John Dies At The End

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A blurb in  in SyFy magazine reminded me that I wanted to see this and now that it’s streaming I decided to go for it. It was described as a mind bending psycho drug trip that not many people would like. It totally is. However, since I am a big fan of The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across The 8th Dimension (which this decidedly reminded me of), I am apparently not “most people,” and liked it.

How to describe it. Well, there’s these two guys who get involved with a drug they call Soy Sauce and a bunch of trippy drug-addled things happen to them, and then they have to save the world. There’s also some aliens. And Doug Jones. I love Doug Jones (Hellboy, Legion). And that guy who was the bad guy on Carnivàle (who was also in Buckaroo Bonzai!).

A lot of the scenes seemed like one-off jokes, or cool-just-to-be-cool kinds of things. My favorite: the mustache that comes to life. But I still liked it, as long as I don’t try to make too much sense of any one thing. I find the two guys highly amusing in their lackadaisical yet earnest reactions to their circumstances. I liked all the crazy gross silly creatures (like the meat monster) and the special effects were really quite good.

The movie was originally a book by a Cracked.com writer so if you like that kind of sarcastic humor, you’ll probably like this too.

More info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1783732/?ref_=sr_1

Casshern

Casshern is a wonderful example of live-action manga (Japanese cartoons or graphic novels).  I’ve seen a lot of this sort of thing, but this movie really blew me away.

Casshern takes place in a futuristic, alternate world torn apart by wars and pollution.  There is a scientist named Dr. Azuma whose son, Casshern, goes to war and is killed. After the body is brought home, it is reanimated by the doctor’s neo-cell treatment during a magical lightning storm. Unfortunately so are the Shinzo Ningen (neo-humans) who are immediately persecuted after their creation, so decide to take mankind down. Fortunately there is a robot-making facility in the desert that they make their way to and re-open. Also fortunately, Casshern is reanimated with a super-duper magical suit of armor that makes him the only one able to fight the neo-humans. Which he does. A lot. It’s awesome.

Casshern is originally based on Akita Shoten’s “Boken Oh” (Adventure King), and was animated in the 70′s as Casshan. The live action movie relies heavily on special effects (even so far as being shot almost completely against a green screen and the backgrounds added later).  There’s stuff here I’ve never seen before, particularly the lightning. And robots. And lasers. The visuals really are stunning and I’m glad I saw it just for that.

However there are some other subtler messages throughout the film; anti-war, bigotry, humanity, morality etc. I don’t do subtlety so I mostly ignored that stuff, but some reviewers were annoyed with the constant barrage and incoherence of said messages.  True, even I noticed that the plot doesn’t always make sense, but it looked so cool I just didn’t care.  I still watched it twice to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

Tagline: “Reincarnated with an invincible body to fight an iron devil. If Casshern does not do it, who will?” Awesome.

More: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0405821/

The Flying Scotsman

I normally don’t go for sports oriented movies but I love Johnny Lee Miller (Hackers, Trainspotting) and while I was growing up my father was big into bicycling.  Not to this extent of course, but enough to be interesting to me. (I, however, took may years to learn how to ride a bike!)

This is a pretty typical guy-has-a-passion-and-overcomes-obsticals-to-succeed story, but it was still sweet and interesting to watch. This is the true story of Graeme Obree, a champion cyclist who rebuilt his bicycle into what today is a racing standard, and broke a few world records while he was at it.  However, during his time, the cycling sports authorities kept making it as hard as possible for him to compete; they didn’t like his new ideas for frames and positions. For instance, at one point they say his seat is a few inches too close to the handlebars. So he cuts a piece of it off. Then they say he can’t ride on incomplete materials. His solution? A childs’ sized seat! Brilliant.

However, Obree fought his whole life against depression and, after an accident, physical health issues.  At one point he almost bottoms out of a downward spiral and attempts suicide (failing) but fortunately he has a wonderful wife and baby who nurse him though the hard times and support him on his journey and though his passion. Not too much is said about the family but it’s clear he had an excellent support system. Billy Boyd (best known as Pippin in Lord of the Rings) plays Obree’s true friend and manager, Malky, and Brian Cox (Deadwood, and about a trillion other things) plays Douglas Baxter, Obree’s financial and moral supporter.

This movie shows a real, intriguing, kind, passionate human on a very basic human level. He battled not only the physical elements required for cycling but also mental illness to become one of the greatest cyclists of all time, and I admire him, and the movie for portraying the story well.

More: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0472268/

The Great Yokai War (Yôkai daisensô)

As someone who grew up with Jim Henson movies like Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, I really enjoyed this kids movie (that’s not necessarily for kids).  Even though I’m not Japanese and probably missed a lot of the cultural references, I still enjoyed the story and the characters. Specifically the yôkai; spirits/monsters/creatures, some bad, some mischevious, some good, from Japanese folklore. Almost everything has it’s own yôkai; lost objects (represented by an umbrella with a long tougne), the red bean (represented by a man who continuously counts them), lots of animals, and countless others, and I just love them. This movie has a ton of them – some puppets, some CGI and they are fascinating!

The story is about a little boy, Tadashi, who has a sad family life. However, he gets picked to be the ‘kirin rider;’ the spiritual champion of the peace and justice.  He has to get a magical sword to fight the evil yôkai, and is aided by some good yôkai. Battle ensues.

Another very interesting thing about this movie is that it is directed by Takashi Miike who is best known for his extremely violent films like ‘Ichi the Killer’ and ‘Dead or Alive.’ As far as I know this is his only “kid’s” movie, and that’s probably a good thing.

More: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0425661/

Yôkai: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y%C5%8Dkai

Ten Canoes

Anyone who has or has ever had any interest in Australia should see this film. It’s a story within a story based in a historical Aboriginal culture, the Gunwinggu, in the Northern Territories. What really struck me about this film was the tender and reverent manner in which it was made. The film makers clearly wanted to give us a glimpse of an almost secret society that barely anyone in their country, not to mention the rest of the world, has ever really seen (I am excluding Crocodile Dundee from this category).

The “present” is filmed in black in white, and we follow a group of men as they make canoes and maneuver through the swamp hunting for goose eggs. While they are doing that, Big Brother tells Little Brother a story, filmed in color, of their ancestors. The fable is meant as a tool for Little Brother, a parable that teaches the ways of the tribe (and tries to teach some patience too). In the story, a stranger comes to the tribe which startles everyone. He seems to want to trade magical objects, and the magician of the clan is afraid of him. He leaves, but soon after one of the elders wives disappears. The men think the stranger took her and go about getting her back causing no little trouble.

All the characters are played by local Aborigines. The film makers went to great lengths to avoid anything modern (airplanes, litter, clothes, etc.) so you really feel like you’re in this unspoiled land of old. There is a lot of humor and joking around, for instance one of the elders is addicted to honey and talks about it all the time. But all in all it’s a fascinating film about community and an amazing people.

Could Souls

Paul Giamatti plays himself in this dark comedy about soul transportation. While rehearsing a theatrical Uncle Vanya, Giamatti becomes more and more paranoid that he is unable to connect to his character and will fail the production. He is told about a soul storage facility and decides to go for it: have his soul extracted and stored, until the end of the production. Of course he doesn’t count on the Russian soul traffickers who steal it from the facility for a spoiled, and talentless, soap opera star. He also doesn’t count on the fact that without his soul he’s a TERRIBLE actor. Shenanigans ensue as he goes about getting it back from St. Petersburg.

My favorite part about this movie is the premise. Really? Extracting souls? And the inevitable existential crisis… Even better is what all the souls look like – I bet the film makers had fun thinking them up! For instance, Giamatti’s looks like a chick pea, another looks like a jelly bean, another a root.

Co-stars Emily Watson (Giamatti’s wife), David Strathairn (the doctor of the soul facility), and Dina Korzun (the Russian soul mule) round out a wonderful cast. But the best work of all comes from Giamatti who can go from tormented to almost silly in a matter of moments.

The director was Sophie Barthes, and this was only her 3rd film. People have been comparing her to Charlie Kaufman which is sort of true, but apparently she would prefer to be compared to Woody Allen. In fact, the origin of this movie was a dream she had about him, finding his soul to look like a chickpea!

Called ‘Existential Science-Fiction,’ different and interesting, surreal, fearless, and original, this movie is definitely worth your time.

More: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1127877/

A Wink And A Smile

I picked this movie up after seeing a show put on by the graduating class of Seattle-based Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque; a friend of a friend had gone through the six weeks of training and the class put on a great show.  A Wink and a Smile was made in 2008 and while it’s not the story of the class I saw, it’s the story of 10 women who learn the art of burlesque and learn about themselves at the same time.

I really am enjoying the burlesque scene here in Seattle; it’s really not just stripping, but each act tells a story and they are usually quite clever. This movie goes over how the women pick their stage names, how to figure out a story and how to use their dance moves to tell it, etc. The range of women who take the class is amazing; a mother of 2, a taxidermist, an opera singer, a homemaker, a student, and a reporter to  name a few.

Miss Indigo Blue started as a stripper but wanted something a bit more glamorous, so she found burlesque, joined a troupe, and started the school. She sees burlesque as means of self exploration, a way to boost self-esteem and strengthen sexual confidence.  She knows exactly what she’s doing and why, and its fun to watch her teach, cajole, and befriend these women who are trying something extremely new and somewhat frightening.

I even got to see her dance live with a troupe called The Atomic Bombshells. She’s very petite and graceful, and also very nice and sweet! Check this movie out and support the reemergence of this art form.

4 out of 5 stars for the filmmakers style; it could have been a little more a little more flashy considering the subject material, but on the other hand it  lets the audience focus more on the people behind the glitter.

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