Movie Review #002 – Blade Runner (The Final Cut)

Published October 7, 2017 by GravediggerNALK

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Preface:

Cyberpunk is, without a doubt, my favorite sub-genre of Science Fiction, and the influence that Blade Runner has had on Cyberpunk is second to only William Gibson’s Neuromancer, in my opinion.  Re-watching this movie years after the first time I’d seen it has been a trip.  I’ve seen a long list of anime (and played a long list of games) from the past 35 years that have drawn directly from Blade Runner.  It influenced all of the “retrowave” and “synthwave” music heard today.  It, along with Gibson and Rucker, helped shaped my view of what Cyberpunk looks like.  Without Blade Runner, Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell films may have looked completely different (and may have more closely matched the manga than they do now).  Without Blade Runner, Bubblegum Crisis (and its sequels, spin-offs, remakes, etc.) would certainly not exist, nor would any of the works that it influenced.  Without Blade Runner, most of my favorite pieces of Science Fiction would not exist.

Review:

A simple story that’s been told time and time again: Retired police officer is asked to come back to the force for an especially difficult case, one for which he is considered to be “the best man for the job.”  But, imagine that with a twist . . . this is set 35 years in the future.  High tech, low life — the classic description of Cyberpunk crime drama.

In this future, synthetic humans (known as replicants) are produced by the Tyrell Corporation to work on the off-world colonies (space colonies).  After many years, some replicants started to rebel.  Those that made it back to Earth are retired (killed) by special police officers known as Blade Runners.  Four replicants, considered especially dangerous, have escaped and made it down to Earth.  The LAPD calls back a retired Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), to stop them.

The movie takes place in a futuristic Los Angeles, that, personally, resembles Hong Kong, Tokyo, or New York City more than it ever will Los Angeles.  Huge, dark, and alive, the city is covered in skyscrapers, people, technology, and ruins that serve as a reminder to a former affluence.  My only issue with the setting is how flat everything looks during the huge aerial shots.  Star Wars, released 5 years prior, had less than half of the budget of Blade Runner, and did not have the same problems.  That said, it’s only a minor grievance.

As Deckard progresses, you can really feel how tired and burnt-out he is, even though that isn’t used for any purpose in the movie.  When he gets to the Tyrell Corporation at the beginning and administers the test (used to determine if the subject is a replicant) on Rachael (Tyrell’s personal replicant), Deckard begins questioning the depth and meaning of humanity, and he carries that with him through the closing scene of the movie.  Deckard continues to interact with Rachael throughout the movie, and each time he does he gains more of an understanding of what it is to be alive, while finding more doubt in himself if he knows the real answer.  Roy’s (one of the replicant fugitives) interaction with Deckard on the final rooftop BEFORE delivering his famous monologue shows that he found the answer to what being alive, being human really means.  Through his actions on that last rooftop and the monologue, Roy imparts that knowledge unto Deckard.  With that, Deckard helps Rachael attempt to escape.

The action is quick-paced.  Each introduction of “future technology” is easily understandable through context, if not flat-out explanation.  Some of the scenes seem rushed or cut, but, without an immediate sequel, the movie sits finely.

Anything that I can think of that “needed more explanation,” I understood just fine through continuing to watch and seeing how everything all fit and ended.  By itself, Blade Runner is a neo-noir, Cyberpunk, crime drama masterpiece, and any change that I could suggest in hindsight would hardly be fitting of it or its message.

Scoring:

  • Plot: 7/10
  • Acting: 7/10
  • Special Effects: 6/10
  • Overall: 7/10

Information:

Title: Blade Runner (The Final Cut)

Released: June 1982

Director: Ridley Scott

Distributor: Warner Bros.

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Movie Review #001 – Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Published September 13, 2017 by GravediggerNALK

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Preface: This is a review of Ghost in the Shell, the 2017 American live action movie.  This is not of the same continuity as the original manga series by Masamune Shirow, the movie series by Mamoru Oshii, the Arise canon, the 1997 PlayStation One video game, or Stand Alone Complex.

Review:

I guess the first thing to tackle would be the members of Section 9:

  • First, obviously, is Major Kusanagi.  I think that Scarlett Johansson is perfect for the role, however, I think that the directing sucked.  Some of her lines, especially at the beginning of the movie, were delivered in the most bland way possible, and I assume that it was called that way to present this “in-human” quality, and I think that it hurt the movie.  Given the chance, I would have changed the wording at the ending to the film, but it’s definitely a better choice than most to bring her character to where it needed to be at the that time.  Surprisingly, for a movie that is mostly pasted-together rewrites of iconic scenes from the manga, Oshii’s films, and Stand Alone Complex, it provides a new, original backstory for her.  It’s definitely a big change from every other iteration, but I like it.  I think that it fits, and it is one of the few saving graces of this movie.
  • Batou, wonderfully portrayed by Pilou Asbæk, is definitely familiar if you’ve read/watched any of the other Ghost in the Shell media.  He doesn’t get nearly as much development as you’d expect from his screen-time, but it’s enough (for me, at least) to be happy with it.  As a side note: I think it’d been acceptable to throw some make-up on Richard Epcar and have him do it.  He’s got everything you’d need for a good Batou, and he knows the role better than anyone, except maybe Akio Ōtsuka.
  • I wondered from the start who’d they find to portray Ishikawa.  I always figured it’d be an aging Japanese man, you know, like Ishikawa . . . but the moment I saw Lasarus Ratuere with the facial hair for the GITS photoshoots, I knew it’d be perfect.  He has very little screen-time, but I hope to see it developed more in any future iteration.
  • The choice to cast an almost 50-year-old man from Singapore to portray Togusa was baffling, but I’d say it worked out fine in the end.  The first introduction to him in this movie was “non-Togusa” enough for me to pause the movie and groan, but the few other scenes of him in the movie have led me to attribute the first meeting to poor directing instead of overall poor characterization.
  • “Beat” Takeshi Kitano did a perfect job portraying Chief Aramaki, who is represented equally perfect.
  • Who the fuck is Ladriya?

Lets get this out of the way: Most of the movie, especially the CGI, looked like hot garbage.  Some of the digital effects weren’t rendered at the proper framerate, and this is ON THE BLURAY; Disney at least had the sense to fix Star Wars: The Force Awakens after that shit left theaters.  They REALLY wanted to show off the “cool” holographic ads in the city, but it was all so goddamn cheap looking that it looked like it was released in 1997, not 2017.  The optic-camo suit looked cheap as all hell.  Scarlett Johansson’s wig/hair/whatever it was did not look good.  I could’ve dealt with the cheap look of the wig it if it’d been a dark purple, but it was mostly this plastic-black, and, at the end, half of it is brown in some scenes.

The movie isn’t . . . bad, but it’s not really good.  It’s there.  If this was supposed to be the beginning of a live-action franchise, I’d accept that.  As I mentioned earlier, it provides a neat, new backstory for Major Kusanagi, and provides a spin on how she has to cope with her life.  The plot intertwined with this backstory glosses over the entire concept of the “Ghost” in the “Shell,” but I didn’t expect much from a Hollywood adaptation anyway.  If someone were told to write a student film, lasting 100 minutes, to be a “basic bitch” representation of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, this would be it.  Everything resolves tidily at the end, and it’s about as much as I could’ve asked for from a Hollywood adaptation of a Japanese franchise.  I’d watch a sequel, and not even out of the usual morbid curiosity.

I’d be remiss to not bring up the accusations of white-washing.  What?  Major Motoko Kusanagi isn’t supposed to have a definable race, she’s supposed to be the generic bot off of the line, and, no offense, Scarlett Johansson is physically as basic and plain as it gets.  Ishikawa is an aging Japanese man, but he’s portrayed by a young black man.  Togusa is a young white man, but he’s portrayed by an almost-50-year-old man from Singapore.  Y’all are right, there are characters being portrayed by actors that aren’t “the same as the characters,” but one of them certainly isn’t Motoko Kusanagi, and everyone else did a damn fine job at their parts, so I think the casting worked out perfectly in the end.  There are some truly shitty cases of white-washing in Hollywood adaptations of foreign franchises, but this isn’t one of those cases.

Hollywood, regardless of how I feel about this specific movie: Please stop making live-action adaptations of anime and manga franchises.  No one wants to see that shit.

Scoring:

  • Plot: 7/10
  • Acting: 8/10
  • Practical Effects: 6/10
  • CGI & Digital Effects: 2/10
  • Overall: 6/10

Information:

Title: Ghost in the Shell

Released: March 2017

Director: Rupert Sanders

Distributor: Paramount

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Anime Review #015 – One Piece Special 12: Episode of East Blue

Published September 5, 2017 by GravediggerNALK

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Review:

If you go into this expecting something new, don’t.  This is a recap of everything the crew goes through in the East Blue (sans Loguetown) before entering the Grand Line.

The special begins with the crew breaking the barrel, stating their goals for their journey: Luffy, to be King of the Pirates; Zoro, to be the world’s greatest swordsman; Nami, to chart the world’s oceans; Usopp, to be a brave warrior of the sea; Sanji, to find the All Blue.

We start with the Episode of Luffy, recounting Luffy’s interactions with Shanks, the attainment of his devil fruit powers, and end with his setting out to sea, following in the steps of his brother Ace and his idol Shanks.

We then move to Zoro, tied up at the hands of Navy Captain Axe-Hand Morgan.  Without even detailing why Zoro is being detained, we go through the motions; Luffy saves Zoro, demonstrating his devil fruit powers, and convinces him to join his crew.  We are treated to a brief flashback of Zoro’s promise to childhood friend Kuina, to become the world’s greatest swordsman so that his “name may reach the heavens.”  We then cut to the Baratie, where Zoro faces “Hawkeye” Mihawk for the first time.  After his defeat, Zoro vows to never lose again until he can attain the title of the world’s greatest swordsman, a title that Mihawk says that he will patiently hold until Zoro is able to take it from him.

Then comes Usopp.  The Episode of Usopp . . . sure is.  It’s a weird mishmash, not really doing a good job of explaining that he has a tendency to lie, or explaining why he has the relationship he does with townspeople.  We get a weird shortened version of the fight with Captain Kuro before straight to Usopp joining The Strawhat Pirates.

Next is the Episode of Sanji, back at the Baratie.  His backstory with Zeff is kept intact, and we move straight into Luffy defeating Don Krieg, along with Sanji coming to the realization that living and attaining his goals would be the best thing he could do for Zeff to repay him for his life.

Last, is the Episode of Nami.  Every time we have the story of Nami and Cocoyashi Village retold, I cry.  No expense was spared on this, and it showed.  Nami’s sad life gets retold, her bond with the people of Cocoyashi Village re-explained, Bellemere and Nojiko’s family ties with Nami re-affirmed, all of it happens again and it’s sad as hell.  It ends with a VERY condensed version of the fight at Arlong Park.

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At the end of the special, we move back to the ship, moving closer and closer to Reverse Mountain.  As the crew busts the barrel, a special version of “We Are!” begins to play, followed by glimpses of the then-current activities of family and future allies, Chopper, Robin, Franky, Brook, Ace, etc.

Scoring:

  • Plot: 7/10
  • Animation: 9/10
  • Overall: 8/10

Information:

Title: One Piece Special 12: Episode of East Blue

Released: August 2017

Director: Takashi Otsuka

Written By: Tomohiro Nakayama

Studio: Toei Animation

Licensed By: Funimation

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Anime Review #014 – One Piece The Movie 04: Dead End Adventure

Published September 5, 2017 by GravediggerNALK
The most un-representative screenshot possible of this movie

The most un-representative screenshot possible of this movie

Review:

The first thing to be said, is that this movie is definitely a step above the first three One Piece movies, and that goes for its writing, animation, and everything else.

It’s a fun adventure film that brings in an emotional subplot and some good action, meaning that it’s about as “One Piece-y” as it can get.  Everything people like about One Piece is thinned down and fitted rather nicely into 90 minutes.  The town/island that the story begins on is barely fleshed out, but you still get that “adventurous pirate” vibe from it, and that’s definitely a plus for this movie.  The use of Robin’s traveled past as a means of developing the setting was neat, and I wish that things like that occurred more often in the manga and anime instead of the repetitive, “name? Oh no, they’re dangerous!,” that she’s so often used for.

The animation is, as to be expected, an upgrade from the weekly anime, but the digital shots were a little off-putting.  They were neat, and probably would’ve looked better if someone other than Toei was in charge of it, but the digital stuff was only used in relatively non-important parts of the movie, so it didn’t really hurt anything.

I definitely recommend this movie to anyone that is a fan of the series (and has made it past the Alabasta arc).  If Funimation would ever license the remainder of the One Piece movies, this is definitely one to make sure to get.

Scoring:

  • Plot: 8/10
  • Animation: 8/10
  • Overall: 8/10

Information:

Title: One Piece Movie 04: Dead End Adventure

Released: March 2003

Director: Kōnosuke Uda

Written By: Yoshiyuki Suga

Studio: Toei Animation

Licensed By: Unlicensed

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30 Days of Anime Challenge: Day 30 – Your Favorite Anime

Published August 29, 2017 by GravediggerNALK

I enjoy and relate to so many different shows, that it’s too hard to try and choose a single one.  That said, I cannot really say more than I already have about the long list of shows I love.  I’ve already talked about Cowboy Bebop, Witch Hunter Robin, Psycho-Pass, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, Non Non Biyori, Seitokai Yakuindomo, and Golden Boy at length.  It’s not like all of my favorite shows are the same either.

I love some shows that you know damn well why I love ’em:

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I love some shows that are cool:

I love some shows that are comfy:

I love some shows that are funny:

 

I don’t stick to shows that follow a set list of themes or certain genres, I’ll watch damn near anything.  Science fiction, slice-of-life, horror, action, crime drama, you name it and I’ll give it a try.

30 Days of Anime Challenge: Day 29 – Your Highest Rated Anime

Published August 29, 2017 by GravediggerNALK

E19 'Wild Horses'

Where could I even begin with Cowboy Bebop?  The immaculate music?  The gorgeous Sunrise animation?  The engaging stories?  The cool yet relatable characters?

Yoko Kanno and The Seatbelts created pure magic with the soundtrack.  From the moment “Tank!” starts to the moment “The Real Folk Blues” ends, every bit of music in the series is absolutely perfect and each fits its respective scene(s) perfectly.

Sunrise is my favorite animation studio, and Cowboy Bebop is a shining example of why that is.  Every movement and every bit of background is detailed and refined.  The only faults in the animation quality are the digitally animated assets, and those look like trash regardless of whether they’re made in 1998 or 2017.  To their credit, Sunrise did the best job they could to make it as least-jarring as possible.

Each episode is a condensed movie without losing any of the quality that comes with being a movie.  Cowboy Bebop brings forth emotions from the viewer that come from across the spectrum.  Some episodes are as lighthearted as can be, while others are dark, sad, intense thrillers.  Whatever emotion a scene is supposed to bring to the viewer, it does so without a doubt.

What could I possibly say about Cowboy Bebop that hasn’t already been said by any other anime reviewer/commentator of the past 20 years?  If Jason Demarco is willing to run it until hell freezes over on Toonami, that should tell you something.  I cannot think of any other anime so well done, from top to bottom, that deserves a 10/10, 5-star, etc. more than Cowboy Bebop.

30 Days of Anime Challenge: Day 28 – Anime You Wish Never Ended

Published August 25, 2017 by GravediggerNALK

There are all sorts of answers I could give here.

The first series that comes to mind is Psycho Pass, but there’s no confirmation that it’s over. Even then, the difference I saw in the knowledge of cyberpunk and general dystopian science fiction of the season one writers/directors and the season two writers/directors was enough for me to have doubts about how long the series could last maintaining its identity.  I enjoyed season two, but more staff changes could be detrimental to the overall feeling of the series.

I could say The Big O or Witch Hunter Robin, since I would love to see both of them retooled as long-running detective dramas tackling the issues in their respective fields, but I fear that the aesthetics and themes of those series would end up being sacrificed to allow the show to run longer.

I could make an argument for not wanting One Piece to end, but only because I’d love to see the other 70% of the world as developed as the East Blue and the Grand Line.