Sunday, May 24, 2015

Capsule Reviews May 12-20

Before I start talking about Maggie, take a look at that poster that was used for the Philippine release. It looks like Arnie is gonna mow down some zombies ala Terminator. This is definitely not the case.
The aim of the (good) zombie movie is to reveal something about the human condition. Maggie one ups this and frames the story as a human drama. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a dad facing the imminent zombification of his daughter Maggie. We see the repercussions of this process and how it affects Maggie, her family and friends.


This descent into the realm of the living dead is treated with a modicum of grace. It doesn't try to sensationalize the concept, nor does it try to overly pull on your heartstrings - although heartstrings will definitely be pulled. It serves as a fresh take on the zombie genre that one wonders why it hasn't been done like this before.

It is a bit slow paced, and the dreary atmosphere alternately helps and doesn't help, but in a movie about losing humanity, Maggie has lots of it. It's also Schwarzenegger's finest performance to date.


Taking place between chapters 699 and 700 of the manga series, The Last: Naruto the Movie is probably the franchise's most canon movie outing ever. While it tells the story of the end of the world an digs deep into the vast mythology of Naruto's ninja world, at its heart the story is about how Naruto and his longtime admirer/friend Hinata got hooked up. It's basically a ninja How I Met Your Mother.

Fans of the pairing may rejoice at the amount of screentime the two characters get, but other fans may be left wanting. Fans of the Sasuke/Sakura pairing, on one hand, may be left a little disappointed as Sasuke is reduced to nothing but a cameo. (The recent Gaiden manga series may help rectify this and clarify a few more things regarding the timeskip between chapters 699 and 700.) The rest of the supporting characters get a little screentime, but otherwise they are relegated to the background. This is Naruto and Hinata's movie.

The Last is best viewed after having seen the anime or manga (the anime is slightly more recommended because of some anime only scenes between Naruto and Hinata that Studio Pierrot inserted for character development's sake.) The Last can be viewed as a culmination of all that character tension and buildup for 700 chapters/who knows how many anime episodes.

Masashi Kishimoto wrote the story for The Last, and as with the other feature he was heavily involved in (Road to Ninja, my most favorite Naruto animated feature,) this is a very personal story which emphasizes character development over the filler action we've been used to seeing in other Naruto movies. The thing is, it is best viewed after having invested your time heavily in the series or manga. Newcomers might find the movie confusing (or overly simplistic) otherwise.

Para sa Hopeless Romantic (For Hopeless Romantics) is nothing special in the greater scheme of things, but it serves as JaDine's most capable vehicle yet. Gone are the over the top anime-ish stylings of Diary ng Panget or Talk Back and You're Dead, instead we see a bitter Nadine Lustre still hurting after a disastrous high school romance. She pours out her angst in a story within a story (titled Bag and Folder, which is probably the worst title for anything ever) where SPOILER ALERT the two leads don't have a happy ending.

But like many other cookie cutter romances, Para sa Hopeless Romantic returns to the kilig status quo by the end of the movie - which, for fans of the love teams in the film, is not an entirely bad thing. For outsiders like some of us, it makes the entire ordeal skippable. While we see  the leads fall in love, the character development ends up shallow. The problem with kilig moments is that they are only worth that kilig moment. It really doesn't add a lot to how the romance is built up.

It is refreshing to see James Reid playing something other than the character types seen in his previous JaDine movies.  It is kind of weird seeing many of the actors in the film with bronzer or whatever kind of tanning makeup they had. I guess it's because it's a summer movie. And even in 2015, the stern old maid teacher stereotype still exists. Oh well. 

If you're a JaDine fan, you're in luck; this is probably their best vehicle yet. If not, then you really should watch something else.

The last time a director returned to a franchise after many, many years, the results were not as impressive as I had hoped. *coughGeorgeLucascough*

So when I learned  that George Miller was going back to Mad Max after thirty years, I was a bit skeptical. Thank goodness I was dead wrong - Mad Max Fury Road is the epitome of action spectacle, and one of the finest action movies in the past fifteen years. It's a bitchslap to all the action  directors of today and a tutorial of sorts on how to make an engaging, exciting piece of cinema without selling your soul to CGI and what I call action induced ennui.

The film succeeds thanks to its well choreographed stunts, its insane attention to detail and its seamless meld of practical and computer generated effects. It also helps by having two strong leads in the form of Tom Hardy's Max Rockatansky and Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa.

The film is rounded out by an absolutely kickass soundtrack (FLAMETHROWER GUITAR HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO) a well written, suspenseful script and otherwise technically proficient filmmaking.

Mad Max movies are twisted metal fairy tales, and they let us see this post apocalyptic landscape through Max's eyes, almost as if it is saying that if we were living in this world, we'd go bonkers too. I'd personally want to be the Flamethrower Guitarist. I'm calling dibs on that now.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Random April-May Thoughts and Capsule Reviews

This entry is going to be more stream of consciousness than anything else.

***

Ai Hashimoto would make a good kuudere*. This cute nineteen year old actress has been appearing in a lot of interesting movies, and she has the whole kuudere look down pat.

Whether she's obsessing over an asshole in 2010's Confessions, acting in 2012's adaptation of Another (pictured left) or scaring people to death in the new Sadako 3D franchise, she is getting a lot of people's attention.

In promotional gigs you rarely see this person smile. She's like the Japanese Kirsten Stewart, only less smiley. 

One particular film I've seen recently that has Ai Hashimoto is 2012's The Kirishima Thing, where she is a supporting character. The film is basically a school drama and a take on the often complex social structures of (Japanese) high school with all its cliques and hierarchical structures. The increased importance of clubs in Japanese high schools also affects this structure. Many Japanese kids have a club during their middle and high school years, often devoting much of their off time in the singular pursuit of their particular club interest. (Of course, there are students who would rather do nothing at all - the "go home club.")

The message of the film is reflected in the Japanese Title, Kirishima, Bukkatsu Yamerutteryo - an exhortation from the oft pervading yet invisible Kirishima to quit clubs (and just live life.) His presence (or lack thereof) is felt throughout the film, and his one definite action quietly, but definitively, tips the hierarchy of the students in the school out of balance.

It takes the subject and treats it with the kind of silent contemplation Japanese films are wont to do. It also frames a film within a film - a zombie movie being made by the lower caste movie club - and we see how the two are thematically not that different. Zombie movies in the vein of Romero, most strikingly his 1978 opus Dawn of the Dead, operate with the spirit of subverting the carefully created social structures of humankind via an apocalyptic scenario. Zombies care not about seniority or whether you were popular or captain of the baseball team - they just want your brains.

The Kirishima Thing is the best kind of film, one that manages to stick with you and haunt you long after you've watched it. Also, it has Ai Hashimoto -the archetypal Kuudere- in it.

* from Urban Dictionary: An anime/manga slang term for a character that is cold, blunt, cynical, and pretty much doesn't care if her beloved dies. That's what she is on the outside but she is actually caring and nice on the inside. Differs from tsundere since tsundere is when the character frequently runs hot and cold between tsun and dere. Kuudere is when the character only occasionally shows her caring side.

***

South Park is one of my favorite shows. It almost never fails to show us a stupid aspect of humanity, amplify it to a factor of 9000, and show us how silly some things are.

I recently rewatched season 14 of the show and found a few really good episodes. I'd like to talk about the Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs, where the four South Park kids, disillusioned from reading Catcher in the Rye, attempt to write the grossest, most subversive book in existence.

They succeed.

What hits me about this episode is how much it jives with what I see in criticism these days. Whether it's for movies, literature or something else, everyone seems to look too much into a piece of art, even though sometimes a spade is really just a spade. They start projecting their own ideals and beliefs and see that work of art either as something endorsing or condemning their own belief, even though the work of art just wanted to say the curtains are blue. 

Just because something is subversive and edgy doesn't make it good  either. Just saying.

***

I managed to see the horror movie Unfriended in a very cozy Resorts World cinema on a slow Friday (there were less than ten other people in the cinema with me). As far as horror movies go it's quite pedestrian - the basic plot, stripped of all pretense, is a by-the-numbers slasher plot. It is imaginative in the way it presents its story - entirely through the computer screen of our protagonist.

This method is not new - a 2013 Canadian short film beat it to the punch - but in the context of horror, it's  a fresh storytelling concept and it really manages to convey emotion and suspense even through very innocuous actions, such as a moment's hesitation over the send button, or retyping a message to prevent conveying sensitive information.

The theme follows various other contemporary movies of the internet age where ghosts and evil spirits wreak havoc using modern technology. Movies like One Missed Call and Phone used cellphones, Kairo (Pulse) used the internet, and movies like the Ring used video storage media.

The scares are quite effective, but they lose their steam after a few repeat watches. What is more terrifying to some (and to myself) is the fact that these teenagers are apathetic assholes who lack basic empathy. That scares the shit out of me because the notion of one of these teens bullying my future son or daughter is far more plausible than some malevolent entity trolling me through Skype.

It's fun but ultimately forgettable, and in a few years the technology will become dated and/or obsolete anyway. It will probably end up a gateway to other similar films, but unless they do something fresh with the next one, I predict the novelty of the presentation will soon fizzle out.

***

 I was going to make a retrospective of some Salman Khan films, just like what I did with Jr. NTR a while back. He has his share of serious films, but at the same time he is in a lot of mass entertainers. (I am a sucker for Indian mass entertainers.)  While he kinda had a slow phase mid decade, his films starting with 2009's Wanted are all very entertaining. Amongst the Khans (himself, Aamir Khan and SRK) he seems to have the highest appeal among the masses.

Also let it be said if there was a movie where Chulbul Pandey and Bajirao Singham team up to fight bad guys, I would totally lose my shit.

So imagine my surprise when suddenly I was met with this turn of events.

Salman Khan got sentenced to five years in prison a few days ago for negligent driving. 13 years ago, Khan allegedly ran over a number of people sleeping on the sidewalk, killing one. Khan denies the allegations, but the courts ruled otherwise. He is currently out on bail.

India is divided over the issue, with some saying that Khan's conviction was deserved and that no one is above the law, while some believe that deep inside he is a good guy and deserves some clemency. At the very least I wonder if the family ever got compensated for their loss. Financial support after losing their breadwinner really matters a lot too.

I don't know enough of the specifics of the case to form my own opinion on the case itself. I just hope that the court makes their decision while separating Salman Khan the persona from Salman Khan the person. Or, to put it in another way, separating Salman Khan the movie star icon from Salman Khan the man.

***

It's been a week since Floyd Mayweather won that megafight I had referred to in my Pacquiao retrospective. The moment I saw his style in the ring I knew the People's Champ was in trouble. While everyone was cheering on in the latter rounds, I was growing increasingly worried as my personal prediction of a Mayweather win by decision was coming true. I've gotten into a few fights, both real and in the domain of videogames. This was kind of chilling to see - one person was controlling the pace, putting the other guy out of his rhythm, gaming the system to win by points. I've done the same thing too, and most of the time it worked like a charm.

From my very limited perspective, Mayweather reminded me of one very particular fictional character in boxing - one that I think is quite unique. His name is Kenta Kobashi, and he's a character in the anime show Hajime no Ippo. Like Mayweather, Kobashi used a very defensive style of boxing, clinching and occasionally jabbing to keep the opponent of his rhythm. While far inferior in fighting skill to other boxers in the series, Kobashi knew how to box, and he was one of Ippo's most dangerous early opponents. He lost only because he abandoned his strategy to try to win by an infight - not a very wise decision. (He later went on to become the freaking Featherweight Champion.)

Kobashi's style was boring, but it won fights. It's not Mayweather's or Kobashi's fault that they were boring or seemed cowardly. It's the fault of boxing itself.

I'm no boxing expert, but in all of the fights I've seen in my life, something strange and different was definitely happening after the fight. Mayweather's performance was hailed as a 'master class,' a 'clinic' for staid, yet highly effective boxing. What Mayweather did in that fight was not easy - the man has unbelievable reflexes. Yet the crowd booed the champ out the stadium. For them, it really was a clinic. Sick people go to clinics, and in this case the patient was boxing.

To provide a bit of context, let me take you to a story about another sport - basketball. There are a few sports quite as exciting as basketball. Ever jumped up like a maniac and cheered after witnessing a buzzer beater? I have. I lived through the mythical Bulls era of the early to mid nineties. It was, and still is, riveting.

But way back in the fifties, Basketball was dying. Why? Games were getting overly defensive. Instead of the high scoring games we see now, players were content to slightly outscore the other team then (sometimes literally) sit on the ball and keep possession of it until the end of the game. Games became sluggish foul fests with many points being scored from the free throw line. Some games reached six overtime periods... and some ended with a final score of 19-18.

At the time, it was legal, and there was an element of strategy in it. It was defensive basketball taken to its limit. It was also boring as hell. People walked out of games and attendance fell like a rock. TV stations stopped airing games leading to a loss of revenue.

Then, someone invented the shot clock. It forced players to engage. It made players more athletic. It improved the game, and made the game exciting to watch. It literally made basketball the game it is today.

Back to the main topic. Boxing now? I think it's just like how basketball was back then. Instead of a sport where two people fight, we get a sport where two people try not to get hit. Imagine a championship bout where the two boxers have a style like Mayweather's. I'd probably fall asleep, and I'd have wasted my money from PPV to boot. Boxing pundits and "experts" might call it the greatest fight of the century. The layman, whose viewership is the lifeblood of spectator sports, would probably change the channel. There are other alternatives, like MMA, where fights are still what we want them to be: a fight.

Because you know, like that South Park episode, just like how sometimes a flower is just a flower,  sometimes a boring fight is simply just a boring fight.

I could be wrong, I admit. Perhaps instead of basketball, boxing will become something like soccer with all its intricacies and defensive strategies, where, like goals, punches thrown would be rare and be something to look forward to, where an intimate knowledge of the sport heightens one's appreciation of it. There's a reason why most of the world loves soccer, even though to some it looks boring to watch.

But if I am right, and we do not change the way we perceive boxing, or if boxing itself does not try to change like basketball did, there will be no more superfights, no 'thrillas' in Manila or rumbles in the jungle. The masterclass will have no students. The clinic will become a morgue.


That was four entries' worth of shit. Enjoy, and until next time, keep on truckin'.