Cinema-Maniac: Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014) Review

The first Sharknado was a welcome surprise from The Asylum thanks to it understanding of B-movies turned out to be stupid, and fun entertainment. It knew it was stupid, but took itself seriously in its treatment that if done with meta humor wouldn’t have taken off the same way it did. With the sequel it follows tradition of going bigger where the main issue arises from. By going bigger the action is no longer focused and supplied in smaller doses unable to top its own opening sequence or its predecessor as desperately as it tries too.

Sharknado 2: The Second One follows Fin and company attempting to save New York from multiple deadly Sharknados. The opening sequence sets the bar high paying homage to the classic “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” episode of “The Twilight Zone”. This time with sharknado colliding with airplane. It’s a stellar opening sequence quickly providing a dose of the implausible action to come making good use of the setting. I dare say the opening sequence is a work of genius. However, past that opening sequence the remainder of the film is unable to top it until it reaches the climax. This time instead following a single group allowing the shark action to be focused and supplied at a steady stream. We follow three groups in the sequel often cutting back to them over time which also means shorter screen time for B-movie badass Fin Shepard (who gives Martin Brody a run for his money in shark slaying). The action is more scattered and smaller in scale unable to top the opening sequence in its scope until it final stretches. Despite how goofy the series is and will become the writers know what they’re doing. Like the previous film, it’s self-aware of how silly the idea is, but the treatment for it is taken seriously adding to the humor. Though this treatment does go overboard with all the needless news broadcast thrown at the viewer face. These news broadcast are silly at first and flesh out a bit of the fictional world, but the seventh time logic is attempted to be apply to the disaster known as Sharknado it’s worse than beating a dead horse. World building has some success fleshing out the characters. It’s nice knowing that once a movie ends the character lives are still worthwhile beyond the closing credits. One of the characters, April Wexler, wrote a bestselling book called “How To Survive Sharknado” off screen. Surprisingly you don’t need to be drunk to get through it. Characters are given some sort of development and conflict, but is too thin to carry the film from beginning to end. Because of thin conflict and characterization it’s unable to maintain the same level interest as when sharks (plus one sewer gator, don’t question the logic it’s Sharknado) on screen which time is less.

Ian Ziering returns to play Fin Shepard and does another decent job in the starring role. He’s into his character giving a serious performance in the not so serious scenarios. Never once does he ever indicate he’s in on the joke keeping in root with the character experiencing it making him the best actor in the cast. Tara Reid performance in the opening sequence is pretty bad especially in a segment that requires her to scream which gets grating. Thankfully pass that opening sequence she does okay. Vivica A. Fox receives plenty of screen time and her performance is also okay. Any actor who plays a large part are okay which involves them running around allot. Compared to Ian Ziering the supporting cast aren’t allow to jump the shark as much. There’s more attention put into casting unlikely stars in cameos. From the likes of Billy Ray Cyrus, Will Wheaton, Kurt Angle, Kelly Osborne, Andy Dick, D.C. Douglas, Perez Hilton, Al Roker, Jared Fogle (yes, the Subway guy), Judd Hirsch, and so many more get more attention given to them than the actual sharks. The CG is acceptable, though creatively there isn’t as many many moments that make full use of the concept. With the opening sequence and climax providing the only highlights there’s everything else in between that is not able to live up to its goofy promise. These sharks favorite method of attack is going for the head. How the sharks are used doesn’t take full advantage of the possibilities for a majority of its run time. Not even the sight of a flaming shark is enough to forgive the lack of creativity. Though the soundtrack is surprisingly strong getting across that epic feel. Ironic that the music is used for this film given it’s better than the film actually needs, but further add positives to its production values.

Sharknado 2: The Second One understands its audience and gives its concept the proper treatment to be entertaining, but provides less sharks in less creative usage focusing more on cameos and is unable to maintain interest due it jumping between three groups of weak characters. While the opening sequence itself is a classic B-movie scene and homage it’s also sadly where it peaks declining afterward. And the saddest truth to this sequel is the filmmakers are in on the joke. They just don’t know how to keep it afloat in an ironic good way as the first time they told it.

5/10

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Cinema-Maniac: Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014) Review

When studying writing one aspect that varies upon discovery is the usage of formulas and learning how different plot devices work in conjunction to each other. One area where the discovery of formulas is the most deadliest and most uncertain is comedy. If the punchline to a joke is foreseen before it delivery in the way expected than the joke fails. However, comedy is a tricky area to fully understand for a non comedian as even the most tire jokes can be made funny again if done right. In the case of the Mr. Peabody & Sherman it’s a well made film weighed down heavily by subpar writing.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman is about an advanced canine and his adopted son attempting to fix a time rift they created. One immediate thing is made clear early on is the lack of sufficient material to sustain a ninety minute runtime. Everything in the film from characters, humor, and conflict are rushed. So insecure about its own material that if it were to take a breather it would lose the audience. The main duo of intellectual dog Mr. Peabody and his dumb son Sherman aimed to present a meaningful relationship despite the odd setup. It’s intention are well meant, but as the characters stated themselves it’s just presented as child causes overblown issue and parent has to fix it. It’s not a father son relationship where the conflict actually helps strengthen the relationship or aptly show how this duo interact with each other outside of conflict. Rather it serves to highlight one’s very useless and the other is god like. There’s no dilemma ever arising in this relationship because Mr. Peabody written to be a perfect character. Instead of putting effort to make Peabody near perfection in everything he does be part of the conflict it becomes a tool for an easy fix. Leading to convoluted filled acts. Without good characterization in general filling up supporting characters with specifics humor functions what it main characters feel never become organic. This same issue pops up when we’re being told how much Mr. Peabody and Sherman care for each other when a good scene itself can get that across much better. While the idea behind Mr. Peabody as a parent is worth exploring the execution of it undermines the value of parenthood.

The biggest disappointment with this film is its uninspired take on a good premise. When you have time travel and characters who are interested in history the possibilities should be endless instead of recycled. Filled with humor revolving around the rule of three (writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier) invents a formulaic immunity through it course. Usage of the rule of three come around frequently enough that jokes revolving around the rule become tiring. Once you get used to the formula it stops being funny. Another area it builds its humor around are puns. These puns are very lazy and not given much thought which goes against the characters the film consider to be smart. It’s a lot dumber than it admirably wants to ignore. Historical figure were welcomed in the film, but the setup and delivery of them not as much. When Sherman gives a speech about second chances Bill Clinton appears in the background saying “I’ve done worse”. Out of all the possible jokes it chose to make a safe one. Which best describe the humor in a nutshell. Jokes are predictable, safe, reused periodically, and foreseen making their delivery fall flat. Though the biggest nitpick for me stems from the fact there’s not a single female character that’s well written. Penny Peterson has the biggest role out of any female character and she’s a tool to set the chain of events going. She changes quickly at the whim of the story demand, never redeem despite what she does early on in the film, and her only contribution in the story is negative.

Ty Burrell voices Mr. Peabody and his performance is excellent. Everything about he exquisitely voices judgement, from the way he sprints through Peabody’s scientific exposition, but never so quickly that he confuses the viewer, to the way he unveils the dog’s wretched puns is spot on. Max Charles who plays Sherm is also good in the role. His performance is filled with energy and sincerity. Ariel Winter voices Penny Peterson who despite being given a poorly written character her performance is one key. She’s bratting when the script demands it and caring when the scene demands it. Winter portrayal is more dynamic and much better than the material provided for her. Supporting cast are fine having the kind of voice actors ranging from the loud beefy character, the snooty evil character, the hyperactive inventor, and so forth. Animation is a bright spot even if the style isn’t impressive. Characters are allowed to be expressive and movement is smooth especially in the film chase like sequences. It’s colorful that’s easy on the eye. Another great spot on the animation department are the vastly time era that are provided different looks. The score won’t register much, but it is diverse in the sort of music provided depending on the era the film is currently in.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman themes and humor are undone by its predictable formula and lack of working characterization. The cast of the film elevate the material with their performances delivery some good dramatic scenes and laughs even if the material doesn’t accomplish that task to the same extent. It’s a well made film, but one that’s really needed more thought put into it that would match its characters intellect and make good use of its premise.

6/10

Cinema-Maniac: Naruto Movie 3: Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom (2006) Review

When in doubt in what to see I go back to a series I have yet to complete. Naruto is a different case since the film adaptations tend to leave out vital information about the world, the characters, and how it function translating poorly for newcomers. So what’s better way to familiarize myself with the series than playing videos-games based around the series which helped me understand the world of Naruto allot more than I originally did. However, even after doing some homework on the series it didn’t help that this film is inaccessible for the uninitiated, receives another downgrade in production values, and its story will leave you stupor by the end of the whole ordeal.

Naruto Movie 3: Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom follows Naruto Uzumaki, Kakashi Hatake, Sakura Haruno, and Rock Lee mission to escort the prince of the Land of the Moon, Michiru, during his trip back home. Like the previous film, unless you’re familiar with the material the film will make no effort in providing even the basics. The opening of the movie tells the audience who assigned the heroes their mission and its importance through narration that gets dropped early on, but that’s where all the explanations end. How our heroes abilities work and the extent of those abilities aren’t discuss. In context of the anime series and manga it eventually explains these things, except in this film any new superpower ability shown is a plot convenience. Taking away any possible enjoyment from any fight scenes since it comes across the writers are just making things up as they go along. Past the film opening you’re left with a story with no substance. Suffering from having too many underdeveloped characters and one dimensional villains that get sideline. Once again, in the form a film Naruto and his group aren’t engaging characters. Naruto is given the center of attention from the entire team and what screen time Naruto does have paints him negatively. He’s not the likable goofball, but an annoying weakling. In this film Naruto picks on a little kid making him look bad. He has the abilities to turn his shadow into clones, but the little spoiled kid he picks on can’t even fight. Yeah, that’s the sort of hero I want to get behind. Sadly his character doesn’t improve falling victim to receiving a beating in nearly every fight he’s in. It’s hard to overlook how amateur Naruto ability are when the opening of the film said these ninja from a specific clan trained for years.

Among this mess of a story that can’t mesh family drama, growing up, ninja, possible war torn country, and marriage there’s an idea for an engaging story. The characters that receive the most development are Michiru and his son Hikaru who are of rich royal blood. Both of these character arcs play like a coming of age story growing up from their previous ways into maturity. If one were to remove anything ninja related than there’s enough ideas to make at least a decent story. As is the case it’s not close to average. One plot element that gets toss aside is the trouble marriage that Michiru is facing with his wife leaving. Aside from when it’s introduced never again is it brought back. Around the thirty minute mark it felt as if the film would have better fitted being an episode of it rush pacing. Another plot element that is dropped is the whole group dynamic of the team. When it does feature the team dynamic it’s the equivalent of sentimentality saying friendship is magic. The character Rock Lee is only in the film for comic relief which is allot more than I could say for the like of Sakura Haruno who once again gets the short end of the stick. Although, it’s a slight improvement over the previous film actually beating up a villain henchman with her abilities. These two characters don’t have much to do and the team interactions is sparsely spread across. Than the climax overstays its welcome highlighting just how cardboard the characters are and how weak and stupid the villains are. I mean seriously, the villain whole desire is to simply kill a specific person, but simply delays it even receiving that specific person at day time. After a couple of scenes it’s night time and cuts back to the villain and he still hasn’t killed the one person he wanted to kill the entire time. So mixing incompetent heroes facing against even more incompetent villains.

So far the Naruto films have been consistent in downgrading their production values with every preceding film entry, especially the animation department. Once you get past the first three minutes you finally glance at it undetailed art style. There’s no depth of perspective making everything look flat. Backgrounds are blurred to cover up dead space and characters designed are more simplified giving them less expressions. Movements are stiff and whenever there’s a fight a scene the action moves slowly. It’s movement is so bad the film story makes up an excuse for why in a particular scene since it’s worse than usual. Action scenes are a huge disappointment with very little usage of jutsu/superpower abilities in fights. Every one of them is rushed, poorly choreographed, and usually only has one person moving while the defender is static until it’s their turn to attack. None is more harmful than the climax in which it cuts between three fight scenes and they all play out the same. That’s just lazy on the animators part. The only aspect that can’t entirely panned is the voice acting. Both the Japanese and English deliver some good performances from the cast. None of them outstanding due to the poor material, but effort is definitely evident by the cast. A technical area that won’t register is the music. There’s not a single track that will stick with you, but are all place in the appropriate scene.

Naruto Movie 3: Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom regardless on your exposure to the series will make you see the closing credits knowing its over. Characters are cardboard, the story is unengaging dropping plot points or leaving them underdeveloped, and the animation is very poor. Not even the action scenes make the endeavor worth sitting through having received a serious downgrade in its visuals and delay movements regardless of what occuring on screen. While fans of the series might be more forgivable to it lack of development in certain area it’s story and action is the one area where it completely fails to deliver for any sort of viewers.

2/10

Anime Breakdown: The Familiar of Zero (2006) Series Review

After finishing WataMote I naturally started looking for another comedy to pass the time whenever I wasn’t in the mood for something action oriented or at the time about magical teenage girls fighting witches that had allot of depth that shut me up on its cutesy drawn characters. So when researching I came across The Familiar of Zero which was unique for a Harem (basically a romance series where the protagonist has numerous potential love interest). Unlike nearly all Harems that uses a modern back dropped The Familiar of Zero uses a fantasy setting to make it stand out visually. However, as soon as I began watching the series it turned out the setting was the only thing noteworthy feature of the show.

Basic Information

Episode: 13

Available English Dub: Yes, but not recommended since it’s only for one season and its awful

Animation Studio: J.C. Staff

Premise:

Set in the feudalistic and fantastical world of Helkeginia, The Familiar of Zero centers around Louise de Valliere or “Zero”, an aristocratic girl who is completely and utterly inept at magic and who accidentally summons Saito, an ordinary boy from Japan, when she performs the traditionally summoning of one’s “familiar”. Reluctantly accepting him, she generally treats him poorly, verbally and physically abusing him and forcing him to perform menial attacks. In spite of his utter ignorance regarding this world, however, the perhaps too-forward Saito miraculously finds himself able to best an arrogant and powerful aristocrat who berates those of lower social standing, leading him to become popular with both plebeians and the other girls (to Louise’s dismay), and the headmaster of the school to speculate on who he actually is.

Good: Attempts To Be More Than A Romance Story

The world of The Familiar of Zero is one ruled by nobility who are magicians while peasants are ordinary citizens. Why only nobilities can become magicians and peasants can not is never elaborated upon beyond nobility can use magic. You think in a world with this kind of logic there would have been at least a couple instances where a noble marries a peasant, but apparently not. Back on providing some positives. The setup offers a wide variety of possible topics to discuss. Especially in this world where the division between social status is greater. The minority is filled with rich nobles that have magical powers while the lower class don’t. For a while it seems it wants to address that issues with protagonist Saito Hiraga not taking his unfair treatment lightly. Since Saito wasn’t born in the fantasy world he’s viewed as a pet in the noble eyes and is treated like one. Saito could only take his unfair treatment for so long before standing up for himself. Going up against a British noble despite Saito not having any extraordinary abilities. Sadly that discussion never goes anywhere rewarding beyond a certain point. It’s brought up every so often, but once Saito gets slightly better treatment that discussion disappears and dissolve into being only a Harem.

Not everything The Familiar of Zero sets out to do is accomplished to the degree it wants barely having enough positive to outweigh the negative. A positive trait is male lead, Saito Hiraga, is actually likable and it’s understandable why women would flock to get his attention to make him their boyfriend. His reaction to the world is natural and how he is used to integrate the audience into the world is solidly executed. In the context of the story it makes sense for a character within the world to explain to an outsider about the society they live in and in turn we as the audience learn about the world. Saito while not an engaging character is likable facing various conflicts that shows his growth. In particular towards the end of the first season where Saito is put in a positioned that forces him to choose between his livelihood or the well being of an entire kingdom. He has plenty of conflict he has to confront with his hate/love relationship with Louise slowly changing through the course of the first season. This change comes across naturally in the series. Admittedly the ambition shown in its first season and attempt to discuss society related issues through it world is respectable, but sadly that ambition is never reached for a number of reasons.

Mixed: Story

The first season doesn’t have an overarching story of any kind. It builds around smaller stories that focuses on the main characters personal life with the issues of the background world slowly catching up with them. Most of the conflict in the series is often solved with deus ex machina because you know, magic. Removing any tension that a conflict could have had, but also serves to progress the story further. While there is never a true sense of conflict because of easy solutions the story never stays in one place for too long either. Something is always happening and in some sort of way is making progress in the story whether it be character relationships or building up towards the finale. One key point it does miss is properly conveying the moment that Saito falls in love with Louise. Before Saito romance blossoms for Louise we know he’ll fall in love Louise because of the predictable nature of the show and its inability to throw its viewer off. However, the true issue comes afterwards as once Saito has finally made up his mind that Louise is the girl for him isn’t convincing. Aside from sharing a kiss and a couple of short moments of gratitude towards each other there’s nothing that really sells the idea Saito and Louise are right for each other. Let alone making a good argument for Saito affection for Louise since beforehand Louise does some questionable things that makes you wonder if Saito is a masochist.

Aside from the predictable romance another area where carries over mix results is it exploration on the world past. It makes some interesting development as characters discover bits of the world past and one that is made with the most importance is the Rune (basically worded magic seal) on Saito hands. It’s allows him to control any weapon like an expert as long it is made out of metal. Within the first season it’s given a foundation of development where it doesn’t come across as an easy cop out for the protagonist in combat. However, the same can’t be said about Louise as out of nowhere she becomes part of rare magicians called Void Mage. Not only does this eventual development remove Louise relatable aspect, but also excuses her failure in using of magic on a simple titled. What’s most unfortunate about this development is it usage during the climax which easily resolve the conflict of an entire war. It’s a major disservice toward Louise because instead of making her commitment to be a good magician part of her growth it’s conc the idea she’ll never get better and a disservice for the viewer for it’s easy quick resolution.

Mixed: Repetitive Humor

A majority of the jokes in The Familiar of Zero involve Saito being put in a situation usually sexual related in general. A girl hits on Saito and doesn’t know to react in turn leading to some overtop reaction with Louise either “hilariously” whipping Saito for talking to another girl or bickering between two girls. It gets really old when there is a serious lack of variation on the same type of humor. Some of it is funny. In season one there’s an episode focusing on this sacred book that knows the secret to arouse all men, but actually turns out to be a porno maginize. In context it works because characters in the fantasy world reaction is over the top giving more mysticism to a basic object. In some cases these jokes don’t work. No other example better embodies this than the perverted old man character whose mouse is also a pervert. The first time the joke is funny if foreseeable given the genre. When it repeated again not so much since it’s the same every time joke being told over again.

In some instances there are scenes where you question if it was meant to funny. For example, there’s a scene of Saito walking in the streets of Japan and finding a wormhole in the middle of street. No one elses notice it and sticks his hand in it only to be sucked in the fantasy world. Now given the show doesn’t have a good success rate of being funny I laughed at this scene because of the fact no one in the street of Japan wanted to help Saito from being sucked into the wormhole. It’s such a natural occurrence that no one’s is bothered by it anymore. With scenes like that spread out through the series you’ll slowly grow an immunity to what it throws at you. A problem in comedy in general is attempting keep a certain brand of humor funny if your whole act revolve around it. Something this show first season fails to maintain fresh.

Mixed: Characters

I’ll be honest and say the cast in this series lacks engaging personalities. Main character Saito Hiraga and Louise Francoise Le Blanc de La Valliere (that’s seriously her whole name) are a predictable item. Part of the fun of a harem should be guessing who the main male lead will end up with. Even if it is predictable who the male lead will choose it helps that the leading lady is likable. In this case it suffers similar problems to Shana of the Burning Eyes in which seeing the couple relationship develop does not work because of it central pair refusal to move past the status quo. In Saito Hiraga case he unknowingly gets on Louise bad side. However, Saito makes an effort to make amends to his master Louise no matter how small the problem is. If it bothers Louise, Saito is going to attempt to explain to Louise why he did something and talk it over with Louise attempting to fix it. His heart is in the right place never compromising what he believes, but neither letting his beliefs cloud the way those around him feel.

Than there’s Louise Francoise who falls victim to execution. She is a an abusive tsundere (alternating between irritable or lovestruck personality) whipping Saito for any possible reason. Most of his whipping in season one stems from Saito simply talking to any other girl that isn’t her. Not only does her constant jealousy becomes realize in physical beating towards Saito, but comes across demented for feeling guilty for punishing Saito, yet continues to exact physical punishment despite the fact that it never once works to change Saito behavior. Louise falls on the spoiled brat side, expecting Saito to simply do her bidding without question. Believing her being unpopular is a much more serious issue than Saito being just being thrust into a world he didn’t know existed and forcefully given a role to serve his master. Leading to a chemistry of bickering and bantering that occurs in most if not all episodes. There’s actually a kind of disturbing unintended subtext of slavery here. With Saito getting a chain around his neck to keep him in line, and Louise barking out orders to him as if he were nothing more than mere chattel. Does that sound like a love interest you want your leading male character to deal with? If you said yes, then you’ll be happy to know she would probably make you sleep on the floor on a pile of hay sometimes outside of the academy like she does with Saito and threatens him with starvation.

The supporting cast offer other love interests that are more bearable, though not all are explored equally. First up is Tabitha who is the strong emotionless type. She does get characterization through second hand accounts from other characters in the series. While Tabitha doesn’t say much she is more likable because of it. Where a majority of the female characters are speaking about boys (come on, not all women are shallow) Tabitha remains silent on the subject showing her talents to yield magic. Though given her treatment in the show it’s clear she won’t register on Saito radar. That’s a shame since a quiet, emotionless character is more likable than the leading lady. Tabitha best friend, Kirche, who is the polar opposite of her. Kirche defining characteristic is that she is well endowed. Okay, to be fair she does use her body to get what she wants since she knows how to persuade men. Sure her big breast is an easy design for fanservice, but she’s treated like a person and not solely as an object. Kirche genuinely cares for her friend Tabitha becoming closer to her when learning about her tragic past. She does have fanservice moments, but also moments where she comes across a well intended character.

Next up is Siesta who is a maid at the academy. She develops a romantic interest towards Saito and her affection for Saito reasonable. As oppose to Kirche who falls in love with Saito because it’ll make Louise jealous; Siesta loves the side of him that stands up to the noble and speak for the common man. Unlike Louise, Siesta actually holds a conversation with Saito as an equal being one of the few people Saito actually likes being around. She show concerns for his well being and on top of that is a good worker. When Louise punishes Saito for something he did by not feeding him, Siesta brings food from the kitchen or takes him down to the kitchen where he gets some of the leftovers from the nobles. Even when she knows Saito clearly has a questionable attraction towards Louise, Siesta still stays by his side as a friend. As you can tell, this character is pretty much everything the main love interest is not. Affectionate, caring, and oh, one sided positive traits. Okay so not entirely perfect nor interesting in a form of a story, but still a much more preferred option over Louise.

Finally there’s princess Henrietta. I know the whole princess thing can be problematic especially if given the traditional lazy the king is away excuse or not bringing it up at all. In Henrietta case it’s actually explain why she’s a princess. It’s because she was too young to be coronated to the throne and thus become queen when her country is at the brink of war. She’s given a realistic portrayal because of her job it shows the conflict of running an entire conflict as such a young age. Making her job all the more difficult when lives are at stake and her subordinates forcing her to agree on a decision she knows are wrong. Henrietta is sympathic since many want to be her, but very few actually want to know her.

Wait, what about the male supporting cast? Just plot devices to move the plot forward and do not whatsoever have much of a focus aside from chasing after a particular girl. About time a harem made it male supporting cast characters shallow, though that’s not really a positive either. The only other male that receives prominent screen time and development is a talking sword. Let that sink in. Goes to shows how much it value it male cast.

Mixed: Production Values

It’s one thing that the story doesn’t use it fantasy setting much to its advantage, but it’s another to restrict the animators on that front. The technical aspects are below average failing to capture a wonder in its world or imprint any image in the viewer that remains with them. Everything from it’s aesthetic is the very definition of basic. The cartoonish color scheme of bright tones, devoid of shading of texture, while the character art is very bland. There’s not much of an animation budget with noticeable movement being very limited. It’s made apparent even in the opening intro as some of the characters movement looking delayed. Less crucial is Shinkichi Mitsumune’s score is the equivalent of J.C. Staff’s generic fantasy-world settings: pleasant, and in some cases downright pretty, but hardly a draw unto itself. I’ll admit the opening theme is more bearable than it’s outro theme which is entirely off key. It’s pleasant to the eye and nothing wrong with things being pleasant. However, simply being pleasant to look at doesn’t excuse unremarkable technical aspects.

In the English dub voice actress Cristina Valenzuela has the good sense to tone down Louise’s wilder swings, creating a slightly more mature variation on the character. Jonathan Meza makes the fatal mistake of playing Saito with a quavering loser edge, effectively destroying his unflappable charm. Iwasaki is a veteran of romantic comedies (part of the reason, no doubt, that his action direction is so poor), but the little jolts of poignancy he teases from Louise and Saito’s evolving relationship cannot survive a toned-down Louise and a dispiritingly limp Saito. Nicholas Manelick picks up some of the slack with his hilariously ham-handed take on womanizing self-aggrandizer Guiche, and most of the other supporting players are solid enough, but a romance drained of its chemistry is too sad a thing to be saved by humor.

If you must for consistency reason go with Japanese language all the way. At least when it’s being adapted there’s effort put into translating the source material into a series and a understanding from the cast to deliver the performance expected of them. As for the English dub on the other side it’s very lazy in translation. In episode one when Louise first summons Saito they both are unable to understand each other, but in the English dub both speak English so comes across as a bit of confusion. It’s later explain that Louise was speaking in a different language and so put a spell on Saito so he can speak their language. If the English dub was too lazy to record couple of Saito lines in a different language it already failed. It doesn’t get any better so Japanese voice actors all the way. It’s not like watching it with English subtitles will make you miss the “meh” production values.

Final Thought:

The Familiar of Zero doesn’t offer diversity as a harem, comedy, or as animated series to warrant multiple viewings. It appeals to a specific audience meaning unless you’re part of that target audience you don’t have a reason to bother batting an eye at it. It attempts to appeal to a large audience and fails to live up to that goal. There’s some aspects of the series done right, but not enough where the good traits become noticeable.

Ambition: 2/2

Story: 1/2

Characters: 1/2

Humor: 1/2

Production Values: 1/2

Rating: 6/10 – The Familiar of Zero offers a unique setting and some interesting ideas, but those traits takes a backseat to its genre cliches and a cast of characters that are mix in results. It’s more concern in filling out a quota for a specific genre that’s audience expect from it that holds itself from better things. At the end though, it does tell a complete story, has a likable lead, and an interesting world that made it worth seeing. Even if the end results didn’t match those standards it could have.

Cinema-Maniac: A Serbian Film (2011) Review

Pre-viewing Conversation

Izanagi: So the reason you’re seeing this movie is because of bragging rights correct?

Caesar Mendez: No I’m not. I just want to get it out of my system.

Izanagi: Why? You already proved your endurance seeing Salo and Cannibal Holocaust arguably considered to be the most disturbing movies ever made.

Caesar Mendez: I know, but “A Serbian Film” is, well, a Serbian film.

Izanagi: Are you sure you don’t want me to invite Matoi? At least when she’s around you put effort into your jokes.

Caesar Mendez: Oh please no. Last time I made her see a movie she hated, well lets just say it got very elaborate.

Izanagi: Oh yeah. Who knew you could do so much with a pair scissors when it came to….

Caesar Mendez: Don’t complete that sentence. Remember my policy.

Izanagi: Really? You know it’s not that bad. You don’t have to censor it. And since you’re not paying any attention to me. Just start the film.

So if a film has a stigma for “disturbing content” I might see it since I’m naturally curious on what my “breaking point” will be. You know, the film that makes me just want to stop seeing it because of how vile the content is. It is a search that while not ideal for the common film fan it is for this maniac. As stated in the past, I’m open to all forms of cinema rather than limiting choices on personal preferences. I absolutely detest rape, but I’ve seen films exploring the physiological consequences of rape throughout one’s life (the masterpiece Mysterious Skin) and seen films that uses it as a cheap tool to gain sympathy (I Spit On Your Grave). In terms of content there’s only two films (as of the date this review posting) that I can think of that can top “A Serbian Film”; the documentary “Earthlings” and semi-found footage film “Cannibal Holocaust”. Specifically because everything in “Earthlings” is actual footage of animal slaughter is shown in detail and parts of “Cannibal Holocaust” are real that blurs the line for the uninformed between what’s real and just fiction. As a work of fiction “A Serbian Film” should check itself into a mental ward. The closest fictional film that comes close to matching it psyche is “Nekromantik” which if you know what’s good for you. DON’T look up the ending to “Nekromantik”.

A Serbian Film is about an aging porn star who agrees to participate in an “art film” in order to make a clean break from the business, only to discover that he has been drafted into making a pedophilia and necrophilia themed snuff film. The story of the film is handle sloppily disregarding common sense. So try to picture a shady man you never met before offering you lots of money to do a specific job without giving you any details. At first the protagonist makes the rational hesitation on taking up the offer to participate in this specific job. Despite the protagonist gut feeling that there’s something wrong about the job he’s put in a position where his irrational acceptance makes sense. It’s a motivation that’s simple to grasp and garner some sympathy towards some of the film characters. Now picture you accepting the job and notice on your first day what you experience further strengthen your hesitation to work for this shady man. Our protagonist is given a reasonable motivation for taking the job, but does not apply equally to his dedication to maintain the shady job knowing the possible hint of danger. His motivation to remain isn’t developed to the point it’s able to sell the viewer with the protagonist decision. Plus there’s these things called phones which the film characters sometime used to communicate to each other except when it crucial in order to move the story.

Logically the protagonist should have been more cautious, but at the same time is sympathetic. He’s given a simplistic backstory of being a struggling father who’s retire from a perceived less than glamorous profession. It’s simple and straight to the point. However, the “bonding” moments between the protagonist and his son are things no words can do justice too. How one exactly goes about casually discussing how to “play with one self” is beyond me, especially if the kid is around ten years of age. These scenes give off a different vibe than what was meant to get across, but does display the protagonist attempting to be a good father even if the topic of discussion is inappropriate. Another good aspect about the film is the physiological breakdown of the film protagonist. Progressively the protagonist is broken down and his faith in humanity is utterly broken when it reaches the climax. Naturally seeing every step of his breakdown and what exactly triggers it to the point where his reaction is difficult to argue against. Especially when witnessing what the poor man goes through in the climax.

Where the story falls apart is also during its climax. During the course of the film it comes across as if the film would touch upon the film medium. As if to make a point on how far should the visionary and the participants take the artform before it’s consider to be too much for any rational thinking person to dissect. Of course I’m kidding since characters dialogue is often nationalize basically saying stuff like “make artistic porn to bring back our nation’s pride” or anything basically involving sex. In context character talking like this is rather goofy not adding to anything in the long run. How exactly the correlation between “Newborn Porn” ties into government injustices is flimsy at best. If it does connect to political commentary than the message is government likes to [you know the word] with people. In some cases that’s a true statement of poor government, but the context of the story and the devices implemented doesn’t in any form represents any ideals of politics. Let alone provide any elements where the correlation is feasible even metaphorically.

Now on to the main course of discussing aspects of it content and this is coming from a person who witness necrophilia, castrations, animal cruelty, and prolonged rape in some films he’s seen. A Serbian Film does not live up to its stigma of having vile content that makes you want to stop viewing it. For example, in the film there’s a scene involving two characters seeing footage of “Newborn Porn”. Sounds disgusting regardless how questionable the content in films you’ve seen have been, but instead of showing the actual “Newborn Porn” we see the back of a specific performer and primarily shown reaction shots of the characters viewing the footage. The way it’s presented is not vile nor difficult in taking in the scene as a plot device thanks to good editing conveying the purpose. However, given the title of the footage being “Newborn Porn” there’s no arguing the director went about it the best way in not showing it directly towards the audience since it occurs off screen. Rather than simply include this scene for shock value (ok, from my perspective at least) it gets across there is fine line between what should be film and what can be film. Within the context it’s the film inciting incident which is basically a fancy way for writers of saying it’s an event that is struck upon the protagonist(s) where their life changes from the norm to adapt to the story’s plot. The way the scene is film gets across the idea of it rather than explicitly show it. Although I’m not sure if the sadist filmmakers that came up with the scene or the actual viewers that fill in the blank in their minds when viewing said scene that has a more troubling mindset than the person who’s defending it.

Where a majority of the film “vile content” comes from is in the film final thirty minutes that contain a number of rape scenes and spontaneous murder. Out of the whole film there is one scene that might trigger a reaction of sickness and one in the climax that will trigger a reaction questioning your decision to view the film entirely. Of course due to personal regulations I won’t discuss the specifics despite the previous paragraph touching on the most controversial (off screen) scene in the film. The reason being we’re shown in these scenes the whole performance of vile action rather than a fraction of vile action being performed. However, despite what occurs in the climax it will bring new meaning to the term “hard-on”. It’s very questionable why the director would include a moment where’s the protagonist cocka doodle doo can pierce through flesh and a kill a man in a scene that involves rape. Not lying, I laughed when I witness this moment in the scene, and at the same time am very jealous of the power of it. Lets just move on after that questionable series of sentences.

The production values for the film are very good. Director Srdjan Spasojevic maintains a bleak tone throughout the film. By creating such an atmosphere even during the film first hour you never feel like you’re adjusting to comfortably seeing it. It’s lighting is one of those reasons that while in most scenes everything is visble there’s are always a hint of shadiness. Where the dynamic of a scene is made very clear and more effective for it. The score for the film is foreboding slowly building to a more enraging sound when it becomes more transgressive. Acting is also another bright spot especially from it star Srdjan Todorovic. He’s fully committed in his performance never once being unconvincing, even when the film goes to the extreme. Becoming enveloped in a wide arrange of emotions when he’s angry it’s believable and he’s a broken man he really come across as someone loss hope in humanity. His costar Sergei Trifunovic is also excellent. Even when he’s given simple talking scene his mannerism makes anything no matter how positive sounding very shady. Trifunovic appearance also adds to his role in particular his sinister smile. Supporting cast are also good, though most of their roles aren’t as developed as Todorovic. Slobodan Bestic for example mostly stays in the mindset of secretly desiring his brother wife and it isn’t until the climax where he gets a change in character. Jelena Gavrilovic is is allowed more ranged and comes across as the most sane in the cast which is saying something. Each of the actor are believable in their role and are committed to it not letting the context bother them.

A Serbian Film doesn’t live up to the stigma of “disturbing cinema” the same way “Cannibal Holocaust” does, but as a whole contains great production values, good acting, and an okay story with sympathetic characters. Of course with that said I will acknowledge that not all viewers have viewed the same films I have so from that perspective I understand because exposure to such material varies. However, there’s no denying it is one well made film from a technical standpoint and well acted whose good qualities get overlook due to the reaction to its content.

7/10

Post viewing conversation

Izanagi: So it’s a good thing I didn’t invite Matoi to see this. Given her bad habit to lose large amount of blood she would have kicked your…

Caesar Mendez: Uh, I told you to not introduced any gimmicks when it comes to my reviews. If you keep doing this my readers are going to believe I plan to do something with these fictional characters gimmick even though I just simply want to express my position on certain films.

Izanagi: Wait? You’re willfully admitted there’s nothing meaningful to our usage in this review?

Caesar Mendez: Of course. If I pretended your usage in this review was to metaphor apartheid that would make me pretentious. Clearly pretending to be one thing to justify what I do even though the foundation provided does not support it.

Izanagi: You know could have said that in your review without including both dialogue. So in a way. Yeah, you sorta are pretentious.

Caesar Mendez: In this case, I’ll give you that one. So want me to call Ryuk and you know?

Izanagi: Nope. Not even he can help me unsee this movie. It’s actually his new all time favorite method when it comes to his job as full time Shinigami (Gods that invite humans toward death).

Caesar Mendez: Well then, I guess it could be worse.

Izanagi: It could be in. Three, two, one.

Matoi: WHAT’S THIS ABOUT YOU CALLING ME MEANINGLESS?

Caesar Mendez: IZANAGI!

Izanagi: Yep, she heard everything you said.

Ryuko Matoi: You thought “A Serbian Film” was rough? After I’m done you “A Serbian Film” will be a cakewalk in comparison.

Caesar Mendez: It was a cakewalk for me, than again I guessed the films I see and personal experience helped in my disconnection with my more human side. Well, that’s all folks. So what’s it gonna be this time Matoi?

Ryuko Matoi: For starter we’ll begin with something by Jorge Ameer than I’ll….

Caesar Mendez: No. Noooooooo. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Cinema-Maniac: Ninja Apocalypse (2014) Review

In every rare viewing of a bad film there are things you never expected to see and ponder thoughts you never believe would come to mind. For me it’s perhaps the first time I actually wished a film would fully commit to ripping off another film because of how unsalvageable the original material was. “Ninja Apocalypse” takes ninja with superpowers, an apocalypse setting, an underground military bunker, and zombies committing the unimaginable sin combining all of those elements into a boring film.

Ninja Apocalypse follows The Lost Clan gang from…it’s never clarified where the movie takes place so lets us pretend New York. So a charismatic leader summons several gangs in a post apocalyptic world in a bid to overtake their rivals. When he is killed, The Warriors are falsely blamed and now must fight their way home while every other gang is hunting them down to kill them. My mistake I meant The Lost Clan not The Warriors. It’s hard to believe even though it rips off the basic premise it manages to make whatever material it steals from “The Warriors” come across as the most competent components in its script. Except this time the context and the setting are extremely nonsensical. Then again should one really judge the logic of “Ninja Apocalypse”. Yes it should be judged because if there’s one thing it lacks is a working brain cell. Now aside from the basic premise and three plot devices (the sacrifice, seduced by women wanting to kill males characters, the ending) calling it a ripoff of “The Warriors” would be praising it instead of criticizing it. Yes, the fact it didn’t ripoff “The Warriors” successfully is a negative. Especially in regards when it comes to the film “plot twist” in the end finally revealing who shot Cyrus, I mean Fumitaka. It’s a failure of twist because the character doesn’t appear for a majority of the film and whatever recurring characters do reappear in the film don’t get enough characterization to make audience guess who the culprit is. Part of the fun of a “who done it” is guessing who actually committed the crime which you can’t do if you aren’t provided anything that’ll allow that.

I’ll buy the utter nonsense premise like anyone who likes seeing B-movies, but stocked characters, plot exposition upon plot exposition filled dialogue, attempts to add humor only to discard it within ten minutes, and bereft of a story can’t be overlooked. Our cast of heroes consist of two brothers, a woman, a deaf mute blackman, and a ninja with questionable loyalty. From that selection of characters their background are simply mentioned. It never elaborates on Cage having a family or ever goes into detail in how he became the leader of “The Lost Clan”. The same applies to all of its characters where it simply mentions moments or characteristic than moving on without elaboration. Another area it lacking is logic. Now with a title like “Ninja Apocalypse” of course it shouldn’t be taken seriously, but radiation doesn’t work the way this film believes it does. In this film ninja have powers so it would safe to assume it’s a result of radiation. Except later on in the film it is said by our heroes that radiation basically turned people into zombies. Not just any zombies, the kind that if cut in half can duplicate. So if the radiation turns people hundred of feet in an underground facility into zombies how in the world are people not below the earth not zombies! Radiation does not work like that! If it was just this oversight I would have not given it another thought. Than it claims the lowest level of the underground facility contains radiation. Hmm….so the inside of an underground facility consisting of hundreds of level below the surface of earth contains radiation yet the surface doesn’t. These writers can’t seriously be this stupid…oh yeah they probably are given they were to lazy to fully commit to ripping off “The Warriors”.

On a technical level everything about it will come across as low budget not for the reasons you expect. Yes everything looks cheap from the convenient store bought costumes, the fake weapon props, and the very shoddy CGI effects. It’s the tinier details that also display the lack of funds that even with it budget wasn’t enough to make such a simple movie. For instance there’s a fight scene consisting of several gangs against “The Lost Clan” and in the background it’s visible the performers are standing still. Only to be moving when they see some sort of signal off screen. Issues like these are always present in the action scenes despite taking place in the same location bodies will sometime disappear in a cut. Details like blood spatter on a wall will disappear immediately in the next cut in the same fight scenes. Adding to the problem are the slow performance of the action scenes that make these issues noticeable. Fight choreography is below average and these fight scenes instead of diverting your attention from the inconsistencies is build around that to reuse as much as resources as possible. In context the characters power aren’t used to diverse the kind of fight scenes you see all usually resulting in a fist fight or sword fight. The most visually annoying about how it shot are the dozen of lens flares and few instances of white flash effects. If the story or acting was any good the lens flares wouldn’t have been much of an issue since there’s something to divert from that issue. However, like everything else the lens flares are a results of visible light posts in every scene. Intentional or not they get distracting.

Late in the film there’s a scene that can causes seizure if seen in the dark because of how much white flash effect are onscreen in less than ten seconds. Set design, much like the performers in costumes, reused the same textures, material, and structures. Actors have to go around in circles to give off the illusion the set is actually a lot bigger than it actually is. The acting is no better. All of the performances are stiffed and wooden. Christian Oliver is incapable of selling himself as the film heroes. Even when he’s angry there’s no ferocity in his delivery. If anything Isaac C. Singleton Jr. does the best among the hero cast given he can’t speak or listen to sound. Not to forget Ernie Reyes Jr. who plays the villain is weak. If “The Rundown” could make Ernie Reyes Jr. beating up Dwayne Johnson look convincing with less screen time what’s this film excuse. Even Reyes Jr. fights against Christian Oliver whose physically same size as him never comes across as a threat. Just everything in this film is poorly assemble together.

Ninja Apocalypse fails as a ripoffs not coming close to duplicating anything with success from the source its copying from and fails as a b-movie due to it’s failing in every area without entertainment to be found. It could have been a ripoff, it could have been a entertaining b-movie, but in the end is devoid of anything positive from a filmmaking and entertaining perspective.

0/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Wind Rises (2014) Review

The Wind Rises explores the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II. A story primarily driven by it metaphors to display it character passion more so than with actual words. Grounded in reality to illustrate Jiro has a career goal set in sight, but rather aimless when it comes to his personal life. This aimless drive translates to the free flowing pacing moving from year to year. It never specifies specifically what year scenes or an act takes place in its insistent to flow like the wind. Much like the usage of it wind plot device, the pacing only ever stops moving forward when an historical event becomes invasive. Intruding on Jiro’s passion alluding the negative implications of his creations. Jiro ponders the impact his creation has, but never explicitly told to the audience what those thoughts are. The film has an encouraging complexity that results in occupying this troubling space, with the idea that art has an inherent potency and power that, like anything that contains embedded energy, can be manipulated or misused by the hands of its beholder. Structuring it whole story where opposing views of Jiro’s creation and how Jiro sees his own work is understood. Sometimes in order in order to make a plane fly you need to compromise parts before it can soar. A work ethic that Jiro takes to heart even in his personal life.

In my book I have no problem giving this a perfect rating as a visual piece of art representing it subject in great metaphorical detail, but if I were to do so would be at the cost of hiding it weakness of any worthwhile characterization. It’s to care for the passion Jiro has for his crafts to create planes regardless the world general views towards him. However, Jiro himself is not an engaging character getting a facet of a man. Never feeling what Jiro feels when he falls in love, heartbroken by a failed test flight, and enthusiasm when viewing the possibilities to improve his plane designs. His romance transition from friends to lover is abrupt when brought into the picture. The film intention is to explore a man’s life who is defined by his for his crafts, even if it means undermining the bigger picture of the world he was involved in.

The art style mixes traditional hand drawn animation with impressionist-style backdrops that are gorgeously jaw-dropping. Many shots could be paused, framed, and hung up in an art museum, but the subtle animation only adds to their allure. Miyazaki has never cared much for “realistic” animation of human figures; they are abstracted into giant-eyed doll faces and stiff legs, as if trudging on stilts. The director expresses his true artistry in his landscapes: rural vistas rendered in the most delicate pastels, like the watercolors Naoko paints as Jiro courts her. In a hard land heading to war, Miyazaki makes sure the views are ravishing. The visual style sets a pleasant and whimsical tone that creates the impression that the film is a representation of the fantasy within the head of a dreamer.

The English dub voice acting is pleasant and natural, with Joseph Gordon-Leavitt as a hushed, contemplative lead who we see squirming in his tight spot and Emily Blunt doing admirably as love interest Naoko. Supporting cast includes John Krasinski pleasantly snarky designer Kiro Honjo, Martin Short is fantastic as Jiro’s tough-but-fair supervisor Kurokawa, and Stanley Tucci is excellent as Caproni. The most interesting stunt casting job in the English dub is famous German director Werner Herzog as dissident German engineer Castorp; given the themes of Herzog’s own films (uniquely talented people seeking impossible dreams) this feels brilliantly salient. In the original Japanese audio, the standout here is the very surprising male lead – Jiro is played by none other than director Hideaki Anno. Yes, the Hideaki Anno creator of “Neon Genesis Evangelion”. Talk about perfect casting when it comes to misunderstood artistic expressions. Anno’s nuanced, understated performance really works well for the role. Casting is otherwise, uniformly excellent; the only remotely questionable casting choice here would be the still-serviceable Stephen Alpert as Castorp, with a noticeable American rather than German accent.

The Wind Rises doesn’t give much attention the background events rather is exclusively focus on a man’s passion for his crafts and how the usage of art reflect different views. Gone is Miyazaki child like wonder replaced by a harsh reality no matter how appreciative or hated a piece of art is will never be able to see it in the same way as it creator. Many of Miyazaki fans will question why he would end a career filled with rich fantasy world end with a final most resembling reality, but in doing so would distract from how Miyazaki represented himself through The Wind Rises.

Historical Accuracy: Reality vs. Artistic Expression

It wasn’t easy nor necessary, but hey historical research is fun for me (sometimes). Much of the film material is derived from the autobiography “The Story of the Zero Fighter” which is 80% plane design ideas, measurements and stories surrounding Jiro’s career. There’s so much focus on the construction of the planes there’s a measly 20% left for autobiographical material. This is an obvious indicator of his unrivaled passion for the flying machines, something which is brought to the screen perfectly. The majority of the information about the challenges Jiro met while designing his planes; the adventures he pursued as part of his work (traveling the world, mentoring students) and the thrill of watching test flights seem like they’re taken straight from the book. Viewers may have only witnessed his travels to Germany, but he also visited England, France and America in the first five years of his career at Mitsubishi.

One crucial element Miyazaki left out when translating these ideas to film was the self-doubt Jiro experienced while he integrated himself into the company. Horikoshi distinctly recalls wondering why his employers would want an inexperienced guy in charge of creating their planes. The first ten minutes are fairly accurate to Jiro life, but rather unlikely he would stand up to a bully and get into a fist fight. Another early departure in accuracy is the 1923 Japanese Earthquake which Jiro never experience or even mentioned in his memoir. Instead of being inspired by Caproni the real life Jiro decided to pursue planes in University after talking to a friend of his brother, whom was a professor at the newly created Department of Aeronautics in Tokyo. Like most teens he had no idea what he wanted to do, and that was the tipping point. Sadly, there is no mention of Jiro’s brother besides this.

To sum it up, Hayao Miyazaki took liberty to heart when it came to telling Jiro Horikoshi life story. Unless you do your research (or read his autobiography) you won’t really learn much about the actual Jiro Horikoshi from this film, but you get an accurate portrayal of this man undying passions for his crafts. So did this affect my rating of the film? You’re joking right? If the worst thing I could say about a film is that it fabricate a piece of reality than what’s the point of me experiencing the medium if it’s integral to it creations.

9/10

Cinema-Manaic: Santa Sangre (1990) Review

Santa Sangre follows a young man named Fenix from his traumatizing childhood through the present attempting to live a normal life. The film narrative is straightforward while the way it tells it story is surreal. Right from the introduction of Fenix we understand this young man is not well. Once the flashback begins you receive the foundation that structures religion, sexuality, obsession, and identity into it central themes. Each introduce in odd context that triggers an array of emotions. One scene in particular that stood out occurred after the funeral of a circus Elephant. A huge coffin carrying the corpse is hauled by a truck to a ravine and tipped over the edge to get eaten by the locals in a shanty town. Not only does this easily telegraphed how distraught a young Fenix must be feeling, but also illustrate the contrast between the joyous surreal circus life and the cruel reality when it comes into the picture when Fenix is a full grown adult. It’s a scene that imprint an odd image as much as it does fuel interpretations on its possible meaning. Every scene is easy to read and the meaning upon receiving development become layered. It’s a film that while reliant heavily on metaphors has dialogue that directly gets across the main story. While the metaphors are tackling the subjectivity behind faith indirectly. In the center of attention is the more direct physiological torment of Fenix. Whose unable to free himself from the control of his mother. Fenix and his mother are in hindsight very complicated characters. One lives with a mask of following a faith she herself doesn’t live purely by her faith. Another is a man whose unable to form an identity of himself.

Characters arrive in all forms of personality further adding to that surreal nature of the narrative. Fenix and his mother have the most prominent roles in the story being told. Together these two offer a story about redemption and revenge. In hindsight, Fenix childhood sneakily provides clever characterization or a physiological regression. As a young boy, Fenix wears a man’s moustache to imitate maturity. During his childhood he shows the least amount of childlike fear or sadness arguably in his mentally assured state. As oppose when Fenix becomes an adult he’s unable to detach himself from his mother influence for his own livelihood. Another usage of Fenix characteristics are the usage of birds. When we first meet Fenix, he is locked in a nuthouse, living like a human bird. His obsession with the mime-faced deaf/mute girl centers around her graceful panto of a hawk. Until the birds disappear from visual sight to juxtapose the trap Fenix is in – mentally and physically – with the freedom of being unable to simply ‘fly away’ from his mother control. The best aspect about these birds narrative usage is even if its missed the same intention gets across. Fenix mother, Concha, is positioned in the story in such a way where nothing ever feels lost when it narrative reaches it conclusion. Concha is a given a backstory that conveys her upcoming downfall and a motivation that is shown in developing in her scenes. Becoming a fleshed out character with her own arc. One key moment in the film that is rather genius is the film twist. I was able to catch the usage of birds as metaphors, but this twist genuinely caught me off guard. Not only does the twist has the potential to catch any viewer off guard, but it’s rather fitting for the film surreal nature. Closing the story metaphorically on its themes while directly closing the conflict Fenix faces.

Alejandro Jodorowsky lets his visuals do the speaking more so than his dialogue. The rich color palette adds to the almost otherworldly elements of the visual narrative. Mixing colorful costumes and set designs against the dark context of scene. From the sterility of the hospital gives way to an explosion of vivid colous when we fly to the circus. Before long, this multihued vibrancy is then itself with the bizarre ‘elephant funeral procession’ is burdened with sobering blacks and charcoal complete with a grey American Flag. Jodorowsky visuals is a story tool giving it more meaning than just simply looking pretty. Laid on top of the visuals is an incredibly convincing musical score. Simon Boswell’s soundtrack fluently bonds with the varying moods to become immersed in the Mexican fantasy. Blanca Guerra is excellent in the role of Concha. Her ability to convey far surpasses her co stars who all play characters with their arms in tact. Axel Jodorowsky delivers a more subdue performance which he pulls off. There’s hardly a moment of certainty in the way he deliver his lines going hand to hand with his characters. Where these two actors shine are their scenes working in perfect sync. Using Axel Jodorowsky hands to convey the illusion of Blanca Guerra hands movement in several are synce in movement and emotion. It’s a convincing sight to behold when the actors have great chemistry and can in sync in such scenes so perfectly.

Santa Sangre (Holy Blood) covers various themes both directly and indirectly that is not accomplished very often in filmmaking. It’s a film that has a straightforward story and the viewer understands there’s plenty of layers behind the way it’s made, but never does it offer a moment of doubt in its execution. Not everything Santa Sangre touches on will immediately come around in full circle for a revelation in how it balanced all of it themes. Neither is it lost on the audience telling a straightforward story that even if not the pieces come together the intention of it is never lost. On a technical level it’s an achievement of captivating visuals, the performances are outstanding, and the narrative very fulfilling even without all its meaning being found. Plain and simple it’s a masterpiece.

10/10

Cinema-Maniac: Brick Mansions (2014) Review

There were two reasons that convinced me to see “Brick Mansions” aside from liking the original “District B13”. The first was David Belle who for some reason decided to play the same character twice was in front of the camera again. Second reason is I like Paul Walker. When it came to playing stoic heroes he fit the bill understanding these kind of roles. While this was the last film Paul Walker completed, thankfully it’s not the last film he appeared in (thank goodness for Fast and Furious Seven). This remake is a lazy carbon copy of the original adding insult to injury are it overabundance of action scenes that makes it feel longer than it actually is.

Brick Mansion follows an undercover Detroit cop navigating a dangerous neighborhood that’s surrounded by a containment wall. With the help of an ex-con in order to bring down a crime lord and his plot to devastate the entire city. If you’ve seen “District B13” you’ve seen “Brick Mansions”. Nothing about the story is given the tiniest thought of effort as it copies every plot point used in “District B13”. It’s one tedious experience for fans of the original film as it offers no new surprises and the few insignificant changes (like the hostage this time being a former girlfriend instead of a character sister) it does make are pointless. Most astonishing for this viewer is how it manages to contains even less story. The difference here is primarily quantity in action. Whereas the original film knew when to take a breather no matter how small it was and not over saturate itself with action scenes. In “Brick Mansions” in my timing experiment (that’s how bored I got) the longest it could last without an action sequence is almost nine minutes and the shortest it could last without an action scene was around fifty seconds. Now does that in any way sounds like good pacing with that little amount of breathing room. In execution it’s far worse whenever you expect the story to return at any moment. Characters are either getting chased or fighting repeatedly since there’s little substance to sustain viewers attention.

If you’ve never seen the original “Brick Mansions” feels like an endurance test. This is one of those instances where highlighting characters and story become part of the issue. Since it doesn’t have a single engaging character the overabundance of action scenes that come one after another become yawn inducing. With an overabundance of action scenes the story is not given any time to developed naturally. A double edged sword crippling itself in anything it attempts to do. The writers of the remake are so indolent in their position they don’t bother to write good original dialogue. “Sometimes you don’t gotta be a rocket scientist. You just gotta have a rocket” is said by the film villain while he’s cooking after revealing his rocket. All characters are stock action archetypes, filled with cheesy moments poorly contrasting the more gritty side of the material, and every scene not involving our characters fighting to remain alive pulls out action cliches after action cliches. It believes its clever throwing off audience expectations with it twist, but in this remake they don’t work as sufficiently as they should. Much like everything else in the story it appears nothing translated well in this remake from the original film.

Camille Delamarre (editor of Taken 2) makes an unengaging action movie even worse with his inability to film or edit an action scene properly. Action scenes ranges from meh to passable in terms of staging and choreography, but with Delamarre direction he downgrades what should have been solid set pieces. They all generally suffer from being over edited having too many quick cuts that makes it look erratic. There’s no fluidity to be found in how these action scenes are cut together. What makes this worse is you know there’s some good stunt work to enjoy from the setup provided in them, but is framed to close or cuts off an important visual from your sight. Paul Walker is likable in the leading role, but his role doesn’t demand much of him. Walker remains stoic throughout the film letting his supporting cast react to what’s going on around them. David Belle performance is passable. His lines are dubbed (some bad lips syncing included) so when he has to talk it shows his inexperience, but where Belle shine is in his action scenes. He performs them convincingly whether he’s performing parkour or doing a fight scene. Unfortunately Belle and Walker don’t have any chemistry with one another. There’s always a disconnect with them whenever they have to interact with one another. It doesn’t help the actors we follow most has only one that could act and the other could only do action scenes convincingly. RZA plays the film the villain and not a single line said is convincing. Granted his lines are terrible, but he plays a clearly cartoonish villain rather straight. Instead of being loose and over the top he delivers everything at face value. The rest of the supporting cast is also passable without outshining the leads.

Brick Mansions short and simple is the definition of indolent remakes. It copies the story without significant changes and since it wants to highlight its characters it makes it that much more noticeable how weak they are. More than half of the action scenes are copied from “District B13” except this time are poorly framed being unable to enjoy the stunt work and overly edited that it become distorted. If one were to remove the fact that this is Paul Walker last starring film there’s nothing much of value to appreciate once it ends. By the end of the film the first thought that came to my mind was “Thank goodness this wasn’t Paul Walker last movie”. Just for even making me think that is enough for me to consider “Brick Mansions” a failure of a film.

2/10

Cinema-Maniac: Earthlings (2010) Review

Earthlings chronicles the day-to-day practices of the largest industries in the world, all of which rely entirely on animals for profit. The documentary is not an easy one to watch especially it footage of animal cruelty. Never once shying away from showing graphic footage which can speak for itself even when taken out of context. Scenes showing factory farms, slaughterhouses, hunting, bullfights, puppy mills, and primates being used in head injury experiments will shock those who value all forms of life equally. These scenes aren’t easy to watch and powerful enough get it point across towards viewers without ever needing to complete the film. By letting the sometime graphic footage play out in its entirety it will challenge what the viewer is capable of stomaching. The footage shown in its “Food” segment can make anyone unaware of what goes on inside a slaughterhouse think differently about what they eat. Its most haunting scene is at a fur farm. A skinned animal, perhaps a fox, lies glistening with blood and white fat and muscle. The creature is still alive, lifting her skinless head and blinking at the camera. Those few seconds gets across the horrific emotion that this skinned fox is feeling, and connect a thought to the viewer of seeing its own species brutally murdered for our very own livelihood without ever telling us.

How Earthlings sets up it proposition is by it’s opening. By elaborating how over the years there existed racism, sexism, and speciesism. This is the idea of assigning different values or rights to members depending on their species, or in other words favoring one’s own species. It acknowledges its purpose, in that it is demonstrating how animals have come to serve humankind. Never does it compare these crimes in being directly connected to one another as much it attempts to draw parallels that drive those action. Instead of making a direct comparison to the Holocaust it decides to make correlations; the most significant relation being both are caused by humans with power abusing those without power. What nonsense right? There’s no way the Holocaust is similar to…well now that I think about it there’s truth to that. The target isn’t a single race or religion beliefs in this case, but instead an entire species which is being murdered for another specific purpose. Tackling different aspects of the subject in five segments; pets, food, clothes, entertainment, and scientific research. Each receive different amount of screen time and each use a similar tactic to get their point across. Drawing parallel to a crime alongside footage of that goes along with said segments.

As much Earthlings is consider the definitive animal rights film by animal rights organizations, much like PETA efforts, their delivery can be heavy handed and some aspects flimsy. One of the major flimsy aspects are it statistics on how many animals are killed by humans. Being blown over proportion to the point that makes you questioned how in the world a particular specie shown in the film hasn’t become instinct. These statistics go into the billions which holds true for fish, but with other animals just accepting the facts becomes a mind game of what’s true and fabricated. There is truth to be found in what’s it saying, but exaggerating on the facts partially fail to inform the audience and instead make them question more if the information given to them is true inspite of the footage being played. Another issue is the film becomes very heavy handed in it delivery towards the end. The film last ten minutes beats the “animals suffered for our livelihood, man is bad” point over the head that is gives off an anti-human vibe. Despite claiming that all lifeforms consider Earthlings and should not contain the mindset of speciesism. The music by Moby sets a somber tone without being intrusive, and the narration by Joaquin Phoenix is very matter of fact. Though the script at times seems a bit heavy-handed, even quoting Shakespeare’s King Lear at one point, Phoenix’s delivery is calm and measured, in contrast with the visual horrors unfolding on-screen.

Earthlings graphic footage of animal cruelty and the degree it shows it too warrant the content in this film is not for everyone. For that it message delivery becomes cloudy, but never is it point ever loss. It certainly heavy handed towards the final minutes, but even before reaching the end it’s capable of persuading.

8/10