Highschool of the Dead: Episode 11 – First Impressions

We are down to the last final episodes of this first season of Madhouse’s anime series adaptation of the zombie and ecchi manga series, Highschool of the Dead. The last episode was the start of the calm before what I hope to be the major storm that will take this series into a second season.

Episode 11 didn’t linger on too much on the fanservice side of the series with the exception of an all-too-brief look inside the school bus of Shido-san and his sex cultists. We get a glimpse at how Shido deals with the students who don’t conform to his twisted (albeit must be quite fun) outlook on the new world order as it stands now. The manga had shown that particular sequence of why that one student was thrown off the bus to be taken by the zombies. In this episode we didn’t see what caused his expulsion, but got a sense that the student didn’t want to join in on the bus orgy going on between the students with Shido-san acting as a sort of Aleister Crowley-like figurehead.

While inside the Takagi compound it looks like the episode skipped some more of the manga and didn’t show how Takagi’s father was finally swayed to allow Kohta to keep the groups weapons. I can understand the Madhouse writers trying to cram as much of the manga into a 13-episode season, but the way they’re going about things they could catch up to the manga by episode 13 which would definitely might be a sign that a second season won’t be in the offing. Here’s to hoping that the writers were just trying to move things along to the crisis which sends the group out of the compound and back into the dangers of the city-proper.

While the fanservice was limited the harem aspect of the story continued to grow as Rei literally threw herself at the mercy of Komuro but to no avail. Does Rei know that Saeko and Saya may be competing with her for Komuro’s attention? If that’s the case then Komuro definitely has shown quite a bit of restraint when it comes to Rei’s increasingly aggressive advances. There’s also the fact that Komuro and Saeko may have already sealed their partnership a few episodes past though we never really saw it but definitely implied.

The arrival of Shido-san into the compound definitely explains why Rei was so adamant to leave the safety of the bus early in the season. The fact that Rei dismissed Shido-san as less than worthy of her attention was a nice touch even though this could become a major problem for the group down the line. Even in the manga the fate of Shido-san and his group of students were not truly explained though not all of them could’ve survived their subsequent exile.

With two episodes left and with the major superpowers throwing nukes at each other, I hope that this calm has finally ended and the storm that’s been brewing since the group arrived at the Takagi compound can finally smash into the city. If there’s to be no second season then these last two episodes need to put the previous 11 in terms of action, horror and fanservice to shame. It’s the only way for the series to go out with a huge bang.

Review: The Walking Dead Volume 6 (by Robert Kirkman)

[Some Spoilers Within]

The Walking Dead follows-up the 5th volume with This Sorrowful Life and Kirkman sure does hit it right on the nail with the title. The book tells the second half of the story arc begun in the previous volume. To recap in the previous volume Rick and his group make way to investigate a crashed helicopter only to run into another group of survivors who have holed up in the partially walled off and fortified town of Woodbury. Whatever joy they find in knowing there are other survivors other than themselves was short-lived as they finally meet the person who runs and rules Woodbury.

This Sorrowful Life takes the story up with Rick, Michonne and Glenn in even a worse situation than being stuck outside with the zombies. The book introduces the people of Woodbury as not just survivors but also the polar opposite of those surviving in the prison. While the book makes a point to not paint the whole Woodbury population as losing their humanity it also points out that they’ve sacrificed their humanity to those promising them safety. They’ve pretty much given up their rights to the one who calls himself the Governor who rules Woodbury through intimidation and so-called bloodsports involving gladiator-like fighters and corralled zombies. We see who the difference between Rick and the Governor’s way of keeping their people safe also show the kind of people the are. Where Rick tries to keep his people safe and together without losing their humanity the Governor goes the opposite way and grabs a hold of power even at the cost of everyone.

Kirkman does a great job of showing the two groups and how its probably inevitable that the two will have a confrontation either in Woodbury or back in the prison. While not everyone in Woodbury were out for themselves, a few manage to sympathize with Rick and his group, the rest of the town could easily be considered as the biggest threat hanging over the prison survivors. Again Kirkman shows that sometimes its not the zombies themselves who’re the biggest threat to humanity’s survival. It’s people and their flaws to always get into conflict with each other instead of pulling together for the greater good and survival of everyone.

The book ends with Rick having to make another decision where he has to sacrifice some of his own ideals in order to keep his family and friends safe. Will this sacrifice end up costing him down the line will be up to Kirkman to tell us. I hope he continues to expand on this Woodbury angle but at the same time not go overboard on the extreme end of the emotional spectrum. It’s great that he’s limited the amount of soap opera-style stortelling which dominated volume 4, but going for just action and action and action without plot would be just as bad. So far, volume 6 and it’s predecessor in volume 5 tells me he’s got a great hold on the story.

6 More Trailers: The I Am Woman Hear Me Roar Edition

It’s the weekend and that can only mean that it’s time for another installment of my favorite grindhouse and exploitation trailers.  This installment is devoted to films about women kicking ass.

1) Faster Pussycat!  Kill!  Kill!

From infamous director Russ Meyer comes this classic drive-in feature.  I just love that title, don’t you?  This was the original cinematic celebration of women kicking ass.  As the lead killer, Tura Satana has to be seen to be believed.  Whenever I find myself struggling with insecurity or fear, I just call on my inner Tura Satana.  (All women have an inner Tura Satana.  Remember that before you do anything you might regret later…)

2) Vixen

This is another one of Russ Meyer’s films.  Released in 1968, Vixen is best remembered for Erica Gavin’s ferocious lead performance.  For me, the crazed narration makes the entire trailer.

3) Coffy

I love this movie!  Pam Grier battles the drug trade and kills a lot of people.  When we talk about how a film can be both exploitive and empowering at the same time, Coffy is the type of movie that we’re talking about.

4) Kansas City Bomber

Before there was Ellen Page, there was Racquel Welch.  Playing her boyfriend/manager in this film is Kevin McCarthy who was the lead in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  My mom used to love this movie.

5) Shock 

This was the last film that Mario Bava ever directed and it’s one of my personal favorites.  In the lead role, Daria Nicolodi gives one of the best performances in the history of Italian horror.

6) Let’s Scare Jessica To Death

This is one of the greatest horror movies ever made and it reamins sadly neglected.  You must see this film before you die (which, hopefully, will not be for a very long while).

Quickie Review: The Town (dir. by Ben Affleck)

If someone just five years ago told me that Ben Affleck would turn out to be a director whose work has been some of the better crime drama/thrillers of the past decade then I would declare shenanigans on that individual. Ben Affleck might have won an Oscar for helping write the screenplay for Good Will Hunting, but his career since could be labeled as being one of a joke (Gigli) interspersed with huge paycheck projects (Armageddon) that showed his range as an actor.

This is not to say that Affleck has no talent in front of the camera. I just believe that early in his career after winning his Oscar he got fooled into thinking that everything else since would be Easy Street paved in gold (financially and critically). To say that it hasn’t turned out to be that way (though he did make a ton of money) would be an understatement. But one thing happened while Affleck’s acting career was heading nowhere but down. He got behind the camera as a director and his very first time directing a feature-length film he would make one of 2007’s best films. I speak of his film adaptation of the Dennis Lehane crime drama, Gone Baby Gone. He didn’t just direct the life out of that film, but he also the screenplay with the help of Aaron Stockard.

The two of the them would collaborate once again on Affleck’s latest Boston-based crime drama, The Town. He wrote the screenplay and directed the film and pulled in some wonderful performances from an ensemble cast which included Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Blake Lively, Titus Welliver and Pete Postlethwaite. Fellow site writer Lisa Marie already reviewed the film in detail and her review pretty much put down into words exactly what I thought of the film. I will say that I would swerve slightly away from what she considered some of the flaws in the film.

The Town was adapted from Chuck Hogan’s novel, Prince of Thieves. I would consider the screenplay and dialogue as a major strength of the film. While at times it did seemed to follow the step-by-step and by-the-numbers heist thriller story the screenplay itself didn’t ring false. I liken this film to another heist film which shared some themes and similarities. Michael Mann’s Heat also dealt with the cops-and-robbers foundation. Where Mann’s film had a much larger and epic scope to its storytelling it still boiled down to two groups of determined men playing a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse. The women in both film were written just enough that they had distinct personalities, but in the end they were motivations for the men in the film.

Affleck shows that he doesn’t just know how to direct, but continues is reputation as being one very good screenwriter. One just has to be reminded that he is now 3-for-3 when it comes to screenplays he has written which have turned out to be great ones. While he doesn’t have the same flair for words as Tarantino or Mamet when it comes to the screenplay. What he does well was to create an efficient script which flowed from scene to scene. Tarantino’s screenplays are great, but at times he does allow himself to overindulge his inner-film geek and create dialogue that might be Sorkin-like in execution. What I mean is that as great as the dialogue sound there’s no way people really spoke like this to each other. Affleck’s screenplay for The Town felt very natural and even with Jon Hamm’s less than great performance the film had a natural and genuine sound to it’s dialogue.

That’s one flaw pointed out by Lisa Marie that I would disagree with her on. The other two I can see her point, but it bothered me none. Though if I ever took on a life of crime I would hope I find someone just like Rebecca Hall’s Claire. Now there’s a woman who stands by her man no matter what.

I think in the long run this film might just be seen as one of the best of 2010 and some critics have already dubbed it so. While it’s prospects come awards season time is still up in the air I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up nabbing one of the ten Best Picture nominations when the Oscar nominations get announced. It would be well-deserved and would just prove that Affleck’s career in the film industry might just be hitting its stride. Who would’ve thought it would be as a writer-director and not as an actor.

Song of the Day: Whip Appeal (by Babyface)

The song of the day is tied in with my Twitter Follow Friday. I’m going way back old school. For most of my friends and family this is not too way back, but for the other half I know anything that didn’t come out during the last 10-15 years is way, way back. With that out of the way I present to your viewing and listening pleasure “Whip Appeal” by Babyface.

This particular slow jam from Babyface’s 1989 LP album Tender Lover was a particular favorite of RnB fans from 1989 and beyond. I know that it was a major hit from 1990-91 during the prom season. Even after 1991 after I had graduated it stayed quite popular with everyone especially couples. I mean this song has romance written all over it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the sudden baby boom of 1990 and a few years was due to just this particular one song.

Whip Appeal

Somebody told me
There’d be trouble at home
‘Cause we never talk a lot
When we spend time alone
So how are we supposed to know
Know when something is wrong
Well, we’ve got a right to communicate
It keeps a happy home

And no one does it like me
And no one but you
Has that kind of whip appeal on me

Keep on whippin’ on me
Work it on me
Whip all your sweet sad lovin’ on me
Keep on whippin’ on me
Work it on me
Whip all your sweet sad lovin’ on me

When we go to work
How the day seems so long
The only thing I think about
Can’t wait ’til we get home
‘Cause we got a way of talking
And it’s better than words
It’s the strangest kind of relationship
Oh, but with us it always works

And no one does it like me
And no one but you
Has that kind of whip appeal on me

Whatever you want
It’s alright with me
‘Cause you’ve got that whip appeal
So work it on me
It’s better than love
Sweet as can be
You’ve got that whip appeal
So whip it on me

Keep on whippin’ on me
Work it on me
Whip all your sweet sad lovin’ on me
Keep on whippin’ on me
Work it on me
Whip all your sweet sad lovin’ on me

And no one does it like me
And no one but you
Has that kind of whip appeal on me

[HOOK 4 times]

Keep on whippin’ on me
Work it on me
Whip all your sweet sad lovin’ on me
Keep on whippin’ on me
Work it on me
Whip all your sweet sad lovin’ on me

Film Review: The Town (dir. by Ben Affleck)

Before I get to my review, you should understand that I nearly didn’t see The Town last night.  Earlier, on Friday morning, I had to leave work early because I was so sick and nauseous that I was on the verge of passing out.  Once I got home, I had to 1) convince my aunt that I wasn’t pregnant (“Are you sure?” she said after I reassured her) and 2) had to convince myself that my appendix wasn’t about to burst (and it’s not so don’t worry).  After all that, there was a part of me that said, “The Town can wait.  I’ll go on Saturday or maybe even later in the week.”

But I ignored that part of me and I went and saw the movie anyway.  Why?  Well, I wanted to review it for this site.  (That’s dedication for you!)  Plus, I knew my friend Jeff wanted to see it with me and I wanted to see it with him and since when has a little thing like a ruptured appendix ever been an excuse not to have a good time?  Last but not least, The Town is Ben Affleck’s second movie as a director.  His first was 2007’s Gone, Baby, Gone.  Personally, I think Gone, Baby, Gone is one of the best crime films ever made.  It’s certainly one of my favorite.  I was curious to see if The Town would be a worthy follow-up or would it just prove Gone, Baby, Gone to have been a fluke.

The Town takes place in the Charlestown section of Boston.  At the opening of the film, we’re told that Charlestown apparently produces more professional armed robbers than any other place in the entire world.  It’s a practice that is handed down from father-to-son.  (Or, in the case of this movie, from Chris Cooper to Ben Affleck.)

Affleck plays Doug, a former hockey player who is now the head of a gang of Charlestown bank robbers.  His second-in-command is Jem (played by Jeremy Renner).  Over the course of the film, we learn Doug’s father (Chris Cooper) is a career criminal who is currently serving a life sentence in prison.  When his father went to prison, Doug was taken in by Jem’s family.  Doug even ended up dating Jem’s sister (Blake Lively) and might be the father of Lively’s daughter.  For this reason, Doug and Jem are fiercely loyal to each other despite the fact that Doug is essentially a nice guy and Jem is not.

(As a sidenote, why is it in the crime films that people are always shocked when the psychotic supporting character ends up doing psychotic?  I mean, have these people never gone to the movies before?  Have they never checked out Goodfellas from Netflix?  Did they miss the whole Joe Pesci “How am I funny?” thing?)

At the start of the film, Doug, Jem, and the gang rob a bank.  Doug is a model of professionalism.  Jem goes a little bit crazy and beats one bank employee nearly to death.  This gives the bank manager, Clare (Rebecca Hall), just enough time to set off a silent alarm.  Realizing that the police are on the way, Jem responds by taking Clare hostage as the gang flees.  Clare is later released on a desolate beach.

However, there’s a problem.  Before releasing her, Jem stole Clare’s ID.  Looking at it after the robbery, he discovers that Clare lives in Charlestown and, as a result, there’s now a risk that she might simply see one of the gang on the street and identify him.  Jem wants to kill her but Doug says that he’ll take care of her himself.

By “taking care of,” Doug means that he’ll follow her around town, eventually strike up a conversation with her, and then end up pursuing a romance with her (while declining, of course, to mention that he already knows her).  Jem, however, was under the impression that “taking care of” meant to kill.  So, needless to say, he’s a little bit miffed when he stumbles across Doug and Clare having a lunch date.

Soon, Doug finds himself trapped in the life he’s created for himself.  In love with Clare but torn by his loyalty to the increasingly unstable Jem, Doug agrees to one more big job.  All the while, he is pursued by two relentless FBI agents (Jon Hamm and Titus Welliver) and he has to deal with an Irish mob boss (Pete Postlewaite) who has an agenda of his own.

The Town works largely because Ben Affleck has, unexpectedly, turned out to be an intelligent, no-nonsense director.  The movie features three robbery scenes and, in each one of them, Affleck creates genuine tension and excitement without ever once resorting to outlandish stunts or random slow motion.  Unlike a lot of (bad) actors turned director, Affleck never seems to feel the need to toss in any showy (but ultimately empty) tricks to try to convince us that he’s a director.  This is a confident movie that shows that Gone, Baby, Gone wasn’t a fluke.  (That said, Gone, Baby, Gone remains the superior film for reasons that I’m getting to.)

Also, as with Gone, Baby, Gone, The Town benefits from Affleck’s obvious love for the city and people of Boston.  Shot on location and featuring a number of local actors, The Town has a wonderful sense of place to it.  By the end of it, you feel as if you know Charlestown even if, like me, you’re just a country girl from Texas.

Ben Affleck the director also manages to do something truly surprising — he gets a good performance out of Ben Affleck the actor.  In the past, I’ve always enjoyed looking at Ben Affleck on-screen but I never really wanted to hear him talk.  Because as soon as he would open his mouth, whatever appeal that Affleck possessed would immediately dissolve.  In the past, as an actor, Affleck often epitomized that whole concept of “there’s no there there.”  However, in this film, he gives a low-key, subtle performance that really helps to hold the entire film together.  I still wouldn’t call Affleck a good actor.  Instead, he’s one of those rare directors who (like fellow bad actor Quentin Tarantino) knows how to get good performances even from the most unlikely of performers.

Affleck is well-supported by Hall, Lively, and Renner.  Hall has a difficult job because she’s not so much playing an actual human being as much as she’s playing an idealized concept.  Her character really doesn’t have any purpose beyond offering Doug a chance at redemption and (this is obvious more in retrospect than during the actual film) really doesn’t have much of an identity beyond how her life touches Doug’s.  Hall, however, is so vulnerable in the role that, while you’re watching the film, that none of this really becomes obvious until a few hours after the movie ends.  Lively (better known for her role on Gossip Girl) is only in a few scenes and, in many ways, her character is even less developed than Hall’s.  If Hall has to represent the Madonna part of the Whore/Madonna complex, guess what Lively represents.  Still, Lively brings some much needed humor to the role and to the film.  She’s having fun playing her drunken, drug-addled character and she steals almost every scene that she’s in.

However, the film is ultimately dominated by Jeremy Renner.  With his angelic voice and deceptively soft voice, Renner is the psychopath that you can’t help but love.  Movie psychos are a dime-a-dozen so when an actor comes along and actually finds something new to do with the role, it’s impossible not to be impressed.

So much works in The Town that I almost feel guilty talking about what doesn’t.  For all its strengths, it also has three rather glaring flaws.  As with all things, the final verdict on this film depends on just how willing the viewer is to overlook these flaws.

First off, Ben Affleck proves himself to be a better director than writer.  The Town’s story is well told but the majority of it will still be awfully familiar to anyone who has ever seen a heist film.  Unlike Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, or Michael Mann, Affleck doesn’t embrace the conventions in order to deconstruct them.  Instead, he uses the conventional storyline as an excuse to explore the Charlestown culture.  As a result, this flaw arguably works to the film’s advantage.  Still, those viewers who are expecting to be surprised by the film’s plot should consider themselves warned.

As well acted as the movie is, there is one big exception in the cast and that is Mad Men’s Jon Hamm.  Hamm plays the FBI agent who is determined to capture Affleck.  He’s the Javert to Affleck’s Valjean.  Unfortunately, as played by Jon Hamm, he’s also a cinematic black hole.  Hamm may be an excellent television actor but, playing a key supporting role and surrounded by actual film actors, it’s obvious that Hamm has no idea how to act for the big screen.  As a result, he never comes across as a worthy or even dangerous adversary and his pursuit of Affleck never becomes compelling nor do we ever worry that Affleck might not be able to outsmart him.  There’s a scene, towards the end of the film, where Hamm yells something like, “Drop your weapon, asshole!”  I have to admit that I stunned just about everyone in the theater when I burst into laughter at the sound of Hamm shouting “asshole” and sounding, more or less, like an overgrown kid on a playground.

(Hamm’s sidekick, by the way, is played by another tv actor, Titus Welliver.  Welliver is probably best known for playing the Man In Black on the final season of Lost.  Though he gets next to nothing to do, Welliver dominates every scene that he’s in.  Unlike Hamm, he knows how to act on a big screen.)

The most glaring flaw with The Town, however, is that the entire plot pretty much depends on the viewer accepting that Hall’s character, just days after being traumatized by being held hostage and seeing one of her co-workers nearly beaten to death because he attempted to protect her, would so easily trust and open up her life to a stranger (even if that stranger is Ben Affleck).  Never mind the fact that we are then expected to believe that she would stay loyal to Affleck even after learning the truth.  Realistically, this would seem to indicate that the character’s something of a sadomasochist but the film really doesn’t explore that (or really anything else that might make Hall’s character anything more than just an idealized Madonna figure).

I mean, I’m always open to experimentation in a relationship.  Different people enjoy different things and I’ve never been one to judge anyone else’s particular fetish.  However, just speaking for myself, the day that you stick a gun in my face, put a blindfold over my eyes, and then abandon me out on the beach is the same day that I decide that there’s probably not going to be a long-term relationship there.

So, once again, it’s all a question of whether or not you can accept these flaws.  I have to admit that, as I watched the film, I occasionally had a hard time doing so.  If you can agree to overlook the flaws, however, then The Town is an entertaining, well-acted crime thriller with an authentic sense of place.  And if you can’t overlook those flaws, than The Town is a good but imperfect movie that still indicates that Ben Affleck has got quite a future as a director.

Review: Ronin (dir. by John Frankenheimer)

The definition of the Japanese word ronin describes it as a samurai who has lost his master from the ruin of or the fall of his master. John Frankenheimer (with some final draft help with the script from David Mamet) takes this notion of a masterless samurai and brings to it a post-Cold War setting and sensibility that more than pay homage to the great stories and film of the ronin. One particular story about ronin that Frankenheimer references in detail is the classic story of the 47 Ronin. Ronin shows that in the latter-stages of his career, Frankenheimer was still the master of the political/spy-thriller genre. He infuses the film with a real hard-edge and was able to mix together both intelligence and energy in both the quieter and action-packed sequences in the film.

The film begins quietly with the introduction of the characters involved. We meet each individual in this quiet 10-minute scene that shows Frankenheimer’s skill as a director would always be heads and shoulders above those of the bombastic and ADD-addled filmmakers of the MTV generation (Michael Bay being the poster boy). Robert De Niro plays the role of one of the two American mercenaries (or contractors) who instantly becomes the focal point for everyone in the scene. His casual, but attentive reconnoitering of the Paris bar where the first meet occurs helps build tension without being being heavy-handed in its execution. It’s with the introduction of Jean Reno as the Frenchman in the group that we get the buddy-film dynamic as De Niro and Reno quickly create a believable camaraderie born of the times for such men during and after the Cold War.

The rest of the cast was rounded out by an excellent and high-energy turn from Sean Bean as an English contractor who might not be all that he claims and brags to be. The other American in the group was played by Skipp Sudduth who in his own understated way more than kept up with the high-caliber of actors around him. Finishing off and adding the darker and seedier aspects of the cast were Stellan Skarsgard as a former Eastern Bloc (maybe ex-KGB) operative and Jonathan Pryce as an IRA commander whose agendas for bringing this team of masterless ex-spies and operatives together might not be all as he claims. The only break in all the testosterone in the film was ably played by the beautiful, yet tough Natasha McElhone. Like Sudduth, McElhone more than keeps up and matches acting skills with the likes of De Niro, Reno and Skarsgard.

The film moves from the meeting of the group to the actual operation which brought all these disparate characters together. Taking a page from Hitchcock, Frankenheimer and Mamet introduces what would become the film’s MacGuffin. A “MacGuffin” being a plot device which helps motivates each character of its importance and yet we’re left to believe that the item is important without ever finding out why. The MacGuffin in Ronin ends up being a silver case which the IRA terrorists, the Russian Mob and seemingly every intelligence agency in Europe wants to get their hands on.

It’s up to De Niro and his group to steal the case from another party and this was where Frankenheimer’s skill in seemlessly blending spy-thriller and action film shows. From the set-up of the team and their plans, to a near double-cross during an arms deal to the actual operation to take the case, Ronin begins to move at a clipped and tension-filled pace. There’s no overly extraneous dialogue. Mamet’s script fleshes out the story and adds a sense and feel of intelligent professionalism to the characters.

The action sequences mostly involved car chases through the narrow streets of Nice, France to the metropolitan thoroughfares and tunnels of Paris. Frankenheimer shines in creating and directing these sequences. Sequences which he’d decided against the use of CGI. Using what he’d learned and perfected from his own past as a former amateur race car driver and from his own classic film Grand Prix, Frankenheimer used real life cars and drove them through real (albeit choreographed) traffic to give the sequences that sense of reality and speed that one couldn’t get with CGI. The car chase scene within the Paris thoroughfare tunnel against traffic has to go down as one of the best car chase put on film.  With just abit of help from second unit directors Luc Etienne and Michel Cheyko, Frankenheimer pretty much did most of the filming of the car chases.

The story itself, after all the characterizations and high-energy, tense action sequences, was really bare bones and in itself its own MacGuffin. The story just becomes a prop device to help show the mercenaries’ special sense of honor in regards to working with people who might’ve been enemies in the past. The murky world they now live in after the collapse of the black and white sensibility that was the Cold War has become nothing but shades of gray. One little bit of trivia that I found interesting was the fact that Ronin included quite a bit of actors who portrayed past James Bond villains: Sean Bean (Janus), Jonathan Pryce (Carver) and Michael Lonsdale (Drax).

In the end, Ronin became the last great film from a great director. I don’t count Reindeer Games as anything but Frankenheimer picking up a check and the studio dabbling overmuch in the final look and feel of that film. Frankenheimer’s Ronin is a blend of smart dialogue, hard-edged characters, and tense-filled action that he manages to blend together to make a fine and intelligent film. The story’s myseries concerning the MacGuffin might not have been answered in the end, but the journey the audience takes with DeNiro, Reno and McElhone’s character in getting there more than made up for any flaws in the plot.

Film Review: Resident Evil: Afterlife (Dir. by Paul W.S. Anderson)

Last Friday, I saw the latest Resident Evil film — Resident Evil: Afterlife.

What can I say about Resident Evil: Afterlife?  I’ve been trying to figure that out for two days now.  For obvious reasons, this movie — like the other Resident Evil films — is just a video game put up on screen.  The film is a collection of set pieces that are all built around various characters having to complete tasks in a certain amount of time.  You can almost imagine various instructions popping up on the screen: “Clear the roof so that Alice can land her plane.”  “Swim through the basement to get the weapons cache.”  “Reach The Underground Tunnel Before The Building Explodes.”    In the lead role of Alice, Mila Jovovich still can’t act and director Paul W. S. Anderson still seems to believe that any cinematic weaknesses can be covered up by slow motion.

(By the way, there’s a chance that you might see the name Paul W. S. Anderson in the opening credits and you might say something like, “I guess he has to make movies like this so he can make movies like There Will Be Blood.”  Do not say this out loud because, while it’s totally understandable that you might be hyperactive and therefore, you sometimes say the first thing that pops into your head or maybe  you just sometimes get in a kinda ditzy state of mind and you might just happen to forget that Paul W. S. Anderson is not Paul Thomas Anderson, the people you saw the movie with will still be making fun of you at least two days later.)

This is the type of movie that critics hate and that , all things considered, I should probably hate too.  After all, I’ve devoted a lot of time and energy to criticizing Avatar for having a predictable plot.  So, how can I not hate a film, like Resident Evil: Afterlife, that doesn’t even have a plot to begin with?

Well, I didn’t hate Resident Evil: Afterlife.  I certainly didn’t love it and I think that it’s a total failure of as a zombie film (but then again, we all know the Resident Evil films aren’t really zombie films to begin with) but the movie is really the epitome of stupid fun.  The movie doesn’t pretend to be anything other than that. 

Sometimes, you just have to stop worrying and go with the flow.

I have to admit that I’ve never actually played the Resident Evil games before and whenever I’ve seen any of the movies, I’ve had to take my good friend Jeff with me so that he could explain what was going on.  To be honest, I’ve made him explain it to me several times and I still don’t quite get it all but he’s so cute when he tries.  I did try to watch him play one of the Resident Evil games once.  At one point, he started talking back to the imaginary people on the TV screen, saying, “No, how about you go down there and find them!?”  So, to be honest, that’s what I think about when I think about Resident Evil

(And, to be honest, I kind of wish that — at one point during the movie — either Alice or her sidekick Claire — played by Ali Larter — had said something along those lines instead of just blindly agreeing to run off alone into hordes of zombies.  It’s what I would have said.  “You want me to go swim through the flooded basement to retrieve those weapons?  Hey, fuck you, Mr.  Man.  You go do it if you want those freaking guns so much…”)

Anyway, I’ve been told that the big deal in this film is that Wentworth Miller shows up playing Claire’s brother, Chris.  Apparently, Chris is a big deal in the game.  He doesn’t really do much in this film but that’s okay.  Jovovich and Larter kick more than enough ass on their own.  Since I’m always a fan of any movie that features women fighting back (as opposed to just waiting to be rescued), that was fine with me.

Anyway, the demonic dogs and all the usual zombies all show up but, to be honest, their presence is almost an afterthought.  They don’t have much to do.  If I did really have any huge complaint with this unambitious film, it’s that you never really believe that the zombie apocalypse would be that hard to survive.  The zombies, quite frankly, are way too metrosexual.

But as I said before, this is a fun film as long as you don’t think about it.  It’s a movie to see with a group of friends so you can all take turns making silly comments.  On the plus side, the film’s opening — in which Tokyo is destroyed — is very well done and the film has an excellent musical score.  This is a movie that was designed to be played loud.

Oh — and the 3-D effects?  Actually, the 3-D effects were surprisingly good and Anderson actually makes good use of them.  Admittedly, they made me feel car sick but that’s on me.  Don’t blame the movie.

Highschool of the Dead: Episode 10 – First Impressions

We’re now heading towards the end of this first season of Madhouse’s anime adaptation of the zombie manga Highschool of the Dead. It is still up in the air whether this 13-episode initially produced will be the first season or just the first half of what will end up being the only season. If the latter is the case then the series just took a relaxing calm before the storm of what will be episode 11 thru to 13.

Episode 10 brings everyone in the group back together as Takashi Komuro and Busujima Saeko finally makes it back to the relative safety of the Takagi fortress-compound in the previous episode. This episode was actually pretty devoid of much of the fanservice which were prevalent in the last 5 previous episodes. The only nod to it’s ecchi side of the series was in the beginning where one might think Rei and Komuro might just end up going all the way (something that suspiciously might have already happened between Komuro and Saeko in the last episode), but alas it was not meant to be. It was just a medical intervention to help Rei heal up from being sorely bruised from the action of episode 8.

While within the Takagi compound we get to know more about the life of Saya and her relationship with her parents. To say that she has lived quite the privileged life would be an understatement. But while in other media the privileged children of rich and powerful parents end up being useless beyond being spoiled and entitled, Saya seems to have grown past being just a spoiled brat and into a child who has tried to live up to the perfection that are her parents. I mean her father is the lord of the manor in more ways than one as the Takagi-clan looks to have been the same clan in centuries past which ruled over the city during the Feudal-era of Japan. Takagi Souichiro and his wife Yuriko are quite formidable parents and we see where Saya gets both her beauty and coldly, logical brain.

This episode to me also shows us just how far Hirano Kohta has come from the geeky and shy introduction from the first couple episodes. We’ve seen him become quite the badass to help bookend Saeko in terms of pure zombie killing power. He’s been the most useful of the group not just in how expertly he handles the guns the group comes across, but in teaching others how to operate them. This new zombie apocalypse world has made Kohta useful in his eyes. So, when the demand by the “adults” at the Takagi compound for him to hand over the weapons he and his group brought with them his reaction was both understandable and quite saddening.

To survive the last couple days as a highschool student while adults around them died and became “Them” it’s jarring to Kohta and the rest of the group to suddenly be treated as children once more. While his tear-filled reaction to not wanting to go back to being a helpless otaku seemed overly dramatic it’s easy to sympathize with him. Thus, it was great to see not just for the group to have his back and support his decision to hold on to the weapons, but to see Saya do the same. The fact that she uses Kohta’s help in securing her safety a way to show her contempt for her parents for not trying to find a way to save her shows the rift between daughter and parents.

While this respite from the doom and gloom action of the previous 3-4 episodes was quite good, this partcular calm before the storm looks to be ending quite quickly as the sneak preview for the next episode show the return of Shido-san and his bus of cult followers. Plus, just when I thought Madhouse was going to cut the bus orgy scene from the manga it looks like they just kept it for the end of episode 10. Now all is right with the world.

Review: The Walking Dead Volume 5 (by Robert Kirkman)

[Some Spoilers Within]

The first four volumes of Robert Kirkman’s have led Rick Grimes and his group from the encampment right outside of Atlanta to an abandoned prison which have now become their new sanctuary from the dangers of the outside world. We’ve seen the group lose people to the dangers of the zombies which have now claimed the world. They’ve also gained some new people which in turn has also caused some major conflicts to the group dynamics.

The series’ 5th collected volume (titled The Best Defense) takes place sometimes after the dramatic revelation by Rick Grimes to the group which ends the 4th volume. The Best Defense begins a new story-arc which would last right up to the very last pages of the 8th volume of the series. This was the volume which helped bring back some of the series’ fans who had begun to leave due to the overly dramatic and soap opera-ish narrative of the last volume. While the conflict which began between major characters in the last volume still remain a new surprising discovery of other possible survivors and another fortified compound brings the group back together for a common purpose. While this return towards cooperation was welcome development I did like the fact that Kirkman still kept the conflicts hanging in the air like a sword about to drop at the first wrong step.

Some fans and critics have spoken about how Kirkman’s writing style is actually very bad when compared to other top writers in the comic book industry. Yes, he’s not in the same league as a Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis and Alan Moore, but in the type of story he’s trying to tell his style seems to work. He does have a way to put up a lot of exposition with every page in the series. For some this was a sign of a lazy and weak writer who doesn’t allow the images to help tell the story. While at times I will agree as the series can get heavy with dialogue in the end it doesn’t bother me as much. Zombie films, even the best ones, rely and lean heavily on exposition. It’s actually such a surprise for a horror subgenre to have so much dialogue and people actually expect it. The same could be said for this series. The heavy exposition is not a bother for most and actually welcomed by its readers.

With this volume introducing a new outside force as the big baddie for the next major story-arc, Kirkman has easily shown he understands the zombie genre and how the zombies themselves don’t even count as the main danger for humans trying to survive this new apocalyptic world. This is especially true with the new character of The Governor who, in just a handful of issues in this volume, has cemented himself as one of the best villains to appear in any entertainment media in the past 10 years. Here’s to hoping that Frank Darabont in his tv adaptation of this series for AMC doesn’t mess around too much with this character. The Governor definitely makes one wonder if humanity actually deserves to continue as a species and not just march towards extinction.