Sunday, July 23, 2017

Adventure Time - Season 2 (episodes #1-13)

Let me start off by saying there really aren't many "bad" episodes in this show, so when I give low ratings, it's more just in comparison to other, better episodes. Also, my ordering is based on the wikipedia article, maybe not the "official" order of the episodes and when they were released or where they were meant to be released. I'm not making a big deal out of it. Also, I would normally use a letter grade system for things, but I don't want to get that specific here. Instead, I'll be using 5 total ratings, which are as follows:

★✯✯✯✯ - pretty bad
★★✯✯✯ - not so good
★★★✯✯ - pretty average
★★★★✯ - good
★★★★★ - pretty great

It's a rough system, but I like it rough *winky face* I won't be writing big reviews here, I'll save larger write-ups for when I make my top 50 (or however many) favorite episodes countdown. Okay, let's do this.

Episode 1:
'It Came From The Nightosphere'

Saturday, July 22, 2017

200 Items Or Less: One Million Years B.C. (1966)

A few thoughts: Raquel Welch in a cave bikini and dinosaur stop motion by Ray Harryhausen? I'm not exaggerating when I say this is one of the best combinations of two things I could possibly imagine for a mid-'60s caveman movie. Choosing to have its characters not speak in recognizable language and instead get their points across through visuals was a pretty bold move. Yes, it's been done in other movies, but that doesn't make it any less admirable. The plot is loose and incredibly thin, and you can tell it's basically just designed as a method to give us Raquel Welch in a bikini and show off some awesome dinosaurs, but I'm kind of alright with that. It's fun in an exploitative kind of way. Director Don Chaffey had done better before (Jason And The Argonauts is an all-time favorite of mine), but I still can't see anyone else handling this material any better. It's very simple in a lot of ways, however the execution of the ideas and set pieces definitely should not be so easily dismissed. But in the end, it is definitely more iconic than it is great.

Friday, July 21, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Targets (1968)

A few thoughts: What do you get when you glue together a story about an old horror star on the brink of retirement with the story of a seemingly happy and regular looking guy who decides to go on a killing spree? You get Targets, a movie that would have worked far better as two individual movies, but somehow still manages to make for an interesting and weirdly insightful film regardless of the clunkiness. Drawing parallels between the classic horror monsters of movies from the Karloff era to the "modern" monster (by '60s standards), who is simply a man who one day finally snapped. Being a big fan of Karloff (WHO I SOMEHOW LEFT OFF MY TOP 100 ACTORS LIST?!?), I naturally found myself more drawn into his half of the story, which has an added weight when you consider he passed away only 6 months after this film's release. I wish the ending hadn't been so abrupt, but it was still a great note to end his career on -- as long as you choose to ignore the other crap he appeared in that was released after this.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Anime Corner: Elfen Lied (2004)

Usually when I call a horror movie or show "creepy", it's meant as a compliment. Well, Elfen Lied makes me feel weird and is pretty creepy, but that is not a compliment here. I'm not one to usually complain about infantilization (I don't find it arousing or anything, it just doesn't usually stand out to me as a problem), but this show has a serious infantilization problem with a teenage girl who can only say one word (like a Pokemon), can't dress herself, behaves like a small child, and - back to that whole "can't dress herself" thing - spends a good deal of time in the show naked. I don't know what they were attempting, but I felt sleazy just watching it, and I can't help but to feel it's shows like this that give anime the reputation it has for being somewhat pornographic.

Storywise, there's nothing here that really stands out to me as particularly unique, and with just 13 episodes, it never has a chance to become fully fleshed out, so it's pretty hard to get too absorbed. The show started off with a bang, full of extreme violence and intensity, but by the end of the first episode it almost feels like a high school drama. Some shows are able to handle juggling genres, but this one just feels clunky as it alternates between them.

200 Items Or Less: Seconds (1966)

A few thoughts: One of the more stripped down sci/fi movies of the 1960s, Seconds is a John Frankenheimer thriller with some fascinating (albeit occasionally sloppy) cinematography, strong performances, and a cool concept that could have easily been made a lot sillier. Instead, they let it be pretty dark, and with the tight camera angles and paranoid tone, they manage to make it all pretty suspenseful and unnerving. I've never been a fan of Rock Hudson, but he did a solid job here, and I felt like I was watching the character, not just the face -- which could have easily been the opposite here. There are a lot of twists and turns to the plot, so much so that I don't even want to talk about what happens in the movie, but suffice it to say it's not standard '60s sci/fi by any means. In fact, I'd barely even call it sci/fi at all, as the way it handles the more fantastical elements is calculated and believable. Very dark, very suspenseful, with an ending that will stick with you.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Wizards (1977)

A few thoughts: I've seen this several times now over the course of a few years, and I still have no idea what I think of it. Ralph Bakshi was one of the most bold and original filmmakers of his time, but that isn't always a good thing. Using a bizarre blend of animation techniques ranging from traditional hand drawn to rotoscope and silhouettes, there's never a dull frame, but the weirdness can be a bit difficult. There's an odd balance of adult themes, childish humor, and slapstick (complete with BOING sound effects) that makes this a pretty uneven and difficult movie to fully grasp. Who or what is the target audience exactly? This sort of feels like 'The Black Cauldron' on acid. The ideas and designs are pretty awesome, blending fantasy and sci/fi wonderfully, and I don't think I can overstate how much I love the final battle between the good and evil brothers -- who are the main focus of the film. It's incredibly bizarre, but worth watching as a sort of '70s animated relic.

Anime Corner: Hellsing (2001-2002)

I write this after starting and stopping 'Hellsing Ultimate', so any comparisons I make between the two shows are based only on what I saw from the first couple episodes. With that being said, the quality of animation in Ultimate is obviously more polished and impressive, but I still found myself much more invested in this show right off the bat, and that's possibly due to the 20 minute episodes. Or maybe it's just my love for early 2000s anime? I can't say this was a great show, but it scatched an itch I had for some mindless gore and badass action.

The obvious highlight of this show is in Alucard, the kickass vampire working for the titular Hellsing family. Unstoppable killing machines are a dime a dozen in action anime shows, and sticking one in a red coat isn't exactly enough to set him apart either (see: Vash the Stampede), but Alucard works on his own level as an antihero. Instead of just being a vicious killer vampire, he is given the role of a good guy, summoning his demonic powers to fight against evil forces. That alone makes him sort of special, but the sadistic joy he takes in obliterating his enemies makes you never forget just how bad this good guy really is.

Sadly, Alucard is the only character in the show that ever really works for me, with too much time being given to a young cop-turned-vamp whose entire arc falls flat. There are a few supporting players who have their moments, but the show is too short to give them much to do,and before you know it the show is finished and you're left thinking, "oh, that's it?" Also, if you hope to escape some of the mediocre English dub voice acting by watching Ultimate instead, it's still the same main cast, so better luck next time. Since it's only 13 episodes, reading it really isn't much of and chore, so don't be lazy about it: just read the damn thing.

As I said before, Ultimate definitely has this show beat on animation quality, and - from what I could tell - it seemed to flesh the story out better, but there is one undeniable aspect that the original is superior in: the music. From the opening theme (that kicks total ass and gets stuck in your head for hours) to the background music that ranges from orchestral to upbeat and in your face, this show has some awesome music and Ultimate just doesn't hold a candle to it. Though the closing credits music was pretty skippable. Oh well.

This is a super gory and action-heavy show that feels very episodic and doesn't place much emphasis on overarching story. By the time the show is coming to a close, you can tell they didn't have everything wrapped up as well as they wanted, but that doesn't change the fact that it is entertaining while it lasts. It didn't overstay its welcome, in the very least. The gore may be a bit much for some people, but I found it pretty fun and cool. I wouldn't expect many people to get emotionally invested in this show, but that's not what this one is all about. It's got action, gore, and a really cool vampire at the center of it all.

Episode count: 13

My grade: B

Sunday, July 16, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Sanctuary; Quite A Conundrum (2012)

A few thoughts: Boy oh boy does this movie take its time before it stops sucking. Don't get me wrong, it never reaches the point where I'd go so far as to call it "good", but the first 20 minutes or so are virtually unbearable. Beyond that, the arrival of an overly-Christian stereotype and a suicide marks the jumping off point for a solidly entertaining bit of sleaze. Even though I've seen this movie twice now, I'm still not sure if it's even supposed to be funny or not. Up until the last 20-30 minutes, I assumed this was meant to be a comedy, but near the end it gets "dark" and the over-acting becomes hilarious in its own right. In some scenes it feels like a frat comedy, others like a slasher, but most of the time it's just unintentionally funny. It's a weird kind of mess that fails so much as a comedy it almost works as one, and fails so much as a horror movie it becomes... well, a bad horror movie. Some key dramatic moments work surprisingly well, but as a whole its identity crisis keeps it down.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Anime Corner: Monster (2004-2005)

I'm usually a fan of animes that only last 26 episodes (or thereabouts) and find longer shows a little less sharp and focused. Well, this isn't the case at all with Monster, a show that digs its nails in you and drags you to some pretty disturbing depths without ever wasting your time. It's brilliant in how it weaves through stories, all of which returning to the main focus on the value of individual lives, how one can become a monster, and whether or not all lives are truly created equal. A majority of the show seems determined to question these moral truths we often take for granted.

This is a show of almost endless twists and turns. Every time you start to get comfortable with a plot thread or characters, something comes along and mixes it all up on you by killing people off unexpectedly or shifting focus to seemingly unconnected threads for several episodes of time. In the end, the only real consistencies are in Dr. Tenma and Johan Liebert; the yin and yang whose parallels and distinct differences make up a great deal of the drive of the story, also serving as catalysts for the God/Devil and apocalypse themes found in the show.

200 Items Or Less: Fantastic Planet (1973)

A few thoughts: This is not the kind of movie I could recommend to almost anyone, but to those out there who might find a French animated sci-fi film about giant blue aliens that keep humans as pets who attempt to escape and cause an uprising on the planet interesting...well this will be the one and only movie I could sit you down in front of that will satisfy that particular itch. There are so many ideas and images flying by at a rapid rate in this movie, it's hard to fully absorb them all in one go, but at only 70~ minutes, finding time to rewatch it should be no big hassle. The music feels like something from a porno, but that only adds to the peculiar and specific charms of this experimental and unique little movie. Is it good? Absolutely. Is it great? Probably. It belongs in a category of very few peers, occupied by things like 'Wizards' by Ralph Bakshi and 'Allegro Non Troppo', so judging it against more conventional films feels almost wrong. But that's part of why it's so special.

Friday, July 14, 2017

200 Items Or Less: This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1967)

A few thoughts: Coffin Joe is one of the greatest horror characters no one seems to be familiar with. As the second part of a loose trilogy surrounding this character, TNIPYC picks up right where 'At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul' leaves off, practically hitting the reset button and allowing the aforementioned maniac to go right back to his depraved ways; torturing women as a means to determine who might be worthy enough to bear his child. It's part torture porn, part psychological thriller, and part natural horror, and a strong sequel to one of my favorite horror movies of the '60s. Jose Mojica Marins - who wrote, directed, and starred as Coffin Joe - clearly understood how this character needed to function, and with every aspect of the movie built around him, he makes the most of it. But even with how great this character is, the real highlight here is the vibrant and chaotic Hell sequence. This is definitely not an easy movie to describe and isn't quite on the same level as it's predecessor, but it's certainly worth experiencing.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Anime Corner: Level E (2011)

It's rare to come across a show that's only 13 episodes and still wears itself out by the end, but they do exist, and this is one of them. Very light, inconsequential, and occasionally hilarious, Level E isn't something you can find yourself too invested in (for multiple reasons I'll go into later), but should nonetheless provide adequate entertainment for a few hours until you decide to move on to something a little more interesting. That isn't to say I didn't enjoy it, as I found it pretty damn fun to start, but it somewhat flies off the rails and its lack of focus takes a toll on the overall experience.

I thought for sure this would be a show that would focus a little more on a central character, and within one episode I had already found myself intrigued by the direction and the two leads. Sadly, after just 3 episodes they toss this out the window, and focused on a different story with a handful of other leads. I was all on-board for those until they tossed them out after 4 episodes... and this isn't even counting an episode in between these serials that had its own cast. While the "main" character is most often the Prince, he doesn't show up in several episodes, and even in the ones he's around for, he isn't often the focal point of the story.

Speaking of the Prince, he's very much one of those characters I can see being far more popular than he probably deserves, due to his comedic nature and larger-than-life personality. For a few episodes he's really entertaining, but much like the rest of the show he definitely starts to wear on you. As an eccentric and irresponsible alien with far too much power and free time, the show chooses to aimlessly wander with him, and with this free reign he is rarely giving an opportunity to play up the potential odd couple dynamics of his character beyond his interactions in the first 3 episodes. A shame, considering how much better he works in those situations.

The animation, while largely pretty standard, takes occasional departures into the realm of the nightmarish, blending in bizarre monstrosities of a CG nature that ought not e'er be seen by human eyes. Some of these scenes really threw me off, because they didn't match the tone of the rest of the show, but that doesn't ultimately matter. This isn't a show that uses its brain, so why should the audience? The music is forgettable, so I suppose they felt it necessary to set itself apart by doing random crap and adding to my list of bizarre images I kind of wish I hadn't seen.

In the end, for all its misgivings, I still did mostly enjoy this show. Unlike something equally as bizarre and cornball as Space Dandy, I never felt challenged or impressed by this show, and instead just let it happen to me -- a watching method that resulted in a handful of big laughs and many more chuckles. It's pretty easy to slip into, and watching aliens basically just be irritating to humans provides some reasonable entertainment.

Episode count: 13

My grade: C-

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Anime Corner: Black Lagoon (2006)

Over-the-top mercenary gunfights galore, Black Lagoon mostly abandons the piracy angle pretty quickly and with it goes a lot of its charm. A show that started out feeling very original dropped into more exaggerated anime cliches and ridiculous caricatures when it decided to make the antagonists spend more and more time on land than on their boat. Which is a shame, because I was really enjoying it before that -- even if some of the better individual episodes were in the second half of the show.

The obvious highlight of this show is one of the leads, a cold-blooded killer with a filthy mouth and a tendency to fly off the handle with little to no provocation. She's definitely something, and while the attempts to make her seem badass do tend to come off as very forced, in the end she is still very entertaining and one of the more (surprisingly) reserved characters once you get into the latter half, which as I said before is pretty packed with "flavorful" killers; gun-toting nuns, Romanian vampire children, and a girl with a chainsaw and an emotional attachment to her electrolarynx, just to give a few examples. It's all more than a little ridiculous, and it's a shame they let the leads fall into the back of the story by the end.

Monday, July 10, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Under the Shadow (2016)

A few thoughts: At this point in time, it's surprisingly difficult to come across horror movies that aren't hell bent on having monsters fly at the screen and make you jump. It's just how horror is made nowadays. But sometimes you get movies like this that show enough restraint to put more emphasis on atmosphere and set-up, making the subsequent "boo!" much more effective. This movie doesn't feel cheap, even if it does rely on several half-assed jump-scares (some of which are pretty weak). Much like Jennifer Kent's "The Babadook", this is a movie that actually bothers to give us actual characters, establish their motives, giving their clich├ęd actions a lot more weight and making them much more believable -- also, this movie, too, suffers from an intolerable child character who I found myself wanting to slap upside the head. With a political backdrop touching on some disturbing and relevant Iranian social issues, this movie may be a standard horror movie on the surface, but has much more to offer beyond that.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Anime Corner: Space Dandy (2014)

Shinichiro Watanabe is sort of legendary among anime fans, and while he wasn't as central to the production of this show as he was with Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo, you can still definitely tell his influence on it -- and believe me when I say that's a good thing. While it may not be as classic as those two, I will say I enjoyed this more in a frivolous sort of way than I did with them. It's an absolute blast.

Dandy, while not being the most well-developed of characters, is somewhat unique in the realm of anime leads, a goofy Johnny Bravo-esque bounty hunter who spends every available minute at his favorite restaurant, "BooBies". The other two main characters are a somewhat snarky childlike robot and a talking alien ferret. It's definitely what one might call a motley crew, and seeing these lovable misfits struggle to find rare aliens and save up money to go to BooBies makes up a large part of the downtime in the show. Much like other Watanabe shows, there is a heavy focus on finding and eating food.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Akira (1988)

A few thoughts: It's always difficult for me to write about movies that have had such a strong impact on film, especially when it's a movie I don't completely love. But in this case, the positives certainly outweigh the negatives, as this is one of the most visually impressive animes of the 20th century. I was almost instantly blown away by how fluid and smooth (compared to other anime, at least) the animation was, but in spite of this it has a sort of unpolished charm to it that I couldn't help but to admire. The character design is the only aspect to the visuals that I didn't care for. Storywise, I would call this a mess, but there's a method to the madness. Sometimes it's a little difficult to follow, but it rewards your patience with some unique and unexpected twists. I can't say I loved it and I doubt I would consider it one of the very best anime films of all-time, but I enjoyed it, found it very engaging, and would definitely watch it again.

200 Items Or Less: The Descent (2005)

A few thoughts: I watched this movie years back when I had really bad claustrophobia and it was pretty creepy up until the creepers showed up. But watching it now, it's hard for me to even focus on it due to how poorly executed the tension is. It once felt very atmospheric and intense, but after coming back to it, I'm surprised at how cheap most of the scares are here, and how unremarkable the claustrophobic scenes now feel. Neil Marshall is a director who knows how to inject thrills into his projects, and this is one example of a movie that feels very much "injected", as the many attempts to startle the audience feel pretty forced and half-assed. The way this movie is shot and edited doesn't allow for the monsters to do much other than ham it up and scurry towards the screen in a very visibly, rapidly sped-up and corny fashion. It's all a bit silly, though I do appreciate the practical effects and lighting.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Anime Corner: Death Note (2006-2007)

For a show that came out during the height of the emo craze and was filled with all the imagery and themes of something that would not age too well, it came as a pretty huge surprise to me that this series holds up as well as it does. It seems like the kind of mid-2000s pseudo-punk/goth time capsule that would be looked back on with a sort of nostalgic passive animosity, but as an overall story and character study, Death Note has a lot going for it and some undeniable staying power.

You can't really talk about Death Note without first going into the characters, as it features two of the more well-established leads of any anime from the 21st century. Light Yagami is one of those villains that you can't help but to root for, as his goals seem essentially pure at first, but as the old adage dictates, power corrupts. And watching the developing darkness of Light (ha!) is an amazing bit of storytelling. L, his nemesis, takes on the more heroic role but is introduced in an almost antagonistic way, which really flips the script on the standards of how a show presents good and evil. Their rivalry/friendship dynamic makes for a hugely entertaining and unpredictable aspect of the story.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Anime Corner: Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996)

To deny the massive influence Neon Genesis Evangelion has had on anime as a whole would be almost admirably stupid and ignorant. That being said, if I were forced to sit down and watch anime for a year solid, it would probably take over 6 months before I'd willingly put this on again. It's not that it's bad or that I hate it, I would probably just forget it even existed for that long, and rewatching it would simply be wishful thinking that my thoughts on it might improve. This is the first anime show I have watched in its entirety and really didn't care for.

'90s anime has a mostly different look to it. I can't quite explain it, as I am by no means some sort of anime expert, but characters look clunky and the complete lack of smoothness is definitely a distraction. Watching this show I became more aware that I was watching an animated flip book than I would ever like during a show -- but then again, anime has always had an issue with frame-by-frame clunkiness, so this is by no means a complaint that only applies to NGE. But while most anime shows have a tendency of offering up some beautiful images, this one was severely lacking in that department.