Cinema-Maniac: Ace Attorney (2012) Review

Capcom’s “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney” video game franchise has a small, but devoted fan base. The game themselves are known for being strong adventure games, having great presentation, music, and dialog, while at the same time criticized for being too linear, lacking replayability, and little in the way of innovation with each installments. What makes this adaptation questionable is this being director Takashi Miike second video game film adaption. His first was “Yakuza: Like A Dragon” which as a fan of the Sega franchise nailed the look, but failed in the story department. For Ace Attorney, Miike learns from some of his past mistakes to craft a decent film that can appeal to both fans of the video game franchise and the uninitiated.

Ace Attorney plot follows rookie Defendant Phoenix Wright, as he tackles a series of cases that slowly unfurl to reveal a twisted plot that stretches back several years ago. One thing that translates to the big screen successfully are it court cases and mysteries. As the further it moves along the more plot thickens while keeping you guessing. Throwing you off with twists and short usage of light supernatural elements. In the opening, we see a women being possessed and get introduced to a character be possessed by ghosts for a job profession whose only in used whenever it plot needs a push. Court trials are always high in creativity. Without being set into the real world trials are depicted like large sport events with a highly reactive crowd, CRT monitors that show evidence with holograms, and the varied personality of the witnesses. These trails session bring to center all the evidence gathered for a battle of wits between attorneys that goes back and forth in whose favor the case is in. Having five court cases these kind of scenes supply the film finest moments of writing even if some odd elements are in play. The weakest area is characterization being slim. Some backstory is given on why Phoenix Wright became an attorney and the relation between some of his friends. However, such moments become buried as the film thickens the mystery and court cases it forgets about its characters. They are likable characters, but not won’t leave as much of an impression as the court cases and mysteries do.

Takashi Miike is very faithful to the visuals of the game while making necessary changes. This is the very reason for one of the film’s most obvious additions, the holographic evidence windows. Ostensibly made to emulate the game’s court record, they do far more by creating a way to make even the most mundane piece of evidence exciting and engaging. They also serve to set the time period, with comically large CRT monitors being used in flashbacks. Everything from the game is captured from the clothing, the locations, down to the varied hairstyles. The distinguishing hairdos get embellished right out of the realm of the possible, and are even used for some of the best jokes. But despite the spoofy approach the drama surrounding these characters still gets treated with a lot of respect, and the film retains a lot of heart because of that. Hiroki Narimiya gives a terrific comedic performance underneath the awesomely aerodynamic haircut. He creates a great contrast between a look that’s supposed to evoke the slick, confident attorney and the knowledge that he is in way over his head. Akiyoshi Naako is a good foil as Wright’s junk-dealer friend Larry Butz, while Takumi Saito plays Phoenix’s opposite number as an ideal combination of smugness and dedication. There are a lot of other great little supporting turns, too, from Mirei Kiritani’s charming Maya to Mitsuki Tanimura’s brash Lotta Hart and Ryo Ishibashi’s intimidating Von Karma. Music wasn’t one of traits that translated into the adaptation. Granted they adds a lot in making courts trails far more exciting than most films do, but aren’t as memorable for most tracks go for being loud over having a building rhythm.

Ace Attorney translates the video game series onto the big screen emulating the appeal of the series. Not only does it closely resemble the game series visuals, but also written in a way that will satisfy fans of the game and is accessible for newcomers. It’s a step forward for video adaptations that shows respect to both the material and its fan base without alienating its audience.

7/10

Cinema-Maniac: Enemy (2014) Review

“Enemy” is the kind of film that many detractors would labeled as pretentious. This is the kind of film that relies heavily on subtlety for its character study. Demanding you pay close attention too every clue or else the meaning is loss. By all means it’s a film whose values is what you make of it. With that being said “Enemy” is a very in depth character study made more sophisticated the more you think about it.

Enemy is about a man seeking out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie. One thing everyone will take away from the film is the abstract ending. It’s unexpected and fades to black before giving an answer. The film narrative is on the same level. Rather than progressing in a linear, plot-driven manner, the story slowly fades into the distance to make way for an aimless type of suspense. At first it appears that when the twins meet each other it would make a series of ambiguous ideas become clear. It does the exact opposite woven to be abstract as possible only hinting at the various ideas that this is could be a story about split personality, a story about falling back into bad habits, or could all be a bad dream triggered by arachnophobia. Doing so by reaffirming repetition in dialogue and certain phrases utter by the characters. A line of dialogue tells us bits of the character in one scene to later challenge its meaning. This also results in the same effect working against the film just as much. Repeating itself to hold meaning in falling back into a pattern much like the character and narrative choices taken. As a whole there’s not much of a cohesive story jumping between the past and present without a indication on when anything occurred and in what order. Without it metaphors “Enemy” is just a simple story with a lack of conflict and resolution to the events that play out. While it does weave a complicated narrative with many interpretations it won’t have the same impact as sometimes it confuses being vague for being mysterious losing some meaning along the way.

Denis Villenueve direction is detail focused. Villeneuve’s own stylistic flourishes alternately underline and undercut his efforts. The jagged editing adds to the audience’s feeling of unease with a kind of controlled confusion, making us wonder how much we really know about what’s going on. Visually oppressive with its pale filtered tones and aerial shots showing the geometrical arrangement of the buildings creates a dreamlike quality to the film visuals. At times it hypnotic and other times makes us become loss between reality and a dream. Occasionally it will beat you over the head the imagery of Spiders and web many times. While it serves a greater purpose of a tricky metaphors it’s the most obvious clue that gives to its audience. A minor setback considering how carefully how other clues and details are given without making them the centered of attention. Jake Gyllenhaal inhabits his two characters very well, slipping into Adam’s despondent skin as easily as he finds Anthony’s brash confidence. Though he plays two characters who were physically identical, even when they were dressed the same, Gyllenhaal put on a great performance, creating two separate people who you could tell apart, but without it looking obvious. Co-stars Mélanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon are appropriately icy; almost Hitchcockian in their blond coldness. The great Isabella Rossellini makes a brief but welcome appearance, yet the film really does rest on Gyllenhaal’s shoulders. Carrying the entire film on his shoulder without confusing the viewer by two very similar looking characters.

Enemy is a tricky character study that messes with your head. Held together by a distinct and careful performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s not as accessible for those who enjoyed Denis Villenueve’s “Prisoners” that similarly dealt with the dark side its protagonists, but is just as well crafted even if a absolute meaning won’t be found.

7/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Legend of Hercules (2014) Review

The Legend of Hercules is an insult to not just Greek Mythology, but common sense. A rush plot that overuses cliches and overlooks the basics of storytelling like context, characterization, and anything resembling human emotion. The action scenes that don’t include Scott Adkins are uninspired, insipid, and sucking any shred of entertainment away. These Greek set action scenes are the most over the top ever depicted in the era yet provide nothing to dissect. Avoid this film! Done and finished like that. If you’re expecting anything informative you better stop reading now. Now clearly I have allot more to say about the film seeing the length of my rant. What better way to best get across my hatred than express my same exact thoughts while viewing the film. I’ll leave no stone unturned because there are some bad movies worth viewing.

Upon seeing the opening of the film which is an unimpressive one track wide shot of Greek civilizations going to war with each other into the ancient land of Argos. This one track shot highlights the plastic looking CG environments, blurred explosions, and humans that look smudgy regardless how far the CG is from the camera. However, despite a poor first impression the film is gracious enough to give us SCOTT ADKINS! He’s so awesome that in fact, the extras in the opening scene just started cheering upon seeing Adkins appear despite being told not too. Coming into the film with a action scene that overuses slow motion and cheap props (like all the action scenes), but nonetheless Adkins presence makes it awesome. Full of energy he’s able to sell an opening action scene that had no context (no seriously, it’s glances over just about every detail you can think off regarding a war) and makes it exciting. At the end there’s no question that Scott Adkins wins the fight, his opponent kingdom, and thus has the opposing army and his own army bow down to his greatness. Truly this man is a legend among legend and….what eleven minutes that’s it. Adkins is just a supporting actor despite clearly selling a action scene that should not have had worked on any level. BOOOOOOOOOO! Put Scott Adkin back on screen. If you seriously think I’m going to buy “I got pregnant with a God child to put end to your reign because you are just too demanding” plotline without developing character, context, or the conflict you are wrong. I still have a functioning brain cell intact after viewing this. At some point you might expect me to flip the switch and go back to my formula with an attempt to be fair, but then Kellan Lutz appears around the twelve minute mark.

Fast forward the plot twenty years later and Kellan Lutz appears on screen for the first time in the film riding horses with plastic doll Gaia Weiss. I didn’t think it was possible, but these two actors manage to make the simple task of horseback riding difficult to buy. Once they reached their destination at some pond they have a “romantic” moment. The scene gets across Hercules love Hebe despite this being the first time we see them together. For those wondering nope the film never develops the romance nor any of the characters to sell the romance. The only thing that happens at the pond is Hercules gets a necklace from the women he loves which on itself could metaphor Hercules commitment by wearing, but he’s does not hold it to any importance rendering it meaningless. After Hercules brother, Iphicles, comes into the scene he tells his men to take Hebe back to the kingdom of “Just Make Things Up As We Go Along-dom”.

Riding back to their proud kingdom at day time, yet for some reason wait until night time to actually start moving the brothers hear a noise. Getting off their horses the brothers arm themselves to fight a foul beast. A lion appears making his presence known to Hercules with his loud and furious roar that shakes the land. The fact that his opponent is Kellan Lutz further boosts the beast ego so much in fact that when HERCULES THROWS A STEEL SPEAR AT A LION IT DEFLECTS IT WITHOUT A SCRATCH! How is the lion killed you asked? By being choked to death by Hercules. Nope, I’m pretty sure the CG Lion couldn’t handle putting this on his resume thus ending his career on screen. CG Lion number 06-27-1997 will truly be missed. Before I move on the lion Hercules fought wasn’t ordinary. It was in fact the legendary Nemean Lion who has golden fur that’s impervious to attacks. I’m telling you this because the film does not explain this meaning unless you know what the Nemean Lion is this scene is various degrees of silliness.

Upon returning to their kingdom together. Iphicles takes credit for killing the Nemean Lion and tells in front of a crowd that Hercules ran away from the first sign of danger. Remember this is Kellan Lutz’s Hercules not Arnold Schwarzenegger so it’s not hard for anyone to buy that Hercules ran away from danger. Heck I believed it even though I clearly saw what actually happened. Thus the almighty KING ADKINS (I know his character has a name, but I like the sound of KING ADKINS better) announces to the crowd that his son, Iphicles, will in fact marry Hebe in three moons. Three moons? I could help with that just give a minute to unzip…what you meant days not the other kind? You modernized 90% of the dialogue so why of all things “wed in three moons” is kept as is. By no surprise Hebe is dissatisfied with the announcement of whom she’ll be force to wed. I totally could get behind Hebe in this situation because she’s not marrying King Adkins. I mean when the only man throwing himself at you is Kellan Lutz could you really blame Hebe for running away. Hercules goes after Hebe and promises her they’ll run away together. Out of kindness Hebe says yes in the hopes this will make King Adkins jealous (my made up plot sucks I know, but much better than what the film provides). Thus the two ride off into the night, but wait until daytime to actually start their journey. Are you kidding me Daniel Giat, Giulio Steve, Renny Harlin, and Sean Hood? Four freakin writers? Not one of them thought to themselve “Wouldn’t it make sense for Hercules and Hebe to run away right after Hercules makes that proposal. It’s night time making it difficult to spot them, none of Adkins guards are chasing after them, and they have a head start”.

After a bad chase scene void of any excitement and zero technical prowesses King Adkins sends Hercules to war in Egypt. It was at this point that I realize Hercules character is so poorly written that I was actually cheering for the “villain” of the film. For Adkins character we at least saw he led an army to gain an entire kingdom even if it was just for gold as oppose to Hercules who in the film has only killed a lion thinks he entitled to anything he wants. Out of those two I would cheer on the bloodthirsty tyrant who has a right to constantly be pissed off at Hercules because he worked hard and violently killed to get the things he got. Hercules on the other hand thought process is “You just don’t know how difficult it is to be the son of a king with no responsibility having the power of a God. I hate you”. You could labeled Kellan Lutz as a hero all you want in the film, but he just comes off as a drama queen who got a sex change into a man. It’s also upon this force return Hercules learns from his mother he’s the son of Zeus. This shocks Hercules upon hearing the news since Kellan Lutz’s Hercules is that slow in head. Really movie? You know just force me to compliment Disney Studio writing which by my standard guarantees you just failed in the written word of storytelling. In Disney’s Hercules he knew he has super strength and was conflicted about his true origin. This Hercules does not face emotional conflict, has no desire to learn about himself, nor does he ever goes to speak to Zeus unless he wants something without earning it.

Would you believe me if I told you the previous paragraphs vaguely summed up the first thirty minutes of the movie. I got that much material to complain and rant on in thirty minutes. This is just a fraction of my feelings as you could only imagine how poorly I view this film in its entirety. Pass the thirty minute mark the four writers gave up on writing dialogue. ARRRGGGGGHHHHHHH, EEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRR, BOOOOOOOOOOOOO, is what makes up the rest of the film dialogue. Just a constant barrage of men shouting from the top of their lungs. Moving on, in the next twenty minutes little happens. Hercules goes to Egypt to fight with his father army and with one other soldier are the only survivor of the battle. Captured, Hercules and General Goodlooking (who’s too young to play a veteran war general) are force to fight other prisoners. This plot point is a poor ploy to just have the following eighteen minutes consist of action scenes. All of which rely on wire work that Pinocchio would call dated. The action scenes are unexciting because Kellan Lutz barely gets hurt. Fun fact, in the action scene where Kellan Lutz enters an arena the crowd boos when the announcers introduces Hercules was not scripted. According to the extras on set they said they were lied into believing they would see Dwayne Johnson in the movie. To be fair though the extras are justified for their boos. Hercules strikes a deal with his master to let General Goodlooking go scot-free if he could wins his freedom against six undefeated Greek warriors. Why that actually sounds cool. The film took many liberties with the legend already so maybe in this one scene Hercules will face Achilles, Jason, Perseus, Odysseus, among other worthy opponents. Oh man the possibilities are endless. One over the top, dead of excitement, and predictable fight scene later. Damn you writers I actually expected something decent from that scene!

Meanwhile in Argos news spread across the land that Hercules died in battle. Lets take moment and mourn the loss of Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules who will be missed. Or damn it, thinking of the wrong Hercules again. Actually what I meant to say was bring on the champagne because Kellan Lutz’s Hercules is pronounced dead. YEAH! Afterwards King Adkins speaks to his angry wife whose hatred for him is far from subtle. Adkins wife tells him that she gave birth to Hercules to end his tyranny. Of course given Kellan Lutz is the person she gave birth to King Adkin takes it as an insult (like anyone would) and kills her on the spot. There is also a scene of Hebe stating continually (it’s the only thing she talks about in the movie) how much she loves Hercules (just pretend it’s Dwayne Johnson she’s talking about to buy it) when speaking with Iphicles. Once Iphicles gets across Hebe has no say in the matter will forever be locked in a loveless marriage she attempts to commit suicide. In the context of the film Hebe feels sad that Hercules got killed, but in my version I actually believe Hebe came to the realization that her failed planned to make King Adkins jealous thinks a world without Adkins is not worth living. Of course Old Man (he’s is not that important of a character) stops her and tells her Hercules is still alive and planning to overthrow King Adkins.

Skipping towards Hercules overthrow you’ll be hard press to read that nothing else happened in between. Reaching the fifty minute mark you think seeing a God attempting to rally supporters to overthrow King Adkins would on some level be interesting. All that happens is General Goodlooking finds his wife murdered, Iphiles captures General Goodlooking, Hercules is captured, Hercules gets chained up, and whipped for being a very, very bad actor. Despite these events there’s no buildup on any kind and the bad attempt to sell the romance with sex. Although, I do thank the director who despite showing his stars (any male actors) togaless for more than half of the movie does not show Kellan Lutz likely bad interpretation of a sex scene. So Hercules, just because he asks, obtains his full strength from Zeus without earning it. Kellan Lutz goes “God of War” (Kratos, the protagonist, fights with weapons connected by chains) on his opponent and is just as lame as everything else in the movie. Witnessing this King Adkins retrieves to his castle because Hercules showing off his strength bored him.

If you read this far we’re finally at Hercules overthrow. Music in this film in general is unnoticable because it’s only purpose is to be loud. There’s no composition nor instrumental arrangements in anything that is heard. So while people were getting killed on screen I was to listening to Aya Hirano “Bouken Desho Desho” to lift up my spirits and worked to put me in a good mood. Who knew listening to cheery and upbeat music for a an action scene would worked so much better than a random arrangements loud noises. Hercules army march towards King Adkin front gate and by sheer luck some of King Adkins arrows men turn to Hercules side. Man is that lazy writing and pure convenience that even though the arrow men could easily kill Hercules just turn to his side. Motivation is simply because he’s a great hero, even though throughout the movie everything is a cakewalk for him. So when Hercules enters King Adkins temple he walks straight into King Adkins trap. King Adkins, despite the rain pouring down, is able to create a wall of fire because he’s just awesome. So picture this, Hercules and his men surrounded, outnumbered, and ensuring that there is a high possibility Hercules men lives will be lost. Now picture Zeus just giving Hercules a lightning whip to easily killing a dozen or so men by himself. I’ve been avoiding discussing the idea of Hercules saying in a previous scene he’s no God, but a mortal. Why don’t you remember the last time you raised your hands up at the sky, physically grabbed lightning, and used it as a whip? I do it all the time because according to this film I am a mortal.

Then finally it comes down to climax which is made exciting because of SCOTT ADKINS! So who’ll win this fight; on one corner you have SCOTT ADKINS who in the film is a conqueror of kingdoms, commands respects looking pissed off in every single scene he’s in, and most importantly age holds no meaning to him. Despite the main story taking place twenty years after the opening scene the only thing he has to show for his age is a clearly fake beard! And on the other corner you have Kellan Lutz who plays Hercules accomplishing…um no wait let me think. He went to war in Egypt despite only having eighty troops and survives…although it’s technically his fault they died since he suggested to rest in a area that guaranteed their enemies to ambushed them and left themself no way to escape. Oh man that’s bad. No wait, Hercules has the strength of a God and can wield lighting which he never uses in a majority of the film. Ummm….he has muscles, but no personality of any kind. Ahhh…this guy sucks. I honestly tried to make Kellan Lutz sound good.

The climax is actually decent because of the fight choreography actually allows Kellan Lutz opponent to be on equal ground. You might question Hercules strength as he gets tossed around during the final action scene like a rag doll, but remember his opponent is SCOTT ADKINS! Before Kellan Lutz has a chance to choke King Adkins to death Iphicles comes into the fight threatening to kill Hebe if Hercules kills King Adkins. Knowing the small possibility that Hercules could save her Hebe takes stabs herself in the chest because a life without Scott Adkins is just not worth living and a life with Kellan Lutz is worth ending your misery. This scene, like everything else, leaves as little of an impact as possible. The fight resume and if the film wasn’t unrealstic enough Kellan Lutz kills King Adkins. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Unbelievable the filmmakers had the nerve to kill off the only decent thing to be found in the movie. Yes Scott Adkins only screams in the movie, but he has energy, charisma, acting talent, a martial art background, but most importantly is not Kellan Lutz. I kid you not when I say Kellan Lutz starring in this film is the equivalent of a sleeping pill; the longer you are expose to it the more you’ll want to go sleep.

Hebe wakes up and lives happily ever after with Hercules. Of course with my hatred towards the film I pretend Hebe became blind thinking Hercules was Scott Adkins. Finally this is the end of the review. Without question if it wasn’t for the over top performance and glorious presence of Scott Adkins this film would have earned a zero. Whenever Adkins is on screen he’s brings excitement to the film working against some incredibly poor production values. Adkins was in the film long enough to earn a ten percent rating. He’s the film biggest appeal even in a traditional sense his performance is bad. Unfortunately the spotlight is given to Kellan Lutz whose performance has the same effect of a sleeping pill, charisma of a corpse, non existent acting talent, and finally just sucks at his job. He doesn’t look convincing in the part, he can’t act, has no charm, and personality of any sort. So like I said in first paragraph there are some bad movies worth seeing and this film, under no circumstances even if you’re held at gunpoint should not be seen.

1/10

Cinema-Maniac: Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) Review

“You can’t judge a book by it cover” phrase more often than not doesn’t equally apply to films. A film with a ridiculous premise or title tends to fall into the pitfall of just being bad without much of a creative thought process behind it. Sometimes dying before even reaching the credits. As proven with “Killer Klowns From Outer Space” you just never know what to expect to be entertaining.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space is about extraterrestrial klowns terrorizing a small town. Going more towards comedy, horror is far away from it focus as possible. It sets up a scene from a horror perspective playing the scene out as a comedy. One example being the heroes entering the circus tent spaceship where one would expect seeing what horrific things the extraterrestrial are doing to the humans. Instead of revealing anything resembling horror it’s reveal the klowns are turning the townspeople to cotton candy. Why that is the film never explains along with the so called “happy” ending it attempts to sell despite what it presents to us. Despite the goofy premise it has a number of creative ideas that work because of how straightforward the film plays up the concept. The characters in the film are genuinely terrified by the killer klowns that can make balloon dogs that can track their scent to having heat seeking popcorn in their weaponry. This level of goofiness also applies to the death scenes all of which are zany in their creation. Unfortunately the film doesn’t focus solely on the klowns occasionally dealing with bland characters. Where as the klowns provide campy antics the humans mostly take in the ensuring invasions one sidedly. While it’s nice the script attempts to give its central characters development that’s quickly forgotten by the halfway mark. Their dialogue most of the times is typical of a current boyfriend teaming up an his girlfriend ex to save a girl they both have feeling for, but have some terrible lines that even in context sound bad (“Is this place great or what? It looks like it was decorated by Klowns R Us.”). As a whole the script is vapid; aliens arrive on Earth, terrorize a small town, the small town lacks police force, no one believes the heroes sighting of extraterrestrial life, and the heroes face against the queen or king alien in the climax. While the creatures are replace with a something goofy the plot bears many similarity to a setup for an alien invasion film for better and worse.

The only standout performance has to be John Vernon as Officer Mooney with a delightfully over the top performance as a paranoid cop. Vernon screen time is small compared to the rest of the cast, but easily the one that best gets into his role. Leads Grant Cramer, John Allen Nelson, an Suzanne Snyder are adequate in their roles. They can carry the movie, but don’t have much as Cramer always appears whimsical about the extraterrestrial klowns, Nelson constantly looking pissed off at Cramer character, and Snyder going through the motions. Supporting cast are one note delivering some over the top reaction. With the exception of John Vernon none of the supporting cast stand out. Special effects are decent with some glaring mistakes on screen. Klowns costumes reveal several times a visible zipper whenever the camera faces their back. However, the facial animatronics that move their faces fare much better with the silly dark comedy tone. Spaceships are designed to look like a bizarre fun house which technical wise stand out. Varied in color and atmosphere it presents a spaceship unlike any other in the sci-fi genre. Soundtrack is relatively good with the opening “Killer Klowns” by “The Dickies” makes a solid rock ballad out of stock circus music.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space premise loses momentum as it goes on, but not long enough to wear out its welcome. It plays out around with the typical alien invasion film with a sense humor that hits when the klown are on screen, but fails whenever they’re not. It’s a goofy film that uses a traditional alien invasion story and does something that’s not generally done for better and worse.

6/10

Anime Breakdown: Angel Beats (2010) Series Review

Prior to writing this review, Angel Beats! could be best describe as an entry point back into anime for me. My introduction to anime is actually with Dragon Ball Z and Naruto which were enjoyable shows. At the time when I viewed them I just thought as them as interesting looking shows not knowing where they originated from. I never finished to completion either anime series (the video games several of which I have) therefore lost an interest in anime in general. It wasn’t until recently with the surge of my little brother fascination with anime that caught my attention. While I knew little about anime I enjoyed listening to what my brother had to say about the anime series he watched. My little brother did bug me to give anime it a try, but much like when I choose a film to watch I would have to research it. Thus I landed on Angel Beats! because the simple premise intrigued me to check it out and seeing how it’s a short series it would be manageable with my schedule. There’s no question my enjoyment of seeing Angel Beats! is far greater than most anime fans, but one thing it is for certain it’ll leave a strong impression.

Premise:

Rebellious teens fight in armed combat against one dispassionate girl’s supernatural powers in an afterlife high school. (Man is this synopsis significantly shorter compared to my Blue Exorcist review).

Good: Stellar Writing/Handling of Themes of Life and Death

Angel Beats! follow characters that are discontent with their former lives. A premise that is well handle thanks to the writing talent at hand. Combining sharp action, riotously funny humor, clever exploitation of the setting, musical performances, a cast of colorful characters where heavily moe (cute/ a term with a contrived definition) girls are in the minority into a polished package. All these culmination of elements work in sync with each other pulling off anything it sets out to do with great success. Often focusing on what would work best for its story over specifically relying on a noticable strong suit.

Uniting of all sorts of different idea weaving a world that can be best describe as a philosophical videogame. References to Buddhist theology, replete with long, philosophical discussions of reincarnation and its implications, along with more modern, tech-savvy ideas like computer games and programming. Representing an afterlife that works like that of a video game doing so with a good understanding of video game programing with Buddhism. This analogy is made even more obvious by when a character refers to large swarms of background students and teachers at the high school as “non-player characters.” This odd fusion of Buddhism and video games should have not click together, but strangely do. There’s some remarkable similarity made between the two as a retry after death in a videogame could be seen as a reincarnation in Buddhism in the series. Every episode in a way could be viewed as a like a video game level with branching path that either A.) Tackle the conflict blindly or B.) Organize a strategy each with their own risks and reward. Analyzing in great detail one’s own faith and the free will given to them to make difficult decisions especially knowing the life consequence of it.

Writing excels in every category especially when it comes to character focus episodes. Subtle characterization and down to earth dialogue can quickly leave their mark on the viewer no matter the amount of screen time characters receive. Episode 3 is where the strong writing is first shown its true powers. In a short length of time we’re able to connect with character Masami Iwasawa (pink hair! damn one of my weaknesses) whose dreams, past, and passion we get to learn about thanks to carefully written conversations that comes across naturally and not just mere exposition. For a series that want to touch upon many themes it has 13 episodes to do so and of course not everything comes together as it should have. However, the writing hardly gives any sign of uncertainty. Despite being 13 episodes it’s able to accomplished a number of themes it chooses to explore providing full closure on the series.  

Good: Execution of old tricks

For a form of entertainment that has televised series for over 50 years originality is difficult to come by. However, being a movie fan first I know as long as the execution works you can make even the most cliche of stories interesting again. That applies to Angels Beats! which for anime veterans will become familiar with the high school setting, absurdly powerful student counselor, open ending, down to the characters from the hero with a friendless background, the smart guy, tough girl on the outside whose soft on the inside, and what not. Anime fans will be able to pick out the tropes, but as someone who’s not familiar with anime tropes as so much writing devices what is used here works in the confined of the series. Each of the cliches and trope used in the series is executed properly to work. It’s not so much that what it does with them is different for the tropes, but in subtext have more than a single function.

Take for example the characters in Angel Beats! referred to as Angel who can manipulate her hands and turn them into weapons. Most of Angel’s abilities, such as Harmonics and (Hand) Sonic, Distortion, Overdrive, and Delay are various guitar effects. Angel is also a seen playing the piano in the opening of the show and mention in the series that she can play the piano professionally. Why am I bringing up what appears to be a series of random facts? Well Angel real name Kanade literally translate to “playing music” which is the main weapon our group of rebellious teens uses to distract the crowds or enemies during their operations. Scenes involving a character playing a musical instrument Kanade nearly always appears in. Most of which are important moments that explain the workings of the afterlife or a significant character moment. Even Angel herself intention is to drive the audience off her actual purpose in the world (which she even admits to doing poorly) provides a different perspective on to view the inhabitants of the afterlife.

Good: Gorgeous Animation

Animation is often cg-enhanced, looking slick and polished. Backgrounds are very detailed and animation alway appears smooth. Often bright and colorful the presentation boasts very good to excellent line detail as well as a nicely robust and well saturated palette. Character design is consistent and highly expressive. Their movement are never restricted in comedic situations applying cartoon physics. Resulting from characters being stabbed multiple times, being cut in half, seated in a ejector seat that crashes into the ceiling, and several other are made comedic in a series where no one can die. While character designs aren’t exactly innovative, they are colorful, especially with regard to the often oddly hued hair of several of the major players. Some of the concert sequences look good and almost seem to have been assembled with motion capture, so fluid and convincing are the girls’ movement. It looks especially lovely during the action scenes that support plenty of particles effects. Fast in movement with no bluff the action scenes are no doubt a high point sporting numerous tiny details and fast motion. Backgrounds are often minimal reusing the same locations while detail lack variety. Overall Angel Beats sports a nicely sharp and well defined piece of animation.

Good: Music

In Angel Beats, the SSS employs its own all-girl rock band to divert the enemy at choice times. Instead of using existing or commissioned music all songs were written and composed by Jun Maeda himself specifically for this series. Serving the series a purpose the songs by the all girl bands correlate with the series themes. Discussing characters specifics such as the strong desired to continue a dream, friendship, deception, and many others benefits to giving the band character. Giving them an identity and a clearly getting across their personality as individuals and as a band.

The result is an effective, low-key approach which supports the material, rather than leading it, and easily shifts from comedy to dramatic modes. The GlDeMo songs are all solid rock numbers save for a pretty solo ballad, and all of them suit their intended purpose well. Opener “My Soul, Your Beat!” is a lovely piano-fronted song whose visuals adjust slightly each episode to provide previews of the upcoming action. Also, the notes played on the piano are resemble a heart beat. Sneaking in symbolism into its music aside from just sounding good has as much depth given to its as the story. With lyrics that sound like they’re were written by teenagers are easy to understand and fitting the fictional world nicely.

Regular closer “Brave Song” is equally good and accompanies visuals which show major characters in the Battlefront roster and regularly update to reflect events in the series; watching for these changes can be a game unto itself. An alternate rock version of the opener fronts episode 4, while episodes 10 and 13 have the poignant “Ichiban no Takaramono” as an alternate but very appropriate choice. The music in the show if taken out can stand on their own. These songs support in developing the material as much as the rest of music do in supporting its series tone. While none of the tracks in the series can surpass the excellence orchestration and composition in ‘My Soul, Your Beat’ and ‘Brave Song’ the music in general tends to be of high quality.

Mixed: Not Enough Episodes

As much I praise the writing it doesn’t explore everything it wants in 13 episodes and 1 OVA (Original Video Animation/standalone episode created outside the series). Several characters back stories are left in the dust with a plot progressing rapidly. Often resorting to giving a majority of cast a catchphrase or quirk that gives them a specific identity. On the whole it makes the large cast distinguishable even if all aren’t treated equally. This lack of development for the large cast takes away from the emotional impact the final three episodes were going for. Many characters backstories are left to the imagination and also what occurred to them past the series ending is left blank too. That’s not even adding the new characters that are introduced later on in the series that add the headcount of unexplored lives.

Thematically the first halve of the series doesn’t fit the tone of the later half. Early episodes of Angel Beats! plays on its strong side of comedy that are meant to make us acquainted with our cast. Sadly it mindset past early episodes go all over the place jumping into either a straight up drama, comedy, or a mixture of both. In general the balance of drama and comedy is handle well doing what the series does best. Never at one point does either overshadowed the other. However, it’s undeniable how jarring the the series becomes compare to where it started. Noticeably distracting further highlighting the absence of certain elements that made you like the series in the first place. Once you hit a certain point in the series you know things are going to permanently change. Personally I like both the comedic and dramatic tone of the series, but as a whole there’s no denying how indifferent the series tone conflicts with itself scattering around the viewer emotions against the intended impact it wanted to send.

Final Thoughts:

Angel Beats! is a short burst of great comedy, action, and drama while it last. It’s length holds it back from expanding into the show it could have been. Changing drastically in little time and leaving certain elements in the dust. No doubt anyone who enjoys Angel Beats will be disappointed when it ends quickly. What little the series does provide is undeniably entertaining and dramatically powerful with the creators heartfelt passion for their creation shown in the quality of their work.

Writing: 2/2

Execution: 2/2

Animation: 2/2

Sound: 2/2

Length: 1/2

Rating: 9/10 – A short run of an excellent show that balances everything it sets out to do. While it’s aim is bigger than its grasp there’s no denying what is perfectly executed vastly overshadows it faults.

Cinema-Maniac: Animal Crossing: The Movie (2008) Review

In the world of video game movie adaptations the existence of an ‘Animal Crossing’ movie escaped my knowledge. I never played the video games therefore never followed the franchise, but to those who haven’t either here some condense background. ‘Animal Crossing’ is a video game franchise developed and published by (the almighty) Nintendo. It’s a popular series made famous by it’s opened ended gameplay in which players have no defined objectives, but are instead encouraged to spend their time in the village performing any number of activities, which include collecting items, planting plants or other items, and socializing with the village’s residents. A life simulator that isn’t known exactly for its plot, yet work s as a fun and relaxing film even if it doesn’t have a cohesive story.

Animal Crossing: The Movie is about Ai, a self-reliant girl that moves to Animal Village. Simplicity is the route taken with a slice of life format to its narrative. It’s not so much telling a story as it is stringing together a series of random scenes. This is made evident in the first twenty minutes of the film as Ai unwillingly accepts a job to make delivery in Animal Village literally minutes after arriving. Throughout her delivery run we’re introduced to a colorful cast of characters without tying this plot point to anything in the grand scheme of things. All the inhabitants in Animal Village have a kind heart even if at times the hard shells says otherwise. Giving off a sort of utopia vibe as the community provides a sense of welcome and warmth presence to anyone who visits. Inviting the viewer to just lose themselves in Animal Village. Something that’s easy to do with likable characters each with a charming quirk to them from the major whose lousy in publicizing himself for an election to a human boy who likes dressing up in different costumes. It’s easy to get lost in a film that is so welcoming with humor and drama added into the mixture. Flaws are apparent without requiring much thought to point them out. Like Ai (our protagonist) background is left vague and her motivation to move to Animal Village is not fleshed out. Conflict is non-existent in the film until the climax, but even then to resolve the conflict is voluntary with no consequences for the central characters nor any supporting characters involved. The same applies to introducing several subplots and leaving them hanging for long durations even going as far as forgetting to resolve a couple of them. Misdirecting lessons it was trying get across possibly being interpreted negatively.

The film has a chibi art style to which basically means all characters have over sized heads. Animals are anthropomorphic with human traits. Although it’s never made clear in regard to clothing as some animals wear clothes and other don’t for reasons left unexplained. Sure the animals don’t have genitalia, but they are still walking around naked. Color palette is lush and colorful. There’s hardly any usage of dark colors in the environment. Always looking pleasant even if the event in the plot says otherwise. Movement is minimalistic looking chopping at times. Backgrounds offer variety changing along with the according season in the film subtly showing the progression of time. Kazumi Totaka score normally gives the feel of a summer environment, with its use of mellow acoustic guitars, accordions, and bongo drums among others. Voice acting is nothing noteworthy. Yui Horie who voices Ai gets across the character innocence and eager personality. Sounding exactly like a ten year old would. Other voice actors are in the same line of playfulness in their performances. There’s a couple of voice actors (one of them oddly being director Takashi Miike) that speak regularly without exaggeration to their voices that work in the film more dramatic scenes. Compare to the other actors the less exaggerated voices don’t leave much of impression, but do appropriately add range in a energized cast.

Animal Crossing: The Movie doesn’t offer a cohesive story, but is a pleasant slice of life film. It has a cast of likable characters and the atmosphere is calming right down to the pleasant music. A cohesive story won’t be found in Animal Crossing: The Movie, but does serves as a nice distraction for anyone looking to lose themself in another world.

7/10

Cinema-Maniac: Mildred Pierce (1945) Review

Mildred Pierce follows the titled character proving to her cheating husband she can become independent and successful. The story biggest strength lies heavily in the title heroine. She’s a complicated individual that’s easy to sympathize with, relate to, and made compelling for all the right reasons. She’s receives substantial amount of development that does more than help her become three dimensional. Demonstrated numerous times Mildred Pierce is a strong dedicated individual and an intelligent one at that too. Being able to accomplished great things when she puts her mind on something, but when it comes to her home she’s not as confident. There’s a clear distinction made between business Pierce and at home Pierce. In both environment Pierce demonstrate a skills to understand an issue and quickly make her mind on how to resolve even if it’s not the most rational in hindsight. Yet, it’s when we see Mildred Pierce troubled home life where it made more evident of her weakness. Making way for a depiction that analyzes ambition and class struggles. Where the intentions is exactly part of the problem and what prevents it problem from being fixed. A depiction between Pierce and her daughter Veda clashing their personality with one inherited wealth vs. earned wealth. Both characters are flawed with opposing feelings with their vastly different lifestyle. It’s difficult to the blame either individual for the way the story pans out as both as much in the right as they are in the wrong.

Aside from the title protagonist the film isn’t short on great characters. Just about every major player in the plot are fleshed out. Each presenting a sentiment of the period it was made in. Bert Pierce represents men insecurity in a era where it was for a man to support his family with his own two hands. Veta Pierce represents the ever-changing youth and their opposition to previous generations customs. Monte Beragon represents the death of the upper class with his decay in power and money becoming accessible by the common man to gain. Ida Corwin is altogether unconventional with her husband-and-wife relationship with Mildred. These characters and others are supported by strong characterization that fleshes them out as three dimensional characters than just being a sentiment of an era. Never do what the characters represents comes off as an artifact of its era.

Michael Curtiz’s direction is truly superb in the way he presents the story as well as delving into the mind of its titular character. Curtiz also plays up to the noir style of the film by creating an opening sequence while never revealing who kills Monte. This would create a tone where it becomes very dark during Mildred’s interrogation scenes. By the time the third act arrives, the mixture of melodrama and noir finally blend as the tone of the film darkens. Cinematographer Ernest Haller does a phenomenal job with the film’s black-and-white photography from the wondrous, sunny look of the suburbs that Mildred lived in early in the film to the dark, eerie world that comes in later in the film. Max Steiner score is excellent from its sweeping theme that plays to the melodrama of the film to more uplifting pieces that plays to Mildred’s rise. Steiner’s score is definitely another of the film’s highlights as it’s truly spectacular.

The cast is definitely wonderful for its array of some very memorable performances from the big actors to some small roles by other actors. Mainly Joan Crawford in one of her finest performances as the title character brings realism to a woman in the 1940s trying to do what is right for her children. Bringing a sense of frustration over her spoiled child, but never once coming off as a mean spirited mother. It’s an overall iconic performance from the legendary Crawford. Ann Blyth is superb as Veda, the ungrateful daughter who wants to become rich and ambitious as she is also a selfish, spoiled, and uncaring. With a stylized yet dramatic performance, Blyth succeeds in creating an unsympathetic character that everyone loves to hate. Jack Carson hints of a man with self-esteem issue, and even though he tries to cover it with playful banter, it comes through in his facial expressions. Zachary Scott is another strong additive to this mixture. As Monte, he carried himself very cool and laid back. His words were spoken softly, yet confidently. He very seldom needed to raise his voice, because his choice of words were so dead-on that the point was made with little effort.

Mildred Pierce is a masterpiece having one of the finest and most compelling leading character to have been written. The 1940’s sentiment are very true to its era depicting accurately the changes in society without becoming a relic of its own time. Instead it uses these sentiments to giving more meaning to multilayered characters, but also serves as strong story characters adding to what’s already a compelling and multilayered film.

10/10