Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Casually Joining the Brotherhood of Average

They have returned, the tag posts! This time, the resurrection is all thanks to Average Joe tagged me twice in his Brotherhood posts ensuring he had an entire post dedicated to answering all his questions. I still got a dozen questions to unanswered my membership gets fully accepted. Firstly the rules.

  • Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog. 
  • Answer the questions sent to you.
  • Nominate around 10 bloggers.
  • Create your own set of questions for your nominees and display the rules.

Well I still have one more Brotherhood post to finish up, and that should add up to 10 when multiply by the power of 7. Until I get that massive post done, lets get to the questions.

 

 

What western produced cartoon do you think would work best in an anime format and why? Things like Steven Universe, Miraculous Ladybug and Huntik.


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A western cartoon I feel would work better in anime format would be Danny Phantom. From memory, I recall it having great potential, but being restricted to a kids station I felt it didn’t make use of it premise like it could have. Besides the change in art style that would allow it to show some more grotesque ghosts. It would greatly benefit from being able to explore darker material. Something like seeing the ghost dead relative, or a spirit with a traumatic backstory I feel like would allow to touch on broader subjects.

Another advantage I could picture is the whole horror, and action element of the series turning out better. On Nickelodeon, they tend to favor comedy. It did make Danny Phantom enjoyable, but it didn’t feel like anything special to what else was airing on their channel. In anime, sure it’ll still have the comedy, but in anime with less restriction an attempt at horror I’ll take over none at all. Plus, phantom planet is something I can live without.

 

What novel series (western of manga) do you want adapting into a movie or show? Like The Hunger Games, Edge of Tomorrow and almost every anime we currently have.


I can’t think of a novel series I feel could be adapted into a movie, or tv series. Nearly all the novels I read are standalone. However, I do feel like the novel Pachinko by Min Jin Lee would work fantastically as a tv drama. It follows a Korean mother who leaves her homeland for Japan, where her children and grandchildren will be born and raised; yet prejudice against their Korean heritage will prevent them from ever feeling at home in Japan. Covering a wide range of issues like identity, tradition, racism, pride, and other such topics I feel would benefit greatly in TV format. As a TV series, it’ll allow the series to explore are the subject matter Pachinko touches on without making the viewer feel like it all too much to comprehend like in movie format.

I doubt it’ll get any kind of on screen adaptation, but even if it doesn’t it’ll still be my third favorite book of all time. Fantastic characters, great in depth theme exploration, and nice handling of its ambitious story culminate into a book I wouldn’t re-reading anytime soon. Of course, I’ll still take that TV series please! It needs more affection!

 

What candy is your favorite and why? Mine’s Warheads because… I like the pain I guess?


Skittles without a doubt. When I can’t eat an actual Rainbow, Skittles are the next best thing.

 

What fictional universe would you most want to live in and why? P.S. You would be integral to that universe like a MC or SC. Mine would be How not to Summon a Demon Lord because ELVES! Also it’s the closest thing I can think of to Dungeons and Dragons.


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Looking through my MAL I have to say the world of Mahoujin Guruguru (2017) would be fun. It’s already bright, and colorful, but the inhabitants of it are very silly. I also like they go against plenty of traditional fantasy tropes so alongside laughing at some of the character designs there’ll never be a boring day for in this world.

 

In an essay of no more than 300 words, if there were any anime you wish had been written differently, what would you have written? I’ll find this one interesting.


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This is going to surprise no one Discord who reads this (yep, probably Axel I bet), but My Hero Academia I would rewrite. One thing I would change is ensure Deku doesn’t have any powers for the entire story. In my version, All Might reprimand Deku telling him there’s a difference between recklessness, and heroism after he makes a situation worse in episode 2 of the anime. Shoving the point in Deku can’t be a hero.

Deku would be moping around until he discovers some letters written to his father. He discovers his father was a police officer, and reading countless of letters people calling his father their hero makes Deku learn you don’t need powers to be a hero. Something I feel the anime series does is equate heroism with having powers.

Que the training montage, and hitting the books. He takes the same course as in the anime series, but the difference is he fails despite showing courage, and is put into the Support Class of UA Academy. Here is where Deku meets other in the same position, but with less than desirable Quirks. Soaking in he’s not alone in the ridicule in the world around him. He makes quick friends with Mei Hatsume passing test after test. I’ll retain the sports festival, but have Deku loose again. He graduates, and works as a police officer like his father did. After that, he would be up against a bomber who happens to be Bakugo.

My version would end a decade later when Deku is in his late 20s, and married to Mei. He gets a visit from All Might at his house saying he was wrong. “In a world filled with superpowers I had thought true heroism has been lost. You proved me wrong” would be his exact words. All Might offers Deku his powers, and some more trainings to ensure he can handle it. Deku accepts, but only after he spends one more month being a father to his son. All Might agrees, and leaves. Ending on a shot of Deku entering a warm home with his proud child hugging him.

(The above is over 300 words, but couldn’t fit it under that so take that as you will.)

 

Who’s your Waifu or Husbando and why? Look I had no more ideas ok?!


I made a post about who I would put into my harem. Yes, even someone like Hell Girl who takes people to Hell regularly made it onto that list. Hey, it works for me.

 

What job / profession would you want to have an anime based around? This can be any profession, whether it be your own or not, and explain how it would be an anime of sorts. Think something like a Blend S set in a café etc.


I guess food processing speaking from personal experience. Turns out to be a lot weirder than I thought it would be. If it’s not the co-workers telling me where I can buy animal semen there’s something always going wrong. Be it a pipe that is inches from hitting a co-worker on his shoulder, or me turning my back for a couple of seconds to do something, and that person getting into a accident that quickly. Don’t get me started on the people, I could be here all day about my work place. Exactly why I think it would make for a good comedy anime!

 

In a format of around 100 to 200 words. What anime character do you feel is overrated and why?


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I have to go with Rintarou Okabe from Steins;Gate. Mostly because I felt the writing did him a major disservice making him unintentionally come across as a dick. He goes to countless of worldlines to ensure his waifu is safe, but doesn’t bother creating a timeline where everyone is happy. So *Spoilers Begin* Ruka still ends up being a dude to his dislike, and Rumiho is still fatherless all because Okabe wanted his waifu! *End Spoilers*.  I don’t even like those two specific characters, but what a dick move undoing other people’s happiness so you can have your own.

Also, how in the world did you program a message in episode 23 to play after a specific incident happens in a worldline out of your control! That’s so specific it hurt my brain. Most importantly why wouldn’t you have the phone message play knowing full well the possible catastrophe at hands if you fail! Don’t get me started on the happy ending which made it feel like Okabe learned nothing on his journey. Again, the writing did him a disservice.

 

If you could erase any song from history, what song would it be and why? 


I haven’t listen to the radio for over a decade so I don’t know what’s popular. Depending on how you look at it my sister listens to the radio, and out of everything I heard from those drivel air waves I would erase would be “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus. It’s just a boring pop song I hear a lot in adverts. It’s already maddening knowing someone as talented as Josh Ramsay from Marianas Trench biggest hit will be writing Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe”. A world that eliminates the lyrically uninspired, and instrumentally dull “Wrecking Ball” from Miley Cyrus is a world worth dreaming about.

 

What’s your favorite Dere and why? Yandere, Dandere, Kuudere etc. (Also who from that dere do you like?)


I would say Kuudere if my harem is any indication. What I like best about them is probably their growth if they get any. Seeing a Kuudere break out of their cold exterior to express more emotion is easy characterization, but I find it enjoyable. These type of characters generally don’t grate on me, even when done badly. Other than Hell Girl, Miyu Yamano, and Saber there’s also L from Death Note, both Levi and Mikasa from Attack On Titan who turn out to be cool characters with some awesome moments. My favorite of these would be Saber. She looks good in almost everything I’ve seen her in, and she’s a pretty good sword fighter. A winning combination in my book.


 

Here are you’re questions which won’t be used against you if you ever back out of the Brotherhood.

Bossils

Rodrovich

PyraXadon

These wonderful folks have yet to join the Brotherhood, and the questions!

  • If you could remake any anime, what anime would that be, and why?
  • Copying Average Joe, who is your ultimate waifu/husbando! THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE!
  • What two anime universe would you like to see crossover?
  • Lastly, is there any anime you dropped because of a single annoying character?

 

I could have gone on longer writing about my rewrite of My Hero Academia, but those were the main bullet points I would have kept. The ending I can understand some viewing it as counterproductive to the entire story, but had (and failed) to keep it under 300 words so details were left out. What you gonna do ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ . I am considering doing a post about it, but at the same time that means spending on something MHA

Before I continue babbling on like the robot I am I shall make my exit, and return to the mundane that is typically my not so normal life. I’m currently in the process of preparing for the worst that will be the remainder of the year. This means family visiting me. Oh boy, with Halloween around the corner that is scary! Well, future me will deal with it when the time comes. Until next time, insert a clever closing here.

Genocidal Organ (2017)

“I’m prepared to protect my world. A world where I can order a jalapeno pizza, and pay for it with my ID thumbprint! Where I can throw away half my Big Mac just because I’m full, and I want too!” – Williams from Genocidal Organ (I thought this line was hilarious both in, and out context. Best reflects this movie in a nutshell)

Politics, conspiracy theories, theology, psychology, and man’s morality are all tricky subject matter to tackle. Let alone all together into a single movie like Genocidal Organ attempts to do. Presenting itself as this intellectually deep film while providing some over the top blood & gore to attract casual viewers. It’s a animated film that requires all your attention to stay awake while watching. If the long talkative scenes that over explain things don’t bore you than the lack of engaging characters will.

Set in a time when Sarajevo was obliterated by a homemade nuclear device, Genocidal Organ story reflects a world inundated with genocide. An American by the name of John Paul seems to be responsible for all of this, and intelligence agent Clavis Shepherd treks across the wasteland of the world to find him and the eponymous “genocidal organ”. The setting of Genocidal Organ is nicely realize painting broad a picture of a semi-dystopia US. Creating the world by going into detail what led the country down the path it did. You’ll get a good grasp at the type of world this movie takes place in, and how exactly characters feel about living under a heavily surveillance country.

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The future is nothing, but fire

Too bad the way it’s set up is through jargon dialogue going out of it way to over explain things for the audience. Some of this is reasonable like explaining why there’s a difference in surveillance security in different countries, and how the US adapted to combat terrorists attacks. When it tries to go into the more philosophical it drones on. Theology, politics, linguistics, and so much more will be the subject of a single conversation clunkily moving across these topics. These type of conversations consist throughout the movie making it unnatural sounding to listen too. Heck, the movie has a difficult time keeping mundane talk mundane when injecting these kind of subjects into them needlessly.

Amidst all these ideas are a cast of boring characters. The story dictates the characters we follow don’t feel emotion due to their military training. Our lead Clavis Shepherd slowly starts questioning that over time in the film. This plot point would work if the film presented itself better. There’s a sequence where Clavis, and his team storm into a building to killing a group of children guerrilla fighters. By removing his emotion what one should take away from this moment is difficult to pinpoint. Clavis is a blank slate just coming across as a mouthpiece for the writer to spout his belief making him uninteresting. Conflicting interests clashes with long diatribes against society with brief moments of hyper violence spread across it. Instead of leaving an impression it just fades into the background with seemingly nothing of value added to the story.

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Want to know these pods are made out of? To bad, it tells you either way

Characters spend more time discussing ideals they forget to have personalities. Only Williams in the cast shows any personality cracking jokes every one in a while, and bringing up how much he loves his family. He feels human in a story that otherwise dehumanizes it characters down to just mere ideals. Sadly, Williams is not our main character so instead of seeing a amoral conflict developed in the story. We have instead the already amoral Clavis Shepherd becoming infatuated with a woman he barely met. If not for the blank slate that he was Clavis seeing his world in a different would have had a impact. There isn’t enough know about Clavis to make the transition easy to get behind either in his romantic fling, or his world views.

John Paul is sadly generic as one can get for a villain. Spouting the usual humanity is evil dialogue. What takes the cake with this character is his explanation that genocide has a grammar to it. The science behind it makes sense in the film’s context since there are silly sci-fi elements to accept it’s possible. This still doesn’t make for compelling dialogue though. However, he’s a slightly better written character because his motivation is explained, even if questionable how one thing lead to another.

What is not questionable is the fact the film uses John Paul stance against the government to prove a point that sacrificing freedom is a bad thing. If the film accepted the fact John Paul actions to prove his point is equally just as bad it would have been thought provoking. If there’s someone like John Paul capable of causing genocide through mere words would I want sacrifice my freedom to ensure he doesn’t cause harm to me? Instead of thinking about that I wonder why the movie thought justifying mass genocides was a thing it needed to do. There’s no grey area on this topic because all it does is make John Paul the embodiment of a hypocrite. Either change the tragic backstory, or make John Paul a straight up delusional villain to prevent an imbalance between the message of the story, and the film’s villain.

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This brief moment is cool though

The Japanese voices take a lost on this one for their performances. All the dialogue is western based, and it simply feels like the Japanese did a literal translation of everything of Western phrases. So the Japanese cast has to awkwardly pause, or speed their delivery to match the lip flap. Instead of localizing certain phrases to sound natural in Japanese the literal translation creates an even more unnatural flow to the dialogue. Plus, the Japanese cast ain’t able to capture, or in some cases attempt to mimic the accent of their characters.

Josh Grelle plays Clavis Shepherd coming off monotone for the entire film. The point of Grelle character is be emotionless, but over time he’s meant to be cracking through the monotonous shell with emotion. Unless Grelle screams, it’s nearly indistinguishable to tell apart when his character changes. Overtime this lack of enunciating his emotions eventually just comes off as stoic.

Ian Sinclair is the most enjoyable actor in the English dub. He gets to show personality unlike the rest of the actors. Being allowed to be funny, serious, and anything in between. Providing the film levity, and dramatic weight it desperately needed where it’s regularly lacking.

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Yep, animated gif. Hardly notice the animation.

The film’s was originally animated by Manglobe, and once Manglobe closed down it changed production to Geno Studio. It’s obvious to tell that the film had a rocky production history since details, animations, and background quality shift around. Hair details for example is inconsistent; sometimes the hair is detailed with different shading changing depending on the lighting, and other times it remains the same despite the lighting in a scene. There’s some usage of CG that sticks out, but are used sparingly. One of the highlight is animated sequence done in first person which looks pretty good. 

Animation is fluid when it moves, but noticeably drop in quality when characters still down, and stand still in a scene. Typically using a panning shots from far away to cut down on details on the characters. Environments are very detailed, and since takes place in countries all over the world the change in locale is appreciated. Character designs are hit and miss. Sometimes they look fine, and other times like during the action scenes their faces, or body structure just seem off. Lastly, the film does have a few over the top action sequence that bump up the blood, and gore, but they rarely happen in the movie. In line with the dialogue the music itself feels like an afterthought. There’s nothing remarkable about it. Just being loud, and noisy to fill the scene.

Genocidal Organ is the last film Manglobe had in production before it went into bankruptcy in 2015 before getting finished by Geno Studio. Instead of leaving the anime world on a good note this movie best summarizes Manglobe existence in a nutshell. You have a series of great ideas in Genocidal Organ, but with a less than stellar execution. Sharing its ideas before providing a good story to go along side with it. Manglobe name might be behind some fondly remembered animes, but Genocidal Organ ain’t going to be one of them.

Rating: 3/10

A Company Man (2012)

I’ve mentioned before how Korean revenge movies start blending together in my mind after seeing so many of them. Another type of movie that start blending in my mind are the contracted killers disobeying orders from their boss, falling in love with their target or a woman/man, and the contracted killer getting hunted down. That’s a broad outline I know, but ever since viewing A Bittersweet Life (2005) for the first time this year I keep associating that premise with it. However, the way A Bittersweet Life (2005) told that story mesmerized me to the point I just can’t help think of it every time I see something similar. Forever ensuring it’ll standout in my mind no matter how many similar films I see. A Company Man (2012) won’t enjoy that same luxury, but it’ll go down as a good action flick that didn’t quite live up to its potential in my mind.

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Another day at the office training the new contract killers.

A Company Man is about Ji Hyeong-Do (So Ji-Sub), a contract killer operating in a modern day corporate structure. Before getting into the movie itself I have to compare this to the 2005 South Korean film A Bittersweet Life. Both A Bittersweet Life, and A Company Man tell very a similar story, and play out nearly the same. Having their loner leads start out emotionless, meeting a woman who is involved with music makes that they fall for, both protagonists become disgruntled with their everyday job, both leads are chased down by their bosses after disobeying orders, a climatic action sequence occurs at both leads former workplace, and both reflect how it all came down to this once the violence dies down. However, A Bittersweet Life is a half an hour longer helping it flesh out it characters, and themes that in A Company Man aren’t as fleshed out. In A Bittersweet Life there’s more presented to provide emotional investment that A Company Man lacks.

A Bittersweet Life isn’t the first, nor the last time a story about a contract killer disobeying order, and being hunted down is ever going to get told. For this instance, it was important to bring up because writer/director Lim Sang-Yoon is heavily inspired by A Bittersweet Life. Provided you seen A Bittersweet Life comparison to A Company Man are unavoidable while viewing it. Despite his ambitious to create a parallel between contract killers, and corporate office job equally dehumanizing it workers. Lim Sang-yoon can’t avoid the label of basically making an inferior version of A Bittersweet Life.

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Unlike in A Bittersweet Life, Hyeong-do at least got a promotion for his work.

Diving into A Company Man itself the execution is decently done. The portrayal of contract hitman working in office type jobs is interesting to view. Making you want to learn more on how exactly this company functions, but never does. Then there’s also Ji Hyeong-do, our protagonist who starts the movie out wanting to quit his job. This decision does bring in the issue that it spends no time in showing Hyeong-do positive views on his workplace. Undermining a key trait of his character which is properly getting across how difficult it is for Hyeong-do to leave his job, and how betrayed he feels under this company.

While the nitty gritty of office work contract killers isn’t as fleshed as one would hope the conflicts are on the other hand. It might drop the ball on Hyeong-do attachment to his job, but witnessing the ugly side of it is shown. This is accomplished by having Hyeong-Do talk to two different individuals, and their different standing with the company. It’s through these scenes that Hyeong-Do slowly start to question what he’s doing with his life. Seeing the horrors his future might entails if he stays there longer. Allowing him to reflect on his life, and the offering the audience breathing room in understanding what kind man Hyeong-Do actually is.

When not about killing people, and retiring from that line of work. Hyeong-Do is soaking in a normal life. These scenes do their best in fleshing out the characters, but is hampered by the romance. Much in line with everything else in the story it’s a good idea that doesn’t quite reach the quality it should. Mainly using flashback to develop the romance Hyeong-Do has with a singer he was infatuated with in his youth. It’s a detail that contributes little in the long run. Especially when compared to the few times Hyeong-Do past is shown to the viewer. There’s also a young man whom Hyeong-Do sees himself in, but the sentiment of the idea will be more appreciated than the actual execution.

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Here’s a rare sight. So Ji-sub showing emotions

So Ji-sub take charge in the leading role. Reserve in his emotional expression he brings nuance needed for this portrayal. Coming off as discontent on the inside, and fitting into the role of a your average office worker. This works wonder for the film’s narrative since So Ji-Sub goes out of his way to come across as ordinary as possible. In the action sequences it’s a different story as So Ji-Sub comes across as a badass. If there’s a fault with Ji-Sub acting it would be during the last twenty minutes. Retaining his cold, introverted persona So Ji-Sub refuses to bring more emotion into his character is his most emotionally vulnerable in the final act. 

The supporting cast do a solid job in their role. Only Kim Dong-Joon who plays a temp is given any ranged with his material. He’s basically a more expressive So Ji-sub bringing in partial emotional engagement that So Ji-sub failed to capture. Everyone else play their role in a by the number fashion. Kwak Do-Won is the one who comes to mind since he’s just grumpy looking in nearly every scene he’s in. Only being outmatched by the almost equally angry Jeon Kuk-Hwan who is more believable in his delivery. Then there’s Lee Mi-Yeon who plays a love interest of sorts. Other than looking pretty, she isn’t given much to work with like the rest of the supporting cast. It’s a film primarily carried by So Ji-sub with the supporting cast doing whatever they can with the limited material handed to them.

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That’s one hell of a way to quit your job.

The worst edited action sequence comes when actor So Ji-sub has to fight against Yoo Ha-Bok in a small apartment. Attempting to make the sequence appear to be done in a single take, but coming off as choppily put together. Making it noticeable when both actors are inches apart from each other in every cut when a specific hit is thrown. It’s ambitious to make a action scene appear to have been done all done in a single take, but probably not something you should attempt to do in your directorial debut.

My favorite action scene is a fight sequence on a freeway that starts out inside a car, and eventually goes outside. The fight sequence is brief, but make use of the small interior of the car for some tight choreography. Getting surprisingly creative changing up shots without being overly edited. It’s easy to follow, and goes by pretty quickly. There’s also another fight sequence the occurs during the climax which makes use of more props. This particular fight is also brief, but is another good fight scene nonetheless.

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So Ji-Sub is a complete badass when the action hits

The two shootouts on the other hand lack the polish that the fight scenes contain. One of them suffers from being shot in a confined space, and being cut too quickly to properly tell what’s going on. There’s this shootout in a office that’s pretty cool, but sloppy cinematography makes you wonder about the placement of certain actors. It’s a confined place the film attempts mask the unlikelihood that So Ji-Sub would survive. By not showing what’s directly in front of him when he’s attempting to open a door the action sequence isn’t tense. Another issue is the slick production disappears during this sequence, and there’s a notable drop in film quality. Despite this, it’s the standout sequence in the film for a reason. There’s plenty of environmental destruction, and the staging makes it stand out among your average gunfight.

A Company Man is unlikely to ever receive the same adoration that Kim Jee-Woon’s A Bittersweet Life has gained. By wearing that inspiration to the forefront A Company Man will inevitably stay in the shadow of what inspired it. However, by itself it’s a decently put together action movie elevated from some good action set pieces, and a great performance from So Ji-sub. It doesn’t reach greatness, but what is does accomplished is more than enough to pull it through to the end.

Rating: 7/10

Broken (2014)

Plenty of Korean movies I’ve seen just so happen to deal with revenge, and after a while they start blending together. In the same way Hong Kong heroic bloodshed action movies typically tackle brotherhood. Korean revenge movies try to delve into the psychology into those who feel wronged, and deserve to take justice into their own hands. Other Korean revenge movies will indulge the viewers in the fantasy of it. Either method works for me. Broken tries to be a more thoughtful take while providing the thrills, but ends up doing neither successfully.

Initially the movie makes a good impression bypassing the predictable to quickly setup the story of single father Lee Sang-hyeon (Jung Jae-young) wanting to take revenge on the teenagers that raped, and killed his daughter. Broken ends up going downhill after that setup is done. Forgetting to show the gradual change in Lee before he snaps into killing. It just happens without proper build up removing another piece of characterization. As the film progresses, Lee remains a husk of a character with only the fact he’s a father to have you sympathize for him. This is fine until the movie attempts to tackle subject matters without giving them the proper time to be explored. Slowing the film down when touching on delinquency, and the flawed justice system preventing building tension. As a commentary on these things it acknowledges these are a thing in society, it’s unfair, and that’s as far as it goes.

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Lee got the bad news. He’s no longer human.

As a drama it fails to be captivating in the way it wants to be. Lee I already mentioned is a husk of a character. So when it tries to delve into the morality of his actions it falls flat. There’s hardly any scenes showing Lee spend time with his daughter to make it feel justify. A trait that is brought up, but isn’t use to explore any kind of regret in Lee. It’s simply makes him sad leaving there, and moving on.

When the film isn’t focus on Lee the attention is given to Detective Eok-Gwan (Lee Sung Min) who is tasked to find both Lee daughter killers, and Lee himself. His contribution to the story is very minimal using him, and his partner to talk on the injustice of South Korea justice system. Simply stating that the kids will get a slap on the wrist isn’t good enough to count as meaningful commentary on this subject. Significantly less so when it tries to humanize the murderers, and rapists of the movie. By doing so, the greyish morality presented further shines a negative light on the lack of depth, and detracts from the few thrills it has to offer.

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However, it will have actor Jung Jae-young open mouth a plenty.

Padding becomes more common in the second half. Dragging out out the running time by showing the actors walk through snow for minutes. Sometime it serves a point, and other times it’s just plodding along. The second half feels unorganized compare to the first half. There’s no structure in how information is presented, it’s a lot less eventful, and the pacing becomes slower then usual. What’s not preferable to that is the climax where characters do dumb things out of character. Coming off as contrived instead of organic to the story.

The ending wanted to be heartbreaking during its climax. Falling flat for two significant reasons; first one being Lee easily goes from your average, overworked father to a man on a mission for vengeance. So determine to the point Lee survives a hellish snowstorm despite being immensely exhausted from his journey, and with a broken leg. Second reason being the shotgun Lee carries for just over half of its runtime. Typically the rule of writing is if you have something like a shotgun, or anything established in the story it should be used later on. In the climax, the shotgun is used, but not the way you would expect it. If there was more to Lee’s character the outcome of the climax would be justifiable, but instead comes of as tacky. When I don’t care about the shallow main character of the movie why the movie thinks I would care about it’s equally shallow supporting cast is baffling.

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The rain can’t heal the hole in Jung Jae-young heart.

Acting in general is fine without much standing out. Jung Jae-young I feel suffered the most from the screenplay. Almost all of his most potent bits of acting is at the beginning of the film. He goes through a wide arrange of emotion in the first half hour from being remorseful, to angry, and to confusion. It gives him great freedom to portray things about Lee that the screenplay doesn’t provide. Afterwards he becomes stiff being stuck to having his mouth open, and shaking in the cold for a performance. Jung Jae-young just can’t do much with this character coming off as wooden in portraying his tortured soul. Everything else from cinematography to music is fine, but doesn’t do much in service of the movie.

Writer/Director Jeong-ho Lee I would put the blame on for virtually all the film’s problems. Half an hour could have been cut from the movie which instead of using it to develop characters, or further explore it themes just has it actors walk around in the snow. Resulting in a movie that feel padded when it shouldn’t be. A few more touch up to the story would have helped Broken stand out among the mountains of Korean revenge movies. Instead, it’ll just blend in with the crowd without anything to distinguish it in the back of my mind.

Rating: 3/10

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

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

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

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

Cinema-Maniac: Doppelganger (2003)

Doppelganger follows research scientist Hayasaki (Koji Yakusho) encountering an exact double whose true intention he’s uncertain off. A title like Doppelganger leaves little to the imagination if this was a horror movie. Doing things you would expect a horror movie to do like setting up the rumor if you see a your doppelganger you’ll die, and the doppelganger having devious intentions. Having the classical scenes where the doppelganger causes trouble, and the original taking the blame for his double misdeeds. Such scenes are typical for stories of this nature before revealing it’s true intention to use doppelganger as a metaphor. Using the doppelganger to have characters do some soul searching over building up scares. Opting more for a psychological, and black comedy approach turning a otherwise mundane story into a more interesting, but very messy movie.

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Very classy Yakusho.

One twist to the doppelganger concept is bluntly stating that people who see their doppleganger regularly kill themselves being unable to accept a physical manestification of everything they wish to be. There’s Yuka (Hiromi Nagasaku) who expresses a dislike for her brother doppelganger despite him being everything she wanted her brother to be. Instead of building the movie around these kind of ideas they just remain interesting points to think about. Missing out on the opportunity to create more dynamic characters than just our protagonist. Hayasaki, and his doppelganger regularly bicker with each other revealing bits about Hayasaki as a person. There’s nothing subtle about what you’re meant to take away from the conversations when things are bluntly laid out. For instance, Hayasaki doppelganger telling Hayasaki his flaws, and how he should simply embrace his darker aspect. Leaving little to imagination to work out it themes.

Same thing applies with characters in the movie. Hayasaki assistants in the first half get replace by new characters he barely meets in the second half. A pointless choice since these new characters in the second half basically act the same as Hayasaki assistants in the first half. Their roles are simple from being the love interest to the greedy assistant who wants more recognition, and profit. The third act in particular goes from subtle character development into being more blunt caricatures of their personalities. While the transformation of the main characters are subtle what is not laid out as subtly is how they changed, especially when some dialogue just plainly explain a lesson they learned.

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Surprise! How’d you like your office now!

As for the doppelgangers the film is not interested in discussing their origin. As mentioned before they’re simply use as a metaphor. Much like the invention of the Artificial Body (more accurately mechanical chair with arms) Hayasaki must accept, and move on from his own limitations. There conversations about hinting at the group, or the machine oppressing the individual, but these ideas aren’t fleshed out as clearly. Hayasaki spends over half of the movie away from any oppressing outside force. By removing his own shackles the outside forces don’t bother him until the third act. The company Hayasaki formerly worked for just lets him be with basically no qualms about their professional relationship. Making any commentary it has to say about the shackles in society just seem vaguely there, but not realized.

On the comedy side of things it’s hit or miss. The humor is typically deadpan with jokes spread out sparsely throughout the movie. Like a moment where Hayasaki is trying to get his Artificial Body, an assistant asks if she could help him, Hayasaki says yes she can, and lets her do all the work. Generally I ended up wondering if something was meant to be a joke, or taken seriously since both type of scenes are given the same treatment. The final act of the movie is where it takes a turn for the ridiculous. For instance, Hayasaki, and Yuka being able to keep up pace with speeding van that gets stolen from them. Another goofy moment is Hayasaki somehow surviving getting run over by a van. This is also where most of the lingering plot points are finally resolved, and sadly it’s also in the most spoonfed way it could think off. Once it finally gets to the ending the whole journey feels oddly satisfying despite the occasional clumsiness.

The main reason I checked out this movie is none other than the man himself Koji Yakusho. His performance in Doppelganger proves to me once again he’s true talent to keep an eye out for. Playing two different characters with different personality is not a difficult task. What is difficult is portraying a subtle change in those two characters in a way where it confuses the viewer on whether or not they’re following Hayasaki, or the double. By slowly changing the direction of both the characters he portrayed he’s able to send the viewer for a loop. Most of the film he’s mostly subdue in his shyness, and on the other hand also confident, and free spirited. Further making it difficult to distinguish who he’s portraying exactly in any given scene, and in a positive way no less.

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Do not worry miss! I will kill your brother. (paraphrasing actual dialogue in this scene)

With two Koji Yakusho on screen the trickery to getting this done is pretty simple. Through the uses of green screen, CGI, and body double this task is accomplished. Given it’s relatively low budget it’s odd thinking a film that’s very simplistic required a lot of special effect work for around half of it. There’s nothing impressive about the special effects work in the movie, but considering I was surprise to learn it even had any special effect work done means it’ll probably unnoticed for other who see it. Kiyoshi Kurosawa writer/director attempts to give the film style in a few scenes. Most of the time it’s simply a wide shot of actors talking, but whenever there’s two Koji Yakusho on screen he’ll use a split screen effect to throw viewer off on who is who. This split screen effect it the most visually interesting it gets since it’s the only times Kurosawa tries to be visually bold in any form.

The other actors in the movie do fine in their roles. Hiromi Nagasaki gets a decent size role without complexity in her character. She’s unsure for half of the movie, and the other half she remains optimistic. Akira Emoto who doesn’t appear much in the movie playing Yakusho best friend provides Yakusho best onscreen chemistry. Whenever Emoto, and Yakusho share a scene a lot of their characters history gets vividly just through their performance. Yusuke Santamaria plays his part like a slacker until the final act where his performance is mildly crazy. Becoming more eccentric in his delivery resulting to a silly character being made. As for the rest of the small cast, that’s about it since actors in the first half are forgotten about. With this small cast it’s a good thing they’re good actors because they help make even the uneventful portions feel important.

Doppelganger is an odd film with interesting ideas, hit or miss humor, and a messy execution. All the ideas are here to create something with more depth than it ended up doing. Thankfully, Koji Yakusho performance makes the writing shortcomings easier to forgive thanks to his subtle performance in changing his persona is done flawlessly. It won’t leave you pondering on its themes, and ideas as much as writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa would like, but if you’re looking for a different take on the doppelganger types of story this one will entertain, and provide some mild intrigue in it themes.

Rating: 7/10