Monday, December 19, 2016

Review: Assassination Classroom: Graduation (2016)

I had no clue about this movie. I just happened to select it on a flight since I noticed other passengers watching it and got curious. In doing a few seconds of research, I can see it's based on an anime and apparently this is already the second live-action film. Regardless of all that and my complete ignorance, I enjoyed this film a lot. Japan has gotten a lot better at CGI and the FX in this production are extremely well done. For example, I tried to watch the live-action Death Note they made a while back, but wow, it was bad. The CGI was awful, and when one of your lead characters depends on that, it can easily sink the whole thing. But if you saw the live-action Parasyte movies, the live-action Attack on Titan, or the new Shin Godzilla, you can see they're getting a lot better (ok, Shin Godzilla isn't the best example since some of the early CGI in it is quite bad but the later stuff is better). I'm not a big fan of giving plot summaries but Assassination Classroom: Graduation deals with a bunch of misfit students training to be assassins who need to graduate by killing their instructor, a strange yellow creature made in a lab who was once human. It's kinda nuts but it's a lot of fun and very original with some surprising emotion. Now the poster to the side here makes me want to gouge my eyes out but don't judge it based on that. If you want to see something different that's totally outside your wheelhouse, here you go. Just ignore the hideously lame poster.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Invisible Man (1933) is truly magnificent.

I love watching the classic Universal horror movies. I'm ashamed to admit I didn't see all of them until recently but there is something so wonderful and pure about that era of horror. Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Claude Rains, etc. must all be celebrated for decades to come. Their work is truly extraordinary and unforgettable. In particular for this specific post, I have to single out Claude Rains. After seeing The Invisible Man (1933) and Phantom of the Opera (1943) almost back to back, you can't deny his brilliance, not that you can deny any of these gentlemen their remarkable achievements but I really enjoy Claude Rains's portrayal of both classic characters. I just hope such films and actors are not lost on future generations. Not long ago, I heard someone tell me their friend won't watch any films made before the year 2000. I can't believe that. I'm sure as that individual gets older, they will discover more and more movies from before their time (or at least I pray so) but still that statement shocks me. You'd be missing out on so many amazing films, and to think someone would consider the '80s too old is beyond depressing to me. If you have to label something "old" and I would much rather not, have the decency to go back to the 1920s when cinema was just beginning but even then you're ignoring almost all of the history of the world. Anyway, excuse my rant. I just love these films and hope others will always continue to embrace them. It'd be a dreary world without them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Review: Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

That was a bit weird. I expected as much but the sexual stuff is definitely odd. Of course, when you see a lot of Japanese films particularly the underground genre ones, that shouldn't be a big surprise either. I still have to say I liked the film because it's extremely unique. I'm not a fan of shaky cam but this director just has his own special style that I think works. It's very high energy and you can see the passion behind it like the whole thing is about to explode with the main character's madness. It's really a crazy art-house kinda film I would say. There is even stop motion with the actors to make the robots, or I should call them more androids I guess since they seem to be part human and part machine, run extremely fast through their environments. It's obviously quite unlike anything the West has produced as far as these kind of robot movies. It feels very gritty and grimy, more akin to the ugly conditions of early factories and the industrial revolution than modern technological advancements (and that was clearly the filmmaker's intent with the opening shots of industrial ruin). Cyberpunk is the word my stupid brain failed to recall. I can't think of too many cyberpunk movies that really fit that term so well and actually won me over but this is one for sure. The closest thing this reminds me of is Hardware but that movie was more of a disappointment to me although I probably saw it when I was too young to appreciate its eccentricities (the design of the robot's ugly unwieldy body still bothers me... Cameron spoiled me with the T-800's incredible endoskeleton).

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Review: Shin Godzilla / Godzilla Resurgence (2016)

I just got to see this in Singapore (luckily, English is one of the four official languages here so it had English subtitles), and I was blown away. No spoilers, but I think Godzilla fans will be pleased. I certainly was, and then some. There is rather crude CGI at the beginning when you first see Godzilla's tail and his initial appearance leaves a lot to be desired (neat ideas but bad CGI). Filmmakers should really know by now that if you can't do very good CGI, at least don't show it up close. Keep it at a distance and it'll look a lot better (plus, you could maintain more mystery of what it really looks like). The FX improve drastically as the film progresses though, and you get some really awe-inspiring shots of the King of Monsters particularly when he is wreaking havoc on Tokyo at night while glowing red from his radiation scars.

This Godzilla film doesn't shy away from human casualties like its recent American counterpart. In Gareth Edwards's movie, Godzilla crushes tons of buildings especially in the climatic fight with the MUTOs and you know some people were still inside them but you never see any of that. At the end of the American film, Godzilla strolls back out to sea, but if you think about it, he has to be stomping on some poor bastards on his way out. Shin Godzilla isn't quite as hardcore as the 1954 original when a doctor waves a Geiger counter over a group of children and shakes his head in a haunting display of brutal reality, but it's close. Real close, and I love how Shin Godzilla doesn't gloss over the radiation danger either. Being anywhere near Godzilla would most likely be lethal unless you had a serious radiation suit on (people near him actually wear them in this film and keep them on).

You might have heard Shin Godzilla is basically a metaphor for the recent Fukushima disaster and specifically how poorly handled it was by the authorities. Well, that is abundantly clear in the movie so no spoilers there. Some may knock the dialogue scenes, but they're done very realistically the way you could imagine the government responding to such a crisis, and there is plenty of camera movement with unique angles to keep it speeding along.

What surprised me is how mature this movie is. That probably sounds odd given this is a Godzilla movie and few except the original could warrant such a statement but they really illustrate the complex relationship between the US and Japanese governments. Sure, the Japanese actress playing the US negotiator is a bit tiring at times given how she was supposed to have been born in America to a Japanese grandmother who saw the nuclear bombs we dropped firsthand but the pretty young actress struggles a lot with her English (and her American swagger). It's obvious she isn't a native speaker despite that being what the story calls for although finding a native speaker of both Japanese and English must be difficult (not to mention, she has to be a good actress and the right age as well). No movie is perfect (a reviewer admits this? impossible I know).

Shin Godzilla almost seems like it was made by people outside Japan. Again, maybe a strange sentiment to some but this film isn't afraid to lambaste its own government. Heck, it even criticizes how Japanese interactions are too rigid and formal with hierarchy being too controlling. Characters get pissed because of all the bureaucratic nonsense and how nothing gets done until it's too late. A key plot point is bringing together a group of Japanese who aren't afraid to speak up and challenge authority so they can actually get shit done. The lead guy blatantly tells them to ignore rank and hierarchy. It's refreshing, and the US is criticized too, but you also have agents of the US like the Japanese American girl doing good behind the scenes as well so it's not some silly one-dimensional portrait of our governments. I never expected depth like that in a Godzilla film, and there are times when you think they're just knocking the US, but then they turn it around or show a counterpoint.

You get to see quite a bit of Japanese culture too. Sure, it's all probably extremely obvious to anyone who knows anything about Japan but still it's neat to see those interesting, self-reflective touches in a Godzilla film, and they're not all rosy either. You see how they will work themselves to death (not literally in the movie but in real life, they have a word for death by overworking), fall asleep in their office chairs, bow to authority even if it's clueless and incompetent, etc.

Alright, stop babbling and tell me if it has some good Godzilla action. Yes, absolutely. I won't get specific but Godzilla's atomic breath is fuckin amazing. It makes Legendary's attempt seem quaint and cute in comparison. I should stop giving the American movie such a hard time. I liked it ok (Bryan Cranston should've been in the damn movie more) and it was a colossal improvement over the dreadful, cinematic pain formerly known as Roland Emmerich's 1998 Godzilla abomination. Let's never speak of that travesty again but pretty much anything would look good next to that. Shin Godzilla is far superior in my mind, and it dares to try new things while honoring what came before (like all the best classic Godzilla music in the end credits, which made me so glad to stay to the end, and some in the film too of course).

I just love how dark Shin Godzilla is. They do have a bad misstep with a rock song weirdly inserted at one point but for all its faults (and again, every film has them), this movie delivers. They got so much more right than the few things they missed. The look of the new Godzilla is badass. He's a true monster, but more than that, this is a serious Godzilla film with real weight and consequences. Someone put some real thought behind it, and I'm not that surprised considering how awesome Evangelion is. Hideaki Anno, you rule. I have no clue how they're going to follow this one up. Will there be a direct sequel or semi-reboot? Either way, I'm in. Let's see whether the US or Japanese sequel is better. Dang, we are spoiled now.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Review: Men in Suits (2012)

This is a fantastic documentary about a little-known and underappreciated aspect of practical effects: suit performers aka the poor bastards suffering miserably inside those wonderful monster costumes for your entertainment. I especially love hearing about the guys who wore the Godzilla suit. Holy freakin cow... one guy had his groin burned AND he kept filming! Can you imagine? Talk about dedication to your craft. That's pretty much inhuman and cruel beyond words but you can't have anything except admiration and respect for the man. Sadly, it seems this documentary came and went without much fanfare. It got funded on Kickstarter then a DVD release but now their website is gone and you can't find the DVD anymore except for some jackass selling it for $100 on Amazon (unless it's the maker of the documentary and then hey you can sell it for however much you want! you rule!). Anyway, luckily, there is an alternative for folks without an endless supply of greenbacks. You can get a digital download of it here for only $8.99. It's only standard def (not even 720p) but still it's an amazing documentary. I love things like this. I just love practical effects and everything related to them. FX guys, particularly those you never heard of doing the grunt work under famous ones like Stan Winston, are the unsung heroes of the film industry (along with screenwriters who get shit on more than anybody).

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Abundance of Riches

We all mourn the loss of video stores (and their badass cover art), but the truth is it has never been easier to watch films on so many platforms in so many ways with more titles available than ever before. You can still search for those undiscovered gems but now you'll just have to explore online, digging through the vast expanse of the indie explosion. You'll definitely have your work cut out for you but isn't that a clear sign of how spoiled we are? There is so much content now (and damn good content too... all the best films from 89 years of filmmaking if you count 1927 on) that most people can't even take full advantage of it (I know so many people who have Netflix but don't even watch it... just don't get me started on people who think there is nothing on there because damn folks, open your eyes).

Some complain about too many superhero films but we're still getting great original horror (Starry Eyes, The Babadook, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Under the Skin), action (The Raid, The Raid 2, sorry nothing else compares to them), sci-fi (The Martian, can't believe we got a good realistic Mars movie... anyone remember Red Planet or Mission to Mars? good grief, those were awful), etc. I can name so many unbelievably good films that have come out recently: Sicario, The Hateful Eight, The Revenant, Creed, Cartel Land, The Invitation, The Gift, etc. And if you don't like modern titles, the classics are in the best shape ever with Blu-rays, streaming, etc. Sure, some are only on DVD and some haven't made the transition yet but with eBay, VHS is easily attainable. You can have such a massive collection now! Past generations could only dream of owning so many movies (heck, no one could really own any until the '80s unless you had insanely expensive film prints). For crying out loud, you can make your own video store in your basement (and with VHS, it'd be cheap!). It's nuts. I think we should all take a step back and appreciate what we have.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: It Follows (2014)

I was blown away by this one. Truly terrifying even (or especially) in its daytime scenes. It's really deeply unnerving at times. Basically, it takes what has become a cliche: the killer always standing behind or stalking the oblivious victim and made it amazingly frightening again. This film doesn't treat its audience like a bunch of idiots either. It could've spelled out certain things like who that old lady is but it's quite clear if you pay attention and I think letting your viewers figure that out on their own makes it much more effective. We've gotten some phenomenal horror films the last few years, and mostly, they're all indie although James Wan did very well with The Conjuring (I liked Insidious too), but if you haven't taken the plunge yet on It Follows, don't miss out a minute longer. Acting, FX, cinematography, etc. are all top notch.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Uninvited (1944) is still a classic.

It has been a long time since I first saw this, but I was so glad it holds up. Sure, it isn't really scary, but I'm very jaded, and obviously, horror audiences have changed a lot since the '40s. The characters though still work flawlessly and the story. Plus, there is a fantastic twist that I remembered was in there but I forgot the details. It's so well done. The frights seem extremely tame to what we're used to these days and they don't really try for jump scares but the atmosphere is exceptional. A real sense of foreboding. I love "old films" like these. I can't believe some kids think the '80s are ancient. If you're a real film lover, you appreciate and cherish every decade of films. Doesn't hurt the lead actress is gorgeous and charming or that all the characters are very likable. There is some good humor to endear you to them as well.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Review: He Never Died (2015)

I'm a big fan of Henry Rollins ever since I saw him in Wrong Turn 2 so when I saw he was headlining this film, I had to check it out, and I wasn't disappointed. They do have a smidgen of CG blood at one point that isn't really necessary but I thought the film was fantastic especially thanks to the great sound design. It really helps you get inside the mind of his character. Then they hit you with some brutal violence and give you some nice black humor to top it off.

The bingo bits are hilarious, and I like the journey of his character, trying to remain detached but failing. The story on who he is and why ties everything together nicely. It's just a well done film. I'd definitely watch it again. Mr. Rollins really carries the whole picture with ease. Hopefully, he gets some more good roles soon.
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