Film Review: Eyes Without A Face


Eyes Without A Face is a very engaging, but bleak horror film. Not bleak in the sense of the horror exploitation films of the 1970s, where the endings erred on the side of “Nobody survived and this is going to happen again” or even just “None of our protagonists survived” as was the case of Night of The Living Dead. The film’s ending does have a true sense of catharsis, and if it was narratively framed differently, it would end on a much more upbeat note.

To get into this, I’m going to have to get into spoilers for a film from 1960. If you want to come in cold, consider this your warning. Continue reading → Film Review: Eyes Without A Face

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Film Review – His Girl Friday


His Girl Friday has aged poorly.

Let’s start off with the fundamental premise – Newspaperman Walter Burns (Cary Grant) has divorced from his reporter wife Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) at some point prior to the beginning of the film. She’s stopped by the newspaper to announce that she’s remarrying, to insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), and is going to leave reporting – having been burned out by the cynicism. However, this happens on the eve of the execution of a man named Earl Williams (John Qualen) for murder. Continue reading → Film Review – His Girl Friday

TV Special Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Live


I’m not the biggest fan of musicals. I’ve liked some of them, but I don’t really get into the genre as a whole. One of the Musicals that has always worked for me is Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice – with the musical probably being one of the two’s best collaborations. The musical recently got a new stage adaptation, performed live on NBC, and I watched the archive of the show on Hulu. Continue reading → TV Special Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Live

Film Review: Heaven’s Gate (Director’s Cut)


Heaven’s Gate is a film that originally had a profoundly negative response – critically panned for its excess, both in terms of the troubled shoot and the film’s length, it was considered everything wrong with “New Hollywood”, even before we get into the reports that horses were killed and maimed in the making of this film to enough of a degree above and beyond earlier westerns that this movie lead to the start of the American Humane Society sending monitors to film shoots to make sure this didn’t happen in the future. Since its initial release, the film built up something of a cult following, which ultimately lead to the film getting a re-edit and re-master to fit the director’s vision for its final release a few years ago from the Criterion Collection. Continue reading → Film Review: Heaven’s Gate (Director’s Cut)

Movie Review: George Harrison – Living in the Material World


A while back I reviewed the documentary film The Ackermonster Chronicles – a documentary film telling the life story of Forrest J. Ackerman. The film conveyed Ackerman’s life in a way that I compared to people talking about Ackerman at a wake, telling stories about his life, and in my view it didn’t quite get across why, necessarily, Ackerman was historically important or significant. George Harrison: Living in the Material World, from director Martin Scorsese uses the same style of presentation, but gets that point across better. Continue reading → Movie Review: George Harrison – Living in the Material World

Anime Review: The Cat Returns (2002)


The Cat Returns is, to my knowledge, the only semi-sequel feature film that Studio Ghibli has ever put out (ignoring shorts made for museums). It’s also one of the small number of films put out by Studio Ghibli that aren’t directed by Isao Takahata or Hayao Miyazaki. The film was directed by Hiroyuki Morita, as part of an initiative at Ghibli introduced by Miyazaki as an attempt to groom new directors so the studio isn’t dependant on Takahata and Miyazaki, so when they retire, the studio could go on.

If your response to that last sentence is “Didn’t Ghibli shut down when Miyazaki retired?” then you know exactly what came of that initiative. I don’t know if this was due to internal politics where Miyazaki wasn’t happy with the directors who came out of this project, Miyazaki being a general curmudgeon, or what? Takahata, on the other hand, in spite of my general comments about him and his work in my article about Akira, seems to be okay with younger animators directing films at Ghibli – as the decision to shut down seems primarily driven by Miyazaki, without any feedback by Takahata.

Anyway, as far as the film itself goes – this is probably the most conventionally “anime” film that Ghibli has ever done. This isn’t a slight against the film, by any means. It’s just that most Ghibli films, especially those from Miyazaki, tend to be more pastoral in their settings while most anime (that is set in Japan) tends to be metropolitan (even historical pieces like Rurouni Kenshin).  This film, is instead in modern Japan, and most likely in Tokyo.

Just to put an underline on how more conventional anime this film is, the opening of the film is our protagonist, ordinary high school girl Haru Yoshioka, waking up late, quickly getting getting ready for school, but not having enough time to leave breakfast. This leads to her racing downstairs, and seeing her mother eating breakfast of a fried egg on toast, with a similar dish waiting for her, setting up the archetypal anime shot of female protagonist running to school while trying to eat a piece of toast – before she decides to leave without the toast. While this is a subversion of that bit – the key is that Takahata or Miyazaki wouldn’t even go that far.

This goes on with most of the character designs as well – they have some of the slightly larger eyes you see in more conventional anime characters, as opposed to most of Miyazaki’s other films where the characters are less stylized (aside from Castle of Cagliostro, where aside from Fujiko Mine who is almost unrecognizable compared to her other appearances, the Lupin crew retained their conventional designs)

It reminds me a lot of Your Name., where that film lead to a lot of people lauding Makoto Shinkai for being “the next Miyazaki”, when all things considered, his film is a lot more conventionally anime in terms of style and settings.

Where the story kicks off is Haru sees a cat (carrying a parcel) while walking home with her friend. When said cat goes to cross the street and is nearly run over by a truck, Haru grabs her friend’s Lacrosse stick and runs in front of the truck, scooping up the cat, and evading either certain death or ending up in an isekai story. The cat then stands up, and thanks her for saving him, says that he’s a Really Big Deal back in the cat world, and she’ll be rewarded for this.

When the first attempt to reward her – by planting foxtales in her yard (which sets off her and her mothers pollen allergies), putting catnip in her pockets (which leads to cats following her to school and gets her in trouble), and live mice in her shoe locker (which is just freaky). While helping clean up after school, she complains about the gifts to the Assistant to the King of Cats, and complains about her relationship problems at the time. The Assistant offers to deal with that for her, and match her up with the Prince of Cats – without listening, she agrees.

However, once she realizes what she’s done, she’s directed to the “Cat Bureau” run by The Baron (who was introduced in Whisper of the Heart), who agrees to help get her out of this – and the remainder of the story ensues.

I really enjoyed this film – it’s a very well put together coming-of-age adventure romp, though it’s not without some faults. Haru has a lot less agency than most of Miyazaki’s other female protagonists – spending most of the film reacting rather than acting, and having to be rescued rather than rescuing herself. There are exceptions – she certainly makes choices on her own behalf, and she makes a few important observations that help lead to our protagonists extricating themselves from various situations.

However, when she gets into bad situations (whether situations that are perilous or negative), she generally has to be extricated by the actions of someone else (often The Baron, but not always). To the credit of writer Reiko Yoshida and the film’s director, there are legitimate textual and metatextual reasons for this. The textual reasons are that the means of escape are often related to information that Haru simply doesn’t have access to.

The metatextual reasons are related to the fact that the writer envisioned this story as being written by the protagonist of Whisper of the Heart about the character of The Baron. In other words, the story of The Cat Returns is as much about Haru as Big Trouble in Little China is about Jack Burton. While Jack and Haru are both one of the protagonists of their respective stories, they aren’t the main protagonist – they’re viewpoint characters. Their role is to give the audience perspective of the world’s they’re going into.

That said, I still would have preferred if Haru had more of an active role in the story – once she meets Yuki and she and the audience learn that Yuki works at the palace, I would have liked if Yuki had come onboard as an equal supporting character if not on par with The Baron, than on par with Muta, in terms of providing Haru assistance in her escape – like finding a way to provide her information about how to escape, so that Haru is looking for that opportunity when The Baron makes his appearance again.

Sadly, director Hiroyuki Morita has only directed one other work of anime – and it wasn’t for Ghibli. He directed the incredibly dark super robot anime Bokurano, before returning to working in Key Animation, most recently working with Polygon Pictures on Knights of Sidonia, Ajin, and the new Godzilla anime film series. He has worked with Studio Ghibli a few more times as an animator as well – working on Tales of Earthsea, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

On the other hand, writer Reiko Yoshida has a ton of other series and films under her belt, including Girls Und Panzer and its OVAs and films, the film version of A Silent Voice, and most recently the currently airing Violet Evergarden and Hakumei and Mikochi.

The Cat Returns is currently available from Amazon.com and RightStuf.

 

Film Review: Viva Amiga!


If the The 8-Bit Generation was a documentary that had the unpleasant habit of painting over the truth of Jack Tramiel’s run on Commodore in an appeal to fans of the Commodore 64, Viva Amiga is a documentary that makes a much more sincere attempt to appeal to fans of the Commodore Amiga, in terms of their love for the system. However, due to a runtime that goes over just one hour, it’s attempt to serve two masters – telling the story of the Amiga itself along with the story of the devotees who adopted the system and who are keeping it alive to this day – leaves the film under-serving both.

I understand that this is a documentary that was funded on Kickstarter, and you can only make as much documentary as you have money for. However, it tries to serve two masters and serves neither well. There are really interesting portions of the documentary with great development stories. There’s the story of how the Amiga almost didn’t come out, and they took out a loan from Atari – then headed by Jack Tramiel, with the Amiga Hardware and OS as collateral – and they got bought-out by Commodore at the last minute, with the CEO of Commodore personally delivering the loan payment to Tramiel just to twist the knife a little bit more (perhaps explaining why The 8-Bit Generation chose to downplay the Amiga, considering the film’s view on Jack Tramiel).

Further, the documentary bounces all over on the user side of things. There’s a few seconds discussion of modern Amiga user groups, and a few seconds of discussion of how it was used in video production back in the ’90s (with 2 seconds of footage from Babylon 5), and a couple minutes of discussion of use of the Amiga in electronic music, giving the implication that there’s room for, if not a much larger documentary, then at least more time in this documentary on the modern Amiga user scene – especially considering that part of the point of the film is that there is a modern Amiga user scene,  and that the platform is still a living, breathing viable platform.

It feels like there was enough material here a 90 to 120 minute documentary, but for various reasons, possibly in part due to the amount of Kickstarter funds brought in, there was only enough room for the hour that we got. It’s a bummer, and, honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing a Viva Amiga 2.

Viva Amiga is available on DVD and Digital from Amazon.com.

Film Review: The 8-Bit Generation


I like retro computing – I grew up on Apple II computers at my school and an Atari 800 computer at home, with a Commodore 84 & Atari ST at the houses of relatives so in addition to watching YouTube channels dedicated to old computers and games like PixelMusement and Lazy Game Reviews, I also love documentaries about the history of computing like Triumph of the Nerds and Revolution OS (which I think I reviewed on a previous blog, but which I am currently unable to find). When I found about about this particular documentary on the history of Commodore, I was very interested in checking it out.

The 8-Bit Generation focuses almost exclusively on Commodore computers, with a perspective from within the company, and in particular from the view of Jack Tramiel and his boosters within Commodore. From the view of this documentary, with Jack at the helm, Commodore can do no wrong, and their opponents could do no right. Apple never gained any real market share while Commodore dominated the market (Wrong – the Apple IIe was solid rival for Commodore), Atari had no 3rd party publishers and actively fought them for the PC (Wrong – their main opposition to 3rd party publishers was on the video game console front, they had plenty of 3rd party developers and publishers for PC), and once Jack was ousted from Commodore, they never accomplished anything ever again (Wrong – The Amiga says “Hi!”). Particularly damning is the claim that Atari didn’t get VisiCalc until a year after Commodore did, which is clearly false.

It’s really rather disappointing. While the documentary has interviews with Tramiel himself, I get the strong impression that the reason the director was able to get these interviews in the first place because they were already a booster of Tramiel.  The majority of the interview footage comes from Commodore employees and Tramiel supporters, with the only exceptions from that being a brief interview with Howard Scott Warshaw about Atari Corporate culture (which appears to lean towards the 2600 and the home games division), and an tragically even more brief interview with Steve Wozniak.

For a documentary that bears the title of The 8-Bit Generation, and which does give a fair amount of time on the MOS Technologies 6510 processor architecture, it is a very strong disappointment that the film wears its slant on its sleeve, and I think it’s very much to the detriment of the film. I’d really have enjoyed a more even-handed take on the various systems from this computer generation, with a serious take given on, for example, the TRS-80 and the TI-99. Instead, we get a pep rally for the Commodore 64, with some flagrant mis-truths. I wanted to like this documentary, but I cannot recommend it in the slightest.

If you do decide to get this documentary in spite of my recommendation to the contrary, it is available from Amazon.com.

Film Review: Stalker (1979)


A while back I reviewed Andrei Tarkovsky’s classic science fiction film Solaris. However, of the various films in Tarkovsky’s filmography, while Solaris was and is extremely well regarded, it’s a film that hasn’t built quite the same following behind it as Tarkovsky’s 1979 film, Stalker. While Solaris got a highly regarded remake approaching 30 years later from director Steven Soderbergh, Stalker has gotten a series of games that draws more, visually, from the film than from the novel that inspired it.

Stalker effectively follows three characters, the titular Stalker, and his two charges, known only as Professor and Writer, as they travel into The Zone – a geographical area where weird stuff has started happening after a meteor landed. Inside the zone is The Room – where whoever enters will receive their heart’s desire. As they travel through The Zone, the three talk about their personal philosophies, and why they chose to travel to the Zone.

To be frank, in the various axis of Science Fiction that I brought up in my review of Solaris, this is a film that uses Science Fiction purely for set dressing. This could just as easily be a film about two people accompanying a lay-priest through a hazardous journey to reach a shrine that has a holy relic that is said can work miracles. This is especially case when it comes to the subject matter of the film.

With Solaris, both with the source material, and with the interpretation of the book’s themes by Gorenshteyn and Tartakovsky, they made the film about interpersonal connections, both among humans and the potential between the human and the inhuman.

Stalker, on the other hand, is about faith and belief. The Stalker is a true believer. He knows what The Zone can do. He’s traveled this route many times before, and he understands. He has internalized his belief in the Zone’s power, and the faith in what it can do. It’s a part of him, possibly not only in terms of his identity.

On the other hand, the Writer and the Professor are more pragmatic. The Professor respects the Stalkers judgement and with one exception, respects his instructions. The Professor breaks from the Stalker’s instructions only when he realizes that he has forgotten his rucksack and must return to get it (as the contents of his bag also related to his Desire). Ultimately, when the trio reaches The Room, the Professor reveals that it his intent to destroy the room, and possibly the Zone itself, with a portable atomic bomb that he’s snuck into the Zone – as he believes that The Room’s power is too dangerous to be trusted by people, that people are not worthy of its power – that the unholy cannot be trusted with the holy.

By contrast, the Writer is a complete skeptic. He frequently scoffs at the rules put forward by the Stalker, chafes at his instructions, and when he encounters potential peril, he turns on the Stalker. Meanwhile, while talking about his own career as a writer, he frequently puts blame for his lack of success on others – that Editors, Critics, and Publishers don’t properly understand his work. He complains about their appetites – not only material appetites, but appetites for reading, cloud their mind to his brilliance. Only briefly does he admit any personal failing – claiming that he’s lost inspiration – before dismissing his earlier remarks later. He fits perfectly into the archetype of the creator who attacks any and all critics of their work, taking the view that if you don’t like their work, then you don’t understand their work.

There’s also the character of the Stalker’s daughter, “Monkey” – who was born without the use of her legs, due to the Stalker’s trips in and out of the Zone. In the film, scenes shot outside the zone are filmed in a sepia monochrome, while scenes within the zone are in color, much like with The Wizard of Oz. The exception is scenes from the implied point of view of Monkey, which are always in color – and the end of the film reveals that she has some telekinetic abilities, implying that there is a little of the Zone within her.

I’ve had to think a lot about what makes this film something that would be science fiction – why the earlier narrative framework I suggested wouldn’t work just as well if not better. The best answer that comes to mind is that this is a story that, possibly like Tarkovsky’s earlier film Andrei Rublev (which I admit I have not seen), which confronts the topic of faith, but unlike Rublev, is dependant on having characters with a more modern, and in particular more Soviet take on skepticism and religion.

If I had one complaint about this film, it’s that I think the contrast would have been stronger had the scenes within the Zone been in a 16:9 aspect ratio, with the scenes outside staying in monochrome and 4:3. However, going from the documentary material on the film, the movie was a tremendously troubled production, in particular with the developers ruining the negative from the first round of filming.

The film also has one thing in common with the John Wayne film The Conqueror – it was filmed in a tremendously toxic environment. While the environment of the Zone is very beautiful, it’s also toxic as hell, with industrial pollution in the environment giving much of the cast and crew cancer, including Tarkovsky himself.

As with Solaris, this is a film I absolutely recommend watching, though I admit I may be completely off base when it comes to the themes of faith in the film – I’ll let someone more versed than I get into that (and if I do find a good essay on the topic, I’ll pass it along).

The film is available from Amazon.com on DVD and Blu-Ray. If you buy the film through those links, I’ll get a small commission on the size of that order, which will help support my work. Also, please consider backing my Patreon.

Film Review: Silent Running (1972)


Silent Running is a weird film to talk about. It’s clearly a film that wants to be a response to 2001: A Space Odyssey, made in the 1970s in the wake of auteur films like Easy Rider.  It’s also very clearly a film with something to say, which is cool as I really like science fiction that engages in social commentary. However, there is a bunch about Silent Running that doesn’t quite work. Continue reading → Film Review: Silent Running (1972)

Film Review: Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation


In the original Mission: Impossible television series, one of the recurring antagonists outside of the Not-Soviets was the Syndicate, a mysterious criminal organization that was something of a mix of the Mafia and SPECTRE. In the conclusion of Ghost Protocol (which I previously reviewed), Ethan was sent on new mission, to take on the Syndicate.  In this film, we finally get that confrontation. Continue reading → Film Review: Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation

Movie Review: Ninja III – The Domination


Going into this film, it’s important to note that this is a Ninja film released in the early-to-mid 1980s (depending on how you look at it), from Cannon films, and starring Sho Kosugi. That, out of the gate, implies a certain level of camp to the film. That said, Cannon films operates at a couple different levels – fun dumb, and then just dumb. So, the question then becomes which kind of dumb is this film? Continue reading → Movie Review: Ninja III – The Domination

Anime Review: Bodacious Space Pirates – Abyss of Hyperspace


Bodacious Space Pirates was a show, back from 2012, which was a fantastic anime series, which had all the fun of old-school Juvenile SF, but without the problematic elements that those works often run into (and the problematic elements from some contemporary SF). However, the end of the series left me hoping for more, and in 2014, a film sequel to the series came out, subtitled Abyss of Hyperspace, with US release coming later in 2016. At long last, I’ve finally had a chance to watch it, so it’s time to give my thoughts. Continue reading → Anime Review: Bodacious Space Pirates – Abyss of Hyperspace

Movie Review: Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards


Wizards is what I’d describe as the first film in Ralph Bakshi’s trilogy of fantasy epics – this film, Fire and Ice (which I previously reviewed at Bureau42), and Lord of the Rings (which roughly adapted The Fellowship of the Rings and The Two Towers). The later films are certainly superior works, but the three films together definitely show a development of Bakshi’s craft when it comes to epic fantasy. However, what about his first big fantasy film? Continue reading → Movie Review: Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards

Film Review: Ghostbusters (2016)


The 2016 Ghostbusters film ended up being a hurricane of controversy – depending on where you were on the internet, if you liked the film you were a horrible SJW out to shove your political correct values down everyone’s throat. However, once the film came out, the ultimate verdict on the film pretty much ran the gamut – that you either loved it, hated it, or thought it was decent, but not worth seeing in theaters, with perhaps the character of Hoffman being an even more divisive character. Continue reading → Film Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

Film Review: Extraordinary Tales


I really like anthology films – particularly when it comes to horror. Anthology films let you take a brief period of time to tell an exciting, concise story that can scare you, excite you, or creep you out. Perhaps this is due to many great horror stories being short stories. One of the masters of the horror story was Edgar Allen Poe. This brings me to Extraordinary Tales, an animated anthology film adaptation 5 of Poe’s short stories. Continue reading → Film Review: Extraordinary Tales