of the planet’s dictator and his subjects. They band together in order to not only survive, but to also right the wrongs of The Red King.

Yeah this is a weird one to adapt, considering it has nothing to do with what people usually think of when they think Hulk. Bruce Banner doesn’t even appear in this movie, but it’s unusual setting does prevent the continuity baggage that Hulk usually has to deal with. Thats not to say that there’s no continuity as other superheroes do appear, if only briefly. What made the Planet Hulk comics work and become extremely popular was that Hulk was slightly more intelligent then usual (for no explained reason), his healing ability which had been creeping into the comics was fully exploited in cool ways, and the setting/story was beyond anything that had been done before. The Planet Hulk storyline was a long one, spanning about 25 issues if I remember correctly and the film does a good job of covering the basic plot points, if in an extremely simplified way.

This movie as I said is fairly simple, with about the intelligence of the Young Justice cartoon series or really most of the other superhero animated movies out there. Despite it’s more childish story, there is a good amount of gore and death in this movie (albeit alien cartoon gore), so the distinction must once again be made between mature content and storytelling. This movie, just because it has a little gore is in no way mature like some people may claim it to be, rather it just has some (slightly) mature content. It’s storytelling is still geared to an audience of 10-15, so if you plan to watch this with your kids keep in mind that while they will enjoy it, they should be able to handle the rather dark scenes. Most kids can, but show a touch of caution. Thats not to say that adults can’t watch this, because let me emphasize that this is a FUN movie. It shows about the level of badassery we got from Hulk in The Avengers, which is impressive comparing it to the other Hulk entries.

The animation is not too bad, certainly not Madhouse level, but it gets the job done. I like the style it’s done in, as it sacrifices detail without losing the general look of the comic. The voice acting is good as most of the key players are veterans in the field. Hulk is slightly miscast in my opinion, but it won’t bother most people. Marvel’s animated movies have never been that great compared to DC’s animated movies, but this one certainly is on par with the likes of Wonder Woman or Green Lantern: First Flight. If you’re looking for a fun movie that doesn’t require much thought, or if you’re looking for a good time with your kids then Planet Hulk is just the thing for you. Hopefully future Hulk moviemakers will take a few lessons from this movie and “Keep it simple, stupid!” Planet Hulk is available on Netflix Instant.

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.

eXistenZ (1999) Review


(Excerpt from my Cronenberg paper)

eXistenZ is a unique picture to say the least, but it is no doubt a Cronenberg film. It has technology and man melding, sexual under and overtones, and some creepy insects, all Cronenberg tropes. In his previous film Videodrome Cronenberg played on the idea of not only technology and man melding, but also humans creating new realities for ourselves through technology. He’s said that the ultimate goal is to remove the screen, allowing that separation between virtual and real to become indistinguishable. In eXistenZ we get that removed screen as now virtual reality takes over our brains. It’s done so through bio-ports and organic technology, literally becoming an extension of ourselves.

Cronenberg’s said that guns are extensions of people’s hands, phones extensions of our mouths and ears. After all technology comes from us, it’s not some foreign thing that invades our lives. This is portrayed quite well with some unique production design. The organic gun is made out of bones and looks like the extension of a hand, the phone (that we see briefly) looks like some puffy tissue, almost like ear wax and the cords that connect the people to the flesh colored pod clearly resemble umbilical cords. The color scheme of the clothes, walls, etc… in the testing room all have a similar flesh color to them too.

The film has a unique way of covering up what would typically be called pitfalls by incorporating them back into the movie. The inconsistent actions of the characters are merely the game forcing them to do certain things. The twists and turns of the plot that have little foreshadowing are akin to how video games actually progress and a character even remarks when emerging from the game that they were hard to follow. Any unknowns over the course of the movie are not only covered by the fact that it was all a game, but double covered in that it still could be a game. These unknowns play into the intentionally open ending, whether we would like answers or not. For as much world-building as Cronenberg does though, it’s still not enough. We only see the world from the perspective of a few characters and it’s never quite explained what’s normal or not. Is the world totally ruled by the Virtual Reality companies? How many people do have bio-ports? How are the games actually programmed? It leaves us asking more questions than the characters, but we’re left with no answers at the end when it’s revealed that everything we had questions about might not have answers since it’s all a game.

The actual testing event itself has the unique feel of not a game testing site, but rather a self-help seminar. This all plays into the theme of virtual reality being more real than reality and where the lines are drawn. The people in the testing room treat Allegra like she’s a god of sorts, and in a way she is. She literally built the worlds that they live their lives in and prefer and they worship her for that. When they meet up with Gas, he’s talking about how his “real life” is the lowest form of reality for him and Cronenberg puts him in a doorway (showing he’s trapped) in a small part of the frame (showing how empty the world around him is. Once she and Ted enter the virtual world, Cronenberg puts an emphasis on shots of their hands touching things, a sign that things feel real, despite not being and continues this motif after they enter the “real world.” The realities start to blur together and as more and more things get thrown at us we become uncertain of where things are going to go and suspense is effectively created.

Sex is an integral part of the seduction of the Virtual reality. The very plugging in is very sexual and the inclusion of saliva solidifies this. On top of that, the characters they become in the game start to have sex and for Ted (the audience stand-in) he is literally being seduced by the game so that’ll he’ll accept it. When he gets back to the real world Allegra acts just as seductive as in the game, tipping us off that something might be off.

Overall, eXistenZ is an unusual trip into the world of Virtual Reality, akin to both The Matrix and Inception, but of course with the Cronenberg twist. His use of odd technologies to emphasize our bodily connection, religious and sexual themes to get us invested in the virtual reality and confusing twists to make us doubt actual reality all serve to put us in the place of Ted and in a way experience this odd trip for ourselves. It’s open-ending may be unsatisfying, but it’s designed to be that way.

Roswell (1999-2000) Season 1 Review

(or How I Stopped Worrying about the 17 hours of My Life I’ll Never Get Back)

Roswell is the 1999-2002 sci-fi teen romance television show that aired on WB (and later UPN in it’s 3rd season). It follows the familiar tropes of movies like Twilight or shows like Smallville, presenting a supernatural romance that goes either right or wrong. Underneath that romance is a sci-fi subplot that becomes increasingly important as the season goes on. And by increasingly important I mean increasingly stupid. The following is reformatted from a paper I wrote so pardon it’s formality and redundancy.

Roswell is the story of Liz Parker who after being saved from a gunshot by the mysterious Max Evans discovers that he, his sister Isabel and their friend Michael are all aliens with no idea of where they come from or why they’re there. To save her friendships with her two best friends, Maria and Alex, she’s forced to tell them and the six of them evade Sheriff Valenti and the FBI, all the while looking for clues to the alien’s past. The series follows the familiar episodic main plot with serialized subplot formula that many shows in it’s genre follow. The typical episode’s three act structure is: Problem or clue is discovered; Character or characters make it worse or get into trouble; Other characters save said character(s) or a deus ex machina occurs that sets up the problem/clue for the next episode. It’s a formula that when done well allows both infrequent and frequent viewers to enjoy the show. Roswell never really struck this balance, leaning a little too much towards the serialized storytelling so that infrequent viewers couldn’t follow without the incredibly long recaps they have in front of every episode. However, since they were attempting to remain episodic frequent viewers get annoyed at the inconsistency of the episodes from week to week.

The protagonists of the show are the six core characters: Liz, Max, Isabel, Michael, Maria, Alex. They never really change to become antagonists with the exception of Michael, whose stupidity results in some antagonistic behavior. The cast remains fairly ensemble, with the focus shifting between Max and Liz to Michael and Maria or to Isabel and Alex. The primary out of that ensemble is Liz and Max, since their romance is the inciting event of the show and shapes a lot of the events. The actual individual characters are fairly bland relying on stereotypes to get character across, if any. Since the show is so romance driven, it is necessary for a viewer to understand the characters to “enjoy” the show. It’s hard to sit there and listen to them whine for 10 minutes about their feelings if you’re not invested in the characters. However, getting invested may prove tricky if you’re not into 6 whiny teenagers somehow making being extraterrestrials seem as dramatic as getting grounded. Since the show is fairly bipolar in it’s focus (romance or story) it’s hard to call Roswell anything but both plot and character driven. It seems that the two collide with each other. The story often times gets in the way of the romance (Michael not paying attention to Maria because he’s obsessed with the pursuit of truth) and the romance can put the plot to a dead stop (Michael and Maria having an intimate scene together in the hotel for no reason except to stall the plot and develop the romance). The romance of the show constantly interferes with the plot, often time taking what are fairly simple developments and turning them into high school drama-fests.

The show looks fairly standard for the late 90s/early 00s, with a few marks from other obvious inspirations (The X-files, Dawson’s Creek) included. It’s nighttime lighting is very X-files reminiscent and it’s background music seems to be pulled straight out of some X-files episode. Along with poor writing, it’s clear that the show has inexperienced directing as well. Beyond the occasionally awkward blocking, the directors have the tendency to chose close-up shots of the actors so that they are staring right at the camera. It’s typically used in the fantasy/romance situations and it’s in no way romantic. It’s just plain ugly to look at and is unflattering to the actors. It’s very clear that show is low budget, especially when it comes to effects. A lot of them are super cheap CGI and when they can’t afford even that the editing covers it up rather poorly, not letting you know exactly what’s going on. The dubbing, which should be unnoticable is actually quite bothersome when the characters are clearly speaking in two different microphones. The production design is fairly basic, preferring bland backgrounds and locations. The color pallet of the show is mostly dark colors and browns, as the backdrop of the show is the desert of New Mexico. The music is, no matter the styling, some whiny musician complaining about their life. Which is of course appropriate for a teenage drama show. All of this definitely fits the tone and style of the show, that being a low-budget teen supernatural romance. It’s an adequate balance between the very consistent and more unique look of Smallville and the extremely low-budget, bland and inconsistent Vampire High.

Here’s where I shall break from my more formal style and explain why Roswell sucks monumentally (yes this was part of the paper). I first encountered this show a few months ago and out of curiousity I decided to check it out. I forced myself through six episodes, desperately hoping that it would get better. It seemed so much like Smallville, but without any of the charm or interesting plot. Instead it would be like you pulled the Clark/Lana romance out and made it it’s own show and then sprinkled a little X-files on top for good measure. Considering how the Clark/Lana romance was my least favorite part of that show it’s no wonder I didn’t like Roswell. It was one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever gone through to finish this show. It was so long, with each episode feeling like an eternity to get through. Every time something interesting would come up, the show would crush it with the crippling weight of the eventual three romances. The constant stupidity of the characters made me scream at the screen a few times. It’s not that the characters are stupid, it’s that they’re inconsistently stupid. Michael may be the coolheaded one for an episode, but you can guarantee that he’ll be the biggest dumbass the next three. The writing was so inconsistent, from episode to episode entire subplots would just be dropped and characters could completely switch attitudes. Sheriff Valenti, for example, had a character arc yes, but the actual moment where he decides to help them despite them being aliens is never actually shown, just implied. And Roswell does not have the chops to imply anything.

Speaking of not having chops, Roswell tries (and fails) to tackle actual issues, with pathetic results. Michael is being domestically abused by his father and after spending an entire episode fighting with Isabel and Max, who make it all about them, he finally decides to emancipate himself, somehow completely circumventing the months long process and never actually having his father there to testify. All for what reason? Hell if I know, so that the FBI can spy on him so that Max can discover it etc… Another thing they try to tackle is the idea of sexual awakening, but instead of it being Max and Liz actually having a hard time handling their growing attraction, it’s that the spaceship was making them horny so they could discover the crash site. In fact Roswell pulls the sin of a lot of TV shows and darts around interesting concepts, but then decides to ignore them for the sake of the status quo. Towards the end of the season, Isabel thinks she’s pregnant with Michael’s baby since they had weird dream sex. Despite the incestous undertones and rather serious implications, this is only used to drive a wedge between Maria and Michael and is dropped when our Deus Ex Tess explains that they still have to have sex the normal way in order to get pregnant.

I could have picked any revelatory scene from the series to analyze because they all are the same. They ask questions about it and then someone will have a vision later on that explains everything. The vision’s are the writer’s crutch and they use it so much that you begin to wonder why they bother to go out and find things when they can just wait around for a vision.

The very romance of Max and Liz, which the show essentially focuses around, plays on the tired old tropes of the super-hero/vampire/alien not wanting to be with a girl to protect her or to protect himself. Of course we as an audience know they’ll get together eventually and the waiting game in Roswell is the most infuriating out of all the versions I’ve seen. They get so coupley, then Max tells them to slow down, then Liz freaks out and back off, then Max says he still wants to be friends, then they get closer, then some weird snogging thing happens and that brings them closer and apparently that means they’re dating even though they never actually said that on screen then they break up at the end because next season we need to do the same thing AGAIN. The odd love triangle between Max, Tess and Liz is introduced at a very awkward time, with Max fantasizing about this other girl in the episode directly following the one where Liz and Max (may have) had sex. At least the faults in the Maria/Michael relationship is because Michael is psychologically fucked up, and not just because he’s an alien. There relationship was forced at the beginning, but not as forced as the Isabel/Alex “thing.” Isabel started in the first few episodes as the super popular Queen B, but as she got more popular around Liz and Maria acted kinder to them. That in no way means that she was a kinder person. So the idea of her being friends or actually dating Alex is so goddamn nonsensical, it’s like the writers just forced it because they felt weird about not pairing everyone up or because it was in the books (which it was) and they had to make it work somehow.

Roswell portrays quite a few groups with harsh stereotypes and a comedic approach. For one, the UFOlogy group that come to Roswell and should be an important part of the show are treated like paranoid nerds with some weird fantasy. While there are individuals like that, the show chooses to portray all of them like that. As an individual who believes in the probability in extraterrestrial life having visited Earth, I was extremely offended by this caricature, but more shocked that they wouldn’t be kinder to a group that could significantly affect the plot of the show. Another group was Orthodontists, who were in town for a convention for an episode. This would be minor, but they were portrayed as all nerds and even fetishizing teeth. This was astounding in a show that wants you to take it’s Alien protagonists and teenage melodrama seriously. In general the portrayal of teens in media, especially in shows designed for a younger audience, bothers me and this show is no exception. Writers have to make the romances drag out and have tons of problems, incapable of imagining a good relationship. All the teens are irrational and inconsistent in their emotions and despite the fact that their interactions with adults are the most interesting, often times choose to focus on the melodrama of teenage “life.”

Roswell is a melodramatic poorly written waste of time. Even if it’s following seasons had a spike in quality, the first season is so impossibly hard to get through that it wouldn’t be worth your time. It’s a relic of the late 90s/early 2000s, when white kids were still rich and entitled and the center of the universe (in this case literally). What makes watching Roswell even worse is the poor notion that this show could have been good, if it had picked up its pace and concentrated more on the dramatic part of melodramatic. Roswell is available nowhere because I’m currently working on destroying all the copies.

The Faculty (1998) Review

The supernatural teen drama can come in many forms, such as the cheesy super hero styled Smallville, the melodramatic shit-fest Twilight or the slow-ass “thriller” Disturbing Behavior. The supernatural teen “insert genre here” really started to take off in the late 80s-early 90s. The Faculty is yet another one of these and I swear I didn’t plan these two to be together, but it seems to be a much better version of Disturbing Behavior. It’s by no means perfect, but there is an endearing charm to it that I can’t help but feel attracted to.

The Faculty is the story of a high school whose teachers begin to act strangely and soon Elijah Wood and his friends discover that this is due to an alien invasion. So the chase is on to somehow stop the invasion, but that’s pretty tricky when all your classmates, teachers and parents are against you. Oh and there’s some teenage drama character stuff but nobody gives a shit about that.

The story of The Faculty is definitely the product of its time, relying heavily on tropes and themes we’ve seen before. It even throws in some meta-sci-fi referencing cause, you know, Scream was a thing. The story requires some intense suspension of disbelief and even then there are still plenty of plot-holes and stupid decisions that will have you groaning. Nonetheless there are still a few genuinely good moments of suspense, but I think we can mainly attribute that to director Robert Rodriguez. The plot does seem to be weirdly paced, picking up a lot at the beginning and then slowing down a lot after that. However, unlike Disturbing Behavior, the story does keep moving forward during these parts. The flashforward at the end is probably the most objectionable part of the story (and that’s saying a lot) with characters ending up in downright impossible situations. Speaking of which…

The characters are all stereotypes… to an extent. Like in a Hughes project, the characters all start out as their respective clichés, but then as we get to know them, we find they aren’t that cut and dry and we inevitably find ourselves actually slightly invested in them. They certainly aren’t memorable, but for the duration of the movie you won’t hate them (which is a plus compared to the horror/thriller movies of today). The acting ranges from good to bad, with mediocrity being the standard. The adults mostly ham it up, and the kids either do a good job or overact. Elijah wood and Josh Hartnett and Jon Stewart (fucking what!) are highlights in my opinion.

The technicals are all pretty solid. The actually directing/lighting/sound/etc… are all fine. It’s the effects that are going to bother people. Now there is a mix of CGI and practicals, which is nice, but the CGI looks really dated. In my opinion, practicals couldn’t have done much better, so either way you’re stuck with a distraction. This is a nitpick, but the introduction of the characters have each of them with their names on screen. This is stupid since their names are said quite quickly after or repeated a lot over the course of the movie.

The Faculty is, above all else, fun. Its mediocrity is evident, but it nonetheless manages to partially captivate and completely entertain. If you’re a fan of Buffy, Smallville, or Roswell then this will be familiar and comfortable territory for you. It’s sure as shit superior to Disturbing Behavior on every level, but then again that’s not saying much. The Faculty is available from Amazon, iTunes and Netflix instant for your popcorn munching pleasure.

Disturbing Behavior (1998) Review

Disturbing Behavior is an inept thriller, completely lacking in thrills, a solid story and any sense of pacing. But before I get too ahead of myself I should probably say that Disturbing Behavior is the 1998 sci-fi thriller starring James Marsden, Katie Holmes and Nick Stahl and is brought to us by a good chunk of the X-Files crew, including director David Nutter.

Behavior brings us the story of Steve whose family has recently moved to island town Cradle Bay. New to the school, Steve finds himself thrown together with Gavin, UV, and Rachel, three rejects who show him around and warn him about the Blue Ribbons, a group of A+ students who suck up to adults and look down on everyone else. Gavin tries to convince the others that these Blue Ribbons are brainwashed former students who now occasionally go batshit crazy whenever they get turned on. After Gavin gets turned into one of them, Steve and Rachel start to investigate the mysterious project of Dr. Caldicott.

Behavior really does feel like an X-files episode. And not a good one. The script itself seems like a rejected episode and the actual content of it probably would fare better in the 45 minute time slot. It has the same formula of an opening scare and an ending cliffhanger, but without any of the charm of our favorite FBI agents and with the same flimsy supporting characters taking up more screen time.

As stated before, the script is incredibly flimsy with the story really only taking up about half of it and the rest easily being superfluous. Sure you could call it character development, but then I’d have to laugh in your face. The pacing is ungodly slow, with the actual investigation of the mystery not starting until an hour into the movie. The first hour is just the characters stewing in this predicament and it slowly getting worse, but they still refuse to do anything until the movie pulls a Scream 3 and they find a videotape of Gavin reiterating what he already told them, but this time it gets them off their asses. There are entire scenes and sequences that could be removed and no one would care. For example the scene with the girl going insane because she really what to fuck Marsden doesn’t fucking matter. The whole subplot of the janitor doesn’t need to be there, he just needs to be a genius, that’s all. The subplot of the horny Blue Ribbon hitting on Rachel serves its purpose in that it adds “scares” but if the plot was actually more substantial, it wouldn’t need to do that. The actual investigation/climax moves at such a quick pace you almost get whiplash and it becomes incredibly obvious that the writer did not think it through. There are tons of plot holes and the “resolution” of the story is so poorly explained, that we know there are still Blue Ribbons out there before the movie itself pulls that dumbass twist. Now this could have worked in an episode of X-Files, because you don’t notice such things as easily during a TV show, but its so painfully obvious here because any suspension of disbelief got thrown out two jock fights ago.

The acting ranges from hammy/campy to mediocre/flat. James Marsden occasionally presents a real emotion, but for the most part he just walks around looking at things. Not that I really blame any of the actors, since the character flaws are very script related, and to be honest their goofy performances did make it more entertaining.

The movie is solid on a technical level, extremely indicative of it’s crews origins. Alas if only they had the story to back it up. I would have loved for The X-Files to kick off an era of really good sci-fi/fantasy thrillers, but alas Dangerous Behavior is just another example of how that rarely works out. If you’re looking for a fun riff, I might recommend this movie, but for anybody else steer clear and just watch X-Files on Netflix. Dangerous Behavior is only available on DVD, not that you should go looking for it.

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.