The Culture Cast with Zack and Nick

Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!

The Interview: Controversy, Threats, and Cancelation

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I have seen a lot of movies lately, but I haven’t really had time to write up any reviews due to a hectic work schedule and general holiday nuttiness.  I was going to post one today due to things winding down, but something else came up that I really pulled my attention away from those.

The big Hollywood news of late is that Sony Pictures has decided to cancel the Seth Rogan/James Franco film The Interview due to the recent North Korean threats against movie theaters showing it.  The film, which centers upon a plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was already generating controversy due to its subject matter, but things went into high gear after the Sony hack from the previous week (which is now pointing that it came from North Korea).

Due to the nature of the movie being “officially” revealed through the hack (namely the death of Kim Jong-un), a terrorist group (with a probable link to North Korea) had threatened to attack theaters showing the movie unless it was pulled (citing a comparison to 9/11 in the threat).  After weighing the odds, Sony decided to cancel The Interview.

That’s correct folks, Seth Rogan and James Franco inadvertently caused an international incident.

Several Hollywood big-wigs have spoken out against Sony’s decision, claiming it is the end of creative expression and other such melodramatic nonsense.

Okay, I have a couple of issues with all of this.

First, the Hollywood creative types complaining: To them I say it is really easy to judge from the outside looking in.  I’d be curious to see what they would do in that situation.  And if you look at the facts behind it, Sony really was up against a wall.  After the threat was issued, five of the biggest theater chains dropped the movie.  Right off the bat, the film would have been shown in a very limited capacity.  On top of that, the theaters that did show it, the audience will logically be low due to the potential threat.

No matter how you cut it, The Interview is a money loser for Sony.  The film being canceled was kind of forced on them.  Those in the business complaining on Twitter should redirect their anger at the movie houses if they need to be outraged.

Now, what likelihood would it have been for an actual terror attack on a movie theater?  Likely very little, but I get why theaters would drop the film.  Why take the chance if something did happen?  At the end of the day, is it worth it?

What if Sony released it as planned and, God forbid, something did happen?  People would be livid at Sony for releasing it in the first place amid the threat.

Don’t get me wrong, I am disappointed that it came to this.  After all, it is just a movie.  A big dumb comedy.  Sure, it might ruffle some feathers due to its subject matter, but in the end, who cares?  Yeah, North Korea can issue its complaints and declare outrage.  That’s fine.  But to want to hurt others over it?  That’s insane.

Sony was placed in an impossible spot in a no-win scenario.

If there was a foreign movie that depicted the death of a sitting US president, people might get angry, but the US government is not going to go blow up theaters over it.  If only there was an example of that to illustrate my point.  Oh, wait.  There is!

That said, I am really shocked (long before this started) at the audacity of Sony to even make a film like this to begin with.  At least it being so on the nose.  The Interview doesn’t take us to a fake country with a thinly-veiled Kim Jong-un stand-in like other movies would do.  It’s meant to depict the actual guy!   Is it political commentary gone too far?  Sony had to of known they were walking into a mind field with this given the tense political nature of US/North Korea relations and how allegedly batshit crazy Jong-un is.  Is it possible they didn’t realize it would go this far with terrorist threats?  I guess Sony figured they might be in the clear since 2004’s Team America: World Police (which also heavily featured a satrical take on North Korea) didn’t receive any backlash when released.

Remember in the ‘80s where there were politically-charged films and no one really gave a shit to this extreme?  Yeah, those days were awesome.  I do have to give Sony, Rogan, and Franco credit for the balls it took to even make this film in the first place.  If it was canceled early on before it started filming, the Hollywood big-wigs wouldn’t have been tweeting about it at all.

So, what next?  Sony has denied any reports that they will release the movie in other formats (On-Demand, Direct-to-DVD, etc).  I really have trouble believing that it will be never released with big names like Rogan and Franco attached.  I can see in a few months after this has died down, Sony quietly releasing it in some way.

But, whatever the case may be,  I would argue that there will be a dramatic increase in the interest in this movie just because of the controversy.  Expect torrent sites to run rampant with the film in the coming weeks.  I even wouldn’t be surprised if Rogan and Franco leak it themselves – they seem like the kind of guys who would do such a thing.

Like the actors/writers/producers lambasting Sony, I’m just a guy from the outside looking it.  I am sure there is a lot more to what is going on from Sony’s side to put things into perspective.  It was an impossible position, and there was going to be an unpopular decision made no matter what they decided.

What do you think?

~N

The Gorehound Reviews: The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (’14)

Oh Krampus! Was this really the culmination of 3 years of The Hobbit? To say the least, the Gorehound was entertained for the simple fact that he got to see a new release opening night. Unfortunately, the movie was not worth the price paid. Interstellar and Exodus were high on the list but the Gorehound King has a Graveyard Queen to please, and therefore, we set in motion the Battle of the Fives Armies!

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The title kind of gives it all away, yes, there is battle which consumes almost half of the movie. Despite this lengthy duel, no blood or gore is to be spared. We follow the troupe of dwarves and hobbit to reclaim the mountain to it’s rightful owner. There’s a few other side stories like the bimbo Freckles from Lost trying to reunite with her dwarf. None of these really garner enough emotion. They are simply building up, albeit falling short, to what has now become a classic, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There isn’t really anything exciting that hasn’t done before. The best that this movie does is bring us some classic Legolas.

The battle isn’t that great. Kind of starts, then stops, and repeat. The distinction and identity of the five unique armies are vague. Orcs, dwarves, and elves. Do you really consider the fisherman village an army or the 10 or so birds? What were the other two armies? The viewer shouldn’t be left guessing.

It’s alright to target this film to a PG-13 audience all of the others have, but don’t try to emulate war at that rating. The sacrifice and strength at play is so hard to visualize and if Peter Jackson couldn’t even replicate the battle from previous entries, the movie is at fault. This is certainly a PG-13 movie in that it does not breach any seriousness of war. The actors are not well-played. Too often I felt like Thorin was drunk, when really it was just slow-motion. The filthy Wormwood stand-in, was solely placed for comedic relief. These odd and disgusting characters, such as Wormwood, certainly have a place but this imagining was too sour to muster any authenticity.

Simply put, it’s really not good for the following reasons: completely predictable and foreseeable, aesthetics have decreased (except for that field of Lupines), and no one is likeable (who really cares if 2 of the 12 or so dwarves die?).  The story is too simple for a Tolkien adaptation. There are complex themes that should be brought to light. Perhaps dragging a single book into 3 movies may be stretching the story? Thorin is stubborn, Bilbo is going to give the ring to Frodo, Sarumon is going to accept Sauron as his lord and savior, and you’re never going to see any other character besides the elves, Gandalf, and Legolas. 2/5

Getting Back to My Roots: My Favorite Miyazaki Edition

When asked which Hayao Miyazaki-directed Studio Ghibli film is my favorite (this surprisingly happens more often than not), I almost always reply with Castle in the Sky, the 1986 fantasy-adventure about two children and their search for a lost civilization of cloud people. In the number two spot, I almost always slotted Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki’s 1997 mega-hit about a battle between human ironworkers (headed by a charismatic and unconventional leader) and supernatural forest beasts (headed by vengeful and gigantic wolf). Walt Disney’s recent re-release of Princess Mononoke on Blu Ray, however, has swayed me once and for all. I’ve decided it is actually my favorite Miyazaki movie after all.

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Re-watching the film over Thanksgiving break, I was struck at just how violent and dark the film is in places. This is a far cry from some of Miyazaki’s recent efforts, which have included more children-oriented projects as Ponyo (which I haven’t even watched all the way through more than once) and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away (as an aside, I have not seen his newest and perhaps final film, The Wind Rises). I think Ponyo is an ok film, and I tend to find both Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle to be incredibly overrated (even if that word means almost nothing on the internet anymore). Princess Mononoke is a grand adventure, gorgeously animated and gargantuan in scope. I think it puts a lot of Miyazaki’s other efforts to shame in that respect, and it must have been an absolute beast to create, storyboard, and animate.

What I like about Mononoke is its world-building, something Spirited Away and Castle in the Sky also handled quite well. Ashitaka, a prince-type character from a far off village, is distinctly culturally different from the ironworking ladies and their idiot husbands in Iron Town, people who generally come from the dregs of society in bigger cities and thus act differently from the comparative hayseed that is Ashitaka. The leader of Iron Town, Lady Eboshi, is definitely unconventional, if only because she is a woman living and prospering in a man’s world, consumed by materialistic green but also matronly and revered by her lady workers. Her citizens and most loyal workers are prostitutes she has rescued from city brothels, and the male residents, who are treated with much disdain throughout the film, are either hired guns, glorified porters, or put-upon husbands of the lady workers.

If Ashitaka and Lady Eboshi are different enough, then the third faction of characters in Princess Mononoke, the gigantic, elusive, and supernatural forest creatures are almost wholly unique. The wolves, led by matron Moro, are perhaps the smallest but most vicious and powerful faction. Others include the boars, who tragically have rapidly become smaller and less intelligent as more and more of the forest is given way to industrialization. The forest-dwelling apes are regressing to near-cannibals, naively demanding to eat the human Ashitaka to gain his “powers.” The forest god, a large elk-creature who sometimes appears with a humanoid face, both gives and takes life in the forest. As the woods dwindle, so does the forest god’s elusive power over life.

In addition to Lady Eboshi’s workers and Ashitaka, there are also several other factions of interesting humans in Princess Mononoke. One is San, who is allied with the wolves after being raised by Moro. Jigo is a villainous monk who lent his riflemen to Lady Eboshi but who also has a secretive agenda of his own. Lady Eboshi and her workers also must face off against a local daimyo, who seeks to take the iron works and all of its potential money and power for himself. Princess Mononoke is filled with complicated and layered characters. In almost any other movie, these characters would be either completely black or white. In this movie, the only character who actually falls on that scale is perhaps Ashitaka, who is almost entirely good-hearted. And even he is done extremely well.

This is also an incredibly violent movie. Re-watching on Blu Ray, I was almost instantly reminded of just how violent and gross Princess Mononoke can be in places. There is a lot of murder presented here, and a lot of gruesome murder at that. I didn’t remember just how much amputation there is in this movie, for example. Characters get arms and heads lopped off in almost every major battle scene in the film. There is also a lot of blood, guts, and other disgusting, horrifying things (such as the demons that infest the boar gods). Princess Mononoke is one of the harder PG-13 films I’ve seen, and could arguably have been given an R rating for violence alone. Miyazaki has never made a more violent film, and his subsequent works even seem incredibly quaint by comparison.

Princess Mononoke also has something a lot of the more recent Studio Ghibli films somewhat lack. That is, this film has an incredibly compelling story. I was sucked in almost immediately, and could not take my eyes off the screen. The film is dramatic, adventurous, action packed, and never, ever boring. There is almost always something interesting or beautiful on screen to see. The forest is animated in an incredibly lush fashion. The creatures within it are magnificent to behold. The weird weaponry and odd bits of technology scattered throughout the film are also well designed. Some characters sometimes even seem to have unexplained supernatural powers (Jigo for example seems a lot stronger and more lithe than he looks), but it all works together so wondrously. This is a fully realized story and universe.

I can’t believe I forgot just how amazing this movie is. It is beautifully animated (mostly hand drawn, but CG-compositing was used in spots) and looks absolutely amazing on Blu Ray. There are really only two drawbacks to the Walt Disney Blu Ray release. The first is that the film is dubtitled, that is to say the film is both dubbed and subtitled using the Neil Gaiman-adapted script. This doesn’t necessarily bother me as I find Gaiman’s adaptation a decently good one, but it may bother Ghibli purists some. The voice acting over all is solid, particularly Minnie Driver as Eboshi and Gillian Anderson as Moro. Billy Crudup does a decent job as Ashitaka and Claire Danes is passable (at best) as San, but Billy Bob Thornton is miscast as Jigo, and for as much as I like John DiMaggio’s voice work (he’s Bender on Futurama for reference), he just doesn’t fit in all that well in this cast. Overall, the dub is a solid B-level effort, however (the soundtrack is amazing by the way – Joe Hisaishi’s work is fantastic).

The other drawback to Princess Mononoke is in its marathon-level length. The film runs 133 minutes, which is very long for an animated film, particularly one aimed at children (for as violent as the film is, its target audience is still ostensibly the younger crowd – feel free to disagree in the commens). The pacing can be a bit plodding at times, but there’s so much beautiful and interesting scenery that this problem is off set a bit (for comparison’s sake, Spirited Away runs 124 minutes but feels longer, because it isn’t as good – again, come at me in the comments if you want to). Still, a 120-minute run time would probably have been more palatable and more reasonable. Mononoke is not immune to blockbuster bloat, even if its bloat is more tolerable than most. Then again, I’m also glad that all 133 minutes of Princess Mononoke exist in the first place.

I think it is fair to say that Disney mishandled Princess Mononoke’s theatrical release in the US when it was unceremoniously dumped into a few hundred theaters in the Fall of 1999 under their imprint Miramax label (I also distinctly remember being pissed off by a C+ review from Entertainment Weekly, a grade they also gave The Matrix that same year – way to get those two right, EW!). I imagine the company was a bit scared of how violent and adult the film actually is. The Blu Ray release does right by Mononoke, however, providing audiences with an absolutely gorgeous and lush animated experience like few others. This is truly one of the best animated films released in the past twenty years, and isn’t given nearly as enough credit as Spirited Away or even Howl’s Moving Castle (one of my least favorite Miyazaki efforts). I can’t recommend Princess Mononoke enough, and its recent release onto Blu Ray disc gives all the reason one needs to track it down and check it out.

-Z-

20 Years Later Part 2: Clerks (1994)

Kevin Smith’s Clerks was a big part of the indie movie revolution of 1994. In 1994, filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino (whose 1994 film Pulp Fiction won mass critical and commercial appeal and is generally regarded as one of the best films of the 90s) and Ben Stiller (people forget what a zeitgeist Reality Bites) became huge Hollywood stars and garnered significant cults of personality. Both Stiller and Tarantino have gone on to remain incredibly culturally relevant, with both men making cult films (Death Proof, The Cable Guy) as well as big, mainstream Hollywood hits (Django Unchained, Tropic of Thunder) in the interim. Somewhere along the way, Kevin Smith got left behind.

I imagine this poster was hanging in every dorm room in American in 1995.

I imagine this poster was hanging in every dorm room in America in 1995.

Perhaps it was due to his slacker mentality, his inability to really grow as a director or a writer, or just sheer bad luck, but Smith has never really progressed beyond the shaggy dog director of 1994’s Clerks, an immensely funny and quotable film that nonetheless typecast director Smith for the entirety of his career, so much so that he has gone back to the well multiple times (his “View Askewniverse” as well as the sequel film Clerks 2 and the proposed Clerks 3), with somewhat diminishing returns along the way. But Clerks remains a revered, cult film – and with good reason. Despite a shaky leading performance, the film oozes personality from its supporting characters, particularly in an hilarious Jeff Andrews performance and from the lovable, goofy Jay character, played by Jason Mewes (both men were amateurs, having never acted in a professional film before Clerks).

So, What Holds Up?:

Other than Mewes’ and Andersons’ solid, hilarious performances? I think the script largely works, particularly the pop culture dissection, which in 1994 must have seemed considerably fresh. In 2014, the Internet is a massive thing, and there are countless blogs (including ours!) that serve as outlets for cultural dissection. During Clerks’ time, however, the Internet did not exist in this form yet. Heck, tabbed browsing didn’t even exist. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram. The dialogue in Clerks, which mostly revolved around Star Wars, the daily minutiae of working a dead end job, and frank discussions on sex and various sex acts, must have been downright shocking. The first time I watched the film, which was probably around 1999 or 2000, I can remember being a bit shocked by what was coming out of the characters’ mouths. If anything, Clerks is downright dirty in the best way.

I also feel like the black-and-white aesthetic presented by Clerks greatly holds up. Upon initial viewing, I pouted, “This is in black-and-white? That sucks!” But after actually watching the film, I thought Smith’s decision to film it like that was pure genius – it just simply works. The relationship between Dante and Randall is the best one in the film. Forget about the various love interests, Dante and Randall are where it’s at. Brian O’Halloran isn’t a great actor, but he plays the role of the put-upon schmuck fairly well, and Jeff Anderson is great at driving him nuts. I love the dynamic between them that allows Randall to consistently get Dante’s goat over and over again. The characters of Jay and Silent Bob are also great, and hadn’t yet become parodies of themselves.

And What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

Holy crap, every time Dante tucks his jeans into his boots I just want to slap him in the face with a fish. That fashion faux pas gets me every time. Jay’s haircut is also awful – he looks like he should have “It’s the mid-90s” tattooed on his head. The music doesn’t hold up as well, and some of it oddly feels out of place. The studio made the choice to add early 90s grunge rock, which I like (I imagine the bulk of the money Miramax pumped into a post-production version of Clerks was spent on music rights). But some of the grunge rock on the soundtrack has aged about as well as cottage cheese, and thus dates the film immensely.

The worst part of the film to me is probably the character of Caitlin Brea, who Dante pines for throughout the entire movie. The character is under-written and not particularly well-acted either (Lisa Spoonhauer, who plays Caitlin, has only one other credit to her name). Caitlin is built up throughout the movie as Dante pines for her, but I don’t like what is done with her character. She is also given surprisingly little screen time, and is then quickly ushered out of the film without much resolution to her character (and a throw-away line from Dante doesn’t give me enough closure on their relationship).

So, What’s the Assessment?:

Ultimately, my main issue with Clerks is that it doesn’t know if it wants to be a serious look at a day in the life of two working-class New Jersey store clerks or a bawdy romantic comedy with sitcom-y trappings. This is pretty much what has also plagued Smith’s subsequent films. Mallrats is basically Clerks set in a brightly-lit shopping mall. Chasing Amy is Clerks with a lesbian character. Dogma is… well, Dogma has not aged well (ugh, those special effects). Clerks 2 is exactly what you think it is, except this time it’s in a fast food restaurant. I’m not ruling out the prospect that Clerks 3 will be good, because I actually kind of like all of these movies a little bit. But the fact remains that Smith has shown incredibly little growth as a filmmaker over the course of a twenty-year career.

I still think Clerks is a solid little comedy. I love Jeff Anderson as Randal. He is far and away the best character in the movie. He gets the funniest lines and his anarchic spirit makes him a much more interesting character than the dour lead Dante. Clerks is available streaming on Netflix and other services, and I recommend it for a look into that 1994 indie scene. It’s just too bad that Kevin Smith didn’t mature as a filmmaker and give us something with a little more depth and maybe something with a little more important to say.

-Z-

The Gorehound Reviews: Snowpiercer (’13)

After a few recommendations: one from a rando co-worker, another from Boston Online Critics, and finally from Edgar Wright, the Gorehound just had to pursue this flick from the same director of the incredibly awesome, The Host (’06), Joon-ho Bong, and starring Captain America (i.e, Chris Evans). To say the least, the recommendations were worthy and this is indeed, is a good and goretastic film.

MV5BMTQ3NzA1MTY3MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzE2Mzg5MTE@._V1_SX640_SY720_It’s a straight up sci-fi dystopian film, the results of global warming have taken hold. Life is isolated to a single train, divided by social classes based on their standing (lowest classes at the tail, highest classes near the front). Quite a novel concept to shove all of the human race onto a single train. The god of this train, Wilfred the Merciful, has created a sustainable system built on a malign practice which keep the human race afloat while all life on earth is uninhabitable. Obviously the lowest classes have had enough of this social inequality and decide to overtake the train.

That greenhouse car? Oh gosh, the Gorehound would love to live in that train section. snowpiercer-train-diagram-bong-joon-hoAll of the cars were distinctly different, in a way to explicitly show the ecological balance. It was quite disgusting to see the contrast from the crowded and windowless tail end to the wide open and free portion of the middle and front end. Though I ask, not expecting an answer, why is the ecological balance not questioned, but only the social balance is questioned? Is ecology easier to maintain and if so, why is there global warming? If the life on the train is supposed to be a clean slate, why is the environmental-sustainability achieved but the social inequality so disparaging?

There is certainly violence and gore. This is no PG-13 movie, and for that I congratulate you. There are beatings throughout that are intense, but worthy. These passengers are certainly fighting for a reason. We see the cruelty and apparent secrecy that the upper class plays onto the lower. The pace is fast and there are few slow portions. Unfortunately, there is little intriguing dialogue. One of the best parts about these types of movies with few sets is that it allows each character’s diverse personalities to shine through. We are caring less about the environment in which they are in, and focus on other aspects of film. Movies like Devil (’10) and Exam (’09), which have very little scenery are excellent examples of how limiting the scenery can bring out personalities spectacularly.

All the characters were varied and I appreciated the two Korean characters the most for they tended to be so much more unique. The story behind Captain America didn’t have any impact. It would have had much more impact had it been a flashback, rather than a verbal story behind why he is bad person and doesn’t deserve anything good. One question that really bothered me was what prompted the Korean girl, Yona (Ah-sung Ko), to lift up the floor panel? This was critical moment and there was no apparent reason for her doing so. It’s like walking onto a hotel floor blindfolded and immediately knowing where your room is.

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All in all, the film succeeds. It’s much more serious Hunger Games (with a lot less attractive people) that provokes the viewer into questioning humanity. Unfortunately, for anyone who has read Orwell, Bradbury, Le Guin, or any other sci-fi mind, this idea has already been done before. The idea is still fresh and is always welcome in cinema, especially when well-executed. Add something new to the story and make this prettier and you’ll get your last star. 4/5

Nick saw “Big Hero 6″

Big Hero 6 is the Walt Disney Animation Studios 2014 offering, following the mega-hit Frozen.  It is also loosely based on a Marvel Comic of the same name (I suppose owning the comic company now allows for such things).  Luckily, it is completely unconnected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe which allows it to do its own thing and not be bogged down by needless continuity.  Unfortunately, while the movie is entertaining, it comes up just short for it to be a future Disney classic.

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I suppose part of the problem I had with the movie concerns my expectations of a Disney movie.  To be honest, I don’t know if I can articulate those expectations in any concrete manner.  I grew up in the era of the Disney Renaissance of the 90s.  My reflection of what a Disney movie is sort of comes from that and the studio’s earlier productions.  Big Hero 6, while having many hallmarks of a traditional Disney movie (colorful characters, dead family members, a clear sense of right/wrong), it is seems very atypical.

Now, don’t get me wrong, being atypical isn’t bad.  And, for Disney, after doing something like Frozen, it was probably a wise move to release something very different.  On that level, the film succeeds.  However, instead of taking this superhero property and doing something fun and new with it, Big Hero 6 keeps things incredibly conventional to its respective genre.  As is, there is really nothing new to be found here that you can’t find in a Marvel film.

In many respects, Big Hero 6 reminded me of 2012’s Wreck-It-Ralph in that it has a great idea, but comes off as underwhelming in the end.

But, I don’t want to dump on the film too much as there is still a lot to like about it.  For starters, the computer animation is absolutely amazing (even better than the recently release The Book of Life).  I guess that is to be expected as Disney rarely releases an inferior product on a technical level, but there were times when I was looking at establishing shots of the city or landscape and forgot that it wasn’t real.  It is that good.

The characters are pretty generic for a movie like this, but they keep you entertained as you go through.  Baymax, the quasi-balloon robot that has been marketed is really the breakaway character.  While the movie might be forgotten in a few years the way Wreck-it-Ralph and Meet the Robinsons have largely been, I suspect his image will be kept around, if for the sheer novelty of it.

Oh, and the villain’s design is pretty bad ass.  Anytime he appeared on screen and was looking all “villainy”, he is legitimately scary.  The promo pieces circling the internet do not do him justice.

My verdict here with Big Hero 6 is that kids will probably like this movie.  Adults will be entertained too.  But for its lasting appeal, there really isn’t much.  I’m glad I saw it, and I don’t feel I wasted my time seeing it, but I think the best I can say about Big Hero 6 is that “it was cute”.

~N

Getting Back to my Roots: I Review Attack on Titan Season 1, Part 2

**Caution: This review likely contains what could be considered minor spoilers for Part 2 of Attack on Titan’s first season**

I wrote a while back that Attack on Titan, along with shows like Space Dandy and Kill La Kill, are heavily responsible for a huge resurgence in the popularity of anime in the United States. Back in September, Funimation released the first half of season one of Attack on Titan onto DVD and Blu Ray, and did a heck of a job with it. Though I watched the entire series run thus far on Hulu and Netflix already, I went ahead and bought the Blu Ray set to support the show. I really like season one, part one a lot, with its incredible world-building, suspenseful moments, intense action and violence, and compelling plots and characters standing out. But season one, part two, which has also been recently released to home video by Funimation, is even better.

The Blu Ray cover for Attack on Titan Season 1, Part 2.

The Blu Ray cover for Attack on Titan Season 1, Part 2.

The second half is able to surpass the first half because it has a more focused plot and doesn’t need to devote several episodes to world-building and character introduction, because the world has already been greatly established. With the exception of a few members of the Levi squad, almost everyone important had appeared on screen already by part two. This lets the second half of the show get to the good stuff much more quickly, and the tightly focused plot of the second season is off and running almost immediately. Upon my recent re-watch (my third journey through this set of episodes), I noticed just how quickly this happened. By the second episode of the second season, the story is already in motion and characters are already motivated.

The compelling plot of season two is revealed over the course of its twelve-episode running time. After Eren Yeager, who was revealed to be a Titan Shifter during season one, part one, is able to save Trost district using his Titan abilities, he is taken into captivity by the Survey Corps and put before a tribunal where his fate will be decided by the high courts. Survey Corps commander Erwin Smith and his right hand man Captain Levi (two of humanities most capable soldiers) are able to prove they can keep control of Eren and that his special abilities make him extremely valuable to the human race in the war against the relentless and innumerable Titans.

The Survey Corps then sequesters Eren in their headquarters, a shambling castle in the village countryside, in order to study him and his Titan Shifting ability more intensely. During this time, Zoe Hange reveals the Corps had captured two Titans during the Trost invasion for scientific study, who she names Sawney and Bean, after the legendary Scottish cannibals. When the two Titans are executed by an unknown assassin, Commander Erwin suspects a traitor in their midst. Meanwhile, the Survey Corps plans a scouting mission in the exterior of Wall Rose, hoping to find a path to Eren’s hometown and perhaps reveal the secret behind his ability to Titan Shift.

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New Feature!: 20 Years Later

In 20 Years Later, I will take a look at the cultural impact films have had in the two decades since their theatrical releases. I invite Nick to join in on the fun as well! Our first film covered in this new feature is Dumb and Dumber, the influential 1994 mega-hit that featured Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels and was directed by the Farrelly brothers, who would go on to make several other films of varying quality over the next two decades. Their latest film, Dumb and Dumber To, just happens to be a sequel to their most popular (arguably) film, and I have absolutely zero intention of seeing it in theaters because it looks horrible. But first, the original must be discussed.

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In December of 1994, Jim Carrey scored his third big hit of the year with Dumb and Dumber, a comedy by the Farrelly brothers that met with mixed critical reception but enormous box office success and popular acclaim, grossing almost 250 million dollars worldwide against a budget of only 17 million (seven of which went to Carrey’s salary, amazingly). I, and every kid I knew, fell in love with the film, and Jim Carrey became everyone’s favorite comedic actor and a physical comedy tour-de-force in the process. The film would go on to become tremendously influential, immensely quotable, and a cable TV staple. It would also spawned a short-lived cartoon series, a prequel film no one asked for (made by a completely different creative crew), and a recently released sequel, which just happened to coincide with career low-points for everyone involved except co-star Jeff Daniels.

But would Dumb and Dumber as a film hold up to scrutiny after two decades and hundreds and hundreds of comedy films in its wake? That’s the question that needs exploring. Let’s take a look first at what holds up in the film before the bad stuff.

So, What Holds Up?:

The performances definitely hold up – Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are still great as Lloyd and Harry. The two give amazing physical performances and are both genuinely hilarious in their roles. There’s a reason why the two actors became so closely associated with this movie. Co-star Lauren Holly is also cute as all get out, though her role is much smaller than I remember it being from when I was a kid. It’s hard to believe that she didn’t go on to bigger and better things. I would have loved to see her in more high profile roles.

The physical comedy also holds up. It’s pretty obvious that the Farrelly brothers have an affinity for the Three Stooges, as Harry and Lloyd are clearly modeled after Stooge-like characters and updated for the 90s. I’m not a fan of particularly mean-spirited comedy, and Dumb and Dumber ventures off into that territory at points, but it doesn’t cross over into being unfunny. Many of the gags are still hilarious, and some of the more subtle looks characters give each other went completely unnoticed by me until this critical viewing. Jim Carrey can make a hell of a goofy face as well.

And What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

The fashion, the music, the directorial style – it’s all so very 1990s. In many ways the Farrellys never completely moved on from this style either. All of their subsequently released movies, including Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary, and Me, Myself, and Irene look almost exactly the same and follow the same format essentially. Two of those three movies even have a road trip element to them. It’s like they found something comfortable and stuck with it for most of their careers. Dumb and Dumber isn’t directed in any way that makes it stand out from the crowd whatsoever. Even Carrey’s other two 1994 megahits, Ace Ventura and especially The Mask, have directorial flourishes that make them stand out in some way.

I realize it’s really unfair to fault a film for its time period, but early 90s fashion is about as bad as it gets. At one point Jeff Daniels dons a hot pink ski suit and it looks absolutely horrid. Additionally, none of the villains are particularly noteworthy or worth remembering. The female villain, J.P. Shay (played by actress Karen Duffy), disappears halfway through the film and doesn’t factor into the plot after that. Lead villain Andre, played with a layer of sliminess by actor Charles Rocket, isn’t developed enough by the script to be particularly menacing or threatening.

So, What’s the Assessment?:

Dumb and Dumber isn’t as funny as I remember in some places, but it’s also extremely funny in other places I had forgotten about in the years since I last watched it. It’s easy to see why it’s considered a comedy classic, even if it veers into territory I don’t always find particularly funny. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are great in it and the script is surprisingly focused – the film doesn’t lag in any one particular area. The Farrelly brothers’ directing style never progressed beyond the 90s and the film certainly shows its age in that respect, but I still find Dumb and Dumber to be a funny movie regardless (in much the way I still like films like Sixteen Candles). Just because it’s a time capsule doesn’t make it bad. It has it faults, but it’s still pretty damn funny.

-Z-

Nick saw “The Book of Life”

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I saw the recently released The Book of Life last night. As far as animated family features go, it was alright. I realize that sounds like I am damning it with faint praise, but there wasn’t anything really wrong about the movie nor was there anything remarkable about either. It just sort of exists and is somewhat forgettable.

Well…that’s not entirely fair. The production values in this film are incredibly strong. It is probably one of the most vivid and stylish CGI animated features out there. The movie had some unique designs for its main characters insomuch that they are all, essentially, wooden dolls (and, before you ask, it makes sense why they look like wooden dolls). Additionally, the film is very colorful which helps highlight the mood and atmosphere of the central holiday it is portraying, namely the Mexican Day of the Dead.

Speaking of which, I was happy to see a mainstream film dive into the mythology of another culture. I am not Mexican, so I obviously do not know how well or not the film portrays the cultural folklore, but talking anecdotally to others, The Book of Life really captures it perfectly. I was happy to hear that. Unfortunately, I wonder if that sort of doomed this movie a bit at the box office. It is the sad truth that sometimes those culturally specific films just don’t translate into big box office numbers.

But even if The Book of Life did set the box office ablaze, beyond the animation, there really isn’t much there. The story is incredibly ho-hum with somewhat one-dimensional characters. I don’t mind that so much, but the films pulls on clichés that a hundred other family movies have done time and again including: women are independent; being a fighter isn’t everything; animal killing is bad; and father is angry son won’t follow in footsteps among others. Unlike The Judge, the cliché story elements do serve a purpose in the overall movie, but nothing interesting is really done with them to make it seem at least a little fresh.

The Book of Life is a bit more kid-friendly than other animated films. However, there visuals and brisk storytelling will likely still keep parents engaged. I wouldn’t race to see this film. I’m sure it will look gorgeous on Blu-Ray. But unless you have a culture connection to the film, you’ll probably watch it once and you’ll be good.

~N

The Gorehound Gets Excited for Godzilla

Coming off a complete binge of horror movies during the month-long celebration of everything ghoulish and ghastly, the film freak we love who fantasizes over gore returns with an exquisite creature feature (that surprisingly brought tears to his eyes), the 2014 release of Godzilla.

Godzilla

November 1st, brought the opportunity to see some flicks that got put on hold due to, primarily, Elvira’s presentation of many Full Moon Features on Hulu, but also for some classics like Hellraiser and Nightmare on Elm Street. There were also some Gorehound favorites like Killjoy and Cemetary Man. First on the list of non-horror movies that got put on hold was X-Men: Days of Future Past. The Gorehound had been following this movie since it was announced years before and pre-determined this to be the best movie of year. This should have been be the capstone of the X-Men stable but alas, it failed in the eyes of the G-hound. This entry was just another Professor X/Magneto/Wolverine story. Such a shame… but fear not, for we have something mighty to save the day…

There wasn’t a whole lot about this movie which could have told us of what a spectacular production this would turn out to be. The bulk of the crew, Brian Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Elizabeth Olsen, have never failed us but don’t necessarily hold remarkable or cult status like Goldblum or Kurt Russell (of whom would obviously  success). Cranston drops out pretty quickly but that allows the story to keep a very fast pace. There aren’t drawn out scenes like in X-Men (McAvoy never stopped talking!), and the lengthier scenes capture the emotion and hold onto it with the strongest grip.

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Godzilla is a beast that takes over the screen like no other. Rivaling the Tyrannosaic presence of Jurassic Park, this giant lizard provokes fear, but also hope. The world depends on this monster for salvation. Our actions do nothing to hinder or help this beast. It is the balance for which both species depends on life. The disruption of radiation balance hinders Godzilla’s life, and certainly hinders ours. The story finds no reason to make blatant the directors vision of reason. Let the audience figure this out, ie., don’t spell it out. It assumes that the audience understands the emotion, and catapults the story forward to the point of beauty. There is no reason to have two monsters fighting for power, but when you incorporate survival and evolution, then the story is brought to a new level.

Aaron Ttaylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen reuniting after a long day.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen reuniting after a long day.

There is nothing hokey about this. The camera angles, which slowly expose the magnitude of Godzilla, are perfectly in tune with the story. Godzilla is a beautiful creature that resembles beauty and enormity. The logic of story plays well, though not perfect. That isn’t a fault because no movie is perfect (with the exception of Blade Runner) especially when you’re dealing with a giant lizard fighting a giant mating cockroaches. Eventually, it is no longer two creatures fighting, but two ideologies fighting.

This movie stands next to Jurassic Park, Avatar, and Independence Day. We can’t call it an instant classic because this reviewer likes to keep the contradictions to a minimum. The director, Gareth Edwards, skims over the idea that it is a all about the monster in the stereotypical sense of havoc and destruction, but immediately moves the story forward with the beautiful story of balance, while maintaining a focus on the strong bond of family and humanity. 5/5

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