Cinema-Maniac: Session 9 (2001) Review

Session 9 follows a cleaning crew as they work in an abandoned mental hospital with a horrific past that seems to be coming back. The characters we followed are never meant to be viewed as humans, but rather are treated as story elements. Our characters get a fair amount of development that instead of building an emotional bond are use to create anxiety. No one in the film has an ideal life as conversations hint at their life issues. While professionally the cleaning crew are more cooperative with each other they are on bad terms on a personal angle. This direction does away with some trappings of horror movies. For starter the cheater plot point adds to understanding the relationships between the crew not becoming a revelation when nearing the climax. It also makes sense whenever characters react to the situation given their relationship and their job priorities. Another right choice is the inclusion of the backstory given to the setting. Becoming more than just the place where the story takes place. Understanding what activity occurred in the mental hospital, an overview of the kind of patients that were instituted, and how it came to be abandoned. Surrounding it setting in another reality that the characters both accept it existence and refusal to acknowledge anything supernatural.

Incorporating an abundance of paranoia elements that are further reinforced with it setting. A mental hospital that said to have experimented on patients, and hearing dialogue of old therapy sessions. Allowing it to work thematically in two ways; one being the recordings are only heard therefore it’s possible that the patient has a split personality or there are many patients in these therapy sessions. Building a vague bridge that connects with the possibility of greater force beyond our comprehension without distancing the story from reality. Second reason for these recording working is the amount of depth given to the backstory. There is a patient that reappears in the story and virtually all the recordings that are played are from her various sessions. We get the full picture of the victim story that adds to the debate of how much of presented to us is grounded in reality. However, the script does have it problems like mention before the characters are story tools and never actual people. The development given to them while breaking some conventions are given little personality. Characters that never show up on screen have more depth than the characters we follow. Another issue is the ending presents a theme, but not character conclusions. It just a means to an end to express an idea not so much as to tell a story that ends on all two traditional note compared to it’s non traditional build up.

Filmed on handheld cameras sporting a sort of pseudo-documentary feel, not dissimilar to a found footage horror. Attempting to come across as one of those old therapy sessions that was videotaped. The quality of the video is sharp, although it looks extremely unnatural. Much like one of the characters in this film, the video just seeps into you like it’s possessing you. At first, the look is off-putting, but as you get further and further into the movie, you begin to accept its presence as if it’s been with you the entire time. As more is slowly revealed the audience is bombarded with seemingly unrelated footage of the area that hints at a darker and more sinister truth behind the ghost stories. Brad Anderson takes his time in telling the story therefore familiarizing the audience with the unsettling hospital. Even with shadow filled room our vision is never obscured. With its twisting hallways and dark basement passages, it clearly personifies the proverbial house of the damned. Anderson does a superb job in dealing with spatial relations in the film making some rooms ominously large, while others are claustrophobic and tiny. The cast are routinely impressive, injecting some life and humour into two-dimensional characters and it’s Mullan who is the standout, creating an astonishing level of intensity with little to no substance. Peter Mullan subtly suggests a growing disengagement from reality while David Caruso is a mix of hooky fun and leering creepiness. Josh Lucas handles a variety of different personalities sloppily. He’s the most underwhelming of the cast. Brandon Sexton never becomes his character due to his lack of showing much range, but makes it count when it comes to the horror centered scenes being consumed by fear.

Session 9 is an atmospheric horror movie that builds a tension instead of a body count. Brad Anderson slow pacing allows time for themes to materialize and let the viewer become familiar with the not so comfortable mental hospital. While the characters are never sympathetic nor are they memorable in the slightest they do breakaway from conventions. It avoids some horror film trappings in the first two acts it builds up to the climax. Ending on a final act that is more traditional and less thought out than the journey. It doesn’t end as strongly as it begins, but it’s a horror film that knows how to engross the viewer into its mentality.


Cinema-Maniac: Point Break (1991) Review

Point Break in a way is a precursor to “The Fast and the Furious”. Both films share nearly identical plot lines; a character whose life philosophy for his life’s passion intrigues the protagonist, undercover cop gets into a specific extreme sport, protagonist has a time limit to capture his culprit, and if continue to mention more similarities would ruin the film for newcomers. Yet, “Point Break” ends out being the better film because it understands it story and characters that in the grand scheme of nonsensical material works in sync with how everything structure on a technical level and in story telling.

Point Break is about an FBI agent going undercover to catch a gang of bank robbers who may be surfers. Build around a preposterous assumption by an experienced FBI agent once it gets started logic never enter. It knows this poking fun of itself with flimsy gathering of evidence like examining the tan line of a bank robber behind in surveillance footage. Once it addresses the sillier side of its evidence to catch it criminals it goes back to business. For as silly as the plot gets it characters are more rooted in the world. Specifically our protagonist, Johnny Utah, who despite being the hero is inept in his job. He’s the different kind of action hero who screw ups contribute in worsening his current dilemma and avoids using an organ called the brain. Utah doesn’t sound so much like a hero as he does a fumbling idiot. However, with the structure of the plot his action goes along with the philosophy the criminal shares. Much in line with the ebb and flow of a wave; tension mounts slowly building to a climax each time, which is slightly resolved in an abrupt crash until the next pique. Formulaic as the script make itself be goes hand in hand with the views presented by its characters. Always searching for the next adrenaline rush before it crashes and burn. Both the hero and antiheroes share their flaws resulting in consequences on both side. Characterization is plentiful giving more meaning to the action, though never sympathetic given the tonal switch it characters can cause. Although, most of Utah development are later turned into plot devices and what occurs to him follows some predictable guidelines for any film that follows an undercover agent. These characters are supported by some great dialogue that manage to get a laugh because of nothing the sort would be things the action genre would expect to produce.

Keanu Reeves persona perfectly matches the protagonist he portrays. Reeves never vocalizes a range of emotions when speaking, but his demeanor to ease from being a care free surfer to full on hard boiled FBI agent is believable. No matter how much Reeves gets beaten in an action scene whenever his character is allowed a finer moment he sells it. Patrick Swayze is eccentric as an antihero. He’s loose whenever he speaks philosophical on surfing the waves as his life meaning. Reading such lines and given them as much heart no matter how silly it might sound to non surfers. When needed too Swayze can turn a complete one-eighty that borderline on adrenaline addict whose needs more. Lori Petty plays the token love interest. She’s not given much range in the kind of scenes she gets either being loose or life threatening dramatic. Her performance is good inspite of the lack of range she’s offer. Gary Busey wisecracks hilariously throughout playing off greatly of from an equally funny John C. McGinley. Kathryn Bigelow with vigorous direction knows how to modulate when it comes to action. While not impressive or big in scale are entirely filled with stunt work and pyrotechnics-driven, as we see skydiving, surfing, crazy stunts, and one good on-foot chases through many location. The action presented remain clear building tension flowing like a wave. Cinematographer Donald Peterman creates camerawork to draw us into its mindset. Shots of the surfing and surfers are close-ups, creating an immediate and intimate bond for the audience are captured with graceful camera movement.

Point Break is preposterous, and that is exactly why it works. On the surface what seen is as a dumb action movie is given more thought by smart filmmakers. The heroes and antiheroes are fleshed out given more meaning to their actions applying more weight to their consequences. Acting wise there’s not memorable performance from Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, but both fit the parts with their onscreen persona being natural for the characters they portray. It understands the philosophy of it characters life passion incorporating it into the structure of how made it work in perfect zen.


Cinema-Maniac: Blue Ruin (2014) Review

“Spirit In the Woods” was a film that was funded through Kickstarter that showcased yes people are willingly to pay for terrible, terrible found footage horror movies. Ironically a week after seeing that film comes “Blue Ruin” which once again also gain some of it funding through Kickstarter that proves there is talent worth helping out. On a technical level there’s nothing about “Blue Ruin” that makes any investors question their contributions. However, it’s writing on the other hand does make you question if it worth sitting through a slow film that in any review that provides a synopsis is about as developed as the film plot and character ever gets.

Blue Ruin follows a mysterious outsider’s whose quiet life is turned upside down when he returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance. Minimal is the single word that best describe the story of “Blue Ruin”. There’s a lack of characterization, spoken dialogue, and no subplots to flesh out the simplistic material. It strips down the revenge story down to its very basic which both works in favor and against the film. For starter its protagonist, Dwight, is mostly a silent loner who lacks the appropriate skills to kill anyone silently, yet at the same time whenever he needs to enter a house or gain access to a car or specific items he does so with ease. It wants to portray revenge realistically, but not if it requires the writers to think. Made evident by no news coverage of the first person Dwight kills in a restaurant, the convenient location of the climax, no suspicion made by the hospital staff of Dwight arrow wound which earlier he attempted to heal himself, and characters willingly do whatever Dwight tells them too. Which is where the dialogue handicaps the film. Following Dwight who speaks very little there’s no connection made towards him. His motivation is simple, but not fleshed out enough to make it justifiable to sympathize. There’s a difference between a reliable blank page and a blank page that’s one dimensional. Falling into the latter because what little conversations it has is reverse for exposition to flesh out it simple plot. Other characters fall in the same pit trap with one solely invented to give expositions and plot points that otherwise would have made the climax less meaningful. With a conflict that on both side neither make a convincing argument nor flesh out it “antagonists” finding meaning it story is just as low valued as it characters. Partially realistic, absent characterization, and not building tension within the writing is not presented as an equal, but rather an add-on to the main technical prowess.

Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier has created outstanding atmosphere to go along with his motion picture. Often drenched in different tones of the color blue. Saulnier films with such a sense of urgency, that it aids in keeping its audience captivated. Easing from life and death scenarios to handling each of its gags in an appropriate way. None of it violence feels gratuitous, as it adds to this unforgiving atmosphere on the painful reality of violence. Macon Blair is written shallowly so he can’t be blamed for not connecting with the viewers. Faced with the unenviable task of making Dwight at once both childlike and savagely capable, a feat made all the more demanding by a restrictive narrative. Combining wide-eyed deadliness with the disarming lucidity of his conviction to create a antihero worthy of Saulnier’s exquisitely crisp cinematography. He doesn’t talk very much, delivering a lot of emotion through the use of body language and facial expressions. Blair makes it easier to sympathize with his situation rooting himself in reality not blowing his performance. The supporting cast are solid in their role given their small screen time. However, the whole film rest on Blair shoulder which if given to the wrong actor would have been disastrous.

Blue Ruin might be a subtle a revenge story, but lacking substance in character development. It wants to portray violence in a ugly and realistic picture which is difficult when the protagonist can easily get to his destination with presented consequences that hold no weight aside from the climax. Technical side of things is never an issue understanding the meaning of visual motifs, atmosphere, and pacing that builds tension on a lack of substance. Acting is also terrific especially Macon Blair who who in spite of being given a characters that conflicts with the aimed portrayal never loses the sense of reality in his portrayal. Director Jeremy Saulnier understands the visual side of film as an language, but writer Jeremy Saulneir speaks another language that wasn’t content with itself that leaves it damage on a flawed simple story.


Cinema-Maniac: The Machinist (2004) Review

Insomnia is an all too common writing device that lends itself in creating a story where the lead character reality conflicts with the actuality of the world. Much like Aspergers, Insomnia is highly favored in its usage to add flair to a story that in a direct narrative wouldn’t have worked. “The Machinist” is such a case by removing a linear narrative and eliminating conventional characteristic is an psychological thriller that delivers one stimulating and thought provoking experience.

The Machinist is about an industrial worker who hasn’t slept in a year doubting his own sanity. Its protagonist, Trevor Reznik, starts off as a sympathetic blank page. Merely creating an image of man who from the setup is seen doing something bad, but upon viewing him live appears to be an innocent man suffering without a crime committed. Reinforcing a positive image on Reznik personality and questionable one about his lifestyle. Once Reznik is setup as a character the next step is to fill in the blank to how he got to where he ended up. Steadily through the course of the movie more about Reznik is revealed entirely through his dialogue. While visuals do play a factor in understanding Reznik psyche, it’s not on the same level as the spoken words. Revealing Reznik entire life story indirectly to the audience with Reznik interactions. Reznik is by definition and description is average, but his action in delicate situations suggest otherwise. Until the revelation near the end Reznik maps other suffering onto himself. Turning exterior conflicts into internal ones when Reznik is uncovering himself through the worst possible action. Aside from Reznik, another plot device is a hangman game on a post-it note. The word only has six letters and the last two letters are filled out. If this plot device was to be removed it would have taken away from the writing. It understands that the journey it more pivotal than it’s predictable destination. Because of it, the word can be guessed correctly or make a guess that comes close to it, but doesn’t detract from its story. Instead it adds a dimension that’s worth examining. Alongside his trouble psyche, poor physical conditions, and now his inability to defeat guilt are all traits that follow him. Weaving an intelligent, psychological thriller that is both hard to read in development and engaging in its complicated protagonist.

Director Brad Anderson creates an uneasy atmosphere at a steady pace. A bleak, nearly colorless look, sadness and dread combined to portray the world through Reznik eyes. The atmosphere is aided by Roque Banos’ moody score, but it is especially conveyed by the tasty cinematography, which is extremely desaturated–almost approaching black and white at times. It suggests an appropriate desolation. This is also reflected in the locations and set designs. Everything relating to Trevor current matter in his apartment, the machine shop, or in his car is in muted, blue-gray tones. As if fabricated by some unknown nature that has a score to settle with Reznik. Playing with his head that those around are after him. In contrast to the brightly lit scenes that highlight a real world quality to them. Not removing itself from tragedy, Reznik in brightly lit scenes feels naturalistic. Never does he feel anything in particular is dead set against him in the bad turn of events finding some truth to them.

Christian Bale is skeletal as Trevor and visually captivating in embodying all his flaws. Christian Bale more than visually matches his part, but acts it with the same level of dedication. His physical appearance becomes a part of the character not so much the sole characteristic of the character or Bale performance. Physically we see Bale for the broken and hollow man he is, but also adds a trait of humor when joking about his skinny body. Bale portrays he can fit into society, and shows various traits of an unstable mind with his obsession that turns into rage. Becoming another broken person and not just a walking skeleton. The rest of the cast is overshadowed by Christian Bale terrific performance. They do a solid job even if they don’t leave a big impression. John Sharian plays pretty much a “Devil” type character with his sinister smile and deep voice. To say there’s nothing subtle about his performance is understatement, but rather fits the role just fine. He’s energetic always hinting at something sinister with his line delivery. Jennifer Jason Leigh much like her other co-stars is given a single personality just like Aitana Sanchez Gijon. Aitana Sanchez is more cheering and Jason Leigh is broody. Their characters receive minimal amount of development, but can’t do anything beyond the exterior of the characters.

The Machinist is a steadily paced psychological thriller driven by one character and actor. Christian Bale becomes Trevor Reznik disappearing into the role matching it perfectly both physically and in his portrayal. Bale performance alone would warrant “The Machinist” is worth viewing, but add an intelligent story and with a physiologically broken lead you have a film that demands your attention.


Anime Breakdown: Tokyo Ravens (2013 – 2014) Series Review

I picked up Tokyo Ravens around the same time I was watching Blue Exorcist. I went looking on message boards attempting to read any recomendations and went for one whose name stood out to me. That anime was Tokyo Ravens which I picked just for the heck of it. Once I got caught up with the series I had to view each new episodes on a weekly bases. For a short time it would my go to show even if it was just to pass the time. Then the longer it went on the more it dragged getting to the finish line. Leading to a routine of weekly disappointments and cohesive disjointment of quality witnessing a decline in a showed I started off liking. Now that it’s over all I have to say is there’s a reason why Tokyo Ravens will continue to generally go unnoticed even among the anime community.


In some event known as the “Great Disaster,” Japan has been thrown into chaos by onmyouji (a kind of magician). Harutora Tsuchimikado was born into an onmyouji family, but he has no power whatsoever. He lived normally as a regular boy, but his estranged childhood friend Natsume Tsuchimikado suddenly appears to him one day. When they were younger, he made a promise long ago to become her shikigami (familiar/spirits protect and serve their master), and she is back to make him fulfill that promise! A battle between onmyouji is about to begin.

Good: Magical Battles

Tokyo Ravens seems to be limitless when it comes to specializing in visually interesting action scenes with some decent staging. Fights in the series are done with magical techniques based on the elements of nature (water, fire, earth, and what not) and occasionally some ugly looking CG creatures that stick out roughly against the hand drawn world. While I can’t explain in detail how it precisely works because of its complexity (that and I forgot what rules were not being changed consistently in each battle). One thing I can say for certain when it comes to showing off magical battles Tokyo Ravens deliver on that fronts with taunt atmosphere setting the mood immediately. High stakes are always felt due to how fatal every attack looks on screen. The only thing more difficult than surviving a magical attack is attempting to read your opponents moves and countering it. Like a standard fight scene if a competitor blocks his opponent attacks than he/she has a open window to do what he pleases in either doing a direct attack or countering his opponent move. In Tokyo Ravens that rings true to an extent as the characters ever so rarely physically hit each other having to rely on a series of spells to get out alive. Here a simple counter just doesn’t means your attack gets reverse, but can equal a mistake that can puts the odds in your opponent favor.

Seeing how combatants have different methods to fighting is part of the fun as you never know what they’re thinking or plan of strategy they are implementing. Resulting in unpredictable battles where the outcome is not exactly how you envisioned to have played out. However, the staging of them is not as enticing as the visuals that accompanied them. Despite having convoluted rules, Tokyo Ravens rarely has any moments where the battle choreography stand out. Like a card game, a majority of the fight consist on someone taking their turn, waiting, and then taking their turn. The whole waiting mechanic of these battles tends to leave opponents open for long duration of time. While it does seperate the ammature from the masters what it doesn’t do is provide a standoff feel to it like that of a western. When two combatants in Tokyo Ravens wait, and stand off against each other it become repetitive no matter how much goes into the combat situation. Still, compared to everything else the magical battles are reliable for pure entertainment from beginning to end. A rule that doesn’t apply for everything else.

Mixed: Too Many Characters

The first half of Tokyo Ravens does a decent job, if clumsy at times, developing the cast of characters. We get acquainted with the central three with Harutora, Natsume, and Touji taking most of the screen time. In its entirety it introduces new characters pacing itself to sufficiently develope these central three. As for the minor cast they rather serve as a means to move the plot. Kon, a mixture between a fox and a little girl who doesn’t have much used in battles nor gets any development from looking adorable (she’s not) until the end of the series. Kyouko is at the first the rival turned friend and then later a potential love interest. At first Kyouko inspite of being given a typical role starts out interesting even if her designed role is contrived. While she doesn’t do a whole lot of fighting she does contribute in helping to developed the characters. It’s only until when it reaches the end when the character is undone by being given a new unexplained power and a contrived conflict with Natsume that is easily resolved. Tenma is useless. A bit a cruel since he’s a plot device to create conflict in the middle of the series and by the end finally does something to serve the story on a positive level. However, nothing ever really comes out of Tenma throughout the show. Finally Suzuka is…just Suzuka. Yeah this character sucks. Simply put in the show she’s belongs an elite group that’s exclusive to 12 members, but never demonstrates why she got that position showing little expertise in combat and a lack of brains outside of school.

Once it passes episode 14 you get a barrage of new characters who motives are lost and made overly complicated. Taking away from the central story whenever it follows characters that sometimes won’t make another appearance in the series. The many characters in its cast is the series physical manifestation of filler. Once it strays off course the characters we do followed that do affect the plot have little to offer.

The heroes are also hypocritical instead of changing for the better start back at square one. Tokyo Ravens first major arc deals with Harutora and Natsume preventing Suzuka Dairenji resurrecting her brother which through an exchange of dialogue we learn resurrection is forbidden because it requires the sacrifice of a single life. Yet, when the heroes decides to use this same exact forbidden magic it justifies because Harutora is powerful. Defeating the whole purpose of the first major conflict presented regardless if the heroes reasonings was for someone he loved. Characters don’t grow significantly at least when it comes to Harutora and Natsume. These two are never made a couple in the series despite both knowing the other likes them. It’s a missed opportunity to standout among the dozens of anime that teases these kind of relationships, but that’s just one of many traits that prevent it from standing out.

Mixed: Story Progression

At first I wasn’t entirely sold on wanting to see Tokyo Ravens from first impressions in episode 1. It appeared to be just another romance anime with light fantasy elements, but was wrong to some degree. The romance angle was set up competently presenting two love interest for Harutora; one who’s he been great friends with for a long time and a childhood friend he hasn’t seen in years. This setup while very convenient to get the series moving presented an interesting conflict. It also ended in an unexpected note that could lead anyone curious enough to see what happened next. The first three episodes actually took me by surprised by the direction the series was going. Not only did the love triangle dissolve quickly (the character still appears in the intro even after she dies), but managed to create interesting characters put into unexpected situations who weren’t sure to how to handle them. These were characters that were easily relatable, having good intentions, and were compelling made it worth following.

The further Tokyo Ravens went on the more it began to grow and become comfortable with itself. Finding the right balance between goofing off and moving the story forward. Pacing itself just right that in the end even if the episode didn’t deliver something specific you wanted you knew for certain it was going to get there. When it came to delivering the main arcs they offered the best moments of the series. Sure it helped the series has some nicely drawn magical battles that keeps the excitement going. While those battle do impressed so did twists in the story that put earlier events into different perspectives. What we thought originally gives Harutora conflict on his feelings for the one he love more complexity debating nonstop if he does love the one he sets his heart out for is an illusion or reality to what he wants. Characters we followed were growing, their battle skills were growing, it was becoming more sophisticated, and the stakes grew higher. It knew how create an exciting set up, a story arc that valued the action as much as its characters, and did so executing everything it kept doing right.

Then comes the second half which is when everything started going downhill. I can’t say for certain what episode completely lost me, but I can tell you why it lost me as a viewer. For starter, it shot itself in the foot when it decided to introduced so many characters, organizations, groups, and history on a family or specific character. In the first half there’s a time when the explanations stop finally letting itself loose to tell stories either be comedic or centered around an important arc with emphasis on magical battles with significance to the story. In the second half the explanations never stopped to the point that it can take several episodes to finished explaining what is important to the plot in a previous episode. The longer it went on the more the episodes dragged taking its sweet time dedicating entire episodes to exposition only to end on a cliffhanger that could possibly lead to the next arc. Being disjointed as several episodes were either explaining too much not moving the plot or had too much action losing its characters and story. Rarely in the second half of Tokyo Ravens did it get its balanced right that it soon started effecting how the series progressed.

What was once an easy to follow sosphiscated story became convoluted and difficult to follow complicated mess. Character motivations that were once clear became lost under the talk of reincarnations, stopping terrorists, concealing true gender, coping with everyone knowing true gender, preventing magical disasters, who betrayed whom, what’s the real intention of a group of suspicious characters, what the where about of a family, the ever growing love interests for the protagonists to choose from, secret societies bend on using forbidden artes, and so many yet to be listed. All of those plot elements I’ve mention were either introduced in the second half or made more complicated. Everything it brought to the table resulted in the same repetitive format; several episodes where characters explain nonstop, followed by episode heavy on the action, once the climax of an arc ends it transitions roughly be it comedy center episode or immediately starting the next arc further adding confusion.

The series ending is rushed taking a toll on the over crowded cast and mess of a complicated story. Without spoiling the events of the series simply put the series wasn’t sure whether or not to kill protagonist Harutora. It’s this fear that leaves many questions on the series ending that’ll never get answers. This wouldn’t be a problem if what came before it made it easier to accept the ending, but it leaves several storylines unanswered and the conclusion of the story only closes a small fraction of the story it set out to tell.

Mixed: Animation

If it weren’t for the magical battles the whole technical aspects of the series would have failed severely. As oppose to magical battles which complement the animators to create complex visuals the non action scenes are the very definition of the word simplistic. Nothing about the character designs is memorable nor are the plain looking backgrounds very lively. Not a single thing presented in the world of Tokyo Ravens makes it stand out from a design perspective. As for the fantasy elements they’re mostly made prominent with the usage of magic in battles. However, the usage of familiar is limited in screen time as the character once master their skills used their familiar less and less. The strange usage of CGI will take time to get accustomed to, but the CGI never blends into with the rest of series aesthetics. The 3D models aren’t as smoothly animated with some ugly color choices making the CG stick out severely. Some of the designs are mecha-esque whose mechanical design contrasted poorly against the organic creatures. This issues is fixed later on as the series uses less CG the more it progresses. Animation won’t impress, but is always consistent in middle ground quality. It might look bland, but it’s never a distracting issue.

Bad: Forgettable Music

I could leave this area blank with the simple bullet point above, but that wouldn’t justify my position on the music. There’s no better place to start than with the opening and closing themes of the series. Getting it out of the way the ending theme ‘Kimi ga Emu Yugure’ by Yoshino Nanjo is a slow moving acoustic guitar song with overly sappy lyrics that’s forgettable. ‘Break a spell’ is about determination for a new truth undone by auto tuning instruments and the singer which eliminates authenticity on three ends. Now up first opening theme ‘X-encounter’ by Maon Kurosaki is average. The song did grow on me with it techno beats and lyrics that basically said spread your wings complemented with the events of the show. It didn’t reveal anything major about the plot rather metaphors the endeavor of a bird unable to fly similar to the show’s heroes who have difficulty fighting with little experience and knowledge.

The songs are in Japanese so why bother analyzing the lyrics if I have to read what they mean? Well if I didn’t I would have given a free pass to ‘Outgrow’ by Gero which repeats the same Ravens gimmick. Unlike the techno ‘X-encounter’ whose rhythm basically force singer Maon Kurosaki to composition her lyrics awkwardly. ‘Outgrow’ sounds more natural by comparison. With it combination of alternative rock and techno the song is a collection of loud instruments with no specific arrangement to clutter the ear waves. While it doesn’t strain the ears it doesn’t have anything noteworthy that warranted it to replaced ‘X-encounters’. Basically all that is said in the song is they’ll be better days as a flock of birds capable to change the destination. However, it also discuss the flock desired to be independent despite our heroes needing to be saved by a more powerful force either be a spell, person, and plot convenience. Contradicting events that occur in the show. It forces itself to use the Ravens metaphor for a song that has ‘Blow up the dark’ and ‘Just keep the faith’ for lyrics it becomes lost in what exactly it’s trying to say.

The rest of the music offered variety without a single one of the track being memorable. The score is directionless at times and hard to get a grasp on. Most of the relaxing cues seems to be piano and guitar playing for little or no reason. Providing a warmth and soothing feeling that makes you feel at ease. Take it outside of the series and it doesn’t work the same way sounding like hundreds of other soothing tracks. Without lyrics to these tracks you’ll be constantly be thinking “I’ve heard this before” and never put your finger on where exactly you heard it. Says allot when the original produced music is outdone by artists whose songs weren’t specifically created for the show.

Final Thoughts:

Tokyo Ravens never convinces it was destined to be great, but it was a show that was easy to get into and like. However, the longer it went on more of what made it worth seeing disappeared into the background creating more problems instead of fixings the issues it had. Disjointed in quality and disappointing the further it goes. Ending on a contrived whim that leaves you dissatisfied where you end up.

Action: 2/2

Characters: 1/2

Story: 1/2

Animation: 1/2

Music: 0/2

Rating: 5/10 – Tokyo Ravens only offers half a show worth seeing. Ending up in a complicated mess of a show with no closure to many of it loose threads.

Cinema-Maniac: Spirits In the Woods (2014) Review

I’ve been visiting the “Indie Scene” less frequently since it can take seven hours to reach my destination with good traffic. Also, the lack of any film property catching my attention. This year I tended to bat an eye away from them. However, “Spirit in the Wood” is different as John Lepper (a producer of the film) attempted to convince me it was worth my time. Once Lepper mention it was a found footage horror film I started walking off, but told me about it came into production. Apparently it was only possible through the fundings on Kickstarter.


Anthony Daniel who’s the writer, director, producer, music supervisor, casting manager, first degree idiot, and editor who despite not being able to get the budget he wanted still made the film. I can respect that in an aspiring filmmaker. With that finished I gave it a shot out of kindness knowing full well I might end up not liking it.

Once the film got started it was thankful enough to wait seven in to provide a title card that said, “All this footage is found and real. Viewers discretion is advised”. Thank goodness for that warning too since the acting in the first seven minutes is horrific. Not a single a movement, not a single line reading, nothing about the actors made me believe I was seeing real people. It didn’t help either the small audience didn’t buy it either. All that was presented in the first seven minutes are some college students mysteriously vanished (like the audience attention) when entering “Spiritual Woods” known to be haunted. Also, I should note that within these seven minutes it insults horror movies by claiming their plotlines are basically a fabric of fiction and nothing could compare to the real story of “Spiritual Woods”. Once your horror movie has “found footage” labeled to it your horror film lost all rights to trash talk any other horror film.

Spirit in the Woods is about five college students getting lost in the woods. For those wondering that’s the whole movie. Ideas are so scarce that every single thing wrong with the film can be generalized without in depth detail. You’ll find this hard to believe, but the film actually attempts to build up the sense that something is wrong by oddly positioned tree branches. Well they are in the woods and there are tree branches everywhere in the woods. I’m expected to sympathize for a couple of college students that believe there’s a correct way to position tree branches in the woods? Good luck trying to get anyone to a feel any emotions for these “real people”. Every scene is repetitive, conversations are repetitive, absolutely zero likable characters all of whom are annoying, lingers it deadweight proudly, and a ending that shoehorned in promotion for a sequel. So here’s a rundown of the plot without skimping on any details. Five college students get an assignment, five college students decide to do their assignment on “Spiritual Woods”, they go into “Spiritual Woods”, get lost, and killed. That is all folks that happens. Dialogue generally goes back and forth between “I heard something. Oh it was nothing”, “Wait I think I saw something? Oh never mind it was nothing”, and “We’re lost”. For sixty minutes the repetitive dialogue drive these points across. Around the twenty-eight minute in this lovely screen appears.

spirits in the wood

Dream Comet Studios (founded by the film director Anthony Daniel) had time to “fix up” the footage, but couldn’t be bothered to do a proper spell check. To get the point across to the filmmakers especially Anthony Daniel. Here’s an example so you’ll remember to how tell the two words apart. You use “are” as in these filmmakers are clueless about making a tolerable film. And “our” as in you wasted our (the audience) time with this technically unviewable film with no story. The rest of the film beyond that point is the same thing repeated. Five college students talk about hearing or seeing something that turns out to be not there and being lost. It isn’t until the final fifteen minutes that it breaks away from a cycle of repetition that hammers that perhaps something evil is in the woods. They get killed in by last minute plot twist by girl that just went insane. This twist is just spontaneous as the character never shows ever collapsing into a mental state of insanity by any signs.

Actual still from the movie.

The acting is atrocious by the non actors. Their performances prevents the film from selling any dreary mood in the haunted woods. They all come across as just bunch of annoying, dumb college students. As you noticed the image above that’s a picture I took right from the official Facebook page of the film. This pains me to say it, but it doesn’t look like it cost $1,300 dollars to make. At best the filmmakers got three cheap cameras, some gasoline, and some food which consider the talent behind the camera should be around one hundred dollar. Anyone could literally film their friends getting lost in the woods for around eighty minutes which is this biggest problem. Nothing about it presents any good quality from good filmmaking. The editing is a mess and the “fixed up” footage looks worse than the already grainy looking film. There’s no reason for every single moment to be filmed as contradicted by the “real people”. Whenever they say they should stop filming they immediately turn on the camera seconds later. It’s just horrible on every level. Even during the final ten minutes credits roll over a still playing film. Don’t these people know the important things in a movie come before the closing credits not during it.

Spirit in the Woods is the absolute holy grail of bad found footage horror movies. Presenting every negative aspects without a care like using its format as a gimmick, lingering in a deadweight plot where nothing happens, and the nerve to sell itself as “real” while insulting horror films for the same reasons itself fails for. This film is a complete failure in every conceivable way and should have remain lost to never punish any unsuspecting human being.


Extra: Personal Side Story

So right before the first of several closing credits sequences it has a badly photoshop missing persons poster that says to visit its Facebook page to learn more on the true story. Naturally I did and imagine my shock when the film official fan page posted updates mourning those who died in 2013. Then I go to director Anthony Daniel Facebook profile to find those same people who were considered dead in photo from this year thanking its cast. Just wow! That deserves a sarcastic round of applause as Anthony Daniel does give a VAN DAMME on the integrity of his own fiction and creation.

spirits in the woods

Anime Breakdown: Blue Exorcist (Ao No Exorcist) (2011) Series Review

Important to note:

I’m no expert on manga or its animated form so when it comes to regarding it’s position of quality I have no idea how high or high low this would rank. Honestly though this isn’t the first anime I’ve ever seen, although I doubt anyone who sees and read this stuff would take someone who only anime he has seen are Angel Beats!, Persona 4: The Animation, Tokyo Ravens, Attack On Titan, Noragmi, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and WataMote would take my criticism to heart. At the time this was posted I got confirmation from the official Blue Exorcist fan page that there is no plan for another season.

Lets get started into why I decided to check out the series in the first place. Looking through the animation section of my video store I was looking for something new to see. In the past I pretty much establish myself as a person whose sees the current state of animation in a negative light. Looking back at my reviews on animated movies most of them begin with me bashing current animation in some way. So with this incentives I chose to check out one of the more recent animated films. The one I chose just so happened to be Blue Exorcist and once I discover it was based on a manga that has a anime I chose to do my review of the film differently. Unlike in the past I didn’t just want to go into the film for just newcomers, but be able to tell fans if the film does justice to the series or not. Plus I had plenty of time to kill so there was no harm to be done if I checked out the series. This being a review of a television series and not the film I’ve chosen to adapt the wing-it style I originally developed for TV shows (which I haven’t decided to start or ignore) for this series review of  Blue Exorcist.


The world of Blue Exorcist consists of two dimensions joined as one, like a mirror. The first is the world in which the humans live, Assiah. The other is the world of Demons, Gehenna. Ordinarily, travel between the two, and indeed any kind of contact between the two, is impossible. However, the demons can pass over into this world by possessing anything that exists within it. Satan is the god of demons, but there’s one thing that he doesn’t have and that’s a container in the human world that is powerful enough to hold him! For that purpose, he created Okumura Rin, his son from a human woman, but will his son agree to his plans, or will he become something else…? After killing Rin’s guardian, Father Fujimoto, in an attempt to bring Rin back to the Demon world, it led to Rin’s journey of becoming an Exorcist in order to become powerful enough to defeat Satan and also face the consequences of being the son of Satan.

Good: Accessible, Easy To Define Characters

If there’s one thing Blue Exorcist does correctly, it’s its characters. Each of them have an easy to define trait and backstories. Motivations become much more about the characters personal goals over simply being a battle of good vs. evil. Facing their own weaknesses even overcoming preconceived notions when facing each other. Taking time to do something with it sides character albeit be an entire episode or a moment where they specifically shine. Despite a being a series about orphans, devils, and demonic creatures it finds time to have a little fun with itself thanks to its balance of varied personalities. They have the right balance of comedy and genuine emotion that sells you on whatever the characters are currently going through their situations.

Rin Okumura, the protagonist of the series exemplifies the series contrast of the typical cycles we assume of good and evil. He’s the son of Satan, contains his powers, but ultimately decides to go on a different path from what’s society expects from him. Okumura goes against the norm of how to perceive a demon even if the series itself plays it pretty safe with it story. What makes Blue Exorcist easily accessible is the relationship between brothers Rin and Yukio. From first impressions, it came across as if Yukio’s accepting his brother’s status a demon would be a central arc, but gets resolved rather quickly. However, the key to maintaining the brother dynamic interesting is them seeking their parents past all the while facing several issues together. It’s this kind of brotherly love that makes it worth getting involved behind the protagonists.

The series best character moments are with Shiro Fujimoto who raised the spawns of Satan. Early on in the series his character bites the dust, a shame too since it leaves as little impact as you would expect, though that is to blame more on poor plotting than the character himself. Fujimoto slowly becomes more developed through the course of the series from the words of either the children he raised or those who knew him from the past. This father is a certified badass because of how strongly he sticks to his beliefs. Not only does he retain the good word, but always searches for a non violent solution if possible. He’s a pacifist if he sees other ways of resolving an issues, but not to the point he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. It’s just unfortunate Shiro Fujimoto takes a back seat to his sons given how his backstory has a better setup for three act stories than the direction the series went in.

Good: Interesting World With Religious Elements

Admittedly I never once really thought much on the hierarchy of a church. I bring this up because religion is one of the series main elements. To an extent it does establish the rules in which the priests should do business. They are pretty clear using what the average person associates when it comes to exorcism and priests. It’s not an shoehorned element as its usage of religion ideas is solid. Baring some similar element to its inspiration is easy to compare, but free enough to explore the concepts with modern updates. For example, there’s five ways a Meister (an exorcist specific combat style) ranges from; Dragoon (guns), Knight (swords and what not), Aria (reads holy text scripture), Tamer (summon Demons), and Doctor (self explanatory). We get a good picture of how everything functions and works in the system.

Using religion as a starting point it yet again makes a number of contrast from established concepts. For starter the lord of evil Satan has far more characteristic than just a demonic being. His one trait of punishing is kept, but it’s the idea of what makes Satan who he is that we are given a glimpse off. Understanding why a human would fall in love with Satan and understanding Satan as a person not just as a mere demon. This exploration comes pretty late in the series although very much appreciated putting a different spin on a legendary figure. Further supporting the against type the series highlights with the demonic protagonist. Knowing it limits the religion elements never become overbearing to the series.

Mixed: Production Values

From a technical standpoint there’s nothing about Blue Exorcist that stands out from animation, visuals, music, or anything for that matter. It simply does its job adequately which isn’t enough to leave a permanent impression like the series so desperately wants to achieve.

When it comes to sound the only thing that comes close to registering on radar is it music. The series only has two notable tracks which are the opening themes; “Core Pride” by the (can’t believe I actually recognized this) band UVERworld for the first 12 episodes and “In My World” by Rookiez Is Punk’d for the remaining 13. UVERworld is a good band, but “Core Pride” isn’t a good representation of the shows first season. Opening with an uproaring saxophone accompanied by fast drum beats within seconds “Core Pride” goes from Jazz to a rock song in seconds. I definitely like the song “Core Pride” and how it expresses its subject matter, but that same notion can’t be applied vice versa. “Core Pride” transforms into another genre in seconds something the typical opening does not do; title appears with flashy fire effects, protagonist is running late to something, protagonist head facing down while walking alone with hands in his pockets, protagonist laying out in the rain holding his weapon, protagonist gets picked up and runs again, and ending with the protagonist holding out his sword just to look cool. Man I spend allot on a single track which honestly defeats the point of watching 12 episodes. Sure you’ll get more context if you see the first twelve episodes, but those moments are pretty insignificant when compared to the big picture “Core Pride” gets across a lot more efficiently in four minutes.

The second opening track “In My World” by Rookiez Is Punk’D is more in line with the series quality as the opening is even less inspired. However, “In My World” should basically be labeled “Core Pride 2” as both songs are pretty much the same thing lyrically. “Core Pride” talks about a person considered to be an outsider in his community having big dreams he knows are unobtainable. Over the course of his life he never loses the passion to obtain them knowing that if his future is never bound to change like people have told him throughout his life he knows himself he can change. Long summarization I know. It’s just the way the song presents that life experience is a lot classier because the person going on the journey is facing it head on with no excuses even if everyone is trying to put him down. “In My World” is the griefing version of “Core Pride”. Literally opening with “Dark side in my heart is a black box” it mopes around with an unenlightened outlook. Lyrically the song’s attitude is “F**k all to the world” for the majority of it until by the end the person embraces life and all bad things it throws. Notice a problem with the two? If not, “Core Pride” is a life experience where as “In My World” is a temper tantrum. “In My World” is a bad opening because it’s drastically smaller in scope compare to “Core Pride” and going against the big scope the show is aiming for. Worst of all “In My World” doesn’t in any way build upon anything that’s been established simply restating facts viewers at this point would have already known about the series.

Now with that off my chest how’s everything else that actually matters for longer than a minute and half. Well the sound effects are dull. Gunfire sounds are similar and at times when a bullet hits an object the effect can be missing. Things such as fire burning, swords clashing, broken gate falling, or any various series of action sound stock. There’s literally editing programs with same level of quality sound effect. Visually the animation is smooth, but there’s nothing notable about it. Feeling very restrictives it attempts to make up for it with a more stylized approach to make its battles appear big. Granted this works to make battle look cool, but the restrictive animation prevents from the action scenes from being elaborate. Art design is generally mixed. Demonic creatures for the most part are based around animals and unfortunately the creators don’t stray too far off from the animals anatomy. Everything from the color to the body structure, nothing about the demons look visually demonic. Take a look below.

Character designs are thankfully varied minus the protagonist Rin Okumura. While researching images I did not expect to find a character so similar to Rin’s design. So while the protagonist isn’t entirely original, the rest of the cast established their own identity. Although the animators did get carried away with the design of a particular characters breasts. I kid you not when I say there were times when the only things on my screen were animated breasts.

Mixed: Promises a lot, delivers very little

Seeing how many negative things I have to say about the writing, lets get out some positives. Story arcs that have little connection with the main story bring satisfying closure. These stories could be from the celebration of a certain character birthday to a husband finally forgiving himself to what happened to his wife. The downsides to these arcs varied as some do make character development progress, but overall these stand alone episodes neither strengthen nor weaken the overall story. Now for to the long rant.

Blue Exorcist throughout its 25 episodes follows the pattern of a Stephen King novel; it has excellent build up, but the outcome is underwhelming. It has the characters and world to fulfill the epic scope it has its eyes set on, but the stories themselves suffer from mediocrity. In order for Rin Okumura to be become an exorcist he must attend True Cross Academy. This ends up making the series just another high school anime. Character archetypes are pretty typical for a high school setting from the bully, the loner, the nerd, and so forth. Like the high school setting it has some twists like the lack of any actual romantic tension. The characters are good, but unfortunately what the series decides to do with them amounts in unfulfilling transformations.

Another problem with the series is protagonist Rin Okumura never overcomes any major obstacles that doesn’t require the use of his demonic powers. It pretty much throws away the idea of the usage of his power consuming him which prevents Rin Okumura’s having a sense of growth. From the beginning of the series all the way to the end, progression is absent with Rin having learned little to nothing at all. Also the subplot about Rin Okumura learning to control his blue flames for several episodes is thrown away by the finale. Without spoiling it, simply put another character inherits a similar power and immediately knows how to control it.

Another weakness is Rin’s rival Amaimon. Amaimon is meant to come across as the snarky rival, but rather comes across as a overly powerful brat. Everytime Amaimon fought with Rin it usually resulted in expositions between attacks preventing momentum from building up. Even when something did happen in the battles between Amaimon and Rin it resorted to the same trick every time. It’s amazing that despite how short the battles are they can take a while to get to the point.

Hands down the biggest issue with Blue Exorcist is the lack of closure. When reaching closer to the finished line it all feels rushed with elements being left unexplored or underdeveloped even a mysterious character that’s hinted to be more important is left as is. Sure the big finale is wrapped up insultingly easily, but it’s not a way to end a series on a high note. It leaves unanswered questions and teases at the end that our heroes still have a lot more adventures to go on that we’ll never see unless we read the manga. As it stand the ending pretty much promotes anyone who likes the series enough to check out the manga. Coming from someone who’s not an expert on the whole anime culture it doesn’t leave much of an impression other than “it was decent I guess”.

Mixed: Action with flare, but fizzles in execution

When it comes down to the action it’s the closest the series ever comes to being visually impressive. Undermine by battles that just look cool. Just about every single action scene is heavy on the spectacles as the characters fighting styles differs from guns, to summoning creature, spouting bible verses, and weapon combat. Pretty visuals can’t hide the fact the action scenes are basic. This wouldn’t be a problem if the series actually had a fair amount of action scenes, but it is due to the fact that the heroes spout exposition in every action scene, it can’t be forgiven.

Staging on the other hand fares a little better. Making use of its characters varied combat styles leads to seeing these different techniques coming together. Rather than simply using these techniques to pad out the spectacles their strengths and weaknesses are always present. With a clear understanding of how capable each combatant is, it brings excitement not knowing how things will play out. Although this doesn’t apply to whenever Rin fights an opponent. His fights usually are won by summoning bigger blue flames or lazy writing that makes his opponent incredibly easy to defeat. Rin Okumura battles have the most visual flares, but are also the most disappointing due to how easy everything is for Rin to overcome.

Final Thoughts:

Blue Exorcist is a decent show that can’t overcome mediocrity, but neither becomes a victim of it thanks to some twists and good characters. At one point while watching Blue Exorcist you see a glimpse of a show that reaches its potential, but sadly that moment is short lived and by the time you get to that point more than half of the series is done and past that mark it removes all progress to quickly wrap things up. Unable to come close to reaching the aimed epic scope in emotional values and losing momentum when reaching its high point Blue Exorcist entertains while it lasts, but that’s about all the height it’ll amount to.

Characters: 2/2

Ideas: 2/2

Production Values: 1/2

Writing: 1/2

Action: 1/2

Rating: 7/10 – Genre fans will find a lot to like, but for the average viewer its numerous flaws prevent it from standing out to similar series.

Cinema-Maniac: Joe (2014) Review

Nicolas Cage resume proves regardless of how a film turns out he tends to be a bright spot in them. Whether it be good or bad a Nicolas Cage performance tends to be worth seeing. Either be it energetically over the top or as in “Joe” Cage restraint helps him disappear into the role like the talented actor can be in the right role.

Joe is about the title character, an ex-con who is the unlikeliest of role models, meeting a 15-year-old boy and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin. The film flows through Joe and his friendship with Gary rather than jumping from plot point to plot point. Allowing its characters to guide the material through their words holding strongly to their principals that are challenged. Never does it sidetrack into anything other than what it is rooted in. Characterization is slow, but builds up over time learning about Joe and Gary through each other interaction. Both characters show the other flaws as well as compliment one another strong suit. Showing restraint in succumbing to violence as an easy resort, but show their kind hearts to do better. On other hand, the environment around them brings out the worst in them as both attempt to restraint from being violent in situations that makes it desirable. Characters are presented with real issues and their handling on the matter stays true to their nature. Sadly it plays familiar story beats ending with an all too familiar message we’ve seen before that the past will always catch up with you. Another rather small issue would be the peripheral characters that are only around to stir conflict with only one having having a petty fleshed out motivation. Wade (Gary father) being a peripheral as his characterization is little more than abusing his family and killing for a drink. It’s familiarity leaves little surprises, but its engaging central protagonists makes it worth experiencing.

Nicolas Cage stars as Joe and disappears into the role. Joe states several times how important it is for him to restrain himself, that personal restraint is the only thing keeping him alive. Same goes with Cage performance. Nearly every opportunity he might have had to go big with this part, he subdued himself, plays it subtle, keeps it realistic, and exercises the same muscles of restraint in terms of his acting that the character himself must exercise against his violent impulses. Relaying the insecurity and indecision behind Joe’s tough exterior while still remaining an imposing presence. Tye Sheridan character is written pure and perfect, but Sheridan emphasizes his boyishness and trepidation, finding rough edges in a character that could have easily descended into martyrdom. Giving his character allot more depth than the writing provides. Both Tye Sheridan and Nicolas Cage excel in their share scenes together playing off each other flawlessly. Gary Poulter characterization is wholly one sided in bearing entirely negative traits, however, he’s as pitiful as he is monstrous. Showing an odd tenderness given from his loose appearance to bearing the emotions of man who’s fed up with his broken life. David Gordon Green has a gift for balancing the abstract with the mundane. He isn’t afraid of subtle visual flourishes: a bulldog’s mouth dripping with another dog’s blood; a hog, hanged vertically, being stripped of meat; the kitchen of a brothel, its windows boarded up, with everything aglow in red. Showing the ugliness of a rural America that correlate with its characters; the ugly outside that are just as beat up as the people who live their and the small changes in environments that go along with it characters mood.

Joe is a slow film that much like it central relationship is supported by the strong chemistry between Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan. Both the story and performances aren’t anything new for anyone involve, but rather serve to compliment each other strengths which in the ends makes a great character driven film.


Cinema-Maniac: Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins (1989) Review

Before Hollywood got their hands on “Dragon Ball Z” and pissed off nearly every fan imaginable with “Dragon Ball Evolution” there was “Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins”. A live action Taiwanese film based on the popular “Dragon Ball” series. Not only that, but it’s also an unofficial live action remake of the first “Dragon Ball” animated film “Dragon Ball: Curse of the Blood Rubies”. It doesn’t take very long for me to find a small error in the film that foreshadows what to come my way. Before even reaching the opening credits, the film own production company couldn’t spelled it own name correctly. If the production company can’t even get its own name right what makes you think they’ll know how to make a live action “Dragon Ball” movie.

Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins follows Goku and his band of misfits in search for seven magical dragon balls before they fall into the wrong hands of King Horn and his evil alien army. Now the film opens by showing alien ships heading towards Earth. Cutting to a peaceful village where an abridged ceremony is being held to signify the importance of the dragon ball (or “dragon pearl” in the English dub.) Then out of nowhere, the aliens come to blow up the village by way of cheap knock off of storm troopers blasting their way with twenty something explosions (I lost count) in the opening three minutes. The whole film is over the top and pulls out cheap writing techniques to make sure you don’t care. After the whole village gets filled with explosions, it cuts to Goku and his grandpa talking about how important protecting dragon ball is. This introduction exemplifies every problem with the writing; everything is over the top, everything is said to be importance without much explanation towards to why, and if it’s not a discussion about dragon balls it exposition and humor related to how someone in the group is a pervert.

There’s nothing connecting the whole plot aside from conveniences. Goku goes fishing and bumps into Bulma, the two join forces to look for the dragon ball and that’s how the journey is started. Oh yeah I forgot to mention the part where Bulma shoots Goku with a machine gun upon introduction. Another convenience is the location of the last dragon ball which one of the members of the group had the whole time without knowing it. Not only that, but it has pacing issues as some moments it go way too fast and other moments it go way to slow. It rushes when Goku finds his home destroyed and learns his grandpa has been kidnapped by King Horns aliens, but takes it sweet time when the characters are discussing how to get Bulma to show her breast to Master Roshi to get a dragon ball. There’s nothing established in this world for newcomers. We never learn where the aliens came from, why they want the seven dragon balls, why King Horn swallowed six dragon balls, if the characters can fly as made apparent by their fighting styles, and a number of other things. If there is one good thing the film does contribute that would be Master Roshi “Moonwalk Magic” technique.

Now for the technical aspects which fares a bit better. Firstly the over the top fight scenes are entertaining. The overused of wireworks favor the nature of the fight scenes as fighters can take multiple bullet shot and jump around all over the arena. Sadly part of the fighting is done with some tanks, machine guns, alien ships, and blast energy which isn’t quite as exciting. Although the digital effects do raise eyebrows. Especially in a scene where Goku fights his grandpa and while guarding himself with a magical pole, grandpa leg goes through the magical pole hitting Goku. Even when Sheron (a dragon that appears when all the dragon balls are collected) looks hideous with bulgy white eyes and undetailed golden colored body. Costumes look cheap while hairdo scream too much hair gel was applied to make it stay up. Acting is bad from the young cast. Charles Chen Zi-Jiang shouts every line he reads while making silly faces, Jeannie Hsieh blankly stares with stiff line delivery, and Cheng Tung-Chen is also shouts all of his lines. The adults in the film fares no better either due to goofy costume that makes it difficult not to laugh or resort to making to two kind of faces, silly and serious to show their limited range of human emotion. Editing is bad especially the sound mixture in which music, effect, and dialogue drown each other out.

Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins is never boring because how over the top and odd technical direction it takes, but at the same time without anything decent to latch onto its goofiness loses it novelty. Once you become accustomed to the odd nature of its existence you’ll be desiring more than just a series of goofy scenes and poor production values.


Cinema-Maniac: Frankenhood (2009) Review

A title like “Frankenhood” leaves little to possibility. Sure the end product will turn out bad, but at least the title suggests an outlandish concept can provide campy fun. Basically the film all it is “We reanimated a corpse. Let’s go smoke some pot and shoot some hoops” with no shred or pulse of creativity.

Frankenhood is about two guys who work at a morgue enlisting the services of a reanimated corpse to better their chances at a streetball tournament. Imagine a white guy whose only exposure to black people was through stereotypes in films and you have the film script in a nutshell. Filled with “black” and “gangsta” dialogue that fail at repersenting its brotha. This writer be wack if they b representing them homeboys like this would b fly. That last sentence is pretty much in the same line of dialogue it provides. My personal favorite line of bad dialogue even in context sounds bad is, “Yeah, your farts do smell kinda nutty”. This line of dialogue is horrible for three reasons; 1.) a character can recognize the smell of his best friend farts, 2.) its discussed so naturally among the two friends, and 3.) farting is Frank-E first action when he’s alive. Failing in providing crass “humor” ensuring every joke fails because it doesn’t follow any rules of humor. Since there’s no consequences of any sort in a comedic situation there’s no punishment the characters receive. Therefore there’s nothing funny about it if every situation is passed up as a mundane annoyance. Not even when two grown man take taller grown man Frank-E to the bathroom it does nothing with the setup. The protagonist sister hears what sounds like an attempt to make a sex joke and walks away without much of an reaction. Another example, once the antagonist discover Frank-E is a reanimated corpse he just goes on with his everyday life. Apparently according to this film resurrecting the dead is common thing in the neighborhood. As for a plot you’re not going find much underneath all its fat. Subplots are easily resolve/forgotten and characters are underdeveloped. Like the protagonist love interest who appears in two scenes before the “I thought you were different” line comes up. Wasting time with bad jokes, Frank-E learning to dance, streetball montage, throwing popcorn chicken to divert Frank-E attention, peeping through a window, a mad scientist walking around the neighborhood, and are you kidding me I barely scratched the surface of how often it wasted time.

Now the film is directored by someone named Blaxwell Smart. He does live up to his last name by making a comedy film that is entirely humorless. One example being Smart setting up scene where the protagonist (named Motown) attempting to “get it on” with a women by telling her he’s an astronaut. The woman tells Motown she didn’t know there was black astronaut. Instead of following up on “It’s a funny story” Smart cuts away from that scene. This goes for the streetball (basically basketball with a maximum of three players) scenes feeling like a waste of time. You think having Frank-E play streetball would be funny, nope that is was what Smart wants you think. Every streetball game has little humor with the most “creative jokes” being Frank-E licking a basketball and a player getting arrested on the opposing team during a live game. Blaxwell knows how to kill comedy in his own movie, but since this is a comedy Smart is actually dumb for killing jokes. DeRay Davis and Jasper Redd are the unfunny actors that carry the film. DeRay Davis improv is so bad there’s a scene in the film that splices six of his take of the same scene in a minute. His timing is off and his acting is bland going along with his stereotyped character. Jasper Redd has a bit more range compare to Davis, but is weighed down by the material. Whenever Redd has to deliver a “joke” he has to hold for a minute no matter how dead it is. Bob Sapp has little dialogue relying allot more on his appearances. His performance is one of the more competent only requiring to do silly faces. Charles Murphy is the best actor in the film which is not saying much. He plays his role straightforward provides some semblance of energy. Music tends to be inappropriate for the tone it sets in scenes. In the opening scene it opens in a morgue and some bodies while playing cheery music. Also, for nearly an all rap score it has a heavy metal track that sticks out badly.

Frankenhood is likely the product of filmmakers who also probably believe resurrecting the dead is a common thing “in tha hood” as Blaxwell Smart would put it. Its characters are stereotyped, story with no understanding of humor, and actors that while not annoying are lazy in providing much from the dead material. Much like Frank-E, the comedy is dead aimlessly wasting time.