Tag Archives: 6/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Admiral: Roaring Currents (2014) Review

The Admiral: Roaring Currents was a film that I never heard off, until I did research, and discovered it’s the highest grossing film in South Korea (as of now), and it the first South Korean film to make over 100 US million dollars internationally. Financially successful The Admiral: Roaring Currents is impressive on a business standpoint. From an artistic standpoint it also caught my attention. Since I live in the US, it’s weird learning that a country highest grossing film is not based on an established property, or an entry in a franchise. After learning this I looked up a trailer, and once again traits of a significant movie showed. It’s international appeal was evidence borrowing traits of a Hollywood blockbuster presenting the idea that this film is epic in emotions, epic in battles, and just historical epic filmmaking. So with my exposure to the film I decided to check it out since everything seemed in its favor. That is until the film start, and you realize beside being a expensive cinematic piece of Korean patriotism. It’s also a film that lacking in evoking epic emotions like what seen on screen.

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Stare men! Stare into the readers souls!

The first hour of the film is meant to set up the characters, stakes, and provide context for the massive naval battle that will occupied the second half of the film. Unfortunately, instead of being the grand, historical epic film it desperately wants to be it comes across as a hollow blockbuster with a historical backdrop. One thing that is made immediately clear within the film is that it paints complex political issues into a simple battle of black, and white. Showering itself in national pride proudly portraying Koreans as the good guys, and showing the Japanese they fight as the villains. Given the premise down to the bare minimum is 12 Koreans ship battling 330 Japanese ships which is best comparable to the story of David, and Goliath. It’s quite the underdog setup that if it was presented morally grey could have resonated with any audience regardless of nationality.

In the film, it makes a clear case the Japanese are evil. A Korean character says in the film their enemy (the Japanese) steal their provisions from civilians, and use children for target practice. With this single scene the film throws away any intention of representing both side equally. It would be acceptable if it ended simply by showing Japanese killing children, but the film continues showing Japanese in a negative light. Characters aren’t better off either. You could deduce whatever Japanese character is in the film is going to be presented as evil. However, the Korean characters aren’t compelling either. The film the person is centered on, Admiral Yi Sun-sin (Choi Min-Sik), receives most of his characterization through text in the first two minutes of the film. Yi Sun-sin is touted as a double agent, is tortured, and remove from his position. Afterwards, he gets reinstated because the nation of Korea needs him if they want to lose to the Japanese. With this information being the first thing you learn about Yi Sun-sin where his character could have gone is intriguing alone. As you probably come to expect from me reviewing films of this quality it’s usually not the case. Sun-sin character receives traits like contemplation of his life, national pride, and to engage in the massive battle. These contemplative thoughts aren’t explored to any great depth. They get a mentioned in one scene, and then done.

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Remember the Battle of Thermopylae men? Well, they are all cowards compare to me. 

Another character that ends up uneven is Lee Whe (Kwon Yool) who ends being the audience gateway to learn more about his father Yi Sun-sin. The conversations between these two character are the closest the film goes into character exploration. It’s easy characterization painting a clear picture of differing positions between the two. Seeing them interact with each other is interesting due to conflicting feelings on what should be done in the battle. Lee Whe understands his father, but doesn’t see the scenario in the same light he does. Leading to moments where Yi Sun-sin explains his reasoning to put his worries at ease. It display the strong bond between the two character to be able get along no the difference in thoughts in a dire situation. This relationship between father, and son never grows into anything emotionally gripping, nor tell the audience anything about Lee Whe as an individual. All of Lee Whe character is tied to what his father does in this current moment of his life so history between them not in this specific event, and time is not explored.

Finally, the last character worth mentioning is Im Joon-Young who is a spy for Yi Sun-sin (Jin Goon) who sole purpose is to gather intel on the enemy. Aside from showing a small glimpse of the Japanese oppressing the civilians of the land they conquered this is about as far as this character is taken. There’s a subplot of his possible deaf lover which would be something compelling to see, but the first time she appears on screen is to tell her man goodbye. There’s no flashbacks, or a scene where the two interact as a regular couple so it ends up being meaningless in the film narrative.

A major writing issue with the film is the Turtle Ship itself. In the film, it’s established that this ship is essential in Admiral Yi Sun-Shin strategy in fighting against a large vessel of 330 ships with his mere forces of 12 warships. What advantage, and capabilities the Turtle Ship has over a regular warship is never explained. One would think a crucial detail like that would at some point be discuss in the film. It would have been fine if the film mentioned if it had stronger armor, better canons, or anything that explains what it’s better than an average warship. It would have better correlated why Yi Sun-Shin is intent on battling with it, and so crucial in his plan.

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During production, the cast, and crew celebrated Burning Men by burning the sets.

The second half of the film consist of a massive naval battle, and yes it is awesome. It’s during this naval battle where the scale, the bombastic soundtrack, and overblown exaggerated drama create the film most engaging material. Becoming easy to lose yourself with the events of the film. Aspects of the naval battle itself are not without criticism. Like mentioned, the overblown drama during the battle is extraordinary. In the film, there’s a romance subplot that doesn’t get much attention so when that subplot conclusion comes narratively it is hollow in feelings. It also breaks character consistency since in one scene this character is shown doing sign language to talk to her lover, but during the naval battle knows what her lover is saying even he’s too far away from land to read his lips, and was presumed to be deaf. Another aspect of the battle is it will test your suspension of disbelief. Admiral Yi Sun-Shin virtually beats more ships then he likely would have as his ship survives one unlikely scenario after another. The most over the top example comes when Admiral Yi Sun-Shin ship is corner from three sides, and Sun-Shin has the idea to use canon fire to propel his ship away from being cornered. Describing this moment is far different from actually seeing it for yourself. Whether or not it’s possible for such a thing to happen I can’t comment on since I’m no physicist.

Despite the numerous issues with the extensive naval battle itself I would still defend it for being the best part of the film. Unlike the previous hour, this naval battle is focus, and gets everything right in creating a thrilling atmosphere. There’s no talk of politics. Just a epic battle that engulfs itself with extreme emotions, and patriotism. It also uses simple moments like citizens witnessing the battle itself, and reacting to it to further get lost in the moments of battle. These moments eventually correlate into an morally uplifting scene for the Koreans, and a boosting excitement for non-Korean viewers. The very lengthy naval battle in this film will go down in film history as one of the best ever filmed. Now I might as well talked what happens after the naval battle since I more or less cover the entire movie story. If it ended with the moment between father, and son, the film rating wouldn’t have changed, but the actual ending will leave some scratching their head as to why that was the closing moment the film ended on. Since nothing was established about the Turtle Ship seeing one in action doesn’t scream excitement unless you know about the Turtle Ship.

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I lost count at 54 men killed.

The film stars Choi Min-sik as Admiral Yi Sun-sin who is a terrific actor in general. In this film he puts another top notch performance. He gives his character more complexity than the actual writing itself. A simple gesture of Min-sik delaying an immediate response tells the audience there’s a lot on this person’s mind. Min-sik plays the role seriously embodying his character perfectly inspiring his men with his words to keep fighting, bold in displaying a man hardened by war, and portraying a person who reputation doesn’t make him a larger than life figure. While the film is an extraordinary underdog story Choi Min-sik portrayal of Admiral Yi Sun-sin keeps him as human as possible. So no matter what extreme scenario the character survives Choi Min-sik performance makes it easy to accept. Also, he’s Choi Min-sik, if any Korean actor deserves one film that tells everyone “I’m awesome” it’s him.

Known Yool is decent in the role of Lee Whe. His chemistry with Choi Min-sik is excellent with both actors working great of each other. Known Yool is more varied in his expressions compare to Choi Min-sik because of the material he’s given. While good, Yool doesn’t embodied his character the same way Choi Min-sik does whom he shares many scenes with. Jin Goon is okay in his role as Im Joon-Young. He doesn’t leave much of an impression because of screen time, though his shining moment is during the naval battle. Now I do like to spend time talking about as many actors as possible so they too can get credit even if the contribution is small, though this film does me no favor. Cho Jin-Woong, Ryoo Seung-Ryong, and Kim Myung-Gon are all Korean actors playing Japanese characters speaking in the Japanese language incorrectly. The Korean actors don’t make the proper pronunciation of Japanese words when speaking as sometime within the same pronounce the same words differently. It’s quite jarring, though largely will go unnoticed for those who don’t watch many films from Asia. The remaining important actors includes the likes of Kim Tae-Hoon, No Min-Woo, Ryohei Otani, Park Bo-Gum, and Lee Jung-Hyun whom all give one note performances. One has to be silent, another has to be the concern lover, and another has to be angry. With their simple portrayals they won’t live much of an impression.

The film’s director, Kim Han-Min, did an excellent job overall. His only major criticism in his direction is misusing composer Tae-Seong Kim bombastic soundtrack in the whole film. When nothing narratively, or visually impactful is happening Kim Han-Min will have Tae-Seong music playing in it. Moments that could have been effective without music lose their impact. However, in the second half the usage of music is spot on. Another aspect of Kim Han-Min direction is spot is the naval battle itself. CG is noticeable, but for the most part keeps the action up close. Despite the large scale of the battle never once does Han-Min makes the audience become confused in what’s going on. He always creative in bringing in new ideas into the naval battle making sure it never becomes boring. This naval battle is probably going to be the technical achievement of his career. Another aspect worth praising is the film stellar cinematography bringing to life some memorable images, and the sets, and costume designs are good as well.

The Admiral: Roaring Currents is an epic film without equally sweeping engagement. As an historical film it simplifies the actual events into good vs evil. There’s no shame in the film hiding patriotism, nor the unequal portrayal of the enemies. Along with with story pieces, and character that don’t have much to them to captivate the viewers before the massive naval battle ensues. These aspects of the film will test audiences forgiveness for its writing shortcomings. If you take it as a piece of entertainment you might find it a decent diversion with the naval battle being the clear highlight of the film. No matter what way you might decide to view the film from there’s no escaping it could have ended up better, though maybe years from now a filmmaker will use this film as a template to make the masterpiece it couldn’t become.

6/10

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Cinema-Maniac: Close Range (2015) Movie Review

Straight to video films generally lack in quality so imagining an ocean of action films that are possibly worse than the higher budgeted action films is not far fetched. Action films in general offer a wide range of approach in execution, but unfortunately they also have negative stigmas to overcome. In particular to the ever famous claim that no one watches action movies for the stories which is far from the truth. A great story can make an action movie unforgettable which is proven with Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, plotless, and brainless action movies aren’t off the table for enjoyment either as Mad Max: Fury Road is currently the most critically acclaimed of these plotless action films. Sure it has a story, but the spoonfed dialogue, loosely written story, and simple characters results in underwhelming writing. Close Range offers pretty much the same thing; simple characters, a loosely written story, but loads of good action scenes for your entertainment in 81 minutes.

Close Range is about a rogue soldier turned outlaw who is thrust into a fight with a corrupt sheriff, and a dangerous drug cartel in order to protect his sister and her young daughter. That synopsis is about as much as the story evolves, or develop in the course of yes 81 minutes. It’s bare bone storytelling relying on basic character archetypes that can be defined as the good guy, and the bad guy. With its length there’s little room for character development. That includes lead character Colton MacReady (whose last name is what I usually order at McDonald’s) whose characterization is simply to make Scott Adkins (who plays Colton MacReady) look cool. Colton characterization paints him in a good light usually by his family whom only say positive things about him. What is strange about the simplistic storytelling are its intention are clearly too just string together a series of action scenes. This is evident by some leap in logic in the story from the corrupt sheriff who doesn’t call for backup when a dispatcher tells him she heard heavy gunfire from a phone call, to a drug kingpin who only takes a handful of henchman despite the hero killing dozen of his men including his son very early in the film, and if Colton MacReady is on the run why isn’t the military shown to be chasing after him. It’s brought up that Colton put a superior officer in the hospitals, and was meant to be jailed so one would expect the military actually be bother to pursue Colton. This plot point goes nowhere as there isn’t a single character dedicated to represent the military in any way. It’s usage is to make Scott Adkins appear more dangerous, and cool, even though he’s already both of those things.

One aspect of the writing that goes against the simplistic story, and characters is Sheriff Jasper Calloway (Nick Chinlund). Unlike the other characters whom fall under the good, or bad category the film attempted to make Jasper Calloway fall in the middle category. However, the treatment of his character is out place with the rest of the film writing. Jasper Calloway doesn’t have allot of screen time to paint him in a grey zone. He’s given the position of evil, but loving family man without bothering to mention if what he did was due to desperation. It simply comes across that Jasper despite his personal life status did what he did only for money. There’s Colton sister, Angela Reynolds (Caitlin Keats) who is a better representation of the grey zone resorting to shady activities to pay for a home. Unlike Jasper Calloway, Angela Reynolds is given the role of damsel in distress until the latter part of the film. She works in the confined of what the film aims for whereas Jasper Calloway clearly shows signs of wanting to uphold the law, but his character isn’t explored so it ends up going nowhere. Calloway is also purposeless since his second biggest contribution in the story is sending officers to chase Colton for a car chase. By the standard definition the film leaves many things to be desired none more important than tension for a rush of excitement seeing our hero struggle to stay alive. However, the film applies the rule of cool approach to its writing preferring to stylize for entertainment. It doesn’t pretend to be more than more what it wants to be, which is a brainless action movie, and the writing complements it with a length that makes sure it doesn’t drag out it welcome.

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In Adkins case fighting a Truck is easier than fighting Jason Bourne.

Scott Adkins takes charge in a leading role that require little in the acting department from him. Adkins only requirement is to look tough, sound angry in most of his line delivery, and perform the action scenes convincingly. He fits the bill of good action star looking right in the role while putting in a solid performance as a tough guy. It’s not showcasing Adkins skill much in the acting department as he is constantly in action hero mode. For the role, Scott Adkins only goal is to convince you he’s awesome, and pulls it off. Having both the look, and skills to perform what required of him in elaborate action scenes he makes enduring through the film lesser moments of excitement worth it.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the rest of the cast. Nick Chinlund, Caitlin Keats, Jake La Botz, Tony Perez, and Madison Lawlor deliver one note performances from pure evil (Tony Perez), unlikable douche bag (Jake La Botz), scared child (Madison Lawlor), and so forth. The supporting cast roles are pretty much an afterthought by having little material where they change emotions. Most facial expressions from actors don’t change when they are introduced to when it finally ends. At most, Nick Chinlund is the most dynamic of the supporting cast, but always comes across agitated. Chinlund doesn’t have the skill to make his character come across as sympathetic. Other cast members like Jake La Botz, and Caitlin Keats deliver exposition most of the time. Resulting in tedium when they don’t speak like people. Caitlin Keats at least gets to perform in the action in the last of act of the film, though not for long, and not performing anything that nearly as elaborate as what Scott Adkins has to pull off. She still deserves of praise for making her moment in the action seem convincing.

Fight choreography is credited to Jeremy Marinas who should applauded for his work on Close Range. The film opens quite ambitiously by having Scott Adkins beat up a bunch of goons single handily in a Mexican compound in one take. Despite the limitation that comes with the one take shot the opening action sequence is well filmed, and performed. One aspect in this fight that works in its favor is its in a enclosed area with not many people in the background. Keeping focus on Scott Adkin fighting whoever is in front of him. Another standout sequence is a one sided fight between Scott Adkins, and Jeremy Marinas. There’s no suspension of who will win the fight, but both actors make it entertaining by allowing each to offer blows before the eventual end of it. Switching battle tactics frequently in the fight turn the tide of the fight in their favor. While the action sequences favors a combination of gunfights inter splice with constant bullet dodging in the third act it does contain a good car chase, fight scenes including a climax that combines it with gunplay, and other set pieces to satisfy the checklist of variety in violence. It’s final act is where it begins to stop caring about logic as characters seamlessly fire endless rounds of bullets from a single clip. All of this is made more impressive when a majority of these set pieces take place in a two story house. This house gets filled with bullet holes, broken glass, and eventually having  a few dead bodies. Due to the story, the film doesn’t offer a high body count, but more than makes up for it in quality. It’s an understatement when saying the production team made great use of everything at their disposal.

Close Range is a satisfactory film for action junkies. The story while simple is clear in its intention to string together a series of action scenes which is why it only bothers to make our hero awesome, and our bad guys villainous. With a length of 81 minutes the film never outstays its welcome being capable of filling the quota of viewers looking for popcorn entertainment. Its low budget action filmmaking from the duo of Scott Adkins, and director Isaac Florentine whom keep on pushing the boundaries of what’s capable with a low budget action filmmaking for the better. While the writing won’t leave an impression it will at least entertain while it last.

6/10

Cinema-Maniac: Mad Max: Fury Road

I would best compare this film to another film that came out in 2013 by the name of Gravity. Gravity, much like the film I’m reviewing right now, was a spoon fed, overly praised film that places more value on aesthetics than it does on engaging characters or a worthwhile story to be invested in. Just like Gravity, one bewilderment towards the overwhelming positive reception versus the actual quality of the film shouldn’t be a surprise since if you remove the technical achievement all you’ll have left is superficial entertainment with a two hour car chase. It’s a dumb action film with a high budget, and cool car stunts which is sadly all it has to offer.

Around this portion of my reviews I would provide a synopsis of Mad Max: Fury Road, but any sort of synopsis should be considered a spoiler. There’s very little plot in the film that required three writers to create. To put it in perspective the film without giving away thin specifics is basically like driving a couple miles away from your home to get water while being chased by lunatics, remembering there’s no longer anyone guarding your home for some reason, and returning home the same way you came even though it was blocked after an explosion. That is all that occurred within two hours. Like mentioned before, this took the effort of three writers to create is pretty pathetic not just in writing, but filmmaking as a whole.

It’s titled character, Max, is a man of few words, fewer defining characteristic beside having a tortured past, and less of an engaging character. Max is relegated to a supporting role who just goes with the motion of events. Some attempts are made in providing a backstory to Max, but it is thinly stretched out. All that is told about Max through hallucination is that he failed to protect people. Their importance is never specify almost as if discluding any newcomer in the franchise. If it fails to stand alone as it own entity then it failed before filming began. Nope, instead of providing stronger context it’s better if that time was better spent on very long car chases instead.

More ridiculous than the thinness of the story is the presentation of serious moments. Car chases take up 90% of the film are bombastic, and loud which when applied to a character, Furiousa, talking about redemption can’t be taken seriously. That’s the clear points of these moments, though once again I want emphasize it took three people to write this story. Without much exploration into character backgrounds it further deteriorate into an eye candy spectacle that only manages to hold your attention because of it belief it would lose its audience if there wasn’t a extensive car chase for every few minutes focus on plot.

The film opens up with our main character Max being captured, and in an attempt to escape shows to the viewer(s) how insane the world is. This very early scene shows a crowd of people gathering around to get water with the images presenting a clear picture of how important this resource is in the world. Yet, the three writers felt the imagery of this scene wouldn’t be enough to convey the desperation in its world either being water, healthy people, or fertile land which is why lines like “As the world fell, each of us in our ways were broken” is spoon feeding to the definition. Much like the example I use in the opening paragraph, if it was entirely muted (we’re talking about virtually no dialogue) the film would actually be an achievement in storytelling regardless if it needed to use simple caricatures for an action movie. Unfortunately, with spoon fed dialogue like that it’s a blessing and a curse the characters don’t talk as much as they do taking away from the experience.

Characters are simplified to very basic character arcs; most notable examples comes in the form of Nux and Furiousa. Nux wants to be taken to Vahala which loosely can be tied to religion as much as Furiousa search for redemption from an event that’s makes a very loose connection with the antagonist. Nux doesn’t suffer as much as Furiousa in his basic characterization due to his simplistic loyalty painting a clear picture of his arc when he enters the picture. Max goal is to possibly get over past demons and survive without talking much. Now, Max getting over his demons isn’t an issue since it’s what drives his character to be a better person than he was before. However, Max being muted when Furiosa is trying to kill him is idiotic. He’s man of few words, but not very intelligent…or is he? The script can’t decide on that as in one scene Max manages to get a truck out a swampland that got mired in the desert by the use of the only conveniently found tree in that area. So his reluctance to speak in a scene where women are trying to run away from the same lunatics chasing Max, and the leader is attempting to kill Max a simple explanation would have avoided a well choreographed, but rather pointless action scene.

So earlier I made a rough outline of the film general story by making up an example. That outline has serious issues. First, there is an explosion in a canyon with only one entrance way being shown. That entrance gets blocked by rubble of rocks. Yet, when the characters decide to return to where Max was taken seemingly using the same road. Second, we’re in the desert and making further suspend your belief is despite the large locations shown throughout the film Max takes the same route to return to the Citadel (where the film basically starts). Lastly, the antagonist took all of his men when chasing down Max? If not, how come the citizens of the Citadel didn’t kill Immortan Joe (the antagonist) if his power was so limited? It would explain the ending, but if so, even if the antagonist did strike fear in the people’s eyes the numbers of baddies still in the Citadel is larger of that of what the Immortan Joe took with him when chasing down Max and his Five Wives. In context characters finally stop looking for answers in other places that might not exist, but also in context it basically means the outline of the story is unbelievably goofy.

If you’re looking for action, but mostly in the car chases variety Mad Max: Fury Road has impressive stunt work. For starter, the way Mad Max: Fury Road is filmed is done like an expert. The camera in these car chases usually follows the cars without shaking the camera. No matter how many cars are on screen together or if there’s an explosion the camera doesn’t need to shake to emulate the chaotic nature of just occurred in a scene. It does it through visuals favoring long takes with wide shots angle to see every bit of carnage done in the film.

Another aspect of the car chases is the smart uses of wide shots throughout lengthy sequences. A common problem for directors of higher budgeted action movies is that a director would make the mistakes of using many mid-shots instead to be closer to the action instead of pulling the camera further for a better flow. One of the best example is a scene where Max is attempting to break the window of a car from his capturer who’s planning to kill himself in a blaze glory during a desert storm. In the background, Max is seen struggling to hang onto a car and attempting to break the window while in the foreground his capturer is preparing to kill himself. This paints a picture of struggle, and a time limit within the same shot. This also applies to car crashes as when a car gets destroyed the camera shows the entire car as it gets destroyed. However, instead of pausing to display this demolished car it will instead continue to follow the action. One prime example of a George Miller expert direction is in the film there’s tanker that explodes, and how he displays it incorporates many techniques. From this lone scene in a couple of seconds Miller combines CG, shot composition, and editing to seamless effect. As Max is fighting against a Warboy on a pole/ladder that’s very close to touching the ground in motion he successfully kills the Warboy; with the ladder now having less weight Max attempts to get himself onto safety in the foreground on a moving car while the background a tanker is exploding within the same frame of shots. This moment doesn’t last any longer than seven seconds, but seamlessly through expert uses of CG, shot composition, and editing it’s a seamless flow of coherence that Miller often succeed in duplicating throughout the film.

The stunt work is nothing short of amazing. Cars are demolished on screen alongside obtaining a high body count from in the film characters death. In general, the stunt will require a dozen or so cars as well participants to do insane set pieces. Not only do the stunt crew having perform a dangerous stunt on constantly moving vehicles, but also do it with visibly little protection and sometimes with props like spears, pipes, baby bottle, spray can, and anything that can be found in this post apocalyptic film. What’s pulled off successfully is a string of convincing looking stunts that at some point in the film you’ll begin to believe every single stunt was done by actual person. In some scenes a dummies is used, but with an expert stunt crew it blurred the lines between a real person and dummy that it’s not even noticeable even among action aficionados.

CGI is used in virtually every single shot of the film, though it’s mostly use on either filtering colors or enhance the effect of a scene. For instance, going back to the tanker explosion if you removed the CG from that explosion you’ll still have the same explosion and stunt in place. The only thing the CG is adding was enhancing the effect of an explosion to give it more visual finesse by darkening smokes and brightening up the flames. Sometimes CG will add an explosion or make a scene colors pop out. Fury Road usage of CG is smart as it only uses it to add to a larger piece of the film instead of it taking over for an entire scene.

Set design is also detailed with a rough-hewn general look for the clothings. Getting across a clear picture of this dystopia fascination with worshiping cars like a religion. There is no normal looking car in the film as you have muscle cars on top of tanks, vintage cars on top of oil rigs and things that look like killer porcupines with wheels underneath them. There’s a lot to admired from the vehicles including the manic arsonist guitarist surrounded by a wall of amplifiers. The guitarist is also a key feature of the soundtrack, with Junkie XL using the chaotic music to stamp a mark of citizenship upon the particular tribes across the journey, mixing in suspenseful, looming soundbites to show the ever-nearing distance between threats.

The acting I can’t complain about, but that’s mostly because the cast provide a lot more conviction in their portrayals than the script does in providing details. Tom Hardy hardly speaks in the film with most of his performance relegated to simply grunting and facial expressions. Despite the limitation in his performance Tom Hardy sells the image of a broken, desperate man. Everything his character is feeling is received by the viewer properly. Charlize Theron plays Furiousa a cool looking character with a no-nonsense attitude. Playing a complex character whose composure hides a lot of her inner turmoil. Having to display a rough surface while at the same time a character whose holding onto what little hope for a better life there is left. Her chemistry with Hardy is excellent displaying the changes in their relationship through the film going from strangers, to enemies, to partners convincingly.

Nicholas Hoult plays Nux a character heavy on a visual arc. He has the most easily definable character traits utilizing them in his portrayal of Nux. A character that enthusiastically goes into blindly following a belief of the antagonist to a more down to earth person contemplating a new view for life. His changes are among the most evident in the film benefiting from a character whose entire journey unlike the other two characters is seen to the finish line. Hugh Keays-Byrne is a appropriate looking “Obviously Evil Bad Guy” type of antagonist. His costume leaves little imagination for what kind of person he is. Consumed in the role Byrne exudes desire, hatred, and vengeance through his portrayal of the film antagonist. I also must give credit to the casting of largely unknown actor Nathan Jones and playing on his strength by giving him little words to speak and allot to express. This movie was expertly put together needless to say.
Mad Max: Fury Road will make you mad and furious for the wrong reasons. It’s more of an issue of the shallow writing that excuses itself to be a two hour chase scene. Gazing upon it you’ll be in awe at the large scale practical stunt work, and gorgeous cinematography before realizing its product of its time that is only appreciated as such. The biggest drawback to the film is it uncertainty to trust the audience; it’s powerful images tell its story majestically, but due to the spoon fed dialogue the reward that comes with figuring out what occurred in the story yourself diminishes the impact when it does it for two hours. It’s technical achievement on all fronts, but if the spoon fed dialogue was virtually removed than it would have also obtained a storytelling achievement to go along with its wild world.

6/10

Anime-Breakdown: Sword Art Online (2012) Series Review

From the moment I finished the first episode of Sword Art Online all promises of a good show flew out the window. Some problems became immediately clear to me and it first episode failed to capture my attention in any way. Yet, at the same time I stuck with it, hoping it would improve, and in some respect it kinda did. Not enough for me to call it or consider it a good show, but nothing I would consider bad in general either. For all it’s problems it always kept me entertain whenever it did something good or bad. The ideas it had were interesting even if not executed properly most of the time. It’s simply a well produced show that tells a story poorly, but in a very entertaining way.

Synopsis:

In the year 2022, the virtual reality game Sword Art Online is released. Using a Nerve Gear, players can control their characters using their own minds, and experience the world of Aincrad as if it were real. Unfortunately, it becomes all too real when the creator of the game locks everyone out of the real world by hijacking all the Nerve Gear devices so that if you die in the game, you will die in real life. Only by clearing the 100th floor and defeating the final boss can the players win their freedom.

Good: Solid Production Values

A-1 Picture is a studio that I just acknowledge exist. This studio hasn’t made anything that I liked or hated wholeheartedly. However, when it comes to their production values they are consistently solid including the very colorful Sword Art Online. Character designs are simplistic and the locations are diverse. A-1 Pictures take advantage to show off snowy mountains, grassy fields, ancient dungeons, and many more to their advantage. Colors are simple and plain because lightning is rarely a factor to how a scene will look. Don’t expect much shading from this show, let alone gradient. In movement the animation is smooth from beginning to end without any noticeable issues.

One of my two complaints about the animation is Sword Art Online misses depths of perspective. Everything in the show looks flat, making what little use of 3D there is stick out. Another complaint is the action scenes are very weak. The choreography for all of them are simple which would have been fine, but whenever a spell or a weapon makes an impact on a person there is little visual flair or particles effect to add to the action. It’s similar to lighting up a firework and waiting for the true spectacle to occur, but it never comes because it’s a dud. I should add that the first opening intro is very misleading in representing Asuna as an strong component character who is as skilled as Kirito. In the first opening intro it shows Asuna and Kirito beating “The Gleam Eyes” while in the actual show it doesn’t happen. It’s almost as if A-1 Pictures acknowledge in their own way “Yeah, this character sucks. Sorry”.

All the music in the anime is a good fit with the show. In particular the closing song “Overfly” by Luna Haruna perfectly fits the romance side of the series. Of course that could be due to the second outro being more visually creative giving bits of the character relationship in pictures where the first outro is just camera panning down two characters doing nothing. The opening themes aren’t impressive. “Crossing Field” sung by LiSA sounds phoned in (especially if compared to Oath and Sign) and Air Eoi “Innocence” is passable. Any piece of music that isn’t the opening or closing themes fits with the show. It’s never distracting, but at the same time hardly noticeable as it never fuels audience’s emotion to create a powerful scene. It simply works in the show.

Voice acting is good, though not a single performance stands out regardless if you see it in Japanese or English. Both versions have a different take on how the voice actors portray the characters. The English dub cast are (mostly) subtle in their delivery, but in Japanese there’s more emotion driven into the performances. If you have to choose, I would recommend seeing it in its original Japanese language if only because the animation doesn’t deliver spectacles worth your attention.

Mixed: Mixture of good ideas that fail to live up to potential

Sword Art Online first arc (episode 1 – 14) suffers from rush pacing. It’s damaging to the point that on episode 13 it finally decides to address a major plot hole established in the pilot episode regarding how the players’ bodies are kept in a stable condition in the real world. If it takes that long to address a gaping plot hole there’s less chances whatever the material tries to tackle will come out better. For example, Asuna is introduced as a player who is on or close to the same skill level as Kirito holding her own in a fight in episode two. That quickly changes when Asuna is pushed to the sideline and given little to do afterwards. Usually involving cooking, cleaning, and needing to be saved. Another drawback to the pacing is skipping around time. You frequently skip months in the story with the anime usually relying on generalizing events than actually showing. Like how did Asuna obtain a high ranking position in the “Knights of the Blood” made further questionable when seeing her contribution when working alongside Kirito.

When out of focus episodes will go off track from the main story. These side stories flesh out the world by showing how the game mechanics work, but all at the cost of being filler. On the other hand, these side stories do keep the story unpredictable, even if the outcome never changes. Some other positive points about the first arc is there is risks of losing inside “Sword Art Online”. Not anything the main cast will suffer because Kirito’s overpowered, but it is established and touched upon in key scenes. While not as explored as the subject of death, it does bring up the mindset of different kind of players. Showing some diversity to offset the goody two shoes the story focuses on. Another positive is the romance doesn’t end with two characters becoming boyfriend and girlfriend. It shows two characters as a couple and runs with it for awhile. Although the downside being the couple aren’t interesting as stand alone characters let alone when they become a couple.

If there’s one thing that can’t be overlooked is how often it contradicts itself. It’s more than willing to break its own rules to make its protagonist come across as being awesome. For example, Kirito said himself it’s much better to be in a guild, but in Episode 8 single handily defeats one of the toughest bosses by himself. This also applies to gamers in the show who don’t know how to play the games. In Episode 2, it’s established to take place an entire month after the first episode and gamers still don’t know how to play the game. Either leading to speculation that most players of SAO are idiots or don’t bother to learn how play the game knowing their lives depending on it.

Now due to the course of the anime I encourage you to avoid the next two paragraphs to avoid spoilers. I won’t go into specifics, but just the mere mention of it will spoil “Sword Art Online” Aincrad Arc (Episode 1 – 14).

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Episodes 15 – 25 make up the Fairy Dance Arc that takes place in Alfheim Online. A noticeable improvement is the pacing is slower. Allowing more of the story to unfold in real time instead of generalizing important events in exposition. However, some issues in the Aincard Arc carry over to the Fairy Dance Arc. Asuna character receives another downgrade and becomes a plot device to move the story forward. Sadly, that’s all of Asuna contributions in the Fairy Dance Arc. It also does away with the consequence of death that the first arc got across. Stakes are smaller and the scope of what it tackles is smaller. Plus going from a setting that has dragons, ghosts, and Santa Claus gets replaced by a setting filled with Fairies. There’s no competition, which arc has the more interesting setting. It might sound like a downgrade, but it improves in one area with it counts.

Since the story becomes more personal there’s no filler in the arc. Everything done is to move the story forward. It still suffers from the same problem of giving supporting characters little to do, but it is not as noticeable since an entire episode won’t be dedicated to helping out a random character who won’t make another appearance. Then there’s Suguha whose characterization is better handled. From her introduction as an important character we see her progress from her conflict from beginning to end. Unfortunately, there’s never a love triangle that arises from her involvement. Just like every other female in the show, Suguha has to rely on Kirito to do everything in the end.

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Mixed: Likeable, but bland characters

Kirigaya Kazuto or Kirito as he commonly referred by is a bland protagonist. Kirito is overpowered to the point that if there is an ever moment of conflict, he’ll make sure to eliminate it. Every battle and every dungeon Kitiro goes in, there is never any doubt about his survival. Even without the “He’s the protagonist, of course he won’t die” invisible tag attached to his character. Diminishing any worthwhile investment since he easily overcomes any obstacles including boss fights. The worst aspect about this trait is the audience doesn’t even get to see Kirito become stronger. If it was another genre of gaming, it would make sense…except Kirito play games specifically designed for multiple people to play together. Yet, somehow with his lone wolf attitude Kirito is able to get to a higher level than any other player that play in a group. Anyone who plays an MMO will tell you how difficult it can be to level up, especially if you’re a solo player. What’s most questionable about him is the way he thinks. For some reason he keeps how strong he is to himself, despite the fact if he played at his full abilities he can prevent more people from dying. His actions are equally harmful to the people trapped in SAO as a antagonist.

Another (lack of) trait is Kirito suffers little eternal conflict that gets explored. At one point the show explains why Kirito is into gaming, but doesn’t expand on it. Instead of adding on Kirito accepting the game he’s trap in as real life. It’s left as an interesting, unexplored characteristic of his character. Everything always seems to work his way sometimes without his involvement in the solution. This kind of character or wish fulfillment can be done correctly. For example, in Persona 3 you take control of a seemingly perfect character (that you could name him/her whatever you want) with a status of the chosen one. Much like Kirito, Persona 3’s Protagonists builds his/her stats until he/she is perfect at everything. The difference with Kirito is his backstory is never a focus at any point in the series. Whereas Persona 3’s Protagonists backstory is given fleshing them out. No longer are the characters simply overpowered, but developed characters that blend with the cast. From beginning to end Kirito remains static with no major difference from where he begins to where he ends up.

Asuna serves as Kirito love interest. She could have been a good character, but beyond episode two the series does everything it can to lessen her importance. Instead of being an equally strong character like Kirito she eventually becomes reliant on Kirito like virtually every female character in the anime. What makes Asuna case different is how she was introduced as an equally skilled player which is not the direction the story took her in. This introduction makes her the most disappointing in the cast especially with what’s done with her in the second half. Another significant female character is Yui whose an AI or little girl ex-machina. Her contributions are similar to Asuna in which she becomes a plot device to move the story forward in the second half, but early on is involved in a side story about family. To get it out of the way it was rather heartless, but at least it contribute to the main story and one of few times character development of Asuna and Kirito as a couple works.

The last significant female character is Kirigaya Suguha. Despite not appearing in the show as much as the series main love interest Suguha gets better character development. Suguha is a sympathetic character all due circumstances from her placement in the story. Her feelings in a situation are rely to the audience properly to understand where she’s coming from. Making her conflict in her feelings for Kirito that she never thought about much. She doesn’t know if her love for Kirito is right or wrong due to circumstances she’s not entirely sure played a part to influence how she feels. Like the other female characters she does end up falling for Kirito, but unlike the rest of female cast Suguha feelings has some depths. As a character she grows in the story for the better not taking steps backwards.

Male supporting characters won’t be as reliant on Kirito since an entire episode is never dedicated to Kirito helping out another male character on a dangerous quest. The most he does for a follow male is teaching them how to play, despite the person spending tons on money to get the equipment to play the game and having waited three days in line to get it. If it’s a male other than Kirito they’ll spend most of their time off screen. This rule changes if the male happens to be an adult than chances increases they’ll be evil. Most of the adversaries Kirito fight against are mostly male, which in itself becomes tedious. Although, that last sentence should be filed under personal pet peeves instead of a flaw in the show.

Personal Enjoyment: Surprisingly, I was never bored

Well you did just read a couple of paragraphs of me favoring the second arc of “Sword Art Online” over the first. Just because I prefer one arc over the other doesn’t mean “Sword Art Online” quality will change. It’s story is never consistent in quality, but it is always entertaining. Whenever there is a bad scene in “Sword Art Online” I find it entertaining. From Kirito gaining the very stupid and non insulting nickname of “Beater”, any scene involving those useless teleportation crystals, and seeing Nicholas The Renegade (Santa Claus) being a few stand out. Thankfully not everything in the series was poorly thought out as there are actually good scenes in “Sword Art Online” I liked. The ending in Episode 14 titled “The End of the World” was satisfying even if the outcome of it was completely due to deus ex machina. Another being episodes 22 & 23 where the scenes between Leefa and Kirito that made me realize I actually cared what happens.

(Likely) Possible Complaints:
Everything I listed
The main character is Kirito
Everything that isn’t on the technical side if you loathe the story and characters
How popular it is (this one’s superficial)
This review if you absolutely hate it or absolutely love it

Rating: 6/10

Production Values (Sound, Animation, etc.): 3/3

Story: 1/3

Characters: 1/3

Personal Enjoyment (Yes, my enjoyment is worth the least amount points): 1/1

Final Thoughts:

When I got to the final episode of Sword Art Online and sat through the closing credits with still images my thoughts on the show were immediately clear. It’s not something I would call a good show with a story that has good ideas that get squandered by poor execution and characters that receive little character development or get pushed to the sideline after a single episode. However, it was consistently entertaining and always had my interest no matter how it turned out. There’s is one thing that is for certain regardless where you stand on Sword Art Online quality. It’ll leave one strong impression on the viewer before and after it ends.

6/10

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

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: The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989) Review

Extra! Extra! CM lost yet another case against the general public (aka his college classroom). In his effort to prove Marvel monopoly on superheroes films is no excuse for laziness CM back himself with supporting evidence in court showing several Marvel films side by side. Asking the jury to name a director of a specific film to which they couldn’t differentiate a single film for having a unique style, a different formula, or a different tone. He came prepared and determine to prove a point, but lost with an opposing evidence against him. The side against CM pointed to a positive review of Sharknado found on his profile which was enough to convince the jury his position on trail was futile and unanimously was found guilty in hating anything popular. This is not the first time CM lost a case against the general public. Similarly the same occurred when he declared “The Dark Knight” the worst influence to comic book films and titled the success of “Frozen” the end of creativity in American animation. Neither of those cases prove any success as he became bombarded by large number of defenders. Yes it seems by some colleagues his pursue for there to be great writing in films is coming at the sacrifice of seeing why a particular film appeal even when those supporters who see those same flaws. I’m simply attempting to this introduction as a news story because CM has no other way to open the review. Much the film he’s about to review, this opening is lost potential for something that could have been clever, but ends up falling short of what seemed promising.

The Trail of the Incredible Hulk follows David Banner who is held for questioning about a mob crime, his only chance lies with his blind lawyer. Honestly the title of the film was enough to convince me to see the film. I expected it to be the first Marvel film acknowledge consequences for super powers. In the first act it appears that way with David Banner being sent to prison and meeting his blind lawyer Matt Murdock whose determine to defend him. Sure Banner case will help Murdock in his personal pursuit for justice, but is shown wanting to take the high minded road with the story. Now it should be brought up that the film skims through the background of David Banner and Matt Murdock. What we learn is enough to obtain an understanding for both characters having more in common than one might expect. It’s more geared towards the characters driving the story than a story being driven by action. How the characters act make sense and their handling of their respective ordeals is seen as a logical one from their own view. Banner in this film does not turn into Hulk frequently demonstrating a restraint depicted in being difficult to maintain. We see Banner is a good guy, but not so much the world around him provoking him into madness with a desire to SMASH! We see a Banner not desiring to use powers for any good or bad motives. By the end it’s a given he will use them for good, but brings the often ignored turmoil in depicting a individual that unlike other super heroes cannot be entirely good or evil by complete control.

Back on topic, the title of the film is misleading. Sadly the only time we’re ever in court is in a dream sequence. What makes this dream sequence a tragic lost is if the scenario did happen it would have created a case that made proving Banner innocence allot more difficult. It’s also easily the best sequence in the film showing the most of Hulk abilities and the first ever Stan Lee cameo. Also, the techniques used in this dream sequence put us directly in Banner shoes. Disorienting close ups, uncomfortable zooming in to people faces, and loud noises that won’t stop that frankly just want to make you see HULK SMASH the court. Sadly post dream sequence the film takes a dive downward. Becoming more of a superhero team up than a high minded court film. Following the same formula of villain takes damsel, hero gets defeated, hero regaining his spirit, hero goes to save damsel, and villains get away on high tech flying speed boat from the top of tall building. Okay maybe not that last part, but that’s the general outline. Yet at the same time despite these familiarity there are many moments that makes it feel different from Marvel usual outing. Often seeing Banner and Murdock lives as mundane. Coming from someone who seen a number of Marvel films different is refreshing.

The same notion applies to the technical and cast side of the film. Once again there is some promise among the crew, but along the way falter. Bill Bixby is the director, producer, and star of the film. Bixby dialogue for the first act is simple often saying simple phrases instead of speaking in complete sentences. As the film progresses Bixby has more lines making him able to hold a conversation through his angry voice. However, when Bixby is meant to transform into a green painted Lou Ferrigno his angry face is unintentionally hilarious. This also causes some continuity issues as Bixby beard disappears when he “Hulks-out”. Ferrigno has the best moments in the film despite most of his dialogue requiring him to yell in rage. Sadly he doesn’t get to show much of his strength aside from the trial scene. It shows the film had a small budget with as Hulk does little destruction and Daredevil fights scenes beside being incredibly lame are slowly performed with simple choreography. Spectacles are the one thing the budget can’t contribute. Also, he doesn’t make an appearance in the final act that while it breaks from the norm of the title character saving the day means Hulk is often seen running more than helping people. To be fair though, a green Lou Ferrigno still looks more realistic than CG Hulks. Rex Smith committed as Matt Murdock, though is bland. While I do praise Smith for never blinking in his role as a blind man it does severely limits his range of emotions with constant wide eyes. Plus his costume is just black which makes sense for fighting in the dark, but looks uninteresting when compared the sight of a green Lou Ferrigno. Finally John Rhys-Davies plays the villain Wilson Fisk. Everything he says is cheesy comic-book villainy and he’s a having a blast with it. Embracing the goofy persona of his characters he’s rather fun to see even if he’s the villain. The supporting cast are part of the background with no standout. Some are good and some are hammy. As for director Bill Bixby his technique is just point and shoot. Visually the film ever rarely looks interesting with any noteworthy shot.

The Trail of the Incredible Hulk is different from Marvel usual affair. Granted it dated badly in some areas, but which specifically is up for debate. I don’t know about you, but when Lou Ferrigno plays Hulk I can tell he is real and actually there unlike the CG Hulks. Unfortunately unlike CG Hulk, Lou Ferrigno is restricted to slow movements and deliver little in the way of destruction. However, this film does allot right. The characters are made human, Hulk and Daredevil team up is fun, and refreshing to see the title character not be the main hero in a Marvel film. It won’t deliver the spectacles like todays Marvel films, but deliver on its characters and unlike most of Marvel releases it feels different. It’s not as high minded as one would hope given the title, but is a nice distraction sometimes faring better than a higher budget Marvel film.

6/10

Cinema-Maniac: Airplane vs. Volcano (2014) Review

The Asylum is a brand I can trust when it comes to viewing something out of the norm of sensibility and logic. Sure nearly every knock off the studio makes can’t compete with the actual film it’s ripping off, but even those have their own highlights of mediocrity. Earlier this year I witnessed the uneventful and shallow “Apocalypse Pompeii” which was a volcanic disaster movie based around Mount Vesuvius. It was a typical disaster film without a bone of creativity or interesting idea to overcome technical limitations like horrid acting. I bring up “Apocalypse Pompeii” because it takes place in the same universe as “Airplane vs. Volcano” as made clear in news broadcast in the film. As pointless as that bit of trivia might be what is not pointless is knowing that “Airplane vs. Volcano” is not a good general movie, but it is an entertaining B-movie.

Airplane Vs. Volcano is about a commercial airliner trapped within a ring of erupting volcanoes, the passengers and crew must find a way to survive – without landing. It doesn’t take long for the action to get started literally opening with a scientifically goofy explanation on the sudden rises of volcano follow by an instant death of a scientist. What makes it difficult to discuss this film is how much of its own stupidity should I bring up. Part of the fun is in seeing the dumb premise unfold with it even stupider characters we follow. Every single thing these characters do is counter productive losing most of their oil in single a mistake which also almost caused them to blow up in mid air, but also gets passengers and military soldiers killed with every plan hatched. All the characters in the film are one dimensional cliches; the air marshall, the geek, the average joe who lost everything, disaster expert, the unneeded middle eastern attempted hijacker who’s absent most of the duration, the single parent with a child, reluctant military general, but all are all idiots. Like a usual disaster movie it has no time to develop of any of its characters. Jumping between the dire situation on the plane and military command post that examine the disaster and attempt to minimize casualty. It has no time focus on the human element of the story which later undermines the characters plead for help in the third act from resonating. While I would love to poke fun the military solution to save the passengers in detail doing so will ruined any fun to be had in its third act. Although I will say it involves bombs, jet fighters, a military general, and tons of fireballs. The script is plagued with cliches and bad science, but makes up for it with a fast pace and host of creative ideas. It’s setting might be limited, but always keeps it plot moving. Set pieces are guarantee to deliver a laugh and along the way the enjoyably implausible climax. Melodrama is wonderfully cheesy and the conflict is forced to the point that the most illogical path might be the right way to survive the disaster. All doing so with it tongue firmly implanted in it cheeks being a part of the fun that knows when to push itself into absurdity and come in control with cheesy melodrama.

Dean Cain is the leading man filled with a committed cast of hammy actor. Cain, like the rest of the cast, are in on the joke. While Cain doesn’t change his facial impression much looking more like he’s having fun than in actual peril has charisma. He’s fun to be around with his goofy character allowing him to say stuff no one would utter. Not only that, but his arc is one of the few story threads that is decent enough to pull have a small payoff, even if it’s undone seconds later in the climax. Plus I appreciate an in joke on the actor who also played Superman. The only other actor worth a positive mention is Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs who inspite of the material gives a good performance. He’s the closest the cast has to a good actor showing range in his abilities swiftly changing from a tough guy to fun loving air marshall. Jacobs commits putting some emotions in his more dramatic scenes. The two worst actors in the film are easily Morgan West and Mike Jerome Putnam. These two have no chemistry with each other uttering their lines without conviction. They hardly show any emotion with their expression and vocally deliver every line with the same tone of voice through out. Finally Robin Givens is bad in her role. She’s does not seemed to understand what kind of movie she is delivering all her expository line very seriously. Givens always appears upset about volcanoes. The special effects are the usual cheap looking CG Asylum standard. Here it’s they do repeat the same shots of the airplane in peril surrounded by volcanoes for two acts. However, what the filmmakers do with the special effects is varied in its set pieces makes up for the plastic look of it CG.

Airplane Vs. Volcano is an entertaining b-movie. It has hammy acting, a goofy story, and hilarious stupid moments. If you’re part of the audience that enjoys a B-movie “Airplane Vs. Volcano” has you cover getting to the action immediately and keeps itself afloat with creativity. It’s in on the fun and knows how to deliver entertainment as well as a good laugh. While it won’t ever surpass the legendary Sharknado (I recommend if you like b-movies) it’s in the same ball park in being one of “The Asylum” better films.

6/10

Note:

On the DVD box of “Airplane Vs. Volcano” it says “Based on the true story”. Out of curiosity I looked into it and it turns out “The Asylum” has done a film based on a true story before. For instance, “Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies” is based on the biography titled “Emancipate This!” by someone with the initial JWB. If that’s not historically accurate I don’t know what is.

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.

6/10

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

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

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

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

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

6/10