Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

Introduction:

So there is now an official Cloverfield trilogy which is blossoming into a full-blown “series” as of this writing. So far these films all share some element of surprise in their marketing. When it comes to this film, the surprise was along the lines of “where the hell did this come from?” because I didn’t know anyone who even heard this was in the works. Springing fully formed from the head of Zeus and onto Netflix we have a sci-fi horror hybrid. But is it worth checking out?

Summary:

Earth is in trouble. Natural resources are running scarce and a new source of energy needs to be found. So the Cloverfield space station is launched. Using technology based on particle accelerators, the science team believes they can create an endless source of energy… they just need to get the damn thing to work.

We meet Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) the communications officer aboard the station. She is dealing with some personal tragedy in her life and is finding it hard to focus on her job. She will need to focus, because a freak accident causes the station to malfunction and be hurtled to a mysterious location in space. While trying to figure out what is happening the crew realizes that they have opened a dimensional door. That caused all kinds of horrifying and bizarre things to occur. This includes finding a living person inside a wall, strange emanations of magnetic fields, and eyeballs just not behaving in sockets. As the horrors mount the crew becomes certain that they actually crossed dimensions and being in an alternate reality may create a paradox… a Cloverfiled Paradox so to speak. David Oyelowo, Daniel Bruhl, Chris O’ Dowd, Zhang Ziyi and Elizabeth Debicki round out the cast.

Good Points:
  • Some solid acting by the cast
  • Some excellent visual effects and sets
  • Manages to build up some solid thrills and WTF moments 

Bad Points:
  • Feels very disjointed and messy at times
  • The story is very, very, very familiar
  • Connections to the previous films in the series feels like an afterthought

Overall:

There are elements of a top-notch sci-fi thriller buried in this movie. It’s got a solid cast that does its best with a messy script. But the whole thing feels very uneven. It also is highly reminiscent of Event Horizon and similar films. Not a bad time for lazy Sunday viewing, but certainly the least of three films currently bearing the Cloverfield moniker. 10 Cloverfield Lane is easily the superior film.

Scores(out of 5)
Visuals:  4
Sound: 3
Acting:  4
Script:  2
Music: 4
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

And Then This Happened... This Island Earth

If there is one thing 1950s science fiction films taught us, it is to never trust anyone coming out of a flying saucer. There are a few exceptions, like good old Klaatu from The Day the Earth Stood Still. More often than not you end up with an Invasion of the Saucermen situation.

Sometimes you get to meet cool aliens with lumpy foreheads (before Star Trek made that a thing) and unusual wildlife (larger of course and with a higher degree of intelligence). But then there is the technology, and believe me, that technology is always something to see. This Island Earth has some pretty neat looking devices including the famed Interocitor. But just what the heck is this thing? I think we need a caption for it.

And then this happened...


Friday, April 6, 2018

Score Sample: Quigley Down Under (1990)

It has been a while since I featured some music from the Western genre on this blog. I'm not a big fan of Western films in general. There are some good ones out there for sure, but as a whole they just don't do too much for me.

But the music is another story all together. There have been plenty of great scores for Western films. Of course Ennio Morricone leaps to mind with his scores to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and many other spaghetti westerns. But you also have classic Hollywood Westerns featuring scores by Alfred Newman, Elmer Bernstein and of course Jerry Goldsmith.

But I'm gong for something a bit more recent. Basil Poledouris is best known for his wonderful score to Conan the Barbarian, but the composer became one of the few who kept getting pulled into scoring the few Westerns that came out in the 80s and 90s. One of my favorites from Poledouris is the score to Quigley Down Under. It has the classic Hollywood Western sound in the main theme, but Poledouris adds some banjo and ragtime rhythms to the piece that just makes it super memorable. The whole score is a lot of fun, but seriously the main theme is one of the best of the 1990s.

So enjoy the Main Title from Quigley Down Under composed by Basil Poledouris.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Spice and Wolf – Season One (2008)

Introduction:

When it comes to fantasy anime, you have a set of tropes that usually come into play. Sure the setting may be medieval inspired (European or Japanese) but at some point laser guns and robots will appear. Someone will end up wielding a sword at least as big as they are (usually larger). And if there are elves in the story they will have super long pointed ears. But this anime goes in a much different direction.

Summary:

Kraft Lawrence (Jun Fukuyama) is a smalltime peddler in this medieval land. He usually barters his goods for ones with greater value and then obtains surprising amounts of profit for his long travels. One day he stops in a familiar village as they are wrapping up their harvest festival. Before the church really spread this village worshiped a wolf goddess who would favor them with wondrous harvests. These days the folks of the town go through the motions, not really believing, but not willing to anger the goddess.

Good idea, because Holo (Ami Koshimizu) is still around. This long-lived wolf goddess has gotten bored with the little town and decides to take up the peddler’s life. She transforms into the guise of a young woman and teams up with Lawrence, much to his chagrin. But the two work well together. Lawrence is business savvy and knows how to spot a good opportunity. Holo can read people (including Lawrence) very well and uses this to their advantage. Along the way they will encounter a currency manipulation plot, a bad deal for armor, and Holo’s nemesis – a shepherd. In the end will Lawrence and Holo make a profit, fall in love or maybe both?

Good Points:
  • Holo and Lawrence are great characters that work well together
  • The laid back pacing makes for an easy viewing experience
  • The conflicts that revolve around being a merchant make for a refreshing change

Bad Points:
  • Some of the financial scheming is explained very quickly and may lose some viewers
  • Very little action in the series at all
  • Doesn’t really have an overarching narrative, but weaves from adventure to adventure
Overall:

This series was a great change of pace. Holo is a fun character and her interaction and banter with Lawrence are what keep you coming back to see what happens next. Conflicts are never very intense, but they are atypical of what you find in most fantasy anime. The animation is quite lovely and really gives the world a unique pastoral feel. Looking forward to returning to these characters in the second season.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

In Depth Review

On the road for fun and profit.
I heard about Spice and Wolf when it first made it to DVD nearly ten years ago. It sounded like a unique and lighthearted tale that was different from much of the fantasy anime I’d experienced. I’ve had it on my radar since then and was pleased to see it appear on Hulu (both seasons). I finally dove in, hoping it was able to live up to the hype.

Hype is really too strong a word for Spice and Wolf. The series is mellow, easy going and for the most part a story about a growing friendship that covers 13 episodes. Yes there are some intense moments in the story, and the world the characters inhabit can be dangerous. But for the most part this series travels along the road slowly but letting the viewer take in the atmosphere and the relationship it is building.

The focus to the series is the two main characters. Lawrence is a pragmatic man with a keen eye for details and the ability to see how these details can be exploited to his financial advantage. But he is not without feelings. In fact his empathy get the pair in trouble, and Holo accuses him of being too kind hearted. Lawrence is obviously taken with Holo, but knows full well that this is some kind of immortal being he is dealing with. The way he attempts to navigate their growing relationship is charming and amusing. He makes the perfect straight man for the more mercurial goddess.

Don't try pulling a fast one on Holo, she got ears like
a wolf... literally.
But the wolf of Spice and Wolf, isn’t your typical over the top anime girlfriend. This is a creature that is hundreds (or thousands) of years old. While she looks like a young woman her experience and keen senses give her advantages over the “youngsters” around her. But she is still the spirit of a wolf, and as such sometimes those instincts overpower her more human aspects. So when she finds something she enjoys eating, apples for example, she will just keep eating and eating them until she makes herself sick. She can be greedy. Other times she can take offense to seemingly minor issues. But she will often toy with Lawrence, teasing him with performances as an ideal partner, before mocking how gullible he is. But through it all, we see how lonely she has become and how much she appreciates Lawrence. By the time we hit episode 13 the two really understand each other and it is great to have that kind of character evolution.

Lawrence is just a nice guy in a love triangle
with a wolf and capitalism.
The other interesting element of the series is the world created in Spice and Wolf. Modeled after medieval Europe before gunpowder was introduced, we have a society in the grip of a powerful monotheistic church. There are trade guilds that wield power over merchants. We see how different kingdoms use different coins (with varying weights) and how this impacts trade as well as currency schemes when one king tries to obtain financial power over others. The world feels like a real place because of these details. But I also enjoy the art style, especially in the open road where we see the lovely countryside or the ominous mountains that loom above the characters. While this isn’t top tier animation, it works very well in the context of the show.

He should have known that a shepherd would cause a
problem for his wolf.
I watched the series in Japanese and most of the cast was very good. Koshimizu makes Holo very appealing and does a great job with a character with so many facets. Fukuyama matches her with his even approach to Lawrence. You can’t help but smile when he gets annoyed or befuddled by Holo’s latest scheme.

I enjoyed the score to the series. It keeps mostly in a medieval style with some lovely a cappella vocals taking over at key moments. It works well in context and adds to the atmosphere of the show. I also like both the songs used in the credits. Tabi no Tochu performed by Natsumi Kiyoura is a melodic piece that sets the opening mood. The Wolf Whistling Song is a cute jaunty tune performed by Rocky Chack. It has charming lyrics and works well with the end credit animation.

"Does this bother you? I'm totally touching you."
On some level I can’t imagine Spice and Wolf working. It seems at times too simplistic in concept or too obscure in execution to really gel. But it does. Part of it is the way the relationship builds over the course of the episodes. The series was constructed with a keen eye to making it all flow together, even if there isn’t a real antagonist for the whole series. Instead you get mini-adventures that last a few episodes. This gives us enough time to hang out with Holo and Lawrence. The characters are the focus and because they are so well realized it brings you back for more.

An atypical anime for me, and miles away from something like Log Horizon or Attack on Titan, but shows that fantasy stories can take many shapes and be uniquely entertaining. In some circles Spice and Wolf is considered a classic, I can see why. I’m looking forward to the second season and where it takes our two entrepreneurs.


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"Here's to good friends. Tonight is kinda special!"

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Colossal (2016)

Introduction:

This film popped up on a few lists for forgotten films from the past couple years. It is usually pitched as a comedy featuring giant monsters. But the movie is actually a bit deeper than that. Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis give us some really damaged characters and put them in an extraordinary situations, one that fuels a solid share of drama and morbid humor.

Summary:

Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is stuck in a rut. She goes out partying each night, doesn’t bother with finding a job (using her talents as a writer) and is annoying her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevensl) to no end. So he kicks her out of their New York apartment. Gloria returns to her rural hometown to try and get her life back together.

She runs into her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who offers her a job in his bar. Grasping at straws she takes it up, even though it is an excuse to drink even more with Oscar and his buddies Joel (Austin Stowell) and Garth (Tim Blake Nelson). But a strange things happens on the night Gloria stumbles her way home, a gigantic monster appears in Seoul, South Korea. Like everyone else, Gloria is fascinated by the news reports – but then notices something alarming. The monster has the same nervous head scratch that she does. It becomes apparent that the monster is tied to Gloria’s actions and mind in some strange way. Will Gloria indulge in her new Colossal power, or is there something even more sinister at play?

Good Points:
  • An interesting take on the concept of inner demons
  • Excellent performances by the cast
  • A unique premise that keeps you interested

Bad Points:
  • Attempts to balance drama and dark comedy, not always pulling it off
  • Those expecting tons of laughs or monster action will be disappointed
  • Some viewers may find the lack of a likeable protagonist a detriment

Overall:

This movie sounds like it is going to be a fun twist on the giant monster film. But it is a little more than that. The movie focuses on the characters who are all damaged in some way. By building their issues in a believable way, we come up with some uncomfortable laughs and some interesting giant monster thrills. Well worth checking out if you are in the mood for something a little different, and some excellent performances to boot (and a fun score by Bear McCreary).

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals:  4
Sound: 3
Acting:  4
Script:  4
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


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Sunday, March 18, 2018

MST3K Favorites on Netflix (as of March 2018)

Last year Netflix started showing classic episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. They spanned the Comedy Central and Sci-fi Channel years. These offerings were a good way for new viewers to catch some excellent riffing. I posted a top ten list of my favorites from that list here.

Recently Netflix went in and scrambled their offerings a bit. Some episodes stayed, some were removed and some new ones were added. Here is a quick viewing guide for the new line up. I've also included links to the episode reviews on my blog where applicable.

(Warning some of those reviews are very old and need a bit of updating. Reader beware.)

"Old reviews without images... can we handle it?"

  • Time of the Apes
    • One of my favorite episodes from Season Three. Someone took a Japanese series inspired by Planet of the Apes, edited it with a chainsaw down to an hour and a half and dubbed it. By itself it would be hilarious. With Joel and the bots it is gold.
  • Fugitive Alien
    • This may sound familiar. One of my favorite episodes from Season Three. Someone took a Japanese series inspired by Star Wars, edited it with a chainsaw down to an hour and a half and dubbed it. By itself it would be hilarious. With Joel and the bots it is gold.
  • The Robot vs the Aztec Mummy
    • A offering from the first season, and to be honest not a great one. The movie is 83% flashback to other movies. It moves slower than molasses in January and is too painful for Joel and the bots to really get a handle on.
  • Devil Fish
    • Wonderfully bad Italian production made in Florida about a mutated shark/octopus monster. This comes from Season nine of the series and is one of the better episodes of the season. Mike and the bots have a lot of fun with this one. Perfect summer viewing.
  • First Spaceship on Venus
    • A movie that almost works. It has an intriguing premise, an international cast, some solid effects for the era, but it is a bit ponderous all the way through. This season two offering came when the cast was feeling a bit burnt out. It shows in the riffing. Could have been better.
  • Gorgo
    • Giant monster terrorizes a city, but done in England with London being the target. The movie is typical for the type (slow to start but fun once the destruction begins). This comes from season nine and should be a winner, but I always find this one average viewing. Leonard Maltin's cameo in the host segments is a hoot though.
  • Racket Girls
    • Essentially an exploitation flick about female wrestling. Strange and kind of seedy film directed by the producer of Glen or Glenda, so you kind of know what you're getting into. This season six episode has Mike and the Bots at the top of their game here, and while the movie can slog the boys are on fire. Fun, if odd episode.
  • The Girl in Lovers Lane
    • Ah, Big Stupid. This melodrama is about drifters coming to a small town and interacting with the town folk. This season five episode is more infamous for the ending of the film and Joel and the bots reaction to the ending than the riffing itself. Solid fun.
  • The Touch of Satan
    • What happens when you combine Love Story and The Exorcist. Um... well nothing good. This 1970s horror/romance hybrid is hilariously bad and Mike and the bots have a great time and make this one of my favorites from Season Nine.
  • City Limits
    • It is 80s. It is post apocalyptic. It isn't as good as Warrior of the Lost World, so that tells you quite a bit there. This movie is a ton of fun because of the cast including James Earl Jones, Kim Catrall and Robbie Benson to name a few. The riffing is middle of the road though. Joel and bots tackled this on in Season four.
  • The Beginning of the End
    • Ever wonder what it would be like to see Peter Graves battle giant grasshoppers? Me neither, but now we have a movie for it. Mike and the bots have a good time with this movie and the Chicago location in Season Five. A real fun one.
  • The Girl in Gold Boots
    • This is the movie Showgirls ripped off. Ok, probably not intentionally, but they have the same plot. This 1960s flick tries so hard and yet fails so wonderfully. Mike and the bots knock the riffing out of the park for one of the best episodes of Season ten.
  • Catalina Caper
    • Another summer viewing film. This one tries to be fun beach movie with a wacky caper... and it stinks. MST3K never tackled a lot of comedies and this episode is why. Not a great riff, but has some memorable moments for season two.
  • Eegah
    • Girl meets caveman. Caveman falls for girl. Boyfriend sings a couple annoying songs. Caveman paws at girl. Everything ends in a hail of bullets. This 1960s relic is so odd and uncomfortable, but it makes a great episode. A favorite from season five.
  • Future War
    • Every time I watch this one, I want to love it. 1990s, cheesy dinosaurs, bad martial arts, hilarious terminator rip offs. But the riffing just never comes together in this one. Average episode from season 10.
  • Hercules Against the Moon Men
    • A personsal favorite for nostalgia reasons (first episode I ever saw), but still a lot of fun for fans of the 1960s Hercules films. Goofy story, endless sandstorm sequence and Joel and the bots make this a season four winner.
  • Horrors of Spider Island
    • This wretched little movie is about a group of models stranded on a tropical island with a hairy killer who is some kind of spider/wolfman thing. Endlessly stupid and exploitative. Mike and the bots seem really lethargic in this one making a below average outing.
  • Jack Frost
    • One of my favorite winter themed episodes. A mishmash of Russian fairy tale tropes mixed together with a huge helping of whimsy. Slap in some poor dubbing and you have one of the funniest episodes of season Eight. 
  • Manos: The Hands of Fate
    • Infamous. Do I need to say anything else? Declared one of the worst films of all time by many sources, Joel and the bots tackle this beast head on... and barely survive. Some very funny riffing for this movie make it a fan favorite from season four.
  • Space Mutiny
    • Another favorite from season eight. This 1980s science fiction adventure is low on budget, but rich with bad acting, hilarious dialogue and the BEST car chase ever put to film. If you've never seen this episode, check it out now!

"They are all so funny, I can't stop laughing!"

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Anime Juke Box - Tabi no Tochuu - Spice and Wolf

Got a new bit of Japanese pop for you today. It is a bit more easy going than the usual opening credits material, but it fits the series Spice and Wolf pretty well in that regard. The series has a casual easy going feel for a good portion of it. It revolves around a medieval peddler who happens upon a pagan wolf goddess who wishes to join him in his travels. While he is savvy in business, she is skilled at reading people. The two make a good team as they travel the land negotiating deals and learning a bit more about each other... and yes, maybe falling in love. It is a very unique show that I really enjoyed. Looking forward to the second season.

The song the opens Spice and Wolf is sung by Natsumi Kiyoura. Her voice has a gentleness and almost a sadness to it that carries the tune along. Hope you enjoy Tabi no Touchuu from the anime series Spice and Wolf.