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bob the moo
(list no longer kept up-to-date....sorry)
The good aspects tend to be in the shadow of what influenced them, while the weaker elements (plot, running time) stand alone
There has been a lot of very positive things said and written about The Villainess; from a standing ovation at Cannes (for all that that means), to the critics, even through to the commenters here on IMDb. Despite that I came to the film open to whatever it did, although of course I came to it because I had heard many positive things about it. Having seen the film myself, I am left rather bemused about the near universal positive commentary for The Villainess, because it didn't really stand out to me as being anything particularly special, even though it does have elements (or sequences) which are memorable.
As a whole, the film felt like a collection of bits from other films or works, pulled together to try to freshen up a plot which doesn't really flow, and characters that are never fleshed out to the point that we really care about them or invest in who they are. The action is where the focus is, although I was surprised how long periods of the film didn't have any. The action is worth a look, with the opening pov sequence, and the final sequences, being bloody, energetic, and enjoyable however they also represent the constant problem of the film which is that it all feels very familiar, but not as good as what it reminds you of.
For example, the pov stuff is directly from Ilya Naishuller's music videos (and then the feature Hardcore Henry), but it is not as slickly or smoothly delivered as those videos (not seen the feature). Within that, and particularly evident in the final road- based sequence, is the influence of The Raid and The Raid 2; in those films the camera is thrown around within the action, as well as making seemingly impossible transitions within the scene (specifically the chase sequence here and in Raid 2). It is good here, but never as good as in Evans' two films while also being totally 'influenced' by them to the point of being constantly in their shadow (in my opinion). The plot also heavily smacks of Nikita, but maybe would have done better to stick closer to it since here the plot is messy and too jumbled to flow. I liked the fragmented structure of it as an idea, and it works pretty well as a device but it is the content and delivery that limits it. The cast didn't seem able to lift the material, and although good in the action, they didn't find their characters outside of the moment.
The Villainess has enough about it in the start and end to be worth a look. It runs longer than it can bare though, and the plot doesn't work well enough to engage through some of the periods of no action. It is very much in the shadow of its many influences though, and while I enjoyed some aspects, mostly it felt too familiar and knocked-off.
Kimi no na wa. (2016)
Perfectly balances all the elements, providing plenty in all of them (SUGGESTIVE SPOILERS)
I came to Your Name only knowing that it was a body-swap film, and that it was supposed to be good. Beyond that I did not know much at all. I cannot remember if I was told it was a comedy, or merely assumed it was a comedy on the basis that all bodyswap films seem to play that element to the maximum. Regardless, I did not know much about it.
The film opens very much in the genre that I expected, and we spend the first half of the film in this vein; two teenagers in different parts of Japan swap bodies every so often a boy and girl. After a while it becomes a routine, and they leave each other notes on their telephones to help the visitor play out the lives correctly. In this half the film is lively, funny, sweet, and enjoyable for what it does with the characters in terms of establishing them but also swapping them around. The middle of the film sees a change to this direction, and instead the root of the jumping, and more detail of the situation, is laid out. At this point there is much more mystery, urgency, and drama to the story as it unfolds. It does this in a way that in no way discards what has gone before, but uses our charmed investment to make the second half work even better. It does this all the way to an ending which seems like nothing to describe it, but yet left me with tears in my eyes.
The character creation and the spot-on judgment of tone are two key elements in making it work, but of course not only. Animation is great throughout and the music, although a little corny perhaps, plays off the emotions in the story well again a factor in me having something in my eye at the end. I'm not sure a second watch will have quite the same impact on me as the first time did, but I will watch it again. It is a great little film worthy of the praise it received on release in Europe, and worth watching even if you have zero interest in subtitled or animated films.
Twin Peaks (2017)
Great mix of the unnerving, the absurd, the dark, the mystifying, and the slow
A few years ago I rewatched all of the original series, having not watched it since its original broadcast. Doing this reminded me how creepy, engaging, and effective, it was, but at the same time just how I didn't care for the many sections in S2 where it is soapy and disconnected from where my interests were. The Return starts in the space that interests me most, although at the same time it seems to be deliberately trying to shake off anyone not willing to go with the darker and more disturbing elements. The first two episodes offer no respite from weirdness, disturbing imagery, unsettling silence, and violent moments. It was two hours which had me wholly focused on the television, but yet with the sense of it pressing on me and making me uneasy.
This continues throughout the season, although with more balance. At times it is slow; at others it is a dizzying overload of ideas. Characters and moments and ideas connect back to the original series and the to the prequel; but at the same time there are frequent characters and moments who seem to be stand-alone and it is okay if we don't know them. As a narrative I was held by it even though it spends so long doing nothing, and has elements which don't ever get resolved or connected to much else. The tone is a lot to do with this working, and Lynch's constant presence feeds a great sense of darkness being just below all of our sunny lives. Elements of the writing are extended too long, and I think even those that liked the Dougie Jones arc (including me) would concede that it was too much to take almost the entire season to deliver it. That said, Lynch builds around this very well, with plenty of colorful characters, and increasing connection to where the rest of the show is happening.
This place is one of dark violence, spirits, unseen worlds, death, and yet it also has time for some characters from the show, and plenty of broad and odd comedy. The mix works very well; much better than I expected. At times the storyline tests patience, and then it will throw in a section or episode which throws loads more on the table and leaves with plenty to think about. I'll not pretend to understand it all, or to get all the references, but I enjoyed not only the watching, but then reading the fan forums to get help with all the connections and reference points. The cast seem to be entirely on board with everything that is being done, and this adds a lot to it but essentially it seems Lynch got full support to do whatever he wants, and this is what makes it so engaging. Technically production standards are very high, but it is the sound work that really sticks with you the space, the hums, the unsettling nature of all of it.
As a total product it is bewildering, frustrating, exciting, confusing, engaging, and annoying. There is plenty to dislike, but overwhelmingly it delivers a great mix of the dark, the absurd, the cheering, and the mystifying; all with plenty of style, tone, timing, and patience.
Likable, but a bit too broad and general in the writing and delivery
I confess a bias here and it is a bias not to like this show. Ronny Chieng is one of the reasons I stopped watching the Daily Show one of the many reasons, it must be said, but still one of them. His material always seemed to be focused on his father's disappointment in him, and he rarely was allowed to break out of that narrow lane. In a way his show 'International Student' doesn't throw him open too much on top of that, since it plays generally on stereotypes of nationality, race, and gender. It does this within a very broad setting of the university campus where Ronny and some others are based.
Supposedly this is based on Chieng's own experiences in Australia, but I hope this is not true since the comedy is lacking in any sort of specific insight or anchor. The broad jokes and scenarios are fun though, and I liked it as I watched it although at the same time there was not too much else to it beyond this. It is nice to see yet another Australian mainstream show that has a different voice in terms of who makes it and who it features, but the truth is that generic comedy is generic comedy no matter what race is making it. So it is here and again, I did like it for its broad humor and silliness, but it always feels obvious in what it does, and the laughs are not sharp or unique enough to make a difference.
On the basis of this I'd give any second season a watch for the sake of being an easy and enjoyable thing to watch but this is hardly high praise. Quite fun if nothing else is on, but not worth seeking it out.
S17: Horns of Nimon: Memorable for its silly elements, but unmemorable otherwise
A mixed season comes to a close, and it is a shame that it does so in some a clunky manner. The plot is based around the story of the minotaur and labyrinth, except put into space, and the minotaur are wearing costume castoffs from the film Slade in Flame. I mention this because the sight of these weird bull creatures, with their massive heads, and odd flare/platform shoe outfits, is one of the few things that really sticks in the mind a reflection on the rest of the serial.
Outside of the absurd bull characters, the drama is surprisingly dull, and feels dragged out for the sake of filling time. It is hard to describe but even as I was watching it I was struggling to keep track of what was going on not so much because I am dumb, but rather because I didn't engage at all with what was going on. The elements of the plot that are dropped in are clear, but there is little done with them apart from some place holding, and the search for the usual cliffhangers. It isn't that the serial is awful though, it is just continually silly and uninteresting with the daft elements actually doing the weaker elements a favor by at least drawing a reaction. The cast are a mix of hammy and disinterested, although at least Baker and Ward seem like they care a bit.
A disappointing end to the season; with it being so mixed I would have liked something stronger to go out on, but it was weak on the page, and not helped by some laughable production design.
Kaze tachinu (2013)
Interesting and visually impressive, but lacking heart and rushes the emotional element (mild suggestive spoilers)
The brand is so strong with Ghibli, and the name of Miyazaki generally means great work even to something without any real knowledge or interest in Japanese animation per se; so there is an expectation that each film will soar. With The Wind Rises, the critics all seemed to suggest it was an instant classic, but mostly I tried to avoid reviews and hype, and did not watch in a rush. The plot follows the key moments in the life of Jiro Horikoshi, who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II. We join him as a student and follow his career through romance and flights of fancy which inspire his work.
Visually it is as pretty as ever, with the real life providing plenty of detail, and the dream sequences having lots of energy and creativity. However, these aspects contrast quite badly with the majority of the content, which is interesting but no more than this. The narrative plays out in a very functional way. The purpose of the dream sequences seem to be almost an attempt to liven up the story, and the romance elements seem exaggerated to introduce a heart that isn't in the majority of the telling. There are efforts at color and humor, and most of it does add to the film in a way that makes it more lively than it may otherwise have been. Problem is that the core of the film isn't this way, either in the detail or the character.
Jiro is mostly a dull character, particularly after the youthful spirit of the first third settles down. I did not connect with him, his work, or his sacrifice and the final scenes did nothing for me as a result. The content of the film also seems off, because it is not just one of invention and passion, but rather the spirit of the war effort is behind. There are some mentions to this, but that inherent darkness only seems to be dealt with in mentions rather than what it really deserved. I guess this is a balancing act and an awkward aspect I'm not sure how best it could have been handled beyond the muted presence, but it struck me as oddly present but not present throughout.
Worth a look for the basic story and the animation, but mostly it is a functional piece which surprised me by lacking heart and not drawing me in emotionally.
Epic feel, and plenty of scale to enjoy, but runs long and doesn't wholly convince in the content
Unsurprisingly the third part in this second reboot of the franchise was one of the big films this summer. In being so, it has it deliver in the scale of a blockbuster and in this way it certainly does. The jumps in technology over just the last decade is there on the screen to be seen, and it is consistently impressive regardless of the specifics of the shot. The large battle sequences and wide shots are the obvious examples, but in the close-up and expressions of the main characters is where you will be most impressed with what is possible now.
The scale of the technology is one thing, but the other element is the scale of the story. On one hand it is expansive, but on the other it makes it a personal and small in its focus on the two main protagonists. This allows a lot of internal drama to play out, particularly in Caesar. Mostly this works well enough to support the blockbuster and stop it feeling like an expensive video game, but that is not to say that it always manages to make it work. There is conflict, inner turmoil, and some character, but it doesn't transform the film or elevate it significantly above the level of still being a pretty function (and good) blockbuster. Within the writing there is still a lot of convenience, a lot of artificial construction, and many fairly obvious narrative arcs. They all engage and do the job, but they don't stand up to reflection or turn the film into something smarter or deeper. The ending, meanwhile, feels dropped in from a totally different film, but yet obvious and clunky at the same time.
As a blockbuster, it has plenty to enjoy and to make it stand out from the pack, but at the same time the epic scale doesn't justify the length, and the content is not as sharp or engaging as it suggests.
Kaguyahime no monogatari (2013)
Beautifully animated but perhaps a bit slow for its length (SPOILERS)
Based on a very famous story (which I have not heard before), Princess Kaguya is a beautifully animated piece which will speak to parents more than most casual viewers. The plot sees a simple woodcutter discovering a tiny princess inside a bamboo shoot, taking her home and, as she grows quickly, trying to ensure she has all the best things in life. To spoil the film for you early in my comments, this thread ends with her leaving to return to the moon, pursuing her own path in her life. There is a lot that goes on in the meantime, but this is the elements that kept me engaged and perhaps because I am seeing the "growing up and finding their own path" journey first hand.
This aspect is quite touching in how well played it is, however it is a simple aspect which isn't narrative per se. Instead the narrative moves slowly across changes in the life of Kaguya, suitors trying to win her hand, and the specifics of all of that. This is pretty engaging, but not as much as the critics would have you believe. The film does run long, and I'm not wholly convinced that it has the pace and content to sustain it. Like some others have mentioned, I did find my attention wavering a few times across the running time. This pace is helped by the style and animation, which creates a sense of patient beauty in how the film looks so the opposite for example of the Batman Lego Movie, which feels like it is rushing you in and out of the movie from start to finish. Kaguya instead is beautifully animated in a way that seems so contrary to what can be done now with computer animation where anything is possible, this focuses on creating beautiful frames with delicate strokes, and not having more than is necessary. As everyone says, it is a beautiful film in this way.
The voicework in the English version maybe follows this too closely, and there is a certain 'downplayed' feel to the delivery from most of the cast. I think it all still works, and the famous names do generally hit their marks and deliver well but I can understand the comments from others who say the cast occasionally sound bored, or subdued in their delivery; I took it as them matching the tone of the film and was fine with it.
In the end, the animation is beautiful and it creates an engaging tone and pace for the film, even if I did think the content was not strong enough for the long running time and the slower pace. At heart though, the story of parents seeing their child grow was the element that stuck with me, and made it a mostly rewarding film, even if it is the animation that stands out above everything else.
S2 China Girl: Great cast, but the plotting and character movements don't really work or engage
Towards the end of this second season, I checked my user comments of the first, because I was doubting what I had felt about the latter. The comments confirmed how I felt, and how many of my issues continued into this second season. In that way I suppose I have no right to complain although in fairness, everything I liked about the first season is also here in the second.
Specifically those elements relate to the delivery. There is a great sense of tone and atmosphere to this season, just as there was in the first. The landscape may have changed, but the sense of pain, distance, and space is still there. So too are the performances, which are roundly strong whether in the recognizable faces or otherwise. The weakness of this season is not in how they deliver it but rather in what they are delivering. The plot rides a lot on coincidence at first but also throughout. Characters all converge, which in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing (after all, we follow these characters because they are part of the same story), but the issue is that from the first episode the characters are already clustered in a very small space; there are some outliers perhaps, but still everyone is half a step removed from one another. This smacks of convenience and kept me from going with the story, as it all felt too tidy to do it like this putting everyone together.
The narrative also fails to really flow. It has ideas and action, but in its main thrust it doesn't sell itself as a drama. The performances within this messy affair are very strong as I said, and they sell it more than it deserves to be sold, but they can only do so much. If anything, at the end, it is hard not to feel like the cast deserved to have better in particular Moss, Christie, Tang, and a scenery chewing Dencik. It is a quality season in some ways, but it is overly trite, convenient, and asks the cast to do a lot of heavy lifting without giving them a lot of help.
Nicely dark humor, but has one joke and has exhausted it before the 1 minute mark
There is a nicely dark edge to this short film, although that is not enough to sustain it. In a Belgian café, two friend of, ahem, 'non- European' backgrounds, are talking about the date one of them had the night before. The other friend pushes for details, even as the police pick them up and take them for interrogation. The absurd humor here being that the extreme nature of the police treatment, contrasting with the two friends treating it like just a normal occurrence.
Tackling police profiling in such a way does make the film worthy of note, but that note is a single one and the film has played it early. It is amusing in the idea but it stretches it out too long; it could easily have been half the running time without any loss to impact (a gain probably). The pace of dialogue from the two leads, and the fast editing/delivery of the action, give the film an energy and it does look professional and well made, but the content is thin. As a film on a hot topic too, it is pretty simplistic and smacks of director Petretti coming from second hand experience, and having a pretty black/white view on the issue (pardon the pun).
It is brief enough to do well online though, and doesn't last long even if it is longer than it can bare. Has plenty good about it but it has one joke/point, and it has made it completely within the first minute and has nothing different to do after that.