A Letter to Momo (2011)

A Letter To Momo is about the title character Momo recovering from her father’s death, and her mother’s decision to move their family from Tokyo to a remote island. That’s about it to be honest. Well, there is also the whole thing revolving around three Yokai/goblins who are tasked to help Momo cope with her lost. If you’re expecting a drama to tackle the themes of lost, and death you’ll be disappointed. It’s leisure pace makes it more of a relaxing slice of a life than a reflection on hard hitting themes. At the cost depth, the movie remains simple with little added to the premise.

Anything supernatural is given the bare minimum development. It’s good enough to make sense within the story, but lacking in the way that it has little importance in the story overall. The three yokai/goblins in the movie primarily joke around causing mischief to Momo dislike. Each of the three yokai/goblins have distinct personalities with an interesting backstory that is touched on. Their responsibilities on the other hand isn’t touched on quite as much. The methods the yokai use to help Momo cope are a mixed in results; one making a point to have fun, and the other mischievous deed feel pointless. There’s also the supporting characters that hardly influence the movie other than Momo having to become brave. Fine for Momo character since she is a properly developed character by the end, but everyone surrounding her feels more like tools in Momo growth.

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Yokai with blank stare, he fears nothing.

Being character driven resulted in a story that has the basics down from setting up the conflict, slowly working towards the protagonist improving herself, and eventually overcoming that problem. It’s just the steps of getting from one point to the other feel disconnected. One sequence involves Momo taking two Yokai to look for food resulting in a chase scene of the three running away from wild boars after the Yokai stole their babies. This chase last a long time adding little to the overarching story. Scenes like these are commonplace in A Letter To Momo. While they are amusing they add up to give an overall feeling the film doesn’t much to offer in theme exploration.

The climax is something of a anomaly since the main conflict is Momo having to accept her father death. Everything before it no matter how sloppily done was intended to be part of her growth. An illness pops up irregularly in the movie, and a expectation that Momo will finally be strong enough to move on if someone else important to her dies. That doesn’t happen opting for a happy that kinda makes sense, and on the other hand is confusing. It felt like writer/director Hiroyuki Okiura wanted to be make a light hearted movie while tackling a serious subject matter, but somewhere in the process he lost his clear direction. Hence the fade to black in the climax that comes out of nowhere, and leaves some questions unanswered. That moment best describe the movie in a nutshell; it has an interest in touching on death, and dealing with it, but not directly dancing around the idea occasionally.

The voice acting from both the Japanese, and English dub cast are wonderful. From the two, I would say go with the English subs. I prefer the English voice of Momo played by Amanda Pace perfectly capturing Momo awkwardness, and inner turmoil. However, where the English dub misses where it counts the most are the voices for the three yokais. In the Japanese cast, Cho (yes, that’s his full name), Koichi Yamadera, and Toshiyuki Nishida whom voice the three main yokai enunciate their characters eccentricities. Their performances, much like their characters, feel exaggerated, and out of this world like they should. While in the English dub, the voice actors downplay the yokais in their performance removing their otherworldly personality. Subduing the supernatural beings did the English dub no favors in the long run since what made them stand out from humans was gone.

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When not mundane, this movie has some surprisingly good animation

Animated by Production I.G. the animation leans more on the more realistic side. Sparingly using 3D, the cel animation has a nice, clean, smooth movement throughout. The lack of background characters is noticeable whenever Momo walks outside in broad daylight on the island, but other than that the animation has little faults to it. This doesn’t mean it’s a spectacle either since most of the activity in the film are mundane. The few times where the fluid animation gets to shine is either during a chase sequence, or when multiple characters are being hyperactive.

Hiroyuki Okiura shines through more as a director than he does a writer. One instance being his usage of cinematography. There’s a scene early on in the movie perfectly establishing how shy Momo is with her remaining silent for several minutes as family around her joyously talk to each other. Okiura doesn’t draw attentions to his character more subtle traits through dialogue which is appreciated. Characters subtly grow, and change without it being told to you directly. His eye for details creates a realistic backdrop through soft, and dim colors in his environments. Providing lovely scenery shots of the ocean, and the small island town. Also, seeing our characters have a change of clothes throughout the movie, a detail that is ignored by a lot animation, is a nice a touch, even if it’ll go largely unnoticed.

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Well this is….strange, and amusing at once.

In terms of animation the standout sequence is easily in the climax with dozen upon dozen of different yokais being animated, meshing together to basically form one giant umbrella, and with multiple moving parts. My description of the sequence can’t do it justice since there’s more to it like the flowing hair in the wind, the raindrops splitting apart when hitting a monster, the different individuals monsters moving around frequently, and other small details that would be difficult to capture through mere text. No other sequence in the entire movie comes close matching this impressive feat of animation. The music is composed by Mina Kubota comprising tracks that are soothing, whimsical, and calm. It’s a nice soundtrack to play with the nice visuals.

If half an hour was cut from A Letter To Momo I would have favored it a bit more. By lingering around too much the intended effect it wanted to have become lost to me. Sure it’s a solid movie with amusing moments, and good character growth, but there’s also not enough meat to the overarching story that made it feel it was worth it’s two hour run time. The final result of the movie isn’t what it could have been. I came out confuse by it execution even though the intent was clear. In the end A Letter To Momo is a solid anime. 

6/10

Battle of Surabaya (2015)

Most of the animation I watch is either from the US, or from Japan with everything else being a detour. Korea, China, Britain, Russia, and a few others I can name you at least one piece of animation that I liked from those countries. One of the many places I currently can’t do that for is Indonesia. Be it they don’t have much of a animation industry, or they’re just don’t get US distribution makes the experience of watching Battle of Surabaya (also known as November 10th in some places) all the more sour.

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Out in the horizon, there’s a better animated movie.

Acting more like a cliff notes version of complex politics, and history Battle of Surabaya never finds it footing. This stems from the fact the historical events is merely a backdrop for half of the movie in favor of Musa’s coming of age story. Unless you’re familiar with this portion of this post WW2 history you’re likely to be loss in the all important events that take place. All of it feels rushed since the film doesn’t properly establish a semblance of time when all these events happen. In other cases provides too much information at the cost of a coherent story while rushing through significant moments. Making it difficult to figure how one event naturally lead to another major event.

You have the Japanese, the Dutch army, you have the Indonesian Rebel group, the BKR, TKR, the Allied forces, and the Kipas Hitam. I’m pretty sure I forgot a few other groups involved in the revolution because of how much is crammed in. All the while not including the possibly fictional, and real historical figures used in the story. With all of this going on in the background there’s no time to give important events they need to develop naturally. Instead of recounting history it has a subplot about ninja warfare which as far I can tell from my limited research did not happen. Using all the violent events, and turn Indonesian take to deliver a hamfisted message that war is bad. If the movie didn’t tell me war was bad I would have thought war was good thing seeing how Musa lose so many people close to him in the war.

When the movie is focused on our shoe shiner lead Musa everything is still as clumsy. Consistently being unable to transition between tones properly when shifting from the prominent romance to the background war of Indonesia. There’s a sequence that is setup to imply Musa is being chased by someone who wants to kill him only to reveal it’s his friend/love interest Yumna. This falsely build up tension scene is followed by a cheesy romantic stroll Indonesia with yes a even cheesier pop song. Unlike every other connection Musa has in the movie his relationship with Yumna works in service of the story.

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Man, this sequence as painful to watch

The comedy on the other hand is just plain bad. Taking inspiration from anime for its sense of humor. At best the humor is questionable since what passes off for jokes in the movie will leave one wondering if they were meant to laugh. One sequence includes Musa uncle allowing Musa to fire a gun at a military base. When Musa fires the gun he nearly kills another soldier, and the movie cheery music tries to pass it up as a joke. I find it hard to laugh at a man nearly getting shot dead by Musa considering it also wants me to feel sad when Musa loses people close to him.

There’s another scene in the movie where Musa is running away from some soldiers. During this sequence that is meant to be filled with high tension you’ll get a comedic prat fall out of nowhere. That’s not the only time either, towards the finale of the movie when Musa is being chased by adults who want to kill him the insertion of comedy kills any tension. Why someone thought in the English dub the act of riding a cow was funny is about baffling as to why not all the dialogue is dubbed into English!

The forefront romance is also lacking in being an emotional pull. This mostly falls on Musa who doesn’t have much to him as a character. Musa mother for instant eventually dies in the movie, but Musa hardly spend any time with her making his mother death lack impact. His mother death isn’t delved into, nor does it have much effect on Musa. His love for his country isn’t properly developed since it doesn’t spend enough time on him soaking in the joys of Indonesia. Biggest drawback from this is the lack of progression of Musa losing his innocent view of the world when the war takes everything away from him. He merely accepts it, and that’s all.

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When still, there’s still so much to pick on

Yumna is the only character in the movie who comes out unscathed by the bad writing. She gets a complete arc, a sympathetic backstory, and is more in touch with her love for her country. Providing a clear understanding of how much she cherish Indonesia compared to Musa where it doesn’t come across as strongly. While she might be in a supporting role she has a lot going on in her storyline that doesn’t merely involve her moving around places.

Side characters are typically one dimensional. Resulting in some questionable development that out of left field. One of them includes an adult, Danu, having romantic feelings for a young girl. Don’t worry, the young girl friendzone him, and it’s forgotten about. The film’s villain, John Wright is silly. He’s meant to be the embodiment of someone purely using violence to end all wars. This could have been interesting, but instead there’s a series of questionable decisions that come with all badly written villains.

Lastly, I have to take about one specific scene in the movie because it came out of nowhere. So a group of military soldiers (can’t remember which because there’s so many factions) driving by a food stand. John Wright stops the car, and takes out a type of machine gun. He proceeds to shoot a jar of rice with the word freedom written on it because it’s the quickest way to get across he’s the villain. A regular movie would have stopped here, but the scene continue with John Wright pulling out a grenade, and destroying the food stand! It was unintentionally hilarious, and I laughed in the utter shock of it.

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Oh man, the horror of this bad animation.

Directed by Aryanto Yuniawan, and animated by MSV Pictures brings us some very choppy animation. You’ll be accustomed to seeing missing frames in animation, characters changing position or size whenever there’s a cut, and can not forget the 3D that sticks out a like a sore thumb. Copy, and pasting obvious 3D models, and multiplying similar looking models to ensure it’s hard to miss.

Rarely does the animation move smoothly leaving plenty to be desired. Especially on the character designs since they lack shading, and details in the hair are regularly missing. It’s an ugly movie to look at, especially in the climax where everything that can go wrong in animation does go wrong. When too much to handle, playing missing continuity adds to the fun. If you’re not distracted by the frequently misplaced, or distorted characters designs in different cuts of the same scene.

The only aspect of the animation that’s remotely passable are the environments. Since the background doesn’t have to move the animators put some details into the background to look okay. Other times the lack in depth of perspective make everything flat, even the characters interacting with the environment.

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Even in SD, this hurts my eyes!

Aryanto biggest failure aside from the poor mixture of romance, comedy, and war drama is his handling of scenes. Instead of opting for something possible within his studio capability you’ll get some ugly, and ambition scenes. One of these include Yumna in a ninja outfit breaking into a military stronghold taking out other ninja with badly rendered 3D environment. This specific sequence makes it impossible to believe that the 2D character is moving in a 3D plain.

The English dub is downright terrible! None of the actors sounded convincing in their roles. Musa voice actor, Alistair Hendry, can’t figure out what accent to give to Musa changing it every so couple of scenes. Would have been forgivable if he didn’t sound monotone through the whole thing. Surprisingly, none of the main cast are actually the worst actors, but it’s the ones in bit roles. These bit role voice actors come out of nowhere to have some awful line delivery. Generally sounding like they use the first take, and didn’t bother with doing any more.

Indonesian animation is an area that’s completely unexplored for me, but at one point so was anime. In the same way my first exposure to Chinese animation (a movie called 10,000 Years Later) wasn’t a good one I’m still keeping an open mind about Indonesia animation. Assuming I can ever find another animated film Indonesia made with some viewable access. If not, well, Battle of Surabaya still wouldn’t be something I would recommend for anyone.

Rating: 2/10

I’ve Always Liked You (2016)

When I think back about my romance experiences in high school I immediately laugh, and stop thinking about it just as quickly. I find it hard to believe I blew certain things out of proportions that today I don’t bat an eye at. One of them is confessing my feelings for a girl with the outcome being devastating to my very existence, or the greatest thing on Earth. One thing I certainly wasn’t when it came to young love was having it on my mind all day everyday. Imagine having an entire cast of characters just think, and talk about lovey dovey stuff to each other all the time, and you’ll have this movie in a nutshell.

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So many red faces.

In short, I’ve Always Liked You follows seven friends each in love with another person in their circle of friends. One bright spot are the characters facing the same conflict are decently fleshed out. Each character is given some time to explore their predicament, and how they’re uncertain to approach their situations. However, in a movie that barely crosses the one hour mark most of them will come out more shallow than others. Only Natsuki, and Yuu barely scraped out of this issue since the film dedicates more time to them than any of the other characters. While failing in being engaging there’s more to latch onto with Natsuki, and Yuu than with the other will they, won’t they couples.

When all the characters face the same issue of being unable confess their feelings to the one they love their personalities just mesh into one. Everyone is nice, shy, and contemplative about taking the next step from being just friends into a couple. This makes for one boring cast of characters when everyone is written to act similar to each other. Becoming easy to forget about them as you’re watching. Souta for example has the “love of first sight” symptom with further reasoning for his conquest of love coming off delusional. Souta, and his love interest don’t learn much about each other, or spent much to together making the outcome of their story hard to accept.

What passes for conflict in this movie feels underwritten. There’s a scene involving Natsuki being walked home by Koyuki (who likes Natsuki), and hugs her being unable to control himself. Nothing inappropriate is done in this scene, but the characters overreact artificially making something bad out of something innocent. This goes nowhere as the characters quickly move past it. There’s also the characters of Miou, and Haruki getting the short end of the stick in their plot line. Nothing ends up getting resolved between these secretive love birds. Worse of all, there’s not even an attempt to make this lingering plot point have meaning. Not even the faint idea of unrequited love stemming from this fear to express yourself is even touched on.

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Love calculus dictates U + Me = Us

There’s another plot point in the movie that is left lingering. The folks over at Qualia Animation decided to dedicate an entire movie, The Moment You Fall In Love (2016), to resolving that. Something tells me someone over at Qualia Animation knew they might be testing viewers patience going around in circles with the repetitive conversations centered around love. Wouldn’t be an issue if they either had a smaller cast with a better focus, or a longer run time to flesh out the large cast more than they did.

The animation ranges from subpar to fine whenever it doesn’t have a flashback. Movement when at a distant, or simply talking is choppy in places. When in flashbacks it does that classic cheap animation thing of having a single frame stay on screen for a long time. This isn’t an issue until the end where they become more in used. Generally the movie is bright, and colorful, though there’s lack of shading in the hair. Qualia Animation does the trick for the movie, even if improvement in certain area is noteworthy. Character designs could be better. They just come off as bland.

When it comes to the music from Honeyworks I have no issue. They’re good songs that is able to fill a scene with more emotion than the film’s story. The usage of them is poor at times with director Tetsuya Yanagisawa placement of them being jarring at time. Within 30 seconds you have insert track play which is jarring for making a first impression. Once the movie is halfway through Yanagisawa uses Honeyworks song more often to substitute his poor storytelling. Voice acting is good with none of the voice standing out in their roles. Their characters all act the same, and they did the best with what they were given.

If the movie had more going on other than just teenagers being shy about confessing their feelings than it could of had a better chance of standing out. Seeing similarly written characters within the same movie all face the same issues without any distinguishable traits is not my idea of a good romance. There’s not much to seek your teeth into other than the surprisingly good soundtrack it has, but other than that if you want to be lost in excitement for a love story I suggest looking elsewhere.

Rating: 4/10

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

As a kid I did watch episodes of Mr. Roger Neighborhood, but it wasn’t a significant part of my childhood. I favored other shows I saw at the times like Power Rangers, Transformers, and Pokemon since they had cool things happening in them. Ironically I grew out of those series, and seeing this documentary made me realize Mr. Roger Neighborhood represents all the values I seek in great family entertainment. Showing through stock footage the show tackling issues like the Vietnam War, death, assassination, and other troubling subject matters that kids entertainment today commonly wouldn’t dare think about. Realizing that was just the surface of Fred Roger story made me appreciate Mr. Roger Neighborhood as a adult that I wouldn’t have as a kid.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor chronicles the life of Mr. Rogers, the tribulations he face during the making of the program, and the impact it had. If I wore a hat, it would be in salute of director Morgan Neville who managed to make a celebrate the life of Mr. Roger without mystifying him. The portrayal of Mr. Roger is earnest showing him as a man with strong values delivering what he felt were good messages to children. Further eye opening by the fact he was a Christian, yet never came across as someone who pushed his faith towards other.

Without altercations Neville lets the raw footage speak for itself, and set the tone appropriately. Much like Roger, Neville never strays from having viewers face the harsh reality without sugarcoating events. Seeping in honesty from beginning to end whether it’s Fred Roger interacting with children, or those interviewed speaking about him. All nicely conveying a picture of who he was without any cinematic flair.

The documentary is excellent in providing context, and setting up the era’s mindset of when Fred Roger decided to pursue television. To better illustrate Roger philosophy about television programs without demonizing television as a whole. Making it clear Roger saw it as a strong tool for teaching rather making consumers out of kids at a young age. Another instance of getting across the impact of Fred Roger series is when Neville intercuts a scene from the show with footage of White lifeguards pouring bleach into a pool where Black kids were swimming. In contrast to that, Neville splice in a now harmless clip from the show of Roger inviting Clemmons, a black officer, to wash his feet in a small pool. Nowadays that clip wouldn’t bat an eyebrow, but at the time it aired it made a bold statement.

When not exploring the impact, and subject matters touched on the series it provides a look into who Fred Roger was. Interviews provided from those he knew personally, and the rare appearance of someone who has been touched by his lessons are carefully selected for the movie. Each painting a positive image of Fred Roger in a modest manner. Some of the interviews touch on the difficult childhood Roger had, how it impacted him, and how he chose to deal with it. Further cementing his positive image in the eyes of fans. While those unfamiliar with his body of work will be drawn in the man’s life, and how used that in his career. In some surprise instance, you’ll get a laugh of some behind the scenes stories of Roger shenanigans, and at other times you could be equally touched by his kindness.

The documentary doesn’t shy from showing some of Roger’s less favorable aspects like his initial reluctance to accept homosexuality, and being unable to make the same connection with adults that he made with kids. An ongoing theme with Roger career is his commitment to share his values regardless what the outside world perceived of him. Failure is something he taught is okay to accept, and learn from it to better yourself. Chronicling his life he face the challenges, no matter how difficult, headfirst, and with commitment.

There’s a segment towards the end of the documentary that made me have a change of view. In short, it was hearing about how some people were happily proclaiming Fred Roger had died outside of the place where his funeral was held. Knowing such a thing happened after learning about Roger from others close to him, and stock footage of Roger himself was sad to take in. I fall into the trap of using hyperbole in some of my writing to describe my feelings despite my best intentions to avoid it. Reading, and talking to people make the claim “This is the kind of movie we need right now” I would usually react by rolling my eyes, and shrugging it off. This time I got to agree with this kind of statement.

The world is a different place from when Fred Roger started his program with the internet making it far easier to become more cynical, and jaded from the world around us. One example is perfectly given within the documentary with Fox News misconstruing his morals in order to blame someone for their life’s failure. In a chaotic world that easy to get lost in the negative shades of life. Someone who was everything he represented on camera, and away from it like Fred Roger is needed more than ever.

This documentary, regardless of your experience with Mr. Roger Neighborhood, is capable of pulling off touching moments. It’s a fantastic movie that celebrates a inspirational person life in the most earnest way possible. Usually when looking deeper into a person’s most of the time they are not the person we imagine them to be. Fred Roger is one of those individuals who the further you learn about him the more appreciation you’ll have towards him, and his body of work. If there’s anything to take away from Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is that there’s so many who value the lessons he taught, and are passing them on to other. That’s a legacy worth celebrating, and being happy about.

Rating: 10/10

(Am I) Unique Blogger Award Tag Post

Well this is a surprise. When I think about unique I am the furthest thing from that definition. In fact, before typing this opening I looked up the definition for unique on Dictionary, and it said “everyone is capable of being one of a kind, except Arsene_Lucifer. F*&% that guy!”. Of course I thought this was a troll until I actually looked it up in my own dictionary, and it said the same thing! Refusing to believe this I asked random people on the streets the definition the of unique. They all told me to go away. It’s as if I’ve been living in a entirely different world than I thought I was a part of. Only one way to get over this revelation, blogging! Firstly, those rules.


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  • Display the award!
  • Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog. (Try and include a little bit of promotion!)
  • Answer the questions they’ve written for you!
  • Nominate bloggers and give them three questions in the spirit of sharing love and solidarity within our blogging family!

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Look at Asta! He craves that recognition XD

Before I answer the questions I would like to thank, and provide some kind words about our sponsor Eumiiboo. Do you like reading, but don’t what to read? Well don’t worry because Sakura Galleria is all about further adding things to your reading backlog. Covering a wide arrange of comedy, romance, horror, and you name it Webtoons that’ll make you wish you had more time to read muahaha! Not only that, but you’ll get her thoughts on anime music, manga, and discussion pieces all for the low, low price of absolutely free! Best part of all, she’s pretty good at it. So go check it out! Do it, she holding my Pandas hostage!

Now that we returned to our regularly scheduled blog, lets get to the questions!


If you were to describe your life based on a anime character, who would it be, and of course why?  

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That’s a tough one. I guess I’ll have to go with Yato from Norgami. Much like Yato, I tend to generally go around doing odd favors, except for people I know. Just like with Yato, his jobs will lead him to some strange situations to almost comical level. Whenever I share my stories in Bobsamurai’s Discord server they tell me my stories sounds like things out of a sitcom. I’m inclined to agree when you have stories that includes a car getting blown up, helping out a friend to fix his problem vomiting on women, taking one of my bosses daughter out to prom as a favor, going into a gay club to help my friend get a guy he has a crush on be jealous, and so many other random things.

Another thing I would say I have in common with Yato is his goofball nature despite the dark past he has. I try to maintain some fun in my life despite the hand life dealt me with. Because hey, there’s no point in moping around as I eventually gotta move forward since you can’t run away from your future.

Now let’s try to get personal, what was one of the anime’s you’ve watch that left an impact on your life, or perhaps change your view in a certain point in your life.

In Cardcaptor Sakura case, it was specifically episode 22, that unexpectedly moved me in a way I wasn’t expecting it too. The series did a good job providing me with a cast of likable characters who grew on me. Then come in episode 22 getting me on a emotional level, and actually made me tear up from happiness of the strong family bond presented between Sakura, and her father. It was touching to the point it made me consider wanting to be a father one day. I can’t name you another piece of media that ever made me consider that.

In 2003’s Fullmetal Alchemist, there’s a funeral scene that has more hard hitting the second time around. I knew the death of this certain character was coming, but it didn’t make it any less gut wrenching, and shocking seeing it a second time. That funeral scene was very sad for me to watch, and is one of the most powerful moments I’ve seen in any anime. It’s only during the closing credits did I realize I teared a up bit.

Both of these anime have a strong theme revolving around families, and both make made me appreciate the same thing even more after watching them. Serving as a reminder no matter how distant the bridge between me, and my family can be at times they’ll always be my family. In a very cliche way, for better, and worse.

Imagine, you have been chose to create a crossover between three anime series, which would it be and why?

For my answer I would combine Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Serial Experiment Lain. A odd combination right? Well with Gundam I get the mecha action, and war politics cover, while Neon Genesis Evangelion has the psychology, and Serial Experiment Lain has existentialism. If I combined story elements from all three anime it’ll be a clusterfuck to manage the information delivered to the viewer, yet I would like to see that. Something like Lain diving into the wire to see all kinds of reaction people have in this world that has mecha wars, and end of world monsters to content with would be interesting.

Witnessing these series to trying to make something coherent in their crossover would be a blast to watch. As for the character interaction side that’ll unlikely happen given Shinji doesn’t want to get in the robot, Lain is addicted to the web, and Ray Amuro hates war. Although, if there is ever a Gundam crossover with Neon Genesis Evangelion I’m still happy with that.

Now my turn to ask the questions muahaha!

  • What’s the most challenging post you’ve written for your blog?
  • If you had to choose between making your husbando/waifu a real person, or being in charge of making a continuation to one of your favorite series which would you choose? Of course, don’t forget the why.
  • Which animal from any anime is your spirit animal?

Now the one thing you’ve all been waiting for. Time to see who wins the big one. My nominees for unique bloggers are:

Jenn

(Not Angry) Average Joe Reviews

Zainou

If you’ve already been nominated, I would apologize, but that just makes you twice as unique. And the winner is, oh my gosh! It’s a three way tie! Never in my entire life hosting such an event has this ever happen! Congratulations everyone! Give yourself a round of applause. You’re all wonderful bloggers.

It’s my time to make my exit, and let the offline me at this time get back to working at his miserable job. Muahaha, wait that’s also me! I’ll see you in the next post. Sayonora bloggers!

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Bye! Bye!

Upgrade (2018)

Science fiction is one of my favorite genre for storytelling. No matter how grand, or small the scope of the stories are I could name you around dozen science fiction work that completely engrossed me. An appeal of it for me is how versatile it’s visionaries can be. Expertly using the realm of sci-fi to provide commentary on humanity, takes us to places beyond imagination, and in the case of Upgrade be a schlocky low budget, hard sci-fi thriller done correctly.

Upgrade premise is the classic story of a ordinary man getting revenge. Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green) witnesses his wife getting killed, mopes around for a bit with his thoughts, gets a computer chip called STEM implanted into him after being paralyzed, and getting pushed into taking vengeance on those who wronged him. In between all the cool action bits, and dark humor at the expense of its protagonist. Comes plenty of serious moments waving around in quality. It can be difficult to remain engaged in the story during the whodunnit segments, and collecting clues since the main story is predictable. Preventing this from becoming a growing issue is the film writer/director, Leigh Whannell, developing it lead character psychology. Showing Grey Trace mental, and physical destruction as the movie progress in a move that pays off in the long run.

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Sup! I can take you all out without using my arms, and legs.

What Upgrade lacks in consistency in engaging material it makes up for it in its ending. It one of the few instances where it turned a good movie into a great one for me. Mostly because the ending gives some added depth to everything that came before. Making the dynamic between talking computer chip STEM, and Grey Trace that much better. It doesn’t excuse the feeling of it dragging at points, but it ends on a such a high note it’s easy to forget about.

One area the movie falter without much to redeem it is the failed attempt at commentary. Throughout the movie Grey Trace technophobia will be reestablished multiple times, and bits about technology improving humanity. There’s some dialogue establishing bits of the world where more jobs are being lost to machines. As well there being bits mentioning the living conditions of the rich, and the poor. These parts of the story feel like an afterthought when undermined by the man vs. machine, and revenge driven storyline.

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This fight is pretty awesome

The standout moments in Upgrade are easily the four action sequences, and the small satisfying amount of blood, and gore. Tightly choreographed with kinetic cinematography swaying as it follow the action. Offers the film’s most visually inspired moments. Two of the fight sequences in the movie have offer brutal kills, and great practical gore effects that makes those moments easily memorable. It’s impossible not to get excited about an upcoming action sequence when they are edited masterfully, and are visually interesting. As for the climax it doesn’t offer up gore, but it will provide the best fight sequence in the film. Made impressive by the fact it’s not even a martial movie, nor does it have complex martial art moves.

Beyond the cool fight scenes is Upgrade’s one car chase is the least exciting action set piece in the movie. There’s not much to it other than everyone involve driving carefully, and there’s no hiding the cars aren’t going fast either through the many long shots. One car is ahead, and the other is trying to catch up to it without much happening in between. 

For a low budget science fiction movie the most advance pieces of technology are drones, and literal handguns (yes, people can fire bullets from their hands). Other than that the technology being kept grounded for that hard sci-fi aesthetics. Providing a gritty detail to its overall look. Offering nice contrast between the glossy high tech look of the rich, and the grimy outdated looking tech of the poor.

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This film’s equivalent of comedy

Logan Marshall Green is the standout in the acting cast. Taking front, and center there’s hardly a single scene he isn’t part off. Doing a fantastic job to make the viewer sympathize with his character all the while being able to deliver some dark jokes. Providing his character great urgency in his journey. One difficult bit in his performance is performing an action scene where STEM takes over his body during a fight, and must act comedically horrified he’s beating a man to bloody pulp. Pulling off the difficult scene successfully to make it one of its most memorable moments. Plus, a nice touch in his performance is Green switching up how human, and how mechanically he moves in different portions of the movie.

Other standout in the movie is Simon Maiden who voices STEM. He’s portrays a emotionally detached computer voice with some enthusiasm. Coming across robotic, but not stoic. Rest of the cast pretty much plays it straight with their single minded characters. They do well in their roles ensuring there isn’t a weak link to the best of their abilities. Any actor who took part in the fight sequences also deserves some praise brilliantly performing them through robotic movements. The cinematography, and music score their job. Occasionally from both you’ll get inspired bits creating energy in a scene, but generally aren’t noteworthy most of the time.

It’s a simple movie with simple goals that knows not to take itself too seriously. The takeaways from Ugrapde are easily the action sequences, the gore, and the ending. There’s still plenty in the movie to appreciate from Logan Marshall Green performance, the dark humor, and its lead character destruction for a majority of the run time. Upgrade offers entertainment of a schlocky B-movie with all the right touches to make it a cult classic over time.

Rating: 9/10

Big Fish & Begonia (2018)

Other than vague knowledge of the famous story of Journey To the West novel I know absolutely nothing about Chinese mythology, yet I don’t need to in order to be completely absorbed in Big Fish & Begonia. Embodying one of my favorite aspect of animation is it unique ability for visual storytelling. Some nuances might be lost in translation unless you’re well verse into that country’s culture, but what is never lost are the limitless possibilities of what you can experience through animation.

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Look how that cute Fish is. Worth all the trouble it brings.

Big Fish & Begonia is set in in the realm of The Others, a sort of parallel dimension that controls the seasons and tides on Earth and is where the souls of humans go after they past. Our leading lady Chun, a 16-year-old girl, travels to the human world in the form of a dolphin and forms a connection with a human boy. The first thing this movie gets out of it way is it world building. Setting up the important pieces of how souls are handle in this world, and later on expanding on them to fuel it main conflict. All the important details involving the world function is fleshed out while leaving enough unanswered to give it world a mysterious allure.

One of my ongoing issues about fantasies is the quick fix magic becomes in their stories. You’ll get that quick magic fix here, but there’s an effort to express consequences for one’s action I feel don’t come across as strongly in other fantasy stories. There’s a comment made by a character how the newer generation doesn’t value life when he frequently sees them throwing it away so easily. The whole film is dedicated to characters making sacrifices for another love one in multiple situations. Doing so in a way that paints the subject with some manner of complexity. Detailing it in a way where the reasoning behind it makes sense, but the action taken is unreasonable with drastic results.

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Taking a boat ride through the clouds with this thing, illogical all the way.

No other character embodies this better than Qiu. He has the most tragic arch out of any character in the film. Through Qiu, the film tackles the theme of unrequited love while adding to the already well explored theme of sacrifices, and consequences. Everything revolving around Qiu is fully realize becoming the heavier emotional core of the film. It’s nearly impossible not to sympathize with Qiu wanting to protect his childhood best friend Chun as the world crumbles around him. While the film still get its happy ending, there’s a mid-credit scene that ensures you don’t forget about the significance of these characters sacrifices.

The story is structured nearly flawlessly. Allowing plenty of room be taken under it spell through a sense of wonder when Chun briefly explores the human world, and realm of The Others. Through Chun the viewer will be able to see a harsher side of The Others realm like Chun never witness before. Doing a magnificent job getting across how hard hitting it is for Chun to see everything around her crumble for the value of another life.

Preventing itself from becoming heavy handed the film also has some nice subtlety to its storytelling. None of the characters action are over explained. Instead the film drops some subtle visual reminders in certain scenes to help viewers make the connection easier. One area I’m most happy with is handling the discussion on the worth of human life. From Chun perspective her experience make her value human life a lot more than the adults of The Other realm that simply sees the existence of Kun (a human reincarnated into a Dolphin) as anything more a harm to the balance of the worlds. This plot point nicely sits in the shades of grey having it a strength.

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Ray woman here, kinda pointless.

There’s a rat woman character in the movie who goes into the human world who gets forgotten about. Providing a false villain for no reason considering she didn’t add much to the overarching story besides adding a plot hole. Another issue is how Chun affection for Kun is handle. It feels like Chun falls in love with Kun over the fact that he just saved her life, and is willing to sacrifice everything for him. This is salvaged by the fact that through montages it gets across the bond they build over time. There’s also the absent of dialogue shared between Chun, and Kun unable to build the bond to a point where it easy to accept Chun goes as far she does to rescue Kun’s life.

When looking at the sums of it parts there’s some oversights on the storytelling front. On the whole, in its effort to create vast sweeping emotion it makes it possible to be lost in the moment. By pacing itself just right it narrative shortcomings aren’t lingered on for long. Going head first with beautiful visuals, and big emotions expressed by it characters. I’m not excusing the story’s shortcomings, but when I got swept up in the moment those shortcomings were the furthest thing from my mind. Well, except maybe the 3, or 4 times it had the someone got pooped on jokes. Those jokes took me out of its majesty temporarily.

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So beautiful. If only I could frame gifs!

Animated by B&T studio the animation is richly detailed with a mixture of digital animation, and some light usage of 3D. My biggest surprise is the 3D in Big Fish & Begonia blends nicely with the 2D art. It is very noticeable, but good enough that it doesn’t take you out of the moment. There’s plenty of times where the animation shine creating dreamy like imagery like a scene involving Chun getting a ferry ride through the clouds, and giving off a oceanic like effect when riding roaring through the clouds. All the while maintaining high detail with so much moving on screen. Like a scene involving a giant stuffed rat that houses a vast array of real rats that leave it to forage before sewing themselves back up inside has much details to marvel at.

In particular the finale has plenty of chaos incurring in the background of the world brought to life by stunning details, and smooth movement sparring no details on its particle effects. At night the ocean reflects the sky, it’s stars and the sublime hues present; while during the day it is almost invisible and many objects look like they are floating through air to create a dreamy mood. It’s beautiful movie to look at with its lush color palette creating one very colorful movie. Sometimes giving off the visual finesse comparable to a Miyazaki movie.

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The movie is filled with great imagery like this.

The English dub is great, especially with Stephanie Sheh, and Johnny Yong Bosch in the leading roles. Johnny Yong Bosch in particular as Qiu is gut wrenching, and a emotional powerhouse. It’s easily one of his best performances as a voice actor. He steals the show with ease. Then Stephanie Sheh who is also good manages to pull a convincing performance. She’s able make you believe what her character believes in a short amount of time. One downside to the English dub are the mouth movement are mistimed with the English dialogue. So you’ll characters speak while their mouths don’t move for a bit early on. It doesn’t happen constantly, but is noticeable.

The music is composed by Kiyoshi Yoshida. It’s sweeping, and epic doing justice every scene it’s used. Offering a peaceful quality during calmer moments, and a feeling of other worldly dread when things escalate. Finally, the ending theme “Jiao Xi Ru Feng” by Xu Jiaying appropriately ends the movie with a epic ballad that’s somber, and warm.

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Visually one of my favorite still from the movie, and also one of the best scenes.

In a 24 minute documentary about the making of this movie it started life as a short film through a group of very passionate individuals in 2004. Through the course of 12 years B&T Studio would hone their skills doing various commercials, and short films, but would lack funding to complete the feature film. The studio goes into a failed endeavor making a game which dug them into a bigger financial hole than before. People leave the project, and it seems hopeless. Much like the movie itself, the trails to finished the movie required plenty of sacrifices. Every product has their share of setbacks, but few of those works have their passion seep through every frame on screen. One thing that is vividly expressed in everything about the movie, even without knowing it’s production history is the passion is strongly felt from watching it.

Big Fish & Begonia is an monumental achievement for Chinese animation. It’s visually absorbing from beginning to end, with a highly imaginative world it takes advantage off, and a story that’s easy to get become lost in makes one wonderful experience. The sums of it parts are muddle, but the whole thing is nothing short of amazing. I highly recommended Big Fish & Begonia for any fans of animation, and movie fans in general.

Rating: 10/10

Cinema-Maniac: Incoming (2018)

Another day, another direct to video action movie, another Scott Adkin movie, and another dull experience. For me, one of the few things that can match watching a unfunny comedy movie is watching a dull action movie. Generally speaking action movies strive to deliver thrills to the viewers no matter how serious they can take themselves. A good action movie isn’t restricted by budget, and typically those behind the camera if capable can make something exciting out of very little. First time director Eric Zaragoza making his feature length directorial debut is not one of those individuals. Instead of coming up with ways to overcome his budgetary constraints he becomes a victim to them, although with everything negative surrounding the movie a good direction wouldn’t have been able to save it.

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More than half of those screens in the background are useless.

Incoming script is nonsensical, and so poorly conceived I’m convince whoever wrote this probably never finished school. Basically the premise is there’s a space prison created by a joint effort between several countries, three people (a doctor, a CIA Agent, a pilot) go onto that space prison for an inspection, and things go wrong when the prisoners take over. During the movie it’s very evident through the bad dialogue it’s trying to explain away lap in logics due to its obvious budget constraints. Kingsley (Lukas Loughran) the main man in charge in this space prison explains to everyone the lack of personnel to the viewers, the lack of proper equipment in emergencies if prisoners break out, and in another scene specifically mentions the fact if the cameras weren’t analog the people inspecting it would have known to bring a part to fix the cameras. When you get the gold mine that is “The Geneva Convention doesn’t apply in space” line that’s the highest peak the writing reaches. Throwing expository dialogue after expository dialogue without much of a break. None of this would be an issue if the way characters spoke weren’t so artificial.

The movie obviously tries to infuse comedy failing because the actors are uncharmastic to make the comedic lines work. Not helping matters are recurring jokes that weren’t funny the first time being used multiple times with even more diminishing returns. If you remove the performances you’ll still get face with the issues of characters regurgitating the same bits dialogue several times. There’s no need to explain to the viewer where specifically someone graduated in piloting a spacecraft, why the spaceships are automatic, and definitely do not need repeating the terrorists are bad. Further adding to that last part, the terrorists aren’t threatening so building them up, and pretending they’re a threat contrary to what is actually shown makes it worse.

Then there’s dangerous the terrorists group known as the Wolf Pack. One of the least creative name for any terrorist group I’ve seen in any action movie made even worse by the fact you’re meant to take it seriously. The villain, simply referred to as Alpha, has his top men captured, and torture in space. The keyword being top men, so you naturally would assume the heroes would have to struggle, and outsmart their enemies. That doesn’t happen since nearly every encounter the heroes come out on top without consequences. If the movie didn’t establish the six captured prisoners are the best members in the Wolf Pack it would have been easier to believe our heroes beating them at every turn.

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This hallway is in so much of the movie it deserves it’s own acting credit.

While I’m still on topic about the villains, the identity of Alpha is treated as a plot twist. Early in the movie it’s establish Kingsley has been trying to learn the identity of Alpha for five years. Half an hour later the identity of Alpha is revealed in a unintentionally funny manner. When CIA Agent Reiser (Scott Adkins) tells Kingsley people in high position knew one of the prisoners he was holding was Alpha for three, and a half years. The reason this information was withheld is because surveillance technology wasn’t developed enough to where politicians, and the government’s wanted it to be at. Further making you question if prison is supported by several countries you would think one of them would ensure something like an escape wouldn’t happen!

Having mentioned the fact this space prison is a creation by several nations I would imply it’s trying to make some kind of political statement. Although, saying that would be as inaccurate as claiming there’s an intelligent life form in Incoming. Anything related to politics within context has little ground to make a good statement. Simply bringing up The Geneva Convention, and not delving into it any further doesn’t equate to good commentary. So when head honcho Alpha eventually makes the “we’re dying for a great purpose” speech it feels out place. When you have a scene dedicated to how a character came up with the idea for deadly grenades made out of piss, but not touch on The Geneva Convention beyond torture is bad. Go back to your draft, make notes, and get your priorities straight.

Then we finally come to our heroes who are pretty stupid. There’s doctor Stone (Michelle Lehane) whom after hearing one sob story goes into a prisoner cell, and thus is reason the prisoners take over. Of course the prisoners wouldn’t have easily taken over the space prison if Kingsley, or anyone else that know about this prison bother hiring more personal. The dumbest thing in this movie is easily the fact you have a boardroom meeting scene of important people discussing how they should deal with the space prison having been taken over. This specifically is further exacerbated by the fact all the heroes involve signed a death clause that states the program (who really cares to be honest) will not take responsibility for their death, and implies they will take any measure to ensure the prisoners don’t escape. So why security doesn’t launch a missile as soon as they (whoever is in charge on Earth) learn it been taken over by prisoners makes no sense if it established some sort of death clause for its workers.

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In case you’ve forgotten, the Geneva Convention doesn’t apply in space! Now em kill all!

There’s plenty of other stupid things like Kingsley into the control room knowing full well it’s taken over the prisoners, and he’s outnumber. Can’t forget the villains not trying to lock, or barricade any doors to ensure no one enters. Finally, there’s Reiser who is the worst written character in the movie. He’s just a amalgamation of nonsense. His turn to being evil comes during the climax has no context for it. I was scratching my head at this evil turn since nothing about it made any sense. Trying to made sense of it would require more work than the three credited writers Nigel Thomas, Rick Benattar, and Jorge Saralegui gave to the screenplay.

Mentioned in the beginning this is a direct to video action movie starring Scott Adkins. A very reliable man in this field who regardless of what movie he’s in is able to elevate it through his presence. Unfortunately this movie misuses Adkins. If you want to see him deliver a good performance that won’t happen since he’s stuck in tough guy mode for the whole movie. Saying every line with anger in it to get across he’s serious. Unlike the rest of the actors, his character is the easiest to believe, and physically fits the role well. When it comes to his action scene he has to fight on everyone else’s level so no one will see his martial arts skills.

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That make up on McCusker (right) is pretty bad.

Oh right, the other actors who do surprisingly worse than Scott Adkins. Aaron McCusker in particular lacks the charisma to be a character worth cheering for, and his comedy relief is grating. He also lacks chemistry with Michelle Lehane who he shares many scenes with. Lehane can at least emote a little bit of emotion whereas McCusker cannot. The only other actor worth mentioning because I won’t bash him like everyone else is James MacCallum who just plays a desk worker. He’s charismatic in the very few scenes he’s in making me scratch my head he didn’t get more screen time. As for the villains they aren’t intimidating, nor do anything they say comes off as believable. I normally go into more details on the cast performances, but man, almost everyone did very poorly, and that best summarizes my thoughts of their acting in a nutshell.

In the entire film you’ll primarily see three sets; the control room, the hallway, and the prison cell room all of which are just a couple dozen feet away from each other. With the limited budget Incoming had is made very apparent the longer it goes on. Creating a fatigue in seeing the same sets being used for over an hour. There’s a evident absent of scale as everything gets reused. The poor set designs from a dark room with wobbly chairs and a bunch of TVs with CG LED monitors displaying sci-fi mumbo jumbo, to the cramp prison cells that all look a like, and a dirty hallway lack personality. Seeing these sets bring to mind that it’s a cheap movie instead of a hard sci-fi action flick.

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You know, looking at these stills, there’s so much to criticize.

Now we come to the action sequences which is bad as everything else. Since the one cramped hallway is used for a majority of the movie the action sequences don’t allow room for movement. Limiting what the fight choreography could resulting in the shaky cam, bad editing, and bad cinematography during these scenes. Adkins suffers the most from this since he’s unable to do his usual high flying kicks he’s known for. You’ll get a series of attacks, and retreat for the action which gets repetitive very quickly. Add on to the fact that Adkins easily fights his way through everyone you not only get bad action, but boredom along with them.

Early on in the movie you get to see Big Ben (Great Bell clock in London) getting blown up with a badly composited explosion over it while in the stock footage people don’t react to it. This makes an immediate bad impression which instead of being a single bad spot in the movie is a indicator for the entire product. Incoming is a dull action movie even by direct to video action movies standards. If you’re a Scott Adkins competitionist go for it, though it won’t offer the goods in any area. Otherwise, I recommend passing up on this whatever chance you get.

Rating: 1/10

Cinema-Maniac: Acts of Vengeance (2017)

Direct to video action movies is an odd beast. You’ll get the familiar faces pass their heyday in Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, and Dolph Lundgren being regulars in this market to moderate success. It also seems to be a marketplace where if anyone wants to be an action star, even for a single movie they’ll get one, including Miley Cyrus in So Undercover (2012). It’s also a place where plenty of competent directors are unable to make it to the big leagues. One such director is Isaac Florentine, a man who has a strong eye for action scenes regardless of budget. In particular his fight scenes tend to be the standouts of his action movies. Much like Antonio Banderas who stars in this movie, Isaac Florentine is capable of more, but both become a victim of limitations.

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Antonio Banderas here seen trying to hard to look cool.

Acts of Vengeance centers around fast talking attorney Frank Valera (Antonio Banderas) bringing justice into his own hands when his wife, and daughter are murdered. Starting with a quote from Marcus Aurelius Meditation before showing us Frank fight in the kitchen of a restaurant is a flash forward. When you see Frank strangling someone he asks the audience “Do you think I’m crazy”, and goes back to the beginning. Immediately you’re told factoids about the average amount of words people say in a say a day; women speak 23,000 words, men 17,000 words, and Frank Valera speaks 80,000 words in a single day. Doing the math that means Frank speaks on average for 22 hours, 13 minutes, and 20 seconds in a 24 hour day every single day according to him. Unless Frank talks in his sleep that factoid feels just slapped on without much thought given to it. All just to simply get across there’s only three meaningful words he uses every day, and yes the words are I love you.

That’s just a hint of the very blunt characterization in this movie ignoring the rule of show don’t tell. After the death of his love ones you’ll get Frank moping around before he miraculously picks up Meditation by Marcus Aurelius when trying to cover his stab wound. Despite all the blood it is covered in, he decides to read the book, and it changes him 36 minutes in the movie by taking a vow to remain stoic until he avenges his love ones. The transformation is where the film begins to fall apart, mostly because Frank’s narration would tell you what he’s feeling instead of showing it. More baffling with the fact you’ll have quotes from the book on screen whenever it goes into a new chapter. These quotes are clear in their meaning, yet are undermined by the narration as well.

A majority of the movie remains grounded which is why you’ll hardly see Frank fight anyone in the movie. Frank does become proficient in martial arts, but doesn’t get into trouble frequently. This comes at the cost of logic in several places of the story. Some of them including how the nurse who fixes up Frank doesn’t call the police, and according to Frank shutting up gave him super hearing. An ability use sparingly in the movie. Unlike Frank’s apparent telepathy because without saying a word everyone knows what Frank wants out of them. In terms of logic that’s easily the biggest leap this movie takes.

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Good boy! You found some drugs!

Other than Frank, the other characters just feel like plot devices to advance the story. There a few minor characters in the movie both of which are underdeveloped. Alma (Paz Vega) has a conflict about the Russian mafia wanting her to steal drugs for them, and not letting her go. This plot point is left unresolved since the closest thing to a solution that comes from this plotline is Alma staying with Frank at his house. She inexplicably decides to be very helpful to Frank even though they barely met, and why she didn’t call the police after fixing up Frank wound is never explained. There’s Strode (Karl Urban) who hardly appears in the movie, and has just little characterization. He’s only in the movie to be a plot twist that could have been shocking if he was developed.

Lacking on the characterization to make it more than a character drama, and there’s too little action to satisfy action fans. Ensuring viewers will experience a very conflicting movie. It understands its limitation so it succeeds in its simplistic storytelling. Things are clear cut, properly explained even if not resolved, develops in a good manner, and moves along in a nice pace never overstaying it welcome.

On the philosophy side of things this is not done correctly either. After reading Aurelius’s Meditation, Frank becomes motivated to take revenge. The last two lines from the book (well, going by the movie) are “The best revenge is to be unlike your enemy”, and “Accept the things to which fate binds you”. If Frank properly followed the words of Marcus Aurelius to heart Frank should have developed discipline for forgiveness, and accepts what fate has taken away from him. Being unlike your enemy would be forgiveness in this instance, and accepting your fate, but going that route wouldn’t make for an eventful action movie, although would have work fine for a character drama.

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Banderas expression here, is the same one I had when this plot line went nowhere.

Before moving to everything else, there’s the expected funeral scene where Frank is mourning the loss of his wife, and daughter. In the only scene he appears in, Eric Alli who plays the grandfather just delivers the most in your face dialogue written in the movie. He just verbally gives a beating to Banaderas shoving it in his face another attorney like him would make sure if the criminal is ever found he’ll get off scot free. He also reminds Banderas he lost a daughter, and granddaughter because of him. This scene last around a minute, but it simply stood out because everything about it is so questionable to me, especially the performance of Alli. Oh yeah, there’s also the classic punching the mirror scene to display an outburst of inner turmoil, and a montage of Banderas getting training.

Antonio Banderas takes the lead with a passable performance. He’s a more capable actor than he actually displays in the movie. Having difficulty trying to portray the complexity of his character without the usage of words. Leaving Banderas to nod his head mostly either approvingly, or disapprovingly which isn’t exactly impressive. Even when Banderas does talk all his line delivery sound the same without much emotion express in them. Something odd to witness when he gives the proper facial expression, but unable to express it in his words.

Karl Urban who is hardly in the film is also passable. He plays his part in a straightforward manner leaving little room for him to do anything. Hardly appearing in the movie is also to blame for that. Paz Vega who appears in the second half is also passable. There’s not plenty of meat to her character so she just goes with the flow. The rest of the cast is passable. No one in the movie gets to shine because their time is either too brief, or just aren’t used properly.

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Whoever wanted Banderas, and Karl Urban in a movie together, here you go.

Now we come to the action which is hardly here. You’ll get three decently length fight scenes, and that’s about it. One in the beginning, one in the middle, and finally one in the climax. With there being an average wait about 30, or so minutes making the action unevenly spaced out. This film isn’t a good showcase for Isaac Florentine eye for action, but there are two decent fight scenes in the movie. None of which are worth sitting through since they’re pretty basic fights with their choreography.

The climatic fight between Antonio Banderas, and Karl Urban is slightly spiced up because the environment they fight in gets used when Banderas takes a serious beating. Both should be commended for performing the fight sequence convincingly with Florentine expertly shooting the scene, and allowing for long takes for viewers to clearly see the actors performing the fight. There’s a little unnecessary usage of slow motion during half of the fights, but that’s a minor complaint. When it comes to storytelling his touch to the story occasionally come off overblown with the bombastic music not helping matters. It’s the only thing he could think off to do when limited by the fact his lead character doesn’t speak. With the narrations breaking the rule of show don’t tell in a negative way it’s overall just clumsily told.

It’s the same old song, and dance action fans have seen before. I just don’t have any strong feeling towards it one way or the other. Acts of Vengeance has more effort put into its story than your average direct to video action movies, but that comes off as a backhanded compliment. If it wasn’t for the needless narrations than it could have remedy some of my issues with the movie, but it also would have created new problems since Banderas didn’t overcome the stoic limitation. Neither did Isaac Florentine who wasn’t confident in how to tell his story. While certainly better than your typical direct to video action movie average is still average.

Rating: 5/10

Anime-Breakdown: Flavors of Youth (2018)

Producer Noritaka Kawaguchi whose name is attached to such projects like Garden of Words, Your Name, and Children Who Chase Lost Voices brings you an anime film about life in China. It might seem odd at first a Japanese producer making this movie until you remember Japan isn’t new to outsourcing their animation to China. In this case specifically it’s a co-production between Chinese animation company Haoliners Animation League, and CoMix Wave Film from Japan. The later of which is best know for animating Your Name, and several of Makoto Shinkai other works. Under the helm of three directors Flavors of Youth takes a gamble on it talents ability that doesn’t payoff. On a technical level it shows China is capable of matching the visuals of Japan best animated movies, but other than that this anothology has nothing else to show for it.

Sunny Breakfast (Hidamari no Choushoku)

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Noodles are the only thing that gives him meaning in life.

The first anthology film is also the weakest without question. This short film marks the debut of internet-based filmmaker Yi Xiaoxing, and his inexperience shows. This short movie is about Xiaomin reminiscing about his youth, but mostly monologuing poetically about his love of noodles like its the only reason life is worth living. He expresses his excessive love for noodles to a point it becomes hilarious. Credit to Crispin Freeman who managed to properly portray his character despite the dialogue he was given to work with.

Here’s a few of those lines:

“Your tongue go numb. Little by little it forgets the sensation of its home town. That flavor I lost. Now seems to haunt me.”

“The mushroom were always strong, and fresh. The kukurage with its firm texture. Each added their own unique layer to the thick broth that crater them. Creating a flavor that made my heart soar.”

“The eggs soft, and fluffy that made the noodles richer as they slid down your throat. That light amber soup, that brought out the flavor of every ingredient.”

Why this short movie is the worst in this anthology is that it tries too hard to be dramatic in a short amount of time, and pretty badly while I’m at it. It tries to pull at the heart strings by having Xiaomin’s grandmother die towards the end. Something that could have worked if Xiaomin monologue about spending time with his grandma instead of describing how good his noodle tasted, or how inferior noodles now taste compare to when he was a child.

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“The rain can’t fill the hole in my heart, like those noodles”

Going as far as describing the texture, and the warmth it gives him as a child versus the cold, and heartless taste when he’s an adult. It’s difficult to take Xiaomin seriously about what he lost in his youth, and having to move on from it when more time is spend on him passionately describing what he eats than showing what he experienced.

This story also suffers the most the difference in culture. Apparently in China food is a big deal since it’s the basis for family bonding, and socializing. Although, the short film itself failed to establish this clearly to the viewer so its failure is it own undoing assuming everyone knows about the importance of food in Chinese culture.

Sunny Breakfast gets a 2 out of 10. Only positive is that it’s unintentionally funny hearing the dialogue in the English dub, and is the shortest in the anthology. The animation is lovely to look at.

 

A Small Fashion Show (Chiisana Fashion Show)

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Oh look, something else pretty to look at besides the background.

This one is a bit better, but suffers from feeling shoehorn in its storytelling, and a forced happy ending. It’s about a woman who is a fashion model who feels she’s getting replace by younger models. Oh, there’s also a storyline about finding yourself, and being a family. The simplistic story is at odds with itself. On one hand it displays the toll the modeling career as taken on her health, and how badly it treats her since the modeling business will quickly forget about her. Then on the other hand there’s family drama she faces with a sister she hardly spend time with, and the most meaningful conversation they is arguing with each other. These conflicts are quickly resolve by the main character simply believing in herself which somehow fixes everything.

Unlike the first film, you’ll see the main character interact with the people around her instead of being told what’s happening. It struggles to develop characters since their conflicts is a lot more layered than it can explore in its run time. The rival model that appears in the story amounts to nothing more a tool to progress the story. Add on top of the fact the rival malicious intent isn’t even explained, nor is that conflict properly resolved. Another thing I find issue in this film is whatever commentary it wanted to have about the fashion industry is clumsily handled. There is a scene where the model has to soak in the world moving on quickly from her when looking at a billboard with a younger model. The idea behind this scene is good, but given the force happy ending it makes this scene, and other feel redundant.

One thing that is consistent among these short movies is they are all pretty to look to look at. The voice acting in this short film is the best since the actors have a lot more to work with, and the progression of events is more natural so the voice actors won’t overact. This film was directed by directed by CoMiX Wave 3DCG chief Yoshitaka Takeuchi whose lack of experience also shows. On the animation front he knows what he’s doing, but storytelling he has no clue what he’s doing.

A Small Fashion Show gets a 3 out 10. In wanting a happy ending it rushes its conflict ending up shallow in its attempt to give its two cent on the fashion industry, and the importance of family.

Shanghai Love (Shanghai Koi)

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I the Mighty music is putting them down

The best short film in the anthology, though not by much. It’s biggest strength is feeling like a condense Makoto Shinkai film. You’ll get the lovely animation, the tragic romance story, and you’ll sadly get teenagers acting very stupid. Unlike the previous films, this one is less in your face about it message. Sorta, it combines the failed attempt at tear jerking of Sunny Breakfast with the under written characters of A Small Fashion Show. It also contains the dumbest characters in this anthology when you look at the finer details.

The main character of this story is Li Mo (not a vehicle who wished to be a real boy as far as I know) an angry high school guy who has crush on Xiao Yu, a girl who is implied to be his childhood friend. So the girl’s parent want her to apply to a prestige high school, and the boy wants to go to said prestige high school since he likes her a lot. That’s seems stupid, but pretty harmless until you realize the Li Mo doesn’t want Xiao Yu to know he’s applying to the same school. On top of that, he also says to the one friend he tells about this plan that he’ll denounce their friendship if he tells Xiao Yu about the plan. This contrived conflict makes it impossible to sympathize with any of its characters. All Li Mo has to do is tell Xiao Yu he’s planning on going to the same school as she is, and problem solve, and of course that doesn’t happen. 

None of the characters are fleshed out to care about them. Xiao Yu suffers the most from this since she’s meant to be Li Mo love interest, and the only way the film develops her is by mentioning she got physically abused by her parents. It just feels like a cheap manipulative ploy than it does a characteristic. As Li Mo there’s not much to like either. The writing didn’t know how to depicts friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time so it simply has Li Mo acting like a jerk to her for no reason. He’s a victim of the dumb writing since he, and Xaio Yu communicate through messages recorded on a cassette tape. The movie uses the excuse he’s studying so he won’t listen to a certain tape resulting in his heartache, though again, he did bring this on himself.

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I assure you, this ain’t a still from Your Name. The character designs are similar though.

Li Mo character arc is somewhat competently handle. Exploring a character who lives with regrets is decently explored. Giving you a good idea how much regret he feels about this certain event in his past. Same with it touching on parents being hard in pushing their kids towards a good education. It’s only mentioned without delving into it theme, but doesn’t get drown out by all the melodrama on screen. Another one of its positive is being written in a way where it tries to make you forget about the logical, and be caught in the moment of the story. It sometimes succeed in that until logic rolls in its head. 

We now come to the ending that negates the whole experience of the story, and sweeps it under the rug. If it wanted to get across the whole point Li Mo lost out on a experience of his life because of his action it would have hit home a lot more with a sad ending. The happy ending is fine, but with the direction it was heading it undermines what came before it.

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Once again, this movie is pretty look at. 

This short film is visually the most outstanding with its detail background of a populated China from simple things like oncoming traffic to the urban streets of Shanghai. Everything move very smoothly without much of the 3D standing out in the movie in general. The music here is okay. It’s melodramatic for sure, but actually noticeable where in the previous short films the music wasn’t a presence. The one downside to this short film is Ross Butler performance as Li Mo. He doesn’t deliver any of his dialogue with any emotion, and simply sounds bore about everything he talks about.

Shanghai Love is directed by Li Haoling who unlike the previous two director actually has some experience under his belt. While he still has room for improvement he shows promise in being able to replicate the spirit of a Makoto Shinkai movie through his own style. Out of all the directors who worked on this, Li Haoling easily shows the most promise.

Shanghai Love gets a 6 out of 10. The characters are pretty stupid, but it manages to capture the feel of a Shinkai movie pretty well. It’s the best simply because it’s direction is clear, and direct in its simple ambitions. 

 

There’s a post credit scene, though it doesn’t help much as the characters basically say they’ll move forward. A good message for certain, but not delivered in the way intended. It assumes anyone will become lost in its visuals to overlook the haphazard writing. If there was an overarching theme it gets lost underneath the one dimensional characters, the forced happy endings, and a general lack of proper storytelling from two of the directors involved. It wants to pull at the heartstrings, but ironically feels artificial, and soulless like the very thing it tried, and failed to criticize.

Rating: 3/10 (10/30 all short films added together)