Monday, September 5, 2016

Some Highs and Lows of August

            As of two weeks ago I have started a new semester of college, which means I’m still adjusting to the demands between schoolwork and blogging. For now I’ll just focus on writing short and informal stuff and leaving longer essays for Blogathons and film/topics that inspire analysis. Still, I saved up some short reviews of the films I saw during August just to make up for the dead time.

Bojack Horseman Season 3
            Still the best show on Netflix. Season 3 is a bit less serialized than the previous seasons, but each episode has a magnificently composed arc to them that reveals darker shades of Bojack, Hollywoo(d) and his dwindling group of friends.  The mostly silent episode “Fish Out of Water,” is an outstanding episode that perfectly represents the show’s brilliantly zippy and dark comic style whilst experimenting with said formula. However, it is heartbreaking and brutally honest episodes like “The Best Thing That Ever Happened” and “That’s too Much, Man!” that make me committed to this show. The show may not replace Bob’s Burgers in terms of pure condensed laughter, but that not really the show’s mission at this point. Bob’s Burgers is more interested in being The Simpsons for a new generation; Bojack Horseman aspires to being something like Pagliacci.

Stranger Things
            The show is a solid sci-fi mystery thriller that is filled with enough creepy monsters, government conspiracies and psychic children to keep the genre fans addicted. It is also a shameless pastiche of early 1980s pop culture, referencing the likes of Steven Spielberg, Steven King, John Carpenter and many more, which are fun for a while but become distracting to a frustrating degree. Often the show is more interested in creating entire scenes around a reference for its own sake rather than invoking an actual honest emotion or thrill. That is college film shtick. Thankfully the cast is outstanding, Winona Ryder is better than ever, bringing tenderness and intensity unseen from her, David Harbour takes the Chief Brody archetype and adds a harder edge to it with great results, but it is the leading quintet kids and their nerdy camaraderie that make this show stand out. The show could easily just be about them playing their Dungeons & Dragons campaign and it would still work; those kids are just that good. Stranger Things is an engaging show with great potential; hopefully next season will use homage to create stronger drama and not just trivia game fodder.

Penny Dreadful S1-2
            Penny Dreadful is about a witch, a cowboy, Victor Frankenstein and a vampire hunter and his manservant fighting supernatural crime in London, of course it is awesome! On paper it sounds derivative to the League of Extraordinary Gentleman but the concept of a supernatural drama starring a group of public domain literature characters is too broad for just one franchise.  The espionage tales of the Extraordinary Gentleman had more in common the Suicide Squad than Penny Dreadful—trashy film adaptation and all. Penny Dreadful is a more opulent horror driven experience that is striking with its ghoulish beauty and over-the-top acting from the likes of Eva Green and Timothy Dalton.

Best of Enemies
            A documentary about a series of debates between the conservative journalist William F Buckley and the liberal author Gore Vidal, which aired on ABC as part of the network’s coverage of the 1968 primaries. Their purpose was to comment on the candidates, but every week it turned into snippy arguments about their ideologies and lifestyles, and it is hilarious.  Granted it is hilarious until the film delves into the bleak implications these debates had on the media, at which the film reaches a sort of quiet profundity.

            Another documentary about two powerhouses meeting face to face; granted filmmakers Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut were hardly mortal enemies but distant admirers who met for a series of interviews about Hitchcock’s filmmaking technique.  The process lasted a week but it resulted in a book—of which the film got its name—that changed the common perception of Hitchcock from a light entertainer to the Hollywood auteur.  While the film often lapses into advertising the book than examining the key subjects, it is worth listening to the recordings of Truffaut and Hitchcock and witness these distant admirers evolve into creative kin.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople
            No joke, after finishing my midyear review I went to see this film, based on my parents’ recommendation, and afterward I kept kicking myself for not being able to fit it in the list. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a hilarious and touching family comedy that blends the best elements of Pete Doctor and Wes Anderson films with gleeful and unpretentious style. This film—along with Love & Friendship and The Lobster—prove that cinematic comedy is not lost this year.

Finding Dory
            Thirteen years after Finding Nemo, everyone’s favorite forgetful blue fish Dory spontaneously realizes that she had a family and goes on the hunt for them. This leads to Marlon, Nemo and Dory getting lost in SeaWorld and hijinks ensue. The comedy is a bit uninspired, the highlight is Ed O Niel as an agoraphobic octopus but the film is mostly filled with simple slapstick and callbacks to jokes from the previous film.  However, the one element that is outstanding is how the film expands Dory’s short-term memory loss as a disability for the character. Instead of making it a silly joke as it was in 2003, the film shows Dory as she struggles with her memory loss in a very honest and sensitive manner, but also inspiring as she manages it with great success.  Finding Dory is no Toy Story 2 or 3 but it is certainly their best sequel that does not involve cars or monsters.

Danger: Diabolik
            Based on an Italian comic of the same name, this is Mario Bava’s low budget crime film that answers the question, “what if Bonnie & Clyde had James Bond’s gadgets?” The story is about Diabolik and girlfriend Eva, master thieves who raise hell in Europe, robbing every bank in sight whilst always being one step ahead of the authorities. Diabolik and Eva are pop-art anti-heroes; nothing really matters to them as long as they look cool doing their work.  Sadly, the story is not as clever the heroes, many of the story beats are cool on the surface but any hint of logic would destroy them. The tacky dialogue—over-dubbed by some painfully stiff English voice actors—does not help either.  Still, there is some absurd fun to be had, and it would also make a nice double bill with a certain Adam West superhero film…

Batman (1966)
             Holy segue, its Batman! Ah yes, the spin-off film of the (in)famous Batman TV series from the 1960s; depending on who you ask, it is either a fun relic of a more innocent time or garish trash that reduced super-hero comics into an adolescent product. As someone who is both too young to understand and too old to care about such history, the film is pure adorable fun.  Batman is certainly camp, Adam West’s and Bud Ward’s deliver their pun-filled lines with the dramatic conviction of Rod Serling and the posse of villains chew the scenery like frenzied sharks, but the film is bright, punchy, and never dull.  Speaking of sharks, there is clear method to the madness, the film features the frequently mocked Shark Repellant Bat-Spray, but it is taken from a whole shelf of Bat-Sprays, including ones for barracudas, manta rays and even whales. Whales! Only in a truly evil world would one need whale repellant, or a hilariously comic one.

Point Break (2015)
            Oh boy. Ignoring that this film looks less like a adaptation of the 1990s Point Break than a direct-to-video stunt film that was turned into a remake in the post-production phase. Ignoring that Luke Bracey’s lifeless interpretation of Johnny Utah makes Keanu Reeves look like Daniel-Day Lewis. The fact is that this remake is horrifically dull action film, even by mediocre action standards. Every story beat can be spotted a mile away, every frame of film is filtered with a sickening green tint, and the action, by unwitting design, has absolutely no tension. The stunts are certainly elaborate but because every character is an obnoxiously fearless stuntman who performs stunts for fun, and the action is composed like every stunt compilation video on YouTube, everything feels so carefully choreographed that there is no sense of danger at all. For all the technical proficiency that it flaunts, the film robs itself of any sense of viscera or tension that people should expect from even a mediocre thriller. Watching the Point Break is about as exciting as watching a zombie film without zombies, a western without guns, or a comedy starring Rob Schneider.

Lady Snowblood
            Born a vengeful spirit, Lady Snowblood is a hard samurai who vows to kill the bandits that raped her mother, killed her father and her brother. She may not have met her family but she will not rest until f. This film is a raw, intense, bordering on horrifying samurai film that features some of the bloodiest action sequences that 1970s Japan could offer.  The story of Lady Snowblood, while shocking, is rather thin but the action and style is so distinct and immaculate it is easy to understand why Quentin Tarantino was so taken by this film when creating Kill Bill. Nevertheless, Lady Snowblood is thrilling and clever enough to be more than just a piece of trivia.

Tokyo Tribe
            Tokyo Tribe is a Japanese comedy/action/hip-hop musical adaptation of a manga about gangs fighting for territory and something about virgin sacrifices; it is about as sane as it sounds. Transgressive, violent, and rude as hell, Tokyo Tribe is the type of extreme cinema that both the cult musical crowd and exploitation fan will relish but the debauchery and violence is so persistent that it eventually becomes exhausting. It is like jumping in a mosh-pit at a hip-hop concert until a muscle is pulled. As for the music, there is actually a pretty solid mix of old school beats, the cast of rappers would not last a minute in the Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 chambers but their enthusiasm is infectious. Tokyo Tribe is a baffling film to experience but not exactly a dynamic one.

            So that is it. Not sure yet if I should save up future reviews like this on a monthly basis or post them up more consistently, but that is how experimentation works, I suppose. If you have suggestions or recommendations, let me know. For now, as uncertainty rocks lets leave it on a happy note, namely that Spike Jonze perfume commercial/music video that not enough people are talking about.

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